Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday game night recap, featuring the Black Orchid!

Yoshi's player gets into character.

We are back to Firefly, with the crew getting their strangest job yet. A wealthy bored socialite hires the crew to be part of a sort of live-action roleplaying game. They are essentially characters for her to interact with in her guise as the adventuress "The Black Orchid."

The players surprised me by hatching a plot to use the Black Orchid theatrics to cover an actual casino heist. The best part was watching the players roleplay people roleplaying other characters!

In the end the heist worked but now the PC's have the casino's owners, law enforcement, and the Black Orchid's real life husband (the fifth wealthiest man in the planet) after them!  And who were those "extras" in that one scene shooting real bullets?

After the session, the players jot down what they think was the coolest thing another player did during the game.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Intimidating your Players (or at least their Characters)

So I'm gearing up for another session of Firefly tomorrow and was reading the rules regarding PC vs. NPC interaction when the rules showed as an example an NPC trying to intimidate a PC.  In the example the attempt failed, because the example was meant to illustrate how a player could jack their die roll total up, but it left me wondering what would have happened in the game if the NPC had successfully intimidated the PC.

Players often intimidate NPC's.  For that matter they also frequently bluff, trick, seduce, haggle, or otherwise bamboozle NPC's in a generally social/intellectual manner.  Sometimes this is done strictly through roleplaying but over the last, oh, fifteen years or so it has been resolved through skills.  Roll high enough and they will believe that the sound was a reactor malfunction but that everything is under control and how are you.

What I don't see a lot of is the flow going in the other direction.  In fact I can't think of the last time I had an NPC attempt to pull a fast one over on a PC and resolve it through a die roll.  I've had players roll "insight" or "detect motive" or some such thing to try to ascertain if their GM is lying his ass off to them, but generally an NPC has to rely on my own roleplaying chops and not on random chance.

I'm trying to imagine a scene where I, as the GM, tell someone "Baron von Shnorkel glowers at you imperiously and demands you tell him the truth. (die roll) He succeeds and you tell him everything you know."  I can imagine the howling that would occur.

"Kneel before Zod!"  "Sigh, okay."
(Is that Bill Cosby in the background?  Now that's damned awkward.)
This is actually a tension I feel about RPG's in general. I get why we stat out physical abilities, because that's how we resolve combat and similar challenges.  I even get intellectual skills, since I can barely jump my car's battery, much less fix an engine.  But social attributes I've always found a little hinky, because at that point you've take a lot of roleplaying out and swapped in a die roll.  I get nonathletic people playing strapping heroes, or liberal arts majors playing starship engineers, but socially inept people playing suave con artists starts to make me wonder why we play the game.

I've gone a little far afield here.  Do you allow NPC's to dictate social or emotional responses in PC's based on die rolls?  Can a group of PC's be conned simply by luck?  How do you, if you're the GM, work that out in your own game?

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Players Talk About Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons

I thought I would jot down some general impressions from myself and some of the players in my group, following our first try at D&D Fifth Edition.  As a bit of backdrop, I ran the free mini-adventure from Goodman Games “The Wizard’s Amulet,” which I remember running back in the days of the third edition of D&D, but has now been renovated for the latest iteration.  The adventure features about ten pre-generated PC’s, with the optimal group size of six (I had seven), all at first level.  There is an introductory battle (almost a skirmish), a somewhat pointless exploration encounter that is more of an homage to the early days of D&D, and a final ambush that presents a steep challenge to a 1st-level group.  It’s possible in the final battle for at least one PC to die.
In terms of how the game went over with my group, most everyone (even the new players) like fantasy as a genre.  It was the first style of game the group played when they came together, and we’ve done fantasy games for years until about a year-and-a-half ago when we switched to superheroes, and now science fiction.  So getting back to fantasy was going to go over well with this group.

That having been said, the “old school” vibe didn’t necessarily set well with them.  Many of them came in at third or fourth edition, and 5E has a lot fewer options when it comes to gameplay, not to mention a slimmed-down tactical element of play.  We used miniatures, but it wasn’t as hard and fast as 4E, and at one point the players started trying to flank their opponents in expectation of a bonus, but there wasn’t one because 5E doesn’t have one (at least not one in the PHB).

The overall lethality troubled the players as well.  In the final combat the seven PC’s faced five skeletons, five zombies, two half-orcs, and a human sorcerer.  In their 4E-trained brains the skeletons, and maybe the zombies should be “mooks,” one-hit point opponents.  They were dismayed to discover that the skeletons had 13 each, and the zombies over twenty, making them more than equal to the PC’s in terms of durability.  I myself found this to be a bit steep in play, and held back on the half-orcs and sorcerer in the final battle, but still had two PC’s drop below zero hit points (they were revived in play).  That’s a big difference from 4E, where an N or N+1 encounter might only cost you 25% of your hit points.  And that didn’t sit too well with some of the players.

Not quite the pushover I used to be, eh?

A couple of players commented that, after almost two years of Cortex+ games (Marvel Heroic, the homemade Mass Effect RPG, and Firefly), the Boolean yes/no of the d20 mechanic wasn’t as interesting.  As one player put it, it sucks when it’s your turn and you roll one die and fail, then wait fifteen minutes for your turn to roll around again, only to again roll badly.  In 5E there isn’t the “fail forward” notion that’s in a lot of games now, including 13th Age, a close game to 5E. (Ed. Note: “Fail forward” is when players can opt when failing on a die roll to instead succeed but with negative consequences, or have the failure have some future benefit down the line.)  I would quickly consider throwing that idea, 13th Age’s “contact, near, far” range options, and their “three unique things” into a 5E game if I ever ran one.

With a one-shot with pre-gens there’s not going to be a lot of character development, and I did have some people say it wasn’t the deepest of plots, to which I could only suggest it was an introduction to the rules, not the kick-off of a longer game session.  That's less of a commentary on the rules than the adventure.

There's a lot of interest in some parts of the group for continuing to do a fantasy game.  Now if I can just find it in myself to find it interesting as well...

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