Friday 24 December 2010

1884 - A New Terry Gilliam Project

Just in time for Christmas comes the news that Terry Gilliam is producing a steampunk puppet movie.  No details (or IMDB entry) on the production schedule, cast or release date but two videos are available:

Animation Test Video

Teaser Trailer

Makes me want to dust off the old Forgotten Futures rules and get writing.

Monday 20 December 2010

D&D is 3rd Greatest Toy!!

Jonathan Ross
Last night's marathon 3 hour rundown of classic toys on Channel 4, presented by Jonathan Ross, saw Dungeons and Dragons see off the electronic revolution and come in at number 3.

A reasonably sympathetic review of the game featured the usual stock footage of contemporary geeks and live roleplayers in plastic ears.  The highlight being a short piece from Ian Livingstone OBE (Co-founder of Games Workshop and CEO of Eidos) and the outing of comedian Marcus Brigstocke as a D&D player.

It was a shame that it's high position in the chart was marred by a comment that the poll was rigged by thousands of geeks, and the show's complete disregard of D&D's influence in other fields like computer games.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Gygax Game Collection for sale on ebay

E. Gary Gygax
(July 27, 1938 – March 4, 2008)
Gary's widow, Gail Gygax, has started to put his games collection up for sale on e-bay with help from Collectors Trove, with proceeds going to the Gygax Memorial Fund.  Auctions end between the 15-16th of December so there's still time to bid and perhaps you too could own a piece of history from Gary's own collection.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

TV Shows that didn't get an RPG Tie-in: Ultraviolet

Cast: from L to R:

Idris Elba - "Vaughan Rice" a soldier
Jack Davenport - Det. Sgt. Mike Colefield
Susannah Harker - Dr. Angela March
Philip Quast - Father Pearse J. Harman
I was left considering a comment from Emmett on Reality Refracted's Running a Cop Game - Part 1 and was reminded of the excellent Channel 4 six part drama "Ultraviolet" which was aired in 1998 (gosh is it that long ago!!)

The show featured a cop "Mike" (played by Jack Davenport) whose partner gets turned into a vampire and disappears.  Mike tries to find out what's happened to him and discovers that he's been turned into a vampire and then because he's poking about, gets recruited by a clandestine government organisation responsible for dealing with the emerging vampire menace.  Throughout the series they never said the vampire word instead they refer to them as Code 5's (Roman numeral V, gettit?)

It was a superb show which dealt with vampires in an intelligent and thoroughly "modern" way, had the production values of shows like "Spooks" and top quality acting from some of the UK's finest.  The material was so well put together I thought at the time it would make an excellent RPG.  I'm not aware of any published RPG tie-in or as a sourcebook for CoC or other modern Horror RPG (Blogosphere: show me I'm wrong).  Rather than me do an episode guide, here's the obligatory link to IMDB

My favourite episode was entitled "Terra Incognita" which features a man suffering from sickle cell anemia being flown to the UK from Brazil.  Accompanying the man on the flight are several coffin shaped military style flight cases with time locks set to open after sundown...

Monday 13 December 2010

Scenario Writing - The art of the one session scenario

I've run one session scenarios in the past, mostly on special occasions like holidays, birthdays and halloween.  Here are a few of the techniques I've used:

Holiday Theme - If you're running a game on a holiday then use it for your plot inspiration.  There are plenty of plot hooks buried in the characters, myths, folk lore and cultural references of the various holidays.  Such as:
  • Good Santa / Bad Santa - Saint Nick has a split personality (how else could he make informed choices about whose Naughty or Nice?) this year his bad side has gotten the better of him with all the personality defects that go along with it.  The PCs are elves (or charity / department store santas) whose job is to keep him on the straight and narrow so he can deliver all those presents in time or maybe the world needs to do without this year.
  • The Easter Bunny's been kidnapped - A bunch of do-gooding dentists and dieticians have teamed up to rid the world of the Easter Bunny.  Kids all over the world have suddenly lost their appetite for chocolate.  Willy Wonka is in despair and has hired your paranormal detective agency to find the culprits and set the world straight again.
  • Halloween Jack - A notorious psychopath has escaped from a secure facility and the PCs are on the tube, returning from different fancy dress parties, when the power fails.  No-one knows each other but one of them is Halloween Jack, the cops are on his trail but all they know is he's disguised in a fancy dress costume.  Oh, did I forget to mention that you're all dressed in the same outfit with a Jack 'o' Lantern for a head.
Birthday Boy/Girl - Make the player whose birthday it is the center of the action.  If they're up for it you could turn them into the villain of the piece, depending on the player, you might want to let them know where you're taking the story and maybe even set up some cues for them to trigger some events.  It's nice if you can factor in a few "in jokes" or references for each of the other players, they'll really get a kick out of it.

One location - when the PCs are trapped in one location the focus turns to escape. Your job as DM is made easier as you just have to think of all the ways they're going to try to break out.  Having some of the more mundane "what-if's" pre-thunk means that you can concentrate on the more bizarre suggestions that players inevitably come up with.

  • Internet / TV / Telephone / Mobiles - Do they exist in the genre and if so are they working, If not why not.  If you've let the PCs have access to a phone and diall 999 (that's the UK version of 911) will the cops come and if they do how do you get rid of them.  I really like using this as a tension mechanism, you can have them come out look around and leave as though nothing is wrong.  Or you can kill them in some bizarre or predictable way. Watch the looks on the players faces as they realise that they're responsible for luring them to their deaths.
  • Outside - Can there an outside?, can they see it?, Can it see them?  If your players are trapped it won't be long before they start to think about what's happening in the outside world, you can play with their minds by making their prison a wrap around universe.  A player manages to escape a room through a door only to re-enter from the opposite side of the room or down the chimney.
  • You are not alone - Don't leave it too long before you start hinting that they might be sharing their reality with someone or something else.  Maybe they put an object down moments ago and now it's moved or vanished entirely.  Perhaps it's a spirit hopping from one body to another, give each of your players a secret message containing instructions when they start playing the spirit.
  • Horrible history or location - Take an event or location that your players know very well and twist it into an evil or sinister version.  You can be as wild as you want as long as you don't warp it beyond recognition otherwise the players may miss the gag.
  • Player Secrets and Paranoia - If you want to ramp up the tension you can give each PC a piece of knowledge about one (or more) of the PCs at the beginning of the game. Later on that piece of info might be pertinent and the player must decide to act on the information.
Body Swap - Your players have passed into a parallel universe and inhabit each others bodies.  They now have to find the secret to swapping back otherwise they'll be stuck forever.  This works best if the players are randomly swapped multiple times, everyone should get a chance to play each other.  Pick 3 good and 3 bad traits (don't be too cruel though!!) about each player and sit back and let the fun begin.

Survival Game - If in doubt run a survival themed game.  My players always react well to a bit of zombie slayin'.

How do you do it, share your thoughts, tricks and ideas.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Update: Dirk Gently Airs 16 Dec 2010 on BBC4

Auntie Beeb has revealed that their eagerly awaited (well, by me anyways) TV adaptation of Dirk Gently will air on BBC HD (and BBC4) at 9pm on Thu 16 December 2010.  There's also a trailer to whet your appetite...

Scenario Writing: Linear Plots

First off, what's the difference between a linear and a non-linear plot?  

Characteristically, linear plots will feature a single timeline of events or scenes which the PCs need to resolve one after another in a specific order (e.g scene 1, scene 2, scene 3, etc...).  This is the formula used by most theatrical productions which use the Three-Act Structure. 

Linear Plot - The 3 Act Structure
Linear Plot - The Three-Act Structure

Non-linear plots can have multiple timelines, flash-backs and the scenes do not need to be completed in a specified order, or at all (even though some scenes may be missed out entirely any events in those scenes may still occur).   If you've never experienced non-linear story telling then try playing a game of FIASCO.  This indie RPG introduces flash backs and flash forwards as an integral part of the collaborative story telling mechanism.  Games take about 3 hours and there are a hundred genre playsets to choose from.

There's nothing wrong with a linear plot, they're undoubtably easier to write and run, especially if you are a time poor DM, and they can be just as entertaining for players.  Here's a few techniques that I've used to make them seem less linear.

Scenario Timeline - One of the biggest drawbacks of a linear plot is that it's easy for players to start thinking that the world revolves around their characters. Using a scenario timeline allows the DM to trigger events independently of the the PCs actions, they might only hear about the event as a rumour or hearsay or over the radio, tv or net, they will still encounter the scenes you have arrange in a predetermined order but they will feel like there's more to the story that they can't influence.  

If you split your party the timeline can become a useful aid to keeping track of WHEN each group of PCs are rather than WHERE.  It's possible to have multiple timelines in operation but make sure that there are key events which tie them together otherwise it's easy for a subgroup of PCs to get too far ahead of the other party members.

Fast Pace - In my experience it's not a good idea to give players too much thinking time in any adventure.  When this happens they start reverting to their player archetypes and end up thinking about where their next power-up or wander off trying to find an interesting NPC to chat to.  A fast pace to a game often focuses players minds to the immediate task at hand.

Elastic Time - Remember that time is elastic, if you need characters to trigger events and they're in danger of missing it, Don't worry you're the DM, stretch time, but keep up the tension as they race to the next scene otherwise they'll get into the habit of dawdling.  If they're on the ball and ripping through scenes like a chainsaw you might need to slow them down a bit by throwing a  wandering monsters or random encounter at them.  

It's a good idea to have a few of this sort of thing in your DMs toolkit anyway, they don't have to be related to the plot, just the setting, a bit like the little old lady who asks the policeman to help her across the road whilst the perp is running away.

NPCs (aka Plot Monkeys) - When a party does get bogged down in a decision it's useful to have a recurring NPC in the plot you can use to prod them in the right direction.  I often have an NPC as a member of the party for this exact reason and they also come in very handy when you have a drop-in player that needs a character.  Be careful how often you use them though, PCs sometimes take exception to NPCs giving suggestions all the time especially when you have an insecure de-facto leader.

Clues - When you leave clues in a scene to further the plot, make them really obvious.  I can't tell you the number of times that a party has walked past a too subtle clue or picked up on it to only miss it's significance.  It's an easy trap to fall into when writing scenarios as you become immersed in the plot during the creative process, what seems obvious to you at the time of writing may be a leap of cognitive faith several weeks later when a player encounters it.  

I often leave multiple clues in a scene which reinforce each other and the correct path to take to the next scene, if the players miss one, they may pick up on the others and players often get a big buzz out of finding clues.

Use What Works for your Players

These are just a few of the techniques I use when writing, the important thing is too see what works in your sessions and what doesn't and see if you can improve the player (and DMing) experience.  If your players begin to get too comfortable with your writing style mix it up a bit.

Thursday 9 December 2010

The Lands of Dual: It's a Crusade!!

Always late to the party but I get there in the end. 

My eagerly awaited Castles and Crusades books have arrived from the chaps at Games Lore one of the finest (and cheapest) web game stores here in the UK.  So now the hard work of converting The Lands of Dual over to C&C can begin in earnest.  In my post today were:
  • Players Handbook (Damaged apparently but I can't tell) - £6.99
  • Umbrage Sage (also slightly damaged on bottom edge) - £6.99
  • Monsters & Treasures of Aihrde - £16.49
  • Total (inc shipping) - £30.47 (in US that's approx $48)

I've already started work transferring some data over at The Lands of Dual site which is primarily aimed at the players but it's totally public and I'm open to comments.  I'll be cross blogging every now and then, mostly with session reports, creature features and NPC Biographies (as soon as the players have finished with them as we wouldn't want to spoil the surprise now would we).  Wish me luck...

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Monster Mistakes of Yesteryear - The Killer Penguin

In 1985, when I was an impressionable 13 year old, someone gave me a copy of Dragonroar RPG by Standard Games.  

I remember it not for it's qualities as an RPG but for one hideously bad monster idea.  

The Killer Penguin...

The Killer Penguin Miniature???

Now I'm not one for dismissing people's creations off hand, but come on guys, what were you smoking that day?  Needless to say no-one's arguing over the rule changes between Dragonroar 3.5 and Dragonroar 4e so the RPG itself was neither a commercial or a critical success and it has long sinced disappeared into RPG obscurity.  

However, I do think that we need to preserve the memory of the Killer Penguin as a warning to all the misguided monster makers out there who may be toying with nature.

If you can think of any other more catastrophic monster mistakes or you think that the KP is much maligned feel free to write to the usual address...

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Kolchak: The Night Stalker - Bargain Alert!!

Just bagged myself a bargain in the shape of the boxed set of the TV Show Kolchak: The Night Stalker for only £8!! in my local Fopp in Earlham Street, London (directly opposite Orcs Nest)

For those who don't know the TV Show, Darren McGavin plays Carl Kolchak an investigative journalist who follows the strange and mysterious cases that the police either have bungled or can't solve.  It was made in the seventies and has been acknowledged by Chris Carter as a major influence in the X-Files, (McGavin was also cast in two episodes of the show and featured in Carter's other project Millenium).

In my opinion it's de rigeur viewing for anyone thinking of running a modern horror game such as Cthulhu Now, Delta Green, Consipiracy X or Dark Conspiracy.

I remember watching it in my teens when it was re-run on BBC2 and I loved it from the get-go, so I can't wait to see if it's lost any of it's charm in the last 20 years.  Stay tuned for episode reviews...

Sunday 5 December 2010

Fantasy Alternatives for Modern Gadgets

Inspired by Fantasy Billboards over at Gothridge Manor and after recently watching the excellent Reign of Assassins I thought to myself, what medieval equivalents exist for our everyday technology?

Mobile Phone : Courier - Couriers or runners can be found on every bustling metropolis street corner.  For a few coppers they will carry a written (or spoken) message to any inhabitant of the city.  If that person is at home you may even get a quick return message.  If you want a message or maybe even a package sent to a nearby town it will cost you quite a bit more depending on the distance and weight.

The couriers can be anything you like, street urchins, mundane or magical creatures like pigeons or fairies.  Longer distances can be covered by horse riders or if speed is the essence and you have a highly magical world, by means of teleportation, magic carpet or even by air elemental.

Clock : Muezzin - Time is money and people have always been willing to pay handsomely to know what the time is.  This could be handled either by the state, church or by an enterprising candle maker as a municipal function.  Water clocks existed in many different cultures around the world from as early as 4000BC, all you need is a regular sized vessel with a regular sized hole in it and are easy to manufacture by potters or smiths using templates.  In my Arabian setting this function was performed by the muezzin who called the faithful to prayer but I added a rudimentary clock to each minaret in the form of 12 metal fish which would tip down to strike the hours (the time was referred to as 3 fishes or 4 and a half fish).  Sundials (shadow clocks) can be erected as municipal features, like Egyptian obelisks, or complex architectural as is the case with a stone circle like Stonehenge.

News Media : Town Crier - This function can be performed by a Town Crier or similar who at various times of the day (he also performs the function of municipal clock) cries out the latest public announcements and for will cry private announcements such as market day announcements, weddings, birthdays etc.  It is also the function of the Town Crier to "post" written versions of these notices on a notice board.

Fridge : Windcatcher - There's nothing like having a cold beer after a strenuous days adventuring,  In temperate regions that function might be performed simply by using a cellar but in hotter climes they use a windcatcher or "Malqaf".  For hundreds of years these towers have been designed into Persian buildings as a form of air-conditioner which uses the Coandă effect to cool the air.  If coupled with an underground canal or resevoir they can chill water down to near freezing temperatures.  The Persians built this feature in to their ice houses (Yakchal) for this express purpose.  Or you could use a captive immature frost giant...

Thursday 2 December 2010

How to: make a Pringles can scroll case

A simple cardboard tube scroll case
As I explained in an earlier post, I'm going to be running a scenario which involves the PCs having a message delivered to them in a scroll case and it needs a prop, so i'll show you how to make one.

You will need:
  • A "Pringles" can or similar stiff cardboard tube.  Ok, so I used a poster tube, but the concept's the same.
  • Faux leather or other material to cover the tube.  Cheap to buy in any haberdasher.
  • Spray-on glue, make sure to check the can to make sure it doesn't contain a solvent which will melt the vinyl.
  • A permanent marker or "Sharpie"
The Instructions:
    Mark your start point then roll - Step 1
    Cut out a rectangle - Step 1
    Mark out an end cap - Step 3
    Roll and glue end cap body - Step 4
    Mark and slash end cap body - Step 5
    Fit end cap covers - Step 6

    1. Place your material on a flat surface and place your cardboard tube on top. Use the marker to draw a line on the edge of the tube at both ends where it meets the material. Roll the tube along 1 revolution until the line on the tube meets the material and mark again. Join up the marks to make a rectangle.  Add a little extra on one long edge and one short edge. Cut section out with a sharp pair of scissors or a very sharp craft knife, be careful not to snag the backing as vinyl leather has a tendency to stretch rather than tear.

    2. Spray the glue onto the material (check the can, as you may have to leave it a few minutes to activate, make sure you do it in a well ventilated room as this stuff can be smelly if not downright hazardous if you inhale the fumes) then carefully line up the tube on one edge and roll along the material making sure that you apply even pressure to prevent any wrinkling, then leave to dry.

    3. Follow the same process you used in Step 1 to mark out another rectangle, this will become an end cap.  Mark out a glue tab and mask off with some newspaper, so when you spray on the glue you don't get any on the inside of the cap.  Optional: The vinyl is pretty thin so if you want a more sturdy cap wrap a piece of thin card around the tube a couple of times to create a sleeve.  Then mark up the rectangle around this sleeve.

    4. Place your covered tube on the unglued part of the tube and roll it up.  It's a good idea to make this part a bit loose to make it easy to get the cap on and off, leave it to dry.

    5. If your tube had a plastic cap use this to mark out two circles of material to cap off each end.  Cut these out and leave to one side.  In order to fix these to the ends of the tube and cap you'll need to cut slashes in the overhang you created.  On the long tube this is simple, on the cap you'll need to slide the cap over the end to create a decent sized flap to glue the end cap covers.

    6. Now comes the tricky bit... Spray glue on an end cap cover (you'll need to do this bit one at a time as it's fiddley) and leave for a couple of minutes to go tacky.  Then carefully attach the circular cover bending and sticking each flap as you go, leave to dry before repeating the process at the other end.  Optional: If you followed the optional instruction in step 3 you'll want to reinforce the end cap with a disc of stiff cardboard like artists mounting board.

    7. Eh Voila! you have a basic scroll case.  You can embelish it with stitching made from string, piping or brocade to cover up the seam lines.
    If you make a scroll case using these instructions please comment and include a picture link, I'd love to see how you got on.

    Next project: How to make an "antique" paper scrolls.

      Wednesday 1 December 2010

      Old Skool Accessory: The Fighting Wheel

      It sounds like some really cool martial arts weapon, or a futuristic Armoured Fighting Vehicle...

      Nope it's a circular dial which helps you calculate your favourite weapon's Damage, Space Required, #Attacks, THAC0 and AC target number.
      AD&D Fighting Wheel Game Aid #1 - Front
      Obverse (Front): Battleaxe to Footman's Pick

      How the heck do you use it? I hear you cry. 

      You find your weapon of choice around the rim (all the weapons are there, some on the front and some on the back) and then dial in your level using the inner wheel. When your level and weapon are aligned your AC bonuses appear in the middle window. Simples...
      AD&D Fighting Wheel Game Aid #1 - Back
      Reverse (Back): Horsema's Pick to Voulge and Missile Weapons