Monday, August 19, 2013

The Workplace: Getting Things in Order

I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me, there always seems to be too much to do and not a lot of time to do it in. Between dealing with work, kids, other family obligations, trying to get a game in now again, and side projects, I get pulled in many different directions. Sometimes, this gets me in trouble. I make a mistake. I forget something. Screw up my project priorities, etc. There is a point here, I promise.

One thing that helps me be productive is my work area. If I can keep it somewhat neat and efficient, I can get more stuff done. Now, usually, it falls into disarray while I am busy being busy. But, over time, that jumbled mess gets into the inside of my brain. It messing with my chi, man. So, last night, I worked on cleaning up my office and setting up a few things that hadn’t been set up yet.

I operate on a shoestring budget these days, so most of what you see—and even what you don’t—is the furthest thing from the top of the line. It is mostly functional, however.

To the far right, we have my Windows 7 PC. I originally had a spare monitor from a dead unit and my wife encouraged me to hook it up to my PC. I was surprised to find my video card supported this at the time. Now, it is difficult to function without it. The second screen allows me to divide tasks a bit easier. I usually do research on one screen, writing on the other. I’ll have my Hangouts and most other internet functions to the left, and Office applications, Adobe, etc. over to the left there.  My wife’s machine also has two monitors and she swears she doesn’t need it, but she uses the heck out of the split screen model when it’s there.

To the far left, I have an older flat screen Dynex TV. I dunno the size. It’s probably somewhere in the 42” inch range. +Jonathan Henry, my good friend, picked it up at a garage sale for about $20. The sound doesn’t work on it. I haven’t done any real troubleshooting on it besides checking basic settings. I hooked up my Windows laptop through HDMI and turned off the audio to HDMI, and it works great. I either need to get the sound working on the big TV or pick up some speakers for the laptop. That big screen TV will be good for Google Hangouts, digital game maps, and other things. I know my wife tested Diablo III on it last night and she was happy with it.

There’s a good chance the TV will be hooked up to a Mac Mini in the very near future—I have to flash the HD. I have some other older Macs off camera as well. One will most likely be my eldest’s machine for school this year, although I kind of like hooking her up to the TV, so we can all keep an eye on her and make sure she is doing what she’s supposed to be during school hours. Then, two tablets I was given to use for testing and reading PDFs. And, there is still more.

It gets a bit warm up here, making it near impossible to get work done without at least a fan and/or room air conditioner running.  I also wonder how much my electric bill would be if I didn’t work from home.

Later, I’ll probably share a tidbit with some of the analog tools I use, but I thought this was a kind of neat setup. I’m investigating a way to make the TV swivel, so I can run videos and such on it while working on the other machines.

What kind of gonzo setups help you to be more efficient and productive?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Numenera Cypher & XP Decks: Thanks, But No Thanks

For anyone who has been following my blog over the past little while, my excitement and enthusiasm for the Numenera Role Playing Game by +Monte Cook will come as no surprise. I am still eagerly awaiting my books due to what has been reported as a miscommunication between Monte Cook Games and the fulfillment company. Shipping apparently started a week later than intended. However, people were able to pick up books that were ordered by FLGS or if they were lucky enough to get to go to GenCon this year. In fact, I believe there was other swag available at the convention. It almost looks like copies of the leather bound edition of Numenera was available based on this picture taken during GenCon set up—a book I was assured I couldn’t get if I didn’t pay more than I already was for the Kickstarter. That would be a real bummer for me. If anyone has the extra cash, is there, and trying to figure out what to get me for Christmas….

Meanwhile, between Thursday and Friday this week, Monte Cook Games released the Numenera Cypher Deck and Numenera XP deck PDF files to backers through DriveThruRPG. I was intrigued by these, and I was under the impression these were an item licensed to an outside company. However, when I received them, I was surprised to see they were published under the MCG name.

Admittedly, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew they were supposed to be cards to help enhance the game. The Cypher cards were supposed to make random cypher generation quick and easy while XP were—well, I dunno. I figured maybe they were little ways to add narrative detail and potentially bonus XP for players. Instead, the XP Deck ended up being markers for XP awarded to players. This is kind of neat. I mean, a lot of games recommend using tokens such as poker chips or beads, especially with an expendable resource that should flow rather freely around the table. It helps from not having to mark all over a paper. But, let’s look at it.

I am beating around the bush. The PDFs are a big disappointment.

First, they’re meant to be printed, but the order number and account number watermarked really detracts from presentation. So, the logical answer to that would be to buy a set of cards. Okay, I could see that. The XP run $2.99 for the PDf and $7.99 for printed card. Right now, you can get the PDF and the printed cards both for $7.99. There are 30 cards in the XP deck. The cypher deck is a bit bulkier at 120 cards and carries a steeper price tag of $7.99 for the PDF and $19.99 for the printed cards, or you can get both the printed and the PDF Cypher Deck for $19.99. I find it kind of odd that there isn’t a bundle available for the two decks.

These cards really seem to miss the boat. In both cases, you have a graphical backside. However, the prime real estate for branding on the back of the card was left bereft of  the Numenera logo. How do we miss an opportunity for branding a new product like this? If I am going to invest in some extra swag for a game, like I had fully intended to with these cards, I want that logo front and center. Just note, the logo for Numenera doesn’t show up on the front of the cards either. However, when you look at the promo image on DriveThruRPG, the logo is there. Is this another case, like with the core book that went out two weeks early to backers and pre-order customers, where the incorrect or incomplete PDF file was uploaded?

Looking at the front of the cards, the XP Deck is thirty Cards with the number 1 emblazoned on them in a blue, shaded circle. However, at the bottom, there is a line that shouldn’t be there. It’s as if someone move the circle, but another layer still showed part of ti. It’s glaringly obvious, even looking at it at only 100% magnification. In fact, it looked worse at 100% magnification than it did at 500%. So, $3 to kill my printer ink, waste paper, and get thirty colored pieces with the number 1 and XP on them? Thanks, but no thanks. And, if the PDF looks bad, why would I consider spending $8 for a printed copy?

Next, we have the Numenera Cypher Deck. Again, we’re not branding these things. Why not?!? Who made this executive decision? I’d love to know their reasoning. We get 20 image cards to give us an idea of what a Cypher might look like. We get 100 cards with text on them to give us cypher abilities and level. So, two decks we use in conjunction with one another? Mind you, these are cyphers—one use items that help our characters be awesome. One use and then throw away. At least one of the items looks like a pretty cool weapon of some sort that requires two hands to wield. Another is a drawing of a full suit of some sort of armor. Both seem pretty odd to lug around for just one use. Then, look at the art itself. There are crop marks all over it. The flaws in the art again get worse as we zoom out. The border has jagged lines instead of straight diagonal

There are no instructions on how to use the deck, so the assumption that you just shuffle randomly to use both decks a the same time is just that—an assumption.  The text cards include multiple possible cyphers per card. Each of them has an icon that is never explained, but it is possible to differentiate between aneotic and cocultic cyphers—those that are easy to use like a pill or a button versus those that are more complex and take some understanding. In that case, aneotic cyphers certainly seem to outweigh occultic in terms of sheer number. I have to look closer, but if there are 100 of these cards and multiple cyphers on each card, that certainly gives us at least twice the number of cyphers than are provided in the core book.

In short, the Numenera Cypher Deck and XP Deck were both clever ideas. They held a lot of potential. However, seeing their initial release via PDF leaves a lot to be desired. It was a good idea, but somebody failed the execution roll on these two, friends. Again, my hope is that this is all just another big misunderstanding and new files get uploaded, but it concerns me that this was ever released. I know Monte and his team have poured their blood, sweat, soul, and tears into Numenera. And, I still have very high hopes for it in the upcoming days, months, and years. As it stands, however, the cards are something I am going to have to pass on for now.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Numenera RPG Actual Play Report

This past Sunday, I had a chance to run a one-shot of the Numenera RPG by +Monte Cook  for new players. I repeated the experiment on Monday night. Monday night’s group was big enough, however, that we split the group into two. +Jonathan Henry ran the second group. In the months we have been running games through Google + Hangouts, we have not seen this kinds of interest before. Some things went off without a hitch. Some hiccups occurred. But, in all, everyone enjoyed the games. Let’s go over it.

Sunday’s game was a bit busy. My in person group didn’t show up, except for Jon, my wife, and me. So we opened a Google Hangout. Four additional players showed up. It was a bit much, but we gave it a whirl anyhow. My wife has access to my PDFs and Jon pre-ordered, so he has access to his PDFs. There was another player with access to the books, although he hadn’t had a chance to read through everything yet. Jon and Jennifer already had characters, so we used the Numenera character generator for everyone. Then, I went through their options one by one to fill in sheets, more or less. That process really only took about 10-15 minutes per character. The big slow down and issue here was the size of the Numenera Core PDF. That 75M file moves a bit slow, even on a decent computer.

What I had done for a one shot was basically give the group a mission that had them travelling from southwest to northeast in order to access some mines that had a new mineral. Along the path, they ran into some large lizards, about a meter long including tails. The group fought them off, but the combat took awhile. There are two reasons for this. The dice were against us and there were simply too many people. While everyone was having fun, one player stepped down as he’d been through playtesting before and another needed to get up  early. I continued the adventure with the group showing up at the town at the end of the in-book adventure, the Beale of Boregal. The players got through the ending a little faster than I expected. Altogether, it was less than 3 hours of play including creation and answering questions.

The second night, I ran the same adventure while Jon ran something entirely different with his group.  We created characters using the same fashion, but all players needed a character and there were no in-person players. One player did request a pregen, so he used my wife’s stealthy nano who focuses mind over matter. Otherwise, we used the generator and ran through as I had the night before. Doing a screenshare on G+ of the PDF seemed to speed things along. During the second hame, using a G Drive document to jot all the characters down in. In fact, I totally forgot we had done up a Numenera playmat. That probably would’ve helped.

This time, the group decided to avoid the lizards, so I had thrown an adolescent cragworm at them. They killed it quickly. Then, they too moved on the last part of the Beale of Boregal adventure. They also made quick work of freeing Boregal. Interesting both groups freed him rather destructive, but straight forward manners. Ah, the benefits of a force cube. But, neither group really wanted to deal with the Magistrate killing people. That wasn’t their problem. The second group was prepared to blackmail him for their silence, though.

There were a number of take away items I thought I would share here:

The rules are simple, but there are things that people are still going to be familiarizing themselves with. For example, on the first night, I forgot to lower the difficulty of light weapons. It was a simple matter and didn’t disrupt gameplay. I remembered for the second night, though. I also remembered to offer tactical and cooperative options on the second night, which I had forgotten on the first night.

Overall, the players and I have all come to the conclusion that armor is expensive to wear. Most have created characters that do not wear armor, because of the Speed and Might Cost. I know others on the Ninth World Hub have essentially called me crazy, but that’s been the consensus from players so far.

There is another thing that has bothered us a little bit. That is cyphers. These things are all over the place, come in different forms, have all sorts of different effects, and are good for one use. How then are our characters supposed to discover their actual effectiveness. This is one place where we do not see the rules supporting the narrative. Suggestions have been that cyphers not be throw away items, but have limited uses, because the whole throw away concept is kind of bothersome to some players as well. They pointed out that the only throwaway items they were used to from other RPGs were potions and scrolls, but there were never limited to carrying such a small amount.

The next item that came up was where perhaps some narrative was lacking. Players mentioned they see these characters in the art throughout the book. Those characters look like bad asses. They have cybernetics, glowing blue energy, weird weapons, etc. As I explained it, that is two things. One, it is a narrative description. I referred them back to the background narratives for some of the types. Hey, that nano might be fully wired, it just doesn’t give them the uber powers of a Shadowrun character with half a point of Essence left. The other thing is, some of these characters may be well beyond Tier 1, having accumulated advancements, artifacts, etc. I partly blame myself for not describing it how I imagine it should be for adding flavor to the characters. However, I feel that perhaps the book fell just short of this where it didn’t grab us by the face and say “Hey, be creative!” with our character descriptions, although it certainly led by example.

A number of these kinks will be corrected by our regular games, long running campaigns that Jon and I both plan on running. We’ll have one in person game here locally and we will probably each run a game online through Google Hangouts. And, those games will probably play off of one another, where things done by characters in Jon’s campaign will affect the characters in my game and vice-versa.

Overall, people had a lot of fun. I’ll probably run a few more one shots. I’m not a big one shot fan, but I am a big Numenera fan. I’ll probably also be running some local demos here.

I think one of the coolest things about the game for me so far—running it that is—is the people that I totally wouldn’t expect to be interested, because of the games they normally play, people who flat out said on more than one occasion that they had no interest in the game, people that were not sure about the game, now being interested and—in some cases—even excited about the game. They read my blog posts, they have heard Jon and I talk about it in Giant Dragons’ Gamer Chat on G+. We didn’t brow beat anybody, but some saw the game through one shot, some asked questions, and now some are hankering to play or grab a book and run their own. So, that right there is a great sign.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Words: Knowing the Difference

I have been trying to keep this one under my hat, but I just can’t seem to do so any longer. Recently, I have been inundated with all sorts of nastiness and ignorance across the internet. Mind you, most of it is not necessarily directed at me. However, the way some people state their points—however misguided—it could be. I think one of the more interesting things is how people like to take hot button words and warp their definitions to mean something else entirely. This practice has spilled over to include seemingly innocuous, everyday words. It is a bit much, folks.

I like to think of some basic guidelines when using language.
  1. If you don’t know what a word means, don’t use it.
  2. If you want to use a word, but aren’t sure which one—look it up or ask around. There is a wealth of legitimately useful information out there.
  3. If you want to use big words, that’s fine. But, see number one above.
  4. You aren’t necessarily smarter than someone who chooses not to use big words.
  5. Baffling people with bullshit has a much lower success rate online. Remember, part of the practice includes first knowing what the other person knows.

Why do I fight the fruitless battle of trying to use logic on the Internet? It is a losing battle. I think what’s worse is when illogical people try to claim they are using logic—going so far as making up their own fallacies. And, people say the wise thing to do is let these people move on in their ignorance and even harmful ways and pay them no heed. That is a problem, my friends.

These people, spouting their nonsense, have the ability to infect other people. Someone might be taken in by their foolhardy arguments. They may fall prey to the senselessness. Have you ever met someone who is convinced that something is the truth, because so and so told them it was? How about people who are so convinced of their own bullshit, because no one else has ever dared correct them? “Oh, I know it is the truth, because my sister agreed with me.” It happens, folks. I used to think it was a rare occurrence, but the proliferation of such blind sheepdom has only gotten worse with the spread of internet technologies.

Now, I’m not saying everyone’s opinion is wrong. But, when opinion gets confused for fact, that is an issue. Granted, some of it may be confusion, because people simply don’t know what a word means. This past week alone, I have heard people talk about good people committing some of the most horrible acts imaginable. That, by definition, means they are no longer good. A good person, after all, is “virtuous, right, commendable.” Good people may be forced into bad decisions and have to choose the lesser of two evils. They might even make mistakes. They do not, however, rape, torture, or murder. They might go to extremes, they might kill for the right reasons, but they do not commit acts of evil.

Supporting an argument is good for the brain. It is a good mental exercise. It is unfair to have different rules for different participants in the discussion. It cannot be suspected that one person must fully support their argument, but the other does not. It is unwise to blatantly dismiss facts simply because you do not believe them accurate, discuss them. Do not start a logical debate on one premise, change that parameters of that discussion part way through. If you just want to argue through the use of begging the claim, circular arguments, straw man techniques, sweeping generalizations, and other rhetoric, it accomplishes nothing for any party involved.

Some common words/terms that I have seen misused and abused over the week include, but are in no way limited to, censorship, fact, free agency, gender bias, logic, misogynistic, sexism/sexist. People often trying using big or hot button words, because they feel no one will challenge them on it, because mere challenging of the statement means they are somehow guilty of the misplaced definition of the term.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Homebrew Descriptors for the Numenera RPG

I've really been digging the Numenera role playing game so far. With only 12 descriptors, it almost begs to have new ones written. I talked about this in one of my earlier blog posts, about how--even with guidelines and examples--I wasn't quite sure how close or how far off I was. So, I decided to write some up tonight and share them with the fine folks of Internetlandia and get some feedback

Descriptor: Calculating

You are a methodical, linear thinker. You often find the easiest, most direct method, but you still consider all of the variables. You may take time to act, but you usually end up with better results than others. You might be heralded as a wise man, a problem solver, or an engineer.
Exacting: +2 to Intellect Pool.
Skill: Trained in problem solving, crafts, and one knowledge of choice.
Skill: Trained in skills requiring incredible focus or concentration.
Inability: Initiative tasks are one difficulty higher for you.
Initial Link to the Starting Adventure: From the following list of options, choose how you became involved in the first adventure.
  1. You were recruited to help solve a puzzle or mystery.
  2. You saved another PC previously by disarming or outsmarting a trap.
  3. You have been assigned by a local authority to travel with the party to help keep them out of trouble.
  4. One of the PCs bested you in solving a puzzle or riddle previously. You have been working together sense, although you are always trying to prove that your intellect is superior to theirs.

Descriptor: Feral

You have lived apart from others for most of your life. Whether you were a child raised in the wild or a little bit older when you struck out away from society, the outside world is your home now. You may be a brilliant tracker or hunter, but most of all, you are a survivor. Others might seek you out for your familiarity with the untamed lands or you may be seeking a way to reintegrate with civilized peoples.
Inured: +2 to Might Pool.
Skill: You are trained in skills such as survival, hunting, and tracking.
Skill: You are trained in skills with preparing food and working with natural plants.
Inability: Your ability to operate or understand numenera is always one step higher.
Inability: You have been away from society for a long time. The difficulty of any task involving charm, negotiation, persuasion, or deception is increased by one step.
Initial Link to the Starting Adventure: From the following list of options, choose how you became involved in the first adventure.
  1. One of the PCs found you in the wild. You became fast friends and you travel together ever since they saved you from near certain death.
  2. You saved one of the PC’s lives when they were traveling in the wild. You have traveled together since.
  3. One of the PCs has promised to lead you to a home you can only remember bits and pieces of.
  4. You left society due to a grave injustice and one of the PCs has agreed to help you right that wrong.

Descriptor: Vicious

You are a harsh individual. You exact the most critical strikes both on the field of battle and off. Those who would dare stand in your way should surely think twice. Most likely you are a warrior, a brigand, maybe a politically motivated individual. You may have an end goal in site or you simply may value others so little that you almost enjoy inflicting pain.
Cruel: You add +1 to damage rolls.
Skill: You have become adept ad reading people in order to find out the most efficient way to inflict harm, granting you trained ability with reading people, motives, and finding weaknesses.
Inability: Your nature often shows through making tasks involving pleasant social interaction and charm one step more difficult.
Additional Equipment: You have an additional Light Weapon.
Initial Link to the Starting Adventure: From the following list of options, choose how you became involved in the first adventure.
  1. You have left town to avoid trouble over someone you have harmed in one way or another and found yourself in the company of the party.
  2. You are seeking vengeance on someone and find it wiser to travel with the PCs than alone.
  3. In a challenge, one of the PCs showed you mercy. You have been intrigued by this and indebted to them ever since.
  4. You need money to fund some fiendish endeavor.
So, this is an attempt, I'm interested to hear what others have to say about these descriptors.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Homebrewing the Numenera RPG

+2 Intellect
       Pleasant/Positive Social Interaction
           Mind Influencing esoteries
           Important Contact
           Inability Lore, Knowledge, Understanding
           Inability Resist Mental Attack
           10 extra shins
+2 Intellect
           Mental attack defense
           Assessing danger, lies, importance, quality, function, or power
          Inability Lore, Knowledge, & Understanding
           10 extra shins
+2 Speed
           Balance and careful movement
           Physical performing arts
           Speed defense
+2 Intellect
           Knowledge of Choice
           Memorizing direct experiences
+2 Intellect
           3 Knowledge of Choice
           Inability charm, etiquette, persuasion
           2 additional books on topic of choice
+2 Intellect
           Identifying & understanding Numenera
           Sense active numenera
           Hedge magic estotery
           Inability charm, etiquette, persuasion
           Climbing, jumping, running, swimming
           Training, riding or placating natural animals
           Identifying or using natural plants
           Inability charm, etiquette, persuasion, deception
           Explorer’s pack or extra if already have one
+2 Speed
           Esoteries or special abilities involving illusion or trickery
           Inability movement
+4 Might
           Breaking inanimate objects
           Extra medium or heavy weapon
+4 Intellect
           Resist mental effects
           Inability Puzzles, problems, memorization, lore
+4 Speed
           Inability Balance
           +1 Armor
           +1 Recovery rolls
           Might Defense
           Extra light weapon

According to the optional rules in the Numenera RPG Core Book, some descriptors offer a +4 to a stat Pool and either two narrow and one broad skill while others have a +2 to stat Pool and either 3 narrow skills or one narrow skill and one broad skill. Additional skills can be added by adding an inability. Add 10 to 15 shins of additional equipment. As we can see, this is a very loose guideline. For example, the Tough character gets an extra light weapon. While I am not sure how the two relate thematically, it is interesting that the guideline recommends that 10 to 15 shins of extra equipment be given out to even things up, but the light weapon typically costs only 3 shins. I believe this is even further thrown out of whack when you consider a descriptor can be replaced with a different race or variable mutant ability.

This can make a bit difficult when trying to come up with new descriptors, which the Numenera RPG almost dares you today, but it can also make it easier. It really depends on your viewpoints. There is a lot of eyeballing here, which is one of the things I didn’t really like about the creation rules for Cortex’s Marvel Super Heroic RPG. Part of that, I have realized is my old school role playing experiences. Without a firmly defined schematic for defining descriptors, it frees those of us who want to homebrew new additions to the game from some more traditional practices of balancing, although it opens up more relying on others’ opinions and playtesting. I plan on creating some of my own descriptors here in the very near future—maybe even tonight. I’m curious how that exercise will work out, but I am also curious to hear others’ thoughts on the whole thing.

What Do You Do to Prepare for an RPG as a Player?

There is a host of advice in regards to prepping a game or campaign for your players as a DM, GM, storyteller, Narrator, etc. However, I would like to look at it from the other side of the coin. When we get together to enjoy a role playing game, everyone involved is looking to have fun. I believe that it is part of the social contract that we all work together to insure everyone has a good time. We cannot just put all of that on the GM’s shoulders. So, what can we do, as players, to prep for an online game?

I think at least part of what we can is universal, whether we are playing online or around a table, and no matter which game we are playing. Some things are specific to the different environments and some are specific to different games.

For example, in the Pathfinder RPG I am playing, I am responsible for putting my character together, assigning gear, figuring out bonuses, etc. Now, I do not necessarily have to know all the rules upfront. The GM and other players will be able to help with that. It is best to have that information figured out and understood before the game, though. So, I should do some research. In reality, especially being new(ish) to the game, I am probably going to make up a cheat sheet or notecards as well, which cover any special abilities or feats for my character. I don’t need to copy everything down word for word, but get some quick notes on there and maybe a book and page number for easy reference. Those things are specific to my Pathfinder RPG prep work as a player.

For Fate Core, however, I don’t need any of this prep work that I would do for Pathfinder. In fact, it is “kind of” against the rules as written. Character creation is a group effort in Fate Core. There are no crazy feats and a much easier set of rules to familiarize yourself with. With Numenera, I would probably find myself somewhere between Pathfinder and Fate Core when it comes to player prep work.

But, that is only part of the story. With both types of games, I try to prep people I know I am going to be gaming. That includes my kids and my wife. Considering my wife often plays alongside me, that part is pretty easy. As a part of that, I try to ignore the phone and messaging programs, unless it is something important. I consider my gaming time, time off. Un fortunately, I am also perpetually on call, so it doesn’t work the way I mean for it to 100% of the time.

With online games, I try to give my computer a fresh reboot, closing down unnecessary applications, so I don’t have any excess drain on bandwidth or processor issues. I try to eat first, but it doesn’t always work, as my game times happen to revolve around the little bit of free time I have, so the two get mixed in. Take that bio break beforehand. Get an extra drink in the beginning and some snacks. Have the books I will be needing pulled up on the computer or nearby. I also take some time beforehand to make sure my mic, camera, and whatever applications I am going to be using work first. Recently, it came to me, that simply testing that I can get to a virtual table top such as Roll20 isn’t enough; I should also try and learn the features, as doing so during the game can be distracting and slow things down. My main goal with online games is t speed things along and cause as little distraction as possible.

With in-person games, there are a few things I do a little differently. Since I happen to be one of those pesky breeders (4 kids), I tend to host these. So, I try to get the house cleaned up and food and refreshments stocked up. My wife loves to cook, so she often makes snacks and meals for those gathered around the gaming table at my house. If I go to someone else’s place to game, I make sure I have any necessities such as my Dr. Pepper and I usually bring some snacks or prepare to chip in for pizza or something. Now, here is one that most people know, but it seems many forget at open game nights in a public setting or at conventions. It is very important for in-person gaming, though. Shower, brush your teeth, wear clean clothes. In other words, make yourself presentable. In fact, most people I game with do this for online games too.

In any event, one of the biggest parts of prep work we can do for any RPG experience is to be in the right mindset. Know what we are playing and be ready to play. Get into character. Know the rule—at least the basics. And, don’t let work or real life problems hamper your ability to have a good time. Chances are, if you do, it can have a negative impact on the game and other players. There have been days I have stepped away from games, because of real life events—not that I couldn’t make it, but that I wasn’t in the right mindset. It happens. However, if you’re ready to play and ready to have a good time, it can be a great way to get away from those real life issues for a little while at least.

What about you? Any special steps you take or would recommend for someone in prepping to play a role playing game?

Shared World Campaigns in RPGs

I am not a huge fan of shared world campaigns in role playing games. In fact, I am not a huge fan of canon. With the old World of Darkness setting by White Wolf, there was a lot of canon. I would sit around the table with people who memorized every page. They hated it when I ran games in Cleveland and didn’t make Cleveland controlled by the Sabbat. They hated when I didn’t use the characters and storylines created by White Wolf. As a player, I was expected to know all these various stories, characters, etc.

I never took part in things such as Living Greyhawk or Living Forgotten Realms, because they just didn’t seem to suit me. It was like tournament play for D&D. It was good idea, but I believe it feel flat on execution. That is my personal opinion, though. Obviously, it didn’t do too badly, as they were were around for years.

Now, my problem was never with the actual content. In fact, some of the things I read over the years were very good. They showed tremendous talent and writers’ love for the games often showed through their writing.

My problem with these things were that they took place over many books. There was a significant investment of capital required. The other problem was how these stories laid everything out for you. The DM or GM had a few options, which meant characters had a few options, but people who wanted to stay true to the story were quite limited in what they could do. For someone in a World of Darkness game for example, demolishing the Mall of America might not work if a later supplement required Mall of America as one of the settings. Now, some people would change the setting, say the mall was rebuilt or otherwise work around it. Other—and a number of them—want to stay strictly by the book.

Now, here I am reading a new role playing game book with LOTS of setting material. That would be the Numenera RPG, which should come as no surprise to those of you who have read my recent blog posts. +Monte Cook  has done an awesome job is laying out a world for us to explore in a wide variety of ways. He plans on doing a lot more with it, too. The discussion or organized play has come up, but the team indicates it is a long way off from doing this.

From a recent G+ Hangout, where we talked about Numenera, an idea I had come up with some time ago regarding shared worlds and organized play came back to me.

What about a setting, supported by the publisher, but directed by the fans? I believe this is something the new Shadowrun is supposed to do—where actions players take through organized play and the company website will have an effect on the progressing game world.

I could totally see organized play where everyone is given the same adventure to start with. The plot hook style games with a general outline provided in the way that Monte Cook does are excellent for this. Then, game reports are sent back to the publisher. Let the fans vote on the ways the stories player out and how they ended. What did they find the best or coolest? Then, base the next adventure off of those votes. These can be strung together in a story by publishing company and be supported as official canon.

Of course, there are some logistical concerns to this, especially if you are working with different players with different characters, etc. However, as a basic idea, it sounds kind of neat. This is the sort of interaction I believe should exist between gaming companies and the fans today. It provides the transparency consumers are demanding in so many markets. And fans obviously want to be involved. That explains the activity on blogs, forums, online communities, etc. It also helps to explain the success of Kickstarter as a publishing platform.

Shared worlds are great. They can be extremely fun and surprising. However, if it is just reciting and following canon, how fun is it really?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Numenera RPG Chatter

Yesterday was a very busy day and I didn’t get a chance to post most of what I had planned on. I did, however, get a chance to go to a chat with +Jonathan Henry where we discussed Numenera with several people who stopped by. The chat was filled with people who had backed the Numenera RPG through Kickstarter, pre-ordered the book, or were hoping to get more information before deciding whether or not they wanted to buy the book.

Unfortunately, nothing ever goes according to plan. In the beginning, I was still waiting to get released from the hospital from my son’s treatment, which meant I was gone for a chunk of the middle of the chat. I guess there was also some talking over one another with all the excitement about the game, and that’s a problem that was just being discussed in regards to running games. I wanted to apologize to anyone who didn’t get a chance to share their ideas as it can get a little hectic with timing delays, rampant excitement, etc. in a G+ Hangout. Unfortunately, I can't speak to any specifics as from what I understand, this happened while I was offline and in transit. If you had any thoughts to share or questions to ask, please do so. There’s The Ninth World Hub and a growing community for Numenera Fans right here on G+.

As a note to +Monte Cook, +Shanna Germain, or other members of the team who might see this, there was some discussion about getting new players into the game, especially those players who might really be on the fence or might be awaiting for the proper celestial wallet between their hobby and their wallet. There was an idea of a sort of quick start guide, something that could be easily downloaded and perhaps even printed out by GMs to hand out to new players.  The Numenera Player’s Guide might be an example, but it’s still 64 pages long, and something with a short and quick 2 or 4 pages would be great. Some of us want to be able to share this information openly, which explains the rules and gives some character basics—but, not all. And, of course, none of us want to accidently travel into murky legal waters.

The Numenera RPG had something like 17,000 copies ordered before it was ever completed. That is pretty amazing in the gaming industry. However, buzz about the product seems somewhat limited. There is a small wave traveling the internet which could quite possibly be a great tsunami.

Many people I have talked to who have read the book, followed the project, and so on truly believe that the Ninth World and the Numenera RPG can be the next great role playing game. It’s already got the computer game underway. There is fiction out there to support it. There is branded merchandise. However, there isn’t as much chatter online as some of us would hope for. I myself have talked to some gaming stores recently who haven’t even heard of it, partly because they were burned on previous Kickstarter projects, partly because they simply hadn’t heard of it.
The point to this is that Numenera has a number of fans that want to see the game and the world grow—not just as more product and stories get added over time, but as more people go out and buy the books, enjoy the game, etc. Some of us understand that, as fans, we are partially responsible for spreading the word. On the other hand, there are some things Monte Cook Games can do to help with such endeavors.

Apparently, there was some discussion regarding GM intrusions and the economy of XP. We’ll probably cover this more in detail, althought it seemed to be the one topic that actually got people to take sides. Other than that, people were very enthusiastic about the game and learning more.

As a result, we gathered together some links from around the Interwebs. These have some great information.

This PDF contains 4 of the 5 official stories that have been released for Numenera so far. The Amber Monolith is a free story that is printed both in the book and available for a quick read over at the Numenera website.

The players guide is up for sale with cards for the low low price of $9,999.99. Sadly it does not come in the glove box of a new Honda, but i am pretty sure that your local Honda dealer will include the book with the purchase of a new Civic, but you won't get the cards.

I suggest picking up the Players Guide for anybody who is interested in playing the game. It is essentially the condensed version of setting material and character creation rules from the main book. When it’s available, the Player’s Guide is set to retail at $7.99, I believe. That’ll be about a week from today.

Started by one of the earliest Numenera fans, the Ninth World Hub has been a forum and a sounding board for the project for a few months now. Some of the earliest updates are here. And, team members from Monte Cook Games stop in. I just saw a sort of spur of the moment contest one put up yesterday for people who could locate some specific Easter eggs in the book.

I believe this was set up by the same team who put together the Ninth World Hub, although I could be wrong. These podcasts have been interesting, even though earlier episodes were somewhat hatered down due to the stringent NDA to protect Numenera before it hit the world. The last two episodes include diect interviews with Monte and team members and I hear are a “must listen.” Hopefully, I get a chance to list to them today.

On Google Plus

Numenera App

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Some Quick Thoughts on the Numenera RPG

I have a limited connection and an uncomfortable setup today as I am broadcasting like from Rainbow Babies & Children in beautiful downtown Cleveland today. As such, I’m not sure how far into my planned blog posts I will make it, but I thought I would jot down some quick thoughts.

I was talking about the many different options for Numenera characters with +Jonathan Henry last night. Jokingly, I made a comment about a Nano with Tony Stark’s armor, a Glaive who makes a discovery not unlike that of one Dr. Bruce Banner, or a Jack with mental and illusionary powers that is the last of a dying race of Martians from another dimension. Hahaha. We both laughed. Then, there was that moment of silence. You know the one I am talking about. It is the predecessor to the moment of dawning. Our faces became stern. Then we laughed again.

+Monte Cook had done it again. The Numenera RPG has pretty much exceeded all of our expectations. Just when we think we’ve seen it all or figured it out, there is a little nugget around the corner waiting to surprise us. You can absolutely set up the comic book hero or villain as a character in Numenera. In fact, because of all the stuff that has been worked into both the rules and the setting material, you can create just about anything and everything within the bounds of the game. If nothing else, the Academy of Doors makes that pretty well a trump card to surprise players with at any point in time.

Rather than starting right off with a bunch of examples of how pretty much every and any character can be imagined in the world, I challenge anyone to bring forth something that cannot be done in Numenera.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Numenera Character Creation Example

So, I finally made it through the Numenera RPG core book. I am really debating of what my post will be after having done that. I’m not quite at the point where I want to give a synopsis on the more detailed setting +Monte Cook  put together. There are sections after the chapter settings that detail running the game, GM tactics, and numenera including making your own numenera, but the basics of these items have been covered. Again, it becomes a question as to what is and is not oversharing.

So, what I have decided to do instead is walk through character creation. I may come back and cover these other topics later. I just have to find a way to do that I feel I am not lessening the worth of the actual product.

I have several ideas for characters and adventures in the Ninth World floating through my head. In fact, I mentioned one yesterday while reading through the setting material, about a shadowling jack who had their cover blown. So, I already have a little bit of a basic idea of where I am going. Let’s see what I can come up with going through the rules of the book.

The jack is described as being a hunter, treasure hunter, rogue, skald, con artists, scouts, and experts in a variety of fields. This seems to fit the basic character concept I have in mind quite well. After all, if this were D&D, this character would be a rogue. So, we’ll stick with the rogue character type. What does this mean for our newly crafted character?

I’m going to skip past the jack’s place in a group and in society, because I already have kind of an idea of who this character is and what they are like.

The jack’s pools for Might, Speed, and Intelligence are all set at 10. I get a total of 6 points to spread across these polls. I think I’m going to keep it simple here and put two points into each, so his new pools will be Might 12, Speed 12, and Intelligence 12.

For this character, I see him as a growing up in the poorer part of town. He didn’t have much. He had to figure it out himself. He was later brought into the shadowlings for his unique skill set. Combine his past with his training and he ends up being a shoe in as someone to infiltrate a criminal organization. As such, I choose the School of Hard Knocks for the character’s background.

I roll for the jack’s connection to the world. I get a two, which means my older sister is a skilled nano. The numenera is not my strong suit, but I am also not completely lost in that area. This certainly isn’t something I would have immediately chosen for this character, but it gives me an interesting detail to add into the character’s backstory that may become useful later, during play.

As a tier one jack, my character has an Effort of 1. I want this character to be an agile adventurer, a nimble fighter, and be able to get out of the way (or out of Dodge) when he needs to. Because of that, I decide to put his one Edge into Speed, since the Jack can choose which of their three stats to apply edge to. I make note that my Jack can carry as many as two cyphers at a time. The jack is also practiced with light and medium weapons.

Now, I have an important choice here. I can choose one skill to be trained in. I’m really thinking he should be stealthy, so I am going to pencil in the stealth skill for now, but that may change before we are done. The jack also gets to choose one skill to be trained in on a daily basis. Each day they can choose a new skill or each day it can be the same skill. This effect only lasts for the day.

The jack starts with clothing, two weapons, light armor, an explorer’s pack, a pack of light tools, and two cyphers. I will wait to detail and decide upon the specific items until later in character creation—namely after choosing a descriptor or focus.

For tricks of the trade, I do not see my character as a spellcaster of any sort, so I am immediately staying away from hedge magic. Instead, I take Thrust and Skilled in Defense. For the specific skill I choose sidestep, showing the jack’s ability to get out of the way of attacks.

For the jack’s descriptor, I had already mentioned how I thought of him as a stealthy character, so the Stealthy descriptor seems to be quite fitting. However, I notice this brings about an inability, causing all movement tasks to be one step higher in difficulty. So, I look instead at the Swift descriptor which gives the character a +4 Speed, training in initiative actions, trained in running actions (makes sense, because he is on the run), and an inability in balance tasks. I don’t really like that, but I could see it playing well—so fast he sometimes moves too fast for his own good.

For my connection to the starting adventure, one of the other player characters convinced my jack that it was in his best interest to join the group. He’s on the run from a powerful enemy, after all.

When I got to my jack character’s focus, I actually stalled for a moment. Works in Back Alleys seems like a perfect fit, but it makes him much more a thief than I really envisioned him. It might still work. Then, I thought of how I kind of envisioned him as a swashbuckling fighter, but I’m not quite sure it fits as well as I want it to. So, I went through the foci provided in the book one by one until I found one I was sure fit. I come across Explores Dark Places and it seems to fit quite well. I love over the tiers and it makes sense for this character. He was essentially a spy rather than a scavenger, but the skill set is the same, and it will lend itself well to crawling through the mysteries of past civilizations and the numenera. My character gets the bonus items to go with the explorer’s pack. I make note of this. He also becomes trained in climbing, jumping, balancing, searching, and listening. That boost to balancing acts will cover the inability the jack picked up from his descriptor, so that’s good. From this focus I also have a bond with another PC. We’ve worked together before and we do so well, gaining a +1 to any tasks where we work together.

For equipment, it is suggested that characters not start with anything denoted as special and that the price for the free equipment given by the character type should be limited to 5 shins per weapon and 15 shins for armor. I consider the armor and I simply do not see the jack being weighed down by it. I use the option to take the value in shins rather than the armor and add 3 shins to the character’s currency. For weapons, I’d really like him to have a buzzer, having essentially been a criminal and an undercover members of an elite secret police force, but that costs 25 shins. A GM might allow it, but I’ll try to keep within the game’s guidelines for now. As such, I’ll give him a forearm blade and a crossbow. I plan on the blade being retractable and the crossbow being collapsible. There doesn’t seem to be any specifications of this and it fits the character well. I’m going to stretch the rules a bit and give him one set of ammo to go with the crossbow as well. To kind of even it out, I’m going to make the crossbow a light weapon.

A jack automatically gets a bag of light tools. This includes Contains small tongs, pliers, screwdriver, small hammer, small pry bar, lockpicks, 10 feet (3 m) of string, 3 feet (.09 m) of wire, and miscellaneous screws and nails.

Rogue from the Pathfinder RPG, but pretty close to
what I see my Numenera RPG Jack looking Like
With my focus of Explorer’s Dark Places, my jack’s explorer’s pack contains 100 feet of rope, rations for five days, three spikes, hammer, warm clothes, sturdy boots, three torches, and four minor glowglobes.

I can’t really think of anything off the top of my head for the character to need equipment-wise, so I will leave it at that and know he now has 11 shins.

I still need to figure out the cyphers the jack starts play with. I’ve looked through other example characters, their starting cyphers, and the section on numenera. I think he’s going to end up having an injector that allows him to heal 1d6 might points instant. I also think he’s going to have a set of adhesive gloves that make climbing earier. Both are good for only one use, of course.

I’m going to flesh this character out a bit more, but that is it in essence.

For some simple rules, it really did take longer than I expected. I think that is because a number of options were close to, but not exactly what I was looking for. In the end, I end up with this:

A Swift Jack  who Explores Dark Places.
Might 12 / Edge 0
Speed 16 / Edge 1
Intelligence 12 / Edge 0
Effort 1
Trained in Climbing, Balancing, Initiative, Running, Jumping, Listening, and Searching
Inability Balance

+1 to tasks when working with [Character Name]