Androids electric dreams

One of the things I tend to struggle with when GMing is setting the tone of the setting. Too often I feel like I let the background gets lost amongst the immediate issue, especially as a game progresses past the opening scenes. It’s easy to be descriptive during that initial setup but once the game progresses I have a tendency to describe only what is directly relevant and in the face of the players.

Part of this comes down to not wanting to hog the limelight, characters can’t shine if their GM never shuts up. I’m sure we’ve all had to sit there and endure the GM monologue that just won’t end. Sure the world may be fully fleshed and evocative but its lost if everybody else has zoned out.

One of the writers I’ve always admired for being able to set the right tone is Philip K. Dick. Even though I’ve only read a fraction of his total work I’ve always come away with a deep impression about the world. Even his short stories are infused with a depth many full length novels lack. The same can be said of some of the adaptions of his work, such as Electric Dreams, the new anthology series on Channel 4 (in the UK). The Hoodmaker is the first episode of ten and while the story may be on the predictable side the background to the world is just teeming with details, undercurrents and depth. In 45 minutes it creates a world I can believe in, that I want to explore and dissect. It screams tone and tension without the promise of explanation.

It’s a feeling that I wish I could emulate at the table so if you’ll excuse me I’m off to dig out my Voight-Kampff machine and empathy box.

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Demon Hunters RPG – Stacking Aspects

One of the mechanics I love about Cortex Plus games is the way in which the way complications rise and fall with the narrative. With the right rolls your d6 mildly irritating can step up to d12 mortal enemy and back down again over the course of an adventure or sometimes even a scene. The same is true of physical complications, a flesh wound could be aggravated all the way to bleeding out without the need to introduce additional complications. Coupled to this is the dice pool mechanic, if an advantage or complication is relevant to your roll you can always add it to your dice pool before rolling.

Demon Hunters incorporates elements of Cortex Plus but, at its core, is a Fate derivative. Because of this aspects, while always true, have a single value (d6) and require either a free invocation or a faith point to incorporate into a roll. 

The below draft rules modification shifts the mechanics slightly more towards Cortex Plus by allowing for the creation of aspects with die values greater than d6.

Stacking aspects

Aspects that are narrative associated can be stacked together, creating a single combined aspect. Physically link the individual aspects together by drawing a line between them or stacking them atop one another. When invoking stacked aspects choose from the following

1. Invoke each aspect separately as per the standard rules at the cost of one faith point per aspect. Each aspect invoked adds 1d6 to your dice pool.

2. Invoke the entire stacked aspect for the cost of one faith point. For each individual aspect after the first increase the size of your bonus die by one step.

For example during a scene the following scene aspects may be in play

1. Stampede of people

2. Raging fire

3. Choking smoke

4. Demonic hieroglyphs 

The first three of these are narratively linked to one another, the fire that was accidentally started (because no Demon Hunter would ever start it on purpose) has built to an all encompassing maelstrom. These aspects can, if desired, be linked to one another. The fourth aspect stands alone and cannot be linked with the others.

Doyl, our demon Hunter, is trying to escape from the cultists chasing him but he’s not particularly sneaky or athletic so it’s going to be difficult. With plenty of faith points he could invoke the first three aspects to add a mighty 3d6 bonus to his roll. Unfortunately he’s only got one faith point, having relied on them rather heavily earlier in the scene. He invokes the stacked aspect to gain a bonus d10, hopefully enough to make his escape.

At this point astute readers will be noting that the standard 3d6 bonus will average a higher roll than the d10, so why bother with the stacked aspect? The answer is simple – cost, a single faith point rather than three while still making use of a wider range of the aspects in play. 

During the playtesting I’ve done with this rules modification I’ve also noticed a secondary bonus – it encourages greater player engagement with scene aspects. Knowing they can get a larger bonus for the same cost drives both the creation of aspects and their creative use. It is also intuitively balanced, there’s nothing to stop the DM from creating or invoking stacked aspects using demon dice.

As always I’d be interested in anybodies thoughts or comments on this.

RPGaDay 31st August

31st) What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

End of the month and the final question. To be honest I’m not sure I’m really anticipating anything in particular for gaming in 2018. I’m not even sure I could list many games that have been announced as coming out next year.

What I do have though is a list of hopes for 2018, mostly focused around my own work. If I’ve not done so by then I will get Project Cassandra finished and published. Realistically it shouldn’t take that long but then again after DragonMeet last year I would have said I would have it out well before now. I know how to adjust the skills to deal with the issues highlighted by the playtest, the main issue now is getting a final playtest in of the changes.

The other area I want to focus on are my Demon Hunters adventure starters. I’ve published one already and the second, inspired by the Slice of Life episode Missionary Opposition is midway through drafting. After that I have notes for 2-3 more plus some rules hacks that I want to get out there. The last of those adventures is probably going to be a fairly hefty project, the current design includes two distinct but related plot threads occurring over a century apart from one another. My aim for that is to put it up as a PWYW adventure, the working title: Rocket Demons of Antiquity. That will probably change given antiquity normally refers to a much earlier time period than I’m looking to set the adventure but for now I like it.

I’m hoping that the lessons learned from this month of short posts can work well towards producing those. I’ve enjoyed answering the questions and a paragraph or two each day during my lunch break or on the bus will quickly add up to a substantial amount of material to work with.

RPGaDay 30th August

30th) What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

So at this point I’m fairly certain that most mashups have already been tried or established so I’m not even going to try to come up with something original and instead go with one that I’d personally like to try – the fantasy heist.

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Art from the patreon of JEShields

Now I know a lot of people that might say ‘oh but you could do that with D&D’ to which I’d respond ‘yes, but no.’ D&D, at its roots, is about fighting your way through a challenge to its eventual payoff. A fantasy heist on the other hand is all about avoiding the fight, about sneaking and conning your way in past the magical defences, the guards and the traps. If you end up in a fight then failure should be just around the corner. The idea behind this certainly isn’t original and I’d argue that it’s actually a trope of the fantasy genre so I don’t know if it really even counts as a genre mashup.

So how would I want to do it? As stated I don’t think D&D would be the best fit even though it’s what most people would gravitate towards. Blades in the Dark is big right now and from what I know about it would probably work well. Personally I’d use a game I already own – Leverage. The game is already designed around exactly the sort of play that I’m after, all it would need is some reskinning and introduction of magic (probably replacing the Hacker role with a Mage role). It’s an idea that I have been mulling over for some time, in part thanks to some stock images from JEShields art patreon. Right now it’s pretty low on my list of projects but my intention is to revisit it once Cortex Prime lands.

RPGaDay 28th & 29th

28th) What film or series is the most-frequent source of quotes in your group?

So I forgot to schedule a post for this question, partially down to finding it a little meh. Amongst the groups I’ve played in quotes have generally come from either the source material for the game (such as Firefly) or from the latest favourite show. There’s also a general tendency towards in jokes / references to previous games and they’ll often predominate over external sources of quotes.

29th) What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?

Fate Core. Seriously, Evil Hat ran that campaign pretty much perfectly. Great product, great time management, brilliant communication and a level of openness that was above and beyond what was needed. The Fate Core Kickstarter was also the first I’d backed where the draft material was made available almost immediately, followed by regular updates. The combination of how well that campaign was managed, combined with a few terrible campaigns (looking at you Metamorphosis Alpha) has resulted in me being far more hesitant in backing games. These days backing something on Kickstarter generally requires one of two things for me, that I know the company and trust them to be able to run a decent campaign or failing that there should be an early draft of the game that will be made available not long after the campaign ends. I understand that for smaller companies part of the aim of the Kickstarter might be to bring on writers but if you can’t or won’t at least show me a draft of the central mechanics then there’s a problem. Too many campaigns seem to be a list of what the game might be, if you’re at the Kickstarter point already then that sort of planning and initial playtesting should be done.

RPGaDay August 27th

27th) What are your essential tools for good gaming?

Character sheets, dice, 1 copy of the core rulebook. That’s really all I’d term as essential but if we’re expanding out then I’m going to cheat and point you towards a previous post where I detailed my gaming kit. At the centre of it is my All Rolled Up which is one of the best gaming purchases I’ve ever made. Plenty of space within it and ideal for storing the foldable whiteboard and a selection of dice.

RPGaDay August 26th

26th) Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

Quite a wide open question this. What should be defined as a resource? You could go the splat book approach in which case I would have to say Legend of the Five Rings and Corporation. For both of those games the extra books really expand upon the settings and provide (generally) useful additions to the rules. They’re also both systems where I really enjoy the style of writing so having extra books doesn’t feel like a chore to read through.

There’s also resources in terms of referenced information, such as depth indexes and system documents. In that case I’d have to go with FATE as both the core book and the SRD are thorough and easily accessible. Really handy when you need to look up something on the fly. The community for FATE is also really engaging and including Fred Hicks regularly engages with the games audience including commenting on blogs such as this one (See this post from when I was struggling with some parts of the game).

Finally there’s resources in terms of extras that add to the game without being necessary. Spell cards, custom dice, details character sheets etc. D&D and Pathfinder are the obvious answers for those games but they’re the big publishers, they rely on those sort of extras to entice players to keep spending. It’s even seen in the scale of their organised play, a great resource but not something that the smaller publishers could ever really contemplate.