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Topics - -E.

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I'm preparing to run a Traveler-style game, and I'm remembering back to the days when I was playing Traveler.

I had the original game with the black half-sized books (1, 2, and 3), and we played that quite a bit (as well as other games)...

But one thing I never really got was how you were "supposed" to play it.

In D&D you're clearly a band of adventurers and your job is to go into underground mazes, kill things, and take their stuff.

In Traveler, it was a lot less clear to me.

As I get my game defined, I'd like to hear about games you folks played, particularly about how they were set up -- who the characters were supposed to be, why they were hanging out together, etc.

Tell me your stories!


Design, Development, and Gameplay / My 2+ Year Post Apocalypse Game
« on: September 19, 2012, 08:48:06 AM »
I’ve read a few threads around here and elsewhere about people’s games and I’ve found them interesting. I especially like it when folks post maps or pictures they’ve done (the MegaDungeon thread comes to mind)...

I’ve been running a weekly game over Skype for the last two years and it occurred to me that it might make a good thread of that sort. Mainly I wanted to share some of graphics I made -- because it’s over Skype, I’ve been trying to make maps and other visual aids that would help the players interact with the world (for what it’s worth, I think Skype is awesome: for certain kinds of sessions it can be really immersive the way radio is...)

There are a couple of other things that might be interesting, and I can talk more about them if anyone’s interested

  • It’s a traditional dungeon crawl, with the characters getting treasure and going up in level. It’s been 4-5 years since I ran D&D 3.5 and I haven’t run a classic “dungeon” game since... I dunno... High School? I wanted to do something very old-school.
  • I was committed to making it very random, so all the dungeons, treasure placement,  monsters come from various random dungeon/treasure/encounter generators I was able to find around the net (modified for game system, obviously). As such, they aren’t generally “works of art” -- the output of the generators I’m using is serviceable, but I don’t have hyper-beautiful level maps to show. I have done some work to color them, largely for my own readability...
  • I’m playing a homebrew without extensive level / dungeon rules (this game would be formally considered a playtest) so I was creating some of the rules from scratch, trying to get a classic feel.
  • Some of the traps and scenarios that came across well would be highly reusable, so I’ll put in enough for people to steal them for their own games.

I don’t know how interesting this will be for anyone, but I’m pleased with at least some of the graphics I put together and I’m damned proud that after 2 years, we still have a high-energy group that’s eager to tune in for the next session. We’re all busy people with jobs and families and complex lives, so the game competes with a lot of worthy opponents (kids, spouses, etc.) for people’s time and attention!

I think this will lay out like this:

  • Overview of the starting situation and a few key decisions, characters, etc.
  • A brief, somewhat chronological series of posts that describe the dungeons and adventures with pictures of maps (where they’re worth looking at), etc.
  • Wrap up with what I think I’ve learned, etc.

If there’s anything you’d like to see, or questions or if you’d like more of something and less of something else, let me know as we go along.


Help Desk / Thread about a game I'm running...
« on: September 17, 2012, 08:58:40 PM »
I was thinking about posting a thread about a 2+year campaign I've been running describing a little bit about the game itself, and (mainly) sharing some of the materials: images*, maybe some PDFs, etc.

I seem to recall people doing this sort of thing here -- but I couldn't easily find a thread to check.

I'm asking

1) Is this the sort of thing people do here and
2) Would the RPGs Main Forum be the right place to put it?


* Like the following:

Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion / Suppressive Fire Rules?
« on: November 25, 2010, 11:26:20 AM »
I'm looking for a good set of suppressive fire rules. Anyone got suggestions?

Specifically, I'm looking for something that would give me a mechanic for determining if a character was hit by suppressive fire.

  • The character's behavior should matter -- a character hiding behind a fortified position should be much safer than one who's popping out to return fire
  • The relative volume of fire and the skill of the suppressors should matter -- good troops should suppress more effectively than poor ones
  • The casualty rates would ideally match real-world ones; I'm reading War by Sebastian Junger and it occurs to me that the casualty rates in the engagements he describes are probably a lot lower than most games would model with direct fire

Are there any games that do this well?

Anyone know of online (or offline) resources that would provide some insight into the issue.

I've found some papers that look promising, and it looks to me like a good rate for sustained operations is around 30 to 50 casualties per 1000 troops per day. About 10% of causalities are caused by small arms fire (80-something are caused by high explosives from various sources).

At the small unit level (platoon), this is less than 1 casualty per day.

Clearly, though, those troops aren't in fire fights /every day/ -- so I'm not sure I can go from casualty rates at a unit-level to odds per fire-fight.



I'm looking for an online random dungeon generators. I've found several -- many of them quite good!

Lots of good stuff here -- my question is

1) Am I missing your favorite?
2) There's a program called DungeonMaker2 hosted on sourceforge. I'm having a hard time getting it to compile on my Ubuntu machine, and I'm sure I saw an on-line version of it... anyone know where I might find that?

The sourceforge link is:


I posted this at, but I think people here might have a good, old-school-paradigm perspective on it... This is a question that's come up a few times in discussion with my gaming group with respect to a variety of military-oriented modern-day and near-future/recent-past games.

Here's the question, as clearly as I can phrase it:

   Are weapons that are designed to be targeted against vehicles / fortifications (e.g. big things) fundamentally harder to hit individual people with than small arms (e.g. assault rifles)?

The rest of this post is my own thinking, some illustrative examples, and an attempt to clarify what I'm asking:

0. Here's an example: let's say a character takes a .50 caliber machine gun and fires it single-shot at a person 100 feet away.
  • The .50 cal is more or less designed to shoot at vehicles with (or to engage groups of people with automatic fire); it's not primarily designed as an anti-personnel weapon
  • If the character has a "skill level" of 80% with the machine gun, should that 80% be considered to assume he's shooting at a considerably-larger-than-human target?
  • If so, maybe he'd only have a 60% chance of hitting the stand-alone human being (-20% for firing at something considered a "small target" relative to the weapon mount and sighting)

1. Sighting mechanisms for rifles, handguns, and shotguns seem to be somewhat different from sighting mechanisms for heavier weapons (large machine guns, rocket launchers), leading me to believe that there may be some difference in accuracy.

Does anyone know where I could find something written about this?

2. Conversely, heavy weapons (machine guns, rocket launchers) are often meant to be used at long ranges -- maybe that accounts for the mechanical differences.

3.  I want to assume roughly the same amount of time spent aiming at the target when comparing heavy weapons to small arms -- in the case of shooting at a person on foot, I'd assume the target is running from one covered area to another and is only vulnerable for a few seconds.

4. I'm assuming games where the chance to hit is based on the firing character's skill with the weapon, +/- situational modifiers (e.g. high winds, range to target, etc.)

Anyone have any thoughts on this? My own experience is with small arms up through light machine guns. I've never practiced trying to hit anything other than a vehicle with a shoulder launched rocket (AT-4) or a wire-guided missile (Dragon), and I don't really have a clue as to what trying to shoot a person with one would be like.


Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion / WRT Game Balance
« on: January 16, 2010, 09:05:30 PM »
I read the Merles / D&D 4th Ed thread. I still play 3.5, so I wasn't able to comment on the 4th Ed stuff specifically, but I thought a thread talking about what balance is might be interesting.

It's something I've been thinking about recently.

Two points before I jump in though:

Does Balance Matter?
I think balance is important in a game, but mainly to ensure that there are a variety of valid, diverse character designs who can all play in the same party without the GM having to work too hard to make challenging, satisfying fights for the whole group.

Point-Buy As A Standard
I assume some kind of point-buy character gen approach for this post, but I think the points could be applied to any system where players get to make decisions and balance is a priority. Obviously a game like Traveler would fit more poorly.

I assume the Balance is supposed to make the game more fun to play
Whether balance is important or not, it doesn't make sense to talk about it without having some basic goals agreed on. I think the basic theory about balance is that characters in the same party (Same points) should be about as powerful as each other and should be able to fight the same enemies with roughly the same effectiveness. Clearly this is contingent on other things (no one expects the Thief to fight as well as the Fighter, but they should both be able to go in the same dungeon).

Here's my thinking on what balance basically means and where I've got questions I don't know the answer to:

A Basic (inadequate) Definition of 'Balance':
Any two characters built on the same points should win a fair 50% of the time.

To my mind this is a minimalistic definition of balance which is a critical starting point, but doesn't get the job done without at least a few supporting points:

* Fight Fair: The basic scenario assumes the characters fight in neutral terrain and neither is surprised, caught flat-footed, etc. May assume weapons are drawn at the start of the fight. Probably assumes something like 20-paces (~60') range (so a guy with a laser gun has some advantage on a guy with a sword, I guess)...

* % Spam: The 50/50 split assumes the same amount of character points are spent on combat stuff. A character who spent most of his points on being pretty or a brilliant scientist wouldn't win half the time against a combat machine. Balance simply assumes that whatever the % is, it's the same (and if someone chooses more spam, they have no reason to complain when they're not as effective).

* Character Design Strategy: If the game supports a variety of character design strategies then some strategies may be inherently more effective against others, and a character employing "Rock Strategy" will win more fights against the guy on the same points who employed "Scissors" strategy and lose more fight to the guy who went with "Paper Strategy."

* No Optimal Design Strategy?: If there's some character design strategy that beats all other strategies (e.g. if Sword + Shield beats all other legal combinations) then maybe you can't call game isn't properly balanced.However, if there's some strategy that beats most other strategies, but loses to one that's not (otherwise) dominant, that might still be considered "balanced."

Some open questions I don't know the answer to:

Ganging up on one guy?
What does a "balanced" game say about n-on-1 fights? Should a character built on 100 points fight 2 50pt characters to a stand-still? What about characters that are built to exploit team attacks -- how do they rate/rank?

One Guy against the army?
Let's say I make a guy designed to take out multiple (assumedly lower powered) opponents (say he has an area-of-effect attack)... If the game makes me less effective against peers, is that proper? How much less effective should I be?

Strategic Capabilities?
If a character has abilities that tends to give him advantages in terrain (e.g. flight) or surprise (silent movement, long-range sensors, invisibility) or surveillance (Spidey Sense, always-on-X-ray vision) how should those be charged for? He might win 50/50 in a fair fight, but win considerably more in a real game. Would such a character be considered "unbalanced?"

Balance over Character Progression (e.g. AD&D Magic User)?
If a character starts out as an ineffective basket case and then becomes more powerful than everyone else, would that be considered balanced? I dislike this kind of thing for a variety of personal reasons, but it seems statistically valid under some circumstances. I don't see that many modern games that are as extreme as AD&D was, so maybe this kind of "balance" is out of favor.

Anyway, those were my thoughts.


"Weapons at best are the tools of bad omen, loathed and avoided by those of the Way"
-- Lao Tzu, in the Tao Te Ching

So, of course, the followers of the Way have no need for things as crude or ineffective as mere as weapons -- they use their bodies and their minds to kick ass!

I'm looking for brilliant/cannonical ideas about what a bunch of elite, somewhat mystical martial-artists (think the guys in Street Fighter Video Games) in current-day Southern California might do.

Clearly there are some basics

* Fight each other to see who's the best -- either formally, in the Kumite or just go at it on muscle beach
* Find and train with Enlightened Masters (how else are you gonna learn Dragon Punch?)
* Spy on other schools to learn their secrets
* Fight organized crime
* Pursue personal vendettas (especially that guy who killed your father. Also the dude who took out your bro... the kids who used to beat you up in class, etc.)

Also, what kinds of drama would be appropriate for a school / team? The obvious events would be

* Schism/Treachery!: A senior student quits to go form his own school(bad)  or (worse) join a rival school
* New student turns out to be a spy / mole for a rival school
* Guys from a rival school show up looking for a fight
* Your teacher decides to have you do a demo in the mall
* Intra-school rivalry (fighting over who's better, or competing for a favored spot)
* Inter-school romance (One of the student's in love with those Capulets down the road... this is definitely gonna end in tears...)

What basics / cliches am I missing? What trophes that aren't cliches but should be should I be considering?

Also any other insight, advice, etc. would be appreciated; I'm putting a game together in the next few days.


I'm looking at rules for armored combat; I'm trying to get some basic idea of what armored combat is really like in terms of assessing the various rules sets.

I don't know much about modern armored combat, so I've come here, hoping someone can set me straight

I'm not exactly sure how to even ask the right set of questions, so here's my unstructured thoughts:

I figure the odds of hitting an immobile, fully visible target, even at long range is pretty close to 100% under anything approaching normal conditions (in other words, I'm guessing that with modern Fire Control Systems, armored vehicles essentially don't miss).

My experience with video games suggest that moving targets get harder to hit -- but I have no idea how big a deal this is.

In the movies driving skill is a good defense against being shot by a tank gun -- in reality can a good driver, moving evasively, make himself significantly more difficult to hit?

My guess is that driving evasively means hiding behind cover, which I bet would make you harder to hit -- but if a target is out in the open, driving evasively, is it really that much harder to target / hit?

And how much harder is harder? Would a world-class driver (in GURPS terms, say 18- skill) reduce the chances of being shot from 100% to 50% or even lower?

One other data point: I've seen statistics that suggest that the number of rounds-fired-per-kill is pretty high. That might imply that there's a whole lot of missing going on, but I bet it's more a matter of chain guns firing 6-shot bursts and suppressive fire... when modern armored vehicles actually try to shoot something do they miss all that often?

inquiring minds and all that... and if my questions betray the Stygian depths of my ignorance, let me know what I should be asking!


This comes up from time to time, usually in other threads, and often derails them, so I thought I'd give it its own thread.

Why Quality is Important:
Presumably quality is primarily important because a higher quality game will be more fun than a lower quality one. In Internet fora, quality is important because it gets used to judge games and to argue that Game X is somehow better than D20 since it's "higher quality."

I also see quality designations being used to judge gamers who play low quality games.

ISO and Quality:

The International Standards Organization defines quality as "conformance to requirements" -- this works for manufacturing and software development where requirements are explicit and fairly objective.

I think the idea of a requirements specification for an RPG is an intriguing one, but most people who invoke this only pay lip-service to the idea; I have yet to see a real requirements specification for a table-top RPG.

So for the purposes of this thread, we're talking about some other kind of quality measurement -- more of an artistic judgment, I expect (Although if anyone has another model, I'm interested).

What I'm looking for:
I'm looking for anyone who thinks they can identify a game of refined quality and especially interested in the criteria they use to make that judgment.

My Hypothesis:
I don't think artistic judgments of games are valid in anything beyond a personal sense -- in other words, if you think your game is "higher quality" than D&D in some objective way I think you're fooling yourself.

Note for clarity: Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, and they're entitled to say it proud and loud. I've got no issue with anyone saying, "I hate Game X." I just don't think it's valid to say "Game X is better than Game Y in an artistic sense."

Why on earth would I think that when it's obvious that we (I mean humanity) judge entertainment all the time and find say, The Sopranos to be of higher quality than [insert average show]?

And, while I'm questioning myself, I'm aware that we do the make judgments about food and drink and art, so why not games?

Here's my reasoning: For a criticism to be valid beyond just being a personal opinion it needs to be informed by cultural norms and standards. That, in turn, requires a history of criticism and a sorting process with identifiable landmarks to judge against (A "canon")

Those things don't exist for games (yet) and may never exist for rules-sets, period. For other things we judge (food, film, books, music) they've existed for decades (film) if not centuries (everything else on the list).

In the case of other media we not only a history of criticism and canon, we also have time: we know that Shakespeare turned out to be good stuff since it's been around for a long time and people still like it.

For relatively new forms of entertainment (I count RPGs and computer games) we don't have much perspective (although we know that D&D has lasted in some form or another for about 30 years) and we lack anything like a respected body of criticism.

What we have no lack of is opinion -- everyone's got one, as the saying goes. On the Internet, they're all equally valid (after all, if *I* can post here, they'll clearly let *anyone* in, right?)

I think most people think some opinions (theirs) are "more equal" than others (often, it seems, mine) -- and maybe this is true (I've been accused of bad taste before) but I think everyone knows someone who thinks their opinion about what's good or bad is in some way objective fact; that person thinks it's all so clear. Everyone else thinks he's pretentious (if you are that person... trust me on this).

The exception would someone who gets paid or otherwise recognized to provide his opinion (if you're a paid movie reviewer or a highly-sought wine critic, for example) -- but plenty of people think their opinion is worth paying for, even when there's no evidence that's the case.

That's what I think is going on in the vast majority of on-line game judgment. I'd be interested to find out where I'm wrong (that is: where the necessary rigor and cultural consistency is developing a canon of games and a culture of respectable criticism).

That's what this thread is about.

If you think some games are better than others and you can tell the difference, I'd like to hear what your criteria is and why your perspective is one worth paying for.

Also, if you *do* get paid to review RPG's for a reasonable publication, I'd like to know (and maybe I want in on that action!)

Couple of final notes:
I think some games are more or less objectively broken -- I'm talking about games so poorly written that they're hard to figure out how to play, or games where the mechanics seem to give extreme outcomes that don't match player expectations. I *do* think it's possible to judge these mechanically and not artistically, but I'm a little unclear on exactly how to do so (And one person's "mechanically broken" might be another person's "brilliant mechanic" so maybe we're back to square one).

Also: games with offensive subject material (e.g. racist games) are out-of-scope. Clearly a game can be vile without any reference to game quality. I'm only interested, in this thread, in looking at games that aren't repulsive because of their content.


I've seen some people make fun of rules-sets for having drowning and falling rules.

Maybe this is all coming from the same folks who aren't sure games need rules for combat, but I had the distinct impression that people who were generally okay combat rules thought drowning and falling rules were extraneous.

I can see how the players might not choose to use those rules in extreme cases (very long falls, or spending a *long* time underwater) -- if it's obvious that someone's dead, why roll all the dice? But so many drowning and falling scenarios aren't black and white... doesn't it make sense to rule on them?

And in cases where the general physics of the world (e.g. Champions) are somewhat... at odds with regular physics, isn't it preferable for the game system to provide guidance?

For the record, I also think games should provide rules for

  • Encumbrance, carrying capacity and how much your character can pick up (dead lift, maybe). not just for hauling gold out of the dungeon. In most military games where re-supply is an issue, what to carry isn't just a detail -- it can be a tactical decision and even a statement
  • Fire. Because in the games I play things and people get set on fire. I consider a game system without rules for burning things incomplete.
  • Car crashes, collisions in general, and damage from dropping moderately heavy things on people: My games are full of these things. A speeding 18-wheeler loaded with inflammable liquid is *probably* an excellent weapon against a medium-sized Cuthuloid... but before I threw it in gear, I'd want to know for sure. I can think of at least 2 cases where office workers pushed a photocopier into an elevator shaft that a monster was climbing up... as a GM, I just wouldn't be sure how to rule that without guidance.
  • Endurance. Your character probably *can't* run all day. But if you've really got to get to Sparta, the rules should help decide if you're going to go down in legend as a hero, or as a slacker.
A few notes:
  • The rules provided should match reasonable expectations for the genre and as such don't need to be invoked unless it's an important situation. I wouldn't expect characters to pay much attention to encumbrance unless they were trying to carry a load that seemed excessive in a situation where success or failure mattered.
  • The common thread is that in all of these cases I want the rules to give me a set of guidelines for ruling on unusual events that may be critically important in the game (live-or-die situation for the PC's).
  • By expressing this stuff in game terms, I expect the character's nature to make a difference: a heroic character should be able to stay down longer, run further, and burn less brightly than a more average schmo.

Again, just to be clear: I don't refer to those rules in most cases. When someone gets a 16 ton weight dropped on them I know what happens. But if someone gets hit by a brick from a second story window, that's a call I want the game to help with.

Enough about me, though. How about you?


Given the explosion of best generic system threads, I'm wondering -- which one of those threads is your personal favorite? Is there one you keep coming back to? One you'll miss when they all drop off the front page?

Let us know!


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