Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flavor to Taste

Lots of good things have been coming in through my blog roll lately.

Over at I waste the Buddha With My Crossbow, Dr. Rotwang has come up with dungeon concepts expressed via flowchart. I often waste precious game preparation time drawing and redrawing the dungeon corridors and rooms rather than filling them. I like this approach of contents first, then build the dungeon around it. My prep usually doesn't roll that way, but I'm going to give this flowchart business a try.

Grappling with different types of weapons for B/X D&D, JB at B/X Blackrazor creates little differences in a world where all weapons do d6 damage. On max damage rolls, weapons do something neat-o like tear open a bleeding wound or stun an opponent. This gave me an idea for "mini-crits" (special effects that happen on a max damage roll) or variable effects on a natural 20 based on weapon type. A little mechanic like this can spice up Red Book D&D's combat without getting into the level of crunch present in 3.X.
(Speaking of which, I am warming up to the idea of d6 weapon damage. I mean, if we're talking man-to-man combat, a dagger through the ribcage is pretty likely to kill you just as if someone goes upside your head with a mace.)

This past Sunday's little impromptu game at Mindy's house, plus the tinkering I've seen going on this last week, have given me a fresh reminder of just how damned simple this all can be an still be fun, yet we can tack on all kinds of crazy house rules so we can flavor to taste.

Here's a little house rule I was thinking of some time ago... I never did tag it and probably should have...

Old School Feats: Feats of...

Once per experience level, a character can perform a feat. You declare what type of feat you want to perform. A character who somehow loses a level does not get to perform any extra feats for regaining a previous level. Feats are use 'em or lose em... if you don't use your Feat at a given level, you do not carry it over to the next level.
Note- classes assume pre-AD&D iterations of the game. For games that split up class and race, feel free to ignore the racial component if you feel it is inappropriate.

Feat of Strength: Can be performed by fighters, dwarves, and mystics. The character can automatically open a stuck door, lift a portcullis, reverse a grapple/overbearing situation even against a larger foe, push over a statue, or perform some other mighty feat of strength. It should be dramatic but short lived; a burst of adrenaline or sheer bad-assness.

Feat of Endurance: The character can immediately regain all hit points and shrug off all effects of injury, even if he just took a fatal blow. This Feat should be reserved for fighters/fighting classes, dwarves, and other "tough" character types. Depending on how the DM views halflings, they might qualify. Another use for this feat would be to shrug off lethal poison or disease, or to go days without food or water. (Perhaps the character needs to trek for a week across an arctic waste) I'd probably allow clerics or similar zealous characters to perform such a feat.

Feat of Willpower: Break free from the effect of any mind-effecting spell: sleep, hold person, etc. Additionally, the DM should consider allowing the character to shake off a monster's hypnotic special attack, such as those possessed by harpies or vampires. This feat is appropriate for any character.

Feat of Magic: The character can cast a spell one level higher than he can normally handle, as if he had it prepared. For instance, a magic-user capable of using 2nd level spells could bust loose with a fireball. Alternately, the character could automatically learn every spell on a scroll or in a book he is trying to decipher (within reason and ability) or cast a spell in a particularly devastating or effective fashion. (A fireball that wipes out a platoon, for instance, or invisibility that lasts for a day) The DM should be careful not to let this get out of hand, but let the player do something really awesome...he only gets this once in awhile! This is obviously restricted to the spell casting classes.

Feat of Skill: The character succeeds at something he can do, and succeeds epically. A thief might scale a tower wall in half the time, or perhaps make a nearly-impossible pick pocket attempt. A backstab might do quadruple damage or kill instantly. A bard's performance might move a king to tears. Let the players rock out in this one use of a skill. Let the thief open the party's cell door with nothing but a rat bone. Go nuts. This is most appropriate for classes that have skills, such as thieves or bards, but if your game uses skills for everyone or uses proficiencies, it could be appropriate for any character.

Feat of Agility- Negate one attack, even something devastating like dragon's breath. This can be used even after damage is rolled.

Feat of Marksmanship- The character can automatically hit, or make an impossible shot, ignore the dangers of firing into a melee, do quadruple damage, instant kill, whatever. I see this as appropriate for an "archer" type fighter, rangers, thieves, elves using bows, halflings using slings, etc.

Feat of Strungth- Like a Feat of Strength, but the character must be heavily drunk. (Inside joke with my old gaming group) The character believes himself to be capable of Feats much greater than "typical" Feats of Strength, although whether or not this belief is accurate is up to the DM...

I'm sure you get the idea, and can think of a ton more. You can flavor this rule to taste: no class restrictions (anyone can use any type of feat), or perhaps only a character who reaches the rank of "hero" (4th level) can use feats. Maybe only characters with a high ability score. (13+ or 15+ strength to use a Feat of Strength, for example) Maybe a character can only use a Feat once ever. Perhaps there are custom Feats for each character class (a cleric can do the equivalent of a critical Turn Undead, or the ranger can do an impossible track, or the mystic can shatter a castle wall with his fist, etc.) You can scale the Feats and what they can do by experience level... a 1st level fighter's Feat of Strength might be to smash in a reinforced door, while a 9th level Fighter might be able to raise a portcullis or wrestle a hill giant. I'm sure you get the idea.

Pathfinder will run this Friday night. I am determined to do so even if I'm only rolling with half the group.

Five weeks 'til convention time.

Game on.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Le Sigh

Stars Without Number did not run today.
I had a player cancel yesterday.
I had a player cancel three minutes before game time today.
I had another player email me fifteen minutes after the game session to tell me he was not going to be playing anymore.

The only gaming I got to do this weekend was when Mindy ran a little ad hoc game that, as best I can describe it, was "Grand Theft Auto" the roleplaying game. We started out as convenience store clerks and ended up as heavily armed fugitives fleeing to Mexico in a stolen cop car with $22,000 and a bunch of contraband. She used a rules engine based on hit points and target numbers on a d20. Josh lost three characters. My original character, an unnamed ex-convenience store clerk and his last character, Joe Bob the anti-government redneck, ended up opening up a cigar shop in Cabo San Lucas. It was oddly entertaining. It was also, as far as I can tell, pretty much a modern version of "kick in the door" style D&D... you kill things and take their stuff.

So... at least I don't have to do any game prep this week. Both Pathfinder and Stars Without Number are ready to roll. PF will hopefully resume this Friday. Stars Without Number will be running again in two weeks. (Next week is an extra special "season finale" of Deadlands.)

Game on, amigos. I hope your players don't all cancel at the last minute this week...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Missives

-Pathfinder didn't run last night.
-I'm supposed to run SWN tomorrow, but I am woefully unprepared. Free Traveller module to the rescue.
-I still have RIFTS stuff rolling around in the back of my head, like an annoying pop song that gets stuck in your brain.
-Tentatively running SWN at OSFEST 4.0 in a couple of weeks.
-I haven't started Changeling, and am unlikely to at this point. The book is interesting, but honestly has more appeal to me as a fictional setting than as something I want to play or run.
-Favorite blog posts this last week: Jeff Rients on spellbooks and 5stone on less Lovecraftian stuff (done to death) and more Brothers Grimm/Spenser.


End of Line.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

RIFTS....Why...Won't....You...Make....Sense?!

Seriously, I have got to put this RIFTS thing to bed. I have too many irons in the fire and my fire needs to be less iron-y.

To review my last beef:
psi and magic don't fit well in combat. Mages need to take advanced Hand to Hand skills so they can cast more than one spell per round while their buddies all get 4-10 attacks per round.

How Palladium used to do it:

*Palladium Fantasy 1st ed: Psi took up regular actions, but you couldn't mix psi with regular combat unless you were a Mind Mage. (That is, if you used psionic powers in a round, you couldn't also attack with a weapon.) If you used spells/magic, that was all you could do in that round, and you got one or two spells per round depending on your magic-using class and level. It topped out at two, but this is back when spells and weapons were in line with one another, and attacks per round topped out at 5 for a 14th-15th level warrior class.

*Palladium Fantasy 2nd edition: Psi powers, being more common, just took up regular actions. All classes could mix psi with normal combat. Magic still took up your whole round, and the number of spells you could use in one round was based on the level of the spells you were using, not class and level. (For instance, you could use two spells of levels 1-8, but only one spell of higher level)

*RIFTS- Magic now uses up melee actions. The number of actions a spell uses up is based on the spell's level. This is similar to PFRPG 2nd edition, only now a mage who studies Martial Arts can sling spells faster than a mage who just has Hand to Hand Basic. This just strikes me as wrong on so many levels... it seems counter-intuitive to my sensibilities that a mage who focuses on combat training would actually be able to toss spells faster as a result. I have heard it argued that a combat trained mage would be able to think faster and thus conjure spells more quickly, but I'm just not sure I can buy into this as much more than a hand wave for a wrong turn in the Palladium rules system. I'm also talking about things as laid down in Rifts Ultimate Edition. I've never owned a copy of old RIFTS, so I don't know if things were different back then.

It was recently suggested to me that I treat RIFTS as an Arduin-esque supplement to whatever iteration of D&D I roll best with. You know... I'm starting to think that sounds like the most sane option, despite this nagging sensation that I can somehow turn this into a game I can wrap my head around without feeling like there has been a train wreck inside my head every time I sit down with the rule book.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Durrr numbers durrrr

Arrrrrrrrrgh.

One thing that constantly hamstrings me with Pathfinder is that my memories and assumptions from 3.5 (which I haven't run since... 2008? 2007?) continue to trip me up, this time in the form of the experience table.

A stupid mistake, really. You'd think I would at least glance at the table, right?

Those CR/XP budgets were feeling awfully constricting, and the 10 encounters per level thing was also getting to me.

Oh, because there are actually far more than ten per level.

Level 2 is 2,000 exp, no 1,000.
Level 3 is 5,000, not 3,000.

I have leveled the party early twice, and the treasure level is all jacked up... and the game book explicitly states that treasure is factored into game balance.

Ugh. I feel like I can never get properly studied in Pathfinder... and when I feel like I have a solid grasp on it, something like this happens.

At this point, I think I'm going to let PCs keep whatever level they are and we'll just proceed normally... so they have a looooong walk to 4th level. I'd better get cozy with those CR 3 monsters...

...and devise an experience system for quest completion, solving challenges/puzzles, etc...

Fuckdamnshit. I am a perfectionist and when I screw up something like this it drives me half insane.

In lighter news, I've decided that Stars Without Number will be my convention game.

Gah. Time to go engage in some kind of OCD behavior for awhile.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thoughts from the Geekend

A curious observation: while I was at the used bookstore earlier today, I noticed that they are charging a relatively high price for 3.5 stuff....they had a very badly damaged copy of the Spell Compendium and yet they wanted twenty bucks for it. They also had some of the Monster Manual line from 3.5 and they were priced fairly high for used books. In fact, the 3.5 stuff was going for around the same price as the 4e stuff.

I found the "D&D Classic Rules and Adventures Book," which seems to be the old black boxed set from my childhood, only in book form and without the dungeon mat and paper minis. It contained the old adventure "Escape from Zanzer's Dungeon," designed to teach the game step by step. I almost bought it, but really... I already have the Cyclopedia and the little red and blue books... how many copies of the exact same thing do I need? I also realized that Zanzer Tem is a really crappy evil wizard, since his master plan involves kidnapping the PCs so they can work in his salt mine.

...yeah. Homie Zanzer's master plan is to mine and sell salt, using slave labor to keep his overhead down. This is what he does with his arcane power.

Oh, well. It was fun when I was ten, and it was my gateway into the Cyclopedia.

In other news, tomorrow is the last session of Deadlands for awhile. Josh is switching out with Mindy, who is going to run her unholy kibtash of Traveller, Stars Without Number, and RIFTS. Yeah, you read that right.

Meanwhile, I continue to run Pathfinder and Stars Without Number. I haven't started my promised third game yet. I'm also still working on my RIFTS rules, and I've actually been working on a post about them all week, but I just can't seem to finish the damn thing.

Game on, amigos.

Player Innovation Makes Me Grin

I think one of my favorite things about GMing is how damned clever players can be.

Last night, the party was searching a magic/necromancy lab within the depths of the Stone-Scream Clan's keep when they discovered a wand of fire trap with a few charges left in it. Moments later, they were attacked by an Iron Cobra that had been stalking them for some time. The party found it very difficult to damage due to it's DR of 5/-. The rogue was nearly down and things looked kind of grim.

....then, the wizard's player cast fire trap on one of the party's empty treasure sacks. The monk grabbed the sack and, daring an attack of opportunity, grappled and wrestled the Iron Cobra into the sack, cinching it shut. The party scattered, and when the Iron Cobra tore the sack open...BOOM. Fire trap detonated, blasting the Iron Cobra to smithereens. I cannot tell you how pleased I was with their solution to the problem.

For the record, the wand was placed as the result of a random roll, and actually the fight with the Iron Cobra could have taken place in one of several rooms, depending on if the PCs got a lucky Perception check or had stopped to rest somewhere where the construct could have sneaked in. I had absolutely no idea that they would use the wand in that fashion, which is frickin' fantastic as far as I'm concerned.

...of course, karma balanced things out when the party was nearly vanquished by a small-sized mimic the next level down... but that's another story.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Alignment System Courtesy of Josh and I

Josh, who has played in 95% of everything I've run in the last six years, and who is currently playing in both Pathfinder and Stars Without Number while also running Deadlands, has the same opinion as I do on the subject of alignment: it sucks and adds nothing to the game.

Being that we are tinkers at heart, we have created our own alignments system, for use with any roleplaying game, and I humbly submit it for your perusal:

The Alignment System: Player characters must choose an alignment. Their choices are as follows:

Spicy
Extra Spicy
Cheddar Bacon Ranch
Zesty
Libertarian
Luddite
Neo-Luddite
Murder
Communist

Each alignment is self-explanatory, and just a glance at the name alone completely defines how a character should act. Any alignment infringement results in immediate conversion to Libertarian, because the goddamn government isn't going to tell you how you can act!

For those of you who are too base and neolithic to comprehend our alignment system, I shall provide a simple behavior guide to each alignment:

-Spicy: If there are any girls there, you want to do them.
-Extra Spicy: If there are any girls or guys there, you want to do them.
-Cheddar Bacon Ranch: God dammit, now I'm hungry.
-Zesty: What Would Ricardo Montalban Do?
-Libertarian: Nobody can make you do anything, especially the government. Once per session, you must express your disapproval of something based on the Founding Fathers being opposed to it.
-Luddite: Technology BAD.
-Neo Luddite: Technology isn't bad, per se, it's just annoying, and WILL YOU PUT YOUR GODDAMN PHONE AWAY WHILE I'M TALKING TO YOU?!
-Murder: You kill other things, usually on sight. You may or may not take their stuff.
-Communist: The treasure belongs to the Party.

Nothing to See, Folks

After several posts about evil characters and non-cooperative party members and heroes vs. villains and all that, I've decided to do a non-heavy, navel-gazing post. So, without further ado, a few random thoughts from this geekend:

-As I mentioned previously, Pathfinder did not run this weekend. This makes me sad. The silver lining is that I have three levels of mapped, stocked, and keyed dungeon levels ready to go for next weekend.

-I finally got to use my swanky Pirates of the Spanish Main rulebook. Pirates saved game night.

-One Sheets from Pinnacle rock my face off. We got through two of them and could have probably burned through a third, but we decided to pump the breaks. Pinnacle's downloads are truly awesome.

-I ran a game session that had absolutely no combat in it, which I love. Of course, the session that followed upon its heels had tons of combat, but SW combat usually goes pretty fast.

-I bought a fantasy novel this weekend; this is the first time I have done this in several years. I actually haven't read any fantasy since the Jack Vance binge I went on prior to running my AD&D1 game. This is a brand new book by a first time author, so you may revoke my OSR street cred at your leisure. The novel is called Path of the Dragon or somesuch. I can't remember the author's name, but I'm sure you can find it if you're really interested. I chalk this decision up to the lack of Pathfinder this weekend. (Borders was even completely out of Pathfinder books!)

-My brain, being stuck in Fantasy Mode, could not produce anything useful for Stars Without Number, which I am slated to run in about 13 hours. Luckily, I have a secret weapon. SWN will run as planned.

-I have more gaming crap that I will ever be able to use, but I think I'm finally okay with that.

-For no explainable reason, I kind of want to get my hands on either Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition, or the compatible DC Heroes RPG.

-I'm not sure why Borders firmly believes that Ultimate Magic for Pathfinder doesn't come out until July 12th; it is available on Amazon and I have seen it, physically, at two different LGS'.

-I am somewhat rethinking my stance on low-magic... a lot of the things I want to do with the campaign are sort of high magicky. Of course, a world can be full of magic without it being common among mortals... perhaps magic isn't as common as it once was, and magical crap remains from this previously magic-heavy time. Maybe the level of magic in the world ebbs and flows, a la the Shadowrun/Earthdawn continuum.

-Which reminds me...I never did finish reading that old Earthdawn 2nd book I got... or OpenQuest...and Rolemaster has been daring me to overcome my hatred towards it...

Once summer school is over in July, perhaps it will be time for a gaming book binge...

Friday, June 10, 2011

Scallywags

In the comments section of my post about evil characters, Chris asked what I think of "scallywags" type games where adventures are capers.

Well, oddly enough, tonight my Pathfinder game was cancelled and the players who were still down to hang out played Pirates of the Spanish Main with me. The characters' two short adventures consisted of a series of illegal activities, and yet...

I would hardly say these characters were assholes that nobody likes. In fact, I found them quite loveable, and best of all, nobody did a Jack Sparrow impersonation.

So why are these characters, who are thieves and smugglers, different from evil characters that I hate?

Teamwork.

These guys are part of a crew. They have each others' backs. Most of their crimes involved selling illegal goods to NPCs who knew they were buying illegal goods, and also searching a derelict pirate ship. They did rescue a marooned seaman, lay a tortured spirit to rest, and help a drunken beggar with some food. Oddly enough, they were often more altruistic than many D&D protagonists.

Of course, they also boozed, gambled, and stole...

I think the big difference here is that the characters worked together and everyone was contributing toward the fun of the group.


Okay, so maybe the French pirate was an asshole, but in a rather endearing fashion.

And While We Are on the Subject of Asshole Characters....

Since I'm in "judgmental rant" mode, (Hellllll yeah, Internet!) let's talk about two other recurring character types I've seen in my 19 years of gaming. (...and yes, I know that makes me a whipper-snapper to many of you in this corner of the Stygian Blog-a-combs)I refer to the Lone Wolf and the Ostrich.

The Lone Wolf refuses to associate with the party. He sits by himself in the Inn. If the party wants to go down the left tunnel, he goes down the right. If they want to investigate the crime scene at the Skyrise Apartment building before heading to the University Library, then by god, he is going to the goddamn library himself. (Or, often, some third place that may or may not even have relevance to the current scenario.) This strains the artificial nature of the role-playing game, wherein our characters are at least somewhat bound together by the fact that they are being controlled by a group of real life people who are sitting around the same table together, playing said game together. I know most GMs are not really down with running a campaign for the group, while simultaneously running a private campaign for Johnny Too-Cool-For-The-Group.

On a side note, I have noticed that players who bring Lone Wolf characters to the table also have an irritating habit of refusing to reveal any information about their character to the other players, usually in game, but often in and out of game. They won't tell you what Clan or class they are, or what skills they have, or how they can actually contribute to play of the game. In one particularly charming example, a player who was playing a succubus in a D&D 3.0 game (and thanks, former DM, for allowing that...it really added a lot to your game.) and continued to taunt us, the players, with his special abilities while stridently accusing any attempt to discern anything about his character in-game as metagaming.

I really don't understand the mentality behind this character concept. It's a goddamn chore for the GM to split time between your Precious Snowflake and the rest of the party. It's a chore for the party to have a non-contributing member who they must constantly coax into deigning to be within 50 feet of them. It's irritating for the people who are sitting at the table and trying to have fun. What, I implore you, Lone Wolf players, do you actually get out of an experience where you intentionally ostracize yourself?

I have seen two satisfactory conclusions to having a Lone Wolf in the party: his Lone Wolfishness gets him killed (Hey, the GM put six wererats in that room, expecting the whole party to fight them... but you insisted on going in alone while the party was regrouping in town), or the GM accommodates the Lone Wolf's wishes to be left alone and focuses on the people who are actually playing the goddamn game.

These two solutions preclude, of course, players who wise up and start playing the game as the social, group-oriented activity that it is generally accepted to be, or they make a new character that can actually tolerate social interaction with others.

One final note on this type of character... if the game has an alignment system, they are almost always Neutral, or the closest approximation thereof. To join the Forces of Evil would be to have an association with the Forces of Evil, and that's usually a little closer than the Lone Wolf wants to get to anyone.


Okay, judgmental rant PART TWO: the Ostrich.

This character does nothing. Actually, it's worse than that. I originally wanted to call this character the Girlfriend in a Coma, but their offense isn't that they do nothing, it's that they are determined to do nothing. An Ostrich doesn't just ignore the adventure at hand, he digs his heels into the sand and refuses to participate. Again, I have no idea why you would want to play a character like this. This is the kind of character who will not investigate anything strange, will turn down offers of a reward from NPCs, will ignore NPCs screaming for help (or trying to seduce him), and, in the case of one game I played in, refuse to leave their front porch for any reason at all.
This lovely style of character may seem similar to the Lone Wolf, but the Ostrich doesn't actively avoid the other characters. Rather, the Ostrich doesn't want to get involved with anything. Think Bilbo Baggins when he says "no adventures here, thanks." The Ostrich is just like this, except that when he woke up and found the note from Gandalf and friends, he'd have just shrugged and gone back to bed.
Make me care, sayeth the Ostrich, I dare you.

Meanwhile, the Lone Wolf might dive headfirst into the adventure, but he sure as fuck doesn't need anyone's help, thank you very much...and stop looking at my goddamn character sheet, you metagamer.

Obviously, I am in full soapbox mode today, because I am an immaculate player and GM with absolutely no faults or quibbles whatsoever, in or out of game.

I do post this, in all seriousness, because I do run across both of these types of characters from time to time. Usually, players who play characters like this play all their characters like this, but I've met enough anomalies who sometimes make shitty character concepts like this, but other times make characters who aren't so onerous.

My question is this, and it was inspired by all this late talk of heroes and non-heroes and play style and default assumptions and blah blah blah...

Your "brilliant" character concept aside, at what point does a player have to realize that gaming is in most circles, both social and cooperative, and that if you make a character who is neither, you are getting on everyone's fucking nerves? What is the overlap between being free to play what you want and not being a drag on what is supposed to be a game that is fun for everyone at the table? When I used to fetter away evenings on the old White Wolf forums, the page used to display the quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes about how the right to swing your fist ends where the other guy's nose begins. Is that so in gaming? If it isn't, should it be? If it is, should it not be?

...I know that I've never been in a non-cooperative gaming situation where it was fun for anybody but the lone asshole, but as the Internet has recently taught me (in all of its wisdom), my own personal experiences are an invalid base from which to form an opinion. ;)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Your Evil Character is an Asshole and Nobody Likes Him.

Seriously.

The latest doctrinaire chest-thumping match to come out of Blogaria is the question of PCs as heroes vs. PCs as freebooting mercenary sociopaths. No, there is no middle ground....just like ascending vs. descending armor class.

Perhaps you champions of the "no heroes" school of gaming have been blessed with groups of well-adjusted, advanced gamers who can handle playing a character who operates outside the normal moral spectrum or outside the definition of what some might call "heroic." I'm not sure where you're gaming, but it isn't anywhere I've ever been. My experiences, and the experiences of those disparate gamers with whom I have discussed this very issue, can be summarized pretty succinctly:

Your anti-hero character is a douchebag and the rest of the party yearns for his agonizing, horrible death.

The characters who are mercenary/"edgy"/Beyond Good and Evil are usually just gold grubbing dicks with no conviction. Parties of these characters waste entire sessions trying to figure out how to rob the town blacksmith when there is a nearby dungeon containing a vast wealth. They avoid adventures so that they can visit petty abuses on insignificant NPCs.

The characters who are blatantly "evil" are usually just insufferable assholes who verbally abuse all PCs and NPCs while committing random acts of violence and generally being more Snidely Whiplash than Darth Vader. Their master plan is usually something along the lines of secretly pocketing the 25gp amulet your party finds in the goblin's lair before the rest of the party can notice. Oh, you mastermind.

I will acquiesce that "heroes" and good-aligned characters are often huge douchebags and I can nary recall a game session where at least one good character hasn't done something that could easily be argued to be an evil act, but then again, I hate alignment and all that it entails. I have found, however, that when a game (or just a campaign) wears its "we aren't good guys!" attitude on its sleeve, what you tend to end up with is a game about feckless thugs who aren't even fit to be a real villain's henchmen. I find that things work out best when groups either own up to being good guys, or else they leave their moral intentions unstated. If I didn't have 19 years of personal evidence backing up this assertion, I wouldn't be posting it. If I didn't have countless gaming stories from conventions and friends and blogs, I'd be skeptical about what is, admittedly, a sweeping generalization.

...and yet, generalization though it may be, I have a Pavlovian response to hearing about games that go the "let's be bad/ambivalent" guys route, and that response is to get as far away from it as possible.


...and that's what diversity means to me.

Campaign Sustainability

...I feel like a goddamn hippy with a post title like that.

Lately I have been thinking about campaigns, and how most of them (mine and others that I have played in or heard about) seem to fade away prematurely more often that not; that is, they do not have an "ending." I've often mentioned that I consider gaming to be its own thing and that it needn't copy forms of narrative like novels or TV shows, so perhaps an "ending" is unnecessary. Still, it seems that there is always dissatisfaction from one side of the screen or the other when a game ends before everyone is ready to send it off. I know I've ended a lot more campaigns feeling unfinished/abandoned than feeling finished.

As a DM, I usually have a point where I can see the death spiral of a campaign beginning, be it my own or one that someone else is running. In my own games, I can tell when the game starts getting cancelled more and cancelled at the last minute... and people don't seem to be as disappointed or bothered by it as they used to be. I find that I'm not excited about where the game is going, or I find preparing for it to be a chore. Sometimes I'm still loving it but players are slipping away to outside obligations like school or a new family. In one case, the events in the game had lead to a point where it didn't make sense for any of the characters to stay together anymore... the game had quite suddenly reached a logical conclusion, and everyone was okay with letting it go while we were still on a high note. (To go back into the dicey realm of comparing games to TV shows, we wanted to end it before we "jumped the shark.")

I am happy to report that my current campaigns do not have these symptoms. Pathfinder is going strong, and in fact we played an extra session last week. Stars Without Number is highly anticipated by my Sunday group, and now that the gang has their own ship, it really feels like the campaign is just beginning, if anything. (Most of it has found the players stranded on a single planet)

So, homies, I ask you this.... what do you do when you begin to feel that nagging sensation that a game is not sustainable,that you are losing steam? To you fight against it, as I did most bitterly with the end of my AD&D 1e game, or do you acquiesce to entropy and let a game go out on a high note, as we did with my Warhammer Fantasy 2nd ed game? Are any of you going through this right now?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Some Good To Counteract the Bad

To offset the negative tone of my last post, here are some good things to come out of gaming recently:

-I have started reading a YA sci-fi book called Leviathan, by one Scott Westerfeld. My wife has been trying to get me to read this for ages, and I have finally listened to her. This book hearkens back to some of the ideas I came up with when I was reading Sun of Suns a few years ago... particularly a Prussian Savage Worlds game with airships and dueling. I also find that I want to mix in some faerie stuff from the recent reading of Changeling: the Lost that I've been doing. My mind feels refreshed and I'm scarcely 50 pages into it. I think I may finally be putting that Prussian airship game together sooner rather than later.

-I scored a used copy of the Pathfinder Corebook at the LGS this evening. Having only one copy of the book at the table was a major drag... and now, with this purchase, we may have as many as four next time. (Two of my players found themselves discounted copies, and I now own two as well, though one of them now belongs to the missus)

-Polychrome is a legit book now, and Kevin Crawford released another excellent Mandate Archive with an alien race I find myself quite taken with; the Qotah. When I get my stipend money for some of the teacher meetings I attended this last year, I believe I will be ordering hard copies of Polychrome as well as Skyward Steel. (Although one of my group members purchased the PDFs and printed/bound copies for me, I find I prefer the real thing...and I also want to kick a few bucks in Kevin Crawford's direction so that he continues putting out top notch stuff.)

-A new con is this weekend. I'm not sure that there's any gaming going on there, but I intend to make some, probably with some Raggi modules and the red n' blue D&D books.

-One of the players from my fondly-remembered AD&D1 game has come back from obscurity to join my Friday and Sunday groups. We sorely missed him and it's good to have him back among our ranks.

-I may soon have three weekly games, if I can just get my shit together. This is likely unsustainable past the summertime, but I intend to enjoy it while it lasts.

-My regular local con is next month! I will run the third installment of my "Zirugar" module, which takes place several centuries after the first, and in the tradition of my little series, uses a slightly different rule set. (The first was Cyclopedic D&D, the second was Mutant Future, the third shall be Stars Without Number- originally I had planned to use Spacemen & Starships 2nd edition, but Goblinoid seems to have moved that to the back burner)

Game on, blog amigos.

More Bitching About Combat

Some sessions, I feel like an asshole.

I was completely out of sync with my Deadlands group last night. I found everything the group wanted to do to be shortsighted and unnecessary. In a game where combat does not yield xp, there is no reason to engage "wandering monsters." We as players sometimes get stuck in this Final Fantasy/Dragon Warrior rut where every single thing we encounter is meant to meet a violent end at our hands. Every foe must be engaged and slain. Hell, it doesn't even have to present itself as a foe.

I could blame all kinds of industry hobgoblins for the "degradation" of the hobby, but that would require some serious rose-colored goggles. I could also bust out some pop-psychology about a simulation that liberates us from the social contracts of real life and blah blah blah.

Combat is a part of RPGs. I get that. D&D is derived from Chainmail, which was a miniature war game. Hell, I'm running Pathfinder for chrissakes...(and I'm trying to make the fights interesting or more than just a random slugfest, but the experience system in that game damn near requires me to have one or two "filler" encounters per game) I'm also trying to come up with encounters that require wits and ingenuity or maybe even player skill to overcome. I do leave some fights in, however, because I know that many of my players, wife included, enjoy a certain degree of battle and mayhem in their fantasy game. I'm all about giving players what they want, but there will be plenty of the stuff that I want, too. (Interesting locations, puzzles, NPCs that let me do wacky voices, etc.)

I wonder if maybe my gaming style is becoming too nice/focused/out of sync/whatever you want to call it. I seem to complain about combat every time I mention it in my blog, and I know that when I play in games I usually find combat to be a huge snoozefest. (Hence my tendency to make non-combat characters) I also find myself very critical of combat systems in games lately... most of them feel wonky and slow to me. Savage Worlds is a notable exception, as long as you don't end up with the Extra From Hell. (Who has been mercifully absent from the last few game sessions, I might add.)

I might just be cranky. With summer school on, I'm not getting enough sleep during the week. (Hey, just like the regular school year!)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Stonescream Clan

Legend tells of a clan of dwarves that were exiled from the Great Halls in the Ironspire mountains. While their original clan name has been stricken from dwarven history (a typical punishment when a family or entire clan are exiled), adventurers and dwarven historians know them by the name they were branded with: the Stonescream Clan.

Rumor has it that the Stonescream clan were plagued by a hereditary madness, and their ruins seem to support this: twisted passageways that double back on themselves, carvings depicting screaming dwarves with blank eyes, tunnels meant to catch the wind that blows through the caverns and turn it into what sounds like a chorus of screams, and traps that inflict as much psychological damage on their victims as they do physical. Many sections of ruins of the Stonescream complexes contain chambers that have no apparent purpose. Although the Stonescream appeared to have the same love of gold and gems as their dwarven kin, statuary and finery in their abandoned holds often bear disturbing or puzzling imagery. The Stonescream clan also appear to have heavily embraced the use of magic, which may have been part of the reason for their exile, although nobody really knows. (As mentioned above, the dwarves of Ironspire have the infuriating habit of erasing the history of those they exile)



...the Stonescream clan is an idea I came up with for my recent Pathfinder game. The party has actually been exploring the ruins of a Stonescream complex for two sessions, and we left this week's game on a cliffhanger with them about to take on a minotaur who has taken residence is part of the abandoned complex. I've really tried to ramp up the puzzles and wicked traps. I do find, however, that my dungeon design style doesn't actually sit well with the "ten encounters per level" formula that latter day D&D seems to embrace. My dungeons feel big and empty, with lots of hallways and "useless" rooms. I try to keep adding interesting details that let the players guess at the nature and history of the missing clan, but I worry about having too much "filler." I also had to recruit one of the players to keep a running tally of party wealth, since I seem to have trouble documenting how much treasure I've doled out.

I am enjoying the game, but I still feel like I'm not "studied" enough in PF. I also like running PF more than I had expected, but I do still have a healthy appreciation for the more rules-lite games out there. (SWN, holler!)

I'm going to a new local Con next weekend. I'll be sure to post about it. So far there seems to be disturbing lack of gaming. Honestly, if the missus didn't want to go to this con (she's into all the other Con stuff aside from gaming), I'd probably skp this one in favor of July's local con that I've been to the last couple of years.

Deadlands tomorrow. Rock on.