Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Remember, Don't Be A Dick

Last week, I talked about the traits I look for in a good player. While I believe all five things I listed are important and any good player should possess them, there is one trait that I feel I should emphasize more because it's a trait that can cause the most problems in a group if not dealt with. It's a trait that can be boiled down to four simple words:

"Don't Be A Dick."

There is nothing more annoying than a player or GM who decides to ruin everyone else's fun by acting like a complete and utter dick at the table. Roleplaying games are supposed to be about gathering with your friends and having a fun time telling a shared story, not dealing with one or more people who decide being a dick is the only way they can enjoy themselves and only their enjoyment is important, so everyone else can go screw themselves. As we get older, it gets harder and harder to schedule these games, making time a valuable thing. I can't be the only one who wants to spend that time with people whose company I enjoy and don't just want to punch in the face.

So, with all that being said, I thought I'd post a few ways to tell if you or someone else is being a dick at the table so you can identify it and deal with it before things get out of hand. The most obvious sign is if someone has their player do something horrible or like a complete asshole and their defense for these actions is, "I'm just playing my character." You're not just playing your character, you are using your character to act like a dick and then putting the blame onto an imaginary person.

Another sign is if the player is constantly making choices that go against the rest of the party or are counter-productive to the adventure. For example, the rest of the party has decided to go explore this strange cave that has been bellowing out green mist on a nightly basis and that one player says, "Guys, I'm not going to that cave. I'm going to stay in the tavern." The majority of the party has decided to do this, but that one player has decided to through a monkey wrench into the cogs and usually makes the excuse, "My character just wouldn't go on that adventure."

Finally, the easiest way to tell if someone at the table is just being a dick is if they constantly start fights with other party members for no real good reason. While some inter-party conflict can be interesting and lead to some nice character development, it will spell death for a campaign and gaming group if its a constant occurrence. Like I said before, we are here to have fun, not to fight and be at each others throats.

As I've said again and again, no one really wants to deal with a dick. If you see any of the above things happening, you should probably try to find a way to nip it in the butt before things explode. Hopefully you can handle it and get back to playing and having a good time. However, sometimes the only way to deal with a dick is to take the dick out of the picture. While kicking a player out of a group is never easy, sometimes its the only thing you can do to keep your gaming group healthy and for everyone else to have a good time.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Adapting History: Colonial America

"The Spirit of '76" by Archibald Willard
Our real world history is rife with interesting places and periods that are just begging to be adapted to the table-top. Some of these periods, like the Middle Ages and World War II, have seen numerous adaptations while others have sadly remain either untouched or horribly neglected.

One period that I believe GMs and designers should pay more attention to is Colonial America and the American Revolution. Both periods, oddly enough, would make a great fit for a dark fantasy game.

The numerous colonies and the untamed wilderness that lies not to far from the border fits the "Points of Light" campaign concept rather perfectly. The characters could be explorers hired by the colony leaders to tame the wilderness in the name of England (or whichever country controls the colony) and defeat the strange monstrosities that inhabit the shadows of the New World, they could be Native Americans who are doing what they can to protect their homeland and way of life from the ever-expanding colonies, or they could be immigrants from the Old World who have traveled to the Colonies to either start a new life or have new adventures. The possibilities are numerous.

The addition of magic and monsters would also make for some interesting situations in the game. For example, let's say the adventurers are traveling and they stop in a small town to replenish their supplies. This town, known as Salem, discovers one of the adventurers is a magic-user and they manage to capture him or her. Now, the rest of his friends must come up with a way to save their friend while he or she does their best to argue why they are not a witch and shouldn't be hung or burned at the stake.

If you decide to set the game at the start of the American Revolution, you could have the characters get mixed up with the revolutionaries and have to fight the British, who might just be dabbling in the dark arts to insure their victory against the rebellious colonists. On the flip side, you could have the Colonists asking the adventurers to find a number of artifacts left by the Native Americans that could give them just enough of an edge to defeat the British army and win their independence.

If I was going to adapt Colonial America for use as a setting for a fantasy game, I would have to make a few house rules. First, I would limit players to playing only human characters so I don't have to try and shoehorn the demi-human races into the setting. If I was using a new game such as Pathfinder, I would probably limit the classes as well. For example, I would most likely ban monks, ninja, and samurai since it would make very little sense for these Eastern-flavored classes to be in the Colonies. I'd also probably implement the Slow experience track so characters would gain power much more slowly and I'd add a level cap so I could keep to the level of power that I would feel more comfortable with.

What other periods of time do you feel are sadly neglected by game designers and GMs? Which would you like to see adapted for the table?

Friday, March 22, 2013

My Fascination With Old School Gaming

From the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG,
Art by Pete Mullen
As I've mentioned before, my introduction to roleplaying games was the 3.5 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Because I was introduced to this hobby with a game that some would label as "new school", I sadly have had very little hands-onn experience with older editions of D & D and the "reroclones" based on those editions.

However, as I've delved deeper into the hobby and learned more about its history and the games that laid down the groundwork for both the hobby and the industry as we know it today, I find myself extremely fascinated with these "old school" games and the modern games that seek to emulate their rules and style.

While I still love the d20 system and Pathfinder remains my go-to game when I want to run a fantasy campaign, I find the simplicity offered by old school games to be rather refreshing. Instead of trying to give you a rule for almost every situation, they just give you the rules that you will need and leave enough room for the GM to improvise things not covered and add elements to better fit his style of game and campaign. As someone who loves to tinker with almost every system I purchase and run, the fact these systems are easy to manipulate and make additions to is a very good thing.

The flavor and ideas behind these older games are very interesting as well. Instead of relying on numerous character skills and abilities, players had to be creative to figure out how to overcome challenges and obstacles. I also love how the escalation of power is not as drastic as it is in newer editions of D & D where characters eventually end up being superheroes and demigods.

Because of this growing fascination, I'm contemplating running a one-night dungeon crawl for a few friends in the near future using one of the numerous retroclones that are available. I've narrowed my choices to Dungeon Crawl Classics or Lamentations of the Flame Princess. While the fact that DCC is based on the d20 system would make it easier for the players to adapt, I feel like LotFP is much more simple. Decisions, Decisions...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Five Traits I Look For In Game Masters

Yesterday, I talked about the five traits that I look for in players. Since I don't want to be one-sided in situation, today I'll talk about the five traits that I look for in Game Masters. Here they are:

1. Knows The Rules
If you are going to GM a game, at least know the basic rules and have the rulebook handy just in case you need to look up something. I hate playing with GM's who have absolutely no idea what the rules are and refuse to learn them. While you shouldn't be a slave to them, the rules are there for a reason and should be used unless you have a good reason not to.

2. Doesn't See The Party As Advisories
Like I said in the previous post, the time that I have to roleplay has dwindled as grown older. Because of this, I'd rather play in a game where everyone cooperates to tell a cool story and have a fun time instead of one where the GM is going out of his way to kill us because he feels the game isn't fun unless he "wins". The only exception to this is when you are playing a "Deadly Dungeon of Death" as a one-night thing. Since the whole point of a "Deadly Dungeon of Death" is for the players to see if they can keep their characters alive in a dungeon where every room has something that can kill them. However, like I said, this should just be a one-shot thing and not the entire campaign. 

3. Makes The Players The Stars, Not His NPCs
I think most of us at one point or another have played with a GM who constantly had his "badass uber-NPC" show up and save the players and steal the spotlight from them. If you're NPC is the start and is going to be doing everything, why the hell am I playing in the first place? The player characters are the stars of the story and your NPCs are there to be secondary characters. While you can have adventurers that have an NPC playing a major role, the player characters are still the ones in the spotlight. 

4. Can Go With The Flow And Work With The Unexpected
As a GM, your players will regularly throw something at you that you weren't expecting and have no idea where to go with it. When faced with this situation, the good GM just takes a deep breath and quickly figures out the logical results of the player's unexpected actions. The bad GM will usually shut-down for a moment or two, then tell the players their actions have failed and force them to take one of the actions he planned for. Doing this really robs the players of any agency in the game and if done enough, they will start to feel like their actions have no meaning since they can never get off the railroads that you have laid out for them. 

5. Doesn't Let Outside Biases And Prejudices Affect The Game
 As I've said numerous times before, I play roleplaying games because I find them fun and I want to spend the free time that I have having fun. So, when a GM decides to bring his own personal biases and prejudices into a game, you can bet that I won't be playing with him for very long. I don't want to play with someone who's racist, homophobic, sexist, or hates something or someone for no other reason than its different from him and I definitely don't want to play in a game where he makes those things major parts of the campaign. I play this game so I can forget about the real world for just a little while and pretend to be someone different. I don't want my character to suffer because I choose to play a gay character and the GM just happens to be homophobic. 

While these are numerous other traits that I could list, these five are the most important to me when I'm looking for a GM to play with. What are some traits that you look for in GM's? 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Five Traits I Look For In Players

Scene from Futurama: Bender's Game
Earlier today, I had a lot of free time and decided to read through some of the older posts on Heroes Against Darkness. One post in particular about the sixteen steps to being a good player really caught my eye and I started to think about some of the traits that I look for in players. So, continuing with this train of thought, here are the five traits that I like to see in my players.

1. Know The Rules
There is nothing more annoying than a player who doesn't know the rules of the game. The only exception to this rule is those players who are brand new to the game and are still learning how to play. However, if you have been playing for awhile now and still ask how to do relatively simple things, I think it's time you sit down and at least learn the basics. 

2. Don't Be A Dick
While the occasional joke made in good taste is fine, constantly being disrespectful to both the GM and the other players is not alright. If I had to be perfectly honest, this trait is the most important to me. Since I'm older now and the amount of time that I get to roleplay has dwindled over the years, I'd rather play with people that I enjoy being around than dicks who enjoys ruining everyone's good time. 

3. Be Creative And Describe What You're Doing
I don't know about the rest of you, but I HATE it when we are in combat and one of my players says, "I attack with my sword" and nothing else. That statement is just so boring and bland and makes it harder to reply with a interesting sounding effect since I have so little to work with. Instead, say something like, "I grip my sword tightly and swing at the opponent's head." With that, I have a lot more to build off of when I describe if you hit or miss. 

4. Pay Attention To The Game
I really hate it when I've just finished describing the dungeon room they have just entered and one of the players looks up from their iPhone and asks, "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?" If you are going to pay more attention to that precious phone of yours, why are you playing in the first place? The only exception to this is if the person gets a text message or phone call that is really important and they have to take it. That I can understand. What I can't understand is someone who comes to a game to roleplay than spends the majority of the time texting their girlfriend or boyfriend and constantly asking, "Sorry, can you repeat that?" This is a real pet-peeve of mine. 

5. Make Characters That Are Compatible With The Party/Campaign
While some inner-party conflict can be interesting and fun, it can get really annoy if its a constant thing that makes it hard for the players to actually work together. For example, if one person in the party is playing a paladin dedicated to the goddess of justice and valor, don't play the assassin who worships the god of anarchy and murder. Make a character that would for one reason or another realistically travel and go on adventures with the rest of the party. While some inner-party conflict might occur, you will still have enough reasons to stay with them and see that everyone succeeds at the end of the adventure.

While there are a few other traits that I'd probably add, these five are the ones that I feel are the most important to me. Also, before you all start to think that I'm biased here, I'm going to post a list about the traits I look for in GM's tomorrow. I've got to be fair, don't I?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Problems With D&D/Pathfinder Magic

"Rary the Traitor" by Ben Wootten
While I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Dungeons & Dragons and its close cousin Pathfinder, there are a few elements of both games that have always annoyed me for one reason or another. One of them happens to be how the game handles magic.

Now, let me be clear, this post is not going to be a rant against the Vancian magic system that most editions of D&D implement. Unlike a large amount of people, I actually rather like Vancian spellcasting. I like like the resource-management elements that are present in the system and the "Fire and Forget" concept is a very interesting one.

My complaint with the D&D/Pathfinder is how using something that has the ability to warp reality has almost no negative consequences tied to it. A wizard can simply prepare a spell and cast it with the only worry being they might miss the target of the spell.

So, having the idea that casting magic should have some consequence tied to it, I started to think about how I would re-design the system to fulfill that need. After a few moments of thinking, I found myself really like the idea of magic-users having to make a "Spellcasting check" to cast a spell. Basically, they would roll a d20 and add the ability score modifier tied to their class (Charisma for Sorcerers, Intelligence for Wizards, etc.) plus 1/2 their level. The target number for this check would be 10 plus double the spell level being cast. If they succeed, the spell is cast as normal. If they fail, the spell doesn't work. If they fail by a decent amount, the spell fails and they suffer a consequence. For example, the spell could possibly backfire or the character could become exhausted because they pushed themselves too far. Prepared spellcasters would still have to prepare which spells the wanted to cast ahead of time and spontaneous spellcasters can work on the fly. However, prepared spellcasters could possibly add extra components to their spells to lower the DC of their spells. Spontaneous spellcasters can only lower the DC of their spells by extending the time needed to cast the spell.

While I'd love to implement this in my future Pathfinder games, I feel like I would have to do more work than I'd be willing to. However, a man can dream can't he?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Free-Form Combat Maneuvers

"Fighting Combat Alchemist" by
Florian Stitz
One of my favorite changes that Paizo made when creating Pathfinder was the addition of the Combat Maneuver mechanics. Like many people, I found the Grapple mechanics in 3e/3.5 to be incredibly annoying and hated dealing with them. So, folding the different maneuvers that one could attempt while in combat (Bull Rush, Grapple, Trip, etc.) into a simple d20 roll modified by a "Combat Maneuver Bonus" versus an opponent's "Combat Maneuver Defense" was a smart move in my mind and made pulling off those maneuvers a little bit easier and less headache-inducing.

However, I have noticed something about the Combat Maneuver mechanics that bothers me. You see, one of the things that I hate to see in roleplaying games is unnecessary restrictions. For a game that is supposed to allow you to do whatever you want, having something be restricted for no other reason than "because I said so" is really annoying to me.

 Those unnecessary restrictions managed to find their way into the Combat Maneuver mechanic. Instead of allowing you to perform any maneuver you want, you are limited to specific number of maneuvers that you can use. For me, this limitation actually weakens the mechanic and hampers the creative ways a player or GM could use it.

So, I've decided to just throw out the limiting list and use the mechanic in a more "free-form" way. For example, a player could as me if he could reach up and grab a cultist's hood and pull it down over it's head, causing him to not be able to see for a short time. I'd then reply, "Make a Combat Maneuver check." If he succeeds, he pulls off the maneuver and I would rule the cultist is blind until his next turn where he can spend a move action to fix his hood. I believe this more free-formed version of the Combat Maneuver mechanics will allow players to be a little more creative in combat and in turn make combat more entertaining.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Taking a Small Break

For the past few months I've done a pretty good job at keeping to my Monday, Wednesday, and Friday posting schedule. While I love writing these blog posts, that regular schedule can be someone taxing on my creative juices.

So, since this week is Spring Break for a lot of us in Texas, I've decided to take a small break from the blog and let my brain rest and relax for a little bit. However, to make up for this break, I'm going to make a post every single day next week. I think it's only fair.

With that being said, I hope those of you who are on Spring Break have a lot of fun this week and manage to get to have some really good gaming sessions during the Break.

See you all next week!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Critical Stunts for Pathfinder

Recently, I've been re-reading the first box set for the Dragon Age RPG from Green Ronin Publishing since I'm thinking about running a one-night session of it for a group of friends tomorrow. While reading through the book, I found myself going back and re-reading the section about Stunts and discovering how much I love the concept and execution of the rule.

For those of you who aren't that familiar with Dragon Age, I'll try and explain Stunts and how they work. Whenever you make an ability check and happen to roll doubles, you receive a number of points that you may spend on a number of stunts, which are a number of actions that allow you to do some pretty cool things like deal more damage with an attack or have a spell cost less mana to use because you did so well at casting the spell.

As I re-read the Stunts section again and again, an idea popped into my head: Could I create a similar stunt system for Pathfinder?

After a day's worth of brainstorming, I have a rough outline for a Pahfinder-ized version of stunts. The basic idea is that whenever you roll a critical success, you can perform a special action known as a stunt. The stunts you can perform are:

  • Skirmish: You can move either yourself or the target of your attack 5 ft. in any direction. If you rolled a natural 20, the distance is increased by 10 ft. 
  • Knock Prone: You knock the target of your attack prone. 
  • Mighty Blow: You inflict double the amount of damage against the target of your attack. 
  • Magical Renewal: You do not spend the spell slot for the spell you just cast. 
  • Skillful Casting: Increase the DC to resist the spell you just cast by 1. 
  • Fast Casting: After you cast your spell, you can immediately cast another spell of your choosing. The second spell must have a casting time of a standard or free action. If you roll a critical with the second spell, you do not get to perform a second stunt. 

To minimize any confusion, this "Critical Stunt" system would replace how critical successes currently work. This short list of stunts is mostly made up of the stunts from Dragon Age that I thought would work the best in Pathfinder and when I have the final product finished, there will probably be some more original stunts added to the list. 

While I like this idea a lot, I do notice a few flaws it could have. The first major one that comes to my mind is the idea would make critical successes more complicated and make combat longer. The second major one is the fear that some of the stunts will be fundamentally better than others, which would result in players only choose those stunts again and again. Since I'm still in the rough draft stage with all of this, I'm going to try and figure out a way to address these potential problems. 

So, what are your thoughts on the idea? Do you think it could be interesting? Are there any more problems the idea might have?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Making Magic Items Unique

One of the biggest complaints that I always hear about Dungeons & Dragons and its close cousin Pathfinder is how the majority of magic items are not very unique and rather bland. For the most part, I find myself agreeing with this sentiment.

For me personally, there is nothing more boring than being rewarded the bland +1 longsword. There is
nothing inherently interesting about a +1 longsword, and because there is nothing interesting about it, there is a high likelihood the player will immediately discard this item as soon as he finds a +2 longsword, and that will be cast aside as soon as a +3 longsword is found.

So, with that in mind, I thought I'd show how you can make that simple, bland +1 longsword into an interesting and unique weapon that a character would most likely want to keep throughout his adventuring career.

The easiest thing you can do to make a weapon more unique is to simply add some interesting fluff to it. Give it a name, a unique description, an interesting background for why it has the enchantments that it does, and how those enchantments work.

For example, let's say your player's find a +1 orc-bane longsword. When they pick it up, you tell them “It is obvious the blade was crafted by a dwarf with its straight uniformity and solid build. Along the center of the blade are a number of dwarven runes that radiate a strange warmth as you run your fingers across them and a blood-red ruby is embedded in the sword's hilt.” After doing some research, the characters learn the blade is named “Orc-Slahjel”, which is Dwarven for “Orc Slayer”. A number of orc legends say the blade was once wielded by the great dwarf warrior Dorgrim Ironheart during the vicious Orc Wars of the past. A cleric of Moradin, wishing to aid him in his fights against the savage folk, engraved sacred ruins into the blade that would allow him to deal deadlier blows against his orcish enemies. To activate the runes on the blade, you must run your fingers over them while saying the word “Slahj.” The runes are deactivated when the sword is returned to its sheath.

By spending the time and adding this information, you made a mechanically bland item into a unique artifact. You've given it a cool name and unique description, a back story that explains why it has the bonuses it does, and how the magic actually works. Now the character isn't just using a +1 orc-bane longsword, but is wielding the legendary Orc-Slahjel that was once wielded by the mighty warrior Dorgrim Ironheart.

However, sometimes just adding some fluff to an item isn't enough and you'd like to add some mechanical element that makes it unique. For example, instead of Orc-Slahjel being “Orc Slayer”, it's actually Orc-Radajar, the “Orc-Render”. While it has the same mechanical elements of Orc-Slahjel, it has a unique mechanic as well. If you land a critical against an orc while wielding Orc-Radajar, you may instead use the Rend ability (exactly like the troll ability of the same name) instead of dealing extra damage.

If you are willing to experiment a little, the unique mechanic you add to the blade could be something negative. For example, Orc-Slahjel might require you to bathe the blade in the flesh blood of an orc before the runes activate. Mechanically, this might mean you have to deal 6 points of damage to an orc before Orc-Slahjel receives the benefits of its enchantments. If its enchantments are ever increased, the amount of blood it requires might increase as well.

Now, while having more unique items in the game is a good thing, you should try and make every single item the characters come across unique. The reason for this is that if every item is unique, none of them will ever stand out and you will just be creating a new set of problems. So, pick a few items to make unique and sprinkle them throughout your campaign. They will have a greater effect that way. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Musings on the "Prep" Session

A few days ago, my new group got together for the first time and started my new Pathfinder campaign. Like usual, the session mostly consisted of character creation and getting the party started on their first adventure. While it was a good session and I can't wait for the next one, I started to think about other ways to handle the "prep" session.

While I tossed around a few ideas in my head, only one seemed to really stick and get my creative juices flowing. The idea would be an interesting experiment for my next campaign and would give the players a larger role in the creation of the setting and story.

Here is the basic idea:

At the start of the first session of the campaign, the GM places a large poster board on the table with the outline of a continental landmass drawn on it. He then will pull out the game Dawn of Worlds. For those of you unfamiliar with Dawn of Worlds, it is a game where the players create a fantasy setting together. The GM and players will play the game, adding different elements to the setting each turn. While this is happening, the GM does what he can to take notes on this setting. Once the game is over, you now have the setting for this upcoming campaign.

After the setting has been created, everyone moves onto the next step: character creation. However, instead of cracking open the Core Rulebook, you pull out a freshly-made Fiasco play-set and a large amount of d6's instead. The players then play the "Set-Up" stage of Fiasco, using it to develop the relationships between the characters and explain why they are adventuring together in the first place. Heck, you could even go further and use the play-set to help determine the group's major goals, giving you some future adventure hooks in the process.

For some reason, the idea of shared world-building fascinates me and I think it would be a really interesting experiment for a Pathfinder game. It's also make the "Prep" session a game in itself instead of just people messing around with the mechanics of the game.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Freeport: The City of Adventure Kickstarter

Yesterday, Green Ronin started a Kickstarter to fund their attempt to update the Freeport: The City of Adventure campaign setting to full Pathfinder rules. Having loved this city setting ever since I picked it up a few years ago, I'd definitely love to have a 512 page sourcebook updated to be more compatible to Pathfinder.  If you're interested, here is a link to the kickstarter where you can donate your money and help make this a reality. 

Thoughts on Prepping for a Game Session

Tomorrow will be the first session for my newly formed gaming group. The group is constructed from people that I have gamed with before, each having varying experience with tabletop roleplaying games. Since this will be one of the first times I've run a game in months, I decided to keep it simple and run Crypt of the Everflame and its two sequels, Masks of the Living God and City of Golden Death

Since I'm going to be using published adventures for the foreseeable future, I decided to spend most of the day today refreshing myself on the first adventure and getting everything I needed to run a session of Pathfinder together. While I was looking through my boxes of pawns, looking for the ones I would need for the session, I started to think about the prepping process and why I do things the way I do. 

Like most people, my personal prepping process is based on what will make the game easy for me to run and what do I need to run the game. For example, this upcoming session requires me to read the adventure that I'll be running (Crypt on the Everflame), take note of anything that I might want to change, leave out, or expand upon, find all the pawns that I'll need to represent both the players and their opponents on the battle mat, making sure I have enough character sheets and pencils for the players, and anything else that I might need. If I was running an original adventure, I would spread the prepping process out over a few days so I can make sure what I bring to the table won't be a slapped together product. 

While it usually requires a little bit more work, I usually find prepping an original adventure a little bit more fun than prepping to run a published adventure. Maybe its because I'm working with my own material and my imagination has more to wonder, or it could be that I don't have to read through a 32 page book and only have to work on the stuff the players have a high likelihood actually encountering. For original adventures, I tend to just detail the main adventuring site and keep a set of notes about everything else so I won't forget them during the game. I find this process to be a lot more useful than trying to write out a complete module working on stuff the players will most likely never experience. 

Now, with my ramblings done, I'd like to know how you guys and gals prep for a game session? Do you spend days detailing every little element or do you create a set of simple notes and an adventure site and improv everything else? I'd love to know.