dorchadas: (Nyarlathotep)
Choose federal law enforcement. Choose the military. Choose NASA or the CDC. Choose lying to your superiors. Choose to ruin your career. Choose no friends. Choose divorce. Choose life through the bottom of a bottle. Choose destroying evidence and executing innocent people because they know too fucking much. Choose black fatigues and matching gas masks. Choose an MP5 stolen from the CIA loaded with glasers, with a wide range of fucking attachments. Choose blazing away at mind numbing, sanity crushing things from beyond the stars, wondering whether you'd be better off stuffing the barrel in your own mouth. Choose The King In Yellow and waking up wondering who you are. Choose a 9mm retirement plan. Choose going out with a bang at the end of it all, PGP encrypting your last message down a securely laid cable as an NRO Delta wetworks squad busts through your door. Choose one last Night at the Opera. Choose Delta Green.

— Anonymous
Yesterday was the end of my long-running Delta Green game. I didn't get to run through all the content I had planned for it due to scheduling conflicts, but in the end I only had to cut out two scenarios from the list of 16 I had planned out, which is pretty good. One of those scenarios did involve a trip to Carcosa that we never got to play out, and that was kind of sad because early on I ran F Cell through Night Floors (PDF warning), which is probably my favorite Delta Green scenario ever and involved F Cell investigating a building that was on the threshold of Carcosa and the extra floors of the building that only existed at night. I wrote another scenario based on The Repairer of Reputations, involving alternate realities(?), a wish-granter, and another brush with the entity Delta Green refers to as TATTERDEMALION. For the endgame of that minor plot, I was going to run F Cell through a heavily-modified The Past is Doomed, but I didn't get the chance. Ah, well. There's always more than could have been done.

TATTERDEMALION was my favorite recurring antagonist/thematic element, but F Cell also learned to hate MAJESTIC, who they ran into in "Puppet Shows and Shadowplays" before they had formally been inducted into the conspiracy; then again in "A Fall of MOONDUST," where they were actually captured by MAJESTIC before being broken out of military prison by the entity dubbed PARIAH, who they had previously had dealings with in a case in New York ("Water/Retention"); in "Convergence" they narrowly avoided being spotted in the aftermath of the barn; and in "A Victim of the Art," they bungled the case so badly that MAJESTIC rolled into the town, sealed everything off, and threw them out.

I also ran two long-form, more epic scenarios, one of which was stolen from Allan Goodall's excellent M Cell campaign--look at "Provenance," though my version, called "The Emperor is Missing," eschewed the End Time setting that Goodall used in favor of pulling from Cthulhutech and The Night Land--and the other of which was based on the Younger than the Mountains PbP game run on the RPG.net forums. And for my players (and anyone else who has time), I recommend both those links to see what was the same in our game and what turned out differently. "Younger than the Mountains" is especially good, though it does starkly illustrate how much more badass, eloquent, and tightly-plotted everything is when you have a whole day to think between posts.

I realized that even just counting published scenarios I have plenty more Delta Green left in me. I didn't get to finish what I wanted with TATTERDEMALION and I could easily run that arc again. I didn't even touch the Karotechia at all, and there's an entirely separate beginning scenario ("Dead Letter") I could use to induct a cell to do a more Karotechia-focused group. Or I could focus on the mi-go, starting with PX Poker Night (PDF warning), moving on to "A Night on Owlshead Mountain" and culminating in "A New Age." And that's not counting anything I want to write myself.

F Cell accomplished a lot in their career, and all with no deaths! Part of that is because I added a Luck mechanic (backported from Wild Talents) that they used to save their bacon occasionally--and I was totally vindicated when the 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu added a Luck mechanic--but a lot of it was just good planning on their part. Over the course of 14 operas, they got into combat situations maybe 6 times, and while FENTON did get shot in the head twice and clawed up by a byakhee once, FELICITY and FIONA escaped without any major injury. At least, not any major physical injury. Psychologically, well...FENTON read quite a lot of books, and at the end was working his way through a copy of Unaussprechlichen Kulten given to him by PARIAH and FIONA had had her digestive system replaced during "Convergence" and developed psychic powers after "The Emperor is Missing." Also, while FELICITY had a husband and a son, FENTON and FIONA basically only had each other as friends, meeting every Thursday to watch X-Files while FENTON ate take-out Thai food and FIONA didn't eat because she could only eat one small meal a day due to her hyper-optimized digestion.

Delta Green--not a job you want your kid to aspire to.

Every long game I run, I learn something. The Vampire game I ran in university taught me to set out expectations during character creation so I didn't end up with a group of mismatched yahoos with wildly different competencies and skillsets. The Exalted game I ran for years taught me how to float the plot over the sea of the character's past actions and the importance of not letting social skills devolve into which player was personally a more charismatic speaker. The Delta Green F Cell game taught me that often the most interesting part of the mystery isn't finding the clues, it's what the investigators do with the information they've found. This is the whole point of the Gumshoe system, but I started doing something similar, because when you're agents of the government you can't always just go in shooting, and when you work for Delta Green you have no indication of whether your bullets will even have an effect. Also, wild conjectures from incomplete information are fun, but players are perfectly capable of coming up with hilariously inaccurate conjectures from complete information as well. They don't need any extra help.

The ending was way better than I expected. No deaths, except FENTON's faithful Taurus that had been with the group since the beginning. An alliance forged between Delta Green and the Queen of Sarnath-in-exile. Next Opera might always be a tragedy, but for the moment, everything is coming up roses.

Be seeing you, F Cell.

Edit: The rules system I used for the game wasn't Delta Green's version of Call of Cthulhu, it was NEMESIS, available for free here, along with Cthulhulike to convert creatures from one system to the other.
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
When I was a boy, every summer and sometimes during the winter, my family would pack up our things into our car and drive west to visit my grandparents in Oregon. One of the first things I would do every time we arrived was borrow my grandmother's library card and head down to the local public library and check out a double handful of books. That's where I read a ton of classic sci-fi and fantasy--the Foundation and Robot books, the Rama books, a bunch of Heinlein's stuff, the Chronicles of Amber, the Riftwar books, nearly all the Valdemar books, and, relevant to this post, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books. She was personally a terrible human being, but I really took to the stories about politicking and personal relations in a feudal society with a psychic nobility. Maybe because the psychics were redheads.

Anyway, half a decade ago, I read Stephen King's The Mist and absolutely loved it. And based on the title of this post you can probably see where this is going. I had it that the Towers had figured out a way to extend the force fields they use to prevent experiments from blowing up to keeping the Mist out at long range, set the game during the Ages of Chaos so all kinds of crazy psychic insanity is on the table, and wrote the whole thing up in Unisystem.

I found it a few days ago and looked back on it, and there are some major flaws. For one, in a game that's supposed to have political intrigue and the players playing nobility who are members of the ruling families of various kingdoms, the utter lack of any real social systems beyond "roll some dice and make stuff us" is a major flaw. I also exhaustively detailed the way psychic powers work because I've always been one for systematizing my games, even though the way the powers work in the books is basically "i dunno lol" and constantly changes depending on the plot and when the book was written. It's ~50 pages long and I wouldn't run it at all nowadays.

I'm thinking of converting it over to post-GMC nWoD, though. A lot of work is already done, since GMC has a better social system and updated psychic powers in it that I can steal. I can finally adapt the Company rules from Reign to nWoD like I've been planning to do for months. I just need to add the Darkover-specific bits around the edges and convert the stats over.

I do like the idea of getting to use it. Darkover is a great setting to run an intrigue game in, with the competing demands of familial loyalty vs. personal ambition, the lure of the Towers as a source of power and a neutral ground to settle disputes, and the addition of the Mist adds a tragic aspect to the society where they might be able to solve the looming end of the world once and for all if they weren't too busy stabbing each other in the brain with mind-daggers all the time. Humanity in a nutshell.
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
I've mentioned it before, but I'm running an ORE Fallout game for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek. I've run a Fallout game before briefly, where I took [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd through part of the plot of Fallout 1 (which she's never played), but this time I was determined to break a bit out of my GMing rut. I'm typically one of those people who plots things out and has games with story arcs and dramatic revelations and conspiratorial machinations and so on, but right now I'm getting all my plot-based gaming urges out of my system with my mystery-focused DELTA GREEN game. For Fallout I wanted something different, so I laid down the goal for myself that I would make this the sandboxiest of sandboxes.

I read a lot of Old School Renaissance blogs even though most of the specific RPGs they play are way too rules-light for my liking because there's a lot of good ideas and play resources out there. And while it's not universal, a lot of them are focused on sandbox play as well and have some discussion of the best way to go about it. One agreed-on aspect of sandbox gaming is that while the game requires less pre-game prep, it does require plenty of resources for creative inspiration during the game. Fortunately, Reign, the basis for my Fallout ORE hack, already has randomness provided for in both the small-scale character rules and the large-scale Company rules, so I had a good place to start. I just had to adapt the Company rules to the Fallout setting.

I'm not usually one for random generation of anything, but reading this Grognardia post about the benefits of randomness for guiding the flow of a game convinced me to give it a try. After I wrote up the random Fallout Company rules, I grabbed some dice and populated the area around post-apocalyptic Chicago with organizations. The Elohim, who maintain the old rail network. Bartertown, the caravanserai for the Heartland region. Wrigleyville, the fortress town at 1060 W. Addison. The Brotherhood of Steel (of course). And several other groups that I never would have thought of if all I had was a blank sheet of paper, but given some dice and a little beginning inspiration, it was easy. And the more groups I made, the easier it became to fit new groups into the existing fabric of the area.

A couple sessions ago, I had an epiphany about the random Company table: it's easy to use it to generate random important events, too. Just adapt the benefits that each number gives to a company into an event. 1x is news from another organization, 2x is something the Company did having further effects, 3x is economic events, 4x is technological events, 5x is military events, 6x is attacks, and so on. Choose dice, the more dice and more severe the event is likely to be, roll them, and interpret.

Here's an example from my last session: Read more... )

Honestly, the ease with which this all works out makes me want to use Dragon Reign and a tweaked random Company set for my next fantasy game, or at the least develop a random Company generator for whatever other game I do next. Even in a more plot-heavy game, it's a great source of inspiration.
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
When I'm playing a tabletop RPG, I love character fiddly bits. Things like minor powers, or advantages and disadvantages, or D&D 3.x Feats, or WFRP Talents, or anything like that. I love Specialities on skills, or the hundreds of Charms in Exalted, or the sheer bewildering variety of spells available in D&D.

If you expect me to say that when I'm running games I don't like fiddly bits, well, that's not the point of this post. I ran Exalted for five years and it's probably my favorite game I've ever run, and I'd leap to do it again if I could, though probably with Dragon-Blooded, God-blooded, or mortals since I've done the stereotypical "Solars rise from obscurity to change the fate of Creation" story. I still love fiddly bits in games and tend to try to add them in to games that lack them, like my random thoughts about adding in an advantage/disadvantage system to Runequest.

No, the point here is that I had a lightning bolt revelation that it doesn't actually matter that much in terms of having a good game, and it was revealed to me through the players in my DELTA GREEN game. I'm using NEMESIS (pdf warning) instead of BRP, but other than the addition of advantages and disadvantages, it's pretty similar since the PCs are normal people[1]. They don't have much to distinguish them mechanically other than their skills, and yet, they've focused on different things, play their characters differently, and feel very different in-game and as far as I know, there are no complaints about stepping on each others' areas of competence.

Maybe it's a legacy of my playing a lot of stat-heavy computer games. In CRPGs, most of the fiddly bits relate to combat because that's what you have the most control over. At least, if there is a CRPG out there where there were a bunch of advantages based on dialogue or convincing people, please let me know, because I'd love to play it. Anyway, in a TTRPG where there's a lot more interaction, there's more mechanical weight that can hang on non-combat solutions even if it's just skill or stat values, but the number of CRPGs that have lots of combat but can be beaten without killing hundreds of people is incredibly low. So, I tend to prize fiddly bits as a means of character distinction even if it's not really necessary.

Maybe I'll try Runequest without ads/disads after all. The roll of combat Feats is handled with the Special Effects for good rolls, and I'm sure I could come up with random tables or steal the Quirks from Cthulhu by Gaslight for people who want distinctive bits that aren't related to their stats or skills.

[1]: Or at least they start that way. In my game, one character is a sorcerer due to perusing eldritch tomes and another is psychic because of mind-swapping Yithian shennanigans.
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
How are those concepts connected? Well, I'll explain!

One of the problems I frequently run into in the games I like to run and play is how long character generation takes. It's an unavoidable problem with any system that allows a wide variety of player choice--they'll have to figure out what they want to play, figure out what abilities they want to take that fit their concept, spend those leftover points on things that might be useful, go back and forth with the other players on what the proper distribution of character resources should be, etc., etc. I don't want to knock group character generation, or even spending a session doing so, because some of my players really like it. I don't blame them, either. Part of the reason I like more complex systems is that I like the give-and-take of planning out a group and trying to cover for all eventualities in skill and power selection.

The thing is, this directly disincentivizes killing characters. Or, I suppose if you want to have less agency ascribed to it, it disincentivizes running a game with high lethality. If anyone dies, in addition to all the normal headaches of integrating a new person into the group, you now have to wait for the dead person to create a new character, which will take the same length of time as before. Even if they really have a concept nailed down and know the system, they'll still have to spend all their points, make sure everything adds up, and so on, and that's time they're not playing. There isn't really any way to get around this without reducing the number of choices necessary for character generation.

I realized that part of the reason I don't like games with assumed lethality probably has a lot to do with this problem. I like games with a lot of widgets and mechanical crunch to get my teeth around, but I don't want to kill people off because that complexity directly feeds into the annoyance of making new characters. I tend to get around it by adding narrativist mechanics like Luck/Drama Points, but there's another way to reduce the problem: random character generation.

I'm not talking OD&D-style 3d6-in-order character generation, because that leads to characters of widely-varying power level in any system where stats actually matter (admittedly, that's not OD&D). However, something like Reign's One-Roll Character Generator is pretty amazing. The chart's in that link, but you roll a certain amount of dice--eleven, by default--and check the matches on the various categories and adjust your attributes as described, and check any non-matching dice on the events table (there are three in the rules--only one is listed there). The rules specifically give you the option to take some dice and set them aside in a set already, so someone who knows they want to be a mighty sorcerer can set aside five 9s and roll the rest to see what happens. In addition, each die of the set provides 5 points worth of abilities when compared to the point-buy method, so all characters are balanced and it's easy to adjust the power level of characters up or down as desired.

This is amazing. It's probably the best random character generation system I've ever seen and half has me tempted to just throw all this out and use Dragon Reign, the D&D-esque fantasy conversion for Reign, but I've spent a bunch of time on this so far and I don't want to just give it up. So, how can I replicate a system like that?

Reign's One-Roll Character Generation works because everything has a fixed value so it's easy to set things up to map to the dice. That goes directly against the idea that Advantages would have different costs, but then again, Advantages having different costs makes character generation take longer as well so maybe that's a bad idea. As long as I can avoid the problems of Toughness vs Improved Initiative, then I'm not wedded to either cost structure.

Speaking of Advantages, Reign uses them too, but the One-Roll Character Generator doesn't. Only a very few options give you Advantages, so that's something I want to take into account.

Another option that doesn't require everything to be quite so meticulously balanced is a lifepath system, the way Fading Suns or Traveler or Burning Wheel do. So, for example, someone who wants to be a court wizard would take the Raised in the Lap of Luxury Path, that gives +1 Charisma and +1 Intelligence, and then +1 Empathy, +1 Lie, +1 Persuasion, +1 Etiquette, +1 Lore (Nobility), and the "Noble Birth" Advantage. Then they'd move on to the Young Noble Path, then the Apprentice Sorcerer Path, picking up Stats and Advantages and Skills along the way. This lets me tailor things specifically to the setting and tells a lot about one's character before they start, plus it provides a good selection of skills and prevents the kind of direct focusing that you tend to get with pure point-buy if the system isn't set up to discourage it, such as with geometric costs or other balancing factors. The obvious disadvantage here is that I have to write a bunch of lifepaths. Then again, I'm not sure how much of a disadvantage that would be for me...

I could even add an option for random lifepaths, too, if people can't decide. Beyond the Wall, a OSR game about a group of childhood friends who go off and have adventures, designed to emulate YA books like The Chronicles of Prydain or The Earthsea books, has something similar. Because of Beyond the Wall's focus, the lifepaths are designed to determine who lives in the characters' town, what buildings are there, and how the characters know each other. It's extremely well designed.

If I want to run any kind of dungeon bash or hexcrawl game where lethality is assumed, I'll need to do something.
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
Today was the usual Wednesday children's English class, as it has been for week upon week upon week, but because [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's friend is here, it threw off our equilibrium, and we didn't remember until Ueda-san rode up on his bike to make sure that we were okay. We were originally supposed to have matcha and Japanese sweets, but Ueda-san's wife[1] was unable to come and since she was the one who was going to make the food, we didn't have any. Still, we taught them how to ask "how do you like?" and how to answer it, so they could at least ask us a bunch of questions. We've given them a solid English foundation (or at least I like to think so) for when they get to studying English in school. We still speak Japanese better than their English, but that's because we live here, which is a point I'll probably make on the last class we do.

One other thing I've noticed since coming here is that people rarely speak formally outside of work. I mean, sure, in a work situation people still use formal language, but even when meeting new people I haven't heard that much of it. When we met the 大川s, the husband (who I had never met) used casual Japanese when speaking to me, so I just copied him and used it back. I have a bit more practice at it than [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, who defaults to speaking more formally, but that's not really wrong (women tend to speak more formal Japanese than men in daily life). It makes me glad that I put in some extra effort to studying casual Japanese.

I've been working on an ORE conversion for Unhallowed Metropolis lately. I've always thought that UnMet was a great setting saddled with a somewhat odd and humdrum system--it's a bit confusing, and basically lacks anything special. ORE seems to be my go-to system for doing anything lately, so I've been using it to make a few conversions (plus some original stuff for extant ORE settings, but tinkering is something I'm fond of). Just need to finish up the social combat rules (it is neo-Victorian Britain, after all) and add the psychic and medium stuff and it'll be done.

And I really, really, really need to work on an outline for my NaNo so I'll be sure to finish it.

How did it get so late? Anyway, I'd better go to bed...

[1]: One thing I'm still unsure about is forms of address. Since honorifics aren't tied to gender, both Ueda-san and his wife are "Ueda-san." When addressing them specifically, I can use the formal words for husband and wife, but when talking about them to other people I'm not sure of the proper way to distinguish between them.

Fallout

2011-Mar-02, Wednesday 02:44
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
Well, it's not actually a green sky, because I modded it away.

I've been playing a lot of heavily-modded Fallout 3 lately (and somewhat neglecting both my Japanese studying and working on my novel). Last time I played, my game got more and more unstable as I went on, eventually reaching the point where it was crashing literally every 30 seconds if I was outdoors. I'm 40 hours in now and it crashes about once an hour--sometimes more frequently, sometimes less. That's actually pretty good, and if I can keep that level of stability I'll have no complaints.

My mod list, for the curious )

For anyone who's interested, I'll be happy to explain what any or all of those do.

I've also been working on/playing my Fallout PnP adaptation using ORE. As I (think I) said in a previous post, I'm running [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd through the plot of the original Fallout, which she has never played. It's been going well so far, though it's mostly been sticking to the plot of the game. Her character just joined the Brotherhood of Steel, and I'm planning on doing a bit more with that than the original game does (where being a member is basically "Hi, I'm here to take all your tech and then leave for months on end. Well, later!"). [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd is having a lot of fun, at least partially because she has a lot better luck in ORE than she does in White Wolf games.

I'm having a lot of fun tinkering with the system. I'm about at the point where I should start making things up (and marking them as made up), to provide some surprises for people who have played Fallout. It's not entirely my work--the basic stuff was developed by a guy on the RPG.net forums, who graciously agreed to share it with me--but I've been expanding it a lot. It makes me want to run it for a group, though I'd obviously need to make up my own plot then.

Last Sunday was the Yaenishi Bunkasai, and followed the tradition of similar local bunkasais in the past. Some people did karaoke, there were several exhibitions of hula dancing (called "Flower dances" in Japanese. They're inexplicably popular here), a story accompanied by pictures (there's a Japanese word for it, but I can't remember it Edit: 紙芝居 kamishibai, literally "paper play"), and, of course, the children doing a kagura performance of the first part of the story of Tamamo-no-Mae.

Our local eikaiwa (introduced as ジョイフルチーム, "Joyful team," though [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I both think they should have gone with "Hug my satsuma" based on a fondly-remembered screw-up during a game of telephone. Our students recited the story of the Three Little Pigs in English while [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I provided a translation in the local dialect of Japanese, which is pretty different than standard. I won't bother putting in a list of the differences unless people ask, but suffice to say that when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was practicing at school, her teachers kept telling her parts were wrong because they, in the immortal works of rednecks the world over, "aren't from 'round here."

It's hard to believe we're only here for five more months. Chiyoda is probably my favorite place to have lived, ever. Still, if all goes well, we'll be back to Japan. And this time, we'll be able to understand everything. :p

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