Thursday, September 17, 2020

Interactive Dungeons/Environments: More Mad Max, less Jonathan Strange

 

Art: Tan Ho Sim

There’s a rising discussion of “Dungeons as a Toy,” to create an adventure environment where the terrain is more than just ground, floors and walls. It perhaps starts with a bit of irony.

In the vastly underused 5e DMG, there’s a great but underdeveloped bit called Tricks (p 297.) In two paragraphs and two charts, it offers the idea that things can be tugged, pulled and experimented to find surprises or mystical effects; perhaps to remind players that their avatars are in a magical land. But mostly the effects are random and there’s no guide on how to clue players in on potential interactivity. (Though knowing players, just having a DM mention a thing in a room is going to provoke curiosity.)

M.T. Black, 5e freelancer and Guild Adept extraordinaire, delves into this a bit on Twitter and comes up with the next level of D&D appropriate effects, such as those that heal or summon critters to add high fantasy verisimilitude and theme.

It’s a level of verisimilitude and interactivity that Numenera players already know pretty well. Monte Cook Game’s fantasy game hiding as a science fantasy game often has strange non-puzzles to play with and  offer a bit entertainment. As I brought that along into my Solar Sails campaign, my players would call them “cool mind f%^&s.” In both worlds, these Tricks reminded players that civilizations have risen and fallen where they stood and some magics (or technologies) were beyond their current understanding.

Which is a thing in many D&D settings, the often overused and misunderstood golden age, a time when Elves/Giant/Dragons/All of the Above ruled and used powers beyond human understanding until some hubris or another brought them low and began an Age of Humanity. For many world builders, this is simply the excuse for why dungeons abound. But these ruins from a forgotten age are mostly thought in a historical context, as crumbling infrastructure that houses not artifacts, but mostly artifacts – like a +1 gladius.

But if a more extravagant and power civilizations perished before the current times, it would make high fantasy more like a green post-apocalypse. There would often be bits of things PCs would find that would stymie them and daydream about the wonders of another age. In other words, perhaps the best RPG to do this was Gamma World, which tried in essence to put a SF spin on the D&D dungeon and constantly had players trying to figure out what the World Before was really like without having an artifact blow off a limb.

As a fan of visual themes, I imagine that’s one way to put that Gamma World post-apoc vibe into your high fantasy game. Populate your world’s former golden age with the faux-Carthaginians clockwork engineers or pseudoByzantine bio-tech masters. Then tie in your Tricks or oddities with themes of clockwork or bio-tech to send a clear message to the players, that they are playing with powers unknown and sailing in uncharted waters.

Soon enough, they’ll equate your visual theme with a big red button right in the middle of the oddly shaped chamber. And then you can just sit back and let them entertain you.

As a very cool side note, I'm now an unlocked Stretch Goal on the Diamond Throne Kickstarter


Go, Ganza! Go!

 I'm open to bribes for more Cypher stuff! You can do a one-timer at  https://ko-fi.com/ganzagaming , or regularly via this Patreon. Regardless, I'm still working on Solar Sails, a fantastical world of SPELLs that's JAMMERed with all sorts of the fantastical. 
Ganza Gaming Twitter @ChrisRNegelein
I’ve been writing 5-star, award nominated, and Electrum selling gaming stuff for both Cypher and 5e SciFi. You'll see how it's all done behind the scenes and get free stuff after clicking that Patreon link!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Achievement Unlocked: I'm a stretch goal!

 


That's right. If the Diamond Throne kickstarter hits $52k, I'll cram a ton of Cypher goodies into the exciting conclusion of the Width of the Circle adventure trilogy. Let's do this!

Go, Ganza! Go. 
 I'm open to bribes for more Cypher stuff! You can do a one-timer at  https://ko-fi.com/ganzagaming , or regularly via this Patreon. Regardless, I'm still working on Solar Sails, a fantastical world of SPELLs that's JAMMERed with all sorts of the fantastical. 

Check out my 5e stuff!  https://www.dmsguild.com/browse.php?keywords=negelein&x=0&y=0&author=&artist=&pfrom=&pto= 

Cypher PDFs! https://tinyurl.com/yxfj29by

Ganza Gaming Twitter @ChrisRNegelein

Patreon https://www.patreon.com/ganzagaming

I’ve been writing 5-star, award nominated, and Electrum selling gaming stuff for both Cypher and 5e SciFi. You'll see how it's all done behind the scenes and get free stuff after clicking that Patreon link!


Saturday, September 12, 2020

It's an official thing!


I'm joining the There be Dragons team to help expand the world of the Diamond Throne! If you like Cypher and you like fantasy, this is going to be a kickstarter for you.
The 2003 d20 Diamond Throne setting (Malhavoc Press) and the Cypher System (Monte Cook Games) were both created by Monte Cook so there's already a spiritual link between the two. 
There Be Dragons is a new international label for one of the leading Italian RPG publishers and they've already funded! In fact, bringing me on was sort of a stretch goal that became an update because of their crazy first week.
The final details are getting hammered out for exactly what I'm going to be working on, but I'll keep everyone posted! 


Go, Ganza! Go. 
 I'm open to bribes for more Cypher stuff! You can do a one-timer at  https://ko-fi.com/ganzagaming , or regularly via this Patreon. Regardless, I'm still working on Solar Sails, a fantastical world of SPELLs that's JAMMERed with all sorts of the fantastical. 

Check out my 5e stuff!  https://www.dmsguild.com/browse.php?keywords=negelein&x=0&y=0&author=&artist=&pfrom=&pto= 

Cypher PDFs! https://tinyurl.com/yxfj29by

Ganza Gaming Twitter @ChrisRNegelein

Patreon https://www.patreon.com/ganzagaming

I’ve been writing 5-star, award nominated, and Electrum selling gaming stuff for both Cypher and 5e SciFi. You'll see how it's all done behind the scenes and get free stuff after clicking that Patreon link!



Monday, August 31, 2020

Gaming is a language

 


By Christopher Robin Negelein                                       Photo: Wikipedia Commons

This has always been a firm belief of mine that good games create a sort of language. A language of tools, perhaps, but then again we are tool inventing/using species. Until now, my go to example was both Magic and Seven Wonders. Seven Wonders because they use a variety of icons that can make basic sentences; Make one gold trades with left neighbor or Choose one free resource from list. Where as my example for Magic was how 68 year old bridge player could be mystified at the concept that the cards themselves could have rules on them and just how you set them on the table (tapping) meant something. 

But I was reminded of that yesterday because I came up with a new little dice system that I don't think has been used before. You use two different colored d6s and read the rolls with one color in the tens place and the other in ones place. So 1,1 isn't two but an 11 and 6,6 (as pictured above) is not 12 but a 66 .

I could have made that simpler by saying, "read the dice as percentile dice" or even d6% but I discovered there was a whole context missing from that. 

See, I don't regularly play/run regular d10% games so it never occurred to me how they play out, more specifically that they are roll under systems. If you have a skill that's 64% then you roll below your skill to be successful. This leads to a whole bunch of mechanics that are fairly intuitive, especially if you make them opposed rolls. In a fight or contest? Roll below your skill but higher than your opponent. Want graduated successes or failures, How much of a factor is your roll compared to your success. 

But with my "d6%" system, I had already assumed the set up would be to match or exceed a difficulty number.  So to say I was surprised by the hour a friend and I wasted trying to understand each other was a understatement.

For the math savvy, or just the very observant, you have probably already noticed a "flaw" in my system. The dice can't express certain numbers like 17,18, 19 or 20. But we pick everything   back up at the number 21.*

That's another bit of gaming expectations (or language?). Or dice systems aren't supposed to have obvious holes in them or they way they work. First edition Storyteller dice pools system was infamous for this since ones canceled out successes and further ones could doom you further, which meant that highly skilled characters with buckets of dice were as likely to drastically fail at something they were supposed be legendary good at.

But this is where the game designer part comes in. What if these sets of null numbers are turned into a feature? The player gets a bonus when their successful result ends in a 7,8,9, or 0.  (And right there, that sentence has a whole bunch of gaming language and expectations going on.) What sort of bonus. Another friend asked me, "Mechanical or Narrative?" And I knew he was asking if I planed to fill those bonuses with additional in-game benefits (such as critical success, extra damage, etc.) or narrative springboards (serendipity, advantage, edge, triumph.) So gamer language again. 

It also made me realize that to some extent, narrative and mechanical game could be more interchangeable than I previously thought. 

I've already be thinking not only of the selling point of the null states as mechanic but how it could fit into world building. Does reaching a null number mean your character has accessed energies from another dimension? Have they gone out of phase or slipped between the cracks of our natural world to someplace just out the peripheral view?

Overall, I now see that just trying to express this game is going to be threading a needle of gamer language and exceptions, but we will see. I'm jazzed to see what may come next.** How about you?

*In fact, the only way to reach those "null" numbers is by having a bonus or modifier, which is nice. Unskilled character may still get lucky, but they will never get that extra zing a skilled character has. I like it. 

**I'm not calling it now, but doing the same system for the d8 would lead to a more gritty system where the same bonus numbers would be mean less not only the number spread is bigger, the overall total of null numbers is smaller.


Go, Ganza! Go. 

 I'm open to bribes for more Cypher stuff! You can do a one-timer at  https://ko-fi.com/ganzagaming , or regularly via this Patreon. Regardless, I'm still working on Solar Sails, a fantastical world of SPELLs that's JAMMERed with all sorts of the fantastical. 

Check out my 5e stuff!  https://www.dmsguild.com/browse.php?keywords=negelein&x=0&y=0&author=&artist=&pfrom=&pto= 

Cypher PDFs! https://tinyurl.com/yxfj29by

Ganza Gaming Twitter @ChrisRNegelein

Patreon https://www.patreon.com/ganzagaming

I’ve been writing 5-star, award nominated, and Electrum selling gaming stuff for both Cypher and 5e SciFi. You'll see how it's all done behind the scenes and get free stuff after clicking that pledge button.

Found brotherhood and found treasures

 


 By Christopher Robin Negelein    Art: Public Domain 

Here is the third installment of the tri-beginning of the Solar Sails superpower, Trokia. Three city state bastions joined together with three miraculous budges of the finest materials and arcanagineering. This is the start of how the dwarven bastion, Pinnachal, discovered tarra, the material that makes void vessels floats. 

 Regardless, dig in and enjoy! (The below excerpt is under the usual first draft disclaimer and probably has a few typos. Be gentle, but feel free feedback.) 

There in the mines of Pinnachal were two dwarven brothers and the last of their clan. Despite their hard work and determination, hardship and misfortune followed them everywhere. For those who knew both Karlimin and Aleximin, suspected that before the Shattering the brothers’ clan ancestors must have done something so wrong the bloodline had been cursed with bad luck. A curse so strong that it protected the family from the catastrophe so they could keep suffering to pay off their karmic debt. 

And the brothers had become so despondent, they would have to agree. Sadly, it was the only thing they could agree on in those days. The two fought constantly and if not out of a sense of familial duty, they might have split up years ago.

Then their luck took a turn for the worse. 

On a prospecting trip down an old abandoned shaft, they fell through the floor and landed in an undiscovered corridor. It was covered in runes neither of them recognized. It had been constructed and abandoned even before the Shatter. 

With no way back up, they wandered the unlit caverns for days in the dark as their rations ran low. Worse yet, they found the place to be littered with devilish death traps that they would have fallen to if not for their darkvision and rare teamwork. But as they constantly escaped death while also slowly starving, something happened. They slowly learned to work together to solve the traps and remember better times. Their brotherly bond strengthened even as they grew tired and weaker. 

Perhaps the karmic wheel of fate had begun to spin clockwise again because the brother’s found an underground river that slaked their thirst and found blind cave fish to fill their bellies. Refreshed, rested and rebounded, the siblings had higher spirits, despite being lost in unexplored, strange caverns in the grand Basalt Crown mountain. Determined to find their way back home, they followed the river upstream in hopes that going upward would take them towards civilization of some kind. What they found would change the history of the Flow forever. 

Part wading, part swimming and part diving, the brothers finally reached an expansive cavern that gave off a twinkling glitter, like underground starlight. The river’s source was a waterfall, whose source was hidden in the dark and distance, very high up. 

The veins of  the strange material were unknown to them. The cavern, which a replica can be visited today, was filled with unprocessed taara ore. While the brothers had no idea what the mineral was, they were excited to discover something new. It could be a useless rock, but the curious and the collectors could provide enough to survive on until a better opportunity arose. Karmlinin, though, noticed that loose bits of  the minerals hovered just barely off the floor. 

Fascinated, and distracted, they didn’t notice the giant cave crab sneaking up behind them. They only noticed when it grabbed Aleximin and dragged him into the cold river. Karmlinin dove into the black water to save his only kin. The water was ice cold and even darksight gave no help. In the dark, he scrambled for his sibling, but he grabbed a chitinous limb instead. With fierce desperation, he yanked with his boots digging into the riverbed. He heaved with all his might and pulled the creature right out of the water, including his brother. Both siblings beat the crab from both sides until its claws stopped moving. The brothers dragged themselves to the riverside, dined on raw crab and then slept, exhausted. 

The next day they investigated both the waterfall and the strange rocks. Petramlinin noticed that as more of the ore was gathered it lifted all the other pieces higher. They spent hours collecting every single piece they could find and even pulled some of the mineral from the cavern walls with their fingernails. The brothers also used sharp flint and crude runes on a crab claw to stake a claim on the cavern, all mineral veins touching it, and the river until the next body of water or waterfall. 

With each bit of taara ore tucked under the empty shell of the crab, the raft of rocks and shell rose slowly and precariously. The brothers balanced on the huge crab shell as it drifted towards the top of the waterfall. As they floated past it, the brothers climbed the cavern cave ceiling, hand over hand until they came closer to the sounds and smells of a clanner mine or outpost. It was definitely more than just a couple of prospectors. 

As they got closer, they reached under and plucked rocks from their floating raft to ease into a decent. Shortly after landing, they were discovered by Baltistone prospectors, the wealthiest clan on the bastion. In this, their luck had finally turned around. They were an upstanding clan. Fate could have delivered the two to an outpost of villains who could have arranged for an accident both to the brothers and their makeshift claim marker. 

As it was, they were given fair terms -- and then discovered their soul mates in the clan. Both were married within the year, which brought their wealth back into the clan. But even then the fortune continued. Their years of survival made them persistent and savvy, which in turn made them excellent clan merchants. Given new opportunities, they flourished, rising up in the ranks to be cherished advisers and elder statesmen. Centuries later, the cave crab is a popular symbol in the clan arts and the fable of the two brothers exalts the values of determination and family bonds.

The clans invented uses for the strange, new material, which included sky barges. With such vessels, the clans eventually discovered the limits of their bastion. Their early void craft were already harvesting nearby debris asteroids and establishing an outpost on a dead bastion when a prospector craft, Light Sifting, had spotted a joint Nesol/Tandrial explorer and salvage vessel, Obsidian Gazer.


Go, Ganza! Go. 

 I'm open to bribes for more Cypher stuff! You can do a one-timer at  https://ko-fi.com/ganzagaming , or regularly via this Patreon. Regardless, I'm still working on Solar Sails, a fantastical world of SPELLs that's JAMMERed with all sorts of the fantastical. 

Check out my 5e stuff!  https://www.dmsguild.com/browse.php?keywords=negelein&x=0&y=0&author=&artist=&pfrom=&pto= 

Cypher PDFs! https://tinyurl.com/yxfj29by

Ganza Gaming Twitter @ChrisRNegelein

Patreon https://www.patreon.com/ganzagaming

I’ve been writing 5-star, award nominated, and Electrum selling gaming stuff for both Cypher and 5e SciFi. You'll see how it's all done behind the scenes and get free stuff after clicking that pledge button.

History lesson: Sometimes you get what you need

 


By Christopher Robin Negelein  Image by peter_pyw from Pixabay    

Now we will see how one third of the superpower Trokia came to be in Solar Sails. 

A regular reader notice soon that three's are a theme in the game and that the essence that levitates void ships comes in three varieties, mineral, plant and animal. On the other hand, while Trokia is three bastions it have only has a market on two of the three types of taara. For my two cents when it comes to themes in both games and fiction, you have to remember your Ralph Waldo Emerson. ...

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. A great person does not have to think consistently from one day to the next."  - Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841.

There are times when being slavishly consistent does more harm that good. As a genre writer and a geek, I can think of a couple; 40 plus years of inherently inconsistent Star Trek canon hemming in story telling and D&D's fourth edition trying to make every class have the same number of options. I can also think of two great examples of what happens when you take inspiration from a theme as compared to repeating the formula, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Comics Elseworlds.

Paying homage to theme, rather than sticking to the exact details every time, lets your story have room to breathe and adds a bit of mythic vibe. So the next time you tackle how to keep a theme go in your story, keep your mind open to more than just finding a one-to-one for every detail. 

Regardless, dig in and enjoy! (The below excerpt is under the usual first draft disclaimer and probably has a few typos. Be gentle, but feel free feedback.)

The grand forests on the opposite side of the Nesol city-state always had a reputation for being wilds and strange the further you explored into its heart; rumors of giant beasts, dragons and even trees that were fighting to release themselves from the earth and fly into the sky. 

Few believed such tales and the fewer who tried to validate the claims were ever seen again. Then four friends, who had gotten recent fame from liberating the town of Larsa from a strange psychic vampire menace, decided to take on the infamous drake, Shimmerscale, who laired in the forests.

Their names, though, are now lost to time, there are still legends of these Four and in many of them, their names are different or even shared by the same person. Some of the stories even stretch back to pre-Shatter times. Occultist theorize there is an ancient curse at work actively erasing their names, probably as punishment for the arrogance of one, if not all, of them. 

Armed with spears and heavy duty nets, the group set out to catch this rare drake. The woodsman of the group ironically got them lost as they bumbled deeper and deeper into the dark under the forest canopy. There were also some alleged missteps when trying to avoid a nest of giant wasps that caused another hero to fear the creatures for the rest of their lives. 

It also turned out that Shimmerscale’s “burrow” was way up high in a taara tree. The fight to capture the creature  was fought on a giant swaying branch while the taara tree still barely clung to the ground with just a few root tendrils. Half the party hung on for life; their fingers gripping the deeply grooved bark as their legs flailed about

The roots finally splintered and the taara broke free to majestically drift skyward on course to reach the bastion’s protective hurricane winds where it would be shredded into mulch. But the roguish hero release Shimmerscale to salvage the net. Running to the roots, she dragged across the top of the forest canopy. Luckily, the net snagged on several tree branches below, barely keeping the taara tree’s rise in check. All the meanwhile, the other three hurled insults at the roguish hero for releasing the bounty, and if she had been a petty person, she could have cut the net loose to let them all fly into the sky. If so, Nesol’s and Trioka’s history would be very different now. 

Cooler heads prevailed as the other three released they could have been lost in the sky above (and not even aware of the horrible death awaiting above) 

All four heroes used all of their cunning and legendary abilities, to pull the tree down to the ground and then pull it back to the city to sell as an oddity to make up for the loss of Shimmerscale. 

The tree was bought by Lug Wen, the master shipwright. His vision was to create flying pleasure skiffs for the city's senatorial elite. This brought him great posterity until the city lost six senators in one night as they partied and tried to see how high the skiff would go. Only to be the first on the bastion to fatally discover the fierce cocoon winds that protect the bastion.


Go, Ganza! Go. 

 I'm open to bribes for more Cypher stuff! You can do a one-timer at  https://ko-fi.com/ganzagaming , or regularly via this Patreon. Regardless, I'm still working on Solar Sails, a fantastical world of SPELLs that's JAMMERed with all sorts of the fantastical. 

Check out my 5e stuff!  https://www.dmsguild.com/browse.php?keywords=negelein&x=0&y=0&author=&artist=&pfrom=&pto= 

Cypher PDFs! https://tinyurl.com/yxfj29by

Ganza Gaming Twitter @ChrisRNegelein

Patreon https://www.patreon.com/ganzagaming

I’ve been writing 5-star, award nominated, and Electrum selling gaming stuff for both Cypher and 5e SciFi. You'll see how it's all done behind the scenes and get free stuff after clicking that pledge button.

Your dice. Knowing when to stop rolling

 


by Christopher Robin Negelein

GMing advice goes in and out of fashion. One of the longest bits still in vogue is to roll only when it is suitably dramatic or there is a legitimate risk. Crossing a quiet street doesn't warrant a spin of the icosahedron, but trying to cross a highway full of speeding cars?  Get ready to roll. 

Some games now let you judge the amount of legitimate danger to the amount of dice you roll, calling them mini-battles or training montages giving a GM a tool when they feel the urge to address something but not spend two hours of combat to deal with it.  Taking out a room of mooks who don't pose a real threat, but could whittle the heroes down a little bit. And of course we've all seen the where a new GM goes backwards, asking for a skill check or roll, hoping it is a substitute for drama and then comes up with bizarre repercussions.

But the trucker for new GMs is not so much when to start, but maybe when to stop. 

 Perhaps the PCs are grappling with a creature, like literal grappling/wrestling with the monster, or the party is shuffling down a very narrow path on a cliff, or just simply no one can make a damn perception check to see the bright red clue just under that overstuffed couch. (I mean, really guys, it. was. right. there!- Sorry.)

These are times when a GM can easily make the call to do the first dice roll, and if they fail (or succeed) make another roll for the "next section" of narrow  path or the final escape of the monster's clutches. But what if the PC fail or mostly fail again and again and again. Or worse yet, the system is predicated on partial successes like Power by the Apocalypse and situation becomes the sort of yo-yo between almost wrapping up the threat and almost falling right back into the vat of acid.

Plan B: Moving on, really. 

I'll just get the disclaimers out of the way, I'm not advocating to NOT roll the dice in the first place or never give a complete fail state to the game, but there are more than binary sort alternatives. Slight spoiler, if you read my Edge of Mists adventure, there's a death defying fight where a player can fall off an airship ... to entangle in the cargo netting on the side. 

They are penalized a turn, essentially time, as they climb back up but they aren't dead for falling completely out of the ship and they aren't forced to make more Dex saves to get back into the ship -- because that would be boring and annoying. And having two "-ings" like that in your night's entertainment is not good. 

So if you can, have a plan B as a safety net, not so much for the PCs hit points, but to avoid the cycle of multiple rolls without a definitive outcome.  Some may erroneously say that combat fits into this category, but thanks to mechanics like hit points player can see their repeated efforts are inching them closer a resolution. In fact, I think that's why damaging conditions are a less popular option. Three or Four damaging conditions don't create as much of a perception of progress as does taking 15 points of damage from a 100 hit point creature.  Mind you I didn't say damaging conditions were ineffective, just that some players can't see that effectiveness as much as others. 

 So if, as a GM, you have the thought, "When is this going to end?!" your players are probably thinking the same thing.  If you are stuck for an idea, chose or roll below.

Plan B ideas:

  • d6  Result
  • 1    A shorter fall than expected, (damage instead of death)
  • 2    Reduced difficulty skill checks as the finish line comes into sight
  • 3    The task takes more time than expected
  • 4    The opposition gets an warning or heads up
  • 5    Bad guy reinforcements show up at the location
  • 6    Resources are lost to give an helping hand

Also there's no dishonor in simply saying out loud, "The dice have failed us. I vote that we put them in dice time out to teach them a lesson. Amy, your character takes 1d4 lower back pain damage as you move the couch to get that sidah#$%@~ clue!"

Just my 2 cents, take them or leave them as you wish!


Go, Ganza! Go. 

 I'm open to bribes for more Cypher stuff! You can do a one-timer at  https://ko-fi.com/ganzagaming , or regularly via this Patreon. Regardless, I'm still working on Solar Sails, a fantastical world of SPELLs that's JAMMERed with all sorts of the fantastical. 

Check out my 5e stuff!  https://www.dmsguild.com/browse.php?keywords=negelein&x=0&y=0&author=&artist=&pfrom=&pto= 

Cypher PDFs! https://tinyurl.com/yxfj29by

Ganza Gaming Twitter @ChrisRNegelein

Patreon https://www.patreon.com/ganzagaming

I’ve been writing 5-star, award nominated, and Electrum selling gaming stuff for both Cypher and 5e SciFi. You'll see how it's all done behind the scenes and get free stuff after clicking that pledge button.