Friday, February 21, 2020

He do the NPCs in different voices

If you're interesting in the craft of the GM as much as solo gaming and its possibilities, then it's well worth your time to check out Trevor Devall's Me, Myself, and Die! channel on YouTube.

In his own words, "Voice actor Trevor Devall plays tabletop RPGs solo-style, fulfilling the roles of both player and GM." And while the Tinkerage has plenty to get on with other than watching other people play, Devall conducts his solo sessions with such tremendous verve and skill, as well as drama and humor, that they make for entertaining viewing for their own sake.

Devall, as it happens, is a talented voice actor, and not everyone will master the accents and tones he uses to build character, but it's worth noting how Devall makes every NPC unique with an accent, a description, a particular attitude or affliction that is simple and memorable.

The same goes for scene description. In his GM role, Devall doesn't layer in unnecessary or additional detail, but skillfully focuses on and repeats the key details that make the location distinct.

The last GM trick to borrow is what I as a writer would call "blocking". Me, Myself, and Die! is often very funny, but Devall alternates humor and drama, even pathos and moments of contemplation. Some sessions and games aim for a particular tone, be it comedic or grim-dark. Good GM-ing reminds us that varying the tone always hightens the contrasts and makes the action more memorable.

I'm not sold on Savage Worlds as a system, and prefer to Play All the Books for solo-inspiration, but Me, Myself, and Die! is a great illustration of what effective GMing can mean for any game session, and I look forward to the next series.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Craft and Luck at the Green Dragon

[Since the Blogger app caused an inadvertent repost of Narrative Adventures at the Green Dragon pub, the Green Dragon discussion continues with a close look at resolution. This minimalist mechanic is "balanced" because all outcomes are weighted around the middle – a fair roll indeed!]

Let us look at the table used to assess a character's skill and luck in a doubtful situation. This well worn table, somewhat revised, is consulted whenever characters take action according to their particular skills and abilities in a risky situation.

The player rolls two common tavern dice, and the professor interprets the result:

2-3... Horrible. This is often counted as a fumble or serious misfortune. In battle, the character may be severely wounded or even defeated.
4-5... Poor. An error or mishap. In battle, the character's guard is down and they may be wounded or forced to retreat.
6-8... Tolerable (6) to Fair (7) to Skillful (8). A tolerable to good outcome, usually interpreted broadly as the expected or middling result. In battle the character stands their ground and may wound their opponent.
9–10... Fine. A very good to excellent effort. In battle, a strong hit.
11–12... Marvelous to Exceptional. An outstanding result, often described as uncanny or elvish craft, combining exceptional skill and good fortune. The outcome is always decisive.


  • The professor rarely provides an adjustment, but often rules precisely according to the situation, especially in the 6–8 range. For instance, if a skilled hunter rolls a "5" while tracking a stag, this may not mean utter failure, but rather the tracks become muddled or pass through a tangled briar.
  • When a character has a substantial advantage, the professor grants them an additional die to roll, and the player chooses the best pair. In the case of a crucial disadvantage, the professor chooses the worst pair instead!
  • A 6 on any die is called the "crown" and grants an immediate advantage in the situation, in addition to the benefit of the current roll. Two "crowns", being a 12 in total, are greatly valued.
  • A 1 on any die is called the "evil eye" and imposes a disadvantage in the situation, which may affect the next turn. Two evils eyes, 2 in total, are greatly feared as more than a mere mishap.
  • Rolling a 1 and a 6 means the situation holds steady!

On some rolls, a "hazard" is included, representing the number to be rolled to avoid some threat or overcome a particular difficulty, thus:

7. Doubtful
8. Daunting
9. Desperate
10. Sheer chance!

If the player fails to roll greater than or equal the hazard, this does not always mean their character failed (unless, perhaps, they rolled 2 or 3), only that the danger was too great. For example, if a character is fording a raging river with a hazard of 8 and rolls 7, they are taking every precaution but still find themselves swept off their feet by the current.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Narrative adventures at the Green Dragon pub

A speculative sketch, loosely inspired by the the (rumored?) gaming style of Prof. 
M. A. R Barker of Tekumel fame:

What if other great world-builders took this path?

A game and story at the Professor's table

Professor T--'s group meets at the Green Dragon pub at least once a week. They play a curious game, which resembles more a story or a piece of theatre, inspired by German "free" Kriegsspiel, and best described as a sort of guided adventure in an imaginary realm.

Materials required are: plentiful supplies of paper (exam booklets are common), pens, pencils, common dice, and occasionally chess pieces and chequers, to mark the places of all the participants in a combat.

Each of the players brings a notepad and a sheet of paper dedicated to their "character". On this sheet are many notes, including the character's name and particulars, their salient characteristics, story and lineage. There is also space for lore regarding the history of each kindred, intermixed with notes on quirks, such as the dwarfs' ability to light fires wherever needed, and snippets of common knowledge, including fragments of elvish legend. Room is set aside for lists of gear and other trinkets that the character carries. We have seen characters described as elves, dwarfs, burglars, woodsmen, rangers, knights, hunters, and wizards, among many others!

The professor also arrives with several notebooks, closely filled with extensive notes, glossaries, and background materials, and many maps and sketches.

When play begins, the professor outlines an intriguing situation, continuing an adventure that clearly started some time ago. Each player replies with their preferred course of action, and the professor then responds with whatever happens next, prompting another player to reply, and so on. Journeys, skirmishes, traps, discoveries, and many curious encounters are all resolved by discussion, plain common sense, and the turns of the story. If the players are wise and attentive, they will usually overcome such difficulties. If they are foolhardy or proud, then their situation will deteriorate.

From time to time the outcome of some action is at issue or more than reasonably uncertain, and then the professor will call for a roll of the dice, and perhaps consult one or more of the many small tables scattered among his notes. One table, labelled "Luck or Craft", is often referred to, thus:

2-3... Horrible
4-5... Poor
6-9... Tolerable -- well
10-12... Marvel. elvish! [sic]

When the dice roll, ones are to be feared, and called "the evil eye". Sixes are highly prized, and sometimes called "the crown".

A thoughtful player who demonstrates the great resolve (or skill) of their character, is sometimes permitted to roll three dice and tally the best two.

Brief and intense fights take place from time to time. Such skirmishes rarely continue for more than a few "turns", with the rare exception of protracted battles. The professor is not sentimental about armed combat, and such scenes are short and deadly. The players will usually prevail (although combat always involves rolls, and so an element of risk), but if they misjudge their position, challenge dreadful foes, press their luck too far, or succumb to blood-lust, even the strongest will fall, memorably.

Another curious table, much used, is kept at hand during such battles:
5... goblin, spider, wolf
6... orc or grt. goblin
7... man-at-arms, grt. orc
9... troll, giant, fell beast
10... capt., wyrm, wraith
12... drake, horror

Now and then, the professor will make a "secret roll" of his own design, to judge how things go by chance, or to see if the characters blunder into, or across, something unseen, or are taken by surprise, or put in an interesting situation by happenstance.

Character may indeed be dazed, poisoned, wounded, enchanted, wearied, and so forth, and must make note of these effects and bear the consequences until the matter is resolved.

When the adventure (or chapter) is concluded, it is time to rest, tend to wounds, and divide any treasures found.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Solo tinkering — Play all the Books

The Tinkerage has been experimenting with solo roleplaying as a way to test some of the freeform, light and Play the World concepts with house rules and designs.

One unexpected benefit of this approach, which could be brought to multiplayer games, is that you get to play not just your own system but ALL the RPG systems, and so one's collection of gaming books acquires new life when you're not tied to a single rules set. So far I've used Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay to generate careers and encounters, BareBones Fantasy to generate missions and locations, Blacksand for Advanced Fighting Fantasy for urban design, adapted Traveller to set up combat ranges, and so on. Now, all the careers, classes, spell-lists, and random mission, encounter, and reward generators scattered across a shelf of game books and systems become relevant and useful again, and help to generate a world and adventures I would never have picked from my own head.

The "system" is free-flowing and based on roll and read principles with other ideas I’ve used here, but structured enough to generate variety and surprises.

For characters, I pick or adapt a handful of basic characteristics from any system that inspires or feels right. In this case, Strength, Dexterity, Intellect, and Will. I roll 2d6 for each characteristic, and a 9+ is "+1" and an 11-12 is "+2"; a 5- would be "-1", but for the sake of playability I would discard a character with a net negative set of characteristics.

Then, from the career or class description (I used a Soldier from Warhammer, rolled at random) I choose a suitable 4-5 skills or talents, and allocate 6-7 points, with +2 the highest single rating.

The player character has 3 Hits, but experimentally I converted each "Hit" to 1d6 hit points, so rolling for a total from 3-18.

For example:
Corporal Angfire, Peasant, Soldier
Strength 6, Agility 9 (+1), Intellect 9 (+1), Will 8
3 Hits (12 hp)
+1 Fight, Cool, Dodge
+2 Marksman

In play, whenever the character is in a spot, a point where I, as player or GM, can't easily judge the outcome, I roll 2d6, and add any modifiers for the character:

  • On 7+ the outcome is a bare success, enough to keep the scene moving. The character may still be in trouble.
  • A roll of 9+ is decisive.
  • 5- is a setback or failure. A hit in combat. 
  • A 2-3 indicates severe negative consequences, such as a heavier hit.
  • The target roll occasionally shifts to indicate situational risks or advantage, but it is is never less than 5+ or more than 9+.

Most combats are skirmishes, and so only the character rolls to attack and/or defend. If the combat were to be more dangerous or against a single, determined opponent, both sides would roll and compare totals.

As I said, the character's Hits are tallied by hit points, and so damage is also converted to a d6 roll, with armour reducing the hit points lost by a small amount (1–2 points for light to medium protection). Ordinary creatures and opponents just have a fixed number of Hits to take them down.

There are two other rolls I use to represent the uncertainty of a scene in a solo game:
Probability - what are the chances? (1d6):
Very likely 2+
Likely 3+
Possible 4+
Unlikely 5+
Very unlikely 6+

Situation - how good or bad is the current situation? (1d6):
1- Very Bad
2 - Bad
3 - Doubtful
4 - OK
5 - Good
6 - Excellent

So with a light framework and some inspiration it’s possible to play all the books.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Cracked Kingdom

All was well in the reign of Curefin the Good, but that reign is over.

Martyn now sits on a contested throne, makes wars, grinds the poor, stirs rebellion.

They Fey Courts have grown dark and unfriendly, and meddle in mortal affairs.

Hedge-wizards and sorcerers bicker, and some finger the dusty covers of books of forbidden lore with a new interest.

And as old treaties fray, familiar enemies press at the borders of the cracked kingdom.
How often could a campaign, a game, get underway on the back of a few scribbled notes like these, found on a scrap of paper at the back of the desk?

Perhaps all you need to do with these is get ready to play the world:
  • Characters have 7 points for attributes and skills (max. +2); 6 Hits
  • In danger, roll 7+ to succeed: higher (9+) is better, lower (5-) is worse (negotiate modifiers)
  • In combat, everyone rolls and the higher roll succeeds: 1 light damage; 2 solid; 3 heavy (armour provides additional protection, scene by scene, on the same scale)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Freeform, Light Characters

As outlined in the last post on playing the world with freeform, light rules, creating a character becomes a process of developing a description and highlighting only the significant, to play, attributes.

How might this work?

First, come up with a concept around the role you want to play. This can be a profession, a character type, or even a simple background. Later, you'll attach a name and a short title to this role.

Then, come up with a description of a couple of lines or sentences. This description will include the characteristics (such as deft, tough, cunning) and the skills (swordplay, climbing, crafting) that best fit the role you have in mind, and any quirks that make a character unique.

How to come up with a concept or description and pick skills and characteristics? The freeform technique means that this can be almost anything. You can choose from a book or show that you like. You can draw a picture or choose a miniature, and let what you see be your guide. You can pick up any RPG rules and choose character professions and characteristics and abilities that capture your interest and look playable. You can even roll a few dice for the stats in that rulebook (such as strength, dexterity, intelligence, and so on) and shape your concept around the results.

When you're satisfied with the description, then pick out the notable attributes: from 5 to 7 is a good number. Assign a +2 score to two at most, and +1 to the rest. This does not have to be exact, or add up to given number of points, because it's up to the player and the GM to judge how valuable each attribute might be.

Here are two characters, built using this method, with sketches as inspiration.

Gilbert Lurkerer, professional sneak, is extremely quick and quiet, clever, handy with a short blade or a thrown missile, and an affable gossip.
Quick+2, Quiet+1, Clever +1, Short blades +1, Throw +1, Gossip +1

Temerra Quickfoot, woodlands archer, is uncannily deft and graceful as any of her elven kin. She is a deadly archer, skilled hunter, and master of all the woodlands.
Deft+2, Elvish Grace+1, Deadly Archer+2, Hunter+1, Woodlands+1

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Play the World

Searching the for insights into the 'free-form" role-playing procedures of some of the earliest GMs and designers, the Tinkerage came across an intriguing series of posts called "Play the world, not the rules" on Darkworm Colt.

This is a method that you can summarize on a page, uses only six-sided dice, descriptive character generation, and just two basic mechanics. And the point of this is that the rules, the "Visible Rulebook" to borrow a term from from S. John Ross, are necessary only to the extent that they facilitate the interaction between the players, their characters, and the worlds they want to explore.

Here's the method for playing the world:

1 - Characters

Briefly describe your character, including notable attributes, like skills, characteristics, or professions (maybe five or so). One or two attributes may count as outstanding (use two words for emphasis like "excellent tracker"). The necessary level of detail is to create a playable role.

If you're stuck, roll dice to help you decide on your attributes, and refer to any work of fiction, rule-set or character generation system for ideas about stats and skills, professions, and backgrounds.

In general, a modifier for a notable one-word attribute is +1, an outstanding two-word attribute (skilled swordsman, talented pilot) is +2, and rare superlative attributes (exceptional swordsman; best pilot in the system) are +3.

2 - Tests

When you need to account for risk or uncertainty, roll the dice. An average roll (around 7) is average, you most likely continue but the situation is not necessarily resolved, high is good (around 9+) and usually decisive, low (around 5-) is bad and entails negative consequences.

Apply modifiers for suitable character attributes and the situation and equipment in the +3 to -3 range.

3 - Opposed rolls

Roll the dice for opposing efforts (such as combat, but also other cases of active opposition) and compare. Highest wins, and the bigger the difference the more decisive the outcome. Apply modifiers, as for tests.

4 - Hit points

Darkworm Colt uses a "three strikes" system: character can take three hits and then they're out. Tougher characters might have more hits at the GMs discretion.

For the sake of greater flexibility, I'd suggest six hits, with stronger characters adding 1 or 2 more as indicated by a suitable attribute. Lighter attacks deal 1 hit. Heavier attacks can inflict 2 or 3 hits. The GM should apply judgement and err on the side of character survival. A character at exactly zero hits is stunned, staggered, dropped, and so on, but not dead.

5 - Play the world

The game isn't in the method; the game is in the sources you choose for inspiration, in the worlds you construct, and in the scenarios the GM devises and the creativity players bring to them.