Random RPG Thoughts #4: why cover art may be important after all

Look what caught my eye while clearing the living room of debris, after a playmobil playing session of my daughters and friends. See the semblance?

For those of you who are not versed in Dutch: the left book is a comic by Vandersteen, of the Suske & Wiske series. You might know them as Willy and Wanda, or Spike and Suzy. It's a very successful longstanding series, running in the hundreds. Which is outstanding for non-superhero stuff.

The right book you should all recognize. Or if not, it is the Moldvay Basic Dungeons & Dragons book, which drew in many players during the early 1980's.

Now why are the cover layouts so similar? And why, perhaps, is the success also similar?

Red is a color which alerts men more, at least when women dresses are concerned. Want to have better chances at seducing or alerting a man? Wear red. Maybe the same thing goes for book covers. Draw attention? Wear red! These two do.

And look at the boxed in comic style drawing! Both have an action scene - but by no means ultra-realistic.
Even the lettering has similar color and size. Both have a series number in a white roundel in the left had corner.

Go figure. I never noticed until I just mistook the left book for the right in the half dark.
Could it mean that prospective players might have been attracted because they thought they saw a new Suske & Wiske on the shelves, and had to have a look when they found out it was not?

That might open perspectives if you really really want to draw attention... Newsweek style covers, for example, or fave women' zine fronts. For an RPG.

I'm not sure what this means, but there's something here...


Pick #72: Between the Hobbit and LotR is...

The Hunt for Gollum. It's a highly professional fan-made film, made non-profit, for about 3000 pounds by Chris Bouchard and colleagues. Shot entirely on HD video. The film took two years to make, with over a hundred people working on it. Probably because it's so good, Tolkien Enterprises don't allow it to be sold (they have no stake in it), but do allow the film to be shown for free on the internet.

It's been around since 2009, and chances are that you heard of it. Over ten million views on Youtube. But if you have not seen it, you'll have something to watch for! Have a look how Aragorn eventually takes over captured Gollum from a horde of orcs. Worse, Uruk Hai. And be impressed by a very extended combat scene rivaling Boromir's demise in Peter Jackson's first Tolkien film.

True Tolkien fans also should be happy, as the writers did their best to stay faithful to the source, basing the story on appendices in Tolkien's books.

It's fourty minutes long - almost - so take your time.


Module Artwork...

Okay, so I redid the front piece for my upcoming module "Shadow of the Haunted Keep". Just figured I needed a full color cover, and that I had some practice to do with digital painting anyway.

So I worked on it a couple of hours while waiting for my vigilant and admirable proofreaders. Here's the temporary result. I'll have to do a bit more detail. But first I should sleep. It's past 0100 in my time zone. Hope you like it!


Ye Olde Character Sheet #5: Character Identity Panic

Once I moved on from high school to college - or university, as the European system is a bit different - I also expanded my playing group. Or actually, a best friend did by posting adverts. And the new players who reacted brought in their own new brand of hero.
One of them, one who also became a very best friend, had a very special taste. His heroes had to be... different. They had to combine different powers and identities of several heroes. One of his favorites combined werewolf Navarre from Ladyhawke, immortal Highlander McLeod, and Timothy Dalton's version of James Bond. Granted, the last one was not his idea, but that of a fellow player who played his character's lover. But I can assure you that combining the roles of immortal and werewolf is difficult enough. Even if you are the game master playing the hero as an NPC. Hero Cyrion was both lovable and his schizophrenic antics also drove us players mad.

The first hero he introduced however, was above character sheet's "Nature Master". He also thought up a whole class for this one. With a gemstone grafted in the forehead to give both magickal properties - controlling animals -, and to give some telepathic motivation and identity changes if necessary. The gemstone was probably meant as a way to balance the character and give the game master some control. To confuse matters further, he used an eightsided sword with multiple purpose poisoned darts shooting out. A sword which he technically should not use as his vows forebade him to maim or kill, usually. Or at least that's how I remember it.

In hindsight the character was way overpowered. But I guess I let it be played because the player was so enthused about his own design, provided with complex technical drawings. And he soon found out the character was pretty hard to play anyway. There was no real clear hero purpose or identity I could handle as a GM, and the character fit in the fantasy world as... well, as a druid in a concrete city.

The above sheet was not the first, I think, as we were in a system change during this time again. Another one of my home brews, which diverted further and further from mainstream AD&D. Soon my Nature Master friend branded the new system the "Jaap"-system (which is my name). And to my surprise he started to propagate it everywhere. Eventually, years later, we teamed up to do a rewrite of this "Jaap"-system, which became the first edition of Dark Dungeon.

Today is Nature Master friend's birthday. Happy Birthday, Rinze!


Role Playing 101 #10: How the Patron moves your Adventure

Last issue I touched upon story hooks – and player motivation. The simplest story hook you can think of is actually an employer, or as some call it – a patron. And if the patron is right, he or she can motivate all or most of your team.

If the heroes work for Star Fleet, then an officer higher in the chain of command may be all you need. If the heroes are constantly short of money because their Firefly is out of fuel, anyone with an attractive business deal can hire them and send them into adventure. Are the heroes the epitome of goodness, or they are like the A-team? Then any underdog in need or damsel in distress may call upon their aid.

More Than One Patron for The Same Party
But you may also have a more complex team. Maybe the warriors in the group are hired by the city council. But the priest is just there to keep an eye on things for the church, as a kind of Inquisitor. The mage in the group is there because she expects to recover a lost magick item the others have no knowledge of, and she just forces herself into the group as “an advisor”. A half-elven noble may be part of the team too, because he believes in the cause of the city council. And so on.

Patrons don't have to be regular employers or clients. They can also be the damsel in distress, a dead man with a will, or even in some cases the enemy. In a way, if an enemy kidnaps your friends, and you want them back – he's almost a patron. But if he kidnaps your friends and only wants to return them alive if you work for him, he is certainly a patron.

Or have a Player Character as Patron
Also, one or more of the player characters may be a patron for themselves. If the team leader is the Schutzfrau (Lady Protectress) of Soest, and Soest is to be defended, then the Schutzfrau is the patron. If one of the players wants to rob an interstellar bank, and builds his team, he's the patron. And when the heroes want to empty the Tomb of Horrors from it's treasures, they're almost their own patron. Together with the demilich sorceror waiting for them inside.

The nice thing about patrons as story hooks is, that they are generally thinking people. If one way to move the player characters forward does not work, they may try to think of another one. Some patrons may even join the party to make sure what they want happens. In a way they help steer the group the way you'd like them to go. They're a tool to make game mastering easier. And even if the group does not listen to a patron, you'll still have some interesting interaction!


Pick #71: DOS Box your Old Adventures

Maybe you'll scoff at computer adventures. Maybe you just scoff at new ones. Maybe you think you should scoff at them because they're no "real" role playing games. Maybe you yearn for real old games which your *new* computer is somehow unable to handle. Or maybe you just think you yearn for them. And you don't have time to play anyway!

In any case, if you'd ever wish to play one of these oldies like Eye of the Beholder, Strahd's Revenge, or Ultima Underworld, and they're still somewhere on a shelf or in your basement, then you might like DOSbox. It turns your PC into a real OLD PC for the time you play your old game. For most games.

Turned to the Dar... eh Apple Side? No matter, their emulator for DOS, named Boxer, is even better. And more intuitive. It even plays Darklands, which I couldn't say for DOSbox on my webbook.

Lost your old copy? Sometimes you can re-find it on Steam. But otherwise have a search on an Abandonware site. The better ones now also observe copyright issues.


Role Playing 101 #9: Use Story Hooks!

No matter how you structure your storyline, and no matter if it's linear or completely free, you have no game if your heroes do not participate. For some game masters I've met this may not seem a problem. In their adventures the heroes are no more than spectators anyway. Their players may watch, but not touch.

How to Draw Players IN? 
But I hope a no touch no go adventure is not what you are looking for. The heroes should participate. They should be able to act and to change things. To steer events. And naturally they should also be able to fail. Or succeed. And they should want to succeed, change and steer.

So how do you get your heroes to participate? You need something to draw them in. Something to make them care. You need story hooks.

A story hook somehow makes the story personal for the hero, and hopefully also personal for the player. Perhaps the stakes of the adventure are personal, because they are a family member, a family treasure, a home village, or a close friend. Perhaps a friend is in need, or a big reward is promised – and the hero badly needs money. Perhaps the hero has a particularly strong sense of justice, and a great injustice is done. Perhaps the employer of the hero wants him (or her) there. Or maybe it's just something strange and mysterious that draws the attention of the heroes.

Be Pragmatic with your Hooks
Whatever hooks you use, always make sure that they indeed work. See if your players indeed bite, and are entertained. If you find that the players are not drawn into your intended story, then maybe you need some other hooks. Think of a few new ones before you ditch your story, and see if you can find the right angle. If necessary, ask your players for help what might work. And reward them by using the suggestions.

Different players may need different hooks. And different characters in the same team may also need different hooks. You might even want to provide each player with their own reason – or story hook – to participate. Because in essence, a hook is part of the overall motivation of your characters – and players. And motivation is what you need.

And if you are a player reading this, remember that your character motivation is also very much your own responsibility. Don't try to be one of those guys who sits behind the telly during the game all the time complaining that there is no reason to join the adventure. And at the same time ignore each hook that is thrown at you. Be a bit cooperative too, or leave the room if you find you cannot manage.


Ye Olde Character Sheet #4: System Panic

Somewhere in the late eighties - or was it in the early nineties? - we couldn't decide on which system to play. Yes, we tried D&D. We loved and hated AD&D. We did many homebrews. I think my own systems were in their seventh incarnation. We loved to game, but we just couldn't agree on the rules.

It's much like today's high finance. But that's for another blog, I guess.

So, if fantasy gaming was an issue, Sci Fi adventuring was even worse. We tried and forgot about Traveller, mostly because of MegaTraveller. RoleMaster was hard to get, and no one would have gotten through it anyway. TSR's attempt at SF was a laugh - or at least that's what we thought then. So where to go?

One of my fellow players (you know who you are, JLC) was so desperate to play, he wrote up his favorite addicted female rogue in all systems he could think of. As this sheet testifies.

What I find intriguing is how much the stats differ. You might not guess it's all the same character we're talking about, even if you can decipher all of them. See how short the Traveller code is? Or how seemingly low the strength in Judge Dredd? Probably, the gaming experience would also be different for each rule set.

But then again, the crazy computer in Paranoia is also a very different adversary (euhr, "Friend") than is Darth Vader in Star Wars. And any game surely differs more with the Game Master than with its system.

Sylvia eventually was played in a version of Dark Dungeon adjusted for Space Travel and Sci Fi. I'm not sure if any of the above stats were ever tried.


A request... proofreader wanted

Dear fellow bloggers. I just finished a DD2 / OSR adventure kit for publication, and I'm looking for a native english speaking proofreader. And possibly playtester, if you like it. In exchange for your effort, you'll get my eternal gratitude, honorable mention and the module for free :-)

The module is a tribute to late Moldvay's classic adventure, but with all new artworks, background, storyline, and even some background and encounters for a local town.

Update: two people just offered their kind services! So the email address has been removed.


Free Adventure Setting: Ammersfurt Complete!

For Thirtyfive weeks (and a few more, as something went wrong), I've dealt out an adventure seed each week. All for the medieval fantasy Ammersfurt setting. Now it seems the right moment to give out the complete booklet. So if you missed out parts, or didn't look before, download it at your leisure. It's free for you to use and modify.

Let me know how you like it!

 Download the complete PDF of The Secret of Ammersfurt here!