MUP 092 - Mad Skillz and Co-Keeperz

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Keeper Dan
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MUP 092 - Mad Skillz and Co-Keeperz

Post by Keeper Dan » Mon Dec 14, 2015 6:14 am

In Episode 92, Keepers Jon, Dan and Chad catch up on a couple of listener-suggested topics, including alternatives to the Call of Cthulhu character advancement and how to use multiple keepers to improve your game. This episode was originally recorded on November 16, 2015. Tech issues caused a delay in release, and the updated Crier Dan recorded was on December 13, 2015.

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Topic 1-

We talk about the idea of "Adversaries" in play and the whole idea of using co-Keepers for a game.
Hello, Keepers!

Dan, you may recall that we met briefly after the "Future of Chaosium" panel at Gen Con; in the course of talking, I mentioned my actual-play podcast, The Esoteric Order of Roleplayers, and you said to drop you a line after the Con with a reminder. Three months later... ;)

We just wrapped up playing through The Great Pendragon Campaign (20 months of play and 78 sessions!), but we're primarily fans of horror-gaming. We're playing through The Big Hoodoo for Trail of Cthulhu right now, and we'll be tackling Horror on the Orient Express (with CoC 7e) in 2016.

(Oh, and here's the link to our blog/feed: http://esoteric-rp.blogspot.com/)

On the topic of Orient Express, I have a question for you all: what are your thoughts on Adversaries/co-Keepers? This is the concept of having a second person in the GM role who plays one or more of the main villains of the campaign, as well as perhaps a selection of minor NPCs. We tried the Adversary approach with The Great Pendragon Campaign, but it didn't end up working out in the context and structure of the overall campaign (although we did manage to get some interesting villain moments out of it before ultimately ditching it and having the Adversary player join the group as a regular PC). However, I'm thinking with Orient Express, the approach might work better, what with the "Strangers on the Train" booklet and the various baddies to be found throughout the course of the campaign.

Just wondering if this was something any of you guys had encountered before, or if you'd consider employing it in any of your games.
Thanks--and go 'Pods!
- David
Along the way, we mention two scenarios that call for multiple keepers: Grace Under Pressure and Gatsby and the Great Race.


Topic 2-


Some players and keepers prefer a more progressive system for character advancement in Call of Cthulhu. For this topic, we riff on an article sent to us by friend-of-the-show Cory.

For reference, the skill advancement rules in 7th Edition are on page 94 of the Keeper's Rulebook, under "Rewards of Experience: The Investigator Development Phase." In 6th Edition, those rules are on page 53, under "Rewards of Experience." The progression of skills is essentially the same in both editions.

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Re: MUP 092 - Mad Skillz and Co-Keeperz

Post by sirlarkins » Tue Dec 15, 2015 5:50 pm

Welcome back, guys! And a big thanks for taking my "adversary" email and running with it. Listening to your thoughts on the topic helped clarify my own ideas, which I'll expand on a little bit here.

I didn't want to get too deep into the background in my email, but essentially what I discovered in having an Adversary in my Pendragon game was that the player often didn't have a whole lot to do at the table. She schemed and plotted in between sessions (particularly once she got to start playing Morgan le Fay), but since villains usually operate from afar, there was little opportunity for direct role-play. Ergo, my thought of letting the Adversary also play incidental NPCs from the Strangers on the Train booklet for HotOE.

The point was made that this would tend to ramp up player paranoia. I'm not sure that's such a bad thing! ;)

But then it occurred to me that there could be an explicit understanding amongst the group that the Adversary would be essentially playing two parts: one part is the behind-the-scenes schemer, and the other part is the relatively benign NPC player, and never the twain shall meet. Or, perhaps to maintain a certain frisson, the understanding could be that *one* of the train NPCs is a villain-type, but which one that may be is a secret until the Adversary plays their hand. It sort of depends on the group. My current group would be able to roll with that, I think, but I've played in other groups in the past that would just immediately start interrogating every NPC played by the Adversary.

I believe it was Jon who made the point about the Adversary perhaps taking things in unforeseen directions that derail the plot of the adventure. This is certainly a possibility, but I found that with close communication (especially between sessions), the most egregious cases can be avoided. The key, I found, is to pick the right person. Chad, for example, would be a natural choice, as he was relishing the idea of playing the scene-chewing villain; my Adversary player in the Pendragon game found that she missed the camaraderie of being in the group and, indeed, was unnerved by the fact that the rest of the group was "against" her whenever they had a face-to-face roleplaying encounter.

I do really want to try it again, though. As you guys touched on, having another person playing NPCs is great because they have way more mental bandwidth to invest in bringing the character to life, coming up with unexpected ideas, and so forth.

(Incidentally, I first read about Adversary players in the old 3rd edition GURPS Basic Set. I blogged about that a while back, here.)

###

On the other topic, a quick additional thought regarding limiting players who want to grub for experience bonuses: if you were using the Burning Wheel system as discussed, you could say that it only applies to skills you've actually put points in, either from your initial pool or from skill checks. Default skills are still subject to the original skill check system.

So, for example, you've your 1% in Biology or whatever. You can roll on that and fail it as much as you want and it's not going to do you any good. But if you roll on it and get that 01, you get a check. After the adventure wraps, you make your improvement roll and boost your Biology skill by the standard 1d10 (unless you roll a 01 again, of course!). And now your Biology skill is subject to the new improvement rules.

So in effect you have a two-tiered system: the original skill check system for default skills and the new Burning Wheel system for skills you've studied.

###

Lastly: Chad, if you're running your Kingsport game online and are looking for additional players, please drop me a line! I'd love to play in that little burg. :)

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Re: MUP 092 - Mad Skillz and Co-Keeperz

Post by zombiemaster » Wed Dec 16, 2015 9:44 pm

Re: Alternate/Home Brew skill advancement

This is idea of the check marks on failure and then gaining those check marks on a success could be the thing I've been looking for. However...

As brought up in the show, the Bouncer who uses skills they don't normally have, or are at default, keeps getting checks and then eventually gets a success, will end up rapidly gaining more points in skills they are not trained, I disagree. Players would not allow that to happen. So you have your Bouncer who is alone and does a psych roll, fails, gets a check and the scene moves on. Now, next session, the party is back together, including the professor who has a psych skill of 60. Is the party going to let the bouncer make the next psych roll just so they get a check? Not in any group I play with, that would be seen pretty much as cheating the system. No, they are going to have the person with the best skill make the roll, every time. Will the Bouncer get another shot at a psych roll organically? Probably not or maybe one more time per campaign, IMO. So I really doubt this scenario is would be a game breaker.

But, in a system where there is a set of core skills that get used pretty much every session, multiple times a session, there is a problem. Search, Spot, Listen, Craft/Trade, and so on get used a lot, every session. Those skills I could see going through the roof, rapidly. Failing a Spot Hidden roll 2-4 times per session is totally within reason. Sure eventually, sing this mod, failure, in these core skills, become fewer and farther between, but maybe that's okay? Maybe this represents the characters getting really good at these things they do, pretty much every day.

I really like this topic as I am someone who is not happy with the slow crawl character progression built in to CoC.

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Re: MUP 092 - Mad Skillz and Co-Keeperz

Post by MikeM » Thu Dec 17, 2015 12:33 pm

The question you might consider is - why do want the investigators to increase in skills they have no training/knowledge of? Or, why do you want skills to increase more than provided for in the standard system of experience checks?

Adding further book keeping works for some people, however for the majority, such things tend to be forgotten/not used. Go beyond the paperwork and ask what are you trying to achieve? If the answer is that you want your investigators to increase their skills more quickly then there are simple solutions (see below).

Quicker skill advancement wanted?

Use standard system - award 10% or 5% rather than 1D10%.
At end of scenario - during development phase, award 20 or 30 skill points (to be spend how the player likes) - treated just like Sanity rewards etc.
Give players more skill points during investigator generation to give the investigators more experience and capability up front.

Again, it all comes back to - why do you want to do this? What are you trying to achieve?

Not forgetting, optional Luck spend - which sort of works around skill points (allowing players to succeed in skill rolls, whatever their skill % is, if they want to spend their Luck).
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Re: MUP 092 - Mad Skillz and Co-Keeperz

Post by Dr. Gerard » Sun Dec 20, 2015 3:37 pm

sirlarkins wrote:The point was made that this would tend to ramp up player paranoia. I'm not sure that's such a bad thing! ;)

But then it occurred to me that there could be an explicit understanding amongst the group that the Adversary would be essentially playing two parts: one part is the behind-the-scenes schemer, and the other part is the relatively benign NPC player, and never the twain shall meet. Or, perhaps to maintain a certain frisson, the understanding could be that *one* of the train NPCs is a villain-type, but which one that may be is a secret until the Adversary plays their hand. It sort of depends on the group. My current group would be able to roll with that, I think, but I've played in other groups in the past that would just immediately start interrogating every NPC played by the Adversary.
I'd completely agree. As long as it's clear that part of the job of the NPC-GM is to play all manner of supporting cast, this paranoia could be quite fun to play with.
sirlarkins wrote:I believe it was Jon who made the point about the Adversary perhaps taking things in unforeseen directions that derail the plot of the adventure. This is certainly a possibility, but I found that with close communication (especially between sessions), the most egregious cases can be avoided. The key, I found, is to pick the right person. Chad, for example, would be a natural choice, as he was relishing the idea of playing the scene-chewing villain; my Adversary player in the Pendragon game found that she missed the camaraderie of being in the group and, indeed, was unnerved by the fact that the rest of the group was "against" her whenever they had a face-to-face roleplaying encounter.
Yes, good coordination would be key. And with the right co-GM, it would be fun to allow for some controlled improvisation in the plot. And thanks for the endorsement as scene-chewer. I do think this NPC co-GM role would be a blast to play. It would be an interesting break from the intensity of regular keepering, where you have to do lots of prep between sessions and act as facilitator at the table. Imagine being able to show up each week with little prep but still contribute key elements to the story! And on the other hand, I can imagine it being such a great relief as the main keeper to be able to focus on story, atmosphere and player management while knowing that your NPCs will be fully fleshed out and interesting. Cool all around.
sirlarkins wrote:On the other topic, a quick additional thought regarding limiting players who want to grub for experience bonuses: if you were using the Burning Wheel system as discussed, you could say that it only applies to skills you've actually put points in, either from your initial pool or from skill checks. Default skills are still subject to the original skill check system.
Yes, a good modification of this proposed skill-failure advancement system to prevent spontaneous learning of academic skills. It also adds a tiny bit more bookkeeping, like having players underline the skills they spend points on during character creation. Certainly not a deal breaker in itself.

Overall, I'm with Mike as far as this idea is concerned - one should ask why this is needed. The concept of learning from one's failures is attractive. It rings true to life, and in that way tickles the desire for simulation. If I want to learn how to become a sculptor, I have to make dozens of really terrible works of art before I start to produce something convincing or aesthetically interesting. But with game mechanics we have consider what we're simulating or emulating. Especially with a game steeped in a particular genre, we may want to simulate the trappings of that genre more than we do real life.

If the game we want to play is about characters who are shaped by the skills they are forced to use, we'd want to encourage lots of unskilled attempts at doing things. In that case, there's no need to restrict the failure-counting mechanic for advancement. An example of this would be a long-term survival game. In the show Lost (please do not throw tomatoes, it's just a ready example), the passengers on Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 all had to adapt to their new life on a tropical island. Over the course of the show, some characters developed new skills and roles, and watching characters change was part of the drama. Likewise with The Walking Dead. It's part of the genre to watch characters who are ill-suited for the environment to become tougher and learn what they need to do to survive - or to use existing skills in an surprising way, like recreational crossbow hunting for killing zombies silently.

I once played a Roman soldier in a campaign where the PCs got trapped in an underground fantasy cave world and had to quickly adapt to harsh conditions. That game was about the transformation of characters who are suited for one kind of life (a soldier, a lawyer, an oracular priestess and a high-born patrician) becoming something else. We used the Hero engine, and the GM allowed us to slowly begin to take points from previous skills (like Knowledge Empire) and apply them to new skills (like Mushroom Farming). We had to try to use those new skills in order to progress, and there were plenty of frustrating failures. Consequences tended to be bad. In other words, we were forgetting our old lives and becoming better underground survivors. And that created all kinds of interesting role play and created a dynamic story.

You could easily do this kind of thing with Call of Cthulhu, if you wanted to run a survival campaign. You could allow some number of skill points to be transferred after each session, and maybe in this context the counting of failed attempts would be quite fun.

Another reason to do this might be for tracking the skills of PCs as they age between chapters of a life-spanning campaign. If you started out by playing characters as children, it could be fun to see how their experiences in the game shape the people they become later on. Between jumps in the timeline, you could track failures or mark any skill that was attempted and just give a pool of points that can only be spent toward those skills.

Anyway, for regular old Call of Cthulhu play, I don't think I see the need for counting failed attempts, whether or not you limited those increases to the initial skills that were bought. I think if the problem I wanted to solve had to do with player expectation about advancement, I would either sit them down and have a little talk about how Call of Cthulhu is just different than D&D, or I would employ Mike's suggestion of automatically giving 20-30 points at the end of sessions, and I would probably be trying the Pulp Cthulhu rules on such a group if I did not think the "little talk" method was going to work.
sirlarkins wrote:Lastly: Chad, if you're running your Kingsport game online and are looking for additional players, please drop me a line! I'd love to play in that little burg. :)
Totally noted. To be honest, my gaming time has dropped off dramatically this fall for uninteresting rl reasons, but I would like to do something significant like a Kingsport campaign in 2016. There's a great epic Kingsport scenario in the Arkham Gazette that I would love to run as a campaign launch pad!
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Re: MUP 092 - Mad Skillz and Co-Keeperz

Post by Dr. Gerard » Sun Dec 20, 2015 8:13 pm

Wow, I am only just now realizing that my synchronized recording did not upload properly for this episode. Huge apologies for my audio quality, folks.
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Re: MUP 092 - Mad Skillz and Co-Keeperz

Post by Dr. Gerard » Mon Dec 21, 2015 3:17 am

Dear Department of Bad Suggestions,

I would like to submit for your approval my idea that an auxiliary keeper should only play the part of villains who are known to be villains, and leave other NPCs to the primary keeper.

What the hell was I thinking? Did I say that out loud?
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Re: MUP 092 - Mad Skillz and Co-Keeperz

Post by sirlarkins » Mon Dec 21, 2015 3:40 am

Dr. Gerard wrote:Dear Department of Bad Suggestions,

I would like to submit for your approval my idea that an auxiliary keeper should only play the part of villains who are known to be villains, and leave other NPCs to the primary keeper.

What the hell was I thinking? Did I say that out loud?
Ha! Yeah, been there. The only way that would work, IME, is if the villain can be hands-on during the session in some way, like if they're trapped with or tormenting the PCs. Otherwise, the Adversary is mostly just sitting at the table with nothing to do except for those rare instances where the PCs directly confront a villain. In those cases, you can give the Adversary something more to do by having them make dice rolls for every NPC and monster involved in a combat.
Dr. Gerard wrote:And on the other hand, I can imagine it being such a great relief as the main keeper to be able to focus on story, atmosphere and player management while knowing that your NPCs will be fully fleshed out and interesting. Cool all around.
Indeed! Plus, there's a genuine joy in the GM role of seeing the Adversary add extra dimensions to an NPC that you'd never have thought of.
Dr. Gerard wrote:Anyway, for regular old Call of Cthulhu play, I don't think I see the need for counting failed attempts, whether or not you limited those increases to the initial skills that were bought.
I actually totally agree. I was mostly engaging in a theoretical thought exercise. Isn't there a rule in 7e that increases a skill by 1% if you miss the roll by one point? I like that quite a bit, whether it's official or not.

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Re: MUP 092 - Mad Skillz and Co-Keeperz

Post by fox01313 » Tue Jan 05, 2016 6:27 pm

Very interesting topic & fun ways to see this kind of progression though I'm totally hooked on the flat 5% or roll to at least get somewhere. If what I recall through a fine haze of cold & flu medicine, you might try to categorize the skills like Gumshoe's Trail of Cthulhu, I can easily see the general skills (first aid/driving/shooting/stealth/etc) going up immediately with the discussion you had on some of the skill rolls if you crit just adding in a few points or what Burning Wheel/Dungeon World does with learning from mistakes with failed rolls helping out (or even if it just increases or doubles your skill temporarily next time as you know what not to do). Hit something with enough hammers & you will get the nail eventually or run out of ways the problem breaks down. Maybe for the skills that are more academic, if you crit those rolls, you can go into school or tutoring for training then try to get under the skill plus an additional 5-10%, it would be taking knowledge learned from the crit academic skill roll & applying it to your training to just make the skill easier to learn.

**

Also nice touch on the end song in the episode, Fox has put out some really good movies & at the same time hosed excessively Firefly. Just give it over to another cable channel & let them have it for a few years like MST3k. Though I will say on this note that the Firefly board game & RPG are really good at copying the feel of the show for all kinds of new stories. Heard about the MMO but not looked into it. :tmi:

Good interview/overview of the system here plus talking with the author of the some of the adventures in the RPG
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Re: MUP 092 - Mad Skillz and Co-Keeperz

Post by Cthuhugh » Tue Feb 23, 2016 11:43 pm

That online game at AetherCon was a blast! Thanks to my fellow Investigators and awesome Keeper.
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