Monday, March 22, 2010

Truth from the DMG

"[A] challenging campaign and careful refereeing should obviate the need for immediate bestowal of levels of experience to maintain interest in the game."

Friday, March 19, 2010

About Dragons

This will see use in my sandbox.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Dangers of Old School

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…

Friday, March 12, 2010

I'll wait for 5th Edition.

From Lizard on

"Well, on the subject of 4e adventures, based on playing in two campaigns and running one still ongoing, I have to say 4e continues the trend I first noticed in 3.x and before that with Hero System Fourth Edition -- RPGs with detailed, tactical combat rules tend to be really two games -- generally free-form roleplaying with occasional skill rolls ("Make a bluff check." "I think that's a presence attack, roll it.") and tactical miniatures combat with occasional character moments. How much of each you have in your sessions is up to you. When I ran my Champions game, the length of combats generally necessitated I have one or two game sessions of "plot", followed by "The fight scene". An average 4e fight takes an hour, and I run three hour sessions, so I can have all plot, mostly plot, some plot, or the "fight 1, fight 2, boss fight" episode.

In terms of "How much RPing do you get?" I've found Actual Play TM with 4e is about on par with 3e. Skill Challenges can be good for some things like "We want to track down the bandits" or "We sneak into the castle", but I find they tend to be jarring and intrusive when the PCs are actively roleplaying an interrogation or bargaining session and they ask "Is this the skill challenge? Should I roll now?"."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wisdom from Grognardia Comments

"One key to understanding Gygax and HIS 1st Ed AD&D is that he took a phenomenological approach to DMG writing. His DMG is a collection of essays which describe game mechanics for different aspects of the game. The articles themselves are not bound under an overarching "Core Game Mechanic" of the WoTC editions. This is what makes his version of the game superior, since you can write a section of rules to describe any aspect of fantasy role plaing, and not be bound by any pre-existing game mechanic or a process."

I disagree with his further comments on Non-weapon proficiencies, but there you go.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

From a comment on Grognardia

"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

Sandy Peterson on Runequest

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.

Quote from OD&D

"Final Note: If sea monsters or monsters of the sea do not get a ship, perhaps it will sail off the edge of the world!"