Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 14


14 And the Monster of Amristar Chapter 13-15


Chapter 13 Being Earnest

It comes time for the play. Symbolically, it is not just about dual or hidden identities but the importance of family and that an identity can be restored through a sudden revelation and that all will turn out right. The play has been altered slightly to enhance the latter aspect, but I’ll stress some aspects of the former so that the players can see the parallels to the situation.

On the actual day of the play Honoria Glory, the 5th year Ravenclaw who had been cast as Miss Prism, slips and falls down the stairs – she had been so absorbed in a last minute learning of her lines (alongside studying for Ancient Runes– Honoria has independently focusing eyes that lets her read two things at once, and her general goggle eyed look has had her cast in any number of ditzy parts over the years) that she didn’t notice that the staircase had moved, sending her falling 30 feet. This school is a dangerous place!

In any event, she broke her leg and, at Pomfery’s assistance, is not able to perform tonight. Jasmine takes the stage, alongside Castor, and the stage is set! There will be a quick run through of the play in the afternoon, followed by the admonition from Prof. Ogham and Madam Hooch that the first performance in front of an audience is the one that matters, with everyone intoning their ritual magic and preparing for the spell.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 13


13: And the Monster of Amristar Chapter 11-12


Chap. 11: Corruption's Touch

Fame's Tasty fruit

The next class they have to deal with is Hufflepuff Herbology with the Gryffindor's cheering the audacity of the Hufflepuff's plan of action. Gryffindor are always down with the "deeds not rules" ethos.  This is a brief chance to introduce some of the Gryffindor kids, who will have the task of being a bad influence later. The class starts with a description of the Argusatos project and the fact that they have to repot them. The PCs will be told to go to the cupboards and get the next largest pot size, but be careful not to disturb the row further back, as it contains the second year's Mandrake roots, which were also just re-potted. They might see Rowan idly stroking one of the mandrake plants.

Argusatos are key ingredients in potions sharpen eyesight and reverse blindness. They also, in theory, will give the ability to temporarily see through earth & stone if eaten raw (they might think to use this later), though eating them raw requires a Bravery check to make the first bite and a Fortitude check to finish it.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Musing: Voiding the Warrantee


It almost seems like the monthly of D&D campaign is trapped in Xeno’s Paradox and I never quite seem to get there. This is my last chance to blather on about it before I actually have to produce something. So blather I do.

There’s the well-known Alfred North Whitehead quote “The safest general characterization of the philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." That gets bandied about in various other contexts with different names, but RPGs, with their very specific, documented creation date, are footnotes to Gygax and Areson. I hold this to be self-evident. Bust more than that, I think that all of RPGs after the original D&D come from ‘voiding the warrantee’.

To the best of my knowledge Lisa Padol coined that phrase in the meaning of taking a game system and using it to do things that the original designers never intended. Her example of this was using D. Vincent Baker’s “Dogs in the Vineyard” not just in other settings but without using the community design rules which Mr. Baker insisted were integral to the game. Once you do that, she argued, you’ve voided the warrantee and can no longer complain that the system doesn’t work as advertised.

The three little brown books and their supplements presented a very specific game of exploration, interaction and conflict built around some incredibly versatile ideas: that the ‘figure’ used has a distinct personality; that the physical figure can be abstracted away entirely, eliminating the need for any game board at all and making the figure a ‘character’; that the character’s experiences carried from one game session to the next allowing for improvement of skills and personality; the expansion of the referees role to that of creating a scenario against which players form a semi-unified front. Yes, the inclusion of fantasy and SF elements in war gaming was interesting, but they had been going on for a while at various war gaming clubs. The concept of a referee who had to make on the fly decisions when people made crazy ass moves with dragon minis when fighting Napoleonic soldiers was also established among war gamers. It’s the big four ideas I mentioned that were unique and powerful.

And as such were immediately taken out and tinkered with in ways that would void the warrantee. Of course, the original LBBs ended with “why do you want us to do more imagining for you?” or words to that effect – the designers were urging people to fill in the games gaps in their own ways, implying there was no warrantee.

Later, of course, Gygax would famously declare that too much of that sort of thing rendered D&D to be a “non-game” since there was too little continuity from table to table. If no one was sure what rules were in force it made his dreams of respectable tournament play (and quite likely higher profit margins, and a clear legal break with Arenson) impossible. Hence AD&D and its much more rigid, theoretically complete rules.

Anyway, it’s not entirely true that there were no warrantees: the game as presented worked just fine. OK, the rule book was a opaque but it could be easily taught and was no worse than other small press war game rule books out there. (I remember my own confusion as to why Villains & Vigilantes had its sectional numbering system until I started playing Magic Realm and saw that it was drawn from the old war game rules.) But people wanted the game to do things for which it was not designed.
The game has creatures from Tolkein in it, how come it can’t accurately model Tolkein? It claims Howard and Burroughs are inspirations but it doesn’t accurately model Conan and Carter? If it’s meant to model big adventure novels why does my PC keep dying? Why isn’t it more realistic in its combat? Why isn’t it more realistic in its depiction of magic? (?!?!) Why isn’t it more realistic in its depiction the church in the Middle Ages? Why do gold pieces give experience points to anyone? Why does killing monsters give experience to wizards? Why isn’t there a more detailed kill system? Why doesn’t it have more pole arms? (For God’s Sake, think of the pole arms!)

Of course the answer to the first half of these questions is “it’s inspired by, not modeled on; isn’t trying to be anything except itself.” The answer to the second half of the questions is “It’s an abstraction to keep play moving, deal with it.”

These were, of course, unpopular answers for some people, and gamers have spent nigh unto 40 years trying to get the rules in the LBB to do things they weren’t mean to do, voiding the warrantee over and over again. Hell, this whole blog is dedicated to voiding that warrantee by producing my own game rules for specific campaigns, trying to twist the tools of roleplaying into highly specific configurations far outside anything the original designers intended. And that’s good. It’s great that Gary and David told us to stop asking them to imagine for us at the end of their seminal work. More of us should do our own imagining rather than waiting for the great rules/story gods in the sky to provide us with our consumable entertainment.

What isn’t good, at least in my humble opinion, is denigrating the original D&D games, or indeed any older game systems, because they didn’t do what we later decided we wanted them to do. Taken on its own Dungeons & Dragons is a perfectly fun, playable game. It’s not broken, as long as you’re not using it to do something it wasn’t designed to do.

If you void the warrantee, the designers are not responsible for your lack of fun. If you don’t find the game as written fun, it’s probably because you enjoy other games, not that this one is broken. I can play Cribbage for hours. Setback bores me to tears.

A Distant Inheritance, which wraps up on April 20th, was built from the ground up for a very specific style of fantasy campaign. Being a tale of knightly princes, elven wizards, stalwart hangers and Halfling burglars it’s the sort of thing that lots of people would turn to some flavor of D&D to run…and D&D would do a crap job at it. Oh, you could make it work, but it wouldn’t feel as much like the Hobbit as A Distant Inheritance does, and I’d have to twist a lot of rules to get the same story driven outcome. D&D is just a bad fit for this sort of fantasy; trying to force it won’t make anyone happy. In May I’ll be starting a D&D game (in fact, next month’s D&D game) with this same group of players) and it will be in the service of a very different game.

Which is how it should be.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 12


12: and the Monster of Amristar chapters 8-10


Chapter Eight: Drama!

A Storm of Dragons!

The first sessions of the Dramaturgy club show it to be a chaotic mess, but the sort that always coalesces into a single whole, as is the nature of theater. The class doesn't get into any of the specifics of Dramaturgy as a magical form - changing the world through theater - but over the years Jasmine will be able to learn more about it if she chooses to do so. There's a classic battle going on between Professor Ogham & Madam Hooch, where Hooch wants to do Dragons! & Ohgam wants to do the Tempest. Being unable to reconcile, they are leaving it to a student vote. Both stories focus transcendent changes at the end of one’s life: Prospero's tragic abandonment of magic & Grizzledbellow's ascension into the heaviside layer. Both are intended to lay the ghost of Voldemort, to make you know who reflect on his life and actions, if he is even still alive.

Neither will work - you know who is just too big a target. Still, all the club members are told to read both plays and vote on the decision. Until that decision the students do some general auditions and basic drama. I know that Jasmine will be here, but I don't who else.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Huffelpuff & Ravenclaw 11


11: And the Monster of Amristar Chapters 5-6


Chapter 6: The Second Day

This is the beginning of the second session, which I hope will cover from the beginning of classes to the end of Christmas break. This was the start of our second session so I had a chance to ask the players what they intended to do with the day in advance and plan accordingly. These notes should give you an idea of what you might need to do to prep.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 10


10: And the Monster of Amristar Chapter 3-4


Chapter 3: The Banquet

This chapter completes the general exposition.

In the waiting room

"Welcome to Hogwarts. The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the great hall you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory and spend free time in your house common room.

"The four houses are Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slyterin and Ravenclaw. Each house has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding wizards & witches. While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs earn your house points while any rule-breaking will lose points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the house cup, a great honor. I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours.

"The Sorting ceremony will take place shortly in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as you can while you're waiting."

As the PCs fret or make themselves more present-able, the Grey Lady will slip in through the back of the room, looking pensive and clasping a large text to her chest. Her appearance will freak out the first years no end, calling for a general Bravery check on d6 to keep from yelping - Peri and Rowena miss theirs, Grendel makes his. She will approach Castor and whisper in his ear "Be not afraid. A ready mind is humanity's greatest weapon and strongest shield, so you are well armed. But be vigilant. Older troubles seldom rest easy, even as new life is born." Castor will feel that his head has been struck by a boreal wind as the Lady's lips brush his ear.

At that the Grey Lady disappears and McGonnagal returns to bring them into the hall and the hat

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Musings - I'm Building a Pig From A Kit

One thing that came out in last week's musings that one of my readers felt it was unfair to count a daughter as a female player because she had been manufactured rather than recruited. Fie on this, as we say around this blog. Fie! I am a wholehearted supporter of manufacturing your own gamers, from kits or by other more standard stork/cabbage routes. 

The trick, of course, is getting them to properly embrace the gaming parts of their heritage - and then to rope in their friends. In my case my 6 year old daughter is very interested in the concept, even if she's a little put off by the content of the games (she doesn't like anything scary and is very susceptible to emotional downbeats) but I plan to lure her into gaming after her 8th birthday with an Uncle Scrooge game.

The three kid players in my Parent/Kid gaming group are all very interested in gaming - for two of them their dad has been running some games for them for a couple of years, while the other has seen mom go off and game monthly for the entire time he's been alive - so getting them in to play hasn't been a hard sell, but I worry about luring my children's friends into the hobby. 

How have any/all of you done on getting your kids to play, and then getting their friends to play, so that we might produce a solid base to pass along this great hobby to the next generation? 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 9


9: And the Monster of Amristar Chapters 1-2


Chapter 1: Diagon Alley

We open in Diagon Alley. The PCs can meander, but there are a few key scenes for the major arc.

Who is that strange man?

Also present that day will be Dr. John Plain, who is walking furtively around, taking notes, taking pictures of things, and otherwise trying not to be noticed. He is wearing wizarding robes over muggle clothes. Once one of the PCs notices him his behavior will be suspicious indeed. He knows enough to not be one of the slack jawed Muggle parents, but is obviously doing some sort of spying while trying to not be noticed. If they actively approach him he'll do his best to get away without speaking to them. Eventually the PCs will lose sight of him as he ducks into some shop or another. Basically, he's here to establish his presence on the scene for later.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Heroes of the United World 13 - Calooh Callay!

Not directly connected with the setting, but Jeff Dee and Jack Herman have won the rights back (at least in part) to their classic RPG Villains & Vigilantes, which was the engine I used for this setting. They didn't get full rights back but the Judge did make it clear that their original publisher, Fantasy Games Unlimited, has lost the trademark and has no rights to electronic publication, new works or derivative product (such as T-Shirts with the V&V logo).

Obviously I am thrilled by this - Jeff ad Jack's formation of Monkey House Games two years ago helped kickstart some more support for the game (though it's design was always open ended enough to not need support, but more support doesn't hurt), not just from them but from Scott Bizar's mad scramble to produce new product (for a property he'd let moulder for years) in hopes of improving his claim to the copyright. More attention to a game like V&V, which embodies to me so much of what was good about early RPG design, is an unvarnished good, and the fact that the creators won back rights to publish their work is even better.

Huzzah! Lets go out there and make some Justice!


Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 8


8: …and the Monster of Amristar Introduction

The remainder of the month is a detailed adventure for the first year of adventure at Hogwarts. This is based on actual play, so I’m going to quickly detail the original PCs key points and trust that a clever GM will be able to update the scenario to deal with the variation between characters

Daisy and Jasmine Fontaine: the older (5th year prefect) and younger (first year) daughters of the wizarding theatrical couple “the fabulous Fontaines” (their mother is a muggle actress, singer and escape artist, their father is a wizard version of the same), Daisy and Jasmine have travelled the world but are educated in jolly old England. Daisy has a professor enmity with Trelawney, Jasmine has a special pet (a ghostling ferret, which can turn intangible). Both are Ravenclaws.

Castor and Pollux Dee: the twin sons of a pureblood Slytherin family that never served You-Know-Who, their father is now one of the judges on trying the captured death eaters, and earning some ire from his housemates for handing down guilty verdicts. Castor is a Ravenclaw and an accomplished liar with an interest in Dramaturgy and a deficiency in herbology. Pollux is a Hufflpuff with a Grymalkin (a cat that can mimic other cat’s attributes such as size and weight) as a pet and an interest in Magical History.

Juliette Moore is a Pureblood whose mother recently died and his being raised by her now overprotective father. She has a magical aptitude for music and a student enmity in Peri Undulata, a Slytherine first year. She is a Ravenclaw

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 7


7: Design the Game Mechanics: Magic

As discussed in spellcasting, there are both standard spells and general magic. Here's what you can expect your character to be able to do with general magic, divided up by class

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Musings - Our Distaff Contingent

One thing that's come up in my reminisces on the origins of the hobby, both my entry to it and of the hobby itself, is the concept of women at the gaming table. Based on my own experience, I don't don't get the stories of their disinterest in the hobby. In the heady early 80's of fifth grade we had some girls in our class play since it was the height of the fad and everyone played. They all gave it up by 6th grade, but by 8th grade - while my group was all XY chromosome types - I was in touch with another group with regular female players.

Fast forward to 11th and 12th grade and I was regularly playing with that group which was a male DM, 5 male players and 2 female players, neither of which were the DM's girlfriend. This group was out of town and I had to drive to it, but my in town group, by this point, also contained women, with upwards of 3 of them at the table by the time we left for college. Two (Jen and Amy) of those came into it through being girlfriends of players. The third was dating me but I met her via gaming and she'd been at the table as long as any of us had been. Plus once Jen and I went to UConn she continued to game even though she was no longer seeing the guy from our hometown gaming group. The "DM's girlfriend" stereotype just didn't hold water.

Once in college my game groups were 1/3 to 1/2 women (sometimes making up the majority of the players with the gender parity coming from me behind the screen), which is a ratio that has held true ever since. My wife wasn't a gamer when we got married but I assiduously courted her with settings tailored to her interests and simple mechanics (though she was likely hooked just by listening to the hilarity emerging from the group on game days). My current Mech & Matrimony group is 3 women to 1 man as players, if the scheduled Girl Genius game had gone off it would have been all women players and my PBEM is 3 women to 2 men as players. The parent and child group of A Distant Inheritance would have a larger female contingent if Jay or Kris had ever produced a female spawn.

So that's my personal experience, which doesn't seem to hew at all to the general consensus: my circle has lots of gaming women, couples and families. The question to the masses is if my experience is so atypical. (The secondary question is: If so, why? I can acknowledge in the early days my gaming group also being my theater buddies rather than wargaming friends might have had something to do with it, but what about from college on, when no one was doing theater any more.)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 6


6: Design the Game Mechanics: How Things Work


Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw uses some simple rules

When trying to do something of more than moderate difficulty, where a skill would be applicable, add the character's skill to the statistic or quality that best fits the situation. If the character has any Advantages or Disadvantages that apply, or there are any situational modifiers (provided by the GM), add or subtract  those as well. This is the Target Number.

If you roll the Target Number or less in a d20, the character succeeds. A roll of 1 is not always a success - it is possible for a disadvantage or situational modifier to reduce the character's Target Number to below zero.

Normally skill use is yes/no - the character either did it or she didn't. In cases where two people are competing, such as a brawl, the winner is whoever beat their Target Number by more points - this is called the degree of success. Someone with Target number of 17 who rolls a 16 might succeed, but she would lose a contest to someone who had a target number of 5 who rolled a 2, as she only made her roll by 1 point while her competitor made it by 3.

The GM might use the degree of success to see how well a character did something, or how quickly, but any roll that beats the target number is a success.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 16


We had the third meeting of a Distant Inheritance last weekend, taking us through Sessions 4 and 5 of the planned adventure. Diplomacy was done, feral Cows were faced, bandits were beset and barrows burgled. Much fun was had by all. See below the fold for more.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 5


5: Design the Game Mechanics More Skills & Sample Characters

General Common Skills

Athletics: The character's ability to run, climb, jump, catch, throw, and do other basic physical action. It alternates with Broomstick  when playing Quidditch, but can be replaced by Muggle Sports for specific acts related to "football" or "cricket".

Brawl: The character's general ability to fight, bare-handed or with small weapons. This is a distinctly non-optimal  means of combat unless she has a high Size (or her opponent is equally small).

Deceive: The ability to convincingly lie. It is also the character's ability to disguise herself without resorting to magic.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 4


4: Design the Game Mechanics – Disadvantages and Skills

Defining Disadvantages

Disadvantages are the opposite of advantages, at least in theory. In practice they are the opposite in one way - they give the character a penalty where an advantage gives them a boost, but serve the same function when it comes to distinguishing the character. After all, being an insufferable know it all is clearly a disadvantage, but it does serve to neatly spotlight Ms. Granger's character.

At creation a character has at least one disadvantage, and possibly more if she also has additional advantages. It is very possible, indeed probable, to gain or lose disadvantages in play. Hogwarts is a place of growth and self-discovery, and that means overcoming one's perceived limitations - and possibly creating new ones in the form of enemies or curses! Many of the following disadvantages are meant to be overcome in play.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Musings - White Whales

This week's musing - what's the campaign you've always wanted to play in or run that hasn't happened. This can be a particular genre, or a setting, or just an outre concept that you think is really cool that no one else buys into.

Obviously this blog is an attempt for me to spear, or at least spot, some of my white whales, such as last months Legion of Super-Heroes game that I've been musing on in one form or another since the DC Heroes RPG came out in 1985. Others, however, might be to massive and wily for me to consider even here.

As a player I don't think I've ever had a chance to really play RuneQuest. OK I played in a few sessions of big rubble looting after college with some RQ true believers but it didn't last long and I don't think the GM ever conveyed the real mythic feel of the place. (He was, to his defense, a player from a different long standing group who was trying to start up a new one with a bunch of relatively inexperienced gamers and not a lot of GMing experience under his belt, and I was a later addition to the group.) RuneQuest may be the first 'culture' RPG and as such I'd love a chance to actually get a sense of that culture in play rather than just reading snippits here and there.

As a GM, Hrm, I think I have to go with my mad 'Whispers in the Twilight' campaign concept. It's a Twilight 2000/Psi-World/Cyberpunk mash up where the game starts in the standard T2K frame of the players being the last remnants of a NATO unit in Poland at the end of WWIII having to fight their way home. It turns out the residual radiation/bioagents are slowly awakening psi-powers in people. Some members of the company, naturally, start to show evidence of these powers. Eventually the group (or some remnants of it) make their way home.

At that point the campaign shifts to 20 years in the future, where the T2K world has become the cyberpunk 2020 setting but with psi-powers. In that every man for himself environment the PCs are linked by their wartime experiences even as they have otherwise drifted apart (into various Cyberpunk archetypes of course). I don't have a major plot in mind for the back half of the game, just the feeling of of these setting meshing together with the bonds between the characters being tested by the harsh Cyberpunk society. Alas, I've never found a player group interested in it.

That's mine. What's yours?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 3


3: Design the Game Mechanics - Advantages

About Advantages

Advantages are things that give the character a little bit of an edge and often a lot of distinction. In theory, the list of advantages is limitless. In practice, most of them have similar mechanical traits. This rules packet lays out a list of advantages so that you can either pick one (or more) if what you want is already here or give you a framework for designing your own.

At creation a character starts with at least one advantage, and can get up to two more by taking more disadvantages. Characters can gain or lose advantages over time - some of them anyway - most often in the form of advantageous equipment or allies. Many of the advantages listed here are only available at character creation, as you can't be mis-sorted after the fact.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 2


2: Design the Game Mechanics - Basics

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Dear Student,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary rules and dice. The term begins on January 27th. We await your owl by no later than January 26th.
Yours sincerely,
Minerva McGonagall
Deputy Headmistress

Friday, March 1, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 1


Back in 1997 a British writer on the dole published a slim volume of fantasy, a coming of age tale set in a magical academy. The book broke little new ground but the author had a pleasing style and…

Oh, you’ve heard of it? In that case…

The Sorting Hat noticed your steadfastness or intellect and placed you with the Badgers or Ravens. While the foolhardy and power-hungry snipe away, Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw expand their educations against a backdrop of strange mysteries. Comb through Professor Binn's lectures for goblin treachery. Uncover the mirrored secrets of Professor Spout's greenhouses. Turn Professor Flitwick's charms against the entity stalking the library. Face the fangs of Professor Kettleburn's magical creatures. Feel the star-crossed passion of a centaur romance. Battle other schools in the cutthroat Q&A Witches' Bowl. Oh yes, and play Quidditch. All this and more awaits you at Hogwarts Academy of Witchcraft and Wizardry! (Griffindor & Slytherin need not apply.)