Weekend review 3

Sunday: Finished up the second serial in Dave’s In Deo Confidemus :: Spycraft campaign in a blaze of gunfire (mostly not ours, surprise surprise) and a couple of fine moments for [self-centered] my own character[/self-centered], the most married man in the entire intelligence community, ever.
(Crap, Dylan still needs to call his wife.)

Weekend review 2

Saturday: First half of the second session of the second story-arc in Nobilis (which of course would be designated Session 8C… don’t ask). Four players who have never gamed with each other as a gestalt (or, in some cases, at all), so I’m really still working on getting the group to gel and build some momentum. Folks are still finding their sea-legs, I think. I hope.
To aid this, I’ve hit on the simple solution of taking two fairly complicated plots (1. political wrangling over key ‘geographic spiritual resources’ and 2. a plot to frame the familia for treason) and starting them up simultaneously while the familia is still making introductions. Not satisfied with stopping there, I’ve also introduced a few key NPCs that should loom large in the story for some time and made notes about the far-reaching consequences of some player actions.
Things are coming along well, mostly: I’m a little unhappy with my own ability to keep gametime even (it *felt* about right to me, but I’m not sure if it did to everyone else), but I’m pleased with the group and the dynamics that are being introduced. I’m looking forward to these initial plots (esp. the frame-job) concluding and where some of the loose threads might lead — also, I have some characters who are really designed to tell a strongly internal, personal story and I’m looking forward to exploring that some more.
Favorite bit: Jurai of the Cammora’s introduction and explaining his desire to meet everyone ‘just say Hellooooo.’
Also… tumescence in it’s creepiest form EVER. Bwuuahh ha haaa.

Weekend review 1

Friday: DnD. Talked about what we might like to do as a sequel game with a smaller group of players. Beat the crap out of everyone (killed the party thief, in fact), for which they earned a measely 2k in xp. To get big xp at that level of power, you have to pull out the world-shattering stuff.

Making the lower levels not matter

While talking about something else, Bryant mentioned something called the “No Myth meme”, which sounds vaguely interesting, especially when combined with task resolution:

The No Myth meme rejects preplotting altogether; a No Myth GM doesn?t know anything about the world other than what the players have seen; a failed task resolution check doesn?t mean the players have failed, it means there?s an additional obstacle in the way of reaching whatever objective the players have chosen. And that?s a reasonable approach.

This gives me something of an insight into how one would logically be able to run certain kinds of games in d20, even with low-level characters: if failure (one a skill check, for instance) actually just results in the situation become one level more complicated, then you have a framework in which a 1st level character can play in any sort of game at all — some situations may be (or become) too complex to be worth the effort of resolving, but you don’t have to worry about a situation where simple low-level skill scores make it impossible to succeed at certain tasks.
GM: “The door’s locked.”
Player: “I pick the lock. I did that last time I was through here.”
GM: “Let’s have a roll.”
Player: [rolls] “Ulp… umm… how about a 5? Total.”
GM: “Well, it was easy enough the last time you worked this door, but this time you get over-eager and snap the lockpicks off in the lock. How will you approach the problem now?”
Granted, I’m not sure this can apply in ‘opposed’ situations (sneaking versus someone else’s listen, or, more obviously, combat), but in most other cases it should be pretty doable.
I can certainly see applications for this in some genres. Pulp is a good example, as is any sort of fantasy setting with lots of intrigue, and of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that it works really well in a Spycraft campaign. I can think of any number of situations in, say, Alias where, by failing, the protagonist simply causes the situation to become more complicated.
Sneak in and steal something.
Snag fingerprint to get into door.
> Take too long in the lab (blew the first search roll).
>> Have to talk your way past guard who, since you took so long, noticed you leaving the area.
Eventually, you get to a point where, if you’ve screwed up quite a bit, you find yourself strapped to a chair and getting dosed on sodium pentathol, but really that’s just another level of complication to deal with.
(Or, in a 1st-level Amber campaign, Corwin just built up so many complications in his first assault on Amber that he ended up blinded and stuck in a dungeon cell. 🙂

Lately, I’ve been pissing people off.
No, I can’t point at anything specific for this statement, but I’m vaguely (disquietingly) aware that I’m rubbing folks the wrong way. It’s not intentional — I make a comment here and there that are simply a truth (or a truthful retelling) and I end up with someone less happy with me than they were previously. Maybe I’m just not guarding my words as well as I have in the past — that’s certainly possible.
Why mention it here? Mostly because it’s got to do with gaming. I ended a game recently due to similar problems, and I’m due to wrap up two others within about 7 sessions each (though those two are largely going away simply because they’ve gone on long enough).
It might be that I’m stretched thin creatively (and if so, spread twice as thin on patience), but I don’t know if that’s true. In my experience, going back to the well for more inspiration doesn’t dry it up, it digs it deeper.
Maybe I’m just ready for new things. The DnD game is about two years old this month (and I was talking about ending it over a year and a half ago in March of 2002), the OA game apparently started around February of 2002, Cryhavoc’s about a year and a half…
I think I’m just ready for other things. The stuff I’m really enjoying right now are the new things. That’s not a coincidence: anyone is going to be more energized about new projects than about stuff they’ve been involved in since Millenium Bug was a serious threat.
What’s that got to do with my mood? Well, that frustration is starting to build up to the point where it’s overflowing into other things. The fact that it’s having that kind of effect is enough to annoy me even more.

Hell freezes over, film at 11

I will not be GMing any games this weekend, including Friday night.
As near as I can tell from my Palm calendar, the last time that happened (not counting the weekends when we were out of the state for some reason) was November of 2002, and I’m still not sure about that, cuz I think I might have been running OA on Sundays even then.
That said, this is definitely one of the first times in… I believe FOREVER that I’ll go the full weekend without GMing, but still playing something every day of the weekend.

Summary of the OA campaign

When the OA rules for d20 came out, I snapped them up — I’d always wanted to run a proper Oriental campaign back when Oriental Adventures came out for 1st edition AD&D, but the whole thing had never really gelled, and I was really psyched to do something with the new rules.
On the other hand, I really didn’t have time to mess around with writing out a whole new campaign in detail, so what I opted to do was the (slightly) less time-consuming solution of using “Living Rokugan” modules from the RPGA, coverting each of the ones I used from the original L5R rules into d20, while modifying each module to fit the “unifying story” at the same time.
The result is a bit more heavily influenced by Japanese themes than I’d originally envisioned (due to Rokugan’s setting), but on the whole it seems to work pretty well. The group consists of:

  • Hiruma Gu – Gu is a Crab-clan berzerker-fighter who owes Menho his life and serves him most willingly as a yojimbo and manservant. (Gu was originally envisioned as a clone of Number Ten Ox from Bridge of Birds.)
  • Shishiko – A cat hengeyokai (essentially a benign bakeneko) who was caught stealing Menho’s wakisashi by the samurai of Otosan Uchi. Menho saved her life by claiming that he had given Shishiko the wakisashi as a sign of her service to him. Shishiko functions as a sort of ‘eyes and ears’ for the samurai, as well as a sort of defacto eta.
  • Kakita Mushiyamma – ‘Mushi’ is a female Crane duelist of the famed Kakita school who met Menho during his time in Otosan Uchi. She responded to his (unspoken) request for aid in the matter of his inheritance because she is (secretly) in love with Menho (something blatantly obvious to the ‘commoner’ members of the group, but utterly hidden from the upper class members).
  • Kitsu Fenshen – a sodan-senzo (spirit talker) Shugenja-ko of the Lion clan. Fenshen’s alliegiance to Menho are still a mystery.
  • Tycho – A young member of the Ise Zumi monks, Tycho enjoys relative immunity from social conventions as a member of the monastic class: he occaisionally travels with the group for a period of time to ‘enlighten himself’, then vanishes again with just as little warning as before.

For the sake of clarity, I’m summarizing the scenarios the group has played through so far.

Continue reading “Summary of the OA campaign”

Update

Note to self: preparing a list of likely (and point-balanced) qualities for a well-known Chancel and Imperator does not appreciably make the Chancel- and Imperator-creation process go any faster than doing nothing of the kind beforehand.

Game summary

Friday, the DnD group continued to wander aimlessly through a deadly forest that drives people insane, rots your food, and attracts things that go *munch* in the night. Huge surprise, there was combat, and lots of it.
Saturday was Jackie’s “high level” Necropolis game. (I put that in quotes because the group is three levels lower than the Friday night group, and smaller. Dave encountered first-hand one of the truisms of the d20 system:

In a module designed for high level characters, assume that all or nearly all encounters will factor in that level and be a threat to you, logic be damned. Bad guys, even in obscure little towns, will all effectively be 12th level, too, and be ready to deal with 12th level characters, even if that makes no sense. Consider yourself 1st level, and be appropriately cautious.

I think that might be a trifle overstated: it may be more accurate to say that the ‘lesser’ threats are simply so minor that higher level characters don’t notice them — what they do notice are the things that can hurt them — thus, from their point of view, “everything that happens” is stuff that can kill you.
Or, using a rule that applies more directly to the situation that brought Dave’s anthropomorphic elephant barbarian/fighter down: “If the bad guys see how big you are, they put more poison in the glass.”
Not that I haven’t said as much before. Once upon a time, I wrote:

it does not matter that a 15th fighter can crit and do 45 points of damage and a first level fighter can crit and do 16: the chunk that they take out of their opponents will remain roughly similar.
In fact, swing-by-swing, the amount of damage done by the hero vs. damage sustainable by the bad guy goes DOWN as you level — this is made up for by giving higher-level folks more attacks to bring the ratio back up.
Number of rounds to take down the main bad guy at level 1 or level 15 doesn’t change — number of hit points left on the fighter when the fight is over — almost exactly the same… about five.
The only things that change is that the costume budget for the main heroes goes up, and the bit actors run around inside bigger monster suits.

I was pointing out that the variations between power levels is largely cosmetic in ANY game (it’s not just d20 — in any game system, as you get tougher, the bad guys get tougher as well). The only real reason to begin play with higher-power characters is so you can play concepts/critters that don’t balance out at first level (or, if you’re thinking inside the box, you want the higher level to justify extensive character history).
One danger of the higher level game is that some folks who look for that sort of power level expect the skill/power of the character to counteract a certain level of player laziness.

Player: “I question the people in the bar.”
GM: “Who?”
Player: “I don’t know… the barmaids.”
GM: “What are you asking them?”
Player: “I don’t know… I’ll ask them what’s going on that’s interesting in town. I roll a 33 Gather Information, can we find our Secret Contact guy?”
GM: “Umm… with those questions, no.”
Player: “But… it was a 33.”

Or to use an example of my own laziness, allowing an NPC to partially get off the hook during a “Truth Serum”-style interrogation, because I asked one my big wrap-up question so poorly that he could, in essence, lie by using an easy loophole.
Anyway, live and learn: higher power characters still have to be careful and think: it’s an obvious rule that we missed, simply (I think) because we jumped right in at high level and expected, looking at our character sheets, to waltz through things — if we’d started out at lower level (which wasn’t really an option anyway), we’d have already been careful, and just continued to be careful.
Sunday was one of the two Nobilis games that I’ve created by splitting up the original group and adding a player. After the mess of Imperator and Chancel (re)creation was finished (taking a mere hour and a half :P), things got underway.
Most of what I have to say about this is very positive: I was really surprised and pleased by the Chancel and the Imperator that the group came up with — it immediately gave me ideas for any number of interesting stories — and I like the possibilities in the tension between some of the characters. It’s not exactly “Locus Partytown” by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still an interesting group with some great players. We’ll see how far that gets us.

The 10’x10′ room meets the next generation

Related to this post on Justin’s ongoing struggles to improve (and our ongoing struggles to help him), I felt I had to add this addendum:
This Saturday, Justin decided that he wanted to GM a DnD game for me, Jackie, and ‘maybe a few others’. (Ironically, I’d just commented to Dave the day before that I was hoping he’d find a few gamers around school, since that was at least odd, deviant behavior that I understood.)
He dug through the $2.50 ‘pocket adventures’ that we’ve been accumulating for the last couple years, found one he liked, commandeered every blank battlemat in the house, and spent most of the time we were playing Nobilis on Sunday “prepping the module” upstairs, by transcribing all the maps in the module to the battlemats.
He’s informed me that 4th-level characters will be ‘workable’.
Remembering the ways in which roleplaying helped me learn to … well, learn … how it helped me meet and make friends in school, and how it kept me most importantly occupied during high school and college, I have to say that I’m very pleased that he’s interesting in trying his hand behind the Screen.

Being the Grown-up Gamer

Stumbled across an old article on Pyramid’s site entitled “How to keep Gaming after Adulthood”. The author makes some excellent points about what makes gaming as an adult more difficult than it ‘used to be’.

[…] the conditions under which most of us learn to roleplay — high school and college — are ones that afford us more free time than we ever see again. As a result, we tend to develop a roleplaying style that involves hanging out for hours, slowly meeting NPCs in town adventures or making our leisurely way through a room-by-room dungeon or a massively epic adventure, secure in the knowledge that whatever doesn’t get finished can be picked up next week. After all, you have the time and no one’s going anywhere.
Gaming in [your youth] is a form of hanging out that actually seems to invite a time-wasting approach — one that lends itself to very intricate game worlds modeled on all those bulky fantasy trilogies that have maps at the front, or sci-fi novels that have the answer to every technical question worked out in advance. The GM probably whiles away the idle hours during the week by adding new game-world information for fun

… looking at ***Dave, here 🙂 …

and the players (if they’re anything like me and my friends were) make up characters that will never see use, just because they can.

Umm. Guilty. Duh.

This is all well and good for that life-stage, but if you try this as an adult, you’re going to spend a few bored hours waiting for the excitement and then going home wondering if it was all worth the time. Usually it isn’t.
What you need to do to survive the transition is to rethink your playing style. This is a fairly major shift that encompasses everything from session length to genre to player selection.

I didn’t wholeheartedly agree with everything the author had to say, but by and large the thing was packed with great tips (and good advice on using genre television as good outline for scenario design).
I have thoughts on a few of the ‘for starters’ bullet-points, specifically.

Continue reading “Being the Grown-up Gamer”

I will be very unhappy if this delays the movie release

So White Wolf is suing Sony for copyright infringement re: Underworld and Vampire: the Masquerade.

… alleging 17 counts of copyright infringement for the film Underworld, set for release on September 19. White Wolf alleges that Underworld characters, theme and setting are based on White Wolf’s award winning games Vampire: The Masquerade? and Werewolf: The Apocalypse™, both set in White Wolf’s fictional World of Darkness?.
Plaintiffs claim over 60 points of unique similarity between Underworld and their work. “Ours is a huge fictional world, supported by over 200 volumes of fictional material,” asserts Mike Tinney, White Wolf’s President.

Well, yeah… I imagine that when you rip of use material from EVERY VAMPIRE AND WEREWOLF TROPE ever introduced in any medium and mash it into 200 fucking books over the course of the last decade, most folks won’t be able to swing an undead cat without hitting something you’ve already ripped off for your own purposes.
One of the “copyright infringements” from the PDF copy of the legal claim:

‘In WoD, vampires sometimes call each other “Vee,” short for vampire. In Underworld, there is a vampire character named Vee.

One sweatshop writer working for movie studios wrote a ‘love story between a vamp and were’ that came off as being very much like a similar story idea written by a sweatshop writer working for a game company? I’m shocked.
Shocked, I tell you.

Bzzz.

One of the nice things about the Blogging internet is that you can post a rant stating that gamers are misanthropic, maladjusted blights on society (giving about a half-dozen examples to support the idea that all gamers are pariahs) and that you swearing off gaming entirely…
…get soundly lambasted by everyone who replies to the post, including your friend, whose fiance was one of the folks you listed (nice) as well as a very happy player in that same fellow’s campaigns…
…and remove the post as though it never happened by Dawn’s Early Light. We’ll call it Retroactive History Engineering.
So I’ll say this in response to the-post-that-never-was: You’re wrong. I don’t know where you live, Guy, but wherever it is you aren’t looking hard enough. I know more good gamers than I know what to do with, and among ‘regulars’ we’ve got 3 kids, two of whom are preschoolers, so no blaming it on the bambinos and how they cut into and how I wouldn’t understand that.
Bah.