This page lists the most recent journal entries talking about roleplaying games. On these pages I will wrestle with some ideas that are on my mind; if I manage to come to a conclusion, I’ll write them up as DungeonMasterAdvice. Or if I’ve found a solution for my own games, I might add it to the RoleplayingSocialContract. Until then, however, these pages fall into the realm of philosophy – the quest for wisdom and knowledge.
In my campaign, players encounter settlements and factions, and they can gain good or bad reputation by helping or hindering them. I saw DM Peter use this system in his Grenzmarken campaign and liked it. Obviously this kind of thing is less interesting if there are no moral ambiguities. It’s more fun if only some of the player characters are in good standing with the humans of Delan, the swamp hag, or goblins of Grezneck. Fortunately, things have been working out for me and adding reputation to the campaign wiki pages of settlements and factions have made this a bit more visible.
As I was pondering the question of alignment again, I thought of reusing this reputation mechanics for the gods in my game. On my campaign wiki, I’ve created pages for the gods that have come up in play and I started listing player reputations. Thus, if they keep animating the dead, I don’t have to get into a discussion of whether the player thinks this is evil or not. Orcus is going to take an interest in the player’s actions one way or another.
The benefits I’m hoping to see:
Follow-up: 2010-02-02 Reputation Mechanics.
A gaming buddy suspected that I was playing the same kind of character in all my games. He had seen Gar, Perol, and Möllchen. I decided to list them all and see whether he’s right. I tried to think of all the characters I played ever since I started playing again in November 2006. Since I usually run games, I don’t often get to play. But then again I’m involved in multiple campaigns.
Hm… Mostly humans, some dwarves – no elves, gnomes, or halflings. Fighters, Paladins, Clerics, Wizards – no Rogues, Bards, Druids, Sorcerers. Some are disgusting, some are noble, some a smart, others are dumb. I think the impression that I liked to play misanthropic outcasts was inaccurate.
Gleichberechtigung is German. I guess it could be translated as “equal rights” or “the granting of equal rights”. The thing is that Recht is the law, a right you might have, but Berechtigung is authority, entitlement, power. Gleichberechtigung! It’s a command! It’s imperative.
Many moons ago, I posted on the Paizo message boards:
After ten seconds of looking at a book, an eight year old girl can tell that most of the women have unnaturally enlarged breasts and lack half their clothes. That’s how sad it is.
The problem starts at the gaming table, I think. A lot of the racist, homophobic, and sexist language I heard in recent months was related to my gaming. I’m usually too stunned to say much. Often I manage a groan, a “please!!” or some eye-rolling – instead of just telling people to shut up.
It’s hard to do because I feel like I’m ruining the atmosphere by calling people out. And to my shame I must confess that I’ve used the same language at one time or another, somehow thinking that I was playing along. Probably a sad tendency to adapt to the people I’m talking to, using the same phrases, laughing about the same jokes, using the same language, even when it’s not something I want to adapt to.
It starts at the gaming table and spreads to our games. It has to stop.
Whenever I think something bad is going to happen to players, I’ll let them now if their characters would know. A sixth sense of impending doom, if you will.
Example: Player shouts: “I intimidate him!!” and rolls some dice.
I reply: “Uh, wait! Wait a second! Let me understand this correctly: here is Cthulhu, the flesh mountain of cold wet tentacle horrors from beyond the pale, and you’re going to… Intimidate it? Like, talk down to it? Shout at it? To be honest I think Cthulhu would just crush you with his pinky tentacle. Are you sure you want to try that?”
And of course the player will argue right there: “Don’t be silly! Clearly Cthulhu here is some sort of mindflayer prophet, and I just invoked the powers of Orcus to infuse this temple with the unholy aura of undeath, and we’re standing on the leyline nexus of Perennia – surely octoface isn’t feeling too comfortable anyway, right? I’m just reminding him of some inevitable facts, after all!”
And suddenly all our expectations are on the table. Right there.
Nothing has happened. A take back is still possible. Let’s reconsider.
I must confess that I don’t always succeed. Recently, for example, the party is crawling through some tunnels and meats some cute little lizards. An electric arc pops up between the two and a tiny 2d8 lightning bolt strikes the rogue, Reflex DC 12 to avoid, and the rogue evades all damage. I thought to myself: fair warning. Happy, the party continues down the corridor and meets a dozen or more lizards. The party moves forward. Eight of the lizards band together and a 12d8 lightning bolt strikes the rogue, Reflex DC 26, and he fails. He dies.
I was torn on this one. Was meeting two lizards fair warning? Is the much stronger and harder to evade lightning bolt an unfair surprise?
Should I retcon the situation? Shoud I suggest a take back?
In the end I decided that it was ok. It’s the kind of game I want, but next time I will try to maybe provide a second, more urgent warning.
And after all, this is D&D. We have Raise Dead.
As I’ve played my second session of Mouse Guard, I kept returning to that concept of players’ turn and GM’s turn. You get to do one thing on the player’s turn. Hopefully that is going to be something that will help you during the GM’s turn. Without importing the scene economy into traditional games, I think I see a way to apply this.
What I really hate is when players are somewhere, there are no plot hooks, and the gamemaster asks: “What do you want to do?” Anything is possible, but nothing is going to happen. Hours will be wasted by players saying: I’ll go to the library! I’ll pick up some chicas! Where’s the booze! Can we buy magic items here? “Boooring!”
You’re setting yourself up to a lengthy back and forth as players are describing what they are doing, the gamemaster reacts, nobody knows what they’re getting at, some people just can’t be short and to the point… What to do about that?
Here’s something I want to try in tomorrow’s Middle Earth Rolemaster game: “You left the town of Pashtah in the early morning hours and took the Tiger Road to the east. As you’re about to cross over into Eshmir, your thoughts return to last night… Everybody, what was the most important thing you did yesterday?” Let’s see what they did! Depending on your play style, just get into character a bit, provide information regarding current events, roll some dice and do a skill check. Just remember: One thing. Each player: What was the most important thing?
Maybe this inverted approach will help us set the mood, gain information, do some roleplay, and drive the story forward.
The pseudonymous Yax asks on Dungeon Mastering: What kind of campaign style and mood do you enjoy the most? This page started out with the comment I left on that blog, but then I started adding some more info.
I prefer sandbox-style, location-based games, where players can pick and choose between the various plot hooks. A typical wilderness with various villages and towns, lairs and dungeons provides for all of that.
I’m sure the above requirements can be met using a city adventure. But consider readability: If I can look at a map, pick a region, and read that part of the book, I’m fine. If I look at Ptolus, I get the feeling that I should be reading the entire book before getting started. Do I need to check organizations, churches, noble houses to actually understand this particular section? Again, a typical wilderness with very few organizations and plots covering the entire area nicely provides the modularity I’m looking for.
This lack of interdependence also enables me to exchange some of the elements, or let players dramatically alter particlar elements without requiring me to figure out a gazillion consequences for the rest of the book. This also precludes the kind of meticulously planned adventure paths.
At the same time, I want more than just a series of excursions – just picking plot hooks, modularity, and a lack of of interdependence are not enough. Some of the plots must be player driven. Players must be encouraged to drive the plot forward.
Players must have enough in-game time to explore where they want to take their character. If the forces of evil manage to keep up constant pressure, nobody will build a tower, a castle, form a guild, or raise a temple, research spells, or wage war.
This means that I want multiple challenges for the various power levels of the game. I don’t feel like preparing too many of them, and I don’t feel like preparing things in vain. This means that I’d like to run multiple adventures at the same power level. The D&D 3.5 rules resulted in players levelling up every 2-3 sessions. I like to double that. I prefer slow advancement. Gaining a level every 4-6 sessions is good enough for me. Assuming we play a particular campaign twice a month, it will take us about 20 months to reach name level (gain eight levels to reach level nine, each level requiring five session, with two sessions per month).
I also don’t like the upper levels of the game; I’m happy to retire characters around level ten. They turn into non-player characters and can be pulled out of the closet for the rare high-level challenge.
The mood of the campaign is a tricky thing. My first impulse is to say that I like everything. I guess I don’t like evil campaigns. But other than that – anything goes. In fact, I think I like some variety in my gaming moods.
Nick Dipetrillo aka Nicholas @ Dungeon Mastering wrote Old vs. New School: The War for Control of Your Character, a subject I recently talked about with some of my players. I started a post about that discussion until I realized that I had written about it before: 2009-08-04 RPG Circus Inspiration, scroll down. D’Oh! What am I going to do with this article, now?
In response, I asked: What’s the point of critical hits? Make combat more dangerous for all? Make it a lot more dangerous to high-level characters since their Constitution doesn’t go up? Get people to cheer when they roll a natural 20? Also consider that making things more random will generally make combat more difficult for players, skewing the general balance of fights. You will have to take this into account if you’re using Challenge Ratings or Hit Dice to eyeball encounters.
Then again, if you’ve been eyeballing encounters before because there is only a very rough estimate based on hit dice, or if your players are eyeballing encounters for you by picking their fights in a sandbox, there is no problem.
For me personally, I just want to encourage that happy cheering at the table when a natural 20 is rolled. In order to do that, I don’t need critical hits to do extra damage, or do Constitution damage, or max damage. I’m not interested in critical hits as a simulation of anything. I’m just interested in random happy moments at the table.
In a rules-light combat system like classic D&D, I would love to add little effects that give players choice. The simplest effect might be “you shove your opponent back – now’s an excellent opportunity to disengage” – if that’s what the players need. Or “press on and gain a +2 next round” if that’s what the players need. Just let it be something small and cool.
Here’s what I thought were interesting statements in Gleichman’s post:
I’m not sure I agree with the pursuit of power for power’s sake. The first problem I have is the meaning of “for power’s sake” – it’s hard to think of an example where this would apply. I think everybody in power has an agenda. Thus, I think it’s important to look at intents and consequences. Corruption, subjugation, plundering, war? I think we have to look at particular situations in the game before we can pass judgement on Good and Evil.
I also prefer to leave the judgement of intent and consequences up to my players. It’s more interesting that way. It’s how their characters take on a personality.
But I don’t think I’m a moral relativist. All actions are not equal. They are not equal in-game, and they are not equal out-of-game. But I prefer not to codify good or evil in the abstract. I prefer to look at the actual game setup. In the Alder King game, goblins are bullies and cowards, and they worship Orcus (because he promises a second life), but other than that, they don’t seem to be inherently evil. There is another Orcus temple where human cultists keep slaves and sacrifice them to Orcus. They are clearly evil.
Does that contradict my statement about “keeping the definition of good and evil muddied on purpose?” I don’t think so. I’m talking about two different things. I don’t want to get involved in a discussion about the definitions of good and evil. I don’t want to discuss whether torturing prisoners is justified when the victims are suspected terrorists, for example. I don’t want to discuss at the gaming table whether killing a creature of evil alignment begging for forgiveness is evil. That’s the kind of discussion I don’t want at the table.
In real life I have strong opinions about the US keeping innocent people incarcerated on an island for years and torturing them. I have strong opinions about the Spanish police torturing suspects in the Basque country. I have strong opinions about sending poor people back into terrible poverty out of fear for our prosperity. But I want to keep these discussion out of my game. If my players insist on breaking the orc’s fingers and ripping out its toe nails, then I ask said players to stop. I’m not interested in hearing it, and I don’t want to discuss it with my players.
What about me making everybody evil in my game? Or at least listing many evil gods? I guess I am a cynic when it comes to organized Good. Mistakes are made. I believe that using force to fight evil taints those who fight. I often think back to a statement Christa Wolf made in her book Cassandra: “What use is fighting when we can only win by becoming like our enemies?” To take it back to the game: There’s a paladin who decided to retire to Delan and help them out by protecting them against their enemies. He doesn’t need a church, he doesn’t need an army, he doesn’t own a lot of land, he doesn’t have a lot of gold. This is what allows him to be good, on an individual level, as far as I’m concerned.
So, based on my belief that Good is something individual, something that gets lost in a larger organisation, the consequences are obvious: Powerful individuals, powerful organisations, gods, churches, rulers, anybody who has the means to fight a war, must necessarily be tainted. They don’t need to be evil, but thinking of the “host of heaven” in a military sense, an army fighting for Mt. Celestia if you will, makes me think of “Fighting for Peace is like Fucking for Virginity!” Fighting will tempt soldiers into doing evil deeds. Conquest will corrupt the victors. Maybe that’s because I did not grow up with stories about the Second World War but about the wars in Indochine, Central America, Palestine and Iraq.
I also happen to think that it makes for a more interesting game. If players want to do good, they will have to sacrifice something for it. The church of Pelor or Heironeus just don’t seem very interesting in game terms. If players want to introduce such a god because they feel better being a paladin of this or that god, then that’s fine. But it doesn’t introduce interesting decisions, it doesn’t generate interesting stories. It’s the most obvious choice and an indication (to me) that morality and the sacrifice required for good deeds are not going to be the focus of the game.
I said in my first article that the point of having a small list of gods ready was to use them for temples and clerics all over the region. With that it mind, I prefer to use more ambigious beliefs. The lines of Good and Evil are supposed to be muddied because it leads to a better game, not because I’m confused about ethics.
Here’s what I like when it comes to religion:
Here’s what I like when it comes to players:
I’m keeping the definition of good and evil muddied on purpose. All the powerful people in my worlds have strong Machiavellian tendencies. It’s all about power, and keeping it.
Some examples from my Alder King campaign to build on this:
The gods I try to use whenever possible, based on the Wilderlands of High Fantasy and Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia:
But these are just the gods I’ll focus on when adding a temple to a city or a wilderness hex, or picking a god for a cleric. That’s it. I don’t care about alignment so much. Clearly, none of them are obviously good. I also don’t focus much on how the gods interact. I don’t care about world creation, nor do I want to know more details about their religious ceremonies. If a player picks one of them as their god, then we’ll start thinking about it.
These gods also don’t have much of an opinion about orc babies, on how to treat surrendering foes, on war and peace, etc. I side-step the issue of morality and focus on actual play.
Of course, if one of my players is explicitly interested in questions of morality, I’d add some component of that. Or better yet, the player would recommend a way to introduce this element.
Looking at the list, the only thing I notice is that paladins seem to be restricted to Ishtar. This probably reflects my belief that paladins should either focus on being lawful-good independent of any gods, pick their own god, or just join the dark side: There are no paladins. There are only clerics and fighters. As I’m playing a paladin in our Shackled City game right now, I’m starting to think that this would make much more sense.
Continued here: 2009-07-04 Organized Good is an Oxymoron.