Friday, March 30, 2012

The Sci Fi Game

While Houses of Stone is on hiatus and I am a bit burned out on its creative flow, I have decided to run at least one game of Savage Worlds in a sci fi setting. It'll last 5 sessions.
I already have players lined up (in excess, surprisingly) for this game but I need to iron out world details.

The plan is to have one game session for world description from me and group character creation. Savage Worlds is fairly lightweight but has more to it than OD&D or B/X, and those are the only systems I've done character creation on G+ with. At a real table, it's fairly easy to talk to three or four people at once, pass around books, notes, and sheets of paper, and so on. I'm hoping that, with good people and patience, we'll be able to create characters as a group and establish the world properly on a G+ Hangout.

Right now I'm debating and designing the world. It's not going to be fantasy in space (i.e. Star Wars), but it definitely won't be hard sci fi, either. I tend to lean a bit toward the Mass Effect style--it's not about inter-ship combat, it's about people, doing stuff, on stations, planets, and ships. Interactions and shootouts.

Today's idea is that in the late 21st century, humanity is visited by a dying race, on their last pilgrimage across the universe before evolving into non-corporeal beings. Some handful of millions of them travel in convoy/flotilla. They were visited by a race from our solar system 50,000 years before, and that is how they gained the ability to travel the stars.
I'm also thinking that not long after this visit, humans realise they need to leave Earth, and are planning for the fact that a few hundred years later they will need a planet to settle. Perhaps the players will take on the role of a party scouting the galaxy for a New Earth. Or maybe they finished scouting and have been in stasis for the journey home--arriving on Earth 200 years or more later.

The thoughts... they drown out everything else in my brain. It's a good thing.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Play Report: Cain's Game

So, the venerable DM, Chris "Flambeaux" Cain, ran another game on Saturday morning. This is the game that has, to this point, been AD&D. Several of our players, due to real life concerns, were to be absent, and Chris's kids all had various infections, so he suggested we play on a G+ Hangout.
We ended up with four players--one of whom had not played any D&D in 30 years.

Chris decided to dial back our AD&D ruleset to a S&W and B/X hybrid to help keep the rules out of the way as the two completely-new-to-RPGs players learned the ropes of gaming.

So... here's the in character report...

From the pen of Murdoch the Medium, a young wielder of the arcane.
I find myself in the company of several excellent people--a warrior named Karl, and two clerics named Bit and Alexiel. We had all heard rumours of several locales ripe with treasure and adventure, and therefore set out to find claim it as our own.

We set forth and travelled toward the hills, hoping to find the caves, which I had heard to be filled with scrolls, spellbooks, and items of a magical nature. On the second evening of our journey, we made camp and noticed a campfire nearby. Erring on the side of caution, Bit moved toward the strange fire under the cover of darkness, and sans armour. He returned to us shortly after with a report of two large, ugly, guttural-speaking humanoids roasting meat on a spit, and drinking from casks of some brew.
Within moments we hatched a plot to subdue these strange creatures, hoping they had something of value, and that dispatching them would be a service to the general good. We tied a rope between two trees, as a trip line, and I moved forward, casting a spell of Irresistible Slumber. One of the strange creatures slumped forward, spilling his drink, and the other merely reached for it. Eschewing our trip line plan, we unleashed a volley of missiles--two spears and numerous sling stones. Within moments the brute had fallen. Moving in quickly we slit the first one's throat, and pulled the second from the fire. We found on each a pouch of silver coins and nearby stood a broken wagon and several casks of ale and wine.

Choosing caution, we went back to our own camp and slept through the night, planning to return the next day to find the brutes' lair. What a find, indeed! We found a tunnel into a small cave with bed mats and a small chest. Within the chest we found several ingots of silver and gold, along with coins, gems, and a false bottom. Beneath the false bottom we found a wooden puzzle box, which would be the focus of our next few nights around the campfire. Before leaving, though, we noted the location of a hatch under one of the bed mats, for further investigation later.

After selling our new found gems to a discreet jeweler at the Keep, we spent an inordinate amount of time experimenting with the contents of the puzzle box--three wands. The box also contained cards with runes on each, and we found that the word on each card corresponded to a particular wand.

Our attempts at uncovering their purpose were futile.

We ventured a half-day's walk from the Keep to the home of Max, a sage and "miracle worker" of note in the area. Max, while a bit eccentric, was a pleasant host who offered tea and toast, and freely identified the wands for us. Apparently his cousins, Marley & Marley, manufactured these wands (en masse) in the nearby city. We conversed with him for a while, and I offered our services in return for having identified the wands. Max asked that, given the chance, we would retrieve some Humblebee Honey from a nearby valley. An old friend of Max's from school keeps the bees in a hidden valley, and Max requested we bring him some dozen jars of the sweet treat, so he could create his potions, unguents, poultices, et cetera. We gladly agreed, as Max had already done us a great service, and the adventure could be quite enjoyable.

After adjourning our meeting with Max, we decided it best to investigate the Ogre's lair further--specifically the hatch under the bed mat. Spending some time down there, we found criss-crossing tunnels upon criss-crossing tunnels.
Exploration was enjoyable, but we decided it was above our pay grade, so we moved back the way we came. Unfortunately, a large purple worm-like creature decided we might need to be its lunch. Bit set down some rations, and we quickly set some oil on the ground and lit it, to cover our retreat.
I believe I saw the worm devour the rations, but what happened when it reached the fire, I do not know--we made all haste for the ladder back up into the cave above.

What will happen next is open for speculation. Our intrepid little troupe will probably expand--I hear some of my comrades have friends and family who would be swayed by the lure of adventure, treasure, fame. The next foray into the wild will include further hunting for the cave system of rumour and myth.

Friday, March 23, 2012

HoS: What Needs to Improve

Yesterday I outlined a couple of elements of Houses of Stone which, I think, made it particularly enjoyable. Today, I want to talk about a few things I need to do better when the game launches again in a few weeks...

  • Planning:
    • Normally, I shoot from the hip. This works impeccably well with NPC interactions, events, reactions of the world, etc. Shooting from the hip works best, though, within pre-established geographical and architectural locations. By this I mean that I need the city, buildings, caves, underground cities, etc all laid out and stocked. The NPCs should have one-liner personality, motive, and objective descriptions. This will make shooting from the hip more effective and allow me the comfort of knowing what's in the sandbox before the PCs get there.
  • Turning it up to 11:
    • Houses of Stone, as it existed for five game sessions, was barely a level 1 world, in terms of challenge and lethality. Being more proactive in planning and design will allow me to add to the challenge, difficulty, and potential lethality that players will see as they play. This will also help me establish baselines for what PC capabilities players will be disallowed, allowed, etc.
  • Puzzling:
    • The unanimous response I got in every bit of feedback about the game was that people loved the puzzles, the questions, the mysteries. A lot of these were off the cuff ideas I had or moments where I said to myself "I know there should be a trap, puzzle, or mystery here but I didn't plan it out... let's see what the PCs try and assign odds to how likely each solution is." I call this "quantum mechanics of DMing" or as one player put it "Schrodinger's puzzle."
    • I don't want to remove this method of DMing and design. It works very well and is a lot of fun. However, I do want to temper it with real design. If the sandbox contains all sorts of things for players to discover, it needs to have some things that will confound them, as well as things that adapt to their attempts.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

HoS: What Made it Fun?

Let's talk about what has gone really well in my five-session Houses of Stone game.
Quick recap of essential info if you didn't play:
- Swords & Wizardry Core rules (mostly)
- Sub-Saharan Africa in an alternate timeline
- History coming out the ears of every NPC, location, and item

I have run five sessions of this game so far, and enjoyed every one, and I believe the players did, as well. The first and foremost thing I think we all enjoyed was history.
The history in this world--the things the PCs had no knowledge of but uncovered by role-playing interactions with NPCs, by exploring locations, by investigating events, by inquiring about items and events--was pretty well laid out, if I do say so myself.
We only really "delved" into dungeons/caves in two of the sessions. Even then, though, only one was a real delve, where the PCs spent almost the entire session exploring the turns and twists of the underground complex. The very first session had about 45% of the time spent in the dungeon, but with a considerable amount of investigation and interaction happening before and after, arguably being the more enjoyable part of the game.
So, my point is, I think the players enjoyed learning by exploring, inquiring, and investigating what the history of the world was.

Second, I think everyone enjoyed puzzling items and contraptions. The simplest things, like a panel of buttons on a purely granite wall in an iron age world, activated by the Fibonacci sequence, was incredibly fun to see players work through.
The puzzles and contraptions, too, contribute to the history-delving of the world. Even though these are classic dungeon puzzles/traps/contraptions/conventions, they played right into the mystery of the ancient race who built the city.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

HoS: Hiatus / Reorganisation

I have now run a total of five sessions of the Houses of Stone game on Google+ Hangouts.
It has been a blast. Every session has been a ton of fun and has revealed a lot to me about how to make the HoS world better.


I need a little break from running the Houses of Stone game.
I still love the ConstantCon and FLAILSNAILS concepts and community. I'm not going to stop DMing forever. I'm not going to stop playing on G+.

tl;dr version: I'm taking a break for a couple of weeks so I can reorganise Houses of Stone as a more traditional campaign. I want one, possibly two, discreet groups of PCs playing on a regular basis, with characters that belong in the world.

Why are you pulling HoS from the FLAILSNAILS multiverse?
Because it's a world that doesn't belong in the mix of dimension-hopping. HoS is a standalone world, even though I intended to create it as a FLAILSNAILS compatible one, and the way I want to run it involves continuity of PCs, events, etc. The big selling point has been that every delve and adventure reveals the history of the world, but if each week I have characters who have never been there before, how do I maintain that?
(Yes, there are easy hand-wave ways around that. I have just decided that I would prefer to not use them for this game.)
I love FLAILSNAILS and may continue to run some pickup games here and there for FPCs... they just won't happen in the HoS world.

How long will the break be?
At least a week but I can't really say for sure. I need to rewrite the house rules doc, as the last 5 sessions have revealed a lot to me about how I want to DM the game, and I need to continue designing content, as a regularly playing group will cover territory more quickly.

What resources will new players have to get acclimated?
I will be writing a much more extensive document to introduce players to the game world. However, I will still rely heavily on players' abilities to draw on real history. After all, this is a historical fantasy / alternate timeline world.

Do I have to roll a brand new character?
Probably. FPCs that have spent a lot of time in HoS already might be cloned at level 1 or re-created with new stats but the same history/background. If you are picked to play and want to make a new character, go for it. If you are picked to play and want to do something other than a brand new character, we'll handle it on a case by case basis, at my discretion.

Who will play?
Not sure yet. Many have expressed great interest in continuing to play in HoS and I've even had some tell me that they'd love to play but are looking for a more traditional campaign. I will have to spend some time considering how to pick players, and hope I don't offend anyone by not inviting them.

When will it be played?
Probably still on Mondays at 20:30 CDT and possibly Tuesdays at the same time. If I have two groups, each one will get one night.

Monday, March 19, 2012

HoS: Recent Events

Recent happenings in Houses of Stone...
- A daring group of adventurers found evidence of foul play in the cave where an ancient n'anga (shaman) was supposed to have been staying. A seemingly-magical book, written in San, was left with the witch doctor, Mudiwa, for translation.

- Discovery of an underground passage to a cave system underneath what seems to be the largest baobab anyone has seen. Ever.

- A group of European mercenaries, explorers, and traders have set up camp on the edge of the village. Most believe they are here to scour the complex underneath the Ruined City.

- Whispers have been heard of strange and ancient magic-like devices deep down under the Ruined City. The monk, Rubro, has expressed an interest in these things.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Houses of Stone: Player Reports (Session II)

Below are two player reports on the pickup game last night. We had 5 players--a Finn, two Canadians, an Aussie, an American, and me, the DM from Africa living in the US. Quite the international group, no?

Adventure and chicanery included testing random spells for a witch doctor, slaying giant millipede fiends (aka "millifiends,") receiving rewards of wife and crazy psychic stones.

Reports after the jump...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Houses of Stone: Player Report (Session I)

Thanks to Christian Akacro for writing this report. Yes, he got a bonus of 100xp for this.

Houses of Stone ~ The Puzzle, the Vermin, and the Spectre

Dramatis Personae
Farley ~ Dwarf
Tobias ~ Shaman (Wizard)
The Slip ~ Thief
Rubro ~ Monk
Madyn ~ Cleric
Donnatalus ~ Fighter

Our intrepid heroes, having trekked in the jungles of the Dark Continent in search of rumoured ruins untouched by sword or spell for generations, began their quest in a small unnamed village. Speaking first with the headman they learned that the Spirit of his great great grandfather had been haunting the village after dark every fortnight. It was seen wandering aimlessly within the village for a short time before setting down near the headman's hut to reflect upon its ruminations. Finally at dawn it could be seen wandering off in the direction of the old ruins. The headman told them their timing was fortuitous, if it holds true to form the spirit should make an appearance that night after dusk. According to the headman the ruins were discovered a couple generations ago. After an ill-fated quest by a group, whom never returned, no one dared go near the crumbling structures for fear of being lost forever.

[More after the jump]

Monday, March 5, 2012

Houses of Stone: News / Events / Rumours for 5 March

Some of the interesting news, events, and rumours floating around the village for tonight's Houses of Stone game...

- The spirit of the headman's great-grandfather has been seen wandering the village every fortnight. Some say they see him walking toward the old stone city ruins after he leaves.

- People in the Mchlanga farm valley are disappearing. Reports of giant creatures carrying them off at dawn abound, but no one can substantiate these. (See below for an "approximation" of these creatures.)


- One of the local witch doctors has put out a call for brave souls to test a new spell. Does not care if volunteers test on themselves or others.

- A shaman has been holed up in a cave for 100 years. The village headman will pay well if someone can get him to tell stories of the village's past.