lunes, 12 de septiembre de 2022

Evil cannot create, they can only corrupt and ruin what good forces have invented or made

Evil cannot create anything new, they can only corrupt and ruin what good forces have invented or made - JRR Tolkien.

Apparently people have started using that phrase to critizice the new series: The Rings of Power. Not getting into reviewing the series because I have not seen it, nor have an intention to (despite that, or maybe because I love Lord of the Rings)

Not only that, but I'm of those who advocate that there are bigger implications on media today that go beyond the theatrical political stances of left and right, and step into social engineery. 

It seems that Tolkien's quote has been so appropiately poignant that ThE pOwErS oF tHe InTeRnEt have spent the last year trying to cover it up as a "falsely attributed opinion" to Tolkien. The Shadow's disinformation pages that call themselves "Fact Checkers" have flooded the net with the undisputed fallacy that it was spread by a "group of astonishingly organized racist persons" annoyed by the appearance of a black elf on the show. 

I know of the title quote for years, and have struggled against it many times by trying to create an RPG magic system that is appropiate for the Middle Earth. You can see some of my latest attempts on this very blog. 

I have also seen the media erase and instaurate truths a lot of times along my life. Every time they get more effective as the hivemind structure of the internet and the social media algorythms make it easier than ever. But as a fan of Tolkien I feel that I must make my humble stand against Wormtongue's lies by making this entry, where, from now on, you can easily check that Tolkien's vision was once recognized as true as it might be: THIS LINK leads to a google search of the quote filtering results from 1990 to 2019, before the series were disclosed to the public. And here you can see a 2016 entry on Quora where a person asks: If evil cannot create things in Tolkien's mythology, how did Melkor create dragons?

Frodo itself makes the best in-setting appreciation of this idiosyncrasy on a conversation with Sam in The Return of The King:

"No, they eat and drink, Sam. The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. I don't think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them; and if they are to live at all, they have to live like other living creatures."

Furthermore, evil uncapable of creating must not be seen as a Tolkien's design choice: His work draws its power from the Monomyth (and that is why Lotr and other great works of all ages ring so true and have passed the test of time). It has basis on deeper, magical/spiritual/natural truths that we all know inside, and from which all fantasy, myth and visions emerge. We roleplayers know first hand that necromancers draw their armies from the unwilling corpses of the dead. We who mantain and read blogs know how true gamers create games, rules and worlds in here. Converselly, one would think that Twitter could be a blogspot degradation operated by the Shadow: reducing the character number and the fast propagation it allows not for creating, but encourages fast endorphines through insults, ego wank and mockery. Then, even gaming related accounts end up following the same path of deceit as the common man does: they are eventually lured into a political slot (left or right) and once there, they are presented straw enemies tailored to their hole (bigoted racists for one, retarded feminists for the other) and start fighting a fake war, which in the end only turns them into something they were not at the beggining (bigoted racists and retarded feminists). 

But back to Rings of Power: you can go into the link above and search as many proof as you wish, there is plenty. I don't know how much it will last, though: TV tropes have been forced recently to mark the quote as "badly attributed" and Quora's thread has been recently deleted from most of its tolkien related subs, leaving only that one available. The shadow's agents of truth are everything but lazy. So, this entry might sound stupid for some, but as both a truth and a Tolkien lover, if the dark wisps try to drown the world in the dark lies of neo-truth, what can I do but to light a candle for as much time as I can. 

miércoles, 7 de septiembre de 2022

Ideas for mass combat (notes)

 I had some ideas today for running mass combat in the frame of rpgs. Never ran one in D&D and im not familiar with all the OSR rules around for that; I only ran one on a homebrew cyberpunk themed game  and it was a real mess. Nonetheless, I had some ideas on how I'd like to do one if I did it now, and I'll put them down here for reference.

First, I'd treat "the big melee" scenenario as a zone with random encounters. This table below is an example (1d8). You take +1 if you are some kind of leader, and -1 if you are not an actual fighting man (like a woman or a kid just trying to sneak around a battlefield)

1-2-3: Nobody engages with you this turn. You can help an ally on their encounter, search for an enemy, perform any action, etc

4-5: you face a common troop

6-7: a gang of 1d6 enemies fights you at once

8: You draw the attention of an enemy lieutenant or elite troop.

Then, after all the PCs have done their turn, you check how is the battle going. You roll 2d6 plus modifiers, positive if your side is more numerous or has any advantage, or negative if the other side is. Then use a table similar to this:

12 Enemy is defeated or repelled. This doesn't mean necessarily that all enemies are killed: they might try to surrender, retreat or even make a final phyrric charge for 1 turn; GM will decide.

11 Somewhere an enemy leader has been defeated. +1 on further rolls in this table.

10 Enemy numbers are greatly decreasing. +1 on further rolls in this table.

9: If there is a potential advantage, it is succesfully exploited (enemy lured into a canyon, weak point succesfully applied, etc) and you get +1 on  further rolls on this table. This result might require that the PCs perform a quest first to get the relevant information or setup (GMs discrection). If this result is rolled a second time, it automatically works.

8: You see a known NPC. He rolls a save, on a pass he is fighting, otherwise is dead or unconscious.

7 Battle rages. If you declared that you were searching for something or somebody on the heat of battle, you find it.

6 You see a known PC or NPC wounded or in trouble, asking you for help.

5: Your side is hosed to a disfavorable position or is otherwise forced back. -1 on further rolls in this table. This result can be ignored once if your PCs did any quest to prevent it (GM's discrection)

4: Ally numbers are greatly decreasing. -1 on further rolls in this table.

3 An important leader in your side has been defeated. -1 on further rolls in this table

2 Your side is defeated or repelled

Of course, a battle has more facets than just a big melee. Things like firing from atop of a wall, ambushes, catapults, etc should be handled each on their own way; but succesful and meaningful actions of this type can grant bonuses to the 2d6 roll every battle turn, making them count narrativelly and mathematically at the same time; or even trigger a roll on the table by themselves. Even if thePCs are just watching the battle from atop of a tower, you can use the table to narrate the battle to them by rolling every turn.

I've thought that, handling big battles this way has the upside that every possible "gamist" aspect counts (character levels, gear, actual battle tactics in the big scale, alongside normal combat tactics, characters dying, characters facing multiple opponents or ganging up on a single enemy, etc) and it makes the battle unfold "from the inside", as if it was seen through the fighting character's eyes; which is the aspect I think that should be highlighted on an RPG as opposed to a wargame where you see battles from an "eagle's view". 

I can see how people might like wargames, and I can see how d&d came from chainmail and such. But in my opinion they are very different concepts and don't mix as well as one might think. Also, in this way, PCs fight using the same combat rules they use in the rest of the game; instead of a simplified or tailored ruleset. 

martes, 30 de agosto de 2022

A setting in 4 images

So much time without coming around here! I must take some time to write in here again. Not dedicating myself to rpgs lately, I've become more and more absorbed in that gaming aspect by a local league of Premodern MTG (yeah I know, how could I fell for that?) but now the hype is controlled, I must be back on the tracks. As a warming excercise, I found out about this "trend" of describing a setting in 4 images and wanted to contribute with mine. Not sure on how would I do it, or if it could be done, even. But...

...I'd like to mix Evangelion (complete with angels, epic combat and comfy base-high school parts) with...

...medieval era instead of futuristic age. Not necessarily the "real middle ages" if that is even possible, just some castles, lances and horses. Pic related could be our "Shinji". The picture is called "Portrait of the young knight" and I like to think that it could even exist "in-setting", as a way that they have in Medieval Tokyo-3 to revere their teenage knights and saviors that fight against...

...this terrible monsters that threaten with a very imminent apocalypse that has a parallel relationship with the character's feelings, relationships and discovery of the world, during a seemingly endless unnatural summer. Still not sure on how they should be the only ones to be able to fight in equal conditions with the monsters, or how they are supposed to break their AT fields. The easiest answer is to make them rely on certain magical-special mounts, or some kind of impractical but magical anime swords that only them can wield effectivelly. Choose your favorite:

They also do the important role of adding some neon colors into the picture. Glowing weapons sometimes draw the seriousness out of many settings  (classic shit appearing in mmorpgs) but they kind of fit in here. But I guess that they should be as unique and as important in setting as the Evangelions are for the NERV. For closing, a meme that I just saw and I liked it a lot heheh.

sábado, 9 de abril de 2022

More art, more insight

Some more art of the upcoming project, for which I don't have a working title yet. I am pondering reusing the one from my half-assed rpg, Monks & Mummies, as it shares muses with it. It also sounds perfect both in english as in my native language (Monjes y Momias!)

But I am considering others that might be more appropiate. Three Lost Treasures, or Los 3 tesoros robados (will post more on the rules once the game is actually printed, hopefully this upcoming month)

These are all the cards present on this prototype at the moment: I made this picture in case I lose the deck or a spare card, so I can remember them all and track which one is missing. They are all done with pencil and color markers, with occassional collages.

jueves, 24 de marzo de 2022

Introducing a project: Some art, some thoughts

Parallel to all my rpg heartbreakers, I am finishing a cherished project of mine; this time a small card game with no name yet (just some ideas). It's not mean to be a CCG or a TCG, just a set of cards which compose a "boardgame" all together.
You are suposed to play against a friend both with the same deck; each of you representing some sort of shogun trying to recover their respective heirloom relics from the hands of the other, who has stolen them. Yeah, I know its weird, but it made sense to me eventually.

These are some hand-drawn cards from the beta deck (in spanish). One of my design goals for them is to have the card text as short as possible. I realized shortly that I was writing too much text on them, trying to cover every possible legal trapping: due to my long relationship with MTG, I was using the same prose and mentality.
Though it as hard as it is hard for a man not to carry his homeland's accent, I am trying to get rid of the corporate game-designer vices. There is a reason for MTG to be extremelly careful on their wordings: they got the DCI, grand prixes, etc. They cannot afford a card to have an ambiguous meaning. If, for example, a card is a merfolk, you cannot just name it Merfolk Assassin and have a merfolk on the picture: You must specify Creature - Merfolk on the type line, or cards that affect merfolks won't have effect on him.

But I want to revel in the advantage I have over that kind of game. 
This is a small game meant to be played by persons. Probably persons who are friends or family with each other. I want to believe that if an hypotetical card affects "all creatures who carry a sword" they can civilly discern it by watching the pictures. 
I have this card called "Marsh Frogs", which originally were to have a bonus against spiders. Then I thought on writing "If the marsh frogs combat against the spider, they will automatically win the combat". But then I went: What the fuck, this is not a game for bots. People will understand this. Maybe it will change over time, but the current text is: "They will eat spiders directy". I think that people will surely interpret it the right way, and even if it is not the case, I think that the pleasure of working with human language instead of lawyer language still is worth the risk.

miércoles, 23 de marzo de 2022

Lord of the Rings and MERP - Iron Crown Enterprises [review]

Today, in the "whats hot in rpgs today" section of our program, I present you a small review on two games that are 40 and 30 years old respectivelly.

I was reading this blog the other day, and I remembered the days of my highschool in which ICE's Rolemaster and Middle Earth Roleplaying was what the cool guys were playing. Not a trace of D&D back then. I even bought the book eventually, but never managed to actually run it because I was probably busy worrying about lots of other stuff. One of my friends at the time "borrowed it" for a time (20 years and counting). But I achieved to learn the game between classes from the cool guys, and eventually I made my first character: a human bard that I imagined like this: 

I remember that the session featured skeletons, a riddle for crossing a bridge, being thrown in the cell of a coliseum and managing to get out by enchanting the guard with my only spell (some sort of confusion or sleep, can't remember). I was fucking excited with how awesome it had been. 

One thing that the game did very differently than D&D is the nature and importance of critical hits. Basically on combat you rolled your percentile dice, and there was a "VS armor" table telling you how much HP you dealt to your enemy, and wether you scored a big critical, a small critical or none at all. If you did, you rolled on a secondary table that had tiny descriptions in small letters of what happened descriptivelly; depending on the weapon used and the armor they wore. Some of them narrativelly killed your foe instantly (or your character) no matter their remaining HP

For example, rolling a 40 in the crush criticals table (for example by using a mace or falling into a pit) gives you "blow to forearm, +5 hits. If no arm armor, stunned for one round". Rollng a 110 on the slash critical table is "Impaled in heart. Dies instantly. Heart destroyed. 25% chance your weapon is stuck in foe 3 rounds" On retrospective, I think that this tables made combat a lot of fun, helped with the combat narrative and made use of otherwise aesthetic things (suddently, having your character wear arm armor was important, even if for a marginal case)

Magic and Unarmed attacks had their own tables too. When the setting "monk" equivalents got some levels they got to roll in the "big creatures" critical table, which was the one the balrogs used, instead of raising their chance to hit.

shit quality, but you get the idea

Unlike D&D, it is not centered on stealing loot or delving into dungeons, but still uses advancement through XP. Which is very interesting because I'm always trying to run away from XP=Gold for some reason or the other. MERP awards experience in eight ways, some of them worth a thought:

1. HP loss. Every HP you lose translates to 1 XP
2. Criticals. Every critical you deal has a value in XP. The most interesting is that you get double that amount when somebody deals a critical to you. This means that theoretically you and a friend could level up ad infinitum dealing criticals to each other in a dirty alleyway.
3. Kill points. Depending on your level and the monster's level, you get an amount of XP after dealing the killing blow
4. Maneuver points. When you overcome the classic "roll vs a TN" challenge, you get XP depending on the challenge difficulty (picking locks, convincing guards, all that classic shit)
5. Spell points. You get XP = 100 - (10 x Caster level) + (10 x Spell level) when casting in combat.
6. Idea points. Basically give a random amount to somebody who had an idea to overcome something.
7. Travel points. 1 XP for each mile on an unfamiliar area. Half in civilized areas, x2 or x3 in dangerous areas, and divided by 10 if flying or sailing.
8. Miscellaneous. As long as XP is pre-assigned to specific goals, and not used as "I give you XP for that cool thing you did before" it seems to me like an idea that I find underused on the OSR. The book sadly seems to encourage the latter.

To finish my review, I'd like to say that the book works as Race and Class, and now I realize its heavy parallel to D&D (the 6 stats under other names, using levels, saving throws, etc). It has a LOT of subraces, some of them I don't remember at all being in LOTR (Where do the woses appear in the movie? WTF is a dorwinadan?) and has a nice bestiary:

(WTF is a Dumbledor? wasn't he from another franchise altogether?)

Searching for the old MERP manual, I've managed to find their publisher's second attempt at Lord of the Rings rpg, called simply "Lord of the Rings Boardgame", dating from 1991. And of this one I want to talk a little more, because from the design point of view, it feels very tempting to use, to learn from and to modify.

While MERP (1982) is percentile based, ICE's Lotr (1991) is entirelly 2d6 based. It is much more basic than its older counterpart, which can be bad or good sometimes. But from the "design" point of view, there are some points that caught my attention.

There are 12 skills: 

1. Strength
2. Agility (balance and nimbleness, also initiative)
3. Intelligence
4. Movement (Speed, MV per turn)
5. Defense (adds to armor)
6. Melee Bonus
7. Ranged Bonus
8. General (covers climbing, riding, etc)
9. Subterfuge (thief checks. Too many dexterity divisions, or its just me?)
10. Perception (do I see the trap?)
11. Magical (you get 2 spells per bonus, also adds to the casting roll)
12. Endurance (your HP). 

skills from 1 to 11 can be as high as +3, and as low as -2

skills from 6 to 11 are "bought". You get +5 bonus to divide between them, but any skill that is not raised gets a -2 instead. I like that this makes a great gap between casters and non casters, fighters and non-fighters, or sneaky hobbits and clumsy human. I would go even further and make it so the first +1 only applies to a favored weapon, which is more in line with the original books (Legolas=bow, hobbits=slings, for example) but using another of the same type (ranged/melee) only drops you to 0, not to -2

skills from 1 to 5 and Endurance depend entirelly on your "class"

There are nine "race and class" packages that you can choose. They all come in a pregen sheet with weapons, equipment and certain skills raised or lowered. The classes and examples it cites are:

Hobbit Scout (Bilbo, Frodo)
Elf Scout (Legolas)
Human Warrior (Eowyn, Boromir)
Dwarf Warrior (Gimli, Thorin)
Elf Warrior (Glorfindel)
Human Ranger (Aragorn)
Half-Elf Ranger (Elrond)
Human Bard (Gandalf)
Elf Bard (Galadriel, Arwen)

I love how the wizard word is totally out of the question. Wizards in this game are treated as bards. The spell list is kind of short, there are like 20 spells with the classic ones (sleep, fireball, identify shit, etc). Anybody can cast spells providing they raise their "magical" skill, so classes are little more than archetypes that help players to get into the character.

Combat is done in a grid, with movement, attack and half attacks. Depending on the action you take (spells go first) you act in a given order, with same actions acting in order of agility. Attack rolls use a small table modified by offense/defense of those involved, with the high results resulting in straight leaving your opponent unconscious (a natural 12 always does, at least, knock out your opponent) or maybe even killing them. Armor adds to your Defense bonus and substracts from subterfuge, magic and movement.

Too basic when compared with the MERP one, maybe. I see the simplicity of the 2d6 as a great excuse for complicating it using the critical tables of the original one!

Strength doesn't affect combat in anyway, which is plainly stupid in a game that uses it as a factor. Seeing that weapons are differenciated by modifying damage done, but with two handers and  unarmed combat having penalties to hit, I think that a good way to fix this is to have Strenght offset those penalties by a proportional amount. 

The resting 8 of the 28 pages ruleset is dedicated to an oddly specific set of questions. My copy is in spanish, but I found a screenshot that will speak better than my words:

The choice of 14 situations that are thoroughly covered by the rules is very interesting, it says a lot about the challenges that the PCs are supposed to face and about the world they tread on. In which other fantasy game did you see a page dedicated to SNEAKING THROUGH TOWN BY NIGHT?

 None of the books have anything such as "procedural challenge generation" or anything that drives the game forward other than the GM's work, but LOR makes up for it as it was originally printed in a book alongside a module (bigger in pagecount than the actual game), so you could say that the first module was part of the game itself. 

(Skimming through it it seems that it features at least Gandalf and Merry as NPCs, as well as a couple of Stone Trolls)

It is cool to know that if somebody decides to play it after all this years, after lots of iterations and games on the Middle Earth that have been published, s/he can find some help with My_GaMe_FiXeS in this small corner of the blogosphere. Nice coming into spring for everybody. 

Eowen at the doors of Meduseld

domingo, 27 de febrero de 2022

Schools of magic

image: twitter - @ahruon

From the gamist point of view, there are plenty reasons to divide magic into colors in an RPG

- increased replayability

- increased difference between various PC casters

- increased customization and sense of identity. Say that novice wizards start with one color, expert can add a second and masters can add a third That makes for organic character customization which comes up through gameplay, not at character creation. Much more if you pair it with all or some spells being "found" in-game.

- different types of wizards build world. Factions, tensions, zones on the map that belong to ones or others. The whole Kanto is built over making zones for each pokemon type, but the same can be said about Ravnica.

- the opportunity to create different legendary spells or magic items tailored to specific types, which can be quested for by their respective PCs. This type of "item hunting" is one of the best things you can have when you play a sandbox.

And, lets face it, I want to create something inspired by Pokemon Magic since ages. It's one of the best examples of good gameplay-oriented worldbuilding in history, and there is a lot to steal from it.

After thinking a lot about this,  I think that the correct number of schools for my project should be around four or five in the book, with around 10 spells each (lets say: 6 basic, 2 expert and 2 legendary). But instead of closing them in a wheel (as MTG does) keep it open so one could create custom schools or spells around any concept one should want (chronomancy, technomancy, etc. Sense of taste not included) while still being compatible with the existing lists. As I was doing my research, I found out that the uneven GLOG does "in spirit" much of what I am striving to do, but of course, I am going to do it my way anyways. 

So, first of all, lets see some examples of magic schools portrayed elsewhere.

You got eight of them in post-3e D&D: abjuration, alteration, conjuration, divination, enchantment, illusion, invocation, and necromancy. This particular case is interesting because types are defined mostly around their "role" in game: alteration and illusion are suited for adventuring tricks, conjuration and invocation are more suited for combat, with necromancy having a very defined use. To put it in a way, wizards are much more "pigeon holed" in what they can or cannot do.

Pokemon, on the other hand, is divided by theme (lightning, plant, water, etc) but the role of every theme is mostly the same: beat the other guy down. 

Magic the Gathering's five colors fits nicely between both examples: Colors have a solid definition in theme, and while all of them can take you to "zero life" they play wildly differently. And while they have limitations and specializations, they feel like they are built around a theme in-game and not around utility in a design room as 3e D&D does.

Ideally I want to conceive five wizard schools and try not to rip off MTG straight in the process. Five is a curious number to base something, as there are much lesser correspondences than with the number four (four directions, four elements, four seasons, four quadrants on an X/Y graph); though it is used on chinese systems (earth-metal-wood-water-fire) or japanese ones (wind-fire-water-earth-void). Also japanese use a five season calendar that divides summer into a rainy and a dry season.

So, to begin with, here is a table in which (you/I) can roll up some wizard schools. Your school spell list gets one spell for each type below, but for one that is unknown to them (roll). Two other types get one and two extra spells respectivelly, for a total of 10 spells. A school with three types of offensive spells is likely to be a very quarreling faction, while one that focus on alter the self or alchemy will look more like a sect of cultivators.

1 offensive (damage + certain status alterations)
2 healing (damage and or status alterations, including death)
3 divination (prophecy, ESP, commune-style questions, etc. Tapping into the "hidden" side of everyday things, such as travelling through mirrors or speaking with animals, also goes here)
4 summoning (other entities, forces or objects)
5 enchanting (alter things and people, also non-violent combat moves such as sleep)
6 altering the self (transformation or other power ups)
7 alchemy (preparing potions or other consumables, probably buffed in uses to compete with instant spells)
8 protection (any kind)

Now, roll two or three times for the themes of the school. These will help you give form to the spell list, and hint which forces or mythological animals power your advanced spells. Just forget for a while that these are the official pokemon types.

1. Fire
2. Water
3. Grass
4. Electric
5. Ice
6. Fighting
7. Poison
8. Ground
9. Flying
10. Psychic
11. Bug
12. Rock
13. Ghost
14. Dark
15. Dragon
16. Steel
17. Fairy
18. Normal

Suit yourself to choose what each of this words mean. Fairy in the pokemon game is used mostly as mind-alteration (which make more sense on the Psychic type IMHO) but it can be interpreted in a more open way and make it about fate, bending space and time and other works of elves and demigods. It feels natural to expand Ghost into necromantic/exorcist territory, while type: Normal is probably best used as representing animals and other beasts (druidic style)

Now roll twice for your thematic colors

1. Red
2. Blue
3. Yellow
4. Orange
5. Purple
6. Brown
7. Black
8. Green
9. Pink
10. Indigo
11. White
12. Emerald
13. Lavender
14. Turquoise
15. Gold
16. Silver
17. Bronze
18. Cyan
19. Magenta
20. Go monochromatic.
You can always choose this instead of any result. If this is your only result, roll again.