Origins 2018

The Origins of Goodman Games|Goodman Games

Clockwork: Dominion

Reliquary Game Studios was in full effect at Origins 2018 – I knew because they are my friends from college 20 years ago and are still my friends today. They had a booth, shared with Fearlight Games, and a demo room that they also shared.

Clockwork: Dominion is a game I have demoed for them before, and I likely will get roped into demoing it again. I edited the core rulebook and Quick Start Guide back in the day, and helped them set up their Kickstarter campaign. It is a great game, and is the only Victorian game I would actually play (and certainly the only one I’d ever run). I’m not a huge fan of Victoriana, but the game is that good.

The Quest for Overlight

There were plenty of issues with events at Origins, which ins in my limited experience not new. For example, the location listed for demos of Overlight by Renegade Game Studios was not only incorrect but maybe a third of a mile or more away from the actual location. Fortunately I was still able to find my way to the demo room and play some Overlight.

The setting is interesting; the art is beautiful. The system…is probably in a final phase, but it made me wish they had refined it earlier in the process. The main issue is that there are two full resolution mechanics, one that is similar to Savage Worlds without a Wild Die and the other that was a target-number dice-pool system. This is just a needless problem – one or the other could have been cut, and honestly needs to be cut from my point of view. It’s as if in D&D you rolled a d20 for half of your tests, and then for the other half used a percentile system.

Oh wait, that’s what D&D was until…4th Edition, to varying degrees. But it was never good game design, and it still isn’t. The guy running the demo was nice and did a good job, but I don’t think I’d be able to get past the parallel resolution mechanics to play the game on my own.

Kids on Bikes

Kids on Bikes is a really fun game, also by Renegade. The killer app is definitely setting creation and character creation – they smoothly tie in blank space for creativity, leading questions about the other characters, and the charaters’ hobbies and fears. The tropes you choose from for your characters make sense, and I like that though the game is Kids On Bikes, you can play kids, adolescents, and adults all together.

We didn’t engage the powered character rules, but I like the options there as described to me by the demo person after our session. You can play the powered friend (Eleven, E.T., etc.) as a character who is shared by all of the players at different times (Maybe E.T.), or as one of the player-characters (Eleven), or you can not include a powered character at all (Stand By Me), or all of the characters can have powers (Supers School). You can build the powered character, or you can use a deck that they sell to draw powers and character traits randomly.

The significant flaw I perceived was with the resolution system. It is very much like Savage Worlds without the Wild Die – roll a die, and all dice potentially explode. D4 if you are bad at a thing, up to d20 if you are great at it. (All six tropes use one each of all six common die types, so everyone has a d4 and a d20 to start) The problem comes with the fact that you roll against a target number set by the GM, and it is very difficult to map, or intuit, the probability with this dice system. It is, for example, much mroe likely that a d4 will explode than a d20, but the d4 lets you roll up to an 8 and the d20 up to a 40.

In brief, you get very swingy results, and our game included difficulties from 5 to 20, which I think is too wide a range. Honestly, I might even end up hacking the dice system, or not going with the guidelines for difficulty in the book (if those were being used correctly in the demo). The nice thing is that the system is simple and clean, so you can probably hack it readily and get on with what is a very fun game. (And when you fail you get Adversity tokens, so maybe the swingy difficulties are a way to build those up? I’d have to play more than one demo to know.)

More Refurbished, Less Art

It’s been about 6 years since I was last at Origins, and since then the whole convention center has undergone an overhaul. More public art (by actual artists – there are touch screens where you can learn about their work) and far more plugs make the whole thing a lot more comfortable for someone like…everyone at Origins. A disappointing difference between this time and 6 years ago (or 11 years ago) is that there seemed to be fewer artists and less art. The last time I was there, a whole hallway was dedicated to artists and their work. Now it was just a smal corner of the dealer hall. I can only speculate on why this is – and to be clear, the artists who were there had a lot of excellent work on display.

Soul Food in Linden

I got to have some legit soul food at an African-American Cultural Arts Center in Linden, across the street from a Nation of Islam funeral home. The food was great, and it was about as far as you can get from Origins culturally while staying in the city of Columbus. A nice break, despite the heat.

Hiding In Starbucks

To be fair, I did a good amount of hiding near coffee at this convention, and it helped me deal with being over-stimulated and anxious as I am at events like this (combined with the parts that are genuinely fun). Right now I am just trying to build up some resolve to go talk to the very friendly Renegade Games demo team about whether the designers are interested in making a connection with The Bodhana Group. (Yesterday my friend the Executive Director gently reminded me that I am on the freaking Board after all)

Heroes and Villains

An unintentionally kind of intimate seminar with Michael A. Stackpole and [person’s name and background here] with only a handful of people there, so it was kind of intimate. We got to ask whatever we wanted. It as a bunch of solid writing advice from two very solid professionals, but it made me wonder as I nodded my head – am I at the point where I know this stuff? I think I might be. What I need to do, that I am not doing, is try my hand at some more actual fiction. Nothing they said surprised me, and it was all things I have heard from writers before. Not that it was run-of-the-mill, I’ve just listened to a LOT of writers and editors talk about their work and process. But did I, like, level?

Video Game Room

Some folks here at the convention are happy about the video game room. It is a darkened room set aside with huge screens and video games you can play on those screens. You just walk in and sign up and play. You might even just watch, or take a nap, or whatever, and it could easily double as a quiet room for people who are somewhat over-stimulated by this whole convention thing.

It gave me the idea that The Bodhana Group might be able to host a quiet room for folks at Origins 2019. I think it’s a good option to have – necessary for some people, and when we’re talking about thousands of con attendees, “some” is a lot.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition

I got to sit in on the demo scenario for  the current iteration of Pathfinder 2nd Edition. Overall, it is still very much Pathfinder, and it seems like they are taking this opportunity to clean up some of the rules, simplify a few things, and take feats that everyone always takes (Improved Initiative for example, or Precise Shot for archers) and just make them class abilities. Some observations, presented as bullet-points:

  • Increased hit points at level 1. My 1st level goblin alchemist had 15 hit points (Constitution 12 I believe)
    • Speaking of which, goblins are a core race and alchemist is a core class. We had a fighter, wizard, cleric, rogue, and an alchemist. Other tables with 6 players had another character – I’m not sure whom. Except for Fumbus, the new iconic goblin alchemist, the familiar iconics were the pre-gen characters
  • Skills and attacks seem to be ability score bonus + level. I couldn’t tell if it was just that, or if skill points had been spent
  • Fighters can fiddle with shields (and so can wizards who cast shield) by raising or lowering them to provide more cover in a fight
  • Only fighters get attacks of opportunity, which is GREAT, because I really detest attacks of opportunity. It’s just an onerous movement tax in combat that slows down everything and adds nothing and doesn’t make sense in a fight
  • Play is split into “modes” – exploration mode and combat mode. Exploration mode is open, skill-based, etc., and combat mode begins when you roll initiative. A little video-game-y but makes sense and formalizes something that’s always there
    • Your initiative roll is based on what you were doing when the fight started – many of us rolled Perception and the rogue rolled Stealth for initiative
  • Some weapons are “deadly”, meaning they add an additional die to critical damage rolls
  • Critical successes are always 10 over the target number, and apply to skill rolls as well as attacks, and critical failures are always 10 below the target number
  • You get 3 actions per turn, and can make 3 attacks if you don’t move. The second attack is made at -5 and the third at -10, making critical failures much more likely as you go. Still, some third attacks still landed for our 1st level characters against zombies
  • I was watching the numbers, and vulnerabilities are more common. Zombies are vulnerable to slashing, and took 5 additional damage from any slashing attack. Skeletons were resistant to fire, so resistances might be a bit more common as well
  • Speaking of skeletons and zombies, they had much more hit points than normal as well, based on how much we had to pummel them to bring them down
  • Spells take up to 3 actions to cast, and they take 1 action per component required – verbal, somatic, material.
    • For example, the cleric could cure light wounds with 1 action, or cure light wounds 30 feet away for 2 actions, or channel energy for 3 actions, dealing 4 damage to all undead and healing 4 for all living things in a 30′ radius. Undead had to save and if they failed they took 8 damage
    • Same with magic missile – the wizard could send up to 3 magic missiles, 1 per action spent casting, and I imagine other spells scale up as well

And just assume that if I didn’t mention something, it didn’t catch my attention (we weren’t allowed to have our phones out during the demo and agreed not to try to take pictures) or it hasn’t changed. For example, the three saves seem unchanged, and your second diagonal step still counts as 10 feet on the battle map.

Overall

For me personally, it seems to be much better, and more enjoyable, to have a loose schedule that is mostly free time. I can do things like have three hour conversations with my friends, and jump in on demos if they interest me, or just sit near a a plug and write (as I am doing now). Origins is a good convention for this method, though I would somewhat prefer the greater numbers of artists and writers in the past combined with the greater numbers of seats and plugs now. Maybe that’s the future of Origins?

The Bodhana Group is looking at attending Origins in 2019 and having a presence there to talk about therapeutic gaming. We need to figure out what this presence will be – a booth? Table? Games? Seminars? The nice thing about Origins is that it is a much more local convention than GenCon – I see people here I recognize from 2007 and 2012 when I’ve been here in the past. Lots of folks from OH and the adjacent states, from what I can tell. This means that we can attend once, or maybe periodically, but don’t necessarily have to be here each year in order to have a Bodhana presence.

Epilogue: Be A New DM

My friend Wendy is thinking of DMing for the first time. She’s been playing D&D for years and is familiar with a number of twitch/streaming D&D folks. She was at Origins playing Adventurer’s League and going to seminars for new DMs.

Folks: be the new DM. DM for your friends. As long as everyone at the table is being nice and trying to have fun, you almost cannot fail, and you will never become great at it until you practice a lot. Running a game is the most fun way to engage with it. At least that’s my experience.

D&D Hacks and House Rules

Here are some of the hacks and house rules I’m currently using, or would like to use, in the D&D games I run. Any of these can be tagged on to any version of D&D with only a tiny bit of tweaking, but the examples I discuss below are all for 5th Edition specifically. Not only do I describe the hack/house rule, but I also note where I am stealing it from (when applicable).

Reputation

I like for Charisma to be less of a dump-stat for characters who don’t use Charisma for spellcasting, and to get some extra story mileage from those social proficiencies. In order to make social dynamics matter a bit more, I added a reputation system to my Twilight of the Gods game. (This is also appropriate for any situation where the PCs start out as “murder hobos” or other kinds of rootless, opportunistic strangers)

PCs start the game with disadvantage on all social rolls – they are outsiders, oddballs, and so on. They will have difficulty convincing anyone to trust them, or making their threats stick, because they don’t have names and reputations to back them up. In order to remove this disadvantage with a particular group or in a particular place, they must win a reputation as a quest reward. For example: the PCs are hired to clear out a local ruin on behalf of the town council of Greensward. They do, and as a result, they earn “known in Greensward”, meaning they no longer have disadvantage. Now, say the PCs go on to rescue Greensward from a goblin attack. As a result, they are awarded the reputation “heroes of Greensward”, meaning they have advantage on all social rolls.

Of course, when they go to the big city, they’ll be unknown again, and once again will have the social disadvantage. But – if they find someone from Greensward in the big city, it’ll be a big relief, because they’ll have advantage on social rolls with this person or people. This not only encourages PCs to worry about what people think of them, but it also keeps them connected to where they have already been.

Debts (Urban Shadows)

Players keep track of non-monetary, social debts that they owe others and that are owed to them. If a character interacts with someone who owes them a debt, they have advantage on social rolls until that debt is paid. This encourages the PCs to be helpful, even if for selfish reasons. If they do a favor for the King’s Steward, the Steward now owes them a debt, even  if he or she cannot pay them in gold or items. That debt means they can bend the Steward’s ear whenever they choose, and that later they can call in that debt at an opportune time.

Initiative (Clockwork: Dominion)

I am the editor for Reliquary Game Studios’ Clockwork: Dominion RPG, and Clockwork has a fantastic initiative mechanic. Check it out – it’s honestly one of the best I’ve ever seen at a table. This initiative system requires a deck of cards – Clockwork uses a custom deck that provides exactly the proportions that they want for the game, but in this case you can use a regular poker deck, or a cool custom deck like Story Cards, as long as the cards are numerically set apart. (In this case, suit doesn’t matter)

Every player begins a round of combat with three cards dealt to them. The highest card goes first – ties are broken however you’d like to break them (by suit, coin toss, Dex mod, etc.). Acting normally costs 1 card; the player pushes the card forward, declares their action and movement, resolves them normally. Reactions do not cost a card; for example, casting shield or counterspell, since every character gets one reaction per round. Interrupting another’s action costs 2 cards; this is a cool option that is higher cost but some players will really want to do it. Let’s say an NPC declares an action. A PC can push two cards forward and act first, which can be an important way to deal with spellcasters or other sudden threats. On the other hand, that player has spent 2 cards, and the NPC might have 2 left to use later in the round.

Combat continues until all cards are used, at which point the round ends and new cards are dealt. If no one uses a reaction or an interrupt, then each character will act about 3 times in a given round, meaning more happens in that round than usual. Also, having the option to interrupt will keep players more engaged in all of the action in a round, rather than checking Twitter while they wait for their turn to come around again.

Players with high Dex modifiers start with higher cards automatically, and are then dealt 2 more cards randomly as usual. A character with a +5 modifier gets an Ace; +4 gets a King; +3 gets a Queen; +2 gets a Jack; +1 gets a 10. +0 and lower don’t get anything special. Now, obviously, a character might get their automatic Jack and then be dealt a higher card randomly – that’s fine. The point is that one’s base initiative modifier guarantees them at least one high card to use that round.

Trinkets

At character creation, ask the players to roll randomly on the trinket table on page 160-161 of the PHB. Note the trinket that their character gets, and make it important in some way if possible. Even if not, let the player solve a problem or open up a new part of the story by using the trinket later in the game. For example: a dwarf barbarian in my current Twilight of the Gods game has been carrying around an old bronze key for nine sessions. Faced with a locked door that the party couldn’t pick, the dwarf pulls out this key and tries it in the lock (they were in an abandoned dwarven settlement, so it made sense as a possibility). It fits, of course, and enables them to bypass a nasty trap.

Fellowship/Party Sheet (WFRPG, The One Ring)

For Twilight of the Gods, I had the players create a simple Fellowship (Felag) sheet to track their shared reputation and shared loot. I like the idea that they, as a group, might have distinct reputation. It is also convenient to have a place to list loot before it is spent, traded or distributed individually.

This is actually an idea that I would like to expand upon. I really like the party card in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Third Edition – that was probably my favorite part of that game (though I’ve only played it once at a convention). I also liked the fellowship mechanics in The One Ring, which I GMed for a short campaign. The party of PCs is a thing in the fiction and in the way that the game is played, and it should be a mechanical thing as well. For now, it’s just an entity that can have its own reputations and inventory.

The DM Love Letter

This is what the guys at Fear the Boot call the long, involved background that some players give to their DM at character creation. Some players will of course write almost nothing, and character creation using the personality traits and backgrounds in the PHB should get all players involved at least minimally in their character’s pre-adventure lives, but there are some who will write a love letter. Skim through the love letter and mark between one and three things in the letter – names, places, events, etc. Keep those one to three things as elements to use in the setting or to build plotlines or encounters.

Dwarven Tavern Interviews Creators of Clockwork: Dominion RPG

This is an interview from this past GenCon with the two creators of Clockwork: Dominion, a gothic horror steampunk game. I am the editor on the game, and have done some system troubleshooting and writing on the core book and free Quick Start Rules as well, and I’m really proud of the game overall. It’s the only Victorian game I would actually be willing to run or play, actually, as I am not coming to this as a huge fan of Victorian anything. The game is that good, and Zeke and Than have dialed in their pitch nicely.

Anyway, here’s the video:

Clockwork: Dominion Is Out!

clockwork dominion cover

The year is 1999, or maybe 2000, and I’m having a series of conversations with my friend Zeke about this game he’s designing called Spiral. It includes a card-based mechanic, and some lore that I don’t remember apart from the snakes with robot arms. I only dimly remember the conversation, and I’m surprised Zeke remembers it at all.

Fast-forward 13 or 14 years, and science-fiction Spiral has become Victorian-Steampunk Clockwork, and the card mechanic Zeke was developing is all grown up. He asked me to help out with the RPG project, and my official title eventually became ‘Editor.’ Clockwork became Clockwork: Dominion. We had a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. Many hundreds of hours (or more) of editing, and thousands of hours of writing, design and testing for my friends Zeke and Than later, and our new TRPG Clockwork: Dominion is available for purchase.

The game itself is excellent. The art is excellent. Zeke did a great job with the layout and book design. I have yet to hold a physical copy in my hands, but it probably won’t be long. I went into this project not even a fan of Steampunk and Victorian stories and games, but I’m proud to have helped to make it a game I would recommend to anyone, period. You can pick up Quick Start rules for free to get a feel for things, but for the whole experience you really need to core rulebook and the custom deck of cards. Honestly, I’m not even aware of a close second in terms of Steampunk TRPGs.

clockwork dominion quick start rules

I’m really proud of this game, of the whole project, of all the work that went into it over at Reliquary Game Studios (by which I mean, on Google Docs). I wish I could be at GenCon this year because Clockwork will have booth space and books to sell (and sign) and all of our game sessions have long since sold out. It’s going to be awesome, and been awesome, and I expect, will continue to be awesome, as more than just the core rules are coming.

Anyway, check out this game. You’ll be happy you did.

 

 

 

An Update, in Lieu of Content

I’m not sure what to do with this blog right now, but I don’t want it to die, and I thought I’d post a little update on what I’m doing. Parsec is done (at last!) after a very successful Kickstarter campaign, and I’m proud of the end result. I have heard from some groups that are playing it, and I’m glad to hear it, and I hope many more are that I’m not hearing about.

I still find time to listen to podcasts, mostly when I am relaxing and playing Oblivion (I finished Skyrim first and then went backwards to Oblivion). The ones that I’m most excited to find in my feed are:

Aldasaga (Tolkien and Old Norse) is a special kind of awesome, and started relatively recently. The focus of the podcast is the works of JRR Tolkien and how they draw from Norse myth. In short, they draw from Norse myth more than I’d thought, and so far the podcast is fascinating.

Freakanomics is the only way I can tolerate listening to things about economics. I know I should understand it to be a participant in society and so on, but it’s just so…dismal. Freakanomics focuses on the surprising or counter-intuitive aspects of economics, including how the President of the US has almost no impact on the US economy. The topics are presented in a way that is likely to inform and entertain actual human beings.

This American Life is possibly the best podcast, period. It is Ira Glass going through amazing stories that follow a different them for each show. If you want to be moved and amazed, give them an hour and it’s almost guaranteed.

WNYC’s Radiolab is like This American Life’s little brother. Jad and Robert, the hosts, take a theme, but their themes are often related to science, technology and a little bit of philosophy. They approach these topics through stories much the way that TAM does, and like TAM they are consistently excellent.

Writing Excuses is the best podcast on the art, craft and business of writing, period. Each episode is only 15 minutes and they are currently in season 7. If you are a writer, or are interested in writers, then this should be a number one listening priority.

On the other hand, I’m doing a lot of writing, which feels good. Well, I’m doing as much as I can, given that I’m also a stay-at-home dad most days. I have continued to work on Never Pray Again with my Two Friars and a Fool collaborators, though I have taken a break from that. I wrote a ton on it for a few months, and sort of burned myself out until I can see more from Aric and Nick that I can respond to and be inspired by.  I am also collaborating on a number of projects: some supplements for Parsec focusing on Mars and the Asteroid Belt, a Victorian Gothic horror game called Clockwork, and a more-than-an-ebook adventure for bySwarm’s Dark Golden Age setting. Lastly, Reckoning, our horror rpg, is limping along, mostly neglected because of all of these other things going on.

In addition, I always have a few projects on my many back burners. I’ve been working on a poetry portfolio, theoretically as part of a possible Master’s in Fine Arts program application, and I’ve been learning that I am terrible at territory. I also have a few games percolating, including Fivefold Qi and still poking around with Heroes of Karia. I am also trying my hand at some fiction: a long-form story called Dragonblade and two short stories, one about a person who hires assassins to kill himself and the other about a superhero sidekick who turns villain. These are for a thematic anthology on sidekicks, and I may not finish them in time but they still interest me to see through.

Is that a lot of writing? Hell yes. And it’s awesome, and I want to keep writing as much as I can for as long as I can.