Monday, February 18, 2013

Three Crazy Games

While usually play D&D and VTM with kids, sometimes I like to go a little crazy. In fact, some of the most memorable and fun adventures I ever ran were wacky and absurd games that allowed young gamers to flex their imagination and experience something truly new and exciting.

Of all the slipstream game I ran with kids, these three were the most memorable. SHIPS! and RATS! were awesome too... but you already know that. In fact you may know these as well. They were posted on the WotC website in days long spent...

And yes, I do realize I have a tendency to make all my titles a plural noun followed by an exclamation mark. That’s just how I like my RPGS!

This campaign relies heavily on improvisation and may not be suitable for groups full of rules lawyers. Strange as it may sound, this game of filth and ferrum (F&F?) was especially popular among young girls. Possibly because they weren’t bothered by the freeform gaming style but enjoyed the possibility to design a unique character from an infinite selection of spare parts… even if it was all just recycled trash.

This is how it went: after some cosmic holocaust, nothing but colossal amounts of garbage remained on a planet now devoid of all life. Slowly, various broken appliances connect to form unlikely heroes made from broken toasters (to shoot heat-beams), lawn mowers (to move around and slice enemies), Ipads (to think and sense) and so forth. As the game progresses, the PCs gathered more spare parts, creating truly unique characters.

Players had the option to connect with each other to form a juggernaut, a huge creature controlled by a several players, or stay small and independent. Curiously, all the boys ended up being part of some huge lumbering monstrosity, while girls were willing to sacrifice power in return for maintaining their individual characters.

Typical adventures revolved around fighting other animated garbage over control of power plants and supplies, fending off schizoid juggernauts and technomancers commanding hordes of formatted “zombies.” The most dramatic adventure dealt with a crashed spaceship and its surviving biological crew – a treasure coveted by many. The revelation that followed, although quite clich├ęd, left quite the impact!

Some day I will turn this into a very cool card-based RPG or board game. Some day...

Art by Mateusz Ozminski

Every adventurer was a kid once. What did he do at this tender age, sat at home all day and did his homework? Hell no! He had wonderful adventures, slew monsters and divided their loot while making sure mommy and daddy didn’t know a thing!

A single-session scenario I especially like to run is a fantasy version of Home Alone, where resourceful but physically undeveloped PCs have to fend off a goblin warband that entered the house while the PCs’ parents were away adventuring. Just bring some PC strips and a map of a normal house and the rest of the adventure will take care of itself itself!

If some kids are unhappy about not playing their usual PCs this session, you can tell them that these are their PCs twenty years ago and that any reward they now gain for cleverness or courage will be transferred to their regular adult PCs next session.

Below are a few quick PC examples:

11 hp, AC 10, Fort 11, Ref 8, Will 11
STR +1 DEX -2 CON +1 INT -3 WIS +0 CHA +1
Athletics +6, Intimidate +6
Stop Hitting Yourself! (standard; encounter) an adjacent enemy makes basic melee attack against itself. If it hits, add your Charisma modifier to the damage.
Get Lost! (standard; encounter) Charisma vs. Will. an enemy within 10 or less squares moves its full speed away from you and is stunned (save ends)
Equipment: Leather jerkin, club, random object belonging to a different class

Wizard’s Apprentice
7 hp, AC 13, Fort 9, Ref 13, Will 11
STR -3 DEX -2 CON -1 INT +3 WIS +1 CHA -2
Arcane +10, History +10
I Think I Get It… (full round; daily) you receive a clue from the DM.
Fast Talker (standard; encounter) Charisma vs. Will. Your enemy is stunned for one round (save ends).
Equipment: Hefty tome, magic wand

8 hp, AC 14, Fort 9, Ref 13, Will 11
STR -2 DEX 0 CON -1 INT +3 WIS +1 CHA +1
Strange stuff +8
This Is Nothing, Now Sir Lancelot… (standard; encounter) an ally restores 1d6+4 hp and punches you in the nose.
The Great Caesar, in 55 BC… (standard; daily)  an ally receives +2 to attack rolls or +4 to damage or skill roll until the end of the encounter. He then asks you to shut up.
Equipment: Storybook, training armor, wooden sword

8 hp, AC 13, Fort 9, Ref 13, Will 11
STR -2 DEX 0 CON -1 INT +3 WIS +1 CHA +1
Stealth +5, Thievery +8
Leave me alone! (minor action; daily) you become invisible until the end of your next round.
I don’t need you! (minor action; encounter) You gain +10 to your next skill check. This check may not be assisted by other party members.
Equipment: Pocket knife, outrageous makeup

Art by  Charlene Chua
One of the most memorable games I ever ran was literally improvised on the spot. On account of a colleague vaporizing (not literally), I had to DM a game for 15 kids (a nightmare into itself) with zero preparation time and no resources except my dice and some 3e D&D books. Now if you remember, the old Monster Manual had an extensive Animals section, which gave me an idea – animals against poachers!

I gave each kid a random animal of CR 2 or 3 and set them on a quest – to defeat the poachers who killed so many of their brothers and sisters. There was even an evil twist – the obese wolf they rescued at the start of the adventure was actually helping the poachers – he led animals to the poachers’ lair to be killed and skinned and in return he got meat (the lazy bastard couldn’t be bothered to hunt by himself!) The game was an absolute blast and I’m told that kids talk about it to this day.

The cooperation in that game was also amazing. For example, the snake coiled around the boar’s head and spat at its enemies to blind them before the boar charged. Granted, this isn’t realistic animal behavior, but when was the last time you picked up an axe and went to slay a dragon?

If you’re in a hurry, you may just photocopy some of the animals from the Monster Manual. Suitable animals for this kind of game include:
  • Cacklefiend Hyena (without Acid Bloodspurt)
  • Cave Bear
  • Crushgrip Constrictor
  • Deathrattle Viper
  • Dire Boar
  • Dire Wolf
  • Fey Panther (without fey step)
  • Visejaw Crocodile
With more mature groups you might also use various birds, which are weaker, but make great spies and emissaries. You may want to halve the animals’ hp and decrease their bonuses by -2 to -4 to make them feel less epic and more like normal woodland beasts. Just like with young PCs, if you have time to prepare, I recommend designing PC strips. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

First World Fantasy

Fantasy is not about swords, shields, fireballs and dragons. It is about perspective. It is about focusing on the curious and unusual, rather than the tedious and mundane. With the right focus, any place can feel like a fantasy setting.

Now, I'm not talking about urban fantasy, which is all about the little spots of wonder carefully hidden in the concrete jungle that is our lives. I'm talking about full-blown, colorful and exotic second world fantasy. Only it's not a second world, it's still here, on our curious little first world.

Continents are people too. They deserve to be awesome.

With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to try to transform a city I know into a high fantasy locale, without actually changing anything about it, just focusing on what makes it fantastic. This is my attempt:

Acre, Israel

Israel is a realm divided between two mighty factions – the eldritch Jews, who hide pots of gold in their backyard, and the mysterious Arabs, who ride magic carpets. The fallen city of Acre is a place where members of the two factions can trade and mingle freely... though not always fairly.

The tense peace is maintained by the Blue Guard and powerful constructs that patrol its cobbled streets and crumbling piers. Even as the city's lords struggle to maintain order, the three dominants temples of the city scheme to undermine the lords' reign and plunge the land once again into war from which the followers of only one temple will emerge victorious. A fourth temple is silent and aloof, preferring to delve into esoteric mysteries rather than fight for material gains.

Beneath the city are labyrinthine tunnels and caverns dug by insidious smugglers and holy warriors alike. They hide many treasures and secrets, but also degenerates transformed into monsters by the wares of immoral wizards and animals twisted by strange disease. Rickety and unstable, the old passages threaten to bury alive any explorer who dares disturb their ancient serenity?

What adventures await the heroes of this town?

The secret lives of shadows. Now there's a cool game.

Soon, Tim Bruhn responded with a similar (and very cool) treatment of the gamer capital of Seattle

Seattle, Washington

The ancient city state of Seattle is nestled between a nigh impossible to traverse range of mountains and a cold shoreline teeming with sealife. The city itself is an emerald beauty, with pine trees dotting even the deepest interior of the city.

The inhabitants of this coastal gem are made up of pale skinned descendants of Njords, the bulk of the concentrated in a neighborhood known as Ballard. However immigrants from Korea, Japan and China and other Asian countries are not uncommon.

Common of all the inhabitants of this region is an emotional distance that is pervasive. Smiles are common, but outsiders report that they are as genuine as a Fae's glamour. This "Seattle Freeze" can be overcome but it typically takes outsiders decades to break through. Natives of the Emerald City most commonly whine about how busy they are when they ignore your entreaties to join them in a sharing of a feast.

Your adventures await in this cold but beautiful land!

Why limit the light of your creativity to just one house?

Next came Kyrinn S. Eis’ vision of Miami as reflected in the fantastic mirror:

Mayami, Florida

Mayami, in the native tongue meant 'Big Water', but these people are now long vanished. What few other precursor peoples that still reside in the south of the peninsula dwell in frond houses built up on stilts, out in a reed, sedge, and sawgrass waterway to the west of civilised lands. With the colonial wars nothing but history, the territory occupied by maritime folk from around the world literally spread at the pace of driving back the floodlands.

Drainage canals, crushed rock dyke roads, and artificial highlands have elevated the dwellings of Northlanders and the multifarious Caribe peoples, although the frequent heavy rains of spring and summer will flood even these. Racked with summer storms born at sea, Mayami has suffered major disaster regularly throughout its century of habitation, and its people are often dismissive of preparation, but vicious in its aftermath.
The city is but a little over a century and has already come to cover nearly 36 square miles, with a population density of roughly 1,160 persons per square mile.  

Its extensive water channels, rivers, creeks, and ports, as well as its thousands of pond-lakes all teem with avian, piscine, and reptilian life forms, several of which are non-native and invasive species.

The weather year round tends to hover at twenty degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average continental temperatures, and although it has dropped to freezing more than once, snowfall is unheard of. Ports bring in and ship out vast cargo each day, and the gleaming cityscape is like an archaeological record, showing earliest styles from the city's founding era all the way through to gleaming towers of steel and glass in improbable shapes and designs.  

With this varied terrain and high population density, crime is scattered and ranges from the typical personal disputes to organised crime and gang wars in past decades. The lead criminal enterprise (apart from land development schemes) is narco-smuggling, for which the local constabulary are most eager to stop, having taken great pains to militarise their efforts and outfit their troopers.  In recent years a series of roving sentinels fly over the city, capable of observing while they are high above, unseen.

So, what is your magic city?