June 9, 2015

5E Background - Gambler


The turn of the card or the roll of the dice have a clarion call to your soul. However, it goes beyond just games of chance, some like the thrill of not knowing how it will all end. Taking an action that leads into a situation that requires wit and will to get out of, that is what keeps life fresh and exciting.

Skill Proficiencies: Deception, Insight
Tool Proficiencies: Two types of gaming sets
Equipment: A set of common clothes, a set of bone dice, a deck of cards, a belt pouch containing 1-100gp

Feature: Ready Money
Always ready to make a wager, you can turn this into a way to maintain your basic needs. Anytime you are in a place where you could place a bet with a stranger (innkeeper, tavern patron, blacksmith, merchant, etc.) it is considered that you have food and lodging for the day. It is assumed that while you may lose some, you are a good enough gambler to come out slightly ahead.

Suggested Characteristics
Contrary to what others may think, gambling is as much about knowing the people you are with rather than random luck. Knowing how a person will react is the key to being successful in any type of situation, whether they are your companions or an enemy.

Personality Trait
1. I like to study the eyes of everyone I meet.
2. Many decisions I make by flipping a coin.
3. In every conversation I try to let the other person speak first.
4. When I am focused on something I tend to blur out everything else.
5. I like to use gambling metaphors a lot.
6. I dislike people who lie to me outside of a game.
7. I’ve learned that being polite will go a long way.
8. I like to pretend I am dumber than I really am.

1. Nonchalant. We all have to deal with the hand we are given. (Neutral)
2. Charity. I don’t keep all my winnings for myself. (Good)
3. Risk-taker. I love living not knowing what is coming next. (Chaotic)
4. Ethical. Even games of chance have rules. It’s not a challenge unless I can win and still play within those rules. (Lawful)
5. Cheater. It is easier to fleece the marks if I cheat. (Evil)
6. Lazy. Working for a living is for chumps. (Any)

1. I like to keep back-up stashes scattered around in case I ever run into a string of bad luck.
2. I still keep the first coin I won in a game. It is my good luck charm.
3. I won a deed to some land a while ago. I haven’t had time to go check it out yet.
4. Most of my winnings go to the orphanage I was raised in.
5. I once lost a big game to another gambler. I want a rematch if I ever see him again.
6. I have groupies. I have a reputation of being a respected gambler and people like to watch me play.

1. I do not like to make eye contact or be expressive with my body language. Most people find this very disconcerting.
2. I assume everyone is hiding something from me.
3. Right now I’m in the middle of a string of bad luck. Not sure how to get out of it.
4. If someone tells me something can’t be done, I’ll give it a try.
5. If I have money in my pocket, I either have to spend it or gamble it.
6. I once won a big game against some unsavory types. They want their money back.

May 26, 2015

Baseline of Narrative Systems

Part of the "new" wave of rpg game systems are ones that incorporate narrative and role-playing aspects. Even 5E has taken some of the concepts and interjected Backgrounds, Inspiration and similar ideas that try to entice the players to role-play. A game like FFG's Star Wars rpgs tie narrative directly into character actions where every "success" and "failure" is dictated by the die roll and has a narrative consequence. For instance, a "success" roll comes with mandatory exposition and narrative consequence. It takes the "yes, you hit, but ..." to a new level where the "but..." is mandatory.

All this leads to my real question -  How much narrative interpretation of die rolls is mandatory? or to further refine the question - What is the baseline of narrative interpretation?

Gamers are made up of all types. Some like the heavy narrative rpgs and styles. They can turn a shopping trip into hours of fun. They can let everyone know the angst of killing a goblin. And then there are players who just want to "I rolled a 21 so I hit and did 8 points of damage." Some groups tend to come together because they have similar play styles ("We only like emo vampire games"), but some are just friends outside of gaming and bring a like for a variety of play styles.

What type of system can best satisfy a wide base of styles? The obvious answer is the one that is most minimalistic, the one that starts basic but still allows for more if that is what is needed/wanted. A system that only requires die rolls with simple interpretations ("I hit for x damage" or "I miss, move on to the next person") is that baseline. Sure a simple system with no required narrative interpretations can be lacking for some players. However, narration can happen in such a system where the player, or DM, simply adds it themselves.

Conversely, a system that requires narration as a result of every die roll requires that players who do not like narrative styles...be narrative. This will be a turn-off for the system for those people.

So, I say, keep a system simple and add in options for narrative interpretations of die rolls - do not make them mandatory.

May 12, 2015

Fifth Edition Foes - Monsters by Environment

I am really liking the Fifth Edition Foes from Necromancer Games. While writing my own adventures I find myself continually going to it to fill out the monsters for my encounters. However, one of the complaints has been that there is no table listing the monsters by environment. This past weekend I sat down and wrote up an excel spreadsheet listing all the monsters by terrain/environment. Here is a link to the spreadsheet. There are tabs at the bottom that list them by terrain.

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.