Friday, March 19, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Two or three weeks ago, while playing in Tavis’s White Sandbox game, our gang of crafty adventurers descended into the Caverns of Thracia, where we came across a pile of trash . . . on a staircase!
This was obviously a trap, or a monster, or a trapped monster. And it took our party of eight 4th-Level adventurers at least 15 minutes to bypass it. Mainly by tentatively suggesting an outcome, and then pulling back in a panic, and then suggesting it slightly differently . . . and then not getting a confirmation of the theory, necessitating a new cycle of guessing and tentative theorizing.
- “I poke at it with my 10′ pole . . . NO WAIT”
- “I sprinkle holy water on the pile of trash, just one drop. Does anything happen? No? Okay, two drops. Anything happen? No, okay, three drops.”
- “I roll to hear noises coming from the pile of trash. But not right next to it! My ear is, like, 5 feet away. But I’m listening. Unless it’s psychic.”
- “I use ESP on the pile of trash.”
This was really funny . . . for about five minutes, and then the paranoia became aggravating. With eight players, it’s never clear when we’ve had enough and are willing to take a chance–because once one person has become satisfied, another person’s curiosity will have been piqued.
Every session we have a moment like this, where everything . . . grinds . . . to . . . a . . . halt as we debate whether to stand on this 5′ square or that 5′ square, or whether we should kill the Gnoll guards by a frontal attack, or kill them through backstabbing. It’s like the 90/10 rule: 90% of the discussion involves only 10% of the plan.
As a semi-frequent player, I can endure this. But if someone is brand-new to our campaign, and thus a little unsure of what’s socially appropriate and/or lacks the knowledge about the campaign world to contribute, I suspect this would be frustrating as hell.
Question for the audience – How do you solve the problem of allowing players maximal freedom, including the freedom to fail and the joys of sometimes pointless exploration, without it bogging down to wasting time? How do eight people come to a decision, given limited information, in something less than 20 minutes of second-guessing and third-guessing?
(As a GM, when I get bored of this stuff, I say, “Look, maybe there’s just nothing there,” but that’s only socially useful if I get bored before the players do.)
PS. It turns out there were caltrops under the trash. Thank God we finally figured it out, though I can’t remember how we did so – so that if we need to do it again, we’ll be back at square one…
Monday, March 15, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
"The Illusionist is a Controller(tm). As a rule, they don't do damage. They control the battlefield through glamours, enchantments, phantasms, and misdirection. It was this philosophy, not the metaphysics of their spells that defined that character."
Monday, March 1, 2010
Few RPGs permit playing a non-human with the facility of RuneQuest even today [1996!]. In fact, the trend is rather away from playing non-humans. 'Tis not necessarily a bad trend, given the rather lame interpretations of these beings that have infested the RPG market. Partly as a result of the difficulty in playing them.
You see, most games render non-humans as variations on humans. Example: "dwerlfs are like humans, but with -2 from STR and INT" or whatever. RQ nonhumans are completely independent -- you could set up a RQ game with no nonhumans at all, and never make any reference to humans, and character creation and play would be smooth. I think that the psychological aspects of this difference have had an effect on scenario designers, essayists, and gamemasters.
There is another way in which RQ affected Glorantha. By the nature of most of Greg's early stories, plus White Bear & Red Moon, Nomad Gods, etc., Glorantha seemed to be a place where titans battled far above the level of mere mortal fodder.
But RQ's combat system is anti heroic. A mighty swordmaster of 90% is comparatively easy meat for a trio of 50% mercenaries. The huge bad troll with tons of magic and a 3D6 damage bonus was killed by my stinking players on the first blow of the combat, via critical spear impale to his face. When a scrawny crossbow-armed guard gets the drop on a mighty-thewed (but unarmored) barbarian, the latter raises his hands in surrender. No matter how skilled your hero is, a single blow from a mediocre giant's cudgel breaks bones and maims.
RQ combat rewards numbers and luck (criticals & fumbles) more than PC skill. Even the infamously weak RQ magic serves as an equalizer. Facing a mean magician? -- the worst he can do is zap one of your number with his Sunspear, and a simple Demoralize settles his hash just fine.
The effect of all this was to draw Glorantha's emphasis away from the mighty heroes on the heights, and focus on the little guys on society's underside, scrabbling to maintain a meager subsistence-level ecology. RQ PCs live close to the bone.
One result is that mercantile activities hold more interest than in most RPGs. You can make money on trade expeditions, and from Joh Mith to the Desert Trackers to the redheaded Lunar caravans across Pent, merchants have become an indelible part of the Gloranthan ethos. In most games, caravans serve only as employers (PCs-as-caravan-guards being a staple of RPGs) or as targets to pillage.
A typical evening of play has maybe a single combat. Even a combat-crazed player perforce must use brains and tongue before going off half-cocked. In addition, tactical skill (as opposed to mere high percentiles) is rewarded -- those smart enough to do a Shield Bash at the right moment, or to close up on the halberdier reap the rewards. When's the last time in RQ you stepped back to permit a fallen foe to get back on his feet? We press our advantage mercilessly. This is hardly the stuff of heroic one-on-one duello, as each side rolls combat dice endlessly till one falls. Instead, cunning and strategem are rewarded to such a degree that the stereotypic "big strong dumb" PC is viewed as interesting and quirky instead of a dull norm.
A tradition has arisen of prisoner-taking and ransom-paying. In many RPGs, battles end with everyone on the losing side dead. Some games have special techniques to prevent this, or cultural niceties, but RQ does it as a matter of practicality.
Finally, RQ combat is different from most other medieval or ancient RPG. A typical fight is a running skirmish, not a set-piece battle. Arrows, javelins, and spells zip across the battlefield, as both sides use available cover, dodging from tree to tree. Hand-to-hand fighting is brief, rarely lasting more than a few rounds against equal opponents. It's not the stuff of Hollywood.
I like my Glorantha PCs the way they are -- tattoos, scars, scavenged bits of armor, bristling with eclectic weapons, painted runes, muddy boots, and mangy familiars. More like something out of Road Warrior than King Arthur.