Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Some thoughts about Shadow, Sword and Spell

Shadow, Sword and Spell is a fun game. Or at least I had a fun time playing a recent two adventure mini campaign.  Though I will say that I really enjoy playing games and I find that in many instances the actual game being played is secondary.  Get some decent players, let them do what they want and see where it goes.  Generally a pretty good recipe for a fun night.  But every system certainly brings new things to the table and enables different styles of gaming.  SS&S is designed to emulate pulp fantasy, the world of down and out heroes and low magic.  And it does those things pretty well.  Having just finished up this short game I have some recent thoughts about everything.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Shadow, Sword and Spell character creation

A couple of years ago I discovered Shadow, Sword and Spell, a pulp fantasy RPG from Rogue games.  I’ve only had the chance to play it once, but I am going to be running a short, two adventure game of it this week so I thought I’d take the chance to capture some of my thoughts on it.  Since it is only going to be a two week game I made up several characters for the players to choose from so that we could get right down to it, especially since none of the players have any experience with it. Character creation is fun and all, but it can also be time consuming, especially when you need to teach everyone an entirely new ruleset.  Which SS&S has, something that only uses a d12. A d12! The most neglected of all dice.  At first I assumed that the game would be nothing other than rolling for Barbarain Hit Die and damage from a greataxe, but it turns out there are other things that you can do with a d12.

I wanted to walk through character creation and sort of start to check out the rules that way.  In general I found making a character to be pretty easy, but the characters that you wind up with are sort of odd.  There is no rolling for attributes or skills (its not preferred for me but I am fine with it) but there is a selection of a Culture and a Modifier which can result in some strange traits for a character.  Culture gives a character a couple of skills, usually at a high level of aptitude. The Modifier gives a bonus (and maybe a penalty) to a couple of skills. Let’s take a look at the Assassin type character I made up for the group.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Monstrous Quiz

While recently playing through the Ghost Tower of Inverness, the brave adventurers turned a corner in the long abandoned dungeon and encountered (rolls on the wandering monster chart)…a leucrotta! Yes, the feared leucrotta. Bane of adventurers and haunter of nightmares.  It’s description is…well, I actually don’t know. I am going to be honest for a moment, I’ve never heard of a leucrotta. In all of my many years of playing D&D I have somehow managed to not come across this creature of legend. And if I had it has left absolutely zero impression on me.  I had to look it up in the Monster Manual to learn that it is the strange cross breed of two otherwise very normal creatures.  It got me thinking about all of the bizarre monsters out there that are nothing other than the physical qualities of several others merged into one very awkward beast.  It strikes me as a very Gygaxian concept, just sort of fill up the pages of the Monster Manual by coming up with a weird name and mashing animals together.  What else is out there? Is the leucrotta the king of the haphazardly assembled jungle?

I should also note that some of these creatures may actually stem from mythology and I’m just not familiar to them, but as the author of the original Monster Manual I am attributing Gary Gygax with their existence. 

I decided to put together this quiz of strange monsters from the lore of D&D. Lets see how you do.

1) This chaotic evil creature has the head and antlers of a deer atop the body of a giant eagle. And for some reason it seems to cast the shadow of a human as opposed to that of an eagle mixed with a deer. It also requires the heart of another creature to reproduce, which must make sex very awkward. 

2) What do you get when you mix a monkey, camel, lion and eagle? Some sort of awkward desert dwelling, friendly creature that is known for it’s practical jokes and good natured teasing! And who could ever forget it’s gaze power, called sun sparkles.

Check out my boney ridges.
3) This creature combines the body of a stag, a lion’s tail and the fearsome head of a giant badger! Rather than teeth it has “jagged boney ridges”. (I’m no dentist, but I’m pretty sure that’s sort of what teeth are anyway.) They are also able to imitate the voice of a man with uncanny skill despite living a miserable solitary life far away from the world of man. 

4) Oh, those mad wizards! Always getting mixed up in secret magical experiments that create creatures like this mix of a snapping turtle and armadillo infused with demons’ ichor.  I wonder if the wizard’s intention was to create a constantly hungry, fearless creature that loves to eat Halflings, or if that was just something that sort of happened?
Demon Ichor makes me want to climb trees!

5) This aquatic animal possesses the head and torso of a horse and the lower half of a fish. All of it’s limbs end in fins and it’s body is covered in scales.  It is also super lame and speaks a language that no one cares to learn. 

So what are these great creatures that fit easily into any campaign?
1)    Peryton
2)    Opinicus
3)    Leucrotta
4)    Bulette
5)    Hippocampus

Monday, May 12, 2014

1st Edition, The Ghost Tower of Inverness and premade adventures

I was feeling a bit nostalgic lately and sort of really wanted to play some old school 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  There are so many retro style D&D clones out there these days, but I don’t think that they really interest me.  Most of them are just a stripped down easy to learn fantasy game, but lack the personality and daring that truly define the early versions of D&D. So I decided to go back to the source and run a one shot adventure using a module. I didn’t want to start up a new campaign (I have a Shadowrun game going on currently and I certainly don’t need two games a week in my life right now) and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time writing an adventure so this seemed like a great way to dip into the game and then jump right back out. After much searching through all of my old modules I settled on the classic C2, The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

I’ve written before about my general dislike of dungeoncrawls so I won’t go into the reasons why, but the Ghost Tower seemed workable.  For starters, the dungeons of the adventure are so absurd that it’s easy to throw plausibility out the window and just accept it for what it is.  I’ve seen it referred to as a “funhouse” adventure and that makes total sense.  The premise is that the PC’s are all the prisoners of some Duke and he frees them from his dungeons in order to have them retrieve the fabled Soul Gem and bring it to him in exchange for freedom.  The Gem was the possession of some wizard who constructed an insane tower filled with monsters and traps to protect the Gem. Eventually the wizard disappeared but the Gem remains! Alright, that’s not too bad.  I suppose one could ask some questions about why the Duke (who has tons of resources at his disposal) is choosing this motley crew of vagabonds to undertake this important quest, but whatever. If I start asking questions now I’ll be at a million words by the time I reach the underground chessboard that electrocutes people when they make a wrong step. Ghost Tower was originally a tournament module run at Wintercon VIII in 1979 and featured five characters, so I rounded up five players to fulfill the roles of Lembu, Discinque, Hodar, Li Hon and Zinethar the Wise.  And we’re off…

Monday, March 17, 2014

Call of Cthulhu and the challenge of fantasy gaming in a normal world

A couple of weeks ago I ran my first session of Call of Cthulhu.  It did not go well for a variety of reasons. But I think that the crux of it was the inherent clash of playing a fantasy game but one that is so firmly rooted in a real, actual world.  Cthulhu is a horror game and a substantial portion of that horror is generated by the knowledge that you as a normal person are pretty much entirely powerless against the strange things in the world that you find yourself in pursuit of.  That degree in Accounting? Not going to help against one of the Elder Gods, nor is your buddy’s ability to use a library going to fend off Dimensional Shambler.  That’s a frightening thought, the notion that the closer that you get to the thing you are seeking the more danger you are putting yourself into. I planned on using this basic struggle of everyday normalcy versus the unknown as the basis for the building horror that would ultimately drive the investigators to the precipice of insanity and fear.  Turns out the players preferred normalcy in their fantasy life and I can’t say that I blame them. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Survivor Style Dunegons and Dragons

The D&D campaign that we just finished up last week featured a significant amount of character death in the last several sessions. The entire campaign went for about 20 sessions or so, and in the last third of that there were four PC’s killed (in a party of five players). (That doesn’t include the final session in which four of the five characters were killed when they acted like cowards with a red dragon around.) I’m not a stranger to character death, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take it’s toll on the narrative arc of the campaign. Parties embark on certain paths that are determined by the characters involved and they put into motion story lines that have to do with those decisions and motives. Which is great. And then those characters die and are suddenly replaced by new ones that may not have the same agenda. It creates a problem. So what’s a DM to do in that situation?

There are a lot of options that I am not going to get into right now, though I would like to explore them in the future. But I did dream up with something the other day that sort of got me thinking about what to do in this situation. What’s even worse than having a character die? How about having your character die and then not being allowed to make a new character and join the game again! I know, it’s totally rotten, but I would like to play around with this idea of a knockout/survivor type of campaign. Essentially when you character dies you are out of the game. “Sorry buddy, we’ll call you in a couple of weeks.” Obviously everyone would need to know this ahead of time and be on board with it, but it could be a nice change of pace for everyone involved. And as a strange side effect it also allows a player to sort of “win” dungeons and dragons. Which, as far as I know, is otherwise impossible.

So how would this work? For starters, it would need to be setup to be a shorter term game since the number of players would be growing less and less with each session. And I don’t think it makes sense to play until everyone is dead, that has a certain Sisyphean quality to it that seems overly morbid. No, the goal here is to survive and that denotes that there can be an actual ending to it. Similarly, the game would need to start with a larger number of players than what one would typically run a game for. For me the sweet spot of players is usually four, but for this I think that starting with six or seven makes sense. And yes, I know that the primary rule of roleplaying is that the game is supposed to be fun for everyone involved over everything else, and this sort of flies in the face of that. Yeah, well, fuck that. This could be sort of fun for a little bit. I mean, we’re not talking about life and death here. Okay, we are. But it’s make believe life and death.

The first thing that came to mind when I thought of this is that characters would generally act like cowards for fear of getting killed. No one will want to be the first one through the door or to open up the trapped chest. But at the same time this is supposed to be a “heroic” group of people who have chosen adventuring, one of the most dangerous professions in all of the world. They can’t actually be cowards, it doesn’t make any sense. So I think the driving force behind this needs to be individual rewards. Experience points won’t be divided evenly among all survivors and treasure needs to be disbursed in a different manner. Bravery really needs to count for something since the result of character death is a little more severe than in other games. If your rogue just wants to hang out in the back and play it safe, they are not going to be as rewarded as well as the barbarian that charges into battle knowing fully well that the ogre with an enormous club could easily swat him down. Same thing with weapons and other treasure. If you charge into battle and strike down the enemy with a gutsy move, then maybe that sword of yours just became magical. I think this could work! The same would apply to roleplaying at the sake of one’s own survival. The first example that comes to mind is a cleric and their cure spells. Common sense says they should horde those spells for themselves, but if you actually spread the wealth and help some people out there should be a reward in it for you.

Normally I am very against this, but for this style of game I would also advocate that all dice rolling be done out in the open. It just seems more fair this way. A game like this would naturally lend itself to a competitive environment among the players and it does seem fair that everything should be on the up and up. I’m not saying that as a DM I’ve cheated, but I’ve certainly misread the dice a couple of times for the sake of the story or just because I thought it made sense at the time. I think it would actually be somewhat liberating in a game like this to be freed of the burden of secrecy when it comes to the dice.

I suppose that a game like this isn’t without precedence either. In a lot of ways it’s like a tournament style game in which players do receive points for surmounting obstacles and making it to the end. And in a short game, like a tournament, dying once usually means the end of your day anyway.

I guess the big question about all of this is why. Why set up a game in this manner? In a way it’s sort of a strange, meta way of running a game. There is some inherent knowledge that we possess as players that our characters can never really know, essentially that they are just pawns in our elaborate game of tabletop fantasy. As characters, death should always be treated as something to be avoided at all costs. After all, it is death and that’s sort of the end of everything. But as players we know that’s not the case. We know that at the end of a bad roll or a tough break is a brand new set of dice and attributes waiting to find stats. But what if there wasn’t? What if the game ended and you lost? If you knew that the game went on and you weren’t going to be a part of it, would it change everything about how your character acted? How would you feel if you could actually win dungeons and dragons? Would you go for it?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Strip Incan Gold

I’ve written before about my immense love of Incan Gold, I truly think it’s one of the best quick play games around. Well, I’ve decided to take my love of it to a new level. A risqué, adult level. I’ve created some rules for Strip Incan Gold, which is bound to be a huge hit with gamers who like to mix some real world excitement and nudity with their board games.

The Setup: You are a member of a group of archeologists, exploring a series of Incan ruins in what is now modern day Peru. Legends exist of massive temples filled with long abandoned stone passages containing gems haphazardly left in piles on the ground. Unfortunately, your exploration of the tunnels has also awakened Iitsatitti, the decadent Incan god of lust! Iitsatitti demands tribute from each person who seeks to plunder his riches! Are you brave enough to bare all and search for untold riches? Or will you seek the cover and shelter of your tented camp?

Gameplay: Strip Incan Gold follows the same basic gameplay as the actual Incan Gold, however there are several differences that result in a much more enjoyable and adult game. Due to the awakened prescence of Iitsatitti each player is forced to pay tribute to the god at the end of each of the five rounds of exploration. And there are only two things that can appease the god’s hunger: gems and clothing. When each round ends every player is required to pay a fixed amount of earned gems to Iitsatitti (the gems can just go back into the pot). At the end of rounds one and two, each player must pay five gems. After rounds three, four, and five the tribute is ten gems.

What’s that? You don’t have enough gems stashed under your little tent? Haha (that’s Iitsatitti howling with delight)! Any player unable to pay the tribute must instead remove a piece of clothing and pay that to the lust god as an offering to his insatiable appetite for flesh. An article of clothing is worth five gems. In the later rounds it is possible that a player must pay multiple articles of clothing to appease the increasingly perverted and aroused god. A player is not required to pay gems, they can choose to instead sacrifice clothing even if they could otherwise afford the tribute. It is a good practice for each player to start with the same amount of articles of clothing. At the end of the fifth round the player with the most gems remaining is declared the winner! Strip Incan Gold is best played over several games in succession. If that’s the case, the winner should get to take back a piece of clothing as a reward.

The five treasure cards in Strip Incan Gold are acquired in the same manner as in the regular game, however rather than having a value in gems each one instead confers some sort of special effect on the owner. Each treasure is usable only once. For a more exciting game shuffle all five treasures into the deck at the beginning of the game instead of adding one each turn.
“Trip Nip”- Every player other than the owner of Trip Nip must show their nipples to the other players. If you are already topless, you must deliberately point them at the owner of Trip Nip.
That Painful Looking Necklace- The necklace can be used at any time to recover a piece of clothing that has been donated to Iitsatitti. No one likes this necklace.  

The Cup- The owner of the cup may take five gems from any other player at any time. Sucks for them.  

Weird Block Man- The strange block man can be given to Iitsatitti as sufficient tribute at the end of any round. No one knows what he does with the Weird Block Man, but he seems to be real into it.

One Headed Man- The owner of the One Handed Man can force all of the other players to get up and walk around the table at any time. What a creep, that One Headed Man.

Variants: It is easy to adjust Strip Incan Gold to suit the needs of your game playing group. For a more conservative game, decrease the value of the tribute paid each round. Likewise, for a sleazier game increase the value of the tribute to near impossible levels and everyone will be completely nude within a matter of minutes. The above rules are designed for a game of four players. For proper game balance you should adjust the tribute levels to fit the number of players. For fewer players increase the tribute, and decrease it for larger groups.