Sunday, December 6, 2009

DM report from the first game of AD&D

Eight people met recently to play a game of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I had an unique opportunity to create a complete adventure for the first time, and foist it on a group of equally novice players. As novice as we are at this particular game, everyone in the group is a keen student of science fiction and fantasy stories. How could I create something unique when the game and system is one of the cornerstones of adventure cliches and tropes?

The answer: Embrace the cliche.

I don't have to dispel with the aged wizard, or the magic treasure vault, or the Rat King, or the mega-villain bent on control and destruction. These elements are my bread and butter; my mead and turducken, if you will.

I wrote a ancient back story then layered on a contemporary quest, one that would be interrupted by not one, but two side quests that would both aid and flavour the primary mission. Translation: Get the Macguffin, kill whatever gets in your way.

The first part of adventure is simple: Kill the baddies. If you won't go to them, they come to you. I had no idea how many targets seven first level characters played by noobs could deal with. I had no idea how quick people would pickup on the combat system, or how long it would take to play one round. So I scaled the targets. I started with one monster, then added another, continuing until people got the hang of it. Then they could explore a bit. When that was going nowhere, suddenly, more monsters!

The second part of the adventure was a puzzle. This was to challenge the players. It was a fairly simple puzzle, but could have taken seconds or hours to solve. The characters found multiple maps, each with information that only some could understand, with multiple languages and various race/class/alignment symbols. I drew up the maps before anyone rolled a character so I covered all the bases. Had the team not come with enough diversity to work the maps, the town was filled with helpful NPCS of all varieties. The puzzle wanted to be solved.

However maps had elements that were intentionally unclear and distracting. Adventurers must learn that maps don't always take you where you want to go, or describe the best way to get there. However the team worked the puzzle like pros, and the treasure was found! Among the treasure was the key to the next adventure, an enticement for those players wanting to continue.

Pro: Everyone got something to do and the plot kept the adventurers busy.
Con: While someone is doing something, others are siting on their hands. The adventurers never got a chance to pick a leader, team name, or make agreements on how to split the loot.

Win: For what I was prepared for, I was over-prepared for. NPCs had names, back stories, secrets and hints.
Tie: Because I designed part of the dungeon, and the players wanted to keep exploring, I felt obligated to let them, even if the plot gave up empty rooms.
Lose: For what I was unprepared for, I was really unprepared for. Never try to stock a magic shop on the fly.

Summary: Everyone had a good time, and most of the group will return for more. Now that the first game of noobs is done, and the initial quest closed, we can run the games more leisurely. Slower gameplay means more opportunities for role playing and more flexibility in decisions. The world can get a little bigger and player decisions will have a lasting impact on that world.

See you on the grid.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Best Days Ever

Continuing the story of exploration of a mysterious side of Geekdom we were naive about: RPGs.

The D&D night began with.... drum roll please.... a TURDUCKEN.

Not just any TURDUCKEN, it was SMOKED... ALL DAY.

We "piped" it in (Dr Haggis played guitar)! And then we ate incredible home-made Belgian chocolate-crammed birthday cake! We drank Mead!

Then we sat down and played Dungeons and Dragons like it was 1980.

I just don't know how much better a day can get, short of supernatural intervention (like, say, Doctor Who ringing the doorbell, or Spock materializing in the kitchen, or the point of a lightsaber suddenly cutting a ring out of the living room wall...)

Comparing our virgin flight with the Doctor Who RPG to our first foray in the realm of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (First Edition, circa 1979) is a leetle unfair as games go, since they were really different.

Both days, however, count as Best Days Ever so far as having fun goes.

But to outline how the game play was different:

- In DW we used rules only when they suited us, otherwise, it was all about characters and story (and, since the characters were us, and we played in an alternate version of our own backyard, it was uniquely compelling). In AD&D, it was a lot about the rules, combat, dice, tables and learning to map (by our design - we wanted it that way - we were re-creating the experience of First Time D&D in the 1980s).

- In DW we had an experienced Game Master, in AD&D Dr Haggis was extraordinarily prepared, but a n00b along with us (and this is by design too, we wanted us all in the same boat.)

- There were 5 of us (1 GM and 4 players) for DW, while there were 9 of us for D&D (1 DM and 8 players), which also had an effect on the dynamic:

It was easier for a group of 4 to make consensus decisions than a group of 8.

Talking about your character, and explaining what you're doing with some creativity, was fun with 4 players, but when there were 8 of us, in the (very justified) interests of time, the turn boiled down to: I move here, I try to hit X, I roll this.

Though, even despite the role-playing limitations, I felt I did get to know my character Vivianne a little better, and managing to carve out a character niche in the game for her, by rushing forward to inspect corpses, and preventing the pillaging of dead humans, that sort of thing (She's a Cleric and I portray her as sort of an undertaker/necromancer/CSI).

And the masterful story designed by Dr Haggis really did challenge us - just enough - to work together in combat, solve puzzles, and let us learn some valuable lessons :-). We slayed big rats and kobolds, aided an innkeeper, camped in the wrong place, had arguments, went shopping, used potions and cast spells.

In the end, our little band of adventures finished a clever quest to find and use a magical sextant, which, hopefully, will lead us to find the last artifact of the Paradox Veil...

Thank you SO much, Dr Haggis! You did a splendid job!

What this really boiled down to was that the DW game felt like a brief, shining moment of being a Doctor's Companion, while the AD&D game felt like a brief, shining moment of being 13 and playing D&D with friends.

Both missions, therefore, accomplished!

A toast to many more nights like this!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tales from the fourth dimention

From her blog, laugingmagpie recounts the experience of her first formal role-playing game, a Doctor Who adventure. Using the FASA rules from the mid-80's, friend in fandom mrdot2dot71828 set up a keen adventure inspired from dreams, and our noobish entrance into the world of pencil-and-paper rpgs.

I think as players we went in some unexpected and cool directions, and our GM both respected them and steered us back on course when needed. MrDot2Dot encouraged us gently to roleplay, to really do things in-character, but also knew it was our first game and let us find our comfort level.

[LaughingMagpie's Shiny Objects Blog]