Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Quick Thought & A Question (or Three)

Something has occurred to me over the past few days, and I've decided to share it.

I can't think of any hobby off-hand that considers itself in theoretical terms as frequently as Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games. Why is that?

I'm not sure.

Perchance it has to do with the unique, often misconstrued, and somewhat historically unprecedented nature of what we do. Are we attempting to define Tabletop Gaming for ourselves?

Mayhaps it's the minimum levels of curiosity and creativity needed to participate in our hobby which drive us to such esoteric heights. Does creativity + curiosity lead to a theoretical bent?

It is possible I am simply unaware of the way other hobbyists write about their avocations.

(In passing, I considered the way poetry enthusiasts [a dying breed we are] often dive deep into the technical/critical/theoretical side of things. Then I thought of how stunningly rare it was for me to have these types of conversations outside of a classroom filled with other English majors. Barring fellow students, I've ran across damn few who liked poetry and had any understanding of prosody.)

As always, dear readers, your thoughts, comments, questions, and spewing vitriolic hatefulness* are welcome.

*Please limit all vitriolic hatefulness and general bile to well written blocks of prose (or heroic couplets). Patently stupid comments will be removed. Thank you for frequenting Violent Media: Dice and Design. Buy Moxie.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Calling HQ: Review of Cosmic Patrol

Finally, the long-awaited review of Cosmic Patrol that I almost, sort-of promised a long time back that no one but me probably remembers. Take that, sentence structure!

This Image Per This License.

The Feel

First off, Cosmic Patrol (Cosmic-P hereafter) is a very particular sort of a game. Its native setting explodes with retro-future moxie. Keeping the peace in our solar system, it's the Cosmic Patrol to the rescue! Drawn from a pool of the best and brightest across three planets (Earth, Mars, and Venus), the Patrol explores the reaches of the known universe and beyond. 

Cosmic-P is a rule-of-cool, anything goes, narrative-driven, GM-less game. In case that list of adjectives isn't quite elucidating enough, allow me to explain further. Cosmic-P, in essence, revolves around collaborative storytelling. The players are all coming together to craft a fun story on the fly. (Almost) all the rules are written to aid in this process. Everyone involved can be reasonably assured of an equal opportunity to direct the plot. Be Warned: No real effort has been made towards verisimilitude. In other words, this is soft scifi by the seat of your pants! There are lizard-aliens and tentacled boxes and  mind plants, oh my!

As you might have noticed, it's a bit difficult to speak of the Cosmic-P in any other form that the exlcamative! The 135 page corebook is written in an enthusiastic and casual tone. Overall it's intuitively structured, pleasant to read, and easy to use.  

The Mechanics

The actual workings of the game are as dead simple as a narrativist game ought to be. Stats have dice values. Wanna do something? Roll your stat + d12 vs a d20. Simple. Combat? Roll your combat stat vs the other guy's combat stat to lay down some damage. Every character has Stats in Brawn, Brains, Charisma, and Combat plus one Special Stat that helps to differentiate him/her from everybody else. Who's turn is it? The turn order flows according to the actual seating arrangement (as good a method as any for a story game like this).

Speaking of characters, the default assumption is that you'll be playing pregenerated characters. Those included cover the spread from marines to scientists to capitalists. The characters are described in terms of Stats as well as Cues and some other brief descriptors. Cues: These little gems are quotes that really drive home who the characters are and, in a pinch, give the players something to quip when the gonzo has 'em speechless. 

The Innovation

Like I stated above, there are no Game Masters. Instead, Cosmic-P  has everyone take turns at being Lead Narrator (LN). The LN takes up the tasks of the GM: describing the environment, rolling the vs die during stat checks, rolling for bad guys, etc. The role shifts to another player at each scene.

Scenes are defined by Mission Briefs, the Cosmic-P version of modules. Each mission brief includes the familiar Cues as well as Objectives, Tags, Enemies, and Obstacles. These brief descriptors are there for the LN to riff off of while running his/her scene, but the LN isn't the only one allowed to alter or make-up the plot.

 At any time, any player can cash in a plot point to alter or add to the plot as the player sees fit! In Cosmic-P anything goes...  the rules recommend that anytime someone alters the plot -no matter how zany- you simply reply, "Yes and...". (How very improv.) Here's the real kicker: when it's your character's turn to act if you find yourself without Plot Points to spend, you get another one. The game practically shoves you into twisting the plot.

(Rules and blank sheets are available to craft Patrolmen and Mission Briefs of your very own.) 

The Glitz

This Image Per This License.
The corebook is smartly laid-out in an excellent modern-style suffused with raygun gothic. The illustrations have a bit of a cartoon bent to them and are perfectly suited to the subject matter. In high contrast, stepped-on red with white lettering, the cover strikes a bold note which is continued through the black, white, and grey-scale interior.  This is a sharp-looking book, and I wish I could afford the dead tree version. That being said, the PDF is thoroughly bookmarked, reads easily on a 7" tablet, and prints well to boot.

The Bleh

My two very minor complaints about this tome par excellence both revolve around combat. For one thing, a game like this ought to be very fast-paced. The number of armor pips the bad guys have make things drag a bit during combat. This is easily avoided via Plot Points and creative narration, but I'm not sure I want to spend Plot Points every single combat. Next time we play, I think we may just ignore the top and bottom rows of armor pips on baddies or jack up the weapons damage. Secondly, combat rolls not having d12 accompany them was counterintuitive. I understand this helps to speed combat up slightly; it just caused a bit of confusion. 

All in all,  Cosmic-P is one hell of a good time. You will need at least one or two very creative, energetic folk to push things along, but by the end of the session everyone'll be throwing down Plot Points like candy and smiling like mad. 

Should you buy this? Yes.

Score of 9.5/10

Check Out for more!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Horror Crimson

 You know that tedious, incharacter expository fiction that permeated TSR splats in the 90s? Well hopefully this is better than that.

I've had this idea floating around in the back of my mind for a while. I guess it's got a bit in common with that video game Bioshock. in that it's underwater and people are terrible.

1) I don't play video games.
2) This isn't a dystopia; Nobody meant for this to happen. 'Tis a full-blown, post-apocalyptic, science-fiction, survival horror. (Use All The Adjectives!)
3) Red Light, Heavy (not entirely sure of the name) is a sweaty, high-pressure, crimson hell.
4) Spontaneous psychic powers, the environment, oddly expedited evolution, and natural selection are the sources of horror.

Well, littl'n', it just happened, all of a sudden. The source of all life flipped the bitch on us, every one, and with unexpected speed. We had no time to run. The closest colonies off Earth were just as fucked as those on the surface. The missions further out into space? Who the fuck knows? Some desperate fools really hope they're gonna find a way to save us. Not me. The sun turned baleful and red. They're gonna keep as far away from that hateful orb as possible. On even days the thought of people, somewhere else, living life without the weight above and the  blood-colored light; well, it gives me hope. On odd days it makes me wanna breathe the deep.

Oh, you wanted a history lesson, young blood? Wanted to know how it came to this? What lies waitin’ in the shadows?

Well, we fled to the only place left, the bottom of the goddamned sea. This place wasn't meant for as many as came. This place wasn't meant to be lived in beyond the span of a few months. This used to be a research station, here ‘neath the waves, looking at life that didn't need that fucking sun. Life that wouldn't care that parking lots were turning into molten patches of tar. I think there was a short war--- Yah. There was. Don't know what bodies won, but the ones as did sent the "best and brightest" of humanity down here into the heavy, down here to the red: Artists and titans of industry, athletes and senators, lawyers and doctors, scientists and philosophers, all of 'em at the top of their fields, the strongest damn personalities they could find. It blew up in no time at all.

Now, I was too small ta know, but the one who walked me weren't. Every last one of them turned wicked. They split into smaller an' smaller factions. They killed each other. They had themselves a bloody war 'tween dozens and dozens a sides in this dozen miles of tunnels. Something happened. 'Knocked out the main power and kicked on these fucking red lights.

Don’t rightly know how long it took, but folk sorta fell to the pressure. You can’t help but feel the weight of it, wherever ya go. And the heat, awful damn hot down here; air’s sweaty, too thick. And them lights, it‘s all blood or black and hateful heavy. People went strange.

Some of ‘em could hear other’s thoughts or feel their intentions. Some of ‘em can do damn strange things with their brains. Some, well, some of ‘em changed... got too strong or too fast and quit thinking like folk. Some of us got bent by the pressure, for good or ill. Some just cracked all together...

Still though, this place keeps a’runnin’, just barely. The farm's, they're automatic and so are the desalinatin' fountains and sinks. 'Course every blood knows that and knows where they’re at; yer gonna have to fight, every damn time you visit either. Most of 'em hide in the darkness, skipping from shadow to shadow. Fools have gotten afraid of the light.

Me? I like to stick near the viewin' ports. Sure them lava flows give the same goddamned red glow as the hell-lights… but every once in awhile something'll change in the glow, or a creature’ll float on by. I seen blue and yellow and orange down here, plenty of times. But just once, a long time past, I caught a glimpse of green. Green like that grass I can barely remember. Still dream of it, though. Every fucking night. Anyway, the ‘cracked never go near the windows. Dunno why. Guess maybe they hate the light as much as they hate everything else.

Yer getting' that look in yer eye, missy. I seen it too many times. Well, if yer gonna do it, take me out while I'm dreaming, little girl. I don't never hate the grass 'til I wake up anyhow.

It's a tough thing to do enough to imply an accent without being completely annoying. Not entirely sure if I hit the mark. Very few writers do it well.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Excellent Maps and Too Many Links!

I've mentioned this guy's excellent maps before. A link to his blog has been hovering around the top right side of this blog for quite some time now. Well, the good fellow behind Dyson's Dodecahedron is having a  contest to win a hand drawn map. All one has to do is mention his blog via blog or social media or something. So mentioning.

I've been a fan of the Dodecahedron for a while. I absolutely adore Dyson's style of cartography. Gorgeous  maps, suitable for dropping into pretty much any FRPG, stand ready for your own group of grave-robbing scumbags. Explore them!

The OSR content he's posted of late has been stellar. He's got the perfect touch for adding variety to OSR D&D without adding complexity. I will be begging my DM to let me use the Halfling Subclasses chart for my next character.

I also suggest you check out his odd, little (pun only partially intended) RPG Geodesic Gnomes. When I finally get around to playing it, sometime later this year, I'll likely wax poetic on this very blog.

Imma prolly buy his books when I gets some money, too. (In 18 years or so when I get the kid outta the house, I'll probably have some extra cash.)

In short go here and enjoy. Also buy things here. 'Cause I want that damn map!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Definitely, Maybe, It Depends, and a Free Adventure

Recently, I found myself giving some solicited advice, and a slow epiphany broke upon me. I've finally come to understand how I prep for sessions/campaigns as a GM/DM(been a while)/LN/SM/What-Have-You. I've been doing things this way for years, but I had never defined the particulars.

There's quite a fundamental difference between how a rpg session or campaign ought to be planned out, and how every other thing ever is plotted. In short, that difference is the players. You DO NOT know what they're going to do. Trying to figure out and plan for everything they might do is essentially fruitless. Certainly, you can make a few educated guesses, but those are of limited utility as well. Well how do you plan out the story, then?

If you're thinking about this as a story that you the GM are plotting out in advance, you're setting yourself up for failure. If you were to simply stick to a script no matter what the players do, you'd be better off just reading them a story. At least then, they've got no reasonable expectation of agency. Alright asshole, how then do you plan for a given adventure?

Glad you asked, I break everything down into three broad categories: events that definitely happen and definitely involve the PCs (Definite), things that will happen of which the PCs may or may not become aware(Maybe), and things that depend entirely on the PCs (It Depends). Before we plow along into an example, there are a couple of other pointers I'd like to shove at you.

First, what you're really going to be plotting out are events and obstacles. Events are things that happen with very little chance of dice coming into play (i.e. no chance of failure). In most cases, events are things that wouldn't be considered pass or fail, anyway. Conversations, shopping expeditions, and walking through a neighborhood could all be considered events. Obstacles are something that gets in the way of what the players are doing, either passively or actively. At pit-trap on a mountain pass is a passive obstacle. The bandit, who set the trap, is an active obstacle. When she and her buddies attack, the active nature of her obstacle-ness becomes more acutely obvious. Don't get bogged down trying to figure out all the solutions possible to a given obstacle. If you can envision at least one solution to an obstacle, it's probably fair.

Second, don't bottle-neck things. If you decide that the PCs need artifacts A, B, and C to kill the big bad guy, they will somehow show up at his lair, two sessions earlier than you expected, with artifacts A, B, and Q-13. Then everything is for naught. All that fun the PCs had finding A, B, & Q-13 won't be remembered as fun; the stain of failure will ruin the legacy of the whole damn shebang. Try to never write anything for a RPG with the thought "...this must happen..." in mind. Every time you do decide that something must happen, you basically guarantee that it won't. Players are magical in their contrariness.

Finally, it's that example of which I wrote:

Basic, Vague Idea: Orcs are gonna attack the city!

Definite (What Will Happen):

  • A hurricane strikes the mid-sized, coastal city at which the PCs are staying, Tennetport.
  • An orcish corpse fully armed and armored, washes ashore a few days later. Everyone is talking about it, loudly and continuously.
  • Hurricane hits on Day 1.
  • Corpse hits on Day 3.
  • Orcs attack in the middle of the night Day 7.

Maybe (What May Happen):

  • The PCs might get involved in the rescue/recovery efforts in the wake of the hurricane. 
    • Imperial Governor Ralbuetten heads the official effort, mostly trying to maintain order.
    • The Flagellant Brotherhood of Bysmecha attempts to ease suffering by providing food, shelter, and aid for those in need. 
  • Rumor has it that the arms and armor on the dead orc were very fine. (This is true)
  • Rumor-monger and Crier-for-Hire, Belt Mannely, loudly proclaims that the orcish tribes to the South are sure to attack any day. (Not True, Belt just likes attention.)
  • An "eye-witness" and noted drunk, Gregor Mestian, is telling anyone that'll listen and buy him wine that the orc's pockets were full of gold. (They were, and he pulled a pair of freshly-minted gold imperials from the sand under the corpse.)
  • Another "eye-witness" and beggar, Thym Telluview, tells anyone showing him kindness that the corpse  was wearing armor like the guards from Skullview, a smaller town further up the coast. (Also true, Thym saw the imperial guards hauling the body away and recognized the odd, quarter-moon shields of his hometown. Telluview will be under the care of the Flagellants).
  • A third "eye-witness" is a fisherwoman, name of Quella. She claims to have ridden out the hurricane at sea and saw lots of bonfires several miles north of the Tennetport. She tries to warn everyone though no one takes her seriously. ('Tis true, and it's an invading camp of now heavily armed orcish raiders. A cursory investigation will reveal that Quella's ship, Leeward True, is the only seaworthy vessel down at what remains of the docks.)

It Depends:

  • If the PCs volunteer help the Governor with his recovery efforts (mostly keeping down riots, stopping looting, and restoring law/order), they will receive 10 golden imperials each and "[the governer's] ear in a single matter of [their] choosing. Use it wisely."
  • If they work with the Flagellants, they'll have shelter, warm food, and clean water throughout the ordeal and access to a wide spectrum of information.
  • If they go with Quella they can find the orcish camp and possibly take the fiends unawares (drunk and fat with loot) or at least see enough to make ready the town's defenses.
  • Regardless of what the PCs do (unless of course the PCs kill 'em all), the orcs are going to attack the town 7 days after the hurricane using rafts to bypass the city's defensive wall, creeping in through the ruined sea-wall. (There are 58 orcish warriors armed to the teeth as well as 30 camp-followers and assorted hangers-on.)
As you may have noticed, even if the players do nothing the hurricane and the orcs should be entertaining. No bottle-necks (unless they just leave town, then you're just gonna have to make it up, orcish outriders attack perhaps) and lots of choice, it should be a fun little adventure. Feel free to steal it.

How do you herd your cats plan for your adventures? Do please let me know. Is my way of doing so stupid? Let me know that too if you'd like. Comment, damn you! Comment!