Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Skills and Feats (and other things...)

This is less a critique about how this (Paul's) specific game is played and more about skills and feats in general. I've been reading a lot of forum posts about alternate systems. One I've fallen in love with is Castles and Crusades. Mostly for it's simplicity but also for the fact that it's "compatible", for the most part, with all versions of Dungeons and Dragons. Granted, older versions are easier to translate than 3.X and above...

One of the arguments for Castles and Crusades is that it hearkens back to the days of Dungeons and Dragons when you didn't have skills and feats. IF it made sense and was conducive to the story then your character could likely do it. After all, they were heroes right? Oh, you also had to have DM buy-in of course.

Well in the current system of Dungeons and Dragons, skills and feats play a huge role in the game. One of the things that I've heard, but never really paid much attention to, till last night, was that the list of skills and feats are actually a list of things that you CAN'T do. Think about it, out of the hundreds and hundreds of feats, you'll quite likely only ever be able to choose 10 or fewer by the time you're 20th level. EPIC level and you've only chosen ten? Pfah... How heroic is that?

So I mentioned "last night" as if it were some kind of epiphany. It wasn't really... it's just fresh in my mind. Here's the scenario: Saric, the 2nd level ranger in our party was trying to get back to a road... He's got a map. He knows the direction in which he's gone. He knows the direction in which he wants to go. The weather is not a factor. He can see the sun. Granted, we ARE in an old growth forest full of redwood-stature trees...

Well, I have to make survival roles to tell me if I'm going the correct direction. This bothers me... Me, Jeff Faller, knows generally how to maintain direction in a landscape where you can reckon by the sky and landmarks. I'm a '0' level ranger... I do not make my living by stumping around the woods. So why is it that I can do it but Sarik, a supposedly heroic ranger in a fantasy campaign, can't do it? Seems rather anti-heroic to me. So I raised that point with Paul. Not in a loud or obnoxious way. Just raised it. Not really sure what he thought about that but I had to voice my displeasure at what I consider a glaring hole in the system.

In a nutshell you might say, before skills and feats were introduced it was just commonly understood that a character who lived in a fantasy world could do certain things: Build a fire, swim, run a certain distance, jump, walk a straight line, etc. Now of course there might be cases that dictate otherwise, but these should be driven by the story and adjudicated by the DM. With the introduction of skills and feats you now have to make a roll to build a fire or to hunt a bunny..c'mon, you can put an arrow through the eye of a troll at 20 paces but can't hit a bunny?

From what I can see, it's a case of taking away the basics of what you might expect of a hero in the interest of making the game more generalized and portable. More rules to define what can and can't be done. This is a great platform and mechanic to use if you plan to try and produce and sell about a million more "Accessory" books... but it doesn't do squat for playability. IMHO of course.

I'll freely admit, if I owned Dungeons and Dragons, and had to make it profitable then I'd quite likely do the same thing. Those guys are in it to make a living, not to play it. Granted, there are a large number of designers within the company that DO want a playable and cool game. But in order to work at a place like WotC on a game like Dungeons and Dragons you have to admit, you're likely going to have a similar mindset just to get past the first interview. This isn't your father's game of Dungeons and Dragons. ;-)

One of the things that I've always known but have never written down is in regards to the chemistry of a group, and how it affects play. Once you've found a group of people that get along, that have a good "chemistry", you've struck gold. Hold onto that for all you're worth, because it's not something that's easy to find.

Our group has a good core... but we also have a few of what I'll refer to here as prima donnas. People who demand attention and work all sorts of little schemes in order to get it. This is turn makes for a game wherein a lot of the time is spent in them making completely unrelated comments during the game, throwing fits, metagaming, constantly trying to hurry through scenes that "bore" them, etc. It's a "me" show for them... their characters are generally the center of attention, the strongest or most outrageous.

Not conducive to an enjoyable game at all eh?

You might say "Toss them." Well, it's not quite that easy. Finding people to play is a tough thing. We're right on the cusp of having too few. And to boot, the person (people) I'm referring to aren't bad people really. They're actually quite nice. It's just that they're not the right fit at this time.

"Sigh"... What to do, what to do. Ah well, I'll leave that as a decision for another time and place.

This is a long post... Apologies.

Last night's game dragged. Probably the first one that I didn't really enjoy. We started off on the wrong foot: We were separated. The DM tried to remedy the situation and it didn't work out the way that he wanted. *NOTE: When this happens, just go with it as a DM. Think about ways you can subtly change things but DO NOT try to create a situation that will railroad.

So we spent a lot of time running around trying to get our group back together without thinking in a metagame fashion. We had a equitable solution that could have been resolved fairly quickly between DM and group. We then could have moved forward as a group. But things didn't work that way.

Our group spent a considerable amount of time arguing stupid things, interrupting one another and generally not paying attention. I don't know what our issue was last night but one thing I can say for certain: A prima donna in the midst does NOTHING to help when a group is in a general malaise.

Nuff said.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tuesday's Game 10 - 30 - 07

DM: Paul Reinwald
Game: Homebrew

This is the first post of this forum and I'm not at all sure of the form that this should take. So initially it's going to be a bit free-form.Last night was the fourth session that we've had playing Paul's game. Initial observations are:
  1. Paul's very good at creating a neat back-story and tension in a setting
  2. His NPC / characterizations are very believable
  3. He likes role playing
  4. His new system (house rules) seem to work but I'm not sure what they "Add"
  5. His game runs a little slow due to tons of details and some rules issues. He's using a computer to track much of this.
I'd like to talk about number '4' above in a little more detail for this post. It seems to me that there are two ways to "simulate" combat in a RPG. The first is to instill as much reality into the combat as possible. The appeal of this approach might be that it is trying to represent combat in a gritty, detail-oriented light. While some people absolutely love this approach, I'm not sure I do. I think that the hazards are that it slows the game (especially at higher levels) and becomes more of a board game in its terms of strategy.

The second way is to abstract combat and depend upon vocal descriptions in order to create a believable and energy-infused scene.

Paul has opted to take the first approach. His house rules have incorporated Damage Resistance (DR) for armor. While I completely understand the realism that it represents, I don't currently see what it's added to the game. A the moment it's transparent, meaning that the players don't track this stat at all. The whole thing is taken care of on Paul's computer.

The idea is to have armor "wear out" during battle... to have a life cycle more akin to armor in real life. But what I think might be missing in this is Paul's descriptions of what's happening to the armor as it's getting beat upon. So it's soaking up and taking damage during the course of a melee, describe that. We as players don't see any of this. It apparently just happens. And frankly, when it does, it's not going to make that particular PC very happy.

Suggestion: So my approach might be for the DM to make sure that IF they're going to try and create a house rule that adds some complexity, that they make sure that they represent that rule in their description of what's going on.

Example: "The orc captain's sword slices through the air with a whistle and impacts with your breastplate, causing a screech of metal on metal. It pierces the thick plate and draws a painful scarlet trail across your ribs..."

I realize that it's difficult work trying to creatively describe combat after combat. It's certainly an art that requires a lot of effort.

Suggestion: In order to arm yourself w/ reams of descriptive ammunition, read books that you feel represent the kind of genre of game that you're trying to run. Take notes.

There's more to write...but I'll leave some for the others. ;-)