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2011-09-05 Zorceror of Zo im Wallis

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Wir haben heute Abend in unserer Campaign:MontagInZürich Kampagne Zorceror of Zo gespielt. Zur Einstimmung spielte ich von der CD Hundert Jahr nur ein Tag – Walliser Sagen erzählt in Walliser Mundart – das Stück Der gefrässige Wolf (1:57). Die zwei Minuten Märchen am Anfang waren cool. Das hätte ich natürlich auch selber vorlesen können, aber den walliser Dialekt hätte ich nie hinbekommen.

Die Sage endet damit, dass der Richter unter Folter gesteht, zwischen Messe und Mittagessen als Wolf verkleidet Schafe zu reissen. Das tut weh und es setzte den Ton für den Abend.

Ich verteilte zwölf kleine A7 Karten mit je einem Charakter zur Auswahl. Hier vier Beispiele:

Richter Traugott

  • ausgezeichneter (+4) Redner
  • berühmter (+4) Edelmann
  • guter (+2) Gourmet
  • guter (+2) Fechter → entwaffnen! (+2)
  • schlechte (-2) Gesundheit (gefoltert)

Käser Ueli

  • unglaublich (+4) stark vom Käse tragen → Hau Ruck! (+2)
  • ziemlich (+2) vernünftig
  • gute (+2) Kondition
  • eine Nase für Unrecht (Gabe)
  • verehrt seine Tochter Anneli
  • leider (-2) oft betrunken

Waschweib Vreneli

  • ausgezeichnet (+4) im Schleichen
  • gut (+2) im Aushorchen
  • kann mit Fischen sprechen (Gabe) ★
  • gut (+2) im Gesicht zerkratzen → auf die Augen! (+2)
  • kaum (-2) treu

Hebamme Heidi

  • ausgezeichnete (+4) Kräuterfrau ★
  • gute (+2) Sängerin
  • listige (+2) Rednerin → hinterlistig! (+2)
  • gute (+2) Hebamme
  • armselige (-2) Beziehungen

Das Herumreichen der Karten und deren Durchlesen hat schon mal Spass gemacht. Ich hatte mir extra ein paar «urchige» Namen und Berufe ausgedacht und dann die meisten Charaktere nach dem Schema 1×+4 und 4×+2 gemacht. Eine Gabe entspricht einem +2; ein magischer Stern (★) macht eine Qualität oder eine Gabe magisch und entspricht ebenfalls einem +2. Jeder Charakter hat für eine Qualität noch ein Spezialmanöver, welches nochmal +2 gibt.

Mir war klar, von den nicht gewählten Charakteren würde einer der wirkliche Werwolf sein. Zudem hatte ich mir eine kleine A7 Karte mit Abenteuer Ideen gefüllt. Das Herausholen des Richters, unter der Brücke ein Troll, eine edle Dame, die auf einer Schlange reitet, ein Drachenflug auf der Alp, ein verzweifelter, verliebter Zwerg und sein Gefolge, der Zug der Toten – ich hatte mir ein paar Ideen ausgedacht und aus meiner Schweizer Volksmärchen Sammlung herausgeschrieben. Schlussendlich haben wir nur zwei der Ideen in den knapp drei Stunden gebraucht: Der geschundene Richter auf dem Dorfplatz, der um sein Leben feilscht, und den Troll unter der Brücke, dessen Tod sich eine Frau als Liebesbeweis gewünscht hatte. Der Rest ergab sich aus der Spieler-gegen-Spieler Dynamik meiner Gruppe.

Gehört haben wir dabei Alpstein von Paul Giger, Jan Garbarek und Pierre Favre. Ohne Worte, leicht schauerlich und doch als typisch schweizerisch zu erkennen. Sehr stimmungsvoll.

Ich würde ein ähnliches Szenario wieder wählen.

Mit den Regeln bin ich weniger zufrieden. Gut, wir haben Zorceror of Zo zum ersten Mal verwendet, aber es war doch kein Vergleich zu Lady Blackbird. Hatte ich die Qualitäten zu schwammig gewählt? Vielleicht würde sich das mit der Zeit schnell ergeben. Und ich könnte an meiner Sammlung von zwölf Charakteren arbeiten, bis jede Qualität zu einer Abenteueridee passt, bis jede Beziehung eine interessante Verwicklung darstellt. Hierfür fehlt mir allerdings im Moment die Begeisterung.

Vielleicht wäre das ganze mit Risus genauso einfach gegangen, ohne dass man noch Heldenpunkte, Lernpunkte, magische Sterne (★) und Gaben hinein bringt. Die lange Liste von Verwendungszwecken für Heldenpunkten und Lernpunkten hat manche Spieler auch eher abgeschreckt. Diese Liste hätte ich für einen One-Shot sicher auch kürzen können.

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Comments on 2011-09-05 Zorceror of Zo im Wallis


Daniel
Ich hab mir sofort das Schweizer Märchenbuch gekauft :-D

Die Idee mit der Märchen-CD ist super und die Geschichte klingt auch schön grausam für eine atmosphärische Runde. Das System wollte ich auch mal testen, kannte es bisher nur von GameGeeks.

Daniel 2011-09-06 10:42 UTC

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2011-09-08 Interesting RPG posts on Google Plus

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One unfortunate aspect of the increased privacy Google+ offers is that by allowing you to share your posts with certain circles only many interesting posts end up being undiscoverable by new readers and hard to link to – I linked them below but if you haven’t seen them before, chances are you’re not in the circles of the the two respective authors and thus you will not be able to read them.

In You ate the sandbox, Stuart Robertson wonders how people run their Sandbox games. He argues that if you don’t have things set down before play begins – if you improvise everything – then the decisions players make don’t have significance.

In the comments there is a whole lot of debate on the wording: Does that make decisions by players meaningless? Is this really how improvisation works? I’m with Zak Smith, I guess. He says “That’s why in true sandboxes the GM gives the PCs information about what’s in what direction, and this information can be used to inform the PCs decisions and avoid railroading.” He linked to two excellent blog posts on his blog. One is a huge Ontology for sandboxes – it provides a shared vocabulary for anybody wanting to talk about sandboxes: Chokers And Chandlers. (I think my own games mostly fall into the “Sandbox With Triggerable NPCs or Plot Events” category.) Anyway, this is a super awesome post. Read it, if you want to write about sandboxes. Using the terms suggested by Zak will make it easier to understand for your readers.

The other article Zak linked to is Conan Knew More About Cimmeria Than Howard Did. The most important part of that blog post is that one of the techniques to make a sandbox entertaining is to emphasize the tension between two opposing ideas: the gameworld is defined as the players explore it and the players need information in order to make meaningful decisions about which way to go. There is a lot for players to explore, but there is also a lot of information that allows players to make meaningful decisions.

The other Google+ post that got me thinking was Authored role-playing and so-called "story games" by John Allder Stephens. He cites some conflicting definitions of Story Games. I liked Graham Walmsley’s comment, It's not meant to mean anything. It's just a label for "The games that people on the Forge and Story Games tend to like".

My impression is that most people seem to agree that there is no significance beyond a personal preference in the term. There is an interesting discussion in the comments comparing Story Now and Story After. Story Now is where the story happens right now, at the table. Play focuses on conflicts that would make a good story. Random encounters are a hindrance to the story unless they are immediately relevant to the character’s struggles. Story After is where events happen at the table and as players look back, they see a story has emerged. People make decisions based on their character’s goals, based on the imagined world, and as they look back, what emerges is a tragic road to failure and death, or a heroic sacrifice, or victory over ones enemies, etc. The important part is that nobody planned this. It just so happened and surprised everybody. As Stuart Robertson says, “that’d be a fixed game!”

Here’s an example of how I see it. Assume the old school D&D party is encountering four dwarves in the wilderness – a random encounter. In a Story Now game, this only makes sense, if the dwarves are relevant to the characters and their issues. Is one of them a dwarf? A fugitive running away from his obligations? Are these scouts that are trying to return a rebel son to his father? In a Story After game, the dwarves may have totally unrelated goals. They’re here to set up a copper mine. This adds a potential mine to the map. Do the players want to help or hinder this endeavor? It’s just another plot hook. Looking back, players might say, remember those four dwarves and their copper mine? Funny how that made us visit the dwarven king in the western mountains and break the sleeping enchantment… Story emerges later.

I think I prefer Story After games. I feel they encourage perpetual play. The campaign grows and turns and creeps and tumbles forward, the world expands, characters come and go… A game that is focused on the drama of a particular set of characters and their issues is basically over when those issues are resolved. I guess I’ll see for myself soon enough as I’m switching my D&D 3.5 game to Solar System RPG where characters have keys and get experience points when they hit those keys. Perhaps characters can keep switching keys and the campaign has the potential of going on in perpetuity. My suspicion is, however, that once those keys are resolved the campaign will automatically begin coming to a close.

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Comments on 2011-09-08 Interesting RPG posts on Google Plus


lior
There are two things here that make me cringe. The first is that not only am I not in any of the Google+ circles, I have not even been invited to Google+ yet. That make me feel like I am missing out on some elite happening that I would actually want to take part in. In AD 2011 you might think Google could just open the service for public registration and be done with it. That was cringe number one.

Cringe number two: obviously people are misrepresenting some things in those semi-private discussions or at least they are cultivating an understanding that is completely at odds with how I see it. In a regular forum or a blog I could check out the discussion and maybe even comment on the subject if I don’t come too late. But like this I just have to take note that somebody somewhere led my GM to an understanding of “Story Now” and “Story After” that I think is just wrong…. Cringe and cringe again. [Those are some of the terms that were defined by Ron Edwards (as opposed to others which came up in and derive from online discussion threads) and in his usual manner he takes care to elaborately explain them. Too bad the style of his explanations puts many people off. But if you (not you in particular Alex) do use terms coined by him, why not look them up? For example here: http://spanishinquisitor.wordpress.com/2008/05/21/ron-edwards-part-2-of-3/]

Then again, I have been known to overreact…

lior 2011-09-08 11:17 UTC



AlexSchroeder
I don’t want to make you cringe… :)

I read the first part of the interview and feel that my four dwarves example still fits. Maybe we can talk about it on one of those Mondays.

AlexSchroeder 2011-09-08 11:49 UTC


Lior, I’m positive I sent you an invite ages ago …

– Harald 2011-09-08 20:55 UTC

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2011-09-08 Player Agency

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Over on Hack & Slash, -C wrote a blog post called On How an Illusion Can Rob Your Game of Fun that reads like a manifesto. It belongs to a whole cross blog conversation that I haven’t really read up on. Maybe I will.

Basically, -C is ranting against a «quantum ogre» – a mythical encounter that happens no matter what. -C ends the blog post with the following:

What’s really terrible about the destruction of player agency in the above examples is the implicit thought that ‘your encounter that’s sooo cool’ is what makes Dungeons and Dragons fun. It’s not. It’s getting in that Dispel Evil on Strahd that slays him outright. It’s getting that critical on that dragon while it’s talking shit. It's taking down that frost giant at first level - not your fsking precious encounter. [1]

In the comments, some people argue that the quantum ogre isn’t so bad. I disagree. Here’s why. The quantum ogre is only bad if the players have information that ought to help them evade it and they cannot. But in addition to that, having to make a choice without any information is also bad. Thus, we’re talking about two bad things.

An adventure involving the quantum ogre is bad because the players’ choices don’t matter: either they don’t have enough info to make a meaningful choice or the information they have is useless since the quantum ogre will show up no matter what they do. They have no agency – they have no capacity “to make choices and to impose those choices on the world.” Either they cannot make a meaningful choice because they lack information, or they cannot impose their choice on the world because the quantum ogre shows up anyway.

Update: A comment by Trey on the «On How an Illusion Can Rob Your Game of Fun» blog post wanted to know about the differences between a single quantum ogre encounter and the use of random encounters. Both of them remove player agency and yet the sandbox proponents don’t decry random encounters. Why not?

I think there is a way to improve random encounters because the quantum ogre and random encounters exist in a continuum.

(The following assumes that players have some sort of information allowing them to make meaningful choices.)

The quantum oger is at the one end. No matter which way you turn, the oger encounter happens. Next to it, we find random encounter tables. No matter which way you turn, eventually you will meet an item from my precious list. Next to that, we find differing random encounter tables depending on the surrounding areas. No matter which way you turn, eventually you will meet an item from one of the appropriate regional lists. Finally, the last alternative I can think of is having no random encounters and only lairs placed on the map. No matter which way you turn, you will meet the appropriate item for this hex on my precious map.

What I’m trying to do is increase player agency:

  1. quantum ogre – no choice
  2. single random encounter list – no choice, but DM needs to be flexible
  3. various regional lists – players can influence encounters by picking regions
  4. lairs on a map – players can pick encounters by picking locations

I’m sure there are more variations. For my own games, I try do #3 and #4. Players get to pick the important encounters by choosing to explore the mountains where they need to fight a frost giant (#4). In addition to that, there are rumors about a white dragons (also #4 with partial information). What players don’t know is that the icy glacier environment also supports winter wolves (#3). In addition, the trolls are on a war path and thus I have added them to the random encounter list (this starts out as #2 but eventually moves to #3 as players learn about current events in the sandbox). This creates meaningful choices: If players don’t feel like fighting frost giants and white dragons, they can avoid the area.

Thus, I agree with Trey’s comment. Simply having a random encounter list is only marginally better than having a quantum ogre. Basically you’re just having more of them. The key is introducing ways for players to make meaningful choices and have those choices make a difference.

Update: Courtney has written more articles in his series on player agency. I recommend them all. :)

  1. On Slaying the Quantum Ogre – without information and freedom players cannot make a choice with intent nor can they impose it on the world around them
  2. On Ressurecting the Quantum Ogre and Having Him Over for Tea – excellent advice that explains how to say yes, how to say no, how to remind players, how to present choices and a quick list of answers for unbelievers

Update: More recommended articles I found by following links:

  1. Judging the Game by Alexander Macris has this awesome passage: «Most of our capacity for meaningful choice is illusory; our daily lives are routine, and our scope of choice limited by lack of opportunity or resources. Very few people really can “change the world” in even a small way. Almost all of us lock on to meaningless decisions, such as what football team to support, or what color to dye our hair, as a means of expressing our need for agency.» The following passage also offers more food for thought: «I believe that the agency theory of fun is the reason that esoteric games like Amber Diceless Roleplaying or Everway have never caught on, and why as games evolve, they evolve in the direction of more rules. Comprehensible, detailed rules add to the player’s sense of agency, just as playing with friends in an ongoing campaign does.»

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Comments on 2011-09-08 Player Agency


lior
I do not think that random encounters reduce the player agency. Hence they are not to be compared to the Quantum Ogre.

The trouble with the Quantum Ogre is not that the GM decided to make it a Quantum Ogre and not a Quantum Leprechaun. It’s that no matter what the players do before meeting the Ogre, they will still bump into that particular situation. Because the GM decided beforehand that there will be a Quantum X she has to force the fiction toward the Quantum Moment in one way or another. That is where the reduction of player agency comes from. Put differently: Its not that the “Ogre” in “Quantum Ogre” was decided by the GM that is the problem, its the “Quantum” part.

If the “Ogre” was the problem, then only the players would be allowed to decide on what is waiting behind the next bend, since both a GM and the dice would be an infringement on their agency. Archipelago all over again!

When you put together a random encounter list for an area, all you say is that some things that you think might be interesting are likely to happen. You as the GM are allowed to make decisions as well (not just the players) and somebody has to do it at some point. By design, you have no means to steer toward one encounter or the other and hence you have no reason to infringe on player agency.

The important part is to make the encounters in such a way that they add interesting options for the player and not each be a Mini Quantum Moment. So “3d4 Orcs attack the party in a night raid” is infringing, “You encounter 4d6+4 Orcs playing rugby with a severed troll head” is not.

Also note that agency is not nonnegotiable. As a player I am absolutely in favor of being forced into situations by the GM, as long as they are interesting and fit the character of the fiction at that particular moment. Last Monday you had the Judge point the finger at my Midwife. I got arrested because of that, a clear infringement of my agency. But I liked that because it made the story more interesting and while my options were reduced it was instantly clear that deciding and carrying out my remaining options got so much more important. So if agency = sum (importance of each option) then you reduced the number of options but raised the importance of the remaining ones. A fair deal!

lior 2011-09-09 13:16 UTC



Adrian
Honestly, I don’t think region-based random encounters are that much better than the single list. I see that you can influence what types of encounters you might face, and thus avoid certain ones, but it seems like you still get stuck fighting random bags of hit points. I think the big thing that would differentiate random encounters from the quantum ogre is that the players have ways of affecting random encounter frequency. Are there things that they can choose to do that can decrease (or increase) the likelihood of a random encounter, or better yet, certain types of random encounters?

Adrian 2011-09-09 14:59 UTC



AlexSchroeder
I think I agree. If the creatures encountered will always fight, then there is not much choice involved except whether to run or not to run. Being able to avoid encounters, being able to talk your way through encounters, being able to learn from them – these are ways to empower players. More choices.

As to reducing the encounter frequency, I think we need to make sure that the “ways of affecting random encounter frequency” players have involve meaningful choice. I’d propose asking “what’s the trade-off?” If there is no trade-off, then reducing the frequency is always the better choice. Two examples off the top of my head: In a D&D 3 or D&D 4 game, you could say “I made the choice of investing in Survival skills and therefore I should be able to reduce the encounter frequency”. In a classic D&D game you could argue that traveling at half speed is an appropriate trade-off. Either option would work for me, but I have the nagging suspicion that these choices are not too interesting. I’d rather have more encounters, more talking, more fighting, more running, more learning.

I like doing things to affect the types of random encounters. Usually my random encounter tables have different entries for night and day. The example I provided in my GM Style Manual looks as follows:

In the following example, merchants and soldiers are only encountered during the day. At night, add +2 to your roll. Thus, kuo-to a and slaadi are only encountered during the night.

d6Encounter
░ 1 ░merchants (1d6)
░ 2 ░soldiers (1d6+3)
▒ 3 ▒gnomes (1d6+2)
▒ 4 ▒giant frogs (1d4)
▒ 5 ▒froglings (2d6)
▒ 6 ▒roll twice: fight!
▓ 7 ▓kuo-toa (2d6)
▓ 8 ▓slaadi (1d4)

Now that I think about it, I’ve been doing it wrong all this time: I’d roll for day and night encounters all the time irrespective of whether the party was traveling by night or day since travel from hex to hex takes a day and most hexes are wilderness. Thus, there is never a “safe” place to sleep and therefore I thought that I should roll for both day and night encounters. This adds a little bit of simulation, but it also makes player choice irrelevant! I think from now on I will only roll for wilderness encounters if the party actually travels. Thus traveling by day results in different encounters than traveling by night. Staying put results in no encounters.

AlexSchroeder 2011-09-09 16:15 UTC



Adrian
I was imagining choices like this (using your night encounter example):

  • Start a campfire, have a decent warm meal, and you are fully rested the next day, but you potentially attract attention. Roll for a night encounter with a +X chance.
  • Camp without a fire, you are much less detectable, but you have to sleep someplace hidden and uncomfortable, and munch on cold trail rations. Make a Con or Wis check, if you fail you have a -1 penalty to rolls during the morning of the next day, as you are grump. Roll for a night encounter with a -Y chance.
  • Come up with some smart way of having a concealed, smokeless fire, or something like that, enjoy a hot meal but without giving away your location. Roll for a night encounter with a -Y chance.

Let me give another example:

  • Instead of moving slowly or investing in the Survival skill, you have a scout or two. They range ahead, are stealthier and better at noticing potential problems, and thus effectively reduce your chance of having an encounter – or simply detect it soon enough that the party can make a choice. However, if the scouts make a mistake, the big consequence is that they are some distance from the party, and could get cut off, or their scouting alerts the monsters, who set up an ambush or start to otherwise track the party when before they were unaware of their presence.

I agree there needs to be a trade-off. Perhaps moving more slowly reduces the chance of a random encounter, or the chance of certain kinds of random encounters (maybe with the less alert creatures on your list), but because you move more slowly you are just out in the wilderness longer, and thus roll on the table more times. Or you use more supplies (but maybe you do not care about that type of book keeping).

Maybe this is making your random encounter system too complicated. And, maybe, if the players do not realize that these adjustments are happening in some way, they will not see their choice is making a difference. Would you at least tell them some of the details of what they gain or give up taking a certain action?

Adrian 2011-09-10 14:25 UTC



AlexSchroeder
The only thing I ever did was the following:

  1. travelling one hex takes one day
  2. assuming no safe place to rest is found, the party rests in the wilderness
  3. roll a ⅙ encounter per day
  4. roll a ⅙ encounter per night
  5. a member of the party may attempt a DC 20 Survival check to find a safe place to rest
  6. failing the Survival roll results in an extra ⅙ encounter during the rest period

In a classic D&D campaign without Survival skill, this is harder to implement. Then again, there’s no need to “reward” players for their choices made during character creation.

The examples you provided make sense, but they are complicated. I fear I’d have to look them up during the session. “Ok, one day later – let me check my house rule – uhm… <roll> <roll> …” And I fear you’re right in that depending on the numbers chosen, players have very little ability to influence their chances. Making the roll and public and announcing the modifiers – or having one of the players roll – would be a good way to inform players and to keep them engaged.

I might try the following, though.

  1. roll random encounters in the open and explain what’s going on if player’s ask – make sure that the roll can be influenced
  2. there is a random encounter check for each day spent moving moving through the wilderness
  3. have a list of possible trade-offs available: use a d12 instead of a d6 if the party has at least one druid or ranger or if you move at half speed; if you bring hirelings along, there will a random encounter check during the resting period because setting up camp and packing up both require orders and questions and discipline.

AlexSchroeder 2011-09-10 22:15 UTC



AlexSchroeder
I read a blog post where the author tried to refute the quantum ogre argument. (I tried to post this comment over there but apparently it triggered some anti-spam measures.) It seems to me that the author’s refutation of the quantum ogre argument rests on the assumption that palette shifting is only recognizable as such when it is observed. Thus, if it cannot be observed, a fun encounter with an ogre happens without players feeling robbed of their agency.

This is true. But when I read the Hack & Slash post, I felt there was an additional point to be made: I’d have more fun learning something about the surrounding area and the whereabouts of ogres and then deciding for myself whether I wanted to engage it or not – even if the encounter with the ogre itself is very entertaining. That, I feel, is empowering. That, I feel, makes me aware of the fact that I'm not being railroaded. My choice matters.

Railroading happens when players can only choose to go forward and meet the ogre. This can be very entertaining none the less because the encounter with the ogre has the potential of great fun being had by all.

Being able to make a random choice without information to base it on and then meeting the ogre anyway is just as good. Players have the illusion of choice and encounter the ogre. The encounter with the ogre has the potential of great fun being had by all. But as a player, I can’t tell whether I’ve been railroaded. I made some choice and somehow I ended up in an encounter with an ogre. I don’t know how to feel about that.

Awesome player agency happens if players learn that ogres are in one direction and no ogres are in the other direction. Then they can choose to encounter the ogre, or they can choose to go the other way. Even though the encounter with the ogre has the potential of great fun being had by all, offering the choice promises an independent and different kind of joy to some players (like me).

AlexSchroeder 2011-09-14 00:17 UTC



lior
Minor Idea while (re)reading this. Instead of a random encounter table, use this:

“what’s happening here?”-table (d20)

1: Some orc hunters gutting the giant centipede they killed.
2: Wounded elven messenger caught in a bear trap since 1d4 days
3: A pack of gray wolves resting by a river, some dozing, some playing with their cubs
….
11: a ghoul just heading out from or returning to his lair under a nearby rock formation.
12: scared and lost kobold boy with a slightly less scared but equally lost kobold girl, hiding under some tree roots.
13: the camp of a band of young orc warriors out on a mission of revenge: guards, fires, tents, half-dead captives.

“who walks there”-table (d20)

1: A fugitive Kobold clan on the move with all their pathetic property strapped on their wiry backs
2: A orcish war band, in silent march, ever watchful for enemies
….
11: A pack of gray wolves out hunting, constantly sniffing for fresh scents
12: Tula, a beautiful ranger from the nearby enclave of Gheeve (yes, its just half an hour from here if you know how to find it..), looking for something very valuable and very secret she hid just about here somewhere a fortnight ago…
13: Ogmoazz, a young black dragon, flying overhead on his quest to find a suitable dwelling
14: Harr, Mhf and Ugh, three trolls, out marauding in the area with a vague hope to finally find and plunder the enclave of Gheeve
….

When the PCs are moving, roll both tables. When the PCs are camped, roll only “who walks there”. At evening and dawn, roll +5, at night roll +10.

When you get a result from one or both of the tables…

  • treat the event as nearby, approaching, a possible encounter under certain circumstances. Drop clues and hints if and when appropriate
  • if you have two events, consider one of them happening just before, after or during the PCs contact with the other.
  • treat each event not as an isolated thing but as potentially the tip of an iceberg that could be explored by the PCs. The event came up: that means the iceberg could be reality already!
  • even if the PCs do not explore the iceberg, it can still invade their course if logic dictates that is does.
  • if the event dictates that something is here or not far from here: place it on the map, cause now it really is!
  • integrate new elements into existing dynamics of the game world where possible and especially where it brings up surprising twists

Two new things here (to me at least): That its two tables instead of one and that its “in the vicinity” events not concrete encounters. The tone I stole from Monday’s next game, the style of the content is stole from Vornheim.

lior 2011-09-14 15:25 UTC



AlexSchroeder
I like the list, Lior. :)

Over at the post that started it all, Trey replied to my list of options to increase agency (no choice, single random encounter list, various regional lists, lairs on a map). He noticed that the first two points don’t seem all that different even though they feel different to me:

I would disagree that the random table gives the player’s anymore agency specifically. [1]

I finally found a good way to answer on page 3 of the Judging the Game blog post by Alexander Macris:

The inherent contradiction between omniscience and free will has plagued religion for thousands of years, and it plagues RPGs, too. For instance, imagine if tabletop RPG combat went like this:

Player
“I attack the dragon.”
GM
“Based on your attack bonus and the dragon’s armor class, if you attack, you are certain to miss.”
Player
“Uh… well I don’t attack, then.”

It’s hard to imagine that game being much fun because the result of the player’s choices is determined before he’s made them. (This is the same reason that Tic-Tac-Toe isn’t fun.) Agency, then, requires that we be able to predict the consequences of our choices, but not with certainty. D&D creates agency with its Core Mechanic: “To determine if your character success at a task, you roll a d20, add any relevant modifiers and compare the result to a target number. If the result equals or exceeds the target number, your character succeeds. If the result is lower, you fail.” The relevant modifiers and the target number provide causality. The d20 provides uncertainty. Both are essential.

I like this description very much. Using the regional lists I suggested or providing the “things that they can choose to do that can decrease (or increase) the likelihood of a random encounter” Adrian suggested seem to be appropriate solutions.

AlexSchroeder 2011-09-14 15:37 UTC



lior
Addition: “campsite”-table (d6):

  1. Perfect spot, just at the right time! Heal +1 HP if you take it. Get +1 bonus on all sorts of things, cause theres water, wood and shelter here.
  2. You find a great spot, but is only after noon. If you stay: like 1 but you advanced 25% less than normal. Otherwise: roll again.
  3. You haven’t seen a flat and open spot of land for hours now and its starting to get dark. Roll again here with +2 and its evening (no more healing and +5 on the random event tables)!
  4. Its starting to rain. You find a spot, but it barely has any shelter. If you stay here: no healing and you all get soaking wet. Otherwise roll again here with +2 and its evening (no more healing and +5 on the random event tables)!
  5. Its already pretty dark when you find a spot. Normal healing if you stay here. Otherwise roll again here with +2 and its evening (no more healing and +5 on the random event tables)!
  6. You find a nice spot but it’s sort of out in the open. -2 for staying undetected and its evening (no healing and +5 on the random event tables) if you stay here. Otherwise: roll again with +4 (max out at 8) and its night (no healing and +10 on the random event tables)!
  7. Tired and hungry you finally find a spot, just after the last sun rays disappeared. If you stay here: -1 HP for all wounded and +10 on the random event tables. Otherwise: roll again with +4 (max out at 8) and its night (no healing and +10 on the random event tables)!
  8. You stumble on at night. Still no place to camp. If you stay out right here: -1 HP for all wounded and +10 on the random event tables and -3 for all sorts of things this night. Otherwise: you walk through till morning, roll again with +0. Wounded PCs get - 4HP, unharmed - 2 HP from fatigue. Roll twice on the events tables, once with +10 and once with +5 (for moving at dawn)

(this style is heavily influenced by next Monday’s surprise game). Wilderness Vornheim is starting to take shape…

lior 2011-09-14 15:51 UTC



AlexSchroeder
I am looking forward to it! :)

AlexSchroeder 2011-09-14 16:13 UTC



lior
Here’s me trying to understand that argument against random encounters and the importance of information:

  1. If random encounters are of the form “You encounter <number> <monster>, fight!”: The players cannot get any information prior to the GM rolling (obviously) and once the GM has rolled the battle pretty much commences immediately. The way many random encounter tables are written, they can be interpreted to mean that this is exactly how it should be done. On this level I understand the critique, but the argument is pretty trivial. What’s the problem with improvising just a little bit more meat to those bare bones and feeding that to the players before th actual encounter? Then again, if you are basically in Constant Dungeon Mode (open door, fight, loot, open door… repeat until TPK) then you might naturally play random encounters like the dice is rolled when the door is opened and the fight begins when the door is opened… Is that really the core of the critique? That cannot be it.
  2. I found the emphasis on information in this discussion confusing at first. I would personally put much more weight on the question of how the players can react to an event in an interesting way (impro vs randomized vs prepped) or on how much are player’s wishes are dis/respected by introducing an event (again, impro vs randomized vs prepped). But then I remembered that this is basically a discussion internal to D&D only. And in D&D, tactical planning and execution is very important (I hear even more so in 4e then before) while on the other hand the depth of the characters on anything other than tactical considerations is mostly undeveloped. In this context “player’s wishes” has much less meaning: the player’s wishes are supposed to more or less align with those of the PCs and the PC’s wishes are supposed to be fucked with… Classic D&D as played by many people doesn’t support “my dwarf is about deciding between honor and empathy” very well. Neither is “my paladin is constantly in danger of being seduced by evil” a player vision which will work well without some major departure from tradition. Those are ideas I bring with me from Story Now (i.e Narrativism) and they hinder me in understanding how D&D players see their game. When I leave those concepts aside I start to see that there is not much “after the encounter” or “between the fights”. That, in classic D&D, is fluff space where you hang out in the tavern or you study the rules for some new spells to learn next. It’s all about the tactics of the fight and thus of course the information you get prior to the fight are paramount. This, to me, explains why information is equaled to player agency so often.
  3. Which brings me to another aspect: “fun = information * power to act on those information * fidelity of the game rules” and “fun = game world verisimilitude * plot integrity”… Sorry to bring that up in your blog Alex, but that is classic Step On Up (Gameism) vs The Right To Dream (Simulationism) dichotomy. So -C and Kevin may never agree, because they want the fun of playing to come from different types of play. And I will never fully agree with neither, because - as I recognize now more and more - I am at heart a Story Now guy. The attempt to define the success or failure of sandboxes by measuring player agency as defined by -C is (unknowingly) an attempt to define sandboxes as a realm of gameism.
  4. Now that I write this, this also kind of explains to me the point of by-hex located encounters. I personally don’t see the use of it. If its a good (i.e. interesting) encounter, place it in a random encounter table or drop it on my when it feels right, both are OK for me. If its not interesting, I prefer not to waste time on it no matter how I would bump into it. But to Game On Up people the fairness is important and for that they might value the fix nature of a fire giant, him staying put in some obscure hex until the PCs bump into him and the preparation of the PCs at that moment being both wholly owned and justly reaped by the players. For The Right To Dream people, what counts is that the fictional vision is unbroken and to that purpose, randomness is a danger.

Sheesh, I can finally put that discussion behind me! Sorry for spilling all this theory jabber on your blog… ignore at will.

lior 2011-09-14 19:47 UTC



Kevin
I think your last point essentially sums up this discussion quite well. Though admittedly I’m never willing to categorize any discussion complete and as a result I would amend the “Right to Dream” side of the argument in that random is allowable but must have a seed of reality (whatever that might mean in the game dream-space) in order to make it believable per se.

Kevin 2011-09-14 21:31 UTC

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2011-09-17 Video Recording Tourists

http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6076/6156948480_fc82878850.jpg

Eugene takes little videos while he’s traveling. I haven’t seen anybody else do that. He just points his little plastic box at things and talks for a minute. Later, he uploads stuff to YouTube. I think I like it. I also like that the little plastic box he uses basically just has a big round red button to start and stop recording. Awesome user interface. 😊

Eugene has some work to do in Zürich and on Saturday, Claudia and I spent about ten hours with him, walking through Zürich. If you would like to see some summer impressions of Zürich, or hear me talk with my funny accent, go and take a look:

Check out some of his other video impressions. I think I like it. And a low-resolution mono-audio single-purpose video recording device makes more sense that using my HD camera with stereo microphone to record stuff, I think. Perhaps I just need to do this more often.

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Comments on 2011-09-17 Video Recording Tourists


AaronHawley
“Hello, I am Alex and I will be your tour guide”

Fun videos. Thanks for sharing.

AaronHawley 2011-09-19 14:01 UTC

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2011-09-22 Aus Pathfinder mach HARP

Wir haben unsere Desert Raiders Kampagne beendet! Wir haben Pathfinder Regeln verwendet und den Legacy of Fire Abenteuerpfad durchgespielt. Orientalisches Thema, Djinne, Efreeti, Janne, Marids und so weiter. Ich war als Spieler dabei, doch meine Eindrücke decken sich in etwa mit meinen Überlegungen zum Ende anderer Kampagnen:
  • die Szenerie war cool-traditionell – Elemente von früher, vieles episch übertrieben, farbig ok
  • die Bänder sehen so fantastisch aus, das man gleich los spielen will (zumindest mir geht das so) ok
  • die Abenteuer verleiten zum Kämpfen und doch lässt sich mit List und Tücke viel umgehen; irgendwie sind die Anfangsabenteuer cooler als die späteren Abenteuer ok / sucks
  • ich selber werde durch die Detailfülle der Bücher auch immer in meiner Improvisation ausgebremst, aber dieses Problem hatte DM James anscheinend nicht – das habe ich sehr genossen ok
  • durch die Fülle an anderem Material ist der Einschub anderer Abenteuer nie ein Problem ok
  • durch den Mangel an Organisation (fehlendes Stichwortverzeichnis, fehlende Navigationshilfen auf den Seiten) ist es praktisch unmöglich, spezifische Infos schnell zu finden – das Spiel stockt, der Spielleiter blättert, das ist nicht cool sucks
  • wir spielen ein mal im Monat, DM James ist grosszügig, und so steigen wir alle ein bis zwei Spielabende um eine Stufe – das ist mir zu schnell! sucks
  • sobald man im Mittelfeld angekommen ist, wird das Spiel immer zäher – man braucht mehr Würfel, man rechnet länger, die Auswahl der Sprüche geht länger, das Nachlesen der Effekte geht länger, das zusammenrechnen der Boni geht länger, das Erklären der Sprüche geht länger, das Kaufen der magischen Gegenstände geht länger, das Verkaufen der Beute geht länger, das Überarbeiten der Charakterblattes beim Stufenanstieg dauert länger – länger, länger, länger – aber nicht lustiger sucks

Naja, irgendwie war ich also auch froh, dass das Spiel nun zu ende ist.

Wer an alten Charakterblättern interessiert ist, findet hier einen dummen Krieger, der sich auf das Bogenschiessen spezialisiert hat:

Neu wird SL Stefan versuchen, uns HARP näher zu bringen. Ich bin gespannt – ich hatte als Teenager zwar jede Menge Rolemaster Bücher (Arms & Claw Law, Spell Law, Campaign Law, Role Master Companion I-IV – das nennt sich wohl Rolemaster Classic heutzutage?), aber ich konnte meine Spieler nie davon überzeugen. Von meinen paar Nachmittagen bei SL Bernie in seiner Reise nach Rhûn Kampagne ist mir unter anderem auch in Erinnerung geblieben, wie verdammt langwierig die Charaktererschaffung war. Davor habe ich immer noch Angst.

Wir fangen als Mitglieder eines Wanderzirkus’ an. Vielleicht spiele ich einen Elementalisten – einen Flammenschlucker? Oder vielleicht einen Luftmagier, der sich als Trapez-Künstler ausgibt.

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Comments on 2011-09-22 Aus Pathfinder mach HARP


ghoul
Hi! Ich dämpfe ungern Deine Begeisterung für HARP, ich habe das selber durch, und eine Zeit lang Al-Qadim mit HARP-Regeln geleitet. Erkenntnisse: HARP funktioniert nur auf unteren Stufen gut (dann schlägt der Optimierungsdruck zu und Kämpfe werden stumpfsinniger), bei HARP muss man zu viel rechnen (mit dreistelligen Zahlen), Manöver und Schadenseffekte sind ungleich interessant, HARP ermutigt den SL zum Schummeln (genau wie Pfuifinder), aber vor allem: HARP ist definitiv nicht für High-Fantasy geeignet (u.a. hinsichtlich Kreaturen). Dennoch wünsche ich Dir viel Spass. Ich habe mich damals auch nicht beirren lassen, als mich Settembrini vor HARP gewarnt hat. ;-)

ghoul 2011-09-22 13:47 UTC



AlexSchroeder
Hahaha! Wenn SL Stefan sich freiwillig meldet um zu leiten, dann will ich das schon ausprobieren. Aber jetzt bin ich gewarnt, danke. :)

AlexSchroeder 2011-09-22 13:56 UTC


Schreib bitte mal eure Erfahrungen. Ich liebäugel auch schon seit etwa einem Jahr mit HARP als System.

– Unbekannt 2011-09-23 07:16 UTC



AlexSchroeder
Mach ich! :)

AlexSchroeder 2011-09-23 08:53 UTC



Adrian
Glad to hear that you finished up the Desert Raiders campaign. I am bummed that my slave girl/dancer/assassin/were-hyena did not get to play longer :(

Adrian 2011-09-23 17:35 UTC



AlexSchroeder
Reeeeeeema!!! cry groan

AlexSchroeder 2011-09-23 19:43 UTC



AlexSchroeder
Heute hatten wir unseren erste HARP Nachmittag.

  1. Charaktererschaffung war unerträglich lang – bei 1½h waren wir immer noch nicht fertig. Wahrscheinlich geht dies mit der Zeit immer schneller, aber ich bin ja ein Fan von drei Minuten Charaktererschaffung wie bei Labyrinth Lord.
  2. Wir hatten einen Kampf: zwei Spielercharaktere gegen zwei Kobold und dann gegen einen Hobgoblin. Die Kämpfe waren nicht wie erwartet ruck zuck fertig sondern haben sich ziemlich lang hingezogen. Sie haben sich aber sehr anders gespielt als die Kämpfe bei D&D 3.5 und Pathfinder, insofern ein Gewinn.

Bin neugierig wie es weiter geht. Die Idee, Mitglieder einer Zirkusgruppe zu spielen, gefällt mir sehr.

AlexSchroeder 2011-10-23 20:22 UTC

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2011-09-30 Solar System vs. Old School D&D

Another world… I’m not sure what to do. I’ve switched the Sunday game from D&D 3.5 to Solar System RPG. At first I wanted to switch to Labyrinth Lord, but one player expressed his reservation and so I looked for something else. Having played Lady Blackbird and having played Solar System once, I knew that I was interested.

Coming Sunday will see the third session. I’ve used the adventure preparation method suggestion in the rule book: on a blank piece of paper, put the player characters in the corners, add two or three interesting abilities, skills, gifts or paths to help you remember, and fill the paper itself with events, locations, people – anything you feel like adding. Add connections between the various elements until every player character is directly connected to at least three things.

This is supposed to provide the support structure for your improvisation as “Story Guide”.

I’m not sure I like it.

I think the word “Story Guide” is giving it away. It’s not quite a railroad, but I feel like I’m preparing to railroad the game. I wonder why this doesn’t happen in my Labyrinth Lord games.

Perhaps—and I had not realized this before—I’m missing wandering monster tables! Why is that? I’m not sure. Perhaps the list of wandering monsters is too long for me to organize events into a nice little tree of four or five scenes.

We’re still playing on the same map, thus I am falling back on a lot of D&D lore. But this grounding in D&D is not helping. We have pixies and orks, goblins riding on ferrets and a red dragon. Perhaps this mixing of D&D background and Solar System rules is leading to my cognitive dissonance?

I feel like I’ve been thoroughly trained in the ways of D&D. I like not only wandering monsters, but numbers appearing, their stats, the treasure tables. All of these help me generate the world without feeling too responsible about it.

When I’m not using D&D, I feel like I’m designing everything. It’s a choreography. Every hex has one encounter at most. Every encounter is potentially significant for the narrative. In terms of the current adventure (“kill the red dragon”) this means that the temple of Set, the snake men, the pixies, the goblins—all of them are clearly obstacles to prevent the party from reaching the dragon. If they weren’t, then in terms of the Solar System rules, there’d be no need for conflict, no need to talk, no need to roll dice. That’s the vibe I’m getting, anyway.

What are the specific Solar System rules that generate this situation?

  • most conflicts are resolved using a single opposed die roll
  • you are basically encouraged to limit extended fights to the most important conflicts of your campaign (and when I ignored this advice, we had a very long fight against a dozen orcs that wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped)
  • gaining XP for gold is but one of the various paths characters can pick; this means that the search for gold is not providing a goal to strive for, together
  • most of the damage is significantly reduced after a fight; together with the points mentioned above this seems to indicate that traditional dungeon adventures are harder to pull off—perhaps I should just try it instead of talking about it
  • the adventure graph generated during preparation is somewhat more free form than a map and key, but at the same time I feel limited to what is on the graph

As I read over the list, none of these points seem too compelling. It seems to be all in my head. I wonder why I’m feeling unable to run the kind of game I’d like to run. I’ll report back next week.

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Comments on 2011-09-30 Solar System vs. Old School D&D

Hi,

A friend sent me a link to this post, and as someone who has played and enjoyed Solar System I thought I could share some thoughts on your situation.

It seems you’re not having fun with the game? If you’re not having fun you are doing something wrong. And in this case it is either the tool or the task that is at fault.

Do you want to play the way you always did? Then you have chosen the wrong tool, your old D&D books (and clones) will serve you much better.

Do you want to play Solar System? Then you have set the wrong task, Solar System does not work very well with the dungeon bash/wilderness exploration-kind of games, IMO.

D&D is about the dungeon, the orcs, the dragon and the question ‘Can the adventurers defeat them?’ One could argue that D&D is about the characters, but usually that isn’t the case. If one of them dies in a random encounter it’s just to roll up another fighter and let him show up in the next scene, and play progresses. Because it wasn’t about the characters in the first place, it was about that dragon that needed slaying.

Solar System is about the characters. It is not a question of ‘Can we defeat the dragon?’ but rather a multitude of questions, all individual to each PC; ‘Should we defeat the dragon?’,’If I defeat the dragon, what will become of me?’ and possibly ‘Should I let the others defeat the dragon?’. Play is dictated by the Keys on the char sheets, and everyone should have a Key that concerns another party member. To the player the other PCs are not just a source of heals and fire support, they are the adventure, the interaction between the characters is the important thing, the hows, whys and whats. Sure, you can still go on a quest, still go to defeat the dragon, but it isn’t about the dragon, or even the quest, it’s about the people who went on the quest, and how the quest changes them.

Wilhelm 2011-10-01 07:38 UTC



AlexSchroeder
Hm, good point. I like the various questions around the dragon quest. Our previous campaign was a “bad guys” campaign with goblins and elves in the party and a lot of infighting. This campaign, we decided, was going to be a “good guys” campaign and there was a suggestion that everybody take the key of the quest (not everybody did) and that at most one of us should take a “problematic” key. I had produced two lists: normal keys and problematic keys. In the end two players took the key of gold. That has led to a bit of inter-character tension. I’m not sure the players see this bickering as part of the adventure, however. There’s also apprehension whenever these player vs. player aspects come into play.

  • Ephraim (paladin): key of faith, key of war, key of the quest, key of vanity
  • Berkin (historian): key of goblin hate, key of the historian
  • Galadriel (elven guide): key of adventure, key of goblin territories (forced upon her by a goblin protector spirit)
  • Carlos (merchant and sorcerer): key of adventure, key of the quest, key of gold, key of war
  • Willibald (master spy): key of gold

Given the above keys, what would you suggest to turn the game into a game “about the characters”? Right now we have the following developments:

  • Ephraim and Carlos favor violence when dealing with things. This appropriately leads to a lot of trouble.
  • Galadriel is always willing to talk to enemies and exposes herself to a lot of danger that way.
  • Berkin’s player is trying to reign in the players of Ephraim and Willibald who like to charge into dangerous situations without preparations

Right now I’m seeing that the defeat of the dragon, the looting of its treasure and the return to civilization will give them the opportunity to buy off the keys of gold, adventure and the quest.

I think that the question is not whether I’m having fun – I am having fun. The question is: what can I change in order to have more fun. The first two sessions have left me wondering whether there is something that I had been missing. Some essential and unmentioned quality of the game. Something like the fear of death in old school D&D.

PS: I had to look at your Lulu page in order to find your family name with which to find you on Google+ …

AlexSchroeder 2011-10-01 08:12 UTC



Eero Tuovinen
Hi,

A friend sent me a link to this post as well. I’m one of the people who have been active in developing Solar System (the rules set of The Shadow of Yesterday), and I’m an avid fan of the OSR as well, so your conundrum is quite interesting to me. Let me free-associate on the topic a bit, perhaps it’ll be helpful:

I like both old school D&D and Solar System a lot, but they’re really different games. For instance, the axiomatic party set-up of D&D is something you simply can’t have in Solar System: SS constantly assumes that the situations and threats player characters face are personally relevant and measured to challenge the player morally, not tactically. If the entire set of player characters reflexively reacts to everything they’re presented with as a threat to overcome, then not only will the system have difficulties challenging the characters, but also there never is room for dramatic situations and difficult choices to develop. In this regard Solar System is more of a Lord of the Rings roleplaying game than D&D could ever be: you might have a party of adventurers, sure, but each character in it will have their own reasons to be there and their own personal struggles. And when somebody decides to leave the party because their interests no longer match, that’s when the story really begins.

Regarding railroading, neither D&D nor Solar System should ever be railroaded - on this I agree with you 100%. However, because the games have different purposes and techniques they use to go about things, the meaning of railroading is also a bit different. If you’ll read the Story Guiding chapter in the Solar System booklet, I write about this there a bit under the title “dramatic coordination”: although the SG is never to railroad the players into experiencing his predetermined story, he is regardless responsible for selecting game content that allows the players to actually address the things that are important for their characters. In practice this means using techniques like dramatic coincidence (“Of course the one person in the whole world who I least wanted to see just happens to visit the bathing house at the same time I do!”), but this is not railroading because the intent is different: the GM is not doing this so as to enforce his own plot, but rather because this is the next relevant thing to happen in the story. We could play through long sequences of events that would “realistically” happen in between two dramatically interesting scenes, but we opt to skip all that and just go directly into the next interesting thing. It’s the sort of “enhanced reality” you’d see in a movie, but the technique itself is no stranger than when the D&D GM decides to skip ahead through routine events to the next challenging bit.

Despite my denial of railroading in Solar System, it’s definitely true that these two games use very different GMing techniques. Old school D&D has the GM be very hands-off, using randomization techniques to pace and regulate himself. He won’t bring on the trouble unless a roll of ‘1’ on a d6 is made, and he will carefully prepare the nature of the threat, or he will consider the fiction to conceive of the most realistic and acceptable type of challenge. All this is very natural and true to the creative goals of the game. Solar System Story Guide, on the other hand, is constantly on the lookout for the absolutely most interesting developments he could bring, and he will only ever keep himself under rein to pace things, to enjoy the suspense and give the players room to act instead of reacting now and then. This works in Solar System because the general procedures of play and specific mechanics of the system are built to safeguard player rights with such rigour that the SG is in much less danger of overpowering the players. For instance, consider the Story Guide responsibility of making defeat equivalently interesting to triumph for the players, even while their characters suffer; consider the strictly limited circumstantial penalties used by the system; consider the propriety limits imposed on conflict stakes; consider the player right to declare extended conflict when the dice go against them in an important situation. These are the sorts of building blocks in the system that should, when properly applied, make the game rather robust despite the lack of traditional D&D limits and procedures. They’re just different games, doing things differently.

Now, the real challenge in your situation, it seems to me, is that moving from D&D to Solar System is pretty difficult to do. People often try this, and I’m totally on-board with it personally, but often the result seems to be that the group continues to play as if the game were D&D due to force of habit. I don’t really have a very satisfactory universal solution to something like this, as it depends on the people so much. Some folks are very wedded to D&D and will play all games as if they were team-based challenge-oriented commando missions, and they’re not actually interested in anything else, to such a degree that they’ve learned to utilize the superficial vocabulary of roleplaying in their own context; of course we want “good roleplaying” and “interesting stories”, we just happen to mean the virtues of D&D with these terms. Other people are less creatively invested in doing challengeful adventure, but might lack experience with doing things a different way from how D&D does things; with these people cogent explanations and teaching by example go a long way.

Regarding practical Story Guiding, could you post a list of prepared places, characters and situations you have? As the SS booklet describes, the nature of running this game is mostly about preparing interesting events, throwing them at the players and playing the consequences of anything they might choose to do hard. There is a trick to prepping these situations (or “Bangs” as they’re often called in the scene), but once you figure it out it’s no more difficult than stocking rooms in D&D. It’s even quite possible to put your prep into a random encounter table if you want and let such a table pace yourself, at least as long as you’re willing to bring in some content when the players have dealt with everything they have on the table.

I can’t know how appropriate my ideas might be here, but here’s some prep I might use with these sorts of characters in the game, as an example of how to draw dramatic complications out of situations and characters:

  • The party is going to slay a dragon, so what if they meet somebody on the road who wants them to not do it? This could be a pretty yet naïve priestess of a dubious local cult that believes the dragon to represent the vigour of the earth, and thus slaying it would be death to local agriculture. I most definitely do not suggest that the SG arbitrarily jerks the players around, but that’s why these doubts are sown in advance; it’s up to the players to decide whether their characters care about this sort of stuff, whether they investigate to figure out whether there’s any veracity to such claims, etc.
  • What if the dragon is an incredibly dangerous foe, much stronger than the adventurers might hope to face? Will they risk failure and try anyway? Will they turn back? Will they quest for ways to gain leverage on it? When the party loses to the dragon, have it eat any characters who insisted on fighting to the last, while the rest are sent as dragon-envoys to do its bidding like knights doomed to a woeful quest.
  • The party might encounter goblins that promise to help them surprise the dragon in exchange for half of its treasure. Make sure to depict the goblins as either sympathetic and reliable, or disgusting degenerates, all depending on which of the player characters could stand to be provoked the most. Note how this sort of encounter is relevant to all those goblin keys as well as the gold keys; in general it’s a good idea to create situations that are Key-relevant and require players to make choices, as these are the spots where the Key mechanics work for you.

The bare fact is that Solar System is not a very good system for “just” adventuring; to make it interesting to use you need to be aware of the individual issues of the player characters. For this pay attention to the Keys of the characters and their heroic deeds, and to what the players seem to think their characters are about. Cast doubt upon those facets and try to make the players buy off their Keys, changing the characters. Also provide opportunities to change the characters by spending XP - don’t allow the players to just buy new Secrets and Abilities whenever they want, but rather bring in NPCs of all seven sorts, all of which want to teach their own specific disciplines to the characters. Have the dragon offer dragon magic to the paladin because the dragon perceives the necessary strength of will in him, for example.

Also, definitely check out The World of Near, the fantasy game setting book for the Solar System; it’s floating in the Internet out there and includes a lot of heroic fantasy stuff for the Solar System. Specifically, if you haven’t already done so, read the First City chapter; it’s an adventure I wrote for a very D&D-like group, so it might give you a better idea of the types of content that work in the Solar System and how to go about creating scenarios for it. You can see in it how I think up situations and content that specifically forces players to make choices about things that are important to their characters.

Eero Tuovinen 2011-10-01 09:26 UTC


Hi, Oh, you were having fun, good! I don’t know if the following will lead to more fun, but it might make the game more … well … Solar System.

What kind of faith does Ephraim have? Can you put him in difficult situations with it, do the other PCs share his faith?

Berkin and Galadriel seem to have different opinions on Goblins, has this come into play?

What does Galadriel really think of Ephraim and Carlos’ constant killing? And what do they think of her subjecting herself to danger?

Willibald is smoked, he only wants gold, I’d offer the player to reassign some points for him to get another Key, preferably something that ties him into the party harder, maybe Love or Fraternety. Maybe a Dark Secret would be fun.

Who is the leader of the group? Is there any dispute regarding the leadership.

Wilhelm 2011-10-01 09:49 UTC



AlexSchroeder
Thank you both for your feedback! The adventure map for last session was this:

Adventure Map

I had the names of the players along the edges, each with three skills, secrets or keys that I wanted to bring into the game, as well as a three-armed giant (related to the previous campaign), the pit of Nergal (lord of disease, responsible for the three-armed giant and other mutants), dwarven merchants (should the party travel towards the orc tower), the orcs (with names for their boss, their priestess and their taxman), the dragon (with his skills and gifts), the cistern where his hoard is, the flame traps he has created in the ruined city above his lair, a dire tiger (related to the previous campaign), giant snakes (for the S&S feel), a temple of Set (lord of snakes, poison and assassins), a magic hill with pixies, and fake gold (that the pixies might pay?).

Eventually what happened is that the players met the orc toll party and the paladin decided to charge and kill their boss (the named taxman) and succeeded. Then they tried to evade pursuit and failed, so I had a punishment gang of orcs show up and fight them (Harald Wagner – he who did a German translation of Solar System – lives in town and reads this blog as well; he offered some advice on our campaign wiki). This extended conflict was born out of a D&D mind set and I’ll try to avoid these “encounters” in the future. :) They reached the forest, discovered goblins, decided to avoid them, dithered, I had the dragon attack (hoping the foreshadow the final confrontation), they beat the dragon back, pursued, got charmed by pixies, Galadriel was caught and Ephraim promised to rid the pixies of the giant snakes and the Set temple in exchange for Galadriel’s freedom. In the mean time Galadriel had impressed and befriended the pixies but played along with them in order to have Ephraim help them anyway. The party then managed to confront the head priest of the Set temple and had to retreat before loosing the fight. (That, too, I’m hoping to do better next time: Right now I declared that leaving an extended conflict required parallel actions, ie. taking one last hit from the opposition and succeeding in your maneuver instead of having this be the result of negotiation.)

My previous campaign focused a lot on traveling into the wilderness, facing enemies, befriending some of them and solving their problems as well as fighting enemies with the help of allies. I think I managed to retain that flavor while picking adversity that relates to the players’ keys: taxes, tolls, fake gold, dragon hoard all relate to the key of gold; goblins relate to the two goblin keys; mysterious temples and hills relate to the key of adventure, and being distractions, they also speak to the key of the quest.

As for the ideas provided: Thank you very much. I will definitely introduce somebody interested in keeping the dragon alive. I also want to make the dragon more mythical in that it knows how to enchant people and maybe has doomed dragon knights serving him already. Excellent idea – foreshadowing the fates of those who failed to best the dragon. I also like the idea of actively offering more secrets to the characters. At first I felt like characters ought to be questing for new secrets, but having an abundance of secrets to choose from might make the game more interesting as well.

As for the questions: Ephraim’s faith lies with Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. The others don’t seem to be interested in religion. I need to think of something where neither making love nor making war is the answer. Tricky!

Berkin and Galadriel have mostly argued for the same thing: let’s avoid the goblins! Berkin wants to avoid them because he fears them, Galadriel wants to avoid them because that prevents the violent party members from killing them. Clearly, the best solution is for the goblins to find them. Good point.

Galadriel seems to treat Ephraim and Carlos’ constant killing as a force of nature that cannot be stopped, and thus she tries to talk to enemies before hand in order to avoid the violence. This works often enough (eg. it stopped Ephraim from trying to kill all the pixies).

Good point about Willibald’s single minded focus on the gold. I’ll talk to Willibald’s player.

Thanks for all the helpful pointers!

If you’re interested interested in the twelve page German summary of the Solar System rules, you can find them here: CW:TheAlderKing/Kurzfassung der Regeln.

AlexSchroeder 2011-10-01 11:08 UTC



lior
Here’s me trying to distill what Eero commented.

Assuming a “Key of X”:

  • The D&D approach would be to place obstacles the PCs must overcome on their way to X. The question is: Do the PCs overcome the obstacles and achieve X and what will they do when they achieve it or fail to achieve it? The burden of the GM is to place fair and manageable obstacles by means of carefully balanced key encounters and randomized (hence impartial) encounters.
  • The Solar System approach would be to offer the PCs X, but at a price P that goes against an important aspect. The question is: Do the PCs pay P to get X and what will that do to them? An aspect which formulates a price P could be a second key of the same or of another PC, a relationship to N/PCs or an element of PC backstory. The burden of the SG is to have the PCs collide against the Ps in an interesting way on their journey to X.

@Eero: Is this an acceptable formulation of what you wrote above?

lior 2011-10-01 12:20 UTC



AlexSchroeder
Lior, your first point certainly highlights my cognitive dissonance: placing obstacles the PCs must overcome on the PCs way, but finding that the rules aren’t very interesting when all you do is trying to overcome obstacles. Most of the charakters have a skill at the practical maximum of +3 and one or two gifts to support it. To challenge them, important enemies also have a core skill of +3 plus a gift or two. And then I start to get the feeling that perhaps I’m doing it all wrong. The question is, therefore, how to apply the second point in actual play. I’m sitting at my adventure map for tomorrow’s session as I type, trying to incorporate some ideas from what I have read…

AlexSchroeder 2011-10-01 12:59 UTC



Harald
Whoa this gets interesting!

Alex, the cognitive dissonance is that instead of giving players an obstacle and them figuring out how to overcome it, give them options to overcome it and have them make an informed decision of which path to take, which will either be in line with their keys or against their keys. Characters with dissonant keys make this an interesting choice, because the game content will switch from problem solving to a social dynamic about the solution.

Maybe I should come over tomorrow as a surprise player …

Harald 2011-10-01 13:21 UTC



AlexSchroeder
Two of my six players cancelled – you’re welcome to be there at 13:00. :)

AlexSchroeder 2011-10-01 13:36 UTC



Harald
I can make it, I guess. is 13:00 early enough for chargen?

Harald 2011-10-01 17:57 UTC



Eero Tuovinen
How did the game go? Did Harald make an appearance? This is getting interesting.

Lior’s formulation is swell, that’s how it goes. I want to emphasize that doing “good GMing” is just as subjective in Solar System as in D&D, so snappy guidelines like these are of utility value, not so much objective and comprehensive truths about the whole. For example, I don’t myself usually reflect the Keys of the characters very straightforwardly against other characters in practical play, as I prefer to rather understand the setting we’re playing with and reflect all the characters against that, leaving the players to mix it up amongst themselves naturally. But these differences in focus are matters of technique, situation and artistic preference - the goal is to realize the dramatic potential of the player characters, the paradigm is to do this by allowing the players to depict and display their own characters in their moments of vulnerability and greatness, and whatever tools you need to use to realize that is just fine.

About characters facing enemies with equivalent Abilities, it occurs to me that you might benefit from approaching the game setting in a more holistic manner: instead of thinking in terms of opposition, think in terms of interesting shit to throw at the players. And when I say “throw”, I don’t mean a challenge, but merely an opportunity for the players to make choices regarding the content. When doing this, don’t try to particularly create balanced encounters in mechanical terms, but rather allow the NPCs to have exactly the statistics that are most true to life: if the dragon is a magnificent and mythical beast, then it’s definitely a Grandmaster, and if the orcs are meaningless brutes, let them be Mediocre. It is a fine thing for the characters to defeat opposition trivially if that's the choice they make - your game-plan should be about making the choice of attacking interesting, while the actual combat is just a process of establishing consequences. It’s part of the nature of the encounter with a dragon that going against it is a grave peril - without the challenge being nigh-impossible for the characters it’s not going to feel like a moment of courage. Similarly it’s part of the nature of the encounter with some piddly goblins that the heroes are in no personal danger - without this feeling of dominance there is no room for the characters to make the choices of Lords. Thinking in terms of appropriate challenge reduces your available palette of color and content.

The problem in achieving the above ideals, of course, is in that it won’t work if the players don’t play ball. One of the reasons D&D is so very robust a game in comparison to many competitors is that it is very resistant to creative disagreements among the players; orcs are orcs are orcs, it’s not like you have any genuine choice about how to react when the GM gives you a fight. What Solar System is trying to do is more tricky to achieve, as you need some creative concordance among the group: players need to want to play their characters true to life, and they need to want cool, dramatic content. Meanwhile the GM needs to be able to entice them into things: if a player never cares about whether his character’s faith is misplaced, you will not be able to have a theme of faith; if a character refuses to ever fall in love, you can’t have romance; if a character never has shame or doubts about killing and stealing and greed, then you’ll have difficult having any traction for human drama. I’m not guessing even a little bit about the creative situation in your group, of course, but this is something to keep an eye on - I have played Solar System with players who didn’t want to do the sort of play it does, and it’s not very fun to try to drag the cart yourself. Like playing D&D with players who never step up and try to win.

Looking at the content you’ve had in the game so far, I might advice that you could probably stand to go for a bit more dramatic vigour, a bit more creative risk and a bit more personal encounters. Specifically, I advice that you should have some personal scenes for the characters too, not just party scenes. Have NPCs accost individual characters and kick them in the nuts, figuratively speaking. Kick the tires, see how the individual players react to things without having the D&D party dynamic constantly looming. Try and see if you can get the players to care about some NPCs instead of just caring about the things they “should” care about, like the dragon. Also concretely, were this my game I’d go for more “juicy” content; playing a dramatic game like Solar System is an excellent chance to just throw away certain shackles that the challenge focus of D&D causes. Where are the sexy nymphettes and strange hermits with horrible secrets? Over-the-top personalities are fun to play as a GM, and they’re easier for the players to react to. Don’t feel like you need to give them a “normal orc encounter”, do something weird and provocative instead.

Eero Tuovinen 2011-10-02 17:57 UTC



Harald
Hi Eero, thanks for chiming in in detail again! I did indeed make it to the game and it was solid fun. Consider this is the third session only with Solar System, and so far the group has dealt with a new rules set that applies dice and numbers orthogonally to how D&D does, and I would call it a huge success. Sure, there were still some discussions to be had, but that was mostly me trying to be too smart about things I wrapped my head around for a couple of years already (-:

Alex did a great job showing some quirky NPCs (like the half-monkey hippie in the beginning), and he stayed true to his credo of taking up the players’ ideas and running with them (you can find very short and crisp notes about what happened, in German of course). Apart from a discussion about how to apply keys and collect XP, most of the game was straightforward, with two extended conflicts (one to kill an evil priest, one to barter with a fairy about some treasure), but for me the most intense situation was talking to the dragon the group originally set out to kill … and learning a terrible secret.

One huge advantage Alex has is that he can build on a shared understanding of the game world from the previous long running campaign (non-humans in roughly the same area of the Wilderlands), and a lot of color and game world information can be conveyed to the players without resorting to infodumps (i.e., the players know demon blood is something very real and dangerous, the PCs did hear about it from the dragon first).

It was interesting how the game system clashed with and uncovered the dynamics of the used-to-D&D-group (fighters go fight, everyone has to follow their lead; most often because fighting is the easiest application of PC stats to a problem), and it was also interesting to see how the players took to my musings about that. After the big discussion in the middle of the session (which was neatly cushioned between scenes and was almost like a halftime break; before and after the discussions were more like requests for rules clarifications), I felt there was a discernible shift in group dynamics. I’m looking forward to see if the doubting players can figure out where those doubts come from and if we can reconcile their gaming needs.

Harald 2011-10-02 21:54 UTC



Harald
Uhhh, a blast from the past just crossed my mind because you asked about dungeons with Solar System: http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=3164

Harald 2011-10-02 22:55 UTC


http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6175/6204904361_e0544a47b4.jpg


AlexSchroeder
Today was much better than the first two sessions!

I think letting go of D&D-isms played a big part in it. When the party fought the snake priest, they won the conflict – and so the priest died, just as Ephraim the paladin had decreed. The players then wondered whether I’d want to extend the conflict, the priest being an “important” character. I decided that the priest was not important enough. Fighting the priest had been a subplot of a subplot (the party had been led astray by pixies, one of the characters had then been kidnapped by the pixies, ridding the forest of the snake priest was what the pixies had asked of the remaining characters in exchange for their friend). Clearly, keeping this priest alive and extending the conflict was not worth it. I felt good when I shook my head and said, “nope, he’s dead and that’s it.”

Regarding challenging the players: coming from an OSR background, I never had the urge to balance encounters. But I needed to make sure that scary enemies remain scary. For years, the players feared the 12th level goblin priest while playing D&D. He was, after all, the lord of a big underground city and a major religious leader in the region. I gave him a +3 rating. When Galadriel surprised him the first session and fought him one-on-one, hurting him and only retreating when he awakened a sleeping hydra, we realized that our characters with a sorcery skill of +3 where equivalent to the top echelon of level 9-12 characters in our campaign world. The same thing happened the second session when I had the dragon attack with claw and fire. He had a +3 rating for fire and combat, a claw specialization, and the whirlwind gift to attack the entire party all at once with his fire breathing. And yet, he barely managed to get away alive. I knew that I needed to make the dragon tougher for the encounter in his lair.

During today’s session, the dragon had prepared well. He had placed fire traps in his ashen city (an effect for bonus dice); there was an aura of choking fear filling his lair (an effect to oppose enemies of the dragon); I had upgraded his fire rating to +4 after seeing your giant lizard in the example you provided above (even though I did not know what I’d do if I rolled a trascendent result). The dragon was tough, and I made sure the players knew it.

The pixie magic, however was +2, their fighting ability and their etiquette was +1, the goblins had a +1 rating (and didn’t dare attack until the players opted for refreshment scenes—I had the goblins shoot the horses and run away to see whether any of the players would pursue them instead of continuing to the dragon lair). Last sessions, the orcs had a +1 rating.

In short, I totally agree with Eero’s “allow the NPCs to have exactly the statistics that are most true to life.” :)

As for players wanting cool and dramatic developments, I’ll have to wait and see. I think this is where “interesting shit to throw at the players” comes in—people often need an external trigger for a new development. It’s how my creativity works, largely. If a random lady shows up and does the right things, suddenly my character is interested. If a random location seems appealing and within reach, suddenly my character is interested. It’s hard to plan for something specific to stick, but it’s easy to plan for throwing a lot of stuff out there in the hopes that something will stick. This is excellent advice.

I absolutely support “more dramatic vigour, a bit more creative risk and a bit more personal encounters.” I’ll need to focus on that a bit more. As I start removing elements from my adventure map, I’ll keep an eye out for those points. As Harald mentioned, the half-monkey priest of bunga bunga dancing was a hit. He definitely needs to make more appearances. Maybe I should have used named pixies instead of generic terms like faery and dragonfly rider, given them more over-the-top personalities. A good point to remember for future secondary characters.

Strangely enough, Harald’s character mentioned the undines in the local rivers in ages past to the rest of the party. These need to be somewhere, too. :)

All in all, it was a very enjoyable game. I managed to avoid D&D-like encounters. I managed to stick to short conflicts for most of the time. I managed to make the dragon “tough” within the realm of the rules.

I even managed to offer the gift of Dread magic to one of the players. I am very happy with how things went.

AlexSchroeder 2011-10-02 23:03 UTC



Eero Tuovinen
Happy to hear that you’re getting a pace on with the game! Sounds to me that the creative train has left the station and is going somewhere.

Note that as written, the rules don’t allow the Story Guide to extend conflicts - that’s a privilege only the players have. It’s one of those Magna Carta things in the system, set up to safe-guard player rights: the Story Guide is free to invoke new fictional situations, but when the dice go the way the players want in conflicts, the SG has to accept that and keep on trucking. In this regard extended conflicts are a player privilege that ensures that we can be merciless with the conflict system; even if there’s bad luck or ill-considered conflict stakes, the player veto can always take the situation into round two. The Story Guide is bestowed with the power to introduce new things to the table, while the players each have the right to grind the game down into a halt so we can spend the next hour focusing on this particular fight/argument/whatever. This can be pretty annoying when a player thoughtlessly calls for it, but in general it serves well to free the Story Guide from worrying about things; just call for brutal stakes, mixing up drastic fictional consequences and rude mechanical events (Harm, remember), and trust that the players will take it into extended if necessary.

Along the same vein, regarding Transcendence: NPCs do not Transcend, it’s something only player characters do. This means that a Grandmaster-level NPC might sometimes roll a Transcendent result on the dice, and the only way for a player character to beat that is to Transcend themselves (or lose and come back from a different angle). I usually describe Transcendent NPC checks as absolute truths of the game world, as opposed to the merely ephemeral achievements characters usually roll for. In World of Near terms a Transcendent check result is “superior leverage”, and may be described as such: the enemy brought such a big gun to bear that conflict against it at this time is actually not even meaningful in the normal sense.

As for future content, it sounds to me that you’re doing just fine. Perhaps prepare one new Key and as many new Secrets as there are players for the next session, each something interesting and setting-related, and then see about pushing these at the players over the next couple of sessions. Generally I find that the game is most exciting when the Story Guide acts like a crack dealer with various Secrets, driving character development. This is also a good angle on inventing those Bangs/situations to introduce to the players: in what situation will it be natural for a NPC to offer the dread blade Stormbringer to a player character? Act completely agnostic of individual character nature and Advance economy when you’re dealing the crack - care only of pushing it and hooking the players, and remember the Advance Debt rules; you’re doing well in your role as crack dealer if you manage to talk the players into Advance Debt by enticing them with trinkets. (My Solar System experiences very much start with 3rd edition D&D, wherein I absolutely hate the pre-planning of character development that players are supposed to do; TSoY and Solar System work in exactly opposite way as the SG pushes one-time choices at the players that they take up or don’t, all as part of the weave of the game. Players add to Abilities and Pools whenever they want to, but for Secrets they’re largely dependent on the flow of the fiction.)

I’m at my most confident as a Story Guide going into a new session if I have a solid bag of Secrets to push at the players (World of Near helps in this regard a lot), some new and colorful NPCs to spring at them when they call for a refreshment scene (the prime time for starting up new plot lines), and a solid handle on the on-going developments, so that when it comes to each player I know what sort of scene to frame for them. Then I just start from one player and start paying attention to each character in turn, allowing the players to bring in their own characters as they would, but remembering always that it’s my job to challenge and provoke this specific character and his Keys each time around.

Also, speaking of tips and tricks, two optional rules to consider for a new campaign are the Gift of Dice and Key Elements, both to be found in the Solar system text. Those are optional because I find that their utility depends on group chemistry, so up to you to consider them. Gift of Dice is useful in helping and training players to be audience for each other’s exploits, but it won’t work if the players are hardcore about always siding with other player characters as a matter of principle; it requires a modicum of willingness from the players to act as impartial audience, with genuine sympathy or antipathy towards the various exploits that happen in the game. Key Elements are useful in that they’re basically ways for the Story Guide to suggest developments in the game: you can make your list of Key Elements open and just leave it lying around for the players to consider, and if it so happens that there’s a 5 xp reward in there for being the one lady Charlotte confesses her love to, that might motivate players and give them a sense for what you think might be interesting play for a session.

Eero Tuovinen 2011-10-03 05:00 UTC



Harald
Eero: My questions was Is this priest important enough for you that we'd need to go into extended conflict to kill him? because it always was my understanding that important/named NPCs get the same protection from wanton killing by single die rolls as PCs do (correct me if I’m wrong). I agree that Alex couldn’t have started it, but we might have had to leave the priest “he couldn’t have survived that sword strike” or decided to finish him off (which, going into extended conflict with 4 bonus dice, might have been easy – and hence boring). Also, often enough as a GM, I’d grant groups their victories over named NPCs from simple conflicts because going through an extended conflict did not seem to inform us on the content on the fiction any better than we already were.

We did discuss Advance Debt rules yesterday, when the Gift of Dread Magic was offered, even though this was at the end of the session and plenty XP had been generated already (easy when you’re a stranger amongst a group of ruthless killers plotting to kill you … after you helped them take out their current enemy).

I feel this group fares pretty well without the Gift of Dice – the group has six or seven regular players, and usually at least four of them are in a session; there’s tons of opportunity for characters helping each other. Yes, the Gift of Dice adds an additional dynamic, and it might do well to add it when everyone’s comfortable with the rules; there is a risk that it will cause aggravation with the player(s) that twinked out their characters.

Key Elements might help with some of the characters having chosen “hard” Keys (Key of Gold / Key of Brutality are usually simpler affairs than even Key of Adventure or Key of the Oath – depending on the Oath); but again I am not sure this is a big concern or simply something where the group still is working on finding it’s vibe.

Harald 2011-10-03 07:25 UTC



Harald
NB: Alex, I find the notion of the new group being “good guys” pretty hilarious (-:

Harald 2011-10-03 07:38 UTC



Eero Tuovinen
Yeah, traditional TSoY has it that NPCs are protected from death outside extended conflict as well. It’s a “propriety” issue as I term it in the SS booklet; allowing sudden, meaningless and irrevocable dead works for a certain kind of game, one that isn’t usually on the table with TSoY. And of course the “presumed death” trick is in full force, just like you write, and it’s up to the Story Guide to decide to bring the guy back or not.

Eero Tuovinen 2011-10-04 19:50 UTC


half a year later…


AlexSchroeder
Today Harald was writing about Solar System on Google+ and asked me how I felt about it now that we had played a little nine session campaign from character creation to transcendence.

Here is what I wrote.

Without thinking about it too long, it seems to me that the system is not quirky enough for me. If the rules are too simple, too unified, then results end up being predictable. With results I’m referring to the game experience at the table. With D&D and other traditional systems, it’s hard to figure out how your game play will change. There are weird spells, weird monsters, all of them with little extra rules that cover their specialty. In their totality, the systems are not rules-light, even if some of them such as the old school D&D variants have simple character generation.

I think this is related to changing gameplay over time.

I don’t have much D&D 4E experience, but I’ve seen people complain online about the perfect progression of character’s abilities and monster’s abilities. Old versions had asymmetries over time such as attack bonuses growing faster than armor class, save or die effects eventually dominating hit points, higher level spells dominating lower level spells.

Furthermore, non-quirkiness promotes abstraction. Abstract combat, abstract conflict resolution, and I’m wondering whether as a gamer, I might prefer more grounding. I’ve heard the same argument from other people, too. Sometimes it is also discussed under the label of Dissociated Mechanics. I end up not liking the abstraction of chess and prefer the speculations at the table that come with such questions as “what do you see when invisible people walk through water” or “can the fire reach me around the corner?” If you have quirky rules such as how fireballs work, then you can draw conclusions as to what happens if obstacles block the fireball’s path and use them in play. If the system is very abstract, then we roll first and interpret or explain the result afterwards.

The end result, therefore, is that the game felt a bit blander than before. The story felt like epic high level D&D without all the pain that high level D&D 3.5 would add, but the actual game experience felt blander than the simple Labyrinth Lord games I like to run.

AlexSchroeder 2012-04-19 09:45 UTC

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2011-09 Book Club

What: The President's Last Love by Andrey Kurkov

When: September 28, 19:30 – RSVP on Meetup (optional ;))

Where: Aquarium

Moscow, 2013: Bunin, the Ukrainian President, has joined other heads of state in an open-air swimming pool to drink vodka and celebrate with Putin. During his rise to power Bunin has juggled formidable and eccentric political and personal challenges. His family and women troubles combine with difficulties with corrupt businessmen and demanding international allies, but it is his recent heart transplant that worries him the most. Since the operation, he has started to develop freckles, and the mysterious widow of his heart donor appears to have moved in with him … [From Amazon’s blurb]

Long time members will recall the name: We read Death and the Penguin by the same author some time ago. And found it entertaining enough to now put another of his books on the list. But while it may sound like a farce, it seems that reality has caught up with some of it since it was written in 2004! – Uli

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