Sunday, February 28, 2010

7th Sea: Those Basic Joys of the Game

I mentioned in my first post about the 7th Sea game that things had been rough. This has continued to be true since then; 7th Sea involves an amount and variety of dice rolling that's more reminiscent of 3e D&D than the old school editions I've gotten into lately, and it's driven home for me that rules light, DM-fiat driven play is really what I'm interested in right now. More importantly, though I'm slowing getting a better idea of the strengths of PBP play, I'm also slowly coming to the conclusion that it's not my preferred format, either, at least for a group this size, between the reduced immediacy and the logistical issues created when the party splits.

And yet, I continue to play, and I have no plans to stop any time soon. Why, you might reasonably ask, when I'm able to detail with tremendous precision, the aspects in which I find it unsatisfactory? To this question, I can provide only one answer:

Because this game is awesome.

I can't entirely explain this opinion, because it's based, in part, on certain details that have yet to be revealed to the rest of the party. But that in itself is something--I enjoy executing those kinds of reveals, and Erin's handed me a few items that should prove particularly intriguing in that capacity, and that let me explore a number of things I've been enjoying about my character. Who is in himself yet another reason; spooling out the various conflicts I set up in my character's background has been a lot of fun, and discovering new ones as he interacts with the rest of the party has been even more so. And then there's that ever-reliable social element--having Trollsmyth as a fellow player, and a game with my (currently ex, on account of Florida) roommate, are enough in themselves to make my frustrations with other aspects of the game relatively minor.

I have a lot of ideas about how games "ought to be played," and what I want out of a system. I've given a lot of thought to exactly what features I like, and why. I'm still figuring all that out, as always, and my opinions are subject to change--but I have them, and fairly extensive ones at that. But those ideas about system and playstyle and rules, while significant, fade when put up against those basic joys of having a character I enjoy, and playing with interesting people. That's the foundation of everything that comes after it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ever Used Disease In Your Game?

I've used a disease in my game exactly once. Some kind of plague carried by space rats. This was d20 Modern, and I'm pretty sure the PCs made all their Fort rolls, so it never came up. It was never intended to be a continuing scenario in itself, anyway. Just a hazard of the encounter.

Mostly this is because up until a year or two ago I only ran d20 games regularly, and d20's disease system isn't particularly inspiring. Add in cure disease, and, well, there didn't seem to be all that much point to the adventure. (I'd love, by the way, to be proven wrong about this. Anyone got some awesome 3e/3.5/d20 system disease stories?)

As an aside, this is one thing that I really like about 4e. The disease track is just a whole lot more compelling. More tension, and more opportunity for interesting effects.

Still. You'd think that at some point I'd have jumped on another way to make my players' characters' lives miserable. Or that some enterprising DM would do the same to me. Hasn't happened yet. I've never even had a game where something like this happened to an NPC. I can understand that there might be logistical issues getting in the way of giving PCs certain diseases (some kinds of games would handle it really well, I think, but a really pulp/action/adventure game might seize up a bit) but there are plenty of things I've avoided doing to PCs for the hassle of it (I tend not to have villains capture just part of the party, for one) that I'll happily inflict on an NPC they like.

Boy, do I ever love abusing NPCs. There's all kinds of things you can do to them that would be a huge headache for the PCs, but are pretty much excellent with them. I try not to abuse them as a plot hook too much, but there's a certain kind of player who will get really attached to NPCs and then get really excited when they get a chance to save them from some hideous fate. And I always like to make my players happy.

Anyway, what makes this really weird is that I tend to love weird afflictions of various kinds in other media. Illness and injury come up with a decent amount of frequency in the fiction I write. In a way, even things like werewolves and the Hulk are just really dramatic examples of "disease," and that kind of dramatic, supernatural affliction is category I really dig. But even that has never really come up in one of my games.

The way I'm putting together the setting I'm working on right now, there's a good chance that this'll come up in a big way in the next game I run, so that should be interesting. But considering the issue has gotten me curious. Any of you folks ever used disease in a game? Was it a one-off thing, or is it part of your regular threat routine? How'd you handle it mechanically? Did it work out well, or are you never touching it again?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Play Style and "Fun"

A good while back, I ran into this post on Levi's Amagi Games: the What-I-Like Glossary. At the time, I read it, shrugged, thought to myself, "Well, that was interesting," and then went right on my way. About the same thing happened when I discovered Brain Hex. Thought about it for a bit, decided it might lead to some interesting ideas, and then moved on to other things.

I've been thinking about them both lately, because I've been trying to figure out what I mean by "play style." When I use that word, people start throwing around terms like "gamist" and "narrativist" soon after. These aren't useful words for me. The big issue is that I always feel like there's some much more precise definition for them than I actually understand; I've read the articles in question on the Forge, but can't make precise sense of them. All I really have to go on is the way that I see people use them, and there I find concepts that aren't particularly compelling.

Though perhaps that's not quite the right word. Compelling they are, yes. Dividing up RPGs into three distinct, semi-exclusive categories is, for whatever reason, attractive. I've found myself drawn in that direction myself, on occasion. And since I'll readily admit that I don't have a strong grasp on the overall theory that they live within, they may very well be good terms for describing the kinds of things they're designed for. But in common use, they tend to trample over a lot of what I find interesting about play style.

For instance: "Gamism" tends to be used to mean "games like 4e D&D," where the players are expected to spend a lot of time manipulating the mechanics of their characters in various ways, towards the end of overcoming various obstacles. But when I look carefully at the people I know who enjoy playing this way, the idea that this is style of play functions as some kind of self-contained unit breaks down. Many of them enjoy extremely rules light play, so long as there are obstacles to overcome and problems to solve--they get just as much thrill out of figuring out how to use a ten-foot-pole to deal with pit traps as they do finding that perfect character combo. And all of them are drawn to D&D for reasons beyond simply manipulating the ruleset and overcoming challenges, whether it's the funny voices that their DM makes or the continuing story that their character is involved with.

So while I've borrowed a lot of ideas from the framework behind those terms, I try to avoid using them because they don't get at a lot of distinctions I'm interested in. Instead, here's what I think is important about play style:
  • Different people have different ideas about what's fun and what isn't fun. This'd be one of those "borrowed ideas," though I doubt it's original to GNS theory or whatever it is that it's called. Furthermore, I suspect that a lot of problem play comes down to people disagreeing about what's fun and not realizing that they disagree. If I'm reading Ron Edwards right, this idea is what's behind a lot of his talk about "incoherent play," but I don't take it quite so far myself, for reasons I'll get to in a bit.
  • "Play style" doesn't live on the Island of RPGs. The stuff I like in roleplaying games tends to be similar to what I like in other games, or in other kinds of storytelling. Where it isn't the same, it interacts directly with my roleplaying game preferences; that is to say, there are certain things that I don't like in roleplaying games specifically because I think some other kind of game does them better. Particularly on a practical level of figuring out what makes your group tick, it's important to look at what people like about what other games they play, and why they're playing RPGs rather than those other games.
  • "Play style" is made of a bunch of little interlocking pieces. This is where Brain Hex and the What-I-Like Glossary come in; they're both basically ways of breaking down and looking at those pieces individually. You'll note that they have a number of styles of play in common, as well as the overarching idea that everyone enjoys more than one, but there's usually one or two that someone will like the best. Neither is perfect; the Brain Hex model is specifically geared towards video games, and Amagi Games has failed to provide the internet with a snappy Greek term for the thrill of finding stuff out. But the basic idea there is attractive to me, being based on at least an attempt to model what's actually going in people's heads when they talk about "fun." Though I mostly like it because it lets me talk about how . . .
  • Some kinds of fun go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Or, I should say, chocolate and something that's not terrible. Using the Amagi Games terminology, what I mean is, if you're into ludus and kinesis then you're crazy if you're not playing a game that's got tactical miniatures combat, because those two kinds of fun can really complement each other. Likewise, if you're currently deep into kenosis, you'll find it pretty easy to add expression and kairosis to your game, if you also enjoy those kinds of play.
  • Others kinds of fun are more like steak and ice cream. The main thing I'm thinking of here is something that Levi notes directly in his list: kenosis is easy to mess up if you've got something else going on in your game that breaks people "out of the groove." Another good example using the same terms is that alea can (but doesn't always) conflict with fiero. There's a certain kind of gamer who wants to win because he came up with a great plan, not because he got lucky. The basic idea here is that there are certain kinds of fun that you have to prioritize, because you can't have all of them.
  • Some players who like different kinds of play will get along great. Others . . . won't. If their favorite kinds of play don't conflict, or complement each other, you won't have a problem. That kind of group may even be preferable to one where everyone's play style is in perfect accordance; it can be fun to be a spectator to a different style of play than the one you're normally engaged in, or to be pushed out of your specific comfort zone every once and a while, and it's good to have players with a variety of different ways of approaching in-game situations and problems. On the other hand, if two players strongly prioritize styles of play that interfere with each other, you're going to have problems, especially if they don't realize that it's a play style clash and assume the other person is just being obnoxious. But playstyle isn't some immutable iron thing, either--if both parties are aware of the different kinds of fun they're interested in, and each explain to the other person what it is that's cramping their style, they're likely to be able to hash out a compromise that keeps them both fairly happy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Magic & Metaphysics

I've been doing some thinking about what I want out of a magic system for the system I'm working on, and it's looking more and more like what I need to do is write a new set of spells. I'd been trying to avoid that option on account of the work, but I've also spent the past couple days working over the metaphysics underlying magic in the setting I'm building, and in doing that, I kept thinking to myself, "Okay, sorcerers are going to need to be able to manipulate X in this way, and that way . . . oh, and obviously it makes sense for them to do Y." A few minutes of that, and I realized I had the beginnings of a spell list.

Given the metaphysical framework, it hasn't been too hard to fill out those lists, either. Add in the basic D&D assumptions about what magic-users ought to be able to do, and what I get are a bunch of questions: "What part of their soul would sorcerers use to do damage? How would that work?" "Should I have a spell like light? What's the game function of that spell? Is there another way to get the same effect that makes more sense in the metaphysics?" And I've been giving some thought to what would be useful in a social game that's not already in D&D, and what's in D&D that would be too useful in a social game. I've broken charm, for instance, into several spells, depending on what parts of people's souls they manipulate, and exactly what kind of effect they produce.

All this means, though, that the magic system is going to be very setting specific. It's possible that you could use it with a different setting, but I'm not sure that you'll be able to use it without the very specific approach to souls and other such things that I have in the setting I'm using. I'm not sure yet just how hard it would be, but there are going to be at least a couple of spells that just won't make any sense unless you know, for instance, certain things about the way that the magic metaphysics interacts with gender.

Which I worried about, until I realized that, hey, this is D&D. People can just take out the spells they like and forget the ones they don't. Or ignore the magic system entirely, and just borrow the other subsystems. If I was doing something really new and interesting with the mechanics of the magic system, I'd be more concerned with making it setting-independent. As it is, I'm considering stealing Arcana Evolved's "readied spells" concept, and perhaps even combining it with a "roll to cast" option, but nothing truly revolutionary. And it doesn't need to be.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Doom & Tea Parties Solo: Why I'm Not Writing About It

So let's see. I've written about the group game this month, and I'm not going to run out of things to say about it anytime soon. Next month is going to be why Trollsmyth won't kill boytoy's character, I think. Unless she gets eaten by a slaadi or something in the meantime. Which would be good, because then she won't die after I write that post and make me look dumb.

The solo game is a little trickier. While I've written about it a fair amount in the past, I've very deliberately not mentioned a number of key circumstances and events in the game, and I'm going to continue that policy. I've shared some of those circumstances with offline friends, in the course of those "what crazy thing just happened in the games we're in" conversations that I occasionally give in to, but there's a fair amount I haven't told anyone, and won't until the game ends. And maybe not even then.

A lot of what's made that game so interesting and involving, in fact, is that I don't talk about it. I don't have to explain it, or understand it well enough to explain it, or justify it. I can do very odd things and go very odd places, with no audience except the DM, who's mostly busy doing stranger things anyway. It's an experimental space.

Which is a bit odd, since RPGs tend to be very much public affairs. There's that whole "let me tell you about my character," actual play report culture; a lot of my conversations with people I've just found out play roleplaying games tend to turn towards various events from campaigns past. People like talking about their games. And a game, obviously, involves more than one person, usually a fair handful. It's not like reading a novel, or watching a movie--and even those examples point to a general publicity of entertainment, at least in our culture. One of the chief joys of novels and TV and stories in general is in discussing them.

But I don't think my experience with this game has been anything approaching unique. After all, one of the features that so marvelously distinguishes roleplaying from reading or watching is that the experience is so much less public. It's not something that anyone who picks up the book can experience; only I and the few other friends who were there ever can. Which means that it can be a much more private experiences, with all the advantages that go along with that--not least being that it only ever needs to interest and please us, the people participating. And that remains true no matter how many players are in the group. And even when I do give in to the temptation to tell all my friends about a character's latest escapade.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Snowflake the Techno-Plant (This is Boytoy's Valentine's Day Present)

Snowflake the Techno-Plant
Strength: 10
Dexterity: 11
Constitution: 13
Intelligence: 18
Willpower: 14
Charisma: 16

HP: 58

Dermal Poison Slime (7d6 damage, save half)
Epidermal Susceptibility (Fire)
Negative Empathy
Quick Mind
Tripping Tendrils
Abnormal Size (1/20th normal)

The upshot: it's about 4" tall, is about as good as it's possible to be at figuring out new technology, and a significant minority of the people it meets immediately try to kill it for no reason.

Poor Snowflake.

In other news, I adore random character generation.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Thoughts on the Manifesto of the Turku School

I'm pretty sure today isn't the first time I'd seen the Manifesto of the Turku School. But it's the first time I'd paid enough attention to it to notice this:
Another way of dividing the different ways of gaming is to group them into gamist, dramatist, simulationist and eläytyjist styles. The gamist players ("munchkins") try to somehow win the game by making their character as powerful as possible - in a way turning the role-playing into strategy-gaming. The dramatist people have no true grasp for the meaning of interaction, as they think the purpose of the game is for the game masters to tell a story using the players as actors - but with no audience to tell the story to! The simulationists try to create a working society or even a world which is simulated through role-playing. The eläytyjist set the goal to becoming the characters, to experiencing everything through the character.

While the division between the mediums of LARP and table-top games does not provide any difference in quality, the second division certainly does - not all of the above styles are as well thought-out as others. As is obvious to most role-players, the dramatist and the gamist styles are inferior to the simulationist and eläytyjist styles.
Setting aside the pretentiousness for a moment, what they've done here is rather fascinating: divided roleplaying styles into four groups based on whether they focus on creating a story, overcoming (largely mechanical) obstacles, creating a world, or immersing yourself in a character, and then grouped the story and achievement styles in one category and the simulation and immersion styles in another.

While their presentation of the idea is somewhat problematic, my thoughts have been running along similar lines for a while now. The summer that 4e D&D came out, there was a lot of talk about how it had incorporated "Forge philosophy" into its design, and while I don't know enough about Forge-style games to comment substantively, what I do know has suggested that there are some definite points of contact between those two sets: they're both using rules to engineer very specific experiences. And in that quality at least they both stand very much apart from the kind of gaming I've been doing a lot of lately, where we'll ditch the rules entirely for months at a time, and don't figure out exactly what want out of a campaign until six months into it.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Neo-Classical Social RPG

It occurs to me that I haven't posted yet about this odd little social RPG I've been hinting that I'm working on, and since it is basically in a semi-playable form at this point there's not much danger anymore of my writing about what I'm going to do and then never doing it. It's not in a form that anyone else could run at the moment, and there are still some pretty serious holes than need to be patched and various areas that still need to be tweaked, but the shape of the thing is there.

What is it? Basically, it's my stripping off a lot of things off of D&D and then tacking new things back on, to transform it from a game about exploration where you don't roll Search checks to a game about talking to people where you don't roll Diplomacy checks. (When I say "D&D" in this post, and generally, I almost always have in mind something between Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord, specifically. But for the most part I think of all the pre-3e editions and retroclones as "D&D with different hats on.") A lot of it is riffing off of Trollsmyth's ideas about building a neo-classical RPG about social interactions. (And, since he's run a game like this and I've mostly just played in one, we've been chatting a bit on Wave about the various different elements of the system. Wave is really handy for that sort of thing.) Some of it is also built around the setting that I've been working on at the same time, though if I ever create a publishable version of the thing I'm likely to adjust certain elements to make it more generic. But it helps to have a clear vision of the kind of game I want to run with it.

Combat is lifted straight from D&D. The only changes to it are actually changes to the class system: your attack and hit dice don't go up as you level. Right now all the numbers are pegged at what would be about level four in Labyrinth Lord; I may adjust those up or down once I see it in action. Hit points do change as you go up in level, since you re-roll them and keep the new score if it's higher. But mostly, since combat isn't intended to be a big deal, I'd rather keep everyone at "the sweet spot" through the life of the campaign.

Ability scores are generated on 3d6 and generate bonuses (+2 to -2, at the moment, though that may change) like they do in D&D, but there's a whole different set of six, (Shadow, Flair, Identity, Breath, Will, and Heart) based on a very badly mangled version of ancient Egyptian metaphysics. I swear. Blame Trollsmyth. I may fall back on the D&D system because I know it works, but Trollsmyth has pointed out that changing the focus of the game suggests dividing up the conceptual space occupied by ability scores in a different way. I'm trying not to make ability scores too big of a deal anyway; they matter in combat and the other hard-coded subsystems, and I do want them to differentiate the characters a bit, but I don't have a skill system or an ability check system. So we'll see how it works when I actually start running the game.

I haven't completely decided what I'm doing with magic, partly because I haven't nailed down what I'm doing with priests in the setting. I may ditch the arcane/divine distinction entirely and just divide up spells along the same lines as the ability scores. But it's definitely going to be Vancian based, if not pure Vancian magic, and I'm probably going to borrow either the Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord spell list, at least at first, to minimize start-up time. (My plan is to get whoever plays the magic-user in that first campaign to at least some of the work in the "filling out the spell list" area, honestly. I do have a few ideas already, but I won't really know what magic a social game needs until they start throwing parties.)

Classes right now are Artist, Athlete, Merchant, Noble, Officer, Priest, Scoundrel, Sorcerer and Templar. Most of those are what they sound like. Priests might be a placeholder class; once I have a better handle on the setting I'll have a better idea what I want to do with them, but I at least have a possible implementation now. Templars are basically Jedi. I may change the name; they're pretty setting specific, so the setting may suggest a better name for them. I'm also considering some kind of Courtesan-type class, but I haven't come up with a system to handle them with that I'm happy with and wouldn't turn into too much of a solo mini-game. The Artist and Noble are already have a bit of that problem.

The big thing that makes the game different from D&D is a set of new sub-systems: Reputation, Warfare, Events, and Politics. Most of the classes interface with one of those systems in some way or another; Officers are basically "the Warfare class," for instance, and the Athlete's schtick is pulling dumb stunts to impress people at Events. (It's really impressive if they get themselves killed. Unfortunately, they can only do that once.) I won't go into much detail now, but the goal with all of these is more to provide a backdrop to the main activities of talking to people and getting into trouble than to be interesting to manipulate in their own right. The Events system in particular is basically intended to answer the question "Who shows up at our party?" and otherwise make the DM's life easier if the players are doing a lot of that kind of thing.

Mostly I'm just glad to be finally doing something like this. I always kind of wanted to do a big homebrew project back in high school, but never had any particular reason to, and even if I did, I would have abandoned it in favor of the next project in fairly short order. But I've been wondering if it would be possible to do something along these general lines for a while now, and Trollsmyth has handily been pestering me about finishing it. Even if it doesn't end up running the way I want in play, putting it together has been a useful exercise, and seeing how it ticks will be even more so.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Oh Ettercaptain, My Ettercaptain

On Thursday I had an unusual experience: I watched another group of gamers in action. Usually, if there's D&D happening, I'm right in the middle of it. Chances are, I'm the one who got the game together in the first place. But that night only one other person had shown up to an English Club meeting, a player from last year's Traveller game, and when it turned out that this other group was meeting to play D&D right next door, one of the players, who had also been in the Traveller game, invited us to come hang out and watch. This was a game I'd been hearing about for a few weeks, since I knew most of the people who were playing in it through various channels, so I was curious.

It turned out to be, well, not enlightening, exactly, but interesting enough that I started taking notes. Much easier to do that when you're not playing or DMing, actually. That, in fact, was interesting enough: the opportunity to really see what was going on in a session, and notice a lot more than I usually do when immersed in it myself.

For reference purposes, the group consisted of the DM, the DM's girlfriend, the DM's brother, the DM's brother's girlfriend, and the ex-Traveller player.
  • The DM rolled treasure at the table, in the open, off the DMG charts, adjusting the treasure for monster type. (In this case, an ooze, that had 10% coins.)
  • He calculated XP at the table the same way, right after the fight in question, and noted that he hadn't remembered how much work it was. (Which didn't surprise me. Oh, do I ever not miss the CR system.) He also said that it didn't really matter anyway because he was going to up them to 4th level at "the end of the tunnel," but went ahead and calculated XP and handed it out all the same.
  • As usual, I showed up just after they fought the gelatinous cube. I am perpetually hearing stories about fighting gelatinous cubes, but have never actually been present for one.
  • They had a number of health restoring abilities, one of which I'm guessing was a dragon shaman aura, (I know the party consisted of at least a knight, a duskblade, and what I suspect was a warlock -- whatever she was, she had spider climb at will) and one of which was provided by a magic item ("a jewel") that the DM's girlfriend's character had.
  • The DM's girlfriend hadn't played D&D before this campaign, which had only been going on a few sessions. This was pretty obvious; he explained things to her a couple of times, and rolled dice for her at least once. She also didn't speak up much; the other characters were much more active in interacting with things.
  • Lots of filthy jokes.
  • They'd fought the slime for some ettercaps, in exchange for their freeing a few "human prisoners" (as the Traveller player explained to me) who turned out to be a dwarven cleric and an elven rogue. The dwarven cleric "healed the party," in what was pretty clearly a DM hand wave to get the party back to full health, and then the two of them gave the party 200 gp and a potion of flammable oil.
  • The party decided to give the potion to the knight, on account of him being the character who could get the most use out of it.
  • The dwarven cleric and elven rogue had just come from the other end of the tunnel, the dungeon that the party had heard had treasure and was trying to get to. As they were leaving to go back the other way, towards the town the party had come from, the Traveller player (finally!) asked if they had any information about said dungeon. They didn't. The DM said a few things about how all they'd seen was the pit they fell into when the ettercaps got them.
  • Neither the dwarf nor the elf had names. The DM didn't supply any, and the party didn't ask.
  • The next one was a puzzle of some kind. Interacting with it made everything worse: sleep spells, spikes, and then the room filled with lava. They turned it off by rolling a Search check, whereupon the DM told them about the switch that reset everything.
  • By the time they'd set of the third or fourth trap, I wondered, "Why don't they just back off and find something else to mess with?" Then I remembered that the whole thing, being a tunnel, was a straight line: they had no where else to go.
  • Then they rolled another Search check, and the DM told them what they needed to do to solve the puzzle.
  • Accidentally filling a room full of lava is fun. Especially if it's mostly one player's fault and the rest of them can make fun of him for it.
  • Arcane spell failure made the spell in question misfire rather than just fizzle.
  • No one was quite sure how to calculate a spell DC. I spoke up at that point, but probably shouldn't have; it would have been interesting to see the solution they came to on their own, and how long it took.
Best quote: "Oh Ettercaptain, my Ettercaptain."

I'm going to have to find out if the dungeon they're headed for turns out to be as ridiculously linear as the tunnel was. Which shouldn't be too hard, since boytoy lives with one member of the group, and I have classes with the DM. It made sense considering that it was tunnel, but I still feel very strongly that a dungeon ought not to be linear, and watching this session more or less confirmed that idea.

I'm very, very tempted to write up another dungeon for Swords & Wizardry, taking into account what I learned from the megadungeon about organizing my notes, and invite this crowd, the rest of the players from the Traveller game, and the group that I've heard plays Vampire: the Masquerade for a proper dungeon-crawling experience.

On the other side of the spectrum, I'm not entirely sure why they weren't playing 4e D&D. The DM's brother I know, from previous conversations, has an intense dislike for the system, but I suspect that they would have found the healing surge system useful. (It was fascinating watching the way healing happened in that game; to my eye, it looked like they'd patched together a less elegant solution to the problems that the healing surge system is intended to address.) Moreover, they were mostly playing as a series of encounters strung together with the occasional talky bit, so there wasn't much that 4e would have interfered with. Probably just a matter of familiarity, I suppose. Or due to an issue that didn't come up in this session.

Overall, though, they were clearly having fun. Philosophical objections aside, the DM was entertaining, and good at keeping things moving. And the players were all into it and enjoying the game. Which is really what matters.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Doom & Tea Parties: Death!

Remember a couple months ago when I was all "oh, man, Trollsmyth's game is really scary even though no one's died yet?"


Wednesday's session of the group game saw five rolls on the ever-hilarious Table of Death and Dismemberment. Which works out to one arm broken, one arm ripped off entirely, and one instant death. Luckily, the arm that got ripped off and the arm that was broken were the same arm, and belonged to the PC who no one likes anyway, and it was a hireling who got her head eaten by slaadi. But still, we're talking about a very brutal session here.

Something like this was going to happen sooner or later, and it could have been a lot worse. The fight in question ended up involving two slaadi, an ancient sshian vampire, and a werewolf, and it easily could have turned into a TPK if we'd rolled badly. Or worse. As it is, we lost a fighter, the rest of the party is pretty torn up, and the sun's going down with the vampire and the slaadi still on the loose. But if I've learned one thing from Trollsmyth's game, it's that things can always get worse.

The table, despite its name, does a lot to increase the survivability of the characters while still allowing for a lot of tension during combat, but you do only get that tension of the table bites you every once in a while. I know this session has me very glad that the group in the solo game is as safe as it is, for now. I'd liked the character who died last night, but I hadn't known her as well as I do a lot of the ones in the solo game.

Partly because of that, I'm fairly happy with how things went last night. Yes, we had our characters utterly dragged through the mud, but that's where good roleplaying comes from. (And by "good" I don't mean "well done" or "high quality" or anything else like that. I just mean, well, good. Entertaining and satisfying. The kind of thing you want a one-syllable Germanic word for.) Figuring out how my character's going to deal with her decisions getting people killed, how she's going to react to discovering that the other PC, who she's never liked that much to begin with, is a werewolf, and just plain dealing with the nightmare that is going to be the next few days in-game is all going to be fun. (Not to mention that the party wizard had been dating said now-armless werewolf. "Hey, don't lick that!") Not so much for the characters, but it will be for me.

But it's still the first death of the game. And if I'm remembering correctly, it's the first death in any continuing campaign I've played in. (Not counting the one where rocks fell and everyone died at the end.) I've lost a character or two in one-shots, and I've killed a handful of PCs while DMing myself, but I haven't played in many long campaigns, and those I have played in have tended to be things like Star Wars, high level 3e D&D, and similarly death-proof milieus.

So that's going to be interesting. Wondering "What's the right way to deal with the death of an imaginary person?" is interesting, if a bit odd. Between that and getting the refresher on just how dangerous low level D&D can be, I'm looking forward even more than usual to the next session of that game.