Monthly Archive: February 2012

Feb 28 2012

How to be a Good Dungeon Master

Being a Dungeon Master means that you are ultimately responsible for whether you have a good game or a bad game. Here are some tips on how to separate yourself from the pack of Dungeon Masters who just picked up the book and started playing.

  • Keep a Tight Schedule

This is as simple as it gets. If you have a weekly game scheduled, every Thursday at 8PM, make sure that you are ready to start gaming at 7:55PM. Don’t be late. Don’t skip games if you can avoid it. Your players will appreciate your reliability, and they will work to keep room for your game on their schedule as well. Don’t forget to schedule some time for banter, and small talk. If you want your game to actually start at 8:00PM, have the players show up at 7:30PM, so they can talk and chat, and get food. Don’t short-change your players either. If you promise a 4 hour game session, don’t deliver just 3 hours of enjoyment.

  • Keep the Pace Moving

A smoldering, tension building, slow-burning, easy-paced game can be fun on occasion, or with certain groups, but in general, you should keep a fast-hitting, quick-moving, dynamic tempo. Don’t rush so fast that you miss the enjoyable parts of the game, but if you let the game bog down, players get bored, and find other things to do with their time. As you are learning the game, look for points where the game slows down, and come up with ways to move through them quickly.

  • Be Energetic

Stand up when things get exciting, instead of sitting in a chair. This gives you a boost of energy, and your players will feed off of that energy. Move your hands in broad gestures. Stand up on a chair and talk in a deep voice when you are Role Playing as a giant. Don’t fall off the chair. (MM is not responsible for accidents resulting in chair-standing). Use other voices to immerse your players. Let that excitement and enthusiasm creep into your voice as you tell your players to roll for initiative. When your monsters die, gurgle and curse them with your dying breath. Whatever it takes to make your game energetic will keep your players on the edge of their seat, and always coming back for more.

  • Be Prepared

Have your maps drawn ahead of time. Have your miniatures and other props neatly organized, or pulled out and ready. This helps with the pacing, because you don’t have long delays between encounters while you set up the table. Read the module, so you know what to expect, and where to look for important pieces of information. Don’t let the game stall as you flip through pages of notes trying to find some tidbit of data. Be careful that you don’t lose flexibility here. Over-preparation can lead to a campaign on rails.

  • Learn from other Dungeon Masters

Find someone who is a great Dungeon Master, and play in a game they run. Copy their good ideas and incorporate them into your own games. That may seem obvious, but there is a flip side to this. Find someone who is a terrible Dungeon Master, and play in a game they run. Find out what they are doing wrong, and make sure you aren’t making the same mistakes.

It doesn’t take a lot to distinguish yourself as a Good DM. Put in a bit of effort and you will find that you have players constantly asking you whether there is an opening in any of your games. Stay tuned for more advice and soon, you will be a Great DM.

Feb 28 2012

Generations

It seems like there is a Generation Gap among D&D players.

We have the Grognards, who are late 40’s and up, and we have the new generation of low 30-something, like myself. But we don’t have a lot in between. Granted, this is all based on my personal observations. I haven’t done any in depth research on the topic or any demographic polling.

I wonder if there is a reason for this gap.

Hypothetically, is there some age limit on RPG interaction? When the Grognards were playing the game in mass numbers, did they actively exclude their little brothers and sisters? Did they avoid including people up to 10 years younger than them in the game on purpose?

I didn’t have anyone older than me introduce me to the game. I had known of the game, and I was curious enough about it to seek it out and try it. But now I look at kids in the 18-25 year old range and I have the urge to yell at them to pull their pants up and get off my lawn.

Are we doomed to have another generational gap because of this sort of thing? In another 10 or 20 years, will we see a surge of new gamers who are drawn to D&D 7th edition?

What do you think? Have you ever been excluded from a group of older gamers? Have you ever excluded younger players from your gaming group?

Feb 28 2012

Podcast Addict: Fear the Boot

I have a hard time describing Fear the Boot. This podcast just doesn’t stick out in any way. It’s not flashy, the production value is pretty basic, and yet I always listen. The booters are just so solid and consistent. They’d have to be since they’ve put out over 250 regular episodes, 43 bonus ones, conducted 21 interviews, and have a smattering of other content including an excellent series on introducing non-gamer’s to RPG’s.

Dan is the defacto leader of this bunch but it’s more of a quorum than a dictatorship with Chad and Pat backing him up. Chris Hussy gets in on the action over the internet while John and Wayne bicker about how cool bards are and Johann shows up about once a month to give his two cents about the topic at hand.

Fear the Boot has a nice simple format. The show bills itself as a round table discussion about RPG’s and a little bit more. They begin with news, if they have any, before moving into a banter topic. After about ten to fifteen minutes of banter they transition into the main topic for twenty to thirty minutes and then end the show. Like I said, simple but in the simplicity is an effective show. These guys are excellent at sharing the issues they’ve discovered over their RPG careers and give sound advice on ways to solve any problems you might run into. In earlier shows they tried to give generic systemless advice but in their later episodes they’ve started to use in game examples to show how their theories work in practice.

Another nice thing about the show is the hosts have very different styles of gaming and they rotate GM’s. This means the hosts have experienced different styles of gaming and have all GMed games at one point or another. Because of this dynamic in their gaming groups you can see each of the hosts as a caricature of a player type at your gaming table. Chad is a Thesbian who doesn’t care about the rules as much as the story. Dan wishes to find the balance between rules and story, Chris doesn’t trust his players but he’s working on it, Pat likes rules, he feels safe and comfy with them around, Wayne is that ADD gamer just wanting to absorb everything because it’s all new and shiny to him, John is a power gamer, and so is Johann. They’ll twink out characters to annialate the opposition but they both still seem to enjoy a good story. The only thing they don’t have is a watcher but I suppose Pat could fill that role since he’s very quiet during many of the episodes.

I like Fear the Boot. It’s not my favorite podcast but it’s up there. The sound quality is very good, the content is very good, and the diversity of view points is probably its strongest aspect. It’s a clean podcast so you can actually listen to it while your kids are around and each episode only runs from about fourty minutes to an hour. I don’t rate podcast’s on a scale or anything but if you’re looking for a general RPG advice podcast Fear the Boot is one of the staples of the genre and it’s a good listen. You can check them out here.

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Feb 27 2012

Order of the Stick hits 1 Million Dollars on Kickstarter

Rich Berlew is a pretty happy man. His Kickstarter to have one of the out of print Order of the Stick books reprinted was looking for fifty four thousand dollars. It went over a Million on February 19th. It’s the third time a Kickstarter project has gone over one Million dollars and will only be the second time one closes at over a Million. With all the money Rich has pulled in he plans on reprinting all of the Order of the Stick books.

For those who don’t know The Order of the Stick is a web comic by Rich Berlew about a group of adventurers, and it’s drawn using stick figures. The weird thing is these stick figures are some of the most animated, expressionistic, and impressive characters I’ve ever seen. Rich makes the stick work. Who knew you could get so much emotion from a character just by changing the angle of their eyebrows, or turn the single line comprising their mouth from frame to frame. Aside from the characters Rich does a great job of creating the backgrounds in later comics so you get a feel for where they are. Turning from the art style we get to the story and characters. They, like the story, start out cliched. There’s a lot of D&D jokes and single strip punchline humor. But once the story get’s rolling, and characters back stories start showing up in the form of plot, the strip turns from something to read for a good laugh into a very good comedic drama. I actually care about Roy and his relationship with his family, Elan’s drama with his brother and Father, and if V can harness power without embracing dark power. Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy watching Belkar act like a sociopath, especially since he realized he can do so without repercussion as long as he is a little more clever about how he operates, and Durkon fears trees. (He’s a dwarf folks, and he doesn’t trust foliage) But Berlew didn’t stop there. He started writing strips from the Bad guys perspective so we got to see what Red Cloak, Xylon, and the Monster in the Dark were up to. Also go fiendish cockroaches. In any case you should go check out Order of the Stick if you’re looking for something fun to read but beware, you will get sucked in and before you know it hours and days will have passed as you read and laugh.

Once again congradulation to Rich and the power of the stick.

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Feb 25 2012

The Chase Part I – See the Party Run

One of the most exciting scenes you see in movies is the chase; cars moving at high velocity with violent collisions while making death defying moves (The Blues Brothers, the Borne Movies car chases, The Italian Job), vehicles riding side by side with combatants fighting it out across the narrowing or widening gaps (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom the mine cart scene), people leaping from one vehicle to the next to engage the enemy (Willow and the wagon chase, The Mummy’s street chase in Cairo), and foot chases through urban area’s (The Incredible Hulk rooftop chase). There are hundreds of example in modern movies gripping our imaginations, but trying to translate them to the RPG isn’t always the easiest thing. Lets see if we can’t make sense of it.

Chase Basics

Chases have two or more sides. A side can be an individual, a group of people, an army, a swarm of insects, a tsunami, a rolling boulder, or anything you can think of that can do one of two things, Chase or Run. Once you have your sides established you need goals for them. The Running side is getting away from the chasers. The chasers are trying to catch the Runners. These are the basic goals for any chase. It’s pretty obvious, but once you understand the bare bones of something it’s much easier to build upon or modify.

Now that we know the building blocks of a chase the question is what makes them so compelling. Complications. They make chases interesting. They are the events, twists, and turns making the chase memorable. They raise the stakes, give ebb and flow to the action, and create pacing, building to a climax. So how do we do this in a rpg? It’s best to show through example.

Example Time

The Second Son’s are an adventuring company in a fantasy world. They are attempting to take the body of Janus Whitemore, Captain of Esters 4th legion, from his family home in the city of Ester. He’s laid out for his wake culminating in the burning of the body at the funeral. The Son’s are not welcome in Ester. We look in on the scene at the beginning of the chase.

The Son’s have taken the coffin, loaded it into a horse drawn wagon, and secured it. While taking the body the city has been alerted to their presence. Janus is the son of a General of Ester so not only do the players need to contend with the city guard but also Ester’s 4th Legion who are in the city for Janus’s funeral.

Sides have been established. The Second Son’s are the runners; the Ester city guard and army are the chasers. The Son’s goal is to get out of the city while the Estarian’s goal is to retrieve Janus and capture the Son’s. When the chase begins I start keeping track of rounds. Keeping track of rounds is important when I run a chase. I like to keep things cinematic and I’ve always felt most chases were event based. This particular chase has the whole city against them instead of one group chasing another so when certain rounds come up specific events trigger as the Estarian’s close in on them.

The Second Son’s tear out of the Whitemore estate in their newly acquired wagon and start ripping through the cobblestone streets. As they do a group of guards gets in their way.

The guards are the first complication and the first event on my tracker right at round one. They’ll get a few attacks in and try to get on the wagon. It’s a relatively minor challenge but a good place to start. I’m letting the players know there will be opposition to their escape but I want to start small to give myself room to grow.

They pass the guards and turn down the first street, race along for a moment until several men on horseback come off another road just behind them with crossbows.

The guys on horseback are complication and event number two. They have specific goals in mind rather than just shooting the characters. They want to destroy the horse rigging to stop the wagon. This creates a different dynamic than a strait fight and makes the players understand their enemies are clever.

The Son’s knock the last horsemen off his steed when a wagon of Esteratian soldiers swing around a corner. They launch arrows at the Son’s wagon, some with fire on them. Other soldiers draw blades and get ready to leap onto the Son’s wagon.

Complication three happens at round six. This lets the players actions have some impact on the chase. If they deal with the horsemen quickly enough they have a chance to catch their breath or secure any damage done to the horses rigging. If they falter in their battle with the horsemen it could cause greater problems. Having the remaining riders and a wagon full of soldiers to deal with at the same time is rough.

I’m sure there are questions about how I handle some of this stuff mechanically. Especially since I now have wagons chasing each other. How do I determine speed, control, ect. In a chase I pick a base speed and call it the zero point. For the players Wagon I choose 12 squares in 4e terms. Now that I have a zero point I add modifiers for having greater and lesser speed. For every square of movement over 12 a +2 is given. Ever square below is a -2. Speed isn’t everything in a chase. There is ebb and flow, cornering, bouncing, obstacles to be avoided or gone around. All these things contribute to how fast something can move compared to another. In this case I used Nature checks as move actions for those who were controlling the reigns. This check could only be made once a round by the driver to determine who was moving faster. The check was made by both drivers and any riders. The difference between the nature checks was divided by 5. That number was the amount of squares one group got ahead of the other. The caveat was if the base speed difference was greater than 4 then one group could easily catch or outdistance the other.

I used a static wagon on a battle map as the players wagon since they’re the point of reference for the chase. The moveable wagons and miniatures were for the people chasing them. I find it much easier to have the runner be the focus of the scene, the players wagon, and using moveable pieces for the chasers. It gives it the point of view feel of a movie chase. If you want the more macro feel of moving through the city use a larger map to track where you are with pins, dice, or whatever you deem appropriate. If you take this route I urge you to think about how well the players know the area. If they’re not familiar I would suggest hiding the map, and making them guess at directions to turn from what they remember. It could be fun if you want the feel of running away in an unfamiliar place. Now back to the chase.

The Second Son’s are fighting with the Wagon of Esterians chasing them as they round a corner, and find a road block manned by over thirty men with wagons and horses clogging the road. The driver yanks hard on the reigns yelling everyone to lean to the right. He hooks the cart into an alley just in front of the road block going full speed. The army wagon follows them, but doesn’t do as well losing several men in the process. In the alley they spy a metal balcony. The wizard drops a fog cloud in the alley, and the others smash a couple supports dropping the balcony into the alley. The wagon carrying the army men blow through the fog cloud, and barrel right into the fallen metal destroying their horses, and flipping the cart.

The road block was another planned event at round 9. What wasn’t planned was hooking the cart through an alley, or the idea of dropping a metal balcony to block the way. I like letting my players improvise. It lets them be clever, gives them authorship over the story, and makes them part of the game instead of just watching. It also doesn’t hurt the chase because I have things on a time line, so the grand stair event is still going happen. It’s why I don’t like maps for chases. It can ruin all the fun.

The wagon flies out of the alley making a much smoother and wider turn but gets clipped by another wagon of Esterian men going the other way. Lucky for the Son’s it doesn’t do much damage. Wait. What’s that snapping sound? Why is the casket sliding off the wagon? Damn, stop it. They spring into action grabbing the casket, slinging ropes around it while others try and hold on with all the strength they can muster. They just about got the casket secured when the drive yells, “Stairs!”

Since they improvised I thought I’d improvise a little too. As they came out of the alley and hooked a wide left I just happened to have another Estarian wagon coming the other way clip their wagon. In the collision the some of the ropes securing the coffin snapped and the coffin started sliding out. That’s when they hit the climax of my chase at round 12; the grand stair leading to the gates. I built up to the stairs because jumping a horse drawn wagon down a grand set of stairs into the main thoroughfare of the city is pretty crazy. It’s very action hero movie oriented. Lucky for us this is a fantasy action game. I also tried to raise the tension by threatening their goal. The retrieval of the body.

The horses jumped, the wagon flew, eyes opened wide, screams were sounded, and there might have been something vulgar said in Draconic. It seemed like they flew forever but it was only a second or so. They landed with a crash, the back wheels getting the worst of it as they smashed into kindling on impact. The Son’s were jounced around, the casket bounced and rattled but everyone stayed in the wagon. They raced towards the gates being held open by their allies who fought the thickening forces of the city guard and Esters 4th legion. Someone on Esters side made it to the portcullis chain and hit the release. It started sliding shut but not before the wagon scrapped through the opening. Escape was their’s as was Janus’s body. Now they just had to get him to someone who could breath life back into his body.

The players were still being chased by the wagon that clipped them earlier so they took the stairs at full speed having the horses jump. Good rolls and a little bit of luck had them land mostly intact except for the destruction of the rear wheels. A battle was raging at the gates. The Son’s allies were keeping them open for as long as possible. I used the portcullis closing at the end for dramatic effect more than anything and they managed to escape with Janus’s body and succeed in their chase.

This is how I run a chase scene when the party is running away. I like using point of reference, complications which raise the stakes and tension, timelines or events, and improvisation where I feel it enhances the experience. It’s not a static formula, most design and storytelling isn’t, but it’s somewhere to start when people start running.

Look for Part II, all about the Rundown

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

(Part II now available at http://misdirectedmark.com/the-chase-part-ii-run-em-down/)

Feb 21 2012

Podcast Addict: The D6 Generation

Question: Is the D6 Generation an RPG podcast, a board game podcast, a miniatures game podcast, or a video game podcast.

Answer: All of the above

Response from Questioner: You’d think after listening to over fifty of the D6G’s episodes that’d be right. Well due to not listening to the other 40ish episodes you have gaps in your knowledge and are WRONGGGGG!!!!!! The D6 Generation isn’t just a gaming podcast but Craig Gallant’s and Russ Wakelin’s bid for global domination. If you’ve paid attention at all these two have conscripted, cajoled, and coerced numerous people in the gaming industry to talk with them and send  products their way. They take these promo copy’s and give’em away in insane contests asking listeners to build diorama’s (to be fair that one was Raef’s “Hollywood” Granger’s idea but Russ and Craig didn’t stop him) or produce mini audio drama’s for there amusement. That doesn’t count the sponsor’s from all over the gaming world giving them stuff, some which produce Kevlar bags (I’m telling you they’re getting ready to out fit an army or maybe store an army) and they have a base where they meet to plan their world dominating machinations in the form of Myriad Games. I’m sure Dan from Myriad opened up his second store so they could store more gear for the global take over. It’s coming folks. They’re lone wolves, working like (or for) Spartan’s as they prepare for the day when they can show everyone their Warmachine’s and take over the world.

That’s a short taste of how a D6 Generation episode starts. They call the segment Rapid Fire with Geekly McNerdigan. Craig Gallant takes a few shots of adrenalin, dons his McNerdigan persona, and blasts Russ Wakelin and whoever’s in the rotating third host chair with questions relating to the topics covered in the show. Next comes the “Hello” intro where Russ and Craig say “hello” in interesting and poorly musical ways with the third chair chiming in or being taken off guard as Cody and John from Game On with Cody and John were in episode 97. After introductions they roll into

ACHIEVEMENTS IN GAMING

GAMING

gaming

gaming

gaming

There’s always an echo effect. They like the echo effect. In any case, Achievements in Gaming gives the hosts a chance to talk about the games they’ve been playing since the last show without getting into a deeper review. They save the deeper review for a later segment. They cover games played, what they’ve been up to in Modeling, such as putting together or painting models, and any terrain they might be building. Craig is really skilled at this stuff, he’s built a ton of terrain and tables for wargaming, but my favorite is the wild west town he put together for a game called Gut Shot. I wouldn’t care how much the game sucks if I’m playing on a table like that. After Modeling comes the Other section where they hit any video games, books, and other interesting geek culture stuff they’ve been up to.

The rest of the show is split up into six segments, four mini segments and two main segments, the first main segment is something to do with gaming or the industry, for example they do interviews with a gaming personality or designer. Another segment they’ve done more than once is called Mulling Mechanics where they break down the mechanics of war games, board games, or RPG’s and take a look at how they work and how they might be improved. One of my favorites is Inside the Podcaster’s Studio, a fun parody of Inside the Actors Studio where former host Raef “Hollywood” Granger takes the persona of the fictional Peter Lipton, yes folks, that’s a play on James Lipton, and asks Russ and Craig a bunch of “interesting” and “diverse” questions. Pretty much anything is up for grabs in this segment. The second main segment is a review of a game where they really get into whatever game they’re talking about beginning with how it sounds when they open the box, book, or tin. They examine the components and their quality along with the rule book, this is very important to the D6G. A good rule book can shift a rating a whole point in these reviews. They cover game play, pretty much explaining how to play the game so you don’t have to read the rule book and finish with some strategies they’ve seen before giving their ratings using the patent pending D6G rating system. It’s mathematically flawed and immensely interesting when Russ starts adding in his derivations on his d6 roll rating. What’s the rating system? I’ll tell you at the end when I rate the D6 Generation using their own system.

In between and acting as bookends to the two main segments are four others; The News, The Hollywood Minute, Total Fan Girl, and Do You Ever Noticed. The News has News guy, I don’t think he’s ever been named but it isn’t Russ since a hyperactive Russ will always pipe in his two cents about a story or two. It’s an informative segment with humor that’s not too shabby and a nice presses rolling sound effect in the background. The Hollywood Minute is by Raef Granger so he’s still a regular part of the podcast if not a regular host. This is random Raef’s chance to talk about whatever he feels like. Sometime’s it’s comics, other times the games he’s playing, online and off. I especially like any time he talks about practicing law since he’s a lawyer and last time I checked was working privately as an IP lawyer for hire for game companies and publishers. Total Fan Girl is by Nicole Wakelin and deals with nifty little things going on in the gaming world generally, but not always, concerning women in gaming, you can check more of her stuff out on the Geek Girls Network or at her blog at totalfangirl.com. And last but not least is Craig Gallant’s segment Do You Ever Notice. It’s Craig’s chance to make some introspective commentary on the things he notices in the world around him. It’s the shows last segment, and a nice way to to wrap things up since he starts it off with Geekly McNerdigan’s Rapid Fire. It gives the show a cyclical feeling, almost like a hero’s journey. You’ve traveled the great expanse known as the D6Generation, arrived at the place you began, but are not the same, having grown in knowledge and gameitude.

The Rating

So now I need to explain the rating system of the D6 Generation. I’ll be giving the show a rating from 2+ to 6+. What that means is if I gave a podcast like The Bear Swarm a +3 any average listener would like the Bear Swarm on a d6 roll of 3 or higher. For some reason, that makes no mathematical sense, I can assign a re-roll which equates to a half, don’t ask me why, it’s not my rating system. Onward to my rating.

I think the D6 Generation is one of the best produced gaming podcast’s out there. The sound quality and production are top notch. The ad’s, and yes there are ad’s in there for the sponsors, are entertaining and great bumpers between the segments. The content is also exceptional. The reviews are honest; they won’t review games they think are bad, they walk you through the rules, they give you their opinion, then try to look at the game from the average gamer’s view point, and rate it from both perspectives. The segments are entertaining and the humor is “Not to shabby” as Russ always says at the end of the podcast after thanking the listeners for making it to the end of another episode of the D6 generation. I really appreciate the focus and format. It’s consistent and there’s something nice about hosts who don’t wander off point to much. Finally there’s the chemistry Russ and Craig have. They’re good friends, which comes through in their conversations, and well spoken. They also have a knack for making the third host or any interviewee feel comfortable and part of what’s going on. I can’t think of a single interview I didn’t enjoy even if I wasn’t interested in the subject matter because I love stories about people and Craig and Russ manage to get people to tell them. It is a long podcast but with today’s technology you can listen to it in chunks. If you think about it each segment is a mini podcast so in a single episode you’re actually getting eight of them. In the end I’m giving the D6 Generation a 2+ but no re-roll. In breaking with tradition I’m thinking the re-roll means give it a second listen if you didn’t like it the first time. In the D6G’s case I feel if you don’t like it the first time I don’t think you will with a second listen. I’m also guessing you don’t like podcast’s or games if you don’t like what these guys are doing so go check them out. You won’t be sorry.

Later

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Feb 17 2012

Terminology of Gaming: Traditional Games

If anyone checked out my addiciton to podcasting post and how I’m trying to deal with it, or at least turn it into something positive, then they know I listen to a ton of podcast’s. In doing so I hear a lot of weird terms being thrown around the podiosphere. The guys over at The Jank Cast use “Trad gaming” and “Story Now games”. I heard the Podgecast  talking about character driven games but not in the way that I would of defined them. If your a podcast listener you’ve heard lots of people using various words like Plot and Plot points, Drama, Pathways, interaction, Roleplaying vs Rollplaying, 3.5, OGL, D20, Savaging something, Bennies, GMless games, Mechanics reinforcing your games style, Gamerati, and a host of other terms and concepts which sort of float around while the gamer’s try to figure out what they mean. Since so many people think a variety of things, and I like to take an academic view of everything, I figured I’d define some terms for myself starting with what “Trad” or Traditional games are in my opinion.

Traditional Games

The best article I could find on the web concerning traditional gaming was on the Socratic Design blog from 2006. Here are the bullet points:

  • The GM is imbued with ultimate authority.
  • The GM is charged with creating entire plot and setting for the game.
  • Players play one and only one character.
  • Players are encouraged to stay in ‘Actor Stance’.
  • There is a Task Resolution System.
  • Difficulties are set by GM fiat.
  • A GM receives minimal guidance or tools from text to cary out his duties.
  • Character Advancement is tied to increasing statistical values.
  • Characters can die.
  • Dice are used as the sole randomizer for play.
  • There is an assumption of long term play.
  • A Character’s goals are not mechanically supported in plot/setting creation.

I’m not sure all these point still stand up today but I think it’s a good place to start.

Does the GM still have ultimate authority in traditional games? I think so. I’m not saying a good GM doesn’t make it feel like the players have more control, or even invests his players with power, but in reality the rules of most traditional games state a GM has all the power when it comes to the world at large. The narrative control is his. The players can effect the world, but the GM decides if the players actions have any lasting effect. Players can call bullshit, not play anymore, or even attempt to derail the game, but they don’t have any real mechanical recourse to alter the story besides with their actions. If their actions aren’t taken into account by the GM, which according to the rules is the GM’s right, then the player effectively has no power. I understand people don’t play games this way, but old school games have these rules and ideas explicitly stated. It does raise some interesting questions about games existing today. I wonder if 3.5 D&D is a traditional game. The rules have a bunch of mechanics empowering the players if they act in specific ways: Grapple, jumping, tumbling, killing, spell casting, and a lot of other actions are specifically defined as if it was a war game. The GM doesn’t have ultimate authority over the game so does that mean the 3rd edition of D&D isn’t a traditional game? I’m not sure. I always thought it was. What do you think? Maybe I misread something in the PHB or DMG somewhere.

Is the GM in charge of creating the entire plot and setting for the game? I would say yes. I can’t think of a single traditional game exception where the players have control over the plot of the game mechanically. Call of Chuthulu, Runequest, Paranoia, 1st Edition and 2nd Edition D&D, and any World of Darkness game would be considered traditional. They all rely on a GM to create plots and settings in their rules. Can a GM be influenced by a players idea’s or a characters actions? Sure, if the GM lets their players influence them but the players have no mechanical recourse to influence the story. So a game like 3.5 D&D fits the bill, but a game like The Dresden Files by Evil Hat Productions doesn’t. The game has the players help with creating the setting at the beginning and can influence the plot by helping to decide on which themes the game will revolve around. Kicking it back to the first point The Dresden Files has something called Aspects which can be placed on scenes and NPC’s. Characters also have them. These aspects can be leveraged to create scenes the players want but not to such an extreme where they have real control. The GM is still in charge. I would conclude The Dresden Files is more of a hybrid, but only because of the setting creation segment of the game, not the scenario play. Is 3.5 D&D the opposite where the players have a lot of control over the scenario play but no control over the setting and plot creation? What do you think?

This is getting a bit long so I’ll be cutting it here for now. Feel free to chime in on the first two points and when I come back with part two I’ll question some more about what makes a traditional game.

Feb 15 2012

Podcast Addict and The Bear Swarm

I’m a podcast addict. There. I’ve said it so now I can work on getting better, or do I. Podcast’s are my way of entertaining myself at work while getting the low down on what’s hip in the gaming scene and industry. I’m a custodian by day and the job isn’t all that much fun. In fact it’s pretty boring. Without my Ipod nano I got from my brother and his fiancee a few years ago for Christmas I think I’d have gone crazy by now. (Thanks for saving my sanity Ed and Amanda) With it I’m just about as happy as one could be; cheerful to all the teachers, administrators, and staff I work around, and general pleasure to my two co-workers and boss. It’s because I can engage in listening to what’s up with my favorite hobby while making money. I feel a little guilty since I believe I listen to more podcast’s than a lot of other people. To get rid of my guilt I thought I’d write a little about my favorites, what they’re about, where you can find them, and what their formats are like. I suppose you can call them reviews. Today I’ll start with The Bear Swarm.

The Bear Swarm Podcast is an Explicit Geek Podcast or so says the header on their website Bearswarm.com. The title is telling the truth. Rob Justice (badass name) and Mike are the two regulars who drive the show, Rob does all of the editing, which isn’t much according to him, with a sort of rotating 3rd and sometimes 4th chair. I haven’t been listening since the beginning but the two most current 3rd and 4th hosts are Artemis and Darryl.

The best thing about all the hosts is they don’t take themselves to seriously and they could care less what people think about them. Because of these two factors the show comes off sounding honest. Just guys giving opinions and they’re not so stubborn to admit they’re wrong about something. They hate being wrong but if they are any of the hosts will man up and own it. A perfect example was their opinion of Cortex, by Margret Weis Productions. They felt the Supernatural and Serenity games were piles of crap. I think they’re right personally but when Smallville came out they piled on it as more of the same and not being interested until Cam Banks, designer of Smallville and Cortex+, sent them a demo copy. They did their homework, read the game, and publicly said they were wrong. Now they’re big Cortex+ supporters even using the Smallville engine for a Gotham Nights campaign and spin off campaign called Gotham days.

Did I mention they’re hilarious. Rob is a dick. Because he doesn’t care what people think about him his social filter doesn’t exist so some of the stuff he says is just plain insensitive, but frickin hilarious. Opposite him is Mike the cynic. His dry no nonsense attitude in the middle of a show of insanely inappropriate comments makes you feel sorry for the guy and laugh whenever he sighs at something Rob or Darryl throws out there. Artemis is great for adding in one liners and Darryl is like a the Bear Swarms personal fool. This guy just leaves himself so wide open all the time for Mike and Rob to blast him. While he’s taking dig after dig he just keeps opening his mouth and digging himself deeper and deeper holes. Fortunately these guys all get along and no one’s feelings get hurt. It’s like hanging out with the guys on Saturday playing video games with your boys and rippin on each other because you’re all bro’s. The thing is your bro’s probably aren’t as smart as these guys.

The Bear Swarm knows gaming. You might not agree with everything they say or even be offended at some of the words coming out of Rob’s mouth but these guys understand games and how to tell stories. Check out a  Wrestlecast and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. If the WWE was smart they’d hire them to help write their shows. If wrestling isn’t your thing episode 184 was about linear endings and how they aren’t the devil and 190 was a nice advice piece on how to start a narrative game. They’re also some of the biggest John Wick supporters out there (Rob has a Houses of the Blooded Tattoo) and game designer John Wick is a pretty good friend of theirs. They met because of the podcast. I actually remembered when it was more of an idolization but now Rob, Mike, and Art watch wrestling with John over skype, it’s kinda cute, in a geeky way.

The wrestlecast is a newer addition to the podcast format but a standard show goes something like this. Intro with a little banter, maybe some reader responses, a topic, and then shout outs. Nice and simple but with a whole lot of fun and some good information. Some of the most popular and interesting episodes have been giving the listeners a campaign frame. Check out episodes 190: To Slay a Dragon and 196: The Monster’s Rights Movement for their most recent foray into campaign frames. If RPG’s aren’t your thing there’s still something for you. Artemis always has great suggestions for books, and they’re all into video games. The shout out’s are about things they’re into at the moment like TV shows and whatever fun or interesting thing they’re individually doing at the moment.

Check out an episode. The sound quality is very good and the content is great for a geek.

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Feb 10 2012

How to be a Dungeon Master

So, you want to be a Dungeon Master? Well, I’ve got good news. It’s an easy process. You can be a Dungeon Master in 3 easy steps:

 

  1. Purchase the game you wish to play. Starter Sets are usually good.
  2. Gather a group of friends together, who are interested in playing the game.
  3. Play the game.

Congratulations. You are now a Dungeon Master. It is not complicated or difficult.

Stay tuned for our next installment, where I will discuss how to be a Good Dungeon Master. There is a little more involved to it, but it still isn’t anything you can’t handle. Especially after you’ve come this far.

 

Game On!
-Mark

Feb 09 2012

Cultivating Players

I’ve been noticing a trend with some of my friends. They say they’re A list gamer’s. I don’t believe in A list gamer’s, F list gamer’s, or anything in between. I think there are types of gamer’s and gamer’s we prefer to play with. I’ve seen this by running games for a lot of different people: power gamer’s, storyteller’s, improv folks, rules guys, dice rollers, even passive watchers. (I always push them to be more active) Heck, just pick up any of those guides to game mastering with the sections on the different gamer types and I’ve played with them all. In seeing all the different types of gamer’s out there I started wondering why those A list gamer’s out there weren’t showing other gamer’s what was so great about they played? Why not cultivate them into their type of “A plus gamer”?

 

I have my own idea’s about what makes a great game and how to run them. To that end I try and project those idea’s onto the people I’m playing with, but I also listen to them. Players have their own idea’s for what makes a great game. As a GM you need to take their idea’s and meld them with your own. If you start listening and absorbing what’s going on at the table you’ll do two things, grow as a game master, and make your players more receptive to your own idea’s because you’re taking theirs. It’s an enlightening and satisfying experience.

 

I’m a 4e D&D fan and I’m a firm believe this game can be anything you want it as long as you make the tactical combat experience a part of it. Keith Baker, creator of the Eberron campaign setting, believes much the same as I do. If you want to hear some of his thoughts on 4e D&D and gaming in general go check out the Bear Swarm podcast, episode 122. It doesn’t have much to do with cultivating players but it can shed some light on the true flexibility of 4e and any game system if you give it some thought. Here’s the link:

http://www.bearswarm.com/episode-122-gencon-keith-baker

The point about 4e is pertinent because I have a 3 year long and still running campaign. This game has helped me change my own GMing style and cultivate a group I enjoy playing with more than all others. The group was originally a bunch of 3.5 players interested in playing a game I was running on the word of their long time 3.5 DM. He’d played in some games I’d run and liked me as a GM. Knowing they were mostly hack and slash power gamer’s I crafted a pilot game with those thoughts in mind. The campaign frame put them all in a mercenary company which I required they have a reason for being in. I didn’t want elaborate back stories, just some simple motivations and I helped give them understand their place in the world. The introduction scenario had them sneaking into a besieged city with the mission of opening the gates. So I played to the crowd, gave them a light reason to hold them together, and worked with them to understand and enjoy their place in the world. Over time I started introducing elements from other games and idea’s they and I weren’t used to using. Narrative control is one example of this. Here’s what I did:

 

I’d come to several points during this campaign where they had the choice to go different ways in the story. They would choose and I would write the adventure. Those have been the best games of the campaign. Why? Because they got to pick what they wanted to do and weren’t led anywhere. They were invested in their choice. This simple idea taught me this:

Run the game they want your way

Because of this seven word idea I have people playing characters who care about a world and its story, populated with people and places which feel real to them. Their characters have families and friends, experienced loss, pain, and love. They’ve schemed, changed, progressed, died, come back from the dead, and committed suicide of their own volition. The players aren’t just the hack and slashers they came to the table as. They’re storytellers and thespians. They can still hack and slash with the best of the but this isn’t a bad thing, in fact it made me raise my game, get more creative, and think outside the box. If 4e is about the encounter then I’ve made the encounter a tactical and story intensive situation. Things happen during fights. Character talk while trying to kill each other. NPC’s show up and do unexpected things in the players opinions but are just playing to their motivations. Saying the wrong or right thing is just as important as rolling a 20 or a 1. What they do has as much of a mechanical effect as what they roll. I create these rules, sometimes on the fly and sometimes with forethought, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes to reward and punish my players so I can guide them to decision points, sometimes to get across the feel of a situation, but I always listen to my players and what they think. It’s a cycle of give and take.

 

I can’t stress enough that you should listen to your players. If you do and implement their idea’s into your game it will be much easier to mold the game into what you want. The best part is your players will influence and improve your game as much as you improve their’s. After all, the RPG experience is one of group storytelling even if your story is just about killing monsters and taking their stuff.

 

Good Night and Good Gaming

Chris “The Light” Sniezak