Friday, November 30, 2012

Victory Conditions: How to Win an RPG.

"How do I win?" The first question most people ask when they sit down to a board game for the first time, and a very appropriate one. Now, ask this question at an RPG and you’ll have bags of flaming dung hurled at you while an army of liberal fascists melt your face with caustic hate speech that would make a clansman blush. Okay, maybe not all that bad, but the idea of winning has gotten a bad rap when it comes to RPGs, and this stems from a misunderstanding of the victory conditions of an RPG.

There are several "#1 rule(s) of gaming," but the one I prefer is “Have fun.” Vague and enigmatic, and much like any good religious text, it is open to vast amounts of interpretation; one man’s fun is another’s torture after all. So, what are we to do?

Well, the first thing you need to do is figure out, "What is fun?" Do you enjoy rules-light systems with a focus on character interactions? Do you like busting out the minis so you can duel the GM in a chess-like battle of wits? Do you enjoy sitting around a table with friends rolling dice and eating Cheetos? Or is it a little from column A and a little from B? Look over your previous gaming career and think about what in the past has tickled your fancy in that special way that makes you keep coming back to chase the dragon. You may even notice that what you find enjoyable may vary from system to system.

I know if I sit down to a Pathfinder game, I enjoy a bit more strategic combat than when I play World of Darkness, and I know that stems primarily from the game mechanics at work and the design of the system. Once you've discovered what it is you are looking for, you can inform your GM or players to what it is you are looking for in your gaming, so your fun will be represented.

Now, as anyone who has ever ordered a pizza can attest, pleasing everyone is not easy, and to believe that everyone in a group will have the same idea of fun is folly; so, this is where you have to put your big boy pants on and understand that compromise is the name of the game. Yes, you may have to endure a few rounds of combat before you get back to the courtly romance, or suffer through an intense negotiation over the party’s fee in lieu of rolling a dice and moving on, but that is life, and if you want your fun, you’re going to have to let others have theirs.

TPKs and Derailing

Now, there are two forms of fun that are universally loathed: the TPK (Total Party Kill) and Game Derailing. If you disagree with this statement, congratulations, your friends probably hate gaming with you. Both of these things can happen unintentionally, and it sucks, but what sucks far more is when a GM or player sets out with this as his goal.

For those of you who may not know what I’m talking about: a TPK (Total Party Kill) is when the GM kills everyone in the party, usually though an unbalanced encounter. I’m amazed at the number of GMs who brag about doing this, as there is no skill involved in it. As the storyteller you have access to an infinite amount of in-game power, while the player’s power is restricted by the rules of the game and what the GM supplies them with. Bragging about a TPK is like being proud of sucking, and unless you’re the reigning BJ Queen of Tijuana, you shouldn't feel this is an accomplishment.

Now, on the other side of the coin is derailing a game. This is the player equivalent of a TPK, but instead of killing the party, you kill the story. This is as easily accomplished as a TPK; just refuse every hook, or take actions to illustrate the restrictions of the story (i.e. attack the king as he’s giving you a quest, heading to town C when the quest is obviously in town A, etc.). Do these things and you will be assured to have a place in the halls of Dickdom, where your obvious disrespect for the time and effort the GM has put into the game will be acknowledged for all time. As anyone who has GMed knows a story is a fragile thing, requiring a lot of maneuvering and quick thinking to keep it on course; it also requires the players to work with you at a certain level to get the ball rolling. If a player thinks he is clever for out-smarting your story's obvious hooks, or feels you've cheated him because, as the GM, you haven’t whisked him away to a land of enchantment and mystery in the first 5 minutes of a new campaign, so now it must die, then he has some entitlement issues, and needs to talk to his parents about how he was raised.

The common thread that both of these victory conditions share is that they target your fellow players and not anything in the game. You are actively being mean to your friends and wasting their time, so unless you enjoy having your time wasted and being cock blocked at every turn, this may be one type of fun that you don’t allow in your gaming group.

Gaming is about fun, it’s a hobby, not a job; if you aren't enjoying it, you are doing it wrong. So quit being a loser, and find the fun.

Good Gamin’.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Queen of Diamonds - Engineer

Queen of Hearts - Engineer
Faster than a Mohave Rattler the ol' iron horse is the only way to travel the weird west. You can grab the fig here at some point. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

MIniature Monday: King of Hearts: Muckraker

King of Hearts: Muckraker

The secrets of the weird west are a little less secret with this pugilistic of the pen on the prairie. You'll be able to grab the fig here. (once I get it uploaded)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Queen of Spades - Nun

Queen of Clubs - Nun
Devilish denizens of the high plains fear her yard stick. You'll be able to download your fig here once I get it formatted :(.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Miniature Mondays - Jack of Hearts - Bartender

Jack of Hearts - Bartender

Nothing fuels an old west adventure like whiskey, and here's the man to supply it. You can grab your fig here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Story Design - Tent Poles

Tent Poles

Mind out of the gutters, people. "Tent poles" is a term you hear a lot in story development circles. Basically, it is the key story points in your arc.

Most movies have 5-7 tent pole moments; these are the scenes you are most likely to see in the trailer. As the name suggests, tent pole moments are the key structural points of a story, and just as an actual tent would fall apart if you were to kick down one of its poles, so will your story’s structure.

So how can we use this concept in RPG story creation?

Let’s start with the two key moments in any story: the beginning and the end.  
All stories are about the resolution of a conflict, and the moment that this conflict is set into motion is known as the inciting incident. And guess what? This is our first Tent Pole. 

So let’s think about what gets the ball rolling in our story, and then create a scene for it.

Let’s say the main conflict of our story revolves around a plot by Izz’gard the Spoiled One and his plot to secure his inheritance through murder. How do we bring our characters into the story?

Oh, fine, I'll do it. How about, while our characters are minding their own business, they stumble across a dead body floating down the river, with evidence of murder abounds. Let’s write that down.

Tent Poles
1.       Inciting Incident - Characters discover dead body in the river

Okay, now that we know how it starts, how should it end? 

Well, I’ve had a hankerin' to try out a new monster, a Treasure Golem, so why not use this to build our climax? Let's plan an epic battle to take place in the royal vaults, where the party will have to battle the very gold that Izz’gard has been killing to secure.

Tent Poles
1.       Inciting Incident -Discover dead body in the river
5.       Climax – Treasure Golem - Epic vault battle

So, climax is where everything comes to a head. I said minds out of the gutters people! This is where the conflict of the story is resolved, either happily or tragically.

Okay, looking at our list we still have some blank spaces in there, so let’s find a good midpoint turn.

The midpoint turn is a term used to describe a reversal in the direction of the story, usually taking place in the middle (surprise, surprise) and setting us up for the turn of the climax. It’s usually the point where everything seems hopeless, or where victory seems within the heroes grasp just to find out that what he was seeking wasn’t what he was after.

To bring it back to our game, let’s say that Izz’ard is the one who hired the party to investigate the murder, and our midpoint turn occurs when they discover they’ve been used to kill off the last man standing in the way of Izz’ard's fortune, and that he was the murderer the whole time. Unfortunately, this revelation comes as the party is dumped into the dark caverns of darkness from which not even darkness can escape.

So, let’s add it to the list.

Tent Poles
1.       Inciting Incident - Party discovers dead body in the river
3.       Midpoint TurnIzz’ard is the real villain! Thrown in Dark Cavern of Darkness.
5.       Climax – Epic vault battle

The final two tent poles basically write themselves... well, with a little help from your creativity.

Since the party killed someone for Izz’ard, we’ll need a place for that to happen. How about Tent Pole number 2? It makes sense.

Tent Poles
1.       Inciting Incident - Party discovers dead body in the river
2.       Rising Action - Track down killer & chase through streets!
3.       Midpoint Turn – Izz’ard is the real villain! Thrown in Dark Cavern of Darkness.
5.       Climax – Epic vault battle

And number 4 can become the escape from the Dark Caverns of Darkness.

Tent Poles
1.       Inciting Incident - Party discovers dead body in the river
2.       Rising Action - Track down killer & chase through streets!
3.       Midpoint Turn – Izz’ard is the real villain! Thrown in Dark Cavern of Darkness.
4.       Heroic Rising Action - Escape from the DCD – Battle with Shadows
5.       Climax – Epic vault battle

After this is done, it is just a matter of fleshing out the scenes, creating NPC, settings, clues, etc, until you have a well-structured story.

Now, before you start shouting about railroading, pre-destination, and all that, there are a few caveats about how you should use tent poles.

For starters these encounters are targets, and moving targets at that. They supply you, as the story teller, with destinations you can aim the players towards. 

If your players circumvent, destroy, or flat out miss the target: you may have to create another option to put them back on track, or even scrap the original story and devise a new path.

Tent poles are the iconic moments that you think of when someone mentions the game. Take a moment and think about some of the movies you’ve seen, and books you’ve read. What are the first scenes to pop into your mind? Odds are good these were the tent pole moments.

Good Gamin’

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Three dimensions of character (Part 3) – Psychological

The Three dimensions of character (Part 3) – Psychological

So when you take the physical (Nature) and you combine it with the Environment (Nurture) you get the third aspect of characterization the psychological.

To be clear when I talk about the psychological aspects of your character I am not talking about listing your character derangements, or determine on a sliding scale from one to a hundred how many croutons short of a salad your character is. Not that these elements aren’t a part of character design, but the psychological aspect encompasses more than having to yodel Chopin, while hopping on one foot to avoid a two dice penalty to basket weaving.

Really what matters most to us in the psychology of a character comes down to motivation. What drives your character to act the way he does? How does he react to certain situations, and stimuli? What experiences from the character’s past lead to this reaction? How did these reactions lead him to become the person he is today? These are the core questions we are looking to answer when we ponder the psychological aspects of our character.
The most overused cliché in gaming can serve as an example of this methodology. Fenris Orckiller’s family was killed by a party of rampaging orcs when he was a child, and now he hates them so much!

So applying what we were talking about before to this example we can surmise the following:

What motivates fenris?
Fenris’s hatred of orcs fuels his epic sojourn across the globe to eradicate the vile creatures.

What drives him to act the way he does? The loss of his loved ones at an early age has left him distant, and unwilling to forge close ties with others for fear they will be lost in a similar way.

How does he react to certain stimuli? When he sees an orc he kills it. When others get to close to him emotionally he lashes out to push them away.

How did this lead him to be the person he is today? He’s a battle scarred warrior, with no friends, or allies, who has become an expert in the field of orc genocide.

Now let’s throw a wrench in there. Despite his best efforts to push her away Fenris has fallen in love with a beautiful princess, based upon his past what reaction do you think he would have to this stimuli?

Well, considering the lasting damage done to his psyche by the death of his parents, the death of his true love would be equally, or far more traumatic. So in order to defend himself from this trauma Fenris would stop at nothing to protect his true love, even if it puts him at the mercy of some cunning evil doer with plans of over throwing the Imperial Senat….KING, I mean over throwing the king.

This is what separated role players from roll players in my book, simply because you can’t play a role if there isn’t one, and character motivation stemming from the psychological is what defines the role of the character. Great stories derive from great characters. Great characters generate conflict, both internal and external. I’m not sure if I said it here before, but the best advice I ever received as a story teller was, “Keep the story simple, and let the players fuck it up.” This can happen in a lot of ways, but the best ways are when a character’s in-game motivation is the cause of the swerve. (note: this doesn’t mean your character’s motivation supersedes the fun of the other players, always weigh the good of the story vs. the good of the game)

Well, you are now primed and ready to create your own 3 dimensional characters. As always questions, comments, and suggestions are always welcomed.

Good Gamin’

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Three dimensions of character (Part 2) – Sociological

The Three dimensions of character (Part 2) – Sociological

Where and how a person is brought up can effect a great deal about that individual. Factors such as religion, Socio-economic status, and even climate can affect how a person develops and grows, and it is these aspects that I mean when I talk about the sociological elements of a character.

Primarily, our sociological traits dictate our value system. What is good? What is evil? Our determination of right and wrong are strongly affected by the what, where, when, and how of our upbringing.

Let’s take religion for starters. Religion is what supplies most people with the foundation for a moral compass. If your religion dictates that if 3,000 souls are not sent to the underworld every March Jellotrix the Smuckinator will destroy the world in a deluge of grape jelly, then were does killing fall on your moral scale?  If you don’t kill aren’t you damning the entire world to an early grave, is that more evil than ridding the world of 3,000 “evil” souls every spring?  Throw faith and doubt into the mix, and now you got some story fodder.  What if your character is at 2,999 souls at 11:58, on March 31st and the only person nearby is his son? Does he hold fast to his faith, or give into doubt, and what effect will the result have on his world view? What does it mean if nothing happens? Take a minute to think about your character’s relationship to the divine. What are his beliefs, and how strongly does he hold them, and why?
Socio-economic status is another important factor. Is your character rich, or poor?  Does he know the value of a hard days work, or has he never worked a day in his life? Supply and demand, our level of need dictates the value we place on things. If you have a hundred swords, but only one loaf of bread what do you place a higher value on? The ease in which you acquire your livelihood is also a factor in your value system. A farmer, who toils sixteen hours a day in the fields, sees his purse much differently than an aristocrat living off his father’s wealth. So, think about how your character earns his living. In which socio-economic strata he was raised. What resources were plentiful and which were scarce.

There are many other factors that play into the sociological aspect of your characters background.  Look to your own past, think about the people, organizations, jobs, hobbies, climates that affected your development. What values did these relationships instill?  Where we come from says a lot about who we are, and this is just as true for our characters.

Next up, the psychological.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Not Lazy Just Busy

Sorry about the lack of posting, I'm in the process of moving, and all my stuff is still in boxes. Will be back to posting soon.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Three dimensions of character (Part 1) - Physiological

The Three dimensions of character (Part 1)

A common criticism that gets thrown around about characters is that they are two dimensional, implying that they lack depth; all surface and no substance, all sizzle no steak, etc. If you have studied writing you may also know this means that the character lacks one or more of the three dimension of characterization; physiological, sociological, and psychological. As a gamer these dimensions might sound more familiar in the context of Strength, Wisdom, and Charisma, and they will definitely serve as a starting point, but as we all know a character sheet hardly a character make. So, let’s take a gander at how we can utilize these dimensions to generate a well-rounded character background.


This is the most surface of the three dimensions. Physiological elements are things like eye and hair color, his race, or even that scar he received from the Orc Chieftain who killed his parents, and now serves as a reminder of his oath of blood vengeance against all Orckind; you know stuff like that .

Physiological elements are important to a well-rounded character. They are the very first impression when we meet someone for the first time. Now, I know what you’re saying(‘cause I’m watching you through your webcam), “I never judge a book by its cover, because judging people by their appearance is wrong, we are all onions…blah blah blah”, yeah, we’ve all seen Shrek, but it doesn’t change the fact that if you have a giant pulsating boil on your eye and reek of old cheese and shame, a normal human is going to generate an immediate opinion about you before you say one word.

So take a minute, close your eyes and picture your character. What does he looks like, what’s he wearing, does he have any distinguishing marks.  Imagine you are describing him to a police sketch artist, try to go beyond the basics, think about what your character's features say about him? What trappings are associated with his profession, his upbringing, hobbies, etc?  What distinguishes your character from the masses roaming the streets of the city?

Remember to keep it brief. If no one wanted to read your 300 page novel about your character's struggles before he reache level one, they definitely won't sit through a rambling diatribe about each one of your characters nose hair.  Use strong adjectives, simile, and metaphor to paint a picture in the mind of the listener. Get a thesaurus, or find one online, in most cases one word can do the job of three, or four.

Of course in lieu of all this writing nonsense you could always draw your character, find an image on the web that resembles your character, or even decide who would play the character in a movie. In fact, this is a great way to find inspiration for your character, with the abundance of art work at our finger tips, thanks to the internet, you would be hard press not to stumble across a picture that conjures up a compelling character.

So, let’s get the ball rolling, here is a list of questions you can use to flesh out the physiology of your character:

·         What is his/her:
o        hair color?
o        eye color?
o        skin tone ?
·         Is your character:
o         short or tall?
o         Ectomorphic(skinny), mesomorphic(average), or endomorphic(stocky)?
o        muscular, or scrawny?
·         Does your character have any distinguishing marks? (tattoos, wrinkles, mustache, scars, piercings, scales, etc)
·         What does your character smell like? (old garbage, fresh soap, pungent perfumes, etc.)
·         How does your character sound?
·         Does the character resemble someone, or something?
·         If this was a movie who would you cast to play your character?

So now that we’ve started to piece together what our character looks like we need to move on to the next aspect of characterization and that is the Sociological.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Miniature Mondays - Queen of Spades - Bounty Hunter

Queen of Spades - Bounty Hunter

Money may not buy you love, but it can buy you a gun and a chick that knows what to do with it. The gun, not love. You can grab your fig here!

Monday, June 18, 2012

MIniature Mondays: Jack of Diamonds: Old Prospector

Jack of Diamonds: Old Prospector
Whether there's gold in them there hills, or just crazy old mountain men, you'll do well with an old prospector by your side. You can grab your fig here!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Miniature Monday - Jack of Clubs: The Kid

Jack of Clubs: The Kid

Kid's say the darnedest things, especially when wielding a stick of dynamite. You can grab your fig here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Miniature Mondays: King of Spades(Sheriff)

King of Spades(Sheriff)

Start of the Deadland's figs. Sorry, In a rush will clean up in a bit. You can grab your fig here!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Miniature Mondays: Par-Roc


What else would you expect space pirates to tool around on, but space parrots? You can grab the figs here!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Miniature Mondays: Half-Golem Dwarf Priest

Half-Golem Dwarf Priest

Part Bionic and organic, not a cyborg call him...a Half-Golem Dwarf Priest. You can grab your fig here!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Miniature Mondays: Thri-Kreen Swabby

Thri-Kreen Swabby

In need of a psionic scallywag to sterilize your poop deck, well look no further. Did we mention he's some kind of space bug? You can grab your fig here!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Miniature Mondays: Lensman Harpoonist

Lensman Harpoonist

What every crew needs a one-eyed wild man with a pointy stick. 
You can grab your fig here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Miniature Mondays: Giff Sharpshooter

Giff Sharpshooter

No Spelljamming crew is complete with you a rampaging space hippo.
You can grab the fig here!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Miniature Mondays: Gypsy Pirate Wizard

Gypsy Pirate Wizard

You can't jam the stars without a wizard at the helm, and this one is feisty. You can grab the fig here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Miniature Mondays: Pirate Captain

Pirate Captain

On to the next one-shot, Spelljammer. Here is the first of the intrepid crew of the Three Penny Gambit. You can grab the fig here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Miniature Mondays: Tau Commander

Tau Commander

You must obey the Tau commander
Givin' out the order for guns
You must obey the Tau commander
You know that he's the only one
Who gives the orders here,
Alright! You can grab your figs here!