October 30, 2012

Halloween is for RPG Players

I call Halloween the Beast Holiday (from the Beauty and the Beast TV series). It's the holiday that the Beast could freely walk around without being bothered. And it is much the same for us who play role-playing games.

This is especially poignant for me as I play LARPs (live-action-role-playing) almost every weekend. There are often times when we'll hit a restaurant after one of our events and most of us will still be dressed as our characters (or NPC monsters - makeup is hard to get off). Most of the year we get second and third looks...and sometimes negative comments. However, during the Halloween season we get positive comments about how good our costumes look; people are not surprised by how we are dressed.

This also works for tabletop rpg players. It's the holiday where pretending you are a fierce warrior or clever mage is acceptable. People understand the desire to be something else, to be heroic. Carrying around an rpg game book is not frowned upon as it may be during other times of the year. Halloween is a commonality between rpg players and those who are not gamers.

October 23, 2012

Modern Day Pickpocket

Recently I was thinking about what "normal" people carry in our modern-day. Suppose someone "rolled" a person or picked their pocket, what can they find?

1) Aspirin
2) Backpack
3) Book (fiction)
4) Book (non-fiction)
5) Bottle opener
6) Camera
7) Candy
8) Cellphone
9) Change
10) Comb
11) Compact mirror
12) E-reader
13) Gun
14) Handkerchief
15) Headphones
16) Jewelry 
17) Keys
18) Laptop computer
19) Lighter
20) Lip balm
21) Music device 
22) Pack of chewing gum
23) Pen and paper
24) Penlight
25) Pocket knife
26) Snack bars
27) Sunglasses
28) Wallet w/cards
29) Watch
30) Whistle

October 18, 2012

Extra Life - Charity Through Gaming

While this is only tangentially connected to rpgs (there are some video games games based on rpgs), this is about a friend of mine who is part of a charity drive that will be video playing games for 24 hours straight. Basically its like sponsoring someone for a marathon, only he'll be playing games instead of running. A person donates a certain amount of money and they can watch him as he plays. At the end he is even giving a free Steam game as a raffle prize to those who donated.

His chosen charity is Boston Children's Hospital. He will be doing this starting on the 20th, so if you want to help out you'll have to do so now. For more information, you can check it out here.

October 16, 2012

Players and DMs vs Settings

Not all game settings are created equal, this we all know. However, some bring an added level of complexity that goes beyond simple personal preference. Some settings require more from the players or more from the DM than your "typical" setting. I have a few examples of what I am talking about; to best illustrate we'll be looking at some of the 2E settings, specifically Birthright, Dark Sun, Ravenloft and Al Qadim. They all use the same core ruleset (2E D&D) but the settings themselves and their approaches are all different from each other.

I view this setting as fairly "typical". If you've played any other sort of D&D this setting is easy to get into. It does not require much from a player or DM other than some different rules for the entire domain/blooded actions. It does not require the players to play any differently or the DM to run things in any different sort of manner. If they had played Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms before coming to Birthright they would not have to alter their play at all.

Dark Sun
This is very similar to Birthright. The players can play it and the DM can run it much the same as any "typical" setting. The only slight difference is the scale of character level and their abilities and the lethality of the setting that can take some getting used to. When the Dark Sun setting came out it changed the perceptions of character ability and danger, but ultimately it can easily be run as any other setting without diluting the setting. It is more about getting used to the setting as opposed to requiring anything special from the players or DM. 

Here we start to diverge from the "typical" setting. Ravenloft is designed to be a "horror" setting. And this requires more from a DM than the "typical" setting. If a DM were to run Ravenloft as they would any other setting the goal of Ravenloft is lost. The setting requires more from a DM than other settings. For myself, I know I can not run Ravenloft effectively. I am not good at subtle hints of danger or a slow build up of fear and terror until it reaches an explosive climax. Therefore, I would be a terrible DM for a game in the Ravenloft setting. Ravenloft requires a DM that can bring these skills to the table. To do otherwise negates the goals of the setting. Ravenloft requires a skilled DM.

Al Qadim
This setting is all about a culture. It is probably the most intensive setting that D&D has ever produced when it comes to providing a cultural setting. It is full of grand and small mythology (as seen in the stories told throughout all its source material). It is full of cultural mores and ways of interacting with other beings. And it is these expansive cultural references that require the players to play "properly" in order to make effective use of the setting. As an example, the setting sets up bounds of how a person acts when confronted with a stranger at their home; in this case it is to provide aid and comfort to the stranger at their door. In a "typical" approach to such a situation the player characters will often simply kill the stranger and take their stuff. The culture puts restrictions upon the player characters that the players first need to know about and then embrace. To not do so negates what the setting is about and turns it into something else; at that point they might as well be playing another setting. Al Qadim requires skilled players.

Can you think of any other settings that require more from the players or DM then the "typical" setting?

October 9, 2012

New ENWorld Column

A short while ago ENWorld began looking for some more columnists. The goal is for ENWorld to provide daily content throughout the week. I put in a sample piece that takes a weekly look at the PDF market. ENWorld acepted the concept and the first article went live today.

Will the weekly series stay up on ENWorld? Who knows, that really depends on how many people read it and like it (and how interesting I make it).

You can check it out here.

The Dice Must Learn

Many of us have our own peculiarities when it comes to dice and die rolling. I wanted to pass along what one of my players once did in the past. Some may find it borders on the edge of eccentric unto the bizarre, but I find it amusing nevertheless.

Mike was having a bad night of die rolling, really bad. Now Mike actually usually has bad luck with die rolling, but this night it was too much for him. The game concluded and he went home...and went straight to the shed. He opened up his dice bag and set all his dice in a circle...around the vice. This was so they could all "see" what was about to happen. He then took the offending d20 and put it in the vise, and turned and turned and turned until the die shattered.

That was horrible enough but then he carefully picked up the pieces and put them into a small, clear container. And now whenever he starts to roll bad he brings out the container and places it near the dice he is rolling that night...as a reminder of what could happen to each of them.

Have you ever done anything similar or extreme with your dice?

October 5, 2012

5E Friday

-Stealing WotC's Thunder
When news of 5E was released to the media it was a big thing. While it hit the mainstream outlets, it really had its impact within the forums and blogs that follow our niche hobby. There was various speculation, both hopeful and fearful, as well as people who felt the need to write that they had no interest (which seems contrary). 5E was a big thing. And now WotC has stated they expect 5E to be released in 2014, two years from now. That is a lot of lead up time. A lot of time for the enthusiasm to wane.

And there are plenty of other companies and games ready to step up and steal the thunder.

13th Age is currently in closed testing and generating a buzz all its own. The Kickstarter for its first expansion made over twice it's goal and this is for an expansion for the core rules which aren't even out yet. There is a positive feedback on 13th Age that is stealing some of the excitement of 5E.

Fantasy Flight Games has released a playtest for a license many gamers have been eagerly waiting for...a Star Wars rpg. While they have received some criticism for charging for the playtest materials, it still has a buzz among fans of the setting. This buzz will continue to grow as the release date gets closer; in fact, it is likely to release before 5E.

The newest set of excitement is with the venerable Rolemaster system. They have released two playtest documents (Character Law and Spell Law) with more to follow. They readily admit they are doing this to generate interest in their system and thus far it looks like it is working. They are also looking at a publish date of less than 6 months, which means this will give gamers something other than 5E to take a look at.

Who is to say what other new products will come out in the next two years. The OSR continues to chug along just fine and there are other companies looking to make their own marks in the rpg industry. We can see with the initial excitement WotC generated with their 5E playtest, there are now others stealing their thunder with their own playtests. Will it diminish WotC's own goals with 5E? Time will tell, but the longer the 5E playtest goes on, the more "distractions" there will be.

October 2, 2012

The Myth of Character Death

One of the rallying cries of the OSR, and old-time gamers in general, is the subject of lethality in a game. They state that the fear of death, and the actual killing of characters, adds a layer to an rpg game that more modern games have lost sight of. I'm not so sure that adding lethality really creates what they are looking for; I am starting to think that Lethality and Character Death are a myth.

When Lethality and the fear of Character Death is working correctly, a player makes decisions for their characters based on this knowledge or fear. They are more careful with their characters; they "prepare" better. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, the player has his character act "irrationally" or in role-playing terms "heroically". And this is because Lethality is a myth.

When a character dies, the player does not have to stop playing in that campaign. Instead they simply roll up  a new character. Sometimes, the DM will even go out of their way to provide that new character with ties to the dead character or at the very least with the other members of the adventuring party; all done in the name of easier integration into the campaign. The player is not even constrained in what type of character their new one will be; if they want, they can go ahead and create another dwarven thief. There is no real penalty for having a character die.

Even if a "hardcore" DM forces a new character to begin at starting level, without any of the magic items or other materials of an advanced character, the new character will be coddled by the higher level characters. The DM will avoid targeting the new character with attacks that can one-shot the new character while only lightly injuring one of the advanced characters. Play will be altered until such a time as the new character "catches" up to the rest of the party.

I had one campaign wherein the party was surrounded and outnumbered three-to-one. The enemy had weapons that could kill with one shot as the party already knew as they had seen the enemy use these weapons before. And yet when the party was asked to surrender, one of them went all "heroic" and tried to fight his way out...with the expected result of character death. If there was a real fear of character death, the "smart" thing would have been to surrender and work on an escape later. But there was no real fear of character death because the player knew he could simply roll up another character and continue on with the campaign.

I am currently working on a game setting that is a closed world. It is a lost worlds series of adventure wherein the only characters are the initial ones. Transition to and from this world is virtually non-existent. As I am working on the design I had to ask myself, what happens when a character dies? The normal response is to simply bring in another character. But then I also realized that be allowing this, it completely undermines the core concept of being lost and alone in a strange world with no one to rely on except themselves. If a character does something "stupid", like charge a dinosaur with a spear, then that character should die. But by allowing the player to simply roll up a new character it diminishes the fact the player made a "foolish" character decision with their last character.

Part of me wants to not allow the player to roll up a new character. If a character dies, then the player must suffer the consequences of his poor judgement and must sit out the rest of the campaign. Now that would put a real edge on playing their characters. If that was the rule, players would play things much more carefully; every decision would be weighed and be of the utmost importance; game play would reach a new height of intensity. But, of course, that is not a real option. My group plays together because we like hanging out together and the rules we pick to play with facilitate this.

However, players are able to completely ignore the concept of lethality and character death because they are allowed roll up another character to take the place of the previous character. Players are allowed to make "foolish" decisions and ignore the "reality" of a situation because they are allowed roll up another character and continue on as before. Lethality and the Fear of Character Death are a myth.