An occasional supplemental blog, an extension of the writings of unquietsoul5 of Livejournal.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pandemonium Books Pot Luck


We're trying to start the ball rolling to help Pandemonium Books & Games to raise funds and develop plans to pay the State Department of Revenue and consolidate it's debt. Pandy, in case you've never been there, is at 4 Pleasant Street in Cambridge Massachusetts, Central Square (behind the 7-11 on Mass Ave and across the street from Post Office).

There will be a Pot Luck Fund Raiser at the store on Saturday Night (the 29th - this week) from 7-11 pm. Folks who want to come and help out should bring a shareable food item and be willing to donate $10 into the Pandemonium Preservation Fund.

It will be a general meet n greet for folks, with board and card gaming, and discussing of plans for future fund raising efforts and other events at the store.

Our main desire is to make sure that Pandemonium doesn't end up in the situation that Toscanini's did earlier this year. Tyler has some ideas to avoid this, through the help of the local fandom community that he has been serving for the past 18 years.

The market for small independent retailers, especially book and game stores, is not an easy one at this time. Quantum Books is shutting the Doors, Mcintyre & Moore are having to move to another location for the second time in recent memory, many others (like Games Workshop) are gone or depend upon Harvard University giving them reduced rents to stay in business. Pandemonium doesn't have a University or a Corporation to help them when times are tough. All it has is you the fans and customers to help keep it going.

So, please come, share food, chat, play games, shop, and join us in showing our appreciation of Pandemonium and hope for it's continued future for years to come. We can make a difference with a little combined effort. There will be a variety of foods and drink to enjoy for your effort.

Joseph Teller

Friday, February 09, 2007

Some Questions On RPG Design (pt 1)

Some Questions On Roleplaying Design (Part 1)

Although I have experience with a wide range of game systems, both in hands-on GMing use and in intensive play/reading, I am always looking to refine my knowledge of what people currently believe produces good tabletop roleplaying experiences for specific styles.

Since I, like many folks, am working on a game design, I am looking for some feedback on specific questions that are banging around on my desk, and hoping that the folks reading here can help me out with their opinions on these subjects.

Assume that I am working with the following concepts as a given:

The System is Skill based, not class based. Characters are generally front-end heavy in construction rather than growth heavy in regards to things that are not skills.

System uses Dice for randomization, probably a percentile based system with use of a singular reference chart for oppositional comparisons and determining 'levels of success' (similar to but not the same as Zamani, the old Pacesetter's version of Chill, Pacesetter's Timemaster, etc.) Primarily depending on single roll actions (Active Roll vs Passive/non-rolling opposition).

System Setting is Fantasy oriented rather than Science Dominant, and that the time period technologies will be for somewhere between Bronze Age and at latest Elizabethan era (limited firearms, explosives, medicine, pre-Newtonian Physics known to the populance) and that there will be non-human species, magic (both religious and non-religious).

Now, having established such we come to the first questions:

How many Skills are Too Many? That is, how many skills available to choose from is too many? Since growth, in this case, goes mostly into skills and skill improvement is it better to have broad coarse skills or many tightly defined skills or a mixture based upon the areas of focus vs the areas of background or setting look & feel?

What I mean by this is, should there be a separate skill for each language? What about each type of magic (Summoning, Warding, Locomotion, Healing, etc.)? What about types of Weapons (Swords, Axes, Maces, Bows, etc.)? Should there be both broad and narrow focus skills (that is, a tree system where you can choose to simply buy 'combat' or to specialize in 'swordsmanship'?) What about types of Knowledge (Animal Lore, Plant Lore) or Crafts (Cooking, Blacksmithing, Engineering, Animal Husbandry)?

Do skill trees make the character creation process to complex and too slow? Does long lists of skills dissuade players from building complex characters?

Note: By Skill Tree I do not mean the misuse of the term as used in computer games that has been carried over into some tabletop roleplaying gaming. I mean the term by the old design concept where the tree is a listing of complexity:

Combat ( Broadest Skill Category)
Melee Combat (Slightly Less Broad)
Armed Melee Combat (Less Broad)
Blades (Even Less Broad)
Rapier (Less Broad)
Italian Rapier Style (Narrow Focus)

So one could buy the broadest, most expensive level of skill, or pay slightly less for the slightly less broad and so on down to the Narrow Focus.

Someone skilled only at the Low end would take a penalty to their skill for trying to use it to perform a more broad version of the skill, which would increase with each step.

Some games that have variations on this are the 'defaults' of GURPS 3rd edition, the Skill Groups of Hero v5, etc.

(I'll continue this series of questions, referencing back to the info in this one, based upon the feedback I get to this one. If no one response then I will assume that there is no interest in the subject and not post anything further).

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Plea For Assistance For An Institution

Pandemonium Books & Games has been part of the New England fandom
community for 17 years. Carrying Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror and
Humor related books, CDs, games and artwork. Early last year it moved
from it's cramped quarters in Harvard Square Cambridge to a more
spacious location in Central Square Cambridge (4 Pleasant Street).

Along the way the owner was plagued by a number of problems, including
promises made that were not kept by the contractor doing the work on
the new site, so that the store was closed for nearly 3 months without
any revenue while the retail space was prepared and brought up to the
strict zoning construction codes of Cambridge.

The new site was designed to allow the store to host on-site book
signings, readings, social gatherings, small venue concerts, and to
accommodate the need in this crowded city for gamers, readers and
authors to gather.

Now Pandemonium is in financial trouble, due to debt they took on from
the reconstruction of the site and the many months they were closed.
They need help and are asking all their friends and customers to show
their appreciation of a small regional specialized bookstore like

You can read about their plight here :

or on their livejournal :

Basically they are trying to escape their plight by a massive fund
raising effort. Buy A T-Shirt, save New England's oldest premiere
SF/Fantasy Book & Game store.

All you need to do is pre-order a shirt to save this important institution :

Please, without outlets like Pandemonium fandom cannot long survive.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

It's Been A Few Months

It's been a few months since I made a post here in the blog, so I thought it might be a good idea to drop on by and give folks something to read.

Zamani ( has been in playtest for over 8 weeks now with a group of local tabletop players at Pandemonium Books & Games in Central Square Cambridge. We've been doing system and setting design, edit and expansion as we go and so far I'm being relatively happy with the results.

It has been a bit more time-intensive than originally expected, but that's beacuse I've gotten a lot more feedback from the players on the system and setting than I've managed with many other playtest groups.

I haven't been involved in too many other game design discussions over the past few months, as I just haven't found much to comment on or that really sparked my interest in the many roleplaying design blogs and livejournals out there.

My Livejournal (unquietsoul5) posts have been less frequent, but I manage usually at least a post daily there about gaming, life, the universe or reality in some way.

I have just recently started on another gaming project for the Western Ave Irregulars group, for play in a month or two down the road, using the Hero mechanic. This time it will be for something the system really was designed to do, an actual superhero game! (I haven't used Hero or anything else for that genre in nearly a decade).

I was playing in a Hero system Planescape setting game over the past few months, which has finished due to time constraints for the foreseeable future, and am about to play in a short single-scenario game of 'Albedo' with some friends who want to see how viable it's mechanics might be to transplant to a different setting.

I'll be back here to post something interesting when I think I have something valuable to pass along to folks in general.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Review: Game Master Item Pack One

Since the concept of 'Tactile Gaming Tools' has been discussed lately on the roleplaying blogs, I thought the following might be of interest (published in my LJ on June 26th).

Game Mastery Item Pack One is a nifty little item that I picked up at 's retail store here in Cambridge MA last week. It's published by and is designed for use with tabletop roleplaying games, especially for fantasy settings.

This is a deck of 54 cards, which retails for about $9.95. The front of each card is a well rendered piece of art showing an item that might be encountered in a roleplaying game. The back of the card has a description (ex: "Hanging from the end of a leather cord, this necklace is crafted from fine gold coils set with a large dark gemstone.") a large section of white space labeled 'Notes' and an Item Code space, with the intention that a GM fills in the details and assigns an item code.

The card then acts as a nice physical item that can be placed in front of a player or which the player can keep (if the GM so chooses) with their character sheet, acting as a tactile reminder of the item and it's capabilities. The GM can catalog each item for their own reference, and keep any secret info not on the card in their own notes.

There's been a lot of talk lately among the game designers and roleplaying game theorists about the use of 'tactile' items in game and how players react to such and how it enhances the game, and this seems like an excellent tool for this purpose.

Additional decks sets are expected from Paizo in the months to come (the next one is due out in July) and I recommend that it might be an item that folks would want to pre-order from their local gaming shop (like to give the stores a good idea of how much interest and demand is in the item, as it's one that could easily be missed by folks in regards to how popular or useful it would be (since it is not for a specific game system, isn't part of a collectable card game etc.).

Monday, April 17, 2006

Roleplaying With The Four Pieces

Theory To Discuss: Roleplaying With The Four Pieces

When you step beyond the realm of pure mechanics, there are four basic aspects of a roleplaying game that will be in play that must be considered to cover the needs of the players.

1. Physical : These are the physical challenge aspects of the game. Not necessarily combat, but certainly it includes that.

2. Mental : These are the mental challenge aspects of the game, including puzzle solving, resource management and detective work.

3. Social  : These are the interaction challenge aspects of the game, including both interaction with the other personalities in the group, and with the npcs. Diplomacy, persuasion, discussion, intrigue etc.

4. Creative : This, finally, is the depth of the setting details and the realm of the Fantastic of Fantasy and Science Fiction when the game is about such.

Generally, from my observation, a game needs an equal balance of each of these four elements in order to please most player groups. When any one piece is given more effort, time or importance the game can become out of balance for some players and make the game become less fun.

Additionally when one of these is missing, it often can break the suspension of disbelief and cooperation for a game.

A Game where the Physical dominates becomes a wargame. A game where the mental dominates becomes as interesting as diagramming sentences in Latin or playing with a rubiks cube. A game where the social dominates becomes as interesting as a dinner party that never ends, filled with drama queens and soap opera exposition. And finally a game where the Creative aspect dominates becomes a prolonged tourist travel film or an experiment in memorization of the minute details of a tea ceremony.

It's only when the four together are present and nearly equal that a happy medium is achieved for most groups of players. It's one of the things that sets roleplaying games off from other forms of games - few games encompass these four pieces together on any level.

Now, take your favorite game system/setting sets and look at them thru the lens of this system. Do they hold up? Do they have problems that you need to address? How does your own gaming group approach these four points? Would you (or they) be happier with a balance of the four? Or would they prefer a different ratio of the four? And What about you?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Eternal Dilemma

The other night my wife, and I had a discussion about the eternal dilema of game masters who play with a regular group of gamers.
For those who really don't know me, the major gaming group I am involved with has for the past 7 years played in a 'Round Robin' style, where we regularly rotate who sits in the GMing chair and which game is being played. The purpose of this is to give GMs an opportunity to play as well as GM, and to have a regularly changing mix of games and to some extent game styles possible.

We're going thru some problems over the past few months, mainly because of style clashes that are no longer singular to a particular game. A few months ago we decided to try a new approach, and had all the potential GMs for the next few months (since all but one of the campaigns had wrapped) sit down and hear what everyone in the group liked and disliked in games.

Then we had a pitch session, each GM was to present a 'pitch' of one or more potential games for the group to consider playing. People voted on which games they were most interested in from the pitches, and those would be what would be tried out.

The problem is that although in practice this sounds like a fun, fair and reasonably democratic method of choosing what to play and who would GM, it has some problems and connects to an dilema.

Do you simply pitch an idea with no detailed work done, or do you do detailed work and then present a pitch?

Time, for all of us, is limited. Designing the ground rules for character creation for a proposed setting, and potentially building the setting, learning or developing a game system, etc. for something that may never be played can be a real painful excercise in futility.

I've done this a number of times. Even done it and then had the gaming group I was preparing a setting and mechanic for fall apart before we ever got to the game I had proposed, and it not being really of interest to others it was proposed to in a later group.

But if you wait until you've presented the pitch and found out what people wanted, then you have a very narrow window of time to do all that work. And inevitably, time and again, the window is too small for many folks to work with. And if you make the players wait around for weeks, or months while you create everything needed, you may have folks lose interest.

Worse, in some cases a pitch can be grabbed up enthusiastically by the players, perhaps too enthusiastically, and you end up with a runaway game. Players may alreayd have character ideas full blown and ready to roll before you have even laid out the ground rules of character generation or what is allowed in the game or what the premise will be.

Then you end up with the characters that don't mesh together, or whoose player proposed back story doesn't fit the setting, or which the player will refuse to change since they have been working on it since the day you presented the pitch.

So Which choice do you follow?

Do you create and then hope? Do you Pitch and then create in a mad dash and probably not do half as good a job as you should? Or What?

I'm curious to know what folks have to say about all of this.

Personal Notes : My last campaign suffered from the Pitch then run syndrome, where not enough preparation was done or detailed balancing of the commercial set of rules being used in comparison to the setting. It ran off and on for about 2 years and then exploded in the end rather nastily, because of rules that were not balanced at the start, characters that were thrust upon me with not enough editorial control and reading time, and a difference in style that became far too obvious in the end.