Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hi Micah!


So this little bundle of joy appeared into my life yesterday at 9:30 PM! Micah James has made inroads to our hearts and we'll never be the same for it. Thank goodness, cause I was starting to wonder if the pregnancy (and labor) would ever end.

As I look at the little guy I come to realize something: throughout my life I've fought to not be changed by the things that happen or to be overly bitter. But, for the second time in my life, I've realized something: I want this to change me. I want to not be the same because of having him in my life. I want to be different. And this little dude's definitely in on it.

God is good.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Burning Wheel: Character Traits


Traits: they're the least talked about part of Burning Wheel. Don't pretend that you don't know what I"m talking about. Go peruse the Burning Wheel forums. It's Beliefs this, Instincts that, how am I supposed to write this Belief, is this Instinct going to get me into enough trouble? Well, I'm here to say that I think that's a load of bunk. Traits are where it's at. Traits define the character in ways that Beliefs and Instincts never can, because they define the most important part of the character: the lessons they've already learned.  I'm first going to lay out the basics of the Burning Wheel Artha Wheel, explain how Character Traits help this Artha Wheel to turn, and then go into using Traits to help generate Beliefs and Instincts, and finally give some tips on how to make Character Traits more meaningful in Character Burning.

Burning Wheel is built for the zero-to-hero story: you start out as a broken and flawed individual who has potential and, over the long 30+ sessions, become a hero. The Beliefs are what the character is trying to do, the Instincts are little things that actually tell you who the character is, and Character Traits tell you what lessons he's already accumulated. As time goes on Trait Votes happen and Beliefs that have been resolved become Traits (usually Character Traits, but not always), because you're no longer fighting for them. They've just become a part of you now.  As you fight for what you believe, gaining Fate and Persona points, you eventually realize that your own petty little thoughts really don't matter in the grand scheme of things, so you sacrifice them so that way the grander picture can actually benefit. BOOM! There's a Deeds point. Your Beliefs change to reflect what you've just done, and the cycle kicks in again.

In this virtuous cycle Character Traits play a vital role. You get rewarded for any of your Character Traits causing you trouble or changing the direction of the story in an unseen way. Your grand schemes, summarized in the Beliefs, are going to start running up against your Traits, which summarize your past. The present and past rub against each other and create friction, requiring the player to make a stand. Notice I said the player, not the character. 

For instance, let's say you have a Belief about saving your kingdom from civil war and strife, but you have a bad relationship with your stepmom (the person currently in power) and you have the Vindictive trait. You just can't help yourself, can you? You just have to screw her over somehow. So you spit in her food as it passes by, hoping no one notices. But of course someone had to, didn't they? Now you have a real mess on your hands.

Playing the Character Traits like this allows for you to make the character more sympathetic. He's got a past and it haunts him, like it does for all of us, and sometimes that means he's going to do things you're not going to agree with. 

Character Traits can also earn you Embodiment for really good role-play.

That Vindictive traited guy we were just talking about? You think he's going to apologize for spitting in his mom's food? Heck no, he'll get up and start attacking his stepmom. Is it the smartest move? No, but since when is a guy with the Vindictive trait really out to benefit anyone? "She knew that I was the bastard and that would give her a position! She ruined my life and that's why you should trust me over her. I'd never do something like that!" Hypocritical? Oh yes, but I'll bet you those two sentences will earn an Embodiment award.

And finally there's the Moldbreaker. Playing against a Belief, Instinct, or Trait, usually requires one or the other, and Traits can be a powerful way to Moldbreaker

So someone brings that Vindictive guy aside and starts yelling at him about what he just did and how he just ruined the talks. Let's say this Vindictive guy also has a Guilt Complex Character Trait. He then drops out of the talks altogether, telling his stepmom that she's the best chance everyone has because he clearly isn't the dude to do this. That's Embodiment, Moldbreaker, and using your Character Trait to twist the story in an unexpected direction! What a session!

So what does this mean? When you make a character his Character Traits should be the big red buttons for you to press when things go wrong. When in doubt (a situation happens that doesn't hit one of your Beliefs) look at your Character Traits and act on one of them in the biggest way you can. You'll get Artha for it, almost guaranteed. If not it's because you didn't do it big enough.

Another you can do is use Traits to write your Beliefs. For instance, you have the Afraid of Wet Noises Character Trait. Weird trait, right? I mean, how the hell are you gonna use that? But, since you're always supposed to be looking for ways to make Beliefs more personal, that can come to good use!
Fearot should be killed for putting me in that well when we were kids.
Does the fact that Fearot, the horrible bandit, is destroying villages really the center of this guy's wish to take him down? No, it's because Fearot and him grew up together and Fearot tortured him. Now this character wants control of his Fear of Wet Noises by taking out the guy responsible for it. Now you have something compelling!

You can do the same thing with Instincts. Got Broken and Bitter Character Traits and you were once conscripted into the military? Take a look around and add things together of that nature
Whenever I see a soldier I hide.
That's a fantastic Instinct which won't get you in any trouble. Whatsoever. 

And last, but not least, is something I highly encourage anyone who's burning a character to do: whenever you take a trait in character burning (whether you like it or not!) come up with a small reason as to why you have it and try to associate it with a lifepath.
I'm buying Bitter and I've got that conscript lifepath. I decide to say that I'm Bitter because I was stolen from my family when they needed me most and now my parents are dead from starvation.
Don't write anything terribly long or detailed, a sentence will do. Your GM will thank you for the fodder to throw at you and you'll find that it gives deeper roleplaying.

So, in conclusion, Character Traits can be used to really powerful and subtle effect. You can use them to power your Beliefs and Instincts in ways that make it easier to roleplay the character and make character generation easier. Take a good long look at your Character Traits and play'em to the hilt!

Post-Synopsis: Andy, a good buddy of mine who was kind enough to proof read this article, pointed out that playing Burning Wheel this way will make for a very tight-knit character, the type of person who doesn't have a lot of nooks and crannies to explore, which is very true. Beliefs are far more than being rooted in the past, they're a way to explore the future of the character. At that point Traits become the texture of the character, how he reacts to things not found within those Beliefs. Which is a totally good way to do it as well. I just like having a character's future heavily influenced by his past, which feels far more realistic to me. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hacking 13th Age with Tenra Bansho Zero and Numenera

Tenra Bansho Zero has an awesome mechanic: the aiki-kiai-karma system. Basically each character has a set of Fates that, should they play to them in ways that their fellow players deem as cool, they get an aiki chit, which they can use for character advancement. So I got an idea to hack it into 13th Age, which has only one flaw: no actual advancement system beyond hand-waving. Now, granted, this game is open for hacking by design intent, so I don't really see it as a flaw.

But I still wanna hack it.

So the system doesn't have Fates, and I've thought about having everyone write them up. I even devised a Destiny system that would set down major plot points over the entirety of the campaign. But it started looking a little rail-roady and besides, as Carpe pointed out, we've already got some free-form elements in 13th Age: Backgrounds and the One Unique Thing! So we're going to use 'em. But first, the actual rewards system.

First of all, you've got what're called Awesome Chits. Whenever you do things in-line with your 
Backgrounds and One Unique Thing that someone else likes they give you an Awesome Chit. Awesome Chits are used for a few things:

  1. Add +5 to any d20 roll, cumulative. If you spend 5 points on a d20 roll you get a critical success.
  2. Halve the incoming damage of an attack by spending a number of Awesome Chits equal to the damage dealt/10.
  3. Add 5 damage/tier per point spent, to a max of 3 points.
  4. At the end of the session spend the extra Awesome Chits to buy the Incremental Advances talked about in the Core Book. 5 Awesome Chits get you one Incremental Advance. 
Those are just some basic ideas for now. None of these ideas have been playtested, so I have no idea if they actually work, but I do know this: 
  1. A d20 is the swingiest dice out there, and sometimes you just need the extra oomph. And sometimes you just need a crit. Badly.
  2. Crits from the GM suck. I'd like to make them not as...awful.
  3. Sometimes the damage you roll just needs some help.
  4. I want an actual reward system in my RPGs.
S'yeah, comment let me know what you think!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Torchbearer


OK, so I might have Kickstarted this the instant I could, I might have man-squeed with delight when I first saw it and... I might have played a campaign of it already, before I even thought about writing the review. I might seriously be in love with this game, which Maria may think is a bad thing, but oh well. I suppose I'll have to work on it. Anyway, on with the review!

Torchbearer is the newest game by the Burning Wheel group, this time led by Thor instead of Luke. It takes the basic Mouseguard engine and screws around with it, making what the crew calls "Advance Mouseguards and Dragons". That's somewhat accurate, although not complete. Mouseguard, while hard, has a turn structure to protect the players from the GM's machinations against him. The Player's turn offers relief of sorts to the players that I'd never even known was there in Mouseguard. Y'wanna know how I figured out that the Player's Turn was a relief mechanic of sorts?

I played Torchbearer and cried.

On a surface level Torchbearer isn't all that different from Mouseguard. You have Nature, representing how much like your race, Will, your social stat, Health, your physical stat, Circles, how well-connected you are, and Resources, your cash (which starts at 0 at the beginning of the game, period). Your skills advance based on a pass-fail system that's extremely simple and intuitive. Extended conflicts are put together via a script-three-moves-at a time system that's simple and awesome. Actually, just to save space, here's my Mouseguard review. There, now that you're done with that, I can go on about the differences.

First of all, there's a clock of sorts put in the game. Every four checks not made as a result of an Instinct you get another Condition. These Conditions are similar to Mouseguard, but are much more beefed up and, well, terrifying. You do not want these conditions. One at a time they're not too bad, but start stacking them up and... well...


I think that communicates what happens to your character when you get all the conditions pretty adequately. Don't have this happen to you, just don't. 

Anyway, so there's the clock. You can reset the clock by either going back to town or taking a rest in the dungeon. Doing so invites it's own problems, of course, like accidents in the dungeon, new laws or being outright barred from said town. But it's still worth the chances to reset that clock.

Oh, and speaking of dungeons, don't think you can fight your way through: the Burning Wheel Co. put in a mechanic called Might, which tells you on what magnitude of awesome the creature is (your characters are at 3). If the creature has a Might 2 or higher than your character's you may not kill, drive it off, or attempt to capture it. That's it, there's no chance of anything like that working. You'll have to trick it or convince it to go away. There are things in the world you'll need to go around.

Monsters are also a bit different this time around. They're a bit more sophisticated than in Mouseguard, where they only really gave you the Nature and some of the weapons it would use. Here they give you the disposition for each of the conflicts they're in and the weapons appropriate to that conflict.

Now there's one particular set of changes that are the most obvious, and that's the BDnD-esque additions. There's levels, mapping (of a sort), spells, essential clerics (played a campaign without one, see the gif up above for the results), all like BDnD...except... well... better. Heck, if you're looking for a good old fashioned dungeon crawl done to the utter nitty gritty, this is that game. You even have to account for what's in each hand! This nitty gritty, contrary to a lot of games, doesn't slow it down or make it less fun. If anything, the constant minding of resources in the face of certain and utter doom is awesome. Going to town, getting your stuff replenished, heading back out to get stuff you don't have any actual room for...

BDnD done right. Yup.

I'M BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK!!!

After an interminably long time of not posting, I've finally got a few things out of the way, and well, here I am! Here's a two thing update:

1) I'm engaged to Maria! It's been a crazy few months as we've tried to figure out what's going on with jobs and all that. I'm happier then I've ever been, being engaged to the lady of my dreams. It's been a wild ride so far, but it's everything I've ever wanted. S'yeah, happy :)

2) Linked to that I'll be going into the military as of February 19th as an E4. I've been accepted into the N25 job, which is basically IT for the Army. I'll be out late October of next year. Obviously there will be a hiatus of this blog while I'm in bootcamp from February to May.

Anyway, so I'll be putting out a blog post each week, hopefully with some iconography updates here and there as I get access to a camera. Stay tuned!

Friday, June 28, 2013

It Was Another One of Those Sessions...

... and I wasn't even the one GMing this time!

So my character, Tomar Leo, was storming in to confront his step-mother Queen Jain, who may or may not be a witch. Well, Tomar thought she was, that's why he was there. He starts to call her out on it, and lo and behold, my fellow player Marty shoots Queen Jain right through the mouth as she's screaming at Tomar! It took Andy and I a moment to process that, and all of a sudden we were taking advantage of the confusion and getting the hell out of there.

Sometimes things just don't work out the way you thought they would. I kinda figured that would have been the session, y'know? Screaming match with Jain, followed by either getting the hell out of there or killing her in a just fashion. So that was...sudden. The session ended with a shouting fest between the two characters that ended with both of them confused and more than a little angry at each other as they called each other inconsiderate jerks (and, to be honest, they're both right).

So what's next for our gaming group? Well, we're gonna make Torchbearer characters and sit on the revelations of character we just hit each other with, and when Torchbearer is done we're gonna go and do the right thing. For once.

Well, I think we will. We better not meet anymore witches.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Read Thru Review: Civil War


At the risk of looking incredibly tacky:




*Sniff*

Just go ahead and hit the replay button, I'll wait.  Yes, this RPG bit the dust after just one supplement was printed, Civil War. And it's really too bad. I mean, really it is, cause this book is amazing.

I'm not going to review the basic rules for this game, which I already reviewed here. You can go and peruse that if you're wanting to know what this now-out-print game is like (Short review: IF YOU LIKE MARVEL BUY IT!), but this is going to be all about the event itself.

Civil War breaks down the major beats of the comic book event Civil War, allowing players to go through the entire event. The authors were quite thorough: they chose beats from almost all the comics that were involved with the event to make a more layered story, cutting from talks in Washington to beating up Doctor Doom in a way that only a Marvel comic could allow. They also throw in enough random points sitting around, begging to be connected, that you could take this book and come out with a completely different story than what the established Civil War was.

So, to start out, the book details all the organizations that can be involved with the event, and gives you some ideas how on to use them. Almost nothing beyond SHIELD is truly mandatory, although even that could be swapped out pretty easily. The flexibility inherent in the set-up is truly remarkable. I could tell my players that SHIELD isn't responsible for enacting the SHRA, and that AIM instead is, and this event book would have the tools to allow for that! Or, maybe Hydra has been doing some serious kissing of bottoms lately, and so they got it. The possibilities are not confined by anything the book says, and that's a beautiful thing.

The next item in the book is the actual set-up of the Event itself, Acts 1-3. Each act is comprised of action and transition scenes in a suggested order.Act One focuses on the build-up to Civil War, Act Two on the actual implementation  of the act, and Act Three resolves all the plot threads.  Each scene has a series of suggestion as to how you can modify it, along with datafiles for the scene. It's important to note that none o these scenes demand a certain flow, although the suggest flow is one you should probably take at least the first time you run this. Honestly, however, they way you should do this is dependent on how you set up the game with your players.If it looks.. scattered... don't be fooled. With your players using their Milestones to full effect you won't find any trouble finding direction. The scenes are meant to interact with those Milestones and will drive the plot forward. You just have to have let the players drive the plot forward and throw these scenes at them in whatever way they come up.

After the acts there's an extensive set of  GM and player datafiles. Pretty much everyone you could think of who participated in the Civil War is here. There aren't a whole lot of X-Men,  but that's because they have their own Civil War event book. I would have preferred they put in more X-Men to this book instead, but oh well. The datafiles are all current to that time period of Marvel, including Spider-Man's red and gold costume.All the characters play differently from each other thanks to their SFX.

In conclusion, the now-defunct Marvel RPG really hit it out of the park with this book. You can run a game that, while using most of the main plot points from the Civil War comic event, make a completely new story. Hopefully one without all the stupid plot holes and convenient character decisio- I mean, something completely new and really cool!

Yeah, that's totally what I meant. Something new. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go and fantasize how to NOT screw up such a good idea...