Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Regatta Gloriosa

I mentioned previously trying to have events that make a city feel different than the rest of the world.  After many delays and several sidetracks my players got to witness, and take part in, a religious procession of barges that determines which religion will be dominant in this city for the year to come.

The city they are in is a dingy, trade-oriented republic.  Ulminster has five big families that struggle for power and religion is party of that.

First, here's what my new take on character sheets turned out like.

I ended up using one by Dyson Logos' sheets and deleted a lot of the labels.  I also rearranged the stats (I like mine grouped as physical/non-physical rather than the random traditional order).  So it wasn't a collage, but since everything was pretty much unlabeled spaces of varying sizes, my players each chose what they wanted to put where.  I think that's pretty cool.  We also had one visitor join and I just rolled him up on an index card.  I figured if he comes back we can migrate to a folder like the rest.
Not good picture quality, but you can see the dim, tableless environment I DM in :).  Below is a bit closer view of how I handled the Regatta Gloriosa:
The chips weren't part of play, just representing the barges
The idea is that The Regatt Gloriosa is a festive event sort of like Mardi Gras.  Citizens each get one clay chip from their neighborhood.  These chips have a hole threaded with a ribbon and are thrown onto the barge passing that the citizen prefers.  There were five neighborhoods that border the city's central river.  A majority of these had to be won to win the regatta.

The Captain vs the Doge
My one player decided to build a float and take part int the Regatta, so I designed a mini-game to represent it.  I set it up as five hands of cards, but playing off of three shared cards.  Two of which were hidden until we moved into that region.  I was playing the frontrunner and expected winner (the current Doge representing the biggest religion).  I didn't want to involve the other barges for simplicity's sake, but also because I didn't want to set the mini-game up as a competition between my players.  So it was him versus me, the DM.  That's also not a good situation to be in, an adversarial DM, but I tried to alleviate that by giving him a session to creatively acquire some advantages and I went first so he could react to what I did.

So my player and I started with 10 cards each-- enough to complete a poker hand for all the districts.  My player, G, had earned another card in a previous session by buying thousands of meatpies for the onlookers in one neighborhood.  He also spent money to set up fireworks on his barge.  He had enough to shoot them off twice and could draw an extra card for the particular neighborhood he shot them off in.

So, when the regatta moved into a neighborhood, I flipped the two hidden cards and had the Doge play first.  It was iffy if this design was going to work-- I didn't want my player to win or to lose, but for there to be exciting tension.  And the way it worked out we went into the last neighborhood tied, so it worked perfectly.  My player won.  The Captain (as in Morgan) is now the dominant religion in Ulminster for the next year.

Thugs versus Lepers on the Winning Barge
So what did I do with the rest of the players while only one was involved in the regatta?  Well, I was trying to bring in threads from former sessions.  So, Oma the female fighter took part in smuggling weapons into the city for the Redsashes (the local hireling guild) in a previous session, because they expected an attack.  Aphrodisia, the female cleric, sees the future in dreams and she saw people jumping from a bridge to attack a barge.  There happen to be three bridges.  The players set up on the middle bridge and then had to run frantically to the last bridge when the attack occurred from there.  From a previous session Aphrodisia knew her grandfather was going to be killed by being fed some serpent-like thing and she saw one of the women from that dream on the barge of a new religion.  This is me trying to set up for them having to deal with a weird serpent cult in future sessions.

The final battle was nothing complicated by D&D standards, they were pretty much low level thugs.  The party was never really in danger.  But the thugs were attacking lepers that G had converted to the Captain's cause, so there was some tension trying to save those unfortunates.  You can see dice representing the lepers and their hit points below.  The glass beads are the thugs.  I let my players roll attacks for the lepers so they were all involved.
At the end, it was very satisfying, the regatta went off as planned with fireworks, nailbiting, and a photo finish.  Everyone clapped when we finished.  We had two people watching and one of them was really getting into it and my players were trying to convince him to play next time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rethinking my Character Sheets

So, my main computer's hard drive just stopped working.  After just getting gimp/inkscape/files set up to make more silhouettes-- after months of struggling to get data off of my last computer's dead hard drives.  In defiance of the fates that are hounding me I want to post a bit about character sheets.

Index cards or notebook paper are fine if you have a few experienced players.  If you're going to have new players, character sheets need a bit more to them to help players understand and navigate all their character's info.  You can see one solution I came up with here.  And, one I was very proud of, a character sheet that folded up to hold handouts here.

But, if you have different players rotating in and out and/or a lot of player deaths, you can end up with a lot of these.  And if you're a traveling DM like me, they can get lost in the shuffle.  Also, the player handouts I give like maps and such, are often too big to fit in that neat little character sheet 2.0 I designed.  So, last time I met with my group I mentioned I was thinking of going to full-sized character sheets so I wouldn't lose them.  And one of my players mentioned "yeah, and clipboards we can all write on." 

That gave me the idea to glue a character sheet onto a manilla envelope and slide something stiff inside that.

The idea being that these would be big enough to not lose, capable of storing whatever players want inside, and stiff enough to function as a clipboard they can write on when we play.

I had two stiff plastic three ring binders that I actually hate as three ring binders.  I chopped them up with a paper cutter and they were perfect as stiffeners for my envelopes.

I need to print character sheets and glue them on the front (and backside on the back) now.  I downloaded a few but they all have clutter I don't use in my game (like lots of space for the old saving throw categories or to-hit rolls because they use descending AC).  I can make my own, but that will take a bit of work (like finding my icon/symbol files from my old computer's data recovery).  But I thought the idea might work well for you if you have a similar play environment (no game table, dim lighting, and adult beverages in abundance).  Let me know if it works well for you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

An Interview about Wayscape

I was contacted by Patrick Mooney about a project he's working on.  I was interested so I thought an interview might be the best way to find out more about it and the purpose of it.  The project is called Wayscape and involves different real world play groups existing in the same shared world.  You'll find out more specifics below.

So, first, can you giving me a bit of your gaming background?

I've been interested games since I was young, with my favorites quickly becoming videogames with a strong narrative or experiential focus like Morrowind or Shadow of the Colossus.  Around high school I discovered the late, great Dungeons and Dragons CRPGs and quickly fell in love with Planescape: Torment.  I first started playing tabletops at the very tail end of AD&D, learning to GM while working my way up through various D20 rulesets and branching out to other systems like GURPS and World of Darkness.

Yeah, Torment was just really interesting, I think Morrowind fits that same bill in my mind, where I, as a player, didn't know what to expect.  Did you ever play Neverwinter Nights?  It had that Dungeon Master feature.  And how about your experience with MMOs or online play through G+ or virtual table tops?  I'm also curious about your experience DMing, did you find it difficult, did you attempt to engage your players in grand narratives?

I first got involved with early 2nd wave Massively Multiplayer Online games like Everquest and Star Wars Galaxies, always playing on the unofficial roleplaying server.  I worked on a few large-scale plots with some guilds I participated in, but communication was mostly limited to forum posts in those days, so it was difficult sometimes to get any traction.  Because I was a little late to the tabletop scene I missed out on the big experiments like Living Greyhawk or the White Wolf apocalypse master-plot, but they're fascinating (and certainly divisive) case studies. The ideas that eventually became Wayscape started when I checked out some old-school MUDs and Neverwinter Nights, logging a ton of hours particularly in NWN2 persistent world servers.  Think of them like small, DIY-style MMOs.  The community is small and specialized enough that players and GMs talk every day, and basically anyone can propose a new plotline if they have a cool enough idea.  The downside is that it can be difficult on a technical level to implement new content, and the game engine is mostly concerned with combat, not narrative.

Aha, I thought NWN might be down your alley.  So, what exactly is Wayscape?

So Wayscape is a web-based map system for massively scaled roleplaying.  We built it as a tool for living world campaigns; an online environment that's shared between many different groups of players.  Gamemasters can push changes to the map in real time, allowing playergroups to leave their mark on the world.  They do this by dropping pins we call Narrative Objects; markers that stand for characters, places, or events, which can be updated over time.   Currently we're using the D&D 5th edition ruleset, although we plan to support other systems in the future.

So, if I've got a group playing here in Fresno and we loot a tomb, a game group in Seattle coming to that tomb will find it looted?  Assuming this is true, do you have a certain buffer distance you put between where groups are playing on the map, or are they able to be, say, in the same city at the same time?

That's right, although we're more concerned with creating plot hooks than inventorying someone's session. GMs can create new Narrative Objects, even flag them private so only their party can see them on the map.  So if the second GM really wanted to run a dungeon crawl, they could always make a new haunt in a different location.  Or, they could incorporate what happened in the crypt into their story.  Maybe ghouls from deep within have emerged after their resting place was desecrated and wander the countryside.  Maybe a cleric from a nearby village has arrived, and asks the players to investigate a mystery that the first group's adventure uncovered.
        We tossed around the notion of tying players' physical location to in-game geography, and decided against it for our current prototype.  I think it's a cool idea, but it really only works for some types of games.  In the long term, we want users to be able to create their own worlds and have some flexibility with sharing and persistence options.  But for right now we're playtesting a basic proof of concept.

 Ok, so players can't really bump into each other or interfere with each other in a resource competitive way.  Would you say Wayscape is, overall, about trying to make worldbuilding easier and richer by having DMs share pieces (these Narrative Objects) they are already having to create for their own games?  I suppose another way this might be different than just running your own group is that things would be happening in the world as time passes so there would be constant sort of external prompts of creativity for a DM.  I mean, it wouldn't be just that a npc created by another DM would save me work, but I didn't expect that npc to show up at that time and that gives me something to bounce story ideas of of.  Am I on the right track?

That's right.  Ideally, Wayscape will slip seamlessly into a GM's regular prep time.  We want it to be quick and intuitive, to cut the bureaucracy out of living world systems.  I think the most interesting and fundamental way different playgroups can interact with one another is by cross-pollinating content, in effect.

These Narrative Objects are still neutral though, so one playgroup's actions might affect another's in a deleterious way.  For instance, Playgroup A could have a brawl and burn down the tavern that Playgroup B uses as a home base.  When Playgroup B has their next session, they realize that the world is growing and changing, sometimes out of their control.

They could chose to help rebuild the tavern, or maybe hire some mercenaries (so long as both GMs approve) to go after the other party.  We have plans for more sophisticated PvP systems later on, but for right now we want to use a simple "cold war" actions for rivalries between playgroups.

To continue with the idea of shared world building, are there communal encounter lists?  I suppose anything you could encounter might be a narrative object but where you encounter them and how likely might be dependent on the a more overarching view of how you want the world to feel.

Is there anything you would like readers to know?  And, finally, how would someone get involved if they are interested?

There aren't encounter lists per se, though I'll look into that idea.  As far as monsters go, we have a Bestarium page that lists creatures (old and new) appropriate to Shrouded Isles, as well as templates so GMs can use to adapt entries from the Monster Manual.  The idea to establish a certain atmosphere for the world, but to still give GMs creative freedom to add new story elements.  That's why a lot of the Codex entries are based on folklore, or have stories of vague or conflicting events.  A lot of the history has been lost to time, because we want to embrace different perspectives and allow the narrative objects to get a little messy.

We're always looking for new GMs, players, and collaborators!  We're just starting to build a community around Wayscape and the Shrouded Isles campaign is taking off. User feedback is really important to us moving forward, and we want Wayscape to become the best tool available for living world campaigns.  If you're interested in participating, please get in touch with me at 

I don't have any experience with living roleplaying systems or even mmos, so I might have been the wrong person to interview about this.  And yet, when I first looked at Wayscape I thought it was more about story driven play (that's why I was asking Patrick about grand narratives above) so it was helpful to realize that its kind of communal world prep might actually be something that a old school minimalist like myself could find very helpful.  So in that sense, if readers of this blog are similar to me, then this may have been a great place to have the interview.

Also, my questions were about sussing out what the project's goals were.  I don't particularly want PVP.  From my experience every online game ever devolves into PVP and I think D&D can be much more interesting than just trying to exterminate or out-compete other parties.

Feel free to add your own questions in the comments.