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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Mythic - Location Generator

I've been meaning to make posts about what I've added to the Mythic system for my personal use. After some more tests, I think I'm ready to show what I have come up with.

It is by no means final, but my current tests were satisfying. Also, it's nothing big: I'm just reusing what Mythic taught me and presenting a new tool among the Mythic tools. Finally, I can vouch it works for me, but not that it will work for everyone :). This said, I still hope it will be of some use to others, if at least as a springboard to yet other tools for Mythic.

Quick Mythic summary - People in the know, skip to the next paragraph!

Mythic is a system for roleplaying games (primarily) that allows you to determine things out of your control through Yes/No questions and a roll of dice. It offers additional tools tailored to specific situations such as Complex Questions, Scene Management and such... It is very useful to play a tabletop RPG on your own or with an all-player team (no Game Master), and can be used for wargaming too. I find it's an interesting tool for writing inspiration too.

Generating locations

The main system

I use a system initially created to generate dungeon themes (abandoned haunted mine, forest vine labyrinth, ...), now adapted to more generic locations and certainly adaptable to other things.

My problem: while Mythic answers Yes/No and Complex questions, I quickly realized it didn't really work for me when I was trying to come up with places, rooms and dungeons. Say you're walking through a forest. You ask "do I find something peculiar while I walk?" YES. Okay... but what? If you want to be surprised and have that peculiar something be something wholly new, where do you start? What kind of questions can you ask? There are so many possibilities that I found it mind-boggling myself, and I was rather scared I would keep coming up with the same questions, hence getting dull discoveries.

My solution: simplify the process by letting chance choose what to ask about. Then keep using Mythic as usual.

The issue : it uses random tables. If anyone can think of a solution that works similarly but without random tables... please share :)

Location types

I tried to come with things that would define a location quickly, yet leave an open field of possibilities. For this, I use an initial roll on the Location Types table which follows:

Lone dwelling
Utility building
Water source
Difficult terrain

I know I can make this table better, but for now it will do. The main idea is that types are vague enough, yet not *too* vague that there would be a thousand questions left. "Water source" is currently the type I'm less fond of as it's already a bit too precise.


Once the type is defined, I roll three times on the Location Attributes table:

Easy/Hard to access
Good/Bad shape

This table is also a work in progress and some entries might be left out depending on the setting, or taken at metaphorical value. You will notice each attribute is actually a "something or something" entry. Each entry is meant to be a Mythic question and can get YES, NO but also ABSOLUTELY and NOT AT ALL answers. This gives more variety than the usual tables where you'll see "Populated" and "Deserted" as separate entries.

Function or Fact

Tests showed that even with types and attributes, I was often left wondering about what location I had really encountered. This is where I'll use a single Complex Question and either get the Function of a building or structure, or ask for a Fact about the location (it can be something the location does to people or what people do to the location... it's very context sensitive).


All the tools lay bare... time to use them!


Context : A lone adventurer explores a cave. Medieval Fantasy.

I roll for Type : Utility building (this is meant to be any building with a function and since we're in a cave, I'd be tempted to say it extends to any sort of "construction")

Populated/Deserted : (98 vs 50) Not at all -> There's not a single soul here, nor has there been for a long time.
Visible/Hidden : (98 vs 50) Not at all -> I'd fathom it's actually invisible!
Lit/Dark : (9 vs 50) Absolument -> And yet it's emitting a large amount of light? I admit this is peculiar.

Given how mysterious this all is, I go on and ask for the function of this strange building :
Oppress / Riches.

Lacking context, it's a bit hard, but since I'm thinking of some medieval fantasy setting, with bits of steampunk, I imagine this to be a very well camouflaged building. It's not lit right away, but if you happen to pass in front of it while carrying riches (gold, or maybe anything metalic), it lights up and sounds an alarm.

I admit, I have no idea what this would be doing in a cave... but it's hard without context. As is, this is not my best example to date but I really wanted to do it on the fly... and 'lo! I stumble upon a case where the results are not good. The thing with Mythic and sub-tools though, is that I never know if Mythic is to blame... or my lack of imagination at the time. So, any person out there saw something else in these attributes?


Same context, to see what else we can get... hopefully better.

Type : Difficult Terrain

Natural/Civilized : (17 vs 50) Yes -> Natural, it was not created by anyone.
Mechanical/Mystical : (49 vs 50) Yes -> Mechanical, since it was not created by anyone, it will just mean that it's not magical and is based on simple physics.
Decorated/Sober : (20 vs 50) Yes -> Decorated. Again, since it was not created, I will say that the terrain has some visual appeal.

Fact : Oppose / Pain
(here I picked a fact because a natural occuring is not meant to have a function... it just is)

Admittedly, this one is also very difficult for me but I have come up with something, although a bit far-fetched compared to the results : the adventurer enters a large room filled with stalagtites and stalagmites. It's a very beautiful sight as the natural formations glisten like precious stones. But the room is dangerous! Not only is it difficult to walk through (many pikes on the ground), but any loud sound will shatter the fragile structure, making for a deadly trap to the unwary.

The "fact" is the one giving me the most problems. I pushed it towards "the terrain refuses to be hurt", and that's when I thought "if anyone breaks one of the spikes, the sound makes everything crumble". Now, though, the fact could be something very indirect : the minerals of which the rock formations are made is used in alchemical potions to help ease the pain (oppose pain). Will adventurers be bold enough to pull out tools and carve bits out of it? Tink tink tink CRASH! Risky endeavour.


Now here's one of my early tests. Context : a fairytale-like setting where violent conflicts are reduced to a minimum. It focuses on the employees of a magical shop, one of which, Framboise, gathers ingredients in various locations.

Type : Difficult terrain

Good/Bad shape : (17 vs 50) Yes -> Good shape
Surface/Underground : (33 vs 50) Yes (*double*) -> Surface (since these are Mythic questions, there *can* be random events on a double -- we'll get to it after the attributes)
Solid/Unstable : (28 vs 50) Yes -> Solid/Stable

The random event : PC Positive (there's only Framboise here), Expose/Enemies

Fact : Carelessness / Fear -> The terrain makes you scared to be careless, because of the consequences.

From this, I came up with a stream running through the forest, with a slightly strong current. A large log lays across, allowing passage. According to the attributes, it's good wood, solid and stable: it won't break nor roll out of the way easily. Admittedly, not much of a dangerous terrain. But the random event made this fun:

Here I used FATE to know if Framboise crossed it: yes (it was an easy roll, really, even though Framboise is all but athletic). But there goes the random event : the terrain "exposes an enemy", which is a good thing for Framboise.
Said enemy is visibly clumsy as it falls down the log into the stream, revealing its presence.

Who is it? Why was Framboise followed? Will she help this stalker out of the waters?


Most of my early tests were more positive than A and B. C is where it's at most of the time. That said, there are clearly still issues. I'll work on them, but I'd be glad to hear some opinions in the meantime :)

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Spirit of the Century with my parents - Part 2

Report of the second session of roleplaying with my parents, using Spirit of the Century, with a Savage Worlds scenario.

We left our heroes on a trip to North Africa, Tobrouk. There they were supposed to meet a local guide who accompanied the Hunter Museum agent and would lead them to where he was seen last.

Upon arriving though, the only welcome they get is from a young taxi. The heroes don't believe he can drive his nice Peugeot and get suspicious, asking for proof. The boy does know the established password though. Thus, Alband takes the wheel and the group drives to the guide's location.

Or at least tries! Soon enough, two white cars appear, and one shot breaks the rear window. This is a pursuit!

Here I wanted to try the chase rules from Spirit of the Century. Their originality is that they put the driver in the... front seat, so to speak, and have every other ally act only as a helper: the driver picks the best roll among the PCs'.

Two things were awkward here :

My dad kept describing a bit too much compared to the rules. He would keep saying his action defeated the pursuing car, but the rolls showed only some damage was done. I can't blame him one bit though. First, it was still a "first time" with roleplaying games, and we all know one of the early mistakes as a player is to try to control too much of what happens. Second, he was just enjoying the game! The results he described simply made sense based on the action he attempted (and yes, he did succeed, just didn't do enough damage).
For this, I have to say I felt bad for even trying to explain why it didn't work. I prided myself in focusing on what my parents would find fun, but there I failed, sticking a bit too close to the rules. My parents just wanted a fun story, and if "easier/quicker" means "funnier", then that's what I should have gone with.

The other thing was the rules themselves. I was not entirely satisfied with how it went. While the driver was put forward, Alband, my dad's character, was not *that* great at driving (+2 bonus where +4 or +5 would have been the very good value). He did have an ally (Aqua) with a gun and some wit, and he could also have had another ally in the form of the young taxi, but things went well enough that I didn't feel forced to use him.
I had difficulties with how the rounds went. The driver has to decide on a driving feat to try for the round, and assign a difficulty (this was very hard for my father to do, and I tried to suggest things as much as possible). It's a game of gamble where you bet you'll do better than the pursuer (who had +0 for driving). We kept having +1 or +2 as a difficulty which was fair given Alband's skill.

What went wrong is that my dad couldn't come up with anything interesting after two rounds. He seemed really lost and I think he was getting frustrated that the run was still on. I'm still amazed at how much imagination they displayed these two evenings, but I can understand the well runs dry at some point, especially if the context doesn't change much. Help came from Aqua: as the "helper", she tried other things to slow the pursuers. She shot a jar of olive oil to make a slippy road, shot some tires and... oh yeah, predicted some road hazard (she has visions). According to the rules, though, I don't think the helpers are meant to create trouble for the driver, but it's what we did here, so my dad's roll would mean something. Jars of oil? Even though it was meant for the pursuers, the shot is too early and Alband has to avoid the oil too. The predicted road hazard also affects Alband. While it worked, it felt weird and I don't think that's what the rules intended. I don't remember the rules mentioning maneuvers from helpers either, even though it makes sense that one would drive, and another would place a "slippy street" aspect on the scene for example.

In the end, I think it would have been easier to do it as a regular battle, everyone helping everyone. I would have allowed extra actions such as shooting while driving if needed, and I would have put forward any cool driving action to make this a focus on Alband.

Finally, the two white cars have taken enough bumps from walls of market stands that they stop. The scenario suggested explosions but I wanted to keep it family friendly. It also suggested the players would go look at the wreckage... not my parents ^^;. So I had to put up a police barrage a bit further to put them back on the rails (ohhh bad, I know, but I'm a beginner too...) The point was not to have them look at the cars, but to have them arrested so the local guide (a man with relations) can get them out of jail.

I changed two things so far to tailor the scenario to my group: the taxi boy was supposed to be the driver in the chase, leaving others time to shoot and stuff. Since Alband said he wouldn't let the kid drive and I did want to have him at the center of the chase, I just went with this happily. Then, I had them arrested for all the ruckus (market day, quite a bit of damage, though not all their fault of course). But Alband, another one to have relations, didn't stay put in the cell and had a phone call to one important local guy. Of course they would be free anyway, but since he went through this trouble, I included this in the following scene where the guide only "made things a bit quicker". I hope it was enough to not steal their thunder.

Follows a long explanation of what happened with the museum agent, where he went, how they had troubles from the get-go and how he foolishly went into the desert once he got information on the whereabouts of the Lost Army (the Mc Guffin of the scenario). Of course, our heroes were not to be so hasty and needed preparations.
I first planned to stop there, but it seemed we could push a bit further, reaching a nice cliffhanger to end the session, and since everyone was go, that's what we did.

FATE not being too big on precise inventory, I just asked what kind of rather unique items they might bring with them. Alband hired a bunch of extra armed aides, bought weapons for them, and some for himself. Not sure what Aqua got anymore...

Here, the scenario has you go through the desert to reach a hidden temple. It contains the famed whereabouts of the Lost Army, key to finding our lost agent. But we didn't go there right away! My mom, during the first session, helped me find an incentive for her character's presence in this mission (she's an artist, not *really* an adventurer, even though adventure follows her): she would be looking for a rare pigment in a rocky region of the desert. So that's where we went first. I didn't want to drag things too much though, so the pigment was found and gathered easily enough. I think I had them do an Endurance roll for colors ("the sun is starting to get to you and you sweat much more than you can bear").

Finally, they reached the temple where a well was uncovered: it was the alternate entrance to the ruined temple. They went down with a rope, found a tunnel halfway down and started exploring. Lit only with a petrol lantern, they looked around old halls of stone, walls covered in hieroglyphs (which they couldn't read... oh well, just some background story missed). Once they reached a circular room, a slithering noise came from the walls: snakes! Why does it always have to be snakes?!

And that's where we stopped the session. I don't know when we will be able to continue, considering the vacation is over (it's been a week), but who knows... maybe next holidays :)

Lessons learned

Keep It Simple! Simple is fun. Still too many rules or too complex ones. Fights might not even be a good idea anymore: just roll some skills, freestyle.

Try to give some more narrating powers to my parents next time. More than once, I've seen them step forward far enough to start stepping on my GM toes. I could tell them "no" and explain how it's the GM's role and stuff, but I think it will be easier and funnier to just say "okay, tell me what happens then" and roll with it, possibly with a skill roll if it seems a bit too farfetched or controling.

Going even further than this, I'm tempted to try using Mythic to let us all play together as PCs. It might be a bit scary to them (and me), but at least it would allow us to have a truely tailored scenario. It's even more important given that the current scenario goes on in a very Mummy-esque way, with too much fantasy stuff for their taste... so Mythic would help veer this elsewhere without me having to come up with a whole new scenario on my own.

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