OSR Experiments #31: Brendan's 20 Questions for a not really D&D game any more

Yes, why not answer Brendan's 20 questions for Dark Dungeon too? It's not really the same sort of game as D&D, it's not a homebrew, but if conversion works, why not answer the questions too. Might be enlightening too!

Here are 20 rules clarifications that are likely to be needed anyways at some point.

1. Ability scores generation method?
50 points are given to starting characters, and typically 20 points are used for abilities, assigned by choice. Two points per ability point, with 0 being average, and 5 being very high and maximum starter level.

2. How are death and dying handled?
Characters receiving Critical wounds may die if they do not get medical attention and fail their CONstitution check. Terminal wounds are final unles you use a Luck point (these are finite).

3.What about raising the dead?
Unusual, but not impossible. Some Saints and Gods do grant this miracle. And there are some magickal-technical ways to reincarnate in a cloned body fo select groups.

4. How are replacement PCs handled?
As new heroes to be written into the story. I'm not sure I get this question.

5. Initiative: individual, group, or something else?
Initiative is individual and essential in combat, as the one who has initiative may be the one to set the rythm of a combat. If you don't have the initiative you may be forced into the defensive, having to parry or evade all the time.

6. Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work?
Critical hits on a "natural" roll of 10 on d10, and on an effective 15 or more when adding skill. Fumbles occur on a natural roll of 1 on d10, and a reroll of 4 or less. The lower the reroll, the worse the result. Magick is prone to side-effects and gets a fumble-like result on any natural roll of one.

7. Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?
Yes, any head hits will receive the armor bonus of the helmet, probably saving your life.

8. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?
A fumble 1-2 is a "hit friend", so yes. Especially if friends are in the line of fire these sort of hits are more likely. And you can PvP and make the GM nuts, yes.

9. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?
Not running from some encounters will probably kill you.

10. Level-draining monsters: yes or no?
Levels are not a true issue in DD2. So level draining is not possible. Some monsters may have draining effects on abilities though, which gives a similar effect.

11. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?
Yes. But as long as you have luck points (extra ones awarded for good role play), you may cheat fate and at the very least claim a reroll.

12. How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?
To be honest, in practice, hardly. But that may be part of the typical game I see played with DD2, being more scene oriented, and not dungeon-mission typed. Resource and wound tracking is a possibility for some games though.

13. What's required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time?
You can only gain increase or gain skills between sessions. Whether you can within an adventure that spans several sessions is to the discretion of the GM - usually it should fit with what your character has been doing. Training is usually abstract - and as no empasis is laid on treasure, no buying of training is needed within the system. However, sometimes a story is made up why or how some new skill is learned.

14. What do I get experience for?
For good roleplaying, for effective team-playing, for the heroicness of the adventure, for the dangers weathered, for the duration of the session. All added up.

15. How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?
Usually a combination. But can be either, depending on the GM.

16. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?
Some campaigns are full of supporting NPCs, but these are typically controlled / played by the GM. Morale may be simulated by dice roll with a check in Willpower.

17. How do I identify magic items?
By role playing, or by rolling on your detection, divination or estimate value skill.

18. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?
Sometimes. Depends on the campaign, but buying usually only partly or unidentified items at own risk sometimes happens. Then again, Bazaars of the Bizarre have also entered play one time or other.

19. Can I create magic items? When and how?
Yes. A subset of special rules has been used in our shared world to do so, with limited success. These rules included astrological signifiers, materials to use, rolls to make, money to invest and quests to do.

20. What about splitting the party?
Depends on the GM. With me, it happens often, but of course that limits individual play time. However tasks may also be delegated with more ease, then the group comes together again and... typically shares most knowlegde but forgets something essential.

Now I wonder what that tells non-DD2 gamers. Cheers Brendan!


OSR Experiments #30: It's a Product Release! Revel in the new Shadow of the Haunted Keep

Finally! After many hours of hard work here it is at RPGNow, the Shadow of the Haunted Keep is for sale at $1.99. Forty-eight pages of adventure for Dark Dungeon or OSR.

Have you ever wondered what a classic style adventure of 1981 would look like if it were written today? Written for a system that's a bit more story-oriented? That's what I tried to answer in this adventure kit.

An adventure kit I inadvertently started designing over half a year ago, when I tried to convert D&D system adventure into Dark Dungeon 2nd Ed, and vice versa.

Inside you'll find:

- a full fledged three-barreled adventure
- maps, encounter tables, scene tables, monster descriptions, NPCs, magick items
- seven ready to go heroes
- encounters and map for the town Holmeston


And now to the illustrated starter set of Dark Dungeon 2nd Edition...


Random RPG Thoughts #7: Ending the Sandbox

In recent discussion with a frustrated player, I figured that sandboxing may not just have points in favor. In fact, some players might even prefer a more linear game, at least some of the time. Because pure sandboxing has one major flaw. There is no built-in ending.

Those who have played MMOs, or Bethesda style “explore the world until you drop” style computer games might recognize this one. There is always another village to rescue, another enemy to blow away, another dungeon to explore, another treasure to loot, another creature to be slain by. Surely there may be small story arcs, quests, and even an overall theme. But typically there is no real epic ending which you would find in games like Fallout or Ultima Underworld. The goal of the game seems to be infinite growth. A bit like our capitalist economy. Infinite wealth and consumption, but no real fulfilment.

No really...
Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but most sandbox games have no set ending in mind. That's the whole point. A sandbox has the forte of having many possible paths to explore. The players choose which one, and that's what you start to develop and unfold as a Game Master. That's why I love sandboxing. You give the players so much more choice, and so much more possibility to go for what they like. They don't just pick their path to adventure, they can literally pick their own adventure.

However, when players cannot make choices, or when you give them too many options, a sandbox may result in a scattered unfocused game. Perhaps the players have taken on too many enemies at once, and they can't handle it. Perhaps as a game master you threw around so many clues that you yourself aren't sure to which subplot each clue belonged. Let alone that the players can still fathom what's happening around them, in such a case. When too many unfinished threads add up playing may seem futile. The sandbox game may then not only become rich with adventure, but also rich with frustration.

Solutions to curtail Neverending Story Sprawl?
How to avoid this? I'm not sure. Smart players will focus and choose their own objectives. If players talk with each other and agree on a course of action, the game will be good, if not great. It's also the responsibility of the player(s) to try to stay on track. And as a Game Master you try to help them.

Perhaps less focused players, or those susceptible to information overload need some more help. Choose for them. Give them stronger hints who is the enemy they should handle first. Choose the story arc for the session, or coming group of sessions, and lead them. The only thing is that smarter players, or ones more into the game, may be offended a bit. Or feel railroaded. That's what I found out.

In one session the loose plotlines seemed so out of reach of most players that I decided to tidy them up in a single session and just push the adventure into a final battle with the enemy. Most players seemed happy that they finally accomplished something in the mini-campaign. My wife was not amused however, and thought the adventure was a railroading experience. As a Game Master I was also slightly bored as I had the feeling I had to push the players forward. So, it seems solving the problem may at times be a trade off.

Various Players, Various Goals, Various Endings?
In addition, the frustrated player of the conversation I mentioned before, was not present at above session, and felt that his goals had not been met. As it turns out, he set different goals from the rest of the group. So, he actually would have needed another session to reach his own story climax – or ending. Which brings me to another point. Sandboxing allows different players to pursue different goals. But they'll also want different endings for these goals.

Conclusion for the moment: Ending a sandbox campaign means work. And... How to strike the perfect balance for all players between sandbox and linear... I'm not quite sure yet.


Role Playing 101 #11: How Embedding makes your Players better Role Players

Know this situation? Your heroes enter a new town you spent all week detailing. You thought about the innkeeper, the lord, the abbot and his secret wife, the beggars, the insane jealousy of the baker toward his daughters, and the murder mystery you want to involve your player heroes in. But you never get to sharing the details.

Because the first thing one of the heroes does is blow up the lord with a fireball.

Why did he do that? Out of sheer boredom perhaps. But even bored real people wouldn't just blow up random others. Only psychopaths might. And they wouldn't live long if they acted like that. So why do players do that? Usually just because they can.

It's not just that there is little consequence for doing these things. Sometimes there may be, but usually these consequences resemble the police helicopters in Grand Theft Auto. You'd wonder why the police goes after you and not after the enemy goblins. The point is that most heroes are hardly part of the game world. They are built as loners, often without living family, no social station (they're beginning heroes, aren't they?), nobody who knows them, and usually nothing to lose.

Embedding the Heroes makes them Count
I found that embedding the player characters in the game world is a very useful technique to counter this. It helps make characters more real, more easy to identify with, perhaps more careful, and certainly more interesting to play. Embedded characters are more part of the game world than makeshift ones.

To embed a character, the game master needs to sit down with the player, and together write a little player history. Where usually the player makes up a background on his or her own, if any, referee and player now cooperate. The hero needs parents, siblings, former jobs and positions within the game world, people he or she has befriended or have become enemies, and perhaps a traumatic experience or two. Important is that all these things have a real place in the game world.

Give the Player Heroes Responsibility
The second thing that's very important for embedding is to give the hero a social position. If you dare, give the hero a place in society that counts. Like being an advisor to the local lord, or perhaps the heir of that same lord, a secret agent of the papal inquisition, officer in the city guard, or first candidate to become abbess of a mighty cloister.

These positions give the player character assets. These could be income, a knowledge base, land, or people who work for them. Henchmen, bodyguards, servants, employees, militia, clerics, apprentices, spouses, children and so on. But apart from the assets, there are also responsibilities, both to their superiors and to the people they protect or employ. Suddenly as a player you don't just rescue a villager and bring him to safety, but you also provide a roof for the villager and organize a community. You might even have to command the army to protect the village. Or send out punishing expeditions to enemy brigands.

Embedding opens new Venues of Adventure
And then there are debts and costs. What if your father the Lord left the estate you inherited in disarray, and with large debts? How do you solve that? What if you find out your father was pressured into these debts by corrupt officials? What if the winter is so cold that your peoples supplies run out? What if you find someone is introducing false coin into your realm?

Villagers and fellows are worthwhile too. They might pay the ransom when you were captured and get you free. Or they might help you out of other tight spots. If you do well, your reputation may rise throughout the country and people may come from afar to live in your province.

Player characters work hard for fame and fortune. Players may do the same. So, why not give it to them, instead of postponing it until they reach umpteenth level? Fame and fortune surely have their own problems, and are fun too. Try it. I did, and found a much more interesting game.


Random RPG Thoughts #6: How Psychopatic can Our Games Be?

This week, Breivik was first brought to court. He showed no remorse for the seemingly random bombing and shooting of over seventy victims in Norway last summer. In fact he said that what he did was the right thing to do from an ethnic and political perspective. Family members of the victims were rightfully not amused.

Now you could call Breivik a psychopath, or a sociopath. And he probably is, perhaps in addition to being extreme rightwing or a foreign secret agent with an extreme mission. Nobody goes out shooting like that. You just don't. Except when it's war. Or except... when it's a game.

When Zzzoom for the Spectrum came out you could also shoot at civilians. It didn't give you points, but they flew through the air in such a fun way that I couldn't resist shooting them. Naturally they were just bits and bytes. Later I played Carmageddon, and drove over poor grandmas with shopping carts. Bits and bytes, no more. More recently I played GTA III (I stopped there), and found that shooting hapless civies or driving over them was... something you just could do. And when you reached cheat mode, or were bored, you could climb on a rooftop and start shooting everyone in sight with your sniper rifle and scope. Bloody and sick. But even if the police helicopters came and suicide by cop was the only end to it, I'm sure I tried this more than once. Shooting civilians ad nauseum. Bits and bytes.

But if it were real, I would have been like Breivik, without a cause.
And I'm not by long the only one who played these games, or played them this way.

Table top roleplaying games sometimes have even more disturbing situations. No, let's say it differently. Most fantasy role players at one time or another must have stumbled on a goblin village, and burned it down. If they didn't do it for the experience points and the loot, they might even have done it for “the good cause”. That's almost like Breivik with a cause. Unless you call burning a goblin village an act of war, in which case it may be a straight war crime. You could also say its sociopathic.

I remember my players have done things like it, at least in our teens. Sure, a game is a game. And blowing off steam can be a good thing. You could even see this killing for the killing as a way of exploring possiblities. Thoughtful game masters have confronted me and fellow players with the moral consequences of killing. They confronted us with the victims, and the different sides and truths of a conflict. That was enlightening, and an experience I don't regret. I'm also very thankful for having it in a game world and not for real.

But to be honest, I've also seen a lot of senseless game killing without consequences. And also refraining from killing without consequences. When you think about it, and try to imagine the bits and bytes or fantasy creatures as in some way real... isn't that sad?

What kind of game do we play then? Do we feel inside like little Breiviks? Or like traumatized people from the horrors of a war? Do we? Why? Not all of us are players from former war zones. Are we?

Or are we just frustrated and bored? Or worse, is Breivik also just... frustrated and bored?


Pick #74: If you thought you knew Roleplaying, You probably don't know Jeepform

I didn't know about Jeepform. No monsters. Not necessarily. No violence. Not necessarily. No dungeon. Games about relationships. About love. About trauma. About connecting. About exploring possibilities.

Sounds vague? It sure did to me! It's a whole different approach to roleplaying than D&D, Traveller, Savage Worlds, Supers, or even World of Warcraft. It's more like a crossbreed between immersive chamber theater, theater sports, and psychological exploration.

Yes, you can tell many sorts of stories in Jeepform, another name for Freeform of the Jeeper group. It says the name derives from "they go by Jeep", which might mean that I could join with my own '92 Jeep Cherokee if I can get it running again, but maybe that's besides the point. Freeform games are focussed on having a story-role-playing experience, without many rules or dice in the usual way, but with one or more game masters that you trust. Games can be live action, or semi-live action, with players moving around several rooms while imagining the scenery, characters and events.

One game focusses on four Elvis impersonators going on a journey, with flashbacks and all. Another is a strange dream journey through Agnes' divorce and her memories, somewhat remniscent of Lars von Trier's Dogville. A game could be about anything. Some Jeepers also made games you can actually buy, like Under my Skin or Breaking the Ice, with somewhat adult relationship themes. But with a very different approach to telling the story.

It's different. It confuses me. And I'm mightily intrigued.


Pick #73: The Hobbit starts to sound... like a horror movie

No, that's not necessarily bad. Really.
It's just that I began to wonder, seeing this trailer, whether it should be scary journey. I do remember the scary episodes, with the trolls, the Mirkwood spiders, Gollum, the goblins, well - maybe the whole book. But Tolkien's Hobbit stands in my mind as a children's story. One you can safely read before bedtime. Almost safely. And this trailer... is darker than what I felt the Hobbit was like.

It's, almost as if it's the Hobbit if it were written AFTER Lord of the Rings. Is Jackson trying to do that? Intriguing idea. Might actually make it more worthwhile. Like their interpretation of Boromir's actions in the Fellowship movie. That made more sense than the book did for me.

You didn't think I meant that I beleive the Hobbit will be a bad movie, did you? Horror being bad, I mean? Hardly possible with such a cast, Peter Jackson, good story to begin with... except maybe that I'm not quite sure you should cut it in half and make two movies out of it. Which is what's being done, I understand. But we'll see. If the Maya Calendar doesn't get there first.


Random RPG Thoughts #5: Responding to Zak's Questions

Why not! Here's my 23 cents on Zak's Q.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?
Embedding the player characters in the world, giving them powerful positions with quite some responsibilities as well. Taking care they have families or friends, or both to care for, contacts who work with them, organisations that work for or with them. Makes the game completely different.

2. When was the last time you GMed?
Yesterday. I planned to go to a friend's birthday, but we were sort of snowed in. The session was somewhat unusual, as the player characters set up some embassies in other cities. Also they engaged a non player party of Romagnese warriors to act as their private vampyre hunter party. These hunters then were sent out to pester and exterminate some of their foes.

3. When was the last time you played?
Almost two weeks ago. I played the captain of an experimental sailing ship with what you might call limited warp capability. I started near Europe and ended up near New Zealand. My captain still has to find out. But the time before that was about a year and a half before that. I try to master at least a few times a month, but playing happens seldomly.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.

You find yourselves lying on the wet pavement, and have no idea who you are, or why, when sirens wail and sounds of gunfire come your way.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?

Think of what the non player characters and organisations are up to. Go to the toilet. Eat something. Or else stir up things by throwing in some action, or let one of their friendly NPC helpers say something helpful or odd.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?

High quisine, if possible. My wife is an excellent cook, and some of my players aren't bad either. Actually, I cook fairly well if I do, too.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?

Usually I find it invigorating, except when we go on too long, in which case I need a lot of sleep afterwards. Sleep which may be hard to get once my daughters wake up at 0600.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?
Keeping my ships crew alert and courageous as we entered a rather scary warp gate.
9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?
If I'm lucky I am in sync with my players. But once in a while my serious mafia movie setting may turn into a silly comedy styled like Allo Allo or Blackadder. Usually the same couple of players who do that...

10. What do you do with goblins?
Seldomly use them. The closest thing I used recently is another version of orcs, where the orc women are in fact rather beautiful and hard to distinguish from straight humans.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?
The last? I turn about everything I find in history into gaming material! I think the last big thing was introducing a train and train tunnel into my fantasy campaign - which starts to evolve more and more into something steampunkish.

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?

There must be zillions. But the first that comes up is how (this is 1985 or so!) sorceress Ben da Blop teleports over a chasm five foot wide, and rolls six consecutive ones on a d20. And a one is a fumble in our game. So I figured she teleported herself straight into the rock.

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?
James M's 1000 suns on RPGNow. To see if I might buy it, as a Traveller fan. From my shelves I think it was the Talislanta hardcover. Still haven't played this Vancian style game, but think it's the most inspiring game book around.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?

Perfect? I think there are many great illustrators and illustrating styles. Actually I'd like my rulebooks with more pictures than rules sometimes. I'm not too thrilled by very graphic violence however. Most of the time.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?

Yes. Including nightmares. Or lasting moral dilemmas. Although that last one was perhaps a bit too heavy. Fortunally I also run quite a few lighter games.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)

Doing Tomb of Horrors. Loooooong ago.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?

Is that a live game or a table top game? Or a semi-live game? Best set up is a warm location, with good food, a big empty tabletop, and enough good chairs. Like a big kitchen table. And a place where the GM can sit at the short end of the table and see all players well.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?

Brothers in Arms squad based first person shooter, and Dungeons & Dragons. Or maybe the original Monopoly (and I don't mean the Parker brothers rip off, but the "Landlords Game" - look it up, it's really an amazing story! I'll write about it another time), and Call of Cthulhu.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?

I think that's paranormal experiences like seeing ghosts or having past life memories on one side, at the very least as concepts, and real life history and economic crises on the other side. Maybe you can understand that real life ghosts (if you want to believe in that) fit well in a fantasy game. Economic crisis? Think of the immense debts Charles V of Habsburg incurred to get him elected as emperor. After that he had to go to war endlessly to pay off these debts, but of course... the wars only incurred more debt. My pcs try to unweave the tangled web foreign bankers and vampyres made for their emperor. That's my setting.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?

Players who make up their own plans and adventure goals, players who like real history, players who like acting, players who love knowing and learning things. Friends. A mix of women and men at the same table.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?

Many of my holiday frustrations end up in the game. Both situations and non player characters. Often if an NPC is really annoying, like the lady who refuses to let you go to the toilet because you're not a client, or the cops that stop you just to fine you for an extra fifty bucks because you don't have all day lighting on your vehicle... then my players know to ask if that's from my last vacations.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?
A role playing game that "normal people" would willingly play, as a parlour game. If possible, with the game master role passing from one player to the next in the same game. I guess I have to design it myself :-)

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?
Yes, my parents. They're mightily intrigued. Still. Even if I'm a forty-something teenager now, and my parents are seventy-somethings. But I guess they still haven't got any idea how a game really goes.