Thursday, September 27, 2012

Warp Riders

When I said in my last post that the idea I had for a campaign was metal, I meant it. It was actually inspired by The Sword's album Warp Riders. I had been listening to the album a bit and listening to the lyrics and reading up on the concept of the album. It struck me that the basic concept of the album would make a pretty neat game setting.
Thinking further on this I came up with the idea of combining several different existing campaign settings and ideas into one over the top mega-setting.

The planet around which the album is based has become tidally locked, meaning that one side of the planet is always facing the sun, and the other is always in night. My first thought was that a slightly adjusted Dark Sun would probably work pretty well for the day-side of the planet. Harsh, and hot, with the sun as much of an antagonist as anything else. Thinking about the night side of the planet it occured to me that the Shadowfell from the D&D Fourth Edition default cosmology could stand in pretty well for a half of a planet that's eternally enshrouded in darkness and cold. There's a song called Night City which describes a city on the Night Side of the planet full of scoundrels and space pirates (the Warp Riders of the title for example). Thinking about that I liked the idea of adding in some elements of Spelljammer into the setting. Perhaps Gloomwrought (a city in the Shadowfell) is also a space-port filled with pirates and other lowlifes from all around the universe. I like the Dark Sun idea that the Gods are absent, (though may have existed at some time in the past) so I turned the Raven Queen into a particularly successful Sorcerer Queen who rules the nightside of the planet, presumably much to the dismay of the other Sorcerer Kings and Queens who have to share the Day Side.

The game could start on the Day Side, which is cut off from the Night Side both by the magical machinations of the Raven Queen and the Sorcerer Kings and Queens, and by a zone of intense elemental storms that exists along the border between the two sides. (Apparently on actual tidally locked planets it's theorized that there would be intense storms and such where the heat and cold met one another, so I figure we can just add some magic to the mix and turn it into a sort of ring of Elemental Chaos). The players would either be natives to that side of the planet (who may not even know there is a Night Side, or even what night is!), or perhaps as characters from elsewhere in the universe who had the misfortune to crash land on this planet. Eventually, if their wanderings brought them to it they would find a way to the other side of the planet, where they might have further adventures or might be able to hitch a ride off the planet.

So that's the basic idea, an insane mashup of Dark Sun, The Shadowfell, and Spelljammer, all with twists from a metal album.

I'll go into more detail in another entry soon on some of my thoughts on how all of these things might fit together and what sort of history a world like this might have, some twists and changes, and other details I've been thinking about. Hopefully it'll be interesting you readers, and it'll give me a chance to solidify some of them into writing.

So what do you think? Does this sound like a fun setting? Does it inspire any ideas in you? Let me know!

Good gaming!
-The Duke of Brandonshire

Some Older Entries Added

Just a quick note that I finally imported some gaming related posts from some older blogs here. They're a bit rough when I read through them now, but they were written a while back and mostly for an audience of friends I know in real life. Anyway I figured this was a good home for them. I may go back and see if I have any others from elsewhere I can grab but I think these are probably it.

As for new content I'm working on a write up of an idea I had a little while back for a really "metal" gonzo D&D campaign. I should hopefully have that posted in the next couple days.

Good gaming!

-The Duke of Brandonshire

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Randomness And Me

Until fairly recently I've at least sort of looked down on random encounters and charts and such. Not entirely mind you, but I had this feeling that they felt like a relic from an older time that were usually just not necessary in a "serious" campaign. It sort of felt to me that any "good GM" shouldn't need such things as she should be able to either improvise something or have already come up with with "serious" story implications. Lately I've come around to randomness more though.

In my last post I mentioned the series of articles on random encounters that Steve Winter wrote about. But even before those articles I was starting to change my mind on randomness. First I had a few good experiences running some games of the recent incarnation of Gamma World and looking at all the fun the players had making sense of the randomly picked options they were presented with. I also read up on the concept of "gygaxian naturalism" after seeing the term a few times.

I actually think it was reading that article that gave me a bit of an "ah ha!" moment, where I realized that random encounters and percentage chances of this and that weren't just there to allow for "lazy" GMing, but were there instead to simulate a natural world where things happen at varying frequencies. That the same factors that make the dice work to make combat exciting and interesting could be put to work in other aspects of the game too. It was then that I started to realize creating or choosing a random chart could actually be a very good method of preparation, just as valid or "deep" as any other method. It's also a great way to avoid railroading things too much.

Randomness is one of the things that's helped me understand the idea of "old school" gaming a lot more than I used to. For a long time I thought old school games were just simple hack and slash affairs with nothing really "important" happening in them and no good story. Now I see that they're about the characters encountering a place or world and making their own stories through their actions in that world. In many ways it's more collaborative storytelling than the way I've played some other games with that goal in mind. It's also a good way to keep yourself on your toes as a GM and force you to do some improvising and even possibly some out of the box thinking to make sense of what the dice are telling you.

All of this is to say that I've come to appreciate the way that a bit of planned randomness can inject some life into a world and help to create a more "realistic" world for the players to interact with. It's not all just up to the whims of the GM, some of it is simply the world asserting itself through the dice. It's also fun when you're GMing to be surprised by things!

This is not to say I don't also see value in the sorts of games I have generally been playing and in other ways of doing things. I still like, and see value in story-driven games, or GM's who improvise a lot of what the players encounter. The "Quantum Ogre" doesn't really bother me all that much, though I see why it is a concern for some or how it could become a problem. But I think through my reading of some old school blogs and thinking about randomness and how it is used in older kinds of games I've come to appreciate something I never really did before.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Auctions!

Finally! On to some real content!

I had an idea a little while back while I was thinking about randomness, specifically while I was thinking about a series of articles by Steve Winter over at his blog (The excellent Howling Tower) and at Kobold Quarterly. Specifically these entries on using random encounters in games.

While I was thinking about those ideas I was also thinking about treasure distribution and how I'd like to do it in a future game. I don't hate the way 4th Edition does it (by default at least) but I've thought or a while now that if/when I run another 4e game I'll use inherent bonuses (still don't really understand why this wasn't the default in 4e...) and distribute treasure much more randomly.

Anyway, while I was thinking about these two things an idea popped into my head about auctioning off magic items and letting the PC's participate in those auctions. It suddenly occurred to me that this could be a good way to employ randomness!

So the basic idea is this: You have a chart that determines what the various NPC's the PC's are bidding against do in a given round of bidding. Each NPC has their own set of modifiers to that chart that effect how they bid in any given round of bidding at the auction, whether they sit that round out, whether they try to outbid the most recent bid and by how much, or if they stop bidding entirely. I liked this basic idea a lot. It lets you as the GM determine some things about what sort of people these NPC's are and then let the dice decide how they reacted to the PC's. The players then only need to know what the results are for the NPC's and bid or not bid accordingly. If they know how an auction works they can do this without any other knowledge.

This lets you make an auction exciting for everyone, and avoids the problem of it feeling like the GM is just using auctions as a way to decide how much the PC's are going to have to pay for an item while wasting their time with a phony bidding process (since she presumably knows ahead of time at what point an NPC's will stop bidding).

My initial thought was of a simple, but custom chart for each NPC, or a few standard charts that would be used depending on how rich they were. But I realized that just a simple chart you roll on might be too static and won't really provide much in the way of reactions to what the PC's are doing,. I also realized making up a new chart for every NPC would get pretty tedious.

So after some thought I think a better and simpler way is to create a standard chart and then add some modifiers to the NPC's to add or subtract from their rolls. You can then set some thresholds to subtract from these modifiers to represent the bidders being less and less likely to keep bidding as the price goes up.

For example lets say we have a chart with 10 entries on it.You'd roll a d10 and then look up the result on the chart. It might look something like this (this is by no means a final chart, hasn't been play tested or anything just an example):

1. Bidder stops bidding entirely
2. Bidder sits out for the next two rounds
3. Bidder sits out this round
4. Bidder sits out this round
5. Bidder bids the price up one increment
6. Bidder bids the price up one increment
7. Bidder bids the price up one increment
8. Bidder bids the price up two increments
9. Bidder bids the price up two increments
10. Natural 10: Bidder bids the price up three increments (otherwise only go up 2)

However, since, at least in the first few rounds of bidding we probably don't want our PC's competitors dropping out of the auction immediately, (or at least not have exactly an equal chance of dropping out or bidding an absurdly high sum), we add in the modifiers depending on both how much the character wants the item and how rich they are.

My thinking here is to make these simple three step increments. The NPC is either interested (+1), very interested (+2), or desperate (+3). Likewise their wealth follows a similar set: average wealth (+1), wealthy (+2), very rich (+3). These bonuses (one from each category) would then be added up and that would effect how the NPC rolled on the chart (at least initially). So pity the PC's who want the same item as a very rich, and desperate competitor who would be starting out with +6 to her rolls!

Now I say "starting out" because my thinking is that as the auction goes on and the price goes up you would subtract one from their modifier every round of the auction. So the modifiers would go down, and perhaps even eventually go negative making it increasingly likely that the NPC will drop out of the auction (or at least stop bidding long enough for someone else to win).

Now remember, I've done no playtesting of this at all at this point, and these numbers may be way too big (maybe we just need 2 for each category?). I'm also envisioning an NPC that starts with the maximum bonus being a very rare occurrence indeed. Most of the time rivals should probably be starting with only a +2 or 3 at most.

 There are certainly some potentially big problems with the system. The first being that this may simply be a lot of work and take too much time for something that most players and GM's won't really enjoy. I personally find auctions to be fun and exciting but it's possible others don't (or wouldn't at the table. Heck, I might not either once this is tested out!).

After running this by a few friends some other possible issues have also been brought up. For example: players sitting at a table may be a lot more detached and rational than they might be in a real auction, so they may stop bidding really early rather than getting caught up in the excitement of the auction, and continuing to bid for a while.

Some ideas friends have suggested that I'm certainly thinking about, both to modify or even replace this system:

-Simplify and abstract things further so that the PC's only end up bidding against the "top" competitor for the item.
-Use some sort of character skill to the process and maybe abstract it into a few die rolls using that skill.
-Add in some sort of "compel" mechanic so that the PC's actually have to make a will save or something in order to avoid making a bid if they want to try to stop. This would represent their character getting caught up in the frenzy of the auction.

For the moment I still kind of like the simple and straightforward system where the players don't need to know how to do anything other than bid in an auction, but this hasn't been play tested at all and the system as is may turn out to be too cumbersome or tedious.

A friend also suggested maybe this could be turned into a way for the PC's to sell their items, perhaps even a way to fence ill-gotten goods. I'm still thinking on that one a bit, but it might be an interesting (though perhaps a bit too complicated as is) way to determine what sort of price they can get for items they bring back from adventures.


So what do you think? Does this sound like something worth pursuing? Do you have an suggestions for improving things? Is this a terrible idea and I should just scrap it? Is there another game I don't know about that's already covered this territory? Let me know!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Focus

I realized a few days ago that I never really articulated what I wanted to do with this blog. That's mostly because I'm not totally sure myself! For the moment my only focus is on tabletop gaming. That probably seems pretty specific to some people I know, but for anyone into the hobby, it's actually pretty broad.

I hope to talk about my thoughts on various games, my thoughts on gaming in general, maybe do some reviews here and there, provide a little bit of useful content for other gamers, and maybe even do some play reports here and there, and any number of other kinds of entries I haven't even thought of yet.

I'm not (at least to start) going to focus on any particular type of game (like old school games, or story games or whatever), or take any particular angle to how I approach my topics. At least that's how I'm starting out. It's entirely possible that if I manage to stick with this (and I think I will, at least for a while, I'm enjoying the process, and having somewhere to work out my thoughts and ideas) that a bit of a more specific focus will develop. That's totally fine by me, and maybe the best way for something like that to happen, at least for me.

Anyway, nothing groundbreaking here, but I just thought I'd add a bit of a note about what this blog is about. I've still got a couple of entries in draft form that I'm working on polishing up, but they're not quite there yet, and a few things have cut into my blogging time recently, but they are still in process and I hope to post them soon!

What would you like to see from a new gaming blog? Anything you want me (or someone!) to talk about?

Thanks again for reading!

Good gaming!

-The Duke of Brandonshire