Thursday, September 26, 2013

Alternatives to Death

One of my goals for my over the table gaming is to spread the excellence of the OSR. However I find a lot of opposition to OSR games in my local community. One of the complaints is the lethality of the game. From a certain perspective  this makes sense. For those players who want to invest in their character but find the likelihood of death in a gritty game is an impediment to engagement then the game is failing. I don't think it is my role as the GM to educate my players about the wisdom of the OSR, but rather it is my job to facilitate a game that all can enjoy. So I began thinking about ways to reduce the likelihood of permanent character death without making characters invincible.

I'm not dead yet! After being brought to 0 characters survive and can be saved for 1 round per level, through magical healing, binding wounds, or inspiration.

Binding Wounds! As per S&W White Box. Trying to do this during battle is not advisable without a fighter standing over you, but you can of course attempt anything!

Inspiration! Any character can attempt to inspire a dying character to continue fighting. The character doing the inspiring makes a charisma check, if successful the dying character recovers to 1 hp and keeps fighting. This is a temporary hit point.

Deal with Death! Death is willing to bargain with heroic types. When a character dies death is willing to bargain with them. Death will resurrect the character in exchange for favors. Each resurrection incurs a debt with Death. If you roll a 1 on any d20 roll and have an outstanding debt Death calls in a favor. The favor would be determined randomly using the Tome of Adventure Design or similar quest table. If Death feels you are not making adequate process you might have to explain yourself. This is of course available totally on an opt-in basis. It is also rumored that other powerful beings have the ability to intercede and resurrect fallen heroes but they are not as predictable and even-handed as Death.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Pitch: Crater Diving

The old folks say that when they were children the Empire straddled the continent entire, and that the Emperor sat upon a diamond throne in a shining city. Well, all that is gone since the five kings of the ancient kingdoms made war against the throne. The war raged for seven years. In the winter of that seventh year the Emperor was on the verge of defeat. Some say he summoned a great demon from Outside. Others say he slew his own priests and stole a weapon forged in darkness. Children and fools believe he became a ravening dragon. Whatever the truth is, the armies of the kings vanished at the gates of the Imperial City - along with the city itself. Instead a gaping wound was left in the earth and the land for miles around was left a wasteland.

The five kings allied in the war all suspected treachery in each other and, the armies destroyed and kingdoms impoverished by the expensive war, settled into an uneasy, inward looking peace while they rebuilt.

Curious types soon began exploring the crater where the Imperial City once stood and found it was riddled with mysterious tunnels and caves - as if the earth below the city had been rotten. When a group of delvers brought up a chest full of gold and jewels word exploded across the continent and treasure hunters, mercenaries, and cutthroats of all sort made pilgrimage to the crater to seek their fortune. Many of those who went down never came back up, but nonetheless many still make their way to this unhappy place. So many that a thriving boomtown was settled on the rim of the crater, catering to the wants and needs of the delvers.

Now people from across the continent make their way to the crater for information, magic, and hired-blades for there is no better place to find any of those precious resources.

The five kingdoms have rebuilt their peasantry and armories and eye each other hungrily across their borders.

And quietly, sages at the crater warn those who listen that the wound in the earth is growing.

You, a treasure hunter through and through, have journeyed from your homeland seeking your fortune at the crater.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

on the modern game player

Holy crap, it's been over 7 months since I posted anything. I haven't been posting because I've been busy with work, life, and gaming! So I am content with that.

I've been running a lot of games in that 7 months including a nice sustained Swords & Wizardry game that lasted a pretty good while. Since then though the group has fallen apart and attempts to begin new games have been failures.

Last night I sat down with two key players and hashed around about why things weren't working and what we wanted to do about it.

Key points from the discussion: I find Pathfinder and most rulesy games obnoxious (for reasons I have posted about ad nauseum); Player A doesn't like OSR games because he finds character death upsetting and discouraging; Player B wants to play fantasy and doesn't want to get bogged down in rules adjudication.

We decided that I would run a series of one-shots with them and a few new prospect players to A) try get a group  and time established; B) try out some systems and settings and see what people like.

Then this morning I finally understood the modern game player in my group (Player A above) and I sent A & B this email:

After a good night's sleep I think I have an insight coming out of last night's discussion.

RPGs can be divided broadly into two categories: story games and traditional games. Story games have mechanics that can effect the narrative, in traditional games the narrative is totally the purview of the GM.

Within traditional there are modern and OSR (old-school) games. Modern games tend to be rulesy and tend not to include character death as a large part of play. Whereas OSR games tend to be rules-light and embrace character death. Until last night I was focused on the rulesyness as the main dividing line not thinking about the implications of the latter division.

The big difference I think is that in a modern game we are telling The Characters' Story, in an OSR game we are telling The Story - in which the characters are participants. That is why for me (and others who enjoy OSR games) character death is (while sometimes disappointing or frustrating) fundamentally not a big deal, because the larger story in which we are participating continues, and we get to continue participating through a new character. This can even be exciting.

Neither of these approaches is badwrongfun, but I think our discussion finally gave me insight in to the modern game player's preference.  Having permadeath on the table adds to tension, excitement, and ultimately the satisfaction in victory for the OSR player - because the OSR player is focused on the overarching game experience. For the modern player it is merely loss, because the focus is on the character in its individuality.

So for RP oriented players the rules heaviness may not be the important distinction at all.

I may run something other than Other Dust for the 1st one-shot game. It is most definitely an OSR game. So while it has awesome systems and lots of opportunity for sandboxing and RP there are mutants in the waste that want to (and can) eat your face.