Deceiving & Tempting Your Players Weaknesses Episode.059

Though he had weak lungs, he puffed slowly on the long pipe held between his fingers, enjoying the taste for a moment then smoothly releasing it out of his mouth into the chilly night air.  He peered over the stone ledge he sat on, looking down the drop off down the cliff.  The heat of the signal tower warmed his bones but made his eyelids heavier by the hour.  There were a few nighthawks gliding around on the updrafts over the gorge but the sky was otherwise empty.  He took a step off the ledge to the tower side and froze in his tracks.  His eyes were following a nighthawk that was moving a bit oddly as if the air streams were shifting.  He raised the spyglass to his eye and nearly dropped it over the cliff side edge.  That was no nighthawk.  It was a dragon, and its movements led him to believe it was severely injured.  Whatever was the case, the fort needed to be prepared.

I enjoy giving misconceptions to my players.  It’s really an art form to conceive an idea to someone without the realization of another subject.  I can tell the players they see two glowing red eyes in the darkness to make them think of something evil is staring back at them, hopefully causing them to attack without really knowing what it is.  Depending on how spooked they are or how overly cautious I made them will decide if they bite or not.  Just a harmless cow will have red glowing eyes when a light source reflects them in the darkness.

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Generally I prefer not to flat out lie to my players because I want them to trust me.  I don’t throw them a loop too often, les they begin calling me out for crying wolf every time.  The moments have to be right, so when is the moment right?  For the most part, you don’t want to pick a moment when it’s irrelevant to the story or situation.  I use the “cow in the night” trick at conventions just for laughs, but I would probably not use that in a campaign at home.  This is because it’s more comical than I would want, and the result is light enough it may leave a lasting impression in their minds to the next time I try to trick them.

And I use “trick” loosely and hesitantly in here.  We as GMs should never truly be malicious.  GMs have a reputation of being devious and sometimes sinister through joking, but our goal is to set the stage for an amazing story the players can live in and be a part of creating.  Sometimes there is a bit of misdirecting involved, but we should never flat out lie or deliberately cause the players to run their characters into a doomed situation.  Let them fall into their own traps.  Let them cause their own problems through their actions.  Be the Effect of their Cause only.

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I give hints and teasers to the players which might cause them to waste time or get into trouble.  I give them little pieces of candy to see if they bite.  It’s not deception unless you railroad them down the path.  Not everything in the world is what it seems, of course, so that glint of light they see down the dark alley most likely isn’t going to turn out to be a good thing to investigate.  Yet the greedy character may not be able to resist and wind up ambushed by a street gang.  The politician gives the players two options, but hints at one more heavily than the other to be his preference.  The shopkeeper treats them well and offers them discounted price after talking about cheap labor in order to lure them away from the child slaves he has in the basement.  The wounded lizard man thanks them for healing him and offers knowledge to a hidden burial mound containing riches only to collapse the entrance and wait for them to die.

These misconceptions come to me on the fly.  I seldom come up with pre-determined events or encounters that might lead them astray.  My notes are focused for the main event of what I am hoping to lay out to the players in full.  But knowing that very few games I run will ever run its true course unless I shamelessly railroad them along, I want to ad lib the temptations when I see an opportunity.  Sometimes players are not in the mood to bite on bait, and that cannot dishearten GMs.  Know there are other moments juicier than that in the future.  Make note of the situation, however, because it’s a part of the players you just learned about.  That type of temptation wasn’t strong enough to convince them to go a certain way.  It was not interesting enough.

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And, of course, misdirecting players doesn’t have to feel malicious in a sense of tempting them down another path.  Providing optional awareness for them gives players a sense of freedom and avoids the dreaded railroading feeling that no player enjoys.  Sometimes when a party bites on a tempting side path, the idea turns out to be more exciting than the initial idea you had for them.  Don’t be afraid to go with the backup plan even if it wasn’t in the cards.  Sometimes RPGs turn out that way, and most of them really should.  When you break away from your notes, at least for a while, you exercise your imagination more, practice on your off-the-cuff creativity, and generate a dynamic, fresh idea that will give you, the GM, a surge when the game may be beginning to feel drab and monotonous.

Alternatively, you can use these diversions and distractions for parties that are becoming too arrogant for their own good.  It can knock them down a few pegs and make them more humble in the world you created.  Know their weakness.  If your party is obsessed with XP, give them a sweet opportunity to acquire what looks like a huge amount.  Does the party love money?  Use a destroyed wagon that has a semi-covered chest that’s busted open revealing coins.  Throw in some illusions or false coins staged to lure in careless adventurers, and just about anything can be waiting for them.

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This may not seem much different than using some temptation to subtly but definitely railroad a group from a path they wanted that conflicted with where you want them to go.  This is not the case.  Deception and Diversion are not the same as deliberate funneling.  The idea is to give them opportunities to bite down hard on a trap or misadventure to give them a challenge and bring a sense of danger to your world, not to forcibly shove them where you want them to go.  Just like in real life, we are constantly tempted and lured by distractions nonstop.  We could go to work, but it’s sure a nice day out for a round of golf.  We could go home, but the bar has $1.00 longnecks.  We could go to our wedding Saturday, but Roy is catching fish down at the lake left and right.  Learn your players’ weaknesses.  Pay attention to them when their eyes light up at something you say and make note of it.  Then just patiently wait for the right opportunity to throw that Trump Card at them and enjoy the show.  Be ready for anything, be flexible when it happens, and you will have a great encounter.

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

Our Perception of Reality Affects Our Gaming Episode.058

“What’s that?” you ask as the blip on your tracker comes to life.  You look to your left through the thick jungle brush and squint as if that will allow you to see more clearly.  All that’s in view are smooth bark trees, hanging vines, and some of the deadliest insects on this planet.  Gesturing to the others of the expedition to wait, you pull out the cold scanner and run a track in an arc.  Although faint, there is something about 200 paces off the animal trail you’ve been following for hours.  By now the expedition lead has made her way back to you requesting what’s the hold up.  After a minute of explaining the data you’ve found, she sighs and nods over in the direction of your detection, giving you the go-ahead to take two others and catch up as soon as you can with the rest as they continue on to Mesa Giarde.  With trepidation you call out for Richard and Boz to follow behind as you step through the jungle to discover what lies just out of sight.

I’ve recently gotten heavily involved in more science fiction settings since Monte Cook’s Numenera and Green Ronin’s Titansgrave have come out.  One reason is because I have a wider range of development to discover.  What I mean by that is in a traditional fantasy setting, even if something the players stumble on is 1000s of years old, it still has to look primitive or else you risk bringing them out of the medieval setting immersion.  Structures must be built using stone, wood, or mud because steel beams would not fit the setting or any years prior to it.  Although one could make their setting a true “dark ages” by creating a world that has become primitive after all knowledge of technology was lost, similar to Numenera, but even that eliminates the true fantasy feeling because sooner or later someone is going to discover ancient tech.

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Those who are educated enough in history often automatically relate to any setting we play in to our own conception of history.  In other words, if we are playing a fantasy setting, we generally will feel we are in Western Europe around 1100 A. D.  Our minds lock in that the Industrial revolution hasn’t occurred yet even if that has nothing to do with the setting’s future.  Our imagination may be strong to come up with amazing wonders, but when it boils down to it, we have to associate everything in our mind to perceptions of reality.  Even when we think of the most outrageously fantastical thing, we are drawing in things we already know and have seen to create the image.

For example, try to imagine a color that doesn’t exist in the color spectrum.  You can’t.  Why not?  We have imagination, don’t we?  It’s because until we witness or experience something that we can associate with it, it is impossible for us to truly create something that has absolutely no connection to anything we have seen already.

Returning back to the subject at hand of science fiction settings, we have a wider spectrum of ideas to create our world’s reality.  The farther we are in the future, the more history we have in the past.  If an expedition comes across an old castle in ruins, even though you’re in a science fiction setting, players will accept that discovery easier because we associate our own history of the Middle Ages being at some point in the past.  Otherwise, we might hesitate and pull ourselves back out of the immersion we have of the setting.

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One of my favorite discoveries to throw at players is an abandoned structure.  I tend to feel that abandoned structures in a fantasy setting have become legendary and well known with a story behind it.  Sometimes you may come across an abandoned house or the like in the middle of nowhere, but I definitely feel a difference in atmosphere between stumbling upon an abandoned building in a fantasy/medieval setting and one in a science fiction setting.  I usually have to add atmosphere outside the building in a fantasy setting such as thick fog or darkness to make it eerie.  An abandoned structure in a science fiction setting is ominous any time of day because generally something went terribly wrong to those who used to dwell inside.  The same thing happening in a mansion in broad daylight doesn’t quite have the same sense of dread as you enter it.  Again, it may associate with our perception of what to expect from a fantasy setting.  Dungeons may remove that as you can enter one during the middle of the day and have a sense of dread as the light grows dark rapidly once inside.

Let me give you an example.  In the movie Pitch Black, a group of crash victims on a deserted planet stumble upon a house with a broken shuttle outside.  The sun is out, it’s a bright, hot day as they explore the facility.  Clues are strung about the building as they slowly find new pieces to the puzzle of why this place is now empty and what happened to the previous residents.  There is no ominous atmosphere like darkness or fog here.  It’s the reason of the abandonment that makes it feel eerie and foreboding.  It’s an extremely creepy feeling that builds up during the scene.  And yet, there isn’t really anything that is scary or creepy to be scene.  It’s what’s lacking that makes the skin crawl.

Structures from a setting of the future generally don’t involve dungeons although they could.  Usually we expect inhabitants or former inhabitants with a level of intelligence that allowed them to create the place.  When their presence is removed, then mystery follows on why that occurred.  If you remove expectations from any situation, you create mystery for your players.  Something else now inhabits the facility, something deadly harmed the inhabitants, a threat forced them out, or they simply grew too large for the facility and relocated.  Whatever the case, you’re given plenty of room to cause intrigue and fear among the players.  A sense of wonder can follow as they slowly discover the truth behind the place.  This is especially true when their expectations are thrown out the window.  An abandoned structure gives them a quick list in their minds of what possibly happened before they even step foot inside.  Once they begin exploring, however, their jaws can drop open if you give them some twists in the discovery.  Perhaps the building really is to cover the entrance for an underground military base.  The building could have been constructed to hold something imprisoned that confuses the players whether it needs to be imprisoned or freed.  It could be an interstellar staircase to an orbiting satellite or even a passing object that is only accessible every 134 years.

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It’s really on how you perceive things.  If you can remove metagame thoughts associating them with our perception of reality, we are able to accept the abnormal and unusual easier.  Roman era with hover cars, for example, would make most players raise an eyebrow and think “…okay” instead of accepting that that is how this particular setting is laid out and embrace it.  Remember that when you’re playing any game, your character is not you.  Something may seem strange to you, the player, but your character is in a world that is as typical to him/her as you are to your world.  How strange would it be to an alien who does not have to sleep to witness millions of people laying down and going into some catatonic state for several hours, becoming unresponsive?

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

Making the Worthless Character Worthwhile Episode.057

He snuffed out the half-burnt cigarette he found on the ground and breathed out the dark, black fumes through his nose.  His eyes sparkled red in the dark as they took in the surroundings like the noon day sun.  He knew he was being hunted by something just beyond his sharp vision, but he welcomed the company after being thick in the bush for weeks.  His fingers picked up a few pinches of dirt and placed them on the tip of his tongue.  It was a Rodarian Hellcat by the taste and smell.  The slightest hint of a smirk crossed his lips before slipping his long knives out and twirled them a bit in anticipation.  Leaping up to the lowest branch of the tree he stood by, he coiled his tail around it and hung himself down, ready for the ambush.

Wait, wait.  Before you throw that character in the trash or hit the delete key, just wait a second.  Are you wanting to start again because your stats don’t match the class you wanted or are you thinking the numbers don’t add up high enough to make it a power-rich character for your insecure needs?  We play roleplaying games to take part in a journey with characters hopefully not like us.  Yet sometimes we get caught up in the moment and illusion, dreaming of characters a bit too far ahead of our own intellectual grasp.  Sure that character has the strength of 50 men and can lift a boulder and toss it at enemies, which can be fun for a while, but will it be fun in the long run after hurling the 500th boulder?

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So why do we shy away from characters we initially make that we feel are inferior?  “Because they are!”

…but are they really?  What if you were planning on playing a barbarian, but your stats (let’s assume it’s some kind of a traditional roleplaying game) come out: Strength 8, Dexterity 9, Constitution 7, Intelligence 12, Wisdom 10, Charisma 10.  That’s a throw-away character right there, right?  We have negative modifiers for crying out loud!  Well playing these kind of games takes creativity and imagination, so let’s use both and come up with a way of making this would be throw-away interesting enough to at least play through a few levels.


earl_by_thomasbrissot-d7ix3otNAME:  Jasper Creme

OCCUPATION: Barbarian

RACE: Half-Orc

STRENGTHS: Combat Manuevers, Jonty Tunes, A Joke In Every Corner, Holding His Breath, A Strong Tail, Near Perfect Night Vision, Random Combustion, Impersonations, Improvisational Weaponry, Woodworking, Bird Calls, Aristocratic Sociable

WEAKNESSES: Underestimating His Own Strength, Drinking, Acting, Stealth, Swimming, Dancing, Talking to Women, Remembering Short Term, Names, Shooting His Mouth Off

BACKGROUND:  Jasper never was truly cut out to be a barbarian.  Born and raised among the aristocratic community of Hollow Creek Estates, he was set to inherit his family’s fortune safely buried underground in the family vault.  He was shown sophistication, education, and a philosophy on life, but his mind was in the clouds from childhood.  There was a never ending nag inside of him to be more aggressive, beyond business negotiations and networking.  He wanted the life outside of the city where his ambitions ran free and his energy unleashed.  He craved to wield a weapon and swing it at something.

He was an average looking half-orc, having magically altered his appearance through his family funds, and his wealth of high society gave him the confidence he needed to take on life in the wild and be a survivor.  Secretly he would pay for druid gypsies passing by to show him whatever they would to make sure he lived well in the woods and along the prairies.  If the carnival came to town, he’d watch and take notes of the acrobats in their amazing maneuvers.  He became close friends with the city’s highest officers that granted him access with the secretive and mysterious Lox Nine, the king’s elite guards.

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But all of these lessons were only half learned by the young man because his focus was lacking and his eagerness to be gone from the city and on his own was too great.  That’s really how he learned anything: halfway.  His rich cultural knowledge in sophistication, his hobbies and skills, even his education was halfway complete.  However, he took with what he had and made the best of it.  Along the way he acquired interesting traits, skills, and behaviors.

Part of his blood was tainted with a demon or devil, he knows not which.  The resistance was so strong that the magic used to alter his orcish features did nothing for his tail or his red, night-glowing eyes.  Naturally he has hid these two features fairly easily by means of trick glasses that bend light in a way to change his red eyes to a bluish hue while he wraps his tail around his waist under his clothing.  When he is outside of the bureaucratic lifestyle, he enjoys swinging his tail freely around and using it to suspend himself from trees and ambush wild game.

One feature he acquired from his ancestral bloodline is something he is unable to truly hide.  Completely at random and beyond his control, he sets objects on fire.  He need not touch anything but merely look at any one thing.  So far his ability has never occurred while looking at a living person which leads him to believe only inanimate objects are possible targets, though he isn’t sure.  Fortunately for him, it happens once in a great while and is separated from his actions enough not to draw suspicion.

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His lighter side of life comes with a variety of uniqueness that makes for fun social moments.  Being a lover of nature and all things outdoors, he learned to mimic bird calls by the dozens.  His representation is so accurate he easily fools both birds and potential predators through his calls.  It flows over with people as well with his wonderful talent of impersonation.  If he listens to anyone speak for a few only a few seconds, he is capable of sounding perfectly like that individual whether it’s male or female.  The dialect is identical as long as it’s a language he understands.  He knows hundreds of songs to be sung in almost any occasion from taverns to churches and can recite without fail a different joke every day.

But when you boil down to it, he isn’t cut out to be a barbarian.  His arms are a bit weak, he finds himself stumbling on his own feet from time to time, and his ability to wield massive weapons with skill does not exist.  His memory fails him on occasion, especially with names which he can never remember, and his sophistication at talking eloquently only works among those not of the fairer sex to which he might be attracted to.  Just as an adolescent asking a girl to dance, he stutters and mumbles his way through, often saying the wrong thing or causing an awkward moment that ends with the girl running quickly away.  He’s never been with a woman before, and he has no concept of how to be in a relationship if one were to occur for him.

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When it comes to combat, however, he does tend to use his brain better than a typical barbarian.  He isn’t stupid by any means, and his clever side can make an ugly situation pleasant.  He doesn’t know how to wield massive two-handed swords, but he knows the general movement of swinging a club or blade.  His imagination kicks in and works overtime as he surveys the environment and quickly can identify an item that can be used as a weapon.  The downside is that he sometimes will calculate a bit too high and select an item just a bit too heavy for him.  He’ll be able to swing it for a few attempts, but his accuracy will be dismal and his fatigue sets in quickly.


Will this character be any fun to play during combat?  It could be if the DM worked with me a bit.  I would want to try and compensate for the lack of strength Jasper had by implementing a house rule of either special abilities or minor bonuses from creativity of the chosen item.  For example, if I were to take a leaf rake and jam a trowel into the teeth to form a makeshift scythe or polearm, I’d get a +1 non-magical damage from the length of the pole giving me better leverage of motion.  If I tied a can I jammed nails out of the sides to a whip, I’d get a 1D4 points of extra damage whenever I successfully tripped an opponent.

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Beyond combat, the character is never worthless because it is what you make of it.  As shown above, I took a character that clearly was not a barbarian and gave him reasons for being a mediocre barbarian.  I don’t shy away from going away from the norm.  Just because your character is a Wizard doesn’t mean he has to be wearing a robe and have frail arms.  If we made stereotypical characters, there wouldn’t be many choices really.  Making that normal character abnormal is where the creative ideas become more interesting.

You can even play it up as an exercise if you consider yourself a veteran.  The next time you roll up a character you are about to toss in the trash, approach it differently and see if you can’t come up with an interesting twist that makes it more interesting to play.  Work with the DM because usually with so many disadvantages and low numbers, a good DM will allow some special abilities or interesting perks that spice the throw-away up a notch.

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

Pre-Ordering Games, Consoles, & Books Episode.056

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I’ve never really been a fan of pre-ordering things.  I feel that if you’re going to produce a product make sure you have enough for the demand, but I realize that companies don’t want to waste money by making more product than the consumer’s demand.  Pre-ordering can give them an idea of what kind of demand it is, but those are just for initial sales by people who are aware of the product’s soon-to-be existence.  Theoretically there should always be more people who will buy a product after the initial pre-order phase is complete.

Video games are by far the worst practice of pre-ordering.  I have never in my life seen a video game that sells completely out of stock the first week it is released.  There are always copies available at some store whether it’s at your local brick-&-mortar store or online at Amazon.  One way or another, you can always buy a copy of the video game you want.  Perhaps companies give you incentives to pre-order such as in-game items or extra content.  Generally these pale in comparison and quite often are released as “new content” at a later date such as a Game of the Year Edition.

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Pre-ordering things that could have bugs such as video games or other electronics is really a large gamble.  This is especially true for video game consoles.  Electronics have such a huge volume of executions that it is quite easy to have errors or bugs that pop up.  Companies may run their product through Quality Check, but the product only has so much of a window before the higher-up execs demand the product to be put on the market to start making a profit.  This can lead to rushed products that aren’t quite ready for the consumer.  This is when you find bugs.  Yet when you pre-order, you are giving those execs even more evidence to rush the product out the door: if they have $1,000,000 worth of pre-orders, they won’t see a dime of that until the product ships.  This will cause them to become greedy and encourage their company to continue to rush their product before it’s ready.  When you pre-order, you are essentially acknowledging that you are okay with an incomplete game.  So when you put that game in the console for the first time and it doesn’t boot up right or crashes during the middle, you simply have no room to complain.  It’s actually closer to being more your fault than the company’s.  Granted the company who made a poor quality product should not have released it, but if enough consumers are willing to pay full price for an incomplete product, naturally companies are going to release it.  Some companies value quality over quantity, but the bottom line is that every company exists to make money.  If their reputation is not tarnished from shipping broken games, they will continue to do so.  Generally they will not have a damaged reputation because they can always go back to the financial reports and publicly announce their sales.

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A minor graphic bug

Now the one thing within this blog’s genre categories that pre-ordering might be beneficial are role playing games.  Although it still goes hand-in-hand with the concept of video games in which you should print more than the masses because you are hoping that eventually they will all be bought (or the majority).  Printing books does cost more than producing a physical copy of a game.  That’s a fact.  There isn’t much involved in burning the contents to a disc and printing a label on the top then putting it in a case and shipping it.  This is even truer with PC games that are almost entirely digitally produced now (few hard copies are put on shelves anymore).  So for that thought, pre-ordering (especially for PC games) makes even less sense because there is essentially zero overhead cost on releasing the game.

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Most expensive pre-order ever – This car along with a PS3 and GRID 2 – £125,000

With hard copy books it is another story, however.  Companies prefer not to produce too many copies to where they have a shelf full of books that were never purchased.  If they have to decide, they will most likely want to error on the side of caution and produce fewer than the demand.  Books are done in “print runs” where they will have a certain number of books produced.  Small publishing companies may only have 500 copies whereas larger companies may have 1000s or 10’s of thousands.  When these are all bought, the company then has to either order more copies to be printed or do it themselves if they have the means.  This, however, takes usually more than a month to do, sometimes 8-10 weeks depending on the lead time the printers are looking at.  Some roleplaying game companies have an agreement with a printing company to dish out their books, but that printing company doesn’t just sit around and wait for their order.  They have other companies requesting their service such as schools for textbooks and yearbooks.

Pre-ordering books does tend to make for a better decision if the number of copies is in question.  Basically the rule is the smaller the company, the more reason to pre-order.  Now again, it’s essentially to just make sure you don’t have to wait 6-8 more weeks more for the 2nd printing.  If a company runs out of copies, they are going to print more until they consider the product expired and deem it out of print.  This only occurs when sales have dropped below a percentage per month, which means you have already bought your copy.  Larger companies, Wizards of the Coast for example, produce so many copies that you end up finding the books in odd locations like Wal-Mart.  Pre-ordering really is pointless at that point because the availability will be considerable.

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Now having said all that, companies have a bad habit of not producing enough copies on the first print run and blaming it on the consumers.  This is a give-and-take issue because the pre-orders would help them make a better assessment on the number of issues to produce, but generally when a company runs out of copies quickly, as in the first week or two, that’s really a horrible mistake on their part.  This happens way too often too, and the consumer usually gets the same famous line from all of them: “We were completely overwhelmed by the sheer enthusiasm from fans that we ran out of stock!”  This is one of the worst business moves you can make because it does 2 things.  First, your company stops making money for 6-8+ weeks while you wait for the next batch not only to be printed BUT to be shipped to stores.  Second, you hack off the consumers who were unlucky and didn’t receive a copy and are forced to wait while those who did get a copy are enjoying it.  When a game is released, that is going to be the “hottest” point in sales.  Usually.  Granted there are exceptions where a product doesn’t get noticed by the general consumer for several months (or years…I’m looking at you Game of Thrones).  When you run out of product while there is still a huge demand for it, you run the risk of sales going cold while you wait for the next printing.  Consumers are fickle and have short attention spans.  Our interest burns bright but burns out quickly.  New things come along that clouds are memories of the past.

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So when you are about to jump on a band wagon or you become excited for something that is soon to be released, take a moment to reflect the situation and ask yourself if it’s worth it or necessary.  Are you frustrated with video games having bugs in them when you buy it?  Are you annoyed when you go to your local gaming store and find your game out of stock?  Are you looking at your sales from the last product and realize the demand is great for this new release?  Try to refrain from being too hasty and make smarter purchasing decisions and stop encouraging poor business choices.

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