Saturday, October 20, 2012

Last Rest Setting: Grit and Inspiration

So in my GM Commentary for Episode Two, I mentioned Digetic thinking and needing to establish a "Grit Level" for my home brew Last Rest setting that I'm running my Reign campaign in, this post is my attempt to help set a "Grit Level" by going over some of my inspiration for the setting and the kind of grittiness I'm taking from those sources...


DREAD Thoughts & "Left Wing of the Day of Judgement" Preview

So, gentle reader, as you may have noticed, I reference DREAD quite a bit on the this blog.  Here it is again, in case you forgot..


Currently unavailable from Amazon, which I have not seen happen in a while and they're still publishing slim scenario books, so hopefully it's just between printings, but it's also available in PDF from DriveThruRPG and when I think to look in my local game shops, I usually have no trouble finding it.

Dread is a game of "diceless horror" where the schtick is that the sole mechanic of the game is a Jenga (or generic tumbling block) tower, which is much more interesting and intense than it might sound.  The players pull a block when they want to take an action where success or failure matter.... So trying starting a car on a bright sunny day, not a pull...  Trying to starting a car whose battery is run down as the ax-wielding maniac is smashing in the back window, now that's (at least) one pull.  When the tower collapses, bad things happen, injury or misfortune early in the game, death.

The other place where Dread shines is in character creation.  Here again is the example I gave in my Character Creation - True Background vs. Limited Future Choices post.
The GM comes up with characters for the scenario, in my last game the players were all circus freaks, and then comes up with questions for each character that the player answers to define the character.  For instance, in my Circus Freak game, one of the un-played characters was the Circus Strongman, below are his questions:


  • What happened to you when you were nine that made you swear to yourself that you'd never be weak?
  • Even though you're the strongest person you know, you hate physical violence, why?
  • What intellectual pursuit of yours would surprise people if they knew about it?
  • Why don't you feel comfortable socializing with the other performers?
  • You don't enjoy being a circus performer, but why don't you leave the circus?
  • What nationality won't you admit to being descended from and why?
  • What happened that made you afraid of being underground?
  • When the going gets tough, how do you respond?
  • The elderly clown Juventas died of a heart attack recently, what shameful thing did he see you do three months ago?

As you can see, in answering the questions, a player gets to determine many of the details, secrets, fears and emotions of a character.
Well, last night, Citizen Ben his first game of Dread, an zombies in a blizzard scenario of his own creation, that I got to enjoy playing in and it reminded me of some tips, tricks and thoughts I had about writing/running a good game of Dread and then a preview of the next Dread game I'm running, a 19th century Whaling/Nautical inspired game, "Left Wing of the Day of Judgement"


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Face vs The Captain vs Individual Impulsiveness - Party Leaders in RPGs

I've been thinking about Party Leaders in RPGs a lot lately.  Beyond just what I mentioned in my last GM Commentary, this is something that I've been pondering since the summer. To my mind, there are two broad types of party leaders in RPGs, though they easily overlap in individual characters, which are:
  • The Face - The Face is the social leader of the group.  This is the character who serves most often as group spokesman to NPCs, usually due to the social skills of the PC, the social skills of the player and  often due to in-game character status as well (ie. being a Noble in the system setting).  The Face may not set battle tactics or make any plans outside of social situations, but by virtue of being the character doing important social interactions with NPCs, the Face of a party often leads simply by being the party spokesperson.
  • The Captain - The Captain is the plotter, planner and tactical leader of the group.  Unlike the Face, the leader is not a outside facing social spokesperson for the group, instead the leader is the character who comes up with the battle plans or the infiltration schemes or does the plotting of the group's next moves.
The Face and Captain can often overlap in the same character, but they can also be separate characters, depending on the make up of the party.  The Face is probably the easier to play, since at the simplest it can be decided just by the players looking around and saying "You've got the highest Charisma/best social skills/speak Troll" you talk for us.  But, in my mind the Captain is the more important or influential of the two, since any deals, diplomacy or social shenanigans that the Face makes are easily ignored by the other characters once that social situation has ended, or even during. (That brings to mind a D&D game I ran where after the other characters had just finished averting combat and talking the tribe of lizardmen out of attacking them, the party's wizard decided to just hit the lizardman chief with Acid Arrow and then chaos ensued).  The Captain, on the other hand, if he's actually the group's tactical leader, if he commands the respect of the other characters and the players, can help set the group's course, and therein lies the rub... To play the leader of your RPG group, it's not enough to convince the characters that your character should lead, you have to convince the players as well...


An Excerpt from the Legend of Kamerlane Clovertail, the Doom Bringer (to his enemies)



Without comment, here is a character journal I wrote for a 4E D&D game (run by the estimable Citizen Ben) wherein I played  the an impetuous monk and the middle sibling in a trio of halfing children.  With two other players as my older brother and younger sister, it was a blast even if I only got three or four games out of the PC before the game was unfortunately shuttered.  I recommend that you imagine it as being related to you by an over-caffeinated teenager.

'Twas the after the night when Kamerlane led his compatriots to victory over the wicked goblins, cultists and Bourni in the Battle of the Old Mill. An uneasy calm had come over the town, bolstered by the presence of so mighty a warrior as Kam. From the lovely but cold-eyed Elf Waerir, Kam received a secret parcel, entrusted by a mysterious benefactor to Waerir to give to Kam, surely because of the girlish infatuation Waerir tried and failed to hide for Kam. Inside the parcel, Kam discovered a note of encouragement, recognizing that Kam was the mightiest and most worthy hero of those who had fought at the Battle of the Old Mill. A great and magical circlet which rendered Kam impervious to any harm was enclosed. There was also the finest of delectables to keep Kam strong and a bottle of magically potent Brandyvine Spirits.
As Kam examined his fine new provisions, nearby Tom Folk spoke incredibly loudly to Kam's older brother Billiam. Though Bill was older than Kam, it was obvious to all who observed them together that Kam lead the way, while Bill relied on Kam. Tom gave Bill a crest of authority, knowing that Kam's natural charisma would render a crest of leadership completely unnecessary for the Mighty Kamerlane, while the bland and meek Bill would need all the help he could get to impress anyone the brothers met. Tom also said something about not instigating non-hostile Bourni, something that Bill would later forget, leaving Kam once again to get his big brother out of trouble, but more of that later.
The kindly Mrs Folk told Kittera, Kam's little sister, to run home if things got bad, giving Bill a dirty look for not doing enough to protect his and Kam's youngest sibling. Mrs Folk gave Kam a wink of encouragement, recognizing that he had his hands full keeping all of the group safe and that Bill should pull his weight for once and keep an eye on Kit instead of watching jealously after Kam.
There was an elder who spoke to Johann, Kam's personal cleric, that once Johann was no longer necessary in Kam's service, that the priest should minister to the elder's crazy daughter, who, being crazy (perhaps driven mad by unrequited love for Kam?) ran up to Johann and whispered in his ear how madly in love she was with Kam and then giggled and fled blushing.  Also, there was a quiet former Borni warrior woman who accompanied them, pining all the while for Kam.
They went deep into the dark woods, whose sinister atmosphere depressed the spirits of all, except Kam, whose natural good looks and obvious heroism gave the others the strength to continue, they discovered an abandoned manor which goblins had taken over. Kam quickly climbed a tree, nimble as a monkey, and spotted their enemies. Kam leapt from tree to tree, agilely avoiding the crossbow bolts of his adversaries, while below him, the others cautiously advanced. After Kam had slaughtered their attackers, they found a human and a bugbear chained up, Kam suspected something amiss, but like a fool, Bill did not listen to his wiser, younger, handsomer brother, and the bugbear was able to grab Bill. As the bugbear strangled Bill, whose pleading eyes begged his heroic brother to help, the bugbear used Bill as a shield, but alas for him, the bugbear, Kam was able to nimbly take out the brute. Taking the booty that was rightfully his, Kam discovered a bottle of Wyrmshine. Kam instructed his two Bourni bondsmen, Hans and Pavel, whose lives he had saved to stay at the Manor and guard it for Kam's return. As a token of his generous thanks, Kam even left the two a bottle of rum to enjoy. Kit found a couple of mushrooms, which Kam, wise in the ways of the woods, easily identified, schooling his little sister on which was poisonous and which ones would be medicinal.
The next day the group continued on their way to the Keep that was their destination, and Kam, scouting ahead, alone, bravely, discovered a clearing with a grisly dias surrounded by skinned corpses, on the other side of which was an ancient catacomb that oozed terror to all those not named Kamerlane. While the others quaked with fear, Kam boldly climbed up, pulled out his magical bottle of Brandyvine and lit it, hurling it in at the unsuspecting cultists who lurked within. The explosion jolted Kam's companions out of their fear and they surrounded the skinless undead beast that was the only thing strong enough to survive Kam's mighty attack. While his companions kept the brute distracted, Kam dealt it mighty blows until it died a final death at the end of Kam's spear of destiny. After the thing was killed, Johann said a prayer of thanks to Bahumat for blessing the world with a hero as mighty as Kam.
After the battle of the Creepy Clearing, won almost singlehandedly by the mighty Kam, the group reached the Keep, infested with goblinoids and humans who worshiped the evil god Taurug. Once again leaving his less bold compatriots behind, Kam crept close, unseen and listened to the goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears gathered there in the name of Bane, god of evil war (and also, from Kam's experience, god of those who get their butts kicked by Kamerlane the Doombringer (to his enemies)). Listening and as undetectable as a ghost, Kam learned that the goblinoids served a king named Kornac, who worked with a human named Valanar, the chosen of Taurug, who had brought a mask. Kam discovered that the goblins were building siege engines and learned the location of a swamp to the west where the Taurug demon worshipers gathered. Just as Kam was about to learn every secret of the evil goblins, some of his companions got over bold and clumsily crept up, as Kam's companions crept up, so too did the Borni that Kam had seen the entire time, not wanting to let the others get caught, Kam quietly alerted the unsuspecting Borni to his presence and demanded that they take him and his companions to their village.
A sub chief, Beinir, recognizing Kam's natural greatness and also being shown Bill's crest, brought the group to the chieftan, a mighty one armed man named Haeg, who recognized in Kam the makings of a great warrior and leader. Kam and Haeg spoke candidly, man to man, despite Bill's butting in and causing the Borni to come to anger at the mention of Tom Folk. Even though Bill attempted to usurp Kam's natural place as leader and upset their host and his tribe, Kam was able to win Haeg back, with his obvious greatness and a reminder that the Borni feared Valanar, while Kam feared no man, beast or undead thing. In honor of Kam's battle honors and greatness, Haeg threw a great feast, treating Kam as guest of honor and allowing Kam's companions to stay at the head table as well out of deference to Kam. Kam regaled the Borni with the story of his exploits, which they agreed were worthy, and even found time to woo a winsome young maiden, about whom no more shall be said out of deference to her honor (aside from the fact that she was smoking and could not keep her eyes, hands or tongue off of Kam).
The next day, as the tribe and his companions shook off the effects of the mighty feast and Kam awoke refreshed and eager, as true heroes always do, Haeg brought them out away from the village, where he confessed that he had a problem only Kam could solve. The chief had his men use a clever apparatus, though not as clever as any that Kam could have devised, should he have needed to, to pull a great stone slab off a deep and fetid pit. Haeg told Kam and his lesser companions that the pit was where criminals, betrayers and other unworthies were kept, but that two days ago something sinister had come to the village and gotten into the pit, turning all within to zombies. Kam at once declared that he, and his companions, should they be bold enough to accompany him, would descend into the pit, kill all the zombeis and carry out the head of the thing that did this monstrous deed on the point of Kam's mighty spear.

Next the tale of Kamerlane the Zombie Slayer, deep in the Pit!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

GM Commentary: Last Rest Episode 2 - Summit on Adder Crag

Same caveats as the last GM Commentary... go read the summary for Episode Two - Summit on Adder Crag first and this will once again be disjointed--Probably more so than the last since the summary is told from the viewpoint of one of the NPCs rather than from an omniscient point of view following the player characters.

As the second episode, this one had a much different feel.  Probably because it was the second time, possibly because the PCs didn't have a focused mission provided by a third party like they did for the first episode... Possibly because the focus for the episode didn't come together for me until game day itself when I realized that what I could tell everything together with the themes of "Loyalty/Dis-Loyalty" and "Do the Ends Justify the Means" which fit each of the 4 main NPCs I had that the PCs could encounter.  Chatting with my RPG spiritual advisor, Thomas, he reminded me that even if the PCs failed, they could "Fail Forward", which is to say, that even the PCs failures should lead somewhere new. And the final ingredient for the stew was that I listened to The High Confessions "Along Come the Dogs" off their excellent debut album, Turning Lead Into Gold With the High Confessions and that put me in the right mood and cemented, in my mind, the mood I wanted to set.



Onward to the commentary!

A Bang & then a Whimper - The Final Dispatch from Parcher's

When we left our rag-tag band of PCs and their 50-60 hangers on (in addition to Pinky's gang, Man also decided to take the 'hav...