Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Bizarre Scene

The adventurers come upon a rough, one-room cabin in the woods. It is ramshackle, about to collapse by the look of it. From outside the cabin, the party can hear a woman screaming in pain. Her agony will continue until the party intervenes. The door of the abode is unlocked and falls off its hinges if opened. Inside the shabby dwelling is a man and a woman. The woman lies on her back, atop a blood soaked bed. She is in labor, in the midst of a difficult delivery. A wide-eyed man in a worn tunic stands over her, moving from side to side, unsure what to do. A few chairs in the room look to have been shattered against the walls.
Some kind of rupture has occurred, the adventurers can see serious blood flowing from the woman. She is in deadly danger. Between screams she will implore the party to help but won’t say how.
The man will start to cry and say, “My lady, your fruit has fallen from the tower, and the ostrich has yet to return.” He will continue to flutter around in anxiety. He can not lend a helping hand.
No form of healing will halt the woman’s blood loss. Her turmoil can be soothed by party members if they are willing to help in the delivery. If they don’t help then the woman will die without giving birth. At least three adventurers need to help in order to save her, weather trying to comfort her or helping with the actual delivery. Anyone that helps will get splashed with or covered in blood.
If the party helps then a baby will be delivered. Immediately afterwards the man will scream and run outside the house, unless stopped – not that it matters. If he is retained, he will babble, “Aid only comes from the blue, the hue that is true. I’m so, so sorry. The ravens have eaten all the breadcrumbs.”
The woman will smile with relief after the delivery, shortly before dying. Then, while the infant is held by a party member, the woman, man, the very house will all vanish. The party will find themselves in a small clearing in the woods, where the cabin was. The sights, smells and sounds are all gone without trace. The blood remains, however, and in the place of the baby is a blood-covered book. If the party doesn’t help then the cottage will still disappear within two rounds of the woman’s death.
The book is large, containing several hundred pages, and it is locked closed with an ornate golden lock. It has no sigils upon it. It will radiate magic if checked, as will the lock. Where might the key be? Is there a magical means to open the book? These are for the DM to determine.

The entire scene is actually the dream of a sleeping god. The party can interact with it but nothing physical will come from it save the blood and the book. The blood can be wiped away normally but it does mark the PCs as participants in the dream. This is a side-effect of the god waking up. The god will bestow a blessing on those PCs that helped it’s dream end well, with the woman delivering. Likewise the god will curse those that failed to help. The blessing is that the first successful attack given by each marked PC, in their next fight, will deal an extra 3d8 damage.
They will also have the book, which, if they manage to open it, will contain a research spell of the DM’s devising, or five fifth level spells (three Magic User, two Cleric.) These can be determined randomly. They represent some aspect of the god’s knowledge, locked away deep in the god’s mind.
The curse is for the whole party, as the god did see them all fail to help in its dream. All of the party members will gain acid for sweat. This acid will destroy non-living material such as clothing and non-magical armor within five rounds. If members strip naked within 3 rounds and remain so for 1d6 hours, then the acid will become normal sweat again, and their equipment will be saved. The acid will not harm the PC it comes from but touching another person will inflict 1d6 damage.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Chance To Complain

I’m going to take the opportunity to gripe about some of my past players. Some of these people are friends, some were strangers. All have done some pretty ridiculous stuff, behavior that I would try to steer clear from when inviting players into your serious game. I will start with more thematic problems before going into specifics.
First off is commitment. I have had players tell me that they are only playing the game because they have no girlfriend. If there were anything else to do on Saturday night that didn’t cost money, then they would do that, especially when someone to hold hands with went along side. I also have had players that are regularly up to an hour late for the game. These same people are also not going to call and say that they will be late. I have also had the dreaded no-call-no-show from players who miss a game. I promise you that there are enough players to play with that will commit to being there on time, most of the time. Don’t settle for less.
Next complaint is against players that take a whimsical attitude toward the game. They take funny character names to prevent their participation from being taken seriously. They joke, impersonate cartoon characters, belittle each other with silliness, and the ever popular purposeful fart. This “comedy” ruins the tension that exists in a good game. It minimizes the impact of drama and emotionally charged scenes. I believe that silliness is used by immature players to make serious, uncomfortable situations less serious, and more comfortable for themselves. The game is fun enough on its own without over the top ridiculousness. On the other hand, serious anger can make the game feel unsafe. Explosions of anger need to be dealt with immediately and corporately. Time to be adults, people.
Establish boundaries early in your game. I have had players that like to roleplay everything. Instead of a player saying, “When we get into town, we go to the Inn” we would get one player wanting to have a long dialog with the town guard. The DM can’t end these meaningless discussions soon enough. The players hopefully know by now what the town guards are there for and can figure that they live the lives of guards. Some players might be inclined to ask, “Well, how do we know if the guard has any important information unless we ask?” Any DM worth his salt will drop a hint somewhere along the line. That Ogre the party killed last session had a formal message on his body saying that a guard in Town “X” is actually an Ogre spy. If party members want to explore every shop owner, noble and prostitute in town, then your game is in danger. You will have one player doing all the dialogs, and four players falling asleep.
Back on boundaries again. I have had a situation where players wanted to go deep into roleplaying, to the point of LARPing. A player wanted to act out her scenes with the other players, invading their space, touching them, attempting to convince them to follow her ideas. For her, a warning was sufficient, the boundary set. No touching.
Two more issues have also come up, one internal, one external. The internal issue is a player who wants to play a different game than everyone else. We are still playing D&D here, but four players are playing cooperatively, and one player is playing competitively. Playing against the game isn’t enough for this player. He or she is only looking out for number one, first and foremost. The party Thief may be selfish, but not to the point of being destructive to the rest of the party. A healthy game is a cooperative game.
An external problem, simpler to deal with, is the advent of electric media. I cannot tell you how many times my players have missed an important description or dialog because their faces are stuck in their cell-phones. Have your players turn those things off upon sitting at the table. If someone has to have their phone on, for work or what have you, then it needs to be on vibrate. Most importantly, no one in the game-room is allowed to talk or text on their phones or devices. Take the call outside and come back when you are ready to play.
Another, more poisonous fault I’ve had to deal with is players hijacking the game for their own purposes. The adventure, and the blessed storylines all stop because a few players decide that nothing more can happen until “X” occurs. That is fine, if the players are on board and quickly working to solve the issue. However, my example was nothing less than destructive. I had the problem where the party tried to formalize a method by which treasure would be divvied out fairly, only the party failed to come to any conclusions. Three sessions were devoted to solving this and some party leadership issues. Nothing was gained except anger and resentment as one plan after another was shot down. In the end, when moving forward was put upon the players, three players decided they couldn’t proceed until the issues were solved. Those players left the game. They made a mountain out of a molehill and it almost destroyed the game.
I’m sure there are more dangerous things that people want to bring into your game, and not just the newness and coolness of the latest sourcebook. Be wary. Hold to your set boundaries. Be an example to the other people at your table. If you can have half as much fun as my friends and me do, then I hope the fun and the strength of your relationships only improve.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Pathfinder Whining

Ah, money. I recently decided to have my cleric retire from the Pathfinder game I’m playing in. I changed my mind but the problem still exists. It was determined randomly from the start that my character came from a rich family of merchants. He also has some business gifts in math. My character could probably live a happy life as a merchant.
Instead he has gone through several adventures and near death experiences. He has been in command when a companion of his died. In the end, they’ve made a pittance with most of the monsters they’ve faced having no loot. The DM seems to be running a low treasure game.
That’s fine. I like low treasure, low income, and low magic games. I do ask, however, that the price lists for mundane equipment recognize the fact that the economy is tight. Such has not been the case, with my PC having to worry about having enough to buy food.
Running out of food is the depths of a dungeon is one thing, namely poor planning on the player’s part. Worrying about the basic needs of my character standing in front of the market is another. If I’m going to keep playing, then I might be more happy with a character that can live in the rough, a Ranger or some such.
The bigger picture, of course, is that this theme has come up again. The party of leveled characters is being made to look mundane and far from special, far from heroes. This isn’t Call of Cthulhu. We are not normal, everyday people, faced with dreadful monsters. We are specially trained, have made substantial investments in time, armor and weapons. We hunt monsters. We kill stuff. It’s time we were rewarded for it.

A Bad Trope

Our last session of D&D brought me down. Something that can be nothing less than a bad role-playing trope was inflicted upon us. It was everyone’s favorite, the bar-room brawl.
We had climbed out of the sewer and the nasty fights therein. We opened a door and found ourselves in a seedy bar. We had managed to wash the filth off of ourselves, so we weren’t covered in slime, filth and gore. Nevertheless, we were looking for blood, armed and armored as any adventuring party would be.
Imagine if you will, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, The Rock, and Dolph Lundgren, all wearing black leather and each toting a shotgun and an uzi. Imagine them coming into your favorite bar and demanding that everyone get out. I don’t know about you but I am outta there. Even if my friend gets shot, I am outta there. Sorry friend.
This was the situation when we burst upon this dim tavern. Half of the commoners in the room fled, as they should. The other half attacked us, unarmed and unarmored. Why, in any world, would that happen? How ludicrous a scene is that? Excuse me, Mr. Diesel, as I try to punch you in the face.
We laid into them, cutting them to shreds with our steel and spells. My Cleric wasn’t quite able to believe what was happening so he healed everyone and commanded them, again, to withdraw. They didn’t. In fact they broke bottles and attacked us anew.
Eventually we slew enough of them to make them flee. At the end of the fight, the cops come in and try to arrest us. SO… We escaped back into the sewer. Now the entire city watch is looking for us. Our option to get out of trouble with the Town Guard? A railroaded side-quest. Ugg.

Random Rants

Another note on playing the game. It has come to my attention that some players of D&D, among other RPGs, play to abuse, even break the system. Role-play? So long as it doesn’t interfere with tearing into the system, rending it for all of its problems. And why not? The games all have problems. Why not exploit them? Reality? Physics? What’s important? The rules are important. Refer to the books. The books have the final say. That’s why it’s a game and not just make believe.
That said, ask yourself, the other players around you, what kind of game are they looking for? Do they all want to get deep into the system, deep into the words of the books? Would they like to take a fair amount of game time to discuss and iron out interpretations of the rules? There is a lot to interpret, especially for those that really like breaking down the rules. What do the other players want to get immersed in?
You see what I did there? I made it about the other players. Players should always do that. I guarantee you will have a ball if you are looking out for the other players and they are looking out for you, and each other. The characters don’t need to be nice to each other all of the time but the players should be, and even their characters should be cooperating. If you have a hog player, then he or she is looking out for themselves. It requires more effort by the other players just to be heard and respected. On the other hand, quiet players are also only looking out for themselves. They require more effort from the other players toward inclusion. It’s best and not unrealistic to have a table full of pretty darn balanced players. Insist on it.
Go take care of each other. Grow your relationships while playing this amazing game. Push yourselves. Stretch yourselves. If you want to relax, hang out, and have a few beers, go bowling. If you want to sit back, watch, and roll dice, go shoot Craps. If you want to dominate the scene, and be in control over your lessers, go get therapy. Life is too short and the highest potential of this game is too great to settle for less.

My Awesome Suitcase

Found this awesome suitcase at the SPCA Thrift Store. $1.50. Thanks Matt for passing it up.

You Are Playing Wrong

Something that is apparently easy for D&D players to say is that “there is no wrong way to play” the game. Further that so long as people are having fun, the game is being played right. It’s right for them. Some of my players casually say this.
They are wrong. There are several wrong ways to play D&D. I’m not going to say that one system or another is wrong, they are all wrong about something. I am going to focus on wrong ways to play. It’s the method of playing that is important.
An open system is the best system to play in. It gives the players the most freedom to do what they want. Freedom is best. That said, freedom is also cursed. It allows people to fully engage and embrace the worst part of themselves. Terrorists thrive in countries that have the most freedoms. Similarly, Trolls thrive in games where they can behave in any way they want.
Do you tolerate an abusive player in your game? Do you tolerate “competitive” players in your game, where players are playing against each other more than they are against the adversaries in the game? How about players that hog all the action, and then only criticize the ideas of other players? These players are probably the easiest for a healthy game to get rid of; there is no question that their behavior is wrong. Usually it falls to the DM to say this ‘far and no farther’, but this should be, and is, the power of every player at the table. If a proper boundary is set, and then crossed without consequence, the game should end.
An abusive player is not the only player that is playing wrong. A player that hardly plays is also playing wrong. I can understand young players coming to the game for the first time, taking a back seat and staying quiet most of the night. However, as time goes on, the quiet player, content only to roll dice when asked, needs to speak up. The most important part in a role-playing game is the role-playing. If people insist on remaining quiet, forcing other players to pick up their slack (with ideas and story progression), then they should be playing board games instead of RPGs. You don’t need to talk much when playing board games, and those games usually have that wonderful die rolling.
There are more types of players playing wrong, but this is enough for now.

My Introduction To Pathfinder II

June, 2014 - I had trouble waking up today. No really, I had trouble waking up today. My character was asleep when the Orcs attacked. Bells ringing, people screaming, steel clashing, and yet I couldn’t roll well enough to wake my character up. This was explained after the fact by saying that my character drank too much the night before. Something I stated at the time that my character didn’t do.
So my character ceased to be a hero for a few rounds, becoming over the top mundane. The story went out of my hands and into the rulebook. Therein was found whatever rule that made me roll to wake up. Understand please, the rulebook was telling my story. My story! I don’t blame the DM for this. He’s just following the rules for the game.
I will endeavor to tolerate this game, for the sake of contrast with other games. My education requires exposure to unpleasant things. My house also plays host to my gaming group, although I do wonder if they are enjoying Pathfinder at all. We enjoy each other’s company, and that is most important, but there are scores of other things we could do for fun.

My Introduction to Pathfinder I

June, 2014 - I am a long time AD&D player, that is, I play an earlier version of the game that came out prior to 1987. I have limited exposure to later systems, via computer games, i.e. Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. This is my first experience actually playing a character in any later version. I appreciate that Pathfinder is set apart from Wizards of the Coast’s inflated D&D product line. I don’t like that Pathfinder has totally inflated its own presence in the same way. But I will retell my experience of playing Pathfinder here.
I was struck by the complexity involved and the time it took to make characters. I didn’t care for that. Some might argue that having all of these variables, these options stated in the books, makes it easier to create and run a unique character. I disagree. Surely it should be up to the player to make the character unique. There is no character creation ruleset that, by itself, makes a character interesting. Read any novel. How often do you like the main character that is like every other main character? How good would mystery novels be if every detective was some form of Dick Tracy? I suggest that the fewer rules you have in character creation, the more unique and interesting the character HAS TO be.
My next critique is all of the rolls. I find myself rolling dice to see if I am successful at doing things slightly greater than mundane. What I like about AD&D is that the characters are heroes. I don’t need to roll to see if I fall on my face when I jump from the top of a stationary wagon. I’m a hero, and so I land with style, style reflected in the fact that I have an above average Dexterity. No roll should be needed.
The real problem with the rolls is the time it takes to do them. It hurts the pacing of the scene. Let me describe what I am talking about, if I can. We have five players sitting around a table. The Dungeon Master has thrown a bunch of Orcs at the party, an ambush. Scores of them, waving falchions in the air as they charge forward. Instead of allowing the danger to be realized and the tension to build, we get a call for a large number of individual die rolls. We have charts and rules from some book telling us how we are situated to meet the threat. And, of course, if I do roll bad, and my character falls off the wagon, then all of the players laugh at my gaff. Where did the tension go?
My DM is skilled. Let’s see where this goes next.

My Mistakes As DM II

D&D is fun, mainly because of the people sitting around the table. Let me be clear, the game itself is less fun. If I have a bunch of people who hate each other around my table, then the game is not going to be fun. If all the characters die in one event, then that probably won’t be fun either. If one person is hogging all of the time insisting on pointless role-playing, then the game will not be fun. With all these and more, the uninitiated (with group fun) might wonder what fun there is to have. The danger lies in striving for or allowing fun in a light-hearted, funny way. This is my sin. I have allowed comedy to break up the tension on too many occasions. It started simply enough, with the players choosing overly silly names for their characters. Innocent fun I thought. But now the names are a big part of the chiding fun that players have. It is nearly impossible to have serious play with a character named ‘Mergatroid Balls.’ Now when something serious happens, the uncomfortable player makes up a funny turn of phrase about Mergatroid Balls. Where did my tension go? Other players have created all-encompassing back-stories for their characters. This allows them to break tension by pulling out some funny reference from the back-story, and inserting it into the play. This will happen more than you think. Fun is had because the people you are playing with are great, not because of some funny, in-game gimmick that you have created or allowed. You might laugh once at a silly reference, but remember what that encourages in the players around you. I have learned much. I can say without fear that my game will be more fun than ever now that the tension is back.

My Mistakes As DM I

In the late 70’s, Doctor Who had a tool for every occasion. He needed to stop an enemy, he had K9. He needed to open a door, he had the Sonic Screwdriver. These things plus amazingly capable companions made the writing for the show extremely easy. There was always an easy tool for the doctor to use, an easy solution. He didn’t have to use his brain for all of these little problems. A similar issue is rampant in role-playing games. Having an alignment system in my game was a mistake for this and other reasons. When I start another campaign, I won’t use an alignment system. That does not mean I won’t use Dungeons & Dragons, even though there are very good games out there that have no alignment system. My players like D&D, so I will simply remove alignments, and change those things that are affiliated with alignments (Detect Evil, Protection from Good, etc.) The main problem is that my current game has become a game centered on alignment. It is like Doctor Who’s Sonic Screwdriver, being used all the time to solve all the problems. Yet the show is not about the Sonic. It’s about the Doctor. D&D is about the characters. Fundamentally it is not about the flavors (cool swords, neat spells, special armor, powerful wands, etc.) So when my players use Detect Evil as a means to determine action, then there is a problem. Alignment becomes a cheat. Character development goes by the wayside because the Detect Evil spell tells the players how to act. The players should be determining their character’s actions, using their brains, not the game system. Their decisions make the story interesting, not the tools being used. Doctor Who is interesting because of the Doctor, not the Sonic. I also don’t like the assumptions of alignments. We have a Goblin or an Orc. Tolkein made his monster races evil from birth. How easy and uninteresting is that, in this context? I see an Orc, therefore it’s automatically okay to kill it. There is no question, no thinking. It makes it easy to be a DM. I don’t have to give my monsters any personality or back story because they are evil. The PC’s will kill them on sight. Yea me! I’m a real DM! A real Story Teller! Something should also be said about how flawed the alignment system is as written. So many interpretations on what the specific alignments entail. If I am Chaotic Good then that means I am not quite as good as someone that is Lawful Good. Bullcrap. I’m only Neutral Good, and so I am more Neutral than Good. More Bullcrap. I’m Chaotic Neutral, that means I can do whatever I want, not that I am insane. Oh, so much Bullcrap. There are probably other reasons but these are enough. The story is sacred. The player’s participation is sacred. I want to encourage my players to use their brains and their hearts, not some cool formula, one given them from the start.

Player Bill of RIghts

The Player Bill of Rights Definitions:Player – Any player in the game, including the Game Master. PC – Player Character, the characters that the players play with, including Non-Player Characters. The Game – A safe, cooperative effort.
1) The player has the boundary of skin. The player has the right to not be physically touched. 2) The player has the right to speak. (As happens on occasion, several players are speaking at once. For this and other reasons, being heard is not a right.) 3) No player has the right to verbally abuse another player. Saying, “It’s what my PC would say” does not excuse abuse. Attitude is everything. The game IS safe and cooperative. 4) Players have the right to leave the game.
Abuse is defined as a behavior from a player to another player that breaks one or more of the four aforementioned points (1-4). Charges of abuse should be taken very seriously, yet all players should feel safe to bring the charge(s). The charge will be handled diplomatically, with all players participating in the discussion.
Consequences: When abuse is charged and confirmed by a majority of players, then the offending player will receive an official warning. If the offending player at any time repeats or gives similar abuse, then they are to be dismissed from the game, and must vacate the gaming area. The length of this dismissal, given in number of game sessions to be missed, should be determined by all of the remaining players. If a number of sessions cannot be decided upon by a majority of the remaining players, then the offending player is dismissed permanently.
The Marlaya's mini isn't perfect. She doesn't have a staff that I know of, that is, as of now I have not written her owning a staff. Between the game and the writing, it is pretty clear that I cannot get this woman out of my mind.
Marlaya does appear in my D&D game. She started as a character in my writing, which developed substantially. Then I made a D&D world and set her in it. She's an NPC and has a relationship with the party.
March 4, 2014 - My friends and I have been enjoying Dungeons & Dragons together for almost two years. I have had the honor and enjoyment of being the Dungeon Master. The story has progressed nicely, with the players taking the game where they have wanted it, for the most part. I want to stress that point, that I, being the person playing the god-arbiter of what happens, do not direct what happens. I do not say, "Alright, you go into the cave, enter this chamber and must fight these monsters. Now roll dice." I do say, "There is a cave. You have heard that bad things happen there." That is enough. At the same time, other interesting possibilities exist, but these do not preclude what the players want to do. The party may have a cave, a haunted cemetery and raiding bandits to consider, but if they want to head west to see what's out there then fine by me. I will not block their path so that they have to come back and encounter the bandits/cave/cemetery.
"But what about all of that preliminary work you did as DM?" you might ask. "The Bandit King is really cool, the party HAS to come back and deal with him." No, no they don't. This is what I enjoy about being DM. My players stretch me. They challenge me. This might reflect views held by many others, but I just thought I would get that out there.