Sunday, August 10, 2008

Post-Ropecon! Gaming theory on Killing PCs!

OK. ay ay ay. Learned a lot of things.

A- The staff is really friendly. I really need to publicly thank Janne Lahdenperä for holding my hand through the early hours of the con... being a foreigner that couldn't read the website enough to know what the hell to do after I was accepted for running games (and I waited until the last day to register for that as it is), and not knowing even where to go or what to do when I arrived... he was very patient and helpful.

B- Don't schedule games on Sunday. Go all night Friday (which I did), all night Saturday (which I didn't), but people aren't going to do Jack Shit on Sunday. Neither planned adventure had players. Two people ended up playing a pick-up AD&D game with me, both characters died, so that brings the total body count to 17 PCs I killed over the weekend.

C- Don't sleep on the convention floor. Schedule to start Friday and Saturday afternoon, go home at sunrise, sleep, come back in time for the next afternoon. Sleep is important. Otherwise you're in the third row falling asleep during Chris Pramas' presentation on world-building in RPGs and even when I got focused I wasn't able to grill him on a few things like I wanted. I bet he gets a kick out of the Creature Generator's intro. But I'm 33 now... going two days without proper food and sleep isn't something I should do anymore. One day is enough. :D This year I ran 15.5 hours of games at the con. Next year, I am going to aim for 24. And I'll see if I can arrange everything early enough to get in the official program.

D- Do play more games. I never get to fucking PLAY anything. In Helsinki, it's the worst. I mean, I can set up my game and it's fair to say, "Game's in English." I really wouldn't feel right trying to join another game (at a con or someone's home game) and making all of them change how they speak for me. My Sunday 10am-2pm game was a total bust, no sign-ups, so I got to play a two hour demo of A Dirty World run by Greg Stolze. I'm not so interested in film noir (which is the focus of the game... example... I'm falsely accused of murder... I find out the murdered man has a kept mistress and we visit her apartment... when we get there, there's someone inside clomping around; it's obviously not her. Do we bust in and demand to know what's going on, or do I figure that just maybe this is unconnected to our plot (a red herring!) and that maybe it's someone that has no connection to us at all, so maybe we should knock because an accused killer doesn't need any more problems than he's got? Guess what I did?), but I enjoyed the game (Stolze certainly had a cracking little scenario for his demo), but I was mainly interested in checking out how the One Roll Engine worked. I liked it. I really liked it. If it's like that for all the ORE games (is it? Someone tell me), I really want to play Reign.

But I would never *run* it. See, this whole traditional D&D thing... that's mainly a "MY GAME" thing. When it comes to *playing* I'm wide open. No late-edition D&D, no White Wolf. Otherwise... I really, really like the idea of playing a lot of these "story games" and things like that, I'd love to play Sorcerer, and I'm aching to play Dogs in the Vineyard (I've run it a couple times), but the GM would have to be on his toes because I'm a bastard as a player. :D But I want to play mystery/investigation stuff, I want I want I want I want... :P But it's even hard for me to play actual real D&D (TSR stuff) because I'll start attempting to turn their game into my game and I'll be really angry if it's a completely bad mix. Kind of like how a bad country song doesn't bother me, but a bad heavy metal song infuriates me. I'm too close to it.

E- It's really depressing that I have real trouble connecting to people I have anything in common with. Nobody I know, or date, can listen to me talk about my hobbies. Or if I force them, they have nothing to contribute. (and contribution is really what I'm after...) Here I was in a convention with thousands of gamers of various stripes, and I had no idea how to talk to any of them if I didn't already know them or if they weren't coming to play my game. I mean, I have my group here, but I don't socialize with those guys. I've tried socializing with one of them, but... resistance from that side. :P Life lesson: If I have something to say to someone outside of bed, chances are I'm not going to get very far into their life. And if I'm hanging around someone quite a bit, chances are I don't have much to say to them that they want to hear, and vice versa.

OK, sorry, no more personal bullshit in this blog. :D

F- Players like to get fucked over in a game. Really. I killed 17 PCs this weekend. Five survived.

While playing Tomb of Horrors overnight Friday to Saturday, I noticed that while they were frustrated and pulling their hair out, they also cheered and laughed and smiled as their characters got blasted and fried and disintegrated and sex-changed and everything. Even after 3am, when a character died, the player stuck around to watch the rest of the game. There are a couple of conditions to this "player likes to get fucked over" thing though.

You have to be impartial about it. When the characters died in all these games, I don't believe any of them thought "The GM was out to get me!" They knew I was running the scenarios as written. I wasn't out to get them, they were in a dangerous spot and dangerous things happen to people who go there.

They have to know that they didn't have to die. This, I think, is key. Instant death no escape... not good. "I made a bad decision and my character croaked," fair play. One thing I do after TPKs or "Screw this, we're leaving!" situations, if the group won't return to the location, is give away all the secrets. "You missed this, this, and this." Explain how they could have survived a trap, or whatever. It lets them know that success was possible, they just didn't do it right. Which helps enthusiasm and morale more than if they just think they got hosed by an impossible adventure. Tomb of Horrors is a mighty deadly place, but it's not unbeatable. You just have to make a lot of good decisions to get through. Or maybe use more augury (they bypassed the false entrances this way!) and other divination spells a lot.

Here's how the deaths happened this weekend:

Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan... while examining the liquid light well, the voice from above calls out... "Accept the gift of Liquid Light! Climb down the well!" He did. Can't blame the GM for that one.

Hidden Shrine... Xilonen. Two characters made a run for it... didn't work. These guys engaged a lot of situations they could have avoided, and they didn't check all possible paths before deciding to dash through danger. Not my fault. :D

Tomb of Horrors... in the Chapel of Evil... they were stuck and not sure what to do. The paladin detected good instead of evil, so maybe making an offering was what was needed to open up a passage? One guy sacrificed a chicken (four guys that never played D&D before were there... and I gave them the PHB equipment lists to outfit their character with... heh) at the altar. When the blood hit... ZZAAAPPP lightning bolt! And when the altar was glowing fiery red, somebody had the idea to pour holy water on it... BOOOOOM!!! Totally not my fault.

Tomb of Horrors... Three died past the Locked Oaken Door. Into the lava! "I run forward!" OK, this is a mean trap, but still... if the floor is beginning to tilt, you go back to stable ground, right? Right? Not my fault.

They could not find that (didn't even look for) the secret door in that third pit. It's a marvelous setup. Make the players so frickin sick of the pits that by the time they hit the third one, they know it's there and it's a quick "We do the same thing," that they did to bypass the first two. They don't even think about the pit. haha! So they were STUCK. No clue what to do. So two of them decide that The Face of the Great Green Devil in the first room must go somewhere. Yeah. To oblivion. Two more. Not my fault.

White Plume Mountain: If you grab Wave, the crab is going to attack you and only you, right? Guarding that thing is the only purpose it serves, right? Not my fault.

White Plume Mountain: That copper-plated heat corridor is BRUTAL. Especially when the clerics bought the silver holy symbols so they're in the pile with the rest of the hot stuff being pulled across. When those ghouls attack the group of unarmored people... heeheehee. Nobody died in this encounter, but three were paralyzed. A wizard with his spells just about depleted, and a cleric keeping the ghouls turned and in their little side-room. Then the 1 in 12 chance for wandering monsters pays off as they wait for the paralyzation to wear off. I was rolling wandering monsters checks out in the open, so no foul there. It was an invisible stalker. So suddenly the cleric is attacked by something he can barely see (standing water in the passage so it wasn't completely invisible and undetectable, I gave -2 instead of -4 to hit). Dead. Magic-user runs away. Invisible Stalker has a 4 course meal.

OK, that's just bad luck. But the first guy through the passage actually found the secret door to the ghouls, but did not look inside! He didn't have any light to see in (it was all in the hands of his comrades before the heat passage)... and I ruled the ghouls wouldn't charge out for one person when there's obviously many more to come (from all the communication down the hall). Maybe these were my fault.

And then from my own adventure today... again involving ghouls. Two characters in a barn... the door has been barred from the outside, but it's established that the hay loft is open. So. You've defeated the evil priest, and the two ghouls are turned and cowering in the corner. Do you leave the barn through the hayloft and burn the place down... or do you charge the ghouls, breaking the turning, and end up paralyzed (3 attacks per round... deadly!) and eaten? Guess what they did? Not my fault!

Anyway, I think my own campaign is going to get a bit more peppy next week.

And I think I need to go ahead with that adventure anthology where it's designed to TPK whoever runs through it by means of sheer bad decision-making on the PCs part. The "Without a scratch or all dead, depending on the choices they make," kind of thing, which seems pretty Weird Tales and sword and sorcery to me.

Shall I playtest those scenarios with my group first? :D :D :D Do I really want to eat those four siders?


  1. Sounds like you had a good time, anyway, though I know what you mean about no longer quite being able to endure the physical strains that you might have once thought pretty much par for the course...

  2. Yep, the One Roll Engine is precisely what you experienced. It's a thing of beauty, but I've found that it puts a lot of responsibility on the GM to correctly interpret the outcome of that one roll in the context of the encounter to keep the game on track.

    I'm currently playing Wild Talents, and we're using Reign to play out some of the larger, worldchanging plotlines and power struggles. Good stuff...

  3. Nice work man, would have loved to have played myself.

    I think people who take death in D&D too seriously often forget that this is a game, not a scripted novel in which its characters have plot immunity. In other words, lighten up and have some fun, and if you die, roll up a new character and dive back in.

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