Sunday, October 30, 2005

Burning Wheel and Trollbabe

I got my copy of Burning Wheel a few days ago and have been reading through it. Man, there are a lot of rules there. All the rules I've read so far, I've been OK with -- they haven't been more than I feel I can handle. One thing that helped a lot was getting to page 77 of the main rulebook and being told there "OK, stop reading, go make characters and play using the rules you've read so far. Learn the rest only after you've had some play experience." That's cool.

The Character Burner book is of course huge. It's a lifepath system. I haven't done anything with a lifepath system since I messed around with FATE a year or two ago, and that didn't go anywhere. So I just picked a background -- noble -- and went through a few lifepaths with him. Noble Born... Arcane Devotee... Arcane Devotee... switched to the Outcast Setting and found -- Rogue Wizard! Schweet! That's me, Rogue Wizard. (Rogue Wizards in Burning Wheel are rather creepier than the character type of the same name in Talislanta.) Neat stuff! The next day, hanging with Joe, I had him make a character and he had massive fun with it too. Now, neither of us actually finished our characters, for time reasons, but man, it was a lot of fun; it took me back to the kind of fun that making characters was in RPG days gone by.

Didn't get to play it though. Because we were planning to play... Trollbabe!

Joe handed me a Trollbabe character sheet and it was striking to contrast the huge lettering on it with the barely readable text on the BW sheet. I whipped up a trollbabe named Nelda in 5-10 minutes. Didn't know much about her at all. Just started the scenario.

The scenario was fairly simple -- a creepy cult called the Black Hands kidnapped a girl from some travelling merchants; Nelda decided to see if she could get them back. A couple of bad failures (BAD failures -- incapacitated level failures) led to a reprise of the "Naked Helpless Sacrifice Scene" comic, with Nelda starring as Retta and a Lovecraftian horror called She Who Is Not To Be Named starring as the bat-god. Well, it wasn't quite the same, but it did involve Nelda using magic to communicate with the god rather than just being eaten by her. (She ended up with a Relationship to this Elder-God-like entity, which I think rocks the world.) It ended up eating its followers, except for one whom Nelda had a relationship with as well (not a very pleasant relationship). Cool, she's got a relationship with both a cultist and his dark god!

Things went smoothly mostly because Joe had read the rules, like, 3 times in the last week, and had them cold. The conflict resolution system in Trollbabe still feels a little awkward to me, despite that, maybe because I don't have it entirely down. I don't know.

The two games are a huge contrast in the area of character background -- there's all this fun background creation in Burning Wheel, and none whatsoever in Trollbabe; hell, in Trollbabe it's even unclear where Trollbabes came from and what they are, so it'd be difficult to write a background. It's explicitly unspecified. A blank.

Anyway, wish I had had the time to finish the BW characters and play a bit. BW seemms like it'll be way fun. I would not have thought I could deal with all those rules, but all the ones I've *read* seem very simple and usable, so if that stays the same as I read more, well.... that'll be a good game. :)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Color Crystal Revelations

Joe went nuts with Photoshop and created an entire color version of Mystic Crystal Revelations! Rock.

Monday, October 24, 2005


So apparently Blogspot is becoming kidn of a blogspam ghetto. A fairly large number of the neat blogs by Forge twunts are on blogspot.

It occurs to me that I could probably set up a "free blogs for indie RPG folks" service over at my hosting, if there was an interest. On the other hand, it's not like there's a huge shortage of avenues for blogs on the Inter Nets (e.g. and whatnot), and it's not like all the crap blogs on somehow make the good ones disappear from view. I hadn't even noticed any problem, I've just read about it.

Just wanted to throw that out there.

Friday, October 21, 2005

As God Is My Witness, Someday I Will Be A Credenza

John Harper has already blogged about a great thread with a great Ron post on the Forge. I was struck by this bit:

consider, in all the games you've participated in, how many of the player-characters have essentially been furniture? Scary, eh?

That reminded me of the Dilbert quote which is this post's title.

Well worth reading the whole thread, especially if you've looked at a few Forge-influenced RPGs and wondered where the rules for rock climbing were. Don't miss the Characters' Own Stupidity as a recurring NPC,

Monday, October 17, 2005

For the Record

I found the Donate link for the PDF version of Jihad, and I now remember being at the con and seeing that illustration on the cover of Jihad and being creeped the hell out by it, thank you very much. :)

Luke on Sons of Kryos

Listening to this now. Transcribed a portion of it to send to somebody and thought "I've got this neat bit transcribed, why not blog it?"

Here goes:

[Luke describing in some detail how suicide is a major feature of Serpent Sun]

JUDD: That's dark.

LUKE: It's very dark.

JUDD: If my parents had gotten ahold of that when I was twelve, I don't know if I'd be gaming today.

LUKE: Yeah, yeah, this is one where I'm, like, quite -- quite deliberately pushing the limits. Actually both of them. Both of the setting materials for Burning Wheel that I've released in the past year and a half or whatever, the Jihad stuff and the Serpent Sun stuff, have been designed to tweak people's sensibilities. I got really bored with people looking at, like, Elven Grief and, making fun of it, calling it like, 'The Cure,' and all this shit, you know, and people looking at Orc Hatred and being like, 'ORCS ARE COOL!' You know, I mean, that's fine, Orcs are cool. They're my favorites. But they're also really evil bastards, and they do terrible things, and your game should be about Orcs doing terrible things to each other and to everything and everyone around them. Instead it's just ORCS ARE COOL! So, I was like, all right, let's see what else I can get you to say is cool. So, right, so we have suicide? In Serpent Sun? Like, well, do you think that's cool? I actually think that, uh, most people are like 'no this is not cool man! [laughter]

JUDD: Yeah, that, I played that once with you over at, uh, the Burning Wheel revised release party, and my friend and I just stumbled out of that game at like six in the morning, didn't say a word to each other till we got to the train station, at which point he looked at me and said, 'That... that was really dark.' Like, not, like, in a profound way, but in a 'I... I can't believe we just played that' way. Yeah, it's shocking, it's pretty shocking, how dark that is.
Awesome interview -- if you can stand the 27 meg download, do grab it.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

I Must Feel the Burning

This post on Bankuei's blog (which spawned a disagreement in the comments that I have no comment on myself) pointed me to this abomination of a thread on, a place I rarely go, and this reminded me why.

Every other post in the thread was by "Evil Dr. Ganymede," to whom a copy of Burning Wheel apparently did unspeakable things when he was a child, because he spends more time and effort on RPG.NET trashing it than I can imagine the average ardent fan spends playing it. Clearly Burning Wheel is a big part of this man's life, and affected him deeply. It is his nemesis. He dreams of it, and wakes up screaming "CURSE YOU BURNING WHEEL, I SHALL NEVER ESCAPE YOUR DARK CLUTCHES BUT I WILL WARN OTHERS AGAINST YOU, AND DENY YOU FURTHER PREY!"

I assume this is the thread Matt was talking about here, with many headshaking comments posted since.

I'd always thought BW probably wasn't for me, tagging it as too "rules-heavy," but getting to talk to Luke about it at the con suggested to me that maybe that wasn't the case, and even if it was, I might find it an interesting game to read... And there was just something about the sheer gamer joy of Luke himself that made me want to own his game. "I must own this man's game, or at least learn who his dealer is for whatever stuff he smokes, sniffs, or ingests to get that way."

There are these strong personalities amongst indie game designers and fans. Many of them strong happy-making personalities. (So as not to embarrass anyone I am erasing a paragraph of examples of strong, positive personalities in the indie scene that I'd started writing. Awesome people don't need me telling them they're awesome. And people who are awesome that I don't quite know well enough to describe their awesomeness as well don't need to see the list and notice they were left off it and wonder why.)

From the very little I got to meet and observe him at the Forge booth, Luke is one of those really strong powerful positive personalities. He loves his game. He loves that people play it. He loves the people that play it. And it's a hardcore gritty bloody toothy shrieking badass game, and that makes the crazily positive energy of Luke all the more striking.

So Burning Wheel was on my list of "get that after I get home and am not so poor" games when I left the Con, and reading the thread with Evil Dr. Ganymede for page after page (I never got though the whole thing) brought it back to my mind...

I thought, "any game that has such power that even someone who hates it cannot break away from his obsession with it must surely be mine," and I ordered it.

Like they say, no such thing as bad publicity.

I await it in eager anticipation.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Cat and Caedmon: Breaking the Ice

I popped by Joe's place Saturday night to hit our favorite restaurant and hang for a while, and we test drove Breaking The Ice.

This was the first time I'd actually played through 3 full dates (a proper game), and it was cool.

Our "switch," since we're both male, was preferred creative outlet: he played an artist and I played a musician. He played Catilin, a geek girl and sculptor and jewelery designer obsessed with Lord of the Rings, and I played Caedmon, a pastry chef who was deeply into blues singing and blues harmonica. (In the back of my mind, I had a specific person as the model for Caedmon; to me it's fun to do that in BtI.)

Cat's conflict was a stalking nerd ex-boyfriend named Tom. Caedmon's conflict was that he gets really clumsy around people he's trying to impress. They both worked out OK, but neither was really optimal. The clumsy thing was easy to bring into scenes -- when I needed some extra dice, Caedmon knocked something over at just the wrong moment. Tom was much harder to bring into scenes, and didn't get used that much, but was more interesting.

An awesome moment was when we managed to bring both of them into a scene -- Caedmon whacked Cat with his elbow, giving her a bloody nose, in the middle of a museum expedition (their second date), and very soon after that Tom showed up, and concluded that Caedmon must have (intentionally) hit Cat... and in the between-dates rolls for attraction, on a reroll, where you have to put down a new problematic trait, for Cat, we put down that inbetween dates Tom had been spreading rumors about Cat's new boyfriend to the effect that he was violent with her! Ouch!

But gratuitous clumsiness, while it worked out, just seemed kinda cheap, and the jealous stalking ex was hard to bring into scenes elegantly. Giving myself advice for future games: make sure the conflict is not just external but internal. "Clumsy" is OK, but "knows he gets clumsy and is going to overcompensate or avoid situations where it's going to come up, or is going to be really nervous about it, etc" would be better. "Stalking ex" was OK, but "knows she has an ex stalking her and is going to consciously try to make sure he doesn't find out about the date" would have been better. Make it something the characters have to react to (or "proact" to if you will), and let their reactions be part of the scene.

The three dates were: lunch and a walk in the park in Chicago (I always end up playing BtI games set in Chicago... this is my third... of four BtI games...)... a trip down to Indianapolis to view the Lord of the Rings exhibit at the museum together (allowing Joe and I to bring in our real-world knowledge of Indy from the last GenCon, including the rocking Scottish pub we went to in the real world), and a viewing of the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy at Cat's house, which turned into a snugglefest (we let our characters get they freak on in the third date. They deserved it).

This was the first time I had played an entire series of dates in BtI, and I got to understand the dynamics of the dice a little better.

The thing I don't think I'd grokked before is that a Turn stops when you achieve an attraction level or a Compatibility. That means that the better a chance you have of getting one of those with your Attraction dice and your Bonus dice (due to having a lot of Attraction), the less likely it is you'll have a chance, or a need, to use any Re-Rolls. This means that the screwups that fuel Re-Rolls are going to become less common as Attraction increases.

Cat and Cadmon really piled on the Attraction over the course of those dates, and by about midway through the second date, Re-Rolls were practically a thing of the past.

I think it's the case that a Turn has to stop when you hit an attraction or compatibility level. (I'm not quite sure of that from the way it's phrased in the rules.) If this is the case, if you want to be sure you get compatibility if you possibly can rather than "mere" attraction, you will want to avoid rolling your dice till you've decided, say, whether or not you want to pull a Conflict or Compatibility in. Because if you roll 'em and get three successes, it's too late, turn is over, you can't go further by pulling the Conflict or Compatibility in in the hopes of getting a fourth success.

In any case, it seems pretty clear that you can't, say, get an attraction level, and then keep going for another attraction level with Re-Rolls. At least I hope that's the case, because it drives the "comical screwups are more common earlier in the date series before real attraction is established" dynamic nicely.

I haven't gone back yet and read the rules really closely to make sure that's how it's set up.

Anyway, the whole thing worked out nicely. A lot of plot was generated through it all, and I especially enjoyed seeing how the "between dates" stuff works, because I hadn't had a chance to before. Cool things like Caedmon losing his job and having to decide whether he's willing to leave town to find a new job, and Cat having the rumors started about her by Tom, happened "between dates".

What I'd like to remember in future games is to make characters who are a little more packed with drama because of their Conflicts. Make it a little more personal, a little more to the heart. That'd be cool.

Oh, to the degree that we felt like describing the nookie explicitly in date 3, the system worked fine -- fooling around works like any other part of a date in Breaking the Ice, you get Bonus Dice by having your character do something that would generate attraction, which the other player thinks is true to life or whatever, and you roll and see if you generate more attraction and maybe a Compatibility based on what you just did. The application to physical intimacy at whatever level of description you're comfortable with should be obvious.

So, cool. Fun game, made some characters we really liked, learned how the rules work and came to appreciate more stuff about 'em. Rock.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Hite on Indie Games

Ken Hite's Out of the Box this week reviews indie games that he bought at this year's GenCon, including many a familiar face.

This reminded me of several games I didn't get to buy at Con and still want to.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Bacchanal Print Page

Woot! Paul's got an order page up for the print edition of Bacchanal. I'm so proud of that cover!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

"Torturing the Youngest in the Group's PC"

Must-read thread on the Forge. Just cause it's an awesome story.

Who's Dissatisfied

In preparation for the aforementioned Dogs in the Vineyard game, I've been re-reading the game. Actually reading the second edition for the first time. Vincent has said there's not much new, text-wise, but what is added is good stuff. One thing that really struck me, is in the GMing Conflicts section:

As GM, you should always follow your group's lead. A big part of your job in the first couple of sessions is to figure out, mostly by observation, your group's standards for legit Raises and Sees, invoking traits, valid stakes, using ceremony, the supernatural, and so on.

However, the thing to observe in play isn't what the group's doing, but instead who's dissatisfied with what the group's doing. The player who frowns and uses withdrawing body language in response to someone else's Raise, or who's like "that's weak" when someone reaches for dice -- that's the player whose lead to follow. Everyone's Raises etc. should come to meet the most critical player's standards. As the GM, it's your special responsibility to pay attention, figure out what those standards are, and to press the group to live up to them.

Wow. That second part is powerful stuff. I wonder if it is something I'll be able to do? It seems so obvious a thing when you read it...

BTW, Ed, Vincent, AWESOME art!

More Dogs

I'm preparing to run Dogs in the Vineyard for my local gaming group this coming Friday, and getting pretty psyched about it. The gang made characters before Gen Con, with the hopes that we would play the first town there, but the best laid plans...

I'm really excited about the characters. Dogs does a lot of things right, but character creation is always fascinating for me, to see these character come together, come to life. In this game we have:

Brother Absalom (Played by Randy)
Randy came to the table with a concept -- he wanted to play a blind Dog. Fair enough. He'd been a shepherd before becoming a Dog. Sounded good to me. Then he was stuck for some other traits, until the whole shepherd thing gave him some inspiration. Psalms 23. You know "The Lord is my shepherd..." He took the traits "I fear no evil" and "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Hell yeah! He was looking for another trait and I suggested the supernatural, and we came up with this cool Sacred Sight, that allows him to see angels and demons, as well as holy and profane objects.

We did his accomplishment first, so he was the system guinea pig for the rest of the group. I've run accomplishments for my other groups, so I felt pretty solid on it. The accomplishment was "I want to prove that my blindness does not hinder me from being a Dog." I had one of his instructors take him on horseback out of Bridal Falls at night. They rode round and round in the woods, the instructor making sure that Absalom was lost. He told him to get off the horse, and be sure to be back in time for morning prayers, then he rode off. It was a good conflict, lots of good raises and sees. Things were getting down to the wire with Randy almost out of dice, then something clicked -- he used his Sacred Site and "saw" the glow of some of the holy artifacts at the head temple in Bridal Falls, not far away. He used it to guide him back, and he walked in just as morning prayers started. He had succeeded and took the trait "Blindness does not hinder him being a Dog." He took some Fallout and raised his blindness to 2d4. It was a good start.

Sister Carmen (Played by James)
James had a pretty solid character concept too. Sister Carmen is a Mountains Person whose clan was slaughtered by some Faithful when she was a child. She was found by a woman, Sister Emeline and raised by Brother Jebediah, a Steward. Thing is, before she was torn from her old life, she'd been training to be a shaman, and still had a connection to the Earth. In fact, she has the trait "I sing the songs of the earth," and a relationship with the earth. Cool!

I'm kinda hazy on the exact wording of the accomplishment that James came up with. I think it was something like "Does Carmen learn to forgive the Faithful for killing her people." The scene was in a classroom, and one of the students had made some comment about how wicked the Mountain Folk were. This set Carmen into a series of flashbacks and memories. James did his raises of Carmen remembering her people being killed -- bad stuff connected to the Faith. I did mine of all the good stuff, like the love of her adopted father. During this, she remembered for the first time that Sister Emeline, the one who "saved" her was actually a part of the group that killed her people. Damn, that was harsh. She lost the conflict and took the trait "I'm vengeful." Nice. She also had some fallout and lowered her relationship with Sister Emeline.

Sister Serenity (Played by Tammy)
I think the toughest part for Tammy was choosing a background. Once that was decided (complicated community) the rest sort of fell into place. She had this idea that Serenity had been possessed by a demon when she was younger, which she took as a trait. She wanted her to be a healer, and exorcist. Also, she is the only Dog in the group with a gun-oriented trait.

She wanted to overcome her fear of demons. She was awaken in the middle of the night by one of her instructors and taken to a room with a tied up, possessed person and left there, locked in. The demon begins talking to her, and implied that it is the same demon that had possessed her! She snapped and opened a can of ceremony on it's ass. She exorcised it, but not her fear, which we decided had shifted to hatred. Like an irrational hatred.

An interesting group. Both Absalom and Carmen have complicated history for backgrounds, and Serenity complicated community. Ah, tasty complications. Can't wait to see how the first town plays out.