Friday, 12 October 2018

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Luck Checks

There are two basic types of Luck checks:

(1) Roll under your Luck score. I usually say "equal to or under". This type of check can be modified by changing the die used along the dice chain - the larger the die, the less likely the roll is to succeed. The smaller the die, the more likely.

(2) Try to meet a target DC. In this case, the check can be modified by the die changing along the dice chain (with larger dice being better). The DC can also be shifted.

Why bother with two methods?

Using method (1), a PC with an 18 Luck succeeds 90% of the time. Using method (2), and a DC of 10, the same PC succeeds by rolling a 7 or better, or 70% of the time. Setting the DC to 15 reduces this to success on a 12 or better, or 45% of the time.

For method (1), the character's actual Luck score matters, so as Luck is used, the odds of success go down immediately. For method (2), only the attribute modifier matters, so while Luck use does affect chance of success, it does so in a more graduated manner.

Each of these has its uses.

Wait, why don't we use both methods with, say, Strength checks?

Good question. Why don't you?

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The Tyranny of Session 0

You’ve decided to run a new game. What’s the first thing you do? Get everyone together, talk about what the game is going to be about, and make sure everyone designs their characters to fit not only the theme and the setting, but into a cohesive whole with each other? Maybe you design the campaign milieu by committee?


In Ye Olde Days, the GM would create a campaign setting, and then put up his shingle. If there was anything unusual about making characters for that setting, you would know upfront.  A notice would usually contain the system being used, and any restriction, such as “AD&D: No elves.” And that would be enough.

In those days, what usually happened was that the GM (most often a DM) created a setting, populated it, and left it open for players to explore. In this way, players created the stories of their characters, and it really was the PCs’ stories, not the DM’s story. Moreover, you didn’t need to know what the world would be like in order to create characters – rangers, for instance, gained bonuses against all “giant class creatures”. They didn’t have to choose a favored enemy.

In some modern systems, the players need to know things about the world even to create characters; in Ye Olden Days, learning about the world was part of actual play.

Now, you may be a fan of Session 0. You may enjoy creating the world together. You may enjoy deciding what story you are going to tell before you experience it through play. If you do enjoy these things, then, by all means, continue to do them. No one’s advice should trump your enjoyment of the game. Not even mine. Maybe especially not mine.

There are some things you should keep in mind, though.

(1) Every detail you add to the world in Session 0 is a detail that can no longer be discovered through play.

If you’ve decided that the world is the giant corpse of a god floating in space, that is now something you already know going into play. Your characters may discover it, and you may pretend to be surprised, but you already know it. You are fooling no one.

If you are, as I am, an aficionado of Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics, you will note how the DCC core rules emphasize that the unknown in the world is what grants it mystery, and thereby makes it compelling.  Telling the players details ahead of time, or forcing them to make them up, can certainly be problematic in this regard.

(2) You are, perforce, creating more work for the GM.

Each detail added is a detail that the GM must take into account, and then fit into a cohesive whole. There is simply no way that the GM is going to be an expert in everything the group comes up with. There is likewise no way that the group is going to provide all the details the GM needs.  Yes, this will absolutely stretch the GM in new directions….just keep in mind that those new directions all require work to bring to fruition.

(3) And the game milieu will be weaker as a result.

Let’s say that you play once a month. In Ye Olden Days, while Sarah was running her campaign, I could be devising mine. Having regular contact with the gaming group, I might know that B.A. is into Egyptian mythology, and do enough research to include it in the milieu. I might take six months, a year, or longer whipping things into shape before presenting a ready-to-play game to my friends. Let’s say that I do the same, but cram it into two months, just to make sure that what I am trying to say here is clear.

Now, instead, I have Session 0 in August, and I have to be ready to run in September. Because I don’t know what the group input will be, my planning to this point is going to be pretty sparse. There is simply no way to develop, in one month, what I could have done in two.

Not only has the players’ ability to explore been damaged by having discussed the parameters of the world beforehand, but the world that they have available to them is by necessity smaller, less textured, or both.

(4) You don't need buy-in to the story if you don't try to force the PCs to do what you want.

The setting belongs to the GM. The story belongs to the players.

If the story that the players want to tell is how they destroyed the GM's setting, so be it.

The setting really only belongs to the GM where the players haven't encountered it. Thereafter, it belongs to events at the table. Nothing is sacrosanct. There is nothing the GM must preserve at the expense of the players. If they can find a clever way to bend the world to their will, it must bend.

Wait a minute, chum…What if I want to tell a particular story?

If you are going to run, say, an Adventure Path such as Savage Tide, then Session 0 makes perfect sense. There is no work to do to create the milieu, and you really are trying to get buy-in to a particular game. On the other hand, all Session 0 is doing is providing you a chance to make your sales pitch, and wasting a game day that could have been Session 1 if you had just sent the group an email.

So, what do you recommend then?

Instead of Session 0, take a page from Dungeon Crawl Classics and run Session 0-Level. If Session 0 really is about creating characters that fit into the world and have a reason to adventure together, then the zero-level funnel accomplishes that handily. It also allows you to actually play when you get together….and it opens up exploration of the world through play.

All of the benefits. None of the pitfalls.

Kudos Joseph Goodman, you cunning devil!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Now Available in Print and PDF

Danger in the Deep! is now available in print and pdf at RPG Now.

This is listed as a 2nd level adventure, but I hope you will find at least two or three elements in the work that you can use again and again throughout a campaign.

The original working title was Cold Stone and Running Water. When you read it, you will know why.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Mathoms Away!

As I will be busy tonight and tomorrow, I just shipped off the 2018 Birthday Mathom to the dozen individuals who responded to the Mathom announcement post and also sent me an email.

If I somehow missed you, email me and I will check on August 5th. I've tried to be careful about checking the spam folder and setting the emails into a special folder for replies. If I missed you, I am sorry and I will make sure you get what you have earned!

The clock is still ticking! Go back to the original post...I will ship out a Mathom to anyone who meets the requirements by midnight on August 4th 2018!

And this one is it...the Mathom is officially sent to the dustbin of history after this year.

Monday, 30 July 2018

DCC Events Approved for Gary Con XI

Blood for Cthulhu!
The Black Feather Blade
The Dread God Al-Khazadar
The Imperishable Sorceress
Trail of the Rat

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Extending the Dice Chain

In the core rules for Dungeon Crawl Classics, the dice chain runs from d3 to d30, as follows:


This is an extension of die pips as follows:


This setup is perfect for most actions within a Dungeon Crawl Classics game, but what if you want to extend the dice chain to something really epic? Note that the additions to the chain here are reserved (in general) for beings so powerful that they are almost beyond mortal means to resist.

My goal was to include the d50, while maintaining a sense that the increases scale upward in a way that grows, or stays the same. There should never be a smaller increase between one step and the step before it.

My extension is therefore


indicating an extension of


If I can come across a d80, I will slot it between the d64 and the d100, so the increase smooths out to


Either way, may the Dice Gods help you if you ever run into anything using these extensions!

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Running Convention Games

I am relatively new to running convention games, although I have run games in public venues going back to the 80s. My conventions are, thus far, limited to OSRCon in Toronto, Gary Con (two years now), Odyssey Con in 2017, and Nexus Game Fair in 2016. There are many folks with more experience in convention games than I have, but if you are looking for a relative newbie’s insights, read on.

Choose Your Own Adventure

When planning convention slots, choose adventures that you know well. Obviously, you also want something that will fit into your time slot(s). If you run an adventure that normally takes six four-hour sessions to run, and plan to run it in a three-hour slot, you’ll have to prune ruthlessly. You might consider another adventure. Or a longer slot. Or both.

The adventure should be one with a sense of completeness as a short story. It might also be useful as a chapter of a larger tale, but if it doesn’t come to a satisfying conclusion you’ve missed the mark. That conclusion need not be fun. It can be horrifying. Entire worlds can be saved or lost. It just has to be a definite end, that shows some motion from where the session started.

There are a lot of great Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures to choose from. But I am going to suggest that you branch out – convert your favorite non-DCC adventure. Write your own! One of the best things about Appendix N fiction is the wide range of authorial voices – add your own authorial voice to the games you run!

(And if you don't want to do that, anything written by Daniel J. Bishop should be given

The Play’s the Thing

It doesn’t matter if you flub a rule. It doesn’t matter if you forget that there was something the PCs should have encountered, or a condition that would have made it easier or tougher for them. If you forget a rule, you can ask the table. Maybe someone knows. If not, just make a ruling and keep the game moving. If it takes more than a minute of flipping through the book, don’t.

There are four things that can help you here:
  • The Dice Chain: Use it. If you need to give a bonus or a penalty, and you don’t have time to look the “by the book” modifier up, just use the Dice Chain.
  • Luck: If you aren’t certain, use a Luck check. You can modify it with the Dice Chain, where smaller dice are more likely to succeed and larger dice are less likely. Can’t decide which target the monster attacks? Ask who has a lower Luck.
  • Purple Sorcerer Free Tools: Make PCs easily. Print out their spells. Print out your NPC’s spells. It will save you time in the game, and keep the action flowing. At the start of the game, don’t make the players pay for what they want to carry. Just tell them: If you want specific equipment, write it on your sheet now. Unless they are zero-levels, they can probably afford it. If they are zero-levels, skip this step.

Setting up the Table

The first year I ran games at Gary Con, my son accompanied me but did not preregister for games. He noted that there were many games seeking players, but no way to guess what was being played without going up and talking to anyone. Because of this, I now print out cardstock signs that identify game and system. I have picked up a metal table stand, not unlike those used for the “Table Full”/”Players Needed” signs for this purpose.

For my second Gary Con, I had a scale version of the DCCTournament Gong arch 3D printed. I assembled it at each game, to help make it seem more like an event. Whatever you can do to stand out is a good thing.

I have also picked up a bag of plastic "gold" coins to use as Fleeting Luck tokens.

My dice bag includes black d20s of various sizes, including one which is fist-sized. I use it for dramatic effects.

During the Game

I like to walk around the table, in part to give people a chance to hear me, and in part for effect.

Reward player creativity, but don’t assume that every crazy idea will work. If every crazy idea works, all you end up with is a collection of crazy ideas. Select the crazy ideas that seem possible to you, rather than the crazy ideas that seem unlikely methods to bypass engagement with the game. When in doubt, call for Luck checks.

Reward engagement. Help the quieter players engage by addressing them directly.

Your style of running games? When in doubt, that’s what you should do.

Disagree with anything I wrote here? You should include your own ideas in the comments, for others to benefit from. And you should do whatever you think best. I'm just some guy with my own ideas.

A Few Other Important Considerations

Make sure that, when you schedule your games, you give yourself time to hang out with others and enjoy the convention.

If the opportunity arises to play in a game run by Doug Kovacs, do it.

The odds are good that, sooner or later, you will get a chance to play in a game run by Brendan LaSalle. Do it. If you can buy Brendan LaSalle an after-game beer and just shoot the breeze, do it!

I have yet to get into a Brinkman, Stroh, or Curtis game. Pity me…but, if you get the chance, make sure you take it. At the very least, you can rub my face in your good fortune!

Finally, when you are a player, jump into the weirdness. Play your character(s) with gusto. Have fun, and help to make if fun for everyone. Encourage others to do the same. You aren’t playing with gusto to dominate the table, but to draw everyone else out.

If you happen to be at a convention where I am running games (most likely Gary Con), please stop by and say Hello!