Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Monkey Has Moved

Due to the imminent demise of FTP publishing on Blogger, the Risus Monkey has moved to a new address. The new URL is Please update your bookmarks and links accordingly.



Friday, February 05, 2010

Lair of the Frog King

One of the first Mythic Game Master Emulator adventures that I attempted was a follow-up to an example combat that I wrote for Silverlode 1908. Specifically, it involved the continuation of the story of J. Robert Hinkley and Sylvia Franco as they infiltrate "The Lair of the Frog King" (presumably to acquire some kind of artifact). Unfortunately, I misplaced the files and wasn't able to complete the adventure... until now.

I've been looking for a good story that I could use to play-test Tom Pigeon's proposed rule variants (detailed in this post at the Mythic Yahoo Group), as well as a good scenario to post here on the Risus Monkey. Instead of trying to reconstruct the missing files, I'm going to pick up the story in medias res, with Hinkley's rattled brain*  accounting for my imperfect memory of the story thus far.

* The result of a severe beating at the hands of the Frog Men as well as his Hook.


Character: J. Robert Hinkley
J. Robert Hinkley
Clichés: Compulsive Consumer of "Mail Order Miracles" (3), Nice Young Man Who Is Going Places (3), Unflappable Self-Improvement Success Story (3), Teen-Age Casanova (2).
Lucky Shots: [ ] [ ] [ ]
Hook: Short-attention span
Tools: Kayak (discarded). Cheap revolver. Big knife. A mail-order map of the Lair of the Frog King, as well as at small collection of unspecified gadgets.
Risus Conventions: Hinkley was created as a 10 die Risus character. Hooks, Tales, and Lucky Shots were employed. During play, I'll use the rules described on the Silverlode 1908 site, along with Critical Hits (doubling the opponent's roll means 1d6 dice of damage).

Mythic Conventions: Since we are picking up the story in medias res, I'll be seeding the Character List and Thread List ahead of time (some will reflect events known to have happened off-screen). The theme will be Action, so the Action events table from Mythic Variations will be used. The minimum Chaos/Action Factor is 5.

Additionally, I'll be play-testing Tom Pigeon's 2d10 Fate Chart as well as the "pressure-valve" method for determining how the Chaos/Action Factor changes. I don't think this blog is the proper forum for play-testing these rules specifically, so I'll move any discussion of these to the Mythic Yahoo Group instead. Again, please see this post for details on the new rules variants.

The Story Thus Far: The events of the sample combat on the Silverlode 1908 site are assumed to have happened exactly as described. After that, Hinkley and Sylvia were immediately attacked by a large party of Frog Men guards. Hinkley was knocked out and captured while Sylvia was going berserk as a werewolf. Hinkley was brought to the Hall of the Frog King himself, who was found to be a week leader dominated by the immortal occultist Heinrich Von Loaph and his cohort of mercenary archaeologists.

Off camera, Sylvia interrogated a captured From Man and discovered that his beloved (the Frog King's daughter) was being used as a hostage to dominate the King. The Frog Man promised to assist in rescuing Hinkley if Sylvia would help rescue the Frog Princess first.

Expected Adventures: The point of the adventure for Hinkley is to a) escape, b) find Sylvia, c) recover whatever artifact Sylvia is looking for, and d) return to the material world.

Character List
1. Sylvia Franco
2. Frog Men
3. Frog Romeo
4. From Princess
5. Frog King
6. Heinrich Von Loaph (Immortal Occultist)
7. Eva Schneider (Von Loaph's Matronly Henchwoman)
8. Mercenaries

Thread List
1. Escape
2. Find Sylvia
3. (Save the Frog King/Princess)
4. Acquire the "Artifact"
5. Return to the material world

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Daily Monster: Skeletons

In what I hope will become a semi-regular feature, today I will take a classic D&D monster and give it the Risus treatment. Given that my attention is focused on my monster-themed Pirates vs. Vampire game, I'm going to start things off with the lowly but time-honored skeleton.

[SPOILER WARNING: Players of Pirates vs. Vampires may want to skip this post until our current adventure has been concluded]

Skeletal Remnant: Disembodied Skeletal Appendage (1). 
Notes: Not really a threat in combat, unless it attacks an already weakened character. Useful mainly for establishing a mood by making the players roll dice. Such minor threats can often be represented by a simple TN roll. Failure at the TN roll would still mean the monster was destroyed but that the character was slightly wounded or lost some valuable resource in the process (or simply looked clumsy while doing it).
Skeleton Minion: Mindless Skeletal Fighter (2).
Notes: Like all skeletons, they require bashing or at least swung weapons to be engaged properly. Characters attacking skeletons with stabbing or piercing weapons would operate at half-dice for lacking proper tools. Lacking minds, skeletons are immune to mental attacks, unless those "attacks" are dirty tricks or attempts to outsmart them in some way (in which case the skeletons are going to be a real pushovers).
Skeleton Warrior: Tenacious But Mindless Skeletal Fighter (3).
Notes: A good foe to throw individually at competent fighters in the party.
Skeletal Champion: Agile Skeletal Fighter (4), Elite Undead Swordsman (5)
Notes: A worthy foe that should be able to avoid the Risus death spiral for a while and serve as a very challenging opponent for either a single highly-skilled combatant or a team of slightly less skilled fighters.
Minotaur Skeleton: Hulking Skeletal Bruiser (7), Undead Minotaur (5).
Notes: A great example of a tough boss fight where the party members will almost certainly have to team up or employ special resources or tactics. An alternate approach would be to use Funky Dice: Hulking Skeletal Bruiser (4d10), Undead Minotaur (3d10).
Bone Golem: Well-preserved and Reinforced Skeleton Animated With Kabbalistic Magic (3), Semi-Intelligent Automaton (3).
Notes: A potential Sidekick for player character Kabbalists (inspired by a discussion we had during play last Sunday).
Gang of 3 Skeletons: Grunt Squad of Skeletal Minions (3).
Squad of 10 Skeletons: Grunt Squad of Skeletal Minions (4).
Horde of 30 Skeletons: Grunt Squad of Skeletal Minions (5).
Notes: Illustrates my *rough* rule-of-thumb on handling Grunt Squads: I generally add a die for every threefold increase in numbers. Usually, I don't even bother specifying the exact number and resort to generalities (handful, dozen, dozens) instead.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pirates vs. Vampires: Alaric Anchorman

I've had a couple of insanely busy days and I have several lengthy posts that require a little more thought before uploading them. In the mean time, I present one of the players characters from my Sunday Pirates vs. Vampire game...

Alaric Anchorman
Description: Think Jean Luc Picard meets Jesse Ventura: bald and bold with a strong passion for military might and discipline. Unlike Piccard, Anchorman is ready to mix-it-up with his crew. He uses persuasion to achieve discipline, not the whip (i.e. not like Capt. Bligh of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame)

Cliches: Swashbuckling Lieutenant of the Royal Navy (4); Extreme Conditions Survivalist (3); Entertainer Specializing in Song and Accordion (3).

Hook: Strict disciplinarian (may snap or operate at a penalty when discipline fails). He also has a sense of duty to his crew.

Languages: English and Spanish.

Lore: Versed heavily in Royal Navy doctrine. After the Royal Navy comes a strong dedication to God. Having seen superstition nearly turn to mutiny, he is very opposed to the occult.

Tools & Gear: Multiple rapiers, several dozen pistols, a dozen finely crafted rifles, several throwing knives, two waterproof cases for his prized weapons. He also has access to various ship-board equipment.

History: Alaric Anchorman was born in Antigua to a very large family that produced tobacco, ginger, and indigo. He sailed on several trips to England and became obsessed with the sea. His family found it tough to control him, so the Royal Navy was deemed a good place to introduce order & discipline into an unruly child. His uncle, Capt. Allan Anchorman, is a captain of a Royal Navy sloop and oversaw Alaric's upbringing. At 12 he was a midshipman. At 17, he passed his lieutenant's exam. He has been eagerly awaiting the chance to command his own vessel. He is adapt sailor and fighter. He runs a tight
ship, but is respected by his crews.

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Weekend Update

Word of advice to GMs who are also parents: do not schedule back-to-back games following hours of wrangling attention-starved two and four-year-olds. This is especially true if you are sleep-deprived and don't have your adventures totally mapped out ahead of time. Young children can easily suck the creative juices right out of you and therefor make it very difficult to come up with interesting encounters on the fly.

I learned this yesterday while attempting to run my latest Gurps 4e Knights of the Astral Sea session followed by out inaugural of Pirates vs. Vampire online Risus game. It's not that Knights was a bad session. I think we had a good time and there were definitely some memorable moments (including a running joke about owlbears). But I had been running this game for about six months with the express purpose of getting to the events of this session. I just don't think I lived up to my own hype.

A brief digressions...

Knights of the Astral Sea is a steampunk/pulp/dimension-hopping game inspired by such varied sources as the recently re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and Joss Whedon's Firefly. On a alternate 1930s-era earth in which the Great Powers have discovered inter-dimensional travel via specially modified airships, an off-world enemy initiates a cataclysmic ritual that brings about the end of the world. The player characters, lead by a swashbuckling cheese tycoon, manage to escape the devastation and find themselves racing through the Multiverse in attempt to regroup with survivors of their Homeworld empire.

Yesterday, my players finally reached the rallying point for Homeworld's survivors. It was a key moment in the campaign and I can't help but think that I fumbled the ball a little bit. There just wasn't enough tension or conflict. Hopefully, it's not too late to make up for it. Next time we play, the players will be venturing into Faerie to find the Once And Future Queen (who should then unite the people, take the fight to their enemies, and build a glorious new society in exile).

Back to Risus...

Last night's Pirates vs. Vampires game was really about testing the waters. Two other players showed  up and we played with full video for the first time. Not much to say about the session as we were mainly trying to relearn how to do play-by-chat. We did have fun, though, and I am definitely looking forward to beginning the game in earnest next week.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Adventure Funnel: Skeletal Corsairs of the Barbary Coast

And now for a little experiment...

Today I'm going to take Dr-Rotwang's Adventure Funnel and use it to develop a scenario for Sunday's Pirates vs. Vampire game. Before I can jump in and start creating, I do need to consider my player characters:
Alaric Anchorman: Swashbuckling former lieutenant of the Royal Navy and aspiring young "privateer".
Hector Valdez: A former blood thrall and current member of the anti-vampire resistance.
John "Mad Jack" Murphy: Ships' doctor and resident vampire-hunting specialist (and my own npc/occasional pc).
(As-Yet-Unnamed): A merchant-trader with an interest in Jewish mysticism.
I'm going to assume that the characters are already serving on a privateer ship that is operating at the behest of anti-vampire personages in the British government. Young Alaric is not currently captain, but I expect that he will be thrust into that role early in the adventure.

SPOILER ALERT [My Players Should Turn Back]


Goal: Find and eliminate the undead threat to allied shipping and free settlements in and around the Mediterranean.

  1. The Captain is secretly working for the other team
  2. No witnesses at sea
  3. Villages razed with an undead raiding party left behind
  4. Galleys crewed by skeletons and skeletal warrior champions
  5. Barbary pirates in league with the Necromancer
  6. Notorious pirate port on the island of Al Amarja
  7. Skeleton base is in a hidden cove
  8. Giant Fell Beast patrols the sky
  9. Giant scorpions in the desert
  10. Bedouin minions
  11. Secret desert lair
  12. Skeletal Minotaur
  13. Gladiatorial arena
  14. Hulking sword-wielding henchman 
  15. The Necromancer
  16. Bound Ifrit 

  • The characters are crew-members aboard the Spear of St. George. Captain Christian Kent carries a coded royal decree from King Charles II (the year is sometime between 1680 and 1685) granting it permission to commit piracy against the interests of known vampire clans. It should be noted that the decree would only be recognized by British officials who are also members of a secret anti-vampire organization and is thus no guarantee of clemency in the case of capture.
  • Captain Kent is being blackmailed/extorted into working for an unidentified vampire aristocrat, identified only as "R" in various correspondences locked away in his quarters.
  • "R" has ordered Kent to continue on his mission but that he must find the source of the Necromancer's power [the bound Ifrit] and deliver it to "R".  
  • The party has at least heard rumors of skeletal raiders. Several allied ships have gone missing and at least on anti-vampire sanctuary has been obliterated.
  • Possibility of stumbling on at least one burning wreck left behind after an attack by skeletal corsairs. The ship is the Comet, another anti-vampire privateer ship out of Port Royal.
  • Possibility of encountering smoke coming from the village of Salernius. The party is too late to save the town, but they will certainly stumble upon a stranded skeletal raiding party. It will be a grizzly scene and human survivors will be very difficult to find.
  • Certain Barbary Pirates (by no means all of them) have struck deals with the Necromancer and will challenge foreign ships.
  • The port of Al Amarja (yes, that Al Amarja for those of you familiar with Over the Edge) is considered to be a free city. That doesn't mean it is a friendly city... the words "you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy" certainly apply. Members of the resistance, foreign spies, vampires, smugglers, ninjas, warlocks, and (of course) pirates can be found in abundance.
  • The skeletal corsairs launch their attacks from a secret cove on the Tunisian coast. Undead replacements are continuously marched over trackless dunes and through twisting canyons from the Necromancer's secret lair. Stray from the path and face giant scorpions, wandering undead, or worse.
  • The Necromancer's lair resembles Jabba's palace from Return of the Jedi.
  • The Necromancer is fond of gladiatorial games and will seek to capture foes for use in the pits. His ultimate prize is an enormous skeletal minotaur of his own construction (which resides in a labyrinth below the slave pits). 
  • The Necromancer's right-hand man is a scimitar-wielding blood thrall of prodigious size known only as Armando. 
  • The Necromancer himself is a vampire of uncertain age with Mediterranean features. He is the scion of one of Europe's foremost vampire clans and hopes to use his skeletal fleet to amass enough resources to reclaim his rightful position. Despite his name, he is only a middling sorcerer who owes his power to an Ifrit bottle that he discovered shortly after being forced into the dessert. 
Assistance and Rewards
  • Hector may have resistance contacts in the pirate port
  • The Necromancer has captured and is in the process of turning Lady Magdalene Aston. She is eager to escape and will assist the player characters if possible.
  • The Ifrit, bound to a brass bottle, is a dangerous reward as it is a malevolent entity who will pervert its instructions unless the person issuing the orders knows what he is doing. It could be used to help bring down the Necromancer.  
I could keep going and going but I am specifically trying to minimize my advance preparation so as to leave room for organic development. I'm also quite sure that we won't get very far into this particular adventure on Sunday so there will be plenty of time to revisit and re-funnel at a later date.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Preparing for Pirates vs. Vampires

I'll probably break out the Adventure Funnel later tonight, once I have time for some clear-headed creativity. Meanwhile, I thought I'd catalog the various resources that I'll have at my finger tips when running Sunday's play-by-post Pirates vs. Vampire game.

  • Risus: I don't really need to refer to it anymore, but it's good to have around for the groovy vibe that it gives off.
  • The Risus Companion: I'll have it handy because there are a couple of Target Number charts to which I occasionally refer and haven't completely memorized.
  • The Mythic Game Master Emulator: I'll need to have this handy if I decide play alongside my players or if I want the action to veer into really unexpected territory. There are a handful of charts that will see constant use.
  • Mythic Variations: I'll probably use some of the variant event tables to better reflect the genre (Action-Horror). 
Name Generators
  • Kleimo: Not as useful as it would be for a modern or near-future game, the random names pulled from real social security data are still useful for (mostly) anglo-saxon non-player characters.
  • Chris Pound: Again, not quite as useful as it would be for a straight-up fantasy or science fiction game but there are still some useful tables for faking names from non-western cultures.
  • Seventh Sanctum: Contains generators for pirate ship names, tavern names, and a few culturally-specific character names. Lots a stuff, really. Worth checking out.
  • Everyone Everywhere: My go-to-list for names by culture.
Mythic Complex Questions
  • Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: The url for the last entry is To randomize, simply roll d20,000, discard anything over 17,757, and then change the url accordingly. The results are often arcane but surprisingly well-suited for generating ink-blot answers appropriate to the genre and era.
  • TV Tropes: Has a Random Item button to produce a random trope that can be exploited for certain complex questions. More likely to produce anachronistic results than Brewers, but the cinematic potential is much greater.
  • Wikipedia: The random article link can produce a huge variety of material. I just use the first genre-appropriate idea that pops into my head. Though it can produce some real head-scratchers, it is especially good for geographical questions.
  • AEG's Ultimate Toolbox: Pricey for what amounts to be a giant book of tables, but many of these tables are highly appropriate to the Pirate genre. It was an impulse purchase that I hope to justify by heavy use in this campaign.
  • UNE: It stands for Universal NPC Emulator. I don't find it that useful for NPC emulation, but it can be used to help create interesting NPCs when otherwise stumped.
  • Instant Game: More useful tables, especially for generating settings.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Online Play

One of the great things abut Risus is its suitability for online play-by-chat or play-by-post games. If you have ever played either type of online game then you will probably agree that the pace, as compared to traditional face-to-face games, can slow down to a crawl. Games that might seem perfectly playable on somebody's dining room table become extremely unwieldy was transported to a different medium.

Disregarding the obvious problems of play-by-post games*, play-by-chat games slow the speed of communication in an exponential fashion. Maybe it's because of the slowness of typing (especially for two-finger typers like me) or maybe it's the lack of audio-visual context. Whatever the reason, the pace of these games limits what can be accomplished in a session and scenes with intense die-rolling, rule-checking, and tactical decision making seem to drag on and on. It becomes very difficult to produce that kind of seat-of-your pants excitement that should be possible in face-to-face games.

But this is where Risus comes to the rescue. Combat (and any other action sequence modeled as combat) is typically over very quickly in Risus. There isn't a lot of back-and-forth discussion of rules and tactical decisions are rarely important. Combat resolves into a few die rolls and the narrative abilities of the players involved to make things exciting and interesting. Speeding up combat makes room for more combat (and other cool activities) and hence a great deal more can be accomplished in a given session.

I know folks who love tools like Open RPG. I've personally used Screen Monkey on my Dragonspire game a few years back.  But as I prepare for Pirates vs. Vampires, I think I'd like to simplify things a bit. We're going to use iChat with audio and possibly video. That should speed things up a fair bit, though I may miss the transcript. I'm also not going to worry about preparing pretty maps at all (that was another cause of slowness in Dragonspire). For dice, I'm probably going to use a real-time dice-server like Hamete. Other than that, there's nothing to it. No need for  fancy character sheets or NPC trackers in Risus.

* I should note that while I love the idea of play-by-post games, I find them impossible to play for reasons entirely unrelated to speed. My problem is that they are always on and that I tend to get into a mode where I feel the need to respond to posts at all hours of the day. For me, it makes it much more difficult to get anything else done.

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Created: 2 December 2005 / Last modified: 5 Feb 2010
Risus: The Anything RPG ©1993-2010 by S. John Ross.
Risus Monkey ©2005-2010 by Tim Ballew.

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