lördag 16 mars 2019

The 4 False Principles of Shitty RPG Debate (Plus a Bonemancer)

The Ideal Games Debater
Hey, you there! Are you into debating, reviewing or designing games? Do you find yourself alienating everyone you talk to or engage with? Are the people who agree with you all gigantic assholes? I get it, taking a stance and defending it is fun, exhilarating even, especially in those moments where you've really humiliated and "destroyed" another person because of how "good" you are at debating. Maybe it reflects badly on you as a person in some circles, but why should you care? You won, you were correct, and at the end of the day, the truth is what matters.

Except, of course, that we aren't really talking about truth at all, but a set of assumptions that bad-faith debaters are making about what roleplaying games are, how they exist in the real world and how to evaluate them. Those assumptions can be challenged, and circumvent a lot of toxic, divisive debate. Challenging those assumption might be hard, because you've built your entire persona on them, or the people you oppose are so allegedly awful that making any sort of concession to the stuff they are doing is an approval of their awful behavior.

The following is a handy guide for people who want to spot bad-faith debate. Lo and behold:


FIRST PRINCIPLE - The Universality of Gaming 

The first principle you're going to assume is that all roleplaying games are one thing, and that all roleplaying games have the same goals. To hell with "RPG" being a complex, arbitrary label for a hobby that was widely diverse in content, intent and tone from the very beginning, everyone who sits down at the table is there for one reason and to experience one thing. Didn't you know? RPG's are not a human invention, but a law of nature, to be discovered by humans using science. 

What follows from this principle is....

SECOND PRINCIPLE - The Universality of Approach

If all RPG's have the same goals, and all roleplayers want the same thing, then there is an optimal way to reach that goal. Just like we can measure the exact temperature at which a liquid will boil, we can figure out the optimal way to reach whatever we've decided the objective goal of all roleplaying games are. Mechanics or systems that don't serve the ultimate goal of roleplaying games are thus to be denigrated and ignored, to be discarded completely in service of better mechanics. Nevermind the silly idea that a game with a different goal might use a different mechanic to serve a different purpose - we cannot judge a game based on it's own merits, but MY MERITS, damnit! 

As we can see from the first two principles, they make the assumption that people can only have fun with their friends in one specific way. This leads into the final two... 

THIRD PRINCIPLE - The Deceitfulness of Detractors

People who claim to have fun using other systems for other reasons than I do are either lying to me, or deluding themselves. They might think they are having fun, but are really ignorant of the fun that they could be having, were they only to come to same realizations that I have. Not only are they wrong, they are doing the world a disservice by spreading their unholy gospel to others. They must be punished for their ignorance! 

Of course, all of this sounds rather selfish, and like all selfishness, it leads to sadness. Let us plunge into the darkness with the last principle...

FOURTH PRINCIPLE - The Loneliness of the Roleplayer

For all the above listed reasons, the Roleplayer will have concluded the following: my idea of fun is the only type of fun I can enjoy. I am incurious, dismissive and will not engage. If I am invited to connect and play with people who do not sign up for my own personal, narrow, arbitrary view of fun, I will decline. Even if I am curious about the people who disagree with me, or think a game looks interesting, I will deny myself a new experience if it doesn't align with my previous experiences. If I do play other games with other people, and if I do find myself having had fun, then I have betrayed myself and my own principles. Maybe I'm bitter, lonely and toxic, but at least I am correct....


Now does anybody hold these actual opinions outright? Obviously not. But they are the underlying assumptions of most toxic online arguments, even in things that aren't roleplaying games. People don't consciously choose to make these assumptions and follow these principles, but they tend to do so because these principles give their arguments value that they wouldn't have had otherwise. 

This doesn't mean that critiques of mechanics and conceptions cannot exist. There are obviously shitty roleplaying games with bad mechanics and problematic themes. But roleplaying games don't exist in books or in calculators, but at the table, and every table is unique, and every table hacks and homebrews, even if not explicitly. It's value is determined at the table, not against some abstract virtue. I am calling for open-mindedness, not uncritical acceptance of every RPG product out there.

I try and judge games based on the implied or explicit purpose of the game, on it's own merit. If I don't get the appeal of a game, I try to find people who do, and ask them what that appeal is. I don't have to find that personally appealing, but at least I understand something new about other people, which has value unto itself. 


Joesky Tax - The Bonemancer

Honoring the social contract toward Joesky, I hereby present THE BONEMANCER! CW for body horror for those who don't want that sort of stuff!


The Bonemancer is a HD 2-5 creature capable of manipulating bone and fossil. They can make the bones of any creature, living or dead, move independently. It looks undead, but is actually a living elemental force that uses bones to form itself into constructs. It is therefore immune to Turn Undead. Many Bonemancers look like human or animal skeletons, but others are random collections of bone without rhyme or reason. 

The HD of the Bonemancer is determined by the amount of bones it is able to bind to its spirit. Roll 1d8 (adjust HD updward if you wish to challenge players more):

  • 1-2 - around 100 bones, HD 2.
  • 3-4 - around 200 bones, HD 3
  • 5-6 - around 350 bones, HD 4
  • 7-8 - around 500 bones, HD 5
(For reference, there are 206 bones in the human body)


Throw Bones: The Bonemancer can use any loose bone or dead limb in its surrounding as a ranged attack against any player. DEX to avoid.
Bone Smash: One of the bones of the bonemancer is used as a blunt weapon. STR to avoid. 
Bone Theft: (This is the body horror one) If  HD 4 or over, Bonemancer can attempt to rip one of the PC's bones out of their body to add to their own collection. They can attempt to resist this with CON or CHA, or take other actions to prevent skin piercing and the bone joining the Bonemancers collection. 


The Bonemancer has one goal - find more bones and add them to its collection. That is why it is often found at graveyards, tombs or the feeding grounds of predators. They will only actively attempt to steal the bones of the living if deprived of other sources or to take revenge against others. If PC's offer them bones, they can often pass without harm. Many cultures see the Bonemancer as a parasite, others welcome the Bonemancer as a way to dispose of excess skeletons.


måndag 4 mars 2019

Fever Swamp x Black Hack - An Actual Play Report, Chapter 1.


GAME: The Black Hack 2nd Ed. by David Black

SETTING: Fever Swamp by Luke Gearing



Disa as the Fighter "Pravoslav "Pravvo" Storáková"

Elliot as the Wizard "Eberhardt "Nubbe" Brúntz"

Jonas as the Cleric "Bohumil Storáková"


I had not intended to write a play-report when I started this adventure, so the details are muddy. This won't be a session-by-session retelling, and I might be missing something or misrepresenting stuff. If you are looking for a review: it is very good. This is going to be part a record of a fun mini-campaign and part musings on how stuff could've been done different. Mostly by me, but also stuff about the module and the system. I've decided to split it up into 2 (or more) chapters to keep each post from being overlong.

Part 1. Preparations and Translations

Fever Swamp, in Theory, doesn't require a lot of prep-work at all. It has a fairly clear presentation and hook. As is common with stuff that needs to convey a lot of information as efficiently as possible, everything is not completely obvious, but I'll give it an A+ on presentation. However, there was a bunch of stuff I wanted to communicate to the players before-hand, as well as some stuff to prep for my own piece of mind. 

Playing games in a second language is hard. Even with popular games like DnD 5E, you're basically speaking in two different languages at once, which can be a very difficult thing to navigate. You'll go from speaking Swedish to using some English term for a rule or item etc. It is not a huge problem, but it is awkward and I wanted to be as prepared as I could be. Any English-speaking party will have to do significantly less work than I did. It was actually kind of fun for me, though, as I had get my imagination going to come up with what a "Dredger" could possible be called in Swedish (I wound up using "Muddra").

I created a Google Doc for Environments and Monsters with convenient translations (I'm now realizing it is incomplete.) If you are Swedish and want to play Fever Swamp - here you go

Furthermore, only one of the players had previously played an OSR-style game (Elliot had played in a Rad-Hack game I GM'd). I made some general guidelines as to how Black Hack in particular worked, and how the playstyle in general is supposed to work. Along with this, I wrote a general introduction to the setting and some character creation tips. You can find it here (Swedish, obviously). 

As recommended, I rolled up 6 Tribes. The Tribe stuff was personally for me a pretty difficult thing to navigate, as I didn't want to include any obvious anti-Native stereotype or fall into colonial-type narratives about the characters I was portraying. I mostly did that by thinking about the type of rural community that exists in Finland historically and drawing from my own experiences, re-thinking what a "Tribe" was, etc. I mostly thought of them as survivors in a terrible place, with some mythic qualities to them. I don't have any specific advice if you feel a bit uncomfortable with how to present that kind of stuff except to trust your instinct, ask those who know better and to listen to your table.

I also rolled up the stats for all points of interest-monsters. This turned out to be useful - I can't imagine having to pause like that everytime they hit a POI. Since this was a Roll20 game, I made sure to upload the Random Encounters from the setting, the Black Hack reaction table, HD reference etc as GM-handouts. I used the hexmap (with POI marked out), the Ur-Corpse Ruin, and the Battlemap from Black Hack. 

Then I did some preliminary research - listened to Fear of a Black Dragon, watched Questing Beast and read Eric Vulgaris. It helps that I was already a "Swamp Aficionado" of sorts, deeply in love with all things moist and green. I read my Swamp Thing (check out the Bayou Entity if you want proof of my rather manic obsession with Mr Holland), watched Annihilation and did some google-researching about swamps in general. A main source of inspiration was the Werner Herzog movie "Aguirre - The Wrath of God", an (in my view) anti-colonial movie where a scary Klaus Kinsky-Conquistador goes mad trying to find a land of treasure while traveling on a boat through the Amazon.

Part 2. Swampcrawl House-Rules

I had a couple of house-rules for character creation, experience, resources and travel. They are as follows:

Character creation: 

Stats are rolled as standard, but if more than half the stats are under 6 they can be re-rolled (none of them needed to do this).

Since Character Races aren't a part of Black Hack, nor seem to be a part of the setting in Fever Swamp, I decided to remove decision-paralysis and make character race a rollable option. They rolled 1d8, result 1-6 means they were human, 7 that they were dwarves, 8 that they were elves. (All of them turned out to be human).

The characters were either of Germanic of Czech naming conventions. 

Backgrounds - I wanted to do my own kind of silly/quirky background stuff as opposed to the Black Hack backgrounds. They probably make even less sense in English, because several of them are references to Swedish media or alliteration (or nonsense). Roll 1d6:

  1. Born on a mountain, raised in a cave
  2. Street rat who loves carrots (Bohumil/Pravoslav)
  3. Rich kid on class journey - down the economic ladder
  4. Bakers child who only wants to eat cinnamon buns
  5. Sausage-maker who hates guards
  6. My parents are frogs, but I'm not. What the fuck?


For milestone XP, I decided to make one Hex one XP. This led to a pretty fast leveling that I thought I desired but needed to moderate after a bit. Going forward, I'd use only POI as XP past level 4. I'd be interested to roll this purely on gold-as-XP, because players had more treasure than they knew what to do with at the end of it all, making exploration less of an option.

Resources, hirelings, loot and survival:

All resources and loot are held in common (except if specifically requested to be held as a personal item.) I definitely intended an upper limit for the common loot, but I don't seem to have that written down and my players didn't seem to keep track of it. Oh well!

They started with 1d4 hirelings following the rules of Black Hack. I let them start out at HD1 for the beginning. I quickly realized that the rules for NPCs/Monsters in Black Hack were a bit too loose, making NPC vs NPC/NPC vs Monster interaction kind of arbitrary GM fiat. I didn't want to be able to arbitrarily get my players hirelings killed, nor did I want them to have plot armor. I took to making rulings by "flipping a coin" or 1d2 to see if NPCs succeeded in attacking, defending or other stuff. The only addition to that rule is that the player could roll charisma once per round to make one hireling do their bidding during combat.

I LOVE doing binary results whenever player skills aren't involved. The effects are immediately understandable and the tension is high. However, I'd check with your table if they'd like to have hirelings more statted out.

I used the treasure table/what's on the corpse table from Black Hack for whenever loot wasn't specified in the module.

Each Hex, the players rolled their Water/Food Usage Die to see how they are managing their food, and 1d10 to see if they contracted a disease. If they rolled a 1 on the disease-roll they'd roll constitution (as an alternative to save vs disease) and then I'd roll a d10 to see what they contracted.

Using up all Water/Food meant taking extra time to preform quickly narrated scouting mission to hunt, purify water or find a way to filter the water. (More on this later.)

For ships, they started with two canoes.

Spells and prayers:

The Wizard and Cleric have to seek out new spells in Black Hack. I decided to attach certain randomly generated spells in certain POI or taught by random Magic-Users and Shamans. I decided which level they could roll for and they rolled a d4 on that levels spell-list to see which. 

Corpse Pile:

I rolled 1d8 every other day to see where the Corpse Pile (the horrific travelling hex of undead that moves around the map) would go. On a 1-6, the pile would move toward one of the sides, on a 7-8 the pile would stay put. (They never directly interacted with the Corpse Pile, but they saw it's effects.)

Part 3. The Characters and their Beginnings.

The party consisted of two brothers, Pravoslav and Bohumil, two older street rats, and Nubbe, the aggressively Germanic Wizard with a penchant for pastries. Pravoslav was in the national guard, Bohumil was in a sect of the official religion, with Nubbe being the youngling of the group, fresh out of Wizard school. 

They had with them 4 hirelings (though more where to come..), Albert Kratochvil the Torchbearer, Blazena Straková, the Tradeswoman, Katerina Hamplová the Armourer, and the late Johana Majerová, the Sailor. 

They arrived at the settlement of Clink with the promise of gold and glory from the official Nilfenberg government. They were approached by Jasmine about going to find out about the Water-Dead God in the Ur-Corpse Ruin. With very little promting, they set out on their journey. 

But that's a story for next time.... 

Continued in Chapter 2!