Published on 10/22/2014 Written by 4 comments

Killing Characters is Fun!

We tried the Walking Dead-style Funnel last Friday and I think it went really well. It was a welcome change after my recent GM-related negativity - I personally had a ton of fun running it, and I hope the players did to.
The best part of it, that I didn't even think about when I came up with the idea, is the freedom it gave the players to try weird things and to play out horror-movie style tropes to full effect. See, I had assumed that the game would just be the characters lining up to be ground into paste, played for laughs as we described the gruesome ways they were torn to pieces as their dice betrayed them. While that certainly did happen, the coolest side effect of playing 4 "disposable" characters was that players developed scenes and situations that they don't normally get into during regular games.
I don't know about you, but most people I play with tend to be cautious, careful and calculating in their games. They have a strong connection to their character and try to keep them alive, ESPECIALLY during zombie-style games where they try to act the way someone SHOULD act during an apocalypse, being all practical and boring. 
Without that connection to their characters though, caution goes out the window and crazy shit happens. Out of 16 starting characters, 8 survived, but 3 of those belonged to the one guy who was playing fairly conservatively. The other three players jumped at the chance to act out all those ridiculous things that characters do in horror movies all the time:
  • Two characters killed each other fighting over supplies.
  • One guy got attacked while making out with another character.
  • One character literally ran away - she was so freaked out that she just took off in a panic and we never heard from her again. There was no roll to preclude this, the player just decided that it made sense for the character, and it did. But that's not something you would ever see in a normal game.
  • The biggest running gag was the two sociopaths who kept fighting and trying to kill each other. The noise from their bickering led to the group constantly being attacked and having to run for their lives (everyone else probably should have left them behind but it was too hilarious). In the end both dudes were ripped to pieces by zombies because they were both too stubborn to be the first guy to run away.
  • I was even a little saddened by the loss of one character, and not the one you would think. He was the total asshole of the group, but the player ran him perfectly, using the other characters and NPCs, stockpiling supplies and taking advantage of his charisma to get ahead. He was easily the best developed, smartest and most equipped character, and then he died in the last moments when he fell of a fucking roof and broke his neck.
  • One guy even got to make a heroic sacrifice, holding the door in the face of a hoard of zombies while the rest of the group ran to safety.

How many of those awesome deaths would have happened in a game where everyone is playing safe and calculating?

Another fun horror trope: Only half the character deaths were directly caused by zombies, and half of those were only caused by zombies because the characters were distracted trying to kill each other.
Just like in a zombie movie, the characters' worst enemies were themselves.

I seriously recommend playing a DCC Funnel-type of game in a zombie apocalypse setting. It's a spleen-ripping good time.

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Published on 10/16/2014 Written by 6 comments

The Walking Dead RPG - DCC Funnel-style!

Ah, October. Month of horror and spookiness. We have Halloween, autumn in full swing choking the life out of the world, the season premiere of The Walking Dead, Canadian Thanksgiving. It's a good time for wearing white sheets out in public.

But what's the Month of Spooks without some scary gaming to go along with it? I love horror-themed RPGs, and despite there being plenty of great ones out there, I keep trying to create my own. I was convinced that the d6 system was perfect for it for awhile, and have toyed with the idea of building a full on "D6 Horror" game, but recently my fancy has turned to the glorious world of Fate. I started to brainstorm for a Zombie Survival version of Fate, which would work perfectly fine except that the characters in Fate are purposefully built more competent and capable than average everyday joes. Obviously you can tweak Fate to make it work (you can make Fate work for anything) but what if there's a better way? A game where you can slaughter scores of characters as the zombie apocalypse unfolds around you and only the bravest, toughest and luckiest survive. Look at most zombie movies (or our current zombie benchmark, the afore-mentioned Walking Dead) - there is always a high body count in the beginning, and only a handful survive the early encounters. In The Walking Dead, those characters that survived the first couple of seasons have continued to survive, to the point where the death of a major character is now a big deal. They've become harder to kill. What kind of game follows that kind of progression?

DCC Funnel.

I'm sure I'm not the first person who realized this. The premise of Dungeon Crawl Classic's brilliant "funnel" system is that each player takes a bunch of 0-level normal humans and throws them into a dungeon situation. Those that survive (and there usually aren't many) "graduate" to level 1 and gain a character class and the powers that go along with it. I think this kind of setup is perfect for a zombie/horror survival setting. The world is falling apart around you, the dead are rising, and only the strongest are going to survive.

How would it work? Not that much differently than the current DCC funnel, just tweaked slightly to update it for the modern age.  Each player would get 3-4 characters with completely random attributes (standard 3d6, rolled straight) as well as hit points (1d4). Each character gets one or two random pieces of equipment and a random occupation. The occupation is important because it may imply special skills - a doctor or park ranger would have obvious benefits, while a waiter might be just shit out of luck. I've compiled a list of random occupations, whether you want to codify special skills for each one, or just use the GM's ruling on a case by case basis is up to you.

Some characters might also have a special knack for certain tasks (hitting with a certain weapon or performing certain skills, etc) but these are random and not every character even has them.

And that's it. Once each player has their characters, they are plopped into the adventure. Maybe they're holed up in a cabin and have to survive the onslaught of walking dead. Maybe they're in a shopping mall. Maybe they're trapped in a city with dwindling resources and have to fight their way out. Whatever sort of zombie movie cliche tickles your fancy, toss your players into it and let them fight it out. And let everyone enjoy the mindless slaughter of the innocents as your once-large band of survivors is whittled down to a small band of TRUE survivors.

Who will make it out? Maybe someone who got some lucky rolls and has a great AC bonus? Maybe you'll roll up someone with a really cool/useful occupation and his skills will be valuable enough that the whole party will try to protect him? Or maybe it will be a completely fluke, and you'll end up getting out with a dude with a 4 Strength and 1 hit point.

I came up up with some rough classes for the survivors to take. They're variations on the basic D&D classes but with a post-apocalyptic theme. There's the fighter-type class, a ranger, an expert (could be a thief or a anything else you wish, based on the mix of skills you pick) and a leader (kinda like a bard/cleric but without all the bullshit poetry and godliness). Feel free to tweak them or make up your own. Maybe you want a world with magic, so a wizard would be an appropriate option for your group.

Here's the link to the complete work-in-progress file. It obviously needs some work but hopefully you can see where I'm going with it. Any comments or suggestions are welcome!

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Published on 10/12/2014 Written by 0 comments

Happy Turkey Day, My Fellow Canadians!

Happy Thanksgiving to all our Canadian readers. Enjoy it while you can, before the poultry rises up to destroy us all and serve our roasted remains with stuffing and cranberry sauce.
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Published on 10/07/2014 Written by 0 comments

The 3 Stages of Gaming Life

I started playing D&D when I was 12 years old. I wrote a detailed story about my first days in gaming back in one of my very first posts on this site. Recent events in my gaming life have gotten me once again thinking about those early days long ago, and especially how it has led me to where I am today.

By my best estimates, I started gaming in the summer of 1992. I'm now 34, with 22 years of gaming in between (look, I can still do math!). I think I can safely break by gaming years down into three distinct "stages" (or "Ages" for you Tolkien folks).

1. The Golden Years (1992-1998)
Ah, the blissful freedom of youth. After I picked up D&D (AD&D 2e, to be precise), Marvel Super Heroes, Palladium's ROBOTECH and Rifts, Vampire the Masquerade and West End Games Star Wars all quickly followed, and pretty much consumed my junior high and high school years. All my other interests (guitar lessons, Boy Scouts, school choir, etc) fell by the wayside. as I filled all of my free time with RPGs. We played several times a week, and any time we were playing I was making characters, monsters and running solo games. The margins of my school notebooks were covered with doodles of swords and wizards and orcs. This is around the time I also really started getting interested in writing, and of course 90% of what I wrote was fantasy fiction. All these years later I cannot conceive of how much time I spent wasted on this stuff. These days I cannot even fathom having so much free time as I did back then.

2. The Dry Years (1999-2009)
In 1999 I moved from my hometown in Newfoundland to the big city lights of Toronto for university and gaming dried up for awhile. To be fair, it wasn't completely absent from my life. My then-girlfriend (now wife) got into Vampire the Masquerade and I ran some solo adventures for her. There was a brief resurgence in the summers of '01 and '02 when I was working at Canada's Wonderland and we re-lived the glory days of youth playing D&D almost every day like nerdy teenagers again. But as the decade went on and people grew up and developed lives, time for gaming became thin. RPG nights went from weekly to bi-weekly to monthly to a few times a year. Play-by-email became my only regular gaming fix. Probably not coincidentally, with less time to game I spent a lot more time writing, and finished like 8 novels during that period (I'm hoping you may be able to read one or two of them soon!). At the end of 2009 I moved from Toronto to Ottawa, leaving the last of my gaming friends behind, and it looked like RPGs would be completely lost to me.

3. The Rebuilding Years (2010 - present)
Unbelievably, despite now being a full-fledged grown-up (wife, kids, mortgage, car, office job, etc), my gaming has been on an upswing the last few years. At first I played with my in-laws - they lived nearby and it was relatively easy to get together for a game, though now our kids are getting to ages where it's a little more complicated to schedule. I went down to the local university to sit in on some Encounters and Living Forgotten Realms games during the height of 4th Edition. Writing on this blog has helped, because it keeps me interested and forces me to keep an eye on the online community. Finding the chance to play online via Roll20, Skype and Google Hangouts has been a huge opportunity, because it has allowed me to not only play with my buddies from Toronto, but to also get back in touch with high school friends I haven't spoken to in over a decade, AND I've met some new folks, too! Honestly, I don't know how I've found the time to do as much as I have, especially this past year (only sleeping 5 hours a night helps) and I have no idea how long it will last - I suspect with the second baby on the way that there will be another enforced lull in the near future. Still, if I have enough kids I'm hoping that in a few years I'll have enough bodies to fill my own gaming table and I'll start the Fourth Age - The Family Gaming Years.

I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, though. Hopefully I still have a few good years in the current stage. But it's funny the way life works, and how it changes. I often hear people describe their lives in the stages of money or kids or responsibility, I never thought about it in terms of gaming.

What about you, of faithful readers? How has the Passage of Time affected the ebb and flow of this, our most illustrious hobby for you?

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Published on 9/30/2014 Written by 5 comments

Four Reasons "Playing" RPGs is Better than Game Mastering

Last weekend, I hooked up with Rule of the Dice contributors Jason and John, as well as our resident kook Dave, to play a Google Hangouts version of John's D&D hack. (See Jason's post for more details about the game). I realized shortly after we sat down that this would be my first time PLAYING an RPG live at a table - not GMing and not play-by-post - literally in years.

About 4 years ago I played a bit of 4th Edition Encounters and Living Forgotten Realms, which... is not role-playing. It's rolling some dice, waiting twenty minutes for everyone else to argue about the interactions of their ridiculous powers, and then rolling a couple more dice when your turn comes around again. It was a grinding slog most of the time, but I played happily because it was my rare chance to sit on the other side of the screen and to create stupidly awesome (or is it awesomely stupid?) nonsensical rangers.

The last time I played before that was I believe in 2002 when Jason ran a one-off session where I completely dicked him around the whole night acting like a jackass (if I haven't apologized for that before... yeah, sorry).

(No really, that was an honest apology, I was totally a jerk)

But last weekend we gamed and it was eye opening for me. I've been playing RPGs for over 20 years, and I've Game Mastered 95-98% of every game I've been involved in. Don't get me wrong, while I do love GMing I've decided I may never do it again. Sitting on the other side of the table is so much better.

1. Way Less Stress
So here I was Friday night, rushing to get signed on at the appointed time, frantic to get the game started when it hit me: What was I rushing for? I had nothing to prepare or get ready. Signing in and grabbing my character sheet was literally all that I had to do. I didn't have a ton of notes to collect, stuff to re-read, rules to look up. My RPG experiences are usually hours of pre-game prep, wondering if it's going to work, worrying the whole time if people are into it, and then wondering afterward what I could have done differently and kicking myself for the parts I screwed up.

Why did I have to have them fight four ghouls? Why didn't I keep it three, I knew it should have been three...
Friday, I was able to sit back, relax, and let someone else do the heavy work. I had time to casually eat a bag of Doritos AND had a chance to Tweet about the game as we played. It was brilliant.

(For the record, John seemed perfectly relaxed and way more comfortable than I usually feel when running a game. Either he's a lot better at this than I am, is better at hiding his frustrations or realizes this is just a game and doesn't take it too seriously - whatever it is, kudos to you, sir. You're a better man than me.)

2. Way Less Work
I kinda hinted at this in the previous entry, but this one should be obvious. GMing is a lot of work. Work that often feels more like doing your taxes than playing a game. You have to prepare - whether that's creating your world, writing your encounters/adventures, coming up with your own rules, whatever - and it takes work and dedication. Hours of pre-game prep. I try to wing it and improvise when I can, but I worry too much about making the game seem polished and put together to leave it to chance. I feel like I need to prepare for every eventuality (I know, I know, it's impossible) and inevitably end up writing pages and pages of content and the players usually skip over 80-90% of it.

And that covers the cultural and historical significance on the carvings above the knob of the door to the first level. Now where did I put my notes about the floor?
For Friday's game, I wrote up my character in about 20 minutes weeks ago, then completely forgot about it. I didn't have to look at it again until I printed the character sheet 5 minutes before the game. It was like I was in heaven. I don't want to insult John by saying I didn't think about it or get ready for his game or anything, but it was truly such an unimaginable relief to go in and just play. Prepping a game is a ton of work and I would never imagine to not appreciate a GM's effort (except for Jason in the earlier example), but man, dude. Sometimes it's nice to not do anything.

3. It Actually Feels Like A Game
I laughed a lot. I joked around and made an ass of myself (Jason, Dave, sorry if I was a dick to you or your characters). I played with trying to give my character silly accents (haven't quite found the right one yet). It felt like it wasn't a big deal if I had to get up and use the washroom or deal with some outside issues - my stepping away wouldn't necessarily make the game grind to a halt. I didn't have to keep track of every detail of everything that was going on, there was no book-keeping or traffic direction. Part of that was because we had four experienced guys who knew what they were doing and knew the rules reasonably well, but a bigger part of that was because I didn't feel responsible for the good time of everyone at the table.

If you guys are having this much fun, your GM must be pretty miserable.
I've said before that (several times, actually) I believe it's everyone's responsibility to make sure everyone else has fun, but the GM carries the lion's share of said responsibility. The GM has to make sure everyone is engaged, that everything makes sense, that the action keeps flowing. As a player, you don't have to do that so much. Sure, you need to be respectful and open minded and not try to purposefully de-rail the game, but you have WAY fewer moving pieces to worry about than the GM, so you can concentrate on what's in front of you and having fun with it.

4. It Shows Me How to Be a Better GM
I'm sure that my weaknesses as a Game Master stems from not playing enough under different GMs. Like any game or sport, you have to play with people who are better than you in order to get better yourself.

This guy looks like he's logged, what? 7500-8000 of his 10,000 hours?
This is going to make me sound like a jackass, but bear with me because I have a point: If I had run the game John did on Friday night, I would have been extremely disappointed. In nearly three hours, very little happened. We visited one location. There were two NPCs. There was one very simple combat encounter. If it was me, it would have felt like we didn't accomplish anything (probably because I would have had 20,000 words of material we didn't get to).

But on the other of the table, we as players had a wonderful time. We bickered and joked and played our characters. We found entertainment in all the little things, and put importance in everything we did. As a GM, I always worry about making sure the players have a goal, and obvious steps they need to take, and interesting, important things they should encounter along the way. But for the players, every door, every exchange, every weird noise - it all seems important. We latch onto what we think is interesting and that becomes the memorable part of the adventure. We spent twenty minutes trying to figure out if any of our characters new how to read or not, for frigsakes, and it was hilarious. The GM is responsible for throwing some stuff in front of us, but the players are responsible for doing something with it.

To John's credit, I don't think he was disappointed and I hope he recognizes that we got a lot of enjoyment out of those three hours. I can pretty safely say that it was one of the most satisfying games I've played in years. And all we did was kill one bad guy, which I had no hand in as I spent the whole battle tied up on the floor.

Role-playing games are weird. But they can still be really, really fun.

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