Running With Dice

A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Monday, May 28, 2018

One Shot World

Today I ran One-Shot World!  (It's free!)

One-Shot World is a lightweight Dungeon World hack, stripped down for one shots and short campaigns.

Myself and four players sat down to play.  Three of them were new to PbtA style games.  This was planned to be a 4 hour one-shot game.

I tend to be overly analytical about games, and want to talk about their mechanics and philosophy more than most want to hear. The night before I'd written myself a reminder not to be teach-y or lecture-y, and to just run the game.  It was good advice.  I just handed out the sheets and told folks to eyeball them and pick one they wanted to play, pointing out the helpful part on the "Who Are You?" side of the playbook sheet.  After a minute or two, folks settled on which they wanted to play.  We had a Paladin, a Wizard, a Ranger and a Druid.

I asked them to go ahead and make their way through the playbook, since its pretty self-explanatory and an easy to follow process.   While they did so, I started to hit them with questions about themselves and the world.   I asked each about their income and starting coin, and then talked a little about bonds with their fellow party-members.

This worked really well and fluidly.  I was a little worried my non-PbtA players might have some hesitation about this sort of narrative and shared world-building, but everyone jumped right in.  I handed a blank piece of paper to the Ranger, who dutifully started working on a map of the region.

We went around the table with the players talking briefly about their background selection, and then bounced around a little, talking about the world-building and bonds bits.

When everyone seemed pretty satisfied with those parts, and there were no questions about playbooks or options, we talked about where we wanted the adventure to start.  I kicked the talk off by going back through some of the threats and places that had been established in the world-building.  Some of them seemed to tie together, and so with some player feedback we settled on what they were after and then were able to establish were they were -- in a tight spot.

Act I:
In the party's case, they were moving to investigate orcish incursions from the mountains to the north, through a forest that they knew was home to a hostile and aggressive wolf pack.  They found that there were hundreds of orcs camped in the hills, and began to retreat, but an orcish scout party tailed them.  They were also being tracked by the hostile wolf pack, and so found themselves backed up against a Niagra-like waterfall (established earlier in the fiction by the Druid).  The orc scouts approached from the north, a few wolves from the east, and the waterfall blocked them from the west and south.  I offered that they could perilously cross the falls, but after some extensive discussion wanted to put some distance between them and the wolves, and try to flank or ambush the orc scouts.

A dice roll later they ran headlong into the orcish scouts and took a volley of arrow fire, and everyone jumped into the fray.  A flanking orc tackled the Ranger as he was about to put an arrow into one of their attackers, and an orcish berzerker charged them.  The druid shape-shifted into a bear, but not before the Ranger and an orc rolled into the fast stream that they characters had just waded through.  The Paladin advanced, shield out in front, and worked to defend the Wizard from the accurate fire from the archers.  For a moment, the battle seemed precarious, and the party's morale wavered, as another flanker took the Wizard and Paladin from behind, but the Wizard dispatched it with a well timed Magic Missile.  The Ranger managed to extricate himself from the hand-to-hand fight being waged in the stream. The orcish berzerker was felled by a combination of an arrow from the Ranger and a sword thrust from the Paladin.  The Druid - having shifted into a bear, helped catch the fleeing orcs.  Only one survived, and once they'd captured that orc, the Paladin was able to question it regarding the orcish forces.  It revealed that the full might of the orcish tribes was descending on these lands, coming down from the lands beyond the northern mountains.  There was some table discussion about whether the orcs were purely after the pillaging of the human settlements, and whether or not they'd disturb the forest and wildlife in the region.  It was soon agreed that if the orcs were over-harvesting all resources like those from Lord of the Rings, that it provided more pull for the Ranger and Druid, who didn't care much for the human civilizations, but would certainly care if they planned to cut down the entire forest. The Paladin released the sole surviving orc, being unwilling to slay a helpless opponent.

We took a short break and then settled back in and discussed their plan.  The party wanted to alert the nearby settlement about the impending orcish threat.  Being some distance away, the Druid decided to shape-shift and carry a letter to the Paladin's order to alert them, planning to immediately rejoin the party.  The Druid found that the Paladin's order had fallen into some trouble with the forces of a distant king claiming ownership over the area, and the king's forces were drawn up around the Paladin's headquarters, ready for a siege.   The Druid came into the king's camp and intended to convince them to set aside this conflict and to join forces to face the looming orcish threat.  A failed dice roll later, the king's envoy flatly rejected the Druid's testimony and council, and attempted to seize the Druid, but the Druid escaped to the Paladin's order HQ.  There, he informed them of the orcish threat, and gave them a number of details about the king's forces, which he felt would enable them to drive sally and drive the king's forces away.

Act II:
Rejoining the party, the party moved to a regional landmark (established earlier), a powerful wizard's tower that no one had been able to gain entry to.  The Ranger knew that a part of the tower had collapsed, but was unwilling for a time to reveal this to the Wizard.  The Ranger had heard that there were likely Magic Items within the collapsed section of tower.  Hoping to use these items either directly against the orcish hoard, or as collateral for convincing the nobility to summon armies, they decided to go and face the much-feared Clay Golem that was known to guard the fallen section of tower.

The Wizard did some Spouting of Lore, and with a great dice roll, he knew that Golems are powered by a magical sigil or rune, and that if he could counter act the magical sigil, he could deactivate the Golem.

With only about 30 minutes of our allocated time remaining, I told the players that I was going to jump us right into the head-to-head encounter with the Golem, without any of the lead-up.  I pushed the encounter really hard, and started it in media res right in the middle of the fight.  The Wizard was at half of his hit points, and I had the others take a dice of damage.  When we opened the scene, the Wizard was flipping through his spellbook, looking for his Dispell to shut down the Golem, totally oblivious to the Golem standing over him, about to crush the life from him with its huge fists.

The Paladin lept to the Wizards defense, blocking the Golem's crushing blow, but it raised its fists again, determined to crush the Wizard before he could bring his spell to bear.  This time the Druid jumped in, but took the full force of the Golem's brutal attack, seriously injuring the Druid.

It was at this point that the Wizard located the spell, and cast it.  There was a brief moment after the spell was cast, where everyone watched the Golem's glowing sigil, and then it flickered and went dark, and the Golem went still.

With the guardian defeated, the party searched the fallen tower, finding a number of magical items, which they hoped would both arm them, and enable them to enlist assistance against the upcoming orcish threat.

That was it!

Everyone seemed to have a great time.  The players who were new to PbtA stuff seemed to have no trouble jumping into the world-building and narration.  I encouraged and received feedback from the players about consequences, action rolls, and so forth.  Only once did we have a case of a rules-type question come up and not have a solid answer.  Even in that case, we used the closest rule and rolled with it, and it was no big deal (basically used Parlay despite that we didn't have leverage - it was more of a persuasion roll, maybe could've used Defy Danger or Discern Realities)

I've run Dungeon World once before, rather briefly, and because I was new to PbtA at the time, it did not run quite as well then as One-Shot World did now.  With that said, my comparison between Dungeon World and One-Shot World is simply that OSW is a very streamlined and rather simplified Dungeon World.  As advertised, it is perfect for one shots and I'd bet even better for short campaigns.  After running our 4 hour one-shot today, I find myself wondering whether we could get together and finish the story arc.

I am eager to run this for some young adults and grown ups who haven't played any RPGs before, and if I'm feeling froggy, try to run it at my local con.

Thanks to Yochai Gal for making this!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Middle School RPG Demo

The Montessori school that my kids attend goes  through middle school (7th/8th grade), and they have a Friday Speaker series, where parents come in and talk about their career or hobby or what have you.  I've been doing one about tabletop role playing games since 2012 or 2013, and its always a lot of fun.  I've learned a few tricks along the way too.

Its a one hour deal, and there are usually about a dozen kids involved.  So the challenge is to run a fun demo game within that time period, and being able to engage that many people.

Some of the kids involved have played tabletop RPGs before, some aren't even certain what a "roleplaying game" is.  Turns out they've all seen Stranger Things, when I mentioned instances of D&D and rpgs in current media.

I brought a stack of game books in order to show folks that there are games for every interest, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, etc, as well as very simple games, like the one-page Laser & Feelings, and the light weight Fate Accelerated, to more complex games like Shadowrun or GURPS.

We quickly get to playing our demo game.   I put a bucket of dice on the table and hand out some character sheets (those sheets, zipped).  They're very simplified, in order to not have to spend much time worrying over mechanics and system.

I've found that what seems to work best is having an engaging initial setup that provides some exciting adventure and lends itself to the party being split up to approach the goal in parallel. This year they had gotten information about the evil wizard Varyx, who was holed up in his skull mountain fortress, working to complete a ritual that would summon armies of undead.  I'd decided to offer a few avenues: they could talk or sneak through a mercenary camp, go through a haunted and forgotten underground tunnel, climb the side of the mountain past the wyvern guardians, or fly on giant eagles through a magical storm and shadow wraiths.  I steer them toward splitting into three groups of four, and deciding how each group wants to approach.

We had one group do the giant eagles and magical storm, one decide to scale the mountain, and one go for the forgotten tunnel.

My overall approach is to start one group, describe their journey, throw some complication or attack at them, ask them  how they're going to deal with it, and then tell them that we'll come back to them.  I then turn to the next group, describe their journey, throw a complication, and leave them  hanging and move to the third group, do the same, before coming back to the first group and asking them how they plan to deal with the problem before them.  It takes a couple of minutes to go around, so usually by the time I get back around to a group, they've had four or five minutes to think about what they want to do, so usually they have a plan.  I let them describe what they want to do, if necessary, try to frame it correctly in scale or scope, and then ask them to roll dice to see what happens.

If they get a full success, I let them narrate what happened, only providing guidance if they seem hesitant or if they get well outside the scope or scale of the roll.  If they roll a failure, I try to make it an interesting complication.  Maybe not a simple failure, but instead a success, but that something unexpected happens -- a cleric tried to blind an approaching wyvern, but rolled a fail.  He and the wyvern were both blind!

I end up going around the table a few times.  For this adventure, I'd basically planned that most of the action would be in the approach to the mountain.  The characters flying on eagles battled against shadow wraiths, and then a particularly strong wind that threatened to blow them out of the sky, and finally against evil henchmen with ballista atop the mountain and an evil cleric.   Those going through the forgotten tunnel had to deal with the ghosts of the miners who had been sealed in centuries ago.  They then had to deal with a huge stretch of booby traps, and finally with a snake infested tunnel up into the mountain.  This group rolled well against the ghosts and booby traps, but had failed roll after failed roll against the snakes.  Finally I narrated the snakes clearing the way, but a snake with glowing eyes caused them to glow red- this was a complication which I was really unsure about, as I was running out of time and needed them to get through the tunnel and into the mountain to finish the game, but it worked out great because when they met back up with the other parties, it turned out the red glow caused the other characters to think that they were evil, and for a moment it was tense, before someone removed their curse.  The party that went up the side of the mountain had to deal with perilous climbing and with wyvern nests.  They had a mix of successes and failures, dispatched a dangerous young wyvern and blinded another, eventually making their way up to the top of the mountain, having to fight through a final dangerous wyvern guardian near the top.

Once they were all through those perilous passages, we were nearly out of time, and I was pretty much out of material, so I narrated them making their way through the skull mountain, had the little bit about the party who glowed red, and then they had to figure out how to get into Varyx's ritual chamber, which they did and rolled some dice.  Again, we were mostly out of time by now, and I'd planned that their confrontation with Varyx would just be a short bit, so they cast a spell to open up a volcano beneath him, which was a mixed success, but it stopped the ritual. Varyx fled, and they had to deal with standing atop a crumbling floor over a volcano.  They cast a teleportation spell to get away, and we were done.

I'm always anxious leading up to those - a bit of performance anxiety, but they always end up going really smoothly and are super fun.

I have an idea about trying to be certain that every player gets enough opportunities for dice rolls that they can get a complete success and narrate the result themselves.  To do this easily, I'd need to mark the players who have already gotten a complete success.  I may grab this set of coins online and give one to each player who gets a complete success, and let them keep the coin.  I have each player also take and keep a dice of their choosing from the big bucket o' dice.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Sprawl RPG, Episode 1

I was primed to start Blades in the Dark today, but I want to have all of the "for sure" players in attendance for the first game, and one was unavailable.  I'd grabbed a copy of The Sprawl by Hamish Cameron, Ardens Ludere.  It's one of the "Powered by the Apocalypse games", which I'm really very into at the moment.

So we ran The Sprawl instead, and it was pretty terrific.

Jacob and Billy showed up to play.  Billy and I have been trying to get a game together for a year or two, so it was good to make that happen.  Jacob played in my earlier Dungeon World game, and is as into a couple of RPG systems as I am.  These guys come from different RPG backgrounds, Billy has played a lot of D&D for awhile, and Jacob comes from Mouse Guard and Apocalypse world and the like.

We chatted for a few minutes about cyberpunk (neither has played Shadowrun!!), but our time was limited and I wanted to move things swiftly along toward actual play.  I talked a little about how the system works, and then we started to look at characters.  I felt super scattered, and sortof went back and forth about filling out playbooks, and the other early steps.  We made corporations, which we were pretty minimal about - just did names and types, didn't go into any depth about their goals or themes.  We spent a good bit of time on playbooks and moves and such, but I think that's unavoidable, with it being brand new to folks.

As simple as PbtA is, it still does require some system understanding I think, if the choice of moves and cyberwear are to mean anything.

Billy settled on playing a Tech who went by the moniker The Machine, and Jacob took a Hunter called Ritter.

They made some choices about how they'd acquired their cyberware: Ritter screwed someone over to afford his, The Machine is in debt to no one, but his cyber is +unreliable.

With two players, creating Links was a little wonky, but still alright.

And then we moved pretty quickly to play.

To be honest, I was having trouble jumping in.  I just couldn't get comfortable with describing it, and felt really rusty.  I had a really hard time just with the classic "Your phone rings, it's your fixer." And to be honest, the game suggests just jumping right to the interesting bits, and skipping all of the drawn out setup.

Eventually though they Johnson was chatting with Ritter and Machine, and had a job - an extraction - for them.  Again I felt awkward, figuring out how much negotiating to do before we did the move and dice roll.  But again, we soon went to the get the job roll.  They hit in the middle, and got some [intel] from the employer.

Once again I struggled - they had the job, but I wasn't sure how to start on legwork.  The players seem to flounder a touch as well, so I buried my nose in the book for a minute, and then started walking us through what information was already known, and what they needed to know.

The legwork was probably the toughest for me, and I feel like I was really getting too consumed by the mechanics of the game, and wasn't working enough on just running a fun game.

Eventually we sort of found a groove, and some contacts started appearing.  They ended up planning to create a situation by getting their mark to come out to an event that they'd lure him to.  It involved a corporate-world contacted named Dall, who could schedule him for it under the guise of a job offer from a rival corporation.  Dal was happy to help them, but he'd need their help in return.  He had a Russian mobster leaning on him for something, and so our protagonists set off to fix Dal's little issue with Viktor.

Viktor has an office in a run-down strip mall, and they parked nearby to observe.   They watched two guys in cheap suits hang out in a temporary-looking office space, then leave and hop into a car.  Ritter and Machine followed from a distance behind, relying on one of Machine's drones to keep tabs on them.  They took the north highway, which doesn't go to much other than Canada and the Docks.  They ran into a traffic jam, and were considering deploying the heavy combat drone when police started showing up in force, on account of the military cargo that had overturned ahead.  That curbed the violence option.  After a bit, traffic was diverted, and they followed a very long, slow line of cars off of the highway and onto surface streets.

Ritter called on his knowledge of the city streets, and directed them back under the overpass and up a side-street, betting that their target was heading for the Docks.  And sure enough, after a while, the car with the two men from the strip mall came around the corner and pulled up to the ramp, which they blocked - and then the combat drone came out.   Negotiations were swift, and Victor agreed to leave Dal alone for now, but implied that he'd be on the lookout for our protagonists in the future.

In short order, Dal had set them up with the extraction target.  The meeting was planned to go down in a private room at a local club.  Their target believed that it was an interview with a rival corporation, so he showed up without his employer-provided body guards.  Machine parked by the back door, with the combat drone in the back of the truck, while Ritter went in, and waited on the mark.

Soon enough, the mark arrived and made his way to the private room - and immediately set upon by Ritter, in an attempt to quickly subdue him for extraction.

Note to self: be sure to offer to let the player do the narration, since we know what the outcome is already.

In this case, it led to a somewhat epic struggle between Ritter and their target.  It was a brutal fight, that ended up spilling out through the floor-to-ceiling glass, and into the corridor.  But in the end, Ritter had the upper hand, and despite being pretty seriously injured, he carry-dragged the extractee out and toward the back door.

Shortly after the target had entered the club, another car pulled into the back lot and parked near Machine.  The two guys inside were clearly corporate security types, keeping tabs on the mark.   Machine was positioned closely by the back door, but made plans to open up on the security goons with the combat drone in the back.

Ritter was confronted by a security guard in the back hall, but when Ritter produced his pistol, security split, and Ritter made it to the back door -- just in time to hear the clatter of the combat drone's mini-gun opening up on the security guy's vehicle.  They'd armed themselves and were about to go inside when Machine moved to keep them pinned down.

Ritter made it into the vehicle with the target, and they rolled out.  The security guys fired at them ineffectually, and could not follow them.

They contacted their employer and arranged a meet to hand over the target, and the rest of it went off without a hitch.  They did the get paid move, and then we were done.

I did have a great time at this game, but I felt really off my game.  It took me forever to get into the groove of it.

I attribute this to the still seeming-newness of PbtA, and trying to describe cyberpunk setting to folks who didn't have the same experiences with it that I did.

Would I run this again? Fuck yes.  I really had a good time.  I'm about to start a blades in the dark campaign, but will keep The Sprawl handy as stand-by or fill in and such.

That is all.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I haven't gone on at great length about abstract gaming ideas in quite awhile.....

So here goes.

Let’s compare a role playing game to someone telling a story.  When someone is telling a story, they are likely in complete control of the narrative.  They talk, others listen. They dictate what happens in the story.  The audience are just passive observers who have no control at all on what happens or the outcome.  The narrator has complete control over the story and it’s characters.

You could also consider a shared story.  One person might be the primary narrator, and through some means the audience can have some impact on the story itself.  It could be as simple as a binary yay/nay, up/down, and the narrator tunes the story as he or she goes, influenced to some degree by the audience who is now interacting.  The narrator still has complete or near complete control, but has agreed to give the audience some voice in the story.

A more shared story might go round robin, where one person tells some story, and then the next person continues telling the same story.  In this case, each person who is at that moment telling the story is in complete control.  Thus participants have complete control over the story when it is their turn, and no, or little, control when it is someone elses turn.

In a typical D&D style RPG, the GM/Narrator is assumed to have complete control over the story.  The players don’t dictate what happens, the GM does all of that - but the GM might give players a chance to influence the story in small ways, no directly on the story but instead indirectly through their characters.  Thus you find that the players can perform specific actions in the hope of having some limited control over the story.  Their interface to the story is through their characters.

In other, more ‘indie’ style games, you might find an arrangement where the GM is considered to be in primary control of the story, but the players are also given some narrative ability.  The difference in this and the previous D&D example is that in D&D, the players can try to convince someone of something, or to perform some physical feat, or to kill a monster, or save a friend, but that’s the limit of their interaction.  In this indie example, they might still control a character in the story, but they might have the opportunity to have more narrative control - to perhaps change the story itself in some mechanically appropriate way.  The electronic game Scribblenauts comes to mind.  
GM: “Men in armor with swords burst into the room. They seem to be searching for something, or someone…”
Player, exercising narrative control: “They bear the colors and sigil of Duke Harald, and the man leading them is my father!.”

I theorize that a story that lets multiple participants have the control to introduce elements or in some fashion to narrate will be a better story.  When we play, we all aspire to be like an author in some fashion.  But unlike writing, role playing is live - you don’t have the luxury of an editor or rewrites.

Players can gain some level of narrative control - or influence perhaps - when they say to the GM “Hey, I’d like to do so and so in the game.” And the GM says sure, and later incorporates some element of that into the game.  This is just a slightly different way of giving the player some control.

Some systems specifically give the players means to control the story, or rather to move it in directions that they think are interesting.  There are a few systems that allow a player to say “I know that person” when an NPC is introduced.  Thus they can make the story more interesting, and feel/be more involved with the story.  

I experimented with this in a Shadow of Yesterday game.  The party was searching for someone, and had a few clues, and then wanted to go to dice to determine whether they found the person.  Dice rolls are commonly seen as having a binary outcome.  Did you find the person, yes or no.  The players want to find the person, and the GM wants the players to find the person too, but the GM wants they players to have to work for it.  A dice roll is commonly seen as that work.  But what if they dice are unkind, and they say no?  Instead of simply deciding yes or no, let the dice be an arbiter of what’s going on - you could say that a failure results in a twist.  “Did we find uncle Bob?”  If the results are a success, then great - there he is.  Story continues.  If the result is a failure, it does no good for them not to find uncle Bob. The whole story revolves around him, or he’s the next step in the story.  But instead throw in a twist.  Yes, you found uncle Bob, but he’s about to be killed by evil aunt Wilma, or his house is burning down when you pull up in front of it, or he’s just plain dead.  At best, it’s a conflict/encounter that may be interesting, but again has the potential to be show-stopping - what if the party gets TPK’d or the fight doesn’t go as planned?  If you go for heavy twists (bob is dead), you can’t just drop that on your players without a plan for them.  There needs to be a lead - can he be resurrected? Can the information that they needed from him be found some other way?  A twist should be interesting and exciting, rather than frustrating and disappointing.

An interesting story is generally going to be one in which some sort of adversity was overcome.  No one wants to hear a story about how you went to the grocery store - unless you were mugged upon your arrival.  A good story is always going to have at least one conflict.  Two sides who want two different things.  It may not involve violence or war, but it could instead involve some sort of negotiation or compromise.

If you think of stories in terms of RPGs, you can imagine the dice rolling behind any blocking or conflict scene.  Is that door locked, can the party get through it?  Can the party escape from their pursuers?  Can the Duke be convinced to support the claim?  Will the owlbear kill the party?  Can the group find its way through the labyrinth?  Each of these are questions that have the potential for more than one answer.  The door is locked or barred and the party must find another route. What happens when the pursuers catch up to the party?  And so on.

RPGs are still basically a game about storytelling.  The GM is telling a story and the players are helping.  Stories require details.  Details make a story come alive.  Details make a story interesting.  They introduce new elements or possibilities.

Player input and dice rolls are commonly going to be informational or factual.  Informational might be whether they spot a secret door, or pending ambush, or interesting clue.  Factual is whether they were able to succeed or fail at some task. Climbing a wall, riding a horse, killing an orc, convincing a shopkeeper.  There is some logic that insists that informational dice rolling be dispensed with.  

There’s another facet here - and that’s random twists.  Much like the random encounter chart.  Consider that the party is traveling through a dark and sinister looking forest.  A player asks “Do I hear anything, or notice anything suspicious?”  The GM has not intended to drop an encounter here, and can simply say “no”, and move on.  Or the GM can have them roll a dice, the dice roll determines whether there IS in fact something to be encountered.  Random twists can be fun, but they can also distract when there is a story being told.  Some games could be very nearly one random twist after another - but this will result in a disjointed story.

So, what kind of control do the players want?  How do they want to interact with the story?  Do they simply want to be told what’s happening, and try to push buttons to influence the story?  Or do they want more control, and to be able to modify the story in significant ways.

When players create characters, they are making decisions about the kind of game that they want to play, and how they want to play it (and how they want to interact with the world around them, and the game before them).

Most popular RPGs, no matter the genre, boil down to the same effective level of control for the players.  They are provided with opportunities to tweak the story in small ways by the mechanics and by the GM.

Consider that there are already many elements of decision making done by the GM via fiat.  Is there a car on the street? asks a player.  Is the castle gate open?  Do the orcs notice us?  Is the Baroness mad?  All of these could be determined by GM fiat, or a random (or semi-random) dice roll, or even by player input.  “Say yes or roll dice” is a line from Dogs in the Vineyard.  That game encourages a GM to give the players what they want in the story, and if the GM is unsure of the outcome, to go to dice and let the game’s mechanics sort out the answer.

Those of us who are familiar with RPGs oftentimes have learned how to play “correctly”, or the way that we are accustomed to.  People who are new to the game will be interested in exploring how much control they have and what they can accomplish.  

What type of story or game is the GM going for though?  If they are trying to tell a very specific story, then giving the players more control can be problematic for them.  If the Lord of the Rings were taking place in an RPG environment, and the GM had already planned out much of the story, letting the players have more control could derail the story.  The GM wants it to be about the difficult journey to Mordor, fraught with difficulties, and the fate of the Ring and the protagonists.  Player control could send the story spinning off in some other direction though.

The back and forth of player input and GM narration can be configured in a variety of ways.  Consider the question of “How will the party get to Mordor?”  The party can likely choose a variety of paths to get to their destination.  Each choice may result in descriptive and narrative differences, and in conflicts or further decisions.  In an RPG environment, this can be approached either with the “all roads lead to rome” philosophy in which the story still progresses in much the same way.  A better example is perhaps a party in a cave system.  They arrive at a fork in the tunnel and can choose to go left or right.  In some games, the GM may have prepared for each choice, having descriptions and encounters and such ready for either choice.  This requires more work certainly, and leaves the possibility of some of that work going unused.  Another approach is for the GM to let the players make their choice, and to run descriptions and encounters much the same either way.  The hazard here is if somehow both choices are invoked.  “Well we chose the left path, but lets go back and do the right path instead.”   This forces the GM either to make sometimes arbitrary and meta-seeming decisions: “Rocks fall and block your way back.”, or to come up with something for the other choice.  

A common pitfall (or feature, depending on your perspective) for a new GM is giving the players a choice, and having designed their game in such a way that the players are required to make a certain decision.  If the players make a different decision, or ignore the GM’s offer/bait, then the GM is potentially left struggling with something important that was missed.  “The party completely ignored the basement, where they were supposed to find the ghost!”  The simplest answer to this sort of problem is to simply present what you need/want the players to find.  You WANT them to find the ghost in the old house.  If for some reason the ghost needs to be in the basement, then the players need to be guided to the basement, or placed into the basement (the floor collapses, or what have you).  Having a McGuffin that the players need to find can result in a boring search, especially if the players realize that they are trapped in the scene - and even worse if the players don’t know what is required to leave the scene.  

The party finds itself in the old McLauren house.  The GM wants the players to find the ghost of old Ms. McLauren in the basement so that they can get a quest from her and put her to rest.  

That’s the story that the GM has prepared for the night.  The players are initially unaware of the ghost though.  One player says that they want to look for the way out.  The GM is naturally opposed, so has 3 choices.  Say yes, say no, or roll dice.  The GM in this scenario is unlikely to say yes or roll dice, since he wants the players to remain in the scene and find the ghost.  The players may feel frustrated, and try increasingly escalating methods of leaving the house, once they see that they are blocked.  

The doors are all stuck?  Fine, we’ll chop them down.  

Now the GM is forced to start using weird meta devices, or to simply tell the players that they can’t leave, which is still frustrating for many players.  Instead, give the players what they need!  Have the ghost pop right out, or give them a trail of breadcrumbs to the basement.  But remember that players may ignore breadcrumbs - either they fail to notice the trail, or they decide that they’re not interested, or they think that it is unimportant.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Early this morning, gunmen burst into the offices of a French satirical magazine and murdered 12 people.  All signs point to the gunmen being radical Muslims.

I am generally pretty anti-religion, but I try really hard to balance that with the principle of respecting people's right to believe in pretty much whatever they want, as long as it is not infringing on or harming others.  If you want to believe that Odin is real and rides a magical Unicorn, that's your business, not mine.  But when you start murdering people because they are having a laugh at Odin, then fuck you.

I believe that you cannot blame the actions of a few on an entire group.  Not all anti-abortion activists are murderers.  Not all black people are criminals.  Not all Muslim people are killing in the name of their religion.  Yet it becomes increasingly difficult to excuse the actions of a small part of a larger group when it happens again and again and again.  At a certain point, the group in question needs to step up and start taking some corrective actions.

I am terribly sad for the families of those who were murdered.  I am sad for the chilling effect this sort of thing has on journalism and on public discourse.  I am sad for the many peaceful Muslim people who will likely experience scrutiny or prejudice based on the actions of a few.

I think that there is a cancer within the Muslim community.  I think that there is a fringe element that is actively perpetuated.  And until that cancer is eliminated, we will continue to see religious extremists murdering people, and the Muslim community at large will continue to feel the backlash.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

1st Marathon

If you're reading this, then hi.  This blog has fallen into disuse, so I'm using this as a memory-space.  But feel free to enjoy :)

Today was my first marathon.  26.2 miles.

We signed up for the St. Jude Memphis marathon for December 2013, but the thing got canceled after a nasty ice storm.  That was a real let-down.  I wish the weather had been different and we could have knocked it out, but there's nothing you can do about the weather.  Since it was 14 degrees out that morning though, I think they made the right decision.

So we rescheduled for the Nashville run in April.

Last year I'd trained pretty hard.  I had set out to run 1,000 miles over year (which I hit in November, I think), and had done a number of long runs leading up to the St. Jude Marathon.  So I was essentially finishing my marathon training, and then immediately starting my marathon training once again.  Frustrating.

But I kept up my running.  Not quite as consistently as last year.  I was getting in 4 or 5 runs per week last year, religiously, and was doing regular 7-9 milers, with long runs on the weekend.  This year I was only doing 5 milers regularly, and was doing somewhat long on the weekends, 9, 13 and 16 miles, I think.

Getting up to Nashville for the marathon turned out to be fun.  We left Piper and Griffin with Grandma.  I would have loved to have them there, but it was not fair to leave the two of them for Krissi to manage in downtown Nasvhille for X hours.  The drive up was rather fun, it was a chance for me to get into the thrill and differentness of a Marathon.  We got into town, checked into the hotel, then went and picked up our race packet.  The huge convention center was impressive, and we nearly got lost on account of some sort of Junior Star talent show.  Eventually we got our packet and wandered into the expo, which was kinda cool and a little culture-shock for me.  I don't recall having wandered through an expo - which I guess translates to "maze of vendor booths".  It was neat to see all the gear and tech and kitsch, and also to people watch, and after grabbing a few little things, we got the heck out of there.   We wandered a bit, trying to get some good local italian food, and ended up at Mirko Pasta on Lebanon Pike, though we tried to figure out a place that I'd decided on before the trip, but then couldn't remember the name of (it's Pomodoro East; next time, Nashville.)  Mirko was descent, with nice atmosphere, but my dish (angel hair pasta bolognese) was reasonable but not impressive.   We headed back to our hotel, the budget minded Nashville Airport Hotel, which was across the street from the La Quinta.  It was nice, we were on the third floor, our door opening out onto a balcony walkway and the parking lot.  All the normal ammenities, and it seemed clean and nice.  I could tell it was budget priced though by the wobbly faucet fixture.  Still, for the required "place to stay before the race where I can get some sleep", it mostly satisfied.  Though we were awakened twice by men walking on the walkway speaking in some southeast-asian language, and once by a loud motorcycle.

We sprang from bed early in the morning, 4:55 in fact.  We'd traveled light, and packed last night,  so we only needed to worry about prep in the morning.  I downed 24 ounces of electrolyte-water, a banana, and a couple of granola bars.  We dressed and grabbed our stuff and were out the door.  We'd mapped our route, and hit the road.  I navigated a wrong turn off, which cost us a few minutes, but then we were on our way-- and quickly ran into gridlock traffic, leading to the bridge toward where we needed to go.  Seemed like a simple case of 30,000+ people trying to get to the same place, even though it was only 5:45.

After consulting our maps, we took a detour, as it looked like we could get around the bridge snarl.  And it worked out.  We pulled into the Nashville football stadium parking lot, and then headed toward the race.

The crowd was huge, and pretty awesome.  So many different types of people, and different types of runners.  I'd dropped back in corral, and was hoping for a 5 hour finish time.  With the difference in elevation and temperature and my training, I had different expectations than I had for St. Jude Memphis.

The run got kicked off, and the corrals filtered down, and soon enough, my wave was off.  The first couple of miles was through downtown nashville, then it turned south and west a little, and went down through a bunch of small and pretty neighborhoods, including a Montessori school.  Then the full and half marathoners split off, and the marathon went north.  And it got warm.  And sunny.  Mile 13 was at the turn around point north, so back we came again toward downtown.  I was already starting to feel the distance, and as the warmth and sun worked on me, I slowed down.  The route went through downtown and over the bridge.  At mile 18 I met Krissi, who had water and nutrition, but I turned down the race goo/bars.  I didn't think my stomach could take it.  I put on more sunblock, and was off again.  By mile 20 though, I was getting spent.  The miles seemed way longer than a mile.  I had to walk for a bit before running again.  The route on the east side of Nashville was back through an industrial and impoverished area, and then a state park, and was an interesting route.  I was pretty beat by this time, and my feet were worn out, and my body was getting tired.  But I kept going, sometimes alternating walking and running, and by mile 24 or 25, I'd got a bit of a second wind, and was able to team up with another runner and motivate each other to get across the finish line.

Krissi was right there cheering me on, and we took a couple of minutes to rest and chat before we moved on.  Krissi had been super busy all day trying to keep up with me and the marathon, and so was almost as spent as I was.  We got to the car and drove straight to Gabby's Burgers and I devoured a double burger in like 90 seconds flat.

We headed out of town at that point hoping to get home and have the night off (from obligations and such).  We ran into two awful traffic snarls that turned a 3.5 hour trip into a 5 hour trip.  But eventually we were home and got to relax.

I was worn out after the run, but not demolished.  And today (sunday after the run) I'm in good shape, with only a small amount of soreness.

In hindsight, I'm glad to have a marathon done.  I hoped to do it much faster, but I'm not gonna complain.  It just gives me an easy PR to beat.  Krissi and I talked about whether I'd do another marathon, and beforehand I said that I wasn't sure if I'd do another marathon after this one.  Having just finished my first, I think I'll do another.  Not this year - but maybe in 2015.

Meanwhile, I think half-marathons are just my speed!

postscript -   I meant to mention (actual today) the day after the marathon, Sunday.  I still had some energy on the marathon itself, it was just my feet that were so completely spent.  I think that next time I'll do a marathon in running shoes.  And in colder weather.  The day after a marathon is often tough, but I've been in really good shape today.  Some soreness and a little stiffness, but if I walk around for a bit, the soreness goes away and I'm in good shape.  I think I can destroy my PR at St Jude Memphis 2015

Monday, January 28, 2013

Composure as a stat

I've played a few games that have a 'Composure' trait or something similar.   I think more systems should have this.

Think of it this way - most likely your character has a strength score or something along those lines.  This is how the group can all have an idea of how strong the character is, and there's a way to adjudicate what he/she can do.  "I bash the door down" -  not with a four in strength, buddy.

So what about when the group meats a 30 foot tall, fire breathing dragon?   Or is involved in a firefight with bullets whizzing by?    Its super easy, from the comfort of your game table, to declare that Bob the Bad Ass shrugs off care or concern and advances grimly to meet his foe.  We don't get the quiver of fear in our stomach, or the paralyzing terror from having someone else try their best to kill you.

Granted, when we sit down to play these games, we want to be heroic.  And this can still work.  We also want to be ridiculously strong and have awesome abs.