Wednesday, January 16, 2019

I2TO - Never Tell Me the Odds!

... actually, wait, please DO tell me the odds!
Let me back up. Chris McDowall of Bastionland is writing a combined rules / setting book for running Into the Odd (I2TO) in his fictional city of Bastion.
In support of this setting, he's also written a truly excellent list of failed careers for starting characters. These are fantastic, and aside from the generally terse, evocative writing, there are two things about the list that stand out. First, they fully capture the mood of Bastion as a bureaucratic labyrinth full of petty middlemen, where there's no job too lowly or too demeaning that there's not somebody stuck doing it, probably with an overly self-important supervisor breathing down their neck the whole time. And second, these careers are decidedly failures. You're not just someone who failed at their job, you're someone whose job itself was a failure, your job that should never have existed in the first place. You would have been failing even if you'd done it perfectly, which was probably impossible, because the task you were given was probably misconceived from its very inception.
Seriously, go read his list of careers. I'll still be here when you get back.
Okay, so given a list of 100 careers, my inclination would be to roll a d% dice and just scroll down that master list. It's the DCC way!
But this is I2TO we're talking about, and one of its unique character generation mechanics is the way you generate your starting equipment / career based on your ability scores. Look at your highest ability score, then look at your lowest ability score, then look at a matrix of high and low scores and find your position. (There's also a neat trick where you roll d6 hp and d6 starting money, and each of those d6 rolls gives you a piece of equipment or a class feature that sets you apart from other characters with the same occupation , and creates a kind of balance by giving the best STUFF to the weakest, poorest characters... but although that's nifty, it's not really relevant to our current conversation.)
Chris shows off the failed career ability score matrix in a preview video for his new book, and I've reproduced the image below.
Which brings me back to my original question - what ARE the odds?
What I mean is, what are the chances of getting any one of those failed careers as your starting occupation? If you roll a d% dice on a 100-item table, it's easy - each occupation has a 1% chance, and you have exactly the same chances of getting any one of them as you do of getting any other.
But in I2TO it's not so easy. Because you're not equally likely, for example, to have a high score of 15 and a high score of 17, which means you're not equally likely to get careers from one row or column versus another. If you knew how likely you were to get each ability score as your highest or lowest, you could cross-multiply and fill in each of the hundred cells in the table. (You can do that with a d10 by d10 table representing a d% as well, it's just that every cell along the top and side has a 10% chance of appearing, and when you cross multiply 10% by 10% you get 1% every single time.) Unfortunately, it's also not so easy to figure out the chances that this or that will be your highest or lowest score  - even using AnyDice's "at least" and "at most" features.
It's so not easy, in fact, that I didn't figure it out. I asked for help, and Brian Ashford from the Ominosity blog stepped up to answer my question. (Edit: Brian had the same question I had, and got his friend Jamie Prentice to help solve the math. When I posed my question, Brian shared Jamie's answer with me.) I took the output he gave me and turned it into the table you see below. I can't independently verify that it's correct, (obviously) but basic sanity-testing shows that percentages add up to 100, and the careers that depend on the likeliest ability scores are themselves the most likely.
In the table below careers that are more likely have a light background and black text, and the lighter the background, the more likely you are to end up with that career. Careers that are less likely have dark backgrounds and white text, and the darker the background, the less likely the career. I used 1% as the cut-point, so the more likely careers are the ones that you'll get more often than if just you rolled d%, and the less likely careers are the ones that show up less often than they would on a d%.
You, uh, might want to enlarge that...

Looking at the diagram reveals at least one surprise (it surprised me, at least). I expected that Chris would make the most ordinary and prosaic careers the most common, while making the more unusual stuff rarer. And sure, as expected, you're less likely to play as "a dog" or "a brobdingnagian giant" or "literally two characters for the price of one". But on the other hand, if everyone at the table got the likeliest characters, you'd end up with a gonzo party where one character's a psychic, one's a muppet, your spellcaster is either a science mystic or the priest of an alien god, and the last character is actually a whole group of kids stacked up under a trenchcoat. Meanwhile, occupations like "grad student", "ex-con", "orphan" (just one this time), and "poor kid from the country who moved to the big city to make it big" are much less frequent than I would have guess (much MUCH less frequent, in the grad student's case). Although I should note that if Chris changes the order of the careers as he moves from blog post to finished book, then some of what I've said here about which careers are most common could be rendered false.
One final benefit of mapping out the odds like this is that any would-be designers out there who want to emulate I2TO's character generation mechanics can see how to arrange their own 94 classes to achieve whatever worldbuilding effect they're going for. As a designer, you can decide what you want to be most common, and with this information, put it in the correct location so that it actually will be.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Additional Actual Plays

In my first post about other bloggers' actual play reports, I asked my readers to nominate any play reports they knew about that I might have missed. I also put up the call on Google+ and MeWe. I've also kept my eyes open for people talking about play reports, and I've watched for new blogs posting play reports. This exercise also jogged my memory about a few that I knew about but had forgotten. The links below are in the order I received, found, or remembered them.
FM Geist recommended the sex, drug, and ultraviolence-filled urban adventures over at Last Gasp.
Jack Shear recommended the Blades in the Dark play reports over at Fictive Fantasies. That link should take you to a campaign overview page, where you can first find links to all the worldbuilding done in support of the campaigns, and then links to play reports from six separate campaigns set in the same world.
David Wilke recommended the session reports over on his own Anxiety Wizard blog. It looks like he's sent his players through a variety of LotFP adventures, including World of the Lost, Deep Carbon Observatory, and Red and Pleasant Land.
Michael Bacon suggested the play reports collected in the Thursdays in Thracia campaign over on the Bad Wrong Fun blog. Unsurprisingly, this is a campaign exploring Jenelle Jaquays' Caverns of Thracia megadungeon, apparently using Necrotic Gnomes' B/X Essentials rulebooks at the table.
Doug M recommended his own Smouldering Wizard play reports. That link goes to a master list of campaigns, each with their own set of reports: exploring the Endless Tunnels of Elandin using Holmes' Basic, visiting Larm using Labyrinth Lord, a campaign in the Ruined Hamlet of Blixter using Mutant Future, and OD&D campaign on a Quest for the Dwarven Mine, and another OD&D campaign collecting the Chronicles of Nolenor, a one-shot Witches of the Dark Moon game using Swords & Wizardry, and another Swords & Wizardry game set in Ravendale.
Andreas Habicher recommended Papier und Spiele, where he led a four-part play-by-poll game exploring The Spider Pit, using Maze Rats rules. Unfortunately, these posts aren't tagged, but Papier und Spiele is a new blog, so these are the only reports on there right now.
Seeing that play-by-poll campaign reminded me of some other things I'd forgotten before. I mentioned Blog of Holding last time, but I forgot to mention the Mearls campaign widget he has in his sidebar. Hereticwerks also used reader surveys as the basis of their long-running Bujili campaign. In addition, Hereticwerks has a few other actual play reports that I forgot completely when I was writing my first list.
John recommended his own Wandering Gamist play reports for his Adventurer Conqueror King campaign. John's reports put a statistical overview of the session right up front. These have traditional categories like XP and treasure, but also how long he spent playing the session and prepping beforehand, and exactly how much within-game time elapsed inside the dungeon. More traditional narrative summaries, anecdotes, and post-mortem thoughts follow after all this.
Bryan recommended Olde School Wizardry which ran a Dwimmermount campaign. Of special note is that many sessions in this campaign (which have their own tag!) were run with middle-schoolers as the players.
Aos has restarted his Metal Earth blog after a bit of a hiatus, and he's posted reports about session 2 and session 3 of a B/X campaign set on Mars. Currently these aren't tagged. If you like his art, you can also check out his Cosmic Tales comic. Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque also has a few reports of from his time playing in Aos' Mars campaign.
The impending demise of Google+ has encouraged people to resume blogging after a hiatus, post more on their blogs, and even start new blogs. For the record, I think all this is great, but it probably can't take the place of a centralized location for aggregating commentary on blog posts, gaming discussion, and friendly non-gaming conversations among the small number of people who have gaming blogs and the much, much larger number of people who read them. That said, you can find a list of OSR blogs here, a list of non-OSR gaming blogs here, and Ramanan S of Save vs Total Party Kill has put together a file that you can load into an RSS reader for an instant OSR blog feed. (I don't know who started the OSR one, Jack Shear started the non-OSR list.)
Anyway, as a result of all this activity, I noticed or took a second look at some blogs I either didn't know about last time, or didn't realize were posting play reports.
Weird & Wonderful Worlds ran a Shieldbreaker campaign. He also has a few reports from his time as a player in Throne of Salt's Danscape games.
I don't know where I first saw everyone on this list, but I do know where I first saw Underground Adventures. Wizard Lizard was posting play reports directly into MeWe's Into the Odd community, and I suggested he should start a blog, and he did. He's using Into the Odd's rules to run his players through the Barrowmaze.
Tales of the Rambling Bumblers has an old Elves & Espers campaign that seems to be set in a fantasy Victorian city using Savage Worlds rules. You also have to love anyone who uses old Lego mini-figures both as miniatures and as the photo for the blog header.
Michael (who recommended "Thursday with Thracia") didn't recommend his own blog, Buildings are People, but I did notice that he's running a Formalhaut campaign using Gabor Lux's Echoes from Formalhaut zine.
I noticed that Fallen Empires is running a campaign that visited the Maze of the Blue Medusa and the Gardens of Ynn. (Ynn seems to be a pretty popular destination these days!) Isaak is using a list-of-accomplishments format similar to the Wandering Gamist. I'll confess it can be a little difficult for me to tell what actually happened in most of these sessions.
Carapace King has a couple campaigns worth of reports. Dikes Fall Everyone Dies takes place in a horrible, Hieronymus Bosch-ian Holland, while his new Ben-Dagra campaign sounds reminiscent of Yoon-Suin.
How on earth did I forget Judge James' Living 4 Crits blog? He doesn't tag his posts, but almost the entire blog is play reports, most of them using Dungeon Crawl Classics. James also does a great job linking to the previous reports in each series at the beginning of each post and to reports from other campaigns at the end of each one.
I also remembered that Superhero Necromancer a couple of campaigns in his own Rainy City setting. The Rainy City exists at the end of the world, where it's always raining because the wall separating the Prime Material Plane from the Elemental Plane of Water has sprung a leak, and so the world is slowly flooding. Literally every spell, monster, and magic item that exists is unique, and in the first campaign, the players are wizard thieves trying to get the good stuff while the getting's good. In the second campaign, the players are all parliamentarians in some kind of wizard's parliament.
Dennis Laffey from What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse both runs his own games and blogs about being a player. He's running his own campaign based on Ars Ludi's West Marches ideal. He's also played for several years in another GM's Vaults of Ur campaign (where he plays a Sleestak, no less!)
In retrospect, it should have been obvious to me why it's mostly Game Masters who post play reports online - it's because it's mostly Game Masters who keep blogs. Chris P is actually a rare counter-example (I think) because as far as I know, he only plays in online games, never runs them, but he does keep a blog where he sometimes talks about it. I've actually played alongside Chris is like three different open-table games; he's a very canny player who, to me, exemplifies what people are talking about when they write paeans to the wily players of yesteryear. In one memorable session, his character wore a treasure chest as a backpack - and eventually revealed that it was a cursed or magically trapped chest, which he opened to unleash the curse on an attacking monster. The chest had some kind of treasure in it which he had never recovered, because it was more valuable to him as a magic beam weapon. Among the play reports, you can also find a link to a lengthy Google Doc that describes his sessions exploring the Colossal Wastes of Zahar.
Chris Wilson of Journey into the Weird ran a game that ended in a (near) TPK, and wrote about it. So far this is his only play report, there could be more to come.
Roger suggested his own blog, A Life Full of Adventure. He's mostly been running Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but appears to have recently started a 5e game.
Beloch Shrike is back! You may recall that my previous post started with me being inspired by Beloch posting some play reports. Unfortunately, almost immediately after that, the Papers & Pencils blog went away for awhile because it got hacked. Fortunately, it's back, and Beloch has continued his series of posts looking back at his old Dungeon Moon campaign. He's also written a post-mortem for his just-retired Fuck the King of Space campaign. I find his insights about what worked well and what he would do differently in the future very valuable.
Nate Treme from Highland Paranormal Society has a couple play reports and player art associated his own In the Light of a Ghost Star campaign.
My friend Peter posted about a game of John Stater's Tales of the Space Princess he ran for his family. So far, I think this is the only play report on his blog, but it sounds like it was fun.
Finally, and most recently, Kyrinn S Eis found the Dragon's Breakfast blog, which turns out to have play reports for a hundred-session-long nautical campaign set in his own Far Isles setting. It looks like he's also gearing up to start a Classic Traveller campaign, which certainly has enough material to go a hundred more.
I'm sure there are more blogs out there that host play reports, but I'm willing to call an end to my part in this little experiment. It was fun hearing from so many people about actual plays that they like, and interesting to rediscover parts of my own sidebar that I'd forgotten.
I recently had a friend start playing D&D 5e with an apparently terrible GM and she nearly quit the game after a few sessions of torture. I shared some of my favorite 5e play reports with her, some imaginative, weird, artistic games, and the next time I talked to her, she said she was quitting her GM but not quitting the game. She wants to play good D&D more than ever.
I'll leave off with a call-to-arms from Ben L of Mazarin's Garden (another one I forgot last time), who wants us all to remember the games we played on Google Plus and Google Hangouts:
"For the love of God, if you have a community on G+ for your game, even if that game ended long ago, please export the community so some record will remain of your shared play. So many worlds are about to be extinguished, and along with them the memories recorded in countless session reports, downtime threads, scheming plans, posted maps, ephemera, funeral threads celebrating dead PCs. Don’t let it just disappear into the void."

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Secret Santicorn 2018

A group of D&D bloggers ran a "Secret Santicorn" this year. I didn't participate, but did notice the posts appearing in my blog's sidebar, and I'm capable of following links, so I decided to reconstruct as much of it as I could.
"Secret Santicorn" works like any other gift exchange - each blogger makes a request for a D&D article, and fulfills one request made by someone else. Many of this year's participants are part of what I consider the GLOG-o-sphere. I believe that the exchange was set up on Discord, so it's possible that some requests were fulfilled there. While I can tell that I don't have all of it, I can't tell how much of it I'm actually missing. It could be as few as 3 entries, or there could be longer chains that are missing.
(Note, because of the way the gifts are exchanged, the completed blog entry list is like a circle. I've chosen to start with Throne of Salt, but I could have begun anywhere.)
On the first day of Christmas, Throne of Salt wrote "Animal Mutation Table" for Dungeon Antology,

On the second day of Christmas, Dungeon Antology wrote "The Rift Unending" for Demogorgonia,
On the third day of Christmas, Demogorgonia wrote "The Hyperlight Dragon Kills You in Reverse" for Ten Foot Polemic,
On the fourth day of Christmas, Ten Foot Polemic wrote "The Powerglass" for Unreal Star,
On the fifth day of Christmas, Unreal Star wrote "Santa's Sack is Full of Guts This Year" for The Die Uncast,
On the seventh day of Christmas, The Whimsical Mountain wrote "Kowloon Planet, High Rise Defenses and More" for Buildings are People,
On the eighth day of Christmas, Buildings are People wrote "Sci-Fantasy Extraterrestrial Race" for wr3cking8a11,
On the tenth day of Christmas, Unlawful Games wrote "The Magician plus Bonus" for SherlockHole,
On the twelfth day of Christmas, Rogue's Repast wrote "The Alchemist's Basement" for The Bogeyman's Cave,
On the thirteenth day of Christmas, The Bogeyman's Cave wrote "Ke'Sik Locales and Encounters" for Dungeonliar,
On the fourteenth day of Christmas, Dungeonliar wrote "Codpiece Crafting" for Tales of Absolute Doom,
On the fifteenth day of Christmas, Tales of Absolute Doom wrote "Unicorn, GLOG Race-as-Class" for The Bottomless Sarcophagus,
On the sixteenth day of Christmas, The Bottomless Sarcophagus wrote "4d12 Supernatural Mystery Clues or Occult Sacrifice Components" for Hmmm Marquis,
On the seventeenth day of Christmas, Hmmm Marquis wrote "Mothership Culture Tables" for Throne of Salt,
... and a partridge in a pear tree!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Two Supporting Castmembers in Umberwell

Jack from Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque has a new book out about his Umberwell setting (which I've played in!) Included in the book is a section for generating "supporting cast" or NPCs. Let's generate two.
First NPC - Ugly Safra
Race & occupation - wight stevedore
Appearance & personality trait - brutish and bold
Ideal, bond, flaw - progress, land, superstitious
Nemesis - a collector wants something she owns
Short and horrid, Ugly Safra looks like a mindless corpse. Her cloudy eyes never seem to focus, her lipless mouth always hangs slack-jawed, her wet rotten skin, her hair like tangled black seaweed. But Safra's ugly visage belies her lively heart. She is friendly to a fault, and assumes instant intimacy with anyone who shows her the least bit of kindness - though admittedly, those who've been kind enough to see her friendly side are few in number. And Safra's no fool, she can tell genuine kindness from the sort who would feign it in order to use her.
Safra is a recent victim of the Necrophagous Fever. Her life before is gone now. But unlike most who succumb to the disease, Safra kept her intellect intact. She works on the docks now, mostly night jobs unloading contraband at the shore of the rivers that run between Umberwell's island boroughs. She's still in awe of her new undead body and works unloading the most dangerous cargoes, the ones too deadly for the living. Living a life of crime, handling materials that would have killed her with a touch before - Safra loves the excitement and opportunity that the Fever brought into her life.
Safra's only problem is that someone's after her diary, the journal she kept as she was wasting away with Necrophagous Fever. Safra thinks of it as her "brain" and fears that if she loses it, she'll lose the spark of intelligence that separates her from the Fever's countless mindless victims. She's not sure who this collector is, but through agents, they've tried offering her cash, breaking into her room, even attacking her at work. The Knights of Ruin have offered to recruit Ugly Safra, as they offer all of Umberwell's recently undead, and so far she's refused ... but if she can't get rid of the collector who's hounding her, she might accept the protection, and the obligation, that comes with Ruin membership.
Using Ugly Safra in your game -
  • The characters want to buy something illegal, need to learn about the underworld's shipping schedules, or meet a contact on the docks, and find puppydog-friendly Safra.
  • A patron hires the characters to steal Safra's diary. Or a faction wants the characters to use Safra to infiltrate the Knights of Ruin. The characters know someone will get the job done whether they accept or reject.
  • Desperate Safra approaches the characters wanting to hire them. She needs help finding out who the collector is before they simply kill her to take her book. Or she learned something from a Ruin recruiter that scares her, and her conscience demands that she tell someone before it's too late. 
Second NPC - Darbidian Ral
Race & occupation - rakshasa cultist
Appearance & personality trait - pristine and double-dealer
Ideal, bond, flaw - wealth, dead loved one, prideful
Why he came to Umberwell - seeking revenge against someone in the city
Cult devoted to - Ravsana, goddess of pleasure
The newest most glamorous cabaret in town is The Sinners' Home, operated by the rakshasa gangster and impresario Darbidian Ral, a recent immigrant from a sun-soaked and demon-haunted land far to the east. Ral stands shoulders above most of his clients, looking for all the world like a tiger on its hind legs wearing the most fashionably-cut and hand-tailored suits. Ral always catches eyes with his immaculate coiffure, silk ties, gemstone cufflinks, and fresh flowers tucked into his lapel. He seems to be everywhere in the club, booming voice, hearty laugh, slapping backs, shaking hands, stooping and stage-whispering confidences with his clients.
And oh! what clients The Sinners' Home attracts, all the highest rollers in Umberwell are here, night after night, drinking the finest imported wines, snorting the purest manufactured drugs, gambling at Ral's high-stakes tables (and every table in the Home is high-stakes), watching the intricate choreography of Ral's cabarets. Ral's dancers dress up as different incarnations of the goddess Ravsana, often several dancers in close coordination portray a single goddess with many arms, or several heads, or male and female aspects, all set to lively foreign music. Ral claims that the dances are all authentic to his homeland, but he must be lying, must have sultryed them up, unless dancers in that distant land beneath the demon sun truly end every performance by making love onstage for far longer than they initially danced. And besides, what tradition would have the goddess humiliated, made ridiculous, what tradition would rob her of all respect, song after song?
It's expensive going to Ral's, everyone seems to pay more than they intended, but it's worth it just to be at the best club in town. It must be worth it, because his clients come back every night, dropping more and more coins at his baccarat tables, his roulette wheels, dipping into savings, taking out loans, some working all day to afford just one more drink, one more dose, one more dance.
Though few realize it, Darbidian is not the first of his family to come to Umberwell. His younger brother Arvanyan Ral came first, and died here. Arvanyan's servants came back without the young man, but carrying rumors, stories, and one harrowing daguerreotype of Arvanyan with a smile on his face, surrounded by willing executioners, partaking in the pleasures that would soon consume him. Darbidian believes Arvanyan joined a pleasure cult in Umberwell, believes he gave himself, willingly, to be used, beaten, degraded, even beyond the superhuman limits of his rakshasan body. Arvanyan's body died starving, covered in sores and unhealed wounds. Dravidian blames the cult, blames the goddess Ravsana, blames the city of Umberwell, and the wealthy elite who permit deaths like Arvanyan's to take place. The Sinners' Home is Darbiddian Ral's trap, his revenge. His club is a lure to draw in the people he thinks killed his brother, his demon magic keeps them coming back, keeps them wanting to come back, even as they are ruined and brought to the brink of death themselves. Unless stopped, he will bring Umberwell to its knees.

Using Darbidian Ral in your campaign -

  • The player characters first meet Arvanyan Ral and witness his self-destructive tendencies over a couple sessions, then he is gone, then The Sinners' Home appears, and Darbidian Ral makes a splash in Umberwell's demimonde.
  • Someone wants to know Ral's secrets and how to stop him. It might be another cabaret, starving for business since The Sinners' Home opened. It might be a wealthy family, trying to save their fortune from total dissipation at Ral's club. It might be a true believer in Ravsana, trying to stop Ral from further besmirching her name. It might be the lover or family member of one of Ral's clients, wanting to rescue them from self-destruction, or seeking revenge on Ral for facilitating their loved one's demise.
  • Ral's servants seek out the characters for help. They fear their master will destroy himself in his open-ended pursuit of revenge. They want the characters to find out who killed Arvanyan - was it the Ashram of Willing Vassalage? the Risen Temple? some other self-abnegating sect? or did Arvanyan come to Umberwell already prepared to die to fulfill his desires? Be warned, for this or any other adventure - Darbidian Ral is impossibly proud, and it will be much easier for the player characters to persuade him he's won than to convince him he's wrong.