Friday, August 19, 2011

Houserules updated

I made a post on this before, but it was convoluted and now needs updating. Also, since the game is happening with new players in a new city, I hereby present for my houserules, and the way I like to run a game. Everything here is up for discussion, so let me know if something isn't clear or needs revision.
  1. My Game Philosophy.

The worst thing I think a player can do is assume they know what the GM wants. The wise old man arrives with a job and since he's obviously the start of a quest the players feel they "have" to talk to him. Or even worse, the players decide that because the GM obviously wants them to do the old man's quest, they're instead going to go the opposite way, just to mess with the GM. Either way you're basing your actions on your interpretation of the GM's wishes rather than actually coming from you and your character, and games like that aren't nearly as fun as something that comes from you.

Instead, I propose what I call the "closed sandbox" style of gaming. The game-world is a place that lives and breaths, and it moves and it changes with or without your character's input. World-shattering events are unfolding around you and your character's backstories can and should plunge them into accomplishing actions but those actions, ultimately, are up to you.

Want to take up arms against a tyrannical king who's also your brother and reclaim his rightful throne? Awesome! Want to start a simple adventuring company and raid dungeons for fun and profit? Also awesome! This is your character, so what do you want to do with him? What's his motivation for adventuring? What are his long-term goals and what does he want out of life? Are you only adventuring for the money so you can finally start an underground rum-running organization to fuel your attempts to start your own kingdom? Congratulations, the players now have their own rum-running company and small nation. The world will adjust accordingly.

There is, however, another side to that coin. If you're an adventurer, that means there's something you want, something driving you, some need that isn't, apparently, being filled by a life of chopping wood at the local lumber mill, and I want you to show that. These stories should be coming from you, and that character motivation is what drives you onward. I can and will be providing storylines, but don't sit back and wait for the next mission to find you. Sometimes, you just might have to find the next course of action on your own.

About alignment: forget it.  It gets in the way of having characters grow and change, and it gets in the way of playing your character the way you want to play them.  If we absolutely need to know your alignment for a spell or something, I'll decide based on how you're playing your character at the time.

A final game-philosophy note. A game based on combat cannot be fun unless there was a chance of you dying. A game based on objective can't be fun unless there's a chance of you failing. A story based off of character choice can't be engaging unless there's actual consequences for that character's choices. I won't be pulling punches or holding back when it comes to combat or reaching your quest objectives. You can die, you can fail, it's more fun that way. If you have to run, or if you fail the quest, show me how your character feels, what he thinks, how he's going to react to that, because that is good storytelling, and storytelling is, when all is said and done, the biggest part of the game. Likewise, if you decide to go on a crime spree, don't expect there to not be consequences: you make the choice, you get the effects of that choice, for good or for ill. Therefore, if the quest goals or your personal storyline involves something big, like raiding fortified cities with armies of soldiers, please don't expect someone to show you the "secret" solution. Maybe you'll have to do more sidequests to gain allies and abilities, or maybe you'll need to hire some mercenaries. This is a sandbox game, so I'd much rather see how you solve the problem rather than how I can show you how to solve the problem.
  1. Character Creation
You're creating a character and giving him a backstory; nothing's worse than discovering that character can't work because the dice gave you the wrong stats for him.

So how do we fix this problem? Forget the dice and pick your own stats.

Yes, that's right. Instead of rolling up stats and fitting a character to them, I want you to create your character and pick the stats that reflect him, then give me a backstory that explains those stats. How did he got them and how did those highs and lows affect his history/personality?

And for all those who want to max out your characters or are afraid you're carefully crafted character won't be able to stand next to someone else's maxed out character, I give this final thought: I'm still the GM. No one can “break” this game, because I can always scale the encounters up or down to fit the characters involved. If you want to play someone amazing and heroic with super-high stats, that's awesome. Play him accordingly. Just know that if you're hoping you can beat my system, remember the system is made up as we go along. One of my favorite characters is Minmax from, a D&D based webseries. This character has no skills in him at all but fighting, he's nothing but walking muscle, but all the readers love him. Why? Because he acts like what he is: a heroic, over-powered idiot who keeps picking fights with high-level characters who deserve a good thrashing. Incidentally, he keeps finding ways to be pitted against people that still challenge him, even with his over-the-top stats. I'm not against someone like him being in my game.

And more specifically about backstory: I'm a firm believer in the story-telling aspect of games. I want to know not only how your character got to where he is, but who his friends are, his enemies, his family, his contacts, etc. I think some people are so used to D&D video games and modules that have no context for characters, that all their characters for some reason are sociopathic loners with no friends or family anywhere (and even if they do exist, they must be in some far-away land.) I think this is some subconscious attempt to leave things “open” for the GM to make his story, but the point is this isn't my story, it should be yours. You don't have to end your backstory with “and then they all died, so he went adventuring.” I'd much prefer getting to know your character as a person who's actually likeable and has some sort of relations somewhere. Who does your character know/hate/love/live with? Does he have a house somewhere? These people will be featured in the story as contacts, employers, friends or enemies, so give them some personality! Something drove you to be where you are, so let me know what happened.

And finally, please make him likeable. It may seem fun in theory to play the sociopathic, evil loner, but it rarely is much fun for anyone.
  1. Combat
The GM keeps track of damage. Nothing kills a D&D game's verisimilitude than being all in character, then getting to combat and suddenly turning the game into a number-crunch. The rest of the game tries for a deep level of verisimilitude, but as soon as combat starts all the realism goes out the window. Take the following common line from a combat situation:

"I'm down 8 hp so don't heal me yet. Let him hit me one more time so you don't go over my max hp."

Not very verisimilitudy, is it? Most people I know, if they were being stabbed by an ogre, would just want the healing.

This rule, however, forces you to stay more in character. The GM knows the numbers, but gives you the info you'd actually have. "The ork cuts you deeply in the leg" or "his blade smashes into your armor, knocking the wind out of you but not hurting you too badly.” If you're taking a beating and about to drop the GM will thusly inform you, just not with the numbers involved. If a healer wants to know who needs his help he can't ask the table "how many hit points are you missing?" He instead makes a heal check to get an idea from the GM about who's doing fine and who needs help, the DC getting easier the more injured someone is.

Similarly, all combat tactics should be done mostly in character. Nothing slows down a combat like spending several minutes debating which combat alignment best capitalizes the situation. Instead, you can only communicate the way you would on the field, shouting orders to those who can hear you and making quick decisions as the battle unfolds. There can still be some sort of tactical discussion, but the players can't send too long discussing, and the GM can remind them that, if they don't take their turn soon, the monsters might just get another attack off while everyone's standing around talking. Obviously the GM shouldn't be mean about this, but the point is to keep things feeling real and to keep the pace up, and nothing kills tension like dragging combat.

Also, a note on XP:

Some people get very sticky about XP progression. Some like it when players are rewarded with XP to reflect their good roleplay, cool combats, and for making decisions that reflect a character's personal goals, and other individual behaviors. These players hate the thought that someone cowering in the back gets as much XP as their character, who's being self-sacrificing for the party and is driving the story forward in awesome and entertaining ways. Others get into arms with this idea and say everyone should always get exactly the same XP and level up together. I personally fall into the first category. I think it inspires people to be pro-active, it rewards risk-taking and sacrificing for the good of the group, and a ton of other things. If, however, my players really don't like that, then we can do the second, but I will be including extra awards for good roleplaying and heroic maneuvers. These can involve point systems, earning a re-roll of the dice, or any number of things, which we can talk about more in person.

That's all, let me know if anyone has questions,

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