Thursday, February 23, 2006

Stalled on Troll Slayer

There have been a few good discussions that have got me thinking about Troll Slayer, and I've been pounding away on character generation rules. But the more I get into this, the more I realize I really don't want to design a new game. What I really want is to polish off Cold Iron and make it something complete and maybe tweak a few things. I've found myself slicing up character generation, cutting things out and such, and then realizing, gee, I think the only reason I'm cutting that out is to make Troll Slayer not Cold Iron.

Really, when it comes down to it, for me, Cold Iron is awfully damned close to a playable game. Sure, there are a few things here and there that I'd change. But the core mechanics, they work for me.

I'm also realizing that right now, I don't want to have to design a game, I just want to have a game that is playable, and that folks are interested in, and play the damned thing.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Creative Combustion


My church includes some lessons in playing RPGs in it's Sunday school teacher training - and to the children in the program.

At the First Unitarian Church of Portland Oregon, a program called Creative Combustion is used to train the religious education (Sunday school) teachers. The program is also used with the children and youth to develop trust and group cohesion in the classes.

The program uses a variety of exercises to build trust and group cohesion.

One game, Fruit Basket Upset, which is a chair swapping game, has a rule that's interesting to consider for RPG play: There is no Fruit Basket Upset police. Basically, what this rule means is that if someone doesn't get up when they're supposed to, you don't call them on it (though raising an issue where perhaps the game is being misunderstood is a different ball of wax). That rule might not be appropriate to an RPG is it's most open sense, but the idea behind it is worth considering.

One of the significant concepts is Offers and Blocks. This concept is very relevant to RPG play. The idea is that when someone offers something to the group (significantly in RPG play, creative input), the idea is not to block by shooting the idea down, or not paying attention, or in any way dismissing the idea. That doesn't mean that you say yes when some kid says, "Hey, let's burn the church down!"

Connected with the Offers and Blocks are two games, that by Vincent's definition of an RPG (the players agreement creating a shared imagination space) are RPGs.

The one that when I look back on when it has worked really well is obviously an RPG is Two-Headed Adventure. In Two-Headed Adventure, players pair up. The game is played by the player alternately saying a single word (though often pairs wind up saying a very short phrase - but this can be a dangerous drift). As the players create their story, they are free to move around and gesture. An example might be:

"Look! (player points) - a - river! - Jump! (players jump) - Jello! - Strawberry! - I'm - starving! - Thank - goodness - we - found - food - before - the - giant - found - us!"

Notice how a story unfolds that exists only because the players accept and agree to each other's creative contribution.

Gift Giving is a similar game. One player offers a gift to another. The gift is unspecified. The second player pantomimes opening the gift and then starts describing it. The first player may respond by giving encouraging statements (such as "I knew you always wanted a new car" after the second player says "Wow, a Red Mustang with chrome wheels!").

I believe that these exercises come from improvisational theater training. They have been helpful to me in thinking about how to better empower players in my games.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Troll Slayer - some areas to think about

I've been mulling over some things, and thought I'd do some mulling in public to see if anything comes out of it...


I used to pepper my games with skills. Through paying attention to what really was going on in my D20 games, I've realized that most of the time, non-combat skills are meaningless. Particularly troublesome are the social skills.

For my current Cold Iron campaign, I took a new path. There are still combat skills because they make sense. I put a bunch of things (like thieving and scouting) into abilites that each character gets two of (though some races may use one of them up), and warriors get additional ones with levels. Then I set up proficiencies to cover all the other skill uses (like swimming, climbing, riding, cooking). The abilities work to some extent: quick draw is cool, scout and thief see occaisional use, medic looks good on paper and never comes into play, combat riding works, swashbuckler makes the lightly armored character more viable, paladin works. The proficiencies might as well not be there, is that desireable? Lots of games get away without much in the way of skills (D&D did so for many years). Is player's attraction to skills just part of the 8 page background phenomena, perhaps with an even worse twist (if my sheet says I'm really good as a cook, but cooking skill is never checked, then my character concept is never negated).


I came up with a nice scheme for setting encounter distance based on how well people make alertness checks. Also handled waking up at night. The basic idea has merit, but one problem is there's such a wide swing, that the two characters to maxed out alertness are the only ones that really matter (unless someone rolls a 90+). One result is that an ambush has a 25% chance of succeeding, which actually is too much. So this system needs some tuning. One thought is to use Alertness bonus rather than raw altertness (which will cut the swing between poor and good in half).

The really good thing about the system is that it has mostly eliminated the GM's ability to negate a player's choice to have a good alertness, especially when they roll well. Of course the GM can over use ambushes, but so long as the PCs have a decent chance of detecting ambushes, their choice and good rolls are still meaningfull.

Clean up Spell Casting

Spell casting requires too many rolls. It winds up being too easy to whiff. Taking 2 turns to cast a spell is a book keeping nightmare. Spells need to be balanced for a 1 turn casting time (though it's nice that Cold Iron makes it advantageous to continue to use low level spells - this is a feature worth keeping).

Treasure Economy

Need guidelines on how much treasure to give out. Need to better educate players about why they should use charged items and potions. Spell casters need to have as much reason to use charged items and potions as the fighters so that treasure expenditures between characters are more balanced.

Equipment and Encumbrance

Good things about encumbrance are a real benefit to being strong (less penalty for wearing heavy armor), but there are a lot of encumbrance modifiers that are almost meaningless in Cold Iron. Weapon choices are nice, just eliminate bunk weapons (maces, some of the bows and cross bows). Trim the non-combat gear way down (just declare everyone has an adventurers pack - who cares if the PCs always have rope when they need, if they have to drop the pack in combat, you can still deprive them of the pack, and the rope...).