Monday, July 23, 2018

Failing the roll isn't always bad

During the course of the adventure someone fails a roll, be it a roll to disarm a bomb, or reset the security system, or shut down the killer robots.  But that doesn't mean bad things have to happen.

If the system you're using is player/story driven this failure might just means the story gets exciting.  Failure in this case should just mean detour.

To illustrate, think of the story as a starting point and an ending point, with many paths leading from the start to the end.  This failed skill roll means that we're on a new path.  Perhaps with less time, or with new threats.

As long as the players know they can trust you as the GM they won't worry about failing a roll.  In fact, if they know they can trust you, they'll be excited when they fail a roll.

This sort of trust comes from not being an adversary to the players.  You hear this sort of thing all the time, about how some GMs are out to GET the players.  That's one of the many reasons I hate people, but there are plenty of GMs who are the ally of the players, and are willing to let them fail and admit they failed so that together they can tell great stories.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be consequences for failure, there totally should be.  But they should rarely be instant player....er I mean character death.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Go ahead, write your own game system, you know you want to...

It starts with house rules for your game.  The game engine doesn't handle a particular situation or maybe it does, but it handles it badly in your opinion and the opinion of your fellow players.

After you have enough house rules, and you've played a ton of game systems and read even more rule books you start to think that you could write your own game engine.  You and just about every other serious gamer ever.

I'm not saying don't try, it's an excellent exercise in discovery.  Rules are almost always some sort of compromise between realism and fun.  Spending some time trying to model your own game engine can help you understand why rules you've used before work the way they do, when you start to see the bigger picture of what the rules are there to do.

I recommend, before you start from a blank slate you take a look at a game engine that has been adapted to a variety of genres such as Cortex Plus or Apocalypse World.  Any system really that provides you the tools you need to move it's basic mechanics into another genre or adjust it's rules to fit a narrow scope of narrative style.

Make your own variations using these sorts of game engines first, so you have some experience with making up everything except the core mechanics.  Then, once you've got that handled, then try making something from whole cloth.  A game engine all your own, with your own methods and madness.

Perhaps you will publish your game engine, and perhaps a world setting, so that others can enjoy your work.  If nothing else you have got a reason to run play tests and get people together to role-play, and really that;s what this hobby is supposed to be about right?

So give in to your mad dreams of designing the best game system ever.  It's fun and every gamer should do it.  At least once.

Monday, May 21, 2018

How to let a game die gracefully

There are times when I feel like I'm a terrible game master.  I have probably developed some bad habits GMing for one group that I'm still carrying and they make me feel like I'm not very good at it.

I've been doing another run of one of my long established campaigns for another group.  Things were going okay, we seemed to be having a lot of fun at the sessions, but it's been hard for us to get together for a game recently, and it doesn't help that I feel like I'm not doing an exceptionally good job of GMing.

So, how do you let a game go?

You can go to radio silence.  Just stop sending out game invites, and let nature take it's course.  We tend to be fairly busy and one less thing pulling at our time is usually a relief. 

Send out a blameless message to shut the game down.  "With scheduling and the coming [INSERT SEASON HERE] let's close the game down...."  Perhaps leave the potential of reigniting the game at a later time.  No blame, no guilt. 

Send out a hate filled rant about how the players aren't dedicated to the game, and you can't work under these conditions.  Hey, there are GM divas out there, I know.

Don't be afraid to say "We should stop".  Best to end a faltering game then keep dragging people to the table.  If they are not happy with the game, guilting them or forcing them to continue playing will not make anyone happier.  If you think that sort of thing works, I recommend you seek out some sort of professional mental health care.

I have a game I need to let go.  So I'm going to go the guilt and blame free route.  The players have been fantastic, and I've enjoyed the time at the table regardless of if we were gaming or just socializing.  But I need to let the game go.  It's not fair to the players, and it's not fair to me.

Games go "unfinished" all the time.  Campaigns left in the middle, or last act, or worse after the first session.  It happens all the time.  for a game to really work you need the right people at the table and the right chemistry of characters, story, and rules.

What!  Rules!  Yes.  If you don't have the right mix of those things, even rules dear reader, then you're not going to have a successful game.  You might be able to survive if the chemistry of the rules is off, but trust me when I say that it helps things go well if that's right too.

So, rip the band-aid off.  Close that faltering game.  Don't cast any shade, don't be a jerk, just say "it was great, you guys were great, but we need to stop...."

Until next time, keep role-playing!

Monday, April 30, 2018

So you want to roll the dice and use this mechanical aspect of the rules......

We've all had it happen.  You have a player who says, I break open the [insert container here] and get a [fairly mundane object that would reasonably be inside] from inside and then [take a clever action that you weren't expecting] so that I can [bypass an obstacle].

Some folks would break out all the rules they could and put them between the player and the goal.  Do you have enough strength to break it?  Make a roll.  Wait, not strong enough, you use a crowbar you say, what is the strength bonus for that, and do you even have one?  I'm sorry, but you can't break it.  Can you pick locks?  Nooooo?


By this point the player is probably pissed off.  They are trying to move the story, and the game master is trying to build a wall of rules.  Sometimes they have a good reason, at least for them.  But we all know that there are times when it's just because they don't want to 'lose' or be 'outsmarted'. 

The rules are supposed to be there to help us resolve things that might effect the story.  Combat is the easiest example since it's often life and death.  The rules (usually the most involved rules in the game engine) are there to simulate combat in a way that fits in with the rest of the rules.  The combat rules might be exactly the same as the rest of the rules.  Determine values, roll dice, rinse, lather, and repeat.  They might be a whole game onto themselves that seem divorced from the rest of the game rules.

Task/Even Resolution is, in my opinion, the core of any game system.  The rest of the rules are refinements or granular adjustments for that, but the core of a game engine is the resolution mechanism. If you (the GM) don't want to outright decide something or let the players run with something you should be able to comfortably fall back on the rules and the players should not feel as though you are trying to screw them when you do.

It's okay to ignore the rules to.  as long as you aren't playing favorites.  When Johnny tries to jump across the Chasm of Doom and you say, "Okay, you make it to the other side and keep running." that's fine.  Unless you then change your tune when Boyd tries to jump across, "Roll your leaping skill."  and smiling when you say it will only make it worse.  If it's not important to roll to jump across the Chasm of Doom, then no one should roll, unless there is a really good reason.  And not just because you don't like Boyd, or his character.  Those are not good reasons.  They are a sign you're not really suited to running games.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Should you bother filing the serial numbers off?

For those of you not familiar with the term, filing the serial numbers off refers to guns and crime.  Generally to make it harder to trace a gun to it's owner a criminal will file the serial number off the weapon.  It's an older practice and I'm not sure how often it's done anymore, but the term is one that will sometimes crop up in gaming when it refers to someone using an idea or parts of an idea from one source in their own source.

For example, I have a Pathfinder campaign I run where I pull elements from several other D20 game settings.  As I've run it, I never bother to rename the race or item I lift from another source to drop into my Pathfinder setting.

Recently though I thought I would try my hand at writing the setting up and publishing it through one of the online game material sites.  It was only as I went over my notes and logs that I realized just how much terminology and substance from other sources there was in my setting.

Obviously I don't want to be someone who steals the hard work of other writers for their own enrichment.  I do plan to continue to use the core ideas, but I will obviously have to change the names and enough details to make them my own.  File the serial numbers off as it were.

But what if you're just running a game for friends.  Can you use other things, like the name of a race and it's particulars?  Chances are if you're just using it for your group you should be fine.  I'm not a lawyer, so this article should not be considered legal advice in any way.

What if you want to use something, but you want to try and hide it from the players.  Maybe they all know that the second you describe the outfit the NPC wears they will know who it is and what role they play in the story?  In cases like this, I suggest boiling it down.  Not your players, the idea.

What about the idea interests you?  Find the core of the thing.  Use that and then let your own imagination fill in the gaps and details.  Make it as much your own thing as you can.  They say that there are no really original ideas.  It's all, they say, in the presentation.

Guns for example.  My Pathfinder campaign setting starts with cannons that use black powder.  It's dirtier than real black powder and only used in cannons because there is no safe way to use it in smaller weapons, and it's a dirty fouling substance.  Cannons have to be cleaned after every shot, they don't have great range.  They are mainly used against large troop formations or fortifications.

Part way through the campaign the PCs encounter shipments of something coming from somewhere in Africa (I use a modified Europe as my campaign setting).  This strange powder burns it it comes into contact with Abyssinian Gold (brass that is 90% copper and 10% zinc).

Some time later they come to learn that the Prussians have invented a weapon that uses paper packets of this powder with a lead slug at one end, essentially a needle rifle.  So we bring rifles into the game.

The original powder was in fact two powders that were from the Iron Kingdoms setting.  Over time I changed the idea  to provide me with the same results, but filing the serial numbers off the other games element.

Most of the time I will happily drop something I've lifted in homage from another source right into my game.  Many times the players recognize the thing and usually enjoy it.  Although I have to admit I may have used Star Gates a little too much over the years.....Maybe.

Monday, October 9, 2017

It's not writers block if I just don't care is it?

I'm running a game I have run before.  New group of players, to help refine elements of the story and see how different groups tackle the same situations.  It's something I have done pretty regularly over the decades I've been running games.

So I decided that I wanted to create a settings guide, using the material for this game.  I have run it a few times, I have some really cool ideas (I think), and I wouldn't mind putting my feelers out into the world of digital game material publishing.  Who knows, maybe I can make a buck along the way.

The problem is I'm in a bit of a lift funk.  It usually happens every winter when I can't ride my motorcycle.  It looks gorgeous outside, then you step outside and and realize that it was a lie.  But, come Spring when the weather starts to get warm again I fire up the motorcycle as my daily commuter vehicle and everything seems better.

This year I have, for a variety of reasons, not been on the bike that much.  And I feel 'meh' about everything.  Naturally this is making it really hard to care about writing, anything.  I'm still running the game, and still enjoying hanging out with the players, but I'm just not motivated to write.

This is bleeding over somewhat into my other writing projects, like my blogs.  Yes, this one as well.  I have things I want to write down, but I really don't have the energy.  Sort of. 

I'm wondering if this funk is starting to creep into the games.  Both the ones I run and the ones I play in.  Would I know?  If my players were to say, "Hey, all of your NPCs are depressing sacks.  You okay?"  that would certainly be a clue.  Granted there are certainly some of the NPCs that are depressing sacks, but not ALL of them.

I have been trying to jot down notes on important elements of the game setting.  Just so that I have some of the ideas on paper in the event my brain ever does start working again. 

I also think I need to buy some more settings books from online.  See how other people have structured their material, how they've organized it.  There are a lot of questions when it comes to formatting, organization, and art that will still need to be addressed.  I'm just wishing I felt like I gave a darn about any of it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

We can't owe this evil guy a favor because we're the good guys, so let's betray him and murder him....

I am often very surprised by the thought process players go through in various role-playing situations.

Having followed clues the heroes determine they need a magical stone from someone who is a pretty bad person.  They decide to chat with this person, since this person is in command of a significantly superior force.  The bad person agrees to give them the item, in exchange for a favor from them in the future.

They later discuss that, since they are the 'good guys' it wouldn't be right for them to owe this bad person a favor, so while they have him on the operating table (getting the item requires it be surgically removed) they will kill him, claiming that he died during the procedure.......

I'm not a huge fan of alignment since I feel it's an artificial way to define characters.  I prefer that the players play the character and then suffer the consequences of the story based on the things they do.  I know some folks that run a very strict alignment model, which punishes characters with level loss for acts that are outside the scope of their alignment.

Sure, in a world filled with a vast array of deities that grant miraculous powers every day, there could certainly be some sort of divine alignment 'thing' in place.  But I've never personally felt that made a whole lot of sense.  Just like I've never liked it when I'm told as a player that I have to choose a deity.  If it's not part of my story, why is it important? 

But, back to the decision process.  So I got a good bit of entertainment watching the party have this conversation about weather or not they should kill this bad person in a less than noble way.  There were some good points all around the moral spectrum.  I'm not sure what the actual decision was, and that conversation will probably get revisited at tonight's session since the scene will take place during tonight's game.  Ultimately, it's really up to the surgeon.  So we'll see how this plays out.