Seven WISHes for Seven Swan Sisters

Joint answer of MT and the Lintking

List three or more maxims/proverbs/bits of conventional wisdom/etc. that you’ve learned in your gaming career, and explain what they mean and how you’ve seen them apply in your gaming experience.

Meera uses the Big Three, (“No Plot Survives Contact with the Players,” “No Character Concept Survives GamePlay,” and “Whenever Meera Has a Dice Giant, She’ll Roll All Ones“) regularly. The second tier is, of course, “If the game isn’t about the PCs, the players should play who the game really is about,” “Never underestimate the value of a pointed stick,” and “If you can’t go through the door, go through the wall.” (Actually, we all use that last one.)

So let’s look at some of the more personal ones… I suppose, “I had my ballista serviced this morning,” is probably a classic Minions line. The maxim behind that being, I suppose, that when the GM asks, the answer is, you’ve taken care of it. (If someone asks if you’re a god…)

Then there’s, “…(O, for a regent who knows more about the military than what nice, crisp uniforms they certainly do wear…)..” Some NPCs have to be useful. Some of them have to be powerful enough, either to be helpful or to be threats. But careful positioning can make them handy without letting them become overwhelming, and NPCs *can* only help to a certain point. The big decisions have to be the players’. (Has anybody else seen Evil Toons? The bit where the Guide just gives the main character a, “Heck, I don’t know,” look is hilarious, and nobody else has seen it. Argh.)

“Little magic circles.” – DM

“What kind?” – the LintKing

“Round.” – DM

Something that some GMs have a problem with, actually, but is an important rule that may tie back to WISH #6. Just because they ask doesn’t mean you have to tell them. Probably the most common/important application of this is when players want to experiment with unknown substances, leading to one of the most hated GM answers out there. “What would happen if I do this?” “Are you?” “Um…”

I moon Benedict.” Breaking genre can be very important; it can help avoid assumptions, avoid falling into the classic traps, and, of course, provide good quote fodder. It also helps keep both the GM and the players on their toes – having to respond to something *entirely* unexpected is where you really find out how well you know your character, or for the GM, the world.

But I’ve been unconscious longer!” There are a number of systems where choosing `bad luck’ is an option to get some extra points. In many games, this comes out being fairly meaningless, because the GM has to maintain a fair standard even in this case. Sure, you can always be picked as the one the trap goes off on, or the one nobody likes when making initial reaction rolls, but the GM literally *can’t* make a character completely useless.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”

“…It’s probably where we need to go, then.”

This one has good advice under it for both GMs and, even moreso, players. With a good GM, it can be surprisingly easy to completely avoid the plot. It rarely makes for a very good game. Sometimes you HAVE to go into the darkened basement, even if all you’re wearing is a bikini. RPGs are inherently a cooperative venture; the GM is expected to do a lot of work making the game, and the players have a certain obligation to suspend their disbelief. Probably the easiest way to avoid problems with this is to make sure your character is oriented to have the kinds of adventures they’re supposed to have, whether it means taking “Impulsive” Disadvantages or just mentioning that they have an insatiable curiosity regarding old books with “Necro” anywhere in the title.

We could probably come up with a lot more, but that should cover our dues for the week.

Simulation Summation

I was reminded of this topic that I have ranted on before by an (apparently) off-handed comment by Mr. Novak from a post on Secrets from Turn of a Friendly Die.

“…For the same reason I don’t like players in, say, GURPS, taking an advantage like `charismatic’ if they can’t play it.”

There are a number of folks who feel that you must roleplay all your social encounters, and yet that it’s perfectly reasonable to simulate combat with dice.

Trust me, I, personally, would be much more able to convince you of something while holding a six foot battle axe in the crook of my left arm, than I would be using my words alone. Even with my notorious poor luck at rolling the correct numbers. (Which is why my, “No kidding! There I was,” dice stories are so rare, and so outrageous.)

Oh sure, there are times my charisma’s turned on, and I’ve got the mojo, but those are noteworthy for their rarity. The truth is, I’m a much better fighter than I am talker, in real life.

…but I’ll play a Fiona. I’ll play a scheming, manipulative, balseraphic, talker type when I game. Because when I game, I’m playing someone I’m not… so I don’t think it’s fair to expect me to lead the crowd in a rousing speech myself, even if it is “in character.”

Not unless you want me to defeat you in a contest of arms next time I kill a kobold.

(Alright, truthfully I’ve met gamers that would wipe the floor with me in any kind of physical contest, but the point’s still there to be made.)

Continue reading “Simulation Summation”

Six Sleeping WISHes

So, for WISH #6 we are to discuss how…

Sometimes the plot of a game requires a GM to keep secrets.

I have a terrible problem keeping secrets because I want everyone to know exactly how clever I and my players are… how deliciously wicked! It’s like buying gifts and having to wait for the right occasion.

This is the number two reason I need a co-GM. (The number one reason, of course, being to make PBeM moves for me when I’m terribly busy. The number three reason is pure immoral support. [grin])

I am having to do an interesting balancing act with G&G, wherein all the posts are public. There’s been some private stuff going on, and I have done some snips and clips of the public quizzes and the like, but everything is revealed on the surface. Of course, much like any scrying, the trick is in the reading and interpretation, not just the images.

Unlike Nuadha’s experiences, one of the very worst things I’ve ever seen a PBeM GM do is try to “enhance” the game by showing scenes from other points of view. In my goal of creating a place the players can feel comfortable, I don’t want to confuse them in giving them information upon which they don’t know if they can act.

The source of information is important in the game. While it might seem somewhat trite to reference, of all books, Dream Park, there is the note that I do hold somewhat to having a number of “guides” whose introducing the world to the players has to be true as far as it goes. All other information is suspect (to differing degrees), including what the PCs receive from their senses.

Are those secrets? No, those are the methods by which we dole out plot. Plot is very rich, and can overwhelm in large doses. GMs are careful cooks: we all have our different recipes and methods to flavour plot. Some players are allergic to certain ingredients… [grin] Sometimes GMs have a favourite spice they use a little too much of…(as if you could have too much garlic. Pshaw!)

The LintKing and I joke about the first night of the campaign being the traditional time to let slip secrets the characters have held for potentially thousands of years in backtime. To me it’s a bragging ritual akin to a scar contest: “Hey, I’ll show you my hooks…” or the opening exposure of cards with a couple kept in the hand so the psychological aspects of the playing is revealed. (“All the better to play you with, my dear.”)

Most of the time I don’t worry — I enjoy watching even predictable plots play out at times… like “Eight-Legged Freaks.” Normally I’m too obscure for my own good. (“Hey, I telegraphed that betrayal when I told you his name. Everyone knows `Midori’ means green, and green is the colour of jealousy, and he smelled like rue… I mean, DUH!”)

I did once complain because a GM of mine was a little TOO neat: everything my character had in his inventory was designed against abilities of other players… but “the play’s the thing.”

Erm. I’m sure that’s how it goes.

Five, Five Game WISHes

There are a lot of places where a failure to communicate on the part of the GM and the players leads to disappointments for the GMs and the players…

Well, my main tact for avoiding such misunderstandings is to mostly stick with a GM who’s been with me for more than a third of my life now. This works pretty well, actually – we still have disagreements on occasion, but rarely serious misunderstandings – so I highly recommend it. If you find a really good GM, nail her. Down, I mean. Er. *ahem*

I was in a Throne War at a convention, in which I was, to my shame, the first one killed. I do think this was at least in part because the device I’d based a lot of my character on was a little over-complicated for a Throne War, and required the GM to do a lot of “keeping-in-mind”. It had (among other things – I’m not giving *all* my secrets away) the `extraordinary psychic sense’ which included sensing hostile intent directed towards my character, and it had the ability to pulse out a variety of negation-style Power Words over a broad area if it sensed such…which, in a perfect world, would have seriously messed with the guy laying in ambush for me. Of course, I don’t know that HE didn’t have some kind of psychic neutral hat on that kept it from working, but I DO know that what I was asking the GM to keep constant track of was a little hefty for the five minutes you have to explain yourself before a Throne War.

My way of dealing with these things is, frankly, to get over it. In that instance, the GM was a good one (I’ve been in several of his games, and hope to be in more, which is about the best anyone can say of a GM), and I don’t have a problem with his calls…at best, I think of it as the gaming (especially diceless-gaming) replication of a realistic risk of mechanical failure. The more complicated the device (eg. the more the GM has to do, especially without player prompting), the more likely it is to malfunction. At worst, I have an idea how much GMs have to keep track of. I don’t GM because I don’t have the knack, which leaves me in a pretty poor position to criticize someone who’s at least making the effort. Not that I don’t think there are some lousy GMs out there, but you know what I mean. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink…er, nevermind, that’s not at all what I mean.)

The Library of WISHes: Five

Last week’s WISH was one I kind of wish I had no experience with which to discuss it, if you know what I mean.

How do you deal with miscommunications and invalid assumptions as a player and a GM?

Oh, I whine, I gnash my teeth, I scream, kick, shout, and moan. I beg the player to reconsider. I explain why it can’t work and then explain it again to someone else (usually the LintKing) because I need to convince myself that I’m really allowed to make that call.

Maybe that’s too honest. [grin]

Most of the time the way I avoid it is by letting the player’s vision influence mine. Take the G&G move I posted tonight … which I don’t know if I would have ever gotten through without Epoch‘s handy suggestions of things that “could happen in the fight.” While I didn’t actually use any of them (actually, in the many permutations that message went through, I did use a couple but they didn’t make the final draft as I got a clearer (not necessarily better) idea of what was happening) I did benefit strongly by having some possibilities onto which I could hook things.

That’s what I do to avoid it: I give examples. When I get something that’s “not quite right” I offer a change or blend it in, or heck, sometimes I just let it go because the game is about the PCs, not “my vision.”

Sometimes that’s a big mistake.

The truth is, sometimes I feel that the number one thing I can’t seem to get across to my players is:

Yes, you can do that.

It’s mostly the idea that I’m not always going to work everything someone can do into the plot. I need the players to experiment, to test the world in order to find its boundaries.

I changed my mind. The number one thing I can’t always get across seems to be, “Why ask me? I’m just the GM.”

Erm. [grin]

Continue reading “The Library of WISHes: Five”

Cults of Chaos

The main reason the Amberite cults are considered dangerous IMC is the political concern. As it usually means radical behaviour in the name of the worshipped Amberite, it is doubtful that Random wants a bunch of crazed shapeshifters taking his form and writing lewd graffitti on the walls of the Thelbane.

The other side of it is, of course, the power considerations.

The cults change what they worship.

Utilizing a reverse-effect of the power Amberites use to slip through and allow Shadow to lie for them, the cultists are able to use Shadow to affect the Amberite, making he or she become more of what the cultists’ believe they are.

The cultists could tap into the ambient Reality of the Amberites, leeching away at remnants of their power. The same power that strengthened Shadow would thus be gathered and controlled by the cultists. Strong familiarity with that power may create more of a sensitivity and finesse in using it, to the point that it could possibly be used against the Amberite him/herself.

Similarly, one can learn quite a bit about an Amberite from his or her Shadow. Once you start studying many, seeing similarities, diffusing differences, perhaps you can get a more intimate idea of their aspects. After all, Brand created a Trump of Martin from a few conversations with Martin’s friends… someone obsessed with you could probably do a lot more.

What would happen to you if all your Shadows were imprisoned? Drained? Killed?

Shapeshifting into the form of an Amberite can be dangerous for the shifter. Does it have any effect on the Image? Can you draw a mustache on Corwin’s Trump after it has been “completed” and manifest itchy skin? Where do the lines of Reality and the Shadow which develops from it blur?

Continue reading “Cults of Chaos”

Systematic Destruction: WISH 4

Hm. Well, alright, I’ll try…expanding this to systems I’ve read would be a lot easier than ones I’ve actually gamed under, but I’ll see what I can do…you DO get a better sense of the mechanics by actually playing, which I think I’ll expand on a little on the second one, unless I change my mind. (Women can do that, y’know. Little known fact, men can, too. Or maybe we can’t. Heh heh.)

Okay, for one that I liked…that, of course, is the hardest. I’m not an anti-mechanics type, but I AM a tinkerer. I tend to see game rules like tinkertoys…I don’t always so much make new ones, but I DO tend to build new shapes out of them. I’m just lucky that my GM likes most of the suggestions I make. (Heck, she asks for most of them. “Dear, make the failing rules work.” “Hon, when you’ve got a moment, could you put together a system for mirror magic?” “Take the trash out, dear.” Well, okay, the last only applied to fixing Shadowknight, but…)

For one that I liked, I think I’ll go with Earthdawn (1st Edition). I have to admit, my actual play-time experience with the game was limited, and I liked the *game* enough that it may be coloring my memories of the system, but I think it had a certain elegance. It was complicated enough to be fun to `play’ with, but started running pretty smoothly with only a little practice. A bit clunkier dealing with spellcasting, but I think that would have smoothed out if the game had gone another session or two. It gave us a chance to play with all the funny little dice, but without having to roll double-handfuls the way you do in some games. {I liked Deadlands for the same reason.} The mechanics were absolutely built in to the gameworld…I can’t remember now if Meera wanted me to port the Earthdawn system into another world, or if she wanted me to port the world into another system, but she asked me to do one of those, and I couldn’t separate them. Their Steps and Threads are too interlocked with the concepts behind the Adepts and their underlying magic structure.

Couldn’t tell you how easy it is to GM, though I didn’t think it would be too bad. From a player standpoint, we had a little trouble with the GM giving people the choice between rolling our characters up on dice, or using their point-based system; the die rollers *all* came out significantly higher `value’ (enough to be frustrating even in a friendly game), and I only suspected a couple of them of cheating…but as mechanics flaws go, that one’s almost depressingly easy to fix. We had a roomful of experienced gamers new to Earthdawn, and the system didn’t slow us down much at all… except, as noted above, when it came time to cast a spell. Even there, though, while we were going to be referring to the book for a while, we figured it out easily enough it barely interrupted gameflow.

As for indifferent, I’m going to go with In Nomine, and yes, I’m picking it a lot for that point above about playing-experience making a difference. I LIKED In Nomine’s rules, right up until I tried using them for anything. The d666 system was cute and sounded functional, but…everything was weighted to the expectation of people playing Angels and Demons. Which would be fair enough, that being most of what the game was for, but they HAD rules for playing lesser beings, and even if they weren’t PCs, they were certainly supposed to be around. Bluntly, the rules were broken just among the Celestials. Once a human came within 100 feet of them, the system was irrepairable. It supported the game in a gimmicky kind of way, but not past that.

Character generation was fun. If you think for a moment they gave any thought to having balanced characters, a quick skim through the GURPS adaptation will dispell that handily. One kind of Demon can imitate an Angel’s powers…another kind made *really good* lasagna. (Okay, their front story showed a good use for this, but it’s still a pretty limited power compared to many.)

I spent some time on the In Nomine list, especially as I was getting partly out of Amber. Time on ANY list is a good way to learn exactly where all the rules were broken. The In Nomine list was very busy. To play or GM… I don’t know. I had fun, but I don’t mind workarounds, and Meera doesn’t mind ignoring the rules altogether. We rolled occasionally to see if there was an Intervention, and otherwise went mostly diceless. One of my all-time favorite characters was for In Nomine, and that game had a bad GM (NOT Meera), as well. But the system was undeniably broken, and broken in ways that broke the world in some places, too. Too simple a system for too complicated a concept, I think…but I have to say, the idea of playing it in GURPS sounds…awful.

As for a bad one… *sigh* I hate to go for the example I think everyone’s going to pick, but of games I’ve actually played, I have to say, Amber. The diceless concept is fine. (Actually, that’s not entirely true; I DO have a problem with diceless. Not playing it, but the idea of publishing it. There are several 200+ page books out there that say, “Make it up as you go along.” It bugs me. But playing it is fine, especially with some of the GMs Amber’s attracted – and I DON’T just mean Meera.) So what’s left, of course, is the character creation rules…if you’re using points, they should add up. Anyone who’s ever played Amber knows they don’t.

I like the Attribute Auction concept, actually, and I like the way people use it sometimes for `single-winner’ auctions. The attributes you get from it don’t work terribly well, and the ones picked for Amber are heavily weighted for a Throne War, but it works well enough with GMs who are using character descriptions more than numbers anyway. I still do like the idea of starting out with a couple rounds of poker even before the Auction, just to make things even worse.

After the Attributes, where the points are officially weighted to mean, “However important it is to the players,” we jump to heavily priced Powers, and from there to comparatively underpriced Items, and then on to the completely free skills for potentially very old characters…and you pretty much might as well not have bothered. I suppose the points help people think about their character – maybe having to give some things up, not actually play Merlin. It IS, to me, an improvement over the games that really DO just say, “Ok, describe your character, and if it’s OK with the GM, go for it.” Amber at least has enough structure that I can sit down and make a character without having to bug the GM every five minutes with, “Is this OK, too?” But if the rules WORKED, then everyone who plays wouldn’t have their own. They can’t support themselves, let alone the setting…and just don’t get me started in Shadowknight.

Okay, and for the final part of the question…um, let’s see. I’d like to try Immortals; once I *found* the rules in it (1st Edition), they were interesting, seemed pretty workable, and supported the game concepts much the same way Earthdawn’s do (you couldn’t use Immortals’ dice system without Motes.) I’d like to play TORG, too. (I’ve been in a TORG game, but it was over a BBS, so I didn’t get to use the mechanics much.) Ironclaw, actually, had an interesting way of using the dice – from reading it, I strongly suspect it’s broken, but I’d still like to find out. It’s tough to get me to say I wouldn’t play something, but I’d play almost anything else before Over The Edge. Haven’t been able to get hold of 4th edition Talislanta yet, but I know the older versions had great ideas…for *other* games. Otherwise, heck…I even play Amber.

Four WISHes, Insert Coin

The Fourth Game WISH is about system design.

Describe three systems you have gamed under: one you thought was good, one you thought was all right, and one you didn’t care for.

I was going to say that I liked Aria, but that’s going to have to be its own discussion somewhere down the line… [grinning]

I have to admit, it’s very simplistic, oh, and the art in at least the first and second editions is terrible (meaning, not to my liking) but I’ve always enjoyed Nightlife‘s percentile system. (A good review of the game lies beyond this link.) It’s easy to master the combat system (initiative, percentile, survival points) as well as design the characters via the creature traits you want. It’s amazingly adaptable to all sorts of creatures, and styles. Best of all, as I’ve raved other places, it doesn’t shepherd you into doing “the right thing.” You can play anti-human characters, reverse gravity and blast yourself into orbit, and while you can make it cartoony you can also make it very real.

Now, here’s the real question: does it support the genre? Well, it makes monsters generic, but they are in that world. Can humans play on the same level? Kind of, which allows for human-monster interaction…and not just by taming the monsters. Does it allow for angst as well as comedy? Yes.

Is Nightlife easy to GM? Yes, and no. As a system, yes. As a genre, not so much. As it’s build around the concept of Splatterpunk, you can have things get out of control (and very messy) far too quickly for a GM who’s, well, squeamish. As for playing, it’s a little too easy to play, as well: the system, again, is simplistic. The plots have to be well developed to really catch one’s attention.

For the game I thought was OK but not spectacular, I’ll go with GURPS. I love GURPS supplements. They’re like candy. I buy them for idea fodder, pretty much exclusively. I’ve used GURPS to design numerous characters, including figuring it’s one of the best for making “myself” in game terms. I’ve run a couple of GURPS campaigns… but it’s not my system of choice.

I ran as a player under a fellow who was a GURPS Savant. He knew page numbers by heart for the charts he needed. So the mechanics went fairly smoothly despite my usual statistically unlikely fortune with the dice. We did discover that a horse trampling someone did more damage to them than a sword, which I believe I used to my advantage.

…and yes, a force-field and a magical shield spell roughly provide the same effects, but I belong to the group that says, “Darn your mechanical evaluation, I want it to -feel- different, nevertheless.”

GURPS support is excellent, however, and there are definitely games I will be thousands of times more likely to play once converted to GURPS terms. In Nomine and Deadlands come immediately to mind. There’s a tiny little part of me that wishes they’d done Changeling but they couldn’t help but improve Mage. GURPS Sourcebooks are the standard by which I measure all other gaming sourcebooks I buy.

Do the rules work? Most of the time. You can get fixes. At high point-levels, however, the stats become fairly meaningless. There is some advantage in its modular style; if I want to run the vehicle bits, I can look up the vehicle rules. If I want to run the magic=fatigue bits, I can grab the magic books. Or I can use just what’s in the main book, with the disadvantage of the lack of fine tuning.

A game I didn’t care for? Nobilis. I hate saying it, because I know so many people involved in it, but I really just keep ending up feeling like I’ve already got it on my shelf three times over. Sure, the new edition is lovely, but I keep thinking, “I already do this. I already have this. No one’s taken advantage of it, but what’s different from this and what I run?”

That eMode IQ test calls me a “Visual Mathematician.” I’ve been using this today as an excuse to buy more miniatures.

I’m tired of games (you can usually tell them because they say they’re for “advanced roleplayers”) that figure since GMs are going to tweak and twiddle anyway, there’s no point in offering much more than setting and plot.

I can go a long way with setting and plot, but I like consistency. I like reasons behind my decision making (even if it’s, “The roll was a seven,”) and I like to know that any impulse, any whimsical call in a game is being done with the good of the experience in mind. I like a stable foundation. I like my players being able to kick the tires (the figurative meaning) and test the ropes and whatnot and find them strong enough to hold.

A game that makes you rely on that, also suggests that you have to rely on a good gaming group, good communication, good blood sugar… and sets people up for lousy experiences when they’re having a bad day.

As for a system I’d really like to try that I haven’t? FUDGE. I have given it my eyeballs a few times, but never a fair try. I’m going to run a KULT game someday, with lots of Delta Green added in to the mix. I’m finding myself ambivalent-untolerant towards D&D3e, but I may be an old fogey at this point.

3 WISHes

WISH #3 asks us to reveal…

Discuss three setting ideas or ideas for elements of settings that you got from movies/books/TV/etc. that you have read or seen recently.

Ignoring the “read or seen recently,” because that’s fairly irrelevant with my habit of rereading or reviewing older items, I finally figured out three that were decent for use.

Megan Lindholm’s Wizard of the Pigeons is a book that influenced me greatly as a child. It, along with King Rat and Neverwhere are three major forces for the urban faery game I’m considering. [On a tangent, no, while I generally enjoy deLint’s work, I don’t consider him an influence exactly, although a lot of his stuff is along fairly parallel lines. (Of his books, the only one I could say I flat-out, no reservations like is Jack the Giant-Killer.)] There’s a little Emma Bull’s War For the Oaks in there, of course, maybe even a lick or two borrowed from Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, but the real question is how much of it is urban versus how much of it is the faery.

They watched him leaping and whirling away, flashing black and silver in the sunlight. “Is dancing all he does?” Wizard had asked Cassie naively.

“Yeah,” she said mockingly. “All he does is Dance. And look at derelicts and find out if they’re wizards or not. And give wizards the rules of their magic. And keep the bogey-man away from the Seattle Center. Come on, Wizard.”

When I was younger, after reading it and giving away (gasp!) a copy to a friend (who still hasn’t returned it…but since it’s been ten years, I’m not holding my breath) I began to wonder if the magic in the book was hinted at, just a delusion. Upon treating myself to a copy found through Alibris I was pleasantly surprised to find that the magic was intact.

The quoted portion very strongly intimates some of the essentials of the story, but the part that actually has stayed with me throughout the years is Cassie and how she collects children’s schoolyard rhymes, and uses it as a barometer for what’s happening in the local culture. I’ve always thought that (in Amber, at least) the fables and the schoolyard rhymes and games would reflect the Pattern, kind of like a circular hopscotch, or reminders of past battles. Benedict and the Moonriders remembered only in a snatch of rhyme, chanted in a sing-song fashion as little Bleys and Brand chase each other into the trees of Arden.

I already talked a little about the now defunct Jackie Chan Adventures cartoon we had been watching. It fits very well into the Feng Shui game as a scenario, but the truth is not that I just liked the story for itself, but because I kept imagining it as having a connection to “The Invisibles” a comic which should probably be a reference in itself… excluded only because I have a paltry two of the graphic novel collections. (And just for another page that amuses me: This has homemade action figures of the team.)

For the category of “movie I so wanted to base a Throne War off of,” that wasn’t one already, we have, of course, “The Nightmare Before Christmas where we’d do the Pumpkin King throne war. The game itself has been covered fairly well (“Pumpkin Town” comes immediately to mind) as an RPG, but I keep wanting to run it as a competitive situation.

I did base a little bit of the plot of SWtE from La Blue Girl, but we won’t go there for now. Needless to say, I was waiting for Thalia to shout out, “My sex craft is greater than yours!” at some point. Erm…