Long loves and heartbreakers

Started by Ari Black, February 26, 2011, 10:43:56 PM

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Ari Black

Hello all! I've been playing games for years. D&D 3 was my first introduction to table-top RPGs and I've been hooked ever since. I played quite a few PC games based on other RPGs (Baldur's Gate, for example) and the PA/PvP D&D Podcasts got me into 4th edition, which I'm playing as I type this. Well, I say playing. I'm actually waiting for my turn in a protracted battle in the Tomb of Horrors. I'm at the end of the initiative order of nine combatants so it's going to be a while before they need me again.

I began creating my own games shortly after I started playing RPGs with groups. I've never been totally satisfied with the systems and, more than that, I love creating and test games. I'll start a separate threads in the Game Development area concerning the games I'm working on.

My main focus in gaming is character development and storytelling. I've tried to get my gaming group to try Primetime, feeling that it would give them more control and focus more on roleplaying over combat. They didn't take well to it -- they really don't like having a lot of control. I've read a lot more and talked to a lot more GM and realized that one of my big beefs with D&D were really my fault. D&D has so many rules that I got caught up in them and made my games more combat oriented. This isn't D&D's fault, it was mine. Lesson learned. It's not my goal to make my games more balanced toward roleplay.

One of my big mistakes that I made in the last game I ran was the scope got too big too fast. The story started off small but, all of a sudden, the choices the characters were making we influencing the world on a grand and immediate scale. I was trying to show them that the world would really change based on what they did, but it ended up putting them off. In my current game, the scale will get big but it will take longer to get there and I'm working to get them hooked into the story first.

I'm always open to suggestions about creating good non-combat encounters and challenges. Even pointing me in the direction of books with good sections on creating such situations are appreciated.


Frank Tarcikowski

Hi Ari,

My experience with non-combat challenges in traditional, challenge-oriented games has been thus:

1) Natural forces don't work well. While it may be fun in the movies to see the protagonists struggle against the forces of nature, it's usually lame in an RPG. Yeah I know, there are some techniques to make it work better, like extended conflicts or skill challenges, and you can apply some sort of time pressure to make decisions relevant, but in the end, it's always way more exciting if you take all that and then add someone trying to shoot you with a longbow.

2) Investigation / whodunit style adventures are quite popular as non-combat challenges, though usually there'd also be some violence and that's just as well. I personally never was much of a fan but that's a matter of personal taste. If you want to do investigation, avoid the pitfall of spoon-feeding information to the players based on some sort of time-line where players will hit a brick wall until some scripted event arrives. Rather, have an open, multi-layered situation with several lanes the players can pursue to find out what's going on.

3) Social conflicts have worked very well for me, but there is an argument of old between role-players which goes like this: "Thou shalt role-play social conflicts out lest the player's own performance be diminished and rendered irrelevant by a fumbled dice roll!" – "Nay, the dice shall always have the last say lest character stats be rendered irrelevant by a player's social competence!"

If you can find a "best practice" for your group in that regard then you can have a lot of fun with social conflicts, where you cannot simply kill someone, but rather, have to trick or convince them. These conflicts are most fun if you have NPCs with complex and possibly contradictory motivations and goals, and/or more than two parties in the conflict. You can also combine this with some sort of investigation or violent struggle if you're so inclined. Social conflicts usually have a good impact with regard to "personal development" of player characters, but you shouldn't hope for too much.

4) Chases and races are always fun, but they, as well, become more exciting if you add someone trying to shoot you with a longbow.

All that being said, D&D will still be D&D. Don't fool yourself thinking any fancy social challenges will change that.

- Frank
BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English


Like you I've always veered towards narrative and character in my games. I found D&D too restrictive to do this well. Thinking about it almost any other game is better than D&D for this.

I've been developing my own for more years than I care to mention. It sounds like your new approach will work well, slowly building up the scale of the story. Something I worked into my system was a slow drip feed system of experience, where the characters will develop, but only as fast as the story. It's also a system where the experience tends to plateau out as they reach mastery in any skill.
(it's a gaming thing certainly, but seems to work with the players)

As for non-combat encounters here's one I've used in my game, it's fantasy but it could be adapted as appropriate. It served well as the beginning and middle of my story arc for the scenario, the end got a little more practical but I won't go into that.
   The characters have been working for a local noble and witness an assassination attempt on the life of a visiting dignitary. The barge he is travelling on gets blown to bits with him and his retinue aboard as it is coming into dock.
   The characters are then called before an inquisitorial court as witnesses to the event. The court consists of all the local dignitaries with their own agendas. Each player character is called up in turn to account for their version of events (I also had a bit of politics going on with the noble they were working for) but it is the other players that do the questioning by playing the dignitaries.
-I've run this three times with different groups and it has worked well each time. The players put each other on the spot, and argue amongst themselves as the dignitaries, but the roleplaying is priceless. They also gain some insights into the political landscape in their world which comes up later in the campaign.

There are lots of ways of reducing the amount of combat in a game, just don't reduce the amount of conflict. And as Frank says, having someone trying to shoot at you occasionally does add that bit of spice to a story.

Jeff B

In my opinion, you should not blame yourself for getting caught in the quagmire of D&D rules:  The game presents itself as a how-to manual without identifying its own biases.  It is possible to have terrific narrativist and social roleplay events happen in D&D, but the game system itself will not particularly help you toward that goal.

As far as improving social conflicts/situations, here's a couple of items I have found to be enlightening:

1. Lumpley's blog/notes/forum on rpg play:  http://www.lumpley.com/hardcore.html.  A number of concepts are discussed basically oriented toward narrativist play.

2. A fascinating idea involving "body of argument" that is used in the Burning Wheel rpg system (including Mouse Guard).  In this system, any argument is given hit points based on the skills of the person presenting the argument, and resolution is handled a little more like combat, with the Body of Argument taking "damage" from PC/NPC actions.  www.burningwheel.org.

Ari Black

  I love the idea of an argument having "health" :) And thanks I'm for the lumpley's link, going to read through it when I have a chance.

  I'm giving you credit in advance, I'm going to use that court case idea :)