Saturday, February 28, 2015

Manifold Regards - Adapting Apocalypse World "Love Letters" for Numenera (or any system, really...)

Apocalypse World was one of the first RPG systems that was opinionated, that is, the designer had an opinion on the 'proper' way to play, instead of just handing over the rules. This translated through in the AW Agendas and Principles:


        Make Apocalypse World seem real.
        Make the players’ characters’ lives not boring.
        Play to find out what happens.


        Barf forth apocalyptica.
        Address yourself to the characters, not the players.
        Make your move, but misdirect.
        Make your move, but never speak its name.
        Look through crosshairs.
        Name everyone, make everyone human.
        Ask provocative questions and build on the answers.
        Respond with fuckery and intermittent rewards.
        Be a fan of the players’ characters.
        Think offscreen too.
        Sometimes, disclaim decision-making

These will be useful context for the Love Letters concept, which was introduced in the optional rules section of AW (called 'Advanced Fuckery' instead of Optional Rules, natch). In the AW book, they're not even called Love Letters, just presented as custom moves for "Catching Up, Setting Up", all opening with "Dear Hardholder" (Hardholder is one of the playbooks, so think of it as the D&D Class or Numenera Type), then presenting something that occurred between sessions of play as a Move. For those who don't know, Moves are the basic bit of Apocalypse World system mechanic, where you roll + a Stat, on a 10+ its a success, 7-9 is a success at a price or with a complication and 6 or lower is a failure. And the letter closed "Love and Kisses, Your MC" (MC=Master of Ceremonies, the AW GM title). 

You can see some good Apocalypse World Love Letters written up at No Ordinary Obsession, if you need some examples to peer at. What I want to talk about is why (and how) to use them in Numenera (or any other game really).

Numenera Mini-Campaign, Thoughts from Nowhere

Last Sunday I wrapped my first Numenera mini-campaign, three sessions scheduled to run 1pm-9pm-ish. We took 45 minute to hour long dinner breaks and spent 1-1 ½ hours making characters the first session. So all told, maybe 18-20ish hours of game play? Still, kinda fantastic considering that for the D&D games I was running I’d need to run 2-3 times as many sessions to get that amount of game play.

First part will be thoughts about the System and Setting and then about the plot I ran and getting used to a new group. Also, some of this might be brief if I addressed it in my earlier post about running Numenera.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Recent Reading - 02/13/2015

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Useful Stuff - D&D 5E

*I plan on updating this post as I gather more useful stuff for D&D 5E*


Tower of Infinite Evil has some 2E Combat & Tactics Inspired Weapon Properties for 5E

Another iteration of the Sly Flourish Single Use Magic Item Generator.

My own stab at porting Numenera's GM Intrusions over to 5E


Donjon has some 5E specific generators, but the best one is the Trinket generator.

Sly Flourish has a generator that gives a list of Numenera style single use magic items.

Crushing on 13th Age

I’m a little in love with 13th Age. Thomas has been running an online 13th Age for John and I and it is all kinds of enjoyable, enjoyable enough that I am more than happy to get up at 6:30am on a Sunday morning to play regardless of whether or not I was up until 1:30am drinking and playing boardgames the night before or that I had 8 hours of Numenera to run later that afternoon. (You can find more on my initial thoughts here).
Go read Thomas’ last post on running 13th Age, he covers a more story/montage based technique that he took from a 13th Age module that I quite enjoyed. This post will be here waiting for you when you get back.

So, what do I love about 13th Age? Using backgrounds as the skill mechanic, One Unique Thing, the Icons, the setting (more on that later in a later post), the approach to classes where each is distinct in flavor and in mechanics. The introductory adventure, Blood and Lightning, which is one of my favorite adventures I’ve read, played or run. Previously I had complained about my Rogue not having enough choice of powers, but hitting 3rd level really fixed that issue (and were I to make another rogue or advise someone making another rogue, I’d recommend that they not double up on powers/class features that did similar things, as I ended up with the Tumble feature and Tumbling strike).
But until this last week I didn’t have my own copy of the hardbook, just a copy of the pdf ( and previous experience has taught me that it’s often better to have a hard copy of at least the core rule book at the table when I run the game, even if I’ve got the PDF that I can pull up on one of them newfangled tablet thingies. But I really wanted to run Blood and Lightning, so I ran it using D&D 5E, porting in the 13th Age Background/Skill system and Icons, with their attendant mechanics. I also used the GM Intrusion for Inspiration mechanic discussed in this post.
To my amazement, it all worked pretty well, I had 4 players who created 3rd level characters and we played through the entire adventure (with character creation) in about 6 hours. Integrating the 13th Age background/skills mechanic into 5E went a little smoother than last time, partly because many of the players had been exposed to it before and because it was my 3rd D&D 5E game running/playing with that mechanic. The Icons worked into the game easily as well, I continue to be impressed at how well they impart a sense of setting and tone even when only briefly introduced, but I suppose that they are, well, Iconic. All in all an excellent time was had by all.  And now I really want to run 13th Age itself (and have the core book in hardcover to do so), especially since I want to run Eyes of the Stone Thief for my Sunday group after I finish my Numenera run, because it looks so incredibly cool (warning for my players, you shouldn’t look too much because spoilers). But I’m going to be good and hold off on pulling the trigger on the pre-order until I get my group to decide if a 13th Age MegaDungeon hunt is what they’d like to do next.

GM Intrusions - Too Good to Leave in Numenera

I’ve run Numenera 3 times now and one of the things I’m finding most revelatory is the GM Intrusion Mechanic. Succinctly, the Intrusion mechanic is this: The GM offers the player two XP, one of which the player gives to another player, in exchange for creating a complication for the player’s character and the player can refuse the intrusion by spending one of their own XP. Note that I used complication instead of problem, disaster or damage. The intrusion is not there to punish the player or character, but to allow the GM to intrude themselves back into the narrative of the game. In practice, I’ve discovered it allows me to have a mechanic to support something I’ve done before as a GM and allows the players to feel like my taking back narrative control is less arbitrary.

An example:
In D&D if the PCs were crossing a rope bridge and as the last PC got to the middle the ropes snapped, threatening to send all the PCs to the bottom of a gorge, that might feel contrived to the players. A discussion might erupt about how the PCs weren’t all crossing at the same time, or players might try and back track to say that actually they were tied together and finally the situation might just come down to the GM declaring that it happened and the narrative picking back up from there. But with a GM Intrusion the blow is softened as the mechanic rewards the player for going along with the GM instead of setting up a confrontation.
Or a social encounter example:
The party is talking with a local sorceress, trying to wheedle information from her about a nearby dragon. The PC doing the talking is rolling really well on social checks and might be on his way to getting exactly what the party wants. Here a GM intrusion could be the sorceress becoming smitten with the PC and causing complications or deducing that the PCs are interested in the dragon in order to slay it and asking for a specific treasure. Less “obvious” an intrusion that the example above, but still a complication to make a social interaction more interesting than relying just on a few skill rolls.

What GM Intrusions really do is create a compact between the GM and the players that when the GM decides to be arbitrary or create complications there’s a reward for the players to go along with it. This softens the blow of GM choices or narrative changes that might otherwise cause player grumbling. They function quite a bit like moves from Apocalypse World or Dungeon World, in that they are opportunities for the GM to seize the narrative again, and in fact, many of the moves from AW or DW work excellently as GM intrusions (“reveal an unwelcome truth”, “insult, affront, offend or provoke someone”, “put someone in a spot”).
Another nice benefit is the second point of XP must be given to a different player, creating bonds between players. Though I am going to start having the player say why they are giving the other player the XP point.

So what use is this to me? I’m not running Numenera.

Ah, but you can easily port the GM Intrusion mechanic to other games. Case in point, several weeks ago I ran a game of D&D 5E where I used the GM Intrusion mechanic to give out Inspiration points instead of using the default role-playing guidelines of 5E.

GM Intrusions for 5E – 

  • Use instead of (or in addition to, if you wish) the default rules for giving Inspiration.
  • Give out two Inspiration points to a player when you use a GM Intrusion, just like in Numenera with XP, the player receiving the Intrusion gives one of the points away immediately to another player. 
  • If the player does not want to allow the intrusion, they can spend an Inspiration point to refuse the intrusion.
  • Unlike Numenera where the XP from GM Intrusions are normal XP that can be spent like any other, I’m leaning towards only allowing D&D Players to keep a single Inspiration point between sessions, to encourage players to use them instead of hoarding them for “boss fights”.
  • Some observations on using GM Intrusions in D&D 5E – 
  • I like it; obviously, I never really got into the default Inspiration for RP rule as it rewards players who are more into acting/RP than quieter players and/or rewards splashy/flashy and potentially disruptive actions/RP/personality traits than more subtle actions/RP/personality. 
  • There is the potential to be giving out more inspiration than usual, previously I feel like I was giving out one or two inspiration a 5E session, the Numenera book suggests one GM Intrusion per PC per session, which would result in 10 Inspiration points given out for a 5 PC party. I’m largely okay with this as I’m fine with PCs having a chance to be awesome (“Be a Fan of the Player’s Characters” as the principles of Apocalypse World command).

Here’s more info about GM Intrusions:

Post-Apocalyptic Names

As I'm prepping to run a Godless mini-campaign, I wanted to have a good post-apocalyptic name table to draw from. The Apocalypse World...