Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Borderlands vs. Deadlands

I should love the Gunzerker in Borderlands 2. Abilities based around surviving and wielding two large rapid fire guns and laughing maniacally? Yeah, I should be all over that shit.

However, in reality? Nope, I'm all about playing the low-risk percentage game of sniping at a distance and ensuring that there's plenty of room between me and the bad guys. PLENTY of room. In the first Borderlands game my primary weapons were a sniper rifle and a rocket launcher - my special ability? Punch things repeatedly. Just a touch of a intended vs. actual play style mismatch there.

However, sit me at the table and I'm FAR more likely to do something reckless. Why? Because it is fun, because it livens up the story, because there's a motivation other than shoot and loot. There's a purpose to the recklessness.

All gets back to Robin D. Laws' player types - Borderlands 2 brings out my tactical side, "What's the lowest risk method to accomplishing my goals" despite the penalty for failure, death, being so minuscule; whereas gaming at a table, I'll do something foolish for a good story despite the penalty for failure, death and/or loss, being so very final.

In short, death/defeat in Borderlands is boring and annoying so I avoid it. The kind of death and defeat I get in gaming, if meaningful, can be dramatic and engaging so I'm willing to risk it. Just something that came up last night as I started on my third character in Borderlands 2 as none of them have really "gripped" me as fun.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rules, Again.

I'm a rules guy. I love having the process defined, boundaries explained, and expectations explicit.

So yesterday on Twitter there was a brief exchange regarding rules and game balance:
@rdonoghue: Starting to suspect that the foundation of game balance is the assumption that your're kind of a jerk.
@byharryconnolly: Watching my son play his homebrew rpg w/ his buddy, it becomes clear that you only need rules to control ppl you cann't trust. [sic. -Editor.]
@rdonoghue: that'a the nut. [sic. -Editor.]
And I suppose it is correct for an overly broad usage of the term "trust" - I trust that everyone at this table interprets the same way that I do, I trust that everyone is willing to agree to the same expectations, I trust that we're all willing to work together to mediate differences - that sort usage of the word trust versus my initial read, which admittedly was "I trust you are not out to get me."

But here's the problem with all of that - good, well-meaning people can still disagree. Now you can centralize the authority in the GM (rulings), leave it to a table vote, or any other number of ways to determine what the appropriate solution to the conflict is going to be.

However, to make things fair and to save time, it is probably recommended that these rulings get written down so that in six months you can go "So how did we fix this LAST time we bumped into this situation?" And at that point you have a rule and thus a process.

That's all rules are folks, they aren't scary, they aren't the enemy, they are a formalized process for how situations are expected to be resolved. And folks are free to deviate from the process, it isn't like there's an external RPG Audit team that's going to swing by your home and go "And on the night of the 11th, did you follow the correct procedure for resolving Andrew's persuasion check again the king?"

Maybe I'm just a low trust individual. I know I have issues when the rules, and thus my expectations, get changed half way through anything, because that's how I figure out what I'm going to do, "Wait last time you said that this happened, and now it works this other way? Can I have some consistency?" Yeah, guess I AM a low trust individual. I just don't trust anyone to be fair and consistent without a formal structure over the long haul, as long as "fair and consistent" is defined as something beyond a de facto "of course the rulings are fair and consistent as decided."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Horror, Types Of

Caveat: I'm a horrible player for a horror game.

But there was a thread on RPG.Net a couple months ago, [Horror] What scares you?, and while there are a lot of good, standard answers (body horror, loss, dis-empowerment), one of the posters actually broke horror, in an RPG context, into three large categories that I liked: Dark, Creepy, and (as I summarized it) Suspense. I'd add in Helpless trait as well, even if (because) it just irks me.

Dark is horror based around the lack of good choices - do we kill the children or release the disease into the larger population. The choices of nastily horrible and horribly nasty. This is my favorite to have subtly done, and best done by not hammering the horrible choices, but letting the PCs be PCs and then having an outsider note how this is really, really fuckin' weird. Such as the incident that caused us to coin "Gunteel" as a portmanteau of "gun" and "genteel".

Creepy is horror based around atmosphere. Your name etched in glass. Body distortion and twisted. Mold and and random holes in the walls where you realized you've been watched. The creepy little girl, the off insectoid voice that I used for the tutor demon in Exalted, all examples of creepy ambiance.

Suspense is horror based around unknown and the eventual surprise. It is the most time delineated RPG horror trope because so much of games are seeking answers, and when you find them shooting it repeatedly. For example in Deadlands up until we had the ritual to stop the end of the world there was a sort of futile desperation setting in as we just kept trying to move forward and floundered. But the moment we had a solution we turned back into our highly lethal selves again.

Helplessness is horror based around being ineffectual. Nothing you do matters because it will have no grander effect. For me, games around about "doing things" so I will always turn and fight or resist, sitting there moping isn't all that fun for me. However, used in a limited sense, it can inspire fear/trepidation and cause players to start scrambling for a solution to end that helplessness. But over used and it turns into "Really? Another thing we can't hit until you give us the solution? Let me know when we can do something again."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Well THAT didn't go according to plan.

So Jacob "Jake" Jobson got himself a serious case of obliterated last night at game. Note to self: When charging maniacally at the bad guys while carrying six sticks of dynamite: 1) Ensure that they aren't 500+ yards away; and 2) make sure they can't throw fire at you.

The first problem lead directly to the second problem causing the primary problem - a rather large detonation.

Oops. And this kids is why you don't carry dynamite with you at all times.

So now I have to decide what to play next as the GM only managed to kill off three of the six characters (we lost the Bless'd, the Huckster, and the butcher). Jake's tale was one of seeking redemption with a touch of vengeance thrown in.

I'm pondering a few different options.

Rex Morgan, Monster Hunter At Large. Possibly a veteran of the civil war and definitely a veteran of the Weird West, he's a two-fisted gunslinger with a lot of knowledge of what goes "bump" in the night. Cool under fire, he hunts down and takes trophies of his kills.

Ishikawa MasayukiHumble Shinto Priest. A long way from home, he's seeking something in this foreign land. He speaks softly and carries a large stick as he passes through the crowds.

Alan Blackhart, Noble Church Knight. Dedicated to his church he's been sent from the mainland to this rough and tumble country at the Church's command. Fights the Church's enemies with holy steel and a stout heart.

Gregory Beck, Inventive Engineer. A veteran of the civil war, he served in both the artillery divisions and in at least one inadvertent instance crewing a Gatling gun. However, he's a long way from those days serving as a railroad/civil engineering blowing holes in mountains and other feats of intellectual daring do.

The first two characters have most of my love. Rex might be a lot of fun to play - but I have issues playing - how to I put it - vivacious, fun loving characters. Especially in horror games. Oddly enough, once you've seen a vampire create a doll out of random human parts and a broom handle, the idea that one could go laughing and cheering into the next battle just lacks verisimilitude in my head.

The other thing that hurts is that with the loss of the Father, we've lost our downtime healing, which means, with the change that you draw chips at the beginning of every arc and not every session, getting wounded is easy and heals real slow.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Game Design: Stunts and Spinning my Wheels

There are times I wish I had a partner with game design. I'm currently working on two different game designs now in my copious amounts of free time; however, I'm discovering that I'm hitting the same road block with both. Right now I'm spinning my wheels trying to come up with stunts/techniques/disciplines/etc. 

I think my failing is with the fact that I don't really have a clear vision for what I want the games to "do" - other than be fun and provide a reasonable amount of system robustness and dials to play the sort of games I enjoy playing.

But that's a far cry from "having a vision" that ties everything in together. I'm really thinking at this sort of proto-stage that I just need to brain storm and come up with several examples for each item I wish to focus on, stealing as necessary from other game designs that I've seen and then go "Want to do something that isn't here, let's talk," because, in the end, I'm just one brain and I'm good at adapting, not so much at the raw act of creation.