Saturday, February 21, 2015

Making Up Random Poo Doo: Using Star Wars Galactic Dice Game Dice as Randomizers, Volume 1--Who Do You Know?

Today I happened upon this oddity on the game aisle at the local Walmart:


I have yet to look at the actual rules, but as soon as I saw these, I decided that I had to come up with some kind of randomized . . . thing . . . to use with the Star Wars RPGs.

I may have some other ideas later, but the first thing I came up with is this--when the campaign first begins, have each player roll one of these dice.


 When the above comes up, the player that rolled this die may, when they are called upon to make a Knowledge check, remember an NPC that they know that can give them the information for free.  The player must come up with why the NPC owes the PC a favor, and this favor cannot be called in on Knowledge checks that are of Impossible difficulty.


When the above comes up, the player that rolled this die may call on an NPC to grant them a favor.  The favor may be in the form of one repair, either of equipment or a vehicle, for no charge, and a generally favorable amount of time.  Alternatively, the NPC may upgrade a piece of equipment for free.  The PC must come up with why the NPC owes the PC this favor.


When the above comes up, the player that rolled this die may call upon an NPC to grant them a favor.  The NPC will be a nemesis level character that will show up to help the PCs in a tight spot, even fighting for them and risking his life.  The PC must come up with why the NPC owes the PC a favor, and how the NPC knew that the group was in trouble.


The player that rolls the above may choose to have a minion group wander into a difficult situation to make that situation worse for the PCs.  A fight with a group of bounty hunters might attract a squad of stormtroopers, for example.  After the encounter ends, the player may flip one Dark Side Destiny Point to Light.  Alternatively, the player may chose to add one rank of Adversary to an opponent of Rival level or greater at the beginning of a combat encounter.


The player that rolls the above may choose to have a Rival level character enter a scene and complicate it for the PCs.  A group of Stormtroopers might be reinforced with an officer, as an example.  After the encounter ends, the player may flip two Dark Side Destiny Point to Light.  Alternatively, the player may chose to add two ranks of Adversary to an opponent of Rival level or greater, at the beginning of a combat encounter.


The player that rolls the above may chose to have a Nemesis level character enter a scene and complicate it for the PCs.  An inquisitor might happen upon PCs trying to keep imperial customs agents and army officers away from their ship, for example, or a Krayt Dragon might attack the group when they are engaged with a group of Sand People.  After the encounter ends, the player may flip three Dark Side Destiny Points to Light.  Alternatively, the player may choose to add three ranks of Adversary to an opponent of Nemesis level instead, at the beginning of a combat encounter.

Once everyone has rolled these dice, they do not get rolled again until all of the players have cashed in their die rolls.  Theoretically, this means that the players may get positive and negative rolls, cash in the positive rolls, and "bank" the negative rolls, never getting any more dice rolls.  That's fine.  This is just a way of introducing some narrative randomness and player control into the campaign.

In the event that the players all manage to roll negative rolls, the GM can "buy" those negative rolls by converting the same number of Destiny points that would flip from light to Dark.  Once the GM has done this, that die is "cashed in," and the player doesn't have to suffer the other effects of the die to count as having spent the die roll.

It's random, and it's kind of off the top of my head.  Let me know what you think, and even better, let me know if you decide to use this crazy idea in your own games!

Friday, February 20, 2015

For the Salvation of the Askellon Sector . . . and Other Reasons! (Dark Heresy 2nd Edition Session 1)

The Heresy began last night!



We had our first session of Dark Heresy 2nd Edition last night.  It was a bit abbreviated because we still had a few players finishing up their characters, since we currently only have one Dark Heresy 2nd rulebook between the lot of us.  I suspect we'll be rectifying that situation, but for now, we had to do some sharing.

Also, everyone seemed rather keen on using the optional character generation rules found in this particular document:

Dark Heresy Second Edition Character Creation Supplement

Once we had everyone put together, our warband looked something like this--

Davrus--An Untouchable outcast heirophant from Thaur, Davrus is a creepy old man that isn't well liked by anyone.  He's got ritual scars all over him, and likes wearing his ceremonial robes.

Trip--A young psyker mystic outcast from an undisclosed hive world in the Askellon Sector, Trip is a disheveled young woman who smells of chemicals.

Genevieve--An Imperial Guard  (Astra Militarum) chirurgeon who was void born, the unlikely named Genevieve is a tall, gaunt, greyish man who carries a bloody rock as a memento of his days of Imperial Guard service.

Yasta--A young void-born seeker who was of late working for the Adeptus Arbities, Yasta is enthusiastic about doing her job.

Getting There is Half the Fun

The entire group was going to meet for the first time at Port Aquila on the edge of the Askellon Sector.  They had all been recruited in the last year by mysterious Imperial officials, who gave each of them a cured flesh documents with various symbols enscribed upon them.

I asked each of them how they got from where they were recruited to Port Aquila, and what kind of difficulties they might have run into.

Davrus--Davrus requested a ride from a pilgrim ship administered by the Ministorum, where he was put into a closet like berth due to a request by the Astropath on the ship.  There was a Gellar Field incident, and Davrus was able to stride to the auxiliary system to engage it due to his ability to resist the entities that were bedeviling the crew.

Trip--Trip stowed away on a ship heading to Port Aquila and spent the entire journey hiding from the crew members, lest she be punished for her unlawful passenger status.

Genevieve and Yasta--Genevieve and Yasta both signed up on a Rogue Trader ship that was newly arrived in the Askellon Sector.  Neither of them knew one another, and an outbreak of a strange affliction caused Genevieve to attempt to cure afflicted crew members, but Yasta diligently pacified the crew when it turned unruly, including Genevieve, who was unfortunate enough to get in the way.



(The Rogue Trader ship in question is the ship that our group previously called home during our Rogue Trader campaign.  We like our internal continuity, what can I say?)

Tourists at Port Aquila

Because there was the potential for ruffians to accost individuals if they wandered into the wrong parts of town, I decided to see how the group was going to navigate a large, densely packed station like Port Aquila in order to find their meeting place.

Trip's hive world ability came in handy, and she just navigated to the right spot.  Genevieve used his inquiry skill to ask the Ork serving abort the Rogue Trader ship he arrived on, and the Ork just decided to walk him there, clearing the crowd in front of him.  Yasta asked the Rogue Trader on the ship directly, and she managed to catch the wake of the Ork's passage.

Davrus found a likely low ranking Ministorum acolyte and issued a command to him, and he called up a servo skull to guide him to the docks that he was looking for.

The Method to My Madness



Because it had been a while since we had played a 40K RPG, and the last one was Only War, which was definitely a game where we were relying more on combat oriented skills, I wanted to have a simple situation where I presented the PCs a situation, then asked them how to resolve it, which also gave them a chance to look over their skills and the abilities that modified them.

Nobody got lost, so nobody got accosted by the common thugs waiting in the more shadowy portals of the station.

Come Together

Trip arrived first, and got turned away by the Imperial Guards at the military docks because she looked like a disheveled hive worlder that just wandered into the wrong part of the station.  Genevieve, knowing Astra Militarum procedures better, managed to talk his way onto the ship, and noticed Trip trying  (and failing) to hide.  They realized they had the same flesh parchment adorned with cyphers, and Genevieve vouched for Trip.

Yasta arrived next, and Genevieve was concerned when he recognized Yasta as the eager pacifier from his previous trip.  Yasta apologized, and Davrus arrived.  No one liked the cranky old man, but Trip was especially on edge around him.

The group was taken to a secure area inside the ship by the ship's captain and the Astropath, where they watched a message from their Inquisitor, Theodosia Atilarius.  Theodosia gave them a series of signs and code phrases by which they would know her other agents, and she sent them to join the crew of the Aspirant on the way to Calforil Prime, there to find a missing noble heir in an attempt to quell rioting and uprisings there.

However, their ongoing mission, the one that was to be of tantamount importance to them from this point on, was to find a woman named Jaqueline Adanra.  All other concerns were secondary.

The ship's captain, warned by Davrus that the message may be classified, decided to sit in  (since it was being played on his ship).  As the team set out to find the Aspirant, the ship's captain . . . was relieved of his command . . . permanently.

A Word on Subtlety  

Genevieve and Yasta weren't overly cautious about showing their parchment, and Trip was somewhat vocal about dropping hints about being on official business, so the group moved down the Subtlety track right out of the gate.

A Trip on the Aspirant

Upon arriving at the Aspirant, the ship's Void Master, Paltomar Inwrath, and the ship's first mate, Kaya Sanderil, were very cold to the group.  Despite being warned that the Captain was too good for them, Captain Blain Valor was quite personable to the group, but tried to convince them that rumors of a bad augury for the transition to the Warp were exaggerations.  Then he showed them placards with various prayers on them, and advised them that saying those prayers would likely be a good idea until they were on their way.

The group argued over who would bunk with who.  No one especially wished to be in the room with Davrus, but Davrus wanted to keep an eye on the psyker.  The captain didn't help when he suggested, just as a precaution, that someone may want to have a gun to Trip's head "for safety's sake."

Eventually Davrus took a room with Trip, and had his weapon ready to go, also reciting the Prayer for Accuracy . . . just in case.

The Gellar Fields fluctuated slightly upon transitioning to the Warp, and everyone had to steel themselves against the fear that they would feel upon seeing ghostly images intruding into the ship.  Everyone managed to do so, except for Genevieve, who failed by two degrees.

Being Very Cautious

Genevieve had a ship based superstition that was generated by using the above expanded character creation options.  Because Genevieve's player role played enacting this superstition, I actually gave him a +10 on his fear check, which was good, because that saved him from the three degrees of fear that might have resulted in Corruption.

To Be Continued

We called it a night after the ship got underway, because it seemed like a good place to cut the action for the night, and because everyone had a chance to introduce themselves to one another, establish some personality traits, and make some rolls.

Things I Need To Remember

I don't have the Untouchable rules memorized as well as I wish I did.  I made a judgement call on how they worked at one point, which wasn't a huge problem, but was probably too broad of an application of the resistance to Warp Phenomenon.  Thankfully, we discussed it soon afterwards, and I'll be hewing to how I think it should work from here on out.

Looking forward to the next session, and I think we are off to a good start.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Easing Back Into the Chair on the Other Side of the Screen

So, fairly quickly, I went from playing in two games to playing in a new campaign and running another game.  We'll see how good I job I did attempting to get a campaign up and running in under a week, as this Thursday I start running a Dark Heresy 2nd Edition game at a friend's house.



This will be a little different than my most recent GMing, as this will be at a private residence, and a relatively small group  (3, maybe 4 players).  I am interested to see how this works out, versus the larger groups in a public venue, and I'm hoping this will be a nice transition back into GMing after last year got a bit crazy on the real life side of things.


I'm probably getting way ahead of myself, but because I'm at a private residence, I'm considering crazy things like background music and the like.  I'll have to poll the players and see where this goes, but I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Your Dollars Create Your RPG Environment

I don't care how much you like a company or the people that work for a company, if you don't really like a product, you shouldn't buy it.  Even great people put out crap from time to time, and if you buy it because you want to "support" them overall, not because you like the product, you are subtly encouraging the notion that they just push product out the door.




I learned this lesson by buying every single Forgotten Realms product that was put out, even when I was really starting to question my enjoyment of some of those items, because I bought the line that "if you don't buy it, they may quit making it."


But if you buy everything, they learn that all they need to do is slap a title on it, and they expect it to sell.  Even good people are tempted to fall into this habit if this is the lesson that you teach them with your spending patterns.





I won't point fingers, but I recently visited the message boards of a company where someone very politely asked if there was too much of a given type of supplement to the game, and 90% of the posts in the thread went into full assault mode, questioning the original poster's ability to run and manage a game and their understanding of the rules, and then threw in a few asides about how they could pick and chose what they wanted to use.


What seemed to get lost was that this was a customer that had identified themselves as liking the product overall, but was offering their opinion on what they would be willing to buy in the future and what might cause them to quit buying product.  The members of the forum, rather than acting like fellow consumers, acted like members of an organization that were trying to re-educate a fallen member of the group.





It's fine in response to a post like that to say "this product that you don't like is the kind of thing I enjoy buying," and it's even better if you add, "for these reasons."  It's not really great if your response is "either get your mind right or you are dead to me--if you continue thinking this way you must not be part of the group."


When someone points out that they don't like a given product, that person should give details on what they don't like and why, and they should do so in a reasonable manner, otherwise the people producing the product don't know what the concern is.  The person that has the concerns does not have any kind of responsibility to come up with an entirely new marketing strategy that would produce the same amount of money for the company, as some of the responses seem to indicate.


Having loyal fans is good, but having zealous fans may not be.  In the thread mentioned above, if the person with the concerns had been answered with people stating what they do like about the same products, someone from the company can look at that and say, "okay, there is some concern about X, but not enough that it will effect sales, let's keep an eye on it."





But when 90% of the thread consists of people rabidly proclaiming that they will continue to buy X until Hell Freezes Over, it casts the person who first posted as some kind of outsider troll who is on their way out of the community anyway, and that they can comfortably keep producing X because the "real" fans like X a whole lot, even if they don't plan on ever using it.


I'm not implying that people from the company are too blind or ignorant to understand the difference, but it's a subtle, insidious thing.  Beyond that, the vehement reaction to a reasonably stated concern also tends to dissuade others that might think like the original poster to not post their agreement, because they don't want to get the same kind of aggressive, and honestly, disproportional replies. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, Vague Criticisms, and Losing the Path

I have been really impressed by Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition.  While I think they are doing the right thing with the rules, and by having a slower release schedule than the previous two editions, I do think they are a bit lost when it comes to utilizing their campaign settings, and I am concerned about the strategy of taking a famous adventure or series of adventures, making it a mega-adventure, and shoving it into the Realms to be the theme of their organized play for six months at a time.




So I don't think they are perfect by a long shot.

But this article . . . this article.

Why one of D&D's biggest video game devs thinks that tabletop game has lost its way

According to Feargus Urquhart, D&D has lost it's way, and Pathfinder is carrying the banner of D&D the proper way even if it isn't D&D in name.  Never mind that his company just signed a deal with Paizo to develop Pathfinder games.



I'd argue that while D&D may not have found the right path at the moment, they are a Hell of a lot closer to finding their way now than they were a few years ago.  While I had my problems with "story elements" that changed in D&D, I think the biggest problem with 4th Edition wasn't the core system.  I played in a 4th Edition game, and had fun.  The biggest problem was that about every two months a new rulebook would come along that would present clearly better options than what you were previously using, so if anyone at the table was using the new stuff and you weren't, you looked pretty silly.

"Martial Power just came out, so your paladin can go sit in the corner while I take care of all of the defendering."

"Well, now Divine Power just came out, so I can out defender you!"

Thankfully, there isn't a d20 level based kitchen sink fantasy game that still has this problem.  Er . . . then again . . .

Obviously, Pathfinder sells.  No question about that.  But I would argue that sales don't tell the entire story.

Even with tons of people complaining about 4th edition, it too was selling.  The problem is that it didn't seem to sell as well as parent company Hasbro wanted it to sell, and it didn't sustain it's sales for as long as they would have hoped for a new edition.  As soon as the line showed signs of weakening, D&D, as a brand, did some odd things.



D&D products dried up pretty quickly.  WOTC's organized play support for D&D dropped dramatically, then returned in the form of running really short adventures on a specific night of the week.  They announced a new edition in development way ahead of it's release, scuttling a lot of their sales of 4th edition products.

Right or wrong, it was much different than the transition between 3.5 and 4th, where WOTC sold splatbooks right up until the announcement, and only had a few months before product was on the shelves.  They even had representatives giving less then forthright answers about new editions just a few months before the announcement to keep the splatbook money flowing.



Pathfinder did a very good job of taking a good chunk of market share.  They put out attractive products, good adventures, and a compelling setting.  They were already well on their way to entrenching themselves in permanent 2nd place and threatening 1st when WOTC pretty much called a cease fire while they were working on their next edition.

Pathfinder Society, Paizo's organized play, grew as WOTC's organized play shrunk.  Initially, Pathfinder Society was pretty laid back compared to WOTC's organized play rules, which were nearly as complicated and stringent as the 3.5 or 4th edition rules.

Of course once Pathfinder became the organized play juggernaut, GM ranking, prize levels, special certificates allowing some rules to be used by some players and not others because of where they played a game, constantly shifting errata and rulings, and retired scenarios became commonplace, making it seem not all that unlike WOTC's 3rd edition era of organized play.



In fact, Pathfinder has continued to model 3.5's marketing strategy pretty consistently.  They swapped out Prestige Class Glut for Archetype Glut, but they still publish little books with lots of feats, spells, and traits (which are essentially little feats) and they publish big books with all of that plus new classes as well.

The odds that your core rulebook fighter is going to get owned by some variation of a new martial class is pretty high, and the odds that that new option is going to get out performed by a new option six months down the road don't seem that bad either.

Paizo did many things right when they created the Pathfinder line:


  • They created good, solid, compelling adventures
  • They created a solid setting which allowed for classic D&D tropes as well as a wider range of pulp and sword and sorcery elements than many D&D settings allowed
  • They created an organized play system that was more laid back and easy to get into for newcomers
  • They reprinted and revised the core rules with some tweaks so thet they 'owned" their version of the rules, and everybody was on the same page to start.
Paizo also did some things that helped insure they got sales:
  • They cast themselves as the up and coming small company that wasn't trying to outsell D&D, just put food on the table and put out adventures that they loved.
  • Stated that putting out adventures was always the primary focus, and rules were a distant second.
  • Leveraged the people that already had subscriptions to Dungeon and Dragon Magazines as their new base.
  • Offered free PDFs and deep discounts if you subscribed to multiple lines of product.
You could argue the second list was "right" for them when it comes to business.  While I bear no ill will towards anyone that works at Paizo, and I still think they do a fine job of writing setting material and adventures, when they had already been in 1st place in RPG sales and were still trotting out the "we just need to put food on our tables" line, it starts to ring very hollow.  I'm not saying anybody at Paizo is living an opulent lifestyle, but it's clear they aren't the tiny underdog that is fighting to survive compared to other RPG companies.



Not that it matters to Paizo, because they are doing okay, but here is why they lost my business:

  • When they constantly acknowledged that more classes were a problem with 3.5 splatbooks, yet continued to put new classes in new splatbooks.
  • When representatives of the company had sated on their message boards multiple times that anything used in adventures outside of the core rulebook would be reprinted in an adventure, then they began to refer people to the online SRD  (which is nice, don't get me wrong).  The change wasn't the problem, the lack of admission that it was a change was disturbing.
  • Errata that seemed to only complicate the game, especially in favor of needed feats or spells to accomplish something that seemed to be possible without them previously.
  • Drastic changes to organized play that made it more complicated and catered to people that were already on board rather than new people joining up
  • The prevailing attitude from organized play that previous rulings that weren't currently in favor should have been "known" to have been in error and not acted upon.
  • Multiple poorly edited books that seemed to have been shoved onto the market to hit a release date of Paizocon or Gen Con  (notably Ultimate Magic and the Adventurer's Armory).
  • Products like the Adventurer's Armory, where almost the entirety of it's contents were contained in a hardcover that came out only a few months later, which coupled with it's poor editing made it seem like a "filler" product to hit a release schedule to bring in some cash that quarter
  • Staff responses to questions about editorial quality that were actually hostile, despite the fact that some of the editorial mistakes made rules in those products impossible to implement
The final straw was the realization that part of why substandard material would make it to market was the subscription model.  The subscription model itself makes people unlikely to unsubscribe for a product or two that they may not like, because of the trouble of unsubscribing and resubscribing, and for the possible loss of the deep discount that multiple subscriptions provide.



I'd argue that the subscription model cushions Paizo from bad products.  A certain number of people will buy them automatically, for the reasons detailed above, and Paizo doesn't have the same risk that another RPG company would have for that same product, because the other company would lose money on it.

And while there is nothing wrong with doing this, the deep discounts on subscriptions and the free PDFs, especially without a way for FLGS to participate in either program, discourages FLGS sales of Paizo's products.  Casual players may still pick up the books, but hardcore Pathfinder Society players, like the ones that are likely using the FLGS's floor space, are probably not buying all that much Pathfinder stuff  (although they may still be picking up dice, snacks, etc.)

Look, if you enjoy Pathfinder, I'm not telling you not to do so.  Paizo does a lot of things right.  But those vague "lost the path" comments from Urquhart just really triggered the desire to point out that there are flaws no matter where you look.