Tuesday, August 23, 2016

More bits from Sunday's DF game session

Here are some additional followup points for Sunday's game session.

Elder Tongue - One PC picked up a point of the Elder Tongue, I can't recall offhand how.

Improving it in town is possible - it'll take a roll (to find a teacher - same rules as finding sages and hirelings). Once found, the teacher will charge a premium rate to pass it on. After all, it's valuable, teachers are rare, and it's a full-time job teaching it. You can't puzzle it out on your own with a book.* Expect to pay $1,500/point for this. You can search for a cheaper rate at -10% per -1 on the roll to find someone; free is -10.

The limit is Accented; you'll need longer, more dedicated study for Fluent.

Gift of Letters and Gift of Tongues work with the Elder Tongue, but they cost double.

What counts as a perk? This is kind of an odd question, but okay, I've gotten it from multiple players. DF has a limit on combat perks - one per 20 points in combat skills. One per 10 for knights. Magic perks work the same way, except for points in spells. It's very common for my players, who love these perks, to run into a hard limit quickly.

So here goes a stab at an explanation - combat perks are anything listed in Dungeon Fantasy 11, under Combat Perks, or under your specific template. Caster perks are any perks listed as Magic Perks, or under your template. Perks that are completely non-combat related (Artificer's Perks, for example) and non-spellcasting related (ditto). Power-Ups that aren't skills don't count towards the total in skills, and Power-Ups that aren't perks don't count as perks. What does count is spelled out in DF11.

The only exceptions to the perk limits are:

Weapon Bond
Equipment Bond
Trademark Move

. . . and that's it. Two of them are combat related, but Trademark Move theoretically makes my life easier. Weapon Bond and Equipment Bond are very rare because no one wants to "waste" a point getting tied down to a weapon they may someday replace with a better one, and we don't get a lot of equipment-focused PCs.

Sense of Duty and other disads. So I didn't ding Dryst for his Sense of Duty - letting Hasdrubel try to kill Larry. He also has an Obsession to become the world's most powerful wizard, and that was clearly behind the door. The player made a Will roll (I didn't call for it, I'd have given him a 12 self-control; either way he made it) to let it happen. It was a pretty tense moment - does he stop Hasdrubel, or get more power?

This was clearly the most ruthless and evil thing anyone has done in the group. Hasdrubel has already moved on, except for the part about being proud of what a good guy he is.

I ran a number of things, including this, in real time. No spending 30 seconds debating what you'll do. As he was like "Should I . . . ?" Hasdrubel was blasting Larry.

Speaking of which . . .

Running in real time. Lately I've been trying to run more things in real time. Spending just enough points for 1 minute of language skill for your talker? You've got one minute to talk to me, then it's time to maintain or the spell runs out. Stand around talking for a minute or two about how to get that weapon-destroying acid off of the weapon? It's still taking 1 point of damage per second. Debating what to do about the oncoming orcs? They run at 5 yards a second, they'll be here in 5, 4, 3, 2, here they are.

I'll slow it down to resolve actions, but not to resolve questions or to reward stalling ("Hey, what color is that acid? Can I make a roll to recognize the acid?") This does seem to add a little stress to what should be stressful situations.

Obviously I don't do this in combat, although I still start to move on when someone isn't ready. And I run travel as the worst of in-game or real time. So if you spend 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm wandering around mapping, it took at least 2 hours of game time - more, probably, since you're moving at move 1, tops, and halting to draw rooms or to examine things.






* That's what having a linguistics major for a GM does - "I read this indecipherable script until I learn it." Yeah, here is a book written entirely in traditional Chinese, by hand, in calligraphy; go learn Mandarin just using that.

Monday, August 22, 2016

DF Game Session 78, Felltower 51 - the Black Library

August 22nd, 2016

Weather: Hot, light rain shading to downpours later

Characters (approximate net point total)
Dryst, halfling wizard (417 points)
Hasdrubul Stormcaller, human wizard (292 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (283 points)
     Brother Ike, human initiate (135 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (291 points)
     Kian, human pirate (~65 points)
     Larry the Crossbowman, human
Naida River, wood elf thief (250 points)
Vryce, human knight (478 points)

We started in town. One of the players rolled for Raggi, but the dice came up short - still no Raggi. Maybe he moved home? Unlike a lot of the PCs, he managed to make some spectacular hauls and avoid a lot of the major money losses. Maybe he's done for now, or off spending the money at home for a long haul. He's been MIA since January 2015 - the badly failed orc castle raid.

The PCs bought equipment and gathered rumors in town. A few of them concerned keys - one about a "master key" some guys grandda found when he was part of the coalition putting down Sterick (granda is long dead, now), one about how it's the hand that holds the key not the key that opens doors, and some others. One pointedly said that dragons know their hordes and remember people who steal from them. Another ominous one said the city is considering an "orc bounty" - better make that an "orc toll" - anyone ranging north of the river will need to turn in a number of orc ears or pay a per-ear fine for not having them . . . but it's stalled right now because people are worried about this bringing the orc's attention from the dungeon to the city. The players had briefly gotten excited, thinking their orc allies might now become walking loot, but an "orc toll" would be a problem - pay to get into the dungeon, pay the town to get back into town.

A new PC joined, as well - Naida River, a blue-haired wood elf thief. She met Mo, clearly drawn to his presence by his new-found Elf Woman Mojo. "Hey, baby, why don't we spend some more time together?"* "Sounds great, I'd love to go to Felltower. I'll see you tomorrow morning at the gate to town!" "Hey, come back . . . " Good thing he didn't bust out "Thieves should be hanged."

They also looked for hirelings, specifically for Larry the Crossbowman. They found him - he asked for a day rate of 40 sp, as working for tips didn't work out so well last time.

The made their way up to Felltower castle.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

DF Session pre-summary

We played DF today. Summary will come tomorrow, since it's late and I work early on Mondays.

For now:

- we picked up a new player who'd been hoping to join, so we have a new wood elf thief in the group;

- some mapping was done, including (gasp) actually new areas bypassed before;

- there was a return to the room of pools, and a productive one at that;

- the PCs found the way through the maze;

- the PCs discovered the Black Library;

- Hasdrubel demonstrated that he really means it when he says he's evil. Or at least, willing to do "what needs to be done" when "needs" means "will benefit him personally;"

- and I'm not sure Larry the Crossbowman signed up for that.

Overall a really good session.

Summary tomorrow.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dragon Heresy playtest session 8/19

So last night we had a good Dragon Heresy playtest session.

It was a lot of fun.

- we stomped some more kobolds and lizard-folk. Heavy armor helps, so does surprise, sunlight, and Sunshine.

- Shields are great. They aren't an automatic success against arrows, though - charging archers with shields beats charging them without, but it's still going to cost you.

- if you find a key, use it. And label it on the sheet, so you don't use it to open a chest and then 20 sessions later say, "My sheet says, 'Key from dead shaman' - I wonder what that opens?

- every group I've played in has taken trophies. Once it was me (Mirado), but yeah, every group has had at least one "I take his X to make into a Y!" kind of guy.


The dice taught me some lessons:

- don't hit Sunshine. He hates that. Injured and with disadvantage on the roll? Two hits, one for max damage and one for almost max damage.

- don't roll for HP. I was originally planning to just take the round-up dice average (4.5 becomes 5, becomes 7 with CON) but everyone else was rolling so, hey, I did too. I got a 2 (+2 for CON, becomes 4). Bleh. Now I need to roll an 8 somewhere down the line just to get to average again. Eh. I'll probably just accept the fixed amount and accept being 3 points below average forever. Cut my losses, basically.

- even Advantage isn't that great. Nothing like a flat-out pair of misses on an easy shot thanks to two bad die rolls. That wasn't me, but even I felt it.

Nice, though. We made second level (many of us) and I have to go read Doug's notes to see what that gets me.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Do You Demand Perfect Information and Control?

Over on Brian Train's blog, he linked to a scan of an interview done with him in C3i magazine.

Interview in C3i 29

It's a good interview overall. But one part of it stuck out as applicable in all gaming - board-, card-, war-, and especially in role-playing gaming.

Emphasis is added by me:

"I like fog of war, because one of the great drawbacks of civilian wargames is that they are very nearly perfect-information exercises. Some players feel the need for a very great amount of control over their own forces, and for information about the enemy they face. Well, so did the historical counterparts whose roles they are playing, but they didn't have it, did they? One feeling I only rarely get from a wargame is that stepping-off-a-cliff, plunging-ahead-into-the-mist moment, and I would like to be able to put more of that into my games."

- Brian Train, on Page 14

You see this in games a lot - measuring distances before deciding to shoot. Asking for all of the modifiers before deciding to act. Calculating the odds before making a decision. Wanting to know the full range of possibilities for your character at all stages of play, and the odds and effects of all of them.

You also see it more perniciously in play - refusing to take risks, avoiding the unknown, being unwilling to act when information is scarce, preferring to back down and fight another day on the assumption that there will always be another day.

I think this springs from the fact that, as players, even in games with a GM, we have control of a great deal of information. We know how strong we are, to the exact point and to the pound. We know how much damage we do, and how that relates to DR. We know how much more effort we can expend. We know how many spells we've got left. We generally decide what we're doing with our paper man to the extent that we get frustrated when effects (unconsciousness, injury, magical incapacitation, morale checks, etc.) take away our total control.

Etc. Etc.

So it's easy to get paralyzed by the lack of other information. Hey, I know everything on my character sheet, and I can act based on that. But if I don't know the penalty to shoot in the dim light at that guy in the back past his buddy, I can't properly decide. If I don't know what that monster is, or where the enemy has stashed his reserves, I can't really know what to do. If I can't observe the effects of something precisely, then I have no information and I have to just guess if it's working or not. And if I say I'm doing something, my paper man just does it.

In the actual battles and wars that are being simulated by games, there wasn't perfect information. Choices were made based on assumptions and guesses and confidences. Wrong choices were made. People made decisions based on need to get something done - or get it attempted - despite the bad odds they thought they faced. Or without knowing them at all. And without being certain that their forces would actually execute what was asked.

It's an easy thing to be guilty of - assuming that perfect information is basically your right as a player, even if you do it subconsciously. You're going to know where everyone is, what the odds are, what the capabilities are, and so on. You may have moments without it, but those are perceived as not being the norm. After all, you have perfect information about what's in front of you on your sheet, and the GM has perfect information about the rest of the world.

That can lead to a quest for perfect information before you do anything . . . but a great deal of enjoyment comes from those "plunging-into-the-mist" moments. From making decisions based on imperfect information. From taking chances because you accept that the time to act is now and that you are never going to have all you really want to know.

That line really struck me - it's something I see, and something I do. And I think that approach costs some enjoyment and saps some of the fun of playing a no-real-cost game.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Editing GURPS Traveller: Alien Races 4

I've written a lot for Steve Jackson Games. It started with Pyramid magazine articles (in the 2.0 version), followed with GURPS Martial Arts, and kept on with a small assortment of other books.

The Pyramid stuff was written and then submitted - no one asked for it, per se, I just wrote it and sent in it with some hopes.

GURPS Martial Arts and the other books, though, were contracted. Either SJG asked me, or a fellow author asked for me, or I proposed the work. Then outlining, contract, and getting to writing.

My first contracted work for Steve Jackson Games wasn't writing, though, it was editing.


As I recall, I received an email from someone at SJG - maybe Loren Wiseman.* It said something like, Ken Hite said you knew the GURPS rules really well and could you provide some additional rules editing on this book?

That book turned out to be GURPS Traveller: Alien Races 4.



The job paid pretty well, more than I was getting for articles.

The work consisted of taking templates, checking them for rules consistency, checking them for format consistency (I didn't always do that well), and otherwise putting them into game shape. I worked directly with Steve Jackson, Loren Wiseman, and Sean Punch on these. I think with Andrew Hackard as well. Definitely with the first three.

It was pretty tough work. I had to go through the rules, go through the text, run things past Sean and Loren and (especially) Steve. We had email issues. Format issues. The inevitable problems of my inexperience doing this specific job, even though I had the specific skill set needed.

I don't think I did the best job possible. I think I did a more than acceptable job. I got it done. But I still cringe at some of the issues I had, which I just didn't realize to expect. Overall, though, it was a really good experience. I sharpened my editing skills. I went from "kind of a familiar" with SJG formatting to "very familiar" and that helped later with GURPS Traveller: Humaniti and with GURPS Martial Arts. My rules knowledge went from good to much, much better.

It was a good experience.

I didn't really look back on this book that often. I haven't cracked its spine in years. But it's still gratifying to see the title page and the triple thank you's from Steve. And yeah, it was my first contracted, requested work for hire from SJG.

* I can't check, because I swapped email addresses 10-12 years back and I don't keep the old message archive on my current machine.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Required Reading for Game - Why I need to do it

Yesterday I posted my "required reading" for game.

Required Reading for Game


Why do I require it, if, as I said, I don't like it?

Here is why, for Background and Rules.

Background

I'd prefer an elevator pitch background and then, bang, let's go.

My game is basically that.

But I do require the PCs to know the world as experienced and relevant to the game. I don't care about your character's background, except as it directly impacts game. I'll happily feed in knowledge that isn't important or that fills in the gaps. Stuff like, "He's from Arras, which is a city-state to the West and slightly South of here." Or "You know there is a guy in town who can do that." Or "North of here are mountains, ice, and some unexplored glaciers." Stuff I never put out there, or stuff I did but it's just trivial color.

But I can't pass along the information learned in 77 sessions of play and a handful of posts about additional knowledge the PCs have picked up.

Part of it is campaign style. It's not like I'm saying, read this background and learn it, there will be a quiz. It's more like I'm passing out lots of information, the players have a pool of knowledge and information they've already gotten, and the players really need to keep track of it. I simply couldn't say, "Here is what you remember" or "Here is what you'd know." I'll correct blatantly wrong and misunderstood stuff, but generally, the name of the game is that players learn things, and players can have their PCs act on this. I don't even sort "player knowledge" from "PC knowledge." You learned XYZ while running a guy who died and never met your current guy? Well, you know it, guess he must have told someone who told you with remarkable accuracy. So I'm already forgiving a lack on in-game continuity to encourage players to gain and use information.

Part of it is practicality. From a practical standpoint, that would mean I needed to memorize all of the player maps, player notes, rumors, history, sessions, etc. and keep it parsed out in my head separately from the actual map, the actual history, the truth behind the rumors, and so on.

It's just too much.

Plus, it subtracts of the value of passing out a lot of information for the players to fit together. Instead of information being a valuable commodity and the ability of the players to make something of it being relevant, you'd get the opposite. Information would be an impediment to play, since only the GM needs to know it and in fact must know it, so the more there is the more the GM has to keep track of. Instead of the ability of the players to assemble knowledge being valuable, it would be the ability of the players to prompt the GM to tell that would be valuable.

That's not to say giving background information to the PCs is a problem. Or that giving it on the fly is an issue. It's just that as the game develops in-play history and in-play information, in my campaign style, it's not what I want nor is it practical to do.

Rules

It's not a small group. I have six regular players right now. Call it two drop-ins. I have a few former players who may or may not return. We have open seats for some close, long-time friends who can't commit to game but, hey, if they can make a session we'll fit them in.

Running a combat-heavy and spell-heavy and potentially lethal game for six PCs, plus a few NPCs, plus all of the bad guys (often, large numbers of them) - that's tough. It takes a lot of work.

I cannot do all of that work myself.

It's just too much. I can't figure out your rolls, make sure you hit or missed, figure your damage, check your results, consult on rules, review your options, track your HP and FP, etc. etc. and still run the bad guys. I've taken to handing off the NPCs that the GM should run (allies, hirelings) and have the players run them to off-load some work.

GURPS is a great game, but part of the joy of it for us is the rules depth we can use. It's not coin-flip simple. But even when I run a simpler game, I need help. I can't be the source of all rules knowledge, especially not if you intend to take actions based on them. It's not practical.

I offload a lot onto the players, because I myself can't do it all.


So that's why, despite disliking the "reading list" I still have one. It's necessary for the players to get involved and manage the in-game information and rules knowledge in order to keep the game running well. Too much of that get dumped on me, and the game will be less of a good game.
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