Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

Apocalypse World fiction: Introducing Tully

I'm not much to look at.

No, that's not true. I really am something to look at! I'm uglier than a turd left to dry out on a plate of moldy cheese, okay? I'm not embellishing or exaggerating either. I'm a freak and I'm proud. If that bothers you it doesn't bother me. Most of the time I just ignore the staring, sometimes I even pretend it's because they can see who I really am underneath all of this applesauce. And what is that? A being of pure joy. No, not really. But the world is shit and deep down everybody wants it to be cool again, and I may look like a walking hemorrhoid that just popped but deep down I'm the best friend you'll ever have. I bet you're wondering what I could possibly look like that is so darn tooting awful, huh? Well, I'll tell you.

Most people who look at me aren't really sure where my skin is, but it's underneath all of the mash sliding down my body. I'm confident that if I scraped all of this dirt off of me you'd see a scrawny body with no muscles or paunch anywhere, and the skin would be hugging my bones like a hooker wraps her legs around their best customer. Skin and bones is what they call the boy that lives at the end of the road, but he's a floundering pig compared to how wiry my limbs are.

Of course, you might not ever notice that because I got this perspiration problem. You see my body likes to sweat, but it sweats out oil that stings the nostrils and makes the back of your throat itch. That oil is thick too, it builds up in the folds of my joints and in the crevices of skin between my bones and it turns black. It doesn't really harden, but it's thick enough that it looks like I got a layer of dark syrup all over my body.

Nobody is ever really sure what to make of this stuff. It's oily, it falls off of me sometimes, and it stinks like moldy cheese. I tried drying some of it out once and it just disappeared into the air after a few days. Even though it gets chunky and heavy when it's building up on my body, I think it's just sweat and so that's what I call it, when I'm not putting others at ease by calling it something else like strawberry fluff, Aztec gold, or my portable waterbed simulator. Needless to say, I keep my distance from others since I never know how grossed out they're going to be. This pickle juice leaves stains and I'm always nervous that some psycho is going to channel their disgust into bullets.

And if you're planning on calling me names I'll just tell you right now: I've heard them all. Turdjacket. Shitstain. Shithead. Shitpile. Shitwalker. Walking corpse. Crapboy. Wasteface. Slimer. Satan's Jizz Monkey. And my personal favorite, Poopskin. When people get to know me the names usually stop. I'm not a bad guy, I'm just a disgusting freak.

You're probably wondering about my cock now. You don't have to be embarrassed, I've gotten the look before. I'm pretty familiar with that trying-to-mask-our-curiosity not-casual-enough glance downward that says somebody is surveying my groin trying to determine if I even have a cock down there under all that pudding. Well I don't. I'm not even sure if I'm a man or a woman. I remember being a kid and my mother calling me Tully and telling me how special I was, but I got mutated early on and I don't even remember having other kids as friends. Ever. I was on my own for a long time, and most people just call me "he" and "him" and it works for me. All I know is there's a little cluster of bumps on my skin down there and I can rub them and it feels mighty fine after a little while.

I wouldn't know what regular sex is like. I'm sure I could clean myself off and make some kind of effort, but then there's my eyes. They're not normal eyes. The centers are sort of gray and surrounding them where it should be white it's actually green. Also, I don't blink. I didn't really think about my lack of eyelids until somebody pointed it out to me once. It was Merv over in the Cellar Town cafe actually. We were sharing a smoke and he said "You know, I think anybody could get used to your ugly ass, but it's fuckin' spooky that you're always lookin' at people and you never blink your eyes. It's just unsettling." I suppose it's the main reason why people tear their gaze away from me, because I'm always gaping at them down the barrel of my own happy gaze, shooting their stares right back at them.

  • ahem


  • Woman's Voice: Tell me some more about these, uh... psychic abilities of yours.

    Well, what do you want to know about it?

    Woman's Voice: What is it? Do you know where it comes from?

    It's hard to describe. I know that don't help, but I've heard of other people with weird stuff going on with them. You know? A guy who talks to a flag. Buildings that don't have exits once you get inside of them. I heard about this one lady running around who could put thoughts into people's brains, make them go crazy. Some guy who just exploded for no reason. Trees that move when nobody is looking. Strange poop is always happening somewhere.
    I don't really know how to explain the weird psychic crayola, I can only really tell you what it's like for me. (coughs) When I cozy up for some sleeptime, ever since I was a kid, I would do this thing where I imagine myself in one of the old food stores of legend. My mom taught it to me, though I think she didn't want me to think about anything, I don't know why you'd want to think of nothing but, you know, it put her to sleep. Instead it would keep me awake. I would be thinking about rows and rows of canned food in every variety. Cans of soup, cans of corn, cans of beer, cans of bread. I remember the first time I had this little before-sleep dream and something was different about it.
    It was the same day my first friend got killed. I was pretty broken up, so at the time I thought this was just how I was handling that shit. You know? I was holding one of these cans, and I could see the guy who killed Whiting on the can.

    Woman's Voice: Whiting was your friend's name?

    Yeah, Whiting. Man! I haven't thought about him in years. Anyway, this can, it had one of those old labels, you know? It looked brand new, all clean and slick. It said spa-ghetto's on the top, clear to me as you are, and I don't know where my brain thought of that. But I'm looking at the label, and I can see this guy, and the murder, clear as the word Spaghetti-O's on the label, and it's like I'm writing the memory of what happened onto the can and explaining how this guy killed Whiting. And then I took the can and put it on a shelf real careful like. Next week we hear some righteous angels had found this guy and strung him up, calling him a murderer, but that was two towns over where nobody had even heard of Whiting.

    Woman's Voice: Are you saying you got these men to find the man who murdered your friend?

    Yeah. Well, no. Not really. Something like that though. You know? What I'm saying is that when I'm being all psychic, I'm taking something I've seen or some feeling I had and I put it onto the label of one of these cans and then I put it on a shelf. Somehow, other people just find that stuff out. It's like I can share what's going on in my head with other people, but I never know who is going to walk down that aisle in the food store.

    Woman's Voice: So your psychic abilities allow you to interact with others in an old grocery store?

    I don't ever see anybody else in these before-sleep dreams! Lady, aint you been listening to me? A food store is what I see! Not a gross sorry.

    Woman's Voice: Grocery.

    Whatever! (sound of shuffling, something wet splatters on the ground) What I see aint the same as other people. I heard of one lady who sees smoke all around like everything's on fire. Then there's that guy Blind Blue, I bet he don't even see shit, I bet he just feels everything out and knows what's there, probably better than seeing with that weirdo. But me, I see an old food store, and when I want people to know something I put a can of thought up on a shelf.

    Saturday, February 16, 2013

    announcing future badness

    For lack of better terminology, I think every role-playing game can be broken up into two categories: physics engines and narrative engines. Some games bridge the gap between the two better than others, but overall a game is either a physics engine or a narrative engine. Sometimes a narrative engine will have a physics component but conflict resolution still falls into a declared narrative, and sometimes a physics engine will have a narrative component but conflict resolution still falls to a declared ability.

    Physics engines are concerned with determining standards for the physical reality the characters inhabit. Dungeons & Dragons, GURPS, Shadowrun, and Battletech are all good examples of physics engines because the characters will have stats like Strength or Agility or Intelligence which give in-game mechanics for the limitations of those abilities. A character with 14 Strength can simply lift more than a character with 9 Strength in D&D, and much of the gameplay resolves around how much damage that stat applies to your weapons. Characters with high Strengths have to take the front lines of combat, characters with high Reaction should become Riggers in Shadowrun, and characters with high IQ should pick up lots of mental skills in GURPS.

    Narrative engines use abilities to push the story forward, or give the players authority to dictate a new direction for the action to take. How much damage a character does when they punch somebody is usually an after thought.

  • GURPS is a pure physics engine. You can trip an opponent, but you'll have penalties unless you were trained in a Martial Art that allows that combat maneuver because then the penalties are lessened, and if you purchased that specific combat maneuver then you get no penalties, and if you're specialized with that maneuver then you'll get a bonus too. After you've checked for all of these factors on your character sheet, then your opponent might have abilities that penalize your trip maneuver. You roll for you maneuver and then your opponent might be able to Dodge, and if they do the blow fails to connect.
  • Dungeons & Dragons is a physics engine. You can't trip an opponent unless a DM specifically gives you that opportunity (1st and 2nd edition), or you have a feat which allows you to make the attempt (4th edition) usually at a penalty unless you've taken a second feat to improve your ability to trip people (3rd edition). If your opponent has a feat that allows them to avoid the trip then they might roll against your roll, or against a flat target number.
  • Aberrant is a healthy mix of physics and narrative engine. Anyone can attempt to trip somebody using abilities that all characters start with.
  • Apocalypse World is a narrative engine. You can declare you're trying to trip somebody and depending on the result of your roll you might cause them to trip, make a compromise within the scene to cause the trip or abandon it without penalty, or fail egregiously and suffer somehow.
  • Amber is a pure narrative engine. You can create a world with Pattern where you can trip anybody pretty easily unless somebody with a stronger Pattern goes seeking you out and stops you from tripping them, if you even end up fighting them.

    In a couple of weeks I'll be attending PAX East, and I made plans with my friends there in Boston that I would GM a one-shot of Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) for them. At the time the plans were made I was a few weeks into running my DCC game and I was pretty excited at the prospect of playing an OSR game. DCC is also a physics engine. Over the last few months I've been playing a couple of role-playing games (mainly Apocalypse World) that give players a stronger narrative control over the action that appears in a game. It's difficult for me to actually get my brain to go back into an older physics engine style of game without feeling compelled to hack it into something I want to play. My appreciation for old school renaissance (OSR) games is still strong, but I think my main difficulty is with the old pass/fail binary mechanic. I really like the idea of a partial success too much and I want to incorporate it into all future games I might GM.

    I know my friends are eager to try DCC as well and I've been thinking about this a lot. I could run the game in one of two ways:

    1) Physics: straight by the book
    in most situations they would have a target number and rolling a d20 they would add an attribute bonus, the result is a binary pass/fail outcome, and I would roll dice for my monsters, traps, etc.

    2) Narrative: variable difficulty resolution where I don't roll dice, except for damage
    the normal d20 rolls would be replaced with a set difficulty of 12 and 18
    an 18+ is an unequivocal success where they would always have a choice as to the results of their success
    a result that falls between 12 and 17 is a partial success where I offer a choice between two options: accepting a good failure, a bad success, or a tough choice
    a failed result of 11 or less means something bad happens or an opponent sees some form of success

    The adventure I plan on running is pretty straight forward with few monsters, though the monsters are real killers, so I'm thinking of applying the narrative rolls to non-combat resolution and then doing combat by the book. Or maybe I'll just give people the option from the beginning of the game to use narrative rolls instead of physics rolls.

    In any case, the concept that I learned from Apocalypse World of "announcing future badness" sticks with me, and as a result I don't think I can ever use Perception checks ever again. It's the most versatile ability that a GM has and I think should just be used as a principle of GMing, being able to say that a thing is about to happen unless the player takes action without explicitly stating "Hey! This fucker is about to brain you if you don't prepare to defend yourself."

    Calling for a Perception check in D&D was always a simple way of saying "Hey! There's something here." to the players, but a good role-player who failed their roll would continue on into the danger or simply not find the clue, neither of which is interesting. Now I've come to regard Perception checks as useless. Why call for a Perception check at all when it's too ambiguous as to what the check could be for? Either there's something dangerous and you give the players an opportunity to discover what it is and react to it, or there's something hidden to be found and they find it.
  • Thursday, February 14, 2013

    new Apocalypse World playbooks

    I can make my own pdfs now, which means that I've turned my response to the Solace into a trifold pdf: the Wolf

    I also made a Basic Moves playbook that includes the descriptions for the advanced versions of the basic moves, I called the file Advanced Moves

    Another member of the AW community is really active and always posting his ideas to the google+ forum, and I took his concept of character with a pack of animals into a pdf: the Wrangler

    The MC of my Sunday game wrote up notes for a Boy And His Dog playbook, but when she posted her ideas to the Barf Forth Apocalypica forums it seems the conversation derailed away from her ideas and another user supplanted a lot of his own ideas, then somebody else turned that into a playbook. I asked Willow for her notes and I put what she had into a new version of the playbook: the Boy & His Dog

    I asked Johnstone Metzger if I could get a copy of the Heralds of Hell playbooks, mainly because I was curious about seeing them and in many forums they were described as print-only, but it turns out he had them in a pdf and he sent them to me. When I asked him if I could turn them into trifolds and distribute them he said "do whatever you want with them" and so I started turning them into playbooks: the Damned, the Haunted, and the Sorcerer

    Finally, the author of the Wrangler and I worked together to make a different kind of playbook: the Beast Master

    All of which have been quietly added to my omnibus page of playbooks.

    It's actually incredibly easy for me to make trifolds. I have a generic playbook file set up and all I have to do is copy-paste text into the boxes. Empty space is the hardest part because it needs to be filled with info boxes for gear and barter, and these usually need to be custom-made for the spaces that the text fills up. But the longest this takes is two hours. Making the portrait that accompanies the playbook can take another one or two hours, depending on the complexity of the image. I'm slowly going through the potential playbooks that are talked about in the forums and turning them into trifolds, but in the meantime I've also made custom character trifolds for my gaming group.

    Friday, February 1, 2013

    Adventure World: notes

    When you play Adventure World, your GM is called the Oracle.

    Why the Oracle? Because an oracle is a predictor and counselor, divining for knowledge from the unknown. An oracle is a guide, not a dictator.

    two 6-sided dice

    Just like Apocalypse World, the Adventure World hack uses 2d6. But the success threshold is 8-11 for partial successes, and 12+ for total success. The maximum a single ability can be raised to is +5. This means there is greater difficulty to achieve complete success in areas a character is not specialized in, but the specialized areas where a character is maxed to +5 have less chances of failure.
    A +3 still misses on a roll of 2 or 3, a +5 only misses on a roll of 2.

    Race separate from class.


    race playbooks
    NAMES Name suggestions come from race, not class
    STATS always balances to zero: one stat at +1 and another at -1
    MOVES get one automatically; extra racial moves become improvements
    GEAR sometimes, not always; gear primarily comes from class
    HX only describes "on other players' turns" effect
    SPECIAL sex move comes from race

    class playbooks
    STATS always balances to +1: two stats at +1 and another at -1
    MOVES get one automatically; extra class moves become improvements
    GEAR gear primarily comes from class
    HX only describes "on your turn" effect
    SPECIAL death move comes from class

    Basic Moves

    These are only slightly changed from the original rules. I'm still toying with the idea of expanding some of the choices by separating the descriptions. I'll probably keep this the way it is though.

    When you face danger, attempt to sneak, or act defensively, roll +Valor.
    When you embark upon a journey, roll +Valor.
    When you threaten someone, roll +Power.
    When you inflict violence against someone, roll +Power.
    When you seduce, charm or manipulate someone, tell them what you want and roll +Moxie.
    When you read a person or examine your environment, roll +Alert.
    When you attempt to discern the unnatural from an object you can touch, roll +Magic. (this is essentially a limited form of Detect Magic / Legend Lore, but the key aspect is that everybody has access to it)
    When you attempt to commune with the shadows, roll +Magic.

    Language Wheels

    One of the things I wanted to add to my Adventure World hack was languages. Old school fantasy RPGs always relied upon languages for communicating properly and some character classes even had abilities for deciphering ancient languages. I wanted to convey the process of learning a language or attempting to translate something into a relatively easy to understand mechanic. It was suggested that I use the countdown clock and I thought this was a capital idea, so I turned what I had written into the Language Wheel.

    When you try to understand speech, roll+moxie. On a 12+, choose 2. On a 8-11, choose 1:
    • you make yourself understood
    • you understand more-or-less what they're saying
    • you don't come off looking like a fool

    When you try to translate script, roll+alert. On a 12+, choose 2. On a 8-11, choose 1:
    • you understand the basic message of the script
    • you translate the script quickly
    • you learn another facet of the language, mark 1 segment of your language wheel

    LANGUAGE WHEELS
    Every time you roll to understand a language you will mark 1 segment of the Language Wheel. Having at least 1 segment in the wheel means that the PCs can communicate simple ideas like "where is food?" or "can I sleep here?" or "do you have flint and steel?" but complex ideas like "can you help me scout this mountain?" or “let me show you how we should ambush those bastards in the valley!” or "don't kill him, he's the only one who knows how to get out of here!" need a roll until the Wheel is completely filled in. Once the Language Wheel is full and one more failed roll occurs the character understands the language and doesn't need to roll anymore, they've learned the Language.

    Health

    Attempting to make a realistic system leads to headaches (see GURPS, see Deadlands). Hit Points are fine.
    Everybody starts with 10. You can get more, but since there is no leveling up, you have to sacrifice potential skill for more health. Armor is still going to work like AW. If you have 4-armor then it prevents 4 points of damage, etc.

    Death Moves

    One of the things I've been toying with is the concept of PC death affecting the other characters. This kind of move would either give a permanent bonus to those who don't die, or a temporary shift of power that lasts for the rest of the session.
    Examples:
    When Obi-Wan Kenobi died: When you die your body disappears and everybody witnessing this gets +1 Valor for the rest of the session.
    When Gandalf died: After you die, you may return at the start of the next session as an angelic version of yourself. You may not take Improvements anymore.
    When Buffy died: When you die everybody else improves examine an environment.
    When Charlie (on LOST) died: When you die tell the MC to reveal a secret, or a secret threat.

    You can kind of see how this works. For actual death moves, the move would be something beneficial but keyed into the character type that is dying. A fighter or barbarian who dies gives everybody else a dot of experience. A thief who dies causes a distraction or reveals a secret as they fall. Stuff like that.

    Extras

    I've tried to come up with a list of "regular" extras that characters might pick up through the course of play. While these are not complete, this is a listing of ones I have already written. I suspect I might end up writing a few that are custom to races.

    Laboratory: Choose which of the following your laboratory includes. Choose 3: a stable, a tower, a well-stocked pantry, a cellar, a private garden, skilled labor (apprentices), a mine of raw materials, a forge, a fortified carriage, carpentry tools, alchemical equipment, gemstones and crystals, a target range, a relic of the ancient past, booby traps.
    When you go into your laboratory and dedicate yourself to making a thing, or to getting to the bottom of some mess, decide what and tell the Oracle. The Oracle will tell you “sure, no problem, but…” and then 1 to 4 of the following:
    • it’s going to take hours/days/weeks/months of work;
    • first you’ll have to get/build/fix/figure out ___;
    • you’re going to need ___ to help you with it;
    • it’s going to cost you a ton of gold;
    • the best you’ll be able to do is a crap version, weak and unreliable;
    • it’s going to mean exposing yourself (plus colleagues) to serious danger;
    • you’re going to have to add ___ to your laboratory first;
    • it’s going to take several/dozens/hundreds of tries;
    • you’re going to have to take ___ apart to do it.
    The Oracle might connect them all with “and,” or might throw in a merciful “or.”
    Once you’ve accomplished the necessaries, you can go ahead and accomplish the thing itself. The Oracle will stat it up, or spill the beans, or whatever it calls for.

    Hideout: By default, your hideout is in a secluded location, with food and lodgings for a half-dozen people for a week (more at a stretch). Then, choose 2:
    • Your hideout is large (lodgings for several dozen)
    • Your hideout is well-stocked (food for a month)
    • Your hideout is hidden and guarded by traps
    • Your hideout is guarded by five loyal retainers (3-damage small band)
    • Your hideout is defensible (3-armor for a band defending it)
    And choose one:
    • Your hideout’s location is well-known (+famous)
    • Your hideout is difficult and dangerous to reach (+hazard)
    • Your hideout is filthy and ill-kept (+disease)
    • You share your hideout with someone you don’t command (+rivalry)

    Musicians: you have two to five musicians that follow you around, write songs about you, and play instruments. At the beginning of the session, roll+music. On a 10+, your band have surplus. On a 7–9, they have surplus, but choose 1 want. On a miss, they have no surplus and are in complete want. If their surplus lists gold, that’s your personal share. These are loyal to you but not fanatical, and they have their own lives apart from you (surplus: 1-gold, music +1, want: desertion). Name them. Characterize them.
    Choose 2:
    • the musicians are dedicated to you. Surplus: +1gold, and replace want: desertion with want: idle.
    • the musicians are educated and worldly. Surplus: +insight.
    • the musicians are dedicated to their craft. +1music.
    • the musicians are joyous and celebratory. Surplus: +party.
    • the musicians are shrewd and frugal. Surplus: +1gold.
    • the musicians are hard-working, no-nonsense. Surplus: +1gold.
    • you travel with a full compliment. Add four more musicians. Surplus: +2gold, Add want: hunger.
    Choose 2:
    • the musicians aren’t really yours, more like you’re theirs. Want: +judgment.
    • the musicians rely entirely on you for their lives and needs. Surplus: -1gold.
    • the musicians are sloppy and simple. -1music.
    • the musicians disdain fashion, luxury and convention. Want: +disease.
    • the musicians disdain law, peace, reason and society. Surplus: +violence.
    • the musicians are decadent and perverse. Want: +savagery.

    Workshop: you have tools and the space to make some kind of craft. Choose 1:
    • leatherworks (projects: clothing, armor; cost: 1 gold; wants: skins, coal)
    • carpentry (projects: furniture, shelter; cost: 2 gold; wants: wood, skins)
    • smithy (projects: armor, weapons; cost: 2 gold; wants: metal, coal)
    • jeweler (projects: rings, necklace; cost: 3 gold; wants: metal, gems)
    During downtime, you may attempt a project provided you have the materials needed by paying the cost. Roll+alert. On a 12+, you make the project in the time allotted and have items worth twice the cost. On a 8-11, you’re lacking in materials and need to fulfill one of your wants before you can finish. Your final project will be worth as much as the cost to build it. On a miss, the project is a disaster and you lose all the materials associated with the project.
    You can take Smithing multiple times, specifying a new craft each time you take it.
    needs work

    Warband: By default, your warband consists of 5 violent bastards with low quality weapons and armor (3-damage band small 2-armor). They are not fanatical or mindless, but they are impressed by you and pretty much do what you say. Then, choose 2:
    • your warband consists of 15 more violent bastards. Size: medium instead of small.
    • your warband’s well-armed. +1damage.
    • your warband’s well-armored. +1armor.
    • your warband will not betray you. +loyal.
    • your warband is well-educated. +insight.
    • your warband will fight to the death. +brave.
    • your warband’s self-sufficient, able to provide for itself by raiding and scavenging. It gets +rich.
    And choose 1:
    • your warband’s weapons are makeshift and crude. It gets -1damage.
    • your warband disdains armor (why?). It gets -2armor.
    • your warband is a pack of undisciplined hyenas. It gets +savage.
    • your warband’s loose-knit, with members coming and going as they choose. Vulnerable: desertion.
    • your warband is in significant debt to someone powerful. Vulnerable: obligation.
    • your warband is filthy and unkempt. Vulnerable: disease.
    • your warband is lax about security and likes to drink and brag. Vulnerable: reprisals.
    • your warband depends entirely upon you for their needs. Vulnerable: poor.

    Any kind of followers who die will not be gradually replaced, but new followers can be acquired by visiting towns and impressing the locals. If mistreated they might leave, but in time you might be able to recruit replacements. Consult your Oracle for details.

    ideas for improvements

    XP buys improvements

    gold

    1 gold will cover a month's living expenses, if your tastes aren't extravagent
    100 silver can be converted to 1 gold