Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Background Checks For Characters

I am a very story oriented GM, you may have picked up on that by now if you have followed this blog for any amount of time.

To me, role-playing games are serious business in the sense that the emphasis is on the players part is is in the role-playing.

My job as the DM is to set the stage.Provide the backdrops and the "atmosphere" of the adventure they are about to undertake.

I expect them to get into full "dress" (theatre talk for getting into character, wearing the costumes, etc...) adn become a part of the story.

Now obviously they aren't wearing theatrical costumes or anything.  But it's the mental approach I am talking about.  Suspend reality from your mind for the time being and get your head in the game.

To help them do this,  I ask them to create a back story, a biography if you will, for each character they roll up.  Whether the character will be an active PC or an NPC henchman doesn't matter.  The henchman often become active PC's in a game and how they end up going from a henchman to an active PC, the events that created that situation, adds to their back story.  It gives the character some depth and makes it easier for the players to "buy in" to the story.

The interesting thing I have noted is that we can run entire sessions where no active gaming is going on, but the players are having a grand old time creating characters and giving them each a backstory.

This has allowed us to have game sessions once a week where regardless if I have an adventure ready to go or not, there is still plenty of game related stuff to do and they have just as much fun creating and outfitting characters, deciding if the character will start out as an active PC or as an NPC henchman, etc...

The players become more attached to the characters.  They tend to not just treat them recklessly.

"So you're a Magic User huh?  Ok, hand over the wand and let me see your ID buddy, I'm going to have to run a check on your wizard license."

Handling Hired Hands

Hirelings and Henchmen.  Sounds like a blue collar bar somewhere.

I run games where I have players only run one "active" PC.  It's just easier for everyone to keep track of the character they are role-playing. 

I also allow the players to include up to 3 henchmen or hirelings each but they are not handled the same way as the "active" PC.

Whereas players are roleplaying the PC, they are "in character" as the PC, they talk to the DM and each other as if they were the Player Character.

Hirelings and Henchmen are handled as though the PC is giving direction to or interacting with someone else.   I call it the "Chessboard General" approach.  The Player talks to the DM as if they are the PC, but communicates the activities of the hirelings and henchman as though they were describing an action they make on a chessboard with a game-piece.

As a PC, "I am going to tie up the horse and feed him then set up a perimeter with traps before we settle into camp."

Talking about henchmen and hirelings, "I ask henchman Jebediah to go set up the rear perimeter traps while I do the front and I tell hireling Frank to start pitching tents and stowing gear while we set the perimeter."

I as the GM will make all dice rolls and spot calls to see if henchman Jeb and hireling Frank actually follow directions, if they respond well to being told instead of asked, if they goof off instead of doing the job, etc...

I find this leaves the general playing of the hirelings and henchmen to the player and helps to encourage the role playing aspect of the game.  At the same time,  I don't just let the players have total "slaves" do their bidding  This can add new elements to the game and provide some interesting sideline activity during a less adventurous part of the game.  ie. .while traveling 100 miles to reach the next destination, etc...

Where henchmen are concerned, this also gives the players a backup PC if their primary active PC gets killed.   I give them the option to upgrade one of the henchmen to the new active PC and they have to stick with that.  It keeps the game going instead of pausing or interrupting the flow of the game.

Allowing hirelings and henchmen also adds more numbers to the party to take on adventures if there are only a couple of players in the game.    For example, in my game with my kids,  I only have the 13 and 11 year old playing.  That's two PC's to take on adventures that are be undertaken by at least 4 to 8 characters.

By allowing the hirelings and henchmen, they can have their two active PC's and I let them take about two or three henchmen or hirelings along bringing the party total up to 6 or 8 but still allowing them to be comfortable role-playing one PC

I admit,  I use the games to sneak in life lessons to my kids.  One of the nice things about hirelings and henchmen is teaching leadership skills and how to work with others.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Introducing a new PC/NPC, Jolly Fuzzwhacker

Here is my newest friend, Jolly Fuzzwhacker.

Jolly is a first level Magic User in an AD&D 1E/OSRIC environment found in my game world of Terra Ursa.

He is about six foot two inches tall and goes about 140 pounds.  A tall, not exactly slender fella but no heavyweight by any stretch of the imagination.

Hailing from a place of darkness and sorrow called Poe-land, his background is one of surviving truly haunting places and growing up among the maddest and desperate type of people.

Originally raised on a farm as many do in this deeply rural country, he was sent to a remote city to become apprenticed to a shadowy Magic User name Alexander Crowley.

Master Crowley, a twelfth level Wizard himself was a foreboding, demanding and cruel master.  He cared little for Jolly's well being and while making sure that Jolly was taught the lessons an apprentice should learn, his lessons were hard and bitter.

Jolly however was a bright light in a shadow cast world and as his name suggests, he refused to let the darkness of Alexander Crowley break him.

He learned a great deal at the hand of his dark master and Master Crowley was long overdue in releasing Jolly from his apprenticeship.  However, the day came when Jolly demanded his just freedom and release to make his way in the world as a Magic User in his own right.

Armed with only his personal belongings which included all the spells he had learned up to that point in his apprenticeship and a few more that he had learned while participating in some of Master Crowley's experiments and deeds, Jolly set himself to going home to see his family and then setting out into the world.

As a last bitter act for Jolly leaving his service against his personal intentions, Wizard Alexander Crowley sent a series of magic missiles at Jolly's cart from a distance.  While he was thrown from the cart his parent's had sent for him, he was left with a scar across the right side of his face from his forehead to his lower jaw and cheek from a piece of metal that had been thrown off the cart as it exploded.

After several weeks in his family's care, Jolly has now left home to build his powers and abilities so that he may bring due justice to those who would serve evil and bring tragedy to others.

GM'ing for Small Groups

I mentioned before that I GM for my three kids as well as a game here and there for some grown folks.  In both situations, Unless I write my own adventure modules to play them through specifically written for small groups of PC's, 1 to 4 in my case, then I must heavily modify the game to be better balanced.

I have gotten to the point of not even running small groups of first level PC's through adventure modules.  They tend to get slaughtered if I don't heavily modify the game to more appropriate for 1 to 4 PC's instead of the typical 4 to 8 that most modules are written for.

In writing level balanced adventure modules, first level PC's generally take the worst of the damage.  Most of the monsters in these published modules are second level monsters or higher.

What I do now is save the adventure modules for second level PC's or higher and run all first level PC's through a series of dungeon crawls to build up their skills and levels a bit before throwing them into something bigger and tougher.  Now that isn't to say that the level one dungeon crawls are a cake walk, but they stick to monsters that are 1 HD or level one monsters or less.

For example,  I just ran a level one dungeon crawl last night for a couple of level 1 PC's.  A newly minted Fighter and a newly created Cleric.  Just the two PC's.

The first monster challenge they faced was a trio of goblins in a pitch black hallway with a torch lit.

Thanks to some really bad luck with the dice, the Cleric died and the Fighter nearly died.  Three goblins, that's it.

Lucky for them, they were investigating a place just outside of a town and the local cleric was in the temple and was able to resurrect the new cleric and heal the new fighter.  it cost them pretty much everything they had but they can continue on and they did manage to kill the three goblins in the course  of the dungeon crawl.  They earned the XP for the Goblins.  The Cleric and Fighter had to take bed rest for some time, but they live to adventure another day.

The point is, life is tough for a first level PC.  All it takes is a couple really unlucky dice rolls and you're toast.  Whereas a series of small adventures that give several opportunities to gain XP and some bit of treasure can help get them to 2nd level and be better prepared to handle a real "full blown" adventure.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Writing Adventure Modules 2

Yesterday I talked mostly about content in an adventure module.  Today I want to focus a bit more on balance. 

It's important to me to not overwhelm players by putting them into a non-winnable situation.  At the same time, the players and PC's need to face challenges that they might not overcome if they are not using all of their wits and resource.

I want to pay attention to the balance of capbility and threat in a game.  Not just based on a one to one ratio of monster level vs PC level, but in how many PC's to number of monsters or other threats as well.

I personally will be focusing on adventures geared for 1 to 4 PC's.  Most adventure modules I see are typically targeted for four to eight PC's.

I DM for my three kids.  They are still getting into the whole Role Playing part of Role Playing Games.  I notice that when I let them try  to take two PC's into a game, they become overwhelmed and become chess board generals instead of "becoming" their Player Characters.

If I let them focus on only one PC though, the pre-published adventure modules are written with many more PC's to be in the game and if I don't do some serious modifications, they will get slaughtered and don't have much fun.

If I am going to heavily modify some other game,  I figure I might as well write my own adventures with 1 to 4 players in mind from the start. 

So, as you see me write in this space about adventure modules I have written and published, keep in mind that they are written for 1 to 4 players instead of larger groups.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How To Write An Adventure Module

No, this is more of my journey to writing adventure modules than an actual tutorial.

I am not much for using adventure modules typically.  I personally find that most are presented as hundreds of others, as a dungeon crawl with overladen descriptions. 

I am a storyteller by nature.  I like adventures to be a bit open, random and flexible.  Yes, it means more work on my part as I go through with the players.  That's OK though, I am prepared with plenty of random tables I have found online or I have created myself to keep things interesting.

But, as I have begun writing adventure modules because I think people might enjoy my story centered style of adventure setting.  It allows the players to think outside the box.  It gives the GM the ability to add to or modify the story as it goes along.  I believe my style of adventuring provides more fun for the GM and the players, giving them room to stretch out their characters and imaginations.

I believe that an adventure should last anywhere from 2 to 4 hours.  If GM's want to give their players an all night or all day game, that is what sandboxes are for and running an adventure module is not always a part of that. 

So, I have creativity and story based adventures rather than simply described or read aloud and blocked out descriptions of room by room and place by place.

I personally think story based adventures are less linear than the typical and are instead open ended.  Freedom really is what I think this gives to the GM.  The opportunity to take ownership of the adventure.  Build it into their own game world, insert it as part of their own ever growing sandbox.

Something I have always believed in when it comes to adventure modules is balance.  To provide a challenge that can be overcome by the levels of the PC's that engage in it.  Not something too overwhelming or too easy to crush 'neath their hard-booted feet.

I have spent several days recently researching a better way to accomplish this balance than how I had been doing it.  Talking to other, more experienced GM's and players.  Reading articles on writing adventure module creation and trying different methods out.  From mathematical equations to "feeling it out",  I have explored ways to make each challenge one that could be overcome without being impossible or too easily achieved.

Placing the right amount of reward isn't the easiest thing to do either.  This is one of those areas I like to give DM's elbow room.  Some DM's have things worked out in their systems to reward less treasure but more experience points for action.  Some DM's like to give players the biggest apple to put on the stick as they can get and keep it continuously out of reach.

It's not my place as an adventure module writer to force rewards on GM's that doesn't fit their style.  I leave them room to tweak these kinds of thing.

All in all, one could say I write outlines more than full blown, totally mapped out and defined modules.  I don't think that's such a bad thing.

I shoot for giving DM's something they can run their players through even if they haven't had time to write their own adventure up.  These are adventures that with a reading beforehand, they can go through it making it up as they go but having enough structure there that they don't have to make everything up.  They can have fun throwing a curve ball in, extra encounters and different situations.

Ultimatley, the adventure modules I write aren't for "lazy" DM's.  They won't do it all for you.  You have to do more than just read th ewords and do the math at the end.

I incorporate elements from literature and real world settings that may not typically be as obvious in other adventures.  I like to introduce GM's and player to things they might not have heard of before.  I like to make them think.  I want them em to have fun., be mischievous, make it their own, get lost in the game, forget that it's a game for just a little bit.

I aim high,  I only hope that even a fraction of it comes out.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Doing Things The GM's Way

There are terms used to imply that a GM/DM is not playing on the up and up with players.

One of those terms is "fudging"  specifically related to dice usage.  This gets called when a GM rolls a dice but either rolls again till  he/she gets a desired result or dismisses the result in preference of another result.

Another term used is "railroading.  This gets called when players think the GM/DM is forcing them down a course of action that the players might otherwise not have chosen.

First of all, I'd like to address "fudging the dice".  For any player that likes to lawyer up, the bad news is, GM's can "fudge" all day long and it is not cheating.  Everything about the game in terms of adjudicating results and actions is within the GM/DM's discretion.  

There are times, in the course of a game session, the GM will need to keep the players from trying to out think them and anticipate what else might be going on or coming up.  Using fake rolls or choosing to ignore dice results for something the GM has in mind is perfectly within the means in the interest of the game.

Now, if the DM/GM is playing favorites among players or PC's by "fudging" dice rolls and there is proof of it, that is not a trait players want to see in a GM.  Good DM's don't play favorites.

In regards to "Railroading".  While I personally think it's in the best interests of a good game to keep options open for players throughout the game, there are some things that are less or even not negotiable.  It really wouldn't be a game if the one choice or direction wasn't made, ergo, the GM points and says "Go that way!" and it's all good.

Remember, killing things, capturing them, rescuing, exploring and other action things are in the realm of the player.  Putting everything in it's place to be found, fought, captured, rescued and explored is the realm of the GM/DM.  If they didn't get you to the place where the adventure is, it would be one heck of a boring game for the players.  You have to give the DM some room to get you where you need to be.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Whole Gaming World of Poe

I am creating an RPG "world" based on the stories and poems of Edgar Allen Poe.  I have already begun the second draft of an adventure module based on his poem "Ulalume.

On my RPG website, "Wiki Mage",  I have started fleshing out the world of "Poe-land".

I will get some help with the maps and someone will do some light editing as well.   All of these folks will be fully credited when it's published.

This is very exciting and I hope you all have as much fun playing the adventure as I am having writing it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Player's and GM's/DM's

I have to laugh when I read some D&D forums and see people who think that GM's owe the players anything more than a good game.

According to Gary Gygax in the books and elsewhere, the DM "is" the game.  The players are squirrels trying to get a nut, so to speak.

I look at the roles this way. The DM does what he or she has to do to make a game interesting, playable, challenging, and rewarding.  There are tools that are available to the GM in making this happen such as rolling dice.  That does not mean that a GM is limited to only rolling dice to make a determination.  For any number of reasons, a GM might roll a dice then decide that another result should be the outcome instead that doesn't take dice results into consideration at all.

DM's are, after all, human and are susceptible to the dreaded "Brain Fart" in which something escaped their consideration until "too late" or in the middle of something else.  It's entirely in their ability to change their mind, mid stroke.

Some have expressed the idea that if the DM doesn't roll the dice in the open, or if they fake roll a dice or change their mind from a dice result to a chosen result, that somehow the DM is "cheating".

It is my opinion that the only way a DM could cheat is if he or she has an active PC adventuring with the party at the same time and is using his/her GM knowledge to give his/her PC unfair advantages.

I'm not a proponent of DM's sending "full action" PC's into  an adventure with a party because it's too east to let such a slip happen.  To send an NPC with a party to be a source of information for the party is one thing, to actively play a PC is totally another.

Beyond that, There's not much a DM can do that could really be considered "cheating".  If a GM isn't using foils and ruses and keeping players un-aware of their game decisions on the fly then the DM isn't really doing their job.  If the  players don't understand those things for what they are, they need to get a clue.

As described earlier, A GM/DM has a lot of responsibilities as it is.  Of those responsibilities, making sure players hands are held or that players get special treatment or consideration which might take away from the overall game aren't part of those responsibilities.

A Player's job is to use creativity, resourcefulness  imagination and the items they have and information they collect as they go along and take on the challenges of any game that comes their way.  Odds will be against them, rewards may be not what were expected and opponents may just be too much for them.  In the end though, it's the way they played that makes the game for them.

Spoiled, whiny,  "I don't wanna play if you don't give me what I want" Players need not apply.  This is a game for Heroes, not crybabies.

If the DM isn't giving you challenges, excitement or opportunities you want then you might have a gripe.  You can find a different game to go play in or become a DM yourself.  That's the power you have as a player

Any GM can plan and run a game, if they aren't making it their own own and giving you a good game, all that planning is for nothing because in the end, you will have no players.  Adapt or lose out, that's what the DM has to look forward  to.  All the planning and thinking and drawing is just words on the wind if you can't keep Players interested.