Sunday, March 31, 2013

Rock and Role the III

Rock & Roll Bands and Plot Points for your Game Mastering Pleasure:

> The Broken Window Streets

RPG Genre – Modern Fantasy

Musical Style and Image – Emo. Rather than adopt the standard black t-shirt, jeans, one-eye-behind-black-locks image, the boys of the Broken Window Streets (tBWSts) decided to go for something a bit more theatrical. They performed their first gig dressed as undertakers– black suits, green plastic apron, & latex gloves. Another show they played in all black western wear. The next gig they showed up on stage in ladies’ funeral-wear complete with black veils. They now have quite a collection of eclectic and depressing costumes. The boys definitely enjoyed the sharp clash between the honest despair of their music and the silly theatricality of their outfits. They’re very proud of the fact that they could still make their audience cry while the bass player’s wearing a dress and the drummer’s in a bolo tie. They’ve earned a steady following throughout much of the state.
Members – Jack Sedgwick on Vocals, Greg Howard on Guitar and Backing Vocals, Will Reed on Drums, and formerly Tim Burgess on Bass and Backing Vocals. Tim has been replaced by Jeff Derek.

Best Known Songs – “Miasma Miami”, “Nothing Left Leaving”

A Dark and Strange Plot Hook – Jack’s made a mistake. He enlisted the aid of a dark supernatural force and now everything’s spiraling out of control.
     Jack got drawn into the emo scene by his life-long friend Tim. Tim had always been a melancholy person and in the local scene actually found some sort of acceptance for who he felt himself to be. Jack was pulled in by the dark allure and interesting girls. When they formed tBWSts, Tim wrote all the songs but was too shy to be the front-man. Jack was naturally extroverted and stepped in to sing. It worked. Jack grew to exult in the power he held over the audience. He loved to watch them break down, loose themselves, and cry. With his own stage presence and Tim’s words, Jack was getting everything he wanted. Trouble was though, Tim got better.
Tim was finally diagnosed with Dysthymia. With therapy and medication, Tim found peace, went back to school, and quit the band. Jack just couldn’t keep ‘em weeping with the same old songs and without Tim’s somber presence.
     Jack made a dark deal. The strange figure didn’t seem to demand much for what Jack was given. In exchange for the power to bring true sadness with his music, Jack and the rest of tBWSts simply had to play at least one show a week. The power proved to be too great. Several of the fans have now attempted suicide in the months after Jack’s deal was struck. The one successful attempt so far was Tim Burgess.
     Jack is wracked with guilt and desperate for the horror to stop. Every week, though, he and the rest of the band are mystically compelled to play in front of an audience. The only way to break the pact is for either Jack or the mysterious figure to die. Hopefully the PCs can come up with some clever solution before someone else dies.

> Sweltering Hellpipes

RPG Genre – Modern Action

Musical Style and Image – Psychobilly/Rockabilly. Rocking quiffs, mohawks, rolled-up jeans, brothel creepers, and even acid-washed overalls, the Hellpipes are exemplars DIY Psychobilly aesthetics. Other than upright bass player Tiny Tina, the Hellpipes are all big, barrel-chested men. She seems out of place in her baby-doll dresses and almost too small to play her instrument, but everybody, in the know, knows that Tina’s started and finished more fights than the other four combined.
Members – “Blistering Barry” Schmidt on Vocals and Keyboard, “Long Johnny” Garret on Rhythm Guitar, “Big Jimmy” Anderson on Lead Guitar, “Tiny Tina” O’Toole on Bass, and “Brick” Benson on Drums.

Best Known Songs – “Nothing New Will Do”, “Brick-Fist Stand”

An Odd Plot Point – Word on the street is there’s a custom auto shop that does all manner of interesting work, discreetly and at low prices. Armor plating, hidden weapons, hidden compartments, run flat tires, rotating license plates, and just about any other type of modification can be had at this shop, at less expense and with less risk of extortion than at the local mob-run outfits.
     Ted Travers, local drug dealer at odds with the mob, now cruises around in an unassuming yet bullet-proof ’88 blazer. Kyle Barns has a custom, jet-black ’52 Chevy Pickup complete with a hidden, refrigerated compartment in each fender for his smuggling operation. The only common link between these two men? They are both fans of the Sweltering Hellpipes.
     Tiny Tina, Brick, and Long Johnny all run a small custom auto shop, Hellstreet Kustoms. Johnny may have snapped under the pressure of his course-load and never finished his degree, but he still has a knack for engineering. The three of them are able to custom machine and build anything their purchaser’s desire, but only if they approve of what’s being done with the product. They’ll do a custom spoiler or paint-job for anybody paying, but for the illegal and/or dangerous stuff, they’ve got to know the buyer’s a good guy.
     Ted the drug dealer has a conscience. He only sells weed and ‘shrooms, hates the hard stuff (and anybody who pushes it), and won’t sell anything to kids. He actually IDs the people he sells to. Plus he’s at odds with local mob because he refuses to work for them. That makes him ok in Tina, Brick, and Johnny’s book.
And the smuggler Kyle’s product is unpasteurized, unaged French cheeses. Illegal in the states, he sells the stuff to foodies and a few high-end restaurants. Plus he keeps Tina in her Camembert.
Hellstreet Kustoms has come under attack for its association with Ted Travers and its foray into the mob’s territory of illegal auto modifications. Tina’s even put one of the mafia’s bruisers in the hospital, but they can’t hold them off forever. With all the new pressure, Hellstreet’s proprietors are extremely wary of anyone new asking about their more clandestine services.
If the PC’s can win their trust, they can do any sort of custom auto work quickly and discretely.

For more rock and roleplaying miscellany, check out my previous articles here and over there

Saturday, March 23, 2013

System Shock and Dice Drops

I’ve recently taken quite an unexpected jolt and totally failed my system shock roll. My wife is unexpectedly - and despite our efforts to the contrary – pregnant.
I am by nature a planner so this news hit me like ton of upsetting bricks. Now, I don’t mean that I need flow chart to get through day to day tasks, and I never make a list before going grocery shopping. What I need to process anything is a good understanding of the abstract principles behind it and some reasonable amount of data from experience or research so that I can make the correct decisions.
I had no experience, minimal data, and no specific guiding principles. My brain was dead-locked until a few days ago. Creative enterprises had been pretty much out of the picture for the past couple of weeks.  
Well I decided to give my brain a bit of a jumpstart with some inspiration from the good Gnome, Mr. Martin Ralya. (Go on and read it. I’ve got infinite time since this is a one way communiqué being read at your leisure. So really you’ve got to ask yourself if you’ve got the time. [You’re reading this nonsense so I’m guessing the answer is yes.])
I printed out a blank hex map to use as my die drop table and hand labeled it (‘cause I don’t like how Hexographer labels it). I quickly figured out why hex maps aren’t normally labeled like gridded maps. Each column is –of course– offset from the previous column, making labeling the rows problematic. (The reverse of that could be true but that’s not how I printed it so shut-up.) Anyway, I stubborned my way through that and it was time to pick ye ole dice and what they represent.
I wanted to make a map for sort of a scarcely-tamed and quite rough wilderness area on the outskirts of a more civilized kingdom in a low-fantasy setting. Just like Martin suggested, I decided a higher number rolled means a greater intensity of whatever it is.
5d6 – Mountains (If # is 5 then 1 Adjacent square is Mountains, 6 then 2 Adjacent Squares are Mountains)
6d6 – Hills
6d6 – Forests
4d6 – Swamps/Bogs
1d3 – Fort (# is 10’s of Soldiers)
1d24 – Fort (# is Number of Soldiers)
3d5 – Farmland (Haphazardly spread Homesteads)
1d7 – City (# Approximate Population in 100’s)
1d12 – Market Town (# of services available)
1d16 – Goblin Hunting grounds (# is 10’s of Population)
1d10 – Giant Territory (# is members of Tribe +1 Chief and his Son)
1d14 – Ancient Ruins (# of Standing Ruins)
1d3 – Catacombs (# of Levels)
1d8 – Temple (# of Priests/Size of Temple)
Everything else is rocky scrubland to the North and grasslands to the South.

Cronnon and the Southern Marches

A1 – Catacombs of Caeldwyn – Very few know of its existence. Rumored to be filled with ancient loot. Land nearby is said to be blighted.  One Level.
B4 – Ruins – From the same Lost Civilization as the Catacombs. 9 Rooms of various Buildings are more or less intact but very unstable.
B7 – The Blasgraya, Goblin Tribe – Feral hunters and gatherers led by an animistic shaman. Northern settlers and new generations of farmers from New Hope are beginning to encroach on the tribal hunting grounds.
C1 – The Sovereign City of Cronnon – Formerly attached to a much larger Kingdom to the North, Cronnon lost touch with the rest of the world 6 generations ago. The City is ruled by a Senate of various craft Guilds. Cronnon’s strong, stone walls could easily house 600+ but the population has dwindled to just over 100 souls living permanently in the town proper. More and more the young of the city head out to homestead at the settlements to the East and South. There are almost no craftsmen outside of Cronnon.
C2 – Old Fort – Now manned by a skeleton crew of 10 soldiers, the Old Fort once spread the might of Cronnon through the countryside. Many shepherds still rely on the Fort’s meager protection as they graze their herds through the surrounding hills. Rumor says it was built on a much older structure.
C7 – The New Hope Settlements – 5 firmly established homesteads and dozens of other families with only one or two hard-won acres. Almost no craftsmen are to be found amongst the settlers. Tools, cutlery, crockery, and all other crafted goods are hard to come by and fetch a high price.
C9 – Fungal Blighted Swamp - A black ash-like fungus has killed most of the trees and other plant life.
D7 – Glyndon Swamp - Named after the man who failed to tame it, this fetid, still-water swamp is said to be the home of restless, fey spirits.
E1 – Gowenfries – Market Town – Facilitates trade between the artisans of Cronnon & the farmers of the Brendanauch Settlements. Services available: Inn, Tavern/Brewer, Seamstress, Ropemaker, Cooper, Cobbler/Leatherworker, and sometimes a Wandering Tinker. Gowenfries is governed by a Sheriff appointed from the Cronnon Council.
E6 – Gods’ Tree Settlements – Only two generations old, Gods’ Tree has two established orchards growing apples and pears. There are  also a smattering of first generation families. Settlers found an abundance of wild fruit trees when they arrived and named their land after an ancient, incredibly large apple tree. The Scragdale family can even boast having an experienced blacksmith in their employ, though he often wants for supplies.
F9 – Clasbreeg Tribe of Giants – This tribe roams the plains looking for prey and fiercely defend their territory. The seven females range in height from 7’3” - 7’8” with long, lean limbs. The male Chieftain and his son are much stockier and stand at 8’1” and 8”3’ respectively. The females hunt and gather, while the two males share leadership duties.
G3 – Cronnon Watchtower – Built ostensibly to help protect Brendanauch, this watchtower is guarded at all times by no less than three of Cronnon’s best fighters.
H3 – Brendanauch Settlements – Nearly five generations old, this well established area boasts 5 sprawling, fertile farms. The original settling families now hire dozens of hands each spring and fall and keep large staffs year round. The settlement pays taxes to Cronnon in exchange for the right to trade in Gowenfries.
H7 – Temple of Shadow’s Eye - Formed during the Downfall of the Greater Kingdom, this small, self-sustaining temple has existed in secret for over a century. It’s dedicated monks pray to all the known Gods (Good, Evil, and Otherwise) to cure the Shadow of Isolation and bring back the Light of Civilization. 2 of the Seven Brethren are old and close to death. Soon the Order will have venture once more into the world to replace them.
That’s it for the Cronnon and the Southern Marches. I’ve left plenty of room for everyone to fill in the blanks as they see fit. The wonderful chaos of the all-mighty dice helped me create an odd, nuanced, and isolated dark ages micro-setting that otherwise would never have been.
I can just imagine all the fun one could have unleashing the Mythos, an Egalitarian Revolution, or a Savage Horde on this little backwater. I’m terribly pleased with the whole process and highly recommend it. Roll them Bones and see what happens.

Plus it was the perfect excuse to dick around with my weird Gamescience dice. How often do you have a reason to roll a d5?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Beyond the Books and Character Sheets

     While much of the focus of RPG discourse centers around all things mechanical, the crunch, the numbers written on a character sheet, actual play revolves around very different aspects. It is the slew of things that never touch a character sheet and rarely grace the pages of rulebooks that composes the majority of the actual roleplaying experience. The beating hearts of our nerdly enterprises are more ephemeral than we typically remember. The things that matter most, the most quintessential elements of roleplaying, never get written down on a character sheet. 
     Primarily, RPGs are games of communication. An environment is described and a shared mental landscape emerges, hopefully similarly held by all involved. Actions are declared and results are adjudicated. (Sometimes this may result in using character sheets and mechanics, but more often than not it won’t.) Tabletop/Pen-and-Paper Roleplaying Games are composed of words and choices more than dice and math. Characters are far more expansive than two or three stapled pages.
     Most of a character’s personality will develop away from whatever brief and never-updated descriptors from which it begins. It will be informed by emerging plots, small victories, and large losses. It will be shown by dialogue and action. The words “vicious and coldly-driven” mean far less than the memory of Cnut the Brazen setting fire to his enemies’ mead-hall and slaughtering the lot of them as they fled choking and weak. Those actions are Cnut.
Any given campaign resides a bit in the scattered and infrequent notes of the players, a bit in the best laid plans of the Game Master, but mostly in memories. It’s great quotes, crazy gambits, loved NPCs, hated antagonists, and the unfathomable choices that PCs make. These are the important things not a +12 to dodge, not the rules for drowning in slime from splat book Z14-a, and not some levels in uber-prestige-kit-class Vamp-Blaster.
Try and keep in mind what the game really is next time being a Rules Lawyering Prick seems like a good idea. I mean it is Game Master’s Day for pike's sake.