September 17th, 2010

Voodoo Dolly

Sacrificing the Self for the Campaign

Talking about a Star Wars (SAGA) campaign with a friend of mine, and discussing what the game is 'about'.  I'm interested in exploring the setting from a diplomatic / political viewpoint -- I made a character who is an ambassador from a race that sealed itself off for a few generations and is just now checking to see if it wants to interact with the rest of the galaxy.  The campaign I was in, I was looking forward to the 'strange kid learning about the world around him and trying to act as ambassador and voice for his people'.

I think the academy he was in blew up in the second session, killing his teacher, his fellow students, and leaving him lost with three other people.  From the look of things, it went from 'potential political / diplomatic' sort of character to 'way over his head, struggling to survive'.  I have a feeling, by the end of everything, he'd have gone back to his people and said 'yeah, you don't want to go out there' -- but the campaign didn't get that far.

Mind you, this wasn't the GM's fault, par se.  They had an idea in mind for the game, and I expect it was a very good one... the game crashed mostly because three of the players just couldn't make it, and interest from them was low (online game, conflicting schedules, etc).  I wanted the game to go on because one of the only friends my character had was captured by the Sith, and he wanted her rescued and the Sith brought to justice.

It might not have been the kind of campaign I was looking for, but I was wanted to see it through.


Speaking of missed opportunities, the PathFinder game I'm currently in (tabletop) showed a very interesteding problem.  From Level 1, the characters got pulled into a world-saving plot to prevent a dark god from coming in and eating the entire cosm.  I'd made a professional knife fighter -- someone you hire to duel in your place if you're called out or want to have someone duelled for honour.  My wife made an inventor sort who makes gadgets and devices.

By the time the story arc was done, we'd gone to three cities, visited a faerie market, checked out a tomb full of undead, rode a skyship to the arctic, survived a war, gone to the moon, and taken down an Illithid city.

I didn't get a single duel, and my wife's character didn't get to invent a single gadget.

Now, we're level 11.  I'm back in my home city... and if I get hired for a duel, my opponent is going to explode.  Where's the fun in that?  My wife, on the other hand, is now making magic items hand-over-fist due to being in the artificer class.  (Though I'd have to say my wife's not having great fun with this -- she hates d20 mechanics, so I'm doing most of the game work for her, and she's just playing the character).

I feel this is a serious missed opportunity.  Characters built with a specific theme and concept in mind, and not having the chance to ever explore those themes.  And by the time you get your chance to catch your breath, the major plot is over, and any ideas you hade kind of pale, since you just saved everyone.  How do you go back to just being a 'street fighter' or a 'gadgeteer' or anything like that?

That's why, I think, for those 'world saving' plots, as a GM, you really need to slow things down, give the players a chance to pursue their own interests and explore the avenues of their characters that they want to explore, rather than what you want to explore.  Give them a chance to be the characters they see themselves as, and when they hit level 5-7, then start moving the metaplot in, and start the ball really moving when they hit level 10 or so.

That way, when the plot's over ... they've had a chance to progress their own personal lives on top of the plot, and can feel like they've accomplished their own personal goals.


My wife was running 7th Sea once.  I made a Vodacce whose goal was to face down Giovanni Villanova and take over Vodacce.  By the time the game wrapped up (due to conflicting schedules) he'd gotten married to his Fate Witch companion, had a reasonably sized estate, and was about ready to make his first move.  I was disappointed that the campaign had to close, because I felt this close to getting ready for my plans.  It would have been nice to see things through, but we'd spent so much time wandering the other nations I didn't get the chance to really see Vodacce.  Still, I feel I got further there than in any other campaign I'd ever been in.

A shame GMing stresses my wife out -- she's given up on it.  :\
  • Current Mood
    contemplative contemplative

Mainstream and Indie Games

(These are articles I wrote for my blog, but I thought you guys might find them interesting.)

Let's say you and your friends want to try this roleplaying thing you've heard about. You're not in the mood for any particular genre- you'll play anything as long as it's good. You've even decided to see what the world of games has to offer outside of Dungeons and Dragons. So, what do you want and where should you look?

One important distinction in the world of RPGs is that of mainstream versus indie games. Mainstream games- Dungeons and Dragons, World of Darkness, GURPS- are published by large companies, have huge amounts of supplementary books, and are often available at good bookstores. Indie games- Dogs in the Vineyard, Unknown Armies, My Life With Master- are put out by smaller companies, sometimes consisting of only one or two people, and generally have to be purchased online or at a game-specific store.

As you'd expect, there are good things and bad things about both types of game. Let's take a look.

Part 1
Part 2
Sorceror's Apprentice

I've been meaning to post this for a while now...

A few weekends ago I dropped in at the local big gaming store, and went browsing through the secondhand section (something I do every time I go there). Among the items there, I found a copy of d20 Modern at a reasonable price, so I grabbed it. I've been curious about it for a while. When I first started playing RPGs (back in nineteen mumbleteepeg), Top Secret was the second game I got after D&D, and I thought d20 Modern would mostly follow that model. I knew there were chapters dealing with magic in a modern setting, but I thought that the main focus of the book would be on running a campaign where magic, psionics, and other supernatural powers simply don't exist.

As it turns out, you can indeed use it to run such a game. However... the three suggested campaign scenarios all involve magic or psychic powers. And when I picked up the official setting a week later, I saw that it includes various non-human races from D&D, magic items, new spells and magic feats, and so on. It's clearly set up to be D&D in the modern world, or WotC's answer to Shadowrun. And a quick look at the supplements available for the game line indicates that this is a recurring theme: while there is non-supernatural material, each supplement seems to include at least one chapter addressing supernatural monsters and/or powers. It's clearly a major element of the game as written.

I find this disappointing. It's fine if that's what you want to play, but I was really hoping for a game set in the modern world, without any supernatural elements - none whatsoever. No vampires, trolls, psychics, superpowers, mutants, or other supernatural weirdness.

I understand that part of the appeal of gaming is having a chance to experience a world different from our own, and playing a character with unusual abilities and powers is fun. Recently, though, I've been feeling more and more that it's too easy for such things to get in the way of a good game rather than support it - it's too easy to use these gimmicks as a substitute for creating settings and plots that are interesting in their own right.

I can think of an awful lot of popular action/adventure shows on TV that didn't have even a hint of supernatural elements (or at least not until the fourth or fifth season, when the writers had clearly run out of decent ideas). Sure, they often still stretched credibility by introducing non-existent organizations, implausible situations and plots, and/or questionable science/technology: but they basically obeyed the laws of the universe as we know it. So it seems to me that there's no reason why you can't run a good campaign on such a premise.

And yet it seems to me that there are very few games out there that do (I've heard that Spycraft may be a good fit for this, but that has yet to show up on the secondhand shelf...). Why aren't there more games that use a non-supernatural modern setting?

Has anybody out there run or played in a completely non-supernatural game? How did it go?
  • Current Mood
    frustrated frustrated