Friday, March 30, 2012

Wanting to create my own adventure locations for campaign play.

I am thinking of writing my own adventure locations instead of using or tweaking published one's.

Making somebody else work your own can be fun, interesting and formative, but still I think it bring some complications.

I like reading and playing published modules, but I am discovering that I prefer to use my own creations for campaign play.

Mainly simply because it fun to create adventure locations.

Also I think I have reach a point were I have discovered what I like and don't like in modules, and now I want to try to create adventure locations that support what I enjoy in location design and gameplay.

I also want to feel more at home with my campaign settup, with a net of adventure location of my own creation, I think I will feel more confident to improvise while playing.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

LotFP, solo session 4.1

At the end of session 04, the group choose to accept a NPC offer to explore some ancient ruins on a mountain in the north. (Dead Frost Doom).

There was some unfinished business in the Stargazer Tower, mainly the question of what to do with the Star Crystal. The player who had been playing Aurore and who is now playing Vital the magic-user, suggested that he could go there in a single player session to play the dominoes and to find out what to do with the Star Crystal before the group leave for the north (a important decision because if they choose to sell the gem, two characters will gain a level). I said sure, why not, if you have some time before the next session we can play a solo session. The group said this was cool and nice.

So we played session 4.1 (stargazer tower spoilers follow)

The player choose to take the time to read the books from the tower and to find a henchmen to return to the tower.

We rolled a chaotic non-combatant henchman. So we determined she was a runaway gypsy servant girl who had a family close to the supernatural.

Vital and Laura, his newfound lantern-bearer, ventured in the tower.

Vital challenged the ghost and won the dominoes games and gained access to the secret library.
Playing the dominoes was short and fun, I think it was a good choice for the ghost's game.

Vital searched the scrolls and found the spell scrolls, but I also included 5 scrolls with drawings of the magic mirrors. Each scroll was a illustrated clue about the nature of each mirrors. (I sensed that the players wont dare to try the mirrors without feeling that they had well played and found something about the mirrors, but I also choose to leave the clues simply because it was fun to drawn and to play with them).

So Vital deduced that one of the mirror was maybe a prison and found a way to avoid this one. He tried two of the mirrors: one reflecting his ideal self and one letting him to get the answer to one question (he passed both saving throw). He asked: "how can I get rid of the wizard?" I thought about it a little and I answered: "expose him to one of the mirrors".

The player was excited and after thinking about it he decided to try move the prison mirror to the wizard room to use it on the wizard. He tied a sheet of cloth on the mirror and with his servant help brought the mirror to the wizard. There the wizard intimidated and tempted the servant, we rolled for morale and loyalty and the gypsy girl remained brave and loyal.

The wizard was furious and Vital profited of the occasion to remove the mirror's sheet cloth. The wizard got a glimpse of the mirror surface and I rolled his saving throw on the table, I think he had a save of 6 or something, and I rolled a 3! The player was cheering as the wizard Uravulon was sucked into the mirror prison! Well played!

As the referee it was really fun to be surprised like this! We were both "wow this is astounding!"

The player choose not to push to his luck and returned to the city with his servant. We roleplayed some scenes with Vital and Laura and ended the session.
(By reading the books Vital also understood the purpose of the telescope and decided to the sell gem at the next session)

This was my second best session of LoTP. Very satisfying.

But yesterday we played session 05 and it was problematic session for many reasons, more on this later.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Traps & Challenges

I want to expand a little on my comment about traps & challenges.

It seem important to give the players information or ways to distinct between traps & challenges.
  • Trap = danger with no reward at the end.
  • Challenge = danger with a reward at the end.
(reward = treasure, clues, new area to explore, etc)

  • Trap = something to identify and to avoid.
  • Challenge = choosing to take risks to get a reward or to unlock content.

So, in a sense:
  • Avoiding to interact with a trap = good move or tactic.
  • Avoiding to interact with a challenge = avoiding to play the game.
(well naturally challenges are also about choice, so choosing not to face a challenge for a good reason is playing the game. This is different from avoiding interacting with something just because you are too prudent or careful and don't want to face risk & challenge.)

When players can't distinct traps from challenges, they will probably deal with challenges as if they were traps: they will avoid interacting with them. (because avoiding interacting with a trap that is just a trap is a good move).

So I guess it important to make it clear that traps are traps and challenges are challenges. Or to give means and ways to distinct each one.

It important that players know that a part of the gameplay is to distinct traps from challenges. So they will try to identify what is just a trap and what is a challenge.

Naturally the distinction between traps and challenges is not always clear. Sometime they overlap. For example tricks like drinking pools and magical mirror that randomly give boon or curses.

I agree that sometime it interesting that the distinction is not clear cut. But I think that for a introducing adventure, it good to make the distinction clear to avoid ending up with players confusing trap & challenges who mix them up together and end up fearing & avoiding them all.

Now I want to read all your blog posts about trap crafting. ;-)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fear of playing dominoes

We played our fourth session of LotFP.

This time there was nearly no exploration. The group tried two switch of the telescope control panel, then they were vey tempted to challenge the ghost to gain access to the last unexplored section of the tower but they hesitated and choose instead to take the remaining treasure and to leave the tower.

We played some scenes in the city where the characters tried to sell some of their loot and to learn some rumours. Finally they choose to leave the tower behind to explore a new trail. They feared to explore the mirrors, the prisoner cells, to experiment with the telescope and to challenge the ghost to play the dominoes. They were tempted and intrigued by all of those elements, so I wonder if they are getting too protective or prudent.

I also feel that the players don't want to roleplay too much their character because they don't want to get attached to them. So we ended up with a session where they din't dare to explore the weird part of the tower and where they din't really let themselves have fun roleplaying their character. Many parts of the session kind of felt administrative.

EDIT: But there was also some interesting stuff: we randomly generated and discovered some details about the setting, rumours, contacts, etc.

If I look back at our sessions:

Session 01: getting to the tower for the first time, two character death before entering then returning back to town: the atmosphere is hard to build.
Session 02: exploration of the tower: the session was really fun and immersive, the atmosphere was great, we all had a blast. A great session. :)
Session 03: the group pass some time in town to organize their equipment, re-visit the tower, a character die, move back to town. The atmosphere from session 02 is nearly gone, the tower feel less mysterious.
Session 04: nearly no exploration, the character are very prudent, they loot what is safe to loot then they move back to town. No feeling of mystery, the group talk often out of character about practical stuff like equipment, things to sell, etc. Some interesting setting details are established.

So I note that coming in and out of the dungeon kind of kill the atmosphere as the location loose it mystery and the game become more about administrating the loot and I wonder how to deal with this. It hard to rebuild the aura of dread and mystery and to get the players immersed back into their characters and in the location atmosphere.

Two of the players enjoy the game very much, but our third player (who missed the second session) told me that the game is a little frustrating because the hight danger level generate a lot of hesitation and some gameplay paralysis and also make him hesitate to get immersed in his character. I understand him since he missed the most interesting and immersive session and only explored the "left over" of the dungeon. (I use "immersive" in a very general sense here)

After the session I thought about all of this and I posted some reflexions to the group:

(I resume)
"I wonder if we are playing too much for the XP while forgetting that we are around the table to explore weird locations and situations. (maybe we should simply see the XP & Levels as something that run in the background that keep track of the characters advancement while we play).

I understand that the game encourage you somehow to protect your character and to be careful. But at the same time while you are doing this you are avoiding the most interesting parts of the game since those parts will also often be the most frightful/risky/dangerous/weird elements.

On one hand I think it ok not to explore everything, but on the other hand I think that if something seem interesting to explore you should not avoid exploring it to protect your character. If something look like it is the kind of weird shit that attracted you to LotFP: go take the risk, you are playing for this, explore it.

Don't hesitate to roleplay your character. This is fine: giving life to your character will pay later when he or she get in contact with the horrible and the weird. It like for Call of Cthulhu: it more fun to see your character go crazy when you have fun roleplaying him or her. So it nice to get attached to you character if you see it as a way to enhance the fun of meeting horrible & weird fates. Also when you roleplay your character it help me to build the atmosphere, and in a horror game we want good atmosphere.

That said, leaving behind a dungeon is also fine. Don't worry, you will find clues, propositions, situations, etc pointing toward new weird locations to explore anywhere you choose to go in the sandbox. A NPC talk about a paysant revolution: if you choose to help the revolution, this is fine, I will send you some place weird to find something to help the revolution, etc... and later you can choose to use the investment rules to try to finance the revolution or to smuggle weapons, etc. Getting interested in the setting is fine. Getting out of the dungeon to read books to get more clues is also a fine move."

Friday, March 16, 2012

Horror, character background & death.

During character creation I tied the Tower of the Stargazer to the ancestor of the player characters, they discovered that the tower was a inheritance from their great grand father who was rumored to have been a sorcerer. The magic-user, knew her great grand father was really a sorcerer since she learned the dark arts from his old books. The group were going to explore the tower in hope of finding some treasures to pay the family debts (and for the magic-user, in hope of finding more arcane lore and spells). I added in two dark secrets to be discovered.

At first I thought it was a interesting idea to link the character background to the tower background, then during the first session after loosing two characters I thought it was a VERY bad idea, but it ended up paying well during the second session. During the second session, It was nice when the characters discovered that their ancestor was in fact the apprentice of the Wizard. But at the end of the third session Aurore (the magic user and the character who had the bigger background link with the tower) died while opening a trapped chest and I ended up not knowing anymore what to think of the initial idea.

My original thinking was that linking the characters to the location's story would make them feel more involved and would make them care more about their character and the nature of the tower. Since LotFP is a horror game, I thought that the characters needed to be more then random adventurers, I thought they needed to be part of the location's story, so we would care more about them and we would fear their death, etc.

I think now it was a error, because once your characters are part of the story, you start having expectations, hoping for good scenes where the characters interact with elements linked to them, etc. It become easy to start playing the game in your head. And even when there is no plot, when a character die before interacting with the location elements you tied with her background, you naturally can feel some kind of a let down. This is what happened during our third session when Aurore died while opening a trapped chest. It was really tempting to try to save her (but I din't do it).

That said I really have no issue with PC death in my Labyrinth Lord hexcrawl campaign where the PC are all random adventurers with no backstory. It just that with LotFP I thought that giving the characters more background, etc.. would have been a helpful technique to give the horror more impact. But now I think that horror can work fine with random adventurers. This also came from the fact that when I played Call of Cthulhu, we always tried to flesh out our characters and to give them a interesting background in hope of caring about them from the start (also in CoC we often tried to link the characters to the background of the scenario, also don't know if it was a good thing to do).

One thing about character dead and horror: I don't observe that character dead always contribute to the horror. I agree that it is important that horrible elements have horrible consequences. But I don't know if dying is always the most horrible or interesting consequence when you are trying to build a strange atmosphere.

I am saying this because, up to date, each time a character died in our LotFP sessions, there was simply no reaction from the other players and their characters. They are baffled, then joke about how the game is so deadly and how characters die all the time. Then they don't know how to react in the game and they just quickly switch back to trap detection and puzzle solving mode. Again I really don't mind this in LL, but with LotFP, it kind of feel strange, I don't know why, I guess that because I expect more immersion because of the ties with the horror genre.

Also I note that once you die, the horror stop for you. The game come to a stop, we talk about rolling a other character, etc. But with other dreadful consequences, you are still there, stuck with those horrible consequences, the horror is still present. But naturally it important that you know that death could be one of those horrible consequences. But again I am just wondering.

But maybe this is a question dosing? Death trap are fun and I want them, but maybe when you place a death trap you better think: "yes this would be super interesting or great if a character would die here!" If not, maybe think about other horrible or weird consequences. Also when you put random chance of dying, expect that it quite possible that a characters roll 1 on 100. Maybe that dying too often in mundane pit traps lessen the impact of dying at the hands of horrible and weird things.

Note that I am asking myself questions but I don't want to answer them too quickly, I want to play more to better experience the game. For now, I can only say that for our group, dealing with character death feel different in our LL hex-crawl campaign and in our LotFP campaign.

Maybe I wish to put too much emphasis on the horror, weird and erotic vibes of LotFP. (those are the 3 main things that attract me to the game.) (yes I see erotic themes in the game, I guess it go with the title, the cover illustration and the weird fantasy genre (or the covers of it magazines)).

As for the use of fear or sanity rules: On the first session since we had a hard time building the atmosphere, when the two characters died struck by lighting I admit I kind of wished for some fear or madness rules to underline what had happened. But during the second session, once the group started exploring the tower, the atmosphere just build itself and we really felt no need for such rules. What I like with location exploration, is thath once you are there, really interacting with the environment, the rooms, their content, etc the immersion is really strong. The system kind of vanish, but loom in the background like a deadly menace.

I hope I am not boring you too much with my lack of OSR games experience. I admit that lately I think that maybe I should only post illustrations here.

Tower of the Stargazer: session 01 & 02

Here is a short game report of our venture into the Tower of the Stargazer. I don't want to go too much into details because we are still exploring the tower.

On our first session we had a group of four characters. Two died struck by lighting before reaching the front door. This was a brutal start, the two surviving characters also tried to open the door with the poisonous handles and we nearly got a TPK. The survivors explored two rooms then choose to go back to the nearest two to find some help and we ended the session.

For the second session we had three player characters (fighter, cleric, magic-user). The group managed to explore most of the tower without anyone dying. But they din't experiment with everything. And there is still some place left to explore.

I rolled for encounters. They only heard noises from adjacent rooms, when they investigated it seemed like someone have been in the room but no one is to be found. For now, the group concluded that maybe some ghostly servants lurk around.

I also kept track of time, food ration and light sources. Keeping track of light and encounters is nice, it help to create the atmosphere.

They found the trap under the crates.

They managed to get the key from the dipping blood door.

They din't free the Wizard. The Wizard encounter was a good scene.

They found all the books very interesting and the magic-user plan to read most of them. After reading the book titles about surviving the interorbular ether they feared to open the sealed doors because they suspected them to open directly into some strange ether-space (especially the sealed cold room). But they ended up opening them. I was nearly tempted to accommodate their fear. ;)

The magic-use used read magic to read some pages of a old book about dwarven architecture and engeenring, she understood that the elevator mechanism was probably of dwarven origin or based on ancient dwarven technology. They found a map in the book.

I used one of the dead character as the ghost guardian of the gameplay room. That really spooked them, they din't dare to accept his challenge.

They din't experiment with the telescope because they feared to open the observatory ceiling and to expose themselves to the lightning bolts.

After experimenting with the black powder, the cleric suggested that they could use the barrel to get rid of the wizard...

They feared the mirrors in the workshop.

We played the treasure pluzzle. I think it went well, it was not boring and not too hard.

After finding the treasure, the group choose to take what they can transport and to travel back to the town. We rolled for encounters in the hills but din't get any, the tension was good.

Now they want to return to the tower. They want to find a way to stop the lightning field and the magic-user want to get rid of the wizard to claim the tower as their laboratory.

The cleric is reading the apprentice personal journal and is discovering disturbing things. He also want to find a way to free the poor souls trapped in cells.

The group is exploring quite carefully since we are playing a campaign, but it work well and the atmosphere is great.


We played our third session and Aurore, the magic-user, died. More on this later.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Still searching a idea for the Green Devil Face art challenge.

I am exploring ideas for the Green Devil Face art challenge.

But I don't know, I feel like I am not going where I want to go.

Here is a try at a idea I had about halflings praying a Bishop Fish:
(I need to redrawn the background, and there is stuff I want to change)

This was inspired from:

Monday, March 12, 2012

LotFP, second session.

Our second session of Lamentations of the Flame Princess (and the Tower of the Stargazer module) went super well.

We took some time at the start of the session to talk about the setup. We decided to switch to a truly fictive fantasy setting but to keep the french names. I made a new map before the session in case we decided to make the switch. We also decided to keep the background about the Gauvin family but not to put special focus on it, it just going to be the background of the two surviving characters. We also talked about character replacement (we lost two characters in our first session to the lightning bolts striking around the Tower). Since characters can easily die as the game quickly reminded us, we established that new characters don't have to be connected to the background of what happened in the fiction, we just roll them and they join the group, simple as this.

We also choose to use the gothic character career table created by Jack on Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque to add some random colors to the characters. We din't use the actual table, but a custom one where you choose your class and then you roll your former profession (I reorganized the table entries by class (and added some cleric and magic-user entries)). I also made this clear: this is what your character was before, but now for some reason he or she can't go back to this life. So in some way, all the character had their life ruined or messed up at some point and now this is why they are adventurers. I like this because it quickly give a character some foothold in the setting without defining his or her background too much (not defining it too much is very important). So the leading question for all the characters is some variant of: how come you can't work your former profession anymore? What happened?

For now the characters are:
-Aurore Gauvin, a magic-user & former dilettante.
-Rosaire Gauvin, a cleric & former priest.
-Martin LeVerrier, a fighter & former body-guard.
-(the player of the fourth character was absent.)

I will maybe post a game report later, but our first venture into the Tower of the Stargazer was really fun, interesting and mysterious. The session totally encouraged us to go on with the campaign.

About the map: this time I used fictive names, but most of the names I created are names that evoque something (in french). I like this a lot, because it fun, but mainly because it let me color the towns and the features of the map without having to define them. So we can wonder what those features are really like and this make us want to visit them. Also I like how with a fantasy/fictive map, what is off the map is totally undefined and mysterious. (I used some stone & metal references in my names to show the distant influence of the old races, like the dwarfs).

Oh I also choose to give the hex map to the players since drawing the map hex by hex in know and civilized territory was not very interesting. We will reserve hex mapping for truly unknown and wild regions.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Prince of Crows

The prince who reign over one of the old watchtowers (for my Labyrinth Lord campaign).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Post-apocalyptic car-god

Busy today, a repost from my old blog. Somekind of car-god apparition that I had drawn for Apocalypse World (but I never actually used it since our AW campaign was very short-lived):

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Adjusting my newborn campaign + Points of Darkness setup + LotFP vs Call of Cthulhu.

We played our first session of LotFP and I have to admit it was not very interesting compared to our first session of our West Marches campaign using Labyrinth Lord. At the end of the session we all wondered why, because LotFP is very close to LL. I have the feeling that our setup is the main problem here.

(I have posted about this issue and a short actual play on the LotFP forum).

I will try here to clear my thoughts about what din't work with my setup. But note that I am not a super experienced Referee, so don't take this as somekind of prescriptions.

Using the real world as our setup & points of darkness:
My main reason for this was to avoid to have to come up with pseudo real world name for city and country, but now I think this is a very minor issue and that I should have simply dared to have fun with names. Anyway, I ended up doing some historical and geographical research, I searched old maps online, etc. It was a lot of work that din't really paid. Even if my researches gave me some ideas, I feel like that using real world historical and geographical information restrain my imagination more then it inspire it. Also I ended up with a ready made world already defined and mapped, there was no canvas left to project our imagination on it.

Also the real world Europe leave few place for truly uncivilized and unfamiliar territory, we end up with pockets of them surrounded by familiar names and places. Our map is mostly composed of known and civilized area, so we try to use Point of Darkness instead of Point of Light to setup our campaign. (check here about Points of Darkness & Light). I feel that there is maybe a trap here, because we kind of end up preparing our campaign like a Call of Cthulhu or a World of Darkness campaign and this have some consequence on the exploration gameplay.

The main consequence I think is that you don't need to Level up to be able to explore the sea of light that mainly compose the map (as in a Call of Cthulhu campaign). I observe that in my Labyrinth Lord campaign you want to level up to be able to venture deeper into the darkness, far away from your starting point of light.

In a point of light setup, the sea of darkness is interesting to explore and the points of light are attractive harbor and useful base camp to reach. But in a point of darkness campaign, the sea of light is not interesting to explore.

If I look at my actual play, what I observe is that in our LL campaign random encounters are great because they are not just obstacles they are also potential opportunity of exploration (& adventure). But in my current point of darkness setup, since I wanted to keep the darkness away from the sea of light, the random encounters have a mundane origin. So they are just obstacles, delay or mere dressing instead of being exploration opportunity.

If Weird (darkness) encounters are exploration opportunity, maybe that non-Weird (light) encounter are resources opportunity since points of light serve as base camps. Maybe my error was that, while using our real world for setting, I created a sea of light and I tried too much to keep the Weird (& exploration opportunity) away, confined in the points of darkness (or weirdness). I guess that in a point of darkness setup, if you want to play in the sea of light, the point of darkness have to irradiate darkness and to contaminate the light. So your interesting encounters have to be a mix of contamination trails to potentially explore and light resources to use or gain. (with I guess some mundane encounter that are just obstacles).

With a real world setup, I feel like the darkness contamination is especially a useful tool because since a real world setting lack or try to keep very rare the fantasy. And the fantasy is very fun to encounter. But there is also the issue of risking to make the Weird mundane or too common. I guess that there is balance to have between random weird contamination (fun because they are unexpected) and themed weird contamination spreading from the points of darkness (fun because they give clues about their point of darkness and underline it influence, dread , etc).

I think that as I prepared it my real world setup encounters were not very interesting: bandits, criminals, travelers, natural predators, etc. (they are just obstacles or stuff you can ignore instead of potential trails to explore). I know those mundane elements can be made interesting, but they just don't strike my imagination as much as fantasy encounters. What I liked when reading the Vornheim city kit is that the fantasy is present and fun and the Weird is still weird and dreadful. This is maybe what I want.

The presence of both the fantasy and the weird is maybe one of the fun difference that separate LotFP from Call of Cthulhu Dark Ages. For me, it just seem more fun to be able to apply twists to fantasy and mundane elements instead of having to always apply them to mundane ones. I mean discovering that a group of brigands hide something weird is interesting, but discovering a weird twist about a fantasy element is just more exiting (like unicorns worshiping a eldritch entity). (And sometime adding a mundane twist to a fantasy element can also be very interesting). The point is that it simply fun to work with fantasy elements.

I think one of my reflection is that I don't want to end up playing Call of Cthulhu with Lamentations of the Flame Princess (even If I appreciate CoC).

So what will I do with my campaign setup? I don't know right now, I wont scrap it, but I need to rethink some part of it or how I want to use some of those parts. But before working on it I want to change my mind with non-gaming stuff (like drawing).