Digital Changeling

September 27, 2011

Did You Notice?

Filed under: D&D,Games — Eva @ 6:18 pm

A lot of people seem to be shaken by Monte Cook’s suggestions for non-rolling perception systems in D&D. I find it kind of amusing, since my first reaction was: I’ve played that game, it’s called Trail of Cthulhu (aka the Gumshoe system).

Well, I haven’t played exactly that game. He’s actually suggesting something lighter than Gumshoe. The spirit is similar, since it encapsulates skills determining if you find stuff automatically based on whether you have them or not. It sounds like in Cook’s case, he’s trying to maximize immersion by limiting when the players pause to roll dice. This supports a very old school style of play that encourages players to interact heavily with their in-game environment. In the case of Gumshoe, I believe the design goals has more to do with successfully modeling PCs following the trail of a mystery. You may learn more or less about what’s going on based on how you attack the investigation, but the system guarantees that you won’t end up stuck because you missed all the clues (which is no fun for the players or GM).

The lack of rolling to find things in Gumshoe hasn’t hurt the achievement I felt when I found things or when we solved the mysteries, I promise. The thing I think folks might be missing is, it’s not like having a GM fudge rolls. You aren’t “just being given things,” you earned them by spending your character resources on those skills and not others. There’s still plenty of rolling to flee horrible monsters or to convince crazy people not to shoot you in Gumshoe. If you spend all your points being good at noticing stuff, it’s going to get rough when you need to run away!*

A system like the one Cook is recommending could easily be generalized with the existing skills in D&D to allow you to run more investigation focused plots. This wouldn’t require major rules re-balancing or new kinds of die rolls, just a change in how the GM interacts with their players. If you focus on giving PCs information based on the things they are good at (maybe which skills they have trained for example) you can give them a world with a lot of detail while making them each feel like they have different tools to use to understand it.

If you also follow the three clue rule you have a much better guarantee that your players get most of your clues. When they use those clues to their advantage they’ll feel great. When they can’t make heads or tails of them, you’ll have more avenues to feed them stuff that keeps them going in the right general direction. If you want to do mystery and tactical combat in a fantasy setting, it’s a win-win.


*This is a gross simplification. There are a lot of trade-offs when you build a Gumshoe character and it just isn’t possible to be good at everything. ;)

September 15, 2011

Buying In, It’s Worth a Try

Filed under: Games — Eva @ 7:51 pm

I’ve read a lot of articles on player buy-in and GM buy-in. Most of them focus on balancing people’s interest in game systems / settings / characters / disclosure of premises …. infinite variations of the idea that if people aren’t invested in the core of what they’re playing the game will suck. If people are into it the game it’ll be awesome. If there’s a major disparity in how much people in the group care, things will probably go poorly.

What bothers me is that people often assume buy-in is static. You either like the world or you don’t. You’re either hyped about the system or you’re not. Your character is either the best thing since sliced bagels or she’s more boring than a wet towel in a half filled hotel housekeeping cart.

This is silly and it sets you up for self-fulfilling prophecies.

Sometimes you’re going to love what’s going into a game, you’ve already bought in and that’s awesome. You have no problem! When buy-in is high your excitement forms a cycle. You’re really into this, so you spend time and effort on your part of the game (your character, plotting your next move, writing back story, etc.). You get more excited and chances are that other people will find what you’ve done cool too. They feel inspired and buy in further as well. The cycle repeats.

Sometimes a game / plot / system / character / party / etc. doesn’t inspire you. You’re feeling kind of blah about it. If you assume that buy-in is static, there’s no reason for you to spend time or effort on that game. You’ve decided that you’re never going to care about it any more than you do now. There’s no possibility for a cycle.

If other people are really into the game, maybe you’ll eventually get excited or maybe you’ll never buy in.

If you assume buy-in is non-static, when the game is at least ok and you’re feeling blah you should always make an initial push to spend effort and time on it. Write some extra back story, spend time learning about the game world, or conspiring with the other players about PCs’ plans. Things still might not click, but there’s a chance that you’ll kick start that cycle and you’ll find yourself really into a game you thought was hopeless. Your excitement will raise the general level of buy-in and the game will get better for everyone.

This is a no lose situation for you. You try to “get into the game” more and the game can only get better. You have all the same options you had before if the game doesn’t improve.

Even if I’m wrong and your personal buy-in model is static in some cases (for instance you will never be excited by some GMs or systems), it’s worth making that initial push if you think the game has any promise at all. At worst you spend a bit of time and effort to discover that a game’s really not for you. At best you turn a blah game into something great!

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