Monday, July 25, 2016

Notes on OD&D - Part 28

Time for us to take the next step forward! On to the next batch of 6th Level Spells!

Men & Magic
  • p30 - Explanation of Spells - 6th Level

Lower Water: Utterance of this spell causes the water level in a river or similar body of liquid to drop 50% of its depth for ten turns. Range: 24" (720').

Um. That's a 6th Level spell? Really? Um... I don't know about you but this one is not on my "Must Have" list... at all. Nope. This seems like a totally wasteful spell to take as I can not think of any time in the past 30 years of gaming that I would have needed to lower a body of water 50% for 10 turns. I am guessing though that it's intended to allow troops to pass over waterways like rivers where otherwise it would not be possible. Let's remember that D&D 1st Edition was a military miniatures wargame, and things like River Crossings had a bearing on troop movements. That, of course, no longer (afaik) has much bearing on how RPGs are played, but if we harken back and consider the potential utility of this spell in that particular context then perhaps it begins to make more sense. Ok, on the assumption that I'm kinda guessing right about this, I would still say that as a 6th Level spell, this one is more or less shite. Why? Well because reducing a river 50% will not necessarily allow troops to cross, and doing so for 10 turns only even moreso limits it's potential usefulness. An army can not cross even a dry river bed in 10 turns. So, yup. Pretty much shite all the way around. I guess you have to have some shite spells in the list so that people can feel good about saying "Nope, not that one."

I rate this Spell 1 Star out of 5 for uselessness.

Next!

Part Water: A spell which will part water up to 10' deep for a maximum of six turns. Range: 12" (360').

Goodness no. That's pretty much just as bad, and pretty much for the same reasons, although at least if you actually part the water then the troops can certainly pass through, as opposed to "maybe" for the previous water barrier passing spell. So this one is a minor improvement. But it only will only part water 10' deep. Sorry Moses, this ain't gonna be so easy after all. Yeah, I think this one is only a thin silky blond hair better than the last one.

I rate this Spell 1.01 Stars out of 5 for uselessness.

NEXT!

Slightly Shift Water A Little Bit Spell:  This spell moves one gallon of water an inch or so in any direction the Magic User wishes for 1 turn.  Range: 1" (30').

Hehe... Just kidding!

NEXT!

Projected Image: By means of this spell the Magic-User projects and image of himself up to 24" (360') away, and all spells and the like used thereafter appear to originate from the Projected Image. Duration: 6 turns. Range: 24" (360').

Hmmm... 6th Level? Um, hey, Gygax, old buddy... what's up with the super-underpowered 6th Level Spells? My MU has gone through hell and high water (literally) to get to a level where he can select even one of these puppies and ... this is the selection? Seriously? This is ok useful, to a certain degree, but still... I'd have thought this would make a perfectly fine 3rd Level Spell, frankly. Not 6th. Don't waste my time with this one.

I rate this Spell a 2 Stars out of 5 for uselessness.

NEXT!! (come on, come on)

Anti-Magic Shell: A field which surrounds the Magic-User and makes him totally impervious to all spells. It also prevents any spells from being sent through the shell by the Magic-User who conjured it. Duration: 12 turns.

Well that one was looking promising, until the joy-diminishing caveat that it doesn't allow spells through in either direction. That's like jumping inside a tank, only to find that all you can do is drive around because you're totally out of shells (see what I did there)? Can I say that this too is a Booooooogus spell? Ok, let me think this through here. Maybe Gygax really, really, really didn't want Magic-Users to be too powerful. So the list of 6th Level spells is designed to make Magic-Users lose heart, and fall into despair, maybe? I don't know. If I'm going to take on that much risk, and commit to that much of a long slow haul up Levels to get to the point where I can get my dirty little hands on some 6th Level (that's the Maxi-Premium-Top-of-the-Line spells, btw) spells, and they turn out to be this crappy and mitigating... yeah, I'm going to be preeeety disappointed. And next game I'll be playing a frikkin barbarian with a two handed broadsword with the words "I Kill MUs" on his shield. Just sayin.

Also, almost as an aside, the description doesn't tell us what the diameter of the Anti-Magic Shell is. Can it fit more than one person in it? The whole party? Well, from the description as written it seems to suggest (strongly) that only the Magic-User can fit inside the Anti-Magic Shell. Yay for the MU. The rest of us? Oh, yeah well you guys are SOL. Sorry bout that. :p

I rate this Spell 3 Stars for usefulness (its not horrible, but ... meh. Not impressed after all)

Ok, that was depressing. I'm going to stop there. BUT ... I notice from a quick scan that the last 5 Spells actually do look promising! Let's keep our fingers crossed that good old Gygax doesn't screw the pooch on those as well, eh? :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

RPG Worlds as Embodiments of Philosophy

It seems to me that every RPG rules system, and style of gamemastering, selection of back story, dispositions of characters all combine under the umbrella of the Gamemaster's philosophy. The world itself becomes a reflection of the GM's philosophy.

In some cases, such as science fiction, the philosophy is concealed to some degree behind the forefront of whatever the science aspect of the fiction regards. However, despite this appearance, any amount of investigation will likely soon reveal that all of the same aspects apply for science fiction as they do for any other kind of fiction or fantasy. All worlds embody the philosophies of their authors.

In our day and age things have become angst ridden due to the ever present anxiety under which we all are living. Ever since the 2000 stock market crash, which was the dot com bubble bursting, the red flag that told us we are heading into troubled waters, we've suffered a near continuous series of calamities. The Sept 11, 2001 saw the beginning of the Twilight War between Islam and the rest of the world. Then the 2008 Financial Collapse, nearly destroying the entire economic structure of the West, and perhaps the world. And more recently, the Syrian Civil War resulting in a humanitarian and refugee crisis throughout all of Europe, not to mention the ravages of civil war. And all of this is due to conflicts of philosophy both large and small, and spanning the breath and width of civilization. Philosophy, as it turns out, is important. In fact, it governs everything. When philosophies collide we get disasters. However, when Philosophies unite and harmonize we get peace and order. And to a very large degree the choice is ours. It has always been so even from the most remote times of antiquity.

GMs imbue their Worlds with their philosophies. They must. It can't be helped. And it's not a bad thing. Unless those philosophies are so tainted as to pose a danger to those who adhere to them or those around them. Then, of course, it is indeed a bad thing.

But the GMs I've known have chosen to create worlds whose philosophies remained covert, and yet interesting, and often amazing for their originality and depth. I've not been bored in any of them.

On the other hand, I've played in some worlds where there is very little in the way of philosophic content, and generally focus on things like combat tactics and loot. Which is just as fun for me as the next guy. But I also like the other, more literary, if you will, aspect that is also possible in RPGs. It is this potential of literary quality of RPGs that I find truly fascinating, and why I think RPGs hold so much promise for the future. They are in and of themselves a new and wonderful combination of game and art form, drawing in a all manner of skills into one complex yet cohesive activity. I count it among the most brilliant of mankind's inventions to date, along with orchestral music and the wheel.

So the result is that the philosophy of the GM's World is going to have a lot do with how it is perceived by the players. To a large degree it will determine how much, and what kind of fun they have exploring it. They experience the philosophy through all of the events in the world that the GM narrates, as well as the character descriptions, tone of voice, and so forth. 

Some GMs will do this overtly, and it will be quite clear what the underlying philosophy of the world is. It may be something as simple and straight forward as "The Rule of the Strong Prevails", and that's it, or any similar one dimensional viewpoint. For those Worlds one expects to encounter monsters and villains, kill things and take their loot. Because that's the nature of the World. And the players therein share in that nature, or I should say philosophy. Which is of course to be expected.  The RPG is a social event, and takes place within the context of friends.  It would be natural for them to share a common viewpoint. A common philosophy of life.  And so when the game, the world in which they play embodies that philosophy, and this is the game they enjoy because they are familiar with it and it suits them.  Which is all well and fine, naturally.

In other cases the GM may be more circumspect, and the philosophy may be more nuanced and less overt for that reason. These kind of GMs might have several competing philosophies embedded among the races and peoples of their Worlds.  And those philosophies might become the subject of a wide range of Role Playing opportunities for the GM and players to explore.

So different Worlds are going to have, in other words, entirely different characteristics, and in fact entirely different meanings.  A world whose underlying philosophy is nihilism will have entirely different characteristics than one whose philosophy is utopian in nature.  One might have the story revolve around a Dark Lord whose war forces are ravaging the world out of lust for power, and that is the primary underlying story, while another might have the rise of an Athenian style Space Empire at the height of it's glory.  It entirely depends on the philosophy underlying the world's creation.

When we understand this facet of RPGs we can better understand our options, and navigate more purposefully through the experience of this shared collaborative story making we call Role Playing.

If the GM has a sound philosophy, something profound and of interest, then that GM's world will be interesting. Well, to those who might take an interest in such things. Of course not everyone will, and so some players will glance over the underlying aspects of such a world and take little note of it. The philosophies of the GMs shimmer beneath each world's narrative layer, but the truth is, quite often we take little notice of it.  And that's perhaps a bit of shame.  What's going on beneath the surface may be more mysterious and rewarding than the dragon's horde we send our characters off to acquire.

Some GMs will wind up experimenting. They will adopt different philosophies for different worlds in order to try them out and see how that function. In that sense some worlds will become testing grounds for all kinds of philosophic hypotheses. For example, one GM might wish to explore a comparison between democracy and monarchy. Another might wish to examine a particular theme in romantic literature. The possibilities are infinite.

So when I think about world building, I think about the nature of the underlying philosophy I'm imposing on it, and I think about my players and what they may find interesting, and what might make for an interesting mystery or fascinating puzzle, and it gives me something to ruminate over for a few months while we play out the campaign. It also gives me insights in regards to how my players react to the world, and what they come away thinking.

So as I see it, RPGs can be a bit more than simply a bit of hack and slash and murder hoboing about the landscape. I'm not saying that isn't a perfectly fun way to play RPGs, but I am saying that there are other approaches to it, and of varying levels of sophistication.

The Literary RPG Society's primary goal is to collaborate on, brainstorm about, discuss and experiment with techniques that will help GMs derive more interesting worlds, and ones that may more easily result in stories that contain literary elements, or works of artistic merit in their own right. We are a collaborative society of GMs who wish to contribute to the art. Please join us if you feel this is something you'd like to contribute to.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Whitewode Township - Tactical Map - Final


This is the latest, and final, tactical map for Whitewode Village - the West Gate.  Currently there is an army of Gnolls west of the town beyond the marshes, guided by, and aided by, the Military Commanders of the Pechs (an ancient Deep-Stone race, older than the Dwarves).  The town is being defended by two factions of Witches who seem confident in their ability to ward off the Pech Magic.  But the Gnolls?  That's new.  And who knows?  Stay tuned.

Notes on OD&D - Part 27

Time for us to advance!  On to the first of the 6th Level Spells!

Men & Magic
  • p30 - Explanation of Spells - 6th Level

Stone to Flesh: This spell turns stone to flesh, and it is reversible, so as to turn flesh to stone.  It is particularly useful in reviving characters who have been "stoned" by a stone monster.  it is permanent unless a reversed spell is used.  Range: 12" (360')

Well, not terribly exciting, if you ask me.  Though if we think about it this could be used in a variety of ways if you think creatively.  Obviously, using this against your enemies by petrifying them would be handy.  It doesn't say how long it takes for the spell to take effect, so that's a variable that would probably make a pretty big difference if you try to use it in combat.  As GM, I would probably adjudicate that it takes up to a full minute for it to completely take effect, and give it a roll of 1d6 melees.  I might say that after the 1st melee the victim can no longer actively fight and is rooted to the ground.  So that usage would probably be quite effective.  Especially since it can be cast at a distance of 360'.  Dang.  Not bad.  Of course it only affects one character at a time, but what the heck.  Nothing here says it couldn't take out a dragon, or a beholder, or a lich.  I'm thinking this is a pretty kick ass spell. frankly.  And then of course on the other side, you can use it to rescue your friends who may have been turned to statues.  But that seems like the kind of use that would come up only rarely.  It's the reversal that makes this thing powerful, imo.

I rate this spell 4 out of 5 Stars for usefulness.

Reincarnation: A spell to bring a dead character back to life in some other form.  The form in which the character is Reincarnated is dependent upon his former alignment (Law, Neutrality, or Chaos).  use a random determination on the Character Alignment table, and whatever the result is, the reincarnated Character is that creature and must play as it.  If he comes back a man, determine which level in that class and similarly check level for reincarnation as an elf or dwarf.

Hmmm... Well, that's certainly better than just being dead, I guess.  And since there's obviously a chance you could come back as a human that's not too terrible.  On the other hand, depending on the character's alignment you could come back as ... well ... anything.  That includes Dragons, Trolls, Beholders, and all other monsters.   Wow!   Actually, that makes this, depending on your luck, pretty damn kick ass.  Since the reincarnation is totally random among all possibilities you could also come back a skeleton, a kobold, or black pudding.  Yay.  Exciting.  I think this is a fun spell, and would really serve to spice things up in the game. On the other hand, I have to admit, as a Magic User I'd probably not care for this spell that much.  I'd only get to use it once in a blue moon when characters got killed, and then there's a very good chance that the reincarnated character won't quite be happy with the results.  Meh.  I'm not too excited about this spell for that reason.

I rate this spell 2 Stars for usefulness.

Invisible Stalker: The conjuration of an extra-dimensional monster which can be controlled with merely a word from the Magic User who conjured him.  The Invisible Stalker will continue on its mission until it is accomplished, regardless of time or distance.  They can not be dispelled once conjured, except through attack.  Details of the Invisible stalker itself will be found in the next volume. 

Woah.  That's definitely bad ass.  Let's check out the details.

INVISIBLE STALKERS: As previously noted (Vol 1) these are monsters created by level 6 spells, uttered directly or from scrolls.  They are faultless trackers.  They follow continually until their mission is accomplished at which time they return to the non-dimension from whence they came.  Until their mission is completed they will never vary, and must be destroyed by attack to be stopped, although a Dispel Magic spell will also work.  The referee should note, however, that Invisible Stalkers resent missions which entail long periods of continuing service such as guarding a Magic-User for a month, a year, etc.  They will then seek to fulfill the letter of their duties by perverting the spirit.  For example: An Invisible Stalker is order to "Guard me against all attack, and see that I come to no harm." In order to faithfully fulfill his endless duty the Invisible Stalker will hae to take the Magic-User to its non-dimensional plane and place him in suspended animation, and assume this is accomplished whenever a 12 is rolled with two six-sided dice, checking either daily or weekly as the campaign progresses.

Yow. A couple of things stand out.  First and foremost, the rule from Vol 1 contradicts the rule from Vol 2 on the point of the Dispel Magic. That is a clear contradiction there.  Aside from that, though, this is a pretty awesome spell.  One assumes that Invisible Stalkers should be used for stalking someone... presumably a foe or rival.  "Go forth, thou thing of dread, and slay my enemy, the Duke of Frothmoore!"  I don't think there's any doubt that this would be a perfectly acceptable mission for an Invisible Stalker.  One wonders, though how this would work if the Invisible Stalker is sent after your adventure party by an enemy Magic-User?   What powers and weapons does the Invisible Stalker have?  I'm not sure.  The description is certainly not clear on those points.  Lets poke around.  Ah. Found the stats in Vol 2.

Armor Class: 3
Move in Inches: 12" (360')
Hit Dice: 8
Treasure: Nil

That's an AC equivalent to Platemail (without shield).  This is one tough hombre!  He moves super fast, he's really hard to hit, he's got a lot of Hits, and worst of all - he ain't got no loot at all!   Dang! Dude that's just cruel.

So now back to the question.  We still don't know what kind of attacks he executes.  I'm going to assume he uses ... a long bow.  Why not?  I would if I were him.  I'd also give him a back up weapon in case long bow is not suitable.  A long sword.  Magical, probably.  Why not?  He's extra-dimensional, and we know he has access to magic of some sort because he can cause Suspended Animation.  While we don't know exactly what that means as it is not a Spell listed in the spell list for MUs or Clerics, we can suppose that it is magical.  Let's suppose it is.  This implies that the Invisible Stalker has at least some access to some kind of magic.  I say he gets a magic sword.  Ok, that's cool. Now what happens.  He stalks the party from afar until they come to an open area which gives him a good vantage point from which to shoot his long bow from a safe, protected and invisible distance. Thwap!  The MU goes down with an arrow through the neck.  The Stalker then waits.  The party scrambles around trying to get a bead on where the attack came from.  Meanwhile - Thwap!  The Cleric goes down.  Etc.  The Invisible Stalker, taking advantage of his, um, advantages, would be a miserably effective party killer.  Relentless, merciless, and highly efficient.  Even if they could manage to figure out where it was shooting from, attacking and killing it would be ... a challenge.

Used as effectively against one's opponents... yes, I think this would be quite effective.

I rate this spell 5 out of 5 Stars for usefulness.

Ok, that's good for today.  I pick up on the next set of Level 6 spells next time, and then we move on to Clerics.  :)

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Notes on OD&D - Part 26

Ok, finally back to OD&D. Sorry for the delays recently, but a lot has been going on here. Ah, nevertheless, lets continue on with the next 5th Level Spell...

Men & Magic
  • p30 - Explanation of Spells - 5th Level
Cloudkill: This spell creates a moving, poisonous cloud of vapor which is deadly to all creatures with less than five hit dice. Movement: 6" (180') / turn according to wind direction, or directly away from the spell chanter if there is no wind. Dimensions: 3" (90') diameter. Duration: 6 turns, but the cloud is dispelled by unusually strong winds or trees. Note that the cloud is heavier than air, so it will sink to the lowest possible level.

Ok. That's solid. Let's take a quick look at how solid.

Five Hit Dice creatures or less includes the following: Goblins, Kobolds, Orcs, Hobgoblins, Gnolls, Ogres, Skeletons, Zombies, Ghouls, Wights, Wraiths, Medusae, Gargoyles, Centaurs, Unicorns, Nixies, Pixies, Dryads, Gnomes, Dwarves, Elves, Pegasi, Hippogriffs, Green Slime, Yellow Ooze, Light Horse, Horses (all kinds). Also included are lower level men, some lycanthropes, insects, and large animals, all of whom have variable hit dice.

Ok so that's a hefty range of creatures. Now lets see how many that comes to, potentially. I'm going to assume that on average 1 creature can fit in a 5' space, though this is clearly quite variable. But lets take human size as average just for argument's sake. The dimensions are 90' in diameter and we will assume a circle shape. 6362 sq feet. 6362 / 5 = 1272 creatures. Since it can move at 180' per turn, which is twice it's diameter which means it can cover two of it's lengths per turn. So that comes to 1272 x 2 creatures per turn. 2545 creatures per turn, for 6 turns. That comes to 15,269 creatures in total before the spell dissipates. So we're looking at a spell that can potentially kill a small army in six turns. Granted all conditions would have to be right for this to happen, such as the army would have to situated in a 90' wide column stretching out in a straight line for 1080 feet, in the direction necessary for the cloud kill to pass over them all. Yet still, even if this isn't the case, the spell is frikking powerful, and well worth taking, even if conditions will never be absolutely ideal, and even though it can't kill creatures such as trolls, giants, Spectres, Vampires, Cockatrices, Basilisks, Gorgons, Manticoreas, Hydras, Chimeras, Wyverns, Dragons, Purple Worms, Sea Monsters, Treants, Rocs, Griffons, Invisible Stalkers, Djinns, Efreets, Ochre Jellies, or Black Puddings. It is still nevertheless the most powerful killing spell thus far. I say take it.

In addition, there are no stated downsides to this spell, and no limitations listed. Which is why I included Skeletons and Zombies on the list of things it kills... even though technically they're already dead, and so a cloud kill in theory shouldn't have an effect on them. But this is magic, and the poison is magical in nature and, well, them's the rules as stated. So there you have it.

Just make sure that you're party members are not in the path of Cloudkill, and the enemies are. Watch those winds carefully, Bub. But take this spell. It's a whopper.

I rate this spell 5 Stars out of 5 on usefulness.

Ok, I'll take a stab at the next spell too.

Feeblemind: A spell usable only against Magic-Users, it causes the recipient to become feeble-minded until the spell is countered with a Dispel Magic. Because of it's specialized nature the Feeblemind spell as a 20% better chance of success, ie lowers the magic users saving throw against magic by 4, so that if normally a 12 or better were required to save against magic, a 16 would be required against a Feeblemind. Range: 24" (720').

Feeblemind, therefore, is a spell designed to take down your opponent's Magic Users. And it comes with a hefty 20% bonus, too. And a pretty descent range, too. What the definition of feeble-minded is, exactly, is left to the GM to decide. Does this mean they become a sputtering imbecile? Or just too stupid to know that they shouldn't answer all of your questions truthfully? Doesn't say. But most certainly it would prohibit them from casting spells, and/or doing other useful things. So we need to take this with a grain of salt, as there's a lot of variability in terms of how the GM will interpret what the effect is.

I'd rate this spell 4 Stars for usefulness and still recommend it. But take Cloudkill first. That's my advice.

Ok, last one for 5th Level spells and we call it a day.

Growth of Animals: A spell which will cause from 1-6 normal-sized animals (not merely mammals) to grow to giant-size with proportionate attack capabilities. Duration: 12 turns. Range: 12" (360').

Ok this one sounds cool at first, but here's the catch. Nothing says the animals once enlarged will behave in any particular way. Animals can be highly unpredictable, especially when surprised. Growing to giant-size all of a sudden might just freak out the animals, and who knows what they could do. There is certainly nothing here to suggest that they will automatically become your friends and attack your enemies. They might even turn on your own forces. Who knows? They're animals. Unpredictable.

I rate this 3 Stars for Usefulness.

Ok, that's it for 5th Level Spells. The last leg for Magic will be the (undoubtedly) mind blowingly powerful 6th Level spells, which will be coming up next. Stay tuned (for hopefully not too long this time).

Friday, May 27, 2016

Thoughts on Literary RPG Stories

I've for some years now had the idea that literary stories, ones that map to literary conventions and that are satisfying in their own right as stories, are possible to produce through Role Playing Games (I'm thinking of the Pencil & Paper version). Some RPG designs purport to facilitate or enforce this idea, which collectively may be called "Story Games".

However, despite the enthusiasm in some circles for Story Games, I will not be discussing those because my intention is to think about this in relation to my own game, which is Elthos RPG. My game is what people now'days would probably call a "retro-clone" of OD&D (I would be inclined to dispute this, however).  The point is that I'm interested in using what might be called a Traditional RPG to produce Literary Stories.

First I should like to clarify what I mean by satisfying Literary Story. What I mean by this is that the resulting story has literary merit, follows in a general sense literary conventions such has having a story arc with a beginning, middle and end, shows a degree of character development, and by and large uncovers larger truths about life and the universe in which we live. In the end, when transcribed or told verbatim the story would entertain, and perhaps even enlighten the reader in some way.

When an author writes a story they have control over the Characters actions in the story in a way that the author of an RPG story does not. The Players control the various Characters in the RPG, and those Players typically will do unexpected things that the Gamemaster has not anticipated. This forces the game to adopt a strongly improvisational stance. When you add the fact of luck through dice rolling into the mix, it positively ensures that game per game, the Gamemaster has little or no control over the outcome of each episode. As a game this works perfectly. But as a story creation tool, well, like I said, the traditional RPG presents challenges.  One never knows if the Player Characters will even live or die in any given game. And yet, the goal is to achieve a satisfying story that stands on its own merits and can be read from end to end and be enjoyed purely as a story in its own right.

Can RPG play result in such stories? I believe so. Does it require a special set of rules mechanics to do so by attempting to enforce "story"? I don't think so. What it requires is is a Gamemaster and Players who understand the nature of Story, and a willingness to achieve it through excellence of role play. That is all. Yet though this sounds simple enough, it is not easy. In the same way that Micheal Angelo was able to paint a masterpiece with relatively simple tools and following a standard formula of putting paint on a brush and applying it to a canvas, so too could true GameMasters (ie - Masters of the art) produce this kind of Story.   The tools available are not nearly as important as the mind of the artist.

I have created over the years a number of examples of this kind of play and have published them on my blog. There are currently two primary examples, both based on the actual play of my test games between 2009 and 2014. You can read those stories via this page: http://elthosrpg.blogspot.com/p/elthos-rpg-play-tests.html.

I won't claim that they perfectly achieve the Ideal to which I aspire, but I believe they may suffice as examples of the direction I wish to go.  Each entry is a Chapter that represents a single game session and they could be read in a ad hoc manner to get the idea, if you wish.  However, the examples are rather long (totaling over 260,000 words  for the 2011 - 2013 game) , and so I wouldn't expect to read them through in a single sitting.

What I would like to do now is discuss, and open a dialog about, the challenges involved with this objective.

One challenge is that of combining the chance involved in a dice game with the development of a coherent and satisfying plot line.

A related challenge is the 'Cat Herding' required to get Players to stay on Story Target.  In other words many players have a tendency to completely forget their character's goals or interests as they encounter things in the world, and hence may wind up chasing after every detail presented by the GM.  Learning as GM how to build a Campaign so that it leads to good story is one of the arts of the thing that is not easily explained, nor easily learned except by trial and error, and an excellent understanding and appreciation of what makes a good Story to begin with.

Another challenge is in the portrayal of a World that does not inhibit the game aspect, but at the same time effectively conveys the sense of the world, the scene and the characters involved.

I'm not going to try to tackle all of these challenges in this post, as it would turn out too long to read for many people. I'll just ruminate some, and leave it at that, and then continue posting on this topic with "- Part 1, 2, 3, etc" as new thoughts come to me.

So here I will talk a bit about the first challenge. That of Dice vs Story. It's probably the most commonly understood challenge, or at least the one I've seen most often discussed so far. It basically comes down to this: how can you create a coherent story when at any time the Heroes of the story can get themselves killed by an unlucky roll of the dice? Well, yes, this is a challenge indeed.

When reading a story it would be hard to swallow "And then Prince Valiant slipped while fighting the lone Goblin, and accidentally chopped off his own head" due to a Fumble roll that went horribly wrong. That is something that could happen in an RPG because we are dealing with the luck of the dice, and one never knows just how bad things will go when dice are involved.

So what's the answer to this? I can see a few possibilities. One, the Gamemaster might provide a buffer against such outcomes by including a "knock out" option for primary PCs. So instead of dying, they will knock themselves out. Yes, this is a mechanical modification, and a bit of a cheat in a way. But a modest one, and given it's utility for the purpose I wouldn't balk at including it as a house rule for my game.

Another answer to this problem might be to ensure that in the event a major PC does happen to get killed, that in some way it turns out to be meaningful. This might be done by causing a kind of domino effect where in the end the fact that the hero perishes does something to the remainder of the story that causes lose ends to tie up a certain way, and thus still provides a satisfying story. In other words, you wouldn't say "And then Prince Valiant accidentally chopped his own head off. The end." You would instead finesse it. "And then Prince Valiant accidentally chopped his own head off... which resulted in Queen Illana marching with her army on Castle Frostguard in order to secure her sovereignty there, and this began the War of the Ladies and resulted in the Coronation of Prince Varin as King of Palamir."  In other words, a Character death if handled with a bit of Story teller's magic can be the beginning of a new story, rather than The End.

Another similar way to handle it, at least for some kinds of Worlds, would be to not have it that Death is The End of the Character, but a significant event instead... as in one case in my world where a Character died and found themselves on the way to Hades, and had an adventure there (one that allegorically reflected what was going on in the campaign).  He was subsequently rescued from Hades as a result of a Quest on the part of the other players.  So Death of a Character from bad luck can and should be incorporated in a way that makes the bad luck something that blends in and works for the whole of the Story.  Who knows?  Perhaps the Character obtained some secret knowledge in Hades, or found a treasure there and was able to bring it back... thus turning bad luck into good luck ere the end.

Another way to handle this kind of thing would be for the GM to carefully ensure that no challenges are of sufficient difficulty to make it probable that the Player Characters will die. I'm not especially in favor of this approach because it runs counter some of my other goals as a GM, but for some it might suffice as a strategy.  Simply lower the odds of a Bad Luck outcome.

Lastly, the Players themselves might try their best to play smarter, not harder. That means playing Characters intelligently enough to ensure that they don't get themselves into situations where their odds are poor, and endeavoring to maximize their chances of success. This, however, may also be a kind of cheat, as Players should be expected to Role Play, and it is quite possible that their Characters are actually not that smart. I have a Character in the Whitewode Campaign who is only of average intelligence, and he often makes plans that are poorly thought through. And that's fine, as the player is playing true to the Character.  The results are often comical, in fact.

In any case, the issue of Dice vs. Story is one of those things that Literary RPG enthusiasts ruminate over, and there's quite a bit written about it out there if you poke around. The principal underlying the dilemma is that it seems difficult for one to play a game based on luck and still somehow derive an interesting and meaningful story out of it. I propose that it is certainly possible, and desirable.  But it takes quite a bit of skill to pull it off, on the part of the GM and the Players alike.  Yet, it is a worthwhile objective and I encourage people to try.

I'll be ruminating about this further on, most likely. But for now I wanted to jot down these thoughts. I hope you will forgive me for the rambling nature of this post.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Whitewode Township Tactical Map

Spoiler Alert! If you are one of my players you may want to avert your eyes from this post until the end of the Whitewode Campaign.


In addition to making Story / Plot Maps, I also, of course like to make Tactical Maps which in this case shows the layout of the North West corner of the town.  To the upper right is the infamous Black Raven Inn, and on the upper left is the Church of Whitewode, Library, and School House, as well as Reverend Russel's Pastoral Residence outside of which you can see the Player Character Group has assembled.

RPGs do happen to be the most creative and fun hobby in the World.  I think I could prove that in a court of law.

Here's an overhead view with the main locations investigated thus far labelled.


I would like to say that the RPG community has done a spectacular job creating gorgeous maps these past few years.  Absolutely gorgeous.  This is not one of those.  This is instead a purely functional Tactical Map intended for use as the primary focal point for combat and movement of groups during the final phase of the Whitewode Campaign.  It is even possible, frankly, that it may not be used very much at all, if it turns out the Party avoids the upcoming war with the Pechs and Gnolls, and slips away.  That said, I am considering how to embellish it with a bit more artistic flair.  I'm thinking of coloring in the rooves with tiles, and whatnot.  Any suggestions would be happily considered.  :)