642 – White Smoke Mountain • 11

Dear Reverend DM

@wOOhoo: Dear DM, is there any way to make a child a suitable antagonist for a party? Or have I just painted myself in to a corner?

Dear wOOhoo,

If the player is a kid and the rest of the group are adults, this is a bad idea that will end with tears. If the NPC villain is a kid, then you’re just fine. It’s possible you might be able to squeeze a bit of extra drama and pathos out of your group banging some kid’s head off the sidewalk, but if he’s evil enough, it’s unlikely that they’ll take the time to sympathize with him enough to care.

So just to make sure we’re clear; real kid bad, fake kid good.

@Alan: Dear DM, what is your opinion of Computer RPGs as a replacement / addition to PnP roleplaying?

For those times when you just gotta get your fantasy on, and it’s just not convenient to grab a half-dozen friends for some traditional roleplaying, online games are the bomb. My group meets once a week because that’s when it’s convenient for them to. Any other time you’ll find me and the missus bashing bad guys in WoW or jumping chasms on the Wii. It’s good fun and works out the tension.

As a replacement for spending time with friends… computer games rate a zero. I enjoy WoW and I dig my guildies and if all that dried up tomorrow I would miss it like beer. But I love my friends, and I wouldn’t give up my time with them for anything. (Ummmm… anything non-Lena related, that is.) Dungeons & Dragons, (or any pencil and paper gaming for that matter) as I’ve said before, is just an excuse to spend time with the people you love. It’s an endlessly fascinating, completely entertaining, deeply engrossing excuse, but without your friends there to share it with and to help build the experience, it’s just… reading.

@Stephen: Dear DM, if it isn’t too much trouble would you mind making us a “Character Sheet” on your least fave celb/and or politician >=D

Dear Stephen,

I gave it some thought, and decided that it is too much trouble.

For here.

I do like the idea however, and if you don’t mind I may steal it for a future Friday Blog segment. D&D Oprah would be awesome.

@Christina: Dear DM, what, to your mind, are the pros and cons of having a rules lawyer in the group? Also, in which rules systems can a rules lawyer outrun an arrow aimed at his head?

Dear Christina,

I love having a rules lawyer in the group! See, I used to be that guy who studied the books and knew all the ins and outs of all the rules, who could argue and plan and plot and scheme. But honestly, who has the time anymore? However, if you’re lucky enough to have a rules lawyer in your group you don’t have to know much of anything, you just ask him. (Not being sexist, but we both know it’s gonna be a guy.)

Now the drawback is on the occasion that your lawyer may try and hijack your game by arguing rules with you. Fortunately there is an easy way to deal with this that will properly train your lawyer to behave as you expect him to.

Step 1: Do ask questions of your lawyer whenever the opportunity arises. You lawyer wants to please you, and looking smart by quoting page numbers makes him feel extra-special.

Step 2: If your lawyer does try to test your authority, first be completely quiet and listen to his reasoning. When he is done, restate his position in your own words so that he knows you understood him completely. Then proceed to step 3.

Step 3: Tell him you don’t play that way, and continue the game.

If you stick to these easy steps, your rules lawyer will be one of your greatest gaming assets, instead of just a gaming ass.

P.S. A truly committed rules lawyer transcends systems and can outrun an arrow in any game.

@anonymous coward: Dear DM, what game systems and source materials would you recommend for someone who finds FATE and FUDGE a bit rules-heavy? Assume I haven’t kept up with anything that has come out in the last decade. Also, the last time I had anything to do with Ars Magica was its 4th ed, which set my standard for systems so weighed down with rules it takes spreadsheets to make sense of it. What has happened to it/with it in the last decade?

Dear anonymous coward,

If FATE is rules heavy for you, there’s only one direction left to go. (For those who don’t scrupulously keep up with esoteric gaming systems, FUDGE is an award-winning gaming system designed to play intuitively and be very malleable by players who want games tailored specifically to their campaigns. FATE is the system based on FUDGE and created to provide the lowest possible barrier to entry for players. The whole idea is to make it as easy and transparent as possible. Saying it’s rules-heavy is like saying french fries are difficult to get into your mouth.) I’m afraid it’s time to go diceless.

While the most famous version of a diceless roleplaying game is Amber, as presented it’s still two hefty books away from being rules-less. However, it does provide a good jumping off point. In the Amber game the late Erick Wujcik  says that the system is really just a waypoint, and that the ultimate extension of what he was trying to do was to end up not only with no dice, but no paper as well. In a game such as this you “character sheet” might simply consist of a simple verbal description, such as, “Six foot, medium build, olympic level fencer and above average in most other areas. Loves his cat and is afraid of motorboats.”

Now in a game such as this the DM still needs to prepare ahead of time, and description takes an even more important role. Also, player participation is supremely important. For instance, in order for combats to be exciting, a player must be involved with what his character is doing, swinging on chandeliers and pulling rugs out from underneath people. A player who says, “I fight him.” and takes it no further is not a good candidate for this type of experience.

But… the right DM, with the right people, can make magic.

Ars Magica is in it’s 5th edition now, and has unfortunately moved largely away from the “troupe system” that made it so unique and such fun. I think it’s listed as an option, but that’s it. On the plus side they did finally fix the stupid armor rules so it’s no longer quite so easy to die.

37 Responses to 642 – White Smoke Mountain • 11

  1. Thank you for doing some of my reading for me, and I suppose I’ll just have to ask one of my sysadmin (warezing) friends for a copy of a scan of Amber since odds are not favourable of finding it without heroic efforts or resorting to online commerce. I’ll let you know if the Amber recipe makes something tasty for me instead of a rules kludge dressed up as not-a-rules-kludge.
    More reading on the to-do list….

    • I have always found the Amber rules elegant and entertaining in their own right… again, with the right group. People who aren’t ready for it are not going to respond well to it, but people who are will simply fly.

  2. np Ill just wait till w/e friday that is

    and im glad to see enkidu is back to normal, female enkidu is just gross

  3. Dear DM,
    It seems that my DM is attempting to bypass the rules even after I tell him exactly what a situation calls for and show him the reference. I am troubled that I am unable to find out how to have a character overthrow a DM, do you know where the rules are for that? My first thought is somewhere along the lines of praying to a god to give him a lot of beer and then get a shovel…

    • This may be difficult to process but a DM serves a higher master than the order within the rules; they serve fun, the purpose of gaming. According to this higher priority the correct thing to do is to allow for and to not contest the terminations from, alterations of and redirects around rule protocol as long as the DM’s behaviour is adequately consistent with generalized fun for the group.
      If you have trouble judging their adherence to this other, less well defined, standard I suggest you wait a couple sessions and solicit the full voting-body of other players for input into the question if you can identify noteworthy signs of distress at the DM’s actions amongst the other players. Only do this if this question hasn’t been previously asked of the general voting body or if a particularly exceptional event apparently legitimizes re-opening the previously settled issue as agreed upon by those other members. Consider Robert’s rules of Order as a general guideline for such a discussion and the order of operations for initiating such, but do not try to use them or any similar formalized code as hard rules in this situation since a gaming group is not a formalized, working body for deliberation but instead a recreational body of significantly ad-hoc nature.
      If you do not handle this question using the above described procedure or some other way that is unanimously judged as appropriate by the other members a different exception will be thrown: Termination with prejudice of your future participation in the gaming group, generally including associated second-order penalties consistent with publicly classifying yourself as a jerk.

      • “Say that again, in English please?”

        The purpose of gaming isn’t following the rules, it’s having fun. If your DM is bringing the fun then suck it up and keep quiet while they do anything they like to the rules.
        If a DM’s conduct is bothering the rest of the group there should be obvious signs. If so, it may be appropriate to talk to the other players about it and perhaps request that the DM handle their games differently. If the other players aren’t bothered then drop it.
        If you make a fuss over the rules and the other players aren’t bothered you’re just going to make yourself unpopular and possibly get uninvited to the group.

        • Anonymous Coward,
          Fear not, mine was only an attempt at humor based upon one of the current Dear DM questions and past histories of whacking people with shovels. I am in fact a rules lawyer (or nazi, depending upon your point-of-view), but work very well with my DM (when I’m not the DM) and other players as well. My main function in the group when playing is finding ways to keep the characters alive when an adventure turns sour and the DM isn’t quite sure what to do. (a.k.a A character misses a 5′ jump to fall 100′ into water which knocks them unconscious and no party member is within 50′ of them. How exactly do we keep this person from dying from a bad jump check? ~Thank you Paizo and Shackled City)

          And for the record, I have dodged 5 arrows being fired at my head from less than 5′ away, 2 of them were fired from invisible rogue/assasins of whom my character was not aware.

          • Internet sarcasm often flows from a particular phenomenon: Pretending to take seriously questions, statements and phenomena which are pretty evidently not intended seriously. 😀

            • Has it ever given you pause, ac, that you have had occasion SO many times to need to explain your humor to people who read when you being funny?

              • Occasionally. But humour does rest at least partially on confusion and the juxtaposition of seriousness with nonsensicality, as well as what does make sense with what does not, so I don’t lose sleep over it.
                It just means I miscalibrated for my audience if they’re not laughing, which happens even to the greatest ones. It’s something to get better at with practice.

                  • Thank you, I’ll try to keep it in the bounds of passable taste at least if I’m not sure it’ll be generally agreed as funny.

                    • I too suffer from saying something funny in an extremely serious tone, then wondering why no one is laughing. Sarcasm on the internetz only seems to really kick in with lots of “” use and or !!! with dashes of verbal abuse calling people Noobs or #$%#$%#.

                      Everything else is all serious business.

                    • @Chris
                      “Ha-ha only serious,” style humour where joke and truth are bent around each other in the modern mode just isn’t that popular yet. Perhaps this is a good thing because currently it’s often possible to tell a joke and have it understood as such by the in-crowd while it is also accepted at face-value by the non-technologists in the room. This can be vital to a developer’s sanity while enduring a corporate board meeting.

  4. BTW, the Dear Rev. DM article usually gets written on Tuesday. If you asked a question after I wrote it and don’t see your answer above, I will try to go back through the Wed and Fri comments to find them… but your best bet is to copy and paste them here.


  5. Reading today’s questions made me think of this….

    Have you ever run a campaign where the players were the evil bad guy and the DM was throwing heroes at them? Something along the lines of Dungeon Keeper using AD&D rules? Allow them resources of some sort for hiring all of those disposable minions (do you go for the wave of 1000 weak goblins or save your money for that one umberhulk? Hmmmm). Give them a task such as “kidnap the princess” (which they actually have to roleplay). Maybe some trap design. And then, as DM, you send a squad of heroes after the princess…..and if they fail, another group….and another. Until either the king decides to pay the reward or the heroes win.

    • Way back when… there was a Tunnels and Trolls variant along those lines called Monsters! Monsters!

      • T&T used to amuse me that the best Magic using characters were Dwarves (and Orc/Humans) and the worst were pixie/fairies and then the elves! Sure the latter types could do high IQ magic but the oompph and repeatability was based on ones’ constitution.

      • You could count it either way. I guess I should have phrased it as: “Dear DM, ….etc.”

    • Played a game where we the players were given control of a tribe of goblins. Each of us had direct control of three goblins and after a bit of figuring out what we were supposed to be doing as goblins we were attacked by “heroes.” They killed our chief, raided our lair and killed a bunch of us. Afterwards one of my goblins established himself as the new ruler, got together with the clan shaman (one of the other players) and decided to go get the bastards back. We raided the village the heroes were staying in, burned down the inn they were sleeping at and procceeded to slaughter the intrepid heroes. As well as several villagers. Then we looted the place and went back to our lair. Very odd game, but we all had a damn fun time of it.

  6. Dear DM,
    Once while running a game of CP2020 for/against veteran (inveterate) players I had occasion to do something unorthodox: I used the loyalty devices planted in players’ cyberware to turn the players for each other and made them cooperate instead of their intended plans of engaging in high-collateral-damage combat with each other. My question is this: How often do you think a GM/DM should try to get away with stunts like that where they invert the natural order of things?

        • If it’s been a while remember this: The character generation rules suck and must be handled vigorously by a heavy-handed GM to achieve a passable balance of result if you let a player get anywhere near them.

          • What I remember was a good balance for character generation was starting budget. It was necessary to cut your players legs out from under them at the outset… just to get ’em used to it.

            • It depends what sort of game I’m running and for what sort of players, but my highest-preference method is to build a character history. From that the player and myself would determine skills, personality and belongings holistically.
              Building a pile of pre-gens to pick from is my next favourite but that’s mostly good for one-shots and short duration stories. Handing the keys to the in-the-book character generation process out with a promise to give more stat-bling to every player afterwards is the last of my main choices of method for mixed groups.
              With inveterates though this turns into a very interesting question, where we bid character descriptions at each other and then I turn them loose to build it. Afterwards I change any values I don’t like and hand it back to them, usually with at least one embarrassing character feature like being a necrophiliac or something.
              Because the future is ugly. 😀

            • I find the money-chase is best left to real life.

              We live in a modern world of convenience and find it hard to deal with the issue of “no it’s not available” and many of us are to media mentality boxed in to ask for stuff that isn’t available in that otherworldly manner of a Pc’s expectations in an DM’s world.

              I enjoyed my Ref’s choice in Maskerade (which is a normal character tool) – When the Venture was worrying about money for a car, and a few weapons, a the cash to fix a bit of collateral damage to the his local Princes’ belongings… give them heaps. So much that all the small stuff disappears, characters can get anything normal (and stylish) and anything really tricky (eg phosperous grenades, small armies of tactical troops, local expert magicians just weren’t available. Weren’t available in a “No you can’t get it here” way. That meant we were free to play and not spend time fussing over who had cab fare.

              We as, in a different game our GM was unemployed and had been for many years. He just couldn’t handle the idea that PC’s had spending power. Even fantasy spending power. Monster gave us 100sp, then 20 of that was taxed, 20 was for replacement gear (ropes, sackes, horse, horse food), 30 for rations, 10 for inn, 10 was stolen, and all the prices for even the simpliest items were through the roof because we were “rich adventurers”, and of that 100sp we had to put aside some for the 1000sp/level training fee … once we bribed and travelled our way to find someone who would teach us. The PC’s were basically reduced to becoming vagabonds who hunted monsters and lived off the land. Not Fun. But he wouldn’t, couldn’t see it otherwise.

  7. dEAR dM

    have you seen the ending of Watchmen? do you think what Adrian did at the end was right or wrong?

    heh heh heh >=D

  8. On the “Celebs as characters” front, I did once make a Storm/undead Mastermind in City of Villains named “Rash Windbaugh” – His battle cry was “BlahBlahBlah LIBERALS! BlahBlahBlah FEMINAZIS!” Usually while using his Gust of Wind power….