Herding Cats.

When Shall We <Three> Meet Again?

<Insert your group-Number here>

So, the group has decided upon a Game. The setting has been chosen, and tailored to the player’s whims. The system has been house-ruled beyond recognition. Character sheets are produced, dice are procured. Everyone is in high spirits, looking forward to the game. And then someone has to spoil it by asking “So, Friday then?”.

Everyone stops. A hush drops over the room. A draught whips up as if from nowhere, the piano player pauses mid-refrain, and a distant door creaks. Eventually someone breaks the silence: “I can’t do Friday. I have to see my family”. It is as if a dam has broken, and everyone is now able to rush forth!

“Tuesday is good for me”

“I can do this Tuesday, but next week I’m away on business”

“I can only do every other Thursday”

“Most Thursdays, but I might  be late – Work, y’know”

“Our band meets on Mondays, but if they cancel, I can come”

Trying to put kittens in a neat row
Herding Cats

And so it begins …

Group One

I am in the extremely privileged position of being in a regular group, with regular players. We meet once a week, every week. We have scheduled our other commitments around Games Night. Even if we are missing players, if we have quorum, we will play our usual RPG. If not, the few who do attend will break out Small World (or occasionally, with much protesting, some other game).

Group Two

I can do Friday?

The other group I am in, on the other hand, is irregular to the point of collapse.

I don’t think I’ve seen a session where all of the players have attended. We meet every couple of months (at best), and only after a flurry of emails and Facebook posts trying to find a date that enough people can make.

This group has at least three games on the go, and I am only in one of them. One would have thought that they could find a date that at least some players can make, and decide which game from there. But alas, dear reader, it is not so. Some players only want to play certain games. Some want to GM, and some do not. Sometimes, despite the wait, a game is not ready. Another may be drawing to a climax, and need as many players as possible, or be at a crux point that needs a certain player(s) involvement.

And the months do pass …

(There is a small amount of Email Play, where the GM effectively runs a mini Play-by-Post game to fill in some gaps, and prepare for the next session. But this is an aside, rather than a major point)

Group Three

(Yes, I am in THREE rpg groups!)

This group was specifically built to accommodate players not making every session. An old-school D&D game where we take the part of Adventurers, plundering a local cave-system that houses kobolds, goblins, and worse!

At the end of each session, we make it back to the local town to sell our loot, resupply, and see what other brave souls may be interested in joining our merry band!

So far, this has worked well. The DM has every 2nd Sunday of the month free, and will run the game for whom so ever may turn up at the pub. (This month, being Just-after-Xmas, we have postponed until later in the month, due to a lot of potential players having other commitments).

This is still quite a new group (5 sessions?), and we are yet to see how people’s endurance holds up.

Other Groups

One of our players has a mid-week game. I think. And some of our friends run intermittent twice-yearly full-day games.

There is the Demon Games Club (or whatever the Polytechnic Games Soc is calling itself these days), and the yearly Student National Championships.  But I have little involvement these days (on account of not having been a student for <cough> years).

Solutions (or otherwise)

One would  have thought that Instant Global Communication, the Information Superhighway, videophones, flying cars and all of the other Golden Future sci-fi technology we now posses (ok, I lied about the flying cars) would make arranging games easier.

I (or whoever  happens to be GMing the current game) send out an SMS each week, confirming the date for the next game, and once enough players have RSVPed, another to finalise it. My last game, we used our Forum. Groups Two and Three have Facebook pages where dates and attendance are discussed.

And yet Players have turned up on the wrong day, or not arrived on Games Night. We SMS one of our players EVERY week, checking that he is awake, has remembered it is The Game, and is wearing trousers (true story).

Some people think of RPGs as a social meeting, free-form and informal. Others find it a Way Of Life (I hesitate to say Obsession …). When all of your group are on the same page, it can work well, but in a mixed group, it is likely that someone will be disappointed.

Do you have any techniques for rounding up your players?

Or as a player, how do you feel about Regular Attendance?


D.U.B. Style – Dirty, Used and Broken – How I like My Cyberpunk!

I’ve been running/playing cyberpunk RPGs, in many variations, since their inception (R. Talsorian’s “Cyberpunk 2013”). Over the years, I have experienced a lot of different ways of playing, from ad-hoc Edge-Runner teams through to Corporate Hit Squads. The part that particularly interests me is the low-end struggle-for-survival in a world of infinite possibilities!

Fates Worse Than Death
Fates Worse Than Death

My current go-to game is Fates Worse Than Death, by Vajra Enterprises, set on Manhattan, 2080AD. Underpopulated, and run by various street-gangs, The City is home to all  manner of low-lifes, high-rollers, oddballs and primitive screwheads. Players take the part of Gang Members and, depending on the gang, may get access to Psychic Powers, Enhanced Technology, Experimental Pharmaceuticals, or little-known poisons!

Most of the USA is  housed in Corporate Arcologies, Gated Estates and other luxurious accommodation. Manhattan residents live in run-down tower-blocks, ancient brownstone apartments and jerry-rigged shanty towns. The Corporations are taxed on their AI use, and that money is used to fund Welfare for the disenfranchised. Cheap Virtual Reality systems are install in all but the lowliest of homes, and a huge proportion of City residents do little other than immerse themselves in the Corporate Feed. This leaves the Mean Streets at the mercy of the Gangers.

The main theme I try to run with is that everything in The City is old, scavenged, recycled and re-purposed. New items are generally cheap knock-offs of the real thing, and soon customised (“The Street finds it’s own uses for things” – William Gibson, Burning Chrome). The phrase that seems to encapsulate this is “Dirty, Used and Broken”, often shortened to D.U.B. Everything in the City, including the People, is some combination of D. U. B.

As a theme for a game, this gives me, as the Game Master, to have a lot of leeway on what I allow into the game, without letting it get out of hand. You want a monomolecular blade, capable of cutting through steel bars? OK. But it is DUB! The blade is notched and sometimes catches on things. The handle worn and frayed. And it used to be someone else’s … maybe they want it back. Maybe they customised it, making it awkward to wield. maybe it was used in a crime, and people are hunting it’s owner. You want an ICE-Breaker, to hack corporate databases? Sure thing. But it might leave traces. It has glitches and needs constant attention. There might be back-doors and unknown commands. It could be broadcasting it’s every use back to it’s creator!

It is Dirty, Used, and Broken!

While this does give a GM a lot of opportunities to screw over the Players, how it is done will set the tone of the campaign. Remember that the NPCs, and their equipment is also DUB! People have Problems. They have irrational fears and desires, and are prepared to go to extreme lengths to satisfy them!

If the players can buy-in to the idea, then you can have lots of fun. Give them access to a high-tech device, and the Adventure becomes finding out how Dirty it is, who Used it previously, and if the Broken bits can be fixed! An NPC Quest-Giver is DUB. They have their Dirty hands in many pies, and some of those may give the PCs pause for thought. They are being Used by another, for nefarious ends. And they are Broken. This could make them unreliable, or more susceptible to being Used, or just interesting to play! It can give he PCs leverage, or get in their way!

We all have our demons.

And remember that the PCs are DUB! Unless they happen to be a Utopia Child (born and raised in a suburban paradise), they have had to grow up on the streets of the City. They have done things they are not proud of (and would probably get them sent to jail, if there was a functioning Justice system). They have taken and given favours. They have developed bad habits, and particular ways of viewing the World. (in our current game, 2 of the PCs are drug-addicts, one believes they are a Vampire, and craves blood, and the other is an escaped Experimental Super-Soldier! They are all beholden to a Blood Mage, who uses their blood to ensure compliance.) Depending on your players, you may like a system that enforces Personality Traits. make sure they have some negatives!

I like to run a game where the PCs are sparks of Hope amongst the Darkness. But it is not a Pure Light. And it casts long Shadows!

I hope this has given you some insight into our Games, and inspiration for your own!

Why not let me know how you have used similar concepts, or if you prefer a more defined Black/White, Good/Bad setting.

The Continuing Adventures of Individuals!

As you may have read (here and here), I am running a FWTD campaign, based upon all players being in the same Gang (effectively, the same Character Class).

Due to the way the character creation system works, and the Bleeder Gang in particular, they start off with an average set of skill-costings*. Each Player has spent some Bonus Points (of which you start with Zero, but gain some for taking Flaws) on having some cheaper areas. This gives them an area to specialise in, distinguishing them from others of the same Gang.

Some Gangs are a lot harder to do this, as they start with a much more diverse set of costings. e.g. Technophiles have some cheaper costs (Creative: 4, INFO: 5, TECH: 4) but almost prohibitive access to Psychic skills (Exotic: 20, Manipulation and Sensory: 15). With their Combat: 8, Social: 8 it is twice the effort (XP!) to buy a Combat or Social skill than a Tech skill, so choosing to play a Combat Techno, or “Face” character rather than “pure” is a difficult choice. With the Bleeders, it is actually cheaper to buy “mundane” skills rather than their Specialist Psychic skills, leading to some players bemoaning the fact that I am enforcing an in-game expectation that they buy at least 1 Blood Psychic Rank per Level (They are Bleeders, after all!)

The characters we have in our group are:

Dr Orlando Watt
Dr Orlando Watt

Dr Orlando Watt: Corporate Trained, Licensed Doctor. Due to their Amphetamine Addiction, they have never been accepted into a decent job, and have found refuge with The Bleeders. Twitchy and prone to violent outbursts (and knowing exactly which veins will bleed at what speed!), they spend a lot of time researching, looking for analytical answers to problems. Currently trying to understand just how Bleeder Psychic Powers work (even though it has evaded the best minds to have investigated it).

Vinnie the Vampire

Vinnie (“the Vampire”): Small-time crook who’s attempt at a “Big Score” went wrong. Now on parole, with the debts from his lawyers fees taking most of his income, he uses his silver tongue (and Psychic Manipulation) to talk his way out of trouble, and gain favours along the way. He genuinely believes himself to be a Vampire, being repelled by crosses and garlic, avoiding sunlight and sacred ground, and drinking blood. He also has contracted a virus that gives him increased attributes in exchange for a massively increased metabolism (must consume huge quantities of sugar or equivalent). The only PC to have invested in “Fashion and Beauty” skill.

Mack Geller: Psychic Investigator. Ghost-Whisperer. Licensed to sell his Psychic abilities, he runs a small (just Mack and a secretary!) P.I. agency, mainly finding run-away children and solving(?) marital disputes. Ex-military, the constant pain from his wounded leg has led him to abuse opiates. A recent use of his Psychic Powers has left himself, the rest of the Party, a few other Bleeders and a bunch of Corner-Punks believing that Mack is “A Powerful Bleeder”**.


Grendel: Bio-Engineered Super-Soldier. Escaped from the para-militaries who built her to join The Bleeders. Completely Institutionalised (“what is this Money you speak of?”, “Who are ‘Police’? Another gang?”, “Why hasn’t anyone brought me food today? Have I been bad?”)***, she only has sporadic, confused memories of her former life. She does have sub-dermal armour, enhanced senses, Military Training, and a genetically programmed stealth abilities though! Also, a preoccupation with Sculptures, which she believes is “Control”‘s way of communicating with her.

We are now 10 session in, and just about to finish the First Adventure (“Blood on the Snow”). The characters have turned out to be very different, with distinct personalities and skill-sets. Dr W is reclusive and nervous, unless he is intensely over-talkative. Mack is controlled and calm. Grendel is mainly confused, but always assessing Tactical Options. Vinnie is looking out for #1. All are combat-capable (partly at my nudging). The easy option of Knife-Fighting was taken by Dr Watt and Vinne (although Vinnie is not as good) while Mack uses a quarter-staff (a good walking-stick, and keeps enemies at bay so he can Psych! them without getting stabbed) and Grendel has Tae Kwon Do and Archery.

More details are available here. I have been pleased, if not surprised, at how diverse the group is. I know the players quite well, and know that if I gave them all the same character sheet, they would bring four very different characters to the table! I have also given multiple groups the same sets of pre-generated characters before (e.g. convention games) and seen them played in a whole slew of ways!

Have you ever run a “All The Same Class” game? How did it go? What would stop you from running this type of setup in your favourite setting/system?


*You get 100 points to spend on skills, with Cost-per-Category defined by Gang. The Bleeder cost-line looks as follows:

Athletics: 7, BIO: 8, Combat: 7, Creative: 6, INFO 8, Intellectual: 7, Military: 8,  TECH: 7, Thief: 7, Social: 8, Street: 7.
Psychic (Exotic): 14, Psychic (Manipulation): 10, Psychic (Sensory): 10,
Bleeder Special Skills (Psychic (Blood)): 10

**While this got the party an easy victory in the encounter, the Corner-punks are planning revenge, but need Excessive Force to take on such a powerful character, and the other Bleeders are building their defences against him!

***Cue much humour while Vinnie, with his below-average Intelligence and rudimentary knowledge of National Politics, tries to explain who “the damn Feds” are, while all Grendel hears is that they attacked her Makers (well, it wasn’t the FBI who Nuked Manhattan, but they sound like parts of the same “gang”!)

I’m Sorry, GM, I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That!

There are many articles discussing skill-systems (or lack thereof) in RPGs. How much bonus you get, how to level-up, which you should buy.

This is  not one of those articles.

We learn from Failure, not success – Bram Stoker

Here I discuss what happens when a PC does not have a skill. Maybe the GM has called for a “History – Elven” roll, or “Electronics Repair”, or even “Climbing”. Scouring your character sheet reveals a large, conspicuous gap where that skill should be. How does your system handle that? Do you get to roll anyway, or automatically fail? Do other skills (“History – Dwarven”, or “Electronics Manufacturing”?) help at all? How relevant are your Stats?

The system our group is currently playing (FWTD) says that all Skills require a level of training, and anyone without this basic requirement (Rank 1) cannot roll, and will automatically fail. Simplistic, and ignoring the Player’s Favourite “Critical Hit”, it does distinguish between people who have invested the time and effort (XP) in learning a Skill, and those who haven’t. Most skills are based on your Intelligence score, and you roll 1d20 +4/Rank-above-One, so if you were allowed to roll, a INT 16 PC wold still have the advantage over a INT 10 PC with 2 Ranks!

Rolemaster takes a similar approach, but instead of an outright Fail, applies quite hefty penalties to unskilled characters. Rolling a d100 + Skill Bonus, and usually wanting to hit 100, unskilled applies a -30 Penalty! Even allowing for a half-decent Stat Bonus (+5 to +15), and a decent roll (70+), you are not getting very far! It does allow for “Critical Hits”, and its Exploding Dice (if you roll 95-100, you roll again and add!) can lead to some outrageous results, even for unskilled PCs.

GURPS has a complex web of default-skills. You don’t have “Electronics Repair”? You can roll “Electronics Operation” at a penalty of 3, or IQ stat at a penalty of 5. Each Skill has a list of which other skills can be substituted for each other, at what modifier. This can be a little cumbersome for novices, but a little work, and a decent character sheet, will soon see it falling into place.

Skill Web
Shadowrun Skill Web

In a similar manner, Shadowrun had its “Skill Web”, where you could trace skills to other skills, and roll with a penalty depending upon how far away on the Web they were. More cumbersome than GURPS, with little to recommend it, this was removed in later editions.

At the other end of the scale is Apocalypse World (and the ever growing list of “Powered by The Apocalypse” (PbtA) systems), that have no Skills. You have 4 Stats, rated -1 to +3, and roll 2d6 plus stat. Trying to fix that broken radio? That’ll be Sharp, unless it is a very pressured situation, when it might be Cool.

The style of game will inform (and be informed by) the Unskilled procedure. Pulp-type games, or “heroic” systems can encourage players to try actions that they are not necessarily trained in, rewarding flair and confidence, whereas “gritty”, “realistic” systems try to penalise PCs for attempting things they have no right to be doing (“I know I’m not trained in Surgery, but what’s the worst that can happen?“).

Try, try, and try again!

Another point to be considered is the consequence of failure. If a Fail doesn’t cost much apart from time, and allows another attempt, unskilled PCs will be wanting to Roll anyway, looking for that “Natural 20”. PbtA (and other systems) has distinct problems that arise from failed rolls (e.g. failing a Combat roll means you got hit!), and players will be more inclined to call “Oh, no! I didn’t realise it would be a HOT roll! Can I take that back? Or make it a HARD roll instead?” rather than suffer the Consequence of Failure.

Failure does not always mean “The task is completely failed”. If the GM calls for a Horse Riding roll, and your Urban Hacker has never even seen a horse before being hoisted onto one five minutes previously (no Skill Ranks), this does not mean that they sit there immobile while their team-mates ride off to the Bad Guy’s hideout, but will mean that anyone who has ridden one before (Rank 1 Skill), will get their earlier, in better shape, with a happier horse (unless they roll a Fumble – sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!)

So next time you’re wondering whether to invest your hard-won XP in a new skill, rather than pushing up an existing one, look to the system you are playing – can you roll a decent Default Skill? Does it open a new set of Tasks you were previously unable to attempt? Does it move you from Inevitable Failure to Almost Certain Failure, or do you reach Possible Success (For Easy Tasks)? Each system has different ways of approaching these things, and they can lead to quite different styles of play.

Trail Rations: A User’s Guide

Gamers are a hungry bunch, if the common tropes are to be believed. Mountains of Cheetos and gallons of Mountain Dew get consumed every session. Players failing to bring enough to feed a small army are ostracised, their characters docked points, and told to do better next time. But is this true? Do you eat at the gaming-table? Does the GM expect to be provided for? Do you mind your dice getting sticky?

Our Food Ordering Pad
Our Order Pad

Our main Game is played in our lounge, and some of the players come straight from work. We start the evening by ordering from a local pizza place (although we haven’t ordered an actual pizza in forever!). Chicken wings, burgers, “meat” lasagna, donor-meat on chips, you get the idea. We all write our orders on the same notepad that has been used for over three generations of gaming, once we have found a gap to write in, and the last person to arrive adds their order, and calls it in. The GM is exempt from making the order, even if they are the last (perks of the job!). (There is usually some change left over after we have all paid, and this is put into a jar, to save. We occasionally dip into it to buy a new game, the latest being the full set of Nuclear War, costing over £100. We still have more in the jar!) The order usually arrives shortly after we start, and we munch as we recap last session and decide tonight’s actions. This usually keeps us fuelled for the rest of the evening. We supply our own drinks. Tissues are available for wiping hands, and the occasional inevitable spill.

Cakes matched to our Characters
Cakes matched to our Characters

I do mourn my sister-in-law closing her cake-making business. We would sometimes order custom cupcakes, designed to our characters. This image show (clockwise from top left) Elven archer, Magical Sword, Wizard, GM’s Crown, Barbarian, Priest of The Cudgel).

The other game I play in is quite different. For those of us who arrive early, the host puts on a spread, usually themed to the game, that we eat in front of an episode of “Release the Hounds”. Everyone makes a contribution towards ingredients and time. Last time was a slab of roast pork, a slab of chicken, thin-sliced roast veg and bread rolls, followed by a choice of two Spotted Dicks. Previously we have had Pie, and Soup. We then retire to the Gaming Room. A custom-furnished area, with Gaming Table, GM’s Screen and dice-trays. Here the rest of the players unload their bags, with crisps, flapjacks, mini-donuts and whatever other sugar was on cheap at the local shops, forming a veritable cornucopia. These are gradually devoured through the long session, and any non-perishables left  over are stashed in the Snacks Cupboard, ready for next time! As most of the players drive to the game, there is little alcohol (although the host likes a decent Ale, and I get a lift from Lucretia, so take a few cans).

The Criterion Free House
The Criterion Free House

I missed the new game running on Sunday evenings at our local pub. But I have attended other one-off games there. Being a pub, there is beer, coffee, beer, soft drinks and beer available. Bags of bar snacks (crisps, peanuts, tiny spiced sausages, pork scratchings) are opened on the table for all to share. They are also famed for their pizzas, made by the incomparable Mikey G. (Do ask for MORE spice, if you want them spicy though.)

The venue makes a big difference to eating, with the host having a lot of say over this. The Criterion does not take kindly to people bringing their own food/drink. Others places, such as my house, are less fussy (often, players will stash drinks in our fridge, and have even used our oven to heat meals!)

Somehow, we have managed, in all of the games, to avoid getting grease-stains all over our character sheets, or dice dropped in too many cups of tea*.

Do you eat at your games? Snacks? Meals? Is eating barred at the table?

*Ruining their rollablity! See: Probablite

Post-Apocalypse Dungeon Crawl

The Dungeon Crawl. Staple of Fantasy Gaming. Enter an underground complex, and raid it for XP/Loot. They can vary from very small (One Page Dungeon) to very large (The Underdark). But how can they be incorporated into a Post-Apocalypse setting?

Ruined Cities are often featured, but focus more on Interiors than Underground. Carefully negotiating rubble-strewn streets to reach Storage Depots, Warehouses or other Loot Drops. With possible snipers on rooftops, the grey/red/<insert Apocalypse here> sky always in view, and many exits, they don’t really have the same feel.

But what if the City IS underground? Not originally-underground, but became-underground. I’m thinking something like Manhattan getting hit with a bigger version of Pompeii’s pyroclastic flow. The streets are filled with rapidly-solidifying ash, covering over 20-stories deep! Buildings are preserved, but access becomes limited. Maybe a lot of the Flow doesn’t penetrate much into the buildings. The rooms are still rooms. And there is Loot to be had! Pre-Fall Loot!

Access would be through the tops of tall buildings (now low buildings with Dungeons beneath!). Areas between buildings is blocked by ash, but could be tunnelled through (and possibly already has!), although the top layers are baked solid, and excavation efforts are hampered by bandits/mutants/radiation/<insert reason here>. Who knows what foul creatures reside in the deeper levels of such places? Mutants with pig-like noses and penchant for cannibalism? Animals escaped from the Zoo, twisted over generations (because Apocalypse)? Rodents over-gorged on food-stores and grown to Unusual Size?

With short sight-lines, melee combat becomes favoured over sniper shots. You’ll need to bypass locked doors and vaults. Maybe previous occupants have laid traps. As this is an expedition away from Base Camp, a medic will be useful.

I’ll be expanding on these thoughts later, but I present this as a taster.

Feedback Appreciated.

Let the Blood Flow!

In response to my previous post (We’re All Individuals!), our group has decided to play members of the Bleeders street-gang.*

Vicious, violent and vengeful, the Bleeders keep control of their turf using a little-known variation on Psychic abilities: Blood Magic! By tasting a mere drop of a person’s blood, a Bleeder can gain insight into who that person is, gain some of their traits or skills, track them across the city, and even cause them physical pain!

The hierarchy of Bleeders is run by Masters, who keep samples of their students’ blood, to better keep control over them. In return, the Master teaches the secrets of Blood Magic, giving the students the power to defeat their enemies, and protect gang turf!

The way this is represented in the System is that the Bleeders’ mundane skills are averagely costed, with no particular specialisation (6-10 pts per level), but their Psychic skills are a lot cheaper than the usual extortionate prices (10 rather than 25 pts per level)! They also get access to Bleeder-specific Psychic powers at the same cost.

With no specialist areas, and their main Skills being slightly expensive (compared to mundane skills), we can expect low-level Bleeders to be a little lacking in breadth, having sent a lot of their time (XP!) on Psychic/Magic skills. Our group will be starting at Level One, and also have a skill-cap of 3 (out of 5) ranks in any skill, and only progress one rank per Level in each skill. While this may sound as though everyone becomes very broad, with over 150 skills available, and the ability to use Bonus Points to specialise in a Skill Category, the players should be able to come up with some diverse characters.

The players will all be under the control of one Master, and have created the following characters:

The Wizard: Focusing on Psychic/Blood Magic, he has Mediumship (to speak with ghosts), Clairvoyance, Psychic Invisibility, and many other Powers! Apart from learning how to defend them self, using a quarter staff), everything has been put towards learning the secrets of their Psychic Powers!

The Hacker: Shunning Psychic abilities (for the most part), computer skills are their forte. Covering the wide range of talents needed to successfully attack a target system has left little room for much else. Their Master demands that they learn a little of The Art, and they are a practised knife-fighter, but beyond that, another Specialist.

The Doctor: Corporate-trained, but left on the streets. (Not much detail yet)

The Vampire: Genuinely believes that they are a vampire. Psychosomatic revulsion to garlic and crosses. Dislikes entering Holy Ground. Eloquent and charming, they are the group’s diplomat/negotiator.

Wizard, Cleric, Thief/Tech, Bard(?). All with a secondary in Fighting (as would be expected for a Violent Street Gang), and at least a minor in Blood Magic (as demanded by their Master). They have a range of skills to bring, and hopefully will be up to the challenge of surviving the mean streets of Manhattan 2080!

*Fates Worse Than Death RPG is set on Manhattan Island in 2080. The streets are all run by Gangs, of many varieties. Some have access to Psychic Powers. Others, nano-technology. Some are rich. Some have to rely on their wits alone!

We’re All Individuals!

Fates Worse Than Death
Fates Worse Than Death

Fates Worse Than Death, one of my favourite RPG settings, is based around the gangs of near-future Manhattan. Each player chooses which gang their PC is in, and usually this leads to a group containing several gangs. As it is meant to be a very socio-political game, gang relations are important, and having players from gangs that are actively hostile, or even non-allied, will at the very least produce problems for the players. This concept is not limited to FWTD. Vampire (and other White Wolf settings) had a similar issue, with the player-base usually being a cross-Clan group.

Our latest idea for a game is to have all players be part of the same gang. While this will alleviate the multi-gang issue, it does have its own problems. In FWTD, a PC’s character class is their Gang, and this defines their Skill Costs (similar to how in V:TM your Clan defines what skills and Disciplines you have access to). By having all PCs from the same gang, they will all have the same Skill Costs (e.g. All Crackers have access to INFO Skills at 5xp/rank, compared to most other Gangs paying 10xp/rank. Sexologists pay 13xp/rank for TECH skills, while Boarders pay only 6!). While this helps to enforce niche-protection between gangs, and reflects the lifestyle of gang-members focusing on skills relevant to their gang, it can lead to players all buying the same, or similar skills. The skills are in categories, so one Cracker might buy Cryptography, and another choose Information Smuggling, but neither are likely to pick up much BIO (costing 9xp/rank, compared to a Needle Punk paying just 4!).

Living on the streets
Living on the streets

Part of the idea for a single-gang game was to get away from the finely-tuned adventuring party that can cover all bases (known as “Who’s Playing The Cleric?”) and focus on a group of people who happen to come together, and must use what skills they bring. If the players are Crackers, their BIO skills will be relatively low, unless someone decides to dedicate a lot of XP towards it (lowering their other areas significantly). A Sexologist group will be poor at TECH, and even their specialist will struggle to match a mediocre Boarder without giving up a lot of other skills! This does sound interesting (at least to me, as the GM!), but persuading my players that they are not the bestest-at-everything may be quite an undertaking.

One thing that FWTD does have is Disciplines. Areas of training that any Ganger may take. While learning a Discipline, a PC pays the Discipline costs for skills, rather than Gang costs. e.g. a Cracker may choose to train as an EMT. During this time, they will only pay 5xp/rank for BIO skills, but must pay 10xp/rank for INFO skills (as they are no longer at the heart of the information network, or as closely associated with their comrades). Some Disciplines have a specific list of skills that receive lower costs, and some have requirements for advancing (To begin EMT training a PC must have Driving 1, Emergency Medicine 1, and to gain Level 2 must have at least Emergency Medicine 3, Surgery 2).

So, to allow my players to broaden, and cover some extra skill areas, I am thinking of starting them at Level 3 (notably experienced), with the option to take one of those levels in a Discipline.

Next is to decide which gang to be! With over 50 different options, from homeless street-kids to inked’n’pierced carny-folk to idle-rich extreme sports enthusiasts, what will my players go for? One would like to be a Sat-Jumper; blue-collar workers who are jetted to low-orbit to work on the innumerable satellites that keep the world running. Another likes the idea of Technophiles, each specialising in a different technology. Whichever we end up with, I’ll report on how the game progresses!

What Gang would you want to play? Or how would you deal with the issues of running a single-gang game? Have you played/run a game like this? Why not let me know!

Neverwinter (Reprise)

Neverwinter Nights
Neverwinter Nights

Spurred on by the Free Offer of Neverwinter Nights Diamond Edition on Good Old Games (Now over. You have to fork out the princely sum of £3.19!), I have hunted down the old server I used to play on.

Higher Ground PoA is one of the many iterations of the Path of Ascension module written by AW Trespasser, and in my opinion one of the best (and certainly one of the few remaining, these days!). Based around the Town of Ascension, and a Quest for Immortality (by finding the Legendary Crown Of Immortality), the Higher Ground admins (FunkySwerve and his crew) have been working on the module for over 12 years!

Neverwinter Nights was originally published in 2002, and written alongside the latest pen-and-paper version (3.5) of AD&D. It was specifically designed for third-parties to write and run their own adventures, with the Aurora Toolkit included with the game, and many servers popped up, with a wide array of games available, from power-levelling uber-servers to immersive role-play-based ones. Higher Ground sits towards the power-levelling end, but has many alterations in place to carve out its own niche. Players are (heavily) encouraged to party with people of a similar level, and most magical items are level-locked, meaning you cannot use the more powerful ones until you have reached a certain level of experience. Speaking of Levels, one of HG’s most innovative features was the ability to reach higher levels than the original game allowed for. Initially capped at Level 20, FunkySwerve wrote a system to allow you to reach Level 40, and has since expanded this to take you to Level 80! Along side this, he and his crew wrote more and more areas to visit, (including The Hells, and The Mother of All Dragons!), with appropriately challenging monsters and puzzles, and also more and better loot, so the rewards were befitting for such adventures!


When I was playing in earnest, I built a stable of high level characters (Soul Spike, the Zen Archer; Short Spike, Dwarven Defender; Black Spike, Assassin; Good Spike, Paladin; to name but a few), and collected many Artefacts, enough to fill my Bank Chests (where you can store items you do not need to carry, and can transfer to your other characters) to bursting! When I created a new character, I could equip him with some of the best items available, swapping as I went up levels. I also gained access to one of Funky’s other innovations: subRaces. While there are several Base Races available, HG added a selection of subRaces, that could be earned as rewards for certain Adventures (often being found as Books amongst the Loot). Using one of these books gave your Account access to more powerful subRaces, including Wraiths, Erinyes (winged demons) and Raksasha.

Unfortunately, I am starting again, with a new set of CD-Keys (which Higher Ground uses to verify your account), and so have lost access to all of this! I shall have to build up again, but this time, I do not have as much spare time to dedicate towards levelling up and loot-hunting.

So, on with the Adventure!

As a test-character, I have reprised my half-orc barbarian (Grunty McGruntFace), and started exploring. There are a lot of low level starter-quests that didn’t used to be there, but I have avoided most of these (they begin with fetch’n’carry missions) and headed straight for the low level adventure areas! So far, they are all looking very familiar: Cellar full of rats – Check! Wilderness full of Fire Beetles – Check! Caves full of skeletons – Check! Bandit Camp (with nice lootz) – Check! I am slowly remembering/re-learning the controls, and once I’m a bit more confident (and have some time to spare) will party up with some other low-levelers to take on a more dangerous area!

Time will tell how far I get, and how much time Lucretia allows me to waste on such pursuits will be a major factor. But I will update you on my progress.

Whose Dice Is It Anyway?

(Inspired by This Thread)

Some GMs are masters of making things up as they go along. Winging it. Improvisation. They are never short of new, interesting locations, and characterful NPCs. Plot lines seem to grow organically as the game moves along.

I am not one of those GMs.

Players will, inevitably, come up with new and innovative ways to side-step challenges, derail story-lines, and chase tangent-bunnies. When they do, I tend to run into the GMing equivalent of writers’ block. Over my many years of GMing, I have come up with coping-strategies to keep the game flowing, rather than stumble through, uming and erring over details.

The first tactic I use is to try to keep the geographic scope of my campaigns quite small. This allows for locations to be reused many times, and detail to build up over time. The NorthHills sprawlzone that I used for my cyberpunk campaigns started as a rough map, and as we played, built up into a well-detailed area. The Mall had shops (with staff) noted, and was visited many times. I ran several adventures using The Crow Bar, and it has built up a history of its own. I particularly like Fates Worse Than Death for this, as it is set exclusively on Manhattan Island. Large enough to allow quite a lot of scope, but small enough to keep coming back to the same places, meeting the same people.

Another ploy is to keep sets of lists handy. People’s names. Business names. Emotions and attitudes. Some of these I pen myself, between sessions. Others I pull from many sources. Particular favourites are Lee’s Lists and Random Generator.  Vajra have some good random creators, specifically for their FWTD setting, but it can easily be used for other games.

Some games produce very good source-books for this, and I particulalry like Shadowrun’s Sprawl Sites. Containing details on quite a few potential locations, plus a whole list of encounters, it provides useful inspiration should ideas dry up.

Also, keep a thesaurus handy. Treeware versions are fine, but nowadays I tend to rely on thesaurus.com for getting good words appropriating superior lexicons.

And, of course, I have my many years of experience to draw upon! I have been known to use ‘similar’ NPCs from game to game, even radically different settings, and tweak locations from one game to fit another. Even plots and adventures are lifted wholesale! Sometimes it is obvious, even highlighted, other times more subtle. (Notable example: When I ran an AD&D campaign many moons ago, one player created character sheets for the 30-40 NPCs in his care (the “We Hate The Dark Lord” club). As they, in turn, inevitably met their fates, they were handed to me, to re-use as ready-made NPCs for that, or any other, game. I still have that folder.)

With these tools at the ready, I tend to spread my preparation thinly, sketching several fledgling ideas, ready to develop the ones that the players interact with, adding detail as play progresses.

So, my improvisation is not about on-the-fly winging it. It is the result of much preparation. Roll a dice on this table. Choose an appropriate item from that list. Pull a character sheet from that folder. All prepped beforehand, ready to be improvised on-the-spot!