Friday, April 9, 2021

Twenty Quick Settings/Games for Immediate Use

 About three weeks ago, I posed a simple design challenge to the scene writ large:

  1. Pick a genre, setting, or time period 
  2. Write one or two paragraphs on context 
  3. Produce one page of random tables 
  4. Give advice on tropes and how to use them
Using these guidelines, I surmised that one could create a fully-actionable setting for use at the table, and with the advice and assumptions baked in, little to no abstracted rules would be necessary to actually conduct play. The setting begets the way things work. You agree in good faith to navigate the world as it suggests it can be navigated. Instant sandbox, minimal work. 

Well, I was greeted with TWENTY full responses to this challenge, so without further adieu, enjoy! 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

How I Run and Play an Ultralight Game

I take it for granted that I know how I run and have been running my games for a few years now according to the "free kriegsspiel/FKR" (henceforth "ultralight") approach. For almost a calendar year since this concept has become increasingly vogue across the interwebs, many earnest folks have raised repeat questions not about "what is this?" but "how does it actually work?" At the risk of being overly ironic, think of this post as an introductory rulebook to a style of play that assumes a rulebook is patently unnecessary. I'm going to make this quick, because that's something I especially appreciate about this method: it's fast, it's intuitive, and it only needs a little nudge to get going. 

Disclaimer: This is how I run my games. This is not "how it always works." It is a (hopefully clarifying) example. The approach here is a varied spectrum. Two referees adopting similar styles may yet produce very different tables. This is, of course, how any two different people running any two different games will pan out, but it's worth stating here since there is not, in fact, "one way" to adopt this method. There are various preferences, emphases, and relationships to consider. So, to reiterate, here is how I go about it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Play Worlds, Not Rules: Design Challenge

I find that I love the free kriegsspiel model not because it is simple (though that is a large plus) but because it all is about intuition and honesty with subject matter. In general, storygames and mainstream modern RPGs and even a swath of the old school community don't appeal to me because portions of the experience are deliberately gamified when they could just be role-played. I've said elsewhere that an adventure game needs little more than interesting choices regarding interesting people amidst interesting locales. 

You've met a person, right? How do you talk to them? Now talk to a person inside of a game in the same way. Context, motivation, and the assumptions of the setting guide your actions and approach, not mechanization. I appreciate arguments made that certain rules and precedures help to emulate genre or setting, but my counter is that those methods are redundant, as even with passing communal knowledge of the setting at the table, everyone can reasonably play anything with imagination and conversation. Rules can be helpful as a framework, but they are not necessary for play. All you need is a world in which to act.

My challenge for you all is thus: 

  1. Pick a genre, setting, or time period 
  2. Write one or two paragraphs on context 
  3. Produce one page of random tables 
  4. Give advice on tropes and how to use them
This is how I put together Galaxy Far Away. Humor me: anyone with even a tangential exposure to pop culture has either seen or knows the gist of Star Wars: A New Hope. Close your eyes and imagine the tropes. 

There is an evil human empire with smart uniforms and bureaucracy. Stormtroopers are ubiquitous but only effective in numbers. Common people are either disinterested outliers minding their own business or enterprising vagabonds looking to be a big fish in a small pond. Organized crime is everywhere. Almost everything is janked together, rusting, or smeared with dirt. There is space magic, but it's mostly a philosophical matter and the vast majority of folks have no exposure to it or its lightsaber-wielding practitioners. There are thousands of sentient species, but they all commingle. 500 credits will buy you a cheap blaster. 

I followed that with random tables for gear, intrigue, rumors, contraband, complications, and rivals. The dice and mechanics are effectively invisible, with the destiny/force token bit little more than a meta ruling. How to play: go do things--let the tropes be your guide.

...

But instead of Star Wars, you could pick Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin, or My Neighbor Totoro by Hiyao Miyazaki, or A Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man by James Joyce, or Final Fantasy 6, or the concept of 18th century fur trapping in Canada, or the brief context of pre-isolationist China adjacent to Zheng He, or [insert Saturday morning cartoon], or [insert that one brochure you read one time in a doctor's office], or [insert early hydraulic society's first steps]... you get the idea.

So, bloggers and referees and players and tinkerers, give the above formula a shot and let me know about it. Let's call it at three pages tops.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

VILLAINS FLY ZEPPELINS - Pulp Adventure in the Style of Indiana Jones & The Rocketeer

Mood Music (Look, I can't help myself. I love mood music.)

In October of 2020, the Free Kriegsspiel Revolution (FKR) Discord released the first edition of its APA-style zine, The Neverending Drachenschwanz, with the theme being "Zeppelins & War." The iconic and ominous zeppelin conjures images of dieselpunk esoteria, disaster, and 100% nefarious villains piloting them to enact schemes of global manipulation. 

Timothy Dalton as Neville Sinclair, from The Rocketeer

As such, I took it upon myself to leverage Norbert Matausch's excellent Landshut and go full-camp into the tropes of moustache-twirling, scheme-hatching, globe-trotting villains flying around in sinister zeppelins while you, the players, race to thwart their plans and unravel their public prestige. 

You might be a journalist, armed with little more than a bowie knife and a tome of ancient lore. You're great at brawling, but you're bad at driving. Regardless, it's up to you and your friends to stop the plot of Kitanova Vadimovna, the dread cultist from the USSR whose signature explosions bristle from her heavily-armed sky fortress. Can you work with your contact, Barnaby St. John the fixer, to recover the ebon monkey of Ibn Fatullah before Vadimovna and her goons get to it first? Will you be able to evade the meddling of Illuminati mercenaries pursuing their own ends, but intervening in yours?

The above is a full plot generated across sixteen short d6 tables. A few rolls is all you need to whip up the seed for a complete adventure, a party of "good guys," the villain, their zeppelin, the artifact, and more. The game is run primarily by description, impact, and common sense consequences, with opposed 2d6 to adjudicate situations with unclear outcomes.

Michael Byrne as Ernst Vogel, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Grab your whips, your flashbulb cameras, and your side-car motorcycles. Indulge your spirit of daring and dauntless adventure and rise to the occasion. Pit yourself against the evil caprice of cabals, conspiracies, and grandstanding public enemies while VILLAINS FLY ZEPPELINS!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Android Setting: Jinteki

Mood Music 

"Never forget that your clone is a living being. Like pets and even humans, clones have biological necessities that must be addressed. New owners can at times forget, and clones--especially ones placed into new circumstances--are often reluctant to bring them up..."


In 1873, Satoshi Akiko stepped out of the fuedal holdovers of rural Japan and into the modern world of pharmacy. Kyoto was on the up and up, and the Satoshi family made a name for themselves by cutting ahead of the curve regarding industrial distribution for their wares, and riding into the 20th century on the wave of progressive company policy, cross-media investment, and private outsourcing of medical research. The pharma boom of the 21st century rocketed the Satoshi name into household presence, though their milieu was limited mostly to the staples of combating common illness, improving skin health, and adding shine to the pearly whites of the world's suburban sprawl.

Everything changed when the Big War came and went.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

d66 Cairn Background Loadouts Adapted from Old School Essentials

As I mentioned before, I forever admire the B/X & OSE feel regarding traditional Dungeons & Dragons adventuring, but I'm partial to Into the Odd's take on classless characters. The consequent reliance on items, background, flavor, and cunning to formulate your "class" identity in-game (and several factors therein allowing for constant malleability and foreground growth) is the sweet spot for me in terms of who a character is and what they do. This comes full circle with Yochai Gal's adaptation of the Into the Odd family for "traditional" adventuring in dark wood and dungeon alike, Cairn.

Stepan Alekseev

So, without further adieu, I present to you my interpretation of nearly all extant Old School Essentials classes (including Classic Fantasy, Advanced Fantasy, and selections from Carcass Crawler and Dolmenwood) in Cairn loadout style.

(Also available in free PDF at DriveThruRPG and itch.io)

Friday, January 1, 2021

My Approach to NPCs

I'm not a good player. Or rather, I am not an invested player. I've learned that I find it hard to remain invested in piloting a single character, and ended up vastly preferring the referee's role over the years due in no small part to my enjoyment of playing through a myriad of non-player characters. Making the mundane come alive, and sprucing up the set dressing of the game world--that's the stuff. It's the world-building I enjoy most of all, but not through arduous campaign planning... it's through the needs, desires, and machinations of NPCs and their related random tables.

After coming across Joel Haver's short films about a year or so ago, I've enjoyed them greatly, and recently, he's put out several animated bits that resonate with my approach to NPCs a great deal. Let's watch them and see what we can gather.