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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016

Just sit right back and Listen to every one at the table.

A while ago I ran a short DC Heroes game. The supers were low powered, worked for the government, and were hunting mysterious aliens.

The  image shown here is something I included as a handout while the team searched some old moldy gov files. Or perhaps it was mailed to them anonymously? I don't remember. What I do remember is that I provided absolutely no  context for the picture. It was a Vietnam era soldier torching a hut that appeared to contain some kind of shadowy creature. Up to this point the  team had no idea what they might be dealing with and after this picture they still had very little idea.


Here is where things get interesting.
As a GM I just laid back on that image and listened to player reactions and speculations. Some of those player ideas most definitely made it into the games story arc. The concept of  using player input to build a story is I imagine as old as RPG's. I'm sure DM's very early on heard players say things like, "I bet the duke is the killer!" And then thought "Whoa, the duke SHOULD be the killer!"

I'm on the fence about  this sort of thing. Is it lazy Game Mastering?  Shouldn't I be sticking to the story line I built and allowing the players to navigate that as it goes on around them? Does it negate player agency if you take one of their incorrect albeit cool assumptions about the  world and make it true? Being wrong is half the fun, there can be no serves in a story if the  players are right all the time. The players have the right to make wrong assumptions and act on them as they do to suggest things for the world to the GM.

My opinion is that building the world and presenting it to the players to  navigate as they wish  is the way to go.  What I generally shoot for are multiple story lines that progress with or without the player's involvement. For example, if the players ignore the  growing gnoll army on the border, eventually that army will  do something rash. It's like a sandbox where the players are one kid playing with tonka trucks, and the GM manages a few other kids who are also digging and building in the same box. Over the years the people whom I play with have grown  pretty good at picking up on the signals and dealing with the story hooks which crop up. I enjoy  it when the  players look at the map and say, "let's go here!" or let's do that." It takes that load off my shoulders. If the players tell me they want to  move into a fishing village I'm fine with that.  If they then start a salted cod business because they think it's going to be more profitable than digging gems out of  cursed statues in some god forsaken dungeon, I'm ecstatic. In return it becomes my job to make Salted Cod exciting.

A Gm even a great one can not possibly think of everything. There are blogs out there on the web that have been doing detailed world building for years. You know why? The authors keep thinking of new things to write about. World building is never "done." It's not lazy to take an idea a player may have mentioned even if it was mentioned off hand and integrate it into your already working setting. It's even better to outright ask the  players, "What is it you would like to do or see next?" If the  groups answer is, grow our Salt Cod business!" Then there's no real reason to overly detail the gnols of the far off mountains, unless the gnols are building an army and have a strong taste for salt Cod. The players are the focus of the game so it makes sense that they can be the focus of your world building as well.

As a GM I have had the  problem of having an idea and thinking it's cool, interesting, or whatever. When a player drops a theory about what could be going on and it's vastly cooler and more interesting than my original idea. Sometimes it's not easy to admit, a blow to the ego. It has taken me a while for me to come around to the idea of taking those nuggets of gold dropped by the  folks around the table and using them. It's not lazy, it's helpful. Players have awesome ideas. Ideas the GM may have never thought of because the gm is only one person, and world building is an endless thing where no one person can think of everything.

Thanks for reading
Mark.




Tuesday, August 9, 2016

This a cool way to treat the Bard class.

I just read this and wanted to share it (and not loose it)
So yes this post is a single link to the Sword and Scoundrel blog.
Just one link, but I think it's a good one.

-Mark.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The best part of D&D 5th edition is that it's so darn breakable.

Let's break some  5th edition today.

Attributes are a great way to measure Characters against the environment:
(For most of these examples I'm going to use the "Strength" attribute because it's easy to quantify.)
"The wizard has a strength of 8 there is no way in  heck the wizard is going to beat the  cleric in arm wrestling  because the  cleric has a strength of 14.  Meanwhile, the  warrior who has a strength of 17 laughs at both of them."

I like to look at attributes in D&D almost the same way as the Amber diceless RPG did*. In my mind if a one character has a higher strength than another, even if it's only by one point, the character with the advantage is unequivocally stronger. A strength 16 warrior will NEVER beat A strength 17 fighter at arm wrestling unless they give themselves some kind of  exterior advantage.** 

Attributes are so useful as this kind of comparative standard I feel it would be a shame to ditch them altogether. *** What I want to look at are those modifiers. 

Here is my proposal.
In 5th edition :
  • Take attribute modifiers out of the skill check equation. 
    • This includes Hit rolls.
  • Take attribute modifiers out of the saving throw equation.
    • Leave the modifiers in the equations when figuring passive DC's such as perception, or for casting DC's.
  • Allow the player to take Advantage on a skill check or hit roll a number of times equal to their attribute modifier.
    • The points are reset after a long rest.
      • For example: A warrior with a Strength modifier of 2 is trying to  bash down a door. The player says "I want to put all my strength into it!" The player spends 1 point of his strength modifier and takes advantage on the roll. Now the player only has 1 point left to spend until the character gets a long rest.
  • IF the character has a negative modifier the GM can  force that player to take disadvantage on a roll that many times long rest.
      • For example Bard with a -1 strength tries to bash down the same door  the GM might say, "That's stout door and you don't think you have the strength to splinter it. Desperate times and all that, you have disadvantage on the roll."
      • A wise DM would do this  when things are most stressful for the characters.

What would this do to a game? 
Absolutely ruin it... no of course not, would I do that to the fine readers of this blog? ...........
(sure)

Below are the  effects I think this change would have.
  • It would  lower the modifiers on most roll the players make by an average of +2 and some times as much as +4.
    • This is the  biggest thing for me. I have a character currently who has a +7**** on investigation. High intelligence + it's one of my  trained skills + proficiency bonus. and so on. I feel that in some games having a few characters with high skill modifiers like that artificially inflate the  Difficulty class of  rolls. If the DC is a change to the character with  +7 then it's going to be neigh impossible for the rest of the party. Keeping the  modifiers on roll more level by removing the attribute modifiers from the  moment to moment rolls mitigates some of that
    • The way  5th edition has player building characters, it's rare to see a character without positive modifiers on their requisite attributes. Even using 4d6 drop the lowest and slotting the scores in order yields characters with at least two  positive modifiers most times. If your group are the "3d6 first roll in order" type of  masochists then this would be a particularly punishing way to run a game. Who knows if you're into that kind of thing.
  • It would make that "Give you character two attribute points or a feat at X level," less wonky.
    • Those two attribute points can quickly make a normal character into a brutal machine over the course of a few levels. With The proposed changes it may give them another two rolls with advantage after a long rest but not an additional +2 on every roll all the time.
  • It would make the Advantage / disadvantage mechanic more systematic and less about the GM just giving advantage when he or she feels it is warranted. 
    • In my games I find I give Advantage for player actions far more than I enforce disadvantage, which is my fault. Having a system that reminds me to use disadvantage would be nice.
  • It would give the GM a mechanic to poke players who uses some attributes as a "dump stat"
    • Nothing I hate more than that fighter who  drops a 6 on charisma because, "who cares I'll never use it." The player will care once that character starts drawing disadvantage on reaction rolls a few times a game. Especially if the GM makes sure it's the times that matter. The Gm generally does not have many mechanics to make a player use a particular attribute. If the Wizard is physically weak the player just tries to never have to lift heavy things or climb ropes. If a player makes a decision to  go into a situation where they might have to  lean on a stat they considered a "Dump stat" at character generation then  hitting that character with disadvantage seems fair. 
  • It does a nice job of representing the characters  having moments of great effort and exertion. Heroic moments rather than just a slow steady drip of awesomeness.
Well that's it.
I am more than  confident that there are a thousand reason why this idea would not work. No one is going to be hurt by giving it a shot. That's the nice thing about RPG's, (the best thing actually.)

Once a person gets the game and starts playing, they can play however they want, try whatever they want, ignore whatever they choose to.

Thanks for reading ..
-Mark. 



** By exterior advantage I mean things they come up with in the scenes narrative.  At this point I should just tell everyone my normal line of "This is just how I do things. Your mileage may vary. Not trying to tell you how to run your game." yadda yadda.
*** In our game Phase Abandon I ditched them, but D&D is a different animal.

**** Only +7 not +11 like I originally wrote, much/ many thanks to Douglas Cole for pointing out my error.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Where is that Darn NPC? (1d12 table.)

I,m not even giving an attempt at context.

Where is that damn NPC?
(1d12)
  1. Attending a viewing of an “orctopsy “or the autopsy of a dead orc at the local university.  Did you know Orc livers are bivalve in design and almost twice as big as a liver of a normal human? Did you know Orcs have a second smaller sub stomach used to store and slowly digest fibrous matter? Learn these things and so much more at the Ocrtopsy.
  2. The NPC is at the inn and has been drinking heavily. You find him or her gleefully chatting up a well-known local prostitute and about to make some bad life decisions.
  3. The NPC is out wandering the fields looking to catch a weasel. The NPC wants the weasel to train for rabbiting. Unfortunately, the NPC has no idea how to properly trap anything.
  4. The NPC is skulking around the dark corners of the local streets, trying to trail a lover who has recently spurned him or her.
  5. The NPC is at the town hall trying to get recognition for a lease that will grant him or her ownership of a land parcel. The lease was won gambling and is being contested by the current land holder.
  6. The NPC is sitting quietly at home mending some clothing. There is a pie in the oven, a cat asleep at the door…idyllic.
  7. The NPC is sitting at the edge of town, bull shitting with a gnome. The gnome runs off as you approach, the NPC plays it off like nothing happened.
  8. You find the NPC in the early morning traveling back into town via a game train in the nearby wood. The NPC is carrying a large sack. If asked about the sack he or she will be elusive

    The sack contains: 1d6
    1. Several pounds of snails.
    2. D4 severed heads
    3. Stolen gold candle sticks
    4. Three very large eggs
    5. A quietly sleeping baby cockatrice.
    6. Several pounds of strange wild mushrooms.
  9. The NPC is in the inn singing a raucous song, with no intention of leaving the party anytime soon.
  10. You find the NPC digging a large hole in the middle of a field.
  11. The NPC is in a church quietly reflecting. If you disturb the NPC, he or she begins to weep.
  12. You find the NPC on a corner, chastising his or her children for their bad behavior.
I hope all of you fine folks at GenCon 2016 have a great time! Happy gaming to all.
Thanks for reading.
-Mark.