Thursday, September 23, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
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
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.
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!
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
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
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
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
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?
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!
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!