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Mastered the Master Lock
I've had a combination Master Lock attached to my gym bag for several weeks now. Between vacation and then being bad for a week and not going to the gym, I had forgotten the combination. I was thinking maybe it was time to take a hacksaw to it and buy a new lock.

I did a little googling first. I found this site, which describes a way to narrow the number of possible combinations to 80. It gives you 10 possible numbers for the first value, 8 for the second, and 1 for the last. I figured it was worth a shot. I wrote down all 80 possible combinations, then started cherry picking ones that felt right.

It helped that one of the 8 values for the second number looked very familiar to me. I tried those 10 first. It was the 10th one.

Holy crap, I can't believe after just 10 tries I figured out the combination to this lock. Kind of worrying, but kind of cool too. If this hadn't worked, I was next going to try building a shim from a tin can.
August 31st, 2009 - 08:32 am | Comments (1) | PERMALINK

Emergent Story and the Organic Sandbox
Our lunchtime D&D game is running reasonably well these days, though I find the time limit very stifling. It feels to me much like roleplaying over internet voice chat: it's clearly technically the same game, but something's missing. It is more fun than not playing though, and it's also helping flush out issues in the system that will be helpful if I ever run a 'real' campaign of B/X. Also, it's my first solid experience running an organic sand box setting, and we're starting to really see the fruits of that effort.

The theory is that story should be emergent from gameplay, a concept I'm really starting to come to grips with. Not only am I not creating a large over-arching plot line, but I'm also keeping the world relatively adaptive, adding and removing elements based on what makes most sense at the moment. It's sort of like SCRUM for roleplaying, only even the end-goal is constantly shifting and undefined.

Let me give a concrete example. In our lunchtime game, I created as starting town and a few simple nearby locations to explore. One of these was an old delapitated keep that had been taken over by some bandits who preyed on travelers along the road that led to the starting town. It was a very simple location, just a few rooms and a small band of half a dozen or so bandits.

I had some other locations that were much larger and more fleshed out, but this was the lead the group latched on to, perhaps because it was the first one they discovered by talking to some merchants at the local tavern. They learned a name of the bandit leader, Hank the Highwayman, and then immediately rushed off to go take care of it.

At first I was a bit disappointed that the party so quickly latched onto this lead and ignored all the other stuff I had created. Especially as the players had a rough time with the bandits to start, due to some bad luck and perhaps still getting used to the system. By the time the players reached the bandits, the bandits were fully aware of the players' presence. The players were beat up, and I felt like the full force of bandits would quickly take them out. So I modified the encounter a bit. Instead of ambushing the players with the full force, I busied a couple with loading their ill gotten gains into a boat to escape if things went badly, and removed the higher level leader from the group. Even then it was touch and go, but the party lucked out when after dispatching two bandits the remaining ones failed their morale and jumped into the prepared boat to escape.

Well, turns out one of the beaten bandits actually lived, and the players started interogating him. 'Where is Hank the Highwayman?' they demanded. Oops, by removing the high level leader I didn't realize I had removed their actual target. Quickly, I had to make something up. 'He's down in Bridge Faire, contacing our fence,' the captive told the players. It made sense, and the players then prepared to journey to the distant city to track down their new nemesis.

OK, in between there I attempted to push the party more in the direction of one of the more fleshed out locations. They bit, they explored it a little bit, but then decided to return to the Hank the Highwayman issue. I realize now that pushing them towards that location was a mistake. The players had clearly chosen what they wanted the game to be about: the capture of Hank the Highwayman. My mistake of removing him from his location had only increased interest, and now I realized it, and decided to focus my energy in expanding that plot. I expanded Hank's operation, added some more NPCs between him and the party, and essentially turned him into much more than he was ever meant to be. It seems to me the players love it. They chose Hank as their enemy, and who wants a boring run of the mill enemy? It's much better that he's turned out to be someone important and interesting.

What's Hank really up to? When the players arranged a meeting with his second in command, why did the man turn up dead? Honestly, I have no idea. My goal is to stay just a couple steps ahead of the players. I continue to make mistakes, like leaving the bandit leader out, but then I try to reinterpret what happened such that the mistake actually makes sense. It's like the Bob Ross style of GMing: there are no mistakes, only happy accidents.

I think it's working. There's an interesting story brewing. What will it all actually be about? What will the conclusion be? I have no idea, and I can't wait to find out.
August 25th, 2009 - 09:32 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

Kask and Mentzer
James Maliszewski wrote a post about a new company being formed up by Frank Mentzer, Jim Ward, and Tim Kask. If you don't recongnize these names, these are guys with some very strong ties to the very early days of TSR. You know, when it was good. :)

Here's a post by Mentzer himself with some details about the company. Maliszewski is fairly skeptical about the prospects of this company, and I admit that a few things in that post make it sound like they might have some trouble getting their company up and running. Perhaps they really ought to get someone with good business sense involved to deal with the financing and the like.

However, that said, I'm personally pretty excited about the idea of this company. If you follow no other links in this post, I highly recommend you check out these interviews with Kask and Mentzer. Each is about 5 minutes long, and should give you a good sense of where these guys' gaming sensibilities lie:

Interview with Frank Mentzer
Interview with Tim Kask

If these two guys are forming a company to write gaming material, you can bet your ass I'll be buying it. My glasses aren't so rose-tinted that I'll send any money to help them start the company, but I'll gladly purchase their products. I hope they make it past the difficult company forming stage and we see some stuff for sale soon.
August 21st, 2009 - 07:55 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

Gaming for Girls
One day during our vacation it rained, and we ended up cruising the local Barnes & Noble. I've seen Mazzanoble's Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress: A Girl's Guide to the Dungeons & Dragons Game on the shelves before, and I've always been kind of curious about it. Curiosity finally got the better of me this time, and I bought it.

I won't comment on the obvious sexist tone of the book. Jenn finds the very title insulting, along the lines of the Science Book for Girls. I think it could have recovered from the title, but didn't. While the author goes through great pains to dispell common stereotypes of gamers, she seems to have no problem playing on all the old cliche stereotypes of women. But wait, I said I wasn't going to comment on this aspect of the book...

The book waffles between two major themes. The first is a first person account of the author's own introduction to the game, and the second is instructional text on how to play the game. I had no use for the latter, which is hard to write without sounding condescending, and I wish it had been omitted from the book. It would have been far more interesting as a simple account of this person's introduction to the hobby, and perhaps by focusing on her personal experience the sexist tone might have been down-played or even non-present. At least these parts are easy to identify and skip, which I did.

The account of her own introduction to gaming is interesting, but left me feeling sorry for her and everyone else in that game. It sounded like a miserable group, full of players who are more interested in passive-aggressive sniping with each other than actually playing a cooperative game. The players constantly behave childishly, never really getting into the mood the GM is trying to push, and making all manner of anacrhonisms (is that the right word?). The GM, in turn, deals with this by ignoring them, reading a book until they 'settle down'. He also pre-draws the map on their battle mat before each session, clearly indicating the highly rail-roaded plot line, which clearly only he cares about. The players, as far as they're concerned, seem to just be playing a board game where they pretend to be their pieces.

So I have to ask myself, what's the goal of this book? The clear answer would seem to be to bring new players into the game. It seems to be the golden ring of the industry: to make the game more mainstream. But is this wise? Do we really even want these people in our games? OK, that sounds elitist, but let me contrast that with how I would go about introducing someone to the game who told me they were kind of interested in the concept. First I would make sure they've read some Leiber, some Howard, some Vance, or some Tolkein. Then I would ask, did you like the books? Would you enjoy a game that immerses you in that genre? If not, you probably wouldn't enjoy D&D. Perhaps a different RPG in a different genre would be more fun for you.

That's the real problem with this book. It imparts none of the magic of the game. It sounds about as fun as playing tic-tac-toe. Where's the mystery? Where's the excitement? Maybe she never experienced it. Poor girl. I also have to wonder, where in this sequence was she approached by WotC to create the book? From the very get-go? After she played a few sessions? Was there no-one in the company who realized, wow, she's playing in one of the most dull games of D&D ever, perhaps her experience is not the one to base a book on.

As one final note, I will end with the absolute outrage I experienced when I discovered the section where she in turn tries to introduce the game to a bunch of her non-gamer girl friends. Her advise: trick them into playing. She actually specifically recommends that you gather some friends together under some other pretense and then surprise them with the game. Wow, there's a great way to win people over.
August 18th, 2009 - 08:10 am | Comments (6) | PERMALINK

Warhammer 3e
Did a bit more poking around on Fantasy Flight's website, now that I have better internet access. This pretty much sums up how I feel:

Warhammer FRPG Description

Yeah, I just copied the official Warhammer page from Fantasy Flight and changed the images a bit. I think it speaks for itself.
August 16th, 2009 - 04:44 pm | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

Still Not GenCon
Perhaps the only consolation to not being at GenCon right now is the gentle waves lapping at my feet while I write this. OK, actually I'm on the porch of our B&B, but I did just get back from the beach where the waves were lapping at my feet.

Still, despite having to leach network access from someone across the street (wifi is only working here at the front of the house), news from the con seeps in. I just heard that Fantasy Flight Games is releasing Warhammer Fantasy RPG 3rd Edition.

Sadly, it appears the boardgame-ification of D&D has reached Warhammer, and the new RPG comes with 'four different rule-books, 36 custom dice, over 300 cards, counters, 'character keeper' boxes...' I keep trying to convince myself that it might be cool, but I'm failing. Sounds to me less like WFRPG 3rd edition, and more like Warhammer Quest 2nd edition. Actually, the latter would be pretty cool, and I did and still do really enjoy Warhammer Quest. Perhaps though that's only because it's up front about what it is: a board game.

Warhammer Quest comes with a 'roleplay' book with optional rules that can be added in bit by bit until you are pretty much playing a roleplaying game. I've never felt like doing it though. I appreciate WHQ as a quick, light dungeon crawling board game, and when I want something more serious with persistence I'll play a real roleplaying game thanks.

Though interestingly, one thing this news did instill for me is a desire to go back and check out the old editions of the Warhammer RPG. I mean, a big factor in my current old school glut has been how disgruntled I have been with the 'progress' of recent editions of D&D. If Warhammer is following the same trends, perhaps its early editions might hold just as much interest. Is 2nd edition the 3e of WFRPG, and might I not actually prefer the earlier version?

One way to find out I suppose. It'll have to wait until Sunday though, for now it's off to dinner and perhaps another evening stroll along the beach.
August 14th, 2009 - 04:07 pm | Comments (6) | PERMALINK

Here's my idea for roleplay XP. This isn't anything new, I'm sure I'm ripping this off of some indy rpg or another. Probably comes from spending all last summer listening to the Sons of Kryos. (Man, I wish they hadn't gone to video -- I loved listening to them on my mp3 player while walking to work.)

Anyway, the idea. The party will be responsible for maintaining a list of no more than 5 party goals. They can modify this list at any time, so long as its presented to the DM at the start of the session. The party will then earn XP each time they collectively do something that furthers that goal. The amount of XP awarded will be the same as if the party had killed a monster of HD equal to the total HD of the party, counting hirelings at half HD value.

Example: The party has a goal of 'Bring Hank the Highwayman in dead or alive.' For this session, the party consists of four players and two hirelings all at first level. Thus, the total party HD is 5. During the session, they do the following things that DM determines apply to this goal:

  1. Interrogate one Hank's former gang members they had previously caputred.

  2. Journey to the distant city Hank reportedly used as a base of operations.

  3. Arrange via a third party at said city to meet with one of Hank's known underlings.

Each of these items is worth 175 XP, the same as defeating a 5 HD monster. Thus, they win a total of 525 XP, or 105 XP per player and 53 XP per hireling. This example is more or less what actually happened at our last session, and I think is in line with the amount of XP I'd expect the players to get out of an hour of dungeon delving.

My reason for tying it to HD of the party was two-fold. First, that it roughly reflects the amount of effort required to come to an agreement at the table amongst players (and thus why hirelings only count for half). The more players present, the more HD and thus more XP they earn, and the longer it takes for them to argue over what to do. Second, that as the party gains levels, the amount of XP for completing goals should roughly follow the same amount they're getting for killing monsters and taking their stuff.

Will it work? Obviously it worked in this one example, but really I worked the system from this example so of course it worked. I'll revisit this after we've had a couple more sessions of using this system.
August 7th, 2009 - 01:30 pm | Comments (3) | PERMALINK

XP for Lunch
My lunch time B/X game continues on, and I've run two sessions since the session of calamity. The first session back was pretty reactionary, just a quick surgical strike to get the loot they almost got before the calamity. The second session was all build up as they took the plot in a totally different direction, traveling far off in pursuit of the very first plot hook they discovered.

In previous sessions, I thought the low XP gain was because the players were just still getting accustomed to the play style. They were regularly pulling in about 25 XP per session, which would still only tally to 75-100 XP if we were playing full 3-4 hours essions. The big haul landed them roughly 150 XP, and the following session was all roleplay, thus 0 XP. I realized then that I had a big XP problem in this campaign.

First of all, I really don't want to discourage heavy roleplay like we had in the most recent session, and I assume 0 XP is a pretty strong inducement against such activity. Secondly, I still think the XP gain is way too slow. Even if the players could pull 150 XP every session the gain is still way too slow. I had hoped that the counter point to playing for such short sessions would be that we play more frequently (I've offered to run any/every day but Thursday). In reality, we're lucky still if we get one session off per week.

At 150 XP per week, that's 10 sessions or 2.5 months for the Thief to hit level 2, assuming he doesn't die first. About 3 months of play for a Fighter to hit level 2, 4 months for a Magic User, and almost 6 months for an Elf. Hoo-boy, that's a slow campaign.

I've decided to do two things about this. First, I'm going to make some system for roleplay rewards. The concept of bonus XP for roleplay is probably as old as the game itself, but I don't like it when it's fully subjective like that. I want some kind of system to help me figure out how much XP to get, otherwise it feels too much like I'm just arbitrarily picking the XP for each session (a problem I think our current Warhammer game suffers from).

The second thing I'll do is increase the XP for monsters and treasure as well. Probably I'll just come up with a roelplay reward that makes it equivalent to the amount of XP they'd get if they spent the hour fighting monsters and looking for treasure, then multiply the total XP by some constant number each session, regardless of where it came from.

I'd really like to see some of these guys hit level 2 eventually.

August 7th, 2009 - 12:34 pm | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

BYO Living Campaign
One of the comments on Delta's post has got my brain spinning, and I wanted to explore it a bit here on my own blog. Here's the quote:

Also, a 'sandbox' campaign can be run at conventions. You take your sandbox to conventions and game days. Anyone can roll up a PC and participate. Anyone who has played in your sandbox before can bring back the PC they used before. Such PCs can gain levels and much of the other advantages of campaign play.

What Mr. Fisher is suggesting here is essentially a 'build your own living campaign'. I find the concept both fascinating and terrifying. I think the appeal is very similar to the appeal of the original West Marches concept, an idea I'd love to run with but I just don't think is really tenable.

The problem with West Marches is that it requires a fair amount of interest/excitement from a large group of players. Even though I feel I know a fairly large base of potential players (Helga's has 38 members right now), I find it difficult to get more than 3-6 of them excited about anything. And with numbers like that, you're really just running a traditional rpg with a lot of rules around theoretical other players that are never going to show up.

Now, altering it to simply bringing your sandbox with you to any convention/game day you go to does make it easier. You're not relying on the players to do the scheduling any more, and I assume it would be easy to fill any given game. Though I think unless you hit a lot of conventions or your local game shop very regularly, it would be unlikely that you get many real repeat players. At that point, how different is this really from just running individual self contained convention games? In fact, the only real difference I see is that the DM is no longer catering to the current experience, having some larger world-view goals in mind that the current players may not get. The end result is simply that a larger percentage of these games won't be very fun for everyone at the table.

I can't seem to shake the feeling that the idea is kind of cool, but I also can't find a way to make it work. It seems to me that the best experience remains regular home campaign play, and that everything else is a hollow attempt to recreate the magic of such. Sigh, if only all my gaming friends lived next door and we could play whenever we wanted.
July 31st, 2009 - 09:15 am | Comments (1) | PERMALINK

Dark Humor
In Delta's post about a game we played together recently, he said:

Now, I have a good friend Paul who recently ran an exceptional convention game a few weeks back. Philosophically, we tend to disagree about many of the high-level 'whys and wherefores' of D&D, but I think we almost always agree about whether a given game we just experienced was good or not (sort of an 'I know it when I see it' experience).
the [game] he ran the other weekend was one of the most fun D&D sessions I've had in a long time -- hilarious characters, great encounters, well-paced, filthy humor (which I like), great ending.

I like to think of our gaming philosophies as like chocolate and peanut-butter: each one great in its own right, but even better when combined. Dan always challenges me in interesting ways to improve my game, and I hope I have the same effect on him.

One place though where we out-right agree is the humor. I think this is the major draw for me to Warhammer FRPG. Taken on its own, the system isnt' fantastic. It has some nice elements (critical hits are fantastic) and some not so great ones (multiple attacks/parrying slow things down way too much). But clearly the best thing about it is the setting, and how the rules push that setting.

It's not like you can't do dark humor in other settings, but I'm sure it helps that it's right in the subtitle of the game: 'A Grim World of Perilous Adventure.' Setting the expectation before everyone sits down at the table I'm sure must go a long way in pushing that style. The rules themselves also push it, and we saw the pay-off in spades at last night's game.

After playing Warhammer over a long period of time, one of two things will happen to your character: he dies or goes insane. The interesting effect this has is that your party evolves into 50% lunatics and 50% fresh-faced newbies, or perhaps more appropriately comedians and straight men. Last night we had two straight men and three comedians, and it was gold.

The group had just emerged from a challenging dungeon and escaped a near TPK. It was the most dangerous kind of fight: a well balanced one where the bad guys were getting far luckier with dice rolls than the players. The problem of course is that the players correctly assume that they can handle the fight, but things just don't seem to go their way. However, after two near deaths the party actually managed to escape. Huzzah for players smart enough to flee when necessary!

So they wanted to blow off some steam, and the insanities kicked in. The halfling who thought he was a vampire tried to bite the dwarf's neck in the night. The dwarf then stayed up all night, didn't heal as much as he wanted, and then proceeded to locate the graves of two previous companions (the players of which were now playing new straight-man characters) to dig them up and get at a healing potion one of them had. Already in tears about the halfling vampire wanna-be, and knowing he had a new insantiy coming to him, after finding the healing potion the dwarf brought his old friends to meet the new 'Weekend at Bernie's' stye. I'm sure it was made all the more funny by the slight discomfort the other players had at seeing their old characters treated this way.

It got so ridiculous that I could barely wheeze out the next punchline between gails of laughter. The entire table was in tears. Now, I'm not saying I want this to happen at every game, and recovering from moments like this and getting back into the game can be difficult. Still, I'm sure everyone is going to remember this session far better than most, and we'll be cracking jokes about it long after this campaign is over. And that, I think, is what gaming is really all about.
July 29th, 2009 - 08:36 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

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