Saturday, December 29, 2012, 5:32 PM
Missed the last D&D Encounter for this year. Why? Got bored with it. The DM's acted as if being exciting and engaging the players was anathema, blasphemous, not to mention a criminal act. Every dang one of them just read off the adventure, instead of taking the time or making the effort to make it their own. Think they were doing their best to avoid any implication we were all involved in a meth convention. "No excitement, please, we're D&D players."
What's wrong with solving the problem late? What's wrong with finishing the adventure after month or years, instead of weeks or months? What's so great about finishing a session in just a session instead of two or three? And what makes sameness such a desirable thing?
Let me have the adventure we all ran through, and players to run it for, and I'll bet you that between the lot of us we could make it go a year or two.
Death to standardizing, make RPGs variable again!
BTW, I've been busy with DJ
, so don't expect me back all that often.
Friday, December 14, 2012, 9:13 PM
A problem I see with too many GMs is that they show either no interest in getting their players engaged or excited in the game, or they have a strong antipathy to it.
"No excitement please, we're GMs."
They make no real attempt to excite the players, invite the players, or, for that matter, engage the players. If anything they do what they can to bore the players and drive them away from RPGs. It's as if the Ben Stein (qv) school of GMing intended to stifle the hobby and industry and drive it into extinction.
Don't think that's the probem? Then, dammit start entertaining your players. I don't want to hear you recite some prepared text, I want to hear the damn orc.
Sorry, GMs, but you're not a machine reading off a text, you're individuals capable of individual expression. So put it in your own damn words.
(Don't have the time to prepare an adventure? Then do you really have time to run the adventure?)
And don't give me any crap about "common experience" because no two groups are going to have the same experience no matter how the experience is presented. Because we are the way we are each experience is going to be unique.
Now for a few definitions...
- Evoke: To bring to mind. To remind.
- Evoked: That which brought to mind. "The roses evoked the memory of Anna."
- Evocation: An event or statement which brings a subject to mind.
Words such as "presentation" and "description" are also involved here.
A message for you GMs out there; it's a roleplaying game, so roleplay. Instead of telling your players, "the king looks oddly at you." remember that the king is your role, give him some distinctive mannerisms, and as the king look at your players oddly.
(Note: Should I ever run a D&D Encounter Adventure it will become my
adventure. I don't give a hoot about some fussbudget thinks it might be perceived, I will present it in my fashion. For my players it will be a unique experience. Some people don't like it, they don't have to play in my game.)
So evoke and bring your game to life. It won't kill you, it won't kill your game, and it won't kill the hobby.
Roleplay, evoke, present, bring your game to life and help make this a viable hobby.
Next up: We consider the question of what your characters do outside the adventure.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012, 4:37 PM
Some parties in the hobby/industry appear, near as I can tell, to be rather anal about their RPGs and what they need to be. These people show every indication that RPGs have to be important, inspired, I think by people such as Karl Marx and some author who's name I forget writing on storytelling and why you must use an item you mention in a description at some point in the narrative. Its an idea imitated by people in Academia. To those people, and academics, I have this question, "Sez who?"
Nothing has to be anything. All it needs to be is what it is, if somebody finds a use for it, good for him. But worth is not dependent on utility, and that is my position.
As a certain Galilean once said, "They also serve who only stand and wait."
Or, you don't have to turn that meadow into a golf course.
RPGs are an entertainment, they're supposed to be amusing. They're supposed to be fun. If they aren't fun you're doing it wrong. An RPG is an emultion of life on a large or small stage, often with fantastical elements. An RPG doesn't need to be anything portenteous or polite (to borrow from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). They don't have to mean a damn thing.
But some people don't feel comfortable unless they're doing something important, something that has meaning. To those people I say, "May you get assigned to tend a pack of dogs some day. Young, active, well rested, well fed dogs." (For an example of joy in chaos you can't beat a pack of young dogs.) As numerous people have said over the years, "Some people just need to lighten up."
That's my take on certain role-gamers, how about yours?
(Cross-posted at The RPG Site as a forum topic.)
Tuesday, December 11, 2012, 8:54 PM
As I was thinking about something else entirely it occurred to me; I got this whole "master" thing wrong.
Now to a few in the RPG community "master" is understood to refer to someone who runs things, who is in charge. A person who gives orders and directions and expects instant obedience. "Master" in this sense was often used to refer to the owner of slaves or indentured servants.
In another coummunity "master" has another meaning.
That is the academic community, where "master" refers to someone who has earned a master's degree in an academic subject. You have Master of Fine Arts, and Master of Biology, each distinguished by the fact that he has learned his subject so well he can be said to be the master of it. "Master" in this sense is also used in martial arts and esoteric religions. A lama can be said to be someone who has mastered himself, someone who knows himself so well he can do amazing things.
A Game Master---Dungeon Master, Journey Master, Director, what ever term the game uses---is this sort of master. He knows the game so well he is competent to run it for a group of players, and to do it with grace, style, and real skill. A Game Master is someone who can describe a scene, establish a mood, populate a location, play numerous roles. He can be dark villain, bereft widow, besotted city watchman. He can adjudicate rules, crack puns, and make his players think he actually pulled off a Scottish accent. Participants will go away from his sessions convinced they met an elven maid, outwitted that creaky old blue dragon, and saved the village of Bluedeep from the Sahaugin of the Twisty Abyss.
A Game Master doesn't need to order anyone about, when persuasion, enticement, and blatant manipulation will do the trick. That, good reader, is a Game Master.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012, 8:38 PM
Got kind of distracted and forgot to post here. While I was gone I got my Dangerous Journeys
blog re-started and added a DJ wiki to it. It's where I'm putting together SRDs for the DJ and DJ Prime systems, and cobbling together a Dangerous Journeys Open Game License (DJ OGL)
No, it has nothing to do with any other Open Game License, this is only for DJ and DJ Prime System works.
I will be getting in touch with Gail Gygax at Gygax Games to fill her in on the project, and to see what she thinks. If you happen to have DJ and Mythus material you're welcome to get in touch with me and we'll see what we can share.
Why am I reviving DJ, or at least making a stab at it?
It's my preferred system. It has features other systems don't have, or don't handle as well.
Am I out to wean people away from other RPGs?
You kidding? You enjoy your game, play on. I'm looking for folks who may want to try something different. No, it's not new. Considering that it's over twenty years old now, In my opinion it qualifies as old school. (Hell, these days V:TM qualifies as old school).
In any case, I'll be getting back to posting to RPG topics, though having lost track of the course of posting I'm going to return with the last general RPG topic I've so far penned, and that is own the matter of Game Masters and Game Mastery.
Saturday, December 1, 2012, 9:32 PM
The great theme RPGs are based upon can be called heroic fiction, stories of good guys doing what the see as right often in a world where people have given up and turned their backs on those in trouble. The original Dungeons & Dragons is one type of heroic tale.
Gary Gygax, principal designer of D&D, drew upon his reading in pulp magazines, among many other sorts of media, to inform his work. Subsequent designers largely followed his lead, though some have provided more nuanced work.
Most RPGs are games of adventure. Now it is possible to run an adventure without a villain or villains, but it's not going to be an easy task fpr most people.To get ahold of players' attention most adventures need an antagonist, or villain.
An antagonist is essentially against. A protagonist is essemtially for. An elvish protagonist can be considered a orcish antagonist. An orcish protagonist can be considered an elvish antagonist.
But before we consider what an antagonist is we need to consider what evil is, and how it is experienced in the world.
At its most basic evil can be considered the harming of others to benefit oneself. When a creature can be deemed evil relies a lot on how intelligent an animal is. A dumb animal can't be considered truly evil; a wolf for instance, because they can't understand that they are doing wrong. A sapient such as an orc can be considered evil, because he is able to appreciate how his actions harm others, and how to work to ameliorate them.
This leads to the question, is evil irredemable? Is evil something some persons do because it is their nature and they cannot change it? Or can people change their behavior if you give them the chance and the education.
In Bob Heinlein's Friday the hero, a young lady at the time, is taken aside by her father, informed she is essentially immoral, and told that she needs to learn how to fake morality to avoid detection and destruction by the truly moral. Her first lesson is to follow the 11th Commandment,; Dont Get Caught. She does that then the Mrs. Grundys of the world won't persecute her.
But what about the foolish or untaught? They usually end up in trouble. Where they don't end up running things or acclaimed as heros, (The human capacity to adulate the vile and despicable is amazing.)
All this said, the question of whether one can trust an evil creature depends largely on if they are reliable. Foolish people can not be trusted largely, but this applies regardless of morality. Prudent people can be, even if they have a bent towards abuse and maltreatment. You need to make it clear to the evil person that there are behaviors you just will not tolerate.
(Such as dunking a gnome woman in dog pee because she starched your shorts.)
The loyalty of good creatures is virtually assured, as long as they see you as somebody reliable. The loyalty of evil creatures is assured, s long as they see you as someone firmly in charge. Evil people, especially the social animals, tend to see authorities and authoritarians as people to follow and obey. Orcs like strong, capable leaders. As do kobolds and gnolls among many others. Any sign of weakness or indecision and you are likely to end up in the ranks, if not dead. If you must hire those bug bear pikemen, first make sure they never have cause to doubt your ability or sincerity,
But what if you fail in this?
Make sure your people know you appreciate what they have done for you, and that you have come to rely on them. No need to tell them, demonstrate that you trust them, so long as they demonstrate they can be trusted. Also works for good people, but it's especially useful with evil creatures, because they have a tendency to bond with a strong, domineering leader, and to consider him a worthy person to protect when things go wrong.
In most situations people tend to be conservative. Evil people tend to be strict conservatives because the world is a dangerous place, and the typical evil being sees his society, his people and leaders as being a source of surety and security. It doesn't apply in all cases, because some people exhibit the social acumen of a common slime mold, but for the most part evil beings can actually be trusted so long as you have the wit, the drive, and the strength to earn it.
And don't forget that you can't relax, not really. The evil are supposed to be dangerous, If you let down your guard you are insulting them, saying that they are harmless, inconsequential. Not a good message to send, for they will want to let you know that they are a perilous people. Never give then any indication you disrespect them.
That's are look at evil races, and how they can benefit the PC. Coming, how animals naturally behave, and the most likely reason that basilisk is snuffling around your campsite.
Saturday, December 1, 2012, 8:44 PM
In most games humans are the dominant species, often supported by non-humans of various sorts. These people often provide support, assistance, trade, knowledge, food, and, of course, characters to play in the game. Sometimes they form a part of human society, more often they form allied and/or neighboring societies.
Very often they provide alternative ways of looking at the world. In most settings dwarfs are bluff and taciturn, hard workers and doughty troopers. Elves in contrast are introspective, insightful, and curious. The gnomes of Aerth (Mythus) are skilled business men and diligent merchants and financiers. Dwarfs are excellent miners, elves excellent foresters, and Aerth gnomes prosperous merchants, often dominating trade and trade routes.
However, when two species share land and resources, and both occupy the same niche, for all intents and purposes, there will be competition.
Dwarfs are the best at mining, but they are expensive. Aerth's gnomes can maximize your profit, but much of those increased profit can go to paying for the gnomes. Elves know the forest like nobody's business, but they command premium pay. Halflings (where they are present) are excellent farmers, but if you want them to manage your land, you will pay for it. Unless you are very rich hiring one of these non-humans is not something you do every day.
Very often people have a tendency to greatly resent those of superior skill (a case of envy), especially when the skilled person is an outsider. In the real world East Asians and Jews are resented for their success by their neighbors. In Czarist Russia Jews were subjected to pogroms because they were seen as just too succesful.
In a game dwarfs may be traded rotted or poor quality foods for their product. Elves might be cheated on their lumber or art. Gnomes could find themselves afflicted by burdomsome taxes or onerous regulations. A trade route though and unsettled land, or one under a greedy ruler could be subject to excessive fees and tarrifs.
In short this means that there is a lot of opportunity for a lot of bad blood. I'll bet you thought human/elf relationships were nothing but candy canes and peppermint.
When it comes to screwing up relationships, people have a near boundless talent for bollixing things.
And being helped, especially by outsiders, can make matters worse. A human duke could be so insecure the dumps a shipment of dwarven sword blanks into a lake to rust. Another human leader may take an elf gift of premium lumber and let it decay as a deadly insult.
While humans can often give non-humans grief, non-humans are capable of retaliating. The elves may see those humans are troublesome interlopers. The dwarfs could see humans as nosy pests. Gnomes may come to see human attempts at regulating trade and finances as interference with gnomish practices.
To make a long story short, there is no reason why the good guys have to get along; venality and greed are not reserved for the antagonists, the protagonists are quite capable of being shortsighted and hostile to outsiders.
Working out arrangements, agreements, and accomodations can be hard work, where it is possible at all. Some societies do come to accept the ways of others, but not all. And there are times when relationships vis a vis others can experience a drastic sea change.
So let the neighbors squabble, let them have their disputes. Means more opportunities for the party to get involved, and more opportunities for adventure.
Our next essay will be in regards to the bad guys, and the potential for productive relationships.
Friday, November 30, 2012, 12:53 PM
The players are the ones who play the main characters, and some of the subsidiary characters in the group. In most of the games I know the players' characters are known as Player Characters. In some they can be call Avatar, Personae, or Heroic Personad (Dangerous Journey). In Theatrix I believe they are called "roles".
The PCs can play many roles in a game, usually being fitted into something like a character class (D&D), a Vocation (Dangerous Journeys) or a Template (GURPS). Quite often they belong to a distinct species (often called a "race"), a race or ethnicity, or a nationality. In some games they may have a social class, which serves to situate them in society, and can help establish such matters as resources, family, and expected social circles.
PCs are also usually mature adults, though in some games the character can be as young as a small child. In Dangerous Journeys an Heroic Persona can, in civilized lands, get as old as 96. Since most people would rather play still young, vital characters, the early to mid 20s is the preferred starting age.
Each character has a role he plays in the game. A Merchant on Aerth (Mythus) is pretty much a merchant. In a party it is the role of each character to aid and support his fellows. Each character has his strengths and his failings, and no one character, at least in theory, can dominate play. That doesn't always work out.
Which leads us to the aggessive player, the bossy player, the "take charge Charley". Who, though he may be playing a 14 year old rapscallion, ends up commanding the group and taking all the glory.
Rules have been written in an attempt to deal with this problem. Unfortunately they have proven to be dismal failures because they don't really address the problem.
Somewhat more success ful have been moderators, who can put pressure on the player to cut back on the shenanigans. However since the mod is something of an authority figure, his intervention can be seen as repressive and resentment can rear its ugly head.
The only truly successful form of intervention is for the players to take the initiative and assert themselves, using peer pressure to bring a bothersome player into line.
We now turn to the matter of mod control and player control of the game.
Honestly speaking a mod doesn't real have all that much control over his world. In the greater world outside the immediae aea of play, he does have near total control. Where the players, as their characters, are active it's a whole 'nother thing.
The first thing to note here is, a moderator cannot run a player's character for him in normal circumstances. In addition the players can, and often do, change the moderator's world through their actions. The decision to go left instead of straight or right through a city intersection is going to change things. As far as I can see all this talk aout player control is about the right to change the game world outside of play, ignoring the fact a world can be changed during play.
Besides, should a player come up with an element the md hadn't considered before, a business that employs the PC, then the player has found a way to change the game in a manner that helps the mod.
When you get right down to it, play in an RPG is a cooperative venture between the moderator and the players. A mod can be expected to play the opposition to the best of his ability, but it is to be hoped he remembers what the players are there for; to investigate, explore, connive, scheme, battle, confuse, converse, or any number of things.
At the same time it is hope the players remember what they are there for; to achieve goals, interact with the world, and have a good time.
There you have my thoughts on players. Coming next: World and Society.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012, 8:33 PM
Most RPGs have a moderator. Known by many names in the business---Game Master, Dungeon Master, Story Teller, and others---it is the moderator who serves as guide to the setting, and arbitrates rules disputes.
It is his job to present the setting, play the roles the players do not---at least those that can be said to have a personality---and keep play running smoothly.
It is he who is the director, the producer, the set designer, the casting director, the props man, the foley man the lighting director, and the stage manager. At times he can be the scenario writer, where he's not adapting the work of another.
Now most people in the hobby call him "master" because the see him as being in charge of the game. This has a tendency to get people to see game play as a competition between player and "master" when that's really not the case. When there is competition between players and outside events, it's usually between the group and a situation, or the group and other groups (internal competition is another matter).
One game personality prefers the term, "Game Moderator" because what the fellow does is moderate the game. I shortened it to "moderator" because it saves on ink/bandwidth.
There are a lot of thing the moderator does, or can do. There are a few things he cannot do.
He cannot insure play balance. He is presenting a world that is just too vast usually, too changable for that to be possible. Even if the game is designed to give the appearance of balance events in the game will rapidly put an end to it. (And don't forget the actions of the players.)
He cannot insure party balance. You cannot make people take part to any degree they don't feel comfortable with. Nor can he make people share, that is a job for the players. No matter what the rules say, or the moderator does, the aggressive player will always dominate the game; unless the other players take measures to assert themselves and rein in the bucking stallion.
Finally, a moderator cannot insure that everyone has fun. That depends on how much the players get into the game.
The last thing to consider here are the so-called "GM-less" games. Here the rules are written so the party as a whole can moderate events, much as a moderator does. They are based on the premise that the players will all want to take part in moderating, which is not always the case.
In some groups the players will pretty much share in running the game. In other groups one player will find himself becoming the effective moderator for the session. It's an idea that can work if the players put some work into it, but it's not going to work out for everybody.
And that's our look at game moderators. Coming next, a look at the players and their characters.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012, 12:50 PM
I used to reply with, "A roleplaying game is where you play an imaginary person living on an imaginary world." But then I got to thinking about it, and I realized I could be more succinct and concise. So no I describe it as, "A roleplaying game is a game where you make a game out of playing a role."
This can be expanded on, so let's try this...
expansion: An rpg takes places in a location that can be as restricted as a single creature (Khaotic by R.Talsorian Games) to a vast as infinity (the Outer Planes for D&D for example). Most I've seen are restricted to a single world, or part of a world./expansion.
A roleplaying game, much like a traditional game, has rules that set out what is possible in the game. However, since an RPG allows for so much more activity than a traditional game, the rules really can't be as restrictive. Much of the time a rule can be no more than a suggestion for how a situation may be resolved. Some factors, such as combat---which can take the form of a game within the game, are often comprehensively detailed, but others---diplomacy and court affairs for example---may have only the most basic advice for social interaction, if such are included.
Another matter to consider is that while RPGs are not, strictly speaking, competitive games, neither are they, exactly, cooperative games.
In most play it is assumed that the players are cooperating towards a goal, but they don't have to. Often the players may find themselves competing for a goal, striving for a goal of their own, or a mix of the above.
Then there is the matter of game balance.
Balance, in the purest sense, is really only possible in games of limited scope. In a game such a Othello the field of play and the playing pieces are so limited becomes possible for the players to have a mechanically equal chance of winning.
With an RPG, thanks to its scope, such things are really not possible. In a word, it comes down to a matter of detail. An RPG simply has too much detail to make game balance worth the time. Too much going on. And since RPGs allow such freedom of action, for player and moderator characters, it becomes down right impossible to restrict them to where they, in a word, belong.
I mean, other than moderator machinations how does one keep the beginning character from pestering the ogres a day's travel up the road?
Remember that you are dealing not with a static situation, but with a dynamic one. Thing will change as the game goes on, and what what balanced in a sense will become rapidly unbalanced.
And then you have the mattr of party balance, which is based on the idea that all members of a party must have an equal chance to participate in play. Which much of the time seems to involve combat.
This is a load of fewmets.
It is based on the fable tht everyone should have equal chance to take part. What puts the lie to this is the fact that many people don't want to participate equally, that some would rather hang back and wait for an opportunity while the pushy hog the limelight. That one player keeping to the shadows, occasionally steps in so his cleric can do his work, may be perfectly happy watching all the action and letting other players hog all the glory. My advice in this matter is; don't make them participate, let them participate, to the degree they prefer. If they can find nothing to participate in, maybe you need to expand the scope of your game.
My advice to the game players is, should little Billy obstruct your participation in the game, interrupt the brat. Let the ham know you're not going to tolerate his behavior. Take the initiative and let the scene hog know that you are taking part. The rules aren't going to do it because they don't really don't address the problem. The problem is player behavior and it's going to take action by the other players to address this. Metagaming has done nothing, it's going to take social interaction.
As an example of how party balance can fail, take, for example, D&D4e. Mechanically the parties are balanced, but in actual play they really aren't. What makes the difference? Inclination to participate. How much a player takes part depends on how much he wants to, and the weakest character can dominate the stronger if his player has the drive.
My advice is, don't worry about it, let the players take part as they feel comfortable. In addition, expand your game to include more than just one activity. Give the players more to do. Means more work for the moderator, but the playoff can be huge.
Next up: What is a moderator and what a moderator does.