Our Dungeon Tectonics Expert and Eunuch Servant

This is the session report for yesterday’s Make You Kingdom adventure. Because we covered a lot of ground and my notes were being taken hurriedly, this report needs to be quite light on details – probably a good thing, since I didn’t understand what was going on about 50% of the time.

The PCs and the Kingdom

There were 4 players, who as usual didn’t introduce themselves – in fact one player referred to another player as “Honourable Older Sister” throughout the session, because he didn’t know her name. We played the following characters:

  • The King, previous job “Doctor”
  • A servant, previous job “Eunuch.”
  • An Oracle, previous job “Sex worker” (Or something similar – performer of dubious origins, perhaps?)
  • A Ninja, previous job “Hunter,” played by me and named (by random roll) “uwasa wo sureba Oboe,” which in English would be something like “The Oboe of which everyone speaks”

I decided that my ninja was of unspecified gender, being so heavily wrapped in black that only his/her eyes show, and wrapped in a great black cloak (part of my equipment). My ninja starts with Quest 5, Wit 2, Bravery 2 and charm 1. This means he/she has 7 followers, who I decided (in keeping with the ninja theme) are all members of the same Visual Kei band. My Ninja had two skills:

  • Hunting, by which he/she can gather food with a good skill check
  • Disruption, by which he/she can expend a wish and prevent 1d6 of damage to a fellow PC

My ninja had the following equipment, all rolled up on random tables:

  • A fragment of a star
  • A used magic item
  • A cloak
  • Some shuriken (throwing stars)
  • A warhammer
  • A full course meal

No character can have more than 6 items. No one carries mundane items. I’m not sure what these items did, and I didn’t get a chance to use any except the shuriken, hammer and meal.

To give an idea of the dangers of combat, my Ninja had 14 hps. My ninja’s shuriken do d6-1 damage. To hit my ninja an opponent needs to roll over 12 on 2d6+bravery, and usually a monster’s bravery is roughly equal to their level. We were all level 2.

Our Kingdom was called “Eastern Champion Land” (also randomly rolled). Within it we had a Palace, Temple, School and Hospital, all randomly rolled.We also rolled up its location in a larger labyrinth section (like a Gormenghastian Traveller sector map!).

The Adventure Starts: The Kingdom Phase

A spy came to our kingdom and told us that nearby was a kingdom called “The Forest of Harvests” that was having a little trouble and was also the holder of a rare magic item. We decided to explore this kingdom, so first of all my ninja used his/her Exploration skill to map out the kingdom. I rolled so well on this process that I learnt the number of traps and monsters in every room, and the layout of the whole kingdom, as well as the type of monsters in one room. With this knowledge our job was made considerably easier. While I was doing this two of the PCs decided to go for a wander around our own kingdom; this is handled by rolling on special “roaming” encounter tables and can only occur during the “kingdom phase,” which happens when you’re in your kingdom. One player found some kind of magic berry or something and gained a permanent increase in hit points (+5!), while the other found us all some money. You can make these rolls any time you are in the kingdom phase, but you can only ever get each result once, and there are some risky outcomes (I think). It’s an example of your kingdom giving you benefits, basically.

Once these things were out of the way we set off. On the way one player rolled a random encounter, which we managed to avoid by making successful bravery checks, and then we arrived at our destination, The “Forest of Harvests” Kingdom.

Room 1: The Entry

There is usually only one way in or out of a kingdom, and the way in is always the first room you enter. The Forest of Harvests’ entryway contained some rolling hills and a road rolling between them, which happened to be blocked by a giant tree. This tree happily moved out of our way after some negotiation (I’m not sure what was said; my hangover was still going pretty badly at this stage)[1], and we proceeded without further trouble into room 2.

Room 2: The Road of Meals

In this room we were attacked by a pair of Ogrekin, who we killed quite quickly. We then explored the room, finding a road running through the middle and a field of mushrooms. Some investigation revealed that the yellow mushrooms healed damage, the red ones exploded on impact, and the blue ones were poisonous to touch. We couldn’t take the red ones with us because they were a little unstable. We travelled to the next room.

Room 3: Fisherman’s Lake

On the road to room 3 we discovered a Black Spot trap, which I disarmed. A Black Spot trap causes any who fail a Quest DC 9 test to be trapped in the black spot. Every quarter they have to make another test to escape it, and everyone else has to wait. This wastes time, but also food; every 4 quarters everyone has to eat one meal. Fortunately we didn’t trigger it, and ended up in the third room, which contained a massive lake. This lake was populated by Kappa, with whom we chatted. They revealed that they catch fish and trade them with a princess called Princess Mira, and told us about the dangers on the road to her room. We thanked them and did a spot of fishing: the Oracle hauled up a rare and splendid “Dungeon Maguro,” which can be used as trade with Princess Mira (or anyone else!) and a rare item (I was writing this so I don’t know what item came out of the tables).

Room 4: The Forest of Relaxation

This room wasn’t very relaxing at all, being gloomy and filled with Giant Squirms, a Chowhound and a Minotaur. We killed all of them. The Chowhound had a special attack called “Warm and Snug” which reduces everyone’s Resistance, making them easier to hit, but we dealt with it. There was nothing else in this room, so we proceeded to the room of the Princess.

Room 5: Mira’s Forest

Here we met Princess Mira, in a room with huge trees and lots of harmless flying monsters. Princess Mira spoke to us when we gave her the Dungeon Maguro, and revealed that the Kingdom was in trouble due to something happening at the “Small Shrine.” We offered to help, and set off to the next room.

Room 6: The Forest of Confusion

In this room we were attacked by 5 Scum and 2 Bad Company. Someone also set up a trap in the battle zone, which was a problem because this trap did 2d6 damage to anyone who triggered it, and was between us and the enemy. Only two of our members had missile weapons, and the Bad Company are pretty solid ranged fighters. However, our Servant had a special skill, “Dungeon Tectonics,” which enabled him to set traps in battlezones from a distance (it’s a type of magic). He used his Dungeon Tectonics skill to set traps, which killed the Bad Company and half the Scum; I then took out the rest with Shuriken. From their bodies we looted a rare magical Business Card that gives a bonus on diplomacy; this we gave to the Oracle. Every ex-prostitute Oracle should have a magic business card.

Every room has a Camp Phase, if you choose, in which you rest or explore. I chose to risk a “Rest Event” and rolled on the Investigation Table; it turns out that during the rest period I explored the room and stumbled on a Rust Samurai’s grave, and from this I looted a few pieces of iron, which I gave to the Oracle to use in her magic item construction powers.

Room 7: The Forest of Nightmare

This room was not actually a forest, but had lots of small buildings and contained some Dwarves. We talked to them and they told us that the next room – the Small Shrine – was occupied by 3 “Hurry Foxes” that could be very bad news. They gave us a bitter potion that we had to make Bravery checks to keep down, and with this we regained a few hit points. We rested here and moved on to the Small Shrine room.

Room 8: The Small Shrine

In the Small Shrine we were met by the 3 Hurry Foxes, who were called Umi, Soru and Chan. They refused to help us unless we answered 3 riddles, which were

Riddle 1

Consider the following equations. What is the answer to the 4th?

  • Bx4=1
  • Ox3=C
  • Sx3=O
  • Dx1=?

This is a baseball reference, and one of our players got it. 4 bases = 1 run, 3 outs=change sides, 3 strikes = Out, so 1 Deadball=Take 1. Thus the answer is “1”.

Riddle 2

In every survey ever done, which planet in the solar system is the most popular with firefighters? Is it Venus, Saturn, Earth or Mercury?

The answer was Earth. The reason: the emergency number for firefighters in Japan is 119, ichi-ichi-kyuu, which sounds very much like ichi-chikyuu, which means “1 Earth.” One of our players got this. I was flabbergasted.

Riddle 3

This involved completing a sequence of kanji I couldn’t read. The players got this in moments (Japanese love kanji quizzes).

With these three correct answers the Foxes told us of a secret road to an 8th room, where a Mushroom Dragon and its followers had set up and were terrorizing the Kingdom. So, off we went… but first a rest… I rolled on the Exploration rest table, and found a secret path to any room of my choice; we set this secret path to shorten our exit route. Then, onto the next room…

Room 8: The Mushroom Dragon

This room was gloomy and foggy, and occupied by a Mushroom Dragon, some Primal Ogrekin, some Ogrekin, an Ogrekin Shaman and a Minotaur. Battle was joined.

This battle was nasty. The Dragon’s breath caused poison damage (1 HP every round) and the Ogre Shaman kept summoning Ogrekin between us and the Dragon. Because the rules don’t allow us to move through occupied spaces of the battlezone, this stopped us from neutralizing the dragon. At one point the King was trapped in the Dragon’s zone, with a wall of Ogrekin summoned between us and him. I had to use all my wishes deflecting damage with my disruption skill, and I also sacrificed 4 of my band members to improve an attack roll; in the spirit of things I made a random table of band members and determined that the sacrificed members were the singer, both guitarists, and the Strange Male Dancer. The battle finally came extremely close to a TPK. The King was on 4 HPs, the Servant on 1 and the Oracle on 2, and me on 10; but Oracle and Servant were both poisoned, so one would die next round regardless of his actions, and the Oracle the round after. The Dragon was a 2d6-damage monstrosity, so likely to kill the King, and the King was our only way of winning initiative – and to do this he had to sacrifice an elite follower every round. Only the King and I were close enough to the Dragon to hit it. If I missed the Dragon its HPs would be too high for the King to kill it, and then it would kill him; if he missed it then it would probably kill him next round anyway, and even if it didn’t the Servant would be dead. For me to hit it I had to roll over 11 on 2d6. At this point the Oracle chose to expend her “loyalty points” on me, doing a kind of mad prayer to give me all the support she could. This effect can be used once a session, and gave me a +2 to my bravery. With this I hit, doing 3 damage; the King then managed to hit, and killed the Dragon. Had he missed, it would almost certainly have been a TPK, and had I missed he probably couldn’t have killed it even with a successful hit.

When the dragon died the gloom of the forest dispersed, revealing a beautiful and happy forest full of fruits that healed our injuries. The dragon was carrying a special rare item that could grant much money on a successful Wits check, which the King failed.

Returning to our Kingdom

The return journey has its own special random table, and rolling on this we got lost for a few quarters (no big deal), and I fell in love with the Oracle. We avoided random encounters on the way home, and when we got back to our own Kingdom we each rolled on a special encounter table for the response of our citizens, who thought I was a hero and granted me an extra follower, and then finally we rolled on a table for our party’s return to the Kingdom; this granted us extra followers. We then used our money to purchase a new building – a Harem. Finally the King rolled a wits check and recovered my band members for me.

Once the game was up there was one final, cute mechanic. Everyone had to close their eyes and, on the count of 10, point to the person they thought was the most effective player. This person gets a single “MVP point.” That person was me!

Conclusion

Including character and Kingdom creation, and an hour for lunch, we got through all those rooms, combats, talks and events in 7 hours. I think that’s an excellent amount of progress, and we had a lot of fun while we did it. This is an excellent system for megadungeon madness, and I think with a bit of GM input it could lead to some really excellent and hilarious dungeon settings. For example, there is a monster called a Red Giant that is essentially some kind of construct of Communism. This could be the final boss for a level 1 adventure, in a kingdom full of enslaved and crazy humanoid and magical creatures with a communist theme. Alternatively, the level 5 Dungeon Geek monster could lead to a kingdom modelled on a D&D dungeon and stocked with suitable monsters. For the times when the GM is not feeling imaginative there are a wide range of random dungeon tables by which a whole Kingdom can be stocked for play.

The game also has an excellent campaign mode, with the Kingdom phase between adventures enabling players to grow their kingdom as well as their characters, and relations between the PCs growing dynamically at every rest point. The final results of a campaign run this way would, I think, be truly hilarious. I think I might invest in this game and try it out on some people to see how a campaign runs – or try and force the GM from the convention (who plays the Soldier in my WFRP campaign, coincidentally) to run such a campaign outside of the convention. This probably won’t happen though, since he’s running Sword World campaign too (which I may be joining).

fn1: An interesting fact about the players in the convention that I really should dwell more on is that they are really kind and friendly, and if I had stopped at this point and asked for a simple explanation of the negotiation, they would happily have done so, and continued to do so through the whole game; in fact at later points “Honourable Older Sister” did this, as did the GM. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad encounter at this convention, which differs remarkably from the pub-based experiences I had in London; furthermore, I’m very confident that a British or Australian group would be nowhere near as supportive of someone with my level of language skills. The players were even interested in my reading method, since I had to translate things as I went and this is a fiendishly slow task. They’re genuinely helpful and warm-hearted.

Over at “Discourse” and Dragons there is a “rant” about the new edition of D&D, which being inside the OSR echo-chamber is largely agreed to by its respondents, until a chap called Shazbot (from Points of Light) turns up and delivers, in comments, his own handy little rant about old school logic. I believe a good rant deserves credit (where I agree with it) so I’ve reproduced some parts of it here. I think Shazbot ought to turn this into a blog post, because some of its content really reminds me of the way the game was played back in the day.

Why is it that old-schoolers are prone to filibustering and hyperbolic arguments?

“Ohhhh…4th Edition ruined the game forever…all of my previous gaming experiences have been retroactively sodomized. I now know exactly what it means to be a victim of genetic cleansing in Darfur. By proxy. Because of 4th Edition.”

That’s number 1 on my list of stupid old school arguments that I hate.

Number 2:

“It’s not roll-playing…it’s ROLE-playing.”

All because latter editions of the game have included things like fleshed out mechanics for social interactions and skill checks, like say, disabling a suspension bridge. Well hold on there, Crusty Withercock…neither term is actually correct. The term is “roleplaying GAME”. See, the “game” part implies a chance of success or failure which is impartially adjudicated through things like rules. So the first question this leads me to, is what exactly, is the practical…and I stress PRACTICAL…difference between a player rolling his/her diplomacy skill and the DM rolling on a reaction table behind the screen and adding reaction adjustments? Since both use game rules to determine outcome, both would be considered “roll-playing” by the aforementioned standards.

“Oh but Shazbot…our group eschews such rules and the DM simply decides how each interaction plays out.”

Super. Fantastic. But well, that’s not really a GAME then, is it? That’s a magical tea party wherein the DM arbitrarily decides if your efforts succeed or not…based on how his/her day went, or whatever. Hell, this was how just about everything worked in OD&D, because there were absolutely no rules for anything that wasn’t swinging a sword or casting a spell, so everything was either hand-waived or the DM pulled houserules out of his/her ass that inevitably changed week-by-week. OD&D, and you can’t get anymore old school than the old 1974 white box, you started at the entrance of the dungeon, and your character probably didn’t even have a NAME before 5th level…let alone a detailed and compelling backstory. Yeah…that’s role-playing right there. From there, things devolved into a battle of wits with an adversarial DM, laden with semantic booby-traps. “You said you were checking the floor and the chest for traps…not the chandelier…so now you’re crushed. Now get me another Blue Nehi.”

Which brings me to number 3 on my list of stupid old-school arguments that I hate:

“Dwuh? Healing surges? Action points? Daily attacks for fighters??? Bu-bu-but…verisimilitude!”

Okay…tell me how much verisimilitude is in this regular old school occurrence:

“So your unnamed Halfling thief companion has just been crushed by a falling chandelier. Luckily another Halfling just happens to wander through the door.”

Bob: “What-Ho, fellow adventures! Having lost your companion a scant few moments ago…it seems that you are in need of another hand, similarly skilled in the larcenous arts as luck would have it!”

Party: “My! What a fortuitous bit of random happenstance! Why yes stranger, we would be privileged to include you into our merry band! Forsooth!”

A revolving door of interchangeable characters in what amounts to a dungeon fantasy vietnam who, by the end of the adventure, would have absolutely no personal stake in the quest?  Uh yeah…verisimilitude.

Fine…let’s use another example. XP derived primarily through collecting treasure and not, in fact, overcoming challenging foes or completing quests. Please explain to me how picking up coins translates to casting more powerful spells.  In any case, one wonders why adventurers would go adventuring at all, when the safest and most efficient road to god-like power is running a successful business. Also, wouldn’t wealthy merchants ALL be high level characters? Oh, I forgot…PC’s don’t follow the same rules as anyone else…because they’re “heroes”. We know they’re heroes, because PC’s do heroic things, like robbing tombs of their wealth and hiring commoners to run down corridors and set off traps for them.

See here’s the thing…roleplaying games aren’t meant to simulate reality…grandpa Gygax said that himself in the 1st edition DMG…no roleplaying games are meant to emulate fiction.  Now tell me, in which Conan story did the Cimmerian get incinerated by haplessly stepping on the wrong floor-tile only to be immediately replaced by Conan the II. Regale me again with the story of Sir Percival resorting to cowardice and skullduggery to overcome an otherwise worthy foe. Tell me again about the time Merlin the Magician ran out his daily allotment of spells at a critical juncture. Sorry…but the only fantasy that old-school D&D emulates is old-school D&D. It’s become a genre in and of itself…and in my experience this sort of thing makes for terrible reading.

And finally…number 4 on my list of stupid old school arguments that I hate:

“WotC D&D is too videogamey/anime/superheroic/durple”

Because apparently any fighter not wearing a buckskin mini-skirt and a horned helmet is obviously ported straight from a Final Fantasy game.  Someone here has said that D&D should have remained a classic game that has never seen a revision…like Monopoly.  Bull. Shit. Even if Gygax should have been the final authority on all things D&D, he himself revised OD&D into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The original White Box wasn’t a game as much as it was a proof of concept. An experiment.. D&D has gone through a series of revisions over the years because D&D has NEEDED to go through a series of revisions over the years. Anyone who can honestly say that the mechanics haven’t improved over the years, is probably going to write a silly rebuttal, log out, smear poop on their face, put on a bicycle helmet, and promptly ride the short bus to school.

Over the years, game mechanics have evolved to become more efficient, intuitive and user-friendly…like technology, Even though you may not like the aesthetic direction that newer versions of D&D has taken, as in actually becoming a game centered around adventuring and telling heroic stories, instead of a random menagerie of cheap death traps…you cannot reasonably argue that the actual game portion doesn’t function better with each iteration. And you know what? D&D still has a long way to go before it reaches a sublime state of mechanical nirvana. But it’s slowly crawling there.

Stupid old-schooler argument number 5: And now we come around full circle…back to hyperbolic filibustering…

“WotC has destroyed the SOUL of D&D”

Yeah…no it didn’t. The soul of D&D isn’t in anyone edition. It isn’t in the rules…it isn’t in the art. The soul of D&D is still where it belongs…in the players. Maybe you don’t like what the players are doing these days…whatever. You’ve got your own game…now it’s their turn. Because if you honestly believe that a GAME like D&D is more about some bullshit, imagined ideology that you’ve applied only in retrospect, than it is about actually having fun…then your head is stuck so far up you’re own ass, you’ll be eating your lunch a second time.

In a recent skype conversation, one of my players from London accused my GMing style of being “very sandbox,” and even went so far as to imply that there is little difference between me and the OSR. This has me a little confused as to what sandboxing is, since I don’t do any of the following:

  • Random terrain generation
  • Random monster encounters
  • Random adventure generation
  • Morale checks, or any kind of non-deliberative decisions about monster behaviour

and, as far as I know, most of my campaigns have a strong plot element (though I tend to allow the players to decide what direction to go, including which side to pick).

So I’m wondering – if I don’t do any of these things, and I like “story,” is it possible to be a sandbox-GM? Jesus, these days I don’t really even make maps.

Fame & Fortune is running this month’s blog carnival on the theme of preparation, which has inspired me to do something I had been thinking about for a while but never got around to – posting up the contents of one of my session preparation documents, in order to show what I do to prepare for a session. Unfortunately most are too long or involve too much knowledge about prior events in the campaign, but I have managed to find one from late in the Compromise and Conceit campaign which provides a reasonable example. I may put up some other background material too, for the players of that campaign to see how I planned the final stages of the campaign, and also to share some ideas I had that I’m quite fond of.

My preparation typically consists of writing a single document that covers the main goals of the adventure, with an introduction linking it to any campaign arcs, and sometimes some material on key scenes I want to describe. I plan adventures from 3 main starting points:

  • A simple cog in a campaign that needs to be turned
  • A set of scenes that I’ve had in my mind and want to play out
  • An idea for an adventure setting that occurred to me and that I want to run

and usually a bit of all 3. The adventure given here is purely a cog in the campaign, but easily worked up into some quite frightening and ferocious scenes. Here is the essential background:

The setting is a magical colonial America, in about 1770. The characters have previously established that there is a sinister fourth force at work in America, and that it employs Irish mercenaries to help it fight. Following the trail of a dragon bone they stole from this group, they learnt from a Dragon in Greenland that the bone came from a Dragon in Ireland. Since dragon slayers tend to be unforgettable, they travelled to the Irish village to find out what people there knew of the dragon slayer, and discovered upon arrival that the village had been enslaved and all the men-folk turned into mercenaries; the womenfolk were trapped there and doomed never to die. This magic was invoked using a powerful ritual based on a dragon’s corpse, the dragon having been killed nearby and dragged to the town. The characters also happen to have a special summoning book that enables them to summon a powerful demon of Lore, and that Demon can tell them what to do to reverse the dragon ritual and free the Irish mercenaries. This will significantly weaken the mysterious fourth force, and they can then travel to its hideout and learn what its goals are. They know where its hideout is because they caught a wizard who works for this organisation, and it just so happens that a wizard “not yet in the fullest of his powers” is a good sacrifice for the Demon of Lore ritual. The players have decided that they’re going to go through with the ritual (and boy aren’t they well placed to do it!) so the adventure is about the ritual, its consequences, and their subsequent journey to Bodmin to infiltrate the fourth force (called The Iron House).

The preparation document follows, and constitutes the background material for the adventure written up here. I think some of the information had been shared over email ahead of time (my players could be a little bit dithery, so I got them to discuss some decisions in between sessions).

Introduction

In this adventure the characters enact a reversal of the ritual of the dragon, to free the men of Killarney from service to the Iron House; in order to do this they enact a ritual of Lore Demon Summoning, which will involve killing the mage they hold captive. First they may want to question him, to find out what he is doing. They will then travel to Bodmin to infiltrate the newly-weakened base of the Iron House and learn more about its purpose. By the time they arrive the land around Bodmin will be in uproar, as the newly-freed men of Killarney go crazy trying to find their way home. The characters can perhaps lead the way.

Summoning the Lore Demon

First the characters will have to summon their lore demon, using the book they obtained from the lich and the mage they captured. The Lore Demon will be able to tell them what to do to complete the ritual, and they can choose to use the existing magic circle (though they will need to refresh it). The characters can decide the content of the ritual, the key points being:

  • The mage must die, preferably horribly (Dave Black’s responsibility – base DC 22)
  • A priest must conduct the ritual

The base DC is 30, with every point above the target giving a +1 to the roll in the subsequent dragon ritual. Dave Black’s success grants a +1 on the priests’s roll for every point above the killing target (to a maximum equal to his level)

The Dragon ritual

For the dragon ritual:

  • A part of the dragon must be used (they need to remove a rib from Anna’s corset, -1 DR on her gear)
  • A priest and a mage need to conduct the ritual together (Anna and David – the better each of their DCs the more powerful the effect)
  • The circle needs to be imbued with infernal essence (Ganymede – base DC 17)
  • It is better if the ritual is conducted in a storm (+5); perhaps Brian can conjure this

Every point of success on Russell’s roll increases Cantrus’s roll by 1 (to a maximum equal to his level). The information gained from the lore demon gives a bonus to Anna’s roll (+1 per point of success, maximum equal to her level). Anna’s roll determines what proportion of the soldiery is affected; Cantrus’s roll determines the means by which they are freed and their degree of lucidity:

DC Anna’s effect Cantrus’s effect*
20 Failure Death
25 25% Frenzy: 2 days/pt below
30 50% Confusion/lethargy: 1 day/pt below
35 75% Suggestibility: 1 day / pt below (contest against Cantrus’ roll)
40 100% Clear

*Cantrus’s effect only applies if Anna is successful

The effects are cumulative, so after frenzy comes suggestibility, etc.

[editor’s note: I actually meant by this that the soldiers have to step their way through the success grades, so if Cantrus rolled a 36, they would be frenzied for a day, then confused for a day, then suggestible for 4 days, then clear. In the event I think that’s what happened. But Death doesn’t step through anything – the mercenaries just die – and “clear” doesn’t step through anything. So really the DC for this roll is 40, and lower results are partial success. Also, I think that Anna’s player wasn’t here this night, and whoever rolled for her rolled up a fumble. We – the players and I – consulted extensively about this and decided that since this was a really important roll for her and she wasn’t there, it was unreasonable to keep her roll. The campaign could go on without her success (this was just a side adventure to weaken the Iron House) but they thought it was a bit cruel for her PC to screw up so badly the one time she wasn’t there. So I called her (she was studying) and got her to reroll the result].

What the mage can tell them

The mage can tell them that he was asked to keep an eye out for people journeying to Killarney on suspicious grounds, and paid with a piece of dragon bone which he has fashioned into an amulet, which he will one day use to make a powerful magic item (when he has more power – this day, obviously, will never come!) The man who told him to do this was called William de Bouverie, 1st Earl of Radnor, the seat of Bodmin. He pays the mage an annual retainer for the service, which he is saving to help him go back into training.

Bodmin

Having conducted their two rituals, the characters can travel to Bodmin, Cornwall, to find the home of the earl of Radnor, a stately home called Lanhydrock. Here they can enter the building and hope to find the truth of the mission of the Iron House. It takes about 3 days to sail to Newquay, and then another day to travel overland to Bodmin by fast horse, through Bodmin moor. On the outskirts of Bodmin the characters will find evidence of the movements of the soldiers of Killarney, depending on the results of Cantrus’s spell.

Death: the soldiers will be scattered in the lands around lanhydrock, in concentric rings, dead but peaceful, and strangely untouched by animals.

Frenzy: the soldiers will be scattered about the land in small uncontrolled bands, looting and destroying anything they find, in battle with the local constabulary or other soldiers of the Iron House (who are better, but in the minority). Signs of this battle will be clearly visible on the horizon as smoke.

Confusion/lethargy: the characters will find groups of the soldiers wandering confused through the area around Lanhydrock or on the moors. They can be gathered together, fed and watered but will not be open to any kind of orders or commands.

Suggestibility: Similar to confusion/lethargy, but slightly more active and they can be directed to, for example, travel overland to the boat at Newquay. They can also be suggested into becoming troops for the PCs. Suggestion is a social attack at -1 per target, lasting initially for 1 day per point of success (or 1 week per point of success if done magically). Note that other people can do this and the characters may meet groups of soldiers subject to the same effect.

[editor’s note: I think Anna Labrousse used the suggestibility effect on the first 4 soldiers they met to enlist them as assistants in an assault on Lanhydrock].

Those soldiers from Killarney not affected by the spell will fight their affected friends. They will be distributed evenly between Bodmin and the Americas.

Once the characters reach Lanhydrock they can try and invade the house, since they will find it largely empty and/or partially burnt. They should still have to deal with roving bands of Iron House soldiers.

これは、私が書いたセッションレポートです。ネタバレを含みますから、Warhammer 3 Adventure Book のサンプルシナリオの「目には目を」にプレイをしたかったら、読み続けないでください!
注意:ネタバレ!
BYF達[1]がグルーンヴァールド城を調べた:
  • 医療室で、ドワーフと入信者と話して、何か変な状況があるとおもって、ドワーフの無意識的な言葉でかれのハマーを見つけに行った
  • 医者が怪しそうだったから、医者の部屋を見に行って、睡眠生毒を見つけた。
  • ドワーフの鍛冶場に行って、ハマーがなかったと分かった
  • 入信者の祭殿に行って、隠されたハンマーを見つけた
  • また入信者と話して、怪しい行動が周りに起きているからドワーフが彼女にハマーを隠すのを願ったと習った。
  • 変な犬ブリーダーがクロゼットで殺したビーストマンの惨死隊を置いておいて、惨死隊から肉を取って犬達に食べさせている。。。
  • アッシャッフェンバーグ様の部屋を調べたときに、召使い2人が来て掃除して始めた。一人のポッケットから紙が落として、「鴨が大丈夫だ」が書いてあった。毒の事に関してのノートと思っていたから、BYF達がキッチンに行った
  • キッチンで、チェフと話して、怪しいことが見つけなかったが、信用ができなかったから、アルソンが隠れてみて残って、他の3人が他のところを調べに行った
  • 図書館で不安な本を見つけた
  • 客室で恐ろしい絵を見つけた で、最期に、盗賊は、キッチンを見て、医者がシェッフと話しに来て、シカの肉に毒を入れた。

その感じだ!!!!恐ろしい絵は混沌関係で、図書館で混沌本があって、医者は城の人の半分くらい毒している。。。ここには混沌修道がありそう!

皆が、絵を客室から取って、図書館に行ったが、図書館についたと、係員がいなくなって、床の穴が見えた。。。あの本もなくなった。BYF達がついて行った!それは次回です。。。

このセッションの中を使ったウォーハンマールールについて。

このセッションは基本的に調査だから、progress trackerで操った。10個のコースで、5個でイベント点を置いて、10個でもイベント点を置いた。PC達が成功ができた時に、PC達の札を1個進出した。失敗したときか、敵がPCの怪しさを気がついたときに、敵の札を1個進出した。PC達が先に5点のイベント札についたから、大きいヒントを教えてあげた。もしかして、敵が先に5点のイベント札についた場合、晩ご飯のエンカウンターが始まったはずだ。晩ご飯でschlafという睡眠生毒をさせてみたつもりだ。

PC達があのヒントをもらったから、すぐ調査を早くした。同時に図書館と客室に行って、そしてあの本を取るようにまた図書館に入って、図書館係員の逃げるのが分かって、progress trackerの10個について、調査が終わってしまった。これからは、戦闘!PC達は早くて上手にこの部分を解決したから、運命点1点をあげた。

fn1:BYF達っていうのは、PC達のグループの名前。意味は、「Brash Young Fools」です。

Last night I had the pleasure of running my first ever Warhammer 3 session at my local FLGS. Because my local FLGS is run by a Japanese man in Japan, I naturally had to run the session in Japanese. This obviously raises a lot of challenges, including:

  • Explaining the rules
  • Helping players use cards in a language they don’t understand
  • Choosing language for a whole bunch of things I am completely unfamiliar with

So, here is a brief description of how I handled this stuff.

Brash Young Fools indeed!

The group Our group of Brash Young Fools is shown in the picture, from left to right – Mr. 123, Mr. Shuto, Mr. Ringtail (the shop owner) and Mr. Kaede. Mr. 123 has previously GMd Warhammer 2, using the Japanese version, so is very familiar with a lot of the world, and Mr. Ringtail is a big fan of warhammer wargames, which have been translated, so he’s familiar with the world too. Both Mr. Kaede and Mr. Shuto have played in Warhammer campaigns at least once, so the background didn’t have to be explained so much. The characters they played were:

  • Mr. 123: A 14 year old Initiate, called Suzette (a girl, related to the adventure he ran for me)
  • Mr. Shuto: An apprentice wizard
  • Mr. Ringtail: A thief
  • Mr. Kaede: A soldier

It should be pretty obvious that these characters weren’t chosen randomly – I selected them to give maximum exposure to the rules, maybe not such a wise plan, since it meant a lot more language-related work (and rules-learning). We played on level 2 of the FLGS, and we were running a kind of introductory hack-and-slash that was going to run into a reason to play the adventure from the adventure book, An Eye for an Eye. I’ll give a game report separately. The language problem Unlike pathfinder, which involves a lot of transliterations and has an online wiki from which I can learn all the language I need, the tradition in warhammer is to give often quite prosaic Japanese translations to all the details. With so many careers, actions and talents at hand, this makes for some translation difficulties. The attributes, careers and skills are covered partially by Warhammer 2, which gives these translations (even bone-picker is translated!) However, the action cards and all the specific language of the progress meter, dice etc. I had to cobble together. I also had to find a way to explain all this. I bought the Japanese version of Warhammer 2 but it only arrived on the day of the game, so instead I had to make a lot of headway on preparatory work myself. I approached this in the haphazard way I approach all my Japanese language tasks, and basically it went like this:

  • I scanned in the reckless side of the action cards the players would be using, and inserted them into a word document with translations along the same structure on the same page (you can see an example in the photo).
  • I cobbled together language from the pathfinder wiki[1], and using JDIC and the only Japanese RPG I know, Double Cross 3, which meant that some of the work I did was a little off-beam, and some of the words I found unusual or archaic
  • I assumed that my players would be able to read some basic sentences, so we could work out the details of the differences between red and green cards as we went (this only created a problem once)
  • I did some pre-translation work for the players to read on my blog, with an example, here and here
  • All the key language I used I put into tables of words to distribute on the day (which I then only made one copy of, because I’m stupid)

Based on this, I was able to give an explanation of the basic rules when we started, and leave the players to muddle through the cards without making too many suggestions. For the soldier and the thief it was pretty much plain sailing, but for the wizard and initiate it was harder, especially since I don’t know the spell rules very well and they aren’t … um… clear in the original document. Game flow Things were a bit slow at first, primarily because it took some time for people to work out what to do, and I had to check the odd rule (particularly about magic). The first opportunity at a skill check – getting a “dirty woman of unclear profession” to leave the thief alone after he was responsible for driving away her, ah, business associate – ended in disaster because Mr. Ringtail didn’t want to test out his guile skill; but then Mr. Kaede took on the leadership skill very well and constructed a skill check to influence their informant which he was well able to stunt – I added a few fortune dice to his roll, and everyone immediately became aware of the role-playing benefits of the dice system. They used this well later on, with the thief mimicking an animal, the wizard using a cantrip to confuse matters, and the soldier hiding ready to ambush the goblin they were luring. This was a great stunt, and also enabled me to use the fortune pool in the party sheet well. So in terms of grasping the broad concepts, the players caught on well. Mr. Kaede’s use of his soldier’s reckless cleave was good, and he grasped the details pretty quickly, as did Mr. 123, though sorting through all his Initiate’s cards was a bit of a challenge. The main challenges to flow came from establishing how to use magic, which seemed to involve a lot of different types of check with very little clarity about the order. I revised that today and will give the players a brief list of what they have to do to help with that. Otherwise, we managed to fit in all of the following in 4 hours:

  • rules explanation
  • adventure introduction
  • one incidental encounter with the woman of dubious profession
  • one social challenge to get information
  • one physical challenge, using a progress tracker to pursue a goblin scout (resolved well, at night, by the elven thief with the help of everyone else) followed by a brief and bloody end for the poor greenskin
  • two combats, the first an ambush outside the goblin lair, and the second a vicious bashing fest inside

So even though things went quite slowly in individual encounter moments, overall the adventure fitted in quite a bit of material, and some really good role-playing opportunities. The players have taken home their action card explanation sheets, which they can study, and I’m going to forbid them from spending their advances on new actions or talents until they’re more familiar with the basics (and I have more time to translate cards!!!) Kaede san’s soldier certainly needs some more wounds anyway. Some final observations As I’ve noted before, Warhammer’s blend of dark fantasy and European realism seems to really appeal to the Japanese RPG sentiment, and everyone really got into the grotty winter world of Bogenhafen. They also seemed to appreciate the role-playing opportunities in the dice, which is good. We’re meeting again in two weeks. A few other notes:

  • The probabilities can be a  bit skewy. My goblin underlings concentrated fire equally on the soldier and the mage, and over 4 or 5 rounds they nearly killed the soldier but the mage was unharmed. That’s weird!
  • The rules are vague in places and sometimes I’m not sure whether I’m house-ruling well
  • I can’t tell how challenging an adventure will be, which is a problem I’m not used to. I need more experience with dice pools, but even then the unique mechanics of Warhammer 3 mean it will take some time before I know what’s going on
  • This game is cool! The dice give a lot of role-playing opportunities and the rules have liberated Warhammer from the two grinding problems that made Warhammer 2 so hard to enjoy: the inability of beginning PCs to actually do anything, and the intense, grinding tedium of the battles.

I think my players agree with most of that, and are getting into the gaming quickly. I’ve got a feeling that the warhammer 3 system may be very well designed to encourage the type of GMing and gaming I prefer – loose adherence to rules, stunting of actions, descriptive content and encouragement of diversity in outcomes from individual rolls. It also has the kind of death spirals and critical-heavy combat system I like, without bogging it down in detail (as far as I can tell). I think it may also have resolved the issue of henchmen vs. main enemies. Both D&D 4 and Feng Shui have a system of henchmen (“mooks”) and main enemies, but the henchmen serve only to bog down and slow the game, rather than to add quickly-overcome challenges. In this session, at least, the henchmen were both a threat and easily killed, which is what henchmen should be. Game report to come. — fn1:The pathfinder wiki is useful because like most translations of foreign RPGs into Japanese it puts the English names next to important Japanese phrases (for things like skills and feats), so it makes it really easy to find the right word for the concept I’m looking for. I know Pathfinder well, so I know for example the difference between “proficient” and “specialised” and I can be confident that the translations in the wiki will be useful for me. Then I get around the problem of millions of kanji I don’t know very simply using rikaichan, which has to be the most useful software ever invented[2]. You wave your mouse over a word and it gives you the reading and the English translation, so then you can type it yourself. fn2: This has to be an example of the benefits of whatever licensing procedure is being used by the firefox team. I don’t like firefox much, but until someone comes up with a version of rikaichan for safari or chrome, I am only ever going to use firefox. This, I think, is why Windows is ubiquitous – for years the only functional spreadsheet was excel for windows, so windows spread through the corporate world regardless of its inherent crappiness. Excel is the best there is, and that’s all Microsoft needed.

In my previous post about playing this game on Sunday, I mentioned that we used a type of module called “Scenario Craft,” in which every element of the module except a vague skeleton of the plot is random. This post gives a little more detail about the scenario craft process.

The book

The scenario craft book we used was called “Public Enemy” and can be viewed here (Japanese). I’m not sure what the background to this module is, but it contained some expansion information for the game, some new NPCs, and the website indicates it has information on the history and development of the False Hearts organisation, which is the evil underworld for crazy superheroes. I didn’t see much of the module book itself, since the GM was using it a lot. The book presents 4 types of adventure based around interaction with this organisation.

The basic idea

The basic idea of the Scenario Craft plan appears to be that the adventures are built collaboratively by the GM and players, through some outline decisions and choice of scenario that the players and GM decide on together, followed by a kind of collaborative decision-making process about some aspects of the PCs that are required to fit the adventure. After this, the players and the GM between them roll up all aspects of the main NPCs, including the bad guy, so we all know what we’re up against and its relationship to the party. The remainder of the adventure plays out through a semi-structured flow chart of action, and a lot of random events, clues and conflicts rolled up during the different stages of the adventure.

The scenario choices

The scenario choices are presented as a vague outline idea, and each scenario choice affects the structure of the action flow chart, the nature of the adversaries/NPCs, and the random tables on which the action is determined. We were presented with 4 possibilities, but I can’t remember the other 3. The one we chose was “Everyday life should be protected” (mamoru beki nichijou, 守るべき日常). The outline idea was that someone in the False Heart organisation was about to find a way to reveal the virus infecting our superheroes, and we need to find a way to stop it.

Scenario plots

Each scenario comes with its own plot, which is very broadly outlined. Here is ours:

The “cooperating NPC” approaches the PCs to tell them he thinks that his underling, the “Rival NPC,” has joined the False Hearts. Simultaneously, the “Heroine NPC” tells one of the players (with whom she has a close relationship) that she is worried about her friend, the “Rival NPC.” The PCs agree to find the “Rival NPC” and bring him back to UGN for questioning.

That’s it. These NPCs are worked into our characters’ lives through a very simple plot mechanism, the Lois (see later).

The action flow chart

Almost all of the adventuring is constrained to two pages of the book. The right-hand page contains necessary tables for randomly generating everything, and the left hand page contains some outline information and a flow chart which breaks the adventure down into 5 main scenes. The scenes are:

  • PC Opening, 4 separate subscenes in which each PC appears briefly to have their intro to the adventure explained
  • Grand Opening, in which the four PCs join together to determine their attitude to the adventure
  • Middle Phase, in which the majority of the adventure happens
  • Climax, in which the PCs get in a big fat fight
  • Flashback, in which the PCs attempt to return to normal life and shed the corruption of the adventure, get XPs, etc.

The main action happens in the middle phase, which is divided up into separate stages in the flow chart. These stages may or may not be sequential or conditional (I think in our case they were sequential). Our main stage within the Middle Phase was “Research Event,” in which we did investigative stuff which triggered encounters.

This action flow chart provides the GM with a structure around which to hang an actual adventure, just like in any normal module, but it really only provides an outline from which to hang all the random tables.The Middle Phase here is also set up to include a lot of random variation in how long and diverse it is, how many encounters there are, and what they are, through the use of a progress tracker.

The progress tracker

The progress tracker seems very similar to the method of Warhammer 3rd edition for resolving drawn-out challenged tasks. Basically, the GM sets a target number of “successes” for some investigative or challenged action occurring in the Middle Phase. Every day, the PCs set about resolving this action, using some kind of skill check (we used our social skill for information gathering). We have to accrue a certain number of successes before we can proceed to the next section, and can only get one each a day. Every day we adventure trying to gain these successes we incur a d10 of corruption points and a risk of a minor encounter, which we will win at the cost of further corruption points. Corruption points make us more powerful in battle but also drag us closer to becoming irredeemably infected (“germs”) and at risk of having to burn all our social contacts to drag ourselves back to reality, so rapid progress up the tracker is a good thing.

There is a separate progress tracker for “prize points,” which are bonusses gained from very high skill rolls. These prize points are rolled randomly on a table, and are essentially hints as to the nature of the problem we are trying to solve. More prize points makes it easier for us to find the correct solution and progress along the tracker to the next stage, i.e. ideally they will help us choose a way of solving the problem which gives bonusses to our rolls, increases our combined successes, and kicks us along the tracker. In fact, this didn’t happen in our game because our GM was a little weak in this regard, but the idea is solid I think. At the end, if you get to the end of the progress tracker, you learn the solution to the problem and go to the next stage (though I presume the GM can short circuit the tracker if the players solve the problem).

I like this because a) it gives an idea of how long the task takes to solve, and solving the task quickly is useful, b) the prize points thing can be used to give XP rewards – particularly if creative thinking gives players bonusses on their rolls and thus more prize points and c) if the PCs are having success in the tasks but the players just aren’t thinking the problem through, the GM has a trigger point at which to allow the skill rolls to determine the outcome, and stop the game getting bogged down because the players just can’t figure it out (or the GM can’t explain it).

Choosing the NPCs

We chose the NPCs by rolling, together, the details of their relationships to us, their appearance, name, their goals, and pretty much every other aspect of their personality except their stats and powers (which were either already chosen, or secretly rolled by the GM). There’s no reason these couldn’t be rolled too, I suppose. But then, would you even need a GM? We also had to choose a PC to be linked to the Heroine NPC and the Cooperative NPC, which was done semi-randomly (scissor-paper-stone). These relationships are a really important part of Double Cross 3, and being able to choose even relationships with NPCs and enemies is interesting too. Especially when you burn them for an extra 10 dice in your attack pool.

Random tables and the progress of the adventure

The random tables included information about where we went to do our research into what the Rival PC was up to. Every day we did research, we rolled up a possible encounter, so on the third day we stumbled into an area that had been “warded” by False Hearts agents, and on other days nothing happened. There were also random tables for where we finally confronted the boss guy, and I think our adversaries in non-boss encounters may have been randomly generated too. Also, the “prize points” were randomly generated, only we kept generating the same two prize points, until we reached the end of the progress track.

Reaching the end of the progress tracker showed up one of the big flaws of any kind of randomized adventure scheme, because our GM wasn’t up to the task of wrapping up all the random encounters into an information package from which we could extract the clues we needed, so he ended up just kind of … handing us the information we needed. This is a good aspect of the progress track if the failure to draw a conclusion is the players’ fault, since we incur a corruption cost but don’t fail the adventure; but if it’s the GM’s fault it leaves you feeling like you didn’t succeed in the adventure. I don’t think there’s a way around this aspect of randomized gaming, except to have adventures without a plot or a conclusion. The progress tracker at least gives the GM a trigger at which to get rid of the investigative phase of the adventure and get to the finish.

Conclusions

I like this schema for mostly-randomized adventures, and the layout of the module was such that it was very easy for the GM to run the whole game collaboratively with us without giving away any details early, or getting too confused. It was fun generating our own adventure as we went, but it was also frustrating when it wasn’t tied together properly and we just skipped from progress track to ending, a problem I’ve always had with adventures that aren’t fully prepared by the GM beforehand. in truth this can happen with traditional modules that have been badly designed, or with work that a GM does by him/herself. I think when a GM writes their own adventure they tend to go through a wider range of scenarios in their head, and know the plan better, so that they are more flexible at adapting to player stupidity/their own gaffes. GM-written adventures are hardly immune to the problem though.

In general the Double Cross stuff I’ve seen so far has been very well laid out and clear, and they’re fond of very easily understood flowcharts and diagrams. I think that this is a strength of this adventure setting too, and a lot of careful thought has gone into making these modules playable on the fly. Also, of course, they’re ideally suited to day-long conventions.

I predict this swan will never fly

I have noticed recently a tiny debate going on between two blogs concerning whether or not it is sensible to assign the class of people called peasants a different distribution of ability scores to the class of people called lords. The distinction in question – 2d6 for peasants, 3d6 for lords – seems roughly fine to me in the renaissance setting in which it’s proposed, though I prefer 2d6 for peasants with a further roll of 2d4-2 if the first roll is a 12, since this gives a small probability of numbers greater than 12. I agree with this method because being a peasant is the single biggest determinant of every aspect of your life, malnutrition and lack of even basic education being a significant impediment to the development of even normal stature and mental function, let alone decent wisdom or strength scores. My Eternal Antagonist over at Monsters and Manuals disagrees, because (it would appear) he objects to the epistemic arrogance of claiming one can model class effects, and it’s an inductive fallacy to propose that just because most peasants have 2d6 stats, the next peasant one meets will have 2d6 stats.

I’m not going to address either of these arguments directly, because it’s impolite – I’m arguing with Noisms at his own blog and I’ve got nothing to say at Alexis’s. What I thought I’d do instead is briefly give my opinion of the Black Swan thesis, which Noisms references in his objection to the model. Taleb, you see, who wrote The Black Swan, is opposed to modelling.

I haven’t read this book, but I’m vaguely interested in the philosophy of science and I had heard that Taleb was not overly respectful of global warming theory, so I picked it up at a friend’s house and read the first chapter, and I was struck by the complete failure of the fundamental analogy, that of the black swan. Taleb argues that black swans, when they were discovered in Australia in the 18th century, were a freak unexpected event that biological theories of that time had not predicted, and which were worked into the theory in hindsight. These have come to represent in his theory the unpredictability of nature, and the inherent dangers of modelling anything.

Except, the problem with this is that in 1790 the biologists were working from the wrong theory. They didn’t have anything like a theory of evolution, which came later after Darwin visited Australia. Evolution, I have read, gives biologists the power to predict new animals, and in fact even to predict where they might be found or how they might behave, and had the theory been developed at that time the black swan wouldn’t have constituted much of a surprise at all, let alone a “significant random event.” While it’s trivially true that the black swan might have appeared like a significant random event at the time, what is more important is the fact that the scientists of that time were working with an imperfect theory, that had no predictive power. Taleb’s whole book about random events screwing predictive models is based on an analogy to a situation in which a (possibly) predictable event was not predicted by a theory that lacked any predictive power. It’s essentially a book whose thesis could be rewritten “Don’t make predictions from the wrong model.” Also, I would add, it’s disingenuous to claim that the swans were worked into the theory with the benefit of hindsight – Australian flora and fauna were essential data in the construction of a revolutionary new theory, evolution, which had greater predictive power. This is not the same as justifying their existence in hindsight.

There is also something a bit strange in a book which purports to claim that financial models are doomed to fail to predict significant random events (black swans) by an author who claims to have predicted the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), which he simultaneously claims is the key black swan of our time. Figure that out. He isn’t the only one to have predicted this black swan, either – I did in 2004, and lots of economists and financial people did, starting around 2004. Of course, the claim that modelling can’t handle unpredictable events is prima facie true, but vacuously so. For example, global warming theory can’t predict rapid global cooling if in 2020 a ginormous meteor hits the earth, because random events like that can’t be factored into anyone’s theory. But a meteor strike in 2020 doesn’t invalidate global warming models or the theory, and to say so is to deliberately ignore the underlying assumptions of the modelling process.

It’s actually quite hard to find on the internet criticism of Taleb’s theories, though I found one article here, also by someone who has not read The Black Swan, but who is primarily riffing off of a very shoddy-sounding Financial Times opinion piece by Taleb. This blog appears to be by a quantitative analyst, so is undoubtedly biased about Taleb’s criticisms of quantitative analysts, but makes some interesting points, particularly about the business consequences of Taleb’s theories, and the silliness of some of Taleb’s claims about the actual models that are used in finance.

I would also add that the finance world isn’t the best place to look for examples of sound modelling. It isn’t subject to any of the checks and balances of science, doesn’t have the historical lessons of science, and a lot of its methodology and results (beyond “making money”) are not made publicly available for us to check. Also, the “making money” part appears to be driven by human interpretation of the models the analysts provide, and not necessarily by the models directly. But Locklin makes the point here, I think nicely, that Taleb has made a big claim that normally distributed data is insufficient for finance modelling; but modern finance modelling doesn’t use the assumption of normality very much. Locklin claims that for this very reason he, like me, had to become a “small-time expert in kernel regression.” Kernel regression modelling has many flaws, but an assumption of normality ain’t one of them. Locklin’s rather malicious claim is that Taleb makes money and fame by telling people who know nothing about finance about something very obvious to the modellers (non-normality), while simultaneously making them think the modellers don’t realise this.

You see the same tactics in global warming denialism all the time, and hordes of armchair scientists eager to claim that they’ve seen the obvious thing (“climate isn’t weather!”) that a generation of climatologists have missed. It may make for entertaining reading, but it’s neither enlightening nor correct.

Further, Taleb is an inheritor of Popper, although Locklin claims he is an inheritor of Feyerabend and therefore an “intellectual nihilist,” an accusation I think is valid regardless of his intellectual inheritance. It’s very easy to claim that all models don’t work because of unexpected events; but a lot harder to square this “philosophy” against the continuing excellent success of, for example, life tables in the insurance industry, or models of global warming. And, a claim that all models will be destroyed by a black swan event is, contra Popper, unfalsifiable. If the event comes and doesn’t destroy the model, you claim it wasn’t really a black swan; if no black swan ever comes in our lifetime due its low probability, you never get to test the model against a black swan. I don’t think Popper would like this. Also, Taleb’s explanation for the causes of the GFC – interconnected markets sharing bad models that didn’t expect the housing meltdown – conveniently deflects blame from the agencies and institutions that were actually responsible for the crash[1], while simultaneously failing to explain the fact that the black swan event (the housing meltdown) was being predicted in very many models for years beforehand. Not only is his model built on a false analogy, but its fundamental test doesn’t have all the characteristics of a black swan anyway.

I suppose the consequence of this intellectual nihilism is what bothers me, the idea that people who don’t do science will reject perfectly good models of important stuff on the basis that you can’t ascribe theories to observed facts. It’s for this reason that we have the unedifying spectacle of Sir Noisms, who hails from the most class-stratified society in the developed world, trying to argue that it’s impossible to model differences between peasants and lords because life is just too complex. The sad finding of 100 years of research on poverty in the UK is that no, life really is that simple[2].

fn1: To be fair, Taleb does provide a reasonable set of rules to avoid a subsequent GFC, but they’re so clearly common-sense based that his “theory” is hardly necessary to justify them.

fn2: Yes, I’m aware I’m being facetious here, ecological fallacy etc. etc. blah blah

Note: the picture is from this site about the 303rd bomber group in world war 2, and the fate of the Black Swan. Models of aircrew survival in world war 2 very much allow us to expect the kind of events described on this page…

A week ago, at the monthly konkon Convention in Oita, Japan, organised by the Evil Spirit club, I joined a Warhammer 2nd Edition game. This post is a brief report of the game and some additional comments about the convention, gaming in Japanese, etc.

I have reported on the convention procedure before, and this time was little different. This time the game was held in a single very large room, again with tatami mats and everyone sitting on the floor, and there was a total of about 20 attendees. One chap was wearing a chain mail shirt, and some people had brought anime figures or soft toy mascots to position at their table. There were 5 games, 2 western (Pathfinder and Warhammer 2nd Edition) and 3 Japanese (I didn’t catch their names). I had to leave immediately after the game so didn’t get to do  a post-game rundown with the GM or do any post-convention dining or karaoke. However, I was exhausted, so probably by then my Japanese wasn’t up to the task.

I chose Warhammer on the somewhat foolish expectation that I could enjoy it as much as Pathfinder, and that it would help me diversify my gaming vocabulary and experience. I’ve previously expressed some dissatisfaction with Warhammer 2nd Edition, but was willing to believe this was largely the fault of the GM, but I think actually it’s true that the problem is at least partly the rule system, which at low levels is about consistently failing, and long-drawn-out battles to nowhere. I don’t see how anyone can think this is fun.

Playing Warhammer in Japanese is much harder than Pathfinder, however, so there were some non-system-related reasons why this session was a lot harder to play than Pathfinder. Particularly, Warhammer has an official Japanese translation, which means that a lot of the words that have been transliterated in the Pathfinder version have their own Japanese forms in Warhammer. Anyone who is familiar with the Warhammer character classes will be aware that names like “Bone-picker,” “Camp Follower” and “Judicial Champion” are not readily accessible to foreign-language learners, and in fact I have a friend living in Oita who studied Japanese at University, is married with children and is to all intents and purposes fluent in Japanese, but for whom the words I was exposed to were completely new. This makes the game a lot harder to follow in play than Pathfinder – at one point I was rescued from a racketeer by a Judicial Champion, which doesn’t make much sense if you aren’t very familiar with a language.

Also I didn’t know the rules backwards, so I had to have them explained to me without proper reference points, which makes the accurate comprehension of language more important. I got this pretty well, but it does make the game a lot harder to play smoothly. Fortunately Warhammer characters don’t have many special abilities, and the skills overlap with Pathfinder skills, so that aspect of the game went pretty smoothly.

The main language problem I faced, however, was that Warhammer seems to be played in Japanese with a very similar feeling to my experience of it in English. There is a lot less combat, and a lot more talking and assessing situations and finding the best solution to problems, than there is in Pathfinder. This is because the PCs are so godawfully terrible at everything that resolving any situation by the use of skills or combat is pointless. It revolves more around old-fashioned “role-playing” (the players present a viable story for what they’re going to do, and the GM pretends that a different story would have resulted in failure, while rewarding the one they chose), and this kind of role-playing naturally leads to long descriptions and explanations from everyone involved. The GM had scripts prepared to describe various situations, and there was a lot of negotiation. The final scene – where we uncovered the golden gun and had to negotiate about its disposal with the woman who helped us find it – was 10 long minutes of this kind of discussion, with a hastily-cobbled-together resolution mechanism by the GM which he had to explain to us. This kind of thing is naturally very hard to grapple in a foreign language. As ever, however, everyone was patient with my limited Japanese and willing to explain things simply, so I understood the majority of what happened, if not its nuance. The GM’s scripts used quite technical and abstract Japanese, like having a combination fantasy novel/rules description read to you at very high speed, with occasional excursions into the slang or regional dialects of the main protagonists, and this is extremely difficult to follow.

I was very interested by the way that the Warhammer system encourages in Japanese exactly the same play style as it does in English. The GM presents quite low-powered, low-fantasy situations which the players attempt to resolve through negotiation or some sort of lateral thinking, rather than through applying their characters’ abilities, and the successful resolution of tasks depends a lot on their knowledge of the world and accurate interpretation of the the GM’s explanations. It discourages any kind of craziness or attempts at doing unusual stuff, because any stuff you do naturally fails if it falls back on a skill check, and can’t be resolved without GM fiat otherwise. And every situation the GM throws at you, because it naturally ends with your failure, inevitably leads to the GM resolving it through some NPC interaction – i.e. GM fiat. So, our first encounter with the “Milk Tea Princess,” in which we try to help her, attracts the ire of the head bully in the mercenary team. Our attempts to negotiate a way out of the situation are rapidly heading into a painful end – we’re obviously not able to intimidate him, we obviously can’t fight him with his followers around, and there’s no reasonable outcome of the situation which won’t end with us being beaten up and the “Milk Tea Princess” sorely treated; so in waltzes a Judicial Champion to send everyone to bed. Similarly the duel with this same racketeer, which appeared to be carefully poised, fell apart near the end and was resolved through another GM Fiat (a follower of the racketeer’s fouling the duel so we won). I don’t think this was bad GMing either – it’s just really hard for a GM to set up a game where the players can make any progress, when everything they do is doomed to failure. How do you progress a story when the protagonists themselves are the main obstacle to progress? This happened in my previous Warhammer game, and I thought it was bad GMing, but last week’s GM was clearly quite good, and it still happened. It’s a flaw of the system.

So once again, my experience of playing in Japanese was very similar to playing in English, to the extent that even the different feeling of two systems I’ve played in English – D&D and Warhammer – was preserved across the language and cultural gap. I think that’s a very interesting observation on the universality of system and its impact on player choices. Also, the GM used a style I’m familiar with in the West – scripts to set out the scene, and extensive use of voice and characterisation to make the characters come to life. I’m beginning to think that there is a limited range of GM styles, and they’re language-independent. It’ll be interesting to see how if these similarities disappear when (if) I start playing Japanese-developed games.

The adventure itself was quite interesting, and I’ll give a separate report on the story later in the week. It’s been holidays here, I have German friends staying, and blogging time has been a little limited, so this comes out a little late.

Note for my English readers: I’m now using this blog for communication with my Japanese players, just as I did for my English ones, so there will be occasional Japanese posts. In some cases I will also put English with them, in some cases not. My apologies if this causes your browser to render the site very very ugly.

ノームは小さいですから、普通の武器は大きいダメージができない。自分の強ささえ攻撃すれば効かないから、ダメージを強化するために,機械的な武器をよく使っています。さらに、普通の機会工学が足りないから、ノーム工学者は、機械工学と召還術を組み合わせて、いろいろな異能武器が使える。

この「蒸気散弾銃」は、ノームローグかソーサラー向けの機械的な遠隔武器である。散弾銃のなかには、幽閉された小さいスチームメプィットがある。弾薬は壊された石である。幽閉されたメプィットはこの石をつぶる。この弾薬は、使う前に壊さないといけないか、ノーム武器屋で買える。弾薬ケースの交代は1ラウンドをかかるが、ノームローグはフリアクションで交代ができる。

この散弾銃はもう1つの使い方がある。自由に、標準アクションとして、全ての弾薬を一発で打てる。この時に、円錐形攻撃をして、円錐形の中の相手は怯えさせる。このアクションは全ての弾薬を使うから、早速新しいケースを入れないといけない。

蒸気散弾銃は少し危ない。攻撃ロールは1の場合に、散弾銃が壊れるおそれがある。壊れる事件は:

  • スチームメプィットがのがれて、使用者を攻撃する
  • 散弾銃が使用者の変に爆発して、使用者は3d4ダメージを受ける
  • 散弾銃が爆発して、使用者の周りの10フィート以内の人が皆1d4ダメージを受ける

この散弾銃を使うために、特殊武器習熟が必要である。特殊武器習熟を習うように、ノーム先生を見つけて、適当な値段を払わないといけない。

詳しくは:

  • 価格:250gp
  • ダメージ(S):1d6+1
  • クリテェカル:19-20/x3
  • 射程単位:30′
  • 重量:5ポイント
  • タイプ:殴打
  • 弾薬:20発
  • 特別な攻撃:30‘x10’円錐形、中の相手は3d4ダメージを受ける(反応セーヴで半分)、反応セーヴが足りなかったら、怯え状態になる。セーヴ難易度は使用者の攻撃ロールである。

以下は英語版である。

Because Gnomes are small, their normal weapons are unable to do significant damage. Because their own strength cannot be depended upon to achieve a good effect, they use mechanical weapons to increase the damage they do. But even normal mechanical advantage can be insufficient, so they often combine mundane engineering with conjuring to produce devices that can be used for various strange weapon effects.

This Gnome Steam Rifle is an example of a type of ranged weapon ideally suited to Gnome sorcerers and rogues. A small steam mephit is trapped inside the rifle, which uses a block of pre-fragmented stone or ceramic as its ammunition. The Steam Mephit hurls pieces of this pre-fragmented cartridge from the gun. Before using the gun, the ammunition needs to be pre-fragmented and shaped, which is easy for gnomes to do with their advanced stone-working skills; but it can also be bought from gnome weapons dealers. Reloading an ammunition case takes 1 round, but gnome rogues who use this weapon are automatically able to load the ammunition case as a free action.

The rifle also has a secondary effect. At any time, the user can choose as a standard action to fire all the remaining ammunition in a single cone-shaped burst. Everyone within the area of effect of the burst takes significant damage and is at risk of becoming shaken. This action uses all remaining ammunition.

The rifle also comes with a risk of backfiring. Anytime a 1 is rolled on an attack, one of the following may occur:

  • The Steam Mephit escapes and attacks the user
  • The gun explodes back on the user, dealing 3d4 damage (no save)
  • The gun explodes outward, causing 1d4 damage on all within 10′ of the gun

In order to use this gun, an exotic weapon proficiency is required. To learn the proficiency, one must seek out and pay an appropriate fee to a Gnome trainer.

Stats:

  • Price: 250gp
  • Damage: 1d6+1
  • Critical: 19-20/x3
  • Range: 30′
  • Encumbrance: 5 points
  • Type: Crushing
  • Ammunition: 20 shots
  • Special attack: 30’x 10′ cone. Those within the cone take 3d4 damage (reflex save for half). Those who fail a reflex save are also shaken. Save DC is determined by the user’s attack roll.

Picture: The picture is the Sonification Rifle by Vladislaus Dantes.