Battle of Wits – How would you do it?

Hey there readers

So in going over some older materials I ran into some concepts in gaming that I think it might be fun to see more of. AKA the battle of wits, damaging repartee, the verbal @#$%& slap that puts your foe so far down that their reputation, or maybe even their health is destroyed by the power of your words.

Now then wayyyy back in Dragon Magazine #60 ….

..there was a character class published called the Jester. It was updated and changed for D&D 3.5 in the Dragon Compendium…

Dragoncompendium

…however the class was changed it still had one goal. And that was to act much like a Bard, but with a focus on wit and antics that could be distracting. Some of their special abilities could actually turn their words into weapons (so to speak) and cause the jokes and barbs they tossed to cause physical damage or require saving throws.

Now then Hero Games actually published something along a similar vein in their Adventurers Club Quarterly Magazine #27.

Adventurers-Club-Issue-27-The-Hero-Games-Quarterly

An article on the power or Repartee. How to build powers that represent the use of words in high society to damage reputations and destroy a persons self confidence. Using the model though it is easy to see tons of ways to modify this into a power that causes physical damage too.

Now then I also know that games like Toon and Tales from the Floating Vagabond have elements like this. But those games are set to be very comedic in tone. They are intended to be light hearted and make everything feel like a joke if at all possible.

What I am interested in knowing dear readers is how you would put something like this into a more serious game? The potential antics of the Jester from D&D can be comedic, but the words can also have an insidious impact. Jokes can kill. Is this the moment someone grabs the gaming materials at hand and makes a Jester for Joker and an urban Ranger/Monk for Batman and things get out of hand? Maybe.

With the Hero Games materials they built up a framework so that your repartee can drain the will of others, or destroy reputations, with a few well placed words. They even show you how to use a power add on called Damage Shield to help create a character that is always ready, or just witty enough, to always have a comeback on hand. The immediate impact seems more mature and more serious. But it can still easily be taken for comedy.

I do like the Hero Games version because you can take that model down to a level where you can use it to simulate the power of bullying on someone else. If you drain someone low enough in regards to a stat like Ego, or Intelligence, you may have the chance to kill someone. Or if you put it as physical damage with a delayed effect that would be when someone hears everything and goes home and hurts themselves.

I dont want to make this a completely dark post by focusing on the power of words and quips to hurt. Because the opposite is also true. Words can invigorate. A few well chosen words can inspire, heal hearts, and give someone the opportunity to go home and make things better for someone else.

And any of these, when played seriously can also be played for laughs. Both by the players and in the game worlds they are in. So really we need to look for a mechanic that is very versatile. Something that can have both positive and negative impacts. Something that can heal or harm depending on the words you choose. Something that can be very serious and yet can also be played for comedy. It is also going to need to be something that is not just offensive. I mean how many times have you seen something go down where one person tosses an insult or a quip and another just completely turns it around and so the person tossing the insult has it slapped back into them like some form of verbal Judo. Or maybe you can see a situation where a number of people team up and lay on insult after insult or complement after compliment and things just build and build. We should really take into account how to defend against it too… I mean I know some folks who are just not fast enough on the uptake to understand a joke. I also know people to whom social standing means nothing. Would they be immune?

So what I am asking readers is how would you do it? Would you set up a class? Maybe make it a feat? Would you build a power point structure? Would you make it a standard skill in the game engine you use so that everyone could have it? Can you get magic or tech armor to stop it?

I had a couple of ideas for modern versions… like having Snopes on your phone so you can say “Lets fact check that should we?” and get an immediate bonus to counter. Being so far outside a culture that the comments dont mater. And a few others.

So tell me… how would you do it?

 

Now gimme the dice I need to roll up a comeback…

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Commentary – Video Games vs Tabletop

So my friend Dan over at Dan on Games has asked me the following in the requests page…

“Here’s a question I’d like to hear your thoughts on: with the incredible popularity of video games now how do you feel that’s affected tabletop RPGs? I’m totally out of the tabletop scene so I don’t have any idea. Are people more power game-y/dungeon crawly/Diablo-ish nowadays, or are there still good role-players out there? (Not that those are mutually exclusive but you know what I mean)”

It is a good question but, I think it bears a little elaboration. Just so that readers know you can find a summary statement near the end of the post. Very much a TLDR, cause I ramble. I think that video games overall have had an impact on table top RPG players and publishing. However the specific types of impact vary from gamer to gamer and their experience with what types of video games.

The simplest answer to Dan’s question is that there are still good role-players out there. But just as there is a difference with what makes a role-player ‘good’ there is a difference in expectations as to what makes a ‘good’ game session.

I know this sounds like a bunch of blather, but what I am trying to say is that I feel like Dan’s question is looking for a very basic answer to a bigger question. Let me see if I can break things down from my personal perspective.

Video Game Impacts –

Video games have definitely had an impact on table top RPGs. But it is not simply possible to say that video games as a whole have had a specific impact. Lets take a look at a few of them as I see them.

  • Fighting Games – (Negative) Even as far back as the arcade game ‘Karate Champ‘ fighting games have been raising the bar for the level of description that can happen in a fight in a table top RPG. (Positive) Strangely that negative is something that also  positive. The drive for more detail in what is going on can really help a story develop. While these are obviously not true for all players the ones who get into combat role-playing want more detail, about how you move, how you hit, what gets hurt, and more. This is also true from the rise of the FPS type of game.
  • Side Scrollers – (Negative) Action and adventure games galore come in this format. For the role-players who want to get to the finish these games have given the impression that there has to be one and only one path to the ‘finish’. (Positive) On the plus side the fact that timing maters gets a nice bump in stories. Again not things that happens for everyone. But true for some.
  • Tactical games – (Negative) Sadly the impact here is not what I would have liked. The real impacts here are that all of your enemies are stupid, or can be over powered if you ignore them long enough to grind through side events so you can just bowl them over. (Positive) For some the exact opposite happens, and they figure out that out thinking a foe can be just as if not more effective than raw power. Again not everyone has this impact but it is the one I see the most often.
  • RPGs –   (Negative) So this is kinda strange. There seems to be two impacts here. The first is the that you always can fall back to a save point and try again. So if you dont like something, restart or hack it. (Positive) The opposite can also happen. Learning that choices mater. That each thing can have an impact on the story and the other players.
  • MMO RPG – (Negative) The main thing that seems to come out of these games is that you can be an @$$ to everyone else in the game and it does not mater. (Positive) However if you are not in that group of players you may have figured out that team work is a big thing, and that what you say can have as much of an impact as what you do.

So just to recap, those are all really extreme views. They comprise the most obvious impacts to players. There are thousands of more subtle things that have happened to players over time too. So dont think it stops there for good or for ill. Now lets take a quick look at publishers.

  • The lure of money – Video games have raked in billions. So there is a temptation to license them, replicate their mechanics, and follow the herd so that they keep a bigger fan base. However all these things have a tendency to rebound on the publisher in the long run.
  • The urge to be unique – For the publishers that dont jump on the bandwagon, you usually see them make other alterations in their mechanics to try and force them to be different from what ever video game is popular enough to pull customers away.
  • Reverse engineer themselves – In trying to turn themselves into video games they usually face the disappointment of their fans. To date there have been very few successful adaptations of a table top RPG into a video game. Now then this is not saying that the games have been bad, many of them have been awesome (I am looking at you TSR/WOTC, and waiting with baited breath RTalsorian/CDPR) but that awesomeness does not mean they have replicated the table top games mechanics, or the setting in a way that matches up well with the published work. It makes the game something that was ‘based on’ a table top RPG, and not an ‘adaptation’.

Now then again this is going to feel like some rather extreme comments. And they are. They are calling out the largest visible impacts. Not the thousands of little details that vary from publisher to publisher and game engine to game engine. It would be impossible to put them all into a simple statement, or even a really complex one.

Now then comes the bigger part of the question Dan asked. Are there good role players still out there? The quick answer is yes. However there are a lot of different role playing styles out there. In a previous post I talked about this so I am going to keep this version short.

  • Power gamers frequently take what they see in video games and want to replicate it so they can have something with more boom, or something that sliced up the bad guys real nice. If you can get them to tell a story about it, you can actually get some background and in game role play out of them
  • Pros tend to get ideas for new ways to apply their “this is how I am best” approach to things. Again you can use this to try and get stories. But it also means they may have something to beat. Be it a hero or a villain that they now have to be better than.
  • Quirks and Dramatists are usually disappointed by the lack of personalization in video games. Their details and voice do not get everything they need out of video games. So if they are stuck without a game group for a while and have been playing video games they may come out over the top on how they play.
  • Balance players usually find video games just as fulfilling as role-playing games, so while a video game may inspire them, it usually does not have a negative impact.
  • With other personality types the reactions can be broader or even completely unexpected. For example I know some folks who have been addicts to MMOs, and others who have found something they just so enjoyed in Diablo that they gave up on table top gaming for a few years.

Now the element of Dan’s question about environment. Referencing whether players have taken more to dungeon crawls or the MMO style… well, I think in all honesty you will have to run with everything I have been going into above. It will vary person to person, and making a generalization is kinda hard. I can say that what I am seeing in publication tends to lead me to believe that the old school dungeon crawl is not what is making money right now. And that even though MMOs are on the down turn again open worlds in table top RPGs are seeing an upsurge.

I think I need to summarize this – (TLDR)

  1. Video games have had an impact on table top role playing games.
  2. Video games have had an impact on table top players.
  3. Table top games and players have had an impact on video games.
  4. These impacts have been both positive and negative.
  5. There are still good role players out there. Just make sure you have the conversations you need with potential players to ensure your idea of good role-play and theirs match.

I know I rambled, but I think this was worth it.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see what the odds are I rambled my way into oblivion here…

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Player Participation – Driving a game publisher

Hello Readers

emailstorm

Todays blog is about a little thing that I think will appeal to everyone who games. The influence that the gamers have on the products they use. Now I am sure that everyone out there knows that if you dont buy a product it will go out of print. Sure it may be picked up by another publisher or show up in online forums or scanned in and shared. But at that point there is fan generated content and nothing that can be considered cannon for the timeline and stories that had been generated by the publisher. And if you remember the original World of Darkness, or have played Shadowrun for more than a couple of years, some of those story-lines can get rather epic.

Not to dis on those stories and worlds but there was one in particular that really caught my attention back in the way back. Torg.

I know there are going to be a lot of readers that go WTF and have no idea what Torg is/was, but there was something very interesting about what the publishers were doing with their world. They created a way to get ongoing feedback from their players that they called the Infiniverse. It was handled in a newsletter format that published rumors about things going on in the world and depending on the feedback from player groups they would take some of the information and make it fact for the main story-line in the world they were publishing. The idea was that there were an infinite number of alternate realities (every group playing Torg was its own splinter reality) however if something is happening across enough realities then it was what was happening in the core reality of the Torg storyline.

Think about that for a minute if you will. Players, all over the globe with access to the game could subscribe to the Infiniverse Newsletter and be part of the driving force that was creating the game they were playing.

Now then while there have been groups set up for player participation for, well, nearly every RPG that has had some success over the years, like the Pathfinder Society, and the Adventurers Guild, these are more about organized play and keeping everyone on the same story. Feedback can be important in these groups and does help create product improvement but they do not necessarily drive the ongoing meta plot/story-line that the publisher is developing.

Now then the next thing to think about is that the Infiniverse Newsletter idea was set into motion in 1990. At this time the most technically advanced game publishers like Steve Jackson Games were running BBS to get interaction with players. And over time those have evolved into forums (same thing really but much prettier now) and nearly every game publisher runs one. And while I think the publishers may take a bit of what is put in the forums seriously it is hard to imagine that it is driving any of their development. If you doubt that thought then consider the number of publishers that continue to fumble on power creep and the number of them that fail to draw players into their ongoing stories and so sell less and less material over time, or get stuck selling volume after volume of new rules because they dont have an ongoing story.

From having met several game writers at conventions over the years I know that at least the ones I have met are always interested in getting gamer feedback. It helps them drive things forward and lets them know they have been connecting to the people who love their products. So my real thought here is why dont more publishers take an interest in making the players a driving force in the worlds they are publishing?

Seriously.

Anyway, thats all I am going on about today.

Hope everyone out there is gaming hard and playing safe.

Now gimme the dice, I need to roll up some old feedback articles.

 

 

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Just a bit of a rant, and a short apology

angry-hamster

Ok so before I go on the rant I just wanted to apologize to readers for that last game review. I was tired and not all together together when writing it. So it is not some of my… I was going to say best work but heck that was not even some of my average work… so I am sorry. I will try to do better next time but I am not going to fix it up because I need the reminder from time to time to do it well or just call it a day.

Ok so onto the rant.

As you may be able to tell from angry hamster this rant is about being exasperated. Also about some of the things you can experience to get there.

In all the creative challenges that I face, lacking time, work load, home care, personal time to relax, being sick, needing sleep, and so many others, I think the greatest challenge is stupid. And by that I mean other peoples stupid. My own ignorance tends to be frustrating but I know I can learn and fix it. When I encounter stupid in the world around me though or when stupid invades my blog, I don’t always take it well.

Example. Right now my blogs settings for feedback are heavily restricted. That is because in any given day I get 1-20 postings that are by bots, are sales people, or carry links to places that would mess up my computer or anyone who clicked on them should they post. Thankfully the spam filter here is already high and it catches most of it on its own. But seriously people how many blogs or other posting sites are so weak in their security that this volume of spam and crap is actually a valid method for scammers and black hat hackers to get into peoples systems. Or for advertisers to be subversive. Either this means that there is a ton of stupid on the part of the scammers or in the average human online. Sadly I think it is not the scammers fault.

Example. The number of people that I contend with on a weekly basis both in the flesh and online that have no idea how to research a topic to discover if the information they are spewing have any veracity in the real world. I mean, on how many topics would a quick trip to Snopes not help out. Lets see here… politics, religious history, science, regular history, common freaking sense… I am so…so tired of the “Well my one source that has no validity on the topic what so ever but I am too stupid to check anything else and choose to follow the crap this one source has given me because for some reason they have triggered several of my emotions and so I choose to follow that blindly instead of actually thinking for my own !@#$ self” mindset… yeahhhhh. Also supported by the “Well all these people online/on the news/in my favorite magazines/on the radio stations I listen to ‘think’ the same way I do so I have to be right” mindset. Did ya notice that I put think in bold and italics. That is intended to convey SARCASM… sigh…

So yeah, for a while now I have been using a slight change in definitions to display how I see things and I need to share it in this rant…

  1. Ignorance – A state caused by a lack of knowledge. This may be because emotional content is easier to digest/accept. It may be caused by a lack of exposure to facts and other elements of reality. It may be caused by involvement in a community or organisation that prides itself on using outdated or false information to support their own actions or maintain their status. However this state can be fixed by taking action and learning.
  2. Stupid – A willful choice to remain ignorant on any topic. Especially given the volume of comparative information available. Making this choice means that either you are choosing not to learn, or that your fear of being wrong is to the point where you need help, or you may need help dealing with your arrogance.
  3. Tragedy – When one individual or a group encourages others through whatever means to embrace being stupid. Just think about it.
  4. Evil – When an individual or organization enforces under penalty, even if it is just exclusion from the organization, that being stupid is the only correct behavior.

Now then you get to this point and likely go “ohhhh what does all this have to do with gaming…” or maybe “what does this have to do with being creative” or maybe… ya know what… I dont care at the moment my blog my rules… 😛

So if you didn’t click on the link to go to the definition of exasperated, exasperation is the emotional state of being so sick of something, a behavior, an action, or lack of something, that frustration is on the edge of or slipping over to becoming anger.

What all this leads to is what kills my buzz to be creative.

I am exasperated by the ongoing evil (see my definition above at bullet point 4) tragedy (definition on bullet point 3) that is going on right now in the world around us. It invades everything. Look at the news, or what you call the news, listen to almost any politician or leader from a major religion. This crap is getting out of hand.

And before anyone can play the “Oh but so and so is a good leader, so an so is saying this, my religion is tolerant, my faith isn’t like that” card… I am not saying it is all messed up. Not everyone and everything is @#$%ed in the head. But if we do not start thinking for ourselves on a whole new level philosophically and culturally on everything from personal interactions all the way up to how we hold our faith’s and political systems accountable for their actions and in actions… then this is not going to change. And movies like Idiocracy go from being a clever little poke to being prophecy on a scale that should be feared.

The way this kills my buzz is that if all this is going on I keep having the feeling that I don’t have time to be creative. I need to educate, I need to fight, I need to wake people up from their own personal stupor and quit trying to escape into works of fiction and fancy so that the world doesn’t blow up or burn out or get taken over by extremists who think settings like the Handmaid’s Tale are a really positive example of a functional and correct running world take over everything. And yeah that link is to info about the book not the TV series but if you think about it you can find your way there.

It takes me a while but then I end up coming back to the thought that books, games, and stories can all be used to help create a thinking underground. I can teach, I can fight, and I can wake people up by using what I love to help people step out of ignorance, avoid being stupid and never enter into a tragedy. When I get to this point I usually come out and create a story or a world or something else… and I hope that it helps a little. Even one person. Because that will be one more person who can take up the fight. It is why on almost every one of my reviews I encourage folks to give things a try but to make up their own mind. Its why I encourage people to tell me I am wrong in an opinion or a bit of information so that I can research and remove some of my own ignorance or be aware of where it exists for others.

So I just want to call the rant quits now. I think I got it out of my system for the moment. And the angry hamster can slip away now.

Remember to think for yourself.

And gimme the dice. I need to roll up a revolutionary.

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Game Review #47 – Through the Breach (Fated and Fate Masters Almanacs – aka Malifaux RPG) (Warning – Potentially disturbing art in review)

Hello Readers

Ok so I am starting this with a bit of a warning because the art I am including, even just from the book covers may seem a little creepy, startling or disturbing to some. I think personally it is still mild but since this blog gets posted to FB and I have family that might read it I wanted to make sure that its known right off the bat.

Ok so with that warning out of the way, lets take a look at Through the Breach.

This RPG was actually created to support, sort of, the table top strategy game called Malifaux. The setting was created by Wyrd aka Wyrd Games as a story driven miniature strategy game setting. The setting itself is sort of a horror, steampunk, dystopian, Shadowrun setting. There is an extensive history that ties Earth to another world and from the other world magic comes into Earth. Seeing as how this happens in the 1700 – 1800 time range you can guess as to where the steampunk elements come from. In the alternate world there is an apparently abandoned city. The city and the world basically get the same name from the earthers and from that point on things get weirder.

Through the story arcs in the miniatures game horror is established as humans quickly determine they are not alone. And the things in this world hate… welllll, everything. But that does not mean that there is not a bit of a sense of humor to it as well…

Fate chompy

… as is evident by the monster being named Lord Chompy Bitts…

So while the miniatures game uses the same world, and the characters from the miniatures game can show up in the RPG, the players in the RPG have a lot more freedom to adventure how the want and not be as limited by faction or alliance as the miniatures game is.

The scope of the world of Malifaux is really interesting, as, well, its not all published. There is no telling where everything is out there in the world. It may be huge or it may end completely just past the edge of the known. So for everything they have published so far, we as players and consumers may have barely touched the surface of the world.

The scope of the city of Malifaux is a little more controlled… but only a little.

Malifaux City

I mean if you look at that map you can see two huge areas called Quarantine Zone. Both of those areas offer elements that are unexplored, dangerous, and frequently just weird.

The content of the setting is an eclectic mix of cultures, myths, and almost a stereotypical wild west kind of feeling. It has firearms and steampunk cybernetics, mixed with magic and sword fighting. living mythic monsters and strange horrors that Lovecraft would sit back and smile at.

So I think you are getting the picture here. The setting is well detailed, the art backing it up is beautiful and the stories are awesome.

Now then comes the challenge. I dislike the game mechanic almost as much as I hate GURPS.

First and foremost I dont like using cards as the main mechanic. And mixing cards and other mechanics together… unh… no… just no. They have also described the world in such a way that it is a challenge to even mod the game setting to other core rules without loosing something. That makes it a bit frustrating to mod unless you are using a game engine that is totally open ended.

Strangely in spite of that challenge, I still find the setting all kinds of fun, I think the Malifaux minis are beautiful, and so I can let a few things go by.

My wife is setting up a game for us right now (board game) so I am cutting this review short. I mean most of the rest would be me soap boxing or blathering  on.

Overall Fluff 5/5 – It is freaking beautiful. Background stories, art, NPC opinions and so many of them fleshed out well. Yeah this is worth a 5/5.

Overall Crunch 2/5 – Ungh, the rules. It is playable dont get me wrong. But they took nearly every thing a game can do that I dont like and rolled it up into a single playing engine. There are a lot of ways to spoof the rules and moving the setting to another engine that can work better than plying it as is.

Overall Mod 3/5 – Not easy to mod. The intricate way things have been put together makes it harder to tinker unless you just keep the story and then add new rules into play.

Overall Fun 4/5 – The setting is weird. Horror, steampunk, and so much more. The fact that is it outside our current reality by just a couple of steps. It is unusual, it is interesting, and it feels very much alive to play in… if only the rules.

Total Score 14/20 – Ok so here is what we are looking at overall. The setting rocks the rules will be a matter of taste. Its a lot of fun but the rules can get in the way. It is worth a look at the very least.

Ok so that is it for now. I hope everyone out there is having a good day and is not working too hard if you are working.

Now gimme the dice. I need to see how many soul stones can fit inside of one editors in box.

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This weeks blog not brought to you by anything…

Thats right… just not feelin it this week.

And thats ok 😛

Now gimme the dice, I need to see how many dice you need to use to make a comfy pillow… I am guessing a lot.

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What is a Horror game?

Howdy readers.

I need to ask you all the question, what is a horror game?

I mean sure you can go play Call of Cthulhu, or get into Ravenloft, you can get games going in the World of Darkness, you can get lost in the Void, and so many others.

But are these really horror?

I mean when I read a book like In the Mountains of Madness by H.P Lovecraft, there is a sense of mystery, an air of suspense as you learn more about what is going on but never really see everything. When I play a game of Call of Cthulhu I am usually looking for the next monster to kill and hoping that I dont loose too much in the way of SAN so I wont mix up my black powder explosives and my writing kit.

Maybe its me as a player. I really dont get a feeling of suspense. I dont really get why my character should be afraid. Maybe I know the game mechanics too well and just get frustrated by not getting good die rolls. I do at least feel trepidation when die rolls are taken out of my hands, or I dont know what the GM is doing behind their screen. But that is not a sense you can really sustain.

As a GM I have tried things for players like telling them up front that I have changed some of the game mechanics and until your characters encounter them you are not going to learn about them out of game either. And that does seem to cause a little bit of horror. When no one in the group knows something… it seems to add that bit of ‘oooooooooo, scary’ to the situation.

So what does it mean to you readers? What makes a horror game? What makes a horror campaign? How do you make it work?

Ok now gimme the dice… one at a time… slowly… and if you hand me any of them with a number other than 1 there will be… consequences…

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Tales from the Game Table – Live Table

Welcome readers, running a little early this week so as to have a bit more weekend fun tomorrow.

dm disaster mw kaluta

So early on in my game playing days I started experimenting with the concept of playing a live table. For those who dont know what that means it is when everything that is said at the game table is said or done by the characters in the game. Players talking to each other is assumed to be in character. Statements of action are what a character is doing. It is not an easy thing to get used to, and usually it is easier to get it going in a serious game than a comedic one.

So in one of my very first attempts to play a live table, young me and young other players… and well… we happened to be playing a little game called Paranoia.

Things had been going ok… not great but ok… for the players…

But then that is the nature of Paranoia.

I had been using live table off and on in the game, trying to get the players to act things out a bit more, role play a bit more. And we had some really good moments. Then we get to a point where the players had lost most of their gear, but caught the enemy and were about to bring them in for questioning, when they suddenly realized they had no rope… and we had a moment that went like…

“Ok so how are you going to secure your prisoners?”

“I don’t know… we don’t have any rope…”

“Could we tear up our clothes?”

“Roll against your Moxie.”

****rolling sound of 2d10****

“Ok with a roll like that you realize that ripping up your uniforms would be very creative but it is also willfully destroying property of the Computer, and that is treason.”

“Shit… ok… ummm… ok…so… so I…”

****sounds of dice rolling****

“Looks like they are about to wake up… what do you do?”

“Ok… so I take of my belt and… awww #@%&-it.”

“You have no lotion so it hurts, make an endurance roll…”

Young male jokes about sex ensue.

I quietly rolled a couple of dice and realized that the prisoners had been so sheltered that what they saw as they were waking up scared them… I mean if he was willing to do that to a belt there was no telling what he might do to them…

We didn’t get much further that session. But in the end everyone was either having fun or young enough to be totally confused about the whole thing but too nervous to say anything. Young male players in the early 80’s.

So yeah… that happened… and things like it happened again and again…Not the worst thing really 🙂

heh

Ok so that’s a short post this week. I hope that everyone is having a great weekend.

Now gimme the dice. I need to see just how many troubleshooters could shoot trouble if trouble didn’t shoot back.

 

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Character Building 103 – Building Together

So having talked a bit about types of gamers, and elements in a character you may be thinking I am totally nuts, or you may be wondering how to get everyone on board and try to get a little more role play in your game.

Lets start out with what players can do to encourage each other to add a bit more depth into their characters.

The first and easiest thing players can do is to ask each other questions about their characters. Imagine an exchange like this…

Player A : So you have a pretty cool sword in game, I mean you put a lot of money into it. What makes it so special?

Player B : Its big and does a lot of damage.

Player A : So did you give it a name?

Player B : Why would I do that?

Player A : Well you know how in most of the good novels and movies the hero always has a name for their really cool weapons. Heart Seeker, The So and So family blade, and other stuff that they can call out during a fight. You seem to like that sort of thing so I thought you might have named it.

Player B : hmmmm…

It is a little thing. It is not asking the other player for a background. Some players wont bite on the suggestion and you will have to try other little ways to get them to add bits and pieces as you play but I think you can see the lots of ways you can get this going. Ask someone playing a Ranger why that species is their favored enemy. Ask a Wizard what makes the specific spells she has so important. Ask the Cyborg what part they got replaced first.

I have found that even with the most dedicated power gamers little questions like this over time can lead to players thinking past the numbers and developing much more fleshed out characters.

Some players have a bit of a challenge thinking about things like this at first, so the second thing players can do to help each other out is to make sure that when you do ask questions you are ready to follow up your questions with examples from popular media that the other player might be familiar with. This may require a bit more effort on the part of the player asking the question, but it will be worth it in the end.

The third thing is that the most powerful examples you can have some times are what inspired you to make the character you did. Did you have a fully fleshed out idea in mind? Did the way the dice rolled up the characteristics remind you of another character? And if in these examples you have to blatantly admit that you stole some ideas from a book or a movie, be honest about it.

Lastly, be supportive. When players step outside their comfort zone and play a new character type, or try to develop a background for the first time, it can feel intimidating. Not everyone has the confidence to jump into anything more than making the numbers match up right off the bat. And that is totally cool. Players need to support each other. You are a team after all.

Now from the GM’s perspective there is also a lot you can do to help encourage players to make a fully fleshed out character.

First is that you can pick a game engine that gives you ways to flesh out your characters more. Cyberpunk 2020, Palladium Books, and Role Master all make you or give you the option of walking character creation through your characters background to build them in a story like fashion. The Cypher System and Over the Edge have you build a character with descriptive terms so you sort of start them out in the flesh. Champions and GURPS build with a point base that requires you to take faults and flaws and quirks to round out your point costs. These added details can be fleshed out at any point to add more depth…

Actually here is an example from a Champions game…

Player A : I need 25 more points to finish off the character.

GM : Do you have any Hunted flaws?

Player A: No

GM : Ok then put down Hunted by Bob 11 or less. We can figure out who he is later.

That exchange ended up resulting in one of the strangest NPCs I have ever seen, and it actually got more than a few players involved in not only the characters story, but in to the NPC’s story as well.

So other than picking a system that encourages character depth, what else can a GM do?

Controlling the table is another thing. By that I mean enforcing that when players are at the table they are in character. The fastest way I have found to do this is to set a rule that anything said at the game table is said by the character. If you are using out of game information at the table it is bad for the player and their character both. If they keep themselves in character at the table you can offer bonus XP or other rewards.

The third big thing is to, from right at the beginning, reward players for going more in depth regarding their characters. XP for doing backgrounds, material rewards or something else for coming up with art that fits their character (drawn, photoed in cosplay or copied from online). Something for adding a soundtrack to their character. As long as you set the expectation for the players from the very first game session and you remain consistent in your rewards this sort of things can make players reach a bit deeper for the possible rewards. Now then if you are not applying this equally to all your players, you will cause a rift and screw up the group and you may well loose your gaming friends. So keep an eye on yourself. And if someone speaks up. Listen.

The last thing is something that should have come first in all likelihood but so it goes. That is to actually talk to your players. If you have three players who want character depth and story and three who just want to break stuff, you may want to consider two groups. If you have only one player who wants to do deep story then you might want to see if you can do that outside of the regular group sessions so that the player can work out the story. If you have just one player who wants to just destroy everything and not role play at all, consider bringing that player to your side of the table. Put them in charge of the monsters and the monsters tactics. You will likely need to scale down the power of your NPCs due to the new levels of aggression they may have. But that is all good too.

I am sure that as players and GMs you will come up with other ideas, or just pan the idea and go about your business. Just remember that in the end it is your game, and your characters. If my suggestions are not the way you want to play, that is totally awesome too. It is your game. Play it your way.

Now gimme the dice, I need to role up a random game generator generator.

hope you all continue to have fun and play nice with each other. 😉

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Game Review #46 – Pathfinder 1st Edition (G)

Hello Readers

Well this is one I have been holding off on for a while now. The reason is that I really love this game and I did not want to be gushing all over it without being able to give a balanced review.

Pathfinder

Pathfinder by Piazo Publishing did not start out as its own role-playing game, but was originally a setting of sorts for Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 by WOTC (Wizards of the Coast) that was presented in Dungeon Magazine’s Adventure Path materials when the magazine was being published by Piazo.

The sordid history regarding WOTC canceling their open licence for 3.5 and canceling contracts for things like the publication of Dragon Magazine by third parties that resulted in Piazo creating D&D 3.75 (aka Pathfinder) is not something I will go into here. There have been enough internet rants and flame wars on the topic over the years to satisfy anyone but the most hardcore troll. Whats done is done, and the end result was Pathfinder. I am also not going to go into my opinion regarding some of their more recent (last four years) products and publication methods. This is also something that has been argued to death in many places and I dont want to waste my time with it. I would rather just enjoy the original game and talk about it. So here goes…

The short form of what makes it different from D&D 3.5 was that it took all the elements of 3.5 and improved on them either slightly or greatly. Some of the things that they improved slightly were things like the overall power progression for every class. They balanced them out and upped the power level overall a little in regards to things like Feats so that everyone could feel more heroic. They made skill progression a little more instinctive (less futzing around with class non class) and rewarding for taking class skills. In regards to combat they did one really big thing that helped the game flow a TON and that was to remove the uniqueness of the different combat maneuvers (each having their own method of resolution) like tripping, or charging, and merging them into a combat stat called Combat Maneuver (Bonus or Defense CMB or CMD). Feats and bonus’ for specific maneuvers were added or subtracted from that value. And they made the math just as simple as Armor Class or Base To Hit. It seriously saves a lot of time and effort if you are playing with people who want to do more than just hit things.

Overall magic remained mostly the same, save for making magic items. They ditched the XP cost for making magic items and made it more challenging skill wise.

Overall they increased the flexibility of the system.

When it came to the publication itself the initial book was basically the equivalent of the Players Handbook and the Dungeon Master Guide in one publication that was big enough that you could beat someone bloody with. The interior art was so good that it would become a challenge for other publishers to meet. I mean really, monks and druids are rare in my games so I have to figure they are fairly uncommon in other groups too.. but look at this halfling druid and human monk…

Seriously does that not look inspiring? These are straight from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Artists are credited there. But seriously does that not make it look cool to be a druid? Or a monk?

And the basics they gave for the setting were enough to titillate a bit but not enough to lock you into any setting specifics other than suggested deities.

Now then what was really interesting was that they had set up Pathfinder so you could grab most anything from D&D 3.5, including their own Adventure Path settings and just run with it. Pathfinder characters would be a bit more powerful, but scaling was easy too when it came to the monsters, so you could just tweak things a bit and get up and running.

Now then I did encounter a number of people who for various reasons did not want to move their campaigns and such over to Pathfinder when D&D 3.5 had the plug pulled. And even though it was a bit frustrating to have something superior on hand to use I always tried to keep myself in check since I had a similar reaction when AD&D 2nd edition came out. It can be hard to let go of something you like and have invested in.

Another thing that I have enjoyed about Pathfinder is teaching the game. With the games layout, art, and presentation I have successfully taught more than one player who was completely new to role-playing games to create a character and be under way in less than two hours. I have had similar success with groups who are mixed being new to games or just new to Pathfinder. Being that easy to teach, and D&D 3.0/3.5 easy to mod, the game is solid and quick to work with.

Now then I said I was not going to go into the later publications but I do have to say that there was something about their publication model from day one that irked me. Shortly after they published their first Bestiary, they published a small press booklet titled the Adventurer’s Armory. Everything in that book came out again in the larger book the Advanced Players Guide. This pattern has meant that if you were on the ball and hot for everything that came out to supplement your game, you would end up buying the same information two or more times. While this does not directly affect the quality and the coolness of the original game book it does impact long term play-ability and affordability. And I have to mention this so that completely new players have a heads up, and can look for the books that have the most content and do not end up paying multiple times.

Ok so I have ranted and rambled lets see what I see by the numbers…

Overall Fluff 5/5 – Ok so there is little back story, and little follow through in setting up a world in the core book. However the style, the art, the look of the overall publication. This, this is just… dang…

Overall Crunch 4/5 – There is a lot of good stuff in the rules. They are well laid out and easy to follow. If you are coming from D&D 3.0 or 3.5 it should take you all of fifteen minutes to convert over. I have taught new players with this book in under two hours. And that is new to gaming. Not just new to the game. There is a bit of editing error… but for that I am only going to take away a point. It is more aesthetically displeasing that really screwing with your enjoyment and how well you can understand things.

Overall Mod 5/5 – It was made to be modded. I have used D&D Basic modules, AD&D both editions and 3.0/3.5 materials and modded them to Pathfinder with little effort. So the modding goes all ways.

Overall Fun 4/5 – Ok so this may seem a little short on score, but I have to say my overall fun was marred badly by their publication tactics and an overall deterioration of quality the further you get from the original product. When the rules first came out it was a 5/5, no questions asked. But with current eyes and experience I cant feel justified scoring it that high.

Total Score 18/20 – Ok so this score is pretty high. It really is worth it though I think. There are a lot of things that could be considered small flaws. And the follow though on future publications is a little… spotty… however I think in the end this really is the right score.

Ok so that is it for this week.

Play hard, play well, and have fun

Now gimme the dice I need to know how many hit dice my random hit die roller can generate.

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