Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Few Problems with D&D 5E Backgrounds

As I've read the new 5E Player's Handbook, had players create new PCs, recreate old PCs and use pre-made PCs I've come to realize that I have a few problems with them.  That's not to say that they're not a good addition to the game, just that there are things about them I'd like to tweak.

Here are the shortcomings that I've found so far:

  • They don't tie the party together.  
    • Seriously, this is a big one.  The backgrounds all seem to focus on where the character came from and a little on how the character fits into the world or is motivated to adventure, but they provide very little that ties one character to another in a party.
    • Unlike Dungeon World bonds, there's nothing in any of the backgrounds that clearly indicates how your character would be bound to the other weirdos in your band of thieving murder hobos, I mean, your party.
  • They're not great about providing plot hooks/reasons to adventure.
    • Here is an example of how a player could make a character with the Entertainer background who has no plot hooks/reasons to adventure taken from the background.
      • Personality Trait: "I'll settle for nothing less than perfection." (This one almost screams "I won't last long adventuring" to me).
      • Ideal: "Beauty. When I perform, I make the world better than it was. (Good)." (Might be an admirable Ideal, but it doesn't really give the player any idea why the entertainer might decide to travel far from the crowds of a city or village to battle goblins in a wild forest or skeletons in a dungeon).
      • Bond: "My instrument is my most treasured possession, and it reminds of someone I love." (This one almost, almost could read of a plot hook, but not quite.  As a DM I'd be tempted to steal the instrument and use that as the hook, but the very next bond down in the PHB is that very shtick, so a player who chooses this bond doesn't want that or they would have chosen it.)
      • Flaw: "Despite my best efforts, I am unreliable to my friends." (Honestly this one just reads to me like that character is just going to oversleep in the inn while the rest of the party fights the orcs.)
    • Maybe I'm being a little uncharitable, but really, what I want from the backgrounds is to provide impetus to the player, to give them a few easy sentences to refer back to when they inevitably go "wait, why does my character care about this Lich again?"
    • I think a better implementation would be to have every Ideal provide motivation and every Bond provide a plot hook or at least a jumping off point (ie. the Entertainer's Bond of "I want to be famous, whatever it takes." at least provides a reason why that character would be an adventurer.
  • Finally, my last problem with the backgrounds is that many, many more than I like encourage players to just be annoying, the Personality Traits and Flaws especially.
    • Some examples, all taken from the Sage background.  Keep in mind that there are only 8 Personality Traits and 6 each of the Flaws presented in the book as examples.
    • Personality Traits
      • I... speak...slowly...when talking...to idiots...which...almost...everyone...is...compared...to me. (Yeah, that's going to go over well with the other PCs and NPCs.)
      • I am horribly, horribly awkward in social situations. (This one isn't as bad as the other two examples, but it doesn't take much imagination to see how it could become annoying if not done well.)
      • I'm convinced that people are always trying to steal my secrets. (Another one, not as egregious as the first example, but with plenty of room for it to be implemented poorly.)
    • Flaws
      • I speak without really thinking through my words, invariably insulting others. (Really not necessary since 2 of the 8 personality traits, a full quarter of the options presented pretty much have the same impact as this flaw...)
      • I overlook obvious solutions in favor of complicated ones. (Probably not too bad, but also a possibly abused 'flaw')
      • I can't keep a secret to save my life, or anyone else's. (This one is actually interesting and could be done well, but I also cringe to imagine it being played as an annoying blabbermouth).
    • And unfortunately the Sage is not an isolated example of backgrounds which have options which easily sink into the "just annoying for the other characters" trap.
But, not wanting to just point out flaws, I plan on taking some time to present additional options for the backgrounds in the PHB that provide additional options that hopefully will provide better motivation and more interesting personality traits and flaws that will at least be more interesting, even if they are still a little annoying.


With the conclusion of my OSR module game last night, which ironically was supposed to be a break between Planescape campaigns, I'm officially done running any RPGs for at least 30 days.
So far it looks like I'll be able to play some Shadowrun 5th Edition, Dungeon World, AD&D/OSRIC and of course, some 5E D&D as well.  And I'm trying to weasel my way into convincing a certain someone to run some 13th Age while they're in the states for the Holidays.

And, without games of my own to run, I am going to try and get back into the habit of blogging here.  I'm going to get to play a few games I've never played before (though I've run a few) and it's been over a year since I played any of the D&D Next playtest rules, so I really haven't had a chance to play D&D 5E either.

Because I am terrible at breaks, I'm already planning the first game I'm going to run a Black Friday themed Horror One-Shot RPG on Black Friday, either using Unknown Armies or NEMESIS (I was leaning UA first, then NEMESIS, but then it looks like NEMESIS dropped a few of the Madness Meter/Passions I wanted to utilize from UA, so I might switch back).  But in my defense, (1) the Blackest Friday will be a different system, setting and genre entirely from what I've been running this last year and (2) once I thought of the premise I was extremely excited, which I haven't really felt about running a game in a while.

Let the Break begin!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Burn Out

It's been building all summer, but these last few weeks have made me realize just how burnt out I've become as a GM.  I've been the only GM for two-three on-going games for the last four years and a sporadic co-GM for the last year, as well as any number of one off games.  At a low estimate I've run almost 40 games this year but I've only played in 7 and I haven't gotten the chance to play a game in any system that I've been running.

Once I would finish running a session and wouldn't be able to stop thinking about why I was excited to run the next game, but since the summer, that hasn't been happening.  It's been seeming like my players have been enjoying the games, at least, all the feedback I've gotten has been positive, but they haven't been the style of games I want to run right now. The breaking point was drunk D&D last month which the players enjoyed being silly and drunken, shouting and having silly names, killing monster after monster, but it just wasn't what I wanted to run and I made the mistake of trying to set up individual goals and plotlines that were quickly drowned in a torrent of inebriation.  I don't begrudge my players their enjoyment of the kill-happy, silly and very casual D&D but right now it's not the style of game I want to run.  Trying to plan for a new Planescape campaign has shown me that I don't even know quite what kind of game I want to run, just that the games I've been running right now aren't really there.

So I'm going to take a break. I'm going to run the final session of my OSR Module break in a few weeks and then I'm going to take a break from running any kind of game until mid-November so that I have a full month off.  I'm going to put my two D&D groups on hiatus until January and put my Fading Suns group on indefinite hiatus. It was a hard decision because I know my players have been enjoying the games, but I haven't and I'm hoping that a break will refresh my delight in running games again.

I am going to try and play, Thomas, my patron saint of gaming, has been encouraging me to find more game groups to find another game I could play in and I plan on giving that a try.  The Ginger Giant is relaunching his groups in 5E and I am looking forward to getting to play 5E for the first time since August of 2013 when it was in the earlier playtest stages.

And if any of my players want to try their hand at a session or two, I have a ton of great modules that I've barely had a chance to skim and would be willing to give any assistance, hints or encouragement I can.  While I'm not running my two ongoing groups until January, after mid-November I may run a few small games to try out different systems, maybe a game of Tremulus, now that I have the rules, or 13th Age or Numenara.  

Hopefully playing will inspire me to write a blog post or two, or maybe I'll write a post here once my break is truly underway and I can try and figure out what I miss about running games.  In any case, I think that a real break from running games will be good for me and will revitalize my love of GM'ing.

A Bang & then a Whimper - The Final Dispatch from Parcher's

When we left our rag-tag band of PCs and their 50-60 hangers on (in addition to Pinky's gang, Man also decided to take the 'hav...