Sunday, October 16, 2016

Old Thinking

So, with my game running last night, I was asked if I would let a new player join.  This was Jim, the same fellow I talked about with this post after that Edmonton Expo.  It was going to be a complicated procedure, as Jim has been playing 3.5 for fifteen years and can be said to be deeply steeped in the game play mechanics and headspace of that edition.  Introducing him to my Frankenstein-structured campaign did not turn out to be easy.

I like Jim a lot, but he turned out to be one of these players who goes "In 3.5 it works this way" and "In 3.5 you can do this" and "There's this skill in 3.5 that says . . ." ~ I'm sure that many DMs know the litany.  It took quite a lot of repeating that we were not playing 3.5 and bringing him back to the point to get his character rolled up ~ not just from me but from everyone playing.  I must point out that I have a bunch of converts to my system and they weren't appreciating the comparison any more than I was.

But then things started to go our way once I introduced Jim to the character background generator.  Jim hasn't read my blog more than a few times so he had absolutely no experience with anything like this and it really caught him by surprise.  The detail that it offered, describing everything from his family background to the color of his hair and eyes, the way his character walked (charisma effect) and much more intrigued him.

Then he was introduced to the equipment table.  I have about 1,500 items on my equipment table, so at first sight it is extraordinarily daunting.  Moreover, it is organized in a very jumbled manner, deliberately.  As I explained last night, we don't find things when we go shopping in alphabetical order and during the time of the Renaissance, there was no such thing as Walmart.  Jim found himself describing the equipment organization used in the 3.5 books but now it wasn't because those books were more thorough or imaginative, but because actually having to think, "What sort of shop would sell torches?" had him scrambling for answers.  My world isn't easy and this was his first introduction to that.

See, if equipment is jumbled, it is more likely for a player to waste money on what is immediately seen while forgetting to look for things that aren't seen.  With such a huge number of possible things to buy, all arranged so that there aren't more than 30 things on the screen at any one time, it is hard to just "know" what to buy.  This, I feel, more closely relates to the way we are as humans.  This is why grocery stores are arranged to make us buy things we don't need, while all the things we need are farther away and harder to find.

Then I explained that it is 12 copper pieces to a silver piece and 16 silver pieces to a gold piece.  That sent him off explaining how in 3.5 everything is in nice round numbers, 10s and 100s, and I pointed out that metric wasn't invented and anyway, it's medieval thinking and I don't intend to suck up to players who must have everything in base-ten.  Forcing players to think through difficulties makes them more likely to make mistakes. I like mistakes.  It gives something for players to learn from.

Well, all this had Jim floundering a bit ~ but he's a smart guy and he was working it out.  Then the turning point came:  he discovered that my campaign doesn't use alignment.

At that point, for Jim, the heavens opened up, the sun shone . . . and throughout the rest of last night's game, everything he said about 3.5 was negative.  Exhaustively negative.

The closing argument, however, came right at the end of the session.  Having played through a part of the adventure that involved minor problem solving, a conversation with a friendly kelpie (very not Fiend Folio) and a nuanced dilemma (nothing I need to talk about here), all of which took about two hours and a minimum of die rolling, with considerable group involvement, a little fear, some laughter and a tremendous sense of accomplishment.  The running was short because of catching up, new rules, introducing the new player and so on.  Anyway . . . we used the last half hour to help some of the players catch up on their sage abilities.

Jim got introduced to the methodology of the sage ability system.  Now, some of my readers may not be familiar with this, but like I explained to Jim, the principle is this: what we know, what we can do, is not a random die roll.  It is a point of knowledge, it can be done repeatedly and as often as we wish.  It is so completely different from the crap that was invented for 3.0 and expanded for 3.5 that it simply smashed Jim's game sense.

This is a fellow who has played 3.5 for fifteen years . . . and he is telling me by the end of one night of playing that 3.5 sucks compared to this system I'm showing him.  A system he hasn't had a chance to play and has barely seen used.  A system he can't wait ~ as a first level character ~ to try.

I feel quite smug about this.

Why is it that when I take five months off, the night I start again I have every player who was there five months ago right in the room, on the spot, ready to play?  Because my game is hard and enduring.  Becuase I don't have idiotic demands of people.  Because alignment fucking sucks.  Everyone knows it.  Seriously, they know it, but for some unholy dumbfuck reason people cling to it year after year, thinking it's going to make the game "better" in some unimaginable way ~ like the logic that rubbing shit on a window will make the sun shine in brighter.

We run games telling players what to think and how to act, then we spoon-feed them when they complain that they have to do grade four math, like multiplying a number by 12 or 16, with fucking calculators, for the love of sweet Christmas.  We give them ridiculous super-powers called 'feats' so that they can swing a giant's weapon or roll endlessly to detect every unseen thing in the universe instantly.  GET RID OF THIS SHIT!  It's moronic, it's insane, it's killing the game with stupid-friendly simple-minded easy-peasy elements that would bore a nine-year-old.

But, people won't.  They'll go on using it, because it is in the rules.  Rules that were obviously made by committee, designed to please the lowest common denominator of moron, to up sales and guarantee the fewest possible complaints that might imaginably keep a corporate executive up at night fearing a buyers' remorse.

Sorry, I am a bit stoked.  I ran my game last night . . . and in retrospect, it went damn better than pretty well. I converted a heathen, I've got the party pumped again and the game is totally on track for the next running.

I'm just saying the game should be hard as nails.  Really, really bleak and grim.  Coldly bitter, unkind, strict, thick-skinned, obdurate and damned exacting.  It shouldn't be silly or facile.  It shouldn't include elements that tell grown adults what to do with themselves.  Grown adults can make up their own damn minds.


  1. This put a smile on my face.
    : )

  2. "adventure that involved minor problem solving, a conversation with a friendly kelpie...and a nuanced dilemma...all of which took about two hours and a minimum of die rolling, with considerable group involvement, a little fear, some laughter and a tremendous sense of accomplishment."

    This type of magic happens at my table sometimes, but not as often as I'd like. What were the elements of this adventure that led to problem solving, fear, laughter and a sense of accomplishment? You had 5 months to plan this adventure so I'm sure the dilemma was a doozy. Maybe you could share your design here, what gave the encounter its long legs?

    Also, how are your players spending most of this time? Is it talking to you as the Keplie in character, to you as DM, each other in character, or each other out of characters?

  3. LTW,

    The party were led to a wrecked ship where they expected to find answers about the location of the Portuguese crown jewels they're looking for. This meant being willing first to step aboard the ship and then to determine what needed to be done there to get answers; there was absolutely nothing to indicate how "answers" might be forthcoming. This was the minor problem.

    Jim, new to the game, for some reason decided to knock upon a tree and listen to what the wood might sound like. Knocking is a legitimate way to get attention, which was the solution to the problem, so the kelpie (the protector of the wreck) manifested and introduced herself. I don't give charm to kelpies, I see them as sea druids, so the conversation was friendly.

    She did not have answers but explained that the party was on a place of agreed-upon neutral ground between two forces, water and earth, which the party discovered don't get along. This was a completely new concept to the party, a war between earth elementals and water elementals, who are supported by gods on either side, both of which vie for the worship of undersea races: particularly the tritons, who are sea farmers and worship water and sahuagin, who are sea miners and worship the earth. At least, this is how it works in my world. This promoted a lot of talk.

    Apparently, the jewels are in a place where a fistfight between the king of the earth elementals and the king of the water elementals took place, apparently over who would possess said jewels for its personal preferred race of sea humanoids. Somewhere in the ocean south of the Canary Islands. As far as location was concerned, this is all the party knew.

    So the dilemma: the kelpie told the party that she, as the overseer of this neutral ground, to act as an arbiter between the party and anyone they cared to call. Anyone and anything, so long as the individual was alive and in existence. NO LIMIT.

    This led to a very, very long discussion of who. A god? Yes, that was possible . . . but what would be the fallout from that? The party has had a god pissed off at them before and sooner or later one has to leave neutral ground. But other than a god, who might conceivably know where the jewels would be? What would be the point of calling someone who could not possibly know the answer to the question?

    Well, after much laughter and joking, the party did come up with an answer . . . but that's a long story and I have to go to work. I promise I'll fill in the details later today.

  4. Alignment does suck, Haven't used it for over 30 years and the game (even when played D&D close to the rules) never suffered for it.

    Good to know that even those who have only experienced 3.5 can still be open to a home system when it is run well. I like your thinking behind equipment tables. I don't even really use them have to go to the shop where things are. If at a lost, hire a street urchin, ask a bartender,..etc.

  5. That dilemma is a doozy. I could see that garnering a lot of discussion from the party.

    Also interesting bits about undersea elemental races, their war, nuetral zones, and the gods mingling in their affairs.

    Thanks for sharing, I enjoy reading about your game.

  6. Took time, but I have finished the story of Saturday's running. It is in today's post:"


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