Thursday, July 29, 2010

Improving the play area: Spell Books

One thing I have used to great effect with two different groups is the use of a "spellbook". This is not some "Dark Lord of Denny's" or "Mazes and Monsters" affair with a real life version of the Necronomicon and two missing drifters.

This is a simple affair, a dollar store mini notebook. In the notebook between games I will jot down any spells the player learns (all the details). This means when casting a spell a player no longer needs to sort through a big book but can look through a simple journal.

I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tweaking Settings and Making Books

So at the moment I am still making a large number of small changes to Piecemeal (another small update will be out this weekend), but one thing I had hoped to have out soon has fallen through. I had been working to get the text files from piecemeal into a book format through a small scale publisher. That unfortunately ended up falling through, so now I am looking at plan B of making a PDF version of the book (in a more traditional manner). Can anyone reccomend any good layout programs that help for electronic releases?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A few of the mechanics I use to encourage a good social dynamic

Following on the heels of my last post, I thought I would post a few of the mechanics I use to help maintain the smooth flow of a group.

The first is the MVP award. At the end of each session, everyone must vote for another player they thought was what they consider "the most important" for the session and declare why. They cannot vote for themselves (very important and shouldn't need stressing but it does). Whomever wins gains +5 awesomeness for the session (another mechanic) and gains an extra fate point (re-roll). I do not consider the GM a player in this case (ie, the GM doesn't vote).

I really enjoy this for a couple of reasons: first it makes players think about how their team mates will view their behaviour, when a good awesomeness score at the end of a session is 7 or 8, a free fate and +5 is a high incentive. Even if the incentive doesn't motivate, the mere act of making players pause to think of how they are impacting the enjoyment of others is a good thing. Secondly it makes players go over the events of the game at the end of the game to justify how awesome someone else is. Having other people comment on how awesome you were is a lot nicer than everyone muttering to themselves about how awesome they were themselves. And finally, I like that it takes the GM out of the equation and lets the group settle things for themselves without forcing the GM to act as judge and jury between two of his friends.

The second rule I use is the relationship tag rule: this is really a quick variant of the group template concept. By forcing a character to tag two other characters in the group with a past relationship (and gain benefits) it forces a character to act like a team and less like someone with a floating PC sign over their head. Originally I had set it so if you could no longer tag at least one other player in the group with a meaningful tag your PC became an NPC and you rolled a new one (ie, the game is about the party: if your lone wolf alienates them he wanders off for his own adventures and you create a new PC). I never really needed to bring this up so I have left it out of piecemeal as "punitive", though I always wonder if it should be mentioned.

There are other smaller rules, but those are the big two that help the most.

Monday, July 26, 2010

#$%#$% players: Death knell to the hobby

So I would like to start by pointing out I include GM’s as players. I am of course referencing “dick players” in the sense of people who you would not in any way voluntarily associate with if not for gaming. This is brought on by this post.

All hobbies attract their share of d-bags. I have mentioned several times I enjoy poker; any public poker game will have many, many irritating jackholes at the table. Most con-games will feature what fear the boot has dubbed “that guy”. But for some reason gaming has an expectation that you should play with such creeps while other hobbies do not. No one would seriously expect to invite some jerkwad to a private poker game in your home just because “he likes poker too”, yet in gaming we see this as being mandatory, especially in some corners of the blogosphere. Since I am not passive aggressive in this case I will mention James Raggi over at LotFP, who while an inspiring person and worthy of praise for putting his money where his mouth is, does share a different view on gaming groups that I do.

The reason I mention him above the handful of others is that he is a big fan of growing the hobby and has taken real and serious effort (and great personal expense) trying to do just that. And my problem with the philosophy of it being no excuse to not play just because some of the players are creeps is that is kills the hobby. Probably the number one inhibitor to the hobby is its image and reputation of being the domain of people that you would not want to spend time with, aka the “Comic book guy” from the Simpsons.

The phrase “birds of a feather flock together” is always on people’s minds, and if you bring a new player to a group of 4 normal people and 1 creep it won’t make the person think the creep is a-ok. They are going to think “That guy is an irritating and perverted creep, and those 4 people choose to spend 5 hours a week hanging out with him”. This isn’t gaming specific; it deals with any organization or group of people. If you go to a book club and one of the people there is a Klansmen, you won’t care how normal the other eight people are, if you go to a karate class and one of the people is a bully who tries to pick fights, you will have a bad view of karate and you’d be right to have it. It wasn’t just that one person was a bully; it is that everyone else seemed ok with that behaviour. Likewise if you spend your time with a creepy combative pervert to play a game, you are implying that you don’t think there is anything wrong with that kind of behaviour...and that says a lot about you.

This has a knock on problem where one person’s bad behaviour will infect the actions of the whole group. They will start to become combative themselves as a defense mechanism. They then move onto other groups themselves and spread bad behaviour (though if mild enough it can sometimes be cured by a fresh group). This is something I do try to deal with in Piecemeal, and I will touch on some of the ways with my next post.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cliched Game Stories: WWII

I was linked to this from FTB, I have no idea about the author but its hilarious:

http://squid314.livejournal.com/275614.html

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Renaissance: Thoughts on miniatures

A post over at Grognardia about the nature of the renaissance in terms of sculptures made me think to my own game table. I worked in a comic book shop in high school and as a bonus, received a large number of obsolete miniatures and games that simply would not sell. Thus even though I prefer not to use miniatures when I game, the large number I have means the gaming group inevitably makes me pull them out (even though they have minimal if any mechanical value beyond a token to say which zone you are in). Something about the tactile feel a miniature generates its own fun.

None of this is really the topic of this post however, this deals more with the specific nature of sculptures in the renaissance; The abandonment (even if unknowing) of the garish and bright painting for the elegant and pure look of white marble. The classic look of the unpainted sculpture makes me think of a trend with my own miniatures. I have been leaving my own miniatures unpainted as of late, originally due to laziness but I find I really do prefer the simple and elegant look of finely carved pewter to even the most masterful paintjobs.
This may only be a recent option due to the growth in casting technology over the years (allowing more detailed sculpts) as well as the switch from ugly lead to shiny pewter (and we know how important shiny is). But maybe it isn’t. Does anyone else out there PREFER unpainted miniatures to even the best paint jobs? And if so, how long has this been the case?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Gen-Con 2010

So this year I decided to finally bite the bullette and head down to Gen-Con, anyone else here heading down?

Friday, July 9, 2010

D&D is about..

I just want to highlight a great post about the point of D&D, its a game of ambition.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Horror Movies: Supporting Trope with Mechanics

Some types of games simply can't be run in a traditional RPG very easily. The old idiom "a period of suspense or building tension is simply time to reload" when it comes to RPG's. Add to it that most gamers are smart enough to know that mechanically it is ridiculously silly to split the party.

For Horror one shots I use the following rule that is simple to implement and makes games much more closely follow the path of horror movies.

The Monster(tm) rolls a number of dice (for any die roll) equal to the number of surviving party members at the start of the encounter and picks the best result. The party rolls a number of dice equal to half (round down to 1 minimum) the number of surviving party members and picks the worst result.

Why is this good?

Much like in a horror movie, people are helpless mooks against The Monster(tm) as it downs its first few victims. It also means that its a bad idea to have everyone pooled together in a phalanx position since its most beneficial if someone is killed all on their own (The Monster(tm) has its dice roll benefit based on the start of the encounter, this means if it kills Bob outside the boathouse and sneaks in to kill Sally, those are two encounters and Sally's odds have just improved).

Your best bets to take down The Monster(tm) are one or two final survivors, hopefully with some of your fellow players having slowed it down previously.

I also allow each dead player to give a single re-roll at a time of their choosing. Either by giving another PC a second chance or forcing The Monster(tm) to re-roll a good roll. This is to alleviate some boredom after they are dead. The other option I've used is to let a random dead PC control the monster's hack an slash mayhem each encounter.

Other things I do depending on system? Either remove luck points (piecemeal) OR if using Hitpoints (a d20 variant) have the monster's damage be multiplied by the number of PC's.

How do you run Horror?