Friday, April 10, 2015

Solo Role-Playing Bonus Feature: Handling Mysteries and Investigations

Games that revolve around a mystery for which investigation is required and clues discovered may take some thought to make them work well solo. The problem with a mystery / investigation is that for a clue to point to the mystery’s solution, we are starting from an effect and working our way back, not to possible causes, but to the one and only particular cause of that instance of the effect.

Clues must present a logical and coherent picture (real or imagined) when examined, if players are to have any hope of solving the mystery. Worse still, as seen in social games with poorly designed scenarios, the correct interpretation of the clues hinges on one particular clue, which the players might not find. It is no wonder that there is often an element of railroading in social investigation games, as a result.

When reliant upon randomization for story elements, or subject to it, if that is your position, then that logic and coherency must either be imposed by the solo gamer and thus surprise and sense of discovery limited as the player tries to direct the results of random generators and sets up scenes that point to a particular solution, or ignored, which potentially results in a frustrating investigation of a mystery that remains unsolved.

If one simply accepts that some mysteries will go unsolved, then there is no problem, but for those who cannot, or for RPGs which base character changes on such success or failure, that may not be an option. For those games, some of the following might work, but I will admit to having little experience with them, as I subscribe to the idea that not all mysteries can be solved:

  • Expand your role as the GM. Determine several possible solutions to the mystery, decide which is most logical. As the player, explore that possibility first - if the results point to this being the answer then there you go. If not, look at the remaining solutions, and explore the next most logical, etc.
  • Decide IN ADVANCE what the resolution to the mystery is. Create a pack of cards - each containing a clue - for each scene, draw a card to see which clue you stand to gain and play out a scene around it. I think, to add to the challenge, make the possibility of losing the clue part of the scene - and if you don't collect enough clues, you can't succeed. When you have all (or whatever number you require) of the cards, you have solved the mystery and can play out the resolution. If you don't get enough, then you fail.
  • As an alternative, you have all of the clues up front, your goal is to play to determine how those clues add up, and determining what they mean. The game is about finding coherency among possibly unrelated elements.

There is a bright light, so to speak, if one disregards a logical coherency of the clues and that clues must point to their cause. Lovecraftian style games, where the protagonist hopes merely to escape with their wits intact, let alone actually solve the mystery presented, benefit from this potential lack of coherency. Tenuous connections between clues spur the investigation while driving the protagonist closer to things that should be best left alone. Typically, in Lovecraft at least, the unexplained remains so to the end.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

First Point for My Saga Vikings!

These are plastic Gripping Beast Dark Ages Warriors.

They will make up the Warriors (as opposed to Hearthguard) for my Saga warband - 8 warriors counts as 1 point. Four points is a starter warband.

Initially, to keep costs low, I'll stick to 4 units of Warriors, which I can make from this one box of plastics. I'll pick up some Hirdmen, probably in metal since I only need a small number, after I've played a bit.

Admittedly, their shields can use some work, but overall, I'm happy with their appearance. 

Pictured on my S&W Whitebox digest-sized hardcover.

I was under the impression the box came with bases, but I might have misread that. I bought the box on ebay, so make of that what you will. 

I ordered bases last week and they should be here in a few days.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Session 37: The Ever Expanding Dungeon

This session was played in JANUARY. I tried something new: recording notes in a spiral notebook, and then promptly misplaced the notebook. I found it and so present this brief escapade to you:

After examining the pit, Leegand held a rope while the rest of the party used it to climb down into the pit. Leegand, who was last, hung off the edge of the pit and the fighters, Runolf and Eomond caught him as he dropped down. With Zilliniy's grappling hook, they easily scaled out the other side, and resumed marching order. 

[ Mythic, Does this succeed? Likely. 66. Yes]

They crept down the steps checking and rechecking behind them as they went. At the bottom, the steps joined directly with a long corridor, well carved and laid with flagstone. A straight shot took them to a T-intersection, with a door to the South and to the North. 

Eomond listened at the North door and could hear voices on the other side [Is he able to make them out? 50/50, 76, No.] but was unable to make them out. Testing the door, Leegand found the door was unlocked but was stuck [This was determined from my own Solo Traps process] . Force would be necessary. They quickly rearranged into room entering order, with Maglom and Runolf in the front. Behind Runolf, Zilliniy knocked an arrow to fire over the dwarf's head if need be.

[Contents: Monster, No Treasure. Rolled 1d6 to see if monster surprised . 2 = yes]

Runolf forced the door open to the surprise of three elder gentlemen in wizarding finery, including pointy conical hats covered in moons and stars. Maglom was quick to apologize for the intrusion,but [I'm using the b/x reaction roll this time: reaction roll 2d6, 4 hostile] they were very clearly displeased by the interruption. [Are they swayed by Maglom's apology. Reaction: 6. They are uncertain.] They seemed divided as to whether or not the party meant them harm - the knocked bow of the elf and the fact that they kicked the door in without knocking really didn't help.

Lykidas stepped to the fore to explain the party's presence, in hopes that one of their own might fare better. He suggested perhaps a small donation from the party as a sign of their sincerity. [I gave them +1 for the gesture. Rolled 2d6: 3+1, 4. Nope, not going well!] With a sharp rap on the table, the eldest of the three rose and pointed a knurled finger at the door.

"Go!" his voice was hoarse and whisper like, yet the command hit the party as a hurricane. 

Maglom and Runolf closed the door and the party debated the possibility of returning later when they might be on better footing to deal with such powerful magic.

To the South, the 10' pole failed to trigger a trap and instead poor Maglom accidentally found the odd colored piece of flagstone that dropped the floor from beneath the feet of the front two ranks. Maglom, Runolf, Ygg and Zilliniy [Minimal damaged suffered: Maglom lost 3, Runolf lost 2, Zilliniy lost 2 and Ygg lost 1] Leegand, Lykidas and Eomond lowered themselves down and the party repeated their earlier pit crossing exercise.

Neither Eomond nor Leegand heard anything beyond the next door. The door was not locked and did not appear stuck, so the party assumed door order and moved in.

[Contents: Monster, No Treasure]
For a moment all was silent, and then the air filled with the screeching of large mosquito like birds with long piercing beaks - thirteen stirges looking to feed.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Achtung! The State of My German Army

Fighting for the Fatherland, your 2015 German force:

Because they fight both my Soviets and my US troops, and because Ultimate Soldier/Forces of Valor/21st Century toys vehicles tend to be available every now and then for very cheap, they are by far the best equipped of my 1/32 armies.

They are the only force with an engineer (flamethrower in the picture below) and two HMGs ready to go (the US has one already, and a second awaiting painting, whereas the Germans have one waiting assembly and that's it). 

The right-most is the CTS HMG team from their older German infantry set, and the left team is from CanDo (1/35 pre-painted figures from Dragon).

The mortar crews are Ultimate Soldier  I believe. Well, one of those companies - I actually have 3 mortars for the Germans, but until I pant the Italeri gun crew for the PAK 40 (below), I have assigned them to serve the gun.

All of my armies have been based in the same way:  2 figures to a base, except for leaders and other special figures. The Waffen SS (W. Britain, behind Unit "Airfix") , I left singly based, since they will see use primarily in very small 1:1 scenarios against my British paratroops.

Finally, unlike the US with only one vehicle capable of moving personnel, and the Soviets, who have one awaiting assembly, the Germans are in rather good shape here (CTS and Ultimate Soldier) thanks to the Morsermannschaft  which came with the mortar crews (I gave the third one to my son. These things are models, not toys, and it was quickly destroyed, although he still loves to play with it.)

The kubelwagen (Britain Deetail) can transport an officer if necessary, but is usually used in a scouting role.

The figures are a mix of Matchbox, Airfix (which are my favorite), CTS, Ultimate Soldier and Britain. 

In the queue is the crew for the pictured PAK 40, as well as a 2nd PAK 40 and crew. I also have a King Tiger model to assemble, but I'm terrified of it and will start with something easier and work up to it. They will undoubtedly be the first of my forces to be able to meet any configuration Neil Thomas's scenarios throw at me.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Saturday DCC: The Rise of Fandar

It's rare that I get out during daylight hours to play an RPG, but Saturday, I made the effort and arranged for a sitter, so I could play some Dungeon Crawl Classics. 

I haven't been a player since DragonCon, so I jumped at the chance when I saw the announcement in my feed. 

My character, Fandar the Blood Crazed Barbarian, is a level 1 warrior randomly generated via the Purple Sorcerer utilities. The returning players had played 0-levels last session and all had at least one character survive to level 1. The new folks, which turned out to be me, would jump in at level 1.

Which I feel oddly about. I mean, to me, that's the most fun amazing game idea ever. So, it was strange playing DCC and not having a horde of rabble to run, and more hit points than 4 level 0s combined.

So, in honor of my first DCC game with a leveled character, I painted up a mini:

Fandar is a Reaper Bones mini. He took about 3 hours, start to finish (all on Friday night).
This is before his shower of gloss varnish. I'll use dulcoate eventually on him, for now, he appears to have been slimed.

Here he is on the table at Gigabites:

I tried a Mighty Deed just about every attack - and succeeded once. I'm playing him as a Conan / Thongor type of pulp barbarian, so it's go big or go home, even if I just have leather armor and 12 HP.

We survived the adventure although we didn't succeed in our quest. We voted as a group to not return to town, but maybe drift away someplace where people won't know us. 

Also, as a side bonus, one of the other players is into historical gaming, and we talked about Saga a bit. I did some digging around, and before you knew it, I had ordered a box of Gripping Beast plastics to form my 4 point viking army.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Solo Role-Playing Series Part 7: Our Example Continues, but Now with Open Ended Questions

Admit it, you didn't think I'd get this post on Monday. OK, OK, depending on where you live, I didn't make it but it's still Monday where I live. as I write this. I'm counting it.

When we last left our hero, he was getting nowhere fast with a village lass, and so he had decided to return to the old man in the tavern for more info. You might choose to play these things out in more or less detail, depending on the experience you want to have. Since we're still in scene 2 of the Five Scene Model, I wanted to advance things along a little bit. 

I am using the same 1d6 system for Yes/No questions:

1 yes and
2-3 yes but
4-5 no but
6 no and

But I'll be using some oracles as well to illustrate how I might use them.

Scene  2: Continued 

Lugar heads to tavern, is the old man still there?

I roll a 2, which is a "Yes, but".

Since he's a village elder,  I immediately imagine people come to see him with problems and such and figure the 2 means he’s busy. For some unknown reason, I see him as being irritated that Lugar is back so soon.

My notes:
2 - yes but he’s busy and seems irritated that Lugar is back.

Lugar isn’t keen on being the cold shoulder and demands the old man meet with him if he wants his village protected.

This seems like an Ego vs Ego check but I also noted in my file, what kind of game is this old man playing? 

I'm suspicious, and while it might be nothing, this will serve as a reminder that there's something about this old guy that might bear investigating.

As for the Ego contest, Lugar has a d6 for Ego, but what about the old man?

Well, he’s an old man, and perhaps reflecting my hope that I will be an old man someday (I doubt I'll give out quests but you never know), i’ll just assume that makes him wiser than most. Conversely, he is probably not as strong as a younger man, meaning the d10 is not going to be in Action but it might be in Wits or Ego.

My notes:
1-3 Ego is d8
4-6 Ego is d10

4, of course

d10 = 8

I have no reason to roll my d6, i can't beat that.

My notes:

Lugar waits for the old man to finish with whatever was keeping him and he finally meets with Lugar to answer his questions.

What does the old man tell Lugar?

An open ended question!

For my first oracle, I decided I'd start with a tarot deck. Not having one handy, I went online and drew three cards for the old man's store:  Page of Wands, Justice, 8 of pentacles

In my notes, I record the story the old man tells Lugar, which I generated based on the three images:

The bandit prince was a village son - he was accused of stealing a small sum from a traveling merchant. He claimed it was a demon that had come from an old abandoned well, but no one believed him. He ran away, swearing vengence on us. Over time he raised an army of from children of the surrounding villages, trained them and himself, and turned to a life of banditry.

Lugar wants to know if there is any truth to the demon story. he asks. 

I rolled a 1, to my surprise.

1-yes and it has been our shame ever since. 

Of course, I immediately want to know does the demon still haunt the village too?
my notes look like this:

Does the demon still haunt the village?
4 - no but some of the tongue wagglers suggest that it waits for an opportune moment to strike.

Lugar is satisfied with what he has found and finds himself a big tree  on the village edge to sleep in - he's short of coin and he can keep watch at night of the village goings on and maybe even catch an early arrival by the bandits.

Scene 3:

In a 5 - room dungeon, this scene is usually some sort of resource drain. it can be a red herring but it doesn't have to be. Since i’m in the mood for some combat i’m hoping to take this scene in that direction, but i will let Rory’s cubes have the final say. 

How many dice you roll is up to you, but I like 3 dice. It's rare that one of the three results won't be usable and more often, I can use at least 2. Four just seems like too many things to work in:

I get a: Scissors cutting an envelope, a punch card thingy, and sad face

I have no idea what to do with this. 3 seconds or less and I roll again: Foot, Someone looking, Someone shouting

Immediately, I decide this must mean that Lugar awakens to shouting of some villagers and they are looking for someone or something. Notice, I gave up on the first idea, and it really did little to slow me down. 3 seconds, probably less.

I include some generic phrases in my notes, to help me set the scene in the write up, and then, like a good GM,  of course send the thing heading in Lugar's direction:

Catch him, he went that way”

“No, he’s over there!”

Lugar could hear the sound of something crashing through the tall grass, heading in his direction.

But it's dark and I'm not sure what, if anything, Lugar can see.

is he able to see anything?

Because it’s dark,  i decide to modify the die roll with a +1, which will push the response toward a No value. The best he can hope for is a "Yes, but" which seems reasonable given the context.

I rolled a 3, which becomes a 4 with the modifier.

4 - No ,but the sound is getting closer.

Lugar steadies himself on his perch into a crouch, struggling to view whatever may be approaching and preparing to pounce regardless.

The thing nears - does it approach close enough for him to jump onto it?

1 - Yes, and it passes right beneath the limb Lugar crouches  on - he can’t make out the shape exactly but can see the darkness where its body ought to be - he hurls himself at it.

This can be a skill test unopposed, since the thing doesn't seem to know he’s there, or it could be an opposed challenge since it is moving.

I like the latter as it will tell me a bit more about what I'm dealing with:.

My notes:
Lugar: d10, rolls a 10
The thing: Action = 1-2 d6, 3-4 d8, 5-6 d10, but on a 6, re roll and on 1 it’s a d10, 2-3 d12, 4-6 d16 (maybe it’s really strong - and FYI, i made this table up on the spot, just liked I'd do at a table with other people.)
6! son of a!
Followed by a 3. means it has a d12

Fortunately, the d12 comes back with a 1, so Lugar succeeds.

Lugar leaps from his hidden post and brings the thing to the ground

I still have no idea what I've encountered, so I need a way to find out. I could use a wandering monster table, or a monster builder, but I've opted to use Zero Dice:

The crossed claw remind me of X-Men’s Wolverine. Perhaps its some mutant humanoid with great claws that has come down from the mountains and while I’m not sure about the droplet, I can only assume it's probably blood. Great

I type up what I'm picturing, so that later, when i do the write up, I won't forget what I had in mind:

The creature, larger than Lugar was man-like in from, but it’s face had a twisted animal like quality about it,  it’s hands seemed to end in elongated steely claws like long spikes. Lugar could see they glistened dimly with a black wetness.

I'll just copy/paste my notes here:

Lugar: Actions + Wits: 6

wits: 1-2 d6, 3-4 d-8, 5-6
 d10, 6 of course

Creature: d12 + d10 = 8

The creature strikes at him: d12, 7
Lugar rolls his defense, he has dodge so he gets +2:6

1 pt of damage gers though, Lugar is down to 7

Lugar draws his sword and swings
wait, is he able to do so? yes, but it catches enough to void his attack this round

Next round: (rolling again is not the default in USR)

The creature attacks again: d12, 8
Lugar dodges d10+2, 4
So FOUR POINTS GET THROUGH! he’s down to 3

Lugar swings: d10+2,12!
d12 + 2 (i assume a clearly predatory creature like has some sort of bonus for sharp reflexes): 2, so 4
It takes 8 points of damage!

How many hp does it have? 

If you have read any of the Ever Expanding Dungeon, you probably know I have an entire system for maintaining surprise for hit points, but I haven't introduced that here yet. For now, let’s just do it the old fashioned way.

I roll the thing's hp: A+W: d12+ d10 = 6
The creature roars as it collapses in a bloody puddle at the barbarian’s feet.

As always the "WOOO!!!!" is in my notes.

At this point I would write the narrative up, but I'm going to stop here or I won't make my self-imposed deadline!

Friday, February 27, 2015

10 Games, 10 Times: Iron Ivan's Disposable Heroes / Coffin for Seven Brothers

Soviets try to get their tanks across the table in a later game in the series.
i had played DH/C7B a handful of times before, initially not really digging it, but later coming to decide that it might well be my favorite set or 1:1 WWII gaming, for squad to a platoon per side. Yet, I hardly played it thereafter, and when i did, it was primarily infantry only conflicts, hence its inclusion on my 10 Games, 10 times challenge list.  

The first few games were straight up infantry affairs to help me shake off the cobwebs and figure out where I was forgetting rules.
Backing up, for those who don't know, DH/C7B is a 1:1 set of WWII skirmish rules, where the basic unit is the fire team. It's recommended for up to a platoon per side, with support, although you can extend it further if you have time or multiple players.

My sole gripe with the rules is the use of markers for tracking activation, pinned, acquisition status (for armor), and # of armor penetration hits. You also need some way of tracking the number of destroyed units for each side, as these, plus the # of currently pinned units effect the initiative score.

So many markers. The white cards are blinds - I used Platoon Forward for many scenarios, along with its enemy force generation method. This is from one of the last games I played in the series - after I had mounted the figures to 3 inch squares.
However, so many games require markers, that it seems like short of an all or nothing approach to hits, or off table tracking (difficult in a 1 figure = 1 man game with more than a handful of figures per side), there really isn't a better option.

So, other than that, the game has a lot going for it although it took me 5 or so games to really see how good they were, as I kept forgetting rules in the early games or situations just didn't come up:
  • The Guts score - it effects both initiative and morale, including the ability to rally. It's a mix of quality and motivation.
  • simplified movement
    • if one figure reaches cover, the whole group does
    • move one figure, then place the rest around that figure, rather than measuring for all
    • terrain does not effect movement rates of infantry
    • Movement rate determines what additional actions a unit may perform and any penalties
  • Snap (opportunity) fire is restricted to one enemy unit.
  • Using grenades to supplement a charge is abstracted and works quite smoothly
  • Taking fire, regardless of result, triggers a Guts check - this seems right to me, but surprisingly few systems I have played incorporate it
  • It is difficult to score a hit on a target in cover - based on what i've read about the expenditure of ammo in WWII to hit a target, this too seems right to me.
  • The way it handles armor.
I wanted to really go big,both because i wanted to see if it made a big difference in my enjoyment, and also as a way to see if I could at some point eliminate a table and the space it takes up. Playing on the floor was loads of fun but no more so than a table, as it turns out.

One thing that has flummoxed me about some other systems at the 1:1 scale has been armor: either they are too simple, and the type of vehicle does not matter, or too complex to the point of having to use calculus to understand the tables. DH/C7B's system for attacks by and against armor sits somewhere in the middle and I rather like it. It has enough flavor to get a feel for the period and the differences in equipment, but not so complicated that every rivet matters.

I had to fudge any vehicle that wasn't a tank, since no stats are included in the core rules beyond a vehicle or two per army.
One  downside is the mix of roll low/roll high is somewhat annoying - you want to roll low always -to acquire a target, to hit, to pass a Guts check, but  when you're rolling for armor penetration, then you want to roll high. 

It's hard to see, but the PZ. IV had just made it onto the table when one of the T-34s brewed it up on a single hit This is less frequent an occurrence than my pictures might relate.
The other is that the core rules, which contain the "big four" nations, do not include much in the way of vehicles for these. As such, I had to fudge a bit on anything not remotely covered. The force supplements contain the desired data but those are additional purchases.

The core rules do, however, cover tank riders!
Once again, the 10 Games, 10 Times Challenge comes through, and I have a new understanding and appreciation for this game. That said, I also have come to realize, that i prefer 1:1 games with 3-5 figures, rather than squad to platoon sized engagements. 

As a bonus, I suspect these rules could work well for that - treating each figure as their own fire team and disregarding the man-alone rule and the "only 1/2 figures per unit can shoot" rule. I may try them in that respect at some later date, but Five Men in Normandy awaits first.