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[D&D 3.5] playing amongst the wargamers - advice wanted

Started by FredGarber, June 25, 2007, 05:43:43 PM

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I know this isn't the way a lot of GMs like to play the game, but...

You could always minimalise the XP bonus at the end of game for those players who ignore their Aspects. It's like getting XP bonuses (and penalties) for acting in alignment (or against alignment) in other systems.

Warn the players in advance that this is what your going to start doing, and say that it's an experiment to get them thinking more about their character's personalities rather than their character's statistics. If the majority of players agree to it, then you're fine. If the players generally don't want this, then you're probably just stick with a group who want to hack-n-slash.

If the group agrees to it, then lay down a set of ground rules.

For example:
"All players write 5 Aspects (or interesting character quirks) for their characters."
"All players only get 50% of the XP they would normally get unless they incorporate their Aspects".
"Each time a player incorporates a different one of their aspects into the game, they gain an additional 10% of their earned XP."
"If a player manages to incorporate all 5 aspects into their play session, they gain all of their earned XP, and a 10% bonus."

Some players will hate the idea, other players will enjoy the challenge of working in their aspects to get that extra bonus.

I realise that this goes against what a few people have talked about in this thread, where they seem to be saying that characterisation is it's own reward. I agree that characterisation makes a game special, and this is what I go for in my games, far more than any mechanical number crunching. But there are many people who just won't go for it unless they see a specific benefit from their performance.

If the groups really starts to enjoy the aspect and characterisation challenges, you can push the rules further. Perhaps offering 25% starting XP, and 15% per aspect incorporated (with a 15% or higher bonus for using them all).

This is similar to some of the ideas that I tend to use in my regular gaming group.

A.K.A. Michael Wenman
Vulpinoid Studios The Eighth Sea now available for as a pdf for $1.


I've been thinking about "role play" over "roll play" more recently as our D&D group (I'm GM) plans next campaign (our campaigns last a decade or so).

What I've been thinking about is requiring feats (at least, maybe more things) to have some "player-authored role playing descriptive text".

From games like Dogs in Vineyard or Universalis, there is something much more fun about saying, "I'm using my grandfather's sword, +1 to hit" than "weapon focus - sword" feat; about, "I belong to the Order of the Arcane Secrets" than "Skill Focus Knowledge Arcana"; about "I always strike to kill" than "Power Attack"; about "I am confident my magic can solve all problems" rather than Spell Focus - even if all pairs do the same thing mechanically and the first is simply a "descriptive element" added to the second. The alternatives give more cues to roleplaying and suggest stories and obstacles for GM to create.

Everything on a character's sheet in any RPG does 3 things: sets out the mechanics for the character to influence the shared imaginary space, provides a cue to the player about roleplaying (in D&D this is mostly alignment, non-human race choices), and is a signal to the GM and other players (hey GM, when creating adventures - this is what you need to do to interest me as a player — hey other players, this is what my character is about, don't step on my fun by squelching it!).

D&D has lots of the first. A bit of the 2nd. Very little to none of the 3rd. In theory a Good Alignment means "hey DM, I want to save the innocent, stop tyrants etc., offer chances to do that and I'm happy" but in fact alignment is a crude instrument for conveying "what stories the player really is interested in" compared to other systems' character flags etc.

"Weapon Focus Longsword" is only the 1st type of mechanical information. Whereas "My grandfather's longsword" also can convey "family, heritage matters to me for roleplay" that also is a cue to DM about possible stories but provides the same mechanical bonus. The same bonus can come from "I killed my first man with a longsword", "Longswords are sacred to my god", "The longsword is the mark of a true warrior".  These call out of a story that involves that first killing or the consequences of first steps to violence, a character to be played as reacting to the treatment of longswords and possession of them by those considered unworthy, a character who treats people differently based on the weapons they bear etc.  However they can all be followed by (Weapon Focus - Longsword).

Instead of Weapon Specialization, "Trained by the White Mountain Masters" can give +2 damage but also ties the character into a group. When the sacred longsword fo the White Mountain founder is stolen, that's a story that player will step up to play.  When the rival Black Mountain School of the Battle Axe starts issuing challenges, the player asks for more information.

The prediction of player stepping up is based on players engaging in the process of authoring the descriptor not just choosing one in order to get the bonus.

Descriptors for such 'edges' the character gets could be "personality, character history, character belief" in nature.

Even one-time class features (including those that improve) could be required to have an explanation.  What is the character explanation of your sneak damage, rage or power against undead - they could be "I know eveyone has a weak spot", "Anger is my power", and "I hate undead" or "I love to twist the knife", "The great bear takes me", and "Undead killed my first love."

Backstory can be filled in as needed by a choice.  If it is only at 6th level that you discover how much it matters to you and realize how it informs your use of the longsword that your grandfather was a master weaponsmith whose craft was longswords (this never having been mentioned before), that's fine - that can be weapon focus or weapon specialization as desired.  Everything "blank" in the character's history can be filled in to suit as long as there is consistency.

Part of the idea is intentionally that since characters gain feats, the character will continue to develop.  My experience with D&D is that there is a burst of player creativity at the time of initial character creation and then that peters out.

Any views?


Yes inasmuch as I strongly agree with all of that.  I think the issue extends as far as generic systems too - either the system and the play are both generic, or the generic system has to be rewritten as a specific system by the end user.  This is again the double sense in which "game" refers to the system and to the event.  It's not a bad thing for the system to be consistent in the abstract realm, but it sucks when those abstractions are not solidified in the local game-at-the-table.

I understand the idea behind these things, the desire to encapsulate everything into a consistent methodology, so that everything can be measured by the same yardstick.  But IMO what it produces is so bland and colourless as to undermine the fundamental act of exploration.  We tend to make character sheets too as if they were objective psychiatric profiles rather than use them as a form of self expression.

Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Chris Peterson

Since the Aspects are ignored because they have no game mechanic, then give them one. D&D already grants the GM the leeway to +2 or -2 on any roll. If your cautious paladin wants to search the barn, give 'em +2 on their Search roll. If the cautious paladin does something risky, penalize them with a -2.

Vincent Baker discussed something like this on his "Roleplaying Theory, Hardcore: Conflict Resolution vs. Task Resolution" blog: