Category Archives: Gaming

This area examines individual Game Systems, along with the concepts of World Building, and skills that players or game masters can bring to the table.

BoarCrocodiles

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.

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

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

Alternative cities in a magical world

Both of the examples below are interesting options for creating a unique city or world for fantasy adventures. A lot of good stories take an odd concept or what-if and just apply everyday logic to it to see what grows and takes shape.

Bones of the Dead

And if some legendary heroes downed a Tarrasque [stats], then this could be the template for the city that emerges from around the bones and keeps it contained. This thread about a city in the D&D universe which is built around the Tarrasque provides great inspiration for a city built around a single thing.

Tippyverse

Then there is the Tippyverse, which is described in this very long thread about all the major cities on the world connected by teleport circles and all production is handles by magical traps. I guess they trigger a magical effect, like fabricate/create food & water/etc. It’s a world where the wizards rule all and are heavily involved with the control of the cities

Alternative Places

But even the two great examples above are still bound by the classic ideas of what a city is.

Does a city need to fill a large area of space? Can a city use magic to exist on the surface of a coin or other small object? Or drawing from the stories of the faeries, can it fill the dreams of others?

Does a city need to be bound to the material plane or can it occupy another reality? This could give rise to various planar adventures as the player reconnect cities that are in different realms with differing realities.

Do the city need to be alive? This can lead to a city of the dead (or undead), a ruined city from ancient times, or an empty automated city waiting for it people to return {Miranda from the movie Serenity}

Earthdawn, Shadowrun, Torg are all good examples of starting with a simple idea and seeing where it leads. All the best stories are What-ifs.

Languages in games

In many RPGs language is a last consideration, if at all. However, the use of different languages in a game can dramatically influence the flavour of the world. Having barriers to easy communication can add new challenges for the players, can create ways of including or excluding players, and can open up secrets to the players.

Ordering food from the tavern or inn when you do not speak the tongue can give some comic role playing opportunities. Things like bartering the price on some new horses also points to cultural differences. For example, in the first Hobbit movie the Dwarves of Thorin’s company dislike the Elven food of Rivendale, which shows up the differences between to two cultures and how they interact with the wider world.

Another situation is when one or two players can talk among themselves, but exclude others. For example, again in the Hobbit, when Gandalf and Elrond speak in Elvish they excluded the Dwarves who react negatively. This again shows up cultural differences.

The final point about languages is when NPCs, or villains assume that the PCs do not understand them. For example in Monument Men, a US soldier is standing close by the captured German soldier and over hears their conversation, which leads to the gaining of additional information.

Overall, the use of multiple languages can add richness to your worlds, but it must be done with care, because it can create barriers that can divide the group and distract from what you want to achieve in the campaign. I’d always make sure that every group does have a common tongue that they share, like Common in D&D. It’s best used sparingly to enhance the drama, not to restrict it.

Weather as a Weapon

This is where Powerful Wizards, Fanatical Priests and Mad Scientists come into their own, like Prospero in Shakespeare‘s The Tempest, these character archetypes are able to manipulate the weather like a weapon to drive other lesser creatures before them.

From Terry Pratchett’s man in copper armour shouting, “All gods are bastards”, to the proverbial Wizard throwing lighting from on high, or the thunder battle in the Misty Mountains of Middle Earth.

Weather can set up clear consequences in the environment for the players content with. Beyond the basic plot point that weather adds to an adventure.  It can create active dangers for the characters to face.

Weather as a matter of survival

Storms can create landslides or avalanches, especially when placed on an eroded hillside. Floods can drive people apart with the threat of drowning. Snow storms also create an immediate challenge to the character’s survival.

Each of the above ideas could be developed into a natural part of an adventure, by introducing the idea the players early on with some annoying rain that soaks their cloths. Expanded on with an afternoon storm allowing a challenging opponent to escape (Tracking rolls anyone?). The next day continues with more rain. And finally, a rooftop battle during that evening’s lighting storm.

Or for example you can take the scene in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke faces Darth Vader. Although Vader throws objects around using the Force, he could equally be using magic winds to bash his opponent with many flying objects.

Moving away from the rain & wet you can push the weather in the other direction with a heat wave, high winds, and other conditions conducive to raging fire.

It’s nice playing with the extremes of weather, but this can get repetitive in a campaign. So it is also best to use sparingly for maximum effect, and to keep it low key most of the time. A light rain can make the path or rocks slipper, or a hot day will tire fighters quickly (dehydration?). Finding a warm camp-site during a cold night.

Weather in Sci-Fi settings

In the future, the weather on the Earth is likely to be the same. Except for other planets or extreme modification due to cataclysmic events or climate change. For inspiration you can look at IFLScience’s Luminance beach

Beautiful Glowing Beaches Look Like Something From Another World
Beautiful Glowing Beaches Look Like Something From Another World

The corrosive, Acid Rain will create unsightly marks on cloth and can make quick work of unprotected metals. Surface elements like Methane seas turn a passive terrain feature into potentially explosive fun for the players to work around.

 

Using Weather Effects in Role Playing Games

After reading D&DPPF’s post about weather effects & conditions , I started to think about the various effects that you could inflict on the players. Role Master has a number random of weather charts, and I’ve seen a few systems for dealing with desert survival. However, I find it’s best to avoid making up additional rules unless necessary. Wikipedia provides a starting point with articles on the various forms of extreme weather and disasters.

Weather as background

This appears to be the default for most campaigns I’ve played in or GM’d. It is an easy option to add flavour without too much extra effort. A quick roll on a table and feed the result into the daily description of the characters adventures.

However, looking at it historically, human cultures are dependent on the environment for nearly everything, with the local weather being a critical part of that. If you look at the production of food, textiles, or building materials like wood, they are all created by the regular rhythms of the seasons. So as such weather should feature as a character in your stories.

Weather as a complication

While terrain provides a useful backdrop for the characters to work with, around and through. Weather builds on this transforming a simple situation in to a complex one. Making it interesting to play it out, because the weather can force the characters into action.

Rain can provide a little different to a sunny day, changing the atmosphere from light to foreboding or miserable, until you think about the effect the rain has on fragile items, like scrolls, or electronics. What about the priceless painting?  Cloth can absorb a lot of water making wet clothing an extra weighty challenge, and it’s worth noting that wool clothing can be the worst.

Then there is the effect of all that water on the ground, creating wet, slippery and muddy conditions for walking, running  and fighting in. The sound of rain can conceal many foes, or its falling will obliterate tracks. Something as simple as crossing the river will be complicated by flash flooding brought on by the weather or an evil cleric.

High Winds are another complication to a situation that can change the game. Dust gets blown about, along with tumble weeds, rubbish and small children, reducing visibility. Perception-wise sound tends to be distorted or lost in a powerful breeze. In combat, the wind makes archery difficult and more random. Climbing becomes treacherous. Rope bridges, roof tops and cliffs become launch pads.

Storms, CyclonesHurricanes and Typhoons. Depending on the location, the name for these extreme weather events changes. However, the intent is the same combining the above two in to a cacophony of terror from falling tree limbs, ruined building and the like. It’s a time where sensible folk are inside hiding from the raging.

Lightning Storm. Oh! come on, this is just too easy. It is the most obvious, clichéd and direct form of weather complication.  The classic of a wizard on the mountainside throwing down lighting upon the small hamlet, or a ship at sea been thrown about by the raging sea. A storm of this scale should be a terrifying experience.

D&DPPF’s post about weather conditions, gives the great example of a character party seeking cover. After finding shelter they learn a lot about the local area from other travellers and later discover… Well you can read their post.

On the quieter side of things Fog, Mist, or low cloud has a multitude of effects beyond the obscuring of vision. A heavy fog slowly soaks into the skin and cloths, it can muffle all manner of sounds, and with bright-lights can blind. Anyone who’s driven at night through fog will warn you.

The cold in the form of Snow, Hail (Freezing rain) or Sleet/Ice can lead to musical outbursts (ie Frozen’s Let it go). The eyes can suffer Snow-blindness or Photokeratitis caused by too much UV. Hail can damage people and property. And all three of the above conditions will cause slippery terrain similar to rain above, but colder.

A Heatwave can be thought of as the reverse of rain, but there is more to it than that. A short heatwave of a few days can cause illness or death in the old and weak, wither plants, or dry out water sources. A long heatwave or drought is going to destroy crops, dry out vegetation and provide the conditions for dust storms and firestorms.

If you have suggestion for weather conditions I’ve missed or great stories about how they’ve been used in a game, then please comment below.