Friday, June 8, 2012

School Games

I am near the end of a short semester.  The classes have ended up being a lot more challenging and time consuming than I thought they would be.  The one thing that suffered was my game work.  The other thing that has come out of it, is a small group of gamers with an idea: what if you made a game system for your group?  

It was intriguing enough to think about, so in between classes (sometimes during) the concept has been ruminating.  Now we have started working on something.  A system whose sole purpose is to please a very niche group, what an odd beast it is.  

Don't we all do this anyways?  Whenever I have run things for my group it get customized all to hell and back, for my group.  What is different is this entire system is made to order.  The feel of the dice mechanics, the may monsters work, the classes, the damage system, and even the mood the rules are meant to burgeon are all for them.  Looking at the notes the work, the calculations I have run the thought occurs to me that the game is as much for me too.  

It is an odd beast.  In a lot of ways it goes against my normal design philosophies.  Simplicity is there.  The ease at which the GM can run things is there as well.  The characters are clunky old school beasts.  Not that the rules are some draconian monstrosity.  Quite the contrary.  They just are not elegant.  It all just makes me smile.  

A week into the discussion we all sat down and asked each other to write down what each of us wanted from the game.  We said we were holding it to three points a piece.  When we were done one of us, me, would sit down and combine those points that were so similar into one and then break it down to the core concepts that we all seemed to be shooting for.  What was remarkable about this was how easy this was.  We all wanted pretty much the same things from the mechanics.  

1)  We want it to feel like a game.  When we play it, the stories can be serious and exciting, thought provoking even, but it should always feel like a game.  
2)  Rolling the dice should be exciting and possibly game changing.  It should never be dull when the dice hit the table.  
3)  Risk/Reward should be a dynamic of the game.  It should feel like a gameshow almost, in the way a spin of the wheel could reap incredible benefits or crushing defeats.  
(One of the guys called this feeling Fun in the Dungeon, as if that was the name of gameshow we were discussing.)  

Clunky, amateurish, and ridiculous is what someone else called what we were working on.  I might have as well if I was a jerk looking at someone else's project.  Looking at it and discussing it has been a highlight from this semester of school.  Reading and writing those points down again, I can not help but smile.  

This could be as fun as we are hoping.  


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Playing by the Rules

What if you could boil an RPG down to just a few rules, 6 to 9?  It makes me wonder if you could not boil it down even more.  What if the players only needed 3 of those rules?  The GM, 6 (including what the players knew)?

I don't hate rules.  There is something freaking sweet about reading a set of slick, masterly written mechanics.  Gives me a bit of geek-boner to think about some of those that really scratched my math itch.  Earthdawn anyone?  Not the smoothest, but damn that dice spread.  Nothing beats a bucket of dice hitting the table when you greatly outclass an opponent.  But rules- I don't think I have ever really played by the rules.  Not religiously anyway.  Some, which you can read as a lot, just got in the way of whatever I really liked about a game.  I wonder if anyone has ever looked at some of the systems that have come and gone and figured out, what rules did you really need to play this?

Old D&D, we played that thing so freaking loose.  Especially 2nd Edition.  I hated looking up rules in some of those books.  The way I game mastered those games was totally based on what made sense at the time.  Someone at the table was always nice enough to make a note of "how I did it last time."  That notebook was the rules lawyers revenge.  "Not gonna do it right?  Gonna make you at least be consistent you dick!"

No one ever complained.  Sometimes I look back on those days and realize all we used to need were each other, a table, some dice, and a way to judge our characters capabilities.  Learning a game was like learning a language to get by in the new city we were living in, but we just wanted enough to get directions to the crapper and how to curse.

Maybe we just need enough rules to keep everyone from getting in that old argument:  "I shot you."
"No you didn't.  I am wearing armor."
"I was using an armor eating lazer."
"I got lazer proof armor."
"This is armor piercing- armor eating lazer shots."
"That is ridiculous- What were you aiming at?  I am invisible."

Just enough.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012


I think some clarification is in order.  As I go back through my posts here and on my Facebook page Fantastic Doom Magic I realize things are getting confusing.  Sorry, I don't know what I am doing.

The facts are that I have been designing games since I first played Rifts when I was nine.  Then came D&D, and many others.  I also write stories.  The things that interest me are horror, fantastic adventures, dark stories about the evil people do, action films, pulp, bad movies, philosophy, my Heathenism, and games (role playing and others).  All that has a tendency to get all jumbled up together when I do anything.  When I started this page it was going to be about a very specific game I was running.  It slowly became about all my "game stuff."  More than anything else I am a storyteller.

I write all the time.  Getting this blog was just another place to do it, and it has gotten a little jumbled.  At least I have stuck to games on here.  Sometimes I write something, then catch myself before I post.  "This has nothing to do with Land of Fallen Idols."  Sometimes I don't catch myself.   Today, when I went through it all, I decided the best course of action was a compromise.  Between this and the Facebook page, I would just talk about game stuff, in general.  I just had to make it clear what I was discussing.  I am currently working on two game systems, and they need to be distinguished between, or else this is going to stay confusing.

Fantastic Doom Magic is about very a specific game.  It is about the "main" game I am working on.  It is a system I started a long time ago.  The current iteration is called FAST (Fantastic Action Story Telling).  It was my attempt to make a narrative based game.  There were other narrative games out there but I needed mine to do something differently, and my experience was that no matter how flexible any game seems there are breaking points.  It is a lot like cookie cutters.  A person wants to make dragon cookies, but there are no dragon shaped cutters.  They go get the closest thing they can find and reshape it.  If it has to be shaped too much it will just eventually fall apart.  Then you get deformed dragons.
FAST began as a narrative D&D.  Characters had attributes that were very basic and trimmed down.  They also had traits that described them.  An action started with what kind the character was taking, and then what traits they had that made them better at it.  "I'm a 'Big Brute,' so I can hold the door shut."  "I am an 'Undead Archer.'  I bet I can hit him from here."  All this stacked a bonus that was then added to a die roll.  Seemed okay.
I introduced it to my regular gaming group first.  We played a one-shot I designed called Goblins & Gunslingers (G&G) with pre-made characters designed to push the system.  It was shocking how well the session went.  The system did exactly what I wanted it to.  The players weren't just looking at their character sheets.  They were describing how there characters did things and then building their bonus.  It was a year later that I would buy Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LOTFP) and stumble across a line in that book that explained why I liked this.  These words had been escaping me, and James Raggi expressed them perfectly.  It was not "what" the characters could do; It was what they were doing that mattered.  Maybe he got it from somewhere else first, can't say.  When I read those words, I highlighted them.
Currently we are up to session four of G&G.  The last session felt like there was something still missing, or wrong.  I noticed it a bit in session three, but for some reason it was very present in the last one.  Now I think the system needs a complete overhall.  More on that later.

The other system I am working on is called D&D6.  I mentioned LOTFP earlier.  It was the system I started using for my sandbox game that this blog is named after.  Let me say this before I move on so there is no misunderstanding.  I love LOTFP!  I adore it.  I got the PDF, then I got the hardcopy.  I love James Raggi.  He is proof that in some hotel room in the past Gary Gygax, H.P. Lovecraft, and Glen Danzig had an orgy.  The sheet from that room's bed later birthed that hardcore mo-fo.  He gets everything I am passionate about when it comes to D&D.  The game he made is dripping with it.  It inspired me to think about D&D again, in a way I had forgotten in the fog of 3, 3.5, and Pathfinder (which I think is stupidly called 3.5x).  All good stuff, but not my D&D.
What was my D&D?  What did I like about it?  These questions led me to try and craft my own retro-clone, more of a rethinking.  I have seen it tried a few times by others now, so why couldn't I.  The system it has become is currently being used by a friend I trust with his old-school group.  So far so good.  If it keeps working for him, I am bound to give it a shot myself.  It is just right now my other game is a priority.  

My two systems are always on my mind, but I am currently in school and have a daughter who lives with me.  That plus work eats up a lot of time.  They get as much loving as I can spare.  That is my way of saying that this blog might go unused for a bit, here and there.  When I do post from here on out it will be made clear what system I am talking about.  I apologize for the confusion, if there was any.  It isn't like my list of followers is too long.    

Monday, April 23, 2012


I started working on my game system over a year and a half ago.  I am on the fourth session of the campaign created to test it.  This last was the first time it felt like the system was working against me.  There was a lot of holes that suddenly popped up, and a question came to me in the middle of all that: Is this what I wanted this game to be.

The game, the campaign itself is fine.  The players all assure me that even though the session was exposition heavy it was still great.  No one had any complaints about the system, except me.  I know I was not seeing things that were not there.  My notes do not lie nor do they allow me to hide from what happened.  Looking back at notes from other sessions confirmed it as well.  

What to do?  

My response has been to take in what I have learned and look back at my original goals for the game- the biggest being that I wanted a system that helped me tell my games' stories.  The moment I felt the game trying to break its reins, I knew there was an issue.  

Today was spent looking at a completely new dice system.  It is one I developed for an attempted Pick-Up game system.  I am not going to dump it on my players, obliterating the game as is.  My plan is to use it in a one-shot in a few weeks, see how it works and if they would be willing to convert.  If not, well, the players' fun is what is really important.

At my latest count, this game has caused me to write over 290 pages of text and over 100k words.  This does not include hand written notes or the work I have done on the campaign.  With all that it is probably closer to 200K words.  One day it will be done, or I will be so sick of working on it that I will know the time has come to unleash it on the world.  Here is to that day coming sooner rather than later.    

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Gaming Everywhere

A letter came in from a dear friend two days ago.  This friend is behind bars at the moment and letters are the best way for us to communicate.  He informed me that a group inside has started up a little role playing game.  They cobbled together some rules and have some dice and a deck of cards.  My friend wanted to know if I could whip up some slightly more official and organized rules.  The answer, yes I can, and I did.

I wrote up a quick letter with a heavily modified and simplified version of the game I have been working on for the last few weeks.  Upon doing this something occurred to me: it does not matter where you go or what you do- you can game anywhere.

You will game anywhere is a much more appropriate saying.  Gaming is in our DNA.  Lost on a barren isle, hardly any food or drink, but we have coconuts and rocks.  How much you want to bet an idea for a game comes to me using pieces of the half eaten coconuts and said rocks.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

School, school, school

I have been working my butt off in school lately.  Things are getting ready to wrap for the semester, so it is all in hyperdrive.  My intention is to get in a rhythm for the Summer term and get a post up every week.

The truth is that there has not been much in the way of developments this month.  That is, unless you count the papers I have been writing and the math test I aced.

Here is to hoping my gaming picks up, way up, in the next few weeks, and it does not kill my GPA.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The System II

So I think I have come up with something that might just do what I have been wanting for a while.  In actuality it is going on three or four things that would do the job, but this last one feels right.  I have made a few characters with it now and am ready to test it out.  It would be so easy to come up with the characters we already have and just jump right in.

I think the trick will be teaching the players and getting them on board.  It is not that the group is close minded.  They might start thinking they are just Guinea pigs that I am running through my experiments.  The system though, I hope, will speak for itself.

It is as simple as I can make it while still having that D&D feel I was going for.  It only uses D6s and usually just one.  Character creation is straight forward and does what a good, simple system should do.  There are holes there, but those holes are meant to be filled by the play group using it.  At the end of the day, when all those holes are filled the system will really be what the groups wants it to be.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The System

I have been using Lamentations of the Flame Princess for my system for this game.  That has worked out fine so far.  For the most part everyone seems to like it, but I have a feeling that some of the stuff that I am going to want to do in the game are not going to work too well in LOTFP.

I posted a while ago about wanting a system that was what I wanted out of this game.  Of course, realistically I knew, from experience, that was a near impossibility.  It has only happened rarely in my life that a system has ever been perfect for what I wanted in a particular adventure or campaign.  A lot of them do one or two things really well and then the other third of the game is kind of crappy.  Maybe the system does not handle that situation well or the feel of the system is off.  A great example is my Deep Dark Wood campaign (quick and dirty explanation is that it was Grimm's Fairy Tales reworked into a D&D world).  D&D 4th edition was just out for a few months so we were using that.  The combat was fantastic in that game for the first few sessions.  The characters ran with it but then as the game went on a few issues arose. The biggest issue was that the game was very shallow if you were not wanting to run a big combat on a battle map with minis.  I tried converting the game to Savage World but everyone was a little unexcited about it at that point, and besides I was not running a pulpy game, and that is what Savage World does best.  Slowly we let it die in the back of our minds and we moved on.  That sound is me sighing.

Right now I have two custom systems I am working on.  I have my FAST system which is a narrative based game similar to PDQ and Fate.  I love and adore what that has become but it is not great for what I am trying to do.  Running a D&D type anything in that would be just odd.  The other has a stand in name right now called Tooth & Nail.  That names needs some explaining but that will have to wait.  It is a system designed from the ground up to be sword & sorcery.  It might just fit the bill but we shall see I suppose.

It is D&D flavored and very old school at that.  I won't know until I run it how successful I was in that.  I just know that I want to run this campaign, keep it going.  I also know that the group is not going to wait much longer for me to choose a horse to ride to town on.

In the meanwhile we have our FAST campaign starting to wrap up, four more sessions to go.  Maybe that will keep them occupied while this gets wrapped up.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Is it possible?

I wonder if it is possible to have the best of both worlds.  Can you have a game that feels like old-school D&D, with any of the new-school stuff I love.

Players want options and customization.  They want to make each character their own, but as a gamemaster I don't want things to get too crazy.  I don't want the character to be overly back-storied.  Both are issues I have with modern games versions of D&D.

By the gods, I want both.    

Friday, January 13, 2012

Now the Dilema!

So here is the dilema.  My Goblins & Gunslingers game has come to a point where the next installment is way unlike the last few installments.  It is not a straight up fantasy action movie, it is a locked room mystery.

I have been working on this and fretting for a while.  It is an important chapter.  Not like they all have not been, but this game is a delicate puzzle that my group and I have been piecing together for a while.  Now I want to shake it all up.

This nervousness is common, whenever I am going to run any game.  This is a bit more nerve racking though.  It is something that could easily be dead in the water right off the bat, a dead horse at the gate.

I guess all I can do is run it and see what happens.  I think I need to set a date, and push toward it full steam.  

Land of Fallen Idols

So I started my new sandbox game last Friday.  I was too excited to wait, I suppose.  The next night I ran again for the other half of my group.

The first group was the guys in my normal gaming group.  The second was the three remaining members, who were all ladies.  They were the least experienced, and not used to the type of gaming we were doing.

We usually play very story heavy, event based games.  Traditionally not the kind of game we were now playing.  I am using Lamentation of the Flame Princess, an old school throwback to original D&D (part of the Old School Revolution).

It is a great game system.  Very much like old D&D, but changed slightly to create more of a Conan feel.  It has a large focus on the uniqueness of the monsters and the supernatural.  No stock monster listings, magic items are rare and incredibly unique and dangerous to wield.  The dark is not your home, it is the monsters.  Not one class or character race has low-light or darkvision.  It is the game I have been looking for a long time.  It is very accesible with simple rules.  Actual roleplaying can not be boosted by skills or other rolls.  Creatures can be created quickly and are simple yet versatile.  Your level does not quickly eliminate options by making them too simple.  I love it.

The first session with the guys went very well.  They adapted quickly to the system.  They role played and explored and came up with a plan of action based on the random stuff they were given, just as much as they used the weapons and equipment they purchased.  Fun was had!

The second session was more of a straight up dungeon crawl.  The girls had never experienced that.  It was fun and a little aggravating adapting to that but new, for them and I.  One of the girls seemed a bit aggravated by the lack of "serious role playing." Which I can understand, that is what she plays for.  The other two were trying to adapt as quickly as possible.  One of them, as far as I know, was playing only their third system.  She played in my last attempt of a D&D flavored game that fell apart due to sudden imprisonments (in the real world) and in my story driven Goblins & Gunslingers game (using my custom system FAST).  Her ability to get into and play this was cool as hell.  The third and final girl played like a champ.  She was a fighter and made the right decisions for that choice.

At the end of the night, the first girl had died, and she seemed a bit aggravated by that.  The other two solved the issue at hand and survived only to be exiled to the Land of Fallen Idols.

I am looking forward to playing again, and hopefully joining the two groups up.  When that happens it is going to be exciting to see the different play styles mesh.

I have been planning for that eventuality, making maps and random charts galore.  I have made a new binder for it...  Which is kind of strange as I realize I am not sure if we are ever going to play this again.  Boy I hope we do.  It was kind of like a big stress reliever for me.

When I run my story based games, I have a lot of fun, but I am pushing just as hard for the resolution as the group is.  With LOFI, I am pushing the game forward but having no investments in what decisions the players make.  It is going where they take it.  It is like a weight has been lifted off my chest.  I am sighing just thinking about it.