Archive for January 2011

1-31-2011 Monday after Star Wars

January 31, 2011

Well we finally had our first game session of the year. The best way to describe it was, short. Normally, I shoot for a game session to last for 3-4 hours, mostly because we seem to game about once every six weeks. I undoubtedly do not have the stamina for 5 or more hour games sessions. I will admit, by the time four hours have passed, I am completely exhausted and I have certainly made a few mistakes, either with the game rules or misreading a player. Generally, I am the one to call the game session shorter than our prescribed time, because fatigue.
This game session was not short because of me; instead, one of the players said “this seems to be a good place to stop,” after two ‘n a half hours. This took everyone else, including me, by surprise. I actually thought that maybe he had somewhere to go and did not mention it to us. So, not wanting to push players as a GM, I agreed. I thought he was going to leave rather quickly; yet, he sat around with us for another hour and a half chit chatting. This behavior is a little confusing to me.
One lesson that I have learned is, that life does not happen in a vacuum. There are events in our lives that do not seem to make any sense while we are in the mist of it, that only do make sense after you discover what has led up to that event. This always gives me pause to my own reactions and feelings, because I know that I probably do not have a grasp of the big picture. Sure, my emotional response to a stranger yelling at me about how I parked my car in a parking lot is to throw a punch to shut them up. Yet, I have to consider what type of day I would have to have which would lead me to yelling at strangers for the way they have parked. Having considered that, I am willing to cut them some slack and spare them of my ego defenses. So, for this game session, I do not have the full grasp of the big picture. I do not know what type of week any of my players have had, if one of them wants to end early; probably it is a good idea to do that. I can always find the reasons why later in the week. Gaming does not take place in a vacuum either.


1-27-2011 Mission Stakes

January 27, 2011

I started using “Mission Stakes” to introduce aspects of the game system and plot device to the players of my Star Wars Campaign, Faults within a Temple. I had my 14 year old son playing who really had not played many RPGs and my younger brother who played 2nd edition D&D as one-shots. Neither wanted to master the rules, but rather be cool Jedi and kick ass with me telling them what to roll to do that. “Mission Stakes” was an attempt to teach them additional rules of the game or, at least, focus on those rules that might matter for a particular adventure. Basically, I type up around four things for each player to consider about their hero that involves the adventure-what is at stake within this mission and hand them out at the start of an adventure. So far they have been semi-successful. My biggest mistake has been with the one experience gamer who regularly plays many RPGs games.

A regular gamer does not really need to be pointed out game and/or plot features; they usually get the hooks and look things up on their own. Yet, in the spirit of fairness, I created Mission Stakes for the one experience player, which was hap hazard. I did not invest much in his little write up because he did not need to be manipulated by them; I went for fun not plot. The result was that he prepared to invest in the game based on the write-up only to have me not bother with any real follow through. I felt so bad at the end of the game session when he said, “Hey, are we going cover this? I thought of a great thing I would do…”


1-25-2011 The Folders are out and we are destined to play Star Wars

January 26, 2011

Well, we (as in my Star Wars campaign group) are at the last weekend of January and finally the group has roused themselves out of their holiday funk and is meeting to play our game, Faults within a Temple. True, it is about two weeks later than I wanted; but we can only meet every other weekend. One missed weekend automatically makes it two weekends. I am sure all you matured gamers can relate. The fortunate thing for me is that I have the adventure pretty much outlined already. Scheduling issues had messed up playing this adventure before the holidays, causing me to quickly make another adventure that two of our heroes participated in. Now, I am pulling out folders that I put away over eight weeks ago and hopefully understand whatever I was writing about back then. Naturally, time away will cause some change in my perspective. I am expecting some rewriting which is not abnormal but making me feel weird.

You know how Hamlet has a play within a play? I am having a revision within a revision-that is a little weird. My typical habit when starting a campaign, especially with a system like D20, is to write a lot of background and rule adaptations to cover a wide range of themes; then slowly forget most of them as we play, focusing on the stuff that is interesting and/or works with the group. Predictably, whatever I have written falls to the wayside after the second session because most of it just does not matter. That is perfectly fine with me, I like writing that stuff out and it is part of my own entertainment as a Game Master. However, I have been contemplating doing something I have never done before-replaying adventures and this campaign setting. If I am starting another campaign, then I have to start writing in-mass again; but I already have written in-mass. What am I to do? Answer, start a revision on the writing in-mass that has already been done, which I started revising about five weeks ago. Now, I am doing revisions in an adventure that is for a campaign that I am revising. All I need to do is add an RPG game in the setting so the heroes can play an adventure within this adventure, oh wait,… that’s Inception.


1-21-11 Social Currency

January 21, 2011

In the old days, players looked at GMs the same way that managers looked at skilled workers; employed workers were better to hire than unemployed workers.  GMs with a group of players were better and worthy to pursue; compared to all those GMs without a group of players.  My basic thought, back then, was if you didn’t have the social skills to pull a group together, then you certainly did not have the social skills to actually GM.  Just like those managers’ belief, you got the stuff to remain employed while unemployed people obviously did not.  Yes, all those pudgy GMs wandering around hobby shops, school clubs, conventions with binders’ filled notes, modules, and whatever; talking about how kick ass their adventures were, what they were going to do to the players, and how cool or victorious they were going to be.  I always felt weird around them, they never were talking with me about playing but rather talking at me, explaining their diabolical plan on how they were going to prove to me how great they were.

Fortunately, times have changed.  There is a whole generation of players out there who are now experience and matured.  We are not the wetback nerds of the 80’s.  Geek is chic and those nerds of the 80’s are adults who have learned social skills, they have actually married, had kids and careers.  You know, we have gotten lives.  The great thing about getting a life is the fact that you get social currency to spend.  You get a “say” in the culture.  I have a family and a job, so what if I want to play Xbox after dinner, I don’t have to watch TV.   Why would I want to join a bowling league when I can game every Tuesday for two months?  I am a part of the capitalistic democracy.  I earn and vote with my dollar wherever I want.  I don’t cast my vote on the NFL, but rather with Wizard of the Coast.  Unfortunately, having a life brings on a whole different set of problems.  Finding time, balancing responsibilities and managing your resources…The entire gaming world has change with the times. 

Now, beginning players and GMs are a minority.  We have spurned those awful GMs to the point where they had to evolve or die.  There is a shortage of GMs and a surplus of players, players who know what they want.  There is an etiquette dealing with real life.  There is understanding of time management, responsibilities, and availability.  There are great GMs who can only play on Mondays and all their players are available on Thursday.  Those players meet every week and rotate games, missing their old GM.  That old GM is now left casting a net, looking for new players instead of being put to pasture.  There are games that are designed with limited playability, so, long term commitment is no longer needed.  Additionally, gamers are introducing the game to the next generation of players.   It is becoming a bonding experience between parents and children.  Also, gaming has become a way for couples to get away from their house and have fun with friends.  It is completely different.

I wonder what it will be like when that 1st generation retires.  All those nursing homes with dungeon tiles on the tables and dice with large numbers on them.


1/18/11-Decisions, Decisions

January 19, 2011

Well it is time to start implementing plans for this year.  This means cutting out the daydreaming of what you want to do and start doing it.  AAaah, how magnificent those daydreams were; what can I say, they were awesome.  My ideas were always perfect.  I game mastered everything right.  There was not one unhappy player.  I was hailed a genius.  Game companies wanted to hire me and I revolutionized the industry where both, consumers were happy and we produced enormous profit.  I magically lost 35 pounds without ever changing my lifestyle. 

Huumm.  No wonder I have a hard time actually doing stuff, it always ends up messier than whatever I envisioned.  That spark of inspiration can be fueled for so long by potential and expectation.  Sadly, every step of accomplishment taken; moves you one step farther away from perfection.  Yep life’s not perfect, I’m not perfect, this year will be imperfect, but imperfection is better than nothing.  Also, the only way to become better at being imperfect is to make something horrible and build up from there.

 So, let’s turn our head from perfect dreams; open our eyes to the mistakes we are about to make and greet them with a smile.


PS.  This blog was going to be about choosing dates to start playing, how boring.

1/17/11 Apocalypse World Review-No fluff, no crunch, just the potential of the human race.

January 17, 2011

As one of the innovators of the whole Indie RPG movement, Vincent Baker of Lumpley Games has now released his version of a RPG where human survival is questioned in a destroyed Earth with the game Apocalypse World.  Within this desolate wasteland created by mankind’s arrogance, a new group of individuals who are besieged by a psychic maelstrom while trying to survive and build a new civilization; raise their malnourished hand and flip the bird to all those RPG corporate games.  There are no splat-books, booster pack cards, hard cover expansions, limited edition miniatures, nor anything purposely to squeeze your pocket books-good lord; you don’t need to buy special dice.  Apocalypse World defiantly asks “what the hell are you doing here?” and then makes a game out of it, all you have to do is bring 2d6 a pencil and all the creativity you can muster. 

The best way to describe Apocalypse World is “Ad hoc.”  There is a simple resolution mechanic where you roll two six-siders and add a single modifier, 7-9 means there is a partial success or a cost with full success, 10+ means full success and the “Master of Ceremonies” aka Game Master cannot mess with you.  The mechanic is straight forward, efficient, and has a wide range of applications; why add on to and complicate it?  Mr. Baker does not and that is where the genius shines through.  There are no complex stacking bonuses, changes in die types, added dice, nor inconsistencies, and the resolution is always two dice and a single modifier; instead Mr. Baker complicates what you can do.  Apocalypse World boils down what characters can do into “moves” and this is where you can add on to your range of abilities.  There are basic moves that all players can do.  There are class moves that only certain characters can do.  Experienced characters can gain other classes’ moves or widen their range within their field.  For those really experience characters, they can gain a boost to the result of a pre-existing move.  Additionally, every move is based on intention to move the story forward, adding onto the current situation.  If the player’s moves resolve things then it’s the MC’s moves that continue the story.  Sounds complicated, of course, most players want it that way. 

 The Soft Chew-Setting

The whole game book is written in flavor, but if you are looking forward to slowly digesting some original background concepts you are going to go hungry.  Mr. Baker directly tells you that he is not telling you anything- the group figures out where their characters are sleeping, along with how and why.  That’s right, no cannon or background-I cannot even tell you if the planet is a burnt charcoal or muddy wasteland.  That’s all up to the group playing.  However, there are three things about the setting that are given in the rules.  First, you are playing characters that are second generation after the apocalypse; so this is just how it’s been your whole life.  Second, the big end happened somewhat in our future, this explains some of the weird gizmos in the rules.  Third, there is this psychic maelstrom that is just outside of your vision that you can tap into to gain insight.  There is no explanation for why; things are just the way they are.

 Without the black and white fluff stating “elves hate dwarves,” you have to look at the nuances of the game system to really get an understanding of the setting.  Apocalypse World asks the question what it would be like to live in the savage remains of earth.  This world is not be about killing mutants and searching for awesome technology, but rather communities trying to survive and your relationships within them.  From this premise the game structure is created and inspires confrontation.  Characters can be cult leaders who naturally have followers, an alpha dog of a chopper gang, a warlord who controls a settlement.  These communities grant you special abilities; but also require some care and investment from the character you are playing.  Additionally, these groups are not isolated, the individuals NPCs can cross over and have various relationships with other groups.  Bob can be a follower and a member of a gang, whose girlfriend lives in the settlement.  All of a sudden, Bob loyalty is contested between the players.  If you don’t want to be a den mother, there are several other lone personalities; but they get extra stuff which requires additional needs outside the character, thus interactions with NPCs or players. 

 Another mechanic that places relationships at the front of this game is the history score.  Every character has a history score for every other character that is playing (not NPCs) this represents how well they understand and know them, not if you like or hate them.  This score is used to either aid or hinder other player’s moves.  Additionally, it is also used for advancing your character, the more you understand (increasing your score with a player) or completely misunderstand (dropping your score with another), gives you experience points.  Incentives to work those inter-party relationships.  Speaking of experience, the other method of gaining experience points is that another player and the MC each choose one stat from your sheet; every time you have a successful roll using either of those stats, you gain an experience point.  So, once again your advancement is affected by your relationship with other players.

 And then there are the sex moves

 Yes, there are sex moves.  No, they are not about the act, but rather the effects afterwards.  Each character gets special effects from sleeping with another player character.  At first this seemed rather disturbing; I don’t want to envision my players going at it.  But these effects are mostly relationship oriented and add a very realistic aspect to the setting.  You don’t have to give details and the focus is on the emotional aspect of sex.  Furthermore, you don’t have to make the game around just these rules.

The Crunchy Bits-system

There is not a lot of crunch to the system, I already explained the resolution mechanic; but Apocalypse World should not be considered “rules light.”  It is lighter that most games; such as D20, Heroes, or Mouse Guard; but it is not as simple as other indie games; such as My Life with Master, Zombie Cinema, or Kill Puppies for Satan.  Stats range from -3 to +3 and they are just modifiers to the die roll.  The system is really just a continuing expansion of the characters and what they are capable of.  What complicates the system is that the MC does not make any rolls; the story is all created from players rolls. The system generates the story based on action, reaction, consequences, and then reaction and so on.  Ad hoc.

 How is this done? By shifting character actions from the typical succeed /fail “check” to intention/purpose “moves.”  Players are not trying to roll an eight or higher to notice the pistol in some guys jacket, but instead they are rolling to read the situation and ask questions like, “who is the most dangerous person here?—well that guy who has a pistol hidden in his jacket, the other two guys look like they are about to bolt” It is a subtle difference, but the moves create a wider range of answers that adds to the story; rather than specific answers that are mostly yes/no.

 Let’s talk about the MC sections; it is not about crunch, but instead, play.  Apocalypse World has some of the best Game Mastering chapters out on the market.  The instruction for setting up a game is great.  Explaining how to MC during actual play is remarkable.   Mr. Baker takes the “social contract” that has been so well discussed over at The Forge forums and writes it into the game.  For many experience GMs much is already known, however, there are several things that are presented in a new light that you never really thought of in this way.  GMs are going to look at this and wish that they had something like it a dozen years ago when they started GMing.   Mr. Baker presents the overall agenda to playing the game.   He then outlines eleven general principles a MC should have while playing the game.  Lastly, he provides fifteen moves for the MC to use during the game.  These are the only moves the MC gets and they are great moves.  Naturally, they are all things that create and move the story forward.  Finally, there are examples galore, about a quarter of the book is examples of how the rules work, don’t work and correcting the calls.

For specific players

The Realist- “Making the game seem real” is listed first for the agenda; it’s top of the pops for this game.  The fact that every day in this world is about survival and the people who help or hinder you, makes every day to day things a potential story.  You want to role-play getting a new shirt, go ahead, a new shirt is going to cost and there are others competing for it.  

The Competitor- Most competitors are not going to enjoy the minimum crunch to this game.  The game is not about who has killed the most mutated rabbit or how to get the biggest bonus to the roll.  Rather off putting to many competitors.  However, the really competitive player will realize that much of the game is structured around the conflicts between players; what a better way to compete than going directly against a player.  Sure, you might not have a +10 machinegun; but everyone will know who the winner is when he is the one walking around in the new shirt at the end of a game.

The Novelist- Just like with the realist, every day is a story.  That story is led by the players not the MC.  The rules state that the MC is not supposed to have a pre-planned story, the game is all yours.  All the MC is meant to do is ask questions and wonder about stuff.  In this game your groups of players live the answers.  How cool is that.  Sure, you were not the one who started off wanting a new shirt, but you were the one to suggest which dickhead had it and why.  Then you were the only one who was instrumental in getting the new shirt, all the players had to deal with you.

In conclusion

Apocalypse World asks “what would it be like” from the setting and takes that answer, puts it at the core of the game system.  Then it strips down the conventional RPG to the abstract bare basics and uses those aspects to build upon the core, creating a wonderful unconventional game.  It has no fluff, it has no crunch.  It is a potential engine.  Potentially, a thousand different worlds can come from, never needing a supplement.  Potentially has all the right stuff for players to enjoy.  It potentially has a thousand stories.   After the fall of society, is our potential the only thing that will allow us to survive?

1/15/11 Personal Testimony –Not my own but still useful

January 16, 2011

On Happy Jacks RPG Podcast’s the Coe-host named Tappy related this story somewhere within the 2nd and 3rd season.  He had gotten into a big debate on a form about rule preferences with gamers.  Tappy is a minimalist and he was arguing for a united game system that was both straight forward and encompassed a wide range.  His reasoning was that a resolution mechanic that met both these standards would be fun to play, because it would be efficient, speed up play, and uncomplicated.  However, the majority of the forms criticized him because such an uncomplicated system would not provide any uniqueness for the players or any advantage in manipulating the rules.  In his frustration, Tappy created an exaggerated RPG as an example that would teach these guys a lesson, a complicated contradictory system with ridiculous exceptions to the rules.  Such a preposterously inconsistent system would smack those critics onto his side!!! Oh unfortunately, it was Tappy who was smacked down; the forum LOVED the game system.  Lesson learned by Tappy. 

                The reason that I am reminiscent of this story is because I have been reading the game system to Apocalypse World, by Vincent Baker.  I have to say, Mr. Baker understands what the player wants-special distinct abilities that raises the complexity level of the game.  Yet, also caters to the GM’s desire to make things simple.  It is a perplexing system which I need to see it run to fully enjoy the nuances.