Mausritter character sheet for online play

Screenshot

Like many of us, I’m playing more games while social distancing, and all of those games are online—mostly in Discord or Google Meet. I’ve been working through a backlog of great systems (like Trokia! and Moonhop) and next up is Mausritter.

The game’s inventory system features an arts-and-crafts, paper Tetris approach to management, and I think it’s important for players to be able to experience that, so in lieu of asking folks to print things at home, I’ve made a version of the character sheet and item cards in Google Sheets which you can copy here or by clicking the image above. (You can also just view it here, if you want to leave comments.) The original character sheet is nicely designed, so I’ve tried to stay as true to it as possible.

Update: Mausritter’s writer Isaac Williams has a post about running Mausritter online, which I’d not seen and offers some other options. There’s also a larger set of item and condition card images you can download there and use with this sheet.

Alphabetical adventures (A–B)

Dragon

I’m starting up a new 5th edition campaign for a coworker and friends, as part of a New Year’s resolution to play more games in person. I went into session zero mostly blind, so to prep, I decided to start reading through the 5e Monster Manual to come up with a potential scenario for each monster with CR 3 or less. I only got through letter B before I had to move on to other prep, but it was a fun exercise which I think I’ll continue.

A

A shard of the Rod in Seven Pieces lies on the roof of the castle’s highest tower. A raging storm prevents anyone from getting close, but a flock of Aarakocra will do anything to retrieve it.

A wizard is trapped and wounded by a spell of her own design, within her secluded tower. With her resources limited, she communicates with the outside world through Animated objects, crudely enchanted to “bring help” or “bring a mortal soul” to free her.

A farmer lures Ankhegs to attack his rivals’ farms, but now they’ve learned to demand tribute (and there are a lot of them).

An artificer has bound an Azer to the Material Plane and makes it work the furnace. The shop produces the finest weapons you’ve ever seen, but the surrounding land for 30 miles around has become a desert.

B

The Death Palace of Endon is built from the petrified bodies of thousands of his subjects and foes. His beloved Basilisks, which he bred for sport, still live within, guarding his treasure.

A legendary illness has returned to the land, and the only cure grows in a glade guarded by a Spectator Beholder. Ironically, the creature was summoned a generation ago by a great medical scholar, to ensure that the cure would be available in just this situation…

Some misguided druids perform regular sacrifices over the stump of a great tree. Now there is new growth, and Blights carrying echoes of the sacrifices prowl the night.

It’s a reverse siege: Bugbear mercenaries burned a path to the middle of town, saw their warlord fall to a lucky arrow, and promptly quit the fight. Now they control the town square and the inn, and they’re almost out of beer.

Baron Uurk Urgit, a Bullywug, thought he’d stolen a shiny bauble for his queen, but that’s a fire elemental in a delicate jar. Get it back before someone breaks it!

Flip to continue: B-side sessions

Mixtape

My regular gaming group prefers to play our main campaign only when every player is available. Scheduling is hard, so we’ve canceled a lot of sessions over the years as a result. The past few months though, we’ve kept to our schedule more often because we’ve introduced a backup game. This game is:

  • Run by me, so that the main campaign’s GM can PC (and also because I like to GM)
  • Set in the same world and time as the main campaign
  • Run as a series of one-shots, with weaker continuity than the main campaign, and
  • Thematically distinct from the main campaign.

We call it the B-side game, and hitting all of the bullets above each time we play is a fun little side project for me. While my group started this to deal with scheduling challenges, I’d recommend this format for any group that wants a change of pace, especially if there’s a player who’s looking to experiment or build up skills at running one-shots with little prep. Here’s how we do it.

Tag in a backup GM

Or even better, a couple of them, since you want to be able to play this game when a subset of your players are availble; if you can avoid having any single player be a lynchpin, you’ll get to play more often.

It’s especially valuable to play your B-side game when the main campaign’s GM is available to play, so that they have a chance to experience their own game world. I also recommend sticking to the same ruleset for the same reason, and so that there’s less of a mental shift required if you switch from A-side (main campaign) plans to B-side last minute.

Meanwhile…

Setting the B-side game in the same world as the A-side lets your group enrich the setting and explore paths that the main party didn’t follow. As the GM, you also get the benefit of free plot hooks, recurring NPCs, and lore, courtesy of the main campaign. You also leave open the possibility of crossovers.

In our game, each player has a B-side character that they reuse between B-side sessions, although they’re welcome to change at any time.

One and done

B-side sessions should be self-contained, so that they never interfere with scheduling the main campaign. This requires forethought to pick an appropriate starting point and discipline in guiding the session to a satisfying conclusion.

There’s often an impulse to over-script a one-shot, but try to fight this. My trick is to make the first scene so open-ended that I can’t predict what the players will do. We collaborate from there, and in the last hour of our planned game time, I’ll start actively looking for ways to bring the session to a close.

All the usual one-shot tricks apply: Start in medias res, cut scenes agressively, pit the characters against the clock, and don’t pull your punches.

If your players reuse their characters between B-side sessions and you use the tricks above, weak continuity is a natural consequence. Even if a session ends with a cliffhanger, seriously consider jumping in time or space for the next session. Blank spaces and apparent contradictions are interesting.

Remix

Besides ensuring that we play more often, my goal for the B-side game is to complement the A-side game in a way that’s exciting for the players and doesn’t compromise the main campaign’s status as the main game. While organizing play into one-shots help with this, the tool I employ most is using setting, characters, and plot to push the tone of the game away from the tone of the A-side.

We’re playing Starfinder. Our A-side crew is a party of semi-professional space pirates, chasing down an ancient super weapon while getting in the middle of some complicated interplanetary politics: Great stuff for a long-running campaign, with a lot of space opera and space horror influences on a grand scale.

For the B-side game, we stick to smaller stakes. So far, the party has been down on its luck, stuck on a desert planet. While there are still big action moments, I’m drawing on cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic tropes, and aiming for a tone like the slow episodes of Cowboy Bebop. It’s punchier, more comic, and generally less real than the A-side campaign, which makes it natural for the players to want to flip back to the A-side by default.

Roll for fluency

My friend Crypt Thing from Swords Against Dungeons gave me a shoutout in an article about fantasy languages last month, so I figured I’d chime in on the subject. CT’s post touches on a lot of topics, but I’ll just pull out a few of them.

Keeping Common

First and foremost, “Common” is replaced by regional languages.

Common gets a bad rap for at least two related reasons, both of which are reasonable reactions to the way Common is used in many classic fantasy settings.

First, there’s a family of arguments that say that glossing over linguistic differences harms the setting and makes the game world less “rich” or believable, because language should be one of the most obvious markers of difference and interest in games where travel and travelers otherwise take center stage. I’ll call this the “Common is unrealistic” argument.

The second family of arguments takes this further and says glossing over language in this way is actively harmful because of how easily Common can make one culture or set of viewpoints the default. Under this view, it’s not just that Common is unrealistic, or even boring, but that Common has a homogenizing effect that erases differences.

To the “Common is unrealistic” camp, I’d say that there’s more precedent to this than you might think: Throughout history, disparate groups have settled on common languages to use for trade or government purposes while still retaining their native languages. This is often called a lingua franca. (The TVTropes page on the Common Tongue actually covers this fairly well.) If you imagine your setting’s Common as a trade language, or the language imposed by an empire that fell a couple hundred years before, it’s totally reasonable that many people would speak it, at least in the circles that adventurers tend to move in.

To the “Common is homogenizing” camp, we need to retcon Common so that it becomes a reminder to celebrate differences instead of ignore them. This post offers a nice fix along these lines to avoid falling into the trap of human = common = default, suggesting that you make Common a trade language that developed from a pidgin of multiple major languages in your setting. If you must have languages that are named after fantasy species, then just adding “Human” alongside “Elven” and “Dwarven” (as separate from Common) can be a step in the right direction.

The magical language faculty

[S]tart thinking of other factors in your world: magic, monsters, and the influences they will have in language as a whole

Mateo Diaz Torres’s A Most Thoroughly Pernicious Pamphlet has my favorite take on fantasy languages in a gaming book. It’s also fun to see how the inventory of languages evolved over time.

In particular, I like the idea of painting the world with language the way that we paint it with magic. What if mortal children could speak the language of the Fey? What if it were impossible to learn Thieves’ Cant until you’ve committed an irrevocable crime?

Language in play

Does this mean you could get a party where nobody speaks the same languages? Absolutely. […] I think that, unless the player wants that challenge, that it’s something to avoid.

I’m in favor of rolling in the open, sharing information with players that their characters don’t know, and generally doing whatever I can to keep information flowing around the table. To that end, I agree that characters ought to be able to communicate with one another, and tend to make it a requirement that everyone speaks mutually intelligible languages, on par with the requirement that the characters start with a reason to work together, rather than just having them meet up in a bar. (“You look trustworthy!”)

That said, navigating the world and conversing with NPCs is another matter, and I’d have no problem with the party deciding that they don’t really speak the language where they’re adventuring.

One alternative to making that kind of decision up front is to let the dice decide. This is how language skills work in Lamentations of the Flame Princess; language knowledge is determined at the time the language is encountered in-game. For some related thoughts, Necropraxis has a good article.

There’s also some article out there which I haven’t been able to track down, but I recall it makes a point about identifying languages, and how any adventurer worth their boots would have at least passing familiarity with the languages that are prevalent in their world.

Recluse: A solo engine

Here’s a simple question-answering dice mechanic with a focus on two goals:

Quick interpretation
No arithmetic, large table lookups, or state tracking to understand the results of a roll. Instead, we only do value comparisons between dice and a high/low judgment. After a test roll or two, this can be done with a glance.
Surprise
Lots of tools like this inject randomness in the form of plot twists, but the twist is usually introduced in the course of answering the question, or after it’s been answered. If you’re GMing or playing solo, that means you’re adding elements that your narration that you didn’t expect to, but it’s not really surprising, the way that players get surprised when they think they know what’s going on and it turns out they don’t. This tool tries to mimic that feeling of surprise by making the GM into an unreliable narrator; whenever you ask a question using this mechanic, it’s possible that the question itself is wrong, which fosters less predictable twists.

You can use this as drop-in replacement for the oracle in your favorite GM emulator. (I like so1um and the CRGE.)

Consulting the oracle

You’ll need 2d6 in one color, and 2d6 in another. I’ll use black and white.

To resolve a yes-or-no question, roll one black die and one white die. If white is highest, the answer is Yes. If black is highest, the answer is No.

To find out if the answer is more nuanced than just a plain Yes or No, also look at the value on each die. If both are low (3 or less), add But. If both are high (4 or more), add And.

Example

You ask, “Does the vampire catch fire?” You roll one white die and one black die and get 5 4. That’s a Yes, because the white die is higher, and an And, because both rolls are 4 or higher. If the black die had come up as 3, it would have been a plain Yes instead.

Likely and unlikely events

Yes and No are equally likely if you use one die of each color. If circumstances are different, include an additional die in favor of the more likely outcome when you roll, but only keep the higher die of that color when you compare.

Example

You ask, “Does Lydia make it over the fence?” Unlike the werewolf that’s after her, she’s just a puny human, so it’s pretty unlikely she’ll succeed. You roll one white die and two black dice. You get 3 3 5. You ignore the black 3, so the answer is a plain No; she doesn’t make it over.

Note: If you do the math, you might notice that you’re about three times more likely to get And than But on an uneven roll, since you’re throwing out low dice. This means more extreme outcomes for extra drama.

What if I roll doubles?

If the dice are equal, some presupposition behind the question is wrong! This means that you’re taking something for granted that makes it impossible to answer with “Yes” or “No.” If it’s obvious how you’re the question could be assuming something, change it and ask something else. You can also use your favorite plot twist generator if you need to, but keep in mind that the question itself was wrong; you’ll need to revise your assumptions about the situation and the world, not just add something new.

If you’ve never thought about questions this way, it can be tricky to recognize what one presupposes. One approach is to imagine what would have to be the same about the scenario if the answer were either Yes or No. For example, if I ask, “Does the villain’s sidekick escape before the train explodes?” there are a lot of things that would have to be the same under either answer, the most obvious one being that the train explodes! (This is a presupposition introduced by the use of before.) There are other presuppositions in there too, like that the villain has a sidekick, and even that there’s a train.

Example

You ask, “Does Sam grab the gun from the thug?” and roll 4 4. This means it’s not possible to answer “Yes” or “No,” but why? You think, “Well, maybe the thing that the thug is holding only looks like a gun,” but decide that can’t work because it was fired just a minute ago. Instead, you realize the thug isn’t a thug at all, but an undercover cop! You follow up with a crucial question: “Does Sam know he’s interrupting a sting operation?” Fingers crossed…

Notes

This is v0.2 of this tool, published on 2019-03-24. The first version had less discussion about presupposition.