22 April 2014

Pamaltelan Flora and Fauna

Another thread salvaged from the Glorantha G+ community.

Original Post, 17 April:

I have been working on menus... er... encounter charts for my Trolls in Pamaltela game. Since there is little for me to go on, I am wondering what terrestrial analogues to use for flora and fauna. Africa and Australia come to mind, but which regions? Are there other areas I should borrow from? How about epoch? Does the existence of megafauna mammals and dinosaurs point me to points in the past?

A Selection of Comments:

Jeff Richard, 17 April

I tried to give some guidance in the Guide. So for example in Fonrit:
The coastal areas and river valleys are densely populated and fertile. Shovel-tuskers (amebelodon) can be found in the coastal lowlands, and sea-going crocodiles inhabit the rivers.

Or in Umathela:
A wide variety of megafauna can be found in the forests and river valleys of Umathela, including giant sloths, giant armadillos (glyptodons), several species of long-tusk elephants (gomphotheres), running bears (arctodus), shovel-tuskers (amebelodon), sky bulls, and scimitar-toothed cats (homotherium). Alynx live in Vralos, but are rare in Enkloso.

As for in Errinorru, there is just lots of weird stuff, as the Hsunchen entry hints:

Many different Hsunchen peoples live in the jungles of Pamaltela. All are Mesolithic or Neolithic cultures, hunter-gatherers with some forest gardening. They are called Fiwan or the Oldest People by the Doraddi and Fonritians and are believed to have assisted the Creator in making the world. Most are friendly with the Aldryami and most are hostile to outsiders.
The Pujaleg Bat People and Te Huantal Jaguar People are among the best known of the Errinoru Hsunchen, but dozens of Hsunchen groups are known, including the:
• Ayotkulakti (Glyptodon People) - known to make shields and armour out of glyptodon shells;
• Dirithi (Giant Sloth People) - a race of 15-foot-tall peaceful giants;
• Gerfaunz (Giant Horned Okapi People) - who ride their strange beasts (sivatherium) in the jungle;
• Koripi (Mole People) - a subterranean race of pygmy albinos;
• Ngwena (Crocodile People) - crocodile worshipping savages;
• Olmakau (Hippopotamus People) - fierce warriors who transform into hippopotamuses; and
• Yaquma (Anaconda People) - seductive snake people who prey on other humans. 

Among the most feared are the legendary Crocodile-Bear (andrewsarchus) People of the eastern Dinal Jungle and the Two Horned Beast (arsinoitherium) Riders of South Elamle.
The sentient giant ape people (gigantopithecus) of the Haxamu Jungle are not true Hsunchen, although they are often ranked among them. Nor are the Siwafu Army Ant People, who can transform themselves into hundreds of thousands of flesh-eating ants.

Barry Blatt, 17 April

Howzabout Queensland in Australia and New Guinea? Take it back to the Pleistocene and you have lots of odd beasties to choose from, echidnas, an odd type of sabre-tooth tiger, bunyips, tree kangaroos, drop bears, and you can borrow pygmy rhinos and orang-utans from nearby Java and Sumatra without anyone noticing the mismatch. And bung in Komodo Dragons, New Zealand's skinks and tuataras and some really big anacondas for luck.

Hannu Kokko, 18 April

This one might be useful http://www.ttrotsky.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/annex/

Jeff Richard, 18 April

For what it is worth, Sandy came up with the list of megafauna used in the game. Sandy's reminder was that Pamaltela has even more prehistoric things (particularly from the Tertiary Period) than Genertela, and that you should feel free to add whatever really cool megafauna mammals you have always wanted to see in a setting. Then try to figure out their ecology in reverse.

A Thread Too Good To Be Lost

Usenet is long dead, rpg forums have become havens for trolls [and not exactly those of the Kyger Litor persuasion], so it is quite naturally that Google + has become the place for online discussions related with our hobby.

In the past 2 years or so, the most interesting gaming-related discussions have moved from blog post commentaries to G+, even more so with the arrival of the G+ communities.

One such community is the Glorantha G+ community, which is teeming with activity. Posters are very open, welcoming and courteous [forget the "Gloranthan scholars" thing], and literally every day there is a new compelling thread.

The only fastidious thing is that old threads are difficult to recover and may get "lost in time". I am hence copying below, for easy reference, one particular thread that has enthralled me. Since the Glorantha G+ community is a public community, I don't think it's an issue to copy the post and its comments. Enjoy!

Original Post, from 21 April:

So this might be a delicate question, but how many people are using Heroquest 2 to run your Glorantha games? I ask because while I've owned Heroquest for a while I can't seem to get my head around the system, its hard to sell players on it because I don't grok it. Having just purchased Hillfolk I'm starting to think its just my confusion at the way Robin Laws writes.

Additionally the Sartar books and Pavis are great reads, but I guess I'm finding it difficult to create a character who isn't a Sartarite based on the info presented. Someone like an Ethilrist or Malkioni Man at arms for example.  I kind of wish the HQ core book had been written specifically for Glorantha with a lot more play examples and setting info. Sort of like if Blood over Gold was used as a tutorial setting with all the HQ rules included as a core book.

So I guess I want some suggestions, and I'm open to a lot right now. Maybe suggestions on how to start using HQ, or other systems that can be used with very little fiddling. Maybe ways that I can explain HQ to a player in a short enough amount of time that they wont get completely bored and walk away. Or maybe I should just give up on HQ and go with RQII or FATE.

My ultimate goal is to work up a good campaign when the Guide comes out... though Im almost afraid that the Guide will give me too much to work with.

Anyhow I know this is a long post, and everyone's going to have their own opinion about what to do. So I'm going to try and sit back and hopefully you guys will have a ton of great ideas.

A Selection of Comments:

Hervé Carteau, 21 April

It took me over 2 years to "grok" the HQ2 system and I held on for love of Glorantha. My take is
- do make sure you understand the rules perfectly. Run dry contest; always keep in a mind what are marginal/minor/major etc. victories/defeat.
- stick to one rule only on the dice: if both succeed, the one with the highest dice roll OR the biggest difference between roll and score applies.
- don't overuse dramatic contests - one, at most two per game.
- do use group single contests a lot. Every player gets a chance to shine, all learn to work in cooperation.
- do accept you'll use less and less dice rolls and do more and more storytelling, and so will your players. Some like it, others don't. If you have a majority who like it, you're good.
- if you buy a Sartar book, play Sartarites. There's enough in there to keep you busy for years.
Once you have "grokked" these, you will find yourself free of servitude to rules and of numbers-crunching, and find your imagination and cooperation with players will generate better, deeper stories.

Mark Mohrfield, 21 April

+Jeffry Crews I really don't think it's that hard to learn. It's actually very simple, as all actions are resolved using the same mechanic, so you don't have to learn specific effects for every spell, weapon etc. It does take a somewhat different approach than most rpgs, and "unleaning what you have learned" may take a little effort, at least in some cases. But I honestly think a newcomer to rpgs would find HQ 2.0 easier to both learn and master than more traditional systems.

Jeffry Crews, 21 April

Mark- I think your right in that it takes a lot of unlearning.... Like I have so much trouble when it comes to keywords... You have The Orlanthi clan keyword ... What does that mean? How many key words is too many... Too few? How do you do the prose method well? Should everyone just do the list?
Augments also get me a bit spun up....

Or even now that there is so much Glorantha; where do I start so we have a micro level area people can get comfortable with?

Michael Kindt Dalzen, 21 April

HQ2 is really simple.

The hard part is getting your group to release the legacy games and systems they have previously played.

HQ is meant to be streamlined and minimized mechanically so you focus on the dramatic nature of the conflicts in your story.

If you're struggling, use the most basic conflicts for everything. Keep it simple. Get used to letting go of the false complexity of simulationist RPGs. As you get more comfortable then you can start working in more complex extended contests. Like previously mentioned though, extended contests are really only meant for the most important dramatic contest of any given session. This may or may not be combat. It really depends on your group.

The main point is to focus on the narrative conflict and how your players attempt to resolve those conflicts through their characters personalities and ingenuity.

Paul Watson, 21 April

I think HeroQuest is an amazing system, and a very simple one. Here's a summary of the system that prints out on a few pages: http://bit.ly/1lspaF5. I recently found a series of audio recordings of the Colymar Campaign; I haven't had the time to listen to them, so I can't personally speak to their helpfulness, but perhaps you'll get something out of them: http://bit.ly/1jYxXL2.

Having said all that, HQ (like every other system) isn't for everyone. RuneQuest is also an excellent system, one for which I have a great deal of fondness. Design Mechanism has published RuneQuest 6, which is my favourite edition of the rules. They're also preparing the book Adventures in Glorantha, which will be out at some point after the Guide to Glorantha.

Others have mentioned Fate, which is a great choice; others have already done a bunch of conversion work. The core rules, called appropriately Fate Core, are available for $5 or free, your choice: http://bit.ly/1kR8ggB.

Robin Mitra, 21 April

I love HQ2! It a very easy to use and gives both the players and the GM a great deal of flexibility. All you really need is this 4x4 matrix with results from fumble to critical. The rest of the book is not so much a rule system as more a guide to creating interesting story arcs in contests. Even after 20 years of game mastering I found fascinating new insights.

When it comes to character creation HQ2 offers you a variety of methods, based approach to the game and the background of the character. You can also adjust the character creation to your specific needs easily. I for one use the Sartar book for all theist characters, but I don't give the 3 extra charms/spells/spirits to get them more focused.

For the first time in my Glorantha years I have also created animist and sorcery characters and it seems to work as easy as theists. If you are creating a Malkioni give her a school of knowledge, a grimoire or two, two keywords and 10 abilities and you are done.

Also remember that you don't need to create character sheets for NPCs in Heroquest.

Jeff Richard, 21 April

Different people have different things they want/think they need (those are two very different things) from a rules engine. HQ2 is a very rules lite system that focuses on overcoming obstacles in the style of a story or myth. The corollary to that is that it has none of the old "war games engine" that most RPG engines are built on. For some players, that is a breath of fresh air; for others, that is a bridge too far.
Ironically, my current HQ2 campaign has had more battles (and not skirmishes, but really battles with thousands on each side) than any campaign I've ever run (including Pendragon).

Sarah Newton, 21 April

I think with HeroQuest it's important to realise the 2nd edition is very much a toolkit, and its slim presentation sometimes means you have to provide a lot of input to tailor it to the game you want. On top of that, there's a very clear divide between the core game mechanics, which are actually quite "neutral", and the specific style of play which Robin Laws espouses in the text, which is heavily weighted towards emulating a formalist / structuralist lit-crit storytelling style which may not be everyone's cup of tea.

I enjoy the extreme freedom and flexibility gained by incorporating narrative approaches in my games, but I also like a very solid, robust, and non-arbitrary rules framework which both the players and I can 'push against' in play. I like to know what a given ability score means in a loosely objective sense; I like my NPCs to have defined abilities that I can easily reference and describe, and which have clear ratings so I can compare like vs like. I like consequences to be meaningful, and I don't like vagueness or arbitrariness in the rules or play.

HQ2 can do all this, though you need to grok the rules-as-written well enough to be able to pick which dials and options will generate such an approach; by default, the rules are specifically tailored to emulate that formalist / structuralist lit-crit narrative flow, meaning ability roll difficulties are more about deciding what the difficulty of a roll should be based on narrative structure concerns, then finding a description to justify that, rather than describing the NPC or other opposition you face and deriving its difficulty level from that.

I have my own set of houserules which use the HQ2 core rules systems, but remove the "story as resistance" concept and the pass-fail cycle in favour of something more traditional - somewhat more "objective" difficulties, stats for NPCs, etc, somewhat derived from HQ1 but with some big differences, and incorporating some of the more player-delegation elements from games like Fate. I think the underlying mechanic and rules concepts of HQ2 are very strong - but the play style and ethos inherent in the text might make those rules appear further from trad RPGs than they actually are. It's a good system, interesting and rewarding, and imho worth taking the time to grok.

And, yes, the Glorantha HQ material is superb. :)

Graeme Vallance, 21 April

One thing I would add is this: in HQ2 umbrella keywords and breakouts make long games a lot better.

When you start playing your character has loads of small interesting abilities which, while not seeing much use, give wonderful colour when used. Loves his mother, best beard for 10 miles, skipping stones champion, stuff like this. They are part of the charm of HQ2. When I explain Heroquest its always as the system where Loves his Mother is as useful as Masterworked Sword.

If these are individual abilities they are left behind, however, as you start pointing points into your key, contest winning abilities. If they are breakouts, on the other hand, they stay relevant because you're going to be putting points into the keywords they are under. From a metagame perspective upping keywords is a good idea and its what people do in my experience.

You won't be maxing Good Sword Arm. You'll be upping keyword Warrior, which will put up your Good Sword Arm but also Fearson Tattoos, Feared By Enemies and Ear Collection.

My advice is to look at the characters in Pavis Gateway to Adventure. Almost everything is a breakout of a keyword. This keeps everything relevant, even in the late game.

Kevin McDonald, 21 April

Wow! I blink and a 35 (and counting) thread erupts here. The post must have touched a nerve for lots of folks. For my part, understanding HQ was one of those "Before enlightenment you chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment you chop wood and carry water." sort of thing where in the middle was much misunderstanding and over-complication. HQ2 is now my favorite game to run for nearly anything, although I do run lots of different game systems because "variety is the spice of life."

I wrote a HQ2 cheat sheet that is on the Moon Design website, but I must say that in the end HQ isn't as weird as it appears to be on first glance. There are a few core principles that shape everything else:

1) Trust your instincts. All of the story first stuff basically boils down to "How hard should this challenge be? Humm... The players are looking too relaxed so it is time to hit them where it hurts." Every GM I know has done this basically from the first game they ran, but the rules usually don't explicitly say to do so. The Pass-Fail Cycle rules are just an attempt to illustrate how this might work in practice, but... Trust your instincts.

Also, setting difficulty first and then deciding on a resistance isn't as odd as it seems on first blush. It isn't that different from saying "Humm, the players are looking too relaxed so I am going to say the seas are choppy and the boats rocking when they try to jump across. Therefor the difficulty is Very Hard."

This is something I even do in Pathfinder. The point is not to decide in advance--before you know how hard a test should be--how hard a test will be.

2) Use the simplest rule that gets the job done. HQ2 wants to get the job done and get out of the way as quickly as possible. Let it do so. The vast majority of rolls should be for simple contests.

3) Don't confuse how you are doing something (tactic) for why you are doing it (prize). A contest in HQ is about figuring out if you achieve what you wanted to achieve, not if you succeeded at what you tried to do. Once you get that a lot of the edge cases fade away.

All of this applies to Glorantha games the same way it does to any other game. You don't need to have spell lists and so forth to run a Glorantha game with HeroQuest. The background info is enough if you don't get fixated on mechanically representing the details of various magic systems, etc. At it's heart, HeroQuest doesn't care if you are a theist or a sorcerer or a robot or a gun-slinger or whatever. Such rules are fun, but not necessary.

Sarah Newton, 21 April

Yeah +Kevin McDonald - that's exactly how I don't play HeroQuest. :-p (No offence intended.)

For a start - whack the players just because they look too relaxed? Nothing to do with how well they're playing? Just - no. Never. That kind of thing turns me completely off, and bores me silly as a GM. And I've been GMing for a long, long time. :)

Second - using the pass-fail cycle to determine the difficulty, rather than any tactical decision the players make? Once the players realise that's what you're doing, and nothing they decide to do has any effect on your setting difficulties, then they're just going through the motions, and the whole thing becomes a bit hollow. The difficulty should be Hard because the sea is choppy, not the sea choppy because you've decided the difficulty is Hard.

Third - don't need a "spell list" (non-mundane ability description cheat sheet)? That's probably one of the big reasons why newcomers can't make head nor tail of things; you may have internalised enough detail about Glorantha to know exactly how to describe how a Zorak Zoran Death Lord will counter an attack by a Sword of Humakt, but someone who isn't a library of Gloranthan lore will absolutely need some kind of hint sheet on how to describe that. Maybe a quick para written by an expert will be enough, but that's hard to read through during play, and a bullet point list is often better. Better still, some kind of "world book writeup" of Zorak Zoran, with clear indicators of how to describe different foes. Otherwise it all just becomes vague and bland when the GM tries to describe something he doesn't know expertly.

Kevin McDonald, 21 April

+Sarah Newton I get that! But...

It sounds like you are also aware that you are fighting a bit against the core assumptions Robin was designing the game with and have taken steps to smooth out the rough edges that produces. From your earlier post it sounds like you are--as is fairly common--someone that liked the way HQ1 handled resistances (i.e. they represent something objective) rather than a subjective way to create tension by making rolls more or less difficult.

I felt that way myself at first, but I eventually found that I liked the way the rules work as written since I don't have to scale things up or down for games at different power levels. The standard character creation mechanics work exactly the same way regardless of if you are creating heroes or street kids so long as resistances are not given objective values.

That said, I have other problems with the rules and have house-rules to "fix" them. There is nothing at all wrong with making a game work more the way you want/need it to, but it does help to understand what the original was trying to accomplish before making your changes.

Sarah Newton, 21 April

Yup, +Kevin McDonald - I played a lot of HQ2 with the RAW to grok the PFC and story resistance concepts, and ultimately decided they weren't for me or my players, for the various reasons I've cited.

Having said that, there's a definite ambiguity in the HQ2 RAW about absolute scales. For example, it's pretty obvious that there's an absolute scale between the lines: ability score 6 is your default non-skilled rating, 13 is your minimal training rating, 17 is fairly trained, 1M is an initiate's divine rune affinity, 11M is a devotee's divine rune affinity.

In play, I find that using formalist / structuralist narrative flow (either explicitly as the pass-fail cycle, or implicitly as some internalised "gut" version of it) to determine resistances really removes player agency from the game, and makes it into a simple coin-flip resolution. It's also horribly gameable (in a game theory sense); if the players suspect that you're using the PFC to set a Very Hard difficulty next, because they succeeded so well last time, then they can try and choose a trivial contest to "burn" that Very Hard difficulty up, so that the next consequential contest then acquires a lower resistance. And before you know it you're in this bizarre second-guessing arms race where it's actually less about the story and more about trying to manipulate the PFC.

There's also a big issue around choosing how to describe a resistance. Let's say the PFC (or your own "gut instinct" version of the same) decides the next resistance is Hard. In simple terms, you can now choose one of an opponent's Exceptional Abilities to describe that. But then the PC will choose a corresponding ability to counter, which may make the contest easier or harder based on the ability roll - countering the intended effect of the PFC.

And then, the flipside. The RAW make it clear you don't have to choose an Exceptional Ability to describe a Hard resistance; you could just as easily take a relatively insignificant ability, and then just describe some circumstantial effect which makes the contest Hard (the trollkin can't fight for toffee, but the deck of the boat is pitching like a swine, so your resistance to trying to grab hold of it and subdue it is now Hard). So, now your description is directly manipulating the range of abilities the PC can choose to roll in the contest. So in fact the entire thing becomes a bit arbitrary, based on what you as GM want to happen, rather than on any input the player might have.

Also, in play, I find that I eventually end up creating a list of what different ability scores and resistances mean. So I've got Greatsword Attack 9M. Am I any good? Will people in my clan respect me for my ability? According to the RAW, we have no way of knowing - it's "up to the GM". This puts a heckuva lot of work on the GM, because somehow he needs to know this stuff, and if the game won't tell him, then he has to make it up himself... and we're back to the "arbitrary" thing again.

So, yeah. :) I preferred the intent of HQ1's approach to ability score and resistance definition, though the implementation got a bit too intricate for my liking. But I vastly prefer the HQ2 rules - they have a lot more game in them, and a lot more tactics and crunch. I don't use Robin's game ethos in HQ2 - it runs counter to how I personally like to GM - but I consider it quite separable from the game mechanics. I guess I run a kind of Fate-y approach to scale - if you know the Fate "ladder", you'll know that it hardly has a 1-to-1 real world correspondence at all, but it does provide a fixed point of reference for GM and players to bump up against, which IMHO is important for keeping that element of "game" in the ... um ... game. ;-)

Ian Cooper, 21 April

We've been using it in various incarnations (Hero Wars. HeroQuest, HeroQuest 2.0) for some time. That said we did struggle a little when we first came to a story game from a more traditional rpg to get the hang of it.

I'm also a little bit of a Robin Laws fanboy and like Hillfolk too.

That said, things are a little different now of course, games like Numenera are taking a story games influenced approach and their DNA certainly seems to have learned from games like HeroQuest.

The key is to remember that whilst more traditional rpgs have an emphasis on resources (hit points, magic points etc.) ebbing away as you try to complete a challenge, HeroQuest is trying to emulate a written or cinematic narrative instead.

If you are used to using Fate or RQ* remember that abilities are not predefined so you can't set up specific ways to resolve problems the PCs face (climb this rockface, pick this lock)  but need to create more generic problems (the neighbors keep stealing our cattle) that the PCs can find a way to resolve in their own idiom.

Skill checks are not the basis of adventure, story challenges are the basis of adventure. Combat is just one challenge, many sessions might pass without it.

Also note that a contest may be far more macro than a skill check - you may roll to make the whole journey, not just a part of it like fording the stream.

In addition, try to forget what you have learned from more traditional rpgs where you essentially  'move your piece on the battle map' and instead concentrate on telling a co-operative story. Some folks will want to tell 'my guy's story' and that's okay, but telling 'our story' can produce even better results.

Graeme Vallance, 21 April

+Ian Cooper I think its important to note that the size of skill check (roll once for a entire trading mission vs roll to avoid a pothole) very much depend on the story and the amount of fun it brings. Your goal should be to maximise fun and that means keeping the story interesting.

If you're players have their eyes on a prize and just want to run a trading mission as a small part of that, then a single roll is the way to go. The players will only be annoyed at having to wade through a forest of contests they don't care about. On the other hand that trading mission can be a story in and of itself. If you're players are looking for something to do then that trade mission can provide a framework for that.

You start with running around the Clan town, bargaining with established NPCs for trade goods. You set the players the task of getting trade goods and set them at it. That would be loads of simple contests (say one per player), solved using whatever method they players decide.

Once they're prepared they have to get there. Many bandits attack. The players could then run, fight, bribe, talk or whatever their way out.

Once at the market they find the local Lunar offical is charging an outrageous tax! They can pay or it you could launch side quest where they arrange for him to be removed.

TLDR: A skill check should always cover a chunk of narative ground, but how large that chunk is in simulationist terms is more or less irrelevant. You should maximise fun.

Sarah Newton, 21 April

I think that the HeroQuest rules are a lot more mainstream these days than people make out - there's not a huge difference from PDQ, for example, although HQ is much more flexible - and games like Fate, PDQ, and others are occupying the same space very neatly. Unfortunately the perception of HeroQuest is that it's somewhat difficult and obscure - and unfortunately I think the 2nd ed rules sometimes don't help, especially in the way they demand that GMs internalise a large amount of setting information in order to be able to run a scene correctly (check out my Zorak Zorani vs Humakti example upthread), and also by over-intellectualising and tbh over-complicating what at heart is a very simple concept - "Here's a list of difficulties, pick one".

HeroQuest can work fine with zero prep as long as you as GM absolutely grok all the implied definitions and parameters which lie behind the abilities the PCs and any "NPCs" they face. But the moment you step out of that zone, into a setting which has its own internal laws and logic, then you immediately come up against a need for definition and "world bible". And that requires prep, unless you've internalised it exceptionally well already.

So, using HQ to play Star Wars, or Middle-earth, or CSI, B5, or BSG, or any well-known IP - not so much an issue, you can do that pretty much zero prep as long as you grok the ins and outs of the setting. But using it to play a setting the GM isn't thoroughly familiar with - then you need a lot of backup info and material for the GM to prepare and internalise before play (or look up during play). And that, in my experience, is on a par with, say, rolling up NPCs or other forms of game prep.

For example, if I'm planning to use that Zorak Zoran Death Lord as an NPC in my game, I find myself going to my RQ3 Trollpack and any other written resources I have for Zorak Zoran, and jotting down an aide-memoire pick-list of abilities I can use in my descriptions, and then having to make rough conversions to decide roughly what abilities a Death Lord should have, etc. Otherwise I'm just "Hey, the Death Lord awesomes you with fiery darkness stuff, 10M!"

I think the point about the very loose framing is a good one - HeroQuest can resolve the entire plot of Lord of the Rings in a single die roll - "We try to destroy the One Ring by taking it to Mordor and dropping it in Mount Doom". The fact that it's not particularly desirable to frame contests like that is the crux, and I think that very open-endedness of the rules presentation is possibly an issue for newcomers.

Personally I explain HQ2's resolution mechanic as scene resolution. You declare what you're trying to achieve in a "scene" (however you define scene), and then choose whether you're using a simple or extended contest to determine whether you're victorious. I also provide guidance to players for the "scale" of a scene - we have a rule of thumb that "encounter scenes" are usually maybe half a minute or a few minutes, based largely off movie cinematics; "travel scenes" are usually a few hours or so; and "downtime scenes" can be days, weeks, or whatever. I find that kind of simple framework really helps people feel comfortable during play.

The reason for that is otherwise the sheer openendedness of framing can lead to analysis paralysis and unsatisfying contests. Let's say you're "Sneaking Into the Castle to Rescue the Princess"; is that a single contest? How do you actually break it down into a "good" or "fun" number of contests, and how do you define their scope? Am I sneaking through the kitchens and past the guards as one roll, or two? Do I roll to unlock the door, or is that part of "breaking into the castle"? Is it simply an arbitrary decision by the GM? Consensus with the players? Saying "you have to decide how to scope this whole contest yourself in order to maximise fun" is putting an awful lot of responsibility on a GM who's already quite taxed. 

Kevin McDonald, 21 April

I think +Sarah Newton hit many nails directly on their heads here. I would even go as far as to say both the GM and players all have to have a good common understanding of the background for HQ to work well. This is why it is so important for GMs (and even other players) who are Glorantha experts to put that to one side when running games and go with the flow.

I start my Glorantha campaigns with an orientation session that covers assumptions about the world, society, campaign power level, etc. so we are all on the same page before the game starts. (I had the G2G preview PDFs up on a projector during my most recent orientation session. It worked fantastically well.) We usually have a lively Q&A that evening, and from there on out I try to say "Yes, and..." as often as possible.

Because I am not running a game in Sartar/Pavis I did a TON of research pre-game, though. The goal was for my players to have sample abilities under their keywords for culture, race, magic etc. Once that was done, though, I try wing it as much as possible. This does tax our creativity as we struggle to come up with ways NOT to say "I smite him with my Zorak Zorani fire-darkness awesomeness." It can be exhausting "work", so simple player-facing handouts (feat cards? Magic item cards?) would be a wonderful thing for someone to publish. :)

Sarah Newton, 21 April

I do something very similar, +Kevin McDonald - I create "Keyword Ability cards" derived from the various culture, occupation, and rune affinity keyword writeups in Sartar:KoH, with bullet point lists of the sort of things those writeups say you can do. I don't say they're exhaustive or restrictive, just representative, so players can riff off them, but each player has 2 or 3 cards during play and refers to them when they want to try something that's not obviously written on the character sheet. Nice and tactile, and works well. Also very handy when, say, trying to quickly remember the differences between the Urox and Orlanth uses of the Storm rune. :)

I think a future project for me is to do something similar with the "enemy cults" too. It'd be a humongously useful play aid for me when GMing. I'm kind of doing it with my "conversion" of choice bits of Anaxial's, but it's slooooow... :)

Ian Cooper, 21 April

+Sarah Newton The issue of contest scale relating to the flow of play and pass/fail are similar: the Narrator feels the mood at the table.

That's really the way to think about Narrating HeroQuest, you are taking your cues from the players. Consider extended vs. simple contests, you don't pre-decide which type, you 'take the temperature of the table'. Try asking the players, or note that as a simple contest can be the first round of extended, and then if the result does not satisfy 'bring down the pain' to use a term from The Shadows of Yesterday, and make the simple contest the first round of the extended contest.

When describing the actions of NPCs I tend to make up their magic, abilities etc. as I go. Greg said a lot in the past: I don't know, I just make up effects at the table. But every person has different comfort levels here and their session prep differs as a result - some will want to think about and make notes beforehand, others be more comfortable winging it. Each narrator plays to their own strengths.

I use pass/fail as a 'barometer' for the pressure. Sometimes I go with the weather it suggests, sometimes I adjust based on my feel for story. But I also use it for inspiration as to how much complication to add etc. But I use it far more than pre-prepared stats which are very rarely right in practice for me, never reflecting the challenge my game needs.

...and it's growing...

04 April 2014

RuneQuest 6 In Italian!

The Italian company Asterion had translated and published the Mongoose RQII version of the RuneQuest rules in Italian. The book was a superb full-colour hardback with amazing illustrations. Despite its quality, and despite an original 100% Italian companion setting book based on a popular fantasy novel, the book sold quite poorly in the difficult Italian rpg market.

Despite these past difficulties, Alephtar Games, mostly known for their high-quality historical BRP settings (Rome, Life and Death of the Republic, for instance, won a Silver Ennie for the "Best setting" category at the ENnies Awards in 2010), have announced that they would be translating and publishing the RQ6 rule book in Italian.

The Italian version of RQ6 is scheduled for availability at the time of the Lucca 2014 Con, i.e.,
around 1st November 2014. Should the product be successful, other translations would follow.

Stupor Mundi, Alephar Games' very first product, originally published for the Mongoose edition of RuneQuest, should be made available anew with full RQ6 compatibility.

21 March 2014

Chronicles of Future Earth Are Back!

The Chronicles of Future Earth is a science-fantasy setting from Sarah Newton's apparently limitless imagination. Set in the far, far future of our own planet, it features a neo-mediaeval world with some remnants from the past. It is a dangerous place, with little pockets of advanced societies known as the Springtide Civilisations. For some reason, it strongly evokes Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in me, with the small independent principalities and the big kingdoms at war, but I know that other people have different experiences.

There had been a first volume published by the Chaosium a few years ago, which used the BRP as its engine, but honestly it was too thin and poorly laid out, and the Springtide Civilisations deserved a better book.

Well, the Design Mechanism (publishers of RQ6) and Mindjammer Press (Sarah Newton) have announced this very day the Chronicles of Future Earth for RuneQuest 6th edition. The setting will be back, in an all-new full-size, 296-page hardback edition for the 6th edition of the RuneQuest game. If the book is successful, I reckon others will follow, expanding on the Venerable Autocracy of Sakara, the initial civilisation presented in the core book alongside cultures, peoples, and creatures, and histories, maps, and background rules for ancient treasures and technologies dug from the depths of the earth.

In my own feverish mind, I think the setting could be used as a basis for RQ6 adventures in the early Third Age of Glorantha, just after the demise of the Middle Sea empire, with the world of Glorantha back to a Dark Ages-like setting of fear and superstition, and courageous adventurers setting out to explore the dangerous ruins left by the hubris of the God Learners...

T&T Auf Deutsch

Despite T&T 5th ed. having been translated to German in 1983 under the weird name Schwerter und Dämonen ("Swords and Demons"), I believe Tunnels & Trolls has never been very widespread or successful in Germany — contrary to, say, the UK, France or Italy.

It seems there are talks now of re-issuing the game in Germany. What little rumour I've managed to find on German-language blogs seems to imply that the new translation will be based on the 7.5 edition (which seems like a stupid idea since dT&T is so close now to being published, at least in a draft version that a translator could work on), but then other blogs do mention Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls as the possible source. Wait and see.

Whichever the actual outcome shall be, I have found a German-language post about the history of T&T, with a good explanation of the rules, a sample combat sequence, sample characters, etc., all in a nicely put entry. It is available here for those of you who read Krautspeak.

12 March 2014

The Mother Of All Generators

There are three kind of GM bloggers. GM bloggers of the first kind copy pictures or links and say, oh, this is awesome. GM bloggers of the second kind create useful new stuff for other GMs to use. I like to think that I oscillate between the first and the second kind, depending on the inspiration of the day.

Then there are GM bloggers of the third kind (no, they're not humming aliens). GM bloggers of the third kind also create useful new stuff, but it's stuff that can be expanded, improved, and customised, not mere one-off stuff.

The kind owners of the Last Gasp blog definitely pertain to the third category. They have created not a generator, but a tool that enables fellow GMs to create generators (a meta-generator?).

Here's a sample generator that I have created in 2 seconds using their Choose Your Own Generator tool.

09 March 2014

New BRP/D100 On-Line Fanzine

With all the blogs, with all the cheap or even free on-line magazines, etc., I had a feeling that 'zines were on the wane.

Yet Cronista, the ever-productive author of the Mundos Inconclusos blog, has managed to produce a very interesting 34-page Spanish-language 'zine exclusively dedicated to BRP/D100-based role-playing games.

Issue 1, available here, contains the following:

Desde el scriptorium, an introduction, in which Cronista explains why he's started the 'zine, and what games he will be covering: first and foremost RuneQuest 6, but also BRP, Magic World, OpenQuest, and Legend.

La saga de Vinland: the first part of a campaign setting set at the end of the 10th century and at the beginning of the 11th, in which Viking colonists set foot on the New World and start exploring it, obviously encountering the Natives in the process. The sandbox-like setting, firmly rooted in history, is reminiscent of Alephtar Games products. There is a map with numbered hexes, keyed locations, NPCs.... Possibly hours and hours of gaming. This is very good work; it occupies about 80% of issue No.1 of the 'zine.

La panoplia: additional weapons for RuneQuest 6, many of them Oriental in flavour -- which is actually a pity because it does not tie in with the main theme of issue No.1.

Monstruos de los mitos: How to adapt CoC creatures to RQ 6.

07 March 2014

Random Generators Galore

Did I ever tell you I loved random generators? Hmmm.. Yes, I probably did. OK, I've just stumbled upon a web-site with random generators galore. And they're really nifty random generators; they're not powered by old-fashioned D30's like mine, they're based on various scripts, pieces of code, Markov chains, and other forbidden lore, that yield a huge array of results.

The site goes by the fanciful name of donjon.

My favourite random generators are:
  • the Random Dungeon Generator – Old School at its best
  • the Random Treasure Generator (to populate your randomly generated dungeons)
  • the Random Weather Generator (whoa)
  • the Weird Random Generator – 'cause it's weird
  • the Star Wars D6 System Generator (whoa)

You're gonna spend hours and hours poring over all the generators, you're gonna hate me :)

03 March 2014

YARG (Yet Another Random Generator)

For some reason I dig random generators. Maybe they epitomise Old School gaming, who knows. Anyway, ever since I've read this post one month ago, I've been thinking about using the cards from the game Citadels as elements for yet another random generator.


Separate the cards between characters and districts. Shuffle each pack of cards.


You'll either want to randomly generate an NPC, or a neighbourhood for when the party is unexpectedly exploring the city, and has caught you unawares.

Random NPC Generator

1. Take a card from the characters pack. Depending on the card, the NPC is...
    Assassin > an Assassin
    Thief > a Thief
    Magician > a Wizard
    King > a Nobleman
    Bishop > a Rune Priest
    Merchant > a Trader / a Merchant
    Architect > a Sage
    Warlord > a Fighter
    Witch > a Healer
    Tax Collector > a Lawspeaker
    Wizard > a Wizard
    Emperor > a Nobleman
    Abbot > a Rune Priest
    Alchemist > an Alchemist
    Navigator > a Sailor
    Diplomat > a Minstrel / a Skald
    Artist > a Musician / an Entertainer
    Queen > a Noblewoman

2. Take a card from the districts pack. The value of the card will yield the level of the NPC:
1-3: Inferior
HeroQuest: Ability at 17
LotFP: Level 1
RuneQuest/BRP: Skill at 50%
Tunnels & Trolls: Primary Talent at +2
4-5: Average
HeroQuest: Ability at 1Ш
LotFP: Level 3
RuneQuest/BRP: Skill at 75%
Tunnels & Trolls: Primary Talent at +4
6+: Superior
HeroQuest: Ability at 5Ш
LotFP: Level 5
RuneQuest/BRP: Skill at 100%
Tunnels & Trolls: Primary Talent at +6

3. Take a second card from the districts pack. This will indicate where the NPC is coming from, or where the party has met him.

Random Place Generator

1. Take a card from the districts pack.This is the current neighbourhood the party is exploring.

2. Take a card from the characters pack. This is an important NPC the party is going to meet / the person pulling the strings in this neighbourhood. Determine per No.1 above.

3. Take a second card from the districts pack. The value of the card will yield the level of the NPC per No.2 above.