Professor Mordarm's Mad Ramblings

My mad thoughts on tech, news, and geek phenomenon.

Posts Tagged ‘RPG’

Telling Your Story: It’s Not Just About You (A RPG Review Part II)

Posted by Professor Mordarm on June 5, 2010

So you’re chomping at the bit, ready to make your mark in the world with your own character in The Dresden Files RPG? Eager to sling spells fighting  against the Red Court? Want your character to track that “odd” witness with the pointed ears for a case? Or just want to gather power to become the next John Marcone? Well not so fast there, you need to pull back a bit. There are a few things you need to do first. Like making your city.

It’s Your City, Really

Yes you heard right, you need make your city. How? Well TDF RPG: Your Story takes the unusual first step by making players and GM working together, not to create characters, but instead creating the city setting. Now normally the GM takes care of these “setting details” in other RPGs, but TDF RPG creation rules allows the players to join in the creative process as well. By getting the players involved, you allow them get more motivated and give them a chance to make a stake in the game early on. In doing so, bullpen type sessions can result in questions that can offer scenarios that the players and GM are looking for. For example:

  • What city would you like your characters in? New York City, NY? Houston, TX? Barrow, AK? (“30 Days of Night,” Red Court style anyone?)
  • Would you like invent one of your own? (How about your own Gotham?)
  • What interesting places are there in the city?
  • What potential events can take place there?
  • Where are the player characters and NPCs going to set up shop, hang out or even hide out?
  • Who are the factions working/fighting in your city?
  • What are the supernatural wonders and terrors that are lurking in the streets?

Brainstorming ideas like this also can result in more characters concepts for role-playing, not just city creation itself. Now mind you this is all optional. If your players do not want to jump into the bones of city creation (or if you have a lazy GM), TDF RPG comes with pregenerated examples of two cities for you to jump in right off the bat, Chicago and Baltimore; each with its own personal feel and flavor. But having a group of players having a say in the setting creates feedback for the GM on what the players want to have and expect in the game itself.

Now once your group has come to a consensus on which city and why, you’ll need to break it down into a manageable format. City creation in TDF RPG has its own individual sections designed for ease of use. First on the list is Themes. Themes are similar to Aspects but have the expanded duty of expressing issues that are constantly reoccurring in your city like city outlook/environment, specific problems, groups and urban tales/events. Themes tend to stick around and are hard to shake. On the other hand, issues that causes danger to the way of life for mortals in your city are Threats. Threats describe a person, monster, group or situations that describes their methods, agendas and goals to disrupt life in the city (though some monsters need no agenda or goals to cause havoc in your city). Threats are the dramatic aspects that player characters will interact most often with, so the previous brainstorming will come in handy. As you build the mortal and supernatural populations, Locations will emerge; Neighborhoods and Points Of Interest that help flesh out your city. In addition, each site will have its own aspect and its own Faces, persons (or things) which personifies and reflects that location’s ideas and aspects and which the player characters can interact with.

Now this seems a big collaborative effort overall but the practice will come in handy. Why? Because players who aid in this creative effort will become more comfortable with the next step: Character creation.

A Lone(ly) Hero Not Makes A Story

Now character creation in TDF RPG is another activity that the players and GM work together with. It first starts with your character concepts: the High Concept and the Trouble aspects. These are the key drives that motivate your character, that keep him or her going even when everything is going to Hell in a hand basket for your character. Now some players may have trouble with expressing their characters High Concept and Trouble initially but TDF RPG can ease this step with a Template, which are character packages that help link up the other two aspects together into one simple step. Templates can help define a concept that to a familiar Deresden-verse world feel. Want to play a bitten yet still half-human Red Court vampire? An Alpha? A unknowing Knight finding his Sword? The templates can do that and more, with some creative shifting on the players and GM part. It is also during this step where the power level is decided for the players; in which TDF RPG writers also put their own humorous twist by giving examples on how “deep” you are into the world of supernatural powers. Are you just getting Your Feet In the Water with this magic stuff or are you Submerged (and possibly drowning) with mystic might?

By combining these (Template, High Concept and Trouble) into one step, one can move swiftly to the next part of creation: the 5 Phases of your characters background, a background where all the players get involved in yet again. The first two, Where Did You  Come From? and What Shaped You? helps you form your starting background, conflicts and issues for your character. What Was Your First Adventure? plays like a TV episode or movie. You can even give it a catchy title and brief one or two sentence synopsis. And if you have trouble with that, the book gives you a handy short “story skeleton” to help you kick-start the creative process. The last two phases, Who Path Have You Crossed? and Who Else’s Path Have you Crossed? makes the player pass that character sheet to two other players, who then”guest stars” that character into their own character’s episode. This is a clever method of linking up the charters history together early on and allows players to add ideas and more background to each other’s concepts. These phases also help form the character’s Phase Aspects, which as you know now, allow for Fate Points generation and use, as well as for role-playing. Adding in your Skills, Mortal Stunts, Magic and Supernatural Powers (mentioned in Part I of my review) finishes up the character creation process. Also of note TDF RPG: Your Story does offer the option for quick character creation for those who don’t want to get bogged down and get right to game-play, though its more fun to work together in my opinion.

TDF RPG: Your Story continues in further detail with ideas and rules on aspect invoking, creating scenarios, character advancement, magic use, the Laws of Magic, and much more that I can possibly cover in this review. With this much attention to detail and clever usage of ideas, one should have little problem getting players motivated in the creation aspect alone, which in turn creates more enjoyable game-play. But what if you or the players want more? Does someone want a character to work in the same station as Murphy? Be on the lam from the White Council for questionable “dark” magic? To work with Dresden on a case? Or (Hell’s Bells) match wits with Mab to fulfill a favor for the Summer Court? You can, but your going to need more story background to cover these and other scenarios in TDF universe. Just follow the next part of my review where I cover these colorful characters, groups, places and the events they cause in TDF series, in the aptly named second volume called The Dresden Files RPG: Our World.

To Be Continued in Part III: Our World


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Stars and Stones, A New Post and Review! (A RPG Review Part I)

Posted by Professor Mordarm on June 3, 2010

Due to some unexpected delays I’ve been unable to post until now, so I need to get back in the groove. So to do that I’ll post my review of one the few RPGs I am actually looking forward in running this year: The Dresden Files RPG.

The Dresden Files RPG draws its source from the best-selling books of the same name by author Jim Butcher. The books (now in its 12th in the series) covers the “case-files” of one Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago’s first (and only) Wizard P.I. (He’s in the phone book). The series have proven so wildly popular that it has spawned a TV series and now its going to debut as a new RPG at Origins Game Fair, June 23, 2010 by Evil Hat Productions. Now other game publishers have attempted to take a popular series, tried converting it into a RPG format and have met with various degrees of success and/or failure. But Evil Hat Productions, working in tandem with Jim Butcher (a big plus in my book), have taken the time and effort to produce a RPG that actually shows tremendous role-playing potential. Also Evil Hat is taking an extra step: If you pre-order the books, they will give you the PDFs versions of the books for free in advance.

The RPG comes in two volumes, each named Your Story and Our WorldYour Story covers everything you will need to get started and playing in the rich world of The Dresden Files universe itself without having to read the series (though I highly recommend it, they are a great read). Our World covers in detail, all the characters, factions, places and events leading up until “Small Favor” of the Dresden Files book series. As I will review a bit from each RPG book, I thought it prudent by covering on the RPG system itself and how it is an effective means of role-playing in The Dresden Files universe.

The FATE System

The Dresden Files RPG (TDF RPG) uses a modified version of the award-winning Fate system, to help express the urban and supernatural feel in all its gritty glory. According to the Fate website, the system stands out by using:

… a free RPG system that focuses on telling stories and balancing characters based on story significance, rather than points and cool powers.

Now most of you are thinking how the heck can you tell how powerful and/or useful I am without a definable numerical stat? Well the Fate system uses an idea called Aspects to focus how a character is defined and used, making it quite flexible to fit any character concept. For example, you can use aspects to define your core personality traits and behaviors. So following this concept, instead of being a simple “12th level human wizard” or some such, you have aspects like Harry Dresden, a “WIZARD PRIVATE EYE” who is “AN EPIC WISEASS” and is “PERPETUALLY BROKE.”

By invoking these aspects, either positively or negatively, one gains or uses Fate Points, which the Players and GM use to effect Fudge Dice rolls, invoke/resist aspects and cause dramatic events. Also by invoking aspects, dramatic role-playing opportunities spawn more often that could be normally missed in traditional RPGs. And this aspect idea is not limited to characters; you can also apply aspects to items, places and even events, which in turn be invoked by the players and GM to affect the game session.

Covered in the Fate system are Skills as well as Mortal Stunts and Supernatural Powers. Magic itself is covered in almost overwhelming detail by their own Spellcasting, Thaumaturgy, and Sponsored Magic sections. A player uses these abilities, by using only 4 Fudge Dice, which keeps the rolling down to a minimum. A player rolls or shifts to meet a difficulty rating, scaling from Terrible to Legendary, using their own skill/power/magic rating as a base. Rolling well, shifts the degree of success up, but there is no negative shifts. You either meet (or beat) the difficulty or you don’t. Though rolling badly can present great opportunities for role-playing. Also these rolls can cause Stresses (Physical, Mental and Social) and Consequences (Mild, Moderate, Severe or Extreme) to the character. Stresses are pretty much self-explanatory, suffer too much and your out for the scene. Consequences are different as they are aspects that are negative effects that can last for long time.

To gain access to various stunts, powers and magic, the player must spend his or her Refresh Pool to buy these abilities.  But the Refresh Pool has a second vital duty. Its used to set up your base Fate Point pool that’s used in the TDF RPG. The Refresh Pool is a brilliant tool used to keep game balance; the more Refresh you have, the more Fate Points you have to use, reflecting the player character’s ability to choose his or her Fate (Note: also by scaling the starting Refresh pool the GM can set the power level of the player characters quite easily to any level). The less you have, the less chances you have to change your Fate in the game, which then reflects the character’s need to follow his or her instinctive and sometimes monstrous nature. So the more you buy, the more you risk. Anytime a player’s character falls to 0 or less Refresh in his or her pool, that character has become an NPC, unable to do anything but follow his or her instincts. For a mortal character, a 0 Refresh equals to losing something vital that means being a human, their humanity and thus becoming a NPC as well.

So by reflection, you can be a powerful supernatural being that can (and often does) overwhelm most mortals but the price is possibly becoming nothing more that an instinctive, inhuman monster. And while a “vanilla” mortal can become a powerful force in TDF RPG, like John Marcone, they still have all the all human strengths and weaknesses of one.

So by combining these ideas and concepts, the Fate system is well suited to cover the base mechanics of the TDF RPG, but that is only scratching the surface of these wonderful books. It also uses an ingenious method of character creation which leads into the next part of the review, Your Story.

Continues in Part II

Telling Your Story: It’s Not Just About You

Dresden Files RPG: Your Story

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The 48 Hour Media Blackout Project – The Results (Part 3)

Posted by Professor Mordarm on March 24, 2010

Day 2 – Hour 32

A new media-less dawn arrives.

As I stirred with the sun peaking though my window, I happened to look at my clock: 8:00am Sunday. I muttered something unintelligible even to me as I was hoping to sleep in some more and kill a few more hours, but Morpheus had left for other more worthy (and sleepy) dreamers. So I fumbled for my pen and journal for today’s new entry.

Written Entry – Hour 32: I’m up at 8:00am on Sunday. I usually sleep in on Sunday. Why am I up so early on a Sunday?! Ok, back up,  way to moody this morning. This media blackout project is making me act weird. Well, honestly no weirder than usual. Anyway my plan for today is: Bus trip to meet up with Sunday RPG group and hang out. Afterwards, not too sure what to do next. I’ll figure it out later but first, nature calls…

So after the normal personal duties, I went over my schedule. Knowing my time is both my enemy and friend I decided to go early and make an extended bus trip and see the town. It sounded like a good idea at the time but…well I’ll allow my next entry to explain.

Written Entry – Hour 35: Tried to take the scenic route on the bus today. Took the wrong bus, ended up at the airport. Backtracked and took correct bus but bus broke down. Now on replacement bus and now I have a fellow two seats down babbling away at his paper bag. Yes, apparently the bag (and the booze bottle in it) had the gall to run out of booze. Oh man, I think he is going to be sick…(writing scrawls off here)

Written Entry – Hour 35 PS: The things I get to experience in the name of this project. Joy.

Day 2 – Hour 36

Adventures in dodging.

After avoiding drunken organic projectiles, I finally arrived at my destination. Happily escaping the bus of doom, I hopped off and hurried to the site to meet my friends. Then as I approached I realized I had another slight problem.

Doh, media everywhere!

Fortunately I did not have to wait long as one of my friends from my RPG group arrived. Greeting each other he immediately noticed that I had not set up any of my tech gear. When he asked about my lack of equipment (no pun intended), I explained about the project and my involvement in the undertaking. Nonplussed at first, my friend then decided on his own to help me out.

As I could not access any printed reading material (i.e. the rule books) he pulled out his own laptop, pulled up the PDF flies and helped me to do character creation by reading out loud to me as needed. Soon the rest of the group arrived, each toting their own gear of books, laptops and dice.

As soon as I explained my situation, they grinned among themselves. They found it quite humorous and gave me some good-natured ribbing. But they were also quite flexible as well, making adjustments and reading to me rules and concepts as I needed them.

The other guy on my right used his iPhone. 😛

Written Entry – Hour 39: Into hour 3 of the gaming session without my access to RPG media. Despite my inability to access my laptop for rule books and such, I was rather able to put a character together though outside aid from my comrades. I have noticed though everyone here other than me is using a media device of some sort to supplement their gaming. When did this group shift from paper and pencil to electronic PDF files?! It just seemed to work its way slowly into the group. Kind of like fungus. Ugh, bad analogy.

I was quite pleased and surprised on how my friends adapted to the situation I was in. Other than pausing for someone to read me a rule or two it went rather smoothly. The only real hiccup was that every time I had to make a restroom break I had to slip past the racks of comics without looking at them. The store employees were giving me odd looks as used my hands to block the side view of my vision as I went back and forth from the restroom to the game room.

And today was new issue day! Arrgh!

Day 2 – Hour 42

After the end of the session we gathered for our usual after-gaming dinner at the local restaurant. The subject during those dinners is usually whatever geek trend has caught our attention that week. But the subject drifted now and then to my project. Some of them wondered why would I do such a thing, while others just teased me with various bad jokes of: “Don’t read the menu! It’s media!” or “Cover your ears, the restaurant is gonna play background Muzak!

Now normally I head home not long after these get together dinners but this time I purposely stuck around, chatting away and drinking many cups of coffee. Before I knew it, the sun was already setting and it was getting late. Hitching a ride from one of my gaming buddies I returned home.

Day 2 – Hour 44

Written Entry – Hour 44: My friend Sean from the gaming group decided to hang out after dropping me off at the house. We talked geek, tech and RPG speak. Great way to kill more time, though he did setup his laptop and played M.U.G.E.N. to tease me while we chatted. Need to prank him later.

After saying my goodbyes for the night, I gathered all the journal notes, photos and videos together and proceeded to try to organize the material so I could decided how to present this in my blog. But as I could not access my laptop to edit photos, videos and write a draft or two, I did it manually. Not an easy thing to do and I was getting impatient to access my media.

Day 2 – Hour 47 and counting

Written Entry – Hour 47: 1 hour to go. Hand is getting cramped writing possible drafts and this entry. Time is seemingly slowing to a crawl as I keep checking the clock on my wall. Need to pull out the alarm I set up to let me know when the project ends. I wonder how much I info I have missed these past 48 hours. Would I’ve cared if I had missed it? Something to think about later.

The Final Countdown!

So how do I sum up the experience? Personally compared to doing this 10 years ago, I felt the loss of my media more keenly now than before. This project forced me to rediscover viewpoints and habits that I’ve lost sight over the years. Going out on the town. How to deal with boredom. Talking more often to a live person. How to cope.

One of my friends asked me if I had to do this longer would I be able to cope. I responded by mentioning a chance meeting I had with three people during Day 1 in the coffee shop. These three, Jessica (National Guard), Rob (U.S Army) and Brenda (U.S Army Reserves) had just gotten out of basic training (9 weeks without media as well) and were having their last weekend before going off for further training . When I mentioned my media blackout project and how frustrating it was dealing with lack of personal media for 2 days, they just smiled and after a moment, Jessica responded:

“I agree it is tough, but you’ll adapt. You have to or go crazy. But you are not alone. Your (battle) buddies are there to help you and you to help them in return.” – Jessica

All in all, a great way to remind someone who even though we are more media-tech based than ever in human history, we are still at the core, human and still need that real human contact.

-Professor Mordarm

Photos and videos by Professor Mordarm ©2010

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