Friday, September 25, 2015

The One where I get GUMSHOE

My friend +Tim Shorts is a big fan of GUMSHOE and used it effectively to run a fun supernatural campaign using the Esoterrorists rules.

And I never really got the point of the system. The campaign yes but not the system we were using. The who "find your clue automatically part" was throwing me off. I understood the problem caused by missed dice rolls when running campaign around solving mysteries however GUMSHOE's solution was going completely over my head.

Then I found that Pelgrane Press had a System Reference Document under the Open Game License. It is stripped of any setting or genre specific reference and lays out the system in a way that I finally got it.

The key was this sentence on page 28
Assuming that they look in the right place and apply appropriate abilities to the task, GUMSHOE ensures that the heroes get the basic clues they need to move through the story.
Now I can see how the character can still miss a clue or even only score a partial success. You still have to be in the right place with the right ability. Got it.

One thing I found useful in recent years is to learn how to play and referee systems that are out of my usual range. I find that broaden the range of techniques that I can bring to bear on the campaigns that I run with the systems that I like best (GURPS, Hero System, ODnD, Traveller, etc). One of my weakness is running procedural mysteries like the ones found in Sherlock Holmes.

GURPS Mysteries has a lot of great advice and is probably the best book on the subject in the hobby. Given that people like Robin Laws was involved I though it was important to figure it out.

And I am glad I did, as it solidifies my thoughts on the subject and reinforces what I been developing over the past decade for my sandbox campaign. Basically I assume a certain level of competency if the player has the skills or the levels and will deliberately give more information about a situation than otherwise would be called for by a strict interpretation of ability/skill rolls.

That failed rolls on an attempt doesn't mean automatic failure. There will be a negative consequence like it taking longer or something break. I reserve utter failure to critical failures like rolling a 1 in DnD or a 17, or 18 in GURPS. I use the traditional succeed/fail if the character in a time critical situation like combat.

My day job involves supporting customers using my company's metal cutting machine. I observe that utter failure to solve a problem or implement a feature are very rare. Where things differ is how long it takes to solve a problem or to implement a feature. That the best employees at where I work are able to solve things faster because of their high skill in a particular area. So for me the skill roll is more of a question of "How long does it take the character to do X." Then a utter failure.

As for GUMSHOE the system is a bit too lite for my taste, but I find the advice on structuring investigations and mysteries very useful to stand alongside what is said in GURPS Mysteries.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Blackmarsh and ACKS

Koewn over on the Crowbar and Brick blog is writing a series of post on using Blackmarsh with Adventurer, Conqueror, King.

I pointed out that I have this Map available if he needs more room. If you use Dwimmermount swap out the southland rectangle out for the Southland of Dwimmermount.

Click for full size

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A follow up to my letter to Steve Wieck

I didn't get a direct reply but I got a letter to publishers today from OBS on the issue along with the proposed policy which I will share with you.

Looks like they are dealing with the concerns I had about automatic reporting. I like the idea of a white list where a product that flagged, been reviewed and found NOT offensive is not subject to repeated reviews. This means that the publishers that generate controversy will not get repeatably bothered about the same product over and over again. Once a publisher successfully dealt with the process it over for that product.

Also since we are dealing a handful of reviewers in what is a small company, I hope that they will do the common sense thing if a publisher entire list is targeted and they finding that it works goes on the white list.. By the umpteenth occurrence the publisher's line should be given a brief review and then everything should be white-listed as obviously that publisher being targeted.   Only new products subject to the normal process afterwards.

Of course nothing is going to change the fact that the whole thing is a highly subjective judgment. And the only way to ease concern about that is to establish a track record. So we will just have to wait and see on that. Which in my opinion would be the case regardless of how liberal or restrictive of a policy they adopted.

In the end it as much people as it is policy. The policy is what gives structure but the people involved is what defines it. In the hand of one group even the most liberal policy can be a vehicle for tyranny of a narrow view while in the hands of another used to create something that supports free expression.

What is the process for flagging offensive titles? 
Step 1: Customer reports a product.
Step 2: A human being at OneBookShelf does a cursory review to determine if the title should be temporarily suspended from sale or not. Either way the product is put in queue for review.
Step 3: A more thorough review of the product in completed. If deemed not offensive the product is whitelisted. If deemed potentially offensive then...
Step 4: We have expanded internal review and discussion with publisher possibly resulting in publisher retraction of the title or banning of the title.

Will a title be turned off automatically if it is flagged?
No, just because a title is flagged as offensive, it will not be automatically turned off. This process will send alerts to our staff for quick review. If our staff sees a product that is problematic, they will temporarily suspend it for further review.

Who will review the offensive titles list? 
Steve Wieck, C.E.O., who has the final say on titles marked as offensive.
Scott Holden, Marketing and Development
Matt McElroy, Director of Publishing and Marketing
Meredith Gerber, RPG Publisher Relations
Other OneBookShelf staff as deemed helpful for particular products.

I am concerned that a group that may not like myself, my company, or my product will report the title as offensive over and over until it gets pulled. How will this affect the process?
We understand that there are groups within the industry that may not be in favor of the other, but we will only be looking at the content of the product itself. Our only focus is what the content of the title is not what the author’s personal ideology is on their blog or what the artist’s criminal record is, or what other products the publisher has created or anything else outside of the product itself.

Will you be contacting the publisher before, during, or after a review? 
You will receive an email from us when your product is reported as offensive. The email will let you know if we have temporarily suspended the product or not while we review it. After we review the product you will get an email from us letting you know the product was whitelisted (and re-activated if it was suspended) or letting you know we would like to chat on the phone with you because there is potentially a problem with the product.

Will you be giving scrutiny to certain topics? 
We're going to give extra scrutiny to rape, real world racial violence, torture, sexism, homophobia, and crimes against children.

What is white list?
The White List refers to titles on site that have gone through the review process and determined not to offensive.

What can I do to be on the white list?
Nothing. Only titles that are reported as offensive and reviewed as not offensive are white listed. It is not a privileged status to desire for your products.

Are products grandfathered in?
With our library of thousands of products, we will not be able to go through every single title to make sure it is approved by our staff. We will, however, treat old products just like new ones when they’re marked as offensive.

How will you conduct this process with old titles? 
If a product is flagged as offensive, we will be going through the same process.

What if I don’t like another publisher’s title? 
Just as we expected publishers not to review one another's’ titles on site, we expect publishers not to flag another publisher’s title offensive on site. Customer accounts associated to publisher accounts will not be able to report titles as offensive. If you see something on site that you feel is genuinely offensive then you can email publisher service and let us know.

When will this be enforced?
We need to code the system for flagging titles. We expect it to be done by the end of October or sooner.

Should I be concerned about the new policy and how it will affect my marketplace?
At this time, we have not yet banned an RPG title.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Rural Criminals in the Majestic Wilderlands

While the population of a village is too small to sustain a criminal underworld, some villages will have the misfortune of having a faction of toughs. And a rare few will even be controlled by the toughs although this usually requires the indifference or cooperation of the liege lord.

Village Tough, Init +0; AC 8[11]; 1st level Thug; HP 4; ATK 1; HTB +1; DMG 1d4+2 (club, tool); Mv 120’; Save 15; ABL Athletics +2; Intimidation +1; Professional (Farming) +1; Special: +1 to damage to all weapons;
Attrib: Str 13 (+1); Dex 10 (+0); Con 10 (+0); Int 10 (+0); Wis 8 (-1); Cha 10 (+0);
Posses: Clothes, Club (1d4+2), Farm Tools, 8d.

The village tough is a typical member of this faction.

Village Tough Leader, Init +0; AC 8[11]; 3rd level Thug; HP 10; ATK 1; HTB +3; DMG 1d4+4 (club, tool); Mv 120’; Save 13; ABL Area Knowledge (Local Region) +1; Athletics +4; Intimidation +2; Professional (Farming) +1; Special: +2 to damage to all weapons;
Attrib: Str 15 (+2); Dex 10 (+0); Con 10 (+0); Int 10 (+0); Wis 10 (+0); Cha 12 (+1);
Posses: Clothes, Club (1d4+4), Farm Tools, 50d.

The leader of the village toughs often is the individual who is the strongest and most charismatic. He also usually has extensive knowledge of the local region and knows where local bandits, smugglers, and the rare fence are located.

Friday, September 4, 2015

My reply to Steve Wieck's Offensive Content Policy (RPGNOW, etc)

OBS the owners of RPGNow, DriveThruRPG, and other gaming related storefronts has been hit with a major controversy over a product called Tournament of Rapists that has been labeled obscene by many.  When I first saw pop up on the new products like my first thoughts were "This isn't going to end well." And it didn't. However regardless of my opinions or my dislike for the subgenre it ultimately not my problem as it is  amatter between OBS, its customers, and the publisher.

What is my problem (and everybody elses problem) is anything that OBS does from here on out. Thus when I saw this blog post by Steve Wieck, I sent my response to OBS.

To publisher's service,

The bottom line for me is that I know that OBS is not in the business to sell obscenity or pornography. I realize that it is not the business that OBS is in. I realize that eventually OBS would run into this issue and have to act.

So what critical for me is watching how OBS reacts. How they go about handling this particularly in the corner cases where something only sorta of obscene or sorta of pornographic.

Because there are no hard and fast line for what obscene or pornographic. It is pretty much boils down to the words of Potter Stewart, "I know it when I see it.". Which makes this pretty much the definition of a judgement call.

Personally I would err on the side of free expression but with the realization that there is a point where one has to say "Sorry but this product is not suitable to be sold in my store. You are going to have to sell it elsewhere."

After reading Steve Wieck's response, I don't see a problem of having a policy of

"Offensive Content: We'll know it when we see it"

I am skeptical of labeling this as Offensive Content. To me that represent too low of a barrier for removing products. I am sure that the Majestic Wilderlands is offensive to somebody who has bought it and read it. I am also sure that the Majestic Wilderlands is neither obscene or pornographic.

I would be more comfortable with a policy using the tighter meaning behind obscene or pornography. Especially in the light with the swing toward puritanism in today's (2010s) society. To many people on all sides of the political spectrum are taking too hard of a line to things they object too. Extremism in all things is not a virtue and is a form of tyranny.

Changing this to a focus on obscenity doesn't change the fact that it will be a "I know it when I see it" judgment call. But it will be a clear signal that unpopularity is not enough to warrant removal from the OBS stores.

I am very concerned that any type of automated removal system is being considered. In my experience this is a bad idea to and especially in light in how people behaviors change when interacting over the internet. This would create a whole new class of problems for OBS and publishers like myself and degrade the service that OBS provides.

I do however think it is a good idea for a button to allow for complaints to be sent about individual products. This will allow OBS to react quicker to not only to obscenity issues but copyright violations and other issues that arise from selling creative works.

I am not favor of any policy more detailed than what than "Offensive Content: We'll know it when we see it". If this would occur I would view this as OBS abdicating their responsibility of judging each dispute on the merits. Obscenity disputes are ultimately a judgment of taste and no written policy can substitute for human reasoning.

To this date, I been happy with my association with OBS and hopes it continues.

Thank You for your consideration

Robert Conley
Bat in the Attic Games

Majestic Wilderlands - Electrum Seller - RPGNow
Blackmarsh - Copper
Scourge of the Demon Wolf - Copper
Points of Light, Goodman Games, Silver
Points of Light II, Goodman Games, SIlver

Friday, August 28, 2015

And finally we are at Z for Zombies

A corpse that been animated through the use of necromantic energies.

Zombie, Init -1, AC 8[11]; HD 2; HP 7; ATK 1; HTB +1; DMG 1d8 (fists); MV 60’; Save 16; Special: Hard to Kill, Undead; Harvest: None; CL/XP 2/30;
Hard to Kill: If a zombie is brought down to zero hit points it can roll its saving throw at +2. If the saving throw is successful it will get up with 1 hit point.
Undead: As a mindless undead creature, Zombies are immune to Charm Person and Sleep.

They appear as a decayed corpse. How decayed depends on how they have been animated.

I really liked the ability of 5e Zombies to get up after they go down to zero hit points if they make a roll. So I incorporated that as a feature of the zombies found in the Majestic Wilderlands.

Despite reaching the Zs, I still have a large section to go where I detailed common NPCs. While dungeons, ruines, and monster bashing are a part of my Majestic Wilderlands, the majority of adventures in my campaigns stem from complications and conflicts caused by NPCs. So I developed a bunch of templates for common encountered NPCs that I can use on the fly

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Unicorns in the Majestic Wilderlands

Unicorn are a magical manifestation of the life of the Wilderlands. They are a reminder of the potential of life and that all are born as innocents. In general they appear in lands that are in harmony and are universally viewed as a good omen that the realm is blessed.

Only the truly innocent can approach and ride a Unicorn. Otherwise the Unicorn will use its speed and teleport ability to flee. The death of Unicorn produces a supernatural call to all paladins and other divine champions within a 100 miles that great evil is present.

Unicorn, Init +2, AC 2[17]; HD 4+5; HP 19; ATK 3; HTB +4; DMG 1d8 (hooves x2), 1d8 (horn); MV 240’; Save 13; Special: Charge, Magical Immunity, Teleport; Harvest: 5 viz (unicorn horn); CL/XP 5/240;
Charge: If a Unicorn moves 120’ or more towards a target and hits with its horn it does double damage.
Magical Immunity: Spell casters have to roll a 16 or better on a d20 in order for their spells to effect the unicorn.
Teleport: A Unicorn can teleport once a day without error within 360 ft. This ability includes any riders.

Unicorns appear as a white horse with a single ivory horn in the midst of its forehead.

In general, the idea of a lynchpin creature in a fantasy setting doesn't appeal to me. For me the classic example is the unicorn in the movie Legends. A creature so important that the realm is devastated if it is harm or dies. However unicorn are a fantasy staple what I came up with for the Majestic Wilderlands is the idea that they are basically a good omen that things are right. After evil is vanquished, justice is restored then the Unicorns return a visible sign that the good guys have done their job.

This is part of the larger idea in my campaign that magic is in part fueled by emotions and the Unicorns are a sign that the positive emotions are ascendant in a realm.

One idea for a campaign start with a party heavy with paladins and other divine champions is for them to feel the death of a unicorn. An immediate sign that something very bad has happened. Unfortunately the side effect of a Unicorn's death is not very specific as to the details or even the location. However it is enough of an alarm that most of the major bad guys don't go hunting them down unless they have firm control of a region.