Over the Edge, ye maggots, consequences be damned!

If you want to know Bucyrus’ opinion – this game is perfect.

Period.

rpg-ote

Ok, ok, this thing deserves a few words more.

Over the Edge is a game taking place in a setting that can be described as beautiful Frankensteinian masterwork stitched together from scraps and pieces taken from fears, conspiracies, mental delusions, junkies’ nightmares and thoughts you get upon reaching that specific state of mind when you’re one sip away from declaring yourself the next incarnation of Christ.

The book resembles one vast battlefield with you – the reader – being carpet bombed with ideas and possibilities that leave you unable to not say “damn, I wonder what would happen if…

In short: it’s one clusterfuck of things that shouldn’t work together, that CAN’T work together, but they do nevertheless and man, ain’t that a beautiful thing to behold.

It tells the story of Al-Amarja, an island governed by a modern dictatorship that tries to pose as democratic and just. Funnily enough it’s also a magnet and a haven for criminals, conspiracy theorists, sorcerers, aliens, clueless tourists, fringe scientists, cyborgs, nightmarecatchers, ancient evil, things from beyond and behind (also underneath and overhead), and pretty much everything you can imagine what falls into category of “weird”.

Whatever you may think about, it’s perfectly ok to introduce it to Al-Amarja, and it will fit just great. No, really, there’s nothing wrong in playing as Adolf Hitler’s clone who somehow became vampire cyborg sociologist with split personality syndrome and an affinity for drinks made of alien brains (literally “alien brains”). Yes, it will work just great.

Seriously, the game is among one of most favorite of yours truly and there’s simply no way to explain how awesome thing it is without descending into the pit of fanatical blabbering.

So, instead of long and without a doubt biased review, let’ just settle on this:

While it certainly demands an open mind, being able to see past 80’s like design and the ability to say “screw this, I’m in the mood of experimenting” to be fully appreciated, Bucyrus thinks that pretty much every role player out there should visit the place at least once in his or her lifetime to understand how flexible and this whole “RPG” thing might be.

Strong, over the top recommendation.

Over the Edge, ye maggots, consequences be damned!

STAGES: Stuff based economy

Perhaps you forgot about that, but Bucyrus didn’t. Stages rpg is still in production, heh, heh.

So, time for another simple concept: Stuff.

Instead of having an enormous inventory consisting of many items, players gather stuff. It doesn’t matter what the stuff actually is. It might be some trinkets, items, clothes, perhaps some valuables and so on, and so forth.

misc-items

Stuff lands in a shared pool and everyone is entitled to reach to the pool and exchange some stuff into items of his or her choice. There are conditions, of course. It’s not that you can reach for stuff in the middle of combat and pull a Vulcan canon, or insist that there’s a shiny, powerful, uber armor in there.

No. Each class have an access to different stuff.

Witch may exchange stuff into poisonous things, or items required for her special Possession talent to work. She might find a small dagger there – her inherent choice of weapon – or things that demon or ghost might find interesting in possible bargain attempt.

Infiltrator deals with locks, traps, he enters places and finds exists where there are no obvious one. Therefore pile of stuff might produce for him some lockpick, perhaps a line with a hook, or a pouch to carry valuables.

Then, there are common things. Everyone might exchange some stuff for valuables, or something edible. It’s not hard to find an improvised weapon, or things like a needle and a few scraps of material for patches…

But there are specific cases. If whole story relies on finding the correct key, it must be found. It won’t magically appear in the pile of stuff.

The list of possible choices is, of course, more complicated than that, but that’s just a concept.

So, how stuff might be replenished? Well, for starters, players find valuables instead of typical treasure. There’s no gold, no silver, no electrum pieces – upon exploring their world, player characters find valuable things. It works as sort of currency, valuables are what you pay with instead of coins, so it’s perfectly ok to simply “buy” some stuff when you visit a village or town, market, shopkeeper. The opposite situation is also possible. There’s no problem with exchanging stuff for valuables. After all, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

Player characters might also spend some time and gather stuff, especially in environment relevant to their specialization. So, a Sorcerer might stumble upon 10 points of either valuables or stuff in local library. Minotaur is sure to find some 10-12 points of stuff in almost every ancient ruins he might visit.

Finally, you can exchange items relevant to your class for stuff. Warden might immediately exchange prey he just managed to catch for stuff. Fighter is free to dispose a few knives or swords and gain some stuff points.

Such exchanges aren’t easy to accept. After all, Sorcerer donates books and Infiltrator might immediately transform it into tools of thievery – what madness is that? Thi sis outrageous and things don’t work like this…

Well, yes, but… It’s fun. It doesn’t have to reflect the reality and it allows to treat inventory in different way. ;]

STAGES: Stuff based economy

The Event – a tiny rpg-like endeavor

Just a small thing we developed this weekend. We had two sessions (each called, obviously “the Event”) already and they weren’t half that bad.

misc-storytelling

Roles:

  • Architect: the guy controls the scene, environment, things that are happening “in the background”.
  • Protagonists: the guy who controls each and all protagonists.
  • Mannequins: the guy who controls everyone else – all NPCs including the potential enemies.
  • Note that there’s no role doubling, and therefore both Protagonists and Mannequins player are called in plural form instead of singular, even if they control no more than single character. Confusing, yes, but let’s entertain the thought. ;]

Flow of the game:

  • Everyone starts with a pool of 10 Tokens.
  • Each player selects his role.
  • Architect describes the environment. He might tell the story of some place, focus on weather, noises.
  • Both Protagonists and Mannequins describe their characters, what they do how they react and so on and so forth.
  • EACH TIME someone wants to break the story of who is currently speaking, he must pay him ONE Token. It is now his turn and he continues the story further, however he sees it fit. To avoid confusion and unneeded tension, current narrator may ask to simply finish his part. “Just a moment, I simply want to describe the painting hanging on the wall“.
  • If the current narrator doesn’t want to renounce his role for now, he must pay TWO Tokens to whoever wants to step in. Repeated attempts to break the current narrator’s story are not allowed. People have to wait for the narrator to end current part of his story to attempt another interruption.
  • If two (or more) players try to take over the story, they hide as many Tokens as they want in close hand and simultaneously reveal their number. Whoever “bids” more, wins. Only Tokens of winner go to the current narrator’s pool.
  • Each player tells the story of aspect he controls. The moment someone attempts to CHANGE (add, expand) something from the resort of other player (e.g. Protagonists tells something about one actor belonging to Horde or changes the description given by Architect), he must pay the player TWO Tokens. The player might refuse that, and then he must pay TWO Tokens to the one who demanded a change. The CHANGE doesn’t happen then.
  • Each player might call for REWIND – he demands that something current narrator tells can’t happen (for example, the beast belonging to Horde can’t sneak upon sleeping hero). To do that he must pay THREE Tokens to the player.
  • Both CHANGE and REWIND (think plus and minus to the story) might be done for free if the player who requests them explains why he does/doesn’t see it happening and gain acceptance of the majority of other players.
  • Each time story reaches another part (for example, players move to different place) all Token pools become reset to default 10.
  • The story ends when either Protagonists or Mannequins have their main actors dead (or simply unable to act, like imprisoned or driven mad), or when Architect’s creation (the starship where everything takes place) becomes destroyed. There’s no set victory condition, but if players demand it, they might count the Tokens and call the one with biggest number the winner.

Now, a bunch of information:

  • If there are more than three players, they must share the roles.
  • Mannequins might be split between Harlequins (everyone who might, but doesn’t have to be dangerous – observe that some people simply create danger without being outright violent) and Innocents (all alive things that Protagonists‘ characters feel compelled to protect, no matter whether they deserve that and are, in fact in any danger whatsoever).
  • Architect’s job might be shared between Builder (the one who creates the world but doesn’t control its past – he simply adds the buildings, items, happening without explaining how they came to be and what’s the deal with them) and Historian (the one who tells the story of everything and everyone happened and did in the past, might remind about skills or items that characters possess or lost).
  • Protagonists might become Heroes (actual actors) and Empathy (their emotions, thoughts, feelings).
  • It must be observed that shared roles influence one another and whatever one says, other must take into account. Still, it doesn’t mean that, for example, Hero who is afraid can’t enter the dark and dusty wine cellar. He still might, but his shaken state won’t allow him to operate as good as when he isn’t afraid. This, in turn might become a plot hook for Hordes to to enter the story, for Architect to play on his nerves even further by adding sounds and shadows, or form a good and reasonable foundation for REWIND or even CHANGE.
  • New Roles might be introduced, like Icon, acting each time he feels there’s a need for some iconic element (Protagonists’ character suddenly falls down while running away from danger) AND getting a free Token each time someone introduces iconic-like element to the game, or Fate, that introduces CHANGE for free, but can never request for REWIND and no matter what CHANGE he introduces, it can’t result with direct death of any character.

Happy gaming!

The Event – a tiny rpg-like endeavor

Quick survey for your brand new alien race

Before you arrange a meeting between your PCs and another “Zzzrians” or “X’lcl’braoh-dhora” ask yourself these 5 simple questions, to make sure you won’t be accused of following the old “humans only with thorns and psionic powers” trope.

Providing that it’s applicable…

  1. If I’d approach some random people in my universe and ask, would they agree that there IS something that makes my race “so alien, so different”?
    Bear in mind that while some other races might accept as “perfectly normal” what others don’t, it’s about the majority of questioned, ummm, “people”. This is especially important if you’re playing in an universe/world populated by many different intelligent species.
  2. What is their “way” and how advanced are they on their “path”?
    Religion, technology, magic? Philosophical, fanatical, hegemony? Some interesting combination? Are they one step from achieving some sort of ascendancy or perhaps they are still stuck in their equivalent of medieval times?
  3. Things of greatest value, biggest taboo and how are they pursuing/enforcing it?
    Is it an item, an attitude? Do they value power, land, or the number of enemies they’ve slain? Are they fanatical about their taboos, or is it a silent treatment for every transgressor?
  4. The biggest difficulty in getting along and what makes them willing to put it aside and cooperate?
    This is not optional. We, people of Earth find it difficult to accept each other, so it’s only to be expected for “xenos” to feature similar “hardships”. Then again, it’s not uncommon for sworn enemies to put their differences aside and form some fragile but real alliance. St least for time being.
    Again, if it’s multi-species setting, it’s about the majority of races involved.
  5. What is their deepest internal problem?
    This is tricky – plenty of outsiders might not realize this even if they spend many years working/living with such a species. It might not even be obvious for this race, or mistakenly understood as their big asset. Yet it’s there and it often forces them to make two steps forward, but one back.

For example… Humans.

  1. Different:
    We, people of Earth love to think that there’s a solution to every problem and that it’s us who know better than everyone else what to do. Where others accept their fate, we push forward.
  2. Way:
    Curiosity. Be it technology, magic, or whatever possible we will try it, embrace it, toy with its concepts. And we will probably try to sell it, make a weapon of it and if possible, have sex with it.
  3. Value/taboo:
    Progress! There’s nothing we value more than change for better. We are willing to put the common reason and decency aside to achieve what we understand as progress.
    Our greatest taboo is probably doing harm to our children. Once you do that, may your god forgive you, because we won’t.
  4. Difficulty and bridge:
    We don’t appreciate others – including members of our own – having their own mind and opinions. We simply know better and everyone must accept that. There’s no workaround. It’s not that we will always enforce that at a gunpoint, but even in our diplomacy we will try to make others bend to our point of view and will.
    …and yet, we’re willing to put that aside if the survival is at stake. Common enemy, cataclysms, danger makes us forget our typical attitude and cooperate.
  5. Internal problem:
    We’re flawed, tormented species, still influenced by our animal instincts. No matter how good we strive to be, there will be always the dark side in us. Any attempt to get rid of it will manifest in its sudden implosion, leaving a dark hole in our “souls”, one that will stigmatize us for the rest of life and forbid us from achieving happiness… Because we did it.
    And that’s why we build palaces of glass, surround ourselves in illusions, try to change everything according to our vision. Because it’s the world that’s flawed, it’s “their” fault.
Quick survey for your brand new alien race

Lords of Gossamer and Shadow – where’s your crown, king Nothing?

It’s so frequent, that it can’t be written off as mere coincidence. Jung called it Synchronicity and it’s partially an observation, partially an attempt to explain how it is possible that similar things are made by different people who have no contact with each other whatsoever.

You’ve seen it in action many times – two similar movies hitting the cinemas (damn you, Matrix, for what you did to Dark City), two similar books, two similar inventions…

Lords of Gossamer & Shadow (LoGS) share similar story with another game, The Strange written by Monte Cook, one of RPG giants responsible for many awesome and some questionable inventions. Both games tell the story of heroes who visit many different worlds, both are supported by interesting mechanics, both bring something new to the RPG hobby.

rpg-logs

Unfortunately, where The Strange succeeds, LoGS don’t.

See, LoGS is an attempt to bring back the charm of diceless role playing presented in AMBER RPG – the game that in turn was an attempt to play in worlds of Amber created by the mind of Roger Zelazny. If you’re not aware about either of those works of fiction, think Game of Thrones, only on a cosmic scale, with almost immortal heroes who can travel between worlds and realities, commit acts that make them equal of gods.

Amber RPG managed to attract small but very dedicated number of fans who played it for decades. Unfortunately, it was painfully obvious that for all its creativity the game won’t ever become very successful. Like usual, Bucyrus blames lack of good support in form of interesting, official scenarios and campaigns.

As it was already told, Lords of Gossamer & Shadow are an attempt to change this situation. The game was upgraded to modern standards in many ways. It also renounces the original tale – it has nothing in common with Zelazny’s Amber although it’s clear that the vision it presents is deeply rooted in its predecessor’s story.

And one hell of the story it is. Merely reading the book, thinking about its reality makes it worthwhile to buy it and sacrifice some time for studying it.

And yet, Bucyrus doesn’t believe in LoGS. Perhaps it’s the mechanics – no better than it was present in the original game, hard to understand, very vulnerable to exploitation. Perhaps it’s because it’s about stories addressed to very specific, very creative minds. Perhaps it’s because its great asset (many worlds) is also its great weakness (fuck it, let’s escape to other world and never come back). Perhaps…

Lords of Gossamer & Shadow is an awesome, interesting and unique game, hands down.

But who will play it?

It’s a king without a court. But man, just look at this crown and other royally insignias…

P.S.
And just to make things clearer – it’s not about saying “forget LoGS, play the Strange instead”. No. Both games are very good each offering a bit different experience. It’s just that LoGS demands more from its players to unleash its full potential than the Strange which is, for all its worth way more simpler, more straightforward game.

Lords of Gossamer and Shadow – where’s your crown, king Nothing?

Types of adventures and their challenges.

So let’s say you’re gonna run X. Your biggest challenge would probably be Y. Suggestion? Try Z.

  • Horror.
  • Atmosphere.
  • Always, always talk with your players prior to the session and ask them for cooperation in upholding the mood. Select the correct game for the correct sub-genre (e.g. d20 for slasher or Cthulhu for “horror from beyond” not the other way around).
  • Detective story.
  • Clues.
  • Don’t hide them. Put them in plain view. Have players to seek experts able to help them process the information they gathered.
  • Noir.
  • Atmosphere.
  • Play Noir only if your players demand for it. Have them prepare characters with deep background. Spend a session discussing how they all meet and why they stick together. Push it to extreme – be ready for this to be the story.
  • Fantasy.
  • We already played this“.
  • Mix elements from other genres. Have them find high-tech equipment or ruins of highly advanced civilization. Come up with atypical characters – a talking Giant Scorpion, Mind Flayer investigator, Githyanki paladin. Built the story around it.
  • Zombieeeees.
  • Yes, Bwaaaaains. How terrible. Yawn.
  • Remember that we all are addicted to something. Focus on this aspect of characters. There’s no easy way to get pizza, insulin, coffee, drugs, chocolate, Dr. Who movies, etc. And player characters must get their fix. It’s their equivalent of “braaains”.
  • SF.
  • It’s fantasy in space
  • Every now and then make them remember how important the technology is and that’s often the only thing separating them from certain death. Make some of their equipment (ship’s hull, air processor, power plant) break and have them focus entirely on fixing it.
  • Cyberpunk.
  • Cyberpunk, fuck yeah! Just add more of everything and you’re set.
  • Your favorite video game
  • Surprisingly, this isn’t as fun as playing it on PC/console“.
  • Yep. It isn’t. What made you think that “run and kill one wave of enemies after wave, courtesy of weird combos and enormously large phallic objects with not much inbetween” makes a good idea for RPG scenario?
  • Your favorite book/comic book/movie/tv show
  • Ummm, wouldn’t it contradict the canon?
  • Probably yes. Now suck it up, accept that Vader is the good guy, Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds is a douche and Hercules Poirot is a Terminator send from the future to murder Sherlock Holmes. Play it or go back enjoying the original, immutable original story.
  • Soldiers or other characters constrained by some sort of oath, code, obligations.
  • We can’t simply do what we want, we can’t disobey orders…
  • Then why did you pick such characters?” Let’s face it – war scenarios (and similar ones) shouldn’t be used all the time.
  • Reality of many worlds.
  • They all are looking pretty much the same“.
  • Limit the possibility of changing worlds. Focus on quality rather than quantity. In case of interplanetary travels, it’s perfectly ok to assume one planet -> one giant mega city with its own space port + a few of other places nobody really visits, because “it’s agriculture, mines and such mostly“.
  • Many different languages.
  • So how are we gonna communicate?
  • Unless your characters are all polyglots or the system allows for some plausible solutions (we all are using portable translators), it’s all DM’s fiat really and there’s no good solution to that.

That’s it. For now.

Types of adventures and their challenges.

SO…

The most important part of RPGs is and always was “storytelling”. Without a story it’s just tactics, dice, cards etc. Story is what influences players’ choices, story is what forces them to invest time and effort into that stuff. So. How about a little experiment titled “So…”.

  1. Gather a few friends with decent experience in RPGing.
  2. Hand one six sided dice and up to 5 tokens to each. Tokens might come in any form you like, aside of edible products. Beer bottles are ok. Beer cans are the invention of Satan. The number of Tokens should be dictated by the story – the more challenging, the more Tokens.
  3. Start a story without character sheets, without discussing who is who and where things happen. Simply start it. The Storyteller unfolds some part, players ask, answer, react, the Storyteller adjusts, explains. Simple.
  4. Each time someone attempts to do something, he gets to roll a dice.
    – 1 is a total disaster. Not only you didn’t manage to succeed but also you created a serious problem for everyone near you.
    Your character fell off the cliff and he pulled his friend with him. Now they both are hanging helplessly and clock is ticking…
    – 2 is your personal drama. You didn’t manage to succeed and you got yourself into trouble, but everyone else is safe. For now.
    The mine exploded. You’re wounded, but only you.
    – 3 is fail. You failed the task but it resulted with no real problem.
    Your enemies heard some suspicious noises, and are investigating it, but they didn’t know where it came from and don’t realize what they really heard.
    – 4 is meh. You managed, but that’s just about it. Not enough to say that this event is successfully finished.
    You tried to shoot the guy and you wounded him. Yet, he is still alive.
    – 5 is a success. Bravo! That’s how things are done in Texas!
    You hacked into the mainframe. All corporate databases belong to you.
    – 6 is extraordinary luck. Not only you managed to get the job done, but there’s some interesting bonus. What exactly? Tell it to your Storyteller. Unless it’s not ruining future events, you dictate things. You can also exchange it for an additional Token.
    You didn’t only sniped the guy from afar. You did it in such a manner that his lifeless corpse still stands – enough for every other guard to assume that the guy still lives. Or, his corpse fell down and managed to knock out other guard. Or…You might want to either add or subtract up to one point if there are some circumstances influencing positively or negatively the possible outcome.
  5. Rather than roll the dice, a player might simply give one of his Tokens away and thus score instantly “5”. A success! Tokens might also be used to change that part of the story. The Storyteller might refuse that, but then he is obliged to award the player with an additional Token. There might be only one attempt of that transaction per scene and coming from only one player. The scene can’t be changed just like that – things don’t disappear, or appear all of sudden. There must be a plausible explanation for the change, given by the player and accepted by the Storyteller.
    There were two guards, right? Well, here’s the Token and… one of them goes away, right?
  6. What are rules for everything? How much does it weight? How loud is Kalashnikov? Are you stronger than the other guy? Can you do magic? Yes, you can. Yes it is. Unless it contradicts the story, unless it breaks the game. Simply agree how things are. The Storyteller has the last word, but he can’t simply say “no”. He must either provide an explanation or create an obstacle (it’s blackest night of your life, the mist is almost impenetrable, the guy doesn’t simply look tough, he looks like a Terminator machine) – and when he does, he gives one Token to everyone involved.
  7. Number of Tokens is restored when some part of story ends. Unused Tokens are lost.
    You finally made it from the sunken ship to the island… Congrats! It’s next chapter of the story.
  8. Try to enjoy it. Remember, if you want to break the game, you will break it, no matter what. But you’ll have no one else to blame for a shitty session afterwards.

That’s all, but not the end. It’s an experiment, remember? The goal is to observe your players’ behavior and your own – as the Storyteller – skills at almost pure storytelling. Observe, analyze, try to determine what the problems really were, where did they come from and such. Simple as it seems, playing like that, with pure story and rudimentary mechanics might be a very valuable exercise to improve your typical sessions. Good luck and good fun.

P.S.

Some story seeds:

  • …so, you’re all sitting in a metro, when someone observes that there’s nothing aside of total blackness outside of the windows.
  • …so, here you are, a band of scavengers on post apocalyptic wasteland, attempting to find the way into that famous bunker that’s supposed to contain food…
  • …so, as time traveling cops, you’re tasked with making sure that Kennedy’s assassin won’t be caught on the spot…
  • …so, as the bravest hunters of your clan, you’re all leaving your village and venturing to that big place called “city” where you have to find chieftain’s abducted daughter…
SO…