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SWSheets - A New Hope

Monday, January 6th, 2020
Posted in roleplaying
and a hero was found

After years of operating swsheets.com, I finally found someone with the ability and enthusiasm to add new features. As of today, I’ve handed over all assets and ownership of the servers and domain. I posted a full announcement over on the FFG Forums and the SWRPG subreddit. I just wanted to capture some more personal thoughts here on my blog.

I started swsheets.com at a time when I had both enthusiasm for FFG’s Star Wars RPG system as well as a fair amount of free time on my hands. Both waned over the years, and by the time I joined Reverb in 2017 I had lost both my enthusiasm for the game and much of my free time.

I kept paying the bills but the site languished. Annoyingly, FFG has a habit of making small rules changes in supplements with no fanfare. While I deliberately avoided some parts of the rules (the site does not track XP spending, for instance), I always made sure that any rules I implemented were correct. Watching these changes happen was as frustrating to me as it was the site users who couldn’t build their characters correctly.

Despite that frustration and despite the fact that I’ve found a fantastic person to carry the project forward, it’s still hard to pass the site onwards. 7,800 people have signed up for swsheets.com accounts. Even the password reset feature is more widely used than any of my other side projects have ever been. People like a thing I made - letting go of that is hard.

But then the internet happens. The first response to my announcement on the FFG Forums is someone telling me why they don’t use swsheets.com, that they find the idea of it “exhausting.”

That’s hilarious, maddening, and kind of what I need to read right now.

To the site’s users and to anyone who ever provided honest feedback on it - a sincere thank you. I had a real blast and I wish I didn’t have to make hard choices about the increasingly few hours of free time I get.

To Nick, the person who is taking on ownership of the site, I’m incredibly grateful for your work and I cannot wait to see where you take it.

I hope I get the free time to make another “exhausting” roleplaying tool someday. This one was a lot of fun.


Lest I be totally unfair to the internet, the responses over on the Reddit post have all been heartwarming. I rarely received thanks for swsheets.com over the years so those small kindnesses mean a great deal.


Dungeon Fate

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018
Posted in roleplaying

It’s a GenCon tradition in our group that we play a pretty half-baked, ill-prepared roleplaying game. This was the origin of such classic adventures as “Journey Through The Mud Mines” and “Take a Train to Go Turn Off a Radio.” This past GenCon was no exception, but we used a different system that I wanted to share.

Inspired by Rob Donoghue’s Blades of Fate writeup, I hacked together a mashup of Dungeon World and Fate Accelerated. This is mostly Rob’s writeup with a few tweaks. Here’s how it works.

This probably won’t make any sense if you’re not already familiar with Fate Accelerated. If you aren’t, good news – it’s a great $5 RPG that you should check out.

Goals

I love the core conceit of Dungeon World - failure is frequent and interesting. However, I wanted to graft that onto Fate’s narratively impactful aspects and a system that didn’t assume any particular setting. Dungeon World’s magic is in how well it evokes classic fantasy roleplaying. By contrast, we knew nothing about our setting until we sat down to talk about our characters and start playing.

Dice Rolling

I used the following ladder and corresponding numbers of dice:

  • Terrible - 2df, take worst
  • Poor - 1df
  • Okay - 2df
  • Great - 3df
  • Superb - 4df

This is slightly condensed from Rob’s version. Just like he’s struggled with articulating the difference between “Average” and “Mediocre,” I struggle with the difference between “Mediocre” and “Fair.” Thus, one tighter scale.

When you roll, you toss the corresponding number of Fudge dice and take the best result. That’s why the scale is so abbreviated - there’s no point when you are higher than Superb or worse than Terrible since the result is a foregone conclusion.

Die results are basically Dungeon World’s Defy Danger (that is, what Rob outlined in his article too).

  • + - Success. You succeed
  • (blank) - The GM offers a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice
  • - You fail. Things are about to get interesting.

Approaches & Characters

I kept the six Approaches from Fate Accelerated as-is. The players were mostly new roleplayers and the six Approaches are a fantastic way to help new players not worry too much about the rules and instead narrate their intents.

With a condensed ladder I had to rethink what skills characters get at what levels. I kept the same rough distribution of skills from Fate Accelerated but mapped them to this adjusted ladder (1 at Great, 3 at Okay, 2 at Poor).

Aspects & Fate Points

In this world, invoking an aspect moves you one step up or down the scale as desired. For positive invokes, this is relatively easy since you can add another die to the roll before or after without too much difficulty. However, this means that negative invokes only happen pre-roll. I like to run Fate with mostly pre-roll invokes anyway, but this runs against Fate orthodoxy.

Characters started with two fate points apiece. Since we were a pretty sizeable group, that was a plenty sizeable pool.

Everything Else

Otherwise it was mostly rules-as-written Fate Accelerated. We ditched stunts entirely but I’ve done that in basic FAE before without incident. We experimented briefly with stealing Dungeon World’s “only players roll” ethos but abandoned that midway through when we found the challenge lacking.

For dice rolls, we didn’t use the explicit system that Rob grafted in from Blades in the Dark. The spirit of those was still intact and is a useful way to counteract one of Fate Accelerated’s biggest problems, letting players lean too hard on a single approach. For example, we tried to make it clear that a Forceful solution was not going to be equally effective in all situations or equally safe either.

Thoughts

This played out pretty close to how I hoped, so I’m pretty happy with this hack. For players this was a incredibly fast system to learn. Spending aspect points just adds dice to a pool, and more dice is obviously better. Taking away the option to add +2, reroll, etc from FAE really helped.1

GMing this system is also a breeze - everything has the same fixed difficulty and if you don’t like that, you spend some fate points to make it harder for narratively interesting reasons. This was an end run around one of my only problems with Dungeon World’s fixed difficulties - new characters are too challenged by everything, experienced characters breeze through everything.

That said, I need to spend some time playing with AnyDice probabilities before I return this to the table. It was a little too easy most of the time - I saw fewer failures and blanks than I wanted to. Classic Dungeon World leans hard on the middle “7 to 9” results to generate narrative and we felt the absence of those complications in our game. It was mostly a story of things going to plan with the exception of our terribly unlucky warrior princess.

I may also take a look at adding some simple stunts back if I can figure out a way to do it that doesn’t require players to spend a bunch of time brainstorming how they mechanically work. That’s always been my challenge with stunts in Fate but that’s a topic for another time.

SP

  1. This has an interesting unintended consequence - adding new dice to a roll isn’t guaranteed to make it better. If you failed, you have a 66% chance of improving it somehow. If you got mixed results, you have only a 33% chance of turning that into a success. It adds a little uncertainty into spending a Fate point. However, if you spend enough to go beyond Superb, you still just succeed regardless of roll. This allows players who really want to pass a particular check to creatively do so. 


Edge of the Empire Review

Thursday, June 11th, 2015
Posted in roleplaying

The Edge of the Empire roleplaying game by Fantasy Flight Games, much like its oft-discussed dice, is a mix of success and failure. Its ideas are simultaneously brilliant and half-baked. It’s a system that will help players and GMs collaborate on exciting and unexpected adventures. It’s also a system that requires extensive house ruling and often contradicts itself. After two years of playing I can’t exactly recommend it, but I also won’t stop playing it anytime soon.

The rules are simple enough at a high level. Characters have “characteristics” which represent your natural abilities and derived skills that they can train. When you’re doing something exciting and challenging, you combine characteristics, skills, talents, and gear to build dice pools via FFG’s signature design flourish, custom dice.

Each type of dice that goes into a dice pool represents a different aspect of the current situation which helps or hinders your efforts. Two kinds of positive dice represent natural ability or additional training, and two kinds of negative dice represent inherent and exceptional difficulty. The GM calls for additional, smaller dice to represent situational modifiers like poor light, helpful gear, or adverse conditions.

Each die has different symbols representing Success, Failure, Advantage, and Threat. Success and Failure cancel each other out and determine whether or not the character succeeds in their task. Advantage and Threat also cancel each other out and dictate whether the character creates complications or advantageous side effects in the process.

Baking concepts into the dice results like “success with complications” and “failure with advantages” makes it easy to keep the narrative moving and exciting. The system allows players to pick the effects of positive advantages which helps players contribute to the story without being overwhelmed. Adding dice to represent situational difficulties is an extremely clever workaround for the endless tables of modifiers that have plagued GMs for ages. For each different complicating factor, just add a “setback die.” For each helpful factor, add a “boost die.” An entire category of bargaining and discussion that dominates checks in so many other games is entirely removed.

With Edge of the Empire though, the devil’s in the details. Each skill has specific rules for interpreting success, failure, advantage, and threat. These rules are obtuse and often contradictory. Sometimes Successes grant time reduction, other times Advantage grants that. Some skills treat Threat as a secondary failure condition while others create side effects with them. The skills themselves are also often confusing with overlapping or vague descriptions. Exciting moments frequently lose momentum in order to debate Cool vs. Vigilance vs. Discipline or Athletics vs. Coordination.

This becomes ludicrous with the addition of gear. A fair amount of gear comes with varying options between “low end” and “high end” models that are rarely spelled out in terms of mechanical impact to gameplay. When gear actually gets mechanical rules, they also contradict one another. After two years I still forget whether to upgrade or downgrade Medicine or Computers checks based on the presence or lack thereof of the associated tools (for the record, Medicine checks without a kit are downgraded — Computers checks with a kit are upgraded). And don’t get me started on the bonkers rules around first aid kits, stimpaks and emergency repair patches…

Edge often feels like an unfinished project despite three different versions of the core rules and countless sourcebooks for expansions. The high level ideas are great and help create an atmosphere of swashbuckling adventure as long as you do the legwork of deciding what subset of its’ confusing rules you’ll be playing with. Each of the three core rulebooks went through an extension “beta testing” process, so I am baffled at the inconsistencies that run throughout this game.

If you are gung-ho for Star Wars, by all means pick up one of the generous beginner boxes and try it out. Despite all my complaints, it’s a system I will keep running and keep hacking. Once you find your group’s version of Edge of the Empire, you’ll still have a grand adventure.


SWSheets - Out of Beta!

Thursday, June 4th, 2015
Posted in roleplaying

I’m happy to announce that SWSheets.com has officially left Beta. No terribly serious issues were found by the first round users. The most severe were that I totally forgot about the Medicine skill and that I had an ordering issue with large sets of talents or attacks on a character.

I was really happy to see the enthusiastic reception from users on both the FFG forums and the SWRPG subreddit. They’ve been super helpful in ironing out the issues on the site as well as determining the next steps.

Over the weekend I’ll be putting together the list of features for the next release (codenamed “Mynock”). This is your last chance to weigh in on the SWSheets issues page for what matters to you.

Changelog from this last milestone:

  • Eight bugfixes including password reset issues, display issues when rendering errors, and some HTML bugs.
  • Reworked the Character URLs (sorry for breaking all the existing ones, figured it was better to do that sooner than later)
  • Split the “Gear” field into three breakouts in keeping with the original EotE charsheet.
  • Added author profile pages and a thanks page for the volunteers who have helped thus far.

The full list of changes from the Beta period is here.

Beta Statistics:

  • 84 users
  • 29 users who have created at least one character (this was surprising, figured it would be lower)
  • 34 total characters
  • 1 character deleted for inappropriate content (also surprising, figured it would be higher!)

Announcing SWSheets

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015
Posted in roleplaying

I’m proud to share something I’ve been working on for the past few months, swsheets.com.

Right now this is in Beta mode. I’m making every effort not to do anything dumb that would cause me to wipe all the data or something equally catastrophic, but I don’t make any promises. I expect to be out of beta in 1-2 weeks.

swsheets.com is a website for creating and sharing characters for Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG. Right now it’s rather basic and only allows you to create, edit, and delete characters. I hope to add in printing to PDF next, but that’s a rather complicated task.

Please take a look and let me know if you have any feedback or thoughts. You can add bug reports to the Github Issue page and you are welcome to give me any other feedback you have by commenting below.

SWSheets is completely open source and I happily accept pull requests. Check it out on Github.

Thanks!


40K – Safe, Sane, and Consensual

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015
Posted in roleplaying

40K: Safe, Sane and Consensual, or The Arrogance of Unacknowledged Playstyles

For gamers of any variety, this article is a great read. Nominally about the Warhammer 40,000 wargaming community, it’s much more about the consequences of mixmatched expectations of play.

These mismatched expectations led to the effective end of the board game club I used to organize, and they were a major component in the end of my torrid Netrunner love affair as well.

Thankfully this has been avoided in our Star Wars RPG group without much conscious thought given to it. We all seem to be there for a mix of Narrative and Casual reasons - beating the bad guys is great, but having a laugh about the attempt is even better.

Anyway, enough rambling from me. This is a great article - go read it.


My Hero’s Journey of GMing

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
Posted in roleplaying

I run a Star Wars role playing group that meets every three weeks. Ten sessions in, I have a good grasp on how I react to this emotionally. Here’s a timeline of how that 21-day cycle invariably plays out:

Day 0

IT’S STAR WARS NIGHT! I AM SO EXCITED!

Days 1-3

Intense period of reflection on what I did as GM during the game. Inevitably this leads to self-loathing for mistakes and intense doubt whether I should continue to GM. My spiritual desolation.

Days 4-6

Intense emotions have subsided into a gentle bit of burnout. I think about other things.

Days 7-8

I realize I need to write a recap while I can still recall the events clearly. It’s a bit of a slog. I am reminded that not everything went horribly and there were some highlights and fun times for most people at the table, most of the time.

Days 9-16

Random thoughts collide about what I’d like to do for the next session. Vague ideas for following sessions float around too, but I don’t worry about it much. Usually I find a few pieces of music that embody the mood I want to capture in the next session. I will listen to this music over and over until I can hardly stand it.

Days 17-19

Write down a sparse outline of what will happen if the players do nothing and a few one-sentence descriptions of new characters. At this point I’m very eager for the next session. I briefly entertain crazy thoughts like “If only we met every two weeks” or “If only I could run a second group.”

Day 20

Almost inevitably I’m scrambling to make NPC and vehicle specs, track down reference art, flesh out any remaining major gaps in the plot, etc. Gradually I’m cutting down on this scramble as I learn what kinds of prep pay the most dividends, though.

Day 21/0

IT’S STAR WARS NIGHT! I AM SO EXCITED!