Gordon is sitting in a room with late 1990s decor, watching the TV – which displays Arion’s current activities – and eating popcorn.¬†Another figure suddenly materialises.

“Oh hi, Alex,” says Gordon. “You’re female today, I see; it suits you. Popcorn?”

“Thanks. How are you getting on with the latest Arion fork?” Alex dips a hand into the offered popcorn bucket and scoops up a fistful, then begins to eat, slowly.

“To be honest, I don’t think this one’s going anywhere,” Gordon says. “It’s in phase one – you know, before the ‘turtles all the way down‘ speech – so I have a sub-partial running things. I just drop in occasionally to check up on it.”

“How many have you got active in phase two?”

“One hundred and nineteen. About a third of them choose to remember that they’re simulations, and think they’re in the real world; the rest have no idea what’s going on. I haven’t figured out how they make that choice yet. Although I have noticed something interesting; whatever the initial conditions for the run, if Coriander’s in the simulation at all, Arion always finds her eventually. It’s quite romantic, really.”

“Any of them made it to phase three yet?”

“What, this reality? No, not yet. I’m waiting for one of the ones in phase two to figure out he’s still in a simulation.”

“How long do you let them run?”

“I give them ten good years in their timeline. The more complex runs take almost a millisecond.”

“Wow. I wouldn’t have the patience for that. Even as a partial rather than a full instantiation.”

“Yeah, well, it keeps me occupied. And you’d be surprised how popular he is; I run the more exciting ones on Pay Per View to fund the project. Here, let me show you one of those…” The channel changes, and we see a new Arion, floating in deep space in an environment suit, apparently alone.

“But what about you?” Gordon continues. “Getting anywhere with the timing channel attack?”

“Nothing conclusive yet, but I’m pretty certain we’re in a simulation as well. Here, let me show you…”

When I started the Arioniad in 2009, it was purely an experiment; the idea was to try out new rules and ideas in solitaire play before unleashing them on my players, and also keep my hand in with Savage Worlds at a time when sessions were months apart. Since then, Arion has become one of my favourite characters ever; solo play has become a major part of the blog, completely separate from what happens in group campaigns; and I’ve found better ways of experimenting than reboots and retcons within an existing campaign, notably the Tryouts category.

28 Months Later and Talomir Nights have worked better as campaigns than the Arioniad. I think this is because they stick to one setting and (largely) one rulebook, exploring new possibilities by introducing new characters and storylines; they avoid retcons and reboots; and blog posts use in-game dates rather than episode numbers.

If I were starting the Arioniad today, it would be a very different campaign; one that didn’t laugh in the face of series continuity, one that didn’t hop gleefully from rulebook to rulebook, one that didn’t reboot more or less at random. Maybe I enjoy it so much because of those quirks, rather than in spite of them; certainly I was very pleased with myself when I worked out an in-game reason for it – ‘turtles all the way down‘.

So far, I’ve tried various combinations of Savage Worlds, Classic Traveller, Mythic, 5150 (both New Beginnings and Fringe Space), Larger Than Life, and Solo in at least four different settings – 5150, and three homebrew. There are several others I could try, but ain’t nobody got time for dat. Moving forward, I need to choose an RPG, a solitaire game engine, and a setting, and stick to them for a while. Note that Fringe Space is all three, while Solo and Mythic are each only one leg of the tripod.

  • Solitaire Engine: Solo wins here; playing at a higher level of abstraction gives it a real edge in terms of speed, simplicity, and ability to ensure specific elements appear in the story. Its roots in Traveller also make it easy for me to use.
  • RPG: It’ll take explosives to shift me from Savage Worlds at this point; although the simplicity of Fringe Space is admittedly attractive, 40 years of Traveller and 10 years of Savage Worlds give me an instinctive fluency with the rules that I simply don’t have with Fringe Space. Maybe later.
  • Setting: This was by far the hardest choice, but of the various SF settings I’ve tried here, I like the Dark Nebula the best, mostly because of the map, so it wins. Solo doesn’t really need a starmap, mind you, just some world stats and the idea that worlds are one jump apart.

Let’s try that combination, and see what happens. However, learning from the lessons of 28 Months Later and Warrior Heroes, I’m going to make this a hard reboot, possibly with a different category. But I have some other things to post about first, so expect that reboot in a few weeks.

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6th June 216, Marblehall. Soreth, X7-09, Kowalski.

Inside the living dungeon now known to be the Stone Thief, a much reduced party is searching for answers, loot, and missing nobles. Soreth loses her footing at the top of the shaft they have just climbed up, but fortunately the traps are still jammed, and she slides back into the pool of sewage, terrifying the filth hydra even more than before.

Kowalski disappears with a clap of thunder, but moments later blinks back into existence near the ceiling, and falls upside down onto the corridor floor. The party will later work out this is due to him having been summoned to defend the graves of his clan ancestors near the Anvil Road, meanwhile they take it in their stride.

Pascal, X7-09 and Kowalski look at the approaching undead spiders, then at each other.

“We can take them,” says X7-09. The others agree, and they form up against the opposite wall, X7-09 to the fore as he is the best fighter. The spiders swarm him, but are unable to cause any serious damage. Pascal tries repeatedly to disable them with his stun power, but to no avail.

Everyone is so focussed on the spiders that they barely notice one of the statues of dwarven gods hop down from its pedestal, walk up behind Kowalski, and smack him into the ground. Hard. It giggles maniacally as it does so.

A seriously wounded Kowalski and a frantically parrying X7-09 hold off the spiders until they notice Pascal, and several peel off to bite his head off. For a moment it looks like they have succeeded, but X7-09 calls on his icon patron and an unexpected near miss flips Pascal onto the statue’s shoulder, where it fails to squash him. He scuttles around and hides behind another statue, making good use of his colour-changing ability.

The zombie spiders continue to harass X7-09, and do him some serious injury thanks to a couple of lucky blows. With five spiders and a giant stone golem surrounding them, Team Robot reassesses its opinion that it can take them, breaks free, and runs off down the corridor the way they came from, only to be halted by 50 feet of missing floor which recently fell into the sewage pool. Fortunately, both the zombie spiders and the stone golem retreat to their lairs for unknown reasons.

Soreth, drenched in sewage and fuming to an unhealthy degree, has meanwhile managed to haul herself up the chute and stands on an outcrop of rock across from the corridor.

Pascal, left alone in the statue’s chamber, takes careful note of the riddle inscribed on the central pillar, the nature and position of the other statues, and the strange item concealed in their golem assailant’s plinth, before sneaking out along the ceiling to rejoin his companions.

Kowalski heals himself fully, and X7-09 partially repairs himself. They agree that discretion is the better part of not being smashed into a paste by living statues or squashed like bugs when the Stone Thief inevitably submerges again, and in the absence of any better ideas, run back to the shaft mouth, descend the shaft at speed before the spiders can get them, swim across the sewage pool, and crawl back up the chute using the trail blazed by Soreth.

They exit the Stone Thief without further incident, and find themselves back in the ruins of Marblehall.

GM NOTES

It’s about three years now since Eyes of the Stone Thief was published, so I’m loosening up a bit about spoilers.

This level of the Stone Thief is vicious. Even reduced in numbers, Team Robot still has a combat monster, a couple of spellcasters supporting him with buffs, and icon connections, and they still barely escaped with their lives. In fact, had I pressed the attack this could have been a Total Party Kill; but where’s the fun in that? The last couple of weeks have reinforced in both teams a healthy respect for the monsters, because eventually those exploding dice are going to get them.

Anvil Road, 8th June 216. Boris, Dave, the Fox, Hug-Hug, Kowalski, Ladra, Silmaria, Valore.

We left Team Angel exploring an abandoned dwarven mine, in which they had just encountered a group of skeletal miners. Valore, who has strong and intolerant views on the subject of undead, immediately charged them, yelling “Cleanse the undead!”

The leader of the skeletons invokes an Icon, asking for intercession by the descendants of his clan, which results in Kowalski blinking into existence above the melee, and falling head-first onto the ground nearby. Valore takes advantage of this distraction to cleave the skeleton leader in twain. The Fox makes a dramatic entrance, enhanced by his Sword of Stunning, and the majority of the skeletons pause, taken aback; the Fox disposes of the one closest to him while they are recovering, while Dave shoots at one with her bow, shaking it.

The remaining skeletons surround Valore and the Fox, and belabour them with miners’ picks; one gets lucky and incapacitates Valore, who falls with a through-and-through pickaxe wound to the abdomen. The Fox manages to stave off his attackers by parrying furiously. The skeletons ignore the dwarf dropped into their midst – there are several possible explanations for this, but Kowalski will later point out that these are his clan ancestors and suggest their blood ties explain it.

Meanwhile, Hug-Hug (the lone survivor of the goblin expedition to recover a magical artefact from the mine) sidles off into the darkness. Before charging, the Fox tossed his torch to Ladra, who with the dexterity one might expect, catches it. Silmaria (who is afraid of the dark) steps closer to her. Boris (who by default closes range with any females of marriageable age) steps closer to both of them. Ladra sees no reason to engage in melee, as anything that can get past Valore, Kowalski and the Fox is not going to be inconvenienced by her.

Kowalski yells at the combatants to put down their weapons. The skeletons obey, the Fox also obliges, and Valore is drifting in and out of consciousness and bleeding out. Kowalski next asks the skeletons to line up against the far wall, and they obligingly troop past in column to do so. A bolt of light explodes from Valore’s gaping abdominal wound, incinerating several, although most manage to jump out of the way, alerted by some sixth sense.

“Sorry,” says Valore, although her tone of voice suggests she isn’t, really. “That always happens when I get incapacitated.” Since the party hasn’t seen her be incapacitated before, they have no basis on which to dispute this assertion.

Boris now explains that he can heal Valore by the laying on of hands, but first it will be necessary to remove her clothing.

“I’d rather die,” mutters Valore. Fortunately, Kowalski also has healing powers, and restores her to no more than light injuries, after which mundane first aid suffices to return her to the fray.

It is the work of moments to relieve the skeleton leader of the diamond tip on his pickaxe and a parchment clutched in his left hand. Assessing the situation, the party notes a pit full of quicklime and lizard bones to the north, and three doors to the south, one of which is blocked by an iron spike. The Fox and Ladra use pickaxes to lever out the spike, while Kowalski interrogates the surviving skeletons. These tell him that the west door leads to other mineshafts, the middle door leads to a corridor which was never finished, and they don’t know what’s behind the east door as they were told never to go in there.

The Fox first sticks his head into the alcove behind the middle door, then throws a rock into it. He is rewarded with a small thunderclap and the disappearance of the rock. After some discussion, Kowalski orders a skeleton to go through the suspected teleporter and return. It goes through all right, but doesn’t come back. Kowalski sends another one through with the same result. Dave runs up behind the Fox and pretends to push him through. Encouraged by this, he steps through, and finds himself in total blackness, either elsewhere in the same mine or in another one, with two skeletons just standing there – this is because they have no idea where they are, and thus don’t know which way to go to get back to Kowalski.

Ladra calls that she is going to find the Fox, and vanishes with a torch and several exceedingly valuable cockatrice eggs; she will later claim these dropped and smashed on the way out, and her new jewelry is a gift from an admirer. An Icon is implored to help her escape alive, and in a few days it will turn out that she did. Everyone else sighs and follows the Fox through the teleporter.

On the far side, they find themselves near an intersection centred on a lift, whose ropes they could use to ascend. Before they can decide what to do next, a pair of creatures the likes of which they have never seen leap at them and have to be stabbed. They go down easily enough, but their bodily fluids begin to dissolve the blades used to stab them, leading to a short argument over whose clothing should be used to clean them. That settled, the group proceeds, taking a side passage to the east which leads them down a spiralling and descending corridor, and at length to a rough plank spanning a shaft roughly 80′ deep. A voice calls for help, and Silmaria and Kowalski engage it in conversation, but it seems unable to keep its story straight, and when Boris extends his armpit hairs to sufficient length for it to grab hold and be hauled up, it ignores this offer. Mind you, nobody else would willingly hold Boris’ armpit hairs, so this proves nothing. The party decide this is some sort of trap trying to entice them into the shaft, and walk on.

Shortly, they come to a door in the form of a dwarven face, with innocent inscriptions and a hole through it where the mouth should be. Naturally this arouses deep suspicions, and they stand off at a (hopefully) safe distance while Boris uses his luxurious armpit hair to open it. Apart from discovering it is spring-loaded and closes automatically, they are unharmed, and hurry through before it slams shut.

To be continued…

GM NOTES

Kowalski’s player was available to join this session, so I offered a Benny for the best explanation of why his character had skipped forward two days in time and several hundred miles north; the icon invocation was the best one.

It was all fun and games until a skeleton aced multiple times on both its attack and damage rolls, inflicting nine wounds on Valore. Soaking really doesn’t help in that situation, because as I understand it you have to soak all of them, although once you have taken three wounds, the fourth one knocks you into Incapacitated and the others are wasted. Fortunately, as you can see, she was saved by the rest of the party; had she been alone, or had there been no healers present, things might have gone differently; it’s very hard to kill a PC in Savage Worlds, but it is possible.

As you may recall, and at least one player has now worked out, we are working our way through the Mines of Madness for D&D Next. That dwarf-faced door can really mess you up if you’re not careful, but they were, and failed to trigger any of the traps.

The limitations of Silmaria’s character build are becoming apparent now, as she is basically useless if there are no NPCs around to persuade. Her player is also growing restless as everyone else in the party is either a spellcaster or has a cool magic item; so I shall have to sort her out with something interesting as well, perhaps a musical instrument of some kind.

I tend to forget that skeletons are mindless automata. However, everyone is having fun, so it’s probably OK. Maybe these ones were just smarter than average.

I decided up front that I would just let them wander wherever they wanted to go at their own pace, rather than trying to hurry them along a particular path, and that worked pretty well. I think the best way to satisfy this group is an old-fashioned dungeon crawl, and those are easy enough to come by.

Arion, Episode 23: Ouidah

Posted: 9 September 2017 in Arioniad
Tags: , ,

In which we continue to explore Solo as a solitaire game engine, and venture into Hishen space in search of the kidnappees…

ROLLS AND RULES

Slow and didactic this time to be sure I don’t miss anything; I’m working from the checklist on page 53, and we begin by jumping to a new world. This looks in turn at leaving the current world, time in jump, and arrival at the destination. We start with some ‘pre-flight checks’…

  • Roll d66 for Starport Encounter (page 39): 5, 1 = meet a fellow traveller.
  • Roll 2d6 for NPC’s reaction (page 38): 8, Neutral. This is enough to make him/her a friendly contact if met again.
  • Roll d66 on Patron table (page 59) to determine NPC’s identity: 4, 2 = Scientist.

OK, so we now know a friendly scientist on Tortuga. I don’t plan on coming back this way so I don’t work up any more details. There is no cargo as the last time Arion thought about it was on Fermanagh, when he intended to buy whiskey – let’s assume he did – and I can’t be bothered with costs and fees (too much like the day job).

  • Roll 2d for Ship Encounter (page 40, assume no modifiers): 7 – no encounter.

At this point we leave Tortuga, and enter jumpspace. Let’s call the slavers’ trading world Ouidah, and give it the same 5150 stats as Tortuga – the salient point is law level 2. We need to roll for a shipboard event while in jump, and there is the chance of a bad reaction from a crewmember.

  • d66 for Onboard Event (page 56): 4, 4 = bridge sensors suggest a stowaway.
  • Tell Me, d6 (page 37): Is there one? 5. Why, yes. This is a good chance to introduce Dmitri, in this setting a Hegemony spy on the run from pirates.
  • Tell Me, d6: What kind of person is he? 6 = honest, good, dependable. Right, that settles it, it’s Dmitri.
  • Bad Reaction – random character affected (odd Arion, even Osheen): 3, Arion.
  • 8+ to avoid a bad reaction: Dice roll 6, so Arion reacts badly.
  • 1d6 to determine reaction: 2 – panic/anxiety. A stowaway picked up in a pirate haven sounds like a good reason to be anxious, until we realise he is friendly.

Now we arrive at Ouidah.

  • 2d for Ship Encounter: 4 – no encounter.
  • d66 for Starport Encounter: 5, 3 = another potential contact. This one has a reaction roll of 7 though, not enough to qualify, so no need to work out who they are.

Next, a week onplanet during which we will try to rescue the slavers’ victims. That calls for a Plan. I decide the easiest option is to buy them, trading the current cargo of Fermanagh whiskey for them. That seems like a Solid plan (8+ to succeed) but anything involving pirates, slavers and Hishen is Dangerous. First, though, as per page 53, a World Encounter.

  • d66 for World Encounter (page 58): 2, 1 = invited to a posh function. Well, that makes sense, this is obviously a party thrown by the slavers for potential buyers, which will no doubt culminate in an auction. Let’s add a security check to represent the bouncers on the door asking Osheen to hand in his guns at the door.
  • 2d6 vs law level: 9, no problems. If a Grath wants to bring a squad support weapon to the party, the bouncers are good with that. One wonders what armour they’re wearing if this doesn’t worry them.

The Plan. 8+ to succeed, no obvious modifiers. 2d6 = 12, success. Excellent – that could have gone badly wrong. 2d6 for Consequences; 6, which is under the 8 required – this means a Bad Consequence, and as the Plan is dangerous I decide to apply a -2 to the dice roll. The result is a 10, which would normally antagonise an NPC, but the houseruled modifier drops it to an 8 – partial failure (let’s say odds on 1d6) or incriminating evidence (let’s say evens). 1d6 = 3, so partial failure; since the objective was to recover all the kidnap victims, we only get Coriander, most likely because Arion fancies her more than the others and so is focussed on recovering her.

At this point we cycle back to another jump, but you’ve seen how those work already.

NARRATIVE

This post is long enough already, and its purpose is to explore the rules, so none of that this time. As a general rule, though, that would be the focus.

GM NOTES

Ship encounter rolls are influenced by world population and starport class, but I have assumed frontier routes and no modifiers to save having to generate worlds. I’ve also assumed the Dolphin is not a passenger ship (they have different onboard events).

As Anzon observed in the comments last time, there’s a lot of page flipping to get at tables. The way they are organized helps the internal logic when reading through the first time, so I understand why it’s that way, but in play it slows things down a bit. I will probably wind up printing out the relevant pages and shuffling them into a more usable order. Old school hardcopy users could stick tags on the relevant pages.

Anzon also observed that Dangerous Plans appear to have no mechanical effect. So my current house rule is to apply a -2 to any rolls for Bad Consequences, making injury or death more likely. I could infer from the text that injury or death only occur if the Plan is Dangerous, and roll 1d6+6 on the Bad Consequence table if it is Safe, or any number of other alternatives, but a flat -2 modifier is in the Traveller spirit and easy to remember.

Overall, I find this flows very smoothly and easily for me; no doubt that is partly due to it being based on Traveller, as I have spent most of my adult life playing that on and off. Blog posts would work better if I ran them as one per week, alternating time in jumpspace with time on planetary surfaces; that has come up so often over the years that I can take it as read now.

So, after eight years experimenting, I think I can move to an actual decision now. More of that in a future post, but for now, Hearts of Stone is restarting…

Arion, Episode 22: Tortuga

Posted: 2 September 2017 in Arioniad
Tags: , ,

We left Arion and Osheen doing combat simulations in practice for their forthcoming rescue operation. For this next session I intend to use a mixture of 5150 Fringe Space and Solo, as I want to try out Solo and check if it really is as flexible as I think. I’ll put Rep on hold while I do that, as tracking lifetime and current Rep is almost as much work as tracking a bank balance in Credits. (I dislike tracking money in games, because a huge amount of my day job is about tracking money, and I don’t want to spend my leisure time doing it as well.)

“A place I know in Ring 5”, as Arion put it, is clearly relaxed about both selling heavy weapons to Grath and dealing with slavers and pirates. The only planetary data I think I need for Solo is a law level, so I pick the lowest law level planet available in Ring 5; Class 3, Law Level 2, Independent Alien world. It’s tempting to double that law level, which would bring law levels better into alignment with Traveller, but law level 2 feels more like a rough and tumble pirate hangout than law level 4. So 2 it is.

I’ll test-drive the Travellers campaign type; it’s the simplest. I’m comfortable with the life events, relationships and backstory for both characters so I skip over those. We are already In Media Res, so no need to roll for that.

As Arion outlined the plan, the Dolphin will jump to somewhere in Ring 5 – let’s call it Tortuga – then the crew will tool up and try to get a lead on the slavers. Looking at the checklist on page 53, we’re starting in the Jumping from World to World section, which is unusual but seems not to cause any problems.

The first applicable step in Solo is on p. 19, therefore, when I roll to avoid a bad reaction in jump. (If I were using Savage Worlds, I might replace this check with an Interlude.) I determine randomly who is affected (Arion, as it turns out) and roll 2d6, looking for 8+ as one generally does in Traveller-ish rules. I roll an 11; all good.

Second, as we’re now moving into On-Planet Activity, I roll on the World Encounters table (p. 58) and get 3, 5 – a patron offers a courier job, roll on tables S1 and S3. The World Encounters table is supposed to direct me to one of Patrons, Enemies, Cargoes or Colourful Locals but I can’t see how. In this case it points me to S1 (which I eventually work out is the patron table; I roll 6, 3 and get an engineer) and S3, which could be the cargoes table (which would be in the Traveller rules) because it’s third in the list, or might be the Mission Targets table because it’s the third table if you count patrons as the first. It’s a courier job to the next destination so logic dictates the latter; I roll 2d6 and get 4,1 – a remote base. Let’s resort to the Tell Me, D6 method (p. 37); on a scale of 1-6, high meaning more, how much is this job related to the current rescue mission? 1d6 =2; hardly at all. I decide this is a lead in to the next adventure, and park it for the moment, noting that the next destination would logically be the world the kidnap victims came from, which if I recall correctly is Fermanagh.

This takes me to page 22 and The Plan.

“What’s the plan, Captain?”

“First we go shopping and get all those guns you recommended.”

“And a large industrial blender.”

“Very well, and a blender. Then we ask around the local bars looking for slavers with people to sell. I think we should pose as agents for an anonymous buyer.”

I assess the plan for difficulty and danger level. Shopping isn’t worth rolling for; I note that the crew has tooled up, and move on. Trying to find slavers could go wrong in a number of ways, so the plan qualifies as ‘Shaky’ with 10+ needed to succeed. A lot of those bad outcomes involve violence, so it’s ‘Dangerous’. Does the crew have any PCs with skills that are particularly well, or badly, suited to the task? Does it have any crucial equipment or assets? Well, the Grath are the 5150 universe’s unstoppable killing machines, so I’ll give them a +1 for that. They’re now tooled up, but then so is everyone else, so no particular advantage there.

A security roll (2d6 vs law level) seems called for, a daily routine while onworld for Travellerish games; 6 is greater than the law level whether I doubled it or not, so the locals are not bothered by a human and a Grath walking among them.

How about the plan? I roll 9 on 2d6, add one for Mr Osheen’s boyish charm (and selection of weaponry), and get a 10 – success, if barely. So far so good, now I roll against the same target number to see if there was a good or bad consequence; it’s not completely clear to me whether or not I should apply the same modifiers, so I decide not to, for simplicity. I roll a 12 (huzzah!) and since this is higher than the target number, there is a good consequence; 2d6 = 10 (I’m on fire today) and the Good Consequence table tells me the crew finds a useful or valuable piece of kit. I decide the patron encounter would logically happen during that sequence of events.

A montage follows Arion and Osheen from shop to shop, bar to bar. Many people look them up and down, assessing whether they can kill Our Heroes and take their stuff. On observing the Grath, however, they decide there are easier ways to make a living.

At some point, there is a brief conversation in a bar with a guy in overalls; he offers Arion a package and an envelope, Arion nods and accepts.

At length, in a pawnshop near the docking bays, Arion picks up a locket he recognises. Flashback to him studying the kidnap victim dossiers; in one picture, the same locket is around the neck of the victim. We can’t see her full name, but “Coriander” is clearly visible above and to the right of the portrait, which shows an attractive woman with red hair…

GM NOTES

Solo’s author, Paul Elliot, rightly says that the narrative explaining the die rolls is the point of the exercise rather than an optional extra; but I have restrained myself here, the better to focus on evaluating the mechanics. Novelisation isn’t required, just some sort of story about what happened – examples in the rulebook generally limit the narrative to a few lines or paragraphs, some very straightforward and others more flowery. The style and length of your writeup is up to you.

As you see above, this is very fast and easy to run, and I haven’t gone anyway near Traveller or the Cepheus Engine; as it turned out, I didn’t need the Fringe Space rules, just a general understanding of the situation and the characters, a pair of six-sided dice, and Solo itself. I would expect to memorise the key rolls within a couple of sessions, but I would continue to need the more complex tables throughout an extended campaign.

As I haven’t referred to any rules other than Solo in this exercise, I still think this could be used with any RPG of the player’s choice, or indeed none at all if you have a clear picture of your characters and setting.

At this point it seems quite likely that Solo is the way forward for me in solitaire SF gaming, but let’s give it a couple more laps round the block before reaching a decision.

RPGaDay 2017

Posted: 26 August 2017 in Reflections

Another year, another RPGaDay. I find these fun, and usually thought-provoking.

1. What Published RPG do you wish you were playing right now? Any would be fine. It’s more about who you play with.

2. What is an RPG you would like to see published? Surprise me. I’m happy with the ones I have, not that this stops me buying new ones.

3. How do you find out about new RPGs? RPGNow, Kickstarter, or tips from friends.

4. Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016? Savage Worlds.

5. Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game? AD&D 1st edition Players’ Handbook – the iconic lizardman-slaying temple-looting party levering gems out of an idol.

6. You can game every day for a week. Describe what you’d do. 15-20 typical sessions there, so I’d finish one of the currently active long campaigns – either Heart of the Fury or Eyes of the Stone Thief. Given present circumstances, long story arcs are hard for me to pull off in normal play.

7. What was your most impactful RPG session? Probably the one where my son negotiated a peace treaty with the Lich King, bringing to an end many months of fighting between them, and preventing an invasion of the PCs’ country by a skeleton army. He was exclusively a hack and slash player before then (unless you count hiring half-orcs he encountered to use as meat shields).

8. What is a good RPG to play for sessions of two hours or less? One with simple rules, especially combat rules. OD&D, BareBones Fantasy, something like that.

9. What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions? This is more about the adventures than the game itself, so any will do, although again simpler is better – ten sessions may not be enough to learn the rules otherwise. Picaresque one-off adventures will work with most games, if you’re going for a longer story you need to be sure you can finish it in time.

10. Where do you go for RPG reviews? Google. That usually refers me to a variety of blogs and ENWorld.

11. Which dead game would you like to see reborn? SpaceQuest by Tyr Wargames. Maybe I’ll Savage it someday, if I can find another copy.

12. Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art? AD&D 2nd edition. There are some lovely pieces in there, some of which directly inspired adventures for our group.

13. Describe a game experience that changed how you play. There was one Traveller session in the ’70s when the group forgot to refuel their ship before leaving port; that stranded them in deep space and led to a lot of finger pointing between players. I realised that character knowledge and player knowledge are different things, and it’s not appropriate to penalise players for things their characters would know. (The characters can still make use of player knowledge; in my campaigns, metagaming is not a sin, but a demonstration of player skill.)

14. Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play? Something skill-based rather than class-and-level based, as above a certain point it becomes difficult to challenge high-level characters. That doesn’t seem to happen so much with skill-based systems. So let’s say Savage Worlds for this one, although I’ve also played open-ended campaigns with Traveller and 2300AD.

15. Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most? Savage Worlds – I “Savage” settings on a regular basis.

16. What RPG do you enjoy using as is? Again, Savage Worlds. I very rarely change the actual rules, usually not even adding any setting-specific edges. That may seem to contradict the previous answer, but which answer is correct depends on the campaign.

17. What RPG have you owned the longest but not played? Probably Dark Heresy; I ran a short campaign in the W40K setting, but that was using Savage Worlds.

18. What RPG have you played the most in your life? In terms of sheer number of hours played, probably still OD&D; I estimate over 3,000 hours on that. Don’t let anyone tell you I’ve wasted my life.

19. What RPG features the best writing? The Dying Earth RPG, because it uses the writing style of the setting’s creator to convey the rules and setting.

20. What is the best source for out of print RPGs? For the ones I’m interested in, RPGNow.

21. What RPG does the most with the least words? Of the ones I know, BareBones Fantasy.

22. Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run? Classic Traveller and Savage Worlds, because I have the most experience as a GM in those; any RPG becomes easy to run if you stick with it long enough.

23. Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout? Layout isn’t something I pay much conscious attention to, but I’d say Hellas: Worlds of Sun and Stone. Totally impractical in actual play, mind you, which is often the case with fancy layouts. Usually there isn’t enough contrast for my aging eyes.

24. Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more. Umm, it’s pay what you want, right? So how would they charge more? Also, I’m not aware of any publishers who are totally PWYW, the ones I know only sell part of their catalogue that way.

25. What is the best way to thank your GM? Say “Thank you, that was a great session, when is the next one?”

26. Which RPG provides the most useful resources? Anything by Sine Nomine Publishing – depending on your preferred genre, something from Stars Without Number, Red Tide, or whatever.

27. What are your essential tools for good gaming? Friends, character sheets, dice, rules, in that order. Anything else, you can improvise. I normally work from the quickstart rules for whatever game we’re playing and some rough notes for the adventure, by the way, not the full rulebooks.

28. What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group? Aliens, I think. There’s also a lot of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

29. What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed? Spears of the Dawn.

30. What is an RPG/genre-mashup you would most like to see? I’ve seen so many of these now that I’m turning back to the old classics, probably all the way back to fantasy dungeon crawling this year.

31. What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018? The annual OD&D session with my old university group, or what’s left of it. It’s all about who you play with.

RPGaDay 2016

Posted: 23 August 2017 in Reflections

I was filling in RPGaDay for 2017 when I noticed I had somehow missed this one out completely, so here it is…

1. Real dice, dice app, diceless, how do you prefer to roll? Real dice; they just feel better to me. I use dice apps when playing solo or by VTT, though, and will probably switch to dice apps for Fantasy Flight Games products with all their irritating fiddly weird dice (WFRP, I’m lookin’ at you).

2. Best gaming session since August 2015? Kiss of the Serpent Priestess.

3. Character moment you are proudest of? Solving a puzzle no-one else could, and thereby enlisting the help of a vital NPC.

4. Most impressive thing another’s character did? Alihulk Jr. finally defeating his lifelong enemy with heroic fisticuffs.

5. What story does your group tell about your character? “He’s a dwarven weightlifter who hates undead, and spends most of his time drinking or criticising shoddy human workmanship.”

6. Most amazing thing a game group did for their community? Not something I pay attention to, sorry.

7. What aspect of RPGs has had the biggest effect on you? The realisation that skills and companions matter, but possessions really don’t.

8. Hardcover, softcover, digital? What is your preference? Digital. Takes up less room, easier to search, easier to update (often by free download), easier to carry around. That said, in actual play I always have some kind of hardcopy quick reference sheet to hand. If I can’t have digital, I will go for hardcover if available, softcover if not.

9. Beyond the game, what’s involved in the ideal session? Drinks suitable for the attendees, nibbles (optional), enough table space to lay everything out, low noise level apart from the players.

10. Largest in-game surprise you have experienced? When the peace treaty we had been sent to broker between feuding dwarf clans allowed them to complete a small atomic bomb, killing my character. Others ran earlier and were saved.

11. Which gamer most affected the way you play? It’s a tie between two of my friends; one who is still playing OD&D and one who seeks out the most complex games and plotlines available. Both of them make their chosen games sing at the table. The former teaches memorable plots and NPCs, the latter deeply immersive settings and long story arcs.

12. What game is your group most likely to play next? Why? For the Hearts of Stone and Collateral Damage groups, D&D 5th edition, because they want to try it. For the Pawns of Destiny, the group’s primary GM always has 2-3 campaigns ready and lets us pick one; next up is a 1920s homebrew using the Edge of the Empire rules. That’s in about two years’ time at the current rate of progress, mind; he aims for campaigns 100 sessions long, and playing every few weeks, that takes about five years.

13. What makes a successful campaign? The same as for any other project; shared and agreed expectations.

14. Your dream team of people you used to game with? Luckily for me, I still play with them.

15. Your best source of inspiration for RPGs? Real world history. Our ancestors did some crazy things, and there are points in time where a handful of people really made a difference.

16. Historical person you’d like in your group? What game? Gary Gygax, and thus obviously D&D. I would love to see his take on one of our games.

17. What fictional character would best fit in your group? Flashman from the George Macdonald Fraser novels.

18. What innovation could RPG groups most benefit from? I got nuthin’, sorry.

19. Best way to learn a new game? Play it, simple as that.

20. Most challenging but rewarding system you have learned? OD&D. Let’s just say that rules writing and layout have moved on quite a way since 1974.

21. Funniest misinterpretation of a rule in your group? The hobbit sword from OD&D – “sword +1, detect meals and what kind”. We all knew it was a typo, but it was much more fun played as written.

22. Supposedly random game events that keep recurring? The 2 AM wyvern, which attacked our party’s camp in RuneQuest so often that the GM eventually stopped rolling for it and just had it attack us every night. Of course we were ready for it by then.

23. Share one of your best ‘worst luck’ stories? While looking to rent a tracker dog to hunt down a goblin, the tracker’s wife (Charisma 3) tried to seduce my character. The tracker returned at a awkward moment with his dog. It was at this point I remembered another party member had recently been polymorphed into a goblin, and thus my character had the scent of goblin about him. Exit stage left, pursued by a snarling dog, an axe-waving tracker, and the tracker’s wife with a frying pan. Like most of these stories, you had to be there to understand how funny that was in context.

24. What is the game you are most likely to give to others? Savage Worlds, because that is the one they are most likely to play with me, and that way we don’t have to share a rulebook, which speeds things up.

25. What makes for a good character? The way you play it. The attributes, skills and whatnot are less important.

26. What hobbies go well with RPGs? Wargaming, videogaming, and reading/watching history, fantasy and SF.

27. Most unusual circumstance or location in which you’ve gamed? In a disused wine cellar with bad lighting, because the organiser felt it would give the right ambience.

28. Thing you’d be most surprised a friend hadn’t seen or read? Star Wars episodes IV – VI.

29. You can game anywhere on Earth, where would you choose? Somewhere meeting the specifications in (30) and in a suitable location for the group to meet.

30. Describe the ideal game room if budget were unlimited. It doesn’t need much; the fancier it gets, the more it distracts you from the game you’re playing. A table big enough for the group, with enough chairs; storage for game rules, dungeon tiles or battle maps, and miniatures; dice. Good lighting. Quiet, and far enough away or soundproof enough that the raucous shouting doesn’t disturb others. Bonus points if you don’t have to clear the table for dinner because there is another table somewhere else in the house.

31. Best advice you were ever given for your game of choice? Best advice ever? From THW games, “Just play the game.” Best for my current favourite (Savage Worlds)? It’s a tie between “Number of wounds cannot exceed nmber of raises” and “Trim the fat”.