Thursday, April 17, 2014

When is a player less / more than a single player?

Every game style has an ideal number of players.  Just like a "buddy cop" movie is best with two players, so are games which involve a lot of witness interviewing, clue hunting and suspect timetabling.  Three is doable, sure, though sometimes one player may need to be quiet so that the other two can grill a suspect with greater precision and, yes, a single player could certainly be up to the task though they'll need a little more verbal guidance and hinting from the GM since they won't have any other mental assistance in the game.

Naturally a game of high adventure and wacky hi-jinx works well with the usual D&D group of four so that each niche can be filled and each player has opportunities to bounce off the other characters during the long stints without others in the group.  A dungeon crawl can cope well with 5 - 6 players, at most, though only if they know the rules well and won't make each round last a terribly long time.

So with all these facts in mind, on top of the GM's own needs and skill, each game will have an ideal number of players.  Having said that, some players take up more, or less, of the spotlight, time and energy within the game.  Therefore, in terms of seats at the game table, some players are worth more, or less, than a single player.

The half a players are the quiet ones.  They may have stellar moments occasionally but generally they're content to watch.  You could put eight of these around a table intended for four and so long as they know the rules well enough you wouldn't have much trouble running the game.

The three-quarter players make excellent sidekicks.  Even when they're in the spotlight, they tend to be in it to transfer it to someone else.  Rather than engaging much with NPCs or decision making, they instead serve to reinforce another player's decisions and reflect the other characters in a way that serves to gift them more limelight.

The single players are your usual run-of-the-mill player.  They like the spotlight but are happy to share.  They draw attention but not too much.  They're happy to roleplay but they generally won't slow things down to do it and when they make decisions it's generally in the best interests of the group. 

While a dedicated roleplayer whose quieter than most could be worth only one seat at the table, generally more roleplayers take up more than one.  Why is this?  Because those who are eagerly playing their character will want more time to talk, more opportunities to engage with plot, more chances to grow and develop their character, and more descriptions that emphasise who they're playing.  Don't get me wrong.  A hearty roleplayer isn't the only sort who can take up more than one seat but they tend to be mostly from this side.

When you get four hearty roleplayers at one table, each needing as much time and having as many opinions as two regular players, you really have a table of eight.  The benefit is that having a group of "eight" drawn from four players often means that you can sit back and let them "have at it".  You'll have plenty of time to think up the next part of the plot as they interact with each other.  The trouble is that steering eight players is like herding cats, especially if each cat has its own opinions.

Of course, if you have several hearty roleplayers you're probably best off looking at running smaller groups anyway.  If it's Pathfinder, two to three players aren't going to fill every niche but that shouldn't be a problem because you can simply tailor the encounters around the group's failings.  Odds are the game will revolve around decisions, antics and character arcs anyhow with combats relegated to an amusing and strategic mini-game designed to up the ante.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

GM Analysis: Frank!

Seeing as Frank Punch (not his real name) was so enthusiastic to read about my opinions on various GMs, I figured I may as well start with him.  Frank Punch is new to Game Mastery and his previous experience (as far as I understand it) involves occasional game running of munchkins where the GMs revolved their spots between playing and GMing as well as a more recent very casual family games where several parents come along to play while their children play together.

Since I dropped the Flashpoint game, he chose to take up the slot with some Pathfindering of his own and decided to run one of the published adventures he'd purchased.  It proved a pretty cool game, embroidered with his use of purchased miniatures and hastily drawn maps, with a high focus on combat and peril.  The enemies played cleverly and used their abilities to their full advantage which led to very long combats, with one boss battle taking up an entire session (2 hours, approximately).  Since the enemies were tactically clever, these long combats didn't grate and the players were energised still by the end of it.

To be honest, one of my main failings as a GM is that combat rules, in particular, tend to slip freely from my mind and so I don't play the feats and the sheet as well as I might.  This makes my combats remarkably fast but also generally easy.  (Somehow my players haven't clued into the general ease of such combats, though, so my descriptive ability must be somehow driving the fear of the Gods into them.)

Once we had finished this pre-generated adventure (which killed three PCs and sent the fourth one fleeing for help), we moved onto a dungeon that he partially randomly generated and partially painstakingly created.  I believe the maps and architecture were the main part of the random generation (completed by a computer generator) and the rest was done by himself.

He uses a house rule where "What you say is what you get".  This isn't to say that he takes OOC comments to be true.  This isn't that kind of super serious game.  It is a dungeon crawl, after all.  But if you say you walk down a corridor, you can't later complain that you were sneaking.  He drilled the point home by having a door resist being pushed open, since it opened the other way and had to be pulled.  A silly point, perhaps, and one that could have indicated a bit of anal retentiveness, but later exploits in the dungeon revealed  the inclusion of that piece of dungeonry was probably more of a cautionary point so that we would have to put a bit of thought into our word use.  In other words, he wasn't so anal at later points so I think it was more to drill the point home!

Other than this, he makes good use of traps.  He included a faux trap involving well-placed spears alongside some descriptive clues that there was no trap there (including the fact that I could find no trap).  He also included several other traps with neat descriptions for those who locate them.  He also includes faux treasure points, such as a Mimic hiding under rubble which looked like a treasure chest and a corridor into nowhere that would normally include treasure (as a reward for coming all that way) but instead contained a trap (as the In World dungeon architects would have suspected we'd assume a reward).

All in all, it was a lot of fun with an easygoing atmosphere, high importance placed on the scenery of words (pay attention to the verbal clues), and with roleplay encouraged to be mostly about asides rather than character arcs and conversations.  I don't know what he's like with other formats.  It may be that his preference is for dungeon crawls and combat-to-combat games.  It may be that he's just dipping his toes in that end of the pool.  I know, at least, his tastes will run towards action as they do as a player as well.  I also can't say what his NPCing talents are or if he has them because it hasn't really come up.  Since we've only been playing for about five sessions, they haven't really needed to.

So yes, there you go, Frank.  You have been analysed.  If I were to steal two of your talents, thus far, it would be your combat preparations / battle ability and your trap wizardry.  At least, thus far.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Musing on Masks: Episode 19

CAMPAIGN SUMMARY: James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, has been hired to investigate Sydney Silvers who went missing only a night or two ago but whose home was found ransacked by the receptionist. He's escaped Mogens home after discovering that the man had been doing some sort of chemical experiments on his enemies and is planning to attack his scarcely defended laboratory available to deal with at the same time.

EPISODE SUMMARY (Laboratory): Wherein James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, must infiltrate the research facility and rescue Jack Vander Klei so that he can finally get some answers.

CONSIDERATIONS: This was a bit of a tricky one as I hadn't reviewed my rules system prior to running it for quite some time so I was a little all over the place with those rules.  The combat did bring up some very important issues such as the importance of cover and concealment, adequate ammunition and superior numbers.  Lacking superior numbers, a good amount of ammunition is necessary.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

PC Creation: The Image vs The Detail

Now that I've been kicking around as a player, I've started to realise that the normal way I made characters (inspired by NPC needs and World of Darkness styles) aren't the only way.  It isn't even the best way.  What am I talking about?

I'm talking about detail-oriented character design.  You know the type.  You grab up a questionnaire, figure out your character's life story and how that has sculpted them, and then decide what sort of skills, merits and attributes would suit that kind of person.  It's very fitting for games that revolve around character because in anything that remotely resembles a sandbox you very much need to find your character's core and their motivation.

It can, however, cause trouble in a plot heavy game where the PCs must connect and work together, no matter what, and where there's little time given over to personal decision making or even connections to character history.  In action-oriented games where your stat-lines are all important in keeping you relevant, you really don't want to paint yourself into a poorer stat-line or feat-mix just because it makes sense for your character.

So in the latter case, and generally for one shots as well, you're often better building up an image of your character.  Think of it like a 2D representation with room for 3D growth as the campaign progresses, as the odd choice is decided upon and the odd quip is made.  In the meanwhile, prior to the campaign, you just need to decide on the *feel* and *look* of your character.

And by *look*, I most assuredly don't mean hair colour, height, weight and skin tone.  I mean whether they run around in plate mail with a pair of six-shooters or whether they're a gangly wild-eyed figure with a gnarled Rod of Extend.  Basically, decide on a colourful and interesting image which you can focus your stats around (i.e. what's the best build for armour + six-shooters) or, perhaps, if there's a particular mechanic you've got your heart set on you can instead build an image based off that instead (Cleave!).

Such a character often lacks the drive and motivation to persistently move a long-lasting sandbox campaign but can be absolutely brilliant in any other style.

There's probably other ways of creating a character, but these are the two main ones I've encountered.  Which one do you generally prefer?  And do you know any other main character creation styles?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

So out of it....

Well I've been too out of it lately to pop up another Masks audio recording and I'm out of ones that I've previously gone through so ... we'll need to wait until next week.

In the meantime you can check out these cool LARP videos.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Vampire LARP: Blood-based Mini Games, Part 2

In my game, each vampire gets one roll prior to each session to determine howmuch blood they have gathered for it.  The city is now a dangerous place so it's not so easy to spend as many hours cruising and feeding without risk so one can't assume one will be arriving full at every gathering.  Any character may spend an additional downtime hunting.

Since you don't have to spend experience points on your hunting methods (except to boost relevant traits), it's well worth your time to invest in it with effort, downtimes or subtle manipulations at court to convince others to shift the economic landscape for you.  After all, if a charitable organisation gets most of the homeless off the streets then you're out of luck if they're your main prey, while if you demolish a large chunk of slum housing to put up a few larger single family dwellings OR shut down the psychiatric facilities and care homes then you'll have more food on the streets.

If too many people hit the same targets, then there's likely to be myths (campers have been more susceptible to flu lately) and also a reduction in targets (campers feel too uneasy to camp anymore).  There's also an increased risk that two vampires will hit the same target.  After all, even if there are 1000 campers in the Adelaide Hills in a single week there's a good chance that only 10 - 20 of them are in a convenient spot at any one time.  Problems can also arise if a vampire significantly fails their feeding check (roll a 1 on a d10 followed by another 1 on the reroll) which will generate either a personal plot (even on the dice) or a regular plot affecting the whole court (odds on the dice).

One of the questions asked of each player when they arrive is their preferred prey, area and hunting style and this default will be used until I'm informed of a change in tactics.  If too many vampires are attacking the same sort of people, areas, or (in some instances) using the same techniques, they'll generally all get a warning and will need to determine whether they themselves will change tactic or whether they'll force another to do so. 

 Techniques.

The first four of the below feeding techniques can be used on humans or animals (replace persuasion with animal ken and streetwise with survival) while the last option may only be used on animals.  The technique determines the dice roll used.
  • Ambushing a victim (stealth, grapple, risk of discovery)
  • Attacking a victim (brawl, weaponry, risk of victim's death)
  • Convincing a victim to go with you to a bad location (persuasion, streetwise, risk of later retaliation)
  • Feeding off an unconscious / sleeping victim (larceny, stealth, risk of discovery)
  • Seducing a victim (empathy, socialize, risk of victim seeking you out)
  • Majesty blasting a victim (Majesty, risk of victim obsessing over you)
  • Dominating a victim (Dominate, risk of victim noticing memory gaps)
  • Paying a victim, i.e. prostitute (resources, persuasion, risk of gaining a reputation)
  • Animalism to call / subdue enough animals (Animalism, risk of myth making)
Prey

Some prey are easier to feed on than others, generally because they are either more numerous (allowing a single Kindred to reach more prey during the week) or because they are particularly vulnerable (allowing a single Kindred to feed more during the week).  The vampires' activities will affect the benefits and penalties involved, often in unexpected ways.  The precise bonuses / penalties will not be released to a player unless their character makes it their Lesser Work to study the herd.  The techniques chosen will also impact the bonus or penalty.  It is, after all, easier to attack an unsuspecting tourist than a petty criminal.  Thus only the first option will have an example.  The others will be listed simply as the general opinion of difficulty.  Naturally certain
  • Homeless (+4) (approx. 500 highly vulnerable and accessible people)
  • Intoxicated
  • Campers
  • Tourists
  • Patients
  • Lonely Singles
  • Petty Criminals
  • Prostitutes
  • Junkies
  • Nightshift Workers
  • Opportunistic
  • Livestock
  • Pests

Location

Certain areas include a feeding bonus which actually provide extra blood earned per roll as though they had gained an automatic success.  These bonuses are divided by the number of vampires hunting there.  Thus, if the CBD rack has +6 blood attached to it and five people feed there than the first vampire to feed there gains 2 blood while the others gain 1 extra blood apiece.  Initiative, in this case, is determined by a Wits + Streetwise roll.  These areas include (with numbers being examples rather than what I will necessarily be using):
  • CBD Rack (9) +3 in late February / March
  • Glenelg / Brighton Rack (6) +3 in warmer months
  • Livestock Farms (6)
  • Abattoirs (5)
  • Burgeoning Port Adelaide Red Light District (4)
  • The Parade (2)
  • Other range of pubs (2)
  • Late night cafes, restaurants and coffee houses (2)
  • Slum housing (2)
  • Medical Facilities (2)
  • Warehouse districts (1)
  • Adelaide Hills (1)
  • Office Car Parks (1)
  • Beaches (0) +2 in warmer months
Bear in mind this is all just examples as I'll doubtless alter them as I get closer to the game creation time.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dungeon Crawls Are ... Fun?

Well it's happened.  I never thought it would, but it has.  I am officially enjoying a dungeon crawl as a player.  I didn't think it possible.  After all, there's no story.  The only roleplay involves the brief asides the various characters make toward each other and a few of the decision points.  Yet it somehow feels satisfying, despite the fact that everything takes longer than in a videogame.

Setting aside my surprise at enjoying such light and airy entertainment, I then wondered at how it could possibly be better than a videogame.  Our miniatures and maps were hardly equivalent to a videogame's splendour and it's not like I'm one of those imaginative visionaries who creates an epic visual environment within my own head.  So why did it perfectly hold my attention?

Well, for one thing, we all got along.  Being in a social environment and playing in a team that genuinely gets along, complete with gentle IC ribbing and playful asides, is wonderful!  I've never gotten into multiplayer videogames despite people's assurances that this could be fun because I've always worried that they would be full of goons.  That's what you get for growing up female.  Not only do you lack multiplayer experiences from your childhood (since few girls play videogames and my game console was a Sega Master System anyhow which lacked many multiplayer games) but you also hear about how a whole bunch of credits live on the Internet wanting to pick on girls.

The latter point likely being true, judging by the number of anecdotes I hear, though I tend to be pretty lucky and could always play LAN-style anyway so it shouldn't really hold me back.

Anyway, random tangent aside, I realised that roleplaying games actually have something videogames don't ... a different set of pacing.  Videogames move so fast, especially this sort of fantasy game, that you can barely take a breath to enjoy one thing before you're whisked off to the next.

As an example, we entered a room with an incongruous trash pile to one side.  We ignored it.  Then the next time we passed we used Detect Magic and Detect Evil on it.  When we were about to leave, one of the players stared at the section on the man with a thoughtful look in his eye.  "You want to search it, don't you?" I asked.  Yup, he does.  Pulling back the trash, he reveals a treasure chest.  My PC saunters over to unlock it and ... is attacked by a Mimic.

Now think about this same situation in a videogame.  You don't eye off potential time wasters in a videogame.  I would just rush through that trash pile to see if I picked up anything OR there'd be a OOC button indicator over the trash pile which, being one of the few action commands available on the level I'd undoubtedly press OR I'd just run straight past it.  There's so many other goodies in the next bit that I'd largely forget what I'd passed.

Now it'd be different in a game like Outlast where you don't *run* anyway.  You cower and slowly slink about.  But in an action-based fantasy game?  You'd rush about!  So, while both are certainly good, they deliver different experiences beyond a pen-and-paper game's laggy combat (imagine waiting a minute for a swing to resolve in a videogame).

I also adore Pathfinder alchemists.  I don't know if I'll ever play anything else.  I've been a sorcerer and a rogue several times before yet have always found them too limited.  With an Alchemist I have some cool levels of damage output, some flavour options (explosive, cold, acid), a few spells to choose from and some neat little skills - especially Disable Device.  While I never feel overpowering, I do always feel relevant.  It's great!