Sunday, December 22, 2013

Using the right tool for the job

Yesterday I was browsing my collection of game books. Some of them I don't read that often, and almost forgets about. I have a few...

My eyes fell on GURPS Black Ops, and it piqued my interest. Who doesn't like the idea of truly badass characters taking on monsters? I figured it would be fun to read some of it, and maybe import some ideas into a game some day. When I came to the section about building characters I paused for a second.

Characters in Black Ops are built on 700 points. For those of you who don't know much about GURPS, I checked the core rules about campaign scales, and there it said 500 pts is "Superhuman". Cinematic action is the name of the game.

This is where I got reminded of why it is a good idea to use the right tools for the job.

In the book there are five templates of 650 pts you can use as base for your character. They are the Combat Op, Intelligence Op, Science Op, Security Op, Technology Op. Sounds like it covers all the bases in the genre, right? What gave me cause for doubts was what was on those pages.

Those templates all took up one page each, with about an inch at the top with the stats, Disadvantages and Advantages. The rest was three columns of text listing skills, and taking the illustrations into account it was maybe two full columns on the average. I counted the skills on one template, and it was about a hundred. 100. Yes. 100!

If you have that many skills, how are you even going to find the ones you need?! Why list all those? I've never seem anything so unwieldy in a game before. It would have been easier to list what was missing instead. Sure, the idea is to play super competent characters being really awesome. But, will that list really help you do that? What you really want to express is how cool you are, and how many cool things that character can do. It just screams out to be simplified. Mayve into some kind of system of skill categories, or even in a more daring move, reduced to Aspects like they use in FATE.

Here I think we see one indication this kind of game is not best modelled in GURPS. 

The next thing I noticed was the ratings of those skills. In GURPS you roll 3d6 and try to roll below your skill rating. Personally I cry foul when I see characters which break the ceiling of the system. These templates ranged from 12 to 22. Yes, roll below 22 on 3d6. Foul. Something is broken there, even if the list had been a fifth the size is was.

Here I think wesee another indication this kind of game is not best modelled in GURPS.

I've seen that kind of stuff in other games, sadly more than once. One example was this system which used roll low and a d20, i.e. a percentile system divided by 5 and less granular. This NPC I think of had 40 in some skills and spells, i.e. 200%!

If you want to play cinematic action, the best tool is probably not a game system that focuses on realism and detailed simulationism. You probably want to use FATE, or Savage Worlds.

This I think is also why the idea of a generic system is a failure. The idea is beautiful, and the amount of "generic" systems in my collection tells the long story of that strong allure of having one system for all your games. But, the sad fact is that you have to tweak and adapt a system to the style and setting you are using. Some games can be changed more or less easily and after a while it will become clear that you would have saved time using a system tailored for the experience you want. if you see numbers like 200% in a percentile game, or 34 in a d20 based one, then it's time to look for a better tool for the job.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Some thoughts on veils and lines

Today I was listening to an episode of the podcast Saving the Game, and they were discussing the terms lines and veils. These come from the Sorcerer supplement Sex and Sorcerer.  The idea is that in your play group you might have themes that one of the players or the GM feel is uncomfortable to bring up at the gaming table, and veils are things that might crop up, with it wont be played out in detail. Naturally, in Ron Edwards book he talks mostly about sex.

When I listened at the podcast I started to wonder about the things the hosts listed as their personal lines and veils. Naturally they talked about sex, but also about other things. What made me think was when they brought up torture.

Personally I find torture really horrifying. It dehumanizes both the perpetrator and the victim, and it's useless for information gathering so it's basically just a power game. Still, it happens in games. But, more to the point, it happens in real life.

So, should you just ignore such icky stuff in your game? Should you maybe include it, and face it and through play explore what it does to people and include it as a motivator for stopping the bad guy/gal?

This reminds me of when I first started playing Dogs in the Vineyard. Our GM noticed that some of the things we as dogs encountered was making me shrink back and try to do ignore, maybe hoping to push it into the lap of some other player. Naturally he saw me squirm and pushed it harder towards me, forcing the issue and forcing me to make a stand. It was an awesome session. Someone might consider this a dick move, but I was playing God's emissary with power over life and death. There was a Situation going on, demanding me to act, and it made for a better game when I was forced out of my comfort zone.

So, how about that torture thing?

I can look at my visitor statistics and find that a large percentage of my visitors are living in a country that practice torture, and where people in the highest political levels have shown their support for the practice. Are you really cool with that? Would it be a good thing for you, if this applies to you, to be forced into that same situation I was in when I was playing Dogs? It did make me take a closer look at who I am and how I act.

I guess the answer is, it depends. I had signed up to play Dogs in the Vineyard. I knew what I was getting into, and wanted hard choices. Most people don't want to play that way.

The idea of having Lines and Veils, and talking them over before your game might be a good idea. To make sure you are on the same page, and so the GM can go all in after that, and not have to pull any punches. She knows you can take it. Sometimes, just sometimes, it might be worth thinking about those lines and where they are drawn in the sand.

I know for a fact that if I ever run Kult again, there will be no lines or veils. Then I will mess with my players, and if they squirm I will push harder to blow through beyond any lines. I know that something interesting will come out the other side.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Night thoughts on the sparsely populated dungeon

It's Saturday night, and I feel a Saturday Night Special feeling coming over me.

Some of you might have read my last post on dense Gygaxian dungeons. Given it is Saturday I got to thinking about those places that make the subterranean underworld its flair, and those moments of "sensawunda". Let me quote you from the 5th ed. Tunnels & Trolls rule book.

"Let your imagination go wild - you can do anything you want because this is your creation. Put in a lot of stuff - nobody likes a dull dungeon. "
So, populating your dungeon. I know some people likes the idea of a big underground labyrinth where there are one third empty rooms or something like that. Each to his own. I don't say I don't like to play that way. But, I've come to realize that I'm no longer fond of creating dungeons like that.

I love to invent those crystal waterfalls, devious traps, combat encounters with multiple co-operating foes or locales of majestic proportions and awe inspiring weirdness. Putting down corridors of nothing on graph paper is no longer fun.

Sure, I could use a computer to generating it for me, but I would not find it fun to run either. What I would like to have is a way to make those slow moving bits be outsourced to  a second GM and then I could step in a run the Saturday Night Specials. Maybe. Is there a way to get it all?

I'm beginning to feel I understand what Ken St. Andre wrote above and how well it applies to me. I don't like a "dull" dungeon. It would be cool, though, if you could just rattle off some twists, turns and empty rooms without bother to have the first part make sense or be ever repeatable (like for backtracking out of the dungeon or repeat visits), and then dive into it. Too bad I like the idea of repeat visits to the dungeon. I would never be able to improvise the same map twice.

If that could be done, I'd be very happy.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gamer ADD strikes again

I had just decided that I needed to capitalize on the enthusiasm I had left from JackerCon and run an online Hangout game of my own. I found an old favourite on my shelves, Tomb of Abysthor, and decided it would be suitable for a Delving Deeper game. After browsing the module a bit I found that maybe I should have a lead in adventure to bump up the participants to level two. Once again I went to the shelves and found DCC #31. All set. Except that I felt I needed to have a settlement next to the dungeon for refreshing hitpoints, buy potions and suchlike. Guess what? I grabbed my copy of the Kingdoms of Kalamar campaign setting and now I feel I have to read that 300 page book to find a good place to set the dungeon. Argh!

I wonder if I'm making this too hard?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Different Old Schools - dense or sparse maps

I was listening to a podcast talking about that famous picture of EGG running a game at a con, sitting with a dense map in front of him and a very terse key. I think almost every aspect about that map and its implications have been talked about, but some of that just now filtered down to me.

If you have a dungeon where there are rooms everywhere, and the map is that dense, there wont be much space for some things. If you look at many published maps in the blogging community of the old ways, they most often don't look like that. We often do maps with variation in room sizes, some oddly shaped ones and some hallways connecting sections of the level. You know the drill. Gary's map is just crammed full of fairly small rooms.

Imagine if you will a section of the level taken over by gnolls. They might have made one room a lair, another treasury and maybe a larder where you can free some captives, useful for stocking up on PC alternatives if death does occur. Did you see what I did there?

If you have rooms that looks like an abandoned throne room, you will have a gnoll lord sitting there. But, if your dungeon is just crammed with small rooms, you probably never get that 'naturalistic' feel. If your dungeon is more labyrinth than anything else, the kind of play we call player skill is something different that I have been thinking about all this time. Sure, it's skill when you take note of resources, map carefully to note when there's a gap in there indicating a hidden room. But, if the layout makes no sense, then exploring and mapping to make sense of what's "down there" wont make sense. At least not they way I thought about it. 'Naturalism' is not about dungeon layout, in Gary's example.

Some years ago I heard about Ken St. Andre's dungeon Gristlegrim, and though it peculiar. Ken had done a bunch of dungeon rooms on index cards, when they players walked around the dungeon he grabbed another room from the pile. I thought it made the idea of a dungeon moot, since you could not map it and you could not "make sense" of it. Now I realize that maybe that was not so different from Gary's densely packed paper of small rooms in a labyrinth. Labyrinths was never fun, in my book. After you wandered around in the coal mine in Zork, and realized you had to drop stuff to make the similar looking room distinguishable I think the labyrinth had served its purpose.

I think I prefer some kind of naturalism to my dungeons, even though I now think Gristlegrim makes more sense. It's probably more like Castle Greyhawk and the Jakallan Underworld than my dungeons are.

Copyright 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Andreas Davour. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Blogger.