Saturday, 22 August 2020

Paper Golem, a spell for menial tasks

 [ Paper Golem]     D: until next dawn     R: 10'

Target paper-doll enlarges to size of caster, adopts their attributes, and accepts instructions of [sum] nouns and verbs. Paper Golems have one hitpoint, weigh almost nothing, are blown by wind, and will wear off their fingers in an hour of hard work if they have them. They approach problems in the most obvious way that their caster would (as if in a dream, drunk, or half-asleep), have no self-preservation, and have miniscule problem-solving ability. While concentrating, caster knows approximate direction to golem and if golem is destroyed. When destroyed, material reverts to original size. Valid materials follow.

1 MD: Materials that are instantly destroyed by fire and quickly degraded by water (paper, dry leaves, reeds)

2 MD: Materials that are resistant to either water or fire (flake of wax, squashed cotton candy)

3+ MD: Any mundane material.

??? MD: A shadow (ask your GM)


Saturday, 15 August 2020

The Price of Ignorance

Experimentation and discovery: important and fun elements of the game. We should examine how we can deliberately include them in our games. Traps that only interact with your Saves, and Obstacles that only interact with your Skill Check, lack these elements, and are generally not fun. Let's do something else.

I want to define a broad category of things that I can't think of a good word for. I can, however, define their likely qualities. I suspect that you could break any and all of these rules and have the thing still serve the same purpose in the game, or have the thing obey every rule and yet not serve that purpose.

  • They serve as an obstacle or impediment, preventing or dissuading access to something behind them (possibly metaphorically)
  • Their operation is deterministic, or at least somewhat predictable
  • They respond to certain specific inputs, possibly in the form of triggers, sensors, behaviours, or manipulable controls
  • Experimentation combined with Thinking is usually the best way to find out how they work. Possible alternatives include getting the information out of an NPC or institute that does know, or expending resources (divination spells)
  • Knowing how they work is usually the best way to cease being impeded by them, though one may be able to remove the impediment (temporarily or permanently) by expending resources; either personal things like spells, or equipment, or money, or time. Or, just by taking a risk.
  • They provide enjoyment by being something to play with.

Things that are part of this broad category:

  • Some puzzles (if you do them right)
  • Traps (if you do them right) 
  • All manner of unique, possibly arcane, machinery in your dungeons, workshops, and wizard laboratories
  • Most Black Doors
  • Magic items (maybe)
  • Golems (maybe)
  • Bound devils/demons (maybe)
  • A north/south passage that you can only walk through while facing south
  • A 20' chasm with no bridge and the ghosts of 10,000 angry geese
  • An immortal Skeleton Jelly that steadily splats wetly after you without getting tired

 If all the relevant information of the obstacle is immediately obvious, then you get a closely related group in which the experimentation, discovery, and play exist only within the mental process of nutting out a good solution, as you consider different possible options:

  • Other puzzles (if you do them right)
  • Other Black Doors
  • Very obvious traps
  • Guardians with Riddles
  • Other magic items (maybe)
  • A cylindrical tunnel, lined with frictionless material, sloping upwards
  • A 20' chasm with no bridge
Some things that I believe do not belong in this group:
  • People that must be spoken to and negotiated with, or killed, avoided, etc.
  • An ordinary locked door, because everyone already knows the main options to deal with ordinary locked doors and thus require no thought. At least: the first locked door may be part of the prior category, but the 50th one will not be. Same logic applies for the 20' chasm if you see a lot of chasms.
You don't have to know what is behind these obstacles for them to work. The impediment may be metaphorical rather than physical (if the only reward is knowledge). I think you could potentially have something like this with nothing behind it at all, if you wish to either teach your players how something works (and equip them better for a similar obstacle) or simply waste everyone's time.
Unique "correct" solutions are not necessary, and in extreme cases no intended solution need be prepared at all (as long as the GM is reasonably confident that the party could come up with a way to proceed).

There also doesn't have to be an explicit penalty for doing the "wrong" thing - it's pretty much the defining quality of a trap, some puzzles use it, the only cost may be time, or it could be entirely negligible if you and your players are happy just solving puzzles. Still, I think that I would recommend incorporating some cost, no matter how small, in general.

I'm going to refer to these as Special Obstacles until further notice. That differentiates them from creatures and the most common structural features and describes their function in the universe.
Alternative names included simply "Obstacle", "Hazard", "Toy", "Diversion", "Thingy", and "Jawn".

I had another discussion about the folly of trying to categorise things and whether this is fundamentally limiting, but I don't know what to think about that yet. I think my main purpose in digging into this concept is not to try to rigorously and rigidly define the pieces that I am using to stock my adventures; it is to analyse how all these different kinds of things may be presented best and most freely when encountered. So that I can see the similarities between the game structures in different places and save myself mental work.

I also realise that the role that anything will play in your game cannot be described purely by its own qualities and place in the universe. That has a major impact, but there is also the part of how the Party relates to it, which is based on what they think of it, which the GM cannot control. Things can even be deliberately misrepresented, or miscommunication can occur - for example, the story of The Gazebo is famous. Things won't be boxed in.

Rethinking Trap Procedures

Traps: they should logically exist in at least some places in our games. Kobolds are very popular at the moment, and kobolds love traps, so you almost can't get away from them. However, too often they're simply not fun.

Common potential problems:

  • GMs slapping their players with damage they couldn't be reasonably expected to avoid
  • Players neurotically searching and re-searching areas "just in case"
  • Metagaming responses to low rolls or the GM's unfortunately-worded descriptions resulting in the PCs completely disassembling harmless bits of dungeon dressing step by step
  • GMs slipping in false positives or intentionally suspicious language in an attempt to dissuade metagaming resulting in a lot of time pointlessly wasted
  •  An absolutely huge number of perception/search rolls that don't mean anything
  • Attempts to spend real time only on interesting content inherently telling the players that a particular spot is interesting, mysteriously making the heroes psychically aware that a hazard is likely near

 Existing trap procedures, each fixing some of these pitfalls, form an even longer list - which I'm not bothering to describe.

The goal, as always, is to have them exist in the game in a form that they actually make the game more fun, not less fun. This is my own attempt to design the trap process in games to mesh elegantly with existing structures. It is a modification of the process described in Many Rats On Sticks: it makes some assumptions about what you are already doing to run the game. It is also completely untested!

  1. If the party proceeds cautiously, they are assumed to be trying to not set off traps accidentally, and get some indication of all traps.
  2. If the party suspects something is a trap, they should be encouraged to investigate it without permanently expending resources (for reasons that will become clear).
  3. Resolve their actions according to reasonable expectations, as normal
  4. If the party begins to regularly employ techniques that DO consume resources when they poke anything suspicious, those resources should be added to the depletion process of normal exploration to indicate that they use it frequently (just like torches, and food)

Example: Poking every exposed surface with a long pole will not deplete the pole as a part of normal progress. If there is a trap that will grab/destroy the pole, resolve it at that point when they actually poke it. Same thing for driving livestock in front of the party; they keep the livestock until they actually run into something that would deprive them continued usage of said animal.

Example: Sprinkling dust should not deplete, or deplete extremely slowly, because you can just collect it back up and reuse it. Again, special circumstances that would make the dust irretrievable would reduce your inventory.

Example: Pouring water to look for seams, bubbles, or low patches should definitely be added to normal expenditure of consumable items unless the party has some explanation of how they are getting all the water back. 

I suggest just keeping a section of notepaper where you list their common approaches to strange things - a new technique gets written down, and a checkmark for each repetition. Outliers get added to the depletion list. Of course, it's up to you to decide about how fast each thing should be used up.

This procedure can also be combined with the Click Rule for extra excitement whether or not anyone is in actual danger when they set off a trap (say, by poking the trigger intentionally). I think I'll be using it.

Load-Bearing Design, OR What If Jeremy Bentham Ran Games, OR Utilitarianism In Gaming

This is going to be a short post, simply to define a rule that I intend to refer to many times in the future. It is so blindingly obvious one may wonder why I bother to say it at all, but I do think that there is value in saying it, so that we can make a more conscious attempt to follow it and, hopefully, grok it. I will make my thesis statement in just one sentence.

 "Everything in your game should actively support the goal of making your game enjoyable."

When I say "everything", I mean "everything": whether designing or modifying systems, worldbuilding, designing monsters, constructing an adventure or employing pre-written content, populating dungeon rooms, managing the activities of major factions or any individual, describing places and situations and people, resolving each action and process, running a conventional combat encounter, interacting with the people at your table, and the act of just being a player. The rule is so all-encompassing that I can't help but see it as more of a guiding philosophy.

We already collectively know that it this is true. GMs that do not follow it tend to lose their players. Systems that do not obey it are not popular. Games evolve as pieces are replaced with new parts that serve it better. That's why we write, research, test, and share houserules, after all.

Nothing is sacred enough in gaming to justify it remaining if a better alternative can be identified; life is short and playing no game at all is better than playing a bad one. This does not mean that we should all throw out our D&D 5e books and exclusively run our own beloved heartbreaker systems - there is enjoyment in being able to just sit down and play without spending the energy to learn a new system, to draw in players that want to be able to say that they're playing D&D, and to easily transfer content between editions.

For myself, I somewhat dislike that every game uses str/dex/con/int/wis/cha (try: strength/agility/wits/willpower, as strength covers normal str/con, agility more explicitly covers mobility, and the lines between the "mental stats" have been redrawn entirely), but I still decided that my own GLOG offshoot would use those same six, for familiarity reasons. While I regard it as a necessary evil, I also went over the definitions of these attributes and rewrote them to be more coherent and useful, trying to make the most of what I had, trying to make this structure serve common player expectations and my own expectations equally well.

If I follow this philosophy, I can easily find three things that I can actually do.

  1. Go over my games (after the event) and analyse what went wrong. Try to work out why, and what could be altered to fix it.
  2. Keep my eyes and ears open on forums that share their modifications to game structures and consider whether these would improve my own game.
  3. Listen to my players and try to meet their expectations on what they want to do.

None of this is particularly insightful or groundbreaking. I rather think I am preaching to the choir: I believe that the true rallying cry of the thing calling itself the "OSR community" is not to resurrect the most ancient game structures of our hobby - it's just to play better games.

Good luck in your perpetual self-improvement! 

Saturday, 8 August 2020

GLOG Class: Really Mischievous Goose

Explanation: I ran a quick oneshot adventure for some newbies in GLOG (Many Rats on Sticks) with included some pregenerated characters. I made sure to provide some of the classic Wizards and Knights but also the weirder ones such as a Really Good Dog and Really Angry Goose.

It happens that in the time between the original Angry Goose blogpost and the time of my game, Untitled Goose Game had been released and was still very much in everyone's minds which I think was the reason that the pregen Goose got picked for play (and in fact was almost fought over). However, these two geese are actually quite different in methodology and abilities. So, I felt inclined to (mainly as an exercise) write a new Goose class that would be better at the kind of shenanigans that the Untitled Goose Game antagonist gets up to.

And here it is.

Really Mischievous Goose

Starting Items: none, but you have a SERRATED BEAK AND TONGUE, a MAJESTIC WINGSPAN, and a TERRIBLE HONK.

You are a goose.
You cannot climb ropes or ladders. You cannot love.
You cannot speak Common. You speak Goose fluently. You can understand the approximate meaning of other PCs and anyone they are talking to.
You have a prehensile neck and your head can fit into tiny spaces. You can fly if you have enough space. You can float on water.
You can discern North. Instead of Intelligence, you get Goose Intelligence, which is mainly worse at anything Social or Nerdy.
Your Movement is 8 (Human Movement is 12) but if you have 50' to take off you can fly at Movement 20. Your bite attack deals 1d6+STR damage. Your feathers give you +2 defense as though you had armor, but take up no Inventory slots. You have half as many Inventory Slots as usual.

Starting skill (1d3):
1. Horrible Goose
2. Cunning Goose
3. Asshole Goose

You get +1 Stealth for every Template you have in this class.

A: Fearsome Honk, Clean Appearance
B: Cruel and Unusual, Bad from Beak to Bottom
C: Vicious Grip, In Plain Sight
D: Greedy Goose

Fearsome Honk: All non-ally creatures whose HD does not exceed your level within 20' who hear your Terrible Honk must Save vs Fear or be frightened for one round. If your level exceeds their HD by 2 or more, they continue being frightened until they pass a Save vs Fear (once at the end of each of their turns).

Clean Appearance: You always look neat and clean, no matter what mischief you've been up to.

Cruel and Unusual: If you gain victory over and humiliate an adversary, recover 1HP. You can recover this health only once per adversary each day.

Bad from Beak to Bottom: You gain the Pickpocket skill. If you already have that, instead gain a different criminal skill of your choice.

Vicious Grip: You can now attempt to Grab with every bite attack.

In Plain Sight: As long as a creature has something pressing to attend to, you can try to escape their attention as long as you're not being actively mischievous or threatening at that moment (using normal stealth rules). Loitering or even staring with your soulless, calculating goose eyes doesn't count.

Greedy Goose: If able to calmly collect your thoughts (not suffering from a major status effect or in combat) you may treat your strength and dexterity as being four points higher when attempting to gain possession of a desirable object.

Paper Golem, a spell for menial tasks

 [ Paper Golem]      D: until next dawn      R: 10' Target paper-doll enlarges to size of caster, adopts their attributes, and accepts ...