Friday, July 31, 2009


Rpg Geekdo, the Boardgamegeek for rpgs, has done a soft launch.

I'll try to write something up tomorrow to talk about it more, but please come over and take a look. If I know you and you send me a pm from inside your account, I'll send you some Geekgold which you can use to buy an avatar or microbadges on the boards.

I'll have more about this later.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Meta-Chronology of the Game World (Part Four)

Sorry, lost a day there-- I'll try to get an extra post in to keep my every-other-day schedule relatively intact.

Blogging may be sporadic next week and even this weekend though. I have three games to run this weekend, and my mother goes in for her surgery on Monday. She'll going to be in the hospital after that for at least three days, so my sister and I will be spelling each other on keeping an eye on here. We'll see how things go.

My best wishes go out to Dave and Chas in hopes of a positive result from the invetro procedure.

We also need to say that Brandy kicks ass, all the time.

Lastly, before I get into this-- if anyone has rpg questions-- about a particular game you played in, about gaming in general or about how I go about what I do, I'd love to answer those.

A Meta-Chronology of the Game World
Part IV
Part III here

I'd taken a break from running for a time, but eventually I couldn't take that anymore. If I don't have the creative outlet of game prep, I find myself becoming frustrated and more irritable. Even doing other writing doesn't help-- there's something satisfying about the creative process and large scale construction that goes on in campaign creation that I really love. I'd begun to think about doing another fantasy game on the Second Continent, since something like a year had passed since I'd done anything in that game world. I had conversation with Barry at that time in which the topic of Steampunk came up. While the genre concepts for that had been around for a while, they'd just begun to permeate out into the wider culture. “The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne” had just started to be shown on Sci-Fi channel, and I'd read the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Barry convinced me I should run and try to get back in some players who I hadn't game with for a while.

The problem, however, was twofold in adding Steampunk elements. First, I'd had gunpowder eliminated from the setting some time before. Once once in the entire course of the many campaigns have I ever handed out wishes. One of them landed in Scott's lap and he wished away black powder weapons. So, I couldn't use any of that stuff-- instead I'd use Volters, based on magic crystals, to simulate that. The other, more major problem was that if I really wanted to have Steampunk be a major element, society and history would have to evolve. I probably could have simply dropped things in, but I think that would have bothered me. So I decided to advance the timeline for the continent forward about 300 years. That was a radical decision and I worried about it for many weeks-- going back and forth before finally deciding to go for it. I think part of my worry would be how that would affect the timelines on the other continents. But I wanted the genre to feel whole and real, and I did a good deal of research about the 1700 and 1800's-- of which this new world would be a hybrid, a kind of combination of Swashbuckling of Dumas and the Steampunk ethos which we would call Steambuckler. I actually called the campaign Arcane Rails at first because I had a vision of magical railroads and travel, but I ended up not going in that direction.

The game went very well-- I went back to Gurps for probably the last time. There's much I like about the system, but the magic just doesn't work in the way I want it to. That's a real problem in a fantasy setting. I'd hoped that the new edition of Gurps might solve those problems, but instead the system took a step backwards-- becoming more opaque, more mechanical, and doing nothing serious to fix the problems of the original magic rules. System aside, I was pretty happy and the campaign ran 2+ years, moving through a complete arc that made some drastic changes. We gained and lost some great NPCs and we despite the significant move forward, we had a number of connections between the PCs of the campaign and those of previous ones. I was particularly pleased with the identity reveal of the major patron as being a former PC of Rob's from many, many campaigns ago.

At some point in this timeline, I also started running another Legend of the Five Rings campaign, this time adapted to Storyteller. In retrospect I'm not sure exactly why I went with Storyteller, since I'd only run a little of it, but I knew I didn't want to use Rolemaster or Gurps for this, and I hadn't yet come up with my Action Cards system (which would have been great now that I think about it). In any case, I set the L5R game in continuity with the previous game, which meant that it was in continuity/connection with the First Continent and therefore with the shared world.

Then it gets weird-- so bear with me. We played the L5R game for some time before I revealed that in fact the players weren't in that setting-- they were in a variation of Rob's HCI premise of shared VR worlds. However, they soon discovered that even this wasn't entirely true-- the company didn't actually have a VR Samurai world-- and the were supposed to have been in another portal game entirely. Long story short, they would eventually discover that the various portals and worlds of the VR had become connected to magic, in fact had become a battleground for Mages (ala Mage: The Ascension). The world they'd been to had been real, but it was as if they'd become like demons-- dropping in to possess these “characters” in the portal, while still retaining memories, motivations and skills of the bodies.

I need to sidebar here for a moment, and then I'll come back to the HCI stuff and its connection. In the middle of this extended campaign, I also ran a short campaign set in the heart of the First Continent-- away from the L5R portion in the southeast corner. I'd built up an elaborate cosmology and history which I'd intended to use for some kind of campaign in the future-- breaking the areas down into several regions, writing up about thirty+ pages of background. For this short run campaign, I kind of put a shotgun to that and blew away the existing structure. That is, I had the players undo the existing power structures that united the various kingdoms. It was a pretty interesting game-- seven sessions using a high improvised Storyteller system, and in the end I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do with the First Continent. I had good material, but I didn't like it for that context-- in some ways it felt too much like other things I'd done.

Back to the HCI-- step two, and we increase the weirdness. Just to demonstrate the meta-level strangeness of this, the HCI game was set in the same modern world in which I had run two previous World of Darkness games, both Vampire, one before and one after Gehenna. However the HCI game took place in 2036. So that builds a bridge between that world and the shared fantasy world. They went to other “portals” some of which were real and some of which were strictly VR simulations. They returned to Rokugan several times, ending with the big climax of the campaign. The walked into the middle of the Scorpion Clan Coup-- a game changing event in the L5R Continuity. However things began to fall out in the different way from the original events-- in part to take into account the world differences, in part a response to the PC's actions, and in part to throw off Will who knew the history well. In the big climax, massive magical forces from the various worlds collided-- changing things radically. The PCs were, in a sense, split-- their souls returning to the “real world” of 2036, their Rokugani selves continuing on, but also a portion of themselves going back to the original founding of Rokugan and becoming the Kami who had originally fallen from the Heavens and founded the various Great Clans. However, these would be very different Kami-- the same names for the lines, but very different temperaments for the Seven Great lines. The campaign as a whole ran for a little over three years.

How does that fit in? That's the Rokugan that presently exists on the First Continent. Their interference with the timeline, plus some earlier fallout in terms of elemental time from a previous campaign has drastically shifted the events of the First Continent. It still works, but things happened very differently, at least in the timeline of that continent. For example, the actions of dealing with the two big bads occurred in the distant past there, and the short term campaign forms a portion of a kind of prehistory. Again, I'll come back to that. The bottom line is that the timeline of the First Continent became shifted backwards several hundred years from where it had been connected to the Second and Third Continents.

OK-- jerry-rigged enough for you?

That leaves four other campaigns set or connected to this shared world left to discuss. And we'll finish that out soon.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Meta-Chronology of the Game World (Part Three)

A Meta-Chronology of the Game World
Part III
Part II here

The chronology of the various games starts getting strange around this time-- in terms of both stopping and starting running and where we were in the game world. On the Second Continent, I'd moved forward about 60 years in game since the first campaign. The Third Continent I had in mind to be roughly parallel with that, but I wasn't completely sure about that. At first I tried to establish some relative chronology, but I back away from it. I knew that the tail end of the three parallel campaigns would be about the same time as the end of the Pavis 3C campaign-- just because events shared the thematic of a change in the relation of the gods to the world. However I wasn't completely sure on things and I worried that nailing it down too tightly would cause problems-- which in retrospect was a goofy conceit, given that I'm the only one with a full sense of the events.

In any case, after the Pavis game wrapped up with took a break and then I began another campaign on the Third Continent, sticking with Rolemaster but migrating over to the new edition, Rolemaster Standard System. Scott had used it and liked it, so we went with that. This would have been starting midway through the time of the Freakish Band Second Continent campaign. However, where the FB game had jumped forward several decades, this game would only go forward a few years. I did that to take advantage of things from the Pavis campaign being still fresh in everyone's minds. I'd put some ideas into motion that I wanted to play out-- looking more broadly at the Lunar Empire and the current situation. We had some shake up during the course of that game-- a number of players moving, me booting one out, and other change ups including a pretty significant multi-month break in the middle of the campaign when I hit a burn out point. I'd say we did that campaign, play-wise for a little under two years.

At the same time we had a couple of other games that fit strangely into the timeline. Shari ran for a pretty long time, at least a year, a campaign set on the Third Continent, primarily dealing with the role of mages (seen as anathema and outsiders there) and refining the structures I'd built. Originally I'd borrowed pretty heavily from the earliest (and least historically driven) version of Ars Magica-- at least the idea that Sorcerers, seen as dangerous, would gather into their own societies, but also have a united structure in the form of Covenants. I didn't mind keeping that borrowing, since I pretty much only used that conceit. Shari's game really helped establish a lot of key background details I hadn't concentrated on-- complete with a sense of thaumatology I'd only sketched in passing. In terms of timeline, it ran roughly in parallel with the other Third Continent game mentioned above.

The campaign also stands out as being the first “school” setting we played in. It makes sense as a trope and given how inundated we are with Harry Potter it may be hard to imagine when that wasn't a central point. It was also one of the first really, really NPC heavy/location static campaigns I'd seen in the genre. I'd done a little of that in Pavis, but Sherri took it in a new direction. She wasn't as good at at table running and management, her admitted weakness, but she could generate content and story that made me look a little paltry at times. It would also be the first and last time I got a chance to actually play in my own world-- to see my concepts and ideas filtered through someone else's perceptions. I enjoyed the game, but unfortunately it ended up getting scuttled. I'm a little loathe to comment on exactly why that happened. Some of it was the same negativity which had quashed one of the earlier Second Continent games and another campaign set outside of this shared world. We had a couple of players very self-driven and unwilling to work with fellow players. Plus we had at least one player who did her level best to piss all over the game if she wasn't the center of attention. I've seen a lot of games come to an abrupt and sudden end over the years-- many that I ran-- but I think I regret this one not finishing more than any other.

At some point around this time, I also decided I wanted to run a Legend of the Five Rings campaign. I'd always been fascinated by the samurai setting, and L5R managed to build a rich world without being tied to historical realities. That made it a better setting than the goofiness of the old TSR Oriental Adventures or even Bushido. Now, here's where it gets kind of weird and begins the first stage of my continued rethinking of the First Continent. I first have to backtrack a little. While I was running the three parallel Second Continent games, I got the idea to sponsor a contest at the game room. I had the map of the First Continent, broken into regions, but without any development. I had people each take an area and develop a culture and history there. I had some general notes about the history, specifically the big bads there. People generated very interesting things-- but the split nature of it all meant that as a whole nothing really fit together. Great material, but ideas which would require a good deal of work and massaging to get into shape. Eventually, for one version of the First Continent, I'd borrow some of the ideas, but generally I set a good deal of that aside.

I had, however, kept a little section of the continent for myself, with the idea that I wanted to have something with a more Oriental flavor. I'd suggested that at one point with Barry when he'd had an NPC try to reach the First Continent from the Second. At the same time L5R had come out-- first in CCG form and then in RPG form. It occurred to me that I could run an L5R game, and in my mind have it set on the First Continent, but never say so explicitly. I modified some of the concepts-- what the Burning Sands actually were, the role of Fu Leng both as a corrupter and a blockade to keep the outside world away, and the nature of the Kolat as a fragment of one of the old magical groups. I ended up butchering things further by deciding I didn't like the L5R rules and adapting it into Rolemaster. Again, as I've said, I've come a long way since then. The game went well-- I used quite a bit of the existing scenario material for L5R, including the Tomb of Iuchiban Campaign. So at least a version of Rokugan now existed in the world. We had a complete arc with that game, and then at that point I took a pretty significant break from running big things-- I think the next thing I ran ended up being the City of Ocean campaign, which was three and then two players.

It is also worth noting that at one point, I did know that all of the campaigns had at least some connection to one another-- and not just in the shared world. For example, Dave's character from my weird modern game ended up being the founder of a major familial line on the Second Continent, due to a quirk of fate and dimensional travel. I had other linkages-- but they're not so important to me now. I like the idea of a multiverse, but I don't want to necessarily push it. It is worth enough to me to know you can trace a link, a small link, between nearly all of the games I've run. Some of them share the same world, while others have someone or something which has moved over between the worlds, quietly and subtly. I also know that based on the rule of three, there have to be two other fantasy worlds close by this one, but I've never actually dealt with that. I've hinted about it, but I don't think I've ever really go to the trouble of building one of those up. There's too much good stuff available in what I still have in front of me.

Next time, the most recent campaigns, competing versions, and Lowell brings the time hammer down.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Meta-Chronology of the Game World (Part Two)

A Meta-Chronology of the Game World
Part II
Part One here

After we had the blow up in the Pillar of Fire Third Continent game I decided a couple of things. First that I wouldn't run a villains game again and second that I'd put the campaign on hiatus. I still had a number of players interested despite the inter-party friction, but I knew that it would only get worse. I said I would start it again later, but I knew I wouldn't. I could have probably moved on to a finish, we'd had three major story arcs in the campaign already and I could have just headed for the wrap up, but I'd lost enthusiasm. At that point my scorecard for complete versus incomplete campaigns wasn't good-- two complete versus four incomplete.

I eventually decided I wanted to head back to the Second Continent-- both because I wanted to run Gurps again, and because I wanted to draw from material I'd already created rather than starting from scratch. At that point I was running the Game Room and needed regular games to fill nights out. In retrospect I probably should have been pushing more on the miniatures and ccg angle, but I had separate days and nights for that. RPGs are a hard commodity to keep a revenue stream going for. But that's an entirely different story for thinking about later.

I decided to run two parallel campaigns on the Second Continent. The first game would be a mix of new players and old players from the Thonak Campaign. The second game would mostly draw from the collapsed Third Continent game-- although a number of months, maybe even a year had passed since then. I had an idea for an arc which would reference the First Continent and solve a couple of problems I'd been thinking about-- primarily the removal of classic Games Workshop style Chaos from the world. I also knew that I wanted to pull back threads from the last Second Continent game-- unresolved plots, characters and settings. More importantly, and I still don't know exactly how this came to me, I wanted both games to begin with a pretty serious natural disaster-- in the end a massive tidal wave which swept the western coast. I think that was a reaction to Paul having a hurricane in one of his games and, while it had a massive landscape impact, it was more like heavy rain for those of us traveling through it.

In any case, those games got running and went along smoothly. I set up a couple of events that lay in the future and joined up the timeline for both. Then we had a set of parallel supers campaigns, ambitious but not well thought through, collapse. I took most of the players from my section of that and offered them a straight fantasy campaign, what would end up being the third parallel campaign in that set. We had some shake out among all of the games-- players switching between groups, PCs dying, some players leaving and others added over time. I managed to coordinate all three groups arriving at the same event at the same time-- they shared notes and I advanced the plot pretty significantly there. After about two years of play I wrapped up all three campaigns over the course of two weekends.

Each campaign had a very different feel to it, and they all went different places. One group focused more on one region while the others traveled heavily. Most of the PCs deaths ended up being fairly heroic and a number of former PCs appeared, some as good guys and some as bad guys, with heaps of death all around. I think they really helped define the world as a real setting, both for me and for the various players. More people gained a sense of the backstory, culture and the ethos of the setting

I was getting into the last third of those Gurps campaigns when I played in a terrible Rolemaster game. More properly I should say I played with a terrible gamemaster. He had that strong sense of players being in opposition to the GM-- and that the GM should do his level best to kill the PCs. That went for a while and then when we got too powerful (like level five) he rebooted, at which point I dropped out. Eventually he stopped running at all, thank god, and I offered to run a RM campaign for his players. At this point I'd decided that Rolemaster really only worked in the context of the Third Continent for me. It is easy to see the difference between something like a supers game and a fantasy game-- the genre really drives the system engine. It is less easy to read how much of a difference that system makes if you're doing straight fantasy. Rolemaster lends itself to an epic nature, even when you're doing more conventional stuff. Gurps, on the other hand, always keeps one foot in the real and the dangerous, even when the stakes are epic.

The campaign, which ended up being called the Pavis campaign, profoundly helped me change my perception of the Third Continent. I'd had time to really look at the cosmology of the Glorantha stuff and how they dealt with the constant presence of the Gods. With that in mind I slowly began changing things. I'd started out with a heavy focus on the Lythic pantheon from Harn, but gave that up-- making those cults far away and more background. At the same time I pretty literally used most of the Gloranthan adventures I had. I set it some ten years after the last Third Continent game and, at the time, imagined that it took place roughly parallel in time with the Second Continent games I was running (which meant I had four campaigns set in the same world running at the same time).

While the group traveled quite a bit, Pavis as a place became very real and important to the players. We had some missteps in the game-- I ended up introducing some side plots which took away from the main thrust of the narrative. I learned an important lesson there, don't go all over the place. If you've established a location as significant and the players have invested in it, don't drag them away halfway through. You can do that, but it should be a powerful move-- consider the raising of the stakes at the end of Harry Potter 6-- where it becomes clear we're not going immediately back to Hogwarts for the next book. We do end up going back, but their time spent away is a singular event which gives more power to the scene when they do return.

That RM was especially interesting in that it carried over from the end of my time running the game room. We moved the game to another location and kept playing for probably another year after that. I'd say we played for over two years in that game, if not longer. Its also interesting in that I've pretty consistently run for that core group on alternate Sundays since then. That's at least thirteen years, with a few breaks in between campaigns; we're on our fifth campaign right now.

I took a little break between the end of the triple Second Continent games, especially because of the career shift and general screw job I'd gotten from my employers. Eventually I decided to start two new Second Continent games, again trying to run parallel games. One, I believe started even before my job finished. I think, in retrospect, I should have probably waited a little longer before beginning those campaigns. One game went for about a half-dozen sessions before it became clear that the player dynamic wasn't working. I like to think I'm a little better about managing those things now-- and figuring out player needs. However for the life of me I can't remember what exactly put the dagger in that game. We had some interesting characters and plots, but a couple of the players really seemed out of it-- disinterested or just generally hostile to the setting. I ended up just not running it anymore, which I think was a loss-- we had some great characters-- Mark Base's Thief “Pooky”, Sherri's character Auzumel and Scott's Dwarf.

The other game had a rocky start at first as well. We ended up losing over time three players, but eventually added some others, ending up with a solid table of six. Scott moved over from the other campaign after it ended which added something. We also had Sharon joining us for the first time, which ended up being probably the best thing we could have hoped for. That game ran for a couple of years. Timeline-wise, I'd moved things forward about thirty years from the last triple set of Second Continent games. Some NPCs existed who'd been former PCs but I ended up being lighter. I wanted to add some new stuff and I also began to very consciously began to change and eliminate material on the Second Continent which had been borrowed too wholesale from other sources. By this time I'd established a pretty clear cosmology for the world I'd resigned myself to the Lythic Pantheon there, but I tried to make some subtle changes and bring in some of the mythic flavor from the Third Continent. I'd eventually give up on that and stick with a more High Medieval and Early Modern conception of the role of the Church.

It is also worth noting that we had another game take place during all of this-- Scott's Rolemaster campaign set on an alternate and very distant take on my setting-- a world which had been destroyed by the actions of certain forces, notably the Ardorans. Scot had absorbed quite a bit of the history and used it as a kind of spice to flavor his game. Though not my game, I do count it in and among those set in this world. He did a full and complete arc with it.

Current score then-- eight complete campaigns and five incomplete.

Next-- Still more campaigns, some sidebar trips and the timeline starts getting really wonky.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Meta-Chronology of the Game World (Part One)

A Meta-Chronology of the Game World
I've you've played in my fantasy campaigns, you know I have three continents, but you might also have noticed there's little contact between them-- I keep them separate. I've gone back and forth, allowing some exchanges and then shutting them down, depending on my temper. The First Continent focuses on personal Will, an idea which has shifted over time and even now I've been working with yet another conception of. The Second Continent is more Material-- classic fantasy, with classic magic. The Third Continent focuses on the Divine and the mythic. Those conceptions have evolved over time. I know I've done some entries with more detailed overviews of the campaigns, but I want to write out a chronology of all the campaigns which have taken place in that shared world, even as I run more games set there there.

The very first game that actually took place on what would become this shared world as a little Rolemaster game in high school. I had a real breakthrough because despite having drawn a large continental map, I focused in one one region and came up with some structures and cultures for that area. I'd played in Paul's RM modification of the Harn setting and I'll admit that heavily influenced me. It had a richness and continuity that made play there interesting. While I'd been telling complicated stories before this, my settings had been more chaotic and less logical. I ran that for a bit and then forgot about it. In those days we stopped and started campaigns at the drop of a hat, so it maybe went ten sessions or so. I should mention too that even this game had some continuity to my previous games-- the continental threats of Murkavan and Damizier came out of character conflicts from the AD&D campaign I'd run for a couple of years.

The real breakthrough came in two parts. The first was the four sessions I ran of a fantasy game where people played without character sheets. I wanted something more improvisational. So I quickly drew up a map, filled in names and made up the background mostly on the fly. The game was interesting, but had a group that was hard to assemble consistently. However, I'd thrown enough off the cuff details in there that I began to try to figure out more of the backstory for myself. Who really was this big bad, the Thonak, that I'd mentioned? Why had the amnesiac PCs been in the position they were? I went back to the map. At that time I'd picked up a number of fantasy rpg sourcebooks-- Known World, Talislanta, and even Warhammer FRPG. I began to pencil some things in where I still had blank spots on that crappy map-- thus we get Caldumar changing, Ylaruam, better definition of Aoniae and so on. I borrowed quite a bit for my first versions of places. I've always been fascinated by the divine stuff in fantasy games so I took the Lythic pantheon from Harn and also had quite a bit of real world (Norse, etc) pantheon material-- the latter would eventually get excised out and the former would change greatly over time.

The campaign actually started with just two people, more as an experiment. It went well and eventually I expanded that. I had at one point nine players at the table. That settled down into a more regular six or seven players. The campaign traced the efforts of Simlain Glantri to gather forces to fight against the Thonak. I used quite a bit of the Warhammer sense of Chaos in that. That created a real sense of dread in the players, but I also borrowed from elsewhere. The campaign lasted two+ years, wrapping up in a pretty epic fight that saw a couple of PCs buy the farm. A couple of others had died over the course of play as well. I'd established that resurrection wasn't cheap-- and the PCs ended up using up some of the few items I had for that purpose. The campaign finished up, in part, because I was going overseas, but more because I wanted to be able to deliver the full arc of a story. We'd had some many campaigns that had started and stopped, and I was more pleased that we had a conclusion.

In Cairo I eventually found a group who wanted to play some kind, any kind of rpg. I set their campaign about fifteen years after the last one. They walked around in the fallout of the destruction of the great evil. That always struck me as a reasonable question-- and one a good deal of fiction later dealt with-- what happens after Sauron's destroyed? What are the political, cultural and economic implications of that? The group heavily interacted with old PCs and ended up causing pretty potent political upheaval. That game went for about four months with regularly weekly+ play.

When I got back for my senior year of college, I had quite a few things pulling me in different directions-- not least of which was trying to figure out what I wanted to do after college. I still wanted to run and after a time I started another RM campaign. In my head I had this happening five or six years after the last campaign, meaning that again the PCs of the Cairo campaign served as important NPCs in this one. That would become a real sense of continuity-- and a chance to give the players' former characters a chance to have the spotlight, briefly, again. For this game I worked mostly in the west of the continent, where I hadn't done as much work. I heavily adapted the Far Harad material from MERP and some other concepts from ICE products. The game started in one system and then I tried to move it to another, with mixed results. We had some weird switching around of PCs, people's schedules not matching up, and inter-party tension. Some of my favorite game stories game from that campaign, but at the same time it didn't hold together as well. We ended up with the last session revealing that one of the PCs had betrayed the group more than just a little, but with that particular thread unfinished. That was about nine+ months of gaming.

I had a gaming-free year when I went off to graduate school. The only group I found at Hopkins seemed focused on Shadowrun LARP. I worked on various stuff, mostly with the idea that I was done with the Second Continent. I wanted to do something different and felt that having adapted so much stuff into that world, it really wasn't my own. I wanted to start again from scratch-- but not totally. I'd established a little that there were more continents, but I'd only just made that jump in my head that the first campaign world I mentioned was connected. I drew up a new map, with more islands and separate areas. Religion and the pantheons had been in the back of my mind so I knew I wanted to do something where religion would matter seriously. However I still stuck closely to the Harn/Lythic model for the gods-- imaging the various cults and subcults of those gods battling it out. When I got back to South Bend I hesitated for a time about running. However ICE had put out a number of supplements for Rolemaster and I'll admit that lured me back in.

That led to the first game on the Third Continent, and the strange fact that none of the continents have names other than that. I've never been able to come up with better names, and I've tried. In any case, that game saw the players running bad guys, servants of a fairly evil wargod, Agrik. It went well until it blew up in my face from inter-party combat. Despite that, along the way I managed to develop some things I was pretty proud of-- the interactions of the various cities, the large scale combat system we used, and the sense of no one being neutral about faith and worship. Oddly enough, I started out with the group escaping to Pavis, from Glorantha. At the time I took that as a fairly neutral and easily adaptable setting, mostly because I hadn't read much of the Gloranthan background. That meant I missed many opportunities.

I hadn't realized it at the time but Glorantha's essentially built on that idea of the centrality of faith and cult worship. Later when I'd go back to work on the Third Continent, I realized my mistake and how rich a resource that could be. I spent hours working to reconcile what I'd presented in that original Third Continent campaign with the new vision I had for how the continent operated. In part I was able to justify myself that the PCs had a particularly monomythic vision of the world and had ignored all of the crunchy detail. However it again demonstrated the difficulty of adapting material and using your own conceptions together. Over time I would work to remove outside stuff from the Second Continent campaign even as I more heavily adapted the Glorantha stuff for the Third Continent.

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Libri Vidicos

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Current Campaign Updates 7/14/09

Current Campaign Updates

Lyceum Aegis: This is the irregular campaign for my niece. We've done four sessions so far and she seems to be enjoying it. She's headed off to Indiana Academy at the end of the month, so we'll have this happening even more infrequently soon. However they do have extended home weekends from the school (quite a few of them) where they have to be off campus for a three-day weekend. As for the game itself, I've introduced all of the other students as well as most of the teaching faculty. They explored on campus and managed to get chased by the Big Bad Wolf. The explored around a bit more, eventually finding so pretty clear evidence about the magical nature of the school. Eventually they confronted the Headmaster with that and suggested that understanding that moved them to a new stage of their learning-- one which would teach them to use their powers but would also make them more vulnerable to some of the strangeness of the school. I ended last session with a cliff-hanger-- as they see one of their fellow students sneaking off along a moonlight bridge. They're unsure if she's running away or doing something else and have decided to follow her.

Wushu: I'm pretty pleased with both the mechanics and background I've been able to develop for this in under a month. Mind you I had some of that sketched out, but I'm happy with the adaptations I've done. My plan is to have the game set up for easy drop in of Dusty and Gene when they can make it-- or for other guest spots as needed. We have four players at the table and did the character creation this last Saturday. Kenny's taken a classic warrior, with some nice detail he's built in to his background. I'm looking forward to playing off of his disadvantages. Scott's a Scholar focusing on elemental magics. He's got a nice personality set up for his character-- a little shy/fearful of strong and/or beautiful women since he was kidnapped by an Ice Queen in his youth. Sherri's doing a classic Courtier and a tag-along who's very excited to be going on the big adventure. Brandy's doing another scholar, but an alchemist focusing on pulling potions out of her enormous bag to fling at the bad guys. Again I'm looking forward to playing out some combats here to make sure I've balanced things correctly. I've changed a number of the primary variables in the system. Theoretically they should shake out fine-- but I've also got some ideas on how to make minor modifications, depending on how it falls. I'm pretty pleased with the breadth of character choices-- from magic to diplomacy to combat styles. Certainly everything's not tweaked to perfect balance but I'm hopeful it will run smoothly in play. I think the way to picture this is as a kind of superhero game in a historical-esque setting.

Third Continent: I still need a better name for this campaign. We're a little early in to read the full theme of the game. I previously ran a campaign which began in the same place they're in now, so I can't call it the Pavis Campaign. In any case, as promised, I did a prologue set of sessions in which I burned their village to the ground. They saw the faces of their adversaries, the major villainous NPCs of the Godchainers. We then jumped forward five years with the players drawing random cards (good, bad, and neutral) describing events which had happened to them in the interim. Everyone did an excellent job integrating those things into their character conception. Right now we've just started the first adventure/exploration bloc-- with them heading out into the badlands. We had a couple of great scenes last time, between NPC interactions, Will's calling of the dead, and Alan's liquoring up the potentially dangerous Storm Bull cultist. I'm pretty pleased with how things look here-- but I want to see a couple of combats to make sure the mechanics shake out as I hope they will. We'd normally be playing this weekend, but we're bumping that a week because of the various upcoming complications with my mom's surgery and prep for that.

Changeling: Moving forward on things here. The players made their choices about which Courts to join up with. I'm pretty pleased with how those structures have fallen out. We have the first real encounter with a fetch, as Black Annie ended up placed in a particularly difficult situation by hers. We haven't touched on the other fetches yet, but we'll get to those. Evan's had some interesting character interactions-- including some tie backs to his own overlord from the Hedge. He's also run tangentially to a couple of other plots. We're seeing his interactions with some of the other strong male characters within the Freehold. Sarah's trying to get her hospital set up and figure out some details from the past. That plus the difficult balance with a particular NPC and his fetch has been some strong character work. Pisca slew me with his adventure checking out the lost cache of the former Smith of the Freehold-- that ended up being a great scene. We also had a nice investigative track that gave us a nice scene with school NPCs. I think most importantly we had some payoff for some of the threads the group had been tugging on last session. They'd been working from several directions trying to uncover the identity of the mysterious headmaster of their school. He turned up-- primarily because they'd been doing that. He provided answers, but as always some more questions. Strikingly, when offered the removal of the group geas/bond they suffered under, they refused. I thought I'd get at least one or two considering the offer more visibly at the table-- or I even thought they might take it up en masse for the freedom it would have afforded them, but they declined.

Libri Vidicos: Well, we hit the end of volume two of this series. In my head I have the campaign structured around the five class years of the school-- like the HP series. I have a general arc in mind for each year. This year I had some driving forces as well as an end scene strongly in my head. However the actions and interactions of the group significantly shifted the course of the story. I'm always pleased when that happens. They ended up changing the driving force of one of the NPCs-- putting him into a more proactive mode rather than reactive-- for the better for the group in the long run. I still had various threads that got cut and some that got retied in other places. I'll admit I had a hard time juggling the events this year, but I'm pleased with where we've ended up.

The last session saw them racing towards the big climax. Sokka's character finally had a face-to-face confrontation with his father. That revealed more about his familial relations and his connection to the school. It brought out more questions, but answered some significant ones. One NPC they had with them, Mercer Spoon, I'd come into the session not intending to kill. However the cards fell out badly for him, giving him a fairly dramatic death in which he managed to temporarily neutralize Sokka's father. The group did well in that scene-- coordinating their efforts and magics. However a number of them got pretty banged up there. Following that we had a couple of encounter puzzles which they managed to work through pretty quickly, but still made them think. Then we got to the big fight. And they pulled out a couple of tricks I hadn't foreseen-- actually quite clever things. The major bad there didn't want Scott's character harmed for some reason, so Scott dropped illusions of himself across the entire party. A few of the bigger bads could see through, but it kept the lesser figures from attacking anyone aggressively. They also managed to pop the mind control on a few students who were there-- which I'd intended as another line of stopping them.

Still-- a nasty fight that they managed to get through. They got out the people they needed to get to safety and took out some major hitters. In some cases, they also took significant damage. I came into the evening with the idea that players could die during this session-- it would be a good place for a heroic death. And I did come close in a couple of cases. However we had some big fallout from the session in any case-- closure to some questions and hints about other threads. The most significant event may have been the death of the Headmaster, Gravast Direlond. The mover behind many of the events and an ambiguous figure, his death dramatically changes the stakes of the game. We'll see this coming session exactly what impact that will have. I see this next session as the coda for the year-- going through the various changes and setting up for summer and the next year. We also lost Lady Ardani, another major NPC, with the revelation of her role in the headmaster's plans. That will have some fallout for some of the other NPCs on campus related to her. I'm looking forward to some of that, even as I'm a little saddened to see three major NPCs plus a major NPC villain die in a session.

Couple of more rpg posts coming up (at least in my head)-- talking about the evolution of the shared world I've been running, some campaign post-mortems, and the role of being wrong in rpgs.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wushu Courtier Abilities

Last Wushu Post

The Courtier abilities as designed by Sherri-- intended to give abilities for the use of characters who combine social skills with warrior prowess. Closer to the broad conception of the Expert class from True20. She did a nice job adapting the virtues over into a set of ideas for play. Anyway, less mechanical posts on other topics coming up.

Virtuous Bearing of the Courtier:
Courtier track abilities cost 3 for the first rank, four for the second, and five for the third. Second rank abilities from these tracks count as stances-- meaning they cost chi to activate, have the stance ability limits, and cause doubling.

1. The Perfect Aid: With a successful Human Perception + Manipulation roll, Courtier may unerringly determine what act within their means will most greatly assist a target. The Courtier will not automatically know the reasons for the efficacy of the act nor precisely to what purpose the assistance will be used, but can often deduce these more readily with additional successes.

2. Courtier Effect: Benevolent Intervention: Courtier may add Coordinated to their attack without it counting toward their effect limit. As always, only one Courtier Effect may be added to any action. The word for this maneuver is Benevolent, of course.

3. Benevolent Aura: By spending 1 chi and 1 willpower, the Courtier will not be accosted, attacked or engaged so long as the Courtier does not perform any aggressive action or call out commands. In the case that the goal of the Courtier is directly opposed to an individual of greater Legend (i.e. securing an unwilling audience, removing a prisoner from their keeping, surviving as a witness to a terrible act, etc.), that individual is exempted from this effect but risks suffering a long-lasting drop in trust from any that he commands to stop the Benevolent Courtier. That individual must exceed the Courtier's own Legend on a Legend + Presence roll, or the Willpower of any he so orders will drop to zero for as many days as the Courtier's Legend. If the individual gets no successes, they themselves will lose as many Willpower as the Courtier's Legend.  This is not a subtle effect--in fact, people's eyes are drawn to the Courtier when they take on this Aura. If taken prisoner, the Courtier will be treated with respect and deference.
1. Propriety is a Gift: With a successful Human Perception + Charisma or Manipulation roll and 1 chi, Courtier may either:

*magnify the obligation placed upon the recipient of a gift or favor that the Courtier presents
*minimize the obligation taken on by accepting a gift or favor from another
*successfully refuse any gift or favor without giving offense
*nullify a similar attempt if faced by another Courtier

2. Courtier Effect: Unassailable Propriety: Courtier may add Deflect to their defense without it counting toward their effect limit. As always, only one Courtier Effect may be added to any action. The word for this maneuver is Unassailable.

3.The Semblance of Propriety: By spending an action and stepping into a place where none can witness the transformation, the Courtier may render their appearance immaculate, carefully arrayed and appropriate to the situation before them for one scene.
1. Seek the Loyal Heart: With a successful Charisma + Human Perception roll and 1 chi, the Courtier will be drawn to the suitably skilled stranger within an hour's travel who is most amenable to the Courtier and the Courtier's specific and immediate purpose. Typically used to find hirelings, this ability does not help the Courtier to identify loyalty or appropriate skills among those already of their acquaintance—that's what Human Perception is for, dang it, and that's not a magical ability.

2. Courtier Effect: Loyalty is It's Own Reward: Courtier may add Returning to their attack without it counting toward their effect limit. As always, only one Courtier Effect may be added to any action. The word for this maneuver is Loyal.

3. Clear Eyes:  Courtier may spend a willpower to give themselves a 1 die bonus to resisting the effects and identifying the use of such effects of any other Courtiers for a scene.  If an effect has no resistance recourse listed, the Courtier may still make a resistance roll by exceeding the other Courtier's Legend with a Willpower roll.
1. The Word is Mighty: By spending 1 willpower, Courtier may substitute Manipulation in place of Strength for an entire scene.
2. Courtier Effect: Right-minded Gaze: Courtier may add Focus to their attack without it counting toward their effect limit. As always, only one Courtier Effect may be added to any action. The word for this maneuver is Righteous.

3. Their Eyes May Not Avert: Courtier may spend 1 Willpower and 1 Chi to become the center of attention for a scene. While in this state, Courtier gains + 1 die to any rolls on Diplomacy, Presence or Expression. Only upon a roll of Manipulation + Resistance exceeding the Courtier's Legend may any look away, and their eyes will be drawn back if they fail a later Manipulation + Resistance roll. Additionally, it requires an Intelligence + Presence roll that exceeds the Courtier's Legend to pull another's attention away from the spectacle—and that person must then also begin to succeed on Manipulation + Resistance rolls. (The later rolls need only succeed, not exceed the Legend of the Courtier.) If Courtier cites, recites or performs the Classics, there is an additional + 1 difficulty to resist the effect of the allure.
1. The Way: By spending one chi, Courtier may determine the most advantageous route and means of travel to a destination available to them at that moment for the stated purpose (speed, ease, information, services, etc.).   The Courtier's intuitions on this account are affected by his subconscious sensitivity to patterns in omens, traffic, gossip, weather and politics as well as his well-informed status, allowing him to avoid danger and complications--even those that do not already exist.

2. Courtier Effect: Intelligent Precaution: Courtier may add Silent to their action without it counting toward their effect limit. As always, only one Courtier Effect may be added to any action.  The word for this maneuver is Intelligent. 

3. Wise Instructor (aka Training Montage):
By spending 1 Willpower and 1 Chi, Courtier may train up to 2 willing volunteers or hirelings in one skill to be used for a specific situation, up to Courtier's general skill – 1 dots. Hence, Courtier may train peasants to defend their village against a known upcoming threat, or transform rough servant girls into elegant ladies-in-waiting for a single occasion—or even tutor fellow party members so that they can perform a particular play to gain entrance to a heavily guarded fortress. Each person (except PCs) so trained has a chance to retain 1 dot of the said skill if they did not previously possess the skill.
1. Gauging the Balance: By spending 1 chi, Courtier may determine Virtues of target and gain some insight to their interplay with the target's actions, arguments and desires.  This grants a 1 die bonus to social skills with that target for the scene.  Certain social stances may negate this ability.

2. Courtier Effect: Harmonious Solution: Courtier may add Subdual to their action without it counting toward their effect limit. As always, only one Courtier Effect may be added to any action.  The word for this maneuver is Harmonious.

3. Without Ripples: By spending one Willpower, the Courtier may negate the effects of one social faux paux committed by themselves or in their presence.  
1. Step Aside!: Courtier may spend 1 chi and challenge a target of equal or greater legend. All mooks and those of lesser Legend will step aside to allow the Courtier to move past and engage the target. This is treated as a duel, even before the target accepts the challenge. If the target refuses the challenge, for the remainder of the scene all successful attacks on the target by the Courtier will carry the effect Humiliating. If the target accepts the challenge, those who have stepped aside will not interfere.

2. Courtier Effect: Valorous Will: Courtier may add Overdrive to their action without it counting toward their effect limit.  The word for this maneuver is Valorous.

3. Not Today!: Courtier may spend 1 Willpower and automatically successfully parry or block a blow meant for another regardless of distance or attack type.  The attacker's attention is then diverted to the Courtier.  This may only be done once per scene.

1. Clever, Clever: Courtier may spend a point of chi to give themselves a 1 die bonus on any one social, craft, perception or expression skill for a scene.

2. Courtier Effect: Artful Gesture: Courtier may add Surprise Attack to their action without it counting toward their effect limit.  As always, only one Courtier Effect may be added to any action.  The word for this maneuver is Artful.

3. Clever Disguise: By spending a chi, Courtier is able to maintain a perfect disguise by dint of their ability to simply 'be' the type of person they are disguised as.  None but another Courtier also using this effect can recognize the Courtier.  The disguise effect is blown as soon as the Courtier takes an action or makes a statement that is out-of-character--usually a surprise attack or "I have you now!" exclamation.  In order to mask themselves as a specific person, the Courtier must spend one Willpower, invest in time to perfect the costume and makeup and take preparations to learn the routines and personalities of the specific person's daily life.  Those familiar with the person that Courtier is masquerading will be made uneasy or suspicious upon making an Intelligence + Human Perception roll that exceeds the Courtier's Legend, which may be made every time the Courtier is forced to resort to a Bluff roll to maintain in-character behavior.  Preparation pays off.
1. Mind over Matter: By spending 1 willpower, Courtier may substitute Presence in place of Stamina (for purposes of Soak and rolls only—Courtier does not gain additional Wounds) for an entire scene.

2. Courtier Effect: Enduring Contemplation: Courtier may add Balance to their action without it counting toward their effect limit.  As always, only one Courtier Effect may be added to any action.  The word for this maneuver is Enduring.

3. Until I'm Done: The Courtier may spend a point of chi to remain awake and alert all night to finish a specific task.  The Courtier will suffer no penalties for this all-nighter the next day.  The Courtier may only do this as many nights in a row  as the Courtier has Legend.  Completion of the task before the night is over means that the Courtier will at that point grow drowsy, but the shortened night's sleep will not penalize the Courtier. 
1. What Happened?: Courtier may spend a point of chi to grants themselves a 1 die bonus to perception skills and interviewing attempts for one scene.

2.Courtier Effect: Just Reaction: Courtier may add Reverse to their action without it counting toward their effect limit. As always, only one Courtier Effect may be added to any action. The word for this maneuver is Just.

3.Guilty Conscience: By spending one chi, Courtier may 'encourage' a single target to make an admission of guilt.  In order to do so, the Courtier must bring the conversation around to the context of the guilty conscience (i.e. start chatting about the recently murdered shopkeeper, bring up the filial responsibilities between brothers, etc.).  The target may resist by realizing  the Courtier's intent with a Wits +  Bluff roll that exceeds the Courtier's Legend, but still must spend a Willpower to actually keep himself from blurting out the truth. Target is not guaranteed to admit guilt to the act that the Courtier expects...innocent parties simply can't and some guilty parties have greater guilt over other acts associated with the topic than the one the Courtier is fishing for.  Courtier may only use this effect on a target once per scene.
1. Undeniable Gaze: When the Courtier spends a chi and selects a target, the target locks eyes with the Courtier and may not look away.  For combat purposes, the target remains inactive until the Courtier looks away.  The Courtier may still act but all further actions are resolved as if another action has already been done and at a -2 penalty beyond that for not being able to bring full attention to those further actions--hence, Courtier must reserve the first action of every combat round for keeping her target locked down.  After the first full round, a Wulin target with equal or greater Legend may spend a point of Willpower to break the gaze and is thereafter immune to the effect in that combat.

2. Courtier Effect: Ringing Blow: Courtier may add Stunning to their action without it counting toward their effect limit. As always, only one Courtier Effect may be added to any action. The word for this maneuver is Ringing.

3. Overt Order: Courtier barks out a command to a target and spends 1 Willpower. The target must comply. The command must be one that both the Scion can give and the target can accomplish in one action.  (I.E. Stop!, Sit down!, Run away!, Strike him!, Drop it!, etc.) The command may not be directly suicidal for the target, but it may be injurious or something that could provoke a life-threatening situation.  The target does have leeway to interpret the command to prevent death to himself, but not if all he's trying to do is keep out of trouble.  
1. Come Hither: For one chi, Courtier may take a standard action to draw the attention of one individual.  Unless the target can exceed the Courtier's Appearance or Manipulation + Presense roll with a Wits + Resistance roll of their own, the target is drawn immediately to the Courtier and compelled to engage in conversation.  In combat, the target can still fight unless they fail utterly on their Wits + Resistance roll--however, they will want to engage in witty or boastful patter, causing a certain level of distraction that the Courtier can readily take advantage of. 
2. Courtier Effect: Loving Correction: Courtier may add Binding to their action without it counting toward their effect limit. As always, only one Courtier Effect may be added to any action. The word for this maneuver is Playful.

3. Lasting Impression: The Courtier can easily create an effect that is slow to fade away.  Thoughts of the Courtier creep into the target's mind unbidden either to undermine his concentration or uplift his spirit for 24 hours.  By spending 1 chi and some time in conversation with a target, the Courtier may inspire the target, refilling his willpower by 1 and granting an extra die on any two non-combat skills of the Courtier's choosing.  Alternately, by expressing disapproval or disfavor, the Courtier may sap one willpower and bestow an one die penalty on any two non-combat skills of the Courtier's choosing. This effect last for a day and can only be used on as many persons simultaneously as the Courtier has Legend.  The inspiration effect is mildly addictive and can over time create a substantial feeling of dependency on the Courtier, making the retaining of approval and avoiding of disapproval very important to a given target over time.
1. Dutiful Soul: Courtier spends a point of chi and something in their bearing or expression convinces a single target not to dismiss what is being said.  The listener gives the Courtier the benefit of the doubt in regards to what is said next despite what he might be otherwise inclined to believe.

2.Courtier Effect: Dutiful Eyes: Courtier may add All-Around to their action without it counting toward their effect limit. As always, only one Courtier Effect may be added to any action. The word for this maneuver is Dutiful.

3. My Burdens Are My Strength: By spending a Willpower at the time of accepting a concrete task from a superior and swearing to complete that duty, the Courtier gains a 1 die bonus for any actions directly related to completing that particular task.  This bonus may apply to combat if the opponent(s) have engaged the Courtier specifically with the intention of preventing the carrying out of that duty.  Courtier may maintain as many of these sworn duties as Courtier has Legend.  Appropriate tasks have easily defined conditions for success--deliver a message, collect a object and return it to superior, escort this person to a destination. "Uphold the law" or "Dispense Justice" are not tasks that qualify.  Should the Courtier fail in the sworn task, they function at a -1 die to all actions until they return to their superior (or his replacement) and accept any punishment.   

Friday, July 10, 2009


Friday Link-Blogging

If you're interested in what I did with the revision of the Wushu Martial Arts system for classic Storyteller, you can check that out here. I think I fixed some of the timing and other issues of the earlier versions for Unisystem, Gurps and True20. We'll see how it works in practice. I'm particularly pleased with the Styles and the color text on those.

I'm torn about whether or not the idea of having perfect visual memory is a good thing. In theory I like the concept, but in practice I have enough things in my life experience which I already can't unsee.

This has an interesting look at the upcoming miniatures game Arcane Legions. I like the idea, but in practice it has fail written all over it. I have a hard time imagining that historical miniatures combined with some collectibility and unpainted bulk figures will actually sell in this environment. Maybe they're planning on a smaller sales group and not going to be overly ambitious. OOH the system mechanics appeal to me. I like the abstract nature of the dice and system. The other related news is that everything I've heard suggests that the slow death of Origins as a game convention has accelerated. That's too bad- I enjoyed going there much more than GenCon. But if dealers aren't showing up, then a good part of the game con experience goes away.

I always love John Allison potential t-shirt designs. A little sad to hear that he's finishing up Scary-Go-Round soon.

I love game design theory and here's a nice post on asynchronous designs in games.

I'm no colorist-- I'll leave that to Art!-- but I found this long piece on Pacific Comics and how they handled their printing process really compelling. I recall reading many of these early Elric issues. I could claim in retrospect that I noted the colors then, but I'm not sure I had the taste or discrimination back then. It is a pretty amazing overview of a technical area I had no sense of before.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wushu Misc Mechanics

Getting to the end of these posts on Wushu mechanics-- I might post my revised martial arts system, but I'll probably do that in a quick batch over the weekend. This is most for those interested in how I'm adapting classic Storyteller to the needs of a Wushu-style game. By next week I'll get back to more generally interesting posts (I hope) ((that is, I hope they are more generally interesting, not that I'll get to them))(((but I hope that as well...)))


Chi represents the breath of life within characters and their internal power. While classic Chinese philosophy speaks of the various forms of chi within a person and the importance of those balances, for gameplay purposes we will deal with chi as a single stat.

Chi is an expendable resource which is used for the following effects in play:
-Activating certain style elements
-Casting a spell
-Activating a stance
-Fueling certain other abilities

Chi can also be used as follows:
-A character may spend up to 3 chi to add dice to an attack, before the attack is rolled. Each chi spent adds +1 die.
-A character may spend up to 3 chi to increase his soak. This effect lasts until the character's next action. Each chi spent adds +1 die to his soak.
-A character may spend a point of chi to add one additional element to an attack, beyond the normal limits set by his Legend.

Characters begin with a maximum chi pool equal to 5 plus their Legend Rank. As their Legend rises, so to will their chi pool. Outside of this, they may raise their maximum chi pool by up to five more during the course of the campaign. This costs character points.

An unwounded character allowed to rest and meditate will recover chi at a rate of one every five minutes. If they must remain in motion, they recover at double this rate. Characters at the -1 or -2 wound penalty level double the time required as well. Characters at the -4 wound level or suffering some certain debilitating effects, such as poisons or disease, may take even longer or not be able to recover chi at all until the condition passes.

Note that some attacks and effects can drain a person's chi. If a character reaches 0 chi, they become lethargic. They may spend Willpower as chi on a 1 to 1 basis, but will begin to have to check to keep from passing out. They must rekindle their internal energy to regain their strength.

Willpower represents the character's ability to channel his Virtues so as to achieve greater and more potent effects. During character creation, the player chooses three of the twelve virtues to represent his starting character's outlook and focus. He assigns dots to these virtues, with each one being rated from 1-5. Over the course of the campaign he may spend points to raise the values of his virtues or even add a new virtue.

In play, a character may spend a point of Willpower to invoke his virtue on a particular action. He must explain how that Virtue relates to the action he is trying to carry out. This is a narrative call and the GM may suggest another virtue or even veto the choice. If the virtue fits, the character may add a number of dice equal to the virtue's rating to his available pool for that action. The rating of a virtue determines the number of dice which can be used and the number of times it can be used per scene. So a character with a Valor virtue of 3 gets three extra dice when he spends Willpower and can use that virtue up to three times. Virtues may be invoked on any action, including damage and soak.

Willpower can also be used to shrug off combat effects, such as paralyze, poison and so on. Doing so costs one action-- either Active or Dodge-- and one point of Willpower.

Note that some effects can drain a character's Willpower. When a character reaches 0 willpower, they become more susceptible to outside influences and have penalties to resistance rolls. If a character would ever be reduced below 0 Willpower, they become unable to use their chi until they can recover.

Character's recover Willpower by rolling dice equal to their Legend each morning. They regain an amount up to their maximum as shown on the dice. Character's may spend time engaged in deep meditation, in which case the GM will allow the players to add some dice to the roll or perhaps make an additional recovery roll, depending on the circumstances.

Characters begin with 3 Willpower, this may be bought up with experience.

These are the twelve wulin virtues available to the characters. Some are more common than others. The classic ones are noted with their Chinese terms. Some are, of course, easier than others to invoke, but they represent keynotes for a character's personality. Also noted are the corruptions of these virtues-- representing either a explicit turning away from that path or else what can come when one goes too far in pursuit of the virtue and loses their way.

Duty: Service to one's community, respecting authority and upholding the laws that govern a decent society. In the Wulin world, duty can be complex, involving respect for the State, for authority, and for one's personal and filial relations. (Corruption: Individualism)

Harmony: Tied to a sense of cosmic design and destiny, in the end represented by the Mandate of Heaven which keeps the world from falling into chaos. Characters who focus on this often see less of good and evil, but more of the necessity of balance. (Corruption: Obsession)

Intellect: The power of reason helps raise the enlightened man up above those who have fallen. Those who strongly follow this virtue believe in debate, inquiry and the battle against those who would keep people in the darkness of ignorance. Acts which embody creative thought make the world a better place. (Corruption: Certainty)

Valor: The most basic and common of the wulin virtues, it is about demonstrating martial prowess and upholding the good name of one's teachers and family in battle. (Corruption: Recklessness)

Artfulness: The ideal of doing things with a certain degree of skill and art. The idea that actions done with beauty help to make the world a better place. Each perfect performance demonstrates respect for others and the gods. (Corruption: Practicality)

Endurance: The sense of the stoic self-- drawing power and strength from the hardships, turmoil and pain which must be suffered. (Corruption: Preservation)

Justice, also called Xia: The virtue of all-is-as-it-should be. When those who follow this virtue do something cool and right in the pursuit of poetic justice, harmony and revenge, they deepen their understanding of this path. In some ways it represents the more active version of the Harmony virtue. (Corruption: Revenge)

Benevolence, also called Kuan: The virtue of altruism. Helping others when aid is appropriate or necessary, on a personal scale. This is the virtue of unselfishness and sacrifice. (Corruption: Greed)

Loyalty, also called Zhong: The virtue also of honesty and honor. It is about taking acts against one's self-interest in the name of higher principles. To act properly in all things, whether to friends or society. “Leave no friend behind” is one of the highest principles of this virtue. (Corruption: Ambition)

, also called Yi: Doing the right or benevolent or good thing on a large scale. Righteousness is about doing the correct thing regardless of the demands or desires of the established authority. It is about overreaching and is often what brings wulin heroes into conflict with each other and society. Where Benevolence is personal, Righteous is about the system. (Corruption: Ruthlessness)

Force, also called Ba: This virtue carries with it the sense of Force to be reckoned with or Force of Will. The demonstration of raw power. This is about bending others to your will, but without ferocity, more about your skill and mastery creating a stunning effect, whether on the battlefield or in the courtly setting. (Corruption: Ferocity)

Love: Possibly the most dangerous of the virtues as it represents an attachment which can often come into conflict with other goals, virtues and duties. Love is respected as an ideal, but in practice can get people into trouble. (Corruption: Passion)

This is a ranked attribute representing a character's development on the path to become a legendary wulin hero. Characters begin with a Legend of One. Character's may buy up this rating during the course of the campaign with the GM's permission-- once he's determined they've learned fully and demonstrated their skill. It is ranked from one to five, with values beyond that being reserved for legendary masters.

Legend has the following effects:

*A character may reroll a die roll a number of times per session equal to their Legend.

*The resistance roll for inflicting and resisting combat effects is modified by a character's Legend.

*A character's maximum chi pool is based on their Legend

*A character may add a number of elements to an action equal to their Legend. Warrior archetypes may add one more to combat actions.

*Legend acts as a bonus to reputation

For each rank of Legend as well, the character may choose one characteristic to gain an Epic dot in. Each Epic dot counts as an additional automatic success when using that stat. Characters are limited to up to two Epic dots in any one stat.

Character's begin with a number of wounds based on their Stamina. Wound boxes are distributed into the following groups: 0/-1/-2/-4/Incapacitated

Stamina 1: 1/2/2/1/1
Stamina 2: 1/3/3/1/1
Stamina 3: 2/3/3/2/1
Stamina 4: 2/4/4/2/1
Stamina 5: 3/4/4/3/1

Additional wounds may be bought as an advantage in character creation or later. Characters with Epic Stamina dots gain an additional -1 and -2 wound box.

-0 wound levels heal in a few minutes, -1 health levels heal in an hour, -2 levels heal in a day, and -4 and Incapacitated levels require a week per wound level. Medical treatment reduces this healing time and can deal easily with the -0, -1 and -2 health levels. Magic, of course, can do even more.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Wushu Magic


General Thoughts on RPG Magic
Magics such a cornerstone of fantasy gaming, yet I often find it one of the most unsatisfying sections of rules. On the one hand we have systems like d20 and Rolemaster which provide a vast list of spells, nicely delineated, and usually containing within them a kind of thaumatological theory. I loved ICE's Spell Law for many years-- mostly because it had so many spells. However in play, these kinds of systems become rigid, with little way to modify or improvise. There's also the problem of overkill inherent to them-- new spells, new rule look ups and a slowing down of play. On the other end of the spectrum with have systems which have complete flexibility, like True20 or even Mage: The Ascension. However, unless outside schemas apply (as in MTA) you can end up with a kind of flavorless set of mechanics. I worry about that sometimes with my versions of magic for Action Cards sometimes, but I try to make sure I add to the narrative to make the magic feel in keeping with the campaign. Libri Vidicos borrows from Harry Potter obviously, so magic is present, potent and can be wondrous. In the Third Continent Campaign, magic in both the arcane and divine form, ought to have a little more everyday, gritty and practical feel to it-- but the echoes of older, more powerful magics exist. I think I'm happier with a flexible system-- especially if I'm creating something from scratch. It simply represents less work-- less effort for time I can spend elsewhere on the design.

The other consideration I've mentioned before is balancing the power and utility of magic against the point investment of non-magic players. I want magic to be effective, in combat and outside. As an example, let's look at a potentially great system that ends up crippling mages, Gurps. Over the years Gurps has become more and more crunchier and granular. If people think 3e+ Dungeons and Dragons is a tactical and detail contest, they really ought to look at Gurps, which has become more and more that as well. I'd hoped the new edition would go in the other direction but it didn't. I at least had hope that the new Magic book for the system would fix the problems of the old version, but they essentially imported it in wholesale with only a couple of minor changes to match new mechanics. If we look at it from a point investment standpoint, the straight warrior has the advantage. They have to buy some physical stats and really one combat skill. The mages has to buy the physical stats to survive, plus IQ for their spell-casting, plus the spells. And that usually means multiple spells to have some variety and effectiveness, since they have to buy prerequisites (setting aside One School and other options). But that's a classic investment problem in games. But when we get to combat, a fighter can swing every round, doing let us say 2X damage, without any additional cost. A mage will not be doing that every round-- they have to prepare the spell for usually at least a round, but more if they want it to do damage even comparable with that of a warrior, which of course reduces that measured over several rounds. Then they have to make a spell-casting roll, and a spell-throwing attack roll.

So the relative advantages:
Melee Fighter-
*Less point investment
*No real resource expenditure to activate attacks (unless you use advanced fatigue rules which don't come into effect until many rounds later)
*Key stats are combat effective ones
*Better damage over time

*Higher point investment
*Resource expenditure for casting
*More point investment required
*Additional skill roll often required
*Prep time required for nearly all effective spells
*Usually ranged
*More flexibility

Gurps clearly is trying to keep mages in line-- to remove the possibility of people goobing the system. It makes sense in the context, since Gurps comes out of a tactical wargame (Melee and Wizard) but it does create problems and frustrations. I'm sure a careful GM could manage that balance, but it does take jerry-rigging the system and more work than I'd like, even leaving aside how static the spell lists feel. Of course, on the opposite end, you have old Rolemaster where eventually you hit a level point and the mages becomes seriously overpowered and dangerous, especially compared to pure melee classes.

Anyway, those are always considerations going on in my head when I think about magic systems. I have a certain admiration for things like WoW where they've been able to achieve balance or at least a kind of parity over time with the classes. But of course, that's part of the trick, they're imposing changes from above, they have a large test group to shake out problems, and they have time to make and remake those changes-- and forum complaints aren't the same as unhappy players at the same table as you.

Wushu Campign Magic
That's the long way around to talk about what I'm working on for the magic system for the Wushu campaign. In working on this, I've referenced a couple of the existing Chinese Magic systems from other rpgs. Feng Shui didn't have much-- a very generic set up eight different elements. It has some flavor to it, but definitely more of the HK Action flik variety than Chinese or Wushu magic. Qin the Warring States has some interesting stuff, but it falls into the classic DnD discrete spells with overlap between different forms, high complexity, and many rolls. Still there's flavor there I plan to borrow. Weapons of the Gods...well, once again, I find this to be the greatest RPG I can't understand...well, next to Nobilis. There's flavor there and a complex set of ideas but as a whole it is hard to follow. So instead, I'm just going to borrow themes and ideas. I want a flexible system which has limits-- those limits being to keep the magic looking and feeling like the classic or at least cinematic version of Chinese/Wushu wizardry-- I'll avoid my favorite term sorcery here, since that has some darker connotations. At the same time I want mages to have parity with warriors.

So magic is divided into Five Schools-- for want of a better term-- each School has three classes of effects.

The art of making potions and ointments. Scholars who focus on this will be able to prepare some ahead of time, but will also be able to call out some effects on the fly. For this mechanic, a character will be able to claim a number of prepared potions per session equal to their rank in Alchemy. The GM reserves the right to say a particularly powerful potion would count as two towards that. Generally Alchemical arts require a lab and resources. Since such alchemy is more ritual-- with necessary alignments and feng shui-- than science, an Alchemist can only work on one potion at a time.

*Effect Potions: Mostly non-instant and non-damaging effects. Healing potions for both wounds and Chi can be created. Healing potions heal a number of wounds equal to twice the Scholar's Alchemy rank. Potions can also be made to cure disease and other ill-effects. The Alchemist may also make potions which boost a stat or a group of stats. However these require a Resistance test if more than one is consumed. At skill three or better, the Alchemist can create a vaporization potion, allowing him to make Effect and Combat potions in a gaseous form.

*Combat Potions: Potions with an antagonistic effect. They can be delivered outside of combat, in drinks or the like. Common Effects include-- noxious substances for blinding, burning liquids for damage, acids for destroying armor, painful concoctions to cause damage or irritation over time, smoke bombs and the like. Thrown potions must be dodged-- they can only be successfully parried by adding style elements to evade the splatter. At higher skill levels, the Alchemist can make unstable explosives.

*Ointments (Buffs): These can't be retroprepared. Ointments take time to apply, at least fifteen minutes, so can't be activated in combat. Ointments also tend to attract dust and so can make the user dirty. Common Ointments include ones to ward off animals, increase defense against one kind of attack-- like blades-- or at advanced levels more kinds of injuries, to resist elemental effects or just the elements, to resist disease, increase attractiveness (which isn't noticeable), and the like.

Chi Flows:
The manipulation of the flow of Chi within oneself and also of others. The classic meditative form of magic.

*Healing and Protection: While most of these techniques are self-only a few can be used on others. Characters can perform battlefield healing, but it lacks the potency of a well-prepared potion or medicine. Healing touch can be done once per target and heals a number of wounds equal to the Scholar's Chi Flows Rank. Other kinds of healing, such as Chi restoration, disease curing, and condition clearing, has a higher difficulty than for Alchemical Arts. However, the character can balance a condition, putting it into stasis until more efficacious techniques can be used. These arts can be used on the self to resist disease, harden the skin, turn away certain substances and so on. Continuing effects must be prepared in advance, but the player may spend a point of Willpower to retroactively claim preparation. Only one continuing effect from this group may be active at one time.

*Boosts: These are self-only effects, but can be quite potent. The character can boost one stat, or with more difficulty, a set of stats. He can also modify his own abilities, making himself more limber to escape bonds, silent to evade detection, able to avoid the need to sleep or eat, and so on. Purely defensive abilities which grant soak or resistance fall under the Healing and Protection class. Continuing effects must be prepared in advance, but the player may spend a point of Willpower to retroactively claim preparation. Only one continuing effect from this group may be active at one time. The player is encouraged to come up with new options. Narrow effects will be more potent than broad ones.

*Tricks and Sealing: These effects revolve around manipulating the Chi of others. Offensively, they can be used to drain chi, seal powers, reduce stats, and the like. These are mostly instant combat effects, so don't require the meditative preparation of the other arts. The character can also manipulate and even cloak his own power if he wishes. Daoists have a number of other classic techniques within this-- the sending of thoughts at a distance, creating small illusions to trick the unwary, focused gestures to distract and confuse an enemy, or even engaging in direct Chi to Chi combat with other Scholars.

Not only the ability to see the future, but to also read the present situation and calculate actions for best results. Predictionism requires time and ritual, but minor effects can read read on the fly.

*Divinations: This covers the basics of sense-- being able to read the past, see at a distance, divine the nature of omens, tell something of the future. Common effects include things like danger detection, dowsing, tracking sense, intuition, object reading and the like. It also covers the ability to do formal readings of the future, a common professional skill.

*Curses: Since the PC's are good, they don't actually inflict curses, instead they detect which interrelations currently exist and explicate them. Which curses the target based on their preexisting conditions. This can be used to cause minor problems-- like detecting that a person should avoid fighting in a particular place or against a certain kind of foe. For example, Scott could say that a warrior is governed more by the cool influence of water and fighting under a hot summer sky will tire him out more quickly. It could also be used in the inverse, to uncover that a target might be weak to a particular substance or person. Essentially players are encouraged to narratively define bonuses or penalties. A target should be limited to one of these kinds of effects at a time. Characters with higher Legends may be more resistant to these kinds of effects. Characters may also apply more active curses with more preparation-- usually based around the element most strongly present in the person. For example Water curses are about the separation of two things. So a Scholar might be able to cause a rift between two people with such a curse or even prevent a particular person from finding another (useful if someone's annoying or pursuing you).

*Influences: These are the inverse of Curses, providing beneficial situations and circumstances. It can also be used to detect and balance the feng shui of an area-- making it more harmonious or auspicious for a certain kind of activity. A more active use is to push persons towards events or meeting people, as the fates decree two things coming together.

Covers abilities designed to fight against the supernatural and the corrupt: hopping vampires, animated corpses, ghosts, fox spirits, demons, evil wizards and the like. The Exorcist Scholar pits his strength against that of the forces of darkness. This means lots of resistance checks. The Exorcist may also create Talismans to grant these effects to others-- though at a reduced strength.

*Detections: The ability to detect malign magic. Sensing if a person is under an active curse, seeing if something is the work of a demon, crafting a mirror which will reveal a true form, striking to shed disguises, seeing the invisible, and so on.

*Wardings: Both the creating of defensive measures (shields to parry, additional soak) and also being able to set up barriers which dark forces cannot cross or touch. Useful for keeping a house clearly of baleful influences. Can also be used to trap demons and the like.

*Banishings: Spells which directly attack these supernatural foes. As with other directed combat spells, Scholars may apply style keywords they know to an attack. Or they may generally apply modifiers, like more damaging or split or the like, by these increase the difficulty of the spell-casting. Attack Spells have a rate of two-- but a Scholar may spend two actions on casting a spell, giving them +3 dice damage.

The Chinese system has five elements: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. Each of these has certain non-literal associations in Wushu magical theory. You can find some discussion of that here-- For the purpose of Elementalism, we're talking about the literal forms of the elements: firebolts, grappling vines, ice shards and so on. Scholars who take ranks in Elementalism can create effects in all five elements. However they should choose one they're really good in-- in which they're considered to have one higher rank (for power) and a +1 to all casting effects. They should choose another one they gain just a +1 to spell-casting with. Then they pick the two they'll will be weak in-- gaining a -1 rank and -1 casting to one, and a -1 to casting in the other. The fifth element remains neutral for them, with no modifiers. Characters may want to look at the elemental associations to see how those imbalances or weaknesses might affect their personality (or vice versa). It is possible to shift those modifiers over the course of the campaign, as events shift the balance of one's internal chi types.

* Offensive: Your classic attack spells-- anything that emulates an attack. It can be done as a directed attack or else as a supplement (like calling flame to your blade). Directed attack spells do damage equal to Elementalism Rank + Wits (just as swords have a base damage + Str). Mages may apply style keywords they know to an attack. Or they may generally apply modifiers, like more damaging or split or the like, by these increase the difficulty of the spell-casting. Attack Spells have a rate of two-- but a mage may spend two actions on casting a spell, giving them +3 dice damage.

*Defensive: Used to counter offensive spells or to set up walls or shields. Continuing effects against physical attacks are modest-- adding +2 Soak or +1 DR. Continuing defensive effects against unusual or magical effects will be stronger. Scholars may use their Defensive skill as a Parry, based on [Elementalism: Defensive + Wits]. This has a rate of 3 and costs no Chi to activate. Alternately, the Scholar may spend a point of Willpower in combat to allow him to use this to Parry Unusual (typically ranged) for the duration of the combat.

*Shaping: The ability to shape or manipulate the elements in question in a non-attack way. So for fire, it might be about putting out or manipulating flames. For metal is might involve warping or shattering. For earth it could be used to bury oneself or raise a dust-storm. For water the character would breathe underwater, create a fog or freeze a pond. For wood the character to increase growth, bend branches to him, or cover tracks.

How does this all work?

The Scholar has to buy two things to cast magic--
1.Rank in a School which determines the Power of his spell-casting. This is used to calculate damage, strength, and what number things need to resist against.
2.Skill in one or more of the classes under a school. This is used for all spell-casting rolls for that school.

Each School uses a Primary Stat:
Perception for Predictionism
Wits for Chi Flow and Elementalism
Intelligence for Exorcism and Alchemy

Casting a spell takes an action. It costs one Chi to cast a spell. If the spell is an Attack or Offensive spell, it has a Rate of Two. If it is a Defensive or other Spell it has a Rate of Three.

The Scholar must roll a number of successes equal to the difficulty of the spell. The spell-casting roll is the Attack roll if the character is attacking-- the caster needs at least two successes then, one for the spell difficulty and one for hitting the target. Mages may apply their combat style keywords to their spells freely. They may also apply the classic modifiers to spells (many, selective, etc) each one increasing the difficulty by one. If a Scholar fails a spell-casting roll, they may not cast again that round.

Base damage for an Attack Spell which takes armor into account is (School Rank) + (Primary Stat). Mages may spend an extra action on Spell Prep to grant +3 damage.

That's the basics-- I'll do another pass over on the draft later in the week. Consider this a very rough draft.