Thursday, March 29, 2012

Choose Your Poison: Gaming Group Size

Late last week, I was nodding along as I read this post on why a having a small group was great for gaming when you are older, and why three was a good base "ground floor" number.

It makes sense - fewer schedules to coordinate; and as noted in the article, three allows you to cover the three basic areas of competence in many games - hitting, magicing, and sneaking. With fewer players it is easier to give each more screen time and do more in-depth, character-focused arcs.

However, as my Dresden game demonstrates, going this small means that there's a minimum amount of room for schedule snafus. Sunday AM, one player had to cancel due to a small family emergency, and boom, there's a third of the regular folks at my table. Not his fault, but the arc is sort of starring him as well, so if he wasn't there, a lot of the hanging plot is focused around what his character brings to the table, so even MORE troublesome than normal. Then I lost my second player due to other unforeseen circumstance, and I was down to just a 1/3 of my table. So I called game.

If it had been a more stereotypical six player game and I'd lost two players, I probably could have continued with the arc. Plus with a larger group, the likelihood that the story arc would have been focused around a particular player versus a particular issue would have been less.

So what's better? As always, it is "It depends." What are your goals as a group, what stories are you interested in telling? There's no better or worse, just what works for your group.

I'd argue that if you want to tell heavily character driven arcs, where each player has a critical role then you either need to be okay with not playing every time you have something scheduled, or have an inordinately reliable group.

If you are willing to play with a larger table, and know that 1-2 people are going to be missing, then a plot that is more group focused versus character driven is probably wiser. That way if Sir McGuffin's player has to go into work, the game can still go on because the plot is not dependent on his particular relationships. Plus you'll have enough duplication of roles that a single missed person shouldn't provide a critical weakness.

Monday, March 26, 2012

I love Mechanics Monday: Player Relationship Structures

In an attempt to post more regularly, I'm going to do my best to have a Monday post about some mechanic I either saw someone linked to, had come up in game in an interesting way, or otherwise caused me to go "Oh, I should write about that."

I don't think anyone who games with me would be shocked by the revelation that I love characters who are connected to world via relationships with people, whether they are enemies or allies, frenemies or dependents, mentors or allies, I like them all.

First of all, they place the PCs in the world, giving them a sense of space, they answer the question "Why don't we just cut our losses and run?" And if the PCs DO choose that options, it says something about them.

The idea of the adventuring band traipsing across the wilderness and defeating evil hasn't appealed to me in many years. I want a community to closely tie my characters to conflicts and give them a reason beyond mere fortune and gold to risk their lives. Risk for your country, your friends, your enemies, risk for a reason beyond avarice, or if avarice is motivation enough, why is it enough to fight and die for? The lone ronin without ties to hearth or family, with no friends holds little interest for me to explore their motivations.

And I understand why players have learned to create such creations, it is too easy to fridge a wife, kidnap a child, and otherwise make them a vulnerability to a character. And many folks play to escape and be strong, not constantly be saving Timmy and the wife from the dastardly deeds, it isn't interesting.

Something to make it interesting is something I saw a while back that Will Hindmarch posted regarding pre-defining character relationships - he was doing a Dragon Age campaign where the players would be playing 3rd, 5th, and 7th level versions of the same character in the same campaign in various adventures.

It is an interesting concept and something some friends and I flirted with doing in Eberron once upon a time, the idea of telling a story at the 7th level, but having to go tell that tale at 3rd level is neat.

However, I'm digressing from the interesting mechanic. What got me was that these weren't predefined NPCs, they were just random faces; however, after going through the six questions that developed friendships, enemies, romance and other details, they had a body to fit into the existing campaign. For even more complication, I could see easily doing this with each player so one person's friend may be another's enemy. Though that might get a bit TOO insane to track, so instead you need to set-up so some questions for the group, and some for the individual - which allows you the interpersonal drama of having a friend whose purpose is against the group as a whole.

The pre-definition at specific levels only works with this sort of pre-set campaign idea, but I could see using it to give me permission. Instead of "Two of these characters are enemies or rivals by 7th level. No matter how you feel about them, they are opposed to you now. Pick them now," you can instead choose to say"Two of these characters will become enemies or rivals." Don't give a time frame, and thus instead of having a defined story that might be interesting to play out, you instead have a flag of permission - you have "I have chosen to have this happen to my character."

Now my wife may still screech at me for this, but during an Exalted game I ran she had taken the Merit "Heiress" which was when her father died she inherited the family business and fortunes. So yes, during the course of the game her father was killed, albeit brutally, and she was all "You KILLED my father!" To which I had to reply, "But you wanted me to, you only got the benefits of the merit once he died, you gave me permission and told me to kill him!" We still joke about the interchange to this day; as I do my best NOT to destroy people's families unless it is evident that they are on the line.

So if you are trying to tie your characters into a setting (versus the wandering heroes who roll in, clean up/level town and roll on out into the sunset - a perfectly valid playstyle, just not one I'm willing to run) and a bit at a loss of what to do, this sort of idea, taking NPCs that are either formless or established and allowing the players to establish not only current but the intended arc of future relationships. That allows the players some guidance to playing to the intended arc of the story.

Enough for now. At some point in the future I'll probably talk about Smallville's relationships versus Dresden Files versus Weapons of the Gods. But I have a backlog of posts to work through first.

Friday, March 23, 2012

One Arc Ends, Another Begins

Last Sunday, we had our make-up game due to Madicon disrupting our schedule. It was the end of the Apocrypha arc and it ended less than enthusiastically; the bad guy got away (with the mysterious tome in ancient Greek), the book of prophecy is still loose; however, the Warden has woken from his lazy slumber and set a ward on the city of Denver to alert him if the Breaker of the First Law works his magic.

This arc suffered a number of problems - some external due to scheduling and personalities starting to mesh at the table with almost all new players, and then learning the system and working within it is making things difficult. I'm having trouble finding good compels for the players to take that make sense within the context of the game - and it takes the fate point back and forthing to really make the system sing, instead I have a bunch of 1 or 2 refresh characters that don't have enough points to do anything truly extraordinaire when the dice come up against them - they are dependent entirely on their abilities, and those are being drastically affected by the dice rolls.

Oh and the characters themselves, I tried to sketch out a fairly straightforward job, but it did involve a lot of rapport and investigation rolls with no real strengths within the party. I have to scan the characters sheets but the party is strong in Discipline, Weapons, and Conviction - not a whole lot to hang an arc off of.

Also, thaumaturgy, I have a high Lore Wizard and the Swiss army knife of thaumaturgy is making certain challenges not so challenging, or even particularly interesting to do for the low level rituals, and admittedly I can make it more interesting by putting a time crunch on things; however, there's only so many times I can go back to that well.

So with a minor advancement between them and some down time. We started the next arc which I'm aiming to be a major storyline called Battlefields.

One less character as the player behind Rufus had to tap out due to life concerns getting in the way of regular play. Focusing in on the Five Points, a rougher part of Denver, gunfire and skirmishes between the three Red Court controlled gangs are flaring hot and knocking over the status quo. Kimiko, the Bearer of the Sword of the Cross, is stuck in the middle as one of her orphans that she shelters takes a bullet to the thigh. Things go bad to worse quickly as grenades (that are duds) and automatic weapons quickly enter the picture as some of the gangs start hitting each others' headquarters. So we have a three way free for all going off with each gang saying the other gang started it, and worse, the Red Court leadership is being called into town.

The blood is going to run in the streets.

If that wasn't enough, a half-demon has caught a plague and is hiding out in the Lakeshore Amusement park where Mrs. Jenkins runs effectively a boarding house for monsters. However, Georgie, the half demon, doesn't really recall what happened to him as he was walking his prey to a hunting ground and he got hit by men streaming out of a white cargo van and doesn't recall much after that. What's scary to the Werebear Paramedic is that while Georgie has all of the external symptoms of the plague, he has not of the internal causes. Calling in the friendly mage, Debra, the two are stumped for answers at the moment.

So if the first arc was talking/investigation focused, this one will be a lot more intrigue, combat, and research oriented. The next session is this Sunday so we'll see what happens.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Just Good Fun

This past weekend I was at Madicon hosted at James Madison University's by the Science-Fiction/Fantasy Guild and I got to play several new games (Thunderstone), play in one that I've run a one-shot in (Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, 2nd Edition),  and run Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.

The last I ran Sunday morning with half my table hung over or recovering from a hard night partying. To make things easy I ran the first act of the scenario in the back of the book - for players I had Cyclops and Colossus; Daredevil and Spiderman; and Iron Man.

To summarize the review: It is a good solid game. It will not satisfy the Champions/M&M folks out there that want to tweak and finesse their characters, but that game is already written.