Tuesday, May 30, 2023

WIR 13th Age #2

 Picking up where I left off, it's away from skills ... I mean backgrounds, and into feats.

You get a new feat at every level. In your early levels, these are adventurer tier feats, then champion feats and finally epic feats. This is our first sign that the scale of this game is super-compressed. I might get more into this later, but there are only 10 levels in the game. To someone coming in from D&D 3.x or 5e which have 20 levels, or D&D 4e with its 30 levels, this feels very small. The feats generally feel pretty significant, so it's likely that each level will represent a significant bump in ability.

The downside of this section is its brevity. There are only a handful of feats listed here, with the majority of the space taken up by lists of feats elsewhere in the book. Since feats are intended to be significant, they often work to enhance the specific powers of the various classes and need the context of being in the class description in order to make sense, I guess.

Some feats list benefits for multiple tiers and I'm not 100% sure what happens with those. Like if a feat has an adventurer and a champion entry, what happens when my character hits champion tier? Do they automatically get the champion benefit? Do I have to take the feat again, this time at champion tier, to get the benefit?

There are a couple of references in the text to re-speccing your character as they advance, so I'm guessing that you can have a feat at adventurer tier, then once you become a champion, you can spend your champion feat slot to upgrade the feat to champion, but then you are left with an empty adventurer tier feat slot so you can fill that with a another adventurer tier feat. It feels complicated, but it's probably fairly simple once you actually get in to it.

The gear section is unimpressive, but that's probably more feature then bug. "This is supposed to be the indie-style, story-telling game of heroic fantasy, not a bean counting simulation" I imagine someone saying, though it doesn't appear in the text of this book. No information is given other than an item's name and its price. No weights, because "encumbrance rules are stupid." and no other details because "that would just restrict the possibilities of the story." Again imagined quotes. But they do spend some time on what the coins used in the setting look like, which does hit the "style over substance" vibe that they seem to be going for.

Now we get into the races section. This was published before "races" became problematic enough that publishers started exploring other terminology. I'm going to use "race" here just because they use it.

They are divided between major races and optional races. The major races are human, dwarf, 3 kinds of elf, half-elf, gnome, half-elf, half-orc and halfling. The optional races are dragonspawn, Holy One, Forgeborn, and Demon Touched.

The optional races are versions of the various races that were made core in 4e that got backlash. The Holy Ones are Aasimars and the Demon-Touches are tieflings. Dragonspawn correspond to D&D's dragonborn and the Forgeborn are intended to be the warforged. 

The rules surrounding any of them are very simple. They get a +2 bonus to any one stat (most races have a few defined options, but humans get "Any")  and a power that they can enhance with a champion tier feat.

The class section begins with a listing of the game's classes in order of ease of play. Not only is that sort of refreshing, but the fact that the fighter class isn't the highest on the list is a pleasant change as well. Both D&D and Pathfinder have positioned the fighter as the "I hit it with my axe" class, where the rookie player can just roll to hit when called upon in combat and basically do fine. But in this case, the barbarian is the "roll and shout" class. Fighter is actually in 4th place behind the barbarian, ranger and paladin.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

WIR 13th Age #1

 We'll see how long this lasts. One thing that's been keeping me down is that I haven't been doing much reading to go into my writing. So I decided to take my writing club time and dedicate it to doing some reading. And now, book report style, I get to tell you what I read.

I decided to start alphabetically with 13 Age, because numbers come before letters apparently. While this is something I've read before, having purchased the core book at DunDraCon a number of years ago, I do have some supplements for it that I might get to as well.

The elevator pitch for 13th Age is pretty much: D&D, but cool, modern, and hip, like those indie games kids are playing these days.

The first chapter of the book introduces us to the setting via the Icons, the major iconic figures of the game. I just want to say that I appreciate this. Rather than bury you in history and detail, you're given these very evocative figures that you can have a relationship with. And I do mean that. One of the things you will write on your character sheet is your relationship with at least one of these Icons. That's not to say that the Lich King is your buddy or that there are embarrassing photos of you and the High Druid from that holiday party, but you're on each others' radar.

The next chapter is focused on character creation, and it mostly glosses over the tedious, mechanically necessary details like AC and hit points, while spending significant time on their big indie-style innovations: The One Unique Thing and Backgrounds.

Evey character has One Unique Thing that sets them apart. While this Thing can have some utility, they spend a lot of page space telling you that it shouldn't necessarily be a power that your character has and that it should have some story consequences, either positive or negative.

Backgrounds are more or less skills as they appear in D&D, but you're encouraged to make them up. And rather than describing one narrowly focused ability, a Background can be used for anything you can justify.

Less of a fan of this sort of thing. Not that it's bad. It's mostly with my limitations. I don't really do that whole "just make stuff up" bit. If I were to play this, I would probably just port over the skills and rename them to sound like a Background. "I'll take the History skill, but then I'll just call it the Historian Background and call it good."

Only about 40 pages in, but that's actually more reading than I do in a week, so I'm going to call that progress.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

What's in the Box?

 The San Diego RPG Meetup group has recently been doing monthly GM Meetups as well as the monthly general Meetups. And a couple of interesting topics emerged.

One of the roundtable questions that every GM was asked was "What is your white whale? What is the game or campaign that you've always wanted to run but never thought you could get the players or other resources together for?"

I somewhat misspoke when I answered "Star Trek." I did run a roughly 5 month campaign of GURPS Prime Directive when I was a member of the Fantasy Gamer's Guild at Humboldt State (now Humboldt Polytechnic). Perhaps the reason that it had slipped my mind is that it was from a period where I didn't have the confidence to create my own adventures, so I leaned on published scenarios. So while I did run a Star Trek campaign, I have yet to create my own Star Trek adventures. I still want to/hope to.

Though I did also have a backup answer: A 20-year OSR campaign.

I'm sure I've posted here about my perspective on running such a long term campaign. Rather than focusing in taking the players through a single, large story arc like a (It's hard to believe that this is) traditional "Adventure Path"-style campaign. For something intended to be that long-running, the goal is actually to be much less plot-oriented. The GM's task becomes, in large part, managing and presenting the setting rather than writing ever-expanding scripts. And that's what a lot of the tools in the early D&D game were there to facilitate.

But the big thing that I took away from that session was during the freeform discussion near the end. Someone was talking about making house rules and how they don't like to be "trapped in the box" of an overly restrictive rule system. I commented that I actually liked the various "boxes" of limitations that games create.

 This clearly surprised him, especially as he knew I was an OSR guy and one of the mantras that goes around there is "rulings, not rules."

But my own take on the OSR is that it's very much a "storygame," just like something more modern and "indie."

To demonstrate my point about the joys of restrictions, I picked an example of a game that everyone at the table was familiar with: Monsterhearts. It's a game of supernatural drama, somewhere between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and True Blood. One of the premises of the game is that the characters are all in high school, so logically, the GM should be able to make a story about a math test, or a history report or other sort of school assignment. But the rules of the game don't include anything about how good the characters are in their schoolwork. There's no "Intelligence" stat on the character sheet, or anything remotely close. (For the record, the character stats in Monsterhearts are: hot, cold, volatile, and dark)

It's perfectly possible to house rule something to represent a characters' studiousness, but if we just let ourselves spend time in that box that is Monsterhearts, another solution presents itself. There are no rules for getting good grades, but there are lots of rules for manipulating and controlling others. So the way to run a "big math test" scenario for Monsterhearts would be to focus on what the game already does. It becomes a question of finding the right study buddy, getting leverage on the teacher to let you pass regardless of the quality of your work, or perhaps engaging in skullduggery to get the answer key to the test. All of these require no extra design work on the part of the GM and leave everything focused exactly where the game wants us to be focused.

Likewise, running a dungeon-focused OSR game allows the game to focus on what it's good at instead of trying to force it into a broadly useful generic game engine. I actually prefer the retroclones that give the fiddly stat adjustments, like % chance to Bend Bars/Lift Gates rather than the more broadly applicable Strength Modifier because I think that specificity and the "box" it creates is more interesting.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

I had a second session of the "one-shot" at Lestat's, and am looking forward to part 3, which I have been assured is the conclusion. I'm looking forward to running something there. Probably a Fiasco to start with, but maybe something more intensive later on.

I do still want to run an OSR campaign, but I'm continuing to rethink what it's going to look like. As much as I love the OSR, i'm not a fantasy fan in general, so the prospect of building a setting is hard to get excited about. At the same time, ever since my Castle of the Mad Archmage campaign fell apart, I've wanted to do it better. Which in part means presenting a coherent setting outside of the dungeon.

I might just select a handful of modules from my collection and place the various dungeons on a larger overland map and let the various names and places form the basis of the setting and just go from there.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

 Overall, good news to report this week. 

I finally found the perfect gaming spot in San Diego. Ever since Young Hickory shut down, The ideal spot is a place that is open late, has inexpensive food (or just coffee) and is only 1 bus away. The game store downtown is inexpensive if you're just getting snacks, is only one bus away, but isn't always open late. Tea N More, where the Meetup holds most of their meetings, has inexpensive meal options and is open late, but it's a hassle to get to.

A friend of mine used to run a game at a place called Lestat's, which was inexpensive, open late, and only slightly more than 1 bus away. The downside there is that it was loud. Not raucous loud. Just everyone having their own conversation so you have to listen closely to yours sort of loud. I then found out that their location on University Avenue was one of 3 locations, which I had been meaning to check out.

Well, that chance came last Wednesday.  One of the Metup memebers was running a game at the Lestat's on Adams Ave. A short walk from the bus stop and off the beaten path enough that it didn't have the steady murmur of conversation that threatened to drown out  your own. It very strongly reminded me of Old Town Coffee and Chocolates, where I enjoyed some casual gaing in my hometown before I moved to San Diego,

Which means I now have one less excuse as to why I'm not gaming very much.

Another positive update: I am writing this from my lunchbox laptop.

It's been a long time since I've done anything serious with it. I might have posted something on this blog at some point from this lunchbox, but it's been in a holding pattern for a while. The main issue is that I have a "real" laptop as well, which is a more powerful computer and uses a more popular operating system, so circumstances where the lunchbox is more useful tend to be rare. It's mostly a novelty, and I'm okay with that.

The other issue was power output. While other people who deal with Raspberry Pi single board computers have all kinds of other skills, I really don't. Rather than kitbash and solder hings together, I prefer to use standard  cable connections to assemble my projects (There's an amusing story about a project where I substituted a hammer for delicate soldering work, but that was not lunchbox related). So my power source for the lunchbox laptop has been those cell-phone charger battery packs

Which worked great when the core computer was a Raspberry Pi Zero, but once I upgraded to a Model 3B, it wasn't delivering enough power to make it happy. It would boot up and run what I wanted to, but there was a constant "low power" notification. 

So I've kept my eyes open for when power technology was going to get to the point that a battery pack would be able to deliver that much juice without breaking the bank and it finally happened.  I got rid of the "low power" notifications and am now considering what I need to do to make it a properly "finished" project. Right now that means trying to get the interior of the lunchbox organized. For a long time, the lunchbox was very much just a container for all of the various parts, which just sort of hung out inside.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

 I went to the gaming Meetup that I was planning to and ran the same adventure I ran last month, though with new players this time. Very new players, in fact. Not only new to the Meetup group, but 2 of my players were completely new to RPGs as a whole.

Which makes me glad that they came to my table. Not that the other games that were being offered weren't good games run by good people. They absolutely were. But when players are coming from a history of board games, as these two were, a nice Old School dungeon crawl is perhaps the perfect introduction.

Old School D&D was an evolution of tabletop wargaming, so comparison to a board game is not far off. But it is also a step beyond. Especially in a basic dungeon crawl like the adventure that I was running, the idea of "This is the map/board and this is my character/playing piece" is pretty easy to get across.

One of my older pieces of gaming advice, before I started pitching a lot of big ideas and even designing my own stuff, is "dungeons are fine." Especially when you're starting out, don't sweat the big stuff. It's not about the 10 page character backstories or 10,000 years of history that you have to make up for your fantasy world. It's about playing. And simple dungeon crawl adventures let you get into the play experience quickly. Everything else can come later as it emerges organically from that play experience.

So I hope I gave them the baby step that will prepare them for the quantum leap into other roleplaying games.

It's also getting me more motivated to turn the whole thing into a proper campaign. Now that I've decided to stop overthinking and underthinking, I just need to figure out what the right level of thinking is. Right now, that feels like running modules from my collection and creating a loose continuity and geography around it.

Another issue is figuring out the location. I'm sure I've brought this up my issues with the lack of late night coffee shops in easy reach. Because cost is one of my concerns and my ability to hang out in a space for not much more than the cost of a cup of coffee is very important to me. There's also the local game store, which I am fond of.

It's largely a matter of getting my rear in gear at this point.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

 Not too much to report.

I tried getting in touch with the players from my one-shot, but nobody responded, I've still got the notes for everything, so I could very easily either pick up with those players if they come to the next meetup next week, or just run it again for new players.

I'm trying to keep myself busy by building up a space sector for Stars Without Number. It lets me start with random results that let my analytical brain to do its job since my creative brain doesn't come out too often. While one of the things I love about the OSR is that ability to lean on random results, I've never been a strong fantasy buff. So a sci-fi game that comes with random tools for setting and scenario generation is a great thing. I'd still like to do Star Trek at some point, but SWN and Traveller-style games might be what I get.

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