Cars vs. Trains

Just got an email from Atari to my spam address (the some one WoW account phishers drill with scams) about Daggerdale and so I watched the trailer.

Interesting. Four player co-op.

One bit struck a chord… not a good chord, but a chord. There is a quote from Gamepro saying, “… the way Dungeons and Dragons was meant to be played”.

They’re doing it wrong.

D&D was meant to be played around a table with friends and one of those friends acts as a judge for results or conflicts often playing the other side of the conflict in the form of a gruff merchant or blood thirsty orc raider.

So they have swords and magic, D&D based rules and some multiplayer aspect, but they’re missing the most critical piece – a DM.

“Dude, I thought this post was about Cars vs. Trains, WTF?!”

Analogies.

Pen and paper D&D is like a car. Computer RPGs based on D&D are trains.

Trains go fast and get you where you want to go, mostly, but they’re very linear and cannot do much more than follow the path laid out for them with some scheduled stops along the way. Much like a computer running a module or game, it’s predefined and hard coded.

With a car you can drive just about anywhere there is a road and even some places where there isn’t a road, but you might get into trouble there depending on the car you’re driving. You can stop where you want, when you want and you can change destination without needing to get out of the car and make other arrangements (like purchasing a ticket to another location). It provides more freedom.

In other words, with a CRPG you’re limited by the fact that you do not have a human being on the other end to handle the odd things players will do or will want to do. In a CRPG you probably cannot attack that Innkeeper that is being a douche because the game needs him alive for some reason or it’s not programmed to handle calling in the local authorities, maybe even setting up a trial with witnesses and a magistrate… it can’t do that stuff on the fly.

A living, breathing DM can so long as they’re willing to do so and capable of thinking on their feet.

So no, “Gamepro”, that isn’t how Dungeons and Dragons is meant to be played.

Nub.

UPDATE: Poked around in the forums a bit, lots of unsatisfied customers. Found this video review: http://www.gametrailers.com/video/review-pod-dungeons/714234

Pathfinder RPG

I admit, I was really getting bored with the 3.5e D&D system on top of running out of steam for playing an evil character.

On evil characters: I’ve always failed at continuing to be evil for any length of time. Sneaky or tricky? Fun. But maliciously evil? Meh. It gets a little tiresome after awhile. I’ve started several attempts at playing ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ characters in various games (BG series, NWN series, Mass Effect series and even as a player in 1e D&D a long time ago. I don’t know what it is, but I just lose interest. I think I find it sort of the same after awhile and it isn’t really challenging. How hard is it to be an asshole that doesn’t care about much?

It’s really odd because I enjoy DMing and plotting out the evil schemes and things going on behind the scenes but as a player? Meh. I think it’s just easier to run ‘evil’ when you’re coordinating it as a DM and not when you’re stuck with half the group being either Chaotic Neutral or Neutral Evil. It’s like in both cases the group is there to foil your plans, only as a DM it’s sort of expected. Hehe

As for 3.5e? I’m running out of character ideas I find interesting and are of value to the group. I just don’t find any of the classes kicking around all that appealing. I think the group mistook that for lack of interest in my current character when instead it’s more of a general ‘mehness’ of 3.5e and playing evil for a length.

There are several classes I haven’t played yet, but I haven’t played them for a reason. The reasons being either they didn’t fit with the current group make up or I really have little interest in them. These classes are: Wizard (bleh), Druid (meh), Monk (eh) and Paladin (heh).

I have considered what I might do if I lose my current character (Smaken Dahed, Ogre Fighter/Cannibal) and I come up empty. Well, empty of interesting ideas that wouldn’t screw the party over. Favored Soul of Nerull would have been fun, but he wouldn’t serve the group for any length of time without making an attempt at ending their lives (not just a follower of the God of Murder, but a Favored Soul!). I consider Hextor – oddly enough, the group finds themselves in a town that is Lawful Evil and apparently following Hextor – but I could see it being rough on the party given their Chaotic or non-Lawful ways. I considered a Monk as well, but it would be Lawful Evil and face the same issues.

That led me to consider more Chaotic type classes, ultimately, to the Barbarian. That’s not all that far of a stretch from what I am playing now.

Oh, you’re probably wondering where I’m going with all this? Well, I was venting about it to a member and Pathfinder came up. Another member mentioned, another even brought in the hefty rulebook and another member mentioned the company that worked on the modules was the same and they were excellent. I spent a fair bit of a day reading up on it through the free SRD.

A lot of it is the same, but different enough to make it worth looking at, almost reinvigorating. All of the classes appear to have more flavor and variety to them with allowing people to make more active choices in how they want their character to be. For example, the Druid class doesn’t have to have an Animal Companion (I realize that’s the case in 3.5e but you’re not compensated for that sacrifice), instead it allows them to pick from a number of Domains (Animal, Plant, Weather, Fire, Earth, Air and Water). Domains are a lot more interesting as well. They added something more to the domain powers and even grow the benefits with levels – which is awesome!

The more and more I read, the more I liked it. I was IMing my friend about it was I was reading stuff and he was looking into it when he could and we both agreed it looked good. We brought it up on our group forum and there was a lot of interest. Before our last session we discussed it again and the whole group agreed we’d make the switch at the end of the current campaign.

Good stuff.

Now, what do I do if my current character dies and I have next to no interest in playing anything currently in 3.5e within the current alignment setting?

Shaking Things Up

One of the things I like about the current campaign I’m playing in with my D&D group, is that it’s not the typical start. The world is dominated by Mind Flayers who have oppressed the other races into servitude.

Very different from the usual process of build a character from all the available options, buy up the gear and plunk yourself down on a barstool somewhere for the adventuring group to suck you up into some adventure.

Not all campaigns are like that, but you get what I mean, no?

Instead we created characters devoid of gear (outside of what the slave masters let us have) and with very little knowledge or schooling on things. It’s been kind of nice acquiring things along the way without looking at what you already have and saying, “Meh, I have better,” simply because you didn’t really have anything!

Another change (at least for me) is that it’s an evil group. I recently DMed the group playing evil characters working for a greater evil, but I didn’t get a chance to play an evil character in a campaign where the other players are evil.

It’s been fun.

That got me thinking of a campaign idea I had for awhile now. It’s low magic and non-humans, but high on divine magic. Idea being the Church in power of the Kingdom, gained absolute control of the Kingdom because the King is indisposed.

And you now what absolute power does, right?

The big cheese starts looking for people to blame because he’s incapable of fixing the King. First he blames the Elves, who flee with help from the Dwarves. Then he blames the Wizards because their magic is ungodly!

It could be interesting. If anything, more story and RP focused.

What to do?

Some people died in the D&D session yesterday and that creates a bit of a problem in our Evil little group. What problem?

Power vaccuum.

Smaken (the Ogre I’m playing) doesn’t really have a leader he’s willing to follow.Being Lawful Evil, he’ll respect the authority of someone stronger or more powerful… or bully people into obeying him.

Jack (Dread Necromancer) who was somewhat creepy but really smart was who Smaken fell in with to follow. Mainly because others feared him, he complimented the Ogre in suitable ways and also was really good at cutting up dead things for the Ogre to eat. Also, he seemed to have more worldly experience than the Ogre had (who, until recently, only knew of the slave camps).

Lars (War Mage) also died, and he was the main tie in for the two Knights in the group. He also had a quest to collect souls from the things we’d kill. But that was his job, not Smaken’s. So far, Smaken only agreed to deal with the local Kobold issue, which they believe they have done.

That’s issue two; there is a subquest that might not have someone driving it unless the Bard really takes interest.

That leaves two Knights (Lawful Evil) who follow a code that Smaken disagrees with – not harm unarmed foes? Duh. They’re easier to kill if they are unarmed. Stupid Knights! While Smaken currently shares their alignment, he’s not as rigid as they are. Nope, he’s not likely to follow them unless they kick his ass… which might happen.

The Bard who is light and whimsical. Tells good stories about Ogres killing Mind Flayers (actually stories about Smaken, but the Bard changed the name and Smaken hasn’t caught on yet) and trips up enemies putting them in compromising positions, but that’s about it. He’s smart and clever but… sort of Bardy. Smaken believes he could bully the Bard into obeying him.. though maybe the Bard might have some ideas.

The Warlock? Not a chance. Smaken wouldn’t follow him at all. There doesn’t seem to be a lot there so far, outside of blasting stuff… which is cool.

There is the NPC Cleric, though Smaken thinks he can bully her too.

Yeah, I think issue one might come into play. Smaken might try to step up and bully the group into following him.

First thing to do? Release the Vampire Colonel’s farmers/workers and go collect the reward.

Second thing to do? Sit around town until his large-sized weapons are completed.

After that? Assuming he can bully everyone into following him, maybe see what sort of work is available.

Go Go Evil Team!

Last week Team Evil took the opportunity to get rid of the do-gooders in the group. I’d say it was a long time coming but it wasn’t really all that long, it just felt long because we only played once per week.

Yeah, I’m talking about D&D.

The opportunity was too irresistable. We’ve staked out a semi-solid building in some ruins are currently inhabited by cultists of an evil, mad, and squid-like god and us because we’re pretending to be card carrying members.

Good Team consisted of:

  1. The conehead (Githyanki Psychic Warrior) – he’s GoodGuy#1.
  2. The cleric – he’s GoodGuy#2.
  3. The healer NPC  – he’s GoodGuy#3.
  4. Then there is the Druid, who really isn’t a ‘GoodGuy’, more of a Neutral tree-hugger type but we’ll call him GoodGuy#4.

Evil Team consisted of:

  1. The guy who likes dead stuff (Dread Necromancer) – EvilGuy#1
  2. The storyteller who didn’t know he was on Evil Team (Bard with less that goodly intentions) – EvilGuy#2
  3. The warlock – EvilGuy#3
  4. The me, Smaken (Ogre) – EvilGuy#4

The conehead wandered off on his own to take a look around the ruins at night.

The cleric was not in attendance for the evening so he was non-interactive (a.k.a. bonked)

The NPC healer was hanging about not doing too much, likely imagining health bars over our heads.

The druid was just preparing to settle in and put his wolf  (animal companion) out to guard the horses. My character had issues with the druid because his animal companion tried to eat my food (a Gnoll), then kept getting in the way. He also claimed the wolf was smarter than my brutish Ogre – clearly not true, the rocks told our Dread Necromancer as much.

So by my Ogre’s calculations, there was only one of them and four of us, five including myself.

After asking if the Druid could summon up any more animals or earth people (elementals), I learned he was almost tapped out of spells so I sucker punched him.

Combat ensued.

The druid was knocked unconscious three times before the NPC healer couldn’t keep him up anymore. We then took out his dog as he had called it back to him. The NPC healer high-tailed it even though I suggested he could heal me and I wouldn’t squish him.

We then set up an ambush for the conehead. He wandered right into it and was struck blind by the Dread Necro, then pummeled and blasted to death by rest of Evil Team.

We called it a short night there as the DM needed to make adjustments to the direction his campaign was taking and the other two had to roll up new characters.

Remember kids, Evil will always win over Good because Good is dumb.

This week we’re adding three new characters to the party and I’ve learned two out of the three are Evil! Yay!

Favorite Characters…

Awhile back I asked people to help me pick between characters, only Ysharros offered some help. Oddly enough, I went with the Goblin Cleric character and had a load of fun. I have to admit, it now sits up top of my list of favorite characters.

A Goblin Cleric of Hermes who picked the Travel and Trickery domains, was Chaotic Good and a whole lot of fun despite being reduced to a mobile band-aid. There was just something about the pest personality I adopted for him that was enjoyable. I played him as a bit of a slacker as well, ducking out of sitting a watch over nights, pretending he didn’t know the the Giantish language other than what he believed was, “Hey, how’s it going?” but was actually, “Tongue my hairy dumper!” and misleading his brutish Minotaur companion – though only slightly. One of the things that never had a chance to come out was that he was a bit of a swindler – unfortunately, the ‘merchants’ in the group didn’t leverage his ability to be diplomatic and also outright bullshit people.

My next favorite is my current character, Smaken the Ogre. We’re playing with some modified rules that allows you to level up through monster race as a class then adopt a class later. I’ve got another two levels to go before I can actually pick a character class – I’ll be going with Fighter. Next level he’ll grow from Medium size to Large size which adds some benefits (+2 STR, 10 foot reach, size bonus to size related things, weapons of suitable size scale up in damage dice) but also has some costs (-2 DEX, -1 AC and -1 to hit from Size, I believe there are penalties to things like Hide as well). With some surprisingly good rolls and not going overboard with stat assignments, he’s actually smarter, wiser and more convincing than most Ogres would be. I was a little surprised but I managed to get away with 8 INT, 9 WIS and 10 CHA.

From the play side of things, I’m trying to ensure he stays well within his Lawful Evil alignment. I take opportunities to be brutal and cruel to things lesser than he is and generally harsh. I’ve even proposed we take on some slaves we rescued from their Mind Flayer oppressors but the Goodly types didn’t like that. Being a malnourished and growing Ogre, a lot of his concerns revolve around eating – some of the food sources make the other party members cringe, though the Dread Necromancer in the group is helping out by skinning things and collecting some choice cuts. So far Smaken has tried gnoll, wolf, bear and dragon. Some people got squeamish about a party member eating a sentient creature (the gnolls) but I put that to rest by letting them know halflings were tastier.

I’m playing him dumb, but not horribly dumb. Definitely uneducated since he grew up in Mind Flayer slave camps and was used for heavy lifting type jobs. Every now and then I throw out the odd revelation, but mostly he’s dazzled by the more complicated situations.

He’s at odds with some of the party members, but so far only the Druid is on his list of people that are weird and might need to be put in their place. He’s already had two run-ins with the Druid’s animal companion – a wolf. Once the damn wolf tried to eat the gnoll Smaken just knocked unconscious. Irritated by that, Smaken took a swipe at the wolf but missed. The Druid called his pet off. In Smaken’s defense, I did have him call out to leave this gnoll alone because he was going to question it and the Druid didn’t call the wolf off. Annoyed with the wolf, he later too a shot at it when it got in his way in combat, stepping right in front of Smaken, blocking easy (and tactical) access to an opponent. It was a hard hit and almost killed the wolf, as did the attack from the enemy. The wolf doesn’t seem to come around as much anymore. :)

The Githerzai Psychic Warrior is starting to annoy Smaken a bit. A rust monster ate the Gith’s metal shield so Smaken loaned the Gith his heavy wooden shield – since the Gith was a decent fighter, though clearly not an Ogre so he was more frail. The damn Gith engraved a symbol of Moridan and painted the shield. If Smaken didn’t like Dwarves so much (he thinks they’re sort of like little Ogres) and like that the symbol was a warhammer, there might have been more of an issue. At this point, Smaken isn’t going to loan the Githerzai anything in the near future. Who knows what the skinny, cone-head will do to whatever he’s loaned.

The goodly Duergar Cleric of Moridan is also a bit of a stick in the mud. Won’t let him take slaves or eat the Halfling prisoner and didn’t like him killing (and then eating) the Gnoll prisoner who didn’t have any information of value for Smaken. He’s a bit stuffy but he’s a Dwarf and he fixes up Smaken’s owies so that’s okay. For now.

The Warlock and Bard seem okay. They don’t get in his way, besides the Bard tells some pretty amazing stories about a group of adventurers that slay Mind Flayers. One of the characters in the story is pretty cool because he’s a big nasty Ogre, really strong and crushes his enemies. (The Bard is actually telling the story about how this group defeated a Mind Flayer overlord but has changed the names of the party members – Smaken hasn’t clued in that he’s the Ogre in that story.)

A sample of Smaken performing a “Gather Information” check:

In a tent-filled, refugee camp Smaken found himself in a ‘tavern’ filled with Dwarves and other refugees. Knowing the group is looking for a missing Dwarf that disappeared into nearby ruins he asks the Dwarves, “Hey! Yous dorfs – do yous guys know any udder dorfs?” He’s met with shrugs and several Dwarves pointing at each other.

I wasn’t actually expecting to be of any use, but I was hoping other members of the group might remember why we were there and get asking questions. It seems we were being stalled until we proved our worth later on in the evening when we defended the encampment from a ‘Death Squad’ from the local ruling Mind Flayer tyrant. We ended the session there.

Good fun.

On Fun…

Frostheim posted a bit about Volley getting removed in Cataclysm and had a section about ‘game design’ and ‘fun’ that I thought was worth quoting and emphasizing because it applies to more things than just WoW – given that it was a point about game design. I could see this sort of thing applying as a DM setting up an encounter or adventure or even running a gaming session.

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to work for a major table top game publisher, and I got to work and talk with some very talented game designers. The way that they viewed game design was endlessly fascinating to me. To them, “fun” was just another mechanic to be balanced, along with strategy, complexity, and intuitiveness. They could sit down and tell you what kind of mechanics made a game fun, and the different kinds of fun and how they appealed to different kinds of players.

There are a couple key things about fun. First of all — not doing anything is not fun. It’s boring, and it makes the game feel slow or long. This was especially a big deal for board games — you didn’t want any one person’s turn to last too long. But it was okay if the other player had ways of interrupting his turn — even if he didn’t use them, he still felt engaged. But just sitting and watching and waiting your turn to play is not fun.

Furthermore, success has to be based on your decisions (or at least have the illusion that it is): you have to be the one winning and you have to win because of what you do and how well you do it. If all you do is roll the dice and the highest number wins, that isn’t terribly fun, even for the winner. If all you do is watch stuff happen, that isn’t terribly fun either.

There was a lot more to the post but it was more specific to WoW so I didn’t include it.

I think he hits on a lot of good points, some are pretty obvious, while others could really shed a lot of light on what goes on in my D&D sessions on Wednesday nights.

Emphasis on, “not doing anything is not fun“, “This was especially a big deal for board games — you didn’t want any one person’s turn to last too long. But it was okay if the other player had ways of interrupting his turn – even if he didn’t use them” and “But just sitting and watching and waiting your turn to play is not fun“.

We’ve got a pretty big group – seven players and one DM – so the combat rounds take awhile. In some cases your character might be disabled or ineffective against what is happening (whether it’s combat, negotiations or interrogations) so it’s hard to always have everyone able to do something.

This gets worsened at higher levels, especially in combat, when you start seeing that casters can dominate the majority of time in the round resolving their actions, the effects of their actions or performing actions for the plethora of creatures they’ve summoned up on top of their own actions.

For mundanes (to steal from Piers Anthony’s Xanth series)? Not too time intensive – you have a number of attacks that are straight forward hit rolls, damage rolls, maybe some movement with exceptions being things like ‘grapple’. This means the combats can be pretty damn boring for mundane types.

All that said, I think this leads some players towards second bit I quoted – interruptions.

The rules lawyering (correcting others on how to play out an action, noting specific mechanics, playing the DM’s pet to the detriment of the party or downright disagreeing with how the DM is doing something) seems to be a product of everyone not being as involved as they’d like or perhaps everyone trying too hard to be involved in some when because their character hasn’t been able to be involved.

Some of the players might suggest that some players tend to be worse about lawyering than others, I’m starting to wonder if there is a pattern to this. Do the ‘mundane’ character owners tend to be more lawyer-like simply because their action is resolved quickly leaving them feeling like they’re not really playing?

On the flip side, this is something for DMs to take note of when building encounters – make sure you have something in there for everyone to feel useful with, even if it is just throwing in some weaker creatures for the mundanes to pummel away at or something; the trick there is to make sure you don’t make them look too appetizing for the caster-types. Also avoid designing encounters where the players do nothing.

Again, our group size makes this really difficult because the list of people to engage is about twice the size of the expected group size and you end up with a fair bit of overlap.

The last paragraph in the quote is something that is important for our group as well. For the most part, we’re good with that sort of thing but I thought it was an important item to note as well.