Saturday, July 23, 2011

There's Still Meat on Them Bones

It's been more than thirty years, three corporations with all the bright minds they've hired, several years of OSR blogging and still interesting improvements on how to play D&D are surfacing.

Zak proposed (7/12) a simple twist to group initiative that might keep everyone interested tactically in combat and he gave us (7/19) the the practical way he keeps track of scrolls (which could work just as well for potions/random magic items).

Jeff proposed (7/16) a way to generate characters (also found in EpĂ©es & Socellerie?) that I think would be especially helpful when starting a game with all newbs-- rolling stats is an individual affair where you have to make a decision about class when you really don't know what's going on, and some of the fun moments, like rolling a 3 get shared with the group rather than scribbled in silence.  Jeff also spurred the push into vertical geomorphs which is heading into uncharted realms of awesome such as this (6/13).

This is all this summer.  (I'm sure there are more cool ideas, but these were most prominent in my mind).  That's probably enough for a blog post right  there, "Hurrah, what more can we come up with?" But, ever reflective, I'd like to think a little about why it's still possible.

Now the vertical geomorphs are a possibility because we have tools nowadays for working digitally and a generation of folks comfortable using them that TSR didn't.  But the rest is different.

I don't think that this is the result of pure genius, though all those chaps are sharp tools, or the result gaming hours put in, though that was probably necessary too, but being reflective of how the game plays at the table.

Our game has the unique problem of kind of sorta looking like a simulation of events in other times and places and it's really easy to get caught up in the logic of events and relationships in those places and forget what the group of people sitting around you playing are doing.  And it's really easy to forget what the DM needs to do to pull it off.  I've never seen a rpg product that told a DM how to make ruling in the inevitable offroad adventure that actual play involves.  I've never seen an rpg product that addressed how rules affected player attention, involvement, or player anything-- as if players were all robots running the rules as little OSes.  "Version 3.5 beep."

It may be that we are still at an advantage because of this here internet thingy.  It is hard to publish an adventure or ruleset in the abstract anymore.  It is much easier to hear how it played at the table through blogs, forums, and email.  It is also much easier to give that feedback through reviews, however informal.  So it is more difficult to say "My magic rules are thus because . . ."  without hearing "Well, my players often get confused by . . ." etc.  Writing up play reports could also make us more aware of what players were doing and why rather than just thinking of Friday's game in a fun or not binary.

But regardless of why it's been possible, my suggestion to us to keep the gravy train rolling is to pay attention to what happens at the table.  What got your players most excited?  When did they sit on the edge of their seats and get loud?  Also for you as DM.  What was a pain to keep track of?  What needed most of your attention and what could you count on players to handle?  Hell, if you're too busy just running things, have a friend who doesn't play (a spouse?) watch and have a conversation with them afterward about when people were most engaged, when people drifted off to get food or more beer. And I think we should experiment.  As long as you aren't changing up things every night.  Try the different method of initiative.  Try a different way of tracking monster hit point for yourself, or whatever.

Anyway, its a pleasure and a privilege to be reading your blogs and comments, keep on rollin'


  1. I hear ya. The rules that address how rubber hits the road are the ones I keep and the productions of mine I am most satisfied with. Always inspired by (for example) Raggi's decision to chuck simulationism and just have encumbrance be a function of lines on a list.

  2. I'm not sure that "improvements to game play" are happening with a 30 year old game, as much as the interesting ideas that people have always had are getting shared more often than before.

    But it's cool nonetheless.