Category Archives: RPG


Written and Directed by Chris Bailey (@mopeycomposer)

Adapted for Session Report by Keith M. Sandler (@slightmisplay)

Wruze “Roo”, half-drow rogue— Gab-tron

Osrick, human fighter – Clark (@this_isnt_clark)

Phlaxen Phlox, halfling ranger- Laura (@lbsamuelsson)

Sawiya “Boo” Bu, air genasi (wizard?) – Sarah

Captain Valla, half-elf pirate (fighter?) — Erin 

Jarren, human (quarter-elf) ranger — Keith (@slightmisplay)

Scene i

INT, Dungeon, Day/Night???

The party is split, Jarren in the north room, the remainder in the room with the secret door where we had taken our rest.  

Osrick hears Jarren’s cry for assistance and comes into the room to his aid.  Jarren frowns.

JARREN: Great.

Jarren is able to drag a nearby table to barricade the door that is being assaulted in his room.

Meanwhile, the secret door in the other room is being forced open from the other side, despite the party’s efforts to block it.  Whether it’s gnolls or gnomes (svirfneblin!) or gnus, it seems they’ll be entering.  Now.

Back in the north room, Jarren gives Osrick a knowing look.  Osrick returns it with an unknowing nod.  Jarren pushes the table back away from the door and whips it open, reaching through it to grab, hopefully, a gnome throat or collar.  It is not a gnome.  It’s a gnoll.  Jarren realizes this as his hand flails futilely at the creature’s crotch.  

The room to the south is being invaded by the gnolls including the larger, fiercer gnoll that appears to be their leader.  The party gives up on trying to close the door, now concentrating on beating back or slaying the assailants.  Phlax takes a spear hit, making her into a shish-ka-hobbit.  She counters by scrambling through the fiend’s legs, stabbing upwards at his femoral arteries as she goes.  She succeeds in dealing out pain and carnage.  A good thing, as the hits have not exactly kept on coming owing to the strong defenses of these enemies.  The party misses the good old days of carving up slices of Jell-o.  The thing drops from Phlax’s attacks even as one of his underlings follows though the doorway.

Osrick comes to Jarren’s aid, as another gnoll joins the fray at this doorway, as well.  Osrick deals out some sword hits to the lead gnoll, but Jarren can’t penetrate the creature’s defenses with his own shortswords. Jarren drops the swords and takes aim with his crossbow at the lead gnoll, firing a bold into its filthy mouth and through the back of its throat.  Its eyes go dark, and Jarren grabs its’ slouching head, and fires through it again, hitting it’s companion.  

The battle in the southerly room is going the party’s way, even as some of the svirf’s enter the chamber.  They do not appear to be hostile, but they are extremely wary of Roo.  Racial slurs are uttered in Undercommon towards the half-drow.  

Osrick and Jarren continue their pursuit of their gnoll through the large chamber back towards their comrades.  It’s a classic flanking maneuver, and they are good at what they do.  The second gnoll is slain, and Jarren seeks high ground atop one of the large tables, trying to get a clean shot at the gnomes beyond the secret door… should it become necessary.  There are several svirfneblins in this chamber, as well, that Osrick and Jarren are eyeing as potential threats or bargaining chips.

Scene ii

The svirfneblins appear to be negotiating with Roo… but his translations do not make things seem copacetic.  The recurring theme, according to the drow, is that they may not are able to defeat us now, but they will most definitely kill us and/or take all of our stuff when we sleep.  

Roo now notices that his legs feel heavy, sluggish.  He remembers the fourth amethyst retrieved from the far room.  And the note attached to it.  

I should grind this up in case I ever need to play a Treant.

The party isn’t entirely sure what this means, but the consensus is that the gem contains some properties of… making someone’s legs feel like they are stone or rooted in the ground.  

As untrustworthy as Roo is, he’s the only one who shares a language with the svirfneblin, so we’re stuck with him as our diplomat.  It is not a good situation.  The svirfneblin are not forthcoming with any information that seek— how long they have been here, when the gnoll attacks started, what this place is, or what in the hell is going on here— but they are willing to bring us to their camp or home to negotiate.  Perhaps we can learn the locations of the remaining items we seek (headpiece and staff).  

Jarren doesn’t trust the gnomes… or Roo… so he warily leads the rest of the party, staying steadily ten feet behind Roo who in turn trails the deep gnomes.  The entire group heads through the north door from the large “battle” chamber.  It’s a long corridor, but it’s lit (AF!!!), so that’s a plus.  We haven’t travelled far when we hear a nasty weird voice treating with the gnomes, apparently bargaining or seeking tribute in the forms of gems.  The source of voice approaches the party.  It doesn’t look pleasant.  It’s a strange creature apparently made of rock and earth, with legs, eyes, and arms arranged on its squat body outside of what most of us upworlders would consider natural.  It’s head is crowned with a maw or mouth.

Jarren wants to destroy this abomination against the natural order immediately, but Roo wants to bargain with it.  They split the difference and leave the corridor, Jarren and Boo closing and barricading the door with a nearby bench.

As he further realizes the effects of the amethyst on him, he tries to get rid of it, but it appears to be stuck to him.  He tries to shake it off, but it remains on his hand, sliding around like a Michael Moshun contact juggling routine or some sort of slapstick comedy shtick.  He then tries to wipe it off like a booger, to no avail.  Plhax refuses to even touch the cursed thing when asked to try to take it off.

Someone (possibly not Osrick or Roo this time!) proceeds through the door in the southwest corner of the large chamber.  Because the party clearly does not have enough options… or problems.  

Scene iii

The group heads into what appears to be a large amphitheater or coliseum.  Jarren immediately has visions of the party being forced into mortal combat against one another, staring at the menacing volcanic glow high above the north end of the theatre.  

Roo wants to grind up the cursed amethyst and snort the dust, but there’s no time for that.  The comrades hear a hauntingly serene and beautiful song emanating from an… angelic?… creature near the lava glow.  Phlax, Sawiya, and Jarren are enthralled, succumbing to the siren song.  Which is Enya.  It is always Enya.  The three thralls (that’s fun to say) find themselves unwittingly proceeding up the aisle way stairs of the amphitheater towards the song’s source.  

Stadiums.  We’re being summoned by sirens into doing stadiums.  This is horrible. We continue our sluggish trek towards the top.

To be concluded…

Theatre of Horrors: Act II

Written and Directed by Chris Bailey

Adapted for Session Report by Keith M. Sandler (Slight Misplay)

DM – Chris Bailey

Wruze “Roo” – Gab-tron
Osrick – Clark
Phalxen Phlox – Laura
Sawiya “Boo” Bu – Sarah
Captain Valla – Erin (not present this session)
Jarren – Keith

Scene i

Int., Dungeon, Day/Night???

JARREN: Guys! We could use a little help in here?

Jarren fires his crossbow at the approaching gelatinous cube. Osrick does the same before falling back behind Jarren toward the two doors.

JARREN: So help me if you open that other door, Osrick.

Osrick eyes the other door as other party members come to assist, shooting at the disgusting but geometrically organized intruder. The cube puts forth a hand… tentacle… thing towards Jarren, attempting to throttle him. Jarren is too quick and dodges beneath he pseudopod, slicing at the strangeness with his pair of short swords.

SFX: Phlip!!!!

A new cast members appears in the large room where the rest of the party originated in this dungeon theater. She is short. She is plucky. She has a whip. She is extremely disoriented. She is Phlaxen Phlox.

The gel cube pursues Jarren further down the hall, cutting off the door to the south. His only remaining choices are to go through the door to the north, be squished and absorbed by the gel, or… fight his way through the cube? He steels himself for just this, when his comrades from the south door are able to reduce the gelatinous abomination to a puddle of inert but still caustic goo.

“What colour is the gelatinous cube?”


“Oh, gods… it’s not even flavoured Jell-o. No grapes. No tangerines. No marshmallows. What sick and twisted fiend would create such a thing and let it loose upon our world?”


Jarrin wipes the ooze from his weapons and snatches up the amethyst which is now lying on the ground before him. He also finds the sword which Osrik has been eyeing and hands it to him.

JARREN: This what you were so interested in?

OSRICK: Yes!!!

Jarren rolls his eyes. Osrick does not notice or does not care. The rest of the party collects the other shiny bits (gems and coins) found in the disintegrating remains of the gel, the acidic sludge burning several of their fingers as they do so. The party regroups back in the mannequin room… except for Osrick who decides to open the north door in the hallway, and Osrick Jarren who follows him with an audible sigh… which Osrick again does not notice or care about.

Scene ii

Osrick opens the door. The room beyond seems well appointed, containing a bed, a table, and a tapestry on the east wall. It also contains two hyena-headed demonic-looking humanoids muttering about “killing them all.” They spot Osrick, so they’ll start with him. Battle ensues!

Again, Jarren calls out to his comrades for help. Phlox has recovered from her teleportation sickness and joins the rest of the group in the hallway as the beasts emerge from their room to combat the party. Osrick falls back out of the fancy room into the hallway, followed by one of the nasties who is taking up the doorway. These baddies are much harder to hit than the gelatinous cube. Because they’re not just semi-sentient jell-o.

Roo takes a shot with her hand-crossbow, trying to thread the needle and shoot past Jarren. She critically fails, hitting Jarren in the thigh.

Boo contemplates faerie fire, but it doesn’t seem to be worthwhile due to the positioning of everyone, so she casts Sacred Flame, hurling a ball of divine fire at the beast in the doorway. Phlox lashes out with her whip at the assailant, trying to spin him back into the room behind him at Jarren’s urging. It doesn’t work out, but she does give the creature some severe whip-lash. (Hey-o!) Roo bests the creature, and the one remaining in the room advances on Jarren who had flung a hand-axe at him unsuccessfully a moment prior. The two spar for a moment before the beastie decides we’re not worth dying for, at which point he turns and flees. Jarren takes the opportunity to throw a dagger into the back of his neck, taking him out.

Jarren gives Roo back her crossbow bolt after extracting it from his leg.

JARREN: I believe this is yours?

The group is now a bit worse for wear and explores the chamber ahead with an eye for defense to see if they can take a quick breather before further exploration. Their efforts prove fruitful— a potion is found, as well as some loot on the fallen monsters including the third amethyst! Yoink! Also, the tapestry conceals a hidden door! There are no plates on the wall near this one, the party notes. Also, Roo’s keen eye for Under-architecture detects the presence of a secret door on the west wall, apparently operated by a moving brazier beside it.

Roo gives Jarren the remains of her healing potion, and the group takes a bit of respite after sealing off the doors as well as possible to prevent any intrusions and pulling down the tapestry to gain a clean view of the door in case any unwanted visitors should call upon us.

Scene iii

After the rest, Roo opens the secret door.

A battle rages within the large chamber beyond. A group of gray-skinned deep gnomes (svirfneblin!!!) are engaged in combat with more of the hyena-demons (gnolls) including a larger one who appears to be their leader. Jarren wants to explore the north door to see if the party can flank whoever emerges victorious, but Roo’s hatred of the deep gnomes gets the best of her, and she fires her hand crossbow at one of the svirf’s (Larff) provoking a cry in Undercommon:

“What the fuck?!”

The party then closes the secret door, hoping to wait out the battle. Roo explores the door beyond where the tapestry had been. Jarren proceeds north to look for a tactical advantage.

In Roo’s room, she discovers another amethyst (wait… a fourth???) with a note attached to it with alchemical advice. Roo also finds a costume jewelry crown.

Jarren’s room is well-appointed as the previous one was, with a door on the west wall, apparently leading into the chamber with the gnomes and gnolls. (That’s a lot of gn-words, but we haven’t seen any gnu’s yet.) That’d be gnarly.) Upon the table in this room is some sort of seeing stone, containing within a scene of a monologue apparently cut short by the performer’s flight from the stage. Jarren searches the rest of the room, but as he does so, the door to the battle chamber is forced open. Jarren slams it back shut, overpowering those on the other side. Once again…

JARREN: Guys! I could use some help here…!

To be continued….

Theater of Horrors

Act I

Scene i

Theater of Horrors

Written and Directed by Chris Bailey

Session Report by Keith M. Sandler (Slight Misplay)

The Players:

Jarren – Keith (Slight Misplay)

Sawiya – Sarah

Captain Valla – Erin

Osric – Clark 

Wruze – Gabi

Phlaxen Phlox Wombleale – Laura (absent this session)

Scene i

Int.  Dungeon.  Day?/Night?

The party awakens, with the world’s worst teleportation hangover, in what seems to be the backstage area of some sort of theater.  Predominant in the room is a large pile of junk, mostly wooden left-over scenery and prop pieces from our take of it, as well as a large tapestry depicting a slice of life from a small town.  On either side of the tapestry, mounted on the wall, are two plates, decorated with icons.  One is of a hand, one is of a sword.  Also in the room are about a dozen of what appear to be mannequins. 

[DM Note: There are 2 skeletons–(one now destroyed, the other still in-animate.]

These life-size figures depict different characters or archtypes— a knight, a hobgoblin, a skeleton, an old lady, a barbarian, a priest, and an elf forest-warrior.

The party rummages through the rubble in the room, looking for anything of use or a clue to where they may be and why.  Our memory is hazy on or purpose here.  We don’t find any clues, but there is a door hidden behind the rubble on the west wall, adding to the doors on the north and south walls as additional points of exit.

Gabi wastes no time in causing mischief, putting her hand on the hand plate.  Instantly, she disappears to the rest of the party, finding herself in the town depicted by the tapestry.  She is very content to stay there for a while.

Jarrin decides to test a theory.  He crosses the room intending to drag the skeleton’s hand to the plate, but before he can work on his hypothesis… the skeleton animates, attacking him!  A battle ensues, and a hobgoblin zombie mannequin also animates, drawing other characters into the fray.  We remember that Erin was careful not to touch the priest mannequin on her way across the room.  The zomb-goblin seems to be exuding some sort of effect which plays on our emotions, but we are too strong of spirit for it to have much of an effect on anyone at this point.

We defeat our strange assailants, Gabi returns, and we trek through the south door as we remember some of our purpose here— we must find pieces of a magical staff for our employer.  We may be in or near the Underdark (UNDERDOOOOOM!!!!)  We know not what dangers may be present, but there must be some, otherwise, why would a group of rough and tumble adventurers such as us be sent on such an errand?  

Scene ii

In the south room (after a small connecting hall), there is a wardrobe full of costumes.  Gabi, now back with us and extolling the virtues of tapestry-land, rifles through the clothing looking for any objects of our quest… or anything flattering for her to wear.  Further back in the room is a desk with some pages on it.  There’s also another southerly door.  Through it Jarrin goes.

The room he discovers contains two busts on tables, one of a man, one of a woman.  Jarrin picks up the woman head, and it immediately animates and begins spouting speeches even as it glows in different colours.  The colours change seemingly with the personality of the voice.  Is this some sort of idol to theater gods/goddesses?  As the head glows black, Jarrin drops the bust on the floor as he shouts to his comrades to come join him and help in this investigation.  As he proceeds back to collect his party, the male head animates and begins speaking… in riddles…

[DM Note: Note that you vaguely recognized the, white at-rest version of the head as a statue of Neutralia, goddess of neutrality, and patron goddess of the theatre. As the head animated, it seemed to give speeches that corresponded to various different alignments. Also, you remember that the object you are looking for is called the Staff of Neutralia.] 

The party gathers, and the riddles are cleverly solved (by party members better at this sort of thing than Jarrin).  As the correct guesses are made, gems spew forth from the mouth of the male bust.  One of them is one of the items we are looking for!  The others are shiny and somewhat valuable.  

Scene iii

The head being out of riddles and the other head being exceedingly annoying (drama chicks… amiright?), the party heads back to the room they started in.  Two more mannequins have been animated— the old lady and the barbarian.  Neither seems as zombie-like as they had before.  They seem confused and not very helpful.  Gabi wants to slay the remaining mannequins outright.  Jarrin takes issue with this.  They haven’t caused any harm, and some of them, when animated, seem to be innocent, at least for now.  Should they threaten us, we can make that call.  The issue seems to be settled for now.  

Scene iv

Jarrin and Clark head through the north door.  It’s dark in this room.  There’s a dead end to the left, and the corridor proceeds further to the right.  Clark has a torch and sees the glitter of copper pieces on the floor by the dead end.   He enters to collect it despite Jarrin’s protests to exercise caution.  Clark proceeds down the corridor and spies… a floating sword!  Being a swordsmith… sorry, being the WORLD’S GREATEST SWORDSMITH, he proceeds to investigate, reaching for the sword.  It’s now apparent there are other items floating in the hallway.  


It’s too late.  Clark’s extendedhand slows as it enters some transparent but visceral substance.  

JARRIN:  Fuck. 

Jarrin realizes also, that he’s left Gabi in the room with the mannequins.

JARRIN:  (calling back to party)  Guys!  We need some help in here!!!

Jarrin draws his bow and shoots at the symmetrical gelatinous monstrosity sliding down the hallway, Clark’s hand still within. 

Annnnnd SCENE.

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.


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.


October 9, 2014

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


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…



See John Wick’s Original Article

And his follow-up

Tyranny of Dragons: Session 1

Awoke to find strangers in our makeshift camp.  Apparently my Guardian made friends during his Watch.  Better than his usual company, I imagine. A strange lot– a hooded elf, a red-bearded dwarf, and a human bearing the sigil of Dol Dorn.  We walked in silence at daybreak, heading ever towards Greenest, which seems to all of our destinations.  Can’t help but think there is more safety in numbers, but I’ll have my eye on the newcomers, Sarrek as well.
Set upon by a group of what I can only call kobolds given their resemblance to the dragon-kin beasts I’ve read of.  They were leading (or perhaps being led by?) a large lizard-beast.  We opened with crossbows as we advanced on the ambush party.  The kobolds carried slings which they used on us to some effect before the Dol Dorn and Bloodrune closed the distance.  I tried to use the incantation I learned from Her, but it appears I still need to work on my aim, though the blast did send a rush through me as it cast out, so I know I spake the words correct and made the sigil as taught.  The lizard beast leaped upon the Dol Dorn, and bit the Bloodrune, and the two sword-bearers set upon it, killing it even as they themselves were brought low.  The kobolds left, apparently demoralised at the loss of their pet or master.  We camped during the day to let those laid low come to, then decided to march through the night.
Our attempt to avoid discovery under cover of night did not go well.  First we were joined by a rough-looking sort.  Mikhael he said his name was, a bounty hunter with a dragonslayer in his ancestry.  Bah.  I’ve heard better tales than that told by drunkards.  Still, I wonder how much of that he actually believes, and how it might be useful…
A group of robed individuals came toward us on the road from Greenest even as we marched and asked whether we “came to help.”  Our hesistation did nothing to appease them, and they opened attack at us.  Again, we sniped at them from afar, but they blew some odd type of horn and we were soon flanked by missile attacks from both sides.  We pressed onwards, fearing large forces closing from the sides, hoping to push through the robed ones (monks or cultists of some sort perhaps?) and move further down the road to a more advantageous position.  Once the robed ones faced defeat however, one of them made an Invokation, and then all of them burst suddenly into flames, including those assailing us from the sides of the road.  It turned out to just be two of them on our flanks, one on either side.  Interesting how they were able to give the appearance of larger numbers with such a small threat.  I’ll remember that trick.
We pressed onwards, hoping now to gain Greenest as quickly as possible and put these miserable grasslands behind us.  I, for one, could certainly use a night in a bed not made of earth, and I have not seen… or touched Destiny in several days now.  I imagine Sarrek wouldn’t turn down of wine-soaked debauchery, as well.  I don’t know about the newcomers.  Yet.  Further along the road, we spied a cart.  The elf crept forward to investigate, and I Touched his Minde as taught to encourage him to look at the barrels and drivers. He found the drivers had had their throats slit, but no evidence lay about as to what had been in the now empty barrels nor who had slain the drivers.  We moved on, following the road.
Next we found a weeping woman and he mate, him digging what could only be a grave for his offspring laying nearby in heaps.  The two of them were bloodied, and as we approached, the woman took a dagger and turned it upon herself, even as Sarrek dove toward her.  To stop her?  Help her?  Farugar, the Dol Dorn, aided the man in his grim work as Sarrek and the others looked on.  The survivor did not appear able to speak, and we did see signs that he was deafened and had Tounge cut out by whoever attacked him and his family.  I was able to use the Touch again and get some nods and head shakes from him in replie to my Questioning.  It appears the robed ones were behind this misery, as well.  Before allowing us to be on our way, the man implored us to use the same dagger on him which his wife used to slay herself.  I don’t think any of us wanted to become more entangled in his plot, but Mikhael, that noble Dragonslayer (oh, you are too droll), took the mans life, tossing the pittance he was offering into the very grave he had just dug, along with his corpse.  Interesting..  But cannot but thinke that She will be disappointed that it was not I who drew the blood from the pathetic derelict.

Didn’t make much of it, but I did pause to wonder– there are five of them with me now… ten eyes.  But those in the Dream were different.  Still, dreams can be deceitful, so I will keep close Watch.  I don’t want to miss one of Her signs, but nor do i want to midReade…

Full of interesting people and sights, this journey is.  Next we found a hunter who had spied us from miles away thanks to a hunting bird he had sent up.  He was helpful enough, feeding us and allowing us to rest at his camp.  His tale was simple, if true.  A local hunter living off the land.  He was finding it harder and harder to get supplies from Greenest.  The town is apparently lost now, both within and without assailed, but by whom or what, I don’t think he even knew.  Well-fed, we would have set out again, but for a strange occurrence…  A strange drowse set upon our limbs and minds, that is, if the others were as affected by the same… sorcery?  as I was.  We could not overcome it, but upon waking we found ourselves in loss of half a day, but we were now near to our destination.

Greenest is burning.  Set upon by assailants inside and out, just as the Hunter told, but most impressive– a Dragon!  Scales of blue, just as in the Ars Draconica from the temple library showed.  The Beast was whirling at the keep at center of Town.  A Glorious and Terrible sight to beholde.  I can only think that I am drawing nearer to that which She and They are sending me towards.  How else to achieve greatness, after all, than to draw oneself closer to Great Beings and Events.
Entering the town.  More kobolds.  We were able to intercept a group of them harassing some villagers.  Without a beastly pet, however, these were more easily swept aside.  And I write this now as the others tend to the pitiful viktims.  Maybe they can show us to a safer part of town in which we can find some respite, a drink, and I can get on with my Destiny.  It has been too long, and I have growne anxious.