Posts Tagged ‘ adventure design ’

More Story Cubes

A bit more than a year ago, I blogged about Rory’s Story Cubes (see here for details). Back then, I had two of the three sets of Story Cubes. Over this last holiday, I got the third set at 8th Dimension Comics & Games.

Each set of Story Cubes includes nine six-sided dice with each die having six different pictures. In set one, the orange box, each picture is a noun, such as a flower, a lightning bolt, or a pyramid. Set two includes actions. Each picture shows one or more people doing something, such as climbing a tree, laughing, or digging a hole. My new set, in a lovely lime green box, includes more nouns, all built around the theme of “Voyages”. For example, some of the pictures include six beans (magical?), a sun peaking over a horizon, or a puzzle piece. With the Story Cubes in hand, I’ve got a powerful tool to generate adventure hooks.

“How so?” you ask.

Well, perhaps by using this format as a guide: noun-verb direct-object, corresponding to orange box-blue box-lime box, respectively.

For example, let’s say I rolled the dice, and I get these pictures: abacus, person with hurt thumb, rain cloud. Here’re two possibilities:

“A magical abacus built by a wizard after a personal tragedy controls the weather.”

“Advanced mathematical formulae discovered by researchers working for the Resistance hold the key to undoing world-wide ecological damage.”

Either one of those sentences could serve as adventure hooks. When you consider that three boxes together can be used to create about a bajillion different simple sentences, you have an enormous resource available to you. If you don’t have Rory’s Story Cubes, check them out. There worth a few bucks a set.

January 25th, 2014  in RPG No Comments »

Heather Donohue Versus Helen Hayes

One of the elements of an effective horror story is a sympathetic protagonist. The person beleaguered by the Forces of Evil needs to be a sort of person that the audience wants to prevail. For example of what I’m not talking about, consider the foul-mouthed crybabies in The Blair Witch Project. Even before the terror started, I was anticipating the student filmmakers’ demises. If you write a horror story, and the audience (in this case me) ends up rooting for the Forces of Evil, I feel as if you’ve perhaps missed something important.*

In contrast (and, yes, it’s not really a horror film), consider 1970’s Airport. Most of the film’s running time is spent not on the disaster but rather focuses on the hopes, dream, conflicts, and disappointments of the ensemble cast. By the time the bomber (Van Heflin in his final film role) jumps into action, the audience has been given plenty of reasons to not want the villain to succeed. The characters threatened are sympathetic, even while they are not without their flaws.

When designing a scenario for a horror RPG session, there’s plenty of good advice out there. (See, for example, “Horror in Roleplaying” by Ernest Mueller.) Some of this advice talks about how to use the players’ investment in their characters as a spur to create dread. In other words, the PCs are sympathetic characters that the audience (meaning the players) wants to succeed. As the scenario’s designer and GM, I also need to keep in mind the need for sympathetic NPCs. The horror story I’m designing and asking my players to participate in needs to have an ensemble cast featuring more than just the Forces of Evil and miscellaneous stock characters.

Many Call of Cthulhu scenarios handle this task admirably by providing the GM with an assortment of NPCs, some good, some useful, and others evil. Time is then given in the scenario for the players’ characters to encounter and interact with these NPCs, thus modeling the movie format of Airport: introduce the main actors so that the audience’s opinions and expectations for their roles can be established.

Should the Forces of Evil kill The Blair Witch Project‘s Heather Donohue? Yes, please. Should the Forces of Evil kill Airport‘s Helen Hayes? Never! What’s the difference between the two ladies? Helen Hayes portrays a sympathetic character that the audience wants to live.

*Of course, this might just say a whole lot more about me and my tolerance for foul-mouthed crybabies.

March 19th, 2013  in RPG No Comments »

Human Decision Required

In preparation for Tiamat’s Throne, I’ve been doing research into science fiction. Most recently, this has meant watching Space: 1999 on YouTube. While I am old enough to have been alive, walking, and talking when this show first aired in the mid-70s of the last century, I seldom watched it. Back then, Mom determined what we watched during prime time, and that didn’t include this British-import sci-fi series.

For those of you not in the know, the first episode, “Breakaway”, recounts events leading up to a massive explosion in a lunar nuclear waste storage facility that knocks the Moon out of orbit and sends it hurtling through space toward adventure. Space: 1999 is wildly improbable if not downright silly, but it is played out with such gravitas by good actors such as Martin Landau (as Commander John Koenig) that there is something compelling about the show, no matter how absurd some of the plots are.

At the end of “Breakaway”, Koenig orders that Moonbase Alpha’s computer process how to execute Operation Exodus given the new parameters of the Moon no longer being held in the Earth’s orbit. The computer explains that new parameters exceed its ability to determine whether it is possible to abandon the Moon and return to Earth. Ominously, it declares that a “human decision” is required. Koenig provides that decision, commanding that no escape attempt will be made from the Moon, thus setting up the whole careening-through-space premise of the series.

Something struck me while watching “Breakaway”. One of the common complaints about certain RPGs is that the player characters end up being little more than the sum of their equipment. Solutions to scenario problems become less about the characters and more about having the right gizmo. I’ve seen this play out many times, and the results are often less than satisfying. I’ve also seen situations where the players deliberately try to hinge their success on elements external to their characters.

For example, I once ran a short-lived Mutants & Masterminds campaign. The first plot arc the heroes confronted involved a serial killer preying on adults who victimized children. What I had planned on being a sort of mystery/police procedural quickly turned into the tech hero sitting in front of a keyboard and using a combination of search engines and hacking to gather information. While this certainly fit the hero’s schtick, it didn’t make for exciting roleplaying. I didn’t GM the situation well, and for an unnecessarily large hunk of play time, most of the other players had little to do but feed the tech hero’s player suggestions about the next thing to type into Google.

Which leads me back to Moonbase Alpha’s computer. When we start playing Tiamat’s Throne circa February 2013, I want to avoid the problems associated with over-reliance on tech. At the same time, I don’t want to hamstring character options. If a player makes up a tech-skill heavy character, that player deserves to use those skills in meaningful ways. This must mean that adventures be crafted so that player decisions are required. No just feeding a bunch of data into a computer and then letting the machine make the decisions. Technology should assist, not replace, player character actions to the greatest extent possible.

As my players (well, one of them) have expressed interest in a Firefly-esque campaign, concerns about over-reliance on technology seem even more relevant. It is appropriate that tech assist the player characters in their various heists and capers, but the tech shouldn’t remove the dramatic tension.

Consider a common plot element in heist stories: stealing vital data from a computer. What I don’t want is for a single Computer skill check to accomplish this task. That’s not how it works in the genre. Instead, the heisters have to get into the facility somehow, evading security, slipping past checkpoints, entering secure areas, et cetera, in order to get to the computer system, at which time the Computer skill check comes into play, preferably with a complication, such as the head of security showing up for a surprise inspection or a mishap in another area triggering lockdown protocols.

Texicon Cometh

Well, Texicon 2012 is almost here. Giant Boy and I are heading up to the Dallas/Fort Worth area this Friday. At the convention, I’m running Dyson Logos’s Geodesic Gnomes and a Go Fer Yer Gun!/Call of Cthulhu mash-up. The former adventure, Metro Gnomes, is going to be made available via the regular sources for Spes Magna PDFs by the end of this month (in theory). I’d like to publish the other adventure, but I need to contact GFYG!‘s author Simon Washbourne. I’d like to note that my adventure, BR&ND, is compatible with GFYG!, but I won’t use someone else’s product identity like that without their permission.

I’m also behind the curve on getting the metric system version of Dodeca Weather done. Once I get caught up, it’ll be made available as well. Those of you who’ve already purchased Dodeca Weather will receive the metric system version for free when I update the files.

The Infected

Before I continue, let’s toss out a table of contents of sorts:

Post 1: Zombie Brainstorming
Post 2: More Zombie Brainstorming!
Post 3: Of Zombies & Exploding Dice
Post 4: The History of the Plague

Next, let’s repost the rundown of infected traits:

Trait 1: The host’s lymph nodes swell into buboes. These buboes fill with a mixture of blood, pus, and live virus. Not only can they pop if roughly handled, the virus changes the host’s body so that the host can vent its buboes’ contents via the mouth and nose.

Trait 2: The infected do not respirate the way humans do. Their lungs do not serve any particular purpose. More physiological changes, however, give an infected the ability to voluntarily control its thoracic diaphragm. By contracting or relaxing this muscle, an infected can inhale or exhale, permitting it produce limited vocalizations. The infected cannot speak, except perhaps single syllable words that would be more hissed than articulated, but they can growl, moan, et cetera.

Trait 3: Further physiological changes alter bone structure and density. The proximal and distal phalanges fuse, and the fused bones grows into something very much like spikes. Since the bones are denser as a whole, the infected is more durable and less suspectible to injury.

Trait 4: The infected’s brain changes as well. It enters a hyper-adrenaline state which constantly floods the infected’s body with this powerful hormone. At the same time, the nervous system is less sensitive to pain and fatigue.

Trait 5: The infected kill and eat the non-infected because uninfected human tissues contain a variety of hormones which nourish the virus. Chief among the hormones that the infected crave are arenaline and cortisol, the hormones that trigger the flight-or-fight response.

Now with all that done, it’s time to tackle the stats of the infected. For this part of the brainstorming, I’m borrowing the idea of templates from the d20 System. For those of you not familiar with this little gem of game design, a template is a set of rules that change a base creature into a different sort of creature. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, for example, has a number of simple templates, such as the Giant Creature template that tells the GM how to quickly adjust a creature’s stats reflect it being bumped up in size by one category.

The Infected Template is applicable to any human. In GYFG!, there are two types of people: Folk and NPCs. The former are generic characters. They are 0-level people with average stats and maybe a special ability or two at most. NPCs are more fleshed out. They have a class, level, all six attributes, et cetera. Since NPCs are the more complicated, I’m going to start with template designed based on them.

Infected Template

The Infected Template is applied to any person who has contracted the plague and become a cannibalistic, raging psychopath.

Class & Level: The infected retain their level, Hit Dice, bonus to hit, bonus to defense, and class abilities.

Attributes: The infected gain a +4 bonus to Strength and Constitution, and a +2 bonus to Dexterity. They suffer a -4 penalty to Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. No attribute may be higher than 21 or lower than 5 once these modifiers are applied. Regardless of class, Strength and Constitution are primary attributes. Dexterity is the infected’s only secondary attribute. Mental attributes are all treated as tertiary.

Hit Points: The infected’s hit points likely change due to the increase in Constitution. The infected are not rendered unconscious when their hit points are reduced to 0 or lower. An infected whose hit points are -1 or lower still loses 1 hit point per combat round from blood loss. The amount of negative hit points an infected has been reduced to is applied as a modifier to all d20 rolls the infected makes. For example, an infected reduced to -5 hit points can still move, fight, et cetera, but it suffers a -5 penalty to d20 rolls. An infected dies when reduced to -10 hit points.

Abilities: The infected often have impaired class abilities due to their adjusted attributes. They also don’t use tools, so abilities such as a gunslinger’s fast draw are almost always irrelevant. Defence Class likely changes due to the increase in Dexterity.

Languages & Literacy: The infected cannot speak properly, but they retain the ability to understand whatever languages they knew prior to infection.

Special Abilities: All infected have the following special abilities.

* Bite: The infected can bite a grappled victim with a successful attack roll. The bite inflicts 1d2 points of damage (modified by Strength), and the victim may be exposed to the virus. The victim is allowed a Dexterity saving throw to avoid exposure. Those that fail this saving throw must make a Constitution saving throw to avoid infection. Both of these saving throws are made with a +2 bonus.

* Cannot Drown: The infected do not respirate the way humans do. They cannot drown in water since they can extract needed oxygen from the water.

* Claws: The infected attack with their claws. They get two claw attacks per round that inflict 1d4 points of damage each, modified by Strength as normal.

* Vent Buboes: As an attack usable a number of times per day equal to Constitution modifier, the infected may vent their buboes via their mouths and noses. This attack has a range of 10 feet. The chosen target must make a Dexterity saving throw to avoid being sprayed. If this saving throw fails, the victim must make a Constitution saving throw to avoid infection. If this fails, the victim is almost certainly doomed.

Special Hazard: An infected reduced to -1 or few hit points presents a special hazard. Anyone adjacent (within 5 feet) of such an injured infected when that infected suffers further damage may be splashed, sprayed, et cetera, by virus-laden fluids. Those who might be sprayed must make a Dexterity saving throw to avoid being hit by bodily fluids. Those that fail this saving throw must make a Constitution saving throw to avoid infection. Both of these saving throws are made with a +2 bonus.

XP: Increase the XP value of the base creature by adding the appropriate special ability modifier twice. For example, a rowdy is normally worth 65 XP. Once infected, he is worth 105 XP.

When applying the template to a Folk, the process is simpler:

* +2 bonus to Strength and Constitution checks, and a +1 bonus to Dexterity checks.
* +2 Strength-based damage.
* +2 hit points per Hit Die.
* +1 Defence Class.
* -2 to Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma checks.
* Two prime attributes: Strength and Constitution.
* Apply special abilities and special hazard as normal.

Becoming Infected

Eventually, a PC or important NPC is going to get infected. Both the Dexterity and Constitution saving throws are going to fail. At this point, there is nothing to do but kill the victim before he fully succumbs to the virus. Once per combat round for the next 1d4+4 rounds after being infected, the victim may make a Wisdom saving throw. If he succeeds, he can act normally that combat round. Otherwise, he simply screams, flails about, et cetera, as the virus mutates his body and mind with horrifying rapidity. After the 1d4+4 combat rounds, the victim is fully transformed. On the plus side, he’s likely already injured, so at least killing him will be a bit easier.

June 19th, 2012  in RPG No Comments »