Friday, October 31, 2014

This Week in Gaming

It's been a full month since I posted one of these, but little or no actual gaming happened in October until this past week, so we'll call it a week. 

Because it's All Hallows Eve:
Some things to listen to...
Horror is not a genre I am into most of the time. While I certainly include elements that may be considered "horrific" in my games, those tend from a desire for a slightly realistic world--thus violence may be graphic, rape and torture are used as tools of war, and psychological damage occurs--than from any enjoyment of frightening people or being frightened. In fact, I can not be frightened, as my amygdala has been seriously damaged since I was a small child (my brain-damage assisted fearlessness puts paladins to shame).
All of that said, certain classic horror writers are just good writers, and I can certainly appreciate good poetry and prose. Given that I'm tied to a desk for long hours every day, good writing that is read aloud and piped through my headphones is even better. So, I was quite pleased to find a giant pile of H.P. Lovecraft and the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe as free audio-downloads. The latter especially pleases me, as I have many fond memories of reading the complete works of Poe to my younger siblings (5 and 7 years younger than me) as bed-time stories back when I was in late elementary/middle school.
I take no responsibility for lasting psychological damage caused by dramatic bed-time readings of The Pit and the Pendulum and The Fall of the House of Usher to kindergarteners...
Regarding Video Games:
Finished: Kingdom Hearts
As stated previously, I like cute and silly in my video games, and this delivered. My son is really Disney obsessed right now and I very much look forward to sharing the game with him as soon as he can read enough to follow it. Unsurprisingly from a game intentionally designed to ride on the coattails of multiple pre-existing franchises, the game was basically devoid of new ideas. The "Keyblade" however, does give me a fun idea for a magic item to drop in my current game at some point.
Started: Kingdom Hearts re: Chain of Memories
Started this last night. It's a sequel to the above, so I don't expect much other than some light-hearted downtime activity. Only 1 hour in though, I am already pleasantly surprised by the card-based exploration mechanic...
The short version is that the player collects cards throughout the game. Every time the player opens a door, he gets to play one of those cards--which determines what he'll find behind that door. Similar to random dungeon generation, but put into the hands of the player--so (s)he gets to pick whether the next area is teeming with monsters, packing rare treasure, gives hen some terrain or combat advantage, or is a blank room with no threats and a save-point (place to rest). I'm really tempted to try something like this the next time I run a random dungeon--give the players control, not necessarily of the actual rooms or encounters, but of the order in which they tackle those rooms and their geographic relationship to each other (maybe hand everyone at the table a pile of geomorphs and make them take turns laying them down whenever they reach an edge). Could be a fun change of pace...
Recommended Reading:
Another new one in my feed. Wrathofzombie is doing a lot of cool DIY hacks on top of 5th edition D&D (something I am surprised to have not found that much of yet). Much of it is a little on the gonzo side, ranging from new races to new class archetypes, Usability is variable, but it's all a fun read, and his non-5e materials have a nice leaning towards the bizarre and macabre which is typical of OSR-style games.

Samwise7 is another one doing some cool 5e stuff. The blog is not particularly prolific (only a dozen posts so far), but has done a great series on new cleric domains for 5th edition. They are of dubious balance (but who really cares about such things), but help bring some of the great diversity from 3rd edition cleric domains to 5e. He even provides a handy random pantheon generation tool to go along with them. I hope to see a lot more from this one in the future.

A rebuttal...
Josh over at Death Isn't an Ending argues that " specialists tend to have more story potential than generalists do" by virtue of having to be creative in problem solving. As a definite generalist in the real-world, and a person who has always played generalists, I have to disagree. 
First off, specialists tend to play to their strengths. People who are highly specialized generally do not engage in activity outside of their specialization. They may have one or two additional hobbies, but will lean on other specialists to solve their problems.
Example: I have a colleague with a PhD in Computer Science. When a faucet burst in his house, he didn't evey try to fix it himself. Instead he got a panicked look on his face and called a professional ("specialist") plumber. If it takes the plumber two or three days to get there, he will just grab a bucket and let the problem sit until the other specialist can deal with it. He is not willing to take on the problem creatively.
I work in the same field/office/area-of-expertise as said CS PhD...but came to it by a very roundabout route without the 10+ years of specialized schooling. When a computer needs hacked, we are both equal to the task (though his results will be slightly faster and cleaner). When I have a plumbing problem, I break out my tool box, grab the duck tape, and even take an axe to it if necessary. As a generalist ALL of my solutions have to be creative, as I do not have the specialized knowledge necessary to do it "the right way". The plumbing might shoot water in my face, it might shut off all the water to my house for a day, it might result in having to redo all the plumbing in the entire room, but I'll be damned if I call on anyone else for help until it is absolutely, positively, proven to be beyond my ability to hack. I am not as good at either computers or plumbing as the specialists, but the defining characteristic of a Generalist is the desire and willingness to try anything.
The same is true in RPGs.
If you have a party with four specialists (Wizard, Fighter, Cleric, Thief), they will each work within their niche. When they encounter a trap, everyone will shove the Thief to the front so he can use his specialized skills to easily bypass it. If they encounter an ogre, everyone will shove the Fighter to the front so he can use his specialized skills to defend the party. The Cleric will not even try to disarm a trap, and if separated from the party in a trapped corridor is likely to just sit their and wait for the Thief to rescue him. Likewise, the Fighter if faced with arcane writing will just sit there and wait for the wizard.
If you are playing a generalist try everything. Generalists are, by default, not as good at any given thing as a specialist in that area. They have a lot of tools, but only up to a moderate level of competence. They are forced to think of alternative solutions--and will keep trying all of their tools until one works. They will almost definitely do it wrong at least once. They will break things. They will make new problems, and then...eventually...they will solve it.
In mechanical terms: a 20th-level Rogue (in 3e based games) may have +25 or more on his Find Traps skill (or equivalent). A 20th-level generalist (multi-class punk) might only have +10 on that skill, but at least he has it. He has to rely on luck (roll a 20 where the specialist only needs a 5) or might have to find another way around (what if I stand waaaay back here and just shoot the trapped door with fireball), but he at least will not be stymied by a circumstance that is outside his area of expertise.
As Josh puts it "Specializing means you have a spoon for most of your problems. Looking at it one way, you can only use a spoon to do one thing.  But looking at it another way, a spoon can break through locks, torture people or kill a man."
Yes, a spoon can deal with a wide range of problems, but the vast majority of people do not think of the spoon that way. A generalist with a spoon will grab his spoon and start picking the lock...a specialist with a spoon will wait for their friend with the key to come do it for them, and then reward their friend with a well-served scoop of icecream.
In real life, the generalists always have more and better stories to tell--stories of trying new things, of failure, resilience, and resourcefulness--and in my experience, that holds true in RPGs as well.
As the saying goes, "Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly."
What I've Been Playing:

Despite the slowness of October, some interesting things have been happening in the Ruins of Adventure multi-campaign...with two of the parties at least. First, an update on the less interesting ones...

  • The PBeM group got tired of waiting for the impending kobold invasion of Gildenglade and decided to take the fight to the kobolds instead. This one is still tracking pretty slow--one player had to drop out due to the school-year starting, and the others have fall conference/travel schedule that are similarly busy as mine. Should be some new posts from them in the next week or two, and they should be considerably more "adventurey" than the last couple.
  • The Inquisitor Faustus game has been on temporary hiatus (probably down-graded to once a month at most). His player has hooked up with the face-to-face Wednesday game.

Then the actually interesting stuff:

As mentioned previously, the G+ "Bitter Blades" party got TPK'd in their last session. The following week, they rebooted as agents of the bandit-leader Noriss the Grey. The action became more interesting when the IRL party operating out of Kryptgarten Keep decided to launch a raid on a hobgoblin compound in Noriss's gang's territory and hired Noriss's Boys to provide a distraction to help them get in. Thus, we had two non-co-located PC parties running different sides of the same adventure. Which was followed by Noriss's Boys being hired to lead an attack on Kryptgarten (for some PC vs. PC action)...
The G+ group then decided to write a letter warning the IRL party of the impending attack, then abandon the bandit PCs over to be NPCs for the attack, with the expectation that the other party would kill them off...
They then spun up a new party based on this post from Rejected Princesses. So The Amazons (I encourage you to look at the character sheets, as its amusing what they did with the source material), as their first mission, have assembled a small army of mercenaries to go to the rescue of the other PCs at Kryptgarten...and likely kill off their own prior characters.
Meanwhile, as part of all of this intertwined, synchronized action. The Kryptgarten party got jumped by the, now-NPC, Noriss's Boys party. They won the battle and spared the lives of the former PCs...taking them on as retainers.
Next week...the big battle goes down...twice...