Tag Archives: Drama

Design of Dubious Use Presents

Item Classifications

For some time now RPGs include various classifications for items and then link them to certain mechanical benefits or detriments in the rules. For example, the GURPS system not only had types of weapons and damage but also Tech Levels, describing the point in history where the game was taking place and what sort of items could be found there. Obstinately, this was to keep laser guns out of the medieval fantasy, but in my experience, it served only to confuse the players and cause trouble. You can see where Tech Levels get silly quickly with the addition of half levels and the +/- which modifies the meaning of a given TL in an attempt to make it more customized.

Another good example can be found in D&D. Here you find weapons classified as either Exotic or Common, slashing/bashing/piercing, and by their damage die. In purpose, these are all present to give players a strategy to work by. Certain types of weapons do better or worse against certain types of foes. In practice, this causes parties to be concerned not with the story and its elements but often with the contents. How many times have you sat down to start a game session and are hit by a barrage of questions? “Are we going to be engaging undead?” “What sort?” “Skeletons or zombies?”

From such, or because of such classification, RPGs have rules which limit what characters can do based solely on them. Proficiencies, Skills, and Talents are layered with caveats giving players access to one or two of the categories but not all. But do these classifications do anything for the roleplaying experience? Do these rules enhance the drama and the player experience or end up restricting Players and their imaginations?

Here are two situations of high drama which Characters can find themselves in.

Situation 1: Your character has been kidnapped and put in a locked room. You’ve been able to escape your bonds. There’s nothing in the room but a chair, the rope the character was tied up with, and a table. Your character hears the kidnappers coming down the hallway talking about how the ransom hasn’t been paid and they’re going to murder them.

Situation 2: Your character is in the middle of a large battle, both sides have people dying all around you. Your weapon is broken and you’re suddenly faced with an opposing champion. Your only choice is to grab a spear-like instrument currently impaling a fallen comrade.

Both of these situations can apply to a whole party, not an individual. Both have the same problem when having rules reinforcing classification systems. Can the Character take up that spear or grab that chair and make good with their life? In both situations they should be able to because it makes sense dramatically. The system should be focusing on the drama of the situation and not the objects lying about the characters. These are not the plot macguffins you put in there. This is a Character in life and death. The drama of these situations does not lie in the materials but in how they are used.

When creating a system of classification for item you create a certain intent. If that intent is to limit or restrict then you have limited and restricted how your players imagine and react to the situations presented. Does that make for good roleplaying or not?

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When writing an adventure module

The things I think about when writing an adventure module can be summed into three categories. Those are Story, Survivability, and Reward. Each one has different considerations to balance and address and each one can be a little overwhelming if taken too seriously. Inside I take each of these topics separately and the areas I address when working on the WFRP campaign.

Story: Does there have to be an overarching story? Yes, but more than that I think there should be up to three story lines going at any given moment. This way you can address the three elements most people seem to be interested in: Combat, Diplomacy, and Roleplaying. The overarching story ties the entire season or whatever you want to call it together and the other two side stories to keep people interested in playing. Ideally, I think that the overarching story has a mix of the three elements in each adventure as a way of making sure all players have a stake in what is happening. In your two off stories you can concentrate on one of the elements more to your liking. In attempting that mix you have to realize that Combat and Diplomacy are closely related. If you are not careful in using them much of what gets decided is decided by the dice and not your players. So this gets extra attention in how much it affects the story’s outcome. Also attempting to keep as many players involved in the game itself, you have allow for the different character archetypes to each get a chance to shine. While WRFP does not formalize them as much as, say, L5R has, carving out some time for the Burghers, Politicians, and Courtiers to practice their silver-tongued deviltry is something I try to keep in mind as the plotting moves along.

Survivability: The survival of the characters is a major concern that I come back to when writing WFRP modules. The reasons it comes up is twofold. WRFP is a system which can be very lethal to PCs. One good Ulric’s Fury and you’re staring at a dead table. This can be a serious detriment for players. Part of having a living campaign is to give your players a chance to step deeply into their character’s world. Having the character investment be shallow means you get the same shallow buy-in to your campaign. That is not something I want. Secondly, Fate Points are there to help counter this but they are an extremely limited player currency. I don’t want to force my PCs to use them unless it is completely necessary and I don’t want to hand them out continually. Unless the drama of that module calls for it, the use of FP is something I actively look to write around. This tension between the system’s lethality and the needs of a long term campaign can be a difficult balance to achieve. If this was a system that was still being actively published, a better understanding of creatures and how to craft combat encounters is something that I would take to the developers. As it stands, having to refine it takes a backseat to the many other tasks as the series keeps going forward.

Rewards: Rewarding players and character in an ongoing campaign effectively is the final tough point. In the campaign, I am terming the rewards as “Opportunities”. These include the ability to create new characters in races not set forth in the campaign guide, careers created for the campaign, experience, items, and of course Dwarven Magic, er, gold. In this WFRP campaign, one of the first decisions I made was to make all starting characters human by default and to take away a few of the careers. Not to get into all of the reasons for doing such, but the big was that this is the human Empire. I want this version of it to be populated and saved mostly by them. In doing this, it made setting up a dwarf or elf character as a reward. And in the first module, The Faire, (soon to be out, just give me another day or two) part of the rewards are careers which are specifically created for the campaign. Experience is something I’m working on standardizing. On the whole my thoughts are that a single session should have the potential for one advancement. In doing so, it should be become predictable in how far characters are able to advance at any given point in the campaign. The same goes for items and gold. It may seem cheep to want to control these things but this goes right back to player enjoyment and trying to have a certain sense of fairness.