Jeff's blog

Review: Weird West

Want a little Kung-fu, six-guns, and wizardry? Well that's what Weird West hopes you do. The description at Drive ThruRPG is as follows.

The streamlined and fast playing adventure roleplaying game for weird western worlds of cowboys, kung-fu, magic and otherworldly malevolence.

The entire rulebook so to speak is only 8 pages. It was done this way, so it can be in pocketmod format. As matter of fact when you purchase it off of Drive ThruRPG, you get both a pocketmod version and the standard version. The standard version is easily readable by both my Droid X smartphone and my Kindle DX. On my Kindle DX, I think the font seemed too big, but since this was designed to work with much smaller screens, I can understand that.

Character Generation is simple as a starting character you get four points to split among 4 attributes: Fighting, Grit, Magic, and Skill. The only one you need to have at least one is Grit. It is used to determine your Stamina Points, which is sort of like Hit Points in D&D. Each character will then choose a path: Adventurer, Gifted, Fighter, or Magician. These will provide the attributes modifiers as the characters advance in level. One thing that I did find interesting was how stamina points worked. Each session you roll you stamina points. You roll one die based on your path for each Grit point you have, which is why you need at least one when you first make up your character. If the roll is higher than what's you have currently, you use that one instead. I'm not sure if I understand the idea here completely. I guess it is meant as a way to make sure players have as many stamina points as possible.

Level advancement is at the groups choice. They get to decide when and if characters advance. Normally, I might consider this a cop-out but since this is simple game and I would not think that this is something to run a long term campaign with, I don't see this as a big issue. Like most level based games, players are assumed to start at level one

As was noted in the description, there is magic available. For each point of Magic, a player gets one spell/weird ability. In sense, nothing covered under mundane skills or mundane fighting is considered Magic. For example, if you want to be Kung-Fu person, you would need to have 1 point of magic so you could take Shaolin Monk. There are only a few abilities listed in the magic section. Enough to get you started, but there could be more in the future.

When your player attempts to do things, they are called 'Tasks'. A Task is resolved with a d6 with a five or greater indicating success. You get to add the relevant attribute and subtract the challenge level. All and in all pretty simple.

Combat in Weird West is pretty simple. Initiative is based off level, higher level characters go first. A fighting action is chosen. This can modify your fighting and your skill for that round. The attacker's modified fight and the target's modified defense is compared is cross referenced on a chart which gives you a target number to beat on d20. After looking at the chart, I would simply say, 10 + target's defense - modified fight is the number you need.

In addition to the rules to handle damage and healing, that's all that is in the rule book. Like many PocketMod games, you have to add additional material yourself. This is not a bad thing. games in this category are suppose to be simple and fast to play. A good Game Master should be able to scenario for this genre.

Overall, I think the rules do what they need to do. Be simple and allow someone to run a quick game. I'm likely going to print out the pocket mod version and put it with my Microlite20 PocketMod Rules. Which of course is in my backpack. The only thing that would help is an adventure in PocketMod format. Sadly because my current group doesn't do much beyond D&D, I'll have to wait for some people that are open to non-D&D games.

Weird West is available for 1 USD at Drive ThruRPG

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Number of Players at the Table

Yesterday, I was flipping through on old book of mine, Gary Gygax's Role-Playing Mastery. In one section, he had a little to say about the maximum number players that a Game Master can handle while maintaining a good game. He set that number to three or four players.

What's interesting is that is the number of positions in the old standard party. You know the one where there is a fighter, a magic-user (wizard), cleric, and thief (rouge). It really sort of makes me wonder if that number was sort of influenced by that concept in some way. Of course it could have been the reverse as well. Honestly, I'm not sure which came first, I'm just sure that there is some sort of link between the two concepts.

In the same area, talked about using a Game Master's assistant. Someone who could handle some of the GM administrative work. Gygax, basically suggested that with such an assistant a GM could handle eight players without make his game suffer. Of course, I'm not sure anyone would want to be an assistant. Much like the working world, assistants seem to get none of the glory or respect that the person they give assistance to gets. As GM, I'm not sure if I'm down with someone not really playing and not really the GM. But that's my opinion.

Still, what is maximum number of players that can be handled at the table without assistance? I've always thought that six was my personal number. Any more than six and you have no idea what the hell is even going on. And even if you do, you will find that a few players will monopolize you time. Of course I guess the same could be said about any number of players. I do now that no matter what, there is a limit of some sort. Once a long time ago, I played in a group with about ten to twelve people. That's right ten to twelve people. The adventure involved some sort of war and we were in some sort of castle siege. Since there were so many players, the poor GM couldn't help but focus on a few people at time. This meant there were long stretches with nothing to do. We actually started to do other things while we waited for our turn. This became a huge disconnect for us. Since we were not paying attention, we sometime had no idea what exactly was going on. I dare say that game ended poorly. Eventually, I think group broke into two groups, which is what sort of needed to happen in the first place.

So what is the maximum number of players you can handle as a GM? What are your thoughts on a GM Assistant? Have you ever used a GM assistant? Finally, what is the largest group he have ever played with and how successful was it?

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Choosing a Game Day

When I was a young boy, I use to be able to game whenever I wanted. Which of course makes sense. When your 13 to 17 years old, you really don't have all that many things that are demanding your time. Or it was at least that way for me. I remember doing gaming weekends, where we would start Friday evening and play until about midnight. We would get up the next day and start gaming Saturday at noon and play until midnight again. Finally, we would get up on Sunday and start playing at noon and then stop by sundown. It was a pretty gaming intensive time for me. I'm actually sort of glad I was able to do it then because today, I don't game that much. Hell, I dare say the amount of gaming that we got done in a weekend is more gaming than I do in about two months. On a side note, I'm not sure why my mother let me do that. I guess she just like the fact that she knew what I was doing and who I was doing it with. I should note that most of the people I gamed with when I was in High School were either in the Military or going to college. Which when thinking on it, makes me wonder how much faith my mother had in me. But I ramble on. The point is that I did a lot of gaming when I was a boy and now that I'm an adult I don't game that much anymore. Now, we have to pick a day to game on and try to make that happen. With only seven days to choose what day works best? Let's take a look.

Monday - An interesting option to say that least. I think it's hard to get people for a Monday. Most people I know just started the work week and they usually don't want to do anything on a Monday.

Tuesday - I like Tuesday. I think Tuesday could be a good day for gaming. My only problem is that many of my son's weekly activities seemed to be on a Tuesday. I guess because it's the second day of the work week people feel safe doing things that day. I seem to know only one group that played on this day and they were all college students and didn't have classes on Wednesday.

Wednesday - "Hump" Day. I've known a few groups that play on Wednesday. I usually don't because we normally record on the podcast on this day. That and there were always seems to be other functions that press for my time when I'm not recording the podcast.

Thursday - One of the groups I played off and on with use to do Thursdays. Nominally, we use Thursdays as a backup day if we can't record on Wednesday. This sort of means that I can't play this day. I'm not sure if my friends even play on this day anymore.

Friday - As an adult, it use to be that this day was bad because everyone I knew would go out this night. Now that I'm married, we sometimes use this as a date night, but not as much as we use to. I think for now, I'm just too tired from the week to run or play most of the time on Fridays.

Saturday - Oddly this is one of the few days that's still generally OK for me. It's also traditionally the day when most people can game. The only down side is that as adult, this is a day with possibly the most conflicts. I send out an email to my players a week in advance to see they can game. Since we only play every other week, it tends to work out for us.

Sunday - I'm played a few sessions on Sunday as an adult, but most people I know use it as a day of rest before they go to work the next day.

In short, It seems like I'm going to be sticking with Saturday for now. Although, I might be up for trying a game on a Thursday. What is your best day of the week to game and why?

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Recording of Season 3 Episode 3 Pushed Off

Due to some factors beyond our control. We were not able to record our episode this week like we had planned. We are not sure when we are going to record. We might try to record next week, but right now no promises are being made. If not, we should be able to record the following week.

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New Look.

After a bit of hit and miss on getting a new theme going, We are happy to switch over to a new theme for the website. If you notice anything odd, please let us know and we will attempt to correct it. Thank you for your patronage and for those that celebrate Thanksgiving this week, have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

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Using Mind Mapping for your RPG Planning

When planning something for your game, there are many ways to do this. One way is to make lists of things. This can get rather cumbersome after a while. One could also just type notes in a word document or even some basic text editor. You could use a wiki like TiddlyWiki. While all these may work for you, I suggest you might try another approach. It’s called Mind Mapping.

From Wikipedia

A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid to studying and organizing information, solving problems, making decisions, and writing.

What’s nice about Mind Mapping is that you can use it with just a piece of paper and some pens. Below is an example from Wikipedia of a non-RPG related Mind Map.

Of course you may want to use software to do the same thing. Here is an example from Wikipedia for a computer based display of a mind map.

As a matter of fact, you can find a freeware mind mapping program called Freemind at http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page . The nice thing about this program is that it has versions for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. You may even be able to run it on other platforms because it’s written in Java.

Even without software, it’s pretty easy to make a mind map. You just have to follow some basic rules. First thing you need to do is place your central idea in the center of the page. Usually, you draw a circle or something around it. From there you draw branches (lines) to sub-ideas. The nice things is that you should worry about having too many or too few branches. They suggest that you use curved lines to attach branches. You should also use as few words as possible on each branch. The idea is stimulate your mind and not get bogged down in the details. Remember this is all about brainstorming, you may want to write something down even if you don’t use it.

Here is an example of a haunted house adventure.

As you can see, I have some ideas I may not use at all here. I just wanted to get them down so I could use them. I’d be very interested in know if anyone has used this technique and any additional advice they could give. If you have not used this technique, I’d like to know what you think of it.

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Review: Fantasy Craft - Adventure Companion

Some of you may now that I have talked about what is standard fantasy. I talked about how none of can agree on what it means, but yet we all seem to claim there is one. Well, I happy to say that Adventure Companion by Crafty Games is anything but Standard Fantasy.

As a matter of fact, it contains only one campaign world that is even close to what some may call standard fantasy. I say only one because it contains three detailed campaign worlds and a slew of classes and feats that go along with each one. Now Adventure Companion is for Crafty Games' Fantasy Craft. I don't think that should stop you from picking it up and reading it thought. It might just fuel your imagination for the next game you run.

I'm going to start off with my favorite of the three settings. They call it “Cloak & Dagger”. If one were to try to put it in a nutshell, I think I would call it Roman Empire with political infighting. For players, I know that being set in a roman era may take a bit of getting use to. After all, there are no fighters wearing full plate wielding a long sword walking down the street. Instead, you have a roman like centurion wearing a breastplate holding a gladius. But that's not the only change for most people. Players are involved in the political battle between various factions of the empire trying to control it. For those that might not know what adventures players may have, I suggest you watch the old Three Musketeer movies. I should note that I like the ones with Michael York myself over some of the more modern versions (yes Disney, I'm talking to you).

The next setting is a little more familiar to people. Called 'Epoch', it is more of a swords and sorcery type of setting. Although, I'm not sure that exactly does it justice. The players are the barbarians/tribesmen that are trying to stop the evil that lurks and disguises itself in the form of civilization. Unlike most games, the players are not going to be able to go into town and just replace and buy new equipment all the time. As a matter fact, it is suggested that the player be allowed to repair their equipment. Magic is a form or corruption and is a enemy rather than a tool to be used by the players without consequence. If you look at movie like Conan (the first one and not the second one) and Beastmaster, you get an idea what kind of setting and adventures one can have here.

Lastly, they have as setting called 'Sunchaser'. This is a more typical High Fantasy game. I say that because it assumes that the player are going to be doing epic things. It is a setting where little is know about the old world before the coming of the new world. This allows for many things to be found by the players. Ancient knowledge and hidden ruins await the adventure who dares to tread into the unknown. It is a call of the Hero type setting. That is to not say that it is boring but it does give you a slightly better grasp of what the setting is about.

Each campaign has information to help you play in that setting. These things include various classes and feats. It also takes about trade and gear for each settings. Each section provides a list of adventure concepts, themes, oppositions, and rewards. Each campaign also gets a few monsters specific to that setting.

Overall, I had to rate this purchase as a buy. If you play Fantasy Craft, you are going to want to get it in hardcover. Even if you play another fantasy game, I'd suggest that you pick it up in PDF format, so you can use it as a source of inspiration for your next campaign.

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The Lost Art of Dealing the Hand You Were Dealt.

The other day, I came across the Critical Hit's Post on playing the new Gamma World. What struck me was how much fun was had with a somewhat random character. This got me to thinking about how many of my personal favorite characters have been from games where character generation is a lot more random than we normally get today and sometimes with constraints we don't normally have either.

It seems typical in many Role-playing Games today that there is very little randomization in character generation. In many systems the only thing that may be random is stat generation. It's also a common trend to not even have that amount of randomization in character creation.

Now most games are not completely random. One that is pretty close is the old versions of Traveller. I've heard Traveller Character creation as a game within a game. Which I suppose is a very good description since characters could actually die during character creation because of a failed survival roll.

At this point I'm sure that you are thinking, well what good is having a random character anyway. After all, I'm sure you just have fifty or sixty good character concepts (and no doubt original concepts) in mind when you generate your characters. What I think we miss out on with more random characters is the chance to flex our mental and creative muscles. No, that is not a misprint. With a random collection attributes, skills, powers, and whatever else was generated at random, we have to ask who is this character? Where did they come from? Why do they have these skills or powers? Even if a game system only has certain elements that random, we need to think about this.

Let me give an example. In an AD&D game, I had the following stats; Str 9, Int 17, Wis 12, Dex 12, Con 14, Chr 10. This was doing to having to roll them in order of appearance on the character sheet and no moving attributes around. Now, what class would you make this character. Likely, you said Magic-User (which is what we called Wizards in AD&D). Which normally is the choice for a character with high intelligence. However, the party was already magic heavy. What was needed was a fighter. So, yes with a mere 9 strength, a fighter was born. The choice of fighter was not random. The fact that the attributes were and other factors forced me into a fighter role did however make me start asking questions. Why is this character a fighter? Why didn't he become a magic user? I decided that the character thought all Magic-Users were stupid and didn't know how to operate in the real world and he didn't want to be one those types of people. in the short amount of time that character was played, it seems the group proved that character right as he always seemed to save the magic using characters from their own stupidity.

I guess my real point is that sometimes I think we over think character creation. We get stuck into getting the best character we can. We forget that some of the best characters are those with flaws and are less than optimal choices. I guess I like the thought that sometimes those without natural aptitude in something excel and thrive in that area of endeavor. So what has been your experiences in this area? Have you ever found that more random and constrained characters can be more fun than something that spent hours trying to get just right?

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Hey What's a Blog Entry Doing Here?

Your likely wondering why there was a Blog post on this site earlier today. Well to put it simply, I've decided that instead of doing the podcast and blogging, I wanted to do it all in one place. That way podcast can support the blog and the blog can support the podcast. It also means that we can write blog entries to supplement something we said on a podcast. In general, I think it is going to be a win for everyone.

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The Rule Of Law

You know the drill, the players' characters stumble into town and procedure to interact with people in any sort of manner they see fit. They destroy property. They vanquish evil doers (and not so evil doers) without too much issue. They let lose all manner of mighty magics without even a second thought. While such actions can be accomplished out in the wild without any real issue, shouldn't a place of civilization be different? Are your towns nothing more than wild lands with more people in them, where the players can get a hot meal, get healed, and sell their treasure? Does your town even have laws?

In all my years of Role-Playing, few in game place seem to have any laws or restrictions that have any real meaning. Do not get me wrong, I think most players operate under the assumption that there are some basic laws in place. Although, most players seem to operate above them or without regard for them in any case.

Right now, some of you may be asking so what and that's OK. The truth is that generally speaking, it's not a big deal in most games. Still, I think we lose but not having some sort of reminder that there are laws in the land. In many ways, the games that many of us play in is sort of like the Hollywood version of the Wild West. A place were there are laws, but very little enforcement. Now there are some games where that makes a lot of sense. Even with just a few select laws that affect the players' characters in some way, creates a more dynamic environment for play. Let's take an example.

In a fantasy game, the players enter a fortified town. They encounter an evil assassin and defeat him. In most games, the players would just loot the body and move on to the next thing. I'm sorry but that's a bit boring. What if rather the fight was seen and the town guard is arriving to take over. What do the players do? Do they run and hide? Do they hide the body? Hell, do they wait for the town guard to arrive and try to explain things? Do they need to bribe the town guard to prevent the town guard from taking them to the local magistrate? Do they fight the town guard? By even making the killing something that the town guard would have to investigate, you have just made the players' lives more interesting. I not say that they players are in any real trouble, but they will have to deal with the law and that may influence their actions.

Of course one could also use laws to influence a certain setting feel as well. Maybe you want to have a setting where the common people are fearful of magic. Have laws that ban magic or require that arcane magic users to have licenses to practice could help reinforce that to the players. Actually this concept was quite common in some of the earlier settings. I know of at least two old settings that have mention the idea of requiring a permit to use magic within a cities walls. I can just see a player talking to the town guard saying, “Yes, I killed blood beetle with my Magic Missile and no, I don't have a permit”. “What do you mean, I'm going to have to go with you? You should be thanking me!”

So, does your game have any Legal laws that affect the players? Are they used to help enforce a setting concept or they just there for your own local amusement? Please let me know. I'm always interested in finding out what other people are doing.

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