Tag Archives: rant

Does Pathfinder hate it’s players?

Because there’s a big chunk of the GameMastery Guide that rankles me. It appears the Viking Hat is alive and well in Paizo world. It’s part of the chapter on PCs and it’s subtitled Player Interactions. It’s basically a list of player types and how to accommodate them at your table. This is all well and dandy. I loved the typology in Robin’s Laws which was largely repeated in the DMGs for the last couple of editions. So I was interested to see if there were any new spins I’d not encountered before. There certainly were, and they are (in full); 

Antagonist

Continuity expert

Diva

Entrepreneur

Flake

Glass jaw

Loner

Lump

One-trick pony

Multitask master

Power gamer

Rules lawyer

Tagalong

Thespian

Check that out. A list of flippant dismissals. Pretty much every one is meant as a pejorative. There’s a preamble that says “all of these different personalities make a campaign better” yet the following sections go to lengths to talk up the issues that these bring to the table.  Frankly, I think you reap what you sow, and if you have a table of players that you’re happy to classify in terms like lump, tagalong and loner, then your game is beyond all help. What I find astonishing is how the authors can’t bring themselves to add in personality types such as roleplayer, or gamist, or tinkerer, or optimiser or other such non-insulting terms. At least the text has the good sense to advise;

Recognise that labels can be a negative, and that you shouldn’t casually assign one of these personality types to a player, nor even mention your mental designations unless you’re sure the player will take it with grace and not see it as dismissal or name calling.

No shit. I suspect even the Dalai Lama would balk at calling his players lumps.

Maybe this would be ok if the section was titled ‘problem players’ or some such. Frankly, I’d be all for it, as forums are rammed with free advice on the very subject. But no, instead GMs are encouraged to pigeon hole their players, in the worst possible light, but shssssh! don’t tell anyone!

Amazing.

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Role playing opportunities

The comments on my recent Defence of H/P/E  post got me thinking. ‘Roleplaying opportunities’ were mentioned twice, one saying there weren’t any, one saying how good they were. Can’t both be right surely? or can they! I think it depends on your viewpoint.

One of the many ways that 4e has changed my gaming perspective is in the way I now see roleplaying. I used to be quite the snob about it. If you weren’t adding in loads of description and being all extroverted at the table you weren’t a roleplayer in my book (I never went as far as using the term rollplayer, so give me some credit!) I was always wishing for more from my players, more colour, more energy, more engagement with the plots, more authorship of the plots, everything I called roleplaying frankly. You’d think that after 30 years of dissatisfaction I’d have wised up a while back, but no, it took 4e to show me what I’d been overlooking all that time. It’s this: people get their gaming fun in all kinds of ways, and all those ways are completely valid so long as they’re not cramping someone elses. Hell, even if it does cramp someone elses, it could still be worth it if the group benefits as a whole.

I know, I know, hardly a revelatory insight. Yet I’d gotten too caught up in what I thought was right. I’ve read all the GMing advice and I’ve always managed to make it fit my own theories and prejudices, thus making it a vicious circle (9th level Lurker). The 4e DMG finally put me on the right track, and my weekly gaming group really demonstrated the possibilities of  just relaxing a little and letting the game run the way it really wanted to. Let me give you an example. I’ll use Julio, one of my oldest mates and I think we’ve been gaming together for about 20 years now. We definitely don’t play the same way. I like being all chatty and intrigue-y, Jules likes being dead hard and dominating battles. For years now I’ve always thought I was the better roleplayer, but nowadays I realise that’s just bollocks. We’re just getting our roleplaying jollies in different ways. Jules is a sublime roleplayer and I know he values his character and his gaming. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have shown up all these times. From the same vintage, Marky. He’s pretty quiet. I used to worry he was sitting bored, but again, he votes with his feet every single week. These guys are absolutely roleplayers, but they are taking their RP opportunities from slightly different places that I do.

Here’s what I don’t believe is the totality of roleplaying: standing up at the table, speaking in an outrageous accent, adding lengthy and hyper detailed descriptions to every sword swing, having a page long character background, refusing to fight, being a dark, edgy loner. As for roleplaying opportunities in scenarios? I don’t believe that always means enigmatic NPCs, labyrinthine plots, politics, factions, murder mysteries, masked balls or even skill challenges. Trouble is, I think that’s what a lot of people do mean when they talk about RP. Combat? unworthy of real roleplaying. Magic items? flavourless mechanical devices. NPCs? Now you’re talking!

And that’s rot. Talky bits in scenarios are not the only RP opportunities, they’re everywhere. I can see the opportunity in taking an extended rest: with enchantments, bedrolls, watches, disease worries, spell books, martial practice, breakfast, inspiring words. Jeez, you could very easily get a decent chapter in a fantasy novel out of just that. And here’s the important bit, it doesn’t need to be acted out in minutiae in order to count. As long as it’s got the potential to be a memory, it’s roleplaying. I love the day after a game, it’s where I rerun the cool scenes in my head, at my own pace. I remember the visuals, even tough they weren’t necessarily described that way on the night. I smell the blood, I feel the cloth, I taste the danger. Yet at the time, it might occasionally sound like we’re talking purely in numbers.

I do believe it is every person at the tables responsibility to ‘colour in’ their character wherever possible, to advertise the things that are on their character sheets. But you know what? I’m fine with ‘I attack with my longsword’, honestly I am. It actually annoys me now when players try to Stunt every single bloody thing. It’s like they’re competing for the experience points. Here’s another example. My missus likes to say that she is not a roleplayer. She likens it to cringe making Am Dram at it’s worst, all self conscious and me me me. She gets quite passionate about it! Thing is, she’s a great roleplayer. She adores her character, and fights her corner at every session. She’s written a novel for Gods sake, and her next is a fantasy story inspired by our game. She’s even thinking about DMing for the first time ever. She has two different colours of dice and tries one set out at the start of each session to see who’s running hot. Her character has a well deserved reputation for looking after number one. She taunts people who hang back from the action. She plays her character, and when she can’t be there all the others know exactly what she’d do in every situation. Yeah, she’s a roleplayer alright.

So, these modules for me are packed with roleplaying opportunities. They might not be obvious from a read through, but they definitely come out in play. When steve’s character yells ‘Come and Get It!’, he’s just provided an opportunity, and everyone else grabs it. These mods might not have many ‘conversations with the mayor about trade embargoes’ but they put a skeleton for adventure in front of your characters. The opportunities are there, you just need to grab them, and stop sweating about the ways people do.

Word.

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A novel idea for a setting

I found myself in the public library today, which is a rare occasion. I was scanning the fantasy/sci fi/horror section, surprised at how much stuff they had, and wondering why on earth I spend what I do in bookstores. I checked a few back covers for a precis that sounded interesting. While doing that I came round to thinking about how my reading tends to be mosty gaming related, and that includes the novels I pick up. It struck me then that I’d been slowly coming to a decision over recent months and it goes a little something like this.

I’ve got loads of RPGs, about 5 or 6 times as many as you can see in the banner for this site. The vast majority of them have a setting as part of the game. Consequently, I’ve internalised an awful lot of imaginary worlds. Add to that the weird predilection I have for trying to see everything in the real world as potential gaming fodder and you might begin to see how full my head is. Novels and comics are an obvious source of gaming maaterial, but as time has gone on I’ve realised I’m never ever going to sit down and write a setting bible based on a novel, I’m just not. It’s way to much work and frankly, if my players aren’t as invested in the setting as I am then it’s never going to see time at the table. Let’s not even think about publishing it, not going to happen. Last time I tried to do this was with the Night’s Dawn trilogy by Peter F Hamilton, my favourite author. It’s absolutley ripe for gaming and I sincerely hope someone will do it one day. But it’s more than 3000 pages long and the cast of characters, locations, kit etc is absolutley enormous. Even the really hard core wiki builders struggle with that challenge.

So I don’t do it. I don’t even really build my own settings out of whole cloth, nor do I really pay a huge amount of attention to game worlds so much any more. The reason being, there’s just too much stuff, often of little relevance and too little of it ever reaches the ears of my players. Where’s the utility in a 300+ page book where 297 pages are just dry historical detail?

Let me give you an example. I recently bought Eclipse Phase after reading some reports and reviews online. It’s fans are vocal and passionate to say the least. Just browse RPGnet, you’ll see what I mean. When a poster said I could do Night’s Dawn with it I was totally sold. However, after an hour reading it from the first page I started to flick, never a good sign. ten minutes after that, I’d shelved it. The reason was I felt I would be better off reading a novel as I’d get the same giant infodump but in a more entertaining medium. Believe me when I say this isn’t a dig at the game, I’m sure it’s as brilliant and innovative as people say, but it’s not for me with the way I want to approach gaming these days. The short fiction at the start seemed like something from Shadowrun circa 1994, while the rest of the book was a patchwork of the authors favourite transhumanist scifi of recent years. again, it’s a perfeectly valid approach to a game book, but actually I found myself wishing I’d read the source material instead.

So I noticed a section of books by Charles Stross in the library, and his works are mentioned in Eclipse Phase. My interest piqued, I checked out the splash page. turns out the one I’d picked up is his first published work called The Atrocity Archives and I don’t think it’s one of the transhuman books. Here’s the back page for you:

Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. None of them receive any thanks for the jobs they do, but at least a techie doesn’t risk getting shot or eaten in the line of duty. Bob’s world is dull but safe, and that’s the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob Howard is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping nazis, Middle Eastern terrorists, damsels in distress, ancient Lovecraftian horror and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than control-alt-delete to sort this mess out…

There’s enough there for a whole campaign no? And the preface makes it even more succint. In it Ken MacLeod points out:

Think, for a moment, what the following phrase would call to mind if you’d never heard it before: ‘Secret intelligence’

And there’s about 20 of the games on my shelf summed up. Except those books then give me another 13 chapters of explanation and detail which is mostly unnecessary and has the effect of dulling and diluting the original concept. Bringing it back to RPGs proper, the worst offender for me was The Iron Kingdoms, a superb setting from Privateer Press originally for d20 gaming. It started with a trilogy of adventures which gave the DM just enough to go on, and  crucially it all came out at the table as the party progressed. Three modules later and everyone knew as much as everyone else at the table without having to study for hours and without losing any immersion either. I think it was better than most settings just because of that ‘reveal during play’ approach. Obviously the fans wanted more and the publishers got to work. The first book was Lock and Load, really just a conversion supplement for standard D&D. It came with maps and geography and history, all in 64 pages. Brilliant. And then a long, long wait while the big hardback sourcebooks were produced, weighing in at 600 pages over 2 hardbacks, all as dry as dust. They’d utterly explained away all the magic. A crushing disappointment, especially when you consider their minis game in the same world, Warmachine, had exactly the same job to do, yet managed it in colour with barely a third of the page count. 

Now, this post haas gotten way too long and is in some danger of becoming a rant. So part 2 tomorrow…

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Stat of the nation

Has there ever been a better set of stats than those presented in D&D? I don’t think so. I think D&D got it bang on from the outset and every game released since then has had to be different, and has had to compromise on quality as a result.

The 6 characteristics are like a catechism for me,  strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, charisma. The symmetry is beautiful and elegant. You have  3 physical, and 3 mental. There are 3 pairs that correspond to (roughly) mind, body and soul. They are hard coded into defences (or saves). They even show you the underlying priorities in the game, athough you might have to squint to see that!

They literally define your character, they are the skeleton that every other rules hangs  off of. One of the very few things that irritates me about 4e is seeing them relegated to the bottom of the  character sheet, I prefer to see them front and centre, proud of what they are.

There have been pretenders to the ability throne. Perception is perhaps the most popular. Doesn’t sit well with me. I can understand it as a skill (don’t get me started, I’d dispense with the lot of them), but as a pure stat? What would it do? Con gives you hits, Str gives you power, Dex keeps you safe, Cha? Well that’s a post of it’s own. But Per? I say it’s the DMs job to be your eyes and ears, not the number on your character sheet.

Credit where it’s due, Castles & Crusades gave stats the treatment, and reverence, they deserve with their SIEGE engine. White Wolf have a decent set up with their 3×3 grid. Apart from those? You tell me. Who’s got stats right?

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The wizard did it

A thought occured to me while I was prepping for this weeks game. I’m running Pyramid of Shadows, and just like the previous adventures, it’s a wizard who’s behind the whole thing. That’s not reallt a spoiler to anyone who’s paid the slightest of attention. It’s always a wizard, except when it’s a cleric, either way it’s always a magic user of some kind. This is surely legacy adventure design. From Tomb of Horrors, to White Plume Mountain to the Banewarrens, there just has to be a high level spell caster with issues to resolve, lurking in a dungeon waiting for some PCs to come along and put things right.

Continue reading

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If Charlie Brooker was into gaming…

…he’d have written this. Beautiful.

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Gaaaaahhhh!

Technology is crap. Its supposed to be a labour saving, connected, simple world. Yet things break or go on a go slow and because they are so ‘sophisticated’ I have no real chance of fixing them. Our home pc keeps struggling to connect to the net. I half know why but I can’t make it work. Result: twisted, knotty stomach. I just want to throw the whole thing through the window and go and buy a new one. We pay (through the nose) for Broadband at the mighty speed of 2.2mbps and I can’t make the damn. Thing. Work. Now.
Same with the poxy car. Why can’t things just do what they are supposed to? Just for a while? My fridge does. My microwave does. Even my sodding BlackBerry does!
Gaaaahhhh!

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