Jul 31, 2018

Managing a Living World Using Rumour Tables

In this post, I elaborate a method of using reaction rolls and rumour tables to generate a dynamic background to the world as PCs adventure through it. I've been told that I'm very good at creating the feeling of a "living world", and this is one of several techniques I use to do it.

The method is fairly simple: Take a rumour table with a bunch of rumours and roll on a reaction table for every rumour your PCs haven't followed up on. Use the result of the reaction roll to determine how the situation develops and update the rumour appropriately. Remember, some rumours should be false or misleading, and a hostile result should make them more so, not less.

e.g. Rumour: Blue lights and strange noises seen around abandoned Castle Windwell (true; a ghost is causing it)

Reaction Roll Result:

12: Julie the Amazing found and reconsecrated the ghost's body while the PCs were busy with something else. She's now got a ghost-blessing and is roaming around looking for more adventure.
9-11: The ghost has been quiet lately. A local shepherd snuck in to explore and saw a golden chalice, but got scared and ran off before he could grab it.
6-8: No change
3-5: The baron sent out some men-at-arms to investigate, but they never came back. (The ghost has killed them and reanimated them as zombies).
2: Julie the Amazing went out to deal with the ghost, but she came back possessed with ghost powers, and has been roaming around town causing trouble when people least expect it.

You just keep on doing this after each adventure. For extra "verisimilitude" recycle names and problems across each local area, so you get the sense of who the movers and shakers are in that area. If Julie the Amazing pops up in three different rumours each covering some of her recent exploits, you get the sense that she's an important person locally, both because of her deeds and the interest others show in them.

The nice thing about this method is that because of the bell curve, you'll have slow developments and changes over time that feel like a world in motion happening in the background of the PCs' adventures. This is a pretty simple technique, but that's it's advantage - it's fast and easy and doesn't require a ton of reflection to work.

Jul 28, 2018

Wiki for OSR Rules Variants

If you're in the OSR Discord channel, you've probably seen quite a few links to this recently, but I thought I would share it for those who aren't: Valzi / Michael Bacon is putting together a wiki for OSR house rules and variant rules. He's developed a standard submission format if you're interested in uploading your own. At the moment it's primarily Bacon's own material, interspersed with some of the better known works of Courtney Campbell, Skerples and Brendan S. and a handful of pieces by others.

Anyhow, I recommend people go add their own stuff to this, since I think a wiki-reference for all of the creative rules design work the OSR has done over the past ten years would be extremely useful. If you're not sure how, either reach out to Valzi at the OSR Discord channel or via his blog.

Jul 18, 2018

Three Variations on Other People's Ideas

I wrote a sticky note to myself with the best three ideas I've seen other people come up with so far this week (and it's only Wednesday!) and decided to write a bit about how I would implement them.

The first is from Rob Monroe's G+ feed, and is pretty simple: Use Letter:Number for the cell coordinates on hex maps. So the top left corner is A1, the next cell to the right is B2, and the one below the original cell is A2. Use AA...ZZ etc. when you run out of single letters to use as labels. I like this because it is isomorphic with Microsoft Excel's cell coordinate system. I think it's a great idea because it's one of those things that seems obvious in hindsight but that I'd never thought about doing until Rob mentioned it.

The second is Jeff Russell's idea of "flexible reaction rolls" where you either vary the die size of the 2d6 (or use advantage / disadvantage) reaction roll to represent situational modifiers to the encounter, instead of adding or subtracting a static modifier. The particularly brilliant part of varying the die sizes is to make the source of the variation different for each die. One die is under PC control, and varies based on how much they're trying to make a positive or negative impression, while the other is based on the NPC's sentiments and situation.

Jeff lists a couple of possible modifiers for the NPC die, but I think I'd want to abstract out from the ones he lists. The key thing in terms of modifiers for the NPC die is that they should relate to factors external to the NPC themselves rather than being adjudicated as if they were the sum of the possible subcomponents of their attitude. That is, the NPC die grows larger the more secure their position, or shrinks based on their relative deprivation, rather than summing up the relative importance of them being an angry, aggressive but also easily amused individual. Which of those predominates in the current encounter is determined by the actual result of the reaction roll, not its die size.

The third idea is from the Marquis, and involves getting rid of divination spells and replacing them with a divination ability that produces answers to questions with varying degrees of success. The magic rules in Into the Depths are the part of it that has yet to be playtested - in the next campaign I run, I'm going to be fiddling around with them quite a bit, with the expectation of issuing something with extensive changes.

With the Marquis' idea itself, there are three components:

1) Pick a style of divination. Each kind has a focus it requires and a type of information it provides

2) To use divination, roll 1d6 and add various bonuses and penalties to the roll. Depending on how high you roll, you get better and more clear information.

3) You can learn more kinds of divination each time you level up.

I think I would use a 2d6 reaction-type roll for this (I use a system with three bands of outcome - <5 is negative, 6-8 is neutral, 9< is positive). I might even do something like the above with flexible reaction rolls but am still thinking over whether that might make it too easy to do divination and be too complicated to adjudicate here with all the different types of divination.

<5 provides cryptic symbols with lots of room for interpretation; 6-8 provides an answer with at least one solid piece of information, though you might have to decode what it is, 9+ provides an exact answer with at least one clear, reliable and solid piece of information.

Anyhow, it's been a great week in the OSR so far. Keep up the good work everybody!

Jul 1, 2018

Players Tracking the Damage They've Done + a New Role for PCs

Matt Colville has this video with some good advice on the logistics of running monster encounters. It also introduces a new PC role: the "monster wrangler" who is responsible for assisting the referee in moving the monsters and tracking their various abilities etc.

Colville also has this video where he recommends having PCs track the damage they've dealt to monsters, which I agree with (I also have PCs record and track initiative). If you're concerned about resistances and the like and aren't able to wrangle the mathematical tool Colville describes, you can have the PCs use 3 colours to write down damage. Blue, black and pencil works fine. One colour should be damage types they're weak against, one types they're resistant to, and one colour should be damage that's neither. You can change up which colour is which from each encounter so the PCs don't automatically know that "blue" means "bonus damage".

This is a good addition to the list of possible PC roles you can use, which currently runs:

Monster Wrangler
Rules Coordinator