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Author Topic: [Tunnels & Trolls] Gamism ain't for the faint of heart  (Read 7658 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: September 05, 2003, 12:34:11 PM »

Hello,

Tunnels & Trolls proceeds, despite some summer downtime. Two of the characters are up to third level! And a good thing, too ...

Since the last time I posted (see [Tunnels & Trolls] Kill me a player-character (spit), [Tunnels & Trolls] Second level characters, and [Tunnels & Trolls] Half-elves are poncy nancy-boys), we instituted the stable. Everyone rolled up a new character or two, and now each player runs two characters simultaneously. Actually, this procedure hasn't entirely been instituted, as we had a guest player that session and he ran one of the new characters. So one player has yet to do the two-character thing.

Tricky thing #1 is that now every player has one wizard character. That means everyone, not just Julie, has to learn the magic rules much better, because managing Strength, spells, money, and all sorts of stuff is way more complex for wizards than for warriors. Interestingly, no one wanted a rogue ...

Might as well run down the characters for everyone.
Dorcas, 3rd level dwarven wizard; Dori, 1st level dwarven warrior (twin sisters, played by Julie)
Karn, 3rd level dwarven warrior; Fel, 1st level elven wizard (played by Tod)
Henk, 2nd level (and counting) hobbit warrior; Shallala, 1st level leprechaun wizard (played by Maura)

Has anyone noticed that this group of characters is kind of short? For some reasons, hobbits and dwarves are much more effective point-for-point than any other characters. At the moment, Karn is enchanted to be a troll, but still ...

Tricky thing #2 is that their main foe on the second level, Baron Blevic the incredibly annoying vampire, was much easier to kill, given six player-characters to deal with instead of three. Granted, the three new ones were first-level, but given a Vorpal Blade and on all the swords and daggers, as well as a Whammy on one of the swords, as well as an amazing roll by the Whammied character, and the Baron took something like 198 points of damage in the second round of combat. That waxed him before his Instant Gargoyles had a chance to swoop down from the rafters as I'd planned. I mean, they did swoop down, but with the Baron dead, killing them wasn't too terrible. I'd been looking forward to a vampire + gargoyle melee, and quite likely some character deaths.

That brings me to a very important point: I pledged to myself upon designing this dungeon that I wouldn't cheat. No subtle upping any monster's Monster Rating behind my screen, not even between sessions (unless I had an in-game justification). No revamping the immediate geography of the rooms or corridors just to give my critter an advantage, in the face of a clever player tactic. In other words, I don't get Director Stance in a sense that would make it easier for me to "win." I hold off on designing the details (including Monster Ratings) of any given level until they look like they're getting ready to go there, mainly because my lack of experience with the system means I don't have a good grasp on what constitutes a good 5th-level room/foe/situation. But once designed, hey, that's what's there, and I can't cheat.

So hey, if the players utilize the tactic of adding to their party size, they can do it. If that's hard on the Baron (who was more than a match for the three original characters), then that's his tough luck, and that's why he's now a stain on the floor. And equally so hey, now I know where the bar was raised, so my future prep can get ramped up accordingly.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2003, 12:46:12 PM »

Hmmm. It seems to me that adding more characters increases each player's effectiveness, and the party's effectiveness as a whole. If the dungeon was designed as a reasonable challenge for a particular party, doesn't that mean that you ought to redesign the dungeon to accomodate this change in player power? You've changed the rules for their team in their favor, in order to make for a better game. Doesn't that mean that you have to balance back in order that the game doesn't get thrown out of whack?

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2003, 12:49:25 PM »

Hi Mike,

Yes, but not during the session, and emphatically not by beefing up already-existing characters. When the new nastiness shows up on the first level above their heads (oh, like that's giving something away), it will be suitably nasty. And now that they're thinking about what might be on the third level, I'm prepping it, and I'm doing so consonant with the six-character party's effectiveness.

See, I designed the dungeon already, yes ... but I haven't nailed down any of the numerical details of lower-level stuff at all. That tends to be done level by level, just as they start thinking "Hmm, what's down there?"

Best,
Ron
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Bankuei
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« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2003, 12:50:31 PM »

Hi Ron,

That philosophy makes gamism a lot more interesting for the GM... Have you decided to also disallow yourself "planning ahead" with better strategies for the inhabitants of any dungeon area that has already been designed?

Chris
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: September 05, 2003, 12:56:17 PM »

Hi Chris,

If I'm understanding your question right, then I think the answer is "no."

Concrete example: there's a spider-monster on the first level that the characters successfully bargained with in order to sneak down into the second level. They plied her with goats and killed other monsters who were bothering her.

Do you think she's been sittin' static all this time they've been on the second level? No way - and she knows damn well that this party is disrupting all sorts of power-structures among the powerful dungeon denizens, among which she is a minor player.

So the next time they encounter her, she'll be up to something. Whether it's to help them or hinder them, they don't know, and I'll bring every GM wile to the table for that interaction.

Same goes for more hostile interactions. The unlamented Malfred, the janitor troll for the first level, set up traps specifically against the party for their second trip to the dungeon, for instance.

In other words, the monsters scheme constantly, and if they live through encounters with player-characters, scheme and prepare much more.

Best,
Ron
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Bankuei
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« Reply #5 on: September 05, 2003, 01:04:53 PM »

Hi Ron,

Sounds great. Looking forward to hearing more play sessions.

Chris
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David Chunn
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« Reply #6 on: September 05, 2003, 11:40:46 PM »

Hi, Ron.

I have to say that I'm thoroughly enjoying these threads.  I think I'll replace my annual Yuletide in the Young Kingdoms event with a Tunnels and Trolls marathon session.  If I can work out some proper alliteration.  

I've never even thought about playing fair as a GM in this sort of gamist play.  I've always cheated them to the edge to maintain maximum interest and challenge, no matter what.  I guess that makes me more of an entertainer and less of a participant.  

I'm curious about what will happen when your players have high level characters.  My experience with overt gamism of this nature has always been that the players start shifting toward narrativist play with advanced character levels.  Especially with a stable of characters.  The stable usually encourages more author and director stance, too.  

Actually, a character stable also has that affect on simulationist play for me.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2003, 06:47:24 AM »

Still playing!

Hi David - I agree about the phenomenon you're describing. Once a player starts a stable, he or she may start to think out of "My Guy" mode, which then may have secondary effects in terms of getting Narrativist play into action. Emphasis on the "may," however.

One player is tweaking her stable a little to have them all be related dwarves, in a kind of parody of The Hobbit. Another is still getting used to his new additional character, such that so far the character isn't much more than a cipher. But that may change, especially since the character's Saving Roll effectiveness has been tremendous.

Here are some more GM musings.

1. A couple of sessions ago, they cracked the Blue Gem barrier to the second level, which is to say, Tod solved the logic-puzzle that "leaps to mind" when you encounter the thing. He did it in about a minute, maybe less. The point? I think it's that they could have done the puzzle much earlier, but that getting into the willingness to bother was the hurdle. Perhaps the next ones will be attacked more aggressively and early, now that they know the puzzles are solvable.

2. Multiple fights are the bane of Tunnels & Trolls characters. Once the wizards' Strength is depleted, the TTYFs, Vorpal Blades, and Whammies aren't available, and fights get [i[very[/i] dangerous. Combine that with a strange reluctance to leave some unsafe territory just because of an anonymous hidden door, and with posting a first level character to keep watch, and a couple of bad Saving Rolls ... and the party had to flee a relatively small band of relatively small trolls, bleeding profusely and leaving behind one corpse.

The second-fight-is-deadly phenomenon is especially nasty since the only official way to regain CON without magic, according to the rulebook, is to get topside, back to "town." I cut'em a little slack on this sometimes, if they manage to get to a safe-ish area in the dungeon and eat and sleep, but never back up to full CON. It leads me to think that the first "insight" in playing Tunnels & Trolls, that wizards really carry the day, is actually a little naive - you need those double-armored warriors to close ranks around them when they're all groggy.

3. I've introduced the first NPC who's defined by attributes rather than a Monster Rating. He's an inspector for the first level, and very disappointed in how nasty and filthy it is, what with half-elf corpses and so forth all over the place. Previous play-history (one player-character did this NPC a favor a while ago, when he was a snake; never mind, long story) got the party off light this time, but we'll just see about the next delve.

Best,
Ron
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ZenDog
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« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2003, 09:26:47 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hello,
I hold off on designing the details (including Monster Ratings) of any given level until they look like they're getting ready to go there, mainly because my lack of experience with the system means I don't have a good grasp on what constitutes a good 5th-level room/foe/situation. But once designed, hey, that's what's there, and I can't cheat.

Best,
Ron


Hi again.

When I used to play, the attitude was build the whole thing, and if players wander down into the 5th level, before they're ready to handle the 5th level, then that's their lookout.

(I'm glad Henk is still alive).
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: September 15, 2003, 07:37:51 AM »

Hi there,

ZenDog, what I'm doing isn't too different from what you describe. They certainly aren't prevented from going anywhere in the dungeon that they want, and I have enough prep in each level to play it if I had to. But my really good prep tends to get done about one level below wherever they've been last time. As I said, I don't trust my understanding of the game well enough to do the whole dungeon thoroughly, at this point.

How about another update? I submit to everyone the following excerpts from our session yesterday, concerning buying or hiring an NPC to become the new janitor for the first level, as requested by the NPC Sergius Winterfrost. By the rules, players can buy slaves or hire hirelings pretty much as they can afford. The former cost 10 gold pieces per attribute point, but neither Luck nor Charisma is necessary to buy; their Luck is set by the Luck of their master and their Charisma is automatically 0 unless you feel like buying it up. The latter cost 2 gold pieces per attribute point, but you buy all six attributes and have to pony up 25% of your findings to them (even if they die).

Julie: "What do you guys think?"

GM (me): "About slavery? I think it's wrong."

Julie: "No! I'm not asking you; you're not a party member."

[discussion ensues, including the comment by Maura that "An Irish day-laborer would be cheaper." The concept arises that once the person is handed over to Sergius, the party's responsibility to him is ended.]

Julie: "If we're going with a disposable person, we might as well buy a slave."

I don't recall the respondent, but the next person said, "We don't have alignments in this game, after all."

As the bemused witness to and (as you saw) enforced non-participant in this discussion, I found myself thinking, you know, maybe it's true, maybe role-playing is immoral. When ethics meets economics, I'm sorry to say that the former did not emerge triumphant.

Later, after they bought the slave ("We'll call him Max") and we started to play, Maura said, "... we'll be kind to him until turning him over to Sergius, but he still has to collect the firewood and stuff." And even later, when I presumed to provide some dialogue for Max, Maura turned to me askance and said (role-playing her character), "Did we pay you to talk?"

More ...

1. The players seem to be adjusting slowly to the idea that hacking and bullshitting their way from encounter to encounter may not always be the way to go, now that they're encountering the power structure of the dungeon. They're finally getting it straight that there are two major NPCs more-or-less vying for divine status (one's an ancient necromancer and one's a kind of snake-woman sort), and control over the dungeon is the deciding factor. I'm not sure how well they'll take to the kind of "meta-crawl" thinking that they'll need to survive, but if they don't, hey, they won't survive, will they? Funny how this game is so clear about these things.

2. The Corgi edition of the rulebook changed some of the spell names, in most cases from a tongue-in-cheek or slightly offensive term to a more generic one ("Oh Go Away" becomes "Panic," and the notorious "Yassa Massa" was renamed too, can't remember to what). Julie bought the invisibility spell for her wizard character, whose titles are (in 5th edition) "Hidey Hole" and (in the Corgi edition) "Concealing Crack." I cannot bring myself to recount to you just what sort of discussion ensued upon making this information available to the players.

3. The, ah, cognitive emphasis begun by the discussion in #2 was further reinforced when someone finally failed the Constitution Saving Roll required by eating the Firebelch Mushrooms, which results in the fiery blast emerging from the opposite orifice than the intended one. A series of very favorable Saving Rolls later, it turned out that none of the other party members were roasted by the resulting phenomenon, but three goblins who were unintended targets took it right in the teeth. This was a real Elfs moment, and I looked back and forth across three otherwise-dignified, sensible, and responsible adults of the same advanced age as myself, all giggling helplessly and adding embellishments of their own, wondering how any of this would look in a documentary film.

4. Three characters are now third level, and the three others (stable, remember?) are either second level or very close. The death count for player-characters, so far, stands at two.

Best,
Ron
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David Chunn
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« Reply #10 on: September 15, 2003, 10:49:03 PM »

Hi, Ron.

How long do you think it's going to be before the PCs purchase a group of thuggish slaves to help wage war against the evils of the dungeon?  I'm reminded of when I had a DragonQuest necromancer/courtier with a contingent of loyal amazons (he was also the owner of a highly successful chain of whorehouses with basements full of dead things).  

With the powerful saves structure I can imagine an industrious character sparing low-level monsters and winning them over (enslaving) so that they can guard upper levels against new incursions.  The PCs would effectively become a third power within the dungeon, in some capacity at all times, vying for control.

On a different note, in the Gamism essay you mentioned reading as many of the T&T solo adventures and issues of Sorcerer's Apprentice as possible.  Are there any specific gems that you recommend?  I'm awaiting a copy of the new printing of T&T.  The only copy I have access to is the one I gave a friend for Christmast last year.  But I've already found it highly inspiring (mostly the saves) for my current game design which grows more narrativist by the day.
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ZenDog
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« Reply #11 on: September 16, 2003, 01:01:09 AM »

Hi David,
for T&T  Solo's I would suggest;  'Sword For Hire' (Sixpack is one of my all time favourite NPC's).  'The Sewers of Oblivion', 'The City of Terrors', 'The Arena of Khazan' and 'Overkill'.

Hi Ron,
it seems like you, and your players, are all really enjoying T&T. It's a fun game that is filled with humour.  
  I was trying to nail down what it is that makes T&T so good for me.  I think the main thing is probably that it was the first game I ever played.  Now this must of had some impact on me when I first started to play D&D.  
  I found  D&D a bit flat and flavourless by comparison.  T&T is much more personal (or so it seems to me).  There is so much more input from the creators (I mean in terms of their own personalities) and there is a world that T&T inhabits, although it is a world only really implied in the source material and never fleshed out (interesting that no one at FBI ever considered printing supplements for T&T's world).

   Anyway I'm rambling.  I was just wondering if your dungeon, is becoming personalised, (has it been permeated by Sorcerors and their Demons?) and do you have your self (in alter-ego form of course) as the patron of the dungeon, and do you have a theme?
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Jack Aidley
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« Reply #12 on: September 16, 2003, 04:22:31 AM »

Quote
I found myself thinking, you know, maybe it's true, maybe role-playing is immoral. When ethics meets economics, I'm sorry to say that the former did not emerge triumphant.


I just wanted to comment on this part of your post. In my experience, this is a phenomenon associated only with Gamist play. Just as in Monopoly no-one holds you morally accountable for bankrupting others, or in Risk for throwing your armies to their death, in Gamist roleplaying the morals don't enter into it. I also find it odd that the casual slaughtering of creatures because they are the wrong kind, or in the wrong place, is happily accepted by roleplayers, but taking slaves raises an eyebrow.
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pete_darby
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« Reply #13 on: September 16, 2003, 04:35:11 AM »

Quote from: Mr Jack


I just wanted to comment on this part of your post. In my experience, this is a phenomenon associated only with Gamist play. Just as in Monopoly no-one holds you morally accountable for bankrupting others, or in Risk for throwing your armies to their death, in Gamist roleplaying the morals don't enter into it.


Unless, of course, the mechanics impose either bonuses or penalties for following a code of ethics.

Which leads us to a philosophical debate as to whether it's ethical to do good because it's right, or because we'd take a 25% reduction in XP... but that's gamism!

But, yeah, basically. Gamism, in my mind, most accuratley reflects Greg Costikyan's definition games as (amongst other things) as about meaningful choices and resource management. Or, if you like, economics. And I think we all know what place ethics has in economics (if you want it included, you have to commoditise it).
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Pete Darby
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: September 16, 2003, 02:32:54 PM »

Hi everyone,

David, my recommendations are the flat opposite of ZenDog's. His are pretty hard-core blood-spattered early combat scenarios; mine are the more open-ended ones in which risk is managed as well as assessed, and in some cases the numbered options represent moral choices rather than left-right on maps. They are: Sea of Mystery, Captive d'If, Beyond the Silvered Pane, Beyond the Wall of Sleep, and maybe a couple of others if I review my stuff. This definitely represents an instance of differing tastes in Gamist sub-sets.

Zendog, you wrote,
Quote
I was just wondering if your dungeon, is becoming personalised, (has it been permeated by Sorcerors and their Demons?) and do you have your self (in alter-ego form of course) as the patron of the dungeon, and do you have a theme?


I took the text about this issue very, very seriously from the get-go. As the players have just figured this out, I can give it away: there are two Uber-NPCs involved, not just one. The first one was the original Main-Dungeon-Guy but is now kind of on the wane; he's a necromancer named Dvorack. The second one, who's much more dynamic and determined to boot Dvorack out for good, is Myreen Zaa, a serpent-lady type. Anyone who's role-played with me knows that I have a big Thing for necromancy, snakes, and hot babes, so I decided to indulge both to the hilt for this dungeon, especially the deeper levels. The upper levels are more patchy, consisting mainly of leftovers and new arrivals, relative to these two Biggies and their staked-off areas.

Mr. Jack and Pete - yup. Gamism is all about resource management and the assessment of risk. These are very well-rooted issues for human behavior, I think, and exert such an attractive hold on our attention that they are the basis of much recreational "practice" (i.e. "games" as often conceived) as well as actual addictions in many cases.

Best,
Ron
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