Thursday, December 17, 2009

Being loud!

Sometimes someone on the internet says something so eloquently and completely that is seems pointless to try to add to it. These types of posts resonate at some core level with your spirit - simpatico. Such is the case with a post from Fred Hicks.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to do some soul-searching using the backdrop of RPGs. In the process I found things that I really love to do - talking and playing RPGs. As a result I've been finding others of like mind and beginning some dialogs with these folks. I found that I really enjoy this aspect of blogging very much and have started doing more posting of comments on other's blogs. I hope others will take the opportunity to be silent no more, to talk about the things you love and share ideas. Find a blog or forum you like and start talking or start a blog of your own. Be Loud!

I want to thank all the readers who have taken the time to comment on this blog over the last six months; I'm just getting started and hope to improve my blog-fu with more practice in the New Year. Wow, six months. It sounds weird to say (type) that out loud. I'm proud of being able to post on a semi-regular basis and hope to improve the regularity and frequency in 2010.

Now, having said all that I wanted to let any regular readers of my blog know that I will be taking a short break from active blogging; I am going to spend some quality time with my family. I'm going to unplug and play and sing and be silly. I hope to come back in the New Year recharged and rejuvenated - I have a good feeling about 2010. I want to do more to update readers of any projects I'm working on as well as dreams I'm looking to make real. I'll be using my own gaming as a way to talk about the things I like and the things I don't, the things I do well and the things I need to work on. And I hope to hear from any readers that find what I have to say interesting.

Wishing everyone a warm season's greeting, a fruitful new year and remember to always follow your bliss,


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The world is not a 1st level dungeon

If you had asked me a year ago if I was an 'old-school' gamer I would have answered yes, primarily based on when I started gaming. But since I've started my Back to Basics campaign I've been doing a little reading and realized that when I started didn't matter as much as how I played. Based on what I've read (Grognardia, Retro Roleplaying, and the Quick Primer for Old School Gaming) I feel that I can now say with certainty that I was an RPG Grognard.

One example of this is the concept of a sandbox in old school RPGs. A sandbox represents an area in the game world where the players may freely interact with the environment. The GM creates a locale with many areas keyed for possible encounters. This is less story-focused than most games today. Players would wander about and trigger an encounter if they went to the right place.

In this approach, there is nothing that requires the GM to only put 1st level encounters surrounding the starting point for the campaign. Now some new players (especially if they have any experience with MMORPGs) may be asking why would you do that? Why put a potentially Total-Party-Killing encounter right outside the characters' front door? I used to wonder that too, until I got schooled by a true Grognard.

I had the privilege of playing in Hank's campaign during my last two years in college. Hank lived on my floor in the dorm and I quickly learned that he and others on the floor played AD&D, so we started a group. Hank was a frustrating player because he had an idedic memory and could quote from Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters' Guide and all Monster Manuals. I had to resort to creating a lot of new material to keep him guessing, but that is a story for another time.

Hank invite me and a few of the players from our group to play in his original fantasy world. We were nomads who were trying to escape the desert. Every year the nomads send a small party of adventurers beyond the mountains surrounding the desert to find a way to open the portal blocking the only overland passage in or out of the dessert.

His world was not a 1st level world; he even warned us of that. Before we were 5th level (the highest level we ever reached before dying in the Battle of the Gate) we were negotiating with shadow demons, devils, high level magic-users and all manner of potentially party-killing encounters. But we survived (for the most part). We learned to play by our wits. We negotiated, bargained and worked out all manner of deals to prepare for the battle at the gate. We planned and prepared spells and tactics. We made alliances and hunted for magic items to use in the upcoming battle. And though we failed to achieve our ultimate goal, we created a great story in the process.

Yes, story. All that wandering around, encountering, dealing and adventuring became our story. While we set out and interacted with encounters on the map we were able to create a really cool story in the process. James over at Grognardia says it better than I can so check out his post to see what I'm talking about.

Finally I'd like to thank Hank for running some of the best adventures I had the pleasure of playing in. Hats off to a true Grognard.

Follow Your Bliss,

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Narration Rights

A recent blog post from Troy Costisick has me thinking about narration rights in games. A while back I talked about including an Inspectres-style narration approach in my Back to Basics game. This went over wonderfully. It was embraced so well, in fact, that my sons have started doing it in our 3.5 edition of Eberron. All in all, this is great, but when we had an encounter in our most recent B2B session, I'm rethinking the whole thing.

Here's a little background. I'm running B2 Keep on the Borderlands, a Gygax classic. Since it came in my Basic boxed set of D&D I felt the need to run it. I never really understood D&D well enough back in the day to do it justice. I wanted to run it even more now as a way of sharing a bit 'history' with my boys (like explaining LPs and introducing them to Canadian rock legends Rush, much to my wife's chagrin).

I'm playing it as part of the B1-9 In Search of Adventure mega module. This adventure is just one stop along the way, but one I thought worth spending time on. It is very different from most of the other adventures in B1-9. Being released in the early years of D&D it lacked any 'boxed text' descriptions (more on this in another post). Its style is also more 'sandbox' oriented than story driven (again, more on this too in another post). Suffice it to say that B2 is more setting based rather than encounter or event based.

The event that triggered all this rethinking stems from the first set of caves they've been exploring - the kobold's lair. Specifically, when the hoards of little, scaly, dog-faced creatures started swarming the party the players wanted to describe their successful attacks. This had the effect of really slowing the game down. I felt the urge to keep the action moving and was chafing at their descriptions. I had thought that they could only describe their finishing moves when dispatching a kobold, but since almost every one of the little buggers dropped from one hit this didn't help to speed things along.

Let me state for the record that if our B2B group gets to play a total of three hours in one session that is rare. With the younger players, life and work schedules, we generally only get about two solid hours of play in any given week; it will take a total of three play sessions just to get through the kobold's lair. You can imagine how slow progression is in this situation.

At its roots, the issue is a battle between my gamist - tactical combat, problem-solving, room clearing, treasure grabbing - and narrativist - why are the characters doing what their doing, story telling - sides of me.

After reading Troy's post I see that the problem lies in trying to add narrative control to a task resolution system rather than a conflict based resolution. To highlight the difference: conflict based - characters wish to defeat or drive back the kobolds attacking them; task based - character swings his sword at the kobold in front of him. Since D&D deals with every swing and strike, it is inherently task based. Adding elaborate description to each swing adds a lay of detail that may smother play.

For now, to keep things moving, I'm planning on limiting the successful descriptions to make key encounters more special. This may tip my hand at 'boss level' encounters, but that is something I'll worry about after I've tried it out for a while.

Follow Your Bliss,