Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cold Fens summary preview

We played another session of DF Cold Fens. It took a long time to wrap up, so I don't have time to write a summary tonight.


- a nearly disastrous start took a toll on the PCs, with missed Survival rolls, Boating rolls, and accidentally camping next to a "swamp cow" (read, "catoblepas") lair. Oops.

- Two words: Leaping leeches.

- they met Rahtnar, whose player came late, at the temple. He had smooth sailing with excellent Boating and Survival rolls and no random encounters.

- a knock-down, drag-out fight with the bandits.

- Asher actually rolling better than minimum damage on two rolls!

- actual teamwork and formations!

- a profitable trip.

A long but fun and exciting session.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Gene Wolfe, and GURPS New Sun

I saw this article linked over at Akratic Wizardry. I rarely post about fiction here, because this is my RPG blog - it's got to have some immediate and direct connection to gaming, like detailing a cool dungeon or, better yet, having a game book attached to it. This post has that.

Sci-Fi’s Difficult Genius

It's about Gene Wolfe, know for his New Sun books and the Latro books (I know of two.)

Shadow of the Torturer is a book I remember starting, and then halting, and then re-starting. I brought a set of the series with me to Japan, since I found it much easier to concentrate on dense works when I surrounded by a non-English language. To this day when I think of scenes from "New Sun" I have them connected to vivid memories of certain places in Japan - reading in my apartment, reading while waiting for a train in Aizuwakamatsu, reading while sitting in school between classes. I wouldn't read the fourth book in the series until I returned to America, when I was able to track it down. I'd shortly after pick up the Latro books, and enjoy them as well.

I didn't find those books by chance, though.

I wouldn't have picked these books up, or persisted in them, if it wasn't for GURPS New Sun. I read that book back in 1999, but I couldn't make heads or tails of it. But it provided a useful incentive to read the New Sun books. I'm a credited playtester on the book, mostly due to just relentless reading and rules checking. I didn't know the New Sun, or Gene Wolfe, at all when I did that. My role was just making sure the implementation was sound.*

GURPS is precisely the right system to express what's encountered in the New Sun series. It's probably an odd place to play a game, given the very closed nature of the story. But the spooky, creepy, and unsettling elements of the story (such as the alzebo and the notules) are there in GURPS terms to port elsewhere. The stylist elements (Terminus Est, the Torturer's Grip, the odd high-tech gear) are ready to steal as well.

GURPS New Sun is one of the few 3e books I keep out and ready on my scarce shelf space. It's something I will suddenly feel inspired to pull down and look at, just like my copies of the Wolfe books.

So go read that article. And if you haven't, take the time to read the deeply fascinating New Sun books. You may not love them, but you're unlikely to regret giving them a go.

* Something I did for Planet of Adventure, too, which meant I read the whole series with an odd sense of deja vue. It's often extremely useful to have someone familiar with the rules but not with the material, because you simply read what's there without preconceptions of what you think it implies.

Friday, April 24, 2015

More Russian Knightly Combat. On Ice.

When I posted that M-1 craziness, I forgot to post some real Russians in armor whacking people.

No sword? No problem.

Remember, it's club, club, club, drink, kill with a bucket. I didn't see either of those M-1 dudes doing that last bit, and I'm not sure how you have a truly Russian battle without a little drinking out of buckets.

I just love the happy music playing when the Russian heroes are flailing away at the Teutonic Knights.

(No subtitles on that one, sorry)

If you've never watched Alexander Nevsky, take the time and do it. It's one of the finest, if not the finest, works of Sergei Eisenstein's canon. You'll finish it and want to repel Nazi invaders of the Motherland. Not only that, but it's got a stark, sharp match with the Sergei Prokofiev score. And if you've seen Conan the Barbarian and marveled at the evil looking bad guys and excellent musical score, this is a good one to look back on.

In my opinion neither would have happened without this - there are a lot of unspoken homages to this masterpiece in that one. Maybe not this one, though. It just goes to show, if you're going to steal, steal from the best!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

We're Lucky Because We Ran Away!

I wrote a couple of posts on fleeing, or the lack of fleeing, and Archon Shiva has take my general issue and my musing on a rule switch ("What if fleeing always works?") and turned it into total awesome.

Defeat and Running Away

Basically, run away in defeat? All your rolls have Luck on them.

It's got all the elements I like in a rule:

- it re-purposes existing mechanics in a logical way.
- its intent is clear.
- its mechanics are clear.
- it doesn't try to be rules-lawyer proof, but instead lays the implementation and removing of abuse squarely in the hands of the GM.

It's also a rule that gives a game mechanical benefit to actions taken that the GM wants to be a valid option. You're luckier when you run. If you run away to gain a larger benefit, it doesn't help. If you've got some doubt about if you're fleeing for advantage or fleeing to get away, it doesn't help.

Not only that, but it's clear how you'd do this in other game systems if you chose to port the idea over.

Also, I like the "Cornered Prey" rule, which further encourages people to let foes escape.

The idea that you shouldn't back foes into a do-or-die situation, instead of aiming to put them there ("they're cornered, they can't retreat, and they can't win . . . so let's attack them!") and that winning is more important than massacring the defeated, is also a sound one.

At the Battle of Ravenna (April 11th, 1512), the French army under Gaston de Foix defeated the Spanish decisively, but de Foix himself was killed during an attack on some Spanish infantry who were retreating in good order. It's one of those painful moments in history - an excellent general died trying to turn an already-decisive victory into a decisive victory with a few more dead on the opposing side. There wasn't anything to win. It cost him everything and his side their best general. Having mechanics that make that a larger possibility is pretty interesting. It's something to see mechanics that encourage you, for your own good, to not do what should cost more than it's worth.

I also like the idea that, of course, if you try to game this ("We run into the dead end and await the orc charge!") the GM is probably going to say, "Oh, bad move. No luck, though, you did that to yourselves."

All in all, excellent stuff!

PSA: The Flayed King, free

Just a quick public service announcement - Tim Shorts, best known for The Manor and for rolling much-mocked ones on the S&W B-Team, has released a new product.

And at least for the moment, it is free.

Go check it out!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Russian Knightly Combat, er, MMA

Thanks to Vic "Bjorn" LaPira for forwarding this:

I mean, what the heck Russia? Seriously? M-1 is cementing its reputation in my head as "Like PRIDE used to be, except crazy."

Thanks to Vic for forwarding this story at ESPN, which is as close to mixing the hobbies I do (MMA, play RPGs) with the sports I watch (ice hockey, plus kickboxing and tennis when I can.)

These are blunt, and fairly flimsy, swords. But in case you wondering how being weighted down with armor would affect takedowns, etc. - not terribly. I love the bizarre mix of muay thai influenced kicks and spinning strikes, takedowns, and Filipino martial arts-looking sword strikes (especially what I learned as "the caveman" - the off-the-shoulder strike with the rear hand weapon.) It's no recreationist sport . . . but, yeah. Just watch it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Writing just ahead of the players

About 20 years back, I was running a small campaign. I had been running a large campaign, but a near-TPK in A1-4 took out more than half of the PCs and half or more of the players. Two guys held on to keep gaming, one of whom still plays in my game and one of whom drops in occasionally to join us as a guest star or for a short session (he played Caveman in Gamma Terra).

One thing about that game was that we'd play every day. We all had jobs, but when my two players would get off of work they'd come over and we'd play for a few hours. Every night.

When a blizzard came and shut down the state, and the roads were closed, they got their boots on and walked across town to game.

But as you might imagine, playing every day meant a lot of GM work. Basically I'd go to work in the morning, keep stirring over material in my head as I fiddled with statistics and so on for my day job, and then I'd write furiously on lunch. Then I'd go home, eat, and then run game.

Repeat day after day for weeks on end.

What made this interesting for me was that I didn't have time to sandbox the game. I couldn't write for all possibilities. But I didn't want to give the PCs no choices - although the situation then ended up in (drafted into a military campaign) meant I could at least partly determine the path. What I was able to do was decide in advance what was almost certainly the way they were going to go. Like perhaps jamming in music, or when you get that flow in a martial arts competition or practice, I just knew where they were going to go. I could lay out choices and then write to the choice I knew the players would make based on their PC's personalities and their goals. I was in a groove. The choices were real and legitimate, it's just that I knew which one they'd choose so I could detail that one and let the others slide.

I didn't know what would happen after the choice was made - lots of dice to be rolled, combats to be had, clever player actions to adjudicate. But I could stay a step ahead.

I kept that groove going until the game ended when the PCs made a succession of bad choices and ended up with a religious geas and the players decided it was time to start over.

Incidentally, it's the first time that this mini showed up and kicked butt.

These days, I've got enough of a luxury of time that I can stock an area and see how they go, but then, it was all knowing the situation, and being in a groove of knowing where my players would go. But I miss that feeling of perfect sync.

Have you ever been in a similar situation? Writing just ahead of the PCs, on a daily or near-daily basis, yet still legitimately giving people a choice? It's one of those times where everything was flowing. Have you had that?
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