Monday, July 30, 2012

5 Common Sense Things Burning Wheel Taught Me

I just finished my first campaign of Burning Wheel yesterday, and I'm more than impressed with the game, because it is EXACTLY what I hoped it would be. This is a brilliant game, the best that I've played so far, and I've learned much from it about gaming in general. But the best five things I've learned are the following:

5. Accept a Game for What It Is
There just isn't any other way to state it: experiencing one game does not mean you've experienced them all, and the experiences you've had might not transfer over. This is pretty difficult to accept in our RPG culture because of the prevalence of Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, and World of Darkness. Once you get outside of the mainstream games, however, the play experience becomes wildly different.  I don't know how often I've had to take basic assumptions about GM'ing and throw it right out the window so that way I could run this game properly. Seriously, secretiveness was the hardest thing for me to change in my GM'ing style for this game, but I'll get better at it...

4. Collaboration is Key
Oof, this one's not too easy either, especially with our biggest RPGs putting all the world-building and story duties on the DM. I've found that having everyone else help make the world makes it so much easier on me that I think I'll just make it mandatory from now on in whatever game I'm running. Collaboration in everything makes GM'ing more pleasurable and easier, and really makes the playing as cooperative as I've always wanted.

3. Everyone Needs to Read the Damn Rules
This is so basic I wonder why people don't just do this as a courtesy, but most of the people I've met who play D&D never really bother to learn the rules, because the DM does everything already, so why not leave everything to him? Not quite in Burning Wheel. Players are expected to know the rules, and the reasons for that start to get painfully obvious once you realize that you have to stop the game and read the rules out loud for the third time because no one else bothered to look the up...

2. Gamers Play What They're Rewarded For
A simple act of human nature: people are more likely to do actions they're rewarded for. That's why you get psychopaths who believe that humans aren't intrinsically good, because we reward good behavior (If we aren't good intrinsically why do we reward good behavior?). This carries into all our interactions, games especially. It's also something that's very frustrating to not understand (particularly when you try to get a real story going and your players just wanna kill the monsters and take their treasure) and to try to counter. Don't counter that instinct, run with it!

1. One Size Does Not Fit All
By the time the campaign finished, it became obvious which out of the seven people actually liked Burning Wheel for what it was and wished to play the game itself. I'll give you a quick hint, it's less than half, and that's OK. Different games scratch different itches, and that may be the most important thing to walk away from. A game cannot be everything for everyone, because it'll wind up being a crappy game for no one.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why the Modern XP System Sucks

Y'know, a while back while I was playing DnD, I realized I'd gotten tired of using XP to track advancement. It seemed dumb to tally up numbers that meant nothing beyond how close you were to leveling up and getting shiny new stuff. Could you get that new stuff immediately? Of course not, you had to wait for... I don't know why, truth be told. I mean, anytime I asked people, they'd just shrug their shoulders and say "I don't know, it's just that way". I'd shrug my shoulders too, and keep attempting to make epic plots that didn't work.

Of course, leave it to Carpe to start asking questions and making it even more difficult for me to accept a system that makes no sense outside of its OD&D origins, where gold was XP, and that the gold was supposed to get you more items  in the meantime until your character "got it" and leveled up. I mean, if you use XP in that way, it does make sense. You go into a dungeon, and get the most XP for getting the gold. This gold goes towards advancing your character and may then be used to buy better items, which will keep your character alive longer, allowing him to level up. See, that system makes sense, especially with D&D's origins as a dungeon raid. Since monsters didn't give as much XP and killed you significantly faster than gold you didn't want to fight them, which is why wandering monsters were a bad thing. So, in OD&D's context, XP made for a very tight and gripping game, as you attempted to get to the gold without dying a horrible death. Sometimes you succeeded, and sometimes you didn't.

So why do a lot of modern games (video games like Mass Effect included) have this XP system without tying it to wealth, like it was originally intended? If I had to guess, I'd say tradition. With D&D being the definitive RPG of the first 30 years of the hobby's life, most people grew up with this system and had it ingrained in them. It's just a case of "this is the way things have always been done". The problem with this thinking, of course, is that whenever you change the reward system in a game, you change the very way the game is played. The rest of the mechanics almost don't matter in comparison to this one rule. If your game has a good and clear resolution mechanic it will be incredible. If there isn't a clear rewards mechanic then why bother?

...which where I'm at with modern D&D and, to a lesser degree, with Pathfinder. Great. World of Darkness at least reduces the amount of XP, but it gives no clear answer to the problem, either. It's like the major RPGs we've attached ourselves to have no idea how to be designed or something, and have forgotten the very basic rule of gaming: the game is as good as the rewards given in it.

So, here's a question: is it possible for 4th edition and Pathfinder to have this style of play re-integrated with little trouble? Now that's an interesting question...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Favorite Movies

This list isn't inclusive, by any means, but it's a pretty good indication of what I find to be worthwhile. These movies will not be ordered, because (unlike TV shows) I'm not in as picky of a mood whenever I sit down to watch a movie. There isn't as much of a time investment involved, so I generally don't worry about what's my "favorite"

The Dark Knight
 The Dark Knight is one of those movies that practically defined the year I watched it. And it wasn't just because I found myself liking the silly Batman voice that Christian Bale uses. Honestly, Heath Ledger's performance practically defined what I wanted out a villain: despairing to the point of insanity. The Dark Knight was the refutation of despair by whatever means were available, moral or not, and I found the ride quite gripping and enjoyable. I usually watch it when I'm in a more thoughtful and dark mood, and just want to watch Joker get defeated again.

 To quote myself for the vast majority of this movie: "HOLY SHIT, THAT WAS AWESOME!" I'm not gonna lie, this is probably the lightest movie on the whole list, but that's because every frame screams of win. Ever. Single. Solitary. Frame. This is a movie I'm buying when it comes out on DVD for sure.

House of Flying Daggers
 I consider myself a martial arts film fan, although I probably don't know as much about someone who's truly obsessed with the subject. Mostly this is because the martial film industry, with its high flying wires and bad stories, has a habit of defeating itself by trying to have a story that it just can't have.

Not this movie.

This movie is one of the few films I've seen that is a true and heartfelt take on this genre, and soars about almost all other martial arts films by being a story, first and foremost, with some of the most kick-ass fighting and choreography you'll ever see. And the ending scene is possibly one of the most visually pleasing things in all cinema.


This is the most beautiful movie I've ever seen, as far as aesthetic visuals go. Just... period. Wow. The plot, while not as good as House of Flying Daggers, is still excellent, and the fight scenes fit with the movie in a way that's very difficult to describe. There's a refinement and grace to this film that's so beautiful and breath-taking I can't help but love it.

Brothers Bloom
 Call me a sucker for Mark Ruffalo, but... damn... I like him in this movie a lot. Combine that with all the neat visual tricks this movie has, and I can guarantee that you'll find something new going on every time you watch it.

 This is a movie that I'll watch time and time again for... well... I'm never quite sure, really. There's something captivating about it that makes me very very glad I've watched it. Maybe it's because of my years as a GM, but I find the concept of people being able to invade and mold other people's dreams to be too good of an exploration to pass up.

The Original Star Wars Trilogy

 Dude, I can't think of a person who hasn't watched Star Wars. These movies were easily the most watched of my childhood, and instilled a love fantasy that I have never been able to shake (nor do I wish to, thank you). The trilogy of Luke Skywalker becoming a man can always be popped in at my house without a complaint.

Lucky Number Slevin
This is a movie I watch whenever I'm in the mood for something funny and dark, because well... just watch the movie. The ending is awesomely dark, but the rest of the movie is sweet and hilarious.

Ostrov is a Russian film about a monk living in the North Sea. He's a holy fool who is trying to repent for murdering a man. The film is... I don't know if I can quite explain this film. It's mood and message are very difficult to just communicate in any amount of writing, and I honestly don't know if anyone could catch it upon first watching. This movie is truly beautiful, however. I'd heartily recommend finding it and watching it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Why Do We Do This? Part 2

Following up on an earlier post I'd written, I've been thinking about why people play RPGs. I'm not entirely happy with what I've got, so far, but I'll recount a few of the experiences that have defined why I love this type of game so much.

First, of course, is the awesomeness of Hell's Gambit. That's still the best role-playing experience I've ever had, although the other incidents I'm about to describe come close...

In a World of Darkness game we were recently playing, one of the NPCs named Leona freaked out and refused to help us in our war on the Fae. Maria's character, Ivy, gave an amazing speech and turned the whole thing around. It was a big moment in the game, and probably the most impactful (to me, but I'm biased) one we had in the whole game. It had genuine drama to it, and I felt like I'd met and interacted with someone... real isn't the right word, but it's what I got, so it's what I'll use.

The first full session of my current Burning Wheel game is  based on Ireland around the time of the Romans forsaking that area of the world, with fae thrown in (noticing a theme here?). One of my players (my sister, actually), was the daughter of the king who had unified three different tribes under him and tried to make a "new Rome" in Ireland. Colleen (Anna's character) had to say good-bye to her childhood friend, an elf who had been cursed by her wicked twin sister. In what was a heart-wrenching scene, the elf finally told her friend of twenty years what her true name was, Autumn, and walked into the forest, telling Colleen she'd probably see the elf before the elf saw her again. It's still Colleen's driving motivation to find out what happened to Autumn and do whatever she can to avenge her friend.

Another one of my favorite moments comes from the same game Hell's Gambit is based, where Didier the elf shot one arrow, killed 1,000 enemies, and opened a rift in reality, causing it to almost collapse in on itself. What was interesting was how everyone reacted, from the schizo-Gant to the more sensibly minded Eela. There was a lot of drama as the group imploded on itself trying to figure out how in the world to fix the rift and the arguments that followed after the rift was actually closed.

See, I haven't quite it all put together yet, but if someone was to ask me why I'd want other people to play RPGs, I'd point to these moments and say: "So you can have experiences like this". I'll ponder a bit more, but there ya have it.