Rooted in make-believe

Land-of-make-believe-sign

When I was a kid, seeing a movie meant more than just a couple of hours of entertainment. It meant hours or maybe days of material for playing “make-believe” or “pretend”. After The Goonies or Return of the Jedi or anything else I liked, the ideas and characters and settings and themes would inform my playtime for a while afterwards. (In the case of Star Wars, I guess that was true for years…)

Now that I’m a dad, of course, I’ve realized how normal this is. Kids watch an adventure movie, and then they go replay the movie in their own ways, either with their own dolls & “action figures” (i.e. dolls), or maybe they run around in the living room yelling and laughing and pretending they are the characters.

The more things change…

…the more they stay the same. After all, what are role-playing games but semi-structured make-believe? When I’m playing some computer game or reading a book for a while, I end up wanting to emulate that in my RPGs. Earlier this year, I played lots of Diablo 3. That led to making new lists of monsters, researching cathedral floor plans, working on archetypes and character classes for demon hunter-esque characters, and so forth. It didn’t lead to an actual campaign, though. Maybe the game prep was enough to satisfy that thirst for a while.

Now lately I’ve been listening to the audiobooks in the series A Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones) and I’ve reached about the midpoint, halfway through the third book of five. I love the intrigues and scheming far more than the battles and bad sex (don’t judge me). Any scene with Tyrion and Varys grabs my attention far more than another account of outlaws in the forest. So my solo Scarlet Heroes campaign has been all urban adventures. I’m trying to establish this character as something akin to a Master of Whisperers, I suppose – an information broker, eventually, but one who occasionally pulls out the short sword to get things done. (It’s a good method for world building, too, but that’s another post for another day.)

The bleedover goes in all directions, of course. Game of Thrones has led me to spend more evenings playing Civilization V again, going for diplomatic and culture victores. Actually, it’s circular, because playing D&D again drove me to fantasy fiction again like GoT and the Kingkiller Chronicles (Name of the Wind, Wise Man’s Fear, etc by Patrick Rothfuss).

Next!

Dungeon crawling is fun and still probably where D&D games shine the most, especially those based on older editions. My occasional game with my kids mostly consists of random encounters and some underground exploration so I can just keep pace with their insatiable curiosity and creativity.

It could be that this is actually where I’d like 5e more than B/X or Swords and Wizardry. Perhaps a play-by-post or text-based Roll20 game would provide the right medium for a game of urban intrigue and mysteries.

What I know for sure is that I’m having tons of fun even just with game prep I never use and solo RP and gaming with the kids. The 8-year-old in my heart is giggling once more.

Solo RPG Play using Scarlet Heroes

I finally spent some time playing Scarlet Heroes, the old-school D&D-alike from Sine Nomine Publishing and Kevin Crawford. Unusual for these sorts of games, Scarlet Heroes focuses on very small parties (one or two characters) and even provides support for solo play where the GM is also the player.

The system supports existing D&D material with one or two characters by modifying how dice are read. Briefly, NPCs hit points are replaced by their hit dice (so a 1 HD mook is taken out by 1 point of damage). Damage dice instead map a range of rolls to a damage result (so a roll of 2-5 on damage does 1 point of damage, a roll of 6-9 does 2 points of damage, etc.) And heroes get a “fray die”, which allows them to do damage every turn to NPCs at the same or lower HD as the hero’s level.

For solo play, the system provides lots of material for procedural generation. Scarlet Heroes presents three general types of adventures: Urban, Wilderness, and Dungeon. The last two are fairly traditional sandboxes, while the first tends to focus on intrigue and investigations:

These adventures are the catch-all heading for plots centering around urban intrigue, investigation, political machinations, and grim street justice. The “urban” area might be nothing bigger than a village, or even a remote rural villa, but the events that are going on revolve around people and their interactions rather than the exploration of unknown wilderness or the plumbing of ancient ruins. Run an urban adventure when you want your hero to deal with their fellow humans.

This first time I ran through an Urban adventure, which I tracked in a Google Doc. It developed into low-fantasy and (thus far) zero magic in a fake English society, rather than the default Red Tides campaign setting. While I used the procedural generation rules for “scenes” and “foes”, this time around I didn’t use the oracle that much. That would let me ask questions and get variations on “yes/no” answers (such as “yes, but…” with a complication). I didn’t completely follow the rules properly, mostly due to paying insufficient attention, but anyway it was fun.

This will also help my family game where I run some adventures for my kids just because of all the procedural generation to support the GM (even in traditional non-solo play). I am unsure of Sine Nomine’s stance on add-on material such as additional classes, but you could probably backport your favorites without too much trouble once you understand the main changes they’ve made to old-school D&D.