Use It or Lose It

You remember that time you got an excellent idea? The one you were certain you wanted to try in a rpg when the moment was just right? Yes. That one you never actually got around using.

In all likelihood this is a thing for GMs. At least I know it is a thing for me. I watch a show on tv (Netflix, what ever) or read a book or just randomly toss thing around in my mind and it hits me. “This is something I want to incorporate to my game!” I might even write it down so that I’ll remember it when the setting, characters, theme or what ever is right.

And when the moment comes I either have forgotten about it or just can’t find it from my notes. Continue reading

Lovecraft, Buddha, and Me: On the Relevance of H. P. Lovecraft’s Vision

buddha2-l

(The source of the image. Those statues are all sold out.)

Lovecraftian horror is a staple of horror roleplaying, but it has its detractors as well. They don’t see anything frightening about Cthulhu and some also try to argue intellectually that no one else should either. I raise some questions about it, offer some answers — including one that says that questions are the answer — and venture into a territory I’ve not seen dealt with before: what happens to a Buddhist who meets a Lovecraftian monstrosity? Continue reading

Horror in Dungeons

With all the OCR-stuff going on dungeons are getting better rep than in ages. Dungeon World is a certain classic and a game I would be willing to play at any time. Almost a year ago I talked about making dungeons on the fly and this subject raised its ugly head last Tuesday when the party descended into an ancient underground city in Egypt. Granted I was pretty tired then but I still think I had something good going on.

We are going to continue our descend into this forgotten tomb tomorrow and while I was searching the web for ideas and made notes about how to get it right I came into a conclusion that what I am actually doing is building a dungeon while I thought I was making a scenario for Call of Cthulhuish game.

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The difference between CoCian and BWian philosophies of skills

Roleplaying games can represent stuff about real life that you don’t necessarily stop to think about. I’ll write about one here, the difference between how Call of Cthulhu and Burning Wheel handle skills, and what those differences say about human capabilities. And why it matters quite a lot to me, personally. Continue reading

Creating an Archipelago Game

About a month ago I managed to get into Jason Morningstar‘s Archipelago game “Love in the Time of Khavarner“. I really liked the setting and the style the game worked and began immediately to think how I could hack it. Jason himself said that it is not as simple as it seems. And after working on a game I have to admit he was right.

Without going into details about what is needed for an Archipelago game I must admit that I used the two existing games Love in the Time of Seið and Love in the Time of Khavarner as the starting point. I did not have high ambitions about a truly original masterpiece but an idea about a game I really wanted to take part in. Continue reading

Trying Out: Fall of Magic & Archipelago

During last weekend I was lucky enough to get into two games ran by Jason Morningstar at Ropecon; one of which I was not even thinking to get into but managed to get a seat when a player did not turn up. Too bad for him. It was an excellent game and pretty much shook up my whole view of roleplaying (in a similar way that AWengine did a few years ago). In essence this post is about testing Fall of Magic and Archipelago.

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[Door of Shadows] Creating the Campaign Setup

The Pull

Randomizing the characters

We started a new campaign at the beginning of the year (as discussed in my previous post).

This campaign is linked to the Wayward Sons-campaign I ran last year though it takes place 40 years earlier. And even though I jump started this “discussion” about the campaign with the experiments I have had with a Mythos Tome I decided that our first session also deserves to shared.

As first sessions go it wasn’t an actual playing session in a traditional sense but more like a conversation of what we were going to play. Vincent Baker‘s Apocalypse World advices you to do something similar but we took it a bit further.

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Experimenting on Mythos Tomes

We have been playing my AWengine hack for a few months now. There is a lot to talk about this game but I make my return to blogging by discussing the use of Mythos Tomes in roleplaying games.

A Mythos Tome is most likely found in horror games but should by no means to be limited to them. Mythos Tomes are ancient books filled with most eldritch secrets no man was ever to know. Or at least that is the main assumption. Continue reading

GMing: Keeping the Lore vs. Playing

I ran my first Call of Cthulhu campaign during 2009 and 2010, during which time my GMing preferences underwent a drastic change. It was the acclaimed Tatters of the King, “Cthulhu done right”, praised for its believable NPCs and milieu. While everyone seemed to like the story, from the GM’s point of view the campaign was arduous. There is little freedom for the players, and the GM is instructed to fudge die rolls so that certain events come to pass in just the right way. What’s worse, the book is a horrible manual for an actual gaming session. To start with, there are no master lists for clues, or any other handy points of reference other than a timeline. In effect, I had to keep the book open at all times and make sure that I handed the players just the right information to ensure that the campaign goes along.

GMing it was hard work during the sessions. The book is 232 pages long, and the campaign takes up about 180 or 190 pages. Some of the early scenarios contain information or objects that are vital late in the campaign, but the information in the book doesn’t follow any clear format – it’s hidden in the NPC’s pre-written dialogue. Without a Master List of Everything Necessary, or at least a small explanatory text of what’s essential in the scene, it was really hard to improvise anything.

In effect, I kept the book open in my lap at all times, glanced at it regularly so that I could act the parts of the NPCs and deliver all the necessary information the players. It was hard to concentrate on what was happening at the gaming table because I had to focus on the book and on making sure that the campaign could go on.

(I’m not blaming it all on the book, though; it might not be the best campaign for a first-time Cthulhu GM. Maybe an experienced GM could have read the book in its entirety and gleaned all the necessary information and made his own play aids. I maintain that it’s the book’s job to make the pre-made campaign easily playable, but that’s beside the point here.)

That’s my point of view, my experience. In contrast, around the same time I had two different kinds of roleplaying experiences. FIrst, I read new gaming masterpieces such as 3:16: Carnage Amongst the Stars, and even got to play them a bit. 3:16 is a rules-light, improvisation-heavy roleplaying game about space marines intent on killing everything in the universe. It is filled with good stuff, but what’s relevant here is that 3:16 was the first game where I encountered the band metaphor for RPGs. It’s like jamming together and creating stories. (To my present knowledge, Ron Edwards’ Sorcerer is the first game to utilise that metaphor.)

The second experience was playing two Call of Cthulhu scenarios several times in Ropecon, namely John Wick’s Curse of the Yellow Sign, Act One (three times), and John Tynes’ In Media [sic] Res (five times). Those scenarios are player-driven, and the GM is reacting. Everyone is kind of riffing off of each others’ ideas. The players play against each other, and the GM is trying to make the situation even more intense (and sure, describes the environment, gives clues and so on). Rather than reading from the book what’s supposed to happen next, the GM feels out the situation at the gaming table and adds something to it. Effectively, he’s one of the players.

In Tatters of the King, my job really felt like that of The Keeper of Arcane Lore, Call of Cthulhu‘s title for the GM. I was the repository of stuff that the players had to uncover. Their rolls of dice were either rolls to see whether they were damaged, or whether they could get access to the information I was withholding. (In effect, I fudged a lot of rolls because that was what I was used to.) I didn’t feel like I was one of the players in the game, or “one of the guys”. I was sitting at the head of the table, which sort of emphasised my role as being apart from the others.

Now, I’m not saying I never want to sit at the head of the table again (actually I still do), or that I don’t want to withhold information (I still do if the game has something of the sort), or that I want everyone at the table to hold equal power (I sure as hell don’t, but neither do I advocate that the traditional GM-player divide is the only way, or the only interesting way, to divide power). What I am saying is that I learned to love playing. I want to come to the table and feel that I don’t have all the answers, that I don’t know what’s going to happen at the table. I enjoy the moments when players surprise me and I have to step back and admit that I didn’t see that one coming.

What I’m saying is that I learned to Play Unsafe, which is actually a title of a brilliant little book by Graham Walmsley that I also read during the Cthulhu campaign, and I urge you to read it as well. When I don’t know what’s going to happen at the table, I need to stay on my toes and pay attention to what’s happening at the table. I feel more uncertain and tense, and I can transform that uncertainty and tension into something positive.