Feb 25, 2014

Mysterious - Cont.

Babbling at the Counter #30 - Pen and Paper

Mysterious - Cont.

Last week's Babble wasn't what I wanted. I mean, I said what was wrong with Investigation Plots, but didn't offer a solution. So today, I'll talk about how to actually run a mystery.

The Layout of this post will be this: I'll use the same sub-titles as last week, but instead of whining about a problem, I'll offer an alternative. Then, a little example. As supernatural investigation is one of my favorite genres both on TV and to run as GM, I'll use it.

Too Many Moving Parts:

To make clues more fun, make getting them the challenge, not understanding them. Getting a peek from the crime scene, stealing the files from the police station, finding the witnesses, these are all nice challenges for a game. Players can come up with creative ways to overcome them and the character's stats will be used.

Now, once they have the clues, make them obvious. After all, the characters know what they are doing, they should figure them out easily. This way you make sure the players won't get stuck. The characters should know their city pretty well, and even if they don't, sitting around to read is something you shouldn't roll for. They will have actually accomplished something (getting the clues) and the game can keep moving.

Ex: There's been a mysterious death at the piers. To get a shot at the crime scene before normal police officers have a chance to mess the supernatural evidence up, two of the characters decide to dress as the CSI team to collect evidence.
They botch their rolls pretty badly, so a veteran sergeant recognizes them and tries to get them arrested. Even though they all get away, now the characters have to come up with another approach.
Meanwhile, another player decide to have her character talk to all the street vendors and hobos nearby, in case someone saw something. Luckily, they did! They describe the creature as a fish-like man, with razor sharp teeth. After mangling the poor soul that stumbled in his way, it jumped into the water and disappeared.
Now the characters have a clear path to the creature (it may live or at least travel through water), but a lot of ways to get to it. They could wait around for the next attack, or actually go after it with cameras, scuba gear or even a water breathing spell or submarine (if it's that kind of game). They even have witnesses, so they could take one back to HQ and show him pictures of sea monsters till he identifies it.

Less Talk More Rock:

Research is a vital part of investigations, and different series devote different amounts of time to these scenes. Here we are going for an action/investigation kind of story. So action comes first, priority-wise, and we'll set aside just enough time for research.

We are looking for something like Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Even though there was investigation on the show, it was mostly one of two kinds (and there was at least a fight scene per episode, if not more):

What is it: Maybe the characters got a good look at the creature before it got away, or maybe it has a particular way of killing, but after this scene, the characters already know it's name, what it wants, and more often than not, how to kill it. This is usually a quick scene at the library, with a few jokes before someones finds the right book.

How to stop it:  Sometimes, it's easy to know what it is. Is you find an empty sarcophagus and people from Egyptian descent are the target, it doesn't take a genius to think "mummy!".
The question then are what does it want and what does it fear. Any of those things could work to stop it. The characters can set a trap for it, or use it's weakness to design a weapon. In some cases, like the mummy, it's motive and weakness could be the same thing. The mummy might need the blood of the pharaoh's descendants to return to life before the minions of Anubis drag it back to the Underworld.

Ex: Not to be denied, the characters decide to steal the lab results on the crime scene  from the police station. They stage a big distraction outside, while the most agile character sneaks in to take a peek from the file.
They learn that the creature left behind some kind of oil, and that it deteriorated quickly when exposed to sunlight. Now they know the creature is nocturnal (to help predict it's movements) and that sun is a handy way to kill it (maybe a tanning bed could have the same effect).

The Clue Conundrum:

Don't be too strict when it comes to giving away the clues. The players can't read your mind, so they'll do what makes sense to them, not to your plot. Taking a sample from the crime scene to analyze, stealing the lab results, or even getting the lead investigator hammered at a bar to loosen his tongue, are all possibilities and should be equally useful. In the previous example, the characters stole the lab files because they couldn't get into the crime scene. It doesn't matter, they get exactly the same information either way.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating: don't expect the players to connect the dots. You may leave a few things for your players to figure out, as long as they are not vital parts of the plot. I'm not saying everyone is too dumb to figure out the clues, what I'm saying is...

It's not a job:

People at the gaming table want to have fun. Some of them have just gotten back from work, or have spent the whole day studying. Others may just be looking for awesome stuff to happen to their characters. Other just want to hang out with friends. More often than not, though, they are not looking the acquire the real abilities of a detective.

Bottom Line:

Playing an investigation can be a blast, but for most groups, it means laying the investigation down a bit and making the action central to the story. It's not only about fights. Chases, climbing dangerous places, sneaking past enemy lines, having a stressful negotiation, that's what players are looking for. Things that get the blood pumping and that make great stories.

- The Storeman

Feb 23, 2014

Action Fist! He stole from you. No one steals from you.

Review #30 – Free Video Game

Action Fist! He stole from you. No one steals from you.

From the creator of Uberleben comes another great gem. Clearly inspired by old classics, Action Fist! is both familiar and new. You’ll find yourself comfortable with the controls in a snap, like in old arcades. It’s all gunfire and mayhem from this point on!

Action Fist! is a co-op, and I highly recommend playing it like that.

The power up system is also a fun feature. You have both straight power ups like multi shot or rapid fire, sure. Now, in a world color coded for your convenience, picking up a color for your gun helps you deal extra damage to enemies of the same color. As you can only have two different weapons and there are three colors, you can see why a partner to provide that extra color can save you.

On difficulty, there are a lot of options. I’m sure one will suit your needs.

Last note, but an important one. There’s a level with rain in the background. It caused a fair share of lag in my computer. Don’t worry though, it’s only one level. You should be able to play through it.

Give adventure a try! And if you are looking for a setting to play BADASS, look no further!

- 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.

Feb 18, 2014


Babbling at the Counter #29 – Pen and Paper


A comment on a recent post got me thinking. I love mystery and investigation fiction. As a matter of fact, I’d say at least a half of the fiction (series, books, movies) I consume falls into this category. So, why did I recommend NOT running a murder mystery last week? Here’s why:

My main point is that seeing an investigation on TV and running one on your game a two completely different animals. Even though it can be fun to see a mystery, solving one can be a bummer.

And before I begin, I mean a “real” “Sherlock Holmes quality” mystery, a.k.a.: lots of talking and clue gathering before a big reveal.

Lastly, as this entry is rather large, you may prefer to skip to the conclusion/short version if you are pressed for time.

Too many moving parts:
Making a good mystery means striking a delicate balance. It must be hard enough to pose a challenge, but easy enough to be solved.
In TVland, that’s easy. The main characters are going to find the answer because the writer knows it. It doesn’t really matter if the audience can do that too, because the story will get resolved even if not a single person can guess who the killer is.
At your table, that’s not the case. The writer and the characters are not the same person, and if the players can’t find the answer, they'll get frustrated and it won’t be fun.
Unless everyone is fine with railroading, the mystery will have to be on the “easy” side of the spectrum, taking the challenge away.

Less Talk, More Rock, please:
Do you watch the series “Elementary”? Or “The Mentalist”? “Law and Order”? Even “Fringe” or “Psych” apply here, really. What those series have in common is that (as real investigation does) they include pretty few fist fights. And gunfights. And chases. They are, mostly, a bunch of people doing surveillance and waiting for some analysis to get back from the lab.
On TV, that’s fine. We see the really intelligent and insightful character find clues and figure them out. In the end, it was their minds what got them to the perp.
At the table, on the other hand, that means players ask for information, roll to get it, then hear it. If you don’t see the problem, let’s go for an example:
What can I see on the crime scene?”
A footprint. There’s a substance on the footprint, roll for the chemical analysis. (…) Great, it’s resin from a tropical tree, roll to know where you can find it in the city. (…) Great, roll to calculate a three mile radius around that place. (…) Great, roll to check the police database for people with the perp’s profile on that area (…)” Etc, and etc.

That’s how they do it on TV, and I love those shows. I sure as heck would hate the previous exchange at my game table, though.
In the end, characters in those shows can be pretty passive creatures. Players, by nature, are not.

The Clue Conundrum:
Another must on mystery RPG discussion is the old: And what if they miss a clue? Some GMs have had a game grind to a halt because the players missed an important clue. And some had the same when the players couldn’t connect them.
Again, on TV, the author makes both the clues and the connections. In an RPG, the GM makes the clues, the players the connections. That sometimes doesn’t go so well.

Playing a strong character is the same being a weakling or a bodybuilder. It's all on your Strength (or similar) score and a roll of the dice. Coming up with theories on an investigation is not so easy for everyone.
I mean, you could roll to ask the GM for the connections, but that makes the game too mechanic for my taste.

And this brings us to my last point.

It's not a job:
Detectives are not a TV invention, they do actually exist. So, if real people can solve real mysteries, why can't the players? Easy, because they are players, playing a game. As you don't have to know actual cartography to find a dragon's hidden island, you shouldn't need actual forensic knowledge to identify a stalker. Getting information should be a simple and fast task at the table, so the players can go on, and make choices and do stuff.

After all, it's a game. How do I know who the guy is won't be as satisfactory as knowing my plan to get him worked. If all I do is follow clue after clue until I confront the guy, then it's over (as most cop shows do), I'm a passive observer. I want to fight him, to run after him, to design a trap, etc. My pleasure doesn't come from seeing him behind bars, but from actually putting him there.

Conclusion/Short Version:
Running a mystery at the tabletop can be hard.
Take an average episode of a mystery show and count the times they “roll” (or would roll if it was an RPG game) to get information from a lab or from memory, or from any kind of source that would have to be given by the GM; and compare them to the number of times they “roll” to catch up with a perp, or jump a fence, or wrestle someone down, or seduce someone, or anything that wouldn't be a “question/answer” with the GM.
Oh, and let me know if you could have made the leaps on logic that are required to figure out the mystery before the characters tell the answer. Remember, if you can't, the game won't advance. If it's too easy, you'll get bored and the game will end really fast.

I'm not saying it's impossible to run a mystery at a tabletop. Just that you must remember it won't be like TV.

- The Storeman

Feb 16, 2014

Badass, The Roleplaying Game That Kicks LOGIC in the FACE!

Review #26 – Free Pen and Paper RPG

Badass, The Roleplaying Game That Kicks LOGIC in the FACE!

I didn’t write that title. That’s 100% from the game. And when a game introduces itself like that, you know you are in for a treat. The only requirements to play Badass are getting rid of logic and fear. Got it? Then let’s begin.

Badass is a simple system, perfectly crafted for the genre. There are no stats or skill, just a blanket badass type (Kickass improves physical rolls, Smartass mental ones and Wiseass social) and a few flavas or abilities. All rolls are 2d6, and can be improved spending Badass Points.

And that’s one of the games best features. You see, by spending Badass Points, either when using abilities or to augment your rolls, you turn them into Awesomeness Points. Get enough of them and you can acquire some new abilities.

Pretty fast our game turned into a race to spend Badass points, even though it was a one shot, so characters weren’t going to spend Awesomeness. Three of the five characters did get enough points though. So right before the end, after they “defeated” the final boss, I asked them what they were buying. Cue an epic soundtrack (One Winged Angel, from Final Fantasy) and the real boss! That way they got to use their shiny new powers.
If you run a one shot with Badass, I seriously recommend finding a moment to buy flavas. It makes the game a completely different (and better) experience.

Another great aspect of Badass is how it handles NPCs. Quick, dirty, most mooks are a mob and bosses have a few special “bad guy-only” flavas. Highly recommended for wild and fun escapades. Leave your serious face home.

- 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.

Feb 11, 2014

Blog Carnival – February 2014 – The Icy Embrace of Winter

Babbling at the Counter #28 – Pen and Paper

Blog Carnival – February 2014 – The Icy Embrace of Winter

New month, new Carnival. This one is hosted by Nils at Enderra, and is winter related. So thank you Nils! Hope this post makes a good addition to the Carnival!

What can you do with winter? Well, let me offer you a multi-purpose, multi-genre idea: “Snowed In”. You had seen it before? Yeah, it's an oldie but a goodie, so let's disassemble it.

For those at the back of the class, the idea here is to use the inclement winter weather to trap the party at a location. This gives a few advantages; the most important one is a closed and controlled environment. Of course, this only works if the characters can't deal with the snow easily. No teleportation or such non-sense is allowed.

You may be tempted to run a murder mystery or something like that here. I'd rather you didn't. You see, that kind of things can go off the rails in a snap. My recommendation is taking advantage of the character's inability to leave the place to create tension and drama.

I'd go with either a creature on the shadows or have the building itself turn hostile. In more realistic games, an unusually tough madman can do the trick. Make it about whether or not the characters will survive the storm. Take advantage of the unknown. Where will the next attack be? What is the enemy working on?

Clever players may build fortresses or safe rooms, given enough ingenuity and resources. Just remember that whatever is stalking them can do the same. Taking out the power is a simple but effective first step, and even better with creatures of the night. This, though, is far from the only thing to do.

Water is interesting because you both need it to live, and because it can kill you. Poisoning the water supply can make the characters leave their safe place, and hallucinogen drugs can make that panic room a mortal trap. On the other hand, we have the option to flood them out of there. Combine the two if you are really nasty.

Talking of death by oxygen deprivation, smoke can work, too. Fire adds another layer of dangers, and as always, an enemy that's immune to it has home advantage. You may find this “Unstoppable Monster” idea useful to plot, so I'll just leave the link.

Now, if your group likes “Horror” more than “Adventure”, trapped + time = horrible, horrible stuff. To the usual lack of food and water you can add a bit of dementia, and some pests only make things worse. Not an expert on this kind of stuff, but I'm sure there are enough books and movies to get you started. What makes this different is the time the characters will be trapped. A good monster adventure can take only a night, or even a few hours. For more “horror” inclined games, the character may spend days if not weeks trapped.

Well, hope something here sparks your imagination. Till next time, have fun in the snow!

- The Storeman

Feb 9, 2014

Color Space Beaver, need I say more?

Review #28 – Free Video Game

Color Space Beaver, need I say more?

Last week I offered a Two for One opportunity; so today the review will be of a short, one level game. I don’t know why I’ve chosen it, it just made me happy.

Color Space Beaver puts you in the role of an ambitious mammalian the just wants to go to the “Cosmic Tree”. Sadly, that’s against beaver law, so you’ll have to fight your way out of the stratosphere.

This is a simple shooter that takes you back to old spaceship classics. Even though it only has one level, I’d say it was really fun. With simple controls and a great power up system, this game could have been an awesome hit.

This is an incomplete but fully playable game. I wanted to use it as an example, to show that simple can have its own identity; and that just because you didn’t finish your project it doesn’t mean nothing useful can be taken from it.

Funny story, I don’t have the slightest idea how I came across this game. I can’t remember! I’m pretty sure I saw a review of it somewhere, but I can’t seem to find it again. Well, thanks whoever brought it to my attention!


- 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.

Feb 4, 2014

New and… Better?

Babbling at the Counter #27 – Video Games

New and… Better?

Here’s a thought: When you build a new version of something, you should keep in mind what it was. Why do I bring it up? Momodora is why.

Momodora is a pretty good game. I really enjoyed it, and when I sat down to play Momodora 2, I expected it to be at least as good as the former. But it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, both are great games, but the second one lost track of what the first had done right.

Let’s go to some examples (spoilers ahead): Momodora was pretty straightforward. You had a selection of guns, and even if you didn’t keep using all of them, you kept switching to at least three (unlike Cave Story, that managed to make all the guns almost equally useful). You could play the game as fast as you could, or you could go around trying to get all the secrets. I’m still playing it to get everything!

On the other hand, Momodora 2 had better graphics, actual NPCs and a plot. It added bosses, which is great, and some nifty and flavorful things with those statues. But it forgot everything Momodora had done right! It doesn’t have crazy weapons or secrets. It’s even shorter than Momodora 1.

End of Spoilers.

As a standalone game, it would have been alright. Regrettably, as a sequel, one can’t help but compare it, and find it lacking.

The lesson here is a simple one: Don’t forget what your previous work has done right. Improve upon it, not in spite of it.

(In Momodora 2’s case, more weapons would have helped the Metroidvania mechanics. And don’t get me started on hiding secrets through a map that forces you to go back and forth. The game is practically begging for these features).

- The Storeman

Feb 2, 2014

Momodora 1 & 2

Review #27 – Free Video Game

Momodora 1 & 2

Today, I offer you a 2 x 1 deal: Momodora. Here, you take control of a distressed heroine, braving the dangers of an ancient and evil temple to bring her mother back after she was taken for a human sacrifice.

Both games are shooter plataformers, with twisted passageways and a plethora of colorful enemies. While the first one takes a more “linear” approach to level design (with a few detours for secrets), the second one has a Metroidvania-like structure (non-linear level progression and lots of backtracking to newly accessible areas).

Both games are really enjoyable and I recommend both of them. Now, you may want to go directly to the download links, because the next paragraph is my personal opinion. If you feel like reading it, go ahead:

 Momodora 1 on the left, Momodora 2 on the right.

Even though the second game improves on a lot of things from the first, I can’t help but feel it doesn’t go in the same direction as its predecessor. I’ll talk more about this in my next Babble, all I want to say here is this: I found the first game to be a lot better than the second one. If you are like me, Momodora 2 will disappoint a bit when compared to Momodora 1. It’s still worth playing, though.

EDIT: Here's the Babble.

- 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.