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But That's Not in the Rules

This morning, I had the chance to read the excellent article over at the Gnome Stew called The Real Issues With Encounter Balance. One part really stuck me was the following.


There is also a more recent trend, and one that I will attribute to the influence of d20, which is in the absence of rules, players often don’t think they can perform certain actions.

This really got me to thinking. At first, I sort of tried to dismiss the it. After all, as gamers do we not try to think outside the box? Then It struck me as very true.

When I first started playing D&D back in the 80's, the rules were not that thick or complex. There were no skills or feats. Instead there were only a few rules for surprise, combat, magic, and a few other things. Want to jump and grab a rope? There were no rules to do that, instead it was pretty much left up to the Game Master to determine that. Want to swing on chandelier on top of table and attack a few enemies, not in the rules. Even systems that had skills like Traveller had pretty bare bone rules on what you could do with those skills. It was up to the player think of something and the Game Master to come up with way to handle it.

That of course lead people to want to codify things just a little bit more. They wanted more rules on how to handle things. And sometimes they just got way to complex, yes I'm looking at you AD&D Pummel and Grappling.

As thing started to get codified more and more, I think there was a trend to think that the Game Master shouldn't make any one off rules. Without these one off ruling, people started to think if there wasn't a consistent rule in a rulebook, then it just can't be done.

That said, I do think that people are starting to swing back the other way on things. A lot of the rule lite systems have help in this matter. I think people are once again thinking that it's ok to think outside the game rule box again. Personally I hope this trend to think outside the ruleset continues.

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Sessions to Session Consistency

As many of you may be aware, I recently been running quite a few Savage World Sessions via Roll20.net. Roll20 has limitations, but for the most part is close enough for me to run some sessions on it. One thing that has come up from playing via Roll20.net is what I'm going to call "Sessions to Session Consistency".

First off what is Sessions to Session Consistency? I like to think of it as things remain the same from the end of the session to the start of the next session. Players are the same, characters are the same, the positions of things remain the same. Something that I find normally can't really be accomplished in the long run.

After all, we all have had sessions where players couldn't make it that week, or new players have been added. When I was younger, this was usually didn't happen much. As kids, we normally didn't have a lot fighting for our time. As an adult, I find that such things do tend to happen. People have to work when a game session was scheduled, they take vacations or trips, they have to do 101 other things during that time, and the list goes on.

All of that tends to make games session not be as consistent. Which leads to the question of what to do about it? Or if you should even bother to anything about it?

I tend to think that while one should try to do something about it, I don't find that it should eat up a bunch to time worrying about it. After all, it is just a game to have fun with. In face to face games, I know I tend try to fit the adventure in a single session. That way no matter which players show up or not, there doesn't need to be an explanation of where players came from or went to. In my roll20 games, I don't even bother with that, since my sessions are 2 hours in length and adventures tend to last 3 or 4 sessions. I just sort of let the players come and go as needed. I don't even bother to really explain it anymore. I really only worry about it if a player was required for some task or had a vital item needed for the adventure. For the most part, the players I've been playing with haven't seemed to mind it at all.

So what about you? Do you worry about having Sessions to Session Consistency? If so, what do you do about it? If not, why not? I look forward to hearing your replies.

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All Hail Caesar! - Weird Wars Rome Kickstarter

As an older gamer, I have come to really like the ease of the Savage Worlds system. It's not too tough to play and I've found that as game master, I hardly have to look at the rules books (which is a huge plus). One of the settings I really like the concept of is Weird Wars 2. Although to be fair, I never really played it yet. They also have Tour of Darkness, which is Weird Wars during the Vietnam Conflict (or war depending on you point of view). Now comes the lastest Weird War funded via Kickstarter : Weird Wars Rome!

After doing my part to fund this Kickstarter, I told my friend Tony about it. The first words he sent were "OOOOOHHH" (or something like it). Something about the idea of Rome Legions really hit a chord with us. We spent the sometime talking about a bunch of ideas for a game. Mind you neither of us have really seen the game (after all it is a Kickstarter). This I think is important. While I like the Wierd Wars 2 idea, I was really having a hard time trying to come up with ideas for adventures. It was a setting that I wanted to play in, I really wasn't up to running it. Part of that we think was the time frame of the war, which is sort about 6 years. For some reason both of felt tied to the history. With Rome, there many more years to deal with and we actually feel less obligated to history for some reason. The only thing I can think of is that Rome really fired our imagination.

So if the idea of Roman Legions, Gladiators, Celts, and Eyptian Pharohs has your attention, then I sugguest you back this Kickstarter. For $20, you will get a PDF of the Rulebook. For $30, you will get the PDF and a Softcover copy of the rulebook. Personally, I think that's an outstanding price. I personally pledged for a hardcover (I like hardcovers).

So Go to the Kickstarter and pledge for your copy today.

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GM Eye for the Orc Guy

About four weeks ago on the RPG Circus podcast, we kicked off our “favorite monsters” series with musings on orcs. Love them or hate them (or invite them over because mom says you have to), it doesn’t matter; orcs show up in game after game, system after system. I have no problem with that. However, I’d like to take this opportunity to share ideas about how to spruce up those sometimes cliché orc opponents for your next campaign.

Option 1: Make the orcs wicked smart. And by wicked smart, I mean tactically, socially, and strategically. We are so used to orcs being the typical grunts of the world that players believe they can easily outwit or outfight most orc foes. There’s a bit of metagaming going on there, mostly because we all know what orcs are and about how tough they are to fight or fool. But if the GM ups some stats and runs these orcs like badass super commandos, well, the story may change.

Option 2: Give the orcs tuxedos and fancy shoes. This option is a joke…mostly.

Option 3: Deeply consider orc allegiances. This pointer is obviously scenario-driven, but in many situations, the GM might want to specify exactly how and why these orcs are doing what they are doing. Is it for money? If so, can the players buy them off? When two or more orcs go down, will the rest run off when they realize that life is more valuable than gold? Are there other orc factions that can complicate the situation? In short, don’t just plop them into the story because they are “easy” for the campaign; instead, give these orcs reason to participate. Once that reason becomes clear to the players, the orcs ought to have more depth and possibility to them.

Option 4: I know some of you say this in secret, but go on, be loud and proud—more orc women. I’m just guessing, but I would bet that most orc groups as seen in today’s fantasy games are full of angry male orcs of little intellect. Why not throw in some ladies? They may change the dynamic of the situation. Given whatever orc social structure you have in mind, maybe orc ladies are master magicians or dead-eye archers. Maybe they are stronger than the male orcs because they spend less time drinking orc brew and eating fatty humans. I dunno, but I do know that the cliché orc gang is hardly ever female-inclusive. Well, rock the boat, please.

Option 5: Better technology. Many systems set up orcs to be primitive. Their magic is less refined and their arrows are poorly fletched. Maybe, in your next orc encounter, your players should come across a band of orcs that created or stumbled upon a more advanced system of weaponry or a piece of powerful “alien” tech. I once ran a post-apocalyptic adventure in which the players were beset by orcs with machine guns and power armor. The orcs themselves were still savage and straightforward, but their upgraded technology made for some harrowing encounters.

Final option: Don’t tell your players that these beings are orcs! In fact, never supply the name of your monsters. As soon as you supply that name, be it zombie, orc, troll, or basilisk, metagaming and overuse kick in. This goes for any “popular” beast. Instead, describe these creatures regarding their looks, gait, speech, demeanor, and perhaps odor. Leave the rest, including the stats that some players know by heart, to the imagination.

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Character Death and Power Levels

Yesterday on Facebook, Silver Gryphon-Games posted a picture with the caption of "Player Character Deaths : Don't cry just roll-up another one ...at level one". While certainly funny at certain level, It sort of got me to thinking about how times have changed in gaming. I know what you guys are thinking right now, not another in the old days story. But I beg you to bear with me.

So, turn back the clocks to the late 70's and early 80's. You are playing D&D with some friends and your level 5 Magic-user dies. The party has no way to bring you back, so you have to sit down and create a new character. So you break out your dice and start creating a level 1 character of some sort.

But why Level 1? After all that doesn't seem quite fair does it? I think there were of course several answer to this question. First and foremost, there were no real guidelines for this. The rules of course only talked about first level character creation, so that seemed like where you started. The examples that one could find in those pre-Internet days seemed to show that you started back at level 1. I think the biggest thing is that the game was not designed to be fair. You read that right, not designed to be fair.

Let me explain. When you look at the earliest rules, it really seems like players were suppose to maybe reach somewhere around 10th or 12th level. Hell, in AD&D the Druid class's max level was I think 14th (someone can correct me, I don't have my book handy). Honestly the game was suppose to be dangerous and player were suppose to die. A PC that reached 9th was suppose to be something special. At that level most classes had some sort of castle or other structure building option.

So what does that have to do with rolling characters up at first level? Well if player death was suppose to be common, what do you think the median level of a party might be? If you answered low-level, I suspect that would be the correct answer. Even if the party wasn't low-level, the math would usually advance the new character up fairly quickly. After all provided the character survived and got their share of the XP, While they would be behind the other characters, eventually they would be within one or two levels of the other party members. Of course that assumes that their characters didn't die.

Of course, we don't really do this sort of thing anymore. Mostly because rolling up characters get a little boring after a while. And of course who doesn't want to play the more powerful characters? I think we all want to do that. Of course I've found that the higher level characters can be just as boring after a while. Like all things, it really depends on the adventures your group is trying to run.

Well that's it for this week's trip down memory lane. I thank you for staying with me. Catch most of you on the next Podcast.

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Remembering Twillight: 2000


Recently, I was involved in some Air-soft stuff. It's funny seeing people "play" war that way. It also got me to think about one of my favorite games from the 80's, although I admit we didn't play it that often. That game was Twilight: 2000 (T2K).

The basic premise went something like this. World War 3 happened. There was limited nuclear exchanges. The war kept going on after that. The players are assumed to be what remains of the US Army in Europe. I think the traditional starting point was the players were part of the last battle in Poland after which most of the armed forces sort of disintegrated. So the players were on their own and usually they were trying to get out of Poland. Eventually there was a supplement that gave the players a way to get back to the US.

I'm sure I'm not doing the game justice in my description above. I think for many people the Cold War had a lot to do with people's interest in it. I think this was certainly true of the people I played with at the time, since half of them were actually in the military. It always sort of interesting when people play a game about something they could actually face in real life. Of course it also meant that sometimes there were discussions about how certain thing really worked rather than what the game said.

One thing for sure, is that T2K, was a very complex game. The game had it's own worksheet you used for character creation. The longer the player had been in the service, the more skills they had but usually the more radiation exposure and other issues they had too. Player had to qualify for certain MOS/Groups if memory serves and it was usually hard to do. And you wanted to because they usually gave you more skills. As complex as character creation was, the combat system was more so.

I just remember the damage system was complex. Each weapon had an armor multiplier (I think) and a damage. So you rolled damage, and subtracted the result of the armor used times the weapon's armor multiplier. Then the result I think was referenced in some way to determine the resulting wound. The same basic system was used for all weapons large and small. So, M16's against APC armor could be determined or hand grenades vs tank tracks. I just remember that as the GM, I would do all the math because it was just easier and faster than having my players do it.

It's odd but I don't remember too many complex adventures. In many ways, I think we use to run T2K as a form of sandbox game. The players went where they wanted and the GMs just decided on what happened from there. Mostly the players were just running for their lives and trying to scrounge for equipment to survive.

I should note that there were several adventures published for T2K, I just never really used them. A few of them had more MOS choices in them. One them including Navy Seal and other Spec Op choices. All of which were very hard to qualify for but if you did, you had a lot of skills.

You can currently get the Twilight: 2000 Bundle on DrivethruRPG for 40 USD. Which includes a revised combat system, that I've never seen nor used. I'm half tempted to pick it up. Since it seems to have every supplement made for the old game.

It should be noted that there was a revised edition of T2K that used the GDW house rule system that was used for Dark Conspiracy and Traveller: The New Era. The 2300AD game also use the background history of T2K because of the way the 2300AD history was created.

I wondering how many people have played this old game and what your memories of it are.

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Why Do My Descriptions Suck?


I've been running the Gamma World 2ed lately. One of the things that I've been noticing is that I suck at describing things? One of the things that gets interesting in Gamma World is that you find yourself trying to describe everyday items in a way that allows the players to guess what it is without telling them out right what it is.

But why are we trying to describe anything at all? I think part of it is set the mood and allow the players (and the game master) to get into the game being played. I think it give the players something to interact with. Take the players coming up to a pole in the ground. How big is it? What is it made out of? Why does it seem to be there? All questions that when answered help describe it and then allow the player to interact with it or not.

Of course how much description is too much? And yes for the record, I think you can have too much description. I think that's maybe why I suck at giving descriptions. I want to provide information but I also do not want to bore my players to death. I know I've been in gaming sessions where the GM was giving a length descriptions of everything, at some point I think most of us drifted off.

Which leads us to another question, what do you describe? I think I've always wrestled with this question. After all an RPG is not a movie or book where they can spend minutes or pages describing the city. One always describes major places that the players go to a certain extent, but shouldn't we do at least a little on the minor places?

I guess for me, I do better at describing thing when I write, I do not seem to do well in the fly when I speak.

I guess I'm asking all of you, do you suck at descriptions? If so, why do you think that? If not, are there any tips or tricks you can give?

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Issues with iTunes

We have gotten several reports of issues downloading episodes from the iTunes application. I'm not really sure why this is happening, but I was able to confirm it.

It does seems to be related to the new servers the Archive.org has been placing the media files on. At least that's what it seems like.

The hard part is what to do next. Other podcast downloading tools don't seem to have this issue.

I need to know how many people use iTunes and are unable to download the last two episodes.

I do take this seriously and am trying to work on how to fix this issue.

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Player Reception to Old School Gamma World!


Recently, I had to reform my gaming group. You see after our Christmas hiatus, we found that we didn't have enough people anymore. This was due to players moving or having changes in their job schedules. This left us with too few players. This of course meant we needed to get new players. This left us with a big problem. What to we play?

You see there were two different Pathfinder Games that were going on. Do we try to integrate the new players into those games? Both games had already gone through massive players changes in the past and only may one or two characters that started the adventures were still around. As Game Master (but not for these games), I could not fathom trying to retcon the new players into the those games. I had the added wrinkle that some of the new players I got couldn't guarantee that they could make it every session. It was decided that we should just play a new game, hopefully one that adventures could be done in one or two sessions. That way players could come and go more easily.

We discuss several games that I could run with little effort. In the end, Gamma World won out. Although I own three editions; 1st, 2nd, and 4th, I decided to stick with 2nd edition. I choose it because I could easily run the classic GW1 Legion of Gold module with little or not modification. It was cool because it had 3 mini-adventures that I thought could be played in 1 or 2 sessions. I think even the final part of the adventure can easily be played in 1 or 2 sessions.

Since almost no one had the rules, we had to make characters at the first session. A few people came over a little early to make them. One nice thing about GW 2nd is that character generation is simple and random. I think including buying equipment most people got it done in about one with several of the players doing things at the same time. Smartly, I printed out copies of equipment lists and the like. In the end, we ended up with four mutated humans and one pure strain human.

No matter who you are, I don't think you can take Gamma World seriously. I know I can't. My players certainly couldn't. But for me, that is what makes it fun. Player get to have crazy mutations like 4 arms and 4 legs, wings, hand that emit low level radiation, and the like. They also get to run into really silly creatures like humanoid mutant badgers with axes and crossbows or giant termites with gas generation. Of course Gary Gygax's GW1 module does help matters. Gygax pretty much seemed to have written as fantasy module but with mutants and technology instead of elves and magic. It takes place in a barony for example. I think he also assumes that most people are normal humans and not mutants. At least no where can I find where major NPCs are said to mutants.

So what did the players think of the game system? I think they enjoyed the lack of rules. For example character creation is easy, there are no classes nor skills. There are only race choices after that, the players can decide for themselves if they are sneaky or more martial in attitude. After using the hardcore initiative systems in most modern Role-Playing Games, the rather simple system was nice change of pace. When it was the player's turn, we either went around the table or the players just decided which of them would go first. It was a little odd to get use to doing again. Still I think the players enjoyed the experience. There was much laughter and mockery. In general, I think everyone had fun.

The only downside is that we only game every two weeks and our next session is not until the first weekend in March.

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RPG Blog Carnival: Let's Show a Little Love for Spacemaster!


It's been a while since I've posted a blog entry but thought I would jump on this month's Blog Carnival to get back started into do a blog weekly. It was really a hard choice. After all this month's topic is Pimp A Game. So which little played game to show love to? I was toying with Justifiers RPG, but I no longer have that game. In the end, I decided on SpaceMaster.

SpaceMaster is an old game from Iron Crown Enterprises. The version of the game that I've played a lot and still own is the one based on Rolemaster version 2. This was before all the RMSS silly that happened.

So what was so great about SpaceMaster you ask? After all it was based on Rolemaster. Is not Rolemaster a complex game? Strangely enough, parts of SpaceMaster were much simpler than Rolemaster. For example, there were certainly a lot fewer weapons charts. Much like Middle Earth Roleplaying (MERP), it's charts combined many weapons on a single chart. Have a laser rifle, it use the laser chart. Have a laser pistol, it uses the laser chart. The only difference is where they max out on the chart much like Rolemaster's shock bolt or fire bolt spell charts. The super fun critical charts remain the same.

One of the other things that was interesting was the fact that even with an implied setting, one could still create and use one's own setting. Much like Rolemaster, they have a rather interesting section that gives information on creating your own. Which is nice because I'm not 100% down with the 10,000 years in the future setting that comes with SpaceMaster. I found it was usually pretty simple of just removing some of the races, equipment, and some skills. Being an old Traveller player, I prefer my FTL to take a little longer. The default speeds of FTL are something around 10 LY per day. I usually divided that by 10. Which was useful because one could easily use published material with just a little work.

If one also had the Star Strike and Armored Assault Games, then Gear Heads could make short work of the design systems. One thing that I always thought was cool was the fact that vehicle and starship construction rules were nearly identical. As a matter of fact by combining the rules, you could create a starship that has vehicle drive system (or vice-verse). Outside of maybe Mega-Traveller, I can't think of too many games that had that amount uniformity across starship and vehicles.

The nice thing is that you can get various parts of the Spacemaster from DriveThruRPG. So check it out if you feel so inclined.

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