Friday, 25 May 2012

Coming Soon

Less posts than usual this week; the maths is coming! Also hopefully an actual play report after tomorrow... Updates in the near future will also include:
  • A couple of maths-related things that I am working on. The hold-up is mostly due to thinking about how to best present something mathematical within Blogger, without having to use lots of images or to use strange ASCII combinations. I also have to balance the level of detail as well, and think about what will be most comprehensible. Maths things on their way include:
    • More on simulating the strange and mysterious dX.
    • Thinking about the probabilities of different dice combinations beating other combinations in a game like In A Wicked Age.
    • Ammo Maths, which I have been tweaking like mad, and which I now think I might have a breakthrough for: removing stubborn terms that will only tend towards zero anyway! Result!
  • Some more thoughts for the zombie game that I want to play, which I am consequently pulling together piece-by-piece. So far I have the ammo mechanism, and I think I have the guts of the resolution mechanisms by borrowing from GHOST/ECHO.
  • Wicked Wednesday posts; soon I should have 36, which is enough for a random table indexed by two d6. I might make a little pdf for it.
  • Other strange little thoughts that have occurred to me. Personal circumstances recently have started me thinking about the "From Dusk Till Dawn" effect, and some other ideas I've had circulating. For example, your players roll up some characters based on something that they think to be true ("We're brave and noble warriors on a quest!"/"We're a gang of criminals in a cyber-future!"/"We are God's word in the American wilderness...") and then halfway through the second session you hit them HARD with a new reality. For example:
    • "You are the last free people, everyone else is being over-run by a demonic bodysnatcher plague. What do you do?"
    • "Your face has just been splashed all over every phone screen in the country, you're wanted. Everyone thinks you did it. What do you do?"
    • "The Dead have risen, and people are saying they End has come. What do you do?"
I've also been thinking about this "switcheroo" idea in terms of loss. In order to unseat people, in order to get them to radically alter their paradigm and to think that the game setting is suddenly, possibly irrevocably, different and the PCs (and NPCs come to think of it) have to deal with a really different scenario, then they have to lose something. Lose their freedom. Lose a loved one. Lose their home. Lose their independence. It has to be a loss that is not in terms of their equipment, their XP or their gold/money (although those things might support it) - it has to be a loss to the character, not to the things written in the boxes on their sheet.

Anyway! That's all to come.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Tabletop (the web show)

A very short and simple post today; I just wanted to share the third installment of Tabletop, a new fortnightly series of videos with Wil Wheaton and friends playing geeky and nerdy games. I've not played any of them so far, although I've heard of a few. After the second episode I really want to now play Settlers of Catan, and some of the short games featured in this video look great too.

Now all I have to do is get them and find someone to play them with... I think I'm going to get Carcassonne for Android so that I can play against AI.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Some thoughts on a Time Travel RPG

I've been thinking about how a time travel tabletop RPG for some time now, wondering how it could be put together in a neat way without being burdensome in terms of rules. noisms is responsible for two provocations that started me thinking about it. The first was introducing me to Microscope, which works really well in terms of role-playing and world-building, and which has the neat mechanism of populating a worldline with cards that put things in historical places.

While playing it I thought about how the end result was really neat, but that if you took a picture at the end you might not have a clear picture of the timeline of the player actions (i.e., the order in which the group put things down). A simple way around this would be to just number the cards as they come in to play. That was the first seed which went in to my mind.

The second thing that noisms did was talk about Continuum on his blog:
Part of [what makes Continuum compelling] is all the talk of time-travel combat: trying to "frag" your opponent by making him cease to exist due to historical discrepancy. And undoubtedly, a large part of the attraction was the air of enigma surrounding this apparently excellent but impossible-to-possess gaming grimoire.
But he went on to say that there were plenty of reviews and notes out there from people who had played the game that it inevitably lead to a kind of railroading. Not so much Doctor Who as the Time Tunnel by the sounds of it: instead of exploring the whole of time and space to explore you have to contend with a "mission" at a particular instant. Again, I have not played Continuum, but having played RPGs that have been presented to me more as "story games" the idea of this described game doesn't appeal all that much.

But it did spark a couple of ideas... (continued after cut!)

Monday, 21 May 2012

What eBay Brought

I had a few pounds burning a hole in my Paypal account, so started looking around. I found The Shadow of Yesterday, and it seemed pretty good. I'll be reading it soon, and I might even get the chance to play it some time!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Games Night: Isle of the Unknown

Another evening on the Isle of the Unknown, and we went into even stranger and darker territory. We made big mistakes; one of our fighters used his magic sword to save us at the last minute again; we made little overall progress in getting things actually done, but went to some strange places while we did it.

A big event which I think was a turning point for my character came at the end of a deeply uncomfortable encounter with an NPC cleric/mage. It was all going so well, until our characters started talking in a group... The healer got angry, I tried to explain the situation and placate him, but he was having none of it; it ended up with me on my knees in front of him, begging him to believe my (for once true) story. I was then cursed: if I take an innocent life my own life will be forfeit, I will be struck down. I think this is going to be a great new direction for Henry Shortbread, and I'm already trying to play him differently as a result of this curse sitting on his shoulder.

We fought goblins that tried to kidnap our most ill member (we don't know why, we fought them off), we encountered the Sorrowful Dead (zombies!) just a mile from the town gates and barely escaped with our lives, and fought an evil vampire monkey (which bested us). We're on our way to clear out a keep which has a monster in residence and a group of bandits lurking nearby. We are in no shape for the fight really; our group is no longer all that cohesive, in many respects we stick together because we are all tarred with the same brush in the town of Scrodd.

What will happen next? I'm not sure. The last time I had this sort of feeling about a character I was playing as Chaplain, my Gunlugger in Apocalypse World, and I felt sure that he was about to die. He didn't, so maybe Henry will live as well. I have my doubts though...

Memorable Moments from Games Night
Patrick (DM): "You can hang around with the guards and play with your swords."

(maybe you had to be there; we laughed)

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Ready For Battle

Whatever comes my characters' way, they can handle it! Aside from the orange d20, the other dice have been collected over the last few months, just a few per week. The local games cafe usually has a good selection in colourful dice, and it's been good fun to build them up bit by bit. I could do with maybe getting  a few more d20s, and then I'll have a neat little gang to play with.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Wicked Wednesday

Diplomacy - early in life you learned that you sometimes have to compromise to get what you want. You can persuade people through your ability to empathise with them and see things from their perspective.
The strength can't be used in combat.
PCs use for yourself; NPCs use maneuvering.

Aggression-fuelled Psionics - your rage creates psionic turbulence that you can use in combat (or to move things if you are sufficiently angry).
You have to be angry to use your ability, you have to feel rage and the deeper your rage the more terrible your power is.
PCs use with violence; NPCs use action.

Seduce - you have a knack for being able to flirt and persuade members of the opposite (or same) sex; they become compelled to follow your words.
This is a slow ability; you have to take time to do it, be subtle and careful sometimes. You can use it against people who have a negative opinion of you, but you have to know what to say.
PCs use covertly; NPCs use maneuvering.

Third Eye - your training with the Blind Nuns of the Eastern Foothills has developed into the ability to see things that are hidden: you can see the web of connections between people and also objects connected with them that are not in plain sight.
You have to be able to concentrate in order to see things; active combat or other distractions will limit the usefulness of your Third Eye.
PCs use directly; NPCs use maneuvering.

Cognitive Blindspot - you can create a pocket of un-ness to almost make yourself invisible; pockets of negatively charged observance in the people around you limit their ability to be aware of you. You are a ghost, and soon even memory of you will start to fade.
Concentration is key. You must project outwards from yourself. This is an indiscriminate strength, it affects everyone around you when you try to use it.
PCs use covertly; NPCs use self-protection.

Bone Blade - a retractable spike of bone rests in your left arm as a result of a birth abnormality; thirteen inches in length, and razor sharp down one edge, it can be used very effectively in a fight.
This strength can always be used (although you may wish to hide it from others).
PCs use directly; NPCs use action.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Simulating a dX

I've been thinking for a few months about how to best simulate rolling a dX, which is the same as indexing X entries randomly. It takes time to sort ideas and thoughts out; this is a starting point for collecting things together.

There are six standard polyhedral dice: d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and d20. When using these we assume that the dice are fair - each side is equally likely to come up. If we were to create or simulate a die with X sides it would be best if it were fair. We cannot simulate a d11 using 2d6 directly - we get a range of 11 possible values, but there are different probabilities for each value. The simulated die would not be fair.

We can simulate a few dice with the six standard polyhedral dice through either re-rolling on the high value, or by "halving the die". It is not too difficult to introduce simple notation to account for both of these actions.

d6/2 gives a d3. We let d6r stand for the situation where we reroll the 6. We only want values 1-5 so d6r results in a fair d5. However, d10/2 also gives d5, and without the reroll. From the standard polyhedral dice we can simulate the following dice easily:

d2 = d4/2, d6/3, etc.
d3 = d6/2, d12/4.
d5 = d10/2, d20/4.
d7 = d8r.
d9 = d10r.
d11 = d12r.
d19 = d20r.

We could also simulate a fair d9 by rolling two d3s; these act as indexing nine entries in a table. We could denote this with d3 x d3 or (d3)^2.

d3 x d3 1 2 3
1 1 2 3
2 4 5 6
3 7 8 9

These various actions - re-rolling, halving and dividing across tables - allow us to build up a greater number of simulated fair dice. I'll go into more detail in future posts, and see if I can start to make sense about how we might simulate a dX for any positive integer X.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Diaspora: Character Generation

There's a running joke in our gaming group that all of my characters are fundamentally the same person: this is perhaps a not uncommon occurence in gaming groups. noisms provides a helpful summary of things that my characters have been involved in (and I follow with a rebuttal of some of them). Given the crazy worlds that my characters are in, their actions seem fairly sane and logical to me!

However, when setting up my character for Diaspora it occured to me that it might be good to steer things from the start so that the character has a different direction, a lifepath that might take things beyond what is typical for my characters. Adding details of this in yesterday's post would have made the post much too long.

I like the way that Diaspora sets up characters; noisms ran it really well, leading us through each part. Essentially, you detail five phases of the character's life up to the present, and from each phase you get two Aspects, defining features, details, locations, weapons or characteristics for the character. We didn't get to any proper play yesterday, but we were told that you essentially invoke these Aspects when relevant in play to help influence the outcome of situations.

So this is what I wrote for my character, Silence Arizona.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

New Worlds, New Ideas

Yesterday afternoon I sat down with Patrick and noisms to start world-building and character generation for a game of Diaspora that we will be playing over the coming months. noisms is going to be DMing, and he has the Diaspora pdf so lead us through the generation part. It took us about three hours to get up to the point of having characters, and it was a really interesting process. noisms has already posted about it over on Monsters and Manuals, and one thing that I'm 100% totally behind is his assertions about creativity through constraints. Creativity is not straight-jacketed by constraints, it thrives in them, in the sense that being completely open to all possibilities leaves us swamped and unable to see the wood for the trees.
...I was describing one of the worlds, in one of the systems we were creating, as being a water world, populated by Melnibonean-esque decadent epicureans. One of the players cut in, "Do they live on the surface in big floating cities, or under the water, or what?" And I was forced to think, "Well, where do they live?" And in answering the question more detail was added to the setting: creation by question in action.

There is a lot of power in this, and it applies not just during shared setting-creation type games like Diaspora: it applies in any kind of game...

It's something that I see a lot through work as well: you ask a totally open question and people look really stumped, and inevitably give vague and general answers. Follow up with more focused questions and they say a lot more; having to think about things which are deep beneath the surface can be really valuable. In games - especially story games (I think) and with world-building it can go a long way.

I'll write tomorrow about the character that I ultimately generated (and the process, which has given me a lot to think about), but I'll finish by saying a few words about some of the cluster of systems that were generated. First, I really thought that the random generation (using a Fudge dice system) was great; it's amazing how generating three numbers (relating to Technology, Environment and Resources in a system) can then go such a long way to detailing what the system is like.

Second, I liked how the layering on of details really started the ball rolling - and like lots of creative endeavours, started connections forming. Humans look for patterns. We have no choice, we try to make sense of the world. For example, one of my systems, Feynman, has neighbours which have either better technology or nicer worlds, so as I start to think about the political and social structure there it makes sense to think that they would be jealous of their neighbours. My other system, Temperance, has extremely high tech but environments that are slightly hazardous - which lead me to think that the citizens might be dispersed in artificial habitats throughout the system, rather than mostly residing on a particular world.

Now we have to make the time to meet up and play!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Games Night: Isle of the Unknown

Two weeks ago my brave and Lawful Specialist Charley Shortbread was almost killed by a brutal cut from a lizardman chief; during the session that I was absent from last week he was mostly perched on top of a cart recovering.

So we return to the Isle of the Unknown, and find ourselves meeting up with another shipwreck victim (noisms joined the game), and then proceed to carry out a plan that had been set in motion in our absence: to dispose of some war chimps that had acted as bodyguard to a magically locked safe, and then take the safe to the local castle.

There was some potential crazy background deals going on, but that all went south when we disposed of the bodies at a local churchyard. There was a lot of intra-party disagreement on how to proceed, an NPC civilian got killed (ironically, they were the town's healer, so no recovery at the end of the session!), and both Charley Shortbread and Glister (noisms' PC) had to leave town via the river, then come back around to the main gate, and pretend to be travellers, shipwreck victims, struggling through the night and seeking sanctuary.

Of course, this only worked so far, as Charley was known by the gatesmen (in my absence he had been seen around with our other PC, a swashbuckling and incredibly lucky fighter called Klaus); but the Force was with us, and the gatesmen and everyone else that I met believed that they had met my now absent IDENTICAL TWIN BROTHER. From that point on, goodbye Charley, hello Henry. Henry Shortbread.

Cut forward to more disagreements in a dungeon beneath the town, some thief slaughter, Klaus summoning his demon dogs and then falling into a pit trap through carelessness, and Henry and Glister being seriously wounded. We ended the session with just enough good fortune to get XP, some healing, some respect from the towns-people and an idea that all is not as it seems in this strange town... And the head of the castle guards is very suspicious of us (and rightly so).

Memorable Moments from Games Night
Klaus: No-one's going to miss an old woman. Old women go missing all the time.

Charley/Henry: 1HP equates to losing an eye?!

Patrick (DM): I'm gonna be the hippy art teacher DM...

And finally, a moment that perhaps you had to be there for, but which caused a lot of laughter around the table. Remember, we play this in a gaming cafe, i.e., in public. Glister was on -1HP, and I asked Patrick if I could perform any kind of first aid or stabilisation. On the fly (I think) he said that I could, if I described my actions and then shouted "Don't you die on me man!" in a cinematic style.

Me: Really? Like I'm McCoy or something?
Patrick: Yeah, "don't you die on me man!"
Me: OK. So I do this and that and pound Glister on the chest and shout "don't you die on me man!"
Patrick: ...Louder.
Me: What?
Patrick: Louder.
Me: Don't you die on me man!
Patrick: Do you want to save him or not?
noisms: Yeah, do you want to save me or not?!
Me: Sigh.
Patrick: He's not looking good...
Patrick: Hmmmm-
(Patrick and noisms are both, of course, laughing their asses off by now)
Patrick: ...So, Glister wakes up...

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Wicked Wednesday

Mind Blast - you transmit thoughts to others when you want to, shocking imagery, horrible ideas, depictions of pain and cruelty.
The power was something that developed through your life; your family, when they were alive, never told you where it came from.
PCs use with violence; NPCs use maneuvering.

Paralyse - the tips of your middle fingers have venomous stingers in the nail bed that extend and retract.
The toxin, if unresisted, can stop a strong healthy person for at least an hour. You're a freak of nature, it has to be said. If unused you have to milk the venom sacs in your palms once a week. After doing so there is a 4 in d6 chance that the toxin is too dilute for 4d6 hours.
PCs use covertly; NPCs use action.

Telekinesis - following an encounter with an otherworldly power you have been gifted with the ability to move things with the power of your mind. Nothing visible occurs around the object you want to move.
A psychological restriction that your mind imposes on itself is that the object moved must be something you could physically lift.
PCs use for themselves; NPCs use action.

Levitate - a blessing from a djinn means that you can rise from the ground, or slow yourself when falling. You cannot truly 'fly' nor can you express this ability on another.
The djinn embedded this power in your dead grandmother's wedding ring; you must be wearing it in order to levitate. You can attempt to levitate in combat to provide a more difficult target for your opponent.
PCs use for themselves; NPCs use action.

Memory Drain - the ancestors of your people were much sought after for their power to remove unwanted or painful memories. You don't know why you have this power, which last appeared in your people generations ago. You have to decide how best to use it, as there is no-one else to teach you.
You must have physical contact with the person whose memories you are trying to remove.
PCs use with love; NPCs use maneuvering.

Mutate - as a defence mechanism you steal DNA from others, splicing it in with your own. Good for hiding/disguise.
1 on d6, nothing happens; 2-5, you start to resemble the other person. 6, you become them, almost twin-like. You need physical contact so that you can extract DNA.
PCs use for themselves; NPCs use self-protection.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012


I have a Games Night and a Games Day to look forward to in the next week. I had to take a week off because of work - and worse luck, it seems like I might have to do the same next week - but tomorrow I have another session of Lamentations of the Flame Princess - after the great session a few weeks ago - and then on Saturday there's a group of us getting together to have a full day of Diaspora.

I'm interested to see where LotFP ended up during my absence (as you might recall, previously I was at death's door, and barely hanging on after being slashed open by a big lizard man). I've heard bits and pieces from a play summary; I wonder how quickly Charley Shortbread can get back in to things?

Diaspora is going to be interesting too. I know next to nothing about it, the keywords in my mind are space opera, Fudge dice, big universe, space travel. All of which combines to make me want to play it on Saturday!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Posts I Keep Meaning To Write

I have lots of ideas for things that I want to write on here. And I most definitely want to get back to connecting maths with RPGs. Here are some things that I've got in development:
  • simulating dice rolls, and how that is the same (homomorphic!) as random generation for a large number of entries.
  • breaking down random generation sensibly, possibly using a schema of books, pages, tables, rows, columns, entries.
  • building proofs. How amazing it is that you can show something once and know that it is true, and can be applied in other places. And also that proofs can be combined to produce even bigger results!
  • more on the zombie game that I want to play, and which proof-like I am putting together.
  • Oracle games in general - looking for innovation out there, and seeing what I can contribute.
  • dice probabilities; thinking towards a resource for different ways that dice rolls can be combined, to then help myself (and others?) who are looking for mechanisms that work for them.
  • more Wicked Wednesday posts with "strengths" for NPCs in In A Wicked Age.
Anything else that I should be thinking about?

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Wicked Wednesday

More from my growing collection of Strengths for In A Wicked Age. I'm always looking for more ideas and suggestions, so please add some in the comments if you think of any!

Acrobat - as a child your parents had you practice every day; now you're an expert at tumbling, falling – and most importantly dodging...
In order to maintain this strength you have to make sure you take time regularly to practice.
PCs use for myself; NPCs use action.

Dominate Will - someone with this strength can exert dominance over another, taking control over their actions.
It requires close physical proximity: suggestions are transmitted mind-to-mind. The affected person can still think and feel, but can only act as instructed by the dominator. Strong pain for either party can break the hold.
PCs use covertly; NPCs use maneuvering.

Iron Skin - were you blessed by the gods, or are you a freak of nature? Either way, your skin protects you from harm.
Your skin is always much tougher, there is no on or off switch. It certainly comes in handy in a tight spot.
PCs use for yourself; NPCs use self-protection.

Torture - you are skilled in extracting truth through pain and intimidation.
In order to use this strength well you just need the tools of your 'trade' (whatever they are) and the time to use them.
PCs use violence; NPCs use maneuvering.

Wings - for the longest time you have hidden your true self under a cloak. Your family loved you, and kept you safe. They never told you where your wings came from, or why you were special...
Take flight every few days to keep the muscles limber. And unsheathe them when you fly so they don't get tangled in your cloak.
PCs use directly; NPCs use action.

Read Minds - when you need to, you can hear the thoughts of others as clear as if they were speaking.
This requires no special equipment, rest or practice. You just have to will it. You can only hear, you cannot send.
PCs use covertly; NPCs use maneuvering.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Game Idea: Mystery Novel

This is a sketch of an idea: if anyone knows of an already existing game like this then please let me know, I want to play it!

A Microscope/Cluedo hybrid game. Together the players work to simultaneously create and uncover an Agatha Christie style murder. I'm really thinking of the way that information is presented, uncovered and connections made, a little like a Poirot story.

Perhaps the following elements could be used in some way:
  • Every turn a player draws a card and Oracle-style this gives a provocation as to a clue or to the investigation. Or random tables could help populate a setting with 1920s/1930s upper class characters with murder in mind, and also introduce other plot elements, objects or artifacts.
  • Microscope-style event placing leads to finding out what happened - or what people think they saw happening - with the timeline being populated by only scenes (no events or periods).
    • There could be a rough positioning of scenes in to three periods perhaps, "Before the Murder", "During the Murder", "The Investigation."
  • One feature of Poirot novels is the fact that he is the only detective (save for Chief Inspector Japp, who invariably has the wrong end of the stick). Perhaps the GM could be the detective - in that sense determining the focus at times to allow the other players reign to be characters, bring to light evidence or lay red herrings.
  • Each player could have their own little playbook of random tables that is distinct from the others.
  • Rotating GMship could occur between games to allow players to take turns being "the Detective" and being "the Suspects."
I think there is some scope here; my "little grey cells" are working away trying to draw some attention to possibilities, and to make connections between others.