Mhu Thulan

Roleplaying games, resources for, design of

StarCruiser — a roleplaying storygame of space adventure and panic fear

StarCruiser is an roleplaying game I developed between 2012 and 2014. I ran two stories with the game, each around seven sessions long. We had a good time, although there were lots of rough edges. The best and worst feature was probably the round-robin scene framing (an idea I got from Hot War) — it let players have major creative input, but made it very hard for the GM (or anyone else) to manage the pace.

As I don’t plan to do anything further with the game as such, and it exists in a form that might be usable for others, I’ve decided to open-source it and put it online.

You can download it as a PDF, or as a Word .docx, or (via GitHub) in markdown format. The licence in all cases is the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License (aka “CC-BY”).

The PDF and .docx are formatted for double-sided print, with new chapters starting on a facing pages, so there are some blank pages.

The markdown version is quite readable as raw text (including the tables), and isn’t obviously missing anything. Markdown renderers, however, (including pandoc’s to-pdf-via-latex option) generally mess up the tables.

Equal 3d6 — a computer program to roll characters for you

As I noted in my previous post, I want to generate random character attributes (Str, Dex, etc). But I want them to be balanced — I want characters to differ in their talents but have the same overall ability. There are many ways to do this (e.g. see a discussion of such on rpg.net), but the natural way for me was to write a computer program to do it.

The rules

  • Characters consist of six attributes in an order
  • Attributes are rolled on 3d6 and modifiers calculated on the Mentzer/BECMI scale that LotFP uses
  • Each generated character is checked against an acceptance rule. If they pass they go on the list to print, otherways they are discarded and a new one is rolled in their place
    • Default rule is “modifiers must sum to +2”
  • The program is set to produce a fixed number of characters per run. It will keep trying to generate them until it has that number
    • If the acceptance rule always returns false, the program will run until the end of time

The code is set up so most of the above are easy to change and experiment with.

Read the rest of this entry »

D&D attributes, equal random generation, and skills

Context

Immergleich’s rules are based on Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP), and so it inherits the following:

  • Character attributes (the D&D set of Str, Dex etc) are randomly generated — 3d6 in order, roll again if modifiers sum to less than zero, player may make one swap.
    • I like this — it makes character generation a “let’s see what I get to work with” rather than a pure act of design. It cuts through overthinking and it pushes players to try concepts they would instinctively avoid. It helps to cue up players that my game is about rolling with situations, not about grinding through fair challenges for a fixed-schedule reward. It probably discourages the mechanical-optimisation-oriented players who won’t do well in my game anyway.
  • There are no direct rolls of attributes or their modifiers — there are attack rolls, saves, and skills rolls, some of which are modified by attributes
  • It is implied that you use the common OSR approach of resolving most challenges through player creativity assessed by GM judgement. Outside of combat, most challenges don’t involve rolling.
  • There are skills, but they only cover near-impossible things e.g. climbing a sheer surface. Most characters are stuck with a 1 in 6 success chance in all skills; only thieves (“specialists”) can improve them.

Problems

  1. Although PCs are never very weak (the roll-again rule prevents it), some PCs are stronger than others (it’s not that rare to have your modifiers sum to +5)
  2. Even if PCs end up with a balance of overall scores, some attributes are much more useful than others (e.g. Int is almost irrelevant)
  3. I don’t like the pure creativity-and-judgement approach to problems. When failure is a possibility and would be interesting, I like to roll.
    • I particularly like to use rolls to skip over complicated interactions (with objects or with NPCs) and get straight to the result
  4. Attributes are underused.  They’re right there on the sheet, concisely describing characters in ways that make obvious sense to many players, yet most of the time they are only used indirectly. In some situations where they sound like they’d be relevant, they’re not used at all.

Read the rest of this entry »

Reading, Writing and GMing — reprise

Status: flawed. Still a misleading about how I actually GM. Reluctant to try fixing it, however, for fear of making it even wronger. In particular, for fear of making it so bland that it says nothing, and ceases to even hint at the phenomena I am describing (but poorly understand).

In an earlier post, I complained about Dungeon World’s writing, and stated some of my GMing goals, thus:

As with the art, the writing is sanitised, soft-edged, politically correct. It’s like the authors are very nice people who don’t want to offend or upset anyone, and so are watching their every step. I am not like that — I am not so nice, not so left-wing, not so keen that everyone has a good time.

As a writer and GM, my goal is to piss in your mind. I’m not here to make you happy — I’m here to fuck with your neurology in a way that might stimulate new impressions. I don’t aim to be nice — I aim to be raw, vital, and unique. I aim to fire up, not to sooth; to generate, not to heal.

I think the way that I expressed that has been an obstacle to understanding. Part of the problem was that I wasn’t clear; part was that I blurred two things that I fact approach very differently. I’ve now revised the previous post so that it’s clearer, but I think it will also be useful to explain in more detail what I mean.

Read the rest of this entry »

What I like about Dungeon World, and what I do not

Status: quite confident. I’ve continued to update this since posting it, partly from some notes I found from 2014 (when I was playing it regularly).

I’ve played a fair amount of Dungeon World — perhaps 45 sessions in all, about 8 as a player and the rest as a GM. You may reasonably doubt my memory of these, as only three of them were in the past two years. Nevertheless, I have views, and I shall state them.

Overall, I like some properties of DW, but I strongly dislike other ones. And I do not know how to make a game that has only the ones I like, or to what extent that is even possible. My primary goal here is to help myself understand DW, and my experiences with it, so that I can design games that I like better.

Some top-level clarifications based on feedback:

  • This is not a review. It’s a very idiosyncratic exploration of my subjective response to the game and the reasons for that. That said, if you’re evaluating DW before buying or running, it may be of some value (insofar as you are like me). If you’re designing a DW-like game for a broad audience, it may be of some value (insofar as many people in your audience are like me). But primarily this article is for me. If you want to understand me (as I do), it’s likely to be useful.
  • When I say “design”, I don’t just mean game design. There are aspects of the writing and art that don’t work for me, and I think they strongly colour my experience of “Dungeon World”.
  • It may help to know that my current game is Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP), house-ruled and run as described elsewhere on this blog. If not stated in any specific case, that is probably the reference model I have in mind (especially when I’m describing where DW works well for me). This is not to say LotFP works for me, either — overall, I like it less than DW.

This post is long. Bring a torch.

Read the rest of this entry »

Verbose arguments, pedantic, overcomplicated

Over on rpg.net, user “Azraele” comments on my article about rulesets and their role in changing player behaviour thus:

I want to mention, without judgement, that the language used is extremely convoluted to no productive end; your thesis and definitions aren’t careful enough to warrant the use of such hyper technical language. Switching to plain language doesn’t rob your observations of important detail; it unearths them from mounds of obfuscation.

On reflection, I disagree that this has no productive end. When I write like that, there for several reasons:

  • I’m trying to spell out my argument very precisely, so that it can be rigorously analysed (and indeed so that in the process I may catch my own errors and ambiguities). If my definitions are indeed “not careful enough”, then the process will reveal that (as it did for that blog post once others read it carefully).
    • If my argument is precise, doesn’t mean that it is right, or even structurally sound; it just means that it’s going to be obvious when its wrong or unsound.
  • I’m generating terms and definitions for my own future use (and that of others). Complication now may let me say something very simply later, if only to myself.

Read the rest of this entry »

I Do Not Want for Material to Consume

I want to improve my experience in play and in prep. I want simple sources that I can learn from, quickly. There is already too much to read.