Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rule Zero: Final Arbiter


I stirred up quite a bit of dust... and some mud, apparently, in last week's blog post about fudging.  That's ok, just means there was something there and some of it was wet.

Rule zero is related to "fudging," or occasionally nudging reality in certain directions (also known as magic).  If the ability to question and interpret results as the GM sees fit is the gun, then rule zero is the ammunition.

The dice are my co-pilots.  I like to have them around - I find them useful.  However, they don't own me.  Similarly, I can't GM without players; they are necessary.  But I won't be their bitch because I'm the fucking boss!  At the same time, players shouldn't be expected to bend the knee every time the GM opens his mouth.

Before we get into this article, what is rule zero?  From scouring the internet and being involved in the roleplaying hobby for 32 years, I believe it's a combination of the following three principles...


  • The Game Master is the final and absolute authority when it comes to running the game.
  • Roleplaying games are entertainment.  Your goal as a group is to make sure you have as much fun as possible.
  • The rules of any roleplaying game are simply the best guidelines the author(s) could come up with.  You bought the book, so it's your game now.  If you don't like a particular rule, change it.


Now, a few people don't cotton to the above.  They find it to be an affront to player liberties, fair play, game designer accountability, the concreteness of in-game reality, and probably a bunch of other stuff.

As you probably guessed, I'm with the majority on rule zero.  It's not only a good thing, it's required if one desires to consistently run good sessions.

Let's look at the first one.  The boss has to be given the opportunity to be the boss.  Whoever's in charge, he's got to have the authority to do what needs to be done, and is considered to be "the final arbiter of the rules," as Gary Gygax wrote.

To me, it would be like managing a store with the store's employees on equal footing, dictating store policy to the manager.  That's about as helpful to the manager as having the store's owner constantly over his shoulder, telling the manager what he can and can't do with his store.

Game Mastering is a lot of work.  It takes time, energy, and skill.  Granted, not everyone is awesome at it, but that doesn't mean that all GMs must submit to a particular style, constant debate, or decisions brought before some kind of player council and possibly overruled.  Personally, I will not run the game if I'm forced to GM a certain way - unless you're paying me, and even then, I can't say for sure.

Obviously, if the GM is either a total asshole or on a massive power trip, he doesn't deserve great players.  Flagrant abuse should not be tolerated.  You'll know it when you see it - the GM has to invoke rule zero several times per session, every session either because there's no consistency whatsoever or he has absolutely no interest in allowing the game to evolve organically.  Plus, you know, ego-maniacal jerk wad.

When it comes to house-rules, rule zero is not an excuse for game designers to be lazy or for a game's audience to accept a faulty system.  On the other hand, no RPG book is ever perfect enough to accommodate 100% of those using it to play the game.  Altered rules aren't an admission that a game is broken or the table isn't capable of understanding the designer's intent.

In fact, RPGs were made to change over time, to suit the idiosyncrasies and whims of those playing them.  The way an RPG is played depends on a dozen factors, and their open-ended nature is the best feature.  As a frequent GM, I like to be surprised, too.  And I like to surprise myself, the players, and those fucking dice.  That's why I allow myself the possibility for ignoring the dice.  Nothing is off the table.

Don't like how your GM is running the game?  Run your own game.  That's how many of us got started.  If you want to be hamstrung with red tape, bureaucracy, demanding players, and a lot of armchair theorizing on what constitutes acceptable GMing protocol, then by all means.  Have at it, hoss!

If you've got something more to say about "fudging," do it on the other blog post.  If you want to discuss rule zero, go right ahead.

VS



Monday, April 17, 2017

Alpha Blue Campaign Manager


Remember when I was talking about keeping track of all those scifi references?

This here is a sheet of incredibly fancy paper that you can print out and take notes on.

Collect data regarding your campaign's name, key locations, prominent NPCs, influences and details... all that fun stuff!

It's FREE, so go ahead and download it from DriveThruRPG / RPGNow.

The "Alpha Blue Campaign Manager" will also be included in the upcoming scenario High Stakes Q'uay Q'uar, but now's your chance to get it early.

Have a good week,

VS


Thursday, April 13, 2017

There's No Such Thing as Fudging


From time to time, I read articles, blog posts, and forum discussions on the topic of "fudging."

In RPGs, fudging is when you alter an outcome that has already been determined by the dice rolled.

Just yesterday, I read another post about this particular practice.  Not only did the "feel bad about yourself" thing make me wince (don't ever feel bad about yourself when gaming), but I disagreed with the basic premise behind fudging.

I mean, fudge is supposed to be delicious.  You can combine it with nuts (as shown), peanut butter, and all kinds of yummy stuff.  So, if you want to keep referring to it as "fudging," then let it a positive thing, a force for good in the universe.

If I actually bothered to put people into circles, I'd put +Zak Sabbath in the same circle as RPGpundit aka +Kasimir Urbanski - people who I respect for their many contributions in the RPG industry, but radically diverge from their opinions on various subjects.  I have a lot in common with both, yet in many ways we're extremely different.

Anyways, this article is my own interpretation of fudging - that there's actually no such thing.  FYI, you can dive even deeper into my philosophy with How To Game Master Like A Fucking Boss and Play Your Character Like A Fucking Boss.  Enjoy!

Nudge, Not Fudge


Like most gamers, I frequently use the result of dice rolls to gauge what occurs in a session that I'm running.  Dice are a very useful and obvious way to find out what's happening.  It's expected.  The players look to the GM and the GM looks to the dice.  Everyone wants to know - does that guy hit, does the other guy miss, will the trap take your character's hand off?

The dice are like an oracle.  They know things.  They even have the benefit of know things that I don't.  The dice reveal, inspire, obscure, and resolve.  In some ways, they are the Game Master's greatest assistant.  And yet, the dice occasionally fall short.  After all, even oracles make mistakes... usually, because they don't know the full story.

If I choose to, I'm perfectly happy allowing the dice to determine pretty much all the randomness within a game.  I liken it to putting a ship on autopilot.  Autopilot is capable of handling the normal procedures of take-off, landing, and getting from here to there.  Unless there's an issue, autopilot - or the dice, in this analogy - are just fine adjudicating all the important decisions.

If there's an asteroid field in the way, I'm not just going to sit idly by and let the ship's autopilot muddle through as best it can.  No, I'm going to grab the wheel and steer, maneuvering in whatever manner I see fit.  I believe that's what Game Mastering is all about.

Similarly, issues crops up throughout a campaign.  Maybe it's a problem with continuity, realism, story, pacing, etc.  The last three encounters all turned into fights for various reasons, and I roll the dice, coming up with a negative reaction roll.  Is it going to be yet another battle to the death?  Well, that's for me to decide, ultimately.  Same goes with little things in combat - when the dice are supposed to matter most... and they do.  Nevertheless, I have the final say.  The ogre may have too many hit points, those orcs might have too few, Percival misses his saving throw by one, and so on...

That's when I decide to intervene, putting my oar in the water... to shape the game's reality because it's going to make the game better or more in-tune with my personal vision.  Let me be clear, my unorthodox interpretation or undue influence (depending on your view) is not always to the players' advantage.  Sometimes, it goes against them.  I strike a balance between the two, when possible, nudging the narrative in certain directions.  Again, that's my prerogative as Game Master.

Amidst the aftermath, if the game was ho-hum and the players didn't have fun, I'm not going to sit there behind the screen and blame the dice.  Nope, if the game sucks, it's the Game Master's fault.  Even if it's not really his fault, that's the impression.  The buck stops here!

VS



Friday, April 7, 2017

Alpha Blue session report: The Nuts on Zeta Minor


Want to make things happen?  Start small, do what you do (which is hopefully what you love), and keep at it, little by little.  Sustained effort.

That's how you build an audience, a player pool, a long-term campaign...

So, I ran five players through another 90 minute Alpha Blue session on Roll20.  To give you some idea, I've run probably a dozen sessions on Roll20, all Alpha Blue.  Once I had a single player and once I had three, the rest were all two-player games.

There's no way I can transcribe the chat log faithfully without it taking me hours and hours, so I'm just going to summarize, showcase bits here and there - the highlights!

The cast of characters...

  • Miles Artemis (male) - human telepathic space pirate
  • Dask Jorana (male) - human space pirate and mutant with ice powers and a love of brains (eating them)
  • Saga Vortau (female) - human performer and prostitute who wants to be famous
  • Lexina (female) - human gambler and mutant with snake DNA
  • Katya Vosdil (female) - human medic who gets lucky when she needs it

Opening Crawl


All of you were contacted by a temp agency calling itself Universal Exploits.  They need a few expendable spacers to investigate troubles on the planet Zeta Minor.  Universal Exploits doesn't believe in specifics and they pay triple for dead teammates... that's all you need to know.

You're currently flying in a starship called The Nuts on route to Zeta Minor.  

It's going to take a couple hours before you're in planetary orbit.


Settling In & Small Talk


Dask:  Who is piloting The Nuts?

GM:  It's on autopilot.

Lexina:  Do we have a holo-deck or some entertainment center?

Katya:  I will be in whatever passes for a lounge on the ship, checking medical kit and making sure no one is a cop.

Miles:  I'll be greeting my fellow companions while drinking from my flask and offering a swig to each one I greet.

GM:  There is entertainment aboard The Nuts.  Three-dimensional chess, miniature holographic creature battles, and your own private lounge called Moonglow & Stardust (it came with the ship when you bought it).

The ship came with its own droid, too.  He looks like C3-PO, except he's shiny and sparkly blue.  The droid is unpacking a crate in the lounge, something he found in the cargo hold.  "One of Captain Urez's leftovers from his tour of duty in the clone war."

Saga:  I'm going over to take a closer look at the contents.

GM:  There's a thousand little styrofoam peanuts all over the place; underneath is some kind of sexbot.


Proximity Warning


The Nuts' crew talks amongst themselves about the sexbot, gambling debts, seeking adventure, and Zeta Minor (it's rich in blue crystal) when suddenly the ship is on alert - something approaches!

It's a klingon warship.

Since Lexina speaks Klingon, she does her best to persuade the klingons to back off.  Nope, they want to board The Nuts and make sure the crew is who they say they are (on a mission from some high-up klingon that Lexina remembers hearing about).

Long story short, The Nuts tries to get the hell out of there - but not before Lexina grabs the weapon controls and starts firing.  She rolls a 19 on the ship-to-ship combat table found in Girls Gone Rogue.  The klingon ship is heavily damaged and the crew are dead.  

Time to loot the warship!  Just as they find some nifty body armor, small noises are heard.  Something is rummaging around the debris.  Face huggers!

Almost all of the alien organisms are destroyed, but one hugs onto Dask's face.  Everyone who went aboard the klingon ship races back to The Nuts, which promptly lands on Zeta Minor.


Planet-Fall


Miles lands their ship, but his controls are jammed with raspberry.  A couple of rough looking spacers are coming up the landing gantry with laser rifles.  They want everyone out so they can steal the ship.

Meanwhile, the face hugger has fallen off Dask's face and his stomach isn't feeling too good.  What bursts out is, in fact, space herpes!  Dask just barely makes his saving throw, which means he survives but is unconscious for awhile.

There's a shootout with the spacers trying to steal The Nuts.  Katya deals out the most damage, eventually killing the space thieves.  

_________

That's about it.  Hope you enjoyed reading about the latest adventure in deep space!

There's a fine line between moving onto the next scene and wanting to preserve those little moments where characters are interacting with each other and the world.  

Squeeze too much and you're wasting time on spent fruit... squeeze too little and you may be throwing away the best parts.  Finding that balance is key.

VS

p.s.  Just lowered the price on Alpha Blue softcovers - fancy, thick cream-colored paper.  But it here for a better deal!


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Alpha Blue session report: Five Times the Finger-Bang!


Earlier today, I ran yet another Alpha Blue shorty on Roll20.  Two recurring players - C├ędric P and Patrick H.

Patrick played his usual character Miles Artemis, a human telepathic pirate. Cedric opted to roll up a new one.  This time a human mutant female gambler named Lexina with snake DNA, kangaroo pouch, and sickly (-4 to Health).  She's into Master/slave relationships, women's feet, and scruffy men.

Since Miles was returning, I rolled to see what his character had been up to since the last session.  He was cruising the outer rim for bi-sexual, nymphomaniac models, but didn't find any.

GM:  The two of you got paired up, randomly assigned by an interstellar employment agency called Universal Exploits.

Your mission is to locate the daughter of a highly placed politician.  Her last whereabouts are the space station brothel known as Alpha Blue.  If you bring her back to her father, you each will be paid 5,000 credits (minus Universal Exploits sub-contracting fee).

Miles:  Quite a large payday.

GM:  You just got into Alpha Blue this morning and are standing at the central terminal.  A scan of the daughter comes in.

Lexina:  She ran away or she was kidnapped?

GM:  You're not sure because there's no information about that in your file.

Lexina:  Ok, we need to start looking.  What are the main places of interest on the station?  There's a bar, I guess.

Miles:  I think there are two or three bars, if I recall.

GM:  Yes, there are several bars.  Miles is familiar with the Blue Oyster Lounge.

Lexina:  Ok, we can always start there.  But I am curious about exploring other locations.

GM:  You arrive at the Blue Oyster, look around, but don't see anything out of the ordinary.  The usual collection of spacers, aliens, and a few droids.  The human bartender asks what you'll have.

Miles, you have telepathy, so perhaps a mind scan would yield some results.  You can roll 2d6 if you want to try.  [He rolls and gets a result of 5... a success.]

You get a clear image of the woman you're looking for in your mind.  Her name is Jaspa.  You sense that she's nearby.

Miles:  I scratch my chin a bit, "I'm getting an image, her name is Jaspa and she's close by, but I can't pinpoint the spot."

Lexina:  I take a drink at the bar and I look around to see if there are any other rooms, like a private room or something.

GM:  The bartender looks at Miles and says, "Hey, what do you think you're doing?  You can't do that in here."  He points to a sign that reads, 'No mind-scanning on these premises!'

Miles:  I blink before laughing a bit, "Sorry, didn't know."

GM:  The bartender pours you today's special - Purple Prizm and space gin with a chunk of pineapple floating on top.

Lexina:  Delicious.  Since I had prior (bad) experiences with bounty hunters, I look around to see if I can spot any "bounty hunter" types.

GM:  "That'll be 5 credits, snake-girl."

Lexina:  "Here you go, handsssome."  I tip 2 creds.

GM:  The bartender takes your money and goes back to cleaning glasses.  "Thanks."

You see there are some back rooms, but they are off limits.  However, you also see several barthrooms in the back.

Miles:  I wait for her order to finish before asking the bartender for a drink.  "I like something a bit strong and bitter."

GM:  "You got it, hoss."  He pours Miles a Martian pineapple martini.  "That'll be 10 credits... cause it's a stronger drink."

Miles:  I hand over 15 credits, "Here yah go and a tip for the drink."

Lexina:  I prefer smoother ones because of my delicate reptilian nature.

GM:  In the corner of the lounge you see a klingon arguing with a short droid.

Lexina:  "Look Milesss... probably trouble... maybe he is alssso after the target."  I get closer to listen to their discussion.

GM:  You listen in.  They're arguing about politics.

Lexina:  Ok, I'm going to check the ladies room since Miles sensed her near.

Miles:  I'm going to sit at the bar with my drink, keeping my back to the bar top and watching the door for anyone leaving or coming.

GM:  Lexina sees a female in one of the stalls.  You doubt it's her because you can easily see her bilious-green tentacles under the stall door.

Miles sits with his drink and notices his shorter insect friend, Xyap'stee, walk by the lounge.

Lexina:  I ask her, "Have you seen my girl Jaspa?  Black hair with a white streak, mammalian."

Miles:  I call out to my short insect friend, raising a drink in his direction.

GM:  The woman opens the door so you can see her sitting on the toilet.  Her panties are around her ankles, but her legs are spread so you can watch her pee.  She says, "I don't know anyone by that name, honey."

Lexina:  "Ah, a shame... thanksss anyway, honey."  I check myself briefly in the mirror and leave the place (except, if I feel she is lying or something).

GM:  The insectoid greets you warmly, saying "My good friend.  Where have you been?  Hey, try this."  He has a glowing magenta powder in his palm.  "You rub it on your nipples.  That's how it works."

Lexina doesn't think she's lying.  Your reflection looks good.  You step out of the bathroom and see several more klingons at the bar.  You notice Miles just outside the lounge, talking to some short insect humanoid.

Miles:  I'm going to try it out for curiosity's sake, rubbing it on my nipples like Xyap'stee said.  "Been doing some work on a job right now.  Actually here to find a woman by the name Jaspa, some daughter of a politician."

Lexina:  Do the klingons seem to be in a good mood?

GM:  Miles, your entire body tingles moments after rubbing the luminous magenta powder on your nipples.

Xyap'stee says, "Lot of high-born ladies here in the leisure district.  Or maybe she's slumming it sexy in the red hologram district?"

Miles:  Would I know directions to both?

GM:  In your experience, Lexina, klingons are never in a good mood.  Today, they seem especially volatile.  There's some sort of revolt happening on a nearby planet.  Maybe a political revolution...

Lexina:  Ok, I keep my distance.

GM:  Both those districts are easy to find.  You can hop on the light-speed rail just down the corridor.
Lexina:  I get closer to Miles, "Maybe we can get outssside the bar to see if you can feelsss her presssence..."

GM:  Just as you're about to leave the lounge, Lexina, a klingon steps in front of you.  He says something to you in his native language.

Lexina:  Is telepathy forbidden in the entire station?

GM:  No, just this bar.

Miles, you're entire body feels numb... and like you can fly.

Lexina:  Ok, do I understand some words or his intentions?

GM:  Probably not.  Roll 1d6.  [Cedric rolls a 6.]

Miles:  "Hey, buddy, how long does this last?"  I enjoy the numb feeling.

GM:  You're actually fluent in klingon, but the klingon isn't expecting that.  Assuming you don't know what he's saying, he immediately repeats himself even louder, "Why don't you buy me a drink, serpentine bitch?"

Lexina:  (hehe)

GM:  The insect tells you it'll wear off in about an hour.

Lexina:  I smile and answer in klingon, "Ssssure, mighty warrior."

GM:  The klingon appears surprised and impressed.  He gestures for you to sit down as the bar with him.

Lexina:  I pay for his super strong drink and I take something soft, like a Purple Prizm.

GM:  The bartender pours both.

Xyap'stee says to Miles, "Look at that sleek droid.  Undoubtedly some kind of assassination model.  I used to have one like that... back when I was running guns on Zeta Minor."

Lexina:  I get close to the klingon, like snakes do.  "Things ssseems tenssse... there is a lot of rumorsss flying aroundsss..."

GM:  Meanwhile, the klingon puts his hand on Lexina's leg.  He moves it up until he's made his way to your crotch.

Miles:  "Assassination model all the way out here?  Wonder who he's after?"  I look to the droid, keeping a careful eye on it.

GM:  You clock the assassination droid.  It's black and shiny, holding a female prisoner.

The klingon is going to try and finger-bang you right at the bar, unless Lexina tries to stop him.

Miles:  I will stare at the prisoner, comparing her looks to the mental image of Jaspa, searching for similarities.

Lexina:  Will I receive Health for this or does it have to be full-on sex to get more HP?

GM:  If you get off, then it counts and you'll get temporary bonus Health.

Miles isn't sure in his current state of awareness, but he things the droid is walking with the girl he's looking for - Jaspa.

Lexina:  Ok, I try to get some intimacy.  "I got enough creds for a private lounge, fearsssome one..."

Miles:  I will walk to the bar, bumping my shoulder into Lexina and playing it off as numbness or being drunk as I whisper into her ear, "Found the girl."

GM:  "No need for that.  I'm good right here," the klingon says, continuing to feel you down there.  He works your snake-vagina into a froth until you cum.  "Second round's on me, baby."  [I roll 5 more Health for Lexina.]

Miles bumps into Lexina just after your orgasm.  You hear what he said.

Lexina:  Hmmm ssssss.

To the klingon:  "Do you know that droid?  He owes me something."  My hands get to his junk.

GM:  The klingon nods.  "I don't know that droid in particular, but I recognize the model.  Also, the girl he's holding is the daughter of Senator Urik."

Lexina:  I work on the klingon handjob.  Biting him on the shoulder with my snake fangs, guessing that he will appreciate this kind of stuff, whispering "I may have to take this package out of his robotic hands... some nice credsss are involved."  I sit on his lap.

GM:  He appreciates it and finishes quickly.  "Go, baby.  Do your thing.  My friends and I will be here for another hour at least."  Turning to the bartender, "Can I get some space wipes, please?"

Lexina:  I kiss the klingon in the ear with my fork tongue and I sensually move away.

GM:  The droid is about to enter an escalator up to the next level.

Lexina:  I try to find Miles.

Miles:  I'm watching the droid closely, hand on the butt of my blaster while motioning for Lexina to follow.  "Over here," he calls out, not too loudly.

GM:  The droid spots Miles and fires at him with a blaster.  [Rolling dice.]  Miles takes 16 points of damage.  Laser burns cover the left side of your torso and leg.  He got you good.

Remember, both of you can double your dice pool once per session.  And the session is ending in about 5 minutes.  Normally, both of you roll 2d6 to attack.

Lexina:  I get out of the bar and I take my micro-phaser out of my kangaroo pouch, situated just above my crotch.  I fire at the droid while doubling my dice.

Miles:  I'll double my dice pool for my attack and fire with my blaster.

GM:  Lexina shoots... [Even with an attack of 4d6, she doesn't do much damage... a measly 8 points.]  The angle was off.

Miles doesn't do much better.  The droid is already halfway up the escalator.  You do 7 points of damage.  Let me see who he's going to target, most likely Miles.

Lexina:  How's Jaspa reacting?

GM:  Jaspa is struggling with futility.  [I roll (badly) for the assassination droid.]  Miles takes another 4 points of damage.  He's got 5 left.  You guys are returning fire, I assume...

Lexina:  I shoot at the elevator controls.

Miles:  Yes, while taking cover behind anything that is by him.

GM:  [Lexina rolls extraordinarily well.  Instead of simply wasting such a great shot by saying, "You disabled the escalator," I decide that her success increases their advantage - as per the no damage left behind rule.]  Not only do you stop the escalator, but Lexina's blasting makes it collapse.  The droid lets go of the girl and is trying to hang on to the escalator remnants.  Miles, you've got an easy shot if you want to take it.

Miles:  I'll take it.

GM:  [I roll 3d6 for his attack this time because of said advantage (i.e. the droid's vulnerability due to his hanging on with both hands rather than trying to defend himself).  The aftermath is devastating.  Miles ends up doing 31 points of damage.]  Yowza!  You annihilate him.  There's almost nothing left.

Lexina:  Oh yeah!

GM:  Jaspa runs towards Miles and into her arms.  "Thank you for saving me."

Miles:  I blow off the smoke rising from my blaster, holster it, and catch her in my arms.  "Aye, it was no trouble, miss."

GM:  Long story short, you both collect your credits.  Miles is now 2nd level; Lexina is halfway there.

_________

Thanks for reading the latest installment of this lurid space pulp adventure!

VS