Thursday, October 28, 2010

lair of the cyclops, first test run

I got to try out my Swords & Wizardry adventure tonight. It went awesome!
Also, this:

We had a whopping FIVE players to start; this whittled down to four when one guy lost interest as the equipment list came out (I swear, equipping a PC is like a minigame in its own right).

We almost lost another over a rules dispute (someone basically wasn't listening when I called a house rule to a vote - - I had the players arrive at consensus over each house rule I wanted to use - - and he literally did not understand what we had agreed to, and got for-real upset when the confusion arose). I was nicer and more conciliatory than I should have been.

The house rule was: spend 10 min./spell level of a spell you wish to memorize, and you may memorize it right then and there. However, you're still constrained by the number of spells you may have at the ready at any particular time. The idea was to focus the constraint of resources to the bounds of a particular encounter, not a particular day of game time. On reflection, one of two things could happen instead: a) if time is a resource, it needs to matter consistently, and b) maybe just allow this with information spells/I chose to employ this idea BECAUSE of information spells.

Anyway. It was super-awesome: my notes were in pretty good order, the rules definitely had just the right level of complexity (on the low side, with lots of wiggle room), and I got to see what it's like to have PCs be a hair's breadth from death.
I fudged one thing, one time: I made a fall cause d3 damage, not d6, since a pit trap I'd placed ended up affecting three players at once! Oh nose!
This is why we ask what the marching order is, though ^__^ Next time, no fudging: I will let that character die, and have the player roll up someone new and see where it goes.

The players were pretty ingenious, asking good questions and giving me good chances to flesh out details that I hadn't really considered (but were totally the right kind of details that matter just enough as Color that it's worth thinking them up).
Also: I had a great time being a very neutral Referee, callin' it like I see 'em and being consistent and fair. Fun stuff!

The mini-con where I'm running this again is on the 6th - next Saturday! Holy crap! I may end up just taking a day trip to DE instead of a whole weekend, for my brudder's birthday. Whoo!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

[dwarf fortress] on patience

Just so you know, when you're cooking up a new world in Dwarf Fortress, and it takes a while loading terrain, towns, peoples, etc., LET IT FINISH.
I just tried playing adventure mode after only giving the game 400 or so out of 1000 years of "prelude" to build a world, and all the sites where towns should be were completely empty. Kind of a "coming soon - Hill Valley" time travel moment.
edit: Okay, what was actually going on was as follows - the current ("DF2010") version of the game basically has Adventure mode on hiatus - it's supposed to be basically content-free until a (soon) future release.
Sigh, good to know (thanks, forums!). I woulda been wandering that desert forever!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

agency, hobbyism, and Participationism

I was checking out a Forge thread tonight; in this thread, Callan and I were asking somewhat-leading questions to suss out the thread author's interests, preferences, CA leanings, etc.

I think what we found was a fan of Participationism. Straight up, yo. Seriously - this person explicitly said that an RPG consists of a GM running a game as a way of somehow augmenting the process of telling a story they wanted to tell. I have to ask - what's the point of using a game system as part of that process?

My guess is that RPGs were what got this dude into group storytelling (or, maybe, group get-together-it's-GM-story-time, to be more direct), and now there's some desire to tell the story with a few little number-thingies draped around the story for, to paraphrase him, the sake of keeping track of how probable different details are. As in, players ultimately do the thing the GM is leading them off to do, maybe with a little improvisation in the moment, such that the GM-preferred outcome doesn't change.

I have to admit, writing that out, that it's not clear whether this is the kind of activity that he enjoys, or if it's simply what he expects/believes it to be. I remember, when I only knew of Illusionist and Participationist play, I longed for more player agency - character abilities like fortune telling or wish-granting or similar seemed really important to be, as a way of getting around the wall of GM authority, such that what I say would automatically matter, without being peer-reviewed and peer-approved by the GM.

I swear, explicit player authority, subject only to overwhelming disinterest or dislike by the overall table, was my golden grail in high school. I longed for something like that, something that would let me express my ideas and make them stick to the fiction.

Some part of me wants to say "If you enjoy this play, that's fine!" But I really don't understand why it's fun - I really enjoy being told a good story, but if I have to take the time to build an avatar through which I experience the story, I would like some significant input. I don't even enjoy video games with a "plot"; some explication or sense-info is fine (like old roguelike "level feelings"; Google it) to add a tone or feeling to a section of the game. But it's like beating up enough bad guys to be rewarded with the next scene in a play.

Unless the play is really good, mind you - I do like hearing stories, as I said, but only if they're good ones.

I dunno - I guess my point is that *because* it's a game, I want to be directly involved. If I'm watching Wallace Shawn share an anecdote on stage, I wouldn't try to interrupt and contribute my own plot twists and details. But if you say "hey, why don't we do this thing together; it's fun", then I'm going to want to move my race car around the board, thank you. And I want where I land to change what's going on.

I think that Participationism is mostly a hobbyist's approach to play, rather than something that newbs are really craving. It's idiosyncratic, endemic of poorly written how-to-play texts (and poor GM sections, especially those that lack good examples of play) and the muuuuuch more isolated conditions that gamers faced in the days before widespread internet use. As in, D&D didn't explain very well how it was really supposed to work, and whatever wording was in the text gave a lot of people some bad ideas about how to play.

I'm not saying *incorrect* ideas, mind you, because I have no idea how Gygax or Arneson or any of those guys played, or how they wanted us to play, or anything. But I think a lot of people learned to play in this silly fashion, thanks to a combination of unclear text and a narrow social context - one that praised/praises agreement and consensus - we developed a hobby that's rife with this type of play.

My point is that it doesn't have to look like this; most people in the hobby have never been exposed to true player agency. When they experience it, I think most people appreciate and like it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

How to Host a Dungeon (ap post)

There's a great source of lonely fun out there that, like traditional sources of lonely fun (i.e. preparing a dungeon for play), will enable yet more gaming in its wake:

Here's a rundown of what happened in my 2nd game, in which I finally realized how adventurers work.

The dwarves of Enog Rinmol made it a few turns, carving out a small but sturdy little settlement under the earth and making money with a gold mine (literally). Sadly, they struck a cavern containing a deadly microbe, some kind of plague, and wiped them all out immediately. Sigh. That happened in my first game, too.

Anyway, a magma pipe formed deep, deep down, sending up a volcano (and thus an awesome, convenient ingress to the dungeon once it cooled).
Humans settled the nearby Overworld, their farmlands soon quilting the nearby countryside. A tribe of fungaliths (??) showed up in higher caverns, and began exploring nearby tunnels, only to encounter a human city, wipe it out, and die off in the process.
A settlement of earth-men (?) claimed new chambers hollowed out in the side of the now-dormant magma pipe, just off the dead dwarves' gold vein. They fought off numerous incursions from green slimes, wandering evil wizards, and other critters, managing to stay strong enough to hold off an encroaching dragon from the deep.

Giant ants actually drove the dragon from its lair, to my surprise. They showed up in the old dwarf-hold, and kept it at bay until adventurers could show up and wipe *them* out. Eventually, for want of monsters in the dungeon, some undead warriors appeared in a cavern off an underground river. They were soon cannibalized by a vampire who floated in off of said river (a custom monster! Shyeah!), who was in turn wiped out when the Thought Lords (psychic slave-masters) showed up.

Here's where things stand: a crew of adventurers, battle-scarred but staggering under their pile of loot, is encamped at the foot of the dead volcano. The fungalith caverns stand empty, whatever strange things they called wealth sitting right where they left them.
The earth-men are weakened, but wealthy. Again, I have to wonder what they would consider treasure.
I forgot to mention the kobolds - they settled into the tomb where the undead warriors dwelt, and now hold their treasures as their own. The Thought Lords are hiding out within the depths of their vaults, having taken heavy losses from the vampire.
The dwarf-hold stands utterly empty, though little of the gold vein has been tapped.