Thursday, August 28, 2008

Some d10 math

Average roll of 1d10: 5.5
Average roll of exploding d10: 6.11111111111
Average roll of two d10's (non-exploding) keeping just the highest die: 7.15

If I remember correctly from all the math I did back when I was playing 7th Sea, each unkept d10 (in a system where dice explode) raised the average roll of the dice by nearly 2 points.
So 1k1 averages 6, 2k1 (roll 2 dice and keep one) averages about 8, 3k1 averages around 10, 4k1 averages nearly 12, etc.
The math to prove this is more than I want to deal with right at the moment, as this post is purely a tangent to something else I was writing about. So take the above with a grain of salt. I'm pretty sure I worked it out and proved it, but that was 4 or 6 years ago, and I couldn't do so today without an hour or two of hair-pulling math to verify it.

a) there's a probability chart in the 7th Sea GMs guide to save you the trouble,
b) I'm not running 7th Sea right now so there's no need for me to work it out precisely.

Exploding Dice

Some RPGs have a mechanic called "exploding dice" - in general, it means that if a die rolls it's highest value, you roll it again and add both rolls together. Example: You roll a "6" on a d6 - in a game with exploding dice, you'd roll the 6 again and add both rolls together. In some versions, a second "6" result would mean a third roll and a result greater than 12.

Most people who read this blog are probably familiar with the concept and the term, but I'd rather just explain the reference here rather than have to explain it again every time I mention the term.

One interesting side-effect of exploding dice is that certain results can't be rolled, and your bell curve ends up lop-sided. Using the d6 example above, you can roll 1-5, 7-11, and 13-17, but you can't ever roll a 6, 12, or 18.

This can have major impact if your gaming has a sliding difficulty scale. If the difficulty was 5, and you apply a standard +1 difficulty modifier, you've just cut the chance of success in half (from 33% to 16.6%). However, a second +1 difficulty modifier on the same roll doesn't impact the chance of success at all (stays at 16.6%), and a third +1 difficulty modifier only reduces it slightly (from 16.6% to 13.8%).

Savage Platypus

A week ago we played an interesting RPG at the Wayward Coffeehouse as part of the Emerald City Game Feast. It was basically Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, but using the system from Savage Worlds.

About the setting and adventure: the setting was per the Mutants Down Under and After The Bomb supplements for TMNT&OS. PCs included a Platypus, an Echidna, an Emu, a Crocigator, and a Koala. I played a fair amount of TMNT in junior high, but setting it in post-apocalyptic Australia made it feel completely new and weird. Not just the drop bears and monotremes - there were giant insects everywhere, triceratops in UFOs, tattered remnant clusters of collapsed civilization, and zeppelin's o'er the outback. My wife and I both had fun. The adventure was short, but well tailored to new players at a cafe one-shot.

About the pregenerated character: It was completely broken, but I never noticed. In retrospect, he was clearly intended to turn invisible and attack from surprise via platypus poison - but since he had the pacifist flaw (limitation/hindrance/whatever-it's-called) I never used him that way. It wasn't until talking on the way home that the light bulb went on and I realized how sickly badass (and one-dimensional) he'd have been if he didn't have that pacifism holding him back. I wish I'd noticed it earlier, as the inner conflict could have been fun to roleplay.

About the Savage Worlds system: Man, do I ever want to like that system. It's pretty quick, and mostly math light. The system is streamlined so you rarely have to do math in the middle of the game. With the exception of damage, you roll multiple dice (of different types), but typically use only the highest single die. (Other than damage,) You only do math if your dice explode, and that's enough of an emotional high to justify the extra couple seconds.
There's a lot to love about Savage Worlds, but it has some flaws that were obvious from just a single session's play:
  • Judging from the character sheets we had, it's an easily abused system. The ambidexterity talent was insanely good - or perhaps just being misinterpreted. Certain power combos seemed degenerate. Balance doesn't seem to be it's strong suit. With an open-ended "buy anything" xp system, I imagine it's hard to anticipate what makes a good challenge for your group. The power level of the various PCs was pretty variable. I'm lookin' at you, Drop Bear.
  • It uses d4s with great frequency and regularity. Someday I'll blog about my hatred of the d4 - it's not just 'cause I've stepped on them.
  • Damage. The rest of the game involved simple rolls with almost no math. But, for reasons unexplained, damage involved tons of math. There was a target number to hit, and a different target number to hit and do extra damage. Instead of rolling 2 or 3 dice and keeping the highest, you rolled 3 or more dice and added them all together. Then that total was compared to some sort of soak stat. If you just barely hit it, they were staggered, but every X points you beat the roll buy, it did another wound. Then there was some way the victim could spend a drama die to reduce the wounds. (My apologies for not using the correct terminology in the last couple sentences, I played once, a week ago, without reading a rulebook. I retained concepts, but not specific details and terms.) Overall, it was probably no more complicated than Scion's damage system - but existing as it did on a really rules light elegant system, it was just this sad eyesore that was hard to ignore.
It makes me want to go buy a copy of Savage Worlds so I can learn for myself whether damage is really that fiddly or if we were using some odd house-rules.

Either way, even with the damage oddities, the system seemed far more sensible and slightly better balanced than the original TMNT system.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Scion Update

Realized I haven't done an update on the Scion campaign in quite a while. The PCs defeated the evil fallen Scion of Poseidon, and saved America from Fascism on live national TV. This culminated in thermonuclear apotheosis.

The next session will be largely spent upgrading the PCs via the God Template - they will be Legend 11 (lesser) Gods. I imagine (hope) the campaign will feel drastically different with the PCs swinging that kind of power. Some house-rules I'll be implementing at that level:

  • Changing Bavatar (the form of "Avatar" that is a Birthright) to make each level give you another body you can manifest as. The legend of each is set upon purchasing them, as is their physical appearance. Each Avatar will have it's own fatebindings, reputation, etc. The overall number of dots of Avatar determines how low a Legend any of them can have. You can only manifest as one Avatar at a time (unless you have Army of One or CoLocation). I'm giving each PC one free dot of the Avatar birthright.
  • Altering the Fatebinding rules. I never got in the habit of rolling for them, since it's almost impossible to become fatebound prior to Demigod Upgrade, and virtually guaranteed to happen every time you spend a Legend point post-upgrade. As a result, I don't have hard-and-fast lists of fatebound mortals. So, I'm making a list for each Avatar of the things that are believed about (and/or expected from) them. Bonus from reverence will be +/-1 (success, not die) per mortal witness, up to maximum of Legend.
  • Making sure all the PCs have some way to travel from World to Under/Over-World. May add a couple of new alternate boons to fulfill that.
  • XP cap on high-level things. I want the PCs to keep advancing as the game grows, but 5xp per session and costs of 30-40 xp per power won't allow that. So, once the cost of something hits 15 or more xp, it will only go up by one point more per level thereafter. If your 4th dot of Epic Wits cost you 15xp, the 5th dot will cost only 16xp (not 20) and the Ultimate will cost 22xp, not 50. Likewise with Boons - they'll cost 4, 8, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, or 23 xp, not up to 40. Some may feel this encourages players to buy the highest boons only - but honestly, levels 6-10 of many boons are interchangable anyway with pretty arbitrary decisions as to why which occurs later.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

McCain camp insults gamers

McCain insulting gamers? You'd almost think I'd made it up - after all, it's a perfect thing for me to cross post to both blogs - but it's real:
"It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to
disparage a fellow countryman's memory of war from the comfort of mom's
basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect
and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others."
- McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb, on McCain's blog
Not that I was going to vote for McBush anyway, but now I'm really angry. Them's fightin' words! Insinuating that gamers have no respect for servicemen is pretty low and vile. You'd think with his much vaunted military service, McCain would know how many service men are gamers.

But wait, you say - it's just one little throw away comment. No, it's not. It's multiple comments. Goldfarb, official spokesman for the McCain camp insults Dungeons and Dragons players on a regular basis. For example, in his recent rant against the New York Times:
"If the shareholders of The New York Times ever wonder why the paper's ad revenue is plummeting and its share price tanking, they need look no further than the hysterical reaction of the paper's editors to any slight, real or imagined, against their preferred candidate," said McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb.

Goldfarb compared the editors to a blogger "sitting at home in his mother's basement and ranting into the ether between games of Dungeons & Dragons."

Out Of Place Artifacts

I was surprised to discover that the wikipedia article on OOPArts (Out Of Place Artifacts) is pretty thorough. Well worth a read-through and click-through of the various sub articles. If this article had existed back when I was running continuum, I'd have worked several of these into the story.

Validated cases

  • The Maine Penny found in Blue Hill, Maine. An 11th century Norse coin found in an American Indian shell midden. Over 20,000 objects were found over a 15-year period at the Goddard site in Blue Hill. The sole OOPArt was the coin.[3][4] One hypothesis is that it may have been brought to the site from a Viking settlement in Newfoundland by seagoing Native Americans.
  • The Iron pillar in India, dating around to AD 423.
  • The Antikythera mechanism, a geared device manufactured ca. 100 BC, believed to be an orrery for predicting the motion of the sun, moon and planets.
  • Tablets and artifacts discovered in Glozel, France in the 1920s and '30s, some of which were inscribed with an unknown, undeciphered alphabet.
Other parts of the article provide similar links to more controversial OOPArts, ones that are still debated, like the Baghdad Battery that they used to electroplate on mythbusters.

See also

Legendary Surge vs. Itztli 9

When asked about the similarities between the "Legendary Surge" spell and the "Communal Divinity" level of Itztli (two powers which do the same thing, but have been assigned to power levels 2 and 9), Jesse (of White Wolf) said this:

Legendary Surge vs. Itztli 9: Not only does Legendary Surge have a surcharge, but it creates a Fatebinding automatically (because it's a Magic spell). Being heavily Fatebound to the rest of your group can be liability, especially if it's accentuating a role that pushes you into conflict with the other Scions.
I can't decide whether or not to reply to that on the Official Scion Companion Thread. On one hand, I'm really thankful that he took the time to answer, and I think it's awesome that he's trying to get his explanations and unwritten rules put into the revised version of the Scion Companion pdf. ...But on the other hand, that explanation is bunk.

In regards to the surcharge: The surcharge is just 1 measly point of temporary legend. A character capable of using a 2nd level spell will have a legend pool ranging anywhere between 9 and 144. At the lower end, that's meaningful - the surcharge could be 11% of your total legend pool. But at that low end, you can't even have the 9th dot of a purview - even with the surcharge, having a power is better than not being able to have the power. In order to buy Itzli 9, your Legend pool has to be at least 100 points - so the surcharge is at most 1% of your pool, and is pretty much just trivial. At Legend 10, the surcharge is practically irrelevant in determining which power you'd rather have. Not having a surcharge would explain away a variance of one, maybe two, dots in power level - but not a 7 level gap.

In regards to the fatebonding: Yes, magic does have the drawback of fatebinding, but it will never happen as he described it. The rules specify that Scions don't end up in fatebound roles to other characters. To quote page 223 of Hero: "Unlike mortals, however, supernatural beings don't succumb to Fatebound Roles; the retain their free will. ... At the storyteller's discretion, certain supernatural creatures or beings might come under the effect of a Fatebound Role, but Scions and Gods never do." Even if that paragraph didn't exist, I think it would be very rare that a ST would assign a negative fatebinding role to a PC. Making a PC suddenly become the Nemesis, Traitor, or Weak Link just seems like a recipe for campaign-wrecking disaster. Most players would hate being straight-jacketed into such a role: permanently switching from good guy to bad guy "overnight" because a different PC cast a low-level spell? Yes, there's individual players (and perhaps whole groups) who'd have a blast with that (but if so, then it's not being a limitation or deterrent, is it?). For the rest of us, it'd be a nightmare.

  • Thus, of the two limitations he mentions, neither one would make you choose Itzli 9 over the level 2 spell.
One major reason to by the spell: because it's so much cheaper. The level 2 spell costs 8 to 10 xp (actually, for 7-9 xp you can buy the first 2 dots of the Magic purview, which come with a free 1st level spell and a free 2nd level spell). The 9th dot of a Pantheon Specific Purview (like Itzli) costs 32 xp - on top of the 115 xp you had to spend getting the 8 levels that stand as prerequisites to Itzli 9. To be fair, the Magic purview requires a 1 dot Birthright as well, but I should mention that by the time you reach the requisite legend to buy Itzli 9, you have at least 15 dots of Birthrights, could potentially have as many as 60 Birthright Dots if you went crazy on them, and may even have the stats to be able to make your own Birthrights in-character.

As mentioned above, you only need Legend Rating 3 to use the Spell. To buy Itzli 9 you need to be an Aztec God of Legend Rating 10, 11, or 12. That's yet another way Legendary Surge is better than Communal Divinity.

The spell is also better than Itzli 9 in that the spell requires a miscellaneous action (Speed: 5, DV -1) from just the caster, and can be done at range. Itzli 9 takes a (Speed: 5, DV -2) action from both the caster and the recipient - they have to exchange ichor via close physical contact ranging from a sloppy kiss to becoming blood brothers. So, if you plan on using the power in combat, you're better off with the spell.

The final way that the 2-dot spell is better than Itzli 9 is availability. Literally any Scion character can buy the Magic Purview. Only Scions of Aztec gods can buy Itzli. If the levels were reversed, perhaps my objection would fade away. I might accept that a single pantheon has the advantage of getting an effect cheaper than most PCs. But the inverse, where everyone can get the effect cheaper than the Aztec-exclusive method doesn't make much sense to me.

That said, Jesse didn't mention the 2 ways that Itzli 9 is actually better than the 2-dot Spell:

  1. Itzli doesn't require a die roll. For the 2nd level spell, you can only transfer an amount of legend less than or equal to the successes you roll. At the lower levels of play, this isn't a big deal, as you'll never be transferring more than a couple points of Legend anyway. At the higher end it does matter, as you'd be able to give 30 legend to a fellow God to power their next Avatar. If you're making an Aztec PC, and plan on having no (or low) Epic Wits for in-character reasons, and the campaign is likely to last unto Godhood, and you expect to need to transfer 20 or more points of legend per use, Itzli 9 is better than the spell. I should qualify that, though: Itzli 9 is only significantly better if you need the Legend transferred quickly. If there's no ticking deadline, nothing stops you from using the spell multiple times in a scene.
  2. Itzli 9 is the prerequisite for Itzli 10. If the ability to give temp Legend points to other PCs is of minor concern to you, but you're playing an Aztec PC and plan to advance to Itzli 10, then why waste points on a redundant spell? Of course, I don't really agree that this logic will apply to many characters. Itzli 10 is very powerful, but it's also very grizzly. The activation cost includes sacrificing a close blood relative. In a game with strong heroic leanings, like Scion, the majority of PCs won't want to buy Itzli 10. If, however, Itzli 10 is something you plan to buy, you'll have to get Itzli 9.
*Sigh* I'm probably going to have to go point some of this out to Jesse. His point about Fatebindings indicates a significant divide between the rules as written and how he's using them. Since he's authoring books for the game line, that probably needs to be addressed. But other than the Fatebinding issue, I'll probably not bring up all these other points to him, at least not in the Official Scion Companion Thread. Random grognard bitching on the internet about a rule he doesn't like is pretty much accepted and expected these days, but getting into author's face in his own 'parlor' is probably something I should try to avoid doing when possible.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Orky Lost and GwenCon

I'm just a couple weeks away from GwenCon, and I still haven't done much to prep for it. On Friday, I started pouring over my Orky 'Eresy notes and making the PCs for my Orky Lost scenario, while I had the first 4 episodes of Lost running in the background.

One of the things I learned in the process was that while my Orky conversion of Dark Heresy and WFRP could work well for a long-term campaign, it was still too complicated and fiddly for a one-shot. To illustrate that point, I'll include the partial character sheet text for the the beginning stages of the characters. Each of them had over 3,000 xp already, and they hadn't grown beyond the introductory 32 classes I'd posted here yet. Since those 32 careers don't include Painboy, which the Jack ork needs to be, clearly I still had a lot of work to do. These are all very rough-drafty:

Jack - Painboy Nob Bad Moons
(Bad Moons Clanboy, Syringe Boy, 3200 xp)
Flashback - You were working on Da Big Boss, and you accidentally made all his brains spill out. You pretended to be scared for 5 seconds, so he'd die.
WS BS Str Tuff Agi Int Will Fell Perc Wnds Psi
15 5 15 10 5 0 5 10 5 2 Nil
Skills: Common Lore (Bad Moons Clan), Barter, Swim, Carouse, Intimidate, Dodge, Evaluate, Squig Use, Scrutiny, Awareness
Talents: Pistol Training (SP), Basic Weapon Training (Prim), Melee Weapon Training (Prim), Light Sleeper, Takedown, Resistance (Drugs)
Trappings: Axe or AutoPistol, Autogun or Pump-Action Shotgun, hairsquig or 1d6 eatin’ squigs, squigpet or 1d10 eatin’ squigs, brightly colored Flak Jacket, backplate with yellow and black moon symbol, 2d6 teef, Mallet or club, bonesaw, 1d6+1 small Syringesquigs, 3d6 teef

Kate - Goff Skarboy Renegade - Used to ride a black boar
(Goff Clanboy, Skarboy, 3200 xp)
Flashback - You killed a Nob, and 'ad to go on da run. You were in shackles when the ship crashed. There's a wounded Flash Gitz on da ground, who'd been chasing ya.
WS BS Str Tuff Agi Int Will Fell Perc Wnds Psi
20 5 20 15 5 0 5 0 0 3 Nil
Skills: Common Lore (Goff Clan), Survival, Climb, Carouse, Command, Intimidate, Dodge, Acrobatics,
Talents: Pistol Training (SP), Melee Weapon Training (Prim), Ambidextrous, Melee Weapon Training (Chain) or Pistol Weapon Training (Bolt), Two-Weapon Wielder (Melee), Nerves of Steel, Arms Master
Trappings: Axe, Stub Automatic or Hand Cannon, Knife, black Flak Jacket (though it can have a contrasting trim or checkerboard pattern), poor-quality Flak helmet with horns, backplate with a bull’s head logo, hairsquig or squigpet or 1d6 eatin’ squigs, 1d10 teef, Chainsword or Bolt Pistol, Knife or Sword or Axe, Carapace Helmet with Horns, 2d6 teef

Locke - Oddboy, Stormboy, Yeller, Evil Sunz
(Evil Sunz clanboy, Oddboy, 3100 xp)
Flashback - You used to be a Cybork. Your Boss 'ad thrown you out an airlock, and only your head survived. But when the ship crashed here, you woke up and found your body had grown back.
WS BS Str Tuff Agi Int Will Fell Perc Wnds Psi
10 10 5 10 10 0 10 5 10 2 Nil
Skills: Common Lore (Evil Sunz Clan), Drive (Ground), Climb, Carouse, Intimidate, Dodge, Tracking, Blather, Scrutiny, Awareness
Talents: Pistol Training (SP), Melee Weapon Training (Prim), Chicken Playa or Eadlong Leap, Leap Up, Talented (Any one Agility, Intelligence, Willpower or Perception-based skill), Meditation
Trappings: Knife, Autopistol, red Heavy Leathers, Flak helmet, backplate with grinning face in a sunburst, fuelsquig, oilsquig, eatin’ squig, 1d10 teef, 1d6 eatin’ squigs, tool or spyglass or toolsquig, knife, 1d10 teef

Sawyer - Sneaky Git Lootah Deathskullz
(Deathskullz, Lootah, 3700 xp)
Flashback - You're a sneaky git. You're not really named Sawyer, you took that name off a dead ork dat 'caused you lots a grief.
WS BS Str Tuff Agi Int Will Fell Perc Wnds Psi
5 10 10 10 15 5 10 0 20 2 Nil
Skills: Common Lore (Deathskullz Clan), Survival, Evaluate, Climb, Carouse, Search, Dodge, Awareness, Evaluate, Search, Tracking, Sleight of Hand ,
Talents: Pistol Training (SP), Melee Weapon Training (Prim), Paranoia, Hieghtened Senses (your choice), Nerves of Steel, Weapon Training (one weapon of your choice, can be pistol/basic/melee/exotic/heavy)
Trappings: Axe, Hunting Rifle or Autopistol or Shotgun, Knife, 1d6 clips (each for a different weapon), 1d6 charms, flak helmet (probably blue), flak vest, flak gauntlets, Backplate with a blue and white skull symbol, hairsquig or squigpet or 1d6 eatin’ squigs, 1d10 teef, 1d6 clips (all from different weapons), poor-quality but unusual weapon (choose any weapon whose normal value is 50 teef or less), 1d6 charms and trinkets, 3d6 teef

Sayid - Mekaniak, Blood Axe
(Blood Axe Boy, Spanner, 3400 xp)
Flashback - You used to serve a different Warboss. Also, while you're not skilled to be a painboy, you kinda like ripping people apart.
WS BS Str Tuff Agi Int Will Fell Perc Wnds Psi
10 10 10 5 10 10 5 5 10 2 Nil
Skills: Common Lore (Blood Axe Clan), Evaluate, Survival, Carouse, Decieve, Dodge, Silent Move, Tech Use, Evaluate, Security
Talents: Pistol Training (Las), Melee Weapon Training (Prim), Basic Weapon Training (Las), Disturbing Voice, Buggymate or Technical Knock, Pistol or Basic Weapon Training (SP), Wrecka
Trappings: Axe or Laspistol, Lasgun or Laspistol, Flak Helmet, Flak Vest, Backplate with Blood Axe symbol, camoflauged poncho, hairsquig or squigpet or 1d6 eatin’ squigs, 1d6 teef, 2d10 Imperial Throne Gelt, Imperial Charm, Backpack, Spanner (a big wrench), handcannon or autopistol or shotgun, oilsquig or fuelsquig, 4d6 teef

Michael - Runtherd, Grotherd, Snakebite
(Snakebitez Clanboy, Slaver, 3400xp)
Flashback - Your best Runt, Wart, is a Weirdgretch. His brain makes crazy bad stuff happen.
WS BS Str Tuff Agi Int Will Fell Perc Wnds Psi
15 5 5 10 15 5 5 0 10 2 Nil
Skills: Common Lore (Snakebitez Clan), Survival, Climb, Swim, Carouse, Dodge, Wrangling, Common Lore (Runts), Acrobatics, Shadowing, Trade (Slaving), Intimidate
Talents: Basic Weapon Training (SP), Melee Weapon Training (Prim), Resistance (Poison), Sprint, Lightning Reflexes, Takedown
Trappings: Axe or Spear, Hunting Rifle, Knife, Grox hides or heavy leathers, backplate with a snake symbol, hairsquig or squigpet or faceeatersquig or mildly venomous snake or 1d6 eatin’ squigs, 1d10 teef, Spear or staff, club, backpack, sack, 2d6 meters of rope, 1d6 squigs or 1d6 snotlings, 3d6 teef

Obviously, that wasn't going to work. I was going to have very dense character sheets, packed with explanations of how various Talents work. And since part of how the careers were balanced involved the "Trappings" I was either going to have balance issues or completely fail to get the feeling that they were stranded on an island with minimal resources. So, back to the drawing board.

I am going to streamline the heck out of the system. It will be abstract and simple when I'm done, and may not end up feeling much at all like the original. But for a one-shot (where I may not even know the players in advance) that's just perfect. That will allow me to focus on tone and flavor, not the accuracy of every little mechanical detail.

Experience and Training Times

I posted the following to the Scion Forums today. It was in response to someone saying that the "Speed Reader" knack should have an extra benefit of allowing people to raise knowledge-based skills faster. It's pretty coarse as-is, but I may refine it into a more useful essay sometime...

In most RPGs, I neither require people to spend time training in order to raise their stats or skills, nor do I reward those who spent time doing so with bonus xp or free dice or the like. It's a little unrealistic, to be sure, but that extra level of realism doesn't really benefit the game more.

Generally speaking, I just accept that XP is an abstract medium that exists purely for purposes of game balance. It doesn't really model character development - instead it's a way to reward player participation and enable them to tune their PC after character-creation. I don't figure it is meant to approximate the way people actually progress in the real world.

For example, in the real world, if you chose to specialize in a particular field, you tend to lose some of your skill in other areas. While we're in school (college, training programs, etc) we have all sorts of knowledge that we forget later. I, in the real world, am not as good at math or oil painting as I was 10 years ago, though I've honed other skills in the meantime. You may be a great cardiovascular surgeon, but you're not as good a General Practitioner as a result. That's just a reality of life - if you don't practice your skills, they get rusty. I can't say that I've seen that modeled in gaming - the closest I've seen is aging rules, but even those most often just penalize physical attributes.

I wouldn't reduce a PCs skill by GM Fiat because he hasn't rolled it in several sessions, or because we skipped 6 months of downtime between scenes. Increasing his skills 'cause he spent those 6 months studying something (but didn't spend XP to back it up) is just the opposite side of that coin.

While I'm okay with the "skills are cheaper" school of knacks, I feel no compulsion to extend such benefits to other knacks just cause it might seem more realistic.

Honestly, there's just not much realism in most XP systems, and I have no problem with that.

In White Wolf games (and many other point-based, not level-based, RPGs) you can go from rank amateur to an award-winning pro (in the skill of your choice) in just a few sessions that might represent as little as a few days in-character, but in the real world that typically takes years of dedication and practice.

The closer you model character advancement on reality, the less fun the game becomes.

(There are exceptions to that statement, of course, and a game using the "winter season" concept from Pendragon can get away with things other RPGs can't.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

22 more Orky Careers (Updated)

Months ago, I did a bunch of ground work for "Orky Heresy", an Orky companion piece for the Dark Heresy RPG. I put the first few Orky Careers up on this blog at that time. I intended then to keep working on it, and put more stuff up over time, but I never got around to it. I got caught up on other projects, and I decided that in general the rules of Dark Heresy and the Warhammer Fantasy RPG were more fiddly and complicated than I like to game under.

However, I'm running a streamlined, cut-down version of the system for GwenCon. Since I'm going to be doing work about it in the next couple weeks, I might as well stick the preliminary work up here. With that in mind, I posted 22 more orky careers yesterday, bringing the total up to 32. To use them, you need to read the older posts:
The careers posted today are intended as Advanced Careers. You can't start with them, but you can develop into them as you spend XP. I don't have time to index them at the moment, but I may do so tomorrow.

Roll up a starting career via a d10 on this chart:
  1. Bad Moons Clanboy
  2. Blood Axe Clanboy
  3. Deathskullz Clanboy
  4. Evil Sunz Clanboy
  5. Goff Clanboy
  6. Snakebitez Clanboy
  7. Yoof
  8. Freebooter
  9. Stormboy
  10. Wild Ork

Here's an index of links to all the careers hosted on this blog:
This statement should be obvious, but I'll mention it anyway: Dark Heresy, Warhammer 40k, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying and several of those career names are the copyrighted terms of Games Workshop. It is all used without permission. In order to make use of the Orky materials presented here, you'd pretty much need to have access to Dark Heresy and the WHFRP main books. I drew upon both of those books for the mechanical framework, and upon those books plus a variety of sources from 3 different editions of the Warhammer 40k tabletop miniatures game for the setting information. The orks presented here are clearly based upon the intellectual property of Games Workshop, and no challenge is intended to their copyrights.

Bannerboy (Orky Career)

– Bannerboy –
Restriction: Orky
Description: You are a standard bearer for your Boss. You carry da bosses pole into battle, and may may be more prominent on the battlefield if he’s a sneaky git of a boss. You are the brave center around which the mobz rally. Sometimes, you’re called upon to signal the ‘Rtillery section or another Boss or even a Gargant (if the battle’s big enough) by waving your flag in special ways only you understand.

Skills: Blather, Command, Intimidate, Secret Language (Flags),

Talents: Fearless or Frenzy or Foresight, Swift Attack or Precise Blow or Nerves of Steel, Iron Discipline, Hardy or Jaded, Combat Master or Battle Rage, Bulging Biceps, Melee Weapon Training (Any) or Thrown Weapon Training (Any), Sprint or Sound Constitution

Trappings: Carapace Chestplate, Carapace Helmet, Chainsword or Chainaxe or Powerblade, 1d6 Frag Stikkbombz, Boss’s Standard, 2d10 teef

Career Exits: Madboy, Boss, Yeller, Flagboss , Others


Waaghlord (Orky Career)

– Waaghlord –
Restriction: Orky
Description: Your call to waaagh is heard by Orks on other planets. Such is your orky charisma, that system-spanning empires form and fall at your command.

Skills: Command, Charm, Intimidate, Decieve, Blather, Psyniscience, Invocation, Performer (Storyteller)

Talents: Basic Weapon Training (Any) or Melee Weapon Training (Any) or Heavy Weapon Training (Any), Good Reputation, Lightning Attack, Hatred (Any), Combat Master, Mental Fortress, Litany of Hate, Master Orator, Minor Psychic Power

Trappings: 1d6+1 Gretchin Assistants, 2 Minderz, PowerSword or Meltagun or Inferno Pistol or Heavy Bolter, Light Power Armor or Kustom Forcefield, Squigpet, 2d10 eatin’ squigs, 10d10+20 teef

Career Exits: , Others


War Boss (Orky Career)

– WarBoss –
Restriction: Orky
Description: So famed are your talents as a BigBoss, that other Bosses and BigBosses answer when you call for Waaaagh!

Skills: Command, Charm, Intimidate, Dodge, Gamble

Talents: Basic Weapon Training (Any) or Melee Weapon Training (Any) or Pistol Training (Any) or Exotic Weapon Training (Any) or Heavy Weapon Training (Any), Into the Jaws Of Hell, Hatred (Any), Hipshooter or Counter-Attack, Strong-Minded or Master Orator, Bulging Biceps or Crushing Blow

Trappings: 1d6 Gretchin Assistants, Ork Standard Bearer, Minder or 1d6 gretchin assistants, very fancy backplate and backbanner, Carapace Vambraces and Greaves, 1d10 eatin’ squigs, 1d10 ‘shrooms, 10d10+10 teef

Career Exits: Waaghlord , Others


Big Boss (Orky Career)

– Big Boss –
Restriction: Orky
Description: Most Orky Bosses are content to just be their own boss, and carve out a tiny little empire the size of a single village. A few, however, have ambition, and keep looking to bigger and better things. You’re the latter type of boss, with multiple villages or roaming packs that pay you tribute.

Skills: Command, Charm, Inquiry, Scrutiny, Intimidate

Talents: Basic Weapon Training (Any) or Melee Weapon Training (Any) or Pistol Training (Any), Swift Attack, Strong Minded or Hard Target, Gunslinger or Datz My Boy!, Peer

Trappings: Gretchin Assistant, Gretchin Standard Bearer, Carapace Helm, 1d10 eatin’ squigs, 1d6 ‘shrooms, 10d10 teef

Career Exits: Warboss , Others


Boss (Orky Career)

– Boss –
Restriction: Orky
Description: Finally! Da day you always dreamed uf is ‘ere. You’re da boss! Time to throw your weight around and make everybody hates ya, just like your old boss did.

Skills: Command, Scrutiny, Carouse, Intimidate, Interrogation

Talents: Air of Authority, Menacing, Basic Weapon Training (Bolt) or Pistol Training (Plasma), Decadence, ‘Ow Much!?, Fearless

Trappings: Bolt gun or Plasma Pistol, Chain Axe, Carapace Chestplate, Gretchin Assistant, back banner that indicates you’re the boss, 1d6 eatin’ squigs, 5d10 teef,

Career Exits: Bigboss, , Others


Snakehandler (Orky Career)

– Snakehandler –
Restriction: Orky
Description: Snakebitez take their name from a ritual they send the clan Yoofs through. This right of passage involves being bitten by some nasty snakes. Somebody’s gotta keep the snakes from getting away, (or find new ones when the old ones do get away) don’t they? That’s your job.

Skills: Awareness, Search, Common Lore (Snakes), Intimidate, Dodge or Acrobatics, Interrogation or Invocation

Talents: Resistance (Poison), Fearless or Step Aside,

Trappings: 1d6 mildly venomous snakes, 1 deadly venomous snake, heavy sack, club, Flak Gauntlets, Carapace Greaves, 2d6 ‘shrooms, 1d10 teef

Career Exits: Yeller, Madboy , Others


Runtmaster (Orky Career)

– Runtmaster –
Restriction: Orky
Description: You are an extremely talented and dedicated Runtherd.

Skills: Command or Wrangling, Barter, Evaluate, Trade (Merchant or Veterinary), Common Lore (Squigs), Common Lore (Runtz), Trade (Grotherd or Squigherd or Snotherd)

Talents: Profeshunal or ‘Ow Much!?, Dats My Boy!, Iron Discipline

Trappings: Grabba Stick, 1d6 gretch assistants, 2d10+1 snotlings, 1d6 squig pets, 1d6 face-eater squigs or 1 buzzer squig hive or 2d10 snotlings or two gretch asistants, 1d6+1 hair squigs, 3d10 eatin’ squigs, 1d6 ‘shrooms, bullhorn, 6d10 teef

Career Exits: Renegade , Others


Snotherd (Orky Career)

– Snotherd –
Restriction: Orky
Description: You make your living raising, training, selling, buying, harvesting and tending to snotlings. Snotlings are like tiny little braindead orks. It takes a good attention to detail and a variety of interpersonal skills to keep them from getting lost or killed.

Skills: Charm, Command, Intimidate, Scrutiny, Inquiry, Common Lore (Runtz), Trade (Snotherd), Barter or Evaluate

Talents: Keen Senses (any), Profeshunal,

Trappings: Gretchin Assistant, 5d10+2 Snotlings, Grabbastick, Bullhorn, large sack, 2d10 ‘shrooms or 1d6 eatin’ squigs, 5d10 teef,

Career Exits: Runtmaster, Shokkgunner, , Others


Squigherd (Orky Career)

– Squigherd –
Restriction: Orky
Description: You make your living raising, training, selling, buying, harvesting and tending to squigs. Squigs come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, and many have useful and/or medicinal purposes.

Skills: Wrangling, Common Lore (Squigs), Squig Use, Trade (Squigherd), Intimidate, Barter or Evaluate

Talents: Profeshunal, ‘Ow Much!? or ‘Orse Yeller

Trappings: 1 buzzer squig hive, 2d10 eatin’ squigs, 2d6 squigpets, 1d6+1 hairsquigs, face-eater squig, face-eater squig or gretchin assistant, 1d6 small syringesquigs or riding squig, Grabbastick, 4d10 teef

Career Exits: Runtmaster, Squiggothmaster , Others


Grotherd (Orky Career)

– Grotherd –
Restriction: Orky
Description: You train and herd Gretchin for a living. They’re the most important fing in da world to you, ‘cause dey’s your boyz. The secret of being a good Grotherd is to realize that Grotz got minds of there own, they aren’t just another dumb animal. They’re a lot like Yoofs, ‘cept smarter.

Skills: Charm or Decieve, Barter or Evaluate, Command or Intimidate, Inquiry or Scrutiny, Common Lore (Runtz), Trade (Grotherd)

Talents: Dat’s My Boy, Profeshunal, ‘Ow Much!?

Trappings: 1d6 Gretchin Assistants or 2d6+1 untrained Grotz, Grabba Stick, Bullhorn or Flail, 2d6 eatin’ squigs, 5d10 teef

Career Exits: ‘Rtillery Kaptin, Drillboss, Runtmaster, , Others


Runtherd (Orky Career)

– Runtherd –
Restriction: Orky
Description: “Runtz” is an orky word for “those smaller dan us, ‘oo we can push around.” Typically, it means Gretchin, Snotlings, and Squigs, but sometime an enterprising Runtherd will do a bit of business on the side dealing in humans, boars, or other more ornery “Runtz”. Runtherdz buy, sell, train, raise, and breed runtz of all varieties.

Skills: Command or Wrangling, Charm or Barter, Evaluate, Trade (Merchant), Common Lore (Squigs), Common Lore (Runtz), Trade (Veterinary)

Talents: Profeshunal or ‘Ow Much!?, Exotic Melee Training (Grabba Stick)

Trappings: Flail or Grabba Stick, Club, 2d6 meters of rope, 1d6 snotlings or a gretch assistant, 1d6 squig pets, 1 face-eater squig or 1 buzzer squig hive or 2d6 snotlings or a gretch asistant, 2d10 eatin’ squigs, bullhorn, 4d10 teef

Career Exits: Grotherd, Squigherd, Snotherd, Runtmaster, , Others


Pig Dok (Orky Career)

– Pig Dok –
Restriction: Orky
Description: Perhaps you’re training to be Painboy, or perhaps you just like pigs. Whatever the explanation, you’ve chosen to study the fine art of tending to the wounds and diseases of Boars.

Skills: Barter, Wrangling, Common Lore (Boars), Survival or Tracking, Trade (Veterinary)

Talents: Fearless or Sprint, Takedown or ‘Orse Yeller, Die Hard or Iron Jaw, Resistance to Disease,

Trappings: Flail or Club or Spear, Large Syringesquig, Nasal Plugs, pet Boar Piglet, 3d6 teef

Career Exits: Boarboy, Runtherd, Painboy , Others


Spanner (Orky Career)

– Spanner –
Restriction: Orky
Description: A spanner ain’t just a tool, it’s also da Ork who uses dat tool. Your handy at keeping vehicles and weapons running smoothly, even if you don’t yet really know how to fix them up right. You’re a good Ork to have available around the workshop or on the battlefield.

Skills: Tech Use, Evaluate, Trade (any one mechanically-inclined trade group) or Security

Talents: Buggymate or Technical Knock, Pistol or Basic Weapon Training (SP), Skidder or Wrecka

Trappings: Spanner (a big wrench), handcannon or autopistol or shotgun, oilsquig or fuelsquig, 4d6 teef

Career Exits: Mekboy, Drivahboy, , Others


Drivahboy (Orky Career)

– Drivahboy –
Restriction: Orky
Description: You’re the driver of a vehicle. Maybe it’s da Bosses’ trukk, or a little buggy you an’ da boyz saved up for. It might not belong to you, or it might not have a fresh coat of red paint, but it’s a vehicle you can tool around in pretty much whenever you want.

Skills: Charm or Blather, Drive (Ground), Tech Use

Talents: Heightened Senses (Sight or Hearing), Nerves of Steel, Iron Jaw or Skidder

Trappings: red Carapace Helmet, 1d6 fuelsquigs, 1d6 oilsquigs, Da Keys (to a buggy or trukk or battlewagon), charm (fuzzy dice?), 3d6 teef

Career Exits: Tankboy, Spanner, Speedfreek , Others


Syringeboy (Orky Career)

– Syringeboy –
Restriction: Orky
Description: You’d like to be a Painboy, but everyork’s gotta start somewhere, so you apprenticed yourself to a Mad Doc. It’s not easy - the Gretchin Orderlyz consider you a threat, and some days the Doc does too. Syringeboyz carry stuff for the Doc, just like an Orderly, ‘cept they carry stuff either too big or too dangerous to trust to a Grot.

Skills: Squig Use, Scrutiny, Dodge, Awareness

Talents: Takedown, Resistance (Drugs)

Trappings: Mallet or club, bonesaw, 1d6+1 small Syringesquigs, 3d6 teef

Career Exits: Painboy, Squigherd, Brewboy , Others


Skarboy (Orky Career)

– Skarboy –
Restriction: Orky
Description: Orks is tuff an ‘ard. Goffs is extra tuff and ‘ard. Skarboyz is extra extra tuff an’ ‘ard. They take fighting pretty serious.

Skills: Intimidate, Climb or Acrobatics

Talents: Melee Weapon Training (Chain) or Pistol Weapon Training (Bolt), Two-Weapon Wielder (Melee) or Furious Assault, Berserk Charge or Nerves of Steel, Sure Strike or Arms Master

Trappings: Chainsword or Bolt Pistol, Knife or Sword or Axe, Carapace Helmet with Horns, 2d6 teef

Career Exits: BigMobBoy, Nob, , Others


Lootah (Orky Career)

– Lootah –
Restriction: Orky
Description: You’ve developed a keen eye for shiny bitz. This allows you to scrounge on the battlefield and around camp.

Skills: Awareness, Evaluate, Search, Tracking, Sleight of Hand or Tech Use

Talents: Hieghtened Senses (your choice), Disarm or Nerves of Steel, Weapon Training (one weapon of your choice, can be pistol/basic/melee/exotic/heavy)

Trappings: 1d6 clips (all from different weapons), poor-quality but unusual weapon (choose any weapon whose normal value is 50 teef or less), 1d6 charms and trinkets, 3d6 teef

Career Exits: Spanner, Cowardly Git, Slop Keep, KombiBuilder , Others


Slaver (Orky Career)

– Slaver –
Restriction: Orky
Description: Either you work for an important Runtherd, or you’re planning on getting into the runtherd business yourself. The first step is learning how to round up runts and slaves. Typically, slaverz capture and chase squigs, snotlings and grots. Sometimes, however, they branch out into boars, or even umans. A good slaver is strong, quick, and frightening.

Skills: Common Lore (Runts) or Common Lore (Squigs), Acrobatics, Tracking or Shadowing, Trade (Slaving), Intimidate

Talents: Sprint or Berserk Charge, Lightning Reflexes or Frightening, Takedown

Trappings: Spear or staff, club, backpack, sack, 2d6 meters of rope, 1d6 squigs or 1d6 snotlings, 3d6 teef

Career Exits: Runtherd, PigDok, Others


Oddboy (Orky Career)

– Oddboy –
Restriction: Orky
Description: There’s something different about you, but nobody’s quite figured exactly what it is yet. You may actually have some talent or insight that normal Orks lack. That, or you could just be a mutant.

Skills: Blather or Inquiry, Scrutiny or Evaluate, Awareness or Tech Use

Talents: Talented (Any one Agility, Intelligence, Willpower or Perception-based skill), Disturbing Voice or Meditation,

Trappings: 1d6 eatin’ squigs, tool or spyglass or toolsquig, knife, 1d10 teef

Career Exits: You may choose any one of the following. Note that the others do NOT become part of your path, and you must come back to Outcast to revisit a different path.
Mutant, Madboy, Weirdboy, Spanner, Yeller, Syringeboy, SlopKeep, Digger, Flyboy, Slaver, PigDok, , Others


Nob (Orky Career)

– Nob –
Restriction: Orky
Description: Though it rhymes with “knobs”, Nobz are actually the nobles of Ork Kulture. They are wealthy, well-connected Orks. They get the best weapons, the best food, and the best spots by the fire. Nobz sometimes lead Mobz, and sometimes form their own exclusive Nobz Mobz of only the best.

Skills: Command, Scrutiny or Evaluate,

Talents: Peer or Menacing, Pistol Training (Bolt), Melee Weapon Training (Chain), Two-Weapon Wielder (choose Melee or Ranged) or Blademaster, Decadence or Sound Constitution

Trappings: Bolt Pistol, Chainsword or Great Weapon, Backbanner, Flak Jacket, 4d6 teef,

Career Exits: Boss, BannerBoy, , Others


BigMobBoy (Orky Career)

– BigMobBoy –
Restriction: Orky
Description: You’ve impressed somebody that matters, and your local boss has invited you to join his household BigMob. This means slightly better treatment from the bigger Orks and the right to go on the Waaagh with your Boss. It also means you have to go ont he Waaagh with your Boss, should he demand it.

Skills: Carouse, Awareness or Blather, Inquiry or Intimidate

Talents: Pistol or Basic Weapon Training (Bolt), Melee Weapon Training (Primitive), Resistance (Fear)

Trappings: Boltgun or Boltpistol, Axe or Sword, Backplate with symbol of boss’s big mob, Flak Helmet, 2d10 teef

Career Exits: Nob, BannerBoy, GargantBoy , Others


OutCast (Orky Career)

More orky careers for use with the other ones I created. Uses the same format presented there.

– OutCast –
Restriction: Orky
Description: You’ve been behavin’ a bit odd lately, so your mates tossed you out on your own. Outcasts are Orks in a mid-life crisis. Till you become something else, every Ork who knows whats good for him will keep you at rifle-length. You no longer have a Clan. You’ll have to prove your worth, or at least re-envision who you are, to get back into their good graces.

Skills: Decieve or Disguise, Scrutiny or Evaluate or Inquiry, Charm or Carouse

Talents: Menacing or Paranoia, Meditation or Frenzy,

Trappings: Backplate with insults written on it, knife or spear,

Career Exits: You may choose any one of the following. Note that the others do NOT become part of your path, and you must come back to Outcast to revisit a different path.
Any Clanboy, Drillboss, Oddboy, Freebooter, Renegade, Wild Ork , Others


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Play Dirty

I've been a big fan of John Wick for several years.
  • He designed much of the 7th Sea RPG, which is my all-time favorite RPG setting. I'm not enamored with every portion of the 7th Sea system / rules, but there are bits of them that rock.
  • He also designed Orkworld, which I've never played, but am more or less in love with anyway. I've just never found a group that was as excited about Orkworld as I am.
  • He currently designs quirkier / indie games, some of which the Emerald City Game Feasters would call "hippy games". (This wouldn't deter me or the other Game Feasters, by the way. The first game I played with them was a hippy game - Wushu.)
I just learned yesterday that he has a YouTube channel, where he hosts videos about GMing. Nearly all of them are very enlightening, and some are kinda fun, too. It was neat hearing him confirm things I've believed / felt for years. It's kinda neat to know that someone whose work I admire has come to similar conclusions.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Underlying Assumptions

Interesting forum-conversation with Jesse Heinig of White Wolf. Jesse had expressed that when writing the new powers for the Scion Companion, he had a couple of default assumptions in mind. To paraphrase:
  • Unless otherwise specified, powers don't stack. So you can't use the same power again and again to boost up further than you'd get from one die roll of it.
  • Unless otherwise specified, all powers last till the end of the scene. The exception to this is a power that implies it's effect is instantaneous.
  • Just because the rules don't say "ninjas can't fly" we shouldn't assume ninjas can fly.
I kinda argued with him a little, which wasn't really how I meant to come across. Basically, I think his points there are great, but I questioned why the published White Wolf rulebooks never state such clear simple rules. These are the underlying assumptions of all the White Wolf RPGs, but to learn them you had to read page 59 of one particular forum thread for their smallest game line.

Among other things, I said:
Jesse seems to be of the opinion that this stuff is just common sense, but I gotta say, in my 25+ years of gaming, not everyone automatically arrives at those same assumptions. I'm not trying to pick a fight. I'm saying that sort of advice and "rules of thumb" / "underlying assumptions" that he shared there would be immensely helpful to have in an official WW book.

I ran a LARP for a few years, with 40+ players for most of that time, and we had rules lawyers trying all kinds of crap (against which I generally stood firm). One argument I often had to disprove or over-rule was based on the fact that some powers don't specify exact limitations (such as duration) while others do - this can give the incorrect impression the ones that don't specify anything have no such limitations.

For example, if 3 die-adder powers state they last till the end of the scene and the 4th one doesn't mention duration at all, there's at least 3 ways to interpret it. Most players/readers/STs would conclude it also lasts for a scene, but some may think it lasts for just one action, and a few folks might even expect it was permanent.

Having a page in a book that I could have flipped to and pointed out that "any power that doesn't specify a duration is assumed to wear off at the end of the scene" would have saved me several cumulative hours over the years.

I thought this was revelatory enough of my "philosophy" and practice of how I game that I should mirror it here on my blog. It'll save me from having to right this all over again someday.

Me again, 'cause I'm unnecessarily verbose:

Thank you for answering those questions. There's some very useful observations contained in what you wrote.

It'd be sweet if future editions of core rulebooks included statements to the affect of "Unless specified otherwise, powers last till end of scene, and multiple uses of the same power don't stack." Having such assumptions actually printed out where STs can point at it could save a lot of new players (and groups with rules lawyers) from confusion and frustration.

Interestingly, when I tried to do that in Mage Revised back in the day I was accused of "coddling" or "over-complicating" the rules.
It's nice for novice Storytellers, who may not yet understand that they have the authority to argue with the players and to set down their own rules. For experienced groups, it's usually easy for the ST to decide for himself. Of course, if your group has a bully who tries to make up weird justifications and argues with the ST, it can be nice to have a printed page to fall back upon . . . but that really falls into:


Whoever said that to you wasn't thinking clearly. Having a general rule like "unless otherwise specified, all powers last till end of scene" doesn't complicate the rules, it simplifies them.

Speaking as someone who spends a fair amount of his time bitching, please don't let that type of criticism get under your skin. The vocal minority are going to be the ones who are fairly confident about what makes the game fun (or not fun) for them - they'll bitch and rant up a storm, because they're invested fully and understand it well.

The people who need "all powers last till end of scene" are predominantly the newer gamers who aren't so confident about how to interpret it. For every one guy complaining that he's being "coddled" there's two guys silently thinking "wow, that rule just cleared some things up for me." Those newer players need the guidance, but they won't tell you that because they're self-conscious about their gaming experience. And since new players are vital to growing the hobby, IMHO they need to be taken into consideration when rulebooks are being written.

I hate to plug another companies product on your site, but there's this other game, involving medieval basements and winged lizards. I think it's relevant that they have, for about 8 years now, included really clear rules about what does and doesn't stack, and exact determinations for things like range and duration. Now I'm not saying you should try to emulate them. I am however, saying that the world has changed a lot since Mage: Revised released, and I doubt you'd get many accusations of "coddling" these days. IIRC, Mage Revised came out before 3.0 of that other game, right? The world has changed a lot since then. You could tighten up your rules a bit, and still be far less "boardgamey" or "over-complicated" than the competition.

More importantly, since not all RPGs under the sun function with the default assumption of "powers don't stack, and always last until end of scene", how is a player supposed to know that's how it works in White Wolf games if the books don't ever tell them as much?

Jesse Heinig wrote:
It's nice for novice Storytellers, who may not yet understand that they have the authority to argue with the players and to set down their own rules. For experienced groups, it's usually easy for the ST to decide for himself. Of course, if your group has a bully who tries to make up weird justifications and argues with the ST, it can be nice to have a printed page to fall back upon . . . but that really falls into:

Shocked With all due respect to you and Mr Wick, that kinda over-simplifies the situation. I'm all for dropping a cheater, rules-lawyer, or jerk from your gaming circle (or even social circle). But sometimes it's not practical to do so at the first sign of trouble.

At a LARP, for example, if you've got 20 or 50 players (or more), the ST doesn't always get much face time with the players. As such, they can't always know if the person who's causing a problem today is going to be a continual hassle, or just having a bad day, or just new to gaming and needs to be reigned in once or twice so they learn the way the world works. There's a certain temptation to be draconian, since "if I lose this jerk I'll still have 49 players", but if you just start giving people the boot there's a good chance you'll turn away someone who just needed a 5 minute lesson on how things run in your game.

Another example would be an open game at a convention or a game store. In those situations you might not have the option to kick someone out, nor the time to teach them to be a better player.

If you game in a small town, the prospect of finding new gamers could be daunting or unrealistic.

I've also met couples that gamed together, where one was a great gamer and the other an idiot. You can't just drop one of them without running the risk of it souring the table for the other.

In all those cases, having simple concise floor rules and stated underlying assumptions helps the GM/ST defuse a bad situation and make the right rules call.

So, sure, it's great to encourage people to drop the dead weight, and raise the bar as far as expectations go. I know I'm a lot pickier these days about who I'll game with. But in the meantime, making the rules clear helps a lot, and as I said before, those newer gamers just establishing themselves are the ones who need the rulebooks and the GMing advice. Crabby old grognards like me are just gonna make up our own damn rules anyway.

Today, parts of what I said seemed a wee bit harsh, so I added / replied:

Rereading that with the clarity of a 24 hours to think about it, I realize I came off a little more aggressive than I intended. I'd hate for my real message to get lost there. I didn't mean to be accusatory or argumentative. Please accept my apology for the growly tone.

Here's what I should have written instead:

"I'm really thankful that you shared the insights you did concerning the assumptions you have in mind when designing powers for the game, Jesse. I'm glad you shared them, and they seem like a really good context for game design and GMing.
I'd be even happier if they were spelled out in a book, 'cause I think they'd be reach a larger audience that way and be especially helpful to casual gamers and new STs. Regardless of whether White Wolf publishes such things in a book, I'm grateful to have read them here at least. Thanks again for sharing what you did."


Jesse's response:

Pff. After developing Mage Revised, I can take it.

My point about bad players is, ultimately a line in a rulebook is not a fix-it for the root of the problem. It is handy for novice game groups, but if a group has bad players because they are so desperate for a game that they accept people who are argumentative, abusive, and exploitative, then the only thing that can stop it is a strong hand from the Storyteller. Players of that sort will always find exploits and justifications for their ridiculous actions. The Storyteller must ultimately be the one to say "No," whether it's because a rule supports his interpretation, or because he has decided that his authority is important for the sake of good game play, even if it goes against the published rules.

Yeah, I said it - sometimes the ST will make a ruling that goes against the rules, just to preserve the game. (Witness the many house rules of UO.)

It sucks to live somewhere with no good gaming, but sometimes you have to ask yourself "Is putting up with the grief of a dysfunctional group better than just not playing a game?" My buddy Brandon just returned from a small town in Ohio, where he was in school for several years. He didn't have any game groups there because he didn't fit in with or enjoy the styles of any of the people he met at the local campus game store. For him, the decision was no gaming over bad gaming. Sad, but true.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Crappy Wii Game: Deca Sports

Avoid it like the plague. Deca Sports has nothing in common with Wii Sports.

I've only tried single-player mode, but unless multiplayer is a hell of a lot better, this will be sold (or, barring that, dropped off at the thrift store) soon. The many problems of Deca Sports:
  • Weird "sports". Archery, Badminton, Curling, and Figure Skating. Mind you, I actually think the Curling is one of the best of the 10 games on the disc, but I wasn't excited about it before playing. I bought this for soccer, basketball, and the racing games, none of which turned out to be as cool as I'd imagined.
  • Static Archery. Archery doesn't really have a game. It's just target practice, against a stationary target at two ranges, with extremely minor wind variations. Boring.
  • Missed opportunity with figure skating. Special maneuvers are determined by where you are on the ice, not by what you do. This could have had an awesome minigame element if you had to spin or move your controller in various directions. Instead, a simple identical "up" swing triggers every move based on the color of the ice beneath your feet. It's very flat and, like archery, boring. This had the potential to be the coolest (and oddest) game of the title, but instead it fell flat.
  • Badminton lag time. You swing the remote, the shuttle hangs in the air for a couple seconds, and then your little almost-mii swings. It appears to be an intentional design feature, not a glitch. The result is a game that plays really, really slowly. This might not be an issue if you had control of your movement in the court, but (as with Wii Sports' tennis) the system moves you independantly of your wishes. The game is slow enough, moving yourself wouldn't be a burden. Think of those times when Wii Tennis annoys you because you're standing in the wrong part of the court - then imagine how much worse it'd be if you knew your failure a full 3 seconds in advance.
  • Basketball is dominated by stealing. It happens far more in Deca Sports basketball than in the real world, and there doesn't seem to be a defense against it, other than to outpace your foe. Since tall characters move slowly and short ones move fast, you get this weird dynamic where the shorter your team is, the better they are at basketball. That's just wrong.
  • Minimal levels. There's exactly 3 snow-boarding tracks, 3 go-kart tracks, 3 motocross tracks, and 3 figure skating routines. Even if you find one you really like, it's not going to take long to wear those out. Golf was the weakest part of Wii sports for much the same reason. These would all better handled by games focusing exclusively on them, instead of a generic 10-in-1. Get MarioKart instead.
  • Generally sedentary. It's really funny that the game has a themesong about moving your body, since most of the games can be played with no more than the most casual minor wrist action. Archery, Kart Racing, Snowboard, Supercross, and Figure Skating could all be played by a flu-sick individual lying in bed with one broken arm. I got a lot more of a work out from Wii Sports and Rayman's Raving Rabbids.
  • No Miis. Instead of the Miis you spent far too long customizing, you're stuck with just the team-mates DecaSports gave you. You can't name them, you can't change how they look, and the come in unbreakable teams of 5. This would be forgivable if they were at least cool looking or impacted play more, but the games graphics are worse than some N64 titles, and the only thing that matters in-game is their height (which, as stated, works counter to expectations in Basketball).
I'm not going to get rid of Deca Sports just yet. I need to try multiplayer, and experiment more with the challenges and leagues. If that changes anything, I'll report back, but unless you hear otherwise assume this game sucks.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Wushu Tools

I'm now convinced a good Wushu game could use a couple of props / tools:
  1. A scoreboard (or tokens?) to keep track of the current threat level. Keeping the remaining potency of the mooks secret doesn't really add to the drama as much as I would have expected it to, and having a 'ticker' the PCs can see encourages them to describe actions corresponding to the relative threat remaining. More importantly, a fight with Mooks and a Nemesis gets tricky (it seems like they'd stack, IMHO) - the PCs can easily forget to count the Mooks when anticipating how many defensive successes they're gonna need. With large attack-pool-to-chi ratios, the game is somewhat unforgiving of such mistakes.

  2. A Dry Erase Mat. At the start of the fight, the GM makes a very vague and sketchy map - practically blank. Whenever an action (from a PC or NPC) improvises a terrain detail into being, you sketch it in quickly. This makes it easier for everyone to come up with wicked stunts and actions. The trick, however, is that only one person (probably the GM) should be in charge of modifying the map. If everybody can draw stuff it'll quickly become a miniatures game. The idea is to just have a map, and it gets updated if something major changes or a detail gets filled in. You want people imagining the action, not concentrating on how to best rearrange miniatures. The action takes place in your head, not on a board.
Conveniently, both needs could be addressed by a single battlemat.

A touch more Wushu goofiness

I ran a short Wushu game last weekend. Me and three players, and I let them pick a genre. They chose Post-Apocalyptic, flavored as more Tank Girl (and Gamma World) than Mad Max or Terminator. It was a pretty goofy, light-hearted little adventure, with characters that included a hovering nanite hive, a legless dog, a powerpuff panda, frag chickens, and The Arnoldinator. Overall, it was pretty darned goofy. Not really an adventure - more like two scenes, one of which was kinda long.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

b3 Delta Green

Last Thursday, I played in a Delta Green one-shot. Or rather, it was the Delta Green setting, but with a home-brewed system called the "b3 System".

I honestly couldn't tell you why it was called "b3", other than I think the GM/author's name was Brian. I'm not sure it optimal to learn a new system and make characters and play a mystery plotline in a 4-hour gaming time slot. Pregens and a familiar system would have suited the time crunch better. Of course, one goal was to playtest his system, but with that short a time frame, I'm not sure it was accomplished well.

The system was actually a modified version of White Wolf's Storyteller system - well, kinda. He trimmed the Attributes down from 9 to 6 (3 phys, 2 mental, 1 social). And he mildly truncated the physical and social skill lists, but then seriously expanded the mental skill list. There was a fairly complicated point-buy system for character gen.

He mostly used d6s, with a few d3s and a d4, and none of the usual d10s of White Wolf.

One thing I will say I really liked was that he made Skill dice and Attribute dice different. In standard WW, if you had Dex 4 and Melee 1 you'd roll the exact same 5 dice as if you had Dex 1 and Melee 4, making the more encompassing attributes a better investment than the more narrow skills. Instead, he had special skill dice, where the 6s were 7s. There was an actual benefit to having trained skill instead of just raw talent.

You also rolled dice based on your pool, and then kept the total of just your 3 highest dice (instead of having successes per die). Your total then could be from 1 to 21, depending on how many dice you had. If you were even mildly competent, you'd have at least a 3 on every roll, but even the apex of human endeavor could biff it and roll just that 3.

At first, I really loved both of those mechanics, but in the final scene, I was rudely awakened to the fact that I'd drawn conclusions from them that the GM had not intended.

By this point, it should be obvious that this was a pretty far diversion from White Wolf, and I wouldn't have even spotted it's roots if he hadn't commented on them. While the system was still pretty rough, there were diamonds amidst that roughage. The system had potential. I hope he uses the feedback we gave him (and I wish there'd been time to give him more) to hone it into something really remarkable.

As often happens with Cthulhu mysteries, the PCs wasted a lot of time trying to find clues that weren't there. Poor Brian had to suffer through endless questions, many of them about things he had no way of anticipating we'd pursue. (Add to that the GM being late, character generation and a new system, and as you can expect, we didn't get very far into the adventure.) Overall, I came away with the solid feeling that dark mysteries are not the proper table fare for a pick-up game in a café.

The prior week, we'd had a lot of fun playing Wushu with that gaming group, and the difference was that a light-hearted over-the-top game isn't particularly distressed by people getting up to place drink orders, or players missing a clue because someone else made an amusing hitchhikers' reference.

This time, however, I instead felt the poor GM was just getting frustrated with us. Perhaps I'm projecting - I know how frustrated I'd have been in his shoes. Certainly, the events of the evening conspired to make it a sub-optimal session, and probably failed to function as the useful playtest of his system that he'd hoped for.

You know that guy - the one who does "what my character would have done" even when the player knows it's a big damn mistake and just going to derail the plot? I ended up being that guy. I hate being part of that, I expect better of myself.

I was playing a secret service agent. We'd just burned down a house that had the corpse of some hideous spider-dog-thing, when a black sedan pulled up. 3 "men in black" types (NPCs) stepped out, and we were all packing guns and thus looking very suspicious. Rather than get arrested, I immediately identified us as police. The NPCs wouldn't verbally respond and one reached in his coat (getting out a photo, as it turns out), so I ordered them to the ground. They ignored me. One PC hid, because he knew these guys would mop the floor with us since he'd barely escaped from them in a previous session - but he didn't tell us that in-character. So I'm holding a badge and a pistol, and ordering these guys to lay down on the ground, and instead one of them goes for his gun. I plug him (and since I got a good roll) he dies. The ring leader, however, uses some sort of magic whammy on me, and without even rolling, he gets to interrupt me before my second shot, paralyze me, and boil my skin.

Now, normally, in Cthulhu, I'd just say that's par for the course. In Cthulhu, you can die very easily, and if you have to fire a second bullet, you've already lost the war. But this was the Delta Green setting, and I'd been lead to believe (by the GM, that night) that Delta Green encourages firefights-as-problem-solving in a way vanilla Cthulhu doesn't. What's more, it was a home-brewed system, one in which even the pinnacle of human achievement has a decent chance of scoring a lowly 3, while nearly anyone can hit an 18 with a lucky roll. I was not pleased with being incapacitated instantly without a roll, nor with him simultaneously immobilizing my colleagues get-away car also without a roll. This system allows anyone to botch, that didn't suggest to me that it would support "he's so good he never rolls". In hind sight it seems obvious that it allows for whatever the systems author says it does, but at the time I'd felt mislead.

I hope that I took it all as gracefully and graciously as I think I did. My goal was to take it in stride and leave without the GM knowing I was upset. In retrospect, I wish I'd known him well enough to express my disappointment - I think he could have used the feedback constructively if I'd been able to talk about it unemotionally. I grumbled in my wife's ear the whole walk home after the game, but didn't bitch to the GM.

My advice to him now will likely be as follows:
1) Pregens and Player Handouts are a really good idea for a one-shot with strangers, especially when using a new home-brewed system.
2) Over all, I like your system, but I think rather than replacing the "6" on skill dice with a "7", you might want to try replacing the "1" with a "2" or "3". Or better yet, replace the "1" with a symbol that means "equal to the characters skill level". With such a system, "so good he doesn't roll" wouldn't feel so out of place. Such a change would make skilled characters less likely to bottom-out while still allowing for "beginners luck" to sometimes reward the amateur.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

my childish "Ha-ha, I told you so!"

A couple weeks ago, the latest Scion PDF released. I immediately saw some problems with it, and posted here a list of house-rules I planned to implement. Then I discussed them with my play group, who agreed on nearly everything, so I posted the majority of my thoughts on the topic to the Scion forum. To put it politely, this provoked a spirited discussion - one in which it was suggested that I was too quick to judge and was only house-ruling because I (allegedly) want Scion to fail. (Which is completely false - instead I want Scion to succeed enough that a revised 2nd Edition is justified.) I've been burned by Scion's need for mid-game house-rules, and wished to nip it in the bud this time by proactively ruling on things before they came up in a session. For this, I was treated very poorly.

I now find it funny that so many others have since created threads to discuss the same problems I had identified amongst the new powers. I feel vindicated. It would seem I wasn't being paranoid about flaws in the text. I just have an acutely honed sense of what makes mechanics break down, and a solid grasp of game balance. (I think that's why I was a good Magic judge, and why I enjoy playing combo decks.) Anyhow, I found it very difficult today to not pop on to 3 different threads and say "see, I told you so!" If it's alright with you, I'll keep my smug self-congratulatory backpatting contained to this blog post.

For those of you (presumably everyone who reads this blog with any regularity) who didn't tell me my house-rules were a knee-jerk over-reaction stemming from what you interpret to be a bitter hatred of White Wolf, I apologize. You shouldn't have to sit through me saying "I told you so" again and again. Please excuse the following outburst:

"See, I told them so!" Thank you.