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Author Topic: [D&D] Hot elves, morality, and the missing initiative roll  (Read 13660 times)
Meramec
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Posts: 9


« on: February 01, 2010, 07:02:57 PM »

So I gather three friends for an impromptu session of D&D.  They’ve all played the first WOTC edition of the game extensively and one has significant experience with the second AD&D offering, but I’m the only one with knowledge of the 70’s/80’s era games.  I grab a random module from the basement and we sit down to play.  The only thing close to a rulebook that we have is a reference sheet out of the module which details equipment to buy, saving throws, and gives the attack matrix for the first level characters.

I have never read the module and we go from zero to playing in about 15 minutes.
 
“You are gathered here in this town to fight against the growing tide of chaos and find great treasures to benefit all of mankind…”

That’s all the stage-setting needed. It’s D&D, we know we are here to engage in group problem-solving within a dangerous and magical fictional environment.  We don't need motivation to explore the dungeon anymore than we need motivation to build a road in Settlers.

I’m writing this account because it was the first time I’ve run a game in over a year and I came away with some thoughts about some of the events.

Thought the first:  Bregens McDrinkerton and the hot elf.  After a sound defeat at the hand of some 3 HP goblins (the players were getting used to the way this version of D&D works) the players went in search of hired help. The module included a list of 20 NPC’s which I commandeered for use as the pool of available mercenaries.  But how to go from the players wanting to find a hireling to the actual decision of who goes along for how much?  I had zero rules at hand for this and I am not expert enough of a DM to wing such a thing. I need a system in place that will say “given conditions x, character y will join the party for price z.”  Given that, I can adapt it to fit the creativity of the moment (interpret conditions, flesh out the character, adapt the price to the situation.)  Absent this system, however, I am lost.  So, I had the players toss 2d6 and if they rolled high they could hire a guy for a cut of the loot and if they rolled low it would take more convincing.  The players immediately caught on and bought into it and it worked. However, I wish the game would handle this more explicitly, perhaps a system whereby the player can generate an NPC to hire without DM input. 

The place to find hirelings is, of course, the tavern. I describe the place pretty lamely “It’s a tavern, lots of off-duty soldiers here, and  a barkeep, and some random adventurer-looking guys.”  One of the players immediately says “I walk over to the hot elven adventuress and beguile her with my charming ways.”  The player, by saying this, added an element to the game world that I as DM did not include already. He did not ask “is there a hot elf adventuress?”, he simply made it so.  I absolutely loved that, as I then got to riff off of it and we were off to the races.  The downside is that it still hinged on a 2d6 roll, which the player bonked, and the other players were unable to contribute while the other player was being shot down by the elf. (I mean, even The Game of LIFE has a mechanic where you can do stuff (bet on the wheel) while it's another player's turn. I would love such a thing for D&D so players were always involved even when they are not center stage.)

While I gave the others an equal chance to find their own henchmen, they didn’t get nearly as much into it, simply stating they wanted a “strong guy” or a “magic-user looking guy”.   I feel that these players could have gotten into it more if they had a rules-system they could have used for inspiration.

The module gave two characteristics for each NPC, things like “talkative and cautious” or “courteous and nervous”, and I found these things surprisingly helpful . I was able to go from that seed content to build up the NPC’s a bit.  It culminated when I told the player (same one who invented the elf) that there were two dwarves available, one was “brave” and the other “lazy.” I started writing down the brave dwarf’s stats, assuming that is who he'd pick, when he says “I want the LAZY dwarf. His name is Bregens McDrinkitude.”  This dwarf went on to become a star, getting in the way when the party wanted to ride to the dungeon (He doesn't feel like getting on the horse) or outfit him with a missile weapon (He's not in the mood to bother reloading the crossbow.)  Without the seed content in the module, this would not have happened and this NPC would never have had any life to him.  In contrast, another player called his hirelings “Zachary the Fighter” and “Phillip the Cleric” and put zero effort into considering their characterizations.  I think some rules to help him along would have increased the game experience for everyone.  As it was, the game relied on the imagination of a single player to carry the weight for the personalities of the NPC’s.

Another player, less flamboyant but still a thinker, rolled low on his attempt to hire a fighter.  I decided that the guy would go along if the party first outfitted him with some plate mail.  Not able to come up with enough coin for that, the player, surprising me, said “Sorry, we don’t have that much money. But, is there anything we could do for YOU?”  Instantly, Lizardius the Great was born and the party was off to help the world-famous lizard man hunter slay a den of the vile folk.  (The module provided this encounter as a numbered area on the overland map, and I just tied this character to it.)  Here, the 2d6 roll created some great moments from a failed roll due to the play of the player—he effectively narrated his way out of the dice-based resolution of the situation.  I thought that was a lovely thing and wish that there was more of that implicit in the rules.  (Contrast to where the failed roll ended the elf seduction because the player didn't follow up.)

Thought the second:. Yes, lizardfolk children can burn.  The assault on the lizard man lair was a fun tactical bit of play that involved the setting of a large fire.   The attack was going very well for the party and the few survivors of their initial strike were trying to flee by getting close to the fire, putting it out with mud, and then going through.  The lizard men were at equal strength to the PC’s at this point, so the players didn’t really want to just charge.  They were pretty much ready to let them flee and declare victory until I mentioned that one of the women was carrying the bag of the clan’s treasure.

This created a question of how to get the treasure without killing the noncombatant lizard man children (they were there in the module…)  One player had his character leave the area and prepare to track the fleeing humanoids to steal the treasure later.  One, however, decided the fact that the lizard men were standing next to the fire to be a sign.  He tossed the rest of his flaming oil into the fire…and play just kind of stopped. 

“Dude, you shouldn’t have done that.” 

The other players admonished him for the act and for the rest of the session all three of them, even the player who did it, referred to the exploding of the noncombatants as a bad move (although they still took the loot, of course.)   I saw this as a great moment—they faced a real dilemma, lose treasure or kill the innocent, and they made their choice.  I think the fallout from that event should have a rules-based interpretation. I know that is anathema to the 70’s era D&Ders, but there comes a time when saying “if you were a good DM you could make this awesome” gets a bit old for me.  I’m just like, come on, I want to be a better DM, so please give me some rules to help out!

These are players whose only RPG exposure is D&D of a pretty traditional sort. Yet here they are, adding semi-narrative elements on their own.  If it were only a “game”, then they would have just said “OK, it’s not against my alignment to do this, and this action nets me XP, so I’ll do it” and moved on.  But no, they stood there like gods and judged the characters (and the player, a bit.)  And this happened without support from the rules and without detailed characters (one player didn’t even give his guy a name.) Imagine what this play could have become had the rules helped out! 

Now, I don’t think we want a ruleset that drives play inexorably towards these sorts of dilemmas, but when play naturally gets close to them I would love rules that help get something out of it. 

Thought the third:  What’s flanking do, again?
What’s a D&D play report without a mention of the combat rules?  My goal was to keep things tense and visceral and as far removed from the WOTC D&D tactical miniatures experience as possible.   To this end, I never had them roll for initiative, used miniatures only to set the marching order (they eventually had 7 characters in the party), made all my die rolls in the open, and had them roll all their attacks simultaneously.  The best way to speed up combat that I have found is to stop asking each player, in turn, what they want to do like we’re playing Monopoly.  This is battle, man!  It’s a fight, what do you think you’re going to do?  Roll a d20, that’s what!  I would say “OK,you are all in melee with the goblin horde. Their AC is 7.  Your turn.  Roll your attacks, tell me your hits, and let me know if you want to do anything specific.”  One guy decided to fight defensively, another helped a fallen companion, but mostly they just attacked.  The roll to attack, roll damage, repeat, cycle did not get boring because the fights were over in a manner of minutes.  A really fun D&D combat experience for me.  (It was the slow pace of WOTC D&D that drove me from the game.)  The other players liked it, too, because they got to make important decisions and solve problems (the whole point of the game) about when to advance, when to flee, what weapon to use, etc.  Also, they were not limited by needing to look up the rules for something, If they wanted to push a guy down some stairs or throw a table or whatever we just rolled with it and I resolved it favorably for them to keep going with the creativity.  I think here is a good place where rules get in the way—the play is meant to be fast-paced and off the cuff to best engage the mind in the way I am looking for in an RPG (which is different from what I look for when engaging my mind in something like MTG or Whist).  Referencing specific rules for aiding another or drinking a potion during a fight slow that down.  So, while I have been whining that this game system doesn’t have enough rules, perhaps in combat it has just enough.  (But could I explain how I ran this to someone else and have them do the exact same thing....I don't know.)

This 5-hour game session gave me things to think about and consider.  I hope this post is appropriate for this forum.  I tried to convey my reflections on what happened.  (But perhaps I'm not focused enough, as I touch on several different points here.)

Regards, and game on!

John

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Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2010, 08:09:26 PM »

Hi John, that's a good account you gave!

With the burning lizard children, it doesn't sound like the other players were judging the characters choice, it sounded like they were trying to indicate to the player he had played the game wrong and should not play that way again? That's how the account strikes me. It doesn't sound like they judged the player a bit, it sounded like they judged him alot and that's all they judged. Personally I think it was a challenging moral moment and interesting and I'm wondering if you have some players who want nothing like that? Which causes a...schism, really.

Also, which player set them alight? The one who had invented the holt elf and lazy dwarf?

It's pretty tidy that you did all that in five hours!
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Ar Kayon
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« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2010, 03:48:09 AM »

I would have immolated the lizard folk too.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2010, 06:55:03 AM »

Hi there,

First, holy shit, what a great game, and what a great play account. Welcome to the Forge, too!

My brief responses, which I hope you're interested in discussing ...

1. Regarding the hot elf, it seems to me as if it wasn't only the player who let the ball drop with the low roll. Nothing stopped you from including the character just because you liked her and looked forward to playing her. The roll meant she didn't easily become a hireling, and the player's cessation of play toward her means she didn't become a hireling at all, but that doesn't mean she wouldn't become an active NPC in the ensuing events. (The possibility that occurs to me is that she becomes the player-character's romantic stalker, but the range of options is practically endless.)

This leads to a bigger and more abstract issue regarding what a failed roll of this type means at all, but perhaps that can wait.

2. Did you utilize any alignment talk or rules whatsoever? It would be very interesting to me to know whether and how you've encountered that concept and set of rules in previous D&D play as well.

3. You know what you did with the combat rules? To a certain extent, you re-invented the Tunnels & Trolls combat system. If you'd pooled everyone's fight rolls into a total for each side (and still permitted individual actions as an alternative), then you'd have made it all the way.

Cool! I am so psyched to see this thread. Plus an old-school GURPS thread going on too? My cup is runny!

Best, Ron
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #4 on: February 02, 2010, 08:09:12 AM »

You just made me nostalgic.  The first thing you did when you grabbed old school D&D was mod it!  What's more, because you were light on "official" rulebooks, you added rules in the places where you wanted them, and started scaling back the rules where you wanted to streamline them (combat).  From the sounds of it, this all happened partly out of necessity, but all very naturally.  This mirrors my first experiences with D&D so closely that I thought I was having a flashback.

I'm also curious to hear how you used alignment rules, if at all.  When the one player burned the lizardmen, you made it sound like alignment was irrelevant and that everyone was suddenly aware that the guilty player had crossed some unspoken line.  These moments of out-of-character judgment cropped up a number of times in my own D&D games.  I always found them odd.  We'd be happily chugging along making crude comments and killing fictional kobolds.  But then, as if out of nowhere, the group would call out one player and say, "Too far!"  It was a weird bit of group regulation.
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JoyWriter
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Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #5 on: February 02, 2010, 08:53:06 AM »

One, however, decided the fact that the lizard men were standing next to the fire to be a sign.  He tossed the rest of his flaming oil into the fire…and play just kind of stopped. 

“Dude, you shouldn’t have done that.” 

First part I love is that everyone decided that was a bad idea, then stuck with the consequences. The next bit is that you really wanted to hit them with those consequences, make things in the game matter and not just be brushed past, however light your intentions for the game.

I’m just like, come on, I want to be a better DM, so please give me some rules to help out!

Couldn't agree more, even if the "rules" are just guidelines of how to work it out. From my experience, the first thing is whether you want it to be

reputation with the victims, (now the lizardmen hate your guts, and either you will have to fight them again, or you need them and they wouldn't help you to save their life, or you start a war of retaliation between them and some guys who know you) which can be done by considering the attitude and memories with which different factions relate to your group, as well as who they might associate with you (maybe you're nothing to do with that lord over there, just sorted out some kobolds for them, but the lizardmen might not see it like that),

godly kerbstomp (delayed preferably, perhaps next time you meet some priests they refuse healing or threaten to sic an angel on you unless you sort things out with the lizardmen) which requires you to put a bit of thought into that god's morality and why their not calling archons out on all the goblin invaders,

or reputation with your fellows (there are links between the people you know and them which are partially friendly, and you have to do a coverup to stop it damaging your existing relationships) or something else entirely.

Other solutions include having someone else do it to you/your mates, and use that as evidence why they're "so evil", leading to embarrassment/shame among the group, and a guaranteed kick the dog moment, as you already know the group consider that to be going too far.

In another sort of game, it could just get you arrested
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JoyWriter
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Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2010, 08:54:27 AM »

I gammy'd up the quote tags a bit there.
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NN
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Posts: 98


« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2010, 01:04:32 PM »

Some thoughts on your thoughts

- the main thing seems to be get all the players into player-invention and "failiure can mean complication"

- Its B2 , right? because that adventure is deliberately underwritten.


1. hot elf hirelings
makes me wonder: what are hirelings actually for?

- to effectively be PCs (in which case, do recruitment 'rules' matter?)
- a resource to be managed (balance the extra resources you can win by having them vs. the resources they cost)
- redshirts to keep PC death down
- trusted henchmen to specifically help their PC employer (for games with high inter-character conflict)

i think this is murky in the original game, but your solution would depend on your choice.


2. consequences

-alignment problems as already mentioned

im not quite sure what a mechanical rules would help, as theyd get factored in to the decisions, and so maybe stop interesting stuff.

-reading your account, i had a vision of the party having to later prove their heroism in front of some powerful good npcs...and their audience is suddenly interrupted by a fire-scarred lizardwoman and a militant druid screaming "babyburners". Also I imagine Lizardius as a mammallian-supremacist-maniac who know thinks the party are fellow travellers.

..reminds me of a D&D game a played about 5 years ago. We were stomping around Basic modules - twisted a bit to fox those who'd read them - and we acted like a bunch of xp-obsessed thugs. I was a bit disappointed at the lack of consequences...but in fact the DM was craftily biding his time...we ended up having to defend the Keep On the Borderlands against a angry coalition of everyone we'd ever pissed off.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2010, 04:23:51 PM »

Hmm, yeah, just noticed with the combat that it's an opt-in system. Instead of going from player to player pedantically as if they are going to do some special action (when they are most likely just going to attack), everyone just rolls an attack unless they opt-in to a special action. That's alot more ergonomic! I'll tuck that idea away in my head, hehehe...
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Meramec
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Posts: 9


« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2010, 10:02:41 PM »

Wow, thanks for all the responses!   The welcomes and thoughtful posts are much appreciated.  Reading them and writing the following has really helped me put more of a name to some of the issues that were tickling my brain during the session described in my play account.

Callan:   Yes, the player who invented the elf also burned the lizardfolk (he was the only one who noticed “oil flask” on the equipment list because the others mostly just looked at weapons and armor.)   I’m still trying to think whether they were judging the player or the character. The answer may be that they simply don’t differentiate the two.  I think that if the entire game were a series of moral dilemmas that they would tire of that quickly, but I also think that having them arise naturally is fine because it just creates more interesting problems to solve.  I don’t think they are interested in “exporing a character” per se, but they are interested in trying to get out of tough situations, and sometimes those situations can be tough not because of the enemy has 100 HP but because he has 1 HP and is holding a baby.  

I see moral dilemmas in these games as another sort of problem to solve, albeit one that sometimes can have a longer postgame resonance .  The only issue is that the contraints are all self-imposed by the individual player. Without rules for what happens when you make one moral decision or another, you could have one player who takes these questions seriously and another who decides to steal from the collection tray because he needs 10 more gp’s to buy some armor.  You’d effectively have two players at the same table playing different games.  And this isn’t even necessarily a bad situation, it’s just something that needs to be understood and perhaps made explicit (at least in the mind of the DM (at least when I’m the DM.))  My response below to Ron’s alignment question contains an experience of mine where forcing moral dilemmas did indeed lead to problems, but I don’t think it has to even when the players involved aren’t necessarily there to explore such things.

I think if I’m being completely honest with myself, I’d admit that I had the lizardfolk women carrying the treasure precisely because I wanted to force this issue.  So I think it’s relatively straightforward to generate such situations from the DM’s chair, but you don’t want to do so if the other players don’t like such play.  (But, this applies to everything—you don’t run a game of court intrigue with a group itching for dungeon exploration.  My players used to sing out “Da-da-da-da-da, Inspector Gadget…” whenever there was even a hint of a mystery in an adventure…)

I wish there were a way for the players to generate these situations, though.  They can direct so much of the action and make the game their own through choosing where to explore in the game world, whether to settle down or lead a bandit horde or serve the Goddess of Goodness and Light (at least when you play D&D in an open-ended setting-based way.)  But they can’t force these sorts of dilemmas themselves, because they require DM and other-player buy-in.  They could possible create them in the way the player created the hot elf, but it seems to me it needs a bit more support than that.

Ron:  Yes! Absolutely I could have included her more in the adventure. She did remain as a recurring character in the tavern, but given the low roll she emerged more as an aloof figure than anyone really interesting.  If this were a campaign she likely would have evolved into something else, but we only played a few hours.  

The problem I run into as a DM is that the “game management” portion of the role demands a lot of my energy and my creativity takes a hit. I simply wasn’t creative enough in the moment to do more with the hot elf without help.  I was thinking “OK, this player has taken 5 minutes just on this encounter and the other players are twiddling their thumbs and are bored, so I’d best move on to their characters soon” and as a result of my distracted play (and lack of helpful creative input from other players/rules) the hot elf never even got a name.

The thing about her was that she was created by the player, and I wish there were a way to encourage such creativity on the part of all the players.  Perhaps that is a DM skill and I should just blatantly state “OK, tell me something that is happening in the tavern and how you interact with it.”  Huh, that might actually work, and it might be awesome.  (But I fear that if it’s not an actual rule that the game works this way some players may get annoyed with me in a personal way for “forcing” such play on them.  If it were in the rules, then they’d roll with it because that’s part of “the game” (especially if it were tied into the XP system explicitly.)  Maybe I’m just completely off base here, though, regarding player psychology.)

Regarding alignment, I ignored it completely in this session.  My understanding of 70’s era D&D is that alignment has little to do with worldview and everything to do with which cosmic forces you “align” yourself and I find that notion to be unnecessary in my games.

In my previous D&D play, alignment has only ever served to cause problems.  In my teenage play, it was completely messed up as we tried to figure out what “alignment” real people would have and many a session devolved into “your character so wouldn’t do that because he’s NG and that’s a CG action!” or childish philosophy of many sorts.  In my experience perhaps the greatest negative in AD&D is its treatment of alignment.  I feel that its loose use of the words “good” and “evil”, etc. can very well lead people who are smart but of limited perspective down an alley that, in my view, is detrimental to the development of a person’s philosophical worldview.  The AD&D books advocate the DM tracking the characters behavior on an alignment chart, which implies that the DM can discern “good” from “evil” actions and the players all enjoy the same level of understanding of such things.  Whether committing a small evil to serve a greater good is laudable or sinful is a matter of deep importance to the human experience in real life, but it is the sort of thing that the AD&D alignment system can end up leading kids into arguing over in ways both unproductive and hurtful to their longterm development as people.   But, perhaps this is taking the topic in another direction completely, so I’ll stop here.

In my adult D&D play, I’ll illustrate the issues I’ve had with it through an example.  I joined this campaign a month or so into it (the players were all good friends) and noticed they were using the Book of Exalted Deeds and the party included a character who had chosen the Saint template and another who took a Vow of Poverty. ( I consider the Book of Exalted Deeds to be far more objectionable than the Book of Vile Darkness, although I consider both to be WOTC extensions of the alignment problems started by TSR in AD&D.)  Well, the rules in that book explicitly state that these sorts of characters are to face moral issues during play head on.  So, I decide that it would be interesting if I make an evil character who is trying to repent of his ways and change his alignment from NE to LG.  I play my evil-aligned character, however, as a good character: he gives away his own magic items to party members, sacrifices his character’s life to save another character, etc.  I also made him suggest evil things, because he was still trying to redeem himself and I thought it would be interesting to see the reaction of the Exalted characters to his redemption quest.  I wanted them to be my character’s mentors.  Well, it turns out that they never saw past the “NE” on my character sheet and never enjoyed what I was doing.  They judged my character based on one letter rather than on my out-of-game stated goals with him and his actions during play.  Later, over a few drinks, we talked about it and the Saint’s player said “You know John, I just don’t enjoy having to make hard moral decisions constantly while playing D&D.”  Turns out, of course, that he took the Saint template because of the mechanical boost and really had no interest at all in the sort of play I was introducing.  And I believe it all came from the alignment line on the sheet. I could have made a true neutral character who suggested evil things and was trying to become good and play would have proceeded much more smoothly because the player would have felt less need to oppose my character (he’s not “evil”, after all) and could have just ignored or laughed off my suggestions rather than feeling he had to intervene.

Anyway, that’s my wordy reflection on alignment.  I just don’t find it well-supported in D&D and I think with players who have significant experience with the game the notion of alignment is way too riddled with thousands of tiny slices of their personal gaming history that me saying “Alignment means X in this campaign” can’t modify their understanding of it. I drop alignment completely from my D&D games.  Maybe others have found it added value to their play, but I have not.  So, in this play report alignment does not factor in to the possible repercussions for the burning of the lizardfolk noncombatants.

Finally, regarding your last point, I’ve never played Tunnels and Trolls.  I ported to this D&D game a simultaneous combat system I use in a game I threw together myself (which has a very different resolution system in its native form.)  I’ll have to check out the T&T system.

JoyWriter:  Yes!  I wanted to make this event have consequences.  The immediate consequences were that the character’s hireling started to view him with disdain, but the character died shortly thereafter and so this was never fully explored. (Actually, now that I think about it, the character died because he sipped a Potion of Poison that was found within the lizardman treasure… perhaps consequences WERE meted out after all!)  Thank you for the suggestions, now what I want is good solid content like that in a table so during play I can dice for the kernels of retribution.  What I want is a table that says “Roll Thy Die Herein When a PC Doth Indecently Act” and has entries like “betrayal of a henchman” and “action draws the ire of a local assassin”, and “traveling bard makes an epic poem from the misdeed and plays it in the local playhouse”, etc.  I want the game to give me a seed that I can expand, reduce, ignore, or embrace as I see fit during play.  Additionally, the players being aware of such a table would transform “oh, that’s just role-playing” actions into “wow, this is important” actions.  If this happens then I think we have a new dynamic of play afoot because the players now know there are rules in place and that the imaginary things they do relate directly to a physical roll of the dice which will generate more imaginary things to change the course of the adventure.  Without that “physical roll of the dice” step, it is simply “the DM making stuff up” and I think the players (well, at least my players) will feel that they are not actually plugged into this aspect of the game and therefore their actions don’t matter because they aren’t sure what the parameters are for how I’ll interpret or respond to their actions (is this the time he does nothing or is this the time the forces of Roald the Most Excellent One chase us out of town?)

Huh, I think this is the first time I’ve actually adequately verbalized this idea, even to myself.  I think I can go work on that table now!  Thanks for the comments!  (To be clear: I’m not looking for a system that will exactly resolve every single possibility. I just want some help along the way.  It’s just like combat—the rules for hitting and doing damage are there to provide a creative base for the real ebb and flow of the battle, which is driven primarily by the DM’s determination of what actions the enemies take—flee, charge, parlay, split up, cast spells, etc.  The combat rules help me figure out when the goblins are scared for their lives and when they’re sure the party will become the first course in the Dark Deathless One’s Feast.  I want, in a like vein, rules that do that for other situations, that help my limited creativity along in a way the players know and can anticipate, yet not predict completely.)

Tim: As I stated above in the response to Ron, I completely ignored alignment.  I have zero interest in D&D pseudo-philosophical arguments regarding the morality of killing the children of Chaotic humanoids.  I never would have used the children of such creatures in anything I prepared (I consider goblins and their ilk to be nearly supernatural evil incarnate forces whose only reason to exist is to oppose those who enter the depths of the earth), but I was sticking with the module and it, indeed, detailed lizardman and goblin family units.  That said, there is a clear line (at least during the play given in this account) between killing Chaotic beings who are threats to innocent folks (which is what the initial attack accomplished) and hammering them more than is necessary (by torching them while they were retreating.)  I have no interest in D&D as a “kill monsters and steal their treasure” game.  What happened in the lizardman encounter was that the killing of the children changed the nature of the fight from “righteous defense of the Realm of Mankind” to “we are now simply thugs.”  I guess the players subconsciously picked up on that and objected.

I, too, think the group regulation that comes up at seemingly random times during a game as violent as D&D to be interesting and weird.  I think there is something important to that, but right now I can’t think clearly about what that may be.

Anyway, glad you liked the D&D recap!  Of course I modded it!  You HAVE to in order to play it at all!  This is what I love so much about the White Box version of D&D—it’s not actually a game at all, but a collection of paragraphs which point you to where a game might be, if only you add in a bit of your own creativity.  It’s like that game NOMIC, where the point of it is to change the rules as you play until someone wins (unless that rule has been changed.)  D&D is about a “feel” more than “rules.” The AD&D hardcovers are the most evocative game text I’ve ever read, yet the game rules have all sorts of problems.  This is why the “rules” are there to simply guide.  Perhaps this is what I am after in rules for this game—a way of generating “guides” to my creative play.  I don’t know. Haven’t thought about it at length in these terms yet. But thanks for bringing up the “you have to mod it” aspect of D&D, as I think that is critical to any understanding of the game.

More thoughts in the next post.

Thanks!

John
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Meramec
Member

Posts: 9


« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2010, 10:03:35 PM »

NN:  Yes, I’d like rules that help all players create things in the world and know ahead of time the sorts of results that can come from certain actions (outside of it being up to the DM’s judgment.)  The “underwritten” nature of B2 is actually more of a feature than a bug to me—it’s a setting that provides just enough content to create so many different types of game experiences.  The problem is that I don’t have rules to help me do things with the game that I want to do, not that the module is deficient.

In this game the hirelings help solve the problems.  The dungeon is too dangerous for the 3 PC’s alone, so they solve that issue by enbiggening the party.  So, the hirelings act very much like a resource to be managed. The equipment charts give rules for managing many resources through cost constraints.  The spellcasting rules dictate how to manage other resources through different constraints.  This would be another resource, and I want a table (what’s it with me and tables?) that says “Rolling Yonder Die on This Here Tableau Shall Be the Determinant of the Class, Race, Sex, Ability Scores, and Personality Traits of Just Such Hireling as the PC Shall Recruiteth” and the roll is modified in a way knowable to the players.  Maybe you get +1 to the roll for every 10 gp you spend in searching for a recruit. Maybe if you are a cleric you have access to a special table where you can get religious zealot hirelings. Maybe if you are from the Barbarian Lands of Zuugut you get access to crazy half-stag guys with antler guns.  Or whatever.  I want the players to know that the availability of this resource—hirelings—is not just determined at the whim of the DM.  I want there to be rules that as a DM I can use to help guide the acquisition of this resource.  I am not creative enough during play to do all of this and enjoy myself.  But I am creative enough to take the seeds given by the table and run with them.

I love your characterization of Lizardius!  What a wonderful way to evolve his character!  He was fun to play and over the top. I had him insist that the party split up to assault the lizard men and it was fun to see them try to convince him that such a plan would lead to their certain death.

It comes down to two things: (1) wanting the play experience to be a “game” where there are fixed encounters that can and do stop the progress of PC’s when they are not adequately solved and (2) wanting to have enough freedom to riff off of things and force the game to go places that add to the play experience.  Sometimes these work at cross-purposes.  A normal encounter is easy to write to satisfy (1) but then when I am making stuff up to respond to, say, the consequences of a moral dilemma, if I have no rules to follow then it is all (2).  I want to be able to say “OK, you lied to the good priestess, therefore the consequences will be determined in part by Table XXII.   You chose to drink all night instead of helping the peasants stop the flood from ruining the fields, therefore your consequences will be determined in part by Table XVII.”  I want these tables to provide some direction, some measure of severity and type of consequences, that the players know about ahead of time and choose to endure due to their actions.  It could be because they make a reasoned game decision that the value of the gems they steal from the blind merchant is worth the consequences given by Table IX, or it could be because they just want to see what happens when a gluttonous character runs rampant with no care in the world.

(Also, the rules don’t actually have to be tables per se. I’m just stuck in table mode right now. Could be lots of other things—the point is that dice need to be thrown (a) in a way the players can predict and (b) which help me resolve things creatively and within given parameters (say stealing from the local cobbler has different scale consequences than stealing from the Most Luminous Luwana who sits beneath the Tree of Precious Light in sacrifice for the misdeeds of the entire Nation of Olrathe.)  Now, maybe it’s obvious that these things should have different consequences, but it would be good if there were rules to help. I mean, it’s also obvious that a Red Dragon is harder to kill than a Kobold, and yet we still have HD and saving throw rules.)

I am not seeking rules that cover every situation or dictate exactly what happens every time. I want them to hint at what happens and provide just that bit of direction that I need in order to help the game take flight.

I think the existence of such rules is important for two reasons.  One, my creativity often requires some basic elements which I can then combine.  A randomly generated fighter who is “courageous and talkative” could be realized as a noble leader recalling stories of his childhood lessons from his grandfather, the great general who defeated the Scourge. He could also be realized as a boisterous drunk going on and on about his licentious conquests and always dragging the party into trouble by charging ahead.  The exact realization is determined by my creativity on the spot, but the seed content is the same either way and without any seed content all I can typically manage is “Yup, it’s Bob the Fighter. He’s Bill the Fighter’s brother.”  I want the game to give me some seed content.  I want rules to generate this so that during play I can use it.

The other reason it’s important is that it helps frame these “moral dilemmas” as an actual part of the GAME.  Often my players look at the exploring and fighting as “the game” and the other stuff as “the role-playing” and they participate in the latter just for kicks and get irritated when others are taking too long.  I want them to see the “role-playing” part as equally within the game. I want them to have fun inventing stuff to do in town and getting excited when faced with a moral dilemma as well as finding a thrill in surviving the Dread Sorcerer’s Exotic Trapped Mansion and rolling that crucial 20 to fell the golem about to deliver a TPK.  And, at least in my experience, if the “role-playing” aspects are not covered by any sort of rules, then they are de-emphasized by some players and the players who do go all out for them end up siphoning fun from the players who don’t.

Perhaps this is all just a “well, a good DM could handle this” thing, in which case this entire meditation is for my own benefit in running a game.  But I think it’s possibly more than that. I think it could be a useful structure for organizing an approach to play a bit more generally.  But, since I am just me and not other GM's I don’t really know for certain.

Thanks again for the great responses! I’ve worked through a lot of my own thinking about how I want to run these games by writing the above.  Sorry if it’s a bit of a ramble at times—I’m pretty much processing aloud here.  The more I read around this site the more I think I like it.  Thanks!

All the best, and game on!

John
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Daniel B
Member

Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2010, 01:29:59 AM »

Hello John,

loved your account! :)    Hope this thread isn't over, because I have questions for you, on something you wrote in response to Callan. I hope it doesn't sound like I'm putting you on the spot; I'm genuinely curious.

Callan:
<snip>

I see moral dilemmas in these games as another sort of problem to solve, albeit one that sometimes can have a longer postgame resonance .  The only issue is that the contraints are all self-imposed by the individual player. Without rules for what happens when you make one moral decision or another, you could have one player who takes these questions seriously and another who decides to steal from the collection tray because he needs 10 more gp’s to buy some armor.  You’d effectively have two players at the same table playing different games.  And this isn’t even necessarily a bad situation, it’s just something that needs to be understood and perhaps made explicit (at least in the mind of the DM (at least when I’m the DM.))  My response below to Ron’s alignment question contains an experience of mine where forcing moral dilemmas did indeed lead to problems, but I don’t think it has to even when the players involved aren’t necessarily there to explore such things.

I think if I’m being completely honest with myself, I’d admit that I had the lizardfolk women carrying the treasure precisely because I wanted to force this issue.  So I think it’s relatively straightforward to generate such situations from the DM’s chair, but you don’t want to do so if the other players don’t like such play.  (But, this applies to everything—you don’t run a game of court intrigue with a group itching for dungeon exploration.  My players used to sing out “Da-da-da-da-da, Inspector Gadget…” whenever there was even a hint of a mystery in an adventure…)

I wish there were a way for the players to generate these situations, though.  They can direct so much of the action and make the game their own through choosing where to explore in the game world, whether to settle down or lead a bandit horde or serve the Goddess of Goodness and Light (at least when you play D&D in an open-ended setting-based way.)  But they can’t force these sorts of dilemmas themselves, because they require DM and other-player buy-in.  They could possible create them in the way the player created the hot elf, but it seems to me it needs a bit more support than that.

<snip>

You mentioned that having two players at the table playing different games (e.g. one taking moral questions seriously and the other treating it more video-gamey) is not necessarily a bad thing. I happen to agree with you, though I wouldn't want to make it explicit to the players (as it would be like someone standing up during a movie and yelling "You're watching a movie!") It sounds to me like you're actively going about confronting the issue of player-buy-in as a GM but that, in the past, you have dealt with it only during the game as it's come up. This is as opposed to wondering about it in hindsight.

My questions are: How have you been dealing with it? How successful has it been? After this actual play post, with everyone else's responses, will you be making any changes in the future?

Next, I just wanted to point something else out: you also expressed a wish that the players could generate the really juicy in-game situations on their own, but I think you answered that wish in the same response.

I would again want to make these situations creep into the game subtly, so as not to ruin the experience. Obviously the players are going to be aware of stuff they introduce themselves, and even of the potential for conflict, but what they won't see is the precise manner in which things will go so, so badly. How to make this happen? I think the trick is to motivate the players to introduce "damaged" but "substantial" content into the game, because such content will invariably lead to some interesting conflicts in the game. Bregens McDrinkerton. Why in god's name did they choose him?! Clearly a tactically bad choice, and yet.. a far more interesting one, as your post demonstrates.

If this "substance" is worked into the game currency and made cheaper than "tactics", you'll get a more interesting game in the long run. (I'm actually building a game .. I've been trying to keep this principle in mind, but your post has reminded me I've gone off-track a bit.)

Thanks again for your post.

Daniel B
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Arthur: "It's times like these that make me wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was little."
Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
Meramec
Member

Posts: 9


« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2010, 06:15:36 AM »

Hi Daniel, thanks for your response.  I want to give it full consideration and get back to you, but right now I can only post the following thought I had about giving context to the way-too-long post about the table resolutions.  Although what I have to say here does touch a bit on how I am seeking to engage players who are interested in different aspects of the game.  I love your bit about adding "damaged" content and how that may mirror the choice of the lazy dwarf over the brave dwarf even though that choice was tactically inferior.

Here is a more refined version of what I’m talking about when I say I want the rules to help me resolve dilemmas.  Give moral dilemmas a sort of stat line like monsters. They would have a Severity, Scope, and Persistence score.  Then there is a table which gives creative bits to work with. One entry may be “a disgruntled swordsman; a bloody necklace; and a broken, wasted dream.”  So in a high Severity, Scope, Perisistence resolution this could become a high-level warrior, clutching the last memory of his wife who was murdered as a direct result of the PC’s misdeed, who is going to remain a thorn in the side of the PC for a while.  In a low Severity, Scope, and Perisistence resolution it could be an 80-year old beggar who gave up his adventuring ways too early who is jealous of the PC’s status and who interferes with him in some personal way, perhaps calling the local guard on him accusing him of stealing a necklace.

The table provides the seed content to aid my creativity, the stat line for the dilemma itself provides the parameters for the resolution to help give my creative decision regarding its interpretation some boundaries that everyone playing understands BEFORE the action is undertaken (this is the part that is vital to making this part of “the game” and not just “OK, John is doing his own thing now, when are we getting back to the adventure?”)

Then, the players would be all like, “OK, setting lizardfolk children afire, what are the stats on something like that?”  And I’d go, well, Severity is pretty high because it’s wrong, but Scope and Persistance could be low because it’s a remote area and they are Chaotic after all.  Then they go “OK, great, the treasure’s worth it!  Burn ‘em!”  And I get to roll on the table and they look forward to the resolution because now it’s an actual part of the game and not just the DM imposing his own unpredictable sense of justice on their character’s actions while detracting from the “real game” of exploring the world and problem solving. 

This gives those who are not interested in moral dilemmas a way to engage them through resource management and it allows those who do like to engage them to be confident that their choices will be reflected in the game.

And then you make the table work out somehow so that the outcomes aren’t always purely negative so that "doing bad things" isn't always equivalent to "bad tactics", and you have yourself a new way to completely engage the players in activities traditionally relegated to “oh, that’s just role-playing and DM judgment.”  Now decisions made outside of combat and skill check type situations involve rolling dice to determine in part what is imagined next, just like decisions made during combat involve rolling dice to determine in part what is allowed to be imagined next.

John
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Callan S.
Member

Posts: 4268


WWW
« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2010, 03:23:18 PM »

Perhaps you could just assign a budget for each act? And each time you introduce element based on their seedy or goody two shoes past, you spend some of your budget. How much is each point of budget worth? I'd probably leave that to A: trying to be consistant as GM in this, B: Watching the audience and if they think you got too much for too little and use up a few more points of budget if so and C: Keep in mind gamist players will still look a little pouty if it gives them even a chance of reducing budget/their obstacle/the thing in the way of them winning.

Another thing might be to make budget bitter sweet - yes, it brings adversity in, but make it that each point used also grants players XP. That way they don't quite know whether to hate it or love it (ha, cop that, players!)

Finally, to avoid 'John is doing his own thing and assigning himself whatever budget he wants' per act it'd be interesting to have a scaling chance of zero budget, based on how much budget you assign the act. So you have a tiny percentile chance of getting no budget at all, and the more budget you declare for the act, the higher that percentile roll gets.

Also that, to me, makes for a sometimes chilling world, where you burn the children and...there are no consequences...this challenges the GM as well, as sometimes inside he might be screaming that there should be consequence, but there is not. What to make of such a world, eh?
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athornton
Member

Posts: 5


« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2010, 08:23:26 PM »

My response is, "but dude, a good DM DID make this awesome."

Let me unpack that a little:

1) if you want rules that tell you what should have happened when you set noncombatants on fire to get some loot, then OD&D is the wrong game system for you.  D&D 3+ is probably a better fit.  (there are ways to cheat: like, use Microlite 20/74, which gives you a very fast-and-loose experience, but, hey, it's still d20, which is to say 3E, which is to say, feel free to drag whatever you want back in).  But, really, if you want to play a rules-light system, then, well, yeah, you don't get to complain if the rules don't help you with your rulings.  That said, hey, you rolled with it and you did fine.  So why sweat it?

2) So, you got something to happen that your players were talking about.  That's kinda the point.  Your job is to facilitate the players' having fun.  Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that--especially if you get wrapped up in conceptions of how the story arc *should* go, or where this set of encounters must go in order to make the philosophical point you're going for or in order to drive the plot to the Big Uber-Conclusion you're looking for.  But really, you're there to create a space for people to have fun (which can itself sometimes be memorable--and it's GREAT to hear people say "hey, remember that time when..." *decades* later).

3) Players make their own fun.  Sometimes, really, you're just there to roll dice and nod.  I had a great example of this last week in my own game, when a random item I'd never meant for anything other than minor dungeon dressing, plus a random bit of description to add color to the game session, led to a way for 3d-level characters to defeat a massively-more-powerful vampire.  I was in no position to deny the power of the story one of my players created out of random scenery, because *her story was way more compelling than mine*.  So sometimes you just sit back and let the narrative win.  The description of that session is at: http://athornton.dreamwidth.org/3930.html
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