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Author Topic: [Middle Earth - home brew] 1st day in July 4 week of play.  (Read 5965 times)
Silmenume
Member

Posts: 467


« on: October 03, 2004, 03:05:55 AM »

Hullo –

I have been posting here at the Forge for about a year.  After much strenuous encouragement I have decided to post a portion of a play session.  I’m not sure how to go about it other than to just start.  I’m not sure that I am looking for anything in particular or anything at all.  Read, and if possible, enjoy…

I’ll start off with a little bit on the system.  The game system I play with is home brew.  Other than the combat system and elements related to it, there is no written rules system even for the DM.  Character design is a peculiar process with no real formalized procedure.  Yes there are physical and mental attributes, which all have an effect on all the combat related sections, but they are all subject to character design ideas.  Sometime we as players say we have an idea for a character and other times the DM says he has character ideas in mind for us players.  On a certain level everything is open to negotiation.  The game is basically a skills based system with certain throw backs to certain D&D concepts.  One has an AC, but it is based on  the notion of the ability to avoid blows and is considered in light of reflex, hand eye coordination, intelligence, wisdom, and body mass and size.  Weapons skills are based upon the difficulty of the employment of the weapon, the strength and dex of the character and background considerations.  We use a combination of stamina (which goes up with levels and varies with race and culture) and “personal body points” which is more or less fixed which represents the physicality of the body based on Con and height and weight and race.  These values are usually addressed at level roll up – though based on certain extraordinary circumstances during play they can go up between levels.

The Character also has about 30-50 traditional “secondary skills” the starting values of which are assigned during character creation.  If the players have some “good” ideas about there character consideration is given during this portion of character creation.  This can mean high or low values or even not having a typical skill at all or creating an unusual one.  There are no fixed templates though there are some rough norms based upon race (type of Elf, type of Dwarf, Hobbit, Dunedain, man, etc.), culture (Rohirric, Ithillian or any of the other fiefdoms of Gondor, the men of Dale, Khandian, Easterling, Southron, etc.), class (Wizard, cleric, paladin, etc.) or profession (ranger, mercenary, sailor, cavalryman, rancher, farmer, black smith etc.).  These secondary skills go up through regular use, luck, and skillful employment and are not level dependent.

Levels are attained through fairly traditional means, but with a twist.  Combat is the typical means of level attainment, but a player cannot roll up unless they have attained 10 times the next level in “wisdom checks.”  These checks are handed out for effective role-play.  Thus a player who is only interested in combat will not find much advancement.  At the end of the night “player ratings” are awarded which are discounts to the next level.  Thus if a player plays a diplomat, a coward, or wounded, or etc. he still is rewarded.  Finally at the end of the night a single player is awarded a “star” for best roleplay.  The accumulation of said stars results in certain privileges as certain quantities.  These stars are based upon the players current roleplay skill and how far they reached past it – IOW if a new player comes to the table he is given much consideration based upon his newness to the world and style we play.  It is not uncommon for new players to win the “star” the first time they play.  Life experiences also garner experience as well.  Thus the defeat of a foe counts as well as seeing something fantastic or life altering for the first time.
There are no rounds, segments, initiative rolls, classes (per say – though there are wizards and clerics), or alignment systems.  Combat is deadly even for those of “high level.”

Armor absorbs damage, but does not make a character harder to hit.  All piercing weapons, arrows, daggers and spears bypass stamina and do straight PBP damage.  So a 20th level character can be felled by an arrow just as easily as a 1st level character – once they are actually hit.  The difference is that a 20th level character is much less likely to be struck for a great number of reasons.

Initiative is seized and goes to the quick of mind as well as quick of body.  This can be the case with any situation, not just combat.  

Almost all rolls based on a D20.  About half the time we don’t know what we are rolling for other.  Intensity of play as well as cleverness all count and are factored in.  Die rolls typically are not the final arbiters.  To quote the DM – “Dice add spice.”  High is usually good with natural 20’s always good and natural 1’s nearly always bad, but not always.  We trip and fall breaking our ankle, but the arrow speeding for our head passes harmlessly through where our head would have been.  Not everything requires a roll and much can be accomplished without – Drama.  Dice effects Drama, and Drama effects die rolls.

The whole thing is fairly loose and designed to be very fast.  We play a perception based game.  Many times what we are told is filtered through the character’s perception process.  This makes for very unique gaming experiences even among the various players at a given session.  We play a folio of characters all in the same world.  The philosophy is that a single character cannot encompass all the possibilities that life and the Dream has to offer.  There is no parity among the races.  Non-human races are clearly superior in their gifts, they are just hard to earn.

As you have probably surmised the game is set in Middle Earth.  We are currently about 30 years before the War of the Rings.

July 4th about a dozen of us rented a ranch house about 3 hours from Los Angeles and took off for a week of roleplay excess!  So off we trooped with food, dice, pens, character sheets, a DM’s screen, a portable stereo and about 200 CD’s (mostly motion picture sound track music).  This campaign has been running for over 20 years.  The DM and another player (his writing partner and system co-creator) moved out from New Jersey about 12 years ago.  On this retreat two other players, the “easterlings” as we called them, flew out from New Jersey to join us “westerlings” for a week of play.  These two players were there at the beginning of the campaign, and though they have not played regularly since the game came out west, we have encountered many of their characters over the years.

One of the most important was a Dunedain by the name of Turandir.  This character is almost 20 years old real time.  He is highly accounted among the Dunedain and the Elves. In play long ago he found a child in the wilderness that would turn out to be Aragorn son of Arathorn.  This player/character took this babe and delivered him into the hands of Elrond.  During the time of the east coast game the two spent time together and eventually adventured together.  Just as a quick aside, all of us are just absolutely fanatical about the Dunedain.  They lead incredibly difficult and dangerous lives and their only refuge is in Rivendale where Elrond gives them their only shelter and succor.  About 15 years ago in real time, the DM built towards a scenario whereby the remaining Dunedain finally decided to come together and start their own settlement.  The player of Turandir was given a vision of a city rising out of the sea and the player had decided to go out to pursue this vision and see what it held.  By the time the player reached the ocean a trap was sprung upon the Dunedain where they were meeting – a city of old called Tharbad.  Thousands of Danes and Vikings poured into the Dunedain.  A mage who had gone dark (he had originally been part of the White council) cast sleep upon the out watches.  NPC’s known as black commandos (think Nazi storm troopers) killed the sleeping out guards and prepared paths for the incoming troops.  24 Olog-hai (armored trolls) and countless ogres we sent pouring into the masses of Dunedain men, women and children.  On top of that the Lord of the Nazgul came upon them.  The carnage was horrible.  Players lost multiple characters.  Dunedain members of the Coiroth (the life watch) we sent to kill the women and children so they would not be captured and tortured and perverted in evil things by Sauron.  It was hellish.  While all this was going on the player of the Dunedain Turandir was in tears screaming at the DM in real life – “Let me die with my people.”  Of the nearly thousand Dunedain men, women and children who were present, only about 30 survived.  This was after a player rolled 7 20’s in a row which resulted in a contingent of Elves arriving.  The survivors were carted to Rivendale where an injured Black Commando had snuck in among the survivors.  As the wounded lay in the houses of healing sleeping, the Black Commando arose and went from bed to bed killing many of the remaining Dunedain before he was caught.  There was born an undying hatred by the players for the Dunedain.  As for Turandir he never forgave himself for not being at the carnage and from that point on always threw himself into any opportunity to bring harm to the enemy – either Sauron or Aria (the home city of the Black Commandos).

Finally I should note that much of the history of Turandir was bound up with Turan Turinbar.  His ancestor who was cursed by Melkor way back in the first age.  Turardir also bore the sword Gurthang.  The most powerful sword ever forged in the history of Middle Earth.  As it was, a doom was pronounced upon Turandir when he took up the sword which had caused so much grief for his ancestor ages past.  Turandir would not perish until Gurthang had betrayed him three times.

Cut to about 4 years ago.  We westerlings were playing a game in which a disheveled man of great prowess was encountered who seemed to be lost.  The long and the short of it was that he was Turandir who had lost his mind due to many reasons, but no longer had the sword.  As it was he was being pursued by about 500 orcs.  All of got cornered in a small grotto and it was utterly hopeless.  We were all going to die.  So the DM had Turandir who NPC’d at the time, give himself up to the orcs who in their jubilation forgot the rest of us in the hole and took off with him to Dol Goldur.  At this point Turandir did not have Gurthang upon him.  Ever since that time all of players had been itching to play the “Turandir rescue party.”  We knew the odds were terrible and that the Dark Lord wanted him bad as he had killed two Nazgul in the past.  But it did not matter.  The Dunedain look out after their own and would not abandon any of theirs especially after the disaster of Tharbad.  Four years we had lobbied to play that scenario out.  30 Dunedain against 500 hundred orcs who could kill him at an instant making the whole mission moot.

Cut to July 4th weekend 2004.  We had been told prior to that weekend that we were going to play that scenario out.  We were nervous and excited.  All of us dusted off our Dunedain and half-elf characters.  Two of the players there were playing sons of Elladan and Elrohir who were in turn sons of Elrond.  I don't know how to say it, but being allowed to have such Character's was a tremendous sign of stature at the table. Conversely because we all loved Elrond, and his sons Elladan and Elrohir, there was tremendous pressure not to lose the Character's to death because it would be a tremendous blow to the world as well as losing the children of "people" that we as players genuinely loved. Elladan, Elrohir, and Elrond were NPC's the players had read about AND roleplayed across from.

Given that there was going to be only 30 of us, the entire contingent of the remaining adult male Dunedain which included Aragorn as well as all the male offspring of Elrond, we were especially concerned.

We spent about the first half of the night (our first day of play on this week) answering the summons and collecting together.  It was particularly cool for me, because as my brother and I were running through Dunland, I called upon Arien, the maia Maiden of the Sun, to tarry her journey just a little, so that we could pass in sunlight caves that were filled with wights.  I rolled a 20 and for a short while the sun stood motionless in the sky!  I had no such skill, so such a success was reaaaaly cool!

We finally came together and for the first time my 7 years gaming with that group I finally had any character meet Aragorn!  It was cooler than could be described!  At any rate we set off in pursuit.  We were gaining ground, but before we could catch up with the group of orcs they had split into two uneven sized groups.  The larger went East to Mordor and the smaller continued north to Dol Goldur.  We had to split out group into two and continue.  In the larger went Aragorn and the majority of NPC Dunedain and a number of player character Dunedain.  They played that hunt out and as it turned out the group they were hunting was a decoy.  A player character who was playing a hound of Orome was dispatched to aid in our cause.  We in the smaller group, which included Elladan, Elrohir, and their two sons the PC’s found our quarry.

While the battle was raging with the decoy group, the DM was playing Turandir tied to a post and out of his wits – eye rolling, mumbling, etc.  The owner of Turandir was at the table, but as his character Turandir was bound and functionally not capable of much, was playing another character.  He did however want to get to play Turandir badly so was very eager for the rescue to happen.  We crashed into the orcs and started cutting them down as all the half-elves pushed on ahead to get to Turandir before he could be killed by the orcs when they realized what was happening.  The player of Turandir started to play the character pulling at the straps that bound his arms and was starting to make progress.  He was getting caught up in the moment.  He sensed rescue coming.  The DM had him roll a 20 sided.  He rolled a 1.  Fate.

The straps broke.  The half-elves has fought their way to him.  Turandir called for Gurthang.  Either Elladan or Elrohir tossed him his sword.  Turandir caught it and started swinging.  At this point we had not taken a single loss.  There were a few injuries, but no deaths.



In the chaos of the moment, all the players were screaming, the CD player was blaring Last of the Mohicans track 8, the DM said to Turandir you see two men running at you.  The player did not pay attention to what the DM said and screamed – I swing, I swing!  As you remember from above he rolled a 1 and the DM prior had played him as disoriented.  In a matter of literally in two seconds Turandir cut down Elladan and Elrohir with Gurthang.  The shock was staggering.  I cannot understate just how devastating those losses were. There were only two other characters that were there, the PC sons of Elladan and Elrohir who tried to knock down or otherwise incapacitate Turandir.  They two were also cut down in single blows moments (in real time) later.  Then the hound of Orome arrived, and seeing what was going on, the player chose to burn a “perfect 20” to knock down Turandir and subdue him.

The table went dead silent for 10 minutes.  NO ONE said a single word.  The air was completely sucked out of the room.  The player who was playing Turandir was stunned into silent tears.  The rest of us were in quiet tears as well, even those of us who had not lost characters.  We were absolutely staggered.  We had not suffered a single loss until now.  The curse of the house of Turin, as well as the 1st curse of Gurthang had played out.

The DM moved things along a bit as he had Aragorn arrange the bodies of the sons and grandsons of Elrond.  Not long afterwards a number of great eagles arrived.  Aragorn arranged matters such that the dead male heirs of Elrond would arrive one hour before Turandir was also bourn to Elrond’s house for healing.  When the DM played the scene out of the arrival of the eagles and their awful charges, the DM placed his hands upon the table as if he were on a balcony watching the arrival of death. He simply said, choked up, his voice breaking for real - "My sons..." We knew it was Elrond. The game ended that night in absolute suffocating mourning and sadness.

At that point I would have traded in any of my characters to save any of those character's lives. This was not seriously considered, because it would never be allowed to happen. (The reason being that such a change to erase such a staggering loss would weaken the intensity of the Dream).  Nevertheless such is the love of the world that I seriously considered sacrificing any one of my own characters to bring an NPC back.

One by one we staggered out into the darkness and tried to collect out thoughts.

Little did we know, we had a long week ahead of us.  

Many of out games are extremely emotionally intense, but this was a new one had to rank up with the fall of Tharbad and destruction of the Dunedain as people.

I would change everything and nothing.  I still get teary eyed thinking about it, and I got teary eyed writing this post.
Logged

Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.

Jay
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2004, 05:20:24 AM »

Hello,

I have a few questions, which kind of bounce around a variety of topics.

1. There are currently both westerling and easterling games going on, right? I imagine that everyone keeps everyone else posted about the respective games? Are there just two, or splinters/sets for either or both?

2. I don't understand where the players' "undying hatred for the Dunedain" comes from. The characters got attacked ... they had to kill their own women and children ... they laid up at Rivendale ... another Black Commando came and killed a bunch more. I realize that a truncated account like this isn't going to provide full explanations, but this was the one point that simply bucked me off. Was that a typo, and the undying hatred was for the Sauron/Aria villains?

3. Does a given player typically play several characters at once? Or perhaps more clearly, does a given player have a stable of characters, rather than a single character? (Concentrating on one out of the stable during a given session still counts as multiple characters.)

4. I'm fascinated about the role of character death. On the one hand, we have a scenario from 15 years ago which was apparently very rewarding in part because player-characters died. On the other, we have a situation in which an NPC's decision saves several player-characters from certain death, and you've phrased that in a kind of "GM saves the party" way, if I'm reading correctly. And finally, we have some canonical characters whom some players are "permitted" to play, with attendant social pressure among everyone that they shouldn't be played in such a way as to kill them.

When and how have various player-characters died in your game(s)? Do such situations seem, to you, to be couched in special dramatic circumstances? Does a shared understanding of "hey, some or all of us might die here" get set up during play before the dice start hitting the table? And if such circumstances are not being established, but the dice might insert some unwanted death, then do tactics such as the GM's "saved by the NPC's decision" get employed?

You mentioned at one point that a 20th level character can be hit by an arrow and killed. (Bad AC moment, but damage works normally for everyone, as I understand it for your game.) When did this or something similar last happen, in real time? And further, back in the day when you were all 15-20 years younger, were there any incidents in-game which led to this specific feature of the rules?

5. So Turandir is all maddened and pulling on his straps. I gather from your post that rolling a 20 is rockin', the best success ... but a 1 is apparently something called Fate. What does that mean?

I ask this because I was under the impression that a 20 is character success, but apparently a 1 can also get a success (the straps broke). Does a 1 mean that "GM says," without the added constraint that the action must fail?

Related: what is "burn a perfect 20"? It sounds a little bit like a metagame mechanic (so-called) in which the player can state a successful action.

6. I am given to understand that the player who controlled Turandir announced his attack on the elven fellows without understanding the situation fully, or rather, without having had heard the GM properly. Do I understand that, among this group, it is acceptable for a player's disorientation, leading to a particular announcement, to be binding? Along the lines of, "You should have been listening better"? If so, that's very interesting, as a certain amount of emotional frenzy, to the point of distraction, seems to be a highlight of what you guys enjoy most.

Now, maybe this was an exceptional moment, and the special case of (a) disoriented player plus (b) disoriented character accounts for the group's acceptance of Turandir's action. (By "acceptance," I mean, "includes in SIS.") Was this a unique phenomenon in your game? Or have there been other cases in which a player announces X because he or she doesn't quite grok what's happening, and that disorientation is taken to indicate that the character is similarly disoriented and taking an inappropriate (not quite the right word) action? If so, what happened in those cases?

7. Any women among the participants in any of these games? Long-term? And what's the age range? I'm getting the idea that most of you started together, but I'm curious as to whether play has picked up any young'uns along the way.

Best,
Ron
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Silmenume
Member

Posts: 467


« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2004, 03:49:11 AM »

Hey Ron,

Thanks for taking the time to reply.  I was beginning to become dismayed at the prospect that no one was interested in what I had posted.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
1. There are currently both westerling and easterling games going on, right? I imagine that everyone keeps everyone else posted about the respective games? Are there just two, or splinters/sets for either or both?


A brief history as I understand it.  A group of players back east used to get together all the time to play stratomatic football and certain wargames and the like.  One night, one player came to the group with a new game called D&D.  This player took on the role of DM and has been DMing for over 20+ years.  We’ll call him Steve.  (He is the player of Turandir.)  After much howling and many threats they sat down to play and they were all hooked.  One of the players in that group was a player by the name of Cary.  He is the GM who ran all the games that I posted about above.  He took too took to this new type of “game” and just ate it up.  For a “long” while Steve DM’d and Cary was just a player.  Cary had may problems with Steve’s game and long they butted heads.  So finally a day came where everyone arrived and Steve told Cary that Cary was going to DM for a change or that Steve would never run again.  Again much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but once Cary starting running his first game he was natural.  Not long afterward Cary was the primary DM, though he did lament not getting many opportunities to play.  He ran big epic sweeping games, but he found the D&D system just didn’t do what he wanted it to do.  So he and another friend set out creating something new that would suit his style and aesthetics.  He wanted something that supported his style of play, not something that inhibited.  This new system (rules or mechanics set?) was introduced with much howling and cries of dismay.  A deal was struck about this new system – try it once and if you don’t like we won’t use it again.  By the end of the 1st game everyone was sold on the new game system/mechanics.  But tensions were growing between Cary with his style of gaming, which was winning over all the players, and Steve’s style which while fun, didn’t not have what Cary’s game was able to offer.

Finally Cary was introduced to the LOTR.  He spoke to Steve about running a game based in that world.  Steve refused because he felt running a game in that setting would “sully” that world.  Cary pushed ahead and there was now two different “world’s” being run.  Steve was running a game set in the world of Narnia while Cary was now running in Middle Earth.  To be honest I do not recall when the switch from D&D generic to Narnia, for both GM’s, took place but it was prior to Cary’s switching to Middle Earth.  After a number of years Steve also switched to Middle Earth, but to a different period of time.  (Cary was running about 50 years before the war of the rings, while Steve was playing about 1000-1500 Third Age.)  The feeling was that Steve did not want to run a game that would be directly compared with what Cary was doing.  I should note the both games had the same players.  It was during this time that Turandir was created and run.  Sometime in the late 80’s Cary and his business partner who was also a player in his game came out west.  The rest did not.

Over the years Cary would use the characters from the east coast as NPC’s.  There would be some dialogue back and forth between Cary and the “easterlings” about what had happened to their characters and conversely what the players wished their characters to accomplish.  This was not a constant process though.  On several occasions Cary would go back east for Christmas holidays and would run for the “easterling” group and, as happened this last 4th of July weekend, some of the “easterlings” came out west and played using their old characters.  These events all took place within the current continuity and time frame of Cary’s world.

In the last few years I have toyed with running a game set in the same time and place as Cary has with the same NPC’s and events, but I am still in the formative stages and have much work to do before I feel comfortable with the idea of integrating the two games.  I hope that I have answered this first question for you.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
2. I don't understand where the players' "undying hatred for the Dunedain" comes from… Was that a typo, and the undying hatred was for the Sauron/Aria villains?


Yes, it was a typo.  The undying hatred was for the Sauron/Aria villains.  I’m sorry.  I get so frustrated with myself for letting such stooopid, yet vital, mistakes continually get through.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
3. Does a given player typically play several characters at once? Or perhaps more clearly, does a given player have a stable of characters, rather than a single character? (Concentrating on one out of the stable during a given session still counts as multiple characters.)


Yes, a given player does have a stable of characters.  The DM calls it a “folder” of characters, I like the term “folio” of characters, but you have the gist of it.  I have in the neighborhood of about 18 or so characters.  There is one player who came over from the game back east (the business partner) who probably has over 50 characters.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
4. I'm fascinated about the role of character death. On the one hand, we have a scenario from 15 years ago which was apparently very rewarding in part because player-characters died.  …


I’m not sure that any of the players remember the entire event too fondly.  It did have a profound emotional impact, that is for certain.  Yes there were moments of tremendous valor and sacrifice, which are recounted fondly, but the overall there was roiling anger at Sauron and most especially the Black Commandos of Aria.  At one point the standard for the Dunedain was under assault by the Olog’s and was starting to fall when a player out of nowhere started screaming “NO!!!  I won’t let it fall!!  I go for the standard!!”  The DM responded, “You go in there you will die.”  The player screamed back, “Fuck that, I go for the standard!!”  The DM responded, “Don’t even talk to me unless you roll a 20.”  Player rolling a 20 screamed – “20!!!” and everyone at the table started screaming, running around the room, and high fiving over this small act of defiance.  Just a small aside, the DM said that he ran the scenario for about 12 hours before the attack started so that he could “wear down the players” a bit.  The whole shebang from start to finish was about 30 continuous hours with players sometimes peeling off to take short naps on the floor and subsequently returning to the game in progress.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
… On the other, we have a situation in which an NPC's decision saves several player-characters from certain death, and you've phrased that in a kind of "GM saves the party" way, if I'm reading correctly. …


Upon reflection it is my take on that scenario was that one of the GM goals was for the NPC to be trapped and ultimately surrender himself so that the seed of a major story/scenario element could be planted.  The NPC wasn’t there so that the GM could have a means to save the party, but was there as a part of a larger tapestry of events going on in the world as a whole.  I also think the GM had the character surrender himself as a demonstration of what kind of people the Dunedain were.  (I asked the GM about this today and he wasn’t giving up anything!  The best I got out of him was that sometimes you weave a character in chapter 17 and you weave him out in chapter 18.)  As it turns out this scenario was further back in time than I thought.  I spoke to several players to try and get more notes on that scenario, but it was so long ago that no one seems to remember how it started or how Turandir was involved.  No one knew who or what he was until the end when he surrendered himself to the orcs when we were stuck in the cave.  To the best of anyone’s recollection the scenario started off innocently enough and things just got worse and worse until finally we were trapped facing several hundred orcs who badly wanted “this guy” who was with us.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
… And finally, we have some canonical characters whom some players are "permitted" to play, with attendant social pressure among everyone that they shouldn't be played in such a way as to kill them. …


A better phrasing would be that the players should not be careless or foolish with their play of such characters.  Death is a real and permanent part of the world.  IOW if the players find themselves in a situation that appears impossible despite their best efforts then they should sell their lives dearly.  One reason for that is that such characters do have a potential for a profound effect on the world and losing them to stupidity or carelessness makes staving off the coming darkness of the world that much more difficult.  While this may seem a little a meta-game, such canonical characters “know” what is at stake in the world.  Whereas most characters/inhabitants of Middle Earth may not know of such things as Sauron, true evil and such, these canonical characters do know and thus can do the most in the struggle against it.  We are playing in Middle Earth, but that does not mean we cannot lose the struggle.  We just lost 2 of the most important characters in the war of the rings.  From what hints have been dropped it is possible that Elrond may fold up shop after this and take the straight way to Aman.  That would be a staggering, nearly irrecoverable loss.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
… When and how have various player-characters died in your game(s)? Do such situations seem, to you, to be couched in special dramatic circumstances? …


The DM keeps most of the character sheets of the dead player characters and it is estimated that the number is probably over 1,000 in the last 20+ years that he has been running.  Never has a character died to just a single bad roll, Frex – save vs. death.  In nearly all cases the characters have died in the process of trying to do something that was important to them, but that is not always the case.  Sometimes they have died just trying to stay alive, if that makes any sense.  Guards have died trying to save their lord.  Parents have died trying to save children.  Ranger have died ambushing or orcs or fighting Black Commandos.  We had a near total party kill when a party of dwarves, a mage, and myself (a hobbit) went into an orc hole trying to recover someone.  Usually someone gets hurt bad and the rest stay behind trying to help the injured out.  Sometimes it works, but in that case it did not.  

I’ve had berserkers die because being in a berserker rage I did not know that I had taken mortal wounds until I could no longer will myself move.  I have seen character’s die to a string of incredibly bad rolls – a series of several 1’s in a row.  But then I’ve seen where such a string of 1’s doesn’t bring disaster, though the tension was extremely high.  I’ve had characters die to the environment.  Usually if we have a character die, we would like to make a good showing of it – IOW we did the best we could while staying true to the character.  I’ve seen one player sail his elf back to Aman after he had suffered a grievous personal loss (essentially giving up his character).  Then another player who was said elf’s brother jumped into the water and swam to the departing boat and also took himself out of the world.  The characters were for all intents and purposes “dead” to the world – the players would never play them again; they handed their sheets in.  I’ve had a character die to murder.  He had gone back to his mother who had money to try and start a business venture.  The character was an Ithillian ranger who had come from money and was educated which is rare in our world.  I had thought it would be interesting that such a character could go to Minas Tirith and research the old scrolls of the Dunedain that were written at the height of their power and technology and reintroduce steel bows.  (The idea being that steel was rare and most weapons were iron – so I as a person did some research on how the only bloom hearths and blast furnances were created and run.  I made drawings using parchment paper and calligraphy pen and created this folio on how to create steel readily, as well as how to cast steel arrows and bows.)  As it turned out my stepfather was a son of a bitch whom I never liked and had always suspected of marrying my mother for her money.  Previous to my coming to him for money, I had been in charge of a mission to a small mining town where strange things were happening.  One night a Ranger under my command while observing the town saw children walking into a mine in the middle of the night as if in a trance.  He decided it would be better to shoot them dead than be drawn into hell itself.  Things did not go well, as you can imagine, and I turned myself in to my commanders.  I was stripped of my rand and jailed.  Later I was broken out by strangers.  This is when I decided that since I can’t serve Gondor directly I could help by bringing back some old technology – which drove my need for money.  So I went to my stepfather who said he needed to go into town to arrange for the money.  What he did was rat me out to the rangers who came to get me the following day.  After a terrific fight I was captured by the Ranger.  I was sitting hog tied and while the ranger had left to take care of some business my stepfather came to me and started gloating.  I told him that I would tell the magistrate of his doings and that he would go down too.  My stepfather decided he didn’t want that to happen and cut my throat.  The DM rolled a d4 and the die exploded with me taking some 20 pbp damage to my throat, which would normally have 5 or 6.  I died trying to bring some good to Gondor.  It really sucked ass, but that’s the way the world works.  Sometimes you die for good reasons, and sometimes you die for really suck ass reasons.  Usually though such deaths are tried to be made memorable.  Dying as a berserker didn’t suck because the Valkyrie came and got me and that was verrrrrrrrrrrry kool!  Another time I was playing a fledgling cleric, a rare character in the world, when I was butched by the Master Vampire.  In a previous scenario we had tried to assault his keep but were ultimately repulsed.  He staked me to the doors of his keep.  Another character risked his life and had pulled me off because I was “special” and could do “miracles” such as healings.  He got badly mauled trying to rescue me.  By the time we had gotten to a safe town, I was carrying him though I could not remember how that happened considering how badly I had been hurt.  We picked up a scenario later whereby I was traveling with a group of men who were interested in trying to take out the Master Vampire again.  There were 4 paladins and what could be described as something like a prophet from the Old Testament who was writing something in a journal.  He rebuked me for trying to read what he was writing so I separated myself from the group.  It was at that point I was intercepted by the Master Vampire who was seeking vengeance on all those who had dared try to attack him previously and was I butched very quickly.  Another time I nearly died trying to save Findulas was carrying Boromir in her womb from Black Commandos who.  I’ve seen characters die to cowardice.  I’ve seen a character betrayed to his death.

Deaths happen for all sorts of reasons and under all sorts of circumstances.  I don’t know if I answered you question effectively or not.  Please let me know if I did not and explain how I missed your point so that I may do better next time.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
… You mentioned at one point that a 20th level character can be hit by an arrow and killed. (Bad AC moment, but damage works normally for everyone, as I understand it for your game.) When did this or something similar last happen, in real time? …


There are actually “two types” of damage.  There is piercing damage, which works the same for all characters despite level, and there is “stamina” damage, which is invoked for most other types of damage.  Thus a high level character who is engaged in a sword fight is much more likely to survive a blow than a low level character (bad AC moment, but has more stamina).  But a knife fight or an arrow blow will do the same PBP to each, which is devastating.  I know that I’ve seen fairly high-level characters totally incapacitated due to arrow hits, but I’ll have to check back to see when I actually saw one die to an arrow hit.  (One of the reasons is that there aren’t that many high level characters!)  Last July 4th weekend (2003) I saw a 10th level player character Dunedain die due to having his throat slit by a player character Black Commando.  Long story on that one.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
… And further, back in the day when you were all 15-20 years younger, were there any incidents in-game which led to this specific feature of the rules? …


I was not present at the formative stages of the system or the game as that was back east and before my time.  But from what I understand that element was added for a number of reasons.  The first was drawn from the Lord of Rings books where it was recounted that Isildur was slain by a single orc arrow that was shot in panic and over the shoulder as the orc was fleeing in terror.  The second reason was to keep the player character wary and careful no matter how high level they got.  While a PC may grow more battle aware and more skilled at avoiding such blows, when they finally do strike home, bad news.  Finally the GM wanted the players to be wary of any knife fight.  It just struck him as silly that a character could walk up behind a high level character in a bar, put a knife through his heart and have the high level character shrug it off as merely an annoyance.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
5. So Turandir is all maddened and pulling on his straps. I gather from your post that rolling a 20 is rockin', the best success ... but a 1 is apparently something called Fate. What does that mean?

I ask this because I was under the impression that a 20 is character success, but apparently a 1 can also get a success (the straps broke). Does a 1 mean that "GM says," without the added constraint that the action must fail?


One way of looking at 1’s is that fate is turning hard.  Many times it brings nothing but bad news.  But occasionally some good can come out of failure.  We learn most from our mistakes.  Sometimes what looks like a failure is a blessing in disguise.  And some times failure is just that, failure in a big, ugly, spectacular way.  Basically it means that one’s circumstances are going to change in a big way.

Usually a 1 means that GM can say that a given action results in a specific failure, but that failure sometimes results in new doors being open.  Sometimes nothing happens at all.  Sometimes circumstances don’t or can’t warrant a failure at all.  Why?  Because there is nothing “fateful” going on.

Again, if I have not made myself clear, let me know where your confusion lies and I will do my best to clarify.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
…Related: what is "burn a perfect 20"? It sounds a little bit like a metagame mechanic (so-called) in which the player can state a successful action.


Yes it is a meta-game mechanic.  Several years ago, the GM who was suffering from a certain amount of poverty, decided to give a “20” as birthday gift to his players.  This “20” could be invoked at any time (“burned”) by the player wished in lieu of actually a d20.  A player cannot just state any action and throw out the “20”, it must be contextual.  And sometimes we may not even know what the die roll is for, other than it is “important.”  Such an employment does constitute a causality breaking success.  For example, a player may be near death and the GM may say, this is your “hero’s saving throw.”  A player may then wish to burn the “20”, but that does not mean the character is all healed and ready to go.  Rather it may mean that the character may be in critical condition, but stable.  Conversely the player may be giving a speech to an NPC king about where to throw his alliance and such a “20” will have “significant impact” on his efforts.  I’ve also seen a player give up the last of his perfect “20’s” to another player who used it save his own character’s life, but only because the “hero’s saving throw” had been called for.  I’ve seen a player use a perfect “20” to save an NPC.  One cannot use a that “perfect 20” to undo something in the past, such a decision must be made in the present.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
6. I am given to understand that the player who controlled Turandir announced his attack on the elven fellows without understanding the situation fully, or rather, without having had heard the GM properly. Do I understand that, among this group, it is acceptable for a player's disorientation, leading to a particular announcement, to be binding? Along the lines of, "You should have been listening better"? If so, that's very interesting, as a certain amount of emotional frenzy, to the point of distraction, seems to be a highlight of what you guys enjoy most. …


Yes, it is all part of the “risk” of play.  All players come into the game fully notified that we abide by what we call the “fog of war.”  There are clues given, but that does not mean we will stop the proceedings to make sure that a given player has understood exactly what the DM has said.  Just as in real life people misinterpret events, so we believe that also happens in the game world.  As we have all made similar errors, we do not condemn any player for similar errors.  It happens.  It gets hot and furious.  The only thing we as players can request of other players is that they try to the very best of their ability to pay attention.  Just like in real life, lots of decisions are going to be made with incomplete, inaccurate or misunderstood information; we can only hope to make as many good ones as we can under the circumstances.  Bad or misinformed decisions are going to happen.  That’s life.  Some people are talented or have a gift for such events.  Some are not.  But the pressure is intense and that makes it all the more real!  Let me say that it is a tremendous rush to work one’s way through such an event.  (Its not uncommon for our voices to be blown out after a game for several days.  One time, while playing in a game store, riot police were called by the neighbors though there was no physical destruction transpiring.)  The brain is whirling away at a million miles a minute, the blood is pumping, music blaring, players are screaming and for a short while all that matters is what is happening in the SIS at that moment, be that your character or someone else’s.

However we’ve had new players totally lock up and just about flat line under the pressure.  One time after a game we were talking to a new player, this was at a game store, and asked him what he thought.  He pulled out a cigarette with literally trembling hands and said, “That was the greatest experience of my life.  I can never play that again.  I play to relax.”  And he wandered off.  We had another player that we ended up calling purple Ernie.  An NPC had gone over the wall of a keep that was being assaulted by hordes of zombies.  The GM was describing what the PC was hearing happening to the NPC as he was being shredded by the zombies.  The GM had to stop the game and as ask the player (Ernie) if he was OK because his face was turning purple and veins were literally popping out of his head.  We decided that it would not be prudent to ask him back again.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
… Now, maybe this was an exceptional moment, and the special case of (a) disoriented player plus (b) disoriented character accounts for the group's acceptance of Turandir's action. (By "acceptance," I mean, "includes in SIS.") Was this a unique phenomenon in your game? Or have there been other cases in which a player announces X because he or she doesn't quite grok what's happening, and that disorientation is taken to indicate that the character is similarly disoriented and taking an inappropriate (not quite the right word) action? If so, what happened in those cases?


Was this a unique phenomenon in the game?  No.  It happens all the time, though not always with such devastating results.

Has a player announced X because he or she didn’t quite grok what’s happening, and that disorientation is taken to indicate that the character is similarly disoriented and taking an inappropriate (not the most prudent or logical?) action?  Yes.  Many times, among the more seasoned players, we just indicate that we misunderstood, but we accept what happened anyway.  Miscommunications and misinterpretations happen in real life all the time, so be it in the SIS as well.  On rare occasions if the GM is shown to be in outright error (he hears something different from what several players will attest to), then either the event is undone, future events will unfold a little differently (in favor of the player/character), or the player is compensated in some way (a kool new character).  In the long run, by not kicking up too much of a fuss, compensatory good events will happen for said player that are significantly greater than the losses.  IOW by being a good sport and understanding that the GM also makes errors just like the players, he will do his very best to make good on his mistakes for the players.  The general policy is to hold such disputes to the end of the game, but that is not always possible.  Much depends on what happened, under what circumstances and the player involved.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
7. Any women among the participants in any of these games? Long-term? And what's the age range? I'm getting the idea that most of you started together, but I'm curious as to whether play has picked up any young'uns along the way.


Funny you should ask about women players.  We have been on the hunt for women players for as long as I have been in the game (about 7-8 years).  As long as I have been playing none have stayed for any significant period of time, though I have been told there was one prior to my arrival that played for a fairly significant period of time.  In most cases the game is just so overwhelming in its intensity that most female players just fold.  Its not that they are not welcome, but rather the thought that their decisions caused the deaths of NPC’s or PC’s is so shattering that they just decided that this game is not for them.  This is not to say that male players always do better, but the numbers are roughly something like 3% female “more than one game” success rate, vs. 10% male player “more than one game” success rate.  We have had many discussions with the GM about not putting new players into leadership positions and then dumping them into Kobayashi Maru situations.  He feels that it might be perceived as unfair to the established players to favor the new players by not putting them into difficult situations.  We have argued that for the sake of bringing new players into the fold we are OK with the GM being easier on the newer players.

The age range of the players is currently about late 20’s through early 40’s.  We have had many younger players comes to the game, but as they tend to be less, for lack of a better term, “experienced”, they tend not to do very well.  In order for me to come up to speed as a player when I started, I had to read military history, books on leadership and other books on thinking outside the box.  I also spent many hours talking with the other players as well as the GM to get a handle on the game.  One of the most difficult concepts to get a handle on is leadership and the idea that an idea, any idea, is better than no idea.

Actually us “westerlings” did not start together, but came on one at a time.  We are always on the look out for new players.  The GM says that having new blood at the table keeps us older players on our toes as there are only a certain number of slots available.  I like new players because they bring a new perspective to events.  They do however, increase the player character mortality rate by a substantial amount as well, so they also force us to pay special attention as things can and do frequently go south fast.

I hope that I have successfully answered some of your questions.
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Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.

Jay
Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2004, 06:29:00 AM »

Hey Jay, Fascinating stuff.  I can't figure out why you would think shareing this wouldn't be that important.  You've got a pretty unique roleplaying background going on there.  

I'm going to fire some questions at you kind of bullet style, in no particular order than the order they came to me in.


1) Is this campaign your primary roleplaying experience historically?  Is the majority of your current roleplaying still with this group and campaign or do you play other games and other campaigns as well?  How often do you play a session in this campaign?  How often do you play sessions of other campaigns?

2) If you play other games regularly (or did) are they / were they with this same group or did you play other games with other gamers? If you've played other games with the same group did they generally maintain the same approach and play style (perhaps scaled down) or was playing with them in other games almost like playing with a completely different person?  If you've played other games with other groups, particularly if you did so concurrently, how difficult was shifting gears between that other group and this group's play style.

3) You highlighted several emotionally intense dramatic scenes above (the death of the elf brothers et.al.) about how often do such scenes occur.  Once every couple of sessions?  Once every couple dozen sessions?  Once every couple of years?  If you thought back over your last 7-8 years of involvment in this campaign, and not including stories you've heard about episodes you weren't present for,  about how many such incidents have you experienced in the campaign that were emotional enough to nearly bring you to tears or cries of rage, or memorable enough to be able to relate as above?

4) Are such moments the primary reward for play for you?  Do you consider most of your play to be build up and preparation (perhaps even due paying) for the next big emotional charge?  If not what do you find most appealing about the "normal" moments of the game in between the hyper drama moments?  

5) If those hyper drama moments are highly prized by you (and the others to the extent you know) how many sessions can pass without approaching one before the game seems to go stale for you?  Does the group consider this a sign that its time for a change?  Perhaps time to introduce a new batch of characters and a new situation in the world because the story of the current characters has been fairly tapped out?  

6) Do you tend to view the new characters as temporary characters marking time until there's a good opportunity to return to the previous characters, or are the previous characters now largely retired except for exceptional circumstances?

7) Are there any techniques that you've can identify that your group uses to get these emotionally draining scenes.  You mention the GM running for several hours intentionally to wear the players down...presumeably to make them more susceptible to upcoming drama.  That's a pretty fascinating technique.  How common is using player fatigue as a means of enhancing emotional engagement?  How common are 30 hour marathon sessions?  What other techniques do the GMs or players use to achieve these level of intensity in your play?


I'm sure I'll think of some more...but that seems plenty for now.
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Walt Freitag
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Posts: 1039


« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2004, 07:42:52 AM »

Ted Striker: "I flew single engine fighters in the Air Force. But this plane has four engines. Its an entirely different kind of flying, altogether."
Elaine, Rumack, and Flight Attendants [all together]: "It's an entirely different kind of flying."
- Airplane


Hi Jay,

Oh, I'm interested all right. I think part of the reaction (or apparent lack of) that you're seeing is "we're not in Kansas any more" disorientation. Twenty-year campaigns? Week-long sessions? Ten players at the table? Individual player folios of fifty player-characters? At first reading all I could think of to say was to imitate a tourist from the boonies and blurt out, "Wow, sure is big!"

And I'm no stranger to "big" productions. I've run LARPs that involved up to 200 players and two dozen gamemasters for 48 straight hours. (One example is partially described here.) 'Til yesterday, I used to think that was large-scale. Consider how unfamiliar the territory you're describing is to most of the correspondents here. It's going to take a lot of discussion to get the lay of the land, even more to begin to offer critical insight.

Toward that end, I'm going to start with a few specific questions and observations.

It's ten hours into a session, there are ten players around the table screaming at the top of their lungs while music blares. Does everyone's actions get heard and put into effect reliably? You've discussed players having to act on incomplete or misunderstood information, and they only have one GM to listen to. Can the GM really assimilate all the information going the other way? Do characters miss actions if the player doesn't yell loudly enough? How often if ever does the GM ask for players to announce actions one at a time? I'm just trying to get a mental image of what the play actually looks like at routinely stressful moments.

Unless what I'm seeing is purely an ex post facto selection effect, there seem to be a lot of 20s being rolled at crucial moments. The odds against seven 20's in a row are 1 in 1.3 billion. Is a certain amount of let's say erroneous dice reading accepted? "Drama affects die rolls," after all. For every instance you've related of a player beating the odds for a character to make a grand near-impossible gesture, there should be a dozen or so of attempting to make a grand near-impossible gesture and rolling a 19 or less. Are there?

In the famous Fall of the Dunedain adventure, was there anything the players might have done to make it come out any differently? I'm not talking about altering which specific characters survived or made grand sacrifices, I'm talking about a significantly different history emerging, such as preventing the attack, a much larger group surviving, or (on the flip side) no Dunedain survivors.

You mentioned, if I'm interpreting right, that two main characters in Tolkien's version of the War of the Ring have been killed, prior to the War of the Ring, in your campaign. From this I gather that you're consensually playing an "alternate history" version of Middle Earth, one in which the War of the Ring might (in your campaign's "future") be lost. And the possibility of that loss adds weight to events. Am I right? This is a cool and interesting way of approaching source material. Is the possibility of changes in favor of the West in the War of the Ring equally open (such as, I don't know, the Orthanc Palantir being destroyed or something)?

Could you, from what you've experienced as a participant, imagine actually playing out the War of the Ring in this campaign someday? Or does that present too many problems, and better left perpetually on the distant horizon?

- Walt
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Wandering in the diasporosphere
joshua neff
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« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2004, 10:03:30 AM »

Jay--

I'm going to echo Ralph and Walt here. I agree that I can't understand why you would ever think a post like this in Actual Play wouldn't be worthwhile. I think this post is very telling in terms of what your game experience is and such. And like Walt, I'm a bit boggled by it all, since this is very different from my style of play.

I also have some questions. (If you answered these questions in a different post, I apologize. I'm actually on my way to class right now, so I'm reading and typing quickly.) You said that there were no written rules system outside of combat, and that pretty much everything was open to negotiation.  With that in mind, I'm very interested in some of the details of play. For example, levelling up can't be done with a certain number of "wisdom checks", that were "handed out for effective role-play." What exactly was the definition of "effective role-play" and who decided what role-play was "effective" or not. Was it solely the GM, or could other players say, "Hey, I think Doug deserves a wisdom check for that last scene"? The same question for the "stars" that were given out for "best role-playing"? You said, "These stars are based upon the players current roleplay skill and how far they reached past it"--who rated a players "current roleplay skill"? What exactly is a "roleplay skill"? And how does one reach past it? You said new players were given consideration, so is "roleplay skill" something someone doesn't start with much of and gets better at as they play longer? And, "Life experiences also garner experience as well. Thus the defeat of a foe counts as well as seeing something fantastic or life altering for the first time." Again, who decided that a character's life experience was worth experience? Did the group decide as a whole? Was it just the GM? Or did players make suggestions with the final arbiter being the GM?

I'm tempted to assume that "roleplaying" means "getting into character," but I don't want to make assumptions without more info. Also, if every player has a "folder" of 18-50 characters, it seems really damn difficult to "get into character" with that many different characters.

I guess I'm interested in the social contract stuff, especially with new players coming into the group. How were decisions on rating "roleplaying" and the doling out of awards handled in the group? Was the social contract information made explicit, either in written form or verbally ("If you want to play with us, here's how the game goes?")? Or was it implicit--and if so, were there a lot of cases of new players not fitting in because they couldn't get a handle on such things as the definition of "roleplaying" or how the non-written rules were handled? Were long-time players given more voice than newbies?

Okay, that's all for now, although I may have some more questions later. Thanks for the post.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2004, 03:01:43 PM »

Hello,

More questions for the pot. You're going to have fun when you return to the thread ...

1. You play with the westerlings, right? Is Cary your regular GM? How often does this game meet, aside from great big grand cross-continental events?

Does Steve GM the easterlings currently? If so, has he done so since Cary moved west?

2. I was a little confused about your answer regarding female players. The key variable as you see it is the female players' emotional experience under "hard leadership" situations, correct?

Also, when you talk about 3% vs. 10%, are you talking about how well the in-game situation turned out? E.g., in terms of whether the leader's decision led to a non-tragic outcome? Or are you talking about how many new players tend to stick around (1 in 10 for men, 1 in ~30 for women)?

3. Tell me if I'm getting a good picture with the following. It seems to me as if a prime survival trait to participate in this game is to out-shout and out-emote other players, in the strongest sense of character-identification possible, with the rewards being a combination of:
- getting the star ("best role-play")
- receiving Wisdom checks ("effective role-play")
- more frequently (constantly?) being able to draw the GM's attention to what one is doing in a sea of emotive input, which then leads to more skill checks and more combat opportunities

All of this seems to be embedded in a very challenging matrix of setting knowledge and overt commitment to the integrity of the source material's assumptions.

4. I'm interested that way back when, Steve apparently said that running games in Middle Earth would sully the setting, yet he and Cary were already running games set in Narnia. I realize this is long ago and far away, but do you have any information or insight as to how that could have ... um, well, could have made any possible sense?

And furthermore, when Steve switched to Middle Earth, why he might have decided either that the setting was not being sullied, or that the sullying was acceptable after all?

Finally, as I understand it, both easterlings and westerlings now consider themselves to be playing the same uber-game. However, Steve and Cary were running games set in very different time periods. Is that time-period separation still hold? (I realize that many players have characters in both games)

Well, that oughta do it for a while.

Best,
Ron
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clehrich
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« Reply #7 on: October 05, 2004, 08:39:27 PM »

Jay,

I'm just posting to keep my hand in.  Yes, I'm reading, but most of my questions have already been asked.

I must say that I have always been mesmerized by the idea of the 20-year campaign with thousands of known characters, and here it is!  So I'm following along, slowly.  I'll let you know when I have something more to say than what's been said already....
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Chris Lehrich
Silmenume
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Posts: 467


« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2004, 12:10:16 AM »

Hey Everyone!

Thank you for your questions and time.  I owe everyone an apology.  I have reread both of my previous posts and I keep cringing while I continually trip over simple but very serious grammatical errors, omissions and what not that make my posts difficult to understand.  I do try to proof them, but I see that I need to do a better job.  Thanks for your patience.  Anyway…

Hey Ralph,

Quote from: Valamir
1) Is this campaign your primary roleplaying experience historically?  Is the majority of your current roleplaying still with this group and campaign or do you play other games and other campaigns as well?  How often do you play a session in this campaign?  How often do you play sessions of other campaigns?


I’ve had three roleplaying epics or eras.  The first was in junior high playing AD&D.  I played in two games that were pretty unsatisfying and within a year my interest waned.  I was absolutely enchanted by the possibilities, but the execution of such games was, for lack of a better term, uninspiring.  That disconnect between the possibilities and actual play was too disappointing and I stopped playing.

The next era was about 5 or so years after college.  I met someone on set, he was running Marvel for a woman while waiting and I struck up a conversation.  We started playing Marvel and in time attention turned to AD&D second edition.  We went looking for new players and the group grew.  I played in that campaign for a number of years once a week.  In the beginning the flood of new source materials kept the fires burning hot, but once again I grew bored and disconnected.  The game suffered from extreme GM force that basically could be described as nothing more than naked-railroading.  Player actions had no important impact on the course of events.  Towards the end, I would show up and fall asleep on the floor.  A friend of mine jumped ship and went to “this new game” that was really cool.  For a year I was hectored to go to this new game, but I resisted due to a sense of misplaced responsibility to the group.  I started creating my own game based in Greyhawk with some twists in the setting looking for something that I could not put a finger on.  I never got that far.  Eventually I go so frustrated with the game that I was in, that I started making excuses as to why I could not play.  Then I went to “this new game” that my friend was raving on and on about.

This would be my third era.  I played once and have not looked back since.  The first night I played was just absolutely mind-blowingly overwhelming and I could not sleep effectively for two nights afterward.  This would be Cary’s game set in Middle Earth that I am currently playing in.

With rare exception, this is the only group and campaign I play in.  A friend who had played in this current campaign started his own game with some of the same players.  He did not have the same skills and the game did not go well.  He had problems with the NPC’s being more important than the PC’s to the point where the NPC’s were doing all the heavy lifting and we as the players were left to mostly watch.  I have played a game or two in other systems with other GM’s and other groups, but they have all felt frustrating and dull and dim in comparison.  I’ve gotten to the point that I can’t play in any other game.  The funny thing is that virtually all the players have come to complain that they can’t play in any other games either.  Please note, I am not saying this is the only way to play, but rather so far nothing, since I’ve started to play this current campaign, engages me so totally (intellectually and emotionally) or places so many demands upon me or satisfies me like this game has.

Quote from: Valamir
2) If you play other games regularly (or did) are they / were they with this same group or did you play other games with other gamers? If you've played other games with the same group did they generally maintain the same approach and play style (perhaps scaled down) or was playing with them in other games almost like playing with a completely different person?  If you've played other games with other groups, particularly if you did so concurrently, how difficult was shifting gears between that other group and this group's play style.


I think inadvertently answered this question above.  Sometimes a couple of us would go to another game hunting for new players or checking to see if the GM was any good.  We never found a game we liked and it was almost impossible to determine if a player would fit our style of play watching them under the circumstances.  Same players in a different game basically had the same approach.

Quote from: Valamir
3) You highlighted several emotionally intense dramatic scenes above (the death of the elf brothers et.al.) about how often do such scenes occur.  Once every couple of sessions?  Once every couple dozen sessions?  Once every couple of years?  If you thought back over your last 7-8 years of involvement in this campaign, and not including stories you've heard about episodes you weren't present for,  about how many such incidents have you experienced in the campaign that were emotional enough to nearly bring you to tears or cries of rage, or memorable enough to be able to relate as above?


The game I described in the above post was an unusually intense magnitude 8 soulquake.  How often do we get games where we were so emotional that players would be brought to tears or cries of rage?  Virtually every game.  Those I would describe as magnitude 4 to 6 soul quakes.  The particular game that I had listed above was unusually intense and was probably the first time I had seen the whole table shut down in shock.  (Though something in my mind is tickling me saying there may have been something that was nearly as powerful early in my history with the group – I will have to ask around.)  However, it is not uncommon to have a player with moist eyes (every couple of games) and very common to have all the players screaming in excitement, intensity or anger (nearly every game).

Quote from: Valamir
4) Are such moments the primary reward for play for you?  Do you consider most of your play to be build up and preparation (perhaps even due paying) for the next big emotional charge?  If not what do you find most appealing about the "normal" moments of the game in between the hyper drama moments?


Ralph, that’s a great question.  My initial reaction is to say, yes.  Such moments are the primary reward.  But upon further reflection I have to say, no.  Make no mistake, the emotional charge is aaaaaaaaawesome!  However, I am reminded of a quote attributed to Mozart – “The silence between the notes are as important as the notes themselves.”  Same thing in our games.  You can’t have emotional highlights if its all emotional highlights.  The characters can’t grow and flower if its all intense.  I would call the “normal” moments baseline play.  Our games tend to be very “episodic” with each session usually having a beginning, middle and a climatic ending.  The beginning can include new character creation, but typically covers the laying of the foundation of who’s there and why they are there and what’s going on.  A sort of “vector” is laid out and we can either run with it or pursue other pressing needs.  I should note that we don’t have “adventuring parties” per say.  Lots of times, though not always, the beginning of a night is spent on laying out why everyone is where they are and what individual goals or needs are in motion for each player character at that time.  I guess this an extended scene framing effort.  This can go on for an hour or more as the various threads are woven together for that night.  What’s interesting is that very frequently some of the characters there are at cross or orthogonal purposes to each other.  I’ll give an example (I was going to give two, but this ballooned so quickly that I decided otherwise) –

One night the layout went something like this.  One player had been lobbying for a while to have a vampire hunter as one player had chosen to become a vampire and was starting to become a real problem to the world.  (That too is a verrrry long and convoluted story).  This game the DM started off with the PC vampire staggering into this little sleepy town and using his charisma convinced a woman to take him in while he pulled himself together.  Bad things started happening in town (lambs dying, chickens not laying eggs, dogs howling and slinking away from that house, etc.)  Another player character, who later would eventually awaken to become a cleric, sensed this great evil in this woman’s house roused the town and set about to drive this “thing” out.  The player who was playing the vampire was growing a little concerned given his current badly battered state.  Cut to the player who had been lobbying for a vampire hunter.  His introduction to the scenario was in the description of his nearly perfect life.  He had a small house and farm, a great marriage, a young daughter and a newborn son whom the player named “Adam” his first male born.  Life was as good as it could get.  He started off going to town to spread the good news when he stumbled across the everyone at the woman’s house all riled up.  Just as everyone was about to storm the house the Master Vampire arrived, went into the house, picked up the PC vampire and came out again.  The proto-cleric player spoke to the Master Vampire asking him to leave and to not trouble this hamlet again.  The Master Vampire turned to that PC and said “die.”  The player clutched his heart and collapsed to the ground, but did not die.  He did apparently suffer some sort of stroke.  The future Vampire Hunter character saw what had happened and had much to say to the Master Vampire which elicited nothing more than a baleful and meaningful glare.  The Master Vampire then pronounced a bitter and dark curse upon the town and left.  Everyone fled home.  The future Vampire Hunter came home to find that not only had his family been murdered, but they had been brutally violated in the worst manner possible.  We now had a fully motivated, if unschooled Vampire Hunter.

Cut to a bunch of a players wanting to play a merc company.  A bunch of PC’s and NPC’s were heading south to the wars that were threatening in Harrandor.  The problem was we needed credibility.  So we come over a ridge and find a town that looked like it had been abandoned suddenly and recently.  Turns out everyone was hiding in a basement.  At this point a PC Ranger of Ithilien shows up, and we get the story that bad things have been happening at night.  The Ranger says he needs help, we hold out for a contract.  The Ranger hates us because he’s here to try and help save the town and we are no partiots, but sell swords but screw him anyway we’re in this for the money.  In this crowd we find what appears to be another small merc company.  Set up complete.  We decide that everyone should go to the school building on the highest hill and start to make it defensible and try to get everyone in.  Now we are in the middle portion of the game and now the cat herding begins.  Oi!  Towns people are an incredible pain in the ass.  Meantime we’re having problems with our own merc company.  One tried to attack a woman, another leaves because he’s superstitious and he’s heard stories of what happened the night before in the town.  Permutation go one with lots of interpersonal conflict and problem solving and many moments for ingenuity, character revealing and growth stuff, etc.  (Don’t mistake my lack of detail here for lack of interest in this part, but the problems were so numerous, specific to that night and circumstances and varied that its impossible to remember them all.)  This goes on for several hours.  Night falls some people are in the building, some aren’t.  It chaos and night falls and the dead rise.  Hellish battle, people killed, townsmen in the school panic.  Morning comes the Ranger wants us to stay and help find the place where the dead had come from.  Those of us remaining tell him we’re leaving, we were going into the business of fighting men, not things that don’t die!  More events happen.  (Eventually as players we find out that the other mercs were actually Black Commandos in disguise waiting in this town because they caught word that their captain had been captured and was possibly going to be moved down the river by this town by other Rangers.  At one point in the game the Ranger got hurt and the Black Commando “mercs” helped dress his wounds, but actually introduced some infection to take him out of the picture without having to kill him directly.)  Other important PC’s and NPC’s were involved, but hopefully you got the idea that the characters all have their own, individual goals but are facing a similar problem or issue.

What I like about such baseline moments is varied.  They are a nice contrast with the hyper drama moments.  I can pursue character exploration/interests/goals in a more direct fashion.  I have an elf in Rivendale who caught word that Bilbo Baggins and a dwarf companion of his were nearly killed in the Troll Shaws to the west.  I decided that I wanted to start a Torogroth (Trollwatch) to try and clear the area out or at least make the road a bit safer.  So I went about trying to set up an appointment with Elrond to explain to him my desires and seek his aid and blessings.  I had to figure out a plan of action, rules of engagement, the composition of such a group.  I had to speak with other Elves to try and convince them to join me in this very dangerous endeavor.  So I had to develop a pitch.  I spoke with those Elves who might have had knowledge about trolls and their ways.  All this figuring out was great fun.  Elrond came back and counseled me against this course of action but did not forbid me from trying.  This was a setback, so now I had a negative perception problem to deal with among the other Elves now.  Etc.  At other times with other characters I would research on how steel was made earlier in the third age.  With another character I might spend time in an ancient Númenórean keep spending two hours with another player character trying to open a door to a library!  (This was not a keep that we broke into, rather it was one we had come into when all the locals had been called in because of on coming war.  The other player character and I just wandered into the lower levels and stumbled across a small library {libraries are basically unheard of} where this door was found.) I hope I have at least partially addressed your question.

Quote from: Valamir
5) If those hyper drama moments are highly prized by you (and the others to the extent you know) how many sessions can pass without approaching one before the game seems to go stale for you?  Does the group consider this a sign that its time for a change?  Perhaps time to introduce a new batch of characters and a new situation in the world because the story of the current characters has been fairly tapped out?


If we don’t get to at least one moment where we aren’t standing up or at least deeply worried about the outcome of some important event at least once a game I feel like that something is missing.  I know I’m a gaming whore.  I want to feel something intensely every time I play.  (Stress does count!)  What can I say?  This does not have to be combat related, but something of importance either to my character or the world should be in the mix somehow.  That something could be as small as protecting my house from a bear or going on an elk hunt or tending a new friend who is dying from tuberculosis.  It just needs to consume me for a while.  I need to surrender myself to the Dream at some level for at least a little while.  I want catharsis!

Actually things have never gotten to the point of being stale.  Yes there can be a night where I have been outside of the main events for most of the night. Frex – I got incapacitated by an injury early in the night and I couldn’t do anything for most of the rest of the night.  Those nights are extremely rare, but they do have the effect of making me realize just how important it is not to be incapacitated!!  I also enjoy my up time that much more because I know what its like not be involved.  Must stay clever and on my toes!  (The two times that has happened to me in the 7-8 years I’ve played his game, the GM apologized to me for not finding an effective way to bring me back into the game.)

I don’t think there is any particular process or rhyme or reason for brining in new characters.  We play an episodic type of game where most scenarios play themselves out in a single sitting.  At the end the characters are usually free to pursue whatever they wish after that – IOW we don’t typically have adventuring parties where we play the same character session after session.  We are nearly always playing a different character from session to the next.

Quote from: Valamir
6) Do you tend to view the new characters as temporary characters marking time until there's a good opportunity to return to the previous characters, or are the previous characters now largely retired except for exceptional circumstances?


Absolutely not!  New characters are never dismissed as temporary.  These are characters that are entering into one’s folio of characters in Middle Earth.  While older characters may be more established have more weight in the events of the world, new characters are just as important.  Sometimes the GM will say I have an interesting character for you to play.  Other times a player will come to the GM with a character concept.  On rare occasions a player will pick up playing an NPC and decide to keep the character.  Previous characters are not considered retired at all.  All the characters are considered to be present in the world at all times.  Now it can happen that an older character that never saw much play is “retired” by a player because said player had not played him in several years and never got much of a handle on him in the first place, but that is extremely unusual.  We tend to clutch onto all of our characters as greedily as Gollum to the one ring!

Quote from: Valamir
7) Are there any techniques that you've can identify that your group uses to get these emotionally draining scenes. …


Our group, from the players perspective, does not actively pursue or try to “create” these emotionally draining scenes.  That is the GM’s job as far as we are concerned.  In fact if a player starts stirring things up too much we all start raising eyebrows wondering just what he is up to.  Usually the GM cranks up the emotional level by contextualizing all the player characters (they all have families and personal relationships, duties or the like) and then piling on more and more complications and conflicts until finally something just snaps and all hell breaks lose.  There is one technique that we can sometimes see in operation which we call “stirring the pot.”  NPC’s usually serve a vital role in that process, but not always.  Most of the time we are trying to do damage control while we are trying to accomplish some goal.  

Now that I think about it, there is something that he does do fairly often.  It’s a term that the GM and his writing partner use called the gap reversal.  It’s a moment when all the momentum of the night suddenly breaks hard to one side because some assumption or condition changes radically or is demonstrated to have been false.  One example of this was a large number of us had gone into an orc hole in the Ash Mountains near the Moranon to try and rescue Legolas.  A fairly large contingent of NPC’s went to another place somewhat nearby to “knock on the front door” while we went in the “back door.”  We got in fairly deep, and were starting to hit some stiff opposition and had started to take some causalities.  We were going to have to decide whether or not to push on.  To leave and save our lives would mean abandoning Legolas, to push on would probably mean many if not total party death.  Just as we had decided to try and go a little further an Elf in the group had a vision of Legolas safe and actually where we were going.  The elf that was with us cried, “It’s a trap!  Run!”  So now we were in a really bad place for no good reason.  Then things really got shitty in a big way, fast!  At least one (and maybe more – this was many years ago as well.) player character died in that little run.  Oi!

Quote from: Valamir
You mention the GM running for several hours intentionally to wear the players down...presumably to make them more susceptible to upcoming drama.  That's a pretty fascinating technique.  How common is using player fatigue as a means of enhancing emotional engagement?  How common are 30 hour marathon sessions?  What other techniques do the GMs or players use to achieve these level of intensity in your play?


That 30 hour marathon was a time deal.  Most of our games run about 10-12 hours.

I’ve often asked the GM that very same question.  His answer is to create an environment whereby the players fall in the love with the world, then put that world into jeopardy.  Also make the NPC’s “real” people with “real” desires and wants, whether they are major characters or walk-ons.  When things slow down, “throw orcs.”  I think that was a reference to Mickey Spillane that says something like, “If the scene is getting slow, have a guy walk into the room with a gun.  The key to making things emotionally intense is to connect the character to the world at large.  The characters are not wandering homeless people with no emotional connections.  However, it helps if the player is already in love with the world via source material to begin with.

To be honest I am not certain how its all done, but connection to the setting and the NPC’s within, and putting those cherished things in harms way goes a long way.

We keep it moving fast and furious (stressful!).  The more decisions you make in a given period of time in character the more intense it gets.  We have very low handling times.  We inter cut between characters for cinematic effect.  We use music to help push mood.  We use “fog of war.”  Mistakes happen.  NPC’s make mistakes just like the players do.  Sometime the NPC’s will get into the players faces.  Death isn’t always the worst, being captured alive by orcs means torture and being eaten alive.  A player’s decisions or actions have a bearing upon other player characters.

Finally lots of situations we face are Kobyashi-Maru’s.  An example would be two equally important but incompatible goods that we have to choose among.  Either decision will bear a cost, its just deciding which one you will take.  Making no decision is the worst because both costs are incurred with no good coming out of it!  However, where everyone goes crazy is when someone can find a way out of that box!

I’m going to sign off here and start the next reply.  Sheesh!
Logged

Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.

Jay
Silmenume
Member

Posts: 467


« Reply #9 on: October 06, 2004, 02:26:20 AM »

Hey Walt!

Quote from: Walt Freitag
It's ten hours into a session, there are ten players around the table screaming at the top of their lungs while music blares. Does everyone's actions get heard and put into effect reliably?


The short answer is yes.  Usually pandemonium reigns at the moment of the “breaking.”  Then there is this strange “dance” whereby the GM cuts back and forth between various players as events are unfolding.  There’s no logical pattern  that I can say to illuminate how such decisions are made, but they always seem to center around some sort of “important moment.”  Either exiting an important moment or coming into an important moment.  Sometimes the GM will bop around the players or a player will sense a moment and “cut in.”  Strangely enough, this “dance” between players and GM is in itself a source of interest.  One of the “learned skills” at the table is figuring out when it is appropriate or effective to “cut in.”  We can time actions for greatest dramatic effect.  We can try and “cut in” to bail someone out who is in serious trouble.  One cannot just punch out there because things are so fluid and so dynamic that to do so may mean death for oneself or someone else’s character.  Many, many situations are very dire and unless everyone is giving their very best at least one or possibly all the PC’s and/or the NPC’s are going to bite it.  There are very few out right victories, typically there are engagements with ferocious struggles to complete some task (with new ones being added like pulling out a wounded or incapacitated character) and then an attempt to disengage to  minimizing losses.

I should actually note real quick, that very few characters in the world actually seek out battle.  Its just too deadly.  So if a player starts looking for fights then alarms start going off in players heads.  There are exceptions to that norm such as certain barbarians and berserkers, but typically characters aren’t looking to fight, they are merely looking to succeed.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
You've discussed players having to act on incomplete or misunderstood information, and they only have one GM to listen to. Can the GM really assimilate all the information going the other way? Do characters miss actions if the player doesn't yell loudly enough?


Once the rhythm gets going it is usually one player who is engaging the GM while the other players are yelling encouragement or just spectating loudly (cheering successes).

Quote from: Walt Freitag
Do characters miss actions if the player doesn't yell loudly enough?


Not typically.  Again because there is usually only one person engaging the GM at any given time though many players may be making noise.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
How often if ever does the GM ask for players to announce actions one at a time?


I would say never, but I leave open the possibility that it may have happened.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
Unless what I'm seeing is purely an ex post facto selection effect, there seem to be a lot of 20s being rolled at crucial moments. The odds against seven 20's in a row are 1 in 1.3 billion.


That seven 20’s has only happened once in the game and it was in the fall of the Dunedain scenario.  Actually the GM has a sheet of paper with the signatures of all the players that were there that night with a blurb saying something like, “Seven 20’s in a row!  I was there!”  The most I have seen is maybe 4 “20’s” in a row.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
Is a certain amount of let's say erroneous dice reading accepted?


None at all.  There is a (near) zero tolerance policy for cheating.  I have heard of two players that had played for several years each that had been bounced out of the game for “erroneous dice reading.”  The GM has better than 20/20 sight and he can read dice all the way across the table.  Typically he waits until he sees a pattern of such mistakes, but we are also requested to let the GM know if we think something is going on.  He will then keep an eye out to see if he can catch overt erroneous dice reading.  Frequently we watch the dice roll because it is exciting in and of itself because important things are happening.  So a lot of error checking happens there (not that there are a lot of errors to begin with).  It keeps the game moving quickly and frequently the GM may say something like, beat that number or roll and 18, 19, or a 20.  Or the GM may say unless you roll a 20 don’t talk to me, or don’t roll a 1, or you had best get hot.  For all these reasons we tend to focus on the rolls anyway to see what happens! The problem is when that “error” happens a lot and there are efforts to conceal the dice when such errors occur.

That there are such draconian rules in effect is not hidden from anyone.  Almost every game begins with a speech about not cheating.  There are two basic reasons.  The first is that the game itself becomes less intense for a player if he alters his dice rolls.  Second and more important such cheating is unfair to the rest of players who do face the consequences of bad rolls.  We try to create an atmosphere where everyone feels safe and equal at the table.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
"Drama affects die rolls," after all.


Actually by Drama I was referring to player actions or statements that the GM factors into the die roll.  Thus a player who folds when a 1 comes up will incur more problems as a result of that 1 than a player who remains undaunted.  Conversely when a 1 does come up quick thinking by a player may mediate the potential outcome.  Even middling rolls get bonuses or penalties added depending upon how the player acts or reacts.  This can go for other things as well.  Lets say something is radiating fear.  A player who plays out that fear will in all likelihood receive bonuses to his saving throws against that effect.  Sometimes a player will really flare up (play wise – not dice wise) and because his play is so powerful the GM may give a plus one to all his rolls for a while.  The key is that we as players report our rolls accurately, and the GM will then take into account Drama and what not.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
For every instance you've related of a player beating the odds for a character to make a grand near-impossible gesture, there should be a dozen or so of attempting to make a grand near-impossible gesture and rolling a 19 or less. Are there?


I’m a little confused by this.  Typically a player will state his actions and the GM will tell him to roll or not.  So sure there are lots of efforts to make grand-near impossible gestures, but there are also lots of failures that go along with those attempts.  I should note that we play a style of graduated successes and failures.  Missing a target number by one does not mean complete failure.  Nor does making the roll mean complete success – unless that rolls is a 20.  Then things start to happen.  Sometimes it takes multiple 20’s though that is extremely rare.  The key here is that dice are not the absolute final arbiters of all actions.  It’s a mixture of circumstances, player actions, momentum, emotional intensity, and die roll.  Sometimes we’ll roll a number of times to complete a difficult task and other times we may just Drama our way straight through.  20’s are just darn exciting and give some license/credibility for the nearly impossible.  The die rolls make manifest the risks we are taking and 20’s are just ways of indicating that we’ve really beat the odds this time!  20’s are not just one higher than 19’s.  They are something a bit more.

I don’t know if I answered your question.  If not please rephrase and let me have another go at it!

Quote from: Walt Freitag
In the famous Fall of the Dunedain adventure, was there anything the players might have done to make it come out any differently? I'm not talking about altering which specific characters survived or made grand sacrifices, I'm talking about a significantly different history emerging, such as preventing the attack, a much larger group surviving, or (on the flip side) no Dunedain survivors.


I don’t know if there was anything the players could have done to prevent the attack as they never knew it was coming.  I would put that under scene framing.  However, I wasn’t there so I don’t know if clues were provided to the players that they did not pick up on, or they just weren’t provided.  I’ll have to ask about that.  Typically the GM nearly always gives at least some sorts of subtle hints that something is afoot.  He usually does not completely blindside the players without some clue that they can find if they are paying close attention.

Regarding changing the nature of the outcome, again I don’t know.  I do know that he often complains that we never go where he thought we would go.  After a game he sometimes tells us where he thought events were going to go and we can see how far we drifted from that original intention.  But in the Fall of the Dunedain I know of two occasions that would have had a significant impact.

One was a 14th level player character Dunedain that was guarding a bridge when a Nazgul rode up (I don’t recall if it was the witch king or not.)  I’m not sure he did it, but the GM somehow convinced the player to attack the Nazgul with his sword instead of his bow.  Had the player chosen to stay with his bow would have probably driven off the Nazgul.  As it was he went to his sword, closed to the Nazgul, entered the Nazgul’s area of despair and fear, hit and nearly blew the Nazgul off the horse.  However, the Nazgul righted himself quickly and before the player character could react he was cut down with one blow by some sort of sword of slaying.  The Nazgul then passed in and wrought all sorts of havoc.

At near the end of the night a player character was posted to keep track of all those who passed into the houses of healing in Rivendell.  The GM said he was describing the various people go through when he the player for some reason stopped on the men.  Apparently that particular NPC was a Black Command who was actually injured, but the GM didn’t really give any clues as to his nature.  The player pondered for a few moments before allowing him to pass.  Had he not let the Commando through, all those who had died to his knife in the houses of healing would have been spared, and that would have been a substantial number.

Would the DM allow for all the Dunedain to fall if the players made poor decisions?  That too is a good question.  I do know that there was at least one who was not there, that was Turandir.  Part of me says, yes and a part of me says, no.  I say no, because he loves the Dunedain too.  They are his favorite people.  However as he has killed thousands of player characters over the years (I did ask about that and there are about 3 or so 5” deep boxes of KIA character sheets) I know that he is capable of taking out PC’s and NPC’s.  My guess is that he may have taken that into consideration a head of time and maybe had a few Dunedain in other parts of the world who missed the call or could not be there for some reason.  Again, I’ll have to ask, but I would guess his answer would be yes to either possibility.  The Dunedain were going to take losses, it was just a matter of how terrible they were going to be.

On the other hand I know of at least one occasion where player actions totally gaffled an invading force that he was going to use a major story device for a long time.

So the long and the short of it is, I’m uncertain though I do have the guesses that I have listed.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
You mentioned, if I'm interpreting right, that two main characters in Tolkien's version of the War of the Ring have been killed, prior to the War of the Ring, in your campaign. From this I gather that you're consensually playing an "alternate history" version of Middle Earth, one in which the War of the Ring might (in your campaign's "future") be lost. And the possibility of that loss adds weight to events. Am I right?


Yes.  We would prefer that such losses (at least of the iconic good guys!) didn’t occur. We would prefer that all alterations were for the better, but that just isn’t going to happen.  We love all the characters in the milieu, but we accept such losses because that is the price we pay for having an effect on the events of Middle Earth.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
Is the possibility of changes in favor of the West in the War of the Ring equally open (such as, I don't know, the Orthanc Palantir being destroyed or something)?


Yes.  Two Nazgul have been destroyed already.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
Could you, from what you've experienced as a participant, imagine actually playing out the War of the Ring in this campaign someday? Or does that present too many problems, and better left perpetually on the distant horizon?


For me personally, I don’t think that I could bear playing out the War of the Rings.  The losses and the destruction of so many things of the world that I hold dear would to be too terrible.

OK – during the 4th of July week marathon of play, one of the scenarios played was an all out attempt by Aria to basically cut of the head of Gondor.  The Lord there sent out all his Commandos to assassinate the Steward and the various lords of the fiefdoms of Gondor to sew chaos and then install his own puppet.  Five of the players at the table had commandos that were on that mission.  One contingent which included three PC’s went after Adrahil and his heir Imrahil in Dol Amroth, and another contingent which included 2 PC’s went to Minas Tirith to take care of Ecthelion.  Word had already spread that his son Denethor had fallen to treachery on the battle field.

For the rest of us, watching the Commandos just carve up everything in their path unopposed was sheer gut wrenching horror.  We had seen them in the past and they are brutal efficient killing machines.  Over a dozen times I had to walk away from the table that day because things were going so badly for (the hope of) Middle Earth.  The gloom and the utter hopelessness almost too much to face.  (Things did eventually turn around by the end of the week – but not without losses)  I would not like the war to come because it would signal the end of the world even if it did turn out well.  The forth age will come, the age of the elves will end and much of the charm and magic of the world will wither to the mundane and the ordinary.

But does the possibility to changes to the outcome of the war or events of the war present too many problems technically?  Or does the possibility of running such enormous battles present too much of a problem?  No.  I don’t think so.

I hope that I have answered your question in some semblance of usefulness.

Joshua and Ron I have not forgotten either of you, but I have been working on these posts for over 7 hours and I am getting tired.  If the grammar in this post starts getting really bad, at least now you will know why.  I will reply to your posts tomorrow.
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Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.

Jay
Valamir
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« Reply #10 on: October 06, 2004, 06:45:42 AM »

This is fascinating stuff Jay. I'm glad you shared it.  I had a couple of thoughts I wanted to get down while they were fresh, but I certainly understand there are alot of other queries that have been thrown out there at you.

One thing that caught my attention was your description of Gap Reversal and the Legolas trap.  Was that a situation where:
1) The GM had planned all along that Legolas was not actually captured and that it was a trap, but made sure that all the evidence that he gave to you sold you on the idea that Legolas was a prisoner and needed to be free.
2) As number 1 but there were actually ample opportunities for you to have learned or at least gotten suspicious about it being a trap before going in and you just missed them for whatever reasons.
3) The GM had originally planned that Legolas was, in fact, captured but then decided that this would be a good dramatic spot for a reversal and came up with the vision and trap idea on the fly.

Do you as players ever really know for sure which of these such reversals actually are?


The second thing that comes to mind is wondering how much Illusion the GM is weaving into the game.  Not a criticism because its obviously working for you marvelously...truly talented GM illusionists are pretty rare and rather priceless when you find one...but several comments you've made about how things get adjucated and how in the dark you often are lead me to wonder.

Frex you indicate that you often aren't told what you need to roll or even what you're rolling for.  The GM awards roleplaying bonuses periodically (and presumeably most often secretly) based on what appears to be quality of player of immersion, and you indicate that the GM is primarily responsible for managing the drama by cranking up the tension and stress levels.

It seems to me that the situation you describe is a near perfect operating environment for a talented Illusionist GM.  Encouraging a fair degree of character connectedness and immersion makes it more difficult for players to notice meta level tweakings.  Having players roll and stressing how important the rolls are and not to cheat gives a good solid feel that the dice are having a meaningful impact but keeping target numbers largely secret and having the power to arbitrarily assign roleplaying and other bonuses for dramatic purposes gives the GM the ability to almost determine pass or fail as he desires simply by manipulating the TN and bonuses.  Combine that with a graduated degree of success where a miss by 1 is almost successful and a made by 1 isn't all that much better and you have a situation where the GM can get his desired outcome from the roll almost no matter what the roll is...with the exception of the 1s and 20s which have special meaning.  I suspect that's a big part of why the 20s and 1s are so memorable for you because those are the occasions where even the GM doesn't know what was about to happen.

Now by this I don't mean rampant railroading.  Obviously the GM gets a lot of joy out of encouraging you to figure out solutions, and I don't want to suggest that he's railroading your decision making.  Rather, I get the sense that when you come up with a solution that makes the GM pause and say "wow, what a great idea" that he's inclined to interpret the dice generously (except for those nasty 1s) and when you come up with an idea that the GM finds less inspiring he's less inclined to interpret the dice generously.  

In other words, almost turning the Fortune mechanic into a Drama mechanic where the real success/fail determination is based on the GMs judgement on the dramatic suitability of your characters actions more than on the actual randomness of the dice rolls.


Does that sound reasonable or is my speculation way off base there.  I'm thinking your GM sounds like that most elusive of quarries...the master illusionist who actually manages to maintain the illusion without resorting to participationism.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: October 06, 2004, 07:37:45 AM »

Hello,

I suggest that the 1 and 20 results have a great deal in common with The Questing Beast's Guided Event and Monologue of Victory, respectively.

In agreement with Ralph, the intermediary results look like Guided Events to me as well, just not openly acknowledged as such. I'd be very interested to see what kinds of IIEE techniques accompany most dice rolls, in terms of how much "action" gets established simply through announcement alone, and how much is resolved by the roll itself, and how much is retconned from the result.

But that's a side point. To focus on the 1 and 20 alone for a minute, it's worth pointing out that with ten players, if everyone's rolling a lot, that the chances of someone getting a 1 or a 20 leap up dramatically. Since 1's and 20's seem (as far as I can tell) to have effects on the scene rather than simply one character's action, there is apparently a shared-dice-pool effect occurring when a whole bunch of people are rolling. Sort of a Story Engine group-roll phenomenon.

Best,
Ron
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Walt Freitag
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Posts: 1039


« Reply #12 on: October 06, 2004, 08:01:12 AM »

Jay, thanks for answering my questions. I appreciate your going to the trouble to include examples from play, which really help clarify things.

Since you still have others' questions stacked up, I'm not going to queue up any more questions of my own. A few quick comments, though.

I did notice that you'd mentioned two nazgul having been killed. But I also recalled Gandalf saying something about nazgul never being fully destroyed as long as the One Ring existed. So I wasn't sure if that was a real West-favoring change to the pre-LoTR timeline or not, which is why I asked the more general question about such changes. (Which you've now answered more than adequately.)

Also, I did know what you meant when you said "drama affects die rolls." I was deliberately twisting those words in an ironic way. But I have, in fact, occasionally been in groups where the principle of "drama affects die rolls" in the way I twisted it to (that is, dramatic significance provides license for the roller to unilaterally and secretly overrule the actual roll) was accepted. (With players on the same Abashed Nar page agenda-wise, this can be a completely functional drama mechanism, since in most systems the player rolling is already the one with the most credibility to make the drama decision.)

Ralph, I'm thinking along the same lines as you are with respect to the Legoas rescue example. I'm beginning to see the outline here of a GM skillfully wielding a lot of Illusionist technique, including a lot of improvisation not (obviously) of setting but of situation (as in the Legolas rescue) and (NPC) character. For instance, I see minor NPCs turning out to be Black Commandos in disguise, and I think, what a useful tool to be able to pull out of your bag when improvising dramatic tension on the fly (as long as you don't overuse it) -- since there's no need to decide whether someone's a Black Commando in disguise or not until an opportune dramatic moment to attack arises.

One quibble, however: I'd be cautious to specify that by "illusionist GM" you mean "one who uses illusionist techniques" rather than "one who uses Illusionism." That latter term is unfortunately still generally associated with use of illusionist techniques to enforce a pre-planned plot or pre-planned climax situation, which is not what seems to be happening in Jay's game. (And I'd hate to see the thread diverted into "is not/is too Illusionism.")

- Walt
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Wandering in the diasporosphere
ErrathofKosh
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Posts: 190

Lest Darkness Fall.


« Reply #13 on: October 06, 2004, 09:40:16 AM »

Jay,
Just wanted to let you know that I'm following along with this thread.  Very interesting stuff....

Cheers
Jonathan
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Cheers,
Jonathan
Silmenume
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Posts: 467


« Reply #14 on: October 06, 2004, 04:43:23 PM »

Well I’m back for another installation!

Hey Joshua!

Quote from: joshua neff
You said that there were no written rules system outside of combat, and that pretty much everything was open to negotiation.


I must apologize.  I was so locked into my player perspective that I just didn’t think about the GM’s side of things.  Let me clarify.

As far as the players are concerned, there are no written rules that they have access.  IOW a new player can come to the table and have the mechanics of combat explained to them in about 15 or so minutes.  On their character sheets are the important pieces of information regarding combat related items – AC, armor, weapons skills and damage bonuses and dice types, stamina and personal body points.  This is not say that is the only information on the player sheet, but that is where it is all kept.  Concepts related to combat are explained – parrying and full parrying, avoiding blows and full avoids, full smotes and full thrusts, bonuses for attacking from off angles, called shots (-4’s and –8’s), piercing weapons are VERY dangerous (they bypass stamina and do straight PBP), that stamina in most cases goes first and then PBP happens second and that is very bad, etc.

The GM has about 5 sheets of paper that are employed during character rolls up and consist of tables, mostly for calculating the combat related items.  There are a few other sheets used during character creation such as racial bonus sheets i.e., a Sylvan Elf will get straight plusses to his attributes while a person of Rohan gets a number of D20’s against his rolled stats in a limited number of attributes.  I should note that multiple attributes are used for calculating all the various combat related items.  Where as strength and dexterity are used to calculate the initial skill with a specific weapon (each weapon has its own difficulty rating - plus back ground bonuses depending on the characters personal history) intelligence and wisdom bonuses are employed during level roll ups with said weapon.

To get to your specific question about level roll up.  During combat we put down on character sheets what was killed (what creature it was and what level it was), what was defeated, important things we say, wisdom checks, and at the end of the night player ratings.  Occassionally we bring our sheets forward and ask or say I think I’ve made a level.  The GM then calculates the EP of everything on the sheet (this is a fairly involved process – because there are many factors and modifiers that determine that final EP value).  If that is indeed the case we roll up weapons skills (determining which weapon was the most used, and then the next, etc.) AC and stamina.  Player ratings are discounts off the number of EP’s needed to go up a level.  But usually what is examined first is the number of wisdom checks on the sheet.  If there are not enough, it does not matter how many EP’s and how much player rating is on the sheet, the character is not going up levels.  (I should note that the number of checks needed per level is currently under heavy negotiation and sometimes protest – but it will all sort itself out in time.  The mechanics are always under some sort of fine tuning.  The driving question always seems to be how I (the DM) can arrange things so the players are motivated to roleplay more).

Quote from: joshua neff
What exactly was the definition of "effective role-play" and who decided what role-play was "effective" or not. Was it solely the GM, or could other players say, "Hey, I think Doug deserves a wisdom check for that last scene"?


That’s a good question and one that is necessary nebulous.  Like the hoary adage about pornography, “I know it when I see it.”  However as we players are both actors and writers (we aren’t just reading someone else lines and solutions – we are making them up as we go along) wisdom checks are usually given out for good performances and good thinking.  This could be anything from portraying your character effectively to finguring out a really clever way to get everyone’s bacon out of the fire, to giving rousing speeches, to just playing scared for half the night.  

One time I was playing a hobbit who helped himself to an “apprenticeship” to a PC mage.  I told him it was a perfect fit, I was in need of a mentor and he was in sore need of a student!  We hooked up with some Beornings who were looking for one of their own had disappeared somewhere near a pass in the Misty’s.  I had lots of fun playing a somewhat irascible and slightly naďve hobbit, but once we got underground and combat started and spells were flying and people were dying all I could do was cling to the mages robe in simpering fear.  I, as a player, would have rather been out there swinging away, but this night I was playing a character for whom it was just not possible.  At any rate I was given many checks for staying in character even though I did not engage in combat itself.  As it turned out only the mage and I survived that night, every other PC died.  I should note that if any checks are left over from the number to go up a level, the remainder can be converted to EP.

At other times wisdom checks are handed out just for experiencing something “life changing” for the first time – like seeing the Seven Walled City when coming in from rural Rohan, or meeting an Elf or a Dwarf, or seeing magic (like my hobbit) or the Falls of Rauros, etc.

Quote from: joshua neff
Was it solely the GM, or could other players say, "Hey, I think Doug deserves a wisdom check for that last scene"?


Both, but almost always the GM.  Actually checks are typically handed out is situ for some event or action, he does not typically wait for some ending point.  Players can be in the middle of a conversation and the GM can make a small check sign with his finger.  However, we’ve had cases where a player will say something reaaaaaly kool and we’ve jumped on the GM for not handing out a check!  The GM has clearly stated on a number of times when I’ve asked about the checks, he says he uses them to encourage certain behaviors or actions.  This might mean that if a player is playing some sort of scumbag and he does something that will hurt the other characters at the table and the GM knows it hard for said player to play such a character then a check is given despite the fact the players may not at the moment be happy with what said player is doing.  It’s a quick, shorthand way of rewarding and encouraging the player in a deliberate and public way for something kool.

Quote from: joshua neff
You said, "These stars are based upon the players current roleplay skill and how far they reached past it"--who rated a players "current roleplay skill"? What exactly is a "roleplay skill"? And how does one reach past it? You said new players were given consideration, so is "roleplay skill" something someone doesn't start with much of and gets better at as they play longer?


I’ll answer the easiest question first because I am lazy!  It is the GM who rates the players.  What exactly constitutes “roleplay skill” is a very good question.  Before I go much further, some of the confusion may lie in my choice of phrasing.  I’ll have to ponder that more, later.  We understand that the way we play is different and fairly unique.  That coming up to speed process is specifically employed by the GM to increase tension at the table.  Not between new player and old hands, but with the SIS.  It is because the new player does not “know how the world works” events can get out of control for us old hands, and the player is experiencing something completely different than anything he has ever played before.  To whit –

This was before my time, but one time the game was being played in a game store with old hands and lots of first timers.  One of the first timers had a run in with a dwarf.  Words were exchanged and the player spit in the dwarf’s face.  The GM’s eyes went wide, he pulled is hands behind his head and made a huge two handed over head swing of an axe blow.  Without rolling or asking for a roll, the GM said “he splits you from top to bottom.”  The player was stunned and electricity went ripping through the room as other players and observers whispered, “the NPC just killed a PC!”  The interest level in the game of almost everyone there went through the roof.  Hey!  This is something different!  Could the player have done something to avoid the blow?  Sure.  Did he know?  Maybe.  But that is part of the curve that the GM takes into account when determining the player’s roleplay skill.  He did not know that NPCs would react in a manner that would not be in the best interests of the player.  Also the very nature of not everything is resolved by rolls or that the game isn’t quantized into turns is something that needs to be integrated by the players.  (Much of this is mentioned in the welcome to our game speech).  The old hands do not fault new players for this, as we’ve all been through it.  The mystery of learning the ins and outs of the player interaction with the SIS reflects the mystery of the unknown of the game world itself.  It all makes for a fascinating experience – nothing is quite as I have known it before.  Frequently, afterwards we players and the GM console the player who may have had something unfortunate happen to him and explain to him we’ve been there and start to impart more “wisdom” about how things work.  Just knowing that I could just try things that weren’t specifically proscribed on my sheet was absolutely enthralling!  The possibilities were endless, it was just a matter of figuring out what was likely to work and what was unlikely to work.  The key here is that there are no real hard and fast rules.  That hard boundary of the possible and the impossible is more the fuzzy edge of the likely and the unlikely.  And that’s KOOL!

Success usually means pushing the envelope, but we can never be absolutely sure where that boundary is!  Exciting stuff!

Quote from: joshua neff
Again, who decided that a character's life experience was worth experience? Did the group decide as a whole? Was it just the GM? Or did players make suggestions with the final arbiter being the GM?


The GM makes those decisions, typically.  There is nothing that forbids a player from making suggestions, but rarely has that happened.  Part of the reason for that is that we try and stay in the Dream by either staying in character or watching the movie play out before our eyes when the camera is not us.

As you might be picking up, there are extremely few hard and fast elements in the game.  It is a game based in perception that plays up on perception.  Even the GM telling you your character is dead does not necessarily mean that he’s really dead until the GM asks for the Character sheet.  That is irrevocable.

Quote from: joshua neff
I'm tempted to assume that "roleplaying" means "getting into character," but I don't want to make assumptions without more info. Also, if every player has a "folder" of 18-50 characters, it seems really damn difficult to "get into character" with that many different characters.


Roleplaying is more than just getting into character.  Its getting into the Dream as a whole.  As I indicated before we are both actors (portrayer of the characters) and writers (making all sorts of decisions, making of goals and creating solutions while constrained by character – which includes such things as cultural norms on a wide scale {which can encompass up to the whole fate of the world depending on the character} and personal background on a narrow scale).  It’s all about juggling many different and often competing interests.  “Better” roleplayers (and I use that term verrrrry loosely) are those that can incorporate more and more of these competing issues “elegantly” (there is an esthetic regarding that “elegance” that is deeply appreciated at the table) into their actions.  Its not thinking small scale or large scale, its both – and let me tell you it is a bitch and a half.  And worth every effort put in it!

Quote from: joshua neff
I guess I'm interested in the social contract stuff, especially with new players coming into the group. How were decisions on rating "roleplaying" and the doling out of awards handled in the group? Was the social contract information made explicit, either in written form or verbally ("If you want to play with us, here's how the game goes?")?


As I indicated above, rating “roleplaying” and the doling out of awards is primarily a GM issue.  That segment of the social contract is made explicit verbally whenever a new player comes to the table.  Certain behaviors are explicitly forbidden and that is made very clear to the new players.  No cheating.  This can either be with dice rolling or telling another player character something when your character is not proximal (or would not have the means to communicate) to that other character.  If a player is having a hard moment and someone else gives said player grief that is a HUGE no no.  You do not fuck with someone who is on the ropes.  How can anyone take the risk and really open themselves up emotionally if they fear that someone is going to give them crap?  During combat players are not allowed to touch out players at the table.  Period.  This includes accidentally.  The penalties are very stiff for this.  When emotions are running hot the last thing you want is a fistfight breaking out!

Quote from: joshua neff
Or was it implicit--and if so, were there a lot of cases of new players not fitting in because they couldn't get a handle on such things as the definition of "roleplaying" or how the non-written rules were handled? Were long-time players given more voice than newbies?


I am certain that there are a lot of implicit rules as well, though I would have to spend some time looking back and see where I had made assumptions about social contract issues.  Usually when there infractions on “non-written” rules it is either addressed immediately (rarely) or after the game (much for commonly.)  Actually the after game after action get together and debrief is almost as much fun as the game itself.  It is here that a lot of social contract issues get hammered out or brought to light.  It is here that we exchange our various perspectives on the events in game.  It is here that we talk about what we’d like to do next while in the “afterglow” of the game.  And within this candid talk and excitement, the GM pulls out what the players reacted strongly to and makes mental notes about “next time.”  Critiques are given, plots are hatched, helpful advice if asked and given.  And sometimes consolation is offered as well.

Have we lost new players player because they did not get our definition of “roleplaying”.  Yes.  Many, many times.  The GM makes that clear in the social contract speech, “Our style of play may not be for everyone.  So if you find that you don’t enjoy yourself that’s OK.”  The GM always drives us to find new players, partly because it is very difficult to find players who can and like to play the way we do.

Regarding long-time players being given more voice than newbies, I am assuming that you mean with regards to social contract issues.  The simple answer is, yes.  10 stars gets you a “black folder”, voting rights and a right of first refusal invitation to every game.  We do hold player votes regarding new players.  There’s always some tension about that because new players always result in a spike in player character casualty rates.  On the other hand there are other players who are saying that the GM needs to ease off more on the difficulty level for new players to give them more time to come up to speed.  It’s a messy human process.

One time there was a new player who kept firing into melee.  This is very dangerous as friendlies are in the fray and arrows are lethal.  The first game he did that the players spoke to him after the game about that he really should be more prudent about doing that.  He assented.  The next game he fired into melee again and I think killed a PC.  Again there was the after game discussion that was a bit more direct.  He played his third game and shot into melee again.  He was not invited back to the game after that.

In game, newplayers tend to be given more camera time than old timers.

On to the next!
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Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.

Jay
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