Saturday, January 30, 2010

When RPGs Meet SMGs, Part One

The other day I got into a Twitter discussion with the cool Jonathan Jacobs of The Core Mechanic (a discussion which includes the also cool MadBrew of Mad Brew Labs). He invited me to take a look at a few articles he'd written regarding the future of RPG's, Social Media, and how the new Apple iPad may fit in. I decided 140 characters was not enough to comment on this, so here we are. I'm still digesting all the articles, comments, and further articles they link to, so this will probably be the first in a series of responses. Here are links to some of the articles in question:

In the first article, Jonathan (if I may be so bold as to use a first name), reflects on what exactly is the future of the role-playing game. There's a feeling that the traditional RPG market is shrinking, while a new class of Social Media Games (or SMG's, think Farmville and Mofia Wars) is exploding. He ponders if, and what, RPG's can learn from SMG's.

When using the term "Role-Playing Game" to define a type/style of game, I prefer to keep the definition focused. A RPG should involve humans taking on imaginary roles and interacting with humans (who are also taking on imaginary roles), following a set of rules which allow the humans to create a story dynamically. The group could have a leader (i.e., Game Master), or not. It could be face-to-face, or not. It could be real-time, or not. I feel if one eliminates one these basics, then one is talking about a different type of game. I'm not saying that is a bad thing, I'm just saying it is no longer what I would call an RPG.

Social Media Games, at least the few that I am familiar with, are quite different. They are really more of a single person completing simple puzzles or repetitive tasks on their own. The "social" aspect comes into play primarily through comparing results, or 'helping' someone else. When I watch people play Farmville, I really get the sense it is a solo activity. Sure, they'll water someone else's farm, but that other person will likely never notice. They send 'gifts' at random, and receives them, but this is really to gain some in-game advantage. The most social aspect seems to be the competition with other players. The definition of these types of games seems to be a solo gamer, a simple set of tasks, an ability to compare/share/help others, and a repetitive (or even non-existent) story. SMGs to me are a completely different type of game then RPGs, and not very compatible.

This is not to say that RPGs cannot learn from SMGs, but I do think if one brings too much SMG into the RPG, it becomes a new class of game. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Looking over the ideas The Core Mechanic and Mad Brew Labs present on the intersection of the two, I see possibilities. Traditional table-top role-playing games seem to be still struggling to find ways to officially adopt technology as a part of the game. SMGs may provide some clues, in addition to showing ways to grow the user base. However, I'm going to need to ponder this some more, so please do check back in a few days or so and see what I've come up with.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Violent 'Mech on 'Mech Action...

Last weekend I got together with the old gaming group for a game of BattleTech. This was, I believe, the third time I've done that recently, though the group has had many other sessions. Before that I hadn't touched BattleTech since the first edition FASA days, but have always retained an interest in the game. I remember fondly the days of sitting in lakes to cool off while I unload all my weapons, and tearing limbs off of other 'Mechs to use as clubs.

The game ran fairly long — six players doing ten rounds of combat in around six hours. We played using some popular modified tournament rules, along with some house rules the group felt made the game better. If I recall correctly, all but one of us ran with custom built 'Mechs (built in part using the excellent, multi-platform SolarisSkunkWerks), though I cannot remember what model the standard 'Mech on the board was.

I built a quad 'Mech (for some unknown reason constantly referred to in the rules as "Four-Legged" instead of "Quad"), a first for our group. It was a 45 ton 'Mech, with a pair of small pulse lasers, a pair of medium pulse lasers, and a pair of MRM-10 missiles; as well as an impressive amount of armor. All this in a 'Mech costing less then 5,000,000 Cr. The group as a whole was evenly split between nimble light 'Mechs and lumbering medium 'Mechs. The battlefield was huge, it had to be over 25 by 40 hexes easily.

For the first 8 rounds there were two battles going on, the lights in one and the mediums in another (though the quickest light took a pot shot at a medium before diving into the all-light fray). Two of the lights tore each other up, while the quickest one managed to weave in and out, dishing out damage while avoiding getting hit much. Ultimately the two slower ones were taken out, giving the quick one assisted and one unassisted kill, after which he ran over to join the mediums. Both decided to come back on the board, though I don't recall them having too great an affect on the outcome.

Of the mediums, one took five turns running just to get into the battle, while the other medium and I traded volleys. Though I only won initiative once, I managed to luck out in that most of the time I went after my two main adversaries, thus having the upper hand on them. They were tough, at one point teaming up on me to deliver nearly 60 points of damage in one round. But I gave as good as I got. The last couple rounds were the most interesting. I had removed the rear armor on one of the other mediums, which gave the quick light a chance to run up behind it and deliver a killing blow, scoring yet another kill. The other medium managed to exit the board before the last round (though not before losing a limb or two), leaving me and the quick light as the only two 'Mechs to stay on the board the entire game.

I really enjoyed the game this time. Though I disagreed with some of the 'house-rules,' I was happy to see my creation hold its own on the battlefield. The previous session I played was actually not much fun for me, as I was seriously outclassed by pilots and 'Mechs that benefited from experience gained over several sessions (the custom 'Mechs were over twice the value of my standard, while the pilots had all kinds of skill advantages). I don't actually remember the first session I played in, 'twas many months ago.

Unfortunately, this was probably the last BattleTech game I'll play for a while. I've found a new group which is playing Dungeons & Dragons 4E, which is what I've been wanting to play for some time now, and that will take my allotted two games per month. However, once Catalyst Game Labs is able to release a new box set (25th Anniversary Edition, I hear), I will likely try to get my hands on one. Once I get time to start painting minis, I'll probably try to get some good BattleTech ones as well. I foresee a time when I'll be able to do more then two games a month, and filling those other slots with miniature games like BattleTech sounds like a great idea.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Young Adventurer's Guild

I have a large number of Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures sitting around, mostly unused since I haven't been playing nor running a D&D type game for awhile (our group is currently focused on Shadowrun and BattleTech). I also have two young kids who are very interested in what Daddy does when he goes to his friends house to play. A few weeks ago, a great RPG blogger going by the moniker NewbieDM published an article which showed how to bring these two together. I initially filed it in the back of my mind as an interesting way to introduce the kids to structured roleplaying in general, and D&D specifically. Then I saw a blog post by Paul Haynes on how he took those rules, made some changes, and ran with his son. Both gentlemen's kids are around 4, which is slightly younger then my two kids, who are 5 and 6 (Boy and Girl respectively).

Pre-Game SnackThis, along with some chatter on Twitter, convinced me to give it a try. When I told the kids we were going to learn how to play an adventure game, they were a little excited. I quickly realized it may have been easier to try to teach each of them separately, but once  I started teaching both at the same time, I stayed the course. After a quick snack of Triscuits with cheese (which Boy did not eat, as usual), we cleared the table and brought out the character sheets and Dungeon Tiles. This also brought the avalanche of questions, mostly from Girl (while Boy started to create his own game).

Girl's character sheetI started by trying to explain the rules. For our first game, I dispensed with the bonuses and penalties, changed movement to 5 squares, only the Magic person can give medicine, and decided monsters only need to be hit once to be knocked out. The kids, however, were impatient to get started, so I moved us along to choosing minis. I let each of them choose two characters. Girl selected a Magic Girl and a Bow & Arrow Guy, which she named "Annie" and "Rocky." Boy selected a Sword Guy and a Bow & Arrow Girl, which he named "The Boy" and "The Girl" (we're going to need to work on imagination there). Daddy got six minions due to their weakness.

Round 1We each rolled a D6 for initiative. I got a 6, Boy got a 2, and Girl got a 1. Order of play being quickly set, we got started. The game only lasted three rounds. Boy rolled well, hitting nearly every time, while Girl only hit about a third of the time. The monster's got a few hits in, but none of the players were knocked out. Girl had to be reminded a couple of times that she and her brother were on the same team, and that she can only roll the dice once, even if it's a one. Boy had to be reminded that he has to wait for his turn to move his pieces. All the while I ensured that both the kids stuck to the rules. Both kids had no problems with the numbers involved. As to the reading, Girl had no problem (she's reading at a level a couple years ahead of her age), but Boy needed help (as I expected).

The Hero's winOverall, it was a fun game session. I didn't last long, maybe about half an hour, with a lot of time spent helping them keep focused. The kids were excited to play again, but unfortunately, this was a finals weekend for me in school, so we didn't have time for that. It was challenging keeping them both on task. I think next weekend we'll play around with NewbieDM's rules a bit more, I may even try Mr. Haynes variation with them. I'm also going to spend a bit more time on story elements. This time around, I nearly completely eschewed story in favor of teaching them the basics of structured play. If I come up with any significant changes to their rules, I'll be sure to share it here.

If you are interested, the complete photo gallery for this session can be found on my Flickr account over here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A bit of an introduction...

Once upon a time, I tried to do this blogging thing. It started out well, but eventually Real Life called, and I was pulled in too many directions to keep it up. But the desire to use a blog as a creative outlet has persisted, and I think it is time to try it again. At this time, I'm not promising any kind of a regular posting schedule, but I will attempt to do something at least once a week. I can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and Tumblr (among other places).

So I'm going to blog, but what am I going to blog about? Well, drawing inspiration from a variety of people I follow, respect, and admire, this blog is going to be focused primarily on roleplaying games (RPG's). Ever since I was in elementary school, I've been interested in fantasy and science fiction. I was a very avid paperback reader, and at some point I discovered Dungeons & Dragons (the old Red Box set). Unlike others, I don't have an awesome "somebody introduced me and we played and played" story. In fact, if I recall correctly, I found my first box set on the shelf of a toy store.

Throughout the rest of school and into my early 20's, I acquired quite a bit of RPG books, not just the various incarnations of D&D, but a lot of other games as well - I've still got many old FASA games like Star Trek and Dr. Who. I had a couple friends with whom we'd occasionally try to play, but only rarely did things last more then a couple of sessions. Mostly I bought the books, read them, and put them on the shelf. Before I finished high school, I also did a lot of planning and world creation, though much of that material has been lost over the years.

Life happened, I got married, got busy with other interests. I'd still pick up the occasional RPG book, though more often then not I wouldn't have the time to read it. I moved from Minnesota to North Carolina, started a new job, and made some friends who were all interested in putting together a group. Thus in the past few years I've finally been able to participate in ongoing games. So far, we've played D&D 3.5, D&D 4, Star Wars Saga Edition (which I GM'd), Shadowrun 4, and the most recent iteration of Battletech (the war game, not the RPG). This group, which started out as nine people, has kind of fractured. Those that are left have been playing Shadowrun and Battletech lately, while I'm really interested in playing D&D 4 right now. Since we have no one to run it (I don't have the time), I started looking for a new group.

In the future, I intend to write about my experiences, what I've learned, provide advice, and perhaps even fiction pieces inspired by my gaming. Over time I really hope my writing improves, and hopefully pick up some regular readers. I'm always open to constructive criticism to help me improve. But that's all for now. If all goes according to plan, there'll be a new article up within a weeks time...