Thursday, March 2, 2023


 When Chaosium announced that they were going to be making a big announcement, I was underwhelmed. Years of disappointments from gaming companies has conditioned me to expect little that is actually interesting when that sort of pronouncement is laid out.

I probably should trust Chaosium more.

For those unaware, they've announced a new series of books for RuneQuest to be called Cults of Glorantha. It proposes to be a ten-volume series describing the gods, goddesses, and religious life of the Glorantha setting in detail, beginning with a systemless Prosopaedia that will lay out the basic structures, followed by volumes that detail the cults in game terms for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. For the most part, those should also be usable with previous editions of the game, too. After the Prosopaedia, the first volumes will cover the Lightbringers and the Earth Goddesses followed by a book on Gloranthan Mythology, then next year will move on to the Lunar cults, presumably (but not yet confirmed; I've only seen the first five volumes confirmed so far) followed by the Chaos gods.

Probably time for me to get serious about picking up the RQ:RiG books I don't have yet. I'm still waiting for more word on Lords of the Middle Sea, though.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Some Obscure But Fun Small Rules

 One thing about learning many games (here, I am talking about adventure games/RPGs, or "tabletop" RPGs, since now we have to accept that there's a type of computer game that adopted the name but has gained currency over the original usage of the term) is that you'll almost always find some small rule in a game that makes sense and seems fun, but isn't included in most other games. A lot of these are famous, such as the Personality Trait rules in Pendragon or the Sanity rules in Call of Cthulhu, but others are less well-known. I'll do a quick overview of a few of these.

In the Traveller supplementary game, Snapshot, there is a list of actions that a character can take each game turn by spending Action Points. Turns are about 15 seconds long and an average character has a range of from 2 to 30 APs for human characters with no enhancements, and an average of 14 APs. That is roughly 1-2 AP per second or a bit less, in the game turn (but that's not relevant here). During a turn, a character can try to pick up an object that has been dropped. To do so, it takes a random number of AP, generated by rolling a d6. If the player wants, the character can abort this by spending 1 AP, but may not attempt to pick up the object again until a different action is taken. One of the actions permitted is the 1 AP action called "Expletive", which is pretty descriptive. So, a character might reach for a dropped knife, but not get a good grip, draw back and swear, then attempt to pick it up again. Alternate uses for "Expletive" include filling time while a machine, such as an automatic door for example, cycles through its action. So, a door might take 3 APs to open, requiring the character to spend 3 AP before going through the door. Sure, some other action might be taken, but if nothing else presents itself, the character can spend three consecutive "Expletive" actions, costing a total of 3 AP.

Sticking with Traveller-related games, let's discuss the Jack-of-All-Trades skill. In most versions of the game, JoT (the usual abbreviation) alleviates the penalty for not having a skill. That is, if a skill is not possessed by the character, usually they will take a penalty to attempts to perform actions using that skill, varying slightly by particular edition. With JoT, that penalty is reduced or alleviated in some fashion (for example, in Marc Miller's Traveller, or T4 for short, if the difficulty of the action is greater than the character's skill level plus their JoT level, then the difficulty is increased by one; in others, the numeric die roll penalty of -3 or -4 for lack of skill is reduced by the JoT level toward 0, but never providing a bonus). To my way of thinking, that does a poor job of representing what JoT skill actually represents in the setting. MegaTraveller (MT is the official abbreviation) took a very different tack with the JoT skill. Rather than providing a situational bonus to characters who lack a skill, it tried to simulate flexible thinking. In MT, there is an economy of re-attempting a failed skill roll, assuming that it isn't an urgent skill like an attack or attempt at social influence. If a character normally fails an attempt, which is a failure by 1, they can go ahead and retry, but of course this takes as much time as the original attempt. However, if they have an "Exceptional" failure (missing the roll on 2d6 by 2 or more), they normally must roll to "Stay Determined", that is to say they need to be able to come up with a new approach to the problem. This roll is based on the character's Intelligence and Education attributes. The advantage given by JoT skill is that they get a number of free attempts to retry a task equal to the JoT skill level, representing greater resourcefulness at approaching the task. Note that this means that JoT is not typically useful for the types of urgent skill uses described earlier, but that's kind of the point. The skill objectively improves the ability of any character, skilled or not, to perform technical, research, crafting, and similar actions by giving them more attempts to succeed, assuming they have the time to spend. This represents coming up with different approaches to the problem. It doesn't do this by simply increasing the character's effective skill level (even if fractionally) as the other editions do.

Moving on to GURPS 4th edition, there is an optional rule called "The Last Gasp", found in Pyramid magazine issue 3/44: Alternate GURPS II. This actually comprises two separate sections that revise the Fatigue rules in GURPS, but I'm only going to deal with the second section, "Short-Term Fatigue" (there's also a lot to love about the first section, "Long-Term Fatigue", though). In this optional rule, characters get a number of Action Points at the start of combat, based mainly on their attributes. In addition, they get a small pool of points for Skills they have at a high level that can only be used for actions using that Skill, but this pool can only be recovered when the normal AP pool is fully recovered. In this system, unlike the Snapshot APs above (or the APs in FASA's Star Trek and Doctor Who RPGs, which are very similar to the Snapshot ones), APs have to be actively recovered by taking what amount to resting actions during combat, mainly the Do Nothing, Evaluate, and Wait actions (though with a Wait, APs can only be recovered if the Wait is not triggered during the turn). An important exception is that the player may choose to expend regular Fatigue Points (FPs) in exchange for a number of APs recovered (and I think that this should replace the regular system of spending 1 FP for any fight that lasts 10 or more seconds/turns). The system isn't fully developed as printed, with a notable issue being how movement and AP interact, but serves as an excellent basic system for modeling certain types of emergent behaviors that occur during real fights.

In Lace & Steel, one of the skills a character may have is Travel. This skill is used to avoid minor mishaps on the road, ranging from fatigue, embarrassment, lost temper, and the like to rips in clothing (that must be repaired with the Tailor skill or buying new clothing), lost items ("What in the world did I do with that bottle of ink?"), minor injuries like sprains or small animal bites, and so on. Each of these mishaps is given a specific penalty (becoming "disheveled" might be critical if one, say, meets the Duke at a wayside inn on the way to the royal court due to the deleterious effects on Charisma) and a specific way to alleviate it. This also provided reasons to stop at a comfortable waystation like an inn when possible, and to pay more for more comfort, rather than sleeping outside all of the time.

Fantasy Wargaming has an extensive and interrelated magic and religion system that has many interesting features, but I'm only going to deal with one small one here. In the Norse religion section, deities are described in part by their relationships with other deities (this one is the son of so-and-so, this one is married to that one, another is close friends or bitter enemies of yet another, and so on). This affects the ability of a deity to intercede with another on behalf of a character. Normally, of course, one would simply approach the deity in question, but perhaps they have a "Resistance to Appeals" characteristic that is too high, or there is a specific penalty related to that character and that deity for some reason. In such cases, a character might want instead to appeal to another, more sympathetic deity (or perhaps even one's own personal fylgja, which is something not entirely unlike a Guardian Angel, though perhaps not quite the same either) to ask the original deity for a favor. This allows for much more personal nuance to affect the religious actions of characters in the game and helps bring out the personalities of the deities in ways that less flexible, more mechanical systems do not. To an extent, RuneQuest dealt with similar issues by listing "Allied Deities" and the spells that they provide to followers of the main deity, but in a way that was much more rigid than the FW approach allowed.

Do you have any favorite small rules? What games are they found in?

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Random Musings of Gaming-related Nature

 I had it spelled out to me recently (not in so many words, but the implication was pretty clear) that I am exactly the sort of gamer that isn't really welcome in the SJG Forums. After the stinging of the semi-public rebuke wore off, I came to the conclusion that they were probably right to do so, and since I have had poor luck with getting my own questions answered there I have, somewhat reluctantly but with resignation, decided to not participate there anymore (note, they have not asked me to leave, but I'm not likely to change my ways and those particular ways are ones they have made plain they don't want around). Better for us all. And thus passes from me the last forum-style internet site I had any interest in participating in; which I guess is a milestone worth marking in some way, thus this comment here. Blogs and social media work better for me. I should probably get back to paying attention to TikTok, though, as I am not really interested in social media with marked learning curves like Mastodon.

Speaking of SJG, they have hinted that they might be thinking about a 5th edition for GURPS, using similar language to the last time they were preparing for a new edition (20 years ago!) I've answered them as to what I'd like to see, but it's pretty clear from other responses that my interests for that game are not those of the majority of their customers so I don't expect to see them enacted. Meanwhile, I was reminded that Basic Roleplaying has an Open License (and is working with other companies like Paizo on a new one that WotC can't pretend to touch). I'd have to do some work to hammer that into the sort of game I'd be interested in getting deep into in the same way I've been getting into GURPS, but that remains a thought.

The ridiculousness of WotC, in trying to create a power in regard to the OGL 1.0a that is not granted to anyone, has certainly upended D&D significantly. Nobody knows what the future is going to hold, and so it feels like most of the industry is holding its breath, even the people who are loudly declaiming their disinterest.

I continue to think about the idea of a city-as-dungeon project and its practicality. Coincidentally, there's been an interesting series running on Mailanka's blog (I, II, III, IV) that is directly relevant to such a project. So, perhaps it draws closer to actual realization. I'm definitely thinking about a post on the concept.

I spent a lot of today thinking about The Beastmaster, a film from 1982 that was widely considered to be a low-budget coattail-hanger on Conan the Barbarian. Certainly, there are some similarities, but the differences are also pretty pronounced. One thing that both films have in common that I notice is a reliance on a sort of implicit Bronze Age setting, even though the tools and weapons are obviously made of iron. The village in The Beastmaster, especially, reminds me (vaguely, not in detail) of reconstructions of Bronze Age settlements on the Central Asian steppe. The same can be said for a number of "barbarian" films of the era. Deathstalker doesn't have a medieval flavor, The Warrior and the Sorceress employs Cyclopean masonry, which is a Bronze Age hallmark, nearly. So, I looked at Bronze Age architecture and design. Lots of fun sword & sorcery ideas to be found there. It also fits in with a recent interest I've had in sword & sandal adventures… with sorcery. A lot of adventure ideas to be found in Genesis, and there's a lot more sorcery in there than people want to say, apparently. The bit where Abraham forges his compact with God reads like a goetic blood rite with all the animal sacrifices going on.

Speaking of those films, The Arcanum includes a character class, aptly called the Beastmaster, directly modeled on Dar from The Beastmaster, and Tales from the Fallen Empire, a setting supplement for Dungeon Crawl Classics, includes a character class, called the Sentinel, modeled on Kain from The Warrior and the Sorceress. Those would seem to go along well with the Thief, modeled on the Grey Mouser, the Ranger, modeled on Strider/Aragorn, or even Unearthed Arcana's Barbarian, modeled on Conan the Cimmerian (though in my opinion that last was not very well done). For that matter, the Cleric owes much of its form to Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in the Hammer Studios Dracula films and perhaps Christopher Lee's character of Nicholas, Duc De Richleau in The Devil Rides Out (aka The Devil's Bride in the US release, because the studio worried that American audiences would mistake it for a Western). I wonder what other characters from fantasy fiction might deserve to have a character class modeled after them?

More later, I think.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

A Minor Point In The OGL Dustup

 I watched an interview with Ryan Dancey, architect of the Open Gaming License, in which he discussed what is copyrightable and what is not. His example, though, was the combat tables in AD&D (1st edition, naturally), which he claimed were not made according to a formula, but were instead adjusted by Gary Gygax manually according to "what looked good", and were therefore art and copyrightable. That, though, is not the case at all. All of the combat tables in AD&D (and the "alternative combat system" in the original D&D booklets) were simply a highly "at the table" usable expression of a fairly complicated, but still systematic, formula. This can be attested to by the existence of THAC0 ("To Hit Armor Class 0") in the listing of monsters in the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide. There was also an "AL", standing for "Attack Level", listed in the Monster & Treasure Assortment, Sets One-Three: Levels One-Nine, which is effectively a "To Hit Armor Class 9" (where Armor Class 9 represented an unarmored target) entry. Dancey is simply confused by what he thinks his team was able to add to the D&D legacy in terms of rules systems.

Anyway, that's just a thing that I felt I had to get out there.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

New Year, Who Dis?

 It's been almost a year since I last posted in this blog. Does it have any point anymore? Should I just set it aside and let it die? I don't know. Maybe I'll figure out an answer by typing words in this box.

It's not like I've been doing a lot of gaming. I played in a Call of Cthulhu campaign which was a run through the classic Masks of Nyarlathotep adventure/campaign. That was fun, with many gasoline explosions, dynamite explosions, 'splosions, 'splosions, 'splosions. Soon, I'll be playing in a Chronicles of Darkness game, as a high school history teacher who has a yearning for adventure and a burning desire to prove to herself that the paranormal exists. I have a couple of games I want to run in various states of preparation, but lacking a group or venue to play them with or in. I keep considering getting and learning Foundry VTT for GURPS, but that is both a fair amount of money and a serious commitment of time; not even to mention that I have other games than GURPS I'd like to run as well. Perhaps I'll just give up on the idea of using maps and automated tools over the internet and play on Discord, or maybe vanilla Roll20. We had plenty of technical problems getting just the Roll20 videoconferencing feature to work reliably, though.

Now there's the whole OGL 1.1 kerfluffle going on. In the end, I think it's probably for the best that people are giving up on it. Now, we can openly speak of Mind Flayers and Umber Hulks again, no longer constrained by the terms of a peace treaty that WotC offered to settle the T$R/They Sue Regularly wars of the '90s. It seems that they want to return to those days, which they should already know they are doomed to lose. You can't copyright procedures or rules. And good luck telling computer game publishers that you're trademarking "hit points" or "levels". Those ships have long sailed into the public domain. People not even involved with WotC have gotten nervous, but there's no way to revoke a contract that you aren't any party to, so WotC has no say in what happens with other companies that chose to use the same or similar language in their own contracts. Cepheus Engine remains safe, as far as I understand it (though I am not, myself, a lawyer). Still, people should probably switch to a better Open License, like CC BY 4.0.

I've spent time watching anime this past year. Such a fount of creativity, much more so than the really constrained and conventional shows on regular or even streaming TV of the US and UK and related regions. My top five of the last year were Bibliophile PrincessSPY×FAMILYMobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, SHADOWS HOUSE (second season), and MADE IN ABYSS: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun. MADE IN ABYSS, particularly, is quite amazing fantasy that I can't recommend highly enough, and the anime so far consists of a first season, a movie that serves as a connection between the first and second seasons, and of course the second season, subtitled "The Golden City of the Scorching Sun". There is also a manga, which is the source material. I'd also recommend Requiem of the Rose King, which is loosely adapted from Shakespeare's Richard III with much added queer romance, and Urusei Yatsura, a remake of the '80s sitcom that gave rise to Teenagers from Outer Space and so served as a brilliant launch pad for Mike Pondsmith's career (not to mention, the creator, Rumiko Takahashi, has a tendency to create series after series that would each constitute the highlight of an entire career for anyone else). Speaking of Mike Pondsmith, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is also a great bit of anime from the last year. Includes one of my favorite voice actors, Aoi Yuki, if you watch the Japanese dialogue version.

This season of anime has a lot of interest for me, so much that, for the first time in years, I'm probably not going to be able to watch every series that caught my eye. Aoi Yuki has a role in Spy Classroom, which has resemblances to Princess Principal and perhaps Assassination Classroom, the Urusei Yatsura remake is ongoing, The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady had a remarkable opening episode, In/Spectre is finally getting its second season, Chillin' in My 30s After Getting Fired from the Demon King's Army was recommended to me by someone who knew I liked Banished from the Hero's Party, I Decided to Live a Quiet Life in the Countryside (please do not fault me for these unwieldy, overdescriptive titles, they are currently fashionable in Japanese fiction) so I'm giving that a go, NieR:Automata Ver1.1a sounds interesting, and there are no less than three new fantasy series that caught my attention, Giant Beasts of Ars, Kaina of the Great Snow Sea, and The Fire Hunter.

I should probably add that anime isn't a perfect dreamland of endless creativity. There is plenty of convention there and potboiler series are not exactly uncommon. I can't bring myself to watch hardly any series that is billed as "isekai" at this point (some exceptions include InuYasha, The Executioner and Her Way of LifeThe Saga of Tanya the Evil, The Vision of Escaflowne, and Ascendance of a Bookworm), anything described as shōnen causes me to reevaluate any interest I might have had, and even my beloved mahō shōjo stories have sort of bogged down into endless repeats of Pretty Cure (with some notable exceptions—the latter being much better than you might expect) or start off strong and then collapse. This season, outside of Pretty Cure (Delicious Party♡Pretty Cure is coming to an end and Hirogaru Sky! Pretty Cure is getting ready to start), there isn't even a single magical girl series, unless you really stretch the definition. At least there is a second season of Tokyo Mew Mew New to look forward to next season.

Back to gaming, I find myself with a renewed interest in Fading Suns, and both Barbarians of Lemuria and Majus are on my shortlist of games I'd run. I'd really like to run a GURPS Voodoo: The Shadow War game, though rather than train a new group to that system I'd rather run Majus. If I were to run GURPS at this point, it would either have to be players who already know the game or else start off with a run-through of Caravan to Ein Arris as a means of teaching the game, starting with a stripped-down set of rules and adding more options as the journey across the desert continues. I still need to go through that adventure and adjust the characters, as it was converted at an early stage when 4E was still operating under the assumptions that governed 3E. As a result, the characters are extremely over-skilled for their descriptions, with mere bandits (to pick one example) wielding weapons at a level of skill more suited to highly-trained commandos. It's like running across 8th level fighters—level title: "Superhero"—everywhere.

That last reminds me, too, of the old City-State of the Invincible Overlord. I've been thinking about that product a fair amount. The idea of "city as dungeon crawl" is one that holds a lot of sway in my head. However, both because that product's copyright is currently owned by a less-than-savory person and because it was always operating under some odd assumptions as to the demographic makeup of its setting, I would rather create my own version, one where there are perhaps fewer shopkeepers who qualify to run their own domain and attract a body of troops, even where not every noble is given a class and level. It would also give me a chance to refine some of the mechanics (I'm not fond of rolling for one type of encounter in the even turns and another type in the odd turns, for example, maybe use a d12 instead of a d6, with type I, general city, encounters on a 1 and type II, local neighborhood/street, encounters on a 2 each turn). I am still interested in the "crapsack city" feel of the CSIO, too, which is not something I am seeing in other city products I've seen under development lately. Maybe I should write an entire post on the "city as dungeon crawl" idea sometime.

Well, I don't think I've come to any conclusions about the future of this blog now, but I do seem to have come to an end of things to talk about at the moment. Maybe I'll write more before another year has passed.