I have been GMing DCCRPG recently at our Friendly Local Gaming Store, and week in and week out the party make-up changes by whomever decides to show up that week. It has been a liberating experience in a lot of ways, and has led to tables with as few as one and as many as five players. This got me thinking about the size of gaming tables. The Skyland Games guys have had a lot of fun playing a lot of Pathfinder Society in the last few years, and with any kind of organized play there is a minimum table size (generally 4 PCs, but it can be 3PCs and the GM running a pre-gen in a pinch). I think that got us in a mindset of not even getting together unless we could get most, if not all of the party together.
This last week we had a table of three of the four players from the week before. The party consisted of a thief, a halfling, and a warrior, and I reprised my GM role as Izdren the Useless cleric. We were running through the second week of Doom of the Savage Kings, and had gotten to a section that was a pretty straight forward dungeon crawl. Having just 3 players at the table allowed for a lot of freedom to run little vignettes for each character if they had a specific goal in mind. Normally this kind of “splitting the party” is an RPG cardinal sin (Although that didn’t make our Gaming 10 Commandments). But with only 3 players, if the GM and the PC keep the scene moving it can be entertaining for the entire group.
We had a couple of prime examples this past week. For one, the thief wanted to break in to the temple in town and steal what he had heard was a magical artifact, one with which the priests of the temple were none-too-eager to part. We ran a quick scene of him scaling the walls at night to an open window, scaling back down and falling on his face, alerting some of the priests. As the thief’s character is somewhat of a crazy person (actually a con-man that just acts crazy) he was not met with hostility, but roughly escorted out of the temple. He eventually tried again, and succeeded. Leaving a skull behind in place of the artifact, in his words “Like Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark!” It ended up being a very fun scene. Near the end of the adventure, there is a little crawl space in which a halfling can maneuver fairly easily but it would be tough for just about anyone else. That crawlspace leads to two very important rooms, both with treasure, one with a super-deadly trap. Thanks to some excellent rolls, and the judicious use of halfling luck, he survived. In both of these cases, it gave the opportunity for a particular PC to shine, without grinding the game to a halt.
I’ve run this adventure for a much larger table, and again the PCs wanted to run off and do separate things in the town. With a table of six, it was a much different experience. It becomes much more difficult to get back to each player and make sure they’re engaged in the scene even if they may not be central, or may not even be present; with three it didn’t seem as difficult.
I think ideally, an RPG table should consist of four players and a GM. That being said, I’ve had a great time running for just one person, or a gang of seven. What’s your perfect table?
I don’t know if they do it anymore, but back in the days before the internet, people used to put up posters with little tear-tabs in their local gaming store saying things like “GM willing to run Traveller, Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition or Champions – Emphasis on Role Playing and Character Development.” Presumably that was meant to imply that the standard sop walking around playing RPG’s was all crunch and into smashing things, killing important NPC’s, and generally making the line between monsters and PC’s thinner and grayer.
I was one of those guys (the sign guys, not the smash guys). Guys who would roll their eyes at the way people treated the game like series of carefully designed murders, despite having come from a fairly hack and slash origin in my gaming upbringing. And honestly, there wasn’t much to the games back then. D&D had attributes and non-weapon proficiencies, but if all you did was stab stuff, there wasn’t much to differentiate one fighter from another. You really were only getting like 20% out of the game if you were just killing orcs and not playing a character.
Some games, like GURPs and HERO rewarded you for taking on disadvantages, but those were exceptions to the general rule. If you didn’t role-play and do it with gusto, you were basically missing out on the point, and just tossing randomizers and getting feedback with numerical plusses and minuses.
However, with the d20 system coming out in early 2000, suddenly there was this magnificent technical aspect to combat that was tactical, relevant, and combined the importance of role-play with the importance of mechanical mastery of the game. Games were literally won by inches, flanking maneuvers, and so on. Plus, a character could be built to have a very unique skill set, coupled with feats that make one rogue very different than most others. Pathfinder has built on this tradition, and still plays that way. But notably, people deficient at the “Roll” part of the game started to catch as much crap as those who used to ignore the “Role” part.
So what’s the balance? I found my perspective change a few years ago when I played a few games with a fellow who had designed a game where there was no possibility of failure. A game where the narrative was the driving factor and a failure on F.U.D.G.E dice (showing only plusses, minuses or blanks) resulted in complications, but never a failure. The idea intrigued me, seeming to be the distillation of everything I thought important in an RPG. His game was 99% role-playing and 1% technical ‘roll’ play. However, after playing a few games, I realized that something was missing…. Something I never really thought was part of the game that I loved:
Total abject TPK failure was something I longed for. The mechanics, I started to realize, gave me restrictions that forced me to narrow my focus and restrain my potential in ways that made things interesting. And the grit of combat mechanics created limits which structured the way I played the game into more meaningful transactions. Not just data being exchanged, but actual tactics. Meaningful choices in mechanics inspired by the color of character.
So where’s the balance? We’ve been playing our way through a couple higher level campaigns, and sometimes these combats can slow to a frustrating grind. On the other hand, sometimes the unique and random situations that arise from those combats create really memorable events that advance the story. Everyone values a different aspect of that experience, and there are certainly lots of games out there that give a different balance of the “roll’ versus the “role”. Finding the one you like is a matter of trying different games with different people. Somewhere, there’s a perfect balance for you, depending on your taste. The only problem you might discover is finding a group of people like you that can meet to play that favorite game.
Maybe those tear-tabs weren’t such a bad idea after all.
Next month: The 50 States of Humans
Fauho Hellfox : M Kitsune Cheliax Gunslinger (Gun Tank/Pistolero)
The scarlet furred Fauho Hellfox is a serious kitsune with a serious mission; to quell chaos in Golarion in the name of his adopted homeland, Cheliax. He has been training to become a heavily armored Hellknight for some time and even has started to hunt lawbreakers on his own. It was on one of these hunts that he claimed a gun powder pistol from a villain and has since mastered its use to become a crack shot.
Llwyn Foxpaw : F Kitsune Sczarni Rogue (Kitsune Trickster)
As master of disguise, Llwyn Foxpaw uses her innate abilities to gather information for the use of the Pathfinder Society and herself. Fast becoming a major information broker in the style of Grand Master Torch, she uses her own Sczarni contacts to add to her already considerable knowledge. She relishes in the thought of knowing information that others must have (or not yet know they must have).
Whiskers and Boxie : M Kitsune Grand Lodge Witch (White Haired Witch)
Whiskers is a bizarre specimen of kitsune. If you can overlook his strange relationship with his pet turtle Boxie (whom he converses with constantly) and his two, bushy red tails, you would swear that his thick, black whiskers move unnaturally, almost with a life of their own. He has been assigned to the Grand Lodge in Absalom to keep him out of trouble.
Vos Bushtail : M Kitsune Silver Crusade Cleric (Separatist)
A true believer in Sarenrae, Vos Bushtail has divined that she is the one and true god and rejects all others. He believes that she is present in both the sun and the moon and watches over all her children from up high. As a messenger of her glory and goodness, he has aligned himself with others of the Silver Crusade to bring new teachings to the Pathfinder Society and all of Golarion.
Vixara the Blade : F Kitsune Lantern Lodge Samurai (Sword Saint)
A rare master of the blade, Vixara grew up in the rocky hills of an Eastern Land perfecting her craft in solitude. A she was unable to keep a master and so joined the Pathfinder Society so that she could travel the world, plying her talents for the Lantern Lodge.
It is no secret I am a big fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics. Recently, Goodman Games has launched the DCCRPG World Tour which is a schedule of cons in which you can try DCC for yourself at a gaming convention near you. Simultaneously, they launched the Road Crew program, which rewards GMs for organizing games at their Friendly Local Gaming Store.
Since I have collected all the modules I was eager to put them to good use on new players. Luckily we have a really accomodating FLGS with excellent gaming space in The Wyvern’s Tale. For those interested in the Western North Carolina area, I’m running games every Sunday from 3pm-7pm at the ‘Tale. To reserve your spot, be sure and sign up at the warhorn.
The first week was a bust. I just read about the program, talked to the guys at the ‘Tale, got the game posted, and sadly no one showed up. Since then, I talked it up amongst my gaming buddies, and made sure it was on the gaming schedule for anyone who was interested.
The second week was a little better. My swag box just arrived from Goodman Games, so I was armed with bookmarks, buttons, pens, and ribbons to hand out to potential players. I also took the liberty of creating table tents and had printed out plenty of character sheets. I had one guy sign up on the warhorn, who sadly couldn’t make it, but I did have a walk-up who was really excited to try it out, and immediately liked the old-school feel and loved the idea of rolling on tables for his character name, occupation, and title. Completely randomly, he was rewarded with a dwarven blacksmith named Mnar the Grand-Defiler! Not bad for letting the dice fall where they may. We waited for a bit, and I tried to talk it up with anyone else just hanging around the store, but couldn’t get anyone else to bite. We decided to run two 1st level PCs each, and got underway with #67 Sailors on the Starless Sea. The party consisted of a Gambler Fighter named Matsognir the Vindicator, a Urchin Cleric named Izdren the Pontiff, a ropemaker Thief not named anything at all (we just called him Nameless; he likes to keep a really low-profile. After a very bad disarm traps roll, he became Nameless the Nine-fingered), and of course, Mnar.
In about 3 hours, we created his character, and got through about all the stuff on the surface of the keep (I won’t give away any module spoilers here). As we were descending the stairs to get below the keep, we were exploring the first room, and sadly my player had to go. He had a great time, and was telling his buddies all about his exploits (who were playing warhammer 40k in the other room). I loaded him down with free swag and made sure he kept his character sheet and table tent for next week. I plan on running week in and week out to try and expand the audience and awareness of the system.
The next big event at the Wyverns Tale is Tabletop day! There will be a ton of different games being played, and we’ll be streaming video to the web as part of the celebration of international tabletop day on March 30th. I, of course, will be running DCC. Look for me on the video stream!
Happy GM’s Day! An annual event, GM’s Day started on EN World in 2003. The date, March 4, sums it up: March Fo(u)rth for GM’s Day. Today is also the 5th anniversary of Gary Gygax’s death in 2008. Celebrating the people who create and run games and celebrating the original creator of the role-playing game , GM’s Day is also a time when many companies offer discounts on their products, and is the perfect time to show your GM (or DM or Referee) that you appreciate all of their hard work.