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Spot & Listen in 3e

We’ve been playing D&D 3e again recently, and here’s a tiny tip I don’t think I’ve mentioned before.

Instead of a single perception roll, D&D 3e had separate Spot and Listen checks, along with separate Move Silently and Hide skills. Which was kind of rubbish, because often it was really both happening at once. And if you roll once for each, you’re actually doubling the chance of failure (because two successes doesn’t help you, but one failure means you get caught). Or the GM was picking one randomly — yelling “make a Spot check!” as the goblins creep up on you — even though maybe you were better at Listen and it would work just as well.

Having a single Perception and Stealth stat is obviously better, but here’s a fix you can use in 3e without rewriting the rules: roll once and apply it to both tests.

You’re sneaking past the ogre, and you don’t want it to see or hear you of course. You roll a 9. You have +4 Hide and +6 Move Silently, so your Hide was 13 and your Move Silently was 15. Then the ogre rolls once, and applies their Spot and Listen to see if you are about to get a club to the face.

If only one applies, like you’re listening for something coming up behind you or trying to spot something sitting still in a bush, yep, still roll one die, but only use the one skill. Easy peasy.

You could probably take a similar approach when you’re doing a some mix of Bluff, Diplomacy, and/or Intimidate (which are also split up way more than necessary), but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Ben Robbins | December 22nd, 2021 |

Kingdomon: Back to Kin Je’do

“Imagine if the Warlord had never conquered Kin Je’do hundreds of years ago. If their philosophy of living in harmony with nature had been what survived and prospered? How different would our world be now..?”

In game 9, the peaceful citizens of Kin Je’do struggle to find a way to deal with Pashelkata, visiting scholar and spy for the Warlord, who wants to use their knowledge to turn Kingdomon into beasts of war…

In game 71, the crew of the SS Melody from hundreds of years in the future steps out from the Sub-Verse and see Pashelkata, studying in the libraries of Kin Je’do, learning secrets to take back to his master…

In game 15, the Warlord marches on Kin Je’do, enslaving its scholars and looting its libraries…

In game 73, we get ready to go back in time to stop him…

Now that we’ve inadvertently introduced time travel into our game, our Crossroad is, do we try to change history and save Kin Je’do? Because play big or go home.

Before we start, we talk about style: do we want a Crossroad where we sit on the sub and debate whether to intervene, watching historical events replay through hazy ether-windows? Or do we want “Back to the Future” hijinks where characters jump into the past and sneak around in the background, hiding behind bookshelves and eavesdropping on scenes we played a year and half ago?

Our decision: hijinks. So much hijinks. But all just barely toeing the line of not definitely intervening yet, because we can’t decide that until we resolve the Crossroad. We inadvertantly abduct the saavy scholar spy Pashelkata back to the SS Melody in the Sub-Verse, before (double-inadvertantly) returning with him to the Warlord’s camp and getting captured and tied to tent-poles. There are cameos by multiple fan favorites from 50+ games ago. Soooo much happens, with whole background arcs that could be filled in between scenes, like the most bad-ass of fiction. Our imaginary Kingdomon series fan-wiki is melting down from all the traffic.

In the end, just about every character wants to intervene. Touchstone tells us that the crew fervently wants to do the right thing and save Kin Je’do from the jackboots. But the predictions… the predictions are pretty bad. Yes, we’ll change the course of events, but we may also erase ourselves from history. And/or we’ll be trapped in the past, unable to ever return.

Was there a last minute change of heart and a single-handed mutiny/sabotage to avert a decision that could obliterate the whole world we’ve known and everyone in it? There was, but it was nowhere near a sure thing.

And here’s the tricky thing about Crossroads: a Crossroad is always a question about what the Kingdom decides to do, not the outcome. Consequences are for Perspective to declare. Our question was, do we try to save Kin Je’do. Not, “do we change history”. So after all our tampering, sneaking around, and telling people faaaaar too much about the future — not to mention leaving captured advanced technology in the absolutely wrong hands — we could have changed history *even though* we decided not to. Or, vice versa, Perspective could say “yeah, even if we try to save Kin Je’do, we’ll fail and things will turn out the same”.

Our Perspectives told us that if we intervened, it would work. We would win, but at a terrible price.

We almost did it anyway. That’s how much we still loved Kin Je’do.

Ben Robbins | December 9th, 2021 | , , , | 2 comments

Kingdomon: Enter the Sub-Verse

In which we dance on the edge of the abyss, as story gamers do.

The Kingdom Legacy game we’ve been playing for almost two years has suddenly taken a bold, dangerous turn. Not content to merely keep having immense fun every week, we made an unplanned and spontaneous escalation that threatens the entire foundation of our campaign.

You guessed it: TIME TRAVEL.

The weird thing is, we had no intention of introducing time travel. None whatsoever. In this era of the history our Kingdom is the SS Melody, an exploratory submarine seeking out new Jedo (read as: Pokemon) and new civilizations on the other side of the globe. We wanted a very Star Trek-meets-Life Aquatic quirky exploration vibe. We had played this era before, and had fun dealing with pirates and discovering “terrifying” Leviafins, but didn’t really hit the tone we had in mind. So months later we decided to return and take the Melody for another voyage with some new cast members.

Adorable Leviafin monster, brought to life by Caroline. Food for scale.

In our first new Crossroad, an accident led to the release of all our captured Jedo, leaving them to scurry all over the ship, and led to some deep philosophical questions about the nature of the “kingdo discs” (q.v. Pokeballs) that we use to capture wild pocket monsters for dueling and training. What’s it even like in there? Are they in stasis? Are they pacing around in a little room? These experiments led to an unlucky human crew member getting sucked into a disc’s crystal matrix. Whoops!

And now the escalation snowball was rolling down the mountain because the next step was *the entire submarine* and the full crew being accidentally sucked into the disc matrix… which, as it turned out, wasn’t just storing things in individual discs. The discs themselves were links to the subatomic world: the “Sub-Verse”, if you will. A whole other microcosmic universe, where the Melody could now sail around exploring realms of matter never before seen by human eyes. Were all the disc’ed Jedo floating around in there, having a good time? Yes they were.

This alone was enough to completely flip our lids, 70 games into this campaign. It fit and explained any number of things we had established in past and future eras of our history.

But of course before we start our next Crossroad, we have to hammer out the details of how it’s going to work. We had wondered before if Jedo were in stasis or perceived time passing while they waited to be summoned for a tournament, so now that we knew that they were conscious and roaming around, we pondered how does time pass here versus the normal world? Slower? Faster? The same? We decided well maybe it varied unpredictably, sometimes months would seem like days, other times it might match the real world perfectly. Aka whatever was the most interesting for the story at any particular time, we could do.

Then Al says something along the lines of “I want us to be able to look out through kingdo discs out into the real world!” Huh? Okay. Sure, that makes sense: we had established the discs were just connections between the Sub-Verse and the normal material world. So we can fire up the sensor table and use it to make “windows” to peek out to where discs are, assuming we find the matching spot in the Sub-Verse or whatever. Because the underlying question of course is whether the Melody can ever return to the normal world, but we don’t want to get into that yet because we’re much more excited to explore this whole new world and not just run away.

But now the alchemy of group creativity starts to get a mind of its own. When you put your ingredients in the pot, sometimes you can’t predict what comes out. Conclusions you did not foresee become irrefutable.

Because if the passage of time varies in the Sub-Verse, or clearly behaves differently than in the normal universe, couldn’t we see out to different points in time? And since we warped in through a disc connection in the first place, couldn’t we go back out again… INTO A DIFFERENT TIME?!?!?

Boom, mic drop. We had, inadvertently, laid a very logical foundation for time travel, without ever intending to create time travel.

Do we close our eyes and back away quietly, shut the door and pretend this never happened? Or do we put our entire beloved campaign at risk by leaping in with both feet, potentially undermining everything we have created together over the last 70 games???

I’ll give you one guess…

NEXT UP: Back to Kin Je’do, or Taking On the Warlord, Take 2!

Ben Robbins | December 6th, 2021 | , , , | 1 comment

Building Better Gods

“I’m the god of fire. I have fire powers”
“Fire powers? What are you, a superhero?”

We’re in the middle of a game and you need to make up a god. Because you know, we’re gamers, we have to create whole worlds, gods, civilizations on the fly. What do you do? The number one approach I see is to say “ah yes, they are the god of X”. Fire, medicine, poetry, death, rainbows, whatever. They are the god of That, capital T. Which is… fine? I guess? But boring. Literally one-dimensional.

Gods deserve to be more than just superheroes. Heck, superheroes deserve more than just being defined by a single power.

But there’s an easy fix. Because have I ever brought a problem to you without including a solution? That’s not how I roll.

Instead of saying they’re god of one thing, list at least three different things. And don’t just pick three related concepts. Spread out and pick things that seem like an odd mix: Fire, Swords, and Matrimony. The Sea, Cities, and Dreams. Theft, Pottery, and Roads.

Sure three things is three times as many as one thing. But it’s not just triple the concept. With three things the imagination starts to fill in the blanks and draw unspoken connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. Death, Wind, and Poetry? Why those three? What does it mean? What does that say about poetry? Or death? Or wind? What’s the philosophy or origin myth there?!?!

Students of the classics will notice this is a lot like mythological gods of our world. Just ask Apollo, god of the sun, music, and medicine (and about seven other things). Because a real religion is complex with lots of nooks and crannies, even contradictions. Only a made-up religion is clean and simple.

Ben Robbins | November 17th, 2021 | , , | 2 comments

Quest: Escape the Haunted House!

They said this old house was haunted, but we didn’t listen. Now we have to escape. Our flashlights are flickering, there’s no coverage, the floorboards are creaking, and the wind is howling through the trees…

The Haunting is a spooky Halloween quest for Follow, ready for you to download and play right now:

We took it for a test run the other night and gave ourselves nightmares, but it should work for a whole range of spooky styles, from lighthearted Scooby Doo hijinks all the way to serious and scary ghost stories. You have been warned!!!

Ben Robbins | October 26th, 2021 | | 2 comments

“If it weren’t for those darn kids..!”

It’s the spooky season, so I’ve been taking a break from other projects to put together a fittingly Halloween quest for Follow: Escape the Haunted House!

They told us the old Harker Manor was haunted, but we didn’t listen. Now our flashlights are flickering, the floorboards are creaking and… what was that noise?!?? Probably just the wind. We’ll probably find a way out faster if we split up…

If I do it right the quest should work for actual scary ghost stories as well as Scooby Doo hijinks (“it was Old Man Withers in a rubber mask all along!”). Will you lose characters along the way? You will almost definitely lose characters along the way.

One of the interesting angles of a story like this is a fellowship that isn’t actually together. Maybe a bunch of the characters are teenagers who’ve snuck into the house on a dare, but elsewhere you could have paranormal investigators asking for directions to the estate while the sheriff warns them not to trespass. As the story unfolds all these characters are part of the fellowship and have a united goal of getting everyone out of the house… at least everyone who survives!

I hope to have it ready soon, so you can take it for a spin while the October chill is still in the air…

UPDATE: It’s ready

Ben Robbins | October 19th, 2021 | | 2 comments