Aug 29, 2013

Blog Carnival - August 2013 - Campaign Preparation

Babbling at the Counter #05.5 – Pen and Paper
Blog Carnival - August 2013 - Campaign Preparation

Hi, I'm really excited about this, my first Carnival! Even though the topic is kind of troublesome for me right now (more on that later), I won't pass this opportunity.

If you don’t know what a Carnival is about, check out this link: (

Now, why is Campaign Preparation a bad topic for me? Well, because I have recently messed up the start of a campaign badly. Let me tell you all this sad, sad tale...
A few weeks back, my group decided to start a new campaign, and, as I was going to be the DM, I suggested we played a thieves and con artists game. Those kind of stories are always fun and we hadn't played anything like that before, so they agreed.
Up to this point everything seems great, but then, two things went wrong. That's my goal today, to identify this two mistakes and help all of you to avoid them.
First, please notice how I didn't said the "liked" the idea, they just went with it because it was new. Mistake nº 1: The group wasn't looking forward to the game.
They wanted to play and they thought it might be fun, but they weren't into the genre. And given that this was a custom made world, there wasn't any kind of material to read to get the setting.
So my advice is: If yours is a setting your players are not used to, then take the time to write a few paragraphs as an introduction. It's better if everyone is on the same page about what to expect.
Ok, that was nº 1, now nº 2: There was no support for the setting on the mechanics. I'll explain:
We were playing Savage Worlds, which is a nice universal system for action scenes and adventure. Even though combat was perfect for the world I had in mind, and the players are used and like that combat system, there weren't any genre specific rules.
I had designed a few abilities to try and capture the feel, but they were too few, and not catchy enough. As they weren't sold on the whole setting, there wasn't really a reason for them to go hunting for these advantages. Advise: When you make a setting for a campaign, identify the key concepts and highlight them. In my case, I should have made a stronger effort towards planning a heist, getting and using equipment and information, and teamwork.

Well, I hope it was interesting, and wish you the best of lucks avoiding my mistakes.

- The Storeman

Aug 27, 2013

How tough is tough? Creating obstacles for PCs

Babbling at the Counter #05 – Pen and Paper

How tough is tough? Creating obstacles for PCs

As a GM, I’ve gradually moved more and more towards RPG systems with simple conflict resolution. For me, it means that two different but related things are simple: Values to Compare, and Logistics. By Values to Compare I mean how to decide the Target Number on any given throw. By Logistics I mean how the player has to execute the throw. Today, I’ll talk about Values; the next Babble will be about Logistics.

Some systems are what I’ll be calling “complex”, if when designing an object on the game world they have not only a lot of Values, but Values that are calculated from the previous ones.
For example: Your character has a Body Stat (or Value). From it, you calculate his HP as [Body x5]; his Combat Prowess as [Body + Speed] and his Attractiveness as [Body + Mind] (because, clearly, being good looking isn’t all, right? Ask a doctor or a lawyer).

Keep in mind that I’m not saying that complexity is a bad thing, ‘cause I don’t think so. Complexity help both with realism (if it’s done right) and with character customization (again, if it’s done right). It’s great if you want to make a focus on gaming aspects, so the GM can just design obstacles using guidelines to make them balanced against the relative power level of the character but not taking into account their actual abilities. If they are underpowered, they die.

But, what happens when the players make and unexpected move? Again, I'll use an example:
So, the GM puts the McGuffin (big important plot related item) on the hands a big bad orc tribe that lives on some mountains. She creates the stats of the orc chief, the common guards, the chief's elite guard and even the slaves, in case she has to use them as an improvised militia. She has a handy list of every kind of weapon every kind of orc can have access to, and draws the map of the tribe's settlement. With everything written down, she can check whatever she needs as soon as the characters act. They want to fight? The soldiers have stats. They want to bribe the guards to get the McGuffin without a hassle? Well, there are stats and values for negotiation, in case the social character wants to try to keep it non-violent. What could go wrong?
What? They want to seduce the chief's mistress to get access to his tent while he is gone? Well, the GM hadn't thought about it, but he must have one, or a wife, or something, right? So... she must be more intelligent that the slaves and soldiers... but that changes completely the math about the Persuasion Roll. Mmm... Of the course, the GM could just fudge the Target Number, but then, what's the point of having so many Values to check?
In the end, either the GM improvises something on the spot (again, making the complexity of the system irrelevant if not bothersome) or she forces the plot to prevent that option.

In my short career as GM, I've seen my fair share of derailed adventures. I used both of the tactics above, and in the end decided that it was not worth it. With simpler games, it was easier. Following the previous example and using Risus (, this could happen:
So... seducing the mistress, eh? She is an “Orc 3” and “Chief's Lover 4”. So her devotion to him might hinder any attempt to seduce her, or perhaps the character runs the risk of falling in love with her if he isn't successful.

There are so many ways this love triangle could go very, very wrong.

Either way she uses the same Value, “4” from “Chief's Lover”, a simple Value to think on the spot taking into account the character's abilities (so the GM can make the encounter easy, average or difficult).

Ok, so to sum this all up. Simple systems offer a simple way to improvise, so creating obstacles doesn't interfere with the flow of the game, while giving a numerical system to decide what can and can't be done, and giving players the options to customize their own abilities.
Even though complexity can be good, it's not suitable for every situation (neither is simplicity, it depends on play style).

Next week I'll give my take on the Logistics of RPGs. Have fun till then!

- The Storeman

Aug 25, 2013

Risus, The Anything RPG

Review #5 – Free Pen and Paper RPG

Risus, The Anything RPG

Risus is a simple universal system, and also a pretty good one. There are special rules created for it, some online, some only found in the deluxe, paid and paper made version, but using just the core, it’s easy to adapt it to your needs.

The basic (and only) characteristic of the PCs and NPCs are “clichés”. They could be anything from “Hardened Veteran” to “Pediatrician” or “Negative Nelly”. Each one has a score from 1 to 4 and, whenever you want to do something, you just take as many d6 as your highest relevant cliché. Throw and add all the results together to try to equal or surpass the difficulty chosen by the GM.

Your clichés tell your character’s story, define his abilities and are used to measure wounds. Fights are opposed contest between a combat oriented cliché of each character, whoever loses reduces his cliché by a dice. If you somehow use a non-combat cliché in battle and win, your opponent loses three dice. If it’s due to their embarrassment or just your sheer lunacy is never quite explained.

As you can see, there is not much to know about Risus, as I said, it’s simple. Character don’t have more that four clichés so they are easy to keep track of, combat and all opposed contests resolve fairly quickly and the system rewards creativity when using your clichés.

What you might not like about this system is that characters are not very mechanically different, so it demands a little more roleplaying that other systems. And it can take a while for the GM to get used to setting difficulties, as adding dice is (at least for me) a bit more confusing when it comes to possibilities of success.

Nevertheless, a solid universal system to have at the ready for any kind of occasion.

- The Storeman

Disclaimer: I didn’t upload any of the content in the following link. I have downloaded and checked it as I always do. I have even executed it in my own computer and did not experience any kind of problems. But I can’t ensure that it is free of virus and/or malware that my anti-virus programs couldn’t find. That’s the author’s responsibility.

Aug 22, 2013

Why would someone do this?

Babbling at the Counter #04.5 – Blogging

Why would someone do this?

Well, I'm sitting here, staring at the screen trying to find something to talk about (since last post was a bit too short for my taste) when it hits me. A nice idea for a post. What if I talked about posting? No, don't make that face, I've got something interesting to say, believe me.
It took me a lot of time to work up the nerve to start this blog. I was full of doubt, thinking "why would anyone want to read what I can write? It's not like I'm a brilliant man with lots of ideas. I'll just babble about boring things that nobody but me cares about".
When I finally decided to do it, everything changed. I said to myself "You are not forcing anyone to read it; if no one likes your blog, they'll just ignore it and go on with their lives". So I started to write. And the more I wrote, the easier it got. I had a deadline, but unlike the ones imposed by others (university and job), this was one I had chosen, and one that I adhered to just because I wanted. It was great to do something just for the hell of it.
Now, I realize I stopped talking about blogging a while ago. I'm talking about those projects that made this project, the Warehouse, possible. Those designers that worked on games just because; and then released them to the world.
It's not about responsibility, or fame or money. At least it's not for me, and I think those designers would agree with that. If you have something to give, just do it. Even if only one person in the whole wide world finds it useful, nevertheless it was time well spent, don't you think?
- The Storeman

Aug 20, 2013

Imagination and Video Games

Babbling at the Counter #04 – Video Games

Imagination and Video Games

Note: This post will have some spoiler about Spelunky. They are pretty obvious but if you didn’t play the game I should advise you to play it a few times and then read this post. (

This last two week I’ve talked about Madness ( and Spelunky (link above). Those games have something interesting in common: they both have a very basic and incomplete plot. What we can do is turn that “quasi-plot” and write our own stories while we play. How? Let’s see.

In Spelunky we have a moral system, even if you find it hard to believe. You can play either a movie hero (by not killing the useful NPCs) or a movie villain (by killing each and every one of them). Or maybe you decide that the merchants are in fact evil, perhaps some Nazi Scientists (as movies usually do) disrupting the local ecosystem to create those gadgets they sell, so you are just stopping them. You are not the bad guy here! On the other hand, and while I’ll keep the spoilers low, try to sacrifice lots of characters to the altars and see what you get. That’s how villains are created, I tell you.

Now, Madness is one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played. With only imagination to draw it, you can make that dungeon as horrible as you can imagine. It’s just so easy to see your character struggling to walk through the clouds of butterflies, isn’t it? And, whose ghost do you see when the madness starts to take a hold of you?

Some will say: “I have real plots and graphics to create that for me, thank you”. Let them, who cares? They are the ones missing the fun. We have awesome and unique stories, they have mass produced plot. I guess we win.

- The Storeman

Aug 18, 2013

Spelunky, Explore the depths of the Ancient Earth

Review #4 - Free Video Game

Spelunky, Explore the depths of The Ancient Earth

Spelunky is a plataformer with randomly generated levels and a lot, and I really mean a lot of characters and objects for Indy to interact with. I would explain a few of them but I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just shut up.

Now, a fair warning, this game is NOT easy. It might take a while to get past the first area, and you will die a LOT. Some reviews compare it to Rogue-like levels of “deathness”. Not that it matters, though, as it’s impossible to get through each and every feature in just a few games. I mean, it took me like 50 replays to get the dark level once.

It’s really a nice alternative if you like plataformers but hate to play the same jumps again and again. The game is so well thought that I haven’t encountered a single dead end where there shouldn’t be one. The first levels can be resolved with minimum use of ropes and bombs, just remember to save a few for the latter levels where they’ll be vital.

So there you have it, a real exploration game with a new cavern each time and enough secrets to keep you playing for a long, long time. Enjoy Indy’s adventure!

- The Storeman

Disclaimer: I didn’t upload any of the content in the following link. I have downloaded and checked it as I always do. I have even executed it in my own computer and did not experience any kind of problems. But I can’t ensure that it is free of virus and/or malware that my anti-virus programs couldn’t find. That’s the author’s responsibility.

There is also a commercial version of Spelunky for Xbox, if you want to support the developer and get a sweet game out of it.

Aug 13, 2013

Invincible Monsters, Fear and Tension or Cheap shot?

Babbling at the Counter #03 – Pen and Paper

Invincible Monsters, Fear and Tension or Cheap shot?

GMs, listen, if there’s something roleplayers are used to, it’s maiming and killing whatever you put in their way. So it can be fun to play and twist their expectations, don’t you think? And even though there are certain kinds of enemies that can only be hurt with a specific kind of weapon or spell, that’s not the same as deciding to use a truly impossible to damage foe.

First, you should ask yourself this question: Is it worth it? Because not everyone will enjoy an unstoppable punching bag that just keeps going. If you think your players won’t react well, don’t try to push it. But if you think they will, then don’t restrict yourself and go ahead. And let me tell you that you have awesome players.

Now, there are two things that unstoppable monsters should not be: Overpowered and Inescapable.

Why not Overpowered: You want your players to be afraid of the monster, not to create a Total Party Kill. Sending a monster that’s too strong for the characters is not the idea here. Such a monster would kill the players too fast, and they’ll feel cheated. Now if your creature deals normal damage, not only they’ll have time to realize that THEY CAN’T KILL IT and that they should RUN, but you will also have a better control over how fast the encounter moves.
So don’t send a creature that doubles the characters level; instead send a normal creature that’s immune to damage. Only don’t let them know it’s normal. Describe it in a supernatural way, with an impressive armor or an ethereal quality so they know they are not dealing with a normal foe, even if its stats are completely average.

Why not Inescapable: This one is more obvious than the last one. If they won’t be able to kill, they’ll have to find another way to survive. Maybe the creature can’t enter a specific kind of place (like holy ground) or can’t be exposed to a specific element (like sunlight). Maybe it can’t leave a place (like its tomb). Or maybe it can be stopped, but only in an intricate and non-final way (instead of destroying it, the characters seal it up in some kind of place. Since it’s not really gone and they can’t carry the prison around, they won’t know if the creature ever escapes).
What we are trying to do here is put some sort of built-in weak spot. This will allow you to make it survive almost anything and make the players burn a lot of resources and get very creative to survive, but won’t create a TPK. It will also give you more control over when they can finally escape.

The general idea is to make them fear the monster, while giving them enough hope to keep fighting. And I realize that all the examples I’ve given are clearly pointing towards some kind of undead monster, but this can easily be used to create a spirit avatar, a demigod, or even an imaginary enemy that stalks your players. Have fun!

- The Storeman

Aug 12, 2013

Madness, Psychological Horror Rogue-like

Review #3 - Free Video Game

Madness, Psychological Horror Rogue-like

This is a very good game but there something I’ve to ask you first: Do you know what a Rogue-like is? If you do, skip the next part. If you don’t, please read it.

What is a Roguelike?

A Roguelike is usually described as a free turn-based computer game with a strong focus on intricate gameplay and replayability, and an abstract world representation using ASCII-based display, as opposed to 3D graphics. Of course, as with any genre, there are deviations from the norm.
Roguelikes allow the player an indefinite amount of time in which to make a move, making gameplay comparable more to chess than to reflex-based games like first-person shooters. Since graphics are limited (if not completely shunned), the player's imagination must come into play - gameplay is more like reading a book than watching a movie.
Of course, the best way to understand what Roguelikes are is to download and play one.”

Madness puts you in the shoes of an adventurer inside an undefined dungeon. Your goal? Reach the tenth level and face the Dungeon Master. With this simple set up Madness hides the fact that it’s anything but simple.

Inside the dungeon, alone, surrounded by monster and darkness, your mind will start to slip away from reality. The longer you stay inside the dungeon, the crazier you’ll get. And the harder it’ll be to distinguish reality from hallucinations. Try to keep everything together and use your light sources wisely if you want to succeed.

A nice, very immersive game to play during a coffebreak. (A good concept to add to my “Babbling at the Counter” about Replayability, read more here

- The Storeman

Disclaimer: I didn’t upload any of the content in the following link. I have downloaded and checked it as I always do. I have even executed it in my own computer and did not experience any kind of problems. But I can’t ensure that it is free of viruses and/or malware that my anti-virus programs couldn’t find. That’s the author’s responsibility.

(I'm sorry this post was delayed, I've been having problems with my internet connection)

Aug 6, 2013

Weird One-Shots, Open Ended and Silly Adventure

Babbling at the Counter #02 – Pen and Paper

Weird One-Shots, Open Ended and Silly Adventure
I don't know if there's a term to define this, but what I call "weird one-shot" are: single session games with a simple system, lots of deaths and very little plot.
As a GM, I'm not big on long campaigns, mainly because my group isn't that reliable. That, and they aren't fans of playing the big damn heroes, either. So we play a lot of weird one shots. That allows me to test a lot of different systems, so that's something good.
But on the other hand, it's not easy. I've met GMs that wouldn't master a weird one-shot even if you paid them, and I understand each and every one of their complains. But the main one seems to be (and I'm paraphrasing here): "The players just start doing random shit for shits and giggles, it’s impossible to keep everything together"
As I already said, my players don't play the most heroic characters ever. And if you tell them it's a one-shot and there won't be a hell lot of consequences for their actions, they are going to start chewing the scenery. One of our games ended with two out of three characters dead and the whole American continent turning into a giant fish and diving under the sea. It was fun, but just because everyone understood the risks, so no one felt disappointed. It was a crazy ending, but not our weirdest by far. They know there won't be a lot realism, strategy or character development in one of my weird one-shots.
I guess what I'm trying to defend here are these crazy games that don't try to be smart, neither from the narrative standpoint nor the strategic one. They just want to be fun.
I'm the first to admit that I used to be afraid of these kind of games. As a GM, I used to find it frightening when there wasn't a lot I could do to influence the game, when I could only send flamboyant characters with an accent and a flimsy motivation to stand against (and be pounded by) the PCs. But then I saw it was fun, for them and for me. It was a great way to shake things up and keep everything fresh. It was a good way to introduce new players, that were either too afraid to do anything or too inexperienced to care about the meta plot. And it was a way to test a new system and see how much it could handle.
So next time you are all a little tired and want to escape the routine, why don't you play a weird one-shot?
- The Storeman

Aug 4, 2013


Review #2 - Free RPG


Ok, so this is the second week, and this is the second review. For this one I wanted to talk about a pen and paper RPG, given that this and video games are going to be the focus of this blog and I already talked about a video game last week.

The chosen one today is "Pirates!", a single d6 system about, you guessed it, pirates. This isn't a game for realistic simulation or lots of tactical combat, so unless you are looking for improvisational and cinematic fun you are losing your time reading this review.

The system is simple, you have six stats with values from 0 to 5, 0 being the minimum and 5 the maximum. When you want to do something, roll a d6 and try to get less than your relevant stat. Rolled less? Then you were successful. I'd say it's great but given that you are a pirate, most probably someone is going to suffer/be robbed/be set on fire, so I won’t. If you roll more than your stat, then you are hurt and out of the scene, unless you use a luck point, which are shared by the party and charged by drinking and partying.

It's a great game for a tired GM that doesn’t want to work too much.  As GM you don't roll a single dice, because players hurt themselves. NPCs are as simple as a name and as little description as possible, given that they a bound to die at the hands of crazed PCs. All you have to do is set them on the ocean and give them treasure every once in a while.

I could keep talking about the Taboo system that encourages chaos and mayhem (one of the taboos is "thinking before acting") or the Dead Man Chest, a gold bonus triggered by rolling a 5 (so players will keep rolling the dice, believe me) but that's what the manual is for. Download this PDF and enjoy a crazy adventure. There also a French version!

- The Storeman

Disclaimer: I didn’t upload any of the content in the following link. I have downloaded and checked it as I always do. I have even executed it in my own computer and did not experience any kind of problems. But I can’t ensure that it is free of viruses and/or malware that my anti-virus programs couldn’t find. That’s the author’s responsibility.