Holidays in Games

Monday, 1. November 2010

Something I think that’s sorely lacking in a lot of game settings is proper holidays. Obviously in the case of modern settings, they are very easy to work with in that you can simply look up the holiday. Perhaps more importantly, you can look up the predecessor to the modern holiday, as Samhain is to Halloween or Saturnalia to Christmas. This gives some good historical backgrounds to work with and figure out possible rivalries of secret societies and a lot of other toys to work with.

In the case of other settings however you are at the mercy of your source books or your own creativity. They’re typically very sparse on the information only to give a general portfolio and maybe some favored performances of miracles even if that. If you are lucky it’s like D&D’s 3rd edition where you get a whole book about it, Deities and Demigods. Oh, wait – that was stats so you could battle gods. So essentially you are almost on your own for this, which is rather a shame. There are great possibilities for events and disruption on these days, so they can almost be an adventure within themselves.

A good start would be to come up with 1 or 2 major holidays or each of your major deities, and intersperse them appropriately throughout your game calender (You do have a game calender don’t you?) The harvest deities goes in the fall, rebirths in the spring and so on and so forth. That in most cases should give you a dozen or so to play with throughout the year. From there, it’s just a matter of figuring out what do with them. This certainly doesn’t mean everything should be celebrated or role played, but it definitely gives a good breakup of the normal adventuring patterns.

Celebrations typically require a lot of logistics and planning, so that could be an adventure in and of itself. Rival deities sniping at each other is another good possibility, with disruption of said events. Gods and Goddess’s displeasure is typically well known; so if the proper holidays aren’t celebrated.. your game world might be in for a rough year. This isn’t even bringing in cultists, religious wars or the other amounts of entertainment just a little added detail can bring.

Celebrations of course, give a good opportunity to have a little out of game fun as well. Since I’m all about having fun, appropriate cooking, desserts and drinks only enhance the experience when not taken to too much excess and can give a good additional flavor to your gaming.

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Damage Scaling

Monday, 25. October 2010

BX has an interesting post on the use of a simple d6 damage mechanic for D&D gaming.  The argument is essentially that all weapons are lethal and equally capable of gutting someone should they connect.  I agree to a point, but there is definitely an advantage to be had for reach and then armor adds just another entire level of complexity.  Lets face it, most of the time damage in games is pretty abstract because it would be very disappointing for someone to get gutted in the first hit particularly after spending all that time making a character.

So lets look at using something similar or perhaps a “slight” change in the damage die for weapons if you prefer just based on the mass of damage done.  In this case, we’ll just keep with a simple d6 however for sake of simplicity.  From there, we’ve got another couple layers that heap on complexity and perhaps affect the damage we can do with a given weapon.  Technique (combat experience, skill etc) has a lot to do with it, so that should be a major factor.  Strength plays a smaller part and speed is equally important.  (I know there are a lot of other factors we can incorporate, but this has to be playable!)

For D&D it might be something like this

Skill – Every 4 levels results in a +1. Classes that are specialized in fighting gain an additional +1 to this scale.
Strength - Each point of bonus represents +1 on the scale.  Likewise with penalties.
Speed – Dexterity is factored in a similar fashion.

All of those attributes end up getting summed on each side of the equation and a comparison is made between the 2.  If there is no or simply a small difference, the damage for each weapon remains the same.  As the difference increases, whomever has the advantage increases their damage in increments.  For D&D, a d2 would be appropriate.  For games similar to heavy gear, a damage increase of 1 per step would be appropriate.

Difference Added damage
0-3              None
3-6              d2 (d6 would be d8 now, etc)
6-12            d4
12+             d6

What does all this do put together?  It provides a relative effectiveness of each combatant with a weapon.  The more able combatant is going to be able to better leverage his  weapons strengths and the damage increase shows this.  In the case of the less skilled person; a lethal weapon is still lethal.  Damage in their case remains the same to reflect this. It also represents the multiple hits or other techniques that might be applied with a weapon that’s seemingly “less” lethal to greatly increase its effectiveness.

If you wanted to get away from hit points, you could use a scale of combat advantage the combatants progress along until one wins, with the win resulting in a wound for the other.  Combat progresses until a clear winner is there.

Thoughts?

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Player Ownership

Thursday, 21. October 2010

One of the common topics nowadays is ownership; it comes up in corporate meetings, schools, sports teams, communities, clubs and so on. I am a big believer in the concept of that people who are a part of something will naturally gravitate to be more active with it. They care simply because it becomes their property and likewise a part of them.  This process naturally happens with the players characters. As blood and sweat equity is invested into them, the emotional attachment is virtually impossible to avoid. At this point you’ll virtually always get some role playing out of them as they’re developed. The question is, how do you foster this attachment?  Is there a method of speeding this along?

My suggestion from the beginning is to start building that attachment right away… and the 2 easiest things to work with are Descriptions an idea of their personality. A more difficult one to work on is the  characters background.  This goes back to that sweat equity statement. At that point they might not especially care about them, but they’re invested with some time and effort.  A little there goes a long way.

 In my mind a good character description, is somewhere around 2-3 paragraphs. At this point the avatar in question begins to become a good vivid image, and a consistent image across all of the players minds.  It is concise and something that can be read to newcomers as a description without being long and boorish.  I know some people want to get into it and describe their character on the inside and all that, but really that should be elsewhere if you’re going crazy with it.

Likewise, building the characters personality with at least a hook or 2 is also a good idea. Once you have something defineable acting becomes that much easier and the character really begins to come to life. Like the above description, I recommend just putting together a rough template of how your character behaves and then letting it evolve from there unless you are rather experienced.  Of course, depending on what order things are done… you may establish a background first and then a personality or do it the other way around.. since the background should be tied in somehow with your characters personality.

Character background as mentioned are also a good way of putting some equity into the character.  I mention it as being more difficult because unless your storyteller is doing it randomly for you there is a lot to come up with.  Most likely unless you are very familiar with the setting in question you are going to need some help with this.  As with the above; concise is more useful than crazy.  Family, family history, where the person has come from, significant childhood events and friends, schools perhaps and done.

All of these have at least a little spark of proper ownership to them and will foster at least a hint of attachment.  From there everything just naturally snowballs with a well put together plot, setting and some good support.

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Mild Costuming

Friday, 15. October 2010

Typically costuming is a live action role play (Who are role playing) or society of creative anachronism thing (Who are attempting to stay in character.)  I believe we can use it outside of that however to add flavor and character without going to extremes.  This should prevent people from being too put off about it.  In addition, some of the items are quite useful outside of gaming as well so its hardly a wasted investment.

The first is simply to add a garment or to in order to set the mood while playing.  Simple pieces that have cross purposes for outside gaming are a good place to start.   The simplest ones that I can think of are hats and cloaks.  In a worst case scenario both are usable on Halloween at the very least, but on a more practical side they can easily be used elsewhere.  The key here is to look for something that is stylish without gross modification.  Swashbuckler type hats with the feather removed make a fairly handy and good looking fedora depending on how the hat is made.  Everyone (guys especially) should have a few fairly interesting hats since it seems the only thing in vogue nowadays is those stupid baseball hats.  Cloaks in addition to being very stylish easily double as a coat (their intended purpose) a blanket or a mat for picnics and the like.  I would recommend getting one that is closer to full round or 3/4 round for this purpose.  Another piece that comes to mind no so much for its versatility but simply because I would like to see the style come back is bracers.  They’re usually fairly cheap and are made in a large variety of styles.

The other option is to help enforce role play.  I’ve had generally good success with this, and I’ve heard most other people who have tried this have as well.  Typically it is done with hats as they’re the easiest to get on and off quickly.  The concept is when a player is wearing their hat any words that come out of their mouth are in character.  This makes it real easy to find out who is acting and when and generally simplifies the life of the storyteller.  Usually after a couple of creative missteps (“I say we rob the guy!” or  “Man, this guy is a dick!”) to NPC’s face they’ll be in character fairly stoutly with the hat on.  If your players are doing this, I suggest that a storyteller does this as well to maintain solidarity.

With a little investment you can easily have an item that is cross purpose and adds some nice flavor and mood to gaming.  I like to attempt to work off a model that investments are make life better outside of our hobbies as well and this is a good angle to work from.

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Justice for all?

Wednesday, 13. October 2010

It’s an interesting question to see how most storytellers implement justice for player characters. Players have a tendency of killing everything in sight that might or might not be an opponent, and then usually walking around like they own the place. When questioned about the carnage, a simple response of “We saved you all” or “They were the enemy.” tends to get them off mostly scott free, particularly if you’re in some sort of authoritarian society and are friend with those in power.

Likewise, a similiar situation exists if you’re running campaigns of forces of good versus forces of evil. Picking off the opposing side is usually the right thing to do. These are fun campaigns to play from time to time, but also can get stale relatively quick.

A more interesting problem is that of settings in semi-modern or modern setting with a good amount of forensics to determine who did what, and a government that wants things relatively calm. Do you have them argue it out in court cases, or simply on the run? They’re going to have to do a lot of work to stay ahead of authorities, particularly of they did a good job of stepping on toes.

Futuristic settings can vary wildly as well. In an outlaws type setting, nearly everyone is charged with something or another and virtually everyone friend and foe is on the run from someone. It’s a feature of the setting. In anything less than this, the players are going to have to work real hard to stay ahead of those that would seek to bring them to justice for havoc caused.

How do you handle such situations with your players?

(On a side note, I’ve been absolutely killed this week in between work and travel trying to keep up with everything.)

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Troubleshooting Process

Thursday, 7. October 2010

Throughout our all of our lives problems or lesser and greater natures inevitably crop up. How we resolve these problems in large part determines our success in life. The logical process of troubleshooting is very useful both in life and in gaming to determine the real cause of failures, so is worth examining further in depth.

With any systems there is a line or web (in the case of more complicated situations.) of supporting systems. Its useful to look at some of these as a supporting chain in which any failure within it will produce an overall system failure. In addition, the first chain within any loop is the core supporting structure and even small deviance’s in this can cause cascading failures throughout the system.

Each failure within a supporting system causes a specific kind of result, which may or may not be shared by others within the system. These results have to be sifted through and tested to find the real root cause of the problem.
Read more

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Game Progression

Friday, 1. October 2010

One of the elements of a game that I always harp on is that I think flow is a quintessential element. Granted you still need to have story, players willing to role play… but really overcomplicated rules slow down game play and can really put a drag on having fun, especially once you get rules lawyers involved.

What do you do to keep games flowing quickly?

My typical methods involve..
1) Generalized notes on areas and characters for quick reference
2) Minimized additional rules
3) Avoid going into too much detail for beginners, letting them play and pick the game up as it goes.
4) Quick arbitration, detailed arguments can be heard after the game is done
and lastly
5) Favoring simple systems

Obviously the last point doesn’t work if you’re a tactical battle guy that enjoys playing with miniatures.

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Soap Opera Elements

Monday, 27. September 2010

Any ongoing campaign is going to have a bit of transience in it’s players or possibly storyteller depending upon it’s setup.  Likewise, we want all of our campaigns to have outside appeal to the casual listener if we are to be able to spread the trade so to speak.  In this regard, we need to have both short term and long term appeal of story elements.  Something the casual listener can sink into in a short time, yet details that longer term listeners (players in this case.) hang on for.

In order to do this, I believe we can take a few good lessons from soap operas.  Not in the “as the stomach turns” sort of way unless thats the sort of game you’re running, but rather in the ability to create short and long term hook for players and listeners.  Soaps do this through a few methods and I think they are all easily adapted to most game campaigns, long term and short. There are 2 in particular that I want to touch on.

The idea of running several concurrent story lines is one that soaps use frequently.  Minor or major, elements are introduced continually and constantly shifting in importance depending on the characters perceived goals.   At least one of the  story lines needs to be short term resolution, developed or solved within a few sessions.  This is as I said, your hook for anyone listening short term, and makes for good “water cooler” conversation if you’re one who frequently discusses games.   One of them should also be very long term, running over the course of the campaign before transitioning into yet another story element.   Story points with this come slowly, and make for a long term hook into the game, as well as a good direction of overarching goals.

The other useful concept is that of gradualism.  The major plotline is typically slow to progress, and can linger in the face of other more important, but temporary subgoals. Taking time to make sure all elements are well developed can be very useful.  Even as players goals are reached, the next major drama is built into the storyline at a slow pace, until it becomes the next major issues they’re dealing with.

Some of the other more nauseating elements in my mind are unchanging characters, suddenly struck up conversations,  last minute rescues, betrayal and all that goes with it.  Things that make soap operas soaps.  I think a lot of the times our players expect the unchanging characters, lessons that aren’t learned from the last time and the constant morality of the character.  They tend to be either evil or good, and any deviation from the usual pattern is a trick.  There are a lot of elements listed are useful, but if overused produce the same “as the stomach turns” feeling that comes with not being productive and watching TV in the afternoon. (I haven’t done this in a while, mind you!)

Love them or hate them soaps produce a lot of plot elements that can be judiciously applied to RPG’s for a good overall result.  The trick is to not overuse elements, to apply them gradually and to run them concurrently.

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Consumeables in RPG’s

Friday, 24. September 2010

Adventuring parties in any day and age tend to drag along a substantial amount of equipment. (Hikers just might be the modern day adventuring party now, hah!) The majority of all of this is easily taken care of with a list, carried, worn, stuck into a backpack and drug along. All of this weight is tallied up and if it’s not too much, they player in question can still move.

Most storytellers like to keep track of the essential items as well as major consumables. Damaged gear is always kept track of, as well as ammunition, and most of the time food and water. (At least it should be, starvation and dehydration makes for an interesting if not persistent enemy.) Of particular concern however is spell components, where a variety of weird items are used. Some of them are very mundane, going to the very rare.

I try to keep track of anything thats uncommon or reasonably expensive to the players in question. Likewise it’s generally carried in a pouch or some sort, so losing that can be just as damaging in the short term as losing a book.

What is your threshold and method for keeping track of these?

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Sounds & Noise in RPG’s

Monday, 20. September 2010

I got to spend some time out in the woods this weekend away from everything. It’s been a long time since I’ve actually got to do this, so it brought back a few details that I already knew but were quite important for gaming in wilderness environments. This can be taken and used to an extent in cities as well, but you really don’t understand how much ambient background noise there is until you get away from it.

For starters, sound travels a long way. Small actions such as leaves being crunched or sticks breaking are essentially a horn for anything approaching. Even quieter sounds such as a bird flapping its wings can be heard from a fair distance in some cases. Without a little bit of noise discipline, you won’t see anything that doesn’t want to be heard. Likewise it’s fairly easy to track via sound in a quiet environment… you’re far more likely to hear something long before you see it, particularly since most critters blend into the background. In describing things in most cases sounds from far off are likely to be heard or the scents.

In addition do that, unnatural sounds travel even further and are very recognizable. Noisy metal such as clips, hasps and other adornments can easily be heard from across a field if its truly quiet out. Likewise for those of us who prefer modern fabrics… most of them are extremely noisy if rubbed against each other. On top of that, the sound doesn’t fit in at all (likewise with the metal.) It’s very easy to write off the occasional stick breaking or brush moving because there is a lot of life out there. Anyone that’s not prepared to attempt to be silent is going to make a lot of noise simply because they’re not used to it.

Just a little bit of background noise mutes quieter sounds immediately. As soon as the wind starts blowing a little it becomes an entirely different ballgame. All of the movement of the trees and grasses become a dull roar, in addition to the wind further scattering the sound. This is still considerably quieter than a city might be, but it’s enough to break your long distance hearing entirely. This can be used for characters sneaking easily, but can also be a major problem for those who are used to hearing their opponents.

Lastly, there is a lot out there that makes noise. Birds, insects, rodents and all are a lot noisier than you might think. Sounds of movement in trees and brush is really sporadic, and as long as your noises are limited to bursts resumed by silence it’s pretty easy to pass off as something that’s supposed to be there. This means sneaking up on anything (say a campfire to see whats going on.) takes a lot longer than you might think. Any movement has to be slow and deliberate, and try to avoid any major give aways that something is out there.

So, there is my RPG application from my little trip. Hopefully this is something useful to think about in any sort of quiet area versus the standard background noise that most of us think is “quiet” (but isn’t) in cities.

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