Monday, August 14, 2017

More Bones IV thinking

More thinking about the Bones IV Kickstarter and what I'm getting and not getting.

Gauth - probably trade block / sale block. We'll see. But I don't really need another giant dragon.

Nagendra - nice snakemen. I'm glad to have them. The snakewoman, though, eh. Put breasts on a snake to make it a female? Snake-bodied medusa/gorgons have the same issue, but still, for some reason it doesn't bother me there. The rest are very cool, though.

Ape Attack - Like I need more ape-men. Hahah. They are welcome to join my eight metal Jason Weibe apes and my Hackmaster "ape shaman." These are welcome. I can always use more apes, even as they become more and more fodder to my higher-powered delvers in my game. Plus I like to paint apes.

Tree of Despair - amusing, but what would I do with it? Deploy a tree over and over in my games? Contrive a situation where there is a big tree on my tabletop with vultures and a victim on it and pay $12 plus shipping and painting time to use it?



I am 100% certain one of my players, maybe two of them, are thinking, "HELL YES!" to this question. But it's not going to happen. This is a useful wargame centerpiece, skirmish game objective, or diorama piece. It's a one-time use as a RPG gaming piece in my game, and then really only if we need to have tactical combat in and around it. Even then, I know my group - there is a 100% chance they'll say, "Let's not go back to that tree" and that'll be the end of it. It's like one of those very distinct character minis except more so. At least with a big dragon it can be the same dragon a few times, or be quickly re-painted into a different one. Generic monsters can be more of the same kind of monster. A big tree with victims? Better as a home-made terrain piece or a home-made counter, just to avoid the whole build, paint, and store aspect of this thing.

Dreadmere - cool, mood-inspiring minis. So far, I'll pass. Too many personalities I'd be able to use once, not enough repeat use for my $50. A boat and a raft and a cart are nice, but I can (and have) made them out of square or round toothpicks and parts from other games. This would make a great support pack for a "Dreadmere" adventure path or base play area for a series of adventures, though.

Living Statues - male and females of these. Both are cool. The price is nice and low for what you get. Still, they are very big, and I don't know how often I'd need Ancient Greece-themed figures - especially since I'd have them in Feb/March of 2019.

Chibi Delvers - I don't need or want these. But I'm happy to get them, and I like that it's dependent on Twitter and Facebook shares to unlock them. Nice idea. If I used the platforms they're asking for support on, I'd do so just to help out those people who really like these guys.

The various giants, bonus demons, etc. fall into the same boat. Cool, price is fine, by the time I'd get them I'm not sure I'd need them. Plus giants are kind of a pain for me to paint and store. Many of the others I just wouldn't use - cute baby dragons, dice monsters, skeletal animals. The trolls are tempting, but four trolls and a fanged dog for $12 - probably not. I might just get one or two of those trolls when they eventually come out. I do have a big pile of Bones, Legendary Encounters, and TSR trolls already. And that giant demon - way, way too big for me!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sandboxes & XP

John Arendt aka Beedo asked about flat-rate XP and sandboxes. I have opinions on this, because of the game I run and the game I play and a game I have played.

Here are three ways sandboxes can handle XP - by rewarding in-game action, purely flat-rate, and by story advancement/goal accomplishment.

Dungeon Fantasy: Felltower is a limited sandbox, and runs with goal-oriented experience. The system has gone through three iterations, but essentially, the reward are for loot (primarily), exploration (secondarily), and miscellaneous goals (avoiding death, finding special reward areas, etc.)

Since rewards are based on actions, especially loot, the game is very loot-driven. PCs make decisions that might be unwise from a long-term sandbox for per-session XP reward reasons. For example, the PCs have demolished several potential allies (even former allies) to get loot from them to reach their loot threshold and gain XP. They've allied with clear enemies to their own long-term detriment because it promised loot now.

Gamma Terra is a limited sandbox, and runs with flat experience. We get 5 xp per session, every session, no matter how much or how little we do.

We also get a random bonus every five sessions played, ranging in value from 2 points to as much as 20. So a reader might assume that skews things. But it's random, it's based on attendance not actions, and it doesn't skew anything except attendance.

Essentially, though, getting flat XP per session means we do what the situation demands. We didn't get XP for negotiating with the badders. We didn't XP for fighting them, earlier. We could have talked to the Iron Men instead of defeating them. We could have turned on the Triumvirate instead of allying with them.

The fact that XP is not tied to in-game actions means we don't take any in-game actions in order to earn XP. XP is totally divorced from our actions so we take actions we feel fit our goals in the sandbox.

The Known Worlds/Blood Dogs campaign featured story-based XP. As the PCs made progress by accomplishing in-game goals - clearing areas, finishing off story arcs, etc.* As the PCs finished what was essentially an area-based series of activities, they earned XP. Loot, slaying monsters, negotiation with potential enemies or allies, etc. weren't individually rewarded. Getting the group - the Blood Dogs - closer to their goal of defeating the evil wizard they'd unleashed and made central to the game was rewarded as they dealt with a block of linked issues. Plus I gave a small, minimal reward to players that attended each session to bulk out the rewards. But the largest percentage came from the story-arc rewards.'

Because of this, the PCs didn't worry about money except as they wanted or needed it. They didn't fight monsters except as they were obstacles. They didn't make friends or enemies except as they felt they needed to (and in the latter case, by their actions.)

Overall I think a sandbox works just fine with flat rewards. If you reward in-game actions, you get in-game actions centered on earning those rewards. A sandbox in an old-style D&D game will involve PCs aiming for loot. One in a later D&D game with most XP coming from monsters means they'll focus on slaying. A sandbox in a GURPS game with purely flat XP rewards means the PCs will just do what they feel like doing (or feel they need to do.) But it's totally doable do any of those three. My recently played and run games have been sandboxes, and the method of XP reward has affected how the players interact with the sandbox.

They all work, but they all give a different feel to play.


* I've said this before, but it bears repeating - "story-based" doesn't mean railroad, and doesn't mean a GM-centered story. The PCs essentially drove the plot with their actions, but it was the plot that determined their rewards.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Why I don't sweat long-term fatigue issues in my game

One reason I don't really fret the generous fatigue point (FP) rules in GURPS is personal experience.

At the moment I'm doing some MMA training in Japan, as well as visiting old friends - the experience blends, as almost all of my Japanese friends are my MMA training buddies from living here and past visits. I do this routine of doing every single class while I'm in town, travelling to friendly associated gyms and training there, hunting down old friends and the toughest-seeming new guys to train with. I push nonstop, make some Carousing rolls in between, and sleep little thanks to an early dawn and early rising neighbors where I stay.

This isn't the first time I've done this. My record is training the same day I got off the plane, and then training 12 days out of 14 (two Sundays messed that up) including at least one extra mid-day class. Going hard 4-5 days in a row on minimal sleep (5-6 hours, not my usual 7-8) while jet-lagged and doing almost every round of training isn't that hard. I'd do all of the rounds but sometimes partner switching means you really can't or lack of mat space means waiting. And I'm always here when it's brutally hot and humid except when there is a typhoon. Plus my carefully arranged diet goes out the window in favor of randomly selected foods and travel-ready portions.

It's a pace that burns the candle at both ends but generally gets bracketed by a short break before (albeit with travel stress) and a long one after. Not a big deal if you don't do it every single day for a long time.

The individual bouts of combative training and fine, too - I generally feel like I've got as much power at the end as the beginning.

Anyway, this informs my opinion on whether I should enforce long-term fatigue penalties or more strict FP recovery issues in my GURPS games.

My DF game is a case in point. Megadungeon delving is a lot like this in my campaign. The PCs are off for a while. Then they gear up and do a half to a full day off walking, fighting, sneaking, healing, running, dragging, climbing, searching, etc. with only snatches of rest here and there to make up for FP spent in battles or movement. And once FP are back, they're back - no Last Gasp or Long-Term Fatigue rules wanted, needed, or used. After a day of this, the PCs take their haul back to town, sell it off, and presumably get some rest before doing whatever they do in Stericksburg that pays for most of their upkeep.

Even the overland isn't that bad - travel for a few days by boat (Cold Fens) or by foot (Lost City of D'Abo), spend a day or two trashing the "dungeon," then repeat. You might be tired when you get there but not enough to really bother anything.

The fact that no one took Light Sleeper helps, too - no one is literally asking for points in return for special issues with travel and fighting and lack of sleep thrown together.

There is nothing wrong - and a lot right - with the rules I referenced above. They just aren't appropriate in my game.

I don't like to generalize from only my personal experience. But I do find that my personal experience provides a nice explanation for why the delvers in my game aren't slammed for many delves in a short time or intense delves in general. And why I don't fret cumulative effects of hard combat beyond that caused by direct injury. Here is where the generous rules do match my experience with doing this in the relatively short term - intense effort is possible even when tired, especially combative effort. Penalizing the PCs for it doesn't seem that fun, and would run counter to something I've done personally. So yeah, thanks to my own "vacation" plans ("Let's full-contact spar for 9 out of 10 3-minute rounds with 15 second breaks!") I don't worry about the PC's fatigue issues ("Let's kill orcs for 12 seconds and then hang out for 15 minutes resting and looting, then fight again in two hours.")

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A little more on player buy-in

The other day I wrote about rules weight and player buy-in.

A few more thoughts.

Rules weight isn't purely determined by how well you know them.

It's a strong factor, though. A simple-ish game with rules you don't know well will play slow and require rules lookups and run clumsily. A complex game you know by heart will play as fast as the game can and run smoothly. The latter will always run more slowly than the former, assuming equal rules knowledge.

You need player buy in for complex rules.

Just as a practical matter, if you use complex rules or ones with large decision trees (say, full-on GURPS tactical combat), players need to learn some of them. Even if they can just use plain language to explain what they want to do, someone needs to turn that into in-game decisions.

If you don't get sufficient buy-in, the game will grind to a slow crawl. There will be slowdowns for sure, possibly arguments, lots of "I didn't know you could do that!" and even more "it doesn't work like that" even when it does because of half-understand rules derived from past examples.

Someone has to know the rules. It helps if someone equals everyone.

As much as I don't really mind "just tell me what to roll," it's offloading rules knowledge onto others. And if you want to do complex things, or have choice be up to you, it doesn't work as well.

In other words, if you're just saying, "I chop that guy with my sword! I rolled a 13, what happens?" then "just tell me what to roll" works well enough. Once you go to "I want to chop that guy with my sword. What should I aim for? Should I step back after? Can I pivot after to face this guy? What, is there a tricky way to get better odds? What are my chances of hitting?" etc. then you're just making other people do the nitty-gritty of knowing the rules. They need to present your options like a menu so you can choose.

A corollary to this would be that you probably shouldn't complain as a player when you suffer for not knowing things you choose not to spend time learning. After all, you're putting it on someone else to know it for you.

Know your group.

If your group has lots of people willing to put in time learning the rules, you can add more rules with less consequence. If your group does not, or has players whose PCs will directly be impacted by those rules but who do not like to learn rules, it's probably going to have negative consequences. Know if your group does better with more rules layered on top. Even a very good rules addition is a negative if sufficient players don't understand it (or want to!)


So, anyway, I think my idea is this:

- rules complexity is a factor in rules weight.

- player buy-in is required to make rules weight light enough to play well.

- lack of player rules knowledge is more of a problem the more rules you use and options within those rules.


All of this probably comes off as a little rant-y, which isn't my intention. It's just a thought about how to choose how many rules and how much complexity you want. It's got to reflect the investment the players put back into the game.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Rules Weight & Player Buy-In

I've found that the more rules depth you use, the more your players need to buy into and learn those rules.

It's not the rules system, it's the depth and number of rules. I've played many games, most heavily GURPS, 1st edition AD&D, and Rolemaster. I can't say that any of those is really more rules heavy than the others. GURPS has a lot but they're mechanically more similar to each other and generally are modifiers and special cases. AD&D is a mess of different systems and special cases and a mix of those two. Rolemaster is just heavy on rules lookups, even if the system is remarkably simple (roll high, open-ended, add modifiers, consult a table). Anyway, that is a tangent.

But the more rules we enforced in play, the more players needed to know those rules.

Basically rules have weight, multiplied by the number of players, and that weight is divided amongst the players who know the rules. The fewer that know them, and the more rules, the more the game is slowed by rules adjudication issues.

You could say:

Rules Weight = Rules Used x Number of Players / Players who Know The Rules

A good example of this is my DF game. It's rules-medium.

It's not rules-heavy, as we've tossed many special cases and optional rules out of the window. We only use rules if they fit the specific challenges of the game. Damage to items, special grappling rules, special rules for combat, hundreds of magical spells, etc. are all in. Many other rules are out.

Even so, it requires a lot of player buy-in to learn the rules. We get this to a varying extent, from people relying on memories of previous play to those meticulously looking up the rules. The less people learn the rules, the slower the game plays. People need to deal with combat modifiers, defense and offense rules changes, spell lookups, effects of stats and skill levels on effects of spells and rolls, etc. Since we don't get 100% buy-in on learning everything, it slows things down.*

On the other hand, GURPS Gamma Terra aka 20th Homeland aka Gamma World+ (it's Gamma World, don't doubt that for a second) is rules-light.

Our character sheets, one equipment list, and one handout page covers all of our skills and abilities, stuff we can buy with XP, our campaign details, combat rules from range bands to ROF, etc. Maybe once a session we need to consult rules about setting things on fire or Aim bonuses or shooting from Prone. That's it. This has low player rules knowledge requires. Nothing is really slow, because there isn't anything to look up and very little to consider. Similarity between PCs means we can tell each other the required rolls.


My old GURPS game was more rules-heavy, and needed even more buy-in. You needed to invest more time in learning how the rules worked just to offload the responsibility of knowing them from the GM and other players. Someone had to know the rules if you didn't.

So whenever I think about rules weight and adding or subtracting rules, I do it with this idea that the players need to put some work in. If they're not going to do it, even a mechanically superior and campaign-superior rule is going to subtract more than it adds.


* We're hoping a switch to the DFRPG rules set with a single house rules handout for add-ons will help this. I expect so, but it won't be perfect. Players will still need to read the rules set to make the play speed as fast as it could be!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

DF Felltower - Special Thanks Goes To . . .

I'm away, so no Felltower today, but I generally have a game summary or a Felltower post up on Sunday, and it's Sunday.

This is more of a special thanks post.

A megadungeon game is a combination of the new and the iterative. You find new stuff, you deal with old stuff again and again. With a rotating cast of players, 70+ sessions in the dungeon, 90+ sessions of play, hundreds of encounters, six plus years of play, and many hundreds of rumors, it's hard to keep track of everything. Some things the vets know but the newer guys don't, and vice-versa, and not all of that matches or is in fact remotely accurate. Too much is the telephone game in a knowledge-sparse setting.

I try to help by tracking some bits for the players:

- I write game summaries. They're entertaining for readers, but they're really reference documents for actual play. That's probably why they are entertaining, actually.

- I track the monsters encountered.

- I keep track of all of the rumors heard and keep an updated copy.

- I keep updated character sheets for everyone. Well, not their equipment (too fluid) but their stats and spells.

But tying it all together? Not my job. Partly that's laziness (I won't do it) and partly that's specific game approach choice (it's a player-facing challenge, not a character or GM facing challenge.)

One of our players, though, has taken it upon himself to start to tie things together. Vic, who joined our group after discovering us online and overcoming our fear of getting axe-murdered by some random internet stranger, has started to pull everything together.

He has been:

- redrawing maps into single maps, taking the pieces drawn separately (like parts of one level accessed by different approaches), parts accidentally mapped twice, and parts just fading with age, and redrawing them.

- reading the game summaries again and again to check them against the maps and make lists of what was mysterious, not taken advantage of, or what really has been done.

- tracking the rumors himself to compare to events in the current and past sessions.

For all of this I gave his PC a bonus point in Cartography, but it's paid off in-game a couple times for the players. He insisted on checking some rooms for treasure that everyone assumed the vets had looted (they hadn't), pushed to solve the statue puzzle (and found a Ring of Pro, er, Death, for his trouble), pushed to check a staircase that a mapping error had indicated went somewhere thoroughly explored and instead lead to a key to the Giant Freaking Staircase, and has generated a few leads on treasures never followed up on.

I'm not sure if he'd planning on doing this for the Cold Fens, Caves of Chaos, and Lost City of D'Abo as well. I hope so. They're all tied together in one interlocking campaign. The PCs went from stuck, feeling like they'd dead-ended, into having more to do than they can possibly finish in a year of gaming. That probably makes him MVP in a campaign sense at the moment. So, thanks for that Vic.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Bones IV Kickstarter thoughts

As I mentioned the other day, I got in on the Bones IV Kickstarter.



There does not seem to be such an overwhelming number of character minis in this one, especially in the core set. That's good for me as mostly those aren't useful. They tend to be very much unique, heavy on detail, action-posed, and otherwise distinctive. They end up being time-consuming to paint and useful once at the table as a foe.

It's interesting that they put a big dragon in the core set. They are usually $15 add-ons. I had that one - Gauth - in metal and sold the kit because it was clearly never getting painted. With the dragons I have now, do I need another big one? One of my players would say "Yes!" but my players also strenuously avoid dragons ("There is a big dragon in the Cold Fens!" "Let's not waste time getting sidetracked exploring that place." "Okay, there is one in Felltower!" "We're not ready for that one, let's avoid it until we're all powerful enough." Etc.)

I like the knights a lot, and I like the inclusion of more monster types, even those odd minitaurs. And more goblins are welcome.

The Chronoscope add-on pack is very cool, but I only could really use 4-5 of them. One of those I already have in metal. So I think I'll pass.

The trolls add-on is tempting. I do like trolls and I do have several now. But I may not need those guys.

The "High Rollers" dice-people would make good silly versions of Modrons. But I could equally just have the PCs in my game fight deleted for spoiler reasons instead.

All in all, I think my $100 pledge is going to probably stay right there. A solid core set, nothing to add-on yet, and a few tradeable figures already (thanks for the kobolds and townsfolk, but they can go away when they arrive.)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bones IV

I was online for line 30 minutes, total, in the past 30 hours or so. 15 of them were around 1 pm, so I was able to jump in on the first wave of Bones 4. I haven't even looked to see what I'd be getting. I just figured, get in wave one and then decide what I actually want.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Intermittent Posting Warning

I generally post every day. However, I'm going on a trip so I it's possible I will be posting less. No worries, I'll be settled back down by the end of the month and posting regularly - and gaming regularly - again.

Jeff Rients on Not Giving Up

I love this post by Jeff Rients:

Don't give up. Don't beg for mercy. Bargain!

Go read it.

***

Good stuff, eh?

I approve, although in my own games I'd expect a lot more willingness to trade one kind of suffering for another - "Could I have had time to Dodge and Drop for a +3?" or "If I let go of the chest of loot I was carrying, my encumbrance would go down and I'd just have made it - can we say I did that?"

I do want to spare your guy.

But I equally want you to have the consequences of your own actions.

You can't get out of failure by trading in argument ("I should be able to Dodge and Drop and have been Waiting for anyone to jump out at me and hold onto all of my weapons when I fell.") Trade in things of actual value.


My only quibble with it is his suggestion of sacrificing magic items. I play with a lot of group-minded groups. I guess it's different when you are running a 'FLAILSNAILS' game where people bring PCs in from another game. In a fantasy game with access to resurrection and revivification and regeneration of lost limbs, and with a loyal party of delvers (in the meta, run by your friends), dying is temporary but loss of stuff is permanent. So you're less likely to say, "Couldn't my magic sword have snapped but saved me?" because you could come back with that blade if others survive. And if you're too poor to get brought back, your next guy or your friend's guy can use that blade.

We don't act that way in Gamma Terra, though, our Post-Apoc game. I suspect our GM would find a way to let us revivify our PCs, possibly with some "minor defects" (lost abilities) due to "minor inaccuracies in the process." But we're not sure, and I know for me I'd rather be naked in the radiated wilderness than dead and I'd give up all of my stuff to make that trade.

But given Raise Dead, trading off your cool amulet or your magic sword or whatever to live isn't a trade I see a lot of people making.

***

I have also dealt with the same kind of students as he has, as a teacher and as family of teachers. I always want to say that the time to beg, bargain, and claw for a better score was the whole semester. Remember that, delvers. The best way to avoid, "What can I do here to get out of dying?" is to have taken appropriate risk and appropriate care along the way. Be prepared, read your Players Handbook p. 107-109, and if your game has a luck stat or a Luck advantage (like mine does), save it for when you really need it.
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