Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Link: More about Money in RPGs

Marshall Smith talks more about money and its function in RPGs, with examples from Spycraft and FantasyCraft, over at his game blog Division Nihil.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Money in RPGs, Part 2

Last Friday, I looked at a couple of ways in which money is used by characters in RPGs. This time, three more examples.

GURPS by Steve Jackson Games has a bit of a reputation to some role-players. I can't speak to 4th Edition; I do have the core books but I haven't played. However, I do like 3rd. Edition. It's very simulationist, and you can add on any number of extra rules, following down the rabbit hole as far as you wish. At it's heart, though, it's just 3d6 versus a target number. The sourcebooks are my favorite part of GURPS, by far. They can't be beat for detailed campaign background information suitable for any system.

The GURPS 3rd. Edition Basic Set, Revised, has several passages in the main text and sidebars about money use in a campaign. Because it is meant to encompass any genre and time period, these are vague; however, several passages apply to the money characters might carry on them in a standard fantasy game.
Starting Wealth

"Starting wealth" covers both money and property. Start with the amount of money your "wealth level" entitles you for your world....Realistically, characters with a "settled" lifestyle should put 80% of their starting wealth into home, clothing, etc., leaving only 20% for "adventuring" gear....

Standard starting wealth depends on the game world....Some suggestions:

Fantasy/medieval worlds: $1000 (that is, 1,000 copper farthings). (p.16)

In a low-tech world, rings and jewelry are also money. They may not have a set value imprinted on them -- but they are small and portable, and are easily traded for coins or bartered directly for needed goods. In fact, many societies exist largely by barter -- which can be a test of the players' ingenuity. (p.189)

Bankrolls and Possessions

The money a character has on his person should be listed on the front of his Character Sheet, just like his other possessions. If a lot of transactions are taking place, this can be recorded on a separate sheet of paper to avoid erasing a hole in the Character Sheet! (p.190)
This section of the rulebook also has details on historical coinage and its possible weight and volume, noting that in a 14th-century English economy, the "dollar" value listed as standard in GURPS would be treated as a farthing, a copper coin equivalent in size to the U.S. quarter. A character could conceivably carry $20,000 in a backpack. There are also some guidelines for possible ways to "relieve" characters of their wealth, and ways that treasure might not be portable, recognizable, dangerous or illegal. Clearly, coinage is meant to be kept track of in detail under the standard GURPS rules.

Conan: The Roleplaying Game from Mongoose uses a derivative of the OGL/d20 rules as its main system with some changes such as Base Parry Bonus. As such, coinage is assumed to be used:
Starting Equipment and Money

Each character begins the game with a very small budget with which to buy equipment. This is usually just sufficient to buy a weapon or two and cheap, light armour for those who need it. Starting equipment budget is dependent on character class....Note that this budget is not the same as starting money. If the budget is not used, the character does not get to keep the money. The budget represents items he has managed to acquire and keep for himself over the years prior to the game beginning, not actual money. Any player can choose to have a starting equipment package for his character instead of a starting equipment budget. These are similar in value to the appropriate budgets.

Starting Money

In addition to his starting equipment, each character has 2d6-2 silver coins at the start of the game. At the Games Master’s discretion, this may be reduced to zero, if he wishes to start a campaign in which the characters begin desperately short of money, rather than just very short!
However, Conan reinforces the ideas found in many sword-and-sorcery stories, where money isn't the ultimate goal of characters. It isn't even that important to game play, as illustrated by passages right at the beginning of the Equipment section:
Acquiring wealth and objects of value is a central theme in many adventures. However, spending it is a good deal less interesting....The only times money should be especially useful to your characters are when their weapons or armour are lost or destroyed and when it could be useful to them to buy influence or power, usually in the form of followers. Certainly there should be no need to have players keep track of every last silver piece in their purses. Either they have enough money to get by, or else it is time to go adventuring again.

High Living

It is in the nature of adventurers to spend money like water whenever they have it. Folk who regularly risk their lives in the hope of gaining unimaginable wealth live for today, spending their gains on gambling, good company, expensive food, fine wines and spirits in enormous quantity and even more frivolous pursuits. The Games Master should feel free to enforce the High Living rule whenever characters have a large quantity of cash and no definite plans for spending it:

Every week, all characters will spend a minimum of 50% of their current wealth on high living, if that wealth is currently over 50 silver pieces.

This expenditure includes all ordinary living costs such as food and accommodation. The Games Master should also consider granting circumstance bonuses to Gather Information checks made by adventurers who are spending particularly large amounts of cash.
Finally, I want to take a look at Green Ronin's universal OGL system, True20. Among other changes, including the use a Toughness save instead of hit points, True20 has the Wealth Score. This number is equal to 5 plus Charisma (ability scores in True20 range from -5 to +5). The Wealthy feat adds a +4 bonus. It's meant to be abstract, although there is a table in the rules that gives general guidelines -- +5 to +10 is considered middle-class, for example.

This score includes all cash on hand, credit, and regular income. Instead of making purchases with money, the player makes a check by rolling a d20 plus the Wealth Score versus a difficulty number. The normal price of an item of equipment is labeled Cost, and this is the usual difficulty number for the check: a battleaxe is Cost 9, a sword is 11.

The Wealth Score is fluid:
If you successfully purchase an item with a purchase Difficulty higher than your current Wealth bonus, your Wealth bonus decreases by 1 point for every 5 points the purchase Difficulty is higher than your current Wealth bonus (1 point for 1–5 points higher, 2 points for 6–10 points higher, etc.). (p.74)
When I ran a True20 Freeport campaign, I didn't use the Wealth Score rules. Instead, we used coinage as given in the system-neutral Pirate's Guide to Freeport.

I'm uncertain on the idea of how to handle money in RPGs. There were good comments on the previous post concerning the idea of abstract money or recording individual amounts, especially where it makes sense to use abstract monetary values in modern games. Pulp fantasy heroes regularly chase after extraordinary treasures, but rarely have two silver pieces in their purse.

I would want to use whatever method make sense for the campaign at hand. My priorities would be 1) what is "in character" for the campaign world and the genre, and 2) what is easy for the players to keep track of, and doesn't lead to excessive paperwork.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Money in RPGs: Counting Coppers, or Just Wing It?

“Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money.”

I'm not necessarily talking about found treasure and loot, but the cash an adventurer carries on hand. For a bog standard, D&D-style fantasy game, keeping track of money seems like the right thing to do. It fits the model of adventurers who need to scrape together the coin necessary to buy a new sword, spell components, or bundles of crossbow bolts. It also fits the sword-and-sorcery genre, which I'll discuss later.

The strange thing about keeping track of coinage on hand is the problem of large amounts. Thousands of coins can be converted to gems and other high-priced baubles, but then you might run into the issue of paying for smaller daily expenses. Not many taverns would be able (or willing) to make change for that opal you just found in the lich's tomb.

Call of Cthulhu was the first RPG with an abstract money system that I remember. Although equipment and weapons are listed with prices in dollars, money really wasn't an issue -- most likely because treasure hunting wasn't an objective of the game. Unless the characters were going on an expedition or they needed an outlay of cash at that level for some reason, it isn't necessary to keep track of how many dollar bills are in your pocket. At least that's the way we always played.

Additionally, characters have a skill called Credit Rating. This is a measure not of cash and credit reserves, but social status and influence, and the ability to raise cash through loans or even panhandling.

From the 4th. edition (1989):

The players' investigators -- the journalists, authors, professors, and so on -- will need money for their investigations. Their cash can come from (1) wages, royalties, and remittances; (2) from previous savings; and (3) grants, gifts, and loans from various non-governmental sources (government is no granter of largesse in the 1920s).

Money is only a problem if the investigators must perform extended investigations. Incidental investigations can be assumed to take place on weekends, or evenings, or days off.    (p. 14)

From the 5th. edition (1992):
Investigator Income
Income may or may not be important to your play. Take dollar signs with a grain of salt. Many Keepers never mention money or personal property, and rarely do published scenarios raise the subject. Only in campaigns does earning and spending hold much interest or significance; campaigns, however, can be quite detailed. Learn the Keeper's intent. (p. 24)

Savage Worlds has a similar approach to money, at least for starting characters. In the 1st edition rulebook, we find the following at the end of the character creation section:
Next you need to purchase equipment. Some settings may provide your hero with all the gear he needs. In others, you may be assigned a certain amount of money with which to purchase your starting gear. A list of some common gear and weapons can be found in Chapter Two.
Unless your setting book or GM says otherwise, the standard starting amount is $500. (p. 18)

The only other real mention of money is at the beginning of Chapter Two: Gear.
Cost: Equipment prices are relative both to the starting funds of $500 and to their tech level, so a Springfield musket doesn't really cost $250 in 1862. That's just the "worth" of the weapon relative to the tech level and the typical setting it's intended for. (p. 43)

Monday: Three other approaches.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Link: Using Microscope to Plan Goals in a Zombie RPG

Derek at Harvester has taken some of the ideas that Lowell used at Age of Ravens for Microscope as a city planning tool, and changed them up as a goal-planning device for his All Flesh Must Be Eaten campaign. Take a look at what both of them are working on for new ways to handle idea generation, campaign planning, and setting preparation -- make a game out of it!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hammer Horror and Godzilla DVD/Blu-ray News

I have been out of the loop and not keeping track of DVD news this month, and I am ashamed. Big thanks to Gareth Skarka for posting about the news related to Hammer horror films.

The studio has been working on restoring "more than 30 films", utilizing print sources in the UK and the US. Quatermass and the Pit has already been released on Blu in the UK, with Dracula, Prince of Darkness on the way next in March. They plan to announce a US/Region 1 distributor soon.

The restored version of Dracula (1958, Horror of Dracula in the US) is being screened in London in mid-February. The exciting news about it is that this restored edition uses the extra footage from the Japanese release, cut from UK and US prints. The footage was found at the The Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. At long last we get to see the full original film. More information about the ongoing restorations at the BBC and the official restoration blog.

The Criterion Collection's DVD/Blu-ray release of Gojira (1954)/Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956) is on track for release this week. Toho Kingdom has an interview with Curtis Tsui, the producer responsible for this disc.

Godzilla getting "the Criterion treatment" has been a goal since the laserdisc days, so it's great to see that it's finally happening. It's quite possible that, as suggested in the interview, this may be the greatest amount of pre-sales for a title in Criterion history. Everything I hear about the print quality and restoration efforts suggests that it has been worth the wait.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Robert E. Howard!

This Sunday marks the 106th anniversary of the birth of pulp writer Robert E. Howard. It has become a tradition on this date for Howard fans to read a favorite story and toast to his shade with a favorite beverage.

You can't go wrong with any of the stories, and there should be one to suit your preference: sword and sorcery, hard-boiled detectives, weird horror, historical fiction, boxing, westerns, pirates and sword-wielding puritans. One of my favorites that I often choose for a birthday reading is "Worms of the Earth", a story of Bran Mak Morn, last king of the Picts, and a weapon "to terrible to use, even against Rome". It's available in many publications but I would suggest the text found in Del Rey's Bran Mak Morn: The Last King.

This year I might look for another story I haven't read.

For more information on his life and career, start with the following sites:

I would also recommend Mark Finn's Howard biography, the Locus and World Fantasy Award-nominated Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard. An expanded edition is due later this month from the REH Foundation.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Music from my D&D years

A special Thursday edition of Favorite Music Friday: embedded below are videos for a few songs I remember on the radio or on MTV while playing Dungeons & Dragons -- or reading the rulebooks, or flipping though issues of Dragon -- during my high school years. I distinctly remember hearing the last song in this list on the radio during the first (and so far only) time I played the AD&D Battlesystem mass combat rules.

Ratt - Round and Round (this one can't be embedded) http://youtu.be/0u8teXR8VE4

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Your Character Does Not Belong to You

Often, it belongs to the other players.

I recently started playing in a new campaign of All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Eden Studios' RPG of zombie survival horror. I planned for my character to be a skilled professional -- not a doctor, soldier, or something useful like that. My idea was for a cable TV installer. He would have seen a lot of interesting and weird things already by going into people's homes (I know a few real-life satellite installers), and would be an expert in electronics.

The other part is that I wanted to model the character's personality after the TV character of Ron Swanson. He would know a little about everything, and be very secure in his opinions (but with room to grow), all good hooks for role playing. He would also have a Ron Swanson mustache. And that's how I lost control of the character.

Once the other players start discussing his mustache, and the fact that he has a van... any serious ideas about the character among the other players disappear. The idea of the character that you had intended is replaced in the minds of the other players by the ideas that they have discussed -- or joked about -- around the table. That becomes the character they react to in game, from then on. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, it is something to think about when planning your character and his/her personality. Certainly, it's on the same level as a GM trying to develop names for NPCs that can't be twisted around into jokes by the players.

How might this play out differently at the table? What could you do to change this?

Think about your character's initial impressions and play them out. Plan to work your ideas about your character's personality into the game from the first session. Take opportunities and risks in games to show what your character is like to the other players. Then do this every session. One of the best pieces of player advice that I've been given was to think about how to work your character into the story at the table. I tend to be passive as a player, in the background, and wanting to get other players into the spotlight. Sometimes, you have to take a leap -- make a decision, take an action, be bold. There's a fine line between being an assertive player and being disruptive. Don't be disruptive or demanding. But if there is trust at the table, jump in.

Tell the other players -- in game -- what your character thinks about.  Ben Robbins wrote a great post about character monologues. Not necessarily dialogue, but actions and thoughts in the character's head. Get these out at the table in play. Your character has traits, advantages, flaws... whatever the system might call them. They might be on the character sheet or in the character background you wrote, but if you don't work them into play, or tell the other players about them, then they may as well not even exist. They don't truly become part of the game until they are worked into the shared experience of all the players.

Any others that I missed?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pardon our dust

I plan to do some experimenting with the template design here over the weekend, especially with font sizes and background colors. Things might look wonky for a bit. It should be set (or back to this template) by Monday.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Taking Dragon Age for a test drive

Our regular Friday night group was down two players last week, so our GM asked me to run something as a one-shot. We also had D. and PJ as guest players. There are a couple of systems that we have wanted to try out, one of them being Dragon Age. I had the quickstart module from Free RPG Day so I read through the rules and adventure a couple of times and printed off the character and reference sheets.
The players chose the character sheets at random and I went over the basics of the rules as presented in the quickstart and the single page of world background. With all of us full of homemade apple crisp, the players sat back as I began reading the boxed text from the module...
My intention was to run it cold. That is, reading the boxed text verbatim (just like the old days) and following the adventure as described without much of my own added embellishment. I wanted to see what it might be like for brand-new players coming to the game without any RPG history. I knew nothing about the DA storyline. We had one player in the group who had played the video game, and he helped to explain some of the background knowledge that the characters would know.
We thought the rules worked pretty well. It is a brand-new rule set created for DA that Green Ronin calls the AGE system, using 3d6. I like the dragon die mechanic for gaining stunting points. Combat was slower than I expected. Once players have a good sense of what various possible stunts can be done without scanning the reference sheet, combat should get faster. I would also like to see more available stunt options. There was thought that it would nicely for a short-run campaign of maybe a dozen sessions. AGE isn't dependent on the Dragon Age setting, so it would work fairly generically with any setting. Without knowing what the rest of the rules are like, especially character advancement, I don't have a clear verdict on AGE yet.
The module presented in the quickstart, titled "An Arl's Ransom", is a great adventure scenario with plenty of combat and roleplay opportunities, a good twist and moral choices presented for the players to puzzle over. Depending on the actions of the PCs, there are a couple of directions that the plot could go, and the text presents ideas on what could happen. It also gives advice on what scenes to cut for time (I dropped the fight with the blight owls).
It is meant to be a starting point for a DA campaign, and we thought it worked well. That said, I wonder if the module is a little too complicated for first-time role-players. The DA rules are easy enough to get. It's the complications and the multiple directions that the story could follow in the module that I think might make it difficult for new players. A brand new GM might have enough trouble trying to get the rules down without the added difficulty of multiple NPCs with various and shifting plots and plans.
If you haven't played Dragon Age yet, I would highly recommend downloading the quickstart and give it a try.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A preview of the upcoming Conan: Queen of the Black Coast comic adaptation

There is a new 2-page preview on io9 for Dark Horse's new Conan 25-issue comic series by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan, an expansion and adaptation of one of the best Conan stories, "Queen of the Black Coast".

The io9 story also includes the regular and variant cover art for the first four issues. I know Brian Wood's work but I'm not as familiar with Becky Cloonan's art. The preview pages have been good so far. I'm eager to see how it turns out in the actual book.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Blogging ideas for 2012, part 2

I forgot to mention in the previous post that I would like to get involved with gaming podcasts again. I was part of the team that put together the sadly defunct Twenty Buttons and Twenty Levers gaming podcast about 5 years ago. I'd also like to try video blogging here as well.

On a related A/V note, I've wanted to put together my own DVD audio commentaries for quite some time now, and this is the year to make that happen.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Blogging ideas for 2012

Following on from my final post of 2011, I wanted to mention some of the ideas I have for the blog, what to look for here in the new year, and some possible goals.

Design changes: Overall I'm pleased with the layout. I've mentioned before that I'd like to try some different color schemes to improve readability.

From the Dusty Shelf: I have been a Gamer (with a capital "G") for over 25 years, and I have quite a few favorites among the rulebooks and supplements on my shelf. Nothing that is extraordinarily rare, but some forgotten gems that are worth another look. This will be an irregular series of retrospective reviews taking a look at some of these items, their place in gaming history, and some ways that they could be used today.

In a similar vein, I have several file boxes of old gaming magazines, catalogs, product fliers, and convention programs. This year I am finally going to follow through with my plans to scan some of these items and post here to share. Timothy Brannan at The Other Side recently mentioned his idea to pull out some of the gems from early issues of White Dwarf. Maybe I can cover some of the later issues.

Rules for a Conan RPG: I've been considering rules systems that best emulate the pulp-horror-fantasy of the original stories. I need to take the time for a more detailed look at these, and I'll post my thoughts here.

Fantastic Four...From the Beginning: A couple of years ago, my sister- and brother-in-law gave me an Amazon gift card as a birthday present. I used it to pick up the Fantastic Four/Silver Surfer Complete Collection CD-ROM set, containing the complete run of FF up to the end of 2006.

Fantastic Four has always been my favorite superhero book (aside from Marvel Team-Up), particularly John Byrne's run in the '80s. Back when I was seriously collecting comics I tried to complete my collection of Byrne issues but never finished it. This CD-ROM gave me that and then some. I still haven't explored it all -- yet. This would be an irregular series of posts looking back at some of the best issues of the FF, with an eye for how well they work today, and maybe pulling out some ideas for RPGs at the same time.

Cult Classic of the Week: I want to get back into a regular schedule with my cult movie reviews. If not weekly, then at least two a month.

DVD/Blu-ray and book previews: I'll continue to post on upcoming discs and books of interest.

Play more. I'm intrigued by Gnome Stew's GM challenge New Year, New Game. I don't know if I will be in a position to start up and GM another regular campaign this year. However, there are plans for some of us to try new games in the form of "Run Club"-style one-shots. My main goal is to get more play time and to try new games.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Glenn Lord, RIP

Glenn Lord passed away on the last day of 2011 at the age of 80 years. Without exaggeration, Mr. Lord was the greatest Robert E. Howard fan and the man who has done more for Howard's legacy than anyone else. He became the literary agent for the Howard heirs and remained so for almost thirty years. He tracked down the famous trunk full of typescripts and supplied the source texts for nearly every published work throughout the Howard boom of the 1960s through the 1980s.

Better retrospectives can be found at The Blog that Time Forgot, the Conan Movie Blog, and a list of online tributes is posted at the Two-Gun Raconteur site.