Friday, August 4, 2017

Making the Gameworld Calendar Matter

We live our lives with one eye on the calendar. Yet in RPGs, generally no one but the DM gives a shit about what day of what month it is. The average fantasy world calendar is just as useful as the French revolutionary calendar today.

Here are two ways that will make your players pay attention to the calendar.

Trick # 1 - Blame it on the weather

Just as us modern monkeys live with one eye on the calendar, we live with the other on the Weather Channel. I surmise 99.9% of any RPGers out there have read The Lord of the Rings, and know why Gandalf and crew turned back from the mountain passes and braved the deathtrap Moria - bad weather. Sure it was meddled with, but the fact stands that weather can ruin the most perfect of adventures. Have PCs bake in the summer sun (and run out of water), shiver in autumn winds (until they find cloaks), and bunker down when the snow hits the ground (or else recreate the Donner party). This will teach them that spring is when a person's fancy turns to adventuring, at least until the first flash flood hits.

Trick # 2 - Holiday, celebrate, run for your life!

Children especially measure the passage of time by the approach of holidays, and most can tell you exactly how many days till Christmas or their birthday. Here are a few fantasy holidays that are worth having in your world.

AUTUMN - All Souls Eve (Obon or Night of Hungry Ghosts in Oriental campaigns)
On this day the dead return to watch over loved ones or to do unfinished business, the undead can talk, but are peaceful unless the covenant is broken. Now's the time to ask the dead questions...

WINTER - Krampusnacht
Ah Christmas, the night when the Jolly Old Elf visits every household and gives presents to the good and eats the bad. Evil characters better do a good deed to put their name in the right ledger, or else be off world when Krampus makes its rounds, while the good might find just that piece of equipment they needed in their stocking.

SPRING - Carnival
With the return of life to the land the townsfolk come out to dance, drink, eat, and beat the shit out of one another. On this day all hierarchical relations are reversed, wizards must carry swords & abstain from magic, fighters must wear gowns and abstain from violence, thieves must give to the poor and needy, and clergy just leave religion at home, get shitfaced and have a good time. Breaking these customs is a taboo punishable by a knock to the head and time in the stocks.

SUMMER - Festival of Fireballs
To beat the heat, townsfolk gather by a cool river or lake, drink chilled wine, and watch the Wizardworks. Rival magicians from all over converge to flaunt their Fireballs, Mass Illusions, and Prismatic Sprays across the sky for the adulation of the masses who they usually ignore or zap. No one knows why they do this, whether for prestige, to please their patrons, or just because wizards are cray cray.

Considering that D&D is the elephant in the room, here are some extra holidays based on the alignment system you could sprinkle into your game calendar. These can also be great adventure seeds or hints for players.

LAWFUL or GOOD - Day of Feathers
Angels come down to earth and walk amidst mortals on the streets of a holy city. Woe to any but the pure of heart, while those good souls who have done righteous deeds make have questioned answered or ask for divine aid in their next holy mission.

CHAOTIC or EVIL - Purge Night
Just like in the movies or the Rick & Morty episode, the warped townsfolk put on demonic masks and mercilessly slaughter anyone they want for 24 hours. PCs can either join in the fun or wander in innocently and end up trying to stay alive for the duration, with the moral conundrum of whether to slaughter a whole town or not.

NEUTRAL - The Green Time
An animal gives itself for slaughter & feasting to neutral townsfolk, but a child must be slain in return. Strangers are considered as children, so are welcome with open arms, or else must find a sacrificial substitute.

Finally, here are two more random holidays worth fixing the dates of on your calendar.

Here it comes again! All overstock must be sold! Beat the crowds and be there to take advantage of these crazy deals in equipment magical and mundane! No theft is allowed anywhere in the vicinity this day, and anyone with sticky fingers will have to deal with the local Thieves' Guild and merchant-owned golem floorwalkers.

A usually hostile race passes peacefully through lands of men & women once every x years to commemorate a past exodus. Gillmen  join a Hadj to a buried desert city, dark elves sneak into the aboveground city that birthed their race, to light candles or hordes of goblins bathe in the sewers of People Town. Remember that humans and pilgrims honour a pact of non-violence during this time, and woe betide anyone who breaks the sacred immemorial agreement.


Monday, April 17, 2017

RPGs in Space, RPGs and space

What is the allure of gaming in space? For me, it boils down to two things:

1) You can go anywhere. Plans go awry? Just jump to another system and keep going.

2) You have the tech to do anything. Primitives think you're a god, and your wits are what keeps you above technological equals or superior beings.

This is also the allure of good spacefaring fiction. Look at Larry Niven's Known World stories, or Asimov's best tales. Although there are many veins of scifi, endless space is a rich and rewarding one.

Space is not the final frontier, unless you're gaming in the early days of space travel and are limited to one system. Space with a capital S is the endless frontier, the lack of frontier. This is the promise of spacefaring RPGs, yet they all too often hobble the freedom that space gaming should support.

Let's look at the first adventure module for the venerable Star Frontiers. The text starts,

"Welcome to the universe of the STAR FRONTIERS game! You are now a star-rover, one of the lucky few who spend their lives traversing the black void of deep space" (1).

This promise is quickly taken away by a railroad pirate attack with a staged result:

"Instead of landing in a choice site in a fully equipped shuttle, they are crash-landing in the middle of a hostile desert. They are light years from their home planets, with no hope of rescue in the foreseeable future." (7)

 Yes, the game promises, you can go anywhere and do anything. Then the GM is instructed to say but don't do either.

This is a load of bollocks. But Star Frontiers isn't alone.

The first adventure included with Traveler, Mission on Mithril, starts thus:

"Scout Service Starship CentralAxis, on detached duty, stutters out of jump space from Olympia three days late. That sort of delay spells almost deadly disaster to the jump drives of the tiny scout; without repairs, the ship will never jump again." (Mithril, 2)

This despite the text:

"Traveller is an entire universe to be explored" (Core Rules, 7)

Yet again the promise of Space is empty when access to space is denied.

I understand why this was so common. Science based gaming in an endless universe is daunting for the GM, so why not limit it to one locale? This kneejerk reaction is only natural given the dungeon crawling origin of the hobby.

Here's how to avoid this misstep:

1) Always allow access to space. The only times PCs shouldn't have access is when their decisions lead to this. They want to dangerously tinker with engines or start a fight that could take out their jump capability? So be it. But don't foist those constraints on them to further YOUR story. Space tales are about their story in your universe.

2) Always allow access to tech, if PC finances support it. This requires the GM to have a decent grasp of tech and its use and limitations. But remember that the GM has endless resources to throw at PCs (if they ask for it), and that turnabout is fairplay. If PCs use a device in an asymmetrical or novel way to get an advantage from technology, be sure that others in the same universe have as well, and the next NPC can draw from the same bag of tricks. Take note of any unique idea players have and add it to your arsenal.

3) Always remember there are consequences for PC actions. Yes, PCs can jump away from any shitstorm their adventures cause, far from local authorities. Yet science fiction gives us the proper response to this - the bounty hunter. From Star Wars to Cowboy Bebop, bounty hunters are called in when law enforcement fails, and can use any means or measures to bring in fugitives. Enough high-tech hunters on their trail and PCs might prefer surrendering to authorities.

So don't be cowed by the size of space. Read good fiction, get inspired, read the rules, take note of player ingenuity, and follow the PCs wherever they take you. The open minded GM will discover new things about his or her universe that will surprise them and make their job as rewarding as that of the players.


Acres, Marc et al. (1982). SF-0: Crash On Volturnus. 
 Lake Geneva: TSR.

Miller, Marc et al. (1983). "Mission On Mithril." Traveler CT Book Three: Adventures. Bloomington: Game Designer's Workshop.

Miller, Marc et al. (1983). "Mission On Mithril." Traveler CT Book Three: Adventures. Bloomington: Game Designer's Workshop.Core Rules

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Hooked on Harmon Quest

So I am hooked on THIS.

Dan Harmon's celebrity-studded roleplaying sessions. Complete with faux 80's style animations.
Besides being great entertainment (episode 4 made me laugh so hard my wife turned up her TV and scowled), it has some great tips for gaming. Although not everyone may like how the games are run or played, here is what I'd steal:

For DMs

Plot the adventure between points on a map
Allow one shot guests to shine
Value gear over gold
Only roll dice when absolutely necessary
Let players try anything
Keep your tongue in your cheek

For players

Contribute to either the game, the atmosphere, or both
Stay in character so long as it adds to the entertainment
Try anything but don't break the game
Roll with the punches

Anyway, off to Canada tomorrow! Hip hip hooray!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

HPL's Racism & Adding Moral Complexity to Call of Cthulhu

1 Racism & Call of Cthulhu

Howard Philips Lovecraft was a racist.

Even a cursory reading of his stories will produce evidence of his phobia of racial impurity and belief in white superiority. There is the infamous start of Call of Cthulhu:

The professor had been stricken whilst returning from the Newport boat; falling suddenly, as witnesses said, after having been jostled by a nautical-looking negro who had come from one of the queer dark courts on the precipitous hillside which formed a short cut from the waterfront to the deceased’s home in Williams Street.

Lovecraft scholar TS Joshi has commented on this bigotry many times, and HPL's bust was removed from the World Fantasy Awards because of this. A Google search of racism + lovecraft spools out innumetable articles and blogposts such as THIS.

So, point taken and cased closed, right? This doesn't mean we should stop reading his stories, which have morphed into a cultural property that has outlived their creator and his bigotry. For this same reason, Call of Cthulhu is still highly playable, with the prewar setting offering the complex moral dilemnas of the pre-Civil Rights struggle era.

Except that many games of CoC I've played in or run have been set in a pasturized past, an idyllic 1930s where color matters not, and the Good Guys band together to Save the World.

Not only is this the antithesis of the Mythos stories, it is a lost roleplaying opportunity.

2 Race, Class, & the Mythos

Roleplayers, due to the hobby's origin in the black & white moral alignments of D&D, naturally adhere to the polarity of good society versus evil monsters. In Call of Cthulhu, however, things should not be so cut and dried.

Logically, mythos creatures don't care or can't see human difference. Black, white, upper class, labourer, all taste the same to Cthulhu's idiot maw. Some creatures are merely entities stranded on an alien world, only dangerous when people rile them.

Looked at another way, cults are the ultimate Equal Opportunity Bureau. They employ any race or colour, especially those marginalized by White Society. They promulgate freedom of assembly and speech, and are free from the Victorian or Puritan sexual mores that constrain American society.

Conversely, it is the authority figures of White Society who put gay people and independent-minded women into mental institutions. They are the ones sending police into break up assemblies of people based on colour or ethnicity.

In CoC games, this complex moral landscape is too often 'flattened' to focus on the investigators vs monsters element. This reduces gameplay to a monster-of-the-week format, ironically at odds with the advice of Sandy Peterson and other CoC creators, and closer to the dynsmic of D&D in practice.

Here's how to reinject moral complexity into Call of Cthulhu.

3 Adding Moral Complexity to CoC

I suggest that flipping the 'good guys' or 'calvary' hiring or otherwise offering to aid the investigators is the quickest and surest way of recomplicating the moral landscape of CoC. Roll on the following table when PCs interact with authority. Note that there is a 50/50 chance of authority figures either openly show or hide their true nature, but even hidden allegiences should be easily uncovered by determined investigators.

1 National Socialists - In other words, these guys are American Nazi Partyers, intent on promoting American values by limiting immigration to the 'right types'. This movement was accepted by many Americans until Hitler gave it a bad name. This means that in prewar games, any mythos devices or power they obtain will make their way to Berlin.
2 Virulent anti-semites - not as political as Nazis, but equally vile. They will downright refuse to listen to, hire, or aid Jewish investigators. As above, any mythos devices or power they obtain will make their way to Berlin. Ironically have a ten percent chance of having Jewish ancestors.
3 Slavery apologists - deluded and dangerous believers that enslaving one's fellow man is a god given right. They will hire black people who keep quiet and work, but will refuse to listen to or treat them as equals, and abandon them if things go sour. Any mythos devices or power they obtain will make their way to KKK headquarters. Ironically have a ten percent chance of being racially mixed with black ancestors.
4 Misogynists - These people believe the Women's Right Movement is destroying America, and that women are better off at home. They will downright refuse to listen to, hire, or aid female investigators. Any mythos devices or power they obtain will make their way into the hands of suffragette breakers, domestic abusers or pimps. Ironically have a ten percent chance of being women policing their own sex.
5 Homophobes - They will downright refuse to listen to, hire, or aid openly gay or lesbian investigators. Any mythos devices or power they obtain will make their way to  leaders of churches or public morals committees for use in anti-gay pogroms leading to incarceration or the mental hospital. Ironically have a ten percent chance of being closeted by social or family pressure.
6 Unforgivingly classist - These guys insist people should 'know their place' in society. They can trace their own bloodline to nobility, and only fraternize with people of the same class, of equal or higher EDU or occupational status. PCs with lower EDU or working class occupations will be ordered about and abandoned if things go sour. Any mythos devices or power they obtain will be used behind the scenes to maintain the status quo and stymy democratic reform or equality measures. Ironically have a ten percent chance of being from the lowest clasd of society.
7 Condescending imperialists - military or political types who go on about the civilizing nature of white culture and the barbarity of all others. See non-Eoropean peoples as inferior and treat as servants. Any mythos devices or power they obtain will make their way to the army unit or trading company at the head of a current imperialist adventure in Asia, Africa, South America, or Oceania. Ironically have a ten percent chance of being closeted by social or family pressure.
8 Nothing! These people are refreshingly unburdened by prejudices or hang ups. Expect them to be killed, transferred, or be replaced with one of the bigoted types above.

Flipping the allegience of anti-mythos authorities should provide lots of dilemnas and roleplaying fodder. Investigators should hesitate to get assistance from Nazis for fear of the McGuffin falling into the wrong hands; players of female characters will be frustrated by patriarchal benefactors who refuse to let them participate fully in the investigation; and players should feel the judgmental glare of NPCs on their character's social standing, race, and sexual identity.

Optionally, you could also re-interpret the motives of the cultists to avoid the evil cult kliche, where 'cultist' is shorthand for 'killable without remorse' .

1 Hereditary - Brought up in the Old Faith, these people do what they do out of ritual and habit. Showing them the consequences of their faith may persuade them to give it up.
2 Misguided - Like the above, but mistakenly believe their faith does good. Maybe they see Nyarlothep as Space Jesus, or Cthulhu as the biblical Kraken. Either way, there is a chance that revealing the true form of their deity will cause them to renounce it.
3 Secret protectors - These people know about the mythos and collect its totems to keep them from returning to the world. Their policy of working in secret makes them easy to misunderstand, and they often work in direct opposition to the authority of White Society introduced above.
4 Fakers - They don't believe in any of the rituals or tenets of the faith, but are just in it for kicks. As above, revealing the consequences or true nature of their faith may dissuade them from it.
5 Occultists - Seances and mesmerism were their 'gateway drug', but now they year for magic that truly works. As above, revealing the consequences or true nature of their faith may dissuade them from it.
6 Academics - After decades collecting and studying mythos tomes, these searchers of knowledge have graduated to applying the scientific method to invocations and summonings of things best left unknown. As above, revealing the consequences or true nature of their faith may dissuade them from it.
7 Impoverished underclass - Dominated historically because of racial struggle, these people have been relegated to the precarious edges of society and seek mythos power and aid to redress their plight. As above, revealing the consequences or true nature of their faith may dissuade them from it, or may embolden them to gain more knowledge or power to overthrow their oppressors.
8 Stereotypical cartoonishly evil - Mad megalomaniacs without rhyme or reason. Fire away!

4 Why Bother?

You might well ask why bother adding this layer of moral complexity to your games. If you really don't see any value in this, if you really are satisfied with men-vs-monsters, then carry on. There is nothing wrong with your preferred style of gaming.

However, if you find CoC often devolving into cartoonish Scooby Doo style adventures, you might want to give this a try. The promise of roleplaying is to immerse us in life experiences that are usually closed to us. By setting these in a morally complex universe, we exercise our empathy and understanding of other people.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

GURPS Ring Dream & Manga Part Two - Piledrivers and Money Shots

Welcome back to ringside!

Whereas the extensive manga seen in the first post on GURPS Ringdream set the scene for roleplaying with its wonderful fluff, the rest of the book's manga is put to use for the system's love of crunch. And oh what glorious crunch it is! Each wrestling move gets its own illustration, from Kick and Headbutt...

... to Elbow and Stomping...

...onto Double Foot Stamp and Lariat...

... don't forget Dropkick and Knee Drop...

...lest we omit Guillotine Drop and Hip Attack...

... Water Level Kick and Kneel Kick...

... Palm Strike and Rolling Sobat (?)...

... Spinning Elbow and Backfist (yawn)...

... Flying Meya (?) and Body Slam...

... Arm Whip and Waterwheel Drop...

Seriously, there's another ten pages like this, with art getting progressively porny. It could be manga fan service for fellows who like comic femdom, but it is equally plausible the creators were rabid wrestling otaku, considering the intricate descriptions of each move and its skill mods, damage, conditions of use, etc. I can imagine a group of rpg and wrestling otaku in the early 90s, visiting Tokyo pro-wrestling dojos and watching videos in preparation while taking copious notes.

But just when us laymen can take no more, they change the art style to suck us back in. There's the Can Burner (?) and Hanging Ceiling Lock...

... Flying Dropkick and Bodypress (see why I said porny)...

... Face Crusher and Flying Body Attack...

... and more but that's enough for me.

Then there's this little hex diagram of pre and post flying move positioning. Talk about excessive!

I turn to the character sheet, which has also been manga-ed up. Since many Japanese prefer playing with pregens, this statting of the introductory manga characters could let play progress right away.

What is interesting from a mechanics standpoint is the unique calculation of hit points visible on the sheet. Hit points are broken up into four limbs, head, and torso, which EACH part getting hit points equivalent to Health, except the torso, which gets HT x 2!! This would allow the massive give-n-take of damage of the genre. I dunno GURPS well enough to know if such rules exist in English versions, but they are intriguing.

Well, that's it for Ring Dream! I may post more manga rpg stuff, but expect some of my regular pop sociology and gaming over the next few weeks.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Flesh Interfaces RPG

Wish I had time to rpgify all this for Unknown Armies, Mage, or CoC.

Have at er

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dragon Half RPG swap

OK, so as you can see I have two copies of the Dragonhalf RPG:

Some readers have expressed desire for a copy. Well, here's your chance.

I'll be accepting PMs to Google or tedankhamen at hot mail.
If you know this blog and my interests (Stormbringer, Unknown Armies, other old funky stuff) and want to trade, make me an offer.

Remember, this book is only in Japanese, not English. If what you offer seems a higher value, I'll throw in something to even things out. Feel free to do the same.

Anyone interested?