Monday, October 30, 2006

Understanding what makes my gaming 'click'

So, as my exploration of other sorts of rpgs continues slowly but surely, I've began to question what I want from a roleplaying game. Moreover, it's a challenge to myself based around three core concepts:

1. The ascertion that if you ignore the rules of a game that you are playing, you might not be using the correct game for the campaign you want to run/play.
2. That when I am GMing I am all about the intricacies of character generation and then almost AWOL when it comes to other rules.
3. That in certain systems there are things which really get under my skin that can, I believe, be answered within rules design.

1. Is abandoning rules a reason for jettisoning a system? Or do you play the rules where they lie?

Or in other words, if you are playing D&D3e and not using AoO, are you really playing D&D3e? After all, that one change to the rules permeates virtually every aspect of the game. Not just combat, but also spellcasting and feat selection (and therefore character customisation). Attacks of Opportunity are as central to 3e as well.... feats and skills!

However, I have never used them nor can I envisage a time when I would. I abhore that 'minatures without minatures' style of combat and much prefer the more descriptive cinematic style which plays fast and loose with movement and positioning to make things more exciting. So, is D&D3e the system for my games then?

Well I would suggest that yes it is, for a number of reasons. The first is that by jettisoning a game you can lose the baby with the metaphoric bathwater. You can lose a lot of good stuff if you cannot handle one mechanic. Secondly, I think that this attitude is driven by a massive knowledge and availability of roleplaying games. I simply cannot just reference a dozen replacement rules options and then go and sample them to get the perfect system. It's wholly impractical. Needs must etc. Lastly, if the GM is going to be able to work the rules to the benefit of the story then he needs to be able to change things a little. Being a captive of the ruleset simply isn't appropriate.

However, I do agree that sometimes you have to look at the metagame you are playing within and the accepted styles of play of your group and see whether something different might be more appropriate. For example, the intricate group play we have had before was coming undone at the seams by player absenteeism (for very good reasons). Pendragon solves that through the mechanics it promotes and the year-on-year pace of the game. That was a positive change.

2. Absentee Gamesmastering - When is a game not a game? When it's a storytelling session!

I'm not a great one for rules outside character generation. I love them in character generation. Char Gen can be as complicated and intricate as it likes as far as I am concerned. Bring it on! I want to know every single aspect of my character. I want it down there on a piece of paper as the best aide memoire I can get. I don't care whether it is a very mechanistic method with stats and skills for everything and then some, or something a little more fluffy with contacts and feelings and agendas and whatnot. I just love seeing this new person come into being, there, on the page and in my mind. I use the rules as a tool to help build the character in my mind - rather than, as some do, create the character in my mind and then make the shape fit within the rules, or even the rules fit around the shape. I find that the process of Char Gen fires for me, and makes me think about new and different avenues for the character.

And then the rules stop. In my games I couldn't really care less about movement grids, movement rates, attacks of bloody opportunity, encumberance and other such nonsense. Money usually sees the door early too. Unnecessary for many of the genres that I play within. NPC interaction rules are another early victim of my sweeping scythe - if you want to fast talk the NPC then you'll roleplay it and I'll decide whether it passes muster or not. Yes, I know - what about people that don't have good verbose skills - couldn't care less. Roleplaying games require you to develop your oral presentation skills and now is as good a time as any!

Now this might seem a little strange, but I kind of like rules when I am a player. I like those little nuances of the rules that allow your character to do cool stuff like Fighting Defensively. I absolutely adore the Winter Phase business in Pendragon and all the blue booking potential that delivers. Essentially, my expectations appear to be different as a player and a GM. What a freak?!

Freak I may be, but it's something that I want to get my head around because there has to be a middle ground.

3. Rules that grind my gears.

Or rather an explanation of a passage of play that really doesn't make sense to me as a player. We are playing Pendragon and during a battle our forces are trying to breach a gate. We have made a small opening but the enemy are trying to close the gate again. Myself and another player decide to put our not inconsiderable bulk into the effort. Now, the knight that was doing it with me is, in a one sentence build, the repentent Christian seeking to cast off the shadow of his fathers dodgy past. I am, literally, the massive reckless Irish giant warrior always ready to fight.

So we roll the dice. And I fail. And the little Christian succeeds. Now, with my SIZ 17 and STR 16 and Giant distinguishing feature and general demeanour as a combat beast I felt slightly aggrieved that my knight could not bust that door open. It felt somewhat like gimmick infringement, in wrestling parlance. All because of a dice roll. Thats one of the things that I'm growing to dislike about straight dice roll games. I may have all the benefits of size and strength and character concept but a Knight with STR 11 is going to (quick number crunch) beat me in a feat of Strength around 22% of the time... on the whim of the dice. Note: I don't have a problem with the game, nor the players or the GM (*waves* Hi guys!) but the system doesn't quite convey that sense of character identity in that mechanic.

So what now?

Well I guess I feed all of that quietly into my expanding mental portfolio of games design. With one question to be answered - who do you design a game for? The Players, The GM or both... and whilst the answer may be easy, the solution to the problems that brings may not be as simple.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Interesting Roleplaying Stuff

First: I have discovered the joy of rpg podcasts. I already enjoyed WoWRadio but it is always very negative and snarky about the game. Sometimes humourous, but usually so 'I'm cooler than the devs' that it's not entertaining. However, I stumbled over a thread on regarding rpg podcasts and discovered a treasure trove of stuff. The thread is :

And I can recommend the Sons of Kryos and Have Games Will Travel. I'm listening to them at the moment and then I'll venture elsewhere. The difference about this stuff when compared to WoWRadio is that these people are so positive about gaming and the games they choose to play - it's very refreshing.

And I pick my words there very carefully - the games they CHOOSE to play. Sometimes too much of the negativity around WoW seems to stem from the massive buy-in that people have made to it and thus the disproportionate negative impact when something minor changes or doesn't happen.

These podcasts are great - full of ideas, polite and considered discussion and general entertainment. A great find.

Secondly, I wanted to muse on one of the things that I heard on these podcasts. It was from the mouth of Ed Greenwood, who is the bloke responsible for Forgotten Realms. Why add that? Well, I think that sometimes the mainstream gaming 'personalities' get a little maligned and I was a little taken aback that something so profound came from one. Silly me

Anyway, the idea was thus:

Roleplaying games are about creating great memories.

Now isn't that just the crux of it? A great game should be one where you can remember, many months past the end of the game, great moments and not so great moments. It should stand out as a different and exciting episode in your life - akin to a great football victory or a particularly *ahem* memorable sexual liaison.

The reason this gelled with me so well, was that we were talking about a campaign on Sunday that must have been nearly 10 years old - Earthdawn - and some of the scenes and the climax were still fresh in my mind and that of Nigel, the surviving player.

I wonder what memories we will take from our current Pendragon campaign and what we, as players, can do to make the game more memorable for ourselves and the GM?


Friday, October 20, 2006

Feedback plx - the plight of the fanfic writer


My fanfic output has taken an upturn (fuelled admittedly by me being ill with dread manflu). Green Lantern has hit #5 and Zatanna will get her second issue next week. My problem, as is normal, is an almost total lack of feedback.

I've tried the normal route - you give someone else feedback and they reciprocate. That doesn't seem to be happening. There are other methods - working the lists with your titles in sig or just downright feedback whoring. I'm loathe to be doing them for a number of reasons, mostly that I have had some rather painful experiences with bad feedback in the past.

Note please - the quality of the feedback was bad, not the feedback in relation to my work. I hate feedback in the 'OHMIGOD I LOVE YOU!!' shit as much as I hate the 'This makes me want to poke my eyes out' rubbish. Something moderated so that I can use it to improve my work would be nice.

Ho hum - maybe this just means that no-one is reading it. Wouldn't be the first time.


More Itching and a possible salve; and Pendragon musing


The Itch to write a roleplaying game is still there, annoyingly so. What didn't help was me stumbling across a massive rpg-related podcast archive and stumbling across a 30-diatribe by the guy that designed Sorceror on the print-on-demand style of publishing. Everything he said fits in perfectly to my imagined 'business plan' on this type of stuff. Furthermore, I already know my artist and his rates. I know my layout man and his rates (nowt, it's me!). I know at least a couple of alpha and beta tester groups with very different styles. And I have a large wodge of inheritance cash coming my way soon. Even a small introduction of capital could make something like this come off and well.... well, theres a bit of an ancient pact between me and my wife to fulfil. If it isn't publishing something, it's running a comic shop and the former is waaay cheaper!!

It seems rather fanciful doesn't it? A 'normal person' writing and shockingly publishing an rpg? But surely everyone that starts off in any sort of small press endeavour is just an ordinary person with a bit of self belief? Someone who is willing to go beyond the gaming table and step up, make the gut check and do something bigger? Designers aren't some race of demigods - they're just gamers. My time working with Comic Images has proved to me that given enough confidence, hard work bloody mindedness, your gaming hobby can take you anywhere you want to - even Wrestlemania!

Nothing is impossible.

Of course, there is one small fly in the ointment. Actually, it's more of a large rotten grey whale in the ointment.


Where do you start?

What do you want to do - a new game? a new mechanic? something that meets a need that isn't being reached at our gaming table? A genre product? A pastiche of a licenced product? What about? What area of the world do I feel confident enough about to be able to write confidently about it - an area that isn't smothered already....

And then the doubts start - does the world need another rpg?

Then again, if that was the case, surely everyone would be playing GURPS.

Even as an intellectual exercise - IGNORE the stuff about publishing - this feels like something I should work through. Something that allows me to take everything that has changed in my gaming over the last six years and focus it. Coming up with a gaming mechanic that matches my love for character crunch and my predeliction towards minimal rules interference when the game actually starts. Something I would be happy playing -and- refereeing.

I think this one is going to rumble on here for a while


And now, more on Pendragon!

Sunday should be a full group game again, which is awesome. I'm really pleased that Nigel has managed to bring a game to the table that appears to have solved our one Achilles heel in gaming - inconsistency of group appearance. The year-by-year nature of the campaign and the vast array of alternate activities that characters can be undertaking make accommodating a player no-show very easy. The campaign really doesn't stand a chance of being derailed unless there is a major - and that means more than 2 of 4 players - no-show.

After the mini-session that introduced Andrews new character, I feel that I am finally finding a true 'voice' for Sir Brion. I envisaged him initially as a bit of an oaf, but once again I find it extremely difficult playing 'slow' or 'socially inept' characters. I like to make speeches and engage in verbal sparring etc. Brion has settled into his role as 'enforcer knight' quite well and I'm looking forward to Sunday as I want to present my squire in a very positive light, I want to run an Imbolc festival and I want to give Sir Fancy Pants Swordsman a piece of my (hopefully Proud) mind.

Good gaming makes for a happy gamer. I can tell I am a happy gamer because I am beginning to think around the character rather than just through the adventures. Very happy indeed.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Eternal Itch has returned

No, I don't mean returning to the GM position.

This is worse.

It happens about every two years. It is fruitless and pointless but it hits me really bad.

I want to write a roleplaying game.

Ever since I first got my hands on the red box D&D I have been writing roleplaying stuff. Within two years of first feeling a d20 smothered in wax crayon I had hand-written a 200 page fantasy world. A really really bad fantasy world, admittedly, but a fully fledged one nonetheless.

Years later, before Uni, I did write my own system and we played it, altered it and tested it to death. It was .... well, before it's time. High fantasy and then some. It was Exalted but in 1988. I have no idea where my Big Red Book of notes went but the tables and charts and general notes are a great loss to me. The modern day irony of a Dreamweaver class would be funny too.

When I was deeply immersed in the CCG hobby, I wanted to make a CCG. A Red Dwarf CCG. My theory was solid, my gameplay (in my eyes) decent and fun. However, being a perfectionist that I was, my inability to actually produce cards was my downfall. Thankfully my photoshop-fu has increased substantially. Thats no longer a problem!

(I have to say that I did scratch the itch a little by playtesting Raw Deal for many years....)

Since then, the urge has come and gone. The slew of more generic systems available to the market have made custom gaming much easier. My understanding of the theory of gaming and how I prefer to play has grown immensely. However, so has my ability to write, desktop publish, internet publish and project manage. Now I am more than aware that I have the practical tools to produce a professional looking roleplaying project to share with others. And I have the resources to do it rather cheaply as well.

The return of The Itch isn't a shock. I'm writing again, reading again and very happily playing our Pendragon campaign. World of Warcraft appears to be the casualty of this latest change of focus - I'll comment on that one some day when I can get my thoughts together about it. A happy Neil I may be, but that usually means I need some project to work on and fanfic writing simply isn't enough.

Of course the downside of the entire affair is that I'm a flighty little thing and really, I doubt anything I do will get finished. Also, I don't really think the world needs a new system or game. Maybe a setting booking for Unisystem Lite? Who knows.

Anyway, the Itch is back. Now I just need to know what to do with it