Friday, 21 October 2011

Life Lessons

I ran the first session of my Google+ Yoon-Suin campaign last night, with -CJeremyKelvin and Anthony (who I don't think has a blog) in attendance, and a good time was had by all. (Well, by me, anyway.) Although there were some technological issues, I think everybody got into the swing of things and, as a group of strangers, we gelled relatively well. This, as we all know, is usually enough to go 75% of the way towards good gaming in and of itself.

I was also reminded of three genuine "OSR life lessons" during the session, which (despite my diplomatic assertions to the contrary) only serves to confirm in my mind that this circle of 1000 or so people, who come for good or ill under the auspices of "the OSR", have discovered or created something close to the One True Way of role playing games. At least, for our own purposes. These life lessons are:

  • You really, absolutely, definitely, unquestionably, indisputably, do not need a detailed character background before play begins. In fact, all you really need is a name, a class, stats, and some equipment, and you're good to go - because within five minutes of the game beginning you will without fail find your character beginning to take on a personality of his own. This strange and almost mystical emergence of character through play is one of the best things about the hobby, and it amazes me that people have been so determined, for decades, to kill the concept.
  • You only need to roll the dice when the outcome of an action cannot be decided by agreement or fiat. In 2-and-a-bit hours of play (short, I know, but my motto is "always leave them wanting more") there was exactly one dice roll, and it was by me to see if there was a random encounter (there wasn't). Otherwise, everything happened either through consensus or a bit of fiat, no eyebrows were raised, and things progressed entirely adequately. Dice are a last resort, to be used for adjudication where something has to be contested. And, in fact, dice are a thing which good players will do their damnedest to avoid, because dice mean you may end up losing hit points. When your character has 1 hit point, as Kelvin's does, that can have serious consequences.
  • If you let players loose in a sandbox, they'll do things that you as the GM never would have expected, and for you these moments are the most enjoyable of all. Why several generations of GMs have been told that their job is to get the players from A to Z, instead of giving their players an alphabet and telling them to come up with their own words, is one of the great mysteries of the modern age. Probably.

17 comments:

  1. "If you let players loose in a sandbox, they'll do things that you as the GM never would have expected, and for you these moments are the most enjoyable of all."

    Amen. I agree with that statement wholeheartedly. Thanks for sharing the experience.

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  2. I can't decide whether the silly, absolutist statements (often barely contained) drive me towards calling it quits on this blog, or if they actually contribute to keeping me hooked.

    Also, you are a fool; rolling dice is tremendous, breathless fun. Any person who disagrees is a mouth-breathing imbecile. ;)

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  3. @Ivan:
    Your statment does not contradict Noism's statment.

    Dice rolling can both be fun, and also only used when it matters. In fact, I would say that his statment only makes yours more true.

    Except for the pointless Ad Hominem.

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  4. "In fact, all you really need is a name, a class, stats, and some equipment, and you're good to go - because within five minutes of the game beginning you will without fail find your character beginning to take on a personality of his own"

    No, there are players who treat their PC as a mechanical playing piece and refuse to give them any personality. IME requiring a PC background from the players pre-play is not so those players' PCs will now have personality, it is to identify and exlude these baneful players.

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  5. Definitely agree with #1... A lot of the personality of a character should flow from the personality of the player.

    Some people think they are making neat-o character concepts, but really they are shackling themselves, alienating themselves both from the game and from real role-playing.

    It's "What do YOU do", not, "What do you think might be in character for Baron Emo von Halfelfson VII to say about the events so far?"

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  6. Indeed, dice rolling is fun, which is why we're playing D&D and not some collaborative storytelling thingie; at least half of the party can be killed in a single blow, so the tension involved in a fight or a bit of hazardous exploration is going to be a thrill.

    The point is, if we were playing something like Pathfinder, we would have had to make* Diplomacy rolls to get the owner of the tea house to tell us about local points of interest, Survival rolls to find the witch's hut, and so on. None of these would have added anything significant to the game we played.

    *(Well, we wouldn't have to make those rolls, but they're there on the sheet, waiting to be used, and that brings us back to the discussion of the other day.)

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  7. I disagree with Anon. I think the personality of the character will flow from the personality of the player no matter what. It can't not. If a player has a character concept they think is cool, I'm not going to interfere with that. Most players have some kind of vague character concept in mind anyway, either when they roll up or shortly into the game, e.g. "I want to play Cugel the Clever, but he's a dwarf", and then things just evolve from there.

    Detailed character backgrounds, on the other hand, only end up being ignored. I'm thinking if you decide you do want some meat to your character's backstory it's best developed retroactively during play.

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  8. "GMs have been told that their job is to get the players from A to Z, instead of giving their players an alphabet and telling them to come up with their own words...."

    Beautiful metaphor, dude.

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  9. -C ; Well, the "ad hom" (which was actually just an insult - I wasn't saying his claims re: dice were wrong because he was a fool, I was saying he was a fool because of his claims re: dice) was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek, relatively good-natured jibe at noisms' sometimes vitriolic treatment of people who disagree with him. I even inserted a winky to show my lack of seriousness! Probably not done well though, and in case there is any confusion, I don't really think noisms is an imbecile.

    I guess what I disagree with is the idea that dice are a "last resort" that a good player will do his "damndest to avoid."

    I like my thief to roll the dice when he tries to climb a wall (even though the DM could easily decide the outcome of the attempted wall climb by fiat). It's fun.

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  10. A character background is often pointless because most of the other people at the table are unlikely to actually read it. A short character description, or even better a few memorable characteristics or features is much superior. 2,000 words of faux Batman background is awful. "Mouth breathing warrior in a loincloth who wears a Buffalo Horn helmet" is so much better as another player -- I'll actually have something to imagine.

    Dice should definitely be rolled… when they're needed. If the players don't take a risk on some action without an obvious outcome then they shouldn't be rolled. So if they get into combat - roll the dice. If they're being very cautious and doing things normal people can do without a reasonable chance of failure then don't roll the dice. No rolling dice for walking around, investigating, running away from slow monsters, talking with non-insane NPCs, etc etc.

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  11. I like my thief to roll the dice when he tries to climb a wall (even though the DM could easily decide the outcome of the attempted wall climb by fiat). It's fun.

    If it's something that anyone could climb then the Thief in particular shouldn't have to make a roll. This would include climbing trees, fieldstone walls, rocky hills and so on. If it gets into climbing up a brick wall, or a sheer cliff - basically something you don't think YOU could do without a serious risk of failure, then it's time to roll the dice.

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  12. Stuart - entirely agree. Rolling dice to get onto my barstool is silly; rolling dice to scale the city walls is fun.

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  13. rolling dice to scale the city walls is fun

    I'd play it like this:
    Anyone can scale the wall with a rope and Str 9+
    Anyone can throw a rope + grappling hook: % for success and it makes a noise each try...
    A Thief can scale the wall without a rope: % for failure, but it doesn't make a noise.

    Now there's an interesting choice to be made and pros and cons to taking the risk of rolling the dice or playing it safe and not having a % chance of falling.

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  14. Rolling dice to get onto my barstool is silly; rolling dice to scale the city walls is fun.

    Indeed, and everything we did in the session was of the bar stool variety, so there's no problem here.

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  15. I find it rare that my PC's match my original concept for them. Two thirds of the time they stabilise into something different.

    My most memorable characters are the ones that come from nothing; for example the female barbarian with 18 strength and wisdom has become the most iconic of my 3.x characters and has found her way into numerous other places, including some online games, in numerous guises.

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  16. I don't know if you've seen this, but Patrick has a really interesting and fun theory about ways to make characters that force personality and oddities in a really unique way. That being said, this way of rolling characters is not to be done unless the player is ok with having a really difficult time of things. It is merely a theory that I found interesting and wanted to share.

    http://falsemachine.blogspot.com/2013/04/contrarian-knobend-dungeons-dragons.html

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