In the last post I talked about how gaming is essentially always educational. You learn something from doing it. Even if you don't want to...
... which was the case for me.
What had me disillusioned was not boredom, but lessons I was trying NOT to learn. Somethings I didn't want to accept, but once I did, my love of the game came back and the problems I was avoiding fell to the side where they belong.
One issue was a personal problem between me and someone else. (If you're wondering if it is you, it probably isn't... and if you think it is... it probably is). Ultimately it's a unique situation, and not one directly gaming related.
But another lesson was. And that came from someone who doesn't even game. I was bemoaning watching "the Dungeon Masters", and how... again... a movie that should be making us more inclusive, and easier to relate to... once again... made us out to be the kids that were left alone for a reason, when my soon to be wife said:
The problem is this: There's what you think gaming is... and there's what gaming is.
And that truth really hit home for me. Gaming has embraced being the nerdy kid in the hall so much that it has gone from being 'inclusive' to 'exclusive'. And not for the right reasons. Gamers almost wear the 'geek'/'nerd' abuse as a flag of honor. A way to separate us from non gamers.
The exact OPPOSITE of why I got into this in the first place.
So, I have a couple options. Accept gaming isn't what I want it to be, and walk away... OR make it what I want it to be (well... try anyway...).
Obviously... I'm not one to just give up. In the next posts from me, I'll talk a little about what made gaming great, what we can do to improve upon it, and post things I find that help show us in the best light possible.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
There is a type of game that people label as educational, presuming that the rest of them are for pure entertainment. In fact, the only thing that makes games fun is when they’re educational.
If you think about all the games you’ve played through the years, from Tic Tac Toe to Monopoly to Settlers of Catan, they’ve all had the same end point. Eventually, you get bored. You’ve learned how they work, their mechanics offer no secrets anymore, and the story they tell you’ve heard before. So you move on to another game to learn about.
Occasionally, a new player is introduced to you, and the old games hold their magic again for a moment. Not because you’re learning about the game, but because you’re learning about the opponent. You’re discovering how they think, interact, their personality. Are they aggressive, or cautious? A good looser? A good winner? Do they take the game seriously? Or do they chat and relax while they play?
All the while you’re learning. And that learning is what makes the game fun.
Which is why I’m writing this.
I’ve become bored of table top role-playing games. They seem to have nothing to teach me anymore. I know the systems and mechanics to where I annoy myself when I question a GM’s call. I’ve heard the stories we tell, told a hundred times before. I’ve explored my psyche through other personalities. My inner badass, coward, politician, tactician, warrior, savior and villain. I’ve felt those parts of me, and walked away knowing more of who I am.
I’ve seen what my friends bring to the table. How they like to play, and what they want to be.
So… now what?
Normally, this would be the point where I offer my point of view through telling stories of my own. By bringing the lessons I have into the game, and then I get to learn from the other players new ways of looking at them.
But I’ve told my stories before. I’ve told them again and again. I’m tired of listening to them.
I occasionally get a few moments of escapism in the forms of a computer game. Something that at least lets me explore and learn about a new world. Learning a history, and discovering interactions that have become predictable. Rarely am I surprised, and often I finish a game feeling more empty than I did when I started, only because I made room in my heart for a surprise that never came.
And even the escapism is less fulfilling as I get to middle age. I’ve reached a point career wise where I get to have my own adventures, even if they’re all about accounting and coding. Sometimes I win at work, sometimes I loose. I get to see how other people achieve their goals. The things I once turned to gaming for are being met here at work.
I’m in a good relationship. I can share my adventures with someone who shares theirs with me every day. A weekly gaming group is a step down.
So now what? Where does that leave gaming in my life? I know I’m not done learning. That would border on arrogance even beyond what I can imagine. So what’s next for me gaming wise? I’m open to ideas.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Watched Darkon again last night. (Thanks Nina... you're a trooper)
If I had it to do again, I'd use the same rules I wrote, take out some of the 'movement' phase stuff, and make the following changes to the plot.
- No story. I know, counter intuitive, but it's hard to do when getting started.
- Make people have 5 people before being able to start their own kingdom.
- Characters who have no kingdom (by choice, or because they can't find one that will accept them) either team up with defenders, or are mercenaries hired by kingdoms.
- Once a month have a battle day.
2 years ago, I'd make these changes and try to start the LARP up as a better version of itself. I just don't have it in me anymore.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Sorry this is going to take a little change in direction here. I was going to explain how I got to where I got to in my campaign, but... I have to take a departure from that and talk about something way more important to me.
I’ve been putting a lot of thought into why I play RPG’s lately. Some what because a back injury has removed some of my more active hobbies, some because I watched a couple movies that completely disillusioned me to our subculture, and some because I’ve recently had to start dating again and “Hey baby, I’m a role-player” isn’t exactly the hottest pick especially when I don’t feel like I fit the stereo type, and truthfully, almost none of the people I play with do either.
First thing, I had to think about is who am I?
I’m the type of person that would rather do something than watch other people do it. I’d rather play a video game of football than watch it, and I’d rather play it with my friends than play it as a video game. Admittedly I’m not very good at football, but that’s not really the point here. What is the point is I’m a man who doesn’t like to sit on the side lines and watch. I like to get involved, try it out, and see what it’s like. Talk is fine, planning is good, action is better.
So, as someone who’s a doer, why I did I get into RPG’s? Which is essentially the lowst rung on my ladder?
Because there are things, no matter how amazing the world is, you can’t actually do. Either for time, or money, or the stupid laws of physics. Role-Playing is the closest you’ll get to having these experiences. Games are a chance to explore when other real situations limit your ability to explore.
So, as a kid, RPG’s helped me explore worlds when it was rainy, or cold, or awful outside. As a kid this desire isn’t that outlandish. It’s a time when we really are at the mercy of what adventures and interests others pick out for us to do. These games give us the chance to go on our own adventures, ones we pick out. And when I heard there was a way to make my own adventures, and not just play someone else’s, I jumped. Dungeons and Dragons had everything a young boy could want, monsters, heroes, princesses to fall for me, scary places to prove my bravery, monsters to prove my strength against, puzzles to prove my brains, and a built in group of friends.
I’d like to repeat that last point: “A built in group of friends.” You may not be big enough to play football, or fast enough to do track, or coordinated enough for basketball. In fact, most school groups required some sort of physical ability, that my lack of early growth spurt, just wasn’t giving me. It was hard to meet people when you physically couldn’t join them in their hobbies, but gaming accepts everyone. There is no litmus test for playing. If you want to, you can. During a time when everything else was exclusive, here was something ‘inclusive’.
So, I saw it as a great way to meet people. And, admittedly, most of my friends still have some interest in RPG’s, video games, or war games. For me, however, instead of going from the real world into the game, I was able to take friends from the game into the real world. Sharing movies, music, hobbies, and other things away from the table.
The first step into the pool was the Atari 2600. Which, for being 5-ish at the time is a real trick when you don’t know what hot and bothered is… ANYWAY, this love of video games got me interested in computers. Without that love, and drive, I wouldn’t be where I am today in the real world. That excitement about slaying pixilated dragons has become how I pay for my car, my house, my life. I’m not saying everyone who plays them will head this way, but every kid who try’s out for football in high school isn’t going to go pro either.
On top of what was at the time a budding programming career, the Atari gave me something to do with my mother and eventually my sister. My mom and I would play Frogger quite a bit. It was something that ‘we’ did, it helped build a bond there, that quite honestly would have been a lot harder to build other ways. The same with my sister and Moon Patrol. Building a connection with a gamer doesn’t mean needing to love gaming in general, but if you can find one little piece of it that’s fun for you, and share it with them, you’ll grow a strong connection that could last them their entire lives.
So, at age 12, when I read an article in Dragon Magazine that people were actually wearing armor, fighting monsters, being heroes, and generally being the bad ass hero, I wanted to get involved. I mean who wouldn’t? What was it they were doing? LARP. Live Action Role-Playing. Wait… wait… don’t stop reading yet. This isn’t going to go where you think it is.
At the time I couldn’t get to
where all this was going on, so I waited until my early 20’s when I heard about it happening nearby in MN. Boston
The politics and the people were not what I was looking for in my group. I felt they were more interested in running it for profit than playing a game with friends. Personally, exploiting nerds is A) easy, and B) a bit too close to cannibalism for me.
I started my own. Yes, I know how uber-dork all that sounds, but I didn’t at the time. More on that in a bit.
It’s said no good deed goes unpunished. I was about to get a heaping spoonful. It was touch and go, it took a lot of work and effort to get the 50 people playing we had playing, and most of them spent most of the time complaining that they didn’t like how it was played, but none of them would do what I talked about in the first paragraph. Do it, go make their own. But no, they’d rather crap all over mine.
So, when a career came a callin’ for me, I took it over a game full of people ungrateful for the work I put into providing them a hobby. When my career settled down, and I had more time, I decided to try and rebuild the LARP.
Eventually I got my career under control, and decided to try starting a LARP again. That was a mistake. For a myriad of reasons, from putting more stress on an already fragile relationship, loosing a friend over ownership issues, having to alienate others because I needed to look at the good of the group as opposed to just them. This hobby was driving my built in group of friends apart.
So, while I was lamenting to one of my few non gamer friends, she recommended a little movie called “Monster Camp” on Netflix. If you’re a gamer, and you haven’t seen it, take a moment, and go watch it. I don’t want to hammer on these guys too much, because they took the time and guts to put themselves out there and try to cheer on their hobby.
The line in the movie that prompted this little rant of mine (trust me, it’s little for me), was when they’re group was in danger of shutting down, and a couple people said that they’d end up loosing contact with people, and that this was where most of their friends met.
Ok, that’s fine for now, but if it’s closing, and you see that guy over there, and you want to keep doing things, go talk to them and arrange to meet outside of the group. It really is that simple. Odds are, they’re worried about it too. By giving the group that much power over your lives, you’ve essentially given up running yourself in reality. The only time you take control is in a world of make-believe. It’s a fun ‘escape’, but you’ve ceded control of your own self to a group. That is never, ever, a good thing.
So, after feeling literally sad from watching the movie, I watched another movie called “Darkon”. I took away a different message than I think the movie intended. In short, if you run to a fantasy world to pretend to be successfully you’ll still get pounded by people who actually try to be successful. See paragraph 1 again. Doing is better than pretending to do.
Sadly, this movie put the nail in the coffin for me with LARP. I simply will never have enough people who aren’t using LARP as a crutch to avoid a real life to out weigh those who come there for that. It’s sad, but I simply can’t give that much of my time to trying and undo reality.
The biggest reason we can’t get more casual people in LARP? This is how most of the world sees people who LARP. Social misfits who neglect their real lives to escape into a fantasy world, hoping to pretend for the success they don’t want to try for in reality.
What’s sad is… in terms of gaming in general it simply isn’t true. For a great many gamers, Role-Playing Games (or RPG’s) are a stepping off point to go out into the real world and have real adventures. I’m not going to presume to speak for everyone, but I’d like to give another side of things that most people just don’t consider.
Role-Playing games got me interested in camping. I joined Boy Scouts in middle school and had an absolute blast hiking, camping, fishing, canoeing, etc. I wasn’t the best at any of these things, but I was getting better. I got to explore some caves with my camping group, climb up what felt at the time like mountains, and even earned my survival badge where the send you out into the woods for a weekend with nothing but a lighter and a pocket knife. I would have had no interest in doing any of that if gaming hadn’t made it seem exciting.
And all the while I was playing I didn’t realize I was learning. Keep with me a second, I’m not about to suggest that “Dragon Slaying” is a good resume buffer, but writing adventures improved my grammar and spelling. Drawing maps, made me better at art, and painting figures for the game has brought me an interest into other forms of painting, pottery, and crafts. And the numbers… oh the numbers. So much math, and probability, etc. And finally, you can’t just bully your way around a game table. You have to interact, speak, socialize, and convince people work with you. I am very sure that Role-Playing games, especially GMing, had more to do with winning awards in FBLA for impromptu speaking than anything I learned in High School Speech class.
Speaking of High School, I finally found my sport. It was influenced by Role-Playing in two ways: 1) playing out all those battles made me interested in how fighting would work, and 2) I was already picked on for being a nerd. Martial Arts were calling. I got my black belt before I got my drivers license, and later even opened my own studio and ran it as a business for several years. Now, my students (and I believe starting soon my student’s students), are running their own schools.
It was a character in D&D that played a lute that got me interested in learning to play guitar. Which I got as a kid, and recently my mom bought back the very guitar I played all those years ago (thanks Mom), which I had presumed gone forever.
Listening to podcasts on gaming got me interested in setting my own up. I learned about recording, editing, and starting, essentially, my own radio show with listeners in 7 countries.
As I said before, I wrote my own game, which at one time had 50 local people showing up monthly to play. It was… yes… a LARP. I know most of you are thinking of this when you hear the term LARP. But I was hoping for something more like this. As you might have guessed, it was somewhere in between, but due to fear of lawsuits, closer to the first one... sadly. I will say that running around a field with 50 pounds of armor on is an incredible work out, and a lot of fun. I met people there who I stayed friends with outside the game, and found out some things about friends I brought in that changed my opinion of them.
Which another point, Gamers are often seen as having games be something they do, and everything else takes second seat. A great majority of us are more the opposite. Gaming is something that we find fun, and if we have time with friends, we’ll play. And if a good movie is on, or we have a chance at a date, or we need to work late, or family needs us, or we’re sick of pizza, we do something else.
And that’s what I want to drive home here. Like all things, there are some people in your group that go waaaayyyy over the top. We just need a few more people who like role-playing games, who view it as a positive thing in their lives, but not as an escape from real people, places and things to speak up.
For those of you who are gamers, and aren’t getting away from the table enough find the thing you’re trying to emulate being, then go put that time into becoming it. Every one of the things gaming brought to my life was something I thought I couldn’t do when I started. I was scared of failure, of embarrassment, and of letting people down. I just didn’t let fear stop me from living.
Currently, I’m introducing the gaming hobby with my nephew. Another generation building a connection to the last one through gaming. As for me, in keeping with my enjoyment of real world exploring, I’ve taken up Geocaching and am going to try and get scuba certified this year. I just found out that there’s a sailing club in my town that will teach you how to run a sail boat on an affordable budget.
Gaming doesn’t have to just be the limit to your adventures, instead it should be the beginning.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
So, having decided on 3.5 as the rules system, I promptly set down to start breaking it.
Why? Because all DM’s have control issues. We do. Seriously, all of us. That guy who just said “not me” is full of it, and is probably lying to himself as much as you. Anyone who decides “I’m going to create my own ‘world’” has a need to control something he felt he wasn’t getting in someone else’s world.
Now Billy back there just stood up and said “I run Forgotten Realms”. First off Billy, no one likes you. Second off Billy, are you ‘really’ running it? Or did you change that part you thought they screwed up? Ignored the Elminster in Hell, or Dritz, or refuse to let your players go to a certain crappy setting in the world? Do you only play in the un-explored areas?
I’m not saying every DM is a control freak. But they have some nugget they want to make their own. Right here, right now, before you get to into things, is the time change things and make your physics feel ‘right’ to you.
The nice thing about 3.5 is it’s really easy to make new classes, and in doing so, change the whole feel of the game. So, that’s what I sat down to do. First thing I did is kick sorcerers, barbarians, gnomes and Halflings to the curb. It’s generally a personal thing with me, but there you have it.
I changed how skills were handled. I hate that you need someone to raise their levels to raise their blacksmith skill. Just because fighting goes up doesn’t mean I make a better horseshoe, and vice versa. Instead I took a rule I was incorporating into my RPG system. You gain a point (1 per night/adventure/etc) in a skill when you fail a roll. This detached the skill system from the level system
Now, to keep points for skyrocketing out of control, I removed skill points awarded from level gain. I am still deciding between awarding 1 or awarding your int modifier per level for ‘private study’, and exactly how that will work, but I got a few minutes left.
I know, as a purist, as a hard ass GM, I should like the D&D spell system. But it just doesn’t make any sense to me. It seems… contrived. It always breaks my immersion, so I decided to go with spell points. And not the Unearthed Arcana spell system, instead it’s just like a HP system, where you roll dice and add your int modifier depending on your class.
D10 for mages
D8 for clerics and druids
D6 for rangers and bards
D4 for paladins
Each spell takes a number of MP equal to its level.
Ok, I’m almost done, I have the classes I like, the magic system doesn’t feel broken, and skills feel more organic to me. We just have the ugly gorilla in the room… alignment. Those who listened to me on the podcast have probably figured out, I have no love of alignment. I feel it pigeon holes characters and ends up being a hammer the DM uses to keep characters on plot, instead of a yardstick for players to decide how their characters behave.
But, I don’t want to walk away from it completely. I feel there needs to be something to help define the character’s moral compass, etc. So… I picked 3 things to work with:
Honor, taint and sanit.
Characters will probably not worry much about sanity. I’m going to use it for chaotic based spells, dealing with aberrations, or certain ancient lore.
Taint, is a way to have characters who do unspeakable evils feel some effect from the game world. It’s also a good enemy for characters who want an evil to fight against, taint is a good recurring issue, without it taking away from different villains.
And finally honor. I’m going to introduce honor codes for paladins and clerics. Other characters will have benefits if they choose to take an honor code (chivalry, etc), but won’t have to take one.
Thinking about that I decided to break one more rule, removing MP dice each level for divine magic, instead I tie their max MP directly to their honor score. Live by the code, do deeds associated with your class, raise your power. And vice versa.
So, in recap:
- no classes or races that break my feel for the world.
- Skills grow organically and don’t tie to level.
- Magic is unhooked from the weird memory system, gives low level mages more power, but balances back out on the high end.
- Divine classes have their power tied to their deeds, not how many things they whacked in the head (unless their god measures such things).
- Alignment is more reactionary and sliding, while having an effect on the characters and game world.
Now, after all that, it’s time to start building the game…