Sunday, September 13, 2009

Situational GMing

Situational GMing is a style of GMing, the one I am most comfortable with. It is not the ultimate, best, or coolest method, merely one that works really well for me, and one which is often misunderstood. Take this post not as avocation, but as explanation.


Prep is minimal in this style of GMing. Maps if needed are generated. Important NPCs are detailed - not usually their stats and skills, but their motivations, goals, resources, personalities, and organizations. This information is generated in my own games by pick-or-roll tables I include, and which I often use in other games. I also set up lists of typical opponents I can throw at the party when I need in Encounters.

First Situation

The First Situation *will* occur, sometime in the first session. Sometimes I lead off with it, sometimes I wait for the PCs to get to know each other a bit. The players may react to this situation however they choose. This situation is set up by looking at what the NPCs are trying to do and their resources, and with them creating a situation which the PCs must in some way react to. The PCs react to this situation with energy, pushing it out into an action. I see how the NPCs will react to the PCs' action, and apply resources and organization in the way they would, based on their goals, motivations, and personalities. This back and forth act, react, and react to the reaction process can last a good many sessions.

How NPCs Work

NPCs are not the enemies or the friends of the PCs. They may become such during play, but they are just aiming for their own goals. If their goals conflict with the PCs, they may clash. If their goals coincide, they may ally. If they do neither, they proceed along their own paths. Sometimes alliances turn into friendships, or even romance. Sometimes opposition turns into bitter enmity. I jsut play them according to their personalities, goals, and motivations.

Session-Starting Situations

These I come up with based on how the last session ended. It is set up like a First Situation, but occurs at various times when I feel it's appropriate.


These come up whenever I feel they are warranted, depending on the situation. They take no prep, as I did them up before the start of play.

NPCs Arising Out of Play

This happens fairly often, where an NPC intended as window dressing becomes somhow important to the PCs. I use the same tables I use in initial Prep to generate what I need to play them on the fly, refining it all after play, between sessions.

When someone achieves his goal, the game is basically over, though the PCs may - and usually do - continue on.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Plug-ins and Framework systems

Framework systems are designed from the start to accept modular plug-ins. The StarCluster System is such a Framework system, and I'm going to explore using different Task-Resolution plug-ins with the Framework, and the effect on play.

The StarCluster system uses a system of attributes which exist somewhere in the range of 1-15 - usually. In some games they're theoretically infinite, in others they're capped at 15 for humans. There are four physical attributes - STR (strength), COOR (coordination), AGY (agility), and END (endurance). There is one attribute which is partly physical and partly mental - CHAR (charisma), and one attribute which is wholly mental, INT (Intelligence). There is always another stat which measures something else - LUCK, or PSI, or MAG, for example. Skills are rated at Skill+0 for no rank, and +1 per rank, so skill+3 means you have rank 3 in that skill. Skills are tied to specific attributes. This is pretty much invariant among the various game susing the system. Weapons have a variable bonus to damage which is the same for each weapon across systems - a knife is always +0, and a revolver is always +15, no matter what game you are playing. Damage is tracked by subtracting from a derived attribute, Constitution, which is equal to the four physical stats multiplied by a number which varies between T-R plug-ins. At 3/4 Constitution you have a penalty, at 1/2 Constitution you are stunned without an Overdo (or END) check, and at 1/4 Constitution, you go unconcious and start bleeding out.

StarPerc is a percentile T-R plug-in. For chance of success, you roll d% under a number determined by the skill rank. It defaults to the attribute at Skill+0, but jumps to 45% at Skill+1, and 5 is added per rank after that. There is a bonus due to high attributes, of +5 per 2 points above 7 - that is +5 at 9, +10 at 11, +15 at 13, and +20 at 15. Quality is a separate roll of d%. Damage is one kind of quality roll, with the weapon modifier added to the result of the roll. The Constitution multiplier is 10.

This yields a game that feels gritty, but isn't. Most characters can take a couple pistol shots without going down. Skilled characters have a huge advantage over unskilled for chance, but it doesn't matter at all with quality, which isn't tied at all to skill. Quality ranges enormously - the random factor is very high - which simulates actual wound damage well.

StarPool is a dice pool T-R plug-in. For chance of success, you roll Skill Rank +1 d20 under the attribute, counting successes. Thus for Skill+3 you roll 4 d20, for Skill+0, you roll 1 d20. Any success means you succeed. The quality of success is determined by the number of successes. You multiply the number of successes times 10, plus any modifier, to find the quality. You would add the weapon modifier to quality in combat, thus 3 successes with a pistol (+15) would be 45. The Constitution multiplier is 5.

This yields a game which feels cinematic, but is actually deadly. A skilled foe can put an average character down with one hit. Skilled characters don't have a hugely better chance of success, but they can achieve far better quality. This, of course, simulates another aspect of reality well - someone good at something should have better results!

Star20 is a roll over T-R plug-in. For chance of success, you roll (4 X d6) -4 to get a bell curve from 0-20. Add Attribute Bonus ( +1 per 2 points above 7) and skill rank. 14-15 is 1 success, 16-17 is 2, 18 is 3, 19 is 4, 20 is 5, 24 or more is a critical success, and 6 or less is a critical failure. Damage is successes times 20 plus modifier, so 3 successes with a pistol (+15) would be 75. The Constitution multiplier is 8.

This yields a game where it's hard to do well with low skill ranks, but there's a marked accelleration at mid skill ranks, and someone very good can be devastating. The combination of moderate Constitution and rapidly increasing quality means a very skilled opponent can bring an average character down with one hit, but un-skilled or low-skilled characters have to peck away in combat. It is the most cinematic of the three plug-ins discussed here. Low-rank characters really are mooks.

There are other T-R plug-ins, but I haven't released games featuring them yet, so I won't detail them here. StarKarma, for example, is a diceless T-R system.


Monday, September 7, 2009

OHMAS - County Descriptions and Biographies

In an effort to supply some setting to OHMAS, I've included short descriptions of the counties of England, as well as short biographies of principle people of the era. Here are a couple of examples:

Kit Marlowe

Born the same year as Shakespeare, Christopher “Kit” Marlowe was born in Canterbury, Kent, to a shoemaker. He attended Cambridge on a scholarship, and received a BA in 1584. In 1587, the university hesitated to award him his Masters, because of a rumor that he had converted to Catholicism, but the Privy Council intervened, praising him for his good service to the queen, and his Masters was awarded. No one knows just what service provoked this extraordinary intervention, and speculation - including that he worked as a spy for Walsingham - flourishes.

His play Tamburlane was hugely successful, and the first blank verse play, influencing all who followed. His most famous play is probably the Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, with its themes of magic and the powers and temptations of devils. In the end, Faustus is torn to shreds by devils and dragged off to Hell.

In 1593, he was arrested on the testimony of Thomas Kyd, another famous playwright, and probably under torture, for libel against the queen. He was found living with Thomas Walsingham, cousin to the spymaster, and a noted spy himself. He appeared before the Privy Council on May 20th, and was set free on the condition he give daily accounts of his doings to the Council. On May 30th, he was murdered. According to official record, he was in a public house in Deptford with three men, all Walsingham’s men, when he attacked one, who slew him in self defence.

It is thought that such a case is far too suspocious to be believed, as the three men were spies with connection to the underground, and the death too convenient to some highly placed members of the privy Council.

Marlowe was rumored to be an atheist, a pagan, a homosexual, and a criminal. None of these charges can be substantiated, but it is very intriguing nonetheless.


A land-locked county, Nottingham is hilly in the west and low-lying in the east. In the southeast is the rich, fertile Vale of Belvoir. In the northwest, the famous Sherwood Forest, haunt of Robin Hood. The western hills are not high, and a ridge runs right down the center of Nottinghamshire. There are limestone caves throughout the county, most famously under Nottingham itself. The climate is dry and healthy. Cattle, sheep, hops, wheat, barley, turnips, and oats are raised in the fertile soil. The County town is Nottingham.

Map - 1809

OHMAS is almost completely done. I am just waiting any last comments from playtesters to make possible edits, then I need to spellcheck and generate a final index, and that's it.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

From the StarCluster Guide to Created Creatures, on sale as of tonight.


High TL9 Hammerhead Shark Uplift
STR 10 -> 11 = 0 points (from Stance change)
COOR 0 -> 7 = 0 points (from Manipulator change)
END 6 -> 4 = 0 points (from Stance change)
Constitution 320
CHAR 5 -> 3 = 0 points (from Vocalization change)
INT -2 -> 7 = -18 points
Natural Attack
Natural Attack Damage +30
Natural Attack Effective Skill Rank Bite +4
Special Attack? None
Sight 0 -> 1 = -1 points
Hearing 1
Touch None
Smell 3
Taste 0
Electric 3 -> 5 = -2 points
Special Notes
Stance - Belly crawl -> Slouched = -7 points
Speech - Voice Box -> Vocal Mimicry = -5 points
Manipulators - None -> Human-like Hands = -7 points
Armor Equivalent
Armor - Hide
Size - 7
Feeding Frenzy -> Edited Out = -1 point
Violent -> Edited Out = -1 point
Cannibalistic -> Edited Out = -1 point
Loyal -> Added = -2 points
The Shark Man is the only known shark uplift in the Cluster. Uplifted on the Vantor world of Pollux, the Shark Man was developed as a bodyguard for prominent Vantors. With their enormous size and immense, gaping maws, shark men are extremely intimidating. By breeding out the most objectionable facets of shark behavior, and breeding in loyalty, the Vantors of Pollux succeeded in creating a masterpiece of uplifting.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

On Faries

From On Her Majesty's Arcane Service

Fairies are creatures closely related to humans, but different enough so that they hardly ever interbreed successfully. Fairies preferentially live in pockets, either natural or made by a Savant, as they can’t make their own. Some fairy pockets are tiny, and others are whole universes. They generally have guarded entrances held permanently open by rocks, timber, or other props.


Faerie is a realm co‐existant with the human realms, hidden away in pockets of extra-dimensional space and complete pocket universes. In the British Isles ‐ England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and the smaller islands ‐ there are hundreds of these pockets, ranging in size from tiny croftholds with less than five inhabitants to Faerie cities with thousands of inhabitants. Each Faerie pocket has different base rules, different physics, than human realms; and different from each other. Time may be faster or ‐ usually ‐ slower. Distances inside the pocket can be enormous even though the pocket may be tiny externally. Magic can be performed casually, and cause and effect are different, perhaps reversible.

The people of these realms are Fairies. Most larger fairy pockets are independent kingdoms. Fairie pockets generally have different timescales than our world ‐ fairies are conservative and don’t like change, so they like their pocket time to run slower than the real world. Sometimes human get into fairy pockets, either invited in or as Changelings, and sometimes hundreds of years might pass in the outside world before they return. Not all fairies live in pockets, however. Some have left their pockets to wander, some have been exiled from their communities, some prefer to live in the real world, and some simply have no home pocket to live in. Such fairies
occasionally commission Savants to create new pockets for them.

Fairy Children

Fairy children are much like human children, they are the same size and shape as human babies, and left to themselves will grow up to look and act very human indeed. In the fairy societies, though, fairies grow up to become outwardly what they are inwardly. Murderous fairies become Red Caps. Brutish fairies become Ogres and Giants. Innocent, flighty fairies become Piskies. Fairy communities are almost always of one type. A fairy born into a community of Piskies, for example, who shows signs of becoming a Red Cap will be forced out of the community to wander until he can find a Red Cap community to join.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Optional Rules

I came up with this optional rule for On Her Majesty's Arcane Service, but this could work in any game - particularly one with political intrigue. I will probably bring this into Glorianna when I get around to finishing it.

Optional Rule: A Currency of Favors

Favors were a major currency in Elizabethan times, and this rule aims to emulate it. Players begin play with 4 favor points, plus 1 per Wealth Rank above Middle Class, and can freely spend them by calling them in, or gain them by doing favors for each other or for NPCs. 1 favor point is worth a favor from a Middle Class or lower person. an UMC favor is worth 2 points, Wealthy 4, Extremely Rich 8, Plutocrat 16, and the Queen’s favor is worth 32.

That's it. Real simple, but I think it could be very effective in a political game.

Here's one I have used for many different games, and it works extremely well.

Optional Rule: Commando-type Actions

Characters may attempt commando‐type actions such as picking off a sentry by clasping a hand over the sentry’s mouth while slicing his neck with a knife. If the character has an appropriate background this should be purely a question of the character’s ability to sneak up on (sneak or stealth skills) or rush (flash skill) the sentry. If the sentry does not detect the approach of the character, or has no time to respond, the sentry should die. If a character without an appropriate background attempts it, roll at sneak, stealth, or flash+0 as appropriate, with modifiers for agility. In any case, the sentry’s constitution should be ignored.

Another simple but effective rule which really supports a particular type of play. again, it can be used in any game - the skills and stats used may vary, of course, but the idea is very transferable.

Finally, here's how I implement Hero/plot points.

Optional Rule: Plot Points

Using this optional rule, the characters and the GM each receive one Plot Point per session. They can be used any time during that session, but cannot be accumulated across sessions. The Plot Point can be used to do one of two things: the player may make any attempt, by anyone, an automatic success, or an automatic failure. These points should be used any time an action cannot fail, or must not succeed. The Plot point need not be used on the player’s character. It can be used at any time on any character.

My players *love* this rule! They can use it for a failed roll, they can prevent a bad guy's success, they can use it on each other, and the GM gets one and can use it however he wants too. Again, systemless rule. You can use it in any game.