Tuesday 30 March 2010

Fighting Fantasy Monday (Except on Tuesday): Seas of Blood (X)

Hello, is it me you're looking for? I can see it in your eyes, I can see it in your smile...

Yes, I'm back in the land of the living, ready to Fighting Fantasy it to the max. Sorry for the delay; I'll be back on a daily (ish) schedule from now on.

Last time we had to decide whether to attack a ship or look for something smaller. Look for something smaller! As if. I was glad to see unanimous support for bloodshed and violence.

You give full sail to the Banshee and bring her rapidly alongside the sluggish merchantman. Your crew brandish their scimitars and crossbows as you lean across the gunwale, shouting to the other vessel's captain and crew, 'Surrender your cargo and pas-
sengers or you will lose your lives as well as your ship.' This brings an unexpected response. A
hooded figure, obviously a Warlock or Magus, steps aside from the gaggle of frightened passengers and performs a short spell, which summons a hellish Shade and sends it like a smoky cloud across the space between the ships to attack you, the captain.


If you defeat it, turn to 252.

What a shady thing to do!

Shade Fight:

R1: Us 18, Shade 19. We lose 2 points of STAMINA; 13 remain.
R2: Us 15, Shade 18. We lose 2 points of STAMINA; 11 remain.
R3: Us 18, Shade 18. Draw.
R4: Us 16, Shade 17. We lose 2 points of STAMINA: 9 remain.
R5: Us 20, Shade 18. Shade loses 2 points of STAMINA: 4 remain. (Thank Christ for that.)
R6: Us 21, Shade 15. Shade loses 2 points of STAMINA; 2 remain.
R7: Us 19, Shade 21. We lose 2 points of STAMINA; 7 remain. (Bollocks.)
R8. Us 18, Shade 17. Shade dies.

The crew and passengers of the merchantman, aghast at the Warlock for provoking you so, rush and seize him. Trussing his arms with a stout rope, they push him overboard into the sea, leaving him to drown or be taken by the sharks. The captain climbs into the rigging and shouts, 'Forgive us for harbouring such an unworthy fellow. We place ourselves at your bountiful mercy!' His crew and passengers vigorously agree. Boarding the merchantman, you seize 120 Gold Pieces and, in a fit of good will, take only 2 of his passengers as slaves -
add these items to your Booty. Returning to the Banshee, you allow the merchantman to continue its journey. Will you continue to patrol the Inland Sea by heading towards the Shoals of Trysta (turn to 66), or change course and travel towards either the west coast (turn to 157) or the Eastern Rim (turn to 10) for a bit of coastal raiding?

What the fuck? "A fit of good will", my arse. We'll take only 2 of his passengers as slaves because we'll have keelhauled the rest.

Log: 17 Days
Gold: 183
Slaves: 3
Crew Strength: 15
Stamina: 7 (out of 19)

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Life, oh life, oh life, etc. etc. I hate Desiree really.

Life is hella busy at the moment, so updates will continue to be slow. Be patient. Before you know it I will be RSSing all over your inbox again, like an RSSing RSSer. Or something.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Fighting Fantasy Monday (Except on Wednesday): Seas of Blood (IX)

Plundering rich merchants was definitely the most popular choice. Let's see where it leads us.

The Banshee cuts through the quiet waters of the Inland Sea; your look-outs keep a continuous watch on the clear horizon for any sign of shipping. Roll three dice. If the result is less than your CREW STRENGTH, add 4 days to your LOG. If the result is equal to or greater than your CREW STRENGTH, add 5 days to your LOG. If your LOG is an even number turn to 363; if your LOG is an odd number, turn 294.

The result was an 8, less than our crew strength, so that's 4 more days to the log. The log is now 17, so let's find out what's in store on 294 (took me ages working out how I could make that rhyme):

The square rig and wide hull of a merchantman appear on the horizon. It is a large vessel, heavily laden and possibly well armed, ploughing its way west from the Eastern Rim to the city of Kish. Will you attack this ship (turn to 391), or leave it be and continue patrolling, looking for something a bit smaller (turn to 66)?

(They love trying to build suspense, the FF authors, don't they?)

Log: 17 Days
Gold: 63
Slaves: 1
Crew Strength: 15
Stamina: 15 (out of 19)

Monday 15 March 2010

Actual Play - Call of Cthulu

Things are busy round here, so updates will be slow for a bit; it took me a day and a half to write this entry. But anyway. Now that the wife and I are settled back in blighty, I decided to set about finding a new group. Last Saturday I met up with some guys (and a girl) in a dimly lit rented basement in an incongruously flash location in Liverpool's business district, and we played Call of Cthulu for five hours. And fun was had. The players reasurringly filled the gamer stereotype of being overweight, dressed in hoodies, and of pallid, sunken-eyed complexion, but they more than compensated by filling the other gamer stereotype of being friendly, intelligent and funny.

They're an older bunch who've clearly been playing together for years, which has its advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage is that they're obviously used to a certain style of episodic play; at one point near the start it was made clear to me that "this case is closed and we're moving on to the next one now" even though I kind of wanted to investigate what I thought were loose ends. The advantage is that everybody knows what they're doing and it's a well oiled machine.

It was also interesting to observe from an outsider's perspective what the "average" British gaming group is like nowadays (seeing as I've been away from the scene for 7 years or more). Obviously this wasn't a representative sample, but it was notable that:
  • D&D dominates online debate, but this group (and the circle of connected groups, about 40 players total) rarely if ever play it. They seemed to like Basic D&D best. Yet another blow struck for BECMI.
  • Though they were a very trad group, they'd heard of Dogs in the Vineyard and liked the idea of it.
  • They thought Shadowrun was "crap", which I'm inclined to agree with even if I've played it an inordinate ammount.
  • They had no interest in blogs or websites to do with RPGs.
  • Judging from the campaigns they've been playing recently, they seem living proof that the games that were popular back in the day (Traveller, 2300 AD, Twilight 2000, Space 1889, Call of Cthulu) are still being played regularly and in pretty large numbers.

I'm not sure what this tells us, if anything, but there you have it.

Friday 12 March 2010

Panthro Says Silly Names Are Silly

I think I've reached a zen-like awareness of what I like and don't like in a game, and it can be communicated very effectively through the use of this graph:

That is, if a minotaur barbarian character in game X doesn't just attack people with his axe and try to gore them, but uses things like a "pressing strike", "swift panther rage", and an "opportunity gore", and there are no tongues in any cheeks, then chances are I will find game X very silly indeed. You can sum my philosophy up thusly:

If you can imagine people in the game world using a given phrase, it's good. If you can't, I want to hit the designer over the head with a shovel.

"I trample and gore the goblins while swinging my axe at them" is immersive and fun. "I use my swift panther rage ability!" sounds like what an 8 year old boy says when he's being Panthro from Thundercats in the school playground.

"I'll swift panther rage your goblin ass, fool!"

Tuesday 9 March 2010

People at Story Games Get It

I've written before, if only in passing, on how the Old School Renaissance and the whole indie game/forge movement are really two sides of the same coin. This is true both in the nuts-and-bolts sense (both are all about DIY, Print-on-Demand, and Blog-o-centrism) and also philosophically (player agency and narrative control are central in both movements; the only difference being that games like Mountain Witch make narrative control explicit whereas with OD&D it's entirely implicit).

Further evidence of this can be found in this thread at story-games, which shows that people over there "get it" to a much greater degree than the herd at rpg.net. Here's a paragraph that bears quoting:

Also, about wanting to play a fighter and not getting a good Strength score... I know that my thinking's not that useful for most, as I don't exactly run D&D by the book, but why not just play a weak fighter? If I did the thing with ability minimums for class entrance (which I currently sort of do; some classes require a successful ability check, which is similar), I'd ensure that I also have a set of class options that have no minimums, and from which players could develop their characters into whatever they want them to be. So make that low-Strength guy a fighter, experience the suckyness and then fight your way out of it. From zero to hero, I say!

Couldn't have put it better myself. The obsession with optimization so prevalent on web forums is something that never fails to boggle my mind, not because it's couched in whiny and entitled terms (although it sometimes is) but because it's so godawfully boring.

Fighting Fantasy Monday: Seas of Blood (VIII)

So here we are, stuck in a pit with some sort of giant reptilian beast. Last time we had the choice to either run around the monster, or use its back as a springboard to leap out of the pit. I'm glad to see that you were mostly all man enough to go for the second option. Let's see what happens.

You run and dive at the beast's head, grasping it by the horns and flipping yourself on to its back. It performs a ferocious jump in an attempt to dislodge you, but actually gives greater impetus to your leap for the edge of the pit. With only inches to spare, you succeed in grasping the rim. With the abbot still laughing at your expected demise on the horns of the beast below, you crawl out and into the chamber. Turn to 225.

See, being Sinbad-esque always pays off.

You face the surprised abbot and his equally surprised attendant monk. Whipping your scimitar from its scabbard, you rush the pair, cutting the monk down before he can defend himself and then crossing swords with the master.


If you defeat him, turn to 390.

Yeah, fuck you, defenceless monk! Now for the abbot.

Round 1: Us, 20, Abbot, 19. Abbot loses 2 stamina.
Round 2: Us, 12, Abbot, 17. We lose 2 stamina.
Round 3: Us, 22, Abbot, 16. Abbot loses 2 stamina.
Round 4: Us, 24, Abbot can't win. Abbot loses 2 stamina.
Round 5: Us, 21, Abbot, 19. Abbot falls to the floor, dead.

You search the abbot's chamber and discover a chest which contains no Gold Pieces. The abbot's sword is also a worthy prize, being forged from the finest Marad steel; it will add 2 to your SKILL whenever you engage in hand-to-hand combat. Searching the room further, you find a trapdoor under the abbot's chair, which opens on to a spiral staircase. Descending this, you arrive at a rough-hewn corridor, which takes you to a point outside the castle walls. You recover your waiting crew, return to the Banshee, weigh anchor and head down the coast. Turn to 123.

"Contains no Gold Pieces." Great.

The Banshee is sailing just off the southernmost tip of Enraki. Apart from this island, the horizon is clear, with neither ships nor clouds visible. The main trade routes between Kish and the Eastern Rim lie to the south, between Enraki and the Shoals of Trysta.
You could patrol this stretch in search of rich merchantmen (turn to 318), or, if your crew have suffered casualties, you could sail to the neutral city of Assur to recruit some more men (turn to 171). Alternatively, if you're feeling lucky, you could try your fortune in the gambling-pits of Calah (turn to 211), or proceed to the Eastern Rim for a bit of coastal raiding (turn to 197).

Log: 13 Days
Gold: 63
Slaves: 1
Crew Strength: 15
Stamina: 15 (out of 19)

Sunday 7 March 2010

Wake Up Baby Cause I'm Coming To You From The Future

I took two days off last week to play with the wife (no, not just that kind of playing... well, okay, quite a bit of that kind of playing, although it depends on what kind of playing you really mean, etc. etc.). So I came into the office today, even though it be Saturday, to catch up on work. Naturally I'm not doing much work at all, and mostly am just listening to Zwan and Alice in Chains, checking the football scores every three seconds, and drinking tea. Nobody else is around. All is at peace. Time to write a blog entry compose of random titbits.

  • I'm spending some time posting at Story Games, to see how the other half live. Thoughts? Relatively friendly and sedate, probably due to shared viewpoints and a high degree of consensus on any given issue. A nice change of pace from the freneticism of my regular haunts.
  • It strikes me that this list of maxims, found at said forum, could apply equally to what so called Old Schoolers trumpet, except for maybe the last one - just goes to show how both the avant-garde forge games and OSR retro-clones are really a reaction against the same thing:
    Story is created in play.
    Is it fun?
    Create opportunity and provide feedback.
    Player’s actions matter, reinforce this to create immersion
    Story is the culmination of player’s goals.
    Continuity fosters reality
    Supply redundant and convergent paths
    Drive the story with all you have.

  • Arguing on the internet is a terrible waste of time, but really quite fun sometimes.
  • I wonder how many people who are usually the DM are also failed novelists, or at least people who think about writing novels but never do. I suspect there's a high correlation between DMing and Wanting To Be A Writer.
  • I love how d12s roll.

Friday 5 March 2010

Law and Monsters

I've been thinking this past week about trying to construct a post about conservatist legal theorists like Anthony Kronman and Michael Oakeshott and how their writings pertain to the Old School Renaissance, especially in regard to Oakeshott's thoughts on Rationalism. Haven't quite had time yet. In lieu of all that intellectual wankery, some forged monsters:

Switch Ghoul

Not true ghouls but the product of a warped magical experiment, a switch ghoul consists of two corpses stitched together, back to back, so that there is no front and back, just two fronts. In battle, if one 'side' is killed or wounded, the entire body can simply switch around and continue fighting; both sides are treated as separate entities for the purposes of damage.

AC: 6
HD: 2* (x2)
Move: 90' (30')
Attacks: 2 claws, 1 bite
Damage: 1d3/1d3/1d6
No. App: 2d8
Save As: F2
Morale: 9
Treasure: B
Intelligence: 3
Alignment: Chaotic
XP: 25

Lead Monkey

A golem made entirely out of lead fashioned into the shape of a monkey, this creature is so heavy and dense that the damage it causes with its swinging fists is far greater than its size would suggest. Its movements are of immense power and weighty strength. Three times per day it can breathe poisonous gas, the equivalent of a cloudkill spell, to which it is itself immune.

Inside each Lead Monkey is an alchemical core of gold which gives the creature its power.

AC: 0
HD: 8**
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 2 claws, 1 bite
Damage: 1d10/1d10/1d10
No. App: 1d12
Save As: F6
Morale: 12
Treasure: None (though each contains a gold core worth 500 gps)
Intelligence: 0
Alignment: Neutral
XP: 1750

Bubble Wraith

Bubble wraiths are undead spirits of humanoids who have lost their lives in rapids, whirlpools or rivers. On certain occasions when the flow of water is strong, they gain a semi-coalescent form from the mist and spray. They are not evil, and their thoughts are characterised by despair and loneliness. Sometimes they will ask bypassers to give them information, or fulfill a quest, in return for knowledge of goings-on throughout the waterways they inhabit.

HD: 4*
Move: Swim 150' (50')
Attacks: 2 fist
Damage: 1d6/1d6, wight level drain
No. App: 1
Save As: F4
Morale: 8
Treasure: None
Intelligence: 9
Alignment: Neutral
XP: 125

Wednesday 3 March 2010

Revisionist History

Here's something interesting I've found, though I can't remember from where. Called "Revisionist History", it claims to be a game designed specifically for the PBP and PBEM formats. Here's the blurb:

This game aims for a multi level narrative. You play a scholar studying the lives of people in the past. In the course of the game you simultaneously create the story you are researching as well as the story of your scholar. The game is created and presented as a narrative of a group of scholars who are piecing together the story of some event from various sources and who have their own agendas to fulfill with the story that is told.

Sounds complicated? I know. But it's simpler than it seems. Have a read and judge for yourself; I don't want to paraphrase here and direct attention away from the author's site, because aside from anything else the game deserves attention. What interests me about it is that it's an honest attempt to do something with PBP/PBEM that only it can do. As a player of online games, I'm very familiar with the frustrations of trying to carry out traditional gaming with the format. It is possible, but it can be tough going. This provides a model not only for a system that works well with the format, but which goes to the next level and makes it actually gameable in and of itself. I like that and appreciate the effort put into doing it.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Fighting Fantasy Monday (Except on Tuesday Again): Seas of Blood (VII)

So last time were stuck in a peaceful abbey/Bond villain's lair, facing off against some sort of "gigantic beast". Most of you saw voted to take evasive action, perhaps expecting an illusion of some kind. (Because when did FF books ever give you a choice on whether to fight or not, unless you weren't supposed to? Or maybe it's a double-bluff? Let's find out...)

The creature is about half as high as the pit and rather long, so will you take an athletic running leap at the beast's back in an attempt to springboard your way out of the pit (turn to 352), or run around the monster and go through the door it came out of (turn to 8)?

Monday 1 March 2010

Play via Twitter

I hate twitter and deleted my account. But I have some friends who still haven't realised that the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes. One of them wants to know if anybody plays D&D or other RPGs via the medium, so I thought I'd throw the question out into the blogosphere and see. So, does anybody play via twitter or know anybody who does?