Archive | January 2013

The resistant spouse

I just played an hour of Dungeon World with my wife today, sadly disrupted by a hungry baby sounding the alarm.

Before I tell you anything about how it went, I want to tell you a little about my wife’s background in gaming.

Me and my wife are enthusiastic board game players. I’ve looked for ways to introduce her properly to RPGs for a long time, and ironically she didn’t like D&D, the most board game like RPG I’ve ever played.

She understands the rules, being an avid board gamer helps that, but she never liked the complexity nor the optimizing, which I actually tried to discourage, since one-player-one-GM games really doesn’t make min-maxing meaningful anyway. “Just pick what you think is fun!”

She still hated it though. Ever since then I’ve tried to find new ways to introduce her to gaming and after a long time of encouragement (read “begging”) she finally accepted my request.

As you know, we ended up playing Dungeon World. The thing that won her over was the “conversation based play” and the simplicity of “just say what you do”. And of course the simple character generation, which we actually did in a car ride on our way home a few days ago.

The experience was… *drum-roll way longer than necessary*… nothing less than marvelous! We had a blast, and we were both a little disappointed that the game was interrupted so fast.

She played the human thief Jackie, who turned out to be quite the criminal. Wearing dark clothes and a black cape, strapped with her trusty rapier and a handy set of throwing knives, she set out to conquer the world! Or more correctly, the some tithe from a local cloister. I’ll get back to that one…

I told her not to think her character too much through, and let her reveal herself through play. She seemed to be happy not having to make an elaborate character.

The most amazing thing though was how it took off. The only thing I’d planned out for the session was the following question: “You’re picking a locked chest. What does it look like?” That single question spurned an entire story arch that I can hardly take any credit for.

I told her just to describe how she saw it in her head; what does your mental picture of a chest look like? She told me it was big and old, the lock build into it and entirely made of wood. From that followed an avalanche of pretty reasonable questions, in my own humble opinion, that immediately set the stage for her small adventure.

Do you know what’s in the chest? No? Okay, where are you? In a cloister?! I never saw that last answer coming. For all my years as a GM, none of my players ever decided that they wanted to rob a cloister as a way of starting out a campaign.

Me (M): Do you know what’s in the chest?
Her (H): No?
M: Where are you?
H: In a cloister?
M: In a cloister?! *Insert expression of pure confusion* Why are you breaking into a cloister?
H: The priest harassed me, pushing me aside because he felt I got in his way.
M: Where?
H: On the street. I followed him here.
M: So this is his room?
H: Yes, I think so.
M: So this is some kind of vengeance thing going on?
H: Yeah!
M: Where in the cloister is this?
H: Beside the mass hall?
M: Like, with an alter?
H: Yeah, I guess so.
M: Are you alone?
H: I don’t know? Am I?
M: I don’t know either, that’s why I ask. If you want somebody with you, this is your chance!
H: Oh, okay! Yeah someone is with me!

This kept on for some time. I’ll just skip to the actual narrative, in which Jackie the Thief and her friend Pox, the warrior hireling, “relieve” a cloister dedicated to the god of art and entertainment of some tithe, just to get back on an arrogant priest.

Jackie gets the lock open, but all there is in it is some old clothes. Voices are heard from outside, so she and Pox hide in the room, Jackie under the bed, and Pox behind a curtain.

The priest enters the room, along with a templar. The priest, the one who harassed Jackie, was furious. Apparently someone had been knocking of on the cloister, stealing some of their coin. The priest told the templar that he had hidden the rest of the tithe in a secret compartment in the altar.

After they left, Jackie and Pox looked out the door. There were too many people, apparently a mass was starting. They left by the window, into a back alley. They waited until the mass was over, after which they entered the cloister again, pretending to pray at the altar.

Of course, Jackie searched for the secret compartment, found it and took out a little lock box. She hid it under her cape, and they both managed to sneak out without getting caught.

They decided to go to a tavern, The Bald Rat, where they sat down in a dark corner, opening the lock box by breaking it open with some “tools that she was strapping”. Thank the gods for Adventuring Gear…

In the lock box they found 32 coins, which they split over equally. And this is where our little session ended. However, we managed through conversation to establish the following about the setting:

  • There’s four gods worshiped in the realm.
  • None were named, but one was the god of art and entertainment.
  • Jackie owes money to some shady characters.
  • There’s a cloister in the city.
  • There’s also templars! Yay!
  • We have a hangout; The Bald Rat!
  • Pox is a former mercenary and is “between jobs” at the moment.
  • Someone has been plundering the cloister!

It might not be much, but it has sparked my imagination, and I’ve got ideas for three fronts! And guess what; someone saw Jackie and Pox climb out the window…

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It’s not “your” game

Over the years I’ve encountered this problem a few times, and I just need to say something about it. I realize a lot of players and GMs will not agree, which I personally find sad, but never the less it bugs the heck out of me.

There is a saying in the role-playing community, and that is that “the GM is always right”. It comes in many minor variations, but no matter how it’s stated, I find it borderline idiotic. No offense.

The worst thing about it is that it rests upon the “brilliant” argument that it’s “the GM’s game”. I used to think that too, but I like to think that I’ve gotten wiser.

First of all, what does it mean that it’s “the GM’s game”? In my experience, it means no less than that the GM can do anything to everyone, disregard any rule and in general just be a complete douche, if it fits him. The most surprising thing is that a lot of players just accept it.

OK, so not all GM’s who think it’s “their game” behave like this, but still, is it even a fair thought? In my opinon it’s not. No, never, ever. Why? Because it comes from the notion that the GM is more “important” than the other players, because he/she has a larger workload.

This thought is bogus to me. You are not more important than anyone else, just because you are the GM. You are playing a game that is all about collaborative storytelling. Why should one person be more important than the others?

Maybe it’s just my experiences that let this get on my nerves. Every GM I have ever played under who had this viewpoint was just railroading everything, and if there’s one thing I truly hate in gaming, then it’s spending time and effort creating a character that doesn’t matter.

When you invite players to play a game, how is it not their game as well? Do you really expect a player to just sit there and accept that he will only be able to impact the game, if you “let him” do it? Why some players take this crap is beyond me. My guess is they’ve never tried anything else.

Please, for the love of God, tell me I’m not the only one bothered by this?

A campaign in the making

I have been thinking about some theoretical campaign creation stuff. I do that a lot. I almost exclusively GM when playing RPGs, and while I like being the GM, it also means that it can be difficult to get better at it. All learning and improvement is one part doing and one part observing after all. So, when I can’t observe other GMs, what do I do? I think. A lot. Too much maybe, I don’t know.

I have no illusions about my abilities as a GM. I am not perfect, far from it. I know that I have difficulty accepting when things don’t turn out the way I envisioned it. I gotta kill that demon some time soon, or else my upcoming campaign is gonna suck hard.

How do you then craft a campaign? For me, the answer is simple; you don’t. You nurture a campaign and let it have a life of its own. A pretty smart guy I know, called Nifelhein here on WordPress, has golden advice on the subject: Don’t plan, prepare!

Preparing for player input is actually easy. All it requires is to plan nothing. I’ve seen a lot of GMs complaining that their players always do “unexpected things” and how this ruins their campaign. Player actions should always have consequences in the game world. If your story doesn’t support this, then write a book.

What makes for a good story in a book seldom makes for a good story in an RPG. I think this has something to do with structure. Many books follow some sort of narrative structure, where the tension continually rises until the climax. This is hard to do in an RPG since collaborative storytelling allows the story to make exciting turns at any time.

Dungeon World embraces the loose structure approach of collaborative storytelling, so it should in general avoid these complications. It openly states that nothing should be planned out before play, questions from the GM to the players will reveal anything relevant about the setting and the story to be played. The GM can ask loaded questions if he wants to have an impact on the game world though, but even loaded questions will have unexpected answers. Players are creative like that.

I think I will try using this story structure in every game I’m ever going to GM. I’m a GM that wants to give the players what they want, and using this approach helps telling a story about the main characters. I think this is important.

Well, these ramblings got a little longer than expected. I hope they were worth your time.

Finally, a party assembled!

Finally, I have assembled a group of five players via Google+! We will play for the first time after the 9th, where my wife goes on maternity leave.

We haven’t decided anything about the campaign, but I have asked the players what they like. To summarize:

  • Exploration
  • Steampunk (oh, I liked when they mentioned this)
  • True magic is rare, not many magic users

I take it with a grain of salt though. In Dungeon World, everything about the setting should be established during play, not before play. When players present their characters, I will ask a lot of questions, which will be what establishes the core of the setting.

I will let the players present their characters one at a time. They should tell me the character’s name, class, appearance and which choices they have made on their character sheets. Then I will ask them some of the questions, if they remain unanswered after presentation:

  • *Character name*, where did you grow up?
  • Where did you get your training?
  • Do you have living relatives?
  • Do you know any NPC’s that you consider friends or allies?
  • What are their stations or professions?
  • Is your character known for something, and if so, how is his reputation?

I will of course ask more questions, but they depend on their answers and presentation, so I can’t really prepare for them. I don’t expect it to be difficult to ask questions. I will also ask the other players if they have questions about the player character in focus. This should give birth to some pretty interesting questions.

When everyone has presented their characters, I will proceed to the bonds. I will inform them that I expect them to be well acquainted, having been together for a while. I will also make sure they are friends and trust each other, I am too familiar with the pains of inter-party conflicts. I will probably also ask them what they do, as in why they are working together. To make a name for themselves? Because they are frickin’ heroes? Do they do what they must, because no one else can?

After this phase, I will ask them some questions to set the scene. I will try to ask them loaded questions to make sure that the game will start with some sort of action scenario. Where are you know? What are you doing here? What is disturbing the peace? What dangers do you know to be present? Stuff like that. I will not ask the group though. I will shift from player to player, until we are ready to play.

We have already decided who will play which classes. It was kind of a miracle that no one shared a preferred class.

  • Poul, from Denmark, will play the Ranger
  • Andrei, from Russia with love, will play the Thief
  • Sophia, grom Germany, will play the Paladin
  • Grègoire, from France, will play the Wizard
  • Tim, from Germany, will play the Fighter

This should prove interesting!

And todays reward!

I became a father last year, the 29th December, 5:30 AM. Here’s a picture of my beautiful wife and daughter!
My beautiful wife and our daughter!