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<![CDATA[Pen & Paper Games - Blogs - Inside lives a goblin that feeds on indecision. by fmitchell]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/blog.php/222-Inside-lives-a-goblin-that-feeds-on-indecision Pen and Paper Games hosts a very powerful, but easy to seach and join database of players and game masters in the United States and Canada. Our forums are also a great place to find the most recent news, product releases, tips, and rpg discussion. en Thu, 28 May 2020 01:50:03 GMT vBulletin 60 http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/pnpg_style/misc/rss.jpg <![CDATA[Pen & Paper Games - Blogs - Inside lives a goblin that feeds on indecision. by fmitchell]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/blog.php/222-Inside-lives-a-goblin-that-feeds-on-indecision Searchers of the Unknown + True20 + Numenera = ??? http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1925-Searchers-of-the-Unknown-True20-Numenera Tue, 27 Jan 2015 08:15:03 GMT Lately I've found myself fascinated by minimalist D&D rules like "Searchers of the Unknown" and its worthy successor "1974 Style". I also like the d20-only philosophy of True20 and Numenera's Only Players Roll principle. All three have collided in my brain to create the following incomplete rules:
  • Every character, player or NPC, has a Level, which denotes attack, defense, and miscellaneous physical prowess. PCs start at 1, as usual.
  • Every character has the following health conditions: Wounded (-2), Wounded Twice (-3), Disabled (-5), Dying (), Dead.
  • All weapons have Damage Bonuses, from +1 (knife or brass knuckles) to +8 (warhammer or greatsword). +0 denotes bare hands. Anything less is probably only good for delivering poison.
  • Armor has a Damage Penalty, from -1 (soft leather) to -8 (full plate).
  • When a player character attacks, the player rolls a d20 and adds the character's level to the result. If the result is greater than the opponents Level + 10, the attacker hits. Note the amount by which the roll succeeds.
  • When a non-player character attacks, the player defends by adding his character's level to the result of a d20 roll. If the roll is equal to or greater than the attacker's Level + 10, the player character defends successfully. Otherwise, record the amount by which the roll failed.
  • In PvP, each player rolls d20 + level once a round; the player with the higher result does damage to the other. As in combat with NPCs, ties always go to the defender.
  • When an attack succeeds, add the amount by which it succeeded to the weapon's Damage Bonus, and subtract the defender's Damage Penalty. If the result is between 1 and 5, the defender is merely Bruised, and takes a cumulative -1 penalty for his next round only. If the result is between 6-10, the defender is Wounded, and suffers a permanent -2 penalty until healed. 11-15 means the defender is Disabled; a Disabled character must roll at least 15 or more (level + d10) to remain conscious, and is at a -5 (cumulative with other penalties) to do anything but lie there and bleed. If the result is 16-20 or more, the defender is Dying, and will be Dead without immediate medical attention after the fight. If the cumulative result is 20 or more, the character is Dead and probably chunky salsa.
  • Health conditions (except Bruised) cascade: if a Wounded character is Wounded again, he is Wounded Twice with a total -5 penalty to all actions. If he is Wounded a third time, he is Disabled; a fourth time, Dying; a fifth time Dead. A character who is Disabled without being Wounded, on the other hand, can sustain two more Wounded results or one more Disabled result before Dying. Hitting a Dying character with anything above Bruised will kill them.

The numbers may need tweaking, since I'm just typing it off the top of my head (but see the d20 Injury system). Note that I've (1) eliminated a separate damage/"toughness" roll and (2) adopted the RuneQuest/GURPS/etc. attitude that armor reduces damage rather than prevents the character from getting hit.

Rolling a 20 probably should have a special effect, in addition to an automatic success. Either you roll again and add any additional points over the target to your success margin, or you simply add 1d6. Likewise, a 1 should be an automatic failure, although I probably wouldn't add even more misery for the guy who failed his roll.

"Saving throws" and physical actions likewise use a d20 + Level roll against a fixed difficulty factor: 5 for easy, 10 for average, 15 for difficult, and 20 for extremely difficult. Unlike attacks and defense, ties always go to the player. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1925-Searchers-of-the-Unknown-True20-Numenera
A Questionable Review of The Strange Bestiary http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1913-A-Questionable-Review-of-The-Strange-Bestiary Mon, 24 Nov 2014 20:54:18 GMT ---Quote (Originally by Jorge Luis Borges)--- These ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies remind us of those which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes...
Quote Originally Posted by Jorge Luis Borges
These ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies remind us of those which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled 'Celestial Empire of Benevolent Knowledge'. In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.
(from "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins" by Jorge Luis Borges.)

Nothing bores me more than long lists of things, unless they're funny. (See above.) So anyone who expects a detailed and insightful review of a Monster Manual for Monte Cook's The Strange may as well Abandon All Hope, as gates to the recursion Hell Frozen Over no doubt read.

Yes, there are beasts for all the "recursions", or all-too-real simulations running in the Matrix-y universe-sized dark matter wibbly-wobbly spacey-wacey quantum computer called the Strange. There's plenty of critters for Ruk and Ardeyn and the Strange itself, but additions too for Atom Nocturne, Cataclyst (like anyone would want to go there), Crow Hollow, the Graveyard of the Machine God (worse than Cataclyst), Hell Frozen Over (what it says on the tin), Middlecap (only one creature, for your puppet-world needs), Singularitan, and Thunder Plains. There's also generic entities from folklore, literature, and pop culture for various worlds of Mad Science, Magic, Psionics, and Standard Physics. And yes, there's a few beasties for the "public domain" worlds like Innsmouth (Deep One, Nightgaunt), Oz (Flathead, Rak, Sapient Tree), and Wonderland (Capricious Caterpillar). There's creatures for any Difficulty Level, from 1 (Nul) to 10 (Kaiju).

The art is generally pretty good, although the Elder Thing entry has the worst illustration of an elder thing I've ever seen. Lovecraft's description is remarkably, almost painfully exact, yet only Wayne Barlowe, Erol Otus, and a few Chaosium artists ever got it right. Also, the illustration for Killer Robot looks more like the Time Zombies from "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS".

However those who know the system realize that every NPC has only four basic numbers: Level (1-10), Health (usually but not always Level x 3), Damage, and Armor (or anti-damage). The rest is description: special abilities, modifier to Level for certain tasks, attack types, and so forth. By design, this makes designing NPCs and monsters trivial. This, then raises the question of why we need a Bestiary. Granted, the most developed game-specific worlds of Ruk and Ardeyn are different enough that they need "official" entries. The same cannot be said for creatures from common sources like Blob, Cyclops, Djinn, Grey, Ogre, Orc, Reanimated (like a certain medical student / baron might have created), Transhuman, or Witch. I'd almost add Vampire and Werewolf to this list, except they're major factions in a canonical recursion named The Gloaming. Every GM will have his own ideas on how such creatures look, behave, and fight; they may differ even between recursions, e.g. the witches of Oz vs. the witches of Innsmouth vs. the witches of Waverly Place.

This complaint comes from someone who bought the PDF, though, so I'm not condemning the book. It's probably a great resource for a GM of The Strange (Strange Master?) who needs a critter quickly, or is stuck for inspiration. I particularly like the Killing White Light (who says light is good?), Mad Titan (nothing like Thanos at all), Mystereon (she's Batman), Octopus Sapiens (who fits nicely in Numenera too), and Skeleton (generic but saved by the comment that they make excellent snipers). I also like two of the "People of Renown" in the back of the book:

  1. The legendary Archcoder has complete control of reality in the Strange and in recursions (Level 10 and nigh-godlike powers). She may be much weaker should she translate into the universe of matter, e.g. Earth (suggested Level 4). As the text notes, there's a plot hook right there. (Shades of Dogma.)
  2. Sasha the Blade, a child evacuee in WWII, accidentally stepped through a gate into the Strange. She's since grown up into a fearsome mercenary. Between her origins and her three companions (Alvin, Margaret, and Sydney), I can't but help see her as a very angry Susan who killed the Witch, skinned the Lion, and kicked the Wardrobe into splinters before hunting down that sanctimonious git who wrote her out for wearing lipstick and liking boys.

(What can I say, I like powerful women.)

If you've put up with me up to this point, or just skipped to the end, here's my verdict: The Strange Bestiary is a great resource for GMs pressed for time or short on inspiration. With a modicum of time and imagination, though, a GM can easily come up with creatures about as good, and perhaps more suited for his campaign. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1913-A-Questionable-Review-of-The-Strange-Bestiary
A Space Opera Recursion for The Strange http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1911-A-Space-Opera-Recursion-for-The-Strange Fri, 14 Nov 2014 09:30:54 GMT Recently I've been playing The Strange with a reasonably stable group. Yesterday I had an idea for a space-opera style recursion (parallel world for the rest of the gaming world), and having nobody else to tell I'm telling you. Don't you feel special?

The problem with wedging an entire galaxy, or even a solar system, into one of the Strange's recursions is that recursions are supposed to be small, much smaller than Earth, so that the GM isn't madly mapping planets for every adventure. The two best defined -- and canonically largest -- recursions are Ardeyn (about 2000 miles across) and Ruk (about 200 miles across, or so the map appears). Most are only as big as a city; some are as small as a house, or a room. The only real planet is our Earth; everything else is a fragment in the vast dark matter cyberspace of the Strange.

But Space Opera tropes to the rescue! In Star Wars and even less sciencey space operas,
  1. planets only have single biomes (the jungle planet, the ice planet, the desert planet, the one-big-city planet, the parking structure planet)
  2. Our Heroes only explore a tiny fraction of the planet's surface area, maybe a city or county's worth.
  3. every planet, ship, and asteroid has Earth gravity, since actors hate being on wires for more than a scene (unless they're Chinese, and really has anyone asked Michelle Yeoh or Jet Li if they actually like wire work?)

So, imagine something like Mongo in the 1980 Flash Gordon movie: individual lands floating in space, each with its own climate, flora, and fauna. (Hawk-people optional.) Not that this is remotely original, even in gaming: Sundered Skies, Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, yadda yadda. Even Slipstream for Savage Worlds borrowed heavily from Flash Gordon.

In the Strange, then, imagine a larger recursion split apart. Maybe it split into islands in the Strange, close enough to reach via void-ship or experienced chaosphere navigators, where gravity inexplicably pulls "down" despite the lack of a large mass in that direction. Maybe it's planetoids around its curiously small but bright sun, where gravity on each chunk is exactly 1G over the entire surface but horizons are only a short walk away, a la the planet of the Little Prince. Each chunk has a force field dome that keeps the atmosphere in, and smaller space junk out. Each worldlet may consist of a sweltering desert, teeming forest, or seemingly endless snow fields, but most have a climate similar to Southern California. (Substitute the greater London metropolitan area, Cardiff, or just outside Tokyo as necessary. Less civilized places look like a quarry or the Vasquez rocks.) In any case, a tenuous dust field surrounding the pieces makes rocket travel possible ... but stray too far and you're in the Strange, with all the hazards that implies.

The actual civilizations and politics are a bit hazy. Let's stick with tradition: a megalomaniacal emperor/empress rules most of the worlds. Everyone lives in fear of his clone/robot soldiers, ruthless human(?) commanders, and especially his heavily armored and cybernetically enhanced right-hand man(?). A ragtag resistance hides on unpopulated worlds, hoping to stir cowed citizens and disloyal nobles into open rebellion. If only they had a hero to rally around ... ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1911-A-Space-Opera-Recursion-for-The-Strange
Another Weird Idea: Sixgun and Planet http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1870-Another-Weird-Idea-Sixgun-and-Planet Mon, 26 May 2014 17:29:46 GMT For those of you who don't know what "sword and planet" is, it's science fiction in which our lone Earthling hero is thrown onto an alien planet with generally low technology and must fight to survive. Examples include Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom series (A Princess on Mars, etc.) and some of Jack Vance's work (particularly the Planet of Adventure series). The excuse for swords being the weapon of choice varies from decaying cultures to alien oppressors.

Recently I've been thinking about what I'll call "sixgun and planet", basically the same premise but the available technology is closer to the Old West's. Examples abound, from the anime Trigun to the short-lived TV series Firefly. The question remains, though, why is technology stuck at that phase.

One answer I came up with a long time ago: electronics simply don't work on the planet's surface. (My original idea was for a fantasy planet, but this is more interesting.) Any device that relies on an electrical current will malfunction and then stop. Even electric lights and arc welding don't work. Oddly, though, other electromagnetic phenomena function normally: light transmission, chemical bonds, and nerve impulses, to name three. This has some amusing consequences:
  • Avionics will fail, so once you land on the planet, you're pretty much stuck. The only two ways off-planet are miraculous alien technology and launching a rocket with no control circuitry whatsoever, a.k.a. the Wile-E-Coyote method).
  • The only source of light and heat, apart from the sun, is burning things. Since it's a different planet, it may not have petroleum. Let's assume it doesn't, although it has some equivalent to coal so they don't have to burn forests.
  • Ships in orbit can still drop items to the settlers, made with high technology but able to operate in the planet's weird anti-electronic field. Thus an orbital can manufacture, say, a functional Babbage engine (which was beyond Victorian Age capabilities) and air-drop it to settlers. Likewise, a solar-powered or flame-powered laser could signal said orbital, and a large enough collector could even make a laser cutter (the size of a barn).
  • Other technologies do work, like optics, chemistry, and biotechnology. A telegraph would use light instead of electrical currents, like the "clacks" in the Discworld series. Genetically engineered organisms may take over some functions of machines, like chemical analysis. Potentially even photonic, psionic, or quantum devices might work as long as they have no electronic parts. So the human population might be very medically advanced, except for delicate surgeries (since heart monitors, etc. won't work).
  • One can mix in other genres, like steampunk (those clockwork controls are really precise), supernatural horror (there's something on this planet that ignores bullets), pulp (daring escapes from alien ruins!), or investigation ("I'm the new marshal, and I'm ... from Earth.").

Part of my interest in this setting is figuring out what would work and what wouldn't. Also one can imagine social stratification based on available technology, from the city-folk who get Babbage engines and the best bio-tech medicines, to the frontiersmen who have only a Winchester, an axe, and an oil lamp. Throw in alien aborigines, ultra-tech artifacts from a forgotten age, and mysterious ultra-terrestrial entities that might be responsible for the anti-electronic field, and you might just have something. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1870-Another-Weird-Idea-Sixgun-and-Planet
<![CDATA["Always Chaotic Evil" Considered Stupid]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1838-quot-Always-Chaotic-Evil-quot-Considered-Stupid Sun, 26 Jan 2014 07:10:07 GMT (Originally posted on Google+, for some inexplicable reason.)

Just to toss out a topic (or possibly sweaty dynamite) ... what's the general opinion on "evil races" in games? By which I mean entire intelligent species whose sole purpose is essentially to kill/enslave/annoy humans.

As one might gather, I'm not a fan. My first problem is that real-world societies have attributed two-dimensional malice to their enemies far too often, with tragic results, and I'd rather not have a reminder.

The second and perhaps more important issue is that mustache-twirling villains are boring.

For example, Mind Flayers are brilliant if done right. Their metabolism and life-cycle REQUIRES consuming a sapient creature's brain every so often. Donors are understandably unwilling, so they must of necessity become secretive, manipulative, and amoral. The same could have been said of vampires until we learned enough about blood; nowadays we have to either declare "it's really life force" or posit they're Just Evil.

On the other hand, Orcs are the poster children for Always Chaotic Evil; they're bad because they're bad. A few authors have reinterpreted them over the years, but a society that ruthless and violent BUT has children and pregnant females is hard to believe. (The WH40K idea that Orks grow from spores is better but still problematic.) Drow are even worse: an entire nation of dark-skinned(!) assassination-happy dominatrix-led psychopaths whose society neither collapses nor evolves because Lolth makes them do it.

I'm tinkering with an alternate vision of Dark Elves, suggested by Gary McBride:

Dark Elves are those elves who went into the Underdark to protect the surface from unspeakable horrors. Over the centuries, millennia, or aeons they've waged an unending and largely unknown war against brain-eating abominations, ancient evils from an earlier age, and dead gods who aren't dead enough; they've also learned both hatred and contempt for the surface world. The surface Elves forgot about them, abandoned them. Dwarves keep digging too deep and unsealing what the Dark Elves sealed. Goblins, kobolds, and their ilk sometimes make valuable slaves for the war effort, but mostly they're a nuisance. And then there's humans, clueless bumbling humans, who traipse into the war zone in pursuit of loot and sword practice. Deep down the Dark Elves are still elves, with honor and foresight, but endless days of pain, madness, and death have made them hard. According to Dark Elf philosophy all intruders must die, save a few to tell the tale; better to kill a few relative innocents than let the rest encounter the Things that really lie under their feet.

Probably not a brilliant idea, much less original, but I'd rather GM a world with those Dark Elves than the original Gygax version. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1838-quot-Always-Chaotic-Evil-quot-Considered-Stupid
Rules as Interfaces Redux http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1836-Rules-as-Interfaces-Redux Thu, 09 Jan 2014 18:28:16 GMT Yesterday I babbled about viewing RPG rules as an interface between players and GMs, similar to a GUI or API in computer programs. In this view, the... Yesterday I babbled about viewing RPG rules as an interface between players and GMs, similar to a GUI or API in computer programs. In this view, the game rules, like GUIs or APIs, are most useful when they avoid unnecessary clutter and complexity.

One other interesting consequence of this analogy is that, like interfaces, rules have to be stable in order to be useful. This applies both to official versions of the rules and house rules.

For example, in every version of D&D combat requires rolling 1d20 at or above a certain target number ... but there the resemblance ends. Early versions used disjointed and ad-hoc procedures to resolve other events: Thieves who plied their craft rolled level-based target numbers on percentile dice or 1d6 rolls (sometimes both in the same version), Fighters rolled on a different Strength-based percentile table for feats of strength, other characters roll their base characteristics or lower as the DM decides. 3.x introduced skills, ascending AC, and Attack Bonuses so that all but damage requires 1d20 + bonuses against a Target Number (like Armor Class) ... but the number of bonuses under each situation proliferated enormously; 4th edition simplified the number of skills and types of attack rolls to the point of blandness. Mutants and Masterminds and True 20 eliminates random characteristics, hit points, and damage rolls so that players only needed a d20, while Dungeon Crawl Classics gives characters "action dice" and variable bonuses which can vary from a d8 (for a first-level thief reading a spell scroll) to a d20 + d10 + 4 (for a top-level fighter's first two attacks).

Contrast that to RuneQuest, nearly as old as D&D, which made everything a percentile roll, either as a straight percentile skill or a contest between characteristics on a Resistance Table which basically boils down to 50% + (Active_Characteristic - Resisting_Characteristic) x 5%. The names and meanings of skills have changed from version to version, and across descendants like Basic Roleplaying, Call of Cthulhu, Legend, OpenQuest, Stormbringer, and Worlds of Wonder; direct contests between skills have replaced the Resistance Table in modern versions of RuneQuest. Still, when players must meet a challenge they know to grab their percentile dice and look for the relevant skill or characteristic.

And that's just dice rolling conventions. Add in magic, special powers, tactical combat maneuvers, technology, and requirements of genre emulation and the number of rules can grow enormously. Modern games, however, home in on a "core mechanic" to resolve any possible conflict, then build out from there to cover combat and other special circumstances. Some like FATE, HeroQuest, or Numenera go one step further: even these special circumstances boil down to a simpler mechanic, like Aspects and Stunts, extended contests, or negotiating a Difficulty Level.

Reducing the number of rules needed at the table speeds play. The best GM I've yet to play with decided to run D&D 3.5 "by the book" for a few sessions. (He was preparing to run a tournament game.) My character's idea to carve wooden spears lead to a 15 minute rules delve and a bit of arithmetic just to determine how many spears he could carve in the time available. If the 3.5 rulebook had been smaller that could have been two minutes or a quick decision (e.g. "five").

Like a computer interface, then, the best RPG rules are no larger than they need to be, versatile enough to cover any situation, and sufficiently well-understood so that users don't get confused or frustrated. The computer world evolved graphical conventions, languages, and manuals so that (theoretically) novice users can concentrate on their tasks, not the mechanics. In the RPG world players typically have only a character sheet, dice, written rules (maybe), and the GM; by and large players want an adventure or a collaborative story, not a test in math and reading comprehension. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1836-Rules-as-Interfaces-Redux
Rules as Interfaces http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1835-Rules-as-Interfaces Thu, 09 Jan 2014 01:38:31 GMT Reading Numernera and a few other rule sets reminded me of a (not terribly original) idea that popped in my head ages ago: rules are the interface... Reading Numernera and a few other rule sets reminded me of a (not terribly original) idea that popped in my head ages ago: rules are the interface between players and GM.

By "interface" I'm thinking of programming interfaces in object-oriented design, but the analogy works just as well with Advanced Programming Interfaces (APIs) in applications like Excel, Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) in any window-keyboard-mouse desktop application, a Web site's interface of forms and links, or the protocols between remote processes (like HTTP between a Web browser and a Web server). In every case the interface defines a set of concepts or abstractions, operations one can perform on those abstractions, and discrete elements that make up an abstraction or operation. In object-oriented programming one strives for the smallest or narrowest interface that expresses all relevant operations and information; graphic design follows a similar principle which strives for the greatest amount of information relevant for a task without cluttering the display with useless information.

In the case of an RPG, the most common abstraction is a "character", with attributes/characteristics/statistics, classes, levels, skills, powers, and so forth. Characters typically also have equipment with its own statistics and maybe NPC retainers with some subset of a player character's attributes. The character typically acts upon an imaginary world when a player describes the character's actions to the GM. The GM states whether the actions succeed or fail. In cases where consequences aren't clear-cut the player performs "tests" (a.k.a. "challenges" or "saving throws"). "Combat time" is a special mode wherein players choose among a well-defined list of actions, each with explicit or implicit parameters: Attack with which weapon (and/or associated numerical values)? Move to where and through what? Cast which spell?

So what's the point? One can at least qualitatively evaluate an RPG by the amount of information required for common actions, or to play the game as a whole. For example, you can tell a lot about a game by the official character sheet. Character sheets for OD&D and BD&D can fit comfortably on an index card; with a single US Letter (8'' x 11'') page one can write numbers bigger and leave empty space for notes. In contrast a D&D 3.5 character sheet can spread over two, three, or four pages depending on equipment carried, number of spells or class abilities, and the degree to which one wants to pre-calculate Attack Bonuses and Armor Classes.

Numenera has an extremely narrow interface, even narrower than the character sheet would indicate.
  1. The Player(s) declare what they want to do.
  2. The GM states an initial Difficulty Level; a 0 means automatic success.
  3. The Player(s) list skills, assets, Effort, abilities, and numenera that may lower the effective difficulty.
  4. The GM agrees (or not) to each item, and states the adjusted Difficulty Level.
  5. If the Difficulty Level is 0, the action automatically succeeds; otherwise, the Player rolls a d20 and succeeds if his result meets or exceeds 3 x Difficulty Level. Certain numbers on the die have special effects.
  6. Players and GM perform bookkeeping related to resources expended and damage taken (which is a little more complicated).

Note that most of the rules complexity comes in at steps #3 and #6. Combat extends the procedure for resolving actions -- as in most modern RPGs -- with a formal list of actions, combat rounds, and so forth. The other steps are a template for a large number of RPGs, simplified for faster play; in particular, the Difficulty Level usually stays the same from round to round and between attacks and defense. (If you remember my last post, players roll all dice, and an NPC/monster attack means the player rolls to defend.)

Other games simplify by using only one type of die roll (e.g. D6, FATE, HeroQuest, Mutants & Masterminds, PDQ), reducing attributes/skills/assets/etc. into one or two kinds of thing (e.g. FATE Skills and Aspect's, HeroQuest abilities, PDQ Qualities), or defining conflicts in purely dramatic terms (e.g. Dread, Primetime Adventures, Sorcerer).

Maybe other people might prefer the randomness and patchwork rules of Dungeon Crawl Classics, or the plentiful arithmetic in GURPS. With the number of things already crammed my head I only have enough room for a few simple resolution procedures. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1835-Rules-as-Interfaces
Numenera Stream-of-Consciousness Quasi-Review http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1828-Numenera-Stream-of-Consciousness-Quasi-Review Sat, 28 Dec 2013 17:10:07 GMT So far I've read the Player's Guide and skipped through the core book. I'm not sure whether I like Numenera or not.

The central mechanics are pretty cool:

  • The system requires only three dice: a d20, a d6, and a d100. (OK, a d100 is two dice unless one is brave/stupid enough to use a Zocchihedron.)
  • Every challenge -- from combat to a steep climb to a seduction -- has a Rating from 0 to 10. 0 is trivial, an automatic success; 10 is nigh-impossible. To beat a challenge, players must roll Rating x 3 on a d20. Note that a challenge rating higher than 6 will automatically fail.
  • Players can lower the challenge rating by applying skills, using equipment, activating special powers, or exerting Effort, which is a finite resource. Each level of skill (one or two) or point of Effort lowers the challenge rating one point. If the challenge rating is 0, players succeed automatically. A few items or abilities add +1 or +2 to the die roll; every +3 is equivalent to lowering the challenge rating.
  • A natural 19 produces a special success (if it's a success) and a 20 even more so. (17 and 18 also have special effects in combat.) A 1 means the GM can introduce an extra complication.
  • Notably, only players roll the d20. When an NPC attacks, players make a defense roll against the NPC's attack Rating. For simplicity, most NPCs and monsters have a single Rating for attack, defense, and other abilities.
  • The d6 is used occasionally to generate random numbers: points healed, duration of an effect, etc.
  • The GM rolls a d100 to generate random events, only if he wants to.
  • Players gain XP for discovery and other story actions, or for letting the GM complicate their lives (a la FATE). They can spend XP to cancel a complication, re-roll the die, gain a specific or temporary advantage, and of course improve their characters.

That's it for the basics. But how does a character gain skills, acquire powers, or exert Effort? What are the limits of each? What are "numenera"? That's where the bulk of the system comes in, and it somewhat resembles a D&D class and level system. Essentially one chooses a "type" -- glaive (enhanced fighter), nano (techno-wizard), or jack (rogues or glaive/nano hybrids) -- plus two other elements that bring extra skills, options, powers, and limitations. Characters also have three ability pools -- Might, Speed, and Intellect -- with base values and free points depending on one's type. Characters use up points from an appropriate pool to use fighting moves (glaives), esoteries (nanos), or tricks (jacks), or to expend Effort up to the limits of one's Tier. Gaining a Tier opens up new skills, moves/esoteries/tricks, and other abilities. "Numenera" are essentially scavenged magi-tech items: artifacts, one-use cyphers (up to a maximum determined by type and Tier), or useless but interesting oddities.

The "central mechanics" are the selling point for me, while the Types, Tiers, Pools, Moves, Esoteries, Tricks, and so forth leave me cold. It's like running hack-and-slash games in FATE, or writing a COBOL emulator in LISP, or house-ruling Go. Some gamers may like or need that extra layer of rules, powers, and toys. I, however, gravitate toward the "indie" philosophy of small, focused rule sets and "old school" styles where imaginative solutions trump lists of pre-defined abilities. (They're not so incompatible.) If Monte Cook had stopped with the bullet-pointed list above, I'd be more than happy ... but then he wouldn't be able to sell a 400+ page book of rules and art, much less a multimedia franchise. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1828-Numenera-Stream-of-Consciousness-Quasi-Review
Maybe running a game ... (part 2) http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1775-Maybe-running-a-game-(part-2) Sat, 03 Nov 2012 16:40:07 GMT We ended up creating characters for Tunnels & Trolls, and I ran them through The Dungeon of the Rat, a new-ish GM adventure from RPGNow.

Then real life intervened. We've met twice in as many months, both times to run Dragon Age. It's an interesting system and an interesting world, but I'm not sure whether we'll return to T&T, do DA instead, or what. (Including just drift our separate ways.)

That got me thinking about another campaign I'd like to get started, an Old School / Weird Fantasy place called Erebus. If anyone's interested, I've put a rough draft of the player information online, as read-only Wiki pages:


There's several TODO items and places to improve, but if anyone wants to send me feedback I'd take it in the spirit it was given.

Also, RuneQuest 6 rocks ... but putting together a campaign for THAT would require several SAN rolls without a) using lots of third-party material or b) cutting out most of the magic and monsters. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1775-Maybe-running-a-game-(part-2)
Maybe running a game ... http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1739-Maybe-running-a-game Thu, 14 Jun 2012 14:18:52 GMT The GM of my current group wants to take a break, so I've volunteered to run something. Of the five billion options I presented, these seem to be the most popular:

  1. Eldritch Skies, which I reviewed incompetently on RPG.net a couple of weeks ago.
  2. RuneQuest (Mongoose Legend, possibly upgrading to RQ6 when it comes out), setting either Elric of Melnibone or Pavis in Glorantha. (Although I've yet to read Age of Treason, and perversely I'm itching to try something Malkioni.)
  3. Tunnels & Trolls, mostly published adventures to start with, because after Warhammer Fantasy we need a game with people casting "Take That You Fiend!".
  4. Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd edition, maybe the "Crown of Kings" campaign, again to try a simpler system.
  5. Barbarians of Lemuria, or its Aftermath spinoff, is a maybe.

Stars Without Number or Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies would be cool, since I'm a little tired of bog-standard fantasy, but no real interest from the rest. I'd like to reserve my grand "old school" campaign -- LotFP:WFRP, standard Swords & Wizardry, or Crypts & Things -- for a different date and time, simply because once I start it I'd like to keep going for a while.

In any case, if and when I start something I'll be sure to blog it. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1739-Maybe-running-a-game
Alignment Heresy and A Reformation: Alternate Alignments http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1717-Alignment-Heresy-and-A-Reformation-Alternate-Alignments Sat, 07 Apr 2012 13:08:34 GMT Law and Chaos might have no relevance in some campaigns. DMs may decide to forego alignments completely, or create an alternate system. A new... Law and Chaos might have no relevance in some campaigns. DMs may decide to forego alignments completely, or create an alternate system. A new system should include a Neutral or Unaligned option, and at least one active alignment.

Monopolar alignments contrast with Unaligned, but have no true opposite. Spells detect merely its presence or absence. Examples in gaming include Shadow from Midnight and Chaos from Warhammer. One could also make this force positive, like Gnosis, a knowledge of how the world really works. An alignment toward the "Uncanny" would imply an affinity with magic, faerie, the supernatural, or however one describes it; it's neither good or evil, but it might upset psychically sensitive folks and animals.

Bipolar alignments work similarly to Law/Chaos: Good/Evil, Man/Nature, Sky/Earth, Matter/Spirit, just about any duality that a GM can clearly articulate and players can understand.

The "Good"/"Evil" axis presents one major difficulty: when does a being register on a Detect Evil spell? Thinking bad thoughts? Commiting a crime? How bad a crime? Ramifications of such definitions have fueled some very long threads, so it's simpler to treat Good and Evil the way LotFP treats Law and Chaos: Good characters consecrated themselves to the Forces of Good, and Evil characters have sold their soul to the Forces of Evil. Only clerics, paladins, and angels detect as Good, and only anti-clerics, anti-paladins, and demons detect as Evil. Good seeks universal peace and happiness, Evil seeks an eternity of suffering and fear; petty theft and acts of charity change nothing. Clerics and paladins (and their opposites) can never deny or escape their role in the Great War, so a drunken whoring ex-paladin might suddenly get his powers back just as demons descend on his town.
Multipolar alignments might follow any theme: the elements (three Hindu, four Western, five Taoist or Buddhist), the colors of Magic: the Gathering, the principles of Creation, Preservation, and Destruction, or just about anything else meaningful. Each should be independent and atomic, although some might oppose each other more strongly: Fire and Water are mortal enemies, but Water and Earth might form an alliance of convenience.

Note, however, there's no point in alignments unless they have some meaning in the game world. By this I mean more than spells and game mechanics. If a campaign doesn't revolve around Good and Evil, if both aren't palpable forces in the cosmos, then don't use them. Think of Chekhov's gun: if you introduce Good and Evil in the beginning, you'd better use them before the end.

The Temporal Alignments

Here's an alignment system I've been toying with. In addition to the standard OD&D three, there are three others representing three factions fighting over the flow of time.

Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic: See the LotFP definitions.

Entropic: Entropy devours all. Time grinds mountains into dust, dust into atoms, atoms into brief burst of light. Only a fool opposes the inevitable decay of all things. Chaos understands change, but deludes themselves into thinking their dance will continue forever. History tells itself stories to make sense of time, but it knows where the story ends. Law and Flux spread false hopes of escaping oblivion; only by accepting one's doom can one find peace.

Fluid: Time is always in flux. Only the eternal Now exists; the past is a story, the future unwritten. Blink and the world can change completely, quite literally, and the old world is a half-remembered dream. Sometimes the new world makes sense, sometimes it's cruel and random, but there's always the next one. Law and Chaos can play their games; to be free one must shed fear of the future and chains of the past.

Historic: Time is a chain of causes and effects, not always predictable at the time but sensible in hindsight. Entropy is but the tick of the clock, Law but the perception of the future implicit in the past. Chaos is but order unrecognized, and Flux the delusions of poets and mystics.

Imagine them arranged on a five-pointed star. Neutral lies in the center. On each point, clockwise, sit Fluid, Chaotic, Entropic, Historic, and Lawful. Points next to each other sometimes ally against a common enemy, but each point is an implacable enemy of the two opposite points.

So great, but what's the point? The notion of a Time War and time travel as a weapon crops up in a lot of science fantasy: Doctor Who, Fritz Leiber's The Big Time and related stories, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and the infamous Temporal Cold War plotline in Star Trek: Enterprise. In gaming one finds Super Genius Games' Time Thief and Time Warden classes for Pathfinder and all manner of time-travel RPGs. Add to the mix John Wick's "The Flux", a "meta-RPG" in which players shift universes, characters, and game systems while pursuing the same goals and facing incarnations of the same antagonists.

So, imagine among the pseudo-medieval and gothic shenanagans three powers vie for the future and past of the world. The Historic faction wants a clean timeline with no paradoxes or loose ends, employing academics and time-hopping Men in Black alike. The Entropic faction are nihilists who know the cosmos will end with a whimper and a gulp, and just want to cut to the chase. The Fluidic faction sees Entropy chomping and History dragging out the inevitable; its outside-the-box strategy involves shifting between universes to find a solution, or failing that escape.

The PCs stumble upon this struggle while killing things and taking their loot, probably by experiencing the Flux for themselves. In the process they face Time Wardens of History and Corruptors of Entropy (whatever they end up being). Maybe the PCs gain Time Thief allies, or new/replacement PCs choose that class.

Maybe this is too high concept for an Old School D&D game, but some AD&D players killed gods and took their stuff back in the day. This Time War campaign doesn't rely on characters reaching high levels, since opponents are either humans with gimmicks or godlike beings with limitations. Players need only venture through gates to other times and worlds and follow clues to stopping the apocalypse ... which is pretty Old School in my book. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1717-Alignment-Heresy-and-A-Reformation-Alternate-Alignments
Alignment Heresy and A Reformation: Shades of Neutrality http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1716-Alignment-Heresy-and-A-Reformation-Shades-of-Neutrality Sat, 07 Apr 2012 12:58:26 GMT In Moorcock's writing the Cosmic Balance is a force unto itself, albeit less forceful than Chaos or Law. Agents of the Balance battle Chaos's attempts to dominate worlds. (Law, apparently, is too lawful to violate the Balance, which doesn't ring true to me.) AD&D had a similar concept in True Neutral, a notably tenet of Druids. Unlike regular neutrals, who for the most part don't care about things that don't affect them, True Neutrals are neutrality extremists, intent on correcting any tilt towards Law and Chaos. One could take this to absurd levels -- for every new Church of Law, build a temple to Nyarlathotep -- but crusaders against the encroachment of Law who reluctantly ally with Chaos sounds like a great premise for a campaign.

Within neutrality one can posit several shades between Law and Chaos. "Lawful Neutral" and "Chaotic Neutral" sound boring. Let's use more descriptive and flavorful names.

Imagine, for example, that Law doesn't have a monopoly on benevolent deities. "Neutral" deities have no allegiance to Law and Chaos, but they have their own biases and purposes.

Chthonic: Known also as the Dionysian deities, the Chthonic powers represent man's passions, irrationality, and selfish desires. Many Chthonic deities present an inoffensive facade to laymen, but the inner circle propitiate them with orgiastic rites.

Bacchus, god of wine, exemplifies the Chthonic deities. To most people Bacchus is a happy drunk, patron of hedonists and pub crawlers. On nights of the new moon, priestesses of Bacchus's inner circle imbibe large quantities of wine and hallucinogenic herbs until they become a mindless frenzied mob. These Bacchae attack any man or beast in their path and rend them limb from limb as sacrifices to Bacchus. Bacchus also drives men into alcohol abuse, despair, and death.

Despite a resemblance to Chaos cults, Chthonic cults don't want to remake the world, and frequently support the status quo. The facade of civilization allows the Chthonic deities and their worshippers to indulge their dark urges. Not all Chthonic beings are destructive, but all are dangerous.

Humanistic: Sometimes called the Apollonian deities, they are patrons of civilization, arts, and sciences. Their creeds encourage reason, excellence, and learning; ignorance, laziness, and emotion-driven decisions are anathema. This faction of gods includes mainly tutelary gods and household gods, but include Menrva, goddess of war and wisdom, and the prophet/trickster/hero Sabazios which southern barbarians worship as a god.

Some might call them biased toward Law because they value rules and predictability. Unlike the Church of Law, Humanistic deities provide no divine guidance, but enourage self-reliance and virtue for virtue's sake.

Primal: Primal deities guard the natural world against the depredations of humankind. They are not inimical to all humans, as their human devotees prove. Humans are part of nature, and humans may fell trees and hunt if they honor the spirits after doing so and take only what they need to survive. Any mortals felling a whole forest, slaughtering herds, or riddling a mountain with holes will face their wrath. Prominent among the Primal faction are the Beast Lords, each of whom rule and protect a single species of animal.

Unlike most Neutral beings, Primal gods and their adherents do care about the state of the world ... from their point of view.

So, how does this matter? Bacchus and Menrva are both Neutral, but their goals and philosophies are diametrically opposed. Their cults might not include clerics and paladins, but their members have distinct motivations, ready-made allies, and potentially weird and unexpected abilities. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1716-Alignment-Heresy-and-A-Reformation-Shades-of-Neutrality
Alignment Heresy and A Reformation: Pruning the Nine Alignments http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1715-Alignment-Heresy-and-A-Reformation-Pruning-the-Nine-Alignments Sat, 07 Apr 2012 12:53:35 GMT D&D 4th Edition assumes that the most important distinctions are between Good and Evil, for some definition of Good and Evil. What if we consider Law and Chaos as primary? Three of our alignments then become Lawful, Unaligned, and Chaos.

Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil could round out the set ... but really, people follow the Law always think of themselves as doing so for the Greater Good, and there's little difference between capricious and malevolent. Let's try something interesting.

Using the LotFP/Carcosa versions of alignment (again), here are our five alignments:

Lawful: The Powers that Be have chosen you for a great destiny. What that destiny is, you don't know, but you have faith they will lead you to it. It's all part of the Divine Plan. (Examples: Luke Skywalker, King Arthur, Buffy Summers.)

Lawful Evil: The Powers that Be have chosen you for a destiny ... as a monster, an object of terror, a warning to others. You are the Left Hand of the Gods, but nevertheless you do Their will. (Examples: The Operative from Serenity, Leto II from God-Emperor of Dune, the Angel of Death)

Unaligned: Sometimes you believe someone is watching over you, and sometimes you think it's all random. But you don't know, really, and the answer doesn't really matter in your daily life.

Chaotic: We live in a huge, uncaring universe, where incomprehensible powers could extinguish what we call "reality" at any moment. All one can do is gather power and survive as long as possible. (Examples: almost every H. P. Lovecraft character, Elric of Melnibone, Roy Batty.)

Chaotic Good: In an uncaring universe, nobody will save us but ourselves. As the vampire said, "If nothing we do matters, all that matters is what we do." Justice, peace, and happiness are all the more precious for being transitory, so preserving a small portion even one day is a victory. (Examples: Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, practically all hard boiled detectives, agents of Delta Green.) ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1715-Alignment-Heresy-and-A-Reformation-Pruning-the-Nine-Alignments
Alignment Heresy and A Reformation: Introduction http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1714-Alignment-Heresy-and-A-Reformation-Introduction Sat, 07 Apr 2012 12:48:01 GMT D&D's various alignment systems provoke a lot of discussion, partly because they have multiple interpretations and multiple purposes. To quickly review changes across editions:

Original D&D and Basic D&D had only three alignments: Law, Neutrality, and Chaos. (One version of Basic, I forget which, added "Good" and "Evil". Not Lawful Good or Chaotic Good, just "Good".) Essentially it represented which "side" a character was on in an epic struggle, and spells could detect alignment. If I recall correctly, in OD&D Clerics could only be Lawful or Chaotic, and Chaotic clerics had "evil" replacements for a Lawful cleric's "good" spells.

AD&D introduced the familiar ninefold alignment system: one from column A (Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic) and one from column B (Good, Neutral, Evil). Alignment restricted available classes, and the number of alignment-sensitive spells and class abilities grew. Debates about the meaning of Lawful, Chaotic, Good, and Evil abounded, and explanations in both AD&D and 3.5 official publications were maddeningly vague in some respects lest someone take offense.

D&D 4e pared down the list of alignments to Lawful Good, Good, Unaligned, Evil, Chaotic Evil; Lawful and Chaotic became intensifiers and not powers in their own right. For the first time, alignment had no mechanical ramifications except for choice of deities, and even then a cleric or paladin of any god could be Unaligned. Alignments became moral stances or ideals, and official publications strongly discouraged (Chaotic) Evil PCs.

To sum up, the original designers of D&D borrowed an idea from Michael Moorcock solely to arrange "sides" in a wargamey sense, and subsequent editions "fixed" it by expanding it to encompass philosophy and ethics. After several attempts at exegesis by players and game designers alike, alignment is now a vestigial system, D&D's equivalent of an appendix which does nothing. At least 4e alignment doesn't randomly kill people, as far as I know.

Alignment as it stands is fairly useless, but my relatively new interest in old school gaming unearthed two interesting uses of OD&D alignment:

1. Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role Playing (whew!) explained alignment as a cosmic affinity, not a moral or philosophical choice. Lawful beings believe the universe had a plan, and they have a part in that plan. Chaotic beings see a universe shaped by vast uncaring powers that could wipe out this island of safety and order at any moment. Neutral beings, the vast majority, might swing one way or the other depending on circumstances, but lack the certainty of Lawful and Chaotic individuals. Spells detect Chaotic alignment and ward off its influence. Interestingly, all Clerics must be Lawful, and all Magic-Users and Elves must be Chaotic.

2. Carcosa, an OD&D supplement now published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, uses a similar but more specific scheme. Lovecraft's eldritch horrors -- and things like them -- are very real in Carcosa. Chaotic beings worship them, Neutral beings try to avoid them, and Lawful beings staunchly oppose them. As in LotFP, Lawful isn't necessarily good, although Chaotic is either evil or insane.

These definitions, harking back to Moorcock, got me thinking about what alignment could mean. The next three posts are three thought experiments. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1714-Alignment-Heresy-and-A-Reformation-Introduction
WHAT is THAT? http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1685-WHAT-is-THAT Thu, 26 Jan 2012 13:42:36 GMT "What is that THING you're using as an avatar now?"

Silly question.

It's one of these:

fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1685-WHAT-is-THAT
My house, my rules ... http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1684-My-house-my-rules Thu, 19 Jan 2012 21:51:31 GMT Participating in Jim Raggi's forum about his new game brought up some other random game design thoughts. Here is as good a place as any.


Dispense with fixed stunts. Instead, I'd adopt a house rule (which I can't find a reference for now) that allowed players to "lock" an aspect to behave like a stunt: substitute one skill for another, grant a "permanent" circumstance bonus, a new function for an existing skill, etc.

Add experience in the form of adding personal Aspects, based on events in play. (Adding to skills is a little messier, especially for those of us who like the Skill Pyramid.)


A radical redesign would eliminate the standard attributes (ST, DX, IQ, HT). Anything directly dependent on them would use a base of 10. Characters could increase derived attributes and skills through existing advantages: Extra HP, Extra FP, Strong/Weak Will, Talents (for some cluster of related skills), etc.

Another radical redesign would change the basic mechanic into 3d6 + modifiers, roll HIGH. Skills (and ST/DX/IQ/HT if they still exist) become bonuses or penalties. Roll-over mechanics makes computation of difficulty penalties easier, and allows GMs to use secret target numbers or levels of success. The bell curve of 3d6 makes calculating appropriate target numbers a little trickier than, say, in d20, even if they're on approximately the same scale.


An idea I've been toying with for a while is "skills and only skills", inspired by Castle Falkenstein, some versions of D6, Basic Roleplaying/Legend, FATE, and GUMSHOE, among others. It's exactly what it says: characters have only "abilities", with no mechanical distinction between innate characteristics and learned skills. "Strength", "Health", and the like are just another ability, or cluster of abilities. Abilities need to be largely orthogonal, although "occupations" or the like may make certain combinations cheaper to reflect commonly associated abilities like Athletics and Health. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1684-My-house-my-rules
A brief Jubal Early interlude http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1683-A-brief-Jubal-Early-interlude Fri, 13 Jan 2012 05:19:13 GMT Novels and games always show wise graceful elves and grim greedy dwarfs. Does that seem right to you? Novels and games always show wise graceful elves and grim greedy dwarfs. Does that seem right to you? ]]> fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1683-A-brief-Jubal-Early-interlude Uncounted Worlds, part 3: Other Modes of Travel http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1671-Uncounted-Worlds-part-3-Other-Modes-of-Travel Fri, 21 Oct 2011 07:53:28 GMT Many worlds believe theirs is the only timeline. Even "time travelers" believe in only one real timeline; the others cease to exist when the past changes. Previous timelines become inaccessible through linear time travel, so nothing in their science disproves their theory.

Sufficiently advanced travelers have means beyond these simple "time machines". World Jumpers can identify a parallel time line in infinite-dimensional space and "jump" to it directly. Jumpers typically arrive at a point in space-time equivalent or at least analogous to the point they left. Consequently, jump does not create a cloned timeline, since the jumper is not native to that time line, nor did he move backwards along it.

  1. Infinity Unlimited perceives the multiverse as a series of parallels and echoes arranged in "Quantum Levels". According to their theories, manipulating the timeline moves it among Quantum Levels, making it more or less accessible to "homeline". A rival organization from another timeline, called Quantum, holds to similar beliefs. In fact, their flawed method of locating timeline causes timelines to become less or more accessible as new branches appear.
  2. The near-godlike Probability Walkers unconsciously shift themselves among actual and potential timelines depending on what they desire. One group called Amberites believe that only their home timeline is "real", and all others are "shadows". Sightings of another group of reality-warping Lords have yet to be confirmed.
  3. A civilization of quasi-crustacean fungoid creatures have spread throughout spacetime in multiple universes, including those normally hostile to organic life. These beings are notorious for infiltrating less advanced planets and stripping them of whatever resources they need.
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1671-Uncounted-Worlds-part-3-Other-Modes-of-Travel
Uncounted Worlds, part 2.1 (Consequences of Time Travel) http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1660-Uncounted-Worlds-part-2-1-(Consequences-of-Time-Travel) Wed, 28 Sep 2011 23:56:48 GMT Time travel, as described, moves a traveler back and forth along timelines. From the perspective of a naive time traveler, there's only one timeline that changes every time the traveler changes the "past".

Some other consequences of this model:

  • Travel to the absolute past is impossible. Every trip backwards forks a new timeline; the original past still exists.
  • The traveler enters a world that started identically to a particular moment, but will drift based on travelers' actions. Depending on a chain of events resulting from their actions, this timeline will be lost in the "fuzz", form a hysteresis, or fork off into a brand new timeline.
  • The "fuzz" demonstrates a tendency for timelines to drift back toward their parent. Stepping on a butterfly will go unnoticed. In most cases a human being, even with advanced technology, must expend considerable effort to convert their parallel into a major timeline ... although accidents do happen.
  • If travelers want to "fix" an altered timeline, they must do so right then. Travelling forward and then back will put them in yet another copy of that timeline; even if they convert this copy into a hysteresis the branch they created on their last trip will still exist.
  • A second trip backward will put would-be rescuers in yet another parallel timeline.
  • Some travelers attempt to aid their fellows by traveling to an earlier time. Even if travelers make no changes to the timeline that aren't lost in the "fuzz", their aid has at best a 50% of reaching the intended target. Odds approach 1 out of 2 to the Nth power, where N is the number of branches forking off the timeline between the time the aid arrives and the time the original travelers receive it. ("Interesting" time periods might have thousands of branches.) An intervening hysteresis has a 50% chance of delaying help until its two loops meet.
  • Travelers can reliably receive support from their home time through a continuous gateway between two times. Advanced time travel technology can "lock" onto a particular timeline without maintaining a continuous connection, as long as no further branches emerge from that timeline.

P.S. The observant might note that the "fuzz" consists of hystereses which are too brief or too similar to the major timeline for most travelers to notice. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1660-Uncounted-Worlds-part-2-1-(Consequences-of-Time-Travel)
Uncounted Worlds, part 2 (Conventional Time Travel) http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1659-Uncounted-Worlds-part-2-(Conventional-Time-Travel) Wed, 28 Sep 2011 20:09:57 GMT The preceding hypothesis solves some classic time travel paradoxes, if we assume the following rules. * When a person travels backward in time,... The preceding hypothesis solves some classic time travel paradoxes, if we assume the following rules.

  • When a person travels backward in time, he removes himself from the time stream.
  • A traveler is not "cloned" when a major event creates a branch. Rather, he follows the branch that results from his presence.
  • When a person travels forward in time, he follows the timestream he's currently in.
  • A traveler retains all his memories and physical possessions, even if they no longer line up with current history.

The Grandfather Paradox

Shooting one's grandfather creates a decision point. In one branch, the traveler disappears -- or is retroactively erased -- from the point of view of observers within the time stream and time proceeds as it always did. In another branch, where the traveler ends up, the grandfather is dead, history changes (perhaps dramatically), and the traveler is now an anomaly, a person without a past.

Ontological Paradoxes, a.k.a. the Bootstrap Paradox

Information or objects "bootstrap" from a parent universe to a new branch. For example, a time traveler jumps backward to give something to his past self. This creates a branching point: along one timeline, the past self never received the object, and in the other he did. The traveler will remember the original timeline in which his past self never got the object.

This gets trickier with information. For example, someone travels backward in time to dictate Hamlet to Shakespeare. Who, then, wrote Hamlet? The time traveler may say the Shakespeare of the original timeline who never received the book. However, this presumes Shakespeare (or someone using his name) would have written Hamlet without interference.

The Predestination Paradox, a.k.a. Causality Loops

Since all possibilities happen simultaneously, a traveler creates a new decision point and a new timeline when and where he travels into the past. In one timeline, he disappeared into a time machine and history proceeds as if he ceased to exist; in the other, he arrives to begin the causal loop. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1659-Uncounted-Worlds-part-2-(Conventional-Time-Travel)
The Uncounted Worlds, part 1 http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1658-The-Uncounted-Worlds-part-1 Wed, 28 Sep 2011 09:05:13 GMT This and following posts describes an alternate worlds / time travel idea I might possibly use in some future campaign. Constructive comments are... This and following posts describes an alternate worlds / time travel idea I might possibly use in some future campaign. Constructive comments are welcome.

The "Many Worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics posits that a new universe springs into existence to account for all possibilities. The massive number of quantum events each second would spawn billions of universes. For all practical purposes, there are four categories of alternate timelines:

  1. "The fuzz" consists of universes which differ unnoticeably or trivially from each other. A few extremely powerful beings can manipulate the fuzz to their advantage, but for most travelers it simply makes crossing timelines harder. The "fuzz" ends once one gets far enough into interstellar space; with less matter fewer alternate universes spawn. Consequently, universe jumping becomes much easier in interstellar space. Faster-than-light travel between planets or star systems can also dump the unaware into an alternate version of that planet.
  2. A hysteresis arises when an event creates two timelines resolve to the same end result. The alternate timeline essentially merges back into the branch, creating a single timeline again. Many time travelers try to "set history right" by converting a major divergence into a hysteresis.
  3. At major decision points, different versions of the same event create distinct alternate universes called "branches" or "timelines". New branches arise naturally at points where a small change can have huge consequences, although travelers from other timelines can, unwittingly or deliberately, interfere with history and spawn another branch. Ethicists debate whether "cloning" a universe in this way is ethical because it creates life, or unethical because these new residents suffer the consequences of an altered time line.
  4. Beyond the branching alternate worlds lie the Anomalies: worlds of fantasy, worlds where sapient reptiles rule, worlds with different physical constants and natural laws. The further one travels from one's home universe, the more variations accumulate, until universes can no longer sustain carbon-based sapient life.
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1658-The-Uncounted-Worlds-part-1
I have too many thoughts ... http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1492-I-have-too-many-thoughts Sun, 02 Jan 2011 04:43:03 GMT For a while now I've been claiming I'll start a new game Real Soon Now ... as I have been for years. Partly I'm worried that it will be Orc Lands all over again. (Or the V:tR campaign I joined last year.) Partly I just can't decide on a concept.

At the end of the final CompCharGen article I listed 26 concepts for a next game. The list changed somewhat: "Elysium" is on the backburner, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" has a pilot, and Stars Without Number joined the Games I Want To Run list.

Unfortunately, I've added another idea called the "Shadow-verse", inspired by C. J. Carella's Witchcraft, Buffy, Angel, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and the Hack/Slash comic. (All released or in development by Eden Studios, so guess which system is most likely?) Minor influences include The Laundry Series (and RPG) and the Shadow Chasers setting from d20 Modern. It's essentially urban horror/fantasy, with hunters, miracle-workers, monsters, slashers, vampires, other walking dead, and witches battling each other without the mundanes catching on. (Add spirits and eldritch horrors to taste.) Nothing too original: Wicce from Witchcraft, Inspired from AFMBE, Slashers from World of Darkness and Hack/Slash, magic from Buffy, and yet another remix of vampires. (E.g., sunlight isn't lethal to vampires, but reports of vampires flying or turning to mist are apocryphal.)

So yeah, another possibility among too many. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1492-I-have-too-many-thoughts
Comparative Character Generation: The Final Chapter http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1387-Comparative-Character-Generation-The-Final-Chapter Thu, 16 Sep 2010 13:21:42 GMT Just to finish off the series, I've completed the last Comparative Character Generation essay. It covers more than a dozen other systems in a paragraph each, then comes to some unsurprising final conclusions. ]]> fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1387-Comparative-Character-Generation-The-Final-Chapter Comparative Character Generation: Anyone Care? http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1329-Comparative-Character-Generation-Anyone-Care Mon, 30 Aug 2010 07:30:55 GMT I had planned to do two more "Comparative Character Generation" articles/reports/rants/things, but I'm not so sure.
  1. I've lost interest in doing the games I mentioned last time. My infatuation with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition is over, Mongoose RuneQuest II is mostly the same as Basic Roleplaying, and Unisystem as a whole doesn't do anything new.
  2. My original reason for these things, figuring out a system for my next game, proved faulty. My biggest problem is players, not systems.
  3. Does anyone even read these things?

So, if I decide to do one more, it will probably contain one or more of the following:
  • A quick overview of other game systems with interesting points.
  • A rundown of the game worlds I might do, and what games seem best suited for them.
  • Some kind of "conclusions" from all this nonsense.

That's IF I decide to do one more. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1329-Comparative-Character-Generation-Anyone-Care
The Time Lord Problem http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/985-The-Time-Lord-Problem Wed, 03 Feb 2010 03:38:46 GMT After watching the Doctor's recent regeneration for the Nth time, I realized how to solve a persistent problem in Doctor Who RPGs: Time Lords rock, companions suck.

A traditional solution is to make all players Junior Time Lords. The Buffy game gives non-Slayers more Drama Points, and I'm sure some Doctor Who game has tried a similar equalizing factor. Another suggestion I've heard is that the Time Lord is an NPC Patron, who makes the Companions do all the work.

But what if, in a Doctor Who game, the one Time Lord "dies" every few sessions, and his player passes the character sheet to a new player? "A new man steps in," indeed.

In Ars Magica troupe play, players alternate playing their mage, their companion, and a grog (bodyguard/redshirt). So it could work ... ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/985-The-Time-Lord-Problem
<![CDATA[Another "Comparative Character Generation" essay; Two to go.]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/984-Another-quot-Comparative-Character-Generation-quot-essay-Two-to-go Wed, 03 Feb 2010 03:24:33 GMT I've written another in the Comparative Character Generation series. I'm only going to do two more, since a) I've examined most of the systems I'm likely to find players for, as far as I know, and b) my real problem isn't the system I run.

So if anyone wants to see something besides PDQ, PDQ Sharp, FATE, Fudge, GURPS, BRP, MRQ, MRQ2, WFRP2, WFRP3, Unisystem, Barbarians of Lemuria, NWoD, Savage Worlds, Risus, or several variations on d20 ... speak now. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/984-Another-quot-Comparative-Character-Generation-quot-essay-Two-to-go
Orc Lands suspended ... http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/371-Orc-Lands-suspended Fri, 15 May 2009 13:35:28 GMT Three weeks ago, the players and I decided to suspend the Orc Lands campaign, due to the lack of new players and the number of times one absence... Three weeks ago, the players and I decided to suspend the Orc Lands campaign, due to the lack of new players and the number of times one absence cancelled the game.

I'm going to move the game to play-by-post at some point, although I'm not sure whether I should continue to run it as BRP. ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/371-Orc-Lands-suspended
<![CDATA[D&D, Warhammer, and Traveller]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/369-D-amp-D-Warhammer-and-Traveller Thu, 14 May 2009 04:51:27 GMT Another installment in my continuing attempts to decide on another game to run. This time, I consider True20, Warhammer and Traveller... Another installment in my continuing attempts to decide on another game to run. This time, I consider True20, Warhammer and Traveller, as well as various forms of D&D: E6, generic classes, and retro-clones. ]]> fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/369-D-amp-D-Warhammer-and-Traveller <![CDATA[Musings on running a D&D campaign]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/293-Musings-on-running-a-D-amp-D-campaign Sat, 11 Apr 2009 13:32:41 GMT I've posted some musings on possibly running a D&D campaign on my website.

Part of a really slow series: Part 1 and Part 2 ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/293-Musings-on-running-a-D-amp-D-campaign
<![CDATA[Weird RPG Idea #1: "Yes, We Are All Individuals"]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/291-Weird-RPG-Idea-1-quot-Yes-We-Are-All-Individuals-quot Fri, 10 Apr 2009 23:26:55 GMT Most RPGs differentiate the PCs as much as possible: classes, skills, special abilities, what have you. What if all the players started the game... Most RPGs differentiate the PCs as much as possible: classes, skills, special abilities, what have you.

What if all the players started the game with the same character, say the same model of android just off the assembly line? Every player decision during the campaign adds to the character's abilities, or in some cases disabilities.

Would this be fun? Or annoying? What mechanics would you need to model this sort of game? ]]>
fmitchell http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/291-Weird-RPG-Idea-1-quot-Yes-We-Are-All-Individuals-quot