Friday, May 25, 2018

From the Diary of Yareh Falsong: Dicocoven, New Moon


Have you ever fucked an orc in the river of dreams?

I have. And let me tell you something diary, I’m not entirely sure how I survived the ripples of that one. It was just my luck that I ended up as some sort of chosen mook of Orcagorgon, and that his idea of calling in a favor is “Put an end to the Chairman of Vampires”

Did you know that the Chairman of Vampires is 15 ft tall? I didn’t. I was expecting some chump in a cape, and I’ll admit that’s on me but for fucks sake after we made it past the trolls with the blood bags (don’t ask it wasn’t pretty) and followed Thiggy’s (a decapitated troll head we got direction from) directions to the Chairman’s study, which was all GIANT SIZED I very nearly felt frightened.

After we secured a few of the scrolls for removal later we proceeded into a CHESS ROOM. That Bela Legosi motherfucker had a CHESS ROOM, and based on the fight we had with the shade inhabiting the white king it seems like no expense was spared. Kudos to Ribbon for snaring that thing in her magic cape, and diary remind me to fix the sword hole I put in that magic cape.

I gotta give props to Brutal Pete for being prepared with a few choice potions for this one. I’ve been broke for months and basically went into this geas with a hangover and a death wish. We busted in on the Chairman while he was in his sarcophagus and cracked it open like the worst walnut ever. They never mention the smell that comes out of a freshly opened sarcophagus but let me tell you it’s a treat- not to mention the fact that he looked like a piece of raw chicken with the skin peeled off.

As soon as he came out I cracked him a good one, but it should be made clear that my best “cracking him a good one” wasn’t going to be of much help. He almost crushed the robot that was adventuring with us and if not for some luck and a potion of undead control we would be exsanguinated husks hanging on the corner of his door like raincoats.

But instead we made him our puppet, made him show us his treasure (it was A LOT of treasure) and had him walk with us out into the cold light of day.

It would have went off without a hitch if the robot hadn’t insisted on stealing some VERY OBVIOUSLY trapped ruby vampire fangs out of a statue and nearly getting me killed when the GELATINOUS CUBE MADE OF BLOOD tried to chew off my feet as we got into the elevator. If Brutal Pete hadn’t risked his life dragging my ass in I wouldn’t be writing this now.

Brutal Pete is gonna be my next tattoo.

We brought the Chairman to the Dreaming River and I baptized him in the name of Orcagorgon- melted the head clean off him.

Take that you 15 foot Snailmas ham, I fucked in that water.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Video Games and Tabletop Games and When to Stick that Peanut Butter in the Chocolate

So I just read THIS. Which is an article about Alex Gygax working with  turning some of Gary's old unpublished adventures and home setting stuff into video games.

Here's a quote:

“I grew up playing this and I’m also a huge video gamer, so I’ve always wanted to see my dad’s work because I thought that they were some of the greatest stories and tough adventures,” Alex said. “I’ve always wanted to see them put out in the next level. Pen and paper is a dying art. Computer games, video games, they’re the next generation, the next wave of games and I’ve always wanted to see them on that new medium and I’ve always wanted to be working with someone who’s excited as I am about it.”

Pen & paper is hardly dying, I think anyone that has seen the massive following that actual-play podcasts like The Adventure Zone and streaming games like Critical Role have know that. And anyone that refers to video games as "The next generation" is possibly unstuck from time.

Something else that bothers me here is the idea that by plucking these adventures from their intended system and rehashing them as video games you are somehow upgrading them. It's like going and seeing an exhibition of beautiful and well shot photographs and telling the artist you would really enjoy their work if all of their photos were ceramic jars instead. Maybe that's true but why on earth were you there in the first place?

I don't want this to come across as some argument against adapting things. I think the idea of reverse engineering a system from a different system is totally cool and fun, Mute is working of an adaptation of Diablo for tabletop play which I'm very excited to try. It's a time honored tradition in tabletop games to look at something and say, "How would I do that with dice?" and you would be hard pressed to find an RPG video game that didn't owe something to the worlds most popular fantasy roleplaying game

BUT

The things that are satisfying about both TTRPGs and video games are more universal than a setting or a specific story. The feeling of exploration, anticipation, camaraderie and adventure are shared throughout games of all kinds. The thing that differentiates these mediums is approach and focus. Swinging a sword in a video game is different than saying that you're swinging a sword at the table, and you can build whole games around those differences, but in the end what you're left with is a ship, and a the point of a ship is to sail somewhere.

I guess what I'm really trying to say here is that "Lejendary Adventure" is a really dumb name and letting me buy it on Steam isn't going to change that J to a G.

By Jary Jyjax





Session 3: Spooky Woods & Mountain Jerks.


Part 1.

The party departs the Lonely Goat early in the morning, opting to save their cash and not purchase mounts. They spend the better part of a day leaving The Fields of Amber. The path to the mountains is heavily forested and they reach the woods around nightfall. The woods are very spooky and theres like, a lot of owls.

Deciding to find a spot to camp for the evening, the party wanders off the trail only to be met by a voice in the dark.

"Stay back you fiends!"



So theres a knight sitting at a campfire wearing this really old, worn armor that's covered in crests that nobody recognizes. And the party is like, whoa, relax my dude we're not here to do you dirty just looking to camp it up in these woods. The knight relaxes a bit and relates to them his story. He says that he's the last left from an expedition to the West to get medicine for his town, which he says is about a days journey away and beset by terrible disease. Around now Ovaria leans into the rest of the party and is like-

"Can't we just fucking murder this fossil?"

Which is a thing you say when you're the only chaotic evil member of the party, but the rest of them are like...nah.

But they do go through his stuff while he spends some time monologuing and find some pots of medicine hidden in the back of his cart that I think I described as "really old" because I wasn't playing my clues too close to my chest for this one.

So The knight keeps talking and name dropping a bunch of stuff that some good rolls confirm the party has no fucking clue about. And it's about now that Ted, who's playing an Eldritch Knight named Vorador Twitchel says

"I bet he's an unstuck from time Kilgore Trout ghost knight"

And of course he was because thats exactly the kind of shit I'm always peddling in my games, and so I panic and move on to the next bit of the encounter because for some reason I didn't think they would get it that fast because most of the time there has to be a neon sign to get the party to clue in on something that isn't a weird fixation they have on a jar that I described too well.

So there's a noise in the woods and some arrows come flying and one hits the knight in the leg and then he's like

"AROOOO I'm a kill you bandits and save my toooooooown"

And the party is just sitting there while he grabs his sword and he's like

"To arms my comrades!"

But they're like, let's see how this plays out and do nothing and of course the ghosts do a ghost fight with each other and one of the bandits attacks the party and it's sword goes through them in what would have been a big reveal if I cared more about developing an air of mystery but mostly it was good comedy and the knight got murdered by the bandits and the whole scenario of the bandits looting his shit played out and then I started to think on my feet and decided that this whole scenario would play on a loop. 

So now it's Groundhog Day + Unstuck from time + the knight at the end of Last Crusade and the party watches the whole scenario play out a bunch of times through the night and starts doing MST3K style riffing of it like its a bad movie and there was much merriment yada yada.



The next day they take the medicine* into the town (which is rubble because the ghost was from like 300 years ago) and they put it on the alter in the church and a bunch of children's ghosts fly out of the church and on the breeze they here the crusty old knight say

"Thaaaaaaanks"

And that was a hex and it took about an hour. Oh and the party searched the rubble of the town and found a box with some weird cubes that caused various minor magical effects like flashes and steam and stuff (Thank's for all the random loot over the years Vornheim)

*It was hidden so the bandit's didn't find it and just took the Knight's armor and food.

Here's my rules for Ghosts real quick:

Ghosts are created when a creature dies with unfinished business in a particularly magically charged area.
Ghosts cannot speak of their misfortune for they do not know it.
Ghosts cannot leave the place where their blood was spilled.

Ghosts are free to leave this plane when their task is complete.

Part 2.

The party sets off once again and begins to traverse the Gaptooth Mountains and after about a half day's march they find themselves at The Bridge Keep.

like this but without the waterfall.

They make their way across the first half of the bridge and meet the nice man (think Billy Eichnor) who extorts you for a lot of money so you can cross and he informs them that it's 50g per person and when they don't have enough to cross he's like

"I don't care"

So they try a lot of hijinks to get try and get past, but it didn't work because this is the kind of place designed to foil all of your hijinks with bows and arrows and rocks and hot oil and get your cash so I got to say no a lot and I made the guy SUPER rude and sarcastic so the players REALLY hated him. After about 3 or 4 hijinks he informs the party that theres a rowboat back a the beginning of the bridge down a precarious set of stairs and wishes them luck rowing across The Lake of Tears.

They all vow to murder him someday and climb in the rowboat.

They make it about halfway across the lake and I let them know that there's (obviously) something swimming up from below at them. So it's at this point that my players start to play a little game called:

GUESS WHAT THE DM IS ABOUT TO THROW AT US

After cycling through all the pop culture references they can think of (Krakens, Eels, Etc) I yelled at them all and said it wasn't going to be ANYTHING THEY COULD POSSIBLY GUESS. (which was a total lie because it was evil mermaids) and I considered making it like 30 regular horses just to fuck with them but accidentally perfectly described Old Gregg without realizing what I was doing.


So then Old Gregg The Evil Mermaid told them that it's people also required tolls and that they could pay with

1. Newborn babies blood
2. Everyone's left eye
3. A bottle of wine

And after a meticulous combing of their character sheets for wine (all they had was brandy) and a realization that they all really like their eyes somebody threw one of the weird cubes they picked up in the village at the mermaids head and it got distracted and they did a rowboat chase and made it to the shore and climbed up the cliffside because more than half the party has Spider Climb I guess.

Another hex completed and I did not expect for this blog post to be this long.

Thanks for hanging in there.

BONUS CONTENT

Dungeon Room
"The First Guess"

"The room is an unassuming 30x30 feet with pattern printed tile walls, floor and ceiling. The first character to guess the gimmick of the room is absolutely correct and whatever they say happens, happens. If no one makes a guess by the time the party has made it through the room, a treasure chest containing Type A loot will appear in the center of the room. The party can poke and prod the room however they like without invoking the "curse" as long as no one says "I bet its X" or a similar phrase.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Podcasting!

So Mutebanshee and I started a podcast and I'm really happy with how the first episode came out. Our first episode is split between us introducing ourselves and talking about our game experience and then talking about one-shot games because that's been rattling around in our domes. I'm getting everything together so you can listen through itunes and all the other things, but if you're just sitting at your computer and want to listen RIGHT NOW then you can click at this very convenient embedded player.

Friday, April 6, 2018

From The Diary of Yareh Falsong. Lands of Vyzor. 4/6/2018

Dear Diary,

I've been on hiatus for a while, after I came back from the dead, and Sleet and I did that whole Monday night RAW thing (which felt like it lasted weeks) I took a few weeks off to get my head straight. Mostly I drank, but at least I didn't go drunk-thieving like I usually do, I think coming back as (mostly) a human was good for me. I got real deep into the crow-mind for a year or so and I have to say that it's a pretty dark place, I probably wouldn't have hired a demon and killed a bunch of thieves guild had it not been for the bucket of greed seeds I was calling a brain back then.

Being dead was weird though, I saw Orcagorgon in all their demonic majesty- 7 flaming crowns and all. It was cool but I was getting this totally judgey vibe from them because I'm still all geased up and I haven't gone on their weird God-quest. Which is probably why I still have this mad beefy orc arm, though all the tattoos on it are weird and demonic now. Sometimes I just stare at them for hours when I'm trying to...

What was I talking about? I just blacked out for a second. I came back to my room early after hitting the bars tonight and I'm not used to it being this quiet when I'm blasted.

So anyways I ended my vacation with that crazy party up at the Skyfortress that Sleet just captured. It was pretty wild, I got drunk and accidentally burned down the King of all Apple Trees, but everyone agreed it was an accident. They wouldn't have any way of knowing that Orcagorgon had old beef with that tree, right? Either way I'm all pawn in this chessgame and if a transdimentional being with 7 flaming crowns says to burn a tree down I'm just gonna do it, they don't pay me enough NOT to.

I blew pretty much the rest of my gold on booze a the party so it was time to get back on the old dungeon express and I hooked up with Kat Eumeleia, Brax of Tallstones, Lars Hootman and a collection of our hired goons to go on a quest that Kat got from her deity, Ke$ha The Star Goddess.


As delves go it was pretty smooth. We headed down the Dreaming River to this land called Wessex that I'd never been too, although I've heard some pretty buckwild stories about it from some of the older tavern crowd. We entered through a tower and not before long we ran into a Minotaur. Thankfully he spoke Orcish and instead of killing us on sight he was a total bro and gave us directions to where the cult was that was holding onto the silver ball that Kat needed. We had to find a winch that lowered us down to the 4th floor, which wasn't too hard to get to. "Avoid the 5th floor though, it's a fucking bloodbath down there" he said, the blood and entrails of an orc he was consuming spattering from his bovine lips.

The first room of the fourth floor was furnished and there were some cultists lounging around playing cards with a couple of zombie henchmen. We gave them the old, "we brought booze" routine, but Hootman didn't have any wine on him. Luckily Brax had a flask and I was holding a few nugs of good Vyzorian Kush. We put some in the air with the cultists and they got real chill and took us to see the silver ball they were guarding. The chamber was chocked full of zombies and there was no way we were killing all of them (they had this crazy purple slime on their claws and I do NOT fuck with slime) so I invoked the ancient kush-curse of "reminding them they were like, super hungry" (which is a total dick move I know but I don't have the gold to come back from hell again) and told them there was a burrito place back out through their chamber and up the winch. I was honest to god shocked when all of them cleared out and left us alone with the silver ball.


We got to work quick. Brax grabbed the silver ball, Kat went for a nice looking chalice and dagger on the alter, it was totally cursed and I was about to give her a hard time about it but then as soon as I pooped the first gem out of the eye I got zapped with magic lighting and a gong went off, filling the room with more cultists.

Turns out they were some lame ass jerks though and we smashed them good, the only casualty being Kat's nose, which we at least managed to retrieve. We booked it out of there and wended our way back to the elevator via the other chamber door. One of the stoned cultists was passed out there and we realized that the rest of them had ridden the elevator up and were arguing with the hirelings we left there to work the winch. 

"Burrito place? I don't think..."

After a quick party huddle we grabbed the sleeping cultist and put a knife to his throat. "Tell them the burrito place is on level 5 or I give you a new mouth just south of the old one" I whispered in his ear. He was quick to comply and we were treated to the scene of 3 hungry cultists and 17 zombies on an elevator eagerly awaiting their burritos. Vyzorian Kush is a hell of an herb. 

After they got off the lift we called up to the hirelings to raise it back up, but they informed us there were two zombies left behind working the winch now, so Brax and I climbed the chain. I tossed him one end of a rope and we gave the zombies the old malicious jumprope routine and sent them over the edge. 

We raised the rest of the party up and made our way back out of the dungeon. I'm still surprised it went so smoothly. 

Ke$ha must have been watching over us. 

Y

Monday, April 2, 2018

Guest Post Monday!

So Mutebanshee and I decided it would be fun to trade blogs and write a guest post for each other. I asked her to write a guest post about one-shots, I'm really happy that I did because she has lots of great insight and you should totally read her blog. Now I'm gonna kick back and hang on an imaginary beach because that's what you do when someone else does the heavy lifting. 



Skullboy reached out to me a couple days ago. "Mute," he said, "I'm posting a ton of stuff about one shots, and you are so smart, I really need you to tell me how to run a good single session game!"

I looked at him through the dark void of internet wires, shook my head, and replied, "No, Skullboy, you already have the session within you."

I might have left it at that, but I really like rambling on about my favorite hobby, so even though I already fixed the problem in a single, concise sentence, I decided to write several more paragraphs about the subject. Sam is already talking about a lot of system things that work well in one shots, and I'm going to leave that stuff to him. Instead I'm going to focus more on my favorite topic... improvising as a game master during a one shot adventure. 

So, stretch out your eyes and open your brains, and join me on this exploration of story telling during a single session adventure.

What is a one shot?

Okay, we all know that a one shot is a single session adventure. That's not really what I mean by the question. Perhaps the better question would be, "What is this one shot?" Because there are many reasons to run a one shot adventure. You might be trying to show off a new system at a convention where you have hours and hours to play. You might be doing a demo night at a local game store, and have only two hours to fill. You might be fascinated by a new system that doesn't fit into your current line up of games, but you will end up playing it, even if it costs you your soul (Numenera, I'm looking at you. Somehow, someday). You might just be hanging out with friends and decide to sit down for some new adventures.

I ask this question first, because the purpose of the game very much determines the tone, style, and type of game you want to play. If you are working with new people that have zero table top experience, and have only two hours to sit down and play, you want to run a much simpler game than you might want to at a convention where experience gamers are looking for new experiences. Answering this question should help getting the shape of your game in mind.

The elevator pitch

Now that you know what type of game you are running, it's time to start thinking about the setting, basic plot, and rpg system that you will run. This is the elevator pitch, and will act as your north star while making decisions in game. It's important to keep this simple, and I really like using random tables for this. A great example of a random adventure idea generator is used in Lasers and Feelings, and can come up with pitches like: "Alien Brainworms bond with an ancient space ruin to fix everything."

When you are pitching your game to potential players, I recommend including the system. So my pitch would become "A Lasers and Feelings game where alien brain worms bond with an ancient space ruin to fix everything.

Game Prep

The amount of preparation you need to put into a one shot is going to vary widely, determined by both the purpose of the game, and the system that you are running. In Lasers and Feelings, I would do maybe five minutes of preparation, and come up with a list that looks a bit like this: 
  • The Alien Brain worms are the remnant of a very powerful alien empire that once ruled the entire galaxy. 
  • The ancient space ruin is the lost temple, the only place that the brain worms could reproduce. At the heart of the temple is a spawning pool where water mixes with an incredibly rare element: Element Delta.
  • If the Alien Brain worms get to the center of the temple and manage to reproduce, they will once again attempt to conquer the galaxy.
  • Possible Moral Question: Do the players destroy the temple and billions of years of culture, or do they find a better (but harder) way to stop the brain worms?
That's it. If I was running a grittier system like Dungeons and Dragons, I would prepare three to six encounters that I thought were likely to happen. I'd come up with something interesting to put at the center of the temple (maybe an encounter waste deep in brackish water fighting some sort of mother worm, while new born birth worms try to crawl into the character's ears), and I'd come up with a couple other encounters as well. While designing the encounters, I would always look back to the elevator pitch to make sure the encounters fit the theme and mood I was going for.

It's not your story

This is the most important rule for any adventure, but doubly so for a one shot. It's so important, that it probably should have gone up higher in the post. But if you have read this far, and only take away one thing from this guest post, it's that the adventure you are going to run is not your story.

Your job as a game master is to facilitate that opportunity for your players to tell the story that they want to tell. And that may not be the story you thought you were going to run. The last time I ran Lasers and Feelings I had my elevator pitch all set up. Lasers and Feelings is never a serious system, but I guessed there was going to be some opportunity for some serious, poignant moments. I had a couple moral dilemmas that I thought were interesting and would add some flavor to the game.

But then my players sat down to make characters, and they all decided that they were space adventurers looking for the most attractive aliens. They were out to coitus where no one had ever coitused before. At first I started having a mini panic. It was one of those, "Oh God, what is happening?" moments. But then I took a deep breath and remembered that I had a pitch.

The basic pitch of the game I ran didn't change. The threat was still the same, even the consequences if the threat wasn't stopped were still the same. But you bet that the captain of a Fleet Ship was a sexy penguin captain. During this game, my players decided to team up with the bad guys, decided three quarters of the way through that the bad guys were wrong after all, and then used a time traveling device that could have destroyed the universe to travel back in time... all to warn their captain not to sleep with an alien ooze that would leave him incapacitated for months and months. The last line of the game was something like, "you step out of the time vortex just as the ooze forms a massive penetrating shape. It raises the shape to plunge into the captain's back door, when you yell, "no, captain! That alien has an ooze transmitted disease!" You just saved your captain, the best coituser of you all."

It wasn't at all the story I thought I would be telling. Even though my pitch never changed, and the threat I had prepared never changed, the entire theme and mood did. And you know what? It was one of the most exciting games I've ever played.

Obviously if you are playing with people that don't want things to get graphic, you can tell the players at the table, "hey, we're going to keep everything pg in this game." If you want, you can tell people what sort of mood you are trying to achieve, or the concepts that you want to explore. But once you start in with the introduction to the game, it isn't your game any more. It belongs to the players, and you are there to help them make the most of it they possibly can.

This point is so incredibly important in a one shot, because it seems so counter intuitive. I know tons of Dungeon Masters that think a one shot needs to be more contained than a campaign. They want to know what every scene is going to be, and have a map of the adventure that they can rely on. And you know what? That's one style of gaming. But it isn't my style, it isn't Improvisational gaming. 

If you are going to try and map everything out, I offer this, every good GM needs to be open to player input and suggestions. Remember that players might come up with ways to solve a problem you didn't expect, and remember to be open to that idea. Every GM runs into situations where they need to improv at some point, no matter how prepared they are.

So, to sum things up, remember: Why are you running the game? What is your elevator pitch? How much prep do you need? And remember that in the end, it's not your story.

I could probably ramble on for another five pages, but enough is enough. Stop reading, and go play a single session game!

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Art of the One Shot

The one shot game is a beautiful thing. When properly executed it can effectively introduce people to the hobby without asking for a time commitment from them and simultaneously scratch the itch of weekly players who want to shake things up. I like that cocktail and I'm going to try and build a system with it in mind.

So here are some loosely structured ideas for what I think a system like this would need if I wanted to use it with all of my favorite old school style modules. If this game exists already, please let me know so I can move on my life and just play that.

Character Creation
This is probably the biggest deal for a system that needs to be able to run fast, and at a moments notice. I've run games where I just go ahead and make a bunch of characters that people can inject their own flavor into but sometimes I don't have the time/want people to come up with things on their own. Plenty of old school systems have quick/randomly generate-able characters but most of them also have super weak first level characters and depend on multiple sessions to get real weird and acquire all the good for plot wild magic items.

So what I'm thinking is that character creation should not only be quick and fairly easy for newbies to jump in on, but should also be a little meatier in the cool character stuff department. I want to generate characters that have a little more experience under their belt without the headache of generating higher level characters off the bat. In order to do this I'm thinking the "class" system will be focused more on the kind of adventuring the character was doing up until now. So instead of picking "fighter" the player could roll up stats and then pick a couple of things from a list like this:

-Cool Fighting Style
-Interesting Magic Item
-Specialized Skill
-Helpful Companion
-Magic

And then maybe you end up with characters like this.


Wealth & Treasure
A one shot game doesn't give us a lot of time to acquire great deals of wealth and then figure out what to spend it on. Instead it gives us an idea of what the characters were up before the adventure started. You know, the first few paragraphs of every Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser story that gives you an idea of whether or not their rich. I'm thinking it gives you a shorthand idea of what your characters have access to, if they have patrons or if they're sort of dirt poor in a gutter. I figure the more things like this that get built into the characters the less work you do as the DM.

Experience & Leveling
We've already established that there isn't really time for a systems that rely on traditional wealth/treasure acquisition curves so Leveling XP have to either be scrapped or changed dramatically. I think there could be a system for opening a character up more as they progress through the plot, without having to consult a chart to level up. Maybe each of those special powers has like a little special power inside of it that comes into play in the 3rd act. Also I'm going to start using acts to describe the flow of the adventures for this thing because it's fairly movie like already and I'm going to pretentiously lean into it.

Death & Dismemberment & Dying
I want to avoid super low survivability, but I do want characters to be affected by the environment and conflict, so I'm thinking that dismemberment, curses, hexes and things like vampirism will definitely have prominent play here. I also want something that keeps a players attention if they DO die early on. Like, maybe they start controlling an aspect of the environment/plot/NPC or whatever.

This is a sketch. I'll break each of these down into more fleshed out posts in the coming weeks.