Monthly Archives: December 2015

Special Effects R Us

So, this post was started last weekend, but with laundry, work (10 hour days being regular currently), Star Wars, and the holidays, I never managed to finish the post.

Like most, I have been to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I won’t be offering any spoilers, or much commentary, for a while. I enjoyed it, but I doubt this one will influence my setting. It might influence my storytelling, but not too much more. There’s really nothing new introduced into the setting, so I can’t see my setting growing from it.

This week’s post came from this comic:

Yeah, copyrights not challenged and all that.

Guns in fantasy games seem to really get to people. There were similar reactions to that player’s on the comic’s Facebook page. Some readers (including myself) were okay with the idea, and others freaked out and called foul play. I think I used to be in the “freaked out by guns in fantasy” camp, but I’m not so much any more. I think most folks problems are based on real world history, and how the muzzle velocity of the gun allowed the bullet to penetrate armor, eventually rendering armor impractical.

But not even Chris Perkins (the “DM to the Stars” WotC Creative Director) is in the “no firearms” camp, as in his Valoreign playtest setting he includes elven firearms. If you look at the weapon stats, it’s obvious that he’s treating the firearms as simply special effects for damage-inflicting mechanics. And the reality of the game is, hit points are ill-defined and unrealistic in most systems, much less D&D. That being so, the idea that adding guns to a story-oriented fantasy system is completely misguided, in my mind. More simulationist gaming will definitely want it, but that sort of game will likely have more clearly defined hit points and armor mechanics.

Which brings me back to an idea I discussed early on in the history of this blog, that RPGs are resource management systems with special effects overlaid. The special effects are what make our games and determine and shape our settings.

Related to this, I was listening some examples of Fate settings, particularly on some of The Tome Show episodes, and I was struck by the idea that I might have overcomplicated my thinking about how to deal with magic in the StarSea setting. If all PCs have magic, then outside of an aspect that determines their type of magic, they really shouldn’t need more system. Magic becomes the special effect of their actions as they determine. Little or no need for a lot of extras and other mechanical rulings to create the setting.

I still probably won’t be using Fate, as I don’t think my players will get the hang of the fate point economy. That’s at least partially because I have trouble priming that pump myself. But also I think the kids will have problems with creating and accepting the “bad stuff” that is necessary to keep the flow going. I still like the system, and hope to use it in the future.

On that note, a couple of weeks ago, while reading some of the Age of Sigmar stuff, I got inspired to create more of the Reincarnated Heroes campaign idea I had commented on back in November. (The quick recap: Heroes of Good are defeated by Evil, but are reincarnated because Evil cheated the laws of the cosmos.) One of my players said when I mentioned the idea “That’s a cool idea. I like that. Build that.” I have the beginnings of ideas for the villains (barbarians following some dark god, kinda like the Bloodsworn of AoS, or the madben Denledhyssi followers of Glandyth-a-Krae in the Corum books). I considered using 4e and the defiling rules from Dark Sun, but upon reexamining those rules, I determined they are too weak. That only allies are injured makes no sense, and the amounts of damage for the pay-off is too much. Less damage against all creatures would make more sense. I could probably use another system, but I’d probably want to find a different cheat that Evil used that allows the heroes to come back to fix their past mistakes. Or, I need to go with a different reason for the heroes’ reincarnation.

I haven’t really thought too much about the StarSea lately, and that’s a good thing. When I get back to it, I’ll be refreshed. Or so I hope.

Anyway, it’s late and I need to go. No work tomorrow, but I don’t need to be up much longer. Later.



Motivations and Multitudes

One of the first things that ran through my mind was an expansion of last week’s ideas. That is, if we’re irrational creatures, why aren’t my NPCs? That is, why do so many of my NPCs, and most other DM/GM/ST’s, allow themselves to be swayed by reasonable arguments? Why don’t they have extreme emotional commitments to their point of view? And I’m not talking about the major villains. Most folks do a pretty good job keeping the Bad Guys bad, and a little crazy. But the merchants and kings and barkeeps tend to be convinced by simple, logical arguments.

I think many of us think the average person is a reasonable human being who will be swayed this way. But the reality is that the average person is motivated by their emotions and shouldn’t necessarily be swayed by logic.

I think, in the future, I’ll make notes on NPCs that include some note on what the NPC won’t compromise or negotiate on, or how they’re irrational. I think it’s something DM/GM/STs need to think about, even if you’re doing improv gaming.

Something else I’ve been thinking about the past couple of days is whether or not I’ve way overcomplicated the StarSea. Do I really need five races? Do I really need four factions of sapients, not to mention the demons, undead, dragons, and giants, the Ür, civilians and the Corrupted versions of same?

There are also questions raised by the way the factions interact with Corruption. Why do the Powerless become various creatures (like orcs and goblins), but the Empowered become something else, based on their faction? There’s a certain illogic to that, and while the answer could be “Pure Freakin’ Magic”, that’s a dissatisfying answer.

I don’t have answers to these question yet. They’re just things starting to creep into my head as I look at storytelling and listen to book reviews on podcasts. I know that some of the most popular RPGs have had a large number of factions (World of Darkness, I’m looking at you), but do I need them for my setting. It might be I want to have them there, but in the background for the time being, to be developed later. Or it might be I want to completely eliminate them. It’s something I’ll continue to be thinking on for a while, I’m sure.

Yeah, so much for a break from the StarSea. 🙂

Well, it’s nearly bedtime, so I need to go.




Sketches and Agency

So, I said I was going to take a break from the StarSea.

Yeah, that lasted about 10 minutes. My mind drifted into imaging things, like how a dwarf should look, or a troll, and I set about sketching those ideas. Didn’t get much done, but I did start rattling things around in my head. I’ve got an image floating around based on the podcast description of an adventure site that I still need to get out.

While mentioning podcasts, I heard something on an episode of The Tome Show that got me thinking and questioning: “When did DMs/GMs/STs/whatevers become afraid of player agency, and who says there’s a finite pool of agency, so that when one side gains, the other side loses?”

This is something I’ve heard as one of the many criticisms of 4e. Players have more agency because they can point to the rulebook to gainsay some story decisions of the GM. To an extent, that’s true. It forces the DM to either be more creative, know their system better, or both. I never really had a problem with agency in 4e, as a DM, over the story or the rules. I’ve had problems with other DMs and whether or not they have a solid grip on the rules. And I’ve seen some truly terrible adventure writing, including from WotC… especially from WotC, but rarely have the rules themselves been the source of the issue.

More of what I’ve seen hasn’t been a totally broken system (although they’re out there) but rather broken  subsystems, or issues with my own inexperience. I remember an instance, which I ultimately handled poorly, while running Villains and Vigilantes in which one player had that game’s version of the Green Lantern “solid illusions” power. The PC in question was like Dr. Manhattan to the rest of the PCs’ Watchmen. Basically, I couldn’t threaten him without killing the other PCs, or resorting to non-physical attacks (as he could use the illusions as armor), something at that time I didn’t have the creativity and sophistication to accomplish. I eventually stripped him of his power, rather brutally stripping him of a fantasy power to recapture my own.

There was one “campaign” I ran in high school in which a vampire merchant turned one of the PCs before the others killed the merchant. I therefore had a PC vampire taking up the old merchant’s schtick. Things got out of hand quickly, and we closed the “campaign” by the end of the afternoon. It was a couple of years before I ran another game. The PCs had more power (AKA agency) than I knew how to counter and challenge.

That situation had nothing to do with the rules and everything to do with my inexperience. When I started this part of the article, I really wasn’t cognitive of where I was going with the article, but I can see where I am being lead. It seems that the power issues we play out in our games are an extension of those we have in our real lives. They are the power issues we have between one another.

So the real issue isn’t whether you as DM or player have agency. The real issue is are you, the participant, willing to give up your “agency” to further the story of the game? I know the best games I’ve had were the ones where we all gave up some of our agency at some points to be handed by the other players more. Those games in which we all set our egos aside to enjoy the hobby. I’ve gone to the point of trying to actively give up my power to other players, especially younger players, like the Kids.

I wish I could offer more solid conclusions and advice. I can’t. I don’t know what creates another’s power issues, emboldens their ego, and might make them crave more agency than other players at any particular moment. I can only suggest players and GMs be more aware of their own behavior, and question their own motives for pushing for agency. Whatever way you go, it’s not the game; it’s the participants.

That’s all I’ve really got for tonight. It seems like it’s a pretty heavy discussion, and I doubt anything will come of it, but it’s something that’s been on my mind this week, and I felt the need to discuss it. Hope it’s fruitful for someone else out there.


NaBloPoMo 2015 – Entry 30 – And That’s a Wrap!

Again, I’ve managed to put up 30 posts in 30 days. This is important to me, as I often delay posts throughout the year. I try to post on a weekly basis, but I far too frequently find myself distracted or uninspired and delay to the point I skip weeks. And that’s bad as once a week really isn’t that heinous a goal for myself.

I didn’t manage to get shaved as I was called in to work about the time I was getting out of bed. I was sent to Richmond, and those are always full day trips. One of the good things about that is I’m getting caught up on my podcasts. I get three hours to burn through episodes of shows, and right now I’m still working on The Tome Show. His volume is pretty intense (about 200 episodes a year, between about five different streams), and I lost my pod back in 2012, and I had a little bit of a backlog then. I’ve had some crazy number of episodes to dig through, and I’m finally getting to the final 200 left (although I’ve just eliminated about 75, as I don’t care for one of the shows in his network). Yes, I know I’m a little crazy, but that’s just part of my charm. 🙂

I think this year, even more than last year, my posts have been personal rather than about gaming. In fact, I think there has been damned little about gaming this year. I’m still slogging through the Cypher System book, mainly because I’m reading the PDF part-time on my iPad, and doing the “jump around and read at random” thing doesn’t work so well in that case. My mind is still wandering through some ideas for the StarSea. But right now, I haven’t been particularly focused on that project. I feel like I’m experiencing a bit of fatigue where the StarSea is concerned. I’ve needed at least a little break. I’m still interested in hammering out a few issues, and refining quite a bit (I can’t include all the cool ideas I have), but I still need a little break from from hammering on the StarSea.

And I don’t mind putting the personal stuff here. It gives me the exercise in writing if nothing else. If something is too personal, I just don’t publish it. I have one draft that I will likely never publish as I feel it’s just too much of a pity-party to be worth publishing, but it’s nothing I want to delete, either. As I’m putting up more personal stuff, I might modify my sub-title for the blog, but that’s the only lasting and permanent change I might make.

So, it’s time to wrap this up. Hopefully, I’ll be back on Sunday.