Nov 112013
 

The Marvel Comics way that I’m referring to is in fact pretty old news at this point, but in how it pertains to the way campaign worlds can be managed, I think it still has some relevance. You see, way back in the dim and distant, DC comics was an unstoppable juggernaut, crushing everything in their path, but they would tell stories about their main stable of characters in a way that would seem odd today. The Batman who appeared in Detective Comics, for instance, was not the same Batman who was in the Justice League, or who joined forces with Superman in the Brave and the Bold. Each comic book line was in fact  self contained universe, with no need for anyone who wanted to read them to have to pick up a bunch of ancillary comic books to get the full story.

Then Marvel comes along, and decides to do things a bit different. First, they did away with the idea of fictional cities as homes for their heroes. I’m not saying that they’ve never made somewhere up, but they certainly didn’t go to the lengths of creating Metropolises and Gotham Cities, just to give a main character their own distinct playground. They set their stories in the real world, mainly new York, and this gave the readers something they could recognise. It’s true that Gotham is a distinctive city to the legions of Bat-fans out there, but not so much as the New York skyline is.

This is part of one of my idea; don’t worry too much about making up towns and cities if you’re setting your game in the real world, either historically, contemporaneously or even in the future. When it comes to the past, there are countless online and real world resources out there to flesh out a city that actually exists, and although the research time will need to be spent, it will be probably be quicker than making an entire working city from scratch. At least in my experience. Your players can also do their own research, and although you may have had to change a few details to make your plot work, it will give them the chance to get under the skin of your setting a lot more than they could do if it only exists in your head.

The second thing they did differently, and this eventually had an impact on DC, and lead to them running the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline, was that all of their heroes, be they mutants, superheroes, or masked vigilantes, all existed in the same universe. This meant that Spiderman could tangle with the Punisher, and the X-men, if you wanted to get totally crazy, could battle the Avengers. Although this spawned one of comic book’s greatest travesties – the multi-comic title crossover event – it meant that consequences could be felt throughout the entire marvel universe, because of the actions of one hero/villain.

I know that most of the awesome GMs out there on blogs and forums already have a pretty good handle on the way that consequences of actions should affect the game world, and the characters within in, but I thought I’d try and go a bit further with that today. Like at least a few others out there, I have a couple of favourite settings that I keep going back to. One of which I am revisiting for the first time in many years the next time I GM, and the other is a lovely little Neo-Victorian horror game called Unhallowed Metropolis. I’m not even sure how many campaigns I’ve ran in this world, but they all take place in the same continuity.

This means that if a group of players needs to find a fence to get rid of some stolen items in one game, then they find their fence with a simple streetwise skill check, and I get to play some kind of lovely cockney rogue for a while. Some months later, a player who has created a consulting detective character needs some info on a heist, so finds a fence he can trust. I have one ready, and can flesh out some details by having him refer to things the other party may have done. In a certain game, I went even bigger.

The plan was to run a very long campaign with a three act structure involving a serial killer, and unknown plague, some ghostly goings on, and an undead horde. It was going pretty well until a fight broke out between the player characters when they were on route to a location in them middle of the wastes with no one around for miles who would care what happened to them. There was one survivor who made his way back to Hull, but was so traumatised by the events that he was sent to an asylum. The thing was, I’d put a whole bunch of work into the adventure, and didn’t want it to go to waste.

So the employer of the first group tried again, using a different recruiting process, and about a year after the failed mission, another group set off. They succeeded – as much as they could do in the circumstances – and saw several shadows of the last attempt. the stories of a lunatic in the sanitarium screaming the name of their employer for one. And my personal favourite, finding the burnt out camp of the previous expedition, complete with rotting corpses of those that came before them.

This added a whole lot to the experience, for myself and the players, and I think if you have a game world that you love, you should try something like this yourself.

Oct 282013
 

As I prepare to start a brand new campaign, one of the things on my mind is how one goes about introducing their character to the rest of the group. I’m not concerned with where and how this meeting happens, as it is up to the GM to decide the specifics. For the record though, I really don’t mind the old faithful meeting in a tavern start to a game, there’s a reason that cliche has survived for so long.

What makes a character introduction important is that rather odd thing called a first impression. There are exceptions to this, but in most games, the time that you describe your character to the other players will be the first time you meet them. You will want to include the obvious physical description, but should you add more? It’s obvious that anyone meeting you will be able to roughly guess at your height and, unless you’re wearing heavy clothing, your build. They’ll know the colour and style of your clothing, and if you are carrying an obvious weapon, they should be able to guess at where your expertise lies should things get a little bit hairy.

Some other questions to ask yourself before starting this process is how well known your character is, and to whom. Are they a famed gladiator who has won their freedom? A safe cracker with a reputation only known to others in the trade, or  underworld gang leader who has managed to achieve a certain notoriety apart from with others who are in “the game”. Lets say for now that you’re playing a fantasy game though.

Your race will almost certainly be obvious, but your class or profession may not be, but would you want to hide it? True, being a thief is best not advertised to the general populace, but to fellow adventurers, it could be useful to let them know just how you’ll be earning your keep, and that there may be times when they have to watch your back more that if you were a straight up fighter. A magic user of any stripe should be noticeable in traditional games, but not always, and some times it’s a trick worth keeping up your sleeve.

What about your personality? Do you have a reputation around town for being a braggart or someone who is quick with their fists. Are you a Lothario or Don Juan, leaving a trail of broken hearts behind you? Are you fixer in town who is always happy to help if the price is right or a favour can be bartered?  Do you have enemies that are more powerful than you, and have they made it known that they’re willing to pay for your head before you get out of town?

So, now you have a good idea about what you’re going to divulge, but how do you do it? Even a game that takes place regularly around a table, with real dice being rolled and character sheets that are pencil on paper, there may be an element of online interaction that takes place. I have played games that have taken advantage of Obsidian Portal, but even without such a resource there are forums and G+ groups that can be used by players to share extra information or keep a track of In Character diaries and the like.

If you have such a resource, then it should be used. You can write up prose descriptions of your character’s physical description going into the kind of detail that would be problematic to do sat around the table. You can also find an appropriate image to use, or maybe even get an artistic friend to whip something up to share with everyone. The only pitfall to watch out for when introducing your character this way is keeping everything accurate when you then have to repeat stuff when you summarise to the players around the table. Don’t ever think that everyone will have read and digested your online introduction, so be prepared to fill everyone in around the table at the start of the first session.

Other than that, just have fun, and be prepared to have your character totally change by the end of the campaign.

Oct 242013
 

As some of the more astute amongst you may have realised, I haven’t been as active lately as I would like to be, with regard to engaging with people on their own blogs, pimping this one, or writing more than one article a week. There are several reasons for that, some good and some bad, and one that I hope to be able to share with you soon, however doing so prematurely would be a bit silly. This also means that I haven’t had much time to carry on with my own RPG project, Rise of the Automata. I am not giving up on any of these projects, but somethings just need to take priority at the moment.

I do however always make sure I have the time to role play at my local gaming society once a week – I am currently the President, so not turning up would be weird – and today I would like to talk about what I’m currently playing. The game is called Orbis Terrarum – or Orbis for short – and it has been a labour of love for two friends of mine far at least as long as I have known them. This will be the third time I have been lucky enough to play in one of their campaigns, and this time is especially fortuitous as the game is damned near completed, and they will be hopefully launching a Kickstarter project soon to create a hard copy of the game. The link above is to their Facebook page, and if any of the following seems interesting to you, make sure you like the page as they will be announcing all updates on their. And trust me, you’re going to want to keep an eye out for this game, as it is spectacular. Anyway, on with the review.

There are a few things about character generation in Orbis that stand out, and make you realise just how well thought out the game this. Rather than cherry pick the cool bits though, I’m going to go through the whole process for you. I do have a copy of the character generation rules, but since they are a beta copy, I am not at liberty to share them just yet.

To start with, the Orbis Master (OM) asks you to think about a few things that might define the character you want to play. This known as the metier, and is a three word description of the character summing up their most obvious personality trait, their country of birth, and the word that best describes their profession. I went for an Impetuous Raphelian Duelist. The country of your birth – or at least where you grew up – is very important in this gritty realistic fantasy game, as you will only be playing as humans. Their are beings from another plane, but they are not playable characters, and the writers have eschewed the Tolkienistic elves and dwarves that are common in other fantasy settings.

To set things off after this, with nothing more than a basic concept in mind, you roll a D20 to randomly determine the state of your life as a young person. I was pretty damned lucky in that I ended up coming from a wealthy family. Not only did this mean a bit of extra starting cash to buy gear with, but it was also a perfect fit for the back story I had in mind. Even if I had rolled something different though, I would have just made some last minute changes and moved on. A second D20 roll gives you something unusual about yourself. I have seen some pretty bad ones in my past experience of playing this game, but once again luck was on my side, and all I ended up with was being a bloody big fella. It means I’ll have a hard time sneaking around, but the word “Large” is now a permanent extra part of my metier that also gives me a few extra points of wound capacity. There is one more roll like this to make, but that comes right at the end, and for now we’re looking at what it means to be from certain places on the world of Uma.

Where you are from determines your starting options for skills, some cultural advantages, but first, the amount of dice you will roll to generate your primary attributes, of which they are seven. The player rolls a number of D20 for each attribute based on their culture, from 3-6 D20, taking the three results they prefer and adding them together, discarding the rest. This gives a pretty good balance with the stronger, hardier cultures more likely to survive their environments, and the more learned cultures more likely to thrive in a social and intellectual melting pot. These numbers are used to work out certain derived attributes, but this just comes down to maths, and although well worked out, is nothing that unusual for experienced gamers.

At this point, due to the random nature of the dice rolls, it is possible that you have a set of attributes that make your original character concept unworkable. If this is because all of your physical/mental attributes are astonishingly low, you do get a slight advantage in the form of two free talents, but if you’ve just been let down just a little, there are ways to change things later. As a quick example, due to the nature of the games’ setting, males are expected to be more physically able, and so you can instantly raise a physical attribute by five points. Females are much less likely too be pushed into such areas, so instead they can raise a mental attribute by the same amount.

Before people start making claims of sexism against the game, it is set in a cross between a medieval and Renaissance world, and it makes sense that cultural expectations would shape the lives of those who grew up surrounded by them. Plus, there is nothing negative about either bonus, as although combat does break out in this game, it is lethal enough that thinking your way around it, or applying magic to the problem is often favourable.

Once this bit’s done, we get onto skills and talents. Each character gets ten points to spend on cultural skills and talents, and then an additional ten to spend elsewhere. Each culture has a choice of ten skills, but not all of them will be relevant to each character. As an example, I was playing a duelist not a drunken sailor, so I could skip at least three of these cultural skills in favour of things that better suited me. There are also four cultural advantages, and you can buy as many of them as you want. I took two, the first giving me an advantage when dealing with other adventurers, and the second allowing me to raise my Agility attribute by a further ten points to suit my (hopefully high) skill with a sword. Each culture has one attribute that they can raise in this way, and this is a great little touch. As mentioned earlier, you could end up wanting to play a Raphelian swordsman and then roll appallingly for your Agility. Because Raphelians prize dexterity and showmanship though, it is more than likely that you have spent time in your formative years increasing your ability in such things, so get a nice boost.

The other ten points can be spent on any skills or on a few other things if you have the skills you need. Each attribute can be raised an additional ten points by spending one Talent point per attribute. This means once again that you can boost something that you were unlucky with in the early stages. You can also boost your wound capacity if you feel like your character is likely to be in life threatening situations with any kind of regularity. If it wasn’t for that fact that I also took a smattering of magic ability I would have picked up a fair few extra hit points, but there’s only so many points to go around.

Each point you put into a skill using talents gives you a rank. Each rank not only increases the score by five points – the base of each skill is equal to the attribute that makes the most sense – but the more ranks you have in each skill, the less you will need to make skill checks, and the more likely you are to critically succeed in a challenge. On top of this, you also get fifty advancement points – basically experience points – that are added to the skills of your choosing on a one-for-one basis. All this means that you have a whole bunch of control over the character that you want to play, while still having that element of chance that keeps things interesting.

After all that’s done we get onto the final touches such as height and weight, as well as money to spend on equipment. Since my family background was wealthy, I had double starting money, so actually managed to buy both a decent weapon and a bit of armour too, rather than having to choose. On one occasion in the past I ended up getting mugged right at the start of the game, and was left with nothing but some blood stained clothes. Orbis is a harsh game indeed. How did I end up getting mugged you ask? Well that’s down to one last D20 roll that follows on from my past as mentioned above. This is to determine something that has happened in the very recent past, and with my luck so far, I felt certain that a mugging would be the least of my problems. But once again, I was favoured by fortune, and my recent past involved a romantic entanglement of some kind. I never expected that, and will have to work it into my back story somehow.

So there we have it in a rather large nutshell. I did skip over a few details that aren’t worth dwelling on as anyone who has created a character for an RPG will know what the score is. There is one last thing to note though, and for me I’m 50/50 on whether or not I like it. You see, each nation has their own currency – as one would expect – and this means that buying things can get a bit complicated, as not every item is available in every country, and the prices vary too. This means that the equipment list has prices and availability of each item, but not in game effects. This isn’t a big deal for things like a razor or a scabbard which don’t need that much extra information, but when you’re looking at knives, daggers, and dirks, it’d be nice to know what kind of damage each would do compared to cost and weight. I like that the cultures are so well defined, and that the relationships are so well thought out, but it does add some extra time and page turns to what is an otherwise very fluid and intuitive character generation method.

So far then, it’s all fantastic, and I have a character I’m very happy with. I will carry on this review sporadically as and when different situations present themselves. What I’ll be spending more time doing though is writing an in game diary. I have done this before and had a great time doing it. It will motivate me to get more writing done too, which is never a bad thing. My question though is where to put it. I never wanted this blog to be an in game fiction kind of thing, so I thought about reviving my old page to keep things separate. But would people be happier to just come here to read about the continuing exploits of Kantrel di Gregori? Sound off below with any thoughts and if you have any interest in reading my game write ups here.

Oct 142013
 

This is very much a part two, so please check out part one then head right back here. And now that we’re all caught up, lets take a look at some of the ways that it is possible to claim some small victory whilst role playing. Once more though, I must remind you that none of these wins will come at the expense of your fellow players or the person running the game. While it is certainly true that some games are designed to be played in such way, I’m not talking about them. I also know that some gamers like that style of play – sometimes in games not designed for it – but they have their own victory conditions to worry about.

What I’m talking about are the things that happen during a gaming session that just make it all so very worth while; the moments that you’re going to remember, and wax lyrical about in pubs and at gaming conventions whenever that group comes together again. A great example of this is when you break your GM. Not literally, and not in any way that should cause lasting damage to their ability to run a game, but just enough that they struggle to breathe for a moment or two while trying to call you all bastards. This is usually achieved through making the GM laugh so much that getting air back into their lungs becomes a struggle.

I know not every game should be a laugh riot, and sometimes it’s massively disruptive to try and make people chortle and guffaw in the face of a setting and genre that’s aimed more at quiet political scheming or gut wrenching horror. Every once in a while even those kind of games can end up with people chuckling a little bit though, but when your GM goes red faced, slamming his fists onto the table as everyone laughs along, it’s great. When they’re still laughing a minute later, when everyone else has stopped, you know you’ve done something special. And then, when all the players start laughing again, this time at the GM, and this makes them laugh even more in a continuing cycle of hilarity, then you’ve won.

It’s not all fun and games though, and sometimes I’ve managed a win without knowing about it for months. Imagine yourself playing a game where you and all the players are part of a thieves guild, and during the course of play while on a sanctioned job you come across a perfect mark for a short but profitable confidence scam. It looks so good that you all just assume that the GM has set it up for you and you go along with it. You plan roles for each of the characters, work out what can go wrong, cover as many variables as possible, and then spend several sessions just pulling the con off. Dealing with every problem as and when it occurs, thinking on your feet and getting a pay off that ends up being worth even more than you thought.

After all that, two months after that in fact, the GM lets you all know that they had no idea you were all going to attempt such a thing, and struggled to keep up with the pace that everyone was thinking at, but was so impressed that they let it happen, holding off on their own plot for almost two whole months. Not only is this a great win for all the players who showed a great deal of inventiveness, but also being in a game with a GM who rewards such play. Most importantly, you get to live with the consequences of your actions, and this has to be one of the best things about role playing in a well run game.

If you can deal with the negative consequences of you actions too, then that is also a win, and possibly the biggest one worth mentioning. I’m not saying that you cannot lament the results of a poor dice, cursing the Gods of poor fortune of you happen to believe in such things. What I’m talking about here is when you make decisions that affect the game world, and the consequences of these actions come back to bite you in arse. Railing against these things is to me a sign of a bad role player. If you think you have been wronged, then deal with it away from the table and nine times out of ten you will likely find out that GM was acting perfectly fairly. Quite often they have information about the game world that you don’t and will have used that info to come to decision about how an NPC would act.

Even if it was a slight error on the GM’s part, then you win nothing by drawing attention to it at the table in front of other players. So instead of making a big deal out of, act with decency and decorum and focus on what you could have done to be affected by such consequences. Handling a situation like a grown up is great for everyone around the table, and makes you look awesome. If that isn’t a victory, I don’t know what is!

As with the last part of this little ramble, these are just my ways of getting a victory out of a role playing session. Feel free to drop a comment below and share with everyone else.

Sep 162013
 

That line is totally stolen from Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks… but I really liked it as it reminds me of a very simple trick from Unhallowed Metropolis that I have used in the past and that can work in several games. It’s basically a great opportunity for GMs, and something for players to be weary of. In its simplest usage, it works great for any game that has a form of animate dead, be they walkers, shambling corpses, zombies or animates.

550px-Grinning-ZombieA victim goes down in the middle of a combat from what should have been a fatal wound, but is forgotten about in the clean-up. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve declared someone out of the combat due to a severe wound that rendered them immobile but not dead, and then forgotten about them myself. The players do it almost as much. This leaves you with a fairly regular stock of soon to be zombies that will look very familiar to the characters, and will probably stop them from being so blasé about what they leave behind.

This works just as well for BBEGs too, and we don’t have to stretch out memories too far for a great example. Professor Moriarty and Holmes were both seen going down a waterfall together after a fight, but no bodies were ever found. This has given countless writers and film & TV producers all the excuse they needed to write their own stories about the World’s Greatest Detective (sorry Batman).

It would be easy to do this for your own bad guys, but I would advise caution and restraint. If you make the vanishing of the antagonist a little bit too obvious, the players will not rest until they figure out what’s happened. I’ve been a player just as much as I have a GM and I know what we’re like when we have a thread to pull on; the whole damned sweater will unravel before we’re through. As a GM, this kind of thing can be frustrating, especially if it doesn’t lead anywhere and will just involve double the effort on your part for little pay off for the players.

Handle it well though, with a natural seeming disappearance of the body, and hopefully you should be able to have some fun. When it comes to it, my favourite tactic is to have the BBEG seem like he was little more than a capable lieutenant. When he’s dealt with there should be a trail of evidence leading elsewhere, to a bigger badder threat that needs to be dealt with. These days – after a hugely successful caped crusader film (I still love you Batman) – it’s best described as pulling a Ra’s Al Ghul, so you should still be weary of your players spotting this one coming.

Players should also be free to play around this one, again trying hard to not push their luck or be accused of power gaming. If you;re unlucky enough to have a character die, then see if you can arrange it so that none of the other players get a chance to examine the body. Either it gets left behind in a hurry, or vanished from sight in a ruck, and the rest of the group have to flee before something equally bad happens to them. If you have a very generous GM, who has a flair for the dramatic, then you might just be able to turn up, battered and bruised with interesting scars, in a later scene.

If you manage to convince your GM to let this one go, you’d better make the story of your survival pretty darned interesting!

Aug 262013
 

It’s been a while since the last update on the up coming Cyberpunk computer game, but since we have a new edition of Shadowrun, plus a PC game too, the interest in the Cyberpunk genre is obviously still high. With that in mind I thought I would try and capture a few important things about people in the dark near future interact with each other. The problem with that is that not every game set in a Cyberpunk world has the same values. My last game using the CP 2020 for instance didn’t really live up to the style over substance and chrome chrome chrome ethos that’s mentioned in the book. Instead it was a much darker take, with cyberware being sinister and the thought of wasting money of frivolities rather than necessities would have seemed very strange indeed.

images (1)So instead of trying to capture the feel of an entire genre, I am picking a setting that I have reviewed in the past and thoroughly enjoyed: Kuro. If you’ve never come across the game or just prefer a more traditional future noir game, then it’ worth remembering that the Japanese are currently the predominate producers of personal electronics – including computers – and robotics, which will surely set them up well to be an important culture in any Cyberpunk future. So here are a few things worth bearing in mind when dealing with the Japanese either socially or in business.

  • The business card. In Japanese culture, the business card is even more important than the calling card was to the Victorians, and has similar uses. There are very important differences though, and the devil is very much in the details. If one is handed to you, it will be while the giver is bowing towards you, presenting it with both hands. You must reciprocate this action. Bow a little deeper to show respect to the person giving you their card, and make sure you take it with both hands. When you have it, take very special care of it. Whatever you do, son’t just slip into your back pocket while the giver is still in your presence. In fact, never stick it in your back pocket, as sitting on it would be a grave insult. Keep in your wallet or in a special case for business cards until you can put it somewhere safe in an office. You see a business card is more than just someone’s contact details. It is a promise that the person will take your call, and maybe even a personal meeting. Keep all such cards safe, as you never know when it may be required to make a call to that one person who can help you out.
  • Being a Gaijin. Unless your game is particularly focused in such a way, it’s probably unlikely that everyone will be Japanese. In dealings with Japanese people, those from outside the country will of course be afforded all due respect – more on this later – but they are still outsiders, and will never have the access or acceptance that fellow countrymen will receive. never draw attention to this, instead do what you can with the help you will be given. You may never be accepted into the inner circle, but it is possible to make very good friends with individuals within said circle and get them to act on your requests.
  • Respect. By far and away the most important thing to the Japanese is respect. For elders, for superiors, for anyone deserving it, and for anyone that is newly introduced. This might seem strange to western eyes, but rather than run the risk of not showing someone the respect that they are due, a Japanese person will show a complete stranger total respect. This comes across very clearly if you walk into a Japanese store. The staff working there will treat you like royalty, bowing deeply and making sure that everything is to your satisfaction. This even runs counter the above point about foreigners in Japan, they will be also be treated exceptionally well by strangers rather than them risking offending anyone by not showing them the appropriate amount of deference.
  • Conflict Avoidance. The point on respect above ties in nicely with this one. It may sound like a lazy stereotype, but it does seem to hold up the vast majority of case; a Japanese person is likely to go to great lengths to avoid any type of conflict or unpleasantness. This means making sure that you show the correct amount of respect, always erring on the side of caution by going above and beyond what might be expected, but this desire for peace and calm runs through most day to day activities. In a working environment for example, it would be unheard of for an employee to complain about their company, coworkers, or superiors whilst at work. Outside of work though there exist a social contract that allows workers to gather together and imbibe alcohol and get all their complaints of their chests without ever worrying about the consequences. It would in fact be a massive social faux par to even bring up these grievances the next day at work.

So there we have it, a far from complete list of social guidelines for dealing with what could quite likely be a dominant super power in a Cyberpunk future. Most of the credit should go to the excellent writer and blogger Héctor García and his excellent site and book, A Geek in Japan. Most of the points in this book have been researched through reading his work, and if you have any interest in checking out more on contemporary Japanese culture, I can’t think of many better places to start.

Jul 292013
 

I will happily admit that this is another of those posts that I start while knowing full well that there’s a whole lot I have to say on the subject, and it probably won’t fit into just one post. I make no promises as to when I will get back to the rest of it though, as right now I have one particular element of the character generation process on my mind.

I am a few short months away from creating a character for a game that I will play in for roughly 9 months, and providing I don’t go and get myself perished, I will play said character for the duration. So I should be thinking about playing the kind of character I would happily be stuck with for a good long while. But here’s the kicker; there’s every chance that I won’t get to play that character. There are several factors determining whether or not this is the case, and I’ll deal with a few below, but I’m popping the advice for any gamer out there right here: Be prepared to play a character that you never planned on playing.

The game I will be playing has a character generation system that mixes dice rolling for attributes and a points system for skill levels. Lets look at the dice rolling though, as this is the most obvious way that your finely considered concept could be turned on its head. I wish I could share with you all the character creation system, but it is still a work in progress and as such they have asked me not to share it. To sum up, each attribute is decided by three 20 sided dice, but certain nationalities roll more dice and the player chooses the three they would prefer. Dice being what they are, it is totally possible for a character who really wishes to play a hard as nails Northern pirate raider, but when she rolls the dice, ends up with a strength score of seven in a percentile based game.

I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of people out there who will tell you that they have had amazing games with characters that sucked. I know there’s at least a couple because I’ve read about them. What I’ve found to be more common though is people who would much rather ditch a character build as they’d got their hearts set on something that is now unfeasible based on the stats they’ve rolled. My advice here may not be popular, but in its simplest form it is thus: change the thing you want to play.

People may be tuning out now, thinking what the hell is this crazy person talking about?! I don’t mean change the entire concept, just change the bits that no longer make sense, A little while ago I wrote a quick little plot seed up about the start of an adventure that I think would actually be a lot more typical of starting character’s jaunts out into the wild away from their homes and families. You may want to be a huge viking warrior, but if can’t, re-imagine her as a younger woman. Starting out with nothing but a knife and a rotting leather jerkin, it may not matter how she strong she is right now, but the character you want her to be, becomes a promise to yourself of the hero that the character will become.

Of course you also have the more extreme option to just change your concept. I have never yet been in a position where I have felt the need to do this, but that doesn’t mean this situation doesn’t exist. The closest I have come came down to a series of random rolls for backgrounds. What started off as a pretty cool idea for a conman character, would have been hamstrung by poverty and a drug addiction. Either of which is far from ideal, but both together meant that I had little I could bring to the character other than these facts when starting out. Rather than start from scratch, or struggle with a character concept that I had very little interest in, I spoke to my GM, and we decided to just re-roll the things that had such a negative effect.

Talking about issues is the biggest tool you have at your disposal when it comes to a bad result on the dice during character creation. Most GMs are at least open to a discussion if you’re thoroughly unhappy with what you’ve got on the rolls, but be prepared to not get your own way. Compromise is key at this point, and if you are able to really sell your concept to the GM they might be willing to allow a bit of wiggle room to get you closer to where you want to start.

Of course, there are times when talking about the character is exactly what leads to you not playing the type of character you have in mind, and this for me is slightly more important. I dislike creating characters in a vacuum, and for me this means doing it without any sounding board. I have in the past as a GM ended up having to create an entire group of characters one at a time with only myself and one player in the room. Sadly it was a necessity because of scheduling clashes before the game that I wanted to get started by a certain date. If I could go back and change it though, I would start a week later and let the players sit together in the room and make their characters as a group.

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That’s not to say that the characters necessarily needed to be part of a gang that already know each other, but I really like the idea that some thought has been put into making a group that when they do get together, are able to function. Now, I’m not saying that you need to sit around and worry about having the absolute correct balance of healer/fighter/mage/McGuffin, but avoiding the loneliest of lone wolves problem is worth taking some time to think about.

A party of characters needs to be able to work together and even if you don’t set out to create a lone wolf, it is totally possible to have one or more members of the group with characters that just don’t mesh with the party as a whole. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as societal class or criminal leanings, none of which should be a reason for a party not to work, but will need talking about. To look at a game that really does social classes well, lets focus on Unhallowed Metropolis. Why would a high ranking nobleman spend his evenings hanging out with a working class pick-pocket and whore? Sure there may be reasons, but take the time to work these before hand, and sometimes this means you might have to make some changes.

Don’t feel like you need to completely re-write something from the concept up, but there are things that can be altered that will make the group more playable from the starting sessions. As a group plays together then party friction will cause interesting relationships, but to start with, try your best to come up with concepts that will at the very least be able to play nice with each other. Again, compromise is going to make everyone’s lives easier here. If one person is totally unwilling to back down from an overtly disruptive character concept, it might be time to have a chat with the GM as a group, but for anything other than that talking between players should  be enough.

Jul 222013
 

I understand that it is widely known, understood, and lamented in games mastering circles that plans do not survive first contact with players. True, it makes for an interesting game, keeps us on our toes, and means we rarely run the risk of being thought of as predictable, because we’re often just making it up as we go along, but it can be a little tiresome at times. After many years as a GM, this is something I have not only come to accept though, but to look forward to. At it’s absolute worst, it can be highly frustrating, and today I want to talk about one facet of this issue that has struck me twice in succession; never knowing who the players are going to trust.

When I create NPCs, I don’t just make up a bunch of antagonists. At the start of any campaign, it’s quite nice to know that there’s at least one person who has the best interest of the player characters at heart, and might just be able to keep them out of trouble for a while. This isn’t some catch all plot device to steer them away from mistakes; they are more than entitled to make as many as they would like. This is the person who gets them an early contract, maybe even gets put on retainer by their boss to help keep them supplied. Not every trip down to Guns & Ammo needs to be part of the adventure, so having a valet or some such to nip down and pick up things that could eat up adventuring time should be a good thing.

Since I also like creating interesting NPCs just for the fun of it, I tend to make them more than just two dimensional caricatures, but instead give them a reason to be involved in the plot for more than because someone higher up tells them to be. This has in the past been because of a desire to find answers about a missing relative – that the PCs have some information on already – or the need to get a particular voting block on side in time for a Presidential Primary. On both of these occasions, the NPCs in question went above and beyond the call of duty in assisting the player characters in any way they could.

So of course, the players thought they must be up to something, and promptly began to suspect their every action as having sinister undertones. *sigh*

Not the end of the world though, as I got to role play out some rather righteous indignation, and storm off – figuratively, as I was still the GM – when the players continued to call into question the motives of one of the these NPCs. While admittedly fun, it can get in the way, and cause massive delays to the game, which sucks when you GM on a yearly schedule. What is there that can be done about this situation then?

Well, the simplest seems to be to stop using friendly NPCs and let the players flounder around without help, as that is exactly what they deserve. Yeah, read that back and realise just how petty it sounds, so we won’t be doing that will we? We’ve all (hopefully) moved away from a generally antagonistic relationship between players and GMs by now. What we can do though is cut down how important these friendly and helpful NPCs are, and it shouldn’t make too much of a difference. But as I mentioned earlier, that could mean missing out on some great opportunities to role play while GMing, and also run the risk of these characters being the two dimensional puppets we were hoping to avoid.

Instead, I think it could be time to subvert the players expectations, by giving them almost exactly what they expect. Let the NPC get mad, let them storm off with the players feeling proud of themselves for getting one up on their presumed enemy. An enemy who will now be looking for ways to strike back at them, but subtly. Let the NPC maintain the charade of a good working relationship after apologising for leaving in a bad mood, and continue to have them help out wherever possible. But things start happening a little later than the players would like, and substandard help is all that is now provided. The players will soon complain again, that much is a certainty but now the NPC just meekly apologises, biding their time.

They have been inside the machine of the player character’s organisation, and could jam any number of spanners into the works, all while being the most contrite bugger in the world. And when enough damage has been done, and the PCs really need some help to get their arses out of the fire, the friendly NPC who wanted to help is nowhere to be seen.

That’s just one idea of course, and I imagine that this has happened to a lot of the readers of this blog, so why don’t you share those stories below, either from a Gm stand point, or what any payers out there might think about this.

Jul 012013
 

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I will try and keep the review elements of this post to a minimum, because I have already touched on how much I like the basic game in the past. Instead, this is all about how the hobby I love is represented in something a little bit more mass media. I will also draw comparison to two other attempts to bring role playing to the attention of the masses, in the Big Bang Theory, and Community.

I will discuss a little bit of the technical stuff first though. The humour that has marked both games out from the crowd is still well and truly present, and with jokes aimed very much at the readership of this blog – stuff for you to laugh along with, not making you the butt of the jokes – makes it a great way to spend an evening. Sadly, the fact that you can get through it in an evening is a bit of a let down. The other DLC packs were much bigger, but since they mostly just re-used elements from the base game, they didn’t take up much space. So much has been made just for this DLC – including frickin’ dragons – that the same space just doesn’t go as far. Still, it looks amazing, and there’s some really nice touches. The village setting looks amazing, and the Immortal undead look great, with glowing swords embedded into their skulls to set them apart from the other, easier to kill skeletons.

But what does it tell us about table top gaming? Mainly just how much bloody fun it is and how inclusionary, but also how flawed some of the people who play the game can be. To begin with, we have the fun of people picking their characters. Brick, the close combat nutter picks the Siren, claiming she is the most beautiful and graceful creature in the world, and that she’s great at punching people in the face. The Siren who’s actually playing the RPG – Lilith - seems to be the only reasonably experienced gamer of the group. A lovely touch when we consider the messed up humour of The Big Bang Theory, making light of the fact that no guys ever play D&D with their girlfriends, contrary to mountains of evidence saying otherwise.

She is also a true blue geek, and gives Mr. Torgue a hard time for wanting to play, questioning his geek credentials, since he is clearly a muscle bound jock. I hate to say it, but I have been this person. Not the jock, the one who wonders whether or not someone is really a geek, or just trying to join in with what they think is cool. I see people walking around my home town wearing “GEEK” emblazoned on their shirts, and always feel the need to ask them what class their first character to hit level ten was? Or if they have any recommendations for fantasy literature other than Game of Thrones (The works of Joe Abercrombie as an example)? I never do though, as it is a small and petty annoyance. It is harder sometimes though, when I remember the beatings I got through school that Lilith also claims to have received for letting her geek flag fly. To be fair, I didn’t help myself out. Not only did I wargame and read comic books, but I was also a fan of very heavy metal. Oh, and I was short with a pronounced overbite and wear glasses. I mean seriously, what was I thinking?

But Lilith embraces the big fella when it’s obvious that that he loves the game, and although he may be far from most people’s ideal of a good layer, his passion for the hobby is beyond question. And this is what I mean by inclusionary. The DLC makes it clear that the perception of gamers as nerds with hygiene issues is far from the actual truth, without letting us off lightly, by also showing how elitist we can be about the games we play.

Lets go back to Brick again now. As mentioned, he’s the close combat specialist, and his power move is to go full on berserk rage and punch things until they stop twitching. In the role playing game he has trouble separating this urge from what his character would do to move the plot along.  It gets in the way so much in fact, that at one point a very easy problem to solve gets trashed as he punches a Dwarven slave in the face instead of freeing them all to help in their quest. Every GM has had this moment, and has to decide just how much they want it to matter. Tiny Tina goes all out, and now every Dwarf wants a piece of the players. No matter how helpful they are in freeing the enslaved Dwarves, they’ll always remember that Brick was the one who killed their mate. But Brick learns from his mistake, and by the end of the game does change his ways to fit with the character rather than what he wants to do.

So, all very cool, and a great way to portray gamers in main stream media. But it goes one further, and shows how useful gaming can be as a coping mechanism. I know most people who rock up to the table are their to have fun, in whatever way they decide is fun for themselves. Sometimes though, you have a bad day, or week, or month, and just want to get rid of some frustration in a world where you have a bit more control. It’s not necessarily healthy to rely on the hobby for such things, but it is damned useful all the same. In an episode of Community that involves RPGs, we see the same thing. A problem is, maybe not solved, but worked on a little. And the group happens to have a great time while doing so, and talk about coming back to play the game again.

I can’t think of a much better portrayal of table top role playing in other media than this DLC, and if you have any interest in the series at all, it is by far and away my favourite bit of DLC so far, having played every last one of them. two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

Apr 292013
 

I suck at poker. I understand the game, and have a high level of familiarity with the rules, but I am usually the first or second player out of a group to lose all their money. This is down to my atrocious poker face, and it’s becoming something of a hindrance during my current game.

When I GMing, I like to run games with a hint of mystery about them. Luckily, a lot of my players feel the same way, so I get to indulge this habit fairly regularly. What’s becoming a problem though is the same as it is when I pay poker; I tend to get quite excited about what’s going on. When you have two aces in your hand and a third sat on the table, getting excited means no one will take your bet, and you stand to lose a few chips. When it happens during a role playing game, you can give away valuable plot point information and reduce the investigation element of the game to naught. I don’t think I’ve been that bad so far, but I know I have been pushing my luck.

I’m sure all GMs have had that moment when they grind their teeth a little, silently screaming things such as, “You were given this clue last week!”, or, “Share the information, it’ll all make sense then”! But players don’t often do what we want or expect, and that’s a great thing. After one particularly worrying moment in my Cyberpunk game, the players wandered into a meeting with a very important person after receiving a tip-off from someone that I thought they would trust that the VIP was almost certainly going to kill them. He told them to stay the hell away from the meeting, and to not even go back to their homes. He even left them a substantial amount of money so that they could go on the run without having to worry about where their next meal was coming from, or keeping a roof over their heads until they got settled.

So of course, they went up to the meeting, and were promptly held at gun point by the VIP’s personal goons.

Should I have been surprised by this? Of course not. No GM should ever be surprised by the actions taken by players in their games . But I did get a bit exasperated, as it was far from a subtle clue that something was amiss. It was a comment from one of my long term players and best mate ever that really made me rethink my response though, and also made me want to get some thoughts down on the blog, “dude, you’re forgetting that we don’t know the script”.

Now of course this is true, but I have found myself giving the game away on several occasions recently, not just because the group went against the grain, but often when they did something that I really wanted them to do. Awarding experience for coming up with a great plan, or putting together a bunch of disparate clues to come up with an answer that makes sense is a great idea. Doing it the moment they come up with said plan is a very explicit way of saying that they’re on the right track. Even worse though is just straight out complimenting the player in question for figuring something out. If they know they’re on the right track, they have little reason to explore other ideas even if it would make sense for the characters to do so.

Luckily I have once again been blessed with players who role play to the hilt and really don’t let themselves get swayed by my inability to keep things under wrap, but in a different group, this could be a real problem. So from here on out, I promise to try harder to keep a straight face. To only give the player characters clues that they would get from in character actions rather than through rewarding them for doing what the GM wants. This should be no problem, as instead of handing out XP as and when they do something impressive, I’ll just be keeping a tally during games, and handing it out in the post game wrap up. Hopefully this will mean that they won’t know exactly what it is that they’re being rewarded for, and will incentivize them try out new and cool ideas.

I would hope that this problem doesn’t affect too many other GMs, but if it has been a problem for you in the past, either as a player or a GM, I’d love to hear from you, especially your solutions.