Dicey Situations

Why I love 2d10

salientknight's picture

As I have said in past posts, I love dice. I love the randomness. I love the gambler's high I get when the dice are really going my way and I especially love it when the dice take on a life of their own and seem to agree that the story should go one way or another. I wont apologize for the gross anthropomorphism there, but I will concede that I may have exaggerated a bit. If, however, you have gamed for any length of time, you will have to admit that some times the dice are uncanny. I love it when this happens. I love getting just the right roll at just the right time and just the wrong roll at exactly the wrong time. Nothing like a fumble when everything is on the line and there is no room for error. Wow. What a way to build the tension.

Even with my mad love for all things dice, I have to admit that my hands down favorite dice system is just a simple 2d10. "Why?" you might ask (and if you don't I'll tell you anyway). There are actually two really strong reasons for my preference and they are as follows. I like knowing the odds and with 2D10 the odds are always right there in your face. "You need to roll under  ten." Ah ok I have a 10% chance of success. "You need to roll 00." OK my odds are 1 in 100. I like this. Its simple, it's fast, the math is easy and as a player I can really get behind the idea that I have n% chance of doing something. The logic and the language seem to go hand in hand for me and I appreciate that. I know I am going to take flack for that, "Well every pip on a D20 5%. What's your problem?" Besides the fact that the odds move in blocks of 5%, I prefer the pure percentage over the conversion (no matter how simple).  I'm typically gaming after working all day and honestly, I do math all day at work, when I am playing, I want something pure and simple. 

I have already hinted at the next reason for loving 2D10 and that's the simple fact that the language follows the logic. To me gaming is about the story, and while I love the dice, I don't want deal with anything that is going to jar me out of the story. With percentage dice the numbers can make sense without any thought or calculation and they can make sense without taking anything on faith that someone else did the math and the number I am trying to role is consistent with the rest of the system.  For me, the idea that my character has a percentage change of success just flows better with the story. Player: "I really want to impress that lusty bar maid. I pull out my crossbow and hit the bullseye painted on yonder hay stack with my crossbow." GM: "OK a typical crossbow toting loony has about a 10% chance of hitting the bullseye from that distance. With your training and the quality of your bow, you have a 95% chance. Roll under 95." Player: "I rolled a 5. That was too easy. I really want to show off. So, I get on my horse. Stand in the saddle on one foot and hit the bullseye on the way by." GM: "Typically this would be next to impossible, but since you are so dexterous and pretty good your bow, your horse is well trained and the ground is pretty even, I'll give you a 60% chance not to fall off the horse and a 10% chance to hit the bullseye. I might have given you a better shot if you had practiced." Player: "Well, at least I didn't fall off the horse..."  

And for me that's what its all about. Simple rules, that don't get in the way of the story that let you calculate bazaar requests on the fly without having to look things up that leave room for a lot of dynamic play and articulate the odds in a way that everyone can relate to. And that's why I love 2D10.

 

Game on! 

 

 

Creating compelling stories...

salientknight's picture

Its easy to run a group of people through an endless dungeon crawl. All you need are maps monsters and the thinnest of hooks. Perhaps the hardest part of being a GM is telling a good story.The following are my top GM tips for creating a story that will keep your party interested, involved and excited to play.

  1. Character backgrounds:  Yes this is on my top ten for GM tips too, but since characters are core to every good story, having your players flush out their characters is critical. When you have an idea of who your players want to be,  they are actually helping you create the story. With well flushed out characters, you are no longer telling a story about a Mage a fighter and a rogue who walk into a bar, you are telling a specific story unique to your group. Zipo the fire mage, who was raised in a circus and is deadly afraid of rats is an infinitely more exciting character than, "My level 6 mage." Well flushed out backgrounds also help you to creating compelling hooks and help to personalizing the story. Perhaps the most important aspect of having your players create rich backgrounds is the simple fact that it gives the characters something more to live for than just "not dying."  
     
  2. Know your world: The better acquainted you are with your world, the better you will be able to tie in the character's actions with history, politics, and intrigue of all flavors. You don't need to spend the rest of your life flushing out every nook and cranny of every corner of the solar system, but you should know basic information about every general area of concern. When I start a new campaign, I always start with a plot idea (I know you thought I was going to say make a map), and the very next thing I do (wait for it) is to create a map and figure out what makes sense for my plot. I lay out the basic cities, creating a list of the ruling families of each city, I plot the "out lands" or the "bad lands" or whatever you want to call them. I figure out where my monsters come from and where they typically hide. If am using a full pallet of races, I try to pencil an origin each race. Sometimes plotting monsters and meta-races means leaving a large portion of the map grey or "unexplored," but at the very least I try to know the names of their kings and their kings top 3 enemies. Sometimes this is just a list of names, but depending on where I see the campaign going this can also consist of a few paragraphs outlining the nature of the conflict. Finally I layout major roads and means for travel. 

    The amount of detail you give an area should be directly correlated to how much time you think players will be spending there. If for the example you are running an entire fantasy campaign in one city, you should flush out, the ruling families, which families get along with what other families, the names of the guilds and the guild leaders, the names of the local heroes, the names of the inns, the taverns and the places of interest. You should also ask yourself how prevalent magic is in the city and how active the gods and religious orders are. If your entire campaign is going to take place in this one city, you may also want to get an idea about what's under the city, catacombs, mines, or maybe an entire underground city. You will probably want a good idea of the surrounding area, where are the farms, what's the closest town outside the city etc.. On more quick thing to check off is knowing who the cities enemies are, but more on that later.
     

  3. Create compelling villains: Your story will only ever be as interesting as your conflict and your conflict will only ever be as interesting as your antagonist. If you give your bad guys history and depth and give them reasons for their actions, your can leak little pieces of the story to your players over time, and create a memorable villain. Moreover you can set them on a path of discovery where they go through some of the same things as your villain. Do they make the same choices? Yes, evil can answer the question of why your villain is such a monster, but fining out why your villain is evil or what choices they made to bring to that point is a lot more interested than charging after a bad guy who was born evil and will die evil. Of course there is something to be said for putting of a few "maybe he was born with it" evil doers in the players way from time to time, but you want to keep them interested your story, you should consider the impact of interesting villains. 
     
  4. Plot: This is the tough one and I think far too many GM's rely on "The big bad evil wants to bring the bigger badder evil back into the world," or "The heartless overlord want to take over the world." Some of the most exciting campaigns I have been in have been about much smaller pieces of the puzzle. Or have been been made up of a series of subplots that eventually led to the overarching mega-evil baddie.

    Here are a few things to consider for your plot, a sort of sub list in the list. 1 Big plots should be made up of smaller plots. 2 The more compelling the "why is" the the more compelling the story is. 3 Plot revolves around conflict. 4 Any conflict can make a good plot. 5 The more personal a conflict is, the more people will take interest in it. 6 The less straight forward the resolution is, the more fun it can be to puzzle it out. 7 The resolution of one plot can always lead the conflict of the next plot.
     

  5. Keep Players in the plot: There is nothing less interesting as a player than the feeling that nothing you do is going to shape or effect the outcome of the story. If the story is going to unfold and the actions of the players are not going to have any real effect on the events that take place then players will soon start to get a sense of "Why bother?" Sometimes that can be fun "No matter how many knolls I kill there are ten more waiting to take their place," but while that can be fun for a while, if that's the entire campaign its going to get old faster than you might hope. 

    Players actions should have an effect, maybe they stop some thing from happening, maybe they speed it up, maybe it still happens but in a new way that no one could have predicted the outcome. If the players feel like things were going to happen anyway and they are just being lead by a thread from one confrontation to the next leading up to a final fight with a generic bad guy,zzzzz. Oh sorry I nodded off just thinking about it. Things need to change and the players need to feel like they are part of that change. That's the bottom line. Sometimes that change can be negative but from time to time that change has to give the players hope and/or a sense of accomplishment. 
     

  6. Balance the power: This goes hand in hand with keeping the players in the plot. A lot of drama can be created by having the players feel like they are in over their heads, but put them in too far and they will quickly start to ask "why bother."  The trick to balancing power is simple. No matter how bad the odds, no matter how hopeless our outnumbered the situation looks, always leave a way out and make sure your players know what their hail Mary is. They may have to work to get it and things may get a lot darker before they start to get better, but as a story teller, its your job to make things bad, not hopeless. 
     
  7. Make them work for it: If the only resolution to the conflict is something spoon fed, no one is really going to care if they win or not. Make them work for it and if it something is spelled out on page one like "Bring the ring to Mount Doom" then you better have a bunch of other conflicts lined up that the players have to figure out for themselves. And that's the key. Let the players come up with their one solutions. 
     
  8. THE GOLDEN RULE: Player involvement. Gaming differs from story writing in one major regard, everyone at the table is responsible for telling the story. Each player tells their part through their character. That means as the GM you need to leave your ego at the door. You are setting up the situation, the plot, the NPC and environment, but that's its. To be a good GM you have to let go of your world and your plans and be able to let everyone else at the table have an effect on it. That means that you should have an idea of the sort of things that will work to resolve the conflict, but not just one exact solution that you eventually hand over to the players. Its their story too. So while you don't want to make things too easy for them, you need to be flexible enough to let them solve the problems in their own way and patient enough to let them come up with answers. Sometimes all its takes to make a story compelling is ownership. 

Game on, 

 

-=SalientKnight=-

 

10 Tips for a new GM

salientknight's picture

This is a quick 10 best list, it consists of things I’ve done, learned and seen other GMs do. Some of these are real gems. If you are new to GMing you might get some much needed advice bellow. If you are an old timer, you may have a few good nods and maybe an “ah”. Either way, enjoy.

 

hit location guy1) Monster cards — One GM I used to play with, kept pile of index cards with pre-built monsters handy. With this stack of monsters, he had a conflict for every resolution. He was able to allow us to go where we wanted, and do what we wanted to do. When things got slow, or we started making bad choices, he had an encounter ready for every situation. This GM’s approach created a dynamic good time.

2) Modular Maps — Along the same lines as the dice box, is the modular maps approach. Having a stack of all purpose maps handy is a great way to allow for dynamic play. You can flush them out and fully populate them, or use them with monster cards and allow for completely dynamic play.

3) Initiative cards — I’ll be stealing this one. My current GM uses index cards with everyone’s initiative and he sorts through them as each player goes. This may sound simple but he always knows who’s up.

4) Require character backgrounds — the more flushed out your party’s characters are, the better you’ll be able to control them. More over, it will give you good ideas for hooks, and ways to make the campaign personal for every player character.

5) Don’t force the hook — We all know that your main goal for the night is to get the party in to the module everyone agreed to play, but let’s face it, there is no perfect hook. You start reading from the module and as you read, the Rogue says, “I’ve got too many enemies to go there. The King's men will kill me on site.” Or the Paladin says, “No man of god would tread those roads.” Let it go. Or find another way into the hook. If you are using the tips 1 or 2, you can let them run wild and “find” their own way in to the module. If there is only one way into the module, its time to hit the character backgrounds and find some personal hooks. If your best efforts fail to get everyone in the hook — maybe the module is the wrong way to go. Whatever you do, don’t force it. The NPC who is all powerful (or at least all powerful in relation to the party) saying “Do it or die,” may be how it works in the movies, but I get’s stale fast in game play. It’s always better to let the players feel like they are making choices and not just being forced through another pitch black maze.

6) Choose between an dynamic or a static world — two of the best tips are for dynamic worlds, but there is much to be said about dynamic play on static worlds. Static worlds are worlds where all of the details are flushed out in advance. If your players go down the road to the left, they find the dragon. If they go down the road to the right, they find dwarven mines. These types of worlds are dangerous, especially for low level characters, but it can add a sense of realism and lethality to your world; these worlds can also force your players to consider their actions more carefully. Knowing that the world is not scaled to them will make them think twice before chasing every lead. More over static worlds can help create a completely dynamic playing experience. You don’t have to lead the party around by a hook, if the trouble is already there for the finding. It turns the whole campaign into one of discovery and keeps your players hoping that the next discovery is not the last.

7) Set your paranoia level early — in the first few gaming session you let the players know how dangerous your campaign is going to be; this is a good time to kill off a character or two and let the party know that there are consequences to their actions. Don’t kill anyone for the sake of killing them, but make a few over-powered combats and don’t stop the dice from doing a job on anyone to stubborn to retreat. Killing a character helps keep up the suspense and makes your players more alert. If your party does not feel that the danger is real, they wont make smart choices. They will chase every lead, and stand toe to toe with every foe, never really convinced that their actions matter. Another piece of this is that the longer you wait for that first kill, the more bitter your players will be about it. After 6 weeks with no deaths, they’ll start to take for granted that no one is going to die. After 6 months when one or more of them are suddenly burned to ash by a deadly pit trap, there may be hard feeling about the sudden ‘rules’ change.

8) Items not People — never place the burden a major champagne hook on one character. You wont be able to kill them, or replace the character if the player drops out. Worse still is if the player finds out and decides not to play ball. I made this mistake once. When the player realized that his character was key to the plot, he started testing the limits of his mortality and the champaign fell apart from there.

9) No favorites — I’ve often heard “No wives or girl friends,” but the real issue if favoritism kills the game. When one player is clearly favored by the GM the rest of the party feels cheated and will eventually resent it. I’ve been in too many campaigns where only one person could play a special class or race, where one person was given a special quest item that no one else could carry, or one player had uncanny “luck” at finding “things.” If you are not the chosen one, it can really suck. Every character should have the spotlight from time to time. The inverse of this rule is worth mentioning too — no stick dogs. If you can’t put aside the fact that you don’t like someone, don’t like the way they play, or don’t like stupid people in general, you should not be the GM for any group they are in. Which leads to the golden rule of GMing

10) The golden rule of GMing — Don’t power trip. We all know that the GM is above the rules and the rules go out the window when necessary, but no one wants to play in a game where the GM always wins, where there is no point in making plans because the monsters always know your plans before you do, where the monsters are alway ready for whatever trick you have up your sleeve, where there is always a sneak attack, where wizards are always forced into physical confrontation, where none of your stats matter but your chance to hit and where the GM’s desire to beet you to within an inch of your life every week means that no amount of rules, planning or strategy on your part will every pan out. Let’s face it. Part of the fun of the game is out smarting the monsters, traps, NPCs, and occasionally even the GM, but when the cards are always stacked against you the game gets pointless in a hurry.

That’s it. My top ten GM tips. It’s not exhaustive by any means but it’s a good starting point or at least a good refresher.

GenCon == Awesome

salientknight's picture

If I learned anything at GenCon, it was how much I have to learn about gaming. I used to think I would have what I wanted if I spent my entire paycheck on gaming shwag, but GenCon taught me that I was wrong. First I would have to get a better job, and then spending my entire paycheck would put a dent in the down payment on the marvelous things I saw  – that I must have.  And one of the coolest things I saw came from Geek Chic.

For as long as I can remember, everyone has talked about the ultimate gaming table. What would it look like? What features would it have? Would it have beer holders? I always thought it was a pipe dream. You know just talk. Apparently, the folks at Geek Chic took it seriously. Boy did they take it seriously.
 
In a prime location in the exhibit center located just inside one of the entrances, and surrounded by a moat of geek drool, were the Gamer Chic displays, and they were awesome. The picture above does not do these heirloom quality tables justice.
 
The table pictured above, which I believe is called “The Emissary,” is only half open. The panels on the top can be removed for a full game board, or set in place providing you with a stylish and functional dining table.  And what a dinning table it is. This is not a highly polished piece of press board posing as quality furniture, these tables are made of “solid hardwoods with quality joinery.” Wowsa! And this is not even their flagship table!
 
Gamer Bling did a piece on their flagship “The Sultan,” where he espouses his lust for the sultan, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he means the gaming table, but only because he seems like a straight up guy. I would however caution against referring to “Gamer Bling™s  outright lust for The Sultan” and Platonic archetypes in the same post lest we get the wrong idea. But I digress.
 
Justing knowing that these tables exist has enriched my world and given me a new reason to get up and earn a paycheck every morning. Some Day. But until the day when I replace my battered old gaming table with a masterwork piece of art, I’ll fantasize about geek-bashing house-guests marveling at my fine dining table, unaware of its hidden treasure.
 
Oh the tie in. And since I got to both see and touch this table at GenCon, GenCon==Awesome!

Paranoia will restore ya

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After what seemed like ages of constrictive rules and board-game play, “role playing” had been getting a little stale for me. Even the excitement of playing at Gen Con was over shadowed by the mechanical nature of the games. Don’t get me wrong, the major games are still fun in their own regard, but it feels like “role” has been systematically replaced with “roll” and games have become more about the figs and less about the story.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate modules. There are some fantastic stories and brilliant minds behind a lot of the new modules, but to me they serve more as a backdrop for the minis and dice game on the table, and less as a place you go to grow a character.

The word “grow” is key to my thinking here. In a seminar I took this weekend on Characterization, Michael A. Stackpole made a very salient point about growth verses change. To roughly paraphrase, growth is change with reflection and decision. Applied to gaming, I would say, If a character just changes because they killed enough monsters to level, and then the players picked some new stats there is no character growth. Without growth, the characters remain flat and with flat characters the story will never be that interesting.

So I guess for me, these new systems present more as games and less as the “interactive story telling,” that hooked me when I was a kid. I don’t really care if my characters die, because there is no emotional connection to them. They are stats on a page, ready to be replaced by the next set of stats. I play the game as well as I can, but at some point the role playing gets us to the cave and the weeks of carnage begin. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but with so many mechanics to deal with, they almost always are.

I role play for the same reasons I read — the characters. Just like I would not read a book if I didn’t connect with the characters, I don’t enjoy the game were the characters merely change. So for me, role playing has been a little stale and thanks to Mike, I know realize why. And thanks to Dean, our Paranoia GM, my role playing flame has been rekindled.

I really didn’t know what to expect. Sean (my friend who made Gen Con happen for me) invited me to a role playing session with his friends from North Carolina and while he spoke very highly of them, I didn’t know what I was getting into. But it was Gen Con and I went with the flow.

I had not played Paranoia before. Oh I ran through a module when I was 18, but I was the only player and so while I had some idea about the basics, I had no idea what I was in for. It was awesome. First off it was a truly wonderful group of people who were incredibly welcoming and completely embraced the game. They created a completely unique session that would have been different with another other group of people and I was really lucky to be a part of it.

And then there was the game. The game was all about the characters. What few rules there were defined the attitudes, moods, and thinking of the characters — with a few skills tossed in to help resolve the mayhem. It was almost completely open ended with only the most basic scenario (on the surface) and enough of a lead-in to make us all-to-the-walls crazy with …you guessed… paranoia. The game system and most of Dean’s hard work magically faded into the background making way for a majestically entertaining role playing experience. In other words, Dean did a brilliant job setting it up.

So here I am, with a fresh reminder of why I love role playing and a bad play on Ozzy lyrics. I have not felt so good about my favorite hobby since college and I’m looking forward to my next gaming session for the first time in ages. So, if your game is getting a little stale, I would suggest getting your group together for a little paranoia and helping everyone remember how fun role playing is — without the computer.

Does This Dice Bag Make My Butt Look Fat?

salientknight's picture

I have a love love relationship with dice. In fact, I think I love them so much that I scare them away. In my life I have amassed not two but three large dice collections and so far two of them have run away. The first large dice collection I put together was either stolen or thrown away by someone who had access to my cabin in college. We left for a dinner break in the middle of a long gaming session and when I came back, some of my dice had been tossed around the house and the rest were just plain missing — along with a denim dice bag I had made with my now departed Grandmother.

Needless to say, I was upset. But as I have already let on, I was not ready to give up. Fifteen or Twenty trips to the local hobby store later and I was well on my way to having another prize bag of dice. Ten years after that, the collection was in fine shape indeed. Then, as many of us do from time to time, I took a break from gaming, moved three or four times and, much to my shame, I neglected my dice terribly. It may purely be a coincidence, but during this time, I also met and married my beautiful wife, Raquel.

Shortly after getting together with my wife, and settling in a bit, I noticed that something was missing from my life and I approached my wife about leaving her in peace a couple of evenings a month. Now, I knew my wife would be cool with the fact that I was a gamer, she is after all the one who routinely kicks my ass at Scene It? Deluxe Marvel Edition , but being newly engaged with a wedding to plan, I was not sure how she would feel about me leaving her alone a few evenings a month. As always, she was awesome and supportive, which left me with a huge crisis.

Dice collection number two had vanished into the ether. The last time I had seen them I was packing. I remember invoking a joyous chortle followed by “My Dice” and I have not seen them since. Gaming night came, and not being one to borrow dice, I ravaged every dice bearing game in the house, just to have something to bring with me. We had this one rather sacrilegious game, that used dice primarily for stacking and not rolling. I remember looting that game with glee. It had most of the standard dice and it had them in quantity, but they just did not feel right. And here again is where my wife proves to be a wonder.

My wife is an amazing gift giver, but I have to say that opening this one gift had to be akin to finding the holy grail. I ripped open the package and found the much coveted Chessex Dice: Pound of Dice (Pound-O-Dice) . My wife actually bought it for me! Can you imagine a whole pound of dice! I dug through and found all of the sets, laughed at some of the crazier dice and then rummaged around for a suitable dice bag for a pound of dice. Soon, it was a pound of dice plus one set. My lovely wife bought me a rather stylish set as a wedding gift, along with other equally thoughtful gifts. Three or four trips to the hobby store and I had respectable dice collection once again.

Packing for Gen Con, I have over a pound of dice in an enormous bag and I know that they cannot all come with me. *Sniff* I’m now left with the task of picking which lucky set will be THE set — the set forever after referred to as “The set used at Gen Con.” Here you might be thinking that my wedding set is the perfect choice, but having lost two dice sets, I don’t feel like I can trust myself to bring such meaningful artifacts with me.

So here I am with a respectable collection of dice, trying to pick which ones to elevate into legend and I got to thinking about this book my wife asked me to read Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?: An Easy Plan for Losing Weight and Living More” I looked long and hard as my absurdly large bag of dice and had to ask my self, “Do these dice make my ass look fat?” meaning of course, are these dice just clutter? Do I really need all these dice. Do I need these impartial decision makers?Do I need this epic bag of monster slayers? All these beautiful tools of chaos. My own dear pr….

Yeah yeah. As you can guess my answer was “HELL YEAH!” In fact, I just bough some dwarven dice and these are going to Gen Con with me.

Pathfinder there I said it...

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Pathfinder. There I said it. No. I’m not taking sides. I’m just putting it out there. Pathfinder. It’s like 3.5 but better. Here is what pazio says about it:


 

 

The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is an evolution of the 3.5 rules set of the world’s oldest fantasy roleplaying game, designed using the feedback of tens of thousands of gamers just like you. Players need only the single 576-page Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook to play, while the Game Master who controls the action will also want the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary, a massive tome containing more than 350 fantastic foes for your adventurers to face. The Pathfinder RPG is a fully supported roleplaying game, with regularly released adventure modules, sourcebooks on the fantastic world of Golarion, and complete campaigns in the form of Pathfinder Adventure Paths like Council of Thieves and Kingmaker.

 

 

OK. Got it? It’s not a revolution, its an evolution. If you want to throw away everything you know in a pie eyed love affair with newness, there is 4E. If you want a solid and entertaining gaming system that improves upon the game you already love, try Pathfinder.

Here are the best reasons why its worthy:

 

  1. You already know how to play it.

    You don’t have put on your newbie hat and spend countless hours finding and hashing rules no one has bothered to read. It’s what you have already been doing, only better. Oh and characters convert from 3.5 with ease.

  2. No, fewer, or less house rules

    By most accounts, you don’t need a lot of house rules to play. The good stuff that works is built in. No need to argue for three sessions about how grappling really works, it’s right there clear as day; it makes sense; it fits in the with rules and you don’t need to leave the book open to use it.

  3. Awesome artwork

    What can I say. It’s pretty.

  4. Well organized.

    You don’t need a searchable digital version to use this book. It’s well organized and playable “out of the box”

  5. Streamlined Skills and feats
  6. Simplified combat with a single set of mechanics for all combat
  7. An retooled experience system that lets you choose the pace of character advancement
  8. Enhanced core classes
  9. It’s fun.

 

 

That all said, if you like 3.5 but just wish it would get out of it’s own way, then give Pathfinder a try. Sure there are a few typos and yes is derivative, but at the end of the day its fun.

 

Game on,

-=SalientKnight=-

 

Dark Sun

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I was so excited to hear about the pending Dark Sun release that I ran right over and wrote a 3 page blog entry about why its the best D&D campaign setting of all time. Then I promptly proceeded to screw up the entire entry trying to add a link to the Dark Sun logo.

So my carefully worded dissertation about cool races, cool classes, surviving the elements and fighting for every little thing in a morally grey — do what you must to survive — campaign setting all went poof. It’s sad really, because my vivid descriptions of a battle warm dwarf in piecemeal armor, with a rusty war hammer, slugging it out with a giant over a half empty canteen of water, not nearly enough to get either of them to the oasis, was a good read.

Dark Sun is set on the desert world of Athas, it’s a post apocalyptic/dying earth, fight for everything, struggle to survive, romp’m stomp’m, grit vs wit, hell on wheels good time. The world is dying, vast areas are already dead, magic is feared and using it means risking your life. This is not role-playing for sissies. This world is challenge personified and you either have to bring your A game, or a stack of blank character sheets. Can you hear me drooling?

At any rate, I’ll try not use the blog for shameless product placements, but I was so excited about this one, I wanted to give you a link to the pre-order page. I’m putting it my in the cue, I can already smell the fresh ink on the pages…

Player vs Character

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One topic that comes up repeatedly in gaming circles (for both new and old players) is the question of who your character is or rather who your character is “supposed” to be. Is your character supposed to be you with a different set of skills and abilities, in a different time or place? Is your character supposed to be a completely made up persona, who is as unlike you as possible? Some gamers, such as Jim H. Moreno at Warcry Network go so far as to propose the “Law of Player-Character Separation.” While Jim does not advocate a rules-in-stone approach to gaming he says

 

“If I had to vote on one cardinal rule for roleplaying, I would vote for the Law of Player-Character Separation… [The]Law of Player-Character Separation [is]: You are you. Your character is your character. Be extremely careful of mixing the two.”

An Elvin theif named Shal I played in the 90'sWhat Jim seems to be advocating is for players to leave their baggage at the door and not act out their days stresses through their PCs. I cannot really argue with this advice and generally feel that people should take this approach in most social activities. Gaming is after all a social activity — the point of which is trying to have fun and if your character is being jerk, because your boss yelled you, you are going to upset everyone’s good time. But while I agree with this advice, I’m more interested in the bigger question of “How much of you, should go into your character?”

It’s not uncommon in gaming circles to hear about the guy who always plays the same character, be it the same class, the same race, the same alignment, the same attitude, or just the same general approach to every situation. A lot of gamers look down on this, referring to these players as “one note,” or “one dimensional.” Playing “yourself” is generally thought to be a “bad” thing in gaming circles. This type of player is often though to play the game and not the character.

Many gamers talk about constructing their character’s personality first and then creating stats around who they think the character should be as the “right way” to build a character. They really enjoy and get into the question of “What would my character do?” and may even be heard saying things like “I know this is the right thing to do, but my character would never do it.” These players, often look down on the “self-character,” or “personal pragmatist,” as not being in the spirit of the game.

But I wonder, do you really have to step outside yourself to find a good character? So, what if all of your characters are similar and all of their logic and reasoning closely resembles your own. If it’s a good character and ads to the story or fills some role in the group, if you are having fun and if your characters are not party eating trolls, what’s wrong with playing close to home?

In some of the best books I have ever read, some of the best characters have had a number of autobiographical features. Whether its the main character or a supporting character, the ones that most closely reflect the author’s perspective, usually ring the most true — they make for an interesting story. Why does it need to be different for gamers? Why does the story your group is creating have to be total fiction?

[tangent] “But wait,” you say “It’s not just that their characters are always themselves, its also because they are always the same. The are predictable and boring.” Aside from being a harsh judgment on your friend calling them “predicable and boring.” This point of view is missing a very important point. Every good story needs a cast of stable, reliable, predictable characters to anchor the action and the chaos on. And besides, your crazy-original, highly stylized characters need archetypes as a reference point to illustrate how wonderfully original your characters are. [/tangent]

So, here it is. I personally like to explore new characters and personalities. Unless I am learning a new gaming system, I start with a character idea, before I go to the character sheet. I enjoy the vicarious exploration aspect of playing characters who are not me, whose alignments are nothing like mine, or who have a similar alignment but a radically different background. I like newness and novelty and these traits occasionally (OK often) get my characters killed, but not before I have a great time playing them. That being said however, a whole party full of people “trying on new hats,” all the time would be a chaotic nightmare. Without a few personal-pragmatists playing archetypal characters that can be relied on the story would be just as bad as if everyone just played themselves and never got in character at all. And without a few people playing close to home, they story would completely lack authenticity. To me then the question of whether your character needs to be an original creation or can just be a fantasy rendering of yourself presents a false dichotomy. There is no interesting point of fact; it’s just an unnecessary point of friction.

Game On,

-=Salient Knight=-

What is fantasy Roleplaying?

salientknight's picture

In the last 30 years, I’ve been asked this question a million times or so. Sometimes, the answer I give makes people want to give it a try and sometimes, it makes them look at me like I have three heads — to which all I can say is “No! No! My CHARACTER has three heads.”

 

Vall the tatooed MonkThe biggest problem with answering this question is that gaming seems to be something different for everyone — and sometimes everyone at the same table. In short, role playing games are strategy, puzzle, storytelling, combat simulating, character developing, rules lawyering, problem solving, hack and slash, min maxing, collaborative, dynamic, interactive, open ended and or systematic pretending.

“WTF?,” you say! Agreed! And this is exactly why the answers to this question never seem to satisfy. For the “puzzle, strategy, min maxing, rules lawyering and problem solving” gamers, role playing is a game of wits. You play to “beat” the game, beat the rules, beat the scenario, beat the dice, out wit the system, out smart the game master or overcome unsurmountable odds by using the hand full of skills on your character sheet and your brain; if you are successful, you leave at the end of the night happy to have a cool new story about greatness — your’s or your characters. Great to see how you out-thought the system, module, the GM, the other players, or great to see how your carefully created character stacked up to the DM’s worst. Sometimes just not getting your character killed is greatness in itself. These are “great to be alive” moments. This type of gamer thrives on challenge, fair, clearly defined, detailed, challenges that may seem impossible, but can be defeated by diligent, thoughtful gamers with “the right stuff.” These players need the rules, the game, the genre and world to be cohesive and well defined. For these players gravity, for example, better work the same way every time, or there better be a damn good reason why it doesn’t. This type of gaming models very well on a computer.

Some times strategy gamers, are highly interested in the mechanics of battle, or siege and the strategies of war. These games might be drawn to games like War Hammer 40k, or HeroScape. These games are typically referred to as battle-sims, or miniature games, and often deemphasize the role-playing aspects of the game.They focus more on army or team creation, miniatures, landscapes and terrains and head to head competition. These games are more game and less story telling, but can over-the-top fun.

For the “interactive storytelling, character development,” gamer, the game is about telling a good story. Its about being in a living book. Your GM, or storyteller sets a scenario for you and you provide the characters, the dialog, the unexpected elements that keep the story moving and bring the world to life. These players are comfortable throwing away the rules whenever they get in the way of the story. They need strong characters, rich history, and well defined worlds to interact with. They need game masters who can “go with the flow” Groups of these gamers can often run without rules or the loosest set of rules available. They don’t see their characters as stats on a sheet, but rather the sum of their actions. That is not to say that these players don’t thrive on challenge, don’t need any structure, and don’t want those moments of greatness, they want those things too; they just want it within the context of a good story, where they can face challenges and problems that go deeper than the rules. These players want to get to know their characters, how those characters fit in the world, what their limitations are and what their motivations are. They want to develop a story, a history of their character that will shape that character and effect the choices the character makes moving forward — and ultimately effect the world they are gaming in.

Hack and Slash gamers are a variation of the first group, but they tend to be concerned with one challenge — “how do I kill this bad@$$ in front of me.” They like violent, action packed gaming that moves from scene to scene like a summer blockbuster and gives them lots of opportunities to role their dice. These games and gamers can be fun and sometimes even the most hardcore storyteller types enjoy a good night or two of mayhem and slaughter.

Then there are the hybrids. They enjoy the excitement of overcoming challenges with wits, the reward of being in a good story AND the action packed mayhem of killing everything in site. These players don’t just want a good mix they want it all. These gamers often have high standards and are always looking for the right set of rules that will help resolved combats and action, but stay out of the way of the story.

What is fantasy role-playing then? In the right group, it’s whatever you want it to be. With a little research and some luck, you can find a group of people interested in the same elements of the game and create your own definition of role-playing. Ultimately its a game of pretend; its not about what’s right or what’s wrong, its about finding the type of gaming you like and having fun. What is fantasy role-playing? It’s a group of like minded friends playing a game they like and having a good time with it.

Don’t like that answer? Write your own, what ever you come up with will be right.

Game on,

-=Salient Knight=-