Thursday, September 27, 2018

Landsknecht Link Roundup, Aug/Sept

I did one of these in late July - seems overdue for another roundup. Here's a curated list of "Some Stuff I Thought Was Cool," and discussing what I liked/found interesting about them.
Ba Chim Seal of Approval!

(art by Dreadbeasts)
  • Hydra buddy Trey Causey continues to be a freakin' machine over at From the Sorcerer's Skull. I particularly liked his thoughts on how Adventure Time's setting design can inform campaign construction, and his thoughts for using Operation Unfathomable as the core for a '50s monster movie setting.
  • While you're looking at Trey's blog, check out the ICONS writeup for Girlgantua, another teaser for the forthcoming Armchair Planet Who's Who. (My favorite bit so far might be the quiet Trek nod in the Tempus Fugitives.)
  • David Perry released Principia Apocrypha, an alternative to the venerable Old School Primer that discusses 'core OSR principles' from an Apocalypse World-influenced standpoint. This one has some charming art by Evlyn M.
  • Continuing on with core principles, Into the Odd has some thoughts on the trio of Information, Choice, and Impact in centering player agency in campaign play.
  • Wizardthiefighter Luka completed the first draft of the Ultraviolet Grasslands recently, and I've started the editing process. Members of Luka's Patreon can check out the first draft, and of course there's a free preview available here.
  • The Lizard Man Diaries's Infinigrad Suburb Generator is a nice set of tables for jumpstarting some weird fantasy neighborhoods. I'm also interested in checking out Jack Shear's treatment of the same idea in the upcoming Umberwell supplement (demoed at DIY & Dragons).
  • While the Odious Uplands churn towards completion, Jason's fired up The Dungeon Dozen once again. As someone whose campaign fits the bill, I particularly appreciate his investigations into why There Are No Dragons In This World.
  • Rey & Grey continue to chug away at Break!! - here's some exciting art from the intro adventure, Trouble in Sprocket. I've played through Sprocket, but didn't interact with large parts of the adventure (including some of the groups seen here) and now I want to play through that again.
  • Emmy Allen wrote Dolorous Stroke, an Arthurian myth wargame inspired by GW's Inquisitor. Focus on small objective-based skirmishes with a premium on narrative construction. Very cool stuff. (I'm biased, I suggested the name.)
  • Evan, at In Places Deep, has a guide to sandbox construction up. As someone who often stalls out in the procedural side of setting generation, this sort of framework is extremely handy (and one I'm recommending to other folks interested in sandbox generation).
  • Against the Wicked City has just wrapped up a nine-part series looking at the books of WFRP 2e, but my favorite part is his discussion of Renegade Crowns. This book is one of my favorites, and I'm glad to see it getting a bit of recognition in presaging some of the OSR's fortes. (I think Joseph undersells some of the utility that RC still provides, including a sandbox construction kit of its own, some nice random tables for generating opposing factions, and an excellent Trouble Index system that keeps PCs dashing between internal and external threats to their petty fiefdom.)
  • Bad Wrong Fun is previewing Offworlders (Traveller by way of World of Dungeons). I'm not 100% sold on WoD, but I appreciate the rules-minimalist approach and am curious to see where Offworlders takes that fusion. Alas, no rules for PC death in chargen (yet).
  • Skerples is teasing Magical-Industrial Revolution. In contrast to the OSR aesthetics of ruin, MIR is focused on the time just before decay...right before everything goes to hell. I tend to steer away from high magic games and frameworks, but I've been grooving on the Revolutions podcast recently, and am extremely interested in seeing game examination of how building social pressures and unexpected catalysts can start things spiralling out of control.
  • A bit out of timeframe, but I liked Beyond Formalhaut's discussion of the purpose of RPG books (creativity aid and supplement). Melan's part of the OSR that I'm not really in touch with (I came in late). At this point I'm not particularly enthused about 'calls to arms,' but I definitely appreciate Melan's urging towards a culture of experiential play. (Not to mention a focus on discussion - which is part of why I'm trying to share these out!)
  • Give 'Em Lead investigates solo campaign construction in a wargaming setting - combining WFB matches with event-table solo play to create a campaign narrative focusing on one army (rather than the traditional duelling forces of a narrative campaign, or free-wheeling all vs all multi-player campaigns).
So. What'd I miss? What posts have had your brains buzzing?

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Untapped Matrix Energy?

"And standing there, facing the pure horrifying precision, I came to realize the obviousness of the truth.
What is the Matrix? Control (of a game through preselected verbs and a fluid resolution mechanic)."
A while back Chris wrote about the Engle Matrix game and examples for implementing it in RPGs. It's a method for running and adjudicating wargames in a mostly stat-less manner, by allowing players to construct explanations/arguments for what they think ought to happen, and then providing the referee a method by which to adjudicate these while still maintaining uncertainty (the original explanation by Engle has more detail, as does Chris's first post).

The original Engle implementation (and the part giving it the title of Matrix game) involves a pre-selected list of cues ("Anger," "Large Formation," "Love," "Skirmish"). Players select five words from the matrix to construct their arguments ("I will have my troops break into SMALL FORMATIONS and SKIRMISH with the enemy in guerrilla warfare. This will succeed because my troops 1) KNOW THE TERRAIN, 2) and are ANGRY over enemy atrocities, while 3) enemy forces are FATIGUED from overextension.") The referee evaluates how strong an argument is, then rolls to see whether it succeeds or fails.

We've used matrix games in the Hill Cantons campaign as part of domain-game level play, during the Feral Shore phase of the campaign. In these instances, though, Chris elided over the word selection component of the matrix game, focusing on having players construct arguments over the group's intentions, assessing their strength, and rolling based on that.

I see the appeal of this method. It takes away the artificial feeling of selecting words, which I suspect at its worst would start to run into the same trap that bad FATE games do - spurious tagging of aspects to fit into the mechanistic requirements of the system. Obviously the referee's judgment can moderate these tendencies, but it's easy to see how the implementation can spiral downhill.

And yet.

Something still draws me to the use and implementation of a matrix in resolving situations. The incense of integration alludes to a magic system I've begun conceptualizing, that requires players to draw analogies between the qualities of a zodiac sign and the magical effects that the player wishes to achieve.
“Because I thought the serpent was cunning, like a spy out to be, and the crucible could mean knowledge, what you kind of distill, and the beehive was hard work, like bees are always working hard; so out of the hard work and the cunning comes knowledge, see, and that’s they spy’s job; and I pointed to them and I thought the question in my mind, and the needle stopped at death…D’you think that could be really working, Farder Coram?” -- Phillip Pullman, The Golden Compass, displaying the intuitively engaging feel of magical analogies

Beyond magic systems, I think there's fallow ground in playing with the list of words that compose the matrix and adapting it for targeted use in other situations away from the geopolitical. Adjusting these might provide the tools for a sweet spot in mechanical implementation of social interactions, between the unsatisfying "social combat" and the extremely broad "free RP."

Have any of you used matrix games (or similar tools) in your campaigns? Any thoughts for how to best employ them?