The Sun is Our Enemy – A very short RPG adventure

Due to time constraints, it’s just a quick post today. This is a slightly ludicrous idea that popped into my head for a roleplaying campaign – either a single session or as an ongoing plot thread.

This would work best in a sci-fi RPG, preferably after some sort of apocalyptic event or civilisation collapse, though any sufficient timespan into the future would work.

The PCs encounter a doomsday cult that is obsessed with blowing up the sun. This could be a serious threat if they have the legitimate ability to do so or played for comedy if it is a thoroughly unrealistic goal.

Through investigation, the PCs discover that the plan to kill the sun comes from when the order was first founded, hundreds or even thousands of years previously. If the setting has time travel and such like, the PCs could actually travel into the past to discover the origins of the cult; if not, then ancient video documents could be uncovered or something similar.

The grand reveal is then that the cult was accidentally started when a ginger father taught his ginger children to hate and fear the sun and told them that it was their enemy. Thousands of years warped this message into a more literal interpretation, which the future cult intends to follow through on.

[Author’s note: This campaign is in no way autobiographical and this post does not constitute a confession to being ginger.]

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When is a dad joke not a dad joke? When it’s a jar… wait, that’s not right.

For Christmas, I received a set of dad jokes on cards, which was an approprirate enough present, except that 90% of them weren’t dad jokes, they were merely bad jokes.
Now, I accept there is probably no universal definition of “dad joke”… no one has ever started a father-of-the-bride speech with the line, “Webster’s dictionary defines ‘Dad Joke’ as…” (disappointingly I have no daughters or I would happily be the first). However, I do feel that a true dad joke is more than simply a groan-worthy joke… such things are Cracker Jokes at best (a subject for another time).

Let me present a couple of examples from my set:

“What did the mountain climber name his son?”
This is not a dad joke. Anyone could tell this joke; indeed, I used to tell such jokes myself as a child, in my pre-fatherhood days. QED, not a dad joke.

“I’m reading a book on the history of glue… can’t put it down.”
This is approaching a dad joke, primarily in how it is told. This joke could easily be re-written in the third person (“Did you hear about the man who was reading…”) and wouldn’t then qualify, but told in the first person, it does contain the crucial element of the dad joke, in my opinion, which is that the recipient doesn’t necessarily realise it’s a joke at the start. Slipped into natural conversion, it’s not impossible that I’m genuinely reading a book on the history of glue… it’s only at the punch line, that the child realises they’ve been had.

“I’m hungry.”
“Hello Hungry, I’m Dad.”
This is the quintessential dad joke, to the point that many online comics (SMBC in particular) use it as the default. This is an example of the purest form of dad joke, where the child actually provides the setup line. In an ideal world, the setup line should be delivered in absolute earnest, after which the father should pause just long enough, maybe with the first glimmer of a maniacal grin, for the child to realise the mistake they’ve made, at which point he can deliver the punchline and bask in the horror on his child’s face.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my wife says I’ve got to go and make the bed… which is weird because I didn’t notice her go to IKEA.

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Business card advent calendar – A project for 2017

I have had an idea for a homemade advent calendar, made out of folded business cards. In this post, I will present the outlines of my plan; a future post will show something closer to the finished item, once work on it is mostly complete (in time for Christmas 2017, I hope).

First, let me start with basic principles. It is possible to fold six business cards together into a relatively stable cube.

Six more business cards can be attached to the outside to make it a little more attractive.

The cubes can also be attached together, by interlocking the flaps.

This video provides a decent demostration of the techniques for making the cubes and attaching them together.

Previously, I’ve used these cubes to make myself a Menger sponge.

An explanation of this, along with some quite interesting maths (if you’re into that sort of thing), can be found in this video by Matt Parker.

So, onto the advent calendar.
It is fairly simple to cut a hole in one side of the cube, like this:

I did this with a craft knife. I’m sure it could be done with scissors, but you would need to be cautious not to bend the business card too much.
Structurally, the hole doesn’t seem to have any ill effect, as long as the cards are reasonably thick. The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that I’ve also shortened the flaps on the front slightly, to avoid them covering the hole. Again, this doesn’t appear to be causing any problems.

The plan is to interlock twenty four of these cubes into a 6×4 rectangle. I will use more business cards to clad the back and sides, just to make it look better. For the front, I will cover the holes, using the same technique as the back and sides, but I will do it with paper, with each cover having a number printed on it. (I plan to use paper because I’m assuming it will be easier to remove each morning, without damaging the rest of the calendar.)

At this point, I am slightly torn between putting a couple of chocolates in each cube (easy, but I’m not sure if the weight will affect structural intergrity) or constructing a little Christmas scene in each cube (much more time consuming, but would be awesome when finished).

Assuming no accidents, this will require 188 business cards for the cubes and the cladding, plus paper for the front. I bought blank business cards in packs of 100, so I do have a few spare for emergencies. You could equally cut sheets of card to the correct size – this would be cheaper, but needs to be done with reasonable precision if the cubes are going to fit together nicely.

I will update once the first few cubes are in place… watch this space.

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I have invented the garlic muffin and it is glorious!

Before any confusion arises, when I say “muffin” I am referring to the English breakfast muffin… I shudder at the thought of a garlic version of the other kind.
To make this mighty substitute for garlic bread, you will need:
One or more English breakfast muffins
A good scoop of butter or margarine
A similar amount of mayonnaise
Garlic, to taste (I use the garlic puree stuff that you get in a tube)
Parmesan cheese or similar

Mix together the butter, mayo and garlic.
Cut the muffin(s) in half.
Smear with the garlic butter mixture.
Sprinkle liberally with cheese.
Put under a grill for three or four minutes, until brown.


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FATE – Group aspects

I’ve been mulling over the idea of converting the Fallen London setting into a roleplaying campaign; it’s a fabulous setting and with the right group, would make for a great character driven campaign. One of the elements of Fallen London that I feel would definitely need to translate in some fashion is the tracking of connections to different factions in London and the ability to trade on those connections for favours and such like.

Having recently started playing FATE, I’ve realised that this could be done through the use of aspects. However, more than that, this use of aspects would work well in any campaign that is not pure hack-and-slash or dungeon crawling.

Most aspects in FATE fall into one of three general categories; character aspects, scene aspects and temporary aspects (usually applied to characters or scenes as part of a conflict). I’d like to add a new category, which I’m nominally calling “group aspects”. (I considered calling it “social aspects” as that will be the most common use, but I don’t want to limit it unnecessarily.)

The idea is that these aspects apply to the group as a whole and can be used to track the group’s connection to different individuals or factions; “Associates of The Barber” or “Pawns of the Shadow Kings”, for example.
These aspects would be applied through story events and would last as long as they remain appropriate. They could even be adjusted as a particular connection develops; “Confidants of The Barber”, “Knights of the Shadow Kings”, etc…
Since these are still aspects, they can be invoked as normal, most likely in social conflicts or simple social actions where these connections may assist. I would even be tempted to give a free invoke as normal, when the aspect is first gained.

Of course, any use of these aspects is subject to GM veto if he knows something the players don’t. For example, when trying to butter up some criminals, a player attempts to invoke the fact that they are “Knights of the Shadow Kings” (a well known criminal organisation). However, the GM knows that these particular criminals are in competition with the Shadow Kings and this approach will therefore not work. In this case, the player gets their chip back, but also gains some small insight into the situation.

Naturally, negative group aspects can exist as well; “Wanted by the City Guard”, “Banned from the University Library”, etc… These can be compelled as usual, as can the positive aspects (being “Knights of the Shadow Kings” probably involves doing some work for them occasionally).

The only real disadvantage of including these types of aspect is that they greatly increase the number of aspects that need tracking at any one time. However, this issue is mitigated by a couple of things. Firstly, these aspects are only likely to be relevant in certain situations; for example, they’re not going to be used in the middle of a combat, where there is already plenty to track.
Secondly, most groups that care about connections and social favours are probably already doing this in a non-formalised manner. Being given work by your employers or name dropping people who owe you favours is standard operating procedure for many players; by calling these things aspects, it simply brings them into the fate chip economy, where the benefits are more visible.

Suggestions welcome, as always.

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FATE aspects in the Cypher System

I’ve written a number of posts regarding different elements of the Cypher System, which I still rate as one of the best systems around. However, recently I have switched from Numenera to FATE (specifically the Dresden Files RPG, though we’re also incorporating elements of FATE Core). FATE naturally has its own set of mechanics for dice rolling, tracking damage, etc.. which are perfectly adequate, though I don’t like them quite as much as the Cypher System. However, FATE’s core concept, which I absolutely love, revolves around the use of aspects.

A quick primer for those unfamiliar with FATE:
Aspects are descriptive phrases that are used to describe characters and the world in general. A character might have an aspect, “Stubborn as a mule,” or a location might have the aspect, “Shadowy corners.” These aspects can be used to affect play when it makes narrative sense, generally in one of two ways; either the GM can offer fate chips for playing aspects to the player’s detriment (“There’s no way you’re backing down from this fight; you’re stubborn as a mule.”) or the player can spend fate chips to gain bonuses if the aspect helps (“I’m stubborn as a mule… no one can mind control me.”)

Aspects are a great way to model the intangible or narrative aspects of a character. Most systems don’t have a mechanical way to represent a very stubborn character, for example. Certainly you can give them a high willpower score or whatever, but other characters could have that for a variety of reasons that are nothing to do with stubbornness. Aspects allow a player to say, “This is an important part of my character… I want it to be represented in play.”
Aspects also allow the tracking of unusual conditions (many systems have rules for “prone” or “tied up”, but few have rules for “covered in bees”, for example), logical use of the environment (a simple aspect like “tables everywhere” can be used for all sorts of defensive or offensive moves) and modelling social standing/favours (this is an idea I’m working on that I will expand on in my next blog post).

So here’s my dilemma. I love the aspects in FATE, but otherwise I would prefer to run games in the Cypher System… so could we port one into the other? Here is my suggestion to do exactly that.

First, let’s lay out my general principles…
1) Compelling aspects (i.e. giving out chips) is not necessary – the Cypher System already has GM intrusions, which are fine as they are.
2) I’d also like to separate invoking aspects from spending XP – there are already enough uses for XP without adding another one.
3) Therefore, aspects will function much like assets – a relevant aspect will reduce the difficulty of a skill check by one level. Indeed, you can essentially treat aspects as a specific subset of asset that is just slightly more formalised.
4) Since the players (and NPCs too) are getting the benefit of aspects for free (as opposed to FATE, where they spend a chip), some further considerations are needed to avoid making aspects too powerful.
a) Only one aspect may be used in any particular skill check.
b) The aspect should be legitimately relevant. In FATE, since the player is spending a chip (a limited resource), there is a tendency to accept any vaguely related aspect as fine (“I’m stubborn as a mule, so I’m not going to stop bashing this door until it breaks.” “Ok, sure.”). If the player is now getting the benefit for free, only genuinely logical aspects should apply (“I’m stubborn as a mule, so I’m not going to stop bashing this door until it breaks.” “That’s not going to help… you’ll just spend longer bouncing off it, before you give up.”).
c) In line with the Cypher System mechanics, the aspect should be added to difficulty calculations before dice are rolled, not searched for afterwards when a roll is just missed. If an aspect is not obvious enough to include from the start, it probably falls foul of the previous point.

With those principle in mind, here are a few additional notes on specific types of aspect that I would envisage.

Character aspects:
The character’s descriptor and focus should be treated as aspects (the type is too general to be easily used). These can be used in any skill check where relevant. Particular care should be taken that the descriptor aspect is not overplayed (e.g. the “tough” descriptor does not also encompass “strong”). This would allow for some fringe benefits of foci in particular, outside of the mechanical abilities they grant. For example, someone with the “Performs feats of strength” focus might use the aspect to assist in seducing an NPC, since his focus has given him an impressive looking physique; mechanically, no such bonus exists for this focus, but it kind of makes sense (unless, of course, the GM knows that the NPC in question would not be turned on by rippling muscles).

Scene/location aspects:
As in FATE, you should provide a couple of aspects for each location or scene; “shadowy corners”, “tables everywhere”, etc… Obviously, NPCs can use these aspects too if it makes sense. These are the closest usage to that of the assets mechanic that already exists. In this case, the GM is just providing a couple of obvious assets as a starting point for the players.

Temporary aspects:
These can replace specific rules for conditions like “prone” or those rules can be kept and these can be used for anything not covered in the rules. In combat, it should generally be easier to apply an aspect than deal damage; this also gives characters with minimal combat ability a few more options. A social character might have little chance of damaging the big bad, but if he can apply the aspect “distracted”, then the combat-oriented character has an improved chance to hit with his big attack. These aspects should only last as long as makes sense – “distracted” might only last a round, “prone” would last until the character stands up, “sand in the eyes” would last until the character takes an action to properly clear them.

So, that’s my theory. I certainly don’t feel that the Cypher System needs these additional elements, but given how close they are to the existing asset rules, I don’t feel that it would be unbalancing to include them if you like the idea of descriptors/foci/conditions/etc.. as having narrative meaning, as well as mechanical meaning. As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.

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Fallen London – A review

I came across Fallen London a while back, but didn’t really have the time to commit to it. Recently I’ve started playing again and I thought I’d pen a few words on the subject, for those who might consider giving it a try.

Fallen London is browser based game (though there is an iOS app for it as well) in which you guide your character through a fantasy version of Victorian London, in a choose-your-own-adventure type of setup. You gain one action every ten minutes, which accumulate up to a maximum of 20 (or more if you subscribe) – this ensures that the game is experienced at a sedate pace, which is actually a strength, given the sheer volume of lore and background to be found during your explorations (apparently it has 1000,000+ words).

Your character starts out incredibly simply; you choose a name, a gender (including “none of your business”… an option rarely seen in games) and a portrait… that’s it. Other character aspects develop organically during play – if you want to be sneaky, you take illicit jobs and become sneakier; if you want to be social, you undertake social tasks and your persuasion increases. There are also chances to pick a profession and your long-term ambition; again, these are naturally introduced early in the game.

Most of the tasks in the game can be grouped into two types; one off events and more substantial storylines. The one off events are generally simple choices, perhaps deciding which side to aid in a conflict or choosing between a safe option and a riskier, but more rewarding one. The game uses these to present background and atmosphere, as well as allowing you to shape your connections with the factions in the city.
The more substantial storylines will involve a longer scenario; setting up a big con, tracking down a killer, gather material for a book. These generally involve many decisions, skill checks and greater rewards and connections at the end. These are also the stories that will raise your profile in the city and unlock further storylines.

The one downside of the game is that there is occasionally a certain amount of grinding involved in some of the scenarios; things like finding so many clues to resolve a case or increasing your level of acquaintance with someone before you make a move. Unfortunately, these are a somewhat necessary evil as this is where you will spend a lot of time increasing your skills (the game does have a nice mechanic where you improve faster by failing tough challenges than by succeeding at easy ones). However, you can mitigate this effect a little by doing the grindy bits when you don’t have much time to play (you can blow through your 20 actions in two minutes as part of your morning routine) and exploring more interesting sections when you have more time.

It’s definitely not a game for everyone. It’s not a video game, where skill is rewarded and you’re trying to win; it’s not even really a choose-your-own-adventure game, where you’re moving through a narrative, albeit one that you have some control over… it’s probably closest to an actual pen and paper roleplaying game, with a huge setting, some resource management, NPCs you keep running into, bits that you never quite get round to exploring and genuine choices that affect your character.

It’s free, so if it sounds like your thing then give it a try… and if you do find yourself walking the streets of Fallen London, look up TheSilentScholar… I’d be happy to make your acquaintance.

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