Sunday, August 21, 2016

Talking to myself: Culture vs. the Sandbox (June 2014)

Still quite busy and the blog has to take a hit for it. But I'm not or out of ideas. Just busy. Anyway, I had an idea that might be a fun exercise, doesn't mean much work (I hope) and will result in something that requires a cup of coffee and a bit of muse: I'll re-examine a two year old post of mine and add what my thoughts are about it now. Maybe it even starts a discussion. We'll see. The basic premise:
"A lack of story in a game is always derived from a lack of culture represented in a sandbox/setting/gaming world ..."
I'll c/p the original content here and write my current thoughts about it in between, marked as [Today: ...]. This being a post from two years ago should mean that most of my current readers might not be aware of it or totally forgot about it. That's a plus, I think :) Well, here we go:

Yggdrasil 1: Classic interpretation [source]
I've tried, you know [Today: Still trying ...]

All those random shenanigans I've tried, the tables I used to create content with in the last few games, the random maps and names, all this left me feeling, well, unprepared at the table. A strange feeling for a DM indeed and most unwelcome, to say the least. Although I had everything I needed (as far as content goes), I struggled with an apparent defect of connection between what was generated randomly and the interpretation of that content during the game. In other words: as soon as I had rolled what the players were encountering next (a specific creature or event with a motivation and reaction to the characters, etc. ... you all know what is possible), I started to feel the urge to make a story out of it, the result being not random at all but, in the contrary, totally my design, so to say. Exactly what I had tried to avoid in the first place and not even with the luxury to have a developed story arc at hand, but with the need to pull it all out of my arse as I needed it.

Usually I have no problem with generating connections, interpretations and new content as I need it on the table, but this felt different. This Tyranny of Randomness forced me to think about the people present in a tavern and there motivations at any possible given moment the characters might be entering the locale. It asked for weather and day-to-day routines of peoples, current politics and their effect and all those little nooks and crannies that are really really needed (and in a huge amount, no less) to produce the necessary amount of information that could result in a satisfying variety of adventure hooks needed in a "true" sandbox to make it work.

Because, if you just use a shortcut and make a table with all the funny things you think possible in a specific sandbox, you might as well admit that all this is not random at all, but a random assortment of exactly all the things that could possibly happen. There is a difference.
[Today: Yeah, Tyranny of Randomness, here we go. Main reason for this being so intimidating at the time had been that the tools I used back then were not ideal for what I was doing. You see, the classic D&D game (I used a heavily modified D&D Rules Cyclopedia at the time) completely relied on the DM being somehow prepared or using an official product, so it never intended to produce a random chain of events and instead a random chain of turns ...]
Take for example rumors of a bear attacking wood cutters near a settlement. A good enough adventure hook, I think. But where is that bear coming from, why did he leave? A bigger predator claiming his territory, maybe? Why is he attacking people? Is it for a lack of other prey? What's with all that, then?

So you see, every event has a chain of relevant causalities (of connected events, if you will) leading to it. The results of these events (if you dare going as far as producing that much information, that is) might be random, but you have to start somewhere. And that place is so totally unimportant and insignificant for what happens at the table, with so much small and moving pieces in between, that it doesn't seem worth to even try to figure out where to start.

But if you were looking for where to start with those chains of events, cultures would be the way to go. It might seem counter-intuitive, especially with the example of the bear above, but stay with me. I'll get there.
[Today: Funny, right now I'd say you have to go with stories instead. That being said, I'd like to stress that the way we tell stories is indeed derived from culture. So the bonus content here would be that if you try to emulate a certain culture, you should learn how they told their stories and use that in your game ... But on with the text.]
Causality goes both ways ...

It's a good thing that causality can go both ways from an established point, if that point is well chosen. Constants and varieties are the base criteria for such an endeavor and that's exactly what the term culture enfolds. Following that link to Wikipedia will only help in realizing how big a topic culture can be, this is the variety. On the other hand it shows very well how all those cultural variety is labeled, so there are your constants. That all cultures are a product of their specific surroundings is where causality comes into play. If you have a social group of sentient apes living on a shore, you'll have some fishing and legends and rituals connected to the sea, stuff like that.

So this might be a point from where an interpretation of causality easily goes both ways. The characters encounter a settlement at a shore and a DM just knows there will be forms of cultural representation regarding that fact. Going the other way would mean, if the surroundings change for the settlement (say, they were forced to leave, for instance), they will take some of their cultural achievements with them (maybe some legends and stories and names remain in their songs, stuff like that) so that at a later point it can be recognized and traced back again, etc..

As far as creating content for a role playing game is concerned, this means basically:
Every point of entry in a campaign is legit. It's either created up to the point of entry, from that point onward or somewhere in between.
[Today: What I'm saying here is that you can start wherever you want to create random content, as long as you keep straight what's established as fact and what is just known by the characters. As long as the construct you are ending up with retains credibility, it'll hold in a campaign. That's causality derived from constants and variety ... ] 
Yggdrasil 2: Esoteric interpretation [source]
Perception of a world, the players view (an intermission).

This occurred to me some time ago and maybe it's worth a post of it's own, but for this argument I deem it important to have it at least mentioned as food for thought: the flow of information in a fantasy setting (or in every setting, if you think about it) prevents a complete and true understanding of the world surrounding a player character. All characters can know is interpretations and stories, distance being one main factor regarding the accuracy of the information gathered, culture being another one.

So even if you start a campaign with nothing but an idea for a starting area and tell the players tall stories about what the world around them is filled with, nothing of this needs to be true and might be challenged entirely in the next village. Even if a DM did do all the work to create a complete world, the only chance for the characters to know it with some kind of certainty should be by exploring it, because it's not about what's a world comprised of, but about how a culture interprets and communicates it.

So the "true" sandbox is not the world/map itself (the board, if you will) but the amount of interpretations (or stories!) of said world. And that is the amount of cultures in a setting.
[Today: This really should be a post of its own. And I really can't exaggerate this enough: Nothing we tell our players needs to be true. It just needs to be connected. As they explore their surroundings they'll update their knowledge with what they think is the truth and so on. It's the classic "No one goes into this forest, there are demons in there!" and then it's just some creative savages or a curse with a tragic story. Or both and the players just find one aspect. The relation between what is known and what the story says is happening just needs to be nourished constantly. Stuff like "You thought that it was dark magic, but it just had been ..." or "The elders had been wrong about that foreign land to the east and that sea they talked about had just been a giant lake after all ...". As long as you are able to establish meaning and connections, it'll keep credibility. We rely far to much on the maps we use as being true and base our games on them, but that's a very young idea in history and an illusion on its own.]
It's evolution, baby (Creating a Sandbox 101)!

Let's get back to that bear again. What we like to perceive as culture is more often than not a direct result of our natural heritage. Opposing thumbs, courtship display, all that stuff. This is, again, about capabilities resulting in behavior in accordance to its surroundings. To phrase it another way, it's easier to create a possible pattern of what a bear might do than it is to do the same for a human being, but ultimately it's the same basics. Evolution allowed for the development of cultures with the intelligent apes, for the bear not so much, which leaves him with what evolution is capable of.

This is where the relevant data is, this is where stories are developed. You'll need the lay of the land, that is true (and easy enough achieved with a degree of difficulty open to the top), but it'll mainly produce constants with almost no variety. So if that's done, you'll just have a board for all the parties involved to leave a mark on.

Layers and layers and layers of true randomness!

Next is where the DM decides how vanilla it gets. It is basically the decision how much culture a DM is willing to invent or how many memes and tropes he is willing to use.  It is a very broad spectrum, ranging from, say, the elves, dwarfs and hobbits how Tolkien described them to a complete new set of races, invented from scratch. Or a world having no moon, one moon or 5. But whatever is decided, I believe it is important for a DM to make the decision where to start consciously and up to a point where the number of former decisions, random or not, produce a pattern complex enough to carry a narrative.

This means layers and layers of decisions if he wants to have a sandbox-setting or a world-engine with a totally random, but traceable history. A huge task.
[Today: It actually makes me a bit happy to read this, as I really managed to build something like this two times since I wrote it. The first is a Random Territory Generator I use for Lost Songs of the Nibelungs, the second is a Mission Generator for The Grind ... both produce very specific results for the stories they want to tell, just as described above.]
Culture, memes and the story ...

Alright, let's connect some dots and get back to the thesis at hand. I think it's conclusive that it's almost irrelevant were to start with the randomness or what kind of map is used, as long as there's enough to work with (a few encounter and reaction tables and a map worth exploring, maybe). The available cultures, on the other hand, might be what really matters when a DM creates/prepares a setting, because it is what the players get confronted with as soon as they start creating characters and in the game it's their tool to interact with the world. And it is how stories emanate.

Memes can come in handy in this in as far as if, for example, a player has a more or less clear picture of  what a dwarf is, he can easily enough play one. Some familiarity with a setting can go a long way in helping the players getting some immersion. Another argument for using memes is that to recognize variety you need to know the source. So it helps when describing a set of random cultures if the source is still recognizable.

In the end, if you want to know what the people do and why they react the way they react, you need a fair idea of the cultural context surrounding the encounter to make a story about it. If the players live in a matriarchy, for example, all the roles they know might be reversed and if those roles are inspired by a medieval society, you'll have women knights courting men in fancy dresses and so on. So everything a DM establishes for a culture helps him telling the stories the characters encounter. The more work he puts in that, the better will be the stories he's going to tell.
[Today: There are two things happening here. For one, it's important that the decisions a player has in a game are informed by what the setting needs and by that it will enter the story. It's an idea I incorporated (for instance) into the character generation for Lost Songs of the Nibelungs and I can say with some confidence right now that it does indeed work. The second part is how cultures manifest in a setting and how that informs NPC decisions. I still need to do this and it had been the main reason to read this old post to begin with.]
Yggrasil 3: Marvel interpretation [source]
What next?

Those are the basics so far. Maybe it's able to start a discussion, exploring those ideas a bit further or even challenge them. Maybe not. Anyway, in future posts I'll further examine how a DM could utilize the idea of culture as a tool to carry the narrative of the game and I should give some examples, maybe a system how to randomly generate a culture. Right now I think it might be useful to have an index for a culture how obscure their idea of the world surrounding them is. Something like, the lower the index, the closer are those interpretations to reality ...
[Today: Well, I thought I'd agree less with something I wrote 2 years ago. What changed from then to now, though, is that I believe I found (almost) all the tools I need to make this work for me. The last piece in this puzzle, at least for LSotN, would be the Random Story Seed Generator I wrote about a few months ago. I'm right now working at an updated version (which will be posted soon, I hope), but it already works great as it is. I'm still missing a culture generator that'll help me bringing the Dark Ages to life in the game. And that's it. I hope you guys enjoyed this little re-post and maybe we get to start a discussion here or you'd like to share some of your ideas about randomness with us. Comments are, as always, very welcome.]

Sunday, August 14, 2016

3 Movies you (probably) haven't seen (a Weird Movie Sunday?)

Couple of years ago I thought about writing little movie reviews on a regular basis. You know, as inspiration and stuff. Never really got to do that, though. There are more than enough people doing this already and this blog is mainly about gaming, so why bother? Well, I dreamed about writing this one review here, so that's as good a reason as any. And while I'm at it, I'll throw in two more for good measure.

1. The Family Fang (2015)

I am a big fan of all things Arrested Development and when one of the main cast starts directing his own stuff, I pay attention. So when Jason Bateman made his movie debut with Bad Words in 2013, I saw that sucker and fell in love (if dark comedy and Arrested Development are your thing, you should check that out asap). Wasn't a mainstream success and definitely not PC, but who cares. This was good, so checking out his next movie was a no-brainer, as they say.

Well, I only heard about The Family Fang by accident (it's based on a book going by the same name). There was literally no buzz I could catch. It was there and nobody talked about it. Well, nobody I knew anyway. And now that I saw it, I have to say that you should, too. I won't spoil it to you in any way, but I will give you the main premise and some general thoughts. Here is a bit from the blurb (from that last imdb-link above):
"Annie and Baxter, the adult children of the controversial husband and wife conceptual performance art couple famous for their quirky macabre public performances, have never got over the fact that their parents kept using them during their childhood in their often gory and disturbing satirical public performances."
Those parents are still at it and when they turn up missing, leaving a car and signs of a struggle behind, we are left with the siblings, wondering if they are really murdered or if it's an art piece. What follows is a dissection of what constitutes art and the price artists (are willing to?) pay to make it happen. It is at times hard to digest and controversial (as we constantly get flashback to some of those brilliant public performances), but never dull.

Part of the movie poster some outlandish critical acclaim [source]
There is some (very dark) humor at work in the movie and in a sense it's a classic tragicomedy. A bit like the stories Wes Anderson likes to tell. So if the question "What is art?" is something that gets your gears running, you should see this movie. It's not the answer, but it'll give you something to think and discus about. If you need more convincing, I should add that Christopher Walken plays old Mister Fang ... 

2. A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2013)

Oh, how I love that movie. The Trailer just doesn't do it justice. It's about a author of children's books (Simon Pegg) who decides he must write a serious book about serial killers. Being the sensitive kind, he gets very ... involved in his work, basically barricading himself in his apartment, seeing murderers in every shadow. Well, his publisher wants to get him out of the house for a business meeting and he has no clean clothes, so he has to leave the house and go to some dreaded Launderette eventually ...

Well, the paranoia combined with a very creative mind (and lots of bad luck, I might add) doesn't help and Simon Pegg is hilarious. Add a really inspired directing to that (I'd describe it as a mix between a Wes Anderson and a Tim Burton movie with a good dose of British humor) and you really end up with something very well worth your time.

Pretty much sums it up ... [source]
There is a weak part of about ten minutes near the end, but it really doesn't weaken the whole experience one bit. It's a quirky and wild ride. Pegg is carrying the whole movie on his own and does a very good job as the unreliable narrator and on screen. Add clever writing and some fantastic scenes (like the rap scene .. you'll know it when you see it). A Fantastic Fear of Everything is highly recommended by this blogger :)

3. Jupiter Ascending (2015)

It's a bit more difficult to find a beginning sentence about Jupiter Ascending as it really tanked and people have opinions about it. Well, this is my opinion and I really, really love this movie. The setting, character and world design should inspire every Science Fiction tabletop player and DM. There is a lot of money in this movie and it shows. The Blue-ray is a wonder to behold. Several times. Planets, ships, weapons, Cyborgs, cyberware, weird technology ... it's all in there in spades. For that alone it's worth seeing once (and then again in slow mo ...).

Same goes for the story. That's some crazy shit right there: a universe full of mega-corporations lead by immortals who harvest human DNA as their ambrosia, different factions, gene manipulation to optimize soldiers and a huge bureaucratic complex that should get Terry Gilliam pretty excited on a normal day, also lots of aliens and laws and special fighting units whatnot. A campaign setting if I have ever seen one. It all reminded me a bit of the Deathstalker novels by Simon R. Green. In a good way.

[Edit: Forgot about the soundtrack ... it's divine! I don't need to point out where a good soundtrack might get some mileage in a role playing game ...]

Many of you will be aware that this is a film by the Wachowski siblings (or sisters now?) and I have to say that I am a huge fan of their work. All of their work (and yes, that includes Speed Racer, V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin (!) and Cloud Atlas). I like their style and the way they mix action with (very light, sometimes flawed) philosophy. In this regard, they also deliver in Jupiter Ascending and I have to say a few words about the action here: it's brilliant work. Fast, vast and complex, just as I like it. I dare say that you won't see anything like it again any time soon. Visionary.

And again, food for any DM looking for some original sci-fi combat set up for a session or two. Gold mine.
If you need more convincing, here is a good essay about the movie [source]
Many people bashed the acting in this movie and I get why. I just don't care that much as I was in awe the whole movie, taking notes. I gotta say, though, that that Eddie Redmayne character creeps me out here. Big time. He really gets under the skin over time and I found it unsettling. That's a good thing, btw, since he is the villain and all. Tatum is pretty much himself with pointy ears (which works for me) and Kunis, well, if nothing else, she's nice to look at. Bean is good in anything he does and does a lot with the little he gets here ... Nothing to write home about, but not bad either.

So as far as Space Operas go, Jupiter Ascending has only one shortcoming, in my opinion: it's not based on an existing franchise. All of this is new and most people will find it all a bit overwhelming. Add to this that the movie doesn't follow the Campbell routine and you end up losing most viewers somewhere down the road. Which is the point where a movie starts to drag and the only thing left is to find ways to ridicule what you see ... But that doesn't mean it's a bad movie, it just means it's demanding attention from the viewer. I, for one, appreciate that in a movie.

It is save to say that, if you liked the Science Fiction parts of Cloud Atlas, you'll like this movie, too (if you've avoided this one and needed a push). It's an inspiring firework of creativity in all but the acting (with some highlights there, too, like Redmayne). You really can't do much wrong if you are into Space Opera and see it with an open mind.

Honestly, don't believe the haters :)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Preview: Monkey Business (a procedural junglecrawl)

I had exams and was quite busy the last few days. But it wasn't all business, as I've managed to complete the draft for one (of the many) things I'm writing for the blog: Monkey Business. I should get ready to publish this in the next couple of weeks and thought it's time to make this a little bit more public. It's definitely not the first thing I started writing here (and all the other things are still happening, too), but it'll be the first thing out there with my name on it. And here's a sneak peek ... 



The tone will be very pulpy and all the test readers agree that the whole thing is wacky as hell. So if the following passage does it for you even a little bit, you might have fun reading, if not DMing Monkey Business:
Tarzang – King (Slacker) of the Jungle 
Not one of the circus people, but totally zoned out by the
drug anyways. His real name is Viscount Lonny
Graustock and he led an expedition into the jungle to rob
some poor natives just a few months ago. Now he swings
naked (and muscular) from tree to tree (mostly hitting
them and screaming in pain because of it or in fear to hit
another one ...) and thinks he is able to talk to animals. 
He seems harmless (and well built), but he will bring a group
into trouble if they believe he really is some sort of king of the
jungle (as he will claim, of course). His primary motivation is
to get the next score and he’ll try to use a group as distraction
against an orangutan pusher on drug delivery, grabs what he
can carry and makes a run for it. If there are females in the
group, he’ll pick the prettiest one and schemes to kidnap her.
He’ll also call her Jane all the time. No one knows why.
This thing has around 160 different encounters, a random jungle location and treasure generator, mushroom pygmies, cannibals and exploding goblins! There is a nice poem by Rudyard Kipling in The Second Jungle Book that pretty much sums up what kind of chaos this module will conjure as the drug conquers its surroundings:
I will let loose against you the fleet-footed vines—
I will call in the Jungle to stamp out your lines!
The roofs shall fade before it,
The house-beams shall fall,
And the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall cover it all! 
In the gates of these your councils my people shall sing,
In the doors of these your garners the Bat-folk shall cling;
And the snake shall be your watchman,
By a hearthstone unswept;
For the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall fruit where ye slept! 
Ye shall not see my strikers; ye shall hear them and guess;
By night, before the moon-rise, I will send for my cess,
And the wolf shall be your herdsman
By a landmark removed,
For the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall seed where ye loved! 
I will reap your fields before you at the hands of a host;
Ye shall glean behind my reapers for the bread that is lost;
And the deer shall be your oxen
By a headland untilled,
For the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall leaf where ye build! 
I have untied against you the club-footed vines,
I have sent in the Jungle to swamp out your lines
The trees—the trees are on you!
The house-beams shall fall,
And the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall cover you all!
Neat, isn't it? Other inspirations are Super Mario, Ufomammut, Planet of the Apes, Breaking Bad, Futurama and many, many others. It'll also feature some fantastic illustrations by +Mark Van Vlack and his fabulous Monkey Generator (which kind of kicked the whole thing loose).

It'll be out there in the wild as soon as I'm done with the layout and some lose ends. I'm aiming for end of September, but you guys know how it is ... Definitely before November, though, I can promise that much :)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Mining for Gygax Quotes - ENWorld Q&A from 2002 Part 1

Okay, so I should do something else and I'm reading my blogroll instead. As those things never go well, I read a post quoting Gygax by Delta from the great Delta's D&D Hotspot. And I think, yeah, why not read some Q&A with the man himself while I should do something else ... and off I went.

The ENWorld Q&A with Gary Gygax from 2002 we are talking about here sports 880 pages, going strong for 6 years, no less and Gygax was very active in it, questions coming from all kinds of directions. Around page 8 I thought, I need to collect some of those for later reference (as I always lack those) and the logical consequence is making a post out of it!

Still one of my favorite memes with the man :D [source]
And here it is, questions and answers I thought interesting and relevant from the first 50 pages. Please remember, selection is always also a form of interpretation, but I linked the exact spot I took the quote from to have some context for those in the mood to dig in further. Other than that I didn't alter what was written nor do any spell correction (Mr. G. took the time to answer lots of questions, but he did so very fast, too, it seems).

Thanks, Delta, for pointing me in this direction! This is a great source of all kinds of information about our hobby and I'm really enjoying working my way through this :) Also a warning: this starts 2002, so there's lots of talk about 3e ...

_________________________

Q: 1. To what degree, in your opinion, has D&D returned to its original roots (style and spirit-wise)?

A: 1. There is no relationship between 3E and original D&D, or OAD&D for that matter. Different games, style, and spirit.


A: The main differences in the older works I did and 3E are style of writing, reliance on archetypes, limitatations on character advancement, availability of and creation of magic items, and general single-class play for human characters.

Play is mainly reliant on rules. I ignored those I write when DMing if the game called for that, and in all added what was logical in terms of the game environment to play. Thus much of adventuring was not "by the book," but rather seat of the pants play by DM and players alike.

Rules lawyers are unmentionable...

Creating adventures is something that generally relies a lot on the system bases, rules, monsters, eivironments, etc. In regards to the first named, the more rules one must pay close attention to, the more difficult it is to create adventure material.


Q: 2. In your own words, how would you summarize the difference between AD&D and Basic/Expert/etc. D&D?

Q: 3. How important do you feel the concept of 'character archtypes' is to the D&D game? Do you feel that 3e rules, by going away from having core character classes, has lost something important here?

A: 2. I am not going to try to do critical comparative anayyses here or in any chat. That's a task that demands much careful thinking and effort. The only thing I can say about the matter is this: Play the two and judge for yourself. I think that AD&D is a "tighter" game than D&D was, more directed, less free-form. However, that applies mainly to those DMs who followed the book, if you will, as AD&D could be played in the same style as D&D.

A: 3. I feel very strongly that the archetype is crucial to the D&D game, and yes, I believe that 3E has suffered by virtually abandoning that concept. Without it I don't think the game will maintain so strong an appeal as it originally possessed. Time will tell.


Q: 3) How do you explain hit points, or do you even bother?

Q: 4) In 3e, there's one big goal - Become the hardest bastard you can (I.E., gain power and lots of it.) What were the big goals in OD&D? Wealth? Land? Nobility?

A: 3) That's easy. HPs represent not only the physical person, but that one's luck, skill in avoiding damage. As luck runs low, muscles tire, and reflexes slow their measure, HPs. are lost to reflect this. The last few remaining are the actual physical body being harmed. Okay, its rationalizing, but it works pretty well, I think

A: 4) In OAD&D there was plenty of play aimed at power, just as there is in 3E. Of course those that I knew as "good" players aimed first and foremost at having fun playing the game, regardless of rise in rabk and all the rest that goes with power gaming. The challenge of each session was enjoyed more from a group perspective, likely. As the team prospered, so too the enjoyment, cameraderie, and resulting stories. Many a group downplayed combat, developed campaigns in which roleplay was the key. Politics and economics? Sure. While OAD&D certainly focused on combat mechanics and rules, it did not hinder other sorts of play. The XP system in 3E does that with a vengence.

In comment 371

Q: Of course, OAD&D's XP system promoted the gaining of treasure above all else. At least there are plenty of ideas in the 3E DMG for changing the XP system, and more online. Is that comment due to (a) the rate of advancement in 3E, (b) that XP is given only for overcoming monsters, (c) some other reason, or (d) some combination of (a), (b) and/or (c)?

On a related topic, what are the highest level OAD&D characters you've played or DMed? (That have started at a low level and worked their way upwards, of course!)

A: Indeed, the wealth was featured--most realistically if one considers human motivations. If you, the real you, were an adventurerer, what would miotivate you more that the lure of riches? Sure, altruistic things, honor, patriotism and the like come into play, but most adventures are based on the lure of treasure. Note also that casting spells earned XPs, as did successful performance of various class abilities not related to fighting. But enough comparative analysis.

I have played a PC of over 20th but less than 30th level. Advancement of that particular character came because of long play and some pretty clever stuff done therein, if I do say so myself. I have DMed for some higher level PCS, and my observation was that the players really didn't have the expertise to have gained such level in my campaigm. the highest level ever gained in my campaign is around 20th, Some players could have gotten above the level their best PC had attained, but they preferred to play several, as I have always done, and keep the levels lower.

In comment 376

Q: XP for casting spells in OAD&D? I must have missed that, as I've never seen it used - or perhaps it's one of the many features of your campaign that wasn't in the original rules. Not that it matters!

A: Now I could swear that's in the rules somewhere, maybe UA? Anyway, we always played it as 100 XP per level of the spell cast--usefully in an adventure or to assist someone during or after, so clerics were rewarded as well as m-us.


Q: Gary, I'm curious about your thoughts on the D&D (or AD&D) Paladin class. Many gamers see the Paladin's Lawful Good alignment restriction as an essential part of this class. Other players, however, have no problem with allowing Chaotic Good Paladins, Lawful Evil Paladins, and Paladins of any and all alignments.

Do you think that the Paladin's Lawful Good alignment restriction is an appropriate, or even an essential, element of this class? I myself am all for having "Holy Warriors" of all alignments, but I've always viewed the "Paladin" title as being uniquely bound to the service of both Law and Goodness. Maybe I'm just a traditionalist.

Also, from where did the class concept originate? Is it true that Poul Anderson'sThree Hearts and Three Lions story is one of the main influences of the AD&D Paladin?

A: As far as I am concerned, the Paladin is Lawful Good--perior. The class takes vows, swears an oath, and then follows it. The concept is drawn from some legend--Authurian--and some quasi-legend--the paladins of Charlemaine plus the code of chivalry as it was written, more honored in the breach than the keeping. As described in the game system, any characyer that was of paladin class would cease being so immediately his vows were broken.

Playing a proper paladin is often mishandled also. They are not stupid per se, only bound by oaths. For example I did allow paladins to slay dangerous prisoners if those individuals renounced Evil. In such a state of grace, killing them is actually a Good act, for they will then go on to a better life in another world instead of being sent to some dark and dismal plane to suffer for their ways after death. While a paladin will fight to the death if necessary, they are not usually bound to suicidal valor for no pirpose.

Anyway, while Poul Anderson in his excellent THREE HEARTS & THREE LIONS was treating Oiger the Dane as his protagonist, that work was not the source for the paladin class. I did borrow a good deal from the troll he had in the yarn though

In comment 439

Q: 3. I'm sure the answer to this is available elsewhere, but could you say how you came up with the name Dungeons and Dragons? (if it was covered earlier in the thread, sorry).

A: There is some false information put out on this subject from T$R after I split. When I wrote the initial and second drafts of the D&D game ms. I had it's title as "The Fantasy Game." This was for two reasons: One, I hadn't settled on a name yet. Two, when I did choose a name, I didn't want it known intil a product was out. During this period I made up a two-column list of names. All in column one could stand alone or go with one in the second column to form a longer title. I read the lists to my regular players, and my family, asking what they thought best. Of course the list had both "Dungeons" and "Dragons" on it. Those two in combination were the favorites, and when my (then) little daughter Cindy clapped her hands and said the really liked that name, I agreed. It was my favorite too--after all, I had formed the Castle & Crusade Society as a part of the International Federation of Wargaming about three years before that.

_________________________

That's it for today, all I found interesting enough to collect from the first 50 pages, either for later reference or because it's relevant to posts I written in the past (like about experience in the old RC just the other day). Damn, it's fascinating and I'm really curious what's still in store. I like what I read from the man, too. Seemed to be a very nice guy to chat with and pleasant all around.

I hope you found it as interesting and I will continue this series eventually (Gary Gygax Day is coming up fast, so there is hope for another installment soon). But now I really should do something else ...


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Rules Cyclopedia Oddities Part 5: Experience

I should sit here and write about something else. So here I am, writing about something else instead ... But did you ever think that the reputation D&D has for being about killing things and taking their stuff is unjustified? I did and there is yet another odd thing about the D&D Rules Cyclopedia that could shed some light on why that is so.

Just killing monsters and taking their stuff?

No, definitely not. Sure, you get xp for treasure and for defeating monsters and that makes a good portion of the low to mid-level game. But the fact of the matter is that you'll need far more juice than what you'll get for killing and looting once you enter, say, level 10 or higher. Actually, one wizard'll need to kill the equivalent of 455 red dragons or loot 4.350.000 gp (mix and match, of course) to reach level 36. That's ONE character. Just isn't happening by killing and looting alone.

On the contrary. Chapter 10: Experience is very illuminating in that regard. For starters, by concluding an adventure or quest, characters will get the amount xp they gained for defeating monsters during that quest again as a bonus. So just murderhoboing around won't double the monster xp like that. Finishing adventures does. And I agree, killing overcoming is still a motivator here. But the story gets a major highlight with those rules, so there you go.

And it doesn't stop with that. A character furthermore gets 1/20 of the base xp he needs to reach next level for "good role playing". A thief, for instance, needs 120.000 xp from level 16 to level 17 (incidentally that's also the level range between all following levels). 1/20 would mean 6.000 xp just like that per session. "Good role playing" covers a lot of ground here and you only get it once per session. But it shows the emphasis of the game towards playing a character well. And since it's individually connected to level, it's a bonus far easier to get on higher levels than killing beasties (a group of four characters without help would have to kill a monster worth 24.000 xp to get that kind of xp ...).

And here is the kicker. Characters also get 1/20 of the base xp they need to reach next level for Exceptional Actions, or in other words, clever play. It's also an award you can get more than once per session. Saving allies from harm or clever skill use are just two examples here. It sure is not an easy thing to achieve, but possible once per session. Especially in high level games, where wrong decisions will have a far bigger impact.

The book also advises to aim level advancement to every 5 sessions (with no indications how long one of those sessions might be ... I might have to check on that). Going with simple math here and the assumption that an experienced player is able to gain at least 1/10 of the base xp he needs to reach next level through role playing and clever play per session. And that means half the xp we'd need in 5 sessions (5/10) are not for fighting and killing and looting.

That'd be 60.000 xp for the thief mentioned above. The rest comes from defeating monsters, gaining treasure and fulfilling quests. If we take a third each here, that'd mean 20.000 xp for killing, quests and loot each. All in all killing and looting makes a third of the game, experience-wise. Two thirds is what you get for good and clever role playing and going on quests.

That's his 1/10 to reach next level right there!
The new equipment was a nice bonus, too ... [source]
Here is one last thing: Defeating Monsters and Gaining Treasure do not necessarily mean killing and looting. You don't need to kill a monster in D&D to gain the full xp award for overcoming it as a challenge. Actually, even losing a fight against a monster will net the characters a quarter of the monsters xp value just for facing it!

Now that's some stubborn rumor, I'd say!

I'm not saying there's no killing and looting in D&D or that it isn't fun (or can't be, anyway). But it is not what the game is about. Not by a long shot and not going by the rules. I'd think a DM might actually hurt his game, if he insists to reduce the game to it. It might work for the first couple of levels but it will get very difficult later on as the game shifts gears with huge amounts of xp between levels. That's the moment when those other aspects, like good role playing or going on quests, gain traction and need proper rewards.

You see, if the assumed mode of play as described above isn't established from the beginning, it'll be experienced as a different game as they hit mid-level and the players could lose interest because of that. Might very well be the reason why many campaigns won't last beyond levels 6 to 10 and that's a well known problem.

Anyway, this is a great experience system, allowing for several different ways of play and it's somewhat odd that people keep insisting on saying D&D 1e is nothing more but this or that. It's actually way more versatile than later editions managed to be (especially 3 and 4e) and not at all geared towards combat as ultimo ratio.

So what can we take away from this? How a DM rewards a game will give players an impression what sort of play is the most beneficial at the table and they'll start playing accordingly. It's something a DM needs to communicate as clear and careful as possible. Much of the same goes for a system: how experience is gained will have a huge impact on how a game is played. In case of the D&D RC I'd say play it as written and see what happens. It won't be the D&D some would make you believe it is.


The other oddities can be found here (Part 1), here (Part 2), here (Part 3) and here (Part 4).

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Narrative Flow vs. Player Skill

Well, when I'm on a roll, I'm on a roll. I closed my last post with the idea that players always have the possibility to influence the flow of a narrative by concreting it up to a point where the result is calculable for the players. Here's about how ... Might be my shortest post this year, too!

Narrative Flow

The wobbly core of every role playing game is the narrative flow that emerges when playing the it. It's that picaresque narrative that forms in hindsight our stories and all that forms over time the campaign. Again, because it bears repeating, the perception of our role playing experience is comprised out of 3 levels:
The Narrative 
becomes 

The Story 
becomes 

The Campaign
Everything we do in the game informs and/or forms those levels. Player decisions, DM reactions, system responses, idle chatter, movie references, they all become in retrospective the gaming experience. It's how our brain works, I guess. We interpret our reality to stories, because context is a process of understanding.

But that's not the narrative flow. Not per se, anyway. The flow describes that specific moment when the narrative clicks at the table. There is tension and all involved ride the narrative like a wave. You won't have that for a complete gaming session, but ideally you should have it several times during one, bridging the rest as good as possible (and this is, again, where interpretation helps ... the DMs duty).

Again:
There is clear distinction in classic role playing games between what 
informs the narrative and what forms it.

On the informing side are system and players, both feed with their intertwined dynamic of attempt and result the narrative with fragments. The DM then, traditionally, forms all that into a coherent interpretation, closing narrative arcs or creating new ones as needed.

All participants of two sides are connected through communication. This is no surprise, of course, but it is very relevant for the game. The system communicates results and the DM communicates context. Both DM and system are somewhat bound to integrity, they function under fixed rules when forming narratives, like arcs of suspense, internal coherence and suspension of disbelief. If rules or a DM produce unlikely results, they destroy (or at least damage) the flow. Maybe we could describe them as agents of harmony towards the narrative.

Players are in a unique position here. They communicate possibilities and this is, finally, where player skill is situated.

Player Skill

Communication is always between all participants. Players communicate with the system to optimize their decisions from a technical side, so to say. With the DM they communicate about the specifics in the narrative. What is possible and how is it achievable. Possibilities, but not necessarily harmony.

So players are, in a way (and going with the analogy above), agents of chaos. A disruptive power, if you will. They are bound to the narrative, but since they are not forming it, as described above, they are free to challenge the harmony instead.

If you think about it, that's all the players do: disrupting the narrative towards a more favorable outcome. And that's it. Sure, some like to immerse themselves in a role and play that and there is a wide range of goals you might associate with role playing games and all those things are legit. But if you look at the game from the storytelling perspective (not just the white wolf variant, but in general) you'll see that this is what it's all about. Anything you want to achieve as a player in a traditional role playing starts with exactly that basic assumption.

Now, where from there? Well, a player could use this for all kinds of things. Recognizing important NPCs or plot devices and killing them off when the DM is careless would be a classic in that regard. But although the ability to destroy a game on a purely narrative basis shows the right talent, it is not yet fully realized player skill at all. It's just destructive.

It might just work ... [source]
So what is player skill? As a consequence of the argument I'm making here, it is using player communication with system and DM to inform a narrative beneficially towards the goals all participants formulated in the game they are playing by narrowing down the narrative options to a manageable scale.

In other words: the best technique to achieve any goal as a player in a role playing game, in my experience, is limiting as much options in the ongoing narrative as possible. A DM is obliged to communicate what a character can know. But every time you get an answer about the current situation in the narrative, the DM also codifies (forms) the result. He has to make decisions and with that he limits his options in the narrative.

Ideally this is a part of the game without dice or system up to the point where a player has enough information to get advantages out of it. No rolls in the beginning, easy pickings afterwards.

Using "blind spots" in a system is another way to make this work. That's how lamp oil and fire or the ten foot pole got so popular in early D&D. Clever usage of the environment that somehow circumvents the system to get an advantage in the narrative. This and limiting DM options obviously go very well hand in hand.

Everything a player might want to achieve starts here and a player being good (skilled) at playing it like that is a real asset at the table. For all involved, actually, as most DM's I know really appreciate a challenge like that.

Balance

Damn, I've been writing towards this specific point for a long time now. Never quite got to it until now, though. There are many games out there today that allow players the power to actually form the narrative instead of "just" informing it. I never liked that, to be honest. Another trend is to reduce the system information process in a narrative towards the bare minimum (rules light systems) and I never liked that, either. Now I know why. Balance:
The Triquetra are players, system and DM, the circle is the narrative [source]
I mean, sure, I get it. Playing with those elements has merit (like with InSpectres*, for instance) and helps producing very specific results (My Life with Master comes to mind), but are they fully actualized role playing games? Maybe not. For me at least the beauty of playing is in the balance you can find in, say, the (wait for it ....) D&D Rules Cyclopedia, for instance**. Because all participants (and that includes the rules) play an equal (if different) part in creating the narrative that make the stories we love.

Other games with different emphases do that, too, of course. But it's the "equal"-part I'm talking about here. It's all a matter of taste, of course.


* Which obviously has a movie now? The random things you discover doing research ...

**  There are many, many other games that fulfill the criteria I formulated above. Cyberpunk, Runequest, the oWoD games ... there is a lot of them :)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

TPK

You know what those letters mean: they all died. I'm talking our last game of Lost Songs of the Nibelungs here. Players took it like champs and we talked more about it than necessary. Nonetheless, the discussion after the game was left, as you would have it with half a bottle of vine in the brain, incomplete. Or so I think. And there is always something to learn from the ill fate of characters. So a post it is ...

This will scratch several topics I already wrote about all over the blog and connect to some extent to this post about sandbox gaming and my last post about improvisation and preparation.

This is how I roll

Let's start with a few sentences about how I DM my games. I think it's important to understand where my decisions come from to evaluate them properly.

First things first, it's all random. Down the road I fill it with internal logic where I need to and randomize the rest. The setting is the historical Dark Ages around 550 AC and with a touch of magic. The sandbox the players get to explore is fictional (there are no proper topographical maps of the time anyway, btw) and also random (using this system). Their tribe, at the center of that random map, is also fictional and I allow some customizing regarding appearance and culture (tattoos, burials, and so on).

Character creation is a mix of random results and player customization. I have no story to speak of at the beginning of a campaign/game, just some random seeds (mostly what fascinates/intrigues me at the moment), random tables, background information (many of that as a random result of the setting creation with as much actual history as I can summon and what the narrative already produced) and dice. The rest is interaction with the players, rolling the dice and improvisation.

In this the players are free to do with their characters what they want. A career in the Arena? Not a problem. Becoming drug barons? Show me how to do it ... I propose and react, they do.

I'd like to stress that I'm very laid back about all of this, mostly working with internal logic of a setting or situation. I have no dog in this fight, as they say. Being a neutral party like that should have the great advantage for players to solve problems with as much ingenuity as they can gather and not just by knowing the rules. Everything can be done if it's within the realm of possibility.

It also means that wrong player decisions might bear dire consequences for the characters.

I admit, I will soften a blow somewhat if I get the opportunity. But a blow it will be nonetheless. Nowadays I even roll in the open most of the time and without a DM screen.

That being said, I'd like to add that I'm only human and I make mistakes. So that is in the mix, too :)

Finally, this is play-testing. To some extent this means putting the system under stress to see if and where it might break and that means players might end up in situations the system can't handle some way or another. Not saying it happened here, but it could have and everybody was aware of that.

What happened before

The quest of our heroes started in the (totally fictional) Roman city Ovicuria with a mourning mother (a sad prostitute one of the characters met in a tavern) and her missing child. The group decided it was a proper quest for the heroes they aspire to become, so they promised to reunite the family. They did a lot of questioning and listening before they found out that the mayor of the city, a self-proclaimed Caesar, is somehow involved with stealing babies for some demonic rituals involving orgies somewhere under the palace in the center of town.

Part of every Roman cityscape [source]
Their questioning already aroused some suspicion from several parties and they got followed by humans and phantoms (both spotted by the group, so they knew). But the opportunity arose to infiltrate the catacombs during an uprising against the evil Caesar (was a result of this here random table) and while said Caesar was having one of his rituals below the palace. So down into the catacombs it was. They found a secured entrance easy enough, guarded by two of those sinister legionaries they keep seeing patrolling the streets.

It'd been a short and brutal fight. Although those guys were really tough, they went down. And this was the moment the group found out that those guys could regenerate. Cutting them open revealed that they had strange purple worms residing in their hearts. Cutting them out and killing them killed the legionary, too.

But all that took a lot of time and this being an exit provoked a situation where they encounter some traffic. And so it was, two noble Romans with their escort, another pair of legionaries, showed up. They fought them, but one of the nobles got away and it didn't take long for that guy to raise the alarm. The group cut their losses and off they were.

It had been a wild chase through the city and the group had been lucky that the riots spread into their direction (again, a random roll). They found an abandoned house to lay low for a few days and heal. In the night they heard (and some of them saw) a huge demon flying over the burning town. At that point they had some idea what they are up against.

Something like this: A blood demon by albino-z [source]
There is one more incident I need to report before I write about that final and fatal game night. One of the characters had been out of luck with his stress saves and his character was a bit shaken. That was why they decided on a full nights rest. Another character had a light sleep that first night and woke up, thinking some of the rioters tried to force their entry. Not being a fighter, he decided to wake up the shaken character with a kick to the kidneys and the claim that they are about to get attacked.

They all being under lots of pressure, I demanded another stress save from the character with the boot in his kidneys and he fails dramatically. A botch, if I recall correctly, with the character ending up in a corner whimpering and shaking. A real nervous break down for an attack that never happened, as the doors held and the rioters moved on.

A fatal last descent 

Orientation: They came from south, there on the
right, A is where they ended up.
Time was definitely a problem, so they took as much rest as they dared and prepared for their next foray into the catacombs. With the riots just being crushed and their first attack from that direction being as effective as it has been (four dead legionaries and one witch down), the palace guards decided to be extra careful about it. They had sentries early in the catacombs, mainly runners. The group gets spotted then and there. Another fight, two legionaries join the fray. All enemies die, but some characters get wounded, too.

Still, all is well and they press onward. The door those soldiers had been guarding is the next obstacle, but not that big a problem. The group enters the palace dungeon. There are some statues, some doors with magic warding (probably tombs, they conclude) and an opulent entrance to what seems the dungeon proper. Since they have a mission (rescuing the baby) they store that information for later and move on.

The entrance: They had something Egyptian going on down there, too [source]
Two choices, left or right. Left gets the popular vote first and they follow that broad hall way a bit until the get to a crossroads of sorts, with a smaller corridor going off to the right and the hallway going on ahead. On the left the see a ghostly legionary kneeling in front of the wall between two columns. That seems dangerous so they head back and into the other direction.

The never ending watch: Well, I really came prepared ...
[source ... no idea where I got that]
Right it is now, still on that main hallway. It's when they start hearing the screams of tormented souls that things start going south. It threatens their nerves and that allows for a (normal) stress save. Failing this would make characters nervous, nothing more. But the one player with the nervous break down just the other day, well, he fails and with his nerves already being shot, he is not able to move on as the shadows themselves threaten him.

They put him into an alcove and he hides behind his shield, the white in his eyes way to visible as he tries to penetrate the darkness around him in fear and finally decides to move back to those statues before the entrance and between the tombs. He has no luck there, as a creature is imprisoned in one of those tombs, between bones and dust. It is an oracle from another world and the dice decide that he encounters her. I interpret this as him hearing her otherworldly voice singing. He rolls his save for sanity and ... botches. One epileptic seizure later is is out of the game for good. His body just couldn't take it.
The otherworldly oracle by
the great Bastien L. Deharme [source]
One down, three to go ...

The character being unconscious means he can't hear the patrol passing the entrance, moving towards his friends.

Meanwhile the others came to another junction with some legionaries guarding another opulent exit to the right and another corridor opposite of them. Or so the group assumes. Deciding on a course of action, they decide to trick those legionaries into turning away from them with a sling shot and attack them from behind. Tension being high, I decide the legionaries don't move towards the noise, but move back into the corridor they are guarding instead, closing the gate.

That crossroad, the lights leading into A on the map [source unknown]
One of them gets hit with an arrow as a going away present before the two are out of sight, but the noise of the bow in the hallway and the gate closing alerts the patrol coming in from behind the group and they engage.

Having no time, they decide to make a run for it and instead of running ahead, the group aims for the corridor they assume to the right (see the map, at that point the players had figured out that this entrance might correspond with the other one opposite of the ghostly legionary on the other side). So they ran and they had no time to check that entrance or see anything other than that it was actually there. They saw the two stone faces at the entrance, but they couldn't see the shimmering veil between them. A trap ...

A trap [source]
The first ran through and there was a flash of light, but he had cast some magic protection and he managed to pass unharmed. The second character rolls for a full stop and makes it, but the character behind her is not that lucky and she stumbles between the faces, barely avoiding running into the character before her.

That one gets badly burned and she's barely conscious when the horrible, now unfiltered screams, the irregular proportions and the eerie light of the area they just entered gives her the rest and she loses consciousness before she loses her mind (two failed saves later, so to say).

Two down, two still moving forward

With the legionaries approaching and two characters already being in the other side, the third character decides to go for it, too. A spectacular save later, she passes the stone masks unharmed. The legionaries don't follow them and they realize they have entered a labyrinth of sorts. After having the second unconscious character stored somewhere in a dead end, the remaining two characters head towards the screams.

What they find is disturbing: people, pinned to the walls and knotted into unholy symbols, forcing their souls into infinite torment. The proper thing to do is to free those souls, so they cut their throats and silence them. As the last soul dies with a thankful sigh, one character starts to hear children crying and they find an air slit leading downwards. They immediately start looking for a secret door. The silence also alarms one of the residents of the labyrinth and she comes looking, but the characters find the secret door in the last moment and barely avoid detection.

They find themselves atop a narrow circular staircase. The noise of crying babies is way louder here and the make their way downstairs. But this secret laboratory in the heart of the inner sanctum of the palace dungeon is protected by a bone maelstrom that makes the unwary lose their balance and fall into it, grinding them to death. The first character falls and loses consciousness, but the second is able to catch her before he himself fails his save and falls towards his doom ...

Another trap [source]
Death scenes

They infiltrated a highly protected and well guarded area and although none of them died, they did all lose consciousness one way or another. So they got caught and all of them found horrible deaths. One ended up at the wall where he just hours before freed those tormented souls, two got sacrificed in a blood ritual and the last one, the guy that had the seizure, well he got gutted by the oracle for one of her readings.

At this point, I really was left with no choice at all.

Discussion

The players took it really well. They had been happy with the campaign and Lost Songs as a system so far. We'll make new characters and explore other directions. They also get the xp their characters earned from that sessions, so chances are they won't start at level zero. So that's something.

A few points came up, though, and I'd like to address them. There is a point in the system where failure starts a cascade of effects that will harm a character way more before the body gives up and denies consciousness. That needs to change. It wouldn't have changed a thing here in the end, but if the characters somehow managed to get out of there, they'd have more damage to heal than is reasonable.

Instead there is a threshold of pain now, where if the disadvantage on a roll is higher than the save, the save fails automatically instead without doing any further harm than the effect (losing consciousness, that is).

One other point of critique had been that I reveal too much in my narrative and descriptive parts as I give interpretations for the characters. I do that mostly because I believe if games are longer apart as a few weeks, details get lost on the players and the game suffers a bit because of it (the opposing argument was that what the players don't know anymore has no place in the game). I also like to talk a lot. There, I said it.

Joking aside, I'm not sure I want to tune that down in the future and I think it's worse if the characters end up in a situation where I have to say "Well, that's bad luck. You have been warned about this three games ago ... you know, two months ago, talking to that swamp witch?" (or some such thing) because that just doesn't sit well with me. I have to think about it some more, but it directly leads to the last point (and the one I definitely do not agree with).

Where we didn't agree

That final point was that I, as a DM, have to balance encounters for the group so a TPK doesn't happen. That I won't do. It is a sandbox game and the course of action the characters chose brought them where they ended up. I didn't enforce any of that and kept is as fair as possible. The dungeon was set up before the game so their decisions mattered and their observations had value, stuff like that.

Interestingly enough, the case of the missing children was a direct result of the randomized setting creation. Something dark stirred there and affected something combat related. I decided early on that the legionaries where connected (actually long before that campaign started) and the missing babies were connected with tat, too (they bred the legionaries out of them ...). So it was very likely that they encountered people with missing babies (still was a random result, though).

But they saw the warning signs and decided that what they did is what their characters would do because they are inexperienced Germanic warriors from the country. I don't agree. Or not completely. It would have been totally legit to consult a holy man before taking on that palace dungeon. Gathering more information would have been possible. They already got some allies in town.

I admit that time was a pressing matter and that the challenge was hard. But it was impossible if you just run into it unprepared or careless (or both). And I don't bend narrative or setting just because some players miscalculated or can't remember important details (see above). But there is also no need to for highly trained and well tuned tactical group machine to make it happen.

For me at least it's about finding that sweet spot between what a character should do (or be) from the "playing a game" perspective and how that could be explained in the narrative (the storyteller perspective). So if you as a player thinks that his character should check for traps and move silently, but he is an oaf from the country and wouldn't do that, it's for the player to find a way to make it work. And there always is a way. 

What happens next?

I don't know. I really hope we get to play more together, because I had loads of fun with those guys. And although I don't necessarily say their character decisions had been, well, wise there in the end, I definitely say that they made for a great story and I'm looking forward to continue in that tradition :)

Lost Songs of the Nibelungs is a demanding game, both on DM and on the players. You get a very detailed picture how your character feels and if you ignore that, it might result in dire consequences. Sandboxing i demanding, too. Morrowind is still my high standard here. Do what you want, make it work. It sure means investing into it and it means you might fail by chance. But if you play along, it can be very rewarding. On the one hand I'm very happy with that, on the other hand I hope it isn't too much. Either way, the game keeps growing.

Damn, that's a long text again. Couldn't help it. Still left things unsaid, too (I think). There is, for instance, something to be said how filling the narrative with information might be a good way for the players to dam the randomness to a point where you make success almost impossible with established facts. Taming the narrative, of sorts. But that is for another post and you can read it here.

Next week I'll finish the Dragon's Cough scenario here on the blog and after that ... I don't know, maybe another review?

Thoughts and comments are, as always, very welcome.