Monday, October 20, 2014

Happy Blogoversary and 100,000 Views!

On Saturday, Tabletop Diversions turned 3 at the same time it crossed 100,000 views.

I'm also approaching the 500 article mark.

With so many milestones so close together, I should probably consider doing some kind of celebration here on the blog.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with this. 

Yep, my son is going as a backhoe loader for Halloween.

Please excuse the mess. i finished it at 5AM Saturday morning and a few hours later there was a mad dash to attach the straps and get everyone ready to go to the Atlanta Zoo for their "Boo at the Zoo" event.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

To Screen or Not to Screen?

One of the things that drew me to punk rock was the idea that the stage isn’t a sanctified space for the performers to deliver their message from behind an imaginary barrier, and upon which the audience could only gaze in adoration. Rather, the stage is just another spot in the room, and there is no barrier, real or otherwise, band and audience blend together until it becomes impossible to determine who or what the performance is and who the audience is. (As a side note, it doesn’t usually work that way. People are conditioned to the audience-performer divide and often play their conditioned roles.)

Abandoning the DM/GM screen is a bit like that - perhaps without the pretension that I packed into that last paragraph - and tears down a wall.

I’m currently reading Alexis Smolensk’s How to Run and he notes that he does not use a DM screen. His reasons for dropping the screen seem to align with my own when it comes to rolling dice in the open so, I thought I would give it a try sometime.

As fortune would have it, last week the FLGS was quite crowded with Warhammer40K players (a new thing at the store and what looks to be a another big draw for them, although not as big as Magic:The Gathering) and rather than the usual two tables, we were consigned to a single small table - which was fine as we had about half of our usual number. Even with just four of us, the table was pretty crowded with character sheets, dice, the abstract combat sheet and miniatures, not to mention my map book, dungeon key, etc.

It seemed like a suitable opportunity to try and run screenless, if only to save some table space.

Despite the authority I am assumed to have as the “DM”, the fact is that I am playing the game, too. My role is different than the roles of other players who are responsible for one or two characters (I let player’s run their hirelings and charmed opponents, unless I think the NPC would refuse or resist the action the player is having them take), but I am still playing the game. Although it's subtle, without the screen, I think there was a definite mental shift on my part, if no on the part the other players.

Was I worried that the others would see my maps? A little, but not because I thought they would cheat (I’m not really sure how you can cheat at playing an RPG).

Rather, when I am running a PC, for me, much of the fun is the discovery of the place; with the map in view (not in the middle of the table mind you), that might be jeopardized. More importantly, to me as a DM, now that I’m trying to give them successes when they roll as such, it makes it harder to modify the map when they find a secret door I didn't know was there.

But that raises the question, what am I afraid of if they see me add it to the map? That I will undermine my role as DM because I am supposed to be all knowing about the game world? (I don’t think that’s written anywhere) That they will know I improvise and that parts of the game are “made up” randomly determined? I don’t worry about this when there is dialog or reactions in combat or when I roll to see how an NPC reacts to a character with a particularly low charisma score, why then in this situation does it matter? Is the map sacrosanct? Is there a rule or unwritten social contract that says Thou Shalt Not Modify the Map in Play! (i don’t mean Quantum Ogring something. For that I think there is indeed a social contract that thou shalt not undermine agency even if you think the other players will never know).

Some people will point out that the screen is helpful not for hiding anything but because it has frequently used information for the DM. I would agree, except, I play war games and typically, war game rules do that on Quick Reference Sheets that are simply held in hand. Why is a screen, usually in a static location on the table, more helpful than sheets you can hold in hand and reference while moving about? (Ever since I played in a DCC game in DragonCon 2013 with one of the most animated GMs I have ever witnessed, I have, for the most part, given up sitting when running a social game.)

In my experience it’s not better, and it might actually be worse.

When I’m standing, reading items at the bottom of a screen is difficult to say the least. The same info held in hand is easily read. That said, I’ve started putting much of the relevant info for creatures, traps, etc. into my key, and memorized most everything else (b/x lends itself to this). Players are responsible for knowing their Saving Throw numbers, To Hit numbers, etc.

I’m running the next session of the Trelleborg dungeon on Friday night and expect to have more players in attendance. I will try it without the screen again and see how it goes.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Solo RPing as Improvisation Warm Up

One thing I noticed at DragonCon in my 2nd session of The Dungeon of Akban was that I was decidedly  freer with my improv than either the session of the Purple Worm Graveyard or the first session of the Dungeon of Akban. After giving some thought to it, I believe that it wasn't because it was the 2nd time I ran Akban that weekend, or the 3rd time over all, but rather, it's that I played Ganakagok for 4 hours beforehand.

I'm sure those who do improv acting warm up in some way or another - but I only have an episode of Family Guy as evidence of that, and that may not be the most authoritative source. Never the less, having played a character for several hours preceding my own game, I stepped into the role of GM with my improvisational muscles thoroughly loosened up. 

By way of example:

When they found the dented helmet, which  I figured looked like something a Roman Centurion would wear, I described the sensation of coldness that they felt as the approached it, simply for effect but this was enough to land it stuffed in the backpack of a character (of a 1st time tabletop role-player at that).

In the final combat, she lobbed it toward the White Witch and her wererat collaborator, hoping to somehow release whatever magic she imagined it contained. 

Seizing the opportunity, I described an array of mystical lights, shooting forth from the helmet, and a ghostly glowing form of said Centurion taking shape beneath it. He attacked the Witch on behalf of the character who had released him, and when the Witch and the wererat were finally dead, he saluted her (the character who threw it, not the witch) in thanks for freeing him from his earthly bonds.

OK, that's not mind blowing or anything, but it's not part of the adventure as written, it was a spot light moment for the player, it vindicated her taking the helmet and her hopes that it was magical, it "awesomed up" the experience of the game (important for a 1st timer), and it was an "F*** yeah!" moment for the table (literally, enthusiastic explanations were made).

I'm not sure I would have come up with that idea in that moment if I hadn't been playing earlier in the day.

So, before the last Trelleborg session, I decided to conduct a rather poorly controlled experiment:

I broke out Cthulhu Dark, a free and very rules lite game of Lovecraftian horror, some Rory's Story Cubes (the three 9-dice sets) and a d6 and went to work improvising an adventure. I set up each scene by the roll of 3 Story Cubes, and handled GMing with the d6 using 1- "Yes and", 2-3 "Yes, but", 4-5 "No, but", and 6 - "No, and", and game mechanics as needed (particularly the investigation roll). 

I played on and off throughout the day.

I didn't play for four hours or even remotely close, but when I got to the store to run Trelleborg, I felt ready to go, to react to the players with less hesitation and more awesome. I certainly felt like I relied less on my standard reactions to their activity. Clearly this is all anecdotal,as well as poorly documented, and the players would have to tell you if I did in fact deliver anything worth noting.

While I can't prove it, I also believe it was the warm up that allowed the idea to give them successes when they roll a success to come to the fore, in the moment, rather than on reflection during non-game time. 

Whether or not solo role-playing is the most efficient way to warm up for improvising in a social game is another matter and I'm happy to consult other sources if anyone cares to enlighten me. In the meantime, this will be my new go-to prep the day off a game.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Adventure Maximus : Solo Example

For my solo attempt at Adventure Maximus, what seems like forever ago, I generated my character according to the rules, and ended up with a Minotaur Officer. 

To me, the minotaur is one of the iconic races of Adventure Maximus. Possibly because he's on the box and really catches my eye. And I've always liked the Minotaur of Greek myth.

The Officer class gets plate armor and that was my main motivation for choosing that above the other two I drew (I can't recall what they were).

My equipment card came up: My Axe (here meaning the slang for guitar, although shaped like the hacking weapon. picture something Gene Simmons would use on stage with KISS). Unfortunately, the axe's bonus could only be activated as long as the player played air guitar at the table. This is kind of useless in a solo session, or rather, I didn't feel like figuring out how to handle it so I decided I'd ignore that feature.

For my ability card, I drew Braids and Beards which, depending on how much I spent could increase my armor class or heal wounds.
I randomly generated a few names on line and chose "Gundar."

The mission: Snow White needs my help because the Master Assassin escaped with the fabulous Cake is a Pie to the Road in the Crystal Caverns.

Master Assassin is a boss creature, Cake is a Pie is an equipment card and the McGuffin and the Crystal Caverns is a map card. The other details are from the MadLib adventure generator.

Scene 1, Chaos 5

[Rather than drawing the creature, equipment and map cards for the first encounter, i only drew the map card to start, so I could set the scene: The SOurce of the Snake Bite River]

Gundar, having received the plea from Snow White to recover the fabulous Cake is a Pie, set out to track the delectable healing treat. As a former officer in White's Fighting Fantasy Brigade, he felt duty required his acceptance of the mission.

[I couldn't decide if he was going to start from the Source of the Snake Bite River or if he was journeying there. Enter Mythic GME: Is he starting from the Source of the Snake Bite River? 50/50. 60, no]

Gundar left his home in the pre-dawn hours towards the Source of the Snake Bite River, a river which had long ago carved much of the land, including the Crystal Caverns. By following the river, he hoped to find the long rumored secret entrance to the road within.

[I needed some sort of focus for the scene so I rolled on the Mythic Action and Verb tables: Oppress Emotions. This made me think of monks, so:]

A monastery at the mouth of the river would be his first stopping point. 

It would do no good to rush head strong into battle - a lesson Gundar had learned long ago. The propensity of the minotaurs for rage is well known, less so is their ability to turn that power into a calm abiding from which they can, like the greatest zen master, act spontaneously without fear or hesitation.

As Gundar approached the monastery, he caught site of two lizard men scuttling of the water, They looked sneaky and suspicious as they eyed the lone traveler approaching.

“My beef is not with you. Move aside, and let me pass," said Gundar, his voice booming.

[Do the lizard men heed his warning? 50/50. 47.]

Despite outnumbering their quarry, the thought of fighting so heavily equipped an opponent had them rethinking their plan and without further ado, slipped back into the cool rushing waters of the river.

Once inside the monastery, Gundar sat with monks there and chanted the sacred syllable "Moo!" for some time.

Scene 2  Chaos 5
[I drew the map card for the 2nd encounter, Location: The Court of Darkness]

Gundar, having achieved inner calm, bade the monks farewell and began his way down river. There, looming in the distance he saw the spires of the Court of Darkness. Going around the city would add too much to his journey and so he decided to enter into the foul place.

[I turned to Mythic to get a sense of what was happening in the city: Praise Danger]

Word must have gotten out about his journey, and denizens of the dark city gasped and mouthed silent cheers for our hero. Silent because they were under the watchful eyes of the Court’s guard. Any cheering of any kind would be subject to harsh penalty.

[Gundar has the Notice ability, so I decide to put it to use. Do i notice anyone skulking about the shadows wishing me ill? 6 successes!]

Gundar glanced up at the spires from time to time. Something about the Gargoyles wasn't right. In fact, it appeared that two of them had changed position since he last looked.

He readied his crossbow carefully and then turned to fire.

[Initiative (roll and count successes): Gundar 3, Gargoyles 2]

Gundar shot his crossbow  [It takes 1 action point to use the crossbow, and he scored 5 successes. Damage is done if the attack has more successes than the target has armor. They have Armor 6 and thus no damage was done] and the bolt sailed past them.

[Since he can take one action per Action Point, he shot again, 5 successes. And again, nothing, and the third time wasn't a charm either.]

The gargoyles attacked Gundar [they have 2 AP each] but cannot penetrate the plate mail.

[After all sides have acted, the initiative moves to the next player, in this case the GM or the gargoyles and then all sides act again. This continues until combat is resolved.

8 Rounds of combat and neither side did anything of note.

Gundar spent an AP to bring on Razorback, an ability on his Ability Card, which improved his armor by 1.]

Tired of wasting time, Gundar took off running through the streets, trying to shake the gargoyles.

[It costs 2 AP to move out of close range combat, so he held 1

For the gargoyles' part of this initiative I asked Mythic, do they pursue? I set it at 50/50 since I have no idea why they chose to attack. 29, yes]

With the advantage of flight, the were able to easily track their prey and attack. 

[It cost them to 1 AP fly into range, leaving 1 AP to attack and they did 2 damage.

On his next turn, Gundar, with 4 AP now, his max allowed, since he saved one when he ran, spent 3 on invoking Red Dwarf to regain 3 health, and then attacked, ineffectively.

Five more rounds and i was tired of the combat so again, I had Gundar try to find a way out.

I asked Mythic, can he find a place to duck into? very likely? 74, yes]

Finally, Gundar ducked into a small dive of a diner, panting. The owner came out, and seeing the armored minotaur, and assuming the worst of anyone so attired, said “Bathrooms are for customers only. Buy something or get out.” 

Gundar handed him a copper for some water and peeked around looking for another way out.

[Again, I used his Notice skill: 4 successes. ]

Gundar spied a door at the back of the kitchen behind the counter. Since the shop keeper was a bit of a grouch, he went to check out the bathroom first, in case there was a window he could fit his large minotaur frame through.

[Mythic: is there a window ? 35, yes.
is it big enought to crawl out? unlikley82, nope ]

Back to the front, Gundar attempted to convince the owner to let him use the back door. He rested his hand on the hilt of his sword, going for the intimidation effect.

[I rolled 4 success for Gundar to 2 for the shop keeper]

Begrudgingly, the shop keeper let him through.

Out in the alley, Gundar glanced up at the skies. 

[Are the gargoyles there? 60, no.]

He made his way out of the Court of Darkness and continued following the river towards the Crystal Caverns.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Projects and Updates

As you may well imagine if you saw my last post, I've got a lot of packages to get together and weigh and get shipping quotes on. That doesn't mean there's nothing else going on.

For those waiting on the next Ever Expanding Dungeon session, it's coming. I tried to calculate the XP for the last three sessions just this evening, but I didn't really have everything on hand to do that, so I'll try again, possibly tomorrow night when I'm not packing up books to send out. I am also trying to find a way to make the survey responses more readily available during a game. In the meantime, I'll be using Mythic Variations for the in-between story while the party heals, before returning them to the dungeon. 

I also have two sessions of Ariale's game to write up. There's been a lot of bloodshed out Fjorgyn's way!

My second  RPG zine, Save vs. Paper Cuts,  a one-pager that I attempted to get done for DragonCon, is sitting around waiting for me to dig out the scanner, scan the cover "art"/"logo". Once that's done, layout will be a snap since it's only one side of a piece of paper. When it's available I'll alert everyone through the usual channels. It will be available for a stamp basically.

The other day, I decided to break out Cthulhu Dark and play a solo game, more to test an idea than to start yet another campaign. I'll write up the whys and such soon.

Friday night, the GURPs campaign I am playing in kicks off. We're playing the Reign of Steel setting/campaign (I guess?). Honestly, we rolled up characters so long ago that I've forgotten all but the overview I came up with for my character (and the GM has the character sheets, so I can't even remember what skills he has). Let's not even talk about whether or not I remember how combat works in GURPs. My enthusiasm for this was really high back in June or whenever it was, but with so many delays, I have to admit, it's kind of waning. I'm hopeful that once I'm there playing, I'll be as excited as I was then.

The next BKC game will feature a Guadalcanal scenario - I just need a 2 hour window to set up and play the game. That might be tomorrow night, or maybe Friday night after I get back from the FLGS.

Speaking of wargaming, there's a pile of unpainted miniatures that keep looking to me to do something with them. Never mind the painted ones that haven't been out in awhile (they will factor into next year's plans i think). The unpainted ones are probably not long for the sale/trade/give away pile. 

And as for challenges and such, here's where i stand currently on the ten games, ten times:

nuts! final version10
Blitzkrieg Commander5
Song of Blades and Heroes0
S&W Whitebox9
Tunnels & Trolls0
Adventure Maximus2
Battle Over Britain2
MIce & Mystics0
Pathfinder Card Game : Rise of the Rune Lords0

Given that there's only 3 months left in the year, and that they are busy months for holidays at that (I have my son's Halloween costume to build over the next few weeks, then November is both NaGaDeMon and NaNoWriMo, December always goes too fast), I doubt I'll finish all ten games, ten times. I started in June though when I first heard of it, so I don't feel too badly about it. 

On the other hand, if I don't play Mice & Mystics or Pathfinder Card Game, they'll probably both go up for sale, since I'll have had both too long without any use and I have lot's of other games waiting to be played that I acquired more recently.

Monday, September 29, 2014

My Yard Sale

Get this stuff out of my house!

Everything is paperback unless otherwise indicated. Consider it all to have shelf wear, to have been read (not always true) and in good condition, unless otherwise indicated. Many are in much better condition but I don't feel like taking the time to take pictures.

Prices are, well, pay what you want.

If you have any questions, ask in the comments.

Here's the deal: If you want anything, 1 thing or 2 things, or even 20 things, leave a comment. First come, first serve. I'll let you know if you are first (this is being advertised in more than one place) and we'll work out the shipping details
What do I want? For starters, you pay shipping. And tracking if not included in your shipping method of choice. And insurance if you want it. All payment via PayPal. Those of you outside the US, please be aware that shipping is ridiculous.

If you're in the Atlanta metro-area and want to come and pick it up, you're off the hook for any cost.

For those who feel compelled to give me something in return, here's what I'd be happy to receive:
cash (via paypal unless it's in person), gift certificates to DriveThruRpg or

Labyrinth Lord
Labyrinth Lord : Advanced Edition Companion (Pending)
Uresia: Grave of Heaven d20 System (Pending)
Space: 1889 (Pending)
Monsters of the Endless Dark, d20 System
Points of Light Campaign Setting
Points of Light II : The Sunrise Sea Campaign Setting
Basic Fantasy RPG (Pending)
Unframed (coffee damaged)
Devilmount (Pending)
Tegel Manor (revised and expanded, water damaged) (Pending)
City Book I
Whitehack (Pending)
Legends of the Samurai (hardcover) (Pending)

Nuts! 2.0
Captain General, Pike and Shot Society
Peiper at the Gates (Two Hour Wargames, Nuts! scenarios)
War Against Japan (Two Hour Wargames, Nuts! scenarios)
Featherstone's Skirmish Gaming, John Curry Reprint (Pending)
Featherstone's Battlenotes for Wargamers, Solo Edition, John Curry Reprint
More Wargaming Pioneers, vol. 4, John Curry
Military Modeling Guide to Wargaming by Stuart Asquith
Terry Wise's Introduction to Battlegaming, John Curry Reprint
Warfare in the Age of Reason (Kind of beat up)
Wellington Rules
DBN 1.0
Volley & Bayonet (status markers uncut)

Battlegames #27
MWAN, #75,  vol 13. No. 5, May/June 1995
MWAN, #76, vol 13, No. 6, July/August 1995
MWAN, #77, vol 13, No. 3, September/October 1995
MWAN, #78, vol 13. No. 4, November/December 1995

From Pike to Shot : 1685 - 1720 by C.S. Grant (Pending)
Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces: Uniforms and Equipment 1932-45, Osprey (Pending)
The Kobold's Guide to World Building (Pending)
Uniforms of the Imperial Russian Army by Borris Mollo, c1979, Blandford Press, Hardcover
U,S. Marine Rifleman: 1939-45: Pacific Theater, Osprey
The French Foreign Legion, Osprey (Pending)
The French Foreign Legion by Douglas Porch (pretty beat up, underlined, highlights, etc)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reflections on the 10th Running of the Trelleborg Campaign

Friday night I ran the tenth session of my open table D&D b/x campaign at my FLGS. Attendance was good - four returning players and one new one, a guest of one of the others. 

There were, I think, two or three big developments:

One thing we have done more or less from the start of this campaign, is to let players roll all of their own dice: secret door detection, listening, thieves skills, etc. This isn't per the rules of course. The players are always supposed to be second guessing whether they succeeded and there was nothing to find, or whether they failed the roll: "You find not evidence of secret doors", "You see no traps on the lock", etc. 

However, as someone somewhere wrote, any excuse to roll dice is a good one, player's like to roll dice, and we're all adults.  In practice, it doesn't really matter if they roll it or i do. there is tension as the dice are rolled and all await the results. 

A success is obvious to all, but often there isn't anything to find, so I decided that success meant the character was certain beyond all doubt that there wasn't the thing in question, be it trap or hidden door or noise making entities on the other side of the door, and that is how i would describe it. 

If they failed, I'd tell them that they found nothing, but obviously, they weren't totally sure. However, if they really botched the roll, I might suggest that they were sure of their finding, despite its incorrectness. The players, the thief in particular since he attempts these things far more often than the others, started, at this last session, doing that himself when he would roll exceptionally above the required target for a find a trap, would turn to the group and say, "It's safe." 

I thought that was pretty awesome.

However, I also started doing something new this session. I think it's from reading Dungeon World and the whole "make maps, leave space" dictum. 

About midway through the session, it dawned on me: if the player's roll a success GIVE THEM A SUCCESS.  Some of you undoubtedly spit your beverage all of your screen just now, and are perhaps shaking your head in disgust. Hear me out.

The base line assumption in most classic RPGs is that the GM/DM knows all, especially when it comes to the dungeon, or the village or whatever, that it is all well laid out. But, the reality is, we improvise a lot. We improvise NPCs, we roll random encounters and go with it. Some DMs randomly generate hexes as their party explores. All I've done is decided that, my map is incomplete.

So when the characters searched a wall for a secret door, and one of the players rolled a 1, damn right there was a door there. News to me AND to the players, which adds some additional enjoyment to the game for me as well - I'm exploring right along with them. 

I started small: a secret compartment with a minor treasure, finding a trap that had already been triggered (so the door was in reality still not trapped). I got a little cocky with a hidden passage to a room (even though I was able to use it to spotlight one of the characters who rarely gets it), and, although I was glad to reveal some more of the history of the dungeon and why the dwarves abandoned it, I inserted something into the fiction during my improv that I'm going to have to think on a bit. Fortunately it doesn't effect the present state of the dungeon, but the players are going to follow up on it as they try to gain an understanding of the place and I should be ready for that.

The other development Friday night was that I learned that my players, at least what I consider my core group, have an interest in a long lasting campaign that goes beyond the walls of the dungeon. There was talk of renovating the ruined tower above the dungeon to serve as their base of operations. They are claiming several abandoned cottages in town to refurbish and use eventually as worker housing (for the crew who will work on the tower), there was a suggestion of creating their own merchant caravan and selling their wares up and down the road to Hedeby, of buying a ship, exploring the coast for natural protected ports and becoming pirates, etc. 

I could not believe my ears; their characters have goals that go beyond the stated mega-dungeon crawl i use to advertise the game. I had hoped for this, but I did not expect it.

It's a very exciting thing - at least from where i sit - although I might need a new name for the campaign!