Wednesday, June 7, 2017

An Exaltation of Rockets

I've been toying off-and-on with a rockets-and rayguns campaign/ruleset based heavily on the original Buck Rogers strips. I started working it up as a Black Hack, but I've since switched over to Maze Rats, which has become my ruleset of choice for Play-by-Post.

I don't have a good name for it. I want something that conveys the baroque majesty of science fiction in the 20s and 30s. "Planetary Romance" is an accurate description of the genre, but needs about 20% more pulp. Pseudo-pulp magazine names seem like a good way to go, but that's such an easy well to dip into that the results can sound pretty generic.

Request for feedback #1: On this particular morning, I'm enamored of "An Exaltation of Rockets," but it may not carry the right resonances. I'd be eager to hear from you what your first impression was when you saw that as the post's title. What sort of imagery did it conjure up? What sort of world does it belong to?

The premise of the world is that War of the Worlds-style tripods invaded Earth in 1930, and have pretty well mastered it for 500 years. Most humans who have escaped mind-controlled slavery live neolithic existences in the wilderness, but there are a few hidden communities where human culture and science have progressed. If they can shake off the yoke of Tripod domination, there is a whole solar system out there teeming with life and adventure.

Characters can start as:
Wild Humans
Clave Humans (the folks with science—that is to say, ray guns)
Time-lost Human (like Buck Rogers)
Inventor
Atlantean
Selenite (moon-frogs)
Martian (tiger folk)
Robot

SCIENCE!
Inventors (and, to a lesser extent, Robots) have access to Technological Wonders.

Technological Wonders are determined by rolling up a name and figuring out what it does, just like spells in Maze Rats. But, unlike spells, they are persistent, and can be used more than once.

At the moment, I'm playing with the idea of using a Reliability Die (read: Ammo Die or Usage Die). Technological Wonders begin at d4. The dR degrades on a result of 1 or 2. When you run out of dice, the item breaks or runs out of a necessary resource, and won't work again until sufficient downtime is devoted to fixing it. An Inventor can, upon Leveling up, either gain a new Technological Wonder or upgrade the dR of an existing Wonder.

To figure out your Technological Wonder, roll a d6 twice for A, B, C, and D. Describe what you think it does. The GM gets final say on what it actually does.


Technological Wonder Table


A
B
C
D
1
1
Aethero-
Active
Abjuration
Baton
1
2
Arcano-
Biological
Adaptation
Blade
1
3
Astro-
Charged
Amplification
Bubble
1
4
Atomo-
Chemical
Animation
Capsule
1
5
Aural-
Elemental
Articulation
Cloak
1
6
Chrono-
Energetic
Communication
Coil
2
1
Cosmo-
Graphic
Compression
Cube
2
2
Destructo-
Gravitational
Compulsion
Disk
2
3
Dyno-
Harmonic
Conjuration
Engine
2
4
Electro-
Illusory
Detection
Field
2
5
Excello-
Incorporeal
Disruption
Gas
2
6
Geo-
Ionic
Distortion
Harness
3
1
Gyro-
Laser
Division
Pen
3
2
Holo-
Lightning
Duplication
Injector
3
3
Hyper-
Magma
Elevation
Key
3
4
Ideo-
Magnetic
Evocation
Leaf
3
5
Kineto-
Matter
Examination
Lens
3
6
Macro-
Mental
Expansion
Medallion
4
1
Micro-
Mineral
Extraction
Orb
4
2
Multi-
Mnemonic
Fusion
Pack
4
3
Nega-
Molecular
Incineration
Particle
4
4
Neuro-
Morphological
Incision
Paste
4
5
Nucleo-
Penumbral
Inversion
Platform
4
6
Null
Phase
Manipulation
Prism
5
1
Omni-
Phenomenal
Multiplication
Projector
5
2
Para-
Physical
Negation
Ray
5
3
Proto-
Plasma
Petrification
Receiver
5
4
Psycho-
Polarized
Prediction
Ring
5
5
Radio-
Probabilistic
Preservation
Rover
5
6
Spatio-
Psionic
Protection
Scope
6
1
Tele-
Sonic
Reflection
Serum
6
2
Thermo-
Stasis
Regeneration
Spray
6
3
Turbo-
-ocular
Repulsion
Visor
6
4
Veloci-
Void
Revelation
Wand
6
5
Vibro-
Vortex
Synthesis
Web
6
6
Vita-
Warp
Transmission
Wheel

Some examples:
Telebiological Amplification Web. Lets you link a number of willing subjects so that they can pool their health. So, everyone gets to shunt a hit point or two over to buff a fellow in need.

Protowarp Preservation Prism. An object or person placed inside the prism is put in a form of suspended animation by being warped out of phase with the passage of time.

Neuromineral Evocation Visor. Rock-based psychometry. Lets you tap into mineral "memories."

Request for feedback #2: Would you try rolling up a few devices and see if they coalesce into usable ideas? I know this table can return interesting results, but, with over a million possible results, I don't know how likely it is to come up with clunkers. Or if this is just attuned to stuff that inspires ideas for me, and looks like garbage to anyone else.

Thanks!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Mini-game: Potion Quaffing

A reoccurring event in the campaign I play with my kid are The Monster Olympics. The PCs disguise themselves as evil creatures and infiltrate the annual competition.

It's an excuse to play a bunch of mini-games: jousting, wrestling, racing, etc. Maintaining your disguise, cheating, and foiling the other team's attempts to cheat are unofficial but vital events.

One of the events is Potion-Quaffing. It's pretty straightforward: a Whitehack-style blackjack roll based on Constitution, and a random table to come up with really awful potions.

Think you could stomach some Nectar of Curdled Frog Gall with a Slice of Sea Cucumber?

How about a tall glass of Hag Wart and Heartache, Haunted by a Vengeful Ghost?

Maybe Pearls of Sugared Shoggoth Wool and Runny Cheese, on the Rocks, Served in a Pumpkin Shell?


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Tunnels & Trolls Cheat Sheet

When learning a new system, I often reduce the rules down to a simple reference document. I do this even for the most minimal games, taking perverse pleasure in reducing an elegant 2-page system into an unhelpfully dense 1/2-page system.

I recently joined a PbP game using the stripped-down, free version of Tunnels & Trolls, fifth edition. We're all new to the system. In the spirit of learning together, here's the document. I hope it's useful.


I also hope it's accurate. Being new to the game, I may have misinterpreted  what I was reading. Please be gentle in your corrections—I'm a sensitive flower.

Monday, March 20, 2017

RPGs with Kids: The Birthday Party

I ran an birthday party-adventure with a group of 9 kids of mixed ages and various levels of experience with RPGs.
The Party Favors 
Favors
An adorable monster notebook to keep track of things, and a set of polyhedrals.

Mechanics
The rules were mostly Sword & Backpack/Fluid Fundamentals. That is, pretty much just "roll a d20 and hope it's high." I used the Fluid Fundamentals idea of Room DCs, which made keeping track of everything very easy (which proved vital, as the chaos around the table was high, and I'd have lost half the party if I'd ever stopped to look anything up).

There were lots of scrolls lying around, and the spells were Maze Rats. It was fun watching kids figure out spells from names like "ectoplasmic form" and "enveloping insect."

And I looked for lots of opportunities to make kids roll the different types of dice, so they could try out their whole set.

Chargen
There were no attributes or classes (although several kids insisted that their characters were elvish ranger-paladins and what-not).

They picked or rolled on a table of fantasy home-realms and occupations. No mechanical implications here, just a smidge of specificity to get the imagination rolling. I also had a long list of names prepared, but I don't think anyone used it.

Then, I asked each one what their character was best at, and told them that they had a +2 bonus at that. This information went into their adorable monster-books.


The Adventure
The party woke up, unequipped, in a cage in a giant's pantry. They escaped and armed themselves as best the could with what they found: rolling pins, pot lids, Purple Sturgleblossom (the world's stinkiest cheese), vengeful ghost-pepper powder, giant beetle eggs, etc.

They busted out into a kitchen full of kobold chefs preparing sea serpent chowder. The fight that resulted was as much against each other as the kobolds, as the players vied to be arm themselves with the limited supply knives.

They also found a giant barrel of Elvish Moonwine—a healing potion that tastes differently every time you drink it. The found four empty bottles, and once they filled them, I brought out four bottles of fruit juices, and explained that this was their supply of moonwine, and when they drank it all, their character's would be out of healing. Result: kids willingly rationing a sugar source at a party. You don't see that often.

Every time someone drank, they rolled to see what flavor it was:

1
Blood of
Boiled
Bat Wing
Aged 200 Years
2
Drainage of
Brewed
Black Pudding
And Mint
3
Effluvium of
Digested
Fire Beetle Guts
Flambé
4
Elixir of
Fermented
Innocence
From Concentrate
5
Juice of
Infected
Onyx
In a Decorative Mug
6
Liquor of
Jellied
Pixie Dust
On the Rocks
7
Oil of
Processed
Potato
Served in a Boot
8
Sap of
Putrescent
Rot Grub Castings
Shaken, Not Stirred
9
Secretion of
Reclaimed
Sea Serpent Eyeball
Suspended in Aspic
10
Tea of
Regurgitated
Shoggoth Gland
Swirled with Snotberries
11
Tears of
Sugared
Spite
Topped with Beard Shavings
12
Water of
Wounded
Unicorn Spleen
With Goat Milk

Equipped with knives and potions, they proceeded to get lost in some mouse tunnels they found behind a barrel of minotaur butter. Eventually, they bribed a giant mouse with the beetle eggs. Having an encounter not immediately descend into bloodshed was, perhaps, the greatest achievement of the game.

They snuck past a sleeping Cerberus, and found two treasure chests.
One had a label reading: THIS CHEST CONTAINS A TERRIBLE MONSTER.
The other was labeled: BOTH OF THESE LABELS ARE LYING.
Clever sprats worked this out in a few seconds, opened the right chest, and found some nice upgrades to armor and weapons.

Then they stumbled into a giant griddle-room. Goblins skated across the griddle-floor on thick slabs of fat tied to their feet, tending to massive strips of mastodon bacon, roc eggs, and pancakes. The pancake dough was ladled by a mechanical crane, which, of course, could target the characters. And there was a cage with one of the character's family in it, about to be grilled.

Things broke down at this point. The party ran in different directions, they accidentally woke up the Cerberus, they left a comrade sizzling like a sausage, and the family went un-rescued.

And that was time! Three hours had passed, and the kids clearly needed to run around, so the game was abandoned in favor of a snowball fight.

The Carnage
I had about seven more rooms prepared, and many families to rescue, but that was clearly overkill.

Takeaways
1. This was the cheapest and easiest birthday party we've ever thrown. Highly recommended.
2. Holy Dang, guys! You really don't need much in the way of mechanics at all to start playing! I mean, I knew that, but I needed to be reminded. Resolved: to never let rules-explanation to slow down starting a game.
3. Kids get RPGs. The only ones who needed anything explained to them were the ones who were expecting 5e. Kids, after all, invented "let's play make-believe."

Addendum
I baked a citrus pound cake in a dragon-mold. I used too much butter, which gave the cake really nice, crisp definition in the details of the mold, but resulted in a texture more like a fried doughnut that a birthday cake.

Also, right before the party, the kid made labels for all the snacks. Corn chips became "Gorgon's Toenails," grapes were "Ogre's Eyeballs," carrots were "Magic Missiles," etc. Wish I'd thought of that.