Friday, 30 November 2012

Fighting Fantasy Maths

In a recent post I started to muse about the likelihood of surviving a Fighting Fantasy gamebook. Of course it is easy to say "the higher the SKILL and STAMINA, the more likely you are to survive." But therein lies a question for maths geeks like me. How much more likely?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Week Off

Had to cancel this week's games night. A combination of Nanowrimo, Merseytunnel tours and lack of ideas lead to no games. And I've got to miss next week too because of work.

With the holidays coming up, it seems like a regular game might be out of the picture for a while. I know that noisms is trying to marshall us for some kind of game while he is back in the north west for a few weeks, so keeping my fingers crossed.

Instead, last night I spent some time looking over and updating my notes for a short campaign based on a Kickstarter scenario that I supported. Potential players might be reading this, so I'll be a bit cagey on a few details. Here's what I was thinking:
  • It's the 1930s and the Dust Bowl is hitting hard. The players all find themselves in a small town that's hit harder than most.
  • Bad stuff is happening... (can't say any more due to spoilers)
  • Game runs on a mix of stripped down Cyberpunk with Apocalypse World health and harm rules: so stats and skills from Cyberpunk, but only a small number of hit points.
  • Weapons are classified with the Apocalypse World tagging rules. So a hatchet is say, 2-harm close sharp messy, whereas a hunting rifle might be 3-harm long-range loud big.
  • The BODY stat would act a little like Apocalypse World's armor rules to potentially reduce harm, as it wouldn't be "of the time" for characters to wear armor.
  • Clearly, removing a lot of the anachronistic skills, tech and gear from Cyberpunk! Also thinking that I might do away with special character classes and skills completely. Possibly include possibility for players to nominate one skill in particular that they can re-roll on a critical failure (they have to articulate why that skill would be special for that character).
The game would be a bit of investigation, some conflict... Have you ever run a game that takes place during a particular historical period rather than a completely fictional setting? What have you done to try and convey the time? What are the important details to put across?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Games Night: GHOST/ECHO

Yesterday's games night was great. We played GHOST/ECHO with me GMing, and Patrick taking the role of GRIP, and Steve playing COIL. One minute these characters were just names on the page, and soon they were thieves on a job-gone-bad, armed with origami guns and brain hack knives, stealing information from the Ghost World and running from men and wraiths in a future-China of seemingly endless night...

Monday, 19 November 2012

Aside: The Maths of Fighting Fantasy

This blog, at least in name, talks about the maths of RPGs. Most of the time I actually just want to talk about RPGs, ideas and what happened the other night at the table, but I thought the following video was worth sharing, as it follows on a little from my post about Murderous Ghosts from last week, and also from the post that noisms made about us playing it at the weekend.

I'd recently been thinking about doing something similar to what this video does with Island of the Lizard King, which I found in a charity shop, but there is no way I could do it as much justice as this video does.

One follow-up question does occur: I wonder how much difference there is in the graph structure of the various Fighting Fantasy books?

And another interesting problem that might be do-able: what is the probability that a person actually makes it to section 400, given the skill/stamina that they start with?

There's some work in figuring that out, but it's essentially coming up with a general formula for calculating the odds of surviving an encounter, and figuring out the various general paths through the book (taking into account when you come across things like traps that you have to roll under skill or suffer penalties). To solve it you would build up a couple of general results, then plug in numbers. Not simple per se, but not hard... The actuarial tables of the Island of the Lizard King...

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Game Night: Murderous Ghosts

Last night Patrick and I played Murderous Ghosts. The short version: it's amazing, really quite a remarkable, fun, scary and plain good game. We had time to play two games, so both got to play as MC and urban explorer.

Some thoughts:
  • It works really well as a role-playing game for two people. The playbooks are helpful and not intrusive - it provides you with steering but leaves things up to the imagination of the people playing - and prompts the MC to be as scary as possible.
  • Playbooks are really good: each person has their own "choose-your-own-adventure" book.
  • The general set up is just great: the MC is the abandoned place and the ghosts, and the other player is an urban explorer who has lost their way. Each moves according to what their place in the playbook says.
  • Randomness is in the form of each player drawing cards from a regular deck. The mechanism is somewhere between blackjack and the Apocalypse World under-7/7-9/10+ dice-rolling. It really works. It's a little tactical: if you ace one situation, you will not succeed as well on the next one (statistically).
  • It didn't matter that we died (on both occasions). The horror and scares were really satisfying. Dying felt inevitable, surviving was great while it lasted.
Also: Patrick is good at weird scary stuff. My character found himself in an abandoned and haunted animal testing lab. The next forty minutes were terrifying.

Final Thoughts: I wonder how the blackjack/AW mechanic would work in other settings... And I wonder how simple it would be to fashion a "haunted house" game from the basic structure, i.e., a game for more than two players...

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Dead Dogs: Rumours

More speculative ideas for a zombie game mostly based on Dogs in the Vineyard.

At the start of a campaign, the players have some typical set-up; stats and so on. The GM has had some set-up as well. The basic setting that I am proposing is that the players play characters that exist in the most well-known city to most of them. This is the starting point, somewhere familiar.

Then you take that familiar place and take it to zombie hell.

If the game was to be based on Dogs then it would be good to still include a version of the initiation stage that each character goes through (more on that some other time). I have an idea for a quick card game that could help steer the tone or the setting. The GM will have done some scenario generation just like any sandbox game, and things will change as the players interact with that world and define their own goals. But right as things get going five minutes are spent to see what the characters have heard.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Dead Dogs: 1

For a long time I've been thinking about running a sandbox-y zombies game. And for a long time I've just been making notes in various places, scraps of paper, little journals - even the odd page of a Moleskine.

And then I thought, why not share some of that thinking here? See if other people can spot good ideas or spot obvious drawbacks. There are two main game systems that have influenced my thinking so far, Apocalypse World and Dogs in the Vineyard. If you've read this blog before then you'll know that AW is the game that got me into RPGs and Dogs is the first game that I've GMed for a campaign. So maybe it's natural that they're the ones which are leading me in terms of system.

I started making notes earlier this year convinced that AW was the way forward for a zombie game. Archetypes abound in zombie fiction, and so the playbook style characters for a zombie game would work quite well. Couple that with what I still think of as the best dice mechanic in a game, and a system of experience that creates cinematic, larger-than-life characters (without feeling like they are overpowered superheroes), and there starts to feel like the bare bones of a zombie game.

More recently, having GMed Dogs, I'm more inclined to go with that as the basis for a zombie apocalypse game. The main reason being a game mood one: in Dogs it is not the place for the GM to pass judgement on whatever the PCs do, only to respond in-game. The Dogs are the Law, in a world filled with sinners and demons, what they say goes. It struck me that in a post-apocalypse filled with the undead hungry for the living, there are going to be difficult decisions everywhere. And there is going to be no-one to judge those decisions, save for how others respond. So the mood of Dogs might be relevant - in which case the game mechanics might also be relevant... (if mechanics and mood have any connection at all; I don't know if they do, I don't know if they don't)

Anyway. I'll spew out thoughts about this over the next few weeks and see if any of it starts to make sense. I know that there are other people who have hacked AW and Dogs for zombies games, and I'll link to those or interesting bits in future posts too. And I know of All Flesh Must Be Eaten! but haven't been able to find a copy in the past; plus I think I'm more interested in something with a The Walking Dead vibe rather than out-and-out archetypes or cliches, which is what leads me more to Dogs than Apocalypse World I suppose.

Anyway (take two). Thoughts? Suggestions?

Monday, 5 November 2012

Games Day: Risus

noisms has already blogged about our game on Saturday, but I thought I would chip in a few thoughts. The three of us (including Patrick) met up having already decided to give Risus a go. We had also decided that TNG-era Star Trek was the way to go. As noisms has described we ran things pretty fast and loose, although the ability to take on or force GM-ship worked very well for a comedy game. I'm sure that we didn't follow the Risus mechanics exactly, but it lead to a fun bit of storytelling.

We decided on rank by rolling a d6 and working from there. I rolled high so we decided on Lieutenant Commander; Patrick got a 1 and noisms got 2, so they were a cadet and ensign respectively. I have no idea how someone who was born on the Neutral Planet got to high rank; we had a bit of a discussion about whether or not a Neutralien was more or less able to follow the Prime Directive. I think we came down on the side of more able...

The game ended with my character poisoning and killing a crystal alien with a heart of pure dilithium, then escaping back to the Enterprise while being pursued by intelligent radioactive feldspar. Patrick's character had a bizarre stress-related life-cycle, and so stormed on to the bridge - swatting Worf out of the way. My Neutralien needed a life-saving hypospray, and was cured from deadly radiation poisoning in two seconds flat. noisms related every role to his character being born on a prison planet. Typical TNG really.

We followed Risus with Settlers of Catan; it was my first time playing the game, and I really enjoyed it. There were a couple of rules that we missed right at the start (only building settlements at the end of roads etc) but we had a good time, and I'm hoping that Santa got my Amazon wishlist in time to pick it up for me...

A fun Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Back From Being Away

In my "day job" I am a freelance skills trainer who works with PhD students and researchers in general. I do various things, most of which is to get people thinking about their skills, what they can do to develop them and maybe more importantly how they want to develop them (getting them to reflect on what they want).

This week I was away tutoring on a week-long course in the Lake District. And as a bonding exercise we were all (on the tutor team, and also on my tutor group) talking about guilty pleasures or things that we do for hobbies. And a couple of times I mentioned how much I've enjoyed playing tabletop RPGs over the last year or so (which is when I got into it). On the last night in the bar someone asked me "so what is a tabletop RPG?" followed by "is that the same as LARPing?"

We talked about it for a bit, and she was genuinely amazed at the thought that there was more than one system (i.e., that there wasn't just Dungeons & Dragons). Not in a malicious way, but because it was so far removed from her experience. In talking about it I described tabletop role-playing as
"Collaborative story-telling between two or more people; typically one person will facilitate the game, and the others will take on the roles of individual characters; the remaining one person will take on the role of any other character in the world of the game, and respond to the other players' actions and requests for description about the world; if the outcome of any proposed action is in doubt then typically dice are rolled according to some game mechanism; other materials can be used depending on the type of game; some games require players and the game facilitator to keep track of details of attributes that their characters have."

Or at least I said something close to that. I'm sure it is a trope of people blogging about games to ask, but what would you say to someone who has little to know experience of tabletop role-playing games?

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Dogs Thoughts

As I mentioned last week, due to work commitments I've had to take a few weeks away from regular games nights and Dogs in the Vineyard. Dogs is the first campaign that I've run, and it's been really enjoyable. It is a system where there are so many different directions that a game can go in. Even with the simplest of backgrounds and a handful of NPCs rolled up you can get an intriguing game going.

I read the final section of the pdf a few days ago, and there were some neat thoughts that have helped steer my thinking a bit more as well. Vincent Baker describe it (paraphrased badly by me) as a noir investigation that happens to be set in an alternate West. And with several factions possibly at play, none of them exactly in the right - but one or more of them probably very much in the wrong, it gives the Dogs something to do.

In the first and second sessions the Dogs set up a town meeting, so that the guilty/sinful could confess in front of the whole town and hopefully get rid of any bad blood that existed. This worked really well, a solution that I didn't see coming at all. Quite a facilitated solution in fact, the Dogs didn't immediately pass judgement, but brought out into the light everything that was going wrong. And they were happy with how things ended up.

And yet in the last town they were deeply unhappy with the situation as they arrived in the town of Jewel: daily sundown services where people confess the wrong they have done so that the demons are kept at bay. Leaving aside the demons (whose existence wasn't proved until the last session), they did not like the Steward leading these public confessions. And then one of them said, "Is that different from what we did?" - which was a great realisation. It was in no way planned by me (the setting detail of the sundown service had been made before the start of the campaign), but was a neat thought. The Dogs do have a final say: I don't judge their choice of actions, and there is no higher authority in the game that says they can or can't do something, other than their own thoughts/beliefs.

If the Dogs start to doubt past actions perhaps that leads to something interesting - as I plan for possible future sessions - can I exploit their doubts somehow...? Present them with situations where they might really disagree? Can I devise a situation that's not "on-rails" but which is a kind of Kobayashi Maru? Not so that I can say "that was a bad decision" but so that THEY can't see a way out, but have to act all the same. And when they do act, how will they respond to the consequences?

(lots of half-formed questions there! Apologies)