Gaming Stories 1

Every gaming group has gaming stories to tell, I have a lot. I usually keep them to myself or people who I gamed with because outside of the event gaming stories tend to sound…well, odd. Just the nature of any story that relies on a specific event. Still there are some that are just fun. Inspired by Big Man who shared one of the better gaming stories with others I am sharing some with you.

Jubei

For three years I ran a continuous game of Legend of the Five Rings, imagine a Japan with magic and monsters. In our first game, Big Man who was playing Jubei a ronin (masterless samurai) found himself in a duel with a Unicorn Clan samurai. Jubei won and took the dead samurai’s swords intending to take them back to his clan.

The gaming group passed through Unicorn Clan lands several times over that three years. Jubei’s “legend” grew with each passing year. Fought in several wars, including a few he started, survived a trip into the Shadowlands, and won numerous duels. Near the end of the three year run a woman non-player character joined the group. She claimed to want to chronical the exploits of the famous Jubei.

And she did. She also spent a lot of her time slowly poisoning Jubei. When his death finally came he discovered much to his dismay that the woman was the sister of the first samurai Jubei had killed and she was there to restore family honor. Picking up the family swords she left Jubei to die.

A Potato Gun?

I don’t remember the exact game, one of those D20 side projects that Wizards shit out for a while. The gist for our gaming group was the players were FBI agents investigating paranormal activity, in the vein of X-Files. Assigned to investigate a town in the middle of Montana they immediately got into trouble.

For any game I run, which is all but a few, I have multiple story lines, villains who act on their own, and lots of things of interest. The players are on their own as to what they do. In this case they bumped into a family of ghouls. A point of interest for my setting, not a major or minor plot point, the ghouls had lived in the town since the town’s founding. They were the “weird” people. Their biggest crime, stealing cattle instead of raiding graveyards.

However, since they were the “weird” people in town the players took that as “they must be the bad guys.” To handle the ghouls instead of investigating or even attempting to contact the family they raided the house. Yes, players in role playing games often do completely illogical things that make “sense” to them.

Which is how the first player through the front door found their character on the receiving end of a potato gun which knocked the character out. The other players taking this as a sign of “must be the bad guys” went all commando. Except, because they did zero in game research did not know how large the family was nor how much damage a potato gun can do to an unarmored human. Three characters knocked out, two fled the scene, and the ghoul family left town until the characters left.

 

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Games We Play: My Little Pony Tails of Equestria

Another apology, my arm is still hurting and the medicine causes me to sleep way more than I normally do. Soon enough all will return to normal. I have the next installment of Puddles and Whiskers and Menagerie almost ready to go. Why am I not finishing them? Because the gamer dad in me is extremely excited about My Little Pony Tails of Equestria by Shinobi 7 and River Horse.

I have tried all of the kids lives to get them involved in games. There are so many positives to play games at all ages. Because I am an uber gamer I have introduced every type of game to our children; card games, collectible card games, deck building, dice, miniature, strategy games and anything else you can think of. The only type of gaming that has not been successful is roleplaying games.

There are very few roleplaying games marketed for children. While our children are interested in fantasy and science-fiction the amount of work for a typical role playing game, even those marketed towards children is off putting. Worse, even if they are willing to do the work to make a character and learn some of the rules, the setting is…not marketed towards children or at least their attention span.

Tails of Equestria is…great. The book is covered in My Little Pony stills and artwork, making everything immediately recognizable to anyone who has watched the show, seen the movies, or read the comic books.

Character creation is simple, pick a pony type-earth, pegasus, or unicorn, sorry no alicorns. Earth ponies are stout, pegasus can fly, and unicorns have magical abilities. Pick an element of harmony, think alignment, but more relatable than alignment has ever been. Then pick body or mind preference, is your character strong or smart (this is selling the two attributes short, but gets the point across). Pick a talent and a quirk, talents are abilities a pony has and quirks are things that set ponies apart, usually negative such as afraid of heights. Finally draw and color your pony and their cutie mark. For those drawing challenged like me there are character sheets with pony outlines coming soon.

Game mechanics are simple, the Storyteller establishes a difficulty number, the Pony Character (PC) rolls a die or two. If the number is equal or great the challenge is overcome. Yes, there are rules for fighting or Scuffling. However, scuffling is the last resort, overcoming challenges and obstacles other ways are preferred.

Teamwork is encouraged throughout the book. There are plenty of ways ponies can work together from working as team (everyone rolls and take the best result) to tokens of friendship. Tokens of friendship are beads or gems each pony character gets at the start of an adventure. Cash the tokens in for rerolls, to automatically pass a test, or better yet share the tokens with fellow ponies to aid them.

I was impressed with the writing. I know I can hand Tails of Equestria to either of my kids and they can understand all of the concepts. Information is kept together with clear page references to where you can find the information.

So why am I so impressed? Tails of Equestria is the kind of roleplaying game that children can sink their teeth into with quick character creation, mechanics easy to understand and implement, and best of all the setting is recognizable and easy to get into (no need to try to explain what a bugbear is), children only need to have seen My Little Pony.

Game Design: Thoughts on Species Design

What makes one species different from another? Oh, I should back up a bit; what makes one game species different from another game species? The answer, typically stat bonuses. Good example: elves tend to get a bonus to dexterity over humans or dwarves being hardier than humans. The gist is being in most gaming system, humans are the baseline by which other species are measured and for the majority of the time other species are measured better.

Where do humans shine in game systems? Background material where humanity is the majority of the population, governments, civilizations, and power. Sure other species are better than humans in just about every measure, but for whatever reason they are always the minority in a game and/or have a singular government and civilization. Why dwarves never bought out humanity or crushed them under their armies or elves realizing humanity would make great workers or pest eliminated them outright I will never know.

That is what I have been combating with my setting. In Stroud there are many species. If humanity is the majority of the population, why and where do the other species fit in and why. I am choosing to present deeper background information for each species over a set of bonuses that separate one species from another. Plus, if I am being honest, years of playing and running games I am sick and tired of the stat games people play to create an optimized character. I don’t blame them, I do it myself, but I am tired of it, thus for my game there are no stat bonuses.

Resuming the example of an elf being more dexterous than a human, why is this not expressed in other ways beyond bonus to shooting, being hit, and the other standard tropes? Imagine the things a species noticeably more dexterous than humanity could do and probably would do or a species healthier or stronger, it is a wonder that humanity is the majority species in any setting.

I have focused on areas where species differ culturally, such as cymeans who have sensitive skulls and family patterns of spots on their skull and down their backs, they do not wear hats, like having their heads touched, and clothing has open backs to display family spots. Illietheril are risk takers which is why many illietheril youth find their way into extreme sports and risky activities such as exploring the catacombs under the city. Korogin formerly a nomadic tribal species evolved into expanded families, a love for hover bikes, and a talent for fixing them.

My hope is players choose a species because there is something more than a non-existent bonus to an attribute that catches their eye and imagination. They take that and run with it creating new stories of their own.

Stroud Role-Playing Game

Project number two is underway. While working on Puddles and Whiskers, I have been working on a role-playing game. Maybe the distinction is I have taken an old system and applied new skills, which resulted in a new look, new organization, and easier to understand.

The initial issue for me, the age of the file. Old Word files and new Word files do not always agree and on my Surface, most files do not agree at all. I could describe how the file looked when it finally opened; suffice to say words off the margins were easy to deal with.

Instead of fighting with an old program I started from scratch. At first, I thought starting a new file would be a larger pain than it turned out to be. I don’t know about other writers, but I do not enjoy transcribing from paper to screen anymore. Cut-n-paste has spoiled me, plus the amount of space on my desk is not large enough to set up a proper transcription: paper standing up for ease of reading while I type away. And for those wondering, cut-n-paste from old Word to new Word on a Surface did not go so well…thus transcription. 🙂

Happily, today I finished I the first section of the mechanics…rules. I do not like the word rule. Games should be fun. There should be guidelines, examples, and mechanics in place to ensure fun. Especially true for role-playing games where players will find themselves in and out of the “rules” all of the time.

The system is designed for simple and intuitive use (although there are some rough patches still). A simple die rolling mechanic allows players to quickly move through problems their characters encounter. Modifiers are kept to a minimum and designed for ease. For players who want a more complicated or “realistic” system, there are options…not that I have gotten to them yet…but they are there. 🙂

stroud-introductionThis is the first page, a quick introduction to the system and a character. Fast Kick Tommy is used in all of the examples. Using one character for all of the examples ensures familiarity for the reader and allows me to show situations with a character who is not optimized for the example/situation. Included is an explanation of the various parts of a character, which will come in handy throughout the book.

I am uncertain about the use of color. At the moment, the color is restricted to the first few pages. My initial thought was to continue the color scheme throughout the first section, hopefully readers see a color and word and remember the various mechanics. However, a concern is too many colors on a page is distracting instead of a mnemonic device.

stroud-core-mechanicsThis page is the first page of the combat mechanics. In the original file, the combat section topped out at 15 pages long. That is a bit much for anyone to learn and expect to use right off the bat. Some pruning and a lot of thinking about what is necessary, especially for the setting, reduced the page count to four. The rest, if relevant, will become the advanced mechanics; stuff players can use or not, to make the game theirs.

Off to print this back and front to see how the layout looks as a book. 🙂

500 and 1 Words At A Time: More Of This Writer’s Process: Notes and Doodles

Today was a quasi-productive day of writing…well a kind of writing. My writing goal for the day, to have a working revision of Tumbledown Patrol and a bit more for Puddles and Whiskers. For some background, Tumbledown Patrol is a short story set in the middle of a much longer, and very muddled tale I was writing. The purpose of Tumbledown Patrol, to introduce a location that would have been very relevant later. Unfortunately, I wrote Tumbledown Patrol back in the day when I one-and-doned  a lot of things. Always with the thought of “I’ll fix it later.”

I kind of did. The version I posted, knowing full-well how bad it is, is a revision I made for something or the other; a game or portfolio. Regardless, the revision, if you have been following along, is not complete. Following along still?

Good. This weekend I tore apart the muddled story to pull out the good workable bits in preparation for making a non-muddled story. Looking over the bits and pieces, I started making notes. But, I kept going back to Tumbledown Patrol, why?

  • I like the setting: I have a page of notes on Tumbledown, created both for writing and for a game setting
  • I like the action: Sorta, needs work (see below)
  • I like the characters: Kinda, needs work (see below)
  • Most importantly, Tumbledown is where Puddles and Whiskers are…

Which is why I spent my back to writing time today tearing the short apart. I know I can do better, if nothing else the writer I was then is not the writer who I am today. I know I can do better, because I have a better idea of what I want to do and how to achieve that goal. With that in mind…

a-messI spent a short bit of time looking a grammar, which while a problem was not the real issue. The real issue, is that there is no substance at all. No reason why anyone is doing what they are doing or any reason for a reader to care. Further, the action could take place anywhere; no visual cues to what was in my head back then, let alone now. Add in, I toss around terms that nobody other than long time game writing buddies of mine would know and what you have is a mess. My notes should give you an idea of how I was thinking.

Siting at the table, the temperature rising as the sun rose, and the humidity reaching drink from the air levels, I took the time to piece together what I really wanted to write for this Tumbledown short. Starting with the beginning, why are Tanx and Ali there? Fixed while watching The Wire, a raid. Who are Tanx and Ali? That is a bit more complicated, I need to introduce them and their roles earlier. What is Tumbledown? Another work in progress, as I attempt to take a page of notes and turn into sentences that convey the environment without weighing down the scene; this applies to Puddles and Whiskers who are currently in Tumbledown.

While answering all of those questions and more, reading over the action not only did I get lost, I got bored. The gangers had no personality, the weapons had names, but nothing else did. What the hell? Where was everyone in relation to each other and the environment? I couldn’t answer any of those questions to my satisfaction. Being a long time Game Master, if I can’t answer those questions, then players cannot take actions that make sense and the game breaks down into an argument. With stories, readers skim or walk-away.

a-mapIf this was a game session how would I fix this? More to the point, what information would I be in possession of before running the game or writing the scene? A map…which is where this doodle comes from. This doodle is the start of the scene. As I determine locations for everything the map will get larger and more detailed. The purpose of the map to allow me to write out the scene without anyone wondering, “Where did that come from?” or “What just happened?”

Decades running roleplaying games have given me a different way to look at story telling. I try to put those skills to use, especially when I am working on revisions. First drafts are what again?

That’s right, shit. Just bang them out and revise them into a diamond. 🙂

Last of a Dying Breed

Hold up a glass and remember the good days for a moment. Another local hobby shop is going out of business. Sure you are thinking, what’s the big deal. And I am inclined to agree with you, from the standpoint of the local hobby shop is a thing of the past at least that business model. And yes, I can get many of the things found in hobby shops at big box stores or online; cheaper even. However, that is not the point.

Local hobby shops are where I spent most of my time when I was not at the video game arcade (remember those? anyone?), at school, or at home. Local hobby shops were wondrous places full of things to see, touch, read, want, and ultimately purchase. Much like used bookstores there is a certain musty smell that goes with any local hobby shop. Not a negative at all, just one of those things.

Trains, train sets, little people to put in my train diorama, slot cars, books, paints, wood, plastic, and so on. Every aisle held new treasures to find and new things to learn. I spent so much time in hobby shops that eventually I went to work in one. I learned more about people and stuff–remote control vehicles and radio frequencies to metal detectors and telescopes to kites and model rockets to trains and model kits there was so much that I learned, experienced, tried, and learned to love.

Notice I didn’t mention the games. Games came along later in the evolution of the hobby shop. Hobby shops being home of niche activities was one of the first places to accept games, gaming, and gamers. Not a walking wallets, but as fellow niche enthusiasts. I remember purchasing my first D&D module off of a magazine rack after spending a lot of time reading the brightly colored back. I remember getting my first set of lead (not plastic, but honest to deity lead) miniatures of orcs. Hobby shops were well I felt welcome with my niche hobby of roleplaying games and make no mistake when I was a kid reading and playing D&D it was a very misunderstood niche hobby/activity.

Not a hobby stores.

Unfortunately or fortunately, life and hobbies move on. I think it is good that most hobbies have moved out of the niche into the mainstream and can be found just about anywhere. I do not miss the days where saying you played games, were a gamer, or especially played roleplaying games was followed by a cringe from the listener or a scolding about the dangers of “those” activities. I am saddened by the slow death of so many local hobby shops.

Hobby shops are staffed by enthusiastic individuals who are involved with the hobby. Who are happy to chat with you and listen to you talk about your hobby. Who are more than happy to help you get more involved with your hobby. Big box stores and online, not at all; you are a walking wallet to them. Hobby shops get the esoteric items that you, the hobbyist, MUST have for your collection or set or project and they are happy to wade through 1,200 page catalogs with tiny pictures and crappy description to find it. I know, I did this all of the time.

Stickbot and DiceMountain Town Hobby’s in Mount Pleasant closes their doors in 23 days. It was from what we could tell on our visit, a classic local hobby store. The proprietor was happy to see us, especially when we bought all of her dice and some other stuff. Did we need the dice and other stuff? No. But I bought it because it felt right and because…well because I have so many positive memories of being a hobby shop that I wanted to do something for her, even if I was too late.

Lone Wolf Adventure Game Review

I read many of the Lone Wolf books. I have fond memories of them, thus when I found out that Cubicle 7 was making the Lone Wolf Adventure Game I was geeked. And I am still geeked, just not as geeked. In a nutshell, Lone Wolf Adventure Game is a great start, but feels like there is so much more that could have or should have been included, which is why I am not as geeked. Is Lone Wolf Adventure Game the kind of game that I want to wait and see what is released and then pay for it?

The box is sturdy and decorated nicely. Inside the top and bottom box lids are grids numbered 0 thru 9, which can be used to generate random numbers. There are three books, Book of Kai Legends, Book of Kai Wisdom, and Book of Kai Training. In addition to the three books, are a number of character sheets-pre-made and blank-and counters. Everything is well made, nothing screams cheap.

Everything is well written with an eye to the new or beginning gamer. The illustrations are fitting, nothing earth shattering. Dice are not necessary. Tokens are provided to use the 0-9 random number generator grids on the insides of the box lids.

Book of Kai Legends consists of two adventures. The first adventure has been designed for players and game masters to walk through the rules and setting together. Plenty of examples and instruction are provided with the goal of allowing everyone to jump right in, hopefully get hooked, and then move onto the Book of Kai Wisdom and Kai Training. Players use pre-generated characters and none of the advanced rules are used.

The second adventure is left for after the game master has read Book of Kai Wisdom and the players have read the Book of Kai Training.

Book of Kai Wisdom consists of all of the rules of play, a small gazetteer, and some creatures to use when creating adventures. The rules are divided into basic and advanced, with the option to use whichever advanced rules that can be agreed upon. If you have played any role playing game nothing in here will be new to you. If you are new to role playing games everything is explained in a manner that is easy to understand without feeling dumbed down. The only oddity is the combat system which uses a chart to generate the damage done to both the attacker and defender. It took me a little bit to get used to the idea of one resolution for what it typically two or more actions in role playing games. However, once I got used to the idea, it works and makes combat flow a little bit faster.

Book of Kai Training consists of everything that players will need to make characters or make use of the pre-generated characters. Like the Book of Kai Wisdom, there are basic and advanced rules. The differences between a basic and advanced character look small, but have more impact on the power of the characters. Players have a very limited list of equipment to choose from, it fits on one sheet of paper. Magical powers are few in number and lack a lot of what most people will expect. Both of these things fits with the setting, but may come as a surprise or turn off players looking for more.

The limited nature of the boxed set is what has me less geeked than I started out. Lone Wolf Adventure Game is an excellent introductory set to the system and setting, but does not seem to have enough to create long lasting campaigns-part of that is the campaign/character advancement system which can take a character from new to end of the line in as few as 5 adventures or as many as 10 to 15. In addition, due to the characters being Kai Lords they have no use for loot, looting, or items of a magical nature; the assumption is that the monastery provides all that characters need, thus no need to loot, etc. all.

I am interested in the next products, but only if they expand the setting and options for both players and game masters.