Tuesday, August 29, 2006

let me give you some background here...

So, I am playing in an Exalted game that meets every other week or so. It started up relatively recently. I don't really have the time for it, but I wanted to play in the game. So far, I've been having fun.

I have one strange problem with the game. The GM wants me to submit a character history. I find this to be a strange problem because this is usually the sort of thing I do automatically. I like to write down notes on characters in order to help myself flesh them out more fully. I've been finding myself increasingly resistant to this, though.

I think that this comes from my LARP (Live Action Role-Playing) days. I was (once upon a time) very involved with vampire LARPing (I was a clan coordinator for One World By Night for awhile, if that tells you anything). In LARPs, when you bring in a new character, it is entering into a very fleshed out social world. The sorts of backgrounds players wrote for their characters (which unsurprisingly tended toward ever-increasing badassedness) rarely meshed well with that world unless the player was familiar with it. Moreover, when the GM : Player ratio is about 1 : 20 (at best), little of your character's background is going to make it into the plot.

This never stopped people from trying - nor did it stop GM-types from recommending (or requiring) detailed backgrounds. I was as guilty of this as anyone, though I did make an effort to at least draw plot ideas from PC backgrounds.

In the five years or so since I've been in a vampire LARP, I've written a number of character backgrounds, but they've become shorter and shorter as time has gone on- now they rarely do more than sketch out major life events and relationships. They rarely detail anything that would count as an adventure that would have occurred before the game's beginning. I've begun to see the fundamental futility of the PC background. A character isn't the person described in a document written before play begins; a character is the person who is described through play.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Theory

Okay. Yesterday, RPGpundit declared (among other things):
D&D is the model of what most people define as an RPG, and therefore also the model for a successfully-designed RPG. It can be improved upon or changed, but any theory that suggests that D&D in any of its versions was an example of a "bad" RPG is by definition in violation of the Landmarks.
He's made this claim (and stronger variations on it) before, and a lot of people seem to accept it as gospel. To be sure, there's an element of truth here. RPG theories don't work if they indicate that D&D isn't fun. It is. A lot of people enjoy it.

On the other hand, there is a fallacy inheren in this. The fact that D&D is the model of what most people define as an RPG in no way entails that it must be the model for every successfully-designed RPG. There is no logical connection there at all. Moreover, the fact that D&D is the model of what most people define as an RPG does not even entail that it is a particularly well-designed RPG (though it may be).

What does it mean to be popularly perceived as the model RPG? It means that you have the largest market share around. Let's replace D&D and RPG with some other things:
Coca-Cola is the model of what most people define as a soft drink, and therefore also the model for a successfully-designed soft drink. It can be improved upon or changed, but any theory that suggests that Coca-Cola in any of its versions was an example of a "bad" soft drink is by definition in violation of the Landmarks.
McDonalds is the model of what most people define as fast food, and therefore also the model for successfully-designed fast food. It can be improved upon or changed, but any theory that suggests that McDonalds in any of its versions was an example of "bad" fast food is by definition in violation of the Landmarks.
George W. Bush is the model of what most people define as the U.S. President, and therefore also the model for a successful U.S. President. It can be improved upon or changed, but any theory that suggests that Bush in any of his versions was an example of a "bad" U.S. President is by definition in violation of the Landmarks.

Now, I'm not saying that D&D is bad or anything. I'm just saying that this argument is invalid. A graduate education in philosophy has made this sort of thing into a bit of a pet peeve.

Another picture

Here is a picture of a Reaver Daiklave that I made. Originally, I made a cardboard daiklave on a whim for Nick (pictured holding this one - he runs the long-running Exalted game I play in) because he was going to go to a costume party. In part, I made it because I was curious to find out just how large and unweildy these things would be.

The cardboard was less than satisfactory, however, and I soon began it obsessive project that is pictured below. You can't really see the grip on this thing, but it is over a foot long. The blade is over 4 feet long. It's made of spraypainted (and hand-carved) hardboard.

The whole thing is ridiculously heavy and would be near-impossible to actually use - which is unsurprising, really.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Impromptu D&D party

The discovery of gummi eyeballs at the dollar store prompted my roommate to make a beholder cake:



Of course, at my house, we believe that anything doing is worth doing in excess.

So originated the rust monster:





and the baby grell:




...and, of course, no party would be complete without the Gelatinous Cubes:



(I also made a red and green slaad.)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sleep is for the dead

Last night, we played Don't Rest Your Head, an indie game I picked up after reading a number of glowing reviews.

While the game isn't perfect, we had a lot of fun. Don't Rest Your Head is like a cross between Neverwhere and Dark City... or if The Phantom Tollbooth had been made with the sensibilities of Jacob's Ladder. Characters are bizarrely powerful insomniacs. The setting is dark, surreal, and full of symbolism. The mechanics, in which you get your strength from a combination of acquiring exhaustion and courting madness, reinforce the atmosphere well.

The game was centered around finals week. My character was Timothy "Moth" Parker. His father and his grandfather had been watchmakers, and he had a bit of an obsessive need to be on time to things. With late nights studying and early morning exams that he was terrified of sleeping through, he hadn't actually slept in a week. Heading into his last exam, he didn't recognize anyone from his class. He checked the schedule and found that it was for the next year's finals. He checked the school paper and the date matched the finals schedule. He'd somehow skipped ahead a year in time. Eventually, after travelling into the surrealistic Mad City with some other insomniacs, he discovered that he had that year saved up... and could parcel it out in small increments, effectively stopping time for everyone but himself.

Anyway, we had a lot of fun. The mechanics flowed fairly smoothly, despite us needing to pass dice around. We had a few too many (5) players, though. I think the game would work better with a small group and might function really well for a one-on-one session/campaign.

The mechanics, now that I think about it, are similar in idea to something I'd thought of a couple of years ago. In DRYH, you have three die pools: Discipline, Exhaustion, and Madness. These are rolled against the GM's Pain pool. Discipline is usually three dice. Exhaustion and Madness range from 0 to 6 dice each. The Pain can get up to 15 dice, but is typically 4-7 or so. The player and the GM each roll their pool and compare total successes (1-3 on a 6-sided die). Whoever wins is successful in the conflict. Then the four pools (Discipline, Exhaustion, Madness, and Pain) are looked at and whichever has the highest number showing Dominates the conflict. Dominating a conflict generally colors how it turns out. Some effects of this: if you want to succeed in a conflict, you can add more Exhaustion and/or Madness to your pool. You'll probably win the conflict if you do, but you run the risk of having Exhaustion or Madness dominate - and those are pretty much as bad as they sound.

Once upon a time, I was considering a game mechanic (for a heroic fantasy-type game) that used Self-Determination and Fate in similar sorts of ways - the idea was that you were likely to succeed, but the important question was how you succeeded - whether you were a slave of fate or whether you forged your own destiny.

In any case, some pros and cons of the game:

Pros:
  • Great atmosphere supported by the mechanics.
  • Really fast character creation
  • Fast-flowing gameplay
  • Potentially really good for one-on-one play (which is kind of rare)
Cons:
  • A bit clumsy with large groups. Mechanics for multiple protagonists in a conflict don't seem to work too well (though that might have been due to our misunderstanding of them).
  • I worry about how it would stand up to an extended campaign - it seems better suited to short story arcs insofar as characters really can't go to sleep (well... they can... but it is a bad idea).