Gold on the Electronic Frontier

We’re starting to see more electronic RPGs in digest format, meaning they’re fit for my iPad. A good thing–if I have an electronic copy, I want to carry it around in electronic form–not print the damn thing. Traditional sized two-column books are wrong for pretty much most screens unless they rotate.

The indie press seem to get this. Last week I bought two of those newfangled hippy games from the un-store and they’re the right size. They’re not the only publishers to get it right, of course–a nod goes to Evil Hat for products like Don’t Rest Your Head and Spirit of the Century. Like Hamlet’s Hit Points both of those books are supplied as multiple formats; in fact having bought SotC a while ago I was recently treated to a free upgrade with versions for e-readers–meaning I could read a sensibly-sized text version on my Kindle as well.

DRTB 330

Anyway. Don’t Read This Book is a collection of fiction in the meta-world of Don’t Rest Your Head‘s Mad City. The stories are predictably Twilight-Zone and are a hit and miss selection, but the book mostly gets to the point and doesn’t outstay its welcome. My top three stories are probably Don’t Spill Your Tea (Josh Roby), Don’t Lose Your Shit (Robin Laws) and Don’t Chew Your Food (Harry Connolly). All of the contributions bring the Mad City to life–a very nasty and short life. DRYH is a world for one-shots, not campaigns.

I also picked up a copy of Apocalypse World. The pdf is only 10 dollars until the end of the year, and it’s jolly nice. Admiral Rabalias ran AW over G-Chat recently and it worked surprisingly well. In fact one of the reasons it worked well was the exceptionally tight design of the system, which includes the playbooks. I am a character sheet fetishist, and I have never seen such an eloquent and succinct presentation of the rules and character as one. That and the combination of written moves meant I was never at a loss for what to do.

I don’t have a GM’s perspective on this game yet, but the other thing that really excites me is the hacking community. (I nearly bought the Dungeon World hack as well, but I settled on trying to grok the source before reading something derivative–exciting as DW sounds.)

Apocalypse World

I like mashing up old games and genres with new rules already, but the one place this system can really deliver is fictional character roleplaying–you want to play Amber AW-style, you can just hack the system and develop playbooks for Corwin, Fiona, Bleys and the others. How well their moves are presented will depend on the hacker’s skill, but at the end you’re much more likely to get a version of Brand that’s consistent in everyone’s imagination – moreso than, say, if you’d used Runequest stats.

I’m sufficiently excited by this that I’ve considered a hack of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion, including some of the harder to play and less tangiable characters (maybe recreating the wonderful Dancers At The End Of Time game I played in long ago at Uni). I need a better title than Moorcockalypse World, though.

Atfm cover

Last item is Graham Walmsley’s quite brilliant A Taste For Murder, something I heard about after browsing for Stealing Cthulhu. Sadly the pdf doesn’t have the faux-Penguin cover, but the art-deco layout is pleasing nonetheless. I’ve not played Fiasco but I understand the concept is similar; the game is GM-less and runs through a three act (well, two acts plus denouement) structure of Group Scenes and Side Scenes. At the end of Act One a character is murdered (and their player becomes the Detective). At the end of Act Two, there should be enough motive stacked up against one or more PCs that an accusation can be made. In the meantime, the players build relationships and attempt to exert Influences over one another. The system is tight, it sounds fun and it’s very well written. The wealth of examples straddle the fine line between comedy and tragedy, bringing Walmsley’s class-obsessed caricature of the 30’s into sharp focus. There’s some useful fluff in the back about the outside world and which parts of that setting apply and which have been deliberately excised (e.g. unemployment in the 30s is acknowledged, but it’s explicitly out of scope for the game). Overall, A Taste for Murder is keenly focused on its goals; I look forward to playing it shortly. Something to enjoy between seasons of Downton.

Interestingly Graham has written both Cthulhu Dark (allegedly in the back of Stealing Cthulhu) and proposed Dark Worlds, an AW Cthulhu hack. Sadly his Thievesoftime.com site has also been hacked so the content isn’t available right now. Instead here’s Kurt Wiegel talking about Stealing Cthulhu.

Review: Hamlet’s Hit Points

Robin Laws likes to state the obvious. As he says in the preface to Hamlet’s Hit Points:

If you walk away from this book thinking “Well, that seemed obvious, now that I think of it,” and your gaming subtly improves as a result, it has done its job.

He also makes it easy for a reviewer to explain what his book is about, with an opening chapter entitled “How To Pretend You’ve Read This Book”. Of course I have read the book. Honest.

Hhp

I bought my copy from DriveThruRPG. The file that I downloaded contains not just one PDF, but three: a “PDF Edition”, digest-sized and suitable for my iPad (with hyperlinks), an “As Printed” edition suitable for A4 landscape printing, and the “Big Beat Maps” which complement the written analysis of Hamlet, Dr No and Casablanca. Until we get game PDFs with the same functionality as DK Eyewitness Guides on the iPad, it will do.1

HHP is a system for analysing stories, crucially identifying what makes them work, and how and why the audience engages with them. While story analysis isn’t new, Laws’ system of beats is different from classical story arc theory (differences he discusses in the Beat Analysis chapter). It also looks nothing like the three-act Hero’s Journey of Joseph Campbell (and it’s screen-friendly derivative by Christopher Vogler). That’s not to say HHP contradicts the contemporary three-act screenplay (though Laws does take a swipe at the “overworked end of act two low point”), it just works differently. I can see both tools operating closely together, with the Campbell model working on the macroscopic scale and the Laws model on the microscopic.

Tyranny of Structure

Laws refers to classic screenwriting techniques such as Syd Field’s Screenplay, but notes that “the improvised, collaborative nature of the experience [of roleplaying] frees us from the tyranny of structure”. That sounds an awful lot like Ron Edwards’ critique of the WW/Storyteller-era, which I’m not unsympathetic to. Edwards refers to its “monstrous railroading” in an interview on Theory From The Closet (show 008). Much of that interview discusses Story Before, Now and After, concepts which are clarified in the essay Setting and Emergent Stories on the Adept Press site.

Note that while the Forge’s activity happened in the middle of last decade this essay was published in 2011 – after Hamlet’s Hit Points publication in 2010. (I don’t think this is any more significant than the viewpoints are contempories of each other.) Laws refers to the emergent trend(“schools of criticism”) of indie rpgs, noting their approach to story gaming was “from scratch, without reference to other story forms and the array of techniques associated with them” and “[their] attempts to foster play [were] abstrusely detached from the principles of story creation as used by practitioners in the fields they’re seeking to emulate.” Ouch. Laws does however concede that “this makes historical sense, given narrative’s secret door approach into our form.”

Crucially, he notes “it would be mightiliy convenient… if there existed a ready-made mode of narrative analysis we could take off the shelf, sprinkle a few RPG observations onto, and call it a day.” But there aren’t.

Application

The last chapter includes sections on applying the system, with four considerations: Analysing Exiting Works, Scenario Beats, Session Beats and Outlining Traditional Narratives.

Setting aside the first and last topics, the practical advice for RPGs is Scenario and Session Beats. The former is an example of Edwards’ Story Before, and follows his traditional model as presented at the start of his essay. I see no problem with this approach, having applied it again and again with success (like just about every GM I know). Laws advises to plan a “hypothetical map of turning points”, which is pretty much what we all do anyway; the drop of gold in the advice is to plan for a variety of beat types, to enable you to time and thus maximise impact of information reveals.

Session Beats are what might be termed as Story After, if Edwards’ use were not quite so derogatory. The idea is this: keep track of the session beats and work out how frequently you swing between up and downbeat. Too much of either in one go will lead to disengagement. This is some of the best, most concise advice I’ve ever read. But pretty obvious, now that I think of it.

There are a couple of interesting comments regarding how players can apply the same methodology, for example in character creation, and during play to make the game a cooperative exercise.

Conclusion

<

p>I expect to keep coming back to this manual again and again. I haven’t yet gone through the beat analysis of the three works yet–that will be an excellent excuse to watch Casablanca again.

If you’re like me and you like thinking about story, this is a highly recommended tool to add to your kit.


  1. As of now the only iPad based RPG manual I know of is Mystic Empyrean, which is supposedly a next-generation Everway and has probably done about as well commercially.

  2. Something that completely passed me by…

RPG Spotlight: Lamentations of the Flame Princess

LotFPWFRPGE

It’s nearly 20 years since I bought a roleplaying game that actually came in a box. (I think it was an on-sale copy of Cyborg Commando, which remained unplayed until I gave it away. As the link says, it’s even worse than it sounds.)

The complete title is Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role Playing (Grindhouse Edition). Since LotFP:WFRP(GE)1 is a bit unwieldy I’ll stick with LotFP. The differences between the “Grindhouse Edition” and the first “Deluxe Edition” (jumped the gun a bit there) are superficial, anyway.

I looked at the free download a while back, and I was really impressed. Excited. Stoked. You see, I’ve never gelled with D&D. It was the first fantasy RPG I owned, but it just seemed peculiar: a flavourless pulp where the streets were littered with magic items, religion was bland and homogenous, monsters cartoonish and illogical. But mostly I didn’t like how everything was so obvious, so commonplace. I started to dislike White Wolf games for the same reason, as the cynical marketing engine exposed more and more metaplot.

LotFP has no setting. It has tone, it has flavour, it has recommended reading, and it has method. All of these speak to me more clearly than a setting ever could. I don’t care for other people’s settings, but a clarity of purpose I like. I respect. And LotFP delivers.

A recap of what I really like about Rules and Magic:

  • a streamlined BECMI style D&D, with great tweaks for e.g. encumbrance, skills and AC
  • a really nice character sheet
  • weird spell lists
  • focused classes
  • a very lean approach to a dungeoneering game

OK. What does the box give you that you don’t get for free?

  1. A box, stupid.
  2. Some nice A5 double sided character sheets.
  3. Some teeny tiny precious little dice.
  4. A Tutorial book.
  5. A Referee book.
  6. That art.

Tutorial Book

Who is the Tutorial book for? Mature players don’t need another diatribe on how to play. OSR grognards don’t need to be sold on playing a D&D clone. New players will probably benefit, but LotFP is a niche product and (fairly) expensive2 at that – aimed at people with disposable income who played the red box D&D set when it was new.

Look closer. Look at the introductory solo adventure, the one where you’re slowly introduced to your stats and you have to save vs poison and you meet a cleric on the trail of an evil magic user who kills her and charms you and…

It sounds familiar, because it’s exactly the same adventure from the red box. But it’s horribly distorted. It’s like coming back to the beach you played at as a child and finding it littered with broken glass and human body parts. The poor cleric in the red box gets shot with a glowing magic missile and collapses with a gentle sigh. In this book she gets incinerated by green and orange fire and the last you hear from her is her eyeballs popping.

So the Tutorial is really a knowing wink to the old-timers, even as it’s a pretty good tutorial for the post-White Wolf and WoW generation. And all the while reinforcing Raggi’s personal agenda on back-to-basics dungeon crawling. Very slick.

There’s the obligatory description of play, and finally a nice section on recommended reading at the back which includes Barker, Lovecraft, Poe and Vance among others–each author is treated to a heartfelt essay on what they represent and what they can bring to the game.

Referee Book

The Ref’s book is short and contains what Jim Raggi thinks makes for Weird, what makes for Adventure, and how to write a game his way. Jolly good. For the beginner it’s all solid advice, and for the experienced GM it’s a nice set of footnotes to focus the mind on what matters for this kind of game. The text is long enough, and nicely laid out. The feel of what is being presented is consistent throughout.

Now for the controversy. No monsters, very few magic items. Some people consider this a job half done. My feelings are (i) I totally agree with Raggi that monsters-by-numbers loose all mystery and power and cease to be frightening, and (ii) it’s much more important to me to have two pages on how to build monsters, than twenty on a set of monsters I will never use. I have monsters from other fantasy games I can pinch, and I’d rather think up my own anyway (hence my affection for AFMBE).

The same goes for magic items. These are scarce anyway; I’m not bothered.

Overall the word count is probably substantially less than an equvalent hardback. But I really like three individual books. They’re the right size, the fonts and layout are nice, and the content is split logically between them.

That Art

OK, I called some of the art distasteful in my first look. I want to qualify that a bit. I really like the art as a whole in these books–it’s been chosen very well to set a particular tone, right the way from the b&w woodcut style of Amos Orion Sterns to the full colour art of Cynthia Sheppard and Jason Rainville.

There’s only one really grim picture I have seen (it’s the 12th picture in the Something Awful thread). I think it’s a good picture, with great compositon and bold style, but it’s perhaps not in good taste. There’s plenty of limbs being dissolved by slimes and rapiers through eyes and people being eaten alive by zombies, and I like all of those images. Hmm, maybe like is the wrong word. The art on a whole is uncompromising, and it works. That’s all I’m going to say.

GodThatCrawlsPoster

Overall nothing speaks to me as strongly as the theme of non-sexualised female characters in military period dress. No cleavage, plenty of action, lace and steel. This is what the cover of LotFP promises3, and I am not disappointed.

Cynthia Sheppard’s art (right) is featured on the back of the pull-out map for The God That Crawls. It’s so beautiful I’d buy the hardcopy for that alone, even if I never run the adventure.

I have to ask though, what did you expect to find down the bottom of a well?

The Competition

There’s a fairly good rundown of retro-clones here (although the author mistakenly pegs LotFP as “AD&D-ish”).

Retro-clones (as distinct from the 90s D&D derivatives which may fit Ron Edwards’ definition of Fantasy Heartbreakers) are like Linux. At the core they’re the same but the tweaks, bloat, and general tone make for a different experience with varying levels of effort and results.

Two other retro-clones caught my attention. Firstly the monstrous Dungeon Crawl Classics, which I handled while I was buying LotFP. The book is somewhere between digest and full sized, and very thick; something like 500 pages. It claims to be a cross between 3e D&D and Appendix N (I had to look that up). The tone of DCC is non-heroic, and the cover art is gorgeous. But I’m drawn to LotFP for less choice, not more. If I wanted to chew on a modern D&D variant I’m just as likely to choose Pathfinder.

The other retro-clone is Adventurer, Conquerer, King System (ACKS). I can’t say I’m keen on the shiny clean art, though the premise is very nice. The game supposedly focuses on the territory aquisition cycle of PCs going from simple adventurers to landowners and monarchs, which is a neat focus on a different aspect of Basic D&D.

DCC is the Red Hat Linux of the retro-clones, providing feature after feature; LotFP is more like a Debian that’s been stripped down to do one task and one only. Both are very respectable products and will suit different people. It’s great that we have the choice.

What makes a retro-clone not a fantasy heartbreaker? Well, mostly the latter will add layers to D&D to emulate/enable a different kind of play to the one that D&D offers. Retro-clones on the other hand embrace the system and tune it to specific activity with an associated reward mechanism, i.e. dungeon-delving for treasure.

Last Words

<

p>It should be clear that I like this game a lot. Enough that I’m inclined to run D&D again, which I never thought I would say. Would I run any other retro-clone or D&D derivative? Not on your life. LotFP meets my goals in a way that my red box D&D (or any other modern variants) don’t.

This is a game that doesn’t feel like D&D at all. Know what it feels like? Alexander Scott’s Maelstrom. I can’t precisely say why; maybe it’s the buff coats, or the personal presentation, or the bare-bones approach. Maybe it’s just the way the books sit in my hand. LotFP doesn’t ask you to buy into the retro-clone movement, or to be a nostalgic AD&D grognard, it just presents a vision and the tools to achieve that. No more and no less.


1. I’d like to think the WFRP acronym is not just a coincidence but a respectful nod, given the historical anachronism of the art, and the general “grim and perilous” tone.

  1. It’s not expensive compared to its peers. But it’s a teeny tiny box that looks a bit lost between the similarly priced glossy hardbacks.

  2. OK, there are naked lamia breasts. But a flame red haired woman with a rapier in a buff coat… how cool is that?

A Most Non-Non-Non-Heinous Excursion

The PCs are characters from history, expressed with three simple descriptors: a skill, a physical appearance, and a state of mind.

The setup: the characters have been abducted by two mischievous young gods of time, and transported to the future. There they have been dumped in a city full of wondrous magic and told to amuse themselves for a few hours while their hosts go on some unspecified errand. With no companion from their own time they band together out of mutual terror. What will these travellers do? Will they hold onto their last shreds of sanity long enough for their mysterious and youthful benefactors to return them to their own time?

The City Accelerator, part four: Qualifiers

Qualifiers are really just metadata for your four axes; like absolute rankings they’re optional. Their role is mainly visual cues when you present your whole city as a single overview–then they can be used to hilight points of clue, attack, barriers and so forth.

Most of these qualifiers are binary; they are either Active or Passive. Passive qualifiers suit exploration, whereas Active qualifiers are better for motivation.

Catalyst Qualifiers

Attacks are the Active qualifiers in this case, whereas Keys and Clues are passive.

Keys are Catalysts that unlock other places. They are always linked to other locations–and usually to Portals. Keys are a kind of Catalyst that the players expect to find if they go to a certain location. It’s always possible that they will stumble over a key at some point–but if they don’t know it’s a Key at that point, it’s more of a Clue.

Attacks are Catalysts that force the PCs to be reactive. They may happen to the PCs as they explore the location, or they may have happened earlier. Attacks are directed at a resource that matters to the PCs.

Clues are a subset of Keys that the PCs are not expecting to find; they ask questions rather than unlock other locations. A Clue is probably unlikely to be found in isolation–it will be accompanied by an Attack or another Active qualifier.

Catalyst Q

Tension Qualifiers

Whirlpools are Active, Balances are Passive.

Whirlpools will suck the characters in as soon as they set foot in the location. A riot or a bar-room brawl are physical examples; a heated debate at the King’s court where the PCs are forced to take a side is a political example.

Balances are tensions that the PCs may upset or even exploit, should they choose to do so. In time, Balances may become Whirlpools.

Tension Q

Portal Qualifiers

Barriers are Active and Signposts are Passive.

The most important qualifier for a Portal is a Barrier. This is an indication of a hard stop that prevents PCs moving on until they have achieved something (finding a key, resolving a tension, etc).

Signposts are almost not worth mentioning; the point here is that if your Portal is high priority, anything that isn’t a Barrier must be a signpost. The location must telegraph the transition between locations, otherwise the significance will be lost on the PCs. There is the option of cryptic signposts (e.g. the PCs suspect they have entered the land of the dead, but can’t be certain). 

Portal q

Domain Qualifiers

Territory is an Active property, and Stronghold is Passive.

Territory is actively policed; if Domain is high priority and Territorial, the PCs should be actively resisted or coerced upon entry. Hostile animals or human gangs may be considered Territorial.

Stronghold is the passive version of Territory. Strongholds may represent relatively hostile environments if the PCs put a foot wrong, but they can also represent safe havens. Generally the PCs can expect to enter and leave a Stronghold safely if they behave well. The same can’t be said for a Territory.

Domain Q

Over-Qualified?

<

p>Qualifiers should be used sparingly. There’s no point in giving them at all to low priority axes. There’s also no value if they are over-used. If every location is a Whirlpool of politics then the game will be tiring and not at all credible.

I’d recommend using one or two symbols on a card at the most. I’ve annotated my example below with a Key (the Catalyst will give the PCs evidence and therefore permission to pursue Lo-lin) and a Signpost (because it’s obvious where their next destination is). I wouldn’t bother with the other two; if they fail their stealth rolls they might cause tension when the alarm is raised, but otherwise it doesn’t affect the function of this location.

Accelerator qualified

Next time, workflow. TTFN.

The City Accelerator, part three: Relative and Absolute Ranking, Threshold

The simple version of ranking each axis is entirely relative; that is to say, all that matters is one axis is prioritised over another.

You could also interpret the rankings as absolute numbers, if that’s useful. A sample scale might be:

Rank 1 – either no consequence from the property, or a complete absence of the property.

  • Catalyst – there are no clues present
  • Tension – there is no conflict for the PCs to become involved in
  • Portal – this is (physically) a dead end
  • Domain – no territory or important people to speak of

Rank 2 – item is present but very low priority. Mostly the fallout from interaction is of low value, or low threat level. Interaction is optional and the yields from that interaction may be low.

  • Catalyst – the clue is a side-quest or minor detail; an irrelevance
  • Tension – there is a conflict here, but it can be ignored and will have little effect on the PCs
  • Portal – connections with other places are routine and uninteresting
  • Domain – there are people of power here, but their ability to affect the PCs is limited.

Rank 3 – item is medium priority. It’s a significant feature, but not the dominating feature. It could be a real hindrance/distraction to the PCs if it’s a sideline. This feature isn’t automatically uncovered but is likely to be with some persistence/curiosity.

  • Catalyst – the clue is important and will lead the PCs in a particular direction; it isn’t essential, but it is interesting.
  • Tension – there is a significant conflict going on that can involve the PCs.
  • Portal – there are some interesting connections to other locations.
  • Domain – there are powerful people here, and they will make their presence felt if the PCs look at them funny.

Rank 4 – item is a high priority. It is guaranteed that the PCs will encounted this feature upon entering the location; it’s sufficiently high profile that it may be telegraphed (e.g. everyone knows Armitage rules the Barrens with an iron fist – enter at your peril!).

  • Catalyst – the PCs are guaranteed to find the clue
  • Tension – the PCs are guaranteed to be drawn into a conflict or feud
  • Portal – the location is the gateway to somewhere different, and important
  • Domain – there are powerful people here who can seriously affect the PCs, and will demand some sort of tribute.

Rank 5 and above – these will be automatically encountered as for Rank 4; higher ranks exist only to establish priority above Rank 4. Encountering these events is a certainty, but Rank 5 factors will take precendence over Rank 4.

<

p>In the simple system axes are definitely prioritised one above another; that’s still my recommended approach. However there may be times when the GM wants to give two axes equal priority. Fine, go for it. My only reservation is that unless both axes are Rank 4 (i.e. they must be encountered) then these features are essentially optional; in which case, what do you gain from giving them equal priority? One will always be encountered before the other, and if it proves more interesting the other will be ignored.

The absolute ratings do serve another purpose. Total the ranks and you get the Threshold of the location. Threshold can be used for campaign planning; in early stage campaigns locations of a certain Threshold are off-limits. Or at least, the PCs can enter, but can’t interact. If the weenie PC party enter a location with an exceptionally high Domain, for example, they’ll be safe–but only because they’re unlikely to be taken seriously. When they return as older and wiser (and more powerful) versions, the place suddenly becomes more threatening.

I’ll discuss the Threshold later, when it comes to considering Scope–the dimensions of your sandbox. TTFN. 

Miscellany

Brief post about interesting things I have read lately.

Firstly a discussion about the “5 minute workday problem” that started (for me, anyway) with Take On Rules‘ review of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which links to this article on Dungeon’s Master, which itself provides other retrospective links to the “Bed Problem”. Not that I care at all for D&D, but I do care about behaviour. LOTFP comes in from general advice to make most encounters underpowered so as not to tax the PCs too much  and bring the adventure to a grinding halt.

Next, there’s Jonathan Tweet’s post about fixed damage in Pelgrane Press’ upcoming game 13th Age. Fixed damage is a feature I like a lot in Cinematic Unisystem, and I could see how it would speed up D&D too.

Last, the Three Clue Rule from The Alexandrian, a GUMSHOE enthusiast.

And right now, I’m reading Robin Laws’ Hamlet’s Hit Points. Expect a review in due course.

TTFN.

The City Accelerator, part two: Axes

Location Axes

Each location in a game will have parameters that define its usefulness and how it fits into the game or plot.

I’m going to use an elemental model–because I like elemental models, and because they resonate with people generally. We will have four axes of significance for a given location.

1. Catalyst (Fire)

The Catalyst refers to clues, events, or anything else that provokes PC reaction and moves the story along.

2. Tension (Water)

Tension refers to anything that is already happening that the PCs could become involved with. Perhaps their presence will create the tension itself. Feuds, arguments, romantic interest and politics are all Tension; it isn’t necessarily emotive, though the best Tension will have some emotion in there.

3. Portal (Air)

The Portal (or Portals) is where the location leads to. You might question the value of giving this its own axis–since the point of the City Accelerator is to connect locations together anyway. The importance of the Portal is that it connects two different worlds together. It represents a boundary–political, territorial, whatever. For some reason, the PCs need to cross from one boundary into another. Portal will help you decide how easy or difficult that transition is.

4. Domain (Earth)

Domain is simply who is present. Domain is related to, but different from Tension. Like Portal, Domain is a measure of permission. Either you’re allowed in, or you’re not.

Ratings and Priorities

<

p>The simple approach next is to prioritise the four axes. Which is the most important feature of this location? Is it a clue? That’s Catalyst. Is it the fact that a crime boss frequents the location? That’s Domain. The important question to ask is, what is the number one reason for the PCs to be there, or the first thing they will notice about the location when they are there?

Going one step further, consider Ratings. In the simple system, just rank them one to four, with four being the highest priority (most important).

Here’s an example. The Southern Watchtower of the Crystal City looks out onto the Harzi Wastes. It is rumoured that Lo-lin the assassin escaped through the South Gates, but the Vizier refuses to acknowledge she even exists. The PCs must assemble evidence that Lo-lin did indeed pass through before the government will sanction an expedition that could lead to political tension.

Accelerator ranked

Catalyst is rated highest at 4. In order for the story to happen, the players must be able to prove she was there. Therefore if they go there, they will find a clue without fail.

Portal is prioritised next, simply because the watchtower overlooks the wastes, which is where the players are going. They have the option to simply take the clue and press on if they wish, rather than get official sanction.

Tension is ranked low. There is a slight risk that if the PCs are detected by the City Guard there will be some rebuke or other fallout. The Tension is not high enough to dominate the other factors (it wouldn’t prevent the PCs from either finding their Catalyst or passing through the Portal) but it’s a slight risk.

Domain is ranked last, simply because the people in the watchtower are mooks of little consequence. They might sound the alarm but they’re otherwise unable to obstruct the PCs, and they certainly don’t have anything the PCs want (other than Lo-lin’s hairpin, which was taken as a keepsake by one of the guards that the disguised Lo-lin seduced in order to gain entry to the city).

Accelerator back

The location is represented by an index card, with the front containing the four ranked axes, and the back with any useful descriptive information.

That’s all for now. Next, we’ll talk about additional qualifiers for the axes, and how they relate to each other.

RTFM

No matter how much effort you put into writing guides, manuals or character info there will always be someone who simply refuses to read the info they’re given.1

I’ve been that person, but I’ve been on the receiving end often enough that I try to respect the GM’s handouts.

It’s only been a real problem when said miscreant has thrown a fit in the game because they don’t understand. It’s a very human response–games with any kind of competitive leaning are designed to be stressful. But it’s also disruptive.

I could blame the player. But I don’t want to cast a bad vibe over the session. So the alternative is to adapt. This is why I favour games as simple as possible that stick to familiar tropes. Cut down on the background to two paragraphs maximum; make all of the dice rolls really obvious; and make sure the character sheet helps the player differentiate between what they’re good at and what they’re not.2

But… what if I did refuse to explain anything? Just ignore any protests, requests for clarification, and so on. Give them a character sheet that is deliberately arcane, with confusing or contradictory information. Since I’m treating all players equally, no-one gets singled out or made to feel stupid. It could work. Or I could get lynched.

My provisional title is What?


  1. I also get this at work, where I have less patience, but am forced to have better manners.

  2. My respect for LOTFP grows. D&D already telegraphs player strengths through the class system, and LOTFP leverages this beautifully while adding its own tweaks.