Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ten days later

I guess it's time I realized the inevitable, this blog is on hiatus. I never seem to find time to blog any more, and when I do I find I no longer have much to say.

For some reason I wont give it all up, but let's say that it's now not just languishing, it is officially and intentionally postponed for a while. I will get back to it, some day.

There are still a lot out there to read, and I do manage to at least skim most of it. Keep it up people, I'll be back later.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rolling or designing

I have been thinking a bit about how I experience the characters I play. I have said before that I am a firm believer in rolling the dice and see what I get. But, in some games it's not even an option.

There is one game I'm playing in right now, and I am not totally satisfied with it. Some of it is the GM style of our GM, which don't suite me very well. I think he is not as much of a referee as I would like, but there's also the issue with my character.

When I have to design a character I usually have a hard time coming up with something, and when I do it usually result in a "one trick pony". I think I have begun to understand why. Designing a whole persona I will think of personality traits I want to emphasize, some core skills and then turn that into game mechanics.

My problem is that after doing this I act out those traits, use that skill and then it's over. Even worse. I might sit there waiting for my meticulously designed character to get spot light and focus in a way that make just those abilities come alive. Sometimes it wont even happen, and I'll be bored.

On the other hand, if I roll for my character this wont happen. When I bring some dice to the table they will provide me with something far more multi-faceted. At all times I will roll with the punches and try at every moment in the game to look at my character sheet and think "do I have anything I can twist to fit here?" Basically, the dice will "design" more posibilities that I can.

What is a die? More than one choice, and improv creation. That's how I roll.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How about low level documents from the original campaigns?

I have taken a look at my collection of adventures by Kuntz and Gygax and found out that they seem to be for very high levels. Anyone know if there have been any adventures published at all for lower levels? WG5 is for fairly high level adventures.

How about adventures in Blackmoor or Tekumel for low levels? Have it all been lost, and is all we now have later day recollection of name level achievements?

The only thing I can think of is Greg Svenson's remembrances of the first adventure in Blackmoor castle. Please let me know if you know of anything more.

The creative spark of fantasy

I have been quite floored recently. First it was my new job, then it was me feeling sick and trying to recuperate from that. Having so much new to cram into my poor brain hasn't left much space for gaming thoughts. Interesting enough I do have quite some time while commuting to read game books. Since I re-read DragonQuest that generated some thoughts worth blogging about. But even with that it feels like I'm too drained to create much these days. Oddly enough I don't feel I've burnt out on blogging, like some of my colleagues in the blogosphere. Frankly, the more I write the more I feel like writing.

But, just bemoaning the fact isn't that much to post about, is it? Well, inspiration and its sources have been mentioned by a few bloggers, like Jim Raggi and Rob Kuntz. I decided to focus somewhat on what makes me tick. Maybe it will serve as some light entertainment.

I remember I once read a piece on mood and atmosphere in an old rpg magazine called Rubicon. That article have been very influential for the way I approach fantasy as a mood. Basically, when I have an idea for a fantasy adventure, I usually think about how to make it be different from real life. One lesson from the article I mentioned was to have a concentrated punch of "fantasy" in your adventure. It's hard to sustain a feeling of otherness for too long, and a short sharp shock might work better. Anyone remember that dreadful Planescape cant? Yeah, talk about getting saturated and sick of it in two minutes.

So, how do you get that spark? For me fantasy is often something grander than the daily grind. I know Rob posted some art that he find inspiring and while I liked some of those pieces I have found that for me the visual stimuli isn't that strong. There is one way I get those flashes of inspiration, though. Take a look at this picture:

(I can't embed it, and that way I might make the artist and his broker happy)

I find that picture very effective for making me think of the fantastic. Take a look at those gigantic statues. Who put them there? Have they been there for millennia, maybe? What are they on guard for? Will they animate and defend those shores against the hulking monstrosities when the end is nigh? Imagine playing a game in a fairly standard setting which to you feels maybe a tad like home, and then see That. You are not in Kansas anymore.

Usually I have no idea what a thing like that means, but any mundane session with something so out of the ordinary like that will be remembered. I would love to be able to design adventures with that kind of punch.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I hate being sick

I will probably not post much in a few days, since I'm feeling really down and out right now.

Game on, those of you who can.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

More campaign styles

I have been talking about Sandboxes, Story and Emergent Campaigns for a while now. Never did I imagine that someone had already made a far longer list. Take a look at this one, and see what you think.

One thing that's interesting with that list, is that it's a different level of granularity. The Poverty Campaign for example, focus more on how the game will feel like as a player. Noteworthy is also the Internet Campaign, which focus more on the arrangement for play that its contents.

The three campaign styles mentioned above approach the subject from the perspective of a GM, or at least from a top-down view. Maybe the degree of granularity in the vocabulary, and a difference of viewpoint can help us get a more useful toolbox for rpg criticism. At least the vocabulary is about using words somewhat like their everyday usage, which Forgespeak don't do.

What are the things worth considering when starting a campaign? I will try to make a list of things I think are important.
  1. What are the level of GM control?
  2. What will be the feel and power level experienced by the players?
  3. Who or what will be the engine of the game? 
  4. Which rules set will help/hinder/enforce the ideas above?
A campaign with heavy GM control, powerful characters, a strong NPC and detailed and crunchy rules will have a very different feel from a campaign with player narrative, low power level, inter personal conflicts and rules which gloss over combat. I have been a GM in a Vampire game like the former one and played in a Primetime Adventure game like the latter one. I didn't like either of them! Worth noting is that none of Sandboxes, Story and Emergent Campaign describe all the nuances mentioned. Is this worth expanding upon? Until it has left my brain I probably will mull it over some more, for my own peace of mind if nothing else.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The issue of "game balance"

Even though I haven't published much here lately, I have managed to play some sessions. A friend of mine have started a game based on the Buffy game. Personally I think the tv series suck, big time, but I usually don't say no when I get invited to a game. The system is pretty basic and the thing which make it special are Drama Points, and the division between Heroes and White Hats. The latter are something like the Companions in Ars Magica.

Drama points can be used to introduce a "plot twist" which endow the player with some narrative control, and you can also use them to get a bonus to a roll, if you declare it before rolling. Basically it's a way for the player to tell the game master what's interesting, and a way to shine when you think it would be cool.

Those of you who have read some of the indie games from the Forge know how narrative control is a very common theme. Licenced properties have been seen in the rpg business before, but I imagine that C.J. Carella (who designed the Buffy game) decided to use this kind of mechanic because the Forge style have entered a greater common consciousness of how to design games. Some of these ideas I like, some I don't like.

The fact that some characters are more powerful and important than others rub me the wrong way. While I don't feel "game balance" is all that it's made out to be, I still think something is fishy about the way the unbalance is done in this game. Since the Buffy game is modelled on the tv show, it follows that there is a story about the heroes in the game, and that the white hats are there to help the story along. I makes me think of the metaplot sledgehammer so often wielded in the games from White Wolf. Is this me secretly longing for "game balance" when I am in the weaker position and realizing it is not as fun being less powerful? Or, is it a tendency in this game to portray a setting where the initiative is not supposed to come from the players but from the GM acting as director for the Heroes? I don't know, actually. I would love to hear more people with "old school sensibilities" play different games and report on their feelings.

Edit: I have been silent for too long, I forgot to post a title... 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A reason for the slowdown

I'm afraid I haven't been very active lately. Not only have I been very slow with postings here, I have also been very slow reading all the good stuff all my friends are blogging about as well. A few comments have been posted, but that's all.

This is all because I have just started a new job, and my head is so crammed with new impressions that I don't have time to blog and I don't feel very creative either. Everything in my head lately is related to storage subsystems, filesystems and supercomputers. Nothing very fitting for this blog. So, until I have gotten a bit more settled in I guess it will be a bit slow around here. One good thing is that since I have plenty of time commuting, I am reading a lot of game books I haven't gotten around to reading until now. At least it's something.

I'll be back.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Goblin Waters delve - part 2

Once again our brave delvers fought cunning and dangerous foes in the water logged caves in the mountains above Kobb, the hobb hamlet. We left off with the characters still in the caves, and I must confess I had forgotten how much punishment they had taken, for in the first fight one of them went down after first contact with the enemy. I was way to kind and actually let them fight giant spiders without venom! But, they handled themselves well and fought very smartly with a polearm in a fairly narrow corridor. Nothing beats a polearm set against charge when there's no room to evade that pointed stick if you want to close for melee. Spiders being spiders they wasn't that good at grasping that fine point of tactics.

Apart from some fights, this was a session for sneaking. Everyone who have ever used pitons to keep doors shut or open can probably imagine what happened if I tell you that my players successfully "contained" some danger. I still haven't decided how hard it will be for that poor monster to break down the door.

The most useful lesson learnt so far for me from running this adventure is to always look at rooms close by and try to imagine how the inhabitants of those rooms would be able to roam about. Having the dungeon be a place where people move around makes for a more dynamic setting, and it was quite suspenseful when the characters kept hearing splashing of oars in the distance and suchlike.

If you have never had players plunder an alchemical lab, or some other place with strange bottles, I suggest you do so! How entertaining it is to see how they try to discover what those mysterious liquids do. My only disappointment this session was that they never did try to drink that massage oil they found. It would have been fun.

There are still more dangers to be found in tha caves, and we will meet again in a few weeks time. I really love to be playing T&T again!
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