Posts Tagged ‘Roleplaying games’

[AW: Shadow of the Mountain] Second Session

So, it’s been about a week and a half since we had our second session. About time to start thinking about the next session, and to post a summary.

Based on good advice from more experienced MC’s, I started the session by handing out love letters, asking players to answer questions concerning they characters and rolling something and choosing something from a list.

Below, I’ll first post the summary, written by Spider’s player, Cheresse. After that, I’ll post my love letters. I thought they worked pretty well, even though I didn’t have as much time to ruminate over them as I might have wanted.

One thing I’m experiencing, is how much you’re supposed to do as an MC. I rarely think too much about which move to make, instead making snap decisions that seem appropriate. I do find myself Announcing future badness a lot, and it seems I’ve Put Smith on the spot quite a bit. But that is often rationalizing after the fact, more than consciously using the moves. Smith’s player actually told me that he and Maki’s player had agreed that they didn’t feel we were Barfing forth enough apocalyptica, something I’ll have to work on next time.

Oh, and on a related point: The summary of the penultimate scene leaves out the fact that I was Displaying the nature of the world we are inhabiting, and using a number of other threat moves. Which ones may be obvious to anyone who looked at my fronts.

Summary (written by Cheresse, Spider’s player)

Smith is in need of some money, so he asks Maki for work. Before employing him Maki gives him a test, saying he must get Spider to come to the hardhold and meet with him. Smith goes back to the caves.

In the caves, some supplies that have been stamped with seals from Hollowgrass and Ronsville have been found by Trout and Beaver. Spider inspects them and moves them behind his primary personal living space, out of the children’s immediate access. They are: 1x ammo, 1x grenades, 1x armor, 2x assorted weaponry.

Exit the merchant visits Maki to sell him some cloth and give him first pick of the wares. Maki realizes that Exit is trying to kill him and they fight. Maki takes a stab wound but he apprehends Exit and his guards restrain him.

Smith goes to the cave and tries to gain entrance. Horse and Rabbit are guarding the barricade and won’t let him in. When he uses the psychic maelstrom to give Horse psychological and physical damage, Horse shoots him. Rabbit panics and at Smith’s suggestion runs to get Spider.

Spider is convinced to meet Maki and with five armed guards they go to the hardhold. The guard at the gate of the hardhold, Newton, doesn’t want to let them in. He sends a boy to get Maki instead, but Maki is being patched up after his fight with Exit, and they tell Spider to come back later, but he refuses. Smith is sent in to be fixed and he’s taken up to Maki’s headquarters, where a doctor is fixing Maki.

Maki hears Smith’s report and goes down to the gate. He convinces Spider to get his guards to lower their weapons and they enter the town. They go up to the headquarters and the guards wait outside with Smith while Maki and Spider reach an agreement. After much discussion a treaty is reached: the cultists will gain entrance to the hardhold and temporary shelter in times of need or threat, they will be given a weekly supply of supplementary food, and they will be safe from the violence of the guards in the townspeople. In return, they will cease their demands on the mountain and refrain from violence towards the guards and the townspeople, they will allow the hardhold use of mountain resources and access to certain parts of the cave for sulphur mining, they will, under Maki’s employ, scout for more sulphur deposits in parts of the caves, and they will provide shelter and protection for any hardholders trapped on the mountain in times of need.

While Spider and Maki are coming to their agreement, Rothschild and twenty of his fellow hardholders have got wind that some of the spiders are in the hardhold. They approach with the intent to kill and Smith reports this to Maki. Maki goes down to them and convinces Rothschild that they are not a threat by bribing him with an old house. Spider and his followers go back to the caves to make the necessary changes.

Maki takes Smith to the hardhold’s whorehouse, Charity’s Friendly House, to celebrate. Maki goes off with Mathilde and Smith takes up with Sophie.

On their way back to the hardhold, Spider and his followers come across a beaten cult child. The members of his cult have been beaten up in a hit-and-run attack that has focused on taking food and basic supplies. The men were masked and had a kind of war-cry, according to the cultists.

Love letters

Hey there, Spider

Such an ado about just one little killing, eh? And just because those folks couldn’t get into their heads that the Mountainside is your forage ground. I wonder what’s gonna happen to little Trout?

Anyway, I have a couple of questions for you. Don’t think too hard – just tell me what pops into your head.

How do you recruit new members of your cult?

 Spider will provide hungry people with food or similarly give them things they require in order to draw them in – then he’ll keep them around by being very charismatic.

Who is your cult’s greatest foe?

 I believe the answer here was “other cults” – which corresponded nicely with the roll.

Also, roll +hard. If you roll 10+, choose 3. If you roll 7-9, choose 2. Otherwise, I’ll choose for you, and I may have a little surprise up my sleeve for you.

* No new cult moves into town.

* There’s nothing hiding in the caves

* The people of Mt. Harren aren’t assembling a mob to come after you.

* You find a cache of resources in the caves.

 Spider rolled 10+, and chose all but “No new cult moves into town” – though she later told me she wouldn’t mind having something hiding in the caves. That may come next time. Muahaha.

Love and kisses,

 

Your  MC.

 

Dear Maki.

So, the life of a hardholder has its ups and downs – loads of snap decisions to make. I wonder if you did Harridan and Rice a service or not.

Anyway, I have a couple of questions for you. Don’t think about them for too long – just give me the answer that’s first in your mind.

What does your home look like?

 This turned out to be quite cool. The hardhold is connected to an old mining industry, and Maki lives in their head office. He holds court in the entrance hall, covering the broken marble with different cloths. This really gave me some cool imagery for what the whole place looks like.

The people of Mt. Harren who aren’t involved in commerce – what do they do? What sort of industry does the hold have?

 The hold sells gunpowder. They go get sulphur in the caves. D’you think that may cause controversy? Why, no – of course not!

Also, roll +cool. If you roll 10+, choose 2. If you roll 7-9, choose 1. Otherwise, I might have a little surprise for you:

* Your medic returns to town with medicine.

* You discover a new source of food for the hold.

* Your scouts discover something useful.

 Maki failed this. Poor guy. Though I think his doctor should make an appearance soon.

Love and kisses,

 

Your MC

 

Dear Smith

Too bad you couldn’t stop those idiots from storming spider’s cave. Man, don’t you sometimes wish you could force people to act sensibly? Then again, you kinda can…

Anyway, I have a couple of questions for you. Don’t think about them for too long – just give me the answer that’s first in your mind.

Who pays your wages – and what kind of service do you provide to them?

 Smith attained his gifts recently, and hasn’t started using them commercially yet. That is starting up now, though.

How do people in Mt. Harren view you?

 I forgot the answer to this.

Also, roll +hot. On a 10+ choose 2. On 7-9, choose 1. Otherwise, I might have a little surprise for you.

* Spider’s cult doesn’t blame you for your part in the assault.

* Rothschild doesn’t think you’re Spider’s chum.

* You discover something useful in the caves.

I  don’t quite recall what happened here. I know that Smith didn’t pick the first or the last – I think he actually missed this roll.

Love and kisses,

 

Your MC

 

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[AW: Shadow of the Mountain] My fronts

So, the next session of our game is tomorrow. I took a look at my fronts and mostly made them a few days after our 1st session, then left it until yesterday.

When looking at my notes, I noticed that I had a lot of things that were pretty directly threatening Maki, the Hardholder, but less to leverage at Smith, the Brainer, and Spider, the Hocus. I have a bit of a plan for that, but I’d rather not make that Front until I have seen a bit more of what they’re about.

At the moment, I have two fronts:

The Seedy Side of Mt. Harren: There’s a disease spreading from the local whore house and unrest brewing in the poor part of town. All said, this is likely to brew up and engulf the Hold.

Schemers and Invaders: Ron of Ronsville, a megalomaniacal lord of a nearby hold, has his eyes set on Mt. Harren. In cooperation with the Beneficent Order of Merchants, the BOM for  short, he’s convincing one of Maki’s gangmembers to rebel. When that happens, Ron is going to swoop in and gobble up the remains. The BOM, meanwhile, has their eyes set on the wealth in the mountains.

Down the Mountain: I also have the beginnings of a Front in the mountain, but I need to clarify it. At the moment, I have the caves themselves, and I intend to put something in the mountains to threaten particularly spider, but also Smith. I’d like them to have some say in what, though, so I’ll deal with it after next session. I also had some foragers, taking their food, but then I realized that the foragers were really another threat I’d already made in the first front, above (though I guess I could make two linked threats?).

Anyway, here are the two fronts from above:

The Seedy side of Mount Harren

Expresses: Decay

Dark Future/ Agenda: As the Frenzy Pox spreads, the Ramshackles turn into a bedlam. This will cause Rothschild to gather his people around him, and they will start to enforce their own law on the Ramshackles. Soon, they will start to question Maki’s legitimacy – and they will certainly blame Spider and Smith for bringing the disease to the hold.

Stakes

How many people will Momo be allowed to infect?

How will working for Maki work out for Harridan and Rice?

Will Charity’s house be targets of hatred and retribution?

Threat 1: Charity’s Friendly House

Kind: Disease Vector

Impulse: craves (intimate) contact.

Description & Cast: A house full of whores. Momo is currently sick, and she will soon inflict her disease upon the others.

Momo: Crudhammer’s girlfriend, and a very popular whore. Young, naïve, and the best tits in town.

Charity: The Mistress of the house. The oldest in the house by a few years, but a lot more shrewd than the other whores. Protects her girls, but also expects their loyalty.

Virtue: A mean spirited whore. If there’s trouble brewing, the others call for her.

Custom Move: Rumor-mongers

If you have sex with one of the girls at Charity’s house, they will tell you a rumor. Roll +hot: On a 10+ the rumor will be specific. On a 7-9, it will be a vague rumor. On a miss, the rumor will be about you.

Threat 2: The Frenzy Pox

Kind: Disease

Impulse: to saturate a population

Description & Cast: The Frenzy Pox is a disease that spreads upon intimate contact. The inflicted will first have a fever, then they will appear more or less normal for a while, but they will still be infectious. When the disease breaks out for real, the infected will start acting very frantic, acting upon their base instincts. When the disease culminates, the inflicted will collapse, sweating, feverish and shaking. They will stay like that until they die.

Infection Countdown: 3 – Infected. You will be feverish for a day or so, then you will stabilize and look fine. At the start of each session, roll for infection. 6 – You are looking normal, but you are infectious. 9 – You are acting hectic. Any time you do anything reasoned or calm, you are acting under fire. You take +1 to seduction, go aggro and seize by force. 10 – You are acting frenzied. Any time you are trying to refrain from physical activity, you are acting under fire. You take +1 to seduction, go aggro and seize by force. Roll for infection at the start of the session, and after each scene in which you have been physically active. 12 – You collapse on the ground where you stand, sweating and shaking. You will die soon if you don’t get help. If someone is tending to you, roll for infection every ten minutes; otherwise, every hour. Instead of progressing the infection countdown, take  1-harm AP.

Rolling for infection: Roll + hard. On a hit, don’t progress the countdown. On a 10+, if you have started an immunity countdown, progress it. If not start it now and progress it to 3. When the countdown reaches 12, reset the Infection Countdown to 6, and don’t roll for infection again.

Threat 3: The Ramshackles

Kind: Breeding Ground

Impulse: to generate badness

Description & Cast: The Ramshackles is the poorest part of the Hardhold. People here are the first to be hungry, thirsty or sick, and they are constantly looking for someone to take them away from their poverty.

Harridan & Rice: Two lads who came from the Ramshackles. Maki took recruited them for his guild.

Threat 4: Rothschild and friends

Kind: A family

Impulse: to close ranks and protect their own

Description & Cast: Rothschild is an important man among the people of the Ramshackles. When anything happens to any of the people under Rothschild’s protection, Rothschild and the people around him will seek to protect or avenge them. They go out into the mountains to forage for food.

Rothschild

Chin/ Look: 2 little kids.

Front: Schemers & Invaders

Expresses: Envy

Dark Future/ Agenda: Goldman strikes against Maki, and Ron sweeps in to conquer the remains.

Stakes

When will Maki realize Goldman’s deceit?

Will BOM be able to profit on the conflict between Maki, Ron and Goldman, or will they be caught in the middle? How many people will be persuaded to join Goldman’s rebellion?

Threat 1: Ron of Ronsville

Kind: Warlord: Collector

Impulse: to own

Description & Cast: Ron is the megalomaniacal lord of Ronsville, a hardhold to the west.

Countdown: Ron’s invasion: 3+6 – spies and scouts. 9 – an ultimatum. 10 – war. 11 – a siege.

Threat 2: Beneficent order of Merchants (BOM)

Kind: Sybarites

Impulse: to consume somebody’s resources.

Description & Cast: A group of merchants from the west who wants to avoid Maki’s taxes and reap whatever is in the mountains.

Fleece: a weapons merchant.

Fuse: a gasoline merchant.

Threat 3: Goldman’s Gang

Kind: Alpha Wolf

Impulse: to hunt and dominate.

Description & Cast: Goldman is trying to form a gang around himself to challenge Maki’s rule over the city. The BOM are supplying him with weapons at the behest of Ron, to try to make him move against Maki.

Tor & Ork: Goldman’s henchmen.

Threat 4: Mount Harren is weak and rich

Kind: Delusion

Impulse: Dominate people’s choices and actions

Description & Cast: Mount Harren is a center for culture and commerce, and Maki himself is not the strictest of hardholders. This has given many people the impression that Mount Harren is just waiting to be taken by someone with a more martial attitude.

Any comments or hints? Do I need more fronts?

I think I’ll write some love letters, to help me get something more out of my players.

EDIT: I forgot to include the home front. Here it is:

 

Front: Home Front

Stakes

What will become of Trout?

Threat 1: Maki’s gang

Kind: Hunting Pack

Impulse: to victimize anyone vulnerable

Description & Cast:

Newton: the gate guard. Fiercely loyal to Maki – and hence very antagonistic towards the “traitor”, Smith.

Crudhammer: Maki’s right hand man, and Momo’s girlfriend.

Threat 2: Spider’s Cult

Kind: Cult

Impulse: to victimize & incorporate people.

Description & Cast:

Horse, Rabbit: Members who were fighting Rothschild and his friends.

Trout: Son of the deceased Salmon.

Threat 3: Traders in the square

Kind: Family

Impulse: close rank and protect their own.

Description & Cast:

Clarion: a tinned food merchant.

[AW: Shadow of the Mountain] First Session summary

A while back, I played some Apocalypse World with Asbjørn as the MC. This was a lot of fun, but we never really got to the end of it. Also, I was quite curious to explore the game from the MC’s chair. It seemed it had some interesting ways to run the game that are both similar and different to how I’d usually run a game. Also, most of the story games and Indie Games I’ve played have been one-shot, so I’d like to see where we’d get playing a campaign version game.

Add to this that I have had a bit of a drought in my roleplaying for a while, and I was really yearning to get to playing some roleplaying games. So, long story short, I gathered three players and set up a game of Apocalypse World. This is a brief account of the first session.

Too much choice

When I played with Asbjørn, it seems we did a lot of worldbuilding quite early. I can’t recall whether we did it before or after making characters, but I seem to recall that we quickly had a good idea of what kind of place the game was taking place in. That seemed a bit harder going here. This might have to do with the way that I presented it, with the amount of Post Apocalypse we all knew, with my knowledge of the game… Ah, well. My players did say that the whole community building thing was one of the great fascinations of the genre, which made me think we were onto something here.

I started out with having my players choose which kind of character to play. I introduced the basic characters and a number of limited edition ones. I think I may have overdone it, because my players looked rather shell shocked at the many sheets of paper when I was done introducing all the options, and it took us a fair while until they had all chosen.

After that, everything went rather smoothly, and we got together a good cast of characters. We did the “history thing,” and went into the 1st session rules. Man, it’s intense MC’ing (at least the first session of) Apocalypse World. So many principles and moves to remember, and you have to keep them all ready all the time, cause the players are looking at you ALL THE TIME.

Anyway, I stole a custom move from Asbjørn, which means that whoever does a summary of the events of a session gets to mark experience at the beginning of the next session. And so, below is a short summary, written by Erik, and a short description of the characters, written by me.

Dramatis Personae

There are three players in the game:

  • Maki (played by Ole) is the Hardholder of Mount Harren. He wears loose, colourful clothing, and carries an ornate rifle on his sholder.
  • Smith (played by Erik) is a Brainer. He used to be a member of Maki’s gang, but struck out on his own. He wears spelunking gear, and lives in the caves in the mountains.
  • Spider (played by Cheresse) is a Hocus. Her cult is “The Sorrow,” a group that assembles in the darkness in the caves.

A note: we decided that you must be in shadow to enter the Psychic Malstrom. This was done, not least because the two “weird” characters (Smith and Spider) both lived in the caves.

Summary

The city of Mount Harren is plagued by hunger and sickness (the runs). Medical personnel have gone after supplies.

Crudhammer* complains to Maki that his girlfriend Momo is very sick, and Maki suggest that Crudhammer* (and his buddy Humty Dumty*) go shake the Kult Of Sorrows down for some food and medicine.

Smith observes Goldman*, Tor* and Ork* having a clandestine meeting with the merchant Fleece in the mountains. They suggest that Smith say nothing about the encounter, but as Tor spots Smith eavesdropping, he kicks Smith into the stream. Smith is so angry, he reports the meeting to Maki anyway. Later Goldman* explains that Fleece and his fellow merchants from the city of Ronsville, are unhappy with their town lord Ron, and want to move their trading to Mount Harren. Mutiny is brewing in Ronsville…

Meanwhile Spider have declared that the mountains are sacred, and hunting rights are only for the cave dwellers, not the city folks. A city kid is killed by some of the Kult Of Sorrow for trespassing/poaching, and Rothschild (the city kids father) and some of his friends try to storm the cave with the cult. Smith tries to calm Rothschild down, but fails. Two cult members get killed in the attack. A conflict between the city folks and the cave dwellers are imminent.

* Gang members that are Maki’s enforcers

Next, on the Shadow of the Mountain

That’s a very brief version of the game – doesn’t include Smith trying to talk sense into Maki or being rejected at the gate, doesn’t include the way Spider left his followers to die, or casually sent his people to kill any city dweller that went into the mountain (talk about opportunities on a platter…). And of course, much more is already happening in my mind. I ought to sit down and make the fronts RIGHT NOW, but I haven’t really got the energy. Anyway, I’ll post the Fronts later. Till then!

Fiasco: Identity Crisis

Yesterday, I played my first ever game of Fiasco. I’ve wanted to play Fiasco for a long time, not least since I saw how much fun Will Wheaton made it seem in his videos. Unfortunately, I’ve been living a good distance away from most role-players, so it’s been sort of difficult to get any kind of role-playing going. But yesterday, at a “Birthday Con” at a friend’s home, I got to sit down with Peter, Ole P., Troels and Nis to play a game of Fiasco… which was no fiasco (consider that the obligatory “fiasco”-joke).

Setup of the game

We settled on the “Fiasco High” playset. Most of us thought playing a teenage/high school game would provide many an opportunity for Weltschmertz and half-baked schemes. How right we were…

Set-up for a game of Fiasco has you roll a number of dice (four per player, I think), then use those dice to “buy” certain aspects of the relationships between characters. First you define the nature of the relationships between all neighbours – meaning you’ll have a relationship to the player on your right and the player on your left – then you define some characteristic of that relationship: a need, an object or a location. With five players, the game recommended two needs, two objects and one location. We might have liked one more need, but maybe that was because one object didn’t really come into use for us, and the location didn’t take full effect either.

Anyway, here’s our setup, as I recall it:

Peter and I were BFF’s (Best Friends Forever) by “Imperial Mandate” (what that meant was open to interpretation), and had a need “to get away with the Big Lie.”

Ole and I were “connected for life” as “identical twins,” and shared “our place”: the “D&D basement.”

Ole and Troels were “the richest kid in school and their devious minion,” and had “dirt on the Vice-principal’s son.”

Troels and Nis were “a searching soul and a Christian zealot,” who shared a need to get romance from “the incomparable Mike Tabuno.”

Finally, Nis and Peter did Community service together, and had a phone that had some sort of sexual connotation (I don’t remember exactly what it said, but I do remember how it played out).

 

From this we created the following characters:

Peter was Joey, the vice-principal’s son, who was doing community service, because he had been paid to take the fall for…

Kindra Flannaghan (me), who had DUI into a statue of the Reverend Mike Tabuno, who had donated a new science building to the high school. My mother had paid Joey to take the rap, and I was tutoring him to be able to pass his high school exam.

My sister, Keira Flannaghan (Ole) knew that Joey had been paid, but not for what. She was the GM for our girls only D&D group. The other player in the group was…

Mary Tabuno (Troels) – yep, she was the daughter of the Rev. Mike Tabuno. A punker and roleplayer, she was the rebellious daughter of a powerful, local church figure. She had been with Joey at the time of my “accident,” and had a… revealing video of him, also showing the police cars going by in the background on their way to the crash – thus proving that Joey couldn’t have been driving the car.

While Mary disliked her father, Lucy Bell (Nis) was one of his biggest fans. A poor girl, she was a devout member of Tabuno’s congregation, doing community service to prove her devotion. Her partner? Why, Joey, of course.

The plot, very briefly

(Brief aside: our story, by the nature of Fiasco, became quite multi-stringed and rather convoluted. I am trying to summarize from memory, but I don’t have a scene by scene go-through, so I’m trying to reconstruct it here.)

(Another aside: A number of times I’ve experienced feeling more satisfaction from playing an npc than from playing my own character. This was one of these instances: I played the Rev. Mike Tabuno, and enjoyed playing the very stoic, almost inhumanly calm, but somehow deeply disturbing, community figure.)

The game started with a clash between the devout Lucy and the unfocused rebel, Joey, with Joey drinking beer in the car while delivering meals to old folks. From there, we flashed to Kindra asking if Joey could join their role-playing group (which would not have been popular with the Rev. Tabuno).

Later, at the Tabuno residence, the Reverend has had a bright idea: his wayward daughter should join him on his Christian summer camp all summer. When she refuses, she is instead instructed to attend a bible study group the coming Wednesday – right in the middle of the weekly D&D-night.

But there’s a solution for this: Lucy, who is a part of the study group, really wants to go to bible camp – but she needs a scholarship from the Reverend to be able to afford it. Mary is of course more than willing to oblige – if only Lucy will help her skip bible studies. Lucy reluctantly agrees.

Lucy’s not the only one with money troubles. Joey has already spent the money he got to take the fall for Kindra, and now he wants her to get more money out of her mother. Meanwhile, while the girls are waiting for Joey at the D&D session, Kindra suddenly discovers that Keira and Mary have a video of Mary and Joey together at the time of the accident, proving that Joey didn’t do it. She panics, tries to kill Mary’s phone with spilt soda, only to discover that Keira has a copy. Kindra can’t destroy the evidence – what to do?

Meanwhile, Keira knows what to do. She knows that her mother is paying Joey, but not for what. Never the less, she wants in. She tries to pressure Joey into giving her some money, and he panics and sort of agrees.

At the Tabuno Community Center, only Lucy showed up for bible studies. When the Reverend shows up to check on the girls, he starts talking to Lucy about the coming bible camp, and the role she might play in it. Flustered and charmed, Lucy follows the Reverend into his office – God only knows what is going on in there (but it ain’t pretty).

Tilt

At this point we had the “tilt” – a complication that happens in the middle of the game. We got “Guilt: Somebody panics” and “Failure: you thought it was taken care of, but it wasn’t.”

Act 2

The next day, Lucy and Joey are in their car driving out food, when Lucy receives a message. Joey grabs her phone to see what it is – and finds a photo of the Reverend’s nethers. Lucy is quite flustered, and drives into a tree while trying to get it back. Joey decides to blackmail Lucy, not realizing that he could potentially blackmail the premier man in town.

Kindra is shocked to find out that she didn’t wipe out the video, and sits by stunned while her sister and Mary suddenly realize the significance of what they have, and consider what their next step should be.

Keira tries to find out why Joey hasn’t given her any money. Meanwhile, Mary seeks out Lucy (“who has a strong moral compass”) to help her figure out what to do with the video. Mary mostly figures it out on her own, while Lucy is stunned to find out that there are videos of Joey and not just of the Reverend. Later, she goes to see the Reverend to tell him about Joey’s blackmail, and the Rev. Tabuno promises her that he will take care of it. He is friends with the police, and can get them to take care of Joey.

…which they do the next day, when Joey comes to see his parole officer, and is charged with blackmail. He is very surprised, and immediately starts to blabber, in order to get out of this unscathed.

…which means that later the same day, the police knocks on Kindra’s door, and wants to take her in for questioning. Kindra is first shocked, then she pulls a low blow: she indicates that it was really her sister driving her car that night.

The aftermath

I’ll be honest to say that there are a few of the last scenes that I’m forgetting here. I think Mary goes to confront her dad, then meets up with Lucy somehow. Anyway, then we got to the closing montage. In Fiasco, you accumulate dice throughout the game, some white, some black. At the end of the game, you roll them all, tally the blacks and the whites, then find the difference. The lower the difference, the worse your fate.

Now, two of us, Kindra and Keira, got 1: The worst possible – probably worse than death. This ended up with an aftermath something like this:

After play, Keira was arrested, and imprisoned through her sisters perjurous testimony. This is backed up by help from the Rev. Tabuno, whom Kindra has joined – we see her burn her D&D books under his supervision, and later, she is teaching at the Summer Camp, pregnant and married to Tabuno’s son (but who the actual father is, is more than questionable).

Joey serves time inside, and comes out to start over from the bottom of the pile.

And finally, Mary and Lucy both leave the clutches of the Reverend Mike Tabuno, and go off together into the sunset (more or less).

Closing thoughts

The game was a lot of fun. I wasn’t entirely happy with the amount of escalation we had – I think we were a bit too cautious, and we weren’t that good at driving towards conflict. Despite that, we had some cringe-worthy moments, and the story was very good. Fiasco is particularly good at giving a great starting point, and the tilt was a bit abstract, but good.

I think Fiasco is a game that needs some relatively experienced story gamers. But if you have that, you have the basis for a great story within approximately three hours. A great game what I can heartily recommend.

Conan: The Tower of the Elephant

So, Conan. Having had a slow Sunday today, I got around to reading another story, this time one depicting a much younger Conan.

THE PLOT: While in decadent Zamora, Conan, a young barbarian from the far north, learns of the Elephant’s Heart, a massive gem with mystical powers that is in the possession of the sorceror Yara. On a whim, Conan decides to steal the gem, and teams up with the King of Thieves, also after the same target. But after braving many dangers in the pursuit of the gem, Conan finds a deeper mystery than he set out to find.

INTERESTING POINTS: This story also contains a dungeon… of sorts. A tower, complete with traps, guards, fierce beasts and treasure at the end. This one could very easily be turned into a dungeon for a role-playing game (and apparently, it has been), particularly if you are focussing on roguish stories of heists and burglaries.

This story also features some very direct interactions between Conan and the… otherworldly phenomena that supposedly puts Conan in connection with the universe of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. This is in some way the turning point of the story, but in many ways I miss some sort of foreshadowing. Of course it is difficult to achieve in a very short story.

MY VERDICT: The Tower of the Elephant is not quite as enjoyable as the previous two stories. I’m not sure whether I can mirror him in Terry Pratchett’s Cohen the (ancient) barbarian, a very obvious pastiche of the old Conan, but I have so far preferred the older Conan. In some ways, I feel like there’s something interesting about the domesticated barbarian who is king that is absent from the young barbarian – the king contains an inner conflict I have liked.

That is not to say that this is a bad story. though. It’s well written, and it is quite exciting. But I hope he can nuance young Conan a little in the other stories with young him.

This is the second of two posts describing seven role-playing games that changed my life. In this post, I’ll go from number four to number one in the reverse chronology. There is something very appropriate (but coincidentalI about this division: apart from Alternity, the games of the last post were all games I first encountered after I left school. Now we get to the games I played in my first years as a role-player – the formative games, as it were.

Dungeons & Dragons

Seeing D&D on here is probably not a shock to a lot of people. What might surprise some is how high I put this on the list. That’s because D&D wasn’t really the game that brought me into roleplaying. Sure, the second “real” role-playing game I played was a short campaign of AD&D. But we never really got off the ground, and though I thoroughly enjoyed it, what really got me into the hobby was being in a “class” where Vampire, Call and Shadowrun were where it was at. Sure, we played Dungeons & Dragons – but it wasn’t really as cool.

Where D&D really got going for me was much later, when I had become the teacher of the class, and was organizing fantasy LARP with a group of three other guys. We hung out a lot, and soon we decided to start playing a campaign. One of the others was the GM, and the point was to play a very “political” game with no real dungeon crawling, and more story telling. In other words, this was the game that taught me how cool campaigns can be. I haven’t been so privileged as to be part of a lot of great campaigns – but this one lasted around a year, I think, and was really, truly, great. We were on the same page, we developed our characters together, and we just had a real blast. I think that is the greatest thing D&D has done for me. Sure, it showed me how much fun role-playing can be much earlier – but really, at that point I was already well and truly hooked.

Call of Cthulhu

People who remember last week will know I have tricked you – a little. You see, I said last week that Call almost took the place of Alternity. Well, it did – it was one of those games that taught me the joy of the ordinary man, even (or maybe particularly) in the face of the extraordinary.

But Call taught me something else as well. It taught me that you can play a role-playing system without using the system. In reality, most of the CoC games I played were free-form. We all had a Credit Rating and a Cthulhu Mythos score (usually 0 – we always played starting characters), and we certainly had (too few) Sanity Points.

But we rarely actually used the stats much during the game. The Basic system was very clunky, complicated and confusing, and we didn’t really need them. We used the stats to figure out who the character was, and that was a great reason to have the stats, but we almost never tested them. That also meant that at some point, the stats started to disappear. In that way, playing Call could be considered going from a trike to a bike with training wheels: in the beginning, it feels the same, but gradually, the wheels come off, and you hardly know the difference, because you were not using them anyway. And so, Call helped me get into rule-less scenarios,” scenarios with no system, which took up most of my rpg attention for several years, and also prepared me to accept Fastaval scenarios.

Like with Alternity, Warhammer FRP could go here as well: it also helped me understand this. Warhammer was more martial, and much simpler (and better explained) than Basic, and so we tested it more. But really, we only used it for fighting, and many Warhammer scenarios didn’t really have fighting.

Vampire

Hey, what did you expect? I started playing in the late ‘90ies – of course Vampire was going to be on here. And my first real roleplaying game was in fact a Vampire 2nd edition game – I played a biker type Bruhja, who was quite violent.

Later on, Vampire was all the rage. I bought all the WoD books I could afford. I wasn’t actually all that into Vampire, being more attracted to Mage and Werewolf. But everybody else was a huge Vampire fan, and I was more than happy to play – and GM – it.

Much later, I ended up GM’ing a Vampire: the Requiem chronicle that lasted for more than a year of playing at least once a week. I was living in a dorm, and two geeks who were my closest buddies at the time created a character each. I had an idea for a short introduction that ended up taking most of the time we had. That’s where I really learned what an organic thing a role-playing game can be – and how much the game gives to you if you can just sit back and listen to it. I had a fair bit more than “bangs” – but after the first session or so, I think I wouldn’t have needed much more. I could have just brought one or two bangs to the table, and all would have gone well. Of course, part of what kept the game running so well was my preparation.

And so, Vampire (and WoD in general) was the game that taught me both to be a player, and to be a GM.

Fighting Fantasy

…which brings us back to the very beginnings.

Little Elias is about 7 years old. In the after-school care, some of the older boys are playing a game. Little Elias, 7 years old, really wants to join.

The older boys are playing Fighting Fantasy, and I was hooked. For several years, I wanted to “talk a game” with my parents. I wanted  the “Monster Manual” for Christmas, and I gobbled up the “Choose your own adventure”- books in the series. Yes, indeed, I was well and truly sold. Seven years old, and I was a role-player.

Another game taught me a lot about the tropes of dungeon crawling: Hero Quest. But by the time I met Hero Quest, I had known Fighting Fantasy for years.

Fighting Fantasy is also a game of a simplicity I didn’t encounter again until certain indie games more than a decade and a half later. Three stats it had: Strength, Stamina and luck. Everything was dealt with by using one or two of those. And yet they managed to have a book of more than a hundred pages of some of the most imaginative monsters I have ever encountered.

It was not a very good system. But by golly, did it ever catch my imagination. And twenty one years later, here I am.

 

Seven role-playing games that changed my life pt.1

Recently, I saw that someone (Per Fischer, I think) had posted a list of the seven games he had played the most. I contemplated doing the same, but quickly gave it up. First of all, it would be very difficult to properly assess how much I played which games in my younger days. Secondly, it would not be a very interesting list, necessarily. I played a lot of certain games while I was relatively young, but they didn’t have that much of an impact on me. The list would probably include, in some order: Vampire: the Masquerade, Vampire: the Requiem, AD&D, D&D 3rd ed, Warhammer FRP 2nd ed, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun. But that would leave out some of the game that I haven’t played a lot, but which has meant a lot to my perception of what role-playing is, and even to the course of my life! And so, here is a list of seven role-playing games that changed my life, organized in (more or less) reverse chronology. I may well try the same with scenarios and/or board games. For some of them, I may mention some games that might almost have taken its place – but I wanted to only include seven, so I had to cut them out.

Spirit of the Century

In my world, Spirit of the Century is close to being the perfect golden mean between sleek, streamlined, mass produced, “traditional” big game company produced role-playing games and the auteurish, experimental, diamond-in-the-rough “indie” games inspired by the Forge. It is a blast to create a character in this game, and allows you to tailor the evening’s session to whoever is going to be present. It is the perfect tool to help you capture the feeling of a pulp hero story. It achieves this in three ways:

1) The book perfectly evokes the genre all the way through, so that by the time I’m through, I can’t wait to jump into adventures with two-fisted heroes like Jet Black and his friends, defeating nefarious foes like Gorilla Kahn and Doctor Methuselah.

2) The system gently, but surely, nudges me towards the kind of game it is designed for. Fate points reward players for enriching the story and providing interesting complications. Henchmen and npc rules make it easy to have the heroes fight off appropriate swarms of nefarious goons, and make the actual villain provide interesting obstacles to the heroes. The character creation rules mean that you could have Tarzan, Zorro, Allan Quartermain and Biggles in the same team – and it wouldn’t feel awkward! In fact, having one hero be a rich heir who’s a science prodigy, while another is a former war-pilot and the third is a big game hunter would make a lot of sense. Not least because…

3) The game master’s guide gives the would-be game master of a game of SotC some very simple tools to make a great game, based on the characters that are going to be in that particular session. It really has one of the best guides on how to be a GM that I have ever seen, and I would advice any new GM to read that guide, even if you have no interest in playing the actual game. It provides three very easy ways to design a story that is going to feel pulpy, based on the participating characters, and has a host of great advice. One great piece of advice that I took from the home-page, and which is good for almost any game is to make a spreadsheet showing which skills each character has, and at which level. If everybody has a skill, they want to test it. If someone has a high rank in a skill, they want to ace it. If only one person has a skill, even at a relatively low level, you can throw spotlight on them by challenging that skill. And if nobody took a skill – well, if your players aren’t interested in a particular kind of challenges, why punish them by testing it. That’s the kind of simple, useful, player-oriented advice this book is chock full off.

All in all, this game has consistently provided me with enjoyable gaming experiences. It doesn’t provide the gritty, visceral stories that might result from games like Apocalypse World, Dogs in the Vineyard or In a Wicked Age – all games that do some of what SotC also does – but the sheer ease and enjoyment of this game just puts it way ahead of them in my mind. Yes, indeed, this might actually be my favoritest role-playing game.

Mountain Witch

I still remember my first game of Mountain Witch (not that I have played it THAT much). It was at Fastaval, and I had joined an indie game introduction. I had never played an indie game before.

We were set upon by two tengu (raven spirits), when I used my “knowledge of the ancestors” (or something similar). I wanted to know how I might defeat the tengu. I looked expectantly up at the GM for an answer – and saw him looking back, equally expectant. That’s when it struck me: the answer was mine to give.

I didn’t give a very good answer. But the incident (which struck the GM – and I think it was Per Fischer, again – enough for him to recount it on The Forge) showed me the power of Story Now. I quickly acquired Mountain Witch, Dogs in the Vineyard and With Great Power…, three games I have read a lot, but unfortunately not played a lot. All three taught me a lot, though. With Great Power… was the one I most wanted to play, but unfortunately, its great ideas have not been honed enough to make a truly brilliant game. As such, I don’t think I’ve ever played a whole game of it. Dogs in the Vineyard packs a lot of punch for its short size, but the bidding mechanic of the game is difficult to do well, and can feel a little mechanic. Mountain Witch is difficult for me to properly prepare for, but is probably the best of the three.

But no matter its relative flaws and merits, Mountain Witch will forever stand as my first ever indie RPG. And those two hours alone earn it a place on this list.

Alternity

Alternity is a very peculiar game, and one that holds a special place in my heart. It was TSR’s attempt to make a game that might do for Space Opera what AD&D had done for Fantasy: provide one system that could work with a host of different worlds. While the game never gained much of a following, I think it succeeded in this mission far more than D&D ever did.

The game borrows a lot from its older brother: The d20, the six stats, the classes. But the whole feeling of the game is completely different. The game is skill based, and while levelling up makes you better at things, you don’t get that much better at resisting damage. This underlines that this is not a fighting game. But what is it?

Well, it can be many things. It is a universal science fiction game, and it is geared towards providing more or less realistic visions of a future among the stars. A number of settings came out for the game, including Star*Drive, the “main” setting of the game, and Dark Matter, an X-files inspired setting of paranormal investigation with extraterrestrials and extradimensionals and ghosts and what have we.

So why is this game on this list? Well, Alternity is a game that I never saw much outside of my own bookshelf, even though I thought it was so great. It is also one of a number of games which taught me something that I’m almost embarrassed to tell you that I needed to be taught: that it is interesting to play ordinary people, that it can be fun to be weak and vulnerable…. vincible? It also taught me that Science Fiction doesn’t have to be Star Trek, Star Wars, Terminator or Judge Dredd – it can also be Alien or Blade Runner, all about regular, vulnerable people in toned down surroundings.

A couple of games vied for this place: Warhammer FRP taught me the same thing about fantasy, and showed me why Dark Fantasy was great, and why it can be cool to play a rat catcher. And Call of Cthulhu taught me something similar about a more realistic setting – and it taught me that tragedy can be a blast. You can have your cake and be eaten too.

Till next time

And that’s it for now. I’ve been gushing far more than I thought I would. I’ll post the remaining four at a later time, and I’ll try to gush a bit less. Until then, please tell me what you think of these games – and do tell me which games changed your world.

 

The Tyranny of Screaming Orgasms

I have just come home from Forum 2012. Forum is a Danish convention with a focus on talks and workshops, not least inspired by Knudepunkt. I was there for the first time in a while, having been enticed by Jonas Ellemand, who wanted me to help organize the execution of Project Særimner, a short form scenario competition. I’m not going to talk about Særimner here, except to encourage you to check out the great little gems it spawned.

But being there, I also attended a number of talks. One of them dealt with debriefings, particularly after big larps, given by Frederik Berg Østergård. In the discussion afterwards, we talked about framing the play experience – how certain scenarios debrief in a way that underlines how tough and deep the game was, while others underline how great a game it was, thus priming the way people remember and discuss the game.

This discussion lead me to a startling realization:

We’re being tyrannized by Screaming Orgasms.

Screaming Orgasms

Let me explain what I mean by Screaming Orgasms. My basic premise is this: Who’s more likely to talk about their sex life – people who have good, enjoyable sex, or the people who have wild, earth-shattering Screaming Orgasms? My claim would be that in the kinds of circles where people share the details of their sex life, people are likely to brag. In other words, they are going to tell war stories of either hilariously bad sex (particularly when others are to blame, or if there were funny mishaps involved) or of Screaming Orgasms. The person who just had good, enjoyable, average sex is much less inclined to talk loudly about it.

This means that the discourse surrounding sex is dominated by the Screaming Orgasms. So the people who “just” have regular good sex think they’re supposed to be having those Screaming Orgasms they’re hearing so much about, and start wondering what is wrong with them. In this way, a Tyranny of Screaming Orgasms seems to reign.

Bleeding Immersion

In the “mature” section of the Danish role-playing scene, there is a significant focus on powerful play experiences. Seven years ago, when I attended the LARPs System Danmarc and Society 41, we were talking about “immersion”: becoming your role and feeling what they feel. Today, games like Totem, Delirium, Just a little lovin’, Fat Man Down, etc. aim to cause “bleed”: the bleeding over your emotions and experiences to your character, and vice versa.

And people have amazing, powerful, life changing experiences. Experiences they talk about, loudly and excitedly. And all the other people, those who didn’t immerse, those who didn’t have the powerful experiences, listen to the Bleeders talking about their Screaming Orgasms, and they think to themselves: “Why didn’t I feel like that? What is wrong with me?”

The Tyranny

And thus, all the people having a good time at the larp, without reaching the powerful heights of orgasmic bleed and immersion, start to feel inadequate, deficient. I have experienced this myself on a number of occasions. At Society 41, I was bored. There was almost nothing to do in the scenario, except sit around and feel. I remember one girl who sat around in a windowsill for most of the game, staring into space; after the game, she pronounced that she’d had one of the greatest experiences of her life. Faced with this, how could I not feel inadequate?

This is potentially a problem for the hobby as a whole. For me, certainly, it has meant that I have been loath to join many of the scenarios that I really would have liked to go to, because I have been afraid not to feel adequately, and not to be able to honour the demands of the scenario.

Now, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: the Screaming Orgasms are not doing anything out of ill will. In fact, the problem is not that they are talking about their experiences. Instead, the issue is that the averages are not speaking up, keeping their experiences to themselves.

But when it all comes down to it, I do believe that it is to the detriment of our hobby if the Screaming Orgasms are allowed to dominate the way we talk about scenarios. It sets them apart as a small elite who share the same kind of experience, and it makes the rest of us feel inadequate, making our good, enjoyable, and to us very memorable experiences seem like failures. And who wants to keep doing something if they keep failing at it?

Archetyping classes: why the wizard can hog the spotlight.

Nis has spotted one of the big problems with the way AD&D was put together: a Wizard would start out as the wimpy apprentice, but end up as an all-powerful master of cosmic forces – think Elmister, Gandalf or beyond. The story of Raistlin Majere in Dragonlance is a very good example of this journey: he starts out as the sickly kid who is brought to the academy of magic by his strong and attractive brother, but ends up travelling the time-stream to go up against the mightiest wizard in all history, and ending it all by making a bid for divinity.

So, what’s the issue? Raistlin’s story is a very traditional story of the nobody who becomes a somebody, a very typical tale in fantasy literature. You can find the same tale in Wizard of Earthsea, in the Pern books (though they are rightly science fiction), Star Wars, both the old and the new (which are rightly fantasy). A true Hero’s Journey!

Yes, and that is all well and good for the person playing the mage. But the problem is that it is very much a story with the mage as the clear main character. And in a campaign with four or five players, you want four or five main characters, unless the point is expressly to have one character as the lead. Take a look at the place left for Caramon, Raistlin’s Brother: he starts out as an able warrior, but ends up as a chubby tavern-master in an insignificant little village. And while that could be a good story if told right, it pales when it has to compete with Raistlin and his play for power.

The problem, when viewed within the scope of D&D, is exaggerated because the character class of wizards have their own sphere of activities within which they excel, AND they can excel at all the other classes’ areas of expertise as well. Their fireballs and magic missiles can out-damage the warrior, while their knock, clairvoyance and invisibility can out-sneak the rouge. Furthermore, none of the other classes have much of a chance to beat the wizards at their own game: it takes a wizard to detect magic (a priest could probably do it, but they are in many ways on the sideline of this equation, being the “healer” who is indispensable, but in a support position).

Having identified this problem, Nis suggests a number of ways to scale down the wizard s0 that the others will still be able to shine. Some of these are: allowing non-wizards to detect magic, requiring concentration for keeping spells going, imposing risks of failing spells, requiring longer summoning times for spells and restricting the domain of spells each wizard has access to. Much of this has already been done in other games. Warhammer FRP 3rd edition restricts wizards to one of eight rather different schools and requires summoning spell power before casting your spell. Summoning too much power risks invoking the Ruinous Powers, with potentially horrible consequences. Shadowrun, on the other hand, requires a roll for casting a spell, and casting a spell deals an amount of damage to the wizard.

In many ways, I agree with this approach: in D&D, magic lacks the feeling of dealing with arcane and mysterious forces. With boring names (Summon Monster I-IX, anyone?) and no-flavour castings, wizards have become Reality Technicians rather than Wielders of Arcane Forces. Many other systems capture this element of wizardry far better, like the above mentioned – and Mage, of course. But I do feel that there is something else that could be done.

Re-archetyping the heroes

Morten identifies this other approach, although I disagree with his suggested solution: Wizards are so powerful compared to fighters and thieves because of the way a fighter and a thief is perceived: a fighter is someone who fights, and maybe breaks bars and lifts stuff, while a thief sneaks, steals and back-stabs. The domains covered by their archetypes are very limited, and so they are easy to replace.

If that is the case, we should change and broaden the archetypes, giving them more to work with, and making it more difficult to replace them. Morten suggest the “adventurer” as a replacement for the fighter and the “soldier of fortune” (or rather, the Danish equivalent, “lykkeridder,” which is far less soldiery) as a replacement for the thief. The adventurer is all about fighting monsters, exploring dungeons, talking to people on his way, and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, the Soldier of Fortune is all about using what Lady Luck sends his way, using sleigh of hands, deception, attention/intuition, sneakiness and a skill for talking to people. This would retool the characters in a way that still gives them a relatively clear domain, but one that covers many activities instead of a few. The adventurer is not JUST the fighting machine, strength powerhouse, and the Soldier of Fortune is not JUST the lock-smith and go-to sneak.

My first issue with these two examples is that they are both very clearly oriented towards adventuring. The good thing about the wizard is that he will graduate from his travelling life into a life of traversing the planes, being political and tending to his magical menagerie – there is a vision of maturity build into the archetype. In AD&D, the Fighter had a built-in assumption that he would eventually settle down as a castle lord somewhere, and most of the other classes had similar built in assumptions. But an adventurer is not an adventurer if he’s not adventuring. In other words, the adventurer is stuck as the travelling, restless guy for ever. Similarly with the Soldier of Fortune: if he’s not living on his luck, what is he?

My second issue is that these two classes don’t have clear appeals to archetypes of what we are striving to become. The Wizard is striving to become Gandalf, Merlin, Elminster or Raistlin. But what about the Adventurer? Marco Polo?

Instead, I’d like to suggest some other archetypes, and thus replacement classes, for some of the standard D&D classes. I’ll also try to indicate a starting point for them, on par with the wizard’s feeble apprentice.

The Fighter: The Hero/the Knight/the King

To my mind, the problem with the fighter is that he is more or less just a brute fighter. But if we look to literature, who are the great warriors? It’s Hercules, it’s Conan, it’s Achilles. In Norse mythology, it’s clearly Thor, the great god of thunder. In A Song of Ice and Fire, Robert Baratheon is an example of this archetype at its disgraceful end. They are the great martial heroes, wielding their powerful weapons, conquering their enemies. At the same time, they have a certain charisma, inspiring both fear and respect, seducing women and making boys want to be them.

There is another aspect of the warrior archetype, one that could either be perceived as part of the fighting class, or as its own class: that of the more strategic warrior, keeping a cool head and using strategy and wit to best his foe. Think of Tyr from Norse mythology: the god of war, not of fiery fights but reasoned battles and calculated sacrifice. In ASOIAF, it’s Eddard Stark, the intelligent, conscientious warrior. This is the archetype of the Lord, the General, or indeed, the King.

Which brings me to the one and only King, and no, it’s not Elvis: it’s Arthur, of course. Arthur bridges two fighter archetypes: he is the King, regal, authoritative, wise. But he is also the Knight: brave, courteous, inspired by Duty. Arthur’s Knights all represent this archetype, as do Joan of Arch, St. George, Jaime Lannister and many other people from ASOIAF. You could probably point to many people from the Saga’s, and I’d say that Beowulf sits somewhere between this archetype and the Hero

Now, in D&D, the Knight sits somewhere between the Fighter and the Paladin classes. Which gives me an opportunity to ask: does the Paladin have a place as a separate class, or is it just a fancy way to allow a Fighter/Cleric dual-class? Sure, Holy Warriors are a stable of many mythologies – but does it require a separate class? Not only that, a separate class, only for knights who can ALSO conjure miracles. In many ways, I like the Paladin, but if I were designing a role-playing system without any consideration for traditions within the genre, the Paladin, as a class with tight restrictions on morality, background and equipment, wouldn’t stand a chance. I’d consider it better to encourage people to multiclass as Fighter/Clerics (or possibly Knight or Hero instead of fighter).

As for starting out point, fighters in classic D&D start out as fairly competent warriors. But I would perhaps start them out a little lower in the hierarchy: maybe as militia, as young squires, hoodlums, or young men, just setting out.

The Rouge: The Trickster

In D&D 3.0, WotC actually broadened this class considerably, rebranding AD&D’s Thief to the more catch-all “Rogue.” Nevertheless, more could be done with this archetype.

So, who are the icons of this archetype? Off the bat, Loki seems the obvious poster boy for Tricksterdom. Varys the eunuch spymaster from ASOIAF is another good example – one might include Littlefinger as well, but he is a far less clear-cut case. Wormtounge is more clear-cut, I’d argue. From Anansi Boys, Anansi is a very good example of a (largely) benevolent Trickster. For some very benevolent rogues, see most of the (main character) hobbits in LotR, not to mention Bilbo in The Hobbit.

The Trickster is the manipulator and the sneak. This archetype is all about hidden dealings and tricking the other party. He is the spy and the thief, but he might also be the scheming courtier. In this way, one might perceive Cercei (from ASOIAF) as a rouge. In fact, retooling the Rouge to being about all kinds of hidden agendas would mean that both the Thieve’s Guild and the King’s Court are teeming with Tricksters.

The Trickster can start out as a low level thief. However, there might be more interesting ways to start off. Maybe a street urchin, a young courtier or a refugee from the courts could all be ways to start off. I feel like the Trickster’s story should also include a Loss of Innocence: getting used to deceiving people as a way of life.

The Bard: The Storyteller, the Observer, the Orator, the Soothsayer

The Bard is a strange bird. I mean, what on earth is his purpose? To tell the other adventurer’s stories? Be a mediocre replacement rouge? Not particularly impressive.

But that doesn’t mean that he can’t have a purpose. In some way, the bard can act as a counterpoint, or a complementary, to the Trickster. Where the Trickster/rogue is all about not being noticed, the Bard is all about getting noticed. In this way, you might peg him as Friar Tuck of the story of Robin hood, or, in a weird way, Tyrion Lannister and Lady Catelyn of ASOIAF (though the former is perhaps more clearly a Trickster).

I think the argument could be made that this should rightly be part of the Trickster class, but I could accept an argument to keep it alive – moreso than the Paladin.

The Ranger: the Ranger/ the Pathfinder/ the Outlaw/ the Hermit.

Some might think that I’d think the Ranger would better belong with the Warriors. But, no, not at all. You see, the ranger does have a lot of things that sets him apart from the warrior.

Some characters that might be associated with this archetype are: Aragorn (duh), Robin Hood, Faramir, Jon Snow and Artems. Heimdal is a maybe on this: he might be seen as a kind of Hero or Knight, but I’d argue that his primary task is guiding people.

A bit of a dilemma

…and so on. I don’t consider the above a complete list. For one, I haven’t dealt with the wizard, just as I haven’t really mentioned the cleric. One could also consider keeping the Druid (as a mystic/witch/wise man) and the monk (as a mystic warrior/martial artist/spiritual warrior). The Barbarian I’d consider a kind of Hero.

The question is, of course, whether to make very broad, non-specific classes and leave the  fleshing out to the players, or whether to provide very specific and narrow classes, thus also providing a lot of flavour. I am more partial to games that allow me to hammer out my own character with a lot of freedom, and to steer his course on my own. For epic storytelling, however, it might be good to set your hero on a course, and see him move towards a glorious finale right from the beginning.

In any case, I think it’s important to look at the story potential in whatever you want to include in a role-playing game. The game is all about storytelling, after all. And so, to me it is more important to balance story potential than to balance technical game play mechanics.

Mage: the ascension magic, doing it like the Lady

My parents are moving out of the house they’ve lived in for the past 25 years and moving into something significantly smaller. This means that they want to get rid of all the stuff they don’t have room for – including my old stuff. And so, my mother brought a big box of old roleplaying books. Among these books was Mage: The Ascencion, one of the roleplaying games I liked best, but never really got to play, except in brief, one shot sessions – and this is really a game where you need to have a campaign in which to define your character and, not least, the way you cast spells.

Mage: the awhatening?

If you don’t know Mage, it’s a very post-modern game of ordinary humans who suddenly Awaken to find that they can influence the world with their will. In this world, reality is literally a product of the collective minds of every ordinary human (the “Sleepers”), and so reality changes with the mindset of each new age. Magic that follows the rules of the current reality will be easier to perform, while magic that breaks it risks incurring “Paradox,” reality’s way of fighting intruders.

Each Mage will quickly find himself a certain style of magic and join a corresponding group that centres around that style of magic. Player characters will usually join one of the nine traditions,* such as the Order of Hermes, specializing in “classic” magic with spells and symbols, the eastern artial artists of the Akashic Brotherhood or even the mad scientists of Sons of Ether or the Cybermages of the Virtual Adepts. Opposing the Traditions are three other factions, chief among them the Technocracy, divided into technical Iteration X, biotech Progenitors, political New World Order, financial Syndicate and space-faring Void Engineers. The remaining two factions are the mad Marauders and the devil-dealing Nephandi.

Magic in Mage is left very open. There are nine “Spheres,” each of which you can have up to five Dots in – as per WoD standard. Each dot allows you to do more things with what that sphere governs. Dot 1 usually deals with sensing, dot 2 allows minor manipulations, 3 is minor transmutation (so changing something into something else, or creating from nothing), 4 is major manipulation and 5 is major creation, at least when talking about the spheres that deal with “things”: the spheres of Forces, Matter, Life and Mind (to a certain extent). So in order to halt a speeding bullet, you’d need Forces 2, throwing lightning bolts or powering your computer without a power source is Forces 3, while Forces 5 would allow you to create a major thunderstorm.

Casting a spell involves describing what you want to do, finding out which spheres you need, then describing how you are going to go about casting that spell – what kind of ritual you’ll use, etc. Then you roll your “Arete” (a stat for your magical prowess) to find out if you succeed.

*: In the revised version, there is a tenth tradition, “The Hollow Ones,” but I was never a fan of them.

Problem: the Solving

I always loved the feeling of the book, but the magic rules always seemed a little too stiff to me. You’re supposed to design flashy, showy spells, but the rules seem to encourage precise, inconspicuous spells, and there’s little in the rules to encourage flashy storytelling – that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it’s not that well integrated into the rules.

There’s also an issue with the spheres: they are sometimes quite rigid, to the point when it seems a little silly. A beginning mage can do almost nothing, and sometimes you want to do a little effect when you realise you can’t, because you haven’t got the right sphere. Also, with each dot of a sphere being such a big step, it makes little sense that increasing your knowledge of, say, Forces doesn’t always increase your ability to manipulate forces

So, a more flexible system that encourages storytelling great spells would be good. As written, there is a big difference between the magic system and the rest of the system, and the book even devotes a chapter to magic, independently of the other rules. This to me makes a lot of sense to me: the game is about ordinary humans who attain the ability to bend reality to their wills while still essentially being humans – as opposed to Werewolf and Vampire, where you actually turn into a supernatural being. Of course the reality bending is going differ from doing mundane things.

With this in mind, and with Apocalypse Drow still relatively fresh in my mind, I had a thought to change the way magic works, using parts of the system from Lady Blackbird to better simulate magic.

Gathering: the magic

In Lady Blackbird, you have a number of traits, each with a number of tags. When you want to act, you take one die, plus one per applicable trait plus one per applicable tag. So, for instance, the character Cyrus Vance has these traits and tags:

  • Ex-Imperial Soldier: Tactics, Command, Soldiers, Rank, Connections, Maps, Imperial War Ships
  • Smuggler: Haggle, Deception, Sneak, Hide, Camouflage, Forgery, Pilot, Navigation, [Repair], [Gunnery]
  • Survivor: Tough, Run, Scrounge, Endure, Creepy Stare, Intimidate, [Medic]
  • Warrior: Battle-Hardened, Shooting, Two-Gun Style, Pistol, Fencing, Sword, [Brawl], [Hail of Lead]

It strikes me that a lot of these are very much like “skills,” and that they are a little boring, really. What I’d like to do is convert all the things about a character that affects his spellcasting into traits, and then give him a bundle of tags to attach to that. The tags should be aspects that are easy to weave into a spell, and which improve the play experience of playing the game.

The things that could be turned into traits are for instance: the Mage’s tradition, the Mage’s specific group (if he has one), the Mage’s concept/personality, and the mage’s spheres.

Let’s exemplify with my old character from a one shot thing I did. My character was a hermetic mage (he was a member of the Order of Hermes) who was an avatar of Odin, as such using runes to cast magic, and who used his PDA to write runes on. He also had a spear-like thing as a focus, and he had a glass eye. Being hermetic, he had a fair amount of Force magic. His Traits might look like this:

  • Order of Hermes: Scholary, secrets, language, ritual, secret names, House [whatever]
  • Avatar of Odin: Lost eye, spear, rune magic, crows, Old Norse
  • Technomage: PDA, Computer, Programming,
  • Forces sphere: Speed, Lightning, Electronics, Weather, Battle Magic, Spear
  • Entropy sphere: Soothsaying, Wyrd, Throwing Runes, Looking into Mimirs Well

These traits and tags could use some work, but you get the idea: have effects and foci connected to the traits. You then take one die per trait and tag that applies to the spell you are casting and roll them all, determining success based on how you roll.

Something else that might be imported is the Pool: in Lady Blackbird, you can add more dice by spending your “pool.” In Mage, you have something called quintessence which is originally meant to lower difficulties and power certain effects. But I think it would make sense to have it give you extra dice, as well as doing all the other things it does.

There is probably more that would need changing. But this is an outline for making a spell-casting system for Mage that makes a little more sense to me.