Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween! Challenge

Someone over on RPG.NET made a post about designing cheap rpg kits that one could give away to kids, adults, whoever. He wanted to find the cheapest method to include dice, pencils, a character sheet, and system into a "boxed set".

I have to say, I like this idea. Especially for Halloween where kids are coming to your door for free stuff anyway. Why not give them an rpg along with some candy?

However, there's a hitch. We are giving away games to people who have never played these games before. I'm not sure that any current systems will be good gateways into our hobby. Sure they are fine for people who want to make an active effort to get into our hobby and are willing to invest in books, dice, and time.

So here is the challenge to you viewers. We need:

  • A game system that is very simple and easy to grasp for someone who is completely unused to rpgs.
  • Including explanation of what an RPG is and how it is played.
  • The system can only use d6's since that is the die people are most likely to have at their house. And they are inexpensive if you want to include them in the rpg gift bag.
  • A simple character sheet.
  • An explanation on how to be a Game Master. Or, if possible, how to play the game without a Game Master.
  • An adventure for the players to enjoy.
  • And it needs to be kept under five pages.

I would love to see your designs. I'm going to hit this one too. Next Halloween, the kids that come to my house are going to get more than cavities!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Not game related, but funny.

I was completely unaware that adults were collecting lunchboxes. I still thought they were meant for kids to take to school. That is, until I saw a "300" lunchbox at a local comic book store. I laughed for about an hour.

A mental image flashed through my brain of a six year old girl, one foot on the cafeteria table and lunch pail raised high, screaming "TODAY, WE LUNCH IN HELL!"

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

GM Wednesday! - Using Initiative Cards For Other Things

There's always one player that wants to jump in to the center of attention. Sometimes there's more.

You know that player. You tell one player that he discovers a chest in the corner and this player screams he/she is going to open it, even though he/she isn't the one who found it. Or he/she is in the back stealing the gems out of the eyes of the golden statue but when another player locates a secret door on the other side of the room, he/she announces he/she is listening at the door.

He/she is an spotlight hog, and his/her behavior needs to be moderated.

Originally I used to go around the table and ask each individual what they were doing before I started feeding them the results of their actions. That way the spotlight hog had to decide what they were doing for themselves instead fo jumping all over another player's actions.

"Ooh, I open the chest!"
"It's not your turn and you aren't the one who found the chest. Besides, you are spending time on those eye-gems, remember?"

It worked fine until one of my players mentioned that the most covetous seats at the table were next to me since I always started at one end of the table and that often times I started on my left. So the next time I ran and it got to the heroes doing exploration, I dealt initiative cards.

At first it freaked them out as they thought combat was starting. My spotlight hog player quickly started shouting all the preparations she had made, trying to get it out before her card was dealt. I told her that didn't matter but she insisted she was ready for combat. Then we had a discussion about her meta-gaming (it fell on deaf ears).

But the initiative cards did help. It allowed each to player to have a moment to announce their actions and it got rid of any accidental favoritism on my part.

So if you find that your having a hard time managing the table, either because it is too large or because you have spotlight hogs, I recommend using initiative cards out of combat as well as in.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

16 Hours To Go!

Aaaand nearly EVERY STRETCH GOAL IS UNLOCKED! Only one more to go. We can do this!

Remember: The more you pledge, the more Jumpcorp cares! Tentacled operators are standing by.

Player Wednesday! - Writing Backgrounds

I rarely ask my players for character backgrounds. Partly because I had players that just wanted to play and didn't want homework, and partly because when players did give me backgrounds then what I got was 10-20 pages of ego stroking that I had little desire to read.

However, when done right a character background can be a valuable asset to adding an extra layer to the gaming experience. And when I say "done right", your mileage may vary. Some GMs are fine with multi-paged backgrounds. The following is just a stream of my own opinions.

1) "Brevity is the Soul of Wit."

If it's important, it can be said briefly. If you have an idea for backstory, try to focus on those things that the GM can actually use and communicate the overall theme of your character in 1-2 paragraphs. It can be done.

2) Don't Ride Coat Tails

I have seen this A LOT. Please stop it.
In a game that is tied to a movie, novel, or TV show, you always get that player who wants his character to be "extra special" by being the brother, sister, cousin, significant other of the coolest character in the show.

Here are some real examples I have come across...
"I'm Drizz't's long lost brother/twin."
"Qui Gon Jin was my husband and we had two kids."
"My last name is Solo."

This is supposed to be your story, your time to shine. Make your character stand on his/her own. You shouldn't need these crappy ties to make your character special. In fact, it makes everyone else at the table roll their eyes. It's a sure fire way to loose the respect of your fellow players.

3) Don't Stick Your Chocolate In Someone Else's Peanut Butter (Without Asking)

Similar to above, don't create a relationship in your character background to another character without first clearing it with that character's player. This is just bad mojo. You are, in essence, writing an element of someone else's character background without their permission and you don't have the right. That's their character. Ask first.

So here's an example...

...of what, in my opinion, makes a good character background.

She grew up the only child of a blacksmith and was treated more as a son instead of a daughter. She worked hard with her father, and played hard with the boys giving her the reputation of an unmarriageable Tomboy which suited her just fine. When the opportunity arose to choose her own path in life, she chose the path of steel and blood as an adventurer. Her most prized possession is the sword her father forged for her before she left home.

Joshua Malcott
Joshua was the eldest son in a long line of river smugglers. If asked about why he has chosen to get involved with the war, he mentions that "shadow demons ate his boat". His cavalier manner belies the truth, that it was his family's boat and the demons consumed his father and brothers before his eyes. Under his lazy exterior burns a rage and need for revenge but his lack of trust in others forces him to keep his motivations hidden behind a roguish smile.

To Sum Up

To me a good character background should cover the following points in as few words as possible.

1) Where did I come from/ what type of life.
2) Why am I adventuring?
3) And what motivates me/ why?

Now I'm not an expert on this subject and I'd like to hear any comments people have with what I might have left out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

42 Hours To Go!

Jumpcorp needs your support! It's a good day to be a backer since so many stretch goals have already been unlocked! 

Won't you help? For the Verminite children?

Just Another Rant Tuesday

Monday, October 20, 2014

Adventure Mon...Uh I Need a Break.

The well is running dry, my free time is running low, and I really need to get back to playing.

So I am taking a hiatus on Adventure Mondays! for a while until I recharge.

There are several articles already written for GM Wednesday! so that should keep.

So what am I doing right now? Well since I'm out in the sticks and my FLGS have devoted their weekend table space to Magic and wargaming tournaments, I'm looking at starting something online.

After looking around, it seems the best options are G+ Hangouts, Roll20, and Fantasy Grounds.

Here's what I've learned about them.

Fantasy Grounds

Pros: It has everything you need to run Savage Worlds, you own the program.
Cons: It has the biggest buy-in. Seriously it costs money. Also it isn't persistent so I have to be online for my players to connect.

If I had the disposable income, I might go this route. Unfortunately I don't so for now I will have to pass.


Pros: Robust, free, can be tweaked to cover the Savage Worlds basics, shallow learning curve, persistently online so players can visit it.
Cons: Not originally made for Savage Worlds so it needs to be adapted, designed around miniatures play so may not be necessary for "theater of the mind", also it is browser based so you don't actually own the software.

I am investigating this but it may actually be more than I need. I prefer not to use miniatures as they make people think more about the board than about being cinematic.

However if I can hide the grid lines, I could put up pictures of thematic locations.

G+ Hangouts

Pros: Free and easy.
Cons: I can't find anyone with advice on how to use it to do anything other than chat. It would be neat to share images and handouts and I'm sure it can do it. But it seems I can't experiment with hangouts unless I'm in a hangout with at least one other person. Also it requires that the GM and the players trust each other to not fudge their rolls.

I may just start here if I can figure this doohickey out. Right now I feel that if I try to pre-plan a game session (maps, etc) then I will never run a game session. What I need right now is to just hit the ground running and trust my instincts.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

GM Wednesday! - It All began In the Tavern

People talk about this cliche and how to avoid it a lot. But I'm here to support the tavern trope (well just a bit). While it doesn't seem to have much place in modern or futuristic games, there is a perfectly valid reason for it in fantasy games.

In medieval times, the Tavern was a central part of any town. It wasn't just a place where adventurers could get put up for the night. The tavern was the medieval version of Facebook, LinkedIn, and the help wanted pages.

In a world without electric light, the workday ended at sundown. At that point many went to the tavern to drink (alcohol being a safer choice than water in those days), and to wheel and deal. Contracts, trade, services, all were bartered at the tavern. Neighbors could make arrangements with each other, or with travelling merchants who were staying the night. A man could walk into a tavern and come out with a deal to sell some of his cattle as well as an STD from a local prostitute.

So the idea that adventurers would find work at a tavern is a very realistic concept and a trope that shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

I recently read Eloy Lasanta's chapter "You're In a Bar" from Engine Publishing's Unframed (a quality book about improvisation for RPGs). He discusses the trope of the tavern as an easy way to get the party together and better solutions should be found to knit the groups psyche to form a stronger bond. I agree in spirit, but I don't blame the Tavern. In fact, I see the Tavern as a role-play opportunity.

For instance, several of the games I have run I used the Tavern as the location for recruitment. A patron wants to hire adventurers to perform a task. I pick one character who seems like a good choice for team leader and have him or her under the Patron's direct employ. What follows is this character interviewing the other characters. If done well, the players can get a peak into what each brings to the table as well as a hint of backstory in the exchange.

Of course there are always those players that want to see what the GM will do if the player intentional makes a mess of the interview. The answer is very simple, if they don't get hired then they don't play. If the player throws a tantrum, he or she is not really someone you want to game with. If they realize their mistake, they will shift tactics and the problem should correct itself. Just make sure that this type of player isn't the one doing the hiring.

Another idea is to use the hiring scene as a flashback. Start your adventure with the team already together and in the middle of combat. After the combat, have a flashback scene where the players describe how they came to be employed by the patron. You could run the tavern hiring then, or you can have them describe how they were approached individually by the patron. Was it just a simple matter of the money being right, did they owe the Patron a favor, did the Patron have incriminating evidence on them? The point here is that the player already knows the result of the exchange (they are doing a job for the Patron) but the way that exchange unfolded can give their characters more depth and Plot Hooks that the GM can use to spotlight that character.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

History Channel Rant

Not game related...but...

I used to love the History Channel, before it became the Ancient Aliens Channel.  Fine, I get that people want to hear about Ancient Aliens, but my biggest issue with H is the day long marathons of a single show.

I like American Pickers. I don't want 12 hours of it.I like Pawn Stars to an extant, but i don't want 12 hours of it.Ancient Aliens can go kiss my sphincter, but apparently that's H's number one show.

So aliens built the pyramids? But they used massive stone instead of metal, and they didn't bother installing lighting, air vents, air conditioning, or anything that would suggest that this was a structure they planned on using. No transporter pads? No control rooms? No complicated Frank Loyd Wright designs?

Nope. Just a pile of (admittedly very heavy) stones.

I'd like to put forward a theory.

Maybe they were capable of doing these incredible things because they weren't distracted by television, radio, pop culture, celebrity news, and the like. I think if I were that bored, I would eventually build a pyramid and have the time to figure out how to do it with heavy stone. In fact, I would need to build that pyramid because just standing around watching cattle poop would drive me crazy.

Now, I liked the movie Chariots of the Gods. It asked some interesting questions. But by turning that book/movie into a regular television series is that they started scraping the bottom of the barrel for conspiracy theory rather quickly.

Egyption gods with animal heads? Clearly the Egyptians witnessed genetic tampering by aliens!

No dude. They had animations and when they looked around and noticed that animals were tougher, stronger, poisonous, and could also fly, they imagined that a superior being would have those traits. Hell, I was doodling stuff like that on my notebooks before I had even heard of aliens or genetic manipulation. 

So as much as Ancient Aliens disgusts me, it wasn't the final nail in the coffin. It was the blocks of days where no history, nothing that enhances my education, could be viewed on a channel that was supposed to be about education.

Strangely enough, I blame the Discovery Channel for this. Specifically Deadliest Catch.Deadliest Catch came on to the scene like gang busters. I admit I watched 3 seasons of it and enjoyed it. The fact that it was reality TV (which is notoriously cheap to make) meant that Discovery had a real cash cow. So History Channel did what all competitors do, they tried do the same thing.

Axe MenIce Road TruckersSwamp People...all of these shows sucked and presented the fact that History Channel was going to dump history in favor of reality TV.

Then they found a hit, by appealing to the lowest common denominators. Ancient Aliens. 
Other channels have their craptastic shows too.

Honey Boo Boo -The (Frakkin') Learning ChannelDuck Dynasty - A&EDiscovery Channel countered flagging ratings with Amish Mafia.

Ladies and gentlemen, education is dead and we killed it, because they are just feeding us what we want to watch.

On a side note, I recently watched a History Channel Documentary that I (had to find) on Youtube about Chinese Super Ships. Everything was going great until they decided to look for an ancient Chinese ship that proved America was discovered by the Chinese and not Columbus. How were they looking for the ship? With a Frakkin' Dowser, you know the guys who use the sticks and the power of ESP to find wells. Apparently it's supposed to work on ancient ships too.

And on a last side note, sure the Chinese could have made it here. So could the Vikings. But if you want to know who discovered America, ask the Native Americans. I'm pretty sure they beat everybody here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Adventure Monday!- Planet Sulluh

Planet Sulluh. I banged this one out fast. I hope you like it.


Sorry, no planet today. Real life ate up my weekend. I was supposed to paint a room this weekend and I didn't even get to that.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

GM Wednesday! - Retraction

My website gets the most hits when I make a mistake.

In today's post- I Forgot the Dingus - I railed against what I considered to be a poor design decision by Pathfinder and D&D, mainly critters that can only be affected by heroes wielding a Dingus (some specific type of item).

I totally forgot that creatures like this exist in Savage Worlds RAW. 

However, in my own defense-

Many of the creatures in Savage Worlds have Weaknesses to common items, so if it wasn't in your shopping list you can likely improvise something.

Some creatures are only susceptible to magic. Fair enough but if it's available in game there is a very good chance that one of the heroes has that ability.

The same cannot be said for adamantine or cold iron weapons. (Except that by a certain level, you should start packing these in your golf bag because you know you'll need them if you've ever played the higher levels before).

Never-the-less, my argument is thin and spawned by several adventures in Pathfinder Society that were so narrowly focused in weaknesses that I found myself useless and bored.


Bonus! - John Wick Is Awesome

I once considered designing my own rpg system. When I got to magic, my brain burned itself out. I mean it. Every waking moment was consumed with magic design concepts, "feels", philosophies, and a never ending string of mathematical probabilities and die mechanics as I tried to "regulate an imaginary and metaphysical trope within the bounds of a simplified rules system".

Then when my brain had turned to molten lead, I said "Screw this. I need to play." And I went looking for a game system that did what I wanted. That's when I discovered Savage Worlds. 

This new article by John Wick has me thinking about plunging into the torrid fires of game design once again.

Go. Read. Maybe it will change your perceptions of RPGs as much as it has changed mine.

GM Wednesday! - I Forgot To Bring the Dingus

I'm going to pick on Pathfinder and D&D here, but this can be true of any game system. It's just very prevalent in these systems.

Specifically this is about monsters that are more or less immune to damage unless you use the right weapon. In Pathfinder and D&D it's called Damage Resistance (DR for short). The other day my rather low level party and I were fighting a Succubus which has a high DR except against Cold Iron. Being low level there was little chance of hurting it without these weapons. I'd also like to point out that this was a scenario approved by Paizo for Pathfinder Society.

So we got our collective butts kicked and we ran. Once outside we healed up, went to the nearest shop and bought a bunch of cold iron weapons, and came back the next day. She was still there, the monsters we slew to get to her were still dead, the traps still disabled. It was like a video game. Anyway, once we had the cold iron she lasted only two rounds.

That just seems silly. I feel like I need to have a variety of swords on a keychain just to go adventuring because if I don't have the right weapon, I'm useless. I'd need a standard weapon, silver weapon, cold iron weapon, and adamantine weapon to effectively adventure. My hero would need a golf bag full of swords.

This is, in my opinion, bad game design. I get that a monster might have weaknesses (as they do in mythology) but making them nigh immune to everything else forces unprepared players to be sidelined. Even if I could buy all the necessary weapons, I could never carry them all due to the encumbrance rules. I suppose that's why the bag of holding is so popular.

I see this happen sometimes with GMs in other systems that make their own home brewed monster. They want it to be a tough fight, so they make the monster immune to any attack except for the specific tactic they have in mind. Sometimes this works, such as "To kill the monster, you have to target a specific vulnerable area." - Tough but fair. My character is not rendered impotent, he just has to attack a hard to hit spot.

I guess what I am saying is that surviving the encounter shouldn't be based solely on my shopping list.

Edit: So I just played a Pathfinder Society Module that highlighted this problem enormously. It was full of Fey and we just happen to have several characters with cold-iron weapons. If we didn't have these weapons, the adventure would likely have killed the whole party. But because we did have these weapons, no creature lasted into the second round. As for my Cleric, my initiative was so poor I didn't get much chance to act. I burned maybe two channels the whole adventure for healing.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Adventure Monday! - Planet Ursae

When the trade-lanes shift, foolish worlds will suffer... 

Welcome to Planet Ursae, you will not be staying long. Please stay withing the red-dotted lines on your guest map. Your life will depend on it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

GM Wednesday! - Surrender?

Let's talk about that one thing that players always refuse to do: Surrender.

Believe me, I get it. I cut my teeth on Basic and AD&D with a sadistic older brother as GM. As he got older he only got more devious. His favorite was designing traps that gave the player no chance at a saving throw.

Back in the day the focus of an RPG wasn't story since there was little to none. The focus of D&D was dungeon crawls and a GM earned his chops by making them as dangerous as possible. The greater the difficulty in the Death Maze, the more infamous the Dungeon Master. And then along came the Tomb of Horrors by Lord Gygax himself and he put as all to shame.

What resulted was a mistrust of the GM. If the player gave the GM an opening, it was expected that the GM would kill you with it. There are still some GMs that play this way today, and I think it has left an indelible stamp on the player psyche.

Disclaimer: I'm not a psychologist. I am a gamer-blogger. I can spout my opinions on the net but that doesn't make them fact.

So as a result, when the villain has a hostage and the heroes are outnumbered, and when he gives them the chance to surrender, the players would rather die fighting than drop their weapons.


...surrender and capture is a staple of story.It should be in the Player/GM toolbox. Here's some examples:

  • James Bond: He gets captured in every single movie! Bond uses the opportunity to get a look at the BBEG and maybe get the villain to expose his plan.
  • Frodo: Got captured in every single movie! In order: by Strider, the elves, by the men of Gondor, by Shelob, and by the Orcs of Mordor.
  • Indiana Jones: He get's captured in every single movie!
I can't think of any action film where the hero doesn't drop his weapon and raise his hands at some point.

The fact is that getting captured can forward the story, give the heroes some much needed information, and gives them that awesome experience of escaping when put in "an easily escape-able situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death."~ Dr. Evil

There is also the view that such a scene is very rail-roady. Yes, it is a pre-planned scene but it doesn't have to be rail-roady. If the players choose to fight, let them. However, the bad guy and his minions should technically be on Hold, and expecting that the heroes will do something stupid. The heroes might be able to take on all of the bad guys but the hostage is going to die, and that will tarnish the reputation of the heroes (provided they have a good reputation). This isn't railroad, this is a player choice that had obvious consequences.

Thrilling Tales for Savage Worlds (Adamant Entertainment) discussed the subject of Surrender and advised that such a scene be obvious (that the heroes are out-matched) and that each hero be awarded a benny for playing along. It's an idea I use with all of my games.

Convincing Your Players

No doubts about it, this is a trust issue and needs to be discussed out of game. It may even belong in the social contract, with the deal being:

  • The Players will consider surrender a viable option in game play, especially when it is dramatically appropriate with the understanding that not every fight can be won.
  • In return you as the GM promise that if the heroes surrender to the villains, said villains will not pull a gun and immediately eliminate the heroes, that the villain will want to question or toy with the heroes, that the scene will be used to forward the plot, that the heroes will have the opportunity to attempt an escape, and the players will receive a benny in payment for their cooperation.
Surrender is such a big part of so many adventure stories, it's a shame that it is consider a vile taboo by so many in our hobby.