Category Archives: General

Table News, 5 Nov 15

I kinda got a bit burned-out on writing recaps and blogging-type stuff—this isn’t my usual thing, really. Plus I’d really prefer to post some more useful stuff than progress-reporting, but I haven’t come up with anything yet. So I’m lagging behind a little. Here’s my progress-report 😛

I’m still pushing hard on Terra Nova, and making good progress. I’ve got a fairly-strong basis for the intro, some of the characters are starting to take proper shape (and I successfully convinced that wayward player to join in), and I’ve sorted out some of the important tech-related issues. I’ve started working on the wiki entries. I need to do more work on the map—there are a lot of places I need to identify, at least, that the show doesn’t cover. I need to finalize some dino stats; I need to pick up Big Lizzie so I have those 4e stats available. And I’m still dithering a bit on some of the NPC casting.

I’m not sure where TN will end up in the Friday rotation, but the current campaign is about to wrap, so it’s moving closer. The situation for the Saturday group is the same, and my scheduled mini-startup for the Inception campaign is within sight, but since I’ve been progressing so well on the TN campaign, I’m hesitant to switch gears, so I may delay it—depends on how long the new campaign-rotation, Traveller, ends up running.

In the meantime, I’m forcing myself to get past my writer’s burnout. And I’m planning a guest-GM one-shot for the Traveller campaign—something new we’re trying over there, to get the GM a chance to play a bit of Traveller himself. I’ll be sure to post some after-thoughts on that when it happens.

Table News, 8 Sep 15

Last month was weird. After the dust settled, the face-to-face Core Group has changed composition once again, a little, and the GMing rotation has been considerably altered. Sadly, the Savage Tide campaign was cut off (permanently, as it would later turn out), and my Generica was to be next in line, only I wasn’t quite as ready as I felt I needed to be. Now, it’s Kingmaker starting this week (after pretty much an entire month of no game, due to absences and such). I was going to be switching back to my yet-to-see-production Terra Nova campaign to avoid the glut of Medieval Fantasy-themed campaigns, but due to a player declining to participate in that one, I decided to table it until things change (including changing that player’s mind—could happen—or my changing mine). I’m continuing to work on Terra Nova in case of a mind-change, and I’ve had breakthroughs in that area; once I’m satisfied I have enough to start with, I plan to return my attention to Generica and/or others.

For the Saturday/Olympus group, we’re beginning the next campaign in the queue this week, which means there’s one other between it and my Inception campaign starter. I’m trying to start thinking about that one a bit, now; I don’t feel like I have a lot of work to do on that one, except cleanup/fine-tuning of the mechanics and house-rules.

So, forward progress. That’s good. Maybe I’ll have something of more useful substance to post in the near-future.

Table News, 11 Jul 15

A bit late this month…July sneaked up on me.

As of this writing, thanks to some personnel changes at the table, it looks like I will answer the call of GM duty for the (Friday) Core Group in a month or so, with the Legends of Generica campaign. I think I’d prefer to have a bit longer to work the kinks out, but then I do always say that. It may be a little shaky at first, but I expect it’ll smooth out as it gets moving. I have no idea or plan how long to run, but we’ve been discussing limiting GMing runs to 8-12 sessions, as a rule-of-thumb; ideally, it will be “sandbox” enough that I can keep it going indefinitely as needed.

Pretty much all of my work in the last month—to the point of near-obsession—has been devoted to Generica world-building; specifically, cleaning up the map, and filling out information on the wiki. Much progress has been made, and I’m feeling pretty good about it overall, though it has meant that work on the Inception campaign has all but halted—depending on the timing, I may end up delaying my scheduled start of that campaign, as I may be running Generica at that time.

Table News, 6 Jun 15

I’m still working on the GURPS Inception campaign. I’ve worked up a theme for Fantasy Grounds. I’ve set a soft-deadline for when to run the one-shot starter “adventure,” that is, after the next campaign run by the regular Saturday GM, which will follow someone else’s run—so I’ve got a while, but it’s not as long as I might tend to think, and any deadline is better than none. I’m feeling pretty good about the campaign this far out.


That said, I’ve been more recently distracted by my next production for the Core Group’s Friday game. After a year since the start of work on the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil campaign with nary a peep, I put forth the question of what I should be working on, and we ended up instead with a reboot of our Forgotten GreyLancErron “Generica” setting. It’s a very old concept of mine, a tongue-in-cheek generic Fantasy setting that makes undisguised and unabashed use of all the cinematic and literary tropes of the genre. In this case, though, I will be running it not in GURPS (as I would prefer), but in D&D 3.5—part of the reasoning for the change in focus was to allow the GM who normally runs the D&D games to get a chance to play in one. This does present a bit of a dilemma for me: this setting is certainly not part of the Daniverse, and my sites are almost-entirely dedicated to GURPS—so what to do with it? I haven’t yet decided. In the meantime, I’ve been possessed with world-building stuff, and populating a new Core Group wiki site. It’s all moving along quite nicely, and I intend to avoid putting off production for too long, lest it fizzle-out like so many have before it.

GMing: The Bright Side of Failure

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In my Olympus gaming group, my Saturday online game, in a recent fill-in session, we were playing a Mad Max-style post-apocalypse one-shot. Our fearless protagonists found themselves in the upper levels of a toppled skyscraper, both the walls and floors slanted such that a misstep would send unfortunate soul sliding toward the outer windows, and a long fall to their inevitable doom. Lacking the necessary skills and equipment to safely navigate this hazard, most of the PCs succumbed to the inevitable failure on the Climb checks to advance in a controlled manner, and slid down the canted floor toward the outer wall, breaking through the weakened window glass; one PC ended up hanging onto another’s leg, dangling out of the window, many stories above the river below. It was very dramatic, as you might expect, worthy of typical action movies.

That failure was frustrating, as it generally is. But I realized some time after the fact that the scene we were playing out would have been horribly boring without it—we would have walked in, got what we came for, and left. Failure made the scene entertaining.

Later I recalled another such incident: another one-shot with the Olympus group, this time an Infinite Worlds game. The PCs were in an American “Old West” timeline, and were to be “taken in” by the local constabulary, and we resisted. My character, a (decent) practitioner of Kali, was attempting to take down a rifle-wielding cavalryman, and over the course of 5-6 rounds of back and forth—attack, defend, attack, defend…actually, I don’t remember how it ended, except that it was really frustrating that I was having so much trouble connecting with this yokel. Afterward, I complained a little, but everyone else at the virtual table exclaimed at how cool it was, all the back and forth, like a martial arts movie. Again, that failure turned out to be entertaining—for everyone else, at least. I’ve endeavored to remember that incident since then any time I find my character unable to get past his opponents’ defenses.

To reference the image above: imagine the beginning segment of Raiders of the Lost Ark if Indy had succeeded in his attempt to spoof the trapped idol with the sandbag, and walked out—his failure made the scene memorable.

So what does it all mean, then?

I suppose the moral to this story is to treat failures as an opportunity to entertain. As GM, give a little leeway to the entertainment potential of failures. For example: there’s an option spoken of in GURPS Horror for Fright Check failures (“Not Just Stunned,” Horror p. 141), that allows sufferers of all those “Stunned for X Rounds” results to run around in circles, crawl randomly, scream or cry—things other than stand there and get hit, so long as it’s “useless.” Make it funny. Make it dramatic. Make it cinematic. Embrace failure as a necessary part of the storytelling.

But…

This does present a bit of a problem when you consider Impulse Buys, Plot Points, or other mechanisms for subverting failure. If you can cancel out failures, it (obviously) eliminates any sort of entertainment value one might derive from them. For this reason, I’m considering whether or not to allow regular Impulse Buys for my upcoming Inception campaign, or if I should disallow the buying-off of failures. I don’t have an answer for this yet, but I’ll be thinking about it—we’ll see what I decide.

GMing: Paragon/Renegade, or the Ethics of Mass Effect

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What is it?

The first encounter I can recall with this bit of digital game-design was a BioWare title, Knights of the Old Republic, a CRPG belonging the Star Wars game franchise. In that case, it took the form of the “Light Side/Dark Side” mechanic: actions taken resulted in accumulation of positive (light) or negative (dark) points to an overall total score for each character. The balance between the two had an effect on how the character was reacted to by other NPCs, and even had a physical “cosmetic” effect, in that the more the character favored the Dark Side, the more pale and haggard he would appear. Mass Effect, also by BioWare, included a similar mechanic using what was referred to as “Paragon/Renegade,” which differed from the former in that the virtues represented less of a “Good vs Evil” flavor, favoring something more like “Nice vs Mean.” Though less black-and-white and harder to judge the quality of a given action, it did mean that the Hero™ could favor one or the other and still be considered a “good person” in the end. I preferred the new mechanic. Naturally, I wanted to find a way to bring it into GURPS. Accumulation of Paragon/Renegade points can be a meta-system mostly independent of the rules; the GM can evaluate a PC’s actions and award points as he sees fit. However, there’s not much point to it unless there’s some tangible, in-game benefit, which is where the game-system gets involved.

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How I’m doing it

I’m already using the official-alternative Impulse Buys in (most of) my campaigns, and have been, in some form or another, since 3rd Edition; details on my website. My first thought—which I’m currently planning to implement for the first time in the Inception campaign—was to allow the accumulation of Paragon/Renegade-specific points for this purpose, spendable only on actions that can be properly justified according to the associated virtue. In addition, currently, my plan is to allow the current balance between the two types—that is, the number of points by which one exceeds the other (FREX: Paragon 5 and Renegade 3 = balance of Paragon 2)—to be used as a sort of limited Reputation, positive or negative based on the situation (FREX: a Paragon Rep would be positive toward “do-gooders” folks and negative toward “mavericks”), the limitation being that the subject must witness or have witnessed the character’s behaviors, or at least, “read his file.” Gaining of such points in either direction will be evaluated on an action-by-action basis, and will be limited to one point of each per session. It is my opinion (not specifically backed up by my digital inspiration) that gaining of a new point in either direction should require an escalation—if a character gains a Renegade Point for stealing candy from a baby (in the name of justice, of course 😉 ), then to gain another the next time, he’d need to steal the baby’s blanket too—or maybe the whole baby. Spending of such points will be upon request, and also limited to one of each per session.

Other Means

I also briefly considered using Talents (B89 and Power Ups 3) to represent a Paragon/Renegade score; it could provide a bonus to a number of specific, appropriate social skills, and would have a built-in limited “reputation” similar to what I wanted. It would probably work well enough, but it would be a bit more complicated to employ—I opted for the KISS method. One could also treat Paragon/Renegade Points as a limited-use Higher Purpose (B59), applying its bonus only to ethically-appropriate actions; a score of more than one Paragon/Renegade point could be available as a combined, single bonus, or limited to +1 for an equal number of uses. Either of these would be suitable replacements if you aren’t using Impulse Buys or some similar meta-system.

My work on the Inception campaign has renewed, to my great relief. I’ll be sure to write about how this mechanic works out in play once it finally occurs.

GMing: A Carrot

…In the “carrot vs. stick” meaning, that is.

One of the problems I encountered in the After the End campaign, as previously detailed, was a lack of proper forward-motivation in the players’ characters that made them more difficult to direct, as GM. Since then I’ve found a potential solution from an unlikely source, my current computer game obsession, Crusader Kings II.

Ambition:

For those not similarly afflicted, I will explain. In CK2, any character that is a ruler can voluntarily specify an “Ambition” to pursue. Examples include “Get Married,” “Have a Son/Daughter,” “Amass Wealth,” etc. Each Ambition has specific requirements, and specific rewards for completion of its objective(s); for example, “Amass Wealth” requires accumulation 500 wealth points (and is unavailable if you already have that much), and if successful, the character gains a free point in his Stewardship trait-score. An Ambition not yet fulfilled can be changed to another after a cool-down period has expired.

I’d be willing to bet that it’s a rare GM that hasn’t asked his players to submit some sort of “personal goal” for their character—it’s just common sense, and almost a necessity for a good GM. My revelation as a result of my CK2 exposure is two-fold. First, a GM could create a list of available Ambitions for players to choose from (“multiple-choice” is always easier/quicker than “essay”), perhaps with a “custom” option; this channels the players motivations in a direction useful to the GM’s plan, and can give players some idea what to expect from the campaign in general. Second, a GM could provide specific rewards for completion of the specified Ambition, such as free character-points toward related Traits or new Traits themselves, or perhaps some meta-game benefits like Plot Points (or whatever). In my mind, these Ambitions need not be tied to specific Traits already possessed by the character, but they would certainly benefit role-playing of those Traits through the resulting action-focus. I would suggest that potential rewards be scaled to the difficulty/scope of the Ambition—small reward for easy objectives, large rewards for long-term or difficult ones. I’d suggest that the “cool-down” should also apply; maybe allow changing Ambition once per adventure/series, or at set stopping points, or maybe even just a fixed number of sessions.

Here’s a practical example of a few appropriate Ambitions, using After the End.

  • Turtle Up: Find a safe place to call home and get set up there; reward: 5pts to spend on crafting/survival/traps-type Traits
  • Find Missing Family/Friend: Success conditions are obvious; reward: 5pt Ally, or -5pt Dependent (and allow the 5pts to be recovered as usual, spent on whatever)
  • Acquire Favorite Weapon: Success conditions are obvious; free Weapon Bond Perk
  • Go Home: Success conditions are obvious; reward: free buy-off of related Disads (like Obsession), or just freebie Plot Points, but should scale with how far or difficult-to-reach “home” is—maybe allow a character “rearrangement”

I haven’t tested this yet, but I’m quite confident this would solve some problems and be extra fun to play with. I plan to use it in all my future campaigns, unless it turns out to not work for some reason. Of course, my examples here are assuming use of GURPS, but it could fit as easily in any system.

Table News, 9 Feb 15

I haven’t done a damned thing all January (as it concerns GMing).

Got plenty of excuses, but it really just comes down to a lack of motivation, as always. The fire’s not out; the coals are still hot, though there’s no visible evidence. I figure it won’t take much to get it going again, but there it sits.

On the other (not-so-helpful) hand, this month marks the return of The Walking Dead from its winter hiatus, and that always gets me in a post-apocalyptic mood. Snippets of related conversation lead me to believe that a recurrence of the After the End campaign would likely not involve zombies, though—but that doesn’t bother me.

Table News, 8 Jan 15

Obligatory New Year’s post 😛

My GMing projection for this year: cloudy but promising. I expect to run two campaigns this year, but exactly what (in one case) and, more importantly, when is difficult to say.

Work on the next Inception one-shot is progressing, and I’ve started putting some pieces together for the full campaign. I’m beginning the push for the players’ characters, which means getting some of the basic info organized. Much will depend on how the one-shot goes, but I feel pretty good about it.

Table News, 1 Dec 14

There’s not much to report this month.

For the Olympus group, the Inception campaign preparations are still progressing forward; I’m down to the last bits before I start moving it to my website for public access. I’m still working on a new one-shot, which should see production in 6-8 weeks, at the end of the current campaign (though I’m having some trouble with the details on that one).

For the Core Group, it’s even farther out. We delayed the start of the continued Savage Tide campaign due to the usual end-of-year holiday madness—we’ve been playing a Savage Worlds Star Trek game in the interim—and I have no way of knowing when that will wrap. Already, it’s been long enough with no player push that the Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil campaign plans effectively lay dormant, and as it generally goes, may not rise again—depends on the players. Personally, I’d still rather run a reboot of After the End, no doubt, under new assumptions regarding the setting and tone. But we’ll see.