Sunday, May 24, 2015

What's Wrong With Me (A Statement, Not A Question)

For the last year and a half, the amount of time I've spent GMing has dwindled.  I used to run weekly games, one shots, and run events all weekend at a convention at least once a year.  This past year and a half, I've wrapped up an every other week game, run a few sessions online, and canceled another campaign two sessions in.

Since I returned to gaming over 10 years ago, I've been fortunate to have some of the best gaming times of my life.  Sure, gaming in high school and just after was great, but I didn't appreciate it nearly the way I have over the last decade of returning to the hobby.

The Dark Times

I had at least two other times when I had to curtail my GMing, one lasting about three months, and the other around that same amount of time, but leading into my running the Marvel Heroic game that I ran online via Hangouts.

Real life got hectic.  Work became a huge mess.  Because of a lot of stuff we'll just lump together and call Impending Doom, overtime picked up, and was unpredictable, meaning that I might have to cancel a game night here or there, and on top of that, I wouldn't have the time I like to have when it comes to preparing for a game.

I made a conscious effort to keep playing games with my friends, at least every other week, because I didn't want to quit gaming, and I didn't want to lose track of them.  I love getting a chance to be on the other side of the screen for a while, if only for the perspective that it brings to someone that has spent most of their gaming career running a game.

In the mean time, I quit the job of Impending Doom, took another job too quickly that I should not have jumped into, and then left that job as well, in part because I was literally sitting around waiting for them to figure out what I was suppose to be doing for a few weeks at a time.  I made the decision to at least finish my associates degree  (long story, left school for management job in retail, because I wanted to be important and set for life before getting married, etc.).

For the last few months, I've had moments I quite honestly felt like I was going insane.  I question every decision.  I have to mentally scream at myself to get going day after day.  Two or three extra responsibilities or surprises make me want to completely shut down because I want to deal with everything in easy mode, one small thing at a time.  Then I get even more frustrated, because I know I used to juggle a lot more than this, and I feel as if I have become fragile and weak, and I wonder how I used to manage.

Revelation

Oddly, it's starting to dawn on me that how I used to manage was that I was a GM.  I ran games.  I managed campaigns.  I could vent my creative juices.  I could celebrate little victories when I was ready for a game and then again when the game went off fairly well as I was running it.  I could practice, bit by bit, for dealing with the unexpected when I was dealing with the off the wall things my players would throw at me.

Work was frustrating.  I often found myself at one job knowing what would fix a situation, but not having the authority to implement that fix, and at another job being told I had the authority to fix it, but not enough time or actual knowledge to know how to fix it.  But there was a time when I would take a breath, look at the tools I had available, and I'd dig back in.  And at the very least, I would say, "hey, Thursday night is coming up, I just need to make it to Thursday."

I know it's going to sound very sad and possibly unhinged to say this, but I think I need my gaming, and not just gaming, but GMing, to balance myself.  To have something I am in control of, to have something that gives immediate rewards for the work I put in, and to have something that lets me practice quick thinking and adaption on a small scale.

I thought I was being a responsible adult so that I wouldn't need to cancel on my friends when they were counting on me.  While that's important, I looked for the one, big, obvious solution, which was to back away completely.  Never let it be said I'm smart enough to see where the compromises might lie.

I should have done more of the following:


  • Run systems that require less prep time
  • Continue to run one shots from time to time to keep in the habit
  • Realize that an infrequent call off isn't so bad, as long as you give people plenty of time and recognize when it's getting out of hand
I'm sure other humans have other coping mechanisms, and I'm sure in time that I could develop other coping mechanisms, but I think the fact that I attempted to do this cold turkey, while still gaming, without GMing, didn't lend itself to filling the gap particularly well.

The First Step Is Admitting You Have A Problem

I know to most non-gamers and a lot of gamers, my realization that I need to run games to help cope with the stress of my everyday life is probably going to sound pretty sad and pathetic.  It will probably make games sound as if they have far too important a part in my life.  As a flawed human being, I'll admit I probably should have learned to do a lot of things differently over the years.  That said, I think this is who I am.

I have to think there are people outside of gaming that have to do things like this to keep their head on straight though, right?  People writing short stories and even novels they never really intend on publishing, people performing in local theater with no real professional aspirations, or even people just trying to make their golf game better by pushing themselves.  Aren't all of those things a matter of trying to make some small aspect of your life with fewer ramifications line up right so that you feel like you can make the big things line up just as well?

Digging Yourself In The Hole

The problem, when you have a great group of friends that you game with, who have been great and kept the group together by running games for you to play in, is that you don't want to quit playing in their games to run yours, and you don't want to compete against their games even if you were willing to leave. 

Compound this with the fact that the FLGS has kind of multiplied the number of things going on any given night, so there isn't much wiggle room for actually running games most nights, and you start to realize that you may have dug yourself in a bit too well.

So trying to ramp back up to GMing, while trying to learn the lessons above, might be more challenging than it first appears.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

My Life on the Other Side of the Screen--I'm Playing a Character Hairier Than I Am (Werewolf the Forsaken)

I was at ground zero when the original World of Darkness hit.  Well, sort of.  I was playing 2nd edition D&D at the time, and I saw all of the ads and all of the products, and I saw this kind of weird segregation that immediately happened at the local convention all of the sudden between the World of Darkness players and people playing the more traditional roleplaying games.



I think this bit of anecdotal gaming evidence made a bad impression on me.  Everything about World of Darkness seemed to be adversarial towards a game that I liked, and I was getting the feeling that I was being looked down on by a segment of the gaming community for not being "hip."  It was weird, since the gaming community was where I went to not give a damn about being hip.

None of that has anything to do with the games, the settings, or whether they were good.  There was a weird zeitgeist and I probably read too much into it, but because of that early exposure to World of Darkness, I was never overly keen to jump into any version of the setting over the years.



Upon returning to regular gaming after years away, I eventually started frequenting the FLGS that I most often visit now.  There was a regular World of Darkness semi-LARP that went on once a month or so, usually involving more than one version of the new World of Darkness settings.  Because I knew several of the people participating, it felt a lot less like something "the cool kids" were doing and more something I was kind of starting to be interested in.

That said, the game was invitation only, and I didn't want to be a boor and ask about joining.  Eventually it dissolved.

Because the last year has been tricky for me, personal time wise, I ended up bringing my Dark Heresy game to a sad close after only two sessions.  One of my players graciously volunteered to run a game on the night when I had been running, and she offered to run Werewolf the Forsaken.



I was unable to join the first few sessions, but I have been there for the last three, and it has given me an excuse to finally dive into more than the periphery of the new World of Darkness games.   I have to admit, it's something I wouldn't mind running myself, someday.  The new information is daunting, but from what I understand, far less so than the metaplot of the Old World of Darkness.

The mechanics seem to be pretty simple, in the core book, although it seems like things get a lot more complicated when dealing with spirits or the add on material from some of the splat books for a given setting.  



Also, I have to say that while I like having some kind of narrative guide to the feel of the setting, the placement of the fiction in the books almost feels like saturation bombing.  I get an initial story, then maybe a few paragraphs here or there to reinforce mechanical descriptions.  I'm still suffering a bit from whiplash from the chain multiple stories that I was jumping through between the World of Darkness core book and the Werewolf the Forsaken core book.

I'm having fun, but I am having the same issue I tend to have when I play games set in the modern era, that being, I'm afraid I'm either making a character that is way over the top, or I'm playing somebody that is "just some guy," and isn't really that interesting, because I'm trying not to be over the top.

As per my usual, I went with over the top, and I worry that that it either breaks the horror aspect of the setting or it undermines anyone's trust that the character can be counted on to do something useful in the session.  Call it Jar Jar syndrome.  Hopefully I'll strike a balance, but I'm still a bit concerned that I haven't do so very well at the moment.



Long story short--enjoying the game and the setting, could use a little less random short stories saturating the text, enjoying the game, wish I could be sure I wasn't being "that guy" when it comes to my portrayal of a distinctive personality type.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

My Life On The Other Side of the Screen--D&D 5th Edition Organized Play

I've been playing D&D 5th edition for a while now in WOTC's Encounters format on Wednesday nights.  I've missed one week so far, but other than that, I've been doing this for a while now, and my goliath monk is up to 3rd level.



WOTC's organized play feels a little loose.  It's not quite as loose as 13th Age's organized play, but I keep feeling like I'm doing something wrong, organized play wise, because it feels like I'm just showing up to play a regular game of D&D.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't want the complicated hassle of charting every little thing that happens and having to check errata every other day to see how my character actually works this week and if I have to rebuild or if I even can rebuild or whatever.  I think Pathfinder Society just burned me enough that I'm paranoid that if I took my character to another store or a convention, the guy running it there would say "I'm sorry, you've been doing this wrong, you shouldn't have had this much fun."



The adventures seem fun, and classically D&D, but I really don't know why they are set in the Realms, or why they had to rip planets apart and bring gods back to life to present uber generic D&D adventures in the setting.  Again, I like the adventures thus far, but they really don't do much to really use the setting, other than to give you a faraway big city to namedrop, so Waterdeep could be Greyhawk, or Palanthus or Lankhmar for that matter.

But the system is so much fun!

I don't remember D&Ding like this since we were in the pre-kit days of 2nd edition, and my ranger was jumping off of towers to stab fire giants outside of Geoff.



We have used tactical maps, and we have not used tactical maps, and I've never felt like the maps were nearly the constraint that they were in 3rd or 4th edition.  Instead of providing some kind of tactical puzzle where people looked for where to place their five foot step or their flanking or their persistent spells, and having a player agonize over said puzzle for hours, they have mainly just been there to help us visualize where we are in relation to what's going on in the encounter, and we've had several encounters that worked just fine without them.

Indeed, most of the time the tactical maps come out, it has to do with a major, pivotal fight, whereas random encounters are handled "theater of the mind."

My monk started out a level lower than the rest of the group, but he was effective right off the bat.  While I was more fragile if I got hit, I could actually hit and deal out damage as well as anybody in the group right from the start, which made me feel less like a burden to the rest of the party.  Last session, we revisited this idea as we had a couple of 1st level characters with our 3rd level party, and again, they contributed just as well, even if they were a bit more prone to drop when directly engaged.



I enjoyed 4th when I played it, but there were elements that felt very much like they were game constructs, and tended to pull you out of any flow you might have had with the narrative.  I'm not sure I can put my finger on it, but the tweaking of some of the abilities to recharge after an hour instead of a five minute rest, and what exactly recharges and what doesn't, feels a lot more like previous editions of the game.

The game is just open ended enough that if I want to describe my monk bouncing off walls and performing Spartacus style over the top killer finishers, I can do so, and nothing in the rules tells me that I'm wrong for doing so.  I love it.



While I'm not thrilled with the setting support thus far, I'm really loathe to tell WOTC to do much different, because I love the game itself more than I have for a really long time, and I don't want them to screw it up.  Perhaps the best advice I could give them is to keep pumping out older edition PDFs, make them print on demand, and maybe come up with a semi-official "this edition to 5th" conversion guide?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hey You . . . yeah, you, over there, still following . . .

I am so far behind on blogging about nearly anything to do with gaming.  While I haven't GM'd since my Dark Heresy game ended  (sadly), I have been playing quite a bit. 

In recent weeks I've gotten to play my Llaelese noble alchemist in an Iron Kingdoms game, started playing my Werewolf the Forsaken character Len Vincent  (and played a version of the World of Darkness games for the first time ever), and have continued to play Crow, the goliath gladiator monk ninja in the FLGS D&D Encounters game I have been in.

But someday, when I figure out what is going on in the nebulous mists of real life, I really, really need to get back to running games.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Teamwork and Streamlined Hero Stomping (Marvel Heroic)

It's been a while since I posted anything about Marvel Heroic.  It's not because I love the game any less, but I haven't been able to run it in a while, and I've been doing a lot more playing than running these days, because, well, life.



But between all of the excitement over Age of Ultron and the Daredevil television series, the bug has bitten me again.  Don't know if I will get the chance to run the system any time soon, but I was driven to refine some ideas I had used for a one shot a bit.

Before I started running my Civil War game online, I ran a one shot based on an issue of Avengers Assemble that came out way back when the first Avengers movie happened.  In that session, I ran the new Zodiac that Thanos had empowered as a single large scale threat.



Yes, I was insane.  It was a 12d10 large scale threat.  It didn't actually work too badly, except that until the heroes started to chip away at the large scale threat pool, it was hammering the less physically robust heroes.  That said, it was a lot more manageable than trying to make up stats for 12 Zodiac members.  And I'll totally admit it was also based on the idea that we never really got specific powers for the individual members of the group, so running them as a large scale threat allowed me to tell the players that the fire signs were shooting fire, the earth signs were pounding on them, etc.

Running larger teams can be a pain, even in a smooth system like Marvel Heroic. While the individual dice pools are a lot more fun to build than just taking actions in other games, nobody wants a three round fight to take up a four hour session.  Well, maybe if it's really awesome . . .

What this brought me around to is to make the large scale threat team a little more personalized to the team involved.  Thinking about this, this led me to my idea, expressed below in my Sinister Six example, of having an SFX native to each member of the team, and having a limit that cuts that SFX off once that member of the team is gone.



I wouldn't suggest doing this for noteworthy villains that just happen to be fighting the heroes at the same time, such as villains that are trying to escape during the Breakout event, and are not used to working with one another.  You may also want to try keeping the team's leader separate for a more distinct experience.  For example, Mister Sinister probably shouldn't be lumped in with a Marauders large scale threat, nor should Apocalypse be lumped into a Four Horsemen large scale threat.

That said, groups like the U-Foes or the Sinister Six below usually operate more as a team, with their leader being a bit more like a "first among equals," no matter how they view themselves.

Someday I hope to give this particular idea a spin as a Watcher, but should you get the chance to use this in your games, I'd love to hear about it and if it worked smoothly.  Thanks for reading!




The Sinister Six

Large Scale Threat  6d10

Distinctions

Doctor Octopus' Revenge Squad
More Ambitious than Successful
Spider-Man Must Pay!

Power Sets

Sinister Six Unleashed

d8 Movement; d10 Weapon; d10 Blast; d10 Shapeshifting d8; Durability d10; Stretching d10; Strength d10; Energy Control d10

SFX  Teamwork  If a pool includes a Sinister Six Unleashed power, you may replace two dice with one die +1 step larger.

SFX Multipower  Use two or more Sinister Six Unleashed powers in a die pool at -1 step for each additional power after the first.

SFX Area Attack  Add a d6 and keep an additional effect die for each additional target.

SFX  Focused Resources  Shut down a Sinister Six Unleashed power to add a die to the Doom Pool.

SFX  Sacrificing Pawns  (Doctor Octopus)  Discard one Large Scale Threat Die to add a die of equal size to the Doom Pool.

SFX  Berserker Charge  (Rhino)  Step up or double any Sinister Six Unleashed power.  If the action fails, discard the largest die from the Doom Pool.

SFX  I'm Not Who You Think I Am  (Chameleon)  On a reaction against a physical attack, inflict the effect type of the original attack at another target affiliated with the attacker.

SFX  Castles of Sand  (Sandman)  Add a d6 and step up you effect die when creating using Sinister Six Unleashed to create assets.

SFX  That Was My Stunt Double  (Mysterio)  Spend a die from the Doom Pool equal to the stress inflicted by an attack or a complication to ignore that effect.

SFX  Path of Least Resistance  (Electro)  Add a d6 and keep an additional effect die to inflict an Electrical Disruption complication on a target with a standard nervous system or powered by electricity.

Limit  Domino Effect  Whenever a die is removed from the total Large Scale Threat pool, the character that stressed that die out of the total names which member of the team that die represented  (the Watcher can ask them to reassign if they chose Doctor Octopus).  When that team member is named, their SFX  and their specialty is no longer available to the team.  If more than one team member is listed for a specialty, that specialty is available until all team members with that specialty has been removed from the fight.

Specialties

d8 Combat Expert  (Rhino, Sandman); d10 Covert Master  (Chameleon, Mysterio); d8 Crime Expert  (Doctor Octopus, Chameleon, Mysterio); d10 Medical Master  (Doctor Octopus); d8 Menace Expert  (Rhino, Sandman, Mysterio); d10 Science Master  (Doctor Octopus); d10 Tech Expert  (Doctor Octopus, Mysterio); Vehicle Expert  (Chameleon, Mysterio)