Wednesday, November 16, 2011

B/X has arrived!

Just opened the mail today to find that the Basic booklet had arrived completing the set! Cid is also apparently interested in them as well, and in the background one might be able to pick out Vornheim, Tome of Magic and The Dungeon Alphabet!

(This post also doubles to show off my gaming table!)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

As Much for My Reference as Yours

Ship Name - The Quickling
Ship Type - Extreme Clipper

Length - 180 feet
Bow - 30 feet
Draft - 20 feet
Cargohold - 700 tons below deck
Crew Required - 30

Jobs on the ship and what they entail:

Owner - Owns the ship, probably Llewain or the whole party
Captain - Runs the ship for the owner, Llewain
First Mate - In charge of the deck crew, probably Esra
Second Mate - Answers to the first mate, chief navigator, Sabine I'd assume
Carpenter - Also a shipwright, can build and repair ships/rudders/masts/etc, Albert
Sailmaker - Mends and fabricates sails as needed, Jacques
Steward - In charge of provisioning/cooking for the crew, ????
Purser - Pays the crew, Esra
Boatswain/Bosun - In charge of ship's rigging, anchors, ropes, and boats, I recommend filling this role with someone trustworthy!
And the rest - Everyone else, Asha, Sylvia, Xenocrates, Slasher, Glorya, Denar, +20 sailors

Give me a heads up if I missed anything! I wanted to catalog all of this for my own reference, and it's easier to type things out when brainstorming for me, probably because it's so easy to erase!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Balancing Spellcasters and Everything Else

From The Strategic Review: Vol 2, Issue 2 April 1976:

The logic behind it all was drawn from game balance as much as from anything else.

Fighters have their strength, weapons, and armor to aid them in their competition.
Magic-users must rely upon their spells, as they have virtually no weaponry or armor to protect them.
Clerics combine some of the advantages of the other two classes.
The new class, thieves, have the basic advantage of stealthful actions with some additions in order for them to successfully operate on a plane with other character types.

If magic is unrestrained in the campaign,  D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly, or the referee is forced to change the game into a new framework which will accommodate what he has created by way of player characters. It is the opinion of this writer that the most desirable game is one in which the various character types are able to compete with each other as relative equals, for that will maintain freshness in the campaign (providing that advancement is slow and there is always some new goal to strive for).

Magic is great. Magic is powerful. But it should be kept great and powerful in relation to its game environment. That means all the magic-users who have been coasting along with special dispensations from the dungeonmaster may soon have to get out there and root with the rest of the players or lie down and die.

Love him or hate him, Gary Gygax had a way with words. Of particular note to me, is the fact that he defends the game system so vehemently(in fact, the larger article was a defense on the "Vancian" magic system) and lays the blame on the wizard stealing the show at the feet of the campaign and the dungeon master.

I'd honestly have to say I agree with him, for the most part. Any game I've ran where the Magic-User/Wizard stole the show is usually one where I'm not placing enough challenges for the fighter/thief/cleric/etc to overcome. It's interesting to keep in mind, not just for D&D reasons, but for running any tabletop game! If your "roles" are The Scientist, The Track and Field Athlete, and the Ace Shooter, then you'll want to balance your game to include a variety of scientific, athletic and shooting challenges so the players will have the opportunity to shine. Maybe it's completely symptomatic of me starting with D&D(or fuck, everyone starting with D&D if you want to get technical, it's ancient), but I think every tabletop game can be distilled into character "interests" or "roles" that should totally come up regularly to keep the players engaged!

Otherwise you end up with the steady stream of hack and slash challenges with the diplomat just waiting for his or her opportunity to shine for 5 sessions... 6 sessions... 9 sessions! Definitely, no fun for the player that does not see their character "that way." I think it's interesting that 4th edition decided to "fix" this problem by giving everyone something to do every round in a combat scenario, but the downside is that I feel like it leads to GMs who will only run combat, because it's the obvious choice for something where everyone can shine!

Which is fine, if everyone knows that they're supposed to be mercenary warriors or members of a combat squadron, but can be an issue if the game is presented as being more open ended than that, and players show up with second story burglars who avoid confrontation, and deductive investigators who are great at solving mysteries and who don't have the bartitsu mastery of Sherlock Holmes!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Robot Bird with a Panel in His Chest that Contains Two Mechanical Arms

So I never did get around to running the introductory module that came with Gamma World, and I have to admit that it barely bothered me because character creation was so damn amazing. Looking over it again, I can see that it's apparently 7 combat encounters, a really loose hook and virtually nothing else. In fact, this line from the text is rather woeful!

After the adventurers enter the steading and make their way to the installation of the Ancients beneath it, the encounters between poster maps are not physically connected. They pass through dozens of interconnected chambers, descend stone or metal stairs, and occasionally find straight connecting passages. These corridors, tunnels, and chambers aren’t shown on the battle maps.

Let me repeat the important part again: "They pass through dozens of interconnected chambers, descend stone or metal stairs, and occasionally find straight connecting passages."

I know this is Gamma World, but anyone who's read it will see that it's clearly designed by the same people and pretty much has the exact same tone as 4e. And regardless of how my group has played 4th edition D&D(which I think we've had some awesome games with), WotC expects a great deal of abstraction of the events between combats!

So, I say to them this, I'm sorry Wizards of the Coast, but even though it will lead to me being completely confused if I ever attend another D&D encounters or Living Forgotten Realms game, I enjoy your games and prefer to actually play out those "dozens of interconnected chambers," even if it means that I might not be able to pack more than 2 or 3 combats into a single 4 hour session!

...and the group might even come up with a plan to bypass or talk their way out of those combats!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Obligatory TRPBTNTWA Post

Enough people answered these questions( that it's become a sort of meme, so I figured I'd join in!

Book binding. (I can't be the only person who bemoans the way new rulebooks tend to fall apart like a sheaf of dry leaves after about 5 seconds of use).

I haven't noticed new rulebooks being any more or less fragile than old ones, but that probably has a lot to do with the fact that I'm hardly an aficionado of such things. All my tabletop books are falling apart in some way or other!

"Doing a voice". How many people "do voices"? Should they? How do you get better at "doing a voice" if that's your thing?
I do voices when I feel like it, but find that it's far more important to use figures or speech and interesting syntax if you want the NPC to be noteworthy. Whether you curse or not, use contractions or not, and what turns of phrase come up in conversation are going to be way more memorable and help tell the story of the character, I feel! Although, if you give the Castle Chef a REALLY bad french accent, the players might come up with their own stories, like that the chef is actually Orcus in disguise!

Breaks. How often do you have breaks within sessions?
I've never had scheduled breaks during sessions, and typically only run 4-5 hour long sessions. On the other hand, I run a very loose table where out of character tangents can go on for longer than some people would like. If I ran a tighter table, I think scheduled breaks would be an absolute must! After all, you're seeing some of these people only once a week with any regularity.

Description. Exactly how florid are your descriptions?
Not very. Over the years, I've found that as amazing as much as I love florid descriptions and prose in literature, in-game, it will generally lead to glazed-over eyes and blank stares. On top of this, generally while you're still describing the exquisitely sculpted bas-relief in bronze-gilt marble, your players are probably interrupting to ask if they can pull the lever you mentioned in the first four sentences! Less is more, but you have to be careful not to forget dressings that might be important to party plans like windows, double doors, tables, torches, etc.

Where do you strike the balance between "doing what your character would do" and "acting like a dickhead"?
Usually when there's a bunch of frowns on the other player's faces and they're not saying anything in-character, someone is being a dick head. It's important for players to be able to talk out what they're comfortable with at the table, because every group will be different. I have my own feelings on what I don't want to see in the game, but sometimes I'm willing to stretch them if the players all want something really badly!

PC-on-PC violence. Do your players tend to avoid it, or do you ban it? Or does anything go?
I've let it happen in the past, and I've also forbidden it entirely(your weapon passes through the other player character as if they aren't there) and usually tried to gauge it by what players say to each other and to me during/before/after games. Unfortunately, that doesn't always work, so I've come to the conclusion that it's probably best to only allow it when everyone that it could affect(probably the entire table) agrees that it's okay. There's something to be said for letting everyone at the table decide on uncomfortable things like that. The same rule would also apply well to uncomfortable subjects such as ultra violence, sexual situations, and fetishy stuff. It's best to keep anything out of the game that isn't unanimously agreed to be all right!

How do you explain what a role playing game is to a stranger who is also a non-player?
I generally describe it as an improv game where you make up a personality and act out what the persona will do in a world of the gamemaster's creation. I've never had problems getting random strangers to join for at least a single game, so I think this must not sound too nerdy to random strangers, haha! A lot of one-session players have derailed the action when they get "drunk with freedom" and this usually leads to extended bathing scenes, jumping through windows/into the ocean and hitting on people in the bar as a different gendered character than the player. Not that there's anything wrong with this!

Alchohol at the table?
Beer and weak stuff(wine coolers/hard lemonades/etc) are fine. You'd have to work pretty hard to get wasted in 4 hours on that stuff!

What's acceptable to do to a PC whose player is absent from the session? Is whatever happens their fault for not being there, or are
there some limits?

Typically, their character is off screen handling some "personal business" and when they return they can make up what happened.(Pie eating competition/went on a date/had to take care of a baby/etc) I've been thinking lately of adopting an approach more in line with the 1st edition DMG, though, where in-game days pass one for one with out of game days whenever nothing dramatic is happening. I think this would allow more believability when a character is "off screen" In special cases, I'll NPC the character, but that's just for latecomers. If a character died while the player was busy(especially if they were sick or something), it'd be really depressing for them! Better just to let them be hand-waved away until the player can show up next time.