Once more, from the top

So, remember the game I mentioned trimming back in my last post? When I started writing that, it was meant to be a short campaign designed to introduce new players to DnD. I didn’t actually have an end in mind yet, but I was going to try to make all the adventures have good closure to themselves – this was before I realized that my games don’t actually need to peter out. I usually make very detailed primers, but I put together a short one for this that was mostly an intro to DnD. I’ve extracted that portion (it refers to the campaign generally still) and I am going to step through why I made the decisions I did. None of this has been used yet, so I don’t know how it’ll go, but I am interested in your feedback, dear readers. So here we go.

So what’s all this about?

Good question! Welcome to DnD. If this works out according to plan, most of you haven’t been here before. A lot of tabletop roleplaying books have a section called “What is roleplaying?” – I won’t include one. I think you can figure that part out.

So my goal with this is to provide a casual, easy introduction to tabletop RPGs. I personally tend to gritty, complicated, historical games with a lot of intrigue. That’s not a good introduction though. Your first time playing DnD is supposed to be casting spells, killing goblins, and unlikely things fitting in 10×10 rooms. You’re busy remembering which die to roll when, I don’t want you to also consider the social ramifications of what your character is doing in a mostly realistic 18th century western society. What’s happening in the background this time is simple. The adventures will seem cliche or formulaic to an experienced player, and perhaps also to an avid reader. I’ve blatantly stolen the premise for the game from a book (any guesses?) so you don’t need to read a whole chapter on the trade history of two nations I needed to understand in order for my premise to make sense to me. I’m not going to change anything about magic, or religion, whatever you see in the Player’s Handbook is appropriate for this game. (What’s in the Player’s Handbook is actually appropriate to an old setting called Greyhawk that doesn’t get a lot of independent publishing anymore. So we’ll be dropping some people and places into Greyhawk it doesn’t normally have, but I don’t think the people down there will mind.)

So don’t get me wrong, I love custom settings. I think this would actually be my first time not using a setting that’s at least been heavily modified. I elected to keep everything as-is this time for two reasons. The first is I was trying to cut down on my prep time. Less writing, less explaining, more playing. Remember this is all about that lack of time/bandwidth problem a lot of us have. The other is something I’ve never personally had a problem with, but seems to be difficult for a lot of people on reddit. That is the separation of mechanics and flavor from any given roleplaying book. I wanted the new players, while they’re learning the game, to be able to read the books and not ask me “can I have this?” or “is this still true in your game?” and for them to have the confidence to say “but the book says…” – I don’t want to instill an idea of the infallible DM and lead to them not picking up on any mistakes I may make. At the same time, however, I don’t want to train them to argue with their DM a lot. What’s your experience with treading that line, DMs?

DnD can be fun for a lot of reasons, but it’s hard to find what’s fun for a new group as a whole, so let’s lay down some ground rules so this doesn’t get not-fun for anyone. First, I already established that you’ve known each other for a while, so no in-fighting. We’re all friends here, and we can have a polite conversation, and so can our characters. And to help prevent in-fighting, you’re all generally good people, or at least, not Evil. One of the more fluffy mechanics of DnD is Alignment. It’s two spectrums are Chaos – Law (this makes more sense if you think of Law as Order IMHO) and Evil – Good. I’m ok with any Alignment combination that doesn’t include any big “E”s. Also, you’re all from the same society, so I can say all at once that you’re egalitarian with respect to species, race, sex, and gender.

Can you tell that these are issues I have? I have developed a reputation among the people I first started playing with for running very open-ended games, and letting my players push the limits a lot. This has led to a lot of arguments, PCs killing each other, and general unbalance in the happiness level around the table when I’ve mixed new and old groups of gaming friends. So I’m very aware of this, but I think laying down ground rules from the start is generally a good idea. Expectations are important, for one, and if anyone’s fun is taking away from the fun of someone else, that’s a problem. I think these are generally good ground rules for beginning players in particular. Like I said in the beginning of the primer, I like to do a lot of complex historical games. Those can get tense, particularly around that egalitarian point. Unless you’re really familiar with the comfort level of your group with particular societal issues, I recommend staying away from them. I’ve had very interesting, compelling theological arguments at the table between Catholic and Protestant characters in an 18th century game, at the same time I’ve had high levels of uncomfortableness surrounding different opinions on slavery in a 19th century game. So consider your audience. If you’re not completely sure, play it safe. And remember you’re saying no to make sure everyone has fun, not to kill a particular someone’s fun. Stepping back into a more typical fantasy game, it can be hard to say no, especially to beginning players. But they’re going to ask for things that you know are going to go badly. They’re going to say “and I hate Elves, because…” and you’re going to have to say “no,” because they’re going to get in an argument with the Elf in the party and it’s going to be uncomfortable for everyone. Maybe in the advanced course they can hate all the Elves they want, but not right now.

I’m about to drop a big, testy, word for tabletop gamers because we’re about to leave the metagame portion of this short, casual primer. Different groups have different definitions of what “metagaming” is. Basically, it’s what’s outside of the game, or outside of your character’s head. For example, you may know very well that Jabberwocks are weak to pudding magic (intentionally making things up here) but if your character, Ethel the Mighty, had never heard of a Jabberwock until it tried to bite her head off, she doesn’t know she should be using her delicious +1 pudding packs and not her Vorpal (see what I did there?) Greatsword. This might not sound like a complicated concept yet, but what happens when Wakefield the Slayer and Ethel the Mighty have both been fighting the Jabberwock for a while now, and Sister Doris needs to decide who to heal in the midst of combat? Luckily, I’m nice about that particular scenario. But if you’re planning battle tactics five rounds in advance, remember the monsters can hear you too.

I think that’s pretty straightforward, right? Sure. What is Metagaming deserves a whole post. We’ll leave that for another time.

Hey, did we buy enough rations?

You’re probably wondering – what should I do to prepare? Should I bring anything? Are there weird rules of etiquette I should know?

So far as preparation goes, that’s up to you. All the rules (For DnD 3.5’s d20 system – which we will be using.) are actually publically available under the Open Game License or OGL. You’re welcome to poke around here if you’d like: http://www.d20srd.org/ That’s what’s called a “System Reference Document” – it features all the mechanical rules, but not the setting details about Greyhawk. This is because it’s the mechanics that are OGL.

You should probably bring some pencils and paper. If you own dice, bring them.

If you have an idea of what you’re getting into you might be noticing something missing from those last two lines – a character. A lot of experienced players are asked to generate their characters before coming to the first session, this saves a lot of game time. It’s pretty normal for your first game to consist just of character creation, but that’s not my point right now. I want you to play. So, I’m going to do something I’ve never tried before. I’m going to generate one of each core class. You will choose a class when play starts. I will give you one of the characters I made. If, after the first session, you like that character, you may keep it. If not, I will help you generate your own.

This is the big untested part of my time-saving ideas here. I may nix the whole thing. I figured, like I said,  with inexperienced players character creation can take up the whole first session, and I want them to actually get to play since it’s hard to schedule the time. At the same time, though, character creation is fun. I was going to use scaled attributes for these so nobody can pick the “best” character, I may just have them use those to save the dice-rolling time, but maybe not that even. I have played with pre-generated characters a couple times, and still had fun. It was actually how I learned, too. Now that it’s looking more like I’ll have half experienced half inexperienced, I’m undecided on if I still think this is a good idea.

So, on to etiquette. It’s not really different from most other times you engage in a group activity in someone else’s home. Be polite, wait your turn, don’t touch my dice. Α lot of players are protective of their dice. I don’t expect you all to bring dice since I’m trying to target new players, but don’t just grab and roll. If you need dice ask to borrow some, and you’ll be given a set or someone will say you can use theirs, or use the dice in this tin, etc. Food and drink are often a normal part of the gaming ritual, it’s appreciated if you bring something to share. If it’s around a meal time we’ll talk about the plan.

Well, yeah. Do you share dice?

Off to a false start

Right before I started this blog I fired off an email to a selection of people. The week before I had been out to a birthday dinner with those people, and realized out of everyone I know whether they game or not or want to learn or not, are the people I see the most often. So, our schedules must match up well enough for that at least. So I picked those people, and sent off an email saying if you’re interested I want to start gaming. And I said I want to try this Three Game Plot thing I read about here: http://lookrobot.co.uk/2014/01/06/three-game-plot-make-actual-game-happen/ reading this article is what inspired me to really try to get back to gaming because I realized that I need to change what gaming is in my head, because it’s not going to be every week anymore. So I sent out that email with the next three days I have off hoping to start scheduling some games. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get everyone together on any of those days, so it’s a little bit back to the drawing board. I still think Grant over at Look, Robot has an awesome idea, and I may still run a Three Game Plot (I trimmed what I had written to fit) to keep the action going (I learned another neat keep the action going trick in a different blog post, I’ll write about that later) but I think I’m also going to incorporate some aspects of a Living Campaign to make it a little easier for players to come and go.

If you don’t know about “Living” campaigns, I’ll explain. I used to play RPGA games. Those were all tracked by Wizards of the Coast (mostly by volunteer organizations of capable players who have been deemed knowledgeable of the core rules enough to be a “Judge” – I was.) and everyone used common rules, etc. I haven’t played since 4e came out, so I don’t know what RPGA looks like now. But back then, you would have your character, and you’d attend an adventure appropriate for your level, maybe at a comic shop, or at a convention. Afterward you’d get your AR, adventure record, and it would say how much XP and gold you got, what magic items, what you unlocked, etc. Each character could play any given adventure once. Since it was all modular and tracked well you can play with anyone, anytime. You’ll always be on the same page. I also played Living Kingdoms of Kalamar (my favourite pre-generated setting.) Kalamar isn’t a Wizards setting, it’s Kenzerco, but used d20 rules (it may have gone to Hackmaster or Pathfinder now,) so it was associated with the RPGA, but a little bit different. It was tracked somewhat more loosely, a lot of it just being on one long record sheet, and you’d get little handouts. A card saying you found this magic item, or earned this favor, instead of all being on the AR. Both perfectly viable ways of doing the same thing, really. So I may incorporate some handouts. I don’t think I’ll need to go to the length of ARs, but I’ll have to keep some careful notes and make sure we end at points where the PCs can change out. I’ll also have to make sure the rewards are pretty consistent, so I’ll make it so the whole game is worth so much XP.

Obviously, I’ve been really out of the RPGA/gaming con scene since 4e came out. That’s mostly because of other time constraints, but partly because I wasn’t really impressed by 4e. I’ve only tried it once, and am still willing to give it another shot, but I don’t think it’s my thing. I also don’t really like Forgotten Realms, which I think Wizards is using for it now. Still, RPGA games are a great way to get your game on when you’re short on time, and especially when you’re short on bandwidth. If it still works essentially the same way, one of your group becomes a Judge and you just download and run the sessions, and report the results back. It’s all pretty straightforward, and since it’s been made modular for you already and most of the plots are 1 to 3 adventures long it should be pretty easy to feel like you’re playing in complete sentences, so to speak. If anyone out there has experience with current RPGA or other Living games, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment.

Yet Another Gaming Blog

And so it begins. I am contributing to the plethora of gaming blogs out there. I do, however, have a particular theme in mind, and hopefully this will attract an audience of similarly challenged individuals.

I’ll begin with a little bit about me. I started playing DnD in high school. We played every day. We played in the library during lunch, and I hosted a longer game on Fridays after school. We played all night games, all weekend games. Eventually, we were all graduated. The eldest of us went off their own way, the younger two generations stuck together. We kept gaming. The youngest of us graduated and we scattered, off to college. We still played, a little less often, though. We’d have long weekend gaming marathons. Eventually we finished our two year epic campaign over spring break at my apartment, then the compulsion of being so far into a game was gone. We all got busier. We played once in a while, and our games mostly petered out after a few sessions. More people sort of vanished. We graduated, we moved, got jobs, changed jobs, moved again, made new friends, bought a house, got married. I now think I’ve played once in the last year, hopping in to a single session in a campaign that began without me and may now have ended without me. I now know far too many people who would love to game, spread hours away from each other, with different schedules, and hardly any free time anyway.

So what I’m getting at is gaming can get difficult when you have a lot of other stuff going on. I’ve been getting into a few gaming blogs – I’m sure I’ll cite particular posts later on – and picking up ideas to make writing and running a campaign easier with how hard it is to game. So I want to give back. I currently have a plan to try out a couple ideas, and run a short campaign. I’ve started talking to a group of friends who I’ve found easier to get together with in the past. I want to document my attempts to game now that I’m far away from home, married, with a full time job, and too many hobbies. And hopefully I’ll help others without the time or bandwidth to game like they used to reinvent what gaming is to finally get back to that favourite pastime of yesteryear.