Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Combat in Play-by-Post

Play-by-Post isn’t my favorite form of gaming. In fact, I’ve kinda avoided it for a few years now. Partly this is because the games always end up collapsing, and it’s usually in the middle of a combat when someone just stops posting and the whole thing grinds to a halt.

Still, PbP has a lot to recommend it, especially in terms of the wide availability of players and GMs, and its low-impact requirements for participation. It’s just that the usual, extremely granular combat systems of most RPGs don’t suit it well. They create a continuous series of bottlenecks that are fatal to the momentum of a game.

Even old school D&D, with its very simple back-and-forth style of combat can get bogged down as you wait for players to declare their actions, then wait for the DM to report the results. But D&D’s combat serves an important purpose. It allows combat to be exploration by other means. Is this a monster we can beat? Are we dishing out enough damage to it? Is it dishing out too much damage to us? Does fire harm it more than steel? What about magic?

This is why resolving an entire combat in a single roll is a sub-optimal solution as well. It doesn’t give the players time to react, or a chance to learn anything about their foe.

The compromise between efficiency and interaction would be, I think, three decision points. Chatting about this with Oddysey, she suggested a flow of initiate, adjust, and follow-through for these three decision points (though she didn’t actually use those words). The first decision point is initiating the combat and possibly setting the stakes. The GM responds to the player’s initial actions, leading to the second decision point: press ahead or adjust tactics? The GM lets the players know what happens in either case, and that sets up the final decision point: go for the kill, or cut your losses and pull out.

In this case, I’m thinking efficiency does not necessarily mean brevity. At the table, many small, iterative actions make sense. That sort of thing is death to a PbP game, however. Complexity, both in the actions of the PCs and in the descriptions of the results from the GM, is probably a virtue here. If it takes five minutes to resolve and describe an action, that’s just fine in a PbP when you can find your five minutes at any point of the day. This detail and complexity can also give the players more to work with as they make their choices. Do they screen with their drones and drive a wedge of capital ships into the enemy line? Form their own line of battle and duke it out with heavy graser cannons and torpedoes? Or do they curl into a defensive ball and shield their more vulnerable ships from the assault? A more detailed, tactical view, I think, would work much better in this sort of game than a simple, “I attack the nearest goblin.”

Art by Hippolyte Bellange.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

So Fox Hunting is Immoral, but this...

This is ok?

I think it may be time for a bit of that vaunted "fierce moral urgency" here!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Scenery on the Cheap

Yep, trolls are thrifty bastards (that is to say, cheap). And I'm not much into miniatures anyway. But if you're, say, rooting through the underhive, searching for heretics to purge, and you do enjoy using miniatures, you might wanna check out this guy's paper scenery and such, more than suitable for use with your favorite 28 mm miniature plastic-man-dudes.

Of especial note, you might be interested in his IKUBE liveable habitat modules, control panels and warning labels, and rather familiar-looking cargo ship.

It's all free, but I suspect he wouldn't mind a tip or two on his paypal account if you find his stuff useful.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fantastical Draught Animals

Elementals: only the Earth Elemental looks like a winner here. Air can be great, but your stuff will be whirled about violently, the Water Elemental will soak things, and Fire? Only if your cargo can take the heat.

Insects: renowned for their amazing strength. Easily led, as well; you just sprinkle a trail of guiding goo on the ground in front of them, and they’ll go wherever you lead them. Also, may be able to climb even vertical “slopes” and some may be able to fly.

Giant Flightless Birds: nothing says you’re not in Kansas anymore more better than these. Carrying capacity tends to be not as good as a horse, though they may be faster in a sprint.

Giant Frog: amphibious, but on land, your stuff will arrive well-shaken from all that hopping.

Giant Lizards: tough, strong, and possibly omnivorous, so easier to feed. At dinosaur size can carry insane amounts of cargo. Generally not terribly swift, however, and might not be good for much when it gets cold enough to snow.

Giant Snakes: possibly amphibious. Will need to avoid the frozen wastes, due to being cold-blooded.

Giant Turtle: it’s slow, and it’s already lugging around that giant shell, and it has the same cold issues as other reptiles. Still, if you need the added protection of the shell, I suspect there’s nobody better.

Roc: can supposedly fly off with fully grown elephants or serve as mounts for storm giants, so these are your go-to critters for heavy lift. Keeping them well-fed may be a challenge, however.

Spiders: how much they can carry depends on their size. Plus, can go up vertical walls, and might even weave their own packing/belaying material.

Wyverns: flying, but nasty, vicious, and just how much can they carry on the wing? Probably better for courier services. Ditto for hippogriphs, gryphons, pegasi, and similar winged critters.

Art by Charles Theodore Frere.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ethiopian Healing Scrolls

More images and the general method of their use here. Related images here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"No Soliciting"

Check out these amazing monasteries, perched high atop natural pillars, in Greece. Surely, the secrets of the World Before might still be safe in one of these places?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Twisted Cheetos

The other day, Zak wrote:

Attitude one:

Like pre-modern art, the game is like a window into another world. Just as brushstrokes and picture frames are considered necessary but distracting elements in a traditional painting, dice, rules, Cheetos are necessary but distracting elements in the game. Whatever can be done to limit their hold of the mind of the player and promote pure immersion is appreciated.

And that describes my games fairly well. Aided by the fact that nearly all my play is online via text-chat these days, I strive to make the rules fade into the background as much as possible. Setting and character become the primary focus, and the trappings of play fade into the background. And there is nary a cheeto-orange fingerprint on any of my gaming books.

And yet, while Zak is clearly a proponent of “attitude two,” I love Vornheim. Sure, I wince a bit when Zak extols the virtues of letting players know that such-and-such an event is the result of random generation, but when it comes to building a world that is both insane and hangs together, Zak is a master.

I’ve never played with Jeff, but I get the feeling that, at his table, mutant plant doxies engaging in fishslapping contests with wookies is crazy-wacky-ha-ha fun. Nobody looks deeper into what’s going on, or what it means. They just enjoy it for the gonzo fun that it is.

I don’t get that feeling at all from Zak. Sure, it looks like playful gonzo on the surface, but... There are three adventures included in Vornheim, and while all give only a cursory brush at the details (Zak’s stated goal is very much to supply tools and raw materials in this book so that you can build your own things with them, and the adventures are very much in that spirit), those details invoke a chain of connections all through the work. In one, the seemingly random nature of the architecture is a clue as to the nature of the place. The villain of another appears on a random encounter table later in the book. Other random encounters invoke long-lost friends, clowns driven by a sense of justice, ancient festivals, mysterious watchers, capers-in-progress, or domestic disputes.

And many of them are just freaking bizarre! Ok, sure, you’ve seen the stuff on his blog that’s disturbing, right? You know about maggot nagas, nephilidian vampires, and hollow brides. This book is full of stuff like that. Zak dribbles more creativity and inspiration on page 3 (territories surrounding Vornheim) than most books manage in their entirety. And that's a pale shadow of page 7 (oddities in Vornheim). And much of it hints at darker unpleasantness. As Zak says a handful of times, the results of certain actions depend “on how goth the campaign is.” Other actions can result in drastic transformation of the gameworld, kinda-sorta similar the infamous possibilities of Raggi’s Death Frost Doom.

Frankly, I don’t understand how Mandy Morbid sleeps at night after playing in Zak’s game. Maybe the cheetos keep it light and fun, but in the right hands, some of this stuff could easily be the stuff of nightmares.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Slow Boat From Finland

So I had my copies of Vornheim and the LotFP RPG: Grindhouse Edition sent 2nd class. Oops. They just arrived today. (The t-shirts I got as presents for folks arrived first.)

I haven't had the time to read 'em yet, but yeah, Vornheim is crazy with every available surface turned into a gaming aid. It's wild and looks like fun.

The Grindhouse edition of LotFP is a huge leap in quality over the original version. The books are thicker and more solidly bound, there's more art and the layout is a lot better. You could tell that Raggi had a larger budget to work with, and a much better idea of how to get what he wanted in the books. The rules look the same, but these books will be a lot easier to use at the table, and nobody is going throw their back out lugging these around. If for nothing else, I applaud Zack and Raggi for their attempts to slay the giant, cumbersome, unwieldy coffee-table gaming book. ;p

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thor Review

So I’m watching "Thor" and, as you know from the end of the Iron Man II, Mjolnir is stuck in a crater in a desert in New Mexico. When we first see it there in the Thor movie, a man gets out of a beat-up pickup truck, climbs down into the crater, and, seemingly bemused by this odd object in the ground, tries to pull it out.

And I’m thinking, “Huh, that looks like JMS.” And while I have no idea if that was him or not, I wasn’t surprised to see Straczynski has a story credit on this flick.

Combine JMS with Branagh and you get “operatic.” I swear, I kept waiting for someone to break into an aria. The motivations are bigger than life, and just as murky. The gestures are grand. And the plots are twisty, complex things. During the movie, you’re thinking, “Wow, how many moves is Loki thinking ahead on this?” After the movie, at the fridge, you’ll be thinking, “Oh, wait, how many moves was Odin thinking ahead on this?” Loki is clearly Odin’s son, perhaps even more than Thor is.

The scenery and costumes fit. Huge, soaring, grand, and over-the-top. No winged helmet, thank the gods, but Loki is sporting his wild, sweeping horns before the end. Natalie Portman proves her acting chops when she calls the Thor costume “a good look” and you almost believe she means it.

It’s all insane, wild, over-the-top… and it works. If you’ve enjoyed the other Marvel flicks, you’ll enjoy this one, maybe even more. Its visions of the land of the gods and the land of the frost giants are wonderfully baroque. And then they manage to make it not look utterly ridiculous when it shows up on the streets of rural New Mexico, maybe by pointing out just how ridiculous it is.

And that’s part of the fun. One minute it’s all realms and kings and the sacred oaths of warriors, and the next its slapstick humor, mostly at Thor’s expense. It’s an amazing combination, the juxtaposition both humanizing the God of Thunder and keeping the film from being too grandiose. The film needed to be about 15 minutes longer (Loki’s motivations needed more teasing out, I think, and we needed the SHIELD folks to more actively earn Thor’s respect) and we don’t get nearly enough of the Warriors Three Plus One. Still, things are nicely lining up for The Avengers. Captain America is looking better by the day, and to see these characters all brought together for a massive crossover movie, well… If they can pull off another flick at this level of quality, it should be a barnstormer.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Ladies of India

Waaaaay back in '09, in utter shock I posted a link to an article about extremist Hindus who wanted the ladies of India to behave in a more restrained and decorous manner.

I'm happy to report that such sentiments are apparently being ignored.

Go India!

Monday, May 02, 2011

The High Cost of Gabbing

I don’t want to seem to be beating up on –C, because that’s not my intent at all. There’s some neat stuff on that blog, and I hope it garners the author what’s desired. And mulling over responses to my last post, I realized something that should have been obvious to me from the get-go about this.

Folk wisdom to the contrary, talk isn't always cheap. The truth is, -C, by charging in commentary for his work, was asking too much. If your readership is a bunch of college students with lots of time on their hands but always strapped for cash, yes, exchanging words for words is a more than fair trade.

But the bulk of the OSR is clearly old farts with jobs. And families, and interests outside of gaming. Thoughtful, insightful, and useful commentary, forget full-blown critique, is hard. Sometimes I can whip up one of these blog posts in a quarter-hour, 20 minutes. And I'm a professional. I imagine most folks can take the better part of an hour easily to write, massage, and post 300 to 400 words.

That’s time that could have been spent ensuring the next promotion, landing a new client, or in any number of ways that actually put jingle in your pocket. It can actually be cheaper, as well as easier, for you to pay $10, $20, or even $40 for gaming materials then to spend (there’s a reason that’s the word to use there) a half-hour commenting on them.

Time is money, and the older we get the more expensive time tends to be. This is why building a community is harder than acquiring customers. Folk wisdom also tells us that the customer who complains is worth their weight in gold, because most will simply stop buying from you and never tell you why. Feedback is awesome, but incredibly hard to get, even under the best of circumstances.