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So. Many. Games.

Right now, I am living the good life for an RPG enthusiast. I am running a metric butt-load* of games and playing in a few as well. Here’s a listing of what I’m doing these days.

7thSea7th Sea (Second Edition): I’ve just started a campaign of this one with a small group of friends. It’s a gem of a game with a truly unique set of mechanics aimed squarely at Rule Zero. It’s a swashbuckling game of bigger-than-life Heroes performing feats of derring-do in a world not unlike our own 17th Century Europe (though a new Kickstarter is introducing rules for an Asian-style setting as well). The campaign is called “Velvet & Steel” and features a Castillian duelist/relic hunter seeking knowledge and glory, a Vesten battle blacksmith seeking revenge, a woman of the Highland Marches, posing as a Castillian, who seeks safety and respite from the loss of love, and a Vodacce aristocrat who seeks personal freedom.

DeadlandsDeadlands (Classic): I’ve been running my wife through a Deadlands campaign set in the little town of Paiute Springs, Nevada. We’ve been having a ball. She is playing a Mad Scientist with a stubborn-streak and has been getting into all kinds of trouble. This game, set in an alternate-history “Weird West” setting in which the Civil War carries on into the 1870s, California has dropped off into the sea, and the newly-discovered element of “ghost rock” powers all manner of odd mechanical devices, is just awesome. It uses a great mechanic using playing cards to resolve various actions that makes it immersive into a setting in which card-sharp Hucksters can cast magical spells with a cut of the deck.

Dresden-Files-RPG-V1-V2The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game: I’ve also been running my wife through her own story in this awesome proto-Fate RPG based on the world of the best-selling novels by Jim Butcher. I love the storytelling aspects of the game and the use of Aspects to spur your character to action. She is playing a White Court Vampire whose powers are based on rage. It is set in Portland, OR–things just keep getting weirder there.

I am also playing in a DFRPG game in (relatively) nearby Lawton, OK. Only this group has incorporated Fate Core rules to the game. It’s also sort of a LARP/Tabletop hybrid group. It is a lot of fun and they are a great bunch of folks to play with. It get to play Dr. Charles Martin (aka “The Wandering Jew“).

Pathfinder_RPG_Core_Rulebook_coverPathfinder: I am currently running three Pathfinder campaigns and playing in one. I run one campaign for my wife, who is playing a half-elf bard by the name of Azuredee Silverthistle who wanders the world, singing songs and having adventures with her human cousin, Alys Mournbow, a Cavalier of the Shield. I also run two other campaigns for my regular gaming group (both in my home-brew world). In one, “Shadows of the Rift”, the party is a group of outcasts who have banded together as a “family” to face the world and collect fame and fortune. The other, “Rage and Raven”, a barbarian and a cleric of Imtiau (whose aspect is the raven) have banded together to seek their fortunes. That smaller group has grown to include a halfling relic hunter, a surly dwarf magus, a swashbuckler, and a summoner.

I am playing in a campaign called “It’s War!” in which I am Belamdil Greymorn, a half-elf cleric of Faeramriel, an elven goddess of mysteries, illusions, and the night-sky. I travel with my sister, Tansy (a bigger-than-life rogue), and a paladin of Glo’ir by the name of Reeve Steeltalon, trying to thwart the machinations of the Baroness (now Queen) Kricerys Vale.  It’s a blast as well.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. What about you? What are you playing? Feel free to drop a line in the comments!

*I converted to the metric system for measuring butt-loads, as opposed to the Imperial system, back in the 1990s.
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Sponsor Me for Extra Life?

extralifeI have been given an opportunity to help raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network at a upcoming event for Extra Life.

The gaming group I play with in Lawton, Oklahoma (https://www.meetup.com/Lawton-Gamers-Without-Group/), is hosting a gaming event at All Things Entertaining in Lawton.

We would start at 11am Saturday November 4th and go to 5am Sunday November 5th for an 18 hour gaming marathon. We will soon have pledge cards posted online to help you to raise money for the event or if you would like to pledge to one of the individuals playing, like me, just let me know.

We are looking for pledges and/or donations for the event. The more we raise, the more you help sick kids. Remember that if pledged for all 18 hours, a single $1/ hour donation will raise $18 or you could just donate whatever you can afford. We would like everyone’s help in making this first event a success. If you would like to play with, us we will be running a variety of table top games and, of course, a great variety of board and card games.

 I’ll keep you posted on new developments.

Rules Lawyers, Min-Maxing, and Rule Number One

RulesLawyer-236x300I am a role-player. A ROLE-player. I love to get into stories, characters, world creation–all the non-crunchy, fluffy bits of RPGs. I love that its it’s a living novel. Like Robin D. Laws said, RPGs are the only literary medium (emphasis mine) where the author and the audience are the same person.

When I play an an RPG–and when I run an RPG–I want to work together to tell a fascinating story. To have characters perform great deeds for interesting reasons. I want interaction, drama, dilemmas, NPCs the players care about, and to have sessions that are talked about days, months, years, after the fact. The play is the thing is very much my mantra.

So–in the world of RPGs, rules have become, for me, a means to an end. They are not the point. I’m not a system geek. I only care about the rules so far as they reinforce good role-playing. Encourage immersion. Give players tools to be awesome. But other than that? They’re beside the point.

Phrases like “rules lawyer,” “min-max,” “munchkin,” “character build,” and “optimization,” make me cringe and die a little inside. They represent alien concepts to me. Concepts devoid of emotion. Devoid of that spark of life at the heart of an RPG. Devoid of fun.

I simply don’t get a charge out of tricking out a “character” (if you want to call that monstrous collection of statistics devoid of a personality a “character”) to it’s “maximum potential.” I don’t understand the appeal of examining the minutiae of each rule, every nuanced meaning of what “is” means, to suck every bonus I can from the bones of the system. I don’t enjoy arguing and debating the finer points of what the developers meant every time a ruling is made.

When I’m running a game, I don’t need players whipping out their phones and tablets every time I make a ruling. When I’m a player, I don’t need to bog down the game trying to argue for a bonus that only exists because a game developer didn’t think of this contingency.

I get that if you’re playing a wizard, you might want to play the best wizard you can be. But sometimes, you can make decisions based on WHO the character is more than WHAT the character is. There’s making good choices and trying to be good at what you do and then there’s making the statistical outcome the point of the endeavor.

When telling me about your character, I’d much rather hear about her story than what her DPR is.

But.

I’m not the only one playing the game.

When I’m running a game, my job is to entertain the players. And sometimes, that means giving them what they want–even if it’s not what I want.

When I’m playing a game, my fellow players may be system geeks and into seeing what a rules system can do and how they can push it to the breaking point. For them that’s the point of the game.

Sure, some behaviors are just obnoxious. A old-school Rules Lawyer that bogs down the game pointing out each and every infraction along the way is a pain. But his crime isn’t knowing the rules–his crime is bogging down the game. Find a way around that and utilize his knowledge. Maybe call on him to confirm rulings after the game.

Some players are going to min-max. It’s where their happy place is. And, as GM, I’ve got to breathe, not yell at them to “get offa my lawn,” and find a way to accommodate their fun into OUR campaign. Find places for that kind of play to shine–but also find places for MY kind of play to shine as well. Balance combat encounters with non-combat encounters. Make large battle set-pieces that have story-based reasons for being.

Everybody enjoys the game in different ways. It’s a juggling act. It’s about balance and precision and keeping your eye on the pins (or the goslings, if you’re so inclined).

wash_juggling_goslings_by_ersheld.png

“Wash Juggling Goslings” by ersheld (http://ersheld.deviantart.com/art/Wash-Juggling-Goslings-176687557)

Always remember Rule Number One: Have Fun.

When I’m tempted to nerf a rule, or slam a player’s style, or take away from a player’s enjoyment of the game, I have to remember to refer to Rule Number One.

It will literally make or break the game.

Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?

untitled (12)I was recently on an online forum discussing some differences between Pathfinder and D&D 5e. One of the posters said something that struck me as rather odd–that Pathfinder is a complex system and he likes complex systems because “real life is complex.” This got me to thinking about the relationship between realism and fantasy in roleplaying games and settings.

The primary question that occurs to me is that, in a game, (let’s say a high-fantasy game such as Pathfinder or D&D), that has elves, dwarves, unicorns, dragons, magic, and fully-stocked dungeons full of treasure, why are we worried about the supposed “realism” of the system we use to play there? How do you justify that “this is how it works in the real world” when you are decidedly NOT playing in the “the real world”? Does that argument hold water?

Obviously, with it being a game, you have to have SOME laws to dictate how things go. Some rules on which to hang the storytelling process. But why are “realistic” rules de rigueur? Why not have rules that based less on simulation and have rules based on other factors–say narrative flow?

This is an old debate, I know. Should a game simulate the real world or emulate it? A lot of the emphasis of simulation comes from the roots of RPGs. Having gotten their start in the realm of miniature battle simulation, the traditions of those systems have evolved and carried forward. So more traditional games err toward the simulation model–rules try to simulate what would happen in “real world” situation with “real world” physics and “real world” consequences.

This makes for some complex, crunchy games–because, as the original poster mentioned above said, real life is complex.

On the other hand, many newer games are coming across with different models, emphasizing narrative and storytelling over the physics. They tend to be “rules-lite” systems, though this can be deceptive–Fate Core may not be as thick a book as Pathfinder, but I think its system is as robust and complex, just with different emphasis. The rules seek not to answer the question of “what happens to the character when hit with the sword?” but more of “why was the character hit with the sword and how does it affect the story?”

One system is not inherently “better” than the other–it’s a matter of emphasis and of taste, of course. But one thing that absolutely has to be there regardless of style a balance between the simulation and a realization that you are in a game. Playability has to be a factor.

I once played in a friend’s home-brew western campaign in which he worked very hard on coming up with “realistic” firearms rules. Our characters got into one firefight and the campaign came up short–one of main characters was permanently brain damaged by a bullet to the brainpan (“squish!”). The campaign was stymied–it was decidedly an un-fun proposition to get into a firefight. Our friend was permanently disabled. And chances were really good the same or worse would happen to our characters if we moved forward in the manner in which we wished to move story-wise. There’s no denying that the rules were realistic–if someone is hit with a bullet, something bad is going to happen. Period. But, at the same time, it is a game, and the story must also flow. The players have to have a means and a motivation to carry on.

Granted, looking back on that campaign, it could have opened the doors for some interesting roleplaying–after all, we shouldn’t protect our characters from danger, but embrace it. But the point is that the realism of the rules affected the game in a manner in which the game master or the players were not prepared.

I think, in the end, whether your jam is simulation or narrative flow, players and game masters all crave the same thing: verisimilitude. We all want a harmony between the internal logic of the game and the story. Whether that internal logic is based on real world physics (which is not necessarily a bad thing to on which to hang a logical system) or on tried-and-true methods of storytelling (which have worked well for millennia), we have to be able to make sense of what is going on.

While we may not all want simulation, we all want immersion. That is what roleplaying games are about–immersion into our roles and into different worlds. Simulation and narrative simply two paths that can be taken to get to that same sweet destination.

This is the End (or Is It?)

Announcement

News and Announcements

As of today, this project is five years old.

I had hoped to gather a lot of information from a lot of GMs with which to get a snapshot of who we are as a subset of the culture. My ultimate goal was to gather both data (in the form of a survey) and stories (in the form of interviews) and put them together in a book that would serve as a picture of who we are as game masters.

I only got 5 interviews.

I only got 73 responses on the survey.

When it comes to “der Interwebz,” I am only a small fish in a very, very large pond. So my voice was simply not heard and I didn’t get the response I hoped for. I put out posts on various message boards, spoke to some GMs personally, put out flyers in the large metropolitan area in which I live.

But, still, not much of a response.

As a result, this project has come to an end. On the “Survey” page of this site, and via the link below, you can see the results of my survey, such as they are. I think it’s still interesting, but not a very wide-ranging, picture of what I wanted to see.

HOWEVER, I will continue this blog and my journey as a GM. I want to continue to explore that central question of who we are. What makes us tick? What makes us do what we do? Why do we do it and how can we do it better? Maybe I can still get some answers.

If you’re a GM and want to share some of your techniques, tips, tricks, or your story, I’m still willing to do interviews and post them on the blog.

But the project that I hoped would become a book? That is no more.

Survey Results

Here are the Survey Results