Monday, December 28, 2009

Leveling up? Call me "Captain Generous"

If it is a problem, it has been with me since I was a kid. We played a lot in the 80's, but using D&D's experience rules just took too damn long for a PC to go up. Didn't matter if we played every week or every day; it just seemed to take too long to me.

I've always done my best to go by the book where characters are concerned, but I was never able to resist fudging experience. Even though I always gave copious amounts for things like role-playing and entertaining me, it just never seemed like enough.

When I started a new group last year (after several years off to pursue more interest in my lint collection), we decided that three to three and a half hours on a Wednesday night would be best for our adult schedules. So now it was going to take forever and a day for a character to go up, right? Screw that.

First off, since the mid-90's I have let 1st level PC's go up to 2nd level in their first game. Didn't matter if we play for three hours or half that. Your weakling went out, looked in a hole, and swung a sword at whatever lurked inside, then *wham* you are now second level as the chairs are being folded up and the beer bottles hauled out to the bin. Nobody spent more than one session at 1st level.

I fudge the hell out of exp. after that 1st level. I usually take a look at how much a PC needs to go up, think about all that they did in the game and what challenged them and what life experiences they had, then jot down a number I think is right. I don't look in a book. Sometimes it's big, sometimes it's small. In the last game a 5th level female PC lost her virginity. I gave her almost 5 grand for that (a guy would get twice that. C'mon, it's tougher for guys).

Some of the estimates I see online indicate around 13 - 15 game sessions to go up. Man, if only there was that kind of free time in the world. Right now saying I run 24 session a year would be a generous number. In the better part of the 90's, when I ran 5-8 hour sessions once a month at most, people would almost never go up in a campaign unless I fudged it.

I like for it to take 3-6 game to go up after 1st level. Getting a level around every 2-3 months or thereabouts doesn't seem like overkill to me. After about 24 or so sessions since we started late last year, the highest character is at 8th level. 8th level after one crime has been committed, has it?

I think a trade-off in my games is that I tend to end a campaign at around 8th or 9th level, then those guys go into "semi-retirement" and a new campaign with new characters gets started. I have no "end game." Very often, "retired" PC's get dragged into the current campaign at a certain point. The exception to that may be my current campaigns change of direction into a second year. I'm sending those now high level dudes into the Night Below adventure. Imagine how fast they will go up now!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I hate it when a plan doesn't come together

Had to cancel the Mutant Future 1st game session last night due to somewhat weird circumstances. At the last minute Dan's fiance had a death in the family, Ben 2.0 emailed and said he had a cold at the last minute (yeah, that's usually my top excuse to get out of shit. Gonna call in sick to work tomorrow with a "cold"), and then the nuttiest one. It was going to be just me, Andy, and Paul. Paul is a fairly timid young 20 yr. old, a long time Warcraft player new to tabletop. He showed up, saw that the house seemed quiet, stood outside for 20 minutes, then decided we had totally cancelled and left. This is a guy who had to take a bus to Santa Monica from West Hollywood (bit of a ride), and he went home without even knocking on the door. No call, nothing. Good guy, and up for anything we play, but that was just damn weird.

So no December last game o' the year. Shit. Group of six players and could not get enough for one damn game for year's end. Aw well. See ya in January...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Housin' Mutant Future

In yesterday's post, I outlined the setting and set-up for my Metamorphosis Alpha game using Mutant Future. So here are a few house rules I'm going to use. I want to use the rules as-is as much as possible, but I needed some tweaking to make it fit into how I like to GM things. I have a very difficult time refraining from modifying rules, and it's nice that this game's design makes it easy to add your own ingredients.

First off, I'm leaving out alignment. I just don't want to deal with it in this game, and I personally don't think it fits. I don't think the players will mind.

I want going up in level to mean a bit more. I noticed that some good mutations include drawbacks, so going up in level might alleviate some of that. For example, a mutant human character one of my players rolled up has disintegrate. When used, you get knocked out and go down to 1 hit point. Ouch. But there is hope. I may have the hit points he gets knocked down to be equal to his level, and maybe after 4th level I'll give him a saving throw to go down to only half his points and not get knocked out. A lot of mutations can be level-tweaked like this, and I'm going to wing it as best I can.

Also, I wanted to come up with my own level bonus chart. Here it is.

Experience Level Bonus

D6 Bonus
1-2 +1 hit and damage w/ attack of choice
3 +1 attack per round w/ attack of choice (not usable with powerful mutations)
4-5 +1 to random stat
6 +1 to stat of choice

Obviously, in my game you'll get much less chances to have extra attacks. I just think that getting extra attacks in everything every two or three levels is a bit much.

OK, now this hot potato. I'm including skills. I don't want them to be a big part of the game (just like in my D&D), but I'm just compelled to do so.

Character skills

Pure humans begin with half their intelligence (round up) in skill slots.
Mutant humans begin with half their intelligence (round down) in skill slots.
Mutant plants begin with one-third of their intelligence in slots (round down)

Acting /Performance: stage, musical instrument, puppetry, etc. (mutant must use two slots)
Animal handler: might include stable skills, cattle or sheep husbandry, etc.
Blacksmith: with proper facilities can work with metal, including weapons creation. Can work iron into steel (three slots and unavailable to mutants)
Boating: operate and repair small boating craft in Europa’s rivers and lakes
Farming skills: adept at growing food.
Fishing: +1 to fishing attempts, and ability to create fishing gear from simple materials
Gambling: get a small bonus in most gambling situations (mutants must use two skill slots)
Knowledge: general knowledge of an area/place the characters is not originally from
Riding: character is especially adept (+1) at riding horses or other animals
Simple weapon craft: can create weapons from wood, stone, and bone (no metal work)
Stealth: +1 when trying to move silent or hide
Survival: minor hunting skills and living off the land (usually not applicable to non-mammals)
Tactics: (not usually available to mutants) usable when dealing in combat with 10 or more allies present
Tracking: +1 when tracking things in the wild
Trade/Haggle: usable in trading situations (mutants use two slots)
Transport familiarity: can drive and repair carts and wagons of various sizes
Weapons skill: +1 hit and damage with weapon/attack of choice (all PC’s use two slots for this)

None of these skills are going to have a big affect on play. Even little weapons bonus' won't make that big of a difference. Now, when crew members or characters from other, higher tech society levels come into play, I'll need to rethink skills. But for now, these will do for people of a dark ages level.

That's about it. It looks like only three players are showing up for the game tomorrow, so I'm hoping to wow them with this excellent old school-style game. I hope it's good enough to make the other players wish they had been there!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mutant Future on the Starship Warden

As I've mentioned in previous posts, my current AD&D 1st ed. group has being going strong for over a year, and I feel it is time to do as I always do with a group I put together for my D&D world - introduce a back-up alternate game genre. I'm going to do that this coming Wednesday night with Mutant Future.

As a kid running a bit of Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World, Mutant Future appealed to me (and I didn't have to buy anything. I'm Scottish, ye ken?), and I've wanted to do some Met. Alpha again for years, so I thought I'd just do MA with the MF rules.

I'll start things off on the "Valley" level that the inhabitants call "Europa," a place more or less at a dark ages social and technological level. Three major international groups had colonist towns on this level and are now the largest populations of pure strain humans - Irish, German, and Italian. In the several hundred years since the "cataclysm," these groups have maintained many ethic features of their own. The Irish descendants are in a wooded area town of "Dublin" and are hunters and archers. The Germans, or "Germanans" whose original colonists mined large deposits of raw iron placed in the northern part of the level, are much like ancient Germanic warriors, and pure humans from there would start with metal weapons. The Italians, who originally were made up of many historians and anthropologists, have evolved their town into a mini-Roman empire with togas and higher learning and all. The people of "Nova Roma" tend to be more educated, and they created the monetary/trade system of the Valley. The Nova Romans have a gladiator arena, and often force mutant slaves and monsters to fight it out for entertainment.

Gypsies and savage hill people round out the PSH population.

To the humans of Europa, iron is the greatest commodity. Without it, you have to rely on weapons and armor of wood, bone, and stone. These items break easily.

Mutations are thought of as curses from the "bad times," and the three major pure human communities tend to cast out and chase off any obvious mutants. So most mutants live in the wild, except for the few who have created the mutant colony, a mutant town with a flop house and a public house for anyone willing to stay there, all run by mutants. Just like I would for any D&D town or village, I've come up with a few interesting NPC's the players might encounter. As I expect most if not all of the players to run mutants, the mutant colony will likely be the home base for the "Europa" portion of this campaign.

The NPC who will bring them all together is "Garth," a middle aged travelling scholar who is actually an original crew member, unfrozen a year or so ago, who is trapped on the level and trying to get out (the doors and elevators have long gone into malfunction - opening on their own briefly every 1-100 days). He is a high ranking electrical engineer, and he wants to get back to the command deck to meet up with his fellow crew members (and perhaps captain) to work on restoring more ship systems. So he will ruse the characters into questing around with him, and hopefully after three or four games in the Valley, lead PC's to other parts of the ship. Besides a mini-computer "Mother Box," Garth carries a plasma pistol that he wants to keep quiet from players. It'll only have a couple shots left, as Garth has had to protect himself while in Europa.

So Garth will probably encounter and hire the players at the public house in the Mutant Town, and go in search of tools and crew badges to get out of the level with. Yeah, I'm starting out with a standard D&D type meet n'greet.

I haven't really thought much more out than that. I'm hoping to get the party to Nova Roma and into some arena combat somehow. I also have a "necromanser" (misspelled on purpose) in a "castle" in the hills who can create undead that I want to be encountered somehow. I even want to use the all-18 stat PSH "jungle girl" described in the original Metamorphosis sample valley level. The hunt for crew badges can lead to all of that.

I can see in the future having the party go between decks, learn that they are on a giant starship, and perhaps get recruited in the quest to save the ship.

I am fairly successful so far in not revealing the true nature of the environs to the players in this pre-game stage of discussing characters. Nobody seems to know I am basically doing Metamorphosis Alpha. I'm not allowing androids or robots as characters yet, and as far as the first characters are concerned, these things don't exist in my game. Once characters go to other levels and learn the nature of the environs, I will allow dead characters to be replaced by androids or crew members.

A few weeks ago I got together with a couple of players to work on characters. One wanted a mutant human originally from Dublin (he doesn't have obvious mutations, but does sort of look like he has Downs Syndrome or something), and the other a mutant tree from the wild. The human rolled teleport, disintegrate, thermal vision, and as a bad mutation ended up with slow movement, basically letting him only do things every other turn.

The mutant tree got acid blood, shriek, and thermal vision. He also ended up with a bad one, fast aging. Despite somewhat crippling bad mutation, both players were happy with their characters, which is a good sign. I'm going to have a month equal a year for the tree as far as growing is concerned, so it might be interesting to see how big he gets if the campaign goes on for a long time.

The randomization of mutations was done as given in the rules, and I like they way it worked out. I can't wait for another player or two to roll up a mutant. I do hope somebody runs a pure strain human, though. I can't tell them that eventually the pure humans can command robots and get other perks, so they seem like sort of bland characters compared to mutants. But there are advantages in terms of equipment and weapons and wealth for the pure humans, so hopefully that will entice somebody to go the "pure" route.

Game day is just a couple days away, and I'm still trying to decided on my house rules. I don't want to change too much, but I want to have some rulings about the particular mutations (especially teleport). I also want to have going up in level mean a bit more, and maybe tie that in to mutations improving as well. Guess I better get on that stuff...

As and old dog who never strayed too far from D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and Champions, it's pretty exciting to face running a brand new game to me. Tonight I'll finish up my small amount of house rules, and post them tomorrow. After that, it'll be the big test Wednesday night. Not all my players are totally excited about me running anything other than the AD&D campaign they are enjoying so much. I hope it wins them over enough to be an alternate game they won't bitch about having to play when some players are missing for D&D.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why do rainy days make me want to game?

If rainy days AND Mondays always get you down, you’d be hating life in Southern California today.

For what seems like the first time in years, it is raining heavy today in Los Angeles. Here in Venice Beach, the home of the homeless and day laborers, the smell of old urine and unfulfilled dreams are being washed out into Santa Monica Bay along with around 18 tons of sewage, McDonald’s wrappers, and body parts.

For as long as I can remember, rainy days have made me think of two things. One – my several visits to Scotland with my parents when I was young. Sometimes on a rainy day, when I pass a house with a fireplace, the combinations of scents takes me right back to the cobbled streets of my mom’s ancient home town of Sterling. The second thing the rain makes me think of is gaming.

I know for sure that for decades whenever it was raining outside, or if I heard it was going to rain, I would immediately think “Oh man, I gotta work on the next game a bit tonight.” Something about it just stirs my imagination. There is a lot to be said of the famous literary story opener “It was a dark and stormy night…”

The only thing better than sitting in a cozy spot and working on an upcoming game when it is rainy outside is actually running a game when it is raining outside. It’s weird, even when I can’t smell it, hear it, or see it, the fact that it is just raining gives me so much inspiration and pep in the gaming process. I think some of my most brilliant “performances” as a GM occurred when it was wet outside. If I could run a game right next to an open door (as I usually do, standing up the entire session, with my latest group) where I can see and feel the downpour, all’s the better. Of course, it hasn’t rained on game night in the last year or so of this group, but that’s global warming for you.

OK, a cool clear night with a full moon is pretty bitchin’ for gaming too, but I like rain the best.

Bruno “Rainman” Mac

Friday, December 4, 2009

“The Hellpits of Nightfang” – it changed my world.

A recent posting about Paul Jaquays got me thinking about my fondness for his work (especially when I was a kid) for D&D and Runequest. I suddenly remembered Jaquays’ Hellpits adventure, and it reminded of how much it entered into my particular game world in the 80’s.

The Hellpits of NIghtfang was a 32-page scenario booklet that came out in 1979. Like a lot of the times I was a kid hanging out at Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica as a kid, it was a modest product that really captured my imagination. If you are not familiar with it, let me describe it briefly before telling you how I used this Runequest adventure in a big way in my game world, “Ardor.”

Basically, it is a cleverly designed series of muddy sink holes in a grassy field. It seemed like a simple enough setting, but there was plenty of action and Dex rolls to be had just in trying to navigate the slippery sides of the smallest hole. Down below in the small inner complex, Runequest mainstays like Flail Snails, Stake Snakes, and power-draining spirits abounded. But the main inhabitants of the earthy place were the elderly (but muscular) vampire Rune Lord Nightfang, and his rather homely wife. Fight Nightfang, bargain with him, or whatever. There you go.

OK, so at some point around 1980 I used The Village of Hommlet module to run a couple of games for my group. The major change (and I always make major changes to modules) I made there was to take the handsome, but scarred evil cleric Lareth, and make him as supremely handsome and charismatic anti-paladin. He was not slain at the end of that adventure, and ended up as the lover of a (not evil) Elvish magic-user/thief of one of the female players character named “Noradama” (or “Nord” for short). Although not exactly changing his ways, Lareth behaved long enough to have a short relationship with Nord in later games, and to become a fairly regular NPC. I know I know, lot of questions there. But it was 30 years ago and my memory dims like the Feral Kid in Road Warrior. It lives now, only in my dreams…

So around a year or less later, I had the Hellpits adventure, and decided to use it. But I wanted more from Nightfang and his wife than the sparse background Paul J. put into the scenario. Mind you, this was a Runequest adventure that I was converting into a AD&D adventure. As written, NF was a Rune Lord. So I decided in D&D he would have been some great wizard in ancient past. I needed more background for Lareth, who by now was involved with the same female players other character (a female drow, much more suited to Lareth as a lover than a wood elf tart), and was a regular feature in scenarios.

So I decided that NIghtfang was once known as Earlwuth Tan, a great general from the eastern empire who came to the west and founded my main city of Tanmoor, then just a frontier wilderness, several hundred years ago. In self exile at that time, after being cursed with vampirism, he eventually came across and married his current wife in recent decades, who happened to be a werewolf. Look, I was a teenager, OK? I then (and now) came up with some pretty wacky backgrounds for things .

Lareth was along with the group for that adventure, looking for his long lost father and mother who he barely remembered after he was born 20 years ago. And yeah, it gets wackier. Although I hadn’t originally intended for it when I did the previous Hommlet adventure (but the players did not know that), Lareth was a child of a powerful vampire and a werewolf. He was both, and had been hiding it from the characters. After some battling of monsters and Nightfang, Lareth revealed himself as Nightfang/Earlwuth Tan’s son, and after some thrashing about there was a family reunion that ended will, under the circumstances.

Now it gets bigger than shit. It was time then for a new campaign, and this started with Earlwuth’s (I would no longer refer to him as NIghtfang from then on in) declaration that he would take Tanmoor, the city he founded long ago, from it’s rulers from the Eastern Empire, and return it to the glory he meant for it when he founded it. He was evil, and a vampire, but he wanted the city to be returned to a time of kings and chivalry. The Empire from the East was mostly thought of as evil by the players, so it was not hard to get characters into this concept. For many games, the party helped Earlwuth, Lareth, and family overthrow the imperial forces in the city. Earlwuth/Nightfang then took a backseat, in the shadows, while his son Lareth Tan, took his birthright as king of Tanmoor.

Lareth married his drow character lover, and the Tan family remained for years in-game. Tanmoor had always been a wizardly city, but with a Vampire/Werewolf/Anti-Paladin as king, and his personal Addams Family in court, it became more of a place of elegant weirdness. Though the royal family had an evil background, the normal people of the city were actually safer, more prosperous, and happier than they had been under hundreds of years of rule by a distant empire. Some time in the later 80’s, I had a plot line that included the destruction of the royal Tan family. Hey, things change.

This may be the most extreme example of a modest adventure module being tweaked to fit into my personal game world. I still use this game world today, and when any of my player’s characters are from the Kindom of Tanmoor, I always have to explain the interesting Tan Family part of the city history (that happened around 50 years ago now in-game timeline). Sometimes they go “Oh man, I wish I had rolled up an anti-paladin vampire/werewolf with an 18 charisma instead of this fighter.” But the time of the Tans, the family of Nightfang, has long passed. Tanmoor remains kind of weird, though.