Friday, June 25, 2010

That certain type of player...

I don't have a name for them. they're usually a type of power gamer and on the surface they may appear as such. They are usually mechanically interested in the system and focused on combat effectiveness. One of my friends is my prototype for this player type.

In D&D they usually build fighters of some kind. Toughness is important. In post-Arcana 1st edition they built barbarians. Or half-ogres if that was allowed. Half-Ogre barbarians were probably their favorite. Swinging a two-hander in one hand with an 18/00 STR while having 20+ hp at first level was just the top of the world to them.

In Rifts they usually built Full Conversion Borgs and typically travelled with spare suits of Borg heavy combat armor- again, toughness is important. Railguns were awesome and their ideal character was the Red Borg in that one painting. The Germany Sourcebook was their favorite in those early days because it was full of awesome Borgs and some cool power armor.

In Champions they built bricks - Armor, Forcefield, Power Defense, Knockback Resistance, usually coupled with some kind of HTH Killing attack, often with armor piercing, typically in the form of claws or a sword. It's important to be tough and to look badass. Wolverine was probably their favorite character in Marvel, but Wolverine in Colossus' body was what they wanted to play.Haymakers and move through's were their main combat maneuver. No codes against killing here, friend.

In Gamma World they went for a mutant with Force Field, some kind of ranged attack, and enhanced PS or CN. If they didn't get something like that they dumped it and played a PSH, begging for Power Armor of any flavor, a vibroblade, and a nuclear weapon - hey they wouldn't stat them if they didn't want someone to use them.

In Twilight 2000 they took Recon 80 as a starting character. Always. They were also always Green Berets, Rangers, SEALs, Force Recon, SAS, or Spetanaz. They usually carried C4 in addition to at least 3 guns and an AT weapon of some kind - and they still moved like ninjas.

In Warhammer 40,000 he likes Terminator Marines, preferably Chaos Terminator Marines because they are more badass and all spiky and stuff. Lightning Claws rocked in Rogue Trader.

In Marvel Super Heroes they were Wolverine. Or Colossus. Or Thor. Or Thing if none of those were available and maybe Wonder Man if Thing was taken. At least he had shades.

I don't know what they play in DC Heroes - we never stuck with it long enough to find out. I suspect it would be Superman. Or, more likely, Darkseid.

In Traveller their goal is to talk the DM into staring with Battle Dress and a FGMP-15, but they will negotiate down to a PGMP-13 if that's the best they can get. "But the merchant can start with a _ship_" is a common refrain here. Failing that it becomes their #1 goal to get those things as soon as possible.

In Star Fleet Battles he likes the Klingon C8 Dreadnought because Klingons are badass and the C8 is an awesome ship and one of the toughest DN's in the game.

In Shadowrun they play the character with the .01 starting essence and were very excited when the cyberzombie rules came out in 3rd edition so they could finally break through the zero essence barrier. Humanity is irrelevant -being immune to Panther Cannon fire is awesome and having a reaction time so fast you can act before you even think of it is a great power.

So the defining thing here is to be tough, be able to kill things in cool ways, and to look awesome doing it. Now Paladins can do some of that but Paladins aren't cool to these guys - too many restrictions on behavior. Assassins though...

Anyway these are the surface characteristics of this player type. The real defining trait though
is best illustrated by an example from play:

Years ago I ran a Rifts campaign that lasted 15 months (no really I did). My prototypical friend was one of about 8 characters in the party on their long journey from Texas to the ruins of Detroit and back - this was my second campaign to feature PC nuclear weapon use). He was of course a full conversion Borg, straight out of the Germany Sourcebook, a Gold Borg I believe. They were finally at the outskirts of Detroit and had to pass through a graveyard to avoid being spotted by some bad guys. They encounter a normal looking human in the graveyard and ask him for directions - the guy blows them off. The Borg pops his fist-spikes, gets right up in his face, and threatens him. Said human picks up the Borg and throws him way over there wherupon the Borg, realizing he faces a vampire, hits Turbo Mode and runs right on back to camp at 100MPH. This is despite being maybe the least vulnerable character in the party to a vampire as he's mostly metal. Didn't matter- that thing might have hurt him, so he ran away.

This encounter was when it crystallized for me - the same thing had happened in several games before - he builds the toughest badass he can within the system mechanics of whatever game we're playing then proceeds to sit at the back of the party most of the time. When combat breaks out he jumps in until he takes damage of any kind and then he runs away, possibly yelling for a cleric. I've seen it in D&D, Shadowrun (think that was vampires too, and he was a cybered-out Elf), Traveller (don't want to scratch the battle dress - I think we teased him about it being more of a battle-skirt given his attitude) Gamma World, Twilight, etc. Pretty much any game we played in the 80's and 90's this player had the same character. He did play a necromancer once in 2nd edition and that partially solved the problem - he had minions he could send in to fight and some kind of teleport thing to get him out of danger if his robe got dirty in some way.

Anyway I might call this the "Power Coward" if I was pressed for a name. He's a lot like a Power Gamer but he's not interested in testing it out - he already know his creation is the baddest and he doesn't want you to scratch it or get it dirty.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gaming FIction Review - Swordmage

This time I'm reviewing one of the newer D&D books - Swordmage, by Richard Baker. It's labelled "Blades of the Moonsea Book 1" but it is a standalone story and I have not read the rest of the series. It came out in 2008 and is apparently up to a trilogy as of right now.

Headline: This is actually a good story and a good D&D book.

I have not read any other novels by Richard Baker but I will look for more. I found the writing to be a little more adult than in the older D&D novels I have read, which is a good thing. It's set in Hulberg, a small city on the Moonsea. I have a soft spot for the Moonsea going back to Pool of Radiance and that's one of the things that drew my attention to this book. It's also the first novel set in the current 4th edition version of the Forgotten Realms after the spellplague and all the other changes including an 80-year timeline jump. So the setting appeals to me in several ways.

The main character is Geran Hulmaster, the titular swordmage, and we meet him in an interesting prologue in Myth Drannor. Circumstances ensue, and the story begins with him returning to Hulberg after a long absence after hearing of the death of a friend. It turns out the Hulmasters are the ruling family of this small barony and he is a lesser son of this small noble family. As you might guess some things have happened during his absence and he gets involved, albeit somewhat reluctantly. The opposition is intelligent and a nice mix of supernatural and simple conventional self-interest and greed and there are multiple opposing forces, not one over-arching super-baddie.

What's refreshing is what it's not: It's also not a Zhent plot, not a Bane plot, not some weird new supervillain-esque shape-changing creature from another plane, it's not Cyric attempting to subvert the goddess of magic or Nethereese or Red Wizards or Drow or any of the other overused meta-plot bad guys from the swirling vortex of bad Forgotten Realms novels. There are no harpers. Elves have only a minimal influence on the story - primarily the training of the title character as Swordmages are an Elven thing. No Elminster. No Dracoliches. No Seven Sisters. No personal appearances by gods of any kind.

So if you would like to read a decent story about a normal D&D character type hero handling local problems in an interesting corner of the Realms threatened by local bad guys, then you will find this to be a good read.

Main Characters: Very nicely done. The motivations make sense and are not divinely inspired, the result of a curse, or imposed by an outside party. He's made a bad decision or two in the past and thinks about them at times but isn't tortured unreasonably by them. He's good at what he does but not unbeatable and not invulnerable.

Supporting Characters: Interesting and capable on their own, from the traveling companion to Geran's extended family they do have some distinct personalities. Sarth is not especially well defined but he is probably the smallest supporting role so I'm not terribly upset about it.

Plot: Impressive. Certain things I expected but I was regularly surprised by the timing of events and by some things that didn't happen that seemed to be inevitable. After reading many many fantsay novels, many of them terrible, I am rarely surprised by plot elements but I really like the way this one worked out and I was impressed by the way it all wrapped up. Not every plot hook was wrapped up by the end - there is clearly room for a sequel or two - but it came to a satisfying conclusion.

Action Scenes: Well done. The fights seem like they could happen in a game of D&D (important when writing a story based on a game) and the descriptions of the sword magic is well done - it could be useful to a player playing one in a campaign. There are some big battles in the book as well and they are well done too. I felt there was a Lord of the Rings movie influence at work but that is not a bad thing in my mind.

Resolution: Excellent. Many plots are resolved, some conflicts are settled, enough to feel like a complete story is in this book but with plenty of them left for further sequels. Nothing ridiculous happens to provide a convenient out for any major character, no deus ex machina or uncalled for deific intervention in other ways either.

Overall: Impressive. I'll be looking for the sequels now.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

When Players Just Don't Get It - The Sequel

So...for the first time in 30 years of gaming I have a new player who has actively avoided joining the rest of the group not once but TWICE!

(If you haven't read my earlier posts around this topic they are here, here, and here. This will make more sense if you have read them.)

I don't mind taking an hour or two to work a new player into the game in an interesting way and making it memorable. In a Supers game especially, a new hero should enter dramatically. That didn't happen this time. Instead we wasted an hour plus on a new character NOT entering the game. This time it wasn't just me that was annoyed - the other players were actively annoyed and made it clear this was not a good idea. Several problems were evident:

1) The new player made a superhero. The game is called Necessary Evil because it's about Supervillains trying to throw off an alien invasion after the heroes are killed. The four current players all got this and made villains. Strike 1.

2) His character is basically built around money as a superpower. he's not an inventor, he doesn't have any special powers - he used his powers to beef up his stats and take 2 points of HTH attack (Martial Arts training). He bought a bunch of armor and guns and wants to be the billionaire playboy. Now I don't mind some of that and if he wants to spend two edges on it I'm perfectly willing to allow the trappings of that social level like a private jet, a nice car, a penthouse condo and a near-infinite wardrobe. However, it is not infinitely powerful. He wanted to have minions at his disposal, didn't want to have to pay for ammo for his Plasma Rifle, and most importantly didn't want to have to make skill rolls to make things happen. When I told him he couldn't just make a photographer appear at the restaurant with a phone call, he needed to make a persuasion check (or intimidate or some kind of knowledge roll - I'm pretty flexible on these things) he actually got annoyed that he was having to roll. He assumed that if he threw a bunch of money at the guy he would just automatically show up. I pointed out that he had already spent his starting funds on his guns and armor. He responded that he was Filthy Rich! I responded that yes he was and there was a number attached to that and he had already spent it! So he couldn't offer the guy some undefined amount of money and make him magically appear - he needed to make a roll and that would determine how things went. A lot of the game and my descriptions are driven off of these rolls - success = he shows up later; Raise = he happens to be in the neighborhood; 20+ = he's already right outside, what a stroke of luck! Roll a 1 (on both the skill die and the wild die) and guess what? He shows up because he happens to hate you and wants to do a smear job on you! things like that. So anyway, he wants to use Super Money as a diceless auto-succeed power in many situations and wants to argue when informed that isn't going to happen - Strike 2

3) Avoiding the player party in-game, attacking them, and then running away. These are all bad things and he did them twice. In the first session I dropped him in at the same location, let him know an overview of the situation (he had talked to the players between sessions too) and before he was ever attacked he started shooting at another PC. now comics and supers games have a long history of two good guys meeting for the first time, duking it out, then teaming up to fight a bad guy. I would have been fine with that. In this case he sees two one supervillain going after another supervillain, neither of which he has a personal connection to (according to his background - neither is mentioned) and he decides to shoot one of them. Then when that villain gets back up and comes after him he runs away. It's not heroic, it's not driven by background considerations, there's no personal grudge between these characters...nothing. No reason for this at all.

Despite this I gave him a second chance in the next session by reminding the party of the business card and they took it from there. The phone conversations and the restaurant meeting were all player-generated and I thought it was moving in a good direction. First warning sign - he leaves his armor and guns at home. So he's not going to fight well if discovered. OK, maybe he's going to be the peacemaker. Second warning sign - he stands up the bloodthirsty vampire girl. Not good. Then we moved into a series of dueling player skills to see who could get pictures and make a detective work roll to try and identify the other party first to get the drop on them. Unfortunately neither party really has the skills for this so lots of default rolls were being attempted and not much progress was made. Then sensing that he really had no idea what to do if he did ID them, he left right before being caught in the staged robbery. So once again, we have the new player avoiding a direct meeting with the party. This is not automatically bad - I'm fine with being mysterious, but he set up the meeting then avoided it! Then trying to one-up them with the spy games or hiding - and not just one, say "rival", member but the whole party. All this does is annoy or anger the other players - it doesn't bring out any background story or advance any plot, it just wastes time and worsens attitudes. Strike 3

4) The bonus round - After doing all this over 2 sessions, he realizes that he has walked out of the adventure for the rest of the night and starts making suggestions on how I can work him in!

"Hey maybe I'm a secret service agent protecting the family" things like that. Now he's full of ideas on how he might fit in to the upcoming mission. Only problem is there are no secret service with the family - they're all dead. This is specifically mentioned in the adventure and it's why the PC's need to go rescue the family in the first place., so I'm not inclined to change it, especially at this point in the evening.

"Well maybe I'm working for the government and I've been watching them so I contacted Dr. D to let him know-" No. Just no. Dr. Destruction doesn't need your help on this.

"Maybe Dr. D sent me in as reinforcements to the team" - no, because in your background you are a super hero, and he's not going to suddenly decide to add junior hero man to a team that's working well together and accomplishing missions already.

So yeah he got to watch the other players bust in, kick ass, rescue the first family, and get away. I didn't feel bad about it as he had at least two chances to join in and he didn't, so presumably he wanted to watch instead of play. Wish granted. Strike 4.

The bad thing here is that I actually like having one player who is a little out of sync with the rest of the team. It mixes things up and it's probably more true to the comics tradition than a fully-cohesive team would be anyway. But you have to be on the team to play that part and he just won't get there. Plus now the other players are irritated with the new player too and it's degrading the amount of fun we're having in the game. . He's not a first-time roleplayer - he's talked about 1st edition and 2nd edition D&D characters and other games so he should be able to make this work. It was worth a try but it's just not working out and I don't trust myself now not to take it personally if he avoided the party again. There's even an optional subplot in NE that I considered using him for but I just don't want to put the energy into it after the last 2 sessions.

So I'm going to un-invite him. I haven't had to do that in 15 years but after writing all this out I am not willing to waste part of another session trying to accommodate one player at the expense of 4 others and myself. I welcome any thoughts or comments any readers might have so feel free to sound off in the comments or in an email.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Necessary Evil - Session 7 - Other Peoples' Hostages

We open in Star City. The villains have returned home after a successful extraction of The Monolith from a monastery in Japan. The team decides to follow up on their strange encounter with "The Gray One" by calling the number on the business card he threw at them as he retreated. Nissa calls it and attempts to talk her way past the secretary who answers, but ends up frustrated that her mind control powers don't work over the phone. Eventually though, a meeting is set at The Olive Branch (a high-end Italian restaurant) for 8pm.

There is much maneuvering as 8:00 approaches as Nightblade and Night Terror stake out the establishment - they plan to make an example of this guy for taking a shot at Night Blade. MegaStrike waits nearby as backup for Nissa who will be heading inside to meet their quarry. Neither of them originally wanted to off Gray, but Nissa's frustration over the phone games played earlier has turned into a killing rage and she plans to make a meal of him at the very least.

The Gray One suspects an ambush so he hires an escort and goes in his secret identity of Gary Noe. He looks like just another customer to the casual observer (and he effectively is since all of his powers come from gear which he has decided to leave home for tonight). He has left a message for Nissa at the desk noting that he can't make it but that he has paid for her meal. Then he sits down to observe the crowd.

The message does not help Nissa's attitude and she suspects something is going on. She orders the others to stage a robbery so she can examine everyone more closely, glamouring them if necessary. This is about the same time Gray decides to leave and he manages to slip out with his rent-a-date before MegaStrike can smash in the front door. He does call the police on his way to his car though. The team goes ahead and robs the place anyway, netting about $5,000.

Frustrated over not finding The Gray One the group is somewhat relieved when Dr. Destruction calls them and asks them to rescue some hostages - namely the first family of the United States. They have been in hiding since the invasion but the V'Sori have finally caught them and are holding them in an old state police barracks near Boston. He wants them recovered alive and brought to the warehouse. There are only 3 members left - the president's wife, daughter, and granddaughter and he is leaving extraction and transportation up to the team.

The group rents a van (Nissa glamours the attendant) and heads for Boston. They find the building where the hostages and observe it quietly for an hour. There is a single transport parked outside, one alien "Manta" fighter craft, and half a dozen drones standing guard on the roof and near the vehicles. The only entrance appears to be the front door.

Being a "Plan A" kind of team Night Terror phases out and drifts into the Manta fighter and starts it up. As the guards look up, he begins firing at them with the ship's guns. This is the signal for MegaStrike and he smashes a new door through the back wall of the building which Night Blade and Nissavin use to enter the place. The drones outside the building are quickly dispatched by fighter pilot Night Terror while the fin troopers inside the place are just as quickly dispatched by fang, katana, and radioactive punch. Nissa charms a guard and has him lead the team to the first family, who are in the center of the building.

In the main detention area a battle royale takes place as the V'Sori Warlord who captured the family and his elite fin guards fight to the death to protect their career-making prizes. the mental blasting and stunning powers of the warlord are a new threat for the team and they spend much of the fight being stunned or trying to shake it off. Night Blade blows open the front of the building in an effort to help, stopping some reinforcements, but then decides that's too dangerous to his allies and stays on cover duty outside. The fins are handled one by one until only the warlord is left and he finally falls to a savage thrust from Night Blade.

The cell is broken open and the first family, though a little shaken by what's happened and what's still happening goes along with them. Night Terror lands the fighter and sets the engines on overload, joining the team inside as they race through the building and out the back, jumping into the van and heading home as the building is engulfed in a huge explosion.

It's another job well-done for the Plan A Team.

DM notes:
  • The whole episode with the Gray One was my second attempt to get the new player to join the team. as you might have guessed from the description, he didn't. Again. more on this tomorrow.
  • The main focus of the evening was supposed to be rescuing the first family and that's where we spent the majority of the time. The game ran somewhat later than usual because of the restaurant business but everyone did well and as far as I can tell had a good time with that part. They came up with a decent plan, made it work, and achieved their goal with no casualties on their side.
  • I say everyone but I mean my 4 original players. The new guy didn't have much to do because he walked his character right out of the team in the first part of the evening. Sorry, I can only spend so much game time catering to one player. When you actively avoid joining the rest of the party, and go so far as to jack with them, practically taunting them, before running off, I don't think you have a right to complain when you don't have anything to do the rest of the session.
  • Overall I feel good about the system and the campaign. It plays fast and loose and I am enjoying the DMing part of this quite a bit. I have decided to make a cheat sheet for Savage Worlds to make sure my players have options in front of them as I think they could do more with grappling, tricks, and wild attacks than they have. Plus it's easier to keep track of modifiers when they are on one sheet in front of you rather than scattered throughout the book.
  • Next up will probably be some underwater adventuring... Atlantis Awaits!