**Disclaimer** The following blog is a parody. For avoidance of doubt, Otto von Quarzis is NOT a prophet and his former Rules Firm is NOT a law firm, does not provide legal advice, and, you know... isn't real. Carry on.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why RPGs?? Answer: The Community!

Why role-playing games?  That is the question I get from the "norms" as I like to call them.  My wife is a case in point.  "Why do you play those games? What the hell..."  Typical conversation in my household. So, to answer her question... "why?"

The answer ultimately is the community.  No where - and I mean NO WHERE! will you find a community as inclusive, as excepting, and as freaking awesome as the gaming community. Now, I'm not talking about the xbox generation - I'm talking RPGers.  We like out first person shooters... well enough... but where we shine is in delving into the intricacies of [insert game here.]

So, I am blessed - I have a fantastic group I game on a regular basis with.  Always have - one of the key GMs of my group has been my GM for 20+ years (probably longer... but, uhh... I plead the 5th on age).  This group rocks! Seriously, I have been to cons, I have played in foreign lands (I'm talking about you California) - nothing holds a candle to my boys in the Hudson Valley.

But, you know what - gamers from around the world... are pretty damn cool.  I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a "live un-boxing" of D&D 5e starter set.  +Alex Mayo was doing an un-boxing (btw... he had the freak'n thing in his possession for over 3 hours and waited to unveil it so his surprise would be genuine... this guy is a trooper!) and I happened upon his post.  Fortune has a strange way of asserting itself.

So, I am STILL waiting for mine.  But, there was no way in hell I was going to miss this.  My friend Cheeseburger +Jay had already posted he received his (I think there is a conspiracy going on here... where the hell is mine?! July 21st??! what??!) - but due to other circumstances... he wasn't going to be able to share until tomorrow.  So, I figured - what the hell, I'll join.  Life will never be the same.

The people that joined in this google+ hangout had great insight into the PDF rules that WOTC posted.  We had a good discussion of various issues that, personally, I had debated with friends and wondered what the outside world thought.  You know what? I have a whole new appreciation for both D&D and the community.  There was fantastic (and might I add... wholly respectful) dialogue regarding 5e.  And this is why I love this community.

There is nothing quite like a D&D community member.  You might like 3e... you might like 1e... hell, I heard someone mention the original box edition (wasn't clear... redbox or bluebox?) - point being... we're all D&D players!  Rules be damned!  We grew up with this game; our children will play this game; we are D&D.... flavors of the month may come and go... in the end there is one thing for sure - those that stood against the forces of "Dark Dungeons" and those that have no idea what the F we're talking about.  You know what? In the end it doesn't matter - we won.  Numenera, GURPS, Rolemaster, D&D... and yes... even FATE and Dungeon World (not really... Otto has been hijacked by... [sorry, Citizen, that is beyond your clearance.]) and Paranoia... we won.  The debate these days is about what system is better! Hallelulla!  We won - RPGs... regardless of the flavor, are here to stay. Why? Because the community is awesome.  I want to thank everyone - CRPGer and RPGer alike - for being who they are  - a gamer!  You rule. And I am damn proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Brazil Story: Or... Hard Fought Versus Blowout

I hope all can forgive me for the obvious World Cup analogy in this post.  Today's question revolves around what is better - a blowout fight or a hard-fought damaging fight?  I pose this question more in the context of "boss fights" than in the lead-up encounters (whether we should even have boss fights is a topic for another day).

While watching the Brazil-Germany game the other day, I was very excited when Germany scored - the first two times.  But, three, four and five? It soon became apparent that this was going to be a run-away disaster for Brazil.  The whole "will this be a shutout" question is not a great reason to keep watching the game.  Contrast that with the Netherlands versus Argentina game - that was a nail-bitter until the end!  So, which was the better game to watch?  Just speaking personally, the latter kept me engaged until the end - I sort of drifted off (and admit I missed seeing the Brazil goal) for the first one.

A boss fight should be challenging.  Not all characters should be able to walk away from it. That leads to one of the major design challenges for any computer-based role-playing game.  How do you let it be challenging - while still allowing the players to continue the story?

Computer games have save points - so in theory, a player can just reload... and keep at it.  This, of course, defeats the hard won aspect.  Death is not permanent, and hard fought means more of a puzzle solving/reflex flexing aspect - rather than the traditional role-playing (tabletop) aspect of - well, not all of our characters lived to see this victory. Of course, a saving mechanism is necessary for an RPG.  Otherwise, the game would just become unplayable.

What I am suggesting is adding a game mechanic that incentivizes a player to "keep the roll" (so to speak).  At the end of a major boss battle, some of the player's NPCs (or party members if using an old style RPG mechanic) will be dead.  They will have been slain in glorious battle - but dead for a cause.  At the end, their death should propel the story forward.  For example, having a party member's death open up a whole set of sub-quests unobtainable by any other means.

To steal from one of my all time favorite computer RPGs, Baldur's Gate, if Minsc were to die - a sub-quest could pop up - return Boo to home (which might just happen to be a derelict spelljamming ship).  Other sub-quests could be boss villain specific - i.e., NPC/PC gets killed by Ogre-Magi chieftan, and his/her sister/brother/child pops up to swear vengeance on all Ogre-Magi launching a specific set of related sub-quests.

The possibilities are endless - special weapons/armor/trinkets depending on who is killed, when and by whom.  The other possibility is just straight XP bonuses for heroic battle deaths that get applied to the party for their emotional suffering.  Another take is having the PC's main character die - and letting it happen.  There have been a number of games lately (Rogue Legacy being a case in point), in which character's descendants/legacies get woven into the game.  Perhaps a tough boss battle means that the hero doesn't end up winning.  Instead, the heroes grand child takes up the mantel in order to avenge the hero.  Weave in different sub-quests that bring the offspring back to the site of the boss battle - and then continue the story, albeit perhaps altered somewhat.

The idea being - make the battle hard, don't worry about everyone surviving - and weave the story around it.  At the end of the day, a great story is one that weaves the challenges into its fabric.  The blowout game is one that won't necessarily keep a person until the end - or at least not on the edge of their seat engaged.  Unlike a traditional table top RPG, computer games have certain constraints created by their nature. However, that doesn't mean designers can't bend those constraints as far as possible.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Action or Story - Can Flavor Text Compete

So, a good friend of mine, check out his blog here, posted a reply to a comment I made on one of his posts which set me off thinking.  He said "I have a hard time wrapping my head around any  role playing game that is not trying to create some lasting story from the get go..."

Now, he was talking about paper and pencil RPGs.  However, I want to bring this concept to the CRPG world.  "Create some lasting story..."  A lot of single/co-op games have this.  In fact, it is typical that you have a good story to your game.  However, what about MMOs/MUDs?

To create a story you need typical story telling building blocks.  In a graphic intensive game, you can use fantastic visuals to tell a story - interspersed with cut-scenes.  All the AAA titles have them.  They do a great job - and not much I can say about them.  So, I am going to focus my attention more on the hobbyist realm.  Why do people play MUDs?  Why do they create them?

I've played my fair share of MUDs back in the day.  I have experimented with these new fangled MMOs - these graphical monstrosities (DDO, Neverwinter, Guild Wars, Age of Conan, etc.)  You know what - I like them.  But, they are very similar to their text-based ancestors.  Sure, there are players that take the RPG seriously - but, frankly... not many.  There are the ones that quest for story, but many more that quest for the power boost.  Kill, xp, gold, level... repeat bigger and badder.

In a graphical MMO, it is easy to have awesome "flavor text" in terms of stunning visuals.  The players can oooh and ahhh them - but do they pay attention?  Do players actually care about flavor text? I know many a MUD that has attempted to try and make "flavor text" an integral part of the game.  In other words, you need to read carefully (ala the old Infocom games) to get the treasure, solve the quest, not get killed...

The problem I see is that most players don't really care for those types of games.  Sure, you'll get a few that play it for the challenge - but how many actually RP it.  In my experience, very few do.  They want to bash things; take their gold; level up; chat with their friends (not necessarily in that order).  Is there anything wrong with that style of play - I say "hell no."  Sometimes, after a looooong day's work - you just want to bash things and take their gold.  But, it does leave a game designer with a quandary - what do you do about flavor text?

In my old table top RPG games, I used to use "generic dungeon material" - a lot.  I have to say, I brought that into MUD/CRPG building as well.  People don't want to read flavor text for the most part.  They want action - they want excitement.  It is, I am convinced, why shooters are such a popular genre.  So, what to do? Does the "smart" designer just leave it out? Or do you say f'it - I'm designing for me?

I posit the answer is not so black and white.  Flavor text can be very engaging.  As Skyrim taught me - sometimes you just want to stop and visually take in the roses (or cascading waterfalls, mountains, what have you...).  Designers need to make flavor text (and I use this generically to include pretty background visuals) more a part of the game.  Don't force your viewpoint on the player - instead create a living world that interacts with the player.

Case in point - Skyrim has messengers scurrying around as you walk down the path.  Flavor text - certainly - but also sometimes those messengers are for you.  Why not a pretty flower - just standing there... that ends up attacking the player.  The idea is not to "penalize" them for not paying attention.  Rather, the idea is to engage the player.  The player gets what they want (a fight and gold) - and you get the satisfaction of a well placed encounter.

I guess what I am getting at is - don't do "flavor text" - do real story telling.  Engage your players.  After all, they're playing the game as a sort of escape.  They want the rush - they want the stress relief.  Wrap it in a story and it become the type of game they can't put down.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on flavor text, building engaging encounters, keeping a player hooked in a developing plot line, game building in general and, heck, even counter-arguments.

Until next time, MUDs aren't dead... they're just rebooting.