Monthly Archives: October 2014

Good Gaming Grief

My mother died in a car accident just over two months ago.  It sucked.  It still sucks.  But, like most dark times in my life, I manage to find some solace in my hobby and in my friends.  The folks in our group were amazing, chipping in for a lovely bouquet and donation to the ACS from my “meeples,” and rallying for a game session the weekend after my mother died, helping me to distract myself from endless family drama, funeral arrangements, and an overwhelming sense of loss.

It was really nice being surrounded by my friends, even as I watched my family seem to crumble around me.  And it was definitely a lighter moment when Rickster and Jana introduced themselves to my father and were interrupted with, “I know who you are.  You’re ‘gamers.'”  My father commented to me the next day, “You have really great friends.”  I know.

Steve the Bald was extremely generous in his gift of ALL of his Descent 1st ed. ish, which I’ve still only mostly gone through.  He also was very nice in his gifting of his newly-arrived 5e PH, which definitely gave my mind something to work on during a tough time.

As I went through the book and plotted out my character creation, I couldn’t help but notice some parallels to the classic stages of grief, so here are the admittedly morbid results of those mental meanderings:

Stage 1: Denial– This system is awesome! So many choices, all classes seem balanced, the powers are super cool!

Stage 2 Bargaining– I wonder if I can convince my DM to make my own deity with it’s own domain and powers.

Stage 3: Anger– What do mean a 1st level fighter can take the Magic Initiate feat and be more powerful than my Warlock?! This is bullshit!

Stage 4: Depression– Siiigh.  Even 1st level bards can cast more spells than me.

Stage 5. Acceptance– Oh, well, guess I can play a pre-gen.

-kMs.

Citadels and Crown of Destiny

Steve the Bald was stranded with car trouble, and with Alex out at his son’s soccer game, that left just Steve the Blonde, myself, and Rickster.  We opted to pull out a lighter game before we realized that Steve the Bald would be out for the count, so we grabbed Citadels.

Citadels

I always underestimate this game.  Simple in mechanics, the beauty lies in the possibilities, each turn causing additional thinky-hurt, but of a different sort than, say, Ra, or another Knizia title.  Every coin counts, especially when you have the nifty butterscotch-looking ones from the small box FFG reprint.  (I gifted my large box to M a while back, after snagging this one back when I worked full time for an online game retailer.)

I started out strong, building four 5-coin buildings fairly rapidly.  What I didn’t count on was that Rick, being new to the game, would use his Warlord and a hefty amount of cash to demolish my large districts.  In my groups, it’s usually considered a waste of cash to trash larger districts, folks generally targeting the districts that are cheap or free.  I thought I was safe.  I was wrong.

I had been hoping to steal a win with valuable buildings, as Steve the Blonde looked like he was going to run away with the end-game, having 6 or maybe even 7 districts on the board early on.  He made a great maneuver early in the game, spending all of his money before my Thief could steal from his second character, leaving me flat broke.  We both also targeted one another with the Magician at least once, just looking at the other and beckoning for their cards.

Rick took pot-shots with his assassin from his side of the table at various points.  It’s nice when newcomers to the game aren’t afraid to be nasty, as that is what makes this game shine.  I think the fact that most several effects target characters rather than players fosters this, and after one player gets hosed and wants revenge, that does well to get everyone’s gloves off.

Three-player Citadels is it’s own beast, and I think it’s actually a great showcase for the game, as it allows new players to figure out the characters rather quickly, having 2 characters per turn.  It also makes for some nice internal combo’s if you can get away with not having one or both of your characters targeted.  Plus, you don’t feel like you’re out for an entire turn if one of guys gets gacked or robbed.

Rick and I had a nice combo on Steve the Blonde at one point, as well, one of us targeting the Bishop with the Assassin, the other wrecking what would have been a “safe” building due to the Bishop’s immunity to the Warlord’s ability.

Slight Mispronunciation:  Dang.  I forgot that when calling role as the King, it is IMPERATIVE to announce “WARLORD” in a death metal growl.

Steve did eventually pull off a nice win, beating me by both going out first and having all colours represented in his Citadel.  I believe it was S: 41, K: 37, R: 21.  Well-played.

Now knowing (or at least strongly suspecting) that Steve the Bald was not going to show, rather than play three and a half hours of our Tyranny of Dragons D&D campaign, leaving behind two players and leaving Steve the Blonde and myself to play two characters each and possibly complete the first chapter of the module, we decided to break out Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd Ed.) instead.  (Steve had been baiting us for Talisman, but that was a little too random for my mood.  I had also suggested Android, but Rick didn’t seem to warm up to that after our last try with the game, years ago.)  As I didn’t see us having another chance too soon of trying one of the Hero and Monster Collection quests, I suggested we play the Crown of Destiny quest… on Epic Level.

Unfortunately, my gamestuffs were packed away anticipating our next campaign session with M as our OL.  Quickly we decided to just not use any of the characters from the campaign.  That still left us with a LOT to choose from, and Steve had even more trouble deciding upon monsters from all of the items I have acquired both on my own and as a very generous gift from Steve the Bald of all his old Descent stuff.  My wife’s gift of the Conversion Kit now leaves me with a conundrom of how to store and organize all of the different pieces.  Ugh.

Setup was a bitch, and cleanup is sure to be more of one as I now need to figure out how to bag and box things in a way that is easy to set up for both campaign and one-shot play.  I also need to facilitate further painting endeavors.  Once I finish the rest of my RuneWars heroes.  So much to do, so little time.

Eventually, Rick settled on Leoric of the Book as a Necromancer.

Slight Mispronounciation: Dammit.  I forgot to use the neCROHmancer pronunciation.  What is with me?!

I took Logan Lashley as the Treasure Hunter, as I was sad to not use him in our campaign.  (I opted for Jain as the Wildlander, instead.)

We took one look at the scenario and realized we were screwed.  No tanks, no healers, just two skinny dudes against a potential horde of creatures.  We did a bad bad thing and opened the door early, and I missed a potential extra attack with Logan by grabbing the initial treasure with no plan to use my bonus attack power.  Rick’s reanimate walked into the first room and corpse blasted the Master Chaos Beast into oblivion… or rather, into two minion Chaos Beasts.  This scenario sounded cool at first, but it seemed ever cooler the more we realized that the more big baddies we killed, the harder it was going to be to win, as Steve had chosen kobolds and ferrox’s as his open groups.  So not only did we have all of the little bastards running around trying to steal our destinies (mmmm… Gelfling!), but the freakin’ master kobolds split into two when they die!

We started our strong, but soon found ourselves surrounded, and Leoric fell first.  Logan ran to his aid, helping him up so he could re-summon his little skellington friend, then fell himself.  It got to be quite a drag, each of us falling once every turn or two at that point, but we did have a moment when it looked like we might turn things around.  Logan dropped two foes in a turn using his Heroic Feat, and Rick had the great idea to use his own feat to drop all of the kobolds and ferroxxeseses surrounding him.  Then he rolled an X.  We scanned his cards looking for anything that would allow a re-roll, but there was nothing.

We did hold on for some time, as it was very difficult for Steve the Blonde to roll the 2-shields or fewer to steal our destinies, but once he was able to actually drink one of the destinies with one of his master kobolds, it seemed more futile.  We would now have to kill a Chaos Beast which would then spawn into four more of the little bastards, one of which would split again when we killed him.

We played it out for a while, but once Steve had 3 destinies, and us having no game-changing plays at hand, it didn’t seem worth fighting out.  Mind you, I’m not saying we couldn’t have one, I’m saying that trying didn’t really seem so fun at that point, and after a long day of waiting and gaming, I was content to call Steve the victor.

Rick dug the game, and Steve always loves Descent.  If presented for what it is: a tactical mini’s game with a dungeon crawl theme; and not as what it looks like or we may want it to be: an rpg lite, it hits all marks.  The combat actually seemed more complex and engaging than our 5e experiences so far, but, grant you, our characters were only 2nd level in the D&D game.  I definitely think this scenario is a cool one and would be vastly different with four heroes, especially a tank or two.  I find myself wondering how our dream team of Syndrael-Knight, Avric-Disciple, Jain-Wildlander, and Widow Tarha- RuneMaster would have fared in this quest.  Maybe one day we’ll have a chance to try it.

Steve expressed some slight disappointment at playing the OL, as you don’t get to share your evil plan with anyone or strategize openly.  I find myself intrigued by this, as Steve was my primary DM growing up.  I think there’s a lot to be said for the role-playing we did back then and for rpg’s in general.  A 2-player rpg still necessitates some social interaction, while 2-player Descent is essentially, again, a tactical endeavor and can lead to some of this loneliness.  Maybe Steve isn’t such a heartless engineering tactical mercenary after all… Nah!

Kill count:

Keith/Logan: 4

Rickster/Leoric: 8

StevetheBlonde/OL: 7

Good win by Steve the Blonde.  And a not-to-be-overlooked highlight for me: watching my son eagerly grab after every Descent monster he could get his little toddler hands on, yelling, “Raaarrr!”  We let him bring a couple of the unused monsters upstairs with him, as he was reticent to let them go.. until he found a broom or cardboard box two minutes later.

For those counting, that’s 0-4 for me within 24-hours this weekend.  Not looking good for our fair hero.

But there’s always next time.

Me: Man, I lost all four games this weekend!

Wife: How can you rephrase that as a positive?

Me:  Um… my friends kicked my ass four times this weekend?

Wife: No… you got to play four games with your friends this weekend.

Me: Uh.  Oh.  Yeah.

Game on, y’all.

-kMs

 

Ra and Rampage

Jon-boy and M. in attendance last night.  Due to time constraints, we opted for some shorter, if not lighter fare, though I had been holding out hope for another crack at commanding the Waiqar in RuneWars.  E opted out of game night, so we settled on Ra, which M. had played once before and Jon had never played.

I love this game, and am always happy at the thinky-hurt it causes each turn.  Truly a Knizia masterpiece.  Jon was having a bit of trouble keeping the rules straight, but I think he was just having an off night.

Slight Misplay: We got just about all the rules right EXCEPT that I incorrectly stated that the person who voluntarily invokes RA must bid.  While this is true in the case of ties, it is not necessary for the RA player to bid if there is a prior bid on the table.  We only messed this up once, and it was with Jon.  I think he was leaning towards bidding anyways.

Great game overall, though Jon seemed a bit overwhelmed near the end, and made the conscious choice to bid himself out early in the third epoch.

Slight Mispronunciation:  Okay, when I was first taught this game, the other gamers at the table pronounced the word “epoch” thusly: eh-pic  I had a strong feeling that this was incorrect, but not wanting to seem like a complete English nerd/douchebag, I let it go, and since that was the group I primarily played Ra with, I picked up this pronunciation habit.  It was driving me crazy.  So last night, Jon-boy and M. were consistently chiding me, insisting that the word is pronounced in this way (the one marked in blue), which prompted me to do a quick online search.  It turns out that both are correct, one being the British pronunciation, the other American.  As an anglophile when it comes to words, I’ll be doing my best to adjust this.

The game ended with me using my 11 sun on a small row of tiles with one Ra tile space left to go, as I didn’t want to chance losing out to the last Ra tile.

Jon ended up with 5 total points having lost quite a bit in the Pharaoh war and having few monuments and no civ’s at the end (iirc).  M middled out on Pharaohs, but had a ton of monuments, just shy of the 7 needed for the bigger bonuses.  I had misread this on my own board, somehow thinking I’d get a bonus for 5 different monument types, so I ended up losing to M by 5 points, even despite my 3-civ bonus in the third epoch.  Well-played game.

We then opted for another light-ish game.  Rampage came up.  Jon-boy has played a bunch with his kids (though without the special cards), and M. has never played.  It’s a nice mix of wacky dexterity with some very light strategy thrown in.  I do think the cards are a bit annoying, as they can be very situational/unbalanced, and the iconography is not very clear.

Oh, and you will notice I am calling this game by it’s original name, as I was lucky enough to get a copy before the cease-and-desist order came out, forcing the publisher to rename it “Terror in Meeple City.”  So there.

Not really much to report on this one.  There were a few rules quibbles over whether one could munch on a meeple atop a fallen roof/floor tile, and also whether one could then subsequently eat the floor as well.  Overall, a fun game for sure, but it does suffer from some rules holes that just add confusion and annoyance to what should be a very fun dexterity romp with amazing theme and components.

Jon’s practice with his kids paid off, and he beat me soundly by 10 points.  M was out of the running, as she had the misfortune to lose more teeth than she had, having to take meeples out of her belly.  She and Jon also were picking on each other with special cards, stealing meeples back and forth, so that hurt her, as well, as she ended up on the losing end of that battle.

I really need to find more monster-themed music for this game.  The Mummy and Raiders of the Lost Ark worked great for Ra, but with Rampage, I was stuck with just a couple Wolfmother and Blue Oyster Cult songs to evoke the mood.

At any rate, an enjoyable session sponsored by the letters “R” and “A.”

-kMs

Tyranny of Dragons: Session 2

I grow tired of these despicable kobolds.

I can’t even remember how many times they and their lizard masters have set upon us since my last entry.  Four?  Eight?

The villagers we rescued on the outskirts had a bit of a hidden lair.  That was their story.  It was actually a small weapons cache hidden by simple but clever enchantment.  The problem was, once the enchantment was dispelled by the woman, we found ourselves out in the open again.  We took a brief rest, had a brief strategy session, and decided to approach the keep by night, staying to the swamp around the river until we broke cover for the keep itself.  We tried not to think about the Dragon above.

As we had been cautioned, many of the other refugees from the town flocked to us as we went, encumbering our stealthy journey.  I wish now that we had had the foresight to bring along some further arms so they could be put to use.  As it was, we lost several of them in the journey.  I cannot bring myself to grieve for them, these wretches who did little to save themselves until forced.

The last battle we fought before the keep was nearly our end.  The warriors among us continued to fight well— the dwarf seems made to smash in the skulls of the lizard beasts, but they all fell, one by one, even as the kobolds flanked the elf and myself.  I was able to dodge many an attack from the foul things, but one managed to slip through my guard and slice my belly.  He paid for his effort, and I will ensure that the rest of his scaly kind does as well.

The townsfolk eventually rose up to the aid of their would-be rescuers, and we did gain entrance to the Keep itself, where we now rest, recover, and await some further word on the actual happenstances of this besieged town.

I wait now for my Destiny to appear.  I can smell that she is close, and the air does crackle with electricity.  She comes.

Scantily Clad

There has been a lot of talk lately on the role of women in geekdom.  Enworld recently posted a links to an Analog Games Studies article on this, as well as a link to The First Female Gamers and this article about this awesome pic:

So I did some admittedly very light digging into feminism, sexism, and misogynism in fantasy and gaming.  I may have looked more at the pictures.

As usual, I have some thoughts on the subject.

I think that while it is the progressive, liberal, feminist, and right-thinking thing to respect women and ensure that this respect is encouraged especially in genre’s like fantasy and hobbies like gaming…

Sometimes I just want to see a hot chick in a chain mail bikini wielding a sword.

Or a hot chick in a leather corset tossing off a spell.

Or just a hot chick in general.

I don’t feel too bad about this.  And I know the knee-jerk reaction is to assume that I’m perpetuating a misogynistic, degrading fantasy and deprecating the role of women in fantasy, gaming, and the world by voicing this opinion.  And maybe I am.

But.

We’re talking about fantasy here, in all senses of the word.  This is the thing we do to escape the constraints of the real world.  I’m never going to have mind-blowing, soul-punishing congress with a succubus.  But it’s interesting, alluring, and fun to think about, just as charging a thousand-year-old dragon with a sword raised in the air or throwing a fireball into the midst of a mob of hobgoblins is.

There is something to be said for being able to express the childish, the dark, and even the inappropriate sides of one psyche in a safe environment.  Art, and I am including games in this (though that is an entry for another day), can be a powerful and constructive outlet for just this sort of expression.  It is a way for a person to take the leash off their fantasies, however inappropriate they may be within the context of their culture.  I firmly believe that there is value to be found in this endeavor, however uncomfortable it may make some people.

If a 13-year-old boy’s hormones are going out of control, I don’t think it’s fair to say that he isn’t allowed some free space to express and maybe even indulge in the fantasy that he is not pimple-faced, teenage-moustached, and socially awkward.  He should at least have a shot, in an imaginary space, of being able to do the things that he may know would be wrong anywhere else.  (Incidentally, I think the entire porn industry is also based on this premise.)  He should be able to imagine that he is someone else, can do things he can’t do in real life, and if that includes getting to second base, well…

I’m not advocating that female NPC’s (or PC’s) be subjected to rape at every available interval.  And I am not saying that women exist in fantasy and gaming solely to bear the brunt of adolescent urges.  I especially am not saying that female gamers themselves should be subjected to blatant, unsolicited, and crude come-ons and denigrating behavior.  I’ve attempted to cross-play a female player in a D&D game some years ago, and I was not impressed with how my character was treated within a grown-up gaming group.  I can only imagine what actual females are forced to put up with– online and face to face– by people who don’t have the maturity and respect for other people’s feelings to rein in their basest whims.

We need to treat gaming as we do any other aspects of life.  We need to work with one another in the contexts of our groups to allow the greatest opportunity for creative expression, while at the same time taking into account the sensitivities of those around us.  Each of us has a decision to make, and whether we battle for our own selfish urges at the expense of potentially offending others, or whether we take a stance on art and expression over censorship, we need to remember that if we, through overt or otherwise insensitive behavior, push other gamers away, then we only have ourselves to blame when we are sitting with shelves full of games and no one to play them with.

There is an argument to be made that women are being portrayed unjustly in media, and this feeds into fantasies as well as the genre of fantasy, which, if acted upon even in a gaming environment, perpetuate an unfair view of women.  I honestly have no answer to that.  I think that going after the chain mail bikini and all of its ilk in this case is like trying to stop a forest fire by lighting a match in one’s kitchen and blowing it out.  But maybe every little bit counts.

My alternative solution then– teach thy children well.  Don’t deny them the ability to dream darkly, just because it’s frightening to you.  It may be frightening to them, as well.  Who hasn’t, at one point or another, had a moment that made them glad that no one around had telepathy?  But I think this can be tempered with understanding.

As a husband and father, it is extremely important that my wife be treated with respect, and that my son to grow up treating women as Shawn Spencer of Psych says they ought to be treated, “…like a person, then a princess, then a Greek goddess, then a person again.”  I think that allowing a safe outlet for thoughts contrary to this can help allow that to happen.

Just my two bags of glod,

-kMs

Quote

October 9, 2014

Trying to organize a gaming group is like trying to herd displacer beasts.

–kMs

Chasing the Dragon

Noted game designer John Wick threw down the gauntlet to GM’s earlier this week (link at the end of this post), challenging game balance in RPG’s, weapon lists, and how people play so-called role-playing games.  It’s spawned some interesting chatter in the gaming community and in my own group.  I’m gonna weigh in on this one now.

I do think that Wick has a couple of good points.  Firstly, that game rules and rules systems in general, have the potential to interfere with and kill story and role-playing.  The examples of Riddick attacking someone with a teacup, or Sir Sean Connery’s thumb-strike do well in illustrating this.  First, there is the problem of whether or not the rules systems provide ample opportunity for creative action.  I’ve had long conversations with Steve “The Bald” Cope on this, wherein his argument was that previous editions of D&D and PFRPG were clearly not intended as role-playing heavy games but rather as tactical games with a heavy story element to them.  I vehemently disagreed at first, but when one looks at the actions that are specifically called out in the rules, either with detailed systems (combat, feats) or as incentives (experience points primarily for combat encounters), it does seem to agree with that point.  For a long time, I had felt the desire to play a story-driven game called Dungeons and Dragons, but the contemporaneously released systems supporting a much more combat and tactics-heavy rule-set seemed to thwart that dream.  They certainly deterred me from trying to run a game.  The main issue here is that the solution to creative action for previous editions of D&D was to add rules for every eventuality.  Proficiencies, feats, combat maneuvers… all of these things, I believe, were intended to add flavour to encounters, but the adding of modifiers and rules in general only served to bog down the encounters, almost force players into very specific character builds, and encourage min-maxing and munchkin-like behaviour while at the same time limiting the feeling that we are playing in a world of endless possibilities.

The problem Wick describes is one that I know all too well.  I have the bad habit of creating characters based on mental sketches that are probably better saved for future writing projects.  When I create a character, it is a world of promise for me.  At first level, anything can happen.  At higher levels, more power seems to inspire more possibilities.  But there are always limits in RPG systems.  My vision of my bad-ass warlock cannot be realized in a game system that currently exists.  In my head, there ware too many awesome things that a Warlock should be able to do at ALL levels of power for it to be supported by any playable system.  Most fictional characters would not be able to do half of the groovy things they do in books, movies, or tv shows if they were bound by the arbitrary laws of a game rather than liberated by the boundless imaginations of their creators and writers.  I saw examples, I believe in the comments on John Wick’s article, that suggested “improvised weapon” specialties, and even John Wick himself called out the ridiculousness of giving a teacup a speed factor.  These things are ludicrous.  Luke Skywalker didn’t put the lotion in the Death Star’s basket because he rolled well.  He did it because it was a cool ending and it fit the characters and the story.  Frodo didn’t fail his save vs. the One Ring’s magic only to be sneak attacked by Gollum.  He carried out his character’s arc and fulfilled the destiny Tolkien had in mind for him and the world the author had built.  I’m not saying that there can’t be an intersection between fiction and role-playing– the DragonLance saga, with all of its problems, is a great example of how novels and modules can build on one another– but I am saying that it is nigh impossible for a rules system in and of itself to support the kind of rich imagination necessary to bring to life literature-level characters.  The rules get in the way.  Life doesn’t work that way, and neither does art.

Systems such as World of Darkness, which have lighter rules sets and are touted by many to be more focused on role-playing, fall down for me for almost the opposite reason as the previous D&D editions.  They are so rules light that they are actually encumbered by their abstract nature, are too vulnerable to interpretation (thus leading to more arguments over who can do what), and burden the players with having to create their own “rules” within their heads.  (This is mostly my impressions, by the way, as while I do own and have read several WoD books, I’ve never actually had the opportunity to play any of these games, thought I have heard plenty of accounts.)

Whether it is on the players to come up with all the rules or to work within a needlessly complex system to try to find and create opportunities to do what it is they believe their characters would, the outcome is the same…

Thinking kills magic.

–Eugene Burger

This was told to me by a master magician during a lecture.  What he was referring to was a specific circumstance– a magician who has to think about each sleight, move, cover, and bit of patter will inevitably fail to create a truly magical experience.  He may impress with skill, he may do something that we cannot explain and cause the shouts of “how’d you do that?” but his spectators will know, viscerally, that what they have witnessed was a trick of some sort and not real magic.  Magic, like music, theater, and most art forms, requires a mastery of its elements to the degree that they fade into the muscle memory of the practitioner and can, indeed, seem effortless, freeing the performer to, if not improvise, at least free the creative portion of his mind to the extent that it can act unfettered any hindrance in physical skill.  I’m looking at rules and role-playing in a similar light.  While anyone can have fun hacking and slashing, and even doing some light role-playing in a system over-burdened by rules, the more rules there are, the more one will either have to learn in order to truly role-play their character OR inevitably be stymied by rules when they attempt something that, while in character, does not play well within the rules system.

So, are rules necessary to a role-playing game, or to a game in general?

A game should … create a complete story—a script with actors, a setting, plot developments, and an ending.

–Bruno Faidutti

I have played free-form role-playing games and spent dozens of hours in IC Chat rooms and have had some fantastic experiences with no rules whatsoever.  I’ve played board and computer games that made my brain bleed from the effort of remembering the rules nuances.  I’ve also had amazing experiences with rules-heavy games and awful experiences with games with few to no rules.  My point of view is that rules play a varied part in games.  My personal preference is that they serve the theme of the game, but I can definitely also appreciate theme as a sort of mnemonic for understanding and remembering mechanics.  One of John Wick’s arguments seems to be that RPG’s be solely about role-playing.  This I disagree with.  I’m not going to start in about the history of RPG’s and D&D with Chainmail and tactical miniatures games, because I think games, like all art forms, evolve with times, cultures, and those who participate in them. Rather my point is that role-playing games exist to provide a structure for those who do not have the ability to create collaborative stories on their own.  Which is the great majority of the population.  I’ve heard it claimed that the goal of an RPG is to “create unexpected, disagree-able outcomes.”  The meaning here is that if we were writing a novel, we would all agree upon what happened, there would be no surprise and there would therefore be no game.  “Story-telling” board and card games such as Gloom and Once Upon a Time succeed in their efforts because their objects are not to tell stories, but to carry out some other objective while the story is being told.  It is the structure that provides the opportunity for good story-telling, just as a writer can be freed to be creative even while limiting himself to a particular form.  The bounds of the form itself free the creative mind to work even as the restrictions of the structure force tough  decision-making but ultimately inspire creative thinking in order to express the true idea within an artificial mold.

Wick’s argument that a game that can be effectively played without role-playing is not an RPG has some flaws, in my opinion, but I think I understand what he is getting at, and I do like his tentative definition of a role-playing game.  But this reduces things to a black-and-white image that does not mesh with my viewpoint.  To wit, I do not consider Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd Ed.) to be an RPG by any stretch.  I think I was initially turned off by it, as Alex is currently, as it is a tactical miniatures game with a lot of similarities to Dungeons and Dragons systems in its theme and execution.  I can play the game to win, or I can do “what I think my character would do,” but these are likely to be mutually exclusive.  Honestly, this is where a lot of games fall down for me and/or make me re-adjust my expectations.  Android is another good example of this.  The game is absolutely dripping with theme, but if I happen to win while playing out my character’s story arc the way I want to, it’s likely to be a coincidence. The rules are far too complex for me to understand my actions’ repercussions fully, so I end up playing my character and having a very enjoyable time doing so, even as I lose horribly.  I think The Bald will remember a time at BGG.con when I played Helena Cain in a game of BSG.  I had an absolute blast “role-playing” her for a few hours, but I don’t know whether I was trying to win the game or just trying to be as bad-ass as she was in the show.  None of these are role-playing games in their own right, but all of these games do feed my imagination by allowing stories to unfold, even as they are within the confines of a rules-system.  I also think that these rules sets happen to do a fantastic job of supporting the stories their game were intended to provide the opportunities to create.

Conversely, I still have a hard time seeing WoW or any existing computer or console so-called RPG game as a “true” role-playing game.  I am not saying this is impossible to create, but to be a true RPG, in my opinion, would require a much more open system that anything provided so far. I could be wrong on this, as I am not an avid electronic gamer by any means, but my gut tells me that most online and console/computer gamers in general are not role-playing so much as they are playing a game which happens to have a level-up feature, combat, and possibly a fantasy element.  These do not make an RPG.  An RPG requires story and/or character development beyond mere “levelling up.”  There needs to be some sort of identification with the character being played on more of a gut level than “my controller shook when I got hit” or “oh, crap, I’m low on health.”  There needs to be a vested creative interest in the character and story arc, and one beyond merely killing monsters to get the next cut-scene.  There need to be meaningful choices with powerful outcomes.  There needs to be heart.  And I don’t mean Zelda.

Rules are good!  Rules control the fun!

–Monica Geller

Back to table-top RPG’s.  I understand where my current DM, Rickster, is coming from, when he says that “You need the a lot of the rules in order to make sure you’re telling the story correctly.”  By “correctly,” I am taking him to mean “according to the implied or overt social contract we have made to have fun together in the same creative space.” 

I remember the first RPG experience I ever had.  I was in Fantasy Adventure class in College Academy, and I was told to pick a set of stats off the black-board.  I was then told that I was a halfling and I could set trails in the forest.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I vaguely remember rolling some dice here and there, but I definitely remember punching out some guy who turned out to be rescuing me.  I saw a hill giant chase down a giant beetle through a forest path, and I still remember the voice of the Lord Chamberlain after the kings was murdered, “Oh, my god– he’s dead!”  It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had playing a game, and I had no idea what the rules were.  Heroin-users, so I hear, have a phrase for their addictive behaviour as they futilely and continually seek to re-experience the high of their first fix.  It’s called “Chasing the Dragon.”  I think we’re all chasing the dragon a little bit when we, as adults, play RPG’s and other games.  We’re looking, at least in part, for that experience of playing guns, cowboys and injuns, Star Wars, or whatever, when we were kids.  A world with no rules but those we make up as we go along and yet somehow all end up having fun in the same imaginary space.  (This method of play does have it’s problems of course, as is aptly illustrated in the first five minutes or so of THAC0.)  As we grow older and become more jaded and worldly, we become more caught up in what would “really happen.”  We also encounter more real-world problems with no rule-book to guide us not only how to play but also what the object of our game might be.  This seeps into our game experience, and we lose the childish sense of wonder, even as we try to rekindle it in games.  I think this is why many of us get so excited at the idea of new players joining an RPG group.  We hope we can share in part of their initial creative naiveté and get back that feeling of True Roleplaying we had when we first played.  I know this is something I look forward to witnessing in my son, should he one day take up the d20 as his father once did.

I do take issue with Wick’s comment that people can be “missing the point” of a game.  At the risk of meta-gaming a bit here, the point of any game, not just RPG’s, is entertainment.  Designer’s intent can only take things so far, and everyone is within their rights to throw out the rules along with the box insert for the enjoyment of their group.  Telling someone that they are playing wrong because they are opting to boost Charisma rather than “role-play” is in contrary to the spirit of gaming in my opinion.  A primary reason people seek out games and RPG’s specifically is to pretend to be someone else for a few hours.  That doesn’t mean that the player is suddenly granted a divine ability to overcome personal anxieties over public speech or magically give them a gift of eloquence or even imagination any more than it gives them actual spell-casting abilities or proficiency with a Greatsword.  It means they want to imagine that they are good at something that they may not be in real life.  I do believe that role-playing can improve with practice, but there are certainly ways a group or DM can use stats and rules to overcome a player’s reticence or inability to role-play up to someone else’s standard.  I also don’t think it’s anyone’s right, now matter how prominent a figure in gaming (and there’s a nerd badge, for sure), to tell someone else who is not even in their own gaming group how to have fun.  We all have limited free time, and the time that we are able to dedicate to game is precious.  While an argument can be made that the experience itself will be made richer by the initial effort, that is an individual or group’s call.

Nevertheless, I don’t see Wick’s suggestion of throwing out weapons charts as an outright indictment of rules in general. His point that weapon lists kill creativity does have some merit.  When I envision my paladin in combat, he is not concerned over which bonuses will serve him better by wielding his sword one or two-handed.  He wants to kill his enemies, and I, as his player, want it to look cool, at least in my head, as he does so.  I think what Wick is getting at is that rules, in RPG’s, are meant to free us to role-play exciting stories, not to bog us down with over-thinking each combat maneuver, agonizing on decisions of mechanics vs. story.  Most RPG books begin with an introduction that can be truly telling as to what the designers are intending us to play in when they open their sandbox to us.  Many of them define some or hopefully ALL of their rules as to be treated as optional, and I can’t think of one core rules book that doesn’t ultimately summarize that the Game Master ultimately has the power and responsibility to override any rule with his own judgement calls.  These suggestions can be used to truly elevate a game to the level of childish wonder we seek when endeavoring upon something beyond a “mere” board game and taking a journey into the Theatre of the Mind.  

We have already called out how in our current (5E) game, most of our rules discussions have been over players having more character advantages against PC’s of the same level.  I’d say that this is a spotlight issue, and I know I’ve brought this up in our discussions over our players single or dual-wielding characters.  I think the point here is that we all are seeking the chance to feel like a hero, and that is exactly what D&D and many other RPG’s are about– escaping our mundane lives and feeling like we are able to do things of heroic scale.  We want to do world-changing things, look cool doing them, and create stories that we remember and share for decades to come.  How rigid the framework we use can play a factor in this, but just as I believe that story trumps rules, I think that the right people can elevate even a half-decent rules-system to a glorious level of play, and so far I would say that 5E seems like a great balance of rules vs. abstraction to allow for a better than average chance for this to happen if handled right.

The weapon lists and rules can stay, of course, but it is on all of us to use, ignore, or misuse them to create the experiences we seek.  We each have opportunities presented to us each session to elevate our game or go with things as written.  It is hard, of course, to break character with our normal selves and chance looking ridiculous with a funny accent, battle cry, or extremely detailed description of a standard attack action, but I think if we all take a deep breath, realize that we are in a supportive, safe, creative space, and take the plunge, our rewards will be great indeed.  

Just my 2 bags of glod, but,  I’ll start…

ONWARD!!!!

-kMs

See John Wick’s Original Article

And his follow-up