The Alexandrian

Archive for the ‘Roleplaying Games’ category

Nick Fury - Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

My general approach to handling “canon” when it comes to using fictional settings in an RPG generally follows the “World War II Doctrine”: Gaming in an established, fictional setting is no different than playing a game that’s set during World War II.

With that being said, there’s a broad spectrum of ways in which you can set a game in World War II at the gaming table:

A) The events of World War II as they happened historically can’t be changed, but primarily exist as a backdrop. You’ll hear about the events of the war, but you’ll never actually meet Hitler or change the outcome of the Battle of Midway.

B) You can meet Hitler, but you can’t shoot him. If you do shoot him, it will turn out you shot a double and history continues along unperturbed.

C) You can totally shoot Hitler.

There’s also the semi-tangential issue of the Alternative History Remix: This is the one where you decide that in your version of World War II, Germany is led by a guy name Hans Strauber and they’re fighting the White Alliance of Brittania and Charlegmania. (Or whatever.)

There’s also a second, rarer spectrum in which the PCs are actually canonical characters. Let’s call it the “Dragonlance Spectrum”:

A) You are playing the members of Hitler’s cabinet, but you’ll create an original character (replacing their historical analogs).

B) You are playing the actual, historical members of Hitler’s cabinet, but you’re free to take whatever actions you want (even if those contradict the historical reality of what the cabinet did).

C) You are playing the actual, historical members of Hitler’s cabinet and you’re going to be railroaded into experiencing World War II exactly the way that they did.

(Actually, this one is probably a little less of a clear spectrum. You could theoretically play non-canonical characters who are nonetheless being railroaded through the same events.)

Ken Levine proffers (and comments upon) a Mike Nichols quote:

Every scene is either a fight, seduction, or negotiation.

Levine points out some caveats with the claim and Mark Evanier (who originally linked me to Levine’s piece) offers a few more, but I thought the simplicity of the fight / seduction / negotiation triad was an interesting conceptual tool when thinking about scene-framing. As I discussed in the Art of Pacing, there’s a lot of different ways you can think about the creative elements that you put into a scene and a lot of different structures you can use (or abuse)

Van Helsing - Peter CushingDH Boggs at Hidden in Shadows has put together an absolutely fascinating bibliographic analysis of the earliest versions of the turn undead ability in D&D.

The short version: Virtually no explanation of the “turn undead” ability was provided in the original edition of D&D. Boggs makes a strong case that the ability was only being used by Arneson’s Blackmoor group in Minneapolis and not being used by Gygax’s Greyhawk group in Lake Geneva. Gygax, therefore, gave the ability short shrift in compiling the 1974 rulebooks; this short shrift, in turn, resulted in people interpreting the ability in a way that was much more powerful than Arneson intended (or the Blackmoor group was experiencing). And the legacy of that power-up is something that the game is still dealing with 5+ editions later.

This is a great example of the “Ur-Game” of D&D, as I described it in my Reactions to OD&D several years ago.

What’s also interesting to me is how closely Boggs’ reconstruction of Arneson’s original rules mirror the house rules for turning that I posted here on the Alexandrian back in 2007. (These rules are still being regularly used in my 3.5 Ptolus campaign. And they’re great: Streamlined resolution paired with a range of effects which is less overpowered and, simultaneously, more interesting in the results it produces.)

Hack & Slash posted On the Visual History of the Illithid the other day and pointed out that, in the original Monster Manual, the portrait of the mind flayer was surrounded by an irregular octagon that was completely unique within that tome:

Mind Flayer - Monster Manual (1977)

“Although several creatures in the monster manual have borders, most are square. Only two other creatures, the Bugbear and Type V demons have octagonal borders and both of their borders are more regular. Each pane of the mind flayer border is of a different length, no two matching.” Which feels oddly appropriate, given the dimension-rending origins of the mind flayer in many versions of their mythos.

I was struck by the idea that you might be able to take that octagonal border and turn it into an iconic symbol or badge. An Icon of the Flayer. A couple dozen minutes of fiddling around in Photoshop gave me this:

Icon of the Flayers

Eternal Lies - Will Hindmarch, Jeff Tidball, and Jeremy KellerThe effect of prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures in Trail of Cthulhu is very straight-forward: Investigators are considered to be hurt, resulting in them suffering a +1 difficulty on all tests.

The designers of Eternal Lies had a desire to make exposure to extreme heat more mechanically interesting and they introduced a rudimentary heat track. I found their treatment interesting, but wanted something a little more robust (particularly when it came to treatment and recovery). These mechanics are specifically designed for desert travel.

(They’re also not exactly “untested”, but I don’t have a series of posts called “minimally tested”, so here we go.)


0. Not suffering heat.

1. Can only make spends after first resting for 10 minutes (to gather their thoughts and spirits).

2. Difficulty of contests +1 (including hit thresholds).

3. Difficulty of tests at +1.

4. Can only make 1 spend per day and must make it in the morning after a good night’s sleep, before the day’s temperatures begin to rise.

5. Cannot make any spends.

6. Can only refresh 1 Health per day. If Heat Track would advance, it remains at 6 but character suffers 1 damage.


Desert Travel: +1 Heat track per day. Characters who traveled during the day are considered to be under extreme heat conditions for the purposes of treating heat.

Camping: Characters who take a rest from traveling by camping for one full day are considered to be in favorable conditions for the purposes of treating heat.

Oasis: An oasis or similar place of significant respite may be considered “controlled conditions” for the purposes of treating heat.


A given character can be treated for heat once per day.

First Aid/Medicine in favorable conditions to prevent advancement or reduce position on the heat track by 1.

First Aid/Medicine (difficulty 3 + heat track) in extreme heat conditions to prevent advancement or reduce position on the heat track.

First Aid 1 / Medicine 1 in controlled conditions to bring an investigator back to 0.



Recent Posts

Recent Comments


Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © The Alexandrian. All rights reserved.