Friday, 31 July 2015

Why can't me and Wild Talents just get along?

I would start using a "Rambling" tag on these posts, but it would go on pretty much all of them.

So as mentioned previously, we recently attempted a campaigngen brainstorming session for Wild Talents, and I didn't get on with the game.

That rather confused me, because I don't understand why. I feel like this is the sort of game I should like. I like tinkering with mechanics, so shouldn't I like a game where you build your own powers and everything? What's putting me off? I wanted to try and work this out.

Okay, for a start, I think we got off on the wrong foot for a couple of reason that aren't to do with the game per se, but the attitude I read into it. The Introduction and What Is Roleplaying seem a tiny bit preachy to me - somewhat reminiscent of White Wolf, to be honest - and despite the attempts at catering to all tastes, I get the sense that really they want you to play a gritty game where you're people with superpowers, and think actual superheroes are a bit naff.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Worlds Unbuilt

Recently I threw out an idea for running a D&D game over VOIP, since I'm finding it difficult to travel to see the usual friends. Someone else suggested running some Wild Talents, and that got some traction (including that all of us are playing a certain amount of D&D anyway), so tonight we attempted to put together the basis of a game, also on VOIP (Ventrilo, specifically).

It really didn't work.

Basically I just wanted to waffle a bit about why that might be.

So Wild Talents is more or less a GURPS for superheroes. It's more or less completely customisable - even the superpowers are build component by component using a point-buy system with benefits and flaws that modify cost, although there are a few samples in the book. It has no default setting. Although they talk about different takes and tones in the game, like full "four-colour" spandex-wearing romps, the base assumption is still clearly a fairly gritty one where supers might get their head shot off and collateral damage exists. I'm actually inclined to place it near The Authority in terms of superhero takes, although there's a wide variety of possible power levels, including the ability to snuff out the sun. It's actually not that difficult.

One of the problems was absolutely that I wasn't particularly enthused to begin with. I don't have a problem with superheroes, mind. The fact that I'd proposed a different game was undoubtedly part of it, and I'm not going to dismiss that. To a large extent though, my apathy was down to Wild Talents, and the fact that my head began to hurt quite a short way into reading it.

Demon: the Bodging

I'm in a really White Wolfy mood right now.* I could really play some White Wolfy game. Admittedly I might get frustrated with it within a few hours when it turns out not actually to be what's advertised, but I hold out hope.

That was... a couple of months ago, when I started writing this. Same old, same old...

Anyway, my exhaustive (ahem) researches for Visitant involved rereading Demon: the Fallen and being reminded how promising it first sounded. Isn't there some way to get a faux-Judeo-Christian game about demons that are actually vaguely tied into real-life Judeo-Christian demon tropes (including, obviously, all the pop culture stuff that it's spawned) out of this?

Monday, 27 July 2015

Demon: the Descent is bad at character generation

So I'm in a bad mood today, and also playing with Demon: the Descent, and as a natural outcome of these activities I just want to take a few minutes to lay out in detail how the character generation instructions for Demon: the Descent are approaching a platonic ideal of wrongness. I have touched on this matter before.

Character generation rules always have problems, it's true. There's very rarely a way to make a character in one single pass - revisiting and revision are almost always needed, except in games with very light character mechanisation. But White Wolf seem to be singularly bad at chargen, and in their rules for both Demon games I feel they have reached a real nadir. This seems to stem, ultimately, from their abject refusal to acknowledge how their own game works, but some parts seem impossible to explain except by sheer incompetence.

Let us begin.

Character Creation, as outlined by White Wolf, has nine steps:

  1. Character Concept
  2. Select Attributes
  3. Select Skills
  4. Select Skill Specialties
  5. Apply Demon Template
  6. Select Merits
  7. Determine Advantages
  8. Age and Experience
  9. The Fall

And here's a quick precis of the game, just in case. In Demon: the Descent you play a sort of Agent Smith. The God-Machine (SkyNet) is real and secretly rules the universe, or most of it, in a reality that's a conspiracy theorist's wet nightmare. You were an agent of the God-Machine, or "angel", a kind of biomechanical-metaphysical entity doing certain tasks. You used artifical human identities as necessary, creating, donning and doffing them whenever required. Then something went wrong in your programming, and you went rogue, a state called "demon". Now you're on the loose with your own motivations, and at least some of your old reality-warping power, in whatever human identity you were last assigned.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Using status mechanics to keep characters involved

Another day, another riff on Shannon. Shannon's post is quite specific, being about status in LARPS, and specifically a possible implementation for one of her own games. Inevitably, mine will be a general post about character status with no specific application in any of the games I'm not running.

Let me also point out that I think Shannon's solution seems absolutely fine.

One particular strength is that because it's reliant on rules and spends (rather than randomisation) it gives players a lot of control, and avoids rules causing silly results. If it's not practical to delegate the work, you can't delegate it (and hence, you have some incentive to find reasons why it's not practical...); you can only spend so much effort digging dirt on lower-status individuals, otherwise everyone will start thinking you're weird. And it's pretty simple!

It also limits players to a certain number of questions, for example, which means they can't just get around the restrictions by repeatedly asking questions about a high-status person until they get a good roll.

The reason I'm going to play with randomizer-based mechanical solutions is because I want to know whether, and how, it could work.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Visitant: Technological Gift trees

I'm still calling these "trees" all over the place, but let's be clear: they're very obviously pools. There is no hierarchy.

I actually really like the Demon: the Descent way of handling special abilities, and would have liked to use that. My original idea for Visitant was that there wouldn't be specific species at all. Instead, I'd discuss broad alien archetypes, and players could then combine certain low-level powers to make a species of their choice. More potent abilities would be keyed off these, just like D:tD.

For one reason and another (not insignificantly, a strong representation from a friend that Extremely Specific Splats were more White-Wolfy than vague mumbling, which seems true enough) I went the other way, and it has some advantages. Like, I don't have to worry about people combining completely arbitrary sets of abilities and producing some RAW-derived monstrosity. Only a small subset of abilities can be combined, which is frankly bad enough.

Today I present the last two Gift pools: the tech powers. Luminescence and Nanokinesis are both power sets I dreamed up out of nowhere. I started writing powers long before I'd nailed down exactly what the aliens would be. I originally intended these to be attached to a specific alien, but there were two things. One, I had no particular ideas for said alien. Two, I was very conscious that my aliens get a very restricted choice of powers compared to most White Wolf games, and allowing them free choice from some technology-based pools seemed both genre-appropriate and a useful getaround.

I may still write some more of these if I get inspired.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Trappery, part ten: goblin caves example

I just discovered this post lurking in my site, unpublished. It's a very long time since I wrote Trappery, and any train of thought I had going is long since dissolved. So this is a pretty short post, but it looks coherent so I thought I'd stick it out there rather than deleting all that work.

The Goblin Caves

In contrast to the last example, this one is far from reality. A band of utterly stereotypical goblins has holed up in a cave network. They are cunning, malevolent, nasty, brutish, and short. The goblin chiefs, led by Ugluk, want to protect their slightly-less-decrepit belongings from the light-fingered masses, as well as from any thieves that might come sneaking into their territory.

Into Ploughshares

So I've been thinking about Into Ploughshares again. This is partly because it just sort of got inside my head and niggles at me. Another reason is that I'm doing a lot of fiddling with games at the moment, and have managed to play a good few since I got back from abroad. The writing and reviewing parts, in particular, emphasised to me just how much time RPGs devote to fighting, or investigating grizzly deaths, and I started to feel rather down about it. I also had some interesting conversations with Dan about other types of genre and gameplay, which helped revive my interest.

What about characters?

The (silly) conceit of Into Ploughshares is an attempt to more-or-less directly map a combat-free pastoral narrative onto stereotypical traditional dungeon crawl mechanics. And that means character classes with distinct roles. I actually think this might work fairly well.

The idea that's come to mind is that, just as seasons (and their challenges) will map onto dungeons (and their rooms), individual challenges will map onto combats. Some will be unavoidable - winter descends on you inevitably, just as the minotaur hunts you down in its labyrinth. Others are optional challenges that can bring some benefit - destroying the undead guards in the vault will get you loot, forging a road through the forest will open up trade routes and speed communications.

Obviously, "fighting" a challenge means a damage system is needed, and the idea that comes to mind is Work Points.

Any given Challenge has, amongst other things, a pool of Work Points. This is a crude representation of how much effort will be needed to overcome the Challenge. Digging a privy requires relatively little effort and has few Work Points. Building an irrigation system for enough farmland to feed a village requires a lot more effort.

The first class we need, then, is naturally the fighter-analogue. Um... possibly. In our case, we have the Labourer. A Labourer is a pretty simple class with minimal special abilities. Where they shine is in plodding away at hard work. A Labourer has a high average Work output and is pretty reliable. They take on the lion's share of labour, freeing up other party members to handle fiddly stuff. In contrast, the other classes have more specialised roles that depend on application to be effective.

What about PCs, though? Most challenges aren't exactly damaging them, but PC Work Points would make no sense at all.

Dungeon crawls feature enemies that injure you, but often you're the one making decisions about pacing. I feel like season challenges need to work a bit different. Essentially, the challenge of pastoralism lies in whether you can overcome a challenge with the resources you have in the time available. This means a lot of challenges will tend to be on a schedule, with PCs only having a certain amount of time to deal with them.

In this case, I'm inclined to say that the obvious option is Fatigue. A PC's "attacks" indicate how much they manage to accomplish, but a challenge's "attacks" indicate how much the character's reserves are depleted by their efforts. This isn't the only option, though. A storm might damage infrastructure, so the challenge is to cope with it as quickly as possible to minimise the harm it does (PC "attacks" here will indicate taking precautions, minimising damage, repairing and so on).

The classic rogue/thief mechanics create a character who's good at sneaking around to find out the lay of the land and predict challenges. They can also deal with unexpected hazards (disarm traps), acquire unexpected benefits (theft) and position themselves to dish out heavy Hit Point damage, providing they can make the right setup rolls. How would we parallel that?

Clearly, we're looking at a Scholar.

The Scholar relies on some kind of theoretical roll to metaphorically 'navigate' the season, interpreting and predicting challenges and opportunities. They can find and deal with unexpected hazards (test of ingenuity or knowledge), acquire unexpected benefits (inspiration), and position themselves to deal heavy Work damage by application of theory to do a lot with a little.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Visitant: Ytaleh Gift trees

Almost finally, we come to the Gift pools for the ytaleh, little bundles of nervous tissue that they are. These critters get a rather woobly set of abilities, with the telepathic Mentalist pool granting ability to sense and manipulate other minds. Neuromancy is a harder one to pin down; as an electrochemical field-based pool, it combines tapping into the minds of host bodies, disrupting the functions of inconvenient humans, and sensing or manipulating electromagnetism. The ytaleh therefore tend towards a fairly low-action approach, sensing things and invisibly manipulating them to their own advantage. They're good when they have time to exploit their memory-stealing capabilities, but do have some combat capability too, and those are some of the subtlest attacks in the game.

If anyone's wondering, yes, the ytaleh are the Joe 90s of Beneath Dark Skies.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Visitant: Mistaken Identity

Observant readers may notice that, for someone trying to approximate a White Wolf game in a sci-fi setting, I have some major omissions.

Looking closely, almost everything published for Visitant so far is rules, of all things, while the rest is setting material. Where, oh where, is the terrible game fiction?

As mentioned, the six chapters of Prologue: We walk amongst them are only available to premium subscribers. I wouldn't breach their trust by betraying that. But that doesn't mean you get off scot-free you have to go without entirely.

Here, for your delectation and nausea, is the first ever piece of Visitant gamefic.

Visitant: Shekt Gift trees

You either know the score by now, or you have no idea what is going on. If the latter, I heartily encourage you to go back a few posts. In fact, maybe go all the way back to something more entertaining, like the Imperial Fists podcasts or the ones where I make sarcastic comments about poisonous doorknobs. Those were the days.

It may not come across, but I tried to give each Gift pool set of names that were thematically equivalent, so that you don't get a big aesthetic clash; I didn't want really purple names sitting next to "Levitate" or whatever. So the Guise names are a little fancy, Protoplasm is fairly matter-of-fact. Mosa Gifts have pretty short, punchy names that try to describe them as briefly as possible (Taste the Wind is an exception, admittedly).

Today, Shekt gifts! The insect swarm folks get two pools, one based on making buzzing noises, and the other on... well, being made of thousands of insects. Seems fair. For Shekt, I went with alliterative song-based names for the Cadence pool, and fancy-pants florid names for the swarmy ones. No particular reason, I just started with I Am Legion and went from there.

I would also like to note that I'm aware "One With Everything" sounds like a pizza. This is not accidental.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

A beastly problem: animal companions in 5e D&D

So* recently I've been playing about with making a Beastmaster Ranger.

No, come back! I promise not to let this post descend into excoriating it for being sub-par or anything like that. Although it... kind of is. That may crop up. But it is not the primary thrust of this post.

* I am aware that an awful lot of my sentences start off with "so". Here my blog accurately recreates the experience of talking to me. See also: constantly going off on tangents, rarely reaching actual conclusions, talking far too much. On the plus side, here I tend to at least finish my sentences, instead of just tailing off, so...

See what I did there?

NOTE: since I wrote this, I've discovered that some issues are addressed by the PHB errata. I'm leaving this as written, partly because I'm too lazy to change it, partly because it frankly horrifies me that things like "is this animal less sentient than an actual literal zombie?" were not picked up before publication.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Visitant: Mosa Gift trees

As per the previous post, here are some powers, this time for the self-evolving Mosas.

The Mosa Gifts are somewhat odd, in that a lot of them don't require rolls, but simply provide various kinds of boosts. Quite a few don't even require require Focus. I'm not sure whether this will prove unbalancing, in that Mosa end up able to reserve their Focus for a small number of powers, or whether it's irrelevant because the utility of the powers is the main thing.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Visitant: Ansad Gift trees

The four playable splats for Visitant have now been introduced, so laying out their powers seems the next logical step.

I've taken a broadly traditional WoDdy approach, so these are more like Vampire powers than Demon: the Descent.

There are some differences between the way "powers" (Gifts, in Visitant) work here and in some White Wolf games. The main thing to note is that in the vast majority of cases, it is absolutely 100% impossible for a member of one splat to obtain a Gift belonging to another splat. This is not just a mechanical block, it's a narrative one. Visitants' abilities are primarily derived from their biology, not from magical or supernatural talent, so it's not like this is something you can learn. Are you a gestalt mind composed of several million insectoid drones, or aren't you?

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Fun-Sizing the Great Old Ones: Yog-Sothoth

I have posted part three of my Fun-Sizing the Great Old Ones series on This time: how can we use Yog-Sothoth, the Key and the Gate, effectively in a game, other than getting shipwrecked on R'lyeh?

Since I was apparently asleep during this one, and completely forgot to discuss linking Yog-Sothoth with Judeochristianity, I probably need to come back to this!

Fun-Sizing the Great Old Ones: Cthulhu

I have posted part two of my Fun-Sizing the Great Old Ones series on This time: how can we use Cthulhu himself effectively in a game, other than getting shipwrecked on R'lyeh?

You can find further notes on Cthulhu use in my previous post.