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.

misc-blake
…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:

misc-skeletalfish
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

Gentlemen, all your DMs belong to us

Edit: Bucyrus cleaned this article a bit. Writing under the influence of pain numbing medicine isn't the best solution.

It’s no mystery that tools and accessories we use to get the job done somewhat determine the way we work, influence our thinking and such, at least to some extent. The easiest way to check it is to write a 1000 words long text in modern word processor such as MS Word and in some Zen Editor like Write Monkey.

Ouuuuuuum, mani, padme, hum... Fuck! People are still dicks...
Ouuuuuuum, mani, padme, hum… Fuck! People are still dicks…

Recently, instead of playing a regular session we discussed the way rpg systems influence ourselves. It must be observed that Role Playing Games are a little tricky, at least from the point of view of the Storyteller. See, they belong to that realm of things defining YOURSELF rather than being just an addition to what you are.

For example, if you’re a taxi driver, you’re not defined by that. You go home and you’re a parent, a husband, Joe – the friendly neighbor, or that guy who reads the Holy Bible each Sunday in our church.

But there are jobs that you simply can’t put aside. You can’t stop being a fighter the moment you leave your dojo – in fact, you never leave it. A fighter is what you are all the time. You can’t stop thinking about light and shadows and scenery when you’re a professional photographer. Certainly there’s some acting in your daily life when you’re a very good actor.

Same case with being a veteran Storyteller. It’s what you are.

When you participate in some situation, it might later come back as an event in your scenario. Interesting choice of words during a random, overheard discussion? Mental note: that will be said by my next Big Bad Evil Guy. Charming person? Say “hello” to new NPC and so on, and so forth.

And here’s where “accessory” part steps in.

See, there are many games and each stands for a certain model of reality. Some force us to perceive the world through numbers, some prefer long descriptions, other are fine with short, but descriptive “tags”.

It’d be actually interesting to learn in what way and to what extent they determine our perception and by proxy – the reality we live in.

Bucyrus realizes that he constantly (and only semi-consciously) observes the world from the perspective of potential horror scenario. How about the drunken driver was really possessed? What if the hospital is haunted and by what? What if the silence coming from behind the wall means that the neighbor finally strangled his wife to death (or the opposite, she looked like quite a strong lady all things considered)?

The perception isn’t static. It can be changed, it can be influenced. Why not because of role playing games?

Gentlemen, all your DMs belong to us

Play the role, not the game

People often discuss the alleged imbalance of various games or mechanics. There’s one argument that is almost sure to come up during such discussions. It’s, more or less, along the lines of “there’s an option X, that’s either crippling the game, or I’ll be crippling my character if I won’t take it”.

It doesn’t matter what the option is. Perhaps it’s fighter’s ability to hack through hordes of enemies with little to no sweat at all. Perhaps it’s hunter’s move allowing him to launch rain of arrows on enemies. Perhaps it’s some sort of magical trick allowing wizards to become equivalent of fireball shooting fantasy machine guns.

The point is, that the option is so good, that literally everyone is supposed to take it, unless they want to resign from an advantage during every combat what, in turn, unfortunately, is one of most important elements of almost each and every role playing game out there.

Alas poor highwayman worth 200 experience points who dropped a petty loot, I knew him well...
Alas, poor randomly encountered highwayman worth 200 experience points who dropped a petty loot, I knew him well…

People often spend long time testing and selecting the best combination of skills and abilities, in hope to prepare as competent characters as possible. That’s what “character optimization” is and there’s nothing wrong in that. Actually, despite what some might say about “power gamers”, who squeeze all the juice from game’s mechanics, it’s merely a self-preservation instinct in action. You know, the same thing that drives us, people and influences fuckton of choices we make in our lives.

Bucyrus speculates, that it’s all about the comfort zone.

See, unless you’re playing the game relying on the philosophy of player characters eventually dying or descending into madness (Call of Cthulhu, Unhallowed Metropolis to name some), character’s safety is very vital to his player.

After all, like it was told earlier – it’s no mystery that combat is what matters most in role playing games. You can’t stand on your own, you’re risking your character’s death, or worse, what equals being kicked out of the game (and in many circumstances there’s a serious problem with an introduction of a brand new character to the story).

So, it shouldn’t come as surprising, that some people simply refuse to play incompetent characters.

Unfortunately this leads to a few different problems – players put more effort into their characters’ optimization than to making them something more than 2-dimensional paper silhouettes. Because of that, their characters seem to be all clones of one another, and strangely similar to this or that character taken from some work of fiction, be it an action movie, manga, or a video game. And this begets a strange feedback (is this a correct expressions for an effect of any given action influencing back its initiator?) – powerful player characters demand from the Game Master to spend more time preparing challenging tactical encounters, making them longer, slower, more complicated… In the end, potential Role-Playing Game scenario becomes Roll-Play arena like set of tactical encounter, with waves of enemies attacking player characters.

It’s an oversimplification, there’s more to this “feedback” thing than that, but you surely get the point.

So what to do about it? How to leave the comfort zone, resign from the power, settle for something inbetween – a character that is not an incompetent imbecile, but also far from being the god walking among mere mortals?

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to “fix” that. All it takes is an agreement with the GM. “So, buddy, we’re gonna prepare an unoptimized BUT FUN and original characters, very different to Ranger #34785634 or Druid-Paladin #12323435, but you have to promise, you won’t kill our characters unless we’re gonna do something very stupid and you’ll be forced to commit a mercy kill“.

That’s really it.

Try it for once if you didn’t already. Switch from fighting Tarrasque and hordes of dragons to slaying a band of goblins. Instead of unleashing all hell’s fury, try to get away with a few rudimentary spells. Rather than saving the world, save the local village. Focus more on solving the scenario, rather than hacking your way through it. Play, actually PLAY the role of Paladin, rather than redefine the class you selected because of its boons and advantages (oh, it’s entirely in nature of Paladins to kick beggars, if they are EVIL beggars).

There’s really fun in that, even if that’s sooooo far from legendary-level fights that became your (kind of) chore.

Now, Bucyrus is no idiot – of course there’s a plenty of temptation for both GM and Players to overuse this agreement and change the session into either pure horror where every tactical encounter is a risky, total-party-kill possibility, or boring “I resigned from power so every door is supposed to open wide before me now”.

To that, unfortunately there’s no quick fix. Cheaters gonna cheat, no matter what.

Still, there’s a chance that you’re playing with people mature enough to stay true to their word, and honor the agreement, in which case: good gaming to you.

Play the role, not the game

Who shall inherit the Earth?

Aaaaaaaah, Mad Max, the movie. To be honest, Bucyrus doesn’t understand why it is called “Mad Max”, how does it fit into the other Mad Max movies, and why EVERYONE, including the engine of warmachines was given more appearance and dialogue than Max himself.

Still, great movie nevertheless.

One thing caught the attention of Bucyrus. See, typical depiction of post-apocalyptic world is usually like this:

max-menYou know, band of strangely dressed, psychotic MEN roaming the world, terrorizing everyone, cannibalizing and sodomizing everything what isn’t fast enough to runaway. Also, for some weird reason people consider male offspring to be valuable, even if it’s exactly the opposite, since every woman is expected to have at least a few kids.

Anyway. Let’s think for the moment:

  • The majority of soldiers? Men.
  • The majority of whatever forces are dispatched to “control the situation” (be it police, peace corps etc). Men.
  • Who is expected to volunteer for dangerous activity? Men.
  • Who comes up with and usually executes reckless plans? Men.

On the other hand…

  • Who is more patient? Women.
  • Who is expected to stay there, guard kids and resources? Women.
  • Who lacks typical skills and physique to be selected for dangerous jobs? Women.

Conclusion: in case of a war-scenario Armageddon, the world will feature decimated population of males. In fact, it will look probably more like this:

Think about that for the moment while constructing your vision of future’s Earth. Think about that…

Who shall inherit the Earth?

Playing with children

Bucyrus spent last a few days in hospital. All friends were busy and couldn’t pay a visit, so in the meantime a few new ones were made – in the wing where children with cancer resided.

Bucyrus taught children how to play some tiny games like “Everyone is John”, and even attempted to sell them on some simple OSRs – at least those he was able to explain under no longer than half of an hour.

That was quite an interesting experience. Bucyrus learned something very important – all this crap we’re talking about in context of RPGs isn’t really that important. Undeniable, honest joy expressed by newbies matters. Being thankful for the possibility to forget about the reality – even if it’s only momentary – is what matters.

Playing with children every once and a while is good.

Strong recommendation.

Playing with children

Great Cities campaign part 04 – One night in Alhambra

Little players knew that Bucyrus had plans for their little troupe. See, it’d take long time to recall all those awesome moments that happened when nothing really was happening – the tension between party members, the struggle of players to understand their own characters, spontaneous channeling of their Aspects…

So much things happened during those five or six sessions.

Bucyrus might be accused of many things, but there’s one field where he shines: reading people. From observation it was clear that the party was imbalanced, at least from the perspective of its members. See, there were three very sure, very capable, very resourceful girls and only one guy – Max, who strayed from his initial “crusader” path to “conspiracy theorist”, what made him a bit unreliable and kind of obsolete.

So, Bucyrus asked a friend to join his group at least for a single session and help him to create a positive equilibrium. His idea of a player character? Guy Pearce’s character in Prometheus movie. Great movie by the way.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

His version of Weyland was much younger than the one featured in the movie. We’re talking about someone resembling Elon Musk, in his pre-Tesla, oh so famous period, still struggling to commit some great invention and make a name for himself (is that a correct expression? When one attempts to become famous and rich…?).

So, Weyland was a hard working, “settle for nothing short of success” kind of guy. Both charming and ruthless when it was required, he was supposed to play the role of “black sheep”, “strange bedfellow” who – through his actions – forces the party into strengthening their ties.

His reasons to be there? Scientific conference organized in the middle of Gibraltar. His purpose in joining the crew? Unspecified. Lion was his friend and Weyland “owed” something to him. There was also a promise of getting some information relevant to Weyland’s interests – enough to risk a short stray from his path of glory…

Continue reading “Great Cities campaign part 04 – One night in Alhambra”

Great Cities campaign part 04 – One night in Alhambra