Thursday, 26 May 2016

Competing Playstyles

Here's a question for you. Just how do you deal with players who want to play differently?

The expression always goes that if you're having fun you're doing it right, or conversely that is no wrong way to have fun. Those are true, but they don't consider the fact that no tow players are ever the same, and how do you factor for the differences and keep your players happy? I may have had a harder time with this than some, as I grew up in a relatively small town in Scotland, and so the pool of players was always small. You couldn't;t afford to be choosy, and so my natural tendency as a GM was to try and find a compromise that allowed all players to have as much fun as possible.

I guess to illustrate my point I'd be better using a real life example of the main situation I find myself in. Essentially, we had in my last gaming group a hard core power gamer who loved to min max his stats and feats etc. Now essentially this was fine. I have no problem with making an effective character and I have in the past been guilty of trawling the rule books for combination feats (in my 3.5 days), to get the best damned character I can make. The problem was he didn't stop there. Oh no, he would then proceed to 'advise' the other players on how they had made their characters wrong.

That is very much a no-no in my books. Another player for example chose to play a cleric of peace, and spent all the combat encounters trying to pacify the enemies without killing them, and often trying to avoid combat entirely. Now I loved this. I was sceptical at first (especially as we were playing 2e) but I let him run with it and he did it really well. As a DM it made the odd bit hard as the prewritten adventure assumed that you killed everyone, but that's part of the art of GMing. Our old power gamer did not like this however, and spent most sessions getting pissed off at the cleric.

Secondly, he often played the wizard in the party, but in this instance he had chosen to play a ranger, and a relatively new player chose the mage. Unfortunately for her, she didn't pump all her points into INT and instead went for a concept whereby she was a charismatic mage. This again didn't go down well with our power gamer who spent every session lecturing her on how she's made here character wrong. I did my best to reassure her and explain why I loved her character, but I feel it as one of my failures that she eventually bowed down to his persistent advice and changed some of her stats around.

What perhaps annoyed me more was his sudden decision to scrap his ranger character and roll up a mage. A mage that he wanted to make better than our other mage. Now I again have to sadly admit that at the time I allowed it. What ensued was him competing (though admittedly on in his own mind, as the other player seemed to take it well) with the other mage in the party. It annoyed me to distraction.

This resulted in me having to write up a code of conduct for our players. This is something I'd never done before, but I felt it necessary at the time. In that I made everyone agree that we'd respect each others play style, we'd not double up on classes and try to invade other player's areas of expertise etc. Now I was expecting a grumble, but my word I wasn't expecting the backlash I received. I got a nice ranty email (he could be very passive aggressive at times) about how this was how he liked to have fun and he was only trying to help the other players etc.

Now, not to be on sided, I do believe that this is exactly how he felt he was being. I can understand that he genuinely believed that he was helping, and he obviously wanted to play the game in a way that he enjoyed, and I do respect that. I believe it because if I ever said no to even a small part of his 6 page emails detailing all the 3rd party rules he'd found to make his character epic, he did look genuinely devastated. Due to my compromising nature I would always try to look at the information as fairly as possible to see what I could allow, but I could see how the other players looked when he made them all feel irrelevant as he tracked, cast spells and did more damage than any of them due to some rules loophole.. For some reason, he never could.

I guess these days I look back on these events on reflect what the issues were. I question if I could have been a better GM and stood up for the other players more, or if I should have let him have his way more when he felt dejected at me saying no. What I do wonder more now is if in actual fact he was the wrong player for our group.

It sounds harsh and I'm loathe to every be excluding of anyone, but I do now think that he wasn't a good fit with the other players. It's not that he played wrong, or that he didn't have the right kind of fun, it was simply that his idea of fun was too far from that of the other players that they couldn't have fun together. He did bring a nice sense of keeping the game on a serious track at times, but as harsh as it sounds, I know some of the players had much more fun on the sessions he missed.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Roleplaying CV

More and more I get asked which systems I have played/GMed, and to be honest I struggle to remember. I'd like to say that it was because I have played so many (and I have played a few), but really it's because I have been playing for over 25 years now and so it's hard to remember that far back at times. This post is therefore a little self serving, if not verging on the egotistical, in that I will try to list the systems I have GMed, those I have played but not GMed, and those I have owned and read, but never given a test drive.

Systems I have GMed
AD&D 2nd edition
D&D 3rd edition
D&D 3.5
D&D Next (Playtest)
D&D 5th Edition
Open Legend
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying
Rolemaster (Shadow World)
Vampire the Dark Ages (White Wolf)
Fading Suns (non D20 version)
Fate Core
Post Replica (beta)
GURPS Discworld
DC Heroes
Dr Who (FASA edition)
Lord of the Rings (CODA rules, Decipher)
Middle Earth Roleplaying (ICE)
Babylon 5
Star Wars (WEG D6 system)

Named developer for:
Open Legend RPG

Contributor for:
Amaurea's Dawn (Open Legend Campaign Setting)

Systems I have played (*those where I have also owned a copy of the rules)
Twilight 2000
Basic Fantasy RPG*
Star Wars (West End Games)*
Vampire the Masquerade*
Werewolf the Apocalypse*
Freak Legion
Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium)*
7th Sea
Legend of the Five Rings*
7th Sea*
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Dark Heresy 2nd Edition*
Heroes Unlimited
Tales from the Floating Vagabond
Beyond the Supernatural*
Prime Directive
Star Trek (CODA)*

Systems I have owned but not yet played/run (some were read for research purposes)
All other D&D editions
Shadow of the Demon Lord
Trinity (White Wolf)
Timelords (BTRC)
Space Time (BTRC)
Castle Falkenstein
Dungeon World
Fantasy Age
HeroQuest 2
Hero Kids
Heroes Against Darkness
Ars Magica
Chivalry and Sorcery
Cypher system
Stars Without Number
Blood and Bone
USR (Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying)
Wildside Gaming System
Blade of the Iron Throne
A Song of Ice and Fire
Darker Dungeon
True D20
Swords and Wizardry
Labyrinth Lord
Pokemon RPG
Little Wizards

In the process of designing and beta testing the Shadow Catcher RPG system. To access the beta please check out here

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Silver Tongued

Let’s talk about languages in RPGs. It’s one mechanic that comes up time and time again in games I play or run, but sometimes it’s one that doesn’t come up at all. I guess the real debate I want to bring in is whether they are important and if it’s worth creating a mechanism to deal with them at all. To me, I believe the key thing is what kind of a game do you want to run. If you want realism and some kind of simulation, then languages will need to be addressed, but if you’re looking to craft a fun story and don’t want to be bogged down in the details then can we just throw them out altogether. Let’s see.


Don’t worry, I’m not about to launch into a GNS debate reminiscent of The Forge (though I can if you ever want to), but I feel the need to flag how I see the requirement for languages changing based on how we play.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a student of AD&D through to Pathfinder and 5E, so when I often read a rulebook I’m expecting to see something on languages. How many you know, can you read and write them etc. This is very much intended to create a sense of realism at best, or perhaps to reward people for picking a high intelligence at its most gamist level (sorry again). It certainly makes working out if you can understand people easier. Just cross reference who speaks what and hey presto, we have a chat, or we resort to charade based diplomacy.

The main con I find with this is the reluctance of players to then roleplay the language difficulty and instead wait for the opportunity to cast “comprehend languages” or a similar work around. This often leads to languages being more of a temporary rules set back, rather than a roleplay opportunity. To be fair, this could have more to do with the types of players who prefer D&D type games to other styles.

Story based

To look at it from a story or narrative based approach, these systems too can have ways of managing languages but the way they do it tends to be more flexible. Whether it be a character descriptor/background that you use to justify why you would know the language, or a more generalised skill/ability that you can roll or invoke to gain knowledge, it lends itself to allowing more wriggle room.

As a GM this can be useful for moving past a language barrier, or at least justifying a partial understanding that can be used to move the game on, or lead to comedic results, depending on how you want the story to unfold.

The cons here are around that interpretation factor. If there aren’t black and white rules, do you end up in an argument with players as to what they do/do not know. Making the ruling can be harder and you have to try and make it feel consistent within the game.

I’m currently running a Fate game in a 1870’s pulp fiction setting, and one thing my players asked for was a rigid language system using something akin to the stress track, but allowing for number of languages. This isn’t something I’d used before in Fate, as I’d always managed languages through aspects with occasional Lore rolls. It’s worth noting that the players in this game are almost pure D&D players (whereas I have more varied experience), and it feels like an attempt by them to get to more familiar footing.

Languages in Fiction

As a slight side note, I feel it worth considering the use of languages in Sci-Fi and fantasy settings. While they crop up in almost all of them, they almost never get in the way of the main story. Whether it be LotR with Tolkien’s extensive study of language, or the many alien languages in Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who or Babylon 5, the other characters haver a way of either understanding or speaking each other’s language. This to me goes back to story focus.

Think about it if every time the crew of the Enterprise met a new species they had to spend months, if not years just learning the language. I’d perhaps be more realistic, but it wouldn’t make for such a good story. They’d have to either never have in depth conversations with a new species, or first contact with the species would have to have been established long ago.

Not great when it comes to opening up your writing potential. And so we have the universal translator. This is a nice work around to technobabble our way around it, and we can still bring in the alien languages such as Klingon when we want it for flavour (though I have never worked out how the UT knows to switch itself off at the right moment to allow these words to come out…).

From the fantasy setting we almost always have a language that has been invented for trade etc. that allows us all to speak ‘common’ or the equivalent. Always nice, but not massively realistic I suspect you might agree (we all know how well Esperanto worked right?).

Anyway, my point here is that in the above instances the story is more important than linguistics, and as a GM or game designer it’s worth asking what you and your players would want from this in their system. More in depth and black and white for a realistic setting, or perhaps more flexible or even unnecessary for a more story driven setting.

Languages in my game

In Heroes of Vale I want to make my alien species as alien as possible, and so that presents me with a conundrum. I’d like to keep language mechanics simple, but I want it to be hard, if not impossible to communicate between such diverse species. To this end I’m tempted to invoke what I call the Chewbacca principle.

What I mean by that is simple really. However I mechanically allow characters to know languages, I would prefer to make it that they can hear and understand other races, but not necessarily speak the language. Han and Chewie spoke their own languages, but the other one understood what was being said.

Open Legend doesn’t currently have a language system that I can see, so I will need to put some thought into that and perhaps discuss it with the designer. Whatever comes from it, this is not then end of the debate. So watch this space.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Thoughts on the system

Due to a slightly random add on my twitter feed, I have just recently become aware of Brain Feister's Open Legends RPG system and it's got me thinking. Instead of using D&D or SotDL for my Sci-Fi twist on the fantasy genre, I'd really love to use this system. It's an open source project and looks to find the balance between the crunchy numbers game that some RPGs are(D&D being one of the most popular) while maintaining that story/narrative based flavour that many of us really enjoy(Dungeon World, Fate, Heroquest to name just a few).

Though it is based around the classic fantasy setting, it has stripped down the rules significantly, while leaving in elements that allow you to customise your character and roll lots of dice. All the things that satisfy the crunch obsessed people out there.

It's an ambitious goal but I think he may have pretty much cracked it. I hope to do a review of the game soon, but I really need to review Starguild first as I'm really taken by the setting and mechanics of this system (but not for the setting I'm currently developing).

More updates soon.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Future Visions

Why design my own campaign setting I hear you ask? Well, if I’m being honest this whole thing started as a bit of thought experiment. My wife isn’t really a roleplayer, however, she has played a few games and enjoyed them, but with the same basic caveat. She doesn’t like high fantasy/overt magic. For example she loved Post Replica by RBM, but she has been put off playing fantasy games such as D&D.

This led me to consider a possibility. Is it feasible to reinvent a game such as D&D to the extent that you could completely transpose the fantasy element for a Sci-Fi one, whilst keeping as much of the original game in tact?

Now, my rational and commercial brain always tells me that if you are creating a unique setting, you should have a unique system to run in the background. However, as the idea grew in my head, it became a bit of a challenge to me that there had to be a way to do it without creating to monstrous a construct. And I do love a good challenge.

A recent article in Imagonem finally gave me the motivation do something about this and so, foregoing any reviews for the time being, my next few blog entries will be me trying to describe my vision and work through some ideas for my hybrid creation. To begin I shall explore the basic premise for my idea, and my thoughts on two possible systems I’d like to use for it.


What I essentially aim to create is a fantasy setting, but one in which all the magic systems revolve around ultra advanced technology rather than actual magic. It will be up to individual political groups/players to decide if they choose to believe it is actually magic or not. Now there are already some games that merge the fantasy and Sci-Fi elements. Shadowrun and Numenera to name just a couple, but Shadowrun has magic and science running in parallel which is not my vision, and I'm not a huge fan of the cypher system at the moment (sorry Monte), so I end up back at my initial challenge. How to make Sci-Fi D&D.

To elaborate a bit more, I am envisioning a setting where a group of advanced races, humans among them have developed, fought and found peace together and at some point settled together on a world where all the races could coexist. At some point however, the huge stellar empires fell and this world was lost, with its civilisation reverting back to a medieval society. The technology however, remains.

The most notable technological remnant being a planetary wide swarm of nanites, which can be controlled through various means to produce effects that many would now consider magical or miraculous. Now we have a technological basis for spell effects, magical healing and many of the other classic fantasy elements.

I won't dwell too much on any one aspect of the setting here, as I intend to do this through subsequent updates. Instead I will move on to a debate I wasn't expecting to have. Which system will I use to run the setting.


As I had already mentioned, I had initially thought about this setting for D&D 5th Edition. This formed the basis for many of my ideas that I will expend on later, such as technological explanations for spell slots, deities etc. However, I'm now very tempted to look at whether I want to actually use Shadow of the Demon Lord by Schwalb Enterprises. Mostly because I just love, love, love this systems so far, and also because I feel the profession and character development system as well as the tone of the original setting really inspire me.

As an example, the whole concept of the arrival of the Demon Lord fits it quite well with the fall of the interstellar empire. This could be a major part of his arrival as a interplanetary influence, not just on a single world. As for a technological explanations for this, I take inspiration from writes such as Lovecraft who combine horror with beings from other dimensions. I think it could be done.

As to which system I will actually use it remains to be seen, and my be influenced by any threats/encouragement I get from any of the official publishers. However, I hope to have a good idea for I get too much further into the design process, otherwise a lot of effort would end up being wasted.