Setting building: quick and drity

Creation of your own world usually takes a lot of time and is often a fun on its own, sometimes surpassing actual play. World knows millions of fanmade realities. Some among them rival works of greatest storytellers, some are total crap.

…and all women shall be tormented by sudden changes of mood for no apparent reason. Ya, Glory unto me, for I am the compassionate God-Creator!

Yet, we’re not discussing advanced, detailed “full realities” here, but merely those simple, underdeveloped worlds serving as the background for a session or two, perhaps for a single campaign at most. They might evolve into “full-reality” some time in the future, but that’s not the main goal.

The problem is that way too many worlds are too similar to each other. So, how to quickly make up a world that looks at least a bit differently?

Bucyrus uses 4 steps for that.

  • Select a random object. It might be first thing that comes to your mind, or something in the range of your sight. Make it a central piece of your world.
  • Introduce improbability aka “this is different”
  • Think about children! Heh, sorry for that. Think about common folk. What inhabitants of this world do for living?
  • Name and address a few most obvious issues.

Let’s see that in action, shall we?

  • An object.

So, a few days ago Bucyrus ate a fish. Fish are built around such an object:

You think you won? Think again – my flesh is now your flesh. I am literally YOU. Mwahahahaa, all according to the plan!

This will be the centerpiece of the setting then.

  • The Improbability (this is different!)

Ok, so… There are fish or whale like creatures floating in the void. For some reason, when they feel they are soon to die, they all travel to this certain place – a single, red sun. They reach it and die. Myriads of their corpses formed an enormously huge ring around the central sun. This – the Gargantuans’ Graveyard – is the place where the adventures will take place.

Also, there’s an air, because why not?

  • People

Somehow, there are whole countries and societies living on this graveyard. Nobody remember how and why they found themselves in this place, they simply are there. Perhaps they were star sailors, perhaps one of bigger “fishes” swallowed their whole world. Who knows?

Anyway, they move from a skeleton to a skeleton, travel on small bone “ships”, build houses from bone and scales.

There are bone pirates, there are magicians who deal with some form of necromancy (animate skeletons, create bone/flesh golems, speak with dead). There are religious sects each and every explaining the reality in their own fashion. Simple folk harvest the flesh of recently dead Gargantuans (that’s how colossal fish are called), cultivate and harvest some edible fungi (yummy), prepare oils, gather ice and melt it into water.

Adventurers? Plenty of stuff to do! There are expeditions attempting to reach other parts of the Ring (usually descend further inbetween skeletons), there are legends of Gargantuans who swallow whole planets, starships or starbases and who are still full of alien artifacts and weapons, there are valuable thing to find, like very strong fish scales, or especially durable fishbone. Sometimes people disappear, and there are legends of very fearsome things living between skeletons…

  • Issues

Man, where to start…

  • Science: Gargantuan animals traveling the void – such a thing couldn’t exist in vacuum. Distances. Air. Gravity. Cold. Solution: Look, a bird! More seriously: no need to care about that, really. This world isn’t mean to last long enough for players to learn about its secrets. Things are like that and the inhabitants of this world simply take them for granted. To them it’s normal, there’s really nothing really peculiar in this big mass of decaying corpses, really.
  • Stench: Damn, it must be overwhelming. Solution: People live there for so long they simply adjusted. They smell no thing. Rebuttal: You don’t have to actually smell some “flavors” for them to influence you. For example, some there are odorless, poisonous gases. Solution: Bucyrus has nothing. Let’s just say “evolution” and get it on with it.
  • Water: There’s plenty of “edible” liquids in corpses, like oil. There’s an abundance of ice – some Gargantuans emerge from the depths of space completely frozen, there are ice meteors and probably the outer layers of “Graveyard” are very, very cold – it’s in the center where warmth is and the civilization thrives.

So, that’d be it for now. The premise is done, all it takes is to develop it a bit more, work on details, throw in some names, titles, interesting places (like “the Cathedral of Bone”). Who knows, perhaps with time the answers for the rest of questions will be provided. Perhaps players will learn that during their adventures?

Rule of thumb: not all answers must be provided. The Game Master is not there to spoonfeed everyone, but to provide a scene and pieces – players are actors and the story is a mutual effort.

So. Was that useful? Bucyrus thinks yes. Let it serve you well. Good gaming!

Setting building: quick and drity

666: character generation, quick, dirty and archetypical

Uh, oh there’s a session starting pretty soon and you forgot to prepare a character. Your GM won’t be very pleased about that.

Damn sure I won't!
Damn sure I won’t!

The worst problem aren’t the rules: you’re skilled enough to quickly roll a few dice, add numbers and finish with perhaps not an overly optimized character, but not that bad either. The real trouble lies in the fact that you don’t really know who to play.

Bucyrus often finds himself in such a situation, partially because of his inability to quickly make up a mind about anything. Yeah, there are such people who like, nay! MUST think about everything for at least a few moments before choosing the right thing. Yes, we’re fun at parties too.

Anyway, to deal with that, Bucyrus uses simplest solution possible, and no it’s not “prepare earlier a crapload of characters for every game/system you might want to play and simply choose one in right time“. No, nothing as such, even though this is a good idea too.

The solution (called “666”) is as follows:

  1. Write down 6 people that come to your mind.
  2. Write down 6 “jobs”
  3. Write down 6 archetypes

Roll 3d6, connect, and build a relevant character according to the game/setting you’re about to play.

“Halt, criminal scum!” you might shout “what if I’ll think about things not supported by the ruleset?”. The thing is, that… They are. Improvise. “A sniper” is “an archer” in a nutshell. “A politician” is “an illusionist”. “Orc” in modern times would be just a big brute with low intellect and high testosterone level. And so on, and so forth.

Shall we? Ok.

A person:

  1. Trent Reznor
  2. Kim Kardashian
  3. Hugh Everett III
  4. That idiot administrator who banned Bucyrus on Reddit… No, wait, that’s hardly a person. More like “job” or “archetype”. Let’s move him to a correct column and replace him with Svetlana, that chick from a local bookstore.
  5. While at that, Svetlana Romanova is fine too
  6. The Beast (from “X-men” comic books)

A job:

  1. A bum (What? Professional bum is damn hard job!)
  2. Space freighter pilot (Bucyrus admits he doesn’t know what exactly “a freighter” is as in “in what way it’s different to any other ship aside of warships perhaps”)
  3. A prostitute
  4. A photographer
  5. An overzealous forum moderator
  6. An assassin

An archetype:

  1. Cold, Terminator-like cyborg
  2. Whiny bitch
  3. A pro
  4. Greedy fuck
  5. A paladin
  6. A junkie

Well now… Rollin’ 3d6. 1,3,5 (huh?. Ladies and gents, let’s meet… Trent Reznor, a prostitute Paladin.

Well... Fuck
Well… Fuck

Ok, heh. Ummm, ok, Bucyrus witnessed weirder character builds. Let’s see… What game? Modern urban horror. Fitting.

The artist known as “Treant” is known of his breathtaking performances featuring deadly looking razors. While the majority of people perceive him as a simple whore, who craves for both attention and money, they don’t realize that Treant serves a higher purpose and gives away the majority of his income to various charitable organizations.

Hmmmm. Might actually work. Not bad. Not bad Mr. Reznor. Thank you for your cooperation.

See? That’s “666” in a nutshell. Nothing new, nothing very creative, still, useful. And kind of fun.

Happy gaming!

666: character generation, quick, dirty and archetypical

Play by Mail – quick and dirty

Playing by Mail (PbM for short) is yet another way to enjoy collaborative storytelling what, while being entirely different, separate activity, shares a lot with role playing games.

Dear diary. Today Mr. Wilde told me about his time in prison. I didn't get the
Dear diary. Today Mr. Wilde told me about his time in prison. I didn’t get the “selling shivs to dem bastards” part.

This may come as a little surprising, but to this day, there’s no defined, default way to play by mail. RPGs are pretty much defined. Even if there are many different alternatives, the typical picture of one guy explaining the story to the rest of players, dice, pencils, charactersheets is the first thing that comes to mind when people discuss the hobby.

So, let’s see how it is done in the group Bucyrus is proud to be part of…

Continue reading “Play by Mail – quick and dirty”

Play by Mail – quick and dirty

Yango the Tiger, or the horror of baneful escort missions

Warning. some sweet, pokemon like things in this article. Proceed at your own risk!

It’s no mystery that escort missions are the scourge of fun, no matter if they happen in video or role playing games.

There’s probably not many things that are more worse than escort missions featuring clueless, clumsy NPC that seems to attract every possible danger there is.

…and there’s probably nothing worst than all of above when the escorted NPC happens to be a kid.

The horror... The horror...
The horror… The horror…

We could theorize about “what”s and “why”s – for example, Bucyrus’ friend, Tamar said she suspects it’s in the nature of males (especially young ones) to treat children with suspicion and reserve, since they remind that it is expected of male to become a father one day. Still, such discussions, missing hard numbers and serious research lead to nowhere. Let’s instead assume that escort mission + clumsy kids = funbreaker.

How to fix that?

Continue reading “Yango the Tiger, or the horror of baneful escort missions”

Yango the Tiger, or the horror of baneful escort missions

Your world…

It’s a magical place, isn’t it?

Tahiti? It surely is.
Tahiti? It surely is.

Glad to hear it. But just between us two…

  • What’s considered the best beverage in your world, according to “the majority”?
  • What color is it? How does it smell? How does it taste? Is there some specific way to serve/drink it? Is there some toast accompanying it? Something to eat/swallow immediately each time you take a sip? Is there something to avoid while drinking? Perhaps there are some people who shouldn’t drink it at all, if so, then who and why?
  • Is there some alternative way to use it? For example, perhaps it’s also poisonous, or used as a medicine? Perhaps it’s volatile enough to make a weapon, or used to establish the connection with “other side”?
  • If one were to overdo it, what are the effects? How does one treats them? Is there a “cure”? Let’s say your character is stranded on a secluded island with nothing aside of this specific drink. How would his organism react after prolonged exposure to it?
  • Where one could get it? Is it available freely, or is it considered “special occasion”? Can Joe the Average simply buy it, or is it purely “privileged class” kind of drink?
  • How much does it cost? Are there different variations? What’s its default container? Usually, how much of it people buy?
  • Let’s assume that your latest character got it from someone he barely knows. What does it mean? Let’s say that he got it from someone that hates him? What would be the reaction of each race (providing there are different races in your world) to such a present? How about people from each social class? …And coming from each religion?
  • By the way, how it’s called by people and what’s its official name? Is it one and the same?
  • Speaking of which, are there some widely known stories regarding this beverage? Perhaps there’s something myth about its creation?

And now, the final question: if you were to answer all those questions… Do you see some way you could incorporate them into a scenario? And adventure built solely around this specific beverage?

Now, take a look around you. Look at any single item. Ask similar questions each time you don’t have a clue about what story to present your players for the upcoming session. Somewhere along the road you should see potential story seeds.

Happy gaming!

Your world…

Help, one of my players steals all the show…

He might advance his character to an overwhelming level of power, courtesy of some mechanical flaw in the game. He might have developed some combination that assures his almost instant victory no matter who the enemy is. He might always come up with some plan and demand for others to strictly follow him because “my way, best way”.

He doesn’t have to be a bad guy. He might not realize what he does. He might not think it that big deal. But so it happens, that there’s this player in your group, that steals all the show, effectively reducing the role of all other characters to being silent bystanders.

My stats...
My sssssshow…

The more you play, the possibility to meet such a guy become closer to 100%.

Dealing with them usually doesn’t take much effort. Simply talking with them, explaining how things are and asking about a little adjustment is what gets the job done.

Still. There are cases where it simply won’t do. Perhaps it’s risky, perhaps there’s no possibility to do that (no time) etc. DMs deal with it in many different ways. Probably each has his own solution he finds the best.

Bucyrus is no different. Among his solutions, three are what seem to work best:

Continue reading “Help, one of my players steals all the show…”

Help, one of my players steals all the show…

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