Sunday, September 30, 2007

Distracted by THE FUTURE

Pondering post-apocalyptic science fiction as a game setting. Whether I should put the work in, whether I should go for something fairly straightforward or totally oddball. Either way could work, and I've never really done either. Outlaws really wasn't properly post-apocalyptic.

If I go serious I'll want to get d20 Future. Very cool book, I once borrowed it from a friend. If I go with something fantasy/bizarre, I'll have enough material that I won't feel a strong need to go out and buy it. Probably. Chaositech has rules for mutants, I can hack together rules for robots, and I hear BESM d20 has a pretty nifty set of SRD rules for mecha.

I'd really like to put together a feat-tree type system for mutations. Actually, I could just use feats for that--maybe with a class that grants bonus mutation feats. Hrm. That would take work, but it might be worth it.

If I was going to run a post-apocalyptic game.

Just a Little Bit

The best villain is just a little bit tougher than the players. Tough enough to win that first fight, but by a small enough margin that the players think that next time, they just have to be on their absolute A-game. So that when they finally do win, they know they have been on their absolute A-game. They know they've accomplished something.

The theoretical exception to this would be extremely long-term villains. I've not yet made use of the technique myself, but if I were to introduce a villain who was intended to be a problem for the PCs for a long time--an entire campaign, say--I might consider making that villain significantly more powerful than the PCs. Make the accomplishment come not from knowing that they did their absolute best, taking out someone who they didn't have a chance against in their first meeting.

If I was to do that, I'd probably also include villains of the just-a-little-bit-stronger variety, perhaps as lieutenants. And even if the PCs wouldn't be able to completely stop the master villain's plans for a long time, I'd be careful to make sure they made progress.

New Vistas of Geekery

I played Halo for the first time today. And I started learning medieval swordsmanship. Longsword, specifically.

That's what I call a successful day.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

NaNoWriMo Scheduling

Considering doing National Novel Writing Month. Like I don't already have enough to do.

Mostly I'm trying to figure when I should do it. The time I actually finished it, I did in December, but conditions are different this year, so that may no longer be the best time. Might actually consider doing it in November; otherwise I'll probably wait until January.

The major consideration is when other people are available for the escapade. I have never done NaNoWriMo with other people; that is my plan for this time.

Then I just need to figure out what it's going to be about. But this is NaNoWriMo, so the "what" is less important than the "when."

Superheroes & Sorcerers

Someday, I need to run a campaign that actually uses these ideas. Or just get a copy of Mutants and Masterminds.

Though I think there is something to the "Dungeons and Dragons rules, superhero attitude" idea. This may be something to try with The Book of Nine Swords.

Or--actually--with Iron Heroes. Though I have a suspicion that the two systems may work fairly well together. Might take a bit of tweaking.

I wrote those notes during the two weeks I thought Exalted was "totally awesome." And the six months when I accosted people with Batman factoids on an hourly basis. Can you tell?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Lazer-Beam Eyes!

Confound it. It just finally occurred to me how awesome post-apocalyptic sword & sorcery fantasy would actually be.

At least, if "post-apocalyptic sword & sorcery fantasy" means "You are a dude with a sword, or possibly a crazy wizard. You see a robot dinosaur with laser-beam eyes stomping across the blasted landscape on the horizon."

This is going to drive me crazy. Because as much fun as the hex map is, and as weird as it is, it's still very much standard D&D fantasy, with elves and forests and kings in castles. And that's cool, and I made a conscious decision to do it that way, because this if I run it at all it will probably be for a group of people who haven't played D&D before, and I'd like them to get an idea of what the baseline is.

Don't know if that's a necessary thing. It seems like a good idea, but I don't have enough direct experience in the area to know for sure.

This is the sort of thing I would normally subject to a quick poll from the group, but right now, I don't have a group.

Which brings up another point: how much is this something that I want to run at some point, and how much is it something that I'm using to kill time until I get another group together? Also, it's not like I can't keep working on the current hex map, with the intention of running it, and start on a stranger world that's more an exercise in awesome-osity.

Justifying My Rampant Intellectual Kleptomania

What I don't generate randomly or spin off a secret, I steal. Shamelessly.

Partially because it helps maximize content volume while minimizing work. (Though I tend to give everything my own spin, and at the least have to translate it into game-meaningful content, which is the most work intensive part. So it doesn't minimize effort that much.)

Partially because I like the easter egg aspect it lends to the game. This comes up a lot with character names--names are the most easily Google-able. This would probably drive some people crazy, but I think it's funny when the players finally realize exactly where I got the name of that ancient artifact sword.

Mostly, though, I just like using things I think are cool in my game. I prefer roleplaying that focuses on emulation, rather than innovation. It plays more to the form's strengths. Using familiar material helps keep the inevitable misinterpretation that comes with a group of people trying to figure out what's happening through verbal interaction down to a manageable level. And one of the big advantages that roleplaying has over less active forms of entertainment is that you are actually involved, on some level, with what's going on; using material that you already think is cool takes advantage of that.

And, on an even more theoretical level, I am not much for pure and total originality in creative processes. There are hard limits to just how original it's possible to be, and even harder limits on how original it's desirable to be. If I have to choose between innovation in premise and competence in execution, I almost always choose competence.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Secrets, And Products Thereof

One of my major tools in building hex map, and associated setting, is the Second Rule of Dungeoncraft, from Ray Winniger's (excellent) Dungeoncraft column.

Every time I create an important part of my setting, I create a secret about what I just created, and I put it into the deck 'o secrets. (Yes, I use an actual 3x5 notecard. I'm just that hardcore.) When I need something new to put on the map I'll draw a card from the deck, and try to figure out a way to work a clue to that secret into an encounter. This and random generation is how about 90% of what's on the map found origin.

My process works a little differently from the specific one that Winniger describes, because I'm starting very locally, and working my way up from there. I didn't start working on the gods until I had clerics who needed those gods. So most of my secrets are about NPCs and locations rather than fundamental ways the world works.

Not that I don't have a few of those. But I did it backwards. I thought to myself, "I need a big, world-changing secret that I can work into the early part of the game." And then I came up with some ideas about how the metaphysics of the setting that would support that, and suddenly I've got a general framework for how the planes interact, a couple new gods, and a rough idea for both a true creation myth and a false one.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ominous Rumblings On The Horizon

Hrm. They're seriously ditching the Great Wheel cosmology? One of the absolute number one things that makes me think, "Yeah, that's D&D?"

Didn't see that one coming.

Not that I've ever used the Great Wheel myself. I haven't run enough core D&D for it to have come up--and the setting I'm working on now doesn't use it, either. But I always enjoyed reading about it. It's in that same classic D&D category in which I place beholders and gelatinous cubes.

The new cosmology sounds intriguing, but I'm not sure it sounds like D&D. That's by no means a bad thing--I am of course a major fan of Arcana Evolved, Iron Heroes, and Tome of Magic. But I can't help wondering if the off-beat flavor isn't best left to supplements and third party source books. Why can't the baseline be our dependable, slightly goofy, orc-hacking standard D&D goodness?

Goodness that has a lot of history behind it, I might add. That's not a thing to be abandoned lightly.

Also: they appear to have changed the Wizard Implements article since I first laid eyes upon it. There was originally no mention of "Iron Sigil" or "Emerald Frost." Again--this sounds cool, but it doesn't quite sound like D&D. And it had better be, at the least, tweakable, and preferably easily expandable. I don't want to be stuck with someone else's named fluff leaving great muddy footprints all over my game.

A Few More Random Generators

Turns out I posted too soon. Behold: Serendipity! Source of many fine random generators. The interesting site generator is exactly what I need: a spark for an interesting location-based encounter.

Also handy is the Barrel, Crate, and Sack Generator from the Tools section of the Wizards archive. I find it particularly handy for generating treasure captured from merchant caravans and the like; sometimes one needs trade goods rather than gold and jewels, and this utility provides an interestingly unusual assortment.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My Hex Map Is Not Nearly Weird Enough

"This humble mountain republic was noted for its advanced art. It was destroyed by a neighboring country because of the people's extreme perversion, leaving behind only methods of transportation and political theories."

Brought to you by Seventh Sanctum's Lost Civilization Generator

This is going in the hex map. Don't know how. Don't know where. But it needs to be there, and it needs to be there soon.

I really like randomly generating content. I've been doing a lot of it lately, because I want this project to have a kind of wacky scope that I can't achieve independently.

So far I've mostly been using the aforementioned Seventh Sanctum, Slack'n'Hash, and a few of the charts in the Dungeon Masters Guide and the DMG II. Because I haven't yet gotten a copy of the 1st Edition Guide.

Anyone else have any favorite chart sources? Untapped mines of wonder of which I have not yet heard?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Direct! From The Trenches

Preliminary report: Risus-mediated play-by-post roleplaying is awesome.

Naturally, this is mostly a function of the GMing. She knows her material, and she's taking advantage of the form.

But the form! It exercises some mental muscles roleplaying doesn't normally use. Writer-type muscles.

An interesting challenge: how to get across what my character is thinking without using any internal monologue?

It's also interesting, being able ask the GM questions in the middle of a game. I tend to try to discourage side-talk in tabletop play; time spent one-on-one seriously subtracts from everyone else's play time. I can do that kind of thing out of game, but that discussion takes place on a strategic level.

In this game, if I come up with a question that I think my character would know the answer to, I can fire off a quick note the the GM and the other players are none the wiser. And it works the other way. I can come up with information about my character as the GM needs it.

Which is how I like to work: incrementally. Come up with an idea and spin off of that.

This is a style that fits with me. Writing, collaboration, time to think. It'll never replace tabletop, but if it stays this good I may have to make it a regular part of my gaming diet.

On the other hand, the waiting is going to drive me insane.

A Handy Resource

Something else I'm doing with my hex-map: working in the free Wizards adventures.

They're short and to the point, with one or two locations and an interesting opponent. Exactly what I need for this project. The map is still mostly original material, but these help to get a bit of variety.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Short Skirt, Long Jacket

I have been provided with significant amusement.

The psychiatrist is my favorite. "Very engaging. I really enjoy this song a lot." Anyone who can deadpan that has my approval.

I like this song. Really do. "This song--is this song about an executive? It's about an executive! Excellent!"

Adventure Notes

So I was going through my notes for the Arcana Evolved island campaign, because I was thinking that I might post them on the blog in response to the Treasure Tables request. What I discovered is that I really don't have adventure notes, exactly. I have some notes on NPCs, locations, and the plots that are afoot, but I didn't write down much along the lines of "this is what I expect will happen in this session."

I don't know how other people handle their notes, so I don't know quite what to make of this discovery. Are these "adventure notes" some different variety of beast than what I do? Or are they more detailed versions of my "the players will probably run into this at some point, so I will describe it" system?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Stupid Villain Tricks

Continuing on my last post: Sometimes, the players aren't going to fail. Sometimes, you're going to go into a session with a plan for them to get within an inch of taking out the villain, and they go two feet past you and totally smoke the dude.

Because that happens. I want to make clear that my take-it-as-it-stands "advice" isn't meant as an endorsement of railroading. Sometimes what you, as the GM, are trying to do just isn't going to work.

However, there are a couple of strategies I've used in the past, to ensure maximal survival for my villains at crucial moments.

1. Have an exit strategy
Secret passage. Smoke bomb. Invisibility potion. Giant monster that comes crashing into the room. Something explodes. Whether it's something the villain plans, or something that I plan as an in-game coincidence, I'll sometimes put together a general purpose escape plan for when things turn south.

2. Lie
Of course there's a secret passageway there--the villain, being a genius, had one installed months ago. This is my favorite strategy. Very similar to the first strategy, but usually I can come up with better plans once I already know what my players are doing.

3. That was just my ramen!
Who says the villain the players just offed was really the major bad guy? This is actually something I've planned for ahead of time, but I can see it working just as well in a "Gee, now all my notes are totally useless" situation. It also provides a nice combination of success and failure, because while they did get to pound on someone, the real threat is still out there.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On Villainy: Some Random Advice

Robin D. Laws is (as always) saying some interesting things today, and I thought I'd chime in, because it links up with something I've been thinking about for a while.

Some of the best single sessions I've ever run revolved around PC failure. There is, I think, a technique to it, that I stumbled across by accident, but I've found it to be very powerful when used properly. Those of you who have played games I've run before will probably recognize it; I wasn't using it intentionally then, but it's been handy enough that I put thought into how to repeat it.

First, set the PCs up as fairly competent. This is important--it's no fun to just start losing and never stop. The players need to feel that they and their characters are equal to most challenges you're going to throw at them.

Then, have a villain just barely get away. Success mixed with failure is key here. Have the villain escape just as the players have foiled the evil plot. Or let the players learn the identity of the villain, or that there is a villain, even as the villain's plans go into action.

Another handy trick is to have the villain take something important to the PCs--they haven't been killed, and they've technically got the villain on the run, but damn do they want to get the bastard.

This is the absolute best way I know of to get a party interested in taking out your villain. Ideally, there should be some kind of action they can take against said villain. Even if you'd rather they not totally foil the evil master-plan, giving them something to attack or some direction to start moving in will help keep them from throwing things at you.

Because the goal of this trick isn't to have the players despair, with cries of "Blast! Foiled again!" It's a way to get them very, very motivated, in a way that you have control of--and as a benefit, it's a way to get them invested in the world, and making plans. Because they will want to make plans. Plans as only wronged players can make.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Bit of Non-Linear Thinking

It occurred to me, in a discussion with a friend, that I try to see problems in technological terms. He brings up this political/social problem, and his political/social perspective on it.

My initial response is a political/social one. My standard reply to issues of this nature is Ye Olde Efficiency vs. Stability, the idea that as a system becomes more efficient, it becomes less stable, and vice versa. If we lose languages and cultures, it becomes easier to get things done, but we are more vulnerable to certain kinds of disasters because our repertoire of responses is more limited.

But then I realize, after thinking about it some more, that this issue is going to be completely transformed by technology. Once machine translation becomes reliable (which may take a very long time, but unless the human brain is some weird quantum black box we have no hope of ever understanding, it will happen) the entire system of language interaction is going to be dramatically changed. I don't know how, exactly, but depending on the exact implementation--well, at the very least, it'll become less massively necessary to learn the dominant language.

This is how I try to see a lot of social problems. Social problems are big and messy and unsolvable, because they depend on cultural assumptions and value judgments. And conversations about social issues are even worse--I hate discussions where you go round in circles without getting anywhere, and that's what tends to happen when laypersons (and politicians) have these discussions.

But make it a technological problem, and suddenly it's solvable. Until that technological solution becomes its own social problem, but those issues tend to be much more clear cut and much easier to avoid.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

This Is Not Just About Emo Kids

I've noticed a tendency to glorify angst. It's something that that writers do, that artists do, that important people thinking important things do. Depressing is considered more valid, more important, more meaningful than uplifting.

This is bullshit.

Misery is important, and valuable, and educational. There are things that you will never understand if you haven't been truly, honestly miserable at least once in your life.

But it's not profound. It doesn't make you a better person. It doesn't make you a more interesting person. It's not some rarefied state that the masses, in their happy ignorance, cannot hope to comprehend.

Misery is easy. Happiness is hard.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Odds, Ends, And More Hex Map!

When it rains, it pours, right? I get four posts one day, and then . . . nothing. I could say that I didn't have anything worth writing about, but I always have things worth writing about.

The current Scary Go Round storyline is quite excellent. Drug (and jam) addled wannabe superheroes is a concept I can always get on board with. To get the full story, you'll want to start roughly hereabouts.

Similarly, progress on the hex map continues apace. I have developed a number of resolutions, regarding the shape of the campaign it will make. I am going to try to include the proper amount of treasure, more interesting and challenging encounters, and the occasional PC death. I had a sharp focus on the story side of my last game, largely because several of my players were interested in that and the others didn't much care as long as they were getting what they wanted out of the game. But there are other skills, and I plan to discover them, and their uses.

In that light, I've resolved not to have an over-arching grand plot. No plans for a final confrontation, no single villain behind all the evils. There will be villains, evil, and plots aplenty, but I won't have any single thread connecting everything from the beginning.

There will be threads, certainly, but I want this campaign to be more free-ranging. Whether or not a villain gets promoted from random underground foe to major arch-villain will, hopefully, be based more upon player interest than long-term GM plan. I do like the over-arching plot technique, but because both of my successful campaigns featured it heavily, I'd like to try something different.

Oh, and gnomes. I think gnomes are going to be a major part of the next campaign I run. Gnomes rock.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Not That I Don't Like Drow . . .

What. The. Hell.

Drow. Jeez. Bit of an 80s flashback there. Some of it is kinda cool, but some of it is scary.

And not even good scary.

Lo! Actual discussion of the topic!

Not To Mention The Gnomes

This whole hex-map project? Should have tried it years ago.

Building a campaign from the ground up. Start with the details, work my way out to the big picture. Rather than my usual strategy of starting it top-down because that seems like the logical thing to do, and then getting bored a few pages in and never going back to it ever again. Or, worse, never really getting started, because I can't think of the proper conceptual framework.

Well, no more. Now I'm doing my design at the encounter level. This requires interesting NPCs, who require secrets, which require clues on the map, which turn into more encounters, and suddenly I've got all kinds of crazy happening in this little map of maybe two days travel through a forest. I start out with "this town needs a leader" and I end up with "to the south are lots of elves, who don't like humans and have a serious green dragon problem."

This is fun.

Still Not Done With the Topic

A few more thoughts on the September podcast.

It's interesting that they talk about D&D in terms of story issues, and how the mechanics support or undermine those. It's very close to the idea that I'm familiar with, that emulation is a primary goal of roleplaying. Telling brand new stories is often less effective than retelling stories everyone really loves in new ways, and the rules need to be able to support the assumptions you need to tell those stories.

Also: copper pieces are there so you can laugh at the peasants. Look at World of Warcraft. Low-level players use copper pieces so the high level, gold-using players can laugh at them.

Building in the assumption of non-basic book core classes and races into the game from the beginning is cool.

They talk about psionics. Will Incarnum be in the new edition? At this or a later date? That's a book I have, never used, really want to, and unfortunately don't see how I'm going to in the near future. And that makes me sad, because it's a really, really cool system.

Similar question on the Tome of Magic front, because the classes and subsystems there are also very cool, and I've used them a little bit but not quite in the way I'd like.

I assume The Book of Nine Swords classes are going to be updated at some point (because the Wizards people seem to like them, based on the groups they've talked about on the website) and their general philosophy is informing aspects of the new edition.

Reasons to Switch to 4th Edition

If it makes the game easier to DM.

If it gives fighters fun things to do at high levels.

If it gives bards fun things to do, period.

Heck--if it gives everyone more fun things to do.

If it makes combat faster.

If it makes combat more interesting--more tactical options. Especially, if it makes the tactical game more obvious, because that's a part of the game that doesn't always come naturally, but is always fun if I can come up with something.

If it makes high-level play functional.

If it makes single-monster encounters less horribly swingy.

If it really does achieve the goals that Mike Mearls outlined in the September podcast--fix the math, fix the class balance, fix the encounters-per-day boondoggle. Note that none of these problems make 3rd unplayable. But fixing them would make it a lot more playable, and a lot more fun.

If they make non-combat interactions more interesting, more dynamic, and more relevant.

If it's got cool flavor. If the flavor in the base books is cooler than the flavor in the base

If it's easier to run encounters with multiple monsters with very different abilities.

If it's easier to build fun monsters, and otherwise work with the system. Particularly, if the design and development ideas are more transparent, because it's easier to mess with things if I know why they're a particular way in the first place.

If multiclassing is really as good as they say. "Any combo, any level, always works," and I'm totally there.

If turning undead is made less stupid.

Unfortunately, There Are No Flying Cars Here

I was having a discussion today (wouldn't call it an argument; that requires a certain measure of coherence) when the other person involved (in the middle of a long, uninteresting monologue) said something along the lines of "in every society in history, men and women have had different roles."

Allow me to introduce you to this marvelous new thing we're living in. I like to call it "the future." Unlike every other society in history, we have iPods!

What's that, you say? You don't believe technological advancement has anything to do with societal change? What do you think democracy is, then? An unfortunate reversion from humanity's natural state of rule by whoever had the luckiest grandparents?

Sure, maybe "in every society in history," men and women really did have meaningfully different societal roles. Anything's possible. Why, exactly, are you holding that up as some kind of ideal? This is America. We believe in progress.

Here in the marvelous world of the future, most major forms of economic activity don't depend on how hard you can stab things.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Listen to the Kids

Why is it, when trying to solve a problem that involves teenagers, we try every strategy except actually paying attention to them? Kids, too.

Sure, give seriously depressed teens anti-depressants, but monitor them, too. Talk therapy. Effective combination. Is that really so hard? Better yet, get schools and parents and doctors to pay enough attention to their kids that they notice depression before it gets that bad. It's not a disease that shows up over night. (Usually.)

Same thing goes for educational reform. Why do kids do badly in school? Because they hate school. It's really that simple. The system doesn't work for them, they don't do well, they don't see what the point is. Make it relevant, stop warehousing kids, and they'll do better.

This is hard. It's hard to take teenagers seriously, to take kids seriously. They're obnoxious, think they know-it-all, can't properly articulate what their problems are. But they've been there, man. They know what their problems are.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Quotes IV

"My wizards are always taking off their clothes so they can cast spells." quantumelfmage

"Who equips their service cherubs with laser-beam eyes?" qwertyuiopasd

"The Presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman." Mitt Romney

"I'm willing to bet that the phrase "a really strange D&D campaign" conjures up a much more vivid image for most of my readers than "a really strange toaster." You know what to expect from the typical D&D game." Mike Mearls

“It’s hard to choose favorites among the lords of hell. Mephistopheles I think has the coolest name.” James Wyatt

"The effectiveness of schools isn't evaluated by kids (who are usually well aware of how poorly the system works), but by teachers and parents, who've bought into the system." Mark Rosenfelder

"Turns out that even if you’re a snake, and even if you’re on fire, adventurers will still kill you." Logan Bonner

"I game mostly because I never get to kill apemen in real life; I hate apemen and I was born to kill them. Therefore, gaming allows me to fufill my destiny." Aos on theRPGsite

"Any time a French word comes into play in an English-language discussion, you can be sure there are some class dynamics." Douglas Wolk

"The great thing about space cowboys is that they imply space cows." qwertyuiopasd

"Elves would make good cowboys. Especially in space." qwertyuiopasd

"We'll be starting the campaign in media res, which is Latin for 'Look out! TIE Fighters are zapping your ship!'" Jeff Rients

"If you can't knock buildings down, then it's not a real game." Godzilla

"Lunch: Something called a 'sombrero salad,' but it contained no actual hat." Jane Espenson

"This is not fanfic; it's focus [is] on using the characters to tell stories, not telling stories about the characters." Scipio

"Give me that chair! I'm a hundred and seven!" Aunt Muriel

"Is there a plan or do we just shoot things at random?" Deadshot

"There's nothing ironic about Hitler." Jon

"Quiet, you fool! That's how the Great Guam Fracas of '97 began." Mark Rogaski

"I match all donations -- so if you like my writing donate; if you HATE me, then donate MORE, and bankrupt me with your hate!" John Rogers

"Extinction, irrevocable loss of a species, causes pain that can never find relief. It is an ache that will pass from generation to generation for the rest of human history." Callum Roberts

"Hostility towards Microsoft is not difficult to find on the Net, and it blends two strains: resentful people who feel Microsoft is too powerful, and disdainful people who think it's tacky. This is all strongly reminiscent of the heyday of Communism and Socialism, when the bourgeoisie were hated from both ends: by the proles, because they had all the money, and by the intelligentsia, because of their tendency to spend it on lawn ornaments." Neal Stephenson

"There are no rules." Alberto Gonzales

"Treat people like idiots and they'll act accordingly; give them real power and they'll adjust to it." Mark Rosenfelder

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Teaching D&D

If you happen to be an experienced DM, and you're teaching D&D to someone, is it best to go with Players Handbook only, dungeon crawling, vaguely Greyhawk-ian standard D&D? Is it okay to add in more diverse mechanical material? More diverse thematic material? What if your normal game doesn't fall into any of those categories?

On setting--better to go with a published setting, or homebrew? Does it matter? Does it make a difference how weird the setting is? Is something like Eberron or Dark Sun, which both change various baseline assumptions about the world and how the game's played, better if its an established setting, so new players have a place to go to get a more solid grounding in it?

What if you really want to play something like Arcana Evolved, or Iron Heroes, but the only players around are new? Better to start them off with the basics, or is it okay to start them with the slightly off-beat stuff? In some ways, Iron Heroes might be easier to learn--none of that magic stuff to deal with. But how would learning it first change a player's perception of D&D?

What if you've got a mixed group? Some new, some old? Should you get the older players on board with staying core, to keep the group simpler for the new players? Should you let the experienced players use wacky supplements, but tell the new players to keep to the basics? Will new players even notice?

On new stuff--does it make a difference, in both whether to use it at all and who to allow to use it, whether it's new variations on old stuff or entirely new things? New feats and spells? New races? New prestige classes? New base classes? New subsystems? Are there some subsystems that are easier to use with new players than others? Psionics? Incarnum? Book of Nine Swords?

How much weird stuff should a DM use, when running a game for new players? Should you stay core, too? Take advantage of having some players who don't necessarily know that a troll has fire resistance? Or is it okay to go weird, since your players don't know the difference and aren't keep track of it? Is it okay to use PC parts in your NPCs that you aren't allowing the players to use? Is it okay to use subsystems that you aren't allowing your players to use? (Those last two don't apply just to new player campaigns.)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Learning D&D

Is it better to learn D&D (or any roleplaying game) from an experienced DM, or a brand new one? With a group of entirely new players, or a group where everyone but one or two people basically knows what's going on?

Is it better to learn to DM as your first D&D experience, or after you've been playing it for a while? With brand new players, or experienced players? Is it possible to learn to play D&D as the DM, but with experienced players?

By better I mean--which is more fun? Which is more likely to keep you in the hobby for the long run? Does it affect playing style? DMing style? DMing skill?

How do most people learn to play D&D? Are there differences between how D&D is learned, and how other games are learned?

What effect does already knowing another game have on the learning process? Does it have any other, longterm effects?

Probably some of these questions are answered by market research. I know that Wizards published a study of the player population and its various habits in the run-up to 3rd Edition. I assume they still do market research; do they still publish it? Do they have plans to publish it?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Madness? This Is Facebook!

I just did something crazy. I just put up an open call for players on Facebook, of all places.

This is going to end badly.

But there is a small chance that it will end with me having a group. Or the beginnings of a group.

This will also probably involve horrible disaster, in addition to the group. But I'll have a group.

Is this worth intense disaster of a new and unusual variety? I suppose I will soon find out.

Wizards Podcasts

Spent the afternoon listening to some of the Wizards podcasts. They're really good, and interesting, in a "why does D&D work in the way that it does?" kind of way.

Even if you're not into that, at the very least you should check out the 18th minute of the Drow podcast. Because Chris Thomasson tells us about his character, a 19-year old Goliath cleric/homebrewed prestige classes with a neat name that I can't spell.

He has several amusing stories about this character, but the best one is his horrible, horrible death. (He got better.) Seriously. We are talking classic GM evil.

Chris Perkins is his GM. I am in awe. I am also in awe because apparently, for this campaign, he tweaked every player class and implemented a 20-level spell system. This is the kind of stuff that I wish I had the time and attention span to implement.

I am not nearly as good at GM evil as I'd like to be.