Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dwarven Monk Enclave

So, I got to thinking about how an enclave of dwarven monks would function.  Considering the hierarchy of dwarven loyalty (family-clan-home) I figure that a group of monks would have to mirror that loyalty structure to be effective.  I also think it is important to take into account dwarven style (hair, beard, tattoos, scarring/branding, attire, etc.) and dwarven perspective (hatred of orcs, loathing of elves, experience against giants) in how they would describe and develop forms, techniques and styles.

Fundamentally, dwarves should make great monks once you redirect their racially innate commitments to the school/enclave/monastery and style.  In human martial arts, most practitioners will switch styles during their training to improve their overall knowledge and understanding, combining aikido with kenpo, judo with nin-jitsu and muay thai, etc. and etc. and etc.  But dwarves aren't know for their flexibility and adaptability or acceptance of others.  I think using the more traditional separation/competition between martial arts schools when creating the background for a dwarven monk school/enclave/temple/way would be very important.  Basically, each school/enclave/"way" is the right path of development and everybody else's "way" is weak and wrong.  And, there are always going to be individuals/groups who disagree with one way of thinking and create a new way, thus creating at least 2 competing entities.

Some of the ideas I had for a naming convention for a dwarven monk enclave include:
Way of the Stone Fist (Dimond Axe, Iron Hammer)
Crouching Duergar/Hidden Drow (yes, I totally stole that format)
Order of the Mithril (Golden, Forged, Granite) Heart (Fist, Axe, Hammer)
Path of the Axe and Hammer (Swinging Axe, Crushing Hammer, Blunted Blade, Hammer and Anvil)

Dwarves are not know for their subtly and as such, I would not expect a monkish order to hide who or what they are.   Though they may be apt to wear more functional attire when traveling or doing daily activities, robes would probably be standard during organized events.  I suspect the leaders of an enclave would adorn their robes with indications of various accomplishments, status symbols and the like - jeweled accents, gold/silver/mithril thread/designs, possibly even jewelry of some sort.  I just don't see dwarven monks wearing austere attire. 

As for appearance and grooming standards, I can see various teachings being incorporated into different beard/hair designs.  One possible option could be using beard length/adornment similar to how human martial arts use a belting system (white-yellow-orange-purple-blue-green-brown-black) to indicate rank/skill.  Along those same lines, I can see scarring/branding being used to show commitment to a particular school/way in the same way American football and basketball players get their university or team logo tattooed/branded on themselves.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Scripted Events vs. Random Encounters

Scripted Event: events which occur based on a preset condition. 
The raid on the town occurs after nightfall once the heroes uncover the goblin's presence.

Random Encounter: event that occurs due to random chance/location/decision.
The party decides to explore a dire badger's lair while tracking the goblin's after the town raid.

Both of these things have a place at a gaming table in a fantasy world.  The issue is how to deal with them in an appropriate fashion.  

 Scripted Event - 
A GM should not have too many scripted events if he/she wants the players to feel like (or actually have agency) in the game.  How involved do you feel watching a movie (hint: watching a movie is a series of scripted events you have no control over)A large number of scripted events can be a major problem of heavy story based games, my rule of thumb is 3 per session *IF* they are necessary.  One at the beginning to set the tone and get the players hooked into the session, one in the middle to create drama for the climax scene (this one often is more about the players creating the scene than anything I do) and one at the end that is a cliff-hanger to keep the players thinking about the game through the down time.  However, if the GM/ST/DM runs from one event directly into the next, the players often feel like they are being railroaded to the climatic event the GM has already planned out - let the players figure out how to get from A to C by choosing to go through E, J and Q on their own, they will often create plenty of future game material along the way.  The same can often be the case in very long story arcs for any genre of game, but seems to be less necessary in sandbox-style games.

Random Encounter - 
Random encounters kill heavy story-based games.  Inevitably, one of the main PCs will get killed in a random encounter and the replacement PC never fits into the same position effectively.  "But without random encounters, how do you keep the tension up during a dungeon crawl/cross-country travel/forest adventure?"  I didn't say take them out completely, on the contrary, I think increasing the number of random encounters might actually be called for - just not combat oriented ones.  "But meeting merchants A1, A2 and A3 on a journey is boring."  It's only boring if the GM lets it get boring.  There is no limit to the types of random encounters a party can experience in any give environment - a gaze of beholders flies over; a core of elementals is seen (or felt if of the air variety); or just your random traveling snake-oil salesman - all serve to increase the anticipation and possibly open up new directions the game can move.  Whatever it is, make it something that is interesting enough to spend more than a few seconds describing.  "What if the players don't do anything?" So what if they don't, it's because they *chose* to do nothing, just as they can *choose* to do something.

"All that is great, but I still don't get why it really matters?"  It matters because if you do nothing but scripted events, the players never feel like a part of the action and so nothing they do matters.  If you do nothing but random events, the players feel like there is not real point to anything and nothing they do matters.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Trade Routes and Raiding

Granularity - the extent to which a system is broken down into small parts.

Does your world have functional granularity?  Do you worry about trade between nation-states?  Lots of games start with the premise of a trade route being disrupted or being ended (most of the time it is a vital substance and there is only one route).  Responding to this plot hook, players tend to fall into two categories, those that question why event X needs to be addressed and those that question how to resolve event X.  Aside: the groups that I game with fall roughly even on each side of this line, with many of the more experienced players asking the why part.

So how do you deal with these questions and get the party moving toward figuring out how to resolve event X?  Use an NPC to give them the answers, then give them the likely outcomes of each solution as seen from the NPC's perspective, but whatever you do, don't punish them for not doing what they are told is the best solution and don't reward them for doing exactly what they are told - think the opposite of Pavlov's dog.

What about when the party is not exactly good and decides to become raiders themselves?  Well, for one, make sure you have some valid trade routes and goods to be raided.  Also make sure there is some sort of militia or police force that protects these trade routes, otherwise why aren't they being raided all the time?

There are quite a few things to remember when a campaign moves in this direction.  What are the punishments for being caught raiding (both stealing and possibly murder)?  Is there a justice system in place or do the locals just take care of the problem?  What about if the raiders have "permission" to raid certain goods or attack certain traders but not others?  How fast does word spread of a specific trade route getting hit regularly?  How long can a route be raided before the traders take matters into there own hands or force the governments to get involved?

If you cannot answer these questions, then your game lacks some necessary granularity and you may want to rethink putting the players into this type of story arc.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic Beta Test Weekend Review

SWTOR is an MMO.  SWTOR does a few things really well.  SWTOR does a few things not so well.  SWTOR will cut significantly into WoW's player base (probably for 6-months to a year).  SWTOR will not kill WoW, despite WoW losing subscriptions at a rate slightly below light speed.

The Good:
Character creation is fun.  The images are crisp and clean.  The classes are well differentiated.  The visuals are nice and some of the zones are quite impressive in scope and design.  The interface is solid and the controls respond rapidly and effectively.  Making decisions based on light/dark/neutral outcomes and how your crew responds to them is fun.

The Bad:
Just as with the Conan MMO, all the races have the same 4 basic physical structures, so the only real difference is cosmetics - horns, headtails, veils, cybernetic parts, hair styles, eye color, etc.  There is a ton of clipping on all kinds of things unless your video settings are tweaked perfectly to your video card and monitor.  The AI on some of the monsters moves them to directly behind you, then your AI spins you around to face them without spinning the camera view if you are in 3rd-person - annoying.  After coming back from a cut scene, the camera angle was often changed and wouldn't immediately respond once movement started.  No "meeting stones" or automated grouping features for the Heroic Challenges - yes, WoW's addition of that was a good thing for those of us who don't have 100's or 1000's of friends playing.  Some of the areas are to large for their own good, especially the space stations - there's no need to run for 5 minutes between skills, trainers and the space dock.

The Conclusion:
I'm 50/50 on becoming a SWTOR subscriber.  While playing it, I was really enjoying the story lines and looking forward to fights and making light/dark/neutral decisions.  Once I walked away from the computer, I didn't feel a need to get back to it as soon as possible.  Possibly because it was a beta test and I knew that nothing I did this weekend would matter and possibly because I'm a cheapskate and the idea of adding a monthly subscription (even if it is every 6 months) kinda bothers me.

So, I give Star Wars: The Old Republic (Beta Weekend) 6/10 lightsabers.  They have a lot to do in the 1 month and 6 days until release.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic

So I got an invite to participate in the weekend "stress-test" of SWTOR this weekend.  It starts Friday evening and concludes Sunday evening.  I'm anxious to see the graphics and play interface, but I'm more interested to see if they have come up with something better than "collect 15 Sarlacc tentacles" or "herd 10 Banthas into the stables" that has plagued MMOs since they began.