Monday, June 28, 2010

And so it begins...

Our group plays on Sundays, when most of us have the time to do it. So we met today to discuss the new campaign, the switch to Star Wars and who is involved. My plan seems solid, and at least of those players that were around today, we are excited.

We spent most of the time talking shop, talking about tweaks to Saga Edition and my tendency to run rules-light systems. And we talked about the advantages to the Era of the Sith Wars, the possibilities for playing in that era versus the Expanded Universe. And the three players that are there began the character creation process, picking a species and the initial class. All in all, a productive session even if there was very little playing.

I've begun work on the campaign page on Obsidian Portal, and it mostly contains GM-only information. Having never played with a wiki before, it is proving rather tedious.

Friday, June 25, 2010

To Pre- or not to Pre-Gen

Forgive the horrible pun of the title.

I find myself subject to an internal debate at the moment. Should I make pre-gen characters for this one-shot? Or should I have the players create their own and adjust the level accordingly?

In this Star Wars adventure, the PCs are investigating a string of disappearances involving Force-users in several systems along the Outer Rim. If I make pre-gens, its ultimately to send those particular characters to an unpleasant fate. And yet, that might deter the players if I don't handle the story right.

Perhaps I doubt my own skills as a storyteller, but I'm also of the idea that allowing the players to make their own characters, to have them taking their first steps as Jedi Knights or some such would involve them more in the story. Maybe this is their first mission unescorted, they have passed their proving.

And in other, yet related, thoughts. I had originally thought that the players would be investigating a colony amidst a large asteroid field. Now though, I'm thinking that it is actually a planet, albeit a hazardous and ill-tempered one. Harsh and unforgiving, but with evidence of an old civilization. The only commerce and life that remain on the planet mine for gasses and minerals underground, living in shielded colonies. A greater potential for story, I feel.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hack'n'Slash

Sometimes playing D&D reminds me too much of playing Diablo and not enough of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. There are times that the amount of combat in 4E seems more akin to the Baldur's Gate games that were released for the consoles in early 2000. Maybe its that we've been playing in Faerun instead of a homebrew. Or maybe it was our first DM, who was new to the whole situation, and so didn't really have a story to tell in her mind. But I've noticed lately that, as a player, my game has been lacking in plot. I don't see other players really fleshing out their characters beyond stats on a page. But why do I feel like an ass for wanting character backgrounds and roleplaying?

Maybe I'm just cranky today.

Going to try to write a Star Wars one-shot for our game on Sunday. Trying to decide if I want it to be Exar Kun-era or pre-Saga.

And I'm pretty sure that I'm going to run it in 3.x, maybe with some house rules. Thinking pre-gens with a few Jedi, their pilot, maybe a droid. Something to tease a possible campaign.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Introducing a New System

When introducing a new system to your regular group, how do you go about it?

Do you spend weeks ahead of time coaching your players on rules? Do you do a print-up with the basics of the rules, and prepare yourself to answer a thousand questions during game?

And what about character creation? Do you let the players make characters on their own? Or do you walk them through it?

My plan is to write up a few one-shots, including some pre-gen characters to let the players choose from. Give them each a plot hook, some interesting skills and light background. Maybe make them a little more powerful than a starting character, just to give them an idea of what they could do eventually. Run an adventure that only lasts a session or two, maybe as an introduction to a longer campaign involving new characters.

I feel that this could help pique interest in something unfamiliar, or where the rules system drastically varies. For example, switching from a d20-based system such as 4E to the d10 Roll-and-Keep system of 7th Sea.

Mechanical Anomalies

I find myself leaning towards Rules-Light type games. One of my foremost beliefs in gaming is that if it is within the nature/sphere of the character, and it isn't too over the top, they can do it. I've never been one to haggle the rules, quoting x book or y piece of errata. The Rule of Cool, as it were.

Probably why I lean more towards a system like 7th Sea. Built around being fun, exciting and cinematic. Instead of rolling dice against a stat block, you often roll dice against each other. The roll and keep system lends itself to the gamble of the mechanics.

That being said, playing 4E often leaves me confounded. So many stats, so many different powers to keep track of, all the species and their individual quirks, be they monster or PC. And sometimes I find unnecessary complications, like the component requirement for ritual casters. Having the appropriate components, taking into account their weight and relative size inside one frail wizard's pack.

Each magic user or ritual caster is almost bound to possess several bags of holding to accommodate any quantity of ritual minutiae. And some of the minor rituals are incredibly useful, but you don't know if those specific circumstances will happen in any given game. How often does your magic user get a chance to stop in town and pick up those components, or even happen upon them growing wild?

Instead, what we've done is tie them to healing surges. My sorcerer typically stays to the back of combat, avoiding damage as only the most wily of chaos priests can do. But I still need those healing surges. And so it not only simplifies ritual use, but it makes it something precious. We can assume that the components are correct and accounted for, or the words are spoken. But it implies that it still draws from the magic users own inner reserves of Will.

I think that tweaking the rules is sometimes necessary, but only if it enhances gameplay. And that is my rather abrupt summation. Or rather, this is. I feel that in any given game, the rules should only exist to the enjoyment of the group.

What I'm Doing Now

I play in a gaming group that meets once a week. We met over the internet, all searching for a D&D4E group in San Francisco. And as it turned out, we all liked each other pretty okay. Our game has gone on for a few months, but a few of us have switched characters and we found ourselves switching up our DM.

The mantle of DM has now fallen on me. Well, not fallen. But I find myself in the mood to tell stories, and to lead that shared experience that captured me as a kid. I've been writing short stories lately, and I keep switching genres and styles. Trying on new outfits, see what works for different tales. And I want to do that with gaming too. Play with different systems, in one shots. See if something catches the rest of the groups attention.

So my plan is to write one-shots or a few miniseries for various systems. I'm looking at 4E, Fading Suns, Star Wars Saga Edition or d20, and 7th Sea. I have a few ideas, I'll roll them all together and I'll ask the group what they feel like doing.

Do I do an introduction?

I feel like some background might be required to assure what readers I may acquire in the future of my credentials to discuss these things. To be frank, I have none.

I've loved to tell stories since I was a tiny child writing crayon stories about dragon knights. I would create vast landscapes and tell stories involving all of my toys. I would make up my own Star Wars stories out of the old toys. I used to build expansive LEGO empires, with multiple cities and spaceports, with sweeping wars and intrigue, and a plucky band of heroes.

My dad got me started gaming, playing OD&D with me when I was 8. By the time I was twelve, I played in his regular Vampire: The Masquerade game. I didn't really know the depths of it, just that I got to be a street punk vampire kid in London. He was a pickpocket, I thought it was cool. He may have been loosely based on Richie Ryan from Highlander: The Series. I don't know.

I loved being a part of that shared story experience. I loved the adventures, and I don't remember ever slogging through combat the way I do in some games these days. It was about imagining the characters and the world they lived in, the stories we were involved in. I remember tracking the Prince of Chicago to an abandoned amusement park outside the town I actually grew up in. As a kid, it thrilled me to pretend that these things could actually happen in the world I knew. As I recall, that kid smuggled himself in a shipping crate to the US. I also recall him dying a rather grim death. The next character I rolled for the game was a feral, shape-shifting Gangrel that wished he was either Wolverine or a werewolf.

I played original World of Darkness. I loved Werewolf and Mage, and I was also an avid LARPer. I just can't do that anymore. I can't even get interested in World of Darkness. The stories that I've wanted to tell as I grow up have changed. I've more a mind to write gritty shorts on alien planets, or the myths of magic-wielding gunslingers in a strange, savage Old West. And the games that I want to play have changed. I game to get a break from reality, rather than escape it. I want an interesting story, sure, but with themes that compel me as an adult.