Thursday, 3 December 2015

Come to dark side,...we have cookies. Dark chocolate chip cookies.

With the coming of the Codex Infernus, by D. Jarvis (on Kickstarter). I've been thinking more and more about a fairly simple ''Corruption'' system. Something to indicate the gradual descent into darkness, the slippery slope to Evil.

In fantasy tropes, certain classes or character archetypes can be stripped of all their powers/benefits if they stray even a little form their path or tenets of faith. But what if the descent into darkness was more gradual and relied on the character personal convictions and his own certainty that he's actually doing good, that he believes he's still advancing his faith's tenets. 

Sometimes our heroes may be forced to make hard choices, decisions that may be questionable. Maybe they had good intentions, perhaps it was for the greater good. For example; Churchill once made the difficult choice to let an english town be bombed by the Germans, in order to avoid the enemy from discovering that they had broken the Axis' code. Did he let people die when he could have saved them? Yes. Was it evil? Maybe (it was definitely a cold and calculated decision). Would it have merited a ''Corruption point''? Yes, maybe, most likely, depending on the GM of a game with such a moral dilemma as this.

But in the kind of game I'm thinking of, a fantasy setting, things are more black and white. You might have a few shades of grey. That's where my idea of a dark benny / devil's benny comes in. When a hero does something that can be considered bad, he will earn a dark benny.

I firmly believe this is a campaign element that need to be mentioned to the players before gaming starts, since it can have a serious impact on their characters and their fate later on in the game. And the players should be on board for this to work and you don't want to spring this on your players mid-game. They will most likely feel like your punishing them and trying to take their character away, or their player agency. Of course, if they are aware of it in advance, and you hand over that devil's benny after they've left some goblin children to die, then they can't really complain.

If your campaign has a heavy infernal genre and where demons can have some influence over some mortals who attract their attention, then this dark benny mechanic can come into play. Not all acts will be seen by powerful Demon Lords and not every mortal will be of interest to the Princes of Hell. But that's what the minor devils are for. Imps, Quasits, etc sometimes spy on some regular mortals to corrupt their souls in little but cumulative ways, in order to fill the pits of Hell (Think of the satirical novel ''The Screwtape Letters''). That being said, some mortals will attract the attention of more important, more powerful demons. And their actions will be observed more closely. The Paladin or the Priest of Light, for example, would make a tempting addition to their hellish ranks and would be a severe blow to the forces of good. Of course, a powerful Mage or Warrior would also be substantial gain to the forces of evil.

So when a hero does something evil (not just mean or because he's a little ticked off, but really evil, nasty, cruel, vicious, etc). then he gets a dark benny/devil's benny. This benny is always there and available for the player, to tempt him to more/greater evil (i.e. it actually does carry over to following sessions. He doesn't have to use it, but it will be a constant reminder of the possibility). He could perform acts of atonement or purification appropriate to the setting, in order to remove the devil's benny.

He can use this benny just like any other, except he gets a +2 to the final roll. But once a player has decided to use this devil's benny, he also gains a mark upon his soul, even if he used it in a selfless act. This act is tainted by his previous actions and choices. 

Call this mark what you will; corruption, taint, black stain, dark side, etc., but these can be impossible or extremely difficult to remove, depending on the mood and grittiness of the setting. Can someone be redeemed or not? If there is a chance to remove these Marks, then after such an act of atonement or purification, the hero must make a Spirit roll at -2 (with an additional -1 per Mark gained). If successful, he removes one Mark (optional: two Marks with a Raise maximum). 

GMs are encouraged to use their own judgement based on the act of contrition (sacrificing oneself in order to save many innocents from death or worse, might save his immortal soul from eternal damnation).

But once a hero has accumulated a number of Marks equal to his Spirit die (maximum 12), then he's irrevocably damned and corrupted and the Demon Prince will show up soon to claim his prize.

Player knowledge versus Character knowledge

This blog post won't stop people from discussing this or arguing for or against it. But this is my opinion about the issue, especially when it relates to any Social interaction.

Many GMs seem to insist on having Players actually speak in character when in comes to bluffing their way past the guard, negotiate passage with a sea captain, whoo a lady, or convince someone to a certain course of action. Even though the Player is most likely not as charming, handsome or savvy as his own character.

I've never asked a Player to actually disarm an explosive device, just because his character has Demolition skills. Has any other GM required this kind of thing of their players?

I recently played an elven conjurer (Niamara) in my friend's campaign, and not once did my GM ask that I actually start quoting arcane theory, or babble actual spells and summon an elemental. In my other friend's Beasts & Barbarians campaign, I play a Conan-like barbarian named Kron. And once again, the GM does not expect me to know about sword fighting or ask me to actually make a feat of strength in order to open a door or lift a rock. I even played a bard once, despite the fact that I don't play a musical instrument and can't carry a tune to save my life, IRL, and once again my GM didn't require me to match my character's skills.

I can role-play it a little (describe Kron's efforts, speak some arcane sounding words as Niamara) but ultimately, the success or failure depends on the die roll.

So, to all the GMs out there who insist on their Players to actually be great orators or sly swindlers, please STOP IT.

Players will role-play characters that are often very different from themselves. I believe the major issues stem from the fact that the GMs will judge the success or failure of the actions by the Player's ability (or lack thereof), instead of the Character's, who might be a master at bluffing or sweet-talking his way out of trouble, but the Player would get tongue-tied if speaking in front of more than three people.

At best, try to get the Player to role-play a bit of it. And if you think she did a fair job and had good points and arguments, then allow her a +1 or +2 to the roll. But the die result should be the ultimate deciding factor at her Social skill attempt. Just like when the warrior swings her sword, if the Player describes how she leaps from atop a broken pillar to chop at the ogre's head, the GM could give her a +2 to damage.

The player across the table is not actually the same as the character he is portraying. Just like actors who portray doctors and lawyers and scientists are not their characters and are not the experts they seem to be.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Unintentional Interest!

Without premeditation or intent, I made one of my players take an interest in one of my campaign world's aspect. 

To be more precise, he's taken a keen interest on the campaign specific calendar. It was not my intention to hook him onto it like that, but I introduced into the campaign a magical item that is tied to the phases of the three moons of the game world. 

It started when I vaguely remembered something in the Savage World's Fantasy Companion about Grimoires. I wanted the Druid in my campaign to gain access to more powers without the need to wait for level-ups. So I cracked open the SWFC and found the reference to Grimoires and how they can allow a spell caster to gain new powers without taking the New Power edge every time.

But he's a Druid and I felt like a more oral method of transmitting the knowledge and wisdom was more appropriate. So I simply applied a Trapping to the Grimoire. Instead of finding a musty old tome or delicate scrolls, he found Leylana's River Stones. Five smooth stones with swirling designs and runes upon them in a supple doe-skin pouch. After doing some research, he discovered that when placed in a stream of clean water or a basin filled with pure water, under one of the many lunar alignments, the image of Leylana would appear and she would impart her wisdom upon the applicant. As of this writing, the last time the Druid used the Stones was a minor alignment, so I had Leylana impart some esoteric druidic knowledge that will give him a +2 on an appropriate Knowledge check in the future (nothing specific, I'll just let the player tell me he heard this from his mentor when it comes up). 

In the world of Shaintar, there are three moons and 16 months, and there are many possible lunar alignments possible. So now my friend Marc has made himself a copy of the calendar and keeps track of time that goes by in game. 

He could've simply asked once in a while if the moons would be aligned and I could've just hand waved it and moved on. But he has taken interest and I'm encouraging it. It makes me even more aware of the passage of time in game and I'm also more motivated to keep track of it. Especially since they are currently on an important mission that is also time sensitive. They must hurry before the Gates of Hell open. 

Have any players of yours taken a keener interest in your campaign world somehow. Maybe a calendar, special events, places or businesses, etc, and that you hadn't planned on but it somehow made the game seem more alive for them, more engaging?

Please share. 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Trying to make the encounter with the BBEG last a little longer.

Ever since I’ve read people’s posts or listened to podcasts, I’ve been thinking about this. In most RPG systems, you can’t count on combat lasting a fixed number of rounds, nor how successful the players will be on their die rolls. If the BBEG rolls phenomenally well and consistently and the PCs don’t, then you’re looking at a possible TPK. Inversely, if the PCs are the ones getting all the good rolls, then the big finale you were likely hoping for is cut short, and as an occasional player, not just a GM, I find it not totally satisfying if the BBEG is defeated in one round.

Many people have made suggestions and gave out advice, most of it will be good for someone out there I’m sure. But no definite answers on how to prolong combat, since there are no definite solutions I believe. There are just too many variables (exactly how tough is the BBEG, how tough/good are the PCs, the location and advantages of the terrain, any allies, what each character has access to, whether its gear, magic items, etc.).

And let’s face it, if you have only one BBEG to face-off against your PCs, he still only gets to act once per round (even if he’s able to perform multiple actions), against a group of say 5 players, who might be able to perform multiple actions of their own and use their bennies to get a better result and cooperate together, our BBEG won’t last too long, especially if you draw a low card for the initiative for said BBEG.

I have some of my own suggestions but I’ll reiterate what others have already mentioned here for purpose of completeness:

1-      Play the BBEG smartly; keep his goals in mind, how devoted is he (is he willing to die for his cause, is he able to escape to fight another day)?
2-      Use cover, high ground and/or difficult ground to his advantage.
3-      Fanatics; let some Extras take that mortal hit for their leader (For the Royalty!!).
4-      And maybe a few more I haven’t heard/read

And below are a few of my own suggestions, based on my own experience as a GM;

Give him the Quick and Level Headed edges, that way you make sure he gets two cards and he’ll at least have a 6 or more. With the Improved Level Headed he gets three cards. That should increase the odds of getting a face card or even a Joker.

One suggestion I had read about, and I have used quite a few times, was to allow the BBEG to act twice per round. Give him two initiative cards. How many times do we see characters in movies and TV shows act and re-act multiple times in a very short period of time, especially in martial-arts movies.

As a GM, we should allow ourselves some leeway to make the encounter worthwhile for our players. I’m not talking about cheating or fudging rolls necessarily, but if you can explain it within the game setting or within the rules, then by all means, go ahead. Even if you just improvised a reason that makes the BBEG last one more round. Perhaps the BBEG is able to soak at least one wound every round minimum, despite the Vigour roll (he’s got a magical device or Nanites that mitigates the wounds, whatever).

Even if it’s not on his stat sheet before the game, add it, allow it, if it will make the game more FFF!! And once the heroes have defeated the Mastermind, the Dragon, or the evil Overlord, it will most likely make your player’s feeling of accomplishment that much greater.

That being said, as a GM, we shouldn’t take away the players’ successes. If they’ve planned ahead and used sound tactics, and thus defeated their foe quickly, I think I should let them. They will feel powerless if the GM simply ignores all their preparation without having a good reason for it. Not every combat should be a 3 hour long ordeal, sometimes a fight should just end with a gunshot on the scimitar wielder.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Boromir's return

Boromir est de retour parmi nous, sa famille qui l'aime. Nous restons quelque jours chez ma mère pour éviter tous les escaliers au condo. 
Merci a tout mes amis qui nous ont envoyer leurs bonnes pensées. 

Boromir is back among us, his family who loves him. We're staying at my mom's place to avoid all the stairs at out condo.
Thank you to all our friends for their good wishes.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

A new Director's Cut?

This Boromir is not struck with multiple arrows...

Good news from the Vet. Boromir's surgery went well, no complications and he's resting comfortably. We should be able to pick him up tomorrow, friday. Papa is very relieved.

He'll be hobbling around for about two weeks with a tight bandage around his foot to prevent infection and the sutures from re-opening, but the Vet reassures me that most dogs recover really quickly.

Boromir's troubles and his master's worries

So, today is going to be a long day. My dog Boromir is now at the pet hospital in order to get his tumour on his toe, removed. In fact, the doctor will remove the entire toe and part of the metacarpal bone. This will allow the exterior toe to move inward and take up some of the weight that the missing toe handled.

Just like humans though, any time anaesthesia is administered, there is a very remote chance for complications and they ask if I wanted them to perform reanimation procedures on him, in the event of a cardiac failure. Of course I said yes, but this is another thing to worry about.

Many friends and family members are wishing us well and offer their support, especially my wonderful fiancé Michael. Thanks to all of you.

I'm at work but simply in a light daze. My thoughts are elsewhere.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Boromir's troubles and tribulations

Yesterday was a rather stressful and worrisome day. My dog, Boromir has developed a tumour on his right hind foot. At first the vet thought it could be just a cyst and prescribed some antibiotics and a topical cream, but the growth did not shrink or change at all.

So another visit to the vet was scheduled and this time they took some thin needle samples and had it analyzed. A few days later, he calls me in to discuss the results. It's a tumour, but we don't know how bad it is, nor how agressive. The Dr. recommends I see a specialist-oncologist for a more detailed test/analysis.

Yesterday we went to said oncologist, and he suggested various tests, after a thorough inspection.X-rays, sonograms and blood works. At least we now know that it's not a cancerous growth, and that it does not require the amputation of the whole leg.

He will only lose one toe and will still be able to negotiate the stairs up to our condo. At 6-1/2 years old, he's closer to the end of his life expectancy. Bernese mountain dogs don't live as long as other big dogs and I sincerely hope that he'll still be with us, when we move to the country next year.

I heard an expression about Bernese; ''They don't live as long simply because they give their love very quickly and in large quantities, and then leave us only with memories''.

To get even more details about the tumour, they could've taken a biopsy, but the vet says we need to remove the toe anyway. He can analyse the tumour after it's removed.

I will follow up on this procedure once it's completed.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

My first post

Well here I am! My name is Stephen and I've just created my very first Blog post.

Here are a few things about me:
1- I'm Canadian and proud of it.
2- I have a wonderful husband, even though he's not a gamer (you won't be seeing pics of him here).
3- I also have an amazing bernese mountain dog, named Boromir (you definitely see pics of him).
4- I've been roleplaying since the late 80s (yes I'm an old gay-mer).
5- I'm still into RPGs, as both a player & a GM
6- I love Fantasy and Sci-fi; books, comics, movies etc.
7- I love super hero movies.
8- I enjoy good food, good wine, with good friends.
9- I enjoy traveling by train, more than by airplane.
10- I hope to share some insight, thoughts and opinions about the above things, in no particular order and perhaps other subjects too. I don't mean to offend, these are just my own personal ramblings. Everyone is entitled to their own POVs.

Thank you