Apr 082013
 

Everyone in their gaming life has had that one awful game, the one that totally ruins the system and setting for you, even if the fault is with neither of them. Today I will talk about my own, and hopefully steer any budding GMs who happen by this page, the hell away from making the same mistake as one certain GM did. I don’t want to name names here, so for the sake of anonymity, the GM in question will henceforth be known as ‘Betty’.

werewolf-rpgBetty made a mistake that it’s all too easy to do when you’re starting out in a game. She fell head over heals in love with a game based on her experiences with it while playing one particular character. The games was Werewolf the Something, and she had created a kick-ass Garou we shall name ‘Philip’. (Creating random names is not my strong suit as a GM.)

Betty had a marvelous time playing Philip, for the whole month that game lasted. It was meant to go on longer, but the GM and all the players were a tad unreliable, and after a month the whole thing just fell apart. It happens, and there really was no one to blame. I was only aware of this game after it had collapsed, and after listening to young Betty wax lyrical for some time about how awesome a game it was, and how sorry she was that she never got to get any further under the skin of Philip, a few of our mutual friends suggested she pick up a rule book, and take a shot at running it herself. One thing you want – if not need - from a new GM is a certain level of enthusiasm. Betty had this in spades, and due to her infectious enthusiasm, it wasn’t long before about half a dozen of us were looking forward to playing it too.

At this point I already had some experience in the World of Darkness, having spent around a year playing in a live action game of Vampire, the thing-a-me-jig, and it is there that I acquired my now permanently in place nick-name. So, I had a vague idea of what to expect, but there were still surprises to be had. What shouldn’t have been a surprise was how short a time it took for the player characters to meet a certain wolf named Philip.

Click for image source

Click for image source

I couldn’t tell you the mission we were to be involved in, all the fine details of that game have faded from memory, replaced by one very tragic fact. Betty loved Philip a hell of a lot more than she loved the game. And by game, I mean the system, the setting, and the actual sessions she was running for her players. We first met Philip about one round into the opening fight scene. I have since been led to believe that it is possible to run a game of Werewolf without there being fights in every other scene, but at the time I would have found that hard to believe.

As a player group we were holding our own, but getting a bit bruised. Then, out of nowhere, sprang Philip, and we watched in dumb amazement as he tore his way through the enemies leaving behind him a fine red mist and enough hair on the floor to cover 17 barbershops. I don’t think we were quite as grateful as we were supposed to be though, as a very big deal was then made about cool it was that he’d saved our lives, and that he was going to help us get to where we needed to be. When we got there, some high ranking elder wolf told us that the mission we were to go on was obviously too dangerous for us, so it would be best if Philip tagged along.

Now, if Werewolf the Roleplaying is not a game you are familiar with, it will be difficult to get across how much a pain in the arse this was. Imagine a similar situation in a D&D style game. All the player characters are half way to picking up that fabled second level, and the GM thrusts a level 9 fighter into the mix and says that it’s because we’re not good enough. That my friends, is not cool.

Any time a GM feels the need to pull the players out of fire, it shows that they might not have done such a good job of setting up the game – I’m going through something similar myself in my Tuesday night game, so I’ll report back on that later – but this was a very different problem indeed. There might even be an actual term for this kind of thing, but at its root, we go back to the article title; Player characters make for terrible NPCs. Betty didn’t want to run a game, she wanted to carry on playing Philip, and when that happens, you need to rethink your motivation for picking up a whole fistful of dice.

If this has happened to you; please, back away from the character sheet. Put it in a clear plastic envelope and restrict yourself to sharing stories about how rad they were. True, this will still be a bit annoying, but it is a far better solution than alienating your players.

As a post script to that session, I turned up the following week, hoping it wouldn’t be that bad again, to find that only one other player had shown up at all. And it was worse. Betty didn’t even bother rolling for the other characters who were without players, instead letting Philip do just about anything that needed to be done. One week later, I was reliably informed that no one turned up to her game. Poor Betty. I hope her and Philip were happy being alone together…

Apr 012013
 

This is still an idea in progress if you get my drift, but I’ve been thinking about fight scenes lately, and how to avoid repeating myself. I dislike fights that run along those oh so predictable lines of ‘hit with sword’, ‘take X damage’. I’m sure all gamers at some point have ‘been there’, and almost all of you will have ‘done that’. Sometimes the creative juices slow to a drip, and if combat drags on past the fourth round, it can become a rush to get to the end of it, and back on with the game. So keeping instructions simple saves valuable time.

As I said though, I dislike it, and as a GM, I try my best to add descriptions of damage dealt and received to the numbers handed out in terms of hit points lost or wounds gained. I take great pleasure in getting quite visceral, as I don’t want any of my players to take combat lightly. It should be seen as deathly dangerous, and each wound should matter. So I talk about cracked bone fragments, the sounds of blood spattering against windows and other such delights. Even that though can run its course. Well today I ended up over at Beyond the Pale Gate, and in the middle of a post about OD&D combat, there was a sentence that struck home about damage taken in combat, but not necessarily directly from a weapon used to attack.

Click for image source

Click for image source

I really like this idea, and my brain went into Cyberpunk mode as that’s the game I’m currently running. Below is a short list of possible other damage sources that could be applied with a bit of dramatic licence. Be wary of keeping such things in mind as players wanting to know that the huge hand cannon they’ve bought is capable of doing a whole heap of damage, but other than that, I think this could be fun. As long as you let them roll all the damage dice and make sure that every point is applied, I think most players would be up for a bit of inventiveness.

  • The gun shot goes wide, shattering the plate glass behind you, and the large shards fall, cutting through armour and flesh.
  • The arrow/bolt (I know, it’s Cyberpunk, but trust me, the archery weapons are amazing in CP2020) sinks right through your arm and pins it to a wall mounted vid-screen, the electricity running through your body as you twitch helplessly for a few seconds until it short circuits.
  • The Wolvers slash your shirt front open, but you duck backwards out of the way. sadly, you step off the sidewalk and the wing mirror of a passing sedan shatters against your back, tearing the skin open almost to the bone.
  • You’re hit with such force, you stagger backwards trying not to fall, your foot goes back hard, through the plexi-glass of a data booth and you lose balance, your ankle twisting out of joint as you fall hard.
  • The bullet goes wide and hits the wall you’re using for cover, the shards tearing the flesh away from your face, coming close to taking an eye out as you reel backwards.

That’s just a few, and will need to think fast to come up with environmental hazards on the fly in the middle of combat, but I think that the pay off could be worth it. If it goes well, I might think about doing a similar list for some more fantasy/medieval environmental dangers.

This was written a couple o days before my last CP2020 game, and I’ve since had the chance to try it out, and the players were very responsive to it. I did have to explain what I was doing as some damage done seemed to ignore the bullet impact, but once they knew what was going on, it flowed really well. I would advise everyone to at least give it a shot, and if you have any ideas of your own to add to the list, then please feel free to drop them into the comments section.

Mar 262013
 

RPGBlogCarnivalLogocopy1-227x300Kobalt Enterprises are hosting this months RPG blog carnival, and I’ve been wracking my brain to think of something suitably epic to qualify. True, there have been some excellent moments in games I’ve been in, and I don’t want any GMs to feel bad for not being the one who got a personal mention. That is why I have made a very self referential decision and decided to show off about one of my moments of epic GMing.

I know this is going to sound big headed, but please, bear with me. As I wrote recently, I was not the easiest gamer to get along with back in the day. I thank all of my current friends for sticking with me as long as they did, giving me the time to grow into the capable and socially aware gamer/GM I am today. The reason than I’m picking a moment of my own GMing for consideration is that it came during this rather bloody awkward phase of my life. I had bought my first full RPG system, the original Deadlands game, and had been running it for a few months with mostly positive results. I then decided to try something a bit different, and if it had gone wrong, it could have been catastrophic. What I did was simple in its way. I invited the players to tell me stories instead of having me tell them one for the night. It was a bit more involved in than that, and if you want the full details, and maybe even to try it out for yourself, then head on over to Stuffer Shack where I wrote about it as part of my weekly column.

It went superbly, and I can’t thank the players enough for joining in. It might seem like quite a bit of extra effort, but trust me, the pay off is worth it. So there you have it, a moment of GMing epicness, and it came from a rather annoying young man who had only just discovered the thrill of being a GM. Take from that hope, all new GMs, that when you have a crazy idea about doing something that seems totally off kilter, it could just end up being something that people still talk about for years to come.

Mar 252013
 

Fans of the blog, thank you by the way, will know that I like delving into the historical on occasion. It’s fun to do, and allows me the opportunity to take advantage of the three years I spent studying history at university. There aren’t that many other chances I get, to be honest, so I really look forward to writing on the subject whenever the mood takes me. What I usually do is go into a bit more detail on a specific weapon or fighting style, and add a few tips about how to integrate them into a role playing game. If you know the kind of games I like to run and play though, you’ll know that combat is never a huge part of what I like about the hobby. instead I tend to veer more towards social interactions and intrigue. With that in mind, I have for you, some small snippets that could make for a more rounded social environment from periods of history that interest me, starting this week with the Victorians.

Although historically based games tend to take part in alternate history, one that largely does away with prejudice based on gender or race, the fact of the matter is that the Victorians were a very polite bunch of people, and even more so when it came to how women were addressed. This becomes obvious in one simple gesture, and is probably the best for summing up the gentlemanly attitudes towards the fairer sex; if a Lady stands, then no man should sit. This will be used often during meals, with the men getting to their feet if a woman walks into the room, or if a woman stands up to leave. It is a simple little thing, but gets across quite nicely how social convention becomes so ingrained into every day life. I could now go on at length about how obnoxious most men were about women in their modes of address and general feelings, but since most games are set in a world where this is not the case, I instead invite you to do some reading of your own.

This next one might very well be known to any readers who like the BBC TV show Qi as much as I do, but I discovered this one independently, and as such was actually pretty proud of myself for getting a question on that show correct. The best example I know of it, if you want to see it in action is the rather wonderful HBO show Deadwood. A man asks  young child, “How do you do?”, and the boy responds with a slight nod and the same question, but with a slightly different emphasis: “How do you do?”. This might not seem like much, but again highlights just how polite people were that the correct response to someone asking about you is instead to inquire as to their situation. It is a question that will be asked repeatedly in a character’s life, and knowing the basics just adds a layer of immersion that feels very satisfying.

This of course is the standard response, but it leads quite nicely to the basic concept of respecting one’s elders. I know this is seen as a bit hokey these days, but I like it – and not just because I’m getting on a bit myself – and it was very important to the Victorians. If one was perambulating along the pavement and someone your senior was also making use of the walkway, then it was a given that you would move to the right and allow them to pass. (As an aside, how much better would it be if we all just agreed to move to the right when two people were walking towards each other, instead of all that bimbling back and forth?) Although this was also expected from people of lower social classes if their ‘betters’ were walking towards them, age was to be universally respected.

I could go on at length here, but would rather suggest a few things that one should be very careful to avoid doing while out and about. if you are the guest in someone’s house, then they deserve the utmost respect, as does the house itself. What with a lack of electronic communication in the Victorian era, a lot of social interactions take place in person, and quite often at the domicile of one person involved in the conversation. There’s a whole list of things you should know about how a calling card is delivered, but space here is limited. When you do end up round at someone else’s place of residence, all due care should be made to avoid offending your gracious host.

So be careful to not touch or alter anything in the house; this includes touching and moving ornaments in the sitting room, opening or touching a piano if it is already open, or opening the curtains in the sitting room. Importantly, one should never stride around an empty room if you are waiting for the person you are calling on to enter it. Instead, stand respectably near the middle of the room, or near the fireplace. If someone has taken the time to visit you, then you must at all times give them your attention. This is another that strikes home I think, as visiting a friend who spends half his time on a smart phone is more than slightly annoying.

One final point, as I know my word count could sky-rocket on this subject. If you are inviting someone to attend you at any entertainment, then the written invitation should be composed in the third person. A strange one, but taking the time to compose such a letter should be time well spent, and creates an artificial distance between the two persons, and since the social mores of the time were tightly focused on keeping a distance between unmarried men and women, I can see the point.

I hope that some of that was useful for you, and I think I’ll take a shot at some medieval etiquette next. It was more than just the code of chivalry you know.

Mar 112013
 

This thought came to me on the back of reading a rather excellent series of posts over at Reality Refracted dealing with death in RPGs. He has several fine points to make, but to me it boils down to two very distinct character deaths I’ve had as a player. In fact, these are pretty much the only two character deaths that have stayed with me, and that I continue to talk about. The first, because I was genuinely let down by the nature of the character’s end, the second, because it could not have been any better.

I’ll touch briefly on the first. A cyberpunk edge runner, that had at least two years of experience points under his belt, gets into a fight that has nothing to do with the plot. Some random gangers causing grief, and the players have a reputation to uphold, so step in to save the day. Very much an average day for Blaze. After the fight is over, I seek medical attention for a bullet would that was suffered to the leg. One critical fumble later, and I end up taking enough damage to require a death save, which of course, I fail. No problem though, Trauma Team are swiftly dispatched, and arrive in plenty of time to attempt a recovery. Another critical fumble is rolled, and I start to get nervous.

We make it to the AV ambulance, and another shot at saving my life. No fumble, and I think that I might be out of the woods. But sadly, the amount of damage I took from the first fumble means the roll wasn’t enough. One last try says the GM, and the whole room hushes as we watch the die tumble. Another ‘one’ is rolled. And the character is in the bag…

Died due to a random encounter, and bad luck, in such a way that nothing bar GM fiat could have saved me. And even though it was a sucky death, I’m glad that no rules were bent, as that would have left me feeling cheated, like I didn’t deserve to still be playing Blaze, although that might be better discussed in a blog post all of its own. No awesome death scene for Blaze then, and that’s exactly why I remember it, because his death meant so little in the grand scheme of things.

Fast forward a good handful of years, and I find myself playing Amaruq, stood at the top of a burning flight of stairs, with the woman he loves – and who was currently pregnant with his child (I didn’t know this at the time, or what follows might seem needlessly harsh). The rest of the party had either fled in fear, or were lying dead behind us as we fought our way out through an army. We were both so badly injured that the stairs themselves could have been the death if either of us. And we still had enemies coming at us from behind. I had no other option.

Taking my beloved in my arms, I hugged her tightly and kissed her one last fierce time. Then I pushed her from me, hoping that the fall down the stars wouldn’t kill her, as it certainly would have done me. She fell, tumbling for what seemed like an eternity, before coming to a rest, smoldering from the flames she rolled though. After several epochs – or so it seemed – she lifted her head and looked up to me. There was no way she could come back for me, but at least she was safe. I turned my back on her, hefted my axe in both hands, and walked back into the ruined building, hoping to kill as many villains as I could to buy her time.

She survived, and is still played to this day, and Amaruq’s son is almost two years old. That was a death that mattered. And I will remember it as long as I game.

Now, GMs won’t always get the chance to tweak their game to make every death impressive, but if there’s anything that can be done, to stop the player feeling like it didn’t matter a jot, then go for it. Dramatic licence was pretty much made for this kind of thing. Trust me, they’ll remember it for a long time, and talk kindly of you to others. And years later, when hanging out and having a laugh, getting to hear your name mentioned as the GM who pulled off that amazing character death, well that’s got to feel pretty sweet…

Feb 252013
 

Last week – amongst other things – I mentioned the fun that non gamers could have playing games that were at heart, role playing games. I left you with a link that attracted quite a bit of attention, and an awful lot of traffic away from the blog. This was for an event called 2.8 Hours later. This is just one of several zombie based activity I know of that isn’t really aimed at role players.

Don’t worry, we have plenty to keep us occupied though, such as All Flesh… and my own personal favourite Unhallowed Metropolis. There are even a bunch of board games out there that allow you to have fun surviving the undead hordes, either by throwing your opponents into the slavering maw of the walking dead, or working together to get as many people out as possible. Or maybe something in between. Any of the board games can be used as an introduction to get people into the idea of role playing games using this hugely popular cultural trope, as almost all of these games put you into the shoes of a character in a way that is far from abstract.

There are of course exceptions, and my least favourite zombie game falls into this category. Zombies!!! the game does nothing to make you feel like you’re part of a world that is falling apart, and every time I’ve played it, I’ve ended the game not caring one bit who lives or dies. The fact that the characters re-spawn so easily but PVP is positively encouraged has meant that after the last tile is played the game has carried on for another 2 tedious hours as players just keep killing each and re-spawning. Literally every other zombie based game I’ve played has been better than this. Anyway, this wasn’t supposed to be a review of a game I hate, but a discussion of zombie things that rock! Back to 2.8 hours later then…

7053168809_765bbc3e4c_oThis has become a bit of a big deal over here in Blighty, even getting a fairly big mention on the BBC breakfast news show a few weeks back. As large businesses close down, that leaves large empty office spaces, and even an occasional shopping centre (or mall  for my American readers) with nothing to fill them. This is far from a great state of affairs for a country to find itself in, but then geeks come along and happen upon a great alternative use for that space. With a big group of people who like making them selves up as zombies – and trust me, there’s no shortage of that – you just need a few rules in place. These are very similar to playing airsoft or even keeping LARP safe.

And that’s it really. You have a big abandoned looking space, and countless undead walking around it ready to eat your face clean off, and then insert members of the public. The person who introduced this to me, long before I saw it on national television, is not a role player in the slightest. He’s a huge fan of very dark horror movies, and whenever we talk over a pint or two, the topic always ends up on which highly disturbing movie he’s seen that I should hunt out. Just the thought of him being able to live through the experience himself had him hooked from the first time he saw an advert for the event. If money wasn’t quite so tight, I’d have joined him. He has since told me how much fun it was and how all the participants got very quickly immersed in the story of horror survival, and were making decisions in the same way the people tend to when role playing; what’s best for the character’s chance of survival.

unnamedThis is just one bit of zombie fun that’s out there though. On an episode of Comic Book Men a couple of the guys took part in a zombie themed marathon, with the threat of permanent undeath keeping them moving at speed while running and getting through obstacles. There’s even a keep fit app based on the idea of zombie survival that you can get for a smart phone. And if you want to know just how easy it is to find people who like getting made up to look like zombies, all I need tell you is I live in a small university town – not even a city – in the north of England, and we have no problem finding shambling corpses. I have just spent a good few minutes going through the pictures behind that link, it’s a bit worrying how many of those people I know and drink with.

What does all this teach about us gaming though? Well for me it seems that if you want a great way to introduce your non gamer friends into what it is that you do, then zombies should be the way forward. There are plenty of avenues open to you to try this, and since they have infected popular culture so much in recent years – when we get the first episode of the podcast online, you’ll see that I think it’s maybe gone a bit too far – you won’t need to work hard to get the basic concept across. If there are any other zombie based activities that you know of that I have neglected to mention, then please, share them in the comments section.

Feb 182013
 

This has been a blog that I’ve left to foment for quite some time, and it may even spill over into a second part, simply because, right now, I’ve been seeing role playing games all over the place, even though they’re not played by role players. My first example of this, is actually a role playing game, but I have had so much fun and good times playing it with people who didn’t even have the faintest clue what an RPG was, I think it stands up as a game that could never be marketed towards gamers, and still do very well indeed. I mentioned it last week when pimping a game that not everyone will have heard of, but if you missed it, the game in question was The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. 

0901K4-P111_jpgThis is primarily a game of getting together with friends to tell stories, and having a drink and getting excited while you do so, without having to worry too much about any real rules or system, instead just concentrating on having fun. I have played this game in a tent at a music festival, and at four o’clock in the morning after getting back home from a nightclub, and each time, there has been more none gamers involved than people who know what a d20 is. So what then is the appeal that this game has that other – more traditional – RPGs lacks?

First off I think it could be the simplicity of the game. In its most basic form it’s more like a magazine than an RPG, and once someone knows the rules, it takes minutes to explain them, and to get people to join in. The only flaw with that logic is that I know of quite a few RPGs that are just as easy to explain. OK, maybe easy to explain to other gamers, but even so, the most common game I play at the moment – Savage Worlds - is so quick and easy to play that its silly. Yet there are people in my life who would be happy to play some Munchausen, but who would scoff at the idea of sitting around the table with dice and pencils to play a game.

That's actually me, but I wear clothes like that all the time anyway.

That’s actually me, but I wear clothes like that all the time anyway.

This brings me onto something else that I’ve encountered quite recently: airsofting. I turned up to my first experience of this one a little apprehensive. I played a lot of laserquest in my youth, and know that I can get a bit addicted to this kind of game. Lazerquest is actually a darn sight cheaper too, as there’s no need to ever by yourself any extra gear. Something which is clearly not true of most of the people I saw at the venue. The venue I ended up at to have my airsoft cherry popped was called Halo Mill, and when we got there it was packed full of enthusiasts. I mean a good 30 guys all in full combat gear, or a variety of costumes. One dude was there as the eponymous anti-hero from the Hitman series of games. It was a little intimidating at first, but once you got into the swing of it, it’s a bloody good laugh, and I recommend anyone who gets the chance to take a shot at it.

What struck me though- maybe because I’ve been a gamer for so long, and was already thinking along these lines – was how ready the players were to assume the role of soldier/adventurer/combatant when they played. They weren’t heading into the arena as Dave the IT guy, or Phil the lettings agent, they wanted to take on the role of something a lot more exciting than they would ordinarily get the chance to.

I don’t know if they realised it, but for a hell of a lot less money – I don’t want to scare you by telling you how much a basic SMG or assault rifle costs for this hobby – they could play the roles of a future soldier with weaponry they could barely imagine, and fight battles on a scale that could never be reproduced within the confines of even the largest outdoor site. Maybe they just wanted the exercise? Maybe they wanted to really feel the weapon in their hand without the danger of live rounds? But, when this is same activity tales place with medieval hand weapons, we have no problem seeing it as role playing. OK, maybe re-enacting, but still, that’s a hobby that it is still considered geeky.

The people who I saw airsofting would almost certainly never equate what they did with what myself, and  - I expect – a lot of my readers do in our spare time, even though there are so many parallels. I’m going to be going back to this venue at some point, or if I’m lucky a new venture that a friend is trying to get off the ground, and I would actually like to talk to some of the players, and ask them if the idea of table top pen & paper role playing has ever appealed to them. And if so, why did they choose this hobby instead.

Running out of space, so I’ll continue this later, when we look at people running away from zombies, but for some reason, still not role playing.

Feb 112013
 

RPGBlogCarnivalLogocopy1-227x300Another month, another RPG bog carnival. This time brought to us by the rather spiffy people over at Arcane Shield. It appears that February has brought out the old romantic in them, but like myself, they don’t want to spend the time doting on someone who presumably already knows that they are the love of their lives, and don’t require an extra dose of yearly proof around mid February. Instead they want us all to take the time to think about things that don’t get enough love. Those games that you just can’t stop thinking about, but seem to have passed by the majority of gamers. For me there really could be only one choice.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a gem of a game. In its first incarnation I remember it being barely more than a handful of pages, and was easily read and digested in a matter of minutes. But that isn’t why I love it so. My own version of the game is in fact a beautiful leather bound edition weighing in at a little over a hundred pages, and I still adore it. What makes the game stand out for me is two fold, and the first is its elegant simplicity, mixed with a rather wonderful layer of complexity just beneath the surface. Allow me to explain.

04-22-11-BaronMunchausen02

Click for the actual adventures of Baron Munchause.

This is primarily a story telling game with each player taking on the roll of an aristocratic explorer and adventurer. The game takes place in some mythical tavern or tent, where you have all come together to grab a moment of peace, and discuss your exploits with like minded fellows. The first player is decided by which adventurer has the highest social rank – I often choose a marquis so rarely get this honour - and then a gripping yarn is decided on. “Tell us Lord Du Ponte of the time you heroically banished Neptune from his throne beneath the waves to a small fishing lake just outside of Almondbury“. The aforementioned Du Ponte would then regale the table with this highly unbelievable tale, suffering constant interruptions from the audience as they inform him that what he is saying simply cannot have happened for a variety of unlikely reasons: “But good sir, the Duchess of Hertfordshire was at the time engaged to yours truly, and as such would be in no position to lure a horse to the Stone of Scone”, and wager money to the fact. At which point, the choice falls to Du Ponte to either accept the coin and the story continues with the embellishment now a part of it, or enter a bidding war claiming that what the other person said was untrue, and tossing a coin into the ring of your own.

The story continues until it reaches its conclusion, or until the rest of the room becomes bored and starts to throw bread rolls at the speaker. It is advised that bread rolls be procured before the game begins, as waiters can never be trusted to bring them in a hurry. Each person tells their own tall tale, and then a winner must be decided. All very simple you see, and a great way of bringing together people with the aim of not only role playing, but putting the emphasis on story telling in it’s entirety. You will notice that no dice were cast during the entire game, only money – or tokens – changing hands. For me this is a wonderful thing; as much as I like random mechanics, I don’t like it when they interfere with a good tale, and this game is all about the tale.. The complex bit comes next…

The winner of this little contest is judged by all present, and they do so by bidding what coins they have left on who wove the finest yarn. So, if you have successfully averted all claims to untruth in your story you will have received no extra coins. And if you have made certain that everyone knows how much exaggeration went into the other wild stories, you will also have no coins of your own left. This means that they will be in the hands of others, who will have to place them before someone other than themselves, thus giving you a greater chance of emerging victorious. A fine mechanic, and one that inspires more florid story telling. Telling a good story with passion and inventiveness in equal measure, also important in gaining points from your compatriots.

So, as you can see, a great game to inspire your more creative side. As to the second reason why I love his game; well that is going to be the subject of a separate article, but the short story is that it’s a great game to play with people who would never willingly join in a role playing game, for whatever reason that may be…

Jan 222013
 

kuro-cover-500-233x300Welcome back everyone to the next thrilling installment of my review of the wonderful little game Kuro, brought to you by the fine fellows Cubicle 7 Entertainment. I left you last time with a taste of what the world was – Japanese horror mixed with cyberpunk – and how it was presented to you by the book. Following straight on from there we get to character generation, so I thought I would give it a shot myself.

If anyone has read my Gnome Stew competition entry, they will know that I’m hoping to run this game myself at some point this year, so I had a rough idea about the type of character I would expect to see. For this example, I thought I would try for a spoiled little rich kid. Someone with no issues in his life who just indulged in his hobbies while the world around him was falling apart. Little would he expect that before long, his own existence would prove to be just as fragile as a house of cards, and when you have more to lose, it can be a lot more painful when it finally collapses.

So, the first thing the book asks for is a concept. That was sorted pretty quickly, along with age and social standing. Next we work out the points allotted for the characteristics based on our young buck’s age. I had decided to make him younger than the average character; this would mean a slightly smaller pool of points, but since I wanted him to be naive and sheltered, this made perfect sense. What comes next in the book, that doesn’t make so much sense. After telling you how many characteristics there are, and how many points you have to spend on them, there is no indication of what these characteristics are until several pages later. I kind of understand why they dropped some pregens in here now; if people wanted to get straight into a game it’s useful to have them good to go. I wasn’t looking for anything pre-created though, so there was a lot of scrolling back and forward through the pdf to get to the info that I needed. Once you get over that jump though, the information is very well presented in a way that makes sense. The stats are laid out nice and neatly, and the derived attributes are easy to work out and are all pretty intuitive. If you’re curious, I took a hit to a couple of stats to get higher scores in some key areas, and ended up with the fewest hit point it is possible to get, but a bloody high defense score.

Next we turn to the skills, and once again I was cursing my choice to play a younger character. The game lays it right out there that doing so will be a hindrance, and should only be done with the GM’s permission, so It was in fact my own foolish choice. Skills in Kuro are split by type, and your skill points are distributed into these categories. Each set has a list of skills beneath it, and each is now set to the level of points you have put into the whole group. For instance, I picked the firearms skill set, and set it to three points. I wanted to be able to play with handguns a bit better than that though, and luckily, Kuro had me covered.

After assigning skill points, you get specialisation points. Since each skill set has a list of individual skills, you can chose to excel in certain specific fields. In my case, I whacked three specialisation points into handgun – bringing the score up to six – and then could only hope my character could lay their hands on one. With my other points distributed amongst the skills and specialisations I wanted, it was time to move on.

Or should I say back a bit, because once again, having the pre generated archetypes in the book before I had finished creating one of my own had confused me. Next to a lot of the specialisations on the archetype, there would be an extra word in brackets. I had to scan back a couple of times, even resorting to a search on the pdf until I was convinced I hadn’t just missed something, and could carry on. Eventually I found out what these mystery words alluded to, and was pleasantly surprised. For each specialty taken above a certain level, you can choose a special trick for it, like adding an extra dice, or a permanent bonus. Lovely idea thinks I, and so I spend a few more minutes adding in some extra words. Not many, but if you’re going to create a standard character, you do get a lot more options. How this will play out during the game remains to be seen, and I can picture the need for crib sheets to begin with to remind the players what each word gives them, but we shall to wait and see…

Final touches next, and this means shopping. Luckily the game assumes that people will have the basics, plus whatever else they would be expected to have for their chosen career. I know a lot of people who find sifting through equipment lists to be the height of tedium, so they could probably jump right past this. I like equipping a character though,so I lost a good couple of hours going through the wares on offer. I have to say, Kuro shines when it gets the chance to dazzle me with cyber tech.

Page after page of things and stuff, with plenty of price lists and stat lines for people who only want the basics, and well written details for people like me. I particularly liked the inventiveness which they’ve applied to making this game feel so fundamentally cyberpunk. I could wax lyrical on this for another thousand words, but my word count is already starting to look strained under the pressure, so I’ll just say that the time was well spent, and I totally winter stealing some ideas from this for my current game. Honest. I would have preferred a few more pictures of some of the more outlandish pieces of future tech, but that’s a personal issue, and I’m not the one paying for artists.

Apart from the fine tuning, that’s all you need to know about breathing some life into a Kuro character. All in all, ignoring my shopping spree, I was done in a little over half an hour, and I can’t see even inexperienced gamers taking too much longer. If you are planning creating the entire group in one sitting though, I would advise you to make a little character generation pack for each player, with the derived stats calculations and the two pages of skill lists on it. Otherwise you’ll be spending most of the time waiting for the players to pass the book round to each other.

I’ll continue the review next week, looking at the rules of play. For now though, this game still receives two very enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

Jan 142013
 

I spend a wee bit of time on the RPG sub/Reddit these days, and I love a lot of what gets posted on there. Something that turns up every couple of days though – usually after the last one drops from the front page and into the ether- is someone talking about a problem player in their group. What I’m offering may not work for everyone, but sums up a good 95% of the problems that seem to affect people around a table. Simply put, player ‘A’ is not playing the same as players B through F, and this is causing problems in the group. Are they playing the game wrong though?

That’s a big problem when talking about any game; is there ever a ‘right’ way to play it? I’ve220px-Dartagnan-musketeers seen a couple of posts discuss this is in the past, and most come to the simple conclusion that there is no wrong fun. I actually agree with this, and if you’re interested I wrote a little piece about why I wouldn’t want to be the Gm for the Three Musketeers. Did I think that they were playing the ‘game’ incorrectly? Absolutely not. For the time period, setting and genre of the piece, they were behaving exactly as they should do. And in all honesty, I’ve played games with similar set-ups, and had a bloody good laugh swashing my buckles with the best of them. But as a GM, it wouldn’t be my cup of tea to run that kind of game. This is a personal choice, and not a judgement on people or the way they play. I know as absolute fact that not everyone likes the style of games I run, and have seen someone lose interest so quickly it was scary.

The thing is, if you’re running a game for the group, or playing as part of one, the group as whole should be what decides how the game works. Lets go back to our original problem of player ‘A’. Imagine him (yes, I’m using the male pronoun. This is simply for personal 200px-Sherlock_Holmes_Portrait_Pagetease, as I’m a bloke, and as such find it easier to think like one) as a player who loves the thrill of an investigative game. He will spend hours poring over facts and clues, and won’t enter into a risky situation unless he has a few contingency plans, and knows almost exactly what to expect. The rest of the group however, bare a much closer resemblance to Athos and co. They’re always flying the face of danger, taking huge risks, and putting plans into action after a few minutes discussion over beers, with the most pertinent point being ‘who gets to look the coolest during this plan’.

There is nothing wrong with either of these play styles, and I’ve enjoyed both, as a player, and even – on occasion – as a GM. But after a couple of session, player ‘A’ is getting fed up. He never wants to throw his character into the same situations as the others, so often volunteers to be the look-out. Since a lot of the game drops regularly into combat rounds, he spends most of his time sat twiddling his thumbs, playing on his mobile, or doodling. The rest of the players try to include him, but soon get frustrated and take his desire to remain safe and sound as an unwillingness to engage with the group, and start to think of him as being useless, if not an actual inconvenience. After all, get a different player in who likes the same kind of fun, and there’s another character to help in a fight instead of sitting it out.

As a GM, you should be able to spot this happening, and the sensible thing to do is approach the lone player first and find out what the problem is. There could be any number of other factors that the above example hasn’t even touched on. Things that happen away from the table can often impact what happens around it. If there is something that can be done, then as a GM, you should make some effort to do it. The more likely problem will be that they just don’t like the way the game is being played though.

This is a bigger problem to deal with. You don’t want to change everything so that one player has fun while the others sit bored; that will only exacerbate the problem. You could try to include some elements of game play that better suit the expectations of player ‘A’, but be wary of going too far down this route. The other players may have no interest in such activities, and you could end up with a near permanent group split, as player ‘A’ deals with the investigation side, and the rest get into fights. I don’t know about you, but I try my best to keep party splits to a minimum, as they can end up with one or more players spending a good chunk of game night with nothing to do. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave too many other options, and the most effective can be the hardest to convince yourself to take.

Sometimes you have to realise that players can end up in the wrong groups. If you’ve tried talking to them, seeing if there’s any solution that won’t involve changing the nature of the game – or how the majority of players enjoy it – then it might be time to bite the bullet, and sit down with player ‘A’. This won’t be an easy conservation, and you have to be mature in the way you handle it, even if player ‘A’ isn’t. Don’t disparage their way of playing the game, tell them that during other games, you’d love to get more under the skin of the adventure and see what’s what. But for this game, you have to concede that the majority of players want to not think too much, and throw themselves into the action. That being said, as a GM, you can’t change the whole game to suit one player, and if they’re not having fun, it could be time for them to drop out of the group. You don’t even have to make it a permanent thing, but they need to understand that other groups exist who want to play the same way they do, and will find their methods far more fun than kicking in the door and seeing what happens.

As I say, not a fun conversation, and please, if you follow my advice, remember to include all the steps leading up that conversation first. But if a group isn’t working, then sometimes the only option is to fix the group. As always share your thoughts below, even if you massively disagree with anything I’ve said. I invite all manner of feedback, and look forward to a debate. Of course, if you do agree, and have had to resort to this course of action yourself, I would love to hear from you too, and how it all went down.