Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Mutual Collaboration Society

Over the past couple of months I've been working on establishing the concept of a Mutual Collaboration Society for the Mythos Machine.  The goal of the Mutual Collaboration Society is for members to give one another free and unhindered use of one another's RPG materials for both their own gaming purposes, and also for any derivative works they would like to use them for. It is a share and share alike system.

So Gamemasters through the Mythos Machine can contributes to the central pool of creative materials by making their creations in the Mythos Machine "Public". The Things that people can make "Public" in the system are all are:  Weapons, Armors, Equipment, Races, Classes, Mystic Powers, Skills, Heritages, Money Exchange Rate systems, Cultures, Places, Campaigns and Adventures (the last two are not implemented yet, but will be soon if all goes as planned).  All "Public" Things will show up as Shared items in the World Things Trading Post in the Mythos Machine.  Gamemasters can peruse the lists of Things and import the ones they like into their own Worlds, and then modify them as they wish (ie - the originals remain intact and unchanged in the original GM's World).

Members of the Mythos Machine community can mutually draw from these items for their own games by importing a copy of them to their own Worlds, and / or for creating non-commercial or commercial derivative works as they wish. This allows people to legally share RPG materials with each other, and do what they wish with them.  And once something is made "Public" then the author grants a license for others to use it.  It is kind of like Creative Commons for RPG content.

So in the Mythos Machine, anything the GM creates, including their entire World, can be set as either "Public" or "Private".  When "Private" the Gamemaster retains full copyright ownership, and no one on the system can see it except the Players in their World, if the GM has granted permission for the Players to see those items.

Thus a World can have a mix of "Public" and "Private" Things.  Here are the rules for Public and Private ownership according to the Terms of Service for the site:

If the Gamemaster (GM) creates a "Private" World (which it is by default), then whether or not the GM makes things within it Public or Private:

1. No one but the GM can see their World.

2. No player can join the World for generating characters because the World itself is "Private" (usually while under construction).

3. Nothing from "Private" Worlds will show up in the World Things Trading Post as Shared Things.

4. The "Private" World is eligible to be loaded into the Packaged Worlds system (when available) and be sold at a price set by the GM via the Mythos Machine.

5. The GM retains full copyright ownership of their World and can do with it whatever they wish (commercial or non-commercial) - which is to say they could publish the world in any medium outside of the Mythos Machine if they wish to, or convert it into any format or medium they wish.  No one else has any license (or ability) to use those things other than the GM for any purpose.

If the GM makes their World "Public", but keeps everything in it "Private" (all individual Things (weapons, armors, places, classes, etc) that they may create) then:

1. The other members of the site can select the GM and view the World's Description and House Rules and Genre selections.

2. Players can join the World and Generate Characters in it.

3. Nothing from the World will show up in the World Things Trading Post as Shared Things (since all the Things are "Private" even though the World itself is "Public").

4. The World is no longer eligible to be loaded into the Packaged Worlds system from that point forward.

5. The Things that are "Private" are owned by the GM, and no one else can see them except the Players who may interact with some or all of them during the Character Generation process if the GM allows the Players permission to access any or all of those Things.

If the GM makes their World "Public", and make any Things in it "Public" then:

1. "Public" Things from the World will show up in the World Things Trading Post as Shared Things and;

2. The Things that are "Public" are owned by the GM, but a license is granted to everyone on the system to be able to Import (ie copy) those Things into their Worlds, and use them for derivative works for commercial or non-commercial purposes, in the Mythos Machine or outside of it. 

Of course we already have such a system in Creative Commons licensing. But what we don't have is a platform on which this concept is embodied so that people can easily find and share their work with each other, and easily and quickly incorporate those things into their Worlds. Not at least in the way the Mythos Machine does it.

So why do all of this?  For those who want to create RPG content, the world is rife with great ideas floating around the web.  But a lot of times you can't use that content because of legal complications.  This system is designed to allow RPG content creators to share ideas more easily, and to use them for whatever they can think of.  So you have an idea for a great Campaign that is based on a fantastic Mythos Machine based RPG you played in last night?  No problem.  You're free to create that.  You want to make a book out of it?  No problem.  You want to beautify the book and sell it on DriveThruRPG?  Again, no problem.  Everyone is free to use the materials they find shared on the Mythos Machine for whatever downstream projects they want.  And so can you.

The act of Sharing on the Mythos Machine is as simple as making something "Public".

What do you think of this concept?  I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.  Would you find this useful to you as a creator?  Would you be willing to share your creative content with others on this basis?  Would you like to have a central repository of Things that you can draw on for your own games, or ancillary works?

I'm hoping people will find this concept useful and compelling.  What do you think?

Friday, March 17, 2017

Some Thoughts on Narrative vs Tactical Combat

I wrote this as a comment in relation to this post, but thought it enough of an interesting point that I might post it also to ye'old Elthos RPG Blog, so here you have it...

The problem with Theater of the Mind is that it's fine so long as people feel like they are not unfairly disadvantaged by not being able to execute actual tactics, which may increase their chances of survival if they're good at it. So once a TotM game starts to feel to the players like the battle is going against them, at least in my experience, the Players then tend to want to resort to tactical maps. So long as they're winning, though, they don't care. The problem of course is that a lot of times they would have had to have looked carefully at the tactical situation before the battle started, and by the time they are switching over to Tactical Mode after the fact often as not it's too late - the mistakes are already made.

The key to tactical maps, and the reason people like to use them, is that they make the battle very clear to everyone, so no one can say after "that couldn't happen" or "you didn't explain that they enemy could xyz", etc. It's a fairness measure. The problem, of course, with tactical maps is that they break immersion by forcing everyone to think in terms of stats and numbers, distances and damage. Once that happens then the narrative aspect of the game gets curtailed.

So... trade offs.

I like to take a mixed approach. I may show the tactical map at the beginning of the battle to get them oriented, and then put pieces on it and move them around in a general sense until things get complicated, and then resort back to the tactical map. This is an imperfect solution prone to problems of deciding when to do TotM and when to go Tactical, but it is manageable. At least for me with my players. Sometimes, though, we go full tactical, and other times full narrative. It depends on what the mood in the room is.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Notes on OD&D - Part 33

Continuing on with the 4th Level Clerical "Spells"...

Men & Magic
  • p33 - Explanation of Clerical Spells - 4th Level
Neutralize Poison: A spell to counter the harmful effects of poison. Note that it will not aid a character killed by poison, however. It will only effect one object. Duration: 1 turn.

As it turns out, a "turn" is a trick issue in OD&D. But the most it can be is 10 minutes. Which, in my opinion, even at its best, makes this a kind of really pretty rinky dink spell. 1 turn? And THEN you dieeeee! I don't know. Sounds like that should have had a longer duration to me. But then again, it's a little hard to tell from this distance. When they played this game in 1974 they may have been doing stuff with poisons that I'm simply not aware of, and there's a reasonable chance that it makes sense in the context of the way they used to play. Not sure. But in my current World if this spell lasted 1 turn, and then the player character perished, then my players would probably never take this spell. Kinda sure about that.

On the other hand it may be that while the spell lasts for 1 turn, it does mean that the poison never again has an effect because it's been neutralized. But then why have it with any Duration at all in that case? Mmm... meh. Looks a little borked up to me either way. And add to that there is a good chance that the "turn" spoken of is not 10 minutes, but 1 minute, and it just goes down hill from there. My players would revolt.

I rate this spell 1 Star out of 5 for uselessness.

Cure Serious Wounds: This spell is like a Light Wound spell, but the effects are double, so two dice are rolled and one pip is added to each die. Therefore, from 4 to 14 hit points will be removed by this spell.

Ok that's not bad. I'm down with that. Solid clerical spell there. Yup.

I rate this spell 4 out of 5 for usefulness.

Protection from Evil, 10' Radius: this spell is the same as that for Magic-Users.

Recap: Protection from Evil: This spell hedges the conjurer round with a magic circle to keep out attacks from enchanted monsters. It also serves as an "armor" from various evil attacks, adding a +1 to all saving throws and taking a -1 from hit dice of evil opponents. (Note that this spell is not cumulative in effect with magic armor and rings, although it will continue to keep out enchanted monsters.) Duration: 6 turns.

Ok, now I'm a bit mystified. They don't really treat Clerics in OD&D the way I expected. I thought Clerics would be the 'clearly religious dudes' who fight Evil (or the opposite). in which case, I would think that Clerics would have at least some advantage over Magic-Users when it comes to dealing with the Evil guys. But in this case we can see that it's a big "Nope" on that. Interesting, and sheds a little more light on this dig through the dusty tomes of ancient gaming. I do wonder if there was really no distinction made between Clerics and Magic-Users in the fight against Evil (or the opposite). I tend to think they'd have focused on that somehow, and maybe this spell is just an anomaly in an otherwise sensible game-universe... maybe. Curious.

I rate this spell a 4 Stars out of 5 for Usefulness (it is useful after all).

Turn Sticks to Snakes: Anytime there are sticks nearby a Cleric can turn them into snakes, with a 50% chance that they will be poisonous. From 2-16 snakes can be conjured (roll two eight-sided dice). He can command these conjured snakes to perform as he orders. Duration: 6 turns. Range: 12" (360').

Hmmm... not seeing this as the most useful spell in the world, though it is interesting. Summoning poison snakes in the middle of an opposing group of villains could cause them to panic, possibly, and maybe if you're lucky do some damage. Especially if they are poisonous. So that could work. I'm sure there are other creative ways to use this spell as well. Clearing out a tent of guards, or some such comes to mind. But still... I'm thinking that for 4th Level this is wackadoodly lame. Maybe it's just me, but I can't fathom taking this spell until there just ain't nothing left to take. Probably.

I rate this spell 2 Stars out of 5 for uselessness.

Speak with Plants: This spell allows the Cleric to speak with all forms of plant life, understanding what they say in reply. Plants so spoken to will obey commands of the Cleric, such as part to allow a passage and so on. This spell does not give the Cleric the power to command trees as Ents do. Duration: 6 turns. Range 3" (90').

Ok that's potentially quite useful, especially if plants can communicate with each other. There are those who say, after all, that plants form a vast communications network over the surface of the earth. Did you know that? So they may be privy to a great deal of very interesting information. So there could be a potential bonanza in being able to communicate with plants. They might even be able to tell you where the enemy is lurking. So yeah, I'd say this could be pretty darn useful. And it would suddenly make Clerics stand out as "really good to have around". I would definitely take this one.

I rate this a 5 out of 5 Stars for usefulness.

Create Water: By means of this spell the Cleric can create a supply of drinking water sufficient for a party of a dozen men and horses for one day. The quantity doubles for every level above 8th the Cleric has attained.

Roger that. If you're hauling through the desert, or expect to be trapped in a dry dungeon for a long time, this could be useful. Otherwise, not so much. Under some rare circumstances it could be a life saver, but I would still shy away from taking this one.

I rate this a 2 Stars for uselessness.

And so there we have it. The 4th Level Clerical spells. Sorry, but I'm not really impressed with this set. Maybe 5th will make it all worthwhile. Stay tuned to find out next time when we cover 5th level Clerical spells.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Some Thoughts Regarding Tolkien's Aragorn

I wrote this as a comment to this Wonderful thread, and I thought I'd share it on my blog here.

The original post is about how Aragorn of the Books differs from that of the movies, and why. Interesting post. The comments were also very worth reading, and this post is in reply to one which suggested that Tolkien's hero was something our modern world can not quite accept because our culture does not allow us to have unadulterated heroes any longer. "We expect our heroes to be flawed and human, and have doubts about their true potential which they must overcome as they grow and change", as the OP puts it. So my comment here is in response to this idea.

I would also add that there may have been an underlying purpose behind Tolkien’s work that should also be considered. As a professor of Anglo Saxon literature at Oxford Tolkien was steeped in the medieval classics. It was not merely plot devices and literary conventions that occupied Tolkien’s mind, but the spirit of the age of which he wrote.

I read that Tolkien was teaching at Oxford when World War I broke out. He went and enlisted like all patriotic Englishmen. He survived honorably through the worst that the war could throw at him, and from those experiences he gave us such scenes as the nine black riders hunting the hobbits in the wilderness. I read that during the war Tolkien got caught behind enemy lines, and nine mounted German cavalrymen hunted him through the murky woods. I mention all of this to give a rational for saying that we should allow Tolkien the gravitas he deserves.

I think if you asked him, Tolkien would say that Aragorn, as he wrote him, was an embodiment of heroism for all time. In the same way that Thucydides wrote the Peloponesian War “for all time”. Aragorn is meant by Tolkien to be an example, a paragon of what it means for a human being to have a true noble virtue.

I think Tolkien believed that having a myth of our own in the 20th century was something we desperately need as a civilization. We’ve been, I think he felt, mechanized and automated into a heedless lumpy mass, and ground to dust by the weight of our burdens under a sauron-like malevolence known as “Progress”.

I think Tolkien, who saw his share of horrors, believed in the eternal truths of justice, goodness, and love and felt that they must be enshrined anew generation by generation, or the knowledge of them is lost. And that happens only at the last gasp of any civilization.

By renewing the legend of the Good King, through Aragon, I think Tolkien may have felt more that it was his means by which to pass on to the next generation the awe and love of Majesty itself. Love in its majesty is awesome, I think Tolkien would say, because it is Goodness and Strength personified. And each generation must have its champions to pronounce it again so that the people remember and are renewed as well.

My impression is that Tolkien knew something our contemporary angsty age has forgotten. He knew why we could no longer tolerate reading about true nobility. He watched as the old world was torn asunder around him, and the last vestiges of nobility uprooted and destroyed. I think he understood the modern plight far better than most of us do today. He was there before and after the Great War. And I believe there are those who would say, and rightly, that there is a vast gulf between the worlds of Before The War, and after it. And his literature, I feel certain, was his way of reminding us of what was lost.

I could go on, but I’ll stop here. I think we should honor Tolkien by trying to understand not only what he wrote, but why, and also what its true influence has been on all of us who are enamored by his wonderful stories. One of the reasons I think we are so attached to them is because they present us with a rare vision of nobility that in the deep recesses of our hearts we still admire.

Monday, January 30, 2017

On Sandboxing and Game Balance

I've been Gamemastering since 1978, and I've always run a "sandbox" (what I used to call "free flow") game.  The way I have done it all along is to create a framework in which the world's history, current events and Main Non-Player Characters (NPCs) exist independently from the Player Characters.  So the primary NPCs are busy going about their business in my world with our without the Players.  They have objectives and try to achieve them.  Some of them are good guys, some of them are bad guys.  Some are lawful, and some are chaotic, and most fall somewhere in between.

When the Player Characters enter the world, whose name is Elthos btw, they can, but do not necessary have to, cross paths with the major NPCs and/or their minions.  Sometimes the PCs may join forces with them, or wind up fighting against them, or sometimes just wave as they pass by.  Often times they wind up in opposition with the goals of the NPCs and so a conflict ensues.  These conflicts usually engage the minions who may be running missions in accordance with their leader's objectives.  The PCs will in these cases try to stop them.  Eventually, perhaps, word of these efforts reach the upper tiers and a Main Character NPC may become aware of the Player Characters, and begin to work against them actively.  Especially if they've been successful at thwarting their plans.

This all is as it should be and this style of play lends itself to being fun for both myself and the Players.  I never quite know how any given game is going to go, nor do I try to steer the Players toward any specific objective or goal as the GM.  That said, they may be in the service of a Main Character NPC who definitely will be trying to steer them toward a specific objective, but I take on that role of NPC as though I were playing the Character him or herself, so I don't consider it me as GM trying to steer the group toward an end goal for the game, and I certainly don't tell the Players which NPCs they should have an association with.  I leave all that decision making to them, and flow along with whatever they decide.

Sometimes this leads to difficult situations.  They may, for example, decide that some activity is so wrong and terrible that they must wage a campaign against it.  But the underlying story, the Main Character NPC, and the situation may cause them to engage with an opponent that is completely over their heads.  When the fighting starts, they may realize that they're totally outnumbered, or out classed by the forces they're opposing.

And this is where the problem of Sandbox and Game Balance come in.  Some GMs try to always establish a balance between the PC group and their opponents, in an effort to keep the game fair and avoid the twin problems of Too Hard and Too Easy.  While the goal is laudable, in some respects, it is also, I find, impractical to some degree.  The reasons why are as follows.

One, it is very difficult, depending on the RPG rules, to determine what the balance between two forces actually is, especially in cases where you have randomized initiative rolls to determine who strikes first.  I've surmised from my studies that getting an accurate calculation as to what percent chance either side has of winning would involve the use of binomial math, and after going back and forth on that for some time (I originally thought deriving a calculation would be relatively easy), I was informed by mathematicians far better than I that the only practical way to do it would be to run simulated combats between the two groups a hundred or so times and find out from that what percent of those runs results in one side winning over the other.  I'm pretty sure that most GMs don't do that.  And I'm pretty sure that most GMs actually just eyeball the thing and say something like "Yeah, 10 Orcs and an Orgre ... that shouldn't be too hard for these guys", and leave it at that.  The problem, as we all know, is that this is a hopelessly inaccurate process and the results vary considerably, especially if the forces arrayed have unusual powers at their disposal.

The second problem is that as GM of a sandbox world, I'm never quite sure I know who is going to actually be in a battle at any given encounter.  This is because the Players may split the party.  Yes, I know - everyone knows - you should never split the party.  But since I don't tell my Players what they should do, I simply go with whatever they decide to do, they wind up splitting the party (as often as not to their regret, but so be it).  So no matter how maticulously I might (and I don't) try to create "Balanced Encounters" there's really no way I will know if the encounter is harshly one sided or not until the moment the party encounters it.  After all Players may split the party exactly one moment before the actual encounter ("Ok, we'll bust the door down and charge into this room, but you guys go down the stairs and block any Orcs that may come up this way while we fight whatever's in there.")  This kind of thing has been known to happen.  So attempting to create Balanced Encounters as often as not simply doesn't work.  This is a result of allowing Players to do what they want, even if it is not necessarily the best idea in the world.  And yes, there's pros and cons to this approach.  Some GMs avoid it by running Railroad Campaigns.  And while some will argue that such a thing should never be, my own feeling about it is that it's ok, so long as the Players are ok with it and everyone has fun.  But I don't run Railroad Campaigns and I don't want to.  I like the free flow style, and I find it more exciting a way for me as GM to play the game.  After all, why should the Players be the only ones who get surprised?

So for me, I tend to sacrifice Balance for Freedom.  I let the Players do what they want to do, without much guidance (especially if they don't ask for it from any NPCs who might be able to offer advice).  But at the same time the Player Characters are at risk of encounters that can squish them like little bugs if they aren't careful.  Or be way too easy for them.  The way I handle that is by randomizing the encounters to a certain degree.  So while I know that a certain area of the scene (in this case the secret underground township of Whitewode) has a certain kind of opponent, I don't determine in advance exactly how many there are, or even what their exact composition will be.  I roll for it at the time.  To make this work for me, I usually generate the NPCs randomly in advance, but when the encounter happens I roll to see how many of those NPCs happen to be on the scene.  So what happens next is to some degree a matter of luck, but it also very much depends on how clever the Players are when they hit the encounter.  I have rules in my game (Elthos RPG) that allow for a variety of ways to attempt to cut and run in case the odds are overwhelming.  Sometimes they take advantage of that to escape before they get themselves killed.  Other times they plow in and hope for the best.  As it happens my Players are damn lucky die rollers for some reason, and most of the time they manage to get through and achieve their goals.  I've often been shocked by the incredibly good timing of their "Critical Hits".  But that's luck for ya.

At any rate, that's how I handle my Sandbox world in relation to Balanced Encounters.  I don't really try too hard to make the Balance, I just let things play out based on the luck of the rolls.  Sometimes it goes poorly for the PCs.  Sometimes it goes poorly for the NPCs.  But either way, the risk of calamity makes the game exciting, and when those incredibly lucky rolls do happen you can bet there are loud cries of delight and amazement around my table.  As there should be.  :)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Notes on OD&D - Part 32

Ok moving on to the 3rd Level Clerical "Spells"...

Men & Magic
  • p32 - Explanation of Clerical Spells - 3rd Level
Remove Curse: This spell is the same as that for Magic-Users.

So I think what we should take way from this is that Clerics and Magic-Users really were more or less equivalents. There is little to distinguish the two by spells themselves, because the spells both work the same way mechanically, and there is significant overlap between the two classes. So what is the the difference then? As far as I can tell, the major difference is that Magic-Users were intended to be non-fighters, whereas Clerics were a combination of Fighter and Magic-User, with a focus on slightly different kinds of spells. As I've already covered the overlap, I will move on, but you can review the spell list distinctions in Notes on OD&D - Part 15.

I rate this spell 3 out of 5 Stars for usefulness. (I don't see it coming up that often, frankly)

Cure Disease: A spell which cures any form of disease. The spell is only method to rid a character of a disease from a curse, for example.

Um... uh... wait. This is a bit confusing. So a curse can cause a disease. But Remove Curse doesn't work on that. Only Cure Disease works on that, despite the fact that we have Remove Curse sitting right there above this spell. Um ... ok. Kind of squirrely. I would think it should be, in this case, that if someone is diseased by a curse that either Remove Curse OR Cure Disease would work to cure it. Meh. As a GM I would prefer a less convoluted arrangement. I suspect my players would feel the same. But ok. Its D&D v1, some bugs included.

I rate this spell 2.5 Stars out of 5 for usefulness (because it's confusing).

Locate Object: This spell is the same as that for Magic-Users, except that the base range is 9".

Ditto on my comment above.

I rate this spell 3 out of 5 Stars for usefulness.

Continuous Light: This spell is the same as that for Magic-Users, except that the light shed is equal to full daylight.

Ok, this suggests a superiority of Clerics in terms of dealing with those monsters which are destroyed by daylight. This includes:

Surprisingly, perhaps, trolls are not included in those creatures effected by full daylight. I'm a bit miffed at that. There may be other monsters that are affected by daylight as well, but conducting a few searches in google failed to produce a list of them, so I am thinking that the above list will do for now. If I find in Monsters & Treasure others that should be included (I'll be surprised if daylight has no bearing on Shades, and the like), I will add them.

I rate this spell 4 out of 5 Stars for usefulness (because full daylight is a good thing).

Ok that section was easy. Very few spells, most of them overlapping Magic-User spells which I already covered. So yah. Until next time, ciao.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

The Battle of Whitewode with TTS

Currently in the World of Elthos ...

Our heroes are still trapped in the cursed township of Whitewode as it comes under assault of the Pech Army. Praymar, the albino lizard-prince is rallying his Lizardmen forces behind the East gate. on the other side are Gnoll archers peppering the town with flaming arrows, and who have set the the main gate on fire.

Within the township Praymar has set his trap. He ignites the bonfire in front of him, and orders the Lizardmen to open the gates. He expects the Gnolls to charge in en mass, and be attacked on the flanks by his Lizardmen.

The two armies are equal in size, at 30 troops each. How will things turn out for Praymar? Stay tuned...

As for the layout here, I am using Tabletop Simulator to create the scenes.  It's a nice little piece of software from Berserk Games.  I am using it both in-house on one monitor that my group looks at, and also online with a friend who lives a few States down the East Coast, with whom we connect with via Hangouts.  I share the Tabletop Simulator via Hangouts, and have another computer with a webcam via which he can see all of us in the room, and we can see him.  It's a very functional setup, and works rather nicely to keep both Sam, and my group, engaged-as-hell in the game.  :)  If you don't mind paying about $20 bucks for Tabletop Simulator, and the associated learning curve to use it, then I do recommend giving it a try.  If you do, or are using it currently, please let me know what you think of it, and how you go about employing it for your games.  Curious to hear other people's experience with it.  Mine's been solid good thus far, despite the learning curve and relatively minor hiccups.