Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 New Year's Resolutions in Review

The end of another year means, among other things, it's time to look back at last year's New Year's resolutions.

Go to GenCon
Success! I posted the first and second parts of my GenCon review back in August, so I won't go into too much detail here. Needless to say -- fun. Getting it set up was, at times, frustrating, but I managed to rescue it from real life relationship drama and see the thing through. Some of the best four days of my life to this point.

Read 15 Fantasy Novels
Failure! I did read the Kushiel series and loved it, and I'm partway through A Princess of Mars, but that was about it. I've got The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Forever War sitting on the shelf (or, actually, in a box with all the other stuff I brought home from college for break) but I never got around to getting through them. This was partly because this summer was much busier than the one that preceded it -- four to five nights of gaming a week, plus a full time internship -- but that's not an entirely satisfactory excuse.

Blog About Every Game I'm In
Failure! I did write about every campaign I've been in but I didn't post much about Trollsmyth's games for great whacks of time, and I'm not even sure I mentioned when I dropped the group game. Or when the 7th Sea game ended, for that matter.

Let Someone Else Run the Summer Game
Success! Someone else in the group almost did run a game, but it ended up not happening, partly because I complained about it. Which was, in retrospect, probably uncalled for. But then, so was my trying to play d20 again.

Finish, Run, and Publish my Social RPG
Failure! Well, kinda. Basically what happened is that I decided that this turned into an entirely different project. It's not likely to see publication, largely because I've picked up a couple of other, better opportunities to get something published over the past year -- more interesting projects, and more rewarding publication avenues.

All in all, not too bad a year. Two unqualified successes, two unqualified failures, and two kinda sorta's puts me somewhat behind where I found myself in the last New Year's review, but on the other hand -- This year has been weirder, busier, and less RPG-focused than last, and none of those are entirely bad things.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Death to All Who Inform Me of Cool Things!

From the comments on Trollsmyth's latest post, among similar sentiments:
"The smell of marketing arouses in me the lust to kill."

From Wikipedia:
Marketing is the process of performing market research, selling products and/or services to customers and promoting them via advertising to further enhance sales. It generates the strategy that underlies sales techniques, business communication, and business developments. It is an integrated process through which companies build strong customer relationships and create value for their customers and for themselves.

In other words: Marketing is figuring out who might be interested in your product, where to find them, and how best to explain your product to them. It includes advertising, but it also involves establishing and maintaining relationships at all different links of the chain of interaction between the producer and consumer of a product.

Or, in other other words: Marketing is not lies and voodoo mind control. Marketing -- or at least, good marketing -- connects you with stuff you'd like but might not otherwise have known about. Please stop embarrassing yourselves.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Where Did All My NPCs Go?

I had this frankly rather bizarre revelation the other night. I think I've mentioned on here before that the last couple of games I've run just haven't been fun. I couldn't figure out why, and it was bugging me, because I used to love running games and lately it's just been an exercise in frustration. I still haven't, really, but I have a pretty damn good suspicion, once I realized --

I'd stopped building my games around interesting NPCs and what they were up to.

The Traveller game? NPCs were all stock figures. Made up on the spot, didn't have much in the way of motivation. I thought that was how "sandbox" worked, for some reason. The players moved around too much for them to get interesting, anyway. The LotFP game was all dungeon crawl. There were a handful of NPCs but they were a side note, not driving the action. That wasn't where my design was coming from. Is This Foul? was all about PC interaction and scheming, which was great, but it meant there was almost nothing happening on my side of the screen.

This is weird. Back in the day, my games pretty much all started out with, "Okay, here's this dude and he's trying to..." and then somehow the players would get tangled up in whatever it was. Or not, but there was always something going on in the background like that. Basically what I did between games -- what kept my interest -- was explore various character issues and figuring out how they were going to change their plans in response to whatever dumb thing the players had done this time. A lot of the work I did between games never came up in game, and didn't need to. Figuring out how the long-lost prince felt about his brother who was probably never going to get involved with the game didn't make a difference one way or another to the PCs quest to get that prince to the ancient sacred volcano (long story), but it gave me something to do in between sessions, and it kept me tuned in to what was going on in the campaign.

One of the things I've come up against lately is that I do not think in dungeons. If I don't specifically sit down and think, "What this game needs is a good location-based adventure," I won't build them. Trollsmyth builds them naturally out of his campaign's situations. Somehow, sooner or later, a social or political problem will lead to a dungeon crawl because that's what he reaches for to solve particular kinds of problems. I don't. They're not in my blood. That's not how I was raised, as a gamer.

What I do think in is relationships. There's a lot of stuff that I struggle with coming up with, either on the fly or in prep. I can do it, and do it well, but it's exhausting. New monsters, interesting treasure, weird things for the critters to be doing, just events in general -- it takes time, it takes mental effort. Even personalities, histories, secrets, motivations can be difficult. But relationships -- ah, that's another thing entirely.

You put me on the spot, and I can tell you:
This wizard guild is run by a guy who loves evocations. He's straightforward, not particularly principled but he doesn't lie or manipulate. At least, not for business reasons -- He's got two lovers in the guild and they each know about each other but pretend not to, because both of them have other lovers as well -- one is in the guild, the other is a member of the town guard so she's really in the closet about it because all the other wizards would make fun of her for dating someone so mundane. He's in charge because most of the guild likes him; the guild hasn't exactly prospered under his leadership, but he's affable, and leads with a fairly light touch and lets them get on with their work.

There's a significant minority who don't respect him, feel he isn't as skilled and subtle a magician as their leader should be, and that he hasn't done enough to advance their power in the world. They're led by a somewhat humorless man who's well-respected for his power within the guild by disliked and distrusted outside of it; the boyfriend of the leader's first lover is also a significant player in that faction, and he's probably more dangerous. He's not likely to lead any coup given his own precarious personal situation, but he's also much friendlier and personable than the leader of the faction, and not much worse of a wizard; he's likely to end up the de facto leader of the guild if it's significantly destabilized for some reason.

Five minutes, easy, and I've got myself a whole adventure.

What I'm coming around to that this means that there are certain kinds of games that I basically can't run. Episodic? Out. Mission-based? Out. Picaresque? Sadly, out. Likewise, I can't run anything that's entirely player driven, even when I've got great players and they'd love that kind of thing. I probably can't run a megadungeon for any great length of time, at least not without doing some unusual things inside it and around it. I almost certainly can't run a true West Marches style game, and I might not be able to run that general sort of large, irregular player base game.

If I'm right, anyway. And I hope I'm right. I'd much rather think that there are certain kinds of games that I'm always going to have trouble with than that there's just some mysterious something that's keeping me from being able to enjoy running games anymore. I can run a pretty kick-ass game with a few good NPC schemes to play with. Or at least, I used to be able to.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Few Points of Clarification

I want to make clear: I respect Grognardia and most of what James Maliszewski writes there. I wouldn't have linked to him or taken the time to respond to his post if I didn't. I take issue with the specific comments he made because of the atmosphere they encourage. Furries get flack from everyone, I personally don't feel any need to add to it, and I wish more people felt the same way. The anger in that post was triggered more by the comments than the post itself, which, yeah, isn't entirely fair to Maliszewski because his comments section is usually a mess anyway.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

They Came First For the Furries...

I suppose going "Ew! Ick! Furries!" isn't quite as troglodytic as going "Ew! Ick! Gays!" but it's pretty dang close. Seriously, people. There are folks out there who like pictures of foxgirls and catboys. There are folks out there who like dressing up as pandas and unicorns. There are folks out there who like roleplaying as otter-kin and lizard-folk. There are, as far as I can tell, rather a lot of them. I've yet to understand why this is a problem.

I know, I know. The fur suits. The yiffing. The stuff that the nightly news and Law & Order and all that other junk that normal people with nothing better to do use to fill their lives hold up to tell us, "This is weird. These people are not okay. Be normal." So sure, go ahead. Freak out about a couple of pictures in a roleplaying manual because it's "adult entertainment." Then go back to your basement and pretend to be an elf, secure in the knowledge that you're safe, because you've done your part to shun the wrong kind of weird people.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

What We Mean by "Social Interaction"

There's been a flurry of furious activity on Trollsmyth's blog about how you should use rules to frame the game's core activity. I've been reluctant to step in, because I know exactly what he's talking about and it'd just come across as his solo player jumping in to gang up on people who disagree with him.

Still, there's been some confusion about just what he means when he says "social interaction," which is something I hope I can clear up.

First, yes, all roleplaying games are fundamentally about social interaction to some degree or another. When we say "social interaction" we're talking about in-game behavior. In most games, the main in-game activity is combat or investigation or something else adventure-y. We're talking about a game where the equivalent to a boss battle is a big fancy party -- or, heck, even seeing a character my character has a significant relationship with for the first time after being separated for a while.

Second, it doesn't mean "social combat." When I sit down with a cleric and a Rakshasa to talk about boys, I'm not trying to convince either of them of anything. I'm trying to figure out what the cleric wants out of a relationship (because the fundamental issue at hand is "which boy?") and find out more about the boys from the Rakshasa (because she's known most of them longer than we have). Almost all the conversations we have in that game are like that. We're trying to solve a mutual problem, uncover an issue, or work all the angles on an idea, rather than convince someone of something or another.

Or, sometimes, just chatting. Here's an example, very slightly edited from the original log to make it more readable:

I lean out over the parapets. "Nice night."

"Gorgeous night," agrees Reswet.

"A blue night," says Seban, joining the two of you. "Sometimes the Sea of Fire burns hotter than at others, and it turns blue or purple."

"When do you find these things out?" I ask. "I swear, you already know more about this place than I do."

He chuckles. "We actually talked about it at dinner. I've never seen the Sea of Fire. I hope to soon, but the others have said we hardly go to that part of the city."

I nod. "Mostly, what, the docks, and the industrial parts of the city? Azer, fire giants, and so on?"

Reswet nods. "I've been to the Merchants' District once, but only briefly, and never anywhere close enough to see the Sea."

Yes, I think this is fun. I spend 4-6 hours a week on this stuff. I'm a freak. I kind of consider the solo game to be practice for real life socialization, that's how crazy I am.

Third, this is a style of game that doesn't always work so well at the table, and the very immersive, hyper-focused variation on the style that Trollsmyth and I have developed pretty much only functions in text, as I think the above example makes fairly clear. There are a lot of little things about text that help support this style of game. It's easier to stay serious and focused for long periods of time, for one, though the biggest is probably that it's much easier to separate player and character. If you can't see how roleplaying in text could be more fun than doing it in person, you're not likely to have any interest in the kind of game we're describing.

There are a lot of games that could be described as focused on "social interaction" that would handle social mechanics fairly well, or even require such critters. For instance, the phrase might describe a game that was mostly about politics -- talking to people to get them to do things. There's no reason it couldn't apply to a game that was played at the table with more than one player. If you've got more than one player, you've got varying levels of interest in all the activities of the game, including talking to people, and at the table you're going to have different comfort levels with "talking in character" and otherwise exercising your social mojo.

In such a game, I'd probably want my players to have some social mechanics at their disposal. Probably not "you roll and the king agrees," but certainly something like D&D's reaction mechanics, reputation mechanics, perhaps rules to allow players to gather "dirt" on their foes with dice rolls, that sort of thing. In that kind of game, the game would be "what do we want, who can give it to us, and how do we push or pull them into doing what we want?" Playing out how that happens wouldn't be crucial.

In the solo game, though, the point is the relationships and how they're affected, so the little details of how everything plays out are important. Little jokes between lovers, accidental allusions to secrets my character is keeping, that sort of thing. Most mechanics we could use would be, at best, unnecessary, and at worst would replace the stuff we find most fun. Unfortunately, the terminology we have available doesn't really make distinctions that fine, and these are all types of games that are unusual enough that there aren't clear categories for them. Even "a game focused on social interaction" is unusual in itself, never mind all the variation within what those words could mean.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pendragon

If I'm thinking about picking up and running Pendragon, does it matter what edition I go with? I'd prefer having an actual copy of the book to PDF, but it looks like even the latest is rather badly out of print so I'm probably going to have to get an electronic copy no matter which one I pick. 5th looks fairly good, and it was written by Greg Stafford, so am I safe just picking it up? Or is this one of those games where the later editions polish all of the heart out of it?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Here's What I'm Working on Now

DREAMLANDS MAGIC

Dreamlands critters have a whole soul.
- can't divide soul from body
- can't invest soul into objects
(permanent and temporary)

Those who work magic tend to have a handful of innate abilities that they can always access.
- Improve & expand abilities through meditation and adventure
- Exploration of the quality of their souls and themselves
- Use of these abilities leads to exhaustion rather than insanity
- Restored through rest, meditation
Sometimes special ceremonies?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Ending Another Game

After some thought I've come to the conclusion that the main reason I had as much trouble with the game on Friday as I did was that I didn't really want to be running that campaign in the first place. I was just doing it because I felt like I should. That's a lousy reason to be running a game, and it leads to lousy, short-shrift DMing. So I'm taking another break.

Not 100% sure when that's going to end. Or if it will. The last three games I've run have been frustrating, painful, and ended before they were intended to. I'm pretty happy with the gaming I'm already doing, and as long as that continues, I'm not sure running my own would be worth the potential for more frustration.

Now, that hasn't stopped me from starting to fiddle with a setting for a new campaign -- or rather, another campaign, since the planning for this one significantly predates the game I was running this semester. But I'm not entirely sure that this one will ever get run, and if it does, it will at least be very, very different from the kinds of games I've been trying to run. The "next game," if there is one, will almost certainly be online, via text chat, and it's only slightly less likely to be a solo game. It's probably going to be a system of my own invention, and it won't have many, if any, dungeons in it.

For now, though, I'm content to scribble. I'm also planning on doing more of a number of things that, lately, I've been thinking I'd much rather spend my time on than running the tabletop game. I've got a couple of fantasy novels to read, some drawing to do, and Settlers of Catan and Texas Hold 'Em to play, never mind the "regular" socializing that I'm finally starting to get the hang of. I'm going to do my best not to obsessively analyze and try to figure out "why" the games haven't been working. If an interesting setting comes out of my scribblings, I'll run another game. If not, I'll keep playing in the two games I'm already in, and find some other ways to occupy my time.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Why I'm Not Going to (English) Grad School

I suppose I haven't ruled out law or business school entirely yet (though law school is basically off the table for now), and I might end up getting a Masters or something in another discipline, but I'm absolutely not going further with my major discipline, English. I love English -- as an undergrad. But I don't have any interest in teaching, if I was going to write as a career it'd be speculative/commercial fiction rather than MFA fiction/poetry, and, well...

So I'm reading A Princess of Mars. Haven't gotten very far into it yet, but in the first couple of chapters he deals with some hostile natives of both an earthling and Martian variety. So I'm sitting there pondering the broader cultural narrative that these depictions of native people fit into, what statements the overall work is making as opposed to the specific character, what points of view the work is privileging and what it's trying to shut down, and how complete that process is. I took that class last semester and I've already forgotten the relevant terminology, so that should tell you something.

I do enjoy this kind of thing, and I can have fun talking about it. I'm not one of those people who complains that now I know deconstructionism I "can't turn it off," because I can't "turn off" thinking about stuff no matter what tools I have to do it with. A Princess of Mars isn't actually a very good book to do this with, of course, at least out the bits that I've done so far; with straightforwardly negative depictions of a group like that pretty much all you can do is comment on what it means that Burroughs can grab this group and present them as straight up bad-guys without a whole lot of modification. I'm hopeful that the handling of the natives of Mars will provide some counterpoints to that initial sequence.

But my basic approach to the whole thing is "intellectual toy." I'm at least as interested in the technical aspects of how Burroughs is telling his story as I am in any of the literary criticism buzzwords I can attach to it. I'm more interested in just reading the damn book than I am either of those two things. I can enjoy a good bit of lit crit, but then I get bored and want to go find something else to do.

A lot of people with similar interests and academic proclivities don't feel this way; they take these ideas very seriously, think about them a lot, and feel that they're making an important contribution to the country's political and intellectual discourse by studying them. Which I don't think is untrue, exactly, it's just not my attitude towards those ideas at all. I can't summon the necessary passion, or maintain the long term interest. They're toys. And not even particularly engaging ones at that.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Frozen

Have you ever just completely frozen as a DM? Sat down to play, with notes that a week ago you were sure would be more than enough to run a session, and just stared at them, thinking, "I have no idea what to do with this. This makes no sense. I can't do this," for a full five minutes, while your players make awkward conversation?

Monday, August 30, 2010

My All-Women Campaign Kicks Off

So! That game. First session went fairly well. One of the players was expectedly late, one was unexpectedly late, and another didn't show up as well, but we still made characters, came up with some starting backstories, and played enough for them to decide on and prepare for their initial expedition into the wild.

Currently the roster consists of:

Helene, Elf 1 -- Exiled from her people for reasons currently unknown.

Sister Amalia, Cleric 1 -- A native of the port city to the north, Kythrea, who left when her researches led her to the cult of the archangel Inara, Lady of Morning, one of the many such cults banned by the city's Sorcerer-Tyrant.

Skeltinath, Fighter 1 -- Another native of Kythrea, who abandoned the city's petty tyranny in favor of freedom! And also treasure.

Sun, Fighter 1 -- A mermaid princess who sold her voice to a sea-witch to become human, so she could avoid the responsibilities of mermaid princess-hood. She's since had a bit of a hard time in human lands, and is prone to starting fights with shady men in bars.

I printed out an extra copy of the character creation info (the first 30-something pages of the PDF) which helped quite a bit. Especially since the Lamentations of the Flame Princess book starts out with a handy, step-by-step explanation of what to do in character creation. I probably should have also printed out a couple extra copies of the equipment list, so that everyone could have had one to peruse. At some point I need to get around to making a list specifically for Stormwatch, or whatever town they spend the most time in, that includes some items from And a 10' Pole. But for now I'm too lazy for that.

They ended up deciding that they hadn't known each other before they arrived in Stormwatch, and all met in a tavern, the Unquiet Cat. I pointed out that, all being women travelling alone and looking for adventure, they actually all had a fairly good reason to seek out each other's company, and they seemed pretty happy with that as an explanation for why they ended up at the table together. I'd handed them each a few clues to some of the adventuring site's I'd outlined in my notes, and they chatted about that and eventually decided to go for the one that Sun had heard contained a huge, possibly cursed, ruby. Then they picked up some extra equipment for the expedition, and we're all set to start the next session off with some dungeon-delving.

They seemed a bit hesitant about how exactly to begin -- only Sun and Helene spontaneously shared the clues they had -- and I probably nudged them a bit too much in response because I wanted to get that section figured out and out of the way before we wrapped up for the night. In the future, I'm going to try to give them more time to work things out on their own, and give them time to dither a bit if that's what they need to do.

Sun also started a fight with a guy in the bar, which gave us the opportunity to demo the combat system. I wish I'd had the presence of mind to orchestrate a slightly more involved combat, with more of the group involved, and to particularly to get to the point of someone being "knocked out" so they could see how easy it is to get to zero hit points. But they'll figure it out fairly quickly once they get into the dungeon, and several of them do have enough old school D&D experience to know at least that combat is pretty deadly.

Next time: the mysterious ruin of Phra Chedi Nam, which may or may not contain a giant cursed ruby!

Friday, August 27, 2010

2010 Gen Con Report Part 2

Here’s the second round of bullet points from Gen Con. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday this time.
  • Talked about the disappointing Wizards booth in the podcast. I'll add that we saw the thing in the dealer hall, decided that couldn't possibly the entire Wizards presence, and went on a quest to find an official location where you could find the books, equivalent to the Paizo display. Nope. If you wanted to browse a 4e D&D book at Gen Con, you had to find one of the game or book store booths that was carrying a few copies.
  • I would have strangled the True Dungeon referee if it had been an actual tabletop game (too many "guess what I'm thinking!" puzzles) but the environmental dressing was cool enough that it was worth putting up with a bit of frustration. I was also able to get the two extra tickets I had available on account of scheduling lameness to new players at the last minute, so kudos to the True Dungeon staff for managing the waiting list system well enough to allow that. Coolest touch: the dragon was guarding a huge pile of actual True Dungeon tokens.
  • Roger the GS runs a mean game of (mostly) D&D. Another one where I was quieter than I could have been, but still managed to contribute despite that as the party mapper. This one is going to get its own post, since I have a lot of notes to write up from that game.
  • I completely forgot about the Dune boardgame. For serious.
  • The board game hall is one of the best parts about Gen Con, and another spot I'm going to spend more time in the next time I go. The frantic, grudge-based, not-entirely-serious style of playing Settlers of Catan advocated by the college students in the group (me, my brother, and one of my old players from high school) amused Trollsmyth, who was used to people who are actually focused on, you know, winning.
  • "Maraschino cherry, courtesy of Gen Con." I really don't know what the explanation for this was. Some guy came around handing them out. My brother and I both felt strongly that accepting would have broken every rule we've ever learned about food and strangers. Unfortunately, Trollsmyth did not prove our thesis by hallucinating.
  • Trollsmyth also got some free stuff that was actually cool. The Men In Black GM’s guide and the Hawkmoon Player’s Guide. I think.
  • We played Outdoor Survival! We all died! Seriously, this game is a lot of fun, and fascinatingly close to the Moldvay/Cook rules for wilderness exploration. You move on the hex map at a rate determined by your condition, with more difficult terrain taking more points of movement to enter, you get lost by occasionally having to roll a d6 to determine the direction you move on the hex map, and there’s an optional rule that lets you roll “random encounters” in addition to the basic hazards of starvation and dehydration. The basic version of the game generally ends when you get trapped in an area that costs more than your current move to get out of and then starve to death.
  • I didn’t buy much, but I did pick up a couple of pieces of Beth Trott art. Still need to get that framed so I can hang it up on my wall when I get back to school.
  • Oh, and Game Science dice. Which are awesome, and awaiting hand-inking.
  • I did really enjoy getting the opportunity to flip through some old game stuff from the 80s at some of the used bookstore type booths in the dealer hall. Felt kind of old because the books I started on are now only in the used section, stacked next to the AD&D hardbacks. Trollsmyth laughed at me.
  • The 2010 GMs Jam was surprisingly interesting. (If you missed it, RPG Circus has the video posted.) I’m usually not much into the whole “GMing advice” genre -- getting to focused on “advice” contributed to one of the worst games I ever ran back in high school -- but I went anyway so I could meet up with Zachary Houghton and other RPG bloggers, and was quite glad I did. The focus the session had on social issues was both telling and encouraging, since in my experience those tend to be more significant and more intractable than any matters of technique. The opportunity to hear about other people’s games and the kinds of problems they were having was fun, too. The early discussion was dominated by people with too many players, which made a number of the panelists very jealous. Overall the thing drove home just how lucky I am in my current gaming situation, with a DM who fits my own gaming preferences very well, and vice versa, and both of us with enough time to game 3+ times per week.
  • I want to go again, but I’m not absolutely, 100% it’ll happen next year. That depends on a number of factors, not least of which is where (and if!) I end up getting a job next year when I finish school. But it’s definitely something I’m going to do again, and hopefully sooner rather than later.

New Campaign!

Starting up a new one tonight. The system is Lamentations of the Flame Princess. The players are all women. One is completely new to roleplaying, another has hung out with roleplayers for a while and played a single session of Exalted, two were in my Traveller game but haven't done any roleplaying outside of that, and the last was in my Traveller game and now also plays in Trollsmyth's group game online.

Should be interesting.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

2010 Gen Con Report Part 1

Gen Con was the best four days I've had in a long time. Maybe ever. Lots of reasons for that, some more blog-worthy than others. Since I got back I've been sorting through exactly how to handle it on the blog. Should I write a blow-by-blow account of what I did at the con? Write a few separate posts hitting some of the highlights? Attempt to capture the "Gen Con experience" in a narrative essay? Then I decided all of that would be too much dang work, so you get random bullet points. This is just the first batch, and mostly from Wednesday and Thursday.
  • The whole freaking city was full of gamers. Obvious, out, clearly-there-for-the-con geeks of all stripes noticeably outnumbered normal Indianapolis folk and other travelers until sometime Sunday afternoon. Go to a restaurant? Full of gamers. Walk down the street? Full of gamers. Get into an elevator? Full of gamers. It was very much as if Gen Con was its own small town within the larger city. Or as if my online, roleplaying-focused life had moved offline.
  • Being in charge of a trip, on my own, without parents, was wicked cool. This was the first time I've been responsible for anything this big and crazy, and that aspect was one of the best parts of the trip. I didn't always enjoy being the default decision maker, especially towards the end of the afternoon when I'd started to crash a bit, but the other members of my posse were able to mostly pick up the slack when necessary. I did love being able to build a trip around what I wanted to do from start to finish, and even more than that really enjoyed deciding to do something crazy and then making it happen. I'm used to being responsible for myself at college, but a lot of times that descends into the lowest energy state of the daily grind. Planning and executing Gen Con was active, not reactive, and that was very rewarding.
  • Hanging out with Trollsmyth was deeply weird, but also a lot of fun. I hadn't met any online friends in person before this, so simultaneously getting "I've known you for over a year" and "total stranger" signals was a new and exciting flavor of cognitive dissonance. Luckily, we had Gen Con, so it didn't take long for my social processing to catch up with -- Oh yeah! Trollsmyth is the guy I geek out about gaming stuff with.
  • The dealer hall is like the coolest game store in the world. Seeing a lot of RPG stuff I'd only read about online before was neat, and meeting the people responsible for some of it was extra-neat. There's also a lot of stuff besides RPGs at the dealer hall -- costume pieces, dice, game tables, and other things where the actual physical experience is the whole point of the thing.
  • Trollsmyth and I were both more or less mystified by the map/program. It took like an hour to really figure out how all the sub-maps fit together, and even then there was a lot of stuff on there that we simply didn't discover until our second day at the con. We'd be terrible adventurers. But the con is also very big, and very complicated, especially once you start trying to figure out where events are in the connected hotels.
  • Seminars are really cool. We ended up only making Girls Just Wanna Get Their Game On and GMs Jam 2010 this year, which were both great. Next year I'd like to do more, and I'll probably spend a little more time finding interesting looking ones before the con; I didn't have that many picked out this year to begin with, and we skipped a couple I had picked on account of hungry, or just other things I wanted to get done.
  • The Embassy Suites has its reputation as gamer central for a reason: tons of table space.
  • Dogs in the Vineyard is fun. Not going to replace old school D&D as my staple game any time soon, but getting a chance to play with Tim and some of his friends in person was great. Unfortunately Thursday was the day with my highest energy high (boy, was I wired that morning in Panera) and my corresponding lowest low later that evening, which hit right around the middle of that session, and it'd been entirely too long since I'd had a bit of actual table play, so I was much quieter than I could or should have been. Still, a good time.
  • Pict-o-phone is also fun. Tim had to take off after the Dogs game, but a couple of his friends stuck around and taught us this excellent thing. Basically it's a cross between the telephone game and Pictionary. Everyone has a stack of cards, writes a sentence on the first one, and hands the stack off to the next person. They have to draw that sentence on the next card, and then hand the stack off again, and the person who gets that stack has to write a new sentence based on the picture, without referencing the original sentence. A couple of rounds of this is a recipe for endless hilarity. Especially when someone thinks it's funny to write things like "For whom the bell tolls" and "A mighty fortress is our God" on his starting cards.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Listen to Trollsmyth and Oddysey Chat About Gen Con

Trollsmyth and I have been talking about fiddling with podcasting for a while now, and at Gen Con had a couple of conversations we thought would make an interesting starting point for such a thing. We ended up being too busy with con things to get all the technical details worked out while we were there, but Skype makes such things fairly easy at long distance. If you want our take on Pathfinder, D&D Essentials, the Paizo and WotC booths, the general con vibe, catgirls, and more, you can download the podcast at Mediafire. It's about half an hour long.

Links to stuff we mentioned:
Zak’s RPG Blog II
Roger’s awesome character sheets at Roles, Rules, and Rolls (Not “Rolls, Rules, and Rulings.” Sorry, Roger.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Unjustified Player Grinching

JB's had an interesting post up recently about how every campaign has a "Robilar." One player who's a lot more into the game, plays more, makes every session, even goes off on solo adventures if the DM is up for it. Apparently this has been a feature of long-running campaigns since the earliest days of gaming, and came up back in his own early gaming as well.

It's certainly been the case in Doom & Tea Parties, though explicitly by design. The game that became the solo game came first, and when we added more players to the campaign we decided to split that off into its own game. The party in the group game picked up a rumor that turned out to be about something that happened in the solo game, but otherwise there hasn't been any contact between them. Which is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned. Does an end run around the messy issues of diva-ism that JB talks about in his post.

Still, the Robilar comparison isn't perfect. One of the things that tends to happen, it seems, in a game that where one character gets a lot more running time than they others, is that character gains a lot more power and wealth just through the extra attention.

But that solo game? The one that's been running for over ninety sessions now? More than twice the number that the group game's had? Guess what level that character is. Just GUESS.

I asked Trollsmyth this question a couple of days ago. He got it wrong!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Coolest Thing That Happened at GenCon

So it turns out that I'm an idiot. I was completely and utterly wrong about there being no old school vendor presence at GenCon. Over on RPG Blog 2 there are some pictures of Raggi's stuff at the IPR booth, and there was a whole mess of Swords & Wizardry and OSRIC material available at the Expeditious Retreat Press booth. It was awesome.

But being an idiot worked out pretty well for me, because it meant that we dropped by on the last day of the con, once I'd figured out how terribly wrong I was. (Thanks to everyone who commented on that post last week!) We met Jon Hershberger, co-founder of Black Blade Publishing, who was very impressed with how well-worn my copy of Swords & Wizardry was. We were flipping through OSRIC modules and A Magical Society: Silk Road when another gamer showed up and started asking Hershberger about Swords & Wizardry, and what old school modules he'd recommend running with it. A certain, oddly familiar gamer...



I was there when Erik Mona bought a copy of Swords & Wizardry! Which was extra-cool because Trollsmyth and I had spent a lot of our first day in the dealer hall chatting about how neat Paizo's booth was, what makes their business model so interesting, and how awesome it was that they were clearly there to sell product and support people gaming. Not only did their booth contain huge stacks of their rulebooks and an entire wall of adventures, they'd gotten some third party gaming accessories lined up as well. Everything you need to run a kick-ass game of Pathfinder right there.

Gamers gaming, man. Actual people playing the games they want to play. As geek-out worthy as that picture is, that's what's really worth getting exciting about.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stack Overflow RPG Q&A

I'll have the first bit of my GenCon report up later tonight, once I've gotten a chance to load up and go through my pictures. I have a number of points that I want to hit, so it may take most of the next week or so to get through it all. In the meantime, though, I'd like to point out that Role-playing Games is currently the second-hottest proposal on the StackExchange, an online Q&A system. Jeff Rients, Zach Houghton, Scott, and Rob Conley are all already there, so even if we can't beat out Linux & Unix to make it the hottest topic on the system I figure we can still thorough infest the thing with old schoolers. It won't move into the beta stage until we get enough people to commit to answering ten questions over three months, so if you haven't heard about it already I encourage you to check it out.

Friday, August 06, 2010

No Old School at GenCon?

I'll have a longer report (complete with rants!) when I get back, but one point so far at GenCon stands out enough that it's worth taking a break from pestering Trollsmyth to mention it -- there is a serious lack of old school presence at GenCon. As far as I can tell the only publisher connected with the retro-clone scene here is Troll Lord Games, though Rogue Games also has James Maliszewski's The Cursed Chateau. And it seems that the only old school or quasi old school bloggers here are Zack Houghton, me, Roger GS, and Trollsmyth. (Please let me know if I'm wrong. And e-mail me so we can hook up!)

Mostly it's an object lesson in just how "niche of a niche" we really are. And I know there are AD&D games running so there obviously are old school people here who aren't associated with the online scene. Still -- can't help feeling that there ought to be a bit more of a concerted presence next year.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

GenCon 2010 Side Quests

Wednesday night will find me in Indianapolis for the four days during which it is the greatest city in the world -- or so I am told, since this'll be my first ever GenCon. And in fact my first gaming con, ever. I've been thinking about doing "the GenCon thing" for a couple of years now, but this time I'm finally making it happen. I suspect I'm going to spend most of my time wandering around and hanging out, but as befits any good campaign, I have acquired a number of side quests.

Buy a set of GameScience dice.
It's been a while since I picked up a new set of dice, and I still don't have a set to go with Doom & Tea Parties (not surprising, since we don't use dice in that game, but still). GameScience seems the obvious choice, being the premier dice of the old school. Unfortunately, word on the street says I'm not going to get an opportunity to witness the famed Lou Zocchi pitch.

Attend some seminars.
Right now I'm signed up for "Girls Just Wanna Get Their Game On!" on Thursday at noon, "Game Design: Seven Steps to Writing Great Rules" on Thursday at one, and "Game Magic: Why It's Not" on Saturday at noon, but I'm sure I'll wander into some others as well. I'm deeply annoyed that I'll be missing the TARGA seminar -- a game of the Dune boardgame was running at the same time, and, well, Dune.

Poison Meet Trollsmyth
Why would I ever want to harm my beloved Dungeon Master?

Meet other blog folks.
Readers of this blog as well as writers of others. I'll have chocolate chip bacon cookies. Though maybe only on the first day of the con. (Don't worry. I'll tell you which ones not to eat.) I'm bringing my Swords & Wizardry book as a sort of "con yearbook" for people to sign, too.

Get Monte Cook to sign my 3e Dungeon Master's Guide.
I may have sworn the system itself off, but I'm still very fond of the book that taught spazzy thirteen-year-old Oddysey how to DM. And didn't do too bad a job of it, if I may say so.

Try a new game or two.
Perhaps weirdly, this isn't my absolute top priority, but Tim Jensen has been talking about running some dirty hippy indie games and that sounds like a fun time, given his games' historically high incidence of magic giraffes. I'm also assuming I'm going to end up in at least a couple unplanned games or demos or somesuch.

Pick up some art.
I've been informed that I need to actually decorate my room at college this year. The inexplicable diagram that somehow compares teaching styles to the "land of ogres" and the "land of elves" is no longer cutting it, it seems. Enter: fantasy art.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Some Stuff You Should Know About

Good stuff happening on the blog-o-sphere lately. But you knew that.
  • If I was willing to deal with fiddly, 3.5-style character abilities again, I'd probably follow Zak S's lead and tie them to specific areas of the campaign world. Cool of an idea as it is, I can't see myself doing that any time soon. Though I do I know I've enjoyed the handful of odd powers that my nixie has, so maybe.
  • JB's got some really interesting observations on poison in Moldvay/Cook. I've got only this to say: Poison should be guaranteed, will-definitely-kill-you death, and shouldn't do it immediately. Got a great moment in the solo game out of something like that.
  • Alexis's ideas on running the "end game" are basically how I'd always assumed that something like that would go down. Or how I hope my DM will run things if I ever get to that point with a campaign. But I'm all about the politics, backstabbing, and deal-making.
  • So it turns out I'm not actually the only old-school-ish college-age gamer blogging right now. Ian of Swashbuckler's Hideout got into roleplaying with AD&D, and Nick Crayon of Lawful Indifferent started out with BECMI, got into 3e for a while, and these days is all about Labyrinth Lord.
  • Roger the GS is working on a color system for D&D magic. It's nifty.
  • Jacquaying the dungeon
  • Help out James Raggi's long-suffering wife! Get a LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Box Set out of his living room!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's Up With That Wedding Anyhow?

For those times when you go "You *finally* arrive in Small Town #3. After a bit of asking around, you find out that there's a sale on cheese, the sewers are infested with giant hungry weasels, and the locals are planning a wedding" and the players go "Sweet! We crash it!"

1. An important alliance between two nobles.

2. A secret marriage between two nobles, who's parents will be some degree of unhappy when they find out.

3. A secret marriage between a noble and a commoner. The noble's parents will be extremely displeased when they find out; the noble was supposed to marry someone important to end some war or another.

4. The bride is a werewolf!

5. The groom is a vampire!

6. Part of an important rite for a weird local fertility cult. The human sacrifice is purely metaphorical.

7. Part of an important rite for a weird local fertility cult. The human sacrifice is very much not metaphorical, and the bride and/or groom is it.

8. Part of an important rite for a weird local fertility cult. They still need a human sacrifice -- preferably one from outside the community.

9. The bride and/or groom is under the effect of a charm effect. It will wear off at the worst possible moment.

10. The bridge/groom has been, or is about to be, kidnapped by nixies/satyrs.

11. The bride/groom gets cold feet.

12. The bride/groom gets cold feet. S/he makes it look like s/he's been kidnapped by nixies/satyrs.

13. The bride/groom gets cold feet. S/he gets the other one kidnapped by nixies/satyrs.

14. The couple is already bickering constantly. It's starting to get on everyone's nerves.

15. The couple is madly in love, utterly normal, and deeply obnoxious.

16. The bride/groom is a doppelganger.

17. The bride *and* the groom are doppelgangers. Neither is aware that the other one is one.

18. The bridge/groom is a secretly a hideous monster! The wedding is all just a convenient pretext to get a large number of people in one room for convenient mid-rampage snacking.

19. The bride/groom is not whom s/he appears to be. S/he's actually an obsessive stalker, and has kidnapped the real bride/groom to take his/her place for the ceremony.

20. The couple has made a poor choice of flower arranger. Odds are good that the ceremony is attacked by angry sentient plants.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Quoted for Truth

Role-playing is a social hobby, and a being able to be identified as a growing thing is the best way to get more people playing. Absolutely nothing gets people willing to try to play games more than the belief that it will be easy to find people to play with.

That sense of mass and momentum is the greatest tool we have to get more people.

If we disconnect, if everyone takes down their blogrolls, stops talking about each other's work, stops caring about the world beyond their table and just plays the game and says fuck everything else, then this doesn't grow, and it dies with us.

I've been on about this long before I had any sort of financial stake in it, and there's a hell of a lot more people than me that benefits from this. Not just publishers, either. Every single person who thinks they'd like to play but suffers from the old gamer curse, "can't find a group" benefits.

-- James Edward Raggi IV

I owe the OSR my current game group. Technically speaking, I owe it to some combination of Jeff Rients (who linked me to Trollsmyth's blog, and piqued my interest in this old school thing originally), James Maliszewski (who got me really interested in old school mechanics and the principles behind sandbox play and dungeon delving, and convinced Trollsmyth that maybe demi-human level limits weren't such a horrible thing after all), Melan (again, the idea that there really was something to dungeons), Daniel Proctor, for publishing Labyrinth Lord, the Knights & Knaves Alehouse and Dragonsfoot (for kicking off the retro-clones with OSRIC) whoever it was who linked Trollsmyth to me, and, frankly, pretty much anyone who wrote something interesting about old school roleplaying between, oh, the summer of 2007 and the winter of 2009. You guys just made this dungeon and Red Box stuff just sound so dang fun.

And it is. And I could not have gotten to it on my own. Without the OSR? Without old school bloggers and linking to each other and the retro-clones? I might be running Pathfinder, giving a curious glance at OD&D every now-and-again but convinced that it was too arcane, too inaccessible, fundamentally in some way not for college punks with more enthusiasm than sense. Or who knows? I might have picked up a copy of Moldvay/Cook in a used bookstore and figured it out on my own. Maybe. But the OSR sure got me here a lot faster.

Take that for what you will.

And here's your Obligatory Argument Content:

Antoine's Ring of Lizard Power
This white jade ring is etched with crude scribbles that, based on appearance alone, might be large lizards or small dinosaurs. Or birds. Can't rule out birds. Anyone who puts the ring will eventually discern that they were probably intended to be lizards: the wearer gains the ability to understand the speech of lizards, but birds remain unintelligible. Furthermore, there is a 50% chance to understand the speech of any given snake or turtle, a 25% chance to understand any given amphibian, and a 25% chance to understand any given dinosaur.

Once per day, the wearer can cast charm monster on any creature whom the ring allows him to communicate with.

The wearer also experiences one of the following effects while wearing the ring. The effect should be chosen at random, but an individual will always experience the same effect when wearing the ring. If the wearer removes the ring, the effect lasts for another 24 hours.

1. Ectothermic -- irresistibly drawn to sunlight and sources of warmth. Becomes lethargic in surroundings significantly cooler than comfortable room temperature.
2. Forked tongue
3. Yellow, slitted eyes
4. A patch of scales on the back of each hand
5. Clawed toes
6. Nothing visible

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why Don't More Girls Play D&D?

Zak S asks why none of the guest stars on I Hit It With My Axe could get any boys to let them play when they were teenagers. (NSFW)

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say the answer's in the gap between:

"When I was a teenager, I knew guys who were playing and I always wanted to try it, but they wouldn't let me play."

and

"Heh, that never happened with us. Sure, we were nerds but we weren't stupid...and we had hormones just like anyone else. If a young woman would have asked to play D&D or whatever we were playing we would have each been falling over one another to day "yes". We were not at all shy, and every one knew that we played...but no girls asked." (Mr. R, from the comments on that post)

One of my major social functions is to make it okay for the women around me I hang out with to be geeky, because there's always at least decent odds I'm the geekiest one in the room, male or female. Comic books, video games, and, yes, D&D, are all often seen as "boys stuff." Women are often interested, but aren't sure how to directly ask. And male nerds tend to be even more clueless than guys in general.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

2010 ENnies

I just wanted to take a moment to echo LotFP and RPG Blog II in encouraging everyone to vote in the ENnies, especially since a number of old school outfits are up for Best Publisher. Lamentations of the Flame Princess is my top choice there, for the inside look we've been getting on the creation his amazing boxed set, but Goblinoid Games, Mythmere Games, Bat in the Attic Games, and Pied Piper Publishing all absolutely deserve a shout-out.

And LotFP's The Grinding Gear is up against Paizo, Fantasy Flight, Green Ronin and Pelgrane Press in the Best Adventure Category. Worth a shot, though, eh?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Player/GM collaboration?

How much do you talk with the GM about the kind of game you want? Or to your players about the kind of game they want you to run? Do you prefer a "this is my game, take it or leave" approach from the GM, or do you build the whole premise collaboratively from the ground up? Or somewhere in between?

Does the way you handle this issue vary depending on whether you're playing or game-mastering? That is to say, do you prefer a collaborative approach when you're a player even if you're pretty much "take it or leave it" when you GM yourself? Or do you encourage player participation in the premise when you GM, even if you're happy to leave that work to your GM when you play?

Does it matter if you're putting together a brand new group or running for a group you've had for ages? When you're starting a new group, do you decide on the premise and then recruit players for that, or recruit players and then work on a premise together? When you're coming up with a new game for an old group, is it usually built on conversations you've with them over the course of the last game, or are you more likely to pitch them an idea of your own more-or-less cold?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Does system matter?

Does system matter?

Is there one roleplaying system that you prefer to play above all others? Are there systems that you absolutely won't play? Do social considerations override those preferences? Would you rather play with the right people, or the right system? Or are the right people the ones playing the right system?

Would you rather play something familiar, or try something new? Are you still playing the first system you started gaming with? When you try a new system, would you rather that it be similar to one you know, or something crazy and different? Or are there certain features that you know and love, and others you don't mind if the system experiments with?

Would you rather play the perfect system, or one that's not quite perfect but you know inside and out? Are there systems that you originally hated, but fell in love with when you mastered them? What about the other way around? Any system that you used to love, but now don't remember well enough to use properly?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Inner Lives of Player Characters

Trollsmyth has a really excellent piece up today about personality inventories, or "stress-testing the character concept." This is something that I've seen a lot of in his games; the solo game in particular almost entirely revolves around exploring these kinds of changes and personal re-evaluations now, and they're becoming ever more important in the group sessions. I haven't seen so much of it outside of those campaigns, though. I had one player in high school who really got into this kind of thing, but for the most part our campaigns were too short for it to ever come up.

Thus, this kind of character change is intimately connected with another thing that sets Trollsmyth's campaigns apart from the ones I've played in before: I spend a lot of time outside the game thinking about my character. The exact amount varies from week to week and month to month, depending on what's going on in the game and what else is going on in my life, but it's a lot more than any game I've played in before. I'm used to having my mind a lot on the game I'm running, but as a player, that kind of outside-the-session involvement is a new experience.

It can take a lot of time to work through the problems that these kinds of transformations and pressures present to my characters. Particularly since I'm building the cultures that they come from at the same time, and often in response to what's going on in-game, so that her actions and experiences create interesting conflicts with her backstories. And while a lot of times these personality conflicts come up naturally in-game, often in ways that (delightfully!) I don't expect in my between-session musings, I also try -- sometimes without success -- to come up with ways to express the ideas while I've had away from the table (or the keyboard, as the case may be) while I'm at it.

I'm being vague here because this process of character examination and consideration is one of the big reasons I haven't been writing much here lately. When I'm thinking about a game as a DM, I'm thinking a lot about technique. Not only is a lot of it much easier to abstract away from the particulars of the game into the realm of process, it's -- well, it's a lot less personal. I get deeply involved with some of my NPCs on occasion, but even when I do, there's always more going on to a game than just the inner lives of the characters. And I can write about that.

When most of my mental game-time goes into one or two individuals over a long period of time, there's a lot less I can talk about. And a lot less that I want to talk about, particularly on the internet. There are a lot of reasons for that. Some of it, in fact, is actively secret--the character in the group game in particular is a bit of a schemer, and the rest of the group still doesn't know what she's up to, relationship and otherwise. I don't want to tip her hand to the other players early, before I've had the opportunity to set up the reveals. This isn't as big of an issue in the solo game, but there are at least a few things about that character that I don't plan to discuss with Trollsmyth outside of game until they come up within it.

Still. Blog posts or no, the way my characters have changed and the time that I spend considering and shaping that change is one of my favorite things about these games, and one major reason why I'm even more interested now than when the first one started a year and a half ago. Situations that encourage character change, and allow the opportunity to explore it, is now the bar for what I expect from a campaign. And it's one of the major things I'm going to have my eye on the next time I run my own game.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

My Return to d20 Modern, and Why I Shouldn't Have

The old high school gang is kinda-sorta getting back together this summer for some gaming. I say "kinda-sorta" because right now the posse consists of me, one of the four members of my original crew, her husband(!), and one of the members of the group I played with my last year of high school. There's some possibility that my brother and another member of that senior-year group will join next week, though I'm not sure how much of one. This is mostly cool, since I haven't seen most of these people much lately and I could use the excuse to get out of the house. But it also means saying "hello" to another old friend I haven't seen in a while: d20 Modern.

I've all but sworn off 3rd Edition and anything related to it, and this game, I suspect, is going to be a series of all-too-immediate lessons on why I really should continue that policy. I don't mean to harsh on anyone's buzz here; I know lots of people have all kinds of fun playing d20 and its derivatives. I've been one of them, and someday I might be again. But man, do I ever doubt that right now.

d20 Modern encourages me to focus on aspects of gaming I don't enjoy focusing on. Case in point: I'm putting together a Tough hero who specializing in surviving helicopter crashes. (Because she causes them.) I consider the Concentration skill. This seems like something my character should have. Flying helicopters is tricky; she's probably going to do it while being shot at and taking damage. And yet, in the back of my mind, I know -- we never used Concentration checks back in the day. So do I take the thing that the system says I should have, or should I bet that the GM isn't going to call me on it if I don't take it, and spend those points on something I can almost guarantee will come up? Intimidation, for instance -- I know I'll be able to create that situation. Likewise, I picked up the feat Aircraft Operation, and I probably shouldn't have, because all it does is eliminate a penalty to flying helicopters (anything besides ordinary planes, basically) that I'm pretty sure won't come up anyway. If I don't mention it, the GM's definitely not going to remember that exception.

This kind of thing pulls me away from in-game contemplation of "What can my character do?" to the meta-game judgement of "How is my GM going to handle this one particular rule?" Not to mention all the time I spend just manipulating the rules themselves. Point-buy is a major culprit here; I'm sitting there calculating the relative values of the various ability scores, thinking about the cost of odd-numbered scores versus even-numbered ones and trying to remember which of my character's abilities reference which scores, rather than, y'know, the character, or what I want to be able to do in the game.

Maybe this is a character flaw. Maybe I'm just easily distractable. But it seems to me that a large point of the joy, such as it is, in a system like this is the meta-game. And at this point in my gaming life, I don't care about the meta-game. I don't want to spend a whole lot of time manipulating the rules. I want the GM to roll some dice and tell me what happens and then get on with the actual game.

Monday, June 28, 2010

So what about game mastering experience?

This is something that kinda came up in the comments to Wednesday's post, but I thought was interesting enough to go after on it's own: Would you rather have a new game master/dungeon master/referee, or someone who's been playing for ages? Are there any advantages to having a new-ish game master, or does experience and expertise always equal better play?

Does it matter to you how long your game master has been running their current system of choice, or is overall refereeing experience really what counts, and pretty much transfer over between games? Is someone who has experience with a lot of different styles better or worse than someone who's pretty much one run one system, or a handful of closely related systems, for their entire gaming career?

And it occurs to me that some of the difference, if there is any, could have as much to do with age as with actual experience. Are there any relatively new game masters out there who aren't in their teens? How do they stack up?

How much experience has your current game master had? How much had the best game master (assuming you keep score that way) had?

How much have you? How much better of a game master do you think you are now than when you first started? Are there any areas where your first game(s) were better than the ones you're running now?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Who Would You Rather Play With? Response & Recap

I got some great responses to Wednesday's question about whether you'd rather play with brand new or experienced gamers. My own preference fits pretty well with what several of you said, in particular: I like to get new players, so they can pick on my obnoxious habits without anyone else's to get in the way. I also like to get a mix of old and new, when possible; knowledge plus fresh enthusiasm brings out the best of both types, I think. I've had some . . . not bad experiences, exactly, but less than optimal ones with people who came into my games with a lot of pre-conceptions about how gaming "should" work, has made me kind of prejudiced towards new players. On the other hand, the most fun I've had has been in a game with people who had a lot more experience than I did, which means I need to try to keep an open mind.

Will and Mr. Gone each brought up a different side of an extremely important angle on this that I hadn't considered. With new people, there's the opportunity to teach, which is one of those things that's just fun. Likewise, learning can be a lot of fun on it's own. And when you're playing with gamers who have more experience than you, or simply a lot of different experience, you can get the opportunity to see people who know what they're doing and what kind of gaming they really enjoy to perform, in a way that you maybe aren't up to on your own, or didn't realize before could be done.

Of course, my favorite comment came from Yoo-Hoo Tom:
I'm actually running the Encounters season at a book store, even though there is a game store across the street. All of the players (minus an occasional ringer) are complete newbs. I find their enthusiasm very refreshing. I tell people that I am recruiting my next gaming group. To be honest, I was quite tired of some of the gamers I was playing with. Some of which were only playing so they could "break" the newest edition.
All I can say to that is -- rock on! This is absolutely the kind of thing I was hoping to hear come out of D&D Encounters.

(Of course, this was not the smoothest comment. That distinction, as always, goes to Doc Rotwang. But c'mon! New players!)

So yeah, pretty happy with how this turned out. I'm probably going to do something like that again; I've gotten to the point with this blogging business where I've got some really fantastic commentors, and I want to take advantage of that.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Who Would You Rather Play With?

So, I'm curious. If you had the option, would you rather play with people who you introduced to gaming, or would you rather play with folks who had been around the dungeon a time or two before you met them? Or a mix of both? Does it matter what kind of experience they've had?

When you think back to the people you've most enjoyed playing with, where they people who had already played a bit before you met them, or were they newbies before you met them? If they were brand new, were they your first group, or part of your first group? (That is, when you were new too?)

This is a less important question, but what about the people you've least enjoyed playing with?

(A somewhat tangential additional question: If you'd rather play with new folks than old hands, do you like playing with new people just for that new kid enthusiasm? Or do you like new people, but like them even better after they've played with you for a while?)

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Next Game

So it's coming up on a year since I last ran a campaign, even a short one. And I'm pretty happy with that, honestly. Playing 2-3 times a week continues to be pretty rad. Being a player is just fun, and it's given me a lot to think about in terms of how I'm going to run the next game. I'm also enjoying the opportunity to get some time to really think about what I'm going to run next, and for whom.

I still really, really want to run my own chat game. The format really clicks with me, as a player, and I'm not going to master it until I run my own game. I've got the player base. And I've got some ideas and inclinations that wouldn't really work except in chat. I know that if I were to run a tabletop game, I'd spend at least some of my time thinking, "Man, if this were chat, then we could..."

And yet, I've got this gentle, persistent nudging that my next game should not be the intimate, 1-3 player online chat that I'm really digging right now, but open, anyone-who-shows-up tabletop. Some kind of crazed LL/S&W/LotfP WFRPG/"you want to play a centaur? sure!" megadungeon sandboxy thing, just to get that all out of my system. The game itself wouldn't be quite as good, not quite what I'm grooving on at the moment, but the game isn't everything.

In short: My social life revolves around gaming. A lot of this is just because people I have other things in common with tend to be gaming-curious; partly it's because I make a conscious effort to be "out" about my gaming, and to bring my non-gaming friends into the fold. The overall effect is that, since seventh grade, about 90% of the people I voluntarily interact with on a regular basis (as opposed to classmates and such) have been people who I'm actively gaming with, or people who I'd gamed with in the past but for various reasons wasn't at the moment. Which means that, at the moment, a great deal of my social life is online.

I should probably be more worried about that than I am, but I'm actually pretty happy with that right now. Skype is an awesome thing, I'm weird enough that "mostly online" means "fits my strange niche interests," and a lot of it is that I'm using the 'net to keep in touch with the people I hang out with at college, now that we're scattered across the state.

However, what mostly gaming online does mean is that I don't have a whole lot of influence on my local social scene, and that's going to be even more true once I get back to college. I'd like for there to be a little more communication between the different groups of gamers I'm in touch with at school. I'd like for there to be a reliable group of people around for me to hang out with, who understand how to socialize without getting as drunk as they possibly can, as quickly as they can. I worry about some of my friends who, when I'm busy with my online gaming, often end up hanging out with people who drink more than said friends are really comfortable with. Running a game isn't necessarily going to have the effect that I want, and it's obviously not the only way to create that kind of environment, but it's a tool that I'm comfortable with, and fairly good at using.

So there's that. Plus, like I mentioned before, the kind of "anyone can show up!" old school exploration game I've been curious about running for a while is going to be a lot easier to wrangle while I'm still at college, and have a handful of people bugging me about running some variety of old school D&D already, than it will be once I graduate and have to start over cold in a social environment. I'm not quite convinced that's the kind of game I want to run, but it's enough that I've started (once again) scribbling down notes and maps for something of the kind.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Other Options for the Language Problem

"Over the next day or two." Yes. Right then.

I've got a number of ideas about ways to deal with the language problem, most of which aren't exclusive; in fact, I think a lot of these would work better if you used them together in some kind of combination. Most of them have to do with campaign design and group interaction, rather than in-game and setting issues, so they're going to be of limited utility in a lot of cases. (I tend to do most of my real campaign building while the players are making their characters, because I'm lazy and procrastinate.) I'm not entirely sure what'll happen with most of these if they're actually tried at the table, so I'd love to hear about it if you do try one, or come up with something along similar lines.
  • Everyone speaks elvish? Great! We'll start in the Elven Homelands. Basically, just take the language that the PCs all speak and find a place in the setting where that language is, effectively, "common." This does require that you to be familiar with a fair amount of your setting at the start of the game; it'd be a particularly good option if you're running a published setting, especially if you're not sure where in the setting that you want to set the game, since the players basically pick for you. It also doesn't help much if the characters end up wandering far afield from their starting location, but for some campaign concepts that won't be an issue.
  • We only buy things from Gnomes. If the "common language" that all the PCs speak is a trade language of some kind, you can solve a lot of the problem just by running the kind of game where the characters mostly talk to merchants; put most of the action in the dungeon, say, and only require them to deal with aboveground NPCs when they need to sell loot or buy equipment. Then, as long as you have the right kind of players, it doesn't matter what the main local language is, as long as there's a gnome caravan (or whatever) around.
  • The Foreign Quarter. If the language that everyone shares is one that's only spoken widely in places that would be sort of weird to set a campaign in (goblin, for instance), then you might set up the campaign so that the dominant language is something else, but the PCs for the most part don't deal with the dominant culture. Instead, they interact mainly with some subcommunity that shares their language; the foreign quarter, or the goblin underclass that runs the city's utilities (and criminal underworld). Ideally, I think, you'd pair this option with rules that made learning new languages possible, if not exactly easy; when the PCs did start to have to deal with the area's upper class on a regular basis, they could then pick up the necessary languages.
  • Blue-booking. If the campaign is set up in such a way that most of the vital, everyday interactions use the language everyone shares, but it's still possible to talk to NPCs who not everyone understands, you can handle those interactions outside of the regular game time with the players who are interested.
  • Online play. Online play of various kinds can make blue-booking easier; in some kinds of PBP games, it's practically not even a separate activity from the main game. Chat games also have the advantage that players can "get up from the table" without distracting the rest of the group. If the group decides to have a short chat with someone who one or two people can't talk to, the people who aren't involved in that conversation can do something else for a bit. If this started to happen a lot in a given game, I'd look for another solution, but depending on the players, as long as it stays an occasional, temporary event, in chat this isn't much of an issue.
  • Babelfish. In the Doom & Tea Parties game, my character interacts with a number of characters on a regular basis who don't all speak the same language as her, but we're getting around it with some semi-permanent magic and a bit of DM handwave. Giving the PCs access to some kind of universal translation magic or technology isn't always the most interesting way to deal with this issue, but it's very simple and effective, and a good way to go if your main problem with a common language is that it wouldn't make any sense for world-building purposes.
  • Flavors of Speak Language. On the other hand, universal translation nullifies the possibilities of language as a logistical issue. That's not something that you're never going to want to deal with on a regular basis, but the right group might find it fun to have to solve "the language problem" when they travel to a new place. One option there is to make speak language, or something like it, either permanent or long-term but also very specific. You do have to keep track of who speaks what language, but that information is mainly necessary so you can find the right spell.

Overall, I think "common" is definitely the best way to go if you're just not all that interested in language, which is going to be true of a lot of groups. On the other hand, if you do think language is fun to play with at the table, some of these options might help you make it gameably interesting and avoid the usual frustrations.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

No Common Language

I'm intrigued by an idea from the World of Alidor blog, which today asks if anyone runs a campaign with no common language. I haven't done that yet, but I might someday, or even soon. The trick to it would be that just because there's no common language in the campaign doesn't mean there doesn't have to be one at the table.

So the DM says, "There's no 'Common' in this game, but you all have to share at least one language so you can communicate with each other. Pick one." In some games, where you automatically start out with some kind of native tongue, and then add languages at-will after that, this would be relatively simple. Everyone just picks a second language to all share. True, this would put limits on certain character concepts; you could only have one "ignorant barbarian who only speaks his native tongue," or at least, only one kind of ignorant barbarian, but in the right kind of game, with flexible characters, that wouldn't be much of a hassle.

For another option, that I think is somewhat more interesting: consider 3e D&D. Each of the races comes with a list of bonus languages; the languages that they're capable of learning, usually for reasons of cultural contact. Certain classes get a few additional bonus languages. Here, finding a common tongue would be a matter of matching the characters' lists against each other in order to find one that everyone shared, and then all taking that language. If there wasn't one that everyone shared, you'd have to find the one that the most characters did, and then negotiate with the DM some kind of background excuse for the remainder to be able to learn that language.

Either way, this system would tell you right at character creation some interesting things about the world and the party. If the language was picked entirely by the players, with no "ignorant barbarian" or "bonus language"-type in-character restrictions, you'd have a very good idea of what they thought was important and who else they wanted to be able to interact with. You've also created a minor reason for the characters to stick together, particularly if they're in hostile territory, or if the language they all speak is unusual for some reason. (This goes double for any group based around all speaking the same language as some barbarian wahoo. Bonus points if the character in question would otherwise be a "lone wolf" type: now you know why Hrathgar the Unruly puts up with this particular bunch of civilized weaklings.)

The "bonus languages" system, on the other hand, tells the players a lot about the world, and how they fit into it. Take a look at the way the 3e languages are set up with the common races. Odds are decent your party is going to end up all speaking Orc, Goblin, or Gnome, which tells you something about how those races fit into the world. A DM could probably get even more mileage out of this if they designed these lists themselves with this purpose in mind. What's a good way to show that a race is everywhere and trades with everyone? Make their language a common bonus language. What's a good way to show that two races don't interact much? Set it up so they don't share a language, and the players have to create some kind of unusual situation to explain why they can talk to each other. Want to make it clear that two races don't trust each other? Write the lists so that they share a language, but it's the language of a mutual enemy. "Of course you can't trust those guys -- the only language they understand is Orc!"

You could even, in a more complex setting, compile lists based on factors beyond race. Because I'm weird, I'm really tempted now to run a game where everyone comes from a different culture but shares a common religious language. Between race, culture, class, and religion, you could end up with a fairly complex set of possible languages. You'd need players who were interested enough in the kinds of things this lets you do to be willing to puzzle out a common language out of all those disparate powers, and willing to tweak their culture or religion in order to get everything to fit together, but I know some players who really enjoy that kind of thing, and others who don't care as long as someone else does the work of figuring it all out.

This doesn't solve the other problem that "common" handles pretty neatly, that of the possibility that one or more party members won't speak the language that most NPCs use. Language confusion can cause a lot of problems at the table, especially if it's a regular thing. But I think that problem is largely resolvable, and I'm going to give some thought over the next day or two to some possible ways to handle it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010