#RPGADAY: Favorite Licenced RPG

Up until recently I'd been playing a lot of Dungeon World, and while I enjoyed it well enough I didn't enjoy it for the content so much as the Apocalypse World engine; I've seen some of Apocalypse World: Dark Ages, and as a fantasy game it looks so, sooo much better.

That's what really makes it shine: not clerics with a not-as-nonsensical-but-still-nonsense magic system, or wizards with a more Vancian-then-pseudo-Vancian system, or paladins that can by default only be human, or fighters that are for some reason are all really good at bending bars and lifting gates.

Nope, it's really the fact that, thanks to being Powered by the Apocalypse, that you end up with something simple, flexible, pretty functional, easily hackable, and actively encourages collaborative worldbuilding. But, that's not what this post about (though it is what this one's about).

What this post is about, is my favorite, licensed RPG, and the answer might have come as a surprise to some if I hadn't slapped a big-ass image of the 4th Edition Player's Handbook up there, but it is 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

I've been a Dungeons & Dragons fan for over twenty years, but for quite some time now I've fully believed that the only reason I enjoyed previous editions was because I didn't have anything to compare them to, namely other dungeon-crawly-type games.

I mean, when it came to fantasy games my only other option even when 3rd Edition came out was Palladium Fantasy, a game where massively front-loaded characters can take over an hour to roll up due to the massive list of stats, skills, equipment, leveling is pretty damned pointless, and so on.

4th Edition marks the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons that I am continuing to stick with, because despite it's faults (and unlike 5th Edition) it made numerous sweeping improvements to Dungeons & Dragons that if nothing else at least justified buying new books:

  • Unlike 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Edition, characters are flexible. All of them, not just the spellcasters. You get to make a lot of choices at the start (I'd say too many), and get to make a choice every time you level. No settling with what the designers feel that you should have. No picking one thing early on that locks in every other choice down the road. No, you have so much control over where your character goes, even before you factor in multiclassing, backgrounds, themes, hybrid classes, and skill powers.
  • Magical healing is not mandatory (which is also true in most fantasy fiction), though a class with the leader role is helpful. Even better, there are leaders for every power source, so if you want to do a low- no-magic campaign (or all primal, or all magical, all psychic, etc), you can do that right out of the box, with the first Player's Handbook, in fact.
  • Hell, spellcasters in general aren't mandatory (also like most fantasy fiction). You don't need a wizard to pull some instant-win/bypass spell out of her ass (most utility magic are rituals anyway), and in fact not only can anyone use a ritual scroll, anyone can spend a feat to take Ritual Caster and have access to "pay-per-cast" magic.
  • Task resolution is the same across the board: if you do something, make with the fucking dice. Makes much more sense than, "Roll to hit, except if you use magic, sometimes anyway; then the target makes a roll to avoid it, which can still mean they take some damage because arbitrary rules, yo." 
  • Not everything is based on "the day". Yeah, spellcasters still don't make any goddamn sense, but at least you'll never have the issue of the 15-minute workday. This makes it so much easier to better pace adventures, instead of having to grind everything to a halt due to one bad encounter (possibly one bad roll).
  • Bard's don't suck, nor do they require specialized builds to become merely incompetent. Actually, no class really sucks (no, not even vampires).
  • Solo monsters weren't ideal at first, but still better than surrounding a dragon or giant in 3rd Edition and just hitting it until it invariably fell over. They got a much-needed tune up when Monster Manual 3 came out.
  • Same for skill challenges. They were supposed to be a way for everyone to contribute meaningfully to a non-combat challenge, but were fucking horribly showcased at the start. I remember somewhere around Dark Legacy of Evard they started getting good, which unfortunately was years into the game.
  • It is incredibly easy to build complex monsters, even complex encounters, making them precisely as difficult as you want them to be. Plus, everything a monster can do is self-contained: you don't have to reference one or more other books to figure out what it can do.
  • It's also incredibly easy to houserule and re-skin stuff. I mean, there's really no reason why you can't just say fuck it to multiclassing feats, and just let people pick a power from any class of their level or lower. Same goes for letting people pick whatever skills they want, tweaking the math every so slightly to avoid the "necessity" of math feats, changing all wizard spells to encounter-based (and adjusting the damage) to get a "true" Vancian model going on, and just shucking the "mandatory" grid.

In a nutshell the game is much, much more flexible, intuitive, and elegant than the other editions. A few people have recommended 13th Age to me, and while it looks intriguing I haven't actually played it, so I can't say if I would enjoy it more (I will say that I am not a fan of the +1 to stuff per level, though the Escalation Die looks neat).

I fully intend to change that once my workload peters off a bit (still cleaning the new house, Fright Night and Sundered World kickstarters, and some other projects), and we get an internet connection that can actually support a Hangout game.

Until then, 4th Edition remains firmly rooted in first place, followed by FATE and Dungeon World.

#RPGADAY: Will Still Play in 20 Years Time...

So...this one was kind of thought-provoking.

I'm not the kind of person that gets much attached to nostalgia. I know there are people that at least claim to still play the original Super Mario Bros. and OD&D, and though I own "old school" games like Mega Man III and Sonic the Hedgehog, I haven't invested a meaningful amount of time in them since I was a child (and honestly the only reason I replayed them was because I was way out in the country, roughly an hour or so from my friends).

I played Basic D&D until I got 2nd Edition, 2nd until 3rd came out, and 3rd until 4th came out. The only time I even "looked back" was when I tried running a 3rd Edition campaign during my department's lunch break, and that's only because I really, really wanted to finish Age of Worms without having to put a lot of work into converting it (it lasted all of one day before no one wanted to deal with it anymore).

Frankly the last few games that I played to completion more than once was Mass Effect 2 (and that was only because I heard that you could port your save game into Mass Effect 3, which would have been fucking awesome if the game were any good) and I think God of War III. I dunno, I played God of War: Ascension and it all starts to bleed together after a while. Beyond that I might rarely fire something up periodically, play it for about half an hour, and then just turn it off. I know I've tried several times in the past few years to actually beat Legend of Zelda: I end up getting past the first few dungeons before I just stop caring.

This is one of the reasons I don't give two shits about playing 5th Edition (and don't care about Forgotten Realms, or pseudo-Vancian magic, Hit Dice, and other antiquated traditional/classic/whatever rules): I've already played that version of D&D, and to me the "soul" of D&D or whatever isn't any of those things. Also, tastes change: right now I am enjoying cycling through Dungeon World and FATE, with a hankering to get back to Dungeons & Dragons proper and even Gamma World (watching Adventure Time is so not helping).

So, I guess I don't have a concrete answer to the question. The best I can do is to say that in 20 years I'll still be playing fantasy role-playing games (and board games) in some form or other (might be tabletop, might be digital), or at least role-playing games that can have a fantasy setting. I've been doing that for 20 years easily enough, and given that I switch things up quite a bit I see no reason why that would change. I can also say with a fair degree of certainty is that in 20 years I doubt I'll have a "need" to play any of the games I do now.

After all, no game has yet has withstood that test of time: in 20 years I'm sure someone will cobble together something even better.

Hell, that's one of my plans.
August 21, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Favorite Published Adventure

I rarely use published adventures, and when I do it is even rarer for me to run them anywhere close to "as written", because players.

I have however read quite a few in my time: In Search of the Unknown, that one adventure with the crashed space ship, Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, every single goddamn adventure from the Age of Worms, Savage Tide, and Rise of the Runelords adventure paths, all of the official WotC ones for 4th Edition, a bunch from Dungeon (from 2nd to 4th Edition), and more.

Some are okay, but most are pretty forgettable when they aren't terrible (though there are some "memorable" stinkers in the mix), which is just part of why my favorite would have to be H1: Keep on the Shadowfell, aka a shining example that Mike Mearls has no fucking clue what to do with 4th Edition (which would explain his "warlords shouting wounds closed" statement).

To be fair it's not the worst published adventure out there, but between the fucking nonsense plot, confusing motivations of the utterly inept villain (who also left letters on his hired help, and was trying to open a portal to a plane that was in fact not inhabited by the guy he was trying to summon), and seemingly random assortment of monsters it comes pretty damned close. So if it's not the worse, and certainly not the best, why the hell am I choosing it?

Because ironically it is the adventure that I have simultaneously run the most, and put the most work into improving (as well as converting it to 5th Edition and doing a post on running it in Dungeon World). My group was barely able to get through it the first time because of how retarded it was, so after that I started just pulling shit out of my ass and largely make it up on the fly, only keeping the general idea that there were kobolds doing kobold things, and a death cult doing death cult things.

I blogged numerous times about the changes I made, and eventually compiled all of them into a document that changed virtually every aspect about the adventure, from the kobold lair (which featured a young green dragon as the "end boss"), to the ruins of Shadowfell Keep, to the catacombs underneath (which featured a pair of skill challenges to represent exploring the catacombs and trying to seal the gate). When I started converting it to 5th Edition some areas got improved maps, or maps at all, and both Sir Keegan and the ghost of his wife got more meaningful roles.

Call it a frustrating, sometimes disappointing labor of love. Call it something akin to Stockholm Syndrome. The main point is that in the end this terrible, confusing adventure has given me a lot of laughs (at the writing's expense), and eventually after a lot of work even some good times, and that's why it's my favorite.

#RPGADAY: Favorite Game System

I'm going with Powered by the Apocalypse, because even though I haven't actually played Apocalypse World, I have played Dungeon World (and even written a bunch of content for it), and the whole "ask questions, use answers", "draw maps, leave blanks", and front development in general syncs up really well with my low-prep, wing-almost-everything, roll with the players' punches/actions style of running games.

Not only that, but the mechanics behind the system are very simple to learn, and plays quickly, smoothly, and flexibly: you declare what you want to do, and the MC/GM has you "make a move". All moves are handled by rolling 2d6 and adding some other modifier (usually in the -1 to +2 range): a 6 or less is a "miss", a 7-9 is a "weak hit", and a 10 or higher is a "strong hit".

That's it.

Every move tells you what happens on a 7 or higher (though you often make choices in the 7-9 range). For example, in Dungeon World when you Hack and Slash something, you roll+STR. If you get a 7-9 then you deal your damage to the target, and it makes an attack against you. If you get a 10 then good for you: you just deal your damage, though you can opt to deal an extra 1d6 damage if you want to take a hit, anyway. If you miss? Well...

Some moves tell you what happens on a miss, but a lot are left up to the MC/GM to suss out (or tell you what happens, in addition to whatever else the GM tacks on). I love the bit in Apocalypse World where it tells you to tell the players "on a miss, I'll tell you what happens", and then follows up with "...and I promise you won't like it". This is not only great for flexible outcomes, but also adds an element of uncertainty (especially since, as Dan will tell you, not all GM's dish out hard moves equally).

For example if you are trying to hack away at an ogre and roll a miss, you might just take damage, get your weapon knocked away, or have your shield smashed to bits. It might even be a combination of those, or the GM might make you choose between losing some hit points or losing your shield. You could also get a broken arm. Adventuring is unpredictably dangerous.

I dig how classes/playbooks are setup, especially coming away from the whole 5th Edition "playtest". They're collections of thematic moves to be sure, but they all fit on a single double-sided sheet of paper. Whatever you want to play, you grab a sheet, check some boxes, and you're good to go. When you level up, check a new move, and that's it: it's fast and allows for a good deal of customization since there are "officially" only 10 levels in the game, but about twice as many moves to choose from.

Thanks to Powered by the Apocalypse that's actually in a nutshell how I would describe Dungeon World: it not only does what I think 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons wanted to do, but it does it better, simple, and faster: game prep and character generation is a snap, there is an incentive to play in character and build backstory between other characters, and since not everything is explicitly spelled out you get a more "old-school" vibe, just without all the kludgy legacy mechanics (even the pseudo-Vancian magic isn't so pseudo!).

Dungeon World: Spider Playbook

For better or worse, the spider playbook is now for sale on Drivethrurpg.

It does everything a spider can: spin webs of any size, crawl on walls, and even inject debilitating venom or digestive juices into creatures, so that you can slurp up their tasty, liquefied innards that you do so crave.

Of course the advanced moves open up a variety of other terrifying options, like dropping in on unsuspecting prey, blinding opponents with your bristles, causing your venom to inflict excruciating pain, or closing the gap between you and the poor bastard that assumed they could just outrun you.

Though Melissa and I have a strange tendency to write monstrous playbooks, this one goes a step (or several) further and allows you to play something that's not even remotely humanoid in shape.

Size is another matter, because it's not like spiders are already horrific at their "normal" size: the default assumption is that you're somewhere between halfling and human-sized, plus you can talk, allowing you to whisper sinister nothings into the ear of a creature as it struggles to escape. I guess you also have more than enough legs to gently stroke its cheek, if that's your thing.

So, yeah, use it to threaten your GM with a new character, or to just keep the rest of the party from making camp. Unless you're one of "those" people that actually likes spiders, then have fun tormenting man and monster alike.

What's Next?
Melissa is having a blast writing playbooks (even when they pertain to nightmarish creatures that should not see the light of day), so with this one out of the way what would you want her to do next? What do you feel is missing from your Dungeon World roster, or what do you think she could do better?

Leave a comment here, or hit her up on G+.
August 17, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Game You Wish You Owned

Since it isn't explicit as to whether the game must exist, and given that there isn't any game currently out there that I wish I owned (otherwise I would own it), I'm going to talk about a game that I wish existed, just so I could briefly wish about owning it before just plunking down however many dollars necessary to get it.

That game would be...an actually decent successor to 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

4th Edition has it's problems. No, I'm not talking about the trollshit, uninformed, arbitrary claims of class "samey-ness", superheroic characters, "magical" fighters, video game button mashing, the "always perfectly balanced so that the characters can win without being killed or even really challenged" encounters, or all that other crap that was disproved over six years ago.

I'm talking legitimate problems, like how combat can take too long to setup and get through (especially the "trash fights"), characters can accumulate too many things to keep track of, the default power structure is not ideal for conveying/evoking the fiction/narrative behind each class, some class concepts are pointlessly rooted in the past (like bards and clerics), pseudo-Vancian magic is a thing, the +1 bonus every two levels is fucking pointless, skill challenges need some refinement, and so on.

Yeah, a lot of those things can be easily houseruled away (in particular the hit points, half-level bonus, and combat setup), but some of the other stuff (power structure and accumulation) would take a lot more work, especially if you wanted to get it right, and that's what I was hoping to see out of 5th Edition. Not a pointless regression to the past for it's own sake, but a game that took 4th Edition, stripped out the bad shit, and continued to innovate and evolve the game.

Which of course is not what we got. We got something "classic". Something that stuck to the traditions of editions past, good or bad (I mean they shoehorned in Hit Dice for fucks sake). Something that was familiar in all the bad ways. Something that was different enough—but not so different as to scare away the traditionalists and grognards, mind you—to get you to buy all new books for a game that you basically already own.

Me? I can tack on a botched "roll two dice and keep the best/worst" system and houserule in a shallow implementation of FATE's aspects (we actually gave that a shot during our 4th Edition run of Sundered World). I don't need to pay a company with two teams of "designers" over a hundred bucks for the privilege of playing with some antiquated rules from a previous edition that I already paid them for, even if they did dress it up with new art.
August 16, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Document Update

And here's this week's Sundered World update.

Still busy cleaning the new place up, moving stuff around, and prepping Fright Night, but I did manage to add some more content to Living in a Sundered World and Adventuring in a Sundered World at the request of Shadi and Eric. I also some stuff to equipment and tweaked others, and started working on the nomad class.

I think the big thing now is to flesh out the example steadings, but as always, check it out and let me know everything: what you like, what you hate, suggestions, questions, clarifications, whatever crosses your mind while reading it.

You can post in the comments here, directly on the pdf, hit me up on G+ (the Sundered World community is probably the best place), or even fire off an email to antiochcow@gmail.com. Just don't be shy, and don't pull any punches: constructive criticism can only make this thing better.

Finally, if you want to feel free to take the setting for a spin. I'd love to hear what people do with it (plus it might help pinpoint or point out any issues).

Daily d100 Sale
Up until the 17th, Melissa and I are running a daily sale in which we roll a percentile and reduce everything by whatever the result is. I just gave it a roll and got 30, so up until tomorrow at some point all of our pdfs are 30% off.

#RPGADAY: Most Memorable Character Death

Given that so I rarely get to actually play in a game—our recently completed Dungeon World campaign a refreshing exception—it took me a good while to remember a time during which I both played and played long enough for my character to get him- or herself in a potentially deadly situation.

I mentioned in my Rifts RPG-A-Day post that something that happened with a fair degree of regularity "back in my day" was that we were often subjected to spur of the moment, horrible, thankfully short-lived gaming sessions.

They didn't all end up this way, but most did. This is why when I was at a friend's house and he said that someone was coming over to run us some Dungeons & Dragons, in lieu of creativity I just copied one of the main characters from Battlechasers, because I was reading it at the time you see.

Fortunately 2nd Edition was one of "those" editions where the fighter was for no reason relegated to the role of "training wheels class", which when coupled with the most unnecessarily boring race (at the time) made character generation a snap and, more importantly prevented any appreciable emotional attachment from forming.

I don't know what happened: maybe it was legitimately good, or maybe it was because my expectations were set to a level that I would later identify as Michael Baylian, but the campaign was the best I'd ever played in during my time in the 2nd Edition era. But wait, this isn't "The Most Unexpectantly Awesome Campaign", this is "Most Memorable Character Death"! Where's that sweet, blissful release?

Whelp, a couple levels into the campaign we're fighting goblins for some reason, somewhere. I forget the exact circumstances that lead up to me getting separated from everyone else, but—only recently being educated about a rule in which a fighter can make attacks against many smaller foes on the same turn—there I was, all by my lonesome, trying to hew my way through a horde of goblins.

I end getting a fatal ratio of flesh-to-arrow body composition, stripped of all my gear, and dumped down a shaft into a pile of goblin shit, which by itself is neither memorable nor dignified. No, what made it memorable was that the Dungeon Master decided to make some kind of divine intervention roll on my behalf. I forget why, but I know at the time I didn't care because I was actually enjoying this game and looking forward to coming back as something marginally more interesting than a fucking fighter.

Apparently he ended up rolling whatever it is he needed to roll (we didn't get to see the die result, and I suspect that he just wanted me to keep playing the same character), because my soul was returned and I woke up in the goblin shit.

So I run through the dungeon, still covered in shit, until I manage to somehow find the rest of the gang, still fighting goblins, one of which is trying his best to wear my armor. I figure that I must be immortal, or maybe it was magical shit ("old school" D&D was a helluva drug), so I pick up the one with my armor and use him as a makeshift flail. Once I'd finished bashing in the rest of the goblins I got the rest of my stuff back, and that's how the rest of that session went: me, wearing armor covered in goblin shit and bits.

I remember dying several other times for various reasons, always coming back due to the divine intervention roll, up until we made it to the point where the cleric could just raise dead, which was ironically the point where I stopped randomly dying.

#RPGADAY: Old RPG You Still Play/Read

Is six years old enough? I am guessing the intended answer is supposed to be something like 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, Rifts, or something even more esoteric, but honestly the only role-playing games I regularly bother with nowadays are 4th Edition Dungeons & DragonsDungeon World, or FATE.

I've already talked about this one recently, but since one of my future projects is a 4th Edition hack something I would be interested in knowing is what you love and hate about it, as well as what you wished 5th Edition would have done.

I'm sure someone will swing by and parrot out a bunch of misinformed circa 2008 trollshit about video games, board games, MMOs, "I win buttons", and the like, but I'd still be nice to hear some constructive criticisms.

August 12, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Weirdest RPG Owned

Two words: Gamma World.

The setting of Gamma World is more or less Earth, just 150 years after the Large Hadron Collider goes south and mashes a bunch of timelines together (kind of like how in Sundered World shit hits the fan and all of the planes get mashed into one reality).

What makes this game weirder than others I have played largely boils down to the characters: you randomly roll for a pair of origins out of twenty. The Legion of Gold and Famine in Far-Go expansions add more (as well as new monsters, and rules for feats and cryptic alliances), but just with the main box you can end up as a radioactive cockroach, swarm of birds, a fire-flinging cat, a mind-controlling plant, and so much more.

There was also a deck of cards for drawing random powers called Alpha Mutations. My games are still packed up, but I was able to find a few card effects online just to give you an idea of what to expect: you can learn information from a corpse, cause your body to explode (and you remain exploded until you make a save), or grow a second head. I recall one mutation causing your feet to get really big, and the book mentions growing feelers that let you see in the dark.

Now these powers were always temporary: you drew one when you made your character, and replaced it every time you completed an encounter or rolled a natural 1 (alpha flux). As you got higher level you could stock more mutations, but since you swapped out the ones you didn't use there was no real incentive to hang on to them for very long.

There are also some weird monsters, but honestly I've played most editions of Dungeons & Dragons so only a handful really stand out to me: gun-toting, telekinetic raccoons, humanoid rabbits that can turn nonliving materials into rubber, and a bat-winged, lion-thing that has laser eyes and eats clothes.

The game itself is very simple, largely being based on 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons mechanics, except that it only goes up to 10th-level, you get +1 to lots of things based on your level, everything is based on the encounter (I recall you full-healing, too), you randomly roll your non-key stats, and weapons and armor are based on whether they are light or heavy, and how many hands you need to use it.

If you're a fan of d20 games, post-apocalyptic settings, and don't mind weird shit I'd recommend snagging it.

Dungeon World: Like Shooting Trolls in a...Narrow Tunnel

Cast
  • Augustine (5th-level human paladin)
  • Jaya (6th-level human bard)
  • Mouse (6th-level gnome thief)

With Mark and Shorna finally vanquished, it was time to pick through their belongings and see what was worth keeping.

Mark's sword was obviously magical, capable of slicing through and absorbing magical energy. The wielder could expend the stored energy, allowing it to perform feats like slicing someone open from a distance. There was also a chest filled with coins, gems, and a black cloak that seemed to absorb light. Finally, the circlet Shorna had been wearing allowed the wearer to perceive any location that they had previously seen before.

Jaya donned the circlet and thought of Hell's Arch. Her vision started at the city walls before sweeping down to the land below. It revealed the vast host of the Autumn Monarch: elves, duskies, pegasus stables, and a number of swamp and canyon trolls. One of the canyon trolls was hefting Mardral's hammer, which meant that either they had taken it from Madra, or she had thrown her lot in with them. Either way that was bad news for the city's fortifications.

The vision eventually settled upon the Autumn Monarch himself, seated upon an ornate wooden throne within a grand pavilion. A very familiar elven woman approached him, and when he prompted her for a report she responded that Fiona's "little pets" had gone into the Deeps to rescue the prisoners, but as of yet had not returned. He mused about how difficult it would be to further justify an attack if the prisoners survived the rescue, and instructed her to tell the spy to at the least ensure the dusky king's death.

Apparently they were intending to wage war regardless, and unfortunately the specific prisoner he wanted dead had already been taken care of. Jaya told them what she had seen and heard, but as they prepared to leave there was a loud clunk, followed by both of the glowing orbs winking out. Before anyone could light a torch, rumbling grunts and footsteps thundering beneath and—thankfully—past them, towards the general direction of the exit.

Trolls, and by the sounds of it there were a lot of them.

To make matters worse Mouse recalled that only the outermost gate to the Deeps was still closed. They were not sure how many trolls were on their way or how long the gate would hold, but if they hurried it was possible that they could beat them to the balcony, seal the gates, and make it outside to warn the soldiers before they were able to smash their way through.

They used a rope to descend into the basin—lowering the dire wolf using a makeshift harness—and a wide ramp provided both an easy and more dignified way out. The dire wolf could smell the path the trolls had taken: they were fortunately too large to take the upper corridors, but unfortunately so was the pegasus. Since Jaya did not want to abandon the pegasus, Augustine and Mouse would try and beat the trolls to the gate controls, while she followed from a safe distance with everyone else.

It did not take long for Augustine and Mouse to catch up to the trolls. Sure, their legs were much longer, but they were very stupid and by the time they caught up they were more than a little amused that trolls were trapped in the highly flammable slime room. Augustine picked up his pace, gaining a considerable lead on Mouse, which was why he did not notice when someone snatched Mouse up and hurled him over the balcony.

With Augustine long gone Mouse had no light by which he could see anything. Since he was able to easily get to his feet and stay on them, he could only assume that unlike the trolls he was standing in a spot without any slime.

Highly flammable slime.

He lit a torch and gave it a toss.

The room was engulfed in a fiery inferno, allowing Mouse to see the trolls and—more immediately relevant—a way out. He dashed between, under, and even over some of them, tossing food as he went in case they had a keen sense of smell, hoping that the burning meat would mask his presence. With all of the slime destroyed by the fire and the trolls—unaccustomed to injury that they could not easily recover from—momentarily writhing in agony, he was easily able to out distance them and catch up with Augustine at the lever balcony.

Augustine sealed the gate, but was a bit dismayed when the trolls arrived and pushed the button: he had not planned on trolls being smart enough to figure that bit out.

As the door began to rise Mouse stabbed the lead troll in the foot, driving his sword through the troll's heart when it stopped down to investigate whoever it was that had stabbed it. It crumbled into a pile of rock, and Augustine again pulled the lever to seal the gate. Before it could slam closed one of the trolls caught it, and with the help of a few other trolls they were able to lift it and jam it in place with rubble-formerly-known-as-troll.

A pair of trolls lumbered across the room in an attempt to activate the other gate. Augustine was too large to fit through the murder holes without first doffing his armor, so Mouse hopped down and planted his sword in it's skull. As it crumbled apart the other one turned its attention towards him and gave chase. Hoping to destroy the door mechanism, Mouse taunted it in front of the button, diving out of the way as the troll struck. Unfortunately, while the button was certainly pulverized, it was also stuck in the "open" state.

Since several other trolls were trying to barge their way in, Mouse nicked the troll with a dagger he had poisoned with goldenroot. With the troll now on their side and Augustine striking from above using his halberd, they were able to force the others back through the door and seal it. Augustine noticed that there were four levers, but only two doors: he tried one of the others and heard the grinding of stone on stone. It was not until he heard the frustrated roars of the trolls that he realized what it did.

He had locked it, keeping the trolls at bay for now.

They were considering their options when the outer gate opened and a squad of soldiers filed in. Augustine explained everything: the troll invasion, the Autumn Monarch's treachery, and the inexplicably friendly troll. He further elaborated that Jaya and the prisoners were trapped inside the Deeps: the pegasus—one of the fey prisoners—was too large to squeeze through the upper passages, so they would have to clear a path through the trolls if they were to escape.

Given that Mouse had wounded all of them already, they decided to try a pincer movement. Augustine and Mouse backtracked into the Deeps with roughly half the soldiers, found Jaya and the others, and returned to the gate. The trolls were still busy hammering at it, which made it easy to sneak up on them. They sent one of the soldiers around to alert the rest, and as the gate opened both sides attacked.

By the time the last troll had fallen there were only a handful of wounded—Augustine, Jaya, and Mouse among them—and a few deaths. As they tended to the wounded and gathered the dead a messenger arrived: Fiona had been summoned to the valley below to confer with the Autumn Monarch and other fey ambassadors.

What will happen next? Will the Autumn Monarch assassinate Fiona? Will Jaya try to concoct a plan to fool everyone into thinking that the dusky king is still alive, using a plan unknowingly based on a dark comedy from the late 80's? Will Mouse finally learn to hold his tongue, or will he end up with someone else's?

Stay tuned for the grand finale of Dan's totally fucking awesome Dungeon World campaign!

Behind the Scenes
It was nice that Dan allowed Ben to just outright kill the troll that was not paying attention to him at all. This was something that I wished I had done way back when I ran Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, instead of forcing the party to hack down every. Single. Goddamned. Zombie. Frankly I would love to run that adventure again: I think I am a lot wiser now, and that it would go sooo much more smoothly.

Similarly, we didn't play through the entire fight against the trolls at the end. We simply explained the plan, rolled, and were allowed to choose whether us or the NPCs took the brunt of the attack. Of course we agreed to it: we're adventurers, we can totally take that shit.

He also started tallying up hard moves, spending them down the road if he could not think of something to do right away. I forgot who he said also did this, or with what system, but it's an interesting idea and I might give it a shot in the future.

A Sundered World Announcement
I've been posting weekly document updates both here and on the community. I feel that this kind of transparency is very useful in gathering feedback before trying to charge money for something, as well as ensuring that you know what you are paying for (and whether you think it is even worth it).

Something else I have been asking for is what you would want to see in the next packet release. It is nearing completion, though there are still blanks to fill, but if there is something I have overlooked, needs clarification, or whatnot lemme know in the comments here, in the community, or even a private post on G+.
August 11, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Favorite Tie-in Novel/Game Fiction

I suppose The Dresden Files would count (especially once you get a few books in), what with there being a Dresden Files role-playing game and all, but I thought I'd go with something a bit more...unusual.

You're probably aware of the latest edition of Gamma World: it was like a lighter version of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, except that you had a bonus to most of your shit based on your level, you randomly rolled two traits and mashed 'em together to get a character, and there were card draws to determine what weird-ass power you would have access to.

What you might not be aware of are the pair of novels that used the property: Sooner Dead and Red Sails in the Fallout. Even if you are I'm willing to bet you haven't read them, but I did some three years ago and while I recall Sooner Dead being basically okay (maybe a bit more on the meh side), I seemed to dig Red Sails in the Fallout based on a brief review I wrote about it:

"My judgement might be skewed in light of having just come away from Under the Crimson Sun, but I found this heartwarming tale of two anthropomorphic female animals literally playing grab-ass across the desert—along with a swarm of insects, racist human, and carnivorous plant—to be a pretty entertaining read that plays out very much like an adventure arc might.

The characters were enjoyable (especially Shaani), the pop culture references were not too tiresome (except perhaps for Wigwig's lolcat speak, but your mileage might vary), and the pacing flowed well up until the end, after which it felt kind of rushed; you never found out what happened to Watering Hole, but presumably they made out alright, how the Plodder's dealt with having their wombats exploded, and for better or worse Xoota and Shaani never got past the "playful-spanking" phase.

I found it to be a good deal better than Sooner Dead, so if you liked that I would give this a read, too."

I remember Under the Crimson Sun being so bad I couldn't finish it, which I guess was marginally better than most of the other D&D "novels" at the time. Yeah, coming away from a lengthy series of huge disappointments might have skewed my opinion, but I think I also might have enjoyed this because it took something as crazy as Gamma World and owned it, alpha fluxes and all.

It really felt like someone played the game and made a coherent story out of it, and goddamn it now I want to give it a proper go.
August 10, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Favorite Character

Unlike the last few RPG-a-Day posts this one is a no brainer:

Mouse.

When it comes to role-playing I rarely get to play, and when I do the games tend to be short-lived. Like, 1-3 sessions short-lived. This can make it difficult to get invested in a character (and even a story) when you barely get to know them, and I can only really think of one other campaign that lasted both for a meaningful length of time and I played a character I gave two shits about but, no! That is a post for another time.

I started playing Mouse when Dan got in touch with me many weeks ago due to some random G+ circling, and somehow wrangled him into coming over and running a game of Dungeon World. We were all really impressed with his GMing skills—in particular how he constantly provided ways for me to get in trouble, and humored my strange, bat-shit crazy ideas—and he just kept coming back for some reason.

Mouse is the second rogue-type character that I have had a proper go with, the first being a minotaur brute scoundrel rogue from a short-lived Dungeons & Dragons campaign...but, also no, that is yet another post for yet another time. Ben went with a paladin and Melissa with bard, so with the hitting and healing roles covered I figured that playing something besides a fighter or wizard might be good for a laugh, and I was right: Mouse has given all of us a lot of laughs, and I'll honestly miss playing him now that the campaign has ended (still writing those last two play reports: moving can be a bitch).

That's not something I can say about most of the characters I've made.
August 08, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Fright Night: Climax Change

I'm still waiting on the artist to finish up a sample piece before we start the Kickstarter; it's going to be the main image, so I want something neat for everyone to look at. In the meantime we've been...debating whether or not to change how the Climax Pool is treated, so getting as many perspectives, opinions, and suggestions would be very helpful.

First things first, you can get the most current version of the rules by clicking here.

I should note that I had not planned on anyone seeing this yet, and Melissa and I are in the process of packing for our big move, so there are some mistakes and spots that I have not finished writing/editing (especially since we did the whole Climax Pool change a week or two ago).

Next up, some terminology:

  • scene is a block of gameplay in which a main character is in the spotlight. The events rolled on the Action/Plot tables primarily occur to them. So, if you rolled a Monster Attack, then they are the ones that get targeted. If you roll Body Found, then they are the ones that find the body.
  • An act is a complete rotation of scenes. Once every main character has had a scene, you wrap up the act.

The Old Method
It used to be that at the end of an act you'd make a climax roll, which was 2d6 + the number of completed acts + the number of information and object rolls. If you got a 13 or higher, the game then shifted to the Showdown, where the monster tried to complete whatever it is that it is trying to do. It is here that the players have a chance to fight it, fend it off, flee from it, etc.

So if you completed an act you'd roll 2d6 + 1, if you completed two acts, you'd roll 2d6 + 2, and if you completed three acts and rolled information you'd roll 2d6 + 4.

The downside was that regardless of the number of players, it was possible for the game to only last one act (you have a 1 in 36 chance of rolling double 6's). Regular commentator Kinak proposed a change that operated more inline with the rest of the rules of the game, where you roll d6's for start checks, with each 5-6 being treated as a success. This is what brought us to...

The Current Method
The climax roll was scrapped in favor of a Climax Pool, which starts with 0 dice. As you go through scenes it can be increased by certain results on the Plot/Action tables (currently Omen, Information, or Object). In addition once the act wraps you add 1d6 for each surviving main character. Once you have your Climax Pool all tallied up, you roll all the dice and mark each success (ie, a dice that comes up 5 or 6). Once you roll 13 successes the game transitions to the Showdown/End Phase.

This has the added benefit of preventing the game from lasting just one act, while reducing the number of acts required as you add in more players: 2 players takes about 4-5 acts (more likely to take 5), 3 players takes 3-4 acts (more likely to take 4), and 4 players takes 3-4 acts (very likely to take 3). This works out since the number of scenes to an act increases with each player.

Another upside is tension. The players have no idea how many successes you've rolled, and in some cases might not even be aware that you've rolled an Omen (and conversely, if they find something might not be aware if it was due to an Information/Object roll). In a two or three player game they can assume they're safe for the first few acts, but after that it's anyone's guess.

The only downside mentioned could be the number of dice. The Climax Pool never diminishes or resets, so eventually you can be rolling 18+ dice. Personally I have no problem with this, but then I've played games like Shadowrun, WEG Star Wars, Dragonball Z, Warhammer/Warhammer 40,000, and various games by White Wolf (including Exalted).

DAVID'S NOTE: Something I considered would be to make it so that each actor has their own dice pool that they roll at the conclusion of a scene. It could scale up by 1 each time, or increase if you fail but really want something.

Maybe each player has a pool of dice that they can give the Director to auto-pass something? This would make the game end faster, and there isn't really a penalty or drawback for doing this, so I'm not entirely sold on it: I would prefer that it does something detrimental down the road.

Maybe with each additional act and/or retry the monster grows in strength? This could mean bonus damage (temporary or static), the ability to impose a complication, or even just gaining more hit points. I guess in that case you would have the Director remove a die from the pool.

Another idea was to scale the number of successes to better control the duration of the game. We went with 13 for obvious reasons, but I could see a "short film" duration having it be set to 9, 7, 5, etc. Maybe even a series of shorts (like Trick 'r Treat), where each set of 3 or 6 shifts the game to another perspective.

Suggested Change
The game starts with a pool of dice, say 10. After each scene, the player whose scene it was rolls all the dice in the pool. Successes are set aside, and the remaining dice are passed to the next player to roll at the conclusion of their scene. This continues until the last die is successfully rolled; this hearkens the climax. The monster, when he comes out to play, will target this player first.

This method brings the players into the action. Having them roll would make them feel the impending doom of the climax, especially when it comes down to the last few dice and everyone is hoping they have dice to pass on. This method also avoids the need to have an ever-increasing number of dice; the pool has a set limit. For this method, I would suggest a success being a 6. The odds mean a longer game than if it were a 5+.

DAVID'S NOTE: My personal opinion is that I would not feel any tension with this method, because I--along with everyone else--can clearly see the clock ticking down. I know that with ten dice there is basically no way for me to be the one triggering the climax. In fact, with even three dice I know I am very unlikely to trigger it.

Even if I do, as long as I have 2-3 points in my main stats for blocking/dodging, why would I worry? The average damage output is 3.5, and with 2-3 points I am probably going to reduce it by at least 1, so really I would only be worried if most of my stats had already been reduced to 0-1 before I rolled the die.

Another issue is that if I can see the clock ticking down, as it gets lower I would probably start gathering everyone in one spot with weapons and such for a final confrontation. The only other option is to feign surprise and try to deliberately role-play my ignorance that a monster is about to attack.

#RPGADAY: Most "Intellectual" RPG Owned

I'm not sure what is meant by "intellectual", so I guess I'll interpret it to mean "the most complicated", which I guess in my case would mean Shadowrun.

I'm going to specify 5th Edition as that's the only one that I own right now, but frankly I remember them all being pretty complex, just not so complex that most of my group wouldn't even get through character generation before throwing their hands up and saying fuck this, let's do something else.

Maybe it's because we generally play 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons or Dungeon World, but I had to comb through the book multiple times to make sure that I had all my shit down. All told I must have spent several hours completing my first character, and I am not sure I filled in all the blanks or even filled them in correctly.

I remember it starts out talking about how the game works (general mechanical stuff), before getting into attributes, skills, magic, and gear. Except it only glosses over those things at first (which caused a lot of back and forth between the table of contents), and once you get past that you go through character generation for reals: assigning priorities to determine what metatypes you could choose from (including a strange side bonus listed in parenthesis), how many attribute points you could spend, how many skill points you could spend, how many skill points you could spend on group skills, etc.

After you spend all of your points you can then spend Karma to buy various qualities (and also flaws), which reminds me of feats from Dungeons & Dragons. Eventually you get to buy gear, which is not only explained waaay later but has a legality rating (how hard it is to get...or maybe it determines whether it's available at all?) and often a quality rating. There was also something about having an ID card (or SIN?), but I'm a bit fuzzy on the details at this point.

I'm sure once you get the hang of it and get the ball rolling this game is a lot of fun. For me it is another one of those games that I have yet to play, but am not really bummed about because I can't help but think I could get nearly the exact same tone and feel, just with a much sleeker, faster system.

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