Thursday, September 22, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Today is the Birthday of two great heroes of yore, but if you're nerdy enough to wade through the plethora of other (better) rpg-nerd blogs, you probably know where I'm going with this.

Bilbo and Frodo Baggins are both impossibly old today!

I was never much of a Frodo man, meself. If I had to pick a character from LotR, it would be Sam, for reasons I may get into in a later post.

But Bilbo Baggins! Has there ever been a better protagonist for a fantasy novel? When you read The Hobbit for the first time in middle school, as I did, you become Bilbo. Bilbo lives the insulated world of the Shire, quite comfortably, until a wizard shows up and scratches graffiti on his door.

We should all be so lucky.

Though Bilbo is something of a coward and a tenderfoot, he has that spark inside him that let's him pull through in a pinch. Though he was shaken at leaving his home without a handkerchief, he somehow found the courage to sneak into a dragons lair, treat with the dragon, and steal some treasure.
We want to be Bilbo when we're 12 years old! Hoping against hope that some grand adventure will sweep us up. We want to be tested, and to be found extraordinary. We pray that underneath our ordinary-ness, there's a little spark of dragonfire. When I first started roleplaying, I wanted to be Bilbo Baggins. I wanted a sword that glowed when orcs were about.

Interestingly enough, I don't believe I've ever played as a hobbit halfling.

Monday, September 19, 2011

No levels means no low-level encounters.

Sunday saw us finishing out the little crap adventure I had written out for Traveller.

The biggest bug I need to work out appears to be my own thinking. I'm so used to starting characters being weaklings that I didn't put as much thought into the principal adversaries in the starting adventure as I should have. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start near-ish the beginning.

When we started rolling out Traveller characters, I gave the rules a cursory read, decided I knew how everything worked, and got down to business. The end result is characters with too much money and ultimate bad-ass equipment. That, however, is only a minor hiccup, really. The big problem is that I'm still thinking of new characters as low-level characters, and thereby, comparatively weak characters. This is most certainly not the case.

I went with an old stand-by adventure of mine for new characters; under whatever flimsy pretense I can concoct, I send them into an area infested with zombie/zombie analogues with orders to retrieve something. Usually, I make the zombies able to be destroyed either by a single blow to the head or by enough damage to the body. Welp, the heavily armed commando unit that constitutes the party cut through them like a Sherman tank through rice paper. Even if the zombies actually closed to melee range, the characters were armored to the point that the bites of a few ghouls amounted to hamster farts. Even the big "boss" zombie I stuck in at the last moment was nothing. And he had decent armor. And 50 hit points. When the player caught sight of him, they nonchalantly flipped their guns to full-auto and rained Hell upon his poorly conceived head. It was to the point where combat just delayed the game slightly. I just started skipping it.

A lesson learned: When your main antagonist is about as threatening as Rob Thomas in a diabetic coma, a lot of drama goes out of the game.

I did give the characters an interesting choice. They could destroy a uncontaminated sample of the zombie-causing virus, or sell it to the highest bidder.

They sold it.

I smell a warcrime!

I'm going to look at some modules, I think, and send the party against some other people with armor and guns.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Space Opera-tions

Our party was short again on Sunday. Boo. Rather than contrive some contrivance for our AD&D game, we switched gears and tried out hand at Travellers.

Travellers is a role playing game set in the far future, in a universe with aliens, lasers, and faster-than-light travel and easily molds itself to a myriad of sci-fi tropes.
I first heard about Travellers from reading Grognardia, my rpg blog of choice. After reading a bit about it, I promptly pirated it and all its related materials and was so impressed that I actually purchased a hard copy of the core rule book. Despite the odd bit of Britspeake, it's a solid rule book.

Throughout the week, the interested players rolled up characters and on Sunday, we sat down to play. With both DM and players being green as grass, problems were popping up right and left. I should've been taking notes so that I could correct them in later play sessions, but for the most part, I think the players had a good time, even if one of the marines was firing anti-tank weaponry willy-nilly at soft targets in a pressurized environment.

I'm certain there are some problems with the way we rolled characters, and I'm not certain we've figured out exactly how combat should be done, but I think we're well on our way to glorious space adventure.

And now for the portion of the blog where I wax poetic about role playing theory ad nauseum.

While rolling our Traveller's characters, one of my players ended up with a character who through sabotage and misadventure and a few land mine related incidents had a dexterity score of 1. That's as bad as it gets, so long as you still have limbs. The player was visibly disheartened, and at the urging of the other players, abandoned the character and rolled up a new one.
I don't ever force players to play characters they don't want to. And during character creation, I usually allow a single re-roll, but I'm always saddened to see a player scrap a character because of a stat.
Even in this extreme example of a character having the lowest possible score for a statistic, I think it's a challenge.
So your legs are all blown to shit. So what? This is the by-God future. You find a way to deal with it and keep going. Having legs torn to shreds makes your character that much more interesting, especially to play, because you have to think.
In terms of game mechanics, every set of stairs is an obstacle. You as a player have to find a way to deal with these things, and yes, it can be a pain in the ass, but it injects a bit of tension to almost every situation when your character's very mobility is a cause for concern.
In terms of role playing, you've won the damn lottery! The loss of most of the use of your legs is a huge event in your life, how did you deal with it? Do you have post-traumatic stress? Napoleon syndrome? Are you determined to live as normal a life as possible, legs be damned? Think of every TV special you've ever seen about someone who suffered some type of accident and has to live on being at least partially disabled. That's your back story! The other dude was a marine for 12 years and then got kicked out for humping the general's wife, but you have some real drama in your past. Live it up.

Nobody remembers generic space marine #3, everyone will remember the dude on crutches who saved everyone's ass.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I apologize for the time between posts, work and life in general have been riding me. That said,

Total. Party. Wipe.

This past Sunday saw the party-minus-the-cleric swept back into Ravenloft. The last adventure in RL seem a little too trite for me, so I decided to opt for a side quest that was a bit mysterious, with a nice big battle in it towards the end.

The heavily armed party managed to scare some townfolk, then go to the shadiest bar in town, and when asked to leave, get in a fight with and murder both the bouncers and proprietor. After some more asking around, they got right into the business of the Big Battle at the End. They faced eight armored clerics, who were pretty stout, and two unarmored tenth-level fighters.

The party stood their ground and were beaten to death, one by one.

This leaves me in kind of a sticky situation. I try not ever to advance the main plot of the quest unless all the main characters are present. With all put the absent character reduced to a pulpy mass on the Demiplane of Dread, I really hope the cleric is there for Sunday's game.

I noticed something that never fails to disappoint me during Sunday's game. It seems that in non-combat situations, if there is not some obvious and specific way to over come something, my players get frustrated and unmotivated.
If an NPC seems distrustful of them, or is not immediately forthcoming with information or aide, the standard response seems to be "Fuck that guy, let's burn his house down!"
I think this sentiment comes from, strange as it seems, noble aspirations. In the minds of the players, they are the heroes, the good guys. This should be present in the minds of everyone they meet, they reason. Every NPC should be immediately trusting and forthcoming with all aide and information to them. And why not? They're the good guys, after all. Anyone who doesn't aide them must obviously be some kind of villain. In the player's eyes, they are the highest moral authority and woe to those who would condemn their actions.
The truth is, they're a heavily armed group of seasoned mercenaries. Though they may be truly good people who fight for what's right, it's only natural for the small farmer to treat them with fear and distrust when they show up unannounced on his doorstep.
After all, if a squad of special ops soldiers bristling with arms and armor showed up on your doorstep and started asking questions, odds are, you'd be just a tiny bit wary around them.
In my philosophy of gaming, player characters are just people. The only thing that separates them from the farmer is a little training and a lot of experience.

*insert ham-fisted segue*

 Immediately previous to my introduction to the hobby, a dude by the name of Uncle Figgy wrote several guides about being a player and/or dungeonmaster/gamemaster. Three of these guides can be read here. A quick google search will get you the pdf's for downloading.
As burgeoning roleplayers, my first group and I took these as gospel. Giving these a quick look-over may give you a peek into my psyche and the core of my gaming philosophy.