Gentlemen, all your DMs belong to us

Edit: Bucyrus cleaned this article a bit. Writing under the influence of pain numbing medicine isn't the best solution.

It’s no mystery that tools and accessories we use to get the job done somewhat determine the way we work, influence our thinking and such, at least to some extent. The easiest way to check it is to write a 1000 words long text in modern word processor such as MS Word and in some Zen Editor like Write Monkey.

Ouuuuuuum, mani, padme, hum... Fuck! People are still dicks...
Ouuuuuuum, mani, padme, hum… Fuck! People are still dicks…

Recently, instead of playing a regular session we discussed the way rpg systems influence ourselves. It must be observed that Role Playing Games are a little tricky, at least from the point of view of the Storyteller. See, they belong to that realm of things defining YOURSELF rather than being just an addition to what you are.

For example, if you’re a taxi driver, you’re not defined by that. You go home and you’re a parent, a husband, Joe – the friendly neighbor, or that guy who reads the Holy Bible each Sunday in our church.

But there are jobs that you simply can’t put aside. You can’t stop being a fighter the moment you leave your dojo – in fact, you never leave it. A fighter is what you are all the time. You can’t stop thinking about light and shadows and scenery when you’re a professional photographer. Certainly there’s some acting in your daily life when you’re a very good actor.

Same case with being a veteran Storyteller. It’s what you are.

When you participate in some situation, it might later come back as an event in your scenario. Interesting choice of words during a random, overheard discussion? Mental note: that will be said by my next Big Bad Evil Guy. Charming person? Say “hello” to new NPC and so on, and so forth.

And here’s where “accessory” part steps in.

See, there are many games and each stands for a certain model of reality. Some force us to perceive the world through numbers, some prefer long descriptions, other are fine with short, but descriptive “tags”.

It’d be actually interesting to learn in what way and to what extent they determine our perception and by proxy – the reality we live in.

Bucyrus realizes that he constantly (and only semi-consciously) observes the world from the perspective of potential horror scenario. How about the drunken driver was really possessed? What if the hospital is haunted and by what? What if the silence coming from behind the wall means that the neighbor finally strangled his wife to death (or the opposite, she looked like quite a strong lady all things considered)?

The perception isn’t static. It can be changed, it can be influenced. Why not because of role playing games?

Gentlemen, all your DMs belong to us

Play the role, not the game

People often discuss the alleged imbalance of various games or mechanics. There’s one argument that is almost sure to come up during such discussions. It’s, more or less, along the lines of “there’s an option X, that’s either crippling the game, or I’ll be crippling my character if I won’t take it”.

It doesn’t matter what the option is. Perhaps it’s fighter’s ability to hack through hordes of enemies with little to no sweat at all. Perhaps it’s hunter’s move allowing him to launch rain of arrows on enemies. Perhaps it’s some sort of magical trick allowing wizards to become equivalent of fireball shooting fantasy machine guns.

The point is, that the option is so good, that literally everyone is supposed to take it, unless they want to resign from an advantage during every combat what, in turn, unfortunately, is one of most important elements of almost each and every role playing game out there.

Alas poor highwayman worth 200 experience points who dropped a petty loot, I knew him well...
Alas, poor randomly encountered highwayman worth 200 experience points who dropped a petty loot, I knew him well…

People often spend long time testing and selecting the best combination of skills and abilities, in hope to prepare as competent characters as possible. That’s what “character optimization” is and there’s nothing wrong in that. Actually, despite what some might say about “power gamers”, who squeeze all the juice from game’s mechanics, it’s merely a self-preservation instinct in action. You know, the same thing that drives us, people and influences fuckton of choices we make in our lives.

Bucyrus speculates, that it’s all about the comfort zone.

See, unless you’re playing the game relying on the philosophy of player characters eventually dying or descending into madness (Call of Cthulhu, Unhallowed Metropolis to name some), character’s safety is very vital to his player.

After all, like it was told earlier – it’s no mystery that combat is what matters most in role playing games. You can’t stand on your own, you’re risking your character’s death, or worse, what equals being kicked out of the game (and in many circumstances there’s a serious problem with an introduction of a brand new character to the story).

So, it shouldn’t come as surprising, that some people simply refuse to play incompetent characters.

Unfortunately this leads to a few different problems – players put more effort into their characters’ optimization than to making them something more than 2-dimensional paper silhouettes. Because of that, their characters seem to be all clones of one another, and strangely similar to this or that character taken from some work of fiction, be it an action movie, manga, or a video game. And this begets a strange feedback (is this a correct expressions for an effect of any given action influencing back its initiator?) – powerful player characters demand from the Game Master to spend more time preparing challenging tactical encounters, making them longer, slower, more complicated… In the end, potential Role-Playing Game scenario becomes Roll-Play arena like set of tactical encounter, with waves of enemies attacking player characters.

It’s an oversimplification, there’s more to this “feedback” thing than that, but you surely get the point.

So what to do about it? How to leave the comfort zone, resign from the power, settle for something inbetween – a character that is not an incompetent imbecile, but also far from being the god walking among mere mortals?

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to “fix” that. All it takes is an agreement with the GM. “So, buddy, we’re gonna prepare an unoptimized BUT FUN and original characters, very different to Ranger #34785634 or Druid-Paladin #12323435, but you have to promise, you won’t kill our characters unless we’re gonna do something very stupid and you’ll be forced to commit a mercy kill“.

That’s really it.

Try it for once if you didn’t already. Switch from fighting Tarrasque and hordes of dragons to slaying a band of goblins. Instead of unleashing all hell’s fury, try to get away with a few rudimentary spells. Rather than saving the world, save the local village. Focus more on solving the scenario, rather than hacking your way through it. Play, actually PLAY the role of Paladin, rather than redefine the class you selected because of its boons and advantages (oh, it’s entirely in nature of Paladins to kick beggars, if they are EVIL beggars).

There’s really fun in that, even if that’s sooooo far from legendary-level fights that became your (kind of) chore.

Now, Bucyrus is no idiot – of course there’s a plenty of temptation for both GM and Players to overuse this agreement and change the session into either pure horror where every tactical encounter is a risky, total-party-kill possibility, or boring “I resigned from power so every door is supposed to open wide before me now”.

To that, unfortunately there’s no quick fix. Cheaters gonna cheat, no matter what.

Still, there’s a chance that you’re playing with people mature enough to stay true to their word, and honor the agreement, in which case: good gaming to you.

Play the role, not the game

Who shall inherit the Earth?

Aaaaaaaah, Mad Max, the movie. To be honest, Bucyrus doesn’t understand why it is called “Mad Max”, how does it fit into the other Mad Max movies, and why EVERYONE, including the engine of warmachines was given more appearance and dialogue than Max himself.

Still, great movie nevertheless.

One thing caught the attention of Bucyrus. See, typical depiction of post-apocalyptic world is usually like this:

max-menYou know, band of strangely dressed, psychotic MEN roaming the world, terrorizing everyone, cannibalizing and sodomizing everything what isn’t fast enough to runaway. Also, for some weird reason people consider male offspring to be valuable, even if it’s exactly the opposite, since every woman is expected to have at least a few kids.

Anyway. Let’s think for the moment:

  • The majority of soldiers? Men.
  • The majority of whatever forces are dispatched to “control the situation” (be it police, peace corps etc). Men.
  • Who is expected to volunteer for dangerous activity? Men.
  • Who comes up with and usually executes reckless plans? Men.

On the other hand…

  • Who is more patient? Women.
  • Who is expected to stay there, guard kids and resources? Women.
  • Who lacks typical skills and physique to be selected for dangerous jobs? Women.

Conclusion: in case of a war-scenario Armageddon, the world will feature decimated population of males. In fact, it will look probably more like this:

Think about that for the moment while constructing your vision of future’s Earth. Think about that…

Who shall inherit the Earth?

Playing with children

Bucyrus spent last a few days in hospital. All friends were busy and couldn’t pay a visit, so in the meantime a few new ones were made – in the wing where children with cancer resided.

Bucyrus taught children how to play some tiny games like “Everyone is John”, and even attempted to sell them on some simple OSRs – at least those he was able to explain under no longer than half of an hour.

That was quite an interesting experience. Bucyrus learned something very important – all this crap we’re talking about in context of RPGs isn’t really that important. Undeniable, honest joy expressed by newbies matters. Being thankful for the possibility to forget about the reality – even if it’s only momentary – is what matters.

Playing with children every once and a while is good.

Strong recommendation.

Playing with children

Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate: a tiny reflexion

There’s this hard to draw line separating amateurs from veterans. Please bear in mind that being “a veteran” doesn’t immediately mean someone is actually good at what he does – experience must be digested, analyzed and recycled to serve any useful purpose and not everyone does that.

Still, after a certain period of time one has all the right to call himself “a veteran”.

Veterans tend to see more in products than amateurs. They pay attention to more elements and details than the most obvious ones and often than never judge the product by qualities that elude the sight of a typical consumer.

By the way, Bucyrus thinks it was Eco, who wrote in length about various readers and what motivates them. Awesome reading, very useful tool for every Storyteller.

I see your soul. It's dirty.
…and that would be a critical loss. The mighty FuckYaaLot Pendellum beheads you with a single slash; you die feeling almost nothing aside of deep regrets. Such a waste, mwahahahaha…

Anyway, Bucyrus tries as hard as possible to remember about this banality when he approaches new games. Most of times he does and because of that he sees nice things in games, even in those he won’t ever play (because it’s not his cup of tea, or he already played that in the past, only it had different title back then, or…).

But there’s only as far as one might go in his quest to stay objective.

So here’s one big request from a gamer to every potential game developer that might for some unknown reason visit this page: buddy, it might look like great idea at this time, but for fuck’s sake, please spend at least one month thinking about how your game is any different to those countless other games and is it REALLY enough to serve as an excuse to dedicate whole game to this thing.

Bucyrus gets it – you want to spend some time writing about your secret society of sexy necroborg priestess of Fiery Doom (fire cleanses the stench, all praise the Flame!), but can’t you present them as merely main element of some campaign, rather than develop whole game solely for the purpose of introducing this faction?

Sure, you might think that it’s finally time to present Paladins as how they were supposed to be from the day #0, but wouldn’t it be more reasonable to simply create a custom class called “True Paladins” for one of more popular games?

It’s ok to dream and your dream about new way to do magic is welcome too, but couldn’t you close it in boundaries of a single sourcebook?

Such an approach is reasonable: you won’t spend time reinventing the wheel – there are already very good mechanics to pick from, there are worlds and storylines waiting for you to expand them, enhance, tweak, adjust. Plenty of people choose to do so and they are successful at that.

See, plenty of times it’s painfully obvious that the developer of some game had one specific thing in his mind and he gave it the majority of his strength and effort. Because of that, the rest of his creation feels underdeveloped, unfinished, hardly “a complete experience”. For everyone who knows a little about RPGs and their history it’s harder to miss than a nuclear mushroom towering over his city.

'sup, my crispy friend?
‘sup, my soon-to-be-crispy friend?

It’s like all those movies featuring breathtaking CGI effects and not much more. One month after watching them, you can’t really say what they were about and frankly, you don’t care to spend a single minute analyzing that.

So, one more time… Before you’ll decide to release your game, please think more about what you do, why you do it and most importantly should you do it. Dickish as it might sound, chances are that your work is entirely pointless, because someone did it much earlier (possibly better) and you could spend your time and resources doing something different rather than needlessly multiplying same old concepts, same old stories, same old solutions.

PLEASE!

Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate: a tiny reflexion

The sinful wheel of flawed design

After reading n-th vague game, Bucyrus thinks that way too many authors are lazy fucks. Don’t get the wrong impression, Bucyrus is all thumbs up for occasional “just fill the gaps on your own” approach. After all, it’s what his gadget stories are. Speaking of which – it has been some time since Bucyrus wrote one. Hmmm…

Anyway. “Here’s some vague setting, a few general story seeds, mechanics that’s hard to precisely comprehend without the help of a veteran player – read it and it’ll change the way you perceive RPGs, chop chop“. It’s omnipresent nowadays. Instead of delivering detailed background, examples and scenarios, we’re usually being told to simply make it work.

And it’d be fine, after all, the more the merrier, right? Right.

Unfortunately, it spawned the infamous “wheel of flawed design” which is far from “right”.

misc-davinciwheel
The wheel… Its screeching sounds haunt my nightmares… Make it stop…

As usual – Bucyrus’ English isn’t good enough to put it into right words, but the Wheel is supposed to work like this:

Continue reading “The sinful wheel of flawed design”

The sinful wheel of flawed design

Of Jesus, Hitler and bias

There’s this old story about guy living back in times when Jesus and his posse roamed the world. After hearing a lot of good things about JC, he decided to meet him and study his teachings. So, he traveled to the place where Teacher currently resided.

He entered the place and saw Jesus. He immediately disliked him. The Teacher didn’t look very kosher. He wasn’t properly shaved, had dirty clothes, spoke in weird way. His students were a mix of alleged ruffians and hobos and they all looked at the Guy with overzealous expression on their faces.

So the guy shrugged and left without listening a word of what Jesus had to say.

misc-jc
Paaaaaaarty!

Unbeknownst to him, both Jesus and the Devil that happened to be there saw him.

The Devil laughed “ha, you lost another soul!” Jesus shook his head. “Naaah, man, he was yours all the time“.

Let’s move to Hitler now, shall we? Western world (to which Bucyrus is  considered “a foreigner”) recognizes the guy as the face of evil. Truth be told, compared to some of his predecessors he is kind of “medium level mass murderer” at best. Still, if one wants to present someone truly evil, Hitler is famous enough, to be considered the perfect guy to get the job done.

So. Imagine that you’re given a rpg-oriented book coming from Hitler. It might be his homebrew system. It might be a sourcebook for some other game. It might be an adventure or some piece of gaming theory. It’s irrelevant what it is – it’s for something you enjoy and what SOME people recognize as useful, interesting & such.

…And then Wehrmacht Barbarian screams “Arbacht macht frei” and swings at you with his TotenkampfAxe. Roll für initiativ…

Now, the big question is, would you read it?

If that helps, replace Hitler with someone you reaaaaaaaaaaaaaly dislike – it’s not about Mr. Weird Mustache himself, but about your ability to separate the author from his work and willingness to approach it without bias, to judge it for what it is, not because of who wrote it, where does it come from and so on and so forth.

Well, would you?

Of Jesus, Hitler and bias