Monday, August 24, 2009

I Didn't Think I Hated People Quite That Much

Your BrainHex Class is Seeker.

Your BrainHex Sub-Class is Seeker-Mastermind.

You like finding strange and wonderful things or finding familiar things as well as solving puzzles and devising strategies.

Each BrainHex Class also has an Exception, which describes what you dislike about playing games. Your Exceptions are:

» No Mercy: You rarely if ever care about hurting other players' feelings - mercy is for the weak!
Learn more about your classes and exceptions at

Your scores for each of the classes in this test were as follows:

Seeker: 20
Mastermind: 16
Survivor: 14
Daredevil: 7
Achiever: 5
Conqueror: 2
Socialiser: 0

Go to to learn more about this player model, and the neurobiological research behind it.

(Via Jeff's Gameblog.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

An Unusual Situation

Last week I played a little 4e for the first time. I've DM'd it before, but never sat down and ran my own character. It was pretty fun, especially considering that it was Maggie's first shot behind the table for us. So the pacing was a little rough, and we didn't have time get to the "real" part of the adventure, but what we did do was fun; I was particularly impressed by her combat descriptions, and renewed my resolve to work on my own skills in that area.

As I was getting ready for the game (using the Character Builder to make a half-elf bard, "Fiona Trollkin," and a longtooth shifter warden as a back-up in case we needed a defender) I thought to myself, as I often do in such situations, "Man, it'll be nice to get a chance to finally play." It took me a moment to realize that no, wait, I play all the time now. This summer there've been a couple times where I played four sessions in a single week. Sessions that often last up to eight hours. I'm not even running a game of my own right now. It's all play.

What's really weird is that I don't even have much desire to start running a game again. I'm pretty happy just playing. That's never happened to me before, and I don't know how long it'll last, but for now I'm enjoying it. Being able to game, and be really happy with the game, without the work? It's nice. (Not that I'm not doing a bit ofwork for the game, but not nearly as much as I would be were I DM. My main contribution is thinking up setting questions that Trollsmyth then answers.) Partly this is because the games I'm in right now are really good, and fit me in a way most of the games I've played in before didn't quite. But I suspect it's also partly because I've gotten really frustrated, in various ways, with most of the game mastering I've done in the past year or two. Not really sure why that is yet, but luckily I don't have a huge need to figure it out immediately. I've got time to let the answer come to me, and in the mean time, I can play.

And while I'm on the subject -- not running a game of my own is part of why the blog's been so quiet lately. I've been thinking about game stuff a lot, but mainly stuff that has no business being on the blog, or that Trollsmyth's already covered. I've also been trying to take care of my hands, since they've been acting up a little and there's other stuff I need to do on the computer that's more important, but the main of it is that I haven't had a whole lot I wanted to write about. I'm still keeping up with the blogosphere, but things may continue to be quiet around here for the time being, particularly since I'm going back to school soon.

And the Movie Was Pretty Good Otherwise

So there's a bit in Funny People that got my attention. One of the subplots is a pretty standard loser-comedy romance: Boy meets girl, boy turns out to be way too shy and awkward to actually interact with girl, roommate sleeps with girl. Pretty standard stuff. All you need is a discussion on how girls only sleep with jerks and shun guys who actually care about them, and you're set. And Funny People does hang around in that territory for a while.

But then . . . the guy in question realizes that he's done something weird by getting mad at this girl he hardly knows for sleeping with his roommate, apologizes, and then ends up going on a date with her, wherein making out and perhaps other things happen. The moral of the story is: "Of course women won't sleep with you if you never ask. Having actual conversations with them helps, too."

It was very weird. Not only did the movie demonstrate why the Nice Guy routine doesn't work, it did so in-character and made something of a big deal out of it. Which I wasn't expecting. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn't that. Really quite refreshing.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Kung Fu Cowboys . . . with Lasers

I am seriously tempted to make this the basis for my next campaign.

What's Old School Good For?

I had a point that I'm not sure I communicated very well in yesterday's post, partly because, when I wrote it, I was still figuring out exactly what that was myself. Reduced to it's essence, the point is this:

The OSR is getting new people into the hobby. It's positioned very well to continue doing it, and expand those efforts, because many of its major participants are focused on figuring out why the games work the way they do, and sharing their love of those games with anyone who will listen. The games themselves are simple, fun, and appeal to a lot of people who have experience with newer games but don't find they quite fit.

"Old school," obviously, is about the past. But it's just as much about the future. Introducing new people to the old ways, and going new places you can't go with more mainstream games. That's what it's about for me, and I don't think I'm alone.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Old School is New to Me

Here's a secret:

About four, maybe five years ago, one of my friends showed up to our Friday night session with a big stack of rule books and a bunch of boxes full of miniatures. His neighbor had given him a couple boxes full of old 1st and 2nd Edition AD&D gear, and he was talking about starting up a game with some guys he knew from school. (We were engaged in another campaign at the time.)

I flipped through the books and started making fun of them. Class-as-race? Ridiculous. Individual XP charts for each class? Laughable. That weird system of saves? Archaic. The organization was impenetrable, the prose awful, the art hideous-to-non-existent. 3e, I knew from reading forums on the internet, was a great improvement.

That was back when I didn't know any better. Heck, even my friend didn't know any better. Based on, if I remember correctly, some vague knowledge of the Outdoor Survival Map, he explained to us how OD&D had been "a board game," where you moved your pieces around on hexes. What we didn't know about the games we filled in with crazy rumors and misinformation from other new-edition-playing twerps like us.

Then I started getting into RPG blogging. I started reading Jeff's Gameblog, and from there found Trollsmyth, Grognardia, and a bunch of other guys who knew what the heck they were talking about when it came to the older stuff. Not that any of them were, or are, gurus, but they knew that the older editions were fun, that 3e wasn't intrisincally superior to any of them, and they were interested in figuring out exactly what it was that made those old games tick. Luckily, that mix of enthusiasm and curiosity was enough to get through my idiot ideas on the subject, and I ended up coming along for the ride.

Now, I collect those old hardbacks, play in two Labyrinth Lord games, built my own Swords & Wizardry megadungeon, and have pretty much sworn off running 3e, at least for the next few years. I've taught people to play Swords & Wizardry who have never played an edition of D&D before in their lives. It's some of the best gaming I've done in my life.

A few final words, from Trent Foster:

Yeah, there are some "old guys" in our midst who actually were around back in 197x playing D&D in this style, watched the game/hobby move away from them, and are refreshed to see a new crowd pick up on what they liked about the game in the first place. But more of us are people who started playing the game later, after this style of play was already in decline, or had even disappeared altogether from the mainstream/commercial rpg scene, and are so interested in this style and approach to play now in large part because we didn't get to experience it then.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

My Absolute Favorite Thing

There's a point in a campaign when things have been running pretty smoothly for a while, and I've been spinning out a situation long enough for things to really start getting interesting. The players have a few things in the game that they care about, and are going after their own goals. They've started to pick up non-mechanical resources. There's a fun intra-party dynamic going on. I've got a few folks I've established as nasty-scary-bad, and if things are really going well they've got a serious hate-on for a villain or two.

And usually, at this point in a campaign, one day I sit down to prep for a session and I find an opportunity: a few dominoes that have all been set up already, or a set that just need a few adjustments to really go somewhere fun. I think to myself, "If I move this thing over here, and this NPC does that, the players will totally flip out." So I polish it up, come up with a plan, and get ready.

Then, if I pull it off right, if most of my assumptions about the players and the characters turn out to be true, the ones that don't turn out in my favor anyway, and all the timing works out, there's a moment. The players realize just what it is that's happened, and they're all looking at me, and they can't decide if it's insanely evil or the most awesome thing they've ever heard of. The characters at this point are usually pissed off, often terrified, and always ready to go pound someone into the dirt. But the players are having a blast. Because when it works out just right, I've given them a goal that they could never have come up with on their own, but is still utterly perfect for their characters.

And then I've got 'em. A villain who they'll follow to the ends of the earth. A problem they'll argue about amongst each other and come up with all kinds of schemes to solve. A brilliant set-up for, at the very least, a few weeks of high-stakes, high-intensity gaming, and sometimes something that will come to define the entire campaign. When everything works out right, it's about as close to perfect as gaming gets.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Lessons from a Campaign Ended

I ended Is This Foul? on Friday. The gang still got together and hung out, we just played Apples to Apples and 1000 Blank White Cards instead. (Note to those interested: Captain Kirk makes any 1000 Blank White Cards game 243% more awesome. Especially when people start thinking up cool ways to steal him.) We've got plans to get together next week, and I'll probably run a little megadungeon. But that campaign wasn't working.

The exact reasons behind that are probably beyond my powers of analysis. Mostly, it just never quite clicked. But I learned a couple things from it that I'm pretty sure will improve my chances with future campaigns. At the very least, it can't hurt.

Don't overload a short campaign. In a game with an indefinite time-span, sure, I can throw in as many plot threads as I want. The players will pick up on some, ignore others, and invent their own. They've got time. But in a game like this, with a definite end-date? My attempts at giving the players "choice" just ended up bogging them down with option-overload. They had too much stuff to get done, and too many looming loose ends. A short game doesn't need a whole lot of choice, because it's short. There's not as much chance of people getting bored, and they can get their self-determination kicks from figuring out how to handled whatever handful of problems I do present to them.

Don't mix old characters with new. This is an issue that's pretty specific to sequel games, and maybe even specific to the structure of this game in general. (More on that in a minute.) In hindsight, I should have had them all make new characters, and kept the old guard around as helpful-but-distant NPCs. Instead, I was running a party that included three well-connected, politically powerful masters-of-the-city with a lot of shared history, and a couple of people who had just kind of shown up. The latter two had their own reasons for being in the game, and interesting stuff to do on their own, but they didn't have a whole lot of reason to hang around or help out the first three. That caused a few problems.

Don't run two vastly different but interconnected parties. The idea of having one group of high-level city leaders and ambassadors, and another of their mid-level children and minions, sounded cool on paper. In practice, it created situations where one character would suddenly stop talking because his player's other, much more important character had just entered the room, and generally caused a lot of "who's talking now?" type confusion. Add to that the massive player/character knowledge problems that started when people's characters started to align themselves on opposite political sides (Which, I'll add, my players handled masterfully, but it's still something that's better to avoid when you can.) and this idea was just a whole lot more trouble than it's worth.

Don't run a game that I'm not completely sure I want to run. I'd mentioned the idea, and thought it sounded kind of cool. My players loved the last campaign, and were way excited about the idea of another like it, which is always awesome. I knew there were some neat political shenanigans I could try, and it'd be an opportunity to play around with some ideas I hadn't used before. But I wasn't sure I could handle the system. I worried that it wouldn't measure up to the last campaign. And I didn't know if this was really the game that I wanted to run. DMing is hard enough even when it's a game that I am consistently, 100% committed to. This campaign couldn't quite make that standard.

Edited the last paragraph for clarity.