Friday, February 28, 2014

The Drunken Duck: Your First Session

In many iterations of your games, the characters your players create will most likely very little, if not absolutely nothing, in common with the other PCs. Your city campaign may very well have a woodland hermit, a mercenary knight, an itinerant bard, a streetwise pickpocket, and a princess in disguise composing the adventuring party, and the most common way to have them all get into bed together- not literally, unless that's what your campaign is about, and if so...giggity- is to throw them into a crowded tavern where the only empty seats around a table are (surprise) with the rest of the soon to be group!
A common occurrence five minutes after each player character has consumed at least one ale.
Now, there are a variety of reasons why this can make sense; partially because of alcohol's tendency to break down social barriers and foster camaraderie between total strangers which, when combined with a sudden outbreak of taproom hostilities, can enable a quick plot-line that railroads players into cooperating with each other, despite their characters' lack of mutual familiarity. Now, this is a tried and true method of sticking characters together at the start of a game. Unfortunately, it's also a trope, which is both why it works so much and also why it occasionally doesn't. Because a trope is only effective when it is acknowledged and accepted, it is subject to a variety of fail states.
-Perhaps you have a character that isn't feeling particularly sociable, like the Woodland Hermit, and thus decides to subvert the bar room meeting by finding a quieter locale.
-Maybe one of the characters is a local to the city, and has her own spot reserved at the bar counter, putting her on the outskirts of the ensuing chaos, giving her the option to simply dodge the rail-roady team-building exercise you have planned. The Streetwise Pickpocket is the most likely candidate for this particular derailing gambit.
-There's also the possibility of getting a brand new player in the game, who is inexperienced not only in-game, but out of game as well, and thus fails to recognize this setup. The Princess in Disguise, unwise in the way of campaign tactics, simply buys a room at the inn and takes an early night in.
Now, there are a variety of different ways a GM can angle CharGen so that they can dodge the tavern meet up or, if they have their hearts set on it for nostalgic/plot purposes, hedge their bets enough to ensure characters have actual reasons to sit together. I'll list a few off, with amusing mission names because I feel like it.
Tactic 1: Operation Venn Diagram
In character creation, have each player create a relationship with one or two other players' characters. They can be as simple or complex as players like, but the end results substantially increase the quality of your roleplaying. Creating connections allows players to create backstory for their characters, even if its simplistic, it gives them a jumping off point to think about their characters' motives, history, and possibly momentary aspirations.
-Perhaps the Itinerant Bard encountered the Woodland Hermit's shack and regaled him with enough stories of the outside world that the hermit decided to see what has changed since he left society behind.
-A long time ago, the Streetwise Pickpocket and Itinerant Bard ran confidence scams in another city, but were forced to vacate and go their separate ways some years ago.
-The Princess in Disguise hired the Mercenary Knight to escort her to this city. She has fled her home in search of her uncle, who abdicated the throne years ago and turned to the life of a Woodland Hermit.
-The Mercenary Knight has secretly discovered the Princess in Disguise's true identity and doesn't wish to leave her service, and thus must discover a way to lengthen their contract without spilling the beans. He has also had run-ins with the Streetwise Pickpocket previously, and it seems like the unscrupulous thief has also realized who his employer really is.
This kind of cooperative storytelling is my favorite for CharGen, as it gives the GM various plot hooks to integrate into his overall machinations, along with allowing players to create bits of story that run alongside the overarching plot of the game.
Tactic 2: Operation In Media Res
Sometimes films and books begin in the midst of a pivotal scene. A robbery, a battle, an invasion; things are happening and there's little time for idle conversation or setup. This circumvents the "You meet in a tavern" trope entirely, establishing the idea that even if such an event did occur in the past, its events proceeded in such a way as to lead to the characters being together in their current situation. This type of first game requires a certain amount of GM input in terms of the current status quo and mutual character history, but sidesteps any possibility that any character could miss the bus.
It also allows for the implementation of in-game flashbacks, which have the potential to be interesting side-stories or paradox-generating nightmares. Or both. If I catch myself using in media res, I ignore the idea of flashbacks.
Tactic 3: Operation Plot it Out
This last option isn't exactly a method used to 'dodge' the tavern meet trope entirely; rather, it's a way to ensure it proceeds in the direction the GM wants it to. Essentially, the GM creates a reason for each character to be in the tavern. It differs from Operation Venn Diagram in the sense that the Game Master isn't creating character backstory, he's creating plot reasons for players to be where they are. Plot hooks, they're usually called. Everyone receives a letter of invitation, or a mutual friend asks them to come together for a job.
This method still has the potential to be derailed by determined players, because a) they're still meeting in a tavern and b) because, well, they're players; but if you put work into writing something instead of just throwing everyone into an enclosed space with copious amounts of alcohol, at least some of them might feel guilty taking things in a weird direction.

The operating word there, of course, is might. They're players, remember?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Warmachine Wednesdays: The Minuteman

The distinction of the first mini I painted to completion* in my Cygnar faction army goes to the Minuteman, a vicious piece of metal and guns that practically screams badass.
Combining two short-range slug guns and two open hands with an almost-overpowered Leap ability synchronized with an auto-hit super short-range AOE makes this light 'jack a nightmare for anything it encounters with a same-sized or smaller base, especially when loaded with focus. As evidenced by my last combat engagement against Khador, even the feared Widowmakers were all-but annihilated by the movement range and variety of attacks offered by the Minuteman; but he really came into his own against the enemy Warcaster, executing a by-the-numbers Two-Handed Throw and thus initiating a vicious assassination run which won the battle.
Though I found no concrete synergy in this battle under Stryker1, future battles will determine exactly how much the two units have to offer each other in terms of speed, range, and damage-dealing opportunities.
Until next week, WarmaHorders.
(*Completion is a strong word, as he still isn't sealed yet.)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Understanding SIZ: Deconstructing BRP

"SIZ: The characteristic of Size represents the average of an Adventurer's height and weight. Can an Adventurer see over something, or squeeze through a small opening, or be seen in tall grass?"
Magic World
"SIZ: Size determines your character's height, weight, and bulk. Normal factors like gluttony or rigid diet can increase or decrease you character's weight, and therefore affect their SIZ."
Basic RolePlaying 2nd
"SIZ: The characteristic SIZ averages height and weight into one number. To see over something, to squeeze through a small opening, or even to judge whose head might be sticking up out of the grass, use Size."
Call of Cthulhu 6th
I never thought about Size as an attribute before playing Call of Cthulhu. For other games, it is always determined by a range of heights and weights that you get to select from, occasionally rolling modifying dice to randomize your selection. However, in making a Dark Sun conversion for BRP, I've needed to go in-depth to consider how, exactly, SIZ should work as an attribute for variant races, while attempting to maintain balance.

Starting off with the most default of races, humans in BRP systems are described as having flat 3d6 rolls for most attributes, while having 2d6+6 rolls for their SIZ, generating values that run between 8 and 18, with a racial maximum of 21, according to Magic World. Judging from the SIZ charts included in BRP sourcebooks, that would give humans the range of 5', 80 lbs to 7' 6", 420 lbs (Magic World has a typo on pg. 13 for their SIZ chart). However, according to Call of Cthulhu and Magic World, we're supposed to take averages of each to determine size. Though seven and a half feet is pushing it pretty far for a human, it doesn't sound ridiculous, especially in a fantasy setting. We're expected to look at the human as a default value, but let's see how the other races stand up to this precedent.
Dwarves generate a pretty short end of the stick, no pun intended, when rolling up in BRP. Their generation roll is a flat 2d6 (with the possibility to add 3 on top of that-gauging from the human's max height on top of dice rolls), giving them potential SIZ values of 2-15, meaning the smallest generated dwarf would be 13" tall and weigh 11 lbs, while the largest would be 6'4" tall and 300 lbs. (BRP Character SIZ Chart, pg. 26).
Working through the other character races also creates various discrepancies like this, especially with the Athasian Half-Giant, who is, according to the Monstrous Compendium II averages out to 10-12' tall and 1600 lbs. So, 144" and 1600 brings us way off the standard SIZ tables of BRP's Character SIZ chart, though extrapolating from where the chart leaves us off at roughly SIZ 73 height-wise and SIZ 365 for weight. This is obviously ridiculous in terms of balance, and doesn't take into consideration the declining ratio of heights and weights as one moves further and further up the SIZ charts.
Instead, let's look at the Giant entry for BRP. Giant SIZ is 24d6+48, averaging at 132; taking half that (Half-Giant, remember) brings us to 66, not far from the estimated 73 extrapolated from the SIZ chart. However, this still gives Half-Giant-sized characters a ridiculous advantage in combat encounters. But-according to the Creature index in BRP, giants are roughly 16 meters tall, twice the height of Athasian D&D giants, which max out at 25'. What does this mean? That we need to half the SIZ for Giants in our conversion to 66, quartering them for Half-Giants, bringing them to around SIZ 33, a much more forgiving number for player characters.
What does all this number crunching mean? Well, basically that random generation of SIZ might be good for a single-raced game, but for something multi-racial/species, you may want to invest in the concept of semi-static SIZ values, and modify them based on another dice roll, such as a damage bonus.
Funny that I've done just that with my working BRP conversion of Dark Sun, isn't it?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

March Madness: Non-D&D OSR Challenge (Preview)

So I sadly missed 2/3 of the bus for the February D&D 28 Day Blog Hop, and to be honest, I likely wouldn't have much to say on a lot of the days for it, so instead I'm going to try to participate in the March Madness blog hop. Thirty days, thirty questions, all related to non-D&D game systems.
And since I seem to be writing a goodly number of my posts and scheduling their publications, hopefully I'll have a chance to do as many of these as possible. We'll see. Here's the list of questions for the month of March.
Feel free to join in, as well.
March Madness 31-Day Obscure Game Blogging Challenge

1 What was the first roleplaying game other than D&D you played? Was it before or after you had played D&D?
2 In what system was the first character you played in an RPG other than D&D? How was playing it different from playing a D&D character?
3 Which game had the least or most enjoyable character generation?
4 What other roleplaying author besides Gygax impressed you with their writing?
5 What other old school game should have become as big as D&D but didn’t? Why do you think so?
6 What non-D&D monster do you think is as iconic as D&D ones like hook horrors or flumphs, and why do you think so?
7 What fantasy RPG other than D&D have you enjoyed most? Why?
8 What spy RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.
9 What superhero RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?
10 What science fiction RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.
11 What post-apocalyptic RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?
12 What humorous RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.
13 What horror RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?
14 What historical or cultural RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.
15 What pseudo or alternate history RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?
16 Which RPG besides D&D has the best magic system? Give details.
17 Which RPG has the best high tech rules? Why?
18 What is the crunchiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?
19 What is the fluffiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?
20 Which setting have you enjoyed most? Why?
21 What is the narrowest genre RPG you have ever played? How was it?
22 What is the most gonzo kitchen sink RPG you ever played? How was it?
23 What is the most broken game that you tried and were unable to play?
24 What is the most broken game that you tried and loved to play, warts and all?
25 Which game has the sleekest, most modern engine?
26 What IP (=Intellectual Property, be it book, movie or comic) that doesn’t have an RPG deserves it? Why?
27 What RPG based on an IP did you enjoy most? Give details.
28 What free RPG did you enjoy most? Give details.
29 What OSR product have you enjoyed most? Explain how.
30 Which non-D&D supplemental product should everyone know about? Give details.
31 What out-of-print RPG would you most like to see back in publication? Why?

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Vilification of 4e: Setting Things Straight

So, I've mentioned before that I co-host a bi-weekly podcast called Unabashed Gaming. This essentially gives me a soapbox to yell from every 14 days, and I seem to yell an awful lot about how much I really dislike D&D 4th Edition, 4e for short. The amusing part of all this is that I started gaming with 4th Edition about six years ago, so nostalgia plays a part of what I remember about the game.
Unfortunately, that nostalgia is a double-edged sword, because when I compare my gaming today with my gaming of yesteryears, I wonder what exactly I liked about the game. Sometimes I remember, sometimes I don't.
Here are a few preconceptions/critiques of 4th Edition, and my thoughts on them.

1. It's Basically World of Warcraft
Short response: Eh, sort of.
(Fine, I'll give a ) Longer response: In essence, it's understandable that WotC would want to make their game similar to WoW or Wargaming. As a company interested in making money, they were following industry trends, which showed a massive market for MMO players. So, fiscally, it makes sense that 4th Edition would ape some of their mechanics to try and bribe some new players into the fold. However, as evidenced by the rapidly approaching release date of D&D Next, we should probably realize that WotC either didn't get the conversions they were hoping for, didn't please existing fans enough, or both. Probably both.
How is 4e like World of Warcraft? Part of it is likely the art style, now very comic/anime-esque- Interjection here, I'm a fan of this art style, so I don't believe this is a negative aspect of 4e- part of it is the introduction of the Powers system, which I'll get to in a minute. But other pieces of the game system bring out that aspect of WoW/MMOs as well.
The monster design, for one. D&D 4e breaks down monsters into categories, Artillery, Controller, Brute, and Soldier. I may be missing one or two, but basically that's what you've got to work with as a DM. Two 'plinky' creature types and two 'stabby' creature types. These are slightly varied by Minions and Solos, and that other creature type which is basically half a Solo. Elites.
However, Minions, Elites, and Solos still fall under the ACBS categories, so there's still a 50% chance that one will stab you versus shooting you. This tends to create combat encounters that feel less like actual roleplaying and more like moving pieces on a board or clicking something until it dies. The monster combat 'roles' basically generate a static AI for the DM to run, a set of triggers where trigger A leads to action B, or stimuli C leads to power D. There's an interesting rant on Caffeinated Symposium regarding 3.5 vs 4e, and despite not being too much into TL/DR, the author makes a point about running Kobold encounters, where in prior versions of D&D they were designed to be like guerilla forces, setting traps and using environmental hazards to combat players. However, using just the base Monster Manual rules for Kobolds in 4e, they basically turn into low-level cannon fodder, with certain 'buffed' variations offering a challenge to your beatstick characters. There's slight mention of them setting traps and ambushes, but no hints on how a Kobold trap might function or look; rather, the MM1 spends the rest of its time talking about the combat mechanics of this very non-combat-oriented monster race.
The elimination, or sidelining, of monstrous culture, can definitely have 4e feeling like a video game or even board game, especially with the new variations with distance and area-effect powers. No longer using measurements in inches or feet for powers/weapons, they've started using 5-foot squares as units of measurement, further necessitating the purchase of miniatures (or character tiles). Now, there's nothing wrong with using minis in RPGs; it brings back fond memories of Hero's Quest and Dragonstrike for me, but the appeal for a lot of RPG fans is the ability to sidestep rules in order to facilitate better storytelling.
With the new combat rules, it almost feels like 4e is sidestepping storytelling in order to facilitate a better board game.

2. Combat Powers
Occasionally I think about going back to 4th Edition and running a few games, and what tends to stop me is the absolute glut that is the combat powers system. If anything felt like D&D turning into a MMO, it had to be this new change, where you no longer just hit someone with your sword, you did something 'special' at the same time. At first glance, it seems to be an interesting attempt to add some of the prior versions of D&D's combat feats/abilities to more standardized combat, but in the end it seemed to take on a definite bloat, especially in the bookkeeping aspect of the game. This nightmare of numbers comes from the concept of buffing/nerfing, which a goodly number of powers (and combat mechanics) in 4e have the ability to do. When it takes each player an addition minute each turn to determine their attack bonus because they need to figure out the interactions between flanking, invisibility, power attack, that buff their wizard cast on them, that nerf the enemy controller cast on them, cover, concealment, and any racial/class power they have access to this turn, things get busy really and are hardly ever 100% accurate.
Compound this with the concept of At-Will, Encounter, and Daily powers, and suddenly if you want combat to actually matter or feel difficult in 4th Edition, you have to pace and plot every encounter so that:
a) your players don't have an opportunity to take an 8-hour rest between fights where they just blow dailies and destroy every enemy in the first round of every combat.
b) your players retain an opportunity to heal to full after every encounter, because monsters tend to have equal or more hit points than characters, and they start at full hp at each fight.
c) you don't set up encounters a) and b) in such a way that subsequent ones make it impossible for the weakened characters to win.
Combat powers also have a hand in my next point, which is...

 3. Combat is a Slog
Standard procedure when plotting out a game session in 4e is to set aside an hour for Each. Combat. Encounter.  And that's just in the early game. Once your players start getting utility powers that activate on minor or move actions, suddenly their turns take three times as long, because they have to look up the rules for three different powers. Then, of course, monsters also have powers, and those can also be minor and standard actions. This is in addition to all the calculations of nerfs/buffs, and suddenly that super-easy math for leveling up your characters doesn't mean shit because every other aspect is a math SAT word problem, and seriously? fuck word problems. Fuck them so much.
I mentioned in my last point that if you want to have combat matter, you need to plot out at least two, possibly three, probably more than that combat encounters (especially once you've reached paragon and epic tiers) if you want to keep your players on their toes, because with one combat encounter in a game's day cycle, there's nothing stopping the players from blowing through Dailies on round one (and two, once you reach level 5. And hey, round three at level 10!) That's right, unless you throw a freaking higher-level Solo at them as their only combat encounter for a 24 hour period, they're going to waltz through anything your random encounter table can generate.
This may work well in standard fantasy settings: after all, goblins don't tend to mess with higher-level parties traveling around doing good and all, but what about alternate settings that WotC actually published material forin 4e? What about Dark Sun? EVERYTHING is supposed to be able to kill you in Dark Sun. Plants can kill you in Dark Sun! The fucking SUN is supposed to be able to kill you. There aren't mooks in Dark Sun; when you're traveling around Athas, it's supposed to be a terrifying experience, not knowing if Dune Reapers or Kestrekel or an ID Fiend is waiting for you to walk right into their waiting traps. I ran an Athas campaign that eventually had characters reach level 20, and I had to stop trying to make shit attack them in the desert, because nothing in the Dark Sun Creature Catalog aside from Sorceror Kings or the fucking Dragon could scratch them!
And if you decide to fill an entire day of travel with combat encounters to up the difficulty? Well, that's 3+ hours of combat; for many gaming groups that's their entire session. And treacherous journeys like that can take weeks to traverse. Even with a combat encounter every 3-5 days, that's still about 3-4 sessions of only combat.
Tell me again how 4e is slated toward roleplaying.

4. 4 > 3.5, Because Math
There are indeed advocates for D&D 4th edition, and (very) occasionally I'm one of them. It hasn't even been six months since my last purchase of a 4e core book: the Eberron Campaign setting. I like D&D. They have good worlds, good world-building. Occasionally, I may even take some players through a dungeon crawl.
But that's all I can see doing with 4e. Playing it like an advanced version of Descent, or HeroQuest, or any other dungeon-robbing board game. It's not a viable platform for continued storytelling. Which is probably why I'm converting Dark Sun for playing in another game system. Because Athas deserves a game system where death is always imminent, and it's your wits, rather than massive amounts of hit points, that keep you alive.
I was going to say more in 4e's favor, but I really don't feel like it anymore. If you want to introduce someone to D&D and all you have are the 4th Edition books, go ahead.
But, just so you know: Pathfinder is free.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Comfort Food: Running the Same Game Twice (or More)

Most consumable media is offered with the promise of re-playability.  We listen to music over and over again, we re-watch films.  Re-read favorite books.  Something that rarely happens in the tabletop RPG world is the re-running of games.  There's really not much point to it, after all.  With the exception of tourney or elimination-style games like Tomb of Horrors, most RPG modules are meant to be played once by a group of people and left behind, the experience attained and then progressed past.
But what about GMs?  Before this year(ish), I'd never run a game more than once.  Now, barely a month in, and I've managed to take a second group of players through the iconic Call of Cthulhu scenario "The Haunting," as well as the Quickstart rule scenario "Nightmare at Hill Manor" for the World of Darkness ruleset.

The Haunting (Call of Cthulhu)

I first ran Haunting for a group of three in 2009, I believe, so returning to the story this past December (2013) was a welcome experience, and though I was only barely able to remember some of the details about the first group of investigators, while I ran the most recent game, I found myself recalling some anecdotes about the original run-through.
2009: This game was played live, on the radio, in a two-hour time slot, which meant that I was under constraints to keep things moving as swiftly as possible. This restriction actually served to increase the enjoyment of the game, as players were forced to make more rushed, immediate decisions, rather than spend seemingly-endless minutes vacillating over one choice or another, an especially appropriate attitude to take, as The Haunting is one of Chaosium's faster-paced games already..
As an introductory scenario, I was dealing with new players (and I believe it was also the first game I ever ran in Call of Cthulhu), so there was a very minimal amount of rules introduction, as well as some time coming to terms with the dice rolls. It was through this experience that I eventually started minimizing dice rolls, a practice that has continued to this day, to degrees of varying effectiveness.
The characters: a war-weary Jewish journalist who had seen too much of the Great War to ever be normal again, a 1920s lounge singer, and a professor of Archaeology (or possibly Astronomy) at Miskatonic University, stumbled and scraped their way through the twists and turns of the Corbit house, eventually burning the place to the ground. I'm still trying to piece back the memory of how they accomplished the conflagration, but gasoline was likely involved. This game served as an effective reminder to me for the rest of my GMing career: when one faces something they can't outwit or outfight, they will straight-up light that shit on fire.
2013: Compared to the first time I ran it, this game was played off the air, away from any recording device whatsoever, but again with novice players. Again, the group was small, three players, and they ran with PreGens I'd pulled from the back of Call of Cthulhu's sixth edition core book. A lawyer, a private investigator, and a bored dilettante were approached by a landlord who needed a home inspected. Because I was under no time constraints for this game, I was able to introduce the setting and scenario much more slowly to the players, while allowing them to role play their relationships and establish in-game bonds.
Also, this time no one set anything on fire. Spoilers.
Coming back to the Haunting after three years with BRP enabled me to continue my practice of minimizing dice rolls, and it seemed to engage the players more, especially toward the beginning of the session, where they most needed the freedom to stretch, you might say. What I found interesting was that the action never really slowed down while the characters were in the house, only when they took breathers to investigate more. This difference in kind, you might call it, is a great way of increasing dread for investigators who must once again venture into the unknown. I find it quite appropriate that even the resting periods serve to amplify the tension of horror games, and look forward to experimenting with the concept more in the future.

Nightmare at Hill Manor (World of Darkness)

Comparatively, I ran Hill Manor for two different gaming groups within five days of each other.  This exercise--combined with the proximity of the two sessions--allowed me to learn, if not more about the module itself, about the players and their gaming habits.  One group saw a series of problems as unassailable obstacles that required plot progression to conquer, while the other used out-of-game know-how to defeat them.
As both groups were somewhat new to the World of Darkness ruleset, having them run pregens was en excellent way to get them past the occasional mire of CharGen-though I would never consider CharGen a mire-and move right along to the basic mechanics of the game. I'm growing fonder of pregens and pre-written campaigns as system introductions because it allows players to see a good part of the nuts and bolts of the game system, as well as figure out where they would focus on a character of their own creation. Moving through the narrative, you notice (as both a player and GM) what skill rolls are most important, what attributes are called for most frequently, and you get a feel for how you could tailor your play style to the mechanics, in a basic sense.
I found that returning to both games and game systems turned out to be a fantastic way for myself to grow as a GM, as the variant approaches by my players required me to re-think my methods of running each game.  In the end, though both basically followed the same plot points, each group encountered completely different events leading up to the climax.  The exercise was fantastic for my improvisation, and I'm curious to see where more repeats of previously-run material might take me.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Exercises in Insanity (Or Why You Should Buy Your GM Something Nice. Right Now.)

Being a GM, DM, Marshall, Storyteller, etc is hard work. Probably the hardest job I've ever had, necessitating long hours of research, writing, photoshopping, learning (simplistic) code, drawing, figuring out new gaming systems, and occasionally standing in the shower for seventeen extra minutes staring blankly at the slightly grimy white tiles because I need to figure out how to make something in my games work just right.
What's even worse about all this prep is that, for the most part, 90% of what you do will never be seen by characters. It's the curse of over-preparedness. Running a World of Darkness sandbox-ish style game, I have two hundred named NPCs in the background of the world. Fifty businesses, a hundred street names. All for a fictional city in central coastal California. I have an enormous, half-finished post-it map taking up an entire corner of my apartment. A smaller version sits a few feet away from it, holding Sharpie markers for when I have the time to add more.
Oh, why don't I have more time to add to the map? Why, because I'm making a BRP system conversion of 2e AD&D Dark Sun, which will see at most a half-dozen sessions in the next calendar year. Or perhaps it's because I'm learning the Savage Worlds system so that I can run Savage Fallout, because fuck you Fallout is amazing. Actually, it's because like a crazy person I'm already mapping out both Dark Sun and Fallout games with Fog-of-War style effects to enable my eventual players to have an open-world experience, which translates to a few hours of time in Photoshop trying to make hex grids fit a pre-drawn official WotC map.

Or overlaying google maps of Southern California on top of geological figure maps that can represent a wasteland that's been ravaged by global nuclear war, and then figuring out that a good portion of the original game maps took interesting liberties with the spacial organization between Mt. Whitney, Bakersfield, and wherever the hell Vault 15 was supposed to be.

Twenty years of cRPGs are telling me that Vault 13, the NCR and Vault 15 are supposed to be in a straight horizontal line. And because this is in photoshop, perhaps they will eventually be. However, the above image is just a small part of the playable areas of Fallouts 1 and 2. I've added Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and Colorado to the playable areas, so I'm in the process of generating lore for them based off 1950s locations and perceptions. The likelihood is that players won't even get to the edge of the map, unless they really want to.
If this sounds like complaining, and it probably does, it's not really complaining. It's something I do because I enjoy WorldBuilding as much or more than I do CharGenning. And chances are, if you play in an ongoing game, you know how much work your GM does to prep for you each week, whether through constant updates to an Obsidian Portal site, or an active email correspondence with each player when they have questions.
We do this because it's what we love doing. But do you know what we also love?
Cake. Or Pie. Pizza. Or Donuts.
Or Miniatures. New dice.
Gifts. We love being appreciated.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Expanded Thoughts: Unabashed Gaming Ep. 6 (Part 2) it's been ages since I posted the last blog about Unabashed Gaming episode 6. Regardless, here is part 2 of a potential 4-part series, pros and cons of running published material vs. home-written: Cons of Running Published Material.
1. Free Scenarios: Quality Not Assured
Specifically, those not included with paid material. Stuff you find on forums, or even included with quickstart rules...those are generally meant to go from concept to published within a matter of weeks to months, depending on who's writing the thing.  The sad result is that an adventure can be incoherent, unbalanced, poorly-written, or all of the above.
This can result in you spending more time trying to fix things so that players don’t get confused, which means less time to read the scenario for mood/theme and get familiar with it in that sense.  Having to fix someone else's work is also a wonderful way to get utterly sick of a concept before you even get a chance to bring it to the table.
2. Less Room for Improvisation
This is really more of a hindrance to new GMs who may view pre-written material as sacrosanct (Hint: Nothing is so good that a nice round of ad-libbing can't make it better). However, there is the perception that once something has been bound in a .pdf or a softcover booklet that it's complete. This is an incorrect assumption, because your players will always want to do something that is not written down.
3. Potential Cheat Factor
Obviously this is an issue no one wants to really think about, but it's still one that you definitely don't want to deal with. Regardless, it's still the truth that with published scenarios, you’re playing something that unscrupulous players can also get their hands on, allowing them to game the system/story.  It's not an issue I've ever encountered, but then again I tend to run home-written stuff for the majority of my GM life.
Hopefully you’ve managed to weed out those assholes by now, if you've ever encountered any.
4. A Dearth of Story
Shorter scenarios have very little story to them, for players that thrive on plot and intrigue, it’s definitely not for them. This leaves it up to you, the GM to create the driving plot as it pertains to the storyteller PCs. At the same time, most pre-written campaigns are made so that players can insert any number of 'genned characters in without adversely affecting the plot.
This will occasionally leave players without an in-game hook to keep pursuing the plot, especially if you're just reading and following along as they are, and not adding a bit of your own spice to the game.
5. Overstaying One's Welcome
Everyone's had to deal with interest drain at some point in campaigns. Either the plot isn't moving as swiftly or in a direction you're engaged with, or perhaps the players have been losing interest in their characters' stories. Perhaps its a combination of a multitude of factors, and the end result is you're looking at sixteen more sessions of written material while players start looking towards new systems or campaigns.
It's easy to get stuck in this kind of rut, especially with ambitiously long pre-written scenarios. The important thing to remember is you can drop a game at any time or, with enough creativity, find a way to end it in a few sessions. Just don't get stuck in a bad relationship with a pre-written game, because your players deserve better than that.