Monthly Archive: April 2012

Apr 26 2012

Beyond Skills

I always love those moments in stories where the main character looks like a beaten broken mess on the ground but they just keep getting up and digging a little deeper to keep going. It not because their tough; they’ve already gone way beyond their limit. It’s because the character has something worth fighting for, something beyond their training, and beyond physical limitations. They’re fighting for an ideal, a goal, something that matters to them. They have the Will to push through and succeed. Those are the kind of moments I want to have in games. The question is how do we get there?

I’m a fan of Aspects in the FATE system. For those who don’t know what FATE is it’s a game system developed by Evil Hat Productions and is the engine behind Spirit of the Century and The Dresden Files RPG. FATE uses Fudge dice, which are six sided dice with a plus symbol on two sides, a minus symbol on two sides, and two blank faces. In FATE you would roll four of these dice, total up the pluses and minuses, add or subtract the total from the attribute you’re testing to accomplish your task, and compare it to the challenge rating to see if you succeed or fail. Your attributes or skills in FATE range from one to five so this mechanic can have some serious variability on the success or failure during a test.  I like to think of this dice mechanics along with a characters skill set as one half of the FATE engine. The other half comes in the form of FATE points and Aspects.

If your skills define what you can do your Aspects define who you are and what you care about. FATE points allow who the character is and the things the character cares about to matter mechanically. If you find yourself in a situation where one of your Aspects might matter you can tag it and get a plus two bonus to your roll. If you remember most skills are rated from one to five so a plus two is a huge shift. It means who you are matters as much as what you can do in this game. The mechanics make it so. Now this isn’t supposed to be a FATE review or me gushing about the system. The point is the concept. I want my games to have characters where who they are and what they can do are of equal importance mechanically. This also needs to help reinforce the storytelling that occurs within the game.

I play a fair amount of D&D. I’m trying to move away from it and change the culture of the gaming groups I’m in. The thing is I don’t want to move sideways. What I mean is I don’t want to play Pathfinder because that’s just another game where who you are is much less important mechanically than what you can do. I’ve considered Savage Worlds because of the benny system but it seems a little weak to me. GM’s in Savage just sort of hand out bennies for whatever they feel like. A lot of times it’ll be for playing up your hindrances which is very cool along with being FATE like. Just for reference Savage Worlds did come first but their hindrances evolved from disadvantages from GURPS while FATE’s aspect system evolved from the traits found in Over the Edge. At least if you follow the game design family tree it looks that way.

Sorry I got a little side tracked. Back to my point about D&D and how I’m trying to move away from it and change the culture of the groups I play with. What I do is insert ideas from other games into D&D. With the idea of Aspects and FATE points I’ve tried a few things. First I tried just hacking Dresden and D&D 4e together and had great success. I used the Dresden City creation to make a Barony with my three players. I had them create 7th level characters mechanically and then I had them go through the background creation found in Dresden. This created high concepts, troubles, and stories where some of the other characters would guest star in other characters stories. I also re wrote the progression system from Dresden for this game since Dresden doesn’t use experience. It has milestones. I decided people would never level up but could get advancements of the minor, medium, or Major type and had guidelines for all those things. Since D&D uses a D20 I changed tagging Aspects from a plus two to a plus four and also had some specific rules for certain players like the druid. If they wanted to shape shift into something they couldn’t normally change into they could with a Fate point assuming it was within reason. I’d probably rewrite that to be a little more grounded these days but it worked for the game we were playing. Also, all the characters could basically stunt their abilities with a FATE point as long as it stayed within the characters high concept.

In the end I really got what I wanted from that game. There was still a nice level of tactical combat but the characters desires and beliefs as pertaining to their aspects mattered just as much. They played into the combat and social situations. It made the more cinematic scenes have more weight and option for the characters other than trying to figure out what skill to use. It just made for a more robust game. It also took a lot of work.

There are quicker ways to get more in character actions than hacking a game like that. You can just use a benny like system and tack it onto your D&D or Pathfinder game. It works really well. In D&D4e you can use a character theme or a couple of backgrounds as tags for gaining chips. Act along with your characters theme or backgrounds and get a chip. Spend a chip and re-roll a d20 roll. If you don’t like re-rolls and your more interested in having a resource that can accomplish things make the chips +2 bonuses on a d20 roll you can use after the roll. Make it more useful by saying a player can spend as many of the chips on a single D20 roll as they want to make something happen. If you want a more gambling mechanic you can ask the player how many chips they want to spend? If you want to be nice you let them keep the chips if they don’t accomplish the task. If you want to be mean you take the chips even if they fail. In any case the point is if the character is played to its theme or background the player gets a chip. That single change right there will give your players more incentive to play to the characters character instead of just their skill set. In Pathfinder you can use their themes in much the same way. You might have to make some adjustments to things like spell casting saving throws, maybe a single chip equals a negative one on the saving throw or negative two. I’ve never done it in a Pathfinder game but I’m sure you Pathfinder players can figure it out now that you have a concept work from.

Well there it is, an idea for how to make the mechanics of your game support the characters character. Please feel free to let me know what you think here in the comment thread or send me an email at chris@misdirectedmark.com.

Keep on gaming,

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Apr 25 2012

Episode #8 – Campaign Foundations

008 – Campaign Foundations :

This week we have Dave back with us, one half of the Tangent Twins, to chat a little about first sessions of campaigns and the foundations of great campaigns. We also talk about Table Top, Wil Wheaton’s new show on the You Tube station Geek and Sundry and some of our more embarrassing encounters with gaming and geek celebrities.

Show Notes

1:45 – Table Top

8:55 – Embarrassing Gaming Celebrity Stories

15:40 – Campaign Foundations

42:35 – Final Thoughts

Links

Table Top 
R.A. Salvatore
Sons of Alamar
American Times
Dagohir
Wil Wheaton
Mike Mearls
Critical Hits
Fred Hicks
Don’t Rest Your Head
Evil Hat
Darth Plagueis
Dresden Files
Apocalypse World
Eberron
Shining Force
Marvel RPG
Mouseguard
Young Justice
AvX
House of M

Apr 19 2012

My Love Letter to Pax

I had the fortune to attend Pax east this year. Now that I’ve had a week to absorb the experience, and deal with our largest local Gaming, Anime, and Fandom con, (AKA UBCon) I wanted to write about the experience I had as a table top gamer at a predominantly video game fan convention.

I love Pax East. Of all the conventions I attend it is the most different for me. There are video game companies set up in the Boston Convention Center with massive booths and displays showing off all kinds of incredible games. Some of them have life sized statues and others have vehicles they got inside the convention center as part of their displays. There were even a few paid actors dressed up as characters from the games to help promote them. It’s was an intense weekend with fifty thousand attendees all there to experience the things they love. I was there for Wizards of the Coast to help DM D&D games for anyone who wanted to play. I ran my fair share including a play test for the forthcoming D&D Next and participated in the DM Challenge competition. I came in fourth. I wasn’t pleased but that just means I’ll have to get back there next year and win. For you gamer’s out there the DM challenge this year was to bring your best seventh level adventure around the theme of the elemental chaos. You bring everything; the characters, the adventure, and all the skill you have. You run the game for a table of five to six people you’re randomly given for four hours and then they score you on several categories such as presentation, story, skill as a DM, characters relevance to the story, ect. The winner is the person with the highest score. This year is was Melissa Lewis-Gentry. I got to chat with her for a moment afterwards and Melissa was very gracious in her victory. She was a little busy so I didn’t get to hear what her adventure was about but I am looking forward to competing against her next year.

As much fun as I had with the DM challenge and the D&D Next play test (I can’t talk about it. I signed an NDA.) I think the best part of Pax is playing with the people who aren’t RPG table top gamer’s. You get a lot of people like that at Pax. The crowd is more into video games. I enjoy this situation because the players don’t come to the table with a lot of preconceived notions. If they do they aren’t very solid and I blow them up in the first twenty minutes. I feel like it’s a chance to show off the hobby to people on the edges of our type of game, bring new players to the fold, and give back a little to the hobby which has given me so much. Les Foster, one of the marshals for organizing the tables, said it best:

I like Pax because of the all the happy gamers who are here. I’ve been able to look around and see parents playing D&D with their kids and friends having a great time together. Marshaling is work but it’s worth it to be in this atmosphere. Seeing these people who don’t normally play D&D with smiles on their faces hanging out and having fun together makes Pax for me.

Like I said, Les couldn’t of said it better and I agree with him. That’s all I got for now. Talk to you soon and keep gaming.

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Apr 17 2012

Episode #7 – UB Con

007 – UBCon

In Episode 7 the Misdirected Mark Podcast goes to UB Con. We talk about improvisation and keeping the gaming romance going with Kevin and Daina Burke, Savage Worlds with Tim Hannon (Mr. Savage Worlds Western New York), interview SARPA’s director of gaming, recap our Pax East experience, and talk a little about how you can make you campaign feel alive.

Show Notes

:42 Introductions

7:55 Improvisation in gaming 101

16:45 Keeping the gaming couple fire.

20:26 Savage Worlds with Tim Hannon “Mr. WNY Savage Worlds”

35:54 Interview with David Schwartz.

46:14 Pax East Recap

61:58 Adventure and Senario Design: Tricks to Making your campaigns feel alive

Links

UBCon
Buffalo Comedy Sportz
Gary Gygax Memorial Fund
1st Edition Rereleases
Nicolas Logue
With Great Power
Gormenghast
GenCon
Savage Worlds Explorers Society
Beautiful Brains Books and Games
Pinnacle Entertainment, owners of Savage Worlds
Queen City Conquest
Con on the Cob
Reality Blurs
SARPA
Dagohir
Buffalo Gamer’s Society
Pax East
Melissa Lewis-Gentry on Facebook. Winner of the DM Challenge at Pax East 2012.
Origins

Apr 12 2012

Don’t Fight the Police

There’s a saying Jim Rome of sports talk radio fame uses quite often whenever some athlete gets in trouble with the law.

“Don’t fight the police because they have friends.”

I’m sure your asking how this relates to role playing games. Well, if the game you’re playing has a civilization of some sort there will probably be law enforcement agencies associated with it.  Players are notorious for being vagrants and while they might be able to take out a typical law enforcer the problem arises when those guys call their friends. If it’s a modern or future game those friends are just a call away. If it’s a lower tech game then the posse can get mounted up and constantly hound the offenders until they’re caught or killed. Plus, there is always the network of wanted posters and criminal lists floating around to cause your players trouble. My point is aimed at the GM’s out there. Law enforcement is a viable organization you can use to hound your players.

If your still not sure about law enforcement as an opposed force to the players just think about how upset we get as a society when someone attacks a police officer. What happens when they get arrested? From everything I’ve heard they come out of the clink with a lot more bruises than they went into it with and I’m sure it wasn’t the drunks or thugs in there with them who dished them out. A lot of us might think rebelling against the man is a romantic idea, and it is, but what happens when you inject a little reality into your games. If your players want to fight the law I like to give the law a good chance to kick’em in the head. Nothing wrong with a little beat down. Law enforcement agents should be good at what they do. They work together.They have training. and their learned skills lay in the ass kicking spectrum. Even that moderately over weight cop who likes donuts and coffee knows how to shoot his gun a lot better than your average Joe, and probably better than the punk who owns an illegal weapon. Part of these guys jobs is to train and keep in shape. They drill and workout, get time on the shooting range, spar, and they tend to do this together making for a tight unit.

Remember how I was talking about how you shouldn’t fight the police because they have friends. Well what happens when the shit hits the fan and the regular law enforcement can’t handle the situation. You go up the ladder and start calling in the heavy hitters. SWAT comes to mind for local law enforcement but if you you start messing with governments and those levels of organizations you start running into the CIA, FBI, and NSA level groups. These people are bad asses and not just because they can beat you senseless. They have resources beyond what local government could have, information streams that reveal your players hiding places, friends, families, and those other things that matter to you. At that point you can start using Big Brother to keep your players on their toes and bring a real sense of being hunted. Make them feel the paranoia and insecurity they’ve brought upon themselves. Work it into a lower tech setting and you can have the dark lanterns as they do in Eberron or the Marshals like they did in the Wild West. Be creative but make them threatening because they shouldn’t be pushovers.

To close I’d just like to say using law enforcement as an antagonist can be fun but you need to be careful to not over do it and frustrate your players. Still. If you happen to have a group who likes to ignore the law in civilized places arrest them, thrown em in a holding center with some of the drug dealing, assault charged, doped out scumbags of your world, and don’t be afraid to have them sleep in urine, preferably not their own.

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Apr 11 2012

Episode #6 – The Tangent Twins

The Tangent Twins

This week Mark was having some technical difficulties with his computer so with Skype out I called the Tangent Twins in off the bench. Some of you will remember Dave from the Drunk cast and on her first episode of Misdirected Mark I welcome Katie. Our comic book girl. We talk about a bunch of different things in this one folks so get ready for a ramble.

Show Notes!
Miskatonic School for Girls
Dresden Files RPG
Serenity RPG at Amazon.com
PAX East
Skunk ‘Monkey’ (Ape)
The Killing Joke
Mispent Youth
Settlers of Catan
WizWar
The Red Death
Arkham Horror
Madness at Gardmore Abbey
Skull and Shackles: Pathfinder Adventure Path
Mass Effect
Dagorhir
UBCon
Badass Garb
Katie’s Facebook
Dave’s Facebook
Avengers vs XMen
Sky Doll(Rated M for Mature)

Apr 05 2012

Gaming as a Conversation

I was reading someones post as a referral from the Old School Gamers group on Facebook. I lurk there and read stuff but don’t say to much. In any case the blog post had some comments in it about skill checks being like buttons the players can press similar to video games. In other words the players will say things like

“I want to roll diplomacy to convince the guy.”

or

“I want to roll athletics to jump over the gap.”

That’s a viable play style. I know people who play their games like that. I’m not interested in that kind of game at all. I’m also not interested in games where the mechanics get out of the way of the game. Like those sessions people talk about where no one rolled a die and we “Role Played” out everything. I don’t even know if this is a play style. It’s more like an improv exercise, which can be fun, but where’s the game. If your GM made you make some decisions, like forcing you to choose between things your character values, and there were repercussions, then sure, you were playing some sort of game, even if you weren’t engaging the mechanics of the actual game you’re playing. I’m not so interested in this game either. Sure, it can be fun, but it’s lacking something for me.

Somewhere in the middle is a blend. Games where you’re telling a story and the mechanics support the story being told. I especially like games with the idea of having a conversation and the mechanics of the game intercede at points of drama. I got this idea from Vincent Baker, creator of Dogs in the Vineyard, Apocalypse World, Kill Puppies for Satan, and other great games. Apocalypse World has the game set up as a conversation where the GM has an agenda but the agenda is about creating an interesting game for the players while staying true to the setting and fiction. In play the GM and players have a conversation, trying to stay immersed in the world as much as possible, and when something in the fiction occurs that requires resolution the mechanics engage, dice are rolled, the situation is resolved, and the conversation continues with the aftermath of the conflict to be reacted to as part of the fiction. There’s a lot more to it in Apocalypse World than that, but the idea is the game is a conversation, and the mechanics engage when necessary to support and move the story.

Apocalypse World works as a rule book because it tells us how we should play the game. A lot of other games are more vague. They give us mechanics to resolve situations or actions but they don’t tell us how those mechanics interact with our stories. They’re more like tool boxes. I like tool box games because they’re freeing. They leave it up to us as GM’s to design what we want out of the game. It’s important to realize what these tool boxes do well and what they’re weak at resolving. Once we understand this we can change our games to achieve the feels we want or pick a different game that does.

I try to run games with a conversational feel. Even in the midst of super tactical gridded combat I insert conversation. When the initiative rolls around to an NPC and the bullets are flying, or spells are being flung, I would suggest you don’t stop the conversation. Engage your mechanics then go right back to the story every time. When you don’t quite hit your target number give it a moment in the fiction to say how your character just wasn’t good enough or how the baddy you were going after was really impressive in that moment. Maybe you’ll find an aspect of the game you never realized you were missing.

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Apr 03 2012

Episode #5 – Wargaming

005 – Wargaming

This week we have our War gaming corespondent Mike Hoff. We cover the basics of War gaming, painting, and how to get into the table top battles world. Then we talk about NPC’s in our Encounter and Scenario design segment. We finish up with final thoughts and guess what, we’re going to Pax East.

 

Show Notes

:46 Introducing Mike Hoff

2:10 Warhammer chat

9:20 What’s a Wargame?

16:24 Where to get started

20:00 Bang for your Buck

22:45 Online communities and resources

26:50 Painting mini’s

35:55 Relating to RPG’s

43:27 Don’t sign up for Speed dating at UBCon

45:01 Nerf War

46:34 Senario and encounter segment – Making NPC’s interesting.

1:05:57 Final Thoughts



Adepticon
UBCon
Crystal Brush
Cool mini or not
Joseph Spix Miniatures
DakaDaka.com
adeptus windy city
miniwargaming
MST40K
Mordheim
Necromunda
warmachine
Malifaux
Dresden files RPG
Firefly
Contact Mike
Pax East