Monday, October 28, 2013

A Considerable Threat

It's been a strange month.

What with it being October, Halloween and all, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

In my real life, business has gone from 'Crappy Summer' to 'Awesomely Busy Fall' and that's good news for me. I may be tired but at least I don't have to worry as much about bills, food, etc.

Posts were light this month, views were up, comments down and the focus a bit unfocused as far as I'm concerned. I did get the chance to talk about my two mainstay campaigns, Traveller and Pendragon, but not enough. A host of other ideas I've shared have gone unfinished, while others were not shared at all.

'Scuse me whilst I reflect upon this.


Next month is November and with that comes Thanksgiving, the National Game Design Month event (NaGaDeMon), a continually busy work schedule and very possibly the end of one or both of my campaigns.


My player Marcus, in addition to being a consummate pain in the tail region, has managed to get himself and several of the other players into serious trouble. IN BOTH GAMES! Now that's some mad Player Skill at work, don't you think?


In Traveller, he and a few others who have decided to go with him, are heading to an uncharted star system in order to claim it and the right to own it. There are numerous obstacles and problems with his plan, not the least of which is time and competition. And the fact that he really has no plan.

And that's just the problems he knows about.


In Pendragon, he pissed off a Knight who had come to the court of the dukedom the PCs are in to ask if the Duke knew of a young girl who had been taken from a village under said Knight's country's care. The NPCs sought to stall the Knight and make him lose his cool. That way, they and the PCs would be in the right to do something about him. If he didn't lose his cool, they would feign ignorance of the matter and he would simply leave. The young woman in question is one of the PCs actually and she left voluntarily when King Arthur himself sent her a letter and asked to meet with her.

During the exchanges between the Knight, the good Duke, his Chancellor (all NPCs) and one or two of the PCs, the Knight made an inquiry of Ray's character Sir Henry. Marcus indicated that he would like to say something to defend Sir Henry or divert the conversation. Ray said sure, and Marcus proceeded to accuse and embarrass the Knight in front of everyone, taking on an antagonistic approach that may now plunge us into war.

Ray managed to interject just after Marcus finished talking at court and did so with flying colors. As the Knight readied a retaliatory volley of words, Ray took complete control of the conversation and told the Knight in no uncertain terms that this audience was over. You lose. Good day to you sir. I said Good Day!

Wait now, Marcus wasn't done...

Marcus decided to accompany the group of soldiers, mostly Irish mercenaries, who were told to escort the Knight and his entourage out of the kingdom. The escort also included Hans' character and an NPC mercenary he (She. Shhhh.) had befriended. Just as they reached the gates of the city, Marcus pulled the Knight aside and apologized to him in a whispered exchange. In that exchange he also set in motion a situation which could easily destroy the entire troupe of PCs and the goal of why they were in the region in the first place.


Yes. In the span of an hour or two of the second session of Pendragon we have had, Marcus managed to create an almost no win scenario.

Why? How? Screw how, WHY?

Because Marcus isn't having fun unless it's about Marcus. He has to be the one with the clever plan, be the smooth talker, the guy who gets the right people on his side while he pulls the wool over the eyes of the people who he doesn't like or who are against him.

The problems with this?
  1. He doesn't take the motivations and personalities of his enemies into account.
  2. He doesn't consult or consider any other member of the team when pulling these stunts.
  3. He wants to be the consummate con man but his words and actions make everyone distrust him.
  4. He doesn't consider that there could be factors at work he doesn't know about yet.

In the Traveller campaign, if death is in the team's future, it will only be for those who go with Marcus and Marcus himself. I know Will's and Ray's characters will not be joining his mission. This campaign can easily live on with other characters.

In Pendragon, only one player has any idea of the real threat potential. The threat Marcus has created could, very likely, result in a TPK. My first ever I believe. If that occurs, I think I will lay off fantasy again for a good long while.

I am at the edge of my seat.

Barking Alien

Friday, October 25, 2013

Insufficient Data

After rereading what I wrote here on my RPG Person Profile I realize that this information is woefully insufficient.
Maybe I was tired, maybe I just wasn't into it, but the end result is basically that, as I stated at the bottom of the last post, the profile doesn't really say anything about who I am and how I game. Isn't that supposed to be the point of a profile?
The questions seem rather generic and so I feel like I answered them generically. In hopes of improving your understanding of me I thought I'd elaborate on a few of the entries.
I'm currently running (at a public place): Classic Traveller (with MegaTraveller and T5elements) and Pendragon (4th Edition). Occasionally Champions (4th Edition).

I would especially like to play/run: Star Trek (FASA or Last Unicorn Games Versions).

But really, I want to run it, not play it.

I would also really like to run an InSpectres/Ghostbusters game again. That was sweet.

I'd love to see someone run a game of Supers that is classic Silver Age. That I would play.

 ...but would also try: I'll try just about anything.

This is true but if it's D&D, Pathfinder or something similar, gah, I really would rather not. Maybe Next just to say I did.

2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like: Well known? Hmmm. Star Trek (FASA or Last Unicorn Games), Champions (4th Edition) and Star Wars (West End Games)

Now here are some games I love, that rock, that are not so well known:

Golden Sky Stories, InSpectres, Faery's Tale Deluxe and Monsterhearts. Want to try Monsterhearts real bad.

2 or 3 novels I like: Anything by Terry Pratchett, Ringworld by Larry Niven, Star Trek: Vanguard

I love, and I mean LOVE, to read. I read all the time. This doesn't even scratch the surface of what I've read or like to read.

2 or 3 movies I like: The Muppet Movie, Galaxy Quest, Ghostbusters

As above. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Blade Runner, Princess Bride, Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, anything with The Marx Brothers, Blazing Saddles, Wizard of Oz, Return to Oz, etc.

Best place to find me on-line: Facebook or on gaming blogs.

Google+ and some game forums as well.

I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's: Science Fiction or Superheroes

Or Folklore, especially Faerie Folklore. Or Comedy/Humorous games. Or UFOs. Or Ghosts. Or something, anything, significantly different from what we've seen already.

I really do not want to hear about: Dungeons & Dragons

Boring. Same stuff again and again and again. Bleh.

Games I'm in are like (link to something):

Games I run are impossible to completely explain in a single sentence. They are usually very different from each other but all very much Adam games. This entry is kind of tricky to settle on an answer for.

Fun. They are like Fun.

If you know anything about Hunter Planet it'd help me with a project I'm working on

Or Ghosts. Or Arthurian Legend. Or Science. Or obscure Golden Age Superheroes. Or...just comment or send me a message already!

I talk about RPGs on Facebook (social media site and/or RPG forum name) under the name Adam Dickstein.

I also talk about them in person in game and comic book stores, on the phone with friends, at conventions, to my dog who is a great sounding board for ideas, to...

I often go by the name of Ralph Waldo Pickle Chips at these times.

Or not.

There. That feels better.

Barking Alien


Thursday, October 24, 2013

My RPG Person Profile

So this is a thing. Guess I'm doing it too.

RPG Person Profile. That seems grammatically odd. Oh well...
I'm currently running (at a public place): Classic Traveller (with MegaTraveller and T5 elements) and Pendragon (4th Edition). Occasionally Champions (4th Edition).

I would especially like to play/run: Star Trek (FASA or Last Unicorn Games Versions).

...but would also try: I'll try just about anything.

I live in: New York City, NY - Capital of the planet Earth.

2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like: Well known? Hmmm. Star Trek (FASA or Last Unicorn Games), Champions (4th Edition) and Star Wars (West End Games)

2 or 3 novels I like: Anything by Terry Pratchett, Ringworld by Larry Niven, Star Trek: Vanguard

2 or 3 movies I like: The Muppet Movie, Galaxy Quest, Ghostbusters

Best place to find me on-line: Facebook or on gaming blogs.

I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's: Science Fiction or Superheroes

I really do not want to hear about: Dungeons & Dragons

Games I'm in are like (link to something): They are all quite different. Traveller. Superheroes. Pendragon.

If you know anything about Hunter Planet it'd help me with a project I'm working on

I talk about RPGs on Facebook (social media site and/or RPG forum name) under the name Adam Dickstein
This is nice but I am not one hundred percent certain of its purpose. Nothing listed is something you wouldn't know about me from reading this blog, three or four comments I've made on blogs or posts on Facebook or just, ya'know, asking me.
Barking Alien

Abject Horror

As Halloween approaches, I feel obligated to discuss a genre that has never really endeared itself to me.


I have never liked the Horror genre.

I have read the likes of Poe, Shelley and Lovecraft, and while I was indeed fascinated by their works, nothing in them made me feel the desire to read more beyond what I had.

Oh I've read King and Koontz, Barker and Rice, but with the exception of a few books from each, I just don't care for the type of story they tell. Except Koontz. I've really never read a great Koontz book..

I've seen numerous classic horror films, from the cinema's golden age to the Exorcist, The Omen, Rosemary's Baby and The Shining, up to the more modern fare such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Blair Witch Project. I know, those aren't all that modern. There is a reason. I grew tired of watching those kinds of movies by that point.

I don't find it fun to be scared, or grossed out without purpose. That, in a nutshell, is the key to my issue with the genre. Horror, not to put to fine a point on it, seems purposeless to me. What it is, and what it does, just doesn't grab me as there seems to be no reason for it. There is no arc for most of the characters, as they are just there to die. There are no highlights to the story, as it's all just a grind to reach the end, where there may be one survivor, or there may not be.

I prefer a story with an obstacle to overcome, characters who may, or may not over come it, but ones that grow, and accomplish something, even if it is just a minor understanding of who they are, and what their universe is all about.

Lovecraft approaches this, than the character dies or goes mad and well, who cares.

As an element added to other genres...Horror is awesome.

Alien. Ghostbusters. The original versions of Grimm's Fairy Tales.

I also love ghost stories, and tales of the strange and unexplained. Not horror per se, but creepy and mysterious thrillers. Ah, that's the stuff.

One of the reasons for this feeling I have about the genre stems from its use in RPGs. For an RPG to emulate the genre with any real authenticity, nearly every PC must die before the story's end. Depending on how you set it up, there is not a lot of long term play value there.

Furthermore, there is often no hope of survival. Call of Cthulhu, the penultimate example of a successful, and popular horror RPG, is essentially about the world being inevitably consumed, and your PCs dying, or going mad. There is not going to be a real end game victory. The 'heroes' are not going to 'win'. They have no chance of doing so.

While some may love this, and from a literary and philosophical point of view I can see the appeal, I don't really get it for a role playing game. To me it's a GM railroad of the worst kind. It doesn't matter what you do, I am the GM, I am running Call of Cthulhu, so ipso facto, you lose.

When I have run horror...what? Yes, I've run horror campaigns, or campaigns with a major horror genre slant to them. How can I run horror if I don't like it? Have a little faith...

Where was I? Oh yes, when I've run horror, I've run it more from the angle of 'There are frightening, and unnerving things in this world that may very well be from the next one. If left unchecked, they can cause a lot of pain and misery. The PCs are here to prevent that.'

In the words of Prof. Trevor Bruttenholm from the first Hellboy film, "There are things that go bump in the night, Agent Myers. Make no mistake about that. And we are the ones who bump back."

I've run Chill, Stalking The Night Fantastic and a rather creepy Ghostbusters campaign (a little more horror, and a little less comedy than the default version of that particular Horror Comedy). In each instance, I was able to allow the players time to like, and eventually love their characters, and some of the NPCs around them. Threatening them with harm or death at the hands, fangs, or tentacles of various unnatural opponents generated plenty of terror.

In addition, since I adhere to the idea that ghosts are trapped in the in-between place that is neither life nor death for a reason, getting rid of a ghost doesn't always require zapping it with proton streams, or banishing it with the proper incantation. Sometimes you need to get to know why it's still here, and doing what it's doing. To that end, I actually made one of my players in our Ghostbusters game cry (The player. Real tears.) because the ghost's story, and it's affect on her living relatives was so sad.

I am actually really looking forward to running my kind of horror again.

It is not the horror of more blood coming out of the Human body than we even have. It is not the obvious, in-your-face monster that better fits a D&D game. It's not the unstoppable hockey masked killer who seems more at home in a Superhero game as it is able to survive anything short of a nuclear warhead.

I like chilling, hair-raising, edge-of-your-seat strangeness that is disquieting because you don't know what is going on. I like the idea that you can fight back with knowledge and ingenuity. The shades of night are coming for you, but if you're careful and crafty, you can take back the night, and perhaps shed a little light on them at the same time.

I like smart horror.

Happy Halloween everyone.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Other Peoples Thoughts On My Mind

Points of Interest:

A Night At The Improv
Noisms does it again with a great post about Improvisation. I not only like what he has to say here and how straight forward he says it, but it also gives me an excuse to refer to this post of my own on the subject.

Hive Mind
When not going on about Ponies or Pistols, Erin Palette of Lurking Rhythmically actually writes some seriously well thought out Traveller material. Read her take on the Hivers here. While not identical to the way I see them and use them in my current campaign, this has definitely given me food for thought and is an excellent possible insight into this little understood major race of Charted Space.

Don't Switch Off Your Targeting Computer
Do you listen to RPG podcasts? I started to about a year or so ago. For the most part, many of them are pretty good but aren't talking to me, if you know what I mean. One that constantly impresses me is Play on Target, hosted by Sam Dillon, Lowell Francis (of Age of Ravens), Brian Cooksey and Andrew Goerner. I learned about it through the Age of Ravens blog and I have to say I really like it. It doesn't have fancy effects, amazing music or any special features - it just talks about games, game theory, experience running different types of games and analyzes various genres and styles. I like it for the fact that the group discusses so many different games (including D&D) and makes references to things that work and don't across a wide range of systems. Highly recommended.

Barking Alien

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sing A Traveller Song

I have not done any real play reports for our Traveller campaign here on the ol' blog and honestly, at this point, doing so would feel like a huge undertaking.

I do want to talk a bit more about the campaign however and give you all an overview of what the game has been like.

Here goes nothing... *


We've had 14 sessions at this point, each about 8 hours long and featuring between 5 and 7 PCs on average. (As noted here) It's been an absolutely amazing experience and indeed one of the best campaigns I've run in close to 3 years (maybe more).

For one thing, it has a good number of players and I am definitely of the 'more players is better' mindset. I've mentioned on the blog before (though perhaps not in a long while) that I have more difficulty running games with fewer players than more players. A campaign with two or three players is bare minimum for me and a constant challenge to keep myself from getting bored and a lot of work to make it entertaining overall.

Another element that really makes this campaign fly is that the players and their PCs are very different from each other. This also causes a good deal of PC (and even Player) friction, but so far its all worked out to the campaigns advantage and the group is loving it.

Perhaps the single most interesting thing for me is the way the different players have adapted to the extremely open-ended nature of the campaign.

Basically, after starting out on the space station 'Bussard Reach', you are free to go and do whatever you want, however you can. This means players (and by default their PCs) adopt an attitude that best serves the way they like to play. Or, they don't, and as a result find the game somewhat more challenging to enjoy.

This too is interesting however, as I as Gamemaster get to watch players find their way and get a handle on how to make the milieu function in a way that works for them.


Will as Belarus Hosta is very proactive. The character began with a background story, an agenda and immediately went to work solving her problem. To that end she hired the other PCs to help her complete her goals. She continues to be a major driving force in their business arrangements but prefers battles of wits, words and information over anything even remotely physical. Where as most PCs in most games end up doing something stupid just to generate 'action', Will plays Hosta as too smart to gallivant around the galaxy getting into unnecessary trouble. She prefers her action to occur in the offices and board rooms of the MegaCorps and the Imperial government.

Hosta is the PC who interacts the most with the various NPCs of the setting and has a small entourage of characters that tend to orbit her nearly all the time. This is not only awesome for me as the GM (since I love developing and playing NPCs), but also creates a resource for the entire party if they know how and when to use it and stay on good terms with both Hosta and the NPCs in question.

AMARO Highport - Aequine II
(Amaro Highport will be played by the space station from Elysium)
Ray's character, Dr. Emil Fujikawa, has some great pathos behind it but hasn't done a lot over the span of the campaign so far. He is an excellent supporting character and might, perhaps, get a nomination for 'Best Supporting Actor' if this were a film or TV series. At the same time, he has (reluctantly) been the only one to investigate and engage the campaign's meta-plot, a big story going on in the background that has yet to (apparently) effect the PCs. Ray tends to almost 'anti-play' some of his characters. It is not the first time I have seen this rare phenomenon but it seems rather strong in Ray. He creates interesting characters who, by and large, sit it out, not really engaging in the activities around them. There is proactive, reactive and Ray, quietly passive with the exception of a few choice moments. Fujikawa shed this image a bit in the last few sessions, but it remains to be seen what mark, if any, the PC makes on the campaign or whether he simply watches and cheers from the bleachers.
Concept for Maria, Dr. Fujikawa's 'Assistant'
 Hans' character Amaya Takeda, relatively new to the group, has a seriously interesting background, though so far only tiny bits of it have been revealed. The only two relatively significant things we know about Amaya is the she fought in 'The Client State Wars' (which in our variant of Traveller canon is sort of like a several star system wide 'Vietnam') and that she has, as some point in the recent past, been involved in criminal career. What exactly happened to her during The Client State Wars and what criminal activity she partook in is unclear at this time. She was also involved with something called 'Project: Arrowhead' while she was in the Imperial Navy but the rest of the crew doesn't really know anything about this or what this is. Hans is fun to watch as he changes his approach over time. He tends to start hesitant and passive, moves to reactive and then suddenly surprises you with a proactive approach at a major moment in the story. Very exciting.
Ivan Petrovo, played by Andy, is also a late entry to the team (the latest actually) and has so far been run in such a way as to seem reactive in a 'typical gamer' style. The traditional approach of 'wait for someone to hire you for an adventure' works (which is why so much RPG gaming is based on it) and it is a great way for a new player to get his or her bearings. I am finding a lot of people here in New York aren't accustomed to a sandbox experience on this campaign's level. Having Ivan start his journey through the campaign in a more conventional way eases Andy the player into our style of play.

Amanook, Adlult Female

Solitary Arctic Carnivore/Hunter - Leighton IV

 Last but not least, Marcus and his character Rex Kincaid, had a little trouble finding their niche at first. Marcus began with the  traditional reactive approach, taking the first job offered by his NPC contact on the space station. When that job came from another PC, Marcus was surprised, then a little resentful that another PC was his 'boss' and finally envious/jealous that he didn't think of it. Moments like this tend to make Marcus want to one-up the other PC but he held off doing that and really got into what was going on in the story.
Later, in an attempt to exert Rex's importance to the campaign, Marcus took a more proactive approach and simultaneously began to interact more with both the NPCs and new PC Amaya Takeda. Unfortunately, this led to a series of activities which, while fun, took the group a long time to resolve. The ended up with fuller credit cards because of it but wasted time in other areas (the repercussions of which will be felt very soon). Finally, when information came Rex's way from a friend in the Imperial Scouts, Marcus went full blown Crazy-Player-Character-Scheme, suggesting the team back him up on an idea he was A) not going to be able to accomplish on his own, B) he doesn't have the skill set for, C) is in direct opposition to government forces both Imperial and alien (in this case Hiver) and D) wasn't thought out pretty much at all.
Proactive means creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.
In this case, Rex is being proactive by being the one to suggest he and the group react to some incomplete snippet of information he was told about a subject which he has not investigated in a place they can not easily or quickly reach.
When in the history of RPGs has such a scenario gone well?
Barking Alien

*It sometimes worries me how often I say this.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Period Peace

The next few posts are about some things that have been on my mind lately.

They are not meant to be deep or philosophical, although if you find them so be my guest. The posts are not necessarily my opinion, though some may be or my include my open.

More accurately, they contain things that have crossed my mind and which I felt would be fun or intriguing to consider, whether I agree with them or not.

Please feel free to discern for yourselves what you think on these subjects and what I think on the subjects if you so fancy such an exercise.

My maternal grandfather's birthday was today. Or possibly this past Sunday. He came to America from a small village in Prussia (the border of Russia and Poland) and as he told it, they really didn't keep good records.

My grandfather, who preferred we called him 'Poppy' or 'Pop', was a man, of a time.

He was there for the 'Golden Age of Radio' and it's death at the hands of television. He worked in vaudeville theatres before they were turned into movie theatres and then he worked for those. He eventually became a theatre manager, and opened many of the most well known movie theatres in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and a few in the other boroughs.

He was a manager of theatres when that was a very different job. He did well because he understood people, he understood movies, and which people liked what films. I'll never forget when he ran the Nostrand Theatre on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn. The theatre wasn't far from a school, right near a Police Precinct and close to a lot of restaurants. Pop figured out the perfect trinity. He said...

"I show three kinds of films here. Crime dramas, Disney Movies and Romantic Comedies. The boys in blue come for Dirty Harry, the kids will come for Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and a dinner and a movie will end with Bananas."

In those days, if the film did well the theatre manager received a bonus, a big one, almost a cut of the proceeds. Why? They choose which films would end up in their theatres. My Pop had a sixth sense of what would work in the neighborhood he was in, and what wouldn't.

When 20th Century Fox came in to a meeting of various managers with a new Science Fiction film called 'Star Wars', most everyone in the room passed on it. Sci-Fi is dead they thought, the best of it now on television. Only my grandfather took the film by young upstart director George Lucas.

"I have two grandsons (myself and my cousin) and they love this kind of stuff. They'll tell their friends at school. It'll do alright."

Heh. Classic. Guess who got nearly ever major Star Wars figure, and toy that Hanukkah? You bet your sweet Menorah I did.

It was thanks to my grandfather that I developed a love of history, of the past, of the old and of 'period'. He fought in World War II. He was a tank driver in the Battle of the Bulge. He received the Purple Heart when injured by shrapnel to the leg as German forces disabled his tank, and then gunned down the crew as they abandoned it. He was thought killed, and left for dead.
When I watched films like Midway, The Guns of Navarone, or A Bridge Too Far, I understood them in a way kids my age could not. My Pop explained them. Not only from a soldier's point of view, but from a film point of view.
I was raised on comedy before my time, comic books that had long since past, and stories of a New York I had never seen.
He had seen it of course, first hand. He was, as I said, of a time.


I never realized how much I loved this Earth of ours as a setting for gaming until recently. Doing research for my most recent campaign helped me notice that the only two Fantasy RPGs I really like are Ars Magica, and Pendragon, two fantasies set in the mythic past of our real world.
It got me thinking of why, although I do like Star Wars a great deal, I actually prefer Traveller and Star Trek. Partially it's because the Earth is out there. The Earth may not be the focus, and they may be so far from the PCs' activities that they never visit the birthplace of Humanity, but it's there. The Humans of these settings are not arbitrary Humans from some made up place. They are us, in the future. I like to think of Traveller especially as a period piece set in a period that has yet to occur.
This, combined with memories of my Pop, has me contemplating my next campaign, and I can assure you, it will be set in a time and place that is indivisible from a genre. That is the key. To set the genre by setting the era, the age, the time period. A game where my approach is that the two things are one and the same.
What periods are like that? Let's think...
Western style stories can be taken to other times and places but when you think Western you think American West/South West, late 19th Century. I can add fantastic elements as long as it doesn't stop being that time and place and atmosphere.
World War II
I have always wanted to run a Golden Age Superheroes game set during The Big One. A war story set in this period with a imaginative twist would be extremely fun as well. Imagine the Predator film as a period piece set in the jungles of Malaysia in 1942.
UFO Scare
My obsession with UFOs and aliens doesn't stop at wanting to create and run a game where the PCs are the E.T.s piloting the Flying Saucers. I wouldn't mind a sort of 1950s or 60s Project Blue Book meets Men In Black campaign. That would rock I think. MIB 3 had the right idea but the wrong delivery (though I didn't think it was as bad a movie as some people did).
Other eras and ideas:
Psychodelic/hippie superhero adventures using Champions or Mutants & Masterminds ala the 1966 Batman TV Series.
A Victorian era campaign set in a Dickensian London combining Oliver Twist and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Perhaps with a touch of Little Orphan Annie. See the free RPG Doom & Cookies.
A late 70's to early 80s style campaign set in the world of Smokey and The Bandit, Cannonball Run and other films and TV series of that era. Like if Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds starred in a 1979 The Fast and The Furious. With a chimpanzee sidekick. Use Cars Wars or something for this. That's a big 10-4 good buddy!
Anyone see those Ruffles commericals with Ruff McThickridge? Bomb Diffusing Sloth. Yeah.
Well, that's all the time I have for time.
Miss you Pop,
Barking Alien


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Don't Hate The Player, Hate The Game

The next few posts are about some things that have been on my mind lately.

They are not meant to be deep or philosophical, although if you find them so be my guest. The posts are not necessarily my opinion, though some may be, or may include my opinion.

More accurately, they contain things that have crossed my mind, and which I felt would be fun or intriguing to consider, whether I agree with them or not.

Please feel free to discern for yourselves what you think about these subjects, and what I think on the subjects if you should fancy such an exercise.


I don't really want to use the word 'hate' in the post title but it is part of the original phrase I am playing on and, in all seriousness, 'Don't Vehemently Dislike The Player, Vehemently Dislike The Game' just doesn't have the same ring to it.

 We gamers (at least those of us who have been doing this for a little while or who care about it enough to read blogs on the subject) are all too familiar with the Power Gamer, Min-MaxerRules Lawyer and other less than desirable player types that crop up at our tables from time to time.
Those of us of the Gamemaster persuasion gripe about them, ask for and read our peers advice on handling them and more often than not, try to come up with some devious method of dealing with them by (as I have personally heard it phrased) 'teaching them a lesson'.
As I am something of a Player Advocate Gamemaster (from now on known as a PAG, unless I utterly forget I came up with that), I think my fellow GMs may be coming at the problem from the wrong direction.
Don't Hate The Player, Hate The Game.
For a good number of years, I had no real clue what any of the aforementioned player types were like first hand. I had heard tell of them and read about these phenomena in Dragon Magazine and the like, but never personally encountered them in any of my games..
It wasn't until late Junior High School or really early High School that I began to see gamers who qualified for these awful nomenclatures. Yet still, not in any of the games I ran (though occasionally in ones I played in, especially if I was playing with strangers and not close friends).
As time went on I noted their presence more often. It was usually in games of Dungeons & Dragons and Champions, though sometimes they showed up in others. I no longer ran D&D by this point and while I played Champions, the GM made up my character and I didn't even know what the rules were.
My own games of choice during the era in question were Ars Magica, Cyberpunk 2020, Mekton II, Star Trek (FASA), Teenagers From Outer Space and Toon, among others. Not a Power Gamer, Min-Maxer, Rules Lawyer, Hack and Slasher or any other such entity in site. Why would there be?
Why would there be indeed. Why would you Min-Max Star Trek? How can you Power Game TFOS? What is the benefit of Rules Lawyering Toon? As for the other systems and games, my approach to running campaigns was much more focused on story, theme and genre so maxing out your character's combat abilities was fine if you wanted to but what were you going to do the other half of the time when we were role-playing and not fighting?
While learning to train dogs I learned a few things about canine psychology and a few things about Human psychology as well. Dogs, much like young children, will not do something that is not perceived as beneficial to them and will figure out what is beneficial and repeat the activity.
For example, if your dog begs at the table for scraps and you give her some, expect her to beg at the table from now on, every time you sit down. You proved it worked so don't go getting upset that she does this.
If on the other hand you don't give her anything, she will eventually walk away and find something else to do. Sometimes you will see dogs learning a new trick or task running through the gambit of the tricks they already know in hopes that ones of them will get them the treat you are holding. Those tricks have worked before so why not now? Ah, because you are looking for that new one she just learned and you'll give her the treat the moment she does it.
Players (I hope no one minds my comparing Dogs and Gamers. I assure you the Dogs will not be offended) will develop styles based on what they are rewarded for and for what works in the game they are playing.
Champions players min-max in that game because the system allows it by its very design and because its a game where you fight powerful opponents a lot.You need to be tough and if you are tough you can defeat the enemies that get you points so you can make yourself even tougher. I love Champions but the basic concept of its mechanics does lend itself to that type of mentality.
In Dungeons and Dragons (and especially the Old School approach to it), monsters, traps and dangers abound. Everyone and everything is trying to cheat and kill you. In order to survive, you need top-rated stats and abilities, since in some editions that can net you bonuses, more spells and languages, increased skills and all manner of advantages.
Being a Rules Lawyer is another survival technique. With an encyclopedic knowledge of the rules, you can find a loophole or an advantage over whatever it is the DM is throwing at you and your party. With some members of the team running around with 4 Hit Points and no armor, you need all the help you can get. You NEED to be or have a Rules Lawyer.
Sure, individual personalities and player preference is the main thing that gets people into the aforementioned mindsets. All I am asking is that we consider for a moment, is the game we're playing and the way we're running it influencing the players to be this way or that? Instead of berating such players, should we not take a look at the system we are using and ask ourselves, "Am I/Are We/Is this game reinforcing the approaches that many view as negative?
Just some thoughts.
We'll chat more soon,
Barking Alien


Questions of a Random Wizard - Part II

The next few posts are about some things that have been on my mind lately.

They are not meant to be deep or philosophical, although if you find them so be my guest. The posts are not necessarily my opinion, though some may be or my include my open.

More accurately, they contain things that have crossed my mind and which I felt would be fun or intriguing to consider, whether I agree with them or not.

Please feel free to discern for yourselves what you think on these subjects and what I think on the subjects if you so fancy such an exercise.

Once upon a time, I answered the questions of some Random Wizard I encountered in my travels.
Due to a most unusal rippling of the time/space continuum, it would seem I have come across this person once again and he has put forth a new set of questions. I will try to answer them as best I can but I fear this time his dimension and mine have drifted so far apart it is difficult to equate one with the other.

(1). Should energy drain take away one level of experience points from the character? Yes or No? If no, what should level drain do?

I have never liked or even understood this concept. You lose experience points? Do you lose your memories? I mean, do you forget the things you did to gain that experience and those levels in the first place? If so that would make it really interesting. If not it's just annoying and a waste.

What should level drain do? There shouldn't be level drain. There should be things that the undead actually did in stories.

(2). Should the oil used in lanterns do significant damage (more than 1 hp in damage) if thrown on an opponent and set on fire? Yes or No? If yes, how much damage should it do?
Should being doused with burning oil do more damage than getting nicked by a dagger. I am going to say yes. How much? Hmmm. I think I have it as 1D6, with half that (minimum 1) the next round and half again the round after unless you put out the flames or get rid of the oil.

(3). Should poison give a save or die roll, with a fail rolled indicating instant death? Yes or No? If no, how should game mechanics relating to poison work?

I hate 'save or die' in most cases and poison is one such case. At the same time, poison is poisonous and thematically, you should die if poisoned.

I would not give you a saving throw for fatal poisons. I would give members of your group Observation rolls to see if any of them recognize that you have been poisoned. Then, the character or characters with knowledge of poisons can attempt to make an antidote if they have the right materials to do so.

If not, you die.

This makes poison just as frightening but gives the non-afflicted PCs both a thematic and heroic opportunity to help their fellow adventurer. I originally came up with this mechanic while running FASA Star Trek (diseases and toxins to be cured by Medical Officers).

(4). Do characters die when they reach 0 hit points? Yes or No? If no, then at what point is a character dead?

Yes, they die at Zero. When you have Zero of something you have none of it. How people came up with the idea of surviving with less than no life is confusing to me.

(5). Does the primary spell mechanic for a magic user consist of a "memorize and forget system" (aka Vancian)? Yes or No? If no, what alternative do you use?

This question could take up a whole post by itself.

When playing D&D, even my D&D-But-Not system and setting, I use Vancian Magic because D&D uses Vancian Magic. That is the magic of D&D.

I have added and extrapolated a lot from the Vancian Magic template but I still use Vancian Magic for D&D.

When playing other games I use other, way better magic systems.

(6). Should all weapons do 1d6 damage or should different weapons have varying dice (1d4, 1d8, etc...) for damage?

In D&D I would think different weapons should do different types and numbers of dice of damage just as different classes use different hit dice.

Isn't the game all about random use of many sided dice? Yes! So go for it. Use them all.

(7). Should a character that has a high ability score in their prime requisite receive an experience point bonus? Yes or No?

No. I've never used that rule. What did being more Dexterous teach you about hiding in shadows Ms. Rogue? Nothing? Exactly.

(8). Should a character with an strength of 18 constitution get a +3 bonus to hit points, or a +2 bonus to hit points, or a +1 bonus to hit points or no bonus to hit points? And should other ability scores grant similar bonuses to other game mechanics?

Huh? I think this isn't written correctly. Or I am not understanding it correctly. That said, I think he means...actually I am really not sure exactly what the question is.

(9). Should a character have 1 unified saving throw number, or 3 saving throw types based on ability scores (reflex, fortitude, will), or 5 types based on potential game effects (magic wand, poison attacks)? or something else?

I like the Reflex, Fortitude, Will trinity if you are going to go with D&D style saves.

In most games I play saves as based either on the character's stats or skills. D&D always seems to use stats to add modifiers to do other things instead of just using the stats themselves. I wonder why.

(10). Should a cleric get (A) 1 spell at 1st level  (B) no spells at 1st level (C) more than 1 spell at 1st level?

Clerics should not have spells. Wizards have spells. Clerics perform miracles. Wait...that's in my D&D.

In regular D&D...ummm...sure, a spell at first level.

OK, for this first one, it is soley based on my opinion.
Barking Alien