Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Magic carpet vs jet fighter, who wins?

Who wins in a match between Maverick and Aladdin?

Lets see, Aladdin's carpet has the following features:

  • Doesn't run out of fuel.
  • Can make arbitrarily tight turns as it's not bound by aerodynamic constraints.
  • Can fly arbitrarily high and fast as once again it isn't bound by aerodynamic constraints.
  • Has no heat signature so it can't be easily targeted by heat seeking missiles.
  • Has a small radar footprint making it hard to target with radar guided missiles.

On the other hand Aladdin and the carpet lack:
  • A radar, making it hard to sight incoming jets (and dragons).
  • A g-suit, without which it's very hard to endure high G turns.
  • An oxygen mask, without which it's very hard to fly very high.
  • A canopy and for that matter a cabin that protects the pilot. Supersonic wind is really damaging.
  • Seat belts. Try pulling a -2G dive without them!
  • No ejection seat!
  • No 30mm canon
  • No air to air missiles
  • No fire suppression equipment. Have you ever seen a fire extinguisher on Aladdin's carpet? Neither have I. 

So there it is? Who do you think wins the day? Aladdin or Maverick?

Image Source

Crispy vs Fuzzy Crunch

Crunch is usually considered the opposite of fluff, but crunch is also the rules of the game. How can we have a game without crunch if that would mean a game without rules?

Monte Cook pointed out, when participating in a panel called Crunch Vs. Fluff: FIGHT! (Norwescon, April 2012), that  "Crunch and Fluff formed a false dichotomy that actually hurts game design rather than informs it". He compares the argument with chocolate chips and cookies. Which is more important in making chocolate chip cookies? He mentions:

Like with so many things, it’s interesting to take rpgs apart and look at their parts, but it’s incorrect to then try to say that one part is superior to another. A cookie without chocolate chips is just a plain cookie. Chips without a cookie are just a handful of chocolate chips. Only together do you have a chocolate chip cookie. An rpg without story is a board game (at best). An rpg without mechanics is an anecdote.

I totally agree with this and I'd like to put forward another way of looking at crunch. One that does not stand in opposition to fluff.

If crunch is not the opposite of fluff what do I mean when I say this is a crunchy game or this is not a crunchy game? It can't mean its fluffier since we're working of the premise that crunch and fluff are not opposite. In come the terms crisp and fuzzy.

Crisp refers to a rule set with a lot of rules, modifiers, and values to consider. Fuzzy refers to a rule set which is more open to the GM's interpretation. Crisp refers to rule sets found in games generally considered crunchy and fuzzy refers rule sets found in games generally considered fluffy.

Now if fluff and crunch are two independent values that don't necessarily oppose, then it is possible to have very crunchy and very fluffy games as well as scarcely crunchy and scarcely fluffy games. 

I'd like you to bring to mind the idea of a game with a lot of crunch and a lot of fluff. Our initial judgement might be that it doesn't exist or that it is just too complex. Now lets move the crisp-fuzzy dial. A very crispy-crunchy-fluffy game could very well be a nightmare. A lot of rules, a lot of complexity (crisp) in those rules and a lot of stuff to apply those rules to (fluff). On the other hand a very fuzzy-crunchy-fluffy game would be a rules light one with a lot of world content and who's rules apply to broad aspect of the character's interaction with the world, not only combat.

Please take note of this. In this way of looking at crunch and fluff, crunch is an indicator of how much of the fluff has an actual mechanical model in the game. Games such as D&D and Pathfinder are high fluff, low crunch and very crispy. Why is it high fluff and low crunch when it's generally understood that such games are crunchy games? Well such games have rules for a small aspect of the character's life: combat. Within that realm the rules are very crisp. Lots of modifiers, skills, feats and tables to determine combat. Move away from combat and rules become really fuzzy or nonexistent. Maybe a charisma check here and there a dexterity check at some point, etc. you get the idea. Succeed and the GM narrates the outcome as seen fit. Such games, particularly the new D&D, have a lot of fluff. Aside from the huge amount of world content and campaign settings associated with the D&D brand, the introduction of background and character development add a lot of fluff which unfortunately relates very little through the game's mechanics. Get a few bonuses, some skills, maybe a feat for a whole life's training prior to meeting in a tavern. Most of which are once again related to combat or centered around dungeon crawling.

Looking at things this way a better game would be one with a lot of crunch and a lot of fluff. I like my chocolate chip cookies to be big and have a lot of chips. Now they also have to be kept fresh in a jar. Crisp and fuzzy are like the tightness on the lid. Too little "crisp" and the seal is not airtight and the cookies soon become stale. Too much "crisp" and it's too much of a pain to open and get a cookie every time a want one.

I strongly believe that games should be both fluffy and crunchy. That as a game designer I can provide a lot of world content I've researched and developed as well as rules to convert that into a meaningful in world effect. The debate then centers around crispness and fuzziness and their effect on game speed. It is here that I see Indie games with a lot of potential to make groundbreaking changes. Develop simple yet powerful game mechanics with a broad application to the world's fluff (not only one aspect such as combat). We all know backgrounds are great and character skills are a must and character development is really cool. Challenge is how to write this down in a way that doesn't get too crispy? That doesn't require an endless stream of number, modifiers and tables to represent. Above all that it doesn't take too much time to resolve. On the other hand it can't be too fuzzy that it becomes too ambiguous on the tabletop, to open to each player's interpretation and this leads to lack of challenge. A lot of work goes into developing a game. I want to sell "a flavor". If the game is too fuzzy and way to open to the player's interpretation then they'll play what they feel like playing and not what I wanted to convey. That's the point of crunch. To convey the world as the game designer envisions it. Too much crisp and the game becomes to hard and slow to play, too much fuzziness and the game begins to lose its flavor. The stale cookies in the poorly sealed cookie jar.

This post also appears on Indie+_ and is covered by the Indie+ Community Standards.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Air combat & skills

Air combat (and naval for that mater) is a seldom developed mechanic in games. I guess if working in 2D space leads to complex game rules, working with 3D space can only lead to even more complex rules.

I can't recall an encounter in which the momentum of my character was relevant and in which STR lead to any significant effect in movement. On the other hand in air combat altitude is speed and speed is life. Keeping track of airspeed, altitude, and factoring in thrust can lead to some very complex movement rules and we're not even getting into target acquisition, tracking, leading and firing. Then there's the matter of gun fire and missile fire. It's clear to see how things can get complicated quickly.

So when facing such complexity how can I trim it down to keep the grist of air combat while keeping things simple enough to resolve in a few seconds? I also what to explore in what non-combat ways can pilot skills become relevant in a tabletop RPG.

Let me enumerate some air combat variables:

  • Aircraft performance
  • Weapon system performance
  • Maneuvers and location
  • Pilot skills
  • Pilot attributes
  • Squadron and wing man teamwork
These variables have to be combined to create a realistic yet fast paced air combat. I just don't see working every 1000ft rise or drop in altitude, turn, spin and maneuver. Yet leaving everything to a success or failure roll in which players narrate the outcome without any real aircraft, weapons nor skill constraint can be a little too free form for my taste.

In regards to non-combat pilot skills I see a great deal of applications. Although many may require the character to stay on the aircraft and that can lead to party breakup which may not be everyone's cup of tea. Nonetheless not-combat skills can be helpful in many ways:
  • Piloting entry or exit aircraft
  • Plan aircraft load to carry mission critical equipment
  • Logistics and route planning
  • Maintenance
  • Sabotage
Be it a PC or NPC, having a clear understanding of aircraft skills and a simple yet realistic model for air combat and maneuvers can add a lot to a game session.

How much has air combat and aircraft skills played a role in your games?  If so, have you house ruled or worked off a set of mechanics?

Image Credit
US Army
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Cudd, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot from B Company, 2nd Battalion (General Support), 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Falcon, prepares his equipment prior to a personnel and equipment movement mission, Aug. 31, at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Saints & Sinners GM playtest feedback

Last night I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with +Tre' Grisby who ran a session of Saints & Sinners this weekend. I was really looking forward to get feedback from a GM that's ran then game. Tre has played in my games, but had never actually picked up the game and ran a session as a GM so I was excited to hear what he had to say.

Before I continue I'd like to comment that Saints & Sinners is quite different when it comes to mechanics and rules. I'd say the only thing in common with mainstream games is the presence of six basic attributes. Aside from that skills and task resolution, hit points, damage and combat, specially hand to hand combat, are very different. I wouldn't say complex, just different. With that in mind here's the feedback.

First of I'll talk about the character generation experience. According to Tre he regrets not having made any pregens. Although character generation is quick it would have helped to save some time ( about 30 to 40 minutes given all the players present). Two elements of character generation were pointed out. The calculation of the pain threshold gave an expression of "umphff" from the players. It's a one time operation involving a percentage of the characters hit points. No big deal, but certainly more complex than adding some values. Unfortunately it is a key value to facilitate damage resolution during the game. Better a one time multiplication than a continuous headache. Nonetheless it wouldn't hurt to have a lookup table to get the value based on character hit points and endurance. Saints & Sinners has fixed hit points for life so the table is capped in size to the max hit points a character can have.

The second element that took time explaining was skill and background development. Many players were accustomed to games with a class or point buy mechanics that leads to a discrete list of skills and/or in which background has a minimal impact on "in game" activities. Saints & Sinners uses a set of human readable terms, not points, to express backgrounds and skills. The whole set of skills, background experience and learning is expressed with words such as skilled, professional, expert, master and legendary and laid out in a cascading skill set. This means that if a specific skill is not mentioned the next uppermost skill level applies. Task difficulty is also expressed in human readable terms such as challenging, hard, epic, etc. These terms indicate how many dice to roll and not how many pluses your character gets. For example if your character has to program something and he's a professional programmer and is expert with php and master with Java, but the task has to be resolved in ruby then the programmer level of pro is used instead of the expert with php or master with Java. The GM dictates the level of difficulty and can even modify it for expertise. Got a time constraint and your character has never read into ruby? Task just got harder by a notch.

One bug that was pointed out with skills was the naming of the expertise levels. As it stands in print right now there are two levels called experienced and expert. Their abbreviation is EXP for both and this caused an issue when writing the skills down. Some skills were labeled EXP for experienced and expert and it was hard to determine which was which. Experienced has been changed for professional with the abbreviation PRO.

Another element that took time getting used to was team work. Saints and Sinners makes strong use of this. It has clear rules on how to apply character skills in a teamwork environment. Three players got programming skills? Let them work together to solve the problem faster and with lower odds of failure. This is even more important when the task is something like disarming a nuclear bomb. The team just can't fail. I just can't emphasize this enough!

These final observations lead to the most important observation of the conversation: how to layout the rules to address GM and player assimilation of the rules. Even when rules are simple, when they're so different and are applied in such different ways from mainstream RPGs, it takes time to break the player's habit. This lead to a slower game and courses of action that were ignored. As players and GM alike became familiar with the rules the pace picked up and new ways to interact with the world were taken advantage of. Namely time, planning and teamwork became key elements in the player's actions. Once players caught on to this the game moved from being a dungeon crawl in an Afghan village to a modern day military mission.

The modifications based on this last bit of feedback will introduce the following modification: a text explaining clearly how the game should be played and a modular approach to the mechanics. Regarding the first modification it was noted that I should have a "Read Me First" text indicating emphasis on speed, teamwork and planning instead of a foreword that nobody really reads prior to the game. Regarding the second modification it was noted that game rules should be laid out in blocks or modules indicating which are core and indispensable rules and which can be added later. The core rules are the "you must always know and master" to get the essence of the game. Things like skill rules and task resolution are core. Combat, firearm and martial, is an extension of the skill and task rules. Combat adds a great deal of elements which are to much to master in one session. The core combat elements should be identified from the additional "nice to have". To hit rolls and damage are core, fatigue and suppression rules can be mastered later. Same thing for firearm vs martial combat. Master one first then tackle the later. A star system was suggested by Tre. Each element can be labeled three stars if it is of uttermost importance, two stars if it's pretty important and one star if it can be omitted more often than not.

Overall it was a great amount of feedback that will lead to an improved update in a few weeks. I'll be working these next two weeks to include this on top of the upcoming updates I already have in mind.

Saints & Sinners is a modern warfare game set in the Vietnam era. At only 64 pages it's a quick read and easy to start running a game. You can get Saints and Sinners as a pay what you want here and follow up on the game development in the Weapons Free G+ community.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ideal Dice Mechanics

The thing I've done most over the past year is change the dice mechanics of my game. I've gone from 2d10, to opposing 2d10, to 2d20s and now 4d6s. Each had their merit and each their limitations. I've built a list of five points that I see as ideal dice mechanics.

Talking dice mechanics can be touchy so before some of you get all fired up please note that these are "ideal" dice mechanics. They don't exist. They are goals to seek given the reasons I lay down below.

The more possible outcomes a die roll has the more precision it holds. Precision is like bit rate in digital media, the more bits you have the more information you can contain in it. This allows one die roll to represent more information about the event. It also allows you to add more modifiers for different things without going off the chart.

Precision also has to do with how the distribution curve behaves. If steps are all equal it can become hard to add small increments to the odds of an event succeeding. I've found distributions with long tails to be helpful when modeling events with small odds.

Ease of Use
Ease of use refers to how simple the dice operation is. Are we just comparing values? Are we counting? Adding or subtracting? We can get some really interesting probability curves out of dice, but if these are hard to calculate they will slow down game. Thus operations such as counting and comparing are quicker than adding or subtracting and these in turn are much faster than multiplying and dividing.

This is the hardest restriction of all. As they say, there is no free lunch. The more interesting dice mechanics are also more complicated. Nothing beats reading a single number, but that's a flat distribution that as we'll see goes against "correctness" below. When you roll many dice things get interesting, but adding is one step further from reading. Getting more precision and correctness goes against the interest of ease of use.

Fortunately it seems there is a middle ground. In my experience very simple die rolls that excel in their ease of use may have complications later on due to lack of precision or correctness. Once again there is no free lunch. It's my belief based on my experience that those simpler dice mechanics may end up requiring more modifiers and tables to achieve the same precision and correctness than a slightly more complex die roll that provides greater precision and correctness out of the box.

A side note to keep in mind is dice type. Although polyhedral dice are common nowadays, d6 are even more common. Selecting d6 over d10 also adds ease of use, just as using d20 does so over using d34.

Correctness refers to how well the selected dice mechanism satisfies our intuitive expectations of an outcome so as to not create frustration. The average and variance must fall within what we normally expect. If there is too much variance, that is outliner values that lead to extreme results (too much success or failure), then we begin to fee let down and even frustrated.

Another trait of correctness refers to character progression. The selected dice mechanics must correspond to our expectations as the character improves. A well trained character should not only better, but also more consistent than an untrained one. Success should group around a center value and the character should suffer less unexpected failures.

This refers to the ability of the dice mechanics to hide the result from the player even when all modifiers are known by the player. This allows the player to roll all required dice with her own hand and add all modifiers, but still not know the outcome unless the GM reveals his. Such a feature allows the GM to keep the outcome of certain actions hidden from the players, outcomes which could certainly alter the decision making process of the player. For example knowing the outcome of a disable trap may change the way the player opens a chest or if she even opens it. I'm aware that there are many out there who would claim that the player should be able to filter this out on her own and not metagame, and while it is true, it is not a skill held by anyone. An even for a skilled player like that the game changes and becomes more thrilling.

This is a nice feature that may bother some players. The good thing is that it is easily removed by everyone rolling in the open.

Team work
Die rolls should be able to stack or group in a way that many characters cooperating on a task can gain a benefit from teamwork.This mechanism should not only allow the simple addition of all the team members, but must also comply with the correctness attribute. That is, if characters of various skill levels are involved the average and variance must reflect that of the members, adding the higher skills of the better trained while also increasing variance due to the lower skills of the less trained.

This post also appears on Indie+_ and is covered by the Indie+ Community Standards.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Magic's quantums

What's the minimum unit of magic in your game? The word quantum comes from the Latin "quantus" meaning "how much". A magic quantum would be the minimum amount of magic energy or power that can tell one spell from another or one spellcaster from another for that matter. This is clearly visible in point systems like mana points and the like, and less clear in vancian magic systems with levels. In those cases the quantum is the level slot, but it need not be. Vancian magic refers to the process of preparing the spell, having it ready and the recovery rate of the spell, but is rather ambiguous as to the spell level mechanics.

"The tomes which held Turjan’s sorcery lay on the long table of black steel or were thrust helter-skelter into shelves. These were volumes compiled by many wizards of the past, untidy folios collected by the Sage, leather-bound librams setting forth the syllables of a hundred powerful spells, so cogent that Turjan’s brain could know but four at a time."

-”Turjan of Miir”, Jack Vance

There is no specific mention of levels and slots. Spell levels is clearly one way to count "how much" magic Turjan's brain can handle and "how much" magic each spell represents, but it's not the only one. A spell mechanism could very well be created around spell points which can only be used during the morning hours when the wizard's mind is fresh and recovered through sleep. Spells would then lack a level per se. A character can have 10 points which are spent on five spells each requiring two points or on two such spells and two three point spells, etc. Maybe some points can be saved for later on in the day, but studying and spell preparation would still be required. This could be extended to include spell empowering by spending more points than the minimum required. Maybe greater length or damage can be delivered by a spell if three or even four points are spent instead of the basic requirement for 2.

Now what stops my character from using all ten points on a high power spell? Wouldn't that immediately open 5th level spells to 1st level characters? Yes it would, but we could put a cap on this just like electric wiring has a cap on how much current can be conducted safely. Magical power could be expressed in points per action or some similar value. My character may have lots of points but can't channel them all in a single spell. Working on the previous example my character could have 3 points of "magic conductivity". Casting more than this may require some special roll to prevent the magic from failing. Failure would carry some dire consequences for my character so it might be something I'd think twice before committing to.

What I find interesting about exploring magic this way is how character attributes and skills link with the character's magic skill. When the magic quantums are small the magic system is much finer than when these quantums are big and the system is coarser. A plus one from an attribute relevant to magic use can be applied to tune magic in a much finer way. Does the bonus apply to the available points? To the usable points per action? We could even consider different attributes for different bonuses. Higher intelligence may add up more points, but physical constitution may contribute to "magic conductivity". In this way a player can't easily max out a stat and get all the benefits. It also opens up new dimensions along which the character can grow and having a small quantum gives more combinations and options; which makes my character less susceptible to being just like all other third level wizards. Do I put more less powerful spells? Do I put less, but more powerful ones? Do I up the power of each spell by investing more points?

Monday, July 21, 2014

WotC's job if not to create more classes

I'll be joining in a D&D Next game with my old time D&D buddies and have thus been taking a look at the Basic Rules. Although I've read quite a few comments regarding the "incompleteness" of the publication I'd question what's missing. Personally I find it quite complete. Particularly for a product that once sold with the slogan "Products of your imagination". What is WotC keeping back that is worth buying another book?

The basic rules include pretty much everything. Sure they have only 4 character classes and no character progression table nor in depth coverage of XP and levels. While some players may consider this incomplete, the rules have a rather complete set of weapons, armor and equipment. It also has a spell list that's big enough to last a couple of levels.

This begs me to ask what does WotC's consider an asset in this day and age of internet connectivity? The world model: character values, armor/weapon mechanics and values, combat mechanics and magic mechanics; or the instance values of a particular world: specific classes, specific spells, specific skills.

D&D is by no means a new game and publishing a new rules set with all the material that's already out there isn't going to keep players from looking into their own makeshift bard, or paladin, or archer or whatever. I could just pickup any of the classes I've played before and port them to D&D 5th. So what is WotC going to sell that would be worth buying?

I'll rephrase this looking at WotC's cash cow: MtG. MtG has rules for building a deck whereas D&D sells you the "whole deck" in the form of a class. The Basic Rules lack a set of rules to build classes and also lack class building blocks. How attractive would MtG be if WotC sold you a complete deck every time and you couldn't mix the cards? For example I bought the Fiery Dawn and Solitary Fiends intro decks; good as they were on their own I could mix them to create new decks and test them out.

Is there a class "building block" set of rules ready to be published sometime in the future? If not, why so? What would D&D look like if instead of selling player's handbooks with classes in them WotC sold class building blocks? The handbook would include class building rules and some sample classes.

Can a sense of scarcity be created with these blocks? In such a way that you need to have the "block" to actually be able to build a class around it. This is obviously something that would displease many players; a reminiscence of 4th's battle grids and a high $$ entry costs in tokens and figures, but one that may also please some who like to collect things. Not saying this is a good or smart idea. I'm just throwing wild thoughts out, but the fact is it is very uncommon to see players play with photocopied MtG cards.

To summarize, is WotC letting too much out of the bag with the Basic Rules and keeping too little for themselves in the form of classes? With basic information like combat and magic rules, equipment costs, weapon damage and armor effectiveness a great deal of the world's "model" is already handed to the players. Spells are more the "product of your imagination" kinda thing that can be easily filled in by the players and developed online through the internet.

Does the player's handbook include rules to build classes? Something like "you have 64 points", this power costs 5, that one 8, etc. Spells, abilities, races, features, etc. add up costs and then you have a finished class build from smaller individual elements. If not, then it seems like the "class" will continue to be D&D's atomic element; unlike MtG where a deck can be easily broken up and mixed together to create a new one as long as the basic deck building rules are followed.

Thoughts? Is there a place in D&D for a mechanism that stands between the class and the point buy models? Is it viable? Is there a business potential in it?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Long vs short character creation

Some games call for a lengthy character creation process while others have a very short creation process. Some players prefer the former while others prefer the later. I don't what to dig into personal preferences. Do you like deep detailed characters or simple less detailed ones are not the questions I'll be asking now. What I'm interested is exploring the impact character creation has on how the game is played and rules are treated. Namely does a lengthy character generation process create such expectations and requires such a investment in time that players are more inclined to pursue their agenda rather than the game's, session's, GM's and other players' agenda of having fun? Is the character creation process required to end by the time playing starts? Can it continue while the game is going on? Fine tuning the character to the particularities of the GM and the campaign. If so, how is it done? Would it help reduce rules lawyering and player complaints?

Let me put forth an example in software development. Your department requires a new piece of software and a team of developers is brought in. They create a list of your requirements and ideas and go off for three months to work on it. They come back later with the finished product. This has pretty much what you asked for but it isn't quite right. It has buttons for features you seldom use which within better reach than those for features you commonly use. Some functionality is implemented halfway. It works, but it requires some work around. It doesn't quite work as you'd expect. The list goes on and on, the budget and time have run out. Without budget and without time the users end up having to adapt to the application instead of the other way around.

I see this happening with players and their characters as well. A lot of time invested in developing a character than might or might not fit into the GM's plans and settings. I want to clarify that by this I don't mean that players should conform blindly to the GM's plans. Rather I'd like to explore how the character can evolve better if everything isn't detailed before game begins. How does GM input improve the character and how does these "looser" initial definitions may allow for newer rules, skills, abilities and what not to take hold. Look into the drawbacks of see in each process.

Lets work from the premise that the game has some set of attributes (STR, CON, DEX, you name it). It also has a skill system, equipment, can have classes or be classless, and has powers and spells as well.

On one end let us put a character generation involving just rolling the attributes, giving the character a name and some basic background and then jumping into play. One the other end there's the attribute rolls, class selection (if applicable), skills, powers, spells, etc. The later is usually done by following a set of rules, books and supplements. It usually involves a thorough reading of the material and a careful selection of the options. This implies a heavy investment in time reading and understanding the material and then building a character with it. After all this the player has what I could describe as a solution looking for a problem. This situation is compounded when the rule system calls for special skills for trivial tasks. Characters in this case can't even operate properly if not thoroughly finished and detailed. Detailing becomes a "cover my back just in case" exercise. Forgot your house keys in grandma's house? Bad luck without climb walls you can't jump the fence.

On the other hand rolling a quick character and then detailing works differently. First of all you get into the game quicker and that is always a good thing. A heavy investment in materials isn't required, although it helps, and a heavy investment in time isn't a requisite either. The character is more ambiguous and in that sense more prone to adapt to the circumstances of the setting. The character stops being a solution looking for a problem and the player can now concentrate in making the character into a solution for the problem. The player is more prone to become part of the the world building process. Without a detailed class selected the player and GM can be more open to develop a new class for the GM's particular setting. Without all skill points spent yet the player and GM may be invited to create new skills for the setting. Without all the spell slots used up the player and GM may be invited to create new spells for the setting. This goes on and on, you get the idea.

On top of all this there isn't anything stopping the player from creating a character as detailed as she or he pleases. The player can write four pages worth of character stats, skills, spells and what not; as long as it isn't prior to the game.

Now there is this little issue with trust. If a character isn't well defined or at least minimally defined then what happens during the adventure? First thing the party encounters is a locked door and all of a sudden one of the characters turns out to be a rouge. Maybe the first thing they encounter is a party of orcs and combat ensures. Turns out the character is a cleric who heals the wounded. I'm not saying the character is switching between being a rouge and a cleric. In one "universe" the character turned out to be a rogue and in a parallel one the character turned out to be a cleric. This is of course an exaggeration made to drive a point. The same can be said about the wizard's or cleric's spell list. Without a predefined set of spells prior to game start the player may be invited to call for the most convenient thing when the challenge presents itself. Some GMs and players may not be able to handle this. They might call it cheating. This sense of needing to have everything locked down prior to game start compels the need for heavy character building processes prior to game start, but is it needed?

Lets consider the extreme case of not even defining the character class prior to starting the game. Lets consider the "universe" in which the first challenge is a locked door. Taking the rogue as a character class locks that decision for the rest of the character's life. What will the party encounter behind the door? Would being a strong fighter and breaking it down be a better decision? Would being a wizard with a knock spell an even better decision? Sure players can "cheat" by making the optimal choice at that point, but is it the optimal choice overall once the adventure is considered as a whole?

What do you prefer? Longer or shorter character creation? Why? In what ways do you reduce the time required to create a character?

This post also appears on Indie+_ and is covered by the Indie+ Community Standards.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Where's the awe in D&D?

Many of you may remember the text in the book that read something along the lines of "Stop reading here". There was a section reserved for DMs only. A place players didn't enter. It was a time when being a DM wasn't an all powerful endeavor to punish players for all their sins.

In those days being a DM was a sacrifice so to speak. One in the group took a step through that portal from which there was no turning back. He forfeit the "innocence" of being a player and took on the task of being a DM. He took on a burden so the players could enjoy the adventure.

Players concentrated on the adventure. They explored the dungeon, drove deeper and deeper into the earth and brought forth treasure and fame. All that nitty-gritty stuff like modifiers, rolls, advancement, etc., was the domain of the DM. It filled player with a sense of facing the unknown. Both in regards to the adventure and the game mechanics. The unexpected drove the adventure. There was awe in the game. Where did it go?

Rules, complaints, bickering, more rules and more bickering now plague the dialogue. They have pushed the awe aside. Players complaining that things should be this way or that. Why? Don't like the rules, write your own. Don't like the game, write your own. Imagine how many great games would exist today if all that energy was spent creating something new instead of bickering?

The most amazing thing for me is that this bickering is about something that shouldn't be the player's concern and should in no way stop the DM from changing it to meet the group's needs. When players concern themselves with this issues about rules they step into the realm of the DM and in doing so forfeit this sense of awe and suspense I speak of.

Have we lost the "innocence" in playing D&D? Have we lost the awe?

How do we get it back?

20 1st Level Millionaires, part 3

I continue the countdown of possible histories and backgrounds for millionaire 1st level characters. These are background stories for characters with a lot of wealth and no army nor castle.

10 - Sold soul to demon

Cut through the chase and get wealthy the easy way. Your character is now not only wealthy beyond belief, he may have a few extra levels included with the sale. What now? Fame and adventure? The involvement of a demon ads great options for the GM. Will the demon appear every so often? What kind of influence can this have in the game? How does this motivate the character? He sure knows who's waiting for him. What will he do to stay alive and escape paying his part of the contract?

9 - Alchemist

Why quest for gold if you can make it? The character can turn lead into gold. Financial issues are of no concern to him. What's the focus of adventure in such a case? Who's going to catch on that lead goes into the character's home and never comes out?

8 - Wizardly inheritance

No everything is gold and gems. Your character is the heir to a powerful wizard's tower. Tomes, scrolls, potions, components, you name it, the tower has it all. It's all worth more than a king's ransom, but your character can't use it, yet. Adventure, exploration and leveling grant access to more and more items in the tower.

7 - Ransom money

Your character, a low level crook, obtained his wealth as ransom money paid for an important figure. What now? Hide? Stay low? Leave town? What about revenge? Will someone come after the character to get the money back and take revenge? Does the rest of the party know? What risks doe this character bring into play?

6 - Powerful item

The character doesn't have much wealth or power. Just one item from his old uncle. The item is actually an artifact. A very powerful one who's powers will be revealed during the character's adventures. What is it? What are its powers? How much is it worth? Who else knows of this item? Who es is questing for it? Will it be a homing beacon for trouble?


Well there's OSR which can stand for old school rules/roleplay or old school renaissance or old school revival. Is there NSR? New school renaissance? It's hard to fathom something new having a renaissance. It is after all new. But when the new goes back to the old would you catalog it as new or old? What about the folks who were playing the new stuff which is now old given the release of the new stuff based on the old stuff.

Simply put, is there a future for D&D 4th? Will people keep playing it? What about 3rd?

With WotC taking D&D to the basics and some OSR players supporting it and others saying "it ain't good enough", I'd like to put forth a question. Will there be a NSR? A reaction to this move? Say something that goes back to the 4th Edition style of play.