Monday, December 31, 2012

New Years Blogoversary

The new year marks the second anniversary of Servitor Ludi.  It's become customary at times like these to do a bit of reminiscing and crystal-ball gazing, so let's have at it...

An informal goal of mine is to post to the blog at least once a week, and this year I'm glad to have been able to surpass that a bit.  My post counter says there's a total of 158 posts here, and in last year's blogoversary post I said that I had 79 posts in the first year.  Thus, oddly, that means there were exactly 79 posts this year, too!

For me, the blogging high point of the year was definitely the April A-Z Challenge, in which I attempted to take readers on a whirlwind tour of weird signs, symbols, and glyphs.  Those 26 posts often veered into the philosophical and esoteric, but I tried to keep them fun and full of game-relevant content, too.  They're all collected here for easy browsing.  I'm also grateful for some wonderful new friends found via April A-Z blog-hops.

The springtime of philosophical A-Z posts led to some continuing musings about "pairings" of ideas with regard to the Glass Bead Game, and also to some reviews of books and CDs.  Throughout the summer and fall, I also got a bit braver in sharing some awkward attempts at fiction (that's the blog label term that seemed most appropriate!), mostly spurred on by the indomitable Suze's challenge to post literary "False Starts" on Fridays in November.  I'm surprised that I was able to post as much as I did in the fall, since I was also teaching a graduate course for the first time in many years -- the workload was enormous, but it was an amazing experience.

I've kept working on my Homebrew '82 old-school role playing game rules, but with everything else going on, it's been relegated to seemingly eternal back-burner status.  That doesn't seem likely to change soon, but I can still hold out some hope for finishing Volume 1, the Player's Guide, this year.  In the fall, I also started some brainstorming about a new game concept to emulate the friendly competition of hotshot astronauts and their dangerous missions at the dawn of the space age; i.e., a kind of Right Stuff RPG.  (There are only two posts on that concept right now, but I hope to do more on it...)

And I can't forget Blendsdays!  :-)

What of the future?  More game development, as described above.  I also hope to unearth some additional "lost gems" like the Perry Mason plot wheel that I posted about last month.  As of right now, I'm beginning to plan for the April 2013 A-Z Challenge.  I have an interesting unifying topic for 26 mind-bending posts, but I think it's still a bit too early to talk about the details.  All in good time!

Have an awesome 2013, everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Holly Jolly Mistletoe Harvest

Now that the Mayan apocalypse has passed (it's a new world... haven't you noticed?), my thoughts turn to their natural focus at Solstice time... the druids!  :-)

In classic D&D, druids must gather mistletoe to enact their magic.  That idea seems to be based on a few stray sentences written by Pliny the Elder, 2000 years ago, which puts it way ahead of just about every other "ancient" druid tradition that modern-day folks have tried to re-enact.

Although some D&D players may have chafed at the strange rules and rituals for gathering mistletoe, in most versions it's actually less restrictive than what plain old wizards had to go through... Not only did the garden variety magic-user have to lug around a heavy spell book (what adventurer wants nightly homework?), but each spell had its own required "material components" (e.g., pinch of talcum powder to detect invisibility; a chunk of amber to cast a lightning bolt).  Compared with all that, having to gather mistletoe at Midsummer Eve with a gold or silver sickle doesn't seem so bad.

In Homebrew '82, I decided to remove the cumbersome books and material components for magic-users and replace them with the requirement to own and use a wand.  Fans of Harry Potter know the possibilities of Priori Incantatem, the mysteries of Ollivander's shop, and what can go wrong if you don't have some Spell-o-tape.  I've already talked a bit more about this proposed magic system here.  If you don't have a proper wand, it's a flat -5 penalty to the d20 "to-hit" type die roll to see if the spell succeeds.

I suppose that a similar thing could be done for druids:  if you're lacking in proper mistletoe, you get a similar penalty.  However, I also think that the lore about gathering the stuff at the proper time should play into these penalties and bonuses. Thus, have a look at a trial version of a Lunar Phase Mistletoe Gathering table...

Click to polymorph

Note that I've listed four types of mistletoe, each with a different monthly phase.  In reality, the Celtic druids only had access to the classical European variety -- viscum album with the white berries -- but in a fantasy game world, the more the merrier.

European Mistletoe peaks in magical freshness on the sixth day of the month (as Pliny described) counted by starting at the new moon.  If you're just a day late, though, it goes bad quite quickly.

Dwarf Mistletoe is best when gathered under the bright full moon (it's hard to find in the dark!) and isn't so great when cut under the new moon.  The related Red Mistletoe has a similar bonus under the full moon, is worse than its dwarfy cousin in the complete darkness, and has some unexpected oomph when the sharp, sickle-shaped crescent is in the sky.

Ghost Mistletoe is the rarest variety (maybe because I totally made it up), but it's the most reliable in terms of bonuses over the course of the month.  Avoid the new moon, though!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

RPG Sandbox Delivery System

If and when I ever get back to running a long-term RPG campaign, one thing that I'd really like to get right is the simulation of a complex and interesting world.  A world that doesn't just exist as a series of disconnected "adventure hooks" for the players, but one that breathes and evolves on its own as the PCs interact with it.

There's tons of advice out there for building such a vibrant SANDBOX world (see, for example, tips from noisms or Rob Conley or ckutalik), and last year I tried my hand at beginning to work out my own (see posts 13 thru 18 here).  For me, the problem isn't laying out all the ideas on paper -- that's just a matter having available prep time.  It's the thought of actually "running" it, in real time at the table, that scares the bejeebus out of me.  What I really need is some kind of unifying system for keeping track of it all, parceling out the information with dramatic tension, and not introducing too much to the players too early.

Recently, though, Black Vulmea has been posting some fascinating takes on chance encounters (especially details about a cool scenario generator from a game called Robots & Rapiers) and those posts have got me thinking...

Artist: Bruce Bailey
A properly done random encounter table can be an efficient "delivery system" for an entire campaign.

By "properly done," I'm thinking nesting.  Wheels within wheels in a spiral array, baby. :-)  Below is version 1.0 of a possible master campaign event table.  Each potential result will likely spawn more die rolling on other tables or on-the-spot choices to be made by the GM.  The key is that these choices not be too open-ended, but ratcheted down by the previous die-roll results and the present situation.  The top-level table must be simple enough to be memorized.

Master Event Table:

Every day that the PCs are out in the world (wilderness, city, whatever... but not a specialized closed environment like a castle or a dungeon), roll 1d12:

1-5:  Nothing unusual occurs.
6-8:  Intra-party event occurs.
9-10:  Location-based event (i.e., hex-specific random encounter) occurs.
11:  Random adventure hook occurs.
12:  Large-scale "plot" event occurs.

Seems simple, but there's a lot packed in there.  Here's more about each type of event:
  • Nothing unusual:  Of course, the GM should still roll to figure out what the weather will be, keep track of PC rest and rations, and so on. Do the PCs need to hunt or forage for food?  Do they need to go to a market or take care of their horses?  Some people may not be fond of all that day-to-day record keeping, but I think it keeps this whole enterprise from devolving into a video game stuck on the "Easy" setting. 
  • Intra-party event:  By these, I mean things like checking NPC morale to see if any henchman run away, or seeing if anyone comes down with a case of trench foot, accidentally tips over a beehive, or has their saddle-bag straps break when they're trotting over some deep mud puddles. Maybe a cleric character has a prophetic dream?  Or a bard-acrobat accidentally injures himself when practicing his juggling?  If the GM rolls on a sub-table, I suggest crossing off an event once it happens, to avoid repeats.
  • Location-based event:  Each "hex" on the campaign world-map should have its own local "wandering monster" type table that's appropriate for that location.  No jaguars in the tundra, please.  These days, I'm more apt to keep kooky monsters as a very rare and special thing, and populate these lists with more of a panoply of human and animal variety.  There's ample room for the weird and gonzo without needing to dip into the bestiaries of Tolkien, or the ancient Greeks, all the time.
  • Random adventure hook:  I may have talked them down at the top of this post, but in moderation they can add some spice.  These events can happen pretty much anywhere and can be the start of something the players will latch onto as a goal.  The Robots & Rapiers generator linked above had several tables worth of possible "scenario introductions," and there are many other suggestions for "adventure starters" out there.  I'm also thinking about including my ideas for unorthodox rumor delivery in this category, too.
  • Large-scale plot event:  Ah, here's the home of the grandest designs of the GM.  The mythic over-arching narrative arc.  Maybe some don't think that a sandbox campaign is the place for something like this, but if used sparingly, it can transform a series of unconnected events into an epic.  If one is running a feaux-medieval fantasy world (without cellphones and global networks), then these big plot "events" should be location-based, too.  Each kingdom has its own grand intrigue.  A plague of zombies or vampires starts at a given ground-zero and spreads at a given rate.  GMs should have a big map with big swaths of area circumscribed for these kinds of major events.  Maybe the PCs could be lucky enough to travel all the way through one of these regions without interacting with the big event, but with a 1 in 12 chance per day, who knows what will happen?
Other details:

If any event happens, the GM can also roll to find out what time of day it happens.  Of course, many of these rolls can and should be done either in advance, or at the subtle tap of a laptop key, to help maintain the illusion that everything is happening according to God's own plan.  :-)

Also, I'm sure that I'm not the first to have the idea to base both "local" and "global" events on a unified set of nested random tables.  I'll bet someone has done something similar with grand-campaign type games like Pendragon or World of Darkness.  This is just my own take on these archetypes of the RPG collective hive-mind....

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Spoonerism Saturday

Three hour flight delay in the airport... what to do?  I suppose I could do some, you know, actual work, but how about a blog post instead?  :-)

Both in games and in other forms of artistic creation, we often dip into the well of randomness to kickstart creativity.  Often it's done consciously, but sometimes our subconscious minds do it for us.  One example is the verbal spoonerism, where one intends to say a specific phrase, but a few of the letters get jumbled around.  (Sometimes the spoonerism may become more well known than the original phrase... like bass-ackwards?)

There is spo noon.
You can easily find lots of example spoonerisms out there, but for the last couple of years I've been keeping track of the ones that I hear (or say) in everyday life.  Below is a sampling.  Maybe the chance combination of syllables could get some creative juices flowing?  Or at least generate a chuckle or two?

(Note: not all are "pure" spoonerisms, where the first syllables of two adjoining words are transposed.  The wikipedia entry linked above also discusses a proposed definition of "kniferisms" and "forkerisms" that deal with other syllables.  Some of mine probably don't even fall into those neat categories...)

bopped a plock-up  (blocked a pop-up)

sundraising fupper  (fundraising supper)

a flue gew sticks  (a few glue sticks)

pence-fosts  (fence-posts)

pass-snerchin'  (purse-snatchin')

BcCormack Macon Pieces  (McCormack Bacon Pieces)

macaroni and chaise tree  (macaroni and cheese tray)

cast cotegory  (cost category)

villi chezzie  (veggie chili)

potem tole  (totem pole)

toter vurnout  (voter turnout)

When Hallie Met Sarry  (When Harry Met Sally)

The Mantom Phenace   (The Phantom Menace)

Mess-winster  (Westminster)

show snovel  (snow shovel)

chee-kain  (key-chain)

tee two-spoons  (two teaspoons)

logue brudger  (rogue bludger)

Is your zacket jirped?   (Is your jacket zipped?)

beed firders   (bird feeders)

Many more beyond the cut...