FGU and Getting Going

So, after last week’s problems we had a much more successful session using Fantasy Grounds Unity.

My group has pretty much settled on Tuesday nights being game night. We all had characters now, and the group ran into a band of five goblins, two hobgoblins, and a goblin chieftain.

The fight was fairly bloody, on both sides. Somehow the players all forgot about the need to parry, or even to move.

Out numbered, and out gunned the result was fairly predictable.

I am hoping that it was because it was all new, but the game session did end up focussing on the map and tokens than on any roleplaying. This is what happened when I played in a 5e game online as well.

The good thing is, even the players said that it was very wargamey or boardgamish.

I want to run something more theatre of the mind next time.

Things I liked was the line of sight in Fantasy Grounds Unity maps, and I like the character creation.

What I found difficult was that there was a massive lag between someone rolling an attack, and the Tabler Resolver appearing and showing the right attack table.

I am not sure if I can bypass that. I don’t know how to add damage to a foe, and the conditions. I would still like to use the condensed combat system by hand, but I am not sure if that is going to be possible.

I have read online that FGU is still being optimised, so I am hoping it wall become more responsive over time. I don’t really want to buy a new laptop just to run FGU.

The other alternative is to let someone else GM. Wouldn’t that be a shame, if I only got to play 😉

As part of my practice and learning I have been making quite a few characters. I cannot decide which I want to play. I am hovering between an Illusionist and a Mentalist. I am also considering building a monk tomorrow and seeing how he turns out.

Fantasy Grounds Unity up and running

After last week’s hiccup, I have managed to track down the source of my problem using FG Classic. It turns out that my Satellite broadband provider closes all ports on inbound traffic, unless you pay for their premium services.

Having spent days trying to figure out why port forwarding would not work, reading hundreds of forum posts and guides, it did turn up on a forum that this was the root cause. I sent off an email and got a sales message back about upgrading.

The other alternative was to upgrade to Unity, and run a cloud hosted game.

I bought unity, and the RMC package at the same time, and I got an upgrade discount, so that is not bad.

We had a session on Wednesday evening and made some characters, played around with sharing maps and moving tokens around.

My experience with FG was all Classic, I think I am going to have to rerun some of the FG College videos just to come up to speed.

Now, I am spending time just making characters, which I will be able to utilise as NPCs, and just becoming more comfortable with character creation.

In the next week or two, I would like to get to the point of running a short adventure for my old face to face group.

My only concern is that when I have played, not GMed, online games have degenerated into almost table top battles, everyone more concerned about pawing over the map and positions. The actual roleplaying seemed to take a back seat after a while.

That was the main reason why I was not a fan of online playing.

Hopefully, if we are on our guard against it, it will not be such a problem.

Things are not what they seem…

Some things are not as they seem : arma

After writing adventures for over 35 years, one of my goals is to try upending my players’ expectations. Coming up with a new monster, adversary or spin on standard adventure tropes doesn’t truly challenge my players; most who have been gaming for decades.

For me, the discipline is not just “one upping” the group or seeing them through an adversarial lense (GM vs Player), but to literally challenge their long held perceptions that create standard encounter reactions that might as well be behavioral tics.

If you’ve read some of my 50 in 50 Adventures, you may see where I’m going with this post. For instance, in The Cabin in the Woods, appears to be a straight up bandit encounter, but there is a “more than meets the eye” aspect. In The Hermit of Castle Ruins, the typical foe may not be the villain the villagers think he is. Feldaryn’s Flying Ship introduces one of my favorite NPC tropes: the mysterious mage who is NOT as powerful as the players assume. (Because every old man is tattered robes must be a powerful mage in disguise!) I could go on with most of my other adventure hooks–most have some twist or reversal that will require the players to think on their feet or change their viewpoint.

Here are a few of my favorites:

The Usual Suspects“. I’ve only done this once, for a stand-alone adventure. But basically one of the PC’s is actually the bad guy! In the process of chasing down a shadowy figure, the group actually eliminates the bad guy’s opponent, or recovers an object needed by the baddie. The fun is watching the player try and manipulate the group’s decision making to his/her benefit.

“Friend not Foe”. Similar to The Usual Suspects, this is the simple idea that the MOB is actually a good guy, friend or potential ally of the group. What happens when they rush to combat and kill someone that should have been a friend?

“The Burden of Power”. While all players are in an endless quest to level up, advance their characters wealth, abilities and equipment, there could be a cost to that. If the player possesses a famous weapon, what stops NPC’s from attempting to steal the object, challenge/kill the PC to acquire it or attack the group when they are injured and at a disadvantage? Does being powerful also make them a target from rivals, adversaries or less powerful NPC also trying to level up? It’s one thing to obtain power, it’s another to hold onto it!

“The Sting”. I’m surprised how easily it is to con my players. Feldaryn’s Flying Ship is a good example of using a mysterious character to manipulate and fool the players into doing all sorts of things–many to their detriment. When my players get complacent, greedy or foolhardy I know it’s time to bring in a “Sting”. Nothing sobers them up like losing a treasured item, having their wealth taken in an elaborate ruse or being used as pawn’s in someone else’s ambitions.

“Paranoia”. One of the harder plays to run successful is the subversion of a PC. Whether they are tainted, charmed, possessed or similar, it relies on the good faith and roleplaying ability of the players. When it works, it’s fabulous.

“Fools Gold”. A long arduous quest for a mythical object. What could be more tropey than that! What if the object was never powerful, magical or valuable. Maybe it was a hoax, or a story twisted over time, or maybe the object held is a counterfeit–the original having been stolen long ago.

“Job and The Capricious God“. I’ve written a lot about Channeling/Priests. What if the God is just an asshole? He/she blocks spellcasting randomly, enacts hardships and curses of the player(s) to “test their faith”. The follower can not rely on anything and must take extreme steps to please his diety. How will the rest of the group react when they realize they are joined to a cursed player–who could drag the group into one disaster after another!

“Dopplegangers”. What if the player or players had someone pretending to be them? This foe was causing harm, hurting their relationships or reputation or taking credit for their triumphs. What would the PCs do if they were framed and pursued by the law? That could be fun?

So those are just a few ideas. I’m curious and interested if other GM’s have tried to subvert their own adventure narratives. What are your ideas?

New Age!

My face to face group is finally coming around to using Fantasy Grounds. I have played in Fantasy Grounds games in the past, but was not massively impressed, I find the roleplay element became stilted and the maps and tokens took a lot of peoples attention. In many ways it started to resemble a table top wargame or board game, and not an RPG.

Our group is not going to get together any time soon. Fanasy Gounds is going to get another outing.

If anyone is running games on the platform, I could do with some assistance. As I say, I can join other people’s games but I cannot get the Port Forwarding to work to be able to be able to host a game.

I have a sneaking suspicion that it is because I am using wifi extenders, and I need to configure the port forwarding on these as well as the main router.

I am beginning to hate wifi networks, or is that wifi notworks?

Double Feature

For the first time in what seems like months, we get two blog posts out in the same week!

I also published the Fanzine [Issue 43] last Friday and it is a double adventure issue.

I returned to the Undead this time. It seemed fitting seeing as the US was going Hallowe’en crazy, as normal. Things that will not just lay down and die seem quite fitting right now.

In Brian’s post, he talked about the fine details of RMu’s rules. I am hoping to receive a review copy before, or as, it hits the shelves. If I do, it is my intention to do a complete read-through, similar to the one I did for Zweihander a couple of months ago. A chapter by chapter analysis of what is in there and how it all works now.

To me, it feels like everything is waiting on the release of RMu now. It has been a very long wait and we deserve nice things.

How we are doing now?

This is meant to be an intentionally vague and open question! A few thoughts from me.

  1. The Rolemasterblog has dropped a bit in internet RPG blog rankings from a few years ago. Now #59. https://blog.feedspot.com/rpg_blogs/ Is this as simple as we are writing less blog posts? Has the initial enthusiasm for the RMBlog or RMU or even RM dropping a bit? So maybe neither good nor bad.
  2. COVID. Here in Maine, we are experiencing another surge in the pandemic. This could lead to another “shelter in place” or business shut down. I haven’t been able to visit my father in Florida for over a year and my family can only meet up via zoom. Heading to bad.
  3. RMU. Things seem to be progressing, but I’ve lost track of the small minutia around the rules. There still seems to be enthusiasm, so that’s good!
  4. Shadow World. Over at the discord server there seems to be a concerted group effort to write a SW module. This has been tried before, but they appear to be making progress. That’s good.
  5. 50 in 50. Things have really slowed down, BUT, the quality of our work has improved I think. Peter is putting out solid small adventures rather than the basic adventure hooks we focused on in version 1.
  6. My SW stuff. Obviously, I don’t have support of an editor, help with artwork and don’t have the time or skills to do so myself. I find the lack of feedback, positive or negative, to be disconcerting! I try to skew as close to Terry’s tone and style as I can, base it on Canon, (but filling in between the lines whenever possible). Is this material helpful? Useful? Used by other people? I don’t know! I would really like a few more collaborators to help push the SW “secondary market” further.
  7. Roleplaying. I look on with some envy on the popularity of “critical role” and other D&D based pop culture phenoms. Personally I cannot stand the tropes of Humans, Dwarf, Halfing, Elf vs Orc, Goblin, Troll; fighting dragons or Gygaxian settings. I don’t want to fight skeletons, large rats or live in the hollywood version of Middle Earth. That’s just me. However, I certainly love the fact that RPG’s are reaping the rewards of a life of gaming, fantasy, creativity and literature. Yay.

How are you doing?

Fanzine Week

I am having one of those crazy weeks where many things come together to clamour for my time and attention.

In the midst of this, it totally slipped my mind that the Rolemaster fanzine is due on the 6th.

For want of anything truly exciting in the editorial front, I am creating more adventures.

As always I am only using creatures from C&T 1 and Creatures & Monsters. The logic being that we know that these will be the monsters featured in Creature Law. All the adventures I have created for the past 3 years are forward compatible with RMu, when it lands.

It is a long time since I did anything with intelligent weapons, with agendas of their own. You can expect one of them. I am also determined to keep on creating adventures that I would call ‘urban adventures’. There is one of those as well.

Depending on how the creative muses treat me, this will be either a double or triple adventure issue.

I am hoping to get it published on Friday.

Pilot RPG Character Creation

I got a bit more of Pilot written this weekend. In many ways it is slow going, in others it skips forward pleasantly.

So far what we have is the 10 stats that you would expect. Stat bonuses use the ‘Hurin’s Rule’ of (Stat-50)/3. Temps are all 100 and and the absolute maximum value for a playable race is 101.

The rules are being evolved from Old School Essentials. The first change is that anything even vaguely D&D-like gives non-humans infravision, typically to 60′.

I didn’t want that. We [Terefang and I] are building the talents and flaws that are used to construct the ancestries (I don’t want to use the word race, so these are ancestries in the fantasy rules, species in the sci-fi game, others remain to be seen). Our Elves and Dwarves have grayscale darkvision which reduces penalties for seeing in low light.

That was the first explicitly RM style change.

We are working in a sort of tag team style at the moment. I write, I find something missing from the toolkit and Terefang makes it for me, as if by magic.

Right now, you can roll your stats, and choose an ancestry. The goal for this week will be to allow you to pick a culture. This will give you your final stats, some special bonuses from your talents and flaws and some starting skills.

I do not think the cultures will be particularly difficult. They should be largely the same as the Navigator RPG cultures, all baring the starfaring culture. We already have the rules in place for creating new cultures. It should be realively easy to translate them over.

The next part will be the first template professions. These will combine the two elements of the profession setting your skill costs and them coming with a predefined set of skills. In essence when you pick your profession, you get a Training Package at the same time.

This model makes character creation fast, there is no agonising over which skills are important for a starting character, that has been done for you. It is wonderfully easy to customise for a GM, you can have unique fighters from any tradition by finessing the skills.

The last stage will be that each player gets 20DP to spend on additional skills. This is a chance to customise your character, knowing that all your basic bases have been covered.

The skill list should be pretty much the same as the Navigator RPG list, but swapping in some low tech skills in place of the Piloting, Science and Engineering.

It is this part, the skills list that I think will eat up my development time for the rest of the month. It is also the cool bit for the character creation process.

If I can hit all my waypoints, in November I get to play with Terefang’s new magic system, cantrips, spells and rituals. That, I am looking forward to.

Pilot RPG

On Sunday, I wrote the first words of Pilot RPG.

I have been reading and playing around with a sack full of OSR/OGL D&D clones looking for the one that strikes me as the right one to do the d20 to d100 conversion to.

Pilot RPG is a bit of a strange fusion of ideas. Firstly, it is about doing to a fantasy game what I did to White Star Whitebox and create a free and open retro-clone of Space Master. ICE had said in 2018 and again in 2019 that there were no plans for a RMu Space Master. I wanted to keep the idea alive and make something that you could use with the old ICE Spacemaster books.

From that game came an open project called Bare Metal Edition, which is a mechanics only version of the “d100+bonus and get over 100” system. Bare Metal Edition, BME, started by extracting the rules from Navigator RPG, and then building up from there. It builds up how to create and balance talents and flaws. How to use talents and flaws to build playable species. How to build cultures, and professions. It took the meditations and gifts from White Star and made a magic system. But that was just the beginning. The magic system exploded into all kinds of things like cantrips and rituals, the talent and flaws spawned super powers. It has a tool for creating unique weapons and critical tables for anything and everything.

In theory BME can create a Rolemaster style game in any genre. I say in theory, because no one has every tried.

Enter Pilot RPG.

I am now going to use the rules of BME, and try and use them to do the conversion of a D&D retro-clone and produce a fantasy version.

What I am expecting is that Pilot will throw a spotlight on missing elements of BME, and BME will be improved by it.

I am also hoping that Pilot will become a painting by numbers project where the rules I need are already there, I just need to reword everything into fantasy terms.

When I was programming, back in the day, the buzzword was RAD, Rapid Application Development. What I am hoping for is that BME will be the RAD for rolemaster style games.

I am not looking to steal away users from Rolemaster, that was never my intention, but from Navigator RPG in the far future, and Pilot in the medieval, we have two ends of timeline that can accomodate converting Eldritch Tales to make a 1920s/30s Cthulhu game, and Operation Whitebox to make a Kelly’s Heroes inspired WWII game. I also want to create a near future zombie apocalypse version.

These three, Eldritch, WWII, and post-apocalypse are genres where Rolemaster never went. There are others that just sound incredibly good fun. Wuxia? Gun-Fu? Gold Rush/Tombstone?

Creating very specific niche games makes no commercial sense at all. They cannot possibly make enough money to recoup their development costs, unless of course the development has already been done. These can, and will end up as easy and building a Cyberpunk city out of lego. Building it is easy, knowing when to stop would be the hard bit.

It was always my aim to get Pilot RPG in the public sphere in 2020.

The base system I have settled on is Old School Essentials. I am 1000 words into the document.

This is the land of the Pilot, now I just need to bring it to life.

Elven Mysticism

(This article was written by Jengada from the ICE forums, but posted by me, as he doesn’t have writers status on the blog yet)

A couple of COVID-months ago, there was a discussion of mystics on the Blog. Many people view the mystic as a weak class, or don’t really know what to do with them. I actually think they’re one of the most appealing classes, and challenging in a positive way. 

I’ve had a specific mystic culture in my campaign for 30 years, but recently a new player wanted an elven mystic. This took a number of questions I’ve pondered in my campaign, and shoved them in my face like a 100 C-Krush crit. If mystics are difficult, elves that “do not age or grow old” and “are virtually immortal” pose even bigger questions, and now they’re colliding. 

Mysticism is about the relationship between self, cosmos, and any divine powers. We can draw on the real world for ideas of how a human sees these, but what happens when the being trying to understand that relationship watches centuries of change in the world, in nature and among other species like humans and dwarves? What are the questions they ask, and how would that affect the focus of elven mystics? Here’s what I came up with – it’s a work in progress, so please comment.

(While Rolemaster canon has elves as not aging or growing old, in my campaign I give them finite lifespans of a few thousand years. It’s hard enough dealing with a 300-year-old elf that knows all of human history, never mind 3000 years! Infinite lifespan would amplify many of the points I make in the following discussion.)

Elven mysticism is profoundly influenced by their exceptionally long lives, the rarity of birth among them, and lack of experience with death. Like all mystic philosophies, it centers on understanding the relationships between self, the universe, and the divine. It focuses on broadening one’s experience of the universe as a way of reaching such understanding. 

Imagine all of the things an elf mystic could do, in their thousands of years, to experience the universe more intimately. Watching time unfold over seasons, seeing the variations in life- and death-cycles for different creatures, centuries of changing landscapes and civilizations – the insights they could draw! And if they could be other creatures for extended periods? Or plants? Or just inert matter?

Many elves recognize patterns in animal behavior after observing the animals for years. But other “intelligent” races, which the elves encounter less often than, for example, birds, fish, or cats, are less familiar to them. Mystics may find sentient races to be the most novel aspects of the world they have ever seen. A mystic might spend years watching a particular sentient individual, closely or at a distance, trying to learn how they experience the world and how their emotions work.

Elven mystics are obsessed with birth, and the newborn consciousness. Because elven births are rare, mystics will seek them out to be present. There are tales of female mystics seeking to bond with their own offspring during birth, only to drive both mad. Instead, novice mystics may simply seek to observe the birth of other elves, or animals. Adept mystics may be capable of forming a psychic link with mother or young and try to experience the consciousness as it first emerges.

The concept of death and the experience of passing is considered one of the biggest unknowns or windows through which to gain awareness, and elven mystics tend to fixate on observing death, or interrogating those who are dying to learn what they are experiencing. There is no record of an elven mystic committing suicide to achieve this knowledge, however, leading some to question their sincerity in their search and others to see it as a testament to the mind’s will to survive.

Elves as a species have a very different sense of time from humans or others of shorter lifespan. They have no personal need to hurry, and by the time they are adults they have experienced many things over, and over. These things will happen again, so there is no urgency in the moment. Because of this, they often seem uninterested or unfocused on matters other species consider very important. For similar reasons, encountering a situation or object that is unlike others they have experienced will draw their attention strongly, to the exclusion of almost all else. In the end, they again come across as distracted and unfocused, to those of lesser lifespans.

The general tendency among the elves is to keep to themselves. They build their cities in places others are not likely to venture, and many of them never experience a member of a non-elf species, despite their long lives. Elven mystics are exceptionally rare, in that they tend to travel far and wide. They experience space on a scale commensurate to the span of their years as part of their hunger for understanding and experience.

The search for expanded consciousness or linking with the divine or the cosmos has led elven mystics to develop a variety of methods and substances to open the mind or reach outward. They refer to these experiences as “opening the bridge” to the universe or the divine. Methods may include meditation, spell-initiated experiences, or physical ordeals that bring them to new perspectives. Substances include plant-based elixirs or foods or alchemical potions. Some mystics spend a great deal of time searching for new methods of opening the bridge. Bridge experiences may be brief visions, or they may involve prolonged trances. 

These are some of the key factors I’ve thought of to make elven mystics unique, and suited to the culture that frames them. As I noted, if your elves are truly immortal, or “created” rather than born, there are some different twists you could put on the concepts above. Mystics can be a great mirror of a culture in your world, and a good player can use that mirror to make a mystic character very valuable to their party.

Mechanics in my RM2 game:

Adrenal Moves cost 3 instead of 5. 

Ambush cost is 5 instead of 4. 

Meditation cost is 1/2.

Level Bonuses: Elven mystics get +1/level for Perception, Subterfuge, Item, Directed Spell, and Adrenal Move skills. They get +2/level for Base Spells.

Spell Lists: Elven mystics get four of the standard RM2 mystic base lists: Confusing Ways, Mystical Change, Liquid Alteration, and Gas Alteration. They can choose two of the following lists as their other base lists, to reflect personal focus: Hiding (Mystic base), Solid Alteration (Mystic base), Body Renewal (Monk base), Sense Through Others (Seer Base), Light Molding OR Sound Molding OR Feel-Taste-Smell Molding (Illusionist Base), Mind Merge (Mentalist base), or Immersions (Custom mystic base).

The Immersions list is provided here as a pdf.