Ryuutama is one of the unplayed games on my disk which I really need to take a longer look at. The first thing I like about it is the positive background. The art, the colors, the premise (traveling and exploring) – I want to know more.
Zak S. wrote an excellent post on his blog regarding the role of violence in role-playing games. Violence in games is important because violence is important outside of games. It’s all around us. There’s systemic violence, there’s physical violence, there’s psychological violence, there’s fear of violence. Role-playing games give us agency in the face of violence, and that’s important.
Natalie also wrote an excellent post about death. Not many things have value if you die, even if some people would like to tell you that there are in fact values worth laying down your life for. I’m not so sure and I sure as hell am happy that I’ve never been asked to do it.
Anyway, Zak Smith. Violence. Natalie. Death. Important things.
At the same time, the Burning Wheel family of games or the Apocalypse World family of games have us roll dice for things other than combat. A duel of wits, a play book with other moves, all of these things make me wonder whether we can make non-violent things interesting and tense moments at the table. So, Ryuutama: can travel and exploration be tense and interesting without dungeons and dragons?
And what prompted all of this:
For a while now I’ve noticed a strange fact:
OneBookShelf operates digital download marketplaces such as DriveThru RPG, RPG Now and D&D Classics. Today I got an email for the two sites I’ve been using in recent months:
I regret to inform you that one of our servers suffered a security breach which may have compromised your credit card information.
You are receiving this email because you made a purchase (or attempted to make a purchase) on our site using a credit card between July 6th, 2015 and the morning of August 6th, 2015. There is a 50% chance that hackers were able to collect your credit card information. We recommend that you contact your credit card issuing bank and ask them to replace any cards that you used for charges on our site, and also look over your most recent statements for any suspicious charges.
Ouch, that hurts.
More information at the Credit Card Data Breach Q&A.
Recently, somebody asked the following on G+: “If you use monster books, or even monsters from blog posts, what does your workflow look like?”
So here’s how I did it for The Crown of Neptune. Some doodling and brainstorming yields the following. I see a shark, a lamprey or moray man, and an aboleth. And I see a first table of random encounters on the right. Spider crabs, squids, sharks, mermaids, dinosaurs, wales. This dungeon is going to be about sharks and dinosaurs, and as you go deeper it will turn into underwater horror. Or so I think.
This is what I ended up with:
How do I arrive at the table in the middle of this sheet?
I start at the beginning and think about the environment. My adventures are almost always locations on a greater hex map. That already gives me some monsters from the surrounding area. In this case, that would be the plesiosaurus. Looking for dinosaur stats leads me to the Rules Cyclopedia and aquatic dinosaurs. The entry is disappointing.
The dungeon is underwater. So I’m thinking of monstrous animals. Sharks, obviously. Sharks have a nice stat block in the Labyrinth Lord book. I feel better already.
Not sure about wales. They seem pretty boring. Perhaps a creature to talk to, or to charm? The Labyrinth Lord book has stats for killer whales and they’re in the range I like right now: 6 HD.
And I want simple, humanoid, intelligent monsters that players can interact with. Some sort of nixie, or merfolk? Nixies and sirens can charm people and I’m thinking that this is a more brutal environment. Let’s pick merfolk instead. I remember something about tritons but they’re not in the Labyrinth Lord book. Merfolk will do.
OK, further down. Let’s start bringing that horror feeling. My campaign features neogi. Eel headed spider slavers. This reminds me of morays. Morayfolk! Or Lampreyfolk. Once they hit, they keep drawing blood without needing to attack. A classic special ability and easy to add. Think giant weasels or stirges. I’m not sure where I get that HD 2+1 from.
Spiders. Crabs. Spidercrabs. They look a lot like the giant crab monster from the Labyrinth Lord book. AC 3 instead of AC 2, 1d10 instead of 2d6. Trivial changes.
The kraken is a giant squid from the Labyrinth Lord book. My players know I love the kraken. In my mind, this kraken was huge. 50m long arms! It should have had a gazillion HD. But seven attacks is good enough, I though. Let the monster look tougher than it is. Labyrinth Lord, giant squid. Works for me! HD 6. Ideal.
Not sure where I got the giant clams from. Since they can’t move, that looks more like an obstacle to me.
And now for some unterwater undead. Kraken made me think of ink, and that made me think of dark clouds. Wraiths? And some more variations on the crab and on the lamprey themes. Simple variations in numbers. Things get tougher as you go down.
An astral spider is an intelligent planar spider from the Rules Cyclopedia, I guess. Or a variant on the aforementioned neogi and giant spiders. Giant jellyfish is a variant on the kraken theme but with paralysis instead of multiple attacks. I imagine them being soft targets which is why they don’t get eight attacks or more.
The giant anglerfish was supposed to be a building that can bite. I don’t know where I got the 36 HD from. It was basically a huge trap.
Further down! A gibbering mouther? An elf encased in an evil mech? I must have been thinking of the Goons in the Caverns of Slime:
3d6 Goons (HD 5; AC 3; Atk 1 slam +3 (1d6+3); MV 6; in combat the poor creature locked inside will be begging for forgiveness and cry for help even as it fights) are alerted to the party’s presence by imperceptible sensors embedded into the walls and ceilings of the building.
More kraken. And my version of an aboleth, since I couldn’t find one in the Labyrinth Lord book.
Basically the whole adventure is nothing but a map, random monsters, some of them with an obvious lair, and if a lair exists, then with treasure, and some traps or curious things to investigate – such as the dead diver I added because I had listened to the story of how David Shaw died.
Back to the initial question, though. How do I use monster books?
Yesterday I learned that Trademark Law Does Not Require Companies To Tirelessly Censor the Internet. I didn’t know that. Bioware does have a choice. And in this case, as far as I remember it, Bioware still hasn’t contacted anybody, so it’s all happening between EN World, the Ennies, and the Don Mappin, the author.
Also, the PDF has a disclaimer at the very beginning:
What This Book Is Not
To be clear, this is not a licensed Mass Effect property. Mass Effect is the property of Bioware, a division of Electronic Arts. This is a work of fiction and done without their permission or involvement. No attempt to challenge their legal authority is intended in the publication of this material. Instead, it is our hope to expand the outreach of the Mass Effect property to another segment of games—role-players—who have long coveted a way to bring the events of Commander Shepard to life at their gaming tables. This product comes with one very important and unconditional stipulation:
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES MAY THIS PRODUCT BE CHARGED FOR OR RENUMERATION EXCHANGE HANDS. IT MUST REMAIN FREE OF CHARGE.
As the sole property of Bioware/Electronic Arts, only they have the rights to benefit from the Mass Effect Universe. As such, this work is the result of countless unpaid hours and volunteer work to make it possible to bring to you. Why? Because we’re gamers too and we love Mass Effect just as much as you do!
I guess I'm mostly interested in outcomes. I really like the US constitution in this respect: “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”. I want more useful stuff as fast as possible. Having the Mass Effect RPG out now, fan made, is great. It’s better for the gaming public.
What about the artists? The way I read the artist attribution page in the Mass Effect RPG, all those images were available on the Internet, on blogs of concept artists, on Deviant Art. So, without considering copyright law and just considering outcomes, these artists made things available for free, and now what they made is more available, for free. The author of the Mass Effect RPG doesn’t charge money for it. Presumably he’d share his gains with the artists in some way, if he were to make any money. But he isn’t, so he doesn’t. So, it’s still better for the gaming public, and it’s better for the artists, too. Yes, they had no voice, there was no negotiation, this doesn’t consider copyright. All I’m looking at is outcomes.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m with Don Mappin, here. I wish that copyright law was different. I wish that the fair use exception to copyright were clearer. As it is, it’s incredibly hard to tell whether something falls under the exception or not. That’s not good.
I'm not a lawyer, and I’m looking at the points one ought to consider:
Reading through the Wikipedia page and following along, as a layman might be expected to, I guess:
The use was not really educational – or can a game be educational? Maybe? It teaches you how to run a Mass Effect RPG using Fate rules? Does it help “fulfill the intention of copyright law to stimulate creativity for the enrichment of the general public”? It sure looks like it to me. To me, the process of turning the video game into a set of rules for Fate is transformative, not merely derivative.
Nothing in the nature of the game seems to warrant more or less protection than usual. It doesn’t rightfully belong to the public domain. All the artwork the author used had already been published, even if not intended for use in the game, so we don’t need to consider “the aspect of whether the copied work has been previously published”.
As for the amount, I think that the material taken from the game itself is definitely not major. We’re talking some of the background material, the description of things in the game. But the games are about so much more. Characters, plots, levels, graphics. The material taken from artists is major, however. Basically the entire picture was used. I started making a little survey by searching for the first ten items on the artists credits page of the Mass Effect RPG:
Looking at the numbers. Fan art: 15. !BioWare: 3. Others: 1. Continuing the analysis of “amount”, I’d say that the amount of art-work taken from the Mass Effect series out of the copyrighted material by !BioWare isn’t so big: 3 pieces out of a huge work. As for fan art: If they are not violating !BioWare’s copyright because of the fair use exception, then another piece of fan art reusing them should not be violating !BioWare’s copyright, either.
So, what is fan art? FAQ #572 has some information: “Original fan art are those works in which the submitting artist has done 100% of the work but the work itself depicts characters, scenes or other themes which were properly created by another creative person. […] Fan art may be copyright infringement and you may be forced to remove it by the copyright owner who may also choose to initiate other legal action.” I’m not sure that !BioWare is interested in going after fan art in this respect. Therefore, my understanding of fair use and fan art leads me to suggest that we’re in the clear, here.
That leads us to the last point in the fair use examination, the effect upon the work’s value. Does !BioWare and it’s Mass Effect based revenue suffer? Not at all, because they’re not selling a role-playing game. Now, if they were, perhaps they’d be justified under the law to go after the existing game. Now you have to argue that a company wanting to make money making a licensed game is being deterred from entering the market because the existing free fan-made game is so good, taking it down will produce a lot of bad blood. But from a customer’s perspective, that’s OK. We have copyright in order to promote the useful arts. If the useful arts are being promoted without copyright, then that’s even better. This is not an outcome to dislike, at all.
I’m still with Don Mappin.
I think we need to be careful, here. The copyright lobby is so strong, it keeps extending the copyright protection time window, it keeps bombarding us with annoying messages as we play a DVD or go to the movies. This is a war being waged about our hearts and minds. And they have all the money to run their campaigns and we have nothing except our will to share everything because we’re nice and willing to help our neighbors. That is why I don’t like people saying: “I hope that Don rebuilds and reposts the files, this time only including his work.” If we have a fair use exception to copyright, then this exception is our right. It’s a mess to figure out and and it’s hard to be sure, but if we assume that everything Don made falls under fair use, then he should not have to repost the files, and he should be free to include the works of others. That’s how we build on each others’ work. That’s how progress is made. We don’t create ex nihilo. Fair use is our right.
What about the ENies? I understand their decision. The entire thing was a hot potato. They had to make a decision, fast. And I’m guessing they don’t have legal defense funds and lawyers at their disposition. That’s how the scare tactic works. We’re afraid to exercise our right, the associations we build are afraid to exercise our right. How will we learn to claim what is ours except by pushing the boundaries and arguing for our rights?
Comments here or on Google+.
If you want to run longer campaigns, this is what I’m doing: My campaign world is infinite. Planes, other continents, from dinosaurs to lasers, it’s all there. And even if I want to combine two settings, I’ll use Planescape ideas to connect them, bend a little here and there, no problem. Then, players have an effect on the setting, change it. This is cool. It can be a short campaign of six sessions (that’s not what I do, though). The next campaign will be somewhat related. It takes place nearby. A few years in the future. In an alternate plane that involved the old campaign somehow. And that’s how the campaign transcends characters and rules. Use D&D 3.5 for a bunch of characters. Then use Solar System for a bunch of characters. Then use Labyrinth Lord for a bunch of characters. Then move to the Astral Sea. Then play some first level characters doing jobs for the high level characters. Then switch to the high level characters again. And if that gets boring, let’s see about marriage and children. Let’s play the kids!
I just read an interesting blog post called Thoughts on Philosophical GameMastering by Vb Wyrde. He says: “I would argue, […] that whether they know it consciously or or not, every World is an expression of the innermost convictions of it’s !GameMaster.” He illustrates the point by referring to a friend who felt “that the Universe is really just a gigantic eating machine”. And the campaign he ran illustrated the point.
Now I’m wondering which of my personal convictions players will find in my Five Winds campaign.
I need to think about this some more!
To be sure, I don’t really care that much about in in-game philosophies. I like Planescape and therefore there are factions in my campaign following doctrines inspired by schools of philosophy. What I care about is reflections of my own opinions and prejudices in my game world.
Discussion on Google+, if you want.
I’ll have to look at some off line backups at home. Apparently the pages were still around three days ago (2015-05-08).
OK, so we talked about setting up a game of Hexcrawling and how the game will eventually reach its limit if the known region keeps growing and more and more factions are being introduced, more lairs, more assets, more domain turns; the game starts to collapse under its own weight. We also talked about my Domain Game Goals. The things I like. The things my players like. We have come to the point where we need to talk about the kind of procedures that will offer us an interesting domain game without growing as the domain expands.
I think this is key: The procedure must always take the same amount of time. Think about random encounters. No matter how big your party, you always roll once for random encounters. The monsters might be stronger. The trek might be longer. But the number of rolls is constant. But think also about its failure modes. If the party travels for eight weeks, do you roll for over 100 random encounters? I don’t. That’s why random encounters only work at a certain scale. Our domain game procedure will also work at a certain scale. We’ll postpone thinking about attaining immortality and godhood, for now.
The simplest solution would be a random domain roll. The results on the table are all either adventure hooks or role-playing opportunities where we get to see what kind of people the player characters are.
Several things are still missing. In order to track the “mood” of the current campaign arc, you could run with Chris Kutalik’s idea of a chaos index as explained in his blog post The Weird is Rising, Thanks World Engine.
I think I’d like more of a multi-dimensional framework that takes the gods into account. You could use something like the fronts on the MC sheet for Sagas of the Icelanders. Have a list of gods or other influences, list some keywords (“Hel: breathe disease, consume, hoard with greed”) that will color current events. This forces you to vary the description of the results depending on what front is in ascendancy. Use the result of the random domain roll to build a little four step countdown. If the party does not engage, step one happens. If they leave it to fester, step two happens. If they are busy elsewhere, step three happens. If they don’t take care of it now, step four happens. As time keeps passing and more rolls are made, issues are piling up. This is good.
If your players have “traits” that influence the domain game such as Sticky Fingers which I mentioned in previous post on the same topic, some of the results on the domain roll table should reflect that. In a Dispute situation, for example, Sticky Fingers might allow you to ignore the first two steps of the countdown as your thieves infiltrate your neighbor’s domain. You will have to handle the issue eventually or just move to War.
The important thing is this: I’m looking for a solution that limits the number of dice rolls and that doesn’t require any sort of computation before rolling. I don’t want to roll for every unconquered monster lair. I don’t want to add a bunch of numbers on the wiki for every roll I make. I don’t even want to look at what the last roll four sessions ago was before making a roll.
We had another one-shot. Playbooks used: grandmother, shield maid, seiđkona, and child. I looked at fronts and decided to have the influence of Hel color the session. A grey winter day, visions of blood seeping up from the ground, dead friends calling you from beyond the fence, ghosts trying to lure people out into the snow storm… Sadly, the session wasn’t very good.
The player of the child felt he had ended up with a playbook unsuited to the situation. What use was there to hiding and sneaking? I guess it might have played like Newt in Aliens: Bonding, and spending those bonds to grant benefits to those braving the storm.
Also, the tension between violence being always available to solve problems but being basically the wrong tool because people will get hurt and die – the tension between men and women, where women goad men into action, where men are mute and violent – all of that was missing because of our all-female cast.