Yesterday I watched the Monaco Grand Prix F1 race from start to finish. I had never really paid much attention to F1 racing before, and this was quite the dramatic race. Check out the highlights if you missed it.
Monaco is the track that comes with the board game Formula D. I’m such a big fan of the game I own all the expansions which include F1 tracks from around the world. The game is a lot of fun in its own right, but some games can turn to run away victories with a few fortunate rolls of the gear dice. This got me thinking about other racing games I love, like Super MarioKart.
If you are looking to add another layer of excitement, and to add some randomness and equalizers to the race, just add Mario Kart items! For the uninitiated, in MarioKart when your Kart runs over a question mark box, you get an item that can help you in the race. At this point there have been a lot of MarioKart games, and with them a lot of different items with different effects. Some would be more difficult to simulate in a board game than others. Here are my suggestions.
Use the red debris markers to simulate the the boxes, adding one per player. For a one lap game, I would suggest adding them half-way through the lap, for a two lap game, I would add them just before the finish line, or in both places if you want a lot of items! Once a car runs over the box, that player rolls the standard d20 “danger die” to determine what item is received. I’ve mixed and matched items from several different versions of MarioKart to make the mechanics easier to handle.
I’ve borrowed a few mechanics from 5th Edition D&D for the shells. While the game comes with one standard d20, I would recommend adding a few more to the box if you’ve got a few lying around (and if you’re nerdy enough to be reading this, you probably do!). For green shells its just a simple contested roll: both attacker and defender roll a d20, if the attacker has the higher result, the shell hits and the defender spins out. If the defender has the higher result, the shell misses! Red shells work the same, except the attacker rolls 2d20 (advantage in 5th ed. terms) while the defender still only rolls 1d20. Highest result wins, if its the defender, the red shell misses!
Download the full table here. I hope you guys enjoy this expansion to the rules. Watch out for blue shells!
It made me think about the role of resurrection and ‘raise dead‘ in fantasy role playing. Most systems have something of this sort at some level of play, and conquering death is one of the big fantasies we have in reality and fiction. That said, as an element of a gaming setting, it’s a complete game changer. And here’s the thing: It is horrible.
Resurrection ruins games. It ruins good story-telling. It cheapens heroism, belittles triumphs, and obliterates drama. It destroys the impact and gravity of the greatest story telling device there is: Death. Without death, there is no finality, no consequences to any event that can’t be unmade or recycled. Heroes need not live up to a higher standard where they might just prevail by way of a Holy Mulligan. It’s a softening of the game world that detracts from the story, and thereby detracts from the game itself.
We finished up Paizo’s Reign of Winter adventure path this past year. After we hit the midway point of the series, it became apparent that the presence of raise dead and resurrection was quickly arrived at as the easy remedy for character death. A shoulder shrug followed by a quick calculation of how many diamonds it would deplete from the party stores was all the drama that such an event as character death added. It was a failure of the system if not myself, the storyteller. Death had lost its finality, and the threat of death was greatly offset by the players calling my bluff of a TPK, which I theoretically wouldn’t let happen (though I would, with some caveats that I went into last year in my article “The Art of Fail“) . That is a problem.
Outside of a softening of the consequences, it is problematic from a general story telling perspective. How can the loss of life of villagers in a goblin raid remain poignant when someone can walk up and raise the victims? Why stop there? Why not raise random people of historical note? The King murdered? Bring ’em back? It only takes 10 minutes in some of these systems, so he might not even be missed! It cheapens the value of life and the story telling dynamic, and creates numerous plot holes that are hard to work around without clumsy artifice on the part of the GM.
And you shouldn’t do that! Resurrection and Raise Dead should be rare, almost wish-like events that are costly. Costly, painful rituals for a loved friend and companion, like we see in Conan the Barbarian. Some of these costs are built in, but if it’s just money, it’s a pittance (get a character to sacrifice their most powerful magic item and you’ll see them weep openly). Promises should be required to raise the dead. Oaths. Blood sacrifice.
Some of you might have played under old rules in OD&D that indicated that an elf could not be resurrected. We did, back in 1997, and when a elven ranger died at the hands of a certain Troll in the Temple of Elemental Evil, we all realized that he was DEAD DEAD, and it sobered the players that evening. When not long after, a paladin of St. Cuthbert was mostly devoured by rats, the drama of her resurrection was a story in itself; an epic race to the nearest city that had a priest of sufficient level to raise her, a debt undertaken, oaths sworn, and a battle with a cult of Iuzian priests fighting to interrupt the ritual. The resurrection became a story in itself, and carried weight.
It’s a hard choice to ditch resurrection or deny its availability to players. They will hate you for it, so you had better telegraph those decisions early on before it becomes a resource they anticipate. When the playing field is clear before hand, few have reason to complain (especially where the challenges are freely taken and understood). Games that let you know that they plan on killing you can be strangely refreshing, like Paranoia (giving you six clones is a good indicator of the cheapness of human life) or Dungeon Crawl Classics, where the 0-level funnel has you generate 3 to 4 peasants who try to try to survive a normal first level adventure (protip: your most unworthy character will always be the sole survivor). While seemingly depressing, the result is a certain lack of attachment for more lighthearted games, which is surprisingly welcome. Alternately, for more serious games, a grim determination and earnest concern for other characters becomes more pressing.
Perhaps the biggest downside to this approach is when it takes effect, and a favorite character is gone without the realistic possibility of a remedy. Sometimes, this can be a game-ending or campaign-ending event, especially if more than one character bites the bullet. My advice is to play through it and see if you can’t come out on the other side. That said, you know your players. The point, is to have fun (Commandment #10) so as long as folks are having a good time, it’s worth it, but remember you may have missed an opportunity for players and characters to grow a little, which could lead to even better results.
Try it on, or say you’re going to, and see how it changes your player’s play-style. You might just be surprised what the fear of death will do for your next game.
Guest Post by Matt Orbach
Recently, Pathguy got a letter from WOTC, politely asking that he remove his 5E character generator and any other content that might be their IP. I’m not going to discuss that choice here; what WOTC did was legal, and there are boards aplenty debating the matter. Suffice it to say that what you can do legally and what you can do wisely do not always coincide.
But it put to the question, do these generators really help the game, or do they remove us too far from the fundamentals? As it happened, I hadn’t visited this page in quite a while, but I was reminded of it as a tool to help level a 5E character.
Pathguy’s generator was a great tool. When I found it was unavailable, I was forced to level up by hand. As it turned out, leveling by hand was very easy for 5E, although this is not always the case for all rules systems. It caused me to wonder how reliance on character generators for popular systems had shaped the quality of play from a GM perspective and from a player perspective.
THE GM PERSPECTIVE
As a GM, I come to a game with a set of expectations as to what my players will do during a session, including, but not limited to:
• know most of the rules, and ask questions about the others
• learn how characters and the game world interact
• pay attention
• enjoy the narrative of the story-line
• act out characters
• collaborate with the other players
• have fun
I’ve also come to understand that a group of committed players enjoying themselves will typically do about 75% of these; which is fine, as long as “have fun” is somewhere in there. It might be great for everyone to come prepared with a carefullly researched and crafted character, and it probably makes for a richer, deeper game, but realistically it just won’t always happen.
To enjoy a game a player has to have an understanding of what they are doing. A character generator that removes that understanding inhibits enjoyment of the game by making the character mechanically incomprehensible for most play systems. A good build is useless without some knowledge of its implications, and inhibits having fun if it is mysterious and incomprehensible to the player.
THE PLAYER PERSPECTIVE
As a player, I have slightly different expectations. I know the groups I’ve played with all seem to enjoy different aspects of the game. These can be primarily broken into two groups:
This player enjoys creating interesting characters, sometimes with unexpected traits. Some temper this so the character can be effective in the game world, and thus more involved in the story. For others, the reverse seems to be true: they start from a fairly blank slate and draw out the character from the actions taken during gameplay, laboring only to create one who will take effective actions. Still others go further to extremes, creating bizarre and often unplayable characters.
There may very well be a graphing calculator or spreadsheet involved, because these folks enjoy the mathematical permutations and precise calculations of creating a character that is purpose-built. While personality and story is a factor, it is secondary to the build mechanic.
I fall primarily into the first category myself. There’s a certain appeal, I’ll admit, to the Engineer, but I lost my love for that sort of endeavor years ago. You see, I spent a summer designing mecha upon mecha for a tabletop wargame called Battletech. But when the hour of completion neared, I began to realize that the GM had no intention of actually playing the simulation as a massive dropship game, sure to be a fight of epic proportions…oh, the glory that was not! He simply enjoyed, and assumed his players enjoyed, crafting the pieces. Even with the computers of the time (early 90’s) we could have done it faster, but we would have missed fretting over the small decisions of armor vs. weight v.s ammo capacity.
Engineers enjoy the thrill of the build. Artists want to tell a story (efficacy coming in a distant second).
Character Generators can facilitate quick and effective ends for the needs of both these player personalities as well as accommodating the needs and desires of the GM perspective, but only when used judiciously.
Here’s what I think Pathguy did right: his character generator was fluid and helpful, and allowed you to “see” the rules as you went through the build process. It didn’t mask them or create copy pasta out of inputs, but walked you through the relevant choices and bypassed rules not related, but still allowed you to glance at them as you scrolled down. It encourages the player to consult the related rules and sourcebooks, rather than depend on an output charsheet note.
A character generator needs to facilitate rather than inhibit an understanding of the rules; a helping hand rather than a crutch.
There are more generators out there that fall into the crutch category than don’t, however. A very quick search will lead you to whole-cloth character generators, with everything from family relationships, to appearance, to complete backstory. And if you’re stuck, those can help… but if you aren’t interested enough to create something, will you play it? A “disgruntled, fine boned young man with a bad arm who is from the sea and lives with an army of undead” doesn’t think you will. Thanks http://whothefuckismydndcharacter.com/
“Artist” and “Engineer” must perform a balanced calculation to make a really good gaming experience, and GM’s and players must work together to really optimize the outcome. And the right generator is only one of many tools that helps the player and GM get there.
Matt Orbach is a raconteur, an alchemist, a some-time magician and a noted character creator. He should always play a bard.