Local listings, yadda yadda
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Local listings, yadda yadda
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Jumping onto the bad guy's horse and knocking him off is awesome; missing, hitting the ground, and getting trampled isn't. On the other hand, halfassing it, catching one hand in the saddle, and being dragged while you scramble up the horse is best of all.So writes Mike 'Old Geezer' Mornard over at Big Purple.
Part of the referee's role in most trad roleplaying games is to interpret the rolls of the dice in actual play. Often, particularly during combat, the interpretations are pretty simple, yes/no affairs: do I hit? do I parry? Other circumstances, such as some types of skill checks, may lend themselves to more nuanced interpretations, however: if I fail my attempt to seduce the princess, does she simply spurn my advances or does she have me thrown in the moat by the guards?
Referees are often advised, as in OG's example above, to make the results interesting and exciting, or at least not-boring. The approach of 'yes, but . . .' and 'yes, and . . . ' suggests adding complexity to the situation as an alternative to failure. Another approach is to use degrees of success or failure.
Flashing Blades combat rules include something like this. To hit, the player must roll 1D20 under a target number based on their character's attributes and expertise; if the player rolls less than half the target number, then the wound is serious and causes an additional 1D6 damage. A roll of 1 always hits, and bypasses any protection from armor the target of the attack may have. A roll of 20, on the other hand, is a fumble, and may result in anything from loss of actions to injury.
The rules for non-martial skills in FB state, "A roll equal to or less than the attribute indicates that the skill was used successfully," but I can't think of a single referee with whom I've played who didn't carry over the degrees of success from combat to skill rolls as well. In my own campaign, rolling between the target number and half the target number is simple success, rolling less than half the target number is a more significant success, and rolling a one means achieving Master-level success; conversely, rolling between the target number and half the range to twenty is a simple failure, rolling between half the range to twenty and twenty incurs some consequence for failing, and twenty is complete failure, likely with a dangerous consequence as well.
To use OG's example of attempting to jump onto a horse and knock off the rider, an Acrobatics roll is required to leap up behind the saddle. Let's say the character needs a fifteen or less to succeed: on a roll of 9-15, our swashbuckler manages to mount the horse behind the rider, and in the next round a successful grappling roll is required to knock the other rider off; on a roll of 2-8, I'd allow the grappling roll in the same round, and on a 1, the rider must make an immediate Dexterity check or tumble off on his own. On a roll of 16-18, however, our erstwhile swashbuckler is unable to gain a purchase on the rider or saddle and simply slides off the horse on the opposite side - make failure interesting, or at least a bit comical, remember? - on a roll of 19, he slides over the horse and catches his lace cuff on the saddle, trapping his arm until a succesful Dexterity roll works it loose, and on a twenty, the swashbuckler does indeed end up under the horse's hooves for an immediate trampling attack, if the rider should wish it - hey, it ain't all pratfalls. All of these results are likely to incur a Horsemanship check at some point as well.
There are circumstances in which outright failure is indeed an option, but playing about with the margins can be much more fun, both for the referee and the players. One of the most important aspects of refereeing, in my experience, is training my mind to improvise exactly these sorts of results quickly. I've found there's no substitute for being well-versed in genre tropes when it comes to making these calls in actual play, and that's the main reason I devote so many blog posts to books and movies and art; Cinematic and Wednesday Wyeth and The Pen and the Sword aren't filler - they're my conditioning program for the heavy-lifting of refereeing.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Check your local listings for times, as always - and seriously, isn't it well past time for you to delete Dungeons & Dragons: Book of Vile Darkness?
"At him, dogs!" yelled the Akinji, his voice no longer soft, but strident as the rasp of a drawn saber. "It is Gombuk! Five hundred aspers to the man who brings me his head!"
With a curse von Kalmbach bounded for the shadows of the nearest hut, dragging the screaming girl with him. Even as he leaped he heard the twang of bowstrings, and the girl sobbed and went limp in his grasp. She sank down at his feet, and in the lurid glare he saw the feathered end of an arrow quivering under her heart. With a low rumble he turned toward his assailants as a fierce bear turns at bay. An instant he stood, head out-thrust truculently, sword gripped in both hands; then, as a bear gives back from the onset of the hunters, he turned and fled about the hut, arrows whistling about him and glancing from the rings of his mail. There were no shots; the ride through that dripping forest had dampened the powder-flasks of the raiders.
Von Kalmbach quartered about the back of the hut, mindful of the fierce yells behind him, and gained the shed behind the hut he had occupied, wherein he stabled his gray stallion. Even as he reached the door, someone snarled like a panther in the semi-dark and cut viciously at him. He parried the stroke with the lifted sword and struck back with all the power of his broad shoulders. The great blade glanced stunningly from the Akinji's polished helmet and rent through the mail links of his hauberk, tearing arm from shoulder. The Muhammadan sank down with a groan, and the German sprang over his prostrate form. The gray stallion, wild with fear and excitement, neighed shrilly and reared as his master sprang on his back. No time for saddle or bridle. Gottfried dug his heels into the quivering flanks and the great steed shot through the door like a thunderbolt, knocking men right and left like tenpins. Across the firelit open space between the burning huts he raced, clearing crumpled corpses in his stride, splashing his rider from heel to head as he thrashed through the puddles.
- "The Shadow of the Vulture," Robert E. Howard
Friday, January 25, 2013
Thursday, January 24, 2013
The five attributes, including Bravery, which affect combat include modifiers to a character's speed and/or accuracy with various weapons. The Bravery attribute score increases or decreases a character's Speed and Accuracy, for example, providing a discrete, quantifiable impact on the character's performance in the game: a character with a high Bravery score is cool under fire, faster and more accurate than his counterpart with a low Bravery attribute value.
Consider a character who is a town marshal with a Coward Bravery rating and no Experience; maybe he got the job through a political connection, or maybe the townsfolk stuck the badge on him because no one else wanted it and he didn't have the guts to say no. Now a gang of bank robbers come to town, and it's the marshal's job to confront them.
Now here's the thing: there's nothing about the attribute itself rules-wise which determines if or how the marshal will confront the robbers; the attribute modifiers only speak to what happens if he tries to fire his gun at them. The attribute and the modifiers influence how successful the character is in a particular task; they say nothing about when or how the character decides to attempt the task.
So the marshal checks his six-shooters, grabs a double-barrel from the rack, and walks into the dusty Main Street to face-down the robbers. His hands shake like he has the palsy, sweat drips off his brow making his eyes sting, and his mouth is as dry as an arroyo in August so that when he shouts, "Throw up yer hands!" it comes out as little more than a hoarse whisper, and that is what is represented by the Bravery attribute modifiers, not the decision to confront the gang - that decision is solely the province of the player.
In thinking this through, I realised that the character's stats are reflected not in what the character does, but in how well he does it. By treating character attributes as a nothing more than a rules interface and not a determinant of personality, roleplaying and character stats exist independently of one another. Put another way, roleplay your character as you like, and let the stats take care of themselves.
Consider another example, this time the loquacious player who uses a 'social stat' like Charisma or Charm as his character's dump stat; whether you're using something as simple as a reaction roll-plus-modifier or something as complex as Duel of Wits, let the player be as charming and as eloquent as he likes, and let the dice handle the actual result. The player of a would-be warlord may deliver a stirring in-character speech, but if his Charisma modifier is in the negatives, however inspiring the player may believe it to be, the warlord isn't persuasive, for this is the limitation imposed by the character's actual ability, in the same way that his Strength or Dexterity may affect his effectiveness at fighting.
If the player wants the character to be better at something, then it's on the player to choose that for the character, by whatever means the system supports, whether that's adding skill points, raising an attribute, or whatever - a would-be Cassanova with a 5 Charisma needs to invest skill points in Bluff or Diplomacy or whatever, or accept that he's only going to get play when he's really, really lucky.)
I've floated this argument on different roleplaying gaming forums over the years, and I found it's one which reliably brings out the self-anointed real roleplayers to tell me I'm doing it oh-so-profoundly wrong, to accuse me of advocating 'roll-play over roleplay,' and on, and on, and on. Perhaps their most compelling - though by no means persuasive - argument is, 'But that's what the books say!' And pretty often they're right. There's a sort of schizophrenia between what some rule books say about attribute scores, and what they mean in actual play. One of the rules-rebuttals offered is the 2e AD&D PHB, in a section subheaded, "What the Numbers Man," which offers examples of interpreting character personality from the attribute scores.
I have two specific issues with this. First, in the case of many roleplaying games but AD&D in particular, the implications of the attribute scores don't relate well to other parts of the game. Take this, frex, from the page above: "His Dexterity is 3? Why? Is he naturally clumsy or blind as a bat?" Well, if he's blind as a bat, is his chance of detecting secret doors lower? Is his outdoor encounter detection range reduced? Or if he's clumsy, is his movement reduced when he runs? Does it affect his melee attacks? Interpreting the stats this way has knock-on effects through other parts of the game with which Dex 3 simply doesn't interact. In 1e AD&D, Dex 3 means the character must be a cleric, that she cannot be a half-elf, elf or halfling, and that she suffers penalties to her reaction time, missle attacks, armor class, and certain saves. And that's it. Neither "blind as a bat" nor "naturally clumsy" fit because of the way attribute scores relate to the rest of the rules.
Second, insisting that attribute scores define personality may limit the range of potential characterisations to 'playing to type.' For example, maybe Rath, again from the 2e example, is a thief who really wants to be the leader of a gang, so he's forever trying to recruit cutpurses and bandits. But of course he's not a natural leader at all, no matter how hard he tries - I know this because his reaction rolls and loyalty scores suck when he tries to lead. The fun thing is, his rare successes simply reinforce his perception of himself, or offer him hope, so he keeps trying.
Playing against type can make for memorable characters. I have a great example of this from my Flashing Blades campaign, Riordan O'Neill, King's Musketeer, would-be Casanova with (originally) Charm 11. Most of his attempts at courtship and seduction are an uphill struggle, and luck is a huge factor in his successes. It's his repeated attempts at being the great lover in spite of lacking the natural acuity reflected by his Charm score that make him so much fun in actual play.
Or how 'bout the lily-livered Boot Hill town marshal I wrote about earlier? Maybe he took the job of marshal out of a sense of responsibility to his community, and he's determined to overcome his shakes when faced with the bank robbers. Or maybe he's a braggart and a bully who likes lording the position of marshal over the rest of the townsfolk, but like most bullies, deep-down he's gutless - he goes to face the bank robbers because he knows if he doesn't, he'll be exposed as yellow.
There's nothing wrong with playing to type, of course, but by unhooking personality from ability, a broader range of characterisations becomes available to the players.
'But what about immersion?' the real-roleplayers complain. 'An Int 6 barbarian shouldn't solve puzzles as well as an Int 18 magic-user!' There are a couple of weaknesses to this rebuttal as well. I don't mean to keep picking on D&D here, but since this argument comes up so often with respect to The World's Most Popular Roleplaying Game™, D&D examples provide a convenient gamer lingua franca. First, let's look again at what the rules say Intelligence actually provides to the character. In 1e AD&D, frex, Intelligence covers the number of possible languages spoken, the minimum and maximum number of spells a magic-user may know by level, the chance to learn a given spell, and the minimum score required to learn spells of a particular level; in 3e, Intelligence covers languages again, skill points, and the modifier for a number of skills. There is no mention of puzzle solving in there at all, and referees who 'slip clues' to players running characters with a high Intelligence score are adding something to the game that simply doesn't exist to compensate for this.
Looking more closely at the rules, what Intelligence, Wit, &c often provide in roleplaying games are resources, not abilities. Perhaps the player of the Int 6 barbarian solves sudokus in his sleep, but he's not solving a puzzle in a language his character doesn't understand until or unless someone translates it for him. Skills may also be gatekeepers, in that a character must learn a certain skill simply to be able to perform a given task. A player who's a master at pike-and-shot wargames is still limited to making brilliant maneuvers in Flashing Blades by first taking the Strategy skill and then rolling under one-third of his character's Wit. In each case, the player's ability is constrained by the character's resources.
In truth, I admit I couldn't care less if a player isn't roleplaying her character's Wit 6. Maybe it comes from starting with D&D way back when, but honestly, I expect players to metagame, to rely on their resourcefulness and experience, and I design my challenges accordingly. I never expected players to pretend their characters didn't know, say, that fire kills trolls; if I wanted them to face an unexpected challenge, then I would simply change things up on them, like trolls which are killed with salt instead of fire. One of the characters in my Flashing Blades campaign nearly died because his player ignored a clue - a case of Anjou wine - which came straight out of The Three Musketeers novel. Easter eggs from books or movies aren't there out of laziness or to try to be clever - they're there because they're fun for the players, and I fully expect them to take advantage of them, or I wouldn't include them in the first place. We're playing a game, and the experience should reward smart play.
Second, because attribute scores are often disconnected from other rules, what tends to snap my suspenders of disbelief isn't an Int 6 barbarian is solving puzzles, but rather roleplaying him as the same stupid lunk at 10th level as he is a 1st level. The barbarian's explored ancient ruins, fought men and monsters, survived poisoning, travelled across trackless wastes, seen priests drive off and destroy undead with a word, felt the power of magic, raised a horde and sacked an evil temple, maybe even been turned to stone and restored to flesh, and yet a few gamers would have that Int 6 trump all of the actual play experiences of the character - and no, that's not hyperbole.
There are roleplaying games out there which integrate both who a character is and how that does what she does - Pendragon is one of my favorite examples of 'personality mechanics' in a roleplaying game. Ability scores, however, are not personality rules, in my experience, and unfortunately even the rule books themselves sometimes confuse this.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
In honor of the Batman appearing in my latest post for the Graphic Novels Challenge, this week NC Wyeth is subbed by the pencilers, inkers, and colorists of DC Comics. The Musketeer is the French Batman, one of several heroes inspired to take up the mask in the defence of justice by the Caped Crusader.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The first day was spent on lecture and a case study; we divided into teams and ran through a scenario involving a lost hunter. Each group functioned as the planning team for the search, so we were busy with establishing a command post, allocating resources, identifying search areas, calculating probabilities of search and detection, and applying our knowledge of lost person behavior. The instructors responded to our requests for information, told us when we found clues, resolved our requests for additional resources, responded to our interviews with witnesses and family members, and so on and so forth. The instructors used slides to show us what the terrain and vegetation cover looked like, as well as the condition of clues we found.
In due time we located the missing hunter, conducted a debriefing on the incident, and called it a day.
The next morning was a short lecture and our second search scenario, two hikers missing in Rocky Mountain National Park. The complexity of the search increased: more challenging terrain, more resources to manage (searches in national parks tend to resemble the circus coming to town), lost persons with less experience than our outdoorsman from the previous day, tougher calculations. I have to say our group did very well; we quickly identified the highest priority areas to search based on lost person behavior, and after awhile the instructors announced we'd found one of the two hikers, the girlfriend.
The slide on the screen was the body of a woman partially covered with snow.
The room got very quiet.
The lead instructor then announced that we located the second hiker as well, further down the drainage where we concentrated our searchers. Another slide of a body in the snow, this time a man.
The room went pin-drop silent.
The lead instructor looked around the room at the assembled deputies and rangers. "Don't look like that," he said. "You did your job."
I remember the sharp feeling of failure, tinged with anger and sadness, when I saw those slides, and I remember distinctly the expressions on the faces around the room mirroring much of what I felt in the moment.
Everyone one of us in that room was an experienced searcher, and I don't doubt for a moment that most of us encountered death in the field before that day. That preceding summer I'd participated in a search-and-recovery for a backpacker who slipped off a corniced pass and fell about six hundred feet to his death, and I spent a week on a complex, physically- and emotionally-challenging search for a ranger, one of my colleagues, who went missing in the backcountry. (The Morgensen SAR, and the circumstances surrounding it, would become the subject of an extraordinary book, The Last Season).
We conducted this exercise across a folding table in an air-conditioned auditorium in the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. We debated plans, told war stories, got soft-drinks and snacks, talked about the weather (it would reach 117 degrees Fahrenheit later that week, which is still pretty cool for Death Valley, but then it was October, not August), joked about the obese roadrunner that hung around the entrance to the VC looking for handouts from visitors (I called him 'Butterball'), and marveled at the Czech visitors who were all over the park that week (good exchange rate + off-season = eastern European visitors in droves).
None of this detracted from the very palpable feeling of loss we experienced at the conclusion of the exercise. Lunch took on the feel of an informal CISD as we reflected on our experiences with death in SAR ops, couched in the morbid humor of experienced professional rescuers.
I read a lot of really stupid things about immersion in roleplaying. There are the "true Scotsmen" who insist that anything less than "TOTAL IMMERSION!" isn't really immersive. There are the idiots who ascribe mental illness to immersion, that feelings resulting from imagination are inherently pathological.
In my experience, even more well-meaning and favorably-disposed gamers make out immersion to be something terribly complicated, and while it's not something which can be reproduced like a formula for soda or barbecue sauce, I've found some common features in immersive roleplaying games: a convincing setting, multi-faceted characters with believable responses, consistency of game-world physics, all of which, for me, point toward the ability to encourage and enhance the willing suspension of disbelief as one of the key elements of immersion in roleplaying.
Monday, January 21, 2013
I read comics when I was a kid - Daredevil, Silver Surfer, and G.I. Combat, picked from the spinner at our local 7-11, purchased with change earned by scavenging empty soda bottles and turning them in for their deposits. Yes, I'm that old.
Roleplaying games actually supplanted my interest in comics - my comic book money went to buying lead minis instead, and I didn't really pay them much attention until I was working in a bookstore after high school and discovered Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. It was, for me, a revelation, like I imagine it was for many people, and it piqued my interest in comics once again. It also spurred me to pick up TSR's Marvel Super Heroes roleplaying game, which I ran for the next few years.
The success of Gotham by Gaslight spawned the Elseworlds stories - in fact, GbG would later be retconned as the 'first' Elseworlds title. The Elseworld titles offer the writers and artists a chance to play with canon characters in asynchronous settings and circumstances, like Superman raised in the Soviet Union instead of Heartland America, or Bruce Wayne as the Green Lantern.
This roundabout introduction brings me to Detective Comics Annual no. 7, an Elseworlds title featuring the Batman as a 17th century privateer named Captain Leatherwing, the English scourge of the Spanish Main. The comic also features other iconic characters including Alfredo, Leatherwing's mate, Robin Redblade, a street urchin who plays a Jim Hawkins-like role in the tale, and Capitana Felina, a Spanish noblewoman both entranced and repulsed by Leatherwing. My favorite character, however, is the Laughing Man - the Joker in late 17th-century court dress is the highlight of the book for me. Indeed, it's really the only depiction of the main characters in the book which I liked - the rest of the main character's costumes seemed far too on-the-nose, lacking any of the nuance or period feel which the best Elseworlds books feature - though the book does give penciler and inker Enrique Alcatena an excuse to show Selina in a bodice-hugging gown for several pages. Too-literal costumes aside, the rest of the artwork in the book is quite good.
Chuck Dixon's story itself is utterly pedestrian, bringing nothing new or exciting to any of the characters. It features none of the Batman's strengths - his deductive acumen, his 'wonderful toys' - which define the character for me. The whole thing seemed like a hugely missed opportunity.
This guy really loves it, though, so if the premise interests you, you may want to hunt around for some other opinions.
A sequel, "The Bride of Leatherwing," was published in Batman Chronicles no. 11.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
"It is done, gentlemen," said Athos.
"And what is your choice?" asked Jussac.
"We are about to have the honor of charging you," replied Aramis, lifting his hat with one hand and drawing his sword with the other.
"Ah! You resist, do you?" cried Jussac.
"S'blood; does that astonish you?"
Athos fixed upon a certain Cahusac, a favorite of the cardinal's. Porthos had Bicarat, and Aramis found himself opposed to two adversaries. As to d'Artagnan, he sprang toward Jussac himself.
The heart of the young Gascon beat as if it would burst through his side--not from fear, God he thanked, he had not the shade of it, but with emulation; he fought like a furious tiger, turning ten times round his adversary, and changing his ground and his guard twenty times. Jussac was, as was then said, a fine blade, and had had much practice; nevertheless it required all his skill to defend himself against an adversary who, active and energetic, departed every instant from received rules, attacking him on all sides at once, and yet parrying like a man who had the greatest respect for his own epidermis.
This contest at length exhausted Jussac's patience. Furious at being held in check by one whom he had considered a boy, he became warm and began to make mistakes. D'Artagnan, who though wanting in practice had a sound theory, redoubled his agility. Jussac, anxious to put an end to this, springing forward, aimed a terrible thrust at his adversary, but the latter parried it; and while Jussac was recovering himself, glided like a serpent beneath his blade, and passed his sword through his body. Jussac fell like a dead mass.
- The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
Saturday, January 19, 2013
I guess the book and the dice I got for Christmas will have to suffice.
Yep, it's time once again for a tedious, self-indulgent retrospective.
First, the numbers. According to Blogspot, RBE topped 52,000 pageviews in its first year, but I've learned that pageviews are functionally meaningless in aggregate, telling me next to nothing about whether or not I have an audience for what I'm writing. Random adware and Google image links bump up the numbers while having nothing at all to do with the content, and sometimes some oddball occurrence, like a link to one of my posts in a 'trouble ticket' at Big Purple, may draw eyes which really have no interest in the blog itself. The numbers for individual posts are a little more telling, and a typical post gets viewed about thirty to sixty times in its first full day and around a hundred times in a week, which is up from six months ago.
The top five RBE posts in terms of pageviews are as follows.
Random Encounters That Don't SuckFrom my seat, it's a respectable list, and I can honestly say I'm glad they are among my most read posts.
Using Mythic Game Master Emulator as a refereeing tool: two actual play examples
Lightly Armored Fighter
Two series of posts, the first on the cape-and-sword endgame or 'domain play,' and the other on random encounters are probably the best things I've written this year, and they are certainly the posts I'm most proud of in my short time as a blogger.
I really appreciate the many comments I've received. Over eleven hundred comments were left on the blog, and even if you consider around half of those are my own replies, that's been very satisfying.
Okay, that's enough looking back. What's next? Well, the video feature Cinematic is done, replaced with The Pen and the Sword, with excerpts from cape-and-sword tales. There are presently forty posts in my draft queue, and I'm both happy and a little surprised that there remains so much to write about in the coming months. Looking back six months to my previous milestone post, my anticipated posts on criminal enterprise got bumped back - still a lot of research and brainstorming in progress on this one - but in the next week or so you can look forward to a tiny swashbucklers' ruritania, the village of Saint-Sidoine-aux-Puis, with the 'swashbuckling furnishings' idea morphing into a recurring feature with descriptions of standard rooms - a bedroom in a noble's townhouse, an armoury in a palace, and so on - to drop into your own campaigns.
It's been a good year, and since I haven't run out of things to say, I look forward to an even better one ahead. Thanks so much for hanging with.
Friday, January 18, 2013
Check your local listings for times.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement. - Nasruddin (attributed)Most experience systems in roleplaying games reward characters for success - defeat the monster, pocket the gold, complete the mission, &c, &c. But as Nasruddin notes, success isn't always the best teacher. What about actively rewarding failure?
Flashing Blades uses a tick-mark experience system. Earning checks for attributes allows those attributes to increase, and earning check for skills allows the character to become a Master or Master Superior in the use of that skill. Here's what the rules have to say about awarding checks for skill use.
If, in the course of an adventure, a character uses a skill extensively in dangerous situations, the Master may award him a 'check' in that skill. Checks are noted in the boxes to the right of skills on the character sheet. Each skill may receive only one check per adventure, and normally no more than three or four skills will receive checks in a single adventure.Attributes are increased similarly, with only one or two attributes recommended for checks in a 'single adventure.'
If success at using an attribute or skill is the only measure by which a check can be earned, then increasing attributes and achieving mastery become much harder, but the rules are clear that using skills "extensively" is grounds for a check; success isn't assumed, only that the skill is put into practice. One of the advantages of FB's tick-mark rule is that the decision to award a check rests with the referee; as such, I can judge if a skill was used not only effectively but in situations where failure was still a meaningful learning opportunity for the character.
This came up in our campaign awhile back when a player decided his character would grapple another character and hold a dagger to his throat. The player made the roll to hit, but lost the opposed Strength check needed to maintain the grapple - after the fight, I awarded his character a check for using the dagger anyway, since it was only the defender's greater strength, and a good die roll, which allowed him to break the grapple and keep the blade from his neck.
Nasruddin was a wise teacher, and FB allows me to apply his lesson to my campaign.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Marcello continues to be a character after my own heart.
Seriously, scroll around there a bit and you'll find all sorts of maritime gaming goodness. I know I do.
Monday, January 14, 2013
I channeled all of them while roleplaying Cardinal Richelieu on Saturday night.
This was the first chance I had to first-person roleplay His Eminence in our campaign, and wow, what a rush! First came Santa Claus. Riordan O'Neill, King's Musketeer, spotted a tail following him shortly after his return to Paris, and the next day he and his travelling companion, formerly Huguenot but recently converted doctor Guillaume Sébastien were rounded up by a contingent of the Cardinal's Guards and escorted to the Louvre for an interview with the Cardinal. The prelate sat, stroking a cat in his lap - which got a laugh for its Blofed-ness - as he first offered the doctor a commission as a médecin ordinaire du roi, one of the king's physicians, which the doctor accepted quickly. Next it was the soldier's turn, as His Eminence dangled an ensign's commission in his Guards. Riordan was sorely tempted but in the end he turned it down, even in the face of blackmail over a duel he fought a year ago in a Parisian alley.
I also got to see how well one of my house rules worked in actual play as well as put 'rulings, not rules' into action. Player characters in my campaign may earn gloire (glory) dice, which are applied to openings and promotions in the various career paths open to the characters. Riordan earned two gloire dice, one for being decorated on campaign, the other for participating in the cavalry duel with Imperial soldiers at Casale. A roll of 10+ on 2D6 is normally required both an opening and a promotion from sergeant to ensign in the Musketeers in my campaign, so Riordan's player got to roll three dice instead. He cruised on the first roll with a fifteen, but only managed a nine on the second; after thinking about it for a moment, he asked if serving as cornet in Challons' company was worth a bonus, and I agreed that his brevet rank was worth a +1 to the roll, so he got his commission. This was something I'd contemplated as a house rule previously, and now I'm going to make it so, but with a slight twist - more about that another time.
I left my iPad at home, so I ran the game wiki-free for a change. I'm a little startled sometimes at how good my memory for the campaign background is - the only npc name I couldn't remember was Riordan's old landlady, and I improvised a pair of random encounters on the road home.
Finally, this was the first time in over a year the three of us were in the same room together to play. Playing over Skype is good enough, but face-to-face is better.
Now the two are off to Fontainebleau, to join the Musketeers' company and the king's court, respectively.
Gaming is good.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
On all sides men ceased eating and drinking to gape in amazement.
"What do you mean?" sputtered Villiers.
"You've set your men to murdering mine at their posts!" bellowed Harston.
"You lie!" Smoldering hate burst into sudden flame.
With a howl Harston heaved up his cutlass and cut at the Frenchman's head. Villiers caught the blow on his armored left arm and sparks flew as he staggered back, ripping out his own sword.
"You cursed fools, will you throw away all our lives?"
Harston was frothing, and Villiers was bawling for assistance. A buccaneer ran at Vulmea and cut at him from behind. The Irishman half turned and caught his arm, checking the stroke in midair.
"Look, you fools!" he roared, pointing with his sword.
Something in his tone caught the attention of the battle-crazed mob. Men froze in their places, with lifted swords, and twisted their heads to stare. Vulmea was pointing at a soldier on the wall. The man was reeling, clawing the air, choking as he tried to shout. Suddenly he pitched to the ground and all saw the shaft standing up between his shoulders.
A yell of alarm rose from the compound. On the heels of the shout came a clamor of blood-freezing screams, the shattering impact of axes on the gate. Flaming arrows arched over the wall and stuck in logs, and thin wisps of blue smoke curled upward. Then from behind the huts along the south wall dark figures came gliding.
"The Indians are in!" roared Vulmea.
- "Swords of the Red Brotherhood," from the collection Black Vulmea's Vengeance, Robert E. Howard
Friday, January 11, 2013
Thursday, January 10, 2013
English Civil War: Royalist Infantry: pt 2
English Civil War Parliamentary Infantry pt 2
Royalist Cavalry pt 2
Royalist Infantry pt 3
As I was doing some prep the other day, I reflected on the fact that it's April 1626 in Le Ballet de l'Acier, our Flashing Blades campaign, and for all intents and purposes, it's the last year of peace for France for decades to come. I think this is the year I need to start building my own TYW miniatures army, for the conflicts ahead.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
The truth of it, which may be obscured by shrill rants about 'arbitrary GMs!' and 'thousand-page rule books!' is that roleplaying games typically involve both rules and rulings, and the more interesting questions are, who gets to make rulings? and, what should the rules cover and what should be left to rulings? With respect to the first, most traditional roleplaying games answer the question of WHO DECIDES? by assigning that role to a referee, though other games may spread that role among the players to one degree or another. For now I'm going to assume the former, but when I write 'referee,' understand that I know there are other ways of doing this.
How often, and in what circumstances, the referee is called upon to make a ruling may be largely determined by the answer to the second question: what do the rules attempt to address specifically, and what is left to the discretion of the referee to adjudicate as the need arises?
One of the arguments which resonates with me for hard-coding many of these potential cruxes into the rules is that players can make informed decisions around what their characters are likely, or unlikely, to be able to do. Traditional task-resolution rules may offer a replicable, dependable game-world simulation - if I roll x, I get result y, meaning I can jump so far or hide in shadows this easily or whatever.
But the range of potential character choices is as broad as the imaginations of the players at the table. In the linked big Purple thread, one of the posters talked about knowing the DC of jumping a horse onto a boat without capsizing the craft. Is it reasonable to expect the designers of a roleplaying game to anticipate that choice with a written rule, or for a referee to remember it on the fly during actual play? In my experience, corner cases like this are exactly why rulings are necessary and desirable, because actual play often becomes one corner case after another.
The best rules, then, may be those which provide guidelines for everyone around the table, rather than, say, a rule like, "Jumping a horse onto a boat without capsizing is DC 30 for a raft, DC 40 for a dinghy, DC 25 for a barge,' &c. Of course, the nature of the guidelines becomes the next point of fracture between gamers.
I don't say much about 4e D&D because I've never played it or read it; in fact the only pieces of it I've seen first hand are the table on page 42 titled, "Difficulty Class and Damage by Level," and the section on skill challenges. As luck would have it, those are two of the sections cited in another Big Purple thread which spun off the first, as examples of how 4e makes adjudication easy, particularly for inexperienced gamers. My own feeling is that page 42 may constrain as much as it inspires and the repetitive margins for success can lead to 'flat' encounters, and that skill challenges are just a hot mess, but I can definitely understand the appeal they hold for others - replicable, reliable math is nothing to sneeze at, particularly in games with lots of fiddly bits.
Flashing Blades takes a different approach. Here's the section on how skills are handled.
During the course of an adventure, characters will wish to make constant use of their skills. This is achieved normally by rolling a D20 against one of the character's attributes. A roll equal to or less than the attribute indicates that the skill was used successfully.It's clean and simple - no Disneyland, no live nude girls. Roll against the applicable attribute, or against that attribute divided by two or three, maybe get a modifier, maybe make an opposed roll. Broad guidelines, broadly applicable. The math is reasonably consistent, too, in that a player knows what his attributes are, and the referee simply needs to let the player know what the relative difficulty is - roll under the attribute? roll under half the attribute? - and any applicable modifiers, and perhaps make an opposition roll. The rules also imply, through the combat section, that skill checks may be interpreted as degrees of success.
The attribute rolled against is usually the base attribute for the skill, but this may vary depending upon the circumstances. For instance, a character with Acrobatics skill might roll against his Dexterity to put on a 'sham' brawl, but would be required to make a roll against his Wit to recognize one if he saw it. The difficulty of most rolls will vary widely, so the Gamemaster should add bonuses or subtract penalties from the needed roll as indicated by the situation. For example, a character with Stealth skill, and a Dexterity of 13 would normally need to roll 13 or less to hide effectively. If there were no shadows and little cover, he might receive a -2 penalty, making his needed roll 11 or less. Likewise, if it were late at night in a thick forest, he might get a +4 bonus, making his required roll a 17 or less. In cases of extreme difficulty, the Gamemaster might require a roll under a given attribute divided by two or three (always round up).
When two characters use their skills in opposition to each other, it becomes a resistance roll. The first character's roll modifies the second's by the difference between his roll and what he needed. Thus, if a character with Stealth and a Dexterity of 12 were running through a forest, he might be required to make a roll against Dexterity to leave a sparse trail for his pursuer. If he rolled an 8, any character tracking him would receive a -4 penalty (8 - 12 = -4). If he missed and rolled a 15, any character tracking him would get a +3 bonus (15 - 12 = 3).
Resistance rolls are used commonly with Cut Purse, Disguise, Forgery, Stealth, Tracking, and Espionage.
In some cases, skills will only modify normal rolls. For instance, if a character were standing on top of a table about to be flipped by an enemy, he might be required to make a roll against Dexterity to jump down in time. Acrobatics skill might give him a +3 bonus.
I don't know if this would satisfy 'jumping a horse onto a boat without capsizing it is DC 30' guy or 'page 42 makes anyone a competent referee' guy, but as a player it lets me have some idea of what it takes to accomplish something and as a referee it provides me with a framework on which to adjudicate the action as the players make their choices. I don't want a folio of rules which try to cover every corner case, like 'horse jump' guy, and I don't need one rule that applies to every possible corner case, like 'page 42' guy.
Monday, January 7, 2013
Let me make something clear right now - I suck at writing reviews.
If you're looking for a discussion of the writers' and artists' body of work and where this fits into their oeuvre, you'll need to look elsewhere - all I'd be doing is parroting someone else's insights. If you're looking for details about the plot and the characters, then you'll be disappointed - I can't stand reviews full of spoilers. I'm not going to waste my time or yours on a lengthy publishing history.
Okay, still with me?
And on top of all that, the artwork is breathtaking. There are a dozen panels at least that I would gladly blow up to poster size, starting with the opening pages featuring a view from the sea floor of fish swimming amidst the wreckage and corpses of an capsized galleon floating above.
El Corazon, written by Chuck Dixon and penciled by Steve Epting, first appeared in 2003 and ran for six issues until the publisher, CrossGen, went belly up the next year, bringing the series, and Lady Sin's quest for revenge against Blackjack Tom, to an abrupt and unwelcome halt. The six issues were collected and published as a graphic novel by Hyperion Paperbacks in 2007, and if my copy is at all representative, they did a pretty crap job of it - my pages are near to falling out as the spine crackles and snaps every time I gently thumb through the book.
It's a real shame this story never found its way to completion - Lady Sin would appear in Sigil in 2011, after Marvel acquired GrossGen's rights, but in a new storyline - but there is a lot of solid inspiration for cape-and-sword campaigns found between the covers of El Cazador.
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Preface: For the new year, Cinematic is giving way to a new Sunday 'feature,' The Pen and the Sword, featuring excerpts from cape-and-sword books and stories.
I ran the following piece last April, but it's just so good I really wanted to include it in this series. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. - BV
"A vile song, señor, and a vile tune with it," said a voice quite close.
However much the words hurt his pride in his mandolin Rodriguez recognised in the voice the hidalgo's accent and knew that it was an equal that now approached him in the moonlight round a corner of the house with the balcony; and he knew that the request he courteously made would be as courteously granted.
"Señor," he said, "I pray you to permit me to lean my mandolin against the wall securely before we speak of my song."
"Most surely, señor," the stranger replied, "for their is no fault with the mandolin."
"Señor," Rodriguez said, "I thank you profoundly." And he bowed to the gallant, whom he now perceived to be young, a youth tall and lithe like himself, one whom we might have chosen for these chronicles had we not found Rodriguez.
Then Rodriguez stepped back a short way and placed his kerchief upon the ground; and upon this he put his mandolin and leaned it against the wall. When the mandolin was safe from dust or accident he approached the stranger and drew his sword.
"Señor," he said, "we will now discuss music."
- Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley, Lord Dunsany
Friday, January 4, 2013
I ran a typical hammer-throwing, axe-swinging dwarf fighter in a 1e AD&D game when I was in high school. At one point we found ourselves exploring a pyramid deep in a desert, and in the course of the adventure we found a +3 scimitar. The other fighter player characters in the party had died and the player was waiting to introduce his new character, so my dwarf was the only one in the party able to take advantage of this magical scimitar.
The dwarf was not proficient in the weapon, so he was less accurate when wielding it (and this was before weapon specialization in UA) until he could burn a proficiency slot, but it was a powerful magic weapon and we needed that as we were facing lots of undead in the crypts beneath the pyramid. As he continued to wield this scimitar, I had the character start embracing some of the local lifestyle: his rough woolen cloak was replaced by a silk aba, he sported a turban, he indulged in local jewelry, and so on. By the time our party left the pyramid and moved on to other adventures, he was a sort of "Gimli of Arabia," riding a camel and picking up a desert-dwelling illusionist as a henchman in the process. He was a lot of fun to play.
First, Khazm developed not based on a 'character concept' dreamed up before the game started, but in response to the events of actual play.
One of the reasons I stopped enjoying 3e D&D fairly early on is that, in my experience, it worked against this sort of organic character development. I observed that feat chains, prestige classes and their prerequisites, and 1-20 builds made many players reluctant to take something for which they had not planned and run with it. I don't mean to suggest that the rules required this, and I don't believe it's true of all players everywhere, but I saw enough of it as both a player and a dungeon master to find it off-putting.Over the years I've been told - always on gaming message boards, and never by anyone with whom I actually sat around a table - that my develop-in-play approach to characterisation is more suited to skirmish wargames than roleplaying games. 'Real roleplayers,' the unsubtle implication goes, begin with a 'fleshed out' character, and to do otherwise is simply playing some variation of myself. What's usually overlooked in their too-often sneering disdain is that I am not, in fact, a dwarf warrior in a fantastic realm of dungeons and dragons, or a swashbuckling highwaymen chasing a carriage over the moors on my black charger, or a steely-eyed gunfighter standing in bright sunlight on the dusty streets of Abilene, so my characters are already not-me right from the mother-lovin' giddyup.
The idea that treasure should be matched to the characters is another big step away from my experience playing my dwarf fighter character, taking an unusual weapon and allowing the character concept to evolve to accomodate it, rather than giving the dungeon master a slip requesting "a hammer of thunderbolts, 'cause it's integral to my character concept!"
What's important to me isn't who my character is at the start of the game, but who my character may become through suffering the slings and arrows of actual play. That means creating an involved backstory, or making up connections to non-player characters, or dreaming up funny mannerisms, or coining a catch-phrase, are trivial compared to my character's reaction to the unfolding events of the campaign. Planning for who my character will be in nineteen levels is just as inconsequential as trying to determine who he is before the campaign begins, and burgeoning rules complexity which leads to a lack of flexibility works directly against my style of play. In my experience, games which produce broad character archetypes work best for this; the more fiddly bits a character needs, the more difficult it can be to make changes on the fly. Simpler rules, without mastery traps, work best for this.
Second, with respect to those broad archetypes, Khazm was an otherwise bog-standard fighter, but adopting an atypical weapon and unusual cultural trappings for his race made him effectively unique in the game-world - this was the days before every demihuman race had an ice subrace and a sea subrace and a desert subrace and a jungle subrace, of course. It didn't take class abilities or feats or prestige classes to make him distinctive - the only rules-wise change to Khazm was spending a weapon proficiency slot on the scimitar after he leveled up - but rather I simply roleplayed him in ways, and surrounded him with trappings, which reflected his adopted culture.
Sometimes I hear that playing swashbucklers or gunfighters or gangsters is boring because all the characters are basically the same - guy with a rapier, guy with a Peacemaker, guy with a Tommy gun. There's nothing, they say, to differentiate one 5th level fighter from another without feats et al. Well, Khazm and I beg to differ.
Thursday, January 3, 2013
I see the results posted in gamers' signatures on various forums pretty often, as a sort of identity badge, perhaps - 'I'm a Storyteller 100%, and I want everyone to know it!' I'd taken it before, but I couldn't remember when, so I took it again the other day. Here's what it spit out at me.
|You Scored as Tactician
You're probably a military buff who wants to have the chance to think through complex problems. You want the rules, and your GM's interpretation of them, to match up what happens in the real world or at least be consistant. You want challenging yet logical obstacles to overcome.
A couple of things jumped out at me. First, it's interesting to me that only one of the scores was above 50%, but not terribly surprising, considering the number of 'neither this nor that' answers I chose. In fact, very few of my answers reached either extreme at all; for me, most of the questions were simply too polarised to elicit strong agreement or disagreement.
Second, looking over my results, I'm pretty consistent. With a little searching, I found my answers to this quiz from not quite a year ago - in both cases, Tactician was my highest score and the only answer to break fifty percent, and while there was a bit of jockeying in the rest of the pack, the answers are more or less consistent between the two. The rough consistency between the results - one score breaking away from the field, the rest varying by fairly small margins - suggests the quiz does a reasonable job of sussing out the likes and dislikes of gamers.
Here's the thing, though: as a diagnostic of my own gaming style, the most important result is not the top score, but rather the clump of answers which follow. The quiz proclaims that I'm a Tactician, ". . . a military buff who wants to have the chance to think through complex problems," who wants " . . . the rules, and your GM's interpretation of them, to match up what happens in the real world or at least be consistant," and wants, ". . . challenging yet logical obstacles to overcome." There's a nugget of truth in this: I like thinking through complex problems, and I like overcoming challenging obstacles, especially ones which must be reasoned through. And yes, I do enjoy wargames as well, though calling me a "military buff" is a bit too specific.
The description of the Tactician provided in the quiz results is a paraphrase of the description provided by Mr Laws, however. Here's the full description, as quoted in the linked passages, with bold text highlighting some of the key differences between the quiz and the book.
The Tactician is probably a military buff, who wants chances to think his way through complex, realistic problems, usually those of the battlefield. He wants the rules, and your interpretation of them, to jibe with reality as he knows it, or at least to portray an internally consistent, logical world in which the quality of his choices is the biggest determining factor in his success or failure. He may view issues of characterization as a distraction. He becomes annoyed when other players do things which fit their PCs' personalities, but are tactically unsound. To satisfy him, you must provide challenging yet logical obstacles for his character to overcome.There's a quite a bit more here than the quiz results suggests, a much narrower interpretation of what a "Tactician" expects from the game, and, for me, the added specificity goes wildly wrong.
As far as "complex, realistic problems" go, I tend to think of 'battlefield complexity' as fun but perhaps the least interesting sort of complexity a roleplaying game may offer. Everything from traps and environmental hazards to mysteries and political intrigues interest me as problems to solve in roleplaying games, and those often far more than combat. I like the "quality" of my choices to skew the probabilities - for good or bad - of the dice, not be the "biggest determining factor" of success or failure.
And the idea that characterisation is a "distraction," or that "tactically unsound" in-character choices are annoying, isn't even in the ballpark.
So does "Tactician 67%" really come close to describing how I like to play a roleplaying game? Is Mr Laws' typology 'two-thirds' correct as it applies to me?
One of the very real problems of trying to divine players' interests, whether it's Mr Laws' game styles, or the Forge's 'Big Model(s),' or Fred Hicks' "secret language of character sheets", is that playstyle pigeonholes rarely provide even a useful fraction of the whole story. Looking at my quiz results, it's not the Tactician result which tells you most about my gaming style, but rather the bunch sprint between Method Actor, Butt-Kicker, Storyteller, and Power Gamer, all in roughly equal measure. I want action and system mastery and deepening characterisation and the opportunity to weave my character into the history of the game-world.
When I think about campaigns in which I've played, it's these qualities against which I judge how much I enjoyed the experience, not whether my character fought a duel on the deck of a burning galleon or if I adequately demonstrated my pike-and-shot tactical acumen. A referee who looks at my quiz score and tries to engage me with the equivalent of a minis skirmish game won't even be close.