Sometimes I feel so deserted

Slower going today with 258 words.

The Mutiny

“Sometimes I feel so deserted by all the pretty girls with whom I’ve flirted.”

Impromptu verse. It gave me something to do other than bob up and down under the scorching sun, atop the gently rolling waves aboard the inflatable raft. I chuckled. Was I being clever? Was it the heat? The lack of water? What was it Coleridge wrote about water everywhere, but none it potable?

I adjusted the makeshift canopy I’d made out of the small oars and my clothes, but it didn’t matter. Part of me still ended up baking in the sun, so my real choice was which parts could stand a little more burn.

“Well played, gentlemen.”

I never saw it coming, ‘it’ referring both to the treachery as well as the rough hands that grabbed me while I was having a smoke on deck. They didn’t bother to explain. We all knew the why of it. I’d made promises that I’d been unable to keep, and five people died and the rest sailed half way across the Pacific, all for nothing.

“C’est la vie.”

I chuckled again. We had been close. I was certain of that, but, like they say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. It does not count in treasure hunting with mercenaries, following a faded map found in the back of a nineteenth century journal. I guess, in retrospect, the idea of an undiscovered island in this day and age of GPS and spy satellites is a bit silly, but I’ve always been a romantic at heart.

January 31st, 2016  in RPG No Comments »

Marvelous Meat Machine

My prompt for today yields this very short story in just over eight minutes and nearly 300 words.

Janie’s Project

“Soon, I shall be reborn,” she said.

I sighed. She was so beautiful, but hers was a severe beauty, like that of classical sculpture brought to life and full color without losing the granite. She was also smart, so much smarter than I’d ever be.

“Are you really sure, Janie? There’s no going back if you’re wrong.”

“I’m sure. I’ll lock the door once I’m inside. There’s no going back now.”

For years she’d worked in the cellars of our home, remodeling, installing, arranging the assembly lines, the generators, the robotic arms and computers, so many things that I understood in broad strokes only because she’d explained them to me. She dutifully kissed my cheek and shut the door. I heard the hiss of the locks.

I knew what people said. I was a cradle robber. A dirty old man. That she was a gold digger. That she was using me. Et cetera. I didn’t care. I loved her. I certainly loved her more than she’d ever love me, which is why I agreed to this project of hers.

A could feel the machinery thrumming through the floor. It wasn’t audible, but it was running. She was on that conveyor belt by now. The various apparatus were doing their work, cutting, removing, replacing. I retreated to the library, poured myself a vodka on the rocks, sat by the small fire. It wasn’t cold, but I was chilled. What she was doing…. Wasn’t it monstrous?

I must have dozed off. I didn’t hear her until her new feet were close enough that their clacking on the hardwood floor woke me from fitful dreams. I looked up. I couldn’t speak.

“Am I not beautiful?” her voice said through the electronics. “Am I not perfectly free from the marvelous meat machine that was my human body?”

January 30th, 2016  in RPG No Comments »

The Shot

Well, my track record for a daily eight minute writing exercise this week has been spotty at best. I decided to go back in time to when Matt Jackson posted his first piece, this one on the prompt of “The Shot”. I had an idea about where my story was going, but I didn’t get there before the on-line stopwatch let me know my eight minutes had passed. Regardless, here’s the results (all 211 or so words).

The Decision

He sat near the end of the bar, canted a bit on the stool to see both the entrance and the door leading to the latrines. Near one elbow was a manila folder, thick with its contents. Near the envelope waited a shot glass. The whisky in the glass glowed softly in the dim, yellow light. Few other patrons were in the bar. It was early, only a few hours after most people had to be at work.

He walked his eyes from person to person. The bartender: fat, bald head already shining with perspiration, neatly trimmed beard, tattoos done in fading blue ink, one of the back of his hand showing fanned playing cards, aces and eights, a dead man’s hand. The others were customers. Regulars. He knew them by face if not by name, each one always present. He wondered if they ever went home. If they had homes to go to.

“You gonna drink that today?”

He fixed on the bartender’s rheumy eyes, waited a beat or two, and then shrugged. The bartender shrugged, turned away to wipe down the bar yet again. The shot glass shimmered as the light shifted from left to right: a truck passed by outside, reflecting the late morning sun.

(This story continues here.)

January 29th, 2016  in RPG No Comments »

Crashing Clouds

Matt Jackson over at www.msjx.org has started a daily eight-minute writing drill aimed at developing the habit of writing at least a little bit every day. This sounds like a good habit and, especially as I draw closer to Lent, it sounds like something I ought to participate in. So, here’s my first effort on the prompt “Crashing Clouds”. I ended up with about 280 words in about eight minutes.

The Master’s Method

“Crashing clouds?”

“You heard me,” the master said.

“That doesn’t make sense. Clouds can’t crash. They’re made of nothing.”

The master smiled. His student drew no comfort from that smile. It held no warmth, but instead was full to the brim with icy condescension.

“How can something be made of nothing?”

“What?”

The master smiled more broadly. “You heard me.”

The student bit his bottom lip and tried to maintain eye contact, but the master’s gaze seemed to have weight. Holding it was too heavy a burden, and the student’s eyes dropped. The student knew the master would sit and smile and wait silently as long as it took for an answer. Silence loomed.

“I guess something can’t be made of nothing,” the student said. “Every thing is made of something.”

“Correct.”

“But it still doesn’t make sense. For things to crash into each other, they have to be solid. They have to be able to…to crash.”

The master’s smile relaxed. He leaned forward slightly. “I disagree.”

The student wanted to respond in kind, but he knew better. The master had a lesson to teach, but he fully expected his student to suss out the answer on his own. More silence followed the master’s last syllable. He watched the student, his face a mask showing no emotion. Several minutes passed. The student gasped.

“If two clouds crashed into each other, they’d join each other. They’d both change shape, growing larger, and then maybe they’d split apart again, but neither one would be the same cloud. By crashing into each other, each changes the other.”

“So too with those you meet even in passing,” the master said. “Now, report to the yard for afternoon practice.”

January 26th, 2016  in RPG No Comments »

Going Beyond the Wall

In case you missed the announcements on G+ and Facebook, I’ve a few new, free PDFs of content for 1E AD&D ensconced in my Google Drive. Enjoy!

The Abbey of St. Martin: A short adventure.
AD&D Monsters: Alp to Xana: A dozen new monsters.
AD&D Monsters: Apsara to Zebez. Three dozen new monsters.
The Bard: Alternate class for 1E AD&D.
The Recondite Frontier: Campaign region.
Sveti Gardarkena: Another campaign region.

I’m starting a 1E AD&D campaign on 10 January. As part of character creation, I put together these house rules, and also purchased Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures (abbreviated BTW hereafter) and Further Afield by Flatland Games solely because I’d heard good things about that system’s character creation process.

Going Beyond the Wall

During this Christmas season, I hosted a dinner-and-gaming night featuring spaghetti and BTW. I’d prepped by printing out a blank village map, a spooky scenario pack (from the free Across the Veil addon), four character sheets, and a list of playbooks (click here for a sample playbook).

Nota Bene: As you explore BTW products, you’ll quickly notice that most of them are free. Flatland Games sells the rulebook and rulebook expansion (linked two paragraphs above), and then offers playbooks, scenario packs, et cetera, for free. Nifty!

BTW Character Creation

We started with character creation. Each player picked a playbook from the list, and then I printed only those playbooks. The soon-to-be created party of adventurers included a halfling outrider, a landless noble, an elven highborn, and a student of the dark arts. Next up, the players made up their PCs. Character creation was a snap. The only confusion came from players not reading their playbooks carefully.

Each playbook (and there are more than 30 published by Flatland Games) follows the same format. A playbook starts by giving some background information for the character being created. For example, the Assistant Beast Keeper playbook starts with, “The old witch in the village took a liking to you when you were still young, and you now keep her animals for her. While what you do may seem inconsequential, the witch seems to consider you to be vitally important, and favors you above all others. You dream of a more exciting life.” The playbook then tells the player what his character’s starting ability scores are. These ability scores are the very familiar Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.

After this, the player rolls the appropriate die on each chart to answer a question about this character. These questions cover childhood, known non-player characters, background events, and so forth. Each roll modifies ability scores, perhaps gives a skill or class ability, and so on. With a bit more than a half dozen rolls, the players end up with 1st- or 2nd-level characters (some playbooks lead to more experienced starting characters) complete with basic backgrounds, skills, spells (where applicable), starting equipment, et cetera. All of the characters know each other, and each has even shared some sort of life-changing experience with another character.

BTW offers three character classes: warrior, mage, and rogue. Each playbook feeds into a particular class or multi-class. For example, the Village Bear above creates a warrior-rogue. Three classes seem a bit limited, but the inclusion of multi-class options widens the field, and the playbooks do a good job and making sure no two warriors (for example) are the same. This really hits the Old-School groove well. In AD&D, what made two fighters different from each other wasn’t their class abilities, but instead was the backgrounds and personalities created by the players.

Based on my one game session, BTW’s best feature is character creation. Hands down. No contest. I fully intend on using BTW playbooks (with some minor tweaking) for character creation with my upcoming AD&D campaign.

Let’s Make a Village

After this, we put together a quick map for the Village of Lambsheim. Character creation includes village creation. Playbook prompt players to add elements to the village map. These elements focus on both non-player characters and locations. With our table of four players, Lambsheim started as a mostly blank piece of paper and grew into a village with eight important locations and eight important non-player characters.

All-in-all, character and village creation took about an hour. We ended up with four developed heroes and a pretty good idea about the heroes’ village, to include some village history that was at least implied by the results from the playbooks.

The Call to Adventure

While the players did their thing, I perused The Opened Veil Scenario Pack. BTW bills itself as offering something other OSR games do not, namely the “tools to play the game almost immediately and with little prep” (to quote the main rulebook). The books elaborates, “Using special Character Playbooks and Scenario Packs, a group of players with a single gamemaster should be able to play the game with absolutely zero prep in about three to five hours, from making characters to tasting a glorious success or a bitter defeat.” Our game session found this to be accurate, but with a caveat about the Scenario Pack. BTW requires little prep so long as someone else has done the prep required for a Scenario Pack.

Nota Bene: Even if the gamemaster does have to put together his own Scenario Pack, the format for such is less work intensive than, say, writing a standard adventure. (For example.) A Scenario Pack also requires far less reading than a standard adventure, and each Scenario Pack lends itself well to a more improv style of play that has built in hooks to get the players motivated.

Back to our session. As necessary details, such as nonplayer character names, emerged from the use of playbooks, I filled in the blanks in the Scenario Pack. Once my tables were completed, a few rolls of the dice generated the specifics of the adventure we would play. I had the hook, the source of the problem, the nature of the problem, and hints about complications and solutions. The Scenario Pack even included some player-generated recent events. Ready to go, we started the game in the inn (of course!).

The scenario played out as a combination of undead street fighting, a haunted jail mystery, a town drunk with looted coins, a betrayal between noble families going back two generations, several watchful spirits, a pack of zombies in the barrows, and a short but brutal fight against an ambitious wight.

The Short of It

All in all, the players had a good time. Everyone agreed that the character generation system was the highlight of the game. Kerry, who played the student of the dark arts, complimented the magic system’s distinction between spells, cantrips, and rituals (although rituals did not come up during play). The game’s systems for combat, skills, and saving throws are easy to grasp and should be at least almost instantly familiar to anyone who has played OSR-style games (or the original games that inspired them).

BTW’s system for cantrips, which work as regular spells but require an ability score check to avoid negative consequences, has found its way into my AD&D house rules. So too has the skill system. The rules expansion, Further Afield, includes rules for starting a “player-driven campaign” that is a “shared sandbox.” I’ve skimmed these rules. I like them, and they too will find their way into my AD&D campaign.

In short, the campaign creation rules are like a larger-scale version of the village creation process, but with the added wrinkle that elements added by the players to the world function as bits of character knowledge subject to degrees of inaccuracy. Just because a player’s gifted dilettante rogue-mage thinks there is a ghost-haunted tower near the foothills a few days to the north doesn’t mean that character’s knowledge about the tower or its location is entirely accurate. Degree of accuracy is determined by an ability score check using either Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma (depending on how the character acquired the knowledge).

Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures is a great game. Our playtest included good times, good food, and I spent more time cooking than I did prepping for the game.

December 31st, 2015  in RPG No Comments »