Monthly Archives: November 2011

Complexity & Level

Game designer Monte Cook has been writing a column for Wizards of the Coast called Legends and Lore, in which he provides in-depth analyses of Dungeons & Dragons game mechanics (lending credence to the rumor that he’s working on D&D 5e). His most recent one, A Different Way to Slice the Pie, suggests that complexity ought to grow when the players reach higher levels. The example he provides is ignoring Opportunity Attack rules for Level 1 adventures, but introducing them later on.

I’m not sure I like this approach. I have no problem having a simplified set of rules, but to have them tied with character advancement seems somewhat problematic. I think the idea is that a new player who is unfamiliar with the rules would start at Level 1, and as they continue to play and their character gains levels, the player would be ready to learn new rules.

The problem is that it assumes character experience is tied to player experience. So what happens when an experienced D&D player starts a new campaign at Level 1? All those advanced rules they learned, and perhaps liked, are arbitrarily ignored because they are playing a Level 1 character rather than a higher level character. To me, that just doesn’t make any sense.

What I would prefer is for the rules to be like when I run a one-shot at a convention with inexperienced players. Before we start, I tell the players the rules of the system that they have to know, like how to make skill checks and such. After that I get them started and when a situation comes up that would require knowing a different rule, I teach it to them. For instance, when I run Savage Worlds, I tell them how to make skill checks and that Bennies can be used to reroll dice rolls, but I leave the “soaking” rules until someone takes damage. Some rules I completely ignore in one-shots with inexperienced players, like Armor Piercing, because I feel that a simpler game is better for a one-shot. I’ve run both 0 XP (Novice) games up to 60 XP (Heroic) games using this approach and I haven’t had any issues whatsoever.

Sometimes I want the players to be high XP characters, but I don’t think they should have to learn a dozen additional rules in order to play them. Having simplified rules sets is fine, but I really don’t think the right way to go about it is to have the rules tied to a character’s level.

What do you all think?

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JourneyQuest

JourneyQuest isn’t an RPG (at least not yet) but it’s clearly derived from one. JourneyQuest is a free episodic online series created by Dead Gentlemen Productions (makers of The Gamers and The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising) and Zombie Orpheus. It shows a dysfunctional party attempting to complete their epic quest, and almost never having it going as planned.

In the first episode we see that the party consists of a pretty typical adventuring group: a cleric, an Elven ranger, a fighter, and a wizard. But the wizard can’t really cast anything and never wanted to go on the quest in the first place! The fighter has a cheerful, kill-everything attitude and has had a few too many hits to the head. And the other two are just trying to make the most of the situation. There’s also a subplot of a Bard who has been tasked with following the group around and journaling their quest, despite the fact that they haven’t really done anything.

Perf never did want to join the quest and is constantly trying to run away from it!

Unlike The Gamers series, this is just about the characters in-universe and there aren’t any direct references to playing a role-playing game. However, the behaviors of the characters definitely reminded me of some of the more inane plans that players sometimes come up with. In particular, there is one scene where Glorion, the fighter, completely bypasses two of the puzzle traps in the Temple of All Dooms by doing something completely unplanned for. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was reminiscent of something that some of my players tried once.

I think the series drags on a little bit after a few episodes, but it’s still worth watching. And it’s totally free and even released under the Creative Commons Share-alike license (meaning you can do whatever you want with the content without having to worry about copyright infringement, so long as your work is released under the same conditions).

I’ll give a brief plug and say that a second season of JourneyQuest has a Kickstarter attached to it. They’ve already exceeded their goal for getting enough money for a second season AND making it a feature length season, but they still are accepting donations. If they get $115,000, they’ll even greenlight an RPG based on the series. There’s some nice rewards for donating too, including at $25 a DVD copy of Season 1, an HD download of the upcoming Season 2, and you get to coin an Orcish word.

So yeah, check out JourneyQuest on Hulu or elsewhere. It’s a nifty show that’s can make you laugh at the sort of plans that the players often come up with.

Examining Player Personality Types

It’s no secret that players and GMs with different personality types behave differently at the gaming table. But it can be difficult to clearly identify exactly what those types are. Several groups have suggested different types of classifications for the players, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. This week, I’d like to share a bit about two of them:

Robin Laws’ Player Types

Role-playing game designer and writer Robin Laws summarized several types of players in his excellent book Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering. He identifies:

  • The Power Gamer, who wants to optimize and improve their character
  • The Butt-Kicker, who enjoys dealing with combat and beating up enemies
  • The Tactician, who likes thinking about complex plans with realistic solutions
  • The Specialist, who always plays the same type of character
  • The Method Actor, who immerses himself into their character’s role
  • The Storyteller, who games for the story
  • The Casual Gamer, who is there to hang out with people and games because it’s what everyone else is doing.

The big thing that Laws does with this is classify players based on their behaviors at the game table and what sorts of scenarios (e.g. more combat, more puzzles, etc.) the GM should present to satisfy each type of player. It doesn’t really explain what elements of a scenario a player likes, but it does a great job of helping a GM determine the structure of a scenario that might appeal to each player.

BrainHex

BrainHex is a fairly recent project that examines why people play games and what elements they are drawn towards. It’s more focused on computer games, but it does apply to role-playing games as well. BrainHex identifies seven classes of gamer play styles:

  • Seeker, who enjoys discovering things and exploring new situations
  • Survivor, who enjoys the excitement of escaping from terrifying situations
  • Daredevil, who enjoys the thrill of risk taking
  • Mastermind, who enjoys solving puzzles and creating strategies
  • Conqueror, who enjoys “fighting tooth and nail for victory”
  • Socializer, who enjoys interacting with other people
  • Achiever, who enjoys collecting things and completing everything they can

This one is interesting in that it describes gamer play styles, but has a stronger connection to the types of gameplay elements that each prefers. Most of these can be applied to role-playing games too, although it may be more difficult to create a role-playing game that satisfies a Survivor or a Daredevil.

With these two classifications, it’s possible to get a really good idea of what sort of game a role-playing gamer might enjoy. That’s not to say that they won’t enjoy other things, but it’s all about trends.

I’ll use myself as a case study for this. I would consider myself primarily a Storyteller when I play (although I think I have a bit of Power Gamer in me). I took the BrainHex quiz and was identified as being a Mastermind, with Mastermind-Seeker being my subclass. Laws would say that I’m primarily there for the story and combat can bet itself in the way. BrainHex suggests that I like solving puzzles and forming strategies and I enjoy video games like Animal Crossing, Chess, Chrono Trigger, Fallout, Half-Life, and Zelda. The Seeker part of me also enjoys games like The Elder Scrolls, and Grim Fandango.

I’d say that these are pretty accurate classifications of me. I enjoy the story the most about a role-playing game and I do love forming plans or find the most satisfying ending to a story. I haven’t seen many puzzles in role-playing games, but I suppose I would enjoy them. Several games on the video game list are games I’ve played and enjoyed immensely, so I guess they are on the right track there.

So to guarantee that I would enjoy a certain scenario, it would have to be about the story with an emphasis on solving problems and strategizing with a bit of exploring new situations and possibilities. That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy a different scenario (and I often do), it’s just that of all the situations I’ve seen like this, I almost always walk away satisfied.

In practice as a GM, I try to appeal to each player’s gaming style by making each session focused towards a different player. Sometimes that means including a plot hook specifically for their character, but oftem times it means forming a scenario with the structure and elements that they will particularly enjoy. Generally this works pretty well and it’s something that I think other GMs should try.

Trying Out a Plot Point Campaign

I’ve been running Necessary Evil with a group of Wittenberg students this semester. It’s been an interesting experience to say the least. One of the reasons I was drawn to it was that Necessary Evil is what Pinnacle calls a “plot point campaign.” In a plot point campaign, adventure hooks are generally presented in a non-linear fashion and are often triggered simply by the players deciding that they want to go to a certain location. For instance, the players have been trying to get into the Star City Aquarium where there is rumored to be dangerous experiments going on. As a GM, I simply flipped to the page telling about that location and ran a session based on that. Sometimes the players are given a mission to go to a specific place, but theoretically they could enter the mission just by stumbling upon it.

This has been a good thing because it makes the world a more interesting place and players can go and do things according to their own interests. Sometimes the GM can manipulate those interests (such as making someone they care about kidnapped to a certain location), but generally the players can go wherever they want.

Another benefit to this is that because the missions are non-linear, they can call on contacts that they’ve gained from previous missions. One of the first ones they did allied them with the “Cult of the Red Moon,” an Atlantean warrior cult. This has been invaluable as they’ve provided them water-based transport for later missions and even come to save the day a few times.

I’ve discovered that a plot point campaign requires a bit of improvisation to pull off properly. By giving the players the opportunity to go wherever they want to, it means that you may not have read the section beforehand. By manipulating their interests, you can better predict where they will go, but it’s not a sure-fire thing.

The other issue is that you may have players deciding to do different things. I’ve instituted a “stick together” rule requiring them to move as a unit because it became a little messy in situations where groups wanted to go to do different missions.

All in all though it’s been a fun campaign and I look forward to seeing how it turns out. I hope that at some point I’ll get a chance to try out some of Pinnacle’s other plot campaigns such as the reprinted 50 Fathoms and the upcoming Deadlands plot-point campaign Last Sons as well.

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