Tuesday, August 10, 2021

RPGaDay 2021 #5 Throne

 The idea of putting the players in charge of some piece of the setting is an interesting one, though one I haven't really explored. That doesn't mean that it's not on my list.

Back when I was running my megadungeon campaign, it was something that I knew was on the horizon. While it would be easy to assume that a megadungeon campaign would consist of "dungeons all the way down," the fact that I had lucked into recruiting an authentic Old School player meant that the idea of hitting "name level" was going to come with certain expectations. (One of the other issues with Old School play actually prevented this from coming to pass. Progression is really slow, so none of the characters made it to "name level" by the time everything fell apart.)

But the idea of it stuck in my brain and is one of the big ideas of my current campaign. The map is blank and the world is new, so any nation that exists would have to be run by a PC. I'd go into depth, but I'm running a little behind. Maybe it'll come up later.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

RPGaDay 2021 #4 Reward

 Again using one of the alternate prompts. Since I talked about Risk yesterday, it seemed appropriate to tackle Reward today.

You can learn a lot about what a game is about by what activities it is set up to reward.

This is something that I thought long and hard about when I designed my own game, Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. Oz Points, the game's rewards, are granted when characters help others.

Monsterhearts takes an opposite tack, offering Strings (influence over other characters) to characters who are monstrous to other people. Experience points come from failed rolls, so action is favored over inaction, with a few character types having access to Moves that offered XP for indulging in certain shocking or grotesque activities.

Some games are very neutral about their rewards, offering XP for participation and Drama Points for making the GM laugh. A lot of generic systems are like this, such as Savage Worlds or GURPS.

 And then there are the games that don't really stick the landing on what their incentive structure is. I'm going to stick D&D in this camp.

In the original game, it had a very good reward structure. Some XP was offered for monster kills (not defeats. Kills) but most of it came from treasure. Early D&D was a game of treasure hunting, first and foremost, which rewarded cleverness and creativity. Combat was less rewarded, and more likely to kill your character, so should be avoided.

Unfortunately, like many rules in early D&D, this was poorly explained, and people didn't use it much. So around the time of AD&D 2nd edition, the decision was made to remove the rule and simultaneously increase monster XP to compensate. Which totally screwed up the reward system for the game.

Now combat became the most rewarded activity. Which not only clashed with the treasure hunter/heist style of play of the early games, but also with the emerging story-based focus that I complained about yesterday. People who actually played the game the way the books said would be rewarded found themselves clashing with a more story-oriented table culture.

Am I really defending munchkinism? Not really. Just pointing out that in a different game, with a more thought-out reward structure, "playing to win" and "playing for story" are not opposed values and can, in fact, harmonize.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

RPGaDay 2021 #3 Risk

 The main prompt is Tactic, but I'm taking one of the alternative prompts today. Because I think Risk is important and it gets short shrift these days.

One of the downsides of the emphasis on "stories" in RPGs is that they've become very safe. The priority is telling a satisfying story, so anything that derails that narrative or keeps the story from being narratively satisfying is to be avoided. So risks are minimized. "Nobody likes having their character die to the second orc in the dungeon," they say, and GMs are encouraged to move heaven and earth (very easy when your the GM and in control of the universe) to prevent it.

I disagree with this.

I believe that risk, and it's companion, loss, are important, because they make any eventual success that much sweeter. There are GMs who will tell you that they're very good at making a session feel like a knuckle-biter even though it's not. But why go through the effort when you could have the session be a real knuckle-biter?

It's one of the reasons that I love player-driven sandboxes. The story is theirs to create, not mine to dictate. A character absolutely can die to the second orc in the dungeon. It's not likely, but it's not my job to prevent it from happening.

While something like character death is one potential risk factor, it's not the only one. It should be possible for the characters to fail in their missions. There should exist the possibility that they won't be able to defeat the goblins, save the princess, or defeat the necromancer. Sometimes, what's behind a secret door is going to remain a secret.

That also creates a pressure to up your game that continually assuming a narratively satisfying victory doesn't. If the necromancer has a chance of winning, now you have to figure out what that victory could look like. And that opens up possibilities that a paper-thin mustache-twirling villain just can't.

Monday, August 2, 2021

RPGaDay 2021 #2 Map

 One thing that I have a really hard time creating is maps.Which is a challenge, because I am having this love affair with sandbox style gaming right now (It's been about a decade, who am I kidding?).

My current (on hiatus) campaign is very heavily map focused. But right now, it's a pretty blank map. Some randomly generated geography and little else. The setup is that the world is very new and the PCs are there to explore and tame it.

Since this is a D&D game, there are dungeons, so on top of that blank, still to be explored overland map, there are smaller dungeon maps.

The downside of this is that the stretch of campaign that I have run so far has been on Roll20 (because pandemic), and it has not been easy importing all of those maps. It actually got sufficiently annoying that I stopped trying to simply import them and took to reconstructing them using Roll20's own map tools. That's one of the reasons the campaign is currently on hiatus.

I'm looking forward to getting to the point where the players have explored and made their own mark on the map. But that is in the future.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

RPGaDay 2021 #1 Scenario

 Like some sort of nerdy groundhog, I emerge once again to try to tackle the annual RPGaDay blogfest. Let's see how long it takes me to see my shadow and hide out for another year.

The first prompt this year is Scenario.

"Scenario" has a couple of meanings. The most common definition is an outline of a plot, so it's very natural that it would be used in the gaming hobby as one of many synonyms for "adventure." But scenario can also mean a potential or expected sequence of events, which is actually closer to how I build adventures when I run a game.

It's common to think of RPG adventures as semi-scripted plots that your characters get to star in. Many modern adventures are written with that sort of thinking. They are relatively linear stories where taking this action leads to this place where this happens.

But my own process is rather different. Like I said, it's closer to that second definition of "scenario:" an expected sequence of future events. This typically means that I write the story of the villains/antagonists of the story. I decide on their goals and methods, then I try to find a thread that I can place in the PCs hands that can unravel the whole thing if they follow it.

One of my "Laws of Gaming" is that "The story that comes out of a session is more important than the story that goes into it." Having the story that goes into the session be about people other than the characters reinforces this nicely.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

RPGaDay 2020 # 18 Investigate

The last investigative RPG I ran was called InSpectres. I'm sure I've written about it on the blog before. It's a fun, light little horror comedy game that I like to run in coffee shops.

This was back in March, right around when the pandemic was picking up steam. But it was Friday the 13th, and it had to be acknowledged in some way. I posted the event on my Meetup group and got two players.

One of the things that I have always appreciated about InSpectres is that players will never get stuck on a mystery or fail to find a clue. Every die roll has a chance of contributing to the ultimate goal. One of the players that I got was actually experienced with the system and helped me see a few more kernels of genius in the design.

Action is always better than inaction. This one is sort of obvious. It's what I've always said about the game, but from a slightly different perspective. Since every roll can contribute to the completion of the story, it is in the players' best interest to make as many rolls as possible. This was highlighted in this particular session, as the other player, who didn't have experience with the system, was generally more passive. I tried to check in with him a few times to make sure that he was engaged.

The other thing is the reason why the players get to generate the clues that they find. On the surface level, it ensures that the clues you discover make sense in the context of where you found them. If the GM constructed the mystery and handed out clues as you made successful die rolls, it would seem very strange if you found the secret love note in the bathroom, or inspired a confession with a pratfall. By letting the players construct the mystery on the fly, you also ensure that every clue is actionable. Rather than discovering a hair sample that they need to take to the lab to have analyzed, or something obscure that has to wait for another clue to emerge to make sense, the players can hand themselves information that pushes the action forward.

My love for that game grew even stronger after that experience.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

RPGaDay 2020 #17 Tower

 As a lifer GM, it might seem that I am in a tower of sorts, lording my ability to run games over all the mere players beneath me. But that's not really true.

You see, I've long held the belief that GMs are players, too. I'm not there to be all-powerful enforcer of plot. I'm there to present the players with a situation and see how they respond to it. And that's fun to me. That's how I get my entertainment. I'm a player, there to have fun, just like every other person at the table.

I'm finding that games where I plot less tend to bring me out of that tower and more into the player realm. I still do lots of prep, but it's fleshing out the world and making sure that I'm ready for what the players try to do rather than crafting a set of hoops for them to jump through (or avoid). But without a set plot, I'm not trying to corral the players or push them in a specific direction. There's no need to be heavy handed. I'm just as much a participant of what unfolds as the players are.

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