April 14, 2015

Alignment Does Not Create Actions

I'm sure a lot of us seen this happen at some point..."I kill the homeless beggar!"..."Why?"..."Because my alignment is evil." However, such a player has the concept of alignments reversed. And this might be part of why some people dislike the concept of alignments in the first place (or at least part of the reason).

Alignment does not cause a person to commit an act, instead acts define the alignment. 

If a character with an evil alignment kills a homeless beggar it is not because they are evil, it is because they are homicidal. The act of killing randomly for the enjoyment of it is what tags a person as having an alignment of evil.

Some players see an alignment as a blanket that covers everything that could possibly fall within that description. However, truly evil people do not commit every type of evil act "just to be evil". There is no record of Hitler kicking puppies for the fun of it.

So, alignment is better expressed as a result of actions taken by a character, even potential actions. It seems like alignment needs to better defined, or at least more narrowly. For example, an evil character might be "homicidal" or "likes to inflict pain" or a "kleptomaniac". A good alignment might be defined as "caring" or "unselfish". Neutral might be "callous" or "unbiased". Instead of giving a character a blanket alignment, narrow it down to what they actually have a predilection for doing.

And that is part of the problem with alignments. They can be a straight-jacket. For instance, an evil aligned character might commit genocide, but is kind to puppies. Having an evil alignment does not automatically mean the character is evil 24/7 all the time in every situation. People, and well-done characters, are more nuanced than that. This is easier to accomplish if an evil aligned character has defined areas where/when they are evil, with the assumption that outside of those areas they are "normal".

April 7, 2015

I Hate the Game I'm Running, But My Players Won't Let Me Stop

I hate the game I am running. Right now I am running Shadowrun (third edition). I love Shadowrun but I hate being the GM. I can never figure out that delicate balance between challenging the players and letting them walk all over the opposition. Part of me realizes that Shadowrun is a munch-kin game designed for min-maxers who want nothing more than to stomp all over everything in their way. I realize that but still try hard to challenge them. I have been able to instill a fear of the unknown, but they still walk all over everything they actually meet.

But then we have nights where the mage goes unconscious in one hit (his own fault for not using a Karma point to re-roll all of his failures) and at the end of the night he says he had a horrible time being out of the action for the entire night. I calculated the odds and figured he could easily survive the hit. My bad. But it is frustrating.

And then we have last week. They are investigating a series of murders and at the end of the night they realized they hadn't rolled a single die. They ended the night by saying they had a great time.

And the week before. This time one of the players mentioned he really appreciated the fact that we've been playing Shadowrun long enough that he could actually upgrade some cyberware for his character. He said this is something he has never been able to do before in a Shadworun game. This is coming from someone who has played in multiple Shadowrun games since it was first released in 1989. All of his other campaigns ended before they could gain enough nuyen/karma to reach their goals (and I've actually been rather stingy with nuyen/karma - mostly because I forget to hand them out).

So, I guess for now I'm sticking it out. I have not yet reached the table-tossing level of running Shadowrun. I may not like it, but my players do...and the players are the important ones.

April 3, 2015

5E Friday - That New Game Smell

5E still has that new game shine. People are still excited about it. Every new release is an event and something to be talked about. People seem to be eager for new material (races, spells, monsters, adventures, etc).

Part of the reason for this is that there really isn't a lot of material out there right now. Official WotC products are few considering the game has been out for 7 months. 3rd party products are also scare as everyone waits to see what type of OGL is released. Scarcity is heightening the desire for more product. This has helped sustain the initial infatuation/love with 5E. (After all, they can't mess up what they already have if they don't release anything new.)

However, at some point this scarcity will come back to bite them. People will begin to lose interest as there is nothing to get excited about. Take a look at Pathfinder and their Adventure Paths, which is their primary business model. Their Adventure Paths come out once a month and a new one starts every 6 months. People can get excited about a specific Adventure Path and just as that it starts to wane, a new one comes along to get excited about. Along the way, people keep buying at least one product a month (more if they like all the accessories for that Path).

WotC needs to keep people excited about 5E. Right now it is still strong, but for how much longer?

March 31, 2015

RPG Blog Alliance Gone - What Now?

I am sad to see the end of the RPG Blog Alliance. There are some really good reads that show up here/there. I liked its ease of use and quick load. However, I am still part of RPG Bloggers. If you are looking for a blog feed I recommend it. I hope see a bunch of blogs from Alliance show up there so I can keep seeing them.

March 24, 2015

Failure from Success

Players hate to fail. They hate it even more if it seems like they were set up to fail. And yet, sometimes a DM will write an adventure when they are supposed to fail (get captured, let the bad guy get away, etc). However, there is a way for the players to fail without it feeling like a failure...and that is to give them a rousing success that includes the failure going off as a side effect.

As an example, my current Shadowrun campaign started with the player characters being hired to kidnap a mage and hold him for 24 hours. The run went perfectly and they all got paid. A rousing success! However...they soon found out that the victim was working as magical protection for the local mob boss who was killed during that 24 period...and that his heir was a woman who just happened to be dating one of the runners. The fallout is ongoing for that "success".

I could have used a heavy handed tactic to force the players into their predicament. After all, I needed the PCs to be in their current situation for the story and plot to advance. However, I "forced" them into it with a success, not a failure on their part. This concept can be used in almost any plot angle...

-The plot calls for the princess to die so a war can start between two nations. Instead of having the PCs fail to save the princess before she is killed, the PCs can rescue her but in the process they discover she has been a doppelganger working for the enemy nation for years. The PCs still succeed but the "failure" of their discovery starts a war nevertheless.

-The PCs attack an orc stronghold in a mountain pass that has been plaguing a region....only to discover that with the orcs dead the pass is now open to an invading army of barbarians. Instead of having the PCs fail to keep the mountain pass closed to the barbarians, they succeed by killing the orcs...with the end result being what the DM wanted - an invasion campaign.

It's okay to sometimes force something to happen to keep a plotline going, but it doesn't have to require the player characters failing at something to accomplish it.