Saturday, September 17, 2011

Class Tiers (A.K.A. What do you mean we have another encounter today? I already cast all my spells!)

I have never understood this whole Tier system that I keep seeing on various forums. I think the tiers are set up as a Tier 1 class is the most powerful and tier 5 is the least. The main reason why I haven't understood it is because I've never really seen one of the base classes overpower the others (I am talking about base classes only, not classes from the many other source books or online resources. I find them to be rather broken).
And then it hit me the other day.
I realized why everyone keeps thinking that spell slingers are the most powerful and the other non-spell casting classes are not as good. I've seen it so many times before and never realized it, most spell casters will dump their powerful spells into the first encounter they run into. They do this and then the party will rest to let them recover their spells and/or special abilities, hence the 15 minute adventuring day.  I've seen this a bit in the game that I run on Saturdays. It's a 3.5 core books only game (with the Arms and Equipment Guide).  Right now the group is providing escort to a dwarven mastersmith as he travels. They don't have the option of resting for a day to get spells back after a difficult encounter (they got to once but that was because the bulette damaged the wagon the dwarf smith was driving and it needed to be fixed). It's great to see them trying to plan out how to use their spells and abilities so that they can last through the day. And I roll for encounters every 3 hours when they are in the wild lands, so there are days where they get 4 encounters in the day, and 4 during the night. Luckily, not all encounters have to be fights. Of course, the Wizard of the party is still first level and likes to hide behind his dogs.
So that's my take, I figure that most spell slingers use up all the spells they have in just a few moments of the first encounter and it looks like they are THE MOST POWERFUL CHARACTER IN THE WORLD!! Then they need a nap.
Don the Evil Bassman

Encounters (A.K.A. The story's speed bumps.)

I've been running a 3.5 D&D Core Book (and the Arms and Equipment Guide) game and it's been pretty fun so far. One of the best things about it is the encounters, all of them randomly generated. I cheat and use online generators for them.  Since they are in the wild lands I roll 4 times for the day and 4 times for the night, using d6s and if a die rolls a 1 then there is an encounter. If there is an encounter there is a base 10% chance that the encounter will be a major NPC from my world that they will run into and the other 90% are randomly generated by an online generator.
Some of these have been very interesting. 

Once a young copper dragon stopped by the party's camp one night to warm up by the fire before continuing to fly on home. Another time, the group came across some warriors and allowed them to travel with them. Another encounter was a bunch of pixies played pranks on the group while they were at camp and when the group played along with the pixies, the little fae gave the group items (also randomly generated and boy were those pixies nice!). I still give experience points even if the characters don't have to actually fight the encounter, but interact with it in some form or another  (They got xp for talking with the wandering old priest and his entourage, but none for the herd of bison they rode past).

Normally I don't scale down the encounters, I let the characters deal with it as best as they can. They were 3rd level (most of them anyway) when they were set upon by a Bulette (CR 7 I believe) It killed 2 of the horses pulling the wagon that was with the party, and trounced a couple of the members of the party. But they managed to kill the beasty. Then another encounter, randomly generated, was a Lich. Yes, a Lich. I decided that I would hit the random button again, got another lich.  Restarted the browser, got a Draco-Lich. Then switched to a different generator and got something not as potent ( I can't remember what it was now). Then I hit the button again on this new generator and it gave me another Lich. One of these days, I'll have to write up the wandering Lich, he lost the keys to his tower and he knows he left them somewhere around here..... And then the next time a group encounters him, he will have found his keys.... but lost his tower....

Have you seen my keys?
Don the Evil Bassman

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Gaming Strategy (A.K.A. How to form and maintain a Spank Line)

I've been running a 3.5 D&D back to the core campaign and it's got me thinking about all the groups that I've played with in the past. I've realized that hardly any group worked together in any sort of tactical strategy in combat. Sure there was the obligatory consideration of spells but that was because we didn't want to hit by them, in the old groups I was with the wizards were pretty much jerks when it came to flinging spells. They didn't care who got hit as long as the enemy was taken down.  I'm glad that most of the groups I've gamed with since then are a bit more considerate. Still doesn't change the fact that there was little in the way of strategy and tactics in the combats that occurred.

Here is an example of a combat that I recall happening.

Group (First Edition AD&D): 4 Fighters (one was me), 2 fairly powerful wizards, 3 fairly powerful clerics, 1 Thief, 1 Monk, 1 Paladin.
Scenario: Coming down from hills, the party sees a group of 12 Gnolls, 3 Ogres, 1 Ogre magi, and an evil looking wizard. Nothing our party couldn't handle. We have surprise and the higher ground. Now here is the breakdown on what happened:

Surprise round: Thief charges to get a back stab on a gnoll, 3 Fighters, the paladin, clerics and monk charge down the hill screaming battle cries. The charging characters now realize that they were not close enough to get attacks on the surprise round. One Fighter (me) already has his bow out and takes aim at the evil wizard and fires, 2 hits, lots of damage, evil wizard is still up.  The party's wizards cast defensive spells on themselves.

Round 1: Gnolls get initiative, they charge into the chargers, all 12 are able to hit various party members, Thief goes down, still alive but unconscious. All the melee characters get to attack, they split their attacks among the gnolls, lots of hits but no one goes down. Ranged fighter goes, 2 hits on the wizard with arrows, evil wizard falls. The Ogres play with the paladin and manage to take him out. The wizards with the group finally get to go, they let loose on the battle field with powerful magics, the gnolls are dead, the fighters are all unconscious, the thief, paladin, and monk are dead, the clerics are hurt. Ogre Magi goes, uses a wand of fireballs, clerics are now down, but not dead.

Round 2: 1 Fighter and the 2 Wizards are still up. Fighter, still using his bow, hits the ogre magi with 2 arrows, ogre magi is still up. Wizards detonate spells on the area again, everything but the ogre magi dies, yes, that includes the clerics. Ogre Magi runs up the hill (it can move FAST) and smashes a wizard into paste, he is dead. Other wizard drops a fireball on the ogre magi, last remaining wizard falls, ogre magi is mad.

Round 3: Fighter and Ogre Magi, Fighter wins initiative, hits ogre magi with 2 arrows, ogre magi falls.

Because I stayed back and was trying to make the enemy come to me rather than me to go it I was able to survive and take them down. Of course, all the players were calling me a coward and such at the beginning of the battle, along with chastising me for not staying right next to the wizards. By the end of the fight (which took only 4 minutes in game time, but 2 hours real time) they said that it was luck that kept me alive and that my fighter was still a coward for not charging in. Only our DM knew that I had actually planned it out.

Here was my idea on how to handle this scenario:

Surprise round: All non-spell casters use their ranged weapons (Bows for everyone but the monk, and the monk would use his sling), 4 targeting the Ogre Magi, and 3 targeting the evil wizard. The wizards and clerics would detonate their long range, area effect spells across the enemy ranks. That would probably take out the Gnolls and severely hurt everyone else, though the evil wizard would have probably been dead.

First Round: Repeat actions from surprise round, with the exception of all ranged weapon attacks would be aimed at the Ogre Magi if the evil wizard was down. That would probably have taken everything out.

Second Round: If anything is still alive, melee characters drop ranged weapons and pull melee weapons and engage the remaining enemy that has charged the hill. That should finish any remainders of the enemy group.

Of course I didn't actually voice this to anyone but our DM and even then it was in a note that I passed him. I was about 11 or so when this happened and the group thought I was just a kid who only played because my dad was gaming. I don't think they ever caught on that I was the one causing all sorts of problems for them... but that's another show. Back on to the strategy side of things.

Luckily for me, all the groups that I have gamed with since then have understood a bit of strategy, at least in regards to spells at any rate. Don't think that I'm insulting anyone by saying that few people give much thought to a strategy when gaming. See, I'm a bit of an odd one when it comes to things like this, I LOVE thinking up strategies for various scenarios. Yeah, I'm weird. But in the few times that I have been party leader, our tactics have enabled the groups to take out creatures with relative ease, much to our various DMs frustration a few times.

You don't need to study everything in the books or even historical battle tactics, just get a basic idea of the rules and what the party members can do.  Here is my basic advice:
1. Range is your friend, in most cases. Make the enemy come to you, whittle down their numbers from a distance. Always concentrate on spellcasters if able to.
2. Spell ranges and area of effects need to be considered. No fireballing your melee people.
3. Melee attacker needs to have healing nearby if it is going to be a drawn out fight. They are going to be the ones who can keep the enemy from getting to the squishy members of the party.
4. Always try to get an enemy to come at you one at a time. One butt hallways are good for funnelling enemies down, but you have to be set up somewhere that more than one melee attacker can get at the enemy.
5. Running away is okay.  You don't have to fight to the death every time.

There are a lot of different strategies that can be used, but don't worry about getting bogged down in tactical discussion or planning. It's a game, not a war simulation.

Don the Evil Bassman

Friday, July 8, 2011

They aren't yours! (A.K.A. My issues with Fan Fictions! Also titled, Reasons to stop reading things on the internet!)

Fan Fictions..... *shudder*
I have yet to see any that are worth my time on reading. Of course, with how harsh I am on books in general this isn't something discouraging. I can't even read Harry Potter, or even Lord of the Rings, I am way too harsh of a critic for most books. It's due to something that happened long ago. I dissect any story I read. Heck, I can't even read my own writings (trust me, I think it's horrible and most will never see the light of day) without completely destroying them. I haven't even cracked the spine on a Twilight novel. There are very few books that I can bring myself to read without demolishing. Role-playing game manuals and recently, The Dresden Files. Okay so the RPG manuals really don't count, but the Dresden Files do. I really love the Dresden Files. And yes, I've tried reading Codex Alera, I dissected it and couldn't get into it, nothing against Jim Butcher or his writing ability, I think it has more to do with the first person conversational style of the Dresden Files... but I digress.

Back onto what this post is about.

Fan Fictions... My main issue with Fan Fictions is that they take characters that aren't theirs and come up with their own stories about the characters, often taking them into completely opposite directions than what the original author was going for. Now, I'm not against stories set in the same universe/world of the story that you are fan fictioning, and even then, to have the main character from the published book make a cameo would be okay. I think that it would be a good exercise to do a story about something happening to different characters in the same universe as the main story, but something a bit different. You get your story and you don't do anything that would be taking away from the original author’s plan. I know, I know, the original author probably would never see what you have written and you are writing it for your own amusement. These are just my thoughts. I also know that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But I have been disturbed by reading a bit of a fan fiction where Harry and Ron hook up....

This also applies to Role-Playing games... I think that the original author should be the only one with stats for their characters. (Drizzit Do'Urden fans, I'm looking at you with this one.) But again, that is just me. I will admit, that I have stolen ideas for characters from movies, books, tv shows, and video games, but I have always used it as a starting point and changed the character and never claimed to be the same character, just inspired by that character. My biggest rip off... I mean inspiration.. was for a character named Xeron Shardliss. He is heavily based on the Prince from Prince of Persia the Sands of Time Series. Mainly I swiped the abilities (even then changed them around a bit), dropped the whiny attitude the prince has and replaced it with a more noble attitude, then added a roguish twist. Inspired by, but not the same as the Prince.

That's my take anyway. Again, I'm just an Evil Bastage if you ask the group I game with and I'm extremely harsh when it comes to writing.
The Evil Bassman and Neutral Evil DM

The Fighter (A.K.A. What do you mean he hit me 4 times for 39 points each AND I have to roll fort save vs bitch slap?)

I've been seeing a lot of stuff about how the fighter is a worthless class. How that it isn't powerful because it can't cast spells and doesn't get a lot of skill points. That after 5th level fighters are useless.

For all of that I have to say... Have you even played a fighter past 5th level?

I really enjoy playing all the classes, but fighters have always been a favorite since my first real character was a fighter. Well, he ended up being a fighter magic-user at the end of it, but it was his fighter abilities that carried him through his adventuring career for the most part and the magic-user was added mainly for flavor rather than power. Anyway, fighters can be powerful in their own right. In fact, I don't believe that a single class is really any more powerful than the others. Each class has its pros and cons. And I'm not talking about all the other classes out of the other books, I'm talking core books.

The examples that I always see being given are a single 20th Level Fighter with no magic items goes up against a full powered 20th Level wizard, sorcerer, or other spellcaster. Yup, that is pretty much the only example ever given, just in different flavors.

A 20th level Fighter with no magic items attacking a fully equipped 20th level anything is a pretty poor example. A 20th level rogue with no items wouldn't fair any better. Neither would a Paladin, Barbarian, Cleric, Wizard, Sorcerer, Ranger, Druid, Bard, or Monk.... Okay, the monk might be able to do more while being nekkid but not much....Okay, so the monk would be able to stand up to most things... Fine, remove the monk from the list.. Anyway..

The point of the fighter isn't to be a blasting character. They aren't supposed to be the “gesture and a load of low level enemies just die”. They don't channel the divine power of their gods, they aren't a living embodiment of rage, they don't seek perfection of the body, and they aren't in touch with nature. Fighters are experts in martial combat. Play to that strength.

My example of a high level fighter, straight class.
Elric Kaliburn: Fighter, 20th level (I think) Specialization: Full Blade sword. Main Stat: Str 20
Items: Alchemical Full Blade (+2, Adamantine, Silver, Cold Iron) Could strike anything. - Non-Magical sword, Full plate of speed (+2 with haste for 10 rounds), Helm of Brilliance, Amulet of natural armor + 6, belt of Giant Str +6, Dancing Shield (large) +2, Boots of striding and springing, ring of water walking, ring of overland flight, cloak of protection +3, and a couple of other magical items that I can't remember at the moment.
Armor Class: 33 (dex +2), Hit points: In the 200+ range (good con and I rolled really lucky)
Feats: Weapon focus and specialization: Full Blade, improved sunder, cleave, power attack, great cleave, mobility, point blank shot, precise shot, dodge, lighting reflexes, iron will, eyes in the back of your head (from the fighters handbook), a combat reflexes, improved critical: Full Blade, and defensive sweep(a very broken feat from the ph2 or complete adventurer. What? I ran out of feats that I wanted for him and everyone else was using the other source books. This one feat was so broken I was accused of taking nothing but broken feats for all of the feats for this character).

Elric was a fighter. Pure and simple. His to hits were 32/27/22/17, and damage was 20-39 points meaning average damage was 28 points per hit with a critical being between 40-78 damage with 56 points on average meaning medium creatures have to roll fort save vs death. If Elric were to just hit and do average damage with each of his hits it would be 112 average, with the range of damage being 80-156 for non-spell damage. Only Meteor Swarm comes close to that damage and that's only once or twice when you look at Elric being able to dish it out EVERY round. Not to mention Elric's love of sundering weapons and cleaving into the soft wielders of the weapons.

Yes, a force cage would stop him in his tracks, but that is why he is with a group of adventurers. He's not alone. That is what the adventuring group is for. Elric was a contributing member of the group and extremely valuable in combat. He was one of the group’s 2 major damage dealers. The other being Calixto, the ranger.  That's another thing that is forgotten in these debates, an adventuring party. Everyone has a place, no one can do everything. The spell casters support the big damage dealers and help take out the lesser folks while the tanks bee-line for the big bad guy.

Try this one, who would win if they were in a null magic area, the 20th Level Fighter or 20th level Wizard? Neither! Cause the great big ancient red dragon stomped them into oblivion. HA!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Encumbrance and Equipment (A.K.A. Why wagons are handy in D&D.)

For a long time I've played in and run games where the players didn't have to worry about encumbrance with their equipment. Usually due to having magical bags to store the stuff in or having easy access to transports. However, in this new D&D campaign I'm starting, encumbrance is an issue. Players are not only having to watch how much they are carrying, but where they are carrying it (I need to be able to determine what pickpockets can get their hands on, hee hee).

Back long ago when I was playing AD&D, I had to worry about encumbrance and the weight of my character's equipment. After struggling with it for a little while, I realized that I could use a wagon! So from that moment, when my characters started getting enough loot/equipment they went and got a wagon. We almost always had hirelings that would watch the party's camp so I just gave them a bit extra gold and they watched my wagon as well. It caught on with other members of the group and soon everyone had wagons and boy did it get interesting. The best time was when the group had about 10 wagons, most of them were covered or enclosed and they all had magic on them in some form or another. We would circle them around our campsite, set up the watch, then put a cover over the whole thing with a hole in the center of the cover for the smoke to go out, and then activate the magics to make it secure. The group was about 15th level when doing this. We called it our portable canvas tower. Then the group would leave their hirelings and followers there at the camp and trudge into the dungeon, if we needed anything that was at camp, our mage would teleport back to it, grab the stuff and port back, it was easy.

Then someone ticked off a demon.

But that is another story. This is about the encumbrance and equipment.

Treasure has a weight, all treasure, and equipment has weight, so what happens when you combine both? Things get heavy, characters start to slow down. No more are the characters going to be carrying around 1000s of gold pieces at at time. Now, I'm not doing this to be mean (Though part of me is getting a bit of a sadistic kick out of it), but I wanted to do a "back to basics" game, even though it is in 3.5 D&D. So I wanted to count encumbrance again, get people to think about how they are going to accomplish these tasks they set out to do. And having to keep track of what your character is carrying is part of that. You have to plan more to get through. In all honesty, I think that the players will get more out of it since they are going to have to put more into it. And this is where a wagon would come in very handy.

Recently, I've found groups(not just members of my group, others that I have talked to as well) scoffing at the idea of having a wagon coming along with the group. This boggled my mind until I realized that no one was used to encumbrance. At the time it was easy to transport thousands of gold pieces and treasure, but not this time. This stuff can get heavy so it's time to figure out how you get the treasure back to town to sell it off. My suggestion? Get a wagon and a bunch of sacks. Big ones if you are lucky enough. Oh yeah, a horse to pull the wagon. I've seen groups forget to get a horse for their wagon. But remember, someone needs to watch the wagon while the characters are in the dungeon otherwise things might go missing.

Never underestimate the usefulness of a wagon.

Duke Nukem Forever, My Review (A.K.A. High hopes and low expectations win again!)

Okay, I've read the reviews and have seen numerous posts that say that Duke Nukem Forever is a horrible game, that it's boring, the controls have no weight, that the story is paper thin, that Duke has no depth as a character, and that the game doesn't look as good as most other games that have come out recently. To which I have to say,

What were you expecting?!? <- The exclamation point is required there, btw.

Remember, these are just my opinions and I understand that not everyone will agree.

I do agree with the critics a bit, the graphics look like some of the games that came out  a couple of years ago and the animation is a bit stiff, but they aren't that bad.

Here is where I have a difference of opinion with a lot of the reviewers.

The Story, a lot of reviewers say that the story is thin and direct with no real substance. My response, What were you expecting from Duke Nukem? It's always been about blowing stuff up and ogling babes. It's a throwback to the old 80's over the top action flicks. I almost expect to hear Duke say something about the story getting in the way of blowing things up. Duke Nukem hasn't really ever had a big story (I'm talking about  Duke Nukem 3D and it's expansions. I've never played any of the others really.) Shoot stuff, look at babes, spout bad/cheezy/cliche lines, and shoot stuff. Simple story, no need to get over dramatic.

The Character, reviews say that Duke is a big douche bag and is crass as hell. My response, Well, yeah that's what Duke is supposed to be. Duke is self absorbed and egotistical, not to mention shallow and chauvinistic. However, I have noticed a few times Duke actually helps out the underdog rather than picking on him (you get to punch out a whining self absorbed prick who is chewing out a stage hand in the game) but I think that this is because Duke knows that he is the greatest thing since breathing was invented and doesn't have to put down everyone to get an ego boost (he gets that by just looking in a mirror.). With Duke, what you see is what you get.

The controls to me feel exactly like the old Duke Nukem 3D, so far everything is how I figured it would be. Duke can run across a football field in just a couple seconds and when I want him to turn, he turns and fast! Almost too fast, it took a few seconds to get used to the controls but they felt really tight in all honesty. Duke feels like he is superhuman and I think that is what it is supposed to be like. He punches creatures and they fly away. Though I wish that they would lessen the lag time on attacks a bit (push the button and it is just a brief delay on the attack going off but the lag is still there, doesn't detract too much though.)

The Humor, almost all of the reviews have said it goes too far, and I agree... to a point. The point is that the humor is supposed to go too far. So far I'm getting a lot of laughs out of it but I know there will be a point that I won't find everything funny. However, I do find it is very similar to a number of frat parties that I went to when I was hanging out in college and so far, the parties were worse in the humor department. Some of those guys went on to become doctors... that kinda scares me actually, I know what they did during some of those things. But Duke is all about the bad jokes, bawdy humor, and being down right WRONG at times (kinda like Family Guy and South Park, oh yeah don't forget episode 26 of the Excel Saga *shudder*).

The game play has also been criticized, saying it's too linear, there are sections of driving that are boring, and the combat is easy. I haven't found it to be easy on the combat, I've gotten my butt handed to me a few times, but I don't play FPS's very often. The driving so far has been fun, and while in the RC car, I had aliens trying to kill me the entire time. And the linear part, most FPS's I've played are linear, move from one area to the next and shoot everything that moves or doesn't (notable exceptions are Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, and the Metroid Prime series)

 It doesn't do anything to the FPS genre that hasn't been done before but I wasn't expecting it too, but Gearbox better do something amazing with Duke in the next game, it will have to be something special next time!

After all is said and done, I would rate the game at a solid 75 out of 100, due to nostalgia, not expecting a genre changing game, and the sheer fun of being the Duke again. It's fun and mindless, so if you like your story's thin, your hero shallow, and your action as explosive and frantic as you can get then this is the game to play. But if you want an in depth story, a character you can relate to, and meaningful dialog then I suggest you pass on this one.

Always bet on the Duke.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Psychology in Gaming (a.k.a. The art of warping not so young, but still squishy, minds)

Over the years I have learned a moderate amount of psychology and use it in the campaigns that I run. Well, most of the campaigns, Tales of the Doc Wagon didn't have any psychology in it on purpose. There is always some amount of psychology being used in any game, regardless if it is intended or not, but what I am talking about is the deliberate use of psychology in creating and running a game, and even then it's more of the behavioral aspect of psychology.

I won't get into exactly how I use it, don't want to give away all my tricks, but the big thing that I use it for is to help mold the game to make it more enjoyable, giving the players a chance to invest themselves a bit more in their characters. One of the other things that I use it for is for dramatic tension, I know how to make a villain that can get under someone's skin and get the players wanting to take the character down. This is done through the villains personality, actions, or associations. I've had times where players meet a villain who hasn't done anything yet, but they hated him  just because of his personality (incidentally one of the people that they thought was part of the evil side was actually one of the good guys, he was just a jerk).

Here are 3 things I use to mess with minds:

Betrayal: There are few things that hurt as much as betrayal. Of course having an NPC betray a group is almost always expected, which is why I like to use player characters. Betraying a group with a PC is one of the most dramatic things that I have seen. But it only works if the player of the character goes along with it and they never did anything that made the others believe that it was going to happen. I use this very sparingly.

Playing to Fears: I will exploit fears, both player and character. Yes it's a cheap shot, but very effective when done correctly. Can't do it too often otherwise they get used to it. The trick to this is bring the fears into the game but never ever make it completely hopeless, there always has to be a way out, otherwise the player and/or character will just give up and that is not a good thing.

Misinformation: I do think of this as a psychological aspect since it is based on an individual's perception. I'm not talking about giving bad or incorrect information, I'm talking about giving a bit of information but with some parts missing so that the PC's speculate on what it is and/or means. In fact, I generally don't give the PC's completely bad information (i.e. Out right lie to them) but I will give rumors and gossip which they will sometimes take as fact. It's great listening to the players discuss these things, makes it hard not to grin when they are going in the wrong direction with it so naturally, I grin at everything.

There are other aspects that I won't get into here because I don't think I can describe what I do correctly. Heck, I probably didn't describe what I did put correctly.

However, using psychology as a Game Master is a bit tricky, you have to be careful because it can backfire really really really badly. I've caused players to cry at certain events that have occurred, I've gone too far and made everyone feel that there is no hope when they are actually more than capable of completing the task at hand, given nightmares to players for weeks after the session where I played with their mind, and made one player so frightened that she couldn't be by herself for a couple of days afterwards (though, I have to admit, it was a massive ego boost for me, and her boyfriend thought it was funny). And, of course, the current gaming group thinks I'm evil.

Now, I will warn players when I am going to start using a lot of psychology to take a campaign into a darker direction, and I give them the option to tell me to back off and I will tone it down. Last thing I want to do is get everyone mad at me and not want to game anymore.

One final thing, madness, I've seen few people that can pull off a character going mad/insane/bonkers/cuckoo/crazy correctly. Yes Cheli, I believe that Cobalt Blue was done correctly, and Scott, stop glaring. Insanity can be hard to pull off, so research on it is very helpful.

Just some musings on some of what I do for RPGs, I won't get into the video games that use psychology, that's another post.

Cthulhu is amused.

Paranormal Stuff: Ghosts, Bogeymen, and Spirits (a.k.a. The things that go more than just bump in the night)

Yes, I believe in ghosts. Yes, I believe there are demons. Yes, I believe that there are many things we can not explain out there in the world. Yes, I believe there is something beyond this existence.

I happened to see a trailer for a movie called Insidious. Looks interesting. It got me to thinking about all the various boogie boos out there.  I wonder how many people out there truly believe in the supernatural/paranormal. I see polls that are taken, surveys and such, but how many people tell the truth about it? Anyway, that really isn't why I'm typing this up.

I'm actually talking about the hunters of the paranormal in this post. There are shows about people 'investigating' these occurrences. And yes, I put investigating in quotes for a reason. Most of these shows go looking to prove that there is something there. The only one that I've seen where they didn't is Ghost Hunters. However, I am still a bit sceptical of them, seems that they are asked to play up what happens in the show. However, most of the time they don't seem to find anything. The other shows always find something. Having learned a bit about psychology over the years I firmly believe that if you go into one of these investigations believing that you will find something then you will find it. One of the guys that I work with said something that perfectly sums up most of these investigation shows, "I'm expecting to hear/see this (give example)" During investigation, "Oh hey! Did you see/hear that thing I said that I expected to see/hear?" Most of these shows give paranormal investigation a bad name, and how can anyone take them seriously. On occasion they do come up with some neat footage/evidence but nothing that I would ever consider as concrete proof of paranormal activity. Some of it gets close, but nothing that jumps out and can remove any shadow of a doubt that it exists.

Here are some things I have issue with when presented as "Fact":
Orbs - Often believed to be collections of energy moving around or spirits. What I think they probably are - Dust or bugs

Really grainy photos of ghosts - Investigators reaction: You can see a ghost in the photo! It proves that the place is haunted! - My reaction: How can you tell? I think that most of these are matrixing, the ability of the brain to make a shape out of patterns.

Really grainy videos of ghosts - Similar to above, but I have to ask, why does it have to be so grainy? Do spirits find it easier to manifest if they are being watched with a grainy camera? Come on, get some high quality cameras that give us the good proof we want!

EMF Meters - Investigators: Oh My GOD! There is a GHOST HERE!! The EMF is going off!! Me: Get the damn thing away from the boom mike, camera, or wire. Seriously, to say a place is haunted because your little device goes off isn't good investigation, you have to look for a source, if you can't find one you can say it's paranormal but don't call it a ghost.

Thermometers - Investigators use this to try to find spirits as well, again they will overreact to a fluctuation in temperature and for the instances of dropping more than 10 degrees in a matter of seconds, those have me scratching my head too. But is it a ghost? I need more than that.

EVP (a.k.a. Voices in static) - Now these can creep me out but most of the time I would have to listen really hard to hear anything other than static. I consider most of this along the lines of audio matrixing, kind of like the visual matrixing with the photos, the brain fills in the gaps.

In my mind, the best way to capture proof of the supernatural (i.e. Ghosts) would be to use really good equipment to capture it. High grade cameras, audio recorders, and sensors. The best rig for me is to outfit someone with a suit that has various sensor and recorders all over it, including something to scan brain activity, and send them into a haunted house alone with a team outside monitoring the investigator. But I'll get into that in another post.

But since all the data can be faked and there have been so many charlatans in the past, could it ever be trusted?

I don't think so.

That is why I think that belief in the supernatural/paranormal can not be increased with evidence, people will have to personally experience it themselves.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Telling the Story (a.k.a. Sharp Plot points really hurt. Also: Red Herring Mania!)

Most of my campaigns are Sandbox style and the game I'm running right now is a VAST Living Sandbox that has a lot of instances of rippling effects across the campaign.

I'm running a Mekton Zeta game, the games are set up as if the campaign is an Anime series. The main name of the series is Darkest Eve, with the individual seasons having their own names, Rogue Queen Saga for the first season of 24 'episodes' and Cast to the Black as the second season. There are 4 seasons scheduled, totalling 96 episodes, with the possibility of a few more to wrap up the campaign if needed. Of course, the players have the option of canceling the series at the end of a season, but they won't get to find out what happens in the story if that happens. Yes it's blackmail, but if you kill the story before it's done then you probably will never know the end. The series is set in space and has giant robots that the characters get to pilot around, there are other races and space battles along with going out to a great big asteroid field to do some mining. The story for the beginning of the campaign is that an officer of a galactic territory is leading a crew to find what is called Lost Tech. This lost tech is from a civilization that predates all of the civilizations that are around now, even humanity (BTW, Earth was lost a couple of thousand years ago. Well, the entire solar system was lost.). Now here is the part I wanted to get to, the story.

The group hasn't been directly told what the main goal of the campaign is. They know what the story is and are helping it unfold, sometimes in ways I didn't think of. I've given them the option of me directly telling them what the main goal is but they haven't wanted me to reveal that yet. Mind you, the goal doesn't mean they will know the story. This is how I am trying to keep the interest going in the campaign for the 96+ games that I have planned (loosely, I gave up on planning it out fully when the PCs altered things a bit with their actions).  I have given clues to what the main point is, but I have created a number of 'Side Quests'. These are making up the main part of the first part of the campaign and they are rather fun and even have an effect on the game world. This is also giving the players reason to explore the game world (or universe in this instance) since they don't really know what the direct goal is. It's been my experience that if the players have a direct goal they will pursue it, often forsaking everything else for it. This way they get to explore and shape things more their own way.

2 main problems with this style of storytelling:
1: Not enough information to keep the characters moving in any direction. PC's can get lost or lose interest if there isn't anything going on.
2: Too much information. PC's can get lost in the information and with all the stuff that there is to do.

I have set up a work around for that, the group has a mission that they are on, searching for Lost Tech. Anything that deals with that they are on top of. Everything else is just icing for them. Whether or not this is the main plot or goal of the series has yet to be seen, heck it might even be a side quest. Am I ever going to tell? Maybe, maybe not. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!!

The Consequences of the PC's Actions (a.k.a. What do you mean I got the queen pregnant and then king found out?)

I love to have the PC's actions have consequences, either immediate, short term, long term, or campaign altering!  Ah the joys of killing a major noble of a kingdom... Many times in my games have PC's sparked wars, released things they shouldn't have, or just plain mucked up things that really should have been left alone. These repercussions don't even have to have anything to do with the main goal of the campaign but sometimes can become the main goal. These things can be a pain to keep track of if there are too many changes, generally I keep track of the major or far reaching ones for the whole campaign while minor ones might be forgotten later in the same game session. In a related note to the Encounters post, the PCs actions can have a rippling effect across the game world that can alter many things. Like I mentioned in Encounters, if an event happens that the PCs really needed to be there for but they decided to go somewhere else what has changed (These type of instances can only occur in Living Sandboxes)? I just continue going on and let the PCs hear about it and they realize that they should have gone to the castle for the coronation ceremony of the new king rather than going berry picking with the naked hot elven babes.

Encounters/Events (a.k.a. The stuff that goes on between tangents.)

This is just my thoughts on the effects of what the PCs do in a campaign, but it does  kind of tie into the Static and Living worlds a little bit, but not much.

Encounters and Events are the staple of a good game. How I define an Encounter is a real good question, I really can't say there is much of a difference between an Event and an Encounter in the grand scheme of things. How about this, Encounters directly involve PCs and an Event is something that the PCs are witness to but don't necessarily get involved in? Anyway, there are 2 types of Encounters in my book, random and planned. Now random encounters are exactly that, random. They happen for no real reason other than the dice said so (GMs generally will come up with a reason for the Frost Dragon to be in the desert, or at least they should). I don't really have any issue with random encounters but sometimes I have issue with planned ones.

For Planned encounters are times that the PC's need to be somewhere specific for something to occur but what happens if the PC's never go there? Do you force the encounter? There are GMs that I have gamed with (and I have done this a couple of times myself) that will move the encounter to where ever the PCs are, regardless of it if makes sense for it to occur there or not. I know that some GMs work really hard to create encounters and want the PC's to find them but rather than shoe horn it into a spot, change it to suit where it is, and if the group is trying to avoid it because they don't think they can handle it, don't force it. But I have to admit, I've done it too.

Static and Living Worlds. (a.k.a. 'The Universe revolves around Me' and 'What do you mean it doesn't revolve around me?')

This kind of goes with my previous post about Linear vs Sandbox style of games and is my take on my 2 classifications of game worlds, Static and Living.

When dealing with the Sandbox style in the past (playing and running for some of it) I have found that many game worlds seem to wait for the PCs to appear for something to happen. Almost like the barbarian horde that is just over the ridge has a lookout watching for them and when the PC's arrive the horde just "happens" to attack at that time( I have the image in my mind of this horde sitting around drinking tea and discussing the finer things when someone runs in shouting "The PCs are here!" and at that time they all grab weapons and charge, after cleaning up the tea of course. Makes me think of the Capitol One Card commercials actually). I call these type of worlds as Static. That isn't a bad thing, it just means that the world revolves completely around the PCs.

In Living worlds life goes on when the PC's aren't there. This can be a nightmare to keep track of. Living worlds are constantly changing, evolving, growing, and moving so when the PCs go back to a place they've been or have heard about it can be completely different. Kingdoms can rise or fall while the PCs are out and about. Of course this can make the players wonder if they are doing the right thing in the game since there is usually a lot of information coming to them.  Static worlds are good for keeping a group on the right track since the world doesn't change much at all without the PC's there so information is still relevant regardless of when the PCs show up. Living worlds can be overwhelming since things change and evolve as the campaign progresses, and sometimes thing are completely different when the PCs get there.

Nothing against either one of these style of campaign worlds, its just my perceptions of the 2 types that I see.