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Posts Tagged ‘D&D’

At the moment, I’m really enjoying the 2 GMs 1 Mic podcast (www.2GMs1Mic.com).  The main segments are a bit hit-and-miss, but the regular segment Favourite Game Of The Week is a great way to hear about other role-playing games from some very enthusiastic reviewers.  They cover three new games every week; as a result, the list of RPGs that I want to buy, read and play is growing at an impossible rate.  The only solution is that I’m going to have to retire now and dedicate my life to gaming.  My first task is to find out which game comes in the biggest cardboard box, so I can live in it.

Their Currently Playing segments are also interesting, as they deconstruct their latest play sessions (actual play).  Like me, they’re in a couple of different gaming groups and that switch game systems very regularly.  Currently Playing is a great chance to get an in-depth look at games that I haven’t played yet, and to get other gamers’ perspectives on games that I have.  I’m still trying to understand why they like Dresden Files so much (I’ll gripe about Dresden in another post).

Since my main gaming group is having some extreme problems with scheduling at the moment (there’s real life interfering with gaming again), listening to 2 GMs 1 Mic and Ken And Robin Talk About Stuff comprises just about all my “gaming” right now. *sigh*

Also, I made an interesting connection recently.  I was introduced (virtually) to a friend of a friend of a friend, because we’re both big gamer-heads.  Sky Roy thinks a lot about what makes games work (or not work), and writes about it on his gamer blog, Bright Cape Gamer.  He has also put his learnings into practice and written his own fantasy RPG that fixes some of his biggest peeves about D&D and similar games.  The game (in beta), and the reasons for its existence, can be read here: Heroes By Trade.  Feedback and AP are welcome.  I’m really looking forward to reading the beta (and maybe playing it), but haven’t started yet, because these days my free time seems to come in 10-minute chunks, and trying to grok a game that way is frustrating.  I’ll wait til I can dedicate a couple of hours to it.  Meanwhile, I’ve been reading his blog, and I think that he’s my kind of gamer.

So in short, while I’m not gaming, I’m consuming blogs and podcasts that make me want to game more than ever.  It’s like being lost in the desert and reading foodie magazines.  Hope you’re having better luck!

-J

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What would you name a rock band made up of fantasy-RPG players?

  • Beauty Is In The Beholder
    • (artwork of a beholder, smiling, with princess legs sticking out of mouth)
  • Saving Throw (does this sound like “Christian rock”?)
  • Critical Hit
  • Natural 20
  • Random Encounter
  • Wandering Monster
  • Tarrasque (for a very heavy sound)
  • Dungeon Master (but “Düngeonmæstr would be more metal” -Peter)

Thanks to Peter, Mike and Ry for playing along!

\m/ (o_0) \m/

-J

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Tyrant or Chef?

Ryan is starting a new D&D campaign, and he has specified that only certain character races and classes are allowed.  This has bothered some potential players, I think.  Is Ryan just power-tripping, is this the sign of a tyranical DM?

I say no.

There is so much content out there for the D&D game that it really can be all genres to all people.  But if ALL of the source material is allowed into one game, then you don’t have a genre, you have a melting pot.  Should ninjas and cowboys be in the same fictional world?  Sure, sounds like fun!  A lot of great stories and games have come out of mixing genres (classic pirate fiction + voodoo = Pirates of the Caribbean).  But what do you get if you mix ninjas, cowboys, elves, dwarves, swordsmen, barbarians, catburglars, britons, saxons, wizards, summoners, ghost-busters and half-dragons?  You get a senseless mess.

In order to develop a unique and interesting game world, the genre or contents of the setting have to be well defined.  In some games, that definition is a consensus decision by the group.  Sometimes it is done by one person who says “guys, I have a neat idea I want to try out.”  However the decision is made, the fact remains that a well-defined game world with a clear identity is a springboard for unique and interesting adventures.

It is absolutely appropriate for any D&D game to include some source books and game elements (races, classes, etc), and exclude the rest.  In the case of Ryan’s new campaign, an open-concept game with a potential audience of over 300 players, a consensus decision is just not possible.  The DM is offering up his particular vision for any and all players who wish to explore it.

I see a DM with a strong vision as less like a tyrant, more like a chef.  The house salad comes with a sesame-orange vinaigrette, no you can’t have creamy Caesar.  Why not?  Because you came here to explore the chef’s vision, not to eat like you do at home.  Try something new, you might like it!

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The Indiana Jones movies I hold up as excellent adventure stories.  In my games, I strive to capture the excitement and exotic thrills of those movies.  But on the other hand, Raiders of the Lost Ark (the first movie, as if I have to tell you) sounds like an example of the ultimate cliché gamer-porn plot: “retrieve the magic item.”  You know, find the all-powerful ring, the wizard’s staff, the lost spellbook, the orb that will save the kingdom, etc.  It’s been done a million times.  Why does it work so spectacularly in Indiana Jones?

The important difference, i think, is as follows:

Gamer porn: The heroes learn of the magic item,its fearsome guardian, and the castle or dungeon in which it is held.  The item serves to launch the heroes towards a predetermined series of challenges (rooms, monsters, traps, puzzles, guards).  If the heroes can best all the challenges, they retrieve the magic item.

Great story: The heroes set out to retrieve the item.  They may know that two or three steps will be required (get the amulet that deciphers the cryptic directions, find the map-room, then dig up the Ark), but they are surprised to encounter several additional challenges, set-backs and complications (the Nazis are looking for the Ark too; Marion is kidnapped; the Nazis find the Ark first; Indy and Marion are burried alive with a million snakes; the Ark is transported to some tropical island; the Nazis plan to open the Ark; etc.).  At every step, the heroes think they are one step away from achieving their goal; but then they fail or are thwarted, and learn valuable new information about the situation and the antagonists.  A new plan is formed, and they move forward.  At no point do the heroes say “only 17 more rooms full of monsters til we get to the Ark!”

I want to create RPG adventures that engage and thrill in the same way that the best adventure stories do.  Here I think are the important elements that have to be included:

  • the players plan for some logical steps to achieve their goal, but have little information about the big picture, their foe and the extent of his power and schemes;
  • the players meet with several unexpected set-backs and complications*; after each one, they must integrate new information into their understanding of the big picture, then form a new plan as to how to move forward; new decisions are required.

* A word about “progress.” Players must always feel like they have made progress in a session, else frustration quickly follows.  A set-back can still give a feeling of progress if “it could have been worse” but for the players’ quick thinking, and if this minor defeat furnished important new information, and/or if the players were able to eliminate an important resource or lieutenant of the evil mastermind, or similar minor victory.  Despite set-back after set-back, the players must feel that they are getting ever closer to the evil foe’s coat tails.  Credit to David for first voicing this key concept for me.

Oh, adventure design was so easy up ’til now.  String together a series of rooms with monsters and other level-appropriate challenges, and sprinkle liberally with treasure.  But Great-Story-Adventure design seems harder; or at least, I don’t have the big picture yet.  I predict some set-backs and hard lessons.  How can I PLAN a series of cool action scenes, but still give the players a chance to decide after each scene what to do next?

Shall we coin a new acronym?  GSA, for “Great Story Adventure”?  I want to develop a method for GSA design and execution.

Next time: can a published D&D adventure be successfully converted into a GSA?  How??   More to come.

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Those of you gentle readers who played Dungeons & Dragons back in the early days will remember the D&D Basic Set, now affectionately known as the “red box set.”   It was a box full of dreams, of stories of daring acts and spectacular action.  The rules were simple and the posibilities were limitless.  Since those days, the game has evolved and grown rapidly, and the complexity of the rules has increased a hundredfold.  D&D has become very good at a certain type of game play, but it has also spawned a diverse new industry that encompasses much more than what D&D itself does well.
As D&D grew, my gamer friends and I came right along with it.  Every new character class, fantasy setting, monster and magic item added to our universe, our playground for heroic adventures.  But we reached a point where adding further details just felt like subdividing the same pie, where more rules and options just added to the burden of things that we had to memorize in order to play.  And we had certainly noticed that our games were increasingly made up of one activity more than any other: combat.
D&D is a great simulator of combat, not only by medieval arms and armour but by a wide variety of weapons, tactics, magic and extraordinary abilities.  A well crafted fantasy combat encounter is a deliciously complex tactical challenge.  I do not mean to diminish the fun of playing out a high-stakes fight scene with an abominable monster or ruthless villain.  But after a decade or so of vanquishing evil and taking the spoils, some of us started to feel that something was missing.  Our “character sheets” had ballooned to four pages – plus equipment and spell lists.  As we had followed the bleeding edge of this game, what had we lost?
One of us labeled what we were looking for as “role-playing,” another “realism.”  We modified our play to add more character development, more dramatics at the table, more twisted plots.  Our game play continued to get slower and more laborious, and those character interaction scenes seemed to do nothing to mitigate the monumental armed conflicts.  Nothing changed the fact that the object of the game was to kill bad guys and take their stuff.
Then I discovered story gaming.  I know, I’m arriving late to the party, but at least I’m arriving.  Story games dispense with the byzantine rules sets that simulate every detail of physical (and magical) conflict, and allow the narrative to come forward into the spotlight.  The question of whether a character can defeat an opponent is less important than the story of which that conflict is a part.  Where tactical games proceed on dice rolls and health points, story games proceed on discussions and consensus.  Where the tactical gamer is rewarded with better in-game equipment and new powers, the story gamer is rewarded by the pleased reactions of his peers as he contributes to a story well told.
Story games are fun, but I still want that tactical challenge, too.  I LIKE rolling dice.  Now I’m working on taking what I’ve learned from story games and making my D&D better.  This blog will be a living document, a repository of my realizations and new plans for gaming.  I have to organize my thoughts somewhere, I might as well do it here.  Your comments and suggestions are more than welcome!

Those of you gentle readers who played Dungeons & Dragons back in the early days will remember the D&D Basic Set, now affectionately known as the “red box set.”   It was a box full of dreams, of stories of daring acts and spectacular action.  The rules were simple and the posibilities were limitless.  Since those days, the game has evolved and grown rapidly, and the complexity of the rules has increased a hundredfold.  D&D has become very good at a certain type of game play, but it has also spawned a diverse new industry that encompasses much more than what D&D itself does well.

As D&D grew, my gamer friends and I came right along with it.  Every new character class, fantasy setting, monster and magic item added to our universe, our playground for heroic adventures.  But we reached a point where adding further details just felt like subdividing the same pie, where more rules and options just added to the burden of things that we had to memorize in order to play.  And we had certainly noticed that our games were increasingly made up of one activity more than any other: combat.

D&D is a great simulator of combat, not only by medieval arms and armour but by a wide variety of weapons, tactics, magic and extraordinary abilities.  A well crafted fantasy combat encounter is a deliciously complex tactical challenge.  I do not mean to diminish the fun of playing out a high-stakes fight scene with an abominable monster or ruthless villain.  But after a decade or so of vanquishing evil and taking the spoils, some of us started to feel that something was missing.  Our “character sheets” had ballooned to four pages – plus equipment and spell lists.  As we had followed the bleeding edge of this game, what had we lost?

One of us labeled what we were looking for as “role-playing,” another “realism.”  We modified our play to add more character development, more dramatics at the table, more twisted plots.  Our game play continued to get slower and more laborious, and those character interaction scenes seemed to do nothing to mitigate the monumental armed conflicts.  Nothing changed the fact that the object of the game was to kill bad guys and take their stuff.

Then I discovered story gaming.  I know, I’m arriving late to the party, but at least I’m arriving.  Story games dispense with the byzantine rules sets that simulate every detail of physical (and magical) conflict, and allow the narrative to come forward into the spotlight.  The question of whether a character can defeat an opponent is less important than the story of which that conflict is a part.  Where tactical games proceed on dice rolls and health points, story games proceed on discussions and consensus.  Where the tactical gamer is rewarded with better in-game equipment and new powers, the story gamer is rewarded by the pleased reactions of his peers as he contributes to a story well told.

Story games are fun, but I still want that tactical challenge, too.  I LIKE rolling dice.  Now I’m working on taking what I’ve learned from story games and making my D&D better.  This blog will be a living document, a repository of my realizations and new plans for gaming.  I have to organize my thoughts somewhere, I might as well do it in public.  Your comments, suggestions and tales of gaming are more than welcome!

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