Thursday, March 27, 2014

Concessions Should Be Ever Present

I've been thinking a bit on Concessions and being Taken Out in Fate Core, in light of some recent discussions on the topic and I came to a realization. Because of the existence of Concessions and how they work mechanically, they're a big 'ol kill switch that can be flipped to get the game out of conflict mode and on with whatever else is going on.

Now this might seem obvious, but the implications are big. Characters don't have to Concede only when they're about to the Taken Out. Concession is on the table at all times, and not all fights have to drag on until everyone is totally smashed up. Once the right opportunity presents itself, one side or the other concedes the fight. The negotiation and terms of the Concession help to guarantee that continuity is preserved and the scene transitions smoothly out of the conflict.

Take, for example, a villain who wants to test the mettle of the PCs. He instructs his men to ambush the PCs but to withdraw before anyone is killed or severely injured. After the first two exchanges, it's apparent that the PCs are stronger/more crafty/better skilled/etc. than expected, and the NPCs concede the conflict. It's agreed that the NPCs fully withdraw, but drop a clue to where the villain's lair is in the process.

Dragging conflicts out until the very end is, traditionally, something that happens a lot in RPGs. Sometimes it's lack of mechanical support, others it's learned player or GM behavior that every fight must be to the death. But it doesn't have to be that way in Fate Core, and concessions should be a consideration regardless of how well one side or the other is doing in a fight.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Time For More Blog Challenge Catchup

In reference to this, here is my next batch of answers.

What humorous RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.
It's really a toss-up between Paranioa and TFOS. We had a lot of over-the-top, stupid humor when we played TFOS but Paranoia hits that same sweet spot that movies like Office Space, shows like The IT Crowd, and The Laundry series does, with it's insane bureaucracy, Orwellian Alpha Complex, and constantly recycled characters. Also, coming up with names to fit the clone naming scheme was always fun.

What horror RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?
Call of Cthulhu, mostly because that's the one that I played the most of. Vampire games that I've been involved with never really hit the "horror" mark, and while Tribe 8 has horror elements it's not what I would classify as a horror game.

What historical or cultural RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.
I've never been one for historical rpgs, and I'm not sure what "cultural" necessarily means. I guess the closest one was Call of Cthulhu, set in the 1920s. I guess Pendragon might count, but we played only a very short-lived campaign.

What pseudo or alternate history RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?
I really haven't played anything explicitly pseudo or alternate history. But if I bend the definition a bit, Cyberpunk is pretty much alternate history now - and it's an awesome game because of cybereyes and laptops the size of briefcases.

Which RPG besides D&D has the best magic system? Give details.
I'm going to admit something here that might get me branded as some kind of geek pariah: I don't really care for most magic systems in games. It's fucking magic, it's supposed to be weird and mysterious and random, not spend 4 spell points to do the same thing over and over again. With that being said, I really like the magic in The Laundry because it's weird, and mysterious, and not necessarily random but the weird and mysterious goes a long way. I like the idea of Exalted's sorcery, especially the spell names and many of their effects. I also like the magic system that I put together for a Fate Core-based setting that I want to get off the ground some day.

Which RPG has the best high tech rules? Why?
I'm going to bend this, because I'm not sure what games have overall "high-tech" rules - typically they have something they handle well. So I'm going to pick vehicles, specifically, and say the Silhouette vehicle Construction System (more specifically, the Jovian Chronicles 1e version found in the Jovian Chronicles Companion). It's a very good blend of effects-based and hard numbers, without falling into the trap of a lot of construction systems that depend on calculating tonnage and volume and thrust and other factors. It can handle everything from muscle-powered vehicles to complex starships. The system isn't without its warts, but for what it does - enabling modeling pretty much any kind of vehicle without having to hammer a bunch of surface system assumptions into round holes (the assumptions are a little bit further buried) it does it well.

What is the crunchiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?
Living Steel, which was enjoyable when the designers were running the demo but absolutely unplayable once we got home and tried to figure out the rules.

What is the fluffiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?
I'm not sure how to quantify "fluffiest", but I presume it would be Teenagers From Outer Space. It was very enjoyable but not a game that really supported long-term play for us.

Which setting have you enjoyed most? Why?
Hands down, it's Tribe 8's Vimary setting. It has a great combination of dark fantasy, horror, and post-apocalyptic goodness that enables stories ranging from pure survival to exploration to almost fairytale-like fantasy.

What is the narrowest genre RPG you have ever played? How was it?
007 (or any espionage RPG) are about the narrowest, but only because I haven't played The Laundry yet (which I think is narrower). It's fine running in a very narrow genre, as long as everyone understands the genre's tropes and expectations. Nothing ruins a genre rpg more than someone who goes against the grain (intentionally or not).

Friday, March 21, 2014

Set Inputs, Turn Crank, Receive Bacon

A recent thread on RPG.Net spawned a rather meandering discussion about how - basically - all RPGs are pretty much the same and don't offer meaningful choices because it's always "Add these numbers up, roll for whatever" no matter what, and the GM has to use a lot of judgement in the rules, and maybe other stuff. It was all very confusing, blending a lot of terms that weren't exactly used correctly (like "point-buy" vs. "class-based", and "illusionism"). But in the end, it seemed to have a lot to do with not wanting to have the GM do many of the things GMs typically do on the basis that it's hard. Or something.

As I tried to parse what the poster was actually trying to argue, I realized that it sounded like they believe a good system should remove GM judgement as much as possible, such as in setting target numbers and what not. The game mechanics should, essentially, take inputs, do some processing, and spit out a result. I call this system, "Input things, turn crank, receive bacon." He later clarified that his problem is "Freedom of character concept, mechanical differentiation, rules that work without skilful GM supervision; pick two." Basically, no system in existence meets these criteria for him, and he didn't offer any insight into how such a thing could be designed.

This is what portions of the discussion made it sound like the problem was
The mechanical differentiation thing was a sticky subject throughout the whole thread, and is something I'll tackle in depth at another time. Mostly it revolved around his dismissing various mechanical implementations that are quite different as not having "meaningful" differences. For now, I'll just stick to the "automatic GM" portion of the discussion.

While I will admit that one of the challenges of being a GM is having to make judgement calls in how to apply the rules, the alternative that follows logically (at least to me) from the poster's observations is not much better. The only way I can see it working to have everything that a GM might need to resolve a situation - the elements going in ("set inputs"), the processing of the information ("turn crank"), and getting the result ("receive bacon") - is to have a large number of dedicated, separate subsystems. Essentially, moving away from unified mechanics (which is what the poster was complaining about as "illusionism"). You could have a number of decision trees to go down with fixed results depending on the inputs, but that isn't much better and certainly not feasible in play. You could also just play a board game.

Now, I can see the appeal in wanting to differentiate between a sword fight and a wrestling match, or shooting a gun versus a bow and arrow at a target. Realistically, they are different things. But from a game design perspective - at least to me - having a unified mechanic serves exactly the purpose that the poster is looking for. It's just that he doesn't want to have to do any thinking about when and where and why to apply it - essentially, all of the things that are considered to be the hallmark of a good GM. The fact that there aren't any systems that supply this magical mechanical meat grinder isn't a failure of those systems - it's a feature, and one that many games coming to the market have learned to leverage.

Overall, I find it an intriguing exercise - setting target numbers and making sure things aren't completely out of whack from the GM's side of the screen is an acquired skill. Consistency is good, and this skill often has to be reset with every new system learned. Taking some of the onus off of the GM, as a result, sounds good on paper. But taking into consideration that the level of GM intervention with regard to interacting with the mechanics is purely personal - and yet another thing that I'm not sure that any system can effectively manage without being entirely too restrictive or cumbersome - I can't really see the idea being anything more than an exercise.

Monday, March 17, 2014

I Be Sucking At Regular Blogging Lately

There's just been a lot going on, so I've taken a brief break from blogging - as well as participating as much social media. I blog because I enjoy it, and feeling like I have to put up a post every couple of days kind of takes that enjoyment out of it. In the next few weeks I'll be getting back into my normal routine, but until then there are changes afoot.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Gotta Lot Of Catchup Questions

I kind of slacked off, so I'm doing a few days of this non-D&D blog challenge all in one shot. I'll break it up with some images so it's not too boring.

What non-D&D monster do you think is as iconic as D&D ones like hook horrors or flumphs, and why do you think so?

I would say Cthulhu, but its just iconic period and not only in relation to RPGs. If I were to take a close second, I'd say Ducks from Glorantha. They're such an odd species to have around, but anyone who reads about them remembers them.

It's hard to take any character seriously when you imagine they sound like Donald Duck

What fantasy RPG other than D&D have you enjoyed most? Why?
I'd love to say Exalted...I really would...but I've enjoyed reading the books far more than I have the times I've played it. So that honor has to go to Palladium Fantasy (1st edition). We played the hell out of in high school as our first non-D&D fantasy game, and I have a lot of good memories of it. Unfortunately, in the late 1990s we had a nostalgia kick and I picked up the second edition...and we didn't enjoy it nearly so much. It was partly because of changes made to the system to make it compatible with Rifts and partly - well, fuck, it was just the system.

Yeah, the kobold looks whimsical now...
What spy RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.
If we're going for only "spy" rpgs, I'd have to say 007. We played some Top Secret as well, but I really had fun playing 007. I don't remember a thing about the system though, or my character, other than his agent number was the one that always dies in the movies (006 maybe?).

What superhero RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?
I've not played many superhero rpgs, mainly because it's not my forte. I've played Champions a handful of times and didn't enjoy it much, but before that we played a lot of Marvel Superheroes in junior high and had a blast. It was my first introduction to adjective-based attribute descriptions (I still remember one of the levels for Intelligence...Feeble maybe...had the text "Has trouble with doors"). One of my best friends in junior high was way more into comic books than I was, and having him as a player in the game helped tremendously. I used to scour his Marvel Universe books for characters, and still remember all kinds of details even though I've never read the comics.

No one was surprised when I took an interest in VisiCalc 
What science fiction RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.
In some ways, science fiction RPGs have traditionally been more in my wheelhouse than fantasy games. It's really a toss-up between CP2020 and Mekton, both of which we played a lot. I've run so many different games using Mekton, and we had Cyberpunk games that lasted for years. 

For some reason I always think the one on the left has an afro.

What post-apocalyptic RPG have you enjoyed mot? Why?
Tribe 8 which should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog or my posts. Why? Because of this:

He has such a jaunty little hat...

When NPCs Lie

This is an interesting article on research into using natural language for NPCs in video games, specifically things like trade, gossip, and lying (which unfortunately is hardly mentioned, even if it's in the article's title). This subject has always intrigued me, because of this phenomenon I've noticed among players:
Players nearly always believe the NPCs. As a corollary, when they do decide to distrust an NPC, it's nearly always the one they should be trusting
It leads to some very interesting developments, for sure, as an NPC can spout off nearly any sort of complete nonsense and the players will follow it right into a trap or worse. I'm not sure exactly what causes it but I suspect part of it is something I've also observed as a player:
GMs who never have their NPCs lie
Once a player comes to expect that NPCs will always be truthful, they're completely unprepared when they're not, and often skew the other direction by never trusting an NPC again.

It's possible that my experience is atypical and most GMs portray believable NPCs who don't exist only to infodump on the players. I mean, one of the most cliched pieces of advice ever for GMs is to give NPCs personality. Right? Right?

But just in case my experience is one of the more common, the article points out some great things about interactions with NPCs - namely, that NPCs who gossip and can use that relatively meaningless talk to make determinations about how much they trust the PC (or not). It doesn't mean that unimportant (or even important) NPCs should be full of all kinds of deep conversation. Quite the opposite, actually. Time to drag out those old rumor and gossip tables and let the NPCs just say some random shit mixed in with the crucial bits the PCs need to hear.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What other old school game should have become as big as D&D but didn’t? Why do you think so?

Day 5 of the non-D&D blog challenge

This is a loaded question, because I think it has a lot more to do with who was first out of the starting gate than anything else. Any game that amassed the following that D&D had, was a reasonably decent game, would have made it and crowded out the other contenders. D&D was the one that would become as big as D&D in that case. It set the stage for what was expected of a role playing game - had it been a Pride and Prejudice inspired game, we'd have a hobby with very different priorities than we have today.

With that being said, given society and culture at the time I'd think it would have to be another fantasy-type rpg that would have become as big - and I'd put my finger on Runequest over any of the other contenders such as Tekumel. Runequest was accessible, had its own style, and could have easily become as popular as D&D became.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What other roleplaying author besides Gygax impressed you with their writing?

Day 4 of the non-D&D Blog Challenge

Gygax never impressed me with his just never clicked. So I guess my answer is, "Quite a few".

Since I'm not really part of the OSR community, nor do I play OSR games, I don't know how much of a pedestal Gygax is put up on. I acknowledge that he is, for all practical intent and purpose, the father of the roleplaying hobby. I was starstruck in the way that only a teenage nerd can be when I met him at a convention in the late '80s. But my experience sitting down with Mike Pondsmith for something like 45 minutes at a convention was a much greater influence on me. The authors who have impressed me is a long list and growing, and include - in no particular order - Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, Fred Hicks, Josh Mosqueira, Marc Vezina, Greg Stafford, Steve Perrin, Sandy Petersen, Cam Banks, David Pulver, S. John Ross, and many, many more.

Monday, March 3, 2014

In what system was the first character you played in an RPG other than D&D?

This is for Day 2 and Day 3 of the non-D&D Blog Challenge, since I got nothing done yesterday.

In what system was the first character you played in an RPG other than D&D? How was playing it different from playing a D&D character?
This is kind of hard for me to remember. I DM'd a lot in the early days, and didn't get a chance to play much. There are two candidates though, both of which were probably about the same time (late junior high/early high school). My parents had friends who would often watch me when they needed a sitter, including when they took trips that I didn't go on. They had a daughter who was quite a bit older than me, and she had a boyfriend who played rpgs. He was really big into the 007 rpg, and I played a short campaign with him one summer. He also bootstrapped me into grokking Traveller, and I remember running a few sessions for him. There was also a guy who was a grade or two older than I who lived in our neighborhood, and I played Call of Cthulhu with him. So it was either 007 or Call of Cthulhu. How playing the character was different...I couldn't tell you. I remember the CoC character more than the 007 character. I created the character with the intent that he would be unhinged. It was, perhaps, my first brush with intentionally doing something that might harm my character (SAN loss from reading tomes and going toe-to-toe with Mythos creatures). He eventually went completely mad and I lost him as a PC, but for that brief time he was a M1911 in one hand, spellbook in the other type investigator.
Kinda like this.
Which game had the least or most enjoyable character generation?
Mekton II had the most enjoyable character creation, because of the novelty of the Lifepath. It was one of the few games where I would create a character just to roll on the Lifepath tables. A close runner-up would be Traveller, for the same reasons. Having the mini-game include uncertainty made it fun. For least enjoyable, I gotta say Hero. I spent three days making a character for a Hero game once and I think I came away from the experience with less of an understanding of the process.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

What was the first roleplaying game other than D&D you played?

So, I just found out about the non-D&D March blog challenge. This one might be quite a bit more relevant to me.

The first rpg that I played other than D&D was Star Frontiers. Technically it was the third rpg I owned, since I was given the Traveller boxed set shortly before I got my hands on Star Frontiers. This was back when you could get rpgs at Toys 'R Us, which is likely where I got mine. Oddly enough at the same time there was a Sears Outlet close by my parent's house that also had rpgs - I remember seeing Universe and Lords of Creation there at one point - so it may have come from there.

It was the Eighties...this was considered exciting
I grew up on a cul-de-sac with a handful of kids that had lived there their entire lives. My parents moved in just after the condominiums were built, and I was young enough to not remember the previous place we lived. All of our families knew one another, and I had made my best friend when I was five years old - Richie - who was also the one that I taught D&D to.

Then there was Melissa Broadway. Her and her dad were relative newcomers to the neighborhood. I don't think the sisters that lived next door, Missy and Heidi, liked her very much. But I was in love with Melissa from the first time I saw her. She was lanky and tomboyish, with dark hair, and we got into all kinds of trouble together. We played action figures, she played a game called "kingdom" with Richie and I where we each had a "kingdom" with borders and a ruler and an army, we got into dirt clod fights at the construction sites nearby, heck I think I even played dolls and "house" with her. We also played Star Frontiers.

I remember playing it with just her and also with Richie, but I can't quite remember the characters. I want to say that Richie's character was a dralasite, while Melissa had a Yazarian. I know that we played through the published modules - while I created and stocked a lot of dungeons for D&D, Star Frontiers was off the beaten path enough that I never considered creating my own adventures for it. Because of that, Melissa moving away a year or two later, and starting to get into Traveller, we stopped playing Star Frontiers once we go through the published modules.