RPGBlog

This is a collection of the RPG Circus Blog Items.

The Art of the Lie in RPGs

Over six months ago, I was playing in a spy game. That in itself is not a big deal, what was a big deal was the art of the simple lie. A strange phone call comes in, my character answers. The NPC A (on the phone) asks to speak to NPC B. My character tells NPC A that NPC B is not at home. At this point, the GM tells me to make a Bluff roll. Which my character fails because he has no bluff skill. NPC A demands that he speak with NPC B that he knows is home. Needless to say the adventure was sort of all downhill for me after that.

Something about the exchanged really bothered me. So much so, I still think about it even today. While the GM was mechanically correct on requiring a bluff roll, I was wondering if it was logically was correct. Now before you go off full kilt and call "shenanigans", allow me to explain myself.

First off, we all lie. That's right, we all lie. When a women asks a man if something makes her look fat, what man is going to say "Yes"? Now if you are thinking well, it's a just a white lie, then yes you are right it is. Funny thing though is that in the study of lies, there are lies and then there are LIES! A simple way to look at it is that there are lies that we say not hurt someone and there are lies we say that could hurt someone. Basically, you have to look at the intent of the lie.

Secondly, we tend to believe what we are told provided we no reason to suspect that people lie to us. Ask someone the time for example, do you expect the person you ask to lie to you? They may have the wrong time but chances are they didn't know it. On the other hand, you think someone has done something wrong and you ask them about it. In many cases you actually expect them to lie about. You many even think they are being untruthful even when they are because it's not what you think happened.

So by now, you asking yourself, can you get to the point already? What has this to do with RPGs? Well, RPGs are funny thing. Characters interact with NPCs all the time. They have pseudo-conversations. They players may lie to the NPCs and the NPCs lie to the players. The real question is when do you need to have skill interactions, deception checks, or whatever else you need done? Some will argue all the time. Generally a GM will allow players to make checks to see if the NPC is lying anytime they question the truth of what an NPC is saying. After all most GM will just sit there and have a little chuckle while the PC waste die rolls. But when should a GM require it? That I suppose is the big question here. After all the GM already knows if the players are lying or not. I'm sure I have a 100% good answer for myself.

Let's take a look at a few questions about the lie.

• Is the lie appropriate to the situation?
• Is the lie believable? If you are telling someone you are a sword master, you shouldn't be the one that can't hold a sword.
• Does the lie contain something that NPC knows is false? No telling someone the sky is green when it's blue.

I guess what I'm saying is that a little common sense should apply. So going back to my original situation, should a die roll been called for? I still not sure. Why would NPC A think that NPC B would be home? After all, if someone calls your house and asks to speak to someone there and you say they are not home even though they are don't most people believe that?

I guess in the end, I'm wondering what you our gentle readers would do in this situation? Please let me know.

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Lions and Tigers and Fate Points, Ohhhh My!

Most of you know that games like The Dresden Files and Savage Worlds include bennies or fate points or [insert adventuresome game mechanic title here] to enhance gameplay. In many cases, these points or chips allow players to soak extra damage, reroll a failed attempt, or alter the outcome of a story event. One of my favorite examples comes from Agents of Oblivion, a superb Delta-Greenish supplement for Savage Worlds. In that setting, a bennie can be spent to requisition weapons or equipment from HQ during a mission. Need a nano-tech rocket to blow up the tricked-out Maserati owned by a Cthulhu cultist/Internet billionaire? Just spend a bennie and wait for the ACME box to arrive! The power level of these points depends on the game, the game master, and the situation. A failed roll and subsequent bennie reroll to pick a lock, for example, might not change the world; however, a bennie used in the middle of a key battle may change the face of future. So be it, and let the fun continue!

Recently, though, I have employed bennies in two non-bennie games. And I have to say, I don’t think I will go back to a bennieless universe. Here’s why…

First, even in a gritty game, bennies can be toned down to fit the flavor of the situation. There’s no need to believe that bennies automatically turn every RPG into an 80’s style G.I. Joe cartoon--everything blows up and nobody gets hurt. Bennies can offer small advantages, or they can come at a great price. I recently started a game in which my players each get two bennies, and I, as the GM, get none. But when the players use their chips, they go into a pool for my evil use at any time. As a result, my players are very careful about when they spend.

Second, in most games, bennies encourage players to take risks. Whether you’re playing a heroic game or a simulationist one, it can be just as entertaining to fail as to succeed. Both may further the story and present opportunities for role or roll playing. Bennies tend to encourage players to take more risks, and thus reach success or failure more often. Not to be overly proud of metagaming moments, but I have, in the past, tempted players with bennie rewards for taking dangerous chances. I watched a player waffle over his character’s decision to try a bizarre combat maneuver, and only my wicked bennie offer pushed him to go for it. Result: successful dwarf summersault attack, laughter, and further complications requiring more strategy. Everyone wins.

Finally, for now anyway, another cool aspect of such fate points in nearly any game is that the GM can find or craft cool objects to employ as bennies. I’ve used everything from rusty old keys to bullet shells, and I’m always on the lookout for new possibilities.

I’m starting a modern spy game this week, and I plan to shop for something cheap but James Bond-like after work today. Any ideas?

If I don’t find anything, I can always spend a bennie and search again….

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We Know What They Are Already....

The other day I purchased a new game for my PS3. I grabbed a pocket knife, cut the plastic, and eventually, like an otter shucking an oyster, opened the jewel case. Inside the glossy booklet that came with the game, 10 point font provided a wealth of uninspiring information: control scheme, seizure warnings, etc. I noticed, however, that the booklet did not contain an explanation about what a video game is. I did NOT see “This is a game of video enjoyment, wherein you hold a controller and manipulate on-screen events. The powers and abilities referenced in this video game are not real. Therefore, do not go outside and attempt to cast fireballs, sneak by awkwardly squatting, or sprint for an excessive amount of time. You are a human player enjoying the challenges of a programmed digital adventure.” In other words, there was no “What is a video game?” introduction. There was an in-game, tutorial, of course, but that’s a different animal.

Similarly, I recently played Last Night on Earth, the excellent zombie-survival board game, and I did not see an obligatory “What is a board game?” passage in the game’s rules. Go ahead, look for yourself. Crack open Monopoly and see if there’s an explanation of what board games are and how the miniature metal dog is not a real dog and as such does not need a tiny bowl of food or a leash. There are rules, of course, but not much more.

So, why is it that role-playing games always include the “What is a role-playing game?” chapter close to the front of the rulebook? What is so confusing about the setup that an explanation is required? Frankly, I don’t think we need these awkward dissertations any longer. In most cases, with decent writing, the playing process is clear. Either the rules are sufficient or the person buying the book already knows what an RPG is. In addition, some rulebooks contain nicely written “example of play” passages that are much less cloying than the “What is an RPG?” chapters that I rarely, if ever, manage to get through. These “example of play” sections are often clear, fun to read, and can be threaded throughout a rulebook to include other helpful examples. Boo-yah.

I do understand that in some corners of the world, there are people buying GURPS or Savage Worlds or D&D having never heard of pen and paper RPGs. I also get that in some cases, a person might be new to the hobby, and the lovely little explanation could make all the difference between utter confusion and profound understanding. Fine: 1 in 100 RPG purchases, maybe. But for the most part, the RPG self-definition isn’t needed. It’s even demeaning, sometimes, because it seems as though the hobby needs to explain itself too much. I’d rather read an intro to the world and the mechanics, followed by a sample of play, and leave the “If you’ve never played a role-playing game” explanation buried in the appendix next to “What are dice?” and “There will be expansions, so start saving your money!”

Not to get too snarky, but I can’t imagine someone reading through a typical RPG book and simply waiting for dice to roll themselves or characters to materialize on the dining-room table. It’s just not that confusing. There are tons of subtleties and variations, of course, but the basic principle is clear. And when it isn’t, when someone has no clue what an RPG is, I doubt that most of the current “What is this that you are holding?” confessionals are going to make a big difference.

These days, it is very easy to listen to live play podcasts, to read descriptions online, or to simply communicate with friends. So, I don’t think the “What is an RPG?” passage makes sense any more. I’m not against them, of course, and when I run for RPG President that will not be my platform. However, I don’t think they are necessary, either. There are far better ways to introduce our excellent hobby to new players.

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Why Tweak an Established Setting?


Let's face it as a game master in a busy world, we don't have a lot of time to always come up with our own setting. To our rescue many times is the established setting. Sometimes even, the game has such a setting implied. Take the game I've been playing a lot of, The Savage World of Solomon Kane. The whole point of the game is to play in the setting of Solomon Kane. Of course other times, it's also the de facto standard setting for a system. In Traveller, the Imperium is such a setting. While you can play games outside that setting, all the rules and supplements are going to be based on it.

So with all the pressures of time and the wealth of information out there for established settings, why on earth would you want to even bother to tweak the setting?

First off, let's face it. If it's a good setting, then your players may have read all the material. Let me give an example. As a person who has played Traveller and run Traveller quite a bit, I have read most of the Classic Traveller material out there. Which means that if I was a player, I would likely have too much meta-game knowledge. As a good player, I would not try to have that influencing how I play my character. Still, I'm sure in small ways it might. As a GM, having a player like that could ruin what I'm trying to run. This can be especially true if the player has read things that you the GM hasn't read.

Second as GM, we do like to invent things. Which means we want to make our own mark on the world in question.

Third without knowing it, you are already tweaking an established setting. Yes that's right you are. Just by using the material, the GM and players are making their own interpretations of the material presented. Let's use a simple example, maybe the description for an NPC king says that he's sad about the death of his daughter. Now the material may give examples of how that's effected his kingdom. Still as GM, you will have to decide how that NPC may act in the front of the players if it's not already stated. All of which means your sad king may act differently than another GM's version of that same sad king. Congratulations, you have already tweaked your game and didn't know it.

So what sort of tweaks can you as the GM make easily?

• Change the Names of certain places.- Change the name of Inn or tavern or move where it is.
• Add/Change/Delete NPCs in the setting. - Maybe flesh our that sad king's adviser
• Add/Change/Delete monsters and their treasure.
• Flesh out locations

No matter what, you need to let the players know that just because they have read the material doesn't mean you haven't changed it in some way. This will prevent arguments in the future. One should always be on guard against fan boys and girls.

One word of warning. If you use an established setting, please don't expect your players to have read 60 pages of setting background. If you do, you will be disappointed. Create a one to two page summary if you can.

Just remember, it's your game and you get to do things you want to do. Using an established setting is just a jumping off point that prevents the GM from having to creating everything.

Update: I forgot to include a link back to original Blog Carnival Post. So, here it is.

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Weekly Blog Posts

Greetings. I want to let everyone know that after a long hard internal debate, I've decided that we will start posting some blog posts. Right now, we are looking at trying to get one in a week. This will be in addition to our Podcast episodes.

So why you ask are we going to be to doing this? To be truthful, I wanted to do some blogging again. I love doing the podcast but I thought writing a blog post now and again would be fun. I contemplated writing on other people's blogs, but I knew that I would only be able to write maybe one blog entry every week or so. I guess you could say I was worried about screwing someone else over. Then there was the fact that posting on another blog wasn't really helping out the Podcast. So, it seem logical to just do it right here.

Now long time listeners/readers of RPG Circus may note that I've said similar things before. And that is very true. Of course, in the past I was really concerned about if I was going to Post again to the Bone Scroll blog. Which I should admit was an option I considered again this time. It really all came down to what was good for the Podcast. Writing a blog article on RPG Circus every once in while can do nothing but help promote the podcast. Besides there are times that we do topics on the podcast and I'd like to expand something we have said there. Not to mention that sometimes this would be a good places to answer the some email comments we get.

At any rate, you can look forward to at least one blog post per week. Currently, I have at least 8 or 9 topics I want to write about. So that will take us a couple of months at least. As a matter of fact, you can expect the first such blog post sometime later today.

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Season 4 Episode 18 - Modify This!

Welcome to Season 4 Episode 18 of RPG Circus

Episode Topics

  • Who Should Be Bring New People Into the RPG Hobby
  • Modifiers and Scale
  • Maiming a Character

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Season 4 Episode 17 - You got Initative

Welcome to Season 4 Episode 17 of RPG Circus

Episode Topics

  • ENnie Award Winners (and how our predictions stacked up)
  • Initiative
  • Convention Etiquette (or how Jeff likes to Rant)

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Up in the Morning with the Rising GenCon 2012

One of the things I like about waking up early is seeing the city start to creep out of it's slumber. On the first day of GenCon 2012, one also gets to see the Convention Hall slowly come to life. Although I was up at 6am, there were already people there. There were the people that make the convention possible,such as convention hall janitorial staff and some of the GenCon convention staff. While the convention doesn't offically start for a few hours, there were even those that couldn't wait and were already hanging out. To be truthful, some have been there since at least yesterday.

As time passes, more and more people begin to wander the convention center. For me, I get a chance to see what has changed and what has remained the same. The last time I was here was in 2010. Which means at least for me, I haven't been in the areas that they were working on last time.

So what has changed since 2010? Well for one, the vendor hall is on the south side of the convention center. Not that this is news, after all it was there last year. Still it's wierd that the area near the Sky Walks is not crowded anymore, not something that will last long I'm sure. Where the vendor area use to be is where True Dungeon is. I've never done True Dungeon, It's just never been a major priority for me and to be truthful holds little intrest. But like all things, I say if it's your thing go for it. Another change is that almost everything is inside the convention hall this go around. In 2009 and 2010, some of the events were spread over several of the hotels. That's not to say some events are not there, but they are no longer in hotels not connected by skywalks. Which will be a good thing, if the rain they predict comes down. Finally, Will Call was much different this year. There seem to be many Will Call windows. I'm sure this was in response to the issues with Will Call they have had.

Still with all the things that change, much still remains the same. Many of my fellow geeks, gamers, and smart asses have come together to both enjoy and annoy each other. There will be LARPer, Cosplayers, Role-Players, Board Gamers, and other creative people crammed into the convention hall. While we may not understand each others collective hobby sometimes, we are all here under one roof. While we still find the stereo-typical gamer that public tend to think of when you mention gamer, many more are not so typical like there always has been.

Well, the Con awaits me. I will just leave you with this thought for now. As someone who survived the great witch hunt of the 80's, It's nice to be able to go into a restaurant and hear people talking about RPGs in public.

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Season 4 Episode 16 - Heroic Savage GURPS..

Welcome to Season 4 Episode 16 of RPG Circus

Episode Topics

  • GURPS,Savage Worlds, and Hero System Comparison
  • Game Selection for a Convention
  • Difference between a one-shot game and a Campaign game

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