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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: David C on February 04, 2009, 09:34:16 PM



Title: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: David C on February 04, 2009, 09:34:16 PM
One of the guys I game with wants to start a new campaign of D&D.  Partly this is at the group's behest, because, well let me explain how the game has been going.

The game is set in Ptolus by Monte Cook.  We've been using the modules made for Ptolus, and have been playing bi-monthly for 2 years.  We're level 13 and barely scraping by as the GM prefers "low level, low magic" settings.  I've been playing a sub-optimized wizard that only focuses on buffing the party, which I'm sure the the GM, Nick, still thinks is vastly OP.  Unfortunately, we get tussled nearly every combat, anyways, partly because our magic equipment is about 33% of "The intended level."  The game is basically what I'd consider "Dungeon Crawling at it's finest."  Luckily, it is broken up by some otherwise incredibly portrayed NPCs.  There's an implied, but incredibly lame story that's immutable (as part of the modules.)

Well, a lot of the players I know would actually prefer to not dungeon crawl (imagine that?)  And they see this new campaign as some sort of magic bullet to get out of the Ptolus spire. I'm either more cynical or more wise, but believe we'll be getting more of the same (with combat boring characters to boot. Go 1st level D&D, wooo!)

Also, Nick in his most recent E-Mail, has said, "As I'm giving massive bonuses in feats and hit-points/healing, I hope you can all focus more attention on the character than on the mechanics and just have fun."  Which really makes me think that not even Nick wants to run dungeon crawls and is trying to capture more of those moments we *really* play for. 

I come here asking for advice.  Is there something I can do to enlighten Nick?


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: Callan S. on February 04, 2009, 10:37:21 PM
Hi David,

Could you give an example of gameplay you have enjoyed? In any campaign or under any system. Even if it was years back?


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: Wordman on February 05, 2009, 09:10:16 AM
Without knowing more about your group, I'd like to suggest that, perhaps, the problem may be something more intrinsic to the system you are using, rather than the GM or whatever else. That is, your description seems to be saying "we dislike a lot of the things about playing D&D, so we want to start a new D&D game to solve them".

If the question is what can you do to "enlighten Nick", I'd suggest the following: convince the group to play a single session of a different game. Run it if you have to. From the sound of it, Spirit of the Century would match the desires of your players pretty well. (It also is good for quick-learning, one-shot, style games.)

In the session following the one in which you played this new game, talk about what you liked and didn't about the new game. Then talk about how you could pull some of what you liked about it into a D&D game, if, in fact, you are still then fixated on playing D&D.

One of the forces at work here will be that everyone can essentially use the other game to voice what they want and like without it sounding like an attack on Nick.


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: David C on February 05, 2009, 02:39:47 PM
Hi David,

Could you give an example of gameplay you have enjoyed? In any campaign or under any system. Even if it was years back?

Well Callan, I've put up play reports before, but here's the short of it.  I can enjoy tactical combat, but have a low limit for how much I enjoy.  For me to get really involved and be entertained, I need some good character development and interaction.  Talking to different people in the group, I think this is what they're looking for, too.  This kind of sounds like what Nick wants too (Come up with some really good characters!)  But it might be he wants Sim play with us roleplaying our dwarves in scottish accents and stuff... I don't know for sure.

Wordman, you have good advice.  The trick is seeing if I can actually convince them to play a one off or not.  Nick has a very strong personality, and I don't.  There's also some crazy group dynamics going on.  In truth, I might not even play in the group anymore, except the fact of the matter is they're all my friends and sometimes being a friend means putting up with quirky RPG sessions, haha. 

I think that part of what's going on here is that Nick doesn't understand or realize that there's other types of challenges he can throw at us. Maybe getting him to read Spirit of the Century would help? I don't know, I've read bits of it, but haven't had a chance to read it like I want to.


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: Abkajud on February 05, 2009, 04:06:21 PM
David,

I feel your pain. It burns. One thing that really, really sucks about having discovered such cool, awesome RPGs, like the ones from Forge designers, is that most of my friends who play any RPGs at all actually enjoy playing D&D.
It actually does feel painful to play D&D - I was mulling over a recent play-by-Skype session that I did with a friend (on the basis that the Order of the Stick comic got him all reminiscent) and I realized just how frustrating it is to have pretty much zero connections between my character and the world he lived in, at least as defined through the rules themselves.
Of course, if you have any kind of clear CA in your head, D&D is probably going to disappoint.
Ba-lech. Still, it's awesome to get to a place where you realize what it is that's missing, and can start doing something about it.

/rant


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: Callan S. on February 05, 2009, 04:51:12 PM
David, I still don't really know what tactical combat is, or what good character development and interaction is. Links to your old accounts are perfect, perhaps with a note as to the good bit?


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: Rustin on February 05, 2009, 08:57:08 PM
David, let me offer a roleplay theory based on Dwight Swain’s (http://books.google.com/books?id=vfuvoxup8WcC&printsec=frontcover&dq=swain&client=firefox-a#PPA14,M2) notions of the Objective and Feeling Minds.

The objectivist goes for the analytical.  They want facts.  They distrust feelings. This creates mechanical game play.  This mechanical play relies on recorded past performance, and the expectation that future play should be predicted by those past performances. 

When an objectivist player tries to be creative, they mistakenly go for the facts, they want histories, they want source material.  From this they attempt to deduce rules, and then they try to write pre-established stories that fit to those rules. 

What they really needed was Feeling. A feeling is not a fact, but a driving force and potential.  Feelings are infinitely unpredictable, and because of this they can fuel stories.  It is what makes a story pop.

Maybe ask your GM, if he games so he can answer the many “what if” questions spawned by  feelings, or does he think the perfect story is hidden with those game supplements and histories, and given enough analysis he can make a story out of things that have already happened, already written and already played?


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: David C on February 05, 2009, 10:15:18 PM
Callan, good tactical combat is basically what D&D tries to do well.  You have some monsters that have some abilities and you have some players that have some abilities.  The players try to work as a team so that their abilities can counter and trump the abilities of the monsters. This isn't very important, though.  As I've said, I can enjoy 1 or 2 of these, but a whole day of doing them? Not so much.   

From my play history, here's a part that SoundMasterJ particularly thought enlightening.

Quote
Later, after I went to a different college, I only gamed during summer breaks.  We played D&D, but never again did we actually "follow the rules", nor was I the GM. When we got into combat, we'd often solve it in a creative manner.  For example, at one point we found ourselves in Skullport with a dragon bearing down on us.  The GM had placed a "ticket machine" in the area that accepted any object as currency.  I ended up casting Wall of Force in a sphere, enclosing the dragon (without a save, mind you) and then Wall of Iron with half the wall resting on the ground and the other half ontop of the sphere, which forced it to roll into the ticket machine, dragon and all. If you know the rules of D&D, you can understand what a violation this was...

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26963.msg256324#msg256324 (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26963.msg256324#msg256324)

For me, what I mean by "good character development and interaction" is when you see a character take on a life of its own.  For example, one time (with a different group) we were playing a game where our characters were "evil."  At one point, my character decided to he needed to kill a woman because she knew too much!  This woman was an NPC that I personally really liked, but I knew it was the decision my character would make.  She had power over him, and he had his goals.  Later on, he mourned the loss, and I think he actually would have stopped his evil crusade, but we never played much further.  As far as my limited understanding goes, this is Narr play. 

Abkajud
Yeah, it's such a tough situation to be in.  I've had friends that I basically don't talk to anymore because I don't game with them anymore.  Yeah, occasionally we'll get together and see a movie or something, but it's like they've been downgraded and we both know it.  I wish you the best of luck!

Rustin
Your post is so uncanny.  Logic and Objectiveness are cornerstones of Nick's personality.  At one point, he tried to argue with me that I was a fool for being religious, because of the Occam's Razor argument.  Basically, he didn't get my reasons for being spiritual, it was simply alien.   Anyways, to get to what you were saying... I'm finding it kind of incoherent, can you rephrase it?

Quote
Maybe ask your GM, if he games so he can answer the many “what if” questions spawned by  feelings, or does he think the perfect story is hidden with those game supplements and histories, and given enough analysis he can make a story out of things that have already happened, already written and already played?


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: Patrice on February 06, 2009, 04:50:10 AM
From what I read it sounds like you're a bit over-reacting. Sounds like all Nick wants is actually to run a powerplay campaign. He's hiding it under the cover of fascinating situations and colorful NPC but hey, look at his post, all he's talking about is more power. Your campaign is fine, really fine, but it's low magic, low power. Nick likes powerplay, it's maybe his feeling or his way to get it with the game.

Now. What can you do? You could consider implementing a major change to your Plotus campaign, like a cataclysmic surge of magic, and turn it into a powerplay campaign or you could offer everyone to go for the 4th Edition, which would undoubtedly provide Nick the feeling he's looking for. Or you could let him do his campaign, why not?

Except if you don't want to play this way. This is a question you should ask yourself beforehand, because that would spare you a lot of frustration. If you don't want, say it. They are your friends, right? So you are their friend too, there's no reason why they wouldn't take into consideration your own gaming needs and agenda.


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: Rustin on February 06, 2009, 09:01:56 AM
David,

Let me try to rephrase.

Dwain, in a text about how to write, describes the Snare of the Objective.
Those who have been grabbed by that snare: Depend on facts and distrust feelings.

Good writing, according to Dwain, comes from feeling.  So, those caught in the objective snare go about writing in a restrained, confused mechanical way.  Similarly, one could say Roleplayers caught in the snare of the objective game in a restrained, confused mechanical way.

I think this approach is slightly different from the GNS/Big Model theory, in that Dwain, up front claims mechanical writing doesn't get the job done. It does not create stories other people want to read.  He makes more of a value judgment than GNS/Big Model theory likes to make.  I'd say GNS would first and foremost say "know your purpose and then pick rules and methods that jive and help that purpose." Suggesting that mechanical play could be a valuable purpose and if you really want mechanical play, then find the right rules and have fun with it.

Whereas the Swain theory would say, get to the feelings, because that's where good stories are, and if you distrust feelings you're not going to make a good story.  Get to the feelings or give up.  How he measures good is the ability for others to read and get that emotive charge from the writing, and maybe the ability to sell a book or two.

Now to port this over to Roleplay, rather than look at Nar play or Gam play or any of that, just look at the situation with a simple perspective: Is your GM trying to create a story based on feeling or on facts?

So where your GM has given you extra feats and HP and stuff is a round about way to eliminate one distraction to play, it does not necessarily get to the feeling of playing a character or theme.  Is he still relying on supplements, pre-written modules and other facts? 

Ask him point blank, how is he going to help you with the inspiration and feeling of playing a character?


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: David C on February 09, 2009, 12:02:35 AM
Patrice, I think you're confused.  Nick is the GM, I'm the player.

Rustin, I understand now.  I've been shooting some emails back and forth with Nick, and unable to provide him with some "magic bullet," I think he lost interest in anything I was saying to him.   Basically, the magic bullet he was hoping for was something to take D&D and get like, Narr or Sim play out of it (I can't tell which, he wants people to RP so that he can get "Story" out of it... but it is NOT gamism, which is what we are getting.) 

He wasn't OPPOSED to the idea of playing Spirit of the Century (which I need to read up on), but somehow I see it never happening. 

I'm thinking about providing Nick with exactly what he wants, with my skills as a player and taking my assertiveness to another level, for at least one session, and see what he does with it.  Basically, I'm going to make a character that 1) sucks at combat 2) has an incredible story 3) one that approaches every situation in non-combat terms (talk them out of fighting!)  4) inject conflict and story, unrelated to the "story at hand", as much as possible. 

He might hate it.  Heck, he might hate ME for it, but... at least it'll make him take a stance instead of being wishy washy about it all.


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: Callan S. on February 09, 2009, 01:11:45 AM
Why is it up to you to make him take a stance?


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: Patrice on February 09, 2009, 06:24:35 AM
Oh.

Silly me, okay.

I don't quite get one point in your relating your game : do you actually want to dungeon crawl or do you want to avoid it and focus upon the social interactions, Sim aspect of the game and plots of the campaign?

Sounds like your GM is choosing the second option. Cool. Except that such gameplay doesn't spontaneously sprout from the nether upon Gamist ground. You're quite right when you say that this new campaign is going to be bogged in tactical encounters and endless fights like the late one because all your GM sounds to be planning to change it lays upon rule mechanics.

You're going to play an utter gimp, right. I still don't understand why you can't talk openly about it instead of trying such a trick. the main issue lays upon how to develop a Sim or even Nar game from a Gamist frame. The first thing is, that won't happen by itself. The second is, tweaking the rules won't bring this big change.

The whole issue seems to lay upon the GM stance here. It's his job to allow your own version of the story and of the game to develop, if he's not ready to let go of his power here, there's no way a Nar game might happen. You need to talk him out of this illusion. Honestly, if you can't talk with someone to solve your issues, why would you play with him? There's Sim left as an option, but here it's about his stance all the same.

I've played D&D two days ago and my players went into some city investigation. I dropped the screen and said "okay, pause. How do you feel it? Do you want to role-play at length? Wondrous descriptions, flashy NPCs, great interactions. Or do you want us to go through it with a few dice rolls, a bit of color and to jump directly into action and fight scenes?". Their answer was "we want to fight, let's go for the dice rolls". That was their Gamist choice, but I offered them to play Sim if they would like. So we went for a few Streetwise, Bluff, Diplomacy and the like checks, me providing them with a bit of cool descriptions, NPCs and places and... right into the fight and we spent the night rolling dice and crushing foes. Cool too.

If Nick wants to play Sim, all he has to do is to choose the first option. Will he? This choice is underneath any D&D game nowadays. What usually happens is that nobody really chooses anything, the game goes like the first option and at some point turns into the second, likely when everyone's bored of the Sim option because it has never been set clearly from the start and the style isn't defined.

All the players like to say "our game is about wonderful social interactions and great impersonating RP" when they play D&D, but most actually feel this aspect of the game as some kind of tedious stuff, nice wrapping for the dice-rolling and moving minis part that shouldn't bog the game down.

Discuss it at a metagame level with him. Is he aware of that? What style of game is he aiming for?


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: Rustin on February 09, 2009, 08:44:27 PM
David,
Quote
I've been shooting some emails back and forth with Nick, and unable to provide him with some "magic bullet," I think he lost interest in anything I was saying to him.

Can you enlighten Nick to play RPGs with feeling?

According to the Swain Theory, and the limited background you’ve given us about Nick, we can conclude he is an Objectivist player (i.e., he is caught in the snare of the objective).

We also know those caught in the snare of the objective distrust feelings.

Therefore, the Swain Theory would predict that if you approached a person who distrusts feelings, and asked them to reflect on emotion in gaming, they will tune you out.   And this is what we see.  We see Nick has "lost interest" in you.  Tuning out is a very common stress coping mechanism.

If you go ahead with your plan to play a gimped out, story based, feeling based character—the same will happen, you’ll get tuned out, or maybe some other form of rejection: scorn, ridicule, anger.

That rejection, that social dust up, will probably cloud any point you’re trying to make regarding feeling based roleplaying.
 
The social group dynamic forces you are up against are just too powerful. That’s why the overwhelming recommendation that I have seen on this topic is: leave the group, find a new group that gets it and move on.

I have yet to hear a conversion story about a player who single handedly shows up to a group set in its objectivist snare, who then begins playing with feeling, and by sheer social force of will, turns the style of gaming around.

Though I have heard many stories of people, already jazzed and open to playing with feeling, organizing a group and having fun.

It seems that players can independently get themselves out of the snare of the objective somehow or another.  It would be interesting to study that psychological change.  I would suspect the transformation requires something outside of a group dynamic.  But ultimately, I think it starts with the ability to understand and trust feelings.



Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: Daniel B on February 10, 2009, 04:10:46 AM
I think you're right, David, that Nick doesn't want to run dungeon crawls. If he is anything like I was:

I used to GM very low-power/low-magic campaigns and I'd get really nervous when any one character showed a hint of power. However, I also knew that in many cases, they were making valid requests and I'd be asking for the same things in their position. (E.G. why *shouldn't* they get the gold and magic items commensurate with their level.. a low-magic campaign is fun once in a while, but sometimes you gotta live a little)

I eventually realized that the reason I felt nervous was that a more powerful character would eat up my content that much more quickly, so that we couldn't really savour the content. (I can remember a few heartbreaks where the PCs obliterated some enemies I was fond of, and had intended to stay in the game longer.) However, by forcing down the power-level, the game was dragging on ad infinitum and the players were feeling unjustly unrewarded. Later I tried a complete reversal. D&D on crack. While two of my players were happier (.. the gamists..) the rest and myself were feeling unfulfilled because I was putting little effort into content, and quite literally running the monsters directly from the manual. Even their hit dice, I didn't bother rolling, just taking the average instead.

Eventually I settled upon a happy medium, and it seems to work. I continue to run my games this way. We collectively decide how quickly we want the character growth to proceed. This allows them as players to know what to expect, and tells me as a GM how much effort I should be putting into my content. Furthermore, although they still get some XP for your basic monster-kill, they get much more from regular story bonuses, which I grant when they perform some "relevant" task which is left intentionally open-ended. (Basically it's either a step towards some meaningful goal that they've chosen, or that has been handed to them due to the situation they've wound up in).

Maybe pass the following link on to Nick. Though it was written regarding single-player adventure games, the lessons translate to RPGs well. (At least, they've worked for me.)

Grumpy Gamer's Why Adventure Games Suck (http://grumpygamer.com/2152210)

Dan Blain


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: David C on February 10, 2009, 03:04:54 PM
Quote
Why is it up to you to make him take a stance?

Callan, I kind of feel like his game is a lie.  "I want this to be about story, that's how I justify gimping your characters."  But then it isn't about story, because he doesn't know how to make the game about story. Maybe, if he at least realizes all he is running and will run is gamism, it will actually be good gamism.  If not then, he'll realize he has to figure out an unconventional solution. (But see below.)

To other people.  Nick is a very hard person to get to cooperate or speak to.  He doesn't want to admit anything is wrong on his part (even if he doesn't know any better.) I guess he just assumes he should be awesome at everything, and if he isn't, he's some sort of failure? 

Rustin, I think you've hit the nail on the head here.  I can't GM the group. Most of them are married or living a practically married lifestyle, and I am not.  Other things make it very hard for me to have the credibility to run the group, even if I ran Spirit of the Century, it'd probably be an abject failure.   Getting Nick to change his thinking is probably beyond my abilities as well.

Really, I'm at a loss here.  How could I handle this situation and keep my friends?  Is it possible?  If it isn't, how can I at least bow out gracefully?  Making things work doesn't seem an option, I kind of tried that approach in E-Mail, and don't expect things to go any better in person or with any other approach. 



Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: Wordman on February 11, 2009, 10:25:36 AM
I have yet to hear a conversion story about a player who single handedly shows up to a group set in its objectivist snare, who then begins playing with feeling, and by sheer social force of will, turns the style of gaming around.

I haven't either. But I have seen systems that turn the style of gaming around for a group. When you have a group that is used to "playing by the rules" of the system, if you manage to expose them to a system with rules that essentially force them to play differently, you can change the nature of the game without them even realizing it. They still think they are "playing by the rules", and they are, but they are playing much differently than before.

As an example, just following the basic (and simple to learn) rules of Spirit of the Century, players essentially have no choice but to inject their character's personality and drives into the story. That's just how the FATE 3.0 rules (http://www.faterpg.com/dl/sotc-srd.html) work. When playing, it doesn't feel like this is what you are doing, to most D&D players. It feels more like "well, I need to get that bonus, so I need to do X", but X is, in reality something that is forcing them to claim the story.

In other words, it sounds to me like your group is trapped by the system you are using and will remain so until you at least try a different system.

You are helped somewhat in that it seems like your GM knows that something is off. The problem is, he has no idea how to fix it, because his thinking is wrapped up in a system that simply isn't that good at solving the problem. You've heard the phrase "the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions expecting different results"? That's what's happening here. You're not going to fix the problems in the D&D game you describe by playing more D&D.

Send nick the link to FATE 3.0 and have him at least read through the Character Creation chapter. The part he needs to see is the "five phases" of character design; because this represents a huge shift from how D&D works, and will probably be fairly eye-opening to him.

If he doesn't like reading on-line stuff, I will send him a copy of the book if he wants, on the condition that he run at least on real session of it.


Title: Re: Morphine: Easing the Pain of Playing D&D
Post by: Hasimir0 on February 28, 2009, 06:48:19 AM
Hi David.
How's the situation developed?

You may really want to try to get Nick and the others to play D&D4.
It still is D&D ... but it also has many very important differences; it may help your group to shift to a different way to do the same things ... maybe it would facilitate the understanding of what you all actually WANT and HOW to obtain it, in a very specific and practical way.

Or the one-shot experiment could be a good idea, but instead of FATE or SotC try proposing this: Storming the Wizard's Tower (http://www.lumpley.com/storming/)
It's a free download.
It's a much lighter thing to read and absorb than FATE/SotC.
It's basically D&D, so everyone will be already familiar from the start.

Just remember that it still is a work in progress.
The original manuscript uses A SEA of dice (all d6 , but multicolored ) ... this is functional but somewhat cumbersome so the author had decided to find an alternative way to handle things.
In alternative you can play it with poker cards ... but this too has ended up being less than optimal.
Everyone is now waiting for the new manuscript, that will feature a system that uses just one dice of any color for every player (that would mean 4 dice per player)(blue, red, white, green).

Both D&D4 and StWT are gamist designs.
But they may show you (particularly StWT) that "gamits" doesn't have to mean "senseless sequence of fights without plausible characters & story" ;)
Also, along with the rules and sometimes within the rules, they provide veeeery good advice and wisdom to both players and GM.
This alone may lighten something in the heads and hearts of you fellow players and GM.

Another option for an alternative game would be the Solar System (http://www.arkenstonepublishing.net/solarsystem).
I like it a lot!
This is actually a narrativist design, but thanks to how it works it can also appeal to people who like to have some tactical challanges and resource managment.
This one is, also, a goldmine of advice and wisdom about how to conduct play, how to handle game situations, how to adress player's issues, etc.

All this stuff (except for D&D4) doesn't require the reading of 300+ pages of rules.
So maybe Nick could actually consider trying it out ^_^