Monday, August 08, 2011

It Wasn't All Perfect

One might get the impression from past posts about the Atlantis campaign that it was some sort of perfect experience. Of course, it wasn't. So just what sorts of problems were there? I mention these not to be a buzzkill on our fond memories, but just as a reminder of things to watch out for. If I ever do get my nerve up to try to run a game, I will want to keep these things in mind myself.

One continual worry of mine at the prospect of running my own game is the fear that I won't be able to provide enough interesting things for the players to do. That was not so much a problem in Atlantis. In fact, we sometimes had the opposite problem: too many things going on simultaneously.

For instance, when the group returned from the Ghul city, we had several sub-plots going at once. We had come back with a ton of treasure which we had to deal with (and never actually did--the game ended with a ton of golden artifacts still locked up in a room of the late Lord Waugh's estate, assuming no one had just come in and looted it). Victoria had come up with a plan to marry Lord Acrisian, so much of her time was involved in planning that. In addition, someone had sent assassins to kill Victoria, so there was a lot of running aroud trying to figure out who had done it, which dovetailed with the wedding plans.

At the same time, Smeaton was seeing the princess in the tower while trying not to get sidetracked from what was supposedly our main quest to finish the submarine and go hunting for Sir Graves. Gentry's messing with this mirror he got, and Amice is trying to figure out what to do about the hydra goddess we had bargained with.

And the whole time, the gamemaster is trying to throw out these hints about deaths down by the shipyards, but no one is taking the bait, because we all had a dozen other things to worry about, and frankly, with that group, you needed a little more to motivate them than "I smell a mystery. Come on, gang." And eventually, I decided to go ahead and pay attention to the ever-more-obvious signals that the waterfront thing needed looking into, and it led to a good series of encounters. But there may have been a few too many balls in the air at that point for us to focus on the one he wanted us to focus on.

Which leads to the ever-present question of railroading. This is a tricky subject, because on the one hand, as players, you don't want to be led by the nose. But on the other hand, especially in the early game, you don't know enough about the world and your characters to act confidently. You need to be led a little and shown what the possibilities and parameters are. And if the gamemaster has gone to the trouble of preparing an adventure, it kinds of sucks for everybody if you deliberately avoid it. Now he's just wasted a ton of effort, and probably not happy about it, while you're sort of wandering around at random wondering why nothing really interesting is happening. Um, it's because you decided to avoid the interesting thing, genius.

But having said that, it became a little obvious at times that there were tracks that we just weren't going to be allowed to go outside, which got a little frustrating sometimes. And there were a lot of situations that were just so complicated, where we really didn't know enough about all the pieces of the problem, where we would just be lost. Like planning the defenses of Avalon and Atlantis. To really set up the defense correctly would have required maps and detailed order of battle information, and a series of encounters sending out scouts and probes to get intelligence back, which would have stretched things out interminably and probably bored the hell out of the other members of the group. And what the GM would almost inevitably fall back on was an NPC channeling Sean Connery and saying, "Perhaps I can be of assistance." The NPC would detail the plan, and we would just sort of say, "Yeah, let's do that. Tell me when to roll dice."

Which ironically is why it's a good thing all these RPG fantasy worlds look mostly the same. The more unfamiliar the world is, the harder it gets to figure out your options. A good thing to remember for my own game if/when I ever run it.

And then there was the Dawn Forge. Great concept. Wonderful, impressive movie moment as we go in and see this incredible device with the glowing plasma discharges and all. But then we try to use it, and are required to roll dice.

And here's the thing: there was no reason to roll dice, except to make it feel gamey. There were no consequences to failure. There was no way we were going to spend a year-and-a-half getting to this thing, only to die because of a random bad roll. And the gamemaster wanted us to have kewl gear as much as we did. So failing a roll didn't mean you couldn't have the gear. It only meant you had to roll longer to get it. Which made it all kind of pointless. If there's no prospect of failure, why bother rolling at all?

On an almost totally unrelated note, I found out that while my daughter was off visiting my mom this past week, she printed out the rules to a role-playing game. It's a very simple one, looks like, that uses chips instead of dice. Instead of rolling dice for skill or combat resolution, each task has a difficulty, and as long as you have a skill level high enough, you succeed (you also have a pool of chips to buff up certain skills-- not having read the rules thoroughly, I think the challenge level remains secret from the players, so you can fail if you fail to bid enough chips to perform the action or something).

On the one hand, I think it's really cool that she's interested in my kind of gaming, and part of me would like to play the game with her and share that experience. However, it's based on the Warriors books, and I just don't know how much patience I would have playing a game about a tribe of feral cats. Urgh. Difficult question.


Anonymous said...

Dude you suck it up and NURTURE THAT SHIT

Anonymous said...

See, these are all perfectly valid points that I will totally own up to. I tried to not railroad too obviously, but sometimes the bones show through no matter what you try. My only defense is that really, I had as little experience running a game like this as anybody had playing in one.

TheyStoleFrazier'sBrain said...

jorm--Yeah, we'll see. I read through the rules more thoroughly, and it has some interesting design choices, but mainly, it's a gimmick to sell books. Because there is nothing in there about writing your own adventures. Instead, you are assumed to be using pregenerated adventures printed in the back of their new series of Warriors novels, and players are encouraged to trade off the Narrator position during the course of the adventure so everybody has a turn playing their cats. All in all, I may just introduce her to Toon.

sargon--no worries. You should know by now that the good far outweighed the bad. And frankly, I could have worked harder sometimes, rather than coasting on the rails. Really looking forward to tomorrow night.