Month: June 2019

Christ and the Dice #2: My Current Game (a brief overview)

I have played in and run many games, and many types of games, over the years. From high fantasy to low, from games of nobles intriguing to pirates at sea, I have been on a star-ship crew and run with a coterie of vampires, vast epics and simple one shots, and everything in between. And drawing from all of those gaming experiences I feel that I can safely say that my favorite type of game is an Epic Good Guy game in a fantasy setting.

While I have had a lot of fun with most games I have played in and run, nothing seems to beat running an epic story with a diverse party of good guys—which is why I am enjoying my group’s current game so much. I am running a largely high fantasy game, set in our home brewed world, using D&D 3.x (plus our house rules).

The world we are playing in is one that several of my friends and I started working on more than two decades ago. It is a collaborative effort that several of us have continued to this day. (We still haven’t named it, we just call it the Composite World.)

The game so far has taken place on a continent named Oirth, in and around the Empire of Torell. The party has four members, three of whom are from Torell; the fourth is from far away. They are all some flavor of Good for their alignments and spend more time, in character, worrying about doing good than they worry about getting loot.

The nominal leader of the party is Van, a half-elf paladin/priest following the god of knowledge. This character is interesting to me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is both of his parents were half-elves. His father was born full human, but he drank from a magic pool that turned him into a half-elf. Also both his father and his mother were PCs in a previous campaign, and his father’s parents were PCs in a game before that!

Van’s “wife” is Xu, a warrior monk from a powerful and rich nation state known as Cho, which is far away from our empire. The word wife is in quotes because in the back story they developed, it was decided that Van and Xu traveled together in a great caravan and at one point came upon a village where, unknowingly, they met the requirements to be husband and wife by the village’s customs. So they had to agree that they were married (that is all that it took there, no ceremony needed). And since then, Van, being a religious and honest type has presented them as married, while Xu keeps denying it, providing some amusing comic relief.

Shrike is a human wizard/rogue, and was a friend of Van’s from their youth. Though he largely grew up on the streets, he hasn’t let that turn him from the path of good. It could be because his master, the wizard who taught him how to control his magic, was gentle but adamant about doing the right thing. And while he is definitely a good guy, he seems to be the most interested in worldly riches. And spell books, always spell books.

Our final party member is Raif the halfling bard/druid. He was raised in small village in Bain’s Hope Forest, a large forest in Torell, and he grew up interacting with the fey, elves, and the immortal human Bain, whom the forest is named for. This has made for a character who is largely innocent, devoutly good and, until he began adventuring with our party, very naive about “civilization”. He may have a touch of fey blood in his lineage, or maybe it’s a bit of dragon blood, but there is something a little otherworldly about him. And he travels with a big celestial dog named Loup. I should mention that Loup is a Very Good Dog, just ask Raif, or wait a few minutes and he will tell you.

The characters who already knew each other met Raif in the backstory we developed for the game. This happened when Raif ran into them while they were trying to deal with an evil sorcerer who was despoiling the forest Raif called home. After a spring, a summer and a fall of adventuring together to defeat this vile evil, they wintered in a village on the edge of the forest, which is where and when the game proper began.

The story started out simple enough, with a lieutenant of the empress’s own guard asking them to investigate a missing agent in a relatively nearby but hostile kingdom, Kand. They traveled to the nearest port city, Serrael, and took a sail to the capital of Kand, where they encountered the blatant bigotry of a very xenophobic nation. It quickly became apparent that they didn’t like this nation. While there they fought some giant spiders in a nearby forest, and in town they defeated a couple of evil fighters, one of which was being influenced by an evil intelligent sword.

The party was able to establish an underground branch of the empire’s church through some few faithful who lived there. They were attacked by the secret police, though they were not identified. Through some subterfuge and careful planning, they were able to rescue the agent, and his wife, and smuggle them out of the kingdom and back to home.

During their adventures in Kand, they recovered a very old set of full plate from their home empire, and decided that they should try to return it to the family, if any remained. They also formed a profitable mushroom import business (it was a cover that paid off handsomely). Also in Kand they began to get the first clues that the Servants of Sutek (an evil god) were active again.

On their way home they took care to drop the evil sword in the deep ocean. And upon their return from Kand they spent a week resting at a very nice upscale inn, on the empire’s coin. They took this down time to learn some spells, identify some magic items and to spend some gold.

As their rest week came to an end our intrepid adventures were approached by a high ranking member of the church, and asked to travel far to the north, across the sea to the land of Hest. They knew that Hest was a region that had supplied raiders and conquerors who had harried and fought the empire for centuries so they were cautious. But the bishop revealed that he had learned about a cache of books from many centuries ago that were reported to be extant somewhere in the vast lands of Hest and he wanted the characters to find and recover them if possible.

Of course the paladin Van, being clergy of the church, and a paladin, agreed immediately, and the rest of the party quickly joined in, perhaps due to the promise of glory and a respectable reward.

On their way to Hest they were able to find the family that the full plate armor belonged to and returned it to much fanfare and gratitude, and they also defeated a band of river pirates. It turns out that they really don’t like pirates.

They are currently in Hest, far from home and trying to deal with peoples who do not like them and whose languages they only barely understand. In the course of this quest, they have continued to encounter the priests and followers of Sutek, adding to the growing evidence that something dark is afoot. They have also helped marry a couple of young loves who were running away from their warlike families (the druid performed the ceremony). They have fought trolls, various outsiders, undead, and more. And they have had an interesting conversation with a fairy lord.

Our last game left them at the city of Hvammr, a city founded a little over a century ago, by a warlord sorcerer, who, according to legend, disappeared a decade or two after founding the city. The city was abandoned around the time the sorcerer disappeared but is a magnet for treasure hunters.

Since entering the city they have fought more Servants of Sutek and a party of treasure hunters who were not the friendliest. And they have met a young child-like being who they believe to be the spirit of the city.

And then half of my gaming group had to go to Origins Game Fair, so I didn’t get to game this past weekend. But we should be picking up the story this weekend and I am hoping to drop some more clues about what the Servants of Sutek are up to, if we get far enough.

RPG-ology #19: Treasure Auction

This is RPG-ology #19:  Treasure Auction, for June 2019.


A recent article by Michael Garcia, Treasure Division:  A Case Study From Northumbria, got me remembering treasure division from the past.  I was in quite a few games, and we had quite a few ways of doing it.  In more than one group, the party leader decided who got what, and tried to keep everyone happy while ensuring that useful objects went to the party members who could most benefit the party with them.  One of the groups tried a method recommended in one of the Original Dungeons & Dragons™ rulebooks that involved rolling dice, with higher level characters rolling more dice and henchmen rolling fewer, which one of the groups tried once or twice at least; I might have modified it for their use.  At least one party regarded every object property of the party, and it wasn’t given to you but put in your care for you to use for the benefit of the party, to be returned if you left the party or died.  These are all interesting and useful methods, but with one party I needed a very different method–and as party leader, I found one, which some of the players loved and others hated.

First, the party situation should be backgrounded.  My character was hired to go on a mission, promised a few thousand gold coins and permission to keep anything we obtained along the way other than the object we were to retrieve.  I hired seven people of different races, classes, and alignments to be part of that mission, promising each of them a specific share of what we obtained–two of them, whom I hired to be my lieutenants, were to receive larger shares than the others.  The mission took more than a week but less than two, if I recall correctly, and we recovered the object and a few thousand in cash, plus something approaching two hundred objects some of which were obviously useful for some characters (e.g., swords and other weapons) and others of which might be either worthless or strange magic artifacts.  It fell to me to find a way to divide these fairly, and there were a few items that certain characters particularly wanted.  I also faced the fact that once the treasure was divided the characters would also divide, and if there were another mission it would fall on someone, probably me, to hire a team for it, and up to them whether to accept my offer.

My solution was to hold an auction.

Because there was no loyalty and my character did not use magic, it was stated up front that no one was permitted to use any magic such as detect spells on any of the objects prior to distribution.  Just because the wizard says something is not magical does not mean he isn’t intending to buy it cheap and sell it to someone else.  Only hired members of the party were permitted to bid, or to be present during the bidding.

I organized the items in what I thought made sense as the least to most valuable, given what could be told by looking at them.  I then divided the cash between the party members according to their promised portions, and put the first item on the table.  I had prepared myself by jotting down for each object what my character would give as the opening bid (and if no one else bid, it defaulted to me for that amount), and how high I was willing to bid for objects I particularly wanted.  Everyone else could then bid in an open auction until there was a highest bid no one would overcall.  That person then paid the amount into the pot and received the item, and we moved to the next.

As auctioneer and party leader, I would periodically decide that the pot had grown large enough that I should divide it according to the proportions promised each party member, partly so that they would have cash to keep bidding.  I knew (but had not anticipated) that several of them had borrowed money from non-player characters so they could bid high on objects they particularly wanted, so the pots got rather large sometimes.

The logic of the system is that every object we obtained went to whatever character placed the highest value on it, or at least within the bounds of their funds, and for at least the value of the person who put the second highest value on it.  Objects thus went to the people who thought them most valuable, and everyone was compensated for the value of every object, having tacitly agreed that it was not worth more than that.  The people who love the system love it for that reason.

Of course, auctioning almost two hundred objects among eight players was an extended bit of roleplaying.  With interruptions for the shenanigans of some of the player characters, it took most of three game sessions to complete, and people who don’t like the system generally remember that “waste of time” and the tensions of trying to bid high enough to get the objects they really wanted.

I swear by it, and whenever I’m the party leader I use it; I’ve been in games where others from that game or even others who heard about that game think that the auction is the best way to divide treasure objects.  I’ve also known at least one gamer who won’t play in a game if the auction system is going to be used, but I’m not sure his absence is all that much of a loss.

I would be interested in how your parties divide treasure.


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Battle Among the Hill Ruins

This tale follows from the events of Tracks on a Moonless Night.


Image by Iwona Olczyk from Pixabay

Background

Sir Garrett of House Winchester and his retinue have been in the region around Blackwater Lake for months now, searching for Sir Garrett’s lost ancestral estate, named Falconridge, which once lay somewhere near the shores of the lake. After several adventures and misadventures, the Winchester party is now split into several groups.  Several members of the retinue are down south in the bustling city of Yarrvik, while others remain at Blackwater Keep or the nearby village of Lakesend. One remained near the ruined Temple of Pholtus, which the party recently explored. The rest of the Winchesters and their new unlikely allies, about two-dozen pilgrims of Pholtus, were to advance on the abandoned temple in force.  The Winchesters were to serve as an advanced guard that would lie in wait, hoping to flank the evil forces that would certainly attack the pilgrims of Pholtus, who formed the main body.  However, this plan derailed when dozens of strange, robed men ambushed the Winchesters in their forest camp at night, dragging off Master Gimlet and an allied man-at-arms named Brother Marcel.

After the battle, the Winchesters regrouped. Garrett sent three of his companions with all the horses toward the temple, where they hoped to meet up with the pilgrims. Meanwhile, Garrett, Alinachka, Brother Rolf, Ragnar, and Brother Carloman spent an hour plowing through the forest at night, following the enemy’s tracks and searching for their missing comrades. A small band of dark-robed figures ambushed this small group at a steep ravine, killing Brother Carloman and wounding several others. Several cultists slipped away during the fighting. Frustrated, the Winchesters continue the pursuit.

From the DM

I waffled on whether or not to lead the PCs to one of the villains’ lairs, where conversions are typically done. I decided that this would push them too far off course so instead I allowed the party to catch up to the captors and to rescue their companions. If the party is astute, they’ll realize that the fast-moving villains had ample time to escape. Just what did they do to the captives, and why did they allow the captives to be rescued? Next session, the PCs may be in for a surprise. Read more

Faith in Play #19: Simulationism

This is Faith in Play #19:  Simulationism, for June 2019.


One of the complications of discussing whether what’s called “simulationism” in Ron Edwards’ Big Model is that even Ron Edwards has had trouble figuring out what it is.  We have looked at gamism and narrativism, and decided that there are Christian values in those approaches to play, even if there are also pitfalls.  Yet if we’re going to consider simulationism, we’re going to have to understand what it is.

As I covered in the third part of Theory 101 for Places to Go, People to Be some years back, Creative Agenda (or the French translation Théorie 101 – 3e partie : Les propositions créatives), simulationism is driven by the desire to learn, to know, to experiment and understand.  That’s why it seems to have so many expressions–from the players who have their characters leap off cliffs because they have calculated that the fall won’t be fatal to those who become involved in the minutiae of combat to those who explore geography and culture.  Simulationism is expressed in other activities, in participating in war reenactments, watching travelogues and cooking shows, even taking college courses as a recreational activity.  For many people, the drive to know is what controls the way they play their games.  It is something of a vicarious experience, the feeling of being there, and so coming away with some notion of what it would be like to be there.

Simulationism is walking a mile in the other man’s shoes.  It is exploring what life would be like in another time or place.  It is learning, gaining knowledge.

I once had a debate with my brother in which he put forward as a premise that knowledge was inherently good, and that it was always good for knowledge to be disseminated to as many people as possible.  I objected to the premise.  Knowledge, I asserted, was a useful tool which could be used for good.  I think that is where this discussion ultimately takes us:  how will we use the knowledge we gain from our play, our experimentation, our vicarious experience?

That doesn’t mean that such play, such motivation, is wrong if we can’t identify the benefit before we play.  Scientists (and there’s a simulationist motivation if ever there was one) speak of the importance of “basic research”, that is, experimenting in directions with no immediate obvious value because when you don’t know what you might learn you can’t predict how it might be useful.  Many of our modern conveniences have their roots in someone simply wanting to know what would happen if, and then asking how that could be used.  Learning has value, even when we don’t always see the value immediately.  The high school student who challenges that he’s never going to need to know the math or science or history lessons he is forced to learn is short-sighted, and life will probably surprise him at some point.  Not everything we learn is useful, but it is often the case that we learn useful things from unexpected sources.

There are pitfalls in this.  Sometimes we want to know some things that it is better not to know.  We have all heard the idea that you “can’t unsee” something, and there are undoubtedly things you wish you’d never learned.  That doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t have learned them–only that sometimes what we know is not always an encouragement to us.  We would like to keep our minds always on the good, pure, honorable, of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise, but then, we are also to be wise as serpents while being innocent as doves.  Maybe there are things you don’t need to know, that would tear down rather than build up–I am persuaded that I don’t need a comprehensive knowledge of horror movies, although I do need a working knowledge of some of the important ones (Poe, Shelley, Stoker, Alien, Terminator) just to do my job.  Maybe you need to know more; maybe you don’t need to know as much.  Yet learning is valuable, and simulationism is about wanting to learn.

So we find once again that Christians can find value in all three of the “creative agenda” that drive our play.  It’s just a matter of understanding how to do this to the glory of God and the edification of ourselves and others.


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