Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Kid's Kid Game: Creatures & Classrooms

The Kid woke me up this morning with an idea for his own version of D&D: Creatures and Classrooms. Monster-Teachers try to bore you (costing you Fun Points), and the students try to wear down their teachers with pranks until they retire.


Follow up: The kid took his rules into school, and has started up a game during "Centers" time. Three days in, and it sounds like things are going well—the players have discovered that the Teachers are aliens with a vulnerability to water, and have armed themselves with water guns. "I think I'll take them to Mars, today," he said at breakfast.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Kid's Game: Chargen 2

Attributes
Roll 3d6, assign as you wish.
3-7:      -1
8-14:     0
15-17: +1
18:      +2

STRENGTH: How strong you are. Useful for fighting, climbing, and carrying treasure.
                +/- to melee attack and damage
DEXTERITY: How fast you are and how accurate your aim is.
                +/- to ranged attack and Armor Class.
CONSTITUTION: How healthy you are.
                +/- to Hit Points
INTELLIGENCE: How much you know, and how good you are at figuring things out.
                +/- to Spells learned with leveling as a spell-caster
WISDOM: How aware you are of the world around you, including the spirit world.
                +/- 10% XP
CHARISMA: How good a leader you are, and how well you can get along with people and animals.
                +/- Pet

LUCK
Add up all your attributes to determine how many Luck Points you have.
Total               Luck
78 or more        0
66-77                1
54-65                2
48-53                3
42-47                4
30-41                6
18-29                8

You can spend a Luck Point to automatically succeed at a roll. Luck points are refreshed between adventures. Success from spending a Luck point should be narrated as fortuitous happenstance that comes out of character incompetence,  à la Inspector Clouseau.

Notes
I use attribute checks when playing with the kid, even though I'm becoming pretty disenchanted by them in my regular games. It's a straight-forward, flexible mechanic that use the most prominent numbers on the character sheet—ideal for the Kid's Game.

I had developed a very simple skill system for the Kid's Game, but I think I'm going to ditch it in favor of just using attributes. If you want to sneak, it's a DEX check, not a separate skill. But, this means that if there are opportunities for skill advancement, this will be done by improving attributes numbers, which is a pretty big departure from the game I'm trying to scaffold.

It is fascinating watching the kid recreate so much of the history of old school rule-hackery. He pointed out the possibility of an Ascending Armor Class the first time he saw the attack matrix (although, proto-grognard that he is, he then insisted on using Descending), and has been reinventing a lot of the old familiar schemes for getting better character stats: roll 3d6 seven times, drop lowest; roll four characters, keep best; etc.

I'd much rather add a mechanic that grants utility to characters with low stats than reconjigger chargen to produce higher stats, like 4d6-drop-lowest. Weaknesses lead to more interesting characters, more interesting play, and better teamwork.

The Luck mechanic is my solution, but it needs more playtesting. It's obviously something that would be considered game-wrecking in the regular game, but young kids need some get-out-of-jail free cards.

Or, at least, my kid does. Holy Geez, it is terrifying to discover just how unhinged my kid's problem-solving skills are. A typical example: To stop a run-away wagon, he rides his horse up and leaps onto the wagon. But, instead of grabbing the reins of the bolting horses, he takes his bow and shots his sword at a tree, hoping to chop it down and block the wagon's path.

It was pretty amazing, actually.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Kid's Game: Chargen 1

I've been noodling with a ruleset for playing with my kid. He wants to play D&D, so it's basically Holmes on training wheels, customized towards my kid's particular proclivities.

Here's a table for determining your character concept:



A few notes:
1. The results of this chart do not convey any mechanical effects. Just because you rolled "Wizard" doesn't mean you are any good at wizardry.  Maybe you were raised by wizards, but your true talent lies in... uhm, dinosaur racing?

2. There is no info established for any of the Realms. They're just evocative names. Totally up to the kid what it's like to be from The Corridors of Time.

3. My intention is that, after rolling the above tables and generating stats, the kid draws a picture of their character. For my kid, at least, this seems to be a shamanic moment, calling forth a new soul and fixing it to the material world.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Long Slow Flight of the Ashbot officially released!




An ash-collecting robot witnesses the collapse of the universe as he slowly drifts beyond outer space.

See PART II, "We Were Not Made For This World" here: vimeo.com/112673745

Directed by Colin West McDonald [cwestmcdonald.com, twitter.com/CWestMcDonald]

Based on "Long Slow Flight of the Ashbot" by award-winning and -losing cartoonist Joel Priddy [joelpriddy.com]—that's me!

Ashbot Voice: William Knight

Additional Foley Artist: Felix Blume [felixblume.com]

Graphic Design: Jeff Brush [jeffbrush.com]

Production Assistance: Tina Matthews [tinamatthewsdesign.com], Megan Wollerton

Thank you: Jonathan Matthews, Peter Brown, Cailyn Driscoll

Learn more about The Robot Scriptures here: cwestmcdonald.com/the-robot-scriptures

Isn't this exciting? I'm excited! Let me know what you think!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

One Kid; Many Editions

My kid asked to play D&D, and I went into a panic. Be cool; don’t screw this up!

Which of the hundreds of possible versions of D&D at my fingertips do I introduce him to?

 He wanted the name Dungeons & Dragons and he wanted a physical book. So no retro-clones or pdfs. I picked up a Holmes boxed set and mentioned that it was how I learned D&D. That was it.

He rolled up a Magic-User, and I rolled up a Halfling.

It was a strange thing going through the Holmes rules after so many years. There are a lot of peculiarities of the game that I’d thought were my own childhood misinterpretations of the rules. Like, there’re very few derived stats in Holmes. I’d assumed I had just glossed over them, but, nope. They really just aren't there. And the way Magic-Users start with a whole passel of spells.

And of course, it’s pretty disorganized. I had to go through Blueholme after the kid’s bedtime to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. But I think Holmes was a pretty good choice. It's so pared down that there's not much he'll have to unlearn/translate when he plays with friends, one of whom has started looking through his dad's Second Edition AD&D books.

Delving Deeper Character Sheet art by Mark Allen
I printed out the Delving Deeper character sheet and handed it to the kid, this morning. He silently mouthed the word “Awesome,” which is pretty much the best reaction one could hope for.

Over breakfast, we ran Beyond the Wall’s Goblin Infestation Scenario Pack. Both our characters have only 3 hp, and we both would have died several times, but I had us get knocked unconscious and wake up in a goblin cell that was pretty easy to bust out of. Eventually the kid picked up that I was fudging, and gave me the skunk eye. I asked his advice, “Next adventure, should I have us die?”

He’s thinking it over.

He’s eager to play again. I think I’ll run a Hero Kids scenario. Maybe with another NPC or two along for the ride, to soak up some damage.

I’m considering cobbling together a quick set of Kid’s D&D Houserules, incorporating:
Everyone’s an Adventurer class rules
Beyond the Wall’s Fortune Mechanic (it’d be good to give the kid a legitimate do-over)
• Single Saving Throw
• A Not-So-Gruesome Version to the Death & Dismemberment Table
• Everyone Has a Pet

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Review: Further Afield

I love to read and fiddle and hack all sorts of different rule sets. But the game I actually play is Beyond the Wall. It’s pretty great.

Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures is set up for quick, low-prep games. You can sit down with your friends and some dice, and soon have rounded, interrelated characters, a detailed-enough base Village, and an adventure knocking down the door.

There’s no reason to limit such an appealing system to one-shot sessions. And a big new supplement is here to take the strategies that worked so well in Beyond the Wall and apply them to long-term campaign play: Further Afield.

I want to go to there.


I’ve been playtesting Further Afield content for several months. Here’s my take:

Collaborative Sandbox Design
Beyond the Wall makes play out of chargen, generating not only character abilities and history, but also relationships, significant NPCs, and the Village that serves as the base.

Further Afield uses this same collaborative approach to build a sandbox campaign. Players take turns adding locations to an approximate map. This, of course, is insane. How can the players explore a region they created? But—vitally—their characters’ knowledge is fallible. The players determine how their characters learned of this place (rumor, study, or direct experience), and the GM rolls in secret to determine how accurate their information is. It can be disastrously wrong.

This is the map I made for players to put their locations on. Very approximate.

After an initial round of location creation, players can then take a turn embellishing another player’s location. In my experience, this embellishing stage is where things really started to click. The initial locations people were coming up with were placeholders for game tropes—basically “put a scary dungeon here,” "how about an orc tribe there?" But with the embellishments, the locations started to get more specific, and a world emerged.

We had fun making our world. The players have a bit of ownership over it, and the characters have enough world-knowledge that it feels like they live there, but not so much that they can feel secure.

I’ve encountered exactly two players who seemed allergic to this kind of collaboration. I can’t quite wrap my head around that. It seems like unalloyed fun, to me. And all the other players have really taken to it. It’s opened the door to bringing in other games, like Microscope and Archipelago to flesh out parts of the world, and makes for a nice change of pace from the more traditional crawl-style play.

After a bit of fiddling, this is our sandbox.


Threat Packs
Beyond the Wall has Scenario Packs—clever little packets that use a couple tables and a few stat blocks to generate a nearly-no-prep evening or two of play. Further Afield extends this notion with Threat Packs. These generate longer-term problems at large in the world that eventually build to a crisis. I’m working with one of the Threat Packs, now. Honestly, it is so sympatico with the way I do things anyway, that it hardly feels like an addition so much as if someone wrote down some of my notes before I thought them.

Death and New Characters
Very useful for long-term play if you’re using Beyond the Wall playbooks. BtW creates a tight-knit group of characters with a shared history. Which is great. Until a new player joins, or someone dies and needs a new character. You can always make a new character, of course, but you lose out on the flavor that comes with the generated history. Further Afield provides suggestions and tables for bringing new characters into the fold. I haven’t directly used these tables, but I have taken inspiration from this section when introducing fresh faces.

Character Traits
Further Afield introduces Traits, little character bonus abilities, like “Tenacious,” “Oathkeeper,” or “Mighty Shot.” I don’t like these as additions to new characters—one too many bangles ruining an elegant sufficiency—but I can see awarding them later, during play, as a form of advancement.

Experience
Further Afield offers several optional methods of dealing XP, many of which will be familiar to anyone reading rpg blogs. The most promising, at least for games with a tone like Beyond the Wall, is a system of tying XP to money and effort invested in their home Village. Build a village wall, add a keep, upgrade the fortifications. As your village thrives, so does your character.

Creating Magical Items
It is so satisfying when you read a game mechanic that perfectly captures the feeling of myth and story, and you just dream of the opportunity to bring it into play and create a truly epic moment for your players. I had that response three different times while reading this section. Haven’t had a chance to use it yet in play, but it’s going to be so good when I do.

Optional Rules
I’ve played with the Combat Stances quite a lot, and found them very useful. They work very well with an abstracted approach to combat by adding strategic specificity without getting caught up in granularity or simulationism. There’s also a variant use of Fortune Points that my players glommed into in a hurry.
I made this chart to help remind my players to use the combat stances.

The Book
The layout and design at Flatland Games has been steadily improving. The illustrations—well, all the illustrations are good. Some are really, really good. But the tone is all over the place. Even more than you’d expect from a role-playing game. Illustrations have a huge influence on our perception of games. We might as well refer to Otus D&D and Elmore D&D, right? And BtW is a game with a carefully cultivated tone. This tone is backed up by both the crunch and fluff of the system, so it’s disruptive that it isn’t consistent in the visuals.

What I’d really like to see is the Beyond the Wall Core Rules and Further Afield integrated into one book, with some clean, crisp, spare layout and cohesive artwork. It would be my go-to Christmas gift for years to come.

Larry MacDougal just might be BtW's Erol Otus.


Conclusion
Further Afield is a solid expansion—a must-buy for anyone using Beyond the Wall, and a worthy collection of ideas for people who aren’t.

Further Afield
By John Cocking and Peter S. Williams
Flatland Games

Full disclosure: In addition to the playtest documents, I was comped a .pdf of the final edition.