Archive for November, 2015

Say My Name

As a follow-up to my earlier feminist gaming post, I happened to get in touch with a certain author of a certain fantasy name generator.  I’m being coy because while he was happy to share all his code and data with me, he explicitly asked that his name be removed from any credit or blame.  I guess that name generator is well over a decade old and not the author’s proudest work.  I think he’s mad, it’s wonderful and has been naming characters in my game world since its inception five years ago.

I have finally rooted through it, pulled out the data I wanted, reformatted it, and added in the missing female names.  It was actually pretty easy to just reformat the tables into something usable by my favorite randomizer: Inspiration Pad Pro.  Even better, I have discovered in the course of doing this that Inspiration Pad Pro now has an Android port, which means I get all these awesome names right in my pocket.  Huzzah!

And of course, share and share alike, right?  So here it is, my Inspiration Pad Pro table for Silly (Awesome) Fantasy Names:

SillyFantasyNames

Crafting my Convention Pitches

OK, so, I think I’ve resolved what I’m going to run at TotalCon, now I just have to submit them by Sunday.  That means writing up a quick description, and perhaps I’m overdoing it, but I always think these are really important.  This is the only information my perspective players have.  This is my one chance to set their expectations, filter out players whose style does not match my own, and hopefully reel in as many good players as I can get.

So here’s my thought, why not post them here and see if I can maybe get a little early feedback?  Maybe you guys can point out some off-putting or confusing language, or ask probing questions that might reveal important info I forgot to include.  Or if nothing else, forcing myself to type these out twice should enforce a double-pass of self-editing.  So here we go, here’s my current slate of ideas for TotalCon:

Title Gentlemen of the Wardroom
System Call of Cthulhu (Custom)
Time Thursday, 7 PM – 11 PM
Welcome gentlemen to the HMS Orpheus, a fifth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy, bound for the West Indies in this the year of our Lord, 1806. Your orders have not yet been revealed by the Captain, but sailor and officer alike are thrilled to escape the drudgery of blockade duty, and perhaps at last find a chance for action against the frogs. Beyond the usual threats of harsh weather, deprivation, mutiny, and privateers looms something too dark and horrible and name. Will you survive to see the hallowed shores of England again?

 

Title Boss-fight for Breakfast
System Classic D&D
Time Friday and Saturday, 10 am – noon (note these are unusually short time slots, I’m hoping to attract like-minded folks that don’t want to get up for an 8 am game, but might also like a little something to do before lunch).
Bring your coffee and your donuts with you for a quick throw-down of classic D&D. We’ve got just two hours so we’ll cut to the chase – kick down the door and roll initiative, because we’re skipping straight to the exciting climax. Use all those potions and spells now, because they’ll do you little good in the here-after. DM will do his best to give you a glorious and heroic death, or maybe, just maybe, you’ll emerge victorious laden with fabulous treasures. Good luck with that. Mid to high level classic D&D, each one is different so feel free to sign up for both if you like.

 

Title The Lost Tablets of Emoria
System Classic D&D
Time Saturday, 1 PM – 5 PM
The scholars of Bridgefaire claim that the source of the undead invaders will be revealed in ancient texts left behind by the ancient Emorians. A team of highly skilled adventurers have been assembled to recover these tablets from their forgotten resting grounds. The fate of the Empire depends on your success! A high level classic D&D adventure set in a long running campaign world.

So what do you think?  Any/all feedback would be appreciated.

Convention Games

OK, Carnage is in the past, and TotalCon is coming very soon.  In fact, I’ve just noticed that their deadline for GM game submissions is this weekend.  Oh geez, time to slap some stuff together.

So, I recently created a spreadsheet of all the convention games I’ve run in the past and have notes ready at hand to run at the drop of a hat.  I cross referenced this against what conventions I’ve already run them at, so I can try and not repeat myself, at least on a convention by convention basis.  Though Carnage and TotalCon do present the interesting problem of having a lot of the same people, and people I really enjoy playing with such that I’d like to bring new material so we can play together again.  Looking over that data I see exactly one game I have in the bag that I could run at TotalCon.  It’s a pretty straight forward D&D adventure I wrote for HelgaCon a while back and I think it will play well with the TotalCon crowd, so it’s on the list.  However, that’s not nearly enough.

Of course, attending a convention is always an immediate boost to the creative juices.  In fact, that’s one of the things I love about attending these things.  I always come away with a million ideas of things I want to try.  The key is to grab onto that energy and make something happen soon, lest it slip through my fingers.  So, here are the ideas currently percolating in my head:

Paranoia

I haven’t run a game of Paranoia in a very long time.  I was talking to Adam about the last game I ran which has prompted me to go dig through my old notes, and I was amazed at how much gold is in there.  That game was run for a bunch of co-workers back at 38, most of which (all of which?) I don’t really see regularly any more.  Which makes me think, maybe I should just dust this thing off and run it again.  The only question is, what rules do I use?  I originally ran it with Paranoia XP, which was fine.  Adam also sent me some custom rules he uses for Paranoia, which seem interesting.  Finally, there’s the current Kickstarter edition which I did back and do have the early beta rules for.  And there’s always the hope they ship before my next convention.  Anyway, I can certainly start getting my material together for this and delay choosing a rules set.  The only downside is that I recall that game being particularly exhausting to run.  Am I really prepared to run that kind of game at a convention setting, where already sleep is in very short supply and the energy may be difficult to raise?

Cthulhu

OK, I’ve never really run any official version of Cthulhu nor am I like to now.  But I did recently formulate what I think is a rather clever system for dealing with sanity and I’d love to test it out.  I’m sure I can dig up some system to give me a simple skill-based platform to layer this over, and then it’s just a matter of coming up with content.  Actually, I have a couple ideas on that too.  This one needs more time and some note taking, but feels like it wouldn’t be too hard to bring to fruition.  Somehow that makes it both the most vague and most promising item on this list for me.

Warhammer

I love the Warhammer fantasy setting, but I’m really not terribly pleased with the crop of rules systems for it.  I prefer 2nd to 3rd, but even then it’s still not my favorite thing to run.  That said, I’ve had an idea in the back of my head for some time now that Warhammer Quest could be expanded out into a fuller RPG system, and I’m pretty curious to experiment with this.  I mean, the Roleplay book that comes with WHQ basically reaches this, but can I take it a step further and eliminate the minis entirely?  Is there enough non-combat stuff in there to make it into a satisfying RPG?  I would also have to layer in some more grimness I think – perhaps the sanity system mentioned above that I have ear-marked for Cthulhu would do well.  I’d also like something for magic mis-haps, which I think is lacking in WHQ.  All interesting stuff and I’m sure it could be done, again it’s just a matter of finding the time to sit down and flesh it out.  And even if I do that just leaves me with a system — I’d still have to write some kind of adventure to test it out.

Short-Span D&D

The final idea is to make some standard D&D content that fits a shorter time limit – specifically 2 hours.  In the past at TotalCon I’ve really enjoyed when a DM I know ran quickie games in the 10-12 time slot.  I’m not getting up for an 8 AM game, but having something light and quick to do from 10-12 is really nice.  The challenge of finding something that fits in that is actually a rather fascinating problem to try and solve.  My current idea is to take some of the more exciting scenes from recent campaign play, things that involve an elaborate fight over interesting terrain, and just play that.  Shoves the players in media-res, and let them play through a single action-packed combat.  It would minimize the exploration, but provided there’s enough scenery to bounce off of and enemies with unusual combat strategies I think it could be quite fun.  It would certainly be very rail-roady, but perhaps the short time-span format would make players more forgiving of that.

OK, so, clearly lots of ideas, and several cons coming up to run them.  I’ve got TotalCon in February, HelgaCon in April, and then we’re off to Origins in June.  The only problem is that game registration for these is frighteningly soon, especially in the case of TotalCon where I’ve only got a couple of days to get my stuff in.  Which honestly probably means writing a quick description for a game that doesn’t exist, and then I’m really under the gun to flesh it out before the convention rolls around.  Plus there’s the risk that as I start to flesh out one of these ideas I lose interest or it just doesn’t come together as I’m hoping it will.  But there’s nothing for it.  I’ve really just got to pick what feels most promising and run with it.  Gulp…

The Carnage of Carnage

As you may have guessed from my previous post, I spent last weekend having a great time gaming at Carnage on the Mountain.  It’s a fantastic convention at a truly gorgeous location, full of really fun and welcoming gamers.  This was my second year attending, and as before it flew past in a blink of an eye.

The hotel is just amazing, I really can’t overstate that.  Our suite was bigger than my first apartment — three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a kitchen / dining room.  It was really amazing, and frankly, a brilliant location for a gaming convention.  Being able to prepare your own meals and not have to go out and scavenge between games is really quite wonderful, especially for those of us with more restrictive diets.

Though some gripe at the manual process of registering for games (paper forms via snail mail), I do kind of like the simplicity of it.  I make a list of the games I want to play, as well as backups, and when I arrive they hand me a list of what I’m playing.  There are no tickets, if you don’t have something to play then you can just pop over and ask a GM to sit in, and if there’s room you do so.  The downside is, that’s exactly the position I found myself in first thing Friday afternoon.  I hadn’t gotten in to either of my choices, and so had nothing to play.

Mike was in the same position, so we roamed around and landed in a Pathfinder Society game.  They were very welcoming and obliging, given that neither Mike nor I knew anything about Pathfinder or the Pathfinder Society.  Note – the latter is something akin to the old RPGA “Living Campaign” style of play, where you maintain a character across games and even conventions.  It was OK, definitely not the kind of game I’d seek out, but better than sitting in the hotel room waiting until 7 PM for the next slot.

Friday night I ran a session of House on Hangman’s Hill, an old Judge’s Guild module I was first introduced to at TotalCon.  After playing it there I obtained a copy and ran it myself at last HelgaCon, where I think it went really well, in part because the party happened to pace themselves through just the right rooms to really feel like there was a solid plot arc through the game.  We were a little more haphazard in our approach when I played it at TotalCon, as was my group here at Carnage.  It was fun play and I had a good group of players, but I think they were rightly disappointed at the end at failing to find a real sense of closure.  This ultimately I think is the problem with these big old rambling modules.  On the one hand, there’s tons of interesting stuff for the players to explore, which really gives them a sense of agency.  On the other hand, they can totally screw it up, or just have a bit of bad luck, and leave the game having difficulty assembling a narrative from it.

Saturday I had no games to run myself.  I played a Call of Cthulhu game in the afternoon with Andre Kruppa, who incorporates some pretty fancy lighting and sound systems into his game.  Andre is a great GM, and frankly I think his game would be really fun with just paper and pencils at hand, but he clearly digs going that extra mile and I have no gripes about that.

In the evening I played my first session of D&D 5e ever.  It was OK.  It was a big group with an even more open sand-box setting, and so again we struggled finding the right pieces to build a plot from.  The DM was very good, and I really enjoyed a lot of his content, though when you’re exploring or solving puzzles it really doesn’t matter what system you’re using.  The actual system I can say is definitely not my cup of tea.  It feels to me like a slight improvement on 3rd, which I suppose is what one would have hoped for out of 4th, and so now that we’ve got it I guess that’s an improvement.  Still, not knowing the system I chose a 6th level halfling fighter to play, and for a fighter with no magic items, geez was there a lot of stuff on that character sheet.  So many options to keep track of!  I know that some people really dig that sort of thing, and I don’t want to dump on that, I can just honestly say it’s not for me.

Sunday morning I scraped myself out of bed to run my last game from 10 am to 2 pm.  I have to say, good on Carnage for inventing this time slot.  They still have games from 8-12 and 1-5, but man 8 am is way too early for me to get up for a game after a long night of booze and chatter, and with a 3.5 hour drive ahead of me I really don’t want to be leaving after 5.  Thus this time slot was perfect, and I was happy to run my game “Gloomwood Falls”, which is really just a 1-page dungeon torn from the pages of my home campaign.  It happens to have a purple worm encounter in it, which never fails to both terrify and delight the players.  This time I managed to swallow 3 of them whole, a new personal record!

The only off thing for me this convention was how few official players I had sign up for my games.  Both games specified 4-8 players.  My first game had 2 signed up, though fortunately we managed to pull in 3 more as we were preparing.  I was very worried for a while there though, and was ready to can the whole thing and go find something else.  Sunday morning I had 4, and by the time we ended I had 7, so that was actually perfect.  I suspect a fair number of folks perhaps left that time slot open thinking they would see if they had the energy on the spot, and then were happy to fall into my game.

So the question is, why am I having trouble gathering players?  The guy running the 5e game ran his game every slot of the convention (it was really one continuous hex crawl, kind of an interesting idea), and also maxed out at 8, and had to turn away people every slot but Sunday.  Is it the games I’m running?  Am I failing to promote them correctly in my descriptions?  Is old school popularity dying out?  (I think I was one of two people running old school at the convention).  Or did I just choose unpopular time slots?

Given my own trouble finding a game to play on Friday afternoon, I’m tempted next year to sign up to run something in that slot, so I know I’ll have something to do.  On the other hand, if Friday is even quieter in the afternoon than the evening, I may have trouble scraping together enough players, and still be left searching for something else.  Perhaps I need to play to the ebb and flow of attendance – maybe try something a bit more experimental that requires a smaller group on Friday, and then do my traditional giant dungeon crawl on Sunday.

And that’s what was in my head when I sat down to right this post.  What happened, how did this become a full on convention report?  I guess I’ll have to save my ideas for future con games for another post.  Hold onto your hats, because I have several ideas, and rather shockingly most of them do not involve D&D!

Tropes vs. Women in RPGs

Last night I was recounting to Jenn what Adam and Mike had told me about the “overt sexism” they experienced in one of their games this past weekend at Carnage.  (Which, at first, I misheard as “avert sexism” and thought it was some kind of weird mechanic built into the game — roll to avert sexism!)  Apparently they were playing a game set in ancient Rome, and there was one female player playing the one female character who was a courtesan.  Despite the GM informing the group that at this time courtesans were a respectable role with some level of authority, this did not prevent some of the other players from immediately assuming courtesan is a synonym for prostitute, and making “clever remarks” in that direction.  And despite the female player’s obvious discomfort, and Adam and Mike’s attempts to move on to other topics, the comments persisted throughout the game.

It’s unfortunate that some RPG players will always jump to the conclusion that roleplaying a character in a time period when sexism was more prevalent that this means it’s OK to be as big of a jerk as possible, and we’ll all enjoy a laugh at their foibles.  Roleplaying really does require buy-in and trust on both sides of the table though.

I could ramble on about the need to read your audience and have trust at the gaming table, but that’s not my point here.  What I found most interesting was Jenn’s reaction to this anecdote, which was along the lines of “Yeah, if you’re the only girl at the table you should never play the only female character.”  It was such an interesting statement I started prodding into other edge cases.  What if there were other female characters to choose from but only male players?  (Wait to see if some of male players play one of the female characters first.)  What if there are other female players but only one female character?  (Skip the female character, play a male character.)  What I found so surprising here was not necessarily the actual answer, but the fact that Jenn had them so readily at hand.  Clearly she had thought this through and had made a set of mental rules.

This is kind of disappointing really.  I never think of such stuff when sitting down to play a game.  Generally I do prefer to play male characters over female, but only in the same way that say I prefer playing humans to elves and dwarves.  I have certainly played my share of female characters at convention games.  I suppose this is male privilege for you.

Also, over the years I have become accustomed to Jenn playing male characters at my own games, so much so that it is now ingrained in me to ask any female player if their character is male or female before accidentally using the wrong pronoun.  But I don’t do this to my male players, and that kind of sucks.  I am really not sure if this means I should try to stop myself from doing this, or do it to everyone, or just continue on as I have been.  Is asking this question being open and accommodating for players more likely to be playing a different gender?  Am I being insultingly sexist by only asking the girls this question?  Would it be overly PC to ask everyone?

And in pondering all that, I realized one of the problems is in the characters themselves.  I bring about double the character sheets I need for any game I run at a convention..  This is in part to give players options, partly to allow for the occasional character death, and partly because I use a random generator so it’s really very easy to do so.  My random generator in turn uses Chris Pound’s “Silly” fantasy name generator, which I absolutely adore.  The names are fantastic.  This weekend we saw a dwarf in full plate wielding two magic daggers named “Grisha the Killing Machine”.  We also had a hammer wielding fighter named Rodor the Laborer, backed up by Orzaize the Blue Wizard, whose player decided to describe all his spells as being colored in blue in some way, and some discussion was had about his hopes for promotion to Silver Wizard and tenure when he returned to the magic college.

Some players change the names, which I have no problem with, and I even often make the point that they should feel free to do so if they like at the start of the game.  Many players though (the good ones in my opinion), will pick a character in part because of the name.  All that said, in looking over the names spat out by that generator, I’m noticing a strong lack of female names.  In fact, I’d say all the names are either obviously male or ambiguous.  There are no clearly female names in the entire thing.  And that means that at the table when I turn to a female player and she’s playing “Grimbold Oakshield”, it does not seem unreasonable to ask “is your character male or female?”  And perhaps it explains why I’m more likely to do this with a female player than a male player.

OK, so resolutions:

  1. Find a way to incorporate some obviously female names into my random characters.  This may mean having a poke into Chris Pound’s name generator to figure out how it works so I can modify the output, or perhaps simply taking a dump of names from it and then hand-massaging some percent of them to feminize them.
  2. When starting up a convention game I often go around the table and ask for character name, race, class, level, and AC, just so I can make a quick cheat sheet and not have to ask those questions over and over while playing.  Perhaps I should add gender to that list, that way I get it from everyone and just don’t have to think about it later.

I am quite satisfied that resolution #1 there includes digging into some new code.  This reinforces what I’ve always found obvious: all problems can be solved with better code.  I am the man with the hammer.

Multi-Classing

After returning from my trip abroad I was greeted home with a horrible flu.  But I did manage to get that one post in before resigning myself to days of day-time TV curled up on the couch.  Actually, in this day and age of streaming TV day-time TV isn’t quite the same curse it was to the cold sufferer of my youth.  But, that’s all behind me, so what’s on my radar now?

Well, Carnage is this weekend and I’m woe-fully under prepared.  That’s not really true, I did cleverly sign up to run stuff that I have run at other conventions so really I should be able to just dust off my notes from previous runs and off we go.  The one bit of work I do need to do though is generate some characters.  I’ve been doing this long enough that of course I have some scripts I wrote to automate the process, but as my house rules are ever morphing I find each convention that creeps up I have to revisit those scripts and make some minor corrections.

This time around I find myself thinking about my rules for multi-classing.  First, let’s look at what I’m using in my home campaign right now:

IV. Multi-classing

Players may take on additional core classes (not including Ranger or Paladin) upon reaching 2nd level. They may never have more than three total classes, nor ever be both a cleric and a magic-user. A character’s second class can never exceed level 8, his third class is capped at level 4.

  • Must sacrifice single highest level of experience, XP is pro-rated at time of multi-classing.

  • Must have a 9 or higher in the prime requisite of the new class.

  • Must track all stats (XP, hit points, etc.) for each class. Always pick the current highest value as the actual value. May choose highest value for saves for each individual save.

  • Must choose at the start of each adventure which XP pool XP earned will go towards.

  • May use all abilities of any class. May not cast magic-user spells in armor heavier than chain mail. May not use thief skills in armor heavier than leather.

  • Elves may begin play as level 1/1 multi-class character, provided one class is magic-user.

That’s directly out of my 3-page booklet of house rules for my game, affectionately known as the BXCL (B/X Change List).  So, how has this affected my home campaign?  I currently have 7 players in my game, and they include 1 human fighter, 1 dwarf fighter / cleric, 2 paladins, 2 elf magic-user / fighters, and 1 elf magic-user / thief.  As the paladin class is specifically proscribed from multi-classing, that leaves 5 players out of which 4 have decided to multi-class.  In fact, the 5th one would have done so, but his stats are all so terrible that he doesn’t have the required 9 in any prime-reqs of alternate classes — likely why he chose fighter in the first place.

There are two things in play here that I’m not terribly happy with.  First off, that’s a lot more multi-classing than I would hope for.  I like multi-classing, but I prefer to see it in a minority of characters.  In my mind it should be for support characters willing to sacrifice some power for more flexibility, not an obvious tactic that simply makes all characters better.  Secondly, note how all the elves are first and fore-most magic-users.  I do like that elves encourage multi-classing, as it harkens back to the original B/X concept that all elves were essentially fighter/magic-user hybrids, but what about a fighter/thief, or even a fighter/magic-user over the magic-user/fighter?  It turns out that the rules above basically highly encourage players of elves to choose magic-user first, so that they won’t be level capped in magic-user and thus can conceivable obtain 5th level spells (available at magic-user level 9).  Conversely, what you miss out on for limiting fighter or thief to level 8 is far less powerful – a third feat for fighters, and the ability to read magical scrolls for thieves at level 10.  The choice to all my players has been obvious.

So, here are some alterations I’m considering:

First, I think maybe I should increase the stat requirement for multi-classing in general.  Let’s make it a littler harder to obtain so we see a few more single-classed characters in the wild.  The obvious choice for me seems to be to raise it to 13, as that’s the point where the related modifier increases from 0 to +1.  That’s a pretty strong change in probabilities – according to this site the chances of getting a 9 or higher on any given stat is 74%, while the chances of a 13 are only 26%.  Assuming that we don’t care about the prime req of your starting class, and we don’t care about the 2 stats that are not prime-reqs for any class (Constitution and Charisma), the chances of any given character being able to multi-class is the chance of getting a 13 or higher on any of three rolls.  Or to make the math easier for me, it’s the inverse of the chance that you roll 12 or less on all 3 rolls — 74% x 3 trials is about 40%, thus 60%?  Am I getting that right Delta?

Huh, that’s still higher than I expected.  Should I go even more severe?  I don’t know, I don’t want to swing the pendulum too far to the opposite side, and honestly, it’s taken many many months of play to observe the current trend naturally in my player base.

The other problem is probably simpler to tackle – to find a way to encourage a more even distribution of multi-class typed elves.  Obviously whatever solution I find to the general rate of multi-classing will apply just as well to elves, so really the only problem here is that there’s no reason to pick magic-user as the second class when taking advantage of the free first level multi-class.  I could obliterate that rule entirely, but I do still like the idea that elves are somewhat magical in nature and thus more inclined to at least learn a little magic.  So perhaps I just need to restrict it a bit more?

Some of my players have suggested just changing it to a free second class in magic-user.  That is, a starting out elf may start as a level 1/1 something / magic-user for free.  This means players of elves that want to reach name level as magic-user will either be single classed, or have to pay for their multi-classing the same as every other starting character.  The bonus will be restricted to players who wanted to play fighter or thief primarily, and happen to have a high intelligence and don’t mind have a little free magic on the side.

I kind of like that ruling, but I want to think over both of these a bit more before I make up my mind.  I suppose that means for the coming convention that I will just stick to what I already have.  I really should make decisions on this stuff soon though, as I’ve been promising my players to do so for some time now.  Not that it’s hugely important, as obviously any already existing characters in my game will be unaffected.  Though you never know when a poisonous snake might get in a lucky bite, and it’s time to roll a new character, right?