June 29, 2015

The Bay Method - 4 Things to Keep in Mind for a Successful Con Game

Today I have a guest post from one of the designers of the Asylum RPG, an indie RPG currently in playtest.  I'm not on the con circuit, but he is, especially since starting playtesting.  Here's his advice for GMs running short con games or demos.

His advice reminds me of Chris Perkins' style of GMing, so if you're interested in coming across like Perkins, read on!

* * *

Before we cut to the chase, I just want to congratulate Jon for running a damn successful blog and giving me the opportunity to write a special guest post.

My name's Carlos.  I've been running games since middle school and plunged into all kinds of systems and philosophies.  Since my 20's I've been running games at cons, universities, and even public park games that weren't elaborate boffer affairs.  In that time I've discovered there is a distinct difference between running a game with some friends at your home and running a game for complete strangers in a place you've never even set foot in.

It takes extra planning, determination and all that organizational stuff, sure, but it also takes a healthy appreciation for showmanship and what people like.  Have those down and you barely need to have your scenario written!  Because this skill set is equal parts zen simplicity and con artist bluffing, I've named it The (Michael) Bay Method.

The four pillars of The Bay Method are a combination of game design, social engineering and self affirmation.  Don't worry, there are still explosions.

1. You are now in show business

This is the most important pillar of all and one that a surprising number of con GMs don't fully grasp.  You are in a public venue providing entertainment.  You're the talent!  Just as much so as if you were a band playing a festival gig.  And just like that band, you're there to have fun and experience the thrill of playing to an audience AND you're also on the hook for showing that audience a good time.

Accept and embrace this before anything else: you and your awesome game are up on a stage playing a crowd at a gig.  Once that sinks in and you accept it, running con/event games goes from scary/awkward to addictive.

Embrace the stagecraft.  You are on stage every bit as much as your game is. That means little visual and tactile details can give you a huge leg up. Even little flourishes like wearing a sweet t-shirt, providing really nifty themed dice, or custom cards can start you off with the table already on your side.

2. Make everything as clear as possible

Everything from the title of your game to its blurb in the con schedule to how you lay your materials out on the table needs to convey important information to your players.  This is not the time for subtlety and it's absolutely not the time to lie to your audience.  WWMBD?  Tip your hand.  Tell them what to expect and where this game is going.  And repeat your message.

This goes beyond showmanship.  This goes into making sure you get the right players and that those players are going to play your game right.  Let's get an example:

"The Ninth Man is a game of intrigue for five players. Someone will know more than the rest, others will have to fight for the truth.  This game uses mature subject matters."

It's. . . okay, but I don't know too much about it.  Let's Bay this up a little bit. . .

"The Ninth Man pits players against a cruel blackmailer, a global conspiracy and each other.  This intrigue and social heavy game delves into betrayal, sex, lies and redemption."

Great!  Now I know your game is somewhat PvP but not really a combat game.  I know it involves some kind of espionage and that I probably shouldn't bring my 13 year old younger sibling who just started going to cons to it.

And if you're worried you're giving away too much in your blurbs, tweets or posts, I can guarantee you from a decade and a half of doing this that barely anyone ever remembers what they read.

3. It's all in the timing

Con/Event games live and die by their timing.  Know how much time you have and plan like you have at least a half hour less than that.  For any length of time longer than three hours, plan like you have a full hour less.  Your game needs to feel comfortable in its time block, it needs to finish and it needs time for everybody to talk about it afterwards. This is something that's really easy to miss or steal time budget from but it makes a massive difference in whether or not you're invited back next year.

Most cons use a 3 - 4 hour time blocks.  Plan for 2 - 3 hours of actual gameplay.  That's a crazy small amount of time for most RPG sessions.  Most gamers are used to 3 - 4 hours.

This means that you need to hit your marks fast and loud.  This is where Mr. Bay will help you out.  Bay doesn't dawdle in his movies and you shouldn't in your con game. And don't do anything small: critical successes should cleave obstacles in twain in the most vivid way possible, botches should screw over players in beautiful, hilarious ways that people will talk about for hours afterward.

And always, always introduce the hell out of your plot points.

Think of it this way, you've got maybe 5 minutes of runtime before that NPC, event or object gets lost in the criss-cross of die rolls and player actions. Whatever information or feeling you convey in those 5 minutes gets set in stone.  Make those 5 minutes count!  Make 'em loud and memorable.

4. If it's not happening during game, it doesn't exist

Now I hear what you're saying.  "But, but. . . the Kyrilian Dragon War is the catalyst for why the royal houses of Fisk and Artaugh are in conflict!  It's why the Mysterious Keeper that helps the PCs is secretly an Artaugh prince and why he can't tell them!  It's why he doesn't just open the door but doesn't say why!"

Unless the players are explicitly dealing with all that in this game, none of that matters.  To them Prince Artaugh is just a GM fiat jerk that won't open the goddam door.

I can't tell you how often I run into con/event game scenarios where the final scene is a puzzle piece in an epic backstory the GM wrote but doesn't tell the players about.  Or how many times the antagonist (or even pregen PC) is secretly an all-powerful demi-god and is so secret and marvelous that their identity and plans can never, ever be discovered!  Most times I've seen this, the NPC version is barely noticed ("That guy in the bar was a demon lord?  Huh.  Okay.") and the PC version is explicitly told to never reveal how awesome and secretly the villain they are.

DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN.  There is no reason for it.  You wrote all this stuff!  You did all this work!  Let your players see it experience it.

You don't have to be a charlatan or a rock star to practice The Bay Method.  It just takes an acknowledgement that you're heading into a con as part of the entertainment.  You're on the con's set list!  There's mad props and great pride to take in that.

Like him or not, Bay takes the two or three hours we give him and makes sure we remember and talk about what he shows us.  At a con/event game that's your job too!  Learn it well and the con circuit becomes your oyster

June 22, 2015

Chase Rules for D&D 5th Edition Part 3 - Examples, Original System, and Other Ideas

Two weeks ago, I kicked this series off with rules for escaping combat.  Last week, I gave you revised chase rules for pursuit and evasion.  Those rules are 100% player-facing and minimize the impact that "instant win" spells have on chase scenes.  Today, I'll give you examples of all three new systems and a discussion of the original chase system in the DMG.

Chase Rules: Examples  

Below are examples of the rules, above, using the example of the first encounter in Lost Mine of Phandelver, the D&D 5th edition Starter Set. This is an encounter that should be familiar to most 5e GMs.  Most of you have run it, played it, seen a YouTube video of it, or read about it on forums.  I'm using the starter set characters which you can look at, here.

I'm naming them (Dungeon World Principle #7: Name Every Person)

  • Sir Stanley:  Noble Fighter
  • Berwin:  Soldier Cleric
  • Gladheart:  Criminal Rogue
  • Silverleaf:  Acolyte Wizard
  • Fletcher:  Hero Archer


Warning:  There are spoilers for the first encounter of Lost Mine of Phandelver here.

The first encounter has the PCs escorting a wagon down a road and being ambushed by four goblins.  I will do three examples:  Escape, Evasion, and Pursuit.

Example 1:  Escape

We join our heroes mid-combat.  The goblins have had some lucky rolls, and the surprise round was brutal.  It's round 2, and the casters are out of spells, the rogue is unconscious and dying, and the archer is down to one hit point.  The wizard is only alive because of Shield and Mage Armor.  None of the goblins is dead yet, though a few have taken some damage.

Berwin:  I'm out of healing.  Let's get out of here!
Stanley:  I agree.  I'll hold them off while you guys get to safety.
Gladheart (OOC):  Remember I'm unconscions.
Fletcher (OOC):  All the more reason to get out of here.  I'm at 1 hit point, myself.
Silverleaf:  Sounds good to me.
GM:  OK.  Choose a type of escape and narrate something your character does consistent with your traits, ideals, bonds and flaws.
...
Berwin:  I tend to wait for others to act.  So I look to Stanley to see what he does.
Stanley:  Like I said, "I'll hold them off while you guys get to safety!"  Stanley holds up his shield and covers the retreat.  I choose Brave Retreat, so I take 1 damage for my level.
Berwin:  OK.  Berwin says, "I was hoping you'd say that."  I'm going to do Assisted Retreat.  Berwin steps behind Stanley while arrows rain down on him, then he runs as fast as his stubby legs can carry him.
GM:  OK, Stanley, you gain Inspiration.
Stanley:  I already have it from Brave Retreat, so I'll give that Inspiration to Berwin and take this one.
Gladheart:  I'm unconscious.  I'll do Desperate retreat.  In a haze of pain, Gladheart sees Berwin running and thinks, "Oh no!  There goes my healer!"  I crawl after Berwin.  I never have a plan, right?  So I'm just winging it.  Stay by the healer!
GM:  OK, with Desperate retreat, the one who helps you takes damage.  Who is that?
Gladheart:  Would Berwin be kind enough to lend me a shoulder?
Berwin:  Yeah, I'd pause to haul you up.  I wouldn't let you die.
GM:  OK, so Berwin takes 1 damage, based on his level.  Gladheart, you get back up to 1 hit point.  Silverleaf and Fletcher?
Silverleaf:  I'll use Assisted Retreat, too.  Would Fletcher cover my retreat?
Fletcher:  Sure.  I use up a few arrows giving you covering fire.
Silverleaf:  Great, so you get Inspiration.  Oh, and since I use big words, Silverleaf is like, "Fletcher! Employ continuous fire in the direction of the southernmost goblinoids so that I can escape their overwatch!"
Fletcher:  Heh.  OK, my turn.  I have one hit point left, so I can't use Brave Retreat.  I'll also use Assisted Retreat.  I use big words too, but this is better:  I'm blind to the risk of failure, so I'm standing there shooting until Stanley grabs me by the shoulder and turns me around.  He's like "run you idiot!"
Stanley:  Heh, yeah.  Sounds like something I'd do.  And I'm giving my inspiration to Silverleaf for that word salad.
GM:  OK, after Fletcher gets moving, Stanley runs behind, keeping low...

Example 2:  Evasion

GM: ...But it's not over yet!  You get a ways down the road when you see the goblins are giving chase!  [Step 1] You duck into the unfamiliar woods, but you still hear them coming.  You have to fool them somehow.  You can stick together or split up...  What do you do?
Stanley:  Half the party is badly injured. We have to stick together.
Berwin:  Agreed.  We try to lose the goblins in the woods.
GM:  OK.  [Step 2] Everyone make a Stealth check, DC 10.

Berwin and Stanley fail.  Fletcher, Silverleaf, and Gladheart succeed.

GM:  OK, you think you've given them the slip.  Now you hear them calling to each other as they search for you.  How do you get out of the area? [Step 3]
Fletcher:  I know the land here.  I'll be the guide.
GM:  OK, roll Survival.
Gladheart:  I'm going to try to cover our tracks.
GM:  OK, roll Deception.
Stanley:  I'm going to keep an eye out to make sure they don't catch up to us.
GM:  OK, that's Perception.
Berwin:  I'm going to help the party cross streams, get over rocks - go places they won't be able to follow.
GM:  That's Athletics.
Silverleaf:  I know goblin.  I'm going to listen to them and try to guide the party away from where they seem to be going.
GM:  That's Perception to hear those calls or Insight to guess what they're doing from their communications.
Silverleaf:  It's +3 either way.  We'll say it's sort of both.
GM:  OK, everyone, make a check with the skill I said at DC 15.

Berwin, Silverleaf and Fletcher fail.  Gladheart and Stanley succeed.

GM:  Bad news, guys.  Stanley hears one very close.  Silverleaf, you realize that some of them weren't shouting, and you didn't realize it.  The nearby one raises an alarm.  "Them over here!  Hurry!"  The goblins crash through the woods after you.  You take off again.  Do you still stick together?
Fletcher:  Yeah.  I blame this die, not my skills.  We can do it.  Run guys!
Others:  Agreed!  Yeah!  Don't split the party!  Not when I have one hit point!
GM:  [Back to Step 2] OK, you're still out of sight, so you can all try Stealth again.  DC 10.  If three of you fail,

Berwin fails.  Stanley, Fletcher, Silverleaf, and Gladheart succeed.

GM:  OK, you've lost them again.  Now you have to sneak out of the area before they find you.
Stanley:  Same as last time guys?
Others:  Yeah!  Stupid die, no more ones!  Yes, let's do it. OK!
GM:  OK, roll them again, DC 15.

Silverleaf and Fletcher fail.  Berwin, Gladheart and Stanley succeed.

Fletcher:  Stupid die...
GM:  But the good news is you got away.  You spend an hour covering your tracks, and you think they've given up.
Berwin:  I'm out of healing.  Let's take a long rest, OK?
Silverleaf:  Good idea.  Now I know there are goblins, I'd like to prepare Sleep.

Example 3: Pursuit

The next day, the party returns to the ambush site, this time prepared for a fight.  The wagon they abandoned has been looted, so they need to capture a goblin and find out where the supplies were taken.  They sneak around and ambush the goblins on the right side of the road.

After making quick work of those two, the ones on the left flee.  In Lost Mine of Phandelver, it seems like the PCs are meant to chase the goblins down a path that has traps in it.  The GM decides to use the Pursuit system instead.

GM:  They're fleeing down what looks like a twisty path in the woods.  In the underbrush, you can only hear them as they barrel through branches and weeds growing over the path.  Do you want to split up and try to head them off or stick together?
Fletcher:  I'm wary about splitting the party...
Berwin:  But you and Gladheart can probably cut through and get ahead of them.
Gladheart:  I'd like to give it a try.
Stanley:  OK, shout if you get in trouble.
GM:  OK, you get three tries to catch them before they get away.  Berwin, Stanley, and Silverleaf are the hammer.  Gladheart and Fletcher are the anvil.  OK, anvil:  You need to figure out where they are and sneak ahead of them through the underbrush.  Give me Stealth or Perception.

Fletcher and Gladheart both succeed.

GM:  Great!  OK, hammer.  You need to flush them out and catch up.  Roll Intimidation or Athletics.

Berwin and Stanley succeed.  Silverleaf fails.

GM.  Good enough.  That's more than half.  You've got them surrounded.  Ahead are Fletcher and Gladheart, bows drawn.  Behind are the others, blades and spells ready.  The goblins are trapped in the middle, with a boulder at their right and a thicket at their left.  Roll initiative!




Existing Chase System

The existing rules suggestion for chase scenes in 5e D&D is on page 252 of the Dungeon Master's Guide.  It uses distances and movement speeds.  Characters can Dash to get ahead, though there is a limit to how often it can be done (limiting the rogue's ability to abuse Cunning Action).  The rules don't take place in rounds, solving the Opportunity Attack and the accordion problem.  These are all good improvements.

At the end of each round, characters who passed through cover or concealment of some sort during the chase can use Stealth to hide.  The chase ends if all the quarry get away and hide.  This means that the most important stats for escaping a pursuit are Stealth and Constitution (more Dash actions), and the most important stats for pursuing a quarry are passive Perception and Constitution.  Some nice tables of Chase Complications provide fun obstacles that bring other skills and attributes into play.

There are problems with the DMG rules.  Likely the pursuers will catch the quarry.  This is because...

  • The quarry will frequently need to zig and zag to move through cover and concealment, slowing their movement, while the pursuers do not need to do so ("If the quarry is never out of the lead pursuer's sight,the check fails automatically" p. 253); 
  • The rules don't work for indoor chases; and
  • There are many popular spells that will make capturing your quarry trivially easy.

If you are going to use the DMG chase system, you should do the following:

  • Put a lot of cover and concealment in the area.  Use narrow city streets with side-alleys, doorways, laundry lines, stacks of crates, and so forth.  Or use a dark dungeon with dim light.  Or a forest with ample undergrowth as the characters race along deer trails.  This lets the quarry move their full speed without having to zig and zag any more than their pursuers.
  • If the PCs are the pursuers, and you want the quarry to have any chance of escape, you have to do something about spells.  Start the quarry farther away from the PCs, so that the PC casters will only get one chance to use a spell before falling too far behind.  Give the quarry good Constitution scores so they can Dash early and often to keep the casters from getting line of sight on them.
  • Use the Chase Complications liberally!  Instead of rolling 1d20 on tables where 11-20 is "no complication," consider rolling 1d10, so there's always a complication.

Like a lot of the systems in 5th edition, the chase system gives savvy DMs the ability to create an outcome that is "by the rules" but nearly guaranteed to come out exactly how the DM wants.  If you want the outcome of the chase to be nearly certain in the pursuers' favor, use the DMG chase system without the suggestions above, and give the lead pursuer proficiency in Survival, to cause the quarry Disadvantage on their Stealth rolls.  If you want the outcome of the chase to be in the quarry's favor, have it lead into an area that's heavily obscured like total darkness or thick foliage.



Other Chase Systems

Old Dungeon Master has some chase house rules.  These rules change the system more than mine do. They also don't handle the problem of attack spells and other spells that can pretty much instantly end a chase when you can target the enemy.  Breaking line of sight is the technique I use to prevent magic from instantly winning chase scenes.  You might also want to use Paizo's chase deck, and convert it to 5e.  The problem with the chase deck is spells, again.  You have to rule that the chase never quite has line of sight, and get your players to accept that premise.  If it weren't for the problem of spells, there are other RPGs you could steal chase rules from.



Navigation
This post is part of a trilogy!  Here are links to the other posts.


STAY TUNED for Part 2 and 3 coming later in June!


  • Chase Rules for D&D 5th Edition Part 1 - Introduction and Escape Rules - Run Away!
  • Chase Rules for D&D 5th Edition Part 2 - Pursuit and Evasion
  • Chase Rules for D&D 5th Edition Part 3 - Examples, Original System, and Other Ideas

June 15, 2015

Chase Rules for D&D 5th Edition Part 2 - Pursuit and Evasion

Last week I gave you a new rule for letting the PCs escape combat.  Today, in Part 2, I'm going to revise the 5e chase rules.  Next week I'll give you examples for all three systems, plus some analysis of the DMG's chase system and advice on how to use it, if you'd rather.

Chase Rules: Pursuit and Evasion

Chase scenes have four stages:  First, the quarry has to get away from the pursuer's immediate grasp, so they can't physically block the quarry's escape.  Second, the quarry has to break line of sight, so the pursuer cannot see exactly where they are.  Third, while hidden from view, the quarry has to hide or trick the pursuer so that they have a clear path to sneak away.  Fourth, the pursuer will begin searching for the quarry, so the quarry has to sneak out of the pursuer's search area.

In D&D, the combat rules tend to trump chase scenes.  Chase scenes in D&D (at least in 5th edition) are only really possible once the quarry has broken line of sight because of the power of ranged spells.  At very low levels, even partial casters like Rangers get access to spells that halt enemy movement.  Therefore, chase scenes should begin with the quarry breaking line of sight.  Starting with the quarry out of sight is the main innovation of this system.

If the PCs are the quarry, they have to get to cover before starting the chase scene.  The Escape rules above can handle that for you, if they're already in a fight.  If not, you can just let them tell you how they run away.  Hopefully they won't be foolish enough to stay out in the open for long, in a world with archers and wizards!

If the PCs are the pursuer, this means that the quarry has to start the chase near cover and get concealed before the PCs can react.  Some players may feel like this is railroading.  That's a specious objection:  You're setting up a chase scene, sure; but the players can choose how they want to handle it.  Do they even pursue?  Do they split up?  Do they recruit nearby NPCs to help?  Do they use spells to improve their odds?  They can always ignore the chase if they want.  They can ask around to see if anyone knows the quarry, sketch her likeness and put up wanted posters, or use Locate Person and find her later.  Outside of a city, they can let the quarry run, but try to follow his tracks, or enlist the aid of forest creatures, or use a trained hunting dog to help follow his trail.  Spells and skill checks can handle these situations.  The key here is that the GM needs to be prepared for both "when the players catch the quarry" and "when the quarry escapes."

These rules are "player-facing."  That means that the GM doesn't roll any dice.  It also means they're asymmetrical, which most players will appreciate, since it makes things more exciting for them and puts all the control over what happens in their decisions and the results of their dice.


When do you want to use these?

Pursuit:  When a monster flees combat, typically the PCs will either let it go or hunt it down in combat rounds and kill it.  The third option is for when an important villain tries to flee, and you think it would be fun to run a chase scene where the PCs might or might not capture the villain.  But pursuit scenes are even more likely to show up outside of combat when the PCs want to chase a thief, spy, assassin, or fugitive.

Evasion:  When the PCs flee combat, you might choose to invoke the Evasion rules below to keep the tension up or because the monsters they were fighting are not willing to let them get away.  But it has more uses than that.  If the PCs fail a Stealth check when sneaking past enemies who might give chase, you can start an Evasion scene instead of going straight to combat.  When the PCs escape prison or talk their way into trouble, you can use the evasion system.  And if the PCs get attacked by opponents they don't want to kill (such as town guards or knights who have the wrong idea), they may find it more ethical to run than to open up with fireballs.

Chase Modifiers (optional):  




Relative Speed
Movement speed is not as big a factor in a chase after line of sight has been broken as raw athletic ability.  The quarry will use rough terrain to try to break line of sight or cause their pursuers to slip up.  This means a lot of climbing, jumping, pushing through, turning on a dime, and scrambling about.  If you want to factor movement speed into the system, you can use modifiers based on relative speed:  A character whose speed is higher than the highest of the pursuers gains Advantage on their chase rolls to catch their quarry - nobody can outrun them!  A character whose speed is lower than the lowest speed of their pursuers gets Disadvantage on chase rolls to evade their pursuers - everybody is faster than them!  Using this optional modifier, a party of humans will have a very easy time catching a single fleeing halfling, but mixed speed parties chasing mixed speed parties probably won't have a lot of modifiers.

Numbers: Small Groups Get Away Easier
It's easier to get away if there aren't a lot of you trying to slip the net.  Groups of quarry larger than 3 have -1 to their chase rolls for every additional character in their group.  This gives the PCs incentive to split up early, which adds to the tension.

Numbers:  Search Party
It's easier to catch your quarry if you have a lot of people helping.  If the PCs are the pursuers, and they have the opportunity to get NPCs to help catch their foes, have one PC take the lead coordinating them.  That PC makes a Persuasion (to get the NPCs to help, if they need to be recruited) or Investigation (to give them useful orders, if they're already loyal to the PCs) check.  If they get a 10-14, they have recruited or coordinated one of the available helpers, and can claim a one re-roll during the chase.  If they get 15-19, they have recruited or coordinated three of the available helpers (if possible), and can claim a two re-rolls during the chase.  If they got a 20+ they have recruited or coordinated all of the available helpers, and can claim three re-rolls during the chase.  A re-roll lets them roll a failed chase roll again and take the new result.  The leader chooses when the re-rolls are used, and who gets to use them.

The NPCs don't make chase rolls themselves, and don't count toward relative speed modifiers (above) if you're also using that rule.  If combat breaks out, leave the NPCs out.  They're far away doing something useful like running a screen, keeping the quarry from slipping out the back, or checking a side passage.



The System

In the rules below, the letter P stands for the "highest Proficiency bonus out of all the PCs' opponents in the scene."  That is, if there are three foes with +2 Proficiency and two with +3 Proficiency, then a DC of 8+P is 11 (8 plus 3 from the highest Proficiency bonus of all the enemies).  This lets this system scale, while still letting PCs get better at it as they gain levels.  It also means tougher monsters are harder to escape and harder to capture.



Pursuit

Step 1:  

First, narrate how their quarry ducks and weaves through tight corridors, dark halls, undergrowth, crowds, fog, or twisting alleyways.  The chase isn't interesting in D&D until the enemy breaks line of sight.

Step 2:  

The PCs have a choice.  Do they split up to try to corner the quarry, or stick together and try to catch up?

If they stick together, have them all make an Athletics or Perception check, DC 13+P, to run flat out or try to keep track of their quarry.

  • If at least half succeed, they have closed on them.  Decide on the terrain and start combat with each PC no more than 10' from the enemy and roll initiative.  Note:  If the PCs are separated, roll 1d6 in secret.  That's how many rounds have to pass before the other PCs - hearing the commotion - arrive to help.
  • If half or more fail, repeat step 2.  But they only get three tries.  After they have failed three times, their quarry gets away.

If they split up, they're separated into two groups.  The goal is usually to have one group head off the enemy.

Have the half coming up behind (the hammer) make a check of Athletics or Intimidation (player's choice) at DC 13+P.

  • If more than half of the "hammer" succeed, they have successfully cornered the enemy.  
  • If not, the enemy has given them the slip.

The other half try to cut the quarry off (they're the anvil).  Have the "anvil" PCs make a check of Stealth or Perception (player's choice) at DC 13+P.

  • If more than half of the "anvil" PCs succeed, they've cut the quarry off.  
  • If not, they're too late.

If both succeed, the enemy is caught.  Start combat with the two groups that have caught the quarry present.  The PCs have the quarry cornered or surrounded - the PCs have all the exits blocked.  Decide on terrain that suits a situation where the PCs have cornered their foe.  Roll initiative.

Note:  If the PCs are separated from other PCs (from splitting up before), roll 1d6 in secret.  That's how many rounds have to pass before the other PCs - hearing the commotion - arrive to help.

If either group fails (if the anvil is too late or the quarry has given the hammer the slip), the enemy has got away.  Return to Step 2.  Only now they're split into two groups!  They get three tries to catch their quarry.  If they fail at step 2 three times, their quarry gets away.



Evasion

In evasion, the PCs are the quarry, being pursued by villains.

Step 1:

First, narrate how they flee to the point where they can hear their pursuers and their pursuers can hear them, but they can't see them.  Maybe they've rounded a corner or doused their lights or fled through the underbrush.

Step 2:

Next, they have to give their pursuers the slip.  The group has a choice:  Stick together or split up?

If they stick together, have them all roll Stealth, DC 8+P.

  • If half or more of the player succeed, they've shaken their pursuers (go to Step 3).  
  • Otherwise, the pursuers have headed them off (Go to Step 4)!


If they split up, have them all roll Stealth, DC 8+P.  This potentially splits them into two groups.  Run the two groups separately.

  • Those that succeed have shaken their pursuers (go to Step 3).  
  • Those that fail have been headed off by their pursuers (go to Step 4)!  

Step 3:

Characters who lost their pursuers in Step 2 can now try to sneak out of the area.  Let each one contribute a useful skill.  Most skills can be useful here.  They have to succeed at a DC 8+P check using this skill.

  • If half or more succeed, they've got clear.  The Evasion scene is over.  They're far away and safe - for the moment.
  • If fewer than half succeed, their pursuers get closer and they have to return to running away (Step 2).

Step 4:

Characters who were headed off by their pursuers in Step 2 are now running for it!  They have a choice:  Run or turn and fight.

If they turn and fight, set up combat and have everyone roll initiative.  The PCs start at the farthest point away from their enemies possible, but only up to 60' away at most, while still being in line of sight.

Otherwise, they can stay together or rout ("every man for himself!").

If they stay together, have them all roll Athletics, DC 13+P.

  • If half or more succeed, they have got away, for now.  Go back to Step 2.  
  • If half or more fail, the enemy has caught them.  Set up combat with the enemy blocking the exits.  Have everyone roll initiative, and give their enemy Advantage on their initiative rolls.  

If they rout, have them all roll Athletics, DC 13+P.

  • If they all succeed, they have got away, for now. Go back to Step 2.
  • If some fail, the ones who fail are caught by the enemy.  Set up combat with the enemy blocking the exits, and the PCs who got away clean hiding well outside of the area (about 60' away).  Have everyone roll initiative, and give their enemy Advantage on their initiative rolls.  The characters who are outside combat can either slip away or return to help their friends.




Navigation
This post is part of a trilogy!  Here are links to the other posts.

June 8, 2015

Chase Rules for D&D 5th Edition Part 1 - Introduction and Escape Rules - Run Away!

Today begins a three-part series on chases in D&D 5th edition.  This first part discusses escape rules.  Chase scenes are one of the pillars of thriller action.  To run a good chase scene, you need good "escape combat" rules.  D&D has never really had good rules for escaping combat.  

Throughout this series, I'll give you some house ruled systems to use.  None of the house rules below change existing 5th edition D&D rules.  In fact they change the 5e system a little bit less than the chase rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide!

To run the Escape rules, below, the DM simply cuts from a combat scene to frame an escape scene.  This requires ending the combat before the PCs have all been killed.  The only way for the PCs to get away from combat is for combat to end before they're all killed.  It seems self-evident!

Retreat is an opportunity for drama, heroism, and spotlighting characters' strengths and weaknesses.  Strong characters are highlighted whether they show bravery or skill, or show that they really need and appreciate their teammates.  It's a tactical choice, too; but there's not much complexity to it.

The traditional method for running a party rout is for the GM to continue running combat as normal, except that the players try to have their characters get away.  In 5e D&D, that means the Disengage and Dash actions.  But that sucks.  It becomes a fighting retreat as enemies use ranged attacks or continually move into melee and use opportunity attacks because of the clunkiness of an initiative system in a chase (characters keep getting closer together and farther apart over and over like the sides of an accordion).  Plus, if a character has already been dropped, everything gets more complicated.

Unlike in Fate, D&D characters can't concede to escape a fight, then narrate what happens.  What we need are house rules for ending a combat with PCs fleeing.

Here's the system for it.


Rules for running away: Escape

When all the players agree that their characters should flee, combat stops immediately.  Ending combat is the Dungeon Master's prerogative anyway.  This just formalizes it.  The DM should just ask the players "It sounds like you guys think you should retreat.  Does everyone agree?"  If the players all agree, say, "OK, let's narrate the end of this fight.  Here's how we're going to handle this..."

Every spell or effect with a duration in rounds or in Concentration ends immediately.  Ongoing damage or status effects (helpful or hindering) with a duration in minutes or less all end, as well.  This is because the escape takes a few minutes of time, and the PCs' actions for that time require their complete attention.

Each player must narrate an action consistent with their traits, ideals, bonds, or flaws.  Here are the choices for how they can narrate it.  Below the term "[level] damage" means "damage equal to your level," so a level 2 character would take 2 damage.  I've made a printable sheet of these options to hand out to your players.



  • Brave retreat:  Gain Inspiration or grant it to someone you protect.  Take [level] damage.



  • Inspired retreat:  Spend Inspiration.  Narrate how you find a cunning or skillful way to escape.  Feel free to narrate helping others, too.



  • Assisted retreat:  Narrate how another character helped you escape when you badly needed it.  You have to get the other character's player to agree with your description of how they helped you.  If that player agrees, that player's character gains Inspiration.



  • Tough retreat:  Spend Inspiration.  Gain 1 hit point as if you had rolled a natural 20 on a Death Saving Throw.  Narrate how you escape despite your grievous wounds.



  • Desperate retreat:  Gain 1 hit point as if you had rolled a natural 20 on a Death Saving Throw.  A character who helps you escape takes [level] damage.




Design note:  This system was designed to help players spotlight one another and focus on their personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws.  It also recharges the party's Inspiration, so they at least have that resource!  The optimal strategy for any party is to have everyone who can do so use Assisted Retreat.  If characters are dying, they get a hit point back, but always at a cost.  Technically it doesn't change the rules - it just gives unconscious PCs a free natural 20 as a reward for roleplaying their character's escape.  This also solves the problem of parties being unaware that a fight is too hard until a PC is down; and then being unable to flee because a PC is down.

The philosophy behind these options is that escape has a cost.  Characters who have 0 hp can escape and gain an automatic recovery (natural 20 on a death save) at a cost: Either it's a cost borne by another player character (desperate retreat), or paid in Inspiration (tough retreat).  Other characters can get away at cost, too:  Damage (brave retreat), Inspiration (inspired retreat), or an action that spotlights another player's character (assisted retreat).

If someone gets Inspiration and already has it, they can just pass their "old" Inspiration to another character and take the "new" one.  See the example, in Part 3 (in two weeks), for how this works out.  It's totally rules-legal to do this.

It's up to the GM what happens next.

If you want to keep the heat on the PCs and keep the pace moving fast, you can transition to an Evasion chase scene (see below).  If you want to reward their sensible retreat, you can let them get to safety so they can take a rest.

If you're firm on simulation, decide what the enemy would do based on what they are.  Are they predator animals, starving carnivores, or insane killers?  They might give chase.  Are they guards or sentries?  They won't leave their post, but they'll send word to their superiors.  Are they intelligent monsters?  They might give chase if they're not hurt.  But if they're hurt, they'll rest, heal up, and redouble their defenses.  Are they programmed automatons like necromancer-controlled undead or golems?  They'll do what their programming said to do, which is probably "stay here and kill anything that comes in sight unless I say otherwise" - which means once the PCs break line of sight, they'll let them be.



Navigation
This post is part of a trilogy!  Here are links to the other posts.






June 1, 2015

Player Types and Motivations

Introduction

For over thirty years, people have been publishing taxomomies of tabletop roleplaying gamers.  Today, I'm going to conduct an informal meta-analysis of these taxonomies and try to reach a few conclusions about them and what they mean for players and GMs.

My main purpose in compiling this information is to help GMs understand their players and the motivations of players in general.  I also want to support other bloggers and RPG theory folks who want to build new taxonomies or axes of player motivations to advance our collective understanding of our hobby.

Motivations and personalities are inherently subjective, but taxonomies like the ones described below aim to sort and categorize them.  It's an inherently illogical goal, but it isn't futile.  It is helpful to have a shared vocabulary of subjective states.  Like a diner ordering wine, players and GMs can use this shared vocabulary to describe their subjective preferences to facilitate clearer and more open communication about what they enjoy in their RPGs.

The Literature

The oldest taxonomy is Gary Allen Fine's four justifications fantasy role-playing game players have for why they enjoy their hobby from Shared Fantasy: Role Playing Games as Social Worlds (1983).  Fine subscribed to an ethnographic technique that trusted his subject of study and while he dug deep, he accepted the answers his interview subjects gave.  He classified their answers as follows:

  • Education (to learn new things)
  • Escape (to be free from real life constraints and engage in fantasy)
  • Efficacy (to exert control and mastery)
  • Sociability (companionship)

Source:


Fine also used Goffman's frame analysis to create three frames in which these motivations could be seen:  The social frame, where you interact as a person, the game frame where you interact as a player, and the gaming world frame where you interact as your character.  I'll refer to these as the person frame, player frame, and game world frame.

You may have read about the John Wick "Chess is Not an RPG" controversy or the Stormwind Fallacy - the idea that "role playing" (i.e. interacting in the game world frame) and "roll playing" (i.e. interacting with the game system) are incompatible.  Fine shows us that the three frames are nested.  That is, the game world frame is nested within the player frame.  You cannot engage in the game world frame without also being in the player frame.  (If you only had the person frame and game world frame, you would be doing improvisational theater, not playing an RPG - and even improv has games with rules!).  Wick and people who commit the Stormwind Fallacy are trying to make a point about the intrusion of the player frame on the game world frame and how system can support or detract from immersion.  As you can see below, immersion is not the only reason people play RPGs.  It may be a common reason, but it's only one of many.

Fine's themes of education, escape, efficacy, and sociability are common social psychological concepts, and strongly match Steven Reiss' 2004 revision of the sixteen human motivations.  Jon Radoff believes Reiss' sixteen motivations are key for examining why people play games.

  • Acceptance (appreciation) fits Fine's Sociability
  • Curiosity (gain knowledge) fits Fine's Education
  • Eating (eat food) is irrelevant
  • Family (raise children) fits Fine's Sociability with respect to people who game with their families
  • Honor (upholding customary values) is likely related to Fine's Efficacy
  • Idealism (need for social justice) is related to Fine's Escape (in most RPGs, there is a myth that the world is just except for the bad guys - notice how medieval feudalism isn't heavily explored in D&D, for instance)
  • Independence (distinct and self-reliant) is related to Escape (from daily constraints) and Efficacy (self-sufficient and cool)
  • Order (need for predictable and organized environment) relates to Escape (the rules-governed world)
  • Physical activity (exercise) is relevant to some kinds of LARP and to the tactical sensation of rolling the dice, moving the miniatures, etc.
  • Power (control, influence) is the same as Fine's Efficacy
  • Romance (mating) is often explored in Fine's Escape dimension, especially in Fine's 1983 ethnography
  • Saving (accumulating) is part of Fine's Efficacy (collecting treasure!)
  • Social contact (companionship) is the same as Fine's Sociability
  • Social status (the need for social significance) is part of Fine's Escape and Efficacy (for the GM as well)
  • Tranquility (the need for calm and security) is part of Fine's Escape dimension, but not fully explored
  • Vengeance (not letting an insult go unanswered) is part of Fine's Efficacy

Source: http://sitemaker.umich.edu/cognition.and.environment/files/reiss-intrinsic-mot.pdf see also White's 1959 list of motivations that Reiss adapted: http://doi.apa.org/journals/rev/66/5/297.pdf

You can see that the sixteen human motivations help us expand Fine's four dimensions.  Radoff's ideas about how to apply them to games appear to have been adapted by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek in a 2005 MIT paper called MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research.

MDA develops three relevant factors that impact the human experience of a game:  Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics (hence MDA).  Mechanics relate to the rules; Dymanics relates to the system of rules and its outputs; and Aesthetics is key here.  The eight aesthetics Hunicke, LeBlanc, and Zubek list are:

  • Sensation (sense pleasure, similar to Reiss' physical activity)
  • Fantasy (make-believe, similar to Fine's Escape)
  • Narrative (drama, a concept not well explored by Fine but connected to Reiss' Curiosity)
  • Challenge (overcoming obstacles) is directly related to Fine's Efficacy
  • Fellowship (Reiss' Social contact and Fine's Sociability)
  • Discovery (Fine's Education to some degree, and Reiss' Curiosity)
  • Expression (self-discovery - not well explored by Fine, but connected to Reiss' Independence).  Expression
  • Submission (similar to Reiss' Tranquility and included in Fine's concept of Escape)
Source: http://onlineteachered.mit.edu/edc-pakistan/files/games-and-learning/week-5/MDA.pdf

In MDA, the authors explain that some games strongly support some motivations more than others.  Jenga might support Sensation more than D&D, while D&D might support Discovery and Fantasy better than Jenga.

Let's take it back to roleplaying games.  The idea that game systems can support different aesthetics was not new in 2005.  In 2001, Ron Edwards codified a lot of theory developed on the Forge forums into what he calls the Big Model, or GNS and Other Matters of Role-playing Theory.  In this model, discussed on this blog before, there are three creative agendas (strongly similar to MDA's aesthetics) that players have in varying degrees.

  • Gamism (similar to Fine's Efficacy, Reiss' Power and MDA's Challenge), defined by players who enjoy solving or overcoming a challenge
  • Narrativism (similar to Fine's Escape, Reiss' Curiosity, and MDA's expression, and narrative), defined by players who want to tell a story
  • Simulationism (related to Fine's Education, especially in his interview quotes; similar to Reiss' Order; and connected to MDA's Fantasy and Expression)
These three agendas are applied to Character, System, Setting, Situation, and Color (details and atmosphere) so Sim/Color would be a person who wants accurate sound effects, while a Narr/Color player might want to hear the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.  Sim/Character gets really into playing their character, while Gam/Character players are focused on optimizing their stats and Narr/Character players want lots of loose ends and plot hooks to connect to the story.  Again, people are complex and might be both Narr and Sim when it comes to their Character, and not care about character Gamism (optimizing stats) -- or they could have all three agendas equally.

GNS theory is useful because different combinations of the three creative agendas can describe most players.  But it isn't very granular, and there are some idiosyncrasies in our hobby that it smooths over.  I find GNS theory to be excellent at examining the aesthetics game systems support, more than categorizing players.  Still, I find people describe themselves with their GNS letters ("I'm mostly a gamist/narrativist").

Edwards also takes frame into account, with Stance.  The stances are Actor which is similar to Fine's Game World frame; Author which is similar to Fine's Player frame, focused on the player's desires for their character; and Director, which is part of Fine's Player frame, but focused on the player's desires for the direction that the game should go for all players at the table.

Source: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/1/

Bear with me as I take you back to other types of games.  Richard Bartle developed a heuristic for categorizing MUD players in 1996, which has been extended to MMORPGs.  In this taxonomy, players are categorized by where they are along two axes:

  • The relationship of the subject to the object:  Acting On vs. Interacting With (Fine's Efficacy motivation)
  • The object of the player's interaction:  Players vs. the World

From this, he generates four categories of players:

  • Hearts (Socializers) Interact with Players (hearts empathize)
  • Clubs (Killers) Act on Players (clubs hit) - clubs also support and even mentor other players, as long as they get to act directly on them
  • Diamonds (Achievers) Act on the World (diamonds shine)
  • Spades (Explorers) Interact with the World (spades dig)

Source: http://mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartle_Test

Bartle's categories are not just motivations to play, then, they are profiles of MUD (and MMORPG) players.  These are now called "psychographic profiles" thanks to work done by the Wizards of the Coast Magic: the Gathering R&D team.  Magic is a huge business, and there's enough money on the line that WotC has a whole team dedicated to keeping the game fun and appealing.  To do this, the R&D team set a goal to design cards that appealed to the different types of people who played M:tG, and to provide a good selection of cards tailored to those different players in each expansion.  They observed players and came up with four psychographic profiles, based on how different types of M:tG players built and played their decks, and what they seemed to get out of the cards.  These are very useful profiles, developed by Mark Rosewater:

  • Johnny/Jenny enjoys the puzzle of the game and focuses on card system interactions, aiming to build decks that have complex system interactions.  Johnny/Jenny wants self-expression through the cards and seeks to be respected for cunning, well-built deck combinations.
  • Timmy/Tammy enjoys the flashy nature of the game and wants to have big, impressive cards.  Timmy/Tammy wants to experience an emotional excitement.
  • Spike is competitive and wants to win.

Spike is distinct from Timmy/Tammy because Timmy/Tammy is content to lose big and flashy, and occasionally win, as long as it's exciting.  In fact, Timmy/Tammy wouldn't be happy mechanically winning over and over, especially with a not-so-flashy deck.  Spike is distinct from Johnny because Spike might copy decks off the internet, while Johnny cares more about the craft and challenge of designing those winning combinations.  Johnny would not enjoy winning with a simple and flashy deck or a deck someone else designed.

Rosewater added two additional profiles:  Melvin/Mel and Vorthos.  These profiles are based on what the player likes about the cards, not how they play, so they are a separate category for the R&D team.

  • Melvin/Mel is interested in complex and intriguing rules systems
  • Vorthos is interested in the art of the cards -- the images, relationships, fiction, and story on them

A player who is a Vorthos may also be a Spike, for instance.  Spike would simply temper his/her desire to win have a preference for cards with better art, more interesting story, etc.

Sources:  http://mtgsalvation.gamepedia.com/Psychographic_profile and http://archive.wizards.com/Magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtgcom/daily/mr220b

These profiles have been expanded by Chip Beauvais for broader application to board games.  Beuavais is still working on these profiles as of this writing.  If further work from Chip clarifies these for me, I'll come back and edit this summary.

  • Erin is competitive, but enjoys the competition more than winning
  • Jenny is similar to Johnny/Jenny in Rosewater's profiles, except that she strongly favors new and unusual combinations (like Rosewater's Melvin)
  • Kim is motivated by novelty and exploration (She's a Spade).
  • Anastasia focuses on immersion (Simulationism, Escape, Fantasy)
  • Ingrid is like Rosewater's Johnny/Jenny, except that she strongly favors winning combinations (like Rosewater's Spike)
  • Leah plays to have fun with her friends, and prefers games where the rules and tactics can take a back seat to socializing (like Fine's Sociability dimension, but focused on non-game social interaction)

This list of profiles got me thinking about this blog post, so special thanks to Chip.

Source: http://whoseturnisitanyway.com/design-player-psychographic-profiles-part-1/

If these psychographic profiles seem familiar, they should!  RPG fans have been passing around a joke email for what seems like decades.  It contains similar profiles.  This is just a simple "dumb internet joke," but it's accurate enough that it merits inclusion!

  • "Real Men" are a category of RPGer (men or women) that favors two fisted action, staying cool under pressure, and dominating situations.  They relate to Fine's Efficacy, Reiss' Power, MDA's Challenge, and the profile of Erin or Timmy/Tammy
  • "Real Roleplayers" are divided into brains and thespians.  Brains like puzzle solving, and are highly Simulationist to use Edwards' concept.  They connect to Johnny/Jenny or even Melvin.  They like solving puzzles.  Thespians like the MDA aesthetics of Expression and Narrative, or Ron Edwards' Simulationism and Narrativism
  • "Munchkins" are in it to win, and focus on mastery.  They also connect to Efficacy, Power, and Challenge; but they link to the profile of Spike or Ingrid more than Timmy/Tammy.
  • "Loonies" enjoy the freedom that the imaginary game provides to try crazy things that they would never do in real life.  They take huge risks, do self-destructive, dangerous things, and hurt others because there are no real world consequences.  They are heavy on Fine's Escapism and Reiss' Independence.  They're the worst of Bartle's Clubs.  They could be "griefers" or just extreme Timmy/Tammy types.  They have low need for Tranquility; or perhaps they have a high need of Tranquility - a safe space to engage in irresponsible fantasy.

Source:  Just google "Real Men, Real Roleplayers, Munchkins, and Loonies"!

Robin D. Laws wrote Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering in 2001, and it has a similar player taxonomy, albeit a lot more thought out.  This is the basis for just about every player taxonomy that's come out since:

  • The Power Gamer is looking to win, so it's a strongly Gamist category
  • The Butt-Kicker wants to break things, but unlike the Power Gamer, the Butt-Kicker cares more about the catharsis or escapism of pretend violence
  • The Tactician is like the Brain half of the Real Roleplayer stereotype, and might fit the Beauvais' Jenny or Bartle's Spade; there's still Challenge and Gamism here, though.
  • The Specialist plays the same type of character in every campaign and wants campaigns and game systems that support that character type.  This is an unusual type, and it shows some of the idiosyncracies of our hobby that such a specific player type bears mention.  I have a friend who always plays Captain America, more or less, in every campaign.
  • The Method Actor is the Thespian side of the Real Roleplayer stereotype, with strong hints of Vorthos and MDA's Expression.
  • The Storyteller wants to explore the plot.  The Storyteller has a strong Narrativism creative agenda or MDA's Narrative
  • The Casual Gamer is another idiosyncracy of our hobby that bears mention.  It's the sort of player who is either new or not very into the game.  In frame analysis, the Casual Gamer prefers to interact as a person, and is uncomfortable interacting as their character.  Leah, in Beauvais' profiles, is closest to the Casual Gamer.

Source:




Robin D. Laws was also an author on the 3rd edition Dungeon Masters' Guide II (2005), which includes a player taxonomy.  The 3e DMGII taxonomy is the first of the D&D player taxonomies that I can recall (please tweet @RunAGame if you remember an earlier one in a published rulebook!).  This taxonomy is very similar to the one in Robin's Laws, but more expanded.  Sime of the additions in DMG2 are very important.  It describes player motivations:

  • Accumulating Cool Powers:  This is similar to Laws' Power Gamer.
  • Kicking Butt:  This is similar to Laws' Butt-Kicker.  The name is even the same.
  • Brilliant Planning:  This is similar to Laws' Tatician.
  • Puzzle Solving:  Puzzle solving is a fairly common component of fantasy RPGs (more common than most other genres of RPGs).
  • Playing a Favorite Role:  This is similar to Laws' Specialist.
  • Supercoolness:  This motivation bears special mention.  It strikes directly at many of the running themes in player taxonomies we've reviewed:  Efficacy, Independence, Tranquility, Acting On rather than Interacting With (e.g. Clubs and Diamonds), and the stereotype of "Real Men."  The fantasy of the unfazed bad-ass who doesn't take crap from anybody is very compelling.  It takes a lot to get roleplaying gamers to accept defeat, loss or humiliation; and I think that's because this motivation runs deep in every RPG player.  Clearly there are some who need it more than others.  Perhaps they're powerful people in real life and not used to being told "no."  Perhaps they're not powerful people in real life and want a power fantasy in their game.
  • Story:  This is similar to Laws' Storyteller.
  • Psychodrama:  This motivation is similar to Anastasia or to Edwards' Sim/Character creative agenda.  This player is most interested in experiencing what their character experiences and motivations.  DMGII describes this player making characters who exhibit "dark moods and extreme behavior" hoping to be placed into hard situations that push their character into emotional reactions or acting out.  DMGII even suggests some players make characters to work through their own emotional issues or past traumas.  This isn't a new idea:  Back in 1983, Fine brings this up as well, linking the escapism of fantasy role-play with psychodrama therapy, a kind of psychotherapy where people use role-play with a therapist to attain therapeutic insights.
  • Irresponsibility:  This is one aspect of the "Looney" stereotype.  These players want to play anti-heroes.  People who act in irresponsible or unethical ways, yet maintain status as protagonists of the story.  This kind of escapism allows the player to explore dark impulses in a safe space, focusing on the Tranquility (safety, safe space) motivation.
  • Setting Exploration:  This player wants to explore the setting.  This category fits Ron Edwards' Narrativist or Simulationist Setting exploration perfectly.  In the 5th edition of D&D, this player motivation was converted into one of the core "three pillars of play" (combat, roleplaying, and exploration).  It's very important to D&D, which is based on site-based dungeon exploration.  But it's also relevant to other games, especially modern fantasy and space exploration.
  • The Outlier:  The other half of the Looney is the outlier, also called the oddball in DMG2.  This character likes to do weird things for the same reason the Irresponsibility-motiveated player likes to do irresponsible things.  The oddball does stuff to see how it turns out, a lot like Beauvais' Jenny.  MDA's Discovery and Reiss' Curiosity pair with Timmy/Tammy's flashiness.  A strong escapist motivation is behind the oddball's behavior.
  • Lurker:  This is similar to Laws' Casual Gamer.

Source:



The 4th (2008) and 5th edition (2014) Dungeon Master's Guides each have player taxonomies for D&D.  These are different from the 3rd edition DMG2's.  They're similar enough to one another to list them together.  The 5e list leaves off the Thinker and Watcher and changes the types into player motivations, which makes sense - a player may be motivated by two or more of the items in the list.

  • Actor (Acting): Focus on simulating a character.  This is like Laws' Method Actor.
  • Explorer (Exploring):  This is basically Bartle's "Spade" archetype
  • Instigator:  This is the DMGII's Outlier, but with a much more positive spin.  The instigator "takes action when things grind to a halt" and is willing to make intentional mistakes, in ways that drive the action forward.
  • Power Gamer (Optimizing):  D&D has evolved since 2000.  Before 3rd edition, players didn't have much optimization opportunity.  2nd edition had a good deal of optimization, but it was too easy.  All you had to do was combine as many classes and high stats as possible.  3rd edition (and 4th and 5th; plus Pathfinder) have so many character customization options that players post manuscript-length "guides" on optimization forums, and Pathfinder even published an entire hardback book (the Strategy Guide) on character building.  Most players want to optimize their characters to the greatest degree their patience and ability allows.  Some players have more motivation and patience for it, though.  In my opinion, those players can be divided into Rosewater's three core psychographic profiles.  Timmy/Tammy optimizes to do cool things and wants spotlight time.  Johnny/Jenny optimizes to make creative combos and wants to see them pay off.  Spike optimizes to be the best in the party and wants to be invincible.  Optimizing is really a second axis or trait:  An explorer motivated by optimizing in the Johnny/Jenny style is different from a slayer motivated by optimizing in the Spike style.
  • Slayer (Fighting):  Like the power gamer, the slayer wants a power fantasy.  Unlike the power gamer, the slayer wants to spend most of the table time in combat.   D&D is also distinct and honest in its admission that fighting is a core part of its main activity (for instance, 5th edition creates three pillars:  Combat, Exploration, and Role Playing).
  • Storyteller (Storytelling):  This motivation is about the same as Laws' Storyteller.  In the 4e list the Storyteller "works hard to make sure his character fits the story," which is an important distinction.  The player who creates a 20 page backstory unrelated to the campaign premise is the 3e DMGII Psychodrama player or the 4e/5e Actor.
  • Thinker:  This motivation is The Tactician from Laws' taxonomy
  • Watcher:  I like the positive spin that the 4e DMG put on this role.  The watcher isn't just the "lurker" or "casual gamer" -- this person's lower level of attachment to the game helps keep the players cool (using Fine's frame analysis, this player is able to remain focused on the Person frame, to keep tempers from getting hot while the other players get stuck arguing in the Player frame).  This player also "fills a hole in the PC group, facilitating the fun" which is a nice perspective.  Sometimes nobody wants to play the cleric, so the Watcher does!  (I've had this exact situation come up more than once.)

Sources:



While 4th and 5th edition branched off in their own respective directions from 3rd edition, Pathfinder doubled down on 3rd edition's mechanics.  Pathfinder's 2010 Gamermastery Guide (its own DMGII) published its own taxonomy of players, but it was not designed to help GMs understand why players play Pathfinder -- it was designed to give GMs advice on troubleshooting their games.  So its focus is on what it sees as problem player types.  Therefore, the Gamemastery Guide covers all three of Fine's frames (person, player, character).  The player problems are Antagonist, Continuity Expert, Diva, Entrepreneur, Flake, Glass Jaw, Loner, Lump, Multitask Master, Power Gamer, Rules Lawyer, Tagalong, and Thespian.  I'm not going to break them down here, since they're specifically negative and not specific to player motivations, but they're worth looking into if you want to write a taxonomy of problems you can have with players.

Another player taxonomy comes from Champions.  Aaron Allston's Eleven Types of Champions Players was featured in Stike Force (1988).  I learned about this list online and have not seen the original source, so bear with me here if you spot a mistake.  As presented, these eleven roles are useful for games outside the superheroes genre.  More, there are a few player motivations unique to this list that are noteworthy, so I'm including it despite the fact that I couldn't even find a pirate copy of the primary source!

  • The Builder:  This is a player who wants to see an impact on the campaign world.  Like the Entrepreneur in Pathfinder, the Builder wants to invest in something.  This is a unique perspective not covered in other roles, and it resonates with my 25 years of GM experience.  Some players want to build an organization or movement and change the world.  They don't just want to kill the bad guys who threaten the world, they want to work proactively and leave their mark.  This is a strong version of Fine's Efficacy motivation and Reiss' Saving motivation, but also MDA's Expression aesthetic.  In typical RPGs, the GM controls all of the NPCs.  The Builder wants to project their ideas into the GM's imagined world, influencing the GM.
  • The Buddy:  The Buddy is Leah, who plays for the fellowship, all the way down to Pathfinder's Tagalong, who is not even there for the game.
  • The Combat Monster:  This is the same as D&D's Slayer
  • The Copier:  In Champions, this character tries to copy a superhero from a published comic.  In other tabletop RPGs, you see this too.  "I want to be an awesome elf with a bow like Legolas" or "I want to be a data courier with a secure memory chip implanted in his head like Johnny Mneumonic."  I once played a LARP where my character was a steampunk version of Jason Bourne.  I think that it's one thing to try to copy the form or plot from a published character, and another to try to emulate their personality (trying to be glib like Spiderman, for instance).  Copying a favorite or inspiring character is a very common motivation for playing a role-playing game that hasn't been well explored elsewhere.
  • The Genre Fiend:  This player wants to play an emulation of the genre.  Champions is like a lot of tabletop RPGs that are very genre-focused. Some people get into those games in order to play that genre.  This is similar to Ron Edwards' Simulationism, focused on genre (Sim/Color).  D&D, by contrast, is not - D&D has become its own genre in a way.  That's a discussion for another time.
  • The Mad Slasher:  Without access to Strike Force, I can't really say how the Mad Slasher is different from the Combat Monster, except that it appears that the Combat Monster is more focused on combat against villains while the Mad Slasher is like the Outlier or Looney.
  • The Mad Thinker: This appears to be the same as D&D's Thinker.
  • The Plumber:  This appears to be the same as D&D's Actor, except with a focus on building plot hooks into the character.
  • The Romantic:  Similar to the DMGII Psychodrama motivation, this player wants to focus on character interaction and relationships.  The only other place we see romance qua romantic love is Reiss' Romance motivation (which is somewhat uncomfortably focused on sex).  MDA's Fantasy and Fine's Sociability motivation within the Character frame both connect to this motivation as well.
  • The Rules Sea Lawyer:  This is NOT the same as Pathfinder's Rules Lawyer.  (In the Gamemastery Guide, the Rules Lawyer is a problem because it stalls the game and undermines the GM's authority.)  Again, lacking the primary source, I am at a disadvantage.  It seems to me that this player type is more of a Power Gamer but with a Rules Lawyer tendency.
  • The Showoff:  This is the same as Pathfinder's Diva, who hogs the spotlight.  This is another axis of player motivation not really explored elsewhere.  The Showoff wants spotlight time - time when his or her character is the one acting on and reacting to the game world.
  • The Pro from Dover:  This is the same as D&D's Power Gamer.
  • The Tragederian:  This is another interesting and unique profile.  This player wants bad things to happen to their character, and then to play out the suffering that follows.  Common in superhero stories and in the Hero Cycle, protagonists usually go through a "darkest hour" before the climax of the story. This player not only welcomes the darkest hour, they work in Fine's player and person frames to bring about tragedy.  It could be for Showoff reasons or Plumber reasons or Copier reasons.

Source:  I'm not willing to pay eighty bucks for it, and you probably aren't either, but here you go:


Meta-Source:  Thanks to TV Tropes for compiling a partial list for me to start from!  http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PlayerArchetypes



Conclusions

It's not easy to create a meta-taxonomy here.  Here's what I think.

First, some taxonomies focus on motivations for playing RPGs alone, such as Ron Edwards' GNS theory.  Others involve other player motivations that are relevant to GMs, such as the idea of spotlight, or the "acting on / interacting with" dynamic in Bartle's concept.  So I think the best way to describe player types literature is to look at the axes that these taxonomies seem to be using to form their categories.

Artistic Focus:  To what degree does the player seek to tell an artistically satisfying story (see: Narrativism, Genre Fiend, Plumber, Storyteller, Copier, Expression)?  Or does the player seek to discover a satisfying story?  See: Exploration, Puzzle Solving, Brains, Thinker, Discovery, Setting Exploration, etc.  Part of this dynamic depends on the GM.  Some GMs are charismatic folks who can captivate an audience with a description of a moldy dungeon corridor, while others focus their skills on solid story hooks or exciting challenges.  But player preferences are involved here, too.  Some players have very little artistic preference (low preference for Narrativism in GNS theory, for instance).

Frame Focus:  In which frame or stance does the player feel most comfortable?  Which frame/stance does the game support or encourage?  If the person is at the game for Sociability in the Person frame, like Leah or the Casual Gamer, what can we do with that?  I like the 4e DMG positive spin on the Watcher archetype.  It gives us good ideas for how those players can support the others.  Players who are focused on the Player frame are likely to take an Author stance.  Are they interested in the rules and system that generates a challenge that they can overcome with stats and tactics?  Or are they interested in writing a narrative for their character?  See Gamism and Narrativism.  See also Johnny/Jenny for players who value the details and intricacies of the system.  In the Game World or Actor stance, how comfortable is the player with actual acting?  Does the system reward and encourage it?  See Tragedreian, Thespian, Psychodrama, Actor, Real Roleplayer, etc.  At the extreme end of Game World focus, you have players who are very deep into the immersive simulation and ones who are not.  How important is a realistic, detailed world to the player?  How important are diagetic systems rather than systems that abstract outcomes based on non-game-world (player frame) variables like "challenge level" or "story purposes"?  See: Fantasy, Simulationism, Genre Fiend, Anastasia.

Spotlight:  Does the player naturally seek attention and dominate a conversation (charismatic or alpha type players, divas, Lurker/Watcher/wallflower players, etc.)?  To what degree is the player invested in the game world and the group?  This connects to the other aspect of the Lurker/Watcher dynamic - how often do they miss the game?  Are they on their cell phone a lot?  Do they drop out of character?  Why?  What's going on?  Can they be made to prioritize the game more?  Do they need to be made to prioritize the game more because their behavior is disruptive, or are they supporting the rest of the group as a casual player in the ways that the 4e Watcher does?

Mastery:  To what degree does the player want to engage in a power fantasy where they can pretend to be in control, capable, and powerful?  See: Supercoolness, Efficacy, Power Gamer, Pro from Dover, Mad Thinker, Tactician, Builder, Spike, Munchkins, Power motivation, etc.  To what degree do you and your system allow/encourage this?  These player types and motivations have given me a good perspective on how theorists see power fantasy.  It seems mastery-oriented players are and have always been common, and supporting and catering to them is a large part of tabletop RPG design.  GMs should think about how to support and satisfy players' motivation for mastery because even if it's not the player's primary motivation, some degree of mastery motivation is usually present.  I also have a sneaky suspicion that the mastery motivation is somewhat gendered, but I'm not going to explore how so here.

Escapism:  To what degree does the player want to do things in the game world that he or she would never try in real life?  See Loonies, Outliers, Irresponsibility, Timmy, Tragederian, Mad Slasher, Psychodrama, Fantasy, Curiosity, Clubs, etc.  To what degree does the player cooperate with the other players and the GM here?  This is the prosocial/antisocial axis or the conflict between independence and acceptance motivations.  The extreme antisocial escapist is disruptive, likely to hog the spotlight, and tries all kinds of silly things juse because he can.  The prosocial escapist plays a character very different from her real personality and explores irrational and immoral acts in the safe fantasy space, with awareness of others' sensitivities and without stepping on anyone else's fun.  The Slayer archetype is halfway between Mastery and Escapism, and is a common, somewhat prosocial, and more socially acceptable way to play most tabletop RPGs than "full on Loony."  Instead of using escapism to explore and try unusual and shocking things, the player uses it for catharsis.  To what degree does the player want to blow off steam?  See Slayer, Butt-Kicker, Escapism, etc.  To what degree are you and the game able to satisfy this desire?

My meta-categories are rough.  I encourage you to write your own.  Post them on your own blog, or in comments here.  Thanks for reading!


May 27, 2015

The Magic Circle

What, you've never heard of the magic circle?  It's such a studied concept there are academic papers and even a pretty detailed wikipedia page.  It's a useful idea that relates directly to the concept of immersion and shared imagined space.  LARP theory has spent a lot of time talking about magic circles and bleed and other concepts of immersion and virtual worlds.  So why isn't it a common concept in tabletop RPGs?  Probably because only indie designers ever really talk about these ideas.  But I digress!  Let me tell you about magic circle.  Let me turn it into a simple tool for you to use.

First, a clear definition:

The "Magic Circle" is the boundary between the real world and the shared imagined space of the game.  It's a permeable membrane-

Wait, what?  Things can pass through the magic circle?  Well of course!  Did you have a great day at work where everything went right and you kicked ass?  When you settle in to your Vampire character, you're going to be excited, self-confident, and satisfied.  Did your 8 year old Shadowrun character just get killed by a dragon?  You're going to go home with a bittersweet sadness and maybe you'll be a little on edge in your facebook comments that night.  Did you just learn about the Cathar heresy?  You might be more likely to burn some heretics in tonight's D&D game.

Knowledge, patterns of thought, and emotions bleed through the membrane.  This concept is called "bleed."

So what can you DO with these ideas?  You can adjust the level of bleed by building a harder magic circle.  You can't eliminate or guarantee bleed, but you can make it more or less likely.

The magic circle's barrier can be made more or less permeable.  You, the GM, can do that.  Some GMs might want more bleed than others.  Some games are casual after work affairs for relaxing.  Others are serious immersion-focused emotionally intense affairs.  If you have an established group, they probably have a group consensus of how permeable the magic circle membrane should be in each direction.  The casual after work D&D game might be permeable to bleed-in and relatively impermeable to bleed-out.  The intense short-run Vampire LARP might be designed to be very permeable to bleed-out, but relatively impermeable to bleed-in.

Bleed-in is when the real world intrudes into the magic circle.  You can reduce bleed-in by tightening the membrane between the real world and the fiction.  Here are some tips:

  • Have a ritual that begins the game session.  Rituals are easy to do.  The more formal and structured, the better.  Try getting everyone to go around the table and announce where their character was at the end of last session; having the GM recap the last session; playing opening credits for the game; formally announcing the game is starting and asking people to put away phones and such; or setting up the minis and battlemat.
  • Keep the real life away from the game.  Play in a less frequently used room of the house, if possible (the basement is a cliche, but totally works!).  Ask people not to look at their phones.  Have people talk like their characters, avoiding anachronisms.  
  • When you have food and drink, make an effort to bring items that the characters eat and drink.  Break out the renn fest tankards and fill them with frothy ale for a D&D game, for instance.
  • Do voices.  Stand up and act out the NPCs.  Encourage your players to take on an accent or do a voice themselves.  Adjust the lighting in the room.  Use game music and sound effects.
  • Use props that encourage the players to think of themselves as their characters -- things they can hold like an orb, wand, scroll, note, puzzle, or crystal.  
  • Don't use miniatures.  They tend to literally create distance between the player and their character.  If you play a game that requires them, keep them in a box until combat starts.
  • In tabletop RPG theory we call this "simulationism"; "sim character"; "getting in character" or "immersion."  You can google those terms to find more tips on immersion.  This isn't specifically a post about that, so this list is incomplete.

Here are some techniques to encourage bleed-in.  Why would you want to do that?  Let's say you want to run a lighthearted comedy game, or use your RPG as more of a social activity than an immersive experience.  This is totally OK.  Don't be down on your game because it's too casual.  That's not a problem if it's what the table wants!
  • Use miniatures and keep them out on the table.
  • Use anachronisms in speech, and let your own personality affect how NPCs act.
  • Intentionally refer to people and places familiar to the players:  "This NPC looks like Steve Carell, except with a handlebar mustache," or "The room is about as big as the main area of the dining hall."
  • Digress - talk about real life during the game.  "Hey, did you see Game of Thrones last night?"

Bleed-out is when the game world affects the players.  I've seen players run out of the room in tears, shudder in terror, flip a table in anger, and dance around the room with triumphant joy.  I'm not very comfortable, personally, with very strong bleed-out.  Some players (especially in Nordic LARP) really like strong bleed-out.  I try to achieve a little bleed-out, myself.

Here are some techniques to encourage it.

  • Discourage bleed-in very, very strongly.  Once people start immersing in their character, they'll start having more genuine emotions as their character.
  • Focus the drama of your game on the things that can bleed out of the membrane.  Hit points can't bleed out, but emotions and thoughts can.
  • End your session with unresolved mental challenges:  Use hard moral choices.  Give them mysteries where the players have most of the clues - they just have to think them through.  Provide a puzzle.  Give them new knowledge in a big reveal right at the end, so they go home thinking through all the implications.  Teach them something interesting about the real world that they didn't know before.  They'll go home weighing your ethical decision; turning over the mystery in their heads; puzzling over the puzzle; intrigued about their new knowledge; or reeling through the implications of the big reveal.  That's all bleed-out!
  • End your session with strong emotions (and let the players debrief if they need to).  Dread, anxiety, anger, betrayal, triumph, gratitude, grief, regret, and relief are not too hard to achieve.  Use NPCs to great effect to generate these emotions.  Also put them in hard spots where they have to make choices they don't like.  Collectively, they might choose the most prudent course, but one or two of them might have strong feelings about the group's actions.

You might want to discourage bleed-out.  Again, you might want the game to stay at the table.  If you have immature players, or run an intensely competitive elysium style LARP, it's probably a good idea to tone down the bleed-out before the session is over.  Typically, you want to maintain immersion during your game session, then let it go away after.  Here are some tips for reducing bleed-out without reducing immersion:

  • Have a closing ritual, like ending credits, awarding XP, "what did you learn" recaps, etc.  Most competitive LARPs have a very formal closing ritual for a very good reason:  You don't want the players taking in-character drama out-of-character.  Sometimes they have literally hours of closing ritual (a closing ceremony followed by dining out as a group, for instance).
  • Handle all the bookkeeping at the end of your game session - experience points, identifying magic items, storing character sheets, updating the game wiki, scheduling the next session, paying what you owe for the pizza, talking about the new supplement coming out, etc.  This puts a time buffer between the immersion and the real world.
If you want to reduce bleed-out and don't mind reducing immersion to do it, here are some other tips.  I'm sure you can think of all kinds of ways to reduce immersion without my help.  Usually you don't want to do this.  But here are some responsible ways:
  • During game, break the immersion by taking breaks, talking about the real world, or ordering food.  Even just handing a player a coke can reduce their level of character immersion and make bleed-out less likely.  Long session games (over 4 hours) probably need breaks anyway.
  • Ask the players to change stance to something like author or director stance.  This reduces their immersion a little as well.  A good way to do this without breaking the game flow is to ask players to answer their own questions, like this:  Player: "I scan the titles of the books in the necromancer's library. Is there anything useful there?"  GM: "I'm open to suggestions.  What are you hoping to find?"

So the magic circle describes the barrier between the real world and the game world.  Bleed is how the two affect each other.  The ideal experience is well bounded, with no bleed-in and no bleed-out, but some groups like more permeable membranes on one or the other end.  Serious drama players might want no bleed-in and lots of bleed-out for a cathartic experience.  "Beer and pretzel" games might be comfortable with any amount of bleed-in, but no bleed-out, for a fun diversion.  Neither style is wrong, and you can have all kinds of "in between" styles too.

As a parting note, here's the concept of the magic circle as applied to video games, which I suspect you also like: