Sunday, 26 August 2012

Everyone is John

This Friday's game was postponed and a new GM, Thora, stepped up to the plate and offered to run a a one session game called Everyone is John.  I'd never heard of this game but as it was described as a rules light freeform competitive game, it was just up my alley.

John Cleese
John Cleese
The set-up for the game is simple, John is a normal bloke going about his day-to-day existence when he has a schitzophrenic episode and begins to listen to The Voice in his head.  Each player becomes a voice, with their own unique set of skills and obsessions.  However, John can only listen to one voice at a time so the players must bid using willpower to control The Voice and thereby influence what John does.  It's handy if you represent willpower with a bunch of tokens as players can simply reveal how many tokens they have in their hand.  The winning bidder then loses those tokens for the rest of the game.  

John is quite fickle and so control of The Voice only lasts for about 10 minutes or until a player fails a roll, at which time the bidding process starts again. 

SKILLS AND OBSESSIONS

Jon Bon Jovi
Jon Bon Jovi
Each player is then issued with 6 blank cards upon which they have to write 3 skills and 3 obsessions.  These are then randomly distributed to each player making sure nobody picked their own skills or obsessions.

Skills are used to reduce the difficulty of completing an action and can be actual skills (Boxing, PC Repair, Knowledge: Thermonuclear Devices), special abilities (Hail a cab first time everytime, ) or equipment (Letter Opener, Mobile Phone, Sonic Screwdriver).  Remember, the game is competitive and what you write down goes to your opponents so picking really usefull or powerful skills will most likely work against you.

Obsessions are your victory conditions and are ranked in 3 levels:

Jeanne D'Arc
Level 1 - Easy (pig out on candy, pick your nose on live TV)
Level 2 - Medium (steal a fast car, kiss a celebrity)
Level 3 - Hard (become President of the United States, Go to the Moon)

Each time you complete an obsession you score its Level, the more times you complete them the more points you score.  At the end of the game, the player with the most points is declared the winner.

HOW IT PLAYED FOR US

Our Skills

Can Touch
their Nose
with
Their Tongue
Tune a Guitar Eat Fire Can
Communicate
with a
Single Ant
Sonic Screwdriver Bricklaying Kung Fu Summon a
mode of
Transport by
Smoking
his Last
Cigarette
Can hail a cab
first time,
every time
Fly a plane Literary Criticism Become the
Master of the
Universe
by wearing a
traffic cone  on
his head
and singing
"I've got the Power,
To Pick up a flower"

Our Obsessions

LVL 1 Cook
an Ostrich
Become a
Buddhist
Monk
Pick Nose on
Live TV
Kick an
Authority Figure
up the Bum
and run away
like
Charlie Chaplin
LVL 2 Steal an
Atom Bomb
Stop a
Terrorist Bomb
from destroying
the
Eiffel Tower
Steal a
Waxwork of
Maggie
Thatcher
from
Madame
Tussauds
Draw a
moustache
on a
Traffic Warden
LVL 3 Capture
a Dinosaur
Discover
Australia
Find Evidence
that
Aliens Exist
in Area 51
Make a dog
have a
white poo

What John Did

John Shuttleworth
John Shuttleworth
John began the game walking through Victoria Station, London when he had his first episode.  He then ran outside the station and hailed a cab telling the driver to head for Madame Tussauds Waxwork Museum.  (BID)  He asked the driver to head instead for London Zoo and if he could stop by some road works on the way.  The taxi driver pulled over to the side of the road and John leap out and grabbed a traffic cone, stuck it on his head and started singing "Ive got the Power... To Pick up a Flower".  He then summoned forth all traffic wardens and got back in the taxi. 

As the taxi sped towards London Zoo, traffic wardens were walking out of side roads in a zombie-like trance.  The taxi driver swerved around them and John opened the window and tried to grab one as they passed but failed.  (BID)  John immediately demanded the taxi head to Madame Tussauds and he tried to use his sonic screwdriver to make the taxi go faster, but unfortunately failed.  (BID)  John abandoned the taxi and whilst smoking his last cigarette, summoned the TARDIS.  As it began to materialise he spotted a nearby Lollipop Woman and kicked her up the bum and ran towards the TARDIS (but unfortunately not like Charlie Chaplin).  The Doctor was suprised that the TARDIS had been so easily summoned but when John asked to go back in time to the Jurrasic era to capture a dinosaur, his curiosity got the better of him.

John Belushi
John Belushi
Arriving in the Jurrasic era, The Doctor agreed to wait in the TARDIS for John to return and watched him walk off into the swamp.  (BID)  John used his Literary Criticism to argue with himself that the Doctor was a fictional character and that the TARDIS was a poorly executed plot device and so could not possibly have transported him back through time.  This clearly meant that the swamp he was in was simply a Jurrasic era exhibit in a Natural History Museum somewhere like Sydney, Australia.  He promptly tore the shirt off his back and waved it around in the air and shouted "I claim this land in the name of Queen and Country and hereby name her Australia!!"...

Conclusion

The players got into the swing of things pretty quickly and it was definitely the most hilariously anarchic and inventive game I've played in a long time.  Most RPGs are not wild fights of fantasy for obvious reasons, but it is good to let your hair down every now and then to play something which demands unbridled creativity.  This game would be great in an after convention/party situation or as we found as a filler game if your regular DM hasn't turned up.

John McEnroe
John McEnroe
With slight modification to the pre-amble (Mental Health is a serious issue) and possibly pre-defined skills/goals (to keep the action a little more grounded) this concept could be used quite successfully as an introduction to RPGs for non-gamers.  It encourages problem solving through creativity and imagination and the action is fast paced with only a modicum of dice rolling so should be able to hold most people's attention.

This is definitely going into my GMs Survival Kit and may well get another play quite soon.

Friday, 24 August 2012

A Fresh-ish look at Goblins

After a year long hiatus I'm back at work hanging more meat on the bones of my campaign world.  A long time ago I decided to have one of the land masses, Khorngeldte, inhabited by the goblinoid races who were locked in an incessant war with their neighbhours, the teutonic humans of Wulfschlossen.  This has been largely restricted to both sides forming raiding parties which cross the narrow Straits of Desperation.

In my last campaign I hacked an old Dungeon Magazine scenario for the Therran Campaign (The Secrets of the Towers) in order to visit Korngeldte and introduce two new characters, a Wulfschlossian Knight and his enslaved Half-Orc tracker of undetermined orgin.  Essentially the towers became a convenient plot device allowing the PCs to escape numerous pursuers, cheat death and travel great distances quickly, but importantly, it allowed me to break ground on an untravelled section of my campaign world.

Inevitably this caused me to think about the bigger picture and how the goblinoid races fit into the world, and in the best traditions of world building, do something different which the players won't be expecting.

Goblin by Marcus Dublin
Revisiting Goblinoid Stats

When looking at the D20 SRD we find that as stats go goblins are the weakest goblinoid races, but what they lose in physical strength they make up for in cunning and dexterity.  This lead me to the conclusion that if they are to be able to build (and sustain) a kingdom capable of waging war across the straits of desperation then they must rely on either technology or magic.  

A similar concept is seen in the Lord of The Rings movies where the goblins essentially assist Saruman in the construction of his Uruk army as blacksmiths, engineers and medieval geneticists.

Comparing the stat blocks for the major goblin/orc races shows that in every case goblins do not suffer an INT penalty making them far more likely to develop technologies to compensate for their small size and weak nature.

STR INT DEX CON WIS CHA TRIBE SIZE FAV. CLASS
GOBLIN -2 - 2 - - -2 40-400 Rogue
HOB-GOBLIN - - 2 2 - - 30-300 Fighter
BUGBEAR 4 - 2 2 - -2 0-20 Rogue
ORC 4 -2 - - -2 -2 30-100 Barbarian
HALF-ORC 2 -2 - - - -2 - Barbarian

Goblin Blacksmith from
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Goblins only have an improved DEX stat but their Rogue class leanings lends nicely to the idea that they are tinkerers and inventors as well as skulking backstabbers.  This is supported in the Warhammer universe where the goblins are seen to be quite inventive in nature and get all manner of cool, if shoddily constructed, war machines like the Spear Chukka, the Skull Crusher and the Man Mangoler.  One of my favourite depictions of a goblin was in the movie Hellboy II: The Golden Army where the Elf King employed the goblins to manufacture an unstoppable army of robots to wage war on humanity. 

Another popular goblin trope is that of the Warg or Wolf riding goblin which suggests they have become accomplished animal handlers in order to seize a tactical advantage.  Using animals as beasts of burden and ultimately as a power source for machinery is a necessary step upon the ladder of technological evolution.

Hob-Goblins are slightly less numerous and do not suffer the CHA penalty which hints at a possible demi-human connection.  Their Fighter class makes them likely to resolve conflict through arms rather than cunning so I can quite happily see them being turned into some sort of specially bred warrior class.

Bugbears are the rarest of all the goblins and their propensity for living in caves in very small tribes esssentially writes them off for me as a potential leader.

Orcs are basically big, strong, dumb, savage, barbarians and have significantly smaller tribe sizes than goblins which leads me to conclude that an organised goblin leader could control these creatures in small numbers if he found suitable forms of leverage as a reward for loyalty such as an addiction to a psychotropic brew or some other delicacy that the Orcs enjoyed but could not manufacture for themselves... human flesh perhaps?

Half-Orcs occupy an uncomfortable middle ground in my world, they are despised by both Humans and Orcs for not being Human or Orc enough but are an unhappy by-product of Orc raids.  I have already used a Half-Orc PC as an enslaved tracker and suspect that the goblins will have some sort of menial place for those Half-Orcs that escape the clutches of the their trueblood bretheren.

The Goblin King

Putting David Bowie's portrayal of the Goblin King Jhared aside, the concept of a Goblin King features in many myths and legends.  Some etymological research suggests that the word "Gob" or "Ghob" refers specifically to the King of the Gnomes and that Goblings are lesser gnomes.  I need a Goblin King to rule my Goblin Kingdom and see this role being filled by a goblin of unnatural intelligence, cunning and deceit.  A goblin society founded on the meritocrious principle that any goblin could rise to be the ruler through cunning, deceit and backstabbery might also produce a peculiar class of goblin politicians which I find perversely appealing.

Goblin King by Tristan HaoHao

Technology


In order cross the Straits of Desperation, my goblin war bands would need boats, these could be orc powered in the form of a bireme or longship, but if the goblins have started their own industrial revolution then a more fitting form of transport would be crude steamships.  My background for the goblin capital Tak Mor has this situated between the "Iron Tree Forest" which supplies the ore for smelting and the "Fetid Sea" which the goblins are polluting with their oil waste.

I am particularly enamoured by the Empire Landship models produced by Warhammer Forge.  I'm sure that any Wulfschlossonian villagers would be terrified if they saw one of these monstrosities lurching out of the sea on its paddle-wheels.

Marienburg Class Empire Landship - expertly painted by James Wappel
I know I'm not the first person to suggest the concept of intelligent goblins, but I feel that their current niche in the fantasy bestiary as monster minions just doesn't do them justice.

A to Z of Judge Dredd at Quaequam

In anticipation of the UK cinema release of the new Judge Dredd film on the 7th of September.

I'm highlighting my old chum James Graham who is currently blogging an A to Z of Judge Dredd which is well worth a look.

Keep up the good work Jim.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Super Secret Happy Birthday Gary Gygax Giveaway Bundle Extravapalooza!

WOTC reprint 1st Edition Players Handbook
WOTC reprint
1st Edition Players Handbook

The Secret DM is running a great contest with an awesome prize...

A complete set of WOTCs recently reprinted 1st edition AD&D books!!


and

The chance to have your submission published in a professionally produced digital edition!!


All you have to do is to come up with a 10 room dungeon which evokes the feeling of 1st edition and submit your entry to thesecretdm@gmail.com with the subject line Gygax Contest.

The contest runs until 27th September 2012, so get your designing pens out... I know I will.


Thursday, 16 August 2012

August 2012 RPG Blog Carnival - What's in your Backpack?

The Gassy Gnoll of Game Knight Reviews is hosting this month's RPG Blog Carnival and asks the question "What's in your Backpack?" to which I answer "Item Cards".

A selection of item cards
A sample of item cards - Available as a free PDF from RPG NOW

Now you may think that this is just a piece of blatant self promotion, but in reality this is a question which has plagued some of my (and possible your) games for years...

THE BACKPACK OF HOLDING

These non-magical backpacks, which are entirely indistinguishable from a normal backpack, bestow upon certain players the uncanny ability to pull out exactly the right item with which to execute their plan and save the day in the nick of time.  When challenged these players will often say that they've had the item for ages or that they bought it in that town they visited 6 months ago. 

In the interests of game play it is often best not to argue, but there are times when it can be detrimental to the natural flow of the plot and you need the party to have eaten their last lembas cake, supped their last drop of water or be confronted by the reality that they don't have a rope to their name when they've got a rope type dilemma.

ENCUMBERANCE IS A CHORE

As Berin Kingsman writes, the backpack is "an in-game manifestation of my least-favorite mechanic: encumbrance" and I've got to agree with him.  Maintaining your equipment list as a part of your character sheet is a downright chore but it also presents a few other problems.

1.  Character sheets are a player's preserve not the GM's - When GMing, I'm pretty busy and certainly don't have time to ensure that your equipment is in order and that you've been marking off your rations like a good little player, that's your job!!.  However, this is easily rectified through item cards.  Basically, if you can't produce it when challenged then tough, you simply don't have it.  You can't argue all you want that you left it in your other backpack or it's in the saddlebags on the horse which is currently enjoying a holiday in the dragon's belly, but you'll only look stupid in front of the other players.  This also cures the "infinite spell components" faux pas which affects most spellcaster PCs.

2.  PC thieves steal from other PCs, fact! - How many times has your party contained a kleptomaniac PC who likes to look through everyones gear, well now they can, safe in the knowledge that they won't see any secret annotations on the victim PCs character sheet.  Just hand them the contents of your backpack and let them rifle through to their hearts content.  Better still, do it secretly and the victim PC might not even notice that the item is gone.

3.  PCs lose stuff all the time - If you had a 300 year old heirloom sword you'd look after it right?  Not PCs, they leave these things on inn tables, in slain dragons, on the floor, under pillows, in fact everywhere other than in their scabbard or sword belt.  Now unless these weapons are magical hammers like Mjolnir, most will only return to their owners hand with the assistance of copious amounts of strong elastic, which the last time I looked wasn't in their backpack!! 

Again the item card comes to the rescue, when they lose an item they have to give it up to the GM and it is lost unless they make a concerted effort to find it.  This also goes for those clumsy characters who seem to find every ravine or cliff edge and then fall off it, you break it you lose it.

Medieval Flint and Steel
A Medieval Flint and Steel
4.  Finding stuff is fun and rewarding - Finding shiny stuff is a pleasure that can often become dull with time.  But you should see your players eyes light up when you give them a new card with a picture of a diamond necklace, or a +1 magic spoon of dining.  It's like watching a bunch of kids opening pokemon boosters, all their birthdays and christmasses have come at once. 

But seriously, having a representation of an item can also be incredibly useful and educational.  A fact I discovered Whilst researching the images for my item cards.  My preconceptions about what an item looked like or how it was used were frequently challenged.  Just take the common or garden flint and steel, for years I imagined a piece of flint and a knurled steel rod (just like I used when I was a boy scout), but the medieval version was actually hoop shaped and held in the fist like a knuckle duster.

Likewise, I find players treat their loot differently when they can visualise it with a jewellery card or a gemstone card.  You can even make items critical to your plot in the form of a key or the parts of a puzzle.  When I last ran "Challenge of Champions" I created item cards for each of items provided in each challenge which was an immense help to my players (who are not all card carrying D&D geeks) when they tried to solve the puzzles in real time.

5.  50' of hemp rope is pretty large and heavy - This is the bit of encumberance which is frankly a cludge, as it's usually interpreted  as a function of weight and not a factor of bulk.  Other items aren't easily stowed such as a 10 foot pole.  It only takes up one slot on an equipment list but it doesn't fit in a backpack which means it has to be either put together in sections or you have to hold it.  Which leads on to the next problem...

6.  PCs only have one pair of hands, usually - The classic faux pas of most players is that they're so busy fighting with a two-handed weapon they forget that they're still taking the AC bonus from their shield.  Item cards come in handy (pardon the pun) as a visual reminder of what their PC is holding at any one time, a concept familiar to Legend of Zelda players the world over.  The logical extension of this is for players to arrange their cards in a series of stacks as a visual reminder, I normally define this as the BACK (carried on your back) RIGHT (hand), LEFT (hand), WORN (on a belt or on your head) and STOWED (on a horse or in a backpack) stacks. 

This is a particularly useful mechanic when either entering or engaged in combat,  as player will need to decide what they are going to attack with before hand.  If they lose a weapon through a fumbled roll they may need to draw a different one.  Spellcasters and other non-combat specialists may become embroiled and have to use up combat rounds fishing about in a backpack for that wand or pot of greek fire that they want to use.  It really does make a difference to how your party treats combat.


Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Stainless Steel Rat is no more, RIP Harry Harrison

Stainless Steel Rat author Harry Harrison has passed away aged 87.  He will be sorely missed.

Stainless Steel Rat for President
2000AD Prog 393

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Make: iPhone Dice Tower

iPhone 3G box - nicely sized for use  as a dice tower or dice box
iPhone 3G box - nicely sized for use
as a dice tower or dice box
iPhone dice tower: Prepare to decouple
Prepare to decouple
iPhone dice tower: Decoupled!
Decoupled!
iPhone dice tower: ready to nest
Ready to nest
iPhone dice tower: Nested and ready for action!
Nested and ready for action!!
Okay, so it's not a dice tower made out of actual iphones, rather just the extremely sturdy boxy it came in.  I stumbled on this instructable the other day and knocked this out in a lull between olympic events last night.   

My iphone 3G got stolen a couple of years ago and I still had the box, so i decided to put the box to good use.  The 3G box is considerably larger than either the 3GS or the iphone 4 boxes (as used in the instructable) and makes a more practicle dice tower and also doubles as a capacious dice box. 

I followed the general guide in the instructable, but as I wasn't using exactly the same box, I needed to fiddle with the dimensions of the opening hole.  I also elected to just go with one baffle which throws the dice forwards onto the cradle and then down onto the 45 degree baffle at the bottom.  I think that the second baffle's job is to slow down the dice, lessening bounce-out, so I would reccommend that you stick with the instructable and put 2 baffles in if you try this yourself. 

After construction I discovered that my hand was just a bit too podgy to comfortably retrieve the dice and the visibility from an observers point of view was also quite poor.

It was a trivial matter to trim the edges of the lid at a angle to rectify this whilst maintaining its function as a lid.  I also discovered during modification that there is enough material in the off-cuts to make your baffles.  It is entirely possible to construct the dice tower solely from the contents of the iphone box with no need to resort to scraps of foam board.  Of course you will still need the glue to hold the whole thing together.


The other advantage of the using an iphone 3G box is that it comes with foam pre-glued into the lid already, which dramtically reduces the chance of dice bouncing out. 

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Cyberpunk: Appendix N - Inspirational and Educational Material


In the Gygaxian tradition here is my Appendix N for Cyberpunk, a list of the books, movies and anime which have inspired my cyberpunk adventures since first encountering it in the very late 80s.  Also available on Pinterest. 

Please do not treat this an exhaustive list of what is and isn't considered cyberpunk, these are just the things which have inspired me, I will probably add to it when I get access to the deep recesses of my cortex.

Cyberpunk - APPENDIX N: Inspirational and Educational Material

BOOKS
MOVIES

ANIME

Friday, 10 August 2012

NSFW Movie Double Bubble - Cobra The Space Pirate and Cockneys vs Zombies

The classic 80s adult themed anime Space Adventure Cobra gets a live action movie directed by Alexander Aja (Piranha, The Hills Have Eyes).  Scheduled for 2013 there are no details other than this sweet poster.  I could be mistaken, but is that David Wenham (300, Van Helsing, Lord of The Rings, Australia)  posing as Cobra, I do hope so, cos he's a great character actor.



Thanks to the Troll Lord Stephen Chenault, for finding the trailer for Cockneys vs Zombies which if you haven't seen it is here.



Michelle Ryan (Eastenders) leads an unlikely ensemble cast including Alan Ford (aka Bricktop), Honor Blackman (aka Pussy Galore) and Richard Briers (aka Tom Goode) in a tale of Eastend bankrobbers going toe-to-stump with the walking dead.  Looks like a riot.

I'm no Eastender but isn't cockney rhyming slang for zombies, Stale Bread ... Walking Dead?

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Help Save Great Sci-Fi for the Future

Roger Zelazny's "Damnation Alley"
Roger Zelany's "Damnation Alley"
Savethescifi.com is a great sounding startup which aims to preserve out of print vintage sci-fi novels by turning them into e-books.  It's certainly an interesting business model and a worthy cause which has support from noted authors Neil Gaiman and Ken Macleod

Essentially as a subscriber you will help to choose which books they acquire the rights to and you get it as part of your membership.  The small team of 3 "time-travelling archivists" aim to save at least 1 book a month and they already have a list of some quite suprising candidates in the shape of:
 
Roger Zelazny's "Damnation Alley", Poul Anderson's "Day of their Return", "Mayday Orbit" and "Go Home, Earthman!", Arthur C Clarke's "Imperial Earth" and  Michael Moorcock's "The Final Programme".

There is also a plan to launch a new Brooklyn bookstore where you can buy the saved works (and others) in dead tree format do help join the this and save some sci-fi books from being lost in the future.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

10 Reasons Why D&D is better than an MMORPG

Bill Cavalier
Bill Cavalier
1.  D&D doesn't crash hang or lag
2.  D&D doesn't have gold farmers
3.  D&D minions don't respawn
4.  D&D doen't need an internet connection or a subscription
5.  D&D graphics are the best you can imagine
6.  D&D lets you rewrite its bugs yourself
7.  D&D has the best plots you can imagine
8.  D&D doesn't become obsolete, just unfashionable
9.  D&D has an infinite number of hours play
10.  D&D doesn't have cheat codes

Thanks to Bill Cavalier's latest video "The Stingy DM" for the inspiration.