Saturday, January 25, 2014

Creation and Destruction

This blog has been largely abandoned by its author. The period of incoherent rambling is over for now. I have started a new project and have decided to give this new project a fresh space of its own.

The Enyclopedia of the Obscure

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Player versus Player Conflict

Walt at Gnome Stew posted about intra-party conflict the other day wondering whether it is okay to stop it or should it be allowed to take its course.

A quick caveat: I am not talking about characters having disagreements or role-playing tensions between them. This post is specifically about using game mechanics to harm, hamper, or kill another character.

While obviously this is a social contract issue and is highly game and group dependent, I almost never allow it. Some games invite it - like Paranoia - but my experience has been that it is usually destructive, especially if the people at the table do not know each other well.

Additionally, while intra-party conflict is sometimes defended as just being role-playing ("it's what my character would do!") what I have witnessed is intra-party conflict is a tool that players who want to remove agency from other players use to accomplish their goals (i.e. bullying).

Again, this is group dependent, if this is not a problem you have ever experienced, then enjoy slaughtering each other. The one thing I might stop and ask though is: is everyone having fun?

The problem with intra-party conflict in my model above is that it can be initiated unilaterally. One character just takes a swipe at another and there is nothing that another player can do to stop it.

This is such a minefield of social variables that I find it simplest as the referee to just say no. The costs are small (characters cannot escalate a disagreement to physical force even if realistic). The benefits: no one walks away from my game feeling hurt, bullied, or otherwise upset.

Fortunately almost nobody reads my blog so it is unlikely that I will have to defend this position against the inevitable backlash this sort statement gets so I will leave you faithful readers with a few tenants of my games:

  • No hurting other player characters. My game is not your forum to play out your bully fantasies.
  • No stealing from other player characters. We are here to play together, I won't let you steal from another player's wallet and I won't let you steal from their character either.
  • Only the player of a character may decide that character's actions, it is not your character so stop trying to tell them what to do.
  • Decisions are not made by talking loudest or most.
  • Play fair.
  • Make sure everyone has a chance to participate.
  • Make sure everyone is having fun.

Those tenants revolve around the ideas that one player may not take the agency of another player, and that the aim of the game is fun.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Free-form Skills

I'm reading Unknown Armies and it is fantastic. It isn't a sword and sorcery game but it would good to stretch myself from time to time. Very much reminds me of my favorite China Miéville novel - Kraken. I was a little startled when I discovered the skill system operates a lot like what I've finally settled on for my S&W games.

I've talked from time to time about adapting the Stars Without Number skill system for fantasy games. Well, it's too much work to detail a bunch of skills and packages. Instead of a fixed skill list I've decided to just say: all adventurers have basic scouting style skills (camping, fire-making, first-aid, etc.) and whatever skills are appropriate to their class (e.g. fighters can repair and maintain weapons, use sophisticated battlefield tactics, and the like). Additionally I have players define a few skills that the character has. These can be as broad or specific as the player likes.

Maybe up to 4, or three plus an advanced one. These can be anything that seems setting and character appropriate. The more specialized the skill is the lower the difficulty of your rolls (e.g. a character with survival would have to roll to make a trap, a character with trap-making would only need to roll to create something unique or especially dangerous).

The skill-check is resolved with a roll of 2d6, stat bonuses add to the roll if applicable. 6 is an easy roll, 8 is a typical challenging task.

The first level of a skill gives a +0, every level thereafter a +1. Skills are only improved with time, effort, and training.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why Have Rules At All?

While explaining the appeal of rules-light games to a friend who generally prefers a crunchier game, my friend asked me "then why have rules at all?"

I think the answer basically comes down to this:

A game is made more fun than just imagining through the limited introduction of rule. We use rules when we want to resolve things that are ambiguous, or when we want to abstract something, or when it is more fun to have a rule or constraint of some kind.


Some things are just ambiguous and dice mechanics are useful for those situations. Are you strong enough to knock the door down? It is hard to know, the player could say: "well I hit the door really hard." And we could try to work with that, but fundamentally this is an ambiguous situation and it is better to abstract it using a die roll.


While in most cases in a rules-light roleplaying game descriptive exploration and activity is encouraged, there are areas where description is either too ambiguous (as above) or otherwise finicky or difficult adjudicate so we abstract that decision with a die roll. Combat, saving throws, and thief skills all fall into this category.

Rules are fun:

Rules ARE fun. They are fun to think about, they are fun to experiment with. Constraints can create challenge. Niche protection and spell memorization rules create interesting constraints. The many tables for spells, criticals, and fumbles in Dungeon Crawl Classics are a good example of rules being fun. They certainly slow the game a bit compared to what the game would play like in their absence. However, they provide a lot of fun without creating many constraints on what is possible in the game. What is problematic is that in many RPGs is that there are many rules because it seems to be that the "rules are fun" reason has been taken to extremes. Because we like rules for a few things or because a few rules are useful it doesn't mean rules are good or necessary when created to cover all situations.

A key to an excellent game is making sure that the rules are serving a specific purpose. The rules covering every eventuality is not useful to a good game. Common sense can serve a lot of the need that rules purport to. The referee was introduced into wargaming as a way to obviate the need for encyclopedic rules and to make it possible for anything to be attempted (see Playing at the World). Referees can still do this job without a lot of policing! That is because the referee is not the players' opponent.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Source of Clerical Powers

The reality of clerical magic is not per se evidence of the existence of the gods.

I was reading The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding and one of the articles was discussing the difficulty of atheism or agnosticism in a world where clerics have real magical powers. I think nothing could be further from the truth.

While most clerics (or even most people) might believe that their powers come from a divine source that does not foreclose other possibilities. Perhaps clerics have gained powers through the brain altering power of prayer and meditation. Perhaps it is a form of sorcery that is simply not well understood but ascribed to higher powers. Or perhaps the "gods" are in fact other beings masquerading as gods.

Just because someone says that something is the cause of another does not make it so.

Perhaps wizards loath clerics for their dogmatic and irrational beliefs.

Perhaps all wizards are traditionally elves and all clerics are traditionally humans and it is mere racial magic passed down along with the spiritual traditions of the race.

Perhaps things can be mysterious and ambiguous!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

In which I become much more specific and discover the problem I am truly facing.

Zak S. had some good feedback for me on my last post and through our conversation I have come to a few conclusions.

  • I don't mean collaboration. What I am talking about is participating. A game is created by mutual participation in the game. I am not talking about games where the storytelling responsibility is equally shared among all participants.
  • The problem I am grappling with is when players either don't participate in the game or are hostile to the game.
    • I am not talking about quiet players, quiet players participate - just not always vocally.
  • This behavior begs the question of why are they playing.
Zak said this:

If someone is at your table it isn't necessarily because of some gameological compatibility--it's because they bring something (anything: creativity, friendship, snacks) to the table that you want at that table.If you want that at the table, then you don't get to change them. You, like any general, use what they bring (wanted and unwanted) to somehow fuel the game .If a player just wants to hit things with an axe, create situations where that desire makes the game more interesting for everyone rather than treating it as an obstacle.Your players have traits: you can use them for you or against you. If you use them for you, then you create an exciting game that will make everyone want to extend themselves in new ways.

I think this is very well-phrased. I think that deep problems arise when a participant is no longer bringing something that you want to the table or if  what the player wants is outside the scope of what you can provide in a game. At this point the game fails - at least in the context of that individual.

This is what I was talking about with the terms collaboration and consensus. We at the table all come together to play this thing and bring whatever we have to offer. If one of the participants either: doesn't give anything; or interferes with the ability of the other players to participate you have a failure of the game.

What I meant by rescue (which may have been a poorly chosen word) is: how can we invite a player who is not participating to participate? The problem may be that there the situation only occurs when there is no longer anything that the player can or wants to bring to the game which is compatible with the game the others are playing.

For whatever reason, I have noticed that this is most often an issue with people who have been roleplaying for a long time - hence the veteran player aspect. I suspect this is because some players may only have continued to roleplay for social reasons - and that over time the gap between their actual needs and desires from a game have increasingly diverged from what roleplaying has to offer - leading to anti-social play.

Perhaps why play with new players tends to be better is that there is no social impetus for the game to occur. This would also apply to online play. The game only happens because of mutual interest.

In terms of solving my particular problem? I think that sadly there is no game remedy, so the problem is inevitably a social one.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Game Through Consensus

I love playing with players who are new to the hobby. They have no preconceptions. I try to run my game as much as possible by consensus. Whether it be the crunchiest modern system or the lightest OSR system consensus is the aspiration at my table. Collaboration is the only vehicle to a successful game. As I play with new players more I find that they are more open to the collaborative and consensus driven nature of my game. I find that often the more exposure players have had to role-playing the less they are interested in the group story. I don't know why this is. Maybe as players gain more experiences they become more particular as to what they want the story to be about and stop listening to the others at the table (or even the gamemaster)? Or maybe it is just that they have had a lot of non-collaborative roleplaying modeled to them, so they have become habituated to a different style of game - whereas the new player learns from what I model and suggest which may be quite different?

In either case how can we rescue the veteran roleplayer?

I also wonder if this is a problem I face alone, but my experience as a teacher tells me that a problem one person is having is often just the tip of the iceberg.

Anyone have any thoughts?