Tag Archives: RPG

Imagination Gaming

I love PC games, they are easy to get into and the level of immersion is huge. But, like TV we are fed so much visual and audio stimulus that little is left to the imagination. That is the sad thing to me, and why I love role-playing games and boardgames so much. Yes, I know, I’m an idealist, but bare with me. “Analogue games” let us exercise that important skill that is so often neglected by adults: the imagination.

 

A little experiment

Let’s try a little experiment. I’ll describe someone to you, and you try and imagine him in your mind:

A sullen looking dwarf stands before you, his long dust coloured beard hanging to the knees of his short, stumpy legs. His dark eyes seem to stare out into space, chasing some distant thought. The helm on his head is painted blue and gold, with a horn attached to either side. Over a blue tunic he wears a coat of scale mail, well polished but battered by many battles. He leans on a large axe with his right hand, and the thumb of his left hand is slung through his belt.

Now, once you have that image in your mind, skip to the end of this post and see the image I’m describing. Which image was better, the one in your mind or the one below?

With the imagination, anything is possible and anything can be experienced. This is an important tool for the GM as well as the player. When you build your world, your NPC, even your magical items, take a moment to imagine your creation. Not only does it help you describe what you see more vividly, but it helps you spot obvious flaws in your creation and gives you more ideas to work with. Let’s go ahead and try it (yeah, we’re getting really practical in this post).

Take a moment to imagine one of your major NPC’s, or a character you’re playing if you’re not a GM. Imagine what he or she is wearing, what they are doing and how they feel. Also think about where they are and the things that are influencing them. In my mind, my character is taking a moment to watch the birds (there are birds outside my window now) and he’s feeling the weariness of the day, and the weight of his armour. It’s an unusual moment of peace for this battle weary veteran, and he’s even put his prized maul aside, he’s not thinking of war and monsters right now.

 

Visualisation

Visualising something with your imagination lets you practice or rehears something in your mind. Visualisation helps you achieve your goals by letting you see the steps you need to complete to get there. It’s not only useful for role-playing, athletes use it too, like the race car driver memorising the track before he sets out. When I do martial arts, I sometime just stand still and imagine what  I’ll be doing next. It lets me practice quickly. I think this is a vital skill for any GM.

When we were children, how much easier was it for us to use our imagination. Sometimes a box was the best toy, or a stick. I think we are slowly losing our imagination, outside of role-playing and fiction writing, it’s practically unfashionable to use your imagine. I’d like to get your feedback, what do you think?

Getting the most out of any game, for me, is all about imagination. From PC games to boardgames and role-playing games, I’m the commander, or the spy, or the assassin, and I’m living the game. All games are essentially about escapism, and your imagination is the key to breaking the bonds of earth.

Dwarf
A dwarf warrior, not quite as you imagined him.

 

I’d love to hear from you, so tell us what you think and share some of your experiences.

Starting a New Campaign

Campaign Journal

In this series I’ll be taking you through our bi-monthly Pathfinder campaign that began at the start of 2011. Mostly I’ll just focus on the story, but will also point out some of the lessons we learnt and fun ideas that came up. Unfortunately, it looks like I will be missing the last half of the campaign, but I’ll see if I can organise someone else to continue the story where I left off.

In this post I want to focus on how we got started and all the ground work that was laid before we started playing, which I hope will give you some ideas for your own game.

Picking The Team
The biggest question when we set out, and in most RPG groups, is who is playing. There are always people with different levels of commitment or difficult schedules and finding a time that suits everyone is a bit of a logistics nightmare, especially when everyone is working and has a family. I missed the 2010 campaign because of my busy schedule which left me with only Wednesdays and Fridays open during the week, and Thursdays nights were more convenient for the rest of the guys.

So, we set up a meeting for all interested parties to discuss times. Some of us have played together since meeting on-line, (www.rpg.co.za for South African players), others were relatives or friends of other players, and so on. We drew up a grid of each day and who would be available when. We decided that we would choose one week day and play every two weeks, which would also mean that the impact on our weeks would not be too unmanageable. Wednesday was chosen and we keep our game days to that, although busy schedules and wierd holidays have meant that we’ve played less that twice a month, it does mean that people try and keep Wednesday open.

A number of potential players have not yet pitched for a game and some players have only played a single session, but our core of six players has remained pretty solid. Instead of choosing one person to be the GM, we are taking turns that span a few sessions. This method worked well for the guys in their last campaign, and lead to some interesting results, including a multitude of villains that had it in for the party, each villain the brain child of a different GM.

Picking The Rules
Our next decision was picking a games system. In the 2010 campaign the guys used Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, but there were many other possible available now with our collections of books growing as they have. In the end we chose Pathfinder because it is 3.5 and lets us use all the 3.5 stuff we have.

Picking Pathfinder meant that we didn’t need to learn new rules. This is worth mentioning because, although it is 3.5 compatible, Pathfinder does make some changes. The key though is that when we look up a rule, we look it up in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, and we haven’t really needed to invest much time learning.

For interest sake, some of the other games that were listed as possibles included Mouseguard the RPG, Call of Cuthullu, World of Darkness, Warhammer Fantasy Role-play and Dungeons and Dragons 4, which at least 3 of us are currently involved in a campaign of.

House Rules
At this point, let me just mention that if you do have a session like this to plan your campaign, be sure to order pizza. In fact, if you remember nothing else from this post,remember the pizza. Good friends and good food makes all the admin seem like fun.

With the rule set chosen we defined a number of house rules, some more bizarre than others:

We use a critical fumble table for 1’s rolled in combat. If you fumble, not only do you miss, but now bad things happens to you, such as loosing your weapon and so on.

Each play must bring a white board marker, since we use a glass pane over a grid map to mark out encounter locations. If each player brings one, we always have a choice of markers and it’s not an issue if someone forgets. You could easily do the same thing with bringing map tiles or maps.

Halflings have hairy feet. This was an odd one, and I brought it up, because I’m a Tolkien nut. Discussing the world makes it more immersive, in my opinion. If you imagine the same things, you share the experience more deeply.

Keep the beer lids. We are keeping beer lids to make into a suit of scale mail. The Yaya Sisterhood have their jeans, we have our scale mail.

Story points. Players can accrue story points both in game and out of game that they can then use to affect the game in a way not normally available to players in Pathfinder, such as to get a re-roll on a dice, changing something in the story or bring in an NPC. You may only ever have 3 story points and you can spend 1, 2 or 3 points to get various effects:

One story point: Re-roll a dice, make an acrobatic move you could not normally make or get extra information from someone.

Two story points: An extra attack, an automatic crit or convince an NPC of something.

Three story points: Avoid death, invent an NPC or change the story.

Character Creation
We decided that any Humanoid character was legal, resulting in a party consisting of a Catfolk, two Tieflings, a Giant, an Elf and a Blue. We discussed the party make-up to try and get a balanced party, and ended up with a multi classed rogue wizard, a wizard, a bard, a monk, a ranger and a paladin. I’ll be introducing the characters in the next Campaign Journal post.

Many other aspect of character creation were decided after the meeting. In fact, nothing was actually decided regarding characters on the day, but the first GM requested that each player send him an email with class, race, name, a short description and a backup character class. We could then go ahead and create a level one character.

In Summary
I think the planning session was very valuable, and our games would probably not have gone as smoothly as it has without the planning meeting. It surely saved us a great deal of email. It was also fun, and we got to shared many war stories and got to meet other role-players, have some great pizza and just laugh about our adventures.

Have you had a similar planning meeting for your campaign or group, please tell us about your experience.

Playing it Solo

I love role-playing games, but sometimes I just can’t find anyone who wants to play with. Recently I bought the Dungeons and Dragons Red Box and played through the solo introductory game, and Ghost Tower of the Witchlight Fens, which was a blast. The game is not the same without other players, but I still enjoyed it and found it a great way to test out a new character build, or the workings of some power or tactic. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share some of my own ideas about solo play, specifically in terms of playing without a pre written adventure.

 

Army Soldiers

When I was small I’d play with my little green army soldiers, those heroes of a thousand battles. There were no rules, you just moved them around and made appropriate sound effects. You used your imagination and the game went the way you wanted it to (at least if you were playing by yourself). Similarly, in a solo game, you play the GM, so you need to direct the game in the way you see fit, but give your PC (or PC’s) enough challenge to keep things interesting. In my current solo game my PC, known as The Gray Priest, a cleric, has come to a town in search of a long lost book. Picking up from the adventure in the Red Box, he has hired town guardsmen and set out on a number of forays to try and beat off the enemies forces. I play out the encounters as I would if I was the GM, making perception checks for the goblins before they would be ambushed and fighting with the best of my ability when playing either side. Game balance can be tricky, but many RPG’s include a good system for balancing the fight, which makes it possible to keep things interesting without loosing your character during every bout of combat.

 

Campaign Journal

In a normal campaign we might keep a campaign journal and in a solo game you can and should do the same thing. My only difference is that I write it like a story, which helps me imagine what is going on, and I use that to focus the role-playing aspects of the game, writing as I play. Again, you need to be the GM too, so if your character says the wrong thing, make the “NPC’s” react accordingly. That’s part of the fun. The campaign journal otherwise offers you the same benefits of a regular campaign journal, and I recommend recording things that you would keep in your GM notes, so that you can keep track of the greater story.

 

Tables versus Imagination

Many solo games use tables for a number of random events in the game, and there is a wide range of tables you can use already available in most RPG’s. Furthermore, you can write your own to suit your campaign, including elements you choose and having them occur to your own predefined frequency. Unless you want more of a simulation game than a story game I recommend not using too many tables, since you may find it takes your story in a direction you do not want. The key is really to play around until you’re happy with the game you are playing. If you find you are doing more accounting than game playing, then you just need to simplify. But if you need some random direction, by all means, use a table.

 

K.I.S.S

No, not the band. KISS stands for “Keep it simple stupid” and it’s a key factor in good solo gaming. Keep your story simple and limit the elements that are interacting in the world. For example, my character and four town guard took on nine enemy units. It was a relatively long fight for one person to play out, but if there had been more units and more HP to keep track of, I doubt things would have been as much fun. The nice thing is that KISS does not mean that things are boring, you simply add complexity as you can manage it.

 

Dealing With Death

While you may have more than one character in a solo game, you will most likely still have a smaller party than the usual 4 or 5. Death then can mean the end of your solo game, and if you’ve invested time in your game, then that’s a very sad thing. However, you do have a couple of options to keep the game going.

Most quests are important enough that someone will take up the cause when others fail, and heroes often have friends, even if only a few they can really trust. Death of one hero means you can bring in a new character to take the place of the fallen character. You may find you only play with this new character until you can resurrect the old one, and that’s fine, because it makes for a more interesting story when you include the adventures of others.

Secondly, death is only the start of another journey. Think about the adventure your character can have in the Halls of Valhalla before their god sends them back to complete their quest.

 

Play

The best tip I can give for anyone thinking about playing a solo game is just to give it a try, you will learn more from actually playing than thinking about it. Consider what you enjoy about each game or session and what you dislike, and where appropriate make a house rule if it will help keep things fun. I’d suggest keeping sessions relatively short, since you’ll need all your concentration to play it properly, but play as often as you can and please share your findings with us here.


Do you play role-playing games like D&D or Pathfinder as solo games? Let me know what you think and share any mechanics you have. I’d love to hear your thoughts.