Sunday, March 23, 2014

Some (Very Early) Thoughts on Dungeon World

I've been reading my printed pdf a bit, and studying forums, reviews, and blog posts. One of the biggest problems I am having is that I didn't take the plunge with this game sooner.

I really dig the core mechanic, from concept through implementation. I'm a big fan of the bell curve, so naturally a 2d6 resolution mechanic is right in my wheelhouse. I also really like the graduated results. Just in case you didn't know, to resolve an action roll 2d6 + relevant stat bonus. If the roll is 10+ you succeed as desired. A 7-9 means you succeed, but with some sort of complication. On a 6 or less, it is the GM's call. Maybe you succeed but with a cost of some sort, or maybe you suffer humiliating defeat. (This may sound arbitrary, but the rules hammer the notion of "the fiction". So, the GM's response to a 6- roll should be logically consistent with the scene as it is being played out.)

In the last campaign I played in we had a situation wherein this type of mechanic would have been useful. We were playing my friend's heavily houseruled AD&D 1e/2e mash-up. I consider my friend a completely awesome DM. He knows his world inside and out, being immediately ready with details like the best vintages from particular wine regions, through giving little clues buried in ancient dialects in lost writings. One of is "soft spots" his in strict interpretation of the dice. In this campaign, our first "encounter" was . . . frustrating.

There was a room which was obviously trapped. He didn't allow a detect trap type roll unless and until we described exactly what we were doing. Now, as a principle that is keeping with the finest old school tradition. But, there was a very specific method to this trap. We spent over an hour of that session mucking about with that trap.

I'm not busting on my friend. I would leap at the chance to play in one of his campaigns, any place, any time. I also know that his way is not the only way to DM situations like that. My only point is that a graduated mechanic, like that in DW, would have mitigated that situation and kept the game moving. When this type of mechanic is hard-wired into the rules, and everyone at the table knows it, the expectations change. When the expectations change, the dynamic changes, and thus the game itself changes.

I can see the other side of this argument. If we, as a group, had approached that room/trap with the expectation that we would get past it in one turn, even if it meant "something bad" happened, it would change how we approached it. However, it doesn't work that way. If you roll a 6-, as GM it is my option for how things progress. It is incumbent on me to exercise that option in keeping with the established fiction, though.

To return to the room for a moment: the room was large and filled with stone columns. The trap was that the columns would start falling before we could cross the room. My character (an 8th level fighter) had a column fall on him. He took quite a bit of damage, but, being a fighter, had the HP to cover it. So, he was described as being pinned, and had to be pulled out.

If this would have been DW, and we had rolled a 6- to defy the dangers of the trap, I would have been rolling up a new character. The fiction would demand it. A 2-ton granite column falls on you and it is time for your companions to salvage any of your gear that isn't flattened.

Of course, my friend could have narrated it that way. That's not the D&D way, though. That's not a criticism of D&D, just a contrast of two different games. D&D is about shaping the narration to fit the numbers, while DW is about using the fiction to inform the numbers. So, in the campaign, my guy took about 60% of his HP, obviously he was still alive since he still had HP. So, my friend had to narrate it that he was pinned under a chunk of granite. In DW the fiction states that 2 tons of granite falls on you and you're screwed. Period.

That may not sit well with some of you. Hell, when my ADD swings again, it may not sit well with me. However, on this rainy Sunday morning, it sits very well with me.

Friday, March 21, 2014

And Now for Something Completely Different

I'm a fighter guy. Nothing different there. One of the things I always hated about my old group was the wild disrespect they had for niche protection. Especially where combat rules were concerned. There was zero effort expended to make sure my fighters were consistently better at fighting. I can dig the thief backstabbing or a magic user with a Staff of Striking. Sure, my fighter won't mete out more damage than everyone else, every single round. But when it comes to laying down the hurt reliably, there should be no substitute for the fighter. I mean, it's right there in his name.

Now, for the "completely different" part . . .

I have noticed this game from afar for quite some time. It seemed far too narrativist for me, though. Even though I was seeing a lot, and I mean lot, of mad love for it, I couldn't get past the product description. There was a part of the blurb that said something to the effect that the players and GM collaborate on the world/setting when the campaign kicks off. Whoa! That kind of talk is like the Black Knight solemnly intoning "None shall pass".

That kind of talk rankles my referee nerves. One thing I despise about the narrativist movement is when it goes overboard with player agency. Said agency is a good thing, in moderation. In many cases, though, it goes too far, to the point that the referee is present to manage the players' entertainment. We're all there to have fun, and that includes the referee. I get it if the players don't want to play in a post-apoc dystopia, and the referee shouldn't be a dick about trying to force it. By the same token, maybe the referee doesn't want to run a game set in Candyland. Obviously, there is plenty of middle ground in which to meet, it's just that I've seen too many systems that think player agency should be Almighty.

Well, something happened (I can't say what happened because I don't know) that prompted me to give Dungeon World another look. I took up arms and approached the Black Knight, intent on passing and learning the secrets he was guarding.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I've Become Aware of a Disturbing Trend

I can be lazy. No, really, it's ok, I can admit my faults. I started my gaming life as a wargamer. Of course, that led directly to roleplaying. Now, with old school wargaming you played with heavy cardboard counters maneuvered around on a map. Prerequisite to this movement was the set-up. The counters had to be sorted and appropriately placed. In many cases this was very specific, based on which unit was historically present at a given location. For some games this could literally take hours (the Longest Day game, from Avalon Hill, is an excellent, and extreme, example).

Over time I discovered that I was playing less due to the tediousness of the set-up. I still wanted to play, or more specifically, I wanted the fun of playing. In other words, I wanted fond memories of a well-played game, but was increasingly put-off by setting up the game.

Fast-forward to this Weekend

This weekend I went bat-shit with [S.]ine [N.]omine. I already had Stars Without Number and several Mandate Archives. I nabbed the pdfs of Skyward Steel, Other Dust, Red Tide, An Echo Resounding, Darkness Visible, and Suns of Gold. I also picked up more recent Mandate Archives, along with Black Streams for Red Tide and Codex of the New Earth for Other Dust. It's been quite a haul. In case it isn't obvious, I've become quite a fan of Mr. Crawford's work.

How does this fit in with the title of the post, and the blurb about wargaming? Good question. Here is the answer in a nutshell:

I've been spending more time reading about the above titles rather than actually reading the titles.

An obvious side-effect to my employment with FedEx has been a sharp decline in my posting here. It has been a necessary, and lamentable, sacrifice. It is actually a by-product of the real sacrifice: a near-total lack of time to devote to gaming on any level. The weekend is the only time I have to squeeze in any time for anything game-related.

I guess we could safely file this post under "Whiny Little Bitch". If you've reached this point in reading this and feel like it has been a total waste of your time, you have my sincerest apologies. It's just been one of those things I needed to vocalize, in hopes that it will help me move past it.

Dang it! I forgot!

DrivethruRPG is having a sale thru March 15. 30% off selected items. All of the [S.]ine [N.]omine things I mentioned (that aren't already free) are included in the sale. If you kicked yourself for missing the Stars Without Number Bundle of Holding, now's your chance to do-over.