Archive for the ‘Administrivia’ Category

I’ve got a few different irons in the fire right now, maybe a half-dozen half-started posts.  Real Life — the stuff I do between thinking about and playing RPGs — has been more intense than usual lately, and that’s put a real drain on my energy.  So we end up with half-posts like this.

Some things I’ve been thinking about:

  • Initiative, and the flow of combat in general, is kind of wonky in most games.  I want a system that rewards a character for a high Initiative bonus as well as rewarding characters for a high Initiative score.  Some games do one or the other, but I’m not sure anyone does both. (Dr. Gentleman has a series of posts about combat that may cover some similar ground, or not; I haven’t read them yet.)
  • I want to get back to thinking about Hit Points in D&D 3.X; my first post was really just a preliminary introduction, and I haven’t gotten around to the real meat of hit points.
  • I don’t like the way Magic is split in D&D, or the way Class Spell Lists are broken up; but I haven’t thought hard enough about it yet to be sure that changing it won’t make ever caster just a Wizard with a funny(er) hat.
  • I’m intrigued by what I’m hearing about running RPGs through Google+ — my first gaming group (my brothers) is spread out over several states now, and the potential for running a game with them again is very attractive.  I may finally get a chance to play RIFTS.
  • More and more (and more) I get the feeling that system doesn’t matter, because the core of role-playing is making choices, and mechanics are just ways to arbitrate consequences.  A system is necessary, but does it really matter what system?  It seems lots of people answer that with an emphatic “yes!” and I need to do more research on that. Minutes after writing this I already feel the lie in it; I have to confess that system does matter, but I haven’t unpacked that concept enough to say how, when, or why it matters — that’s what I want to do research to understand.

Once life lets up on me a bit, I plan to address some or all of those thoughts.

There are a bunch of reasons to play RPGs, and these reasons will color both how we approach the game and what we find satisfying.  I think it’s important to put down my own preferences, since that will color the problems I encounter and the solutions I choose to fix those problems.

I grew up on RPGs being all about story; I had a plot I wanted to run my players through, even if that plot was just “the players are heroes and the fight the bad guys and right wrongs.” I got burned out of that pretty quickly because it was a constant struggle for me to get the player’s do to “the right thing” and move the plot along. I recently discovered the OCR and read the Quick Primer to Old School Gaming, and though I agree with a number of the main points (Game Balance, Ming Vase, Moose Head) I eventually decided that I’m not “old school.”  This is mostly because I don’t agree with the idea that the focus should be on Player Skill rather than Character Ability; that’s a perfectly valid way to play, but it’s not what interests me.  It strikes me that the emphasis there is on Role-Playing Game, and I’m more interested is a Role-Playing Game.  For me, the character (and, by extension, the world he inhabits) is more important.

Saying that I want the emphasis to be on role-playing, though, brings a lot of baggage with it.  I don’t mean that I want to avoid rolling dice, that Combat is my enemy, that acting ability is key, or any thing else that’s attached to “role-players.” What’s important to me is that they player assumes an identity, is presented a situation, makes a decision based on who his character is, and experiences the consequences of his actions (leading to a new situation and further decisions).  This is the heart of role-playing, and all the other bits (rules, dice, acting, etc) facilitate that activity.

With that basic core established, there are lots of ways to do it.  You can have quality role-playing with pretty much any system, or no system at all.  You can use dice, cards, numerical stats, descriptive words — most of us have engaged in this sort of activity since we were kids laying Cops and Robbers (or whatever variation was popular with your group; my childhood was spent playing TMNT on the monkey bars).

Personally, I’m a crunchy sort of guy; I want a system that is consistent and “realistic enough” that I feel like it can model situations close to what I would expect in the real world.  My reasons for this are because I believe the rules should facilitate role-playing (making a decision based on your character), and so I want rules that help express the situation (and actions and consequences) in an understandable way. When the rules model the world, and that model resembles the reality we actually live in, it becomes easier to place ourselves in our character’s shoes.  When the rules are ‘realistic enough’ we can reason about our character’s actions the way we reason about our own actions, and when they’re consistent we can base our decisions on past experiences.

I do think there’s a place for DM Fiat and Rulings (rather than Rules), but I think they should be used sparingly, and only to fill in the gaps where the rules don’t accurately model reality.  If your target is a mortal, a dagger to the throat should kill him, regardless of what damage rolls and hit points say.  That’s a gap in the rules and should be handled appropriately.  The same can and should be said in other places where the rules present non-intuitive results.  But if Rules are the result of consistent Rulings (which I believe they are), there is value in developing new rules to address these gaps when we can (to the extent that it makes sense).

Those “rules to address gaps” is what this blog is directed toward.  Since I know 3.X and Pathfinder that’s where most of my effort is focused currently, but I’m interested in discussing other systems as well (especially as I broaden my horizons).

The Purpose Of This Blog

Posted: 24 July 2012 in Administrivia

So it’s been a couple of months now, and I wanted to reiterate the purpose of this blog; partly because I have lots of new readers (I assume, since my daily pageviews are about double what they used to be), but mostly to remind myself what I’m trying to do.

So first, a little bit about what this blog is not.  Contrary to a number of my posts, it is not a blog for apologizing for Dungeons and Dragons. I find myself doing that a lot because (1) to address the topics this blog is about I need to set down what my assumptions are, and (2) there seem to be a lot of people who want to knock D&D over because of it’s flaws.  It is a flawed system (that’s a big part of the motivation of this blog), but I like it and feel that there are a lot of things it does very well.  I also know that I was anti-3.X for years because of misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the system, and I’m hoping to help others who may be in a similar spot.  If you don’t like D&D that’s fine, I don’t think you’re a flawed human being and I’m sure we can both find games we like and talk about general RPG elements we hold in common.  D&D isn’t even the only system I’ll talk about here, though it is one that I’m most familiar with and my go-to system (especially if you consider Pathfinder to be “D&D”).

Also, contrary to how some future posts may sound, this blog isn’t really about reviewing RPG products, particularly setting material or adventures.  There may be bits in both that I pull out and look at, and some products address the same things I’m interested in and might get something closer to a full review.

What this blog is about is the various gaming systems and structures, and the fact that many of the RPGs on the shelves are missing large pieces of what I feel should be included in an RPG system.  Specifically, I’m looking to make this a kind of “toolbox” for DMs to come and find the right tool for their campaign needs.  I’ve been DMing for years, and often felt like I was fighting with my players, my setting, and my system to make interesting things happen.  Reading through The Alexandrian, it struck me that missing game structures was at the heart of almost all my problems (with the tension of player agency being a close second).  I’m interested in talking about the hobby, discussing differing preferences and play-styles, and in general geeking-out about Role-Playing Games (fantasy and otherwise).

But in the end this should be a place I can go to find a system for falling damage, or a system for overland travel, or a system for diplomatic negotiations — and preferable a nice variety of each so that I can season my games to taste. And if others benefit from it too, so much the better.

Drowning In Content

Posted: 2 July 2012 in Administrivia

Just a quick update.  I got in to a bad habit with the blogs I read that I’m trying to dig myself out of.  There are a load of good D&D/RPG blogs out there, a handful of which are listed in my blogroll to the left there. I actually follow several dozen blogs, some that are more prolific than others, some that are more pertinent than others.  But I’m also trying to catch up on the archives of a bunch of these blogs, too, to help fuel the commentary and (most importantly) toolbox of game structures that I’m trying to build here.  At first  thought I could just flag things “to read” and get to them when time allowed, but that’s resulted in my being buried under an ever-increasing pile of posts to read.  I’m trying to dig myself out by breaking them up in different categories (GM Tips, Hobby Thoughs, 5th Edition, etc), but it’s slow going.  I’m hoping I don’t have to simply abandon these archives, but we’ll see if I can get it under control.

On that note, actually, if any of you know of good posts (especially posts about “here’s a system to address X”), I’m open for suggestions.

So before the hex crawl that I did this weekend, I started working on a few of projects that should become posts when they’re done.  Turns out that there’s a bit more effort involved than I expected, especially since I didn’t touch any of it over the long weekend.

The first bit I’m working on is trying to address the issue of feats.  So far I’ve gone through the Pathfinder SRD and binned the feats into Tiers based on how many feat prerequisites they have — this roughly translates to “what is the earliest level this feat could be taken,” but not entirely (I haven’t accounted for Base Attack Bonus or Level requirements, for example).  even at that, easily half of the feats are simply unavailable to a 1st level character, and a good chunk are unavailable before 4th level.

The second bit is a review of the 5th Edition playtest materials that got released.  Other people are already going over their first impressions — The Alexandrian made a couple of comments that hadn’t occurred to me, such as “how much of an improvement on 3rd Edition can we expect” and the possibility of an infestation of disassociated mechanics.  I’ve only gone over the “How to Play” packet and skimmed the others; my initial thoughts are positive, but there are a few things I’m unsure about.  I may get my players to try to run through the playtest adventure with me this weekend and maybe that’ll help inform my opinion.

Finally, I’ve been toying with the idea of reducing character creation to a high-density blurb. It’s not a final solution and doesn’t produce a completed character but I think it should distill the necessary choices a player needs to make, and that will hopefully speed up character creation.  I think as it is it might only work for 1st level characters, and even at that some of my players have pointed out that I may have blind spots where my own expertise with the system makes things more intuitive for me than they are for others.

The genesis of this blog can be traced pretty neatly to a recent series of posts on game structures at The Alexandrian.  I’d been reading the blog for about a year or so and liked a lot of the ideas that Justin had, but this series was something of an epiphany for me.

The series was about Game Structures, the systems of mechanics inside RPGs that allow us to actually do things.  They’re what inform us on what to do next and how to determine success.  I came relatively late to the hobby, and if you’d asked me a month ago to answer those questions I would have said something like, “whatever makes a good story” and “roll a d20 against a DC,” respectively.  It had never occurred to me to think about game structures, and I had never examined the game structures I had available nor considered that there were other structures out there.  I read the Player’s Guide and DMG cover-to-cover and that’s all I needed to know, right?

In fact, no, that’s not all I need to run a good game, and now that I’m thinking in terms of game structures I can put context to a lot of the difficulties I’ve had with running games.  Why haven’t I been able to make exploration or travel compelling? Why does everything boil down to a Dungeon Crawl or Combat Encounter?  Because those are the only tools I have, and when all you have is a hammer you approach every problem as a nail.  So I’m starting this blog as a way to build up my DM’s Toolbox, to talk about game structures, collect the neat things I find on the web, and hopefully build a useful resource for others who come after me.