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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"It’s still real to me damn it!"

Playing World Wide Wrestling the RPG.
OR
It’s still real to me damn  it!


I have said before on this blog (and for the record taken some heat for it,) that I feel Nathan Paoletta's World Wide Wrestling RolePlaying game, is the best stab anyone has taken a the world of pro wrestling in the form of an RPG. I stand by that, at least until I find a game I like better.
That statement is not  meant to demean anyone who has taken previous shots at the genre. I feel Nathan approached the world of Pro wrestling from a unique angle, that of playing both the  wrestlers and the people behind the gimmicks as they are in the real world. I find this approach to be extremely satisfying, I knew I would from the moment I read the  book.

Now that I have had the chance to live in the game for a few sessions I do have one  gripe. I am (As I have stated before) Not a fan of the Apocalypse World (AW) RPG engine. I have never been able to put my finger on exactly why, but for our group dungeon world never quite sat right, and we abandoned it quickly.

In World Wide Wrestling I think Mr. Paoletta has struck on a genre where AW works. In this world the ending of a conflict is out of the competitors hands. Creative is saying who's going to win. Which fits perfectly with pro wrestling. In pro wrestling it's not a wrestler's job to kick the crap out of the opponent. It's the wrestlers job to look good, or make his opponent look good, then win or lose based on creative's decisions. Sure there are some  gimmicks that have moves that can override creative, but they also come with heavy risks, such as injury and disqualification. 
All of this works in the context of a pro wrestling  RPG, because wrestlers don't expect to have complete agency over their day to day victories. WWW uses Apocalypse worlds innate ability to  usurp player and GM agency to simulate the strange dynamics of pro wrestling.
I think it took this particular game to bring into focus why Dungeon World fell so flat with our group. I had originally thought it was because I was trying to use a pre-realized setting, but now I'm not sure that was it.

The level of  competence  exhibited by even a relatively experienced character with some additional "moves" in a normal AW game is still around solid success 50 % of the time. With no bonuses the  chance of rolling  equal to or greater than 10 on 2d6 is something like 16.6 %. (I'm sure someone smarter than I am has the exact  percent chances worked out ... but I'm close.) My point is  most of the time the  characters are going to be dealing with "success at a cost" which will often grant some benefit while complicating the characters immediate situation. While I am a fan of  complicating characters situations I am not a fan of making it a mechanical must. I am also not a fan of watching players spinning their wheels while missing rolls and spectating while their characters situations go from bad to worse.

A Dm can be a horrid persecutor of player mistakes. A Dm can spring hideous traps on the unwary  complacent enough to forget their 10 foot poles. A Dm can stock an encounter with beasts beyond the pale of mortal minds. A Dm can also show some discretion about when and how he or she does such things. A player can  wander about willy nilly never looking for traps or A player can  limit their mistakes by thinking and speaking carefully when it is time to declare an action. A player can have their character avoid, or retreat from overwhelming opposition until he or she is better prepared. Or a player can have their character charge into a death trap, it's up to them.

Sometimes in A.W. games I feel that agency is taken mechanically out of the hands of the players and the GM. There's a possibility I am "Apocolypsing" wrong, and that's ok. We all have tastes and  preferences when it comes to games. Perhaps there is some part of the AW system I have just not wrapped my head around? I can be sort of a moron, so yeah that's a possibility.

Last night while Playing WWW, I had a player roll as badly as I've ever seen someone roll. I couldn't shake the  feeling that the player and I (playing creative) were spectating. Every roll came with some bad consequences, and because of the bad rolls coming so fast and furious the bad stuff just piled on.  By the time this character was being finished by an opportunistic opponent, the  frustration in the player's voice was palatable.  It was not that he was loosing or rolling badly that bothered him. I feel (and he can correct me if I'm wrong) that he was feeling like he had no say in what was happening to his character. There was simply no amount of role-play, thought, or strategy that could have helped him out of the mess his dice got him into. Each time he rolled I did what the  system asked of me, gave out momentum, transferred scene control, and  piled on the character as best I could.  He ended up losing out in the  match and being pinned after never getting a real chance to  use his "moves" to any great advantage. If he were a first time Player I would have bet my bottom dollar he would never have come back to the game.

Was this isolated bad luck?
(yes)

However I also feel that it was another moment of an AW game taking the  choice of whether or not to punish a character out of my hands. A thing that I feel is alright when it happens rarely, such as the  rare roll of a 1 in D&D (5 % chance), but because of the mechanics in AW it seems to happen too often for my tastes.

With all those worlds spilled I need to step back, I still think WW wrestling is a fantastic RPG, the best wrestling game I have played, again because of its perspective on and treatment of the sport of pro wrestling. I am going to continue to run and play it for  quite some time I'm sure. Furthermore I think the  AW system fits wrestling as well as it can fit any genre.

The game has also provided some interesting perspective into why AW might not be right for me. Unless the genre fits.

Mark.
Follow our World Wide Wrestling game progress HERE.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

The world’s tallest dwarf meets the Amber Symbiant. (AAIE playtest notes)

The world’s tallest dwarf meets the Amber Symbiant.

We played a game of AAIE last Saturday, which I touched on a bit in my last post. That previous post was all about the good vibes I got from the game today I’m going to talk about the game itself. Doing an “actual play” style retelling would be damn near impossible, the post would go on forever. Besides that the game was almost a week ago and details are bound to have escaped my brain to be forever lost to the ether.  * What I am going to do is hit some things that I thought were highlights in the game and how they were handled mechanically.

First off for the sake of time everyone rolled up their charters before the game.  In my mind AIEE is at its best, at the table, with everyone rolling up their characters step by step and grimacing at the results.  However, we were playing on Roll20 with people spread over two continents. The whole optimal game set up was impossible. It was for the best, having everyone prepared with a character saved us a lump of time at the beginning.

Again for ease of play I hand waved the normal “you all met up scene” by designating that the characters already knew each other and were trying to escape the drudgery of their daily lives by striking it big as adventurers.

Before I introduce the characters let me take a few words to explain tone. AAIE is played generally for laughs. The characters are randomly generated and by design almost always flawed.  Some character’s wind up being pretty strange.

The  character’s:
Darwin Punchalot: A stout dwarf warrior, who had seen some scraps in his day.
Vale: A barbarian woman: incredibly strong and comely, armed with a short sword and a willingness to bash things.
Scully: A priest of time, who as fate would have it has a bit of a problem channeling his god’s immense power.
Conrad: A human thief, bold and ready.
Brudar Stealthhammer: A dwarf thief who was lucky enough to hold a job as a wizard's apprentice when he was younger. Unfortunately during that apprenticeship  he was mutated and had grown to 8 feet in height.
Ichabuck Russlefoot: A rather odd looking halfling who just happens to be a talented spell caster.
This rag tag bunch arrived in a small village known as “Murder.”  Murder is a boom town  that has sprung up around the gains pulled out of dark places by  adventurers just like our merry band of 6.



In town highlights:
“The town” system for AIEE is still in it’s infancy but  boy has it paid dividends. Primarily I have a bunch of NPC’s that are already  baked into the game.  for example, Gren the girl who works at the inn was once hired by the players as a retainer. And while these current character's have no idea who she is, some of the players remember her as the feisty girl who never failed a morale check. The woman in the  Apothecary already had a name and a stock of stuff on her shelves.
Small things like that are not only helpful and fun, but they serve an important function within the  greater design of the game.


The character's are transient, impermanent and fragile. The town is not, it grows and changes and collects its own stories and personalities. The town functions as a touchstone holding the whole thing together even if the  players are burning through  characters. The town gives the  game a campaign feel , even if the game is truly utter madness. Lastly it gives the players away to invest in their future character's indirectly. If they upgrade the blacksmith, then every character they ever make moving forward will have a shot at buying better equipment. Same goes for the apothecary, the school,  and so on.

The party arrived in town and heads towards the inn.
Once inside I have the character's that are unusual roll reaction checks. This included Brudar because he is basically a giant Dwarf, Ichabuck because he is pretty ugly, and Vale because she is extremely attractive. Brudar and Ichabuck roll middling results, they get treated like any other character walking through the doors. Keep in mind this bar tender has been serving minotaurs and guys with tentacles on their backs for a few years now.
However, when Vale walked in she ( the player ) NAILED the roll. A critical success. The inn keeper was smitten!

I have to digress into design talk. The game does not give any real guidelines about what should be done with non combat critical successes. (I should fix that.) The GM needs to roll with it and make the result matter. I like to go big when a player gets a critical success. I over do it, because critical success don’t happen any more often than critical failures. Critical failures almost always result in some horrible death or dismemberment so logically the critical successes should always give the  character some boon. Hand waving a critical anything in AAIE is a kiss of death  to the system.
In an opposite example Ichabuck critically failed a non combat roll when trying to lead the  party to a nearby keep using his local area lore skill. As soon as that roll came up I knew two things first there was going to be an encounter, and secondly  Ichabuck was never going to lead them to the keep some one else was going to have to step up and figure that out. Is that 100% fair to Ichabuck, nope. In AAIE  rolling a critical has to be BAD or it doesn't matter enough. The team handled the encounter (lashing Fungus) and then never did find the keep or the  lost caravan guards.. next time.


The innkeeper basically fell all over Vale giving her (and unknowingly at first) her friends a free meal. and a place to stay. He was a bit unhappy when he realized she was with the giant dwarf, the ugly halfling and three other folks still out in the street.

During their huge meal I brought into the  first story hook a caravan leader looking for  locals to help him map a way through the  nearby mountains.
As a side note the  caravan masters caravan had been attacked and his guards driven away, he could also use some help retrieving both his surviving guards and the wagons they lost.
The players had those  adventure strings to pull together plus a couple more they had heard around town.

(funny thing I had most of this post written and Google decided to eat it. Thank you google!)

Sooo:
Skipping forward a bit lets talk about some of the  strange things that happened along the way and some rules adjustments that might need to be made.

I do need to work a bit on the magic system. My intention with Magic in AAIE is a that the system is  simple and free form. I think it works that way for the most part. In this game Ichabuck the half-ling was just about the perfect wizard, except one short coming, his focus pool was extremely low. In effect he was great at casting spells on paper but in practice his concentration was a bit  shaky. The player came up with a great work around, he would spend two rounds using  spells to buff his focus attribute to the point where concentration would not be an issue. There is not rule to stop this sort of thing, and honestly I thought it was a great idea. If I were to talk about "balance" a concept I'm not that big a fan of any way, I think I could come up with a enough balancing factors to make Ichabuck's massive pool of focus seem legit. First off  it took 2 rounds of casting to buff the characters stats for an effect that would only last 2 the next 2 rounds. So The player sacrificed his first 2 rounds of action for  2 rounds of functionally unlimited spell focus. Neat trick, but not game breaking. Also  Ichabuck manages to  stockpile a truly massive focus pool at one point, which on the surface sounded crazy, however considering the most powerful spell he could have cast would have coast him 1d6+7 focus, there was no  functional way he could've ever used all the focus he had generated, it was in practice a moot bonus.  So if I decide to plug that loop hole how would I? My first thought is  say that a player can only effect attribute pools not the attributes directly. Or alternately that if a player wants to  effect an attribute then the caster must have that attribute as a key word. Either option would work.

A second strange thing that came up was the  strange story of  Scully  elf priest of time.
Scully was not a great character right out of the box, not much in on the order of combat prowess and worse yet a very low Myst score. Story wise he was a priest that was really bad at channeling his gods power safely. In AAIE when a character casts spells they spend myst, if they bring their pool into the negative they run the risk of mutating due to the  magical feedback coursing through their frail mortal bodies. Scully's player knew this and embraced the concept fully by attempting to mutate poor Scully  as much as he possibly could. By the end of the game the fair elf was reduced to a smoke belching, acne covered, blob with a tail, whose bones had literally disappeared. Scully spent part of the game flapping around like a fleshy amoeba or being carried by another player in her back pack. Don't get me wrong it was hilarious, but I'm not sure I want extreme mutation to be a viable  character life path. If I decide to  plug this loop hole I think I would  add the rule that a character can only mutate a number of times equal to their brawn score, after that they die, or turn into something so "in-human" as to not be playable.
Also, I think I need to add a new class ability to the priest class. As it is they are not  as interesting as the other classes at the start. I do think this changes after a few levels, but they need "something more."
For those curious, Scully has retired to a church in the town, to act as a priest and a representative of "a higher more evolved form of  elf" he is truly horrible and insane.

Lastly and this is a good thing. Dave who was playing Darwin the dwarf had the  brewing skill. When he was buying  potions at the local apothecary he started asking about buying materials to brew with. Which was a great idea and he did get some  stuff to work with. It did set me to thinking that I need to work in a system of recipes and foraging into the game, something simple and not too time consuming. I really like the  idea of  AAIE characters foraging for materials and potion components, working it into the game might be slightly more difficult.
Another good example came mid game when Scully cast detect evil on the  wood surrounding the wrecked caravan. I jokingly said the only thing evil in the woods was a raccoon sitting in a nearby tree. Naturally the party killed the poor raccoon on the next around. One of the  players (Angela?) said "Well at least we can eat it" and I allowed the part to mark it down as a ration. I have set down rules about resources, and rules for the GM taking those resources away. (mostly rations which allow characters to take long rests, and light sources.) I think it would be great to  standardize foraging rules that facilitate the players finding supplemental rations out in the field.This would be another subsystem I could include in the "The Town" section of the game, but it is going to require a bit of thought.

Some words about AAIE Monsters.
This game ended up revolving around the party tracking down a creature that attacked a caravan, the creature turned out to be "The Amber Symbiant." When a gm creates random monsters for AAIE the game does nothing to hold the GM's hand. The game burps forth a stat block and a name that's it. When the game started I know I had a "boss type" monster Level 9 with  2 attacks and one special attack. When I rolled up the  special attack I rolled "Necrotic Fist" which  had the perk "Vorpral."
in other words I knew it was a nasty bugger with a very dangerous special attack but nothing else. It is very much up to the GM to breath life into the monsters.
I decided the Symbiotic part of the the monster was that a demi-litch had drawn all of this pine sap to it's self to  create the  physical form of a amber moth-man style monster with  a scull embedded in it's chest. I also decide it would never attack unless the players messed with it(they did) I also decided that the skull was a weak point, (never taken advantage off until the end)  and that as long as the characters were in it's lair they were in it's attack range. Put another way almost all of the interesting parts of the monster were GM caveat. I need to make sure I include more notes about how to "use" the random monster results in game, as I work on the final game text.

Well that's it, I think this was better the first time I typed out the post, but  I hit all the same notes this time through.
Thanks for reading.
-Mark.



Sunday, January 10, 2016

Tiny Validations.

Tiny Validation:
“High my names is Mark, and I write games for my friends.”
And that's about it.

Over this weekend however I ran one of my games for a couple of people who haven't played the game before, whom I had never ran a game for before.
So lets set the scene. A home brew game of dubious quality. Three players I know very well, one player I have played with but never as a GM, and two players who I know but had never directly gamed with. We gamed over Roll 20, (which presents it's own set of issues.)

Now here's the thing I have been Game Mastering for a long time, but I don't claim to be great at it. I'm alright , but I'm spoiled by having run for a steady group of some of the best folks you could ever ask to have at a game table. They will tell me if something sucks. They make things fun, good players oil the gears for a DM in a way that setting, and system never will.

I am not that guy (I don' feel I am any way I have never tried.) who could plop down at a gaming con table, run a game and knock it out of the park.

It's a bit validating to know I can still get a few new people around the table and not have them simply throw up their hands and quit. Validating in that I have not done it in a while and was a bit nervous that I had not run for new people in so long that my style would be off putting to new comers. Apparently it was not. No one ran screaming into the night.

In fact the game ran relativity well. I'll go over the mechanical hitches from my side perhaps in another post. Overall however I think everyone had a good time and people enjoyed themselves.

I knew things were going OK when near the end one of the characters got smashed to death by a high level monster and the player did not just quit the game to go about his day (easy thing to do on roll 20.)

Rather he hung around till the end to see who made it and who didn't. I loved that (Thanks Dave.)
Intentionally or not it seemed in my mind anyway like the little game had created a party with enough investment that when a character got killed in sudden fashion the player still wanted to know how the rest of the party fared. (Even if it was a ghoulish curiosity about how many players were going to get offed.)

So anyway, the game worked well enough I learned a few things about it.
I did well enough, and I learned a few things also.

I guess there's a reason why I still play these games even now that I'm 40 years old. Saturday morning 9 am to 2pm FLEW by with some coffee and some laughs. Now we have a handful more stories that we all share. Not in game stories, but real life things that we can laugh about months or even years from now.
Remember that character Neal had who cast so many spells his bones melted?”
That for me is the lasting, validating appeal of RPG's.

Thanks for reading
-Mark.