Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Player & DM Empowerment

Today on the Wizards's of the Coast site, Legends & Lore, Monte Cook was comparing the "direct and overt" ways that 3rd and 4th editions provide rules, compared to earlier editions where the DM was, moment by moment, the arbiter of when and how and why... 

I grew up on those older editions, and I remember in college, when playing some of the first Forgotten Realms adventures, post-1986, at least one of my players complaining when I decided one way for one situation, and another way for the very same (according to him) event at another time.

Now, years later, sometimes in oh-so-totally-rules-heavy 3.5, we'd bog down, because (as DM) I forgot, or remembered incorrectly/imprecisely, or my vision of how X, Y, and Z work was different than (an) other player(s).  In 3.5, it was most often the spell lists, followed by a few combat maneuvers (oh, like "Grab")...

In 4e, I've hit that with the wording on the auto-hit Magic Missile spell, the way I won't let anything teleport, shadow-walk, feystep, etc., into/onto squares they can't see the "floor" of (like up onto a roof) and so on.  I've smiled when a player called me a "dictator" DM who wants to sink his claws into the game and control it, suffocating storytelling and creative, cool moves by players because I didn't see the rules quite the same way.

I remember a Game Day, where I watched a child play a rogue, bouncing off walls and climbing everywhere and having an absolutely grand adventure, until he tried to climb up and backstab the black dragon at the end, and was told "there's no rule for that"...

Anyone seen that pesky halfling rogue...?  Rrraaarrr...!!

Yeah, most of you probably would have said "Well, the DM could make one up, surely..."  Yes, he could.  Except, most of us would also (these days) not encourage DMs to make up rules.  If the DM makes up rules and isn't consistent in his made-up, heat-of-the-moment improv decisions, well... how will we know what to expect the next time?

This is a slippery slope, to my eyes.  I feel like we want it both ways.  We want the DMs to be the best at improv theater, in every case and situation, to always rule in the players' favor, and to remember what they pulled out of their butt, two years from now when the campaign is at upper Paragon level.  That doesn't even address whether or not the DM can every decide in his own favor, since he likely knows more about the monsters, environment, setting of the story, overall plot, etc.  Somehow, in a world of "gimme, gimme", where we are all taught empowerment and entitlement, it's like pulling our teeth to "surrender" control of the game to a DM.

...Except, the whole premise and position of the DM is about a guy who controls the whole world, and 99% of everything else.  We, as players, mostly are reactive, not proactive.  How many D&D players do you really know who drive the plot & storyline and just watch the DM react?  Except for maybe Chris Perkins and his campaign made up of players who work in D&D.

I throw this out for discussion, because I know I'm not right, or perfect.  I know I can't please every player, and I'm probably a bigger pain when I am the player, on the other side of the DM screen.  I don't like to hear "No, you can't do that...". 

Yet, I think the whole "it plays like a video game" criticism of 4e actually came from an attempt, a well-meaning attempt, to codify the game for players and DMs to always agree.  On the rules.  All this balanced-classes, everyone-is-equally useful sounds politically correct; sounds like a basically good concept--but is it?  Do we spend quadrillions on the Super Bowl (especially the ads) every year, so that both teams can go home as "winners"?  No, we don't. 

Clip Art Ref
D&D may not be about winning or losing, but always having fun "our way" is about the same self-centric thing.  In football, yes, there are rules (and there are victors), but the guy who we surrender control to is a fellow wearing a somewhat revealing, black & white striped get-up who can throw a yellow flag thingie and freeze the whole dern game.  Hmm...wonder if I dress as a ref and get a penalty flag, if my D&D players would respect me any more or less...?

Here's my conclusion:  I don't know.  Really, I don't.  Each gaming group I run (2 of them, currently) require a day-by-day shift in how much, or how little, I control the game.  We make some house-rule agreements.  We sometimes ignore the books and decide "for the moment" so the game keeps moving.  Sometimes we Android-phone the DDI Compendium.  Then we may discuss, out loud, breaking immersion for a few moments, and come to a consensus...which means the DMs give his strong opinion and has veto power, but the players still get to make part of the call.

Sometimes the WotC site has a lot of loud, angry people who need to vent.  I'd rather hear some of your ideas here.  Please feel free to comment as "Anonymous" from the pop-down below...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Problems getting your DM a gift for Christmas?  I just saw these today, but they're really cool!

Chocolate DICE!  What can be better than this??

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Local Talent - "Dark Nova" Games from Houston

One of the most energetic and impressive groups I worked with at Comicpalooza 2011 Game Expo was the local team for Dark Nova, a sci-fi RPG.  Without me saying much, allow me to post and share the game concept and some about the creator, who will be a guest (with new product, and potentially some powered armor costumes--booyah!--at Comicpalooza 2012).

Dark Nova is a table-top roleplaying game set in the early 24th century. Mankind has spread out amongst the stars, discovered other races, and come face-to-face with its own nature. Centered around the loose coalition of nation-states known as the Terran Alliance of Nations, humanity still fights, engages in political intrigue, and is just as prone to acts of great brutality and nobility as they are today. They are not, however, alone. darknovagames

The universe of Dark Nova is a dynamic--and often dangerous--place; similar in many ways to the 19th century with its combination of heavily-settled civilized Core Worlds and the dangerous Wild-West-like fringe colonies. Pirates, organized crime syndicates, predatory alien races, and good old fashioned internecine warfare threaten the safety of the galaxy. Countering them are the heroic Templars, the independent Freetraders who ply the dangerous spaceways and take the fight to the pirates, the fierce and honourable Ahruga, and the steadfast stubborn determination of colonists and adventurers of many races to fight back the darkness.

The unique rule set and in-depth setting allow the players and the game-master create their own stories, living novels of their own experiences as they let their imaginations run rampant throughout the Dark Nova universe.

The first expansion for the Dark Nova RPG Fortune and Glory is due out in June 2012. It is the first of two major hard-cover expansion books planned for 2012, and expands upon the Dark Nova RPG significantly. Focusing on the wild, fast-and-loose lives of Freetraders and privateers, this book radically expands the world of these roguish occupations. Optional rules for significantly expanding out R&D, Research and Social Networking are included, as are new rules for creating emulators from scratch and ship construction rules for building new vessel designs from the keel-up. Three new optional player races and mountains of new weapons, equipment, vessels and vehicles round out this expansion to the game.

About the creator:

Hailing from The Woodlands, Texas, Breandán Ó Ciarraí is a "proud Gaelic Texan" and military sci-fi writer.
An avid writer from his earliest childhood memories, Breandán got his start on an old-fashioned electric typewriter. He soon moved on to the latest cutting-edge technology (a TRS-80 computer from Tandy) and his writing took off from there. He has been writing on and off since then- authoring articles on technology, criminal justice matters, Gaelic cultural issues and a succession of fantasy short stories.
An avid futurist and a follower of the works of Michio Kaku, Stephen Hawking and other cutting-edge scientists, Breandán turned his sights towards innovative and speculative science fiction. He combines these interests with his traditionalist Gaelic cultural background and his experiences as a PMC operator in Iraq and elsewhere to shape the worlds of the Dark Nova universe. As an author, his blend of military science fiction, humor and unapologetic socio-political commentary have been likened to a blend of Heinlein and Eddings.
Currently, he is working on the sequels to the soon-to-be-published Dark Nova novel, The Calling of Heroes, as well as groundwork for an urban fantasy RPG to follow on the success of the Dark Nova Roleplaying Game. As the lead writer and game developer for Dark Nova Games, he has expanded the universe he first established in the novels into the huge, immersive universe of the Dark Nova RPG, which debuted at Comicpalooza in 2011. He plans to repeat this success with the debut of its first expansion Fortune and Glory at Comicpalooza 2012.
Breandán spends his time attempting to write while wrangling an ever-increasing horde of daughters with nicknames such as "Impending Doom II" and "Toddlergeddon", and prying the occasional child-frightened cat off of his head.
Breandán Ó Ciarraí
Author, Dark Nova series
Lead Writer/Developer, Dark Nova Games

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ashes of Athas at Owlcon

Because of the success of Dark Sun gaming at Comicpalooza in 2010 and 2011, we wanted to link the Ashes of Athas Living play for this campaign in Houston, especially since too few of us travel to GenCon, Origins, etc.

The Incomparable Mr. Sims!
Also, with gaming legend Chris Sims returning to Houston for Owlcon (along with Keith Baker of Eberron fame), we'll have a global admin so we're in a good place to offer lots of hot AoA play under the blistering sun of Athas.

Chapter 1 was offered at Comicpalooza 2011.  Chapter 2 would have been retired, but we received special permission to offer it, and we're going ahead with Chapter 3 as well.  Each chapter offers 3 adventures in an arc, so there will be 6 different mods you can play at Owlcon, a full 24 hours of Athas awesomeness! ( 6 mods x 4 hours per slot).

For Owlcon, I am only focusing on AoA and letting those experienced vets do their thing without my interference.  I am still looking for a few DMs and Owlcon offers a free pass for DMs willing to run 2 slots over the weekend.   Owlcon XXXI is February 3 - 5, 2012.

AoA2-1 – Plotting the Course: Politics and in-fighting reign in Altaruk as the dust settles. Which course will the city take and what can the heroes do to help keep things on track. An Ashes of Athas Living Campaign adventure set in the World of Dark Sun – Chapter Two – Part One for characters 3rd-4th level.

AoA2-2 – Allies Kept Closer: Enemies abound and allies are in short supply. Altaruk needs friends and champions to the cause to keep her banners flying high. Who do the heroes trust to stand by their side? An Ashes of Athas Living Campaign adventure set in the World of Dark Sun – Chapter Two – Part Two for characters 3rd-4th level.

AoA2-3 – A Time to Stand: The time of hiding is past and the light of the red sun shall shine on all this day. Those wishing your demise make a bold play for power and their not looking to share. An Ashes of Athas Living Campaign adventure set in the World of Dark Sun – Chapter Two – Part One for characters 3rd-4th level.

AoA3-1 – The Remains of the Living God: The Dragons dwell among us living Gods but one of their number has fallen if the rumors are true. Journey beneath the Zigguart in Kalak for answers to the rumors as well as why your enemies are taking such great interest in getting there first. An Ashes of Athas Living Campaign adventure set in the World of Dark Sun – Chapter Three – Part One for characters 4th-5th level.

AoA3-2 – The Veil Parted: Questions you have plenty of but answers have been few and far between to this point. A lead and a clue have fallen into your lap and it’s time to get those answers and make those responsible pay. An Ashes of Athas Living Campaign adventure set in the World of Dark Sun – Chapter Three – Part Two for characters 4th-5th level.

AoA3-3 – The Source of Strife: Many you called friend have fallen since that ill-fated day of betrayal. Your long journey has led to this place of ancient power. The choices you make this day could spread like ripples in a pool if you are not careful. An Ashes of Athas Living Campaign adventure set in the World of Dark Sun – Chapter Three – Part Three for characters 4th-5th level.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Houston Gaming Conventions - Discussion

Owlcon XXXI will be awesome. I hope I will see you all there? www.owlcon.com


So I want to start a long-tem discussion with the Houston Gaming community, and I admit I don't know the place best for that. If any of you own/host a blog and think we could borrow some chatter space, I'm all for that. Also, I'd like a place to pull in those who you know, who have an opinion, but who I didn't know how to reach...

As many of you know, I've been involved in Comicpalooza 2010, 2011, and looking towards 2012 as Gaming coordinator. I've done in-store game days, D&D Encounters, and now getting into helping with Owlcon too. I want more. I want bigger & better. That's not to demean those other events--far from it! Owlcon has been amazing year after year, and the response to Comicpalooza trying to figure itself out, has also been awesome. Yet, my education in marketing and sales, my years of experience, yearn for something more. I've been trying to get "names", Gaming celebs, if you will, to Houston, to put us on the map. I don't want to re-invent the wheel, but I do think we have desire and potential for at least one [more] major Con in this city, per year.

Last year, Comicpalooza put Gaming way down on the other end of the building, and a lot of you rightly jumped on me for that. No worries, although not my decision, it was necessary to hear all your feedback. I took that back to the board and let them know we had a lot of frustration with placement, promotion of events, and a lack of communication with local stores (for example, Asgard had a big Privateer Press tourney and we worked against each other, without meaning to - I had the state guys from Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio here, but no one came to their events). Comicpalooza 2012 has a whole new set of challenges. The floorplan right now is merely rooms A1 and B1.

I'm frankly really worried that this might work great for a comic book / pop culture con, but might be too noisy and uncomfortable for Gaming. Which leads my brain around to those people who suggested hotels, other venues, conference centers, and so forth. For example, would most of you consider attending a Gaming convention at Moody Gardens in June or July, if something like that formed up? Here are some of the many points I'd like to earnestly hear your long-term input on, since I don't plan to withdraw from Houston Gaming until I can celebrate with all of you, whatever monster awesome epic convention we finally give birth to. To be very clear, I am not talking about anything "against" Comicpalooza. Yet, Gaming is not currently the core of that con, no matter how much I wish my segment was better represented.

- What forum can best be used to exchange ideas and archive these discussions?

- What venue(s) do you recommend, and how better to use them?

- What can a/the convention do / do better that it has not done before?

- Should the con be more like Comic-Con, or PAX, or Gencon....or....?

- What can YOU contribute to such an undertaking...should I consider you part of the team which wants to be involved?

- What time of year works, works best, and doesn't work? (For example, I've heard some grumbles about Memorial Day, but some think Labor Day would be better)

- Does anyone have hotel, conference center, city of Houston, Reliant Park, Woodlands, etc contacts?

And stuff like this. I know there is a lot of small press publishers and game companies in Texas. I know we have writers, creators, designers, artists, sculptors. We have tons of gamers from tabletop RPG, to minis, historical, LARP, card games, board games... we have companies like Steve Jackson and Dark Skull, Dark Nova...just to throw out the bare three names I know well. Maybe I am just a dreamer, but I figure, if we dream a little together? Imagine being host to the US or world Pathfinder or D&D or Warhammer 40K tourney, or the international White Wolf Southwest Masquerade Ball. Again, just a tiny few ideas which could be pebbles in the avalanche.

Thanks for listening. At your leisure, please don't just read and delete. Help me and your fellow Gamers out...give us some feedback?

PS - Yes, there is a business opportunity here. I'd like to hear from you privately if you have that kind of interest, in being a partner, contributor, potentially profit-share volunteer, etc. BUT that's not the main topic of this discussion. Brainstorm first.