Counter Burnout (or How did I Get my Game Back?)

The past few months have been poor gaming.  Between my work schedule, stuff going on with my Players’ families, and illness on my part, I’ve not ran a game, since March.  At first, it wasn’t too bad.  I reread the modules that I wanted to mix and run for my Pellham campaign.  I figured out how to connect the Tower of the Heavens to the Brotherhood of Brie.  I developed the powers for the Florist-Madam Fescue and the Emerald Eye.  I worked on the Zentlan map.  Then, things began to slow done.  I had ideas that I wanted work on, but I had no energy to do so.  I had all the symptoms of burnout, but I hadn’t done anything to burn out upon.  I have, this day, dubbed my malady counter burnout.

I didn’t burn out because I had too much of doing something, I burnt out because I didn’t do enough of something.  I was all prepped up to run a game; heck, I was prepped up to run two different games.  “They also serve who stand and wait,” but I waited so long, I ran out of interest in anything related to gaming.  It was only by getting bad news and keeping a promise that I got my game back.

A good friend  __, the assistant manager at my place of employment, has cancer and has been in a drug trial to counter the lesions in his brain.  This Friday past, he was taken off the trial; because the treatment isn’t working for him anymore.  That was the bad news.  I promised Russell Newquist that I would review Ghost of the Frost Giant King.  His request came at a time when my home life and work life were getting out of control; then came the counter burnout.  With __’s news, I really started seeing things in a new light.  I had people who respected me enough to want my opinion of their creativity and my support in promoting it.  About the time my counter burnout went full bore, Joe the Revelator asked me to submit material for StatBonus.com.  I hadn’t done that, either.  I was not happy with where I was, so I decided to do something about it.

I started my review of Ghost of the Frost Giant King.  When I began my review, I was looking for negatives and I was unhappy.  My wife asked me what I would do, if I had been asked to review a Monte Cook title and I realized that I would be looking at the product as a whole and seeing how I could adapt it to my game.  Between that and __’s positive outlook on his upcoming radiation and chemo treatments, I went back, started at the beginning, reread, and reevaluated Ghost of the Frost Giant King.  Looking at the work as a whole and seeing the complexity layered into it, it reignited my gaming desires.  Completing and posting my review, both on my blog and on DriveThruRPG.com, has refueled my game.  I submitted an article for review at StatBonus.com.  I can’t wait to alter Ghost of the Frost Giant King and make use of it in my game.  I am looking forward to  reviewing The Blacksmith and the Ice Elves, a short story written by Morgan Newquist and set in Ghost of the Frost Giant King setting.  I never suspected that not gaming could burn me out, as easily as over playing could.  I am glad that I have friends that look out for me, even when they do not know that they are doing so.

Game On!

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Gods, Demigods, and Heroes

In the nature of full disclosure, I feel obligated to reveal the following information.  I was born and raised a Christian (denomination: Methodist).  I am still a practicing Christian, though at the present time I do not have a home church.  I attended Chandler School of Theology, Emory University; I did not complete my Masters of Divinity degree.  I believe that there are multiple deities…” Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 KJV), not “There are no other gods.”  Now, on to our randomly scheduled post.

I recently finished reading Hammered by Kevin Hearne: the third in the Iron Druid Chronicles and the way Mr. Hearne deals with gods and faith has led me to reexamine the deities of Rilmorn.  Shortly after I finished Hammered, I found a link directing me to a video of Monte Cook giving a lecture on designing gods for Dungeons and Dragons to the Religious Studies Student Organization at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.  Mr. Cook’s take on faith in D&D worlds only adds reason for my meditation on the gods and goddesses in Rilmorrin.  Together, they force me to ask, “Gregory, how have you treated gods and faith in your game world and what is the best way to way to deal with religion and divine beings in the future?”

In the Iron Druid Chronicles, Kevin Hearne takes some potentially controversial stands on faith, gods, and religion.  All the gods from all the faiths that ever existed are real.  The gods, if they admit it, do not remember their origins…one day each god just was and they didn’t create the world.  Gods are bond by what their followers believe of them.  Add all of this together and introduce a few scenes with Jesus and Mary and I can see where Mr. Hearne could be stomping on more than a few toes; yet he seems to work it all together (with the possible exception of his portrayal of Thor) with grace and respect.  I would like to believe I can do the same with the divine beings of Rilmorrin.

In his lecture, Monte Cook discusses the slippery slope of putting “real-world” deities into a game.  A game designer is going to offend someone, if he or she puts a being that people worship into a game.  Some worshiper is going to feel that the designer is ridiculing or dismissing his or her faith, because designer is using the god as a fictional character.  It only gets worse, if the game designer stats up the god.  Anything with hit points can be killed and sooner or later, some PC will kill it.  I have never statted up gods for Rilmorn, but I have used deities from past and present faiths in my games.  So, how should I handle deities in game and did I do it right in the past?

When I started playing D&D, Davy, Clyde, Tommy, and I all took turns GMing a shared “world.”  It was a world in the sense that all of the PCs existed together and they obviously lived somewhere.  We went out to taverns and drank ale together.  We shopped at the same general goods stores.  We knew the same NPCs.  If that is not a definition of a world, I don’t know what is.  Because we took turns GMing, some games our PCs would tag along in the adventuring party, as an NPC.  It was during one of the times I was GMing the party through Mythgold that Gregor the Gaunt, my cleric of Thor, encountered a chapel dedicated to G_d, discovered a Latin translation of the Bible, and converted on the spot.  This was the first time that I put a religion that I knew was being practiced in the flesh world into my imaginary world.  It was not the last.

Clerics get their power from the gods.  The gods are real.  They are not the deities of Star Trek; to be obliterated when you phaser their temples.  They exist outside of belief and they are often inscrutable, but they have a definite interest in the wellbeing of Rilmoren.  So what I have done with them and their religions over the years.

In the early days, I just accepted all of the gods from the Deities and Demigods Cyclopedia as being part of Rilmorn’s religious biosphere.  I accepted that Christians and Jews existed on Rilmorn, thus the G_d of the Hebrews and the Christ of the Christians existed.  I regretfully admit that I knew nothing about Islam until I was in college.  If I had been asked, before I was twenty, who the Crusaders fought in the Middle East, I would have had to say, “I don’t know.”  Thus, there were no Muslims on Rilmorn.

Later, I would begin picking a choosing deities from multiple sources and attempting to design pantheons and alliances of various faiths for my game world.  I had pared it down to thirty-seven deities and had divided them into thirteen pantheons, some of which shared gods between them.  Even with all of this work other gods and demigods continued to appear.  I failed to really flesh out any of the religions of these divine beings, but I tried to have them available for my Players to use, if they had PCs that wanted a god to venerate.  It was during this time that I met Robert Hegwood and he helped me design a “Christian” faith that could have developed on a world away from Earth.  Also, Mike Magee’s character Gareth Eybender helped a group of desperate cultists turn an efreet into the “God in the Bottle.”  It was time of deep questions in Rilmornic Theology; “What is a god,” was regularly asked during those days.  I look back on Robert’s inclusions in my world’s history and am disturbed by the “faith makes right” attitude of his religion.  I wonder what is going to be the best way for me to make use of this in the future.

After the switch to 3E, I “lost” a bunch of gods in the Cataclysm that made 3E possible.  An unknown number of gods blended themselves together to stop the war that was ripping apart the world.  The new god was Rao and Rao had a vaguely medieval Catholic theme going for him.  He was played off the demons and local demigods of my Rilmoré campaign.  In my Thrasiri campaign, the PCs worshipped the post Ragnarök deities, these are the gods who are to have survived the End of the World in Nordic myth.  In my Divlos campaign, I created a pseudo-Egyptian pantheon with the faith of Rao being an interloper in the region.  Most of my universal deities vanished, but locale pantheons rose up to fill the vacuum.

Now, I am starting up my long proposed 5E game, my Iolta and Thrain campaign.  I have chosen to go with a variant origin of the Tuatha de Danu as the primary deities of the setting.  (Looking at the stuff I worked up months ago, I see it really pairs up nicely with Kevin Hearne’s take on the Tuatha de Dannan.) In the Iron Druid Chronicles, the Tuahta are amortal, they do not age, but they can die; will I need to stat them up?   I’ve got Robert’s “Church of the One God” scattered throughout the lands of Iolta and Thrain, as well.  What do I need to decide about G_d, Jesus, the angels, and the demons?  I’ve spent a lot of words talking about what I did and what I’m doing, but I’ve not really addressed the questions of how I am going to use Earth-world faiths and give them the respect and reverence that they deserve.  Anybody got any advice for me?

Game On!

Old World, New Players

I’ve been thinking about this for a while.  I’ve been running D&D in the same game world since 1980.  I’m proud of my maps (Thank you, John Hesselberg and Thom Thetford).  I’m proud of the history that has gone into making Rillmorn what it is today, both the stuff my Players did in-game and what I did in building background.  I am proud of it all, even the parts where it didn’t work or where I acted poorly, but that is a whole lot of stuff and me Players can get overwhelmed with it.  It becomes even harder when you have established players alongside newbies.  How does one do it?  How does a Game Master share the depth and grandeur of his or her world and not scare new Players away?

Are my new Players already gamers or are they true Babes in the Gaming Woods?  If they are already gamers and they have played my favorite game system before, then I start small.  (This is based on the idea of starting a new campaign, not bringing new Players into an existing and ongoing game.)  I don’t drop them into Spellguard with all of its complex politics and vast number of detailed NPCs.  I start them off in a small town on the edge of “The Action.”  I give them the very basics about Rilmorn and go from there.  In my most recent campaign Duvamil (it is based around the riverside town of Duvamil), I started my PCs into a few decades old village founded by gnomish refugees from Terah, another world.  They have seen the big map of the area and have been told that Rillmorn has 2 suns, 3 moons, 9 day weeks, 26 hour days, and 38 day months.  They know Bazarene the Moving City (effectively an aircraft carrier on a hovercraft) and the Walking Wood (a nomadic tree city of forest giants) cross paths in Duvamil.  That’s it.  Everything else, they are leaning as we play.

Christina, my wife, knows a bit more about the area, since her dragonborn ranger Surana was with E3 when they explored the Tower of Spells.  What she knows will be used more as legends than anything else, since the previous campaign’s actions should have little to no effect on the current game.  Nicki, my daughter, has played a bit in Rillmorn, but not enough to have deep knowledge of the world.  Finally, JR, Nicki’s friend, has never played in one of my games before, but has played a little bit of D&D 3.5.  So, everything I drop into this game can be brand new information to the Players, as well as, the PCs.

If I had true newbies, I’d have to decide if I was going to hand them the Player’s Handbook or the Player’s D&D Basic Rules that I downloaded off the web.  I’d most likely go with the web download.  It has 4 basic options and 4 basic classes, the essence, if you will, of D&D. However, his review says 5E is really a good fit for new players.  Also, if I had true newbies, I would put them in a more traditional D&D setting…maybe something like the Keep on the Borderlands.

My true problem is that I have so much that I want to reveal to my Players:  the secrets and history of the Tower of Spells, the various hidden cities and enclaves about Duvamil, and all of the stuff that I swiped from Monte Cook and other 3E sources and seeded around this area of Rilmorn.  Alas, I can’t; not yet.  Some of this may be revealed in game play, but I don’t know yet if it will.  I have to focus my creative energies on building solid plots and interesting NPCs that advance the stories for these PCs.  What has gone before is the bedrock on which I can build, but unless the Players and PCs dig, I may be the only one to ever know it and that is okay.  Maybe it will come up in a later campaign.

TL:DR New Players in an Old World?  Start small and keep your focus and maybe there will be time enough later for all the big stuff.

Game On!

Edition Wars (or OH, NO! Here We Go Again)

I’ve seen various people post about the announcement of 5E – Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition release dates.  Some are jaded and feel that it has all been done before.  Others are offering a depressed, but optimistic, hope that it will be good.  Various forums have people shouting for their favorite edition or bemoaning the idea that Wizards of the Coast are trying to get more money out of them.  I was going to keep quiet about the whole deal and do my best to ignore it.  I can’t.

Having played D&D starting with the Holmesian Blue Book version of Basic Dungeons and Dragons and played through each and every version of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons to date, including the playtest version DnD Next, I have an opinion on this subject.  I’m tired of the fighting.  That’s my opinion.

Edition Wars did not begin with 3E.  They began with Basic and Advanced.  There was enough demand for Basic Dungeons and Dragons that TSR built an entire product line around the Known World (what would become known as Mystara).  This happened right alongside Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  People would meet up in game stores, at conventions, and, later, on online bulletin board systems to deride and attack the other side for selling out or being poor gamers.  This is not new.

The wars did not end with one’s preferred version of D&D.  People would fight over Role Playing vs. Roll Playing.  (Sound familiar?)  Munchkins were vilified by True Role Players.  Monty Haul Games were ridiculed as low brow, beer and pretzel games by those who believed themselves more sophisticated.  Gary Gygax even took umbrage against those who didn’t play Real Dungeons and Dragons (I talk about that article in this post).  It is all the same story: “Do it my way or hit the highway.”

It gets even uglier, when one considers other games by other companies.  “How could you play Runequest; it’s a D&D rip off?”  “Call of Cthulhu is just superior to any other RPG because it uses percentile dice and has a literary foundation.”  “How can you play Rolemaster?  It’s all tables.”  Go ahead pick a game and I’d feel comfortable betting that I can find a website that has proponents that feel that all other games are stupid.  I may be wrong, but I doubt it.

Grognards have always existed.  They were even present at the release of 2E.  A long time ago, I was given a small, typewritten, piece of paper that humorously and ironically described the transition from 1E to 2E.  It talked about the shift from Greyhawk to the Forgotten Realms.  It joked about the sudden change of paladins to cavaliers.  There were other sly observations about how the “new” D&D universe worked, but it ended with the very unkind idea that only stupid people would want Gary Gygax back in charge of D&D and that good, smart people would kill anyone who tried.  When it dawned on me that that type of thinking was fanaticism and the same ignorance espoused by those who didn’t want to change from their beloved edition to whatever new was coming out, I got rid of it.  I do not want to be one of those that promotes hate, even in what is meant to be a joke.  There will always be those who fear or hate change.  It is sad, but true.

To those who bemoan the fact that WotC is trying to make more money, I’ve only this to say, “Of course, they are; Wizards of the Coast is a business and if they don’t make money, they have to quit being a business!”  This is no different than Pazio selling Pathfinder or Monte Cook selling Numenera.  It is their job to make stuff for gamers to buy.  If you don’t want to support the people whose jobs it is to design, write, and publish games, game modules, and gaming supplements, then don’t buy the stuff they put out and quit trying to make those people that do buy their products feel bad for buying what they want to buy.

I doubt it happen, but I do wish the gaming community at large would grow up.  A new edition does not diminish your personal games in any way.  People playing with different styles of game play are not better or lesser than you and you do not need to “convert them to the true path of gaming.”  Maybe the newest edition on the block isn’t all that new in its concepts or game play.  Maybe it is a ploy to get people to buy more stuff.  Maybe it is better than anything that has gone before it.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  If you don’t want it, don’t get it.  If you don’t like it, don’t do it.  Unless gaming is a virus and one needs to be inoculated to prevent the spread of disease, let it go and enjoy what you have.

DMing with Charisma posted a response to this post and I really like it.

I found A Brief History of the Edition Wars by Admiral Ironbombs on his site Logic is my Virgin Sacrifice to Reality.  Please check it out.

 

Until we meet again, Game On!

The Shadowfell Road

What became the Shadowfell Road campaign or the Tasque Elzeny campaign started as the Scions of Ravenloft campaign.  I had planned it as a story arc campaign with the PCs as residents of the Village of Barovia.  The PCs are all descendants of the heroes that slew Strahd von Zarovich and claimed his castle as their home base.  I used the original 1E modules Castle Ravenloft and Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill and the 3E book Expedition to Castle Ravenloft as the basis for my setting.  I blended the maps and placed the Village of Barovia on the northwest corner of Moytonia.  I lifted places and names from Domains of Dread and A guide to Transylvania to create my own little fantasy version of Eastern Europe.  The PCs were going to explore the world and ultimately learn why their ancestors (grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original heroes) fled their ancestral home.

The PCs saved the River Witch from a pack of wolves.  They cleansed her house of the ghost of her apprentice.  They retrieved an item lost in ruins of Clearmoon Tower and had a run in with a wolfwere that would plague the Party for several levels.  They explored a crypt that lead to the Necroverse.  They saved Baba Zelena (grandmother of one of the PCs ).  All was going well, but the Players grew restless and decided they wanted to be Sanderzani.

The background for Elzeny (my wife’s PC) included the fact that she had been a member of a Sanderzani Tasque (a traveling family group), but she left the Tasque when it came through Barovia, because her destiny lay there.  Well, Christina and my other players became more interested in the idea of being Sanderzani and hitting the road, than the Ravenloft story arc. So, they designed a varda (the Sanderzani version of a Gypsy Vardo) and headed to the next nearest village.

I created the gypsy-styled Sanderzani back in college under 1E rules.  Other than a few reoccurring NPCs, not much came of the Sanderzani until 3E.  I ran a Sanderzani campaign in the late 2000s and had to expound upon the nature of the Rilmorn Gypsies.  I had players that wanted to play different races and since I had just completed an elf-only campaign, I really didn’t want to limit the Players’ choices again.  Thus the Sanderzani became the People of the True Name.

To be a Sanderzan, one had to be “Born to Tasque.”  One had to have three adults within the Tasque willing to share his or her True Name with the Seeker.  Any adult of any race could become a Sanderzan, if they could find three people willing to perform the Ritual of the True Name (an idea I took from Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed) with him or her.  This worked great until 4E.

For 4E, we used the online Character Builder to level and advance the PCs.  The Character Builder doesn’t have the Sanderzani and their soul kin rituals.  The Builder, however, did have the Vistani and the Vistani Heritage feats.  Those feats were tied to blood, not to naming rituals.  So, I had to make a decision about what to do.  I decided that there was a Sanderzani Tasque called Tasque Vistani.  Unlike other Tasqes, Tasque Vistani was a Tasque of Blood, not a Tasque of Word.  Thus the Vistani entered into the mythology and history of Rilmorn.

About the time Tasque Elzeny (each Tasque is named for its first captain) hit the road, I got a copy of the Neverwinter Campaign Setting.  In the back of the book is a section on a road that weaves through the Shadowfell and connects Thay to Evernight (the shadow reflection of Neverwinter) and many places in-between.  I decided to use the Shadowfell Road and link The House on Gryphon Hill to my version of Evernight/Neverwinter.  I got the idea that if Tasque Elzeny could gain the deed to a place and had a member of the Tasque living there, then that place would become a stop on the Shadowfell Road.  Tasque Elzeny could expand the Shadowfell Road as they explored the world.

Since that day, Tasque Elzeny has spent their time extending and defending the Shadowfell Road.  The Players could not care less about Castle Ravenloft.  I find plot hooks at a drop of a hat, now.  They’ve crossed dwarf lords in Dwarmarrik.  They’ve fought vampires in the Garden of Graves.  They’ve parleyed with efreeti in the City of Brass.  They have befriended a lich and created an intelligent zombie to act as guardian of a mausoleum.  They have crafted a dream drug and sell it through their connections to E3 Trading.  It is no longer a true Ravenloft style campaign, but it is a lot of fun.

Game On!

DM’s Rant: A Response

This post is a direct response to my friend Matt’s request that I comment on his post DM’s Rant. I originally was going to post in his comment section, but my train of thought derailed and I was spilling verbage onto his site. I removed the debris and started over. Here’s the result after the cleanup effort.

First things First, Matt, I agree with your premise that the Game Master should not be bound to the book. The Game Master should of course use the rule to run a fair and honest campaign, but there are so many more things to a good game than adherence to the rules.

Now, onto the part of my post where I point out (not always with the best of tact, but with the best of intentions) the errors I see in your self-admitted passionate rant.

To begin, Matt you appear to be contradicting yourself in the middle of your argument. In your fourth paragraph you hold forth with this:

I’m reading this thing and I’m scratching my head, thinking, why is this guy awarding XP based solely on how much treasure the players find or how much of a body count they rack up? Because the book told him to? Is this the kind of gamer we have now? Slaves to the Almighty Rule Book? In the seminal guide to D&D, the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, Mr. Gygax says over and over again, “All of this is optional. Do what you want.” He says it in many different ways, usually with some much prettier language – some would say overly obscure, and I tend to agree in most places, but this is clear as blue skies.
All. Of. This. Is. Optional. Do. What. You. Want. When it says “all”, it means all

Then in your seventeenth paragraph you say:

This notion that this rule and that rule doesn’t work and this and that doesn’t fit is so much lazy bullshit.

If I have taken this out of context, please forgive me and correct me, I think you are off on this. If everything is optional, then any rules one finds cumbersome or annoying can be tossed as needed or desired. I believe that anything that doesn’t work for your personal Table should be dropped. If a rule is too cumbersome, trim it down or cut it out. I did this with weapon speed, wandering monsters, one minute combat rounds, etc. Also, Gary Gygax may have changed his mind later in life, but early in TSR’s run, he held a play my way or you are not playing D&D attitude. I’ve quoted part of an essay from Dragon 63, here, which makes this very clear. Also, I went back and reread the preface to the First Edition Dungeon Masters Guide and Mr. Gygax seems to be very intense on uniformity of rules across the board. If you are not playing with the rules as written, then your game will collapse or be so esoteric that no one outside of your limited community will want to play it. I feel that he was a rules guy and he would expect the GMs and the Players to use the Rules at their Table.

Now, let’s get to the meat of your rant, Matt. You are frustrated by GMs who can’t go Outside the Box of Rules. I’m with you on this. You focus on the idea of how Experience Points (XP) are awarded in your rant. Here is my take on it.

Every game has rules. Be they, pretend games from our childhood: “House” or “Cowboys and Indians” or complex games from our board games heyday: “Axis and Allies” or “Diplomacy,” games have rules. We are taught to play by the rules. When we don’t play by the rules, we are called cheaters.

1E D&D told us that the rules said Experience comes from Killing Monsters, Collecting Gold, and Having Magic Items. So, we played that way. Gygax even used a jeweled man as a lure to get PCs into a dungeon, because of all the XP that automaton offered. The progression tables in 1E expected PCs to get gold and count it toward their XP advancement. There was no XP for overcoming traps or parleying with NPCs. 1E was a game about Slaying and Looting; a dragon was the best target for any group of PCs…It offered Monster XP, Gold XP, and Magic Item XP. Players looked at every encounter as a potential combat.

By the time 3E hit the scene, we had Call of Cthulhu, Vampire, and other games focused on story and player options beyond the standard D&D formula. While the rules for awarding XP changed to shift away from Gold XP and Magic Item XP, not everyone wanted to let go of the way they learned to play years before. It is similar to growing up playing Original Rock/Paper/Scissors and learning that in 2nd Ed. R/P/S Rock beats Paper, Paper beats Scissors, and Scissors beats Rock. It is in the rules and it is perfectly legal, but it is not what you grew up with and it flies in the face of what you believe is core to YOUR game. This, I believe, is what is at the heart of the Edition Wars and nearly every Grognard Complaint.

Matt, it appears that you want a game wherein the PCs are rewarded for experiences that they have. Thus to you XPs mean “real experience;” RPGs are not really about the “real” (The Games Librarian has a good post on this), they are about the “simulation of the real.” The rule set of a game really doesn’t define the laws of that particular universe. The rule set gives Players and GMs the tools to simulate those laws.

Jason Holmgren (Designer of Ironclaw) told me that rule sets determine the style of play for a game. I think he’s right. In 1E, the rules lead to a game with wild, unexplained magic and every encounter was expected to turn into a combat encounter. In 3E, magic was a regulated, understandable force with crafting classes taught at the Co-Op. Gone were the days, when Players had to take the Great Weapons of Power from their fallen foes; they could now craft the uber-weapon they wanted from their “Experience” and components bought at the local mage shop. The style of play had changed and some liked the change and others did not, but they played the game anyway. This is not to say that people didn’t Play Outside the Rule Box. Rule sets determine the style of play, but they can’t chain players or GMs to that style.

Monte Cook (my Go-To Guy when it comes to game design) has written about simulation in role playing game design and about how rule set can affect game play. I think both of these posts reflect on the topic of your rant and offer better explanations than I can devise. It is the application of these two ideas that I believe embodies your rant.

Matt, we agree on the most important piece of your rant. This a game and it should be fun. Thanks for asking my opinion.

Game On!

Blogs of Valor (or People With Whom I Agree)

Yesterday, I posted about Why One Should Not Fudge Dice in their Games.  That post has introduced me to two new bloggers Matt Harris and The Games Librarian.  They, both, have recently posted about DMs in the 21st century and Setting the World before Breaking it.  Both of these posts describe things that good Game Masters should think about in running their games.

Once again, I am going to direct you all to Monte Cook.  He boils down my entire post from yesterday into a single paragraph (the sixth one) in a larger post.

There is no single style of gaming, nor should there be.  I do not agree with everything in this post, but it covers the topic well.  Just as in the days of 1E, when people took sides on the Hack and Slash, Monty Haul, or Thinking Man’s Dungeon, people are still dividing themselves into camps and shouting, “My way is better!”  After D&D came out, Runequest, Arduin, and Rolemaster all followed.  Proponents of all those games touted their superiority to dumb, old D&D.  2E followed Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and grognards (me among them) came out against changes in “their” game.  3E, 4E, and DnD Next have all brought forces into the Edition Wars.  It’s time to live and let live, gamers.  Enjoy what you enjoy and let others do the same.  We do not have to do what others do, nor do they have to do what we do.  (Lord have mercy, I sound like I’m discussing Gay Marriage)  I do not have to be wrong for you to be right.

Blogs of Valor are really Sunshine Awards.  (2014.06.14)

Sorry, if I soap boxed; Game On!

Peanut Butter Fudge (or Let the Dice Fall Where They May)

I’m writing this post to get a few things out in the open.  1.  D&D is a game, not a novel.  2. If you are the Game Master and you feel that you need to fudge the die rolls to beat your Players, then you are playing the Game wrong.  3.  If you are making ANY of your game up on the spot, for any reason, fudging your dice rolls is just unfair.

Monte Cook posted a great article about Numenera and how dice work in that setting.  Reading it led me to write this tangential post.  Please check it out.

First things first, of the multiple reasons and excuses to fudge dice rolls in a game, wanting to tell a Story with character development and overarching plot lines is the least egregious.  A GM that is proud of his or her campaign and wants to share the breadth and depth of the world with his or her players wants to tell a good story.  That Game Master wants everything to according to a script.  Fudging dice does not make the Game a Good Story.  Fudging Dice makes the Game a Poor Game.

Not to dismiss White Wolf and the Storyteller System, but if you running a Game, then you are not telling a Story.  The Players are not telling a Story.  Story is what happens in the space between the GM and the Players.  The GM reveals the setting or stage, if you will, and the Players strut about upon it.  The Story is what happens as the Players strut about and run up against the setting.  NPCs, Big Bosses, the Environment are setting.  Players send their PCs into the setting to tear things down, to change the view, to build new structures out of the existing pieces , or to hit their heads on the  Setting.  If you want certain things to happen in your game setting and you want the PCs to do it, you are not running a Game.  You are trying to write a short story, a novel, or an epic and are using the PCs as the protagonists and it is not fair to your Players.

Telling a Story takes the danger out of the Game.  If you are running a Lord of the Rings, a Wheel of Time, or a Game of Thrones and the PCs are needed to fulfill some destined role at the apex of the story arc, then any combat, trap, or natural disaster is just fluff.  There is no danger, no chance of failure, until the final Big Boss and, even then, it may be a joke, if you want a Glorious Ending for the Party.  Roll the dice, let every combat make a difference.  Have your villains and your set pieces and know that the Players may go the path you hope they will trod or they may make a mockery of your well laid plans.  If the paladin, whom you wanted to slay the Lich-King and restore the kingdom, gets killed by a lucky roll of a goblin bandit, DEAL WITH IT.  It is a game and there is chance, in any combat, that the PCs will come out the losers.  If you fudge the dice in their favor, then the defeat of the Tarrasque, the death of the Lich-King, and the overthrow of the Arch Devil are ultimately meaningless.  The Players will never know for certain, if they truly won day through good luck and planning or if you threw the Game for the Story.

Secondly…This one is just sad.  You’re the Game Master.  You can always “win.”  You know all the secrets and plots of the campaign.  You can create NPCs with more power, more magic items, and more numbers than the PCs.  If you need to fudge the dice to kill off PCs or even to just challenge them, then you are thinking on the wrong scale.  You do not have to fudge the dice to best the players.

This point is doubly troubling to me.  It presupposes that there is a conflict between the Players and the Game Master.  This is a false assumption.  The GM certainly runs the challenges and plays the agents opposing the PCs, but he or she is not out to defeat the Players.  The GM is there to provide the setting, to offer plot lines, to fold what the PCs do into the over all working of the campaign.  There is no win or lose clause between the Players and the Game Master in D&D or any other Role Playing Game.  This is not football or chess.  If everyone at the table has fun, then it is a win.  If one person has fun and everyone else is miserable, then it is a loss.  Even Total Party Kills can be fun, if the Game is played fairly and for enjoyment.  A good GM makes Awesome happen for the Players.  Here is a good example of that in DMing with Charisma.  The play is the thing.

Lastly for this post, this point is, mostly, for me.  As I said before, I create much of my game on-the-fly.  It seems to me that if I’m making things up and fudging my dice, my Players don’t have a fair stake in the game.  If I decide to suddenly drop a vile dragon into a game and then regret it because it is too powerful or too weak to oppose the PCs, I might be tempted to fudge the dice.   Others may say, “So what?  As long as, the Players have fun what is the difference?”  If I do that, then I take away the Players’ power in the game.  I’m no different than the Storyteller in my first point.  If the Players decide to explore a series of caves that I have not filled in yet and I decide that goblins own the caves, it is not fair for me to fudge the dice, when the PCs start wiping the floor with goblin guts.  If I do that, then I am acting like the GM in point #2.  If I have to or want to make it up on the spot, then I’ve got to let the dice be the arbitrators of the outcome; otherwise the PCs are no more or less than puppets on strings.  The Players never have a chance to shine.  There is no challenge.  Players have the right for the GM to treat them fairly.  The GM has to be honest in all things.  It is all too easy to for GMs to overpower the Players in the game.  Keeping the dice honest gives the GM the power to drop challenges, too great and too small,l in the PCs path on a whim and let the Players decide what to do with that challenge.  It lets everyone at the table have fun.

Until next time, Game On!

Here’s a follow up post, I wrote on this subject.

Red Ragged Fiend has a good post on this topic (2018.08.20)

Inner World

On Saturday, March 15, 2014, I will begin what should be the last session of my Giants in the Earth campaign.  It will take place in the Inner World of Rilmorn.  I’ve done very little design on the Inner World over the years.  Thom and Mike helped me set out the parameters of the Inner World: 1) it is a world set on the interior of the Rylmorn, 2) it has a single, brownish star at its center, and 3) it is more “science powered,” than “magic powered”.  Ken, as Shae’Fer, encountered the Asianesque, jade dragon Shou Lung, when Shae’Fer was stranded in the Inner World.  Ken would be the person most active in the Inner World.  He, as his character, took volunteers from his homeland and placed them in stasis, so that they could repopulate and restore the world, if there was ever a Worldwide Disaster.  Later, Shae’Fer would hide a bunch of lich-related artifacts in the brown dwarf star at the center of the world, in a failed attempt to keep them out of Evil’s hands.  Recently, I decided that three, ancient, colony ships from alternate Earths had crashed inside Rillmorrin.  Each ship was run by an intelligent super computer named after a giant from that Earth’s myth or history.  That is everything I’ve done on the design of the Inner World.

The Inner World of Rilmorn is inspired by Pellucidar from Edgar Rice Burroughs and Skartaris from Mike Grell.  It was to be a place seeded with ancient monsters and super science.  I never built such a place.  It has always been a hazy, unformed realm that I could reference in metaphor and allusion.

The Brown Dwarf reigns above the Giants in the Earth,” is probably my favorite quote dropped by a “mad prophet” in my games.

So, what do I have in place in the Inner World?

  • A brown dwarf microstar that illuminates the lands and oceans of a hollow world
  • A realm where science is more effective than magic
  • 3 ancient, super computers in the remains of their spacecraft
    • Colossus comes from an Earth where American English and Celtic Christianity are the language and faith of the majority of the populace
    • Goliath is from a world where the Akkadian Empire remained a world power and their faith is that of the Sumerian and Babylonian peoples
    • Titan knew a world wherein the Greeks dominated culture worldwide
  • An ancient language based on the percentage of survivors of the total number of colonists; created and shared by the 3 AIs – Orthoni is 60% English, 30% Greek, and 10% Akkadian
  • A magical/runic alphabet called Dymetri that when written precisely produces magical effects
  • Dinosaurs
  • Kularin (winged folk) in stasis
  • Dragons
  • Dragons corrupted by Far Realm energies

Having all of this still unmapped and uncodified has left me in a quandary.  Should I use Numenera as my Inner World setting?  I was going to say, “Yes, since it appeared, serendipitously, the day before my last game” but I got to thinking about so many other ways I can use the setting.  Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’ll have a plan by next Saturday.  Anybody got any suggestions?

Oh, by the way, this weekend 7-9 March 2014 is CoastCon XXXVII.

Game On!

Two Score Years Ago…

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson brought forth a new way to play make-believe.  It was called Dungeons and Dragons!

Jon Peterson says that the best guess for the release of Dungeon and Dragons is late January and the last Sunday in January 2014 is the day we can celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of D&D.  So, I did.  I celebrated the same way I do approximately every 2 weeks; I invited family and friends into my home to play D&D.  My Saturday group (Tasque Elzeny) consists of Christina (my wife), Spencer (my brother-in-law) and Clint (Spencer’s eldest child).  We are playing DnD Next.  My Sunday group (E3 Trading Company) holds my wife, Christina, and friends: James, Hil, and Matt; we are near the end of my Big 4E campaign: Giants in the Earth!  And now, I present to you my view of D&D:

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Tasque Elzeny

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E3 Trading Company

Yes, I still use my 1st Edition DM Screens.

I encountered out a few other people’s experiences with D&D.  Feel free to check out what Monte Cook, Mary Hamilton, Kobold Press, and RPG Geek have to say on the subject.  Like many people on the net, I, too, have gained great friendships through D&D.  I got to introduce friends to D&D.  My first days in D&D were, of course, among friends.  Without friends and players, I could not run a game, but that is not the best thing I get out of D&D.

I get to create.  I get to build.  I get to be every non PC in the multiverse.  I get to share in an interactive story crafted between my players and me.  I get to mess with maps.  I get to drop challenges into my games and watch amazing people completely bypass them by thinking of things of which I never conceived.  I get to play with languages.  I get to have fun.

Thank you, each and everyone on my players, past, present, and future.

Cross posting this on my Live Journal.