Posts Tagged ‘ game play ’

Roland and the Ogres

During our last Man Day Dungeon World game, my son Christopher lost another character. His cleric, Brother Hurak, fell in combat against the forces of evil. This week, while we’re on Christmas vacation, Christopher made up his new character, Roland the Paladin, and we decided to take him out for a test drive. I downloaded Michael Prescott’s Tannòch Rest-of-Kings, and started to ask Christopher some questions:

Q. Why are you going back to Tannòch?
A. To visit the nuns who nursed me back to health. Also, to visit the mausoleum to see if it reveals anything interesting about the history of the region.

Q. Why did you need nursing?
A. Injured by cannon shot during a fight against paynim pirates.

Q. Mother Marta doesn’t like you. Why?
A. I offended her somehow. (The nature of the offense remains undefined.)

Q. To get to Tannòch, you have to take a boat from a nearby island settlement. What is that settlement’s name?
A. Pterx.

Roland started on the beach near Pterx. The natives mostly earn their livelihood by fishing. Roland approached the village chief and asked about passage to Tannòch. Robert, the chief, named a price, but Roland confessed he had no coins. He did offer to work for his passage, so Robert introduced Roland to Kemp and his sons, Jethro and Jedd. Kemp told Roland that he could earn his passage by working the following day out of the reef, diving for oysters. Roland agreed and spent a quiet night on the beach.

Early in the morning, Kemp woke Roland, who left behind most of his gear since scalemail and a halberd wouldn’t be much use in an outrigger canoe heading out for oysters. Kemp instructed Roland as the proper use of a sturdy fishing knife and the net-bag tied to his belt. Roland dived with Jethro. The first few dives were uneventful, but during the third dive Roland noticed that Jethro had vanished. Thinking quickly, Roland found Jethro grappling with a deadly hooked octopus in a recessed section of the reef. Roland swam to the rescue, bringing his bear hands to bare against the dangerous cephalopod mollusc. The fight was short and fierce, and Roland drove the creature away, but not before he’d suffered some injuries. Jethro had been hurt badly.

When the group returned to Pterx, news of Roland’s heroic rescue of Jethro spread quickly. He was feted by the locals, hailed as a man of courage and nobility. Chief Robert gave him a finely made scarlet cloak as a gift. The next day, refreshed and ready, Kemp personally rowed Roland out to Tannòch, saying he’d be back in a week to fetch the paladin. Roland climbed up the rugged caldera until the interior saltwater lake came into sight. There, in the lake’s middle, stood Rest-of-Kings. Roland took one of the rowboats tied up at the nearby quay.

Tying off the boat at the base of the stairs leading switchback up to the tower, Roland began the climb. He was about halfway up to the door when a hulking figure, silhouetted by the noonday sun, lurched into view atop the parapet.

“Leave tribute to me, or I’ll kill you and lick your brains from the bowl of your skull!” the figure growled.

“Who are you?” Roland replied.

The figure lobbed a sizeable rock at Roland. The paladin through himself forward, avoiding the stone, which smashed into the stairs behind him. Unfortunately, he landed clumsily, and the impact jarred his halberd from his grasp. The weapon slid over the edge of the stairs, dropping several yards before it wedged in a rocky crack. Roland slid over the edge, dropping after his weapon. Another rock struck him from behind, spinning him into the air. He rolled and bounced, and both he and his halberd splashed into the water below. Standing waist deep in warm saltwater, Roland spotted a sinewy, slick-skinned monstrous humanoid slicing through the water. As it lunged out of the water, claws and fangs bared, Roland snatched up his halberd and attacked. The polearm bit deep into the ogre’s body, but the monster’s momentum slammed Roland hard into the rocks.

Taking stock of his injuries and surroundings, Roland noticed the half-eaten corpse of a nun in the water nearby. The glint of metal in her clenched fingers caught his eye. Roland pried the ring of keys from her dead hand. He also noticed that a deep crevice in the rocks at the waterline led into a cave. Figuring the rock-tosser on the parapet couldn’t hit him if he were underground, Roland entered the cave. He climbed up a bit and found a relatively flat surface on which he could rest. Time passed.

Hours later, Roland lit his lantern and explored deeper into the caves. He eventually found himself in a higher, smaller cave. Part of the cave wall had been dug away, revealing a brick wall, which had been partially breached, presumably by the now-dead dwarf lying under some rubble. Roland squeezed his way through the gap in the wall, finding himself in the mausoleum in the tower’s substructure. It soon became obvious that someone or something had been smashing open the burial spaces and breaking the urns kept therein. Roland soon found the looter, a monstrous, one-eyed ogre. Before Roland could act, a gust of charnel-house wind roared through the chamber, and Roland’s lantern went out, plunging the paladin into absolute darkness. An instant later, the monster lifted Roland and hurled him roughly against a wall. The lantern shattered.

“Give me the diadem of the weylords,” a sibilant voice hissed in the blackness.

Fumbling in the dark for a torch, Roland stalled, admitting he didn’t have the diadem. He asked why it was desired.

“My master, Halad al Bim, promised it to me, but upon his death, it was brought to this place and interred herein.”

Roland remembered that he had seen a tomb marker with Halad’s name engraved upon it. “I can take you there if I can see,” the paladin said.

Shortly, the torch was lit. The monstrous creature, who called itself Stanus Ash-Eater, made promises that Roland knew would not be kept. He also deduced that the monster’s bizarre appearance probably meant that Stanus was not a natural ogre, but had been magically transformed into his current shape. Roland, followed by Stanus, returned to Halad’s tomb marker. The paladin opened it and pulled out the urn. Stanus roared, exhaling noxious black fumes which forced their way into Roland’s lungs, inducing weakness. Roland invoked his divine authority and told Stanus to back off. The ogre retreated, but demanded the diadem. Roland dug into the urn, discovering nothing but ashes.

“It’s not here,” Roland said.

Stanus charged. The fight was brief and bloody. Roland rammed his halberd’s spike into Stanus’s good eye, driving the monster across the room, crushing his skull against the stones. Roland sustained injuries as Stanus’s powerful arms lashed out before the ogre died.

“Oh, thank Cicollius,” said a woman’s voice.

Roland whirled about to see Mother Marta standing near the opposite wall.

“You must help me, Roland,” Mother Marta said. “This ogre is not the only one who….”

Her words trailed off. Roland caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Rising from a pool of Stanus’s blood mixed with funerary ashes was an emaciated figure, covered in gore. Its eyes burned with madness.

“At last, I live again! Return to me my diadem!”

Roland interposed himself between the ghoul and Mother Marta just as the senior nun disappeared into the wall. The ghoul’s powerful, fanged maw crunched into Roland’s right elbow. As the paladin staggered away, the ghoul noisily chewed and swallowed bone and flesh.

“Mother Marta is the one I seek,” it gurgled, and then raced off into the darkness.

Roland, seriously injured, collapsed.

“Get up, Roland,” Mother Marta said, stepping back through the wall. “No time to rest. I cannot evade that creature forever. Take this dagger. You can’t wield that halberd with only one arm.”

Mother Marta bound up Roland’s wounds with special wrappings and poultices, healing some of his lesser injuries.

“How are you able to move through walls? Are you a ghost?”

“Tut, tut, young man. I’m no such thing. I carry with me the collected artifacts stored in Rest-of-Kings, including the periapt of the earthen kings. With it, I move through stone as if it were water.”

“Take me out of here,” Roland demanded.

“It doesn’t work that way,” Mother Marta said. “Now quit your dithering and kill that ghoul.”

With that, she vanished into a wall again. Roland grumbled and set out in the direction the ghoul had run. He found it quickly enough, spotting it in time to avoid its ambush. In a fearsome battle, the pair rolled and grappled, Roland stabbing with the dagger, the ghoul slashing with its fangs and claws. As the silver-bladed weapon bit into the monster, Roland felt it possible to acquire the creature’s knowledge by eating some of it, and that, if he chose, he gnaw off part of the undead horror while fighting. Roland ignored these options, and finally rammed the blade deep into the ghoul’s black, ichor-filled heart.

Mother Marta reappeared again. “Well done, paladin. Well done. Now rest, and let me minister to your wounds.”

More time passed. Mother Marta’s healing arts restored Roland’s strength and healed his elbow, but not without leaving behind some ruddy scar tissue. She explained that three ogres, led by Stanus, attacked Rest-of-Kings several days ago. Most of the nuns were killed when the ogres set fire to the upper floors, which partially collapsed.

“One ogre remains, Roland. You must slay her, but the climb up the parapet will be difficult. She has locked the trapdoor leading up to the parapet from the ruined upper floor.”

Roland produced the key ring. “Will these help?”

“Indeed they will.”

Several minutes later, halberd in hand, Roland was gingerly making his way through the ruined, rubble-choked upper floors. The locked trapdoor was in view. He reached out to grab a bit of cornice, hoping to steady his way along a narrow ledge overhanging a drop of several yards. The cornice crumbled loose under his weight, pulling down a section of the ceiling as well. Roland fell, and a large slab of rock landed on him. As he looked up through the hole in the ceiling, a monstrous hag with nails like iron spikes crawled into view and started to descend spider-like toward Roland.

“Time to lick your brains from the bowl of your skull!”

The ogress pounced, and Roland roared with the effort of hefting the stone slab. It toppled partially onto the ogress. Roland swung his halberd, striking a powerful blow. The ogress hissed in rage and fear, scrambling up the wall toward the hole in the ceiling. Roland hurled his halberd like a spear, but to no effect. The monster vanished from sight, and Roland climbed up after it, but not with its speed and nimbleness. As he emerged through the hole leading up to the parapet, a rock slammed into his hip.

Roland rolled to his feet. The ogress stood on the other side of the tower’s upper spaces, a large rock in each clawed hand. Roland charged. The ogress through the first rock, which Roland blocked with his gauntleted hand. He heard and felt hand bones crack. He swung his good fist at the monster, but it hoisted him overhead. Just as it threw him off the tower’s roof, Roland rammed a brutal jab into the monster’s forehead. Bone collapsed. Eyes bulged and bled. Roland tumbled through the air, catching a projection. His momentum and weight popped his shoulder out of socket. As he blacked out from the pain, he started to fall again.

And then woke with a start in a bed. Mother Marta sat nearby.

“Rest, Roland,” she said. “Fortunately, I was able to use the periapt’s power to help catch you before you fell to your death. Well done, young man. Well done.”

December 28th, 2014  in Man-Day Adventures No Comments »

More Thinking about Skills

A couple of days ago, I meandered through a post about Negative GMs to reach some basic ideas about a skill system for Swords & Wizardry. By the end of that post, I’d taken some inspiration from Barbarians of Lemuria and had also put together a list of things that a skill system should not include. Here’re what a skill system should be without:

1. Skill lists
2. Heat that melts special snowflakes
3. “No!” as the default answer
4. Any more than minimal modifications to Swords & Wizardry

BoL uses 2d6 for task resolution. The success number is always 9 or better, and certain modifiers apply to the dice, most of the modifiers providing bonuses. The task’s difficulty may apply a negative modifier. On 2d6 without modifiers, about 28% of rolls are going to end up 9 or higher.

For a S&W skill system, I’m leaning toward 2d12 since d12s don’t get enough table time. To get as close as possible to 28% success rate on 2d12 without modifiers, the target number is 16 or 17 or better (25% chance versus 31.25% chance, or a difference of 3% versus 3.25%). Since I like to make tasks easier rather than harder, let’s use 16+ on 2d12 for now.

So far, so good.

But (and There’s Always a Big But)

BoL‘s task resolution modifiers don’t mirror those available in S&W. In the former game, a character’s 2d6 roll will almost always be modified by an ability score and a combat (when fighting) or career rank (when not fighting). That could result in a +6 modifier for even a beginning character (+3 from an ability score and +3 from either combat rank or career rank). For 2d6 aiming at 9+, that’s a huge bonus that bumps the success rate to about 97%.

To mirror the effects of a beginning BoL best case scenario with S&W on 2d12, a 1st-level character would need about a +12 bonus. S&W characters don’t have these sorts of bonuses because S&W isn’t built with the same game engine as BoL. So, what does a 1st-level S&W character have that can be retooled for bonuses?:

1. Ability scores
2. Character class
3. Race

S&W doesn’t have careers like BoL. Character classes are sort of like careers, but not really. Sure, a fighter should be skilled at doing fighter things (such as bivouacking, riding, being intimidating, and repairing armor), but what if your fighter is also a pirate? A noble? For determining what a character can be skilled at, it seems as if character classes are more limiting than careers.

BoL‘s list of careers include alchemist, assassin, barbarian, beggar, blacksmith, dancer, farmer, gladiator, hunter, magician, mariner, merchant, mercenary, minstrel, noble, physician, pirate, priest, serving wench, scribe, sky pilot (!), slave, soldier, thief, torturer, and worker. That’s a pretty exhaustive list.

I like BoL‘s career concept. Every character starts with four careers and four points to divide between those careers. No career starts with more than 3 points allocated to it. A 0 career rank indicates basic training in that career. The careers themselves represent what the character did before he became an adventuring hero. Importing a career system into a game with character classes, however, presents certain difficulties.

For example, could a fighter (character class) have been a thief (career) before he became a fighter? Sure. Does that mean a fighter (character class) with a thief (career) in his past should be as good as a thief (character class) at doing thiefly things? Hardly, because that would melt a special snowflake.

Even if my WIP skill system facilitates a fighter do thiefly things, that thiefly fighter should not be better at those tasks than a thief (character class). A career like magician is even more problematic. I mean, anyone at least try to sneak, but not everyone should be able to cast spells.

I need some time to digest all that thought food.

Task Difficulty & Success

I like having a static target number for task resolution. It seems to make things easier. The player rolls the dice and applies modifiers. Is the total 16 or better? Yes? Success! No? Not success!

Of course, not all tasks are equally easy. A system with a static target number needs difficulty modifiers (which even a system without a static success number is going to have). I’ll take my cue from BoL, adjusting modifiers to account for the change from 2d6 to 2d12:

Difficulty: Modifier
Easy: +2
Moderate: +0
Tricky: -2
Hard: -4
Tough: -8
Demanding: -12

I’m also considering degrees of success based on the task resolution total. Right now, in my mind, the degrees look something like this:

Task Total: Degree of Success
16 or higher: Success. The character does what he set out to do.
14-15: Success, But. The character does what he set out to do, but with a complication, such as the task taking longer.
Below 15: Failure. The character does not do what he set out to do.

I want to introduce critical successes and critical failures as well. I’m looking at a natural 21-22 being a success with a minor benefit, and a natural 23-24 being a success with a major benefit. A natural 2-4 would be a failure with an additional complication. Monte Cook’s interesting Numenera proves inspirational here.

Anyhoo, that’s enough for now. Time for other activities while these ideas simmer beneath the surface.

November 29th, 2013  in RPG 1 Comment »

You Can’t Do That!

Ever hang out with a child that has learned that he too can say, “No!”? Delightful, isn’t he? Ever play with a GM that has the same propensity? Fun, huh?

Fortunately, most GMs, like most children, outgrow the “No!” stage. Those that don’t, GMs and children, end up being rather unpleasant as adults, which has its own consequences, such as a lack of players (for GMs) or a lack of friends (for adults in general). Oh, sure, there’re probably players who tolerate Negative GMs, but probably more out of a wrong-headed sense of gamer solidarity than a genuine desire to put up with such nonsense.

I’ve encountered Negative GMs a few times over the years. How about some examples to better illustrate what I’m talking about?

Example the First

Many years ago, I was playing in a Forgotten Realms adventure. The GM described how monsters approached rapidly from a distance, obviously intending to attack us.

“How far away are they?” asked a player.

“Do you have the Estimate Distance nonweapon proficiency?” asked the GM.

None of us had that nonweapon proficiency. I’m pretty sure none of us even knew there was such a nonweapon proficiency.

“No, you can’t tell how far away the monsters are,” the GM said.

Example the Second

Even more years ago, I was playing a 1E game, running my paladin Karras the Damned. We were defending a fort from a horde of evil humanoids, ogres, and giants. We were seriously outclassed, but at least we had the advantage of the fort’s defenses. Even still, the horde eventually battered down the gates and flooded into the yard.

“Karras ducks into that narrow hall and attacks the hill giant after it passes him,” I said.

“No,” said the GM.


“You’re a paladin. You can’t attack by surprise.”

Example the Third

Just to show that the problem isn’t always the GM, I offer up an example of the Negative Player. I was running a D&D game. The PCs were fighting a pitched battle on the topmost storey of a large tower. Flying monsters were setting fire to the roof over their heads.

“My character wants to get out onto the roof to fight the flying monsters,” said a player.

“Okay,” said I. “How?”

“Um, he could lean out a window, swing his rope and grappling hook up, and try to latch onto the roof. Then, he could climb up.”

“No,” said the Negative Player. “That won’t work.”

“Really?” said I. “How come?”

The Negative Player launched into a pedantic monologue about gravity, arcs, and roofing materials. I felt sorry for asking.

Jim Butcher Weighs In

At the last Space City Con here in Houston, Texas, author Jim Butcher offered a couple of sessions about writing. When deciding the outcome of a conflict in a story, Mr. Butcher opined that there are only four options available to the writer:

1. Yes
2. Yes, But
3. No
4. No, and Furthermore

Since roleplaying games are a form of shared storytelling, it stands to reason that these four options ought to be available to GMs and the other players. Notice how the possibility of three options other than “No!” could apply to each situation above. For example, in the first example, the GM could’ve said, “Yes, you can estimate the distance to the monsters, but your estimation won’t be as accurate as if you had the Estimate Distance nonweapon proficiency.”

So, you might be wondering, what’s the point, Mark?

Skill Checks for Swords & Wizardry

I like Swords & Wizardry. I also like systems for resolving skill checks, such as determining if a PC can jump across a chasm, identify a monster by its tracks, or repair a suit of armor. On the other hand, I don’t like skill lists. Lists, by their very nature, limit options because no list can account for every possibility. The list’s limitations may end up being the PC’s limitations as well (“Sorry, you can’t tell how far away something is because you don’t have the right skill.”).

On the same other hand, I don’t like skill systems that melt a class’s special snowflakeness. Thieves get to be sneaky, pick locks, and find traps. A skill system that lets other classes do those things steps on thieves’ toes. But, that doesn’t mean a fighter or a wizard can’t be sneaky. A GM ought not simply declare, “Your fighter cannot hide in the shadows or move quietly. Those are thief abilities, and fighters don’t have thief abilities.”

Ergo, what I want for Swords & Wizardry is a skill system that:

1. Doesn’t involve skill lists
2. Doesn’t melt special snowflakes
3. Doesn’t say “No!” as the default answer
4. Doesn’t require modifying Swords & Wizardry any more than minimally necessary

Swords & Wizardry, Meet Barbarians of Lemuria

BoL uses a single dice mechanic for all action resolution. For skill-type checks, the player rolls 2d6 + the PC’s relevant ability score + the PC’s relevant career ranks. Any result of 9 or higher is a success. For example, a PC wants to appraise a gem. The player rolls 2d6 and adds the PC’s Mind and merchant career ranks. (BoL includes possibilities for really bad failures as well as really good successes, but I’m not worried about critical results at the moment.)

A PC may also have boons or flaws. These present situations in which a PC is particularly good or noticeably bad at certain tasks. Either way, the player rolls 3d6 instead of 2d6. For a boon, the player picks the two best dice. For a flaw, he picks the two worst dice. Everything else stays the same.

In order start grafting this sort of system onto Swords & Wizardry, it seems as if I need some careers, a dice mechanic (I’m leaning toward 2d10 with a target number of 15+), and perhaps some sort of boon/flaw mechanic. I’ve got some basic ideas, but I need to put some more thought into them before I take this concept any further.

Until then, good gaming!

November 27th, 2013  in RPG 5 Comments »

Reverse Inspiration

In case you were wondering (and I know you were), I’m not just making up the Vance-style names for the spells and magic items I’ve done in recent days. Nay, nay. Instead, I’m using this great list of randomly generated Vancian spell names. Therefore, coming soon:

Valfoxell’s Adventitious Pretense
Kolando’s Prohibitory Suspense
Biderukic’s Dense Salamander
The Pattern of Gallant Commerce
Pieritz’s Aqueous Apprehension

I’m kind of digging the challenge I’ve posed myself. Usually, when I make up a new spell or magic item or monster, I start with the concept, work out the stats, and then come up with a name. Using these random names scrambles that process around, and sort of forces me to think outside my usual patterns.

It’s a long weekend for me this weekend as well. No work on Monday. Well, that’s not quite accurate. I do have work to do on Monday, but I’m not going into work to do it. Got assignments to grade, lessons to plan, et cetera. Here and there, I also want to get all five of the random names above turned into something for Swords & Wizardry. I also really need to update the Obsidian Portal site for Man Day Adventures’ Amazing Future Tales. I’m chronically behind on that project.

What’s more, I’m running an All-Hallow’s Eve session of Little Fears. I wouldn’t normally run an evening game on a work night, but 1 November is All Saint’s Day, a holy day of obligation, and I’m taking that day off. Regarding the session I’m going to run, I’ve only got the vaguest of outlines done. I need a bit more than that done before I can run the game.

Speaking of Little Fears, a few weeks ago I secured permission from my administration to start a story game club at Aristoi Classical Academy in Katy, Texas, where I am in my fourth year of teaching 5th grade. I typed up flyers (see the pic above). I talked with my class and a few other students in other classes about what story games are and how they work. I bought a copy of Little Fears (autographed by the author!). We had a our first meeting on Tuesday, 24 September. Five students were in attendance. We made up Little Fears characters, and then started the first story. I’m planning on writing up the session as a narrative. I’ll post it when I get done.

October 12th, 2013  in RPG No Comments »


Last OwlCon, I played in an Arabian Nights-inspired adventure that used Barbarians of Lemuria for the rule system. It was quite a hoot. Our characters explored a lost jungle island, fell victim to the machinations of the serpent people, and alternately engaged in fleeing in terror and fighting for their lives. As the session came to an end, we got to “epilogue” about what happened to our characters after the adventure.

I narrated briefly about how my character, who had killed the ship’s captain during the adventure, managed to set himself up as the new ship’s captain, much to the delight of the crew and the gaggle of wenches being entertained by my character’s tale of adventure. Every other players did the same for their characters, and then the GM added his own epilogue, revealing an unexpected twist. In each case, the epilogues could serve as plot hooks. So, if that session were not a convention game but part of an ongoing campaign, the GM could use my epilogue to explore another sea adventure with my character as ship’s captain.

I liked epiloguing so much that I added it to both sessions of Stars Without Number I ran at OwlCon. It seemed to be a big hit with the players. Best of all, at the end of the session, I had one potential plot hook per player, plus the epilogue that I added as the GM. (I remember one of my two GM epilogues describing the lost space yacht shifting out of warp near inhabited space while on board the Cthulhoid horror in the form of a long dead mother comforted her long dead son.)

I remain intrigued by epiloguing.

The basic idea is simple. After an adventure is over, each player gets about two minutes to describe some of that adventure’s consequences as they relate specifically to that player’s character. Each player does this, taking turns in whatever manner seems appropriate. Then, after all the players have epilogued, the GM gets to add his two cents worth. The events of the epilogue are assumed to happen during the downtime between adventures.

Unless things go horribly awry, Man Day Adventures meets again this Saturday. I don’t know if we’ll get an entire adventure done that day. I’m thinking not, but, regardless, I think I’m going to introduce epiloguing to the group and see what happens.

Might be fun.

September 17th, 2013  in Man-Day Adventures No Comments »