Friday, December 31, 2010

On the construction of adventures... Footnote to Songs, Part Two

In the same Deadlands campaign that I was working on with Shelter from the Storm, I'd also been listening to a fair amount of Nick Cave at the time.  Our group had been heavy into X-Files, picked up the soundtrack to the show, listened to a lot of the featured bands, etc.

Of specific note was Nick Cave's Red Right Hand, which featured in a number of soundtracks of the time.  I'd picked up the "Let Love In" album, which got a lot of heavy rotation for quite a while.  (The fact that it was sort of counterbalanced with Beck's "Midnite Vultures" is mostly irrelevant, as is the perception that the two albums formed a bizarre soundtrack to our Top Secret games of the time...)
On a gathering storm comes
a tall handsome man
In a dusty black coat with
a red right hand
The song is filled with apocalyptic imagery of a "disappearing land," with a singular figure striding across it as devastation trails in his wake.  On initial dissection, it seems like this is some demonic figure of the end times, bringing destruction and horror.
You'll see him in your nightmares,
you'll see him in your dreams
He'll appear out of nowhere but
he ain't what he seems
What's interesting is that, in the days before Wikipedia and the "real" internet, this was all we were left with:  a supernatural man of evil, along the lines of Randall Flagg (Nyarlathotep, if you would) from The Stand.  And, to be honest, that was pretty cool.  That was, until Cave tipped his hand on his next album, revealing that the reference came from Paradise Lost.  A little research on our parts revealed that the song was talking about the hand of God's vengeance.
He's a god, he's a man,
he's a ghost, he's a guru
They're whispering his name
through this disappearing land
That changed things a little bit, really.  Weirdly, though, it made them better.

The thing about Deadlands is that, if you know your way around the character creation system well enough, you can make some amazing characters.  Yes, this is true for every system, but what's interesting about Deadlands (and any post-WEG system, really) was that combat skills could be made mostly worthless by anyone who knew enough about how things were done.

In Torg (by way of example), it was a matter of pushing your social skills up far enough that you could Taunt someone into inaction for the round.  Even the most battle-hardened Cyberdemon was worthless in the face of a character that could reduce them to quivering rage in a few well-delivered japes.  (Worse than worthless, really, since this could trigger a flash of Cyberpsychosis, which was often enough to cripple the character.)

A similar system was in place in Deadlands, where a character with a high enough score in Mien (what would be called Presence or Charisma in other games), would be able to shut down most combats before they could start.  Add in a few perks, like a voice that added to your Overawe (Intimidate, really), and things became vaguely ridiculous.  (These were character tweaks that I used, years later, as a player... oddly, in a game run by one of the players who'd been in the Refuge game.)

Using the song as an inspiration, I put together an NPC, Jack (for the life of me, I cannot recall his full name or alias, but it would not surprise me if I'd made him one-eyed), who was the lyrically suggested man in the "dusty black coat."  I figured him for the unfilled slot of the Blessed for the party, even though they initially (and rightly so) assumed that he was not lurking around for their well-being.

More than anything else, Jack was a quiet, intimidating figure that shadowed most of their actions as he went about his own business of investigating the town.  He was a Blessed, ordained by God (the cosmology of Deadlands was a little loose, really, in that all aspects of God were more or less equal, but they weren't exactly as they were portrayed in the holy books...  they were more weirdly spiritual; a form of strange, otherworldly life that interacted with humanity...) to seek out and destroy the horrors that were defiling this town.

Again, the early death of the game kept me from taking the plot where it needed to go and revealing the way that these songs influenced things.  But having the lyrics running through my head allowed me to better dictate the actions of Jack and create the ambiance for the town of Refuge.

On the construction of adventures... Songs, Part Two

Using songs as inspiration is something that I've done for quite a number of years.  Since it came up last night, I was put in mind of the song I used as the basis for a Deadlands game back in the 90's.
’Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
The opening lines from Bob Dylan's Shelter from the Storm.   I have to think I heard it on the radio, back in the day, despite being a deeper cut from an artist known locally for Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.  To me, it was already off on the right foot, speaking of how I viewed Deadlands anyway.  The song has a Western feel to it, coming as it does, two years after the soundtrack to Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.
Well, the deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount
But nothing really matters much, it’s doom alone that counts
And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn
These are incidental details that I wanted to work into the game, but they ended up being more for flavor than anything else. These would be the rogue's gallery of characters for the characters to deal with.
In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes
I bargained for salvation an’ they gave me a lethal dose
I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn
Here, the setting begins to take shape in my mind.  The song, in proper Dylan style, goes back to the constant storm that the character is weathering, and the only respite he can find is from the unnamed woman that offers to shelter him, as it were.  Here we find a sinister village,  filled with low men gambling for the possessions of a man presumed dead.  The narrator came looking for something spiritual, not understanding what sort of place he had stumbled into, and the cynical inhabitants of our unnamed town took him to task for it.
In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
Taking these elements together, I came up with a small mountain village, high in the Rockies.  I forget exactly where I placed it, but it seems like I put it on the Western edge of Colorado, near the Utah border.  Here, the rains had been falling for weeks.  (Depending on how I wanted to go about it, it could very well have been forty days...  Doesn't seem like it, though.)  The storm, as noted in the song, was unending, a piece of ambient detail that was everpresent and established the bleak mood.  Taking another cue from the song, I named the place "Refuge," not really doing much to disguise my inspiration.

I had decided that there would be some sort of supernatural conspiracy that held the town together.  Perhaps the aforementioned characters of the Deputy, the Preacher, and the Undertaker, amongst others.  It was their doing that had caused the deluge that assailed this town.  And they had filled the ranks of miners (it's in the high Rockies, of course there's going to be a mine...  logically Ghost Rock in Deadlands) with their own minions and cronies, hence the people gambling for their clothes.

The Preacher would have to be an important member of this conspiracy, necessitating the lyrical bargaining for salvation.  It had been done before in the character of Reverend Grimme of Lost Angels.  Not wanting to do that over again, I figured I could cleave a little closer to Lovecraft and make the dark gods that this preacher worshiped a little more C'thulhoid.  That could also be the inspiration of the "lethal dose" that the narrator gets instead of salvation.  Something to open the doors of perception, as it were, but it ends up being far more than is wholly necessary.  (I never did anything with this detail, just because the party didn't fit with the idea.  Had they had a Blessed character, it might have worked better.)

What I ended up using was the idea of a South Seas temple that had been transported back to the village and reassembled, working as the focal point for dark and horrible rituals.  The reality warping aspects of this weird and forsaken edifice were the cause of the unceasing rain, and the characters had arrived on the eve of a series of rituals to reawaken this dark god.

Of course, the unnamed girl in the song would be both the love interest for one of the player characters, as well as the necessary sacrifice to the dark gods.

Sadly, the game only went a couple of sessions before breaking apart for one reason or another, so some of the plot ideas were unexplored.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On the construction of adventures... Songs, Part One

Since Bex is busily offering interesting tips for running and maintaining campaigns, it might not be a bad idea to throw out my own ideas for building adventures, such as they are.  He did a proper job with Horror techniques, to the point that I don't figure that there's much that I could add to it.  Instead, I can reel off a couple of tales on how I build the idea of an adventure and move through it.

Most of the adventures that I run start out with a sort of feeling that I want to convey.  A lot of this comes from the music that I'm listening to at the time I start working through plot ideas, as I try to keep some song or another running through my head as I throw ideas together.  Sometimes, it just has to be something that the music suggests to me, such as the gritty, street-level mindset of something like Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime, or the slick and futuristic cityscape of Trance Atlantic Air Waves' Energy of Sound.  I've run games with David Bowie and the Sisters of Mercy in the background, and I've set other games to the soundtracks of J-RPG's that I happen to have on hand.

Sometimes, though, I catch a line from a song, and that starts percolating ideas for plot threads and concepts.

Take, for example, the song, I Don't Like Mondays, by the Boomtown Rats.
The silicon chip inside her head
Gets switched to overload
And nobodys gonna go to school today
Shes gonna make them stay at home
And daddy doesnt understand it
He always said she was good as gold
And he can see no reasons
'Cos there are no reasons
What reason do you need to be shown
There's a weird history to the song, being that it's based on a real-life incident.  Essentially, a 16-year old girl opened fire on an elementary school playground simply because she ... didn't like Mondays.  As Bob Geldof put it, he wrote a senseless song to go with a senseless incident.

I started listening to it one afternoon, and the idea intrigued me.  I'd been running a Miami SWAT game using the Torg system, as a sort of run-up to an eventual full-blown Torg campaign, replete with invading cosms, high lords and the like.  My theory has always been that it's a lot more interesting to have the characters in their everyday lives as the world starts to go to hell.  As such, the SWAT team members were going to run afoul of some advance squads as the invaders laid the groundwork for the invasion.  Early on, there were a couple of incidents with Tharkoldu cyberdemons disguised as Men in Black.

With the pre-existing cybernetics in place, the lyrical silicon chip inside her head made sense.  Tharkold had been running plots against the other factions that were wandering around Southern Florida, so this could have been something else that was going on.  It was no real stretch to move it along to a form of sleeper agent that had been put in place; only this particular one had gone off early.

Not only did this set up the adventure at hand - a high school girl with a gun and no motive - it also prefigured a second adventure, where the rest of the plot with the Tharkoldu sleeper agents would unfold.

The next question is what else in the context of the song can be included to allow a better integration with the song.  Most of the lyrics have to do with the weirdness of the motives, which have already been dealt with.
The Telex machine is kept so clean
And it types to a waiting world
In the game, one of the characters had already been set up as something of a techno-fetishist, being the team hacker.  While the adventure was already solid enough, as it were, an added element of surreality would be an excellent detail.  In Torg, since the adventures take place in a massive sort of shared universe cosmology, there exists a way for characters in one version of reality to communicate with each other.  (This was a weird sort of way to allow players in different games to influence other games, through the monthly published newsletter that the game company put out.)

As such, I decided that the team's computer expert would get a call from his parents, telling him that the Telex machine that he kept in a spare room at their condo had started doing something weird.  This allowed an extra clue from another version of reality, it hyped up the otherworldly nature of the game, and it kept things more in line with the original lyrics.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Quick Thoughts, as I can before sleep...

Sleep, sweet sleep...

Anyway.  Two quick things that will have further explication, once the rest of the notes can be put down from their current, rough form.

First, alternate basic character generation in GPS will be handled in the GPS Master Guide.  This will specifically reflect the tone of the campaign.  If it is a Gritty-level game, it will be something along the lines of a 3d6 Organic, where the Tactical Game will allow 4d6, drop the lowest die.  Action will allow 4d6, drop the lowest die and re-roll any 1's rolled.  Cinematic will be 4d6, drop the lowest die and roll six sets of stats to pick the best single stat group from.

Second, GPS Children (either a sub-game or a useful guide for flashbacks and the like) will work with the following:

If generating characters at a basic level, the stat generation will be 2d6+1 (Organic, at Gritty), 3d6+1, drop the lowest die (at the other levels, with the logical modifications).  This will generate a 1st level child's scores.  From here, the character has 10 levels to advance through before they are able to take an adult character class.  Every 2nd level (2, 4, 6, etc.), all of the character's attributes will advance by 1, ending with a +5 to all stats at level 10.  This is adjusted downward from Cinematic (giving a range of 8 to 18 for Stats) to Gritty, where the characters would advance three separate stats by 1, every second level.  (Cinematic - 6/6, Action 5/6, Tactical 4/6, Gritty 3/6, Surreal random)

Skills would advance accordingly.  At 1st level, the character would get a set number of skill points, adjusted by Intelligence.  This would be a single rank in a skill.  At 4th, 7th and 10th levels, the character would gain a point for their Trained bonus in that skill, so that at 10th level, they would have a full skill according to first level character in a regular game.  In a Gritty game, this would be all the skills they would be able to have.  In the other Genre systems, they would be able to gain other skills, which would automatically raise as well.  (No skill would be able to raise above 1 rank, but if a new skill is taken at 4th level, it would have 1 rank and 1 trained.  At 7th, 1 rank and 2 trained, etc.)

Each level would represent a year's time.  Assuming that a minimal age to start a character in a GPS Children game would be 9 years old (a 4rd grader, give or take), this would advance the character to age 18, by the time the character progression finished.  (Much of this is up to particular GM flavor, but at the moment, it's a rough guideline.  It might be a better plan to start at 14 years old and advance each level every 6 months, depending on the particular game.)

This can be used in a number of ways.  One way would be simply to use it as means to pull a character into a subrealm where they have to play as their juvenile selves.  In doing so, they would have to face childhood fears, deal with being powerless, or whatever the game required.  Alternately, this mechanism could be used as a campaign base, where the characters must deal with something as children that forms the background of their eventual adult characters.  (Stephen King's It is an immediate example where the sections as children would work as a necessary prelude to the characters as adults.)

Finally, the specific genre informs a lot of the base for the game.  As children in a Gritty game, they would likely be the victims of child abuse, as that would be realistic conflict that would affect them as adults.  In a more Action or Cinematic game, they would be Boy Adventurers like Johnny or Rusty, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, etc.  Also, this would cover how damage would be covered.  Action and Cinematic would have the characters captured when knocked out.  Gritty would be scarifying and deadly.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Antediluvian Novel Sections

Having recently put a cap on the Haunted Tank game (the first part, at least), I find myself thinking about the Antediluvian novels more and more.  It's sort of weird, looking at how the games took a life of their own once the original gamemaster left town.  His ideas ran more towards a synthesis of World of Darkness (in the form of the miserable Everlasting RPG that he based much of his ideas from) and Doctor Who (which is where we end up with the time travel and related bizarre side concepts that he came up with later), with various Vampire LARP concepts thrown in.

One of my notebooks (the one with the Shattered Sky notes in it, actually) had a chapter listing of sorts for the first three Antediluvian novels.  These were sketched out a year or so ago, with the first three books in outline and little thought given to further novels.  Probably best, considering the scope of these novels in the first place.  No sense in trying to plan out a dozen books before the first one has actually been written out.  Ambition is one thing; common sense is quite another.

Having no title in mind, here's the outlines for the three books.

Book 1 -
  1. Introduction of the Class
  2. Timeshift into the Ancient Era
  3. Caught in the crossfire, encounter with the Mi-go
  4. Appearance of the Olympians
  5. Arrival in Paradise
  6. Trial of the Black Arts
  7. Departure of the Venture
  8. Battle of the Sirens & The Holy Land (Al-Aqrani)
  9. Destruction of the Gibborhim
A lot of this outline presupposes a number of necessary changes.  Dietrich's ideas of Dragon's Blood as anathema were interesting, but Bekofske's theories on the weird, eldritch nature of certain tech made a lot more sense overall.  Hence, the 6th part, which would deal with a more immediate horror of shoggoth tech coming out of the phones and laptops of the class.

Working in a sort of border war in the 3rd chapter would also make things a little more interesting, in that it would allow a better level of intrigue between the characters and the Olympians.  The Olympians would be in the area to deal with the weird, cosmic creatures (Mi-go, with the serial numbers scraped off), and the weird things would assume that the class was allied with the Olympians.  Having people killed simply because the Olympians were in the area would add a certain logical tension.

There would need to be a certain amount of tangible research dealt with from the Bible, just to keep the actual timeline straight.  This would also necessitate a certain amount of revision to keep Dietrich's weird, unreliable proto-history from being too far from what would be necessary source material.

Book 2 -
  1. Irem, City of Pillars
  2. Intrigues
  3. Theft & Departure of the Scirocco
  4. The Nightmare City of Lemuria & Dealing with the Morning Star
  5. Flight from the Darkness
  6. The Marie Celeste (Flying Dutchman?)
  7. Return to Olympus
This book would necessitate a much longer middle section, as the time in Lemuria would have to be the bulk of the book, overall.  The 2nd part would cover a number of things dealing with the differing alliances of the crew and their outlook on the Olympians.  Joe would reveal his alliances with the Olympians and press for their mission to Lemuria, which would be of note to the ruling council of Irem.  This would lead to the covert theft of the Scirocco, in order to hasten the voyage accordingly.

The actual city that the book opens in would require a certain amount of research, much as the Biblical base for the first book.  Irem was a city mentioned in Lovecraft's work, but its precise place is as much in question as anything else.  There would likely have to be some sort of Sumerian involvement as well, given the general advancement of their civilization at the time.

As to what sort of final chapters there are, I have to think that the Flying Dutchman would be a better source of intrigue than the Marie Celeste, being as the ship was wholly lost, rather than abandoned.  This would allow a better sort of mystery with the crew, even if the small family basis for the adventure would be lost.  There might be a better antecedent to be found in history, depending.

The book would end with the crew returning to Olympus to find it in ruin, having been destroyed by Ken his attempt to wrest power from the Olympians.

Book 3 -
  1. Creation of the Church as a Defense against the Serpent
  2. A Refuge of Civilization
  3. The First Martyr
  4. Plots Unraveling, A Chorus of Renegade Angels
  5. Attracting the Attention of the Lightbringer
  6. The Final Battle & The Death of Rhea
  7. Return of the Prodigals & The Battle with Storms
The book would necessarily have to open with an introductory chapter with Cam talking to the survivors of Olympus (likely Frank Foster and Shawn Zalewski), who would narrate the beginning of the book before it turned over to an actual novel.

Most of the book would reflect Ken's power mad paranoia, as well as his manipulations of the various class members and city dwellers.  Keeping with the general theme of the rebellion against the Olympians, Dawn would be properly offended by the appearance of the Titans (who, in proper Hellenistic manner, would spend their time unclothed), and Ken would use their indecency and their alliance with the Serpent as a means to drive a wedge in the class.

Interesting sub-note:
There were a number of dragons in Greek mythology that could be dealt with in the course of the narrative, which would allow the weirdness of regarding Chronos as a dragon out of the whole system.  There is the Python of Delphi, which would serve extremely well, as it would be fairly similar to the Rainbow Serpent of Uluru (encountered during the voyages of Shannon Brooks), as well as the Dragon of Colchis, which was dealt with by Jason on his quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sextant Adventure Modules

Converting the (so-called) Jungle Game into a publishable adventure module for widespread use doesn't really strike me as much more of a task than a dedication of time.  I've already devoted a fairly solid amount of time in the development of the game, which I ended up using on three separate occasions.  More than anything else, it would need to be properly laid out and put into a cohesive format.  I have to think that this transformation, from my scratched out notations to a final copy that other people could work from, will be the only real work that would be needed.

Right now, I think the layout would follow this sort of template:
  • Introduction - My general overview of how the modules came to be in the first place
  • Adventure - Opening areas of the module, taking the characters from level 1 to level 4, give or take
  • Bestiary - Including the six or so new monsters that I would need to detail for the sake of the game
  • New Races/Cultures - For the first module, this would be the Dragon Elves I used in Korea
  • Overview - A basic outline of where the module series is going to go from here
As far as the adventure goes, I would probably include 1.) Waking up in the temple and escaping, 2.) Seeking the shipwreck on the coast, 3.) Encountering the full tribe of lizardmen that had overtaken an abandoned city and set up a gladiatorial arena.

The first part would follow the exploration of the temple grounds that they first encountered, as well as the opening text detailing the expedition and its inevitable wreck.  The second would deal with finding out what had happened to the ship when it crashed, as well as dealing with the lizardfolk that seek to keep the characters from retrieving their gear.  And the final part would deal with the attack on the local lizardfolk refuge, as they learn of the depraved and horrible nature of their foes.

A lot of this would require a certain amount of calculation as to how many levels would be available to a group of adventurers over the course of the planned encounters.  If it ends up falling short, there would be plenty of material to add to the module to pad it out properly.

The subsequent adventures would deal with exploring the rest of the fairly massive island (I'm still debating as to whether my original ideas of a small continent are wholly necessary), finding out what sort of conspiracy is propelling the events of the module, and laying it to rest once and for all.

The subsequent New Races sections could deal with the cultures of the different "standard" races as they appear in this setting, along with prestige classes that would fit the themes of the culture.

So, anyway. Down to actual work.

My main intention with this blog is to put up a regular journal of what gaming development I'm working through at the moment.  Right now, I'm mentally working through the different projects I've set before me at the moment, with the idea of being able to keep track of what progress has been made on which project at any given time.  This last week was something of a wash, in terms of getting much done, but this week holds vague sorts of promise, once the hassles of real life get out of the way.  (For the sake or alleviating future confusion, I need to replace the brake lines on the van before it's drivable again.  Much like the last time I blew out the brakes on a vehicle, it was due to an unfortunate near-collision with a couple of deer.)

In no particular order, the projects in question are:
  • Shattered Sky
  • GPS Modern Role-Playing
  • Dream Police
  • Sextant Adventure Modules (the Jungle Game)
And, if I have time or need a break from the previous:
  • The Antediluvian Novel Project
In terms of work, these projects have wildly different expectations looming over them.

Shattered Sky is the most ambitious of the lot, mainly because it has to be built from the ground up, without any real form of collaborative writing.  Yes, I'll have input from the different corners, but since I'm the main one that knows what the plots and meta-plots are, I'm the only one that has as extensive play experience with the base system that I'm rebuilding, and so on...  most of the heavy lifting will be on my part.

Right now, I have enough of the world built to be able to run a game in it.  (See various accounts of the games that have play-tested the system.  If memory serves, we managed to get a grand total of five sessions off the ground before I gave up on running without a cogent book.)  What I need to do is codify the rules, jigger the rules for using the Force (and re-name it so I don't have to keep using that name), and build out enough detail of the world for other people to be able to run the game for me.

GPS Modern Role-Playing is the one that I'm technically doing the least amount of work, as I'm working as much as an editor (in terms of both actual edits and badgering for deadlines) as anything.  Since most of the writing and conversion is being done elsewhere, I'm planning to focus on creative elements and streamlining.  This is going to require some work on building worlds into the generic setting, but this is what I'm best at, really.  I mean, Shattered Sky is less about rules than setting, given the weight that the setting details ended up having.  With this in mind, I figure to work one solid and immediately playable setting into the main rules, along with a half-dozen or so minor settings.

Dream Police is another rules-heavy game system that I'm going to be working on.  There are a number of basic ideas already sketched out, in terms of how to make the game actually work as a engine for a surrealistic dreamscape, but the original build got lost in a hard drive wipe.  This means that it's going to have to build back up from faulty memories and cogent theories.  I figure I'll have two fairly equal partners on the worldset aspect of things, but the immediate problem is getting the rules in hand to be able to playtest.

The Sextant Adventure Modules are something that I could probably whack out in a matter of weeks, but they're going to be needing the most in terms of artwork and content like maps.  I know pretty well how I want to proceed on these, which I figure I should detail in an accompanying post, but in short, I intend to build these modules out using the templates that Paizo has already proven are user-friendly and successful.

And finally, the Antediluvian Novels are going to be what I end up doing in my free time, since I've been slowly working on them in my head.  There's far too much story there to be left to other people's recollections alone.  How much of these I end up working on is a question, but it's something that needs to be dealt with sooner or later, given how much material there is to work from.

This is my current tally of things, which I figure will serve as a framework for the time being.

On the re-activation of dead accounts...

From the look of things, I started this blog about six years ago, posted all of eight times over the course of a month, and then abandoned it.  It had been my general repository of various bitches about Dungeons & Dragons 3.0/3.5, and given that I have forgotten what major problems I had with the game, it should be interesting to go back and look it over at some point.

This was the original header for the blog entitled:  "3rd Edition Woes."
  •  At present, I'm working on re-fitting the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition rules to my taste, which has turned into a bit of a long-term project.  Sooner or later, I'll actually have a group and be able to run a game.
Given that I ended up having a couple of solid groups that lasted me during much of my time in Hanam, South Korea, where I would have been living at the time, I really am left to wonder how long it was until I ended up hanging out with gamers again.

Then again, that's probably why I stopped using the blog and bitching about 3rd Edition.  Less time to sit and think about things when you actually have something to do.

The other blog, which I had put separately, is even more cryptic.  It speaks presciently of problems with my school in Hanam (Dongbu Elementary, if anyone actually cares), noting that it may cause problems in the coming year, and has exactly one post to its name.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Neverwinter Nights

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The game's a little over two years old at this point, and I'm only now getting into it with any seriousness. This is what happens when a person spends years of their life away from Western culture and Best Buy stores.

I just picked up the Platinum edition of the game at the Yongsan Electronics Market in Seoul, having chanced to run across it at the place that sells the import games. It was pretty reasonable in price, and since I'd been wanting it since before it was released, I picked it up.

Now, to be honest, I'm not a huge fan of the graphics. Really, I'd hoped that it would have been a lot more like Baldur's Gate, Fallout and Planescape in terms of atmospheric moodiness, but then again, I played those games quite a lot back in the day. (I still have yet to complete Fallout Tactics all the way through, but that's neither here nor there... I just note it since I'm one of the few that seems to have really liked that game.)

With that in mind, it's pretty neat. It takes some getting used to, as do all games with any sort of learning curve, but what interests me is the potential of what can be done with it. They've tried a lot to be able to replicate the tabletop D&D experience (or Vampire, for that matter, but I think that the efforts made on that front were largely ignored), and I can see where they've succeeded to a greater or lesser degree. While I've only played it for a couple of hours so far (having just killed the main foe in the prison, for those that are familiar with it...), I can see where it would be possible to branch things out to a point where coherent adventures would be not only possible, but really damned interesting.

Admittedly, I'm still waiting for the day when you can host a multi-player game in something more along the lines of Morrowind, but this is a solid start to things. (All right, my dream game would pretty much be multi-player Morrowind, only with a design interface like the Sims and the ability control events from a Gamemaster interface. And while I'm dreaming, I also want a pony. Why do you ask?) The suggestion that I put together a game module has already been floated by one of my old gamer friends back in the States, and I figure that I might as well do some experimentation on that front, just to see what comes of it all. I mean, it's not like I have a hell of a lot of other things that I'm doing in my spare time, since I have yet to establish a solid, weekly gaming group...

We'll see what comes of this. Right now, I'm not taking any bets, but a lot will depend on how much I can initially do with the interface, eh?

3rd Edition Mods?

I got into a discussion with Matt the other night, in regards to the nature of Dungeons & Dragons. I was in the middle of playing Neverwinter Nights when he called, in an oblique effort to make myself comfortable with the rules system. (On some level, it was a wasted effort, being as it's on the same level of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, in terms of invisible rules. It seemed like I was more in tune with the rules of games like Fallout and Baldur's Gate than I really am with these games. Maybe it's a matter of perceptual skew... Who knows?)

In the middle of the phone call, he made an interesting point about 3rd Edition. Like me, he's not precisely thrilled with the way that 3rd Edition has gone, but he's a little more willing to deal with it than I really am. After all, he is the prime mover in getting a game going last year. (For the record, we didn't really get very far with that campaign, but still, it was something...) He's picked up a fair stock of the basic game books that are easily available here, but on some level, he's more of a GURPS guy anyway. (I came down against GURPS a long time ago, not because the games are bad or anything, but because I found the rules and the books to be uninspiring. I far prefer the card games that Steve Jackson comes up with...)

One of the books he was most enthralled with was the new version of the Unearthed Arcana. It's more his speed, in terms of rules variants and styles of play. (I'm not going to get into his long running obsession with trying to figure out how exactly darkness (both capital and lower-case "d" on that) works in the system, since that's something that, while I agree with his frustration, I don't have any real answer for.) Unearthed Arcana is one of those supplements that just strikes me as weird. When they tell you in the Foreword that you're going to have to ignore a sizable section of the book, you really have to wonder who they're trying to sell this to. Especially at the inflated pricetag that they affixed to the book. (Here in Korea, it's a solid 42,000 Won. The main books only run nearly $10 cheaper...)

But, as I say, this was one of the books that really interested Matt. The reason being that, if nothing else, Unearthed Arcana was a way to modify the rules of the new edition so that it was something a little more towards your tastes. So, while he's not so gung-ho about stripping the rules set down to basics and getting rid of things, he wasn't precisely satisfied with it either.

To be honest, I haven't given that much time or effort towards Unearthed Arcana as yet. From where I'm standing at the moment, I'd do a lot better to play some more so I can tell just how much I want to modify the rules. I've always been the type of gamer that does better with the example of play than the dry, basic rules. That, and having a good standing of how things work in different situations would go a long way in letting me know what kind of details really annoy me in play. (This is a lot of the reason that I want to get rid of Attacks of Opportunity and the whole Critical Threat nonsense... These are things that take up time and add unnecessary complication.) Hence, on some level, why I was playing Neverwinter Nights.

Anyway, what he'd noted was that there needed to be some sort of system by which people could modify their games for specific purposes. Want an action-oriented game? Use these specific rules tweaks. Want something a little more horror-driven? Well, here's what we suggest for modifying your game along those lines. How about horror? Romance? Comedy? (Well, okay. That's a little more than just rules tweaks, I guess... It's hard to make a rolling system reflect slapstick.)

This actually made a lot of sense to me. Right now, I'm in the midst of looking more closely at the underlying theories of Eberron, with its Action Points and so on. In a lot of ways, Eberron seems to be trying to get away from some of the main conceits of D&D, bridging the gap to the more action-ready, skill-based games of the mid-90's. (And no, 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons cannot be considered skill-based, even now. Sure, it's a lot closer than it ever was, but that whole level thing is still in there. And yes, I've gotten into minor arguments about that...)

It seems to me that what needs to be made is a concise listing of the variant rules and how they could be applied to games. Ideally, it would include some sort of commentary about how this or that rule would change the feel of the game, but that's over-reaching for my purposes at the moment. Included, of course, would be a section on my own experimentations with getting rid of the entire miniatures-based combat rules, which would take a fair amount of time to cull down to a reasonable system. (At least, I assume so. Again, this is something that would require a fair amount of research and time, rather than the casual moments that I've devoted to it while at work. Perhaps this is something that I can undertake on the plane back to the States in January, should that come about as planned...)

Amusingly enough, I already have a notebook set aside for the purpose. Originally, it had been a way to track the progress in my teachers' class, but the low turn-out ended up having the fool thing consolidated with another class and taught by the other foreign teacher here. (Sort of. Actually, my class stayed prtty static in size, where hers shrunk to minimal levels. Since she's the one that is technically required to teach the class, she gets to teach the gestalt. But that's boring, real-life stuff that has minimal place in this set of notes.) Now, I just have to sit down and dedicate myself to researching rules systems and how to mangle them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Interesting note, if nothing else

In digging through the most recent of White Wolf's catalogues/news magazines, the White Wolf Quarterly, I came across an interesting note in the section on the new Everquest II RPG that they're publishing. Apparently, they're re-writing the pen & paper RPG to go along with the launch of the new MassMOG. Either it's opportunism or a good idea; neither of which I can fault.

To quote:
"In the same way that EQrpg was compatible with 3rd Edition fantasy role-playing, EQIIrpg runs quite easily alongside v.3.5 game rules. But the game as a whole uses a more streamlined, sleeker rule-set.We’ve eliminated a number of things — like attacks of opportunity — which have caused no end of confusion at the gaming table in the last few years."

I picked up most of the first edition of the game last winter, when White Wolf was running a massive sale on the books, figuring that, if nothing else, cheap games are a good thing. I didn't have a hell of a lot of time to read through the rules before I packed them into storage and came back to Korea, but there was one thing that I found really interesting in my brief perusal. (And I have to hand it to the guys responsible; these books are pretty hefty. Well worth the low, low price that I put out for them.)

Namely, these books aren't 'officially' D20. As you can see with the above quote, they go out of their way to mention anything like a Dungeons & Dragons brand name. Now, I'm not familiar enough with the licensing arrangements on the OGL, but I get the feeling that they went over the legal stuff specifically to find a way to keep from having to hand any power over to Wizards of the Coast with this stuff. (My assumption is that, were they to trumpet it as being D20 or Dungeons & Dragons based, they'd have to cut out the Character Creation rules that WotC wants you to buy their books for. By cutting such logos off their books, they don't have to advise people to buy other company's games... Again, this is the assumption that I'm left with.)

What intrigued me with this snippet is that Attacks of Opportunity seem to be a royal pain in the ass to other gamers. A little further web-browsing shows that Wizards has set aside a page or two just for the sake of dealing with these questions. (Recently, too, seeing as they were posted in the last month or so...) Most of the hits on Google have to do with trying to clarify these rules, being as it's apparently one of the major sources of confusion with the game. Being as 2nd Edition came out before internet discussion groups were a mainstay of culture, I'm left to wonder if there was anything nearly as confusing in that edition. Hells, THAC0 was a walk in the park in comparison, from the look of things...

In the end, this is going to make me go back and look at the EQ RPG in a little more depth. The initial reading had me confused, mainly because I had expected (erroneously, as I soon found out) that it was just another plug-in for the monolithic D20 machine. If it's that much different that they eliminated such a cornerstone of 3rd Edition, I'm intrigued.

Of course, the problem that I have with Attacks of Opportunity is that it's the main thing in the argument for using miniatures in a game. And when I initially was running 3rd Edition for a group back in the States, my intention to cut out the whole AoO aspect of things to cut down on the bookkeeping, I was greeted with what ranged from incredulity to borderline hostility. Looking back, I was denying the powergaming munchkin from being able to min/max his character... Not a great loss there...