Monday, July 28, 2014

Everyone at the table should be a candy machine

My first rant post!  It's pretty weak as rants go, but it's preachy, dogmatic, directed at something that annoys me, most of the people who read it will think it is self-evident, and it makes me seem oh so much better than everyone else.  So, a rant, woohoo!

Let's talk about candy.  Candy is the affirmation, the laughter, the attention, that people playing a role-playing game give to each other.  When you say something cool, and someone laughs or gasps, that's candy.  When you describe your character being awesome, and people are raptly listening to you, that's candy.  If you are playing a role-playing game, you almost certainly want candy.  Otherwise I'm not sure why you are playing.

The GM can and should be a candy machine.  Piles and piles of stuff have been written as advice to GM's, and a lot of it is about how to give out candy to players.  That's fine.  But the GM is not the ONLY candy machine.  When I GM and...
  • ...someone is talking and all the other players are not paying attention, those other players are treating me as the ONLY candy machine, and it makes me mad.  
  • ...a player only ever talks to me, describes everything to me instead of to the other players, even when that player's character is interacting with another player character, that player is treating me as the ONLY candy machine, or worse, the only candy machine whose candy he cares for.  That makes me mad.
The fact is that everyone at the table should be a candy machine!  Everyone should be handing out the candy of joy to their fellow players, not just the GM.

You want to be a candy machine, right?  When I play, I know I want to be.  So let us all join together and vow to be the candy machines we would want others to be for us.  It's the candy machine corollary to the golden rule.  Here are 6 concrete steps you and I can take to give our fellow players some candy.
  1. When we are describing what our character's are doing, we consciously look towards the non-GM players; they are our audience, not the GM.
  2. If our character is interacting with another player character, we look at that player during the interaction, not the GM.  They are our candy machine, and we are theirs.
  3. When someone else is talking, we freaking look at them, be quiet and listen.  This is like the minimal candy; it's the Starburst fruit chew of candy.
  4. We put our rule book on the floor under the table.  If we have to look at it, we always put it back under the table.  We cannot give candy while reading a rulebook.
  5. We put the *&$#^ smart phone away, at least three meters out of our reach to physically avoid temptation.  Tablets too, unless we are using them as rulebooks, in which case see point 4.  Trying to interact with someone who is looking at a phone is like anti-candy, it's like stinky asparagus (and if you reply that you like asparagus, I'm sorry, but you are just wrong).
  6. We pick the person in our group who we least want to give candy to.  We give them some candy at least once per session.
Be the candy machine.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dark Salvation - The Purple Dimension

Been awhile since I posted any Dark Salvation material.  Here is a dimension my players never actually arrived at, but it is fun in it's obscurity.  I'm particular proud of the Slaves of Aggamon; dangerous via being pitiful.  For reference, here is the initial post on Dark Salvation.  This explains the Techno-Demonic Virus (TDV).  Dark Salvation related posts can be found through the Dark Salvation label.

The Purple Dimension

Ruled by the demon Aggamon, the Purple Dimension has "immense purplish mountain ranges [that] jut majestically from vast plum-colored plains" and "surreal geological formations". [1]  It is also the source of Purple Gems, immensely powerful sources of magical energy coveted by many powerful beings.
The Purple Dimension is only vaguely purple, and not a vacation spot.

Distinctions: Twisted and Tunnelled, Barren, Shadowy
Border: D12 
Gateway: Through a Purple Gem

Hooks pointing towards the Purple Dimension

  • The heroes need a power source capable of powering a cure for the TDV.  A purple gem will fill the bill.
  • Aggamon's business demons contact the heroes with a deal of some sort, to protect him from the TDV. 
  • The heroes find a purple gem infected with the TDV, and it exhibits strange properties.  Aggamon is the expert in such things.

Action in the Purple Dimension

  • The heroes arrive and see the typical slave driving behaviour that goes on there all the time.  Will they take steps to protect the slaves.
  • Aggamon's Demolisher Beam really is immensely powerful, and he really can't resist trying it out on anyone who shows up, just for fun.
  • The slaves are being infected with the TDV, and therefore are revolting against Aggamon.  A cure may return them to enslavement.

Hooks out of the Purple Dimension

  • The heroes get their Purple Gem, but they'll need something to channel the power.  Maybe some Uru metal?
  • Aggamon makes a deal with the heroes, and sends them through secret inter-dimensional tunnels to the dimension the TDV seems to be coming from.  Perhaps Sominus?  Niffleheim?


Affiliations: Large Scale 3D8
Distinctions: Infernal Businessman, Greedy, Haughty
Power Set: Lord of the Purple Dimension Demolisher Beam D12, Superhuman Stamina D10, Sorcery Mastery D10, Enhanced Strength D8, Enhanced Senses D8, Enhanced Durability D8, Psychic Resistance D8, Mystic Resistance D8
  • SFX: Area Attack.  Add a D6 for each extra target and keep one extra effect die for each extra target.
  • SFX: Adaptable. You may add more than one power from Lord of the Purple Dimension to a roll.  Step back each die for every die beyond the first added.
  • SFX: “None can withstand the Demolisher Beam!”.  Activate an Opportunity generated in a reaction against an action that includes Demolisher Beam.  Opponent takes physical stress equal to the die that caused the Opportunity.  
  • Limit: The Extend to Sorcery.  When you add Sorcery Mastery to any action pool, you may only create assets or complications as your effect, unless the pool also contains Demolisher Beam.
Specialities: Menace Master D10, Business Master D10, Mystic Master D10, Psych Expert D8

Slaves of Aggamon
Affiliations: Mob 5D6
Distinctions: Pitiful, No Other Choice
Power Set: Desperation and Despair 
Improvised Weaponry D6, Wailing and Moaning D8, Get in the Way D8
  • SFX: Gruesome Conditions.  When using Wailing and Moaning to do emotional stress, add a D6 and step up the Effect die.  
  • SFX: Area Attack.  Add a D6 for each extra target and keep one extra effect die for each extra target.
  • SFX: Slaves, not Free.  Whenever Slaves of Aggamon are dealt physical stress, afflicted by a complication that might cause pain or anguish, or dealt emotional or mental stress that magnify their suffering, the hero taking the action takes emotional stress equivalent to the effect die being dealth.
  • Limit: Brief Rebellion. Add a D6 or step up the lowest die in the Doom Pool to make any Desperation and Despair power a Complication for Aggamon.  Spend a die equal to the Complication to remove the Complication and recover the power.
Specialities: Psych Expert D8

Aggamon's Guards
Affiliations: Mob 4D8
Distinctions: Without Mercy, Afraid of Aggamon's Wrath
Power Set: Demonic Guards
Whips and Chains D8, Enhanced Durability D8, Enhanced Senses D8
  • SFX: Masters of Restraint.  When using Whips and Chains to create complications, add a D6 and step up the Effect die. 
  • SFX: Area Attack.  Add a D6 for each extra target and keep one extra effect die for each extra target.
Specialities: Menace Expert D8, Combat Expert D8

Dungeon World moves as fortune telling

Haven't written here in a while.  I have lots of potential posts, but the energy has subsided.  Not surprising.  But I do have something I want to pontificate on today, Dungeon World moves.  Let's use Hack and Slash as the example.  Remember that the trigger for Hack and Slash is "when you attack an enemy in melee".

Over at a post on the Dungeon World Tavern on Google+, a poster talks about how he has had trouble figuring out how to model granularity in the difficulty of fights.  To summarize his concern, he feels that he cannot judge fine gradations in relative skill between opponents.  This is related to the advice given in the Dungeon World Guide on page 18.  If you are going up to an enormous giant, what you are doing with that giant doesn't count as "melee" for the purpose of the trigger.  Nor does stabbing some poor schlub of a drunken city guard in the back.    But what about conscript city guards versus normal city guards versus elite city guards?  The poster is concerned that the game gives him no, or at least very cryptic and difficult to use, tools to demonstrate these gradations.

I really hadn't felt this problem in my limited experience. But after thinking about why that is, I realized that since the first time I played Dungeon World, I have been treating Moves as fortune telling, not as modelling any process.  Here is what I mean.

Your Fighter (the player character) is going up against some city guards and their leader.  As the GM, I think the guard leader is a better fighter than your Fighter.  But in a very really sense in Dungeon World, I have no idea if this is actually true.  There is no metric (such as Qualities in Fate Core) to make this determination.  Whether this is true or not is contingent on the results of your Hack and Slash (and Defy Danger, and whatever else) Moves, and has a big whack of random chance involved in it.

Therefore, when we play out the fight, the mechanic is forcing us to follow the Agenda "Play to find out what happens".  If you roll a lot of 6's, I guess that guard leader really was a better fighter than you.  If you roll a lot of 10's, guess I was wrong.  The Move is not a model of some action and how difficult it is, the Move is a checking of the fates, like consulting the I Ching.   Granularity just doesn't exist.  You figure out the real skill difference between the fictional participants after the fact, as a consequence of the Moves, not before hand.  

This is a different model of role-playing rules than almost every other game most of us have ever played.  This goes to what Rob Donughue said in this other blog post: Dungeon World may be best if treated "as a diceless game that happens to have dice".  The only game I can think of that explicitly treats the dice mechanic as a kind of fortune telling rather than modelling some kind of process is Four Colors Al Fresco, where dice rolls are interpreted as literally consulting the astrological  influences on a particular situation.  But Dungeon World is doing the same thing stealthily.

Therefore, I avoid any attempt to find or create granularity in difficulty.  Instead, I accept that I am just as uncertain as my players are as to the exact capabilities of the NPC's, monsters, and threats I create.  There really is a whole big grey area between enormous giants and drunken incompetent city guards, and the game doesn't want me to break it down into finer categories.  "Play to find out what happens".

EDIT: Spout Lore is an even better example.  The trigger is "When you consult your accumulated knowledge about something".  Now, like Hack and Slash, there are cases where the move would not trigger; cases where you actually have no accumulated knowledge (e.g. a Barbarian wondering about esoteric magic theory).  But everyone else?  The Move happens.  If you are just a novice in magical theory, or an ancient master...roll the dice.  Roll a 6?  I guess that means there was a gap in your prodigious knowledge, ancient master!