Monday, November 17, 2014

What does the Antagonist Want?

First, taste, as illustrated in two music videos.  Do yourself a favor and watch both.  Watch both the whole way through, it's very much worth it and I think they will illuminate much of my thinking on the topic of the blog post.

1. Akron/Family "Silly Bears"

2. Scott Walker/Sunn O))) "Brando"
Both of these are classified under "Experimental Rock" and I enjoy the hell out of them both.  But, there is a huge difference in tone and they illustrate much of how I've been thinking about running RPGs late.

Make sure you've watch both and then continue reading.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

What does the Protagonist Want? Because I usually have no idea.

(title of the blog post stolen from the incredibly awesome What Does the Protagonist Want? which is well worth a read)

     Thinking about Numenera character creation, my frustration with D&D 5E backgrounds (and Dungeon World bonds and alignments to a lesser extent) and consider several GM advice books which suggest using sentence pitches for campaign planning and adventure design, I've been thinking about how to apply sentence summaries to more things, like PC motivation.
     Toying around with the idea of running a Numenera one shot sometime in December/January and realized that the Sentence Character creation could be extended ever so slightly to add a character goal or motivation to the current structure.
     As a reminder, Numenera character creation boils down to " I am a [adjective] [noun] who [verbs]." So a former commando turned mercenary who recently discovered that she has a supernatural or technological knack with animals might be "I am a Stealthy Glaive who Controls Beasts". Why not add a want clause, like "Who wants to [motivation/goal]." So then if the former commando woke up as the only survivor of a battle and that's when she had this new connection with animals, perhaps her character summary sentence would be "I am a Stealthy Glaive who Controls Beasts and wants to Discover Why She Has this new Power." Hopefully a compelling character and it certainly gives the GM a few ideas of what the PC can do and what the player would like to do. It also provides an easy reminder to the player for their motivation, ie, their PC should be working to understand or uncover why she has this new affinity with beasts. One advantage of this, is that it forces the player to distill down a few things that they know they are interested in exploring in the game.
Let's try this out with my other PCs, adapting the Numenera character sentence structure to other systems.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Play Report 1: Poor Player Decisions

     I'm 23 days into my GM-hiatus and I've managed to finagle my way into three games. Because I'm a jackass, I'm playing a Dungeoneer, Izotz Sendoa Harkaitz Mael or Ish, in a newly started Dungeon World game set in a fantastic version of the present. Because I'm not good at going with my gut or putting two and two together I'm playing a magic user in an ongoing AD&D/OSRIC campaign that I've joined. And because I didn't do a good job of considering the play style or potential story lines and didn't ask, as a player, what the game was going to be about, I built a Troll for a new Shadowrun campaign that I will be completely scrapping in favor of a character better suited to the game and group. Finally, because the scheduling gods are cruel and fickle bastards whose rituals I no longer have the patience to perform, I had to take a pass on playing 5E D&D for now.

     Overall, as I reflect on the play I've gotten in over the last few weeks I've realized that I've been making (1) Poor Character Choices and (2) Letting my GM burnout prevent me from bringing my experience to the table.

1. Poor Character Choices

     In Dungeon World the poor character choices I've made are minimal and mostly limited to my choice of Dungeoneer, a non-standard class from DW1 - Lair of the Unknown (parenthetically, this looks like an excellent little Dungeon World Module, so maybe I'll have to try it out at some point or at least beg, borrow and steal from it) instead of taking one of the unused playbooks from the basic DW book.  I could have chosen Bard, Cleric, Druid or Paladin (or even Barbarian) but instead I had to be a special little snowflake and choose a non-standard class.  It would have probably been fairer to the other players if I had chosen one of the base classes, but with DW that's probably the least of my sins as a player.

     In the AD&D/OSRIC game, the DM was subtly pushing me towards playing one of the existing henchmen, but there weren't any thieves among them and I had my heart set on a thief.  So, instead I rolled up a character and rolled extremely well and paradoxically not well enough (multiple 15s and nothing under a 10, but no 16s to be an illusionist or paladin).  Because the talk around the table was that there were no PC magic users in the party and there was a PC thief, I ignored my desire to play a thief and built a magic user instead.  I decided to make a former scholar turned magic user named Horatio, but ignored all the context of the party and spend 60% of my starting funds on six daggers so that I could potentially make it through 3 rounds of combat.  I would have been much better suited to plan on avoiding combat at any cost and putting that 120 silver into supplies like extra flasks, bottles and multipurpose adventuring gear that would have fit a scholar background, but alas, I let myself get sucked into the idea that when combat occurred, I would need to be able to defend myself for a round or two.
     Of course, I completely ignored that there were several 4th level PCs in the party and that there were at least 8 henchmen at least two of which were also Magic Users, so Horatio was never in any danger during combat.  In fact, during the three combats in the game, all I had Horatio do was "watch closely" to better understand how the various molds and fungus we were encountering behaved.  Would have been far better to have stuck with my gut and been a thief and had some scouting to undertake and a chance to make an attack or two during combat.  But now that I've committed to the Magic User, what I'll do instead is see if the GM will be kind enough to let me change my many (relatively) expensive daggers for a cheap and useful staff and to retroactively purchase a better set of adventuring equipment that better reflect a scholar exploring the world than a half a dozen daggers.

     Most grievous of my poor choices as a player was the creation of my initial Shadowrun character, Tallow, a troll ex-police officer who was going to refuse to use any weapons aside from his fists.  Seriously, like a fool, I had to have the GM badger me before I even gave Tallow a shotgun.  Most of the poor choices here flowed from not being proactive about asking about what kinds of stories would be told in the game.  Fortunately, the brief, non-canonical sample scenario gave me a feel for how much more procedural and simulationist the GM was planning on run things and quickly dissuaded me from making Tallow my actual PC.  Instead of working with the GM and other players to make a PC that would fit the group and the game, I let myself focus, laser-like, on a character I'd like to play, not bothering to figure out how my character would fit into things.  Because of this, I let myself craft a character who might have an interesting back story and personality, but who will be utterly useless on the runs the game will revolve around.
     Tallow might have been an interesting character for another game, but I don't think he'd last long or have much to do in the Shadowrun game I'm actually playing in.  Better then, for me to go back to the drawing board and craft a character who might actually fit into the party and the story of the game, a character who'd actually be useful on a run.  To that end, I'm thinking I'm going to create a Face, a smooth talker who would actually be able to talk his way out of the situation that Tallow found himself in during the sample session.

2. Poorly Shared Experience

     This wasn't really a problem in the AD&D/OSRIC game, as it's established and has been running for many months, but I for the Dungeon World and Shadowrun games I definitely let my GM burnout prevent me from applying any of my experience as a GM to help shape and start the games up, except, of course, in ways that were probably unwelcome and intrusive.
     How often, on this very blog even, have I wondered how to make more cohesive parties, how to tie player characters together, how to build good group backgrounds?  Did I bother to try and help either my DW or Shadowrun DM shape the groups into cohesive groups? No.  Instead I very selfishly and short-sightedly focused down on my characters, not even trying to build the group around them, more focused on not trying to butt in with suggestions (for whatever stupid reason) than with really assisting with character creation.  Of course, during Dungeon World that didn't prevent me from making a few obnoxious rules-lawyer-y remarks and arguments.
     So, for DW I pushed a little to have the GM explain the premise of the campaign, but did nothing to really help the other characters build their characters and to shape the party as a group, leaving the GM to declare by fiat that we were basically the neighborhood watch because the players didn't come up with any real reasons why we knew each other.
     This seems to be the biggest issue I have with the DW bonds.  They work well to tie PCs together and mechanically to give reasons to resolve intra-party interactions, but as far as initial backgrounds they need a preface statement.
     For example, one of the bonds I used, I stole from the Fighter sheet (did I mention I felt I was a special snowflake during character creation and didn't let the base book restrain me at all?) is: "I worry about the ability of _______________ to survive in the dungeon.".  Ironically, I chose the fighter for the bond, but while the bond explains some of our current relationship, it still doesn't explain our past relationship.  What it needs is a preface like "because I saw <Fighter Name> fall into a pit trap when we went into the haunted woods, I worry about the ability of _______________ to survive in the dungeon."
     Or another, for the Dungeoneer bond"I will show __________ that the underground world can beautiful as it is dangerous." I chose the elf wizard.  But that bond alone doesn't really explain how I know the elf wizard or why I'd feel that way.  Better to add a preface sentence like, "Elf Wizard is like most other Elves who hold that the underground world is to be disdained as ugly and dangerous in favor of the so-called splendor of the above ground world and it's forests.  I will show __________ that the underground world can beautiful as it is dangerous."

3. Goals for Next Sessions  (aka be a less cruddy player)

Dungeon World: 

  • Work to coalese the group, hopefully by declaring someone else the leader and then supporting their decisions and serving as a tactical lietenant and advisor.  
  • Rebuild bonds to add preface statements explaining the bond and better fleshing out the connection.
  • Intrude less with alternate rules interpretations, unless asked.


  • Work with DM to adjust initial equipment purchase and weapon proficiency to better reflect scholar background and non-combat role in party.
  • Take better notes.  If I'm going to play a scholar, I should probably take better notes about the research and discoveries I make.  I glanced at my notes from the first session, and I have a sentence and a half.  Horatio might not care too much about mapping the dungeon, but he probably wants better notes on the endothermic mold they found. 


  • Create a new character that will better fit into the group and expected story as a Face.
  • Build relationships between new character and the other PCs to create a more cohesive group.

For All Games

  • Minimum of time on the phone/ipad/laptop.  Since I plan on demanding this from my players, I better model it now.

Post-Apocalyptic Names

As I'm prepping to run a Godless mini-campaign, I wanted to have a good post-apocalyptic name table to draw from. The Apocalypse World...