September 21, 2020 troika

ULTRANOIR!

Dossiers on Truth and Meaning for Troika!

Tales are told of rain-slick streets sliced apart by hard-white reflections. Men with hats and cigarettes and women with red red red lips - the only colour beside blood and skin-glow on dirty photographs. Folly or malice implicate the poor souls into webs of association, guilt, conspiracy. The dire truth is that it goes much deeper. Each mystery is another hydra-head of the ur-conspiracy - endless strings, connotations, fall-guys, patsies, betrayals - in service of what?

The characters of Troika! games may be uniquely placed to run down the clues, make the connections and tail the perps. Unless, of course, they’ve already been worked into the Mystery.

Detectives

ULTRANOIR! characters are Detectives of some description. If they work for the Authorities, it is begrudgingly. Mostly they are on the outskirts of society and acceptability, peering in through grubby windows.

All of the following things are true about Detectives. Write them down in pencil.

  • They are observant.
  • They’re decent in a fight.
  • They know a lot about things.
  • They know people in Authority.
  • They know people Disliked by Authority.

Some of these might be lies. Rub up to two out. If you did, choose one thing from the list below. If you rubbed one out, choose two. If you rubbed none out, choose three. They are numbered for those who want to roll instead.

  1. They’re fuelled by a prohibited substance.
  2. They’re broke.
  3. They owe people Disliked by Authority.
  4. People in Authority are out to get them.
  5. They have an unbreakable sense of morality.
  6. They’re hiding a guilty secret.
  7. They always act on anger.
  8. They’ve been damaged by conflict.
  9. They’re as cold as ice.
  10. Everyone knows them.

Otherwise, generate Stamina, Skill and Luck as normal.

Rolls involving something true about a detective should be at a modifier of 4 - positive or negative depending on the situation.

Roll a background too if you want to make things weird.

Detectives start with a Weapon, enough money to eat for a week and some sort of shared office or base of operations. Maybe a car.

Mysteries

Normally one would know the breadth and scope of the mystery, and regurgitate it in gristly little nuggets of Truth. ULTRANOIR! offers no such comforts. The mystery is generated as you play. If only you hadn’t started reading, this could’ve stayed between me and these words. Now we’re both implicated.

Mysteries involve a deviation from the expected path of Normality (as defined by the Authority) - someone vanishes, a body turns up where it shouldn’t, items vanish or a surprising result occurs. Often this seems to represent an abnormality - a break in the way things should be. We investigate to ferret out the Strange and render it Known and thereby defang it, incorporate it into the Light and either remove it or make it Normal. At least, this is what the Authority would tell us.

In truth, it is the hidden nature of Normality appearing above the surface for an instant, leaving some ripples. People disappear for reasons all the time, we just don’t see it. Those in the way are snuffed out. Items are required. Truth is suppressed for the good of the normal. We investigate to confront the ugliness and the cost of Normality to make an informed choice about what we want and how we want to be. We tease apart the knots of lies and find a kernel of Truth. At least, that is what those Disliked by Authority would tell us.

Deeper still and meaning de-coheres. Now you’re within ULTRANOIR! - the harsh chiaroscuro lighting means grey swirls when you equal it out. Grey, of course, is much darker than black.

Use the below table (The Smoky Onion) to generate layers of mystery as needed.

1d6 Initial Item Twist A* Twist B* Twist C*
1 Theft/transport of expensive item. A member of authority is involved! A Truth about a detective is threatened! Someone in Authority is trying to take the investigation!
2 Death/disappearance of important individual/their partner. But it was fake! The perpetrator works for another, more mysterious person/group! The source of the mystery requires travel to reach!
3 Movement/Discovery of prohibited/embarrassing goods. Actually ties into (roll new mystery) The perpetrator is a double-agent! Actually ties into (roll new mystery)
4 Tensions escalate between parties - but why? Your employers are involved! Hints of the Supernatural haunt the investigation! Is a distraction for (roll new mystery)
5 Lucrative money for a simple job’ A heretofore unknown individual is trying to shut down the investigation! A time-limit is being introduced! The previous twist is False!
6 ‘Accidental’ implication of a Detective in something unknown. A key figure is in peril! The previous twist is False! Nothing matters! Everything is permitted!

After rolling for your Twist, roll an additional D6. On a 1-2, the next Twist is from column A. On a 3-4, the next Twist is from column B. On a 5-6, the next Twist is from column C.

Adversaries

Detectives don’t wear armour - nor do those who would keep mysteries.

Men with Guns

They needn’t be men. They needn’t have guns.

Skill 7

Stamina 10

Init 1

Damage as Weapon

1d6 Mien
1 Smoking
2 Leering
3 Menacing
4 Worrying about the Boss finding out
5 Telling people they’ve Got a Real Nice Place Here, Shame if Something Happened to It
6 Telling people to Not Ask Nosey Questions

Serious Sergeants

There’s always one who speaks for their Guys. A convenient voice of One for the Many. Either pitch-black Unpleasant or the one getting Second Thoughts.

Skill 8

Stamina 12

Init 2

Damage as Weapon

1d6 Mien
1 Cigar-smoking
2 Bawling out the Guys
3 Confused and worried about the Boss
4 Checking the Papers
5 Having a Quiet Word with one of the Guys
6 Appreciating a Luxury

Sneering Lieutenants

Nasty razor-blade-people, full of cruelty.

Skill 9

Stamina 11

Init 2

Damage as Weapon

1d6 Mien
1 Plotting against the Sergeants
2 Plotting against the Kingpin
3 Taking Sadistic Glee
4 Indulging in Heinous Vice
5 Considering a Tempting Offer
6 Cleaning up a Mess

Kingpins

The centre from which power emanates, whether of Authority of not. The figure behind it all…unless….

Skill 7

Stamina 15

Init 3

Damage as Weapon

1d6 Mien
1 Jolly Malice
2 Understanding yet Violent
3 Incandescent with Rage
4 Suffocating the Room with their Presence
5 Hobnobbing with Society People
6 Explaining how they’re Different and Special

Desperate Innocents

Wrong time, wrong place. Sorry.

Skill 5

Stamina 7

Init 4

Damage as Weapon

1d6 Mien
1 Trying to Hide
2 Trying to Flee
3 Like a Deer in Headlights
4 Fear-Stricken Clarity
5 Incoherent
6 Fighting like a Cornered Animal

Guilty Desperates

You’re in way over your head with no-one to blame but yourself.

Skill 6

Stamina 8

Init 2

Damage as Weapon

1d6 Mien
1 Blundering In
2 Grasping at Straws
3 Hailing Mary
4 Rolling the Dice
5 Hoping to God
6 Realising just how truly fucked they are
August 4, 2020 troika weird war

Weird War

The collective anguish, dreams and souls of the continent are rendered manifest in the Psychoscape/Psychogeography, the sur-reality layered below the earth, rising up as crystallisations of mind-stuff, shaped by the soldiers and their long, long threads back home to the will of leaders.

As the bombs excavate the land, the separation between the material and the Psychoscape becomes one of opinion.

Character Creation

You have a history. Do you remember before the war or has it colonised your dreams?

11 First Wave Survivor

You’ve been here since the start. You saw the streams of horses dying and their souls swallowed by the sky as their riders took refuge amongst the ribs and entrails. You shot the wounded, animal or man.

Skills
4 Weapon of your choice
2 Weapon of your choice
2 Forage
2 Forgetting

Possessions
2 Weapons of your choice, loaded
3 Set of ammunition for above weapons
A book of forgotten memories
Half a pack of cigarettes

Special You bear the mark of a survivor - a horrific injury.

1d6 Injury
1 Lungs pulled out by the gas - always external, hanging loose and raw. Carry a lotion to clean them.
2 Eyes rotten. They look like spoiled eggs. Need goggles to maintain pressure to stop them bursting.
3 Shrapnel-Termite infestation. Double Provision requirements.
4 You and your gun are one, fingers molten into draped flesh-spaghetti, charred bone fused to wood and steel.
5 Your heart is a live grenade. A hard fall could loose the pin.
6 Your scars extend out from you as a Psychoscape miasma, tendrils of Hurt squirming from every pore.

12 Downed Pilot

You were dragged screaming from your crashed vehicle. The world makes no sense when seen with the naked eye. You can still hear them, crying out for you in no-mans land.

Skills
4 Pilot
2 Revolver
2 Mechanics
1 Survival
1 Old Songs

Possessions
Service Revolver, loaded
6 Bullets for Revolver
Flight Jacket (Light armour)
A Medal OR A photo from home
Can of engine oil

Special You always know the location and status of your vehicle.

13 Psychosphere Storm-trooper

As we plunge deeper in psychogeographical warfare, new kinds of soldiers are needed - those who can storm and take fortresses of the mind, pamphlets in one hand and a gun in the other.

Skills
3 Psychology
2 Revolver
2 Rhetoric
1 Psychogeographical Mapping & Navigation
1 Hiding

Possessions
Service Revolver, loaded
12 Bullets for Revolver
2d6 Psychological Warfare Pamphlets
2d6 Psychogeographical Ideological-Mines

14 Despised Sniper

If you are caught, you won’t die for weeks.

Skills
5 Rifle
3 Hiding
2 Run

Possessions
Rifle, loaded
15 Bullets for Rifle
Sniper’s Scope
3d6 notches on Rifle OR Spotting Assistant NPC

Special Spotting Assistant gives +2 to all attacks with Rifle. If they die, all Luck is lost permanently.

15 Colonised Trooper

Forcibly shipped in from afar to an impossible battlefield with nothing to do with you. Roll again for what role they have given you, and the decide how you subvert it.

16 Horse Breather

In the early days there were horses. Glittering hordes of cavalry.
There are no horses in the trenches. Machines bite you for remembering the old ways of war.

Skills
3 Equine Maintenance
3 First Aid
2 Grave-Digging
2 Longing

Possessions
Toy horse
Service Revolver, loaded
6 Bullets for Revolver
Trench-shovel

Special Test your Luck whenever attempting to use machines powered by fuel or electricity. On a failure, they deal damage as a Beast, varying by size.

21 Gaseous Disintegrator

Swallowed by gas, becoming-gas, birthed from gas in a form more lethal - an advancement in Soldiers!
When you relax, your poisonous form could fill a room.
You are vampiric - stealing the breath of men at least once a week or else falling away to nothing.

Skills
3 Float
3 Drift
2 Pleading
2 Apologising

Possessions
Diving Suit OR Knighthood (to be redeemed post-war)

Special Unless you focus, you fill a room with your poisonous fumes. Those in the room breathing you in take 1d6 Stamina damage a round. Conventional weapons leave you unharmed.

Roll twice on the below for further detail:

1d6 Gaseous Weaknesses
1 Flammable - Test your Luck if you contact naked flame. On failure, you explode, dealing damage equal to your Stamina to everyone within 100ft.
2 Incredibly light - Test your Luck if there is a strong breeze - on failure, take damage as Maul.
3 Herbicidal - all plants die in your presence.
4 Insidious - you are nearly entirely transparent. Your presence compromises gas-masks if they are exposed for more than 4 hours.
5 Sulphurous - you absolutely reek. You are always smelt coming.
6 Staining - everything you touch is stained with an awful ochre shade.

22 Cinder-Man

Fire ruptures the spaces between. Fire looms larger in the psychogeography but equally consumes the material. You made a deal with fire, let a little bit in. Fire-hardened.

Skills
3 Club-fighting
2 Navigation
2 Fire-fighting
2 Gambling

Possessions
Internal flame
Trench-club
Bone Dice

Special Fire only deals 1 point of damage to you, no matter the situation. For every provision you eat, you must eat another half for the little-fire inside.

23 Disgraced Officer

You’ve got the gun, the boots, the sword. They took away your bullets so you couldn’t kill yourself after … the incident. That’s all we’ll say about that, hm?

Skills
3 Etiquette
1 Sword Fighting
1 Pistol Fighting

Possessions
Revolver, unloaded
Boots
Officer’s Sword
Letter of Commission
Shame

24 Photographer

Like a butterfly pinned to the cork-board, a moment stuck in amber, all motion frozen. The camera makes and kills worlds - does that make you God?

Skills
4 Photography
3 Hiding
2 Run
1 Chemistry

Possessions
Camera
Portable Photo Development Lab

25 Steel-Eyed Machine-gunner

To Load the Gun - (a) Pass the tag end of the belt through the feed block from the right side; (b) with the right hand pull the crank handle on the roller; (c) with the left hand pull the belt through the left front as far as it will go; (d) let go the crank handle. The first cartridge will then be gripped by the extractor. Repeat the above and, when this has been done, the first cartridge will be in the chamber, and another gripped by the upper part of the extractor. The gun is then ready for firing.

Skills
4 Machine-Gun
4 Drinking

Possessions
Machine-Gun, loaded
200 Machine-Gun Rounds
Loading Assistant NPC

26 Medic / Medic

How many operations have you slept through, hands moving under the control of another?

Skills
5 Medicine
2 Bedside Manner
1 Narcotics

Possessions
Medical Bag
Double-ration of Morphine

Special Roll up a separate Skill and Luck value. While one of you sleeps, the other is busy, busy, busy.

31 Forgotten Chaplain

You’ve got a stack of Bibles and no congregation. The burgeoning psychosphere and nihilism of the troops are your enemy. If only you could find God yourself.

Skills
4 Theology
3 Oratory
2 Hospice
1 Scepticism

Possessions
4d6 Bibles

32 Artillerist

Loader or spotter, engineer or officer - all are suborned to the gun. Faces blur as shells fly. You used to be one, but now the other. No matter, the gun needs feeding.

Skills
3 Loading Artillery
3 Aiming Artillery
3 Maintaining Artillery

Possessions
Engineers Tools
Ranging Tables
Cargo Hooks

33 Beached Sailor

Some say the Sea doesn’t exist anymore, drained away by a hole in the psychogeography.
You know the answer.

Skills
2 Watercraft
2 Survival
2 Revolver
2 Unarmed Fighting

Possessions
Service Revolver, loaded
Life-jacket
Oar

34 Railway Man

They bid you construct lines.
Enough lines make a net.
You could’ve held in the ground and stopped the psychogeography rising out of the earth - instead, you’ve been posted to the front.

Skills
3 Strength
2 Navigation
2 Hammer Fighting
2 Explosives

Possessions
Maul
1d6 sticks of Dynamite

35 Adapted Mole-man

You don’t remember houses. You only remember the dark, the safety as the surface is bathed in fire and steel.

Skills
3 Digging
3 Dark Navigation
2 Hiding 2 Talking to the Dark

Possessions
Trench shovel
Bucket of water OR bucket of notable stones
Mining Helmet

36 Barbed-Wire Whisperer

You learnt the language of barbed-wire in the psychogeography, split off from your unit. A kind word, a gentle stroke and voila - the coils part for you, thrumming delightedly.

Skills
5 Barbed-wire Whispering
3 Rifle
2 Scavenging

Possessions
Rifle, loaded
10 Bullets for Rifle

41 Machine Mortician

Place your hand upon this torn hull and listen to it’s swan-song.

Skills
4 Mechanics
3 Eulogising
1 Welding Torch-Fighting

Possessions
Welding Torch
Mechanical Toolkit

42 Radio Blotter

A psychic scream on the radio-waves, blotting out all communication, meaning, sense. The psychogeography oscillates with your ceaseless noise.

Skills
3 Rifle
3 Poetry
2 Radio Operation

Possessions
Rifle, loaded
10 Bullets for Rifle
Chapbook of poetry

Special Radio equipment cannot be used within 500ft of you.

43 Ghost

You weren’t killed. Somewhere, your body is waiting, the very soul blown out by the bombs. You hope it is looking after itself.

Skills
3 Rifle
2 Navigation
2 Hide-and-Seek

Possessions
None

Special Being not quite dead, your relationship with the physical realm is complicated. Any time you would take damage, you must Test your Luck. On success, no damage is dealt. On failure, damage is dealt normally.

44 Pretender

Even in times like these, there are rules on who can be drafted. You broke one, and finally have arrived at the front.

Skills
3 Disguise
2 Rifle
2 Throwing Voice
1 Hide
1 Run

Possessions
Rifle, loaded
12 Bullets for Rifle
Disguise Kit

45 Lying Interpreter

You told them you were multilingual. A link between them and some nebulous Other. For a while, you kept up the facade.

Skills
4 Confidence
3 Scam
2 Run
1 Distraction

Possessions
Service Revolver, loaded 6 Bullets for Revolver 1d6 Phrasebooks for various languages

46 Academy Observer

The Academy is delighted at the blossoming of war - storied institutions clamour to watch and you, meagre scholar, get to be their eyes and fingers.

Skills
2 Note-taking
2 Citations
2 Reading
2 Critiquing
2 Writing

Possessions
Spyglass
Spectacles
Reams of Paper
Pencils
Papers
Book of First-Class Stamps

51 Blacklisted Reporter

You wanted truth. They will drown you in it.

Skills
3 Bribery
3 Research
2 Run
2 Lock picking

Possessions
1d6 full notepads
2d6 empty notepads
1d6 pencils

52 Conscientious Objector

A body willing to fight or not can still take a bullet - and so you were cudgelled and off to the front.

Skills
3 Philosophy
3 Protesting
3 Rhetoric
1 of your choice

Possessions
None

53 Lazarus Man

You died. You are no longer dead - techniques only dreamed of are all-too possible in this brave new world.

Skills
3 Second Sight
2 Metaphysics
2 Rifle

Possessions
Rifle, loaded
12 Bullets for Rifle
Lazarus Engine

Special When you would die, Test your Luck - on success, the Lazarus Engine fires true and you recover on 1 Stamina the next day. If the Lazarus Engine is ever removed from your chest, you die, ignoring the prior.

54 Submariner

Whilst the land is ravaged by the surface flowerings of the psychosphere, you have seen the depths. Abstract symbols, older than thought, dancing in the dark. You watched them swarm around the hulls of sinking ships, burning impossibly underwater, screams distorted into song.

Skills
4 Listening
2 Mechanics
2 Device Operation
2 Revolver

Possessions
Snub-nosed Service Revolver, loaded
10 Bullets for Service Revolver
Life-jacket

55 Shell-Observer

Unlike the preening scholar, you are a person of action. You tabulate the spreadsheets of war, adjusting the ranging tables, crunching the kill-ratios. You haven’t seen a bombsite in months.

Skills
5 Calculation
5 Dispassion

Possessions
Book of Multiplication Tables
Book of Ranging Tables, heavily annotated
Pencils
Abacus

56 Trench-Knight

In the drowning-mud and the choking-fumes of the trenches strides one figure unbroken. Some ancient memory of a green and pleasant land, an oath made and a knighthood earned. Full-plate and a gas-mask. A trenchclub and a deathwish.

Skills
4 Club Fighting
3 Chivalry
2 Practical Compromise
1 Oaths

Possessions
Ancient Plate Armour (Heavy)
Trench-Club
Gas-mask
Token of Favour

61 Bureaucrat-Seer

Within the swirling miasma of numbers, schedules and bureaucracy is chaos. Where there is chaos, some can divine prophecy.
You may not work in tea-leaves, but you can tell fortunes.

Skills
3 Paper-Pushing
3 Forming Filling
2 Hiding 1 Entrepreneurship

Possessions
Rifle, loaded
12 Bullets for Rifle
3 Packets of Cigarettes
2 Bars of Chocolate

Special You roll all dice pertaining to lengths of Deployment and Downtime. These are your prophecies.

62 Artillery Witch

Rain is a given. Bombs can be forecasted.

Skills
3 Aerial Observation
3 Fortification
3 Running
1 Yelling

Possessions
Service Revolver, loaded
11 Bullets for Revolver
Cut-down Trench boots

Special You always know when bombs are about to fall - with 1d6 minutes warning.

63 Oil-Skimmer

As machines die they exhale, pissing oil and lubricant. You know how to coax every last drop - and you know what the engineers will do to get their hands on it.

Skills
4 Collection
2 Strength
2 Fluid Dynamics
1 Mechanics

Possessions
2d6 Containers for Liquids, empty
1d6 Containers of Oil
1d6 Packs of Matches

64 Displaced Noble

You were meant to be in the General Staff, or perhaps one of the more tasteful diplomatic missions. Some of these ruffians are positively ghastly - working men too, no doubt.

Skills
5 Etiquette
4 Foppery
1 Ignorance

Possessions
Whatever you want - you’re rich!

65 Quartermaster’s Boy

You may not be the most powerful man behind the lines, but you do shine his boots.

Skills
3 Theft
3 Backhanders
2 Errands 2 Skulking

Possessions
Boot Polish
Wicked Knife
1d6 Packs of Cigarettes
1d6 Bars of Chocolates
2d6 Provisions

66 Batman

If you could find the officer you are meant to be batting for, that would be splendid.

Skills
2 Boot-licking
2 Butlering
2 Compliments
2 Cooking
2 Wine-Pairing

Possessions
Boot Polish
12 Bullets, Revolver
Sword-Cane
Wine
Correspondence from the Family

Game Structure

Play begins Behind the Lines - the safe area’ behind the trenches, and rarely reached by bombs and artillery. It is a foreign land to you.
Rest periods last 1d6 days. During this time, the characters are free to do as they please - unless they are caught by the Military Police, of course.
At the end of this period, the characters are summoned for a Mission, as generated below. There is a 2-in-6 chance they receive 1d6 Provisions each, and a further 2-in-6 chance of 2d6 appropriate Bullets each. Any shortfall is up to them to make up.
Once the mission is given and supplies are collected, they will be given transport to the Mission Area. Failure or success may result in medals but little else of consequence.
Missions either take place Behind the Lines or at the Front.

i’ll do some mission generators and encounters and bestiaries later

June 11, 2020 game advice

Running a Game

This is everything I can think of/remember doing when I run games without focusing on stuff like encounter tables and whatever - more the social aspect and prep rather than why a 2d6 bellcurve encounter table is superior or how to do a hexcrawl. I’ll update it with anything good that gets suggested. Obviously everything is JUST MY OPINION but I’m not gonna type that out a whole bunch

maybe we can talk about those tools later

also everything is opinion when you think about it gang

Caveats -

I run for a group of friends online and have done for like 6 or 7 years, transitioning from IRL games due to geography and life.

Sessions are about 1.5 hours to 2 hours and mostly in the Old-School’ tradition.

Most campaigns run for 1-2 years, some going on for 3.

I use a mix of improvisation for most details and prep for tactical and major structural elements.

This said, when I’ve run in-person one-shot games for longer with new people, the sessions have been fun and feedback good.

Pregame

  • Run something you like. Nothing is a worse buzzkill than a DM hating every step. I ran 3.5e D&D for like 2 years and had to fight it constantly. Run stuff you’re jealous of your players for getting to play in.
  • Don’t just look at game books. Whatever media it is that gets you amped up - use it! Personally, it’s history books, weirdo philosophy shit and film that gets me all revved up to run a game like that.
  • DON’T PREP STORIES
  • DON’T PREP STORIES
  • DON’T PREP STORIES
    • So to explain - you should be prepping situations. Part of the joy of an RPG compared to …most other things is that it starts unfinished and doing it is the process of finding out. By prepping a story you’re missing the point.
      • To further clarify - absolutely add elements which can be used for a type of story but don’t actually prep the story - for example, knowing somebody’s dad is in the Mafia is almost certainly going to cause conflict (and story) but isn’t the same as prepping the story - we don’t know how or when or why it’ll happen but we’ve given the tension for stuff to happen.
  • Have a conversation with your players about content. Outline stuff that might come up and invite people to say something privately if that might be an issue. I find it helps people if I share something that I’m super not into - reinforces this isn’t about being TUFF it’s about like this will ruin the game for me.” Outline your safety process for if something comes up during the game. Playing with friends I’m lucky enough that we know one another and this makes things easier in this regard. Safety tools and processes are not a substitution for paying attention to how people are doing.
  • I prep tactical areas (e.g. dungeons) concretely - by having things which exist and can be be used we give more richness than we can come up with on the fly. You can still riff on this prep during play, and new details will emerge. I’ve always found improv dungeons somewhat lacking vs the designed.
  • Areas like cities and towns I almost always improv based on a few notes about areas, vibes, factions etc.
  • Get together like 15-20 minutes before the game and have a chat. Blow off steam. Do any little book-keeping bits. Tell your story about what happened at work (for one of my players, this often involves near-misses with heavy machinery). Having this be a regular thing gives players some flex if they run late, want to get snacks but also acts as a marker that we are Now Playing and Real World is on hold for a bit.

Game

  • Roll dice with purpose. If there’s nothing at stake, don’t roll. If something is easy (and time pressure isn’t present) don’t roll.
    • When you do roll, lay out the deal to your players. Okay, so you can try and jump to the next room but you’ll need to [whatever hard roll means in your system] or else fall and take like, [whatever moderate damage means] - does that seem fair?” And that last bit is important, especially in rulings-not-rules systems - get feedback and buy-in to your quick-n-dirty subsystems. Don’t be afraid to justify your decisions, but accept feedback too: Uh why is it hard? We’ve done this before in that other city and it was moderate?” So it’s raining and these roofs are more like slanted?” Oh okay cool makes sense yeah”
      • Let your players modify these stakes - this gives you more buy-in. Okay what if I like, throw myself at the building rather than trying to land on my feet?” Uh so you’ll avoid the to make it but you’ll deffo take light damage?” Yeah sick sounds good oh fuck i rolled a 6 i’m dead”
    • As a general rule I’ll give these direct values when player-characters are able to assess the difficulty by like, looking at it. Stuff which might not indicate how hard it is becomes interesting in it’s own right because it’s a bit more of a gamble. Your players will respond to this and be more careful when you’re not telling them this information.
      • Combat breaks this somewhat - because we (generally) have a discrete system I’m a contrarian bastard and tend to hide more information but we’ll give combat it’s own section because it’s different.
  • Sometimes you need to let players know stakes without just telling them about dice - the classic example is a trap.
    • TELEGRAPH YOUR TRAPS - Fire traps and scorch marks, blood-stains, different colour flagstones, just a bunch of corpses - let them know what’s up.
    • Set the expectation of traps early - if this is a dungeon others have been to, just have a deactivated trap by the entrance - now they know what they’re looking for rather than just dying with no warning.
    • Same thing with snipers - have an NPC get domed or a near-miss FIRST, or some corpses with their brains on the outside. Red dot lasers are cheesy but they tell you the stakes.
  • I don’t fudge dice. I don’t change things for the players. I tell them this up-front. Part of laying out the stakes and ensuring we all agreed to them means we’re also going to honour the result.
  • Write stuff down. Anything that might be important, write it down. Names in particular.
  • Give players choices with information. Going left or right means nothing - going towards the wet squelching or the hot-dry slithering is way more interesting. They have something to base their choice on.
  • If there’s a time-component in-game just start counting down from ten, out-loud. Warn them if this is early on, otherwise just start. They’ll know what it means.
  • If you make a mistake own up straight away, and then talk about how to fix it. No ego, just make the game right again. If you realise something much later, own up but ride with it.
    • Ask your players to call you on on mistakes - again, to make the game good, not as a haha got you!”
  • If you’ve got quiet players - prompt them. If you think they’re up for it, just ask Oh hey what do you think?” - these players will often have some great insight. If you’re not sure, don’t push them but DO encourage others to listen when they do speak.
  • Playing online, cross-talk happens even once you’ve been playing together for months or years (although much less) - be courteous and allow others to speak first. Especially if you’re a loud dickhead like me.
  • You don’t control the tone, but you can influence it. Your players will crack wise and that’s okay. Play the straight-man. Generally it’ll be hijinks when things are relaxed (fictionally) and then serious, tonal stuff when the situation demands it. Trust the players to know when and use music/tone of voice as markers for the different modes” of play.
  • Stuff players do should have consequences in the game world. To be honest you could do a whole thing about this and I probably will but for now just remember to take notes of who sees what they’re doing and what they might do about it.
  • If the players get bogged down in planning , take stock. They’re either super engaged in which case - put your feet up OR they’re kinda idly planning - in which case incite. Make something happen. Bring them back in.
  • Don’t break into writerly purple-prose. You want to convey maximum information in minimum words. Don’t be afraid to just compare stuff to whatever visual/experience shorthand you want. Be careful with direct comparisons if you’re trying to go for tone - some comparisons are funny, some aren’t.
    • This dude is big like a mountain and he’s got these like, elephant tusks?”
    • The inn-keep is like a Ron Swanson type”
    • The town feels washed out and tired - like a dirty yellow bed sheet that’s been washed a bunch?” - We’re just saying it’s like this and it’s kinda grotty and rank without spending ages labouring the cracked flagstones and whatever.
    • That said - we add a little more detail each time they’re moving through an environment. When they’re riding around this above town:
      • You pass these empty buildings with boarded up windows. They alleys are like, choked with trash and people are picking through it. So you arrive at…”
    • And on the journey back… The pavement is all cracked and wonky and the sky is kinda like bruise-yellow? People are hurrying inside.”
    • There’s a cabinet just a crack open, a dirty sofa and a bunch of shitty magazines on a coffee table. It smells kinda damp.”
    • This works when withholding information too:
      • Something is moving out there - just a kinda black shape? You don’t get much beyond like, an impression of movement?”
      • Use senses beyond the visual - particularly smells and how it feels to be here.
      • The swamp is green and hot and you can feel the wet air like, pressing up against your skin. There’s all these tangled plants and the droning of these insects and the smell of dirty water.” Remember you can split these senses up and layer them as mentioned above.
  • I don’t use social skills. I really dig the player skill thing and I find slinging dice for a conversation just kills the fun and the mood. We have rules for stuff we can’t adjudicate based on our experiences. Many of us will have experience with conversations - it’s just the topics that’re changing.
    • Obviously this one means big chunks of a lot of systems don’t get used. So?
      • For real now - rules are tools in the toolbox. We are not beholden to them in an RPG. When they are useful for adjudicating a situation we use them. When they aren’t useful we don’t.
        • Yea he cast the game designer from the mountain and said get the fuck outta here with this bullshit i ain’t got all day damn”
  • You have control of the camera - don’t be afraid to zoom in and out. Sometimes a shopping trip is just buying supplies and you want to get to the good bit - sometimes playing out this shopping sets the tone for what’s to come, or there’s going to be something interesting happening. This applies even more so for stuff like overland travel - you can just ask so what do you guys talk about?” and let them blather whilst you roll on your XXXTREME ENCOUNTER CHART. One thing I like to do in my Traveller game is ask a random player to give us an anecdote” about something that happened during the week spent jumping between systems. This has included finance audits, drug benders, playing hide-and-seek with their glow-in-the-dark tiger and more.
  • As an ancillary i don’t think it’s useful to say roleplay amongst yourselves” - it’s a lot of performance pressure and feels forced - for me the good bit of roleplay is what happens when characters interact with the world and then one another’s reactions, not just amongst themselves without a subject.
  • You’ve also got control of the soundtrack - though some find music in the background annoying, I’m a huge advocate. Just pick stuff that’s ambient and has the vibes you’re looking for.
    • Try to match the excitement levels, or at least have it neutral. You don’t want some funeral dirge vibes for the big fight - it’ll suck the excitement out of the fight when players feel like they’ve already lost.

Combat

  • Not all violence has to be combat. A crushing moment from my early days that I’m sure many have had - I’m playing a rogue and I sneak up on someone successfully - okay roll to hit! Oh i miss. How did I miss he’s standing there? Because you rolled 5. He turns and kills me.
    • This should’ve been a clean kill without using the rules (see above about rules-as-tools - combat is not the tool for this job)
  • Don’t have fights that don’t matter - it’s a waste of time. If it’s not risky or dangerous why are we doing this? Just handwave it or don’t have it there. Enemies run away. Whatever
    • This is part of the reason I like these old-school systems. That and there’s like 3 rules so it’s easy if you’re stupid like me
  • Don’t just swing and attack and tell your players not to either. Enemies should have tactics, attempt to tackle, flank, throw weird fluids, cast strange (NON DAMAGE) magics, destroy the environment, run away, play dead, vomit insects. Sometimes they will swing and deal damage. But they should be doing a lot more than that besides - and you should tell the players this!
    • If you’re into system stuff give big bonuses/penalties for attacking prone enemies, flanking, distraction etc
  • Keep it dynamic. Something beyond HP should change every round. This relates to the above but can also mean the environment is shifting, reinforcements etc. Anything to avoid the wall of dudes all swinging and missing in a central column.
  • Despite what I said up near the top around letting players know the stakes, combat breaks that for me. I’ll say stuff like Yeah this guy looks really experienced - a right tough customer” but I won’t say yeah he’s level 5 with +12 to hit” because that’s boring. As they get damaged I’ll describe the injuries (see below) and how much fight they’ve got left.
  • At my table I tend to do all the work of describing attacks and results - other tables let players do it. I have a specific tone i’m going for but it’s something i could do better.
    • Personally I lean into blood-and-guts. Violence is gross and nasty. Killing people sucks. By having these things described it invites people to remember what they’re doing fictionally. They are also welcome to be like slasher movie fans and cheer. I would recommend this approach to violence but it is your table.
  • HP has issues we all know that. Work out what damage means at your table and stick to it. It can be different for enemies and player-characters - we don’t watch enemies heal, we do for PCs. This matters less if you’re okay with a more fantastical less ah fuck it’ll take weeks to heal an axe wound” type games.
  • Keep combat short as possible. Some fights should be long - but still keep them at the shortest possible length.
  • Keep things moving quickly - literally start counting down out loud if players get bogged down in maximising action economy or something.
  • Continuously restate the current fictional position - Barry is fighting Gary down on the floor, Big Jahn has a goblin in a chokehold - you’re between the two, what are you doing?

Post-Game

  • Asking your players did you have fun?” isn’t a great question. Instead, think about your experience - was there a lack of energy? Ask about it. Did the combat run too long? Ask about it. By making these questions about things people aren’t going to just be like yeah!” for fear of hurting your feelings, and it means you’re dealing with what you think the issue might be.
  • Transfer anything you wrote down that still seems important to your reference place. I’ve got a page with a list of people they’ve either fucked off or are buddy with. For a different game I’m running a Wiki because god there is so much going on already. Find what works for you.
May 26, 2020 odnd monsters mmm

Sphinx

Flay the poet and roll them in sand.

Leave them to bake in the sun.

When the vultures come they will drink their blood and borrow their wings.

This is one of the paths a man could walk to leave mortality behind.

HD 4* / AC as Leather / Damage 1d6

*Supernatural HP

May 20, 2020 odnd monster mmm

Ents

Amongst woods visited too-often they lurch between their erstwhile siblings.

They have seen one man kill another in anger.

They have watched the hunters.

They stalk.

Trees take a long time to burn.

HD 6* / AC as Leather / Damage 2d6

*Supernatural HP. If set alight, they take 1d6+3 rounds to burn to death.

The Ian Miller ents are very firmly lodged in my brain. You should take the time to look at them.

May 16, 2020 odnd monster mmm

Trolls

To create a troll, take up pliers and empty the head of teeth.

Into each bleeding socket insert a talon of glass. Many will break - this is why most trolls cannot speak, tongues a mess of ruined scraps.

Remove the finger-nails and replace them with blades of glass. Many will break - this is why most trolls cannot use tools, fingers rent apart.

As the glass cuts them, they grow. As they grow, the glass cuts them.

This is why their wounds close in minutes. This is why they always hunger.

This is one of the paths a man could walk to leave mortality behind.

HD 4 / AC as Leather / Damage 1d6

Re-rolls HP at the beginning of each round.


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