So this is my day job since leaving CCP

The Elder Scrolls Online.

Bum-bum-bum. Bum-bum-bum. Bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum. Bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum.

Fun with Failure

Do you allow your players to declare that their characters automatically fail?

Let me tell you about my character. Trooper Shiv came from rural Georgia. He joined up with the 3:16 because in the unbearable lightness of the far future there were only so many jobs. So Shiv signed on the dotted line, went through basic on the moon, and promptly got shipped off to a war nobody could possibly be prepared for.

Shiv had a lot of bad luck. He was blinded on an early drop, and the replacement eyes the 3:16 gave him never actually worked. The best thing that ever happened to him was when he got stuck with an alien brain parasite. At last he had a friend.

He wasn’t a bad soldier. He just wasn’t the kind of guy things worked out for. A lot of the time, I’d roll the dice for him, and I’d be hoping for a failure. Not really to torment him, just because I didn’t really think that his story was a happy one.

In 3:16, there’s no upside to failing conflicts or even individual tasks.1 It’s not Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where you get points for taking one for the team or the story. I just hoped my character would fail.

One of the themes of Cavaliers of Mars is that characters’ fortunes swing wildly. While they’re generally competent, sometimes they’re just going to be down on their luck… and sometimes the dice are going to bring them low. But players can also choose to blow a task check. Specifically, they can choose to critically fail. In exchange, they get a point of Luck, so that things will swing back their way at some point in the future.

The Luck point is there to encourage certain kinds of drama, but the main reason characters are allowed to just fail is that I think that players should be able to shape the hardships their characters face. It’s really just an extension of allowing players to choose impossible odds.

Does a player deliberately screwing their character up break your immersion? Do you feel that your favorite rules cause failure often enough that letting a GM or player inflict more of it damages the tone of the game? I only addressed games with a roughly traditional player/GM divide here… are your preferences different when it comes to games like Fiasco?

 

  1. Although taking a Weakness can spare your character from getting killed.

Cavaliers of Mars rules announcement

Cavaliers of Mars

Cavaliers of Mars

In addition to Wushu, Cavaliers of Mars will ship with swashbuckling rules powered by Barbarians of Lemuria and Honor + Intrigue.

Some of the earliest playtests of Cavaliers of Mars were done with Barbarians of Lemuria, and Honor + Intrigue takes the game to the next level in providing exciting melee combat.

Cavaliers will feature new stealth infiltration and chase mechanics, as well as a number of other new, light subsystems.

The game will ship dual-statted for both Wushu and Barbarians. I’ll be posting some dev blogs in the future talking about the adaptation process.

Wilderlands of High Fantasy conversion for Barbarians of Lemuria

I’m a big fan of Simon Washbourne’s Barbarians of Lemuria roleplaying game. It’s a great, light system for fantasy adventure. I’m also a big fan of the Judges Guild Wilderlands of High Fantasy setting, which is, to me, the standout achievement of early Dungeons & Dragons game design.1

A while back, I was planning a play-by-post campaign in the Wilderlands, and I wanted to use BoL. So I worked out the various Wilderlands national origins in BoL format. Here they are.

Alryan

The city folk of the large cities of the northern Wilderlands, such as the City State of the Invincible Overlord, Warwik and Modron.

Boons:

  • Keen Eyesight: Whenever you make a mind check to perceive something using your eyesight, you may roll one extra die.
  • Etiquette: You gain an extra die on any task where good form is important.

Flaw:

  • City dweller: Roll an extra die in situations to do with outdoor survival.

Antillian

Antillians, centered on the city of Antil, are cunning and disarmingly vicious. Antillians are terrifying merchants, willing and able to swindle at the drop of a copper; they are also a proud people, and they have taken the tradition of vendetta to hitherto unknown heights. They’re also sexist pricks.

Boons:

  • Bluff: Roll an extra die when trying to persuade someone of a dubious claim.
  • Sneaky: Roll an extra die where stealth is important.

Flaw:

  • Gender Bias: Roll an extra die when attempting to socialize with females. (This can apply to female characters as well, since the patriarchy can potentially fuck up the socialization of women, as well.)

Common Avalonian

The common humans in the city of Valon. They have an affinity for the sea and ice.

Boons:

  • Born sailor: When dealing with ships or carrying out physical activities on board ship (other than fighting), you may roll an extra die.
  • Power of the Arcane: You have two extra Arcane Power.

Flaws:

  • Missing Eye or Ear: Roll an extra die whenever the GM feels it is appropriate to the situation.
  • Missing Limb: Roll an extra die whenever the GM feels the situation is appropriate.

Common Orichalcan

There are few of these folk left, as most people with Orichalcan blood have been hunted down by the Altanians. Most that still exist either live in isolated communities (such as the Moonraker Moor Folk or the Roglo River Folk) or live in areas where they are not persecuted.

Boons:

  • Power of the Arcane: You have two extra Arcane Power.
  • Dragon’s Hide: You have slightly scaly skin, which gives you one point of protection from damage, even when not wearing armour.

Flaw:

  • Racism: Roll an extra die when attempting to socialize with characters of other races.

Common Viridian

Common Viridians are the basal population of the cities, towns and villages surrounding the Falling Empire of Viridistan.

Boons:

  • Learned: When recalling a fact from your area of specialty, you use an extra die.
  • Attractive: Roll an extra die in situations where good looks might be important.

Flaw:

  • City dweller: Roll an extra die in situations to do with outdoor survival.

Dunael

Dunael Woods-Folk originated in Dearthwood, where most can still be found, locked in eternal struggle against the Warriors of the Purple Claw.

Boons:

  • Forest Tracker: When tracking creatures or people in a forest environment, use an extra die.
  • Keen Scent: Whenever you make a mind check to perceive something using your sense of smell, you may roll one extra die.

Flaw:

  • Landlubber: Roll an extra die on activities whilst at sea.

Gishmesh

The Gishmesh are the people of the City State of Tarantis and the surrounding lands.

Boons:

  • Born sailor: When dealing with ships or carrying out physical activities on board ship (other than fighting), you may roll an extra die.
  • Great Wealth: Roll an extra die on any attempt to obtain any goods, services or items you need whilst in your home city.

Flaw:

  • Untrustworthy: Roll an extra die when the situation calls for someone to believe or trust you.

Skandik

The Skandik Sea Wolves are a water-loving people. They are ritually birthed in the water and spend most of their youth learning the ways of the sea.

Boons:

  • Born sailor: When dealing with ships or carrying out physical activities on board ship (other than fighting), you may roll an extra die.
  • Sea Tracker: When tracking creatures or people at sea, use an extra die.

Flaw:

  • Distrust of Sorcery: When dealing with wizards and alchemists, roll an extra die.

Karakhan

Known as Horse Lords, Karakhan are the people of the far-off Kingdom of Karak to the east.

Boons:

  • Beast Friend: Whenever dealing with animals, roll an extra die.
  • Steppe Tracker: When tracking creatures or people in a steppe environment, use an extra die.

Flaw:

  • Feels the Heat: Roll an extra die for any tasks undertaken in a hot desert environment.

Tharbrian

Tharbrians are eternal nomads of the central Wilderlands, having migrated into the Wilderlands from the far West.

Boons:

  • Tharbrian Saber: If using a Tharbrian saber, roll an extra die.
  • Fearsome Looks: Use an extra die whenever you are trying to force somebody to give you information or do something they don’t want to do.

Flaw:

  • Illiterate: You cannot read or write and you cannot choose a career with literacy as a requirement.

Altanian

The “barbarian” Altanians occupy the portion of the Pazidan Peninsula south of the City State of the Invincible Overlord known as Barbarian Altanis.

Boons:

  • Beast Friend: Whenever dealing with animals, roll an extra die.
  • Jungle Tracker: When tracking creatures or people in a jungle environment, use an extra die.

Flaw:

  • Illiterate: You cannot read or write and you cannot choose a career with literacy as a requirement.

Amazon

In the north, Amazons can be found in their castle near Sea Rune on the Pagan coast north of Ossary. They can also be found in the southern lands in and around the city of Rallu and near Ghinor and the Ament Tundra. Mercenary Amazons can be found in nearly every fighting force in the Wilderlands. Amazon sexism usually prevents males from receiving training with arms, although many are trained in other military capacities.

Boons:

  • Combat Precognition: Roll an extra die when wearing Amazon armor or no armor.
  • Forest Tracker: When tracking creatures or people in a forest environment, use an extra die.

Flaw:

  • Gender Bias: Roll an extra die when attempting to socialize with males. (Again, this Flaw can apply to male characters as well, because I’m an irritating post-modernist.)
  1. Empire of the Petal Throne deserves mention here, too.

Cavaliers of Mars Quick Start available now!

Cavaliers of Mars

Cavaliers of Mars

The free quick start adventure for Cavaliers of Mars is now available at DriveThruRPG. This demos the Wushu version of the rules; the full version will include both Wushu and Barbarians of Lemuria.

Return now to dying Mars in its last age of glory.

A planet of flashing swords and choking sands, of winking courtesans and lantern-lit canal cities. Mars, where fortune and death are two sides of the same obsidian chit, where lost cities and dry oceans stretch between the last bastions of civilization. Where the First Martians, the monument-builders, are but a haunted memory. Where the Red Martians become decadent and reckless in their last days. Where the Green Martians rule the wastes, remembering a history whose weight would crush a lesser people.

Tonight, find yourself in Vance at festival time. When revolutionaries strike a visiting prince, you’ll need to explore the city’s dark underbelly, before racing across its towered tombs! Save lives, end lives, and earn your water!

Live, fight, and love on Mars, a world of red death and strange mystery, a world of savagery and romance.

The quick start includes:

  • A complete adventure set in one of dying Mars’ greatest remaining cities.
  • The innovative Wushu rules, for high-flying, swashbuckling adventure.
  • Five pre-generated player characters, ready to get into the heart of the action.

 

First Post

When Fantasy Heartbreaker launched, I deliberately didn’t do a first post. Frankly, I was afraid that it would also be the last one. Seemed like inviting bad luck.

Two years later, I’m still blogging here, and I have a pretty decent audience. Thanks, everyone!

Cavaliers of Mars moves steadily along. The world map is close to finished, with the major “where are we going to put that?” questions answered. The quick start is almost ready (it’s in layout). I believe the publisher’s going to make it available in PoD as well as PDF, both through DriveThru.

The quick start is an adventure that plunges players into Vance at festival time. Five killers are the only ones who can avenge an assassination. It’s an evening’s excitement on Mars with flashing swords and deadly intrigue. And it should be out very soon.

The Apprentice’s Tale

The City of Vance, by Chris Huth

The City of Vance, illustrated by Chris Huth

“The Apprentice’s Tale” is my exploration of the world of Cavaliers of Mars. It tells the story of a young girl taken from her broken home by a cavalier and raised as his apprentice. As she recounts their years together, we see the world they live in.

Here are links to each part in order:

The Apprentice’s Tale: The Lost Places

This concludes “The Apprentice’s Tale,” a serial exploration of the world of Cavaliers of Mars.

As I was saying, during my recovery, we began to plan an expedition to the lost places. We traveled to Chiaro. We took up lodging in a tent city in Chiaro-that-is, but within sight of our goal: Chiaro-that-was. Chiaro-that-is is a reasonably hospitable place. Poor, but the basic necessities of life are available. Oases within the city space provide food,  along with some yumocs raised for meat. We were just two more would-be tomb robbers spending our last chits on the chance of a fortune.

At night, by blue flames, we would stare out at Chiaro-that-was, silhouetted against the stars. Staring out at what the First Martians left behind.

In that epoch, the world was filled with life. Plants, beasts, and sentient creatures all thrived and multiplied. The First Martians built grand cities along the azure seas, yet still pushed back the many-colored jungles only a little. They even built cities under the oceans, protected by crystal domes from the water and from the great leviathans of that impossible age.

In Chiaro, as in a few other places, they left monuments of unimaginable scale. Here were the pyramid-tombs that must have housed their kings, and sphinxes with their eyes towards heaven. Why they built on this scale is hard for those of us who remain to imagine, but I think they did so simply because they could.

Now, these places are abandoned. No throngs fill the city streets, no worshippers gather at the feet of the pyramids or in the eyes of the sphinxes. Many of the treasures of the First Martians lay untouched, as they have since times undreamt of. Not that that’s ever stopped anyone from dreaming of the treasures themselves.

The First Martians are so long gone that even their ghosts have likely scattered on the winds. Yet their treasures still have guardians. The tomb stalkers are strange, tripodal machines that move quietly through the ruins. Their voices are keening and creaking… I only heard them from miles away, and still the memory makes me shudder. They sweep the abandoned streets of all life, sparing the occasional beast only so that it can chase intruders into their paths.

In Chiaro, I was told many times that those tomb stalkers that can be seen within the ruins are only a fraction of their number. Many more, I was told, lie slumbering beneath the sand.

Of course, the ruins of the First Martians are not the only forsaken places on the Red World. Lesser peoples have risen and fallen, leaving their own abandoned cities and degenerate remnants. These so-called dusk cities lie empty, or inhabited by small, cult-like populations who cling to the homes of ancestors they can no longer comprehend.

All of these lost places are tempting targets for graverobbers and treasure hunters, such as my master and I. We spent weeks in Chiaro-that-was, hunting for an untouched tomb, for a cache of relics no one had yet dared plunder. We carried blue flames to keep the tomb stalkers at bay… perhaps they worked.

Perhaps we would have found our treasure there. But one evening, as the blue star rose and we made camp, my master’s coughing was a little worse than it had been. His body seemed a little more bent than the day before, and it had seemed a little more bent the day before that. As the twilight dwindled, he told me stories about my father. I don’t know if they were true; I hope some of them were.

He talked, and he sang, a little feebly. Old soldiers’ songs, maybe learned on the steppe in his youth. He told me of the end of the world, of the days when the atmosphere processors would breathe their last, of desert winters that would last forever. He kept asking me to refill his cup; when there was no more liquor, I filled it with water. He didn’t seem to notice. And as the ice of night fell around us, my master died. His final words were simple, affectionate, and then he closed his eyes forever.

I packed up our camp. I could hear the tomb stalkers, and had no desire to take any chances. In the icy night, I began my walk back towards the blue lamps of Chiaro-that-is.

And so, in the lost place, I left the man who found me.

True Romance

On that special day, show her how much you care. Be an accomplice.

 

Whence rules?

Simple question, long answer:

What situations do you need rules for, and why?

Zak over at D&D with Porn Stars recently presented a discussion on whether D&D has enough rules, and whether those rules are necessary for fun.1 He makes the argument that D&D’s lack of rules for certain things help the game go in unexpected directions according to the desires of those at the table and, presumably, chance.

Obviously, most game designers think you need rules for combat. This is enshrined in countless “what is roleplaying” blurbs, where the rules are presented as a way of answering the question “did I get shot” in a game of “Cops and Robbers.” In that example, the rules are there for  arbitration. They’re there so that one player can’t arbitrarily declare that another must leave play.

I’ve never liked this example. It implies that the main purpose of the rules is to protect you from Ms. Frost, yet most games give the GM absolute authority, anyway.2

Still, I think some rules do serve to arbitrate or disambiguate. The purest example I can think of is Greg Stolze’s …in Spaaace!, where the core mechanic (a bidding system) is all about whether you, as a player, get your desired outcome.

Rules do other things, too. One you’ll certainly recognize if you read D&D with Porn Stars is to introduce chance. Roleplaying games, particularly older or newer ones, make use of a lot of devices to create unpredictability. The most iconic is the random encounter table. Rules also usually make the winners of a conflict unpredictable.

This is the main thing I use rules for, myself. A number of my own systems include a sentence like “If the players agree that more than one of the possible outcomes is interesting, use these rules to decide which happens.”

In any of these cases, the point isn’t primarily to arbitrate a dispute over whether you meet an angry bear, it’s to introduce the angry bear in the first place. In conflict resolution, the point isn’t that I say the bear is willing to give up his salmon and you say he isn’t, but that we mutually admit that we don’t know and would like to ask the dice.

In Apocalypse World, Vincent Baker proposes another purpose for rules. He asserts that roleplaying games are conversations3 and that the purpose of rules is to modify those conversations, to make sure that people say things that they otherwise wouldn’t. So, normally, I might not suggest that my character takes a nasty fall, but when the dice tell me so, I do. Or I wouldn’t agree to taking that fall, except that there’s a tasty drama point on offer.

So, what do you need rules for, and why?

  1. I don’t assert that that was his only point, but it’s the one that got me thinking.
  2. Sometimes, this authority is represented as ownership, as in “it’s the GM’s game.” Other times, it’s represented as public service, as in “it’s the GM’s responsibility to make sure everyone has fun” or “it’s the GM’s responsibility to serve the story.” No matter the case, most roleplaying games seem to be pretty sure that one player can declare “rocks fall, everyone dies.”
  3. I agree, they are conversations.