Thief style games

Recently I went back and played Thief Gold by looking glass studio, picking up the triple pack of Thief Gold, Thief 2, and the new Thief 2014. The experiences I had between the new and old were very stark. This video by Dom Giuca sums up some of my frustrations with the game and the style of games in general.

The game Thief used artful storytelling techniques in the crafting of the levels to heighten the mood or terror of an opponent and still manages to achieve it with very minimal technical specs, especially when compared to today’s titles.

It provides the player with a minimal toolset to achieve your goals, but to will feel the loss of one of these things

Another thing I’ve noticed is the sound design a theme which is picked up and explored by Strat-Edgy Productions in The Sounds Of A Thief. This is an element of game design that I’m hearing in more and more games.

These elements bring be back to why I (and possible you) play games, which is for new experiences. To see the world in different ways and to explore where those paths lead us.


Useful links related to Thief & Thief 2



A new monster!

An article from IFLScience details, Galloping Crocodiles Ate Dinosaurs In North Africa. The documentary on National Geographic has since been moved, but it does give some great ideas to mix it up with creatures that players are unlikely to have encountered.

The BoarCrocodile (Kaprosuchus saharicus) is from the Cretaceous period and would have been 6.5-meters-long (21 feet). Armed with three sets of sharp tusks and a snout that could probably have been used as a sort of battering ram, this must have been the stuff of nightmares for the beasts of the time. While it is thought that K. saharicus fed mainly on dinosaurs, our ancestral mammals probably had plenty of reason to be afraid.

Mike Hettwer/National Geographic. Kaprosuchus saharicus model and original skull.

Laganosuchus thaumastos grew to a similar size, but its flat head appears to have been more suited to ambush attacks on passing fish.

Mike Hettwer/National Geographic. NIcknamed PancakeCroc, Laganosuchus thaumastos probably had a diet of mostly fish.

Both species were closely related to crocodiles, and lived a similar semi-aquatic lifestyle, but had legs beneath their bodies, rather than sprawling sideways as modern crocodillians do. “My African crocs appeared to have had both upright, agile legs for bounding overland and a versatile tail for paddling in water,” Sereno wrote in National Geographic Magazine at the time of the discoveries. “These species open a window on a croc world completely foreign to what was living on northern continents.”

Todd Marshall/National Geographic. This cretaceous crocodile nicknamed DogCroc was probably a fast and agile runner.

The third species identified for the first time on the same expedition, Araripesuchus rattoides, was only a meter long and probably lived on roots and insects.

None of the three compare to Sereno’s best known discovery, the 12-meter-long (39 feet) Sarchosuchus imperatordubbed “SuperCroc,” that roamed (and shook) the Earth 112 million years ago.

Mike Hettwer/National Geographic. Paul Sereno with models of six of the crocodile species he helped discover and describe.

“We were surprised to find so many species from the same time in the same place,” University of Montreal palaeontologist Hans Larsson told The Guardian when the discoveries were announced. “Each of the crocs apparently had different diets, different behaviours. It appears they had divided up the ecosystem, each species taking advantage of it in its own way.”

National Geographic has animated Sereno’s discoveries and interviewed him extensively for the soon-to-be released documentary.


Fun for the thieves of the party

When the thief of the party steps up to do their thing, the rest of the party sits back and waits for it to be over. This has a tendency to disrupt the flow of play and the energy in the session.

However, with a puzzle box or furniture with hidden compartments (see the videos below), the challenge can incorporate more of the party.  Wizards, Clerics, and other loremasters can contribute their knowledge about the glyphs, runes, or mechanics to aid the thief in opening it. While the burly fighter holds the door (sorry, too soon), or operates the stiff mechanisms.

This springs from Matthew Colville‘s talk about Skill challenges and how to use them in D&D. Other game systems have been using skill challenges for a while, Matt’s expression of the idea has a lot of merits and you should check out the video.

What really makes these sort of things play out very well is to be very clear about the nature of the challenge, to make the PCs time poor, and to set up the consequences for both success and failure. Pathfinder is riddled with Save or Die options in the high levels and this is something best avoided. The FATE game system clear explains that the idea of failure equals death (ie Rocks fall, everyone dies) is narratively boring.

So what happens next is the important thing! Injuries, delays, distractions, curses, capture, etc. The movie Rising Sun has a scene when some bad guys delay the heroes while others dispose of a suspect, showing that the bad stuff doesn’t have to happen to the good guys.

Getting back to the point, one of the goals of the Game Master is to keep everyone engaged with the story in meaningful ways.

Wilderness adventuring in an open world

The Alexandrian has published an interesting article on the Hex crawl. It appears much like an endless dungeon, but in the open air.  The 13 posts detail his version of how to put together this kind of open world adventure and finishes with a useful set of cheat-sheets. Also referenced is Ars Ludi’s Grand Experiments: West Marches, which prompting the idea for the Alexandrian.

On the one hand it looks like lazy GMing or GM-lite in the creation of a playable world, which is not a bad thing with the complex and busy lives most people live. However, I suspect that there would be interesting challenges in the preparation you could do. It would help develop the GM skills around improvisation and adaption, along with the creation of little diorama-like scenes for the players to experience. On the player-side, it looks quite easy as their is no preparation and all play, but the risks and challenges are such to make the session very intense.

On the other hand as a GM to does limit your ability to develop long term plans for NPC Villains and such. It would also make harder to develop the boarder story elements in the game, as everything becomes player driven, and depending on the whims your players could go anyway from hack’n’slash survival, monster of the week,  to delving into alien cultures.

The same idea could be applied to an endless city filled with blocks of punks or citizens who have survived in the ancient arcology or similar open-worlds. For current examples look at Minecraft, No mans sky, Dwarf Fortress, or even one of the hundreds of the Rouge-like games. All of which fulfill the idea of an endless game world.

Looking at FATE for the Fantasy genre

After Piazo’s Humble Bundle that slowed the server something chronic because of the downloads. I wanted to adapt the Hell’s Rebels Adventure Path for use with FATE

So as part of that process I’ve been looking at the Freeport Companion for FATE (via Evil Hat, via Green Ronin, or via RPGNow), which holds a lot more in common with FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) and Slyflourish’s Dungeon of Fate than FATE-Core. and t reviews have generally been positive and I like the idea. However, I agree with Emeralds and comments on forums that having just 6 skills is too narrow.

So I’m looking at taking the ideas and translating to something more diverse. to FATE-Core. The skill list is straight from FATE Core, the stunts & magic will be adapted from the Freeport Companion. There is a collection of creatures for fate (thanks Inkwell ideas) which makes it easier to add creatures, plus a few posts on giant insect monsters centipedes, and gelatinous cubes.

Now I’ve discovered Aperita Arcana and House of Bards, both for FATE-Core and add something to the fantasy campaign I want to run. Although I will need to adapt elements of both to achieve the level of detail I want in the game system.

Darths and Droids

Since Episode VII is almost upon us, I thought it time to share one of my favorite webcomic, Darths and Droids. The story follows a group of gamers through the years as they experience role playing in the Star Wars universe (with the assumption that the movies do no exist in that universe).

The writers, The Comic Irregulars, make use of screen captures of all the movies cut into a comic style page. The comic features a well written story with in jokes and plays on Star Wars. The nice addition to the comic is that every page has some interesting facts and ideas relating to Star War, Sci Fi Gaming, Game Mastery, World Building, etc. I’d suggest for any GM to read the comic for the idea at the bottom.

Oh and the description of Jar Jar by the player Sally (See Page 20);

Obi-Wan: What does our new friend look like?
 Obi-Wan: That's you, sis.
 Jar Jar: Mesa got biiiig long floppy bunny ears...
 Jar Jar: ... and a tongue like an anteater!
 Jar Jar: And mesa face is kind of like a pony and mesa coloured peachy pinky white!
 Qui-Gon: You should have eyes on stalks so that you can see behind you.
 Qui-Gon: That'd be so cool.
 Jar Jar: Yeah! Mesa has that too!
 Qui-Gon: You look awesome!
 GM: I've run Call of Cthulhu with less ghastly sounding monsters.
 Qui-Gon: I like the voice too.

Which is such an apt description and pure comedy gold for the character.

What makes a Rich Gaming World?

As a player, a rich world is one I’m happy to return to again and again. There is something about these rich worlds that keep drawing me onto the new horizons. So what are these worlds and what is it that keeps me coming back. Firstly some examples…

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth

The classic that has spawned hundreds of imitators making the foundation of the fantasy genre is the only place to start when exploring the idea of rich worlds. Looking beyond the story there are many facets of Middle Earth that draw you in.

Firstly, there is the distinct races of Middle Earth. Each has a unique culture that separates it from the other peoples of the world. The way that Elves exists is distinct from the Dwarven mindset. The quick vicious intelligence of Goblins plays at a different speed to the Ents. So each race or culture approaches situations differently and this can play out in the behaviors of the NPCs, although Players as always remain unpredictable.

Secondly, the use of language or in this case languages. Each language acts as a further barrier to make each race distinct from one another. The harsh sounds of Black Speech, divides the Orks from the musical tones of the Elven languages and the Dwarven Khuzdul. The unique created languages add another layer of richness to the beautiful landscape.

The third is the long history that adds weight to each culture. Thousands of years of history that each individual carries from their own cultures help build a strong narrative. For example;  The eminently that exists between Elves and Dwarves is created from their long history of wars.

Finally, there is the map which represents the geography of the world. For me the map of middle earth provides a rich tapestry to wonder around the page of possibility exploring it’s locations without having to write all the details onto the page, but explodes in my mind filling in the blanks.

George R R Martin’s Westeros

The world of Westeros also has a long history with many elements not fully revealed to the readers (or watchers) of the series. George has previously stated that his inspiration was the Wart of the Roses where this first Tudor king, Henry the VII rose to power followed by Henry the VIII. That time does mark a tumultuous period of English history, and as a fantasy world build it does give you a short cut into creating a rich background for the players to carve up.

Another thing that Westeros has is the taking of standard fantasy cliches and adding a twist. For example; If you look at the Stone men which could be in D&D terms Golems or Earth Elementals, but in the mythos of Westeros are suffers of Greyscale. There are a number of differing stories surrounding each of the major elements existing in the Song of Fire & Ice. So having a basic idea with lots of embellishments and variations to the story existing to add strength to the tales, and natural rumors for the players to shift through.

The World of Darkness

White Wolf’s World of Darkness (WoD), in a similar move to Westeros, shows us a hidden history and what is concealed behind the common news stories of today to illuminate the horrors that lurk at the end of perception. And if we choose to peel back the skin we to can reveal the sores of festering evil underneath. It takes the current world events and adds another layer of meaning to over the top.

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman

In the first 72 issues of the comic series Sandman, Neil Gaiman weaves together the legends of many cultures with a twist of modern horror to create something new.  The tails are familiar, yet play out in unexpected ways as greater entities that dwell outside the myths impact upon what we know.

What can we do to enrich our gaming worlds?

As the GM or World Creator, what are the simple ways to add richness to our gaming worlds with a huge amount of effort, such as, Tolkien did when writing the created histories for Middle Earth.

  1. Add a map. Nearly every major fantasy series has a map, and you should too. It will help control the space of the game world.
  2. Take stuff from history. Use this to build a timeline to help flesh out your ideas with detailed stories for the major events.
  3. Also having a variation for major event, or building a list of rumors can help add richness to your world.
  4. Steal from myths and legend. By linking to common myths and legends it’s another shorthand way of adding more detail that, as the writer, you do not need to write.
  5. Finally, it’s what is not on the page. Only write what you need at the time for the next game session, unless you think it adds something worthwhile to the world

Conquest 2015

I’ve just found a few characters from Conquest 2015, a Melbourne based gaming convention. It’s reminded me of the fun had and some silly gimmicky trophies won. Mind you, it’s the first trophy I’ve won based on my own effort and skill. And luck, I can forget that. The thanks for turning up trophies I got as a kid really don’t count. However, the best bit was the fun of the kind of games I really enjoy.

Trophies from Conquest 2015
Trophies from Conquest 2015

Early on there was this dungeon crawl, a linear adventure with little scope for creative decision making or characterisation. This been said, I watch the boys make havoc with it all which resulted in the party’s barbarian been eaten by a Mimic and the cleric flame striking both to release him. The Mimic died and the barbarian survived on 1 HP. (My son won the “Stay dead” for his efforts as the cleric.)

I did get to play the board game, Doom, which is no longer in print. As expected, we all died without completing the mission. Although we did run around lots shooting stuff and going hand to hand with big nasties.

The Avengers Assemble session was my favourite in playing the Captain in the post Hydra takeover of SHIELD. I was able to keep the party going and survive some stupid heroics. As a team we where able to move through the scenario and to face the challenges presented to us. The GM was able to keep the situation exciting and to keep us on our toes adapting to our ideas.

The best part was when Black Widow, Hawkeye, and myself were in a subterranean laboratory of  the SHIELD base controlled by Hydra. Where we were trying to rescue scientists without alerting Hydra to our presence. The other 3 where on the surface ready to attack the fortified facility. As professional spooks Black Widow & Hawkeye had moved through the room towards the large vault door. While I hung back and concealed my shield under a large jet engine, and move across the room to discover one of the scientists we are looking for. Natasha plants a bug  so that Tony Stark & Jarvis can start hacking the computer systems to copy all their data so we know what they have being up to.

Discovering what they’ve done to Rhodey, Ironman attacks backed up by the Hulk and Thor. The base realising we are there goes on high alert and starts destroying all the records (computer & otherwise). Realising that we will loose the data and in my rough disguise I take the role of a scientist and order everyone out. Most people start moving out, but a guard points at me saying, “That’s Captain America.” My cover blown and acting as a distraction for the others I run across the room sliding to my knees and pull my mask over my face to recover my shield. (This is where the props the GM provided make it, because I was able to pull the mask down to cheers around the room.)

A gun fight ensures, with the villains entering the room, the Baron and a controlled War Machine. Natasha slips through the door to rescue the other scientists. The Hulk was a menace to all knocking out two players. In the end good triumphs and much fun was hand.

Another highlight was my first LAPR event, Dresden Files, run by either Chimera Productions or LARP Victoria (I believe there is a lot of cross over between the groups.) As a fan of the Dresden Files books and the FATE game system I gave this a go as it combined the two in a LARP format. The result was my character, Marcus, was mind controlled and tried to kill a wizard by throwing him off the building. As you can guess it didn’t work, but with some detective work by the others they discovered the plot, and all of this was not even the main event. Hopefully, they will publish the adventure/event for others to enjoy.


Finally, a Harry Potter game where I played Luna Lovegood. I used random sketching to get into character. I know I’m not an artist as my raven looks more like a pigeon.

Overall, it was a small and great event with much fun to be had. It makes one of the four Melbourne conventions each year. I’d like to make next years, but it’s will clash with a major medieval event over Easter. So that is unlikely. That still leaves Arcanacon in January, Phenomenon in June, and Unicon in October. Also check out Canned Geek for a list of of Gaming/Geek/Pop-culture related conventions and events.

The art of storytelling

14Every life has a story, it is a story, and creates many stories around it.

Most gamers start with Dungeons & Dragons as their form of live interactive fiction. The lesson learned from D&D style storytelling are simple and thankfully the support for creating those stories has improved over the years. However, much of that Bardic wisdom remains untapped.

TVTropes explains much of the possibility from theme, into mood, and character and motif to make them almost clichés. Another even offering this

The Periodic Table of Storytelling

These only offer a world of rules and pre-packaged techniques that can be applied and their beauty is not forthcoming lacking a true heart to inflame our passion. Because even if the emotion  is expressed by a master, it lacks relevance in our current world.

The art of a good story is to craft a tail that has a life of it’s own with twists and turns, failures and triumphs, and most of all one that can be seen by other.

Beyond that a great story is never just told, but the teller also listens and interact with the other players of the game. To highlight each player’s character in a way that only they can shine.

Even to showcase a minor character in a major way to show that as the individual grows, and demonstrate