Tuesday, May 24, 2016

RPG Bits: Origins, Campaign Shifts, and Beyond

I’ll be at Origins in a few weeks. If you see me please say hello. I'm usually terrible at introducing myself to people I know via G+ or elsewhere, but I'm going to try my best. Sherri will be with me so the con will, by definition, be awesome. I have a massive wishlist of things I want to play. I’m running at Games on Demand and I’m scheduled for at least the Thursday 8PM and Saturday 8PM slots. I’ve submitted two events:

Keep to the shadows! Your cyber-ninja clan has been betrayed, mind-controlled, and used to serve sinister ends. The Mega-Zaibatsus behind this have concealed their role…until now. Your cell, hidden even from fellow shinobi, stalk through Neo-Kyoto. You plan, plot, and carefully strike from the darkness.

But sometimes things go wrong. Like now.

If it is the will of The Illustrious Orbital Mikado, you will survive! Uses Action Cards, a card-based Fate hybrid.

In the sorcerous corporation, Magic, Inc, your department lies at the bottom of the labyrinthine Org Chart. You like it that way. Your team has just managed to hang on- avoiding responsibility and blame. But doing so is hard work; you desperate transmute budgets, curse rival divisions, and make your faked resumes vanish. Can you avoid The Annual Review while getting your time-card signed?

Uses Action Cards, a card-based Fate hybrid.

If you're at the con, consider playing in one of those. I put together new decks and received the last of those from DriveThru Cards this week. I’m super excited. I’m also taking Kingdom plus some pick-up board games.

Of course since that’s coming up, everything else has to get more complicated. We just began the Assassins of the Golden Age arc for Ocean City Interface. On Saturday characters hit the table, doing the legwork and plotting for their operation. They're ensuring their candidate gets elected to the High Council of Genoa. We’re also speeding towards the finale of Guards of Abashan. Last week they discovered alternate timelines had begun to bleed through into the city. The group made their made through various eras of occupation, heading for the showdown with the last of the Three “Evil” Sorcerers. I have to decide what games I'll put forward after that wraps. I have four or five ideas. 

We also did session eight of ten for Crowsmantle last night. That ended with the group attempting a rescue operation but being captured instead. Rich will run after we wrap that campaign. Finally we should be starting my Wednesday Mutants & Masterminds game soon, probably right after Origins. I’m going to begin with a Microscope session covering the span between the campaigns. We're moving to the Third Edition rules so I need to do another read-through of those to prepare. 

I’m seriously considering how to actually do the Monster of the Week/World Wide Wrestling mash-up. I need to figure out when I’d run it and how.

I hope to have a "Beta" document for Action Cards available soon on DriveThru. By Beta, I mean truly rough, but enough to a run a game from. I’m about halfway through the first editing pass, plus I have a couple of small sections to complete. I want to have it ready and posted before Origins. I’ll talk more about that if I actually get it done.

We’re recording new episodes of Play on Target this coming Friday. The first will cover Loot! in all of its forms. We’ll consider kinds of loot, treasure distribution, and what it all means from player & GM perspectives. Our second show will look at “Games Ahead Their Time.” We started with the idea of games containing new mechanics that only caught on much later. I suspect we’ll expand the topic when we get to the recording. Suggestions & Questions are welcome.

Finally, if I can push through, I hope to have the next installment of the History of Generic RPGs up by Thursday. It may be later, but I want to release that by the end of May. For the next couple of weeks I’ll be doing “Greatest Hits” posts on the blog. I'll take older pieces that I like or that others dug and add some new commentary. Ideally that will be easy, but I know how I operate and suspect I’ll overdo it.

IF YOU’RE AT ORIGINS STOP BY AND SAY HI! Hopefully my normal social anxiety will be minimal.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Experience: Keys, Aspects, Fate, and Otherwise

Note: all of this is very rough twiddling…moreso than usual.

In an earlier post I talked about advancement systems. There and in the related Play on Target episode, I mentioned my preference for point-buy development systems. They don’t have to be that complicated. The incremental advances from 13th Age feel like point-buy to me. Fairly regularly you get an incremental advance to spend and have choices about what to buy. When we played Rolemaster we switched to development points instead of experience. It’s been a regular part of my gaming from Champions to James Bond 007 to GURPS to Storyteller. Our homebrew, Action Cards, has always used points (XP or Eeps). Even when I adapted Fate elements over to it, I stuck with that rather than Milestones.

I’ve kept my approach static over multiple Action Cards campaigns. The advancement costs changed, but little else. That’s despite having played in another GM’s AC:Fallout game where he crafted an entirely new system. At the end of sessions he dealt out Experience Cards which we drafted. They included raises to spend, access to new perks, and one-shot power cards. I never followed up on that, boringly keeping the same mechanics with equal points doled out to each player.

I’ve tuned Action Cards so a typical session awards 3-5 points. We hit the low end if we didn’t accomplish that much or have interesting interactions. I gave out more if the plot advanced or we had some dynamite scenes everyone engaged in. I hand out equal amounts to everyone at the table. I don’t give bonus experience to particular players. But now I wonder if that’s the right way to go. It's fair, but is it encouraging fun play. I skip bonuses and player-by-player xp because I think it doesn’t encourage anything special and runs the risk of feeling unfair.

But what if the system actually did something? At first glance it looks like Fate Core’s milestones do that, but they actually don’t. They encourage moving the story forward, but it’s the whole story for everyone and everyone gets the same advance. You could make an interesting variation with individual character milestones set by the players. Combine these with incremental advances. Right now aspects pushing toward playing "in character." Could we have other means to support this?

I don't want to go too high-level, game-designer-y with my thinking here. I want a system, point-based, where I can dole out a few shared points. Then players can earn some more, ideally in ways they’ve chosen for their characters. Some PbtA games do this: trading X points for an advance. The table gets points based on what happens in the session (“1 point for making progress towards the Big Bad.”). But individual players can gain points in other ways, often taking one for any 6- fail. That’s cool, giving the feel of a learning experience. Can we tailor that for individual characters?

Keys offer one approach. I have to credit Rich Rogers for pointing me to this. They come originally out of The Shadow of Yesterday. They’ve been used more recently with Lady Blackbird. Each key offers a flaw, drive, or behavior tic for the character. They gain points for “hitting” those keys. In Lady Blackbird that creates an active economy. When you hit a key you get points which can be immediately turned into dice for tests or saved to gain new abilities. Lady Blackbird’s aimed at short-run, but the system’s robust enough for several sessions of play. When I went to put together a basic key list, I drew from both of those as well as various LB hacks I found.

I made keys a part of Crowsmantle. I use it directly as an xp system (without the immediate spend mechanic from LB). Players can gently hit a key for 1 point or slam down on it heavily for 3 points. They can also “buyoff” the key by changing their lives, thereby gaining 10 XP. I ended up adapting that to our new Middle Earth Action Cards campaign. It's worked well there- though a couple of players have chosen more difficult keys. I’ve given them the option of switching.

When I went to assemble my Magic, Inc one-shot I used keys. But my experience with ME:AC had shown me aspects and keys had some overlap. So I modified the mechanic. Players could only gain 1 point for hitting a key, but they’d get a fate point for it. If they saved up three points they could spend that on a new skill or stunt in play. Players still had aspects for definition and fate point spends. But they only began with a single refresh. It worked well for the one shot, giving players cool hooks and they actually used.

So I’m wondering if that could work in longer-term play. Could I use it with Action Cards or a point-buy system for Fate Core? Would I have to ditch the idea that key hits generate fate points? How would those interact with aspects? On the one hand they might complement them, but on the other they could overwhelm and change the economy. It might work better for Action Cards, since we’ve cut the number of non-trouble aspects down. Keys could be a set of quick hit things like the trouble aspect. I’m not sure. There’s the additional problem that as I’ve used it in Magic, Inc, this approach does something I usually don’t like: experience as in-game currency (ala HeroQuest, DramaSystem, and Numenera).

When I originally defined the keys, I wrote that players only get the points if their action complicates the situation. As I went along, I became less sure of that. Some of the keys merely express behaviors (like making other players laugh). If I locked it down so that you’d only get points if that made things worse, I’d undercut that incentive. Maybe characters should have three keys of specific flavors: behavior, drive, and flaw. The former would be for character expressive play while the latter two only give points when they cause problems. But once I do that, I’m not sure if I’m gaining anything vs. just using aspects. And it doesn’t answer the XP/currency problem. Should some keys generate fate points and others generate XP? Maybe players could pick what they get when they hit them? Have I made that super effing complicated then? Not sure.

Anyway, that’s my meandering for today. I want a point-based system for advancement for Action Cards (or Fate) that rewards character play, let players buy something each session, isn’t too hard to track, and still allows some character aspects.

In the list below, you’ll see the keys I’ve put together. I’ve tried to keep them tight. The ones I’ve italicized come from Magic, Inc and only have a 1 XP level.
  • Key of Bad Liar: You’re terrible at lying. Hit this key when you’re caught out telling a fib.
  • Key of Banter: You have a knack for snappy comments. Gain +1 XP when you say something that makes the other players laugh.
  • Key of Better Than This: Hit this key when you’re able to demonstrate how your background and upbringing make you overqualified for the pedestrian tasks assigned you.
  • Key of the Bruiser: Your enjoy overpowering others. Gain 1 XP every time you defeats someone solo in battle. Gain 3 XP for the solo defeat of someone more powerful than you. Buyoff: Suffer a defeat in combat.
  • Key of the Commander: You’re accustomed to giving orders and having them obeyed. Gain 1 XP when you come up with a plan and give orders to make it happen. Gain 3 XP when you organize and lead a large force. Buyoff: Acknowledge someone else as the leader.
  • Key of the Competitor: You love contests and love to win. Gain 1 XP when you enter a competition. Gain 3 XP when you actually win such a contest. Buyoff: Gracefully concede to another.
  • Key of Conscience: You must protect the weak. Gain 1 XP every time you defend someone who is in danger and cannot save themselves. Gain 3 XP when you take someone in an unfortunate situation and change their life to where they can help themselves. Buyoff: Ignore a request for help.
  • Key of Conspiracy: It’s more involved than they think. Gain +1 XP when you spin an elaborate baseless scenario about your situation.
  • Key of Could-Have-Been Once: You once had ambition and drive. Gain +1 XP when you give up on a course of action because it seems unrealistic
  • Key of Curiosity: Hit your key whenever you your curiosity sidetracks you or gets you into trouble.
  • Key of the Daredevil: You thrive in dangerous situations. Gain 1 XP when you do something cool that is risky or reckless. Gain 3 XP when your recklessness protects your companions but causes you great harm or loss. Buyoff: Be very very careful.
  • Key of Faking It: You lied on your resume. Gain +1 XP when others expect you to be able to do something you actually can’t.
  • Key of Fear: Select what triggers your phobia—spiders, snakes, undead, being underground, etc. Gain 2 XP when you flee the source of your phobia instead of fighting it. Buyoff: Fight or face your phobia.
  • Key of Greed: You love wealth. Gain 1 XP every time you make a deal that favors you in wealth. Gain 3 XP every time you double your wealth. Buyoff: Give away everything you own except what you can carry lightly.
  • Key of the Guardian: You are a loyal defender of another PC. Gain 1 XP when you make a decision influenced by them or protect them from harm. Gain 3 XP when you follow their orders against your instincts. Buyoff: Sever your relationship with them.
  • Key of Honor: You follow a personal code of honor. Gain 1 XP whenever you keep your word, defend your reputation against insult, or protect those to whom you are obligated. Gain 3 XP when your code causes you major loss or harm. Buyoff: Commit a dishonorable act.
  • Key of the Impostor: You are in disguise or often maintain disguises. Gain 1 XP when you perform well enough to fool someone with your disguise. Gain 3 XP when you fool a group for an extended period. Buyoff: Reveal your true identity to someone you fooled.
  • Key of Knowledge: You love discovering secrets and weird restricted information. Gain 1 XP when you uncover a previously hidden or secret fact or long-lost piece of information. Gain 3 XP when you publish or reveal this knowledge that others want kept secret. Buyoff: Pass up an opportunity to learn something important.
  • Key of the Liar: Lie about something when you don’t have to.
  • Key of Liquid Lunch: It’s always time for a drink. Gain 1 XP when you sidetrack yourself in order to down a couple of drinks.
  • Key of Management: You rely on your team. Gain +1 XP when you steal credit for someone else’s success.
  • Key of Martyrdom: You thrive on personal pain and suffering. Gain 1 XP every time you take a Wound and 3 XP every time you become Injured. Buyoff: Flee a source of physical or psychic damage.
  • Key of the Matchmaker: You like seeing romantic pairings work, though perhaps not your own. Gain 1 XP when you try to set up a pairing. Gain 3 XP when you try to set up a pairing and it actually clicks. Buyoff: You turn your attention to your own romantic life.
  • Key of Memory: You’re terribly forgetful. Gain 1 XP when you forget a key fact from one scene to the next. Gain 3 XP when your forgetting gets you in trouble or puts you in danger. Buyoff: Remember a vital detail at exactly the right moment.
  • Key of the Mission: You have a personal mission, defined at the start (discuss with the GM). Gain 1 XP every time you take action to complete this mission. Gain 3 XP every time you take action that completes a major part of this mission. Buyoff: Abandon this mission.
  • Key of Naiveté: You’re a sucker for a sob story, scam, or pretty face. Gain 1 XP whenever you do what a stranger asks you to do. Gain 3 XP when your trust leads to a major betrayal. Buyoff: See through someone’s manipulation.
  • Key of the Nice Girl: Gain 1 XP when you do something nice because that’s what’s expected of you. Gain 3 XP when being nice costs you a significant opportunity. Buyoff: Loudly put your own interests ahead of someone else’s expectations.
  • Key of Obsession: You have favorite: sports team, TV show, food. Hit your key whenever you’re sidetracked by having to prove to people how awesome it is.
  • Key of the Odd One: Gain 1 XP when you do something small but weird to everyone around you. Gain 3 XP when you do something that causes you to be excluded from a group or event. Buyoff: Figure out what’s driving this behavior.
  • Key of Order (Procedures): Things have rules. People are supposed to stick to the rules. That’s how things should work. Gain 1 XP when you try to correct someone’s violation of a rule. Gain 3 XP when your complaints change the person’s action or decision. Buyoff: Let the breaking of rules go by unremarked.
  • Key of the Outcast: You have been exiled or banned from somewhere. Gain 1 XP when your status causes you trouble or is important in a scene. Gain 3 XP when you’re brought into direct contact with the source of your exile. Buyoff: Regain your former standing or join a new group.
  • Key of Panic: The pressure’s on. Gain 1 XP every time you take a condition card.
  • Key of the Paragon: You’re a noble, wealthy, or the scion of a famous family. Therefore you’re a cut above the common man. Gain 1 XP every time you demonstrate your superiority. Gain 3 XP when you make a significant positive impression on a peer or superior. Buyoff: Disown your heritage.
  • Key of Partyer: It’s always time to rock the house. Gain 1 XP when you drop a chunk of change on party times. Gain 3 XP when you spend all of your money on such entertainments. Buyoff: Hit rock bottom.
  • Key of the Procrastinator: Gain 1 XP when you’re able to successfully delay a due date for yourself. Gain 3 XP when you manage to finish something major after the last minute after putting it off. Buyoff: Get something done well in advance.
  • Key of the Prudent: You avoid combat like the plague. Gain 1 XP every time you avoids a potentially dangerous situation. Gain 3 XP every time you stops a combat using means besides violence. Buyoff: Leap into combat with no hesitation.
  • Key of Renown: You’ll make a name for yourself or die trying. Gain 1 XP when you brag or put yourself at risk to do something unnecessary or foolish that will add to your reputation. Gain 3 XP when you hear your rep mentioned by strangers. Buyoff: Give someone else credit.
  • Key of Rivalry: Choose a fellow PC as your rival. Gain 1 XP when you compete with them and boast about it. Gain 3 XP when you deal your rival a humiliating defeat. Buyoff: Cede a competition to your rival.
  • Key of Romance: You’re a hopeless romantic. Gain 1 XP when you fall in love with someone. As well gain 1 XP when your lover (or would-be lover, if your love is unrequited) is endangered and you act to rescue them. Gain 3 XP when your love leads to punishment or more than one of your lovers meet and come to a realization. Buyoff: Marry or break up with a long-time romantic partner.
  • Key of Sales: You like to make deals and trade favors. Gain 1 XP when you bargain, make a new contact, or exchange a favor. Gain 3 XP when you make a big score through your dealings. Buyoff: Cut yourself off from your network of contacts.
  • Key of the Skeptic: Gain 1 XP when you find an alternate explanation for a fantastical event. Gain 3 XP when your unwillingness to accept the strange keeps you from progress or success. Buyoff: Finally acknowledge the reality of the Realm.
  • Key of Soft Touch: You are, at heart, kind and gentle. Gain +1 XP when you show kindness or mercy.
  • Key of Spendthrift: If you have money, you’re supposed to spend it. Gain 1 XP when you drop a chunk of change non-essentials. Gain 3 XP when you spend all of your money on that way. Buyoff: Make a budget.
  • Key of Thievery (Klepto): Ooooh the shinies. Gain 1 XP when you steal something cool or score a big payoff. Gain 3 XP when you steal something legendary, named, or unique. Buyoff: Swear off stealing forever.
  • Key of the Thrifty: People toss away good stuff. Gain 1 XP when you rescue and hang on to something someone throws away. Gain 3 XP when a rescued object proves useful. Buyoff: Clean out your hoard.
  • Key of the Tinkerer: You just can’t leave it alone. Gain 1 XP when you modify, improve, repair, or patch some object or place. Gain 3 XP when you do this against the wishes or desires of the owner. Buyoff: Pass up the opportunity to mess around with technology.
  • Key of the Traveler: You love exploring places and meeting new people. Gain 1 XP when you share an interesting detail about a person, place, or thing or go somewhere exciting and new. Gain 3 XP when you go somewhere lost to the ages or normally forbidden to you. Buyoff: Pass up the opportunity to see something new.
  • Key of the Twice Shy: You’ve learned to avoid blame, but reflexively avoid credit as well. Gain 1 XP when you can pin your success on someone else. Gain 3 XP when they readily take full credit. Buyoff: Exclaim your own awesomeness.
  • Key of the Unrequited: You fall into love and infatuation easily and deeply. Gain 1 XP when you fixate on a new persons. Gain 3 XP when you do a risky or embarrassing thing in front of that person to gain their attention. Buyoff: Suffer a painful rejection.
  • Key of Vengeance: You have a hatred for a particular organization, person, or even species or culture. Gain 1 XP every time your character hurts a member of that group or a lackey of that person. Gain 3 XP every time you strike a major blow at that group or person. Buyoff: Let your enemy go.
  • Key of the Vow: You have a vow of personal behavior you have sworn not to break. This could be a dietary restriction, a requirement to pray at sunbreak every morning, or something else like that. Gain 1 XP for every session in which you don’t break this vow. Gain 3 XP every time you don’t break this vow even though it causes you great harm. Buyoff: Break this vow.
  • Key of the Watercooler: Hit this key when you hear someone repeat a rumor you spread.
  • Key of the Widow(er) (Bad Break Up): You lost your significant other truly and finally. Gain 1 XP when you make a connection between something in a scene and your lost love. Gain 3 XP when your pining interferes with new potential relationships and friendships. Buyoff: Lock away or dispose of the last of your mementos. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Smackdown of the Week: Wrestler MotW Playbooks

I’ve thought more about the World Wide WrestlingMonster of the Week mash-up campaign I mentioned in my last post. I’ve sketched what you’d need to do for conversions. On the WWW side, everything stays the same. You don’t have to make any changes. On the MotW side, I decided to go with archetypes. Some feel a little more cartoony than others. The Keeper may want to narrow the choices. 

I’m leaving out four playbooks: The Divine, The Flake, The Initiate, and the Spell-Slinger. You could use these if you wanted something closer to straight MotW. I may go back to see if there’s anything we can steal from those.

Look and such should simply cross-over from World Wide Wrestling, the same for History. The Keeper may want to have everyone define an experience or encounter they had with another Hunter in the field. Go to the left so everyone has a connection. Rewrite Weapons and Gear to be wrestling appropriate. No firearms, no long blades, etc. Redefine these as other forms or as special wrestling moves (complete with tags). Limit characters to one Far tag, usually to represent a thrown item or gimmick attack.

Besides their normal moves, each hunter gets a “Wrestling” move. Most of these we’ll lift from the excellent Luchador fan playbook. Written by Reid San Filippo, you can find that here. Players can pick from: Consummate Athlete, Flesh Wound (for Machismo!), Daredevil Move, Inspiring Speech, Heel (for Sly Rudo), and Fan Following.

To those we’ll add a couple more:
  • Tag-Team: When you Help Out your tag-team partner, you give them +2 Forward instead of +1. If your team splits, you can’t use this until you establish a new partnership.
  • Social Media Master: You may Cut a Promo during the Monster of the Week episode. You Snapchat, Vine, Tweet, or whatever to generate excitement among your audience. Roll +Charm for this.
  • Cage Match Specialist: When fighting a monster in an enclosed or limited space setting, your attacks always count as a weakness against those monsters. These attacks are 2-harm intimate messy.

The Keeper may make these unique, so each can only be taken by a single hunter.

The Heir AKA The Chosen
I picture this as someone who had a mantle passed down to them: parent to sibling, sibling to sibling, mentor to student. If you’re going for a classic Luchadore version of this, then the character receives the mask marking the legacy. You might step away from the family/ person connections and have the inheritance based on obtaining a special or magical item.

I imagine the Heir as more likely than others to have a conventional weapon, with a special material. It becomes more awesome if that still echoes illegal ring weapons (a bat, brass knuckles, a chain, etc). The moves stay the same. The player and Keeper should talk about the fate elements. You’ll probably want to tweak your doom in keeping with the tone of the game (Supernatural vs. Scooby-Doo).

The Sneak AKA The Crooked
Your character has a criminal background, so you’re the thief or con-man of the team. Under background, read Assassin as Hired Gun, with the idea that you might have been employed to fix real matches.

Eliminate Artifact, Crew, and Made as move options. Players may choose as starting moves Backgrounds they didn’t initially take.

The Brain AKA The Expert
This character’s the know-it-all armed with a smattering of occult lore and scholarship. The difference is that the Haven is a vehicle, the Mystery Machine: a semi, van, camper, airstream trailer, etc. The Panic Room option should be read as heavily armored, making it harder but not impossible for people to get in. The Expert has a new Haven option, Inconspicuous. This means the vehicle looks super ordinary, doesn’t seem out of place, and is forgettable to witnesses. Of course, the Mystery Machine can get low-jacked or towed. The Expert can roll the Mystery Machine into a combat situation, but the Keeper then has room to hit it with a move.

The Monster AKA The Monstrous
The Keeper will want to look carefully at this one. The group should decide if it fits with the tone they want. If someone takes the Monster, then the Haunted (Spooky) should be taken off the table (and vice versa).

The player and Keeper should develop the Monster type. The one caveat should be that the character must be able to sell the monstrous form as their gimmick in the ring. So as cool as a Werewolf is, that may be too much. You could define a player’s monstrous nature as half-breed, making them appear more human. I’d probably take the Faerie and Ghost type off the table. But consider Mummy, Frankenstein, Mutated Hench, or Cyborg as new options.

The Cursed AKA The Spooky
The Keeper will want to look carefully at this one. The group should decide if it fits with the tone they want. If someone takes the Cursed, then the Monster (Monstrous) should be taken off the table (and vice versa).

This Hunter has a dark and dangerous connection to the supernatural. They’re sinister and unsettling. We’ve seen wrestlers with these gimmicks before. The Undertaker and his Ministry of Darkness’s the most notable. I’m guessing anyone playing the Cursed will be a Heel in the ring.

The Newb aka The Mundane
The newest member of the Hunter team, they likely got roped into this by accident.

The Boss aka The Professional
The Agency defines the people holding the leash behind the scenes. Are the hunters stringers for a larger anti-supernatural group? Hidden agents run by a rogue handler within a conventional agency? Given direction and assignments by a shadowy supernatural figure? Imagine this less as a formal agency they belong to and more like a patron group. Alternately, the Keeper may have the player skip defining the agency and simply call it the Deal with Your Benefactor move.

The Veteran aka The Wronged
The Vet has been at this a long, long time. They’re probably older, more grizzled, or crazier than their fellow hunters. They’ve lost someone in their long career and that pushes them on.

The Wrench aka Action Scientist
The Action Scientist is a playbook written by Michael Sands as an homage to Atomic Robo. I imagine this character as the crazy hunter who is always rigging up strange devices and traps. You’ll want to rename and redefine the lunatic gear list here (unless the Keeper wants a full gonzo tone).

Thoughts? Suggestions?  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Wednesday Night Monster Smackdown: A Campaign Idea

I want to suplex a werewolf.

That’s where this concept starts. If you’re down with that read on.

At Origins last year I bought World Wide Wrestling on Rich Rogers’ recommendation. I trust his opinion and had friends who I thought might get a kick out of it. I'm not a wrestling aficionado. I didn’t get around to reading it until a few weeks ago. And that’s (probably) the dumbest thing in this whole post. WWW is awesome. It took me a second read to get the shape of play, but it clicked for me when I did. Immediately I wanted to play it.

And of course I had an idea for super-complicated and over-the-top WWW campaign.

We start with a regional Wrestling circuit travelling from town to town. They’re below the radar. You won’t find them on big broadcasts, but maybe Public Access or through hand-traded videos. Fans know them and kept up an active online community that basks in how low-rent they are. Somehow the organization keeps going year after year. A mysterious arranger sets up matches, recruits new talent, and dictates the general shape of battles. As with a conventional WWW game we have a mix of PC and NPCs wrestlers as well as other colorful figures.


After the match, the other half of the story begins. These wrestlers aren’t just coming to town for the competition. They’re here to deal out a Monster Beatdown. Or a beatdown to a monster. Mummies, Draculas, Mad Scientists, Time-Travelling Gorillas, Animated Voodoo Dolls. Whatever the problem they pin it down. The PCs know the score and have taken on this responsibility. They have to keep it a hidden- only a couple of others know (like the strangely effective nurse). They’re secret heroes, but perhaps not quiet ones. Sometimes their investigative activities cause complications for the Show, and they have to deal with anger from not-in-the-know management or other wrestlers.

The game alternates between a session of World Wide Wrestling and a session of Monster of the Week. Both are episodic so you can get a complete story done in a session. Here’s the brilliant suggestion Rich made. You split the GMing duties. One person handles World Wide Wrestling event while the other plays. Then they switch off for the monster hunt. Each GM has room to play off and build on threads crafted by the other.

Thoughts on the Story Side
1. Generally you’d have to accept a certain amount of cartoony-ness with this. The stories on the WWW side can be tough and deal with tensions between the characters. But you’d have to go with more unreality. Think closer to Hulk Hogan’s Rock n Wrestling than WCW Raw.

2. You could also say it’s a fairly Lucha Libre set-up. That blends absurdity with in-the-ring drama and character rivalries. You could go more fully down this route. Rather than standard wrestling the PCs are luchadore. In which case Lucha Libre Hero becomes a useful resource.

3. If you don’t do that, some of the fun would come from explaining why the wrestlers were wandering around in the graveyard at night with shovels and folding chairs.

4. On the Monster Hunting side things would be closer to Scooby Do, Goober & the Ghost Chasers, or any of those "travelling around solving mysteries" cartoons. See also the lightest episodes of Supernatural and "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco" from Angel.

5. Maybe there’s a larger supernatural conspiracy- leading to a throw-down with the Biggest Bad. I like the idea of their being a rival wrestling company who seems involved with the darker side of things. They could be behind it, just muscle, enjoying the chaos, or even actually monsters. The PCs would have to have at least one match. Alternately they’re all part of a larger wrestling group with different “teams.” Their mysterious patron/benefactor might be a divinely inspired “Charlie” or Mr. Roarke.

6. At least one of the Monster of the Week sessions would have to end with a fight in the squared circle.

7. Keep the WW playbooks as they adapt the various MotW books to those. So the Jobber has a version for both games. Alternately, split it even more. The MotW characters have cartoony archetypes built: Leader, Brains, Face Man, Mechanic, Supernaturalist, Bait, Grizzled, Sneak, etc. Most of the weapon/attack elements get rewritten to be HtH. Trim and focus the new playbooks.

Thoughts on the System Side
1. Keep the WWW playbooks as they adapt the various MotW books to those. So the Jobber has a version for both games.

2. Alternately, split it even more. The MotW characters have cartoony archetypes built: Leader (Professional), New Kid (Mundane), Sneak (Crooked), Brains (Expert), Grizzled (Wronged). A few other archetypes come to mind: Face Man, Mechanic, Supernaturalist, Grizzled, etc. I’ll have to look at some of the alternate playbooks (including the Luchadore which was the first one I played in MotW). We'd reconfigure character and team questions.

3. Rewrite most of the weapon/attack elements to HtH. Players would add colorful names to any of their combat/attack moves. Maybe some improvised weapons elements. Trim and focus the adapted new playbooks. We don’t need everything there. Weird perhaps becomes Wrestling? Especially if you suggest players have secret techniques or magical masks. Have to figure that out.

4. One of the big conceits for Monster of the Week is figuring out the way to actually hurt the Big Bad. That might require special wrestling moves or at least those in combination with some elements or ritual.
 What do you think? Other ideas or suggestions? What else could we add to this? 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Rookie GM Mistakes

I have run some dire, dreadful sessions over the years. I suspect many didn’t crash & burn as badly as I remember. Others…well others I know did. I have been a Rookie GM and have made those classic mistakes. And when I’ve hit a system I didn’t quite grok, I’ve fallen back to being a newb even after years of play. That’s the undertow when you desperately swim in new rules. In this episode of Play on Target we talk about those classic mistakes- things we soon picked up on the fly. They’re 101 problems, but you have to learn somewhere and in some cases, like mine, relearn from time to time. I’ve made all of these mistakes…hopefully not in the same session.

A Few More Ideas We Didn’t Hit Directly. Assume that where I say “GMs have…” I’m also saying “I have…”

1. Ask Players. I started out thinking that any screw up undercut my authority. Some of that came from early years running for players several years my senior. I dug myself deep holes. I had to contort desperately to make up for my contradictions. If you’ve forgotten a detail at the table, check with the players. You can avoid coming up with something you’ll have retcon it when it turns out you were wildly off-base.

2. Chill about Unearned Triumphs. If the players can’t figure out your clever plot, the bad guy miraculously escapes, or they get defeated by an overly potent villain, don’t gloat. Tease in situations where the players had choice and control, but came up short. Use those moment to generate excitement for the next scene/confrontation. I’ve seen new GMs arrive assuming the players are their adversaries. They hit them hard to prove who runs the show. Those unearned victories make the GM smug. Often they think their crowing pushes the players to hate the villain, when it instead encourages frustration with the GM.

3. Nod and Keep Going. The flip side is that players will gloat. Let them. Express a little regret and “I’ll get you next time” but don’t immediately hammer them down. When the players win, give them a chance to revel in that. Don’t always shatter their triumph as they relish it. Yes, you can turn the tables, but if you continually ignore or denigrate victories, you devalue them. This can be as simple as glossing past their success. I’ve also seen GMs have NPCs express disdain: treating them still like lowly folk despite their good work, refusing to acknowledge their victories, critiquing their methods. Make those moves for character reasons, rather than from frustration.

4. Bringing the Funny. I’ve seen GMs bomb running comedy games (Paranoia, Toon, etc). They try too hard. They go straight to 11. Put absurdity out there with a stony face. Play the straight person. Take it seriously. Let the players find the comedy.

5. Telegraph Success. Sometimes player actions will upset nefarious plan and operations. But that’s behind the scenes so logically they might never see the outcome. They’ve won, but don’t know it. This usually happens when you’ve got complicated plots, mysteries, and many stories juggling at once. I’ve run and played in these campaigns. The players work and work but feel like they aren’t getting anywhere. They are, but the GM isn’t telling them. Think about alternate ways to get this info to them: second-party analysts, telltale signs from abandoned locations, turncoats telling them the inside story. I really wish I’d done this many times. Instead I kept my silence when the players got angry at the table: “Little do they know they’re succeeding…” I thought. Little do they know being the operative phrase.

6. It Was Really… Here’s a related point Sam made to me: don't brag about the clues players missed, or tell them what they didn't find that would have sent the game in a different direction. Yes you’re clever, but at the table that comes off as annoying. Save that stuff for later, you may be able to reuse it.

7. Here’s Another Shopkeeper. It’s easy to get rolling and drop in NPCs just to fill a role. When you do that, there’s a risk of making your NPCs monotone. I’ve played in games where everyone had the same sneer: regarding the PCs as scum or marks to be taken advantage of. You might be selling a tone, but at the same time it isn’t interesting. Vary the color palette to make it more striking.

8. Deal With It. Sometimes things don’t go well. A session trips up, moments fall flat, the group doesn’t have it together. Don’t just go home and beat yourself up about it, don’t blame the system, don’t post angry rants about your players on Reddit. Talk to them about problems. Start with questions and get their reactions and impressions. Don’t call people out, instead try to find common ground. And if a person does turn out to be a source of friction and tension, be ready to ask them to leave. Don’t keep them around to avoid conflict if their presence makes things worse. (And it will…Christ it will…)

9. Kill Your Darlings. Sometimes the game doesn’t work. Have a conversation about it. Then, if you’re certain, put the game to bed. Don’t just stop running: BOOM. That’s hugely frustrating for players. And it’s something that will stick with you: an unfulfilled promise. If you’re unhappy, tell the players you’re going to move to a good stopping point the next session. If the players aren’t happy, ask them to give you one more session to wrap things up. Ghosting or perpetually putting off a campaign does no one good. It clogs schedules, makes people not want to trust you again, and leaves you with regrets. I have several campaigns where I wish I’d gotten one more session to finish the story (my Wuxia game, our Crux Exalted campaign, M&M Arkham Harbour, Changeling Lost Vegas). Their dangling storylines still bug me.

If you like RPG Gaming podcasts, I hope you'll check it out. We take a focused approach- tackling a single topic each episode. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Google Play, or follow the podcast's page at www.playontarget.com.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Seven Supers RPG Speculations

Ponderings? Musings? Thought Exercises? In any case...

1. Super Saga
I’m thinking about a different kind of superhero campaign frame. Recently Rich Rogers has run a series of two-shot rpgs linked together by their locale: Gauntlet City. He had the players involved make up neighborhoods for it. When you play, you create a character from that part of the city. So far I’ve played Ninja Burger, InSpectres, and High Strung. I love the conceit of a shared world to connect online games.

Here’s what I was thinking: short-run superhero games, maybe four sessions. They would all be set in the same world, but using different systems. Some of the games might take place in the setting’s past. For example Cold Steel Wardens presents a kind of late ‘80’s/’90s pastiche which would be interesting to try. Rotted Capes or Base Raiders could be used for an awful future. Hero High or Masks could cover the youthful training of characters. I would probably use the same pre-gens across games and systems.

I want to try it for the chance to closely compare how these systems play. I could reasonably run Mutants & Masterminds, Champions, V&V, Marvel Heroic, Masks, Worlds in Peril, ICONS, or Venture City Stories, some with a little relearning. I could also try games I haven’t run or played like Cold Steel Wardens, Daring Comics, AMP, Valiant, Capes, With Great Power, and Capes, Cowls & Villains Foul. I think four sessions would be longer enogh to get a feeling for the game. It would also players to jump in and out. I’d have to see what kind of interest there is in online supers games. I might test those waters after Origins.

2. Gap Year
In the next few weeks, we’ll be returning to our Mutants & Masterminds campaign, or at least that setting. Last time I ran a “Year One” M&M campaign with newly emerging superheros and PC versions of existing comic characters. The team of Mister Miracle, Iron Man, Nightcrawler, Thor, and Mr. Freeze battled through three extensive campaign arcs and 50+ sessions. For this new one, they’ll be making up “legacy” characters (like Teen Titans, Young Avengers, Infinity Inc, and New Mutants). We’ll also be taking up about 18 months after the end of the last campaign.

To cover what’s happened in the meantime, we’ll be using Microscope. I've used it repeatedly for campaign and city creation, but never to cover between campaigns. I’ll bookend our timeline with the big event from the campaign climax as the first era (Vandal Savage’s Attempt to Turn the Earth into Apokolips Stopped). I’m still working on the title for the last era. Some of the players had written up character postscripts and I’ll try to keep those in continuity. But what we create at the table with trump that.. I’m a little nervous about how that will turn out. Doing this has meant holding off any serious planning until we do that collaboration.

3. Masks & Worlds in Peril 
I had a chance to play Masks a few weeks ago. I’d backed the Kickstarter but hadn't read the rules. It’s a PbtA game about teen superheroes. (If you’recurious Rich Rogers has been recording sessions of it). Sherri and I enjoyed the session. I liked how it pushes certain interactions, but also didn’t feel like it forced those. It has fun interplay, though like many of these games overly aggressive players cna undercut this.

It’s particularly interesting how vastly different it feels from Worlds in Peril, the other PbtA supers game. It’s not only that they take a vastly different approach to powers: sharply focused for archetypes vs. an anything goes toolkit. They have a different scope as well. Masks has a tone and specific genre everything’s aimed to support. On the other hand, Worlds in Peril wants to be like M&M, V&V, and Champions: a generic supers game useful for anything. You can see that in the player interaction elements. Worlds in Peril essentially has a Support/Hinder move and a generic approach to bonds. Masks, as befitting teen drama supers, has many moves about player interaction, social dominance, and leverage.

I’m beginning to realize how many PbtA games have a PvP element. Not directly battling, but muscling for control, pushing dramatic actions, and stepping into one another’s space. It adds to the tension by giving mechanics for resolution of those conflicts. Unlike video games which add PvP to make up for content, in Masks-type games it deepens things. Unlike the other PvP game I know—DramaSystem—it doesn’t necessarily reward players who “lose.” DramaSystem ends scenes by looking at who has narrative power and who gets a bennie for making concessions. Most PbtA games keep moving, without the need for this scene assessment.

4. Who Watches? 
I’ve been thinking about that semi-PvP element and superhero gaming. Urban Shadows puts those rules front and center as well as the concept of factions. I wonder if you could do a gritty Iron Age supers game using those rules? I remember we played several Dark Champions, Watchmen-style campaigns in the ‘80s-‘90s. The PCs often had different agendas and ways of dealing with crime. That ended up more in the fiction than at the table. But it might be cool to figure out how to simulate such tensions. Imagine a Gotham-style city choked with clashing costumed vigilantes with allegiance to different power groups.

Speaking of battling supers…

5. Choose Your Side
I’m cautiously optimistic about Captain America: Civil War. By the time you’re reading this you may have seen it (or skipped it if that’s your bag). I didn’t care for the original comic series and related event books. Civil War fails in the comics because of the extensive and entrenched history of the world. Characters behave irrationally, people forget events, and it weirdly feels out of tune. On the other hand, the movie has less of that baggage. We’ve seen the birth of the Marvel Universe and the cataclysmic events that might give rise to registration and control. It feels like it flows logically. But I think as a premise it works for a supers game (with some caveats).

A Civil War-style campaign arc would have to come early in a setting’s history. It could make a good first arc, with the PCs as new heroes in a world which has had superbeings for a relatively short period of time. It could also work as a great second arc, with events and decisions building off choices from the first. If the PCs' battles created collateral damage that could support a case for capital "C" control. Alternately, a “reset” setting could work. In Base Raiders all of the Alpha-heroes and villains have vanished. That shift might give governments the room and power to impose restrictions.

You’d want to talk about these issues with your players. How would they feel about it and what side would they fall on? You’d neeed to be clear about the terms. Is it just registration with secret identities put at risk for hacking or blackmail? Or is it some more serious control: government training and use? Players generally dislike authority, but I’d want to collaboratively figure out what we want to see at the table. Comic stories get to fudge things, but what are the limits? Do non-powered crusaders or gadget heroes count? Or is it just about powers? Is it based in fear of mutation- and if so how is that defined?

6. Villains Escape (Again)
I’ve seen super-prisons a couple of times in my games. You can see one in the Captain America: Civil War trailer (undersea as opposed to hyper-dimensional in the comics). I recall a multi-GM campaign where the players spent a long time helping design Eschaton, a superbeing prison for the Lunar surface. This came in response to a series of super-villain breakout scenarios. It had become ridiculous with the most recent prison happening to have villain equipment and costumes in an adjacent cell-block for easy access. In any case, it was Champions so we spent a ton of points on building the facility.

Then the GM who specialized in the jail-breaks waited until just after completion to activate a villain’s plan to release everyone we’d captured. At that point the other GM revealed that the prison hadn’t been built in space. It had been built undersea. All of this had been a lure and a ruse.

It was weird.

7. For-Profit Super Prisons? 
Of course super-prisons don’t work, since they’re exciting plot devices (see Arkham Asylum). That’s evidenced by the number of rpg supplements for them, Here's my inventory:
  1. Escape from Stronghold (and the later Stronghold) for Champions.
  2. The Lockdown sourcebook and Escape from Alcatraz! For Mutants & Masterminds
  3. The batsh*t insane and wonderful Gramercy Island for Heroes Unlimited
  4. The Belle Reve Sourcebook for DC Heroes (also covering Suicide Squad)
  5. Jailbreak! For ICONS
  6. The Raft scenario from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

Have I missed any?