Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Improvised Background Stories and Forced Interactions

Every so often I get an idea of how to stimulate more role-playing in my games. Usually the implementation of these ideas reaches it's conclusion with my players offering threats to my general health and fertility should I ever try to use that particular idea again. (For instance, one of my favorites was when the players were about to meet the dwarven king, I had them all pass their character sheets around the table to the left and made them role-play whatever character they got. It was a ton of fun... for me at least.) This time, however, my idea actually went over really well.

I find that game mastering is a lot more fun when players actually have decent background stories for their characters. The players have more material to go off of when role-playing and I can tie elements from their background stories into the general plot of the game. However, if I just ask the players to write background stories, usually half the group never gets around to it. Furthermore, the quality of background stories varies greatly. One of my previous attempts to improve this was providing prompts for the players to fill out. What is your characters job, what is his or her family like, etc. Overall, I would consider that idea to be a success, though it required quite a bit of nagging on my part and I still had to write a background story more or less in it's entirety for one heavily writer's blocked player.

The particular game for which I came up with the idea this post is actually about was only intended to last 2-3 sessions, so I didn't want to be that demanding of the players. What I decided to do instead was to provide the players with prompts to answer during the first session, and have them improvise answers in front of the group. Since I wanted there to be some reason why this motley group was adventuring together, I decided to force interactions between players responses to the prompts. For instance, I asked one player what was the worst thing that had happened to him during his training at the Royal Magic Academy. His answer was that he had once accidentally summoned an enormous hydra that nearly killed him. The next player in line was playing a somewhat out of control alchemist, so I asked him how he was actually to blame for the accidental hydra summoning. Apparently, as a joke, he switched out some of the ingredients ahead of time and got a bit more than he bargained for. Then I went back to the first player and asked him how this had led to them becoming friends.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

World of Darkness: House Rules Draft 0.1

My last post was a long list of problems with one of my favorite RPG systems, World of Darkness. A couple weeks ago (4 weeks ago? 5?), I did have a sit down with two members of my gaming group and started trying to hash out some house rules. As I remember, we generally agreed what the problems were though their opinions on why those things were problems and how they should be solved sometimes surprised me.  Also, I meant to write this post the next night but I was busy, and then one week turn into two, then three and so forth, so I might be forgetting things, though I did take some notes at the time.

One of the key things we agreed on was that the World of Darkness system needs to be dark and gritty but not necessarily realistic. There are plenty of stories in the genre of dark and gritty where heroes walk off gun shots and stab wounds that should require immediate trips to the hospital. Moreover, World of Darkness is a game that needs to be fun to play, so we should avoid rules that put characters out of action for extended periods of time. Doing so only leads to having frustrated players sitting on the side lines.

Also, the following is just a draft and none of it has been play tested.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Problems with the World of Darkness RPG System

A Brief Overview of the World of Darkness System:

First of all, let me say that I like the World of Darkness RPG system a lot. It has an extremely flexible and elegant design with a very simple basic mechanic. Roll some number of ten sided dice and if any of them come up eight or higher than you succeed. If you roll multiple dice with an eight or higher, then you succeed more. For instance, you might do more damage to that monster that is trying to gut you and your family. Another example might be that you're argument is extra persuasive and not only gets you past the guards, but it also makes the soldiers there more friendly toward you. For each ten you roll, you get to roll a bonus dice for possible extra successes.

To determine the number of dice that you get to roll, you add up all the values of factors in your favor and then subtract the values of factors that work against you. This is nice for players that aren't particularly good at math as all these numbers represent amounts of dice. A player can use the physical dice to add together bonuses and then remove dice to represent penalties and roll the remainder.

For an example of a typical dice pool, take the example of getting past the guards. First we have your character's relevant attribute (attributes represent general areas of ability which everyone has), in this case will say the relevant attribute is manipulation and that for this character it has a value of 3. Then take the relevant skill score (skills values represent more specific training) which will probably be persuasion, and we'll say it has a value of 4. Finally, the character is wearing a nice suit, which is worth 2 more dice. Penalties are simply that the soldiers have been ordered not to let anyone in who doesn't belong which we will call a -5. So the player takes 4, 3 and 2 dice for a total of 9, then removes 5, and rolls the remaining 4. My mother could do it! (In fact, she did. I got her to play Arkham Horror with me and my dad over Christmas, which uses a similar system.)

Since all these values describing your character range from 1 to 5, you get to record them on your character sheet by filling in dots. Furthermore, other aspects, such as hit points and speed, are largely determined by adding together attribute values. The system is simple enough with regard to character generation that it's possible to make a character in as little as ten minutes.

That said, there are a few things about World of Darkness that don't work so well, and my game group often finds itself trying to house rule around them. However, after years of playing, I find that  the collection of house rules we've used are still less than satisfactory and, since no ones been writing them down, they've also been a little inconsistent. For that reason, I went through the World of Darkness core book (and only the core book so far) and made an attempt to enumerate all the major problems. My end goal is to use this list as a starting point to construct a more formal set of house rules, which will likely be made available through this site when finished.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dungeons and Dragons Next Epilog

In case anyone is wondering about what happened to my play-test game of Dungeons and Dragons, in short, it ended. Basically, my group got tired of the limited character options and began to feel that they'd exhausted the repertoire of combat available. Of course, a week or so after we called it quits, the second play test packet came out from Wizards of the Coast which addressed some of these issues, but by that time we'd revived our previous 4th edition game that had been on hiatus and no one has expressed much interest in further play testing. Also, my new job so far hasn't left me with a lot of free time for DMing. At this time, I have no plans to run further 5th Edition play-tests.

That said, I do intend to keep this blog going, though I might only be posting once or twice a month. I still have plenty of topics to post about.

My opinion on 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons: I'll be interested to see what the finished product looks like. I might even run some games in it, if it's good enough. However, I'm not sure at this point if 5th Edition will be an improvement over what we already have in Pathfinder, and, if it's not, there really isn't any point in buying the books.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Shout-Out: The Gamer Crafter

This post is long over due. Over a month ago, I was at a local game shop when I ran into a guy who runs the following company:

Basically, if you have a home-brew game that you would like to publish, or just would like a more finished version of it for yourself, you can go through this site. They will print whatever cards, pieces, game boards, etc. you need and package them for you. They have a large selection of various game tokens, dice, and so forth which you can pick from to build your game. Not only that, you can also sell your game through their site and, if you sell any copies, you can keep part of the profit!

I, sadly, do not have any home-brew games I would like to publish at the moment, though I'd like to give this a try sometime. However, I suspect there are some people reading this blog that have some ideas of their own and might benefit from their services.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Haven't Had Much Time for Blogging But Plan to Be Back

In the last month I have gotten a real job, have had to relocate myself, and my stuff, twice, and will have to do so twice more in the coming weeks. Hopefully by October my life will have settled down enough that I can devote time to this blog again but until then there will be occasional updates at best.

The best,
Lewis F

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Art of RPG Haggling

While playing pen and paper RPGs, I have often witnessed a player trying to negotiate the price of an item with a game master controlled character. I have witnessed this as a player, as a game master, and as another player watching from across the table. This is a quintessential part of pen and paper RPGs and one I have seldom seen done well.