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Topics - TonyLB

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Buffy is an obvious one, as is Teenagers from Outer Space ... and I'd love to hear about recent campaigns of either of those.  

I'm also interested to hear what people have done in a not-so-obvious vein.  High School Unknown Armies?  High School D&D4e?  High School Twilight 2000?  What'cha got?

Folks have professed some inability to see why anyone would want to be audience for, much less the author of, characters who suffer ... particularly those who suffer helplessly.

Emotionally freighted terms like "misery porn" have been used.  Eh.  Whatever.

Here's what I find wonderful about characters who are horribly, terribly sad and suffering:  When they do something good and decent and strong, it's like the basic decency of human nature has been put into an amplifier and the volume turned up to eleven.  They didn't have to be such good people ... they're suffering enough that anybody would give them a pass if they couldn't see past their own troubles to the troubles of others.  So when they do worry more about others than themselves ... well, that's pretty damn cool.

If a guy tells a female friend of his that he thinks her new boyfriend is fairly nice, and he's happy for her ... eh.  That's a nice, sorta decent thing to do.

If the guy is secretly in love with the girl, and knows that she trusts him as a friend so much that a harsh (or even uncertain) word from him could sink this new relationship, but also knows that she'll be happy with this new guy, in the way that he's convinced he could never make her happy ... and all of that is why he tells her that her new boyfriend is nice, and he's happy for her ... to me that is a different act.  As small and personal as that action is, that kind of thing makes me feel happy for the strength that human beings can bring to their lives.

To me (and your mileage may certainly vary) it's very like the difference between an armed warrior facing down a mildly agitated iguana and facing down a raging elder red dragon:  The mechanics of opposing a lizard may be similar, but the scale of the risk and the courage required make all the difference in the world.

Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion / Immersion and Mechanics
« on: September 01, 2008, 03:31:24 pm »
How do people balance immersing in their characters and the fictional situation with the real-life necessity of (say) rolling dice?

Are there some die rolls that are less immersion-breaking than others?  If, for instance, you throw a die and it tells you what type of actions you can choose to undertake, does that shake you out of immersion more than saying "Okay, I'm swinging my sword at him, let's see if I hit!" and throwing a die?  I'm pretty sure (from my own experiences in immersion) that it would ...

I think my current theory is that mechanics that you can call upon to say "I'm trying this, but its success or failure is partly outside my character's control, so I'm happy to throw dice to see how those parts work out" are pretty solid for supporting immersion.  Does that sound right to the folks who take this matter deadly seriously?

#1 of 7 games played at GenCon:

I started out the weekend with a nice, small game with two other players.  I'm pretty dang sure that I know their names, but somewhere in the many names that I think I know I'm sure to have made a mistake, so I'm going to leave everyone anonymous in all my reports.  Anyway, I got a chance to pitch Misery Bubblegum, which is always fun:  Basically, it's shojo manga fun, with the romance and the uncertainty, and the tragic inaction and shy reserve.  Whee!  

We decided, mutually, that though the game isn't about bang-smash violence, we wanted to play out our story in the presence of bang-smash violence.  As such, we decided that we would play teenagers who had been trained from an early age (quite possibly from birth) to be assassins and all around covert-ops.  We made up our characters:  (1) Junoichi, our in-your face kung-fu guy.  (2) Ryu, our reserved but determined guns-guy and all around sniper and (3) my character, Reika, the girl who sits back in the panel van and coordinates the movements with her real-time hacking of security systems and electronics.

Junoichi's dream was to fight someone for fun/recreation, rather than having to kill them ... and specifically, he wanted to fight Ryu.  He blamed Reika for making that impossible, since she was always being controlling and mission oriented.  Reika's dream was to have just one date with Junoichi and do normal teenage stuff ... maybe even a kiss!  She blamed Ryu for making that impossible, since he was always there, stopping them from having any private time.  Ryu's dream was to get Reika and himself entirely out of Company control, and make a life with her.  He blamed Reika for making this impossible, because she's too uptight.

We had three scenes, a few flashbacks, and three major heartbreak moments.

First scene:  We assaulted the living hell out of a corporate office tower, which may (or may not) have actually had bad-guys in it.  Folks were charmingly unconcerned with the really questionable briefing that I handed them, and that was cool.  Junoichi immediately went off plan and got into a big fight.  Reika freaked out at the danger he was putting himself into, and started yelling in Ryu's ear to shoot pretty much everything that moved.  Junoichi told Ryu that it was under control, and Ryu held off, letting Junoichi kick ass and take risks.  When Junoichi actually fought his way clear, Reika expressed her immense relief over the headsets.  "Oh, thank God you're all right, you had me so worried," etc., etc.  Junoichi just responded "Ryu ... thank you for understanding me."  Gah!  SCREW YOU JUNOICHI!  REIKA LOVES YOU, YOU DOLT!

I always want to protect ... well ... pretty much everyone in my Misery Bubblegum games.  And yet, they all get so hurt.  WAH!

Second scene, some bad guys (probably connected) counter-attacked the van and kidnapped Reika.  Junoichi and Ryu abandoned the mission and went after her.  They had a brief radio conversation (before her earpiece got snatched) in which Ryu expressed that nothing could possibly stop them from coming to her rescue.  Ryu even snapped Junoichi back into place when the brawler was about to diverge from their plan:  "This isn't for your fun, this is for Reika."  When the pair broke into her holding cell, largely due to Ryu's efforts, Reika immediately said "Oh, Junoichi!  I knew you'd come for me!"  Gah!  SCREW YOU REIKA!  RYU LOVES YOU, YOU DOLT!

Third scene, as they watch the burning warehouse:  Reika points out that they are entirely out of Company surveillance ... that they could do anything.  They could be normal kids for a while ... hint, hint.  Junoichi looks knowingly at her and at Ryu, and is quiet.  Ryu says that they could be normal kids for much more than a while, and Reika is resistant.  But he insists, and she can't quite marshall her arguments for wanting more than nothing, but less than everything.  So she agrees that the three of them should escape ... and Junoichi refuses, saying that it's not the life he wants.  Ryu takes a confused and hurt Reika, and leaves Junoichi behind.  Gah!  SCREW YOU RYU!  JUNOICHI IS SACRIFICING HIMSELF SO THAT YOU'LL HAVE A CHANCE WITH REIKA, YOU DOLT!

Fun session.  Lots of sad, lots of sweet.  Start to finish (including explaining rules and making characters) took ~90 minutes.

Quote from: Jackalope
That's easy.  That's just a  basic Firestorm build.

You build the final character first, and you build all of his powers with usuable Only In Hero Identity.  This is one of the few builds where that limitation has real bite.

Then you give him a Follower or DNPC, depending on how useful you want him to be.  For the Firestorm build you go with Follower.  You also want to give the character Mind Link (Transdimensional, Only Usable With Follower, Only In Hero ID).

Then you give him Extra-Dimensional Travel (One Other Dimension), Transdimensional, Usable On Others, Only Usable On Follower.  This is the only power the character can use out of his hero ID.  You define the other dimension as "gesaltspace."

Finally, you give the hero this disad: May Only Assume Heroic Identity When Follower Is In Gesaltspace, Always Assumes Heroic Identity When Follower Is In Gesaltspace (Physical Limitation, Always, Major).

This is how it works:  Gesalt Member A is the hero out of his heroic identity, Gesalt Member B is the Follower.  Gesalt A transports Gesalt B to Gesaltspace and initiates the Mind Link.  This activates all of the character's powers.

Presto, Firestorm.

Doing a gesalt character like Zoltron is different.  You do that by creating a vehicle with Duplication, and give the main component a bunch of powers that only work when it's not duplicated.
Well, frankly, the points here just don't work out when you want to have more than a two-person setup (or even with a two-person setup, if you want the individual people to have powers).

Try doing that to make five people, each with an individual power set (and a color-themed costume ... Red Super, Blue Super, Pink Super, etc.) who then come together to become a Gestalt.  The rules on maximum points for Followers will kill you dead:  Each character will be a wet dish-rag on their own, and the gestalt itself will be barely more powerful.

Likewise with Duplication + Multiform ... the multiform cost breakdown is mathematically similar to that of Followers.

I wanted to buy Shadowfell.  I wanted to give my wife a bit of a break in her day.  So I took my seven-year-old son with me to buy Shadowfell.

"Can I play this game, daddy?" he asks.

It don't get much better than this.

He peered at the outside of the packaging all the way home, then gleefully opened the package once we were at a table.  We flipped past the rules summary, and he fixated on the character sheets.  "Are these all mine?"  "Yep, they're all yours."  "There's nothing written where it says Name.  Do I get to name them myself?"  "You get to name them yourself."  "AWESOME!"

He named the Fighter Pieter (pronounced "Pighter"), the Cleric Eric, the Rogue Mogue, the Wizard Mizard and the Paladin Morn.  Because, really, the Paladin is DragonBORN, and my son (no dummy) immediately shyed away from trying to find something to rhyme with "Paladin."

We don't have any authorized D&D miniatures, but we have boxes full of Lego mini-figs.  I color-copied the sheets from the quickstart book and handed them over to my son (hereinafter, "D") who pored through all of the legos on-hand in order to mimic the character portraits as closely as possible.  He's got a little human wizard with an occult-book-tile in one hand, and a burst of flame in the other.  He's got a rogue halfling with stylish hair and a jauntily held crossbow.  He spent, maybe, an hour all told getting these guys right.  I have pictures, and once I figure out the best way to post them, I'll link to them.

Then we went through the first encounter.  D immediately grasped the use of the abilities, got the distinction between At-Will, Encounter and Daily, and was fairly careful about hoarding his resources.  As he started running low on enemies, he started looking around for places to usefully apply his Encounter powers, if only to get some bang for the buck.  For those who worry that there's too many powers, and that it will flood people and take them out of their enjoyment:  A seven year old can run five characters simultaneously, without breaking even a light sweat of exertion.

After one Attack of Opportunity upon him, he grasped the consequences of AoO.  He got Mizard the heck back from the combat, and put Eric in a choke-point between oncoming forces and any access to Mizard.  He started moving his characters around the edges of any enemy contact-zone, then came in from a diagonal, often to the back corner, in order to leave more room to give other guys access to move straight up if the occasion warranted.  I mention these things because I was quite surprised to see them cropping up with no explicit instruction.  But, then, he's played Memoir '44, so he may well be importing knowledge.  There's also the kobold shifting ability, which makes it all but impossible for the PCs to take advantage of AoOs ... dunno whether I'd consider that a bug or a feature, in an introductory adventure.

D was very pleased with Minions.  I am very pleased with Minions.  The first minion to come in contact with the group got smacked with a magic missile in no time flat.  I tipped the little mini-fig over, then for good measure I pulled off the legs and head, leaving the dismembered little legos in the middle of the road.  "YAY!" D cried.

D didn't really seem to think that the kobold shifting ability was all that deadly ... which may very well be because I didn't know how to use it to best advantage.  In retrospect, I look at it and say to myself "Ah!  I see what I needed to do there ... I needed Minions combining their movement-shift and their ability-driven free shift in order to flank right the heck around someone without suffering AoO, in a way that would force PCs to shift back from the Dragon-shield warriors ... that would let them use their Dragonshield training to shift in response, and I could either (a) maintain the flank or (b) get huge mob bonusses on an unexpected target nearby in the battle."  So ... fodder for the poor, foolish adults who dare try to take me on :-)  

But in this run-through, the shifting was mostly "Oh man, give me a chance to get the heck away from these guys," only there was no central group of kobolds left for anyone to run to.  The delight D expressed as each minion was summarily dispatched made it really hard for me to conserve them.  And that's without D ever getting a good to-hit roll when he tried to use Cleave, which (with its potential to take out two minions in a single shot) I'm convinced would have become his favorite attack if it had ever happened to land.  The lack of minions meant that even once the dragonshield warriors got some open field to maneuver in, there was no way for them to make anything happen.  Don't even talk to me about the poor kobold slinger.  It's not happy to be outranged (by, specifically, magic missile) and driven out of cover.

About halfway through the battle, we turned over Mogue the rogue's character sheet.  "Sneak Attack" should NOT be on the second page of the sheet.  It is the rogue's primary ability, and the major factor that should inform his strategic use in the game.  I'm just sayin'.  D heard the phrase "Plus two d-eight" and his eyes got a misty, far-away look of delight on them.  "Two d-EIGHT," he said, with a mix between avarice and reverence.  Once that incentive was clearly in place, D immediately started using Mogue as more of a skirmisher than a line fighter.  He kept clear of unattached foes, keeping his mobility (and staying out of range of AoO zones) until he could trap some poor kobold between Pieter and Morn, at which point Mogue would drop down into a flanking box, and butcher his target.

D was very into healing abilities.  I told him how to use Surges, and he popped one on Mogue (who had taken some early ambush hits), but he was much more entranced at the idea of Eric making an attack that both damaged the enemy and healed his friends.  That ability is a winner, I think, on purely emotional grounds.

D definitely noticed the impact that AC makes.  Those Dragon-shield guys earned his respect.  Mind you, I was deliberately describing that they were using these giant scales from some sort of lizard to turn aside swords and spears, and I think that visual image caught in his brain.  Partway through the battle, he said "Oh!  Oh!  Daddy!  Those scales come from a DRAGON!  You know how I know?  Because, daddy, the name of this game is Dungeons and DRAGONS, see?  That's why they're so hard!"

All in all, we had a terrific time with it as a tactical war-game.  There was plenty of roleplaying, in the form of us bending the little lego-figs arms in order to swing swords and axes, and to bop opponents over the head.  There was some dialogue, in the form of "Gah!  Get away from me you little lizard thing!  I'll kill you!" on D's part and "GGRRHRHRR!  SSSSSS!   Glibble-glaggle ffft!  AAARGH!" on mine.  Naturally, with one person playing all five PCs, there wasn't very much in-team banter ... D isn't that schizophrenic.

D was extremely interested to get to Winterhaven (which we had to put off in order to do dinner).  He was very insistent ... "Daddy, we have to go there!  We have to!  I don't even know what those things were, and if I find out what they are then maybe I can talk to them.  And what about my guys teacher?  He went to Winterhaven, and we have to find out what happened to him.  Daddy, can we do it now, pleeeeeeeasssssse?"

That said, when I sat down with him to play Winterhaven, he immediately said "Hey?  Where's the map?"  I explained that some parts you just imagine.  "There's a little walled village," (I set up a shoe-box) "With some guards on the walls" (lego mini-figs) "and farmhouses here and there in the valley below the hill."

This did not satisfy him.  "But daddy, WHERE are the farmhouses?  I have to know.  How do I know if I can move to them, if I don't even know where they are?"

"Sweetheart, this is just a village.  You probably won't have to fight here, and if we do then I'll make up a map on the spot."

"No.  I need to know now.  It could be a monster village, daddy.  You.  Never.  Know."

I know that real PCs would never conceivably become lost, because they're mapping everything in five-foot squares, using redundant compasses and primitive gyroscopic dead reckoning systems.  But assuming I have some nut-jobs who would, for instance, strike off into the wilderness with a sketchy map (presumably with a big "X" somewhere that they're heading toward) ... how would you actually GM the possibility of the group getting grievously lost.

When you hear stories about people who really get totally and completely mislaid, it's clearly a hugely powerless experience.  Judgment gets fuzzy, and memory gets ... aheh ... elaborated.  I don't know that I'd want to get into anything that "in-the-head," but I'm not sure that my old favorite ("And ... you see a big old tree with moss in the shape of a goat", "Again?  That's the THIRD DAMN TIME we've come back to this tree!") is really satisfying.

Anyone got good hints for how to convey the sense of a group being completely lost?

I remember OD&D.  I remember AD&D.  I played so much that the patterns of the game are branded on my neurons.

I remember, for instance, treasure tables which exactingly spelled out (using percentile dice) what treasure a given monster would have ... often in complete defiance of reason.  "Yes, the mermaid's underwater lair contains (clatter, clatter) a bolt of fine silk and several casks of dried spices."

And, y'know what?  You could play the game exactly that way, without a touch of irony (if you either weren't too smart or weren't too concerned with realism) and it was a fine, fun game.  Lots of kids played it, precisely because it was a good game.  The stories that they told were broken to the point of idiocy, but nobody cared because they weren't aiming at telling stories, they were aiming at playing an imagination game.

And then a fair number of those kids started looking for something a bit more in line with the stories they were reading, and set aside the treasure tables (and other immersion-shattering rules) and used the toolset they were hugely familiar with to do something new.

I watch all these discussions about how 4e is wrong in X, Y or Z ways and I can't help thinking "So what?  Aiming at being a fun game first, and a storytelling toolkit second would just mean a return to the finest tradition of the early game."

So, those who believe that the sky is falling, please help me understand ... why is that so wrong?

In catching up on old threads, I found this little nugget buried and ignored ....

Quote from: Kyle Aaron
In macho tourism you're having an imaginary experience about something superficial; macho is never profound. So that macho tourism is a superficial imaginary experience of something superficial.

I disagree strongly with this.  Macho can be quite profound, and I find it disappointing to watch it handled in a superficial manner.  I don't truck with those folks who say that (for instance) superhero comic books can't be telling important stories while simultaneously punching people through buildings.

And, frankly, it influences what I want to see in roleplaying.  I don't want to play with someone whose idea of macho is "My dark-elf Frizz't pulls his double-chainsword-katanas and slices the demon's butt-cheeks off!  Woot!"

The macho fighter could (as one possible example) be drenched in his own blood, holding his guts in with one hand and grabbing the demon king's throat with his other, spitting defiance and crushing the unholy trachea through sheer willpower alone.  I'm totally good with that.

Macho heroes are the ones who stand up right after the villain confidently proclaims "Give up Princess ... there's nobody left to protect you now!"  They're a breed apart, and they have important stories to tell.

Escapist and formulaic?  Yeah, I'll cop to macho stories being both those things.  But I don't think they're superficial.  I think the questions of what a person stands for, where they draw strength from, and how they summon the will to endure and strike back against impossible odds are vital and visceral and profound.

I like playing such stories, just as I like watching and reading them.  Anyone else?

What games are out there that mechanically track the relationship between two characters?

What kind of "maneuvers" are there that the players can do to the relationship (get'cher mind out of the gutter, you!) and what impact do they have?  What, in short, is the nature of the tactical field?

So suppose your "transforming battle machine" was (for instance) made by Adam and Jaimie of the Mythbusters, rather than some chrome-obsessed visual arts nobs with access to handwavium energy sources and anti-inertial spinnimafrajistats.  Or pick your favorite "get things done by hook or by crook" engineers.

What would this stuff look like?  How would it function?  If you set realism aside somewhat, and just stick with the back-alley-tinkerers aesthetic, how would it be more effective than conventional weaponry?

So there's this episode of Angel, see ... and Fred (Winnifred) Birkel has this wierd-ass mystic illness that's killing her, and Wesley is working to find a cure.  With me so far?  Well, anyway, there's this wonderful short scene where he's working in the office of their supernatural-evil-law-firm and a guy comes in and basically says "Hey, I need you to stop working on the Birkel thing and do this other thing about keeping the law office running," and the nameless NPC concludes with "We can't all be expected to be working on the Birkel problem."

Isn't that a wonderful way to ask a protagonist a question?  It's "How much of the law firm's resources are you committing to this problem?" all wrapped up in a pointed (but ultimately unimportant) conflict.

Wesley nods, says "Of course," reaches into his desk drawer, pulls out a gun and casually shoots the NPC in the leg.  Then, as the guy screams and whimpers, Wesley pushes his intercom button and tells his secretary "Margeret, make sure that anyone else who thinks they shouldn't be working on Miss Birkel's case comes to talk to me personally."

Which is, as you'd expect, an answer to the question:  "We are devoting all the resources of the firm, and we're not spending any time debating that, we're just brutalizing anyone who disagrees."

There's a wonderful technique, right there, waiting to be lifted by any GM for most any game.  I use the general idea all the time now:  If you want players to follow the old writer's maxim "Show, don't tell" then when you have a question you need to put it in the form of an in-game situation to which they can respond.  That way they can show you their answer.  If you ask them what they want, out of game, they can only ever tell.  They can't show.

And that's how I like to do it.  I do tend to go through a goodly number of disposable NPCs though.  People's answers are always so HEATED :D

I used to worry ... really, genuinely worry ... as a GM when some player would come in with a concept that I was convinced they couldn't have fun with.  "I want to play a cool, level-headed, unflappable rogue in Call of Cthulhu" or "I want to play a complete pacifist in Shadowrun" or like that.

Then, somewhere along the line, I stopped worrying.  I delegated, in my mind, the task of "Making sure Joe has fun" to Joe.  Everything got sooo relaxing that I had plenty of time to have fun myself.  And, for the most part, people are creative enough to make their own fun, even with characters I wouldn't have had any faith in, personally.  So it's all good.

Something made me think about the contrast in styles today, so ... a post, and an assertion:  If you're the GM, you don't have to take on responsibility for everybody's fun, or indeed anybody's fun.  Sometimes you can just say "I'm here to do a job, and that job is to provide a good game ... if Joe can't have fun in a good game, that's Not My Problem."

Fun scene-setting and plot-twists for all occasions ... and all you have to deal with (if you even care to deal with that) is the occasional radical impossibility and paradox.  Do you guys have fun with time travel?  Do you find paradoxes a pain?  Do you find some other problems with the whole trope?

For reference:  In a time-travel game I played in, the other players confronted my (unrepentently evil) character Vanessa Faust with a younger, teenaged version of herself.  Their stated hope was that the younger Vanessa, fresh and unscarred by life, would give the older Vanessa some cause to reflect on her wicked ways.

Older Vanessa pulled out a great big zap gun and vaporized her younger self.  "Are we done ^$*@ing about here?  I have things to do."

That was fun :D

Starships and starship combat provide a particular kind of challenge for a group RPG:  Many rules systems (realistically!) put down the entirety of the exchange to the skills and tactics of one character ... which usually means one player.  If you want to do a half hour long combat, that means N-1 of your players sits out the mechanics for that long.

Same-same for cyberpunk netrunning, though (because the other-world aspect prevents people from even participating with quips and jibes) often even worse.

A solution that I've seen to this is to have starship combat adjudicated as a team event, rather than a solo one ... more the USS Enterprise (with navigation, weapons, engine room, sensors, each on a different character's skills and tactics) than the Milennium Falcon.

Seems like a solid design to me, and also one that could conceivably work for netrunning.  Gibson, in Neuromancer, very rarely has a Case acting alone.  Usually, he's acting in concert with at least one other team-mate (often more) to do his part in a larger plan.  His rolls cascade into better chances on Molly's attack or stealth rolls, and vice versa, etc., etc.

This seems more common in sci-fi (with its emphasis on alternate modes of adventure) than in fantasy.  Does a sci-fi system have more to gain from such a group-combat module than others?

What kind of experience have people had with these kinds of systems?  Like 'em?  Hate 'em?

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