Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Whiskeyworld A Year Later

Original Rules and Source Document Found Here
PROLOGUE- I got asked to run a game after weeks of people going nuts over Mad Max so I thought that would be a welcome thing to shoot for. Avoiding going full Dark Sun meant the open ocean and a different kind of continuing apocalypse. I let the party design their own boat and they gave it beefy human Trogdor arms. I left a lot of this deliberately vague so I could fill it in as things came up but surprisingly little else did. The hard thing was remembering that since most of the fancy impressive DND races live to be super old there couldn't be any really super old elves or anything else like that, except occasionally and part of a bigger deal.

ABILITY SCORES- Much more forgiving generation than I usually do but playing to my audience.

RACES- I had been reading a lot of Arnold at the time so I struck Darkvision down and replace it with a feat. Trying to rebalance humans after that was a nightmare, first I way overdid it, then I scaled them all the way back to their default shape, then I think they ended up just a mess. Nobody tried to be a special weird race and nobody tried my new race alternatives. I was going to use some material I wrote a long time ago for the Mancrafted but I never got to the meat of that. I did make one custom race for a player who wanted to join but between my last minute cancellations and her last minute cancellations that never happened. Nobody brought me a 3rd party or DIY race to use.

CLASSES- I had a sorcerer who did not use my Wild Magic rules and a druid who would only occasionally forget that being a shark wouldn't keep her from taking damage but it was almost never an issue. Nobody went anywhere near any of these other classes. Nobody brought me a 3rd party/DIY class or asked for a custom thing.

ALIGNMENT- This never came up. Once you say "Don't be shitty and play your guy well" most people do not care about alignment either.

LANGUAGES- I wanted to test this out but nooooooobody remembered to do this. I even forgot about making this rule. So much for that.

BACKGROUNDS- I think half the party picked Pirate at first? Lot of swapping out though so maybe one guy still has it. Nobody made a custom background, brought in a 3rd party or DIY background, or asked me to make one. I was going to try to reinforce these with not only the aborted Goals system but also a deck of character Secrets they earned during downtime. Once the game went wholly online this became harder to remember to do so I just abandoned that plan. I need to write up the secret deck though.

ENCUMBRANCE AND GEAR- The money adjustment - why? That was sillier than Goals, just an attempt to suggest scarcity but not provide it. These other rules are a mix of LotFP and like Knights of the Old Republic and they are presented awkwardly but work fine. Nobody was way overpowered or over prepared at first level, it went fairly quickly.

MULTICLASSING and FEATS never figured in. I think the characters are only now level 4 or 5? I think they're 5. There was nut much mucking about with either and no issues arose.

SPELLS had a rule about how I didn't want to just strike cantrips (I should have) but wanted to cut down on a level 1 party potentially all having Gun Fingers. Don't think anyone took me up on it.

INITIATIVE went okay. It was not what most were used to but they adjusted. Especially once we moved online it helped keep things ordered.

SKILLS AND COMBAT well fuck me let's go down the list, eh? First one is a thing I took from Zak and then immediately at the table decided that unless I changed other things in the game to match this it would be too weird and unwieldy.  The Stealth bit I nicked from Arnold and then everyone including me forgot about it. Both of these I think are a consequence of everyone playing much more 5e outside this game. Few people at the table actively sought out new systems but if we had begun with a brand new system I think they would have adjusted fine. It was because I was using these rules as a test case against a system they already knew and one that mostly worked. Oh right the crit deck, nobody used the crit deck. I should have just thrown it away or made it a mandatory draw, "this is how crits work" rule.

DEATH section is a minor adjustment to make getting knocked to 0 more deadly in a battleground or dungeon. When characters dropped to 0 they were usually rescued before this happened. One character died-died but the party had found a wishing potion so she's fine now.

LIFESTYLE, DOWNTIME, CAROUSING, WATCHES Oh boy. Roll up roll up and see me not only make Carousing overly complicated but also tie it to XP bonuses riiiight before I try to completely change the XP system. Also check out the silly mini game I made for Watches and then plunked into this thing. In less than a page this went from Fury Road to the Boy Scouts. So yes nobody ever really went carousing because they were mostly away from civilization for the last year of sessions (8 or 9) and nobody bothered setting watches because they were usually in the same place for much of that time: on an island surrounded by friendly and communicative bears. Elsewhile they were on the ship surrounded by employees to set on watch. ALSO I think I mentioned already - one of the characters was a robot.

THE GOALS SYSTEM Ok

Okay.
o      k   a  y      .

THIS went balls fast.

FACT the 5e and late era dnd XP-tied-to-kills/defeats (as in you can murder the goblins or win them over with a baking contest but the xp lies in making them not an impediment) schema is not one I love. FACT the XP-for-treasure schema (which is ideally meant to encourage exploration and preparation and caution but turns sometimes less into where is the game meat, what would our guys do, and more where is the next level up at) is something I'm fine with really but which most of my players don't dig. FACT a lot of them played under "you level when I tell you" in a previous campaign (the Encounters/AL stagger model) as I have and I was never a fan.

So instead of doling out XP for showing up to a session or discovery/investigation/risk like Call of Cthulhu or Unknown Armies, or for showing up over time like Savage Worlds, or making advancement resource based like Feng Shui, or tying it to RP requirements like Encounter Critical, or whatever else, I decided to....basically take all of the above and put my players on the honor system.

If you're obsessed with coin and we get a haul ask if you can check off a goal. Set yourself a goal to learn every first level Wizard spell and tick things off as you find them around the world. Enter a drinking contest alone while everyone else is doing fightings. Ramble through the world interacting tightly during the big scenes but being more spread out and having more focused interactions or threads of isolated progression. Menda can get XP for getting girlfriends, Saxon can get XP for acquiring power and respect, Anne can get XP for freeing/healing/rescuing animals, etc. Put it in their hands so I can just run the game and never think about their concerns again. Maybe it wouldn't work as a general rule but I trust these people and I know they can put it together.

And they could have. But everybody was afraid of abusing the system or afraid they didn't understand it. So I added the clarifications that are there now. Still no luck.

Before those clarifications Scrap Princess shared the page with special focus on my amazing advancement system and then she and I got into it with Zak a little about how vague and story gamey and untenable this was. I promised both of them (and others) I would report back on how things went. It went not very well. I think simply providing multiple Advancement techniques for them to individually choose might have worked basically identically without the ambiguity of the Goals system. Or I could have just had them nut up and deal with GPXP. Maybe then we wouldn't be here a year later with their salvage company having recovered exactly 4 pieces of salvage.

There's something here that can work. This doesn't work. And I learned a lot from it. For a while there I simply tracked the party's Goal progress myself. With 4 weeks or more between sessions it was a lot to expect people to maintain track of. Life happens in between, nobody needs to retain that kind of thing. It's not practical, they have names and phone numbers to remember. Over time, though, with players unable to attend and rescheduling and canceled games popping up (more frequently after the move) I just started letting them level when I felt like it. It's not tied to anything apart from whether I feeeeel like they're leveling too fast and then I slow it down a little.

It's one of many ways in which I've evidenced unworthiness of the trust placed with me. I got actually asked to run this game and for their trouble I've just made them guinea pigs to half experiences and never even drew a proper map for the bear island.

WHAT HAPPENED

The party fucked right out of the big hub city and took a gladiator bear back home to die, because here bears rise anew in the spring. The island itself was all fucked up thanks to invading pirates who had demon pig disease, cursed rivers, telephones to space future, madness, spiritual unrest, monsters passing as people, an awoken ancient evil who seemed way more dangerous than he was, and a vault which could have wrecked the world. The party killed a small demon, summoned and enslaved one demon, and fought another one. There were bear fights but there were way more pig fights. The characters all left the island finally changed in some way with the island itself basically ruined. It is currently home to an army of not-dead pig-morphing monster men and their pirate boar king who rides an enormous demon boar who grew out of a snake demon woman's back. Elsewhen during the year there were fights with seagull sirens, autoghuls, weird teleporting creatures dressed like metal gargoyles, a big bunch of potions, 100 skeletons, deadly balls, the horse god of sucking at things, the broken promise of gorilla sex, and about 23 mysteries they do not very much care about (I doubt they even realize they are mysteries and not just things they don't care about). They have a lot of dangerous magical shit and a whole load of money.

WHAT HAVE I LEARNED

Looking back I don't know if there was one session where I really gave anyone my best. I was harried changing jobs then I was harried changing location and now I'm just harried. I haven't had my feet under me and they have had to settle for a lesser game, a game already burdened with my weird experiments getting in the way.

But they are having fun. B- me isn't too bad I guess. I have much about the world at large still to share with them but they're honestly not asking any questions about it so I'm not forcing my lore. I've gotten them into a proper dungeon here and there. They're solving things with their brains and with judicious application of money and tools and occasionally I make them fight actual monsters.

The scheduling difficulties mean in the months we play we end up playing close to 6 hours. It's not a lot to ask to some gamers but it's a lot for my group. Even if they could all meet more regularly now a year later I am currently in a place where I can't. I suspended the game until I am able to get back to Atlanta. Right before doing so I had a fantastic few ideas about a couple potential big moves so I really do want to get to those one day. I wonder if I'll be able to.

I can say that while they appreciate my style and the work I put in and all that jazz all the "let me make this special" shit I tacked onto the game has sat like a medicine ball in a rubber sheet. These gals and dudes would have had just as much fun with a more standard D&D setup. That's fine. Maybe eventually I'll do that. They already have the key to that experience and don't know it. But I absolutely made a blunder with this whole page. A lot of DMs make the mistake of demanding their players know a big book of campaign background. Some DMs make the mistake of thinking the adventure they want to run can only work like they want in some byzantine customized system where everyone has to learn new complex methods at the start and keep learning as they go. I just tried to make 5e feel like a new game but having to keep two sets of rules in mind for most important game elements means my sleek sports car game really just looked like the car Homer designed.

Finally I always hoped that somewhere in the interim I would have run some Whiskeyworld games online. That never happened. If I return to this with my extant players then maybe some day the outgrowth games will happen. Otherwise probably not.