Against the Mindflayer

Nine times out of ten I run published adventures. Always have. I rarely write up my own stuff, usually for one of two reasons. First, can’t think of a compelling premise. Or second, get lost in the long grass with overdeveloping it. Recently my weekly group hit a blank spot in the schedule so I had to pull together a game at short notice. I successfully fought the urge to go through my library, and instead got a blank sheet of paper out and started scribbling.

Classic opening; the PCs have been taken prisoner and are all suffering from amnesia. I liked the idea of an Mindflayer giving it the big monologue to the parties prone and semi conscious forms. That way they go tot see the villain before the final conflict with him. I said they had all been high level adventurers at one point, and this MF was their nemesis. Now he had captured them and essentially level drained them all the way back to 3. That gave me a campaign frame, and loads of design room for emergent memories and future plots that rely on a past.

The rest followed that basic idea. I made the dungeon an inverted ziggurat, and had it fly, though that part wouldn’t be revealed until later. I bullet pointed up a few rooms in the place (lab, kitchen, barracks, bridge, temple etc) and then dropped in a few events that would happened propel things forward. These were my fave bits. A delegation from the halfling settlement below, begging for mercy from the aerial threat. An ambassador from the Xarth Autocracy, a Beholder, come for dinner and nefarious planning. An assault by Pegasus riding paladins, devoured by a massive mutant cloaker. Clues to all these were scattered about, or visible as plot reveals in down time.

And it’s all gone swimmingly so far. I feel released from having to ‘get it right’. I can improv details and jot down notes as I go. I can react, steer or just hang on. And it’s fun to imagine things from nothing.

Should have done this years ago.


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Gone Fishin

I had some highs and lows painting these. It had been a long time since I’d seriously picked up a brush. Lighting remains a beast! What looks ok under a lamp seems like potato printing in sunlight. Still, I’m not looking to win any awards, just have some nice gaming minis. Which these are. 

Playing later tonight with Mat and Steve who are both infinitely better painters than I. 

Next up, some more Fishermen, another five. That will be enough for a full team with some choices. Then, the Union!

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Skin in the Game

White undercoat. That’s not something I’ve used in a very long time. We always went with black at GW. It’s forgiving, and quick. Trouble is, my eyes can’t pick out the detail on black so well these days. Plus, I watched a cool video here from GW  where the painter worked up a cool skin effect on white. So I went for it. 

So far so good! The paint is behaving itself well, and by thinning it out a bit it’s diving for the edges on its own. Two thin coats works best, and I’m only doing a few models so it doesn’t take long. 

It’s kind of like colouring in, which is big business these days! I’ve gotten back into the swing reasonably well so it’s moved from frustrating to relaxing

Another first for me, sanding the base before priming. I’m using the PVA mix to help secure the metal mini in the base along with the superglue. Speaking of which, my local Hobbycraft is getting my cash, because it’s five times cheaper than GW. Not even sorry. 

Next up: colours!

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The Sole Reason I Picked Up GB…


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Nothing like riding a bicycle

Painting minis. Once a huge passion, and a way of paying the rent when I worked at GW. In the intervening decade or so, I’ve rarely picked up a brush. Got into Warmachine early on and took a Cygnar force to tournament level, but apart from that, I’ve just watched from a distance. 

Just occasionally I get the urge to start over, and this time the bug has bitten hard. I’m astonished how far the minis hobby has come! The choice is staggering. 3D printing tech, and CAD availability has democratised the industry. And of course the internet has made sharing and learning trivially easy. 

But none of that helps me get over the fact that my skills have rusted over badly! My eyes aren’t what they were and I simply can’t see what I used to, even with specs. Brushes feel awkward. My wallet winces at having to pay civilian prices for plastic and metal. Warhammer is dead. Seriously, I’ve become one of those old bodgers who wonders where his hobby went while he wasn’t looking!

But, there’s good things to be found. My new beau is Guild Ball from Streamforged

I never had much love for Bloodbowl. I was a bit po-faced about it. Still am. But Guild Ball is more in line with my preferences. Half a dozen models (and they’re lovely!), a flat green pitch, and a free to download rules set. Sorted!

(It helps that one of the head honchos at Steamforged is in my weekly RPG group)

I’m now elbow deep in Fishermans Guild kit, and shaky YouTube tutorials. 

It’s great. I love it. I have an otter. 

I think I’ll put pics up as I go. It will be interesting to log my progress. 

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Fear of the Die

Are some games afraid of their own mechanics?

When you come from a d20 grounding, you get used to the sound of clattering plastic. It’s part of the game. If you’re in initiative mode then the dice hit the table every minute, at the very least. I appreciate that the frequency can knock the immersion out of the situation at times, but that’s the price you pay for granularity in the engine. 

Other games seem to come from a stand point of (and I’m putting words in many games text here) “here’s how the dice roll changes the outcome. It’s probably quite significant, and needs the table to buy into the interpretation” So fewer rolls, bigger impact. Sometimes these negotiations boot me out of my head space too, so neither end of this continuum is necessarily about immersion 

I’m reading the new edition of 7th Sea and seeing this latter way again and again. Making a roll in 7th Sea seems to be a big deal. I mean every game says only roll when it matters, but here, making the roll itself is what makes it matter (still with me?)

It’s a similar deal to Fate and PbtA games. Once the dice hit the table, the move is only just beginning, and the consequences are Fighting Fantasy-esque as you turn to a completely different numbered paragraph. No keeping your thumb in the page with the decision point. 

As I read these rules, I’m excited. Drama! Dilemmas! Narrative! Decisions! But when I actually run these games… I get story fatigue quite easily. A binary hit/miss roll takes little processing power. A villain/revenge/amour/reversal plot pile takes more. 

The answer is to take the advice as a hard rule. Only roll when it matters. Really matters. 

Which means, practically, games need to have more narrative punch, or need to use the rolls way less than they would in a dungeon-normal setting. Or, both. 

Interestingly, 7th Sea calls their rolls Risks. And that’s just the right word. The game changes when you take one. If your table is risk averse, then you’d be right to be afraid of the game. 

Which leads me to believe that modern designers and GMs would more likely be the instigators if they were playing. And they’ve brought that sensibility to the rules. But that’s not the only way to play. I’ve seen players bounce off these newer sensibilities, and I think it’s because of fear. Fear of having to become a GM for a minute. 

Which is reasonable. 

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Basic Complications

As part of my research into my own fantasy heartbreaker, and because why not? I brought the Moldvay basic book on hols. Me and my son Danny sat down and rolled up characters. Then he sketched out a quick dungeon and we stocked it as we went. 

It’s all harder than I remember. 

Rolling stats was cool, as was having your choices largely made for you. It did mean copying down text onto sheets with only a vague idea of what it meant at the time (well, I knew, but Danny is fresh to all this and it took some explaining). 

Picking equipment was ok, but took a while and as my fighter tooled badly for cash there were only a few options (would rations matter? Iron or regular?)

Having a magic user with a single magic missile and 3 Hp isn’t romantic. It sucks. Danny wasn’t expecting to be so fragile, or to be able to only do one cool thing the whole game. I remember thinking the same back in 1980 to be honest. 

We rolled room contents as we went and swiftly encountered some skeletons. As there were only two PCs I adjusted the numbers down to 2 skellies. Dan’s wizard but the dust in one round. 

We decided to play on. Met a trader. Had some interaction with ourselves. Got a Potion of ESP from him. Dan asked what happened if you just had a sip. Good question. Then an Orc. Rolled some treasure. 

At this point Dan was really interested in having his own ideas in the dungeon. Like a skeleton key, a secret door in a bookcase and an illusory treasure hoard. It beat the random rolls hands down. 

And that’s the point. The Basic system is all over the place. It makes it look like its full of little processes and flow charts that unroll the gaming session before you. But it’s all odd and clunky. It makes you want to think up cooler things on the fly. So you do. It really needs a DM (unsurprisingly) to plan out all the stuff and to mitigate the fragility and randomness of the game. 

Which is all fine. In the intervening years all those challenges have been solved in various ways. It’s just a matter of picking. What I want to keep is the idea of generating adventure by procedures. Basic offers the idea, if not the implementation. 

Danny had a good time in spite of all the potentially dull outcomes. That’s because we played with our imaginations. Which is the whole point. 

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My new fantasy RPG

I’m making my own RPG. Not the first I’ve done, but this one is specifically for me. The idea came from pulling together a few threads that I usually pull at one at a time with my hobby, but I want to weave them together to make a cool gaming 50′ rope. (And hopefully I’ll use better metaphors in my book too)

My current Blueprint looks like this:

Old school vibe

My all time fave book is the Moldvay red book for Basic D&D. It’s not exactly my favorite game, but the format and the clarity are hard to beat even thirty years on. Even adding in the Cook/Marsh Expert book only brings the entire game to 128 pages. Compare and contrast with my favorite iteration of new OSR, which is Dungeon Crawl Classics. Love that game, love that book, but it’s literally unwieldy. 

Rules wise I’m looking for rules that support dungeoneering, class and level, combat and exploration shenanigans. Quick to create, full of content. 

Modern game tech

But all this with up to date mechanics. It won’t be a finely balanced core system or anything so sterile, but it will smooth off some of the original splinters in the game. Stuff like alignment, encumbrance, Vancian Magic. 

Pick up and play

It hit me quite recently that although I have an extensive RPG library, I couldn’t run or play any (most) of it with just a couple of hours notice. I’d either need to do characters, or prep an adventure, or even just reread the rules.  I miss rolling up a character, and want to include rolling up an adventure into my game. It’s not so much about being Basic, it’s more about speed to play. 

Hack and Slash

I’m getting all this by judiciously cut and pasting from my favorite SRDs. Expect a chassis based on 13th Ages Archmage engine, a smear of DCC attitude and extras, and a gloss of Labyrinth Lord on top. D&D 5e will be providing consultation. There won’t be loads of innovation to be honest, just my versions of other people’s rules that I’ve hammered into a personalized shape over the years. 
Name? Too early to say. Working title? BazRPG. Sounds cool when you say it out loud. 

I’ll post up my design diary stuff here as I go. 

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FAE example of play

I’ve spend the last few days up to my neck in D&D style games but with a Fate Accelerated session looming on the horizon. One thing I like to do to familiarise myself with the rules is to knock up a couple of characters and then put them through a combat. So here’s a FAE take on a D&D scrap. 
I fancy a Paladin first. I’m going with basic blunt aspects that won’t win any prizes, but will get the job done. Here is what I think of when I think Paladin. 
High concept: Elven Paladin of Justice

Trouble: Oathbound by Lawful Good code

Aspect: full shiny plate and shield
The others will be blank for now. On a proper character I imagine they’d tie into the world or relationships and that might not matter too much in a one off fight. 

Careful 2

Clever 2

Flashy 1

Forceful 3

Quick 1

Sneaky 0

Because I can Lay on Hands I get +2 when I carefully overcome treating wounds

Because I can Smite Evil I get +2 when I forcefully attack evil things in melee

Because I’m highly regarded once per session I can obtain a favor for free from anyone in power
Nice! Next up, a Rogue
High concept: human city guild thief

Trouble: wanted in six city states

Aspect: slippery as a greased weasel

Careful 1

Clever 2

Flashy 1

Forceful 0

Quick 3

Sneaky 2

Because I can sneak attack, I get +2 when I sneakily attack from out of sight

Because I’ve got trap sense I get +2 when I carefully overcome triggers

Because I’m incredibly agile once per session I can automatically succeed when I defend against an attack
That will do for now. Everything could be tightened up or fleshed out post play if necessary. For now, I just need a simple situation for our pair of adventurers to find themselves in. The two of them are escaping a dungeon complex. The Paladin is supporting a wounded Fighter who has been badly hurt in a previous encounter. The Rogue lugs a sack full of gold and objets d’art behind her. They are being pursued by a pack of were rats, angry at their sewer temple being defiled by surface dwellers. 
Were rats

Aspects: sewer born; lycanthropes

Skilled (+2) at; swarming and chittering, swimming, climbing

Bad (-2) at; being brave, personal hygiene

Stress: OOO (6 rats, I’m going with the mob rules here)
Rules then. This looks like a chase, which FAE handles with its Contest rules. First to three successes is the victor. Everyone gets to make an Overcome check. So how does this work with groups? Is there one check for the rats and one for the PCs? There are no specific group checks so let’s play rules as written. I’ll set the target number at 0. 
Paladin, rolling forceful as he drags the fighter. Gets -3, making the result a 0

Rogue, rolling quick (as GM I say the sack of loot will make that harder, the player doesn’t mind, what with being imaginary) She rolls a -1 getting a result of a 2, but I’m taking off another 1 for the sack, so that’s actually a final total of 1

Rats, rolling with a +2 for swarming. They get -2, for a total of 0
(My son Danny is in charge of rolling. He isn’t having much luck yet!)
As it stands, Rogue gets one success, and the Paladin and Rats tie, meaning no success for them, and a twist in the tale. Let’s say the Pally loses his grip on the Fighter who slumps to the floor behind him. As the rats close in behind, he says something noble like “go on without me! I’ll hold them off as long as I can!”. Pally isn’t having any of that and scoops him up, which we will call a self compel against the whole lawful good trouble aspect. Have a fate point. 
Rogue sighs, and ushers them all on. 
Next exchange, we stick with the same approaches, just because. I narrate some twisting and turning corridors and hurried map checking. 
Paladin, 4

Rogue, 4

Rats, 2
Ok, so the good guys tied with each other, but I can’t see how that makes for a twist, so let’s ignore that. Everyone succeeds, so that’s a second success for the Rogue, everyone else on 1. Interestingly, there hasn’t been a need to invoke any aspects yet.
Next exchange, and let’s keep going with the usual approaches. I consider turning and facing down the rats, or offering a choice of routes, or obstacles, but they are generated by ties, so let’s stay RAW. I think about how to encourage the Rogue to drop the loot, but there’s no obvious compel or invoke for that (I could maybe compel the Paladin to berate the greedy Rogue?)
Paladin, 3

Rogue, 2

Rats, 2
Ok! Paladin catches up to Rogue (second success) but so do the rats. I narrate a were rat grabbing hold of the sack of loot by its teeth and ripping and tearing at it, pulling it away from the Rogue. This will also take that Rat out of the chase, after all, they failed too. Seems I found a way to deal with the loot after all.
Now the good guys are only one success away from escape, but I’m offering a fate point as I compel the thief to fight back for the dropped loot, and the paladin to never leave a woman behind (that Trouble aspect is turning into a fate point cash cow)
So we leave the Contest rules behind and move into Conflict. Setting the scene with a bit of description; a dark and shadowy chamber, with bones carelessly scattered across the rough hewn floor. Iron braziers give off a little heat from strangely smoking coals. Tapestries hang from the walls displaying demon worshipping frenzied beasts.
Situational aspects: dark shadows; scattered bones; hot smoking coals; heavy tapestries
This is all contained in one zone I think, with maybe further zones down the passageway they came in from, and down the abandoned escape route.
Turn order based on Quick, goes Rogue, Rats, Paladin (potentially the wounded fighter. I’ll use him to shout encouragement at the end of a round.
Rogue darts to the shadows to attempt to get out of sight. Create advantage based on the dark shadows aspect. Target number 0 off the top of my head. The word ‘darts’ implies a quick approach, but I’m insisting on sneaky. Gets a 3, which is success with style, so I note two free invokes on the sticky note with ‘dark shadows’ noted on it. I foresee the rogues next action already. 
The rats surge forward toward the Paladin. They roll to attack, total 0. Paladin defends carefully (standing over prone body of Fighter), getting 4. Boom. That’s a boost for Pally. I’m tempted to simply pass over a +2 token for boosts to be honest, but if we had to scribble out a temporary aspect it would be… “Flurry of parries”
Paladin attacks back, with the boost, going with care again, for a total of 3. The rats defend comes up -2. Eek! Consider trying to invoke the shadows against the Paladin, but he’s already rolled so that seems churlish. That is a shift of 5, which blows through their stress in one sweep of a shiny long sword. 
Ok. Wasn’t really expecting that! Invoke own GM fiat to avoid anti climactic scene by having massive Were Rat Mutant stagger into the chamber roaring a challenge
Were Mutant

Massive muscles; filth carrier

Good (+2); rending, intimidating

Bad (-2); independent thought

Stress: OOO

Mild consequence slot (-2)
The Rogue takes her chance leaping from hiding with her short sword. She gets the two free invokes on dark shadows, and attacks sneakily with another +2 from her stunt. With the dice she comes up with a 7. The mutant defends with a poxy 0. There’s no comeback from that and the were rats lay defeated. 
Thoughts? I guess mooks should go down like nine pins, but even so for the goodies to not have a claw laid on them is unexpected! I’d like to have seen consequences come up, but wasn’t to be on this occasion. I’m sure everyone would have their own take on tactics and aspect use, but I tried to keep it simple and plausible. Pleased with the way the story played out, but as yet not seeing a huge difference in the fiction between Fate and other systems. 

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Blowing Hot with a Cold

Stuff has been swirling around quite nicely in recent weeks. Loads of ideas for stuff which I’ve been carefully jotting onto Google Docs before one day getting it redrafted and laid out properly. A few ideas about house rules, a scenario or two, some gaming satire, a table or two. All this for a proper old school fanzine I’m knocking up. I even have a name for it now… Deadtreehouse. It’s miles off yet, but it’s filling out.

Then I got a nasty cold. It came with it’s very own set of vicious headaches that made my brain utterly unable to do anything creative for a week. Just when I was getting a head of steam built up too. Seems you have to get this stuff down while you can.

So today, the first day in ages I haven’t been groaning into a packet of pain killers, I thought about:

  • A messenger riding a tiny t-rex
  • A meeting of heroes on a moonlit roof
  • A quest given from one PC to the others
  • An idea about being severely indebted
  • An upside down temple
  • Seeking entry to a notoriously intimidating adventurer bar
  • A monster prison in a lawful land
  • Dilemmas

Tomorrow I might have some more.

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