Robin Williams Makes Memorable Characters

Recently this Boing Boing article crossed my stream. It's a one-sentence wrapper around the following Robin Williams video:

While it doesn't give us many practical pointers on how to cultivate your improvisation skills (other than implying "practice, Practice, PRACTICE!"), it demonstrates a skill used by every RPG GM: characterization. Every character Robin assumes sticks in my mind. They're not throw-away, one dimensional characters. They're rich and unexpected and fresh, and they establish themselves clearly within one spoken sentence.


Fate of the Speculative Trade

In the previous post exploring Q rolls (a single 4dF roll that gives results of both Quality and Quantity), I mentioned something about a speculative trade system using QnQ. Here's the first stab at it.

Caveat Emptor: These are scribbled notes that I made on a train ride into work. No playtesters have been harmed in the creation of this system, nor have any playtesters even been contacted. And yes, hard trade and money can be handled through Aspects, but I figured I'd write it down anyway if ever a full Traveller's Fate game made it out of my head. Feel free to use this hack and let me know how it works for you.

Q Notation
As a quick refresher on Q rolls, you need 4dF made up of 2 pairs of dice in 2 different colors. Pick a pair to be your "shorter" axis. Roll 'em.

dFFudge Die (-, 0, +)
dTTally Die (0, 1, 2)
QF4dF (-4 to +4)
qF2dF (-2 to +2)
QT4dT (0 to 8)
qT2dT (0 to 4)

Cargo For Sale
Since we're talking about Fate here, I'm not going to spend time making a list of possible trade goods. I don't know if Whale Oil or Supercomputer Components are the cutting edge tech of your world, so I'll leave the determination of goods in your capable hands. I'm basing this system on Classic Traveller, which has a d66 table giving 36 different cargo possibilities. That may be a little extreme for your particular game, but it's my starting point.

Let's assume you have the following:
  1. A party of characters with the interest and means (capital, cargo capacity, ability to travel) to trade.
  2. The willingness to entertain your players' whims as they dream of growing rich with a single devastatingly profitable sale.
  3. Populated locations in your world where merchants are available to trade with the characters in hopes of making a profit.
  4. An idea of what specific cargoes might be available, and what the base market price is for each.
I'm not going to get into the nuances of taxes, tariffs, merchant licenses, mandatory guild dues, imposing the "Call me Lefty" consequence on characters who swindle honest businessmen, nor maintenance of cargo vehicles. These are all filed under "The Cost of Doing Business", and can be used to spin stories, intrigues, and side plots from a simple trading mission.

1st Roll: Availability
Let's assume your characters are trying to purchase a cargo. Let's further assume they know where to go shopping for cargo and have all their paperwork squared away so they can go shopping for cargo. We need to determine what today's market has to offer.
So, roughly one steer per ton?

QT = Amount of cargo available.
qF = Quality of cargo.

Use suitable units for your cargo. Bushels of wheat might make sense in a medieval setting, though ounces, crates, bags, or tons might make sense depending on the cargo. Multiply the amount by a logical constant, especially if it's a common cargo for the region. Merchants may be selling QTx10 bushels of wheat at harvest time, for example.

The quality of a cargo is open to interpretation, but I'd say the base value of the cargo is altered by 10% per +/-. So if your qF roll is +1, you've got a quality good here and the base value goes up by 10%. Additionally, you could create one Aspect on the cargo per +/-1, if it makes sense. If you want a wider range of  qualities, use QF and make the quantity qT.

2nd Roll: Price
The first roll describes the available cargo. This second roll explores the mindset of the merchant selling the cargo.

QT = Swing, or maximum haggling potential.
qF = Base price adjustment.

Again, I'd say the base price adjustment should be 10% per +/-, though you could go 5% if you want a narrower range, or 20% if you want wider. This is purely abstract price fluctuation based on availability, market volatility, and the merchant's greed. Any one of those gives a springboard for a side story, or at least another descriptive piece of the setting.

Swing is the merchant's willingness to haggle, in 5% (or 10%) increments. This can be reduced based on how well the characters treat the merchant and how far the merchant comes down in price. If Swing reaches zero the merchant will stand firm on the price and not haggle further. If you're using a Broker, Haggle, or Merchant skill and want to handwave the negotiations, roll your skill and the positive result x 5% (or 10%?) is how much you've lowered the price.

Use a second Price roll when selling to see what the market will offer and how much they're willing to negotiate. Hopefully the players have done their research and know where their cargo is in demand, thus raising the base price at the market.

Art by +Ian Stead,
Available at Deviant Art.
EXAMPLE: Bospor Market
The mostly-desert planet Bospor has three major exports: Chromium, Orange Diamonds, and an organic ballistic textile called Cactus Cloth. Our characters have a free trader and 50 tons of cargo space to spare, so they hit the market.

Chromium (1000 Cr/ton)
Roll 1: 6/+2 = 60 tons of extremely pure Chromium available for 1200 Cr/ton.
Roll 2: 0/+0 = Prices are governmentally mandated. This is a dictatorship, after all.

Orange Diamonds (100,000 Cr/vial)
Roll 1: 4/+1 = 4 vials of 20 fine orange stones each available for 110 kCr/vial. Has the aspect "Optical Quality".
Roll 2: 2/-2 = The nervous woman offers them for 90 kCr per vial, and will quickly drop to 70 kCr to sell them quickly. These are probably stolen.

Cactus Cloth (100 Cr/ton)
Roll 1: 3/-1 = 30 tons of factory seconds available for 90 Cr/ton. Has the aspect "Loudly Colored".
Roll 2: 4/-2 = The factory mixed different colored fibers from different regions in a vain attempt to make a vibrant plaid. Offered for 80 Cr/ton, but will drop to 60 Cr/ton to get rid of it at cost.

I figured the diamonds are more volatile since most of them are smuggled off-world anyway, so I went with 10% increments on the pricing rolls. The Cactus Cloth market rules local industry, so more stable 5% increments made sense to me.

Now I have visions of a frugal mercenary company outfitted with extremely loud Cloth armor. Thanks, random dice rolls!

  1. Determine List of Cargoes Available.
  2. Roll Availability: QT for Quantity/(qF x 10%) for Quality.
  3. Roll Price: QT for Swing/qF for Base Price - both in 5% or 10% increments.
  4. Roll Trading Skill: Adjust Price by 5% or 10% per plus, to a maximum of your Swing result.
  5. Complete Transaction.
Please let me know if you use this system and how it worked for you.

Thanks for reading!

The Shrine of the Rat God

Because +Tim Shorts asked for it, I decided to pull a map from my gaming roots. I think this was my first "I actually took some time and did a decent job with it" map, probably from late 1987. I used a mechanical pencil and drew it on the first page of a graph paper notebook purchased during my freshman year in college. Yes, that's the very same notebook that contains the maps seen in Meanwhile, In The Game Box... from 2 years ago, and the map of the Tomb of Tor-Kantor from Gone Mapping. Don't Wait Up. back in July.

The adventure led the party behind the waterfall on the lower left and into a natural cavern. There were a few rats scurrying about as the party explored. In the chamber with the luminescent fungus, they discovered a few more rats. The 50' shaft was tough to spot, as evidenced by the poor blighter who fell to his death years ago. His skeleton was gnawed clean by the veritable carpet of rats. Rat tunnels perforated the walls on this level, both high and low.

In the center of the round room, falling water formed a cylinder around a platform. A seven foot tall bronze sarcophagus stood, well-polished despite the water. A humanoid with a rat face adorned the sarcophagus. Rats congregated here, more than anyone in the party had ever seen. They didn't venture into the water cylinder, nor did they set foot in the hallway to the altar room. The party got the impression this was something akin to holy ground for rats.

The altar room depicted a war between rats and humans, and an apparent peace treaty between two "gods", one human, one humanoid rat. On the altar sat an unbreakable and apparently ummoveable glass dome protecting a golf ball sized ruby. Impressions of hands lay on either side of the dome, a human hand on the left and a human-sized rat paw on the right. A six inch tall tunnel led further into the depths of the hill to an underground waterfall.

Grab It & RUN
The ranger in the party pulled off a credible imitation of a rat-man when putting his right hand in the rat paw impression (by rolling a natural 20), and they managed to unlock the dome and get the ruby. But then every rat knew the party had the ruby, and they wanted it back.

What followed was the fastest 15 minute action sequence I've ever run as the party sprinted out, the mage clearing the way with a couple of well-placed Burning Hands spells, and the rogue making sure nobody tripped. If they fell, they would have been eaten. No save.

Scariest adventure ever, and the only monsters the party encountered were rats. Not even giant rats, these were normal, "let me step on one so I can get the 1 XP I need to level up" rats.

They heard the sarcophagus starting to open on the way by, and they rekindled the age-old war between rats and humans, but hey, at least they were rich.

Good times.

I suppose this adventure fits the microadventure mold - there are really only 5 locations, and only one monster type to worry about. Huh. 27 years ago I was already a minimalist.

Thanks for reading!

[RPG Newswire] Early October 2014

I have too many browser tabs open again, because so many gaming goodies have appeared lately. To avoid browser meltdown and prevent brain aneurysm, I've shared links to some cool things below.

RPG Thoughts
Ryan Macklin gives us The Art of Playstorming, a quick guide to rapidly prototyping game rules with friends over coffee. Ryan explores a little of what the process can do, and some of what it can't or shouldn't do. The term originally sprung from the mind of Epidiah Ravichol, which brings us to...

Join The Patreon Horde.
You can also Submit or Buy.
Eppy posted The Vile Rights & Arcane Rituals Behind Worlds Without Master. For those of you not in the know, Eppy publishes a nigh-monthly Sword & Sorcery zine called Worlds Without Master containing fiction, comics, and games, funded by the Patreon Horde. This article lets us peek into his head to see how he determines when to publish, how he organizes an issue, and how it gets paid for (or doesn't quite). For those of you contemplating publishing, I suggest you invest 10-15 minutes in this treasure trove of information, especially the budget.

Found via OSR Today in this cover article, the Tribality blog has posted Star Frontiers 5e Conversion Part 1 which starts translating the TSR Science Fiction setting Star Frontiers into the latest version of D&D ruleset. So far they've only talked about races and classes, but there's more to come.

On the RPG Theory front, John Wick draws a line in the sand to define RPGs with his article Chess is not an RPG: The Illusion of Game Balance. In his view, "the focus of an RPG is to tell stories". All the rules trappings that don't support role-playing, including equipment lists, most world mechanincs (as opposed to story mechanics), and worrying about game balance of the characters' abilities within the game, detract from telling stories. I've seen reactions ranging from total agreement to reasoned skepticism to outright rejection, but it makes me think about the core of the RPG experience. I may dig into this topic in another post.

Historical Topics
And speaking of RPG Theory, Emily Care Boss of Black & Green Games published an exploration of it in the well-researched article Theory Roundup. If you have any interest in early discussions of theory in RPG magazines, or Nordic LARP discussions at Knutepunkt, or a brief history of Forge Theory, or anything, read this. Be warned: the entire article is studded with hyperlinks, each of which will take you down its own rabbit hole.

Over on Medium, John Peterson explores the early history of women's involvement with wargames and RPGs in The First Female Gamers. Medium tells us to set aside 35 minutes to read it, and yes, that seems about right. If you have any interest in the early history of the hobby, invest the time. It's a fascinating read.

Dig that '80s style.
Also in the History of RPGs category, How a Picture of Girls Playing D&D Went from Cool to Awesome by Sarah Darkmagic digs into the history of an early '80s picture that's been making the rounds. It's not an ad, it's the cover art for an article in Dynamite Magazine. The article covers the research on uncovering the origins of the image and includes remembrances about the article from game designers and the photographer who took the picture.

Dave Younce shared a very cool map of the Paris Catacombs on G+. If that doesn't get your dungeon crawl muscles twitching and your creative juices flowing, I don't know what will.

New Products and Sales
For a limited time directly from Night Sky Games, Meguey Baker's A Thousand and One Nights PDF is on sale for only $5. As the subtitle says, it's a game of enticing stories, told to entertain and forward your political agenda through innuendo and allusion. There's also a free download of partially-constructed courtier characters for quick-start purposes.

For those of you into Monte Cook games, DriveThruRPG is having a sale. You have until 10/10/14 at 10AM Eastern Time to get The Strange Corebook for 50% off, only $9.99.

If the Mongoose OGL products are more your speed, take a look at the DTRPG sale page to find five OGL books on sale for just $1.99 each. I might just pick up OGL Steampunk or OGL Cybernet and mine them for ideas since they're so cheap.

On a Personal Note
I edited a couple of projects that became available to the public this week.

Firstly, Brent Newhall's The Whispering Road is available to the public (and not just Kickstarter backers). If you ever wanted to play in a world inspired by Studio Ghibli, pick this up. Now available at DriveThruRPG and in PDF & Print at MagCloud.

Also take a look at Matt Jackson's system-agnostic supplement Side Treks 2: The Village Volume 1. It details 5 establishments for your fantasy RPG party to part with their gold and get into trouble. Totally worth the investment just to steal the ideas and hand-drawn maps in color and B&W. Now available at DriveThruRPG.

Parting Shot
If you blog about RPGs and have newbie questions or hard-won wisdom about the hows and wherefores of blogging, come join the RPG Blog Community Discussion community on G+ to discuss all the meta issues that crop up. DO NOT post links to you blog there, or you will be chastised, flogged, and banned.

Thanks for reading!

Divided Multi-Axis Fate Rolls

I'll spend this post chasing down a few stray thoughts spinning off from the multi-axial Fate Dice discussion in Rob Donoghue's Tally Dice post. You've been warned.

Rob indicated he has more to go in fleshing out uses for Tally Dice. Stay tuned to his blog The Walking Mind to read more as it comes out.

If you don't have a set yet,
go buy Fate Dice at Amazon
or directly from Evil Hat.
Also this multi-axis dice hack needs a better short name. Or notation. Maybe #Q and #q? QT and QF? Hrm. Ideas welcome.

Intro to Tally Dice
Rolling 4 Fate/Fudge dice (4dF) gives you a range from +4 (++++) to -4 (----) with a curve that peaks at 0 (+00-, for example). Tally dice (4dT) changes the way you read each die (into 1d3-1) by counting lines. 0 is still 0, but - is 1 and + is 2. It gives a range of 0 to 8. It's fundamentally the same as 4dF+4, or XdF+X.

NOTE: I'm basing all the numbers in this article on 4 dice, but you could certainly change the pool size if needed.

Adding a Second Axis
Here's the thing: you can read the same dice as Fate or Tally dice. If you do both, you can squeeze more information out of each roll in the form of a result on a second axis. If you read a roll with Tally dice as Quantity and Fate dice as Quality, you can easily get (on average) 4 things of Quality 0. So we're talking about a single roll giving results on 2 different axes (as in the multiple of axis, not Battle Axes and Waraxes).

After a quick look at some multi-axial cases, reading the entire dice pool on each axis limits the possibilities too much for my tastes. For instance, the only way to get a Quantity of 8 means their Quality is +4. And you can only get 4 things of Quality -4. It's a little chunkier than I'd like it.

Dividing the Dice Pool
I thought about an old Car Wars-based RPG I started, roughly based on Cyberpunk's Friday Night Firefight, and a related variation on the One Roll Engine (ORE) that powers the Godlike RPG: Take a subset of dice of a different color and read those as one axis of the roll's results.

Reading both pairs of black/gold dice
with the gold dice as the smaller axis
gives either 5/+0 or 3/-2.
One die is probably too small a range, though workable if you're only looking for 0-2 of a thing or a Quality of -1 to +1. I'd go with 2 dice, which gives either a Quantity of 0 to 4 or a Quality of -2 to +2. You can define which die roll maps to which axis on the fly, so if you want a larger Quantity of more boring Quality for one roll and a smaller Quantity of more varying Quality the next, that's totally up to you.

Funky Math
Yes, there's still some funky math in this system. It still skews higher on positive results, but I think it smooths things out considerably. You can get a maximum of Quantity 8/Quality +2 (abbreviated 8/+2 from here on), but only 7/+0, 6/+1 or -2, and 5/-1. If you flip the axis mapping, you can get a maximum of 4/+0 through +4, but only 3/-1 or -2, and 2/-3 or -4.

I'm sure working out every possible roll and totaling the probability for each result would show how skewed the results of this system are, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

One Hack Beyond
If you really want to go crazy and introduce the D&D 5e concepts of Advantage and Disadvantage into the mix, you can look at both pairs of dice for the smaller spread and use the better/worse result.

As Rob stated in his original post, Tally Dice are most useful for accruing resources. His example of gathering units of soldiers for an army fits really well. I can see this hack used for scavenging equipment, summoning critters, or even a Travelleresque speculative trading system. And if you want to add limits or backlash to a magic caster, you can read Quantity on the smaller axis to vary mana cost or accrue Paradox points that you'll need to burn off later.

Huh. I came up with a few more uses than I thought I would. And now I need to flesh out a simple trading system using this #Q hack. Like I need another gaming project to occupy my thoughts. *grin*

So yeah, have a dice hack to get a second axis of results out of a single 4dF roll.

What do you think? Would you use a hack like this? If so, in what situations does this make sense to use?

Thanks for reading!