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  1. Replies
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    I'm going to have to disagree. Playtesting, often...

    I'm going to have to disagree. Playtesting, often widespread playtesting, was common in board games long before that became common in the video game industry. And when the video game industry...
  2. Had not heard of Five Room Dungeons (no, not...

    Had not heard of Five Room Dungeons (no, not anything of mine). After some reading: it seems more like a limited version of The Hero's Journey than like core adventures: how to organize a dungeon...
  3. Worlds of Design: The Core of the Adventure

    I was editing an old (1984) adventure I’d written, in order to include it in reprints of my articles from back then, when it occurred to me that adventures often have particular cores, a particular...
  4. We might by old courtesy call GenCon a tabletop...

    We might by old courtesy call GenCon a tabletop game convention, but with film, writing, comics, cosplay, video games, it's really a "story convention", not a game convention. The others have little...
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    Worlds of Design: Citing Your Sources

    In the early 1980s I wrote a column in Dragon Magazine called “The Role of Books.” I described nonfiction books so that Dragon readers could decide whether to read them as a source of ideas. But...
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    I suspect Jeffro thinks of it as six things you...

    I suspect Jeffro thinks of it as six things you need to put together an adventure, not six categories or six essential aspects of the setting.

    Yes, six words is a versatile way to think of things,...
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    Thanks, folks. My wife and I enjoyed many of the...

    Thanks, folks. My wife and I enjoyed many of the amusing attempts.
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    Worlds of Design: RPGs in Just Six Words

    How much detail do you need to know to run a particular setting in FRPG? Some settings have about the detail level of comic books, some are more detailed such as Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels...
  9. Worlds of Design: Why Would Anyone Write a RPG?

    Commercial RPGs have existed for some 45 years. Where RPG ideas are concerned, there's not much new under the sun. Then why do people keep writing new RPGs? It's a LOT of work, even if you don't do...
  10. I've seen people suggest you look for student...

    I've seen people suggest you look for student artists on large college campuses. They're not quite professionals yet, and need the credits. (But please, don't try to persuade them to do it for free...
  11. An interesting calculation: according to what...

    An interesting calculation: according to what I've read, pulp writers (who wrote in VOLUME) in the thirties made 1 to 2 cents a word. But with inflation of 2453.3% since 1935, 1.5 cents a word...
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    Worlds of Design: What's Your Style?

    You may benefit, as a GM, from understanding where your players stand in the spectrum from Romantic to Classical game player. The terms derive from music and philosophy. I discussed one point of view...
  13. Worlds of Design: What Game Designers Need to Know About IP

    It is virtually impossible to protect game ideas, but virtually no idea is new. On rare occasions someone deliberately copies someone else’s game, but game designers cannot worry about this: they...
  14. Worlds of Design: The Four Stages of Magic - Part 3

    Now that we've established the four stages of magic, here are some questions to ask yourself as you design your campaign world. You can read parts 1 here and 2 here.


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    Art, Craft, or...
  15. Worlds of Design: The Four Stages of Magic - Part 2

    The idea that there are natural stages that derive from use of magic is not new. Laying out the stages can help a lot when you’re creating a fantasy setting. Part 2. You can read Part 1 here.


    ...
  16. Worlds of Design: Four Stages of Magic - Part 1

    The idea that there are natural stages that derive from use of magic is not new. Figuring out the stages can help a lot when you’re creating a fantasy setting.


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  17. Worlds of Design: How "Precise" Should RPG Rules Be?

    I was watching a game played with a dice pool, and could see that the GM was waiting for the dice roll and then deciding by what felt right, rather than having any kind of precise resolution. How...
  18. Worlds of Design: “Old School” in RPGs and other Games – Part 2 Rules, Pacing, and Non-RPGs

    For me, the difference between Old School and anything else is not in the rules, but in attitude, as described last time. Yet the rules, and the pacing, can make a big difference; parts 2 and 3.

    ...
  19. Worlds of Design: “Old School” in RPGs and other Games – Part 1 Failure and Story

    For me, the difference between Old School and anything else is not in the rules, but in attitude. Is failure, even losing, possible, or is it not? Is it a game, or is it a storytelling session?


    ...
  20. Worlds of Design: When There's Too Many Magic Items

    If you’ve GMed a long-standing campaign where players reached fairly high levels, you may have run into problems of too much magic, or of too many low-powered magic items (such as +1 items) in the...
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    Worlds of Design: “I Hate Dice Games”

    When I first saw D&D, I was in my Diplomacy playing phase. That’s a game with no dice, no chance mechanisms at all, but with lots of uncertainty owing to 7 players and simultaneous movement (which...
  22. Worlds of Design: Eight Awful Truths About RPG Marketing

    I often compare fiction writing and publishing with game designing and publishing. They’re similar creative efforts in many ways, especially in tabletop and in the lower ends of video games where you...
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    Worlds of Design: Fantasy vs. Sci-Fi Part 2

    I hope I showed in my last piece that "science vs magic" is not a sufficient way to differentiate fantasy from science fiction. What about other ways?


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    What about...
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    Worlds of Design: Fantasy vs. Sci-Fi Part 1

    This is a broader question than just RPGs but the same arguments apply. It’s important for RPG designers, for consistency and to avoid immersion-breaking, but it’s probably not important to players. ...
  25. Worlds of Design: What Makes an RPG a Tabletop Hobby RPG?

    What makes an RPG a tabletop hobby RPG? An RPG, as we talk about them in the hobby, is a human‑opposed co‑operative game. I describe some characteristics.


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  26. Worlds of Design: “All About Me” RPGs (Part 2)

    Part 2. Continuing to describe the “All About Me” style, and asking why it’s popular. It has to do with player (not character) backgrounds, certainly. Is it generational in some way?


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  27. Worlds of Design: “All About Me” RPGs (Part 1)

    I’ve played and GMed FRPGs since 1975, yet I’m sure I’ll never see all the different styles of play that are possible. I describe an immersion-breaking but popular style, “All About Me”, that...
  28. Still nonsense

    War crimes are defined by modern treaties, not by any particular moral standard. I assure you, for most of human history what we're talking about was not a war crime (IF anything was). Aren't you ...
  29. Nonsense. It's OK to slaughter who-knows-how-many...

    Nonsense. It's OK to slaughter who-knows-how-many creatures, but you become evil if you charm one and use it for advancing your side's purposes? How stupid is that? This is war, not sport.
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    The trouble with choosing ancient historical...

    The trouble with choosing ancient historical figures is that what you make up likely will have little or nothing to do with history. Boudicca wasn't a fighter, she was a symbol of her people's...
  31. Worlds of Design: Tabletop RPGs Are the Most Naturally Co-operative Games

    Although I design board and card games as a business, if I want to play a game for pleasure I play tabletop RPGs. They are naturally co-operative games but with human opposition, more or less unique,...
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    I will elaborate about the DMs who prefer DMing...

    I will elaborate about the DMs who prefer DMing to playing, in another column.

    Note I mean prefer this, not that they're forced to - many people are forced to DM rather than play, because no one...
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    Some Social Aspects of RPGs

    RPG campaigns are social as well as gaming events. Sometimes the GM’s social desires interfere with setting up a campaign. But at the other extreme, people can meet their future spouses via RPGs.

    ...
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    Mearls' discussion might be posed even more...

    Mearls' discussion might be posed even more simply. 3e encouraged the one-man-army, and power creep, and discouraged cooperation. 5e has returned to co-operation rather than individual "showing off",...
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    Breaking Morale

    Morale is vitally important in real battles. Units didn’t become hors de combat because most of the unit was dead or wounded, instead their morale broke when there was still a majority able to fight,...
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    Boss Monsters? I Just Say No!

    The video game focus on “boss” monsters doesn’t make sense for tabletop RPGs. Video gamers are disappointed if the climactic monster doesn’t kill them several times; in RPGs, once you die, you...
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    That's a good point, that coincidence is often...

    That's a good point, that coincidence is often involved in the start of an adventure.

    Interesting discussion.
  38. Replies
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    Overusing Coincidence in Game-Related Stories

    Bear with me a while, as the following becomes a lesson for writing stories in RPGs. My wife and I have been watching the HBO Game of Thrones series on DVD. We’re now into the fifth season. Not long...
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    “Presentism” is the imposition of contemporary...

    “Presentism” is the imposition of contemporary morality on historical figures of centuries ago, usually resulting in criticism of those people. It’s nonsense, because circumstances were quite...
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    Oddly enough, I've seen quite a few people over...

    Oddly enough, I've seen quite a few people over the years say they thought that was one of the best articles Dragon Magazine articles ever. To each his own.
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    Resolutions for the Fantasy Hero

    Some of you have seen Peter's "Evil Overlord List" from 1996-97. It's "The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord" such as "Shooting is not too good for my enemies." If you've not...
  42. Rex Martin's doctoral dissertation (according to...

    Rex Martin's doctoral dissertation (according to Rex, formerly AH General editor IIRC) discussed how board wargaming is/was a Baby Boomer hobby.

    Out of touch? What puts one in touch? What puts YOU...
  43. The boardgame renaissance is not wargaming, it's...

    The boardgame renaissance is not wargaming, it's non-wargaming. Wargaming (via board games) is a Baby Boomer hobby, and wargamers are few and far between. There are lots of video games involving war,...
  44. I saw no significant difference in practice. But...

    I saw no significant difference in practice. But I was playing at a convention, not in a long-running campaign. I've not read all of the rules.
  45. Plight of the New RPG: Shattered Dawn - Part 2

    I discussed the plight of the small, new RPG publisher last time. Today I’ll talk about some design choices in Shattered Dawn (SD).



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    I’ve thought about ways to drastically simplify...
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    Before dice, people split sticks or bones...

    Before dice, people split sticks or bones lengthwise so that they had a curved side and a flat side, and tossed several to achieve various combinations. (They didn't understand the probability very...
  47. It's certainly common that people believe what...

    It's certainly common that people believe what they want to believe, rather than find the truth. "Fake News" is only one of the results.


    But is it my task to watch out for those who want to...
  48. Plight of the New RPG: Shattered Dawn - Part 1

    Recently I was at Infinity Con in Lake City Florida, where I encountered two gents (young but older than college-age) in a small booth offering the Shattered Dawn RPG. The con turned out to be a...
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    Another reason to use hirelings/henchmen (and...

    Another reason to use hirelings/henchmen (and mules!): they could help absorb the effects of a sleep spell, which at 4-16 could wipe out an entire small party of low level characters.
  50. I see lots of wargamers who play RPGs, but few...

    I see lots of wargamers who play RPGs, but few Eurogamers who do. Likely part of any difference in observation is that I don't regard every non-wargame as a Euro (Catan is *not* a Euro, as many have...
  51. RPGs And Eurostyle Games: When Opposites Attract

    A large subset of board games is Eurostyle games. These games are almost exactly the opposite of RPGs in many ways. Keep in mind, board (including some card) games are a vastly larger segment of...
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    The Tragedy of the Commons often kicks in with...

    The Tragedy of the Commons often kicks in with digital products (e.g. video games, especially mobile games). Individual publishers drop prices soon after release to make a short-term profit, but...
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    A lot of "reviewing" suffers from the same...

    A lot of "reviewing" suffers from the same problem that informs much of Internet comment, people know so little about what they're talking about but think they're experts. (Dunning Kruger Syndrome)
    ...
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    Advice About Game Reviewing

    (I read a review at ENWorld that reminded me that many reviewers of games don’t entirely know what they’re doing! I reviewed games and related materials for Dragon and White Dwarf a long time ago,...
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    Advice About Game Reviewing

    (I read a review at ENWorld that reminded me that many reviewers of games don’t entirely know what they’re doing! I reviewed games and related materials for Dragon and White Dwarf a long time ago,...
  56. Yes a lot of cheating occurs. One of my first...

    Yes a lot of cheating occurs. One of my first rules is, if a die falls off the table, it never counts.


    I have read of people who can control the result of dice rolls. This is why casinos require...
  57. Don't underestimate how strongly moderns believe...

    Don't underestimate how strongly moderns believe in magic and the supernatural. If we can have flat earthers, we can have dice rollers who really believe their superstitions.
  58. Ridiculous to English-speakers, of course. (How...

    Ridiculous to English-speakers, of course. (How many do you think can even pronounce them?)

    And they sound really interesting and different, at least as I pronounce them (which may not be right,...
  59. The "Superstitious Mumbo Jumbo" Of Dice Rolling

    There's a lot of "superstitious mumbo jumbo" (to quote Sir Alec Guiness about The Force in Star Wars') in the world. I take the scientific, naturalistic approach. I don't accept the supernatural as...
  60. In the Moria adventure I was using the LOTR...

    In the Moria adventure I was using the LOTR character motivation and personality to make play easier for newbies; but I had to express those characters in terms of the game mechanisms.


    Aside...
  61. Lost In Translation: Adapting Fictional Characters To Game

    There are two ways of rating fictional characters that you want to add to role-playing games (and other types of games as well). These are the functional method and the emotional/perceptual method...
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    'jammers can hover. That makes it much easier to...

    'jammers can hover. That makes it much easier to bomb accurately, if you're only a thousand feet (or 20,000) up and not under attack (as opposed to bombers flying 150 mph and being shot at).

    I...
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    I ran SJ with a low-power campaign, where a...

    I ran SJ with a low-power campaign, where a double-figure level character was as rare as a US congressman. In that situation, there aren't enough others to prevent general use of 'jammers, though...
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    Making Fixes For Spelljammer

    What did I do to change the mechanisms of Spelljammer when I devised my own version?


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    When I taught video game design in college I discovered that students who were asked to write down...
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    Biologists have settled meanings for these terms,...

    Biologists have settled meanings for these terms, of course. Races (of birds, for example - yes, some have races) can interbreed. Species rarely can interbreed successfully (mules, from horse and...
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    I watched a short vid on the maker's ideal Star...

    I watched a short vid on the maker's ideal Star Wars ship and laughed. The military side of Star Wars, from a practical point of view, is ludicrous. Spherical ships are boring, but far more practical...
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    Nice analogy. Like the "magic" of great ocean...

    Nice analogy.

    Like the "magic" of great ocean going sailing ships (e.g. galleons), I can see Spelljammers meeting a low-magic campaign, where even the 'jammer people are generally in a low-magic...
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    I think you misunderstand. Almost all of my...

    I think you misunderstand. Almost all of my standalone games are models of some (possibly fictional) situation, whereas a great many modern board games (such as many Euros) are abstract (model of...
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    My title was "Spelljammer's Game Design", but the...

    My title was "Spelljammer's Game Design", but the question as title is better for eliciting comments. I have drafted another piece to explain the major changes I made in my game (not enough room for...
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    How Would You Design For Spelljammer?

    I enjoyed playing Spelljammer in conjunction with the 1e D&D rules back in the day - I'm a naval guy at heart. For those who don't remember, it's FRPG in outer space, with different physics and...
  71. The Difficulties Of Running Low Magic Campaigns

    I recently talked with a gamer who's often full of unusual, and sometimes impractical, ideas. He asked me about the difficulties of running a medieval-style low-magic D&D campaign. Lord of the Rings...
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    Heroes In Shades Of Grey

    My wife and I recently began watching the HBO series Game of Thrones (based on George R. R. Martin's books) from the start. I had read the books, neither of us had seen any of the series.


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  73. Replies
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    Interesting analysis, and the obvious answer is...

    Interesting analysis, and the obvious answer is “It Depends”.


    Virtually all of us early D&Ders were wargamers. So of course it focused more on combat than anything else. I have always used a...
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    Atoms In Game And Adventure Design

    Video game designers use two terms worth understanding for all game designers and adventure designers, "atoms" and "loops". Some time ago I talked about Loops, this time it's about Atoms.


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    "In his Philosophical Investigations,[4]...

    "In his Philosophical Investigations,[4] Wittgenstein demonstrated that the elements of games, such as play, rules, and competition, all fail to adequately define what games are. Wittgenstein...
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    DRF - I write to educate/illuminate/enlighten,...

    DRF - I write to educate/illuminate/enlighten, not necessarily to generate a discussion. Sometimes discussion happens, sometimes it doesn't, sometimes because English is easily misunderstood, and I...
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    Don't Lose The Forest For The Trees

    Most people know the expression "can't see the forest for the trees," that is, you get lost in details and fail to see the big picture. In game (and level/adventure) design it's usually the big...
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    According to former AH employees, among them Don...

    According to former AH employees, among them Don Greenwood, at a get-together at WBC a few years ago, Hasbro asked to buy Diplomacy, and was told they'd have to buy the entire company.

    Rex...
  79. Replies
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    What Do You Mean By "Fun" In Your RPG?

    When someone says a game is "fun," you probably don’t really know what they mean, and maybe they don’t, either. Until you recognize that what's fun for you isn't necessarily fun for every game...
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    Tension, Threats And Progression In RPGs

    Back when Dungeons & Dragons was new, the designers and most of the players were wargamers. Typical adventures involved threats to the player character's lives and possessions - their money and magic...
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    In puzzles such as chess (and any other so-called...

    In puzzles such as chess (and any other so-called "game" that is two player and perfect information), you can assume your opponent is a perfect player, and play accordingly. If the opponent is not...
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    Yes, there are many ways to introduce uncertainty...

    Yes, there are many ways to introduce uncertainty in games. I've had a Stratego-like game published, and a block game on preorder at Worthington Publishing, for example. I didn't say you cannot...
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    As pointed out by DerekSTheRed, there's nothing...

    As pointed out by DerekSTheRed, there's nothing inherent in magic that doesn't allow mass production. It's just not the norm, because we want and expect magic in stories and games to be Mysterious,...
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    The Fundamental Patterns Of War

    If you run a big RPG campaign, with a lot happening other than the adventures of the characters, often there will be a war on. I had to create a list of fundamental patterns of warfare for an online...
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    This bottom-up method, as opposed to the more...

    This bottom-up method, as opposed to the more common top-down, certainly raises some interesting questions.

    At the other extreme is Jeffro's method of setting, that you only need to know about...
  86. Given that I treat D&D as a game, not a story (I...

    Given that I treat D&D as a game, not a story (I have a story in the game, the game doesn't have a story it imposes on me), there is rarely a conflict between my character's motivations and traits...
  87. The Most Important Design Aspect of Hobby RPGs Is The Pure Humanoid Avatar

    Role-playing has existed for a century, if not longer. Some role-playing exercises (for education or business) are games with active human opposition, others are puzzles. You play a "role" even in...
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    Loops in RPG Adventure and Game Design

    Video game designers use two terms worth understanding for all game and adventure designers, "atoms" and "loops". This time I'll talk about loops.


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    "In Halo 1, there was maybe 30...
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    Monopoly: People rarely actually remember...

    Monopoly:
    People rarely actually remember *Monopoly* fondly, they remember doing something together with their family (often at holidays) when they were kids, where Monopoly happened to be what they...
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    What Makes a Game Great?

    "Lifestyle games," games that are hobbies in themselves for players who rarely play anything else, are almost always great games: Diplomacy, Bridge, Chess, Magic: the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons....
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    Shidaku, there's a big difference between...

    Shidaku, there's a big difference between "harder" and "let's kill some people" in old D&D. I never used nor played in those "meat-grinder" modules. I don't believe in human sacrifice.


    The...
  92. Replies
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    RPG Combat: Sport or War?

    There are two different extremes in arranging fights. One is like war and the other is like a sporting event. Sporting events are supposed to be fair contests between roughly equal forces. On the...
  93. Thread: Power Creep

    by lewpuls
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    Power Creep

    I was reading about the level cap increasing from 60 to 70 in an online game, with many new possibilities/abilities. "How do people keep track of so many abilities at such high levels?" I thought....
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    Fun And The Flow In Games

    If you're going to design games, or GM RPGs, it helps to understand a little bit about what makes games enjoyable. Game publishers often say in their guidelines for designers "game must be fun," but...
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    Cloning

    In video games, cloning (making mirror copies) is a serious problem, and has led to lawsuits. I don't think we have much of it in tabletop games, though there are cases of parallel development that...
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    Some people have identified an attitude nowadays...

    Some people have identified an attitude nowadays called "the cult of the new". Something is necessarily better because it's new, in this view. New is often equated with "innovative", rightly or...
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    Pure Innovation Is Highly Overrated

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    Why is pure innovation regarded as important in games and adventures, even as it turns out that it hardly ever happens? People like to be surprised when they play games, and some of the...
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    Thanks

    This is a good substitute for reading the books, gives some idea of the context in connection with all stories

    Thanks for the reference.
  99. Replies
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    Three Acts And The Hero's Journey

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    An RPG GM has many of the same tasks or duties as a game designer. Even though what I’m saying today can be taken as game design advice, it also applies to the GM as he/she creates an...
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    Thank you for the interesting comments. Evidently...

    Thank you for the interesting comments. Evidently I have failed to communicate (I think I cut out part of a sentence to lower the word count), which would be a cardinal sin for a tactical group. We...
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