Bringing Back Balance To Your Game Episode.052

“How much?” he asks as he holds the jeweled pendant in his hands in front of the drooling merchant, anxious for a big sell today.  “For you, I will part with such a rare item for three quarters of a hundred thousand.”  The man looks up with an emotionless expression on his face. “Fine,” he replies and places a heavy chest on the counter with a thud and a deafened jingle from within.  The merchant wets his lips at the sight, never having seen so much money at one time…and all for him.  He looks up to thank the buyer, offering his hand, but his shop is completely empty.  The little bell above his door never once rang when he left.  “How did he move so quickly?” thought the merchant, and then shrugged his shoulders as he eyed the chest and worked at the latch to open the container.  Outside moments later, bystanders heard a shriek of horror and pain from within the shop.  By the time someone investigated, they found nothing more than a pool of liquid beside the opened chest, a burning sizzle rising from within the container that had a spring-loaded acid trap, now spent.  The only one who knew of the mysterious man’s existence was now dead, but the world would know of him very soon.

One thing that always baffled me are players who find enjoyment for long periods of time playing characters who are clearly overpowered for the game in rpgs.  While it is very satisfying and rewarding when you work hard to build a character from very little to a very powerful character, the latter half should still be as challenging, just on another spectrum.  Challenges, obstacles, or bumps in the road make up any storyline and create interest.  If you were to take out those setbacks or achievements that need to be accomplished, then you are living essentially a “slice of life” story where it is merely a segment of one’s life in everyday living that just happens to have little to no difficulties.  We may live ordinary lives every day, but they are still filled with challenges both great and small.  We can think that life would be so much better if we lived in a utopia where there was no work and all play, it would lose its value and enjoyment.  If we don’t mix things up, we lose interest.  Those living in paradise eventually get used to living day to day there and it loses the charm.

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So what brings on the charm of being so powerful in an rpg you find little to no challenge in each session?  It may be fun to enjoy dominating an encounter, rolling extremely high numbers (ridiculously high, in fact), but just how far can the enjoyment of that go?  Sooner or later, repetition is going to sink in, and you will find yourself going through the motions rather than the joy.  The excited rolls of big numbers will eventually become “why bother rolling?”  As a GM, it becomes more difficult to find challenges for players who prefer to become more powerful than they know what to do with.  Generally the two areas of power a character can get are money and equipment.  The former brings the latter unless you accidentally give them the opportunity to acquire the equipment.  I find that if you are able to limit the amount of gold and reward what they get as they progress, you will be able to control their power.  This is much easier said than done.  In fact, there are charts in most guides for GMs explaining how much reward you should give a group depending on their level (not just fantasy rpgs but in general).  It’s so easy to just dump a large amount of gold at the players.  When they get powerful enough to hunt dragons, for example, or attack corporate companies that have Swiss bank accounts, that’s when you need to be on you’re A Game.  But let’s say you made a mistake and allowed the party to either have too much gear or money too soon.  How do you bring it back to a level playing field without you having to tell them point blank you need to remove some things from the game?  Here are a few suggestions to get your brain storming started:

  • Curse Items – This is for fantasy settings when things like magical gear are available. It won’t be as critical in modern day or future settings.  However, in a setting where they are present, cursed items can really help bring characters back on a level playing field although it is only a temporary fix.  If they acquired their gear by money, they probably still have a ton left.  However, keep in mind that curse items that cause your gear to go mundane is extremely powerful and should be in a logical area.  It can also cause your players to up and quit the game (had one do that in a fit of rage).

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  • Give them opportunity to buy cool things that are essentially worthless. Strongholds are the best that come to mind.  These can produce gold, but not as quickly or as much as the wealth they have on hand.  Building structures takes lots of workers, tons of material, and constant protection until it can properly defend itself.  Once built, then it takes time for people to move in and be taxed.  Tax them too high and a GM can choose they begin leaving.  Let them build their own traveling vessel like a ship.  Just because the price “in the book” says a value doesn’t mean that is how much it is.  YOU are in charge of your world.  It’s your baby.  Different parts of the real world have varied prices depending on inflation.  Pure economics will dictate and allow you to choose the values of things.

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  • The countries they are in can hold a ton of options on reducing gold or valuables. It can be a highly taxed environment that does an outstanding job of keeping an eye on everyone through scrying means.  There could be a form of IRS that is a collection of wizards working for the king who use their powers to spy on every single person in the kingdom and makes notes of who pays and who doesn’t, then sends a powerful group of assassins or adventurers after them to collect or soften up.
    • The country could be very anti-magic to the point the entire country (or a large part of it) is domed with an anti-magic field, rendering their weapons mundane. Instead of the entire area being a neutral area, you could introduce anti-magical weapons.  These pieces of equipment could be enchanted with a means to negate the enchantment of the weapons the party uses.  Armor could essentially work as damage reductions, negating the magical bonus the weapons have, and their anti-magical weapons could cut through their enchanted armor.
    • Not every country uses monies to buy and sell things. Bartering could be an option, and when they have to come up with something valuable enough to acquire that very expensive magical item, it may be a challenge.  Often bartering doesn’t have a price or value.  It is based on what the two need.  The man with the weapon may have a need for a cow, but they are in the desert where cows are extremely hard to find.  The country may be against the country where they acquired the gold and refuse to accept or exchange it, calling the coins “tainted.”

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  • Another possibility is for actual theft. This is a bit tougher to pull off because just about any gaming party is by nature extremely paranoid because they know whatever they are capable of doing other people are just as aware and capable.  But not everyone is at the same level of skill as the party is.  Just because they are around the 4th level (or whatever equivalent in the system) doesn’t mean everyone in the world is the same.  Much more prevalent in a more realistic, living campaign world where the party can and will encounter all kinds of danger, they can often be reminded that the world is a dangerous place.  Just because they are overly cautious doesn’t mean they are completely safe.  As a GM, you can compare the situation to hackers in modern day where no company can guarantee their systems are safe.  No matter how careful the party is in keeping an eye out, if someone wants your stuff bad enough, they are going to take it.  This can lead to having a reoccurring villain or villains who continue to thwart the party as they try to catch them.
  • Finally, always keep track of encumbrance when they acquire too much gold.  Carrying 150,000 gold pieces takes up A LOT of space!  If they then choose to put it in a bank, it’s not like modern times where we can wire money from bank to bank.  Where it is held is where your money can be accessed.  Then you have the threat of it being stolen.  They could put the money in a dungeon they have cleared, but then it’s a cleared, unprotected dungeon.  Putting the gold all on a wagon is fine, but think about that for a second: a wagon filled with gold jingling anywhere is bound to attract constant attention.  They definitely can’t carry it all on their bodies without being highly unencumbered, too.

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It is tempting to reward your players too quickly and by too much.  This is especially the case after the party accomplishes a very difficult task, and you feel that they should get a considerable award for their achievement.  Be very careful with awarding treasure and rewards on the fly!  I can’t stress this enough.  If you know something is coming up, prepare yourself beforehand by making a list of things they will acquire if they complete a task.  However, if you are suddenly working on-the-fly, making things up off the cuff because the players are going a different direction than you had planned, there is nothing wrong with you making a note to the players the reward will be given later.  Yes they may be belly-aching because they want to know now, but leave it as a cliffhanger if you want.  “After vanquishing the beholder and gaining access to its secret chamber, you open the door to see….” And make them wait until next session.  It will make them anxious to come back to find out, and it will give you enough time to clearly think of a fair and balanced reward for them.

Take your time, think things through, and proceed with caution and wisdom instead of being zealous or careless.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Mastering as Game Master: Tips & Tricks Episode.051

Anytime I am at a convention or around seasoned GMs, I love to pick their brains.  I love talking about past games we have run and anecdotes, but really the parts I eat up most are the times GMs talk about a technique they did or a trick they pulled off without the players knowing that led to an amazing story conclusion.  Even newcomers just getting into the GMing world often have clever ideas that people who have been running rpgs for 20-30 years never thought about.  Like with any professional field, talking in groups with like-minded individuals will almost always yield improved productivity either through creative ingenuity or higher efficiency ratings.  These adjustments can add light years to your game.  Your experience as well as your players may very well improve and revitalize that campaign that is waning rapidly on excitement.

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There aren’t enough seminars at conventions involving GM training.  It’s not that GMing is all that difficult with some practice, but there are things we don’t think about or realize and fail to utilize in our game.  Various tips, tricks, and techniques can spice your game up significantly.  There is a tremendous amount of information on improving your game online that can help anyone sharpen their skills.  If anything, it’ll stimulate the imagination and bring about new inspiration.

When you are running a campaign, it is important to make note of the insignificant things from time to time in your world.  Next time you are out in public, take a mental note of your surroundings.  Maybe an emergency vehicle is rushing to aid someone or a broken down vehicle alongside the road.  Someone’s flying a kite or riding a bicycle or painting in a park or riding in a hot air balloon.  These are things we generally ignore (perhaps not the hot air balloon), but they make up our realistic world.  If we were to remove those mundane things, we would immediately become aware of our surroundings and the odd obscurity of it all.  We don’t stop and listen to birds, but we take note if the birds suddenly stop singing.  Much like our world, it’s vast enough that a million things are happening at the same time, most of which does not pertain to you.  Someone is going to the store, someone’s going bowling, or someone’s working on their car in their garage.  Someone is visiting their nephew on his birthday.  They would not really fit or be needed in a typical campaign, but they carry the same premise understanding for what you can implement.  For example, in a gritty, sci-fi campaign, an emergency vehicle with sirens blaring flies by.  The players overhear a news report on a broadcast system – an isolated radio in an abandoned station, a department store, a passing vehicle, a town crier – of something significant and interesting happening elsewhere.  It can be a natural disaster, a huge political change, a large scale war, an epidemic, an alien sighting, the dead rising, etc.  These do not need to have any ties whatsoever with the campaign.  I’ve had players feel the rumbling of thunder on the ground approaching from behind that is caused by an enormous army on the march down the road they are traveling down.  One officer lets them know frost giants are on the move against a famous capital city far to the north, and they are on their way to reinforce the city.  The party could try to join or follow the army, but it wouldn’t be the end of their campaign if they didn’t if they were on their way elsewhere.

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Don’t feel you have to go by the book on encounters.  If questing in rpgs were real, you would not experience a progressively more difficult group of monsters.  Just like if you go camping up in North America or the deep parts of Syberia, you’re going to encounter deadly animals from the very start and not harmless bunnies.  You don’t have to kill the characters.  There’s no need to throw adult black dragons at players just starting their campaign.  However, monsters can come in, wear down and toy with the PCs then abandon them when they realize they are uninteresting due to their weakness.  Think of it as a toy that a dog or cat plays with and grows bored once it realizes the ball does nothing but roll when they push it around.  It doesn’t fight back or chase them (and in the case of the party, the damage is insignificant to the monster).  This also helps you as a GM wear down players who seem to always be dominating combat.  Make them spend a few spells or lose a little health before the fight you really were planning to throw them at.

Before you begin a campaign, establish a “social contract” with your players.  This was an outstanding idea from Chris Perkins, senior producer for Wizards of the Coast.  Essentially it is an agreement between you and your players on a list of certain things that everyone has to abide by throughout the game.  This can be anything from “no threatening or attacks between PCs,” or “accepting and dealing with bad situations that happen to your PC without belly aching.”  It lays down the foundation of understanding of how you are going to run the game and what the players expect up front.  I enjoy putting PCs in bad situations; I especially love having them arrested and making them find a daring way to escape.  Without knowing prior to the campaign beginning that this can happen, players may get aggravated, frustrated, or irrational in thought towards the GM when something happens to their precious PC.  These will essentially be house rules, and I would recommend a clause that more rules can be added if the group finds a problem that needs a remedy in the rules or gameplay.

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Many times, experienced players can role play without meta gaming even though they know the truth.  I picked up a hint from the GM when he slipped about something behind the door, but I know my character is reckless and careless.  Even though I played the character accurately to his background and personality, as a player I knew I was walking into a trap.  Yes, I’m okay with playing it right, but the surprise of my character getting pummeled by falling rocks in the corridor was lost.  This is where you as a GM can hide things that the players are “suppose” to know according to many mainstream rpg rules.  For example, don’t have players roll for checks on whether they are in danger or about to be if they proceed.  If the player is looking for traps, then roll for them privately.  Otherwise on a success they know there aren’t any traps, but on a failure they also might fail to find any traps.  If you roll poorly for them and tell them they do not find any traps, they will properly trigger the trap as their characters did not spot it in time.  Without this hidden method, they have to avoid meta-gaming, but they still will have their own, story-line surprise ruined.  This goes for any situation that does not involve an objective occurrence, only subjective.  Your character believes he is moving silently because he can’t hear himself, but a guard has incredibly better hearing and is listening to each step unbeknownst to the character.  Let the player find this out when he turns the corner and runs into a waiting guard.  If you have problems with your players meta gaming (i.e. players who aren’t wise enough to play the game truly), this can reduce that problem.

Instead of always rolling dice for situations, give the players activities to interact with.  Daring escapes from a burning building by having each player solve a maze on a piece of paper at the gaming table.  Time it and hand out incremental damage depending on how many seconds after the target time each player takes.  Trying to get through an interesting situation that usually deals with a simple roll of the dice and consulting a chart can be substituted out with a simple but challenging toy puzzle bought at the store.  It will stimulate their minds in a different way, break up the monotony of the game, and give them something to fiddle with for a bit.

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If you’re lucky enough to get to a convention, or if you find some GMs at your local gaming store, keep your ears and eyes open for people talking about rpgs and running games.  Those are your GMs who you can pick their brains or just listen in on their stories and such.  Ask them about any interesting techniques they may have, situational problems you have face, or general ideas on handling a campaign.  Don’t worry or feel self-conscious of asking a stupid question ever when it comes to a fellow gamer.  The industry has always been a niche and we cherish and value fellow RP gamers when we meet them.  And among those fellows, good GMs are extremely hard to come by.  I can’t stress that enough as I often find people tackling GM duties at conventions and admitting it was their very first game ever to GM.  So pick their brains, ask the questions you need to ask, and make mental notes of any tips and advice they may have because generally it’ll help your game out tremendously.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Planning Custom Spaceships Episode.050

The holographic display panel lowered into view before the lady.  Mr. Thorton, in his brand new three-piece, smiled cheekily at her while gestured dramatically to the graphic of a starship in front of them.  “This is but a baseline model, Ms Gwendolyn, but each feature is at your fingertips to move onto or away from the initial package, customizing the ship to your specifications.”  She knew she was on a tight budget and time schedule on getting off the rock, but she was investing too much to pass up a well-built ship.  With somewhat constraint, she dragged the essential upgrades she knew she couldn’t live without like an extended fission-powered life support system.  Her fingers danced over the quad barrel ionic cannon remembering for a moment what was hunting her down but restrained herself from the big expense to have more creds for the reinforced outer hull.  She had her starship, she had a name for it already, but she now had nothing else as her eyes crossed over the final cred total.  This was going to be a very tight trip.

Not everyone likes to construct and build things from scratch.  Some people who were heavy into 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons were extremely specific and dedicated on constructing their stronghold or wizard’s tower perfectly, micromanaging the entire operation down to the architectural drawings on graph paper.  It can offer a nice side diversion from the regular routine of playing a game.  There aren’t many rpg’s out there that offer any kind of construction in that method, but those that are, give way to a whole new level of gameplay.  One of my favorites is the ship construction phase during a game of Traveller.

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I’ve talked about Traveller in another blog – feel free to revert to that for a better explanation of the system.  However, constructing a spaceship was by far the highlight of the game for me besides perhaps character creation.  The design could be so involved that it could handle actual science and physics for calculations both on movement and capacity.  There were graphs and charts involving mathematics for various trajectories, orbiting, and propulsion that much of that was often disregarded by most players.

My forte was the actual design layout of the ship, and this goes for any rpg that offers science fiction and space travel.  Even if you opt not to include space combat, it is a great piece to add to the campaign like a well visited tavern.  But how do you go about building one?  What goes in it?  What can fit inside your chosen ship?

With any starship, there is going to be a budget of some kind.  Even if your characters have millions laying around and having to shoot credits out of a cannon as you travel just to save on weight, you still have a capacity.  The best and easiest way is to pick out 3 starships that have a range of cost and the square footage varies considerably.  Next we’ll narrow down the components and compartments we absolutely must have.  Then it’s a matter of seeing if all the jigsaw puzzles fit in one of the three ships.  And if a few parts can’t go in to the ship you absolutely need, then decide the least needed component that you can live without until it all fits.  Here is an extensive list of pieces to consider when building your custom starship.

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ESSENTIALS

Life Support & Environmental Systems – This may be self-explanatory, but there are quite a number of different kinds of both.  Temperature, humidty, air flow (with correct mixture for breathing), and pressure are all sources for life support.  Does it have a regeneration device that recycles carbon dioxide or does it use cheaper tanks instead?  Is the temperature regulated with coils or burning fuel?

Hull – The outer shell of the ship that protects the equipment and inhabitants safe from small meteors, light ship firefight, minor collision, or just keeping the environments intact inside the ship.  Some prefer the comfort of having an inner hull for extra protection while others wish to install a heat shield similar to the American space shuttle to avoid burning the rest of the ship up during reentry of a planet.  And just because most sci fi movies have ships that are painted a single or two-tone color doesn’t mean yours can’t have a wild design.

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Bridge – This is where the ship is controlled.  Whether it is in the form of a cockpit for smaller vessels or a large room for capital-size ships, it needs to have the main controls for the entire ship.  From engineering to comms to opening bay doors, in an emergency situation, this is where the basic functions of a spaceship need to be controlled.  Some ships won’t have an exterior view for added protection since the outer hull can serve as a shield around the bridge.  Viewing them is usually diverted to a display panel or screen.  The smaller the vessel, the more important it is for vision to be immediate and in real-time, so direct exterior views are to be considered.

Engines – Depending on your campaign, you may have hyper drives, thrusters, jets, repulsive engines, or even propellers.  Many might feel engines need to be as far away from the living quarters of the ship as possible for safety reasons, but this is not the case.  If you are opting for a ship that runs on something that can potentially kill the crew if something goes wrong, and something does go wrong, the ship is doomed regardless of whether it is 50 meters or 1500 meters away.  Engines with enough power to move a ship through space at a rapid enough speed to not make living years a factor will have explosions and blast radii far exceeding the length of just about any ship.  However, for those minor occurrences where separation or isolation is all that is called for, bulkheads are mandatory, which are heavy metal doors that seal shut when closed to protect the rest of the ship.

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ADDED OPTIONS

With the four basic necessities picked out, the fun really begins.  There are dozens of things that can be added to add luxury, protection, and illumination potential on your long voyage.  It can get expensive quickly when picking out what you really can’t live without.

Entering/Exit Hatchways – This is mostly determined by the size of the ship.  If the ship can land on a planet’s surface, then usually a hatch or ramp way is sufficient.  For vessels that are orbital-only, it needs to have a form of transportation to and from a planet’s surface.  Shuttles are available, but they range in occupancy capacity so keep that in mind.  Most do not have much defense or offensive capabilities but can be installed if need be.  Teleporters are also an option depending on the technology level of your campaign.  You’ll also want to have escape pods installed for emergency evacuations.  These can be in plain sight or hidden in case the ship is confiscated.

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Gravity – Does the ship come with a generator, does it spin to create gravity, does it have some kind of device or artifact that creates it naturally, or does the ship come without gravity and everyone wears magnetic boots?

  • Airlocks
  • Head – bathroom, lavatory
  • Galley – kitchen
    • Pantry – small kitchen for officers only
  • Mess Hall or Deck – a place for the crew to eat
  • Sick Bay – for the medical offers and staff personnel to work
  • Berthing – sleeping quarters for the crew
  • Officers’ cabin – the captain will have a special room with better amenities and private head
  • Brig – a holding center for hostiles
  • Cargo holds – depending on what you’re transporting, usually measured by the ton
  • Engineering – where the engines are located but also any monitoring or manual controls
  • Observatory – can either be a recreational center, star gazing room, or for scientific viewing
  • Science lab – this laboratory can be either generalized or have specialized compartments within
    • Chemistry
    • Biology/Botany
    • Physics
    • Xenology
    • Geology
    • Astronomy
  • Flight bay – If the ship is large enough for a shuttle or fighter ships, this will hold them safely
  • Smugglers Den – a secret compartment that is used to hold contraband or sensitive material
  • Holodeck – used from Star Trek, it can be used for recreational or educational purposes
  • Rec Center – can be used for the crew’s health, providing a gym, swimming (with gravity), etc.

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This is just a tip of the iceberg on what can be included into a spaceship.  Your ship can be more modular, having the capability of swapping pods in and out relatively quickly.  Pods can hold just about anything and be fully customizable and held in storage from liquid-induced healing tanks similar to bacta-tanks in Star Wars to turrets to small holding chambers.

Find the budget and narrow down all of the desirables to the “must haves” then start piecing them together in the ship you want.  With any luck, things will fall right into place like a glove.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Inanimate Objects As Characters Episode.049

Cedric took his feet off the console and stretched his legs moving out of the bridge and down the lonely corridor.  The bird was on her last leg though he hated to admit it.  It bugged him to think after all the travels he had ventured with her, he was going to have to say goodbye.  Tradition typically involved the crew saluting as she was set to be destroyed, but it had been months since he had even a skeleton to run the ship.  He turned the corner and walked into the engine room where her heart was quietly purring still.  Running his hand over the shell reminded him of a few close calls where that old and now obsolete engine saved his life getting out of a jam.  The intercom squawked from the docking bay master informing Cedric deconstruction was ready to begin once he exits the ship.  He sighed heavily with one last look of his old friend and started walking out.  A few steps before he reached the ramp, however, his eyes spotted a flickering light in one of the side wall panels.  It followed no pattern, and he never remembered ever seeing it lit up before.  Curiously he opened the panel up and realized it was coming from the ship’s main analytical system, essentially the ship’s brain.  It was an aftermarket chip he had installed himself to give the ship a sense of intelligence that recorded, calculated, and gave generalized suggestions to various occurrences.  Although his next ship would not be compatible with the chip, he placed it into a small steel locket and hung it around his neck.  The ship may soon be gone, but he knew she was close.

For some players in a role playing game, inanimate objects sometimes are personified by various ways such as unique situations or their level of value in service.  It could be a sword that seems to make you roll very well when you absolutely need that Natural 20 or it could be a space ship that gets you out of a sticky situation when all hope is lost.  Whatever the case may be, something gives life to what would otherwise be a lifeless item.  They tend to become part of you, the family or the party.  A rag doll that was given to the party by a little girl who they saved could become an iconic symbol for the party’s mission, but it could also become the group’s mascot even though it does little more than lay on the ground.

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These things generally acquire the same personality and perspective towards it as a household pet.  We view them as entities that can be expected to respond to situations or at least give us the perception to do so.  A vehicle truly responds only when someone or something interacts with it, yet we often will thank the vehicle for getting us out of trouble.  The actual machine gave us the opportunity to escape from danger, but it was not done from its own power or free will.  This way of thinking comes from our natural thought process of human interaction.  We generally feel that ordinary, non-living things cannot readily achieve the unthinkable.  A rock cannot actually save our lives because it would do nothing unless it was put into use by someone.  It may be in the right place at the right time to block something from hitting us, but the rock itself did not do anything other than happen to be there at that moment.  The latter part of that sentence even put some personality into the rock by implying it had a choice in the matter to be in that spot when, of course, naturally occurring phenomenon such as rock slides from erosion moved the rock into that place.

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And it’s interesting to analyze what it takes for us to begin perceiving objects as living beings.  Compare a castle with a space ship you designed.  The former will protect you from incoming invasions, withstand catapults, keep out wildlife, provide shelter from harsh weather, and give a sense of comfort having something to call home.  Yet if the place is razed, you probably would not be so concerned with the idea of the building “dying” after what it provided for so many years as you would be disheartened to have to come up with the resources and time to rebuild the thing again.  A space ship, on the other hand, does almost exactly what a castle can do in its own environment (protect, shelter, etc.), but we tend to give it a name, take special care in its condition, and feel truly disheartened if the ship were to ever be destroyed.  We see it as a living thing instead of a ship and the castle as just a structure yet they are very similar in purpose.  Even if you were to name the castle, it probably won’t hold a candle to the character the ship will have to you.

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The same goes with a sword.  It literally is a piece of metal that does nothing unless someone picks it up and uses it as a weapon.  It has the same principle purpose as a rock can have if used similarly.  Yet the rock is unappealing to us, ordinary in its own right.  The sword is an extension of our arm, the very tool we need to easily defend and attack someone if need be.  We give it a wild and exotic name.  We begin to rely upon it to get us out of trouble.  Once again, our notion of an object takes on life, and it may be relating closer to things that tend to save our lives and protect us.  Then again, we don’t usually give shields names or think of them as we do for swords.

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In the end, it boils down to our own way of viewing things.  We think squirrels are cute but despise rats though they are both rodents.  A castle has no “character” like a space ship.  The castle is made of cold stone walls, hard iron, and could even be considered “too large” to have personality.  Think of the giant capital ships in Star Wars, and they feel just like a machine.  Yet the Millennium Falcon was practically another character in Star Wars.  Having said that, Luke’s X-Wing took him all over the galaxy and was wrecked into a bog on Dagobah, but we think of it as an X-Wing like the others that Red squadron flew.  So it’s more the experience the item has that gives it the life that we take it to have.

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A volley ball is just another ball to play with, but draw a smiling face on it and suddenly it becomes Wilson, Chuck Noland’s best friend while stranded on a deserted island in Cast Away.  He wouldn’t have done such a thing living back home with his family, but in that situation and experience, the ball is given life.

It’s interesting to see what brings character and life into lifeless things.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Players Taking RPGs Too Seriously Episode.048

Years ago, I was running a game that included a player who was a young teenager.  He was son to two of the other players, and despite the fact that I felt he was not quite mature enough to play Dungeons & Dragons, I had to go along with it because I was outnumbered.  However, that did not mean that I could be creative when dealing with some of his quirks and behaviors, not to mention his gullible side.  There were a few moments when he showed signs that I felt were a definite warning for him to not be allowed to sit at the gaming table.  One incident involved his character dying.  He became emotional when I requested his character sheet be handed over to me as the character was now forfeit.  We had not been playing very long, so perhaps only 4 or 5 levels at most.  He wanted to keep his character sheet so he could look at it from time to time in the future.  Clearly he had become too attached to a figment of his imagination, especially something that was still very new with little investment.  The second incident was when he triggered a fairly nasty curse that caused his magical weapons and items to become mundane.  He didn’t lose anything significant like an artifact, and his gold jingling in his coin purse was more than an enough to pay for most of the important things.  Yet he lost his cool and threw a tantrum at the entire game, making a rather embarrassing scene.  He had become too involved in the game and was taking things seriously and on a literal level.

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It wasn’t that the young teen was mentally imbalanced or needed to see a shrink for these moments (although I would have kept an eye on his experiences in other areas to make sure it wasn’t carried over).  He was simply still at that transition of understanding not to let simple games get the best of us.  We sometimes will do that even as adults when we play an intense video game.  Our characters die, and we lose our cool, perhaps even slam our head on the desk in frustration, but these are moments of just frustration that soon pass.  When we linger on something as trivial as losing a character or suffering from a particularly nasty curse, we need to reevaluate ourselves on understand this is purely a game and 6 months from now none of us will really care about it (I guarantee being 6 or 7 years ago that kid has long forgotten it).

I do recall one moment that I enjoyed having a fun time tricking him to fix a mistake I had made.  He had managed to acquire an enormous ruby that was valued much higher than the characters should have in gold at the time.  It was meant to be an unattainable item for aesthetic purposes, but naturally leave it to the younger teen to roll a natural 20 and somehow manage to acquire it.  The one great thing about gems compared to gold is that they are worthless unless you either trade or sell them.  Anyone will take gold coins, but what is a merchant going to do with a ruby worth 10,000 gold pieces?  Few would even consider buying it from the character because of the increased risk of being a target for thieves let along coming up with the money to buy it.

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My plan started out as a simple encounter and blossomed into an entire adventure for the session.  They were resting in a crossroad tavern out in the middle of nowhere.  The place was fairly crowded for the evening as there was talk of a storm coming later that evening.  Of the patrons, one in particular was a gnome who had interest in the gem (the player was carelessly having the gem out on the table constantly looking at it so everyone in the bar knew he had it).  When the gnome offered an amount that was below the value of the gem, he was rejected by the greedy player.  It was a fair price for their location, and really the decision by the player went against his character completely (another sign of youth and immaturity for a game when they have inconsistency on their roleplaying to benefit themselves).

So I began to conjure up in my mind something a bit more elaborate for him.  On the fly, the gnome became an extremely powerful illusionist unbeknownst to the party.  As a GM, I knew that it would be risky with illusions because I had one player in the group who was a very seasoned veteran.  The trick to fooling even those players with illusion is to make your illusion as believable as possible, keeping the pace moving so quickly that they have no time to stop and question reality.

It began with the approaching storm that everyone had talked about before the gnome encounter.  This builds to my illusion.  A traveler comes in from outside, panting and gasping for breath, shouting that the storm is bringing a colossal beast with it that is heading this way.  Panic quickly strikes the patrons of the bar, and the bartender takes action being responsible for the safety of his paying customers.DSC_0052-e1373420433355-1024x489

He informs everyone he has a secret passage that leads underground to a subterranean safe house he used years ago during the war.  Through a cleverly hidden door in one of the giant wooden barrels he stores his ale and mead in, the patrons depart into the tunnel below.  Since the characters were not at a very high level, I gave them reason to go with the patrons.  First, taking advantage of one of the characters having a lawful background, they felt compelled to go with the patrons to assure their safety in their travels.  I further gave encouragement by giving examples of the creature’s power by throwing giant oak trees from a mile away to almost land on the tavern, whatever the creature actually was I never had to come up with because they bit the bait and went into the tunnel.   I was railroading them, but in this case, the railroading was caused not by the GM but by the clever gnome.

From here, I unleashed more nasties by showing signs the tunnel has been breached recently by creatures from underground, making the trip tougher.  As the travel continued, and the safe house seemingly “just a little further” the number of creatures continued to appear, whittling down the party’s resources.

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Eventually they became surrounded on both sides with the rumbling sound of the creature above heard pounding down on the soft earth as threat of a cave in grew more.  The goal was to cause chaos and stress for the players, especially the young teen who was easily convinced.  When all hope seemed lost, the gnome puts on an acting show of the century, informing them he has the ability to get them to safety, having a device that will grant them safe transport, but requests payment in the form of the gem or else he will simply abandon everyone.  If you play it out right as a GM, the players are on the edge of their seats by now, reacting before they can logically think.  As suspected, the gem was handed over (something I believe a more experienced and mature player would have questioned), and immediately the walls, creatures, rumbling, and patrons melted away around them, revealing them all casually standing in the middle of the bar.  Everyone besides them is casually sitting at their respectable tables as they were before.  Outside the rain softly falls on the rooftop.  The gnome winks and gives advice to the young player that greed can lead to poverty as the illusionist vanishes in thin air.

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I give credit to the veteran players of the group as I suspect they had caught on at some point before the exchange was made, but they knew where I was coming from, recognizing that the gem was really too much for their characters to have a the time, and allowed their son to learn a lesson.  The situation was helpful for the young teen in general as he showed signs of being more cautious, logical, and less greedy in the future sessions.  I was further pleased when he didn’t throw a tantrum at the loss and swindling of the gem (as it was substantially valuable).  As a gesture to his good sportsmanship on the situation, the bartender walked over to the character after the gnome disappeared and handed him a pouch the gnome “forgot.”  It contained the amount of gold the gnome originally had offered, which was a much better amount the party could handle.

The encounter was one that I will enjoy and think of for many years to come as it was challenging to me to convince everyone the illusions were real, but at the same time I could help with players who struggle at grasping the understanding of what role playing is all about.  It’s not necessarily to be greedy, over powered, omnipotent, and meta-game at every turn.  It’s about letting yourself enjoy a story that you control, but at the end of the day, you can satisfyingly close the book and look forward to opening another with fond memories.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Discussion: Pillars of Eternity Episode.047

I was among the fortunate to have lived during the nice stretch of years when companies were pumping out classic RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and to a lesser extent Diablo.  These games all had a similar look and feel to them that complimented the flavor of the game.  The camera was fixed in an isometric view looking down upon the ground from above.  It was built more as 2.5 dimensional where things could walk behind other things but you couldn’t rotate the camera to see the other side of anything.  All items were built in 3D but rendered as a 2D object that faced the camera.  The result gave a nice illusion of depth while limiting the need of high computer resources.

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We are seeing a nice resurgence of genres of yesteryear with reboots, remakes, and sequels of games that are 15-25 years old, much to the thanks of crowdfunding websites.  Most recently, Pillars of Eternity was released that commemorates that style of gameplay much like that of Baldur’s Gate.

Pillars of Eternity is a spot on nostalgic trip back 20 years ago as the graphic style and gameplay are nearly identical.  Character creation has a similar feeling to the Dungeons & Dragons systems of before as Baldur’s Gate was.  However, to avoid licensing/copyright issues, PoE altered a bit of the stats, abilities and skill names.  The veterans of D&D will recognize Cat’s Grace, Bull’s Strength, and Owl’s Wisdom among others now renamed.

Unlike 20 years ago, technology has allowed more voice recordings for the dialogue beyond just the few choice words that games like Baldur’s once had.  Unfortunately there are simply too many lines of dialogue for the entire game to be recorded (BioWare did just that for The Old Republic MMO, but the amount of dialogue is a bit less).  But reading line after line is expected for this type of game.  Even back in the 80s when there was nothing but text-based RPGs, the entire game was without visuals.  The only element that could be considered a visual was maybe a map, which would be created using keyboard characters.   These RPGs are going to immerse you partially from the dialogue by making the game feel like enjoying a good book.

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Although if you were to put the Baldur’s Gate II side by side with PoE, there still is a clear distinction of quality that tricks the mind into believing the older of the two games has similar graphic levels.

Skills tend to be more important in this game than they were in BG and Icewind Dale.  In the past, with the exception of rogue abilities, skills came up just in dialogue.  If your Lore was high enough, for example, you could choose an additional response to the conversation that reflected that skill.  Although perhaps 10 or so hours into the game has yielded very little skill-based choices, the actual skills have come in handy.  Instead of having a plethora to choose from like you would from 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons, you have just a few that are much broader: might, athletics, lore, mechanical and survival.  Just five skills are used that cover a great area though they do miss a few that just don’t come up in the game (or the closest skill just takes over in an even broader spectrum).

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The story does get you started off fairly quickly with action.  It puts you into the start of the over arcing campaign story right off the bat with a side quest to boot.  There doesn’t seem to be quite as many side quests as have been in some more modern RPGs like Skyrim (mercy the number of quests….you never got around to finishing).  There are quests that have multiple outcomes:  any choice you pick will result in completing the quest.  The result itself will be different than another choice, good or bad.  You may help a criminal escape which a woman who lost a cow to the thief goes without justice, but later the criminal gets you out of a bind when certain death is imminent (for example, this is not from the game).

They did a fantastic job with storing items.  You are given an enormous traveling case that you are able to put anything you pick up into it.  The downside is that you must either be in a city or resting for a while before you can access it.  However, the chest’s huge size carries over for each of the 6 some odd categories of items.  This means that the weapon tab can hold 50+ weapons, the armor tab can hold 50+ pieces of armor, etc.  Potions are in one along with their ingredients.  Miscellaneous tab for the millions of books you can read for weeks (just about every RPG has this).  It’s easy to get to what you want quickly, and you can take a quick nap to access something you really need right now.

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Camping is a bit better than it used to be in Baldur’s Gate.  Now you are required to carry with you firewood.  You use up one for every time you rest.  Resting restores all health to max and relearns any spent spells.  In the past, you could click rest at any time in areas where monsters were not present as much as you wanted.  Time would pass, but otherwise there was no consequence to doing so.  Potions and healing spells were only needed during combat to keep you alive to the end so you could click rest and recover.  Those games had chances of you being interrupted in the middle of the night with monsters, which was a nice feature, but they didn’t happen too often depending on where you were.  I have camped a few times, but I have not been interrupted.  There is an option to stay in the cities for free, which was nice, and there is now incentive to choose the rooms that cost money in that your party receives skill bonuses that last quite a while.  I have found enough campfire wood to keep things comfortably moving, but it is not to the point where I have to put them in the stash just because I don’t have enough room for them.

The game offers numerous levels of difficulty that range from easy to hard.  Monster frequency and number in each encounter are affected by difficulty, and there is also a hardcore version where you cannot make multiple saves of the same game along with perma death.

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Your characters have both Endurance and Health.  From what I can tell, Endurance is simply like stamina that can go down as you are wounded, but it automatically restores back to full at the end of combat.  Your health, however, does not.  Depending on the attack and amount of damage determines if you lose just a few Endurance points or dip into your health.

There is obviously nostalgia for me as I play the game and reminisce about my younger years.  However, as with many nostalgic things of our past, that feeling subsides rather quickly after we have experienced it.  Picking up a He-Man toy in the flea market may excite memories of your childhood, making you think about buying it, but after a few minutes the excitement is gone as we realize it’s just a part of our past.  Pillars of Eternity helps pick up when the nostalgia wears thin by delivering a solid game.  It offers itself as a strategy game, a role playing game, and a story-driven game.  All the while pushing you to explore more to see what the developers thought up next.  If you’re still hesitant because you aren’t familiar with this type of game, put it on a wish list somewhere and hold off on an upcoming sale before picking it up.  You may be pleasantly surprised at how much you find yourself wandering around the game’s world.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

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