Browsing the blog archives for May, 2006

Crunch Revised

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Personal, RPGs

The above image is from Jason Engle, a great artist introduced to me by some people in my D&D group. Got to love his art, it has a strange comic-book, pulpy feel with a bit of digital magic and a sort of moody, monochromatic coloring scheme. I find that his art tends to work pretty well for character portraits for D&D.

A short note, I went searching on Google Image Search for “Cleric of Pelor” any my first result was this. Strange. In any case, I’ve been thinking of running this character (stats below cut now) as a basic Cleric of Pelor with the potential to prestige into Radiant Servant of Pelor.

I’m not entirely sure I want to do so — By which I mean I’m not entirely sure what everyone else is playing. Sadly, but typically, D&D revolves around these sorts of questions. My typical vanilla decision is to run a Dwarven Fighter. Lately I’ve found my tastes wandering more towards the support spectrum of the playing style, with decisions to run a Bard, then a Druid. Presumably I could run a Bard now, although I’m not sure I want to — Bards are nice, but more as a sort of fifth wheel. The classic D&D party needs a Cleric much more than a Bard, and I wouldn’t want to run the latter if we were missing the former. Maybe I’ll run my Cleric as a brawler, or a whip-user, or a Dwarf. All of those could be interesting, though I find it somewhat sad that I’m formulating (in standard D&D fashion) my character around a particular weapon or other niche concept. Such is life.

I suppose if I went for a Bard I’d need a whole different image to represent my character, so I’ll probably stay with the Cleric idea, just with the intent of staying away from a mace. Another thing is getting a good miniature, and surprisingly I found a good and cheap resource for D&D miniatures. $4 for a pewter mini? Wow, less than half of a Games Workshop pewter mini.

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Barriers to Entry

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Art, Personal, RPGs

I think I mentioned here recently that I was gathering supplies to begin painting miniatures for my campaign — If I didn’t mention it before, I just did. Miniatures were always one of those things in my early D&D years, that seemed like they were purely for show purposes, not for gaming. Nevertheless, I remember buying large quantities of miniatures, even trying to paint a few. While my early attempts at painting never turned out well, likely because I never primed any of my miniatures and used acrylic paints, I think I’m mature enough at this point that I’m confident in my ability to paint miniatures — given the right tools.

I was reading Mike Mearls’ LiveJournal a few days ago and noticed that he, too, was gearing up to paint and play some Warhammer 40k. Since I know the owner of a Games Workshop store around here I tend to have a lot of exposure to Games Workshop models. I was even consulting with the owner of the store about the possibility of buying Warhammer miniatures to use in my D&D game.

Warhammer and Warhammer 40k are some amazing games. The problem, though, is that unless you’ve got a few hundred dollars and a few hundred hours to spend, you’ll never play the games. The price, of course, is the major factor. When I was consulting about buying potential models I found that it would cost me $17 to buy a full set of “generic fantasy villagers” from the Mordheim line, or probably about $30 at retail. That’s just for the figures. Then you’ve got to consider that the figures need to be assembled, primed, and painted, and you’re looking at another $60 to $70. Granted, you’ll be able to reuse your paints and your primer for a few more sets of guys, but the problem is getting started.

I love Games Workshops’ fluff. Warhammer 40k especially has an amazing universe as the backdrop for their game. Their art is usually fantastic (although I think it has declined in recent years) — Bleak, gothic futuristic architecture. Blasted ruins brimming with hundreds of thousands of fearful alien beasts, surrounding the noble and brutal Space Marines. Even the humans in the setting seem — Inhuman. It seems like it would be a fun game to play, but let’s face it, I’m never going to dedicate enough money or time to build an entire army.

Mass combat games are dead. The computer can do it better. There’s no reason for me to want to play the Warhammer tabletop games except as a way to develop unique stories. And I don’t need 2000 points of miniatures to tell a story, I need two, three, eight. I don’t want to field a whole squad of units whose only purpose is to be cannon fodder for my hero unit, I just want my hero units. If I’m going to use generic fodder I want it as easy and simple as possible — Prepainted, please. If I’m spending the effort to assemble and paint the unit you can bet I’m thinking about its story. A few years ago I bought a set of Dark Eldar. I only painted one or two, but I created a whole roster of each unit, their names and histories. These are units whose only purpose in the game as-written is to soak up fire and die.

Ultimately I have to wonder about Games Workshop’s business strategy. I can buy sets of 10 enamel paints at a craft store for $10, where Games Workshop official paints cost something $4 per half ounce. I can buy prepainted Dungeons and Dragons-line miniatures at around 50 cents per unit. Granted, the Dungeons and Dragons line miniatures are cheaper looking and usually are fantastic creatures rather than human-looking units, but still. When it comes down to dropping the better part of a hundred dollars on units against a few dollars the choice is obvious.

Only the Criminals Will Carry Swords

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Culture, Politics

This The Sun article is absolutely absurd. Found via Fark, an frighteningly high number of Farkers are in complete agreement with my reaction: When did Britain lose its nerve?

The relevant quotes here, of course, are:

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker launched the amnesty in St John’s Wood, North West London. He said: “We are determined to get the scourge of knife crime off our streets.”

“Knife crime will only get worse if we don’t introduce a five-year mandatory sentence for anyone carrying a knife.”

Protein Wisdom Trackback

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Miscellaneous

Jeff over at Protein Wisdom is finally updating his software, apparently using some process known as Super Pump 250. He also seems to be working with his Movable Type Expression Engine installation to (finally) get trackbacks working properly and, hopefully, the CAPTCHA as well.

This post has been a test of the emergency trackback system. Had this been an actual trackback, there would have been actual content.

Rhetorical Tricks

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Politics, RPGs

Now, one of the things I’ve been thinking about in the context of developing a more sophisticated system for handling diplomacy in an intrigue heavy setting like A Song of Fire and Ice is rhetoric. My aim here is to avoid reinventing the wheel — The art of Rhetoric already has thousands of years of history in observing and identifying elements of speech. The most obvious would be the fallacies: ad hominem, ad populum, et cetera. Now rhetoric as-is remains too complicated for me to want to try to simply add some game-mechanics to it and call it a day.

Naturally, having been brought up in the modern world, I only have a very feeble grasp on Rhetoric. My knowledge of it is entirely self-taught, as I find myself more often than not engaged in debates online. That said, even a feeble grasp of rhetoric is more than most people. I’ve always thought of rhetoric as something that a sufficiently logical person reaches to in order to understand precisely how arguments work or don’t work. The sad truth, though, is that most people are not interested in intellectual rigor. The world is often too complex, and rather than trying to understand a network of interactions we are bombarded by simpleminded linear thinkers and their snake oils. And, of course, such a disposition against simplemindedness needs to be tempered with a pragmatism that sometimes you just need to roll up your sleeves and try to solve a problem.

I’ve spent the better part of the last decade engaging in debates online and offline. I’ve been around the block, so to say. So I was browsing through some of the RPG-Theory blogs and came along this load of claptrap. The tactic here is one that I’m fairly familiar with, as it tends to work well with my general philosophical stance on debate — If you are defending you are losing. Creating a scenario in which only a limited set number of relevant responses can be given and then outlining those responses within the framework of your own paradigm is a great tactic because, unless the other person is wise enough to see what’s going on, they’re forced to be on the defensive. Any counterattack to the tactic is likely to fail because, even if your opponent can see through your trick, the majority of the audience will not be able to. If your opponent tries to deploy a strategy to discredit your tactic it will look like they are engaging in sophistry.

I don’t quite know why people find it convincing, but for whatever reason setting out possible responses and a priori “framing” those responses seems to increase trust in the speaker. Perhaps because a debate tactic that gives the impression that you can predict the future gives you an air of authority? Perhaps it is the impression that this tactic gives that you have an informed, articulated, and coherent world-view? The latter is particularly ironic because, while the tactic certainly can be deployed as part of an informed world-view, more likely it is deployed out of a dogmatism that is unwilling to accept alternatives to its propositions. The conclusions are so spurious that one needs to deliberately lead the audience down the path of fallacy in order to get them to accept it.

Alas, it’s all futile.

Update: Unbeliever at MMODIG posts an appropriate response »

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Guild Wars at YouTube

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Games, Guild Wars

Or, YouTube is an amazing service but will go under soon enough so we must enjoy it while we can.

A couple of fun Guild Wars related videos.

M.C. Hammer GW vs. WoW Music Video

(Link)

Simple Plan Music Video

(Link)

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Skeletal Ideas

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RPGs

Starting with some preliminary ideas about how to handle an alternate ruleset for A Game of Thrones.

Premise: Any A Song of Fire and Ice campaign should be about nobles. The characters must be nobles or other near-equivalent figures. While many characters in the books may not necessarily be nobles, or may at times fall from high social status into the underclass, fundamentally the focus is on nobility and their machinations.

Drawing from the two worlds of the novels, Westeros and (for lack of a better term) Valyria, the contrast I see between the two is that Westeros is a land of infinitely complex betrayals, plots, and ambition. While Valyria is largely concerned with these things, the example that it gives is that a certain nobility of spirit conquers petty politics.

What do we need for this?

Ultimately it seems like we should have a characteristic called “Nobility” which we should probably break down into subcharacteristics. Honor, Justice, and Mercy are the characteristics that come to mind as components of Nobility, although they do not necessarily model everything. Stannis, for example, is clearly an example of Justice without Mercy. Eddard is Honorable in the extreme. Daenerys seems to have all three characteristics.

This seems like a good starting point, although there are some problems with it. How does Robert Baratheon break down along these lines? Slightly troubling, but perhaps we will find a way to accomodate that sort of personality later. There are also potential difficulties I see in applying these things to Maesters and Septons, who though usually tangential are important enough to the setting that they must work with the rules.

In essence these traits must work along a sliding scale. Someone like Eddard is highly respected but ultimately ends up suffering for it, whereas Gregor Clegane is largely successful because of his own ignoble actions. What we need our mechanics to do is to force players into choices which may compromise their “Nobility” for the sake of pursuing their goals.

A Game of Dice

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RPGs

I’ve mentioned in passing a few times that, aside from my concerns as a Game Master for my own campaign, I’m also playing in another D20 game, set in the A Song of Fire and Ice series by George R. R. Martin. We’re using this book from Sword and Sorcery, which is nice, but I’m not sure the D20 system is suitable to capturing the feel of something like the A Game of Thrones books.

Not that I am totally dissatisfied with the system, and the game itself is excellent, but it seems unusual when the greater part of the game consists of dialogue and yet the rules for handling interaction of that sort is sorely lacking. To the credit of the game designers, they did try to add rules to handle this very significant aspect of game: Instead of leaving social interaction to be handled by, as D&D does, primarily the Diplomacy skill, the game has “Influence” checks which impact information and favors received from other characters. Typically this is an opposed roll between your character’s influence on a person and the influence another person or faction may have on them. Success and failure follows in varying degrees.

While this is a decent idea, it strikes me as a tacked-on idea. The Song of Fire and Ice series is one whose defining characteristics are, to me: Deep and complicated intrigue, gritty realism, and emphasis on culture and customs.

(1) Deep and complicated intrigue: This is fairly self-explanatory. Every character has complex motivations and characters cannot be expected to act in ways that easily conform to the various factional divisions of the game world. The noble family is the basic factional unit, but even within the family there are political maneuverings.
(2) Gritty realism: Even main characters are not exempt from death or grievous injury. Foolhardy heroism leads to death. Intrigue is emphasized because no combat is trivial.
(3) Emphasis on culture and customs: Martin spends significant time detailing heraldry, clothing, and other minutiae. Characters have reputations that strongly impact their relationships with others, such as when a character breaks a vow and is thus haunted by that reputation for the rest of his life. All of these are supporting elements of intrigue.

In the future I’m going to be fooling around with creating a more appropriate ruleset for interactions in this vein.

Bits and Pieces

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RPGs

Scarily I’ve noticed a trend that the majority of my postings as of late have been about D&D. I wonder if that means I am spending too much time on D&D? Perhaps so. Scarily, I’ve got at least another three or four RPG-related posts stewing in the background. Perhaps I ought to reorganize my WordPress categories with “RPGs” rather than D&D specifically.

I just primed a group of miniatures and will, with luck, be doing a bit of painting of them later on today. I have managed to make some headway on making backstory material available on my campaign website, but it’s not nearly enough. The major things that lie before me are the complete overhaul of the Magic system and fleshing out the main areas of the city in which action is centered. Both of these are huge projects and, to be honest, I can’t see myself completing them even within the month. I simply have too many other things on my plate.

Our group hasn’t met for roughly a month now, and I’m wondering whether I should email everyone and tell them that we are on indefinite hiatus until I can get things more in order — I’d feel very bad to do that considering I have given every indication thus far of taking this campaign much further, but I can’t justify continuing to play in this game as I’m rewriting the rules. And rewriting D&D rules, as important as it may be, is just not as important to me as some other things I could be doing with my time. Funny how I’ve essentially made up my mind on the issue as I’ve written this post.

Despite, I suppose, my newfound decision to put off my campaign for the time being, I’ve been thinking a lot about alternate mechanics and such.

–One of the things that I thought of and decided to implement was a system whereby I would send out a small quiz during the campaign’s off-week to try and maintain some interest in the campaign. This was also a system whereby I could reward attentiveness during the game sessions and also a system whereby I could reward characters with additional skill points (or other benefits) to round out their characters. This seemed like a better option than simply saying that I was granting extra skill points, either restricted or unrestricted in use.

–Another thing I recently decided to do was to try and create some sort of aid for my players, who seemed to, in my eyes, flounder as far as portraying themselves went. I heard plenty of justifications along the lines of “I’m evil!” but very little along the lines of, “My character is doing this because…” I decided that since my players were primarily using Alignment as a sort of personality descriptor that it might help them conceptualize their characters by requiring them to give a set of goals to their character, which they would receive benefits for pursuing.

Both of these are pretty ad hoc processes, not for everyone I imagine. I’m interested to see how they work out, but I probably won’t have a chance to in the near future.

On a somewhat related note, one of my major reactions to discussions at The Forge is just how much what people talk about doesn’t seem to jive with my sense of reality. The sense I get from discussions about Design Patterns in RPGs, as much as I think that’s an excellent idea overall, is that they want some sort of pure game mechanics and ignore the ways in which RPG systems come into conflict with storytelling. As much as you accept a certain degree of randomness within the context of a game, in my experience there is always the chance for a story to go completely haywire when extreme mechanics results come in a series.

–Bankuei posts what I think is an excellent house rule (“gamehack” as he calls it). This is a seriously good idea, as the only D&D games I’ve seen that didn’t have problems with excessive magic items were games without magic items. I’ll definitely be thinking about creating a set of rules along these lines in the future.

–Reading over the Nobilis system of powers makes me envious of how freeform it is, and yet how sensible. Division into distinct and intuitive categories: Creation, Destruction, Protection, Discernment, or Alteration. I crave making something like this

–For a long time I’ve been eager to introduce the alternative Shield Combat rules that the A Game of Thrones D20 setting provides. Maybe I’ll be able to introduce something like that when my campaign reconvenes. If I do that, I think I’d need to offer the opportunity to revise characters.

–I’ve been using the Sanity system of Call of Cthulu, and I’ve been using my own Karmic system to adjudicate effects that normally depend on alignment. Neither of these systems are deeply bound to the game mechanics though. Sanity, in particular, is strange. I need to think of a way to make its effects tangible without being overly specific or overly strong.

–I strongly desire to create a system where having millions of different core and prestige classes is unnecessary. As I have been writing this I have touched about the idea of a sort of dynamic allocative system. Essentially the idea is to give a set number of points out at each “level up”, points which would be spent on better saves, better Base Attack Bonus, skills, or special abilities. The catch would be that a character wouldn’t have enough points to purchase in every area. Presumably organizations with strong resources could provide training (translates to lower cost) against the default, encouraging factioning. The immediate pitfalls would be potentially a lot of conflict if characters aligned with radically different factions, and factions with political power but not otherwise powerful.

–Last but not least, I definitely need to create some kind of comprehensive document, maybe a “playchart”, detailing the various ideas I’m mulling over implementing here.