RPG Lessons Watching Games 2

The first part of this topic can be read here.

In the 90s, whilst visiting a friend in another town, I went with him to one of his local gaming groups. The game being run was Vampire the Masquerade, although I’d have been happy with whatever the game was, but sadly for me there were already six players. I appreciated that it wasn’t always easy to involve a new player, especially in to a busy group that were in the midst of things. Additionally, since I would only be attending for a single session I didn’t want to upset the flow of the game by asking to be included. So since I had not watched another person’s game for a while, I was happy to just observe.

The Storyteller (GM/ST) ran a very smooth game of Vampire, keeping the players well engaged. Over the course of several hours I got to appreciate yet another perspective on the setting, rule interpretations, and game flow.  Back then I had primarily been playing Vampire, and the rest of the World of the Darkness (cWoD). I was almost starting to get bored of Vampire, which is likely a shock to anyone that knows me.

I had become an Elder Storyteller, ennui was setting in, gaming torpor could have followed; although thankfully not a Garou’s Harano.

The Storyteller was running a seemingly standard Vampire game, but as blasé as I could have been, I instead found watching the game helped to reinvigorate my waning passion. I don’t think it would have mattered if had been running a massively altered version of Vampire. It wasn’t that I lacked ideas, or that I had grown indifferent to the layers of scheming with players about their character plans. It was more simply the sheer amount of hours I had been running games for over the years, they had caught up with me.

3rd Lesson: the value of having a break from running games.

This is obvious to me now, but all those years ago, it was a bit of a surprise that my favourite pastime of running games was starting to take a toll on me. For years I had been gaming as much as I could, in multiple groups, so I was playing every day, and we normally played long sessions. Fundamentally I was doing the same thing day in, day out, and that had become a bit of problem, no matter how much I enjoyed it. At this time, when I wasn’t running games, I was normally reading gaming books, and working on details for one of my games. Nearly all of my socialising was about role-playing. So as much as I loved running games, I started doing a bit more besides role-playing.

d6

4th Lesson: Recapture the spirit of being a player.

I was reminded that with all the GMing, I had been missing out on the fun of playing. I considered how taking a break from running games, and being a player would mix things up for me, so I didn’t have to drop out of any of the groups I was in. When I got home I made plans to just play again in some of the groups I game with. It was refreshing being back as a player, to not know the depth of game details I knew as the GM, and to reconnect with exploring a character and the setting.

5th Lesson: Play something different, even retry things.

I even joined in with a few games I had previously grown bored of, as well retrying games I had found to be lacking. One of the beauties of role-playing is the wealth of systems and settings, and our own imagination, so there is no reason to fixate on just a few games, even if those games are rich in variations like the World of Darkness or D&D. Over time our preferences will normally change, so we could be in quite a different mental place. This is more likely to be the case as we try out different games. The result is we will build a more complex connection of gaming knowledge, further modifying our preferences. Plus let’s not forget the power of nostalgia.

I have an anecdote about the particular Vampire game I watched, I’ll write about for the next article.

RPG Lessons From Watching Games by Batjutsu

Part 1 https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/rpg-lessons-from-watching-games/

5 Positive Role-Play Lessons

Continuing on from the previous articles that started at https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/cyberpunk-rpg-and-crpg-style-and-substance/

Julian, the Dungeon Master from the high school lunch group I was in, introduced me to Pete I think in 1989. I’d been buying Skaven figures off Julian, painted by Pete; even whilst at high school Pete was a great model painter.  I don’t recall specifics about my initial conversations with Pete, but I do recall that they were relaxed and that it was easy to have a dialogue with him, as opposed to him dictating at me like the other older lads did.

Cyberpunk 2013

1 Explain what something is, not its competitors

Pete explained the Cyberpunk setting well, and I don’t recall him saying bad things about other gaming systems. I grew to appreciate how important that is, focus on what a product is, not on differentiating between its rivals.

Over the years, I’ve been regularly asked questions by experienced role-players about a new game, and they would often ask for comparisons to systems that they already knew. Since I was being explicitly asked to compare, I did so. Whilst comparisons can work well, speeding up the learning curve, but deviating in to negative critiques of other products, all too often results in a time sink that needs further clarifications. If only because it requires people to know other systems, but also to understand what comparative point you are making.

I have grown to understand that people are inclined towards defending how they’ve spent their time, it’s natural for people to feel they are being criticised for their choice of game system and setting. This is particularly magnified if they love said system. This topic can have the additional obstacle as it is common for gamers to discuss their idea of ‘the perfect system’. Perfection is something to aspire towards, whilst being an illusion, and even getting close to such an ideal would be at best just personal preferences. Thus, conversation points are all too easily mixed together. Additionally, I often found that as more points are raised, eventually the original question can get lost amidst overwhelming information.

The above reasons are why I have found focusing on comparisons to be a poor approach. Of course it can still prove to be an effective way of explaining things, but I’d suggest mentioning as few as points as possible. These days I try to focus on more positive aspects, and to stay on target: explaining what a setting and system’s focus is, and its pros and cons.

2 Give things a try

Until 1989 I had mostly played 2nd Ed AD&D, it had been overall great fun, but the games were focused on clearing a dungeon room by room, stat development, without much thought about the setting. One of the fascinating things about playing Cyberpunk 2013, was the emphasis on characters talking and stand-offs, trying to navigate prolific corruption, in a game world full of people in bad situations. With no clear indication of who was good or evil, the fact that so many people were armed and dangerous, added to the finality of combat, it was great to have a reason to talk first, but with the pressure of talking fast.

After the chaotic experience I’d had with my old AD&D lunch group, were choice and repercussions were often disconnected, this game was well run. This was down to the combination of being in a good group as well as having a good referee. This is a lesson I have appreciated ever since, play in games you really enjoy, I had the luxury of trying out so many different groups. Years later I played great D&D games that also focused on more mature plots, it helped not being kids at school, which once again highlights that the group is the big factor in what makes a game.

Don’t be afraid to chat to the group about their play-styles. Try things out, and negotiate about balancing your goals with the other players. If you don’t reach a satisfactory compromise then consider moving on. Since fun is the heart of gaming, don’t torture yourself, or others.

3 Walking through the rules

Pete ran the games well, we enjoyed ourselves, and I can recall some great moments even now. We were not required to become experts of the rules, and certainly not within a single gaming session. Yet despite not being rule experts, the initial several sessions still went well. The lesson I took from this links back to mentoring, which I’ve written about previously. Even if you are playing a simple gaming system, try to introduce the rules in parts, reveal the complexity at a rate the players can cope with. Determining how much is too much is a subtle skill; I’ll explain my opinion another time.

Generally I think it is better to introduce things a bit slower, than to overwhelm players. Context is a key part of understanding, and it is hard to provide any depth during an introductory rules overview. Look at how come board or card games introduce rules over time, for example Dominion ignores curses at the start.

 

Night City 2013

4 Letting Go

My first character was a Solo called Thermo, a cool streetwise mercenary with a minimalistic appearance, cliché but fun. Since I knew practically nothing about the setting, never mind the fact that I was just 14 years old, I went with the idea of the character being the strong silent type. Thankfully it worked well enough, and also helped me learn the game system, whilst helping me to role-play what I had designed.

Similarly, my friends played interesting characters, a few I can still recall even to this day: Black Rain, Jack Deth, along with an NPC Netrunner whose handle was The Idol. Unfortunately I forget the name of the Fixer played by Michael. This is odd since after playing for a while, Pete proposed Michael and I swap characters, since Michael had been playing his character more like a psychopath; not sure the reason Pete didn’t have Michael make a new character, I think it was simply it was quicker to swap.

Within a single gaming session Thermo, my old character had undergone a massive change. The character now had a red Mohawk, painted the back of his leather jacket to show a nuclear explosion surround by lot of flames, with ‘Thermo’ painted across the jacket top. The character was also now quick to resort to gun diplomacy. It was odd seeing my character played this way, but Michael was enjoying himself, so I didn’t tease or correct him. After all I had agreed to the swap, Pete was okay with Michael making the character his own, and I found playing something different to be fun. Crucially Thermo was his character now, I learned to let go.

5 PC Allies can help, just don’t let NPCs take over

Early on the party went to a gun shop, but things quickly got out of hand. Black Rain and Thermo decided to chat with the person behind the security door. I’ve forgotten the specifics, but somehow the confrontational chat quickly escalated. Finally a demand was made for bullets, so a gun was pointed through the security slit at Black Rain, who quickly used his poison dart in his cybernetic eye. Then attempts were made to shoot through the door; this went on for a several seconds, as gun fire was exchanged between someone in the shop and the party, but then this stopped.

Thermo then decided to try breach the door with a fragmentation grenade. The thing was that Black Rain was still near to the door, and not wearing armour; besides a frag would likely do nothing to an armoured door. Luckily Black Rain was warned of the grenade, and passed his dodge roll. The party members took a moment to look at each other and contemplate killing Thermo, but we didn’t. Time passed, nothing was happening, the shock at the escalation oddly hit everyone, and the party become unsure of how to proceed, some still wanted to break through the security door, others wanted to leave before in the CyberPsycho squad had been called.

Finally Pete suggested we could call The Idol, since he was one of the party’s allies, and was close by. Once he arrived he operated as a cleaner, and so momentum was returned to the game. This was handled as calling in a favour. Crucially The Idol didn’t take over the situation, instead aided, and then as we all high-tailed it, he returned to his own plans. We owed a favour, but the party got a bit of mentoring in game without being made to feel like they were the sidekicks to an awesome NPC.

There is another lesson that I took from this game, but I will save that for a longer piece.

Over many sessions the group somehow managed to get things done without drawing the ire of the Megacorporations. But I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve forgotten a lot of what else occurred in the game, it was just too long ago.

I mentioned that Pete was great at model painting even at high school, so it was no surprise that he went on to become a professional artist and teacher. He runs Egg Head Miniatures, check out his work at https://www.facebook.com/eggheadminiatures/ and his shop is at http://stores.ebay.co.uk/eggheadminiatures.

5 Lessons from my first Role-Playing Session

Oddly I’ve not role-played for nearly a year; it’s quite odd considering how much I have played every years since I was eleven; amusingly my speech recognition thought I said “since I was elven”. Whilst I have been resting, trying to heal, I have been rereading my unfinished role-playing guide, as well as some old anecdotes. This article follows up on my role-playing introduction that I wrote about in role-playing and cyberpunk, I recommend reading that first.

I have written the following about my origin in role-playing to help explain why I emphasis certain aspects. My intent is not to be preachy about what people should do or prioritise; I long since stopped viewing role-playing as a competition.  Whilst I have my preferences, I strive to adapt to different situations, other players’ preferences, and of course moods.

Mr Knowles ran the Warwick High School role-playing games (RPG) club. In 1987 most of the club members played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, and that is the system I spent the first few years playing. I was aware of other games being played at the club, such as: Traveller, Palladium, as well as board games such as Chainsaw Warrior or Star Warriors. Coincidentally, about 5 years later I got to know several of the older lads I had seen at the club, one became a close friend, and another became my boss when I worked at KJC Games.

DnD extra

During the first week of joining the club, several of us were allowed to play during our lunch breaks. We got to try out tiny scenarios, to learn mechanics with context. I got a bit more explanation about the concept of in-character (IC) and out-of-character (OOC) from Mr Knowles, as the concept seemed paradoxically easy and confusing to my eleven-year-old mind. That week I also met the older players in the group run by Julian that led me to Pete, which I had mentioned in my cyberpunk article.

My 1st Campaign Session

On Friday the RPG club had its weekly official sessions. For my first Friday I took part in a game that was a big leap for a novice, I was given a level 7 Illusionist! I had barely learnt the core mechanics, yet I was being given an experienced character, and I was expected to know what my spell list was, what the character should memorise, never mind crucial campaign information like monsters and social knowledge.

In a busy science class room, a small group of eleven-year-olds were crowded round a long lab table; I wish I had a picture. We were being mentored by sixteen-year-olds, well more like tolerated. I vaguely remember later talking to a few of the players, trying to figure out why these older lads had agreed to be mentors when they clearly seemed disinterested in more than teasing our inexperience. Playing was more like being dragged along a semi-interactive cut scene, with random dice rolls being called out for the strangest of incidents, like an archaic set of quick time events.

dnd screen

Looking back now this first session had the typically bad introduction, the Dungeon Master (DM) listed off a bunch of made up nouns in quick succession, and no context was given. Even if we had been playing first level characters that we have made ourselves, we would have still struggled to grasp what was going on. I don’t recall there being a discussion about backstory, plot arc, personality traits, how this existing party dynamic worked. After all, we were given level 7 characters that had allegedly been played for years in the same group.

After a few random encounters the game resulted in our characters being stranded in the wilderness, in winter, on foot, whilst a blizzard was raging. The characters kept travelling, and soon they were days from anyway, they had run out of provisions for fire, and had no shelter. The mentors or DM didn’t have much of an explanation as to why we had been led into this blatantly bad situation; we had just been told that we had to move quickly to catch up with our target (insert random noun).

The phrase “Winter is Coming”, reminds me of this gaming session. A weak quirky association.

So, each IC day a party member took turns begging for divine intervention. A percentile role of 1, was needed, except the cleric needed a 2 or less. Obviously given the statistical chances required, the rolls failed.

A single 1% is hard enough, requiring several rolls?

Eventually after days of failing, and with the party members near death my character, I enquired as to whether my character should be praying to the pantheon as opposed to an Illusion God. The DM made a secret role and declared my character’s thoughts were perceived as blasphemy, a lightning bolt struck my character destroying all clothing, equipment and leaving on 1 hit point. My character then sacrificed themselves in an act of  penance, to have a bonfire lit to save the rest of the party; I had been told my character would die in moments from exposure. The older lads were in hysterics, and apparently I had made a classic mistake?

“HAHA you died due the DM rolling a dice for suspect reasoning!”

Afterwards I spoke with some other players, a few thought it was hysterically funny, which given the maturity level of eleven-year-olds wasn’t surprising. Thankfully a few other players were not mean, and in fact they thought the whole thing was ridiculous. It was highlighted that since my character was good and worshipped a good god, it was very odd that a good god would kill a character for a thought, never mind the fact that worshipping different gods in a pantheon should be normal.

Importantly this incident raises a key query: why was regularly pleading for divine intervention required? If it was common, then surely the population would have an idea of the types of results, and a level 7 character with high intelligence would have some understanding of their own culture, an every-person knowledge.

I’ll save my opinions about a DM having cognitive dissonance in regards to requiring a skill roll for a scenario that they made and are running, whilst claiming they are not involved in decision making. Never mind my thoughts about fudging results.

This incident helped me learn about role-playing, both good and point. I will focus on the  few key lessons that became a big part of my role-playing opinions.

1. The importance of IC and OOC knowledge.

I have been obsessed with this ever since, including working on my own program to aid in tracking it. Whilst working at KJC Games, a core part of the mechanics I made for Quest GME was about tracking the vast information in the different Quest game worlds. With paying customers to consider I prioritised this aspect of the game, since information is power in any scenario, with play by mail (PBM) games it tends to more so due to the heavier focus on strategy. However, I am lenient with myself and others in less professional games, without the tools to track things it’s no wonder that even amazing players can slip up.

2. Mocking players about character death.

Understandable a player that has lost a character is going to be upset, they really could do without the teasing/bullying on top of it. I appreciate that a character death is a big deal, and thus it is often discussed with a high level of emotional energy, but even in PvP at a big live action role play (LARP) game, a bit of respect should be considered.

3. Mentoring new players.

I think it is important to give a new player a good introduction to a game, a chance to immerse themselves in something new. At a small tabletop group level, letting someone join a game is not required and generally a rare event, so it is odd when DM/GMs don’t assist new people. At a large level, like a big LARP, well veteran players stopping a new player from joining is not possible, so why not help make a new friend and at least not make an enemy.

4. Being forgiving of ideas and actions.

This has served me well in all scenarios, from one of my local groups, running games at conventions, to receiving compliments from paying customers at KJC Games. One of my favourite incidents was helping to prevent a civil war due to a player using the wrong ID code on their ships targeting list, but I checked with the customer to make sure instead of assuming it was wrong, after all it could have been intentional. It is much harder to do this at LARP, but even in large LARPs there can be windows of opportunity to check things.

5. Plot Centered Around Multiple Fake Difficult Rolls

Not understanding statistics is a common human problem, the subject is counter-intuitive. I have come across a lot of role-players who do not appreciate the impact of dice rolls, or other random mechanics. Whilst a lot of gamers are good with numbers, statistics is subtly different. Thankfully I have met many gamers who are good with statistics, like with everything else, the population can be represented as a bell curve.

In hindsight I think the whole scenario of spending days in a deadly blizzard praying for constant divine intervention to be not just forcing deus ex machina, but doing so repeatedly? That’s some outrageous odds, and it turns out the whole scenario was fake, since the party was rescued by NPcs, more deus ex machina, and not very player-centric or heroic.

DnD

Cyberpunk RPG and CRPG: style and substance

I have written an article Cyberpunk 2077 a smart linked chromed sandbox for NoobGrind. My gaming group and I first watched the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer around the time it was released; I think we had been looking up something to do with Cyberpunk, whilst playing in a Cyberpunk tabletop role-playing session. We were quite excited, in part because the teaser trailer was well done, but additionally because CD Projekt Red was involved.

The person running the gaming session that night has probably run more Cyberpunk games than most people on the planet, including me, and I’ve run a silly amount. So for us the announcement of Cyberpunk 2077 was a big deal, as I’m sure it is for many other role players around the planet.

I was first introduced to the Cyberpunk 2013 whilst at high school, I think in 1989 via the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). In 1987 I gamed just about every school lunchtime with some older lads, and via them I meet another old chap called Pete, although I forget exactly when. I had been introduced to some other systems via the D&D club, in particular Warhammer Fantasy/40K wargamming; I started collecting Skaven and Space Marines around then. Of course I had read Tolkien, as well as quite a lot of other fantasy and sci-fi, but looking back I don’t recall reading any cyberpunk books before 89. I think I had seen Dark Future in White Dwarf around this time.

Even back then Pete’s style of game mastering was different to the majority that I had experienced via the D&D club. There was a fun intensity combined with a mature character realism that was less common in most of the D&D games I had played; in part due to our ages. I got to know Pete a little bit, he was odd that he didn’t seem intimidated by people, he had mentioned studying Muay Thai, which I had seen on the telly as a young lad and I thought was psychotic and cool. I once saw Pete stand-up to a much bigger lad bullying people, the lad realised Pete was not worth the hassle and backed down. I think it was this confidence, as well as his relaxed attitude that gave Pete’s games an extra level of fun; it also helps that I was exposed to a new gaming system.

Back in the 80s there were not many cyberpunk style computer games, but my friends and I had at least had some solid reference points via movies, which helped us grasp the setting of Cyberpunk 2013 the RPG. The violence and cybernetics of Robocop was a big influence, the film noir style of Bladerunner, the example of ordinary humans trying to stop Arnie in The Terminator, and even psychic inspiration of a near future setting in Neo Tokyo of Akira.

By 1990 I had Cyberpunk 2020, and yet another expanding RPG book collection. At the time of writing this I started dictating gaming anecdotes about my Cyberpunk experiences, but I’ll save them for future articles.

I just hope that by the time Cyberpunk 2077 does come out, that I am healed enough to be able to play it without worrying about physical problems. Although I have Dragon NaturallySpeaking, if only real-life was as simple as buying a cyber arm for 3000eurodollars, as well as 1200 for a neural processor so I can get a Pain Editor!

NoobGrind Cyberpunk 2077 a smart linked chromed sandbox

Role-Play Timeline, article 2 https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/role-play-meets-lord-of-the-flies/