Thursday, September 23, 2010

Games on Demand: NeonCon 2010

Games on Demand is coming back to NeonCon 2010. If you saw it last year, you know the deal. If you didn't, it was glorious!

What is it?

I originally saw Games on Demand at GenCon and it struck me as a great way to facilitate rpgs at cons. A table is set up with a host of games spread out. Attendees walk up and say "I love me some [preferred genre]!" The volunteers at the booth say "Of course you do, fine sir. Have your heard of [recommended game]?" After an excited elevator pitch about the awesome that is [recommended game], the booth volunteers find a way to get the excited attendee into a game right then and there. If that's not possible, the volunteers arrange a future time when that game can happen.

Who Runs?

The volunteers are absolutely everyone and anyone that wants to pitch in to run (or sometimes just play!) an impromptu game session with whomever shows up asking for one.

Who Plays?

The players will be people with a few hours to kill before their next event, people that have heard good things about [the new hotness] and want a chance to try it out, and passersby that look bored or curious until we use all of our mad carnie tricks to get them seated, playing, and having an awesome time.

What Games?

Last year, GoD was the main way to bring a little small press (or Indie or Story Gamey or whatever) love to NeonCon. This year, many indie/story games are being added to the schedule, so I'm not too worried about championing the indie cause this time around. Let's play whatever we want!

GoD can handle anything from the hippie stuff like Dogs in the Vineyard and Primetime Adventures to older or more nichey games that don't see enough convention love like Mechwarrior or 1st Edition D&D. The only requirements are that the games must come from our own collections, they should be games we can run well, and they should be games we're excited about. Hell, bring D&D4E if that's what you love! I would've been all over a chance to check out a 4E session that didn't involve registering with organized play craziness.

The 4 Goals for Games on Demand 2010:
  1. Offer games that can be played immediately via low prep-time, pregens, easy to learn rules, etc.
  2. Offer a sign-up board where future games can be arranged when immediate play is not possible.
  3. Showcase little known or under appreciated rpgs via GMs that are knowledgeable and excited to run them.
  4. Offer 'popular' games that gamers have already heard about, educating and hopefully exciting them about a new game. Apocalypse World, Dresden Files, etc.
When Can I Play?

Games on Demand will run each day of NeonCon 2010.

Thursday, November 4th: 7p - 11p
Friday & Saturday, November 5th & 6th: 11a - 11p
Sunday, November 7th: 11a - 6p

How Can I Help?

Contact me if you want to run some games with GoD. Let me know when you want to help, what games you want to run, and any other questions or suggestions you may have. You can help out all day or only 4 hours. We can even put you 'on call' should we find any interest for that one game you really want to run!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Still Can't Read Apocalypse World...

It's now 5 weeks after GenCon . . . and I still can't read Apocalypse World.

It all started when I got my girl into roleplaying, little did I know it would backfire on me one day. It wasn't too hard to get her in, she plays all sorts of video games and we had a blast playing through Borderlands together.

Of all the rpgs I ran for her though, she liked Dogs in the Vineyard the best. Walking around the GenCon sales floor I pointed out a familiar face to her, "That guy's Vincent Baker." She looked at me blankly so I elaborated, "He wrote Dogs."

Her eyes lit up. It was hilarious and adorable. I led her over to the Lumpley/Forge booth so I could check out the new hotness. There it was, the new shiny from various rpg forums, Apocalypse World. I picked it up and flipped through as Baker finished up a demo. He chatted with us for a bit and gave us a run down of the game.

After the chat, I asked, "So what do you think babe? Should we pick it up?" Her favorite rpg author had written a game, a game just like Borderlands, a new game that Jarvis didn't know how to play! The "YES!" didn't take long.

Within hours I was informed that the crisp new Apocalypse World book I just purchased was now her game. "You can't read it because I'm going to run it and I don't want anyone else correcting me on rules."

[Edit: I later discovered that the underlying reason is to prevent me from 'knowing the game' better than she does. Expertise breeds confidence and she wants to be the AW expert when we sit down to play.]

And here we are. Five weeks later and I still can't read the hot new book because my girl insists on running it for me. Awesome and totally not, all at the same time. :-P

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Game Hacks: Cool Points

Cool Points are the first story game hack to make it into every game I run. They've changed a lot over the years, but you'll probably spot similarities to Primetime Adventures, Fate, Serenity and Agon at the very least.

Here's how I currently use them in my Werewolf: the Apocalypse game.


The GM starts with cool points equal to 5x the number of players. My games usually have 4 players so that's 20 cool points. If the players start a fight with an NPC or each other, that's on them, but if the GM throws some hardship at them, it's paid for with cool points.

1 cool point allows me to 'buy' a threat, obstacle, or opposition that's roughly equal to the PCs themselves [3 12th level ninjas vs the three Level 12 PCs]. Each additional cool point buys additional baddies or increases their potency.

Once the threat or encounter is overcome, the cool points used to create are distributed to the players evenly. Any remainder sits in the center of the table!

Additionally, each player starts with a number of cool points himself. This allows them to grease the cool point wheels before they hit the first conflict. In my Werewolf game, they start with 1 cool point per Rank. This is roughly equivalent to Level/4 in a d20 game.


Whenever someone does something 'cool' at the table, another player can throw them a cool point as recognition, from the 'remainder pot' on the table or their own stash. In my games, they're handed out for everything from badass dialog to hilarious jokes and even tasty snack contributions. Players are encouraged to reward cool points for anything and everything that makes the entire rpg experience more fun for them.

Note that players are equally encouraged to reward the GM with cool points in the exact same way. Likewise, the GM can reward players with cool points directly.


At their most basic, cool points can be spent on any roll for a small bonus. In my Werewolf game, this means they can roll 1 extra die. Cool points can even be spent after a roll has already failed, in hopes to turn a failure into a success. Cool points awarded to the GM can be spent the exact same way. The GM can boost an NPC's roll by spending a cool point.

Cool points spent to modify a roll are always given to the player that was targeted by the roll. If you use a bonus against him, he gets the cool point after you spend it. Points used against NPCs or the environment are naturally handed back to the GM. Points used by the GM against players are handed directly to them after the roll.

Plot Points

Outside of rolling dice, cool points can also be spent to make major or minor plot alterations. The GM can obviously do this for free, but players need to spend cool points to alter things normally outside their character's control. Call it 'dramatic editing' or whatever you wish, but it simply allows characters to find a handy garbage chute when they really want one.

Making more significant changes requires more cool points (players can all contribute), but here are some basic guidelines.
  • 1 = Minor/Insignificant Change - The necromancer should be a chick! That'd be cooler.
  • 4 = Meaningful/Significant Change - I think the prince should have a crush on me!
  • 7 = Major/Serious Change - The necromancer is in love with the prince!
  • 11 = Grand/Enormous Change - The necromancer IS the prince!
Soft Compels

Cool points can also be used as a 'soft compel'. It's soft because the GM forces nothing on the player, nothing they must buy their way out of. It's just a way for the GM to add incentive to a particular course of action or inaction. [Seriously guys, we can't have him as a recurring villain if you don't let him get away this time. How 'bout 3 cool points and he walks?]

Players can also bring this on themselves. Anytime they willingly disadvantage their character, they take a cool point for their trouble. [My ankle never healed right after that last fight. Looks like the assassin gets away. Darn, I guess we'll be seeing him again then!]


Any cool points left in a player's hands at the end of a session become bonus XP. This is partly to reward players that earned so many cool points and partly to limit their flow around the table. If all cool points got spent on dice rolls, game 'balance' might suffer. If they all get spent on plot changes, the fiction could get too tangled. A reason to horde them seems to be almost as valuable as a reason to spend them!


That about does it for cool points, maybe I'll encourage my players to chime in with their opinions of how all this works at the table!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rethinking RPG Combat

A dude over on RPGnet asked for a great system for handling martial arts. Someone recommended a poorly edited and long forgotten rpg called Fireborn. Holy shit!

I skimmed through the book when it first came out, but the idea of heroes as reincarnated dragon spirits never really sat with me. Not when I already had Exalted for the whole reborn heroes and wuxia action anyway. I should've looked harder. The Dynamic D6 system is fast and fluid and chaining 'moves' together for each action roll is just fucking brilliant!

I've had a design project on the back burner for a while, but it really needed its own system. Something built from the ground up. Something fast and flashy. Something a little different than the back and forth tennis tempo of most RPG fights. Fireborn got me excited about combat rules again. It made me see that Equilibrium and Hard Boiled can work as RPGs. It got to sit down and start working out a shiny new rule set.

Who knew modern-day dragons have been quietly holding badass wire-fu battles, under our very noses, for the last five fucking years?! Shame on you Fantasy Flight, you should've said something.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Locations as Characters

During Shark Bone 022, we talked about the Locations as Characters concept from Invite Only.

Invite Only says give your important scene (setting, location, whatever) a concept, a few notes, and a virtue/vice combination. Think about it like a character and bring it to life. It all seems a bit ambiguous though.

I had a few thoughts on the show and a few more once we stopped recording. The discussion is over on RPGnet and only time will tell how productive that turns out to be. Until then, though, here's the gist...

Locations as Characters

Details - Each location should need only a few brief elements to really shine.
Name: The name. (Hills Cemetery)
Concept: The few word concept of the place. (Spooky Graveyard)
Theme: The feel of the place, what it stands for or against, etc. (Creepy)
Showcase: An item or person that exemplifies the concept and theme. (The unmarked grave no one goes near.)

That's the basic part, here's where it gets fun.

What if each location also got a Rank? What if that's how many dice it got to further its theme? Of course, a spooky graveyard doesn't actively try to scare people away, but damn if trespassing PCs don't have to resist 3 dice worth of fear just for being there.

At the same time, these dice would aid or hinder any action taken by a PC that supported or resisted the location's theme. Want to get answers out of that mook? Threaten him at the spooky graveyard! Want to seduce that cute girl from the office? The spooky graveyard's probably not the best place to do it. (Though scientifically, it actually would be!)

Even better, what if each location actually got an action. Every once in a while during narrative scenes or at the end of every initiative round. You dive into an open grave for cover, they fire wildly in your direction, then spooky graveyard rolls 3 dice to intimidate you as you realize 'open' does not mean 'empty'.

Location actions could be taken by the location itself, like chill winds and eerie howls, or taken by the inhabitants of the location, like child ghosts or the crazy grounds keeper. The location is never, well rarely ever, an actual participant in the conflict, just an active backdrop.

Picking a fight with the president of a biker gang will probably make every biker in the bar an active participant, but that doesn't stop the bar's owner or some of the strippers from taking action for the bar itself.

What do you think? Are we on to something?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pacing Mechanic

Preparing for Shark Bone 022, I watched Deep Blue Sea and had a revelation regarding pacing. I talked about it a bit on the show, but I'd like type it up and save it here.

In the movie, sharks attack people.

Sometimes the people do inherently dangerous things like run from secure location to secure location, try to rescue a friend in danger, etc. These moments are inherently tense and dangerous, these are the times when failure brings death, lost health levels, and pain. This is where all of the normal rules and mechanics from whatever rpg you're playing come in.

Between these moments of inherent danger and risk though... the people do other stuff. Boring stuff. Safe stuff. Sometimes they deliver flat exposition, sometimes they mend wounds, sometimes they fortify their position, sometimes they get to know each other, etc.

The trick is, that each 'safe action', each passing minute without a death or dismemberment, only increases the feeling that another mother fucking shark is about to get a tasty human snack. Substitute sharks for zombies and you have the rhythm of every zombie movie ever made. The longer the heroes avoid doing anything dangerous, the higher the chance the danger will come to them.

The well-versed among you are thinking this sounds a lot like the pacing mechanic in Shotgun Diaries. Well, you're right. And wrong. Shotgun Diaries increases the zombie clock after every 10 minutes of real time. In my opinion, it fails.

I propose increasing opposition after every 'safe action', that is after every action that brings no inherent danger. The PCs want to chat for 30min of quality roleplay? Awesome! Don't interrupt that shit for anything. Don't bring in the zombies when the PCs are at each other's throats and bringing their own danger. Just sit back and enjoy the mayhem! On the other hand, when the PCs fortify their location, investigate the outbreak, heal their wounds, and otherwise avoid the danger outside. A few more zombies gather on the outskirts.

If you want to raise tension in a zombie or slasher style horror game, use this...

Every time a player calls for a dice roll that doesn't bring or risk something dangerous, increase the opposition. In WoD terms, add an extra die to the next enemy attack. In D20 terms, add a +2 bonus to the next baddie.

If your zombies roll 2 dice to attack (or has a +4 bonus to hit), three safe actions between attacks will mean the next zombie rolls 5 dice (or has a +10 bonus). Hell, three safe actions could just as easily allow you to introduce a brand new threat (like a gas leak) at 3 dice!

That's it! Easy enough right?

Games on Demand: GenCon vs. NeonCon

A few years ago, a visit to GenCon's Games on Demand area blew me away.
  • Playing when I wanted, no scheduling or signups necessary.
  • Playing what I wanted, small press games that don't get the usual convention love.
  • A stable of willing and excited GM volunteers waiting for me.
  • A donated pile of books, dice, and everything else needed to play.
  • A 'library' of small press games to choose from.
  • Even a promise to sit down and figure out any game I brought.
  • The unprecedented opportunity to 'window shop' rpgs. "Looks interesting... let's play!"
I worked hard to emulate the concept at NeonCon 2009 and I think I did pretty fucking well. I had 5 or so volunteers to help run the tables. We ran 19 sessions and 16 different games. We played everything from Hunter: the Vigil to Dogs in the Vineyard, anything that wasn't getting the love it deserved from the RPGA and other scheduled gaming.

Strangely enough, during my entire visit, the Games on Demand offering at GenCon 2010 was disappointing as hell.
  • No sign-age, no markings, no greeters, no indication of being in the right place.
  • No excited and available GMs to accept me and my fellow willing gamers.
  • No visible library of games to peruse or flip through while waiting for an available GM.
  • No obvious way to get involved, call 'dibs' on the next game, or anything.
What did it have? I'm glad you asked...
  • An Apocalypse World book was the only indication that it wasn't another RPGA event.
  • Eight or so tables, all full, all happily mid-game, all oblivious to passers-by (me).
What does this all mean? I'm I just bitching about a crappy con experience? Not at all kids. What it means is that Games on Demand at NeonCon 2010 will rock that much harder than it did last year! I had a blast last year and I learned a lot about running a good event. I saw piss poor execution at GenCon this year and I learned even more about running a good event.

I'll keep you posted and I'll see you at NeonCon!

Blog of the Dead

Since my head's been out of 'design mode', I've let this blog fade considerably. That's a shame cause I generally have a lot of good ideas, they just don't happen to be full games.

So, using all my mighty necromancy powers, I'll attempt to bring this blog back from Oblivion with more of a focus on General RPG Thoughts rather than Games I'm Designing.

Slew of posts, coming up!