Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hating on Upkeep

Let me begin by saying that this post mostly stems from me being a lazy GM.

I HATE spells, powers, and game mechanisms that have upkeep effects.

Goodberry, animal familiars, druid animal companions, etc...

The druid class has always been one of the worst offenders in AD&D. I really don't like to keep track of a bunch of little NPC's or keep track of how many semi-permanent good berries a character is holding on to.

The reason I brought this up is that I've been reading the Stormbringer 4th and 5th editions. I really like them both for different reasons, but I didn't really like the magic systems presented in either book. The 5th edition brought in Sorcery spells identical to those presented in the BRP system which are similar to sorcery spells from Runequest. These spells have a limited effect and cost ~1-4 MP. In the Stormbringer 4th edition, it is all about summoning and binding elementals and demons (which are really aliens and not demons of the traditional sense). I think this would make for a tremendous amount of book-keeping - which I find tedious and lame.

I've never read all of Moorcock's works, but I'm currently re-reading them to get in the spirit of this game system. The 4th edition spell system of Stormbringer is pretty close, but one thing I noticed is that Elric tends to summon things up pretty quickly in game terms.

I'm thinking about trying to conceive a magic system where you call on the immediate aid of chaos or elementals/ beastlords, etc... and the GM would arbitrate on the level of MP that would need to be sacrificed to induce the effect.

I would still keep the summoning/binding system - but make it so you need specific grimoires to make it easier to call up specific demons, otherwise it would take even longer and use even more power. Once a demon has been bound you could release it, and bring forth a magical effect. This would allow for demon bound magical armor and magical swords but maybe a little bit more limited versus the versions presented in the Stormbringer 4th and 5th.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Riding the Storm Out

I recently picked up Stormbringer 4th and 5th editions.

I really like both of these games and I might spend a couple of posts discussing various topics related to them.

I think there are two primary aspects of the game that drew me to it:

1. There are no "character levels". I also like that in the BRP based 5th edition there are no "classes". I really like rolemaster but at the end of the day it is a D&D game with class and level and a huge number of options thrown in for crunch. The magic system and combat system have been changed and you have skills, but you still gain experience points for stuff and you still go up levels and have classes. I really wanted to see if you could play a fantsay RPG without the exp, class, and level systems.

2. The chaosium d100 system is similar to Rolemaster in that your character may grow more powerful, acquiring more magic and skills, but they still can be killed relatively easy with a single (or several) hit. The stormbringer setting brings in a random die for armor level into the runequest system and I think that is a brilliant piece that adds tension to the game. In addition the major wounds section brings realistic "critical" type hits to the game. I've tried adding critical hit tables with detailed wounds to D&D in the past. However, I always felt that it changed the game from being D&D to something else and my players always hated me for it.

I've read both the 4th and 5th editions over at least in part and there are things about each that I'm really loving and some things that I'm not sure would play out well in the type of RPG I'd like to GM.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Character Death

I've been branching out and trying some new RPG podcasts. I ran into one that seems wildly popular "Fear the Boot".

The first episode I listened to was entitled Character Death. First off, before I start blog trashing these guys, I thought this podcast was totally awesome. The hosts are completely animated and very fun to listen to. Another reason why they were so interesting to me was that I found myself disagreeing with them quite often throughout the show. I find it very stimulating to listen to points of view that run counter to mine own (he he he, I just said mine own).

Anyway, from the first part of the argument they seem to espouse the idea that:

1. They are ok with character death at the "climax" of the campaign, but don't want to be killed by a poison needle trap on a random chest that doesn't seem to be tied to the "plot" of the game. They later also discuss how they wouldn't want to be killed in a D&D game on a "random" encounter that seems to have nothing to do with the plot.

2. They think that the GM should let the players know his philosophy about killing PC's upfront at the beginning of the campaign.

3. PC's could have failure consequences that are different from death. They bring up Spirit of the Century and other games of the sort which can have negative character altering mechanisms that allow the GM to punish failure without resorting to death.

There were definitely other ideas that were brought up throughout the show, but I'm forgetting them right now (since I listened to the show yesterday) and I remember most of them being related to the above points.

Let me tackle the first point first. I'm ok with character death in just about any dangerous situation of the game. I would be mad if the GM just told me my character was dead without any explanation, but otherwise, in most games that I play - my characters are adventuring in some pretty dangerous and sometimes horrific places. If there was no chance of PC death (or at least the "perceived chance" of PC death) then it would make the game boring to me. I like to at least give my players the "perceived chance" of real death to give them that same feeling. I can do this with a whole host of very simple GM tools.

The other thing that bothered me in this podcast was the idea of the "random encounter" being inconsequential. If it truly has no point in your game, take it out! I believe that every minute of gaming at my table should be there for a good reason. I don't create the entire plot of every game and dictate "here is the big bad boss" and here is the "sub boss #1" and "sub boss #2" etc... Things may fall into a similar rhythm to that due to the inclusion of "move tropes" into my game, but I allow my players to have almost as much narrative control as I have... therefore, every encounter, every trap, and every monster I throw their way is important. I typically do have a loose plot in my head or a mystery story laid out in very general terms (maybe in a flow diagram) but my PC"s could choose to leave it all behind and set sail on a boat to foreign island in search of treasure - at that time I will throw out the original concept that I had and start trying to figure out what they are going to find on the island. Sandbox loving GM's find themselves running their games like improv musicians - it is difficult but highly rewarding!

Point 2 - should the GM let the PC's know his philosophy on PC death up front. I think this is pointless - it completely demystifies your game, makes it completely predictable and boring. Don't do this, keep it vague. If your PC's ask you about your views on PC death answer them Yoda style - "I'm not out to kill you, but there is always a chance your character could die depending on the circumstances"... something like that... don't say, "if you are only fighting sub boss #3 you won't die! I think even if you told players that there is the likely chance of death at any time, you are always going to get players that are angry when their beloved PC dies....

#3 - use other mechanisms for PC failure. This is one point where I completely agreed with the hosts. I think this is used far too little in most games. I remember lots of circumstances in my games as a youth where PC's were imprisoned, lost limbs, eyes were blinded, etc... Also, infamy and fame could be introduced to the game where once your character is famous you are noticed at every Inn in the country, such that you can't use stealth any more in your adventures. I think I use non-death punishments for failure already, but I like the ideas of coming up with more and more creative methods here that improve the roleplaying experience.

Anyway, while I didn't agree much with the folks at Fear the Boot, I really liked their podcast and I'm planning on listening to more episodes soon!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Skipping Quickly over Glorantha

I finally got around to reading like 70% of the books I purchased in my Amazon gift card bonanza!

I thought I would talk about the Glorantha second age book first. I hated it.

Maybe since I never got into original Runequest products in the past I'm missing some key element that gels everything together. To me this product sucked. Nothing about it made me want to play games in that world. It was extremely jarring how the author of the product used acronyms for different empires. Empire of Wyrm Friends was EWF, etc...

This game world was almost "too personal" for me to get into. Maybe that is why I like game worlds like Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk so much since they are general enough for you to make your own and tell the stories that you want to. I didn't get that feeling with this material. Although, I also read Stormbringer 4th and 5th editions from Chaosium which details a very specific non-generic game world and I LOVED them. So maybe I'm just missing something with Glorantha.

Anyway, someday in the future there will be another copy of Glorantha 2nd Age up on EBAY. Until then it is going into deep storage. The bright side is that I didn't spend much on it.