Saturday, November 28, 2015

Friday night gaming recap: into the Cauldron

It's a coach of blood-chilling terror
The last session had been a little rough, but nothing helps get me back in the right frame of mind for gaming like a long conversation with Adam from Barking Alien, which I enjoyed the afternoon before the game.  One of his best bits of advice was to talk to my players about where I was in terms of how I felt about the campaign.  I'm really needing to wrap this up, but I also don't want to just see it fall flat--there's been too much time and energy invested in it for that.

So last night was one of our gaming sessions where I'm gaming with the adults, and one of the youth was GMing the other youth players.  I was feeling a little more confident than last week when it came to set-up, and with a particular emphasis on interesting set design and some fun roleplaying the game went off pretty well.  The group took down (with more than a little help), the #2 gang in Grimfest, the Children of the Third House, which only leaves the PC's and the biggest, most powerful gang, the Parliament of Bone.  The Parliament had effectively set up the Children by encouraging them to participate in a ritual that was likely to fail (and did, summoning a Bone Devil to kill them all), and the PC's came in, mopped up, killed the Bone Devil, and the entire hideout ended up being cast into a giant pit of lava.  And...scene!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Listen at the door, check for traps

As is often the case, my friend Adam mentions something on his own blog which then inspires a lengthy response from me.  In this case, it was this post, entitled "An Inconsistent Truth."  In it he complains about this issues of pacing, and the way that players can slow play to a grind by being overcautious.

Unfortunately, they don't know how to police themselves (or so it seems). Many of them forego what would be the most interesting, exciting, or cinematic option, instead looking to the most logical option; often making certain it is the surest, safest plan, devoid of conflict, drama, tension, and sadly, emotional impact, and resonance.
Right, because for some players, survival is the ultimate point of participating in roleplaying games.  Live to fight another day, get more stuff, etc.   Now that's not particularly heroic, it reflects a more picaresque style of play whose roots go back to the very beginning of RPG's.  Those were the days of Gygaxian lethal death traps, fragile PC's, and the notion that clever roleplaying meant doing your best to avoid an untimely end.

But heroes rush into danger, right?  They throw caution to the wind for the purposes of saving the innocent, defeating villains, etc.  Sure, they might play it a little smart and not be completely reckless, but taking a few lumps in the name of what's right is what heroism is all about.

Now Adam raised the question of whose responsibility it is to generate this tone.  That's a tough one, but I feel the majority of the opus is on the GM, mostly in terms of theme. If you at some point spring a death trap, say a poisoned lock, on the PC's, then they will be stopping to look for poisoned locks from them on out.  For me personally, when it comes to traps I don't like the "out of nowhere" option but instead will leave clues and let the players puzzle out what happened.  So rather than have the PC's constantly checking every dungeon wall for traps, I'll just have a headless body lying in the hallway and let the players ignore it at their peril.  Then the players are trained to not bog down gameplay but instead are trained to listen to descriptive language from me.

But sometimes it is just the players.  My gaming group that does the EOW weekend every year is notorious for this, because many of them are former military and/or law enforcement, and by God they are going to throw flash-bang grenades, "cut the pie," and a whole other host of sound tactics because they are projecting their own experiences onto the game (one where you don't get an extra life).

I don't know if the answer is to be as upfront as possible about what kinds of themes you want the campaign to have, or if the answer is to punish the players in subtle way when they start to bog things down (a sort of Pavlovian reflex).  "Oh, you spent three turns checking to see if the door was trapped, well now the guards inside have heard the scratching and are ready for you."

It's tough, and I'm not sure how to deprogram decades of gaming styles, but like Adam I keep trying.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Buiding a Fate Deck

One of the overlooked superhero RPG's out there is the Marvel SAGA game, which came out in between the FASERIP game and the weird diceless game that used beads.  It was released by TSR at a time when they were trying to find a way to rejuvenate the stagnating 2nd Ed. AD&D, and the SAGA system represented a huge break from the mold.  TSR did a Dragonlance version, then a Marvel version of the game.

What made it interesting what it required a deck of special playing cards, which was both an innovation and a huge hindrance for people wanting to get into the game.  Games with specialized dice or cards or something you NEED to play the game other than a gaming book seem to be a hard sell to the general public (there's some exceptions out there that I don't need to get into).

Anyways, the game also didn't have a point-buy system but rather went with a more "just think about what the character is like, and assign stats accordingly" which again for its time wasn't the norm and I think a turn-off for a lot of people who were used to game balance or random PC generation.

So the deck.  Five suites: Strength, Agility, Intellect, Willpower, and Doom, all ranked 1 through 10 (only the Doom suite had a 10 value).  Each player would have several cards in their hand and then could play a card when attempting an action.  If the suite matched the nature of the action (an Intellect card for trying to do something involving scientific inquiry, or an Agility card when dodging an attack), it would count as a "trump" and you could draw a card from the deck and add it to the total.

In addition to the suite and the numerical value, the card would also list one of the 24 callings in the game.  Callings are motivations for PC's or NPC's, like "idealist," "outcast," or "responsibility of power."   Beyond that, it also had a random event listed, like "Never Say Die," "Wild Ride," "Aliens Exposed," or "The Impossible Occurs."  These could serve as little story cues to move the game in an unexpected direction.

An example of a homemade one
So, I own the game and most of the sourcebooks, but lost the deck in a flood.  And, for whatever reason this game is super-expensive on eBay.  What's a creative, intelligent guy to do?

Make his own cards, like this guy did.  Or this guy.  Thanks to this guy giving a rough breakdown of the cards, I was able to reconstruct the deck in terms of suites and numbers.  I've got the callings from the rulebook.  Now all I need are two things:

One hundred superheroes and villains to put on the cards' faces.
One hundred random plot twists.

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