Sunday, August 21, 2016

RPG a Day Roundup, Week Three

Taking a moment to bang this out while I've got the opportunity and it's still timely. As usual, you can follow my #RPGaDay posts in daily-ish form (and other stuff) at my Google Plus page.

Day 15: Your best source of inspiration for RPGs?

There really isn't any one consistent source I go to for creative stuff like writing or role-playing games. I just keep my eyes and ears open for cool ideas, moments of 'hey, this character with a twist might make an interesting NPC,' and so forth.

Sorry that wasn't more exciting.

Day 16: Historical person you'd like in your group? What game?

Huh. Okay, then.

Not a particularly famous one, but the first name that comes to mind would probably be pulp-era author Norvell Page (famously known for being one of the writers of "The Spider"). And I'd almost certainly go with something more action-adventure; right now, I'd see about getting him on a Trinity Continuum playtest of some sort. He's got enthusiasm for that kind of story, a knack for action scenes, and he was also pretty broadly educated on a variety of subjects and would incorporate that research into his writing. (One of his Spider stories, for example, has the titular character using Molotov cocktails soon enough after their invention that they weren't called 'Molotov cocktails' yet)

A close second would be Theodore Sturgeon, but his tendencies as a punster wouldn't blend well with the group -- half of my players would hate it and the others would spend so much time and energy bantering with him that literally nothing would get done in the actual game.

Day 17: What fictional character would best fit in your group?

Maybe I should start looking at some of these questions ahead of time, because I ain't got no flippin' idea. Very rarely do I think of fictional characters in that sort of sense. Also, my group's a weird and volatile mix as it is. A fictional character who would compliment that would be tricky.

So, after glancing at my bookshelves for inspiration, I can see maybe a couple possibilities. First off is Alec Hardison, from Leverage. He's a little more the old-school D&D type (not that that's an issue in the weeks I run Pathfinder) and I'd suspect a bit of a rules lawyer, but he's already got a lot of gaming experience under his belt and would be more than eager to grok whatever material needed for whatever I was running.

A close second would be Eliot Spencer, also from Leverage. Clever, creative, well-read. Also, he comes across like the sort of guy who'd insist on cooking for the group every now and again. The only reason I rank Hardison first is because I don't know if Eliot would be into tabletop gaming and while John Rogers is pretty accessible on Twitter it feels like it'd be weird to ask him just for the sake of one of these posts. (which is also why I don't tag him in here)

Day 18: What innovation could RPG groups benefit most from?

My immediate thought is augmented reality, via glasses or smartphones. Even above and beyond the idea of being able to produce a virtual map that the players can sort of interact with on the fly, LARPing in particular would benefit to obscene levels by being able to visually scan a room and know things your character should know with whatever sensory abilities they have. (Or even just serve as a virtual name tag system) In addition, imagine running a LARP and being able to set up info points around the playfield like the Lore Honeycombs in The Secret World, where am authorized player who can receive impressions off an object can see the info without leaving a note out where anyone can look at it.

Day 19: Best way to learn a new game?

In my personal experience, from learning and teaching experiences, I think that the best way is to have someone take you through the most basic resolution mechanic. 'Roll 2d6 + something' or 'Add your Attribute and Skill and roll that many d10s' or what have you. Focus on that first and then slowly branch outward. 'So there are these moves that each character has...' or 'These are Merits, they let you do this thing...' and so forth. In this modern day, it's easier to find videos of people playing these games so you can get an idea of what it looks like.

If you don't have someone to teach you and there isn't a video available, then I'd recommend reading over the very basic systems, putting a finger on that page, and finding the 'example of play.' Flip back and forth until the 'example of play' makes sense to you. (If there is no 'example of play,' then somebody has done something horribly wrong.)

True story: The first time I read the Trinity core book (specifically the spiral-bound one with the black plastic cover and a 'Trinity' sticker covering up the original 'Aeon' logo), it took me a while to parse a lot of the system. My entire gaming experience up to that point had been a handful of AD&D 2nd Edition sessions, one of which was a 'game day' one-shot at the local mall with a bunch of strangers, and even then no long-running games. We'd get together, build characters, then find out we couldn't get our schedules to line up to actually keep playing. (Also, we were in junior high and high school and transportation was an issue)

So the notion of only rolling d10s and counting up successes instead of the actual numbers was one I actually had a bit of trouble wrapping my head around. I recall having a lot of trouble at first with 'health levels' as opposed to 'hit points.' Eventually it clicked for me, after a few careful rereads, but it's weird to look back on now -- especially given that I'm writing for the new system.

(Though on reflection, when I first tried playing AD&D, I had some trouble getting the hang of some of those systems too, but that's because people only ever explained to me how the combat worked. Because AD&D. Like, I knew 'non-weapon proficiencies' were a thing. But whenever I asked about them, my DM just told me he'd tell me what to do if it came up. And because we never got into a regular game, it never came up. It drove me fucking nuts.)

Day 20: Most challenging but rewarding system have you learned?

Well, first off, in my last post I mentioned having some initial difficulties with the original Trinity system, but a lot of that was on me and my inexperience.

No, I'd argue that the most challenging but rewarding system I ever learned was Hackmaster, 4th Edition by Kenzer & Co. This is one I talked about a bit last year. At the time it came out, D&D 3rd Edition was new and it was a blend of first and second edition D&D with some tweaks, made under license from WotC.

It was partially meant to reflect the D&D-like game played by the characters from Knights of the Dinner Table, and partially meant to offer an alternative to the new edition for people still clinging to the older systems (in fact, there was an official conversion AD&D-HM conversion guide). Really, in its way, it was to D&D Third Edition what Pathfinder has been to Fourth and later.

And perhaps some of the folks at WotC at that time were somewhat prescient about this because part of the licensing deal with Kenzer was that Hackmaster had to be presented as a parody product. So the already clunky rules were intentionally made clunkier. The books were written in a self-aware, smartassed tone suggesting that the books were produced by the fictional publisher of the game in KotDT. The player's handbook, in terms of page count, had more material in appendices than the main text (including an appendix entirely about dice etiquette and luck rituals). All of the artwork in the 'Hacklopedia of Beasts' volumes depicted adventurers meeting or about to meet a gruesome end from the various monsters. The adventure modules had names like "Little Keep on the Borderlands," "Robinloft," and "Tomb of Unspeakable Horrors." Gary Gygax actually contributed some material, IIRC (at the very least, he dusted off some unused Greyhawk notes and shared them with the developers).

It was a pain in the neck system to get used to -- any system where a critical hit involved rolling a d20, doing some math, rolling a d10000, and then cross-referencing a chart is going to be -- but that helped me get a lot of game-running experience under my belt and led to a share of fun times, even if they didn't last as long or end as well as I'd hoped. I still remember that time fondly, though.

(If anyone's curious, a close second place in this entry is the old Mind's Eye Theatre system. It was about as much of a pain in the ass to get the hang of, and to be honest a lot less rewarding. Even after I'd gotten used to it, it still felt more like doing anything interesting required fighting against the system more than putting it to use.)

Day 21: Funniest misinterpretation of a rule in your group?

I've got nothing for this one. When a rule gets misinterpreted in the groups I've played in, the emotional tone of the end result has generally either been 'annoyed frustration' or 'pointless dramatic argument.' Sometimes because every now and again a player's ability to process the phrase "In lieu of a clear printed answer, this is my ruling and we should move on" hinges on whether my interpretation benefits them or not.

But rather than completely punting with an overlong non-answer, as I've done in the past, I'll opt to pick an alternate question off the website.

Alternate: What is your preferred method of character improvement and why?

So I've become enamored with the Beats/Experiences system seen in the Chronicles of Darkness second edition books. The quick and dirty version is that for performing various feats (resolving a Condition, making progress on or completing an Aspiration, voluntarily making a failure a dramatic failure), players receive Beats (named after a screenwriting term). Every five Beats becomes an Experience. At no point do you spend Beats directly, aside from one really specific circumstance (and even then that's a rules patch of a game line that hasn't properly gotten a second edition yet).

Experiences are spent on traits, and it's a flat cost to do so. So increasing an Attribute is always four Experiences, no matter how high you're buying them up, rather than the "rating times X" sliding scale (which, in some systems, is a little awkward because there's an arbitrarily higher cost for buying the first dot or something than the second). Is that necessarily realistic? No. But it makes certain bookkeeping chores easier, like making sure somebody isn't overspent or moving around Merit dots without having to worry about 'Okay, that dot is worth 8 XP.'

The reason why I like this system is that it's a lot easier to give Beats out in the middle of a session rather than going over a vague checklist at the end of the night and saying 'Okay, everyone gets four tonight.' If you've got counters or tokens (I like using the Fate tokens produced by Campaign Coins), just toss them out when someone earns a Beat and then worry about the actual math later on how much they've earned. Giving out Beats, especially with tokens of some sort, helps reinforce "You did this thing, now you get rewarded/compensated for it" in the heat of the moment, which encourages players to keep doing things that are going to get them Beats. Which means that people are doing interesting things at the table, which is half the point of rewarding them with experience to begin with.

No comments:

Post a Comment