Tuesday, February 11, 2020

I Want to Believe

If you're a fan of Dungeons & Dragons and you aren't following Zee Bashew's YouTube Channel, your are cheating yourself out of a very fun experience. 

Zee produces a variety of short, animated episodes that discuss various aspects of D&D, such as how to spice up monsters, thoughtful analysis of spells, and alternate rule mechanics that even I - someone who has little interest in or affection for Dungeons & Dragons - find creative and interesting. The art and animation add to my enjoyment of his videos considerably, as his style is at once humorous, raw, and charming. 

In a recent post for his Animated Spellbook series, while in a discussion with Jim Davis from the channel 'Web DM', Zee brought up and even played a recording of a statement by Jerry Holkins, the writer of the comic strip Penny Arcade - Whew. That's a lot of name dropping! - that has shaken me to my core and explains so much of why I don't always see eye to eye with many of my gaming peers. 

Please check out the video to hear the statements and discussion in full (it's only a small portion of the larger discussion about Tenser's Floating Disc) as I am only going to paraphrase here. 

Basically, Holkins proposes and Bashew elaborates upon the idea that for many gamers it is the rule mechanics and their predictable method of determining outcomes that allows players and gamemasters to accept the fantastical world(s) they find themselves exploring

If I am understanding this correctly, the statements mean that gamers are able to suspend their disbelief and accept dragons, floating castles, and Elven Wizards because the foundation of the game, the expected, measurable, reliable, rules are there to give them a solid place on which to stand. 

WOW. A zillion times WOW. 

This, if true (and I feel it is for a great many people), explains so much that I previously had difficulty wrapping my head around. RPG players, such as those that enjoy D&D, arguably the worlds most popular game of its kind, prioritize a knowledge and understanding of the rules because that is what enables them to connect to the fictional world and its narrative. 

If this is why we see so many gamers focus on the rules so deeply I can kind of understand it. OK, not in a 'that makes sense to me' kind of way, but in a 'so that's why you do that'.

My personal viewpoint is diametrically opposed to this. 

In my mind it is the internally consistent depiction of the campaign universe that allows me to believe in the depiction of the campaign universe. Rules, of any kind, take me out of the game.

What I mean by that is that each time we address the rule mechanics in any way, it lessens the immersion I have in the game I'm running or playing. This is why I try so hard to never directly address the rules (rule questions, rule discussions or arguments) in great detail during a session. I greatly prefer waiting until the end of a session or even checking in between sessions, as the best time to clarify rules. 

Also confusing to me is the idea that comfort is found in the predictable nature of die result percentages. I have one friend who regularly brings up, during play, the chance of getting a success on whatever allotment of dice someone happens to be rolling. Based on the dialogue in Bashew's video, this could be because it makes the player feel like he has a firm grasp of the reality he/his character is in. 

To me this has the effect of being more than a little annoying and off-putting. Largely because of what I mentioned above, it taking me out of the universe, but also because I only go to the rules and dice rolls to randomly generate outcomes where the results aren't guaranteed.

The die mechanics of most if not all games use the rules to generate random numbers. True, they are not completely random; we are able to determine the possible results based on probability. However, we don't know the exact result before it happens. 

To focus on the math, on what the numbers might be based on likely, logical percentages of each possible result, means to me that you are not invested in the actual event. In a scene where I am rolling to see if I can catch a falling comrade before they fall off a cliff, I am not thinking, 'Well, based on these dice, I am likely to roll at least one success but unlikely to roll more than two'. Inside I am thinking, 'Holy crap! Hang on buddy I'm coming! I hope I catch him in time!'.

For me, the buy-in, the immersion into the fictional world, is made by committing my mind to that setting. It is strengthened by the GM having places and characters appear and reappear in a logical manner, act and speak in whatever way they have been established to, and in the fact that my character can explore this world and interact with it in a familiar way.

None of that has anything to do with rules. 

As I've stated before, to me the mechanics of an RPG are akin to the floor and beams of a house or other building. They are there, they give it a structure, and I am happy the floor is there so I don't fall into a hole in the ground. However, I don't think about the floor when I enter the building. I don't want to have to think about it or the internal structure of it. If I do, if I have to be aware of it, then I probably wouldn't want to walk into the building in the first place. The only time you should be concerned about a house's floor and beams is if they are flawed and could collapse. 

So all of those who think of the rules in order to believe in the milieu make me nervous. What is wrong with the universe that I need to be meta-aware of the structure behind and beneath it? Why doesn't the universe just run on its own? 

I like studying the science of our world but I am not thinking about the mechanics of weather when it rains. I am thinking of carrying an umbrella.

Barking Alien

Happy Birthday to my good buddy Dave Cotton! Have a great one Dave!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Hindsight 2020

Greetings to you all on this exceptional palindrome date, 02/02/2020.

It's also Groundhog Day!

At present, and I do mean right at this very moment, the United States is griped by Sportsball fever, and as such I am painting a model kit while I listen to various videos on Youtube related to Star Wars, Gaming, and the upcoming slate of Marvel films. 

I am taking a break as I write this to reflect on the year thus far, such as it is.

As a start to a new year, January was so-so for me. It had some good days, some bad days, and a lot of meh days. 

The new CBS Streaming Star Trek Series, Star Trek: Picard has begun and while not perfect, I like most of what I am seeing for far. It is vastly superior to STD and has the potential to be a highly entertaining journey through the 'current' Star Trek universe.

Star Wars: Resistance, the Disney Channel/Disney XD CGI animation series has ended with its final episode being pretty good but the series as a whole being sadly similar to the Sequel Trilogy. In the end, it didn't really matter. 

Arrow, the CW television series that began the entire universe of DC Superhero TV shows also came to a close with a whimper rather than a bang, but at least it tied up some loose ends and gave us some tantalizing possibilities for the future. Arrow was my least favorite of the CW DC programs, but it tried really hard to make the final season count. I think it succeeded right up to the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover. Unfortunately, I feel as if the Crisis episodes let the character of Oliver Queen/The Green Arrow down and they just wasn't much left to say in the final two episodes that followed.

It's also Groundhog Day!

Aside from these pop culture entertainment events I ran a number of games, played a few games, and generally enjoyed my time doing both. I could have enjoyed myself even more if only I could overcome this feeling that aside from my ALIEN FRONTIER game (a campaign using Free League's excellent ALIEN RPG), my RPG outings are still not living up to their full potential. 

While I am not sure why that is, I did have a major revelation about why my outlook on table top RPGs differs from 'the norm' and I may finally understand the mindset of my fellow gamers more accutely. I will discuss this more in an upcoming post. 

I want to end with my largest disappoint of the year so far: My lack of posts and views.

These two things are as intertwined as Eddie Brock and the Venom Symbiont of course, with few posts practically guaranteeing few look-sees from the active and potential internet audience.

Even with that though, my views are lower than I would have expected. I have recently taken to putting together a twitter page and tweeting links to the blog, though it would see very few people are finding it through that venue. 

This is really neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things but it is something of a downer. In hindsight I should have made a much greater effort to post in January in order to start the year, the blog, and my own self-esteem out on a better foot. 

Hopefully this gets my ball rolling,

It's also Groundhog Day!

Barking Alien

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Aw, Rats!

Gong Hei Fat Choy!

Happy Luna New Year - Year of The Rat!

Barking Alien

Friday, January 24, 2020

Round Robin

Remember that plan I had to game a bit less often this year but make each session more, I don't know, 'meaningful'? Well there has been a change of plans.

OK, not literally or completely but an interesting idea has come up among the members of one of my groups that may make playing more one-shots more appealing. 

One of my groups - a relatively small party of four regulars including myself - had been doing a monthly campaign which suffered from severe scheduling inconsistencies. Not everyone could make every session and when there are only four participants including the GM, well, we played about as often as we didn't. 

Although the scheduling issues were caused by legit conflicts with family obligations and bouts of flu, the longer we held off the less we were jazzed to get back to the campaign. This was partially because no one besides the GM was truly enamored with the setting or the system. It's not that we weren't having fun or outright disliked the game, but it just wasn't sparking a need to get back to it. 

After some discussion we came up with the idea of doing a Round Robin format wherein each month, or perhaps every few months, one of us would run a game and if everyone really liked it we'd run a short campaign. It one of the games just blew everyone away we'd decide whether or not we would turn it into an ongoing thing. 

We started this month with a one-shot, homebrewed Star Wars game that I must say was really fun. The system was simple, fast, and highly functional, though not perfect. A mechanic for handling stress and success probably needs a bit of a tweak but was otherwise very cool. I got to play a Jedi for the very first time and I had a blast doing so. I really liked my character, that's rare, and I'd totally be down for playing him again.

We don't have specific plans for the very next game, but a few Traveller sessions run by yours truly has been discussed. I am excited for the chance to run that game and universe again, especially with players who are less familiar with it. 

I will keep you posted as to how it goes.

Barking Alien

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Building Character

Creating a player character is a very challenging experience for me sometimes. Other times it's so easy as to make the challenging occasions all the more frustrating. 

As I've noted before, I don't play very often as a player and when I do I have very mixed feelings about the process of character creation and play even to this day. Sure, I've played more in the last 12 years than I have in all the 30 years before that combined, yet I still don't automatically enjoy it. 

To give you a clearer picture of why and what I am referring to, I would like to discuss what I am currently experiencing based on my previous post - the need to create two player characters, one for a Star Wars one-shot and one for a possible Dungeons and Dragons 5E campaign. 

For me, creating a Star Wars character is incredibly easy and always fun. 

One of the few settings I actively want to play in is the Star Wars universe. I would love to be in an ongoing Star Wars campaign but alas, no one runs them but me. Having the opportunity to participate in even a one-shot is personally very exciting. 

I started out the process of creating a PC for this Star Wars game by immediately imagining the kind of character I would want to see in a Star Wars story. Then I narrowed it down to which of those I thought it would be fun to play. Now I had over two dozen concepts and it was time to get serious. 

I finally decided on about 3 ideas, an outdated but heavily modified Astromech, an alien Scout/Explorer type, an alien pilot inspired by a character from the video game 'Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order', and then...I looked at what the other players were playing and noticed we had no Jedi. I've never, ever played a Jedi. Hmm. OK, I'll do it! Instantly I knew my species, my look, his name, everything. I was so inspired I immediately made an image of him.

Pyrro Urrunei
Cosian Jedi

Now for Fantasy...

Nothing came to mind. Normally ideas flood into my head to the point where I need to find higher mental ground or I could easily drown in them. Here I found myself sitting, staring at my computer screen thinking...I got nothing. What. The. Hell?

Everything seems so same-y. It's all been seen and done a thousand times before. The only way I am going to make this work is to play 'against type' and choose a character that, similarly to my Jedi in Star Wars, is something I've not played before.

Actually, that makes things quite a bit easier. I played quite a lot of D&D in my early years in the hobby and yes, there was a tendency to play the same or similar types of PCs. I generally played Dwarves with the occasional Gnome or Halfling. Usually I played a Cleric or multi-classed as a Cleric/Fighter. 

My thought here was Elf, a classic of D&D Fantasy that I've never actually played before, and a Fighter/Wizard (Mage? Magic-User? What the heck is D&D calling them these days?). Then the fellow who is going to GM the game mentioned that the classes have subclasses I guess, so I might want to go Fighter-Eldritch Knight, a warrior with some arcane knowledge and magical abilities. OK. That sounds solid enough.

I have now been trying to roll one up for a day or two and I don't know why but I just can't. I tried generating one with an online generator and half way through I get frustrated and bored. What is it about the process of D&D Character Creation that I find so tiring? I really wish I knew. 

Part of it is that all of the choices feel mechanical. Very little of the Character Creation exercise (with the exception of Background) is interesting in and of itself. It isn't numbers I can use to build my own vision like Champions. It isn't choices that inherently reflect a background or story like Star Trek. It doesn't come as a surprise that must be worked in like Traveller. It's just...numbers on a sheet. 

Creating a D&D character, for me, doesn't evoke the desire to see them played. I can't think of any other way to describe it. Also, since I don't have a clear idea of the character (background, personality, etc.) before I sit down to make them, I don't get that cool feeling of seeing a character I imagine in my mind realized (the way I do in Champions for example). 

I suppose I will find a way to get this done, though I don't want it to feel like a chore. I want it to be fun. Maybe I want it too much and I'm putting undue pressure on myself and the rules?

Anyone want to generate a Third Level, High Elven Eldritch Knight? I'll own you a Star Wars PC illustration.


Barking Alien