Inspirational Tools

I get by, with a little help from my friends.

So say the Beatles, and who am I to say they are wrong.

We all need a little help now and then, and GMs writing story-lines are no exception. From the names of antagonists to the location of their lair, from Quests to Completion-Rewards, sometimes our creative juices run dry.

So where do we turn?

Dice.

One Standard Set of Dice
One Standard Set of Dice

Our go-to source of randomness. Mostly our “Standard Set” of d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 and d100. Very useful for creating numerical values. But what if you need something else?

The more resourceful of you may already own some Other Dice. Amongst my easily-to-hand collection, I found Emoji, Rock/Paper/Scissors,

Other Dice
Other Dice

Body Location, Dungeon Maps and more! There are a large range of dice, featuring Weather, Mood, Grammar, and much more!

But what about when you don’t have the right dice to hand? You need to check for Random Weather, but the only dice you have are Body Location and Who-Takes-First-Turn! This is where we turn to:

Tables!

Table of Magical Rings
Table of Magical Rings

Lists of possible outcomes, Tables can hold a huge amount more information than simple dice, and can be chained together to produce complex results. They can also shift the probabilities of results occurring. Usually they are designed to roll dice, and compare the result against the entries, or you can just choose an appropriate one.

The Internet is full of these tables, designed for each different Game System/Setting, and lots of Generic ones.

To make life simpler, and avoid having to hunt around for either dice or sheets of paper, or the right page of the Rule Book, we also have

Apps

A Random City
A Random City

Loaded on to a mobile phone, or tablet, these tend be be combinations of dice and tables. Tell the App what Feature you are wanting, and it will generate a random result, according to how it is programmed.

My current favourite App is (unsurprisingly) the one I wrote!

Combining Lists of Names, Places, Treasures, Quests and others Features, along with a Personality Generator, and lists of Features of a Fantasy City, The Mad Dwarf Inspirational Apps also allow you to add your own entries to the Lists, and save the results for use in later games.

There are Apps designed around most of the popular Games Systems, providing access to as much inspiration as you can handle!

Summary

Other ways of finding inspiration include reaching for a nearby book, and turning to a random page, loading a random Wikipedia page, or asking your Players to make a decision!

Most people will use a combination of methods to produce some interesting results, and the best way is often to interpret them in a way that fits your game.

 

When do you tend to run out of steam? What methods do you have for recharging your Creative Juices?

The State of The App

Now with added NPC details!

As you may have read, I did an App!

The free version is finalised, and will only be receiving security/stability updates.

EDIT: The Pro version is now available for UNDER ONE POUND! A mere 99 pence will get you access to expanded lists, and extra categories!

What it does:

Available Categories
Available Categories

The opening screen shows the different Categories available. This will hopefully grow as more data becomes available, and feedback is received.

I may choose use coloured Icons, but the basic format should be fine.

Currently the data-sets are based around Fantasy/Medieval styles. Treasures include Ornate Goblets and Lifelike Animal Statuettes, but not Smart-Phones, or Alien Artefacts! Quests involve Rescuing the Fairy-Queen, but not flying to other planets or destroying the Moon-Sized Space-Station!

Treasures Abound!
Treasures Abound!

Treasures are pulled from four separate lists:

  • Gems Will  have a Type (Diamond, Emerald etc), and a Cut-Style.
  • Jewellery/Clothing will have a Type (Ring, Earring, Belt), and a Style (Gem-Encrusted, Silver-Plated).
  • Art has a Type (Painting, Sculpture, etc) and a Style (Plain, Gaudy, Cubist, Baroque).
  • Coins have a Type (Gold, Silver) and a value (randomly generated between 1 and 1,000).

The app is clever enough to notice which Category the Treasure is in, and use the appropriate Icon.

Personality Traits
Personality Traits

Furniture is split into four categories: Bedroom, Bathroom, Kitchen and Lounge. Items will all have a Material (Stone, Wood, Tin), and are displayed the same as Treasures.

The new Alchemy section also follows this format, and includes Retorts, Flasks and Crucibles.

Personality takes a slightly more complex route, and calls three World Views and three Personal Ideals. One of each are Prime traits, and the others Secondary.

The (descriptor) (place) of (fate)
The (descriptor) (place) of (fate)

The Location section adds a little more, again, with each location having a descriptor, as well as guardians!

The long list of Guardians have various ways in which they protect the Location, either guarding, watching over, surrounding or holding sacred!

And now we come to the penultimate section: Quests! Different types of Quest are available, Find, Recover, Destroy, Document or even Authenticate! And Maguffins of all varieties! Flying Carpets, Dragon Shields, Saint’s Bones! Kittens! All need Hiding, Exposing, or even Protecting! Each Quest also has a Reward (taken from the Treasures list) associated with it, so our brave adventurers can assess the risk!

Greta Vernon, Adventurer, at your service!
Greta Vernon, Adventurer, at your service!

The last section begins quite simple, but then opens up a whole new area! Names are picked from an ever-growing list, with a 50/50 chance of Male/Female. This is simple enough. But click on any name, and you will be shown their Personality Traits, Prized Possession (Treasure), several Mundane possessions, and what Location they are seeking!

This section is currently unfinished, but should not take too much neatening up to make it Publishable, and I can add to it in later Editions! The Mundane Possessions list is already growing significantly!

From the Dessert Trolley
From the Dessert Trolley

EDIT: I have also added a section for Desserts! All of your favourite fruit (plus a few you may not have heard of!) in pies, cobblers, crumbles and fools! Infused, sprinkled, drizzled and layers with your favourite (mostly cream-based) toppings!

So, if you are ever stuck for inspiration, why not download the Random Lists app from the Play Store!  Who knows what Wonders await you?

Or even splash out on the Pro Version! Only 99p!

If you have any suggestions for new Lists, items that you would like included, or any other feedback, you can contact me on the regular channels!

I Did An App!

OK, it’s not published  yet, but I’ve been busy writing an App for Android Mobile Phones/Tablets.

EDIT: Now available FREE on Google Play: CLICK HERE

All Players (GMs included) run out of inspiration at times. GMs throw us a curve-ball. Players run off in unexpected directions. And someone asks a question:

Random Lists
Which Random List Do You Require, Traveller?

What is their name?

What kind of person are they?

What is in the room?

Is there any loot?

Do they have anything for me to do?

… and you don’t have an answer …

Random Loot!
Random Loot!

Fret no longer! For I have collated a collection of Random Lists! Calling upon my extensive experience on both sides of the GM’s Screen, and my n0v1c3 h4x0r 5k1ll5, I have thrown together an App!

Choose your Category, and it will provide an eclectic list of possibilities!

Liam Islington“. We can already imagine who he is! “Louise Henrick” could be just the NPC you need!

Raw Garnets may form part of your Treasure Haul, along with Rhinestone-Studded Boots and a Gem-Encrusted Torc!

Maybe these items are hidden behind the Brass Fridge, or under the Wooden Mixing Bowl!

You may have to Destroy the Magical Sword before you can claim your prize! Or Protect the Ivory Tower! Complete these tasks and you may claim Rewards beyond your dreams! (or at least a Radiant Emerald, or Silver-Plated Top Hat!)

Soon to be available on the Google Play Store, this Random List App will inspire you to higher and better things than you could possibly imagine!

EDIT: NOW AVAILABLE for FREE:CLICK HERE

Watch this space!

I will be improving this App, with Longer Lists, and more categories! Let me know if there is anything you would like to see in it!

I Am a Bad Player.

And GM.

Aliens!
Aliens!

I’m sat here listening to Aliens (again), and am reminded of just how much unstated backstory the Characters have.

Obviously Ripley was seen in the previous movie, so we know her story. But it is also made clear that this is not the Marines’ first rodeo.

There are many references to previous missions, that leaves us with unanswered questions:

  • Why is there a new Lieutenant? Why is he so inexperienced? What happened to the last one?
  • What exactly happened on Arcturus, and why doesn’t it matter?
  • What happened when the dispersal wasn’t nice and clean?
  • What is it with Drake and Vasquez?
  • and many, many more …

Am I the only one who doesn’t actually want these questions answered?

They make for a very characterful movie. The Marines are Individuals, with History. But that does not mean I want a whole series of prequels and prologues, just to explain why those snippets were included!

And I often feel the same way in RPGs.

Plot!
PLOT This Way!

As a GM I have learned the hard way that making any random, off-the-cuff comment about an NPC will be taken as an invitation to investigate to the utmost (and probably expect a reward for “solving” the situation). (On the other hand, subtly hinting at Quests the NPC may be offering is ignored. I now use these signs, highlighted in neon: )

As a player, I often take these things too far the other way. I will brush off obvious Plot-lines as “flavour” and ignore the GM’s finely-crafted introduction of new adventures based upon my back-story as “colour”.

I hope we all recognise these behaviours. Players who listen to your (GM) monologue, seemingly intent on jumping on anything they see as a CLUE and jumping in:

“He’s wearing RED shoes? Like the incidental guy we met 6 sessions ago? AND he has a hat on?!? C’MON guys! We have to follow this up!”

And also:

He has the same name as my estranged father. I’m sure several people do. I need to buy some reloads, can we move on? He also has an accent and dialect that can only be from our small provincial town? Interesting, but I really need those reloads!

In one way, this does cause me to lament the move from Pen’n’Paper to Digital. As a player, when asking the name of an NPC, does the GM roll their eyes, and say “Oh, … erm … let’s say ‘Brian'” or do they reach for their copious stack of notes: “One moment, It’s here somewhere!”. Clicking on a hidden screen could just as easily be locating the correct Evernote page, or a random-name-app. While this obviously has its advantages, it also removes some of the subtle clues that we used to take for granted.

Do you prefer a wide-open sandbox, free to explore any direction, as the whim takes you? Or do you present your players with a few limited options, and say the rest is Side-Action? How do you feel about players taking 2-3 sessions to dig into the reason that the Blacksmith can afford THREE apprentices? New, interesting development, or tedious sidetracking?

Me? I am quite split on the matter. As GM, I like to be able to make interesting NPCs, with quirks and foibles. This does not mean I want players delving deeply into their situations, when there is ADVENTURE to be had! As a player (especially in our last Exalted game), I like to get involved in the plight of the “little people”: the blacksmiths, the shoe-shine boys, the servants and lackeys.

Does this make me a bad person? Probably not. Does it make me a bad Player/GM? maybe …

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

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
Grendel

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.

Failure
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?“).

Unskilled
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.