Sunday, January 8, 2023

Big Fun with Dynamic Lighting in Roll20


I had been doing stuff on Roll20 for a couple of years now, but only now getting around to using dynamic lighting. I have always had an advanced account (that you need to us DL), but that was mostly so my players would not be pestered by ads. 

In my last campaign I refrained from experimenting with it because I was running for mostly masters of the platform, and I did not want to take time to learn as I went with them. I just used Fog of War, which I found functional enough, and pretty nifty. But now that that campaign is done, for the foreseeable future I am going to be doing a campaign with friends I already had. This is a great time to experiment, as the games will be much easier going. I can fuck around without alienating "experts."

The gang is more or less noobish, and when I announced that we would be trying DL out, they were jazzed. We got down to it, and when the time came to go in a cave I did the set up.

I was starting small, just a three or so room complex. As DM your first move is to have the cave walls outlined so vision does not pass through them. You hit all the right buttons in page set up to prepare. 

Then when the characters enter you must go into each characters setting and do up how and what they can see. For those with night vision you enter the distance, along with how much of that distance starts to dim after a certain point. Then you do up torch or lantern users (or light spells) depending on those items capabilities. I like to give firelight a nice yellow glow. 

this is all me looking from a player's POV, but
I also get to see outlines of the complex

This small-scale experiment was good, as I need to work up to the larger dungeon the campaign is heading for. Everybody loved it, but I guess my goal should be for it to eventually become old hat. Second nature. But it really adds a cool element you would be hard pressed to get on a face-to-face tabletop (without thousands of dollars of equipment).

More experiments to come. But so far so good. 


Saturday, December 31, 2022

A GM's interpretation of Grateful Dead's Terrapin Station

People find their fantasy world gaming inspiration in lots of places. Obvious choices (fantasy movies and books) of course. 

Some can be odd. Some years ago I remember some inhabitant of the Dragonfoot forums in a discussion about a warehouse hallway fight in the Daredevil TV show excitedly going on about how that scene was "so D&D." Yeah, most dungeons have hallways. But I could not see how a superhero punching thugs in a hallway was a big D&D inspiration. But what the heck. I remember as a teen visiting my oldest brother, a sort of biker tough guy type,  in his big house in the mountains and on a lark running a D&D session for him and his wife. They had zero expeirence. It did not last more than a couple hours. Big bro had a fighter in the city who was not long in the tavern before starting fights. He ended up killing a summoned city guardsman and ended up in jail. It was all good laughs. Later we were listening to the Desperado album by The Eagles, and he was like "hey, this is like a game!"

Sure, the album told a story. A western themed one for sure. But the only resemblance to D&D was his character getting in trouble with the law in the session. 

But I should not judge. For many years I got a lot of Inspiration from a Grateful Dead album.

In the 90's I was mostly into hip hop and rap. But I went out with a girl from Ren Faire a few months. Heidi was only around 20, but she loved The Grateful Dead, a band that was not on my radar. But on long trips she would jam out to them, and I sort of got into it. I remember going with her and a gal pal of hers to a concert in Oakland, CA. The highlight was them saying we would all take shrooms, but after I took a dose they decided they did not want to so we could drive there. I was flying while they goofed on me. 

My favorite song they did was from Terrapin Station. 

A great concept story album about a kind of mystical train station full of characters, it would eventually tickle my fancy for gaming inspiration. It's not just about characters interacting, but it's equally (or more so) about the teller of the story. The "DM" if you will. 

Here's my breakdown in game terms:

The Lady with a Fan. She has
a challenge for you, good sir...

Let my inspiration flow in token rhyme, suggesting rhythm,
That will not forsake you, till my tale is told and done.
While the firelight's aglow, strange shadows from the flames will grow,
Till things we've never seen will seem familiar.

Characters in front of a fire, or a fireplace. Clearly, they have travelled, and are in unfamiliar surroundings. Kind of adventurous, right?
Shadows of a sailor, forming winds both foul and fair all swarm.
Down in Carlisle, he loved a lady many years ago.
Here beside him stands a man, a soldier from the looks of him,
Who came through many fights, but lost at love.

Tells you a bit about the characters backgrounds. In old school style, its brief. They will be more defined by their experiences than their past. The sailor once loved a woman. It's important, because its mentioned. The soldier also has had his romantic entanglements, but clearly, they did not work out well. One sympathizes. 
While the story teller speaks, a door within the fire creaks;
Suddenly flies open, and a girl is standing there.
Eyes alight, with glowing hair, all that fancy paints as fair,
She takes her fan and throws it, in the lion's den.

GM introduces an NPC. Or is it a monster? A spirit? Or just a magic user. I mean, she comes out of the fire. She's hot, and she wants to give herself to a man. She is among men, and her tossing the fan to them is an invitation. 
Which of you to gain me, tell, will risk uncertain pains of hell?
I will not forgive you if you will not take the chance.
The sailor gave at least a try, the soldier being much too wise,
Strategy was his strength, and not disaster.

The soldier is wary of women. Of love? He is a badass, but has been hurt on an emotional level. He is not into the test. The sailor, maybe remembering that love of the past, wants to gain it again. Whatever the test is, he passes it. I like to think its a D&D style puzzle. 
The sailor, coming out again, the lady fairly leapt at him.
That's how it stands today. You decide if he was wise.
The story teller makes no choice. Soon you will not hear his voice.
His job is to shed light, and not to master.

Sailor gets the enthusiastic lady. Happy ending? You make the call. The story teller makes no choice. he's running the game, man. He must be impartial. Is the game coming to an end though?
Since the end is never told, we pay the teller off in gold,
In hopes he will return, but he cannot be bought or sold.

This story has no end. It's D&D. it goes on an on. Even if the campaign ends, unless somebody dies you never get to the end of their tale. And this DM cannot be bribed with Beer or Doritos. 
Inspiration, move me brightly. Light the song with sense and color;
Hold away despair, more than this I will not ask.
Faced with mysteries dark and vast, statements just seem vain at last.
Some rise, some fall, some climb, to get to Terrapin.
Counting stars by candlelight, all are dim but one is bright;
The spiral light of Venus, rising first and shining best,
On, from the northwest corner, of a brand new crescent moon,
While crickets and cicadas sing, a rare and different tune,
Terrapin Station.

And there's some good metaphysical stuff for yah. 
Like I said, inspiration comes from different places. Don't judge, and maybe one day I will tell you about how a Michael Jackson song greatly influenced a few games of mine in the 90's. 
YMMV. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2022

"Official" D&D vs "Folk"D&D and the pitfalls of playing with strangers

(this post may qualify as a rant. Take it with a grain of salt)

 I've recently been seeing a bit of this lately, the use of the term "Folk" over the usual "Old School" designation.

"Official" is of course the rules (more or less) as written, while "Folk" is a name for people who rely less on whatever the current editions and settings are, and "do what thou whilst" hodgepodge gaming. I like the word Folk for this. The term "Old School" is getting, well, a little old. 

As a D&D person myself, this is sort of hypocritical I guess, but I find gamers, D&D players especially to often be an odd lot. I suppose I always considered myself Old School, but maybe less so in recent years. When I got hipped to the OSR (sometimes derogatively referred to as the "blOwSR") around 2009 or so, I got involved a bit. I started this blog not long after starting a 10-year group where I ran a variety of genres, but mostly 1st edition. I'd say about 60% of that experience was great, and the rest, well, often when more or less unfulfilling, and often the drizzling shits. I feel this is because it was gaming mostly with strangers. Sometimes weird ones. And I found this to my experience with the modern crop of players, especially gained on Roll20 forums. Maybe chock full of more oddballs than Grognard places like Dragonsfoot. 

Most of my gaming life since I was a teen was about me running campaigns, of various genres, for friends I already had. People who often had no real D&D experience. They came in fresh, and just wanted to enjoy the play without a bunch of expectations. Open minded. In any genre I ran. And these were my most happy gaming years. Dungeons and Dragons, Champions, Call of Cthulhu, Runequest, Traveller. Kind of a bummer that this was 20 years and more ago. 

As a teen I knew that playing at game shops or cons was not for me. So many of the people turned me off. 

So as far as 1st ed D&D was concerned, there was no arguing over rules or rulings, whereas in the groups of strangers that I ran for years later that was often the order of the day. So much of 1st was open to interpretation, it was an easy in for power gamers and rules lawyers to work their shitty magic. People who if you gave in to, would, like classic bullies, feel they could do more of it until you were worn down. They were so proud of how they viewed how things should be run.  It was one reason I treasured doing games like Champions or Call of Cthulhu. The rules were fairly clear. But eventually it would be back to D&D and "D&D People" and their particular peccadillos. It was often hard to feel like these people were friends.

When I moved to a new state it was a chance to sort of renew. I adopted 5th edition and had a couple of decent face to face campaigns, the first one was me being tapped to DM by my current beloved besties B and L. I was happy to more or less be turning my back on my old school roots. But my experiences going mostly online with Roll20 the other year was also decidedly mixed. It was mostly with strangers. Because of this I decided to hew close to the rules, but still, no matter the experience or age range, D&D players still seemed to have particular expectations, rather than just going with the flow of whatever the DM had in mind. 

 So, call them old school or new school, call them official or folk. The only main difference to me is that one wants rules as written, and the other ones want something more creative and distinct. But they still often seem to be odd people (yes, I am very much generalizing) with particular expectations. Such as "I want to run a cyborg minotaur gunslinger!" People under 40 on Roll20 are full of this kind of "hey, look at my cool character!"

But even if I stick with 5th ed, it will soon be a "folk" edition. One DnD is going to change everything. WOTC recently and very blatantly announced that the players are an untapped resource to be monetized, so part of their plan is microtransactions that themselves are well known as the drizzling shits of the video game industry. To play it is no longer the DM's who will need written material. Players will need to create online minis for their characters, and I can see a couple of dozen microtransactions for every aspect of it. Face, hair, clothing, every weapon or piece of armor. The colors. What the cost of this stuff will be is what interests me the most. In the past you could buy some paints for about 10 bucks, and a mini for about 5. Will your online mini cost you 30 bucks? 50?

But that is going in a direction that I am not at all interested in otherwise. 

Mostly it turns me off as there will be a lot more work for DM's, and likely a lot more costly for them. They will need to invest a small fortune in DND Beyond, as will the players. And as usual, you will be dealing with fickle players you often do not know along with the cost and time investments. For me, based on my hit or miss Roll20 experiences with the community at large, will it be worth it?

Nah, I will stick with Roll20 and 5th ed for now. Or maybe just try to get a campaign of Call of Cthulhu or a Superhero thing going. A break from D&D people. I think I am maybe starting to head towards being done doing RPG's with non-friends. I have a campaign of infrequent games I run for my local besties B and L, and my old player Terry, which is just great because it is just like those games of old for my friends. No weird expectations. Just D&D. A D&D game once or twice a month with true friends, with my favorite video games in between (this was a super banner year for video game), is starting to seem just right to me. I'm really kind of fed up dealing with strangers in gaming. 

So yeah, this will now be old school or "folk" gameplay for me. Until WOTC buys up Roll20 and other platforms and it is no longer supported. The time is maybe coming when if you don't want to invest in the official stuff, it will have to go back to face to face tabletop. Somewhere you don't need WOTC or their bullshit. That will be the true Folk RPGing. 

Maybe unfortunate for me, as I still feel I want to be retired from face to face. I have boardgames for that.



 much of 

Saturday, December 3, 2022

D&D and the character party Foe Gauntlet


The "Foe Gauntlet." There is probably a better name for it, but regardless, it's a thing. 

Though I am sure it has appeared in various media in history, I think the first time I saw such a thing was in old Spider-Man comics as a kid, where in at least one instance he had to fight each of the Sinister Six enemies, such as Vulture and Doc Ock, one at a time. 

I cannot help but be offended by the derogatory
and racist word Spidey throws at Electro

Then at some point in the Bruce Lee movie Game of Death. The film has a very storied background (look it up), but it inspired the "fight your way through a series of enemies to get to the boss" in video games to be sure. 

I also believe in the Batman story where Bane breaks his spine Bats had to fight through a series of villains set up by Bane to soften him up for the final fight. 

and it went down at ComiCon so
nobody really noticed it happened

And I remember Hulk Hogan doing something similar in his earlier WCW appearances against the Dungeon of Doom (a good idea with terrible execution). 

Pre-Attitude Era wrestling was pretty crappy

One time I did such a thing in a game, that I can remember, was in a solo game I ran in the 90's for one of the players in my Champions game. It was a Bourne Identity type character. He had developed his own little Rogues Gallery of foes over a couple years of campaigns, and for a solo outing a "gauntlet" sounded like an easy thing to game master. His foes were mostly non-powered dudes, like martial artists and a trio of former pro wrestlers who were getting into the mob enforcer business. I remember the character being worn down in several fights throughout the city, ending up fighting the wrestler trio in the foamy surf at the shore in Venice Beach. Then he fought the big bad and barely won the fight. 

So the idea came to me for the DnD characters in my current Roll20 campaign. The night the party arrived with a caravan to "Lemon Tree" (my stand in for Apple Lane), Gengle (my stand in for Gringle) the pawnbroker was negotiating with the Vaishino snake people. The negotiations went bad, and the creatures took out their anger on the surrounding area which included the caravan the party was camping at. That fight went OK for them, and they got thier long rest through the night. But the next morning the long day (which including the pawnshop assault that night), that would last several games, began.

The caravan left and the party walked down the hill to the village. Therein lay the first fight. Several Vaishino warrior jumped out of tree to attack. No problem. Then the party went to the Tin Inn. Several members of the Biglaugh the Centaur gang (whose gang members in the original material were all Dragonnewts and such, but I had it be just human bandits in mine) came into the tavern for a morning eye opener, and of course got into it with the party. Not a big deadly fight, but still, the party had to use resources for. 

A couple of those bandits were immediately thrown into jail by Dronlon the Sherriff, and by early afternoon Biglaugh and company caused small fires and ruckus' around the village while the prisoners were released, and the characters had to fight them off. 

So by early afternoon the party had three conflicts, and with the pawnshop scenario coming up by night fall, they had no chance for the beloved by 5th ed player's long rest. They had to go into that shop assault fairly depleted. 

I loved the concept, but you can probably count on players NOT to love it. They like to have their resources in a fight. And for the pawnshop those resources were mostly used up. Especially healing. 

It was a harrowing building-based combat that went on for almost 3 sessions. I felt it was all pretty dramatic, and at the end a couple of players had their severely wounded characters lean up against a wall and exhale in relief. But overall it was clear, I loved the concept more than them. But that's players for you, especially the more modern ones. 

They really feel entitled to a long rest after any kind of fight. 

YMMV. Cheers. 

The Question of Race in D&D and other Woke issues


So I read yesterday that they will be removing the term "race" from D&D.

I'm not here to rant on that. You can go to The RPG Pundit's Blog, or Venger Satanis', or any number of more conservative (does it sound logical for a satanist to be conservative? I mean, is "do what thou whilst" conservative?) spots for more passion about it. Me? I get over these things fairly easily. 

I mean, race was never the proper term. And "species" seems more appropriate, though sounds more science-fictiony. I recently had to go through the "no more racial modifiers" thing with my Roll20 material. And you know what? I love those race-based modifiers, but in the grand scheme of things? I just want to run games and make fun for others. So now you get plus 2 to something and plus 1 to something. Big whoop. Let the players decide if a mod is based on what they are. 

The main thing that irks me is how the left wants very badly to instill real world race issues into gaming. They are the ones who decided orcs and drow represent black people. It's kind of tragi-comic how the left seems to actually be the ones with racist thoughts. But whatevs.  

I'm fairly on the left for many social issues. Things I can't believe we still have to talk about in this day and age. Gay marriage. Legalization of marijuana. But I lean more to the center on most other things. Though I believe there is a lot of racism in the country (no worse than most other nations), I think the current wokist ideals at their heart include a lot of racial grift and liberal profiteering. Indoctrination of children into believing they are racists at heart and their reading of way too many Twitter posts on the issues are making them do things they will one day regret. I mean, those dicks don't grow back after you cut them off. 

The regular Roll20 campaign I've been doing for months does not seem to have especially woke players, though I don't try to test them on it. But I have tried a couple of campaigns that were nonstarters that were made up of folk heavy on the pronouns. It's bad enough that in a lot of cases off the Roll20 forums you will get people who want to go by nicknames that are awkward for me to call them, like Morpheus, Goat Cheese, or Sucknuts, but toss in an endless variety of pronouns and it starts to get kind of surreal. I'm open to learning more about people, but for games I just want to call people Mary or Joe as our campaigns roll along. DMing can be stressful enough without worrying that using the terms "He" or "She" might be taken as ignorance. 

Again, whatevs. I'm accepting of le differance. When I left SoCal I had a transgender neighbor, and she was the first person who called me when I moved to a new state to see how I was doing. My friendship there sort of opened my eyes to more acceptance of differences. 

But the long and short of it is I just want to run a game that is fun for all. I don't want all these worries of the real-world intruding. I want orcs to be nasty and evil, and I want everybody to hate them. Even other orcs. 

YMMV. Cheers. 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Apple Lane Again and Again


Over the years I have posted about my use of the old Runequest Apple Lane setting. Multiple times. For both its intended Glorantha setting, and my D&D homebrew world. Some names get changed up, and other details (mostly to prevent internet lookups by players), but basically present it as is. I renamed the town "Lemon Tree," for example. 

This is a location in my world that runs on Negative Continuity. In other words, different players have gone there again and again over the decades, and only minor changes will be there, usually left over from the previous campaigns. Like when a female character married a major NPC. But most things just do a soft reboot. The Pawnshop gets assaulted on the full moon again and again. Sometimes by baboons, sometimes by orcs. Or in the recent games. Vaishino, a type of serpent people introduced in Magic the Gathering. 

I was looking for something new to for the Pawnshop Scenario, and stumbled across these fierce reptilians. I imagined them easily being able to scramble up walls and across the roof of the shop.

I had designed the entire campaign to lead up to the Pawnshop scenario, followed by the Rainbow Mounds. A couple of the characters at chargen came up with an NPC, Billy, a fellow villager they grew up with. They would be going out in the world to look for him, armed with only a few clues. Intending to lead up to the Rainbow Mounds, I would put Billy in there, captured and charmed by Adorra, an Enchantress NPC who got involved with previous characters in another campaign almost 10 years ago and got magically trapped within the mounds. 

Anyway, the campaign, which I called "Trade and Turpitude", was mostly up to this point a caravan guarding series of games, leading up to the characters being dropped off in Apple Lane, uh, I mean Lemon Tree.

With the Pawshop encounter being the showpiece at this point in the campaign, I wanted to work up to it. I placed Lemon Tree in the Eastern Highands of the southern shires (in previous campaigns I was not calling the area highlands yet) and I wanted the area to have a decidedly Glorantha flavor. People almost living in a bronze age, and worshipping older gods not usually associated with the Kingdom. So Issaries, the trade god the pawship owner worships, or the Sheriffs deity Orlanth, are influential in this area. It's part of the kingdom, but no tax collector ever comes to call. 

The Pawnshop encounter went well, I think, though it took 3 sessions to finish. For reasons I think I might explore in my next post, the PC's came into the evening pretty beat up from several encounters that day. Also, the encounter also involved the NPC's Relanis and Demul who I have mentioned before. the party is very divided about these NPC's, so as always they added a little extra tension. It was a hard fight, probably the toughest I've done for the pawnshop encounter, over several games, but they won. 

I love that I can go online and find pretty decent maps of the area and the pawnshop. This was my first time doing it electronically. All the others were of course done on grease mats. That was always  a lot of work.

I added all the numbers...

"come visit relaxing Apple, Lemon Tree"


Sunday, November 6, 2022

The Encounter that what was meant to suck, but Didn't

 Besides my regular Roll20 campaign, "Trade and Turpitude," I've been doing a little campaign for my besties every few weeks. My old Friend and player "T" back in Los Angeles, and the younger couple who sort of adopted me when I moved to a new state, "B and L." I met them when they were looking for a DM to start a campaign, and when that campaign ended after maybe 15 sessions, I stayed friends with them because in all honesty they were the only players I didn't pretty much hate. Heh. And they were so good to me, I held on to them like grim death. They spend most of the year on the road travelling the country but were recently visiting town for a couple weeks. They took me to a couple of great shows, a showing of Ghostbusters with full orchestra lead by Elmer Bernstein's son, and a local theater doing Evil Dead the Musical. 

But while they are on the road we do some online stuff. Like digital Talisman, and now some Roll20.

I love B and L, but they are not what you would call outgoing players. They are fairly reserved. At least compared to my regular players in the other campaign. So after a couple of games in the campaign I showed them a "50 character questions" thing my player Mary gave everybody in the other campaign. Just basic things to flesh out a character. I even use it for some NPC's. I thought it would help B and L get a better handle on their characters, allowing them to be more at ease with basic role-playing. 

After a few weeks they hadn't done it. So I decided to "punish" them. Not really, but I thought I might put them through the ringer with a heavy role-playing situation that would test them, and maybe open them up a bit. But like a lot of chances a DM takes, it might well suck. But the point was to get them to come out a bit. I'm not looking for community theater, but its more fun if players can improv a bit with you. 

So I was going to be using a free Roll20 adventure for an easy-going session. It's called The Festival of Emerelda. It comes with a map of a whimsical fairground. 

Not a lot of content is there. The most obvious are some audio tracks featuring the halfling witch Emerelda and some of the festival event barkers, but they don't work great. In one instance uploading the tracks deleted all the other tracks in my Roll20 jukebox. 

As far as the festival, the contests involving drinking, arm wrestling, and other things were not really working for me as far as the rules and presentation of the games. But I mostly made up my own rules that suited me. The map has some things, like an owlbear chained up with a food bowl, and some Griffons in a pen, all things you can wing it to have some fun with. What interested me was a tent with a couples game, A Suitors Claim. The rules didn’t tickle me for this, so I decided to change it up, and at the same time put my reluctant role-players on the spot with it. 

T was running a fairly outgoing bard, but I would make an example of B and L. I would put them into this heavy role-play contest as a trial by fire. I decided to make it like a 70's dating game show. The party was divided up by two males and two females, so it was perfect. They were split into two sides and they would have to ask questions of each other. The audience would be played by me, and my reaction to the questions and answers would dictate the couple that would finally win. 

Each one of them got 5 questions of varying levels of intimacy, and each character would choose 3 of them to ask. Here are some examples of the questions I came up with:

1)      do you still have feelings for any of your exes? Tell me about it.

2)       What's the worst advice someone else has ever given you?

3)      What do you think happens when you die?

4)      Get up and Dance like your life depends on it for one minute.

5)      Lick a bar of soap.

 Describe the weirdest thing you've ever done while inebriated or impassioned

What's one thing in your life you wish you could change?

What's something you've done that you'd judge someone else for doing?

Put on womens clothing and walk through the crowd

Eat a teaspoon of mustard

I found a jazzy lounge type music in the jukebox to go along with the game. 

And it was on. So, I figured B and L would hem and haw and have a tough time with the improv. I imagined I would be cutting it off in 10 minutes, B and L having learned that they need to get more in touch with their characters just for the sake of role play. I mean, not so much to interact with me, but at least all the players need to be able to communicate openly with each other in rpgs. I got it going and was prepared for it to bomb. 

Here's the crazy thing. It didn't. OK, B was kind of hesitant. His male sorcerer was teamed up with Evador the female cleric, an outgoing rich girl. Seeing that B's shy sorcerer was having trouble with the questions, she assured him it was alright. She asked him the less embarrassing questions, not worried about winning the 50 GP prize money. This seemed to kind of spark an understanding between the two. Still, B rose to the occasion a bit, nicely answering a question about the most embarrassing thing he did drunk (getting naked on a chilly hunting trip).

T and L were far more outgoing. T was running her beautiful Elvish bard Xanthia, and L was running her male elf ranger Myrnigan, a character she created as being very dumb but a bit of a womanizer. With those traits I really wanted L to come out of shyness closet with this character, and with the help of Xanthia she did. Myrnigan and Xanthia asked each other the most challenging questions, and asked each other to perform outrageous acts, like duck quacking and dancing around for a minute. "Lick this bar of soap." They had such great fun with this and were highly entertaining. They of course won the prize. 

So what was supposed to be a minor encounter that bombed, this ended up taking most of the three-hour session! I never expected B and L to enjoy a game with almost no action, but they loved it. I tested them and they passed with flying colors despite my expectations. 

I take chances with sessions here and there over the years, doing something that I know has a decent chance of bombing, but it is so satisfying when your fears turn out to be unfounded. And in this case especially, a couple of reserved players came out of their shells a bit. Gotta love it.