Friday, 29 May 2015

Downfall D&D intrigue

Quite a while ago now, I mentioned the Close the Airlock! Traveller podcast. That ended sometime in 2013, I think, and there was radio silence for a long time. Possibly due to them doing short-term gaming rather than epic campaigns? Not sure. Eventually, though, the group have resumed podcasting with a 5e D&D campaign that's supposed to focus on grey-morality urban intrigue, and a party of... let's say, "protagonists" rather than "heroes", not evil but very much looking out for their own interests.

I'm up to Episode 12 so far and having a lot of fun; it's fairly ambient play, so great for listening to as I get on with other stuff. Although at least one person is Skyping in, there's not many issues with people speaking over each other. There's some background crackle at times, but I haven't found it a problem (although of course, better audio is always welcome).

They're taking this pretty seriously (not the game, but the podcast) so there's a blog up at as well as copies of the maps they use, an extensive players' guide if you want to know more about the homebrew world, and even a substantial GM's guide that you can pick up by donating. Obviously not for everyone (I don't have one, for a start) but if you're interested in running something similar or just in porting the setting, it might be a good option.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Taking the Fifth: early thoughts on D&D 5e

So I've been playing 5th edition for a little while now, with a couple of different characters. I'm really enjoying it. It seems to make a very nice job of uniting things that were good about previous editions, improving game balance, and keeping everything flavoursome. Good job, WotC.

I just wanted to make a few observations based on my play so far. We've only hit levels 3 and 5 respectively in the campaigns, so it's early days yet. I don't claim particular expertise, and my notes will inevitably be coloured by my personal experience, as the stuff I've actually read in detail and thought hard about tends to be my own characters. I don't even own the DMG or Monster Manual.

For reference, those characters are:

  • a 3rd-level human fey pact warlock ex-wheelwright who just got his sprite familiar (with cloth cap and tiny, tiny fey whippets), primarily distinguished by rolling really poorly on spell attack rolls and astonishingly well on fey charm rolls.
  • a 5th-level elven ranger/draconic sorcerer/monk Gap Decade traveller who talks his way into bizarre situations and then is deeply bemused about why he suddenly has to fight his way out of them, using the motley collection of skills he's picked up between National Service, natural elven affiliation for magic, and other cultures' amazingly authentic and deeply spiritual practices that also involve flying kicks.

In general the experience has been extremely good; inevitably that means my comments here will tend towards the critical, because it's really hard to pin down why I enjoyed stuff, but easy to spot the things that jarred on me.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Crosspost: Gender roles in fantasy gameworlds

Shannon is always worth reading, but I think these two posts on chauvanistic settings and fantasy gender assumptions are particularly worthwhile if you're interested in building interesting societies, playing around with different histories and assumptions, or how players and setting assumptions can interact. These ideas can also be relevant to other social imbalances, such as the place and treatment of various fantasy races or religious groups.

Fun-sizing the Great Old Ones: Azathoth

On there was recently some discussion about why Ramsey Campbell's creations get so much time in Call of Cthulhu. This turned into a discussion of how certain Great Old Ones are more gaming-friendly than others. I've been meaning to write something about this for literally years, so I knuckled down. My first post addresses how Azathoth, the demon sultan of imbecilic madness that writhes at the centre of the universe, can be made a little easier to use in a game.

The starting point for my thoughts, ages ago, was actually the big green himself. Given the entire game is named after him, Cthulhu hardly seems to appear at all in Call of Cthulhu. Meanwhile, Shub-Niggurath and Nyarlathotep gibber on every corner, and Hastur has already bought most of the real estate. Why is this?

I hope you'll accept an assertion that some entities are simply easier to use in games than others. Let me try to outline some of the factors that affect that. As always, there will be bullet points. Sorry, that's just how I roll.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Visitant: cover and compromise

Cover and Compromise

It’s tough being an alien resident on Earth. From the moment you arrive, it’s vital to create and maintain a solid cover identity as a human. This cover allows you to go about your agenda undetected; many kinds of research, manipulation and predation wouldn’t be possible if your targets knew you weren’t human. More urgently, cover keeps you safe. A low-cover visitant is vulnerable to observation, investigation and public suspicion. A visitant whose cover is blown is a wanted fugitive, whether the pursuers know exactly who they’re dealing with or simply think them a dangerous spy.

Cover is about being totally mundane. You don’t want suspicion of any kind. The more information is spread about you acting unusually, the weaker your cover becomes. Suspicion doesn’t necessarily need to be attached to you personally; reporters investigating alleged alien activity in your village is a problem too. Gossip about your unusual habits, police questioning about involvement in strage events, YouTube videos of a strange creature prowling around the park, they’re all dangerous to you.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Visitant: the Infiltration

Familiarity is a blanket, invisible until ripped away. The protagonists of Visitant: the Infiltration are extraterrestrials, planted or stranded on the Earth and striving to remain undetected. It's about strangeness, loneliness, the struggle to appear like everyone else without really knowing what that means, to understand the world you must inhabit. Visitants must balance their core identity with the fa├žade that keeps them safe, their instincts with the customs of their new home, their loneliness with the need for secrecy. And there are others out there, human and inhuman, eager to find them.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Morris mechanics

So I proposed (in all seriousness) a campaign called Morris based around Generic Patriotism, urban occultery and hitting things with sticks. Nobody has expressed the slightest bit of interest, which will in no way prevent me from going on about it (how very thematic).

I proposed using existing systems to play Morris, but let's pontificate about other options anyway.

There are a couple of main strands to the game as I see it. It's basically urban fantasy, after all. One side is therefore dealing with weirdness. The other side is getting on with life. These two frequently conflict: weirdness demands your attention at inconvenient times, while Real Life has a bucketload of emotional and practical demands that cause problems in tackling weirdness. Buffy Summers and every costumed superhero ever know this. You have to skip the school play to prevent the boundaries of reality from collapsing; you can't patrol the town borders because if you miss one more deadline you'll be out of a job; your family think you're either a worthless drunk or mixed up in gangs because you're always staggering home at 2am with fresh cuts and reeking of peculiar incense.

Broadly speaking, characters here need two "skillsets". I use the term advisedly, since it doesn't necessarily mean you need skills as such, or even anything. But characters need tools for interacting with weirdness, and tools for interacting with normality, and they may not be the same or even similar. From this point I'll use "The Morris" to mean anything associated with the mysteries and duties of the Morris, and "Normality" for everyday problems.