Quick Notes on Fringe: the RPG

(Not Fringeworthy, that’s different.)

Use Nemesis, which is fairly simple and free. A couple of nomenclature changes — Madness Meters are Stability Meters, and most difficulties are fairly low. Things are weird but not alien weird. The Unnatural track is the Fringe track. Trump dice are likewise Fringe dice.

There is no supernatural, but there is fringe science, obviously. Those versed in fringe science might go above 5d in a given stat. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nina turned out to have 6d in Body, and Dr. Bishop has 6d Mind. Perhaps more.

Regular combat still exists. Right now the show looks more procedural than actiony, which means firearms should be deadly, which I think they are in Nemesis. However, the interesting combat scenes are scientific. This works more or less like regular combat.

1. Declare your character’s action. The show’s set up with one main scientist, which works fine — everyone else does supporting actions, which feed back into the scientist’s work, giving him bonus dice.

2. Roll the appropriate dice pool. Narrate accordingly. Sometimes it’s going to be science skill vs. science skill (can we figure out how to undo this dimensional transposition before it explodes in downtown Boston?), and sometimes it’d be science skill vs. something else. I think the whole tank scene in the pilot was vs. tactics, for example.

3. Damage is to be contemplated. Could be physical. Could be time ebbing away. Possibly losing a fight results in Stability Meter checks. Mostly I think I like time passing; a lot of this stuff is going to be mad science on the clock, since it’s a procedural show. So it’s… when you run out of wound boxes, you’re out of time or the experiment failed.

You don’t have weapons. You have centrifuges, which get statted up the same way.

Visit To Another Tribe

I tried Living Forgotten Realms today. It was pretty fun, actually. Short-form explanation: you write up a D&D character, and you sign up for an event — there are two public regular nights here in the Boston area, and each night so far has had at least two modules — and you go down and play with whoever else signed up and the DM, and at the end of the night you and the DM record your progression and then you can do it again the next week, or two weeks from now, or at a con. Whatever.

Pros: no pressure at all. You play when you wanna. Tired of the wizard? Swap to the fighter. Nice casual environment. Meet new people. All the modules are Wizards-approved.

Cons: Not super-heavy on the roleplay. Meet new people. All the modules are Wizards-approved.

I wouldn’t want it as my sole gaming outlet, maybe, but I had a good time and I expect I’ll do more. We had a great GM, who did an excellent job of keeping things moving and who knew the rules well. He handled skill challenges nicely; when we needed a push on appropriate skills, we used ’em, and he was fair about arbitrating other skills we could use.

I got stepped on once or twice when I busted out a bit of clerical roleplay and someone else wanted to make the roll due to a higher bonus, but c’est la vie. From an in character perspective, I think Alesk (oooh, a character sheet) did the talking on those occasions no matter who made the roll, so nyah.

The module was solid. I was wondering how these get built for random groups. Simple setup: “you all got notes requesting your presence at a meeting,” and we all went and met each other, and there was no angst about whether or not we were going to work together. I think the rogues got to show their sinister sides and my cleric got to be all holy and we acknowledged imperfect compatibility without letting it get in the way. Probably not the greatest start for an ongoing campaign, but for six people scheduled to work together for a few days? Worked fine.

The GM framed competently. He wasn’t shy about asking for skill rolls and providing hints, both out of combat and in combat. I think the modules encourage that as well, but the little touches like allowing us to roll Arcana to intuit that Sleep wasn’t going to work on the statue trap was good; saved people from feeling silly for using their big powers poorly. And nudging us gently towards the right places as we progressed towards the crypt was nice too. I didn’t feel railroaded into a specific way of handling a certain pack of guards, but I do feel like we were offered some possible smart ideas. None of which we took! And we still got past ’em.

I pretty much liked the table. I spent a few minutes pre-game chatting about the irksomeness of trying to get Zul’Aman bear mounts with the one couple, and one guy brought his kid along for some D&D exposure, and everyone was cool with that and super-helpful to the kid. Definitely varying degrees of game expertise, but I’m not gonna judge when I kept forgetting my bonuses to hit.

Also I got a +1 Holy Symbol of Life. And I suspect there’s a shortage of healers. So I gotta play again…

The Inquisitor's Library: Portmortem

“And lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him.”

So that worked out pretty well. I wanted to run a grim, darkly complected game with veins of humor in the Warhammer 40K universe. Good match of setting and mood there. I got pretty much what I wanted. It took a bit of adjusting and shuffling and learning and talking to nail the mythos, but by the time we hit our stride it was awesome.

The goal was to do a tight series of self-contained missions. I knew this was going to be a short term game, but I didn’t want to run a whole story arc in three months, so I tried to treat it as a series of modules so that the end wouldn’t feel like we’d stopped in the middle. Also, I wanted to be able to pick it up again and run another one or two session bit sometime.

This sort of failed for two reasons. First, I couldn’t resist picking up some of the pieces of the first mission and turning them into an ongoing story. The spiders wanted to come back, and thus they did. The players should count themselves fortunate that I didn’t dump the Baron’s ghost on them, but frankly, he’s out there.

Layering in ongoing story elements also meant that I didn’t have to scrape to engage six players in the details of each mission. If the acolytes were heading to a feudal planet, say, I could drop in scenes growing out of the previous mission to give our tech priest some spotlight rather than carefully inserting a techie bit directly related to the matter at hand.

And the secret third reason is that I just couldn’t help it; it’s my best technique for giving a game texture. C’est la vie.

Six players is a lot, though. I should have run for five or four. On the other hand, if I ask myself who I’d leave out? Well, none of them. Er, none of you. Whichever. I enjoyed running for everyone and everyone liked playing. No good answers there.

Anyhow, the upshot is that I think I cut it to a fairly abrupt close. I thought about regearing for a story arc; I know where certain things are going. Perseus has a hopefully disturbing bit of news about the extent to which the five that is four has infested the Inquisitor’s Library and the denizens therein, for example. Also, to the best of my knowledge, the acolytes left Acreage without turning over some drugs to a certain person.

But I think it’d take another few months to play to a conclusion point. You don’t want to build the corruption too quickly. So cutting it now is the right move.

Also, I emphasize that the game was in my eyes a success. The system is a cranky old antique from the 80s that nonetheless works. Tweaking everyone’s weapon to be superior quality and reminding people of the aiming rules fixes combat ineptitude; treating failed rolls as successes with consequences takes care of the rest. And the combat is simple enough so that we could memorize how it works. I may have been getting a rule about Toughness wrong for the entire run, but if I did, I just made things more deadly.

The first mission hit an appropriate level of scariness. The second mission wasn’t meant to be scary, it was meant to be grueling. I think we got that nailed as well — the final combat sequence, when I just kept throwing waves of a few thugs at the PCs one at a time, with some PCs falling over into drugged hallucinations — that was meant to be grim and long and painful and I think it worked well without keeping our combat monsters from being scary. Hopefully it worked for the players as well.

All in all? Success. I am nothing but happy with the players, cause they gave me awesome stuff to work with. Discussion, feedback, and comments are welcome.

World's Longest Dungeon

The moral equivalent of running World’s Largest Dungeon for 4e, at present, would be to just run the module series. WotC is gonna put out three modules for each tier; H1 and H2 are the first two for the Heroic tier, and when H3 comes out that’ll get a campaign to level 11. There’ll then be P1, P2, and P3; followed by E1, E2, and E3. These are all announced.

Each module comes with play maps. I mean, come on.

White Wolf Validates Us

From the WW LJ:

Another idea that’s coming up evolved in a similar way. As I’m writing this, first drafts have already started trickling in for the tentatively-titled New Wave Requiem, which is a historical book for playing Vampire in 1980s America — think of it as Requiem for Rome meets Miami Vice. It all started as a joke between myself, Joe, Russell and matt about taking cheesy 80s vampire movies and making them into SASs. I tried to put the idea aside, but it kept gnawing at me for weeks. Finally, I wrote up a very rough outline for it, and gave copies of it to everyone involved, as well as Rich for his perspective. There was a lot of side conversations about focus and logistics and how it would look and read, but I never once heard “That idea will never work.” It’s not a new idea (it’ll technically be the fourth historical Vampire book we’ve done), but it’s a different kind of “historical book,” and absolutely an idea that would never have flown as a traditional hardcover release. It’s another experiment, another step away from what’s safe and solid for us, and I’m excited as hell to see how it turns out.

You don’t have to sell me! Actually, thinking back on it, I’m betting I was at least partially inspired by Eddy’s inspiration, since I recall him mentioning his 80s vampire stuff way way back. It’s a pretty solid way to run a Vampire game.

I’m stoked to pick this up.

Megadungeon Mapping

If I’m going to draw maps, I want them to be old school maps. Black lines, graph paper, no shadows, no textures. You can pretend this is because I am unartistic if you like; you will be correct in large part. Still.

Just about nothing does good old style maps. Dundjinni is really oriented towards neat battlemaps. RPG Map Maker is unpolished and is a paint program rather than a draw program. Map Tools is nice but is also more of a paint program, I think.

So OmniGraffle. You can set up a nice old school graph grid and you can include that grid when printing or exporting images. Snap to grid is easy. If you do everything as lines, it’s not too hard to add a hole in a wall. I figured out how to do round rooms. Caverns and river lines may be hard, but I’ll cross that obstacle when I come to it.

Continue reading


I begin to have a sneaking suspicion that my tabletop gaming inclinations are back. In full force.

The old school D&D guys (you know, the people playing first edition AD&D or blue box D&D or whatever) are way into the megadungeon concept these days. Big massive dungeons with dozens of levels and hundreds of rooms that can contain an entire campaign. Or multiple campaigns.

And when I say “way into,” what I mean is 30 page threads about dungeon mapping and design considerations. I’m talking an entire forum dedicated to megadungeons. There’s some serious thought going into this stuff — people theorizing, diagramming dungeon layout to determine the linearity or lack thereof of a dungeon, so on and so forth.

Plus maps! Hardcore.

I am reminded that when I was sketching out Tarnished Brass in my mind, I was trying to come up with a rationale for a dungeon crawl, although it promptly got all political on me. 4e makes a better system for a dungeon crawl than Reign, though.

Those inclinations I mentioned earlier seem to be very retro at the moment. Although neo-retro. I keep wanting to take old school gaming and put fins on it so it can go faster.

The Branch Office

This is just another one for the hopper.

The system and setting is Over the Edge, with a minor setting tweak; the D’Aubainnes are not quite as powerful in international terms as they are in vanilla OtE, so they need to worry more about maintaining a delicate balance between the USSR, China, and the United States.

The campaign framework: there’s a United States consulate located in The Edge. The D’Aubainnes are not currently allowing the United States to have an embassy in Freedom City, although Russia does have one. All PCs work for the consulate, whether they’re American citizens or local employees. Preferably mostly the former, I think. Obvious archetypes: the consul himself, who could be a bright young kid looking to make his name at State, or a cynical veteran, or someone being punished for a screwup elsewhere. The CIA rep under cover as an agricultural attache. The press attache/PR spokesman/cultural activity organizer. (“Hey, kids, wanna learn baseball?”) The US citizen who sought and was granted asylum in the consulate but can’t return to the States for complex legal reasons. The local working as a secretary.

PCs deal with the interesting and diverse problems that US citizens bring to them; I’d have a lot of room to drive stories. Also plenty of room for the PCs to drive their own stories. I’d expect plenty of espionage stuff. Mystic shit depends on the degree of player desire. Some horror, of course.

Influences are Charlie Wilson’s War, The Quiet American, etc.

The Inquisitor’s Library

The Dark Heresy game outlined here seems to be about to take off. In the interests of screwing around with new ways to manage information, I started a blog for this one rather than a wiki. We’ll see how it goes. I’m offering all the players posting access to the blog.


It’s 2020: Orlando. Walt Disney World is bigger. Universal Studios has become a true rival to the Mouse. The rulers of Miami are emerging from a brutal civil war; Tallahassee has been disturbingly quiet for over a decade. An old Prince is sleeping; a disbarred lawyer who started his political career in a nursing home watches over the city. With a Sheriff’s approval, of course.

One day, there’s a letter.

“Hey, kids. Long time no see. You guys ought to drop by Dubai; the moonlight is thrilling. Bring the ambulance driver.”

Dubai by Night

Orlando Trash 2020: Dubai Trash.

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