Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Adapting Games for A Play Community

It’s not winning the game that makes the game fun. It’s playing that makes the game fun.”

I’m reading Bernie De Koven’s The Well-Played Game in which he focuses on the “play community,” a group of people willing to play games together, striving not for the triumph of the win but for a positive, satisfying play experience. “The nature of a play community is such that it embraces the players more than it directs us toward any particular game,” he writes. “Thus, it matters less to us what game we are playing, and more to us that we are willing to play together.” I’d recommend the book to anyone willing to more deeply examine their relationship, dynamics, and shared goals with those who join them at the gaming table no matter what the game. Although it discusses “play” as a more free-form concept, its many insights can apply equally well to adventure games (as opposed to more rigidly organized games like sports, with more strictures in terms of rules, requirements, and referees). In that pursuit he encourages play communities to embrace the freedom to change a given game so we can play well together. Members of the adventure gaming hobby have a long history of adjusting their games to best suit their own tastes and sharing them with others, but we might consider becoming more sensitive to individual players and groups depending on the participants and venue of particular games.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Random Encounter Motivations

Monsters serve as the default antagonists in Dungeons & Dragons and its derivatives (primarily many games developed in the spirit of the Old School Renaissance or OSR). They’re the focal point of the entire hack-and-slash mentality: kill the monsters and take their stuff. The character advancement structure of these games encourages this kind of play. Fighting and killing monsters not only earns experience points for the deed but points based on the value of treasure plundered from dead monsters (an aspect of the game’s design I’ve examined before). Certainly elements like the “Monster Reactions Table” can mitigate these presumptions. Yet a creature’s own motivations might affect how they react when encountering adventurers just as much as the adventurers’ openly displayed intent. This becomes particularly important for randomly determined creatures – as “wandering monsters” or in randomly generated dungeons – who don’t always have motivational cues based on a particular location. For instance, in a published scenario, four orcs in an evil wizard’s guard room have an assumed role to keep adventurers out, sound the alarm, and try to kill or capture intruders; but four orcs encountered as wandering monsters don’t have such clear cues regarding their motivation and hence their reaction to meeting adventurers. What if – before rolling on the “Monster Reactions Table” – we consulted a “Creature Motivation Table” to determine their intent when they stumble upon adventurers?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

All the Emperor’s Men

Half the fun is playing around
with the miniatures....
After enjoying Daniel Mersey’s Victorian skirmish rulesThe Men Who Would Be Kings – I had some inspiration to adapt them to other periods for which I have miniatures. Although it would have been easier to start with the French and Indian War (FIW) or American War of Independence (AWI) considering their historical proximity to the original rules, I decided to try porting them to Star Wars to use my collection of 25mm painted miniatures and engage my son’s immediate enthusiasm. I have modest numbers of stormtroopers, Imperial army troopers, Rebel troopers, bounty hunters, and a few other models that could muster into appropriate units, plus a host of terrain to simulate desert, forest, or other environments. And I have a more-or-less willing opponent in the Little Guy, whose interest in Star Wars seemingly waxes and wanes with the moon’s phases but otherwise enjoys playing with Daddy’s toys (though he’d prefer to play during the Clone Wars era...). So I set out to customize The Men Who Would Be Kings for Star Wars miniatures.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Summertime Gaming Can Reinforce Lessons

Today’s the last day of school on the medieval frontier of Northern Virginia...the medieval side. (Alas, our school board thinks starting school the second week of August, putting the first term SOL testing right before the December holiday break, will increase SOL scores instead of focusing on paying teachers decently and letting them teach instead of handle bureaucracy....) Already last week summertime recommendations started coming home: a list of recommended “series” books for summer reading, a 22-page handout with math problems to solve, a list of educational websites to visit, a page of “dice games” that are really just math exercises with dice, and a thick, door-stop-sized reading/writing workbook someone ordered but apparently didn’t use all school year. All this comes slathered in the repulsive stigma of homework, something the seven year-old Little Guy has grown to dislike and resist throughout the school year, more so in these final weeks before summer vacation. So what’s a parent to do? I’m turning to two things we know and enjoy: fun themes and games.

The Little Guy – and most elementary school kids, I suspect – maintains a host of interest in various media properties: Minecraft, Transformers, Pokemon, Star Wars (particularly Clone Wars), Godzilla, Doctor Who. Interest in them waxes and wanes, but they sometimes help him engage in educational activities disguised as fun. (I’ve blathered on about themes in games before in “Introducing Newcomers to Games: Theme & Mechanics.”) Just the other weekend we caught him sitting in bed reading a Star Wars book aloud to our cats (granted, they like hanging out in his comfy bed anyway, but apparently reading was a bonus). We’re embarking on a first-edition Star Wars Roleplaying Game campaign at his insistence; so far he’s enjoyed accurately adding up the results of numerous d6 rolls, especially when tossing handfuls of dice when using a Force Point. He reads all the powers and attacks on the cards when we play the Pokemon collectible card game.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

An Exercise in Nostalgic Futility

A reader recently asked me about T1 The Haunted Keep from my “Gaming Artifacts: Homemade Modules” post. Back in my teenage days during the “Golden Age of Roleplaying” (the mid 1980s) I wrote several Dungeons & Dragons modules to run with the neighborhood kids, complete with maps and keyed texts in the style of TSR’s own releases. T1 The Haunted Keep was my continuation of the sample dungeon at the back of the Moldvay-edition D&D Basic rules. All my work from this period is irredeemably horrible, yet I keep these artifacts because they were an integral part of my earliest, eager gaming days. And that enthusiasm suddenly returned when someone expressed interest in seeing at least the maps to gain some insight about how I developed the dungeon as a base for a family of wererats and their marauding goblin allies. At first I had grand designs of typing up my handwritten text, cleaning it up a bit, rendering the maps in a better style than pencil-on-graph-paper, updating the stats to my oft-overlooked AnyOSR Key system-neutral notations, and releasing it with retrospective design notes for fun. Then I realized the idea was distracting me from my current distraction (developing The Greydeep Marches setting) from what I really should be working on (The Infinite Cathedral setting) and that it was channeling my nostalgic enthusiasm for the creations of my youth. Once I calmed down, refocused, and realized bringing it to publication in any form was not a good use of my time, the brief experience provided an opportunity to reflect on my past work to see what made an impression on a teenage roleplaying gamer in the mid-1980s.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Adventures in Victorian Wargaming

Over the years I’ve pursued an interest in Victorian era games, first through GDW’s groundbreaking Space 1889 (well before fan interest in “steampunk”), then with R. Talsorian’s Castle Falkenstein, dabbling with The Sword and the Flame miniatures rules, and even writing for early versions of Victoriana. The games inspired my interest in the historical period itself (not just its fantasy game-world versions) to the point I’ve accumulated a small, specialized library on the subject that never seems to hold enough books by Osprey Publishing. In recent years the company started releasing wargame rules sets for various historical periods (and some not-so-historical ones). When I saw Daniel Mersey’s Victorian-era wargame rules, The Men Who Would Be Kings, I immediately saw a way to put all the various historical miniatures I’ve been collecting and painting over the years to good use in an engaging skirmish game.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Lingua Franca for RPGs

“Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”
Genesis 11:9

Gamers are a contentious lot, reflecting an overall human tendency of unfriendliness, or at least indifference, toward those outside our chosen tribes. We have been “confounded” by a plethora of different games catering to different genre tastes, mechanics, and play styles. Some folks can sit back, acknowledge the existence of games for which we don’t care much, and let others go about their business playing games that bring them the most enjoyment. Others like arguing about which edition or game is best and disparage those who play different games. Differences set us apart – they can help define who we are and what we enjoy – but can also reinforce tribal tendencies within adherents of particular games and can cause friction with other factions. In most cases this wouldn’t pose a problem; but for adventure gaming, and roleplaying games in particular, it’s often a barrier to bringing new people into the hobby or more actively pursuing our own involvement with new player groups. For better or worse, Dungeons & Dragons has, since its beginnings, served as a common frame of reference, a lingua franca, so to speak, for the diverse and sometimes divisive roleplaying game hobby.