Friday, September 24, 2010

Points, Dogs, October, Lists, and Anniversary

Giving Out Points
Back when I first started this blog I wrote a post on RPG mechanics that I always ignore, but keep popping up in rule books. I've got a new one to add to that list.

Variable Experience Rewards
The excellent Old School gaming blog, A Paladin in the Citadel, reminded me of this recently. He's been looking at early games at how the logic of their experience point reward structure impacts play and game. He's hit The Fantasy Trip and the Holmes Basic DnD for example.

I remember those things from when I played when I was younger, but I also remember those going out the window pretty early. Except in rare cases, whoever ran almost always just threw out either a lump sum to be divided or just an equal fixed number. Then at some point we started playing original Rolemaster. The GM who ran that (based in a Hârn analogue setting) always went through and tracked damage dealt, relatively levels, treasure found and distance traveled for individual experience. The system provided an unfortunate feedback loop which fed players who did well and screwed those non-damage dealing ones. Of course you'd see that as a problem later in some computer games and MMORPGs. The breaking point came for that system when he transported us to a Gamma World like setting and we went cross-continental in a hovertube. Immediately we demanded the experience associated with a journey of that length. Eventually since RM had development points per level spent on skills, the GM just gave out DP instead of Exp.

When we moved to games with points built in, like GURPS & Champions, the system became a little easier and we tended to have a single consistent reward for all players each session. Most games had individual mechanics for singling out and rewarding players. Usually we ignored those. In practice in long-term campaigns I saw one of two effects. If the GM gave out those bonus points, there sometimes arose a question of fairness-- and the GM would have to effectively rotate the gifting of those bonuses which negated the system. On the other hand, player vote systems really depended on the group. I saw groups which could handle it and rewarded well. On the other hand I saw established groups where the system rewarded on play of a certain kind-- only within the conventional expectations of the players. Any play outside of those lines became ignored.

Eventually I gave up on those totally when groups would actually track and realize that someone hadn't gotten bonus points and make sure those went to the person left behind. Again, the same effect as giving the same number to everyone. Now, for reward, I tend to use drama or hero points, a temporary resource. Since it is decoupled from power and relative ability, but has real effect, it doesn't create any tension at the table.

Vincent Baker
I think I mentioned that I picked up Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard from GenCon. It is a very interesting piece of rpg work-- Sherri really likes it. It represents a lot of the work going on in "indie" gaming today. In any case, all of Vincent Baker's games are currently available in a pdf bundle for $25.

Apocalypse World, Dogs in the Vineyard, Kill Puppies for Satan, In a Wicked Age, Poison'd and Mechaton

That last one may be of appeal to Kaiju.

I'm looking forward to reading through those. The great rpg blog Risus Monkey has been looking at Apocalypse World and it has me intrigued. I'm curious about what that's like. Vincent Baker's an interesting writer and I have the feeling that while these might not be games I'd run/play they will give me some ideas.

RPG Review October
Last year I spent a month of blogging and tried to write a game review every day. I'm going to do that again for the month of October. My goal is reviews of 900-1000 words. I many games I want to to reading overviews of: Trail of Cthulhu, Mutant City Blues, various Roman rpg books, Changeling: the Lost, Nameless Streets, and so on. Wish me luck on that endeavor.

I should mention a couple of Geeklists over at RPG Geek. Over time, I've been posting the Planescape/Black Company session reports which Dave wrote. I put together a geeklist of all those I've posted so far. I also did a Geeklist on Magic Systems from my earlier post and people have added some new ones which hadn't occurred to me. Finally there's a great list on RPGs You Think Need A New Edition.

Wedding Anniversary
OK, last but not least by any stretch. Yesterday was our 14th wedding anniversary. We got married on a Monday-- because we thought it would reduce the possible size of the wedding and on the calendar it said Vernal Equinox, Japan (Tentative). How an equinox could be tentative is a question I still haven't hit wikipedia up for. It was also pointed out to me yesterday that Sept. 23rd is Nintendo's birthday. So, see...there's a pattern.

Sherri's my favorite gamer-- I love playing with her at the table. I remember roping her into the GURPS game back in 1995 and being shocked at how good she was right away. She put up with some terrible players at the table (*kof* Dave Fink *kof*) too. I was so used to characters who either had no family or a really problematic ones that her character Cedra Byrne having a solid and supportive one really threw me. Cedra remains one of my favorite PCs. Her character Tobias Crank in the Freakish Band of Adventurers campaign was another one of my favorites, a chummy and relentlessly optimistic dog-person. She ran a Rolemaster campaign that I really enjoyed-- with great backstory, excellent NPCs and a kind of unforgiving plot. Admittedly she was better at prep than table management, but it was her first game. I was sad that a couple of really terrible and ungracious players managed to ruin that campaign for everyone else.

We haven't gotten as many chances to play on the same side of the screen as I would like. Kenny ran a SWAT game that we loved and we really enjoyed playing off of one another. I'm hoping we'll get another good campaign like that in the future. I'm enjoying all the campaigns she's in right now and I have no doubt that she'd veto any attempt on my part to close up and of them.

That's all goofy games stuff, but the bottom line is that I'm incredibly lucky. We have a great and equal partnership-- both taking responsibility and keeping up the work while at the same time equally enjoying ourselves. She's got at holding back on the “I told you so...” even when they are deserved. She sees things more clearly than I do many times, but she still lacks an accurate sense of time. She's the person I most enjoying time with in the world and I wouldn't be anywhere near as happy as I am if it weren't for her.

/end over-sentimentality


  1. Great post, and Mazel! La chaim! I love spending time with both of you. Partly because you're both charming and witty, and also because you're both devastatingly smart, but in different ways. It's fun watching you guys think.

  2. Well-deserved congratulations to you both!

    I've been interested in Mechaton since its release but never picked it up. Can't think of the title without hearing a robot voice: "Mek-a-ton!!"

    Actually, I'm curious about all of VB's work, so that bundle would be a great deal.

  3. I liked reading Dogs, but couldn't imagine running. I think Peter Amthor has my copy.

    If you don't have an accurate sense of time, maybe the time together seems that much more. Congrats from Patti and I.

  4. I really want to see Dogs in action. In fact, I think I really need to see Dogs in action. That may motivate me to travel to a con in the area if I know someone's going to be putting that or another one of his games on.

    Thanks back to you and Patti!

  5. I'll keep my ears open for Chicago and Indy games.

  6. That's probably our best bet. There's also Marmalade Dog which I've never been to.

  7. Ah, MD, 2nd worst convention I've been to. Worst wins because it wasn't rpg related.

  8. I'll have you tell me the tale next time we meet up.

  9. Wow! I know this post is old enough that you'll not see this, but --- Dave Fink! Forgot all about him! Maybe the first time I *knew* there was a difference in gamers - like later realizing that there were some real jerks that liked the same bands that I did.

  10. He had such certainty in his approach- that it was absolutely right and anything else was just BS. I thought at first his GM style was a kind of refreshing return to hard adherence to the rules, but then I realized he just liked being a dick to his players.

    And he was a terrible player- absolutely crappy to his fellow players at the table. I don't know anyone who enjoyed playing with him as a fellow PC. I'd later see echoes of his behavior in Chris J and others- and should have taken that as a warning sign.

  11. Never played with him, nor played in anything he was running. 1 bullet dodged! He did stand in an uninvited 'observational' role once while I was running some Rolemaster in the Griffon's upstairs game room until I asked him to leave. Ugh.

    BTW: You've got a very good blog here sir!