Monday, April 23, 2018

What does Neoclassical Geek Revival do better than other games

I get asked this question often and its a fair question. First the waffling bit of this post. I have generally grown to dislike the term "better" as better requires an end goal.  To be better requires a specific set of goals and not everyone likes the same thing in an RPG.  Is a flat d6 for damage better than varied dice of different types?  It depends on what you want the game to do.  But I do have specific goals in mind so lets dump that valid and reasonable chain of logic.

The second bit of waffling is that NGR is a very different game than OSR games in very subtle ways. It has a bit of uncanny valley going on with retro-clones where it is similar but also just slightly different so that things pan out very differently as each of the small differences compounds.  That is also a boring if reasonable line of discussion that doesn't suit the elevator pitch style answer people are looking for.

There are two major ones which I will say I like unequivocally better:  Stealth mechanics and Priest magic (miracles).

In OSR games stealth is binary.  You are hiding or you are found.  It also tends to be something one or two party members do while the others twiddle their thumbs and wait for the "Stealth bit" to end.   I have found that over the last decade and change (jeez this is getting to be an old system) explaining stealth has gotten easier.  Stealth has an accrual of "stealth damage" (called suspicion) that builds up until people are caught.  Being a rogue makes you better at stealth in the way a warrior is better at fighting, but everyone can be stealthy in the same way everyone can fight.  The reason this has gotten easier is this is vaguely an analogue to the way Bethseda games handle stealth so its become easier for people to intuitively grasp.  Accruing suspicion is the little eyeball icon getting bigger.  There are a myriad of other small changes that make this even better, since it ties into other factors.  For example this is also how random encounters are triggered.  As dungeons are much more dangerous this also makes stealth just as important (and often more so) than combat.  "Hitpoints" in NGR as "Luck points", and the same pool that you use to keep from being skewered in combat is the same pool you use to keep from being spotted or triggering random encounters. Bringing a lot of light with you will reduce penalties in combat, but also cause more suspicion every time you go into a hallway (meaning potentially more combats if you aren't careful).  You will often have tense resource draining conflicts through a dungeon without ever getting into a fight.  Because you are desperately trying not to.   NGR naturally ends up with way more heists than OSR games in my experience.

The second thing I believe NGR does better than OSR games is priestly magic.  Priests do not use Vancian magic.   They have their full assortment of spells available to them at any time and as often as they would like.  They do not have any spells for free.

To use these spells priests have to expend a resource called "piety", its basically a reward system from your god.  How much do they want to help you out.  You don't have any sort of daily pool to allocate, it isn't a renewable resource in that way.  Every point of piety you have to spend on miracles (priest magic) you have to earn.

Kill an abomination? take some piety. 
Bury the dead? take some piety. 
Destroy an enemy temple? take some piety.
Make a bargain with a demon? lose some piety.
Etc etc.

But priests never use spells frivolously. You don't waste spells because its the end of the day and you'll re-memorize them tomorrow.  Using that heal today means that is one less heal you can use in the future. It also forces players of priests to really act the part.  It takes player lead action to acquire the favour of your god if you want their help in the future.

Going back to the concept of uncanny valley for a moment.  NGR is not a retro-clone, not even remotely.  It does not have the same DNA as TSR D&D,  but it works towards a similar purpose of low fantasy adventure.  Of grappling hooks, crowbars, and battle axes being brought to bear on crumbling ruins and untamed wilds populated by monsters and men, explored on the scale of normal people without super powers.  To that end most adventures written for one will work for the other, what changes is how they pan out. NGR features a lot of schemes, stealth, and shenanigans with combat being avoided unless the fight is either an overwhelming ambush or desperate bid for survival since fighting is dangerous.

City of Tears is a desert themed NGR dungeon crawl,  coming soon!

Friday, April 13, 2018

An Ominous Portent: The release of the "Scenario from Ontario" this Friday the 13th

The Biggest Write-Off of 2017

Late in 2017 Kiel Chenier and I had a 24 hour adventure writing contest.  We were each tasked with writing a small (~7000 word) adventure about maple syrup for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  Our resulting works were compiled together into this handy-dandy volume with redone maps (by Dyson Logos) and with professional art and layout (by Chris Huth).

This is 100% uncut Canadiana and is available to you now in PDF form.   We will hopefully have a PoD version in the future.

It is available here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Seed Table: The Great Northern Desert

Now that my Xan Than Du game has been done for awhile, I thought I might post one of the seed tables used to generate wilderness encounters.

The Great Northern Desert Seed Table
  In ancient times the area was a wealthy agricultural hub with many small city states. Thousands of years ago a cataclysmic drought struck, followed by winds carrying great clouds of fine red dust.  Only the stone age hill tribes stayed and continue to live on the hostile land.  Caravans cross from the great coastal cities to the jungles beyond and where they go the nomad king of the horse bandits follows.  The ancient ruins still crawl with undead, and roaming packs of ghouls have slunk into the area to consume them (as well as any fresher dead they can find or create).

Roll 1d8, 1d6, and 1d4 before consulting the table before. Only roll the dice once.

Where (D8)
1: Plain of cracked earth with the odd scraggly bush
2: Dust coated (d4 inches) packed earth, odd tree, some agave
3: Dust coated long dead forest (stumps, some greyed wood)
4: Abandoned farm or manor area, many building foundations, dust drifts
5: Slightly rolling hills, scrub
6: Slightly rolling hills, giant cactii
7: Scrubland, odd tree,  obelisk (even) or statue (odd)
8: Great dust drifts covering scrubland and dead/dying trees.  Obelisk on 15+.

What (D6)
1-  Desert Demon (night only)
2-    Beasts
         1 = Jackals (d8+d4) night only
         2 =  Buzzards (on 13+ they bestow curse of Carrion God if attacked), circling a corpse on even
         3 = Red Kangaroo (d8) day only
         4 =  Step near a rattlesnake ( on 12+ they bestow curse of Yig if attacked)
3- Boon (less than 9) or Bane (12+). * Use the next entry on the list.

4-  Monster
         1-2: Giant Camel Spider (size d4) (night only)
         3-4: Giant snake (size d4+1)
         5-6: Terror Birds (d4) (day only)
         7-8: Giant Scorpion  (size d4-1) (night only)
5-  Nothing
6-    People: (d8 x 3)
           1=  Caravan on camels (day only)
           2 = Bandits on horses
           3 = Orange Tribesmen (1/3rd have dingo sleds)
           4 = Ghouls (night only)  (1/3rd guns, +4  hyenas)

Weird (D4)
1=  Dried out watering hole
2= Tumbleweeds
3=  Windy (rain on run of 3)
4=  Rubble, with a tomb on 13+ or a road segment on 9<

Special Results
1  - The watering hole is actually an oasis
2 -  Lost caravan (dead or dying)
3 - An air elemental in bird form haunts the area
4 - Amidst the ruble is a secret Temple of Yig with 13 cultists worshiping the snake
5 - A sudden Dust Devil tears through the immediate area
6 - Quadruple amount of people, cave temple is present for Orange Tribesmen, Dice Total/4 undead are present if Ghouls.

Max (18): Besieged Ziggurat (Ghouls vs mummies).  A special location (dungeon**) has been found. Ghouls besiege the ancient tomb, hoping to eat the undead inside and plunder their wealth.

Runs (based on start):
1 - An unattended camel with bags full of quinoa and jug of water is wandering lost.
2 -  d4 is used as an extra d6
3 - A wise Dervish (level d4) is nearby, offering blessings and cryptic wisdom.
4 - Undead forces lair in the tomb (20 and level d6-1 Undead noble)

* I had a separate page of unique minor positive and negative events. Every time this came up I'd cross the top one off the matching list and use it. At the end of the game I'd randomly make something up and add it to the bottom.  Things like "You find a supply cache marker, buried are two jugs of water and some flour in a sealed pot" or "The biting flies here may spread a disease, make a health save".

** I had a number of dungeons pre-setup that would appear in whatever hex they were first rolled in and then remain there from then on.

As an additional update,  here is a sneak peek of the upcoming Zzarchov/Kiel joint for use with LotFP "The Scenario from Ontario".

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The importance of a "Leader" in a player lead game

The last couple campaigns I've run have been specifically set-up to handle the realities of mid-life and busy schedules.  Players drop in an out week to week due to a hundred competing priorities.  This means that I've avoided setting the games to pick-up seconds after the last one ended, instead they are based on excursions from a home base (or bases) with assumed down-time in between.

In a game without this structure, it wasn't essential to have a designated leader since there were usually immediate priorities that needed to be dealt with.  If a game ended on a cliff hanger then you could easily jump back into the mindset needed to keep going. Sometimes you would run into a dysfunctional moment where "Analysis Paralysis" would set in and the group would become stuck, and sometimes you'd run into someone becoming a "self-appointed" boss, but assuming your players are all well adjusted adults those are pretty rare.

When you move to an excursion based game the math changes.  Each week is a fresh start and you can easily burn 25% of your game time in a brainstorming session of what to do and what the risks and benefits are.  One of the changes I implemented is to randomly assign one player as leader each game after the first 10-15 minutes if no plan of action is decided.  The game follows that player character's actions for the rest of the session.  If a player doesn't feel like making the calls they can pass the baton to another player (sometimes you just aren't 100%).

I find this has a couple of effects:
1.) The game both gets moving faster and handles puzzles and other choices faster. Things keep moving.

2.) You get a much larger variance in what people do week to week.   Instead of 10 weeks in a row of the forbidden temple because 3 of 5 are most interested in that, you'll get mostly forbidden temple but interspersed with some jaunts to a haunted castle and one to an ancient tomb.

Unrelated, here is a sneak peak at the title of one of the upcoming releases: