Posts Tagged “Theorycrafting”
A shirt design from Woot!
This evening I attended a social gathering. My sister has just turned 14, and I had dinner with her and the rest of our family. It proceeded as family gatherings often do, which is to say that it wasn’t an experience I’d share on a gaming blog. Late in the evening, though, my sister commented that she’d like to join me in playing D&D someday.
“Want to play now?” I asked.
By happenstance, I had a set of 7 dice with me, and I always try to keep pens and paper handy regardless of where I am. I had everything I needed to run a game, and it was a perfect opportunity to try out an experiment I’ve been wanting to attempt for awhile. The experiment is simple: using whatever tools are on hand at the time, introduce a group of new players to gaming by making up a game on the spot.
The three siblings sitting nearest to me were all interested, so I wrote out the six basic stats on three pieces of paper. I told them all to roll 3d6 for their stats, in order, to roll 2d8 for their HP, and to write down one thing their character was good at. From there I figured everything could be handled by d20 checks against their stats, until I encountered a situation where they needed something deeper.
The process proved to be a little awkward. Not because any of my players had difficulty understanding my instructions, but because we only had a single six sider to share, and three people each needed to roll it 18 times. It wasn’t a quick process, and unfortunately the players weren’t even able to explore the first room of the dungeon before the rest of the dinner party agreed that it was time to leave.
I was disappointed. I could see their eyes lighting up as they just barely started to engage with the game world. My experiment was succeeding, I was creating fun out of nothing but experience-tempered improvisation. I didn’t have much to ruminate on, but I was at least encouraged that it was worth trying this again.
It wasn’t until the drive home that I realized I had wasted a lot of the game’s time. I asked the players to roll stats, and it took a good 8 minutes to get everybody’s rolling taken care of. And in the small amount we played, we never actually used those stats. It’s not hard to imagine that we could have gone 15 minutes or an hour, or even several hours without actually needing every single character to use every single one of their ability scores.
Instead, what I could have done is simply given each of them a piece of paper, and told them to write down one thing they were good at. Once that was done, I could have just started the damn game.
If in the first room there was a large rock, and one of the players wanted to lift it, then I could have told them to roll 3d6, record that as their strength, then roll a d20 against that strength score. The stats still exist, they just exist in a state of quantum flux until they are actualized by rolling a check.
Something I’ll try next time for sure.
2 Comments »
Posted by LS on Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 at 5:45 am
Categories: System Independant
Cover of the D&D 3.5 PHB
The exact meaning of a ‘dead level’ depends on who’s talking. I’ve heard a number of different definitions:
- A level where the only improvement the character benefits from is increased HP. Typically used for oldschool games, since I don’t think a level like this ever exists in D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder.
- A level where nothing improves about the character save for basic numbers stuff, such as HP, Saves, and Base Attack Bonuses.
- A level where the character does not receive any new special abilities, though they may increase their HP, Saves, BAB, Ability Scores, or number of feats.
Here, I’ll be using that last definition, since it is the one which is most relevant with regards to the changes made between Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, and Pathfinder.
Back when I started playing tabletop games, around the advent of D&D 3.5, I often felt as though my character’s progress was painfully slow. I was excited to become more powerful, and nothing was worse than leveling up and realizing that very little had actually changed for my character. Dead levels were a serious frustration, because at that time planning out my character’s mechanical development was important to me.
When I originally read the Pathfinder rules, I praised them for the way dead levels were eliminated from the game. It meant players could spend less time waiting, and more time improving their character’s build. And I was right. Pathfinder does allow players to spend more time working on their build.
This is a good thing, because a big part of the appeal for RAW 3.5/PF is building your character. If the players are playing to build characters, and they almost never get to do that, then the game isn’t providing a satisfying experience. Dead levels are a huge issue, and should be eliminated.
I no longer enjoy building my character. I’m not interested in playing a tabletop game where this is my goal, and I’m not interested in running a tabletop game where this is the goal of my players. Such gameplay is perhaps better suited for a video game or board game, where rules are more clear-cut and easy to enforce. In a tabletop game where the rules ought to be flexible and players are owed a logical explanation for any limitations placed on them, I don’t feel that it works.
So in the type of game I like to play and run, what is the point of leveling at all?
Improvement can be valuable without being the focus of attention. It can even be an important goal for the players without being the focus of attention. My goal is to provide my players with a game where they feel as though they can work towards any skill or goal diegetically. The advancement granted them by their class should be simple and easy to record & remember. More individualized character improvement can be sought out through gameplay, regardless of whether the character has leveled or not.
Dead Levels are only a problem if leveling up is the only means of improvement your characters have available to them.
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The Weather Wizard, one of The Flash’s many foes.
In the past I’ve written that weather is an important element in tabletop gameplay, but I’ve reevaluated that position. Rather than calling it an “important game element,” I think it would be better termed as an “intermediate GM skill.” Yes, including weather in a game enhances the game’s atmosphere, and can potentially provide the players with an interesting handicap or boon. It’s a good addition to a game, but GMs already have a lot of things to keep track of. If something needs to be dropped, weather is the obvious choice. When I first started playing tabletop RPGs, I honestly didn’t notice that every adventure took place on a clear summer’s day. Weather was never mentioned, and nobody ever complained.
Given that weather is non-essential, I want it to require as little work as any mechanic can ever require. Random is good, but in this case, charts are bad. Charts require table space, or GM screen space. When they need to be rolled on, the GM will probably need to spend a few moments finding them. That’s too large a time investment. For weather, I want to roll a die, and immediately be able to interpret the die’s result.
I propose using a 1d12 roll. When play begins, a roll of 1 indicates bad weather, 2-3 indicate inconvenient weather, 4-9 indicate normal weather, 10-11 are nice weather, and 12 is great weather. Each new day out of doors, the GM rolls another 1d12. The same ranges mentioned above are used to determine how the weather changes, with the options being: much worse, slightly worse, unchanged, slightly better, or much better.
The GM determines the weather’s precise nature based on the current climate and season in the player’s location. Both of these elements should be predetermined using the game world’s map, and the campaign calendar. Within this context, the idea of “good” and “bad” weather is relative to how it helps the characters. While crossing plains or forests, rain would be at least inconvenient. In a desert, however, rain would be the best weather you could possibly ask for!
I like how this method utilizes a bell curve, without the annoyance of adding numbers together. Perhaps this weakness comes from my own poor education in math, but adding even small numbers together requires me to pause for a moment and consider. Not long, mind you, but longer than reading a single number off of a die. The system is also fairly easy to memorize: 1,2,3 are bad, anything with double digits (10, 11, 12) is good, and everything else is normal. And even though my decision to use a d12 was based on the probabilities which can be modeled with it, I take some small pleasure in coming up with a new use for the lil’ underutilized guy.
The number 12 has an amazing, underutilized synergy with dice games. But that’s a post for another day!
2 Comments »
Posted by LS on Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 at 5:45 am
Categories: System Independant
Tags: House Rules, Theorycrafting