12 December 2012

The Deck of Fate: DW Session Report #1

Tarot card from the Rider-Waite tarot deck, al...
Tarot card from the Rider-Waite tarot deck, also known as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After having been ravaged by lost players and conflicting schedules my regular group finally got together again last Wednesday. While we had been getting together regularly and playing all manner of board games and one shot RPGs it wasn't until last week that we were final in a position to start a persistent campaign again.

We picked Dungeon World as our engine to run this latest campaign and I must say that the first session went rather swimmingly, with the exception of a few minor hiccups which I will talk about a little bit later. For now let's talk about character creation.

This was our table's first time with Dungeon World and character creation went as smoothly as I have ever seen with an RPG. Each character class has its own character sheet and players go down the sheet checking off and circling the options they want. Had we not all been new to the game I think more of the players would have opted to write in unique bonds and descriptions to make their characters a little less by the playbook, but everyone seemed satisfied by what was available this time. I was initially worried that players would fight over the character classes and I only had so many sheets to go around, but that turned out to be a pointless anxiety as everyone settled into a persona without any fussing. Once the dust settled we ended up with a Fighter, Wizard, Bard and Cleric. There will also be a Ranger or Druid joining us later on in the campaign (played by my wife), but she was unable to stay through character creation due to some things that came up.

I wanted to start our very first game of DW off with a simple dungeon crawl. I find crawls are a great way to get a feel for new games and new players, which were both present for this session. I slapped together a quick adventure using one of Dyson's maps and a nasty little monster called a lantern goblin which I found on the Dungeon World blog. I did make a few minor changes to those lanter goblins, though. The first was to change them from having glowing eyes to flaming eyes and the second was to have that light/fire also light up torches and braziers found throughout the dungeon. I whipped up a new move to use with my fiery new friends called Revenge of the Lantern Goblin that was used once those torches lit up. It looked like this:

Revenge of the Lantern Goblin
1d4 damage, targets one except on 7-9.
10+ the torch launches a gout of flame at a nearby PC.
7-9 the torch launches a gout of that hits a monster and a PC.
            6- the torch launches a gout of flame and then sputters out.

All I needed to complete my dungeon was a reason for the player characters to visit there and thanks to some character bonds and cooperative players that was soon supplied. My players had decided that they their characters were mercenaries hired by the Wizard PC to help him collect a rare material component for use in a ritual. Who would have thought that rare material component was found in this dungeon I had prepared? What luck!

The party delved into the dungeon and soon discovered its unusual inhabitants. This is where one of the players threw me my first curveball: the Cleric managed a 10+ on Spout Lore on the goblins and decided to make them undead. I rolled with the punch and the party continued winding through the dungeon, fighting off goblins and extinguishing torches as fast as they were lit. This is actually where we bumped into our first hiccup. You see, one of my regular players has a somewhat... let's say offbeat sense of humour and he thought it would be funny to have his halfling fighter try and put out a torch with urine. One of the new players at the table was less than impressed by that turn of events, but we glossed past it and no harm was done. Clearly nothing that anyone can fault DW for, but a common problem when integrating new and old players.

When the party eventually reached the final section of the dungeon, an altar room with four braziers and an empty frame, I made my first mistake with the rules. The fighter ran into the room to attack the group of goblins guarding the altar and failed all of his Defy Danger attempts miserably. I hadn't realized that monster groups attack as a single unit and slew him outright. When I looked up the death rules to see what happened next I realized my mistake and had to do some retconning. That minor emergency out of the way, we played out the rest of the battle and the simple puzzle of the altar and the empty frame. The solution was, as you have probably guessed, to light all four braziers with goblin fire. This required some quick thinking from the party since Revenge of the Lantern Goblin made this a little more difficult than lighting torches would normally be.

The party's prize for solving the puzzle and slaying the goblins was a magical tarot card titled Trial by Fire, one of the cards that makes up the god of fate's personal tarot deck. Think of Fate's Deck as a deck of many things that was broken up and scattered because it was too powerful for mortal hands. I'm planning to build the campaign around the idea that these cards are resurfacing and all kinds of people want a piece of them, including the party's wizard and patron. I have had the idea to do a campaign like this bouncing around in my skull since this blog post got me thinking about the infamous deck in ways that I never had before.

Obtaining Trial by Fire marked the end of our first session and things should start moving along at a steady pace in the coming sessions now that we have our footing. I'm looking forward to wreaking chaos over the fantasy lands using the magic tarot cards and I don't think my players have a clue how seriously I'm planning on taking those impending doom sections on the Campaign Front once we get going.
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3 December 2012

The Pale Forest (My 2012 RPG Geek 24 RPG)

The dust has settled and this year's 24 Hour RPG Competition at RPG Geek is now over. I threw my hat into the ring this time around with a game called The Pale Forest, but with 37 other great entries I didn't expect to win (and I didn't). That honour goes to the much more popular (and presumably handsome) RPG blogger Lowell Francis.

If you are unfamiliar with the special kind of "fun" that is the 24 hour RPG, let me explain it to you. A bunch of crazy game designers get together and decide that it would be a good idea to create a game with no prior work and no outside help in just 24 hours. There is no stopping the clock, once you start you have exactly 24 hours to finish the thing. It's a mad dash and a lot of fun provided you have a masochistic streak.

This was my first time entering a 24 hour RPG competition and I really didn't put as much of the 24 hours into it as I would have liked. I think my break down was 1-2 hours brainstorming, 3 hours designing and then throwing away my first idea, 3 hours on my second idea and 1 hour layout. Then probably another 1-2 hours of  hanging out in the official thread and otherwise procrastinating when I should have been working. All things said, I probably spent 10 of my 24 hours actually at my computer "working" on the game.

You can view/download The Pale Forest here.

My cover design skills aren't great, but this
one was terrible even by my standards.

Now that the contest is over I'm allowed to talk about my game a little. It's not actually against the rules to do so, but there's a kind of gentleman's agreement not to for fear of influencing voters. Here are some rapid-fire thoughts on The Pale Forest:

  • I went with a kind of mad-libs style of character creation, mainly because I couldn't think of a way to marry character creation with game play. I'm not particularly happy with it.
  • The big mechanical idea I wanted to play with was a built in time limit and a mechanical resources that run out. I accomplished this with a spindown die that represents health/gear/sanity and so on. It decreases with each scene and action and players gamble it to overcome obstacles. I think there is more that can be done with the idea, but I'd need more than 24 hours to truly make it work. I'm really interested in the feedback on this one.
  • I was also interested in experimenting with gambling as a mechanic and I tried to tie that with the resources. I like the idea that players set their own risk/reward as it frees things for the GM and makes for an unpredictable game.
  • When the aforementioned resource runs out something bad happens. I think the game is going to be rather CoC-esque in that there is rarely a happy ending.
  • The game is very freeform with the only guidance being in random tables and a few paragraphs of exposition. With the mad-lib character creation someone should be able to get it up and playing in less than 10 minutes. I'm worried that there might not be enough guidance, but an experienced GM should be able to accomplish a lot with just the random tables and the way the gambling/resource mechanic works.
I don't think that I will be returning to this game to flesh it out and otherwise improve it. The reason? I don't really like it. I like the setting and I like the ideas that birthed the game, but I don't really like the result. I will continue to experiment with gambling mechanics with Rollplay Engine and I'm not convinced that a limited resource really works in an RPG without giving it more teeth and turning it into a competitive or very short game.

If you do end up reading or trying The Pale Forest please let me know how it goes. I am always curious about people's experiences and I haven't even had a chance to play the game myself.


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