Wednesday, January 5, 2011

RPG Solitaire Challenge: Newsquest & The Librarian

*Blows the dust off of the blog*

My word, that's better.

Hello there, my lovely readers. Long time, no talk. Where to begin.

Point the first: I have been off the RPG blogging radar for over a year for quite a few reasons, but the primary one is that Beneath the Screen is, sometime in the next few months (if all goes according to plan) going to undergo a complete and total overhaul. A new name, a new look, a new host, and all sorts of wonderful things like that. It's very exciting and I have a lot of new ideas that will be cropping up. So keep an eye out if you've liked my blogging in the past, and you will undoubtedly see more in the future.

Point the second: What brings me back on this new year is a little something called the RPG Solitaire Challenge. Though I don't write all too often and am only involved in the RPG blogging community in a small sense these days, I do still keep up to date on some of the more exciting things going on. This grabbed my attention RIGHT away because I love designing games. I love it, love it, love it. So, over the next week I will be refining TWO games - yes that's right, I'm crazy - for submission into this fine contest. The basic summaries and teasers are below, with more refined rules to come. Let the advice and suggestions start fellow competitors! I'd love to hear what anyone and everyone thinks.

(Evan's "The Stuff In Your Domicile" Challenge)

Newsquest is simple enough. It's a solitary roleplaying game played with two items (at least to begin): a pencil, and the morning paper. Players pick an article and pick out words that will become their Allies and Challenges. The length of words defines their strength, and if all the Challenges can be overcome, the player gains a certain amount of Script (functions like experience points) which can be spent to create new words they have in their arsenal, such as weapons or spells. Reading the news has never been so fun! Just a warning however. With all the markings, colors, drawings, and nonsensical doodling this game will inspire all over your newspaper, I highly suggest you let your family read the paper first.

The Librarian
(Working Title. Robert's "Unlonely Your Fun" and Epidah's "The Sharing" Challenges)

The Library is massive. Impossibly massive. But it's yours. The dungeon's been crawled, and the monsters defeated. The scroll is yours. The scroll is... somewhere. In this library. This impossibly massive library.


That's where The Librarian comes in. A quirky young construct with an old brass key, or perhaps a flitting magical beetle with tiny runes carved upon it. Whatever guise your Librarian takes, he has one purpose, and one alone. To serve the researchers.

The Librarian is a simple enough game that can tie in beautifully to any fantasy roleplaying game. What it introduces is a semi-intelligent NPC of sorts in your game who is able to take research requests from your party, and seek out the knowledge they seek. But the research takes time (since you'll be the one writing it), so you have until next session to prepare. In that time between sessions, as the Librarian scurries away to the great Library, he will have many challenges to overcome in it's bookshelf-lined walls. This game carries the mechanics for you to run a short solitary RPG for this lovable young robot as he scurries about to fulfill his master's wishes. How the game falls out will directly influence what kind of handouts or information you prepare for your players. This game is intended to introduce a fun NPC into your games, make the preparation of creating write-ups for your players new and exciting, and to create products that can stand alone as pieces of fiction, poetry, or cartography. This game is best suited for storytellers who enjoy writing, drawing, or creating handouts for their players, but like to have a little fun on the side.

More details to come, stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Top 5 Cartoons That Should Be RPGs - #2

Alright. Long story short - I love RPGs and Cartoons. Let's get right to the countdown. So far here's what we've got:

5. Avatar the Last Airbender
4. Danny Phantom
3. Aaahh!!! Real Monsters

Onwards we go...

#2 - Recess

"This film takes place at an adventurous elementary school. Among the elementary school faculty is the sleazy principal (Prickly), the tough playground guard (Finster), and the nice 4th grade teacher (Grotkey). The six main cast members are T.J.,the leader and schemer of the group; Spinelli, the girl who is a bully with a heart of gold; Vince, the playground jock; Gretchen, the science whiz and smartest girl in school; Mikey, the poetic drama king; and Gus, the wimp with a military family. Then there are plenty of other typical elementary school kids, like the spy Randall, the 4 Ashley snobs, the diggers, the kindergardeners, etc., and including the older kids like King Bob. Everyday the group hangs out at recess dealing with different problems they must work together to overcome."
- Anonymous

What Makes It Awesome?

I know, I know, another school based game. Blah, blah. But seriously, the world that Recess provides is awesome, and totally worthy of immortalization in RPG form. Lets break it down.

If you've seen the show, the main characters basically fill out a balanced adventuring party. You've got the leader, the nerd, the punk, the romantic, the jock and so on... And yet, they come together despite their diverse backgrounds to overcome challenges and be best friends. Sound a little like your gaming group's last session?

The big reason this game would work so well is it's parallels to D&D games already. In addition to the "classes" your character could fill, based in their role in the school yard - statistics like popularity, intelligence, athleticism and charm play a big part of this series and could easily be translated into a tabletop game's rules system.

The general basis of this show is to get the most out of every recess, whether it's participating in the various strange rituals of the playground, to battling older students for authority, to simply trying to cause trouble without getting caught. Players could be presented with a variety of tasks to complete, and much like in the Mouse Guard vein, they could be presented with a series of challenges opposing them. Depending on how they respond to the challenges they may either succeed or fail, presenting new challenges as a result.

The greatest part of Recess however, is simply this. The world of the playground is much more expansive than you might think, with a fleshed out culture, several factions, ancient rituals and traditions, and a government of it's own to boot!

A Snapshot: The World

The playground is a massive collection of varying factions and a self-sustaining government with customs and traditions that kids of the playground are expected to know. As such, the playground is populated with people who can aid with a variety of tasks, or who should be avoided at all costs. Here are some examples:

The King of the Playground (King Bob) - The playground exists as a monarchy, with the King attended by his personal aides, wielding the power to create or destroy traditions or decrees within the playground which then become law. The King is also a judge in all disciplinary issues or matters between two students who need a judge. In the show, King Bob is the ruler of the Third Street playground and the former prankster prince, whose throne sits atop the jungle gym. He is one of the school's older students (he is in the sixth grade). Bob is regularly depicted with a number "8" hockey jersey, and carries a hockey stick as a scepter. He is the individual with the most power on the playground and all bow to his commands.

The Ashleys - The prissiest members of the playground are the collection of all the girls named Ashley, a name which by some right sets them on a higher pedestal then the rest of the playground. As such, they also hold a bit of power, in addition to their own private clubhouse. They are fountains of gossip and generally good targets to go to for information.

The Kindergartners - Making up their own unique group among the students, the kindergartners live as uncivilized, and even dangerous, little urchins that wear face paint, carry tribal weapons, and harass the older children. They are uncontrollable and do not abide by the laws of the playground - sectioned off in their own private area with their own King. When they get loose however... dangerous things can happen.

And it doesn't end there. There are dozens of personalities on the playground. Each known for their specialties:

Randall C. Weems - Randall is the resident snitch of the playground. He is at the beck and call of the assistant teacher, who rewards him with various confiscated items and cookies.

Theresa "Cornchip Girl" LaMaise - Cornchip Girl is a sweet and loving girl who always thinks of other people and also gives people lots of useful advice.

Sam and Dave the Diggers - Two boys who enjoy digging holes.

Swinger Girl - A girl (voiced by Francesca Smith) who likes to play on the swings every recess. She wears her trademark pilot's outfit.

Upside Down Girl - A girl who hangs upside down on the monkey bars every recess. As a result, her pigtails always stand up.

The Hustler Kid - Francis, the Hustler Kid, is a kid that offers the children of the playground trivial toys and food, often discreetly.

Guru Kid - A boy who offers Buddha-like wisdom to kids who seek his advice. He wears a pair of striped shorts and his shirt on his head as a turban.

And my favorite...

Knarf - The nerd who usually hangs out in the school basement during recess with his three nerdy friends playing RPG games, reading comic books, and collecting trading cards.

Why Number 2?

Recess is already well on it's way towards being an RPG. There is enough just in the cartoon series to easily craft rules, a class system, and a full map of the playground and school. It would be a fun game for a couple reasons.

First, you get to be a kid again and use kid logic to solve problems. Second, the big problem is how can I get the most out of recess? Is there a nobler task? This game, as would most of these cartoon RPGs, would function best for one-shotish sessions, rather then ongoing campaigns, but I feel like it would be a blast.

This cartoon comes it at number 3 because I can already imagine playing this game, and it's not all that big a task to undertake to write up a small rulebook to make playing it a possibility. Plus, I loved recess when I was a kid - both the cartoon and the actual thing. I wish my playground was like this series!

Watch the opening below, and you can get a good idea for everything I've talked about here. If you get a chance, go watch an episode!

Stick around for #1 on the horizon!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Classy D&D Beverages (and stormtroopers)

I don't usually just like to give a shout out towards a funny link or video that I've found, but this is too good to be true. Want to show up all your fellow gamers at your next D&D session? Show up and throw some of these in the fridge. Maybe your DM will give you an XP bonus if you give him one, you never know!

Has anyone tried these? Tasty? Horrible? Let me know!

Also, an extra video for your viewing pleasure...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Top 5 Cartoons That Should Be RPGs - #3

As discussed a little while back, I have an unhealthy addiction to both cartoons and RPGS. Blending my two passions, I have produced a fun little countdown for Beneath the Screen as I list the top 5 cartoons that I think could be turned into fun RPGs!

First I discussed Avatar: The Last Airbender, ranking it lowest primarily because of it's likeness to some other games out there, and it being an obvious choice. Next I discussed Danny Phantom, a fun ghost-based game where young surly teenagers go ghost hunting and interact with a variety of strange villains.

Onwards we go...

#3 - Aaahh!!! Real Monsters

"The plots revolved around three roommates/students that just happened to be monsters. You had Ickis, a monster struggling to be half the legend his father was, Krumm, a smelly and hairy little guy that carried around his own eyeballs, and my personal favorite, Oblina. She was the nerd and over-achiever of the group. The monsters studying at the observatory had to remain hidden to humans unless completing their homework by scaring them. They then reported their actions to the Gromble (the teacher of the school, and the first cross-dressing cartoon character I have ever seen) and were graded on how they assessed the situation.

Unfortunately, Ickis, Oblina, and Krumm were always suffering some sort of mishap."

What Makes It Awesome?

Calling for unique challenges, widely diverse characters, strange powers, and intense creativity, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters rolls in at number three in the countdown.

I mean... think about it.

You get to play a monster. Normally you fight monster. Here, you get to PLAY the bad guy! Everyone always wants to try their hand at being eeeeeevil, but now you have a reason, homework!

This show circles around a "scare" school, where homework assignments include scaring various humans in specific ways (Think Monsters Inc). Along the way, the students run into a large number of problems, usually stemming from the fact that they're not supposed to be seen by humans unless they're actually scaring. Tie that with all of the fun monster school drama, and you have the makings of some pretty awesome game sessions.

A Snapshot: Plot Hook

The dull sound of tired conversation and silverware on ceramic filled the small diner as the roar of the midnight train rolled by on the nearby tracks. A ding from the kitchen sent Bernice into a one-eighty spin as she shuffled back to pick up the order. As she picked up the plate of pie, the angelic ringing of the door's trio of bells indicated a new customer entering, to which Bernice turned with a smile. "Welcome to Be-" The woman stopped, as no one new seemed to enter at all. Someone must have left, she thought - shrugging it off looking for the now empty table.

As she laid the pie down, a blood-curdling scream rang out from the kitchen. Turning on her heels Bernice ran into the kitchen as the lights flickers. That's when she saw it, and the entire diner erupted into utter terrifying chaos.

A group of particularly nasty monsters unaffiliated with the school have been making a series of scares in a nearby neighborhood with no regard for how many humans see them, and in many cases actually harming those they attack. In this adventure, our monsters must locate the rogue monsters and keep their activities quiet, while trying to scare some sense into them.

Why Number 3?

I love Aaahh!!! Real Monsters because it can be played in a few ways. One of which being a sort of light-hearted, childish manner. One of which being a more Hunter fashion where setting up and executing scares is all about forward planning, staking out your foe, and executing everything flawlessly. And the final of which being in a World of Darkness horror genre type setting, where you are the things that go bump in the night, but there are other dangerous things out there as well.

This game gives the players a chance to combat enemy monsters, plan and puzzle out complex scare assaults, and try to achieve a large number of goals all at once. It is far from typical and has the makings of a great game.

Stick around for #2 next week!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Altered Posting Schedule

Some of your may have noticed a slow in my posting schedule as of late. To tackle this issue, I am introducing a temporarily shortened posting schedule. For a little while, Beneath the Screen will be posting on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. This is for a few reasons.

1. Job Hunting - Most of my time is spent these days just trying to find a job. I'm trying to move down to Boston but it's still a terrible job market, even in such a big city. Similarly, I'm also trying to wrangle myself an apartment. All of this searching is eating up a lot of time, as it should because it's important that I find employment.

2. LARP Season - As many of you know, I'm an avid LARPer. I am in the middle of LARP season right now, and will be until Halloween. This means that I'm gone from Friday night to Sunday afternoon every weekend. Typically, I need a good portion of Friday (and sometimes Thursday) to prepare for the weekend, and all of Monday to recover.

3. NO GAMES! - I'm not actually RPing right now. My summer tabletop group broke off to go back to college, and my online groups are running slowly. Normally, after a tabletop or IM game I have lots of things to write about, prompted by the session. Not having any games to play has made coming up with ideas a little harder so I've found I don't have as much to write about.

So, stick with me, and swing by Tuesdays to Thursdays each week. Also, if you happen to have an IM/Chat game I can join, or a job in your company I can apply for, please let me know!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Keeping Secrets at the Table

The Dungeon Master's jaw rested very comfortably on the floor as he stared down at his notes - eyes wide. "The... the dragon... dies?"

Cheers erupted from the table.

"For the Mountain Dew!"

The Dungeon Master however, was not impressed. Sifting through his stack of papers he found the photocopies of our character sheets and made some quick references. "Wait a second. How did you beat the dragon's grapple checks? That's impossible with your modifier!"

We all looked to the victorious warrior who leaned back, a slick grin on his victorious face.

"Remember the minor Shadow Ring artifact we found in the Citadel of Midnight? You said it had the ability to change into any one magical ring. Well, I changed it into a Ring of Freedom of Movement before the battle. Pretty smart huh? See, I wrote it on my sheet!"

"Smart?" Wisps of steam rose from the pink-faced Dungeon Master's ears. "You didn't tell me you had Freedom of Movement cast! You just said you beat his grapple checks!"

"Well, the dragon wouldn't have known about the ring or it's effects on me. I knew if it couldn't grapple me the first time it would get frustrated and - not being able to take defeat well - would keep trying and waste all of it's rounds."

"I can deal with what the dragon knows. As the Dungeon Master though, I need to know what your character has for abilities and items! That's why I made copies of your sheets! How can I run a fun and challenging game for you all without knowing what will actually challenge your characters?"

"If you run your challenges based on what we can do, then what benefit is there for getting more powerful and coming up with unique strategies? You'll have an answer for every attack!"

*Cue fight music*

- - -

Secrets at the table. Good idea? Bad idea?

You Can Never Know Everything

Any good DM knows that even if they know the ins and outs of their player's character sheets, they could never know everything about a character. Some players assume that when a DM has a copy of their sheet, they lose all chances to do something which surprises the DM, but they must realize that a DM can never account for imagination and creativity.

Players, you still hold the power! So, if your DM wants copies of your sheets, try not to worry TOO much.

DMs, please remember that you can't control what the players do. Just because you have their stats doesn't mean you know everything they're going to throw at you. Even if you think you can predict your player's movements to a T, don't rely on it, lest your carefully planned campaign de-rails a little and you find yourself uttering those words no DM should ever utter.

How Much Fun Is "Challenging"?

Challenging is an interesting word. I don't think anyone, player or DM would say that they wanted a simple, non-challenging campaign. An easy campaign is just no fun. Sure, having the occasional encounter where the heroes simply stomp the enemies can be fun, but overall a campaign should be challenging.

But how do you make a campaign or encounter challenging?

Is it simply by sending boatloads of monsters at your PCs, or launching something several levels higher than them onto the grid?

One of the best ways to make an encounter challenging is to tailor a monster specifically to battle the group. If the group is seriously lacking in aerial attack power, throw something with wings at them. Take down your party's pyromancer with a monster immune to fire! Yes, this is challenging... but is it fun?

One of the big reasons DMs may keep careful tabs on their players is to tailor encounters to be "challenging" for them, but TREAD SOFTLY DMs! If you take away all of their favorite toys, your players may close down and stop having fun. As soon as a player feels "useless" in a battle, you've hit a major problem.

Tip: If you want to keep a challenging battle fun, rather than make your character's abilities useless, force them to come up with new and creative ways to use their abilities. Puzzle bosses are a great example of how you might incorporate this idea.

An Unfortunate Reality

One benefit of transparency is that it takes a big stab at cheating. Players can't change their skill points, or their prepared spells, or their eye-color mid-campaign. The other edge of this sword is that a call for transparency unfortunately does imply at least in some small way that a DM wants to keep tabs on their players.

Is that so bad?

Well, it can put pressure on the DM/Player relationship, even though it does help to keep everyone at the table honest.

Obviously this aspect of transparency at the table should be addressed in an individual group-to-group manner. Only you know what will work best for your group, and how trustworthy your players are to not fudge their sheets. In an ideal world, no D&D player would ever cheat, and in many groups it never happens.

Every so often though, there are players who make an attentive DM raise their eyebrows. I've sadly seen this more often than I'd like in my time as a DM.

Final Verdict?

The question of whether or not players should be able to keep secrets from their DMs is one I've dealt with in many of my gaming groups and really should be solved on a case-by-case basis. What will work best for your group? What will maintain levels of fun and a healthy degree of challenge?

A DM's expectations of transparency should be laid out at the beginning of a campaign (don't hold your players to high expectations that you've never explained), and players should work with their DM rather than against them.

In the end, it's up to you! It's true that "secrets, secrets are no fun", but sometimes they're the best things ever.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Anthology of RPG Blogs: PDF now available!

I never talked about Open Game Table - The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Vol. 1, and I'm not really sure why. For those of you who don't know, it's a collection of some of the finest RPG blog articles of 2008, from a variety of both prominent and lesser-known RPG bloggers out there. From ChattyDM, to Unclebear, to yours truly!

I actually got two of my articles from last year published. Even though none of the writers were paid it was the first time I've ever gotten an RPG article published... so that's pretty awesome.

There are tons of articles in there! The hardcopy is really nice, which you can purchase from Amazon, but if you want a digital copy with easily printable articles and a searchable PDF format, go pick up your copy today from RPGNOW!