Fascination with the Flame Princess

Last week, I found myself once again in Chicago. I had plans to meetup with Nathan, and we agreed to connect at our usual rendezvous – The Wanderer’s Refuge. While waiting for Nathan, I stumbled upon a few copies of Better than Any Man, a product that I had kickstarted for Lamentations of the Flame Princess’s 2013 Free RPG Day drive.

Recent Lamentations of the Flame Princess Arrivals

Recent Lamentations of the Flame Princess Arrivals

I had been unable to get a physical copy – what with it being released while I was neck deep in RPGs at Origins last year. So I quickly snagged a copy of this gorgeous adventure. I asked the store owner the cost, and he said “It was part of Free RPG Day, so its free!”

Later, I had an afternoon to kill and found myself again at Games Plus in Mount Prospect, IL. My first visit there, I had bought The God that Crawls and The Monolith from beyond Space and Time.

This visit, they had 4 copies LotFP Rules & Magic. But I already had my copy from a previous order. Though I stood over those books and admired their quality.

Late last year, during one of James Raggi’s crazy “Things are On Sale” days, I purchased a physical copy LotFP Rules & Magic as well as Geoffrey McKinney’s Isle of the Unknown and Carcosa – having read and reviewed the PDF a few years prior.

I kickstarted indigogoed Vincent Backer’s The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions during James’s crazy indigogo blitz – 19 concurrent indigogo campaigns many of which did not fully fund. I wanted to see Vincent’s take on the more OSR related things.

Last month, when James was asking for volunteers to test out a payment processing system, I jumped at the chance to both help out and get a discount. I ordered Kelving Green’s Forgive Us, Zzarchov Kowlolski’s Scenic Dunnsmouth, and Kenneth Hite’s Qelong.

I also have the Grindhouse Edition of the LotFP rules and Zak S’s fantastic Vornheim. The Grindhouse Edition rules provide a digestible introduction to a game that just isn’t quite like the games that I remember from years past. Things are more fragile and mysterious.

Vornheim is amongst my favorite supplements. It is not an exhaustive description of the city, but instead provides tools, guideposts, brief “essays” each for bringing Vornheim to life.

So confident am I that I will love everything Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I joined the Pembrooktonshire Gardening Society. And my card arrived today.

But here is the dirty secret…

I’ve never once played a Lamentations of the Flame Princess game. But they are amongst my most favorite role-playing books.

First, they are gorgeously produced – from the evocative cover art to the decadent paper stock. Just handling them is enough to drive the bibliophile wild.

Second, they are different. They are weird – in comparison to much of what is out there. In some ways reading each of the books transports me. As I crack open one of these books, it is as though I am given another chance at being introduced to RPGs.

So cheers to you James, for all of your crazy endeavors! You are taking risks in what you publish – acknowledging as much in The Monolith from beyond Space and Time – and I’m enjoying seeing the end results. Especially in their high quality printed form.

 

Getting the Band Back Together

Thus far, 2014 has been a year of very little gaming. Normally I would be experiencing withdrawal symptoms, but that has not been the case.

I’ve focused on helping my wife get her soap business off of the ground. We are in year two of the Soapy Gnome,  with the next month focusing on opening a shop in downtown Goshen, Indiana.

My children are involved in more after school activities, which means more time spent in transit. They are teenagers and I can see the window of time with them closing. So I won’t give up those hours.

I’ve also had a significant amount of work related travel over the last two years. This has meant I’ve had face to face time with a handful of gamers from other parts of the country. But it chews into any continuity in game schedules.

I had an opportunity to do some freelance work, and have opted to not pursue it. When I crunched the numbers I had at best 2 hours of unaccounted for time each weekday. And perhaps 20 hours on any given weekend. In other words 138 hours of my 168 hour week are accounted for.

All to say I’ve been busy.

But I want to get back to gaming. I would want to try to find an evening and establish a schedule. I would love for someone else to run the games, and coordinate things, but that may be wishful thinking.

My brother has suggested that we play games via Google Hangouts. And I’m working my way up to that. I love sitting around the game table and playing an RPG. The social aspect is so very fantastic.

Backing Project: Dark by Will Hindmarch

My absolute favorite RPG sessions always involve a heavy dose of scoundrels and rogues. Which is why I’m backing “Project: Dark” by Will Hindmarch.

In fact the single most memorable session in my gaming experience started with everyone having committed a crime and were given a chance for freedom – Irv the Mole if you are keeping score at home.

I know that there are those that would just as soon wait until something is complete and released so they don’t assume a financial risk – or they simply don’t want to wait. And for those on the sidelines, I can understand; Personally I have a few Kickstarters that I’ve relegated to the “if it shows up, fine” category.

I have personally met Will on numerous occasions; And played in a few of the games run by him. He is the utmost professional game designer with a solid track record. He truly understands games.

And while I missed my chance at GenCon to play early drafts of the game, those were able to spoke quite highly of the game.

The Kickstarter is already funded, and I can promise my players that come March this will be brought to the table.

Translating Old School Items to Dungeon World

From the Dungeon World core rulebook:

When making your own magic items keep in mind that these items are magical. Simple modifiers, like +1 damage, are the realm of the mundane—magic items should provide more interesting bonuses.

And in principle I believe this is very worthwhile advice. However, there are lots of magic items out there, especially those created for Old School Games under the Open Game License.

This post builds from my previous post concerning Saving Throws or Defying Danger. I actually began this post and had it mostly finished before I started writing the previous post.

Translating from the Old School Items

Dungeon World begins and ends with the fiction. When looking at old school items you should explore how the item interacts with the fiction.

Consider the following old school item:

Begin OPEN GAME CONTENT

Ring of Poison Resistance: The wearer receives a +5 to saving throws vs. poison.

END OPEN GAME CONTENT

In an old school game, a +5 to your save is rather significant but does not guarantee success.

A direct translation could be interpreted as:

Begin OPEN GAME CONTENT

Ring of Poison Resistance: You gain +1 ongoing to defying the dangers of poison.

End OPEN GAME CONTENT

But the above definition assumes a move triggers, which may not be the case.

In Dungeon World poison has the dangerous tag (see below).

It’s easy to get in trouble with it. If you interact with it without proper precautions the GM may freely invoke the consequences of your foolish actions.

The dangerous tag description hints that using this could trigger a move; But the tag doesn’t guarantee that a move triggers. And therein lies a difference between Dungeon World and an old school game.

The old school item builds on the saving throw – a reactive defense mechanism developed to give your character one final attempt to avoid a terrible fate.

Dungeon World’s Redbook (its alpha version) had the following move for Saving Throws, explicitly calling out poison.

Make a Saving Throw (Con)

When you take damage from an enemy of higher level than you or when something inflicts an effect (magic, poison, calamity) upon you, roll+Con. On a 10+, nothing else bad happens. On a 7-9 the GM chooses one. On a 6- the GM chooses two.

  • You drop something valuable
  • You break something mundane
  • You miss something important
  • You lose your footing
  • You lose track of someone or something
  • It’s worse than it seemed—take +monster level damage

Gone is the Saving Throw concept, replaced instead with the more generalized Defy Danger move – its fictional trigger is below:

When you act despite an imminent threat or suffer a calamity, say how you deal with it and roll. If you do it…

  • …by powering through, +Str
  • …by getting out of the way or acting fast, +Dex
  • …by enduring, +Con
  • …with quick thinking, +Int
  • …through mental fortitude, +Wis
  • …using charm and social grace, +Cha

✴On a 10+, you do what you set out to, the threat doesn’t come to bear. ✴On a 7–9, you stumble, hesitate, or flinch: the GM will offer you a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice.

From that fictional trigger a player could rightly narrate that they are attempting to defy the danger of poison by sucking out the poison or toughing it out; They could also reach into their pack to get some antitoxin.

But a Ring of Poison Resistance should provide a reactionary defense.

Begin OPEN GAME CONTENT

Ring of Poison Resistance: When you are exposed to the dangers of poison you can deal with it by relying on the ring. Roll+3 to defy the danger of the poison. Instead of rolling you may permanently drain the ring’s magic to negate the dangers of the poison.

End OPEN GAME CONTENT

If you are interested, you can checkout my Take on Magic Items.

Saving Throws or Defying Danger

This post began as I was working on my Translating Old School Items to Dungeon World post. And while it was published first it was inspired by that post. I would also recommend taking a look at nerdwerd’s Saving Throw = Defy Danger post. It was written prior to my post, but I didn’t know about the post until it was pointed out in the comments.

Thinking about old school character sheets. In particular the mental cue that the Saving Throws give.

  1. Paralyzation, Poison, or Death Magic
  2. Rod, Staff, or Wand
  3. Petrification or Polymorph
  4. Breath Weapon
  5. Spell

These are a litany of the dangers a character might face. And those dangers are very specifically called out on the character sheet sitting in front of a player.

Contrast with Dungeon World. The character sheet doesn’t give any indication of the dangers you will face. It is a collection of things that you can very specifically do.

And throughout the materials facing the players – the moves sheet in particular – there is the Defy Danger move. It describes that characters can defy dangerous things, but doesn’t give much of an inkling of what those dangers might be.

A Few Examples for Contrast

In old school games on both sides of the GM screen there is a clarity regarding when poison and magic take effect; This is how I might describe a spider attack in an old school game.

The spider bites you as it begins spinning a web around you. Take 1d4 damage and make a saving throw versus poison.

The attack describes that in order for the poison to take effect, the character must fail their saving throw. And before the narrative proceeds we need to know the results of the saving throw.

In Dungeon World things are more murky. Below are two sequences that are equally valid.

The spider bites you; take 1d4 damage. You immediately feel the burning sting of the venom as the spider begins to spin a web around you. What do you do?

The spider bites you; take 1d4 damage. Its venom weakens you as the spider begins to spin a web around you. What do you do?

In the former sequence the player is given an opening to respond to the venomous bite. In the latter sequence the character is already suffering from the venom. In both cases the character will likely need to defy danger in an attempt to break free of the webbing.

But does the player know that they could defy the danger of the poison?

Conclusion

I much prefer the Dungeon World sequences – though I would entertain other examples for the old school sequence instead of my straw men. The Dungeon World sequences very obviously begin and end with the fiction. They are inviting the player to respond.
But this comes with a cost as well – the GM must remember the danger of the poison.

In the old school example, the poison is quickly resolved. And perhaps that is its brilliance.
Old school games were originally run for half a dozen or more players. That is a lot of fiction for a GM to juggle.

I shudder at the thought of running a Dungeon World game for half a dozen or more players. It would be too much fiction to hold in my mind; I would need procedures to handle that.

Dungeon World games focus on the fiction. Old school games focus on exploration. And for exploration you really want to know the dangers that are ahead of you.

Random Relationship Graph Builder

As I said earlier in my Random Clergy Generator post, I’ve been kicking around a campaign that involves a monastery (or perhaps more appropriately church). Around this time I read an old blog post at Deeper in the Game regarding 3 tiered Conflict Webs.

This go me thinking that I wanted to have the monastery filled with internal conflict at both a petty level as well as the leadership level. I also wanted the monastery to be in the maelstrom of the external world.

This may also be just in time for the rerelease of the Birthright Campaign Setting PDF.

Graph relationship of major players in the kingdom

A Proposed Kingdom Relationship

Relationships Defined

Within a living and breathing campaign world, consider three categories of relationships:

  1. External leadership
  2. Internal leadership
  3. Petty affairs

External Leadership

The inter-relationship between organizations and/or figures of authority that are in regular contact.

Thieves Guild, Bishop, Vizier, King, Earl, Duke

Internal Leadership

The characters of an organizational structure that are part of the leadership.
What are their motivations and relationship with other internal leaders.

Abbot, Prior, Subprior, Cellarer, and Sacrist

Petty Affairs

The characters of an organization that are part of the day to day function.

Butler, Footman, Scullery Maid, Driver, Stableman

Begin OPEN GAME CONTENT

Establish the Entity’s Attributes

Each entity has three attributes:

  • Influence – how the entity is perceived/interacts beyond their domain.
  • Sovereignty – the entity’s control over their subjects and domain.
  • Means – resources that can be leveraged to action; wealth, military might, spy network, etc.
Rank Influence Sovereignty Means
-4 Pariah, Outcast Fall is eminent Impoverished, insolvent, mutinous
-3 Shunned Leads in name only Deeply indebted, demoralized
-2 Ridiculed Strongly opposed Shaken, heavily taxed, indebted
-1 Distrustedm Disrespected Meager, Over committed
0 Heard Obeyed Bases are covered but nothing more
1 Trusted Respected Some excess capacity
2 Persuasive Revered Excess capacity and capabilities for securing more
3 Finger in every pot Infallible Owed numerous favors, abundant capabilities
4 “Puppetmaster” “God” Incomprehensible

Establish the Entity’s Relations

For any of the above organizational relationship categories, write each of the named entities in a line. It is the author’s recommendation that you put “obviously related” entities immediately adjacent (i.e. King and Royal Vizier).

For each named entity, roll 4dF and lookup the result:

  • Negative – connect the entity to the next entity in the line
  • Zero – connect the entity to the next entity in the line (as above) but also if an entity further down the list has no connections, connect to that entity.
  • Positive – do all that you would for a zero result and if another entity further down the list has no connections, also connect to that entity.

Each connection represents an established relationship between the two entities.

Optional Relationship: Draw a connection from the last entity on the list and the first entity.

Define the Relationship (Optional)

d8 Vice Virtue
1 Lust Chastity
2 Gluttony Temperance
3 Greed Charity
4 Sloth Diligence
5 Wrath Patience
6 Envy Kindness
7 Pride Humility
8 Roll 2 times Roll 2 times

Each established relationship between a character/organization is defined by one or more vices or virtues. Roll 1d8 and lookup the corresponding Vice/Virtue.
For each line roll 4dF and lookup the result:

  • Negative – the relationship is based on the indicated vice.
  • Zero – the relationship is defined by both the vice and virtue.
  • Positive – the relationship is based on the virtue.

It is up to the Gamemaster to interpret the resulting relationship.

End OPEN GAME CONTENT

Torchbearer with the kids

On Monday, bitter cold and snowfall closed both both school and work. So I asked the kids what RPG they wanted to play. Rather quickly they all said Torchbearer (they had played before and it apparently had captured their attention).

We sat down and started creating characters. I again encouraged them to avoid the Elf and Wizard, focusing on the more mundane classes.

Torchbearer’s character creation is a fantastic blend of base class competencies modified by a handful of questions. Choose where you were born; this gives you a skill and a trait. Choose how you get others to do what you want. Maybe in another post I’ll go into more details.

I decided to run Under the House of the Three Squires – the example adventure in the Torchbearer book. Without spoiling the adventure, I’m going to make a conjecture about why they all specifically wanted to play Torchbearer. It is hard!

I’m not referring to the rules, which take some getting used to. But to the style of play that is hard. Very early they got kicked in the face for not asking questions – they charged in assuming that their Fresh condition would save them.

It didn’t. I felt bad for not providing enough guidance and asked if they wanted to start over. They were willing to soldier on, but I was soft and encouraged them to start over.

They did, and immediately they began asking questions. And from my answers good ideas started flowing. And kept flowing – it was infectious. They were still making tests, but managed to avoid a few of the more treacherous tests.

As they were interacting, asking questions, gently prodding, I found myself gaining greater clarity of the environment that they were exploring; The aappropriate twists or complications were right in front of me.

And this is hard because it is different from much of what they have typically played. Many of the games that they’ve played – some of which I’ve run – have very quickly went to the dice. For example:

GM – Debris is strewn…

Player – I roll to Search. I got an 18.

GM – Um.

In Torcbearer it is likely doing their best to avoid rolling the dice. Not only are the odds not overly in their favor, but every roll depletes one of the parties precious resources – time and the march towards a new condition.

In other words, Torchbearer mechanically encourages “Starting with the Fiction.” Which is likely something that makes complete sense to those that started with the earlier editions of the old school. And has been lost in the translation.