Thursday, October 27, 2011

Using Divine Beings: The Good-BBEG

GMs seem to love using Demons and Devils in games as (or at usually) the BBEG.  This makes perfect sense, they have lots of powers, lots of survivability, lots of minions to wade through along the way, usually some good lewtz and likely some Achilles' Heel that makes for fun games and great adventure stories.  There isn't much room for discussion on "if" the BBEG is truly bad - they are the embodiment of evil made incarnate on some outer plane.

On the other hand is the Divine Being that is working counter to the party's goals.  Now this isn't a true BBEG situation (at least not at first).  Initially it is probably more of a speed bump for the party.  However, knowing that a being is "good" but getting in the way is a great way to get a party wound up and invested in their characters and actions.  Maybe the party is very lawful and the divine being functions in a very chaotic but ultimately good way - maybe the party is barely good and not really lawful, but the divine being is super good and super lawful - is the party really going to risk upsetting the "HIGHER POWERS OF GOOD" just to get a speed bump out of the way?  Unlikely.

I'm a big fan of the spider-web style of gaming and while it doesn't mesh perfectly with a sandbox environment, they can be very complimentary.  So when the plan of the game begins to take shape, remember to include variables that can be adapted to the party's decisions.  This is where the Good-BBEG (GBBEG), they don't start out as the BBEG, they may not finish as the BBEG or even ever actually be the BBEG.  What they become is the *problem* that the party always has to consider when they come to a major decision.

They (GBBEG) cannot be used to often or the party will (rightfully) consider it a big problem and figure a way to neutralize it OR begin to feel like the divine being is a GM pet to be used whenever the GM wants to foil the party's plans.  The GBBEG also cannot get involved in everything the party is doing or actually help the party in any meaningful way.  The GBBEG has to be a BBEG in every way to the party, but not to anybody else.  If the party saves the town from a horde of orcs, the GBBEG gets the credit, even if all they did was herd the peasants into a building to protect them (thus risking them all if the building caught on fire); if the party finds a big treasure haul, the GBBEG shows up to claim it as stolen goods from someone higher up; etc.

What happens eventually is that the party has to find a way to either extricate themselves from involvement with the GBBEG or find something better for the GBBEG to do - usually dealing with a true BBEG.  The beauty of this is that then the GM gets to bring the GBBEG back as a new BBEG (corrupted from defeating a true BBEG) or as a more powerful GBBEG as the party advances.  If the party decided to remove the GBBEG, well then they have to deal with the consequences of pissing off whoever the GBBEG was working for - the GBGBBEG (great-big good-big bad evil guy).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Using Dire Creatures

Dire creatures are to heroic story games what heroes are to heroic story games - larger than life.  You didn't just fight a rat, you fought a DIRE RAT - still only has 5 hit points.

Take a moment and compare what you do in your game to the real world.  When was the last time you saw any non-domesticated creature with more than 1-2-3-4 hit points, outside of a zoo or on TV?  When was the last time you saw something that viewed you as a potential meal?  Would you really want to get close enough to poke it with a sword?

I'm lucky, I live in a *relatively* developed area of the United States (Northwest Arkansas), but I can go 20 miles in just about any direction and be in a heavily wooded, adventure-type setting.  I also lived in northern Arizona for several years, where I got to see some Javelinas running wild (they even look a little like dire rats).  As such, I've been deer, squirrel, rabbit, duck, and quail hunting - maybe a deer has more than 4 HP...  I have seen bear, coyote, wolf, wild boar and wildcat tracks all around areas where we regularly camp - yes, you can drive there, but you need a 4-wheel drive.  What I have never seen is a Dire Bear, Dire Wolf or Dire Boar - which I'm grateful for, though I'll take my .30-06 rifle over a sword/shield any day.

So think about this the next time you decide to put a dire animal in a game - it is the heroic adventurer of that species.  Try not to let it be just a *filler* fight or useless random encounter that doesn't get across the importance of the fact that at 1st-level, a dire rat isn't just a big rat, it's a DIRE RAT (the heroic 1st level Fighter of the rat kingdom) - that still only has 5 hit points (more than the party wizard).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Using Existing Worlds

From Greyhawk to Garweeze Wurld (the difference is subtle I  know), Faerun to Krynn, many of us have a favorite world to host adventuring parties.  Perhaps, that world was the first D&D book we read, or we liked some aspect of it better, dragonlances or spellfire, mega-dungeons or underdark.  Whatever the reason, most of our custom worlds draw heavily from these famous locales.

One of the guys in our Wed. gaming group was relating a story from a Star Wars game where they "killed" Darth Vader.  My first thought was why did the GM allow that to happen, then I thought, why did he even put the game in that timeline?  The first answer is obvious, he was a decent GM and gave his players agency to do what they wanted.  The second answer is more interesting...

We obviously hold dear our childhood memories, I love Transformers and still have about 100 or so, some in their original boxes and I enjoyed the recent TF movies, despite the liberties taken with the original story and personalities tied to the various characters.  For some reason, we can accept these changes if the budget is big enough, but we can't handle it when our friend's do it.  Why is that?  I can't speak for all gamers, but generally speaking, gamers are smart, diligent and respectful of the source material, yet fundamentally flawed in their approach to "the rest of the world."

So why run a game in our favorite world and favorite timeline, knowing that the players are eventually going to *dink* with something big?  Well, we are most familiar with it, we don't have to do a lot of work (since we've already done the work of reading the stories) to build the world and we know what is going to happen - or at least *think* we do.

So my suggestion to you new GMs/DMs/STs is don't run (or ruin) a game in your favorite world and your favorite timeline, leave that to the game developers and authors.  Use their stories to build your world's background or set up stuff yourself to make those stories your world's future.

You will get far more satisfaction from figuring out how everything fits together, how all the governments work, how the ecology came to be doing it yourself.  And, if you spend enough time, and get it polished well enough, you might even consider publishing it, becoming one of those people who really does get to decide what happens in a beloved world.