Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Dungeon Designs

I've taken time off from blogging while I did some study in the last six months. Let me know if you missed me.

What I've still enjoyed, though, is some gaming. In amongst it I bought a copy of Skyrim in the 2nd-hand bin. It's my little treat after submitting assignments or finishing a subject.

Although there's a lot I could say about it, the thing that really has my attention are the designs of buildings, towns, and dungeons. Straight lines are few and far between. Most dungeons are built into caves and straight walls are rare. Some caves include a specific place for a crypt, or an eating hall, or some other living space. Those kinds of spaces usually include intentional lines; mostly straight, some curved. The distinction between the natural formation and the artificial formation makes a difference. It announces the intent of the space. Bandits may have stumbled onto a cave to use for their hideout, but they also want some comforts.

I could say similar things about the towns and buildings as well. An entire building of straight line rooms - as you might see on a gridded map - only happens for the very rich or powerful. A lord or jarl could have one. A bandit probably won't.

All of this has been very instructive for me. A dungeon crawl (still do them, they're fun!) isn't going to be in a maze system with an art deco layout. It's more likely to be a natural cavern, or minor tunnels, with amendments by the dungeon builder. There might even be natural tunnels that simply narrow to a point. Any dungeon complex that is made up of entirely artificial lines is going to be for a powerful occupant and their hoard of gold.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Intuitive behaviour in gamers

Last time I mentioned that I've started playing D&D with my kids. They're junior school age and have never played any games like this before. And that's why it's been interesting to see the following behaviours in their game style.

They add story elements by themselves.
It's not just a request, they just narrate it in. They want a dragon? There's a dragon somewhere. They want an annual festival where the fleet comes in to harbour? There's a festival. So many games have rules for this, but my kids do it intuitively. They don't expect an in-game reward but they get the emotional reward.

They allow fleeing opponents to flee.
Even though it's D&D, not every encounter has to end in total death. When the creature gets to low hit points or is the last in the party I make a Wisdom check to see if the creature is smart enough to flee. There's usually the opportunity for our heroes to shoot it in the back as it does so. However, they don't. "Go in peace!" one said. When the other one decided to take the shot he was met with, "No, let it go..."

Wanting to build, not just kill & loot.
Several episodes were spent trying to rebuild a village that was destroyed by rampaging monsters. (Incidentally, every village has a magic Village Crystal that sustains the village. Their idea, not mine.) Once the crystal was returned and buried, the village started to regrow. So many details came forward. The windmill doesn't mill things, it harnesses magic energy that powers the village street lamps. Again, not my idea.

No "murder-hobo" instinct.
Despite the reputation of D&D, I'm not seeing the game create this behaviour just yet. My kids are just playing. They're making their own stories in a D&D world. Sometimes that's fighting monsters. Sometimes that's working with the blacksmith to make a magic pet house for the familiar cat. Sometimes it's making a performance check to see if their story was the most interesting at the feast.

I've learnt a lot about D&D and about story games just by being a DM for them. System matters, but not as much as player agency, it seems.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

More D&D

OK, so there's more to the story of Rheamah Farsighted. That first combat was interesting and it reminded me of how tactical you can be (and have to be) in D&D. If I'd fought the kobolds with the bill instead of the short sword then she'd still be alive.

So, with the power of GM fiat, I've resurrected her and swapped some things around. I'm in two minds about the sickle as a weapon. It's not great for fighting but it fits so well with the idea of the farmer who became a warrior. I think I'll keep it for a while.

And there's more to the story.

When I sat down to roll her up, my eldest son walked past and asked me what I was doing. Before you know it he's made his own character: Michaelangelo the Mage. He got a little bored after a while (that's how long character creation takes when it's been so long between drinks) and asked me to play his first adventure for him. I re-did the kobold encounter and this time we survived. Hooray for party balance!

Later, I told him about game sessions and campaigns. I told him that there didn't have to be miniatures but that we could just imagine the story. And now he wants to keep playing "the game."

The light has come on in his eyes. He wants to know about the creatures in the monster compendium. He wants to know how to go up levels. He wants to know everything about the game.

Well, all the fun bits, anyway.

Tonight we played another encounter. This time he brought my other son in as well. The three of us continued our walk through the forest, fighting off a pack of jackals and then continuing our search for the wizard in the cottage. We found him and said that all we wanted was shelter for the night. He invited us in, fed us, and talked the night away. In the morning he taught Michaelangelo some more spells.

But the best part was this.

"When can we play again, Dad?"

Monday, 27 March 2017

The farmer who became a warrior

I have a great friend called John. When John read my earlier blog post about how I Burned My D&D Books he immediately offered to lend me his.

They were the same edition too! Right down to the art that I thought I'd forgotten.

Side note: art in your gaming books is important. It helps to navigate the book, among other things.


So now I have his AD&D 2nd edition books on my shelf. What to do with them? Well, I could have simply read them. That's a kind of gaming fun.

I didn't have a group to play with, so I did the other thing that gamers do: I made a character.

It seemed to me that the trope of the hero's journey was irresistible. Also, I wanted to toy with the usefulness of those farming implements that became weapons. In the end I made Rheamah Farsighted, a farmer who was forced from her lands by a dragon and now wanders the world.

Unlike the 16 year old me who last had these books, I decided to do character creation strictly by the rules. No min-maxing. No adding extra dice to the stat rolls. Just a raw set of stats with the question, "What could she become with those stats?"

Without any fancy formatting, here is my Evernote entry on character creation.



Rheamah Farsighted

Str 11 (weight allow 40, max press 115, open doors 6, bars/gates 2%)
Dex 12 (react 0, missile 0, defensive 0)
Con 11 (hp +0, system shock 75%, resurrection survival 80%, poison save 0, regen 0)
Int 14 (4 languages, spell 7th, spell learn 60%, 9 spells/level)
Wis 11 (magical defence 0, bonus spells 0, spell fail 10%)
Cha 13 (max henchmen 5, loyalty 0, reaction adj +1)

Fighter, human

Height: 73", Weight: 123lbs, 17yo
Chaotic Good

Weapon Proficiencies (4)
- bill-guisarme (Spd 10, 2d4 or 1d10)
- short sword (Spd 3, 1d6 or 1d8)
- sickle (Spd 4, 1d4+1 or 1d4)
- short bow (Spd 7, 1d8)

Other proficiencies (3)
- hunting
- animal lord
- navigation

Studded Leather armour, shield AC6

HP 10



And then I took her on a road test to fight kobolds.

They killed her.

Here ends the story of the farmer who became a warrior.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Creative Brain State

I like listening to podcasts. In fact, I probably spend ten hours or more each week just commuting to & from work so I have a lot of time to consume them. Most of them are factual, though. It could be psychology, politics, philosophy, theology, gaming. Only rarely do I find an audio drama.

By the way, if you like audio drama then I recommend Homecoming by Gimlet Media. Wow. Beautifully done.

My monthly gaming group is also quite a drive away from my home so I tend to listen to podcasts on that drive too. However, I've begun to suspect that the podcast content is starting to affect my gameplay. There are ways to affect a human mental state; to guide it towards a particular way of thinking. You can set yourself up for an analytic mental state, or a creative mental state, for example. To get into a creative mental state you can let your mind wander. It needs freedom from structures to be able to do that.

When I'm driving and listening to an informative podcast at the same time then I'm imposing structure on my cognitive processes. To be a good driver and a good student, I need to maintain that discipline. However, when I've arrived at the game and am sitting down at the table to play my mental state is far from creative. If I'm honest with myself I think it shows in how I play. I tend to drive the plot around accomplishments more than around character and I think that's a bit less appealing to both me and the other players.

So now I have a plan; an experiment, if you will. I have a game this Sunday and the long drive awaits. Inasmuch as I don't want to drive in silence the whole time, I think I'll give at least ten minutes (or a little more) of silence or music just to let my mind wander. If everything goes well then I'll have the right mental state for a story game.



Edit: Actually, looks like I'm picking up a couple of the other players on the way. But still, the theory holds!