Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chain Of Command

Gaming anything military-related is tricky. You have to balance the needs of verisimilitude and realism against the needs of good gaming. For example, in the real world, an officer gets to boss around his enlisted men pretty ruthlessly. In gaming, in one PC starts micromanaging the other PCs, the fun comes to a quick end. So, as players, you have to allow for a lot more flexibility and autonomy than would be allowed in reality. There are times, however, when pulling rank is completely justified.

In the Star Trek game I played in on Monday, just such a situation came up. I was in charge of a Sydney-Class shuttlecraft, with a Prime Team of 4 other PCs. Rather than tell this story all over again, I'm just going to just post here the campaign log I wrote elsewhere:

Personal Log
Lt Commander Baarrgot recording
Stardate 36883.2

While en route to Starbase 72 for a training course, the San Francisco received a distress call from a non-commissioned vessel that had been reported missing prior to Stardate 29000.0. Sensor sweeps revealed that the source of the call was relatively nearby, but no visuals could be made of it. We eventually determined that the missing ship was in orbit of a planetoid with unusual properties.

It's a rogue planetoid, with a very low albedo, which makes it extremely difficult to detect visually. On further observation, it would appear that planetoid has some form of cloaking or jamming technology as well. Significant sensor interference and innaccuracy was noted the closer our proximity to the planetoid. The "dark area" of reduced sensor capacity was roughly the size of Jupiter, though the planetoid's mass better matched that of mercury, implying the planet might be hollow or our sensors might be reading the gravity well incorrectly. Scans showed that whatever damaged this vessel was not linked to either the calamity that affected Ranald's World (as long-chain carbon molecules remained in the vessel) nor was it likely to be linked to the gravitic anomaly currently being monitored by the USS Resolute (as neither energy distortions nor the planet's calculated drift pointed in that direction).

The lost vessel was found in orbit of the planetoid, some 8 light-years away from where it had gone missing. After preliminary sensor sweeps determined it to present no immediate dangers, I dispatched the remainder of the Prime Team to board it. I remained on the San Francisco and ran additional sensor probes of the ship and the planetoid. The vessel had depressurized areas, and had clearly been abandoned. There were no lifeforms aboard, but three escape pods had been launched. Personal effects of the missing crewmen were gathered so that they could be returned to the families, and we downloaded the ship's log.

As it turns out, the distress beacon we'd picked up originated from one of those escape pods, which had crash-landed on the surface of the planetoid. As the sensor interference increased the difficulty of establishing a transporter lock, and the planet's gravity was quite light, we decided to land the San Francisco nearby and approach the escape pod on foot.

Unfortunately, there were no survivors of the disaster, at least none at this location. Lt JG Edmundson, Lt JG Fimpgeld, and a Star Fleet Ensign all perished in the impact. Lt Schultz survived the crash, but perished due to suit failure not long thereafter. States of decomposition were consistent with the crash happening very shortly after the vessel's dissapearance. Thus far we have seen no signs of the 15 scientists of the Cochrane Institute who are among the missing, nor the other two escape pods in which they presumably fled.

Lt Schultz died just outside a locked hatch on the planet, created by unknown aliens, and his PADD indicated that he was attempting a logarithmic solution to the security system. It's a quite sad tale, he was very near deciphering the lock, and had he survived a few more minutes, he may have been able to get inside. Atmosphere remains still perilously thin inside the hatch, but given the technological construction, it's possible he may have been able to locate life support controls or replenish his suit.

Extrapolating from his efforts, we were able to decode the lock on the hatch. About that time, we experienced a seismic disturbance on the surface of the planet. Additional scans taken at this time were inconclusive. We were unable to determine the cause of the quake, nor the limits of the tunnels beneath us. The possibility that the planet might be hollow and artificial could not be ignored, as that would be one fitting interpretation of the anomalies of it's mass and size. If so, the seismic activity might be some machinery within coming on-line, or even possibly the planetoid adjusting it's course. I was, however, unable to share these thoughts with my fellow officers because of the events that occurred immediately thereafter.

Within seconds of penetrating our hatch, we encountered an alien probe or maintenance robot, which appeared to originate from deeper within the facility. We attempted to make contact. Following Star Fleet protocols, I engaged the universal translator, and identified myself and my affiliation with Star Fleet. The robot scanned us, then turned and headed deeper into the facility without giving indication that it understood us. Having no other leads to additional possible survivors of the crash, we decided to follow it.

As we traveled, we passed another locked hatch. A tricorder scan revealed numerous energy signatures beyond that hatch, so we opened it. The chamber beyond contained hundreds more probes like that one. Again we attempted to establish contact. They gave no indications of understanding, but instead began to power up additional robotic probes, and transmit between themselves. Petty Officer Kim, a talented linguist, was able to decipher a portion of their code. She relayed that the probes were formulating an attack plan.

Subsection: Disciplinary Action in regards to Dr Ahwere

We concluded we were in imminent peril that could not be averted by pure diplomacy, and began acting appropriately. We fled back through the nearest hatch, which the Master Chief sealed by using a phaser to weld it shut. We quickly surmised that this wouldn't contain the probes for long, they were already attempting to break it open.

At this point, it was clear that I had three obligations.
  • Firstly, the safety of my crew was of immediate importance. I had to get them out of danger.
  • Secondly, this being a first-contact situation, I felt I should endeavor to continue to pursue diplomatic channels. Recent experience, in relation to the Brotherhood of Night, had reinforced my conviction that calmly stoic heroism is a way of impressing upon an alien race the nobility and virtues of the Federation.
  • And lastly, as a man of science, I was deeply intrigued by what we might learn from observation and interaction of these robotic entities, and their underground complex.

Given those obligations and the tense situation, I ordered the rest of the Prime Team to flee to the ship, while I would remain behind. At the very least, if hostilities could not be avoided, I would be able to buy some time for my crewmates to effect their escape. The possibility of resolving the conflict peacefully was utmost on my mind, but should the probes be only capable of assault (not friendly contact), I was prepared to set a phaser on overload and collapse the tunnel. Naturally, I would, if at all possible, do so in a way that allowed my own escape. Time was of the essence, however, and I could not spare the precious moments to explain to my crew what I intended to do. I quickly ordered their retreat, and stated I would cover it.

Their reaction was unparalleled. At first, the insistence they could not abandon me was heartwarming, a great display of loyalty. However, I'd already done the risk assessment. We were outnumbered by at least 50 to 1, and facing unknown technology, and I could not in good conscience request, nor even allow, them to make a stand. The more who remained behind, the more we would be emboldened to action to protect our comrades, and thus the greater the chance of diplomatic catastrophe. This I felt I must avert, so I repeated my command for retreat, more forcefully, and followed with the assertion "that is an order".

At this point, not only were my orders again refused, but Dr Ahwere had the audacity to threaten to use her medical authority to relieve me of command. Again I ordered, again she said threatened. All the while, the robotic probes continued to work at cutting open the hatch. The lead time I had hoped to buy for my crew's escape had been squandered by this insubordination.

Seeing now that I had no other option, I again ordered the retreat, and this time indicated I would be retreating as well. I set my phaser on overload, and placed it at a point that I felt would collapse the tunnel behind us without risk of trapping us in the tunnels. We fled to the surface, the phaser detonated, and we headed back to the San Francisco.

When we arrived at our Sydney-Class vessel, it was swarming with additional robotic probes, who were in the process of disassembling our only means of escape. Feeling that hostile contact was unavoidable, we engaged them with phasers. The probes were handily and quickly dispatched, but the fact that they were relatively easily handled here does not in any way undermine my assessment of the threat they posed earlier (in greater numbers and within their own warren).

Having now a moment to reflect on the situation, I can ask myself the difficult questions. Was their any justification to Dr Ahwere's actions? From my admittedly biased viewpoint, there were not. My actions strike me as logical, and totally fitting within my established personality. Neither were my actions suicidal, as my intent was to stall for time and attempt diplomacy, then seal off pursuit if need be. I will, of course, voluntarily submit myself for a level 1 psychological review when we return to the fleet or starbase, as any sane officer would do when those under his command question his sanity.

From Ahwere's perspective, perhaps my motives and intents were perhaps obtuse. Seeing as how the timeline of events was so truncated that I had not been able to share my own theories and observations about the planet, I cannot rule out the possibility that Dr Ahwere might also have been operating from assumptions or conclusions that had not been shared with the team.

That said, even if she had come to some secret conclusion concerning my mental health, she had not laid the groundwork necessary to invoke the medical clause for relieving an officer of their command. She had made no prior mention of any observations of abnormal behavior on my part. I was not under any stress that could be deemed to be exceptional or outside that of normal mission parameters in any hostile first contact scenario. There was no indication of alien mind control or influence. Similar selfless actions as I was attempting are a long-standing Star Fleet tradition, embodied numerous times by such luminaries as Admiral's Archer and Kirk. Disagreeing with an order does not predicate nor justify disobeying it, except in cases where the order is immoral and unjust. There are protocols that must be followed to contest an order, and Dr Ahwere made a mockery of said protocols.

She even went to far as to claim that I could not stay behind because I was the captain of the vessel. This is a ludicrous and spurious claim. The San Francisco is not officially a Star Ship; A Sydney-class vessel is categorized as a shuttlecraft. The San Francisco has no colors and commission to transfer to me, and even if she did they would not transfer to me when Commander Westmoreland sets foot elsewhere. I am not her captain, I merely had the bridge. Also of relevance is the fact that I have only seniority, not rank, over Lt Cmmdr Corazon, who was also present. Had something unforeseen rendered me hors de combat, there would still be a command-ranked officer available, and that command-ranked officer is not Dr Ahwere.

At the moment, marooned on a unknown world, and facing hostile robotics of unknown origin and capacity, I have no choice but to keep Dr Ahwere on the duty roster. I have no brig to confine her to, and a noticeable shortage of staff. However, it will be my recommendation to Commander Westmoreland and to Fleet Command that a reprimand and demotion be entered into her permanent record. Her action not only constitute a gross dereliction of duty, they also jeopardized the safety of her comrades and directly contributed to the extent of the damages inflicted upon the San Francisco. I dare say they were but two hairs shy of Mutiny, and one hair shy of Incitation to Mutiny. They do not reflect well upon herself, Prime Team or Star Fleet.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Absent Friends

I had no RPG this weekend. My usual Deadlands game was canceled on account of one of the players moving. At first we canceled because we thought we'd be helping him move to a new apartment. Then, surprisingly, it turned out he was leaving town for Montana. It's been a strange week. But, that's beside the point...

The question on my mind at this gaming blog is how to proceed with one fewer player? The player in question was one of 5 in the campaign. His character represents a sizable portion of the group's actual firepower. I've got about 6 subplots going on in the game, and he was the major player in 2 of them. His character was a little bit crazy, had a quasi-evil source of power (he's a Huckster), and sometimes got in conflicts with the Blessed PCs (all this on top of the 2 subplots). So it feels like the group just lost noticable shares of it's color and diversity.

What's more, this particular player was the one who suggested we play Deadlands in the first place. He's definitely the player who knows the most about the setting, and has the most excitement for it.

So, I need to consider whether or not to continue the campaign. I could make the character's exit a part of the plot, or NPC him, or head generally towards wrapping it up in a couple sessions. If we continue it, should we add another player to fill his slot? There's a lot to think about.

Cartoon Goonsquads

Last week I played in a game of the Cartoon Action Hour RPG. Our setting was vaguely reminiscent of (a sort of bastardized blend of) Thundarr, Voltron, and the Superfriends, which is just about perfect given the name of the game. We had a team of teenaged superheroes battling against an army of stormtroopers and mecha from the collapsed ruins of Minneapolis. What more can you want?

I really loved the Goon-Squad mechanics. They were like Brute Squads in 7th Sea (in that they acted as a unit, and rolled just once per squad) or Extras in Savage Worlds (in that they took just one hit to eliminate) but went one step further player-facing. The Goon Squads in Cartoon Action Hour don't ever roll. Each turn they threaten a single PC, who rolls against their static value. A good roll defeats the entire squad. A bad roll means you have to face them again next turn (at -2), and a really bad roll means they've captured you. They do no damage, they just immobilize PCs. If another player defeats the squad later, you're set free / you recover instantly. Now, in general, I'm not thrilled with mechanics that knock players out of the action for one bad roll. However, when you consider how fast the combat went and how easily rescue could be achieved, it all worked really well.

I definitely got a favorable impression of the game and the system. Character creation looked a bit more involved than it really needed to be (we, thankfully, had pregens), but the game itself played very quick and easy. The vehicular combat rules puzzled me, but were more confusing than flawed. I imagine once you've handled a couple of vehicular fight or chase scenes, they'd be less troublesome. And the fact that no one in the system ever dies, and that exploding vehicles just expel the crew in humorous ways made weirdness in the vehicle system a non-issue. It's not like one critical hit was going to kill the whole party.

The GM did say that the original movement rules were a lot more complicated and involved than they needed to be, so he abstracted them down. Between that, the pregens, and the confusion over vehicle hits, it's hard for me to really rate the complexity of the system, but what I saw was plenty fun (and light) for a one-shot.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Planning Stage in Wilderness of Mirrors

I bought Wilderness of Mirrors for one reason - because it does a really good job of modeling (in gaming) the planning stage of spy movies, caper films, etc.

In other game systems: This common element of espionage films is often a bit of a trouble in RPGs.

If there's one obvious solution (just one good way into the enemy base, for example) then there's a good chance the players will feel railroaded.

A GM who's conscious of that will come up with more than one way in - which means the GM does a lot of redundant prep work when they pick only a single approach. There's a chance that the players won't see one of the paths to success, or will value one as being much better than the other, and they'll still feel railroaded.

This results in the typical dungeon-structure showing up in spy headquarters, military camps, space stations, etc, because trying to hit the right balance is really hard - you want to keep the player's decisions meaningful, but not have to come up with a ton of work for yourself or bore everyone with a lengthy exposition dump. *

Ultimately, once you've given them the intelligence report on the site of the mission, it becomes a contest between the craftiness of the GM and the craftiness of the players. Often that contest involves the GM intentionally handcuffing themselves by leaving back doors that it's hard to believe the enemy overlooked, so that the players have a chance. If you don't, you run a greater risk the PCs will hit a wall they can't surmount.

This is going about things the wrong way - it's not supposed to be the players trying to outsmart the GM, it's supposed to be the Player Characters (who have different skillsets than their players do) trying to outsmart the NPCs. Really, James Bond shouldn't be at a disadvantage because the guy playing him doesn't know as much as the GM does about how alarm systems work. But I've ranted about that before. **

Wilderness of Mirrors avoids all of those traps. How, you ask? By not having the GM do a darned thing, and always assuming the PCs kick butt.

Between sessions, the GM only has to brainstorm a one-sentence description of the new mission. He can seriously just show up to the game with that sketchy little description, and absolutely zero additional prep work. ***

Each session starts with the planning stage, with the players collectively sketching out a loose map, and filling in details of how the defenses that have to be overcome. Each such defense or detail gets you a mission point award, which you'll use later to overcome those same defenses.

While the rules don't say this as clearly as they could, I believe you're supposed to run the planning session in-character. At least as much as possible. So it's not "Wouldn't it be cool if there were like those infrared beams, you know, set up like a web somewhere and we had to like crawl through them without touching them? Should we put that in, like near the vault room?" Instead you should be saying "Before he was captured, our Mole reported that an InfraWeb 9000 alarm system had been installed in the chamber outside the vault. We'll need to requisition the proper gear to see the infrared lines, and assign our most acrobatic agent to getting past that."

The point is, you're not motivated to come up with something really easy, or really hard - but rather to come up with something really cool that'll look and sound awesome when you circumvent it. The players should absolutely be proposing things that sound terribly difficult, but which they already have an idea on how to solve or slip past.

The difficulty to infiltrate the evil lair (or whatever the framework of the mission is) is beside the point. Your dice rolls don't determine success or failure, they determine narration rights. Success is assumed in most circumstances. If I roll poorly, I may still take out that guard - but the GM will decide his body is found by a random patrol 10 minutes later, and we have to act fast.

As with any good caper or spy plotline, the infiltration is only half the mission - getting out again is the tricky part. The setback points that the GM accumulates every 20 minutes are designed to make all hell break loose once you're inside. Expect something to go wrong, and a good chase or fight scene to break out in the second half of the night. By the same token, you might win the roll, and still choose to narrate a result similar to my guard example in the previous paragraph. Little unexpected twists get you "Trust Dice", as does betraying the group. (Gotta love the name of those Trust Dice.) Narrating a minor setback now can help arm you for controlled success at a critical juncture where it really matters.

This game is sweet.I'm very excited to try it.

*: For an idea of my own on how to avoid the exposition dump, see: Discussion Cards. That idea works well with science anomalies / mysteries and for conveying situations where the Players lack info the PCs have.

**: Pet Peeves Regarding Attributes. Since writing those words 20 months ago, I've seen a few "hippy games" that let you use mental and social traits this way. Sadly they all seem to be games set up for one-shots only, either being very gimmicky or having no XP system. (Or both.)

***: Myself, when I get around to running this in a couple of weeks, I might actually spend 20 minutes before / between sessions. I like the idea of presenting a loose structure to the map, for the players to build off. Like just drawing a coast line, or the outlines of 5 buildings that are left unlabeled for the players to define. I'll then absolutely have the PCs do the planning stage in-character.

Crunching the Wilderness of Mirrors

I recently picked up Wilderness of Mirrors, a mini-RPG from John Wick.

Overall, I was very impressed. The game is short and sweet and elegant, and absolutely nails it's theme. I'm considering putting my copy of Spycraft into the sell/donate box, because I'd definitely run WoM (Wilderness of Mirrors) over any sort of d20 Espionage game. A few simple reasons:
  • Characters in WoM start off as professional master spies, with no need to "level up" or run training missions.
  • The mechanics are fast and simple. Outside of character creation, there's exactly one chart. PCs have two resources to keep track of, and 5 stats. It's a definite c4 on my crunchometer.
  • The burden on the GM is really diminished. Your work between sessions is about 5 minutes of brainstorming. During the game, the GM never rolls the dice, and only has one resource to track. The toughest part of GMing WoM is keeping an eye on the time (your one resource arrives every 20 minutes of real time, so the tension of the story ratchets up the longer you play).
  • Best of all it captures the feel of the "planning" stage of any good spy or caper film, which is really hard to do right. More about that in my next post.
The game is very narrow - focusing on Bond / Bourne / Bristow type scenarios - but it's really good at what it does. With a little elbow grease, you could also expand it to cover things like Ocean's 11, Reservoir Dogs, or even The Great Escape. So, in general, I love the game, and will be hauling it out first chance I get.

I do have a few little nitpicks, though:
  1. Given the game's basis and theme, the name of the 5 skills puzzles me. You have five skills, which are basically leadership/planning, fighting/wetworks, techie/fixer, faceman/deep cover, and stealth. Instead of choosing appropriate espionage-genre names for those skills, instead they're named after Roman Gods. It's supposed to sound like codewords for the training types, but seeing as how the game has no defined setting (beyond "your favorite spy setting"), the Roman codes seem silly. If you were running an MI-6 / James Bond game, you'd talk about Q and M, not Vulcan and Jupiter. In an Alias game, you'd say this is SD-6's top Wetworks agent, not "He's a Mars". A minor quibble, since renaming is easy in such a light system, but it feels like a strange hold-over from Wick's previous game Enemy Gods (where the names of the Gods were also the names of your stats, but with a more flavorful connection).

  2. Character creation is light, but still presented as being more complicated than it really is. You have 30 points to buy the five skills, and a non-intuitive cost chart that looks simple but will have to be explained three times to some players. Yet despite that, there are only possible spend patterns that don't waste points, and two more that do waste a point or two but don't hamstring your character.

    To save others the trouble of doing the math themselves, the four efficient builds are:
    • 5, 5, 5, 1, 1
    • 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
    • 4, 4, 2, 2, 2
    • 4, 3, 3, 3, 1

    In addition, the following two builds each leave one or two points unspent, but don't leave any dice hanging, and are not strictly inferior to the other four builds.
    • 5, 5, 2, 2, 1
    • 3, 3, 3, 2, 2

    For the record, I don't think that last one is a particularly good idea, as you'd be guaranteeing that you don't get one of the five "I'm the best in this skill" powers, but for a group with 6+ PCs, or for a really long campaign with a lot of mission types and some attendance spotiness, it might be worth it to have such a generalist in the group. Maybe.

    That there's only 6 ways to split the points isn't a complaint - the complaint is that they could make this much easier for new players with a chart of your 6 (or even just the 4 best) options. The details of the point system behind those 4 or 6 arrangements really only needs to be explained if you want to make more or less powerful agents for some reason - a notion the game doesn't explore as it already starts you off with James Bond / Jason Bourne level characters.

  3. No XP system. This is actually my biggest gripe. I can rename a stat, no problem. I can crunch the math on character creation and make a list that simplifies things for new players. Both of those are easily fixed. The game lacks any form of XP or Character Advancement.

    For a lot of players, that means they will never look at it as anything more than a one-shot. I've run long campaigns of Everway and Amber, and I know first hand that some players just seriously dislike any RPG without tangible advancement.

    James Bond never levels up - he's every bit as tough in the first movie as he is in the most recent one. Such an argument just might work in WoM, at least for a little while.

    Jury-rigging such a system seems doomed to fail, too. The game's just not granular enough. Assuming the stats cap at 5, all PCs would end up carbon copies very quickly. If there was no stat cap, you'd end up rolling unwieldy handfuls of dice and in the late game the GM would have no narration rights. It'd get ugly.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Star Trekkin

Starting last week, I'm now playing in a Star Trek game every-other-week. I'm playing a Tellerite astrophysicist. I'm a little nervous about taking on such a mentally-focused role, given Trek's mutable scientific (and temporal) laws that wobble from episode to episode. On Trek the characters seem to solve everything by reversing polarity or channeling energy through the main deflector, even when that makes no sense.

I think this will be a good learning experience for me, though. Either the GM will come up with clever ways to make the science-related challenges work, or I'll learn by trial and error what doesn't work. Either way, I expect my own GMing of sci-fi games will improve because of it. So, I'm kind of excited. Plus, it's a good group, these folks are a lot of fun.

The system being used is PDQ#, which is nicely flexible. It's less fiddly than Savage Worlds, but more defined than Risus. I think it's probably a c8 on my crunchometer, but I'll know better after I've played it more.

The era of Trek that is our setting is 5-10 years before Next Generation. There's been promise that Tholians the Gorn will show up, both of which have always been personal favorites that I wish the good series (not Enterprise) had done more with.

*Sigh* Why did the weakest Trek series have to be the only one that followed up on the most interesting aliens? I know those episodes exist, but the rest of Enterprise sucked so badly I'm afraid to watch them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Naked Savages

I ran some more Savage-Worlds-in-Dungeons-&-Dragons-clothing this weekend. It was a really incredibly good session. Here's some highlights.

Deck of Many Things: They were facing the demonic-tinged ghost of the grandfather of one of the PCs, and he had a Deck of Many Things. I actually got out a prop version - Green Ronin Games' beautiful copy. Since I wasn't stuck with the letter of D&D's laws, I could improvise a lot. He would basically flick cards at PCs, and they'd see the drawn card and be affected by it. You'd be a real jerk to do that in D&D, since it's not only against the rules, but also there's cards that just bone the PCs. There's a card that casts Imprison on you - that's a 9th Level spell and pretty much ends a character's existence unless they're very high level. Instead, since it wasn't D&D, he just got sucked to a lower level of the dungeon. Without armor. Or weapons. Or clothing. The card says "all gear and spells are stripped from the victim", and I took that literally.

Streaking: So, the Barbarian gets sucked down a few levels by a magic card, sans everything. Naked and unarmed. In most other games, this would be a death warrant. However, we were playing Savage Worlds, which has decent chase rules, and using my 1 hit = 1 wound houserule. I split the table in half, laid out dungeon tiles, and let him run for his life. Meanwhile, the other players raced down into the dungeon trying to find him. They hit more resistance going down than he did coming up, and he had lucky rolls, quick thinking, and bennies to protect him. When they met in the middle, the scene was quite enjoyable.

Kobolds: Part of the adventure involved Kobolds, and I really wanted them to feel miserably weak. So I gave them d8 Agility, but only d4 fighting. Nimble, but unskilled. To hit the PCs, they needed the die to explode, and to swarm in for the gang-up bonus. This would make them vulnerable to Sweep attacks. I also gave them a d4 Vigor, so their toughness became a mere 4. Then I made them extras, so 1 wound takes them out. That still didn't say pathetic to me, and I wanted these guys to make goblins look hearty, so I went one step beyond. They couldn't be shaken by damage - any hit that shook a kobold incapacitated it. Now they went down in droves, and it made for very epic combat dynamics. It also all meant that Agility tricks were useless against them, so the Rogue-Ranger had to use very different tactics than she did in the other fights.

The battle ended, by the way, with the naked barbarian running into the room, flanking the Kobolds. He was armed only with a branding iron (not hot) that he'd stolen off the wall of the room full of dark elves two levels below. He crashed into Kobolds, and in two consecutive Sweep Attacks wiped out the whole room. In two actions he killed over 12 kobolds - and they didn't even hit him despite his lack of armor or shield. A very memorable scene.

One of the two female players in the group said "I used to game, years ago, with a bunch of teenage guys, and the horny-little-bastard GM would always manufacture excuses to get my characters naked. So thank you turning the tables just once." It probably didn't hurt that her husband was playing the naked barbarian, either, or that everyone saw the completely random draw of the Donjon card that had rendered him naked and alone. Good times, good times.

Edit: I just realized the context there implied her husband was the horny-little-bastard GM of days gone by. He is a horny bastard, :) but he's not the horny bastard she was complaining about. :)

Lessons from recent Og-ing

Two observations concerning a recent session of the Og RPG, both of which are things I need to solve before I run it at the Dragonflight Con.

When you're teaching the game with new players, be precise about vocabulary. Each PC gets half a dozen words they can speak, but you're allowed to understand any other words you hear, you just can't speak them. Apparently, I did a poor job of explaining that. To their credit, the new players did an awesome job of staying in character. They thought they couldn't understand the words the other players spoke. It made the game really drag out, with tons of time spent repeating the two words that everyone had in common. It was still fun, but not as much as it could have been. It's rare that I wish a player had metagamed more, but this is one case where I do.

Grunting caveman needs a boost. Of the various character types, Grunting Caveman and Banging Caveman get the short end of the stick.
  • Banging Caveman is inferior to Strong Caveman: they average the same damage output in a fight, but Strong can get past a point of armor that shuts Banging down. In addition, Strong gets a bonus on lifting rolls, IIRC. I've found that improving Banging Caveman's attacks from 4+ to 3+ puts them back on roughly even ground. Problem solved, or close enough anyway.
  • Grunting Caveman, however, I have no solution for. It takes an action to grunt, and you roll two dice. Only if they come up doubles do you get anything for it. So that's a 1-in-6 chance of it paying off, half the chance of any other skill working. Worse yet, the rules say you can only grunt once per scene, and given Og's narrative constraints, most sessions have very few scenes. Worst of all, double 1's is really bad, so it's actually less than 1-in-6 that the power helps you. I've GM'd it three times now, and only once has grunting helped a character. If this was just a random skill, maybe it'd be okay - build and romance are hard to use as well - but instead Grunting is an entire character class. No one wants to play Grunting Caveman for a second session. I may experiment with having it involve just a d6 roll, with success on a 5+. That would more than double the odds of grunting. Would it prove too good? I guess I'll find out next time I run Og.