Monday, October 28, 2013

Catch Up

I'm way behind on my actual play updates.  I'm not even sure if I can remember everything.  Not sure how many people actually enjoy reading these, either, but I like keeping them here for posterity (and bonus XP).

In Justin's Stars Without Number game, Panoply Sector, we had a session quite a while ago now where we continued to explore the asteroid sky tomb where we had a TPK the first session.  This time, we managed to clear it out of the bug aliens that lived there, only one PC died (although my warrior Tommy "Six" Gunn just barely managed to hold onto life long enough for a lazarus patch to be applied), and we managed to make a bit of money from the alien relics and gear salvaged from there.  Looking forward to playing more in this game, and I've got a Psychic rolled up to join the fun and replace Gawain "Greasebox" Mifune, my Expert killed in the line of duty in the first session.

Also quite a while back, Jeremy ran a short playtest of one of his "kludge" systems, marrying Microlite20 with something called the Effect Engine.  It was a fairly standard fantasy game, but I was able to really exploit the system for my mage, making it ridiculously easy for him to cast and resist spells, although he was totally ineffectual in physical combat.  We explored a cave filled with bandits and their zombie slaves.  I think this was supposed to tie into Jeremy's "The Siege Perilous" trans-gender... oops, I did it again, trans-genre game, but that has been switched to TriStat dX, at the d8 level.  Dean and I are currently making characters, but I don't think anyone else has bothered.  Not much interest in that game, I'm afraid.

I was hoping one of the players would do a write-up of my Chanbara playtest game the other week, but so far no luck.  I just flat out granted a level up to the characters that participated, in order to better test the level spread/power curve of the system.  They still have a lot of Ghost Castle Hasegawa left to explore.  Maybe I'd better offer them minor magic items for pictures or write-ups.  I'd love to have some of both.

And finally, last weekend Alexei ran a 2E game (no bells and whistles, pretty much PHB only), using the module The Halls of Tizun Thane.  I dug out some old 2E PCs I'd made either in Evansville or in Toyama between games, just out of boredom.  I had a Dwarf Fighter/Cleric and a Human Bard in a folder on my bookshelf, so they finally got to see action after 15 or so years wait.  We explored a bit, got a pittance in loot, but hopefully we can convince Alexei to run it again, as I sure had fun with it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

What motivates the players?

Two and a half years ago, I blogged about character motivation here and a follow up here.

Recently, in my grad school classes we've been talking about motivation with regards to teaching English as a second or foreign language.  And it got me thinking again about motivation in RPGs.  Two years ago, I was thinking about in-character motivations for your PC.  Now, I'm thinking about motivations for you, the player (or DM).

One convenient way to classify types of motivation is as either intrinsic (internal) motivation and extrinsic (external) motivation.  Long story short, intrinsic motivation means you're self motivated, while extrinsic motivation means something outside your own mind motivates you to do something.  In ESL circles, intrinsic motivation is preferred, as intrinsically motivated students tend to work harder, but extrinsic motivations are still necessary otherwise intrinsic motivation can evaporate. 

So what motivates us to play RPGs?  I've made a list.  Not an exhaustive one, by any means.  Not necessarily the most thought out list either.  But I'm gonna put this stuff up here on the blog for people to consider and comment on, and if someone can point out where and how I'm wrong, I'll improve my model.  The essence of peer review right there.

First off, all the stuff I talked about before, the in-character motivations, are really for the player extrinsic motivations, whether they are intrinsic or extrinsic to the fictional player character.  Yes, there is some wish fulfillment in gaming, but I don't think anyone's satisfying their actual craving for gold or power or lovers by playing a game.  Living vicariously can act as a stop-gap measure, but in the end won't satisfy.  Or maybe there are a few people who are, but I'd guess they're outliers rather than part of the normal distribution of players.

Some other extrinsic motivations for players might include:
System Mastery - contact with the rules, Min/Maxing, sussing out the exploits, rules lawyering, etc.  I'd almost consider this as intrinsic, as it's something you can do in your head, but it also relies on the rule system you're trying to master, plus the fact that mastery is pointless if you don't ever play.  Still, it may be a good example of the fact that the extrinsic/intrinsic split is more of a spectrum than an either/or decision.

Character Advancement - some game systems do this better than others, obviously, but in most games there is some way to advance and improve your character, and doing so is often a motivation to play.  It stimulates our reward centers in our brains.  We've got bigger numbers or a longer list of stuff on our character sheet.  We've got a feeling of achievement.  And again, while it's personal to a large extent, it's also something that you need others to pull off.  Even with a solo game system of some sort, you're really still interacting with the designers in order to advance.

Socialization - this one's probably obvious.  Sometimes, it's not so much the game itself, or the character you've created, or the exploration of the game world.  It's spending quality time with friends that motivates you to play.  Related to this are two more types of motive I thought of:

Bragging Rights - some people play in order to win.  Yeah, there are no win conditions in an RPG.  Or at least not in the typical sense of most games' win conditions.  But yet, there is competition at times.  Players can play games of oneupsmanship with each other, and at times that might be a strong motivation to participate for some gamers.

Schadenfreude - and the converse to bragging rights, the gamer who's not so interested in doing "better" than others, but who gets a kick out of all the bad things that can happen to PCs in the game.  I don't know if this would be someone's primary motivation to play, but there is definitely a sense of enjoyment to be had in watching another player do something stupid, or fail a saving throw, or whatever.

Narrative Crafting - one last one I'll mention for now is the desire to create a story.  It's the goal of the game for some games (you know, the Forge-derived "story now" stuff which doesn't really suit my preferences, but that's just me).  Some games don't make it a goal, but players may still have it as a goal or driving force.  They attend the game to create drama, and that's where they derive their fun.

So, now let's move on to what I consider some intrinsic motivations for gaming.  Again, not intended to be an exhaustive list, and also there can be some extrinsic elements or factors within some of these, just as there are some intrinsic factors in the extrinsic motivations I've detailed above.

Immersion - one of the big intrinsic factors, I think, is the desire to lose yourself in the character, the imaginary world, or both.  While it does require some interaction with others to play the game, how deeply you immerse yourself in the imagined fiction depends on you and you alone.  One player can be very immersed in the game, while another player in the same game may not be immersed at all.  Yes, that can cause some dissonance but that's not the point.  You control how immersed you are in the game, so I consider it an intrinsic motivation.

Escapism - I think we can all relate to this one, and yes, it's connected to immersion.  We game to escape work, study, family obligations, the quotidian reality of daily life.  There's a desire to be something more than we are, if only for a few hours a week.  Does it seem like I'm contradicting myself where above I talk about wish-fulfillment being an extrinsic motivation?  Maybe I am, but the way I'm looking at it now, escapism is more of a general wanting Calgon to take me away* feeling than a specific vicarious activity performed through play. Gaming to escape worrying about the mortgage payment for a few hours = intrinsic escapism.  Gaming to pretend to do something you can't in real life = extrinsic vicarious motivation because that thing you can't do in real life is by definition not part of you.

Completionism - this is one of the weaker ones on the intrinsic list, but similar motivations exist in other types of games.  Completionism could take many forms, from wanting to play every type of character or try every option, to wanting to fully explore (or create) a fictional world, to wanting to play out that ideal character type over and over again until you get it "right."  Yes, there are some aspects of extrinsic motivation in this one.  Exploring a prepublished game world, or your DM's masterpiece involves something outside of you.  Playing "one of everything" requires lots of game time, which requires other people (usually).  But the motivation to do so exists regardless of the feelings of other players to some extent. 

Emergent Story - in contrast to the extrinsic motivation to actively craft a story, the hope that an interesting story will emerge from play organically is more of an intrinsic motivation.  It's up to semi-random chance that an interesting and satisfying narrative will emerge from any session, as player choice and the whims of the dice may see fit to scupper any coherence or sense of rising and falling action in one session, and enhance it in another.  So I consider waiting around for it to happen and basking in it when it does is again something that mostly can happen just in your own head, although if others share this motivation it becomes more extrinsic.

Fun - should I include this?  I think so.  JB was writing a while back about how fun is not a goal of play, it's an expectation of play, and I agree.  We expect playing games to be fun, so we are motivated to play them.  And while it's best if everyone is having fun together, what makes something fun for me might not be the same thing that makes something fun for someone else.  There's a whole big list of motivations in this thread, none mutually exclusive, that will lead you to have fun at the table.  And my fun is not always contingent on your fun, and sometimes may even hamper your fun (a sign of incompatible players).  So, in my opinion, fun is an intrinsic motivation of play.

*dating myself, but then I figure much of my readership is of the same generation as me.  For all you whipper-snappers reading this, Google is your friend.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Need some art?

Jeremy, who plays Noctis the Orc (and formerly Ripper the Orc) in Vaults of Ur, has been working on a trans-gender...
...I mean trans-GENRE campaign using TriStat dX.  He's been trying to get this campaign off the ground for a long time, and it's gone from D&D to Marvel Superheroes/4C to one of his homebrew kludge games to TriStat.  Hopefully it stays put in that system, as I'm working on a Gunslinger from Mid-World (Stephen King's Dark Tower series) to journey across the veil to his technomage assimilation empire Dyson Sphere.

He's also revamped his blog, Omegapointilist Studios, to show off his artwork. 

He's also started selling licenses to use his work as stock art in your RPG product.  I've posted a few of his pictures here before, and I'll post a few more as teasers.  But seriously, help a brother out and go visit his shop on DriveThru RPG.  If you're putting together your own fantasy RPG, he may well have some inexpensive art you can use.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Chanbara Playtest 1

The first session of Chanbara went well.  Not perfectly - the magic system needs revision, and we found a few bugs here and there.  But mostly, it went smoothly.  A samurai and two sohei investigated a haunted castle, locating clues to the haunting that may help them end the curse.

Thanks Jeremy, Dean and Alexei!

I'll write more later, as it's 1am.  Time for bed.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Playtest Begins

I'm gonna give my draft rules of Chanbara a spin this coming Saturday, using an adventure in a haunted samurai castle, "Ghost Castle Hasegawa."  (If I can find the map, it's MIA at the moment.)

Michael and Dean have made characters, but need to update them to a last minute rule change (unless they can convince me to keep the old version, which they actually liked).  Justin has a concept, but hasn't gotten further than just rolling it up as if it were a Labyrinth Lord character.  Not sure if anyone else will play.

Anyway, we'll have a Kitsune Onmyoji, Human Sohei and Human Ronin versus whatever I can throw at them.  :D

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Troll Questions, for D&D and Chanbara (since I'm working on it)

Random Wizard is at it again.  I didn't answer his first round of 10 questions, but these look like ones I can answer quickly and easily, so here goes.

(1). Should energy drain take away one level of experience points from the character? Yes or No? If no, what should level drain do?
D&D - Yes, but my current house rule is that the XP go into a "bank" and can later be given to a replacement PC
Chanbara - I didn't include any level draining monsters or spells/magic items, so it's a non-issue.

(2). Should the oil used in lanterns do significant damage (more than 1 hp in damage) if thrown on an opponent and set on fire? Yes or No? If yes, how much damage should it do?
Both Systems - sure, I like the rules of "movie world" rather than real world for my games.  I usually go with 1d6 damage each round for two rounds.

(3). Should poison give a save or die roll, with a fail rolled indicating instant death? Yes or No? If no, how should game mechanics relating to poison work?
D&D - it can, but most poisons have a duration during which there's a chance to save the PC before death occurs (and some poisons don't kill, merely incapacitate).
Chanbara - I've got a whole big mess of a chart for poisons.  Part of me loves it, because the effects of any poison are random and could lead to death, vomiting, cramps, shakes, diarrhea, or other fun things.  Another part of me thinks the D&D way is easier.

(4). Do characters die when they reach 0 hit points? Yes or No? If no, then at what point is a character dead?
D&D - Yes.
Chanbara - You make a Saving Throw, fail and you die.  Make it and you're dying and will die unless you get some attention/magic within a short time.

(5). Does the primary spell mechanic for a magic user consist of a "memorize and forget system" (aka Vancian)? Yes or No? If no, what alternative do you use?
D&D - Yes, by the book.
Chanbara - No, spells use a variant of the Chainmail caster roll.

(6). Should all weapons do 1d6 damage or should different weapons have varying dice (1d4, 1d8, etc...) for damage?
Both Systems - variety is the spice of life.

(7). Should a character that has a high ability score in their prime requisite receive an experience point bonus? Yes or No?
D&D - yes
Chanbara - still considering it

(8). Should a character with an strength of 18 constitution get a +3 bonus to hit points, or a +2 bonus to hit points, or a +1 bonus to hit points or no bonus to hit points? And should other ability scores grant similar bonuses to other game mechanics?
D&D - BX/BECMI ability modifiers (18 +3, 16-17 +2, etc.)
Chanbara - the highest scores give at best a +2 modifier

(9). Should a character have 1 unified saving throw number, or 3 saving throw types based on ability scores (reflex, fortitude, will), or 5 types based on potential game effects (magic wand, poison attacks)? or something else?
Both Systems - Five saves based on attack type, or in the case of Chanbara, the Wu Xing (Chinese 5 elements, same as Flying Swordsmen)

(10). Should a cleric get (A) 1 spell at 1st level  (B) no spells at 1st level (C) more than 1 spell at 1st level?
D&D - No spells at level 1
Chanbara - there are no clerics, but all spellcasters get spells from 1st level

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chanbara - The Missing Piece

In my spare time, I've been thinking about how to make Chanbara (and Flying Swordsmen when I finally get around to revising it) into more playable games.

Flying Swordsmen was about creating a retroclone of Dragon Fist, but since I couldn't clone the setting, the whole "improve your kung fu until you are strong enough to take on the evil Emperor Jianmin" thing had to go.  That left it with a strong kung fu ruleset bolted onto a D&D frame, but murderhobo play doesn't really fit exactly with a wuxia setting.  There's room for treasure hunting and dungeon delving within the genre, but there's more to it than that.

With Chanbara, the samurai & ninja themed version of FS, I decided screw it, delving dungeons for treasure is what drives D&D, it should drive this game as well, since it's built on the frame of D&D.  But then that leaves a lot of genre tropes on the cutting room floor, although the subgenre of supernatural Japanese comics/period action movies exists that this game would serve.  War between humans and the bakemono/yokai is not a bad idea for a fantasy adventure game.

But tonight, thanks to musing on JB's latest multipart essay over on BX Blackrazor (well, the first two parts anyway), I was considering ways to tweak what I've got to get it right.  And I think I may have stumbled upon the answer.

I'll borrow "allegiances" from d20 Modern (sorta like alignment, but different), and a variant on "carousing for XP" which I'd originally come up with for a Beowulf style Germanic Iron Age campaign idea way back when.  It will tie in the thematic elements of chanbara film/fiction with game play, and provide a solid objective for play.

Each character in Chanbara will have up to three alegiances.  The first is to family/clan.  The second will be to lord (the Emperor, a noble house, the Shogun, a daimyo), and the third to some sort of professional organization (trade guild, monastery or religious sect, yakuza gang, military brother(sister)hood, etc.).  To get XP for treasure collected, it needs to be donated to one of your allegiances.

XP for combat and for achieving group or personal goals will still exist, so players that need to save up for some purpose aren't completely screwed out of XP while adventuring.

In one fell swoop, this gives a good solid objective to play (fight ghosts, oni and spirit creatures to protect humanity - and take their loot), while also playing up one of the big themes of samurai history and fiction: the interplay between duty and honor in a Confucian culture. 

Of course, each clan, daimyo, sect, or what have you will have conflicting goals and desires.  Each player will have a duty to each, and how they dole out the treasure they earn, and what missions they undertake on behalf of one of their "lieges" will provide fodder for the GM to create interesting stories that fit the genre.

If the GM and players want, that is.  The beauty of it is that if a group wants to play murderhobo in funny hats with the rules, the GM can just ignore the potential for conflict between clan, lord and profession and let the PCs adventure.

Now to find time to write all this up in a succinct way in the rules...