Thursday 31 May 2012

Sandboxes and GM Preperation

Some good discussions going on at Monsters and Manuals about sandboxes and GM preparation.

Basically, Noisms suggest a spectrum of how much the Players are determining the direction of the game and how much the DM is. If the players are are mostly reactive, then the DM doesn't need to prepare as much since he knows what's coming.  If the DM is mostly reactive to the direction that the players determine, then the DM needs to prepare for more possibilities.

So a superhero sandbox, where players sit around waiting for crimes to happen, would be on the far-right and a hex-crawling party of adventurers would be on the far left.

Note that both types of games are in the list of games I'd like to play.

Is it a Sandbox?

Upon reading the post, I was a bit confused about what noisms is calling a sandbox.  On one hand he says:

"At the extreme left are the most sandboxy sandbox games"
On the other hand he says:
"The Samurai Sandbox leans towards the right."
and in the comments:
"We're all talking about sandboxes here. Just different kinds"
So which is it?  Do sandboxes tend to be on the left-side of the spectrum or can they also be on the right?  The answer lies in this line:
"A superhero game would tend to be more towards the right, even if notionally it is "sandboxy" and there is no predetermined plot or end point"
The point is that noisms defines a sandbox as an open-ended game. The whole spectrum can have games which conform to this definition, but some conform to it more than others. The superhero game is a sandbox due to lack of predetermined plot/endpoint, but the plot is more deterministic from the DM's perspective, than a hex-crawl type sandbox game.

Railroads vs. Sandboxes

Another interesting quote from the article:
"rail roads do not feature on the the spectrum because they are not actually games"
Note that Noisms' definition of a Sandbox is basically the inverse of a railroad, which does have predetermined plot/endpoints.  My question is, according to his rather inclusive definition of a sandbox, is there some middle-ground where a game is neither a Sandbox or a Railroad?

Like if I as a DM say, "I'm running module T1 for you", it's not quite a railroad, but the player choices are quite limited to within the module.  I think that according to Noisms' definition of sandbox, it would not be considered a sandbox, because a sandbox let's the players make the big-decisions, whereas here it has been made for them already.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Tales of Blood and Glory: Eaters of the Dead

I haven't had much time for gaming lately, but I have had some time for reading.  The latest book I read is Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead.  I read some of Crichton's books back in High-School, starting with the then popular Jurassic Park, but it was my first time reading this Viking-themed title.

Framing Mechanism

The book begins with an interesting framing mechanism: that of a scholarly translation of the 10th century manuscript of Ahmad ibm Fadlan's account of his travels. As it turns out, there really is such a manuscript, and it includes one of the earliest first-hand accounts of the Vikings. Crichton's book follows the actual manuscript for the first three chapters, at which point Ibn Fadlan is then kidnapped by the Vikings and the real story begins.


I really didn't know what to expect from this book, but I quickly began to notice familiarities.  I've never read Beowulf, but I've familiar enough with the legend that it immediately came to mind when I read names like Buliwyf, the Wendel, the Wendel's Mother, and the Glowworm Dragon.  As Crichton explains in the note at the end of the book, "Eaters of the Dead was Conceived on a Dare" to show that modern audiences would find the Beowulf story exciting, if not the original telling. In my estimation he succeeds quite well at this goal.


The story blends adventure with horror, a tough feat to do. The Vikings are no typical helpless horror victims.  Their valor and skill in battle is made abundantly clear. So the reader is left open-mouthed to learn of the paralyzing fear they have of the Mists and the monsters they supposedly bring.

And Crichton does a good job of only revealing facts about the Mist Monsters one step at a time. The first encounter with the monsters is a good example of this: the battle is chaotic and Ibn Fadlan doesn't get a good look at the hairy beasts in the dark and in the mist. When he awakens, after being hit in the head, the narrator finds that the monsters have withdrawn, but left no bodies.  The only remnant of the struggle is a couple dead vikings and a severed arm, covered with knotted muscles and monstrously thick hair.

Now You Killed It

The story ends with Ibn Fadlan shaken by the unnatural terrors he has met in the cold North. It would have been nice if the book ended here. Instead, the framing device returns, and we have the notes of a fake academic speculating whether the Wendel might have been Neanderthals or even a primitive tribe of Homo-Sapiens. But the reader is still left with a bit of doubt, as the theory still doesn't explain their association with the mist, the oracular words and magic weapons of the Dwarves, or the snake-covered Mother of the Wendel.  But then comes the final Note by the Author, where he states clearly that no, the Wendel were Neanderthals.

Lovecraft complains about the horror stories of "Mrs. Ann Radcliffe...who set new and higher standards in the domain of macabre and fear-inspiring atmosphere" that she has a "custom of destroying her own phantoms at the last through labored mechanical explanations".  After reading "Eaters of the Dead" I now know firsthand why this bothered him.  After so artfully building up the weird horrors and connecting them to our reality via the text of Ibn Fadlan, Crichton kills his creation stating that they were just Neanderthals, now long extinct.


As a DM I think I have a lot to learn from Eaters of the Dead.  With PCs often armed for WWIII, it can be difficult creating an atmosphere of fear. Eaters of the dead manages this well and many of it's techniques are applicable to gaming.  In particular:
  • terrified NPCs
  • hard to get a good look at the monsters
  • victories are hard-won
  • victories are partial--most of the monsters escape to fight another day

Monday 28 May 2012

Polish Resistance: Skills

Continuing from the previous posts on character creation for Polish Resistance here and here, here is the list of starting skills. 

Mostly I just removed any hi-tech skills from the original Cyberpunk 2020 skills list. Players are welcome to invent their own relevant skills if they don't appear here.

I mentioned this in a previous post, but I'll say it again since it's relevant. I dropped the CP2020 class system since most of the classes don't make sense in the WWII setting.  That and the fact that CP2020 is a skills-centric system, so dropping the classes doesn't have any adverse effects, as opposed to DnD where classes are the main mechanic and skill systems were tacked-on later.

Sunday 27 May 2012

Random Mission Generator for Polish Resistance

Ok, as promised, here is the Polish Resistance Random Mission Generator.  Basically, you roll three dice: two to determine the two Parties involved and the third to determine the Action going on between them.  Note that I didn't pick dice-friendly numbers since I'm constantly adding entries and anyway I'm mostly using a random number generator anyway.

For example:

5- A Cultist, 1- Kill, 4- A Local Business Man
The party hears through their underworld connections that a hit has been put out on the owner of a small local courier service.

Their investigations may reveal that the hit has been hired by Dr. Anna Janowski, of the Anthropology faculty at the local University, who spent her youth in Africa due to her diplomat father being stationed there.  The courier opened a package from the Dr., hoping to to steal a valuable relic, but instead found something so strange and horrible that he failed to turn up to his job the next morning.  No one seems to know his current location or what he did with the package, and in fact Dr. Janowski is desperately trying to locate it and eliminate the one witness to it's contents.


Die RollParty(A and B)Die RollAction
1British Intelligence1Kill
3A Politician3Maim
4A Local Businessman4Blackmail
5A Cultist5Deliver something to
6An occultist6Sell something to
7An Entertainer7Protect
8A Smuggler8Intimidate
9A Scientist9Escape From
10Monsters10Spy On
(12-14)German Army12Kidnap
(15-17)Polish Resistance13Extort
(18-20)Russian Army14Cheat
(21-23)A German Officer15Frame
(24-26)A Polish Resistance Member16Sabotage
(27-29)A Russian Officer17Attack


19Pass a message to

Thursday 24 May 2012


I appreciated noism's recent post about expanding the usefulness of the luck stat in CyberPunk 2020. Basically, when players are problem solving and ask the DM a question like, "is the guard alert or did he fall asleep at his post" the they can roll their luck stat to determine the answer.

In addition to adopting this, I think I'll use it to expand my use of clues. i.e. if the player makes their luck roll then there is a clue to be found.

I wonder how far can we take this before it breaks?  For instance, in determining treasure: "You're lucky and he had just made a large cash withdrawal before you mugged him."

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Random Clue Generator

One of my favorite Random Generators for running a sandbox is the Random Clue Generator. One option for presenting adventure hooks is to have NPCs who offer the party jobs. This is certainly straightforward, but not very engaging.  Another option is to drop leads and clues that the players can choose whether or not to investigate.  Of course, this changes the style of the game, making the party not just adventurers but detectives.

Random Clue Generator for Polish Resistance

For example, this is my random clue generator for my Polish Resistance game.  To determine the clue's relevance, I'll either pick one of the various plots floating around in my head, or I'll roll up a mission on the Random Mission Generator.

Die Roll Form
1 Note
2 Diary Entry
3 Photo
4 Book
5 Ticket-Stub
6 Overheard Conversation
7 Coin
8 Painting/Statue
9 Telegraph
10 Business Card
11 Advertisement
12 Letter
13 Pamphlet/Program
14 Map
15 Article(Newspaper/Journal)
16 Body
17 Body Part
18 Key
19 Tattoo
20 Radio Report

I recently used this generator to get the business card in session 5.

An Example

So continuing from my post about The Fugitive, let's say the youth doesn't make the jump and the party searches his body.  Let's roll up the clue they may find:

17- Body Part
And on the random mission generator(I'll have to do another post with that at some point) I got:
15 German Officer, 15 Frame, 7 Entertainer
So we'll say that the party finds a severed finger, and if they investigate, they may find that this guy is a trombone player who a German officer framed for kidnapping a German pilot(that's whose finger it is) who recently went missing.

There ya go. Instant pulp.

The Fugitive

I'm in need of some random generator fun.  How about a random event around town for Polish Resistance...

I rolled up the Pulp Oracle - High Adventure in Exotic Locale, which yielded the following:
"A high waterfall; seemingly the only escape from impending doom."

So here goes:

Upon entering the town square, the party sees a group of people pointing upwards.  Following their gaze, you see a young man in a brown suit leaping from roof to roof.  He's followed by a couple of trench coated Gestapo men.

The youth reaches the end of the last building and stops, cornered.  Four-floors down a carter with a full-load of hay is passing by at a quick trot.  The youth looks down, contemplating the leap, while his pursuers approach, automatics drawn.  You'd give him maybe one in four odds of landing safely on the moving cart below.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Lucas the Limber

Responding to Noism's challenge:

Lucas the Limber(front-left with the red cap) is a legendary thief and con-artist, operating in the Principality of Randstad.  He often mixes with the wealthy upper-classes, posing as a visiting dignitary or long-lost relative of some lesser-noble.

The one smudge on an otherwise successful career, was an incident that occurred several years back, in the very heart of the Temple of the dog god Canidon in the city of  Rutterdam. Lucas was caught red-handed while forcing entry to the vestibule of the High-Priest, by His Grace himself.  The priest, being somewhat amused by the smart young thief, was merciful and decided to forgo the usual punishment for sacrilege: being thrown in a pit of hungry wolves. Instead, hoping to draw the young man towards a greater reverence of Canidon, he merely cursed Lucas. Due to the curse, whenever Lucas ceases to touch or at least to rest some of his weight on a dog, he becomes clumsy and loses his considerable thieving ability.

But Lucas bounced back rather quickly from this awkward career setback.  He can now be found, once again, up to his old antics.  But now he is always accompanied by his two faithful greyhounds, Canis and Antigone.  He is very careful to always be in contact with one or both of them, so as to ply his trade.

He has become quite proficient at this, as in the the picture above, where he has, completely undetected, just purloined the golden codpiece from Count Lucifer Everdingin(seated next to him, wearing a black cap).  Note that he is dextrously putting some of his weight down on one of his hounds via his chair, while he touches the other with his extended leg. Certainly a young man of unique talent and endless adaptivity.


When Touching a Dog
Level 5 Thief
Str 10
Dex 18
Con 11
Int 15
Wis 5
Cha 13

When Not Touching a Dog
Level 0 Fighter
Dex 3

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Tales of Blood and Glory: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Published in 1999, this Stephen King horror tale follows a young girl who get's lost in the woods during a family outing.  As her health deteriorates and she gets further from rescue, she finds she is being stalked by an alien intelligence.


Trisha has a lot of time to think out in the woods.  Her ruminations touch on a number of themes:
  • Marriage & Divorce
  • Close Father-Daughter  relationships
  • Sports Fandom/Hero Worship
  • The nature of God
  • Persistence in the face of adversity
Some of these passages are quite well done, especially Trisha's interactions with her father and with Tom Gordon.  In my mind, they really show King's talent as a writer and really made the book enjoyable.


The book contains decent Horror.  Unlike Eyes of the Dragon, "Girl" is actually scary.  My favorite scene was the very evocative one with the three priests.  Also, there are many good scenes where Trisha senses something watching her, just out of view, just past the tree-line.

There are hints of Lovecraftian Horror, of "A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces".  For example, the statement at the start of the book, several times repeated:
 "The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted.  Trisha McFarland discovered this when she was nine years old."
At the same time, the horror is dulled by the repeated statement that "it's God's nature to come on in the bottom of the ninth", which seems to foreshadow an eventual Deus Ex Machina.  This may be intentional due to the child protagonist, as King seems to be reluctant to take his horror "too-far".  For example, he supposedly delayed publishing Pet Sematary for this reason.

The difference is clear when compared to Algernon Blackwood's The Wendigo. Both stories build their horror on the theme of the Great Unknown that exists in depths of the Natural World.  But while Trisha is saved by her faith in God and her Hero, the expedition's survivors' escape is much more tentative: the Wendigo has not called them yet for it's own inscrutable reasons.  King's story is more uplifting, but Blackwood's is more compelling Horror.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Monsters: Cyberpunk Deodand

I'm not the first to stat-up one of Vance's Deodand's, but I didn't find stats for one for Cyberpunk 2020, so here goes:


Physical Appearance

Possibly the result of prenatal exposure to chemicals/radiation or genetic experiments, Deodands appear as handsome, muscular men, but with dead black lustreless skin, long slit eyes, sharp fangs, and clawed hands. The typical Deodand prefers to wear a makeshift leather harness with bits of velvet or shiny objects attached. There is a 30% chance that the harness is adorned with ornamental gems.


Deodands are usually found alone in the wilderness or even creeping through uninhabited spaces.  They may join together to take down especially tough prey.


Deodands are carnivorous and happy to eat Humans.  That said, they are very cautious and prefer to stalk their prey and wait for the opportunity to surprise them.  If bested, they will beg for their lives, but are full of tricks and not to be trusted.

Things a Deodand Might Say

  •  Call a person by name from the bushes, in hope of pouncing on them when they investigate
  • "Human, your futile thrashings are most unbecoming. Would it not be more dignified to accept your fate?"
  • "You have bested me, Human!  Spare my life and I will lead you out of this wasteland."
  • "Human, you have taken the only life I have, and I have no other!"

Cyberpunk Stats

Int: 5
Ref: 9
Tech: 1
Cool: 4
Attr: 6
Luck: 5
MA: 8
Body: 7
Emp: 3

BTM: -3


Speak Human Languages: 5
Persuasion & Fast Talk: 5
Dodge & Escape: 7
Human Perception: 9
Stealth: 5
Attack: 4
Wilderness Survival: 9

Attacks(Bite + 2 Claws): 2d6,1d6,1d6

Monday 7 May 2012

Adventurers for Hire

Dr. Bargle recently posted a scenario for starting a campaign: the characters have started "The Respectful Companye of Gentlemen Adventurers".  Now, never mind that I find the in-character use of game terminology, like "Adventurers" rather un-immersive, I do like the idea of starting the game in a more focused scenario.  i.e. instead of the players being  a diverse band with differing goals.  So here's a

List of game scenarios I'd like to play:

  • The characters form a small unit of the City Watch/Police in a large, often lawless city
  • The characters are a gang of career criminals in a large metropolis
  • The characters are special forces or scouts for a large army, being assigned different missions
  • The characters are deserters of a large army, now far from home in hostile territory
  • The characters have won a government bid to map an area of unknown territory
  • The characters are vigilantes/resistance fighters
  • The characters run a private (paranormal?) investigators agency
What really makes these scenarios interesting to me is how they effect player goals.  For a standard DnD game, the goal seems to default towards accumulating XP/gold/items.  Now there's nothing wrong with this sort of Free-Enterprise motivation.  But sometimes it's nice to have a game where a different goal is the primary one, such as:
  • survival
  • getting home
  • exploration
  • pulling-off a great caper
  • becoming a VIP
  • solving a mystery
  • defeating a powerful enemy
  • growing a successful business

Friday 4 May 2012

Late Roman Legos

I saw the following Lego knockoff in a toy store full of cheap knockoffs.  Needless to say, it raised a few questions for me:

1. How is this "Pirate"?!

OK, this is what a Lego pirate looks like.  Pirate hat, peg-leg, maybe a musket or sabre.

Now this is what the dudes in the picture look like.  The helmets are like Flash Gordan meets Late Roman or something.  Plus they all have silver bows and crossbows, except the leader who wields a silver battle axe.  Not to mention the fact that they're fighting a Robo-Dragon, aided by the friendly Metallo-Bats.

2. How did this happen?!
I guess that only a designer for a cheap knockoff brand operates under such a complete lack of oversight that they can get away with something so amazing.

Or the marketing department vetoed the new Space Opera brand at the last minute, after production already began.

3. How is Lego still in business when the competition is producing stuff this awesome?!

I have no answer for this one.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Monster: The Belonging Kind

(Inspired from William Gibson and John Shirley's The Belonging Kind and, by extension, Poe's The Man of the Crowd)

Among the sprawling crowds of the big city, invisible to all, a non-Human species lives a parasitic lifestyle in the heart of Humanity.  They look like people, can change appearance/clothing at-will to fit the situation, and subsist off of alcoholic drinks.  In some cities, their numbers have become quite large.

Interaction with Humans

The Kind are highly intelligent but in an inhuman way.  Can flirt/small-talk in any situation, but this is merely instinctual.  If found-out, they can't actually communicate-with humans except through simple sign language.  They seem to communicate with one another non-verbally.

At Night

At night they are active, moving from bar to bar in big cities, blending-in, and chatting with fellow patrons.  They occasionally masquerade as beggars to get cash.  The alcohol they ingest during this period is their sole sustenance, though they never get inebriated.

During the Day

During the day the Kind are dormant, maintaining the last form they used and roosting in large numbers in abandoned slums, subway stations, etc.  If humans discover their roost, they may attack them to keep their presence a secret.  Roosts often contain piles of everyday items they may have collected, most of it garbage.  The roost also generally contains the means to reach the creatures' home world/dimension.

Stats for Cyberpunk


Int: 10
Ref: 3
Tech: 2
Cool: 2
Attr: 2-10 depending on current form
Luck: 5
MA: 8
Body: 8
Emp: 10

BTM -4


Wardrobe & Style: 10
Social: 10
Persuasion & Fast Talk: 10
Impersonate Human(EMP): 5

Hide/Evade: 5
Stealth: 5
Melee: 3


Change Form/Wardrobe: Done when no humans are watching, the process takes 10-20 seconds.  This effects their Attr stat. They use their Wardrobe & Style skill to fit the situation.

Chat in bar: The Kind will choose a receptive person in a bar to flirt/smalltalk with.  They use their Social skill to fit-in.

Convince Human to Pay for Drink/Give Cash: roll Persuasion(1d10+10+10) vs. susceptibility of Human to spending the money:
  • Difficulty 10 if Kind is attractive female and Human is cruising for chicks
  • Difficulty 15 if Kind is beggar soliciting spare change, Human is passer-by
  • Difficulty 25 if Kind is talking to the Female bartender
Impersonate Human: if a Human interacts with the Kind, the Human should roll Awareness(1d10+INT+Awareness) and the Kind should roll Impersonate Human(1d10+10+5).  If the Human rolls higher than the Kind, he recognizes that something is wrong with the Kind, but can't quite put his finger on what.  If he rolls higher by 5 or more, he realizes that the Kind is not Human.

Form Weapon: though they generally prefer to avoid conflict, if cornered or if defending it's roost, the Kind can form basic knives/clubs which do 1d6 damage

Regenerate: their shape changing allows them to regenerate 1 point of damage per round.  If killed, they decompose to dust within minutes.