Monday, August 19, 2019

The Benefit of Genre Deconstruction

I started watching The Boys on Amazon over the weekend. I'm not sure I like the show enough to recommend it, but it does have some things going for it. One thing I like about it, and other media that is trying to be deconstructive of its genre, is that it gives a different point of view on tropes, settings, and how things work.

The Boys does this really well when you look at the lives of The Seven in the show. Sure, there is the angle that the super heroes are not the good guys they're supposed to be. However, there is also the obstacles and problems they face in their lives. They're sponsored by a company that also funds their team.

Even their equivalent of superman chafes under the corporate control. The realities of needing to maintain their sponsor, do what the coin purse says, and pay attention to their public image and what people see them doing are all incredible things to see.

Why? Because they're not things you see a lot in other super hero material. And while, when running a game, you probably shouldn't go full on with this. It does give you little things to put in the way of the heroes. Small hitches and problems that can't be solved by punching or combat rules.

Do your heroes go with the new outfit? or do they risk losing their sponsor? What do they do when their act of herosim gets them in trouble with the people giving them legal coverage?

You can get similar things just by considering the realities of the world. What hindrances affect your life in your career? How would those impact someone in the job your PCs have in their world?

Something to consider, if nothing else.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Discussion: Do You Do Custom Stat Blocks For Monsters & Bosses?

Most games have a slew of options available for monsters, bosses, and other combat opponents for player characters to come across and fight. I'm honestly not sure I can think of a game with combat as part of the game that doesn't have some form of pre-prepared stat blocks to handle this.

At the same time, it is almost a time honored tradition for GMs to make custom enemies for their games that are more than just renaming or refluffing an existing stat block. Custom stats, custom attacks, custom powers, custom defenses. Do it right and you get a unique encounter that can add to your game. Do it wrong and you get something that is too easy or too powerful that doesn't feel as good.

My question is, do you do custom stat blocks? If so, how far do you go? Do you find it worth the time investment to do? Does any particular thing stand out as having worked particularly well?

With D&D 5e I mostly stick to pre-prepared stat blocks, but can be very liberal about just extracting the mechanics and reskinning all the other stuff around it. Sure, sure, the stat block says "Beholder Zombie" but it is actually a Techno-magical Necromantic construct housing a prism in a cracked rib cage that shoots off random rays, not a beholder. Yes, I know the stat block says it is a Hobgoblin Warlord, but it is actually a Dwarven Lord leading his elite bodyguard unit.

I've started to dabble in other customizations, and even making entire stat blocks, but in general I find that the amount of work to the amount of game time isn't always worth it. For some encounters I want it to be special enough I'll do it - for example, I'm making 4 custom Death Knights for one of the campaigns right now - but by and large I find reskinning and tweaking does a better job of adding enough customization to feel unique without costing me hours of research, numbers, and planning for something that will be lucky to last 5 rounds.

I did much the same with Fantasy Flight's Edge of the Empire.

However, when I ran L5R 3rd ed and 4th ed, I did the opposite. I almost never used pre-prepared stat blocks and instead made custom enemies. The big thing here was that I knew the system well enough, and the system was supportive of this, that I could whip up a stat block in minutes. Most things only needed their attack roll, damage roll, wounds, and TNtbH. if they needed more they just needed values for their 5 rings.

How about you?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Mechanics Worth Stealing: Roll & Keep's Raises

I had this idea for a new series on the blog, and thought now might be a good time to launch it. The idea here is to point out mechanics I see in games that are worth paying attention to, or just flat out lifting for your home game. Maybe they don't make a 1:1 conversion, maybe they do. Either way, they provide a way of resolving or representing something at the table I find to be worth while.

Today, for the initial post, I couldn't think of anything I wish I could have in every system more than the Raise mechanic from AEG's Roll and Keep System. With that said, let's talk about Raises and how they can help with any game.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Matching the Narrative to the Sacrifice

I was watching an episode of The Dragon Prince on Netflix. In the episode the main characters face a problem, and to solve it one of the characters immediately makes a sacrifice that worked. I'm not giving specifics of that to avoid spoilers, but it reminded me of an event in a large (like 150+ players, 12+ GMs) game I was the head GM for a while back.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Discussion: How Much Variance From The Norm Do You Put In Your Worlds?

When looking at cultures, real and fictitious, there is the tendency to assume that people fall into the stereotypes of the norms and values. A member of the Samurai caste from 14th century Japan is assumed to act a certain way....which then leads to the belief that all Samurai caste members from 14th century Japan acted that way. This is problematic. Not only is there the fact that the 14th century is 100 years (and look at how much our culture has changed in just the last 10) and that Japan is a big place, but also people just don't act that way.

Still, it persists in historical discussions, and in RPGs. To flip the lens around, people arguing about our culture would get into arguments because someone suggested that Americans on the highway partook in casual speeding. When, obviously, that couldn't be the case because the US was a country of laws, with Rule of Law, and the law said to not speed. Right?

With that said, do you worry or bring this concept into your own game? Is there the expected norm (don't speed) and then the actual norm (lots of people speed all the time, and as long as it's not too egregious no one cares?)

If not why not? If so, do you find it adds to your game?

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

GenCon Without A Plan

This year my friend and I went to GenCon without a plan at all. In fact, that was our plan. Every year had open time for doing random things, but there was some sort of objective. This year the objective was to not have one. We did the whole convention with generics and showing up to places, and quite frankly we had a blast. For those interested in being planless - or just unable to get into the games they want - here is basically how it works.

Step 1: Grab A Bunch of Generics Early On
This shouldn't be a surprise, but to do events with generics you need generic tickets. Most events have a charge of $2/hour (or 1 generic ticket / hour) but some games run a bit more depending on their situation. If going for the whole weekend using generics, I'd recommend grabbing about $40 worth on your first day. It gives you a healthy stockpile that should last you most if not all the weekend.

In getting generics, you're generally better off going into one of the halls where games are played and finding an Event HQ. The lines - especially on the first day in the morning - are short to non-existent (unlike Customer Service and Will Call) and they can sell you generics just fine.

Also, the best part about generics is if you buy too many they're refundable -unlike specific event tickets.

Step 2: Find A Game/Event You're Interested In
The second step is to find a game or event you're interested in. The event finder on gencon.com has decent granularity in its search engine. You can search by category of event, day of event, start time of event, specific game, and/or specific host. You can also filter out full events. So look and find something you want to try. I'd recommend looking for games with open seats, but you can try for full tables too. A lot of times people miss games. Just have a backup in mind for if everyone shows.

Step 3: Show Up Early. Really Early. Ask About Wait Lists
Show up to the room early, and ask if there is a wait list. For games being run by groups, they often have someone by the door to answer questions, feed the GMs water/throat lozenges, and manage tabling/wait lists. Fantasy Flight Games, Baldman Games (they run 5e), and Catalyst have always done a good job with wait lists and getting your name on early is good. Paizo will try to get you in, but their table mustering for events is more ad hoc and they tend to not do waiting lists.

Step 4: You Won't Be Seated Right Away
The thing to remember with Generics is that you not only won't, but can NOT be seated right away. by GenCon rules an event host has to give people 10-15 minutes to show up with event tickets before filling the seat with generics. That means you'll be waiting until about 4:10 to 4:15 for an event starting at 4:00. There is nothing the event hosts or GMs can do about that. And if you try to sit down earlier, and someone with a ticket shows up, you're going to lose your seat.

The best plan here is to be patient, but stay visible and present. You want to hear when they call your name because unlike an event ticket there is no rule about how to use a wait list.

Step 5: Enjoy
Once the event starts, you're just as in as anyone else. Have fun, listen to the person running the game, and do your best to be a good player.

Also, don't be too sad if you can't get into a game you really want to play. Most games have events going every day, so there is always tomorrow. Also, there is always something going on at GenCon so just go find the next thing you want to try.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Key To Social Mechanics in Games

Today at GenCon I played a game called "King's Dilemna." King's Dilemna is a legacy board game where the players take the roles of a King's small council. Game mechanics wise you are presented with a scenario, given a choice, vote Yay/Nay/Pass, and reap the consequences and rewards of the choice of the council. Game play wise, you negotiate with your fellow players to achieve the objectives you want for your house, while pushing the kingdom into/away from chaos as fits your goals and whims at the moment.

In a lot of ways the game play is similar to games like Diplomacy. The point if managing your relationships with other players, figuring out what they want, helping or denying that as it fits your needs, and ultimately trying to achieve your own objectives. It is also something I've seen a lot of people try to put into their tabletop RPGs with varying degrees of success.

The fun thing is there is a key thing needed for social mechanics in games to work. That thing is conflict. Only, it is a special type of conflict. You don't just want violence - that just leads to fighting and PVP combat. No, if you want the social mechanics to come up you want conflict around a something specific and with specific requirements.

Big Enough To Matter. Small Enough to not be Final. Limited Availability

That line in bold is what you need to have a political game between your players. You also need it for a political game between players and NPCs but in that all the players are on the same side. The key thing here is you really need all three.

The reward has to be big enough that it is enticing to all, or at least most, parties involved. This can be the PCs, it can be PCs and NPCs, but you need enough that groups or individuals want the reward.

At the same time, the reward needs to be small enough that people aren't just going to murder the competition. If you put a kingdom's crown up for grabs, that is a big enough prize that a lot of people will just murder the competition for it. If you want that it is fine, but unless you're ok with a player sitting out because they're dead it is not something to do lightly. So it needs to be important, but not so important the value in having it trumps the consequences for more absolute solutions. You want people wheeling and dealing, not slitting and slicing.

Finally, the reward needs to be limited in availability. If you have 4 factions, and enough reward for all four there is no conflict. If you have 4 factions and enough reward for 3, then you will quickly end up with a 3 man alliance and someone on the outside. But if you have 4 factions and enough for 2 or only 1? Now you have a game.

Next to these three things, the next part for a longer term campaign is to have another thing that follows up after or multiple rewards at the same time. Not all rewards have to be equally enticing to all parties, but they should have some. Let people build relationships. Let them make deals. Let them break those deals. Let them make enemies, allies, etc. Let them play the game.

But one last thing: you can't force people to do it. Present the situation, present the reward, but if the players decide to work as a group or try to make it work with all the NPCs don't force them out of it. Actions and consequences are fine, but forcing a political game can be bad for the game.

Present, show, enjoy....don't force. And have fun with it!