…now for something completely different…

I admire RPGs that attempt to rework what a roleplaying game might be. I admire them, I do not enjoy them. Like long distance athletics events; if someone breaks a record or makes a particularly spirited attempt… well good on them. I’d rather just hear about it afterwards, rather than watch it.
Amber, the diceless roleplaying game, was kind of like that. I read with interest all about the character creation as an auction. If you bid highest for Strength, you were the strongest person in the party. The system was comparative, with how you described your actions important as modifiers, but generally Strong people always being able to beat slightly less strong people. I think that’s a fascinating and bold idea that I want nothing to do with. Maybe if I was more invested in the Roger Zelazny books, I’d give it a shot. But it seems to be a system designed to portray fantasy soap operas and that kind of turned me off. I’m probably super wrong, but that’s not a boat I feel inclined to push out.
I don’t know quite enough about Mouse Guard to pass judgement… but that’s kind of my point. Read a bit about it, start zoning out because it strays a bit from a comfort zone…

I DO know that the adventuring parties are fucking adorable.

Another experimental game I received, as a present from our old D&D DM, was a letter writing game. Players would be in correspondence with the GM, who would write them letters. The idea being that you could create these correspondences like the ones you find in Lovecraft stories –
“My dear Clarence, so I found this new Church…”
“Dear Barnabus, how quaint…”
“Dearest Clarence, I discovered the source of the smell coming from the Church basement…”
“Dear Barnabus, how ghastly…”
“Beloved Clarence-human, please visit me at once. Don’t wear anything on your head that can’t be digested…”
“To whichever Unknowable Entitity From Beyond Currently Inhabiting Barnabus it may concern, please find enclosed my suicide note and a pipe bomb…”
It isn’t a bad idea if what you liked were collaborative creative writing projects as opposed to say… roleplaying games.
The roll of the dice, the cajoling, the awful puns, the memorable character interactions, the baited breath and clever ideas tortured at length, these are the things I love about roleplaying games. Experimentation on a grand scale, like Amber, isn’t for me, I don’t think. That isn’t to say that some weird ideas don’t work. Some of them are really cool. Ars Magica’s idea of each player basically having a stable of characters from different strata of an occult organization (Mage Bosses, Adventurer Lieutenants and Peasant Servants) was a cool one and one that Mike emulated with success for his Dark Ages CoC setting. Conspiracy X and D&D 2nd Ed. Birthright were settings that involved you managing your own fiefdom while also getting out there and adventuring: Paizo’s Kingmaker module continues the tradition and it is quite popular with some gamers.

“We’ve tried, my liege, but you can’t base a currency on the lamentations of your crushed enemies women.”

It is easy to forget that Call of Cthulhu was a groundbreaking game when it was released, because combat isn’t really a part of CoC and the people you roleplay are Librarians and Flappers. It is an investigative game where the answer to any puzzle might kill you on the spot. It has been so successful that it is hard to imagine a roleplaying game now that wouldn’t incorporate some elements of CoC. Paizo certainly couldn’t.
My point, I suppose, is that you can make things a little different and get a lot out of it. As opposed to going batshit crazy experimental, making the game unrecognisable. Hell, even candles. We used to do that for CoC and WFRP. Sounds silly, but it really did change the atmosphere in the room… we became more focused and quiet. Nothing kills CoC like badly timed levity and the candles really did a good job of keeping that down. One of my absolute favourite RPG experiences ever was Stuart running us through The Vanishing Conjurer, a Games Workshop Call of Cthulhu module, in the old Callis house, in a pretty vicious storm. Unforgettably awesome. 
Jonathan’s recent example of an experiment was during his CoC game. The Investigators suffered a dreadful accident – a plane crash, I think – and woke up in hospital. The Investigators eyes were bandaged up, and they were told in no uncertain terms that early removal of the bandages would result in permanent blindness, something that wouldn’t bother people in some games, but in Call of Cthulhu makes you monster-bait.
So Jonathan bandaged everyone’s eyes… somewhat terrifyingly efficiently, it looks like.
And they played the blind Investigators blind. They had to focus on using their character’s other senses to get by and as the creepiness eventually ramped up, had to continually make the choice between keeping the bandages down and taking them off.  Jonathan moved around the room as he spoke to them as NPCs, adding to the disorientation. The players wouldn’t really know what was happening to who, because they wouldn’t be able to witness any other direct interactions. He reports that it was interesting to see who kept their blindfolds on and who took them off. Steven and Ray actually look quite content with theirs on.
Anyway, an interesting diversion and one that would be quite memorable, I’m sure. Especially if Jonathan had gone along with the second part of the plan, which was to dress up as the sexy nurse while they were all blindfolded. No photos of that were included. I’m reading Reality Is Broken just now which is interesting in the way all literature about why people play games is interesting – briefly – and one of the Bernard Suits quotes is “Games are the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”. The object of golf, for example is to get the ball in the hole. Super easy, pick up the ball, walk over to the whole, put it in the hole. The GAME of golf is to NOT pick the ball up, but to hit it into the hole from quite far away with a stick, in fewer whacks of that stick than your opponents. To be interested in playing games, is to enjoy this process, not the end result – and the blindfold strike me as a really interesting unnecessary obstacle that it would be fun to try to work around.

Sometimes the obstacle is yourself. There are drugs for that.

Back to Pathfinder, Paizo have introduced some of their own tweaks to the D&D campaign format. And by “their own”, I mean, “other people’s”. Things like Faction Rewards for Pathfinder Society play harken back to Living Greyhawk via a big detour through World of Warcraft. Similarly, their system for gaining specific bonuses from NPC Allies/Enemies owes a lot to Bioware’s approach to making friends in Knights of The Old Republic/Mass Effect/Everything they ever do. In Jade Regent they introduced a game mechanic for romancing NPCs, which is a way for a game mechanic to take care of something that is usually super creepy when people just wing it. They also introduced an “Achievement Unlocked” type of system pretty early on (3rd adventure path?) where performing some heroic action a bunch of times gets you a bonus.
Looking now beyond Rise of The Runelords, as I must, my next project will involve some degree of experimentation when it comes to character creation. Usually a lengthy process before the game starts, character creation for the next thing I plan to run will occur during the game to some degree.
In that way it is a rolling start, much like the character creation in Fallout 3. Fallout 3 begins with your messy matricidal birth, with Liam Neeson checking to see if you are a boy or a girl and then conferring with his soon to be dead wife what to call you.
Boom, that’s two entries in the character sheet and all you’ve done is play out that scene. The next scenes involve you at various stages of childhood – mastering the basic controls by dicking around with a ball as a toddler, beginning to assess the style of play that is best suited to you through moral choices and taking a work placement exam that starts you off with your skill bonuses.
While it is clear that you are creating your character, that isn’t to say that the story stops while you do it. How you create the character is part of the story.
I’m less ambitious than that.
I tried to get Liam Neeson to help you make your characters, but evidently he is busy, Mr Big Shot Wolf Punching Movie Actor. Part of the process is made easier by Paizo doing away with the level 1 Feat for Adventure Paths. Instead, you get two Traits, one of which is tied to the AP’s background in some way. I’m strongly considering a small table of Traits for characters of Varisian origin who may have been indirectly influenced by the events and characters of ROTL: some kind of specific bonus for members of the Dropwad dynasty, or those who attended Corwin’s School for Gifted Half-Breeds for a few years, or Black Arrow recruits who were on their way to Fort Rannick and never made it, or Sandpointians who’ve put up with all sorts of shit.
In rough draft form, character creation for the next Pathfinder game will consist of:
1: Story intro… not background, actual start.
2: An auction for who gets to pick their class/race/name first. This may not be a big deal to some people, may be to others. But I definitely don’t want any more Don/Dagfinns, Albedon/Arradins or Tersplink/Torgors… Makes record keeping a pain in the ass.
3: Attribute rolls & race assignment.
4: Optional Random Trait*.
5: Class assignment.
6: Choose one trait, or if you opted for a Random Trait at (4), roll another Random trait.
7: Skills + Feats + Class Choices
8: Story background.
9: Choose AP Trait
10: Start playing.
For reasons that will become obvious at the time, spell selection and equipment purchase isn’t something that needs to happen right away. So that should save some time too.
(* You make the choice before choosing your class either to have two randomly rolled traits and one chosen AP Trait OR one chosen Trait and one chosen AP Trait.)
This is enough experimentation for me, at least for now. But one that will allow us to start playing right away and isn’t held back by anyone getting everything just right. You start with the bare bones and work your way into a full fledged adventurer. Wouldn’t work for all games, but it’ll work for what I have planned. In the AP modules themselves, there are quite a few changes to how things are done, or at least what constitutes doing well and making progress, and I’m excited to see how they work.
Does this website have a ramble tag? It should…
 Meanwhile, I’m playing Witcher2 (Polish RPG, Some really great things and some really mediocre things, but it goes for cheap at game stores.) and getting excited about Cyberpunk made by the same people.
Witcher2 Flavour:
Cyberpunk 2077 (Remember when the RPG was called Cyberpunk 2020?) Flavour:




One Comment on “…now for something completely different…

  1. I listened to an EXHAUSTIVE review of a Mouse Guard game back before I lost my patience with the D6 Generation podcast. Their review style is to recount, moment-by-moment and mechanic-by-mechanic an entire session of playing out a new game. No joke, it can take 2 hours for them to get through one. I can’t listen to it anymore now that I’m not just zoning out at my desk for 6 hours a day at my old job, but it gives you a pretty good feel for what a game is like… because it takes as much time to get through as it would to play it, but the podcast is free.

    Anyway, Mouse Guard seems like it would be kind of spiffy in the hands of a group of very well-acquainted people that have similar play styles. There’s dice in it, but there isn’t a lot of situations where you do things like ask the game master “what knowledge check is going to tell me what weapon to use on this monster?” The DM still makes some kind of decision about how the die roll will work, but it’s more based on what characters and events (like back story and recent events that make things harder). There’s a lot of play in it, but it seems like it’s more conversational.

    I guess that system comes from other settings where you don’t have to feel like you’re role playing a Saturday morning cartoon. I’d be willing to try it, but I think those storytelling-style games wouldn’t work super well for our pun/dick joke-fueled beer-drinking engine style of role playing.