|illustration by Noobaka|
At the core of what makes playing an RPG different from other games are 4 central concepts
1) the lack of pre-defined endgame
2) the lack of singular victor
3) the shared success or failure of an adventure by the group as a while
4) One person creates and referees the game
Do these unique game concepts create an insurmountable barrier for potential players?
If I were to explain monopoly or poker to someone--the basics are the person with he most $ wins. If you have no money you lose. The dice rolls or cards dealt will influence your choices-but it is you against everyone else--the person with the most stuff wins.
The all or nothing mechanic is also true of a game like Risk--you lose your countries, you are out of the game, the person with the most countries (all of them) wins.
Pretty basic stuff, and overly simplified, but pretty clear to on what my goal is as a player. We all start on equal footing and then based on my skill--and the luck of the draw or roll I work to beat all of my opponents. We are in competition against each other--and only one of us can and will win.
This is a more difficult thing to try to do for an RPG:.
-We are not in competition against each other (usually)
-We each have varying abilities/skills/spells/powers
-There is no victory condition, beyond completing the adventure--but the game never truly ends
-If your character is killed. You can make a new one and get back into the game.
-One person creates the adventures, manages the game experience and acts as the antagonists and narrator describing the scenes--and a bad one can ruin the game completely.
You can't explain it as the person with the most: gold (?) Hit Points (?) Magic Items (?) wins--because success isn't just about individual achievement. It's about survival--both personal and group as well as completing the mission/adventure. A player may have an individual goal but achieving it at the loss of companions, and instead to finishing the mission, can destroy the game experience and swiftly end your session-as well as your place at the table for good.
Okay so what's my point?
I am not sure--except to say as RPG's are so unlike the usual gaming experience--it is unreasonable to expect a mass market player base.
It takes unique individuals who want to experience a theater of the mind game/story game in which there are no easy/clear answers. They are thrust into strange and difficult situations in which their own wits, some dice rolls and some scribbled stats/skills/spells on a piece of paper represent their arsenal against the unknown.
Further, It takes a unique individual to dream worlds and create them not only for their own enjoyment, but to inspire and to befuddle a group of potential interlopers ready to break stuff and set about exploring this unknown land. Worse than just spending time creating? You then have to bring it to life--verbally--and you have to referee not only the game in process but act as referee between players if they come into conflict. All the while being impartial and allowing the players to have the flexibility to explore that strange hole in the wall, sound in the well, or misty mountain in the distance that you had no intention of them exploring. Flexible, impartial, creative and colorful is a tall order and a rare skill set.
But key to all of that? For me in RPG's it is all about exploration: There are strange caves in the Borderlands, and old underground temple in the jungles of Parwu, a lost dwarf mine in the Hills of Greth, the rat cult growing in the sewers beneath Dolon, the lonely abandoned tower of the Elf Lord on the frontier, the crypt of the necrogazer, exploring the ruins of Dothar Keep or setting sail to the Dread Islands.
It's a unique type of game that posits exploration of the unknown as a key and central game concept. The reasons for exploring may be different: ship wrecked, recover an artifact, find loot, rescue a person, defend a city, destroy evil--but the central concept is that the player will have to go into an area/location that is totally unknown to them, risking life and limb with boon companions to achieve a mission/adventure goal.
Now to me? THAT is exactly my jam--sign me up every weekend I am good to go!
To many though, I am not sure it holds much interest. It takes time, it takes working together, it takes suspension of disbelief, it takes active participation and it takes some mental creativity on the part of all involved to make the dream real.
If I take someone and describe "a group of five man sized, yellow-eyed, slavering, brown tusk toothed creatures holding stone axes and spears, making menacing gestures and noises approaches--what do you do?" Not many will want to stick around or even enjoy that sort of thing. But like the explorers of old--we few, we happy few--find those encounters and explorations to be best gaming experience money and time can buy.
I'm going to attack this from two angles; which are only directly related to two of your questions, but which tie together, I think, at the end.ReplyDelete
First, "winning." Specifically, how to do you explain the "goal" of the game to a new player. Well, how about; "it's a lot like life?" You don't actually "win" life, but there are numerous opportunities THROUGHOUT life to "win." You get to "win" when you beat that group of orcs and live through the battle. You "win" when you find the magical dingus that was the goal of the adventure. You "win" when you drink that other guy under the table at the tavern. Sometimes you lose too -- and frequently that means that you get to draw up another character and try again. (I won't address the existential question raised by that whole "draw up another character and try again -- but a lot of fantasy and Sci-Fi novels over the years have examined that very issue.) So, anecdotally speaking, it's kind of self-explanatory.
Second, do the game concepts create any kind of unique barrier for entry for "normal" game players. Again, I can only answer this one anecdotally. My brother and I were avid wargamers and, by the time D&D hit our local game store, had been for eight years (or basically, half our lives at that point). Wargames are all about winners and losers. They are also all about defined ending points, individual achievement, and all the other stuff that comes with a competitive game. We actually "stumbled" into RPGs by sheer accident. We'd heard (vaguely) of something called "D&D" by 1975, but weren't interested (we were too busy invading the Soviet Union). My brother accidentally picked up a copy of "Empire of the Petal Throne," thinking that it was some kind of wargame. Boy, if you think learning to role-play is hard with OD&D, try doing it on your own, with no one who has ever played one of these things before in the EPT world! But we managed it with little or no difficulty. Shortly thereafter, we went out looking for a copy of D&D (White Box!) because we wanted to try out orcs and dragons instead of those weird EPT creatures. We both enjoyed it tremendously. So what's the point? If two complete novices could break into the hobby with a copy of EPT (and please keep in mind, the word "organization" should never be used with the word "rules" in any sentence about original D&D or EPT -- especially to a pair of kids raised on SPI style rules writing), then I really don't see much of any kind of barrier to anyone who has a friend who can walk them through an RPG.
At the beginning, I sort of promised this would all tie in together at the end, and so it does. Because really, both questions are the same thing. "Is it hard to explain," is really just another way of asking if there's any kind of entry barrier. And the answer is, IMHO, no. Neither my brother nor I were members of Mensa; nor were we attendees at Harvard or Yale -- but we had no problems working out how to play, and enjoying ourselves immensely. Later, when I played with people besides my brother, there was no difficulty whatsoever -- I played the same way they did, and vice versa.
As far as the "why we play" thing goes, I think you summed it up pretty nicely -- "that's my jam." It's mine too, and it was my brother's, and still is that of my friends. And now it's 41 years later...
Since I ran out of room on the above comment, I'll finish this by saying;ReplyDelete
I think the biggest barriers to entry in RPGs were addressed in your first post on this subject. Overly complex rules with a huge up-front time requirement (especially in today's world) combined with poor GM-ing skills. If those two things can be overcome, then the rest is easy.
I would say that exploration of the unknown is the only necessary ingredient of an adventure game. Note that I did not use the term RPG. I don't enjoy pure role-playing. I'm a man of action! In boardgames, you see the board. You know what's there. Example, Monopoly. You know where all the properties are located. You know which ones are more valuable. You just don't know when you'll land on them. Example, Risk. You see the worldmap. You see the enemies forces. You just don't know where those forces will go on your opponent's next turn nor do you know for certain (most of the time) if your forces can defeat those forces.ReplyDelete
1) the lack of pre-defined endgame
Not necessarily true. Looking at the game on an adventure basis, each adventure should have an "endgame". Example1: Find out who or what is slaughtering the livestock of the local sheepherder and put a stop to it. Example2: Recover that lost artifact or determine that it was just a myth. Example3: Amass enough support from local lords to retake your ancestral throne from the usurper. That's the kind of adventure/game I prefer. So, IMO, a good GM won't leave players dangling in the wind trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
2) the lack of singular victor
Not necessarily true. A single player can control multiple characters or the singular, required character. On the other hand, you can have each player controller one character and they are competing for the bounty/reward of completing the objective.
3) the shared success or failure of an adventure by the group as a while
4) One person creates and referees the game
Traditionally true but programmed adventures can get around this while, at the same time, giving a dedicated GM a sturdy platform to manipulate or extend.
Concerning #1:So, IMO, a good GM won't leave players dangling in the wind trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.ReplyDelete
Unless, of course, you want to have a gaming session that is just a plain hex/dungeon crawl - which is just a string of random encounters. Nothing wrong with that. It may actually be preferable at times but interests will wane if the players aren't periodically introduced to a higher goal.
Now I'm going to get really "far out". I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to turn an adventure game into a boardgame and vice versa. That essential ingredient of "exploring the unknown" is really just an illusion. You can look at the properties on the monopoly board as a "random table". Replace the properties with top-down views of dungeon rooms. Give these properties/rooms a name or a number. Replace the info on the property cards with "adventure text" describing what's in the room. The board becomes a table of pre-created dungeon rooms. Your rolls on that "table" wrap around from the last entry to the first entry. You can create a stocked dungeon using this board/table.ReplyDelete
IMO, the biggest difference between an adventure/rp game and a board or other game is this: The actions available to an adventure/rp game player are nearly limitless compared to those of a player of a board or other game. There is no prescribed sequence of play or set list of available actions - outside of combat. In combat, things get a little more board-gamey.ReplyDelete
"There are strange caves in the Borderlands, and old underground temple in the jungles of Parwu, a lost dwarf mine in the Hills of Greth, the rat cult growing in the sewers beneath Dolon, the lonely abandoned tower of the Elf Lord on the frontier, the crypt of the necrogazer, exploring the ruins of Dothar Keep or setting sail to the Dread Islands."ReplyDelete
Wow! That sounds great! Where can I buy that?
What I can't? I have to write it all?
That's the problem. Somewhat like the "property" cards, I envision and coherent system of dungeons, towns, and areas that can be 'legoed' together to create adventures that anyone can use.
Several attempts have been made in this direction but they are all scattered, unified.
What's needed is a modular, plug-and-play world that all works for the same system. Basically Pathfinder for normal people.
Start with Big Hexyland, then fully populate it...
"That's the problem. Somewhat like the "property" cards, I envision and coherent system of dungeons, towns, and areas that can be 'legoed' together to create adventures that anyone can use."Delete
Nothing prevents you from 'legoing' together different adventures/settings from different campaign/world settings. It just takes a little imagination. It would seem to me that the biggest hurdle in such an endeavor would be converting stats/mechanics between the different systems. Even that is not a herculean task. It just takes some pre-adventure GM work.
Now for a really left-field idea. Instead of converting adventures into the player/character's system...convert the player/characters into the adventure's system (if you have the required dice of the new system and you don't find the new system abhorrent). Imagine a team of intrepid adventurers that finds a magical artifact on their first adventure. They inadvertently activate this artifact and it keeps transporting them to parallel worlds (see Sliders tv show).
"Start with Big Hexyland, then fully populate it.."Delete
With that last sentence, it sounds more like you want a new world/setting created and fleshed out.
I was really digging Mr. Brandon's general approach to the setting of "Rodinia". I would start, not with a map, but with its inhabitants. Who lives in this world? What is the culture/society like? Who are their enemies? Allies? Things like this take the most time to develop and can be dropped almost anywhere on almost any map.
Actually, that sounds like a project. In a sense, Dark City Games did something like that, from about a 85 degree angle backwards. They published a whole bunch of adventure modules and then sort of stitched them together on a world map. So in one sense, it already sort of exists (and is even very easily convertible to HOW).Delete
At the same time, I think what I hear you wishing for is more like a set of modular adventures of various types that can simply be plugged into your existing world (or a new one you create for the purpose) WITHOUT all the background work that such things normally take. "Pathfinder for normal people," you called it. In today's world -- when people don't have oodles of time on their hands to DO that background work, that makes a lot of sense.
What such a project would really need would be a fairly complete "background" volume that still manages to avoid specifics, what ewookie mentions in his second reply -- "I would start, not with a map, but with its inhabitants. Who lives in this world? What is the culture/society like? Who are their enemies? Allies? Things like this take the most time to develop and can be dropped almost anywhere on almost any map." Then you just pull up a map (one of my favorite sources is maps from Earth's prehistory -- especially around 450MYA -- that's a very evocative map).
Then you just start distributing adventures around -- C.R. has some good ones on his downloads page, plus in his various books, plus Dark City's stuff could easily be used ("The Island of Lost Spells" name alone makes me want to go on THAT adventure), and hey, presto, you're off and running.
Of course, that would require the time to actually sit down and WRITE that "specific, yet vague" backgrounder... ;-)
My thoughts exactly!
"I would start, not with a map, but with its inhabitants. Who lives in this world? What is the culture/society like? Who are their enemies? Allies? Things like this take the most time to develop and can be dropped almost anywhere on almost any map."
to be honest, most good "monster manuals" cover most of this - at least for the non-human factions. most "monster manuals" don't cover various human factions. this makes me want to dig out my old MERP book. most of the "monster manual" section covers the various "races" of men. there's more about humans in MERP than about the other races. part of the reason why i've never understood why LotR takes a bad rap for being "high fantasy". truthfully, it really wasn't that "high" - but it inspired a lot of "high fantasy" that attempted to emulate it. the emulators failed for precisely this reason in my mind - they were too "high"! lol
Are you going to distinguish divine magic from sorcery? In my setting it's a bit important... Faith, faith points fuelled divine magic, sth like that...
How do you make that work? What gains you faith points? Can you lose them for being..."less faithful?"Delete
I'd be interested in hearing about your methods -- this is something I've been trying vaguely to get a handle on for a while.
No, I'm going only to provoke Brian to elaborate such a solutions for priests.I want to see it in our rulebook. Without divine magic rules aren't complete.ReplyDelete
I'd like to see a mass combat rules, too.
Wait. What? You refuse to share your ideas here? That seems to be a bit ... non-collegial...Delete
I don't have my own priestly rules, only trying to force them.ReplyDelete
Ah. My bad -- I was under the impression from the way you wrote that that you already had some working ideas. My apologies... ;-)Delete
Don't be hasty, Jeff :) I'm not as selfish.ReplyDelete
Again, sorry -- see above!Delete
I think you and I hashed a good start to "faith points"/divine magic in our DCG forum thread.
who is "Brian"? i don't see a "Brian" anywhere in the comments...
You're right... Brandon certainly...Delete
I LOVE me some DCG!Delete
I'm looking through various rules sets to see what I can figure out for this kind of stuff. I recently acquired a copy of Advanced Fighting Fantasy, and they have some surprisingly clever ideas in there for both religion and various kinds of magic. (I was in the Army by the time the AFF books were hitting the market, so I was completely unaware of them and that entire episode in fantasy gaming history -- until I stumbled across them via a couple of reviews literally by sheer accident. Actually the original AFF rules (written, apparently at about the same time that Metagaming was shuttering their doors) would dovetail very nicely with TFT/DCG/HOW with only a minor bit of rewickering. The most recent version (the one I have) does apparently an even better job of writing a tight set of rules. I have to admit their "game world" is bog-standard (and frankly a bit boring), but they have a nice, tight, fast-playing set of rules there!
The way it works there is that you have to pick the skill Magic-Priestly and then are given a "standard" set of three spells (specific to your deity), along with a "special power," all of which you can invoke once daily, or, in extreme emergencies a second time (but usually have to pay a price of some kind for the privilege -- Deities don't just hand these things out for laughs, ya know). If you fail to live up to your priestly responsibilities, you can have your powers revoked (they actually have rules for "priestly responsibilities" too, though it's mostly up to the GM to manage that).
It's actually a pretty workable system. If we disregard "Magic -- Priestly" as a skill and substitute "Priest," suddenly things take on a whole new dimension. If we say that "Theologian" adds additional Priestly magical abilities, we have a useful set of skills that in the past have been studiously ignored by most players as being fundamentally worthless unless the GM specifically designed a campaign around them.
Oh, the possibilities!
AFF it's one of ma favouritte setting. My lovely "FOUR" are: HOW, OPENQUEST2, Barbarians of Lemuria and AFF.Delete
Rules regarding Divine Magic are great in OQ2 and in a BoL:fantasy Hack. OQ2 - percentile system, Divine Magic it's a skill having it's value. You have own portion of priestly spells. There are Holy Warriors and priests with specials. Yummie!
BoL:the Hack. Divine actions are fuelled with Faith Points. There is a pool of such an actions you can undertake - healing, blessing...
I cannot give you a link to it, for there is a watermark... :(
Now you've gone and done it -- I've started looking up BoL and OQ2 to find out more about them. Darn it, I spend enough on RPGs as it is!Delete
the conversation about "faith points"/divine magic starts here:ReplyDelete
i call them "karma points"/Priests/Paladins
See, I was always more equating Karma points with "luck" (which the folks who created AFF came up with an interesting system for using as well) -- a way for the players to "play a hunch" or just say "to heck with it!" and go for broke. I never really thought of them as a religious element.Delete
Especially since the only actual DCG skill that creates them for the players is "Bard"...
See, what you call them doesn't really matter. Karma points already existed in DCG rules. What matters is how you obtain them and what you can do with them. For clarity, yes, a final rules draft should call them something other than "karma points". I was trying to contextualize the discussion by saying "where ever you see 'karma points' think 'faith points' instead.Delete
AFF sounds lovely...
then again, what is luck if not the favor of the gods? :)Delete
1) Point taken.
2) I think, if you want to look AFF over, you can get the
PDFs pretty cheap at DriveThru; or you can go to NobleKnight for the hardcopies. I prefer print when I can get it, so I hit NK up for my copy. By all means, get the stuff published in 2011 -- it's a much cleaner read than the original stuff from the '80's according to the many reviews I checked out prior to buying.
i actually went "hunting" last night. found the "quickstart" for free on drivethruRPG. i was pleased to see someone has already implemented opposed tests the way i like to handle them (2d6+stat vs 2d6+stat). i like the different forms of magic as skills. i've toyed with that myself. i have sometimes thought of doing something similar to their normal tests (2d6+stat vs. target number). what i don't like are the "stats" themselves - SKILL, STAMINA, LUCK, MAGIC. i've never liked anything with "fuzzy" stats like that. i like my stats specific and concrete and my skills "fuzzy".
of course, the quickstart doesn't delve into priestly magic but i like what i've read here (your description) and on wikipedia. it sounds very dependent on the campaign/setting though - you must pick from a set list of deities from their "pay-for" materials. another approach (if they don't suggest this in their "pay-for" materials) would be to let the player make up their own diety and negotiate with the "Director" on what his 3 powers and 1 special power would be. even so, instead of saying "you can use these powers once per day" or some other mumbo-jumbo, i still like the concept i had going with "karma points" and "prayer". at the beginning of each day, the "priest" or "paladin" prays for the blessings of his deity. the "praying" is a test against his "priestly" skill. if successful, he gets "karma points" equal to his "priestly" skill. each of these points may be used like normal karma points or to exercise one of the "priest/paladins" powers. the powers can be derived from the DCG/HOW spell lists we already have or the player and "Director" can negotiate a new power. to gain a new power, spend XP equal to the "IQ" of the spell (power).
letting players create their own deities seems like a nice way to let the players shape the world in which they are playing and creates a great diversity of deities. win/win.
@ewookie: I agree completely with you on the "stats" issue -- I really don't like their choices there (though it holds together consistently with their rules, and thus works well for AFF). I much prefer something I can get my head around and that matches up with a concrete characteristic (like ST, DX, and IQ, for example). The only one that I could see possibly being of use is "Luck," and even there, I think there ought to be a way to tie it to something else. (I REALLY like the way luck works in AFF -- you can substitute it for a "skill" roll and if you make it it's an awesome move, but you lose some of your luck as a result; which really brings to life those old saws about "living on your luck," or "running out of luck!" Despite that, it ought to be handled in relation to a given TFT style characteristic somehow, I think; I just can't come up with any bright ideas on how that would work at this point.)Delete
Their Gods are bog-standard too -- "Blah-blah, Prince of Evil" and that sort of thing. You could easily replace them with your own Gods and simply tailor the selection of preistly powers to the God of choice. Do you have a list of the priestly powers in the Quickstart? If not, please e-mail me at jlv61560 (at) Yahoo (dot) com, and I'll send you them. (I could also provide a list of the gods and what they grant at the same time...) I don't want to publish them here because; a) that could get Brandon in trouble, and; b) I still have SOME slight respect for the Copyright laws... ;-)
As far as the mechanics go, I would imagine that they assume something more or less like what you are suggesting above occurs, but hand-wave it in the pursuit of simplicity. After all, this is pretty much one of the simplest FRPG systems I've ever seen... Still, I like your suggestion on how to "power up" the priest for the day. I was also thinking that perhaps there should be some sort of tie in to the Priest/Theologian skills (though, for my purposes here, I think "Theologian" should be changed to something like "Hierophant," since really even what SJ was talking about when he put it in place back in the day was a "higher level" of priest). Maybe the priest gets two powers and the Hierophant gets to add an additional power plus the special power... Using the powers should still take a casting roll vs IQ (I think all casting rolls should always be vs IQ, not DX).
One other thing I like from AFF on the magic front is the "oops table." I've always thought there should be more serious consequences than were indicated in TFT to begin with.
BTW, yes, I agree -- I much prefer that method of opposed tests as well; it just makes a lot more sense and is much easier to wrap your head around than the way it was being handled before. This way, it's a simple "roll-off" instead of figuring out how much someone "missed" by and then trying to figure out what that means. In short, it takes a two- or three-step process and reduces it to one step. Much more elegant. When I read it, I said; "THAT'S the way to do that!" ;-)Delete
p.s. also, i find using tables to resolve man-to-man combat utterly detestable. AFF seems to do this from the quickstart.ReplyDelete
Totally concur -- what's worse, it seems like your armor and weapons are totally dependent of random chance. Personally, I think they should either work, or not. A cloud passing over the sun doesn't suddenly make my shield ineffective. Personally, I'd go strictly with the TFT/HOW/LAW combat system by preference. It's one of the reasons why I always preferred the TFT family in the first place -- logical and consistent.Delete
I do like the way they implement DODGE here though -- that seems to be a more efficient way of accounting for it than the somewhat convoluted rules of TFT back in the day.
the AFF Quickstart didn't cover armor and dodging -- so i'm extrapolating from your comments and what i've seen in some rpg-ish boardgames...Delete
i don't have a problem with handling armor like that per se. it's sort of like saying "the orc's blow was deflected by your armor" or "the orc's blow found a chink in your armor". there probably wasn't a simpler way of introducing armor to such a simple system -- and it flows from how Luck was used in the FF cyoa/solo books. however, i'm not fond of the extra rolling it introduces to combat.
in the FF cyoa/solo books, there was no armor or dodging per se. you could roll against your LUCK and if passed, the damage you took was reduced, halved, or negated. you could also do the same thing when you hit a foe but increase the damage instead. however, each time you used LUCK, it was reduced by 1 point. i'm going to guess that AFF handles DODGE like that.
p.s. i do like the stats/system for the original solo/cyoa books. i may have to give those a go.ReplyDelete
I'm not sure what this means. Is that something different from what's in the AFF rules? (I never saw or owned any of the solo books, and I haven't purchased any this go-around -- this was all an attempt on my part to sift through another rules set to see if there was anything I liked in it. There's a lot to like here, and most of it can be fit in with existing TFT family type rules with a little tweaking, but there are quite a few things that are just annoying too.)Delete
from what i gathered in my "research", AFF grew out of FF -- which were basically choose-your-own-adventure (cyoa) books with a little dice-rolling thrown in. a very basic AFF (FF) rules system and very little book-keeping. i found some free downloads of these cyoa books and like the fuzzy stats/simple system for that sort of "game".Delete
You know what? We've really hijacked the heck out of this thread. I apologize to C.R. Maybe we should carry this off-line somewhere so we don't further annoy him! ;-)ReplyDelete
I am NOT annoyed AT ALL! None of this bother me in the slightest! People sharing good ideas-thoughts-stuff they like or don't like, other systems--it's all good. There is more than enough "don't say that, you might offend someone" crap in the world--I steadfastly refuse to be that sort of cat. Speak freely--while you still can! :)Delete
ha! tru dat!Delete