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