Tuesday, 8 November 2016

New Players and Magic

Lister: All we've got is us guys, us and our own resourcefulness.
I play with new players a lot. As well as players of some experience who are seemingly unable to read a rulebook. I can’t blame them. Rulebooks are for GMs. The trend to producing player-focussed rulebooks – AD&D2e, you started the rot! – has exploded the crunch on both sides of the table. That’s not for me, or for my players.
One of the things that I find hardest to deal with in any game is magic. And high-technology, but, let’s face it, that is the same thing as far as matters in a sci-fi RPG. It is particularly difficult with new players. It is one thing for a player to say, ‘My character does X, where X is something within the ranges of human potential’ as a GM and the players can use a combination of common expectations and a – hopefully – straightforward resolution system to adjudicate the success of this action. Magic tends to create ‘exceptional’ rules, introduce new resolution systems, and threaten the common understanding shared by the table, at least until the table has absorbed both the rules and the setting.
This is just a long way round to saying that I tend to find it easier to GM games for my group in which access to magic (for PCs and NPCs) is pretty restricted, at least at the start of a campaign.
So, you know, WFRP!
Cat: My God, it's worse than I thought!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

A player's view of Kakabad

In lieu of a post about contemporary gaming, what with the sunny weather, afternoons in the pub, and the odd barbecue - and for anyone not in the UK, we get so few really sunny days these must be seized upon - I thought I'd dig out some old player maps and let you see how one of my players interpreted our journey across Kakabad in pursuit of the Crown of Kings.


The Baklands


Thursday, 25 August 2016

Preparation for a jungle expedition... delayed

I was busy making my own version of a very familiar map, and adapting the encounters for Advanced Fighting Fantasy, when my brother invited me down the pub. Ah well, hangover cleared, that gives me time for a bit more polish then...

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Why I play Advanced Fighting Fantasy... #43

"This A4 sci-fi comic, with 20 pages of strip and a six page text story, displays a penchant for the twist ending and poetic justice. The tales of killing, cloning and interrogation are written as if by someone who takes life very seriously. It’s impressively drawn by Bolt-01, with grey tones by Richmond Clements and backgrounds that convincingly evoke the worlds in which the stories penned by Andrew Bartlett are set. 7/10."

In a past life I had a short crack at writing small-press comics. This was the review of one of them from Comics International. And this sums up my problem: 'written as if by someone who takes life very seriously'. And I do, to my own detriment. I'm always in danger of draining the fun from things, for intellectualising (and politicising) the things that I enjoy, rather than just enjoying them.

Fighting Fantasy (Advanced, or otherwise) operates as a necessary corrective to my tendency, when running games, to strive for too much 'realism' and too little of the fantastical and 'adventuresomeness'. I'm just the kind of Games Master who would ruin a Star Wars game by beginning a campaign with this:

"Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.

Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo.

While the congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict...."

Fighting Fantasy is Steven Spielberg to my George Lucas.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Ruins of a Future Past

Sometimes, you see an image and the GM in you thinks, 'There's an adventure site!'

Well, this article, in Creative Review, about Danila Tkachenko’s photographs of Soviet-era ruins is full of them. 

This kind of thing so makes me want to run a post-apocalyptic campaign - something that I've never done. I have Other Dust, Mutant Future, Barbarians of the Apocalypse, and, of course, I could turn out a D100 or Advanced Fighting Fantasy based post-apocalyptic game too. Mind you, I think I'd have to work hard not to let my natural tendencies take over and end up with a campaign that has all the joy and vitality of The Road!

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Can YOU climb?

Can you climb walls? I can. Can you scale sheer surfaces without rope and gear? Err...

When I run D&D (and clones thereof) I always try to remind myself that the Thief 'skill' percentages are so low because they are not, in fact, skills. Anyone can climb or hide, and any competent locksmith can open a normal lock. The *proper* (ahem!) interpretation of Thief 'skills' is that they are preternatural abilities, beyond that possessed by ordinary humans (and beyond that of even the extraordinary people with classes and levels with whom they adventure).

This, though, takes some overlooking of what the rulebooks actually say. The rulesbooks often describe most of these abilities in utterly mundane ways, and in the case of the Thief's 'climb' skill/ability I had been dimly aware that, at some point, even the name was mundan-ised, from a version that refers to scaling 'sheer' surfaces to one that merely refers to climbing walls. Bah! I thought I'd check through the versions of TSR D&D that I own to see what each edition has to say. 

Moldvay Basic. Promisingly, the Thieves' Abilities table has 'Climb Sheer Surfaces'. Unfortunately, the accompanying text has the ability listed as 'Climb Steep Surfaces'. The description of the ability does, however, lack the kind of specificity that prevents the ability being interpreted in a preternatural way. (Moldvay B88)

Mentzer Basic (and the Rules Cyclopedia) boils down the ability into the boring and not at all preternatural 'Climb Walls', and the text is unhelpfully specific, saying that this ability "applies to any steep surfaces, such as sheer cliffs, walls, and so forth." (Mentzer B44)

Note: Both Mentzer and Moldvay promisingly describe what we commonly call Thief 'skills' as 'special abilities', which is at least suggestive of these chances being something different, over and above what a mundane person ought be able to do.

AD&D1e has the ability - in the 'Thief Function' (ack!) - table as 'Climb Walls'. The description is utterly mundane. Also, in an amusing Gygaxianism, at high levels, this 'function' is not adjudicated by way of a normal percentile roll. After 10th level, the base chance to 'climb walls' increases beyond 99% by a tenth of a percent each level. Talk about marginal gains! The player (or DM) therefore needs to roll a D100.0 - three ten sided dice. My goodness, AD&D1e is one of the least lovely editions of the game. (PHB1e 28)

AD&D2e might have 'reduced' the special abilities to 'skills'. It might have 'Climb Walls' rather than Climb Sheer Surfaces. But by Crom it gets the description right! "Although everyone can climb rocky cliffs and steep slopes, the thief is far superior to others in this ability. Not only does he have a better climbing percentage than other characters, he can also climb most surfaces without tools, ropes, or devices. Only the thief can climb smooth and very smooth surfaces without climbing gear."(PHB2e 40)

I had expected to find that earlier editions of the game were open to a more preternatural interpretation of the Thief's climbing ability, and had expected that, at some point (under the influence of skill-based RPGs) that this would become mundan-ised as a general climbing ability, effectively disallowing other characters from climbing. What I didn't expect to find was that AD&D2e (which I already have quite a soft spot for) is the only edition of those that in which the Thief Special Ability/Function/Skill is expressly something above and beyond that possible for other characters.

Friday, 15 April 2016

How do you like your 'historical' settings?

It seems to me that there are a variety of way in which to use 'history' in fantasy RPG settings. While the degree to which an RPG setting uses 'historical elements' is related to the level of magic in the setting, that's not all that there is, I'd suggest there are five levels of 'historical-ness' in fantasy RPG settings:

1) Little to No Historical Elements: I haven't played any of this kind, but a setting such as Eberron or Planescape probably counts as belonging to this category. In those settings, the level of magic renders the world quite alien from any particular historical analogues, but I'm sure one could imagine a low-magic fantasy RPG setting that is similarly devoid of historical elements.

2) Loosely Inspired By History: Here, I'm thinking of setting such as the Forgotten Realms or Mystara. The historical analogues are fairly clear, which enables the players and GM to collectively imagine the game world. However, the level of magic (and the bricolage of historical-like elements) means that while the setting might superficially appears to be (say) 'medieval', the way in which the world works is actually quite different.

3) Strong Analogies To Historical Elements: In this category I would put settings such as the WFRP1e Old World and Dragon Warriors' 'Legend'. In both these cases the game world isn't Europe, but it isn't too far off. It is probably not a coincidence that both settings are pretty low-magic, which means that the close cleaving to the social and political structures of the historical inspirations are not implausible. These settings allow the players and GM to use their rough knowledge of a historical era while placing few demands to 'get things right'. Of course, it needn't always be not-quite-Europe - Kevin Crawford's Spears of the Dawn is not-quite-Africa, for example.

4) 'Real World' With Overt Fantasy Elements: Here we get things like RPGPundit's Dark Albion of Cakebread and Walton's Clockwork and Chivalry. In these settings, the fantastical and magical is certainly part of the world, but many of the historical elements are drawn straight from history.

5) 'Real World' With Subtle Fantasy Elements: While the level to which the fantastical intrudes depends on the GM and the play-style of the table, settings such as Mythic Iceland and Mythic Britain, or TSR's Historical Reference series for AD&D2e are built almost entirely (as closely as is gameable) from 'historical elements'.

What sort of levels of historical-ness do you enjoy playing? And running?