Monday, May 18, 2015

If I Haven't Scared You Off With The SAT Essays, Let's Play Some D&D

One thing I've been doing a lot lately is not playing games. I want that to change and I think it will on Mondays, soon, but I've had a couple people approach me separately about running a 5e game for them, buttering up my ego something good. So I've been considering it. And I have some ideas. BUT I've known these people for a long time and played with them and, yeah, DM'd for them before, but never for an extended period of time. 6 weeks tops. So I'm giving a couple of people this little questionnaire. On the odd chance that this is more broadly applicable or useful to others, I'm putting it here.

  1. I like a deadly campaign. I never deliberately try to kill anyone as a DM but I like setting up boxes for people to get stuck in, or back into. I think this makes for a more exciting game with higher stakes and I think it makes accomplishments worth more. I prize this as a player as well, usually having several backup characters. All that said I don't want a slaughterhouse. I just thing failure is also the game. How deadly do you like your games? Safe as houses are difficult like a NES side scroller?
  2. I like a game where the characters begin relatively small in the world in terms of power. Even for a superhero game these demigods never kick things off as the baddest guys and gals on the block. I want true power to come from how the game is played, and for how long, and how smartly, rather than simply loading someone down with magic powers at the beginning of the game and shoveling on more as you level. Yet I've also made people permanently fireproof at level 3 if it makes sense. That said while I like running David/Goliath games I tend to play in games where the DM wants everybody to be Goliath. How powerful do you like to be in your games?
  3. I like for a lot of individual elements in my games to be fairly simple, becoming more unique as time goes on, or as each new facet is revealed through play. This extends to the characters I run for and play. The characters I most remember from fellow players began play as dirt simple creatures who became more individual and specialized through play, as their players felt them out. That's always been my favorite thing about playing my own guys, the things I've discovered along the way that I never would've thought of ahead of time. This even extends to my feelings on classes and races, but more on that later. How unique do you like for your player characters to be?
  4. I like for the world in my games to be dangerous. Dungeons have traps, natural hazards exist...the more comfortable players and PCs are the less reason they have to do anything, and the safer they are and the lower the stakes the more that decisions can feel interchangeable. I do think that critting a guy with a big sword should usually kill him in low level play or come close to it, just like running someone through with a sword would do to you and me. Same with drowning, falling off a cliff, acid pools, wild animals, bandits on the highway....Some D&D worlds are relative safe havens like Camelot or Hogwarts where the danger penetrares, and some D&D worlds are like 4th edition's setting, with very few places of light and safety in a big dark wood chipper of a world. How dangerous do you like your world to be?
  5. We've had elves, dwarves, Hobbits, gnomes and stuff in D&D for so long that we've become accustomed to them, but I like it when those things are still somewhat strange, alien, even distrusted by the wider world because they're part of a wider magical world than the average person'll meet a bunch as an adventurer because your job is going to exotic places and meeting strange people, but they shouldn't just be like "they come from South Carolina instead of Atlanta" normal. This extends by degrees to the other stranger races and classes. It shouldn't be a matter of course to see a bird person. This is part of why I also reskin the crap out of Monster Manual entries when I do use them: it's important for something to feel stranger and more new than "Oh, page 137, neat." I like making magic a truly arcane process with fairy tale logic and some gross out to the rituals. How strange do you like your games?
  6. I do like a bit of grossness in my games like I just mentioned. Horrible mutations. Nonviable lifeforms. Vestigial parts. Rancid maggoty decay. Foul stenches. The violence really giallo and over the top gory. This stuff can be pretty gross in real life but I find that, since these kinds of things are easier to imagine for people, it makes the mental picture of a scene more vivid. I understand of course that everyone has their own limits, and what they consider limits to good taste. How gross do you like your games?
  7. I like for the world, my monsters, and my villains, to be scary. I don't know that I ever truly achieve this but I like to try to imbue them with real horror. I don't know that I can ever truly scare a player but I like for them to be creeped out a little with the way I skin and describe my creatures. I also like using a lot of traditional horror imagery even more than a lot of high fantasy imagery, and even so-called cosmic horror imagery, although I have an internet-bred aversion to the word tentacle. How horrible do you like your game to be?
  8. I've said this already but I like the wider world to be more unusual, more unknown, than not. To me, dealing with the beyond is more interesting when it's really beyond you, not a known quantity. This extends to something like a displacer beast even; I prefer to describe the creature and see what the players make of it without just going "Here's four displacer beasts!" I also like seeding in little branching plots and riddles and stuff that runs in the background. It's a private game I play with myself, seeing if players notice this stuff and what they make of it. How mysterious do you like your games to be?
  9. I like a world where the ancient kingdoms are the largest, and none of those include human kingdoms. I like a world where the human world is small and, outside of a few larger, sprawling cities, are mostly represented by small little towns and villages, and all of these are few and far between. It makes getting anywhere more of a meaningful journey and allows space for more choices to be made along the way. I also prefer these kingdoms to be fairly enlightened by modern terms, in their attitudes toward race and gender equality. Racism and sexism are just gross is all. How civilized do you like your games to be?
  10. I am not above putting in some advanced cultures, crazy forethinking wizard experiments, or Gods of Machines in my campaigns. In general, though, I like a fairly low-tech, lower-magic world. It makes being a wizard a bigger deal if every asshole town you meet doesn't have its own level 4 conjurer. I also think it makes the interactions with the world and its dungeons more interesting to use simpler tools, using them for complex solutions. Simple building-to-complex is a theme for me, but I see the appeal of airships and trains. How advanced do you like your characters and world to be?
  11. There's a term in RPGs named after a game show host who gave out cash prizes for just finding a bobby pin on command and silly things like that: A Monty Haul. Every DM, I think, EVERY DM, has had trouble at some time balancing treasure with game difficulty and party expectations. Players want magic stuff, and magic stuff is cool to have in your game, and you need a certain amount of gold to do anything you want to do in a game. I like the so-called Domain rules in old D&D for example, where you build your own kingdom from the ground up. However too much gold removes money from even being a concern, and too much magic just creates a pile the players are bored with. How much reward do you like in your games?
  12. Some people like games where they level every other session, and some people like to just get to Super Power level as quickly as possible and just bat down any threat lazily. I like seeing players fight for their levels and their powerful rewards, but I do not want to reduce to game to a grind at any point. Old school games balanced this with their gold=xp mechanic, where greater risk always led greater reward, meaning the more dragons you killed the faster you leveled. Newer editions just bake that in with hard values, but it can still take longer. None of this even touches on how quickly the plot moves, both obviously and behind the scenes. How quickly do you want your campaigns to move?
  13. How much of a story reward do you like to see when completing a quest? In terms of intangible, non-currency, non-magical rewards, what do you prefer? Literal get out of jail free cards? Land? Titles? Boyfriends? Given two equally tasty prospects are you more inclined to choose a reward they offered (a pre-set reward) vs. one you negotiate (fulfilling your own desires)?
  14. There are games where every house has multiple magic devices, even if they're just sunrods or firestarters. There are games where something like a sunrod would be enough to inspire wonder. I'm fine throwing magic stuff all over the place, to be found if you look for it or earned if you try for it, but I don't like having magic just be technology. If you find a Flaming Sword, you've likely found THE Flaming Sword, as far as you know. There's no shopping for a Flaming Sword, or a +1 Sword, and I hate +1 Swords for that matter, if that's all they do. Same goes for scrolls and spellbooks and stuff. I also like for about 25% of magic items found to be magic in that they are CURSED items. How common do you want the 'technology' of magic to be in your game?
  15. Do you prefer to adventure in the city, in the wilderness, or in a dungeon?
  16. Would you prefer to act in the service of a god, a king, or the common man?
  17. What would attract you to a quest more: riches and reward, accomplishing a goal within the story and world, or accomplishing a personal goal as a character or player?
  18. I care very much about encumbrance, equipment, travel rates, and light during play, but I rarely enforce anything draconianly. What would you most prefer I be chill about?
  19. I screw with basically everything in my games. I tinker and can't leave well enough alone. What would you prefer I leave alone the most? That is, alter the least or not restrict? Races, Classes, Spells, or Feats? What of those would you like to see custom options for the most?
  20. Oldschool games like I tend to run a lot (and now 5e in the bargain) treat death in very gameable terms as not an insurmountable consequence. That's one of the reasons I don't mind character death and lethal dungeons: you can always pop right back from stone death. Some people don't like this aspect of older games, feeling it devalues the story, meaning that death should be a more permanent thing. There are entire games written about this. How do you like death to feel in your games?
Understand above all else that I will screw with everything in the game in the name of keeping things moving and having less shit to mess around with at the table. Understand also that like life every D&D game is a work in progress, so some of this may change over time as we try new things.