Saturday 18 September 2010

Imagining D&D

Thanks to James Maliszewski at Grognardia for posing the question: "When you think about Dungeons & Dragons, the cover of what product comes first to mind?"
GW Blue Book D&D
9th Print 1e AD&D DMG

Well, for me it's gotta be the first edition AD&D PHB, and yet I never owned, played or DM'd this version of AD&D.  This cover is deceptively simple and features no heroic action unlike other covers, yet manages to capture essentially what happens in every dungeon crawl.  The Rogues engage in a little post fight thievery whilst the Fighters argue over which way to go next and the magic user leans on his staff exhausted after blowing the last of his spells on a mid dungeon minion.  You can also buy this iconic statue as a dungeon feature for your own games from Otherworld Miniatures.

The first version of D&D I owned was the 1e Blue Book produced by Games Workshop.  Sadly I was too young to really appreciate it, but it did start me out in this wonderful hobby.  Looking at the artwork, although a beautiful piece of pen and ink, it's not exactly evocative of the game contained within and harks back to the artwork of "The Hobbit" with it's  Beardsleyesque detail.

The version that I most fondly remember having spent hours pouring over almost sucking the content dry was the 9th print version of 1e AD&D DMG.  The artwork is quite powerful, suggesting that great secrets lie within and to get to them you must best the sinister figure standing between the doors.  One of Jeff Easley's finest and subtlest works.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Old Skool: The view from the UK

I read with interest many of the blogs from the otherside of the Atlantic and get a very different view of Roleplaying as a hobby.  There seems to be much more of a focus on playing commercial modules, and less about creating your own worlds and adventures.  How an industry which creates a rules system which offers you the opportunity to create your own world full only limited by your imagination manages to sell more product has always puzzled me.  Once I've bought the core rulebooks for a system I've usually written my own scenarios and source material (with the exception of Cyberpunk which I just loved).

Also the con scene is quite different in the UK.  Single day events being the norm and sharing fans across the gaming spectrum including wargamers, boardgamers and the odd sci-fi con.

The most startling difference is in my experience of how gaming groups are formed.  I've always gamed in large groups of between 10 to 20, congregating in public spaces such as church halls, libraries, community centres and even the odd public house (aka a bar).  I've hosted games at my home but these have always been as an extra to my regular weekly game session as part of an organised club.

I can guess at one or two of the reasons, America is a much bigger country with a lower population density than the UK, but this doesn't explain everything.  If you're reading this from the US (or any other part of the world) please feel free to set me straight.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Where's the gateway game for the tweenies?

A few new members have joined my regular game group over the past year and very few of them are younger than thirty, which got me thinking are roleplayers an ageing breed, are there young players out there? Casting my mind back to my impressionable youth I remember the gateway games which drew me into this amazing hobby, the Fighting Fantasy gamebook, the primitive computer text adventure games.  Which then set me wondering what is today's gateway game?

The console game world is littered with fantasy and sci-fi adventure games and first person shooters where the action is visceral and immersive.  With literacy levels dropping throughout the first world are kids really going to want to get into a hobby where it requires effort to read and to visualize for themselves?

I've dabbled in the CCG world with games such as Magic, but they always left me feeling a little bewildered and frustrated as excercises in strategy and lack any opportunity for imagination or storytelling.

The gamebook is still there but has expanded into newer titles such as the popular "Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny series" or the classic Choose Your Own Adventure Series which is available as an app or an ebook (depending on your taste in tech).  The big difference now is that you'll never bump into a copy of D&D (or in my case T&T) by browsing the shelves of the app store.

There are lots of big box adventure boardgames such as DOOM, Descent, Talisman, Runebound, World of Warcraft and now the Ravenloft Boardgame.  But are these gateway games to RPGs or Boardgames?

Warhammer is still alive and kicking, but with the Rogue Trader and WHFRPS being being sold off to other publishers do the kids ever get exposed to these titles when they walk into their local Games Workshop store?

The future is pretty uncertain for RPGs (I doubt we will ever have an influx of youth again like we did in the 70s and 80s) unless technology changes our hobby into something that young people want to consume.

Digital Comic Museum

Today I discovered an amazing resource.  The Digital Comic Museum is an archive of titles from the golden age of comics between the late 30s and the early 50s.  All the content is guaranteed to be public domain and copyright free.  You'll need to register to gain access to the downloads but it's well worth it, particularly if you're in need of some inspiration for your next pulp adventure.

Monday 13 September 2010

Scenario Timelines serious plot tool or DMs curse?

As a DM I've tried a number of different approaches to both writing and running adventures, but they've always fallen into one of two camps, the LINEAR or the TIMELINE based adventure.

Linear Plots

In a linear plot the PCs go from location to location (or scene to scene), the events happen solely within their timeline.  This is how most dungeon crawls are written, the party blunder into room 5 and trigger the goblin attack which they either deal with or don't, then it's off to the next room or location and so on until they end up defeating the evil archmage and rescuing the princess / orb of jozitzky (delete as applicable).  

From a DMs perspective these are easy to write and to run as the PCs don't do much choosing which path through the adventure they take.  However, depending on how immersed they are in the adventure, the PCs can sometimes detect the guiding hand of the DM which often led to player apathy and sometimes even rebellion.  They can also feel a little formulaic (not that there's anything wrong with dungeon bashing) if that's all the DM has in their arsenal.


Fantasy Time Clock Timeline Plots

Timeline Plots

In a timeline adventure the PCs wander from location to location but the events have a life of their own and can be triggered by the PCs, NPCs, the villain or even other events.  Often these are decided by an overarching game timeline, for example; at noon a fight breaks out in the marketplace, by 1pm the marketplace is cordoned off by the local sheriff, by 1:30 the aggrieved parties have been carted off to the local gaol, by dawn they are all executed.  

As DM you need to be aware of where the PCs are in relation to the EVENTS and any travelling time it might take them to get there, the time it takes for players to deal with an EVENT and argue about what to do next etc.  These are, on the whole, much more of a challenge to write and to DM but often more rewarding for players and DM alike for a number of reasons.

I find that some settings naturally lend themselves to timelines.  Of particular note are Judge Dredd and Cyberpunk, both of which are set in an urban sprawl:

Judge Dredd: The adventure timeline is usually crafted around a single perp's attempts at either committing a number of minor crimes escalating in scale and severity which (if the PCs follow the clues) will end up in a final showdown or one big crime and then the perp tries to cover their tracks.  

When I write my own adventures I pepper the timeline with lots of other events so the players have to decide which crimes are linked together in order to decide what to react to and which ones are set fressing or red herrings.  

The fact that the PCs are often street judges on patrol (but in constant communication with Justice Central) helps with the planning the events in a more linear way and allows you to communicate alerts and demand responses from the PCs to things that they hear on their radios.

Cyberpunk: The adventure timeline is usually crafted around the nefarious actions of a corporation or some other organisation.  The PCs interact with these events through various intermediaries or connections and may end up either working for or against the organisation at the heart of the plot. 

PCs are usually updated throughout the game with regular screamsheets and media broadcasts giving the players a sense of their insignificance in the world and (as I like to do) coverage of the effects of their actions from the opposite perspective.  The job for the PCs is to work out where they fit into all this and if they can or even should put a stop to it.

Communication is Key

One of the keys to running a timeline scenario is that the players need to be regularly made aware of events outside their immediate sphere.  In modern or sci-fi games this is usually not a problem as PCs usually have access to mobile phones or similar which you can use to appraise them of things happening in other locations.

In fantasy games this can be tricky as long distance communication is usually impossible unless the PCs have access to a magical artifact, spell or reliant on messenger birds.  In a city setting this is much easier due to the shorter distances involved.  You might get word of something happening on the other side of the city passed by word of mouth but this could suffer from Chinese Whispers and the actual details of the message get corrupted.  Alternatively you could have a fixer or a patron act as the party messenger using runners to get information to the PCs as swiftly and reliably as possible. 

Papercraft: Cart Horses

Following up from my post yesterday about techniques for making Paper Miniatures (and to accompany the Adventurers Cart I posted a few weeks ago), here's a PDF with some Cart Horse miniatures.

Sunday 12 September 2010

Paper Miniatures

I read with interest the detailed instructions in NewbieDM's Tutorial – Counters, Tokens, or Pogs and thought about sharing some of the techniques I've used for creating paper minis over the years.

Standee Styles

There are a couple different styles of standee that I've made over the years most are either:

  • A-Frame where the assembled miniature when viewed from the side resembles a letter A. The base ends either lock into each other or are glued together to form a square base.

  • T-Shape where the assembled miniature resembles an inverted letter T.  I find this type most useful as they fold flat, take up less storage space and stand vertical.
Source your Images

I use a variety of sources for images Googleing works well, but my favourite (particularly) for PC and NPCs is the HeroMachine.

Build your Standee Template

In your favourite image editing package (Photoshop, GIMP) build a template for each standee using guides.  I usually use a scale of 1" = 5' so each humanoid standee base is either 1" square or round.  Mounted or monster miniatures will of couse be much larger.  Make sure everything is merged into 1 layer and then duplicate that layer to make a whole bunch of standees.

Add your images

Once you've chosen your images paste them into your template on a new layer and scale them to fit your template.  Make sure to proportionally scale the images otherwise your elf may look more like a dwarf and vice versa.

Once the frontside image is in place, duplicate that layer and flip it upside down, this becomes the back of the figure, move this backside layer so it is vertically above the frontside.  I then turn this into a sillhouette by changing the hue/saturation until the figure is all black.

Repeat this for each backside image and add a little text to number each miniature and you should get something resembling this:

Cut, Fold and Glue

All you need to do now is cut fold and glue the miniatures together and hey presto... your own zombie army!!

Plastic Bases

There are a few manufacturers out there who make an assortment of bases for use in boardgames and can be picked up very cheaply (£1 for 20).  These minis tend to be a little more economical as you don't need to waste as much paper and ink printing out the bases.  Just leave yourself a little rectangle of paper at the bottom of each mini to slot into each base.

Saturday 4 September 2010

Character Archetypes?

I was asked to create a filler game at short notice this week and wanted to try out a new character creation concept (well new to me anyway), character archetypes.  It's a halfway house between letting your players roll up their own characters or presenting them with fully written characters.

The archetypes are printed onto small pieces of card in the form of a TITLE, PRIMARY STAT & SKILL (or in the case of SBA a Primary Skill (at Superb +5) and a Stunt) and a BACKGROUND SENTENCE to provoke the players into writing their own background.  For example:


RAPPORT / Intergalactic Ladies Man

"Last one to rescue a young lady is a rotten egg"



SCIENCE / Scientific Genius

"Those fools at the Royal Society don't appreciate the possibilities of my discovery"

I used this method because:
  • I didn't have the time to pre-gen a bunch of characters for the game and write the scenario.
  • The players were relatively unfamiliar with the system (Starblazer Adventures) and the genre (Victorian Sci-Fi).
  • I find that players are less reckless with characters they've had a hand in creating rather than ones they're just given and this results in better roleplay.
So how did it work out?

I was quite pleased with the results.  I gave the players a few minutes to digest their choice and then did a small piece of 1 to 1 roleplay with each player to introduce their character into the game and to discuss some options which they might consider.  Each player then spent about 10 minutes or so fleshing out their character before we began with the opening scene.  I'll certainly be using it again and might consider it for other systems.