Thursday, August 30, 2012

Slicing the Gordian Knot of Orc Kids

This article on Orcs and Goblins over on Silver Blade Adventures got me thinking more about the origins of humanoids. He suggests the idea - not new - that orcs and hobgoblins and such could be created by spells or bred in vats of broiling flesh. Dwimmermount takes a similar approach.

In my own game, the issue of "What about the children?" came up immediately as I ran B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. In that, you can see that my players spared the women and kids, and that I kept the "Gygaxian Naturalism" approach that meant that orcs, et al. are effectively just uncivilized but living beings. Wildmen, perhaps, but not inhuman monsters exactly. It feels cruel and un-fun to murder the kids, and you lose some of that "mythical humanoid creatures" bit.

I realized there is a sort-of middle ground. Perhaps orcs and hobgoblins, etc. are created monsters, either bred out of bizarre stock, warped from humans or elves, or built and shaped out of pots of boiled-down flesh and given souls by evil spells or unsavory rituals. Something like this is found in Robert Conley's excellent Magestic Wilderlands supplement. If that's how they originate, they can easily be conceived of as pure evil.

But what if they breed true? What if they're still initially bred (and can be bred) in those bubbling vats or formed with evil spells, but the males and females can create young that are equally as evil as themselves?

They become more like a self-replicating demonic virus than just another race. The kids must be expunged, because they're simply going to make more of this nasty race. It's like picking weeds or wiping out termites to kill them off - you need to get the whole lot or the problem isn't solved.

This does have the downside of making half-orcs a bit harder to justify. Or perhaps making their reputation as boors and assassins more justified - they're bred from evil, even if, like Merlin, they turn that demonic taint to good ends.

But it's got the potential to split that Gordian Knot of "I want orcs with mythic origins but I want to preserve the Gygaxian naturalism of female humanoids and kids." Or "I want the have orc women and kids but not have my Paladin get smote down with lightning for killing one."

As for my game, I'm not telling the origins of my races just yet. My players read this blog. But it's worth noting that there is still a tactical reason in my games to spare the women and kids - it makes the humanoids easier to bargain with. My players are after loot, so if sparing a few weeds means the garden yields up its veggies with less work, well . . .

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Strength vs. Intelligence: Odd work/hobby crossover

Within days of each other, Untimately posted this article about Traveller:

Willpower in Traveller

In it he discusses the bonus you get for being less intelligent if you try to up your character's physical stats by training.

And then over on the Conditioning Research blog, I saw this post:

Exercise Makes You Smarter

It's a chart showing some of the increased IQ test and grade level improvements that result from exercise.

So it's "dumb guys get stronger, faster" vs. "exercise makes you smarter." Heh. 70s game design, meet 10s research.

So I'll keep lifting. It'll make it easier for me to remember all the rules to my games. ;)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Intersting Post on Skill Checks

John Bell over at The Retired Adventurer had an interesting post on Skill Checks and chance-based rolls. Check it out:

Tests of Skill and Tests of Chance

It's a good article. I especially like a few ideas:

- glomming together multiple checks by multiple PCs into a big roll. GURPS has Complementary Skills (it's in Action 2, at least, and a cut-rate version shows up in Gladiators), but I like the expanded idea of "add everyone together and do one roll."

- announcing results of a multiple-effect test in dramatic order, consistently. Check the guys most likely to pass and then down, or check all of them and announce the best-to-worst results. "That guy panics, so does he, that guy faints from fright, and that guy's head asplodes!"

- the importance of allowing player choices to affect the odds of success. "Bonus grubbing" is really critical to me - if you grub hard enough, I might not even need to make you roll.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Cool monster resource

Magical Monstrosity Press is a blog of new monsters, mostly old-edition compatible but spelled out well enough for other editions of D&D.

Cool stuff. I'll steal a few of these guys for my GURPS games, I'm sure.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bones Kickstarter - up to 205 minis

Right now the Reaper Bones Kickstarter is at 205 minis (204 plastic and 1 metal) for $100.

A few more stretch goals makes it more like 210+ minis - less than $0.50 each. Sweet!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Why I'm unlikely to run a game in Tekumel

I've been re-reading the two Tekumel novels by M.A.R. Barker - Man of Gold and Flamesong.

As books go, they're pretty enjoyable. Not the best fiction in the world, but the stories are interesting and the world is extremely well detailed.

Ultimately, that's why I like the world but I'm unlikely to run anything in it.

Why I like it. The world drips with interesting and well-connected detail. It's clearly well thought out, and nothing reads like a retcon or half-baked idea. How could it? So much of the world has been thoroughly thought out. It makes it an interesting place to read about, and probably to play in as well.

Why I probably won't run it. The world drips with interesting and well-connected detail. Their is clearly a pretty big canon that, as a GM, I'd feel compelled to achieve a good command of. I could just make stuff up, sure, or pass it off as mis-information later ("Sorry, that guy was just wrong.") But I'd still need a lot of digging and reading and checking to get it "right." And if I didn't get it "right" I'd feel like I was not doing justice to either the setting or my game. It's fine for the players to be foreign mercs utterly unaware of the setting and learn as they go . . . but I can't GM that way. And once I start making stuff up, and letting my players make stuff up, the well-connected detail of the world becomes more and more of an obstacle to me. I'd rather make stuff up in play without reference to someone else's world.

So, yeah, as much as the books are a good read and the world looks like an awesome place to explore . . . I'm just not convinced it's worth the effort of learning someone else's world just to have my own game. I understand others disagree - strongly! - but for me, it's a lot of work and I don't think I'd feel happy with the results of the work. That said, I'm still going to steal cool stuff from the world - my players dealt with stinky Ahoggya in my last game . . . and may again!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Recommended Reading: The Renaissance at War

For anyone running a game using early firearms, I highly recommend this book:

It's a highly readable and well-detailed book on the development of warfare as gunpowder took on a greater and greater role.

It's a useful book for exploding some pernicious myths. Such as, say, "guns came along and armor went away because it was useless" (yeah, so where did musket-proofed plate come from? And why did Napoleon's army including heavy cavalry wearing armor?) And the idea that knighthood ended when guns came along - it was the nobility that purchased these guns, to cement their power.

The details of the battles and campaigns are excellent, too.

It's well worth reading if your fantasy game of choice includes some gunfire.

Monday, August 13, 2012

DF15 Expansion: Master of Light

For a recent Daily Illuminator, the Rev. Pee Kitty aka one of the GURPS line editors, wrote up a 250-point version of the 62-point Torchbearer template. If 62 points spent on carrying a torch didn't seem excessive enough, here comes utter torch-bearing awesomeness.

Master of Light

Wow, thanks PK! You've riffed off of one of my goofier ideas ("Dude, we need a whole book of guys who drink potions and carrying torches!") into a really, utterly, awesomely goofy idea. I'm flattered. You saw "Not Without My Torch!" and raised it by "Torch Blessing." I'm awestruck.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Random Thoughts V

Just some random thoughts.

- Painted like a demon this month. Did a dozen or more zombies, a bunch of monsters, and assorted other figures such as hirelings and mercenaries. Just wanted to bang some out and clear my desk before I go on vacation.

- Combat systems are a skills system. A basic one and one that's not that easily expanded to everything else, but it's a skill system. From 0e on D&D guys are ranked ("levels") in terms of combat ability, and ability to survive combat. It doesn't matter how good of a swordsman you are, it's die rolls and your character's skill as defined by the combat results tables. Sure, player skill matters - knowing who to try to hit, who not to, where to move on the battlefield, etc. - but it does for any other skill in that game or any other game.

- Yeah, this is why I like skill systems too. Although Fast Draw Knife From Teeth is long gone in 4th edition GURPS, although if it comes up in play a lot you could spend points to buy off the (canonical) penalty. Or ignore it, like most of us do anyway. It's why 4e is a lot tighter on skills.

- I haven't been playing much. Our previous session wasn't supposed be to our last session for the Summer, but things came up for me and for enough players to derail any gaming. Annoying.

- Light Posting. My posting for the rest of August will be spotty as I'll be overseas and spending relatively little time on the internet. I'll pop on the see how the Kickstarters I supported are doing and such, but otherwise . . . don't worry, I'm out here, I'm just not planning to post as often for a few weeks.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Kobold By Any Other Name

What’s in a name?

One of the folks who commented on my post about the Reaper Bones Kickstarter wondering about my dislike of kobolds. He basically asked, why not make them more challenging and faerie-like?

My response is basically, I could, but why?

If I'm going to change everything except the name - make my kobolds trans-dimensional shape-shifting faerie creatures with magical powers, or make my demons friendly fuzzies with happy smiles and healing powers, or my dwarves tall - why keep the name? It's like saying "It's a bear, but in this world bears are plated like pangolins, amphibious, and are actually living plant creatures!” Why keep calling it a bear? I can hit my players with trans-dimensional shape-shifting faerie creatures with magical powers all I want, and it's not necessary to call them kobolds to do so.

I use a name for a reason. I want it to evoke something in my players. If I say "troll" it's because I want them to think of Poul Anderson-by-way-of-AD&D trolls. If I say "kobold" or "goblin" or something like that, I’m evoking our shared experience of what that word means. This is doubly true if I use a miniature figure, which is where this discussion comes from. If I put a Reaper kobold on the table, all half-dog half-reptile little guy with a spear and a shield, I'm making a clear statement about what the players are facing. I can play gotcha with this ("These kobolds explode on contact" or "that was a friendly wight") but I don't always choose to.

I've done variants of the same race. The hobgoblins in this game are more D&Dish than the ones in my last game, which were pure GURPS-style pointy-headed green guys. But the name evokes certain feelings in the players. I can say “D&D-style hobgoblins” and my players know what I mean, even if some details are different (mine are magic resistant, for example). I'm happy to change bits about monsters. I'm happy to use really broadly known names like orcs or dragons with a lot of changes, because they're different in every source.

Plus, I'm the GM. My opposition for the PCs is limited only by my imagination and sense of appropriateness and fairness. I could make carpenter ants into 20 HP creatures that deal lethal damage with every unstoppable blow and dodge attacks by turning invisible and out of phase and insist on calling them carpenter ants. Or not. I could do anything, regardless of the name on the creature. The connotes something, and I have to make a decision about whether I want that connotation or not.

So you add that to my dislike of the "Four Yorkshiremen brag" escalation of kobolds ("My kobolds make grown men weep." "Well, mine make them eat their character sheets to avoid being killed by them." "Well, mine [etc.]") and I'm really unlike to use those figures and that name.

This is not to say that doing differently is wrong - it's just not the approach I like to use.

Now I've got to go stat up those ants for my DF game. ;)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

600 Monsters 1 sold!

The day before yesterday, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: Monsters 1 hit 600 copies sold.

Thanks to everyone who's purchased and enjoyed the book! I'm hoping the solid sales of this one will let me (co-)write another one of these.

Oh, and Henchmen has sold over 200 so far; thanks to those who purchased and enjoyed that one, too!

Monday, August 6, 2012

My megadungeon "best" practices - Part V

A couple more things I learned about making a megadungeon.

Put most rooms off the hallways, not in the hallways. One thing I did a little too much of was have hallways end in rooms, and connect rooms in chains.
This isn't bad, per se, but it's limiting. It means that whatever needs to pass through that room - be it adventurers, wandering monsters or set monsters - must encounter what's in the room. When you random stock a trap in a room that blocks the only way into a sub-section, you're pretty much saying what lives in there has set the trap or is stuck because of it. If you have a monster or trap blocking the main thoroughfare, it affects what kind of monster or trap it can be.

The good side to this is it forces you to really think - maybe they pay a toll, or set that trap, or fly over it, etc. But I'd almost rather not have to. It also makes it hard to justify wandering monsters in some cases - behind the party is the entrance, and ahead are rooms with locked doors and traps and monsters, so where do those 1d6 skeletons wander from? Again, it forces you to plan more.

Plus having rooms set off to the side gives the party options - go in, or pass it by and risk leaving it in their 6. If it's the end of the hallway and it's forward or no-ward, they don't get to make that decision.

Have a lot of entrances, exits, and passages between levels. I have a number of ways into and out of the dungeon; two have been found so far and only one penetrated. There are others, and a fair amount of ways up and down. That said, the more the merrier. Put in a bunch, even if you close some off for a while with rubble, traps, platoons of elven guards, etc. It's easier to block an entrance than to add one later, and the more ways up and down the more options the players have. Plus, it means it's more and more plausible for monsters to get down there or get back out, for critters to find food, and for other adventuring parties to find their way down even if the players block the front way.

All that said, I'm still happy with what I've got, but I did have to change some encounters and modify the map a little in some areas to make sure these things happened.

The rest of the series are found here:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Reaper Bones Kickstarter

How could I not?

Reaper Bones Kickstarter

So far, it's just under 100 minis (admittedly unpainted plastic) for $100, and I see more "included in the Vampire level" minis are likely to come along, too. Good thing my hobby provides me with a little bit of a revenue stream, because it all goes back out to minis and paints and game books.

I figure I'll trade or sell the ones I don't need, which is a lot of them. I don't see me painting kobolds, since I find them kind of pointless as monsters. There are others I know I won't need, so I'll be opening up for a big trade next year when these arrive - for other Bones, Legendary Encounters, or Pathfinder minis.

Thanks to Carjacked Seraphim for blogging about this - I'd been too busy to look at Reaper's site so I would have missed it. And Tower of the Archmage for showing how easy the Bones line is to paint.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Game writing is Technical Writing

Reading some game books recently, it occurred that good game writing is technical writing, not creative writing. Good rules writing and good supplement writing, anyway.

Don't get me wrong. Creativity is important. It's critical for stuff for your own games and for making what you write worth reading.

But ultimately when you're writing game material for publication, you're trying to write a set of rules or encounters or fluff in a way that useful to another person. It has to be clear, concise, well-organized, grammatically correct, and spelled correctly. It has to communicate the writer's intent and meaning first, and entertain second.

If you're planning to write for games, think of it as a operator's manual, not a novel.

If the rules aren't clear or the author's intent isn't clear you get questions, disagreements, rules conflicts, and important rules buried so deep in the text you don't know they are there. This is the "AD&D has a rule about helmets?" corollary. Or the endless wonder about how AD&D initiative really works.

This doesn't mean there will never be rules questions or disagreements if the writing is good enough. Rules might conflict in edge cases or even a well-written rule might be misread or misunderstood. In general the clearer the writing, the better. A well-turned phrase and a great idea is nice, but if you don't know how to play the game after you read it, it's not enough. It better be entertaining and interesting, but they can't do the job on their own.

In short, in my experience: Communicate first, communicate entertainingly second. Do both, but it works better if you keep them in that order.
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