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Author Topic: [Basic D&D]short and thus sweet  (Read 1851 times)
Emily Care
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« on: November 08, 2004, 02:23:51 PM »

When I picked up an incomplete box set of basic D&D at a tag sale this summer, I never really expected to actually play it.  Imagine my surprise to find myself running  a game for my housemates and  a friend--none of whom are regular role players--last night.  And, perhaps the most surprising thing is that we had a great time.  It was short and sweet.  More sweet because it was short, for many reasons.

Necessity proves a Virtue
We decided to play based on a spur of the moment impulse, and only had an hour or two to do it all, giving no time to make stuff up in advance. This turned out to be an advantage.  At first, I dutifully tried to stock the dungeon and let them run into random encounters, but it quickly became clear to me that everyone would have more fun if I followed and supported the plots they expressed interest in.  Intuitive continuity--having no predetermined back story, but establishing as you go along in response to player interest--fit the bill.  

Also, since we had but limited time and I hadn't gone through the mechanics, we just opted to roll a single d20 against the relevant stat for any given task. With an additional 50/50 damage roll for combat.  The gain in handling time--even just of the time it would have taken to sort out how it all worked, was worth it.

Role what?
My visiting friend Rena had never role played before and wasn't even really familiar with it, and Phoebe had played the game "Mafia" once at a party.  Serena, my other housemate, was actually the most experienced with D&D, having played it many times as a kid, DM'd by her sister Meguey, but other than playing Soap & Matchmaker with Vincent, Meg & I etc. this is probably one of the only times she's roleplayed as an adult.  

It was great to play with them, they focused on the interactions between the characters, were all active participants and gave suggestions of all types about what their characters could do, what might be going on in the plot and what we might see or do. In part because they were not regular role players, there were few bad habits we had to shuck off. Everyone was engaged in making the story interesting; I didn't have to coax them, I had to run to keep up.

Party of Four
Serena, Phoebe and Rena got a lot of mileage out of using the alignments as a personality matrix throughout the game: lawful being seen as group oriented, chaos as selfish, and neutral as variable. Serena played a lawful good magic user, Phoebe a neutral halfling, Rena a neutral elf and I played a chaotic good cleric.  Serena suggested we determine the relationships between the characters at the start, so we rolled a d20: higher number meaning stronger relationship, so Serena & Phoebe's characters knew and trusted one another, while my character  had an antagonistic relationship with Phoebe's character.  A lot of the fun of the game simply came from playing our characters, and humorously enacting our parts: Serena's lawful-good character pleading for the most generous and innocent course of action, my cleric sowing discord and mischief, Phoebe's halfing distrusting my character and greedily trying to scam all the treasure ("but halflings like belongings!") and Rena's elf shifting back and forth from forthright-ness to looking out for himself. I loved running the chaotic character. It gave the other characters a source of tension and drama within the group. For example, as soon as we stepped in the keep, she suggested we all split up, engendering a friendly and heated, in-character debate about the best way to conduct the search.

Everybody's Story
So, here I am, DMing with everything coming off the top of my head.  The justification for why we were exploring the "dungeon", the Keep of Dunkirk was that there was plague in the land, and the local lord wanted us to try to find the fabled healing jewel, the Orb of Krion, in the ruined castle.  I thought it would be cool for there to be some intraparty divisiveness, so I introduced another rumor about the Orb by having a mysterious old woman encounter us at the entrance of the keep and tell us it was said to "rob you of death".  I thought the lure of immortality might bring about some conflict in the party over handing it over to the Lord when we finally found the thing.

Immediately, Rena, Serena and Phoebe started conjecturing about what this might mean--did the orb really heal? could it raise from the dead? might there be zombies inside (ding-ding-ding: note to self, I said, have zombies and skeletons).  They continued this extrapolation by incorporating descriptions I gave of the keep into the myth they were writing, like a tapestry that hid a secret door to a closed chamber.  With no agenda in mind, I described it as depicting a battle. Someone asked if the orb was pictured in it, so "ding" I described a leader of one side holding the orb aloft.  They interpreted this to mean that the people of this keep might have brought zombies into battle.  No prompting by me, I just provided--plausible--support for the things they were finding interesting in the game.

Player empowerment kicks butt
We wandered around, collecting treasure like little easter eggs littered around in likely places, including some magic rings.  The first one I had planned out what it did--allowed the bearer to levitate--which they used to good effect to avoid a gray ooze spread out across the floor and celing of a room.  The second I had an idea for, but I didn't find it particularly inspiring, so I suggested that everyone give a suggestion and we'd choose which it was randomly.  We talked about whether it should be a positive or negative power and instead decided to have a useful power with a drawback to using it.  

They came up with three cool things: invisibility that made the world fade out to the user over time, shapeshifting to resemble whatever you were closest to but the longer you kept the shape the more you became like the other being, and the gift of speaking any tongue but you spoke everything--your "inside thoughts" too--not just what you meant to say.  Ironically, we rolled and it actually came up to be my idea: control of weather that made the bearer colder and colder.  But making up the rings was really fun, and aftewards Serena suggested doing that at the start of a game and placing the made up treasures throughout the dungeon.

Why Four Heads are Better than One
All in all, I'd do it this way every time.  Even if I'd had more time to prepare, I wouldn't have thought of all the things that they came up with. And if I had, those would have been the things I was interested in, not necessarily everyone else.  This is old news around here, but it was affirming anew to me to see how clearly enjoyable it is to get input from everyone who is involved--regardless of the setting, or the mechanics.  Here's what the game would have looked like if it had gone by my original thoughts:

    [*]Lord sends party into Keep after healing orb.
    [*]Old woman gives rumor about Orb.
    [*]Players go room to room meeting various monsters such as sprites, giant bees, gelatinous cubes etc., killing them and collecting treasure.
    [*]Eventually they find the orb and possibly fight over whether to give it back to heal the sick, or to keep it to stay alive forever.[/list:u]
    Here's what the players and I created out of the feedback between us:
      [*]The group of characters had conflicts and alliances that kept the characters fencing with one another, and the players laughing all the time.
      [*]The orb was a powerful magical object that had been used in a great battle, and which possibly could turn you into the living dead if you touched it.
      [*]The first monsters we encountered were 5 imprisoned sprites whom we agreed to free on the condition that they helped us search the keep.[*]The people in the keep had worshipped a god of lightning whose symbol we pillaged.
      [*]We discovered magical rings whose properties we used to evade and destroy a gray ooze.
      [*]The sprites were captured by a giant spider that we fought and  killed.
      [*]The old woman turned out to be the keeper of the orb and zombies rose up to protect it when we tried to steal it.[/list:u]

      Basing my decisions on what fit thematically, what fit the pacing (like getting the sprites to help the party, and then making the room where the sprites got rescued be the final chamber), and what fit the elements we were working with (having the gray ooze room come up just after they found the ring of levitation) meant that instead of dragging them through boredom for an hour, we instead were inspired to play on past when we'd planned to end.

      Who knows, we might even play again. But maybe next time, we'll just use Donjon.

      yrs,
      Emily Care
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      Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

      Black & Green Games
      rafial
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      « Reply #1 on: November 08, 2004, 06:48:36 PM »

      Quote from: Emily Care
      Serena suggested we determine the relationships between the characters at the start, so we rolled a d20: higher number meaning stronger relationship


      Wow, this just lept off the page at me.  Lots of RPGs are now applying mechanics to PC/NPC relationships, but I think the formalizing of PC/PC relationships has a lot of potential for certain types of roleplaying.  I realize that y'all just used this as a jumping off point, but I think the basic concept is excellent, and deserves to be explored more.
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      Emily Care
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      « Reply #2 on: November 09, 2004, 08:06:52 AM »

      Hi Rafial,  

      There was a thread recently asking about ways to encourage PC/PC interaction, and having some kind of mechanics like this to start off with would be go a long way towards it.

      In the game Soap you have to establish what your relationship is with each of the other characters, ie that your doctor is the mayor's daughter's husband's love-child.  Timfire's the Mountain Witch uses the Zodiac to give the characters initial personality types and attitudes toward one another (allies etc.) and also has a very innovative mechanic:  Trust points.  Players allocate them to other players based on character interactions, and give eachother the ability to intervene on eachother's behalf.  (I imagine this as having a similar effect on play as Matt Wilson's fan mail in Primetime Adventures, though I haven't gotten to play MW yet).

      I remember musing some time back about making a hong kong action movie type game where you choose a type of relationship with all the other characters (lost lover, mentor, partner etc) and ways in which you are betraying eachother, in order to play out storylines like in The Killer or Reservoir Dogs.  

      Introducting conflict among PCs runs counter to traditional logic (ie don't break up the party), and I know people who hate this sort of thing.  But it's a pity to overlook such a rich source of conflict, as long as the character conflict can be kept distinct from player conflict.

      best,
      Emily
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      Brennan Taylor
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      « Reply #3 on: November 09, 2004, 09:07:06 AM »

      This technique (roll a die to determine your relationship with another character, higher is more friendly) was used in our original Bulldogs! games (Marvel super-heroes at the time, d20 now). Interestingly, it really helped get people to connect more emotionally with their characters in very gamist play. The characters seemed to care about something (or someone), and this caused lots of opportunity for inter-character role-playing within the standard mission format. Definitely a valuable tool for our group.
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      rafial
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      « Reply #4 on: November 09, 2004, 02:05:32 PM »

      Quote from: Emily Care

      In the game Soap you have to establish what your relationship is with each of the other characters, ie that your doctor is the mayor's daughter's husband's love-child.


      Ah, I've not played Soap, though I've heard it much talked about.  I now have another reason to try it.

      Quote

      Timfire's the Mountain Witch uses the Zodiac to give the characters initial personality types and attitudes toward one another (allies etc.) and also has a very innovative mechanic:  Trust points.  Players allocate them to other players based on character interactions, and give eachother the ability to intervene on eachother's behalf.  (I imagine this as having a similar effect on play as Matt Wilson's fan mail in Primetime Adventures, though I haven't gotten to play MW yet).


      I see fan mail as a little different from what I'm talking about here.  Fan mail is about players scratching (or clawing) each others backs, similar to spite in Great Ork Gods.  What interests me is a mechanic that drives character interaction.

      Mountain Witch sounds interesting, in that the mechanic would seem to reinforce character interactions that emerge in play.

      Quote
      I remember musing some time back about making a hong kong action movie type game where you choose a type of relationship with all the other characters (lost lover, mentor, partner etc) and ways in which you are betraying eachother, in order to play out storylines like in The Killer or Reservoir Dogs.  


      This would be very cool.

      Quote

      Introducting conflict among PCs runs counter to traditional logic (ie don't break up the party), and I know people who hate this sort of thing.  But it's a pity to overlook such a rich source of conflict, as long as the character conflict can be kept distinct from player conflict.


      Alan Barclay used such a gimmick in his Black Altar of Tramath demo for Conan d20, and it added much richness.  I've also seen similar stuff happen with mutually focused SAs in Riddle of Steel, and mutally focused Secrets in The Shadow of Yesterday.  In both of those cases however, the "web of relationships reinforced by mechanics" was a thing stumbled upon, not planned.
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      Meguey
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      Meguey


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      Ha!
      « Reply #5 on: November 10, 2004, 10:30:40 AM »

      Serena spent most of her early childhood playing D&D in various forms, starting at a *very* tender age (I was 7, so she would have been, what, 5?). I don't think she could read yet. I'm thrilled she was interested, but DON'T TELL HER I said so. I think maybe she'll have more fun if her gaming has nothing to do with mine. I'm a little envious, though, because as you can see, her instincts are great and she's a solid player.

      And, hey, Em, it sounds like you ran a great game!
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