Friday, February 6, 2015

Story Seed - Sun Falls on the Empire

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"The boy is unfit to rule. If there were another heir there would be no need for this discussion-"

"You mean this discussion of treason?" Count Hullaj shook his head in disgust, "I cannot believe that it has come to this. You are right of course, the boy is not fit to rule. His condition will make it impossible for him to sire an heir and his madness would only destroy the kingdom through chaos and strife."

Duke Bellak nodded, "So you agree? We will have the boy deposed and split the baronies between us? With local rule we can better ensure the safety and welfare of the people, and with this council of seven we can try to keep the Empire intact for all appearances. The illusion of strength is often as effective a deterrent as true strength after all."

For the first time during the meeting Lady Nillum added her voice, "Is it the illusion of strength? Will we not truly still be an empire?" Silence reigned in the wake of her question.

"No." The wizard Opotolo's voice was raspy and weak, but in the silence his response fell like a hammer. "Only the blood of the royal family has proven able to bear the crown; history has shown that the crown favors blood not ability." The others shifted uncomfortably at the reminder of a rebellion decades before. "If this is truly the end of the royal line then this is the end of the empire as we know it. Until another with the right blood can be found we are without the crown, and without the crown the army will not function beyond their preset routines. They will man their stations, look impressive, and defend themselves, but nothing more."

Bellak nodded, "We will have defense only at the forts, a new army will need to be trained from the people. We will need to do so slowly and quietly to not alarm the populace, but I fear that we will be unable to truly defend the empire for some years. Divesting the baronies is the only way ..."

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Back Issues #17 - The Inspiration Strikes Back!

Issue #17: The Inspiration Strikes Back!

Pretty amazing right? The above is a composite image technically, but its still a composite of actual photographs. Six exposures of an Aurora Borealis over Iceland and its reflection in the lake below. It's really quite something.

Aurora are pretty well understood by us in the here and now, so if I were to use this for a game I'd look to something fantastic, either a magic/fantasy based game, or possibly a superhero type game (where magic often exists anyway). This could still work in a science fiction game, by way of misdirection (i.e. its not actually what it looks like), or possibly by way of setting for an alien world; it certainly has an otherworldly feel to it.

Still, I think most can agree that mystery is what makes RPGs fun. What's at the bottom of this dungeon, what's terrorizing the local villagers, what new plan does villain X have, or what was that green aura in the night sky last evening?

In a fantasy game this could be the result of any number of magical workings, divine warnings, or cosmic events. Perhaps the center of the circle inscribed by the aurora was the locale of a great magical summoning; if so what was brought to the realm? Why? And by whom? It could be a sign from the gods to their pilgrims that this land will be theirs. Imagine a Holy Crusade waged by greenskin races to claim their divinely bestowed homelands. Some fantasy games use the concept of ley lines, geomancy, and the like. The aurora could be a special effect, a coincidental light-show associated with a celestial conjunction.

What about you all, how would you use that image in a game? What ideas spring to mind when looking at it?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Story Seed - The Trees Have Eyes

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"So what was inside?"

"What was inside? What was inside? How the hell do I know? I took one look at those trees and bolted!" Hirr was practically twitching, and his clothing was soaked with sweat.

"Come on, they're just trees," Ziq replied. He was starting to wonder if his partner was dropping lomak root extract again. The paranoia, the sweats, the twitchy behavior, it all fit. "Hirr, are you on the lomak again?"

"No man, no way, I promise this stuff was real, they had giant eyes, and and they were watching me! I didn't want to find out what else they could do!"

Ziq wasn't remotely convinced. Hirr was an addict and lomak was some of the worst of the worst when it came to trying to quit. "Are you telling me that I should believe that they have trees with eyes in there, when its far more believable that you've been taking lomak again?"

"Yes damnit! I ain't had lomak in weeks, ever since my source got all turned inside out by that Iron Wind. I'm clean as an aneen, go look for yourself. I ain't going near that place. I don't care how much tech they say the Convergence has, it aint worth it if they can grow plants with eyes to watch their compound." Hirr wiped the sweat from his face with a greasy hand, leaving streaks in the filth on his skin. "To Vralk with this, I'm outta here!"

Ziq watched with no small amount of astonishment as Hirr got up and ran off. It wasn't like the kid to have a spine, let alone to stand up for himself like that. He made such a great partner and patsy that way. "Still ..." the call of ill gotten gains made Ziq head toward the walled compound, "Can't possibly have trees with eyes ..."

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #16 - Blogger Roundtable #2 - Spare Parts

This month's prompt:
What is a favorite mechanic or idea you've encountered in an RPG that you think would work well in other games? Please explain the mechanic/idea, tell us a bit about the game it comes from, and give some ideas of how it could be used in other games. You can discuss more than one mechanic or idea if you like.
OK, that's a doozy, a great topic, but one that I've already touched on previously. In fact this is going to be a short blog because it's going to spend a lot of time pointing to other posts I have written previously, but that's OK.  So I'm going to give you my Top 5, and make up for the lack of new material with a whole lot of referenced old material!

Honorable Mentions
These are already written and worth mentioning anew, but for various reasons they don't really fall onto the list.
  • The Stunt Mechanic from Dragon AGE is great, but its not something easy to port to new systems.
  • GM Fiat, is something I like as GM, and a lot of games nowadays have it in some form or another, so I don't think it counts, but it's worth mentioning.

#5 - No GM Dice Rolling

I love love love how the Cypher System frees the GM from the shackles of dice. This mechanic would be higher, but converting it to other games would take a decent amount of work, and some games just wouldn't really work "right" with asymmetric dice rolling.

#4 - Complications/Trouble Aspects

Trouble Aspects come from FATE, and Complications (at least as I know them and am referring to here) come from Mutants & Masterminds. These two games couldn't be any more different if they tried. One is a crunchy, point-buy, mechanic driven, d20 based, supers game, and the other is FATE. They do have one thing in common though, they don't just encourage character faults/flaws, the require them. At char gen.

In FATE your Trouble is an aspect of your character that is designed to be if not negative, at least somewhat troublesome for the character. It's the part of the character that can most easily get pinged by the GM for a bit of fiat, or a Compel as FATE calls it. If your Trouble is "Curious to a Fault" the GM can use that whenever a mystery and the character cross paths to drive that character to investigate, often to the detriment of whatever else is going on at the time.

In Mutants & Masterminds Complications act the same way. M&M Is a superhero game and character Complications can take the form of secret identities, relationships (often with non-heroes, sometimes with villains!), flaws in the character's super powers (kryptonite!), and the like. Much like a Trouble, these are leveraged by the GM as a way to pull the character in two directions at once (and Superman save Lois AND stop Luthor???), expose a character to their weakness, or put them in a situation where they have to try and keep their identity secret.

Strip away the specifics and both Complications and Trouble Aspects are meant to give the GM additional information about your character and to fill them in on some of the character less stellar points. Most people find that a flawed hero is a more interesting protagonist and that works as well in RPGs as it does in cinema. Even a fantasy dungeon crawl game can benefit from this. It may be tied to class powers (somatic components anyone?), or even be a class feature (preferred enemy). It could also be a piece of minor color (the cleric is a lecherous man who has to struggle against his vow of celibacy).

Regardless it gives the GM a tool or two and it gives the characters more depth, both of which are good things.

#3 - Scaleable Results

It's a little odd to be including this since I would not have thought of it a month ago. Usually When I see systems like this they are somewhat ... vanilla. If you hit x number beyond your target you get a little extra damage, or a little better effect, a lot of times its nothing to write home about.

And then I played Dungeon Crawl Classics. +James Walls gets a little credit here, as it's his fault I played it, but after seeing the crazy scaling of the magic spells in that game ... boy howdy do I wish more games had similar mechanics. Going from a single magic missile to a volley of ball lighting that each tract a separate target? HELL YEAH! A single paralyzing touch becoming a scattering blast of paralyzing rays? YES! Sure these kinds of boons aren't something that will happen a lot, but that's half the point, the difference between just passing a spell check and blowing it clear out of the water SHOULD be big, and DCC sure as hell delivers, granting eight distinct levels of success on most spells. Your Holy Sanctuary could grant a mere +1 for a single turn if you just squeak by, but with a big enough roll you can permanently sanctify a 10,000 square foot area!! (That's ~930 square meters for you metric folks!)

I've seen scaling result bonuses in other games, but it wasn't until DCC that I saw how awesome the could be if game designers allowed them.

#2 - Bennies

I like stuff that let's players control their destiny just a bit more. I already did a blog post for this though, so check that out.

#1 - One Unique Thing

Yup, I already did a blog post about this one too. The best part about the One Unique Thing is that it's 100% portable to other systems without any work required. As a non-mechanical way to further develop character and help engage the players in the game world from day one it can't be beat.


So that's that; my favorite five things to steal from other games (at least for now). Hopefully you maybe try some of them, but even if you don't maybe this got some wheels going in your head about what stuff you like that you can steal for other games.

Want to see some other blogger's takes on this subject? Check out:

+James Walls at

+Scott Robinson at

+Lex Starwalker at

+John Marvin at

+John Clayton at

Monday, February 2, 2015

Story Seed - Eggs

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"Janir, come look at these, what do you suppose they are?" Halfir called out. They were looking for the entry of a mostly buried facility from some long past age, possibly as old as the third based on the wear and damage.

The nano came to look, "Eggs?" The nano seemed less than impressed.

"No look more closely, they are strange," the jack insisted, "looks like there is some kind of pattern.

Peering at the small clump of silvery material with the aid of a view enhancer Janir nodded, "Remarkable! They appear to be subdivided, and in turn further subdivided, a fractal down to the smallest cell I can make out. I wonder what such complex containment holds within."

"Dunno," Halfir replied looking around, "I haven't seen any animals or sign of them. You wanna grab a sample I assume?"

"Indeed I do." Janir had placed the viewer aside and removed a narrow scalpel of syth that never grew dull from use; as far as Janir knew the thing was indestructible, which made it rather handy for all sorts of tasks. "You have the specimen jar ready?"

"Yeah, here," Halfnir answered, offering the open jar as he crowded in next to his brother. "I got the spatula and the tweezers here too."

"Good," his brother said absentmindedly as he studied the mass of bubble like structures, the scalpel hanging above them like an executioner's axe. "Here we go, I think this will make a perfect sample." Janir stabbed the blade down into the mass and started cutting around on of the larger eggs, "What the -" he withdrew the blade from the cut, a silvery fluid was clinging to the object and apparently melting it like acid eating simple iron. Without hesitation he brought the dripping blade to the viewer and tried to examine the change.

Halfnir meanwhile was stepping back from the mass, "Brother ..." The bubble-like eggs were rupturing, a chain reaction starting from the site of the incision. More alarming the silvery fluid was not only spreading over the ground, but boiling into the air in a cloud of metallic mist. "Brother!" Halfnir dropped the tools and fled the cloud, "It's the Iron Wind brother, run!"