271: Out of the D&D Closet

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It's cool that you're trying out tabletop games. Be sure to be in it for the long haul, though. I've been part of a roleplaying group for more than a year and a half and I still only have a vague idea about what I'm doing. Also, suggesting ideas to your GM for future campaigns can pay off if they want to try new things.

There are two GMs in my tabletop group, both of which are really good at what they do. One of them is a great writer, so playing through his storylines are actually interesting. Once, when our characters were in a creepy castle, he turned out the lights, lit a candelabra of red wax candles, put on some creepy music, and walked around the table narrating the NPCs and telling us the setting instead of sitting behind the GM board. One time he even slipped me a little piece of paper, telling me that my character heard a voice in his head that just told him to kill a fellow party member, and that his weapon would slowly burn his hand if he didn't. I took 1 HP worth of damage every five minutes I didn't kill anyone. It was very effective.

The other, while not as experienced, is very good at ad-libbing situations. We started out with a module to get his feet wet, but someone asked, "Hey, we're in a port town run by the organization we work for, right?" "Yeah...?" "Let's be privateers for our company!" He agreed to the idea and gave us the prices for ships and crew. We just finished a side-adventure through the stomach of a living island that had a giant bee hive in the center. He's allowing us to grow our fleet and pilfer supplies from randomly-rolled passing ships, as well.

Fortuan:

greenflash:

Fortuan:
while, I do love D&D I find the Pathfinder series a step backwards. People didn't like how D&D 4.0 worked so they made Pathfinder to keep the mind bendingly complicated systems that drive out new players.

so noobs can go do what ever noobs do. and experance players can have fun( better spells, magic stuff, non-battle spells, epic combos and mages have to use weapons sometimes)

Have you tried DM'ing? besides i dare you to have more fun playing a fighter in 3.5 or pathfinder than in 4.0

im sorry for not maing this clear I HATE 4.0 I LOVE 3.5 now are we clear!

I've been familiar with DnD for years, and a I know a lot of gamers who are also familiar. Sure, maybe it's not a majority, but I don't think it is as few as you imply.

I wanted to thank you for the article. While I don't play D&D, my husband is a fan. He's an officer in a guild in the online version.... and training to be a DM for a local game spot. What you described is almost exactly what he's found...as pertaining to the differences between the video game and tabletop versions.

This topic reminded me of a great blog post about DM prep (specifically 3.5e) that both reduces the amount of work for the DM *and* makes the game more open for player choice.

It's called "Don't Prep Plots":
http://www.thealexandrian.net/creations/misc/prep-scenario.html

The executive summary: leverage tabletop roleplaying's greatest strength--a human who can improvise and adapt on the fly--by preparing opposition for the heroes, not pre-plotted encounters.

Great article, by the way, I really enjoyed getting the POV of a newbie, especially one with extensive gaming experience. I'd love to see a follow up after you've played a few more games (hope you stick with it!).

Soylent Dave:

In reality, I'm well aware that I don't - not fully. Your instinctive thoughts that it's damn near impossible to create a totally open world for people to play in is pretty accurate.

And to a degree, you normally don't want to give your players complete freedom, because it makes it difficult for the game to progress (complete freedom being "Here's the world, there's your character. What do you do?") - your players need at least a bit of direction from you as GM.

Thanks for this. I just imagine what a totally open-ended game would be like:

"Your party is in the capital city. What would you like to do?"
"Let's go to a pub!"
"You are in a pub. What do you do?"
"I think we should listen to rumors and see what kind of quest is available."
"Okay. What kind of rumors do you hear?"
"Uhhhhh....isn't that your job?"

Rowan Kaiser:

Soylent Dave:

In reality, I'm well aware that I don't - not fully. Your instinctive thoughts that it's damn near impossible to create a totally open world for people to play in is pretty accurate.

And to a degree, you normally don't want to give your players complete freedom, because it makes it difficult for the game to progress (complete freedom being "Here's the world, there's your character. What do you do?") - your players need at least a bit of direction from you as GM.

Thanks for this. I just imagine what a totally open-ended game would be like:

"Your party is in the capital city. What would you like to do?"
"Let's go to a pub!"
"You are in a pub. What do you do?"
"I think we should listen to rumors and see what kind of quest is available."
"Okay. What kind of rumors do you hear?"
"Uhhhhh....isn't that your job?"

Well thats entirely depending on your players, for better or for worse. GM guidance is great. For me as a GM i find that i spend my time playing as the world as opposed to creating the world. This is partially because its a pre-existing setting (which, ultimately means nothing if i like a concept it exists, if it dont like something it doesnt exist) and a combination of my players being of a certain type. They are capable of making their own decisions, provided i can give them a gentle nudge and I must play the characters and the enviroment they interact with. Person A is threatened, fight or flight. This is simple when its placed in a combat situation since rules exist but outside of it, thats where the GM's work becomes a lot of fun. See when Person A is not directly interacting with the party, hes interacting indirectly. He might be getting together a group of people to take revenge on the party that threatened him. I figure out how long that would take and when that time is appropriate, they go to hunting down the party, regardless of what is already going on.

"Once upon a time, videogames came with interesting collections of documents, manuals, and knickknacks." FEELIES! :D

Seems like you didn't get much actual play. Also (and I'd be surprised if this hasn't been brought up already; haven't checked), D&D is but one of many different systems. If you like lighter rules, try something Tri-Stat or play Maid RPG. Hacking and slashing isn't your thing and you want to really play a role, do one of White Wolf's Storyteller games (Changeling is bloody brilliant). You need grim darkness and certain death, play some Dark Heresy. Rolling dice too complicated? Amber diceless.

Or there's always Exalted if you want a Cyber-dino-riding Ninja vs. a giant Dire Axolotl made of fire.

What I'm saying is, rather than just giving it up as something you can't grasp, maybe generic fantasy D&D just isn't the right game?

Tabletop roleplaying is a very complicated system to try to determine how much fun everyone is having. There are all kinds of ways to weave the story.

Player driven campaigns are typically harder to set up but ultimately make the players feel like they're in more control of everything around them. Most player driven campaigns are typically smaller in terms of overall scale. Fewer NPCs, fewer events going on that aren't controlled by the players(or their enemies), and more input from the players at the beginning of the campaign.

Story driven campaigns are generally cast with timed events, and typically have more generalized NPCs, more seemingly random events, and lots of things happen outside of player based realms of influence.

An example of the first would be more like a single Dungeons & Dragons game. You have a player(or group of players), and the story is woven around them(not directly, but it is designed to seem that way from a player's perspective) and is told about them. They are the true stars of the show, and it's their story to tell.

An example of the second would be the actual story in WoW. The changes from the basic game, to the Burning Crusade, to the Cataclysm itself. The fact that the story of WoW is not static, makes the game itself story driven. The players are merely a part of the world, and the story of the events of the world are what's truly important.

greenflash:

Fortuan:

greenflash:

Fortuan:
while, I do love D&D I find the Pathfinder series a step backwards. People didn't like how D&D 4.0 worked so they made Pathfinder to keep the mind bendingly complicated systems that drive out new players.

so noobs can go do what ever noobs do. and experance players can have fun( better spells, magic stuff, non-battle spells, epic combos and mages have to use weapons sometimes)

Have you tried DM'ing? besides i dare you to have more fun playing a fighter in 3.5 or pathfinder than in 4.0

im sorry for not maing this clear I HATE 4.0 I LOVE 3.5 now are we clear!

why is that? Seriously why is 3.5 better in your opinion?

Fortuan:

greenflash:

Fortuan:

greenflash:

Fortuan:
while, I do love D&D I find the Pathfinder series a step backwards. People didn't like how D&D 4.0 worked so they made Pathfinder to keep the mind bendingly complicated systems that drive out new players.

so noobs can go do what ever noobs do. and experance players can have fun( better spells, magic stuff, non-battle spells, epic combos and mages have to use weapons sometimes)

Have you tried DM'ing? besides i dare you to have more fun playing a fighter in 3.5 or pathfinder than in 4.0

im sorry for not maing this clear I HATE 4.0 I LOVE 3.5 now are we clear!

why is that? Seriously why is 3.5 better in your opinion?

Perhaps he likes the complexity? I personally love games with more options. My very brief experience with 4th ed was not as exciting when every round i spent doing the same thing as a wizard, over and over.

kingcom:

Fortuan:

greenflash:

Fortuan:

greenflash:

Fortuan:
while, I do love D&D I find the Pathfinder series a step backwards. People didn't like how D&D 4.0 worked so they made Pathfinder to keep the mind bendingly complicated systems that drive out new players.

so noobs can go do what ever noobs do. and experance players can have fun( better spells, magic stuff, non-battle spells, epic combos and mages have to use weapons sometimes)

Have you tried DM'ing? besides i dare you to have more fun playing a fighter in 3.5 or pathfinder than in 4.0

im sorry for not maing this clear I HATE 4.0 I LOVE 3.5 now are we clear!

why is that? Seriously why is 3.5 better in your opinion?

Perhaps he likes the complexity? I personally love games with more options. My very brief experience with 4th ed was not as exciting when every round i spent doing the same thing as a wizard, over and over.

well i could see that happening. It didn't pick up a lot of options until the suplimental books started hitting the shelves, but while you do "cast" abilities there are lot to chose from and there are TONS of options, my only personal frustration was a rogue that favored range that was AWESOME at it was hard to do, but it eventually was remedied.

Fortuan:

well i could see that happening. It didn't pick up a lot of options until the suplimental books started hitting the shelves, but while you do "cast" abilities there are lot to chose from and there are TONS of options, my only personal frustration was a rogue that favored range that was AWESOME at it was hard to do, but it eventually was remedied.

Again, very brief experience but 5 rounds of me casting magic missile does not make for a fun experience. Then again im a lover of the rest/number of spell slots kinda wizard so its just my personal taste.

Soylent Dave:

Rowan Kaiser:
As for those of you who say that they've had DMs created totally open and free worlds, I'd have to see this to agree with you. I really don't understand how that could be played as a game with rules.

As a GM I try to create an open world for my players.

In reality, I'm well aware that I don't - not fully. Your instinctive thoughts that it's damn near impossible to create a totally open world for people to play in is pretty accurate.

And to a degree, you normally don't want to give your players complete freedom, because it makes it difficult for the game to progress (complete freedom being "Here's the world, there's your character. What do you do?") - your players need at least a bit of direction from you as GM.

I just try to create a world where I know roughly what's going on away from and around the players, I have some detailed NPCs for them to meet (so that when they interact with them, it doesn't matter how they interact, I can work with it) and basic outline for a plot (some of it built on the backstory of the PCs).

I can usually prepare a fair bit of detailed stuff in advance by guessing what they're going to. And in every single session, they do something I haven't prepared for, and I have to wing it (sometimes with more success than others). Most of the roleplaying is therefore the players interacting with things and dealing with the consequences.

I think the real goal with roleplaying is to give your players as much freedom of choice as they (and you) can manage.

This. This is what I was trying to communicate.

It's not that I just let the players walk all over me, because I'm essentially a player even though I'm a DM. All I do is arbitrate the rules and try to keep the game enjoyable. Whether I plot out a full encounter for a session or just wing it is entirely up to the players, and that's a flexibility that MMO's and other video game environments don't have. That and the ability to ignore rules when they conflict with the entertainment value of the session. As was mentioned, planning a session is not the same as PLOTTING one. Railroad plots only work if the entire group wants one, otherwise, I avoid them like the plague.

Fortuan:
well i could see that happening. It didn't pick up a lot of options until the suplimental books started hitting the shelves, but while you do "cast" abilities there are lot to chose from and there are TONS of options, my only personal frustration was a rogue that favored range that was AWESOME at it was hard to do, but it eventually was remedied.

And I think that's where the divide is. (Plus I'm going to address those that dislike D&D in general in this response as well)

It's great that 4e is now full of options and includes the races and classes that were excluded in the first PHB.

And this is the place where people get frustrated with the D&D system in general - one must buy 10 books to get what is normally included in one or two books of another system. The 3.5 crowd bought n+1 number of books for 3.5 already, and nine years later, they have to buy n+2 books for the new D&D. Because 4e is not compatible with 3.5 at all. That's money they can't afford to spend in this economy.

However, in Pathfinder, I've only had to buy one book so far. And in FantasyCraft, I've only had to buy one book. See where this is going? See why a lot of people dislike 4e although it does do something things better (actually improves combat and makes some interactions easier)? Perhaps if Wizards hadn't released what was obvious a money-grab product with smug developers telling us that for years we've been playing a sub-par piece of crap system ... well, then things might have been different. I personally think the new Wizard D&D developers are smug assholes, and I can see how that would turn old fans off.

3.5 still has a better grasp on certain role-playing aspects and focuses on non-combat encounters over combat. 4e rules don't focus (or encourage focus) on role-play and non-combat encounters. Pathfinder fixes problems in 3.5 and creates an even more streamlined but complex combat system. FantasyCraft provides better DM tools and a better feat system. Etc. So it's a matter of taste and how good your DM is at his job to shape the experience into something you enjoy.

You may enjoy classic (or old school) D&D where the whole thing is much more co-operative - no frustrated storytellers...

I played TT D&D before I played video games and have continued playing TT games of various sorts throughout my gaming career. It is unfortunate that your introduction to TT gaming was so lackluster. My experiences have almost always been great because I was playing with a group of friends and we are all very descriptive and dramatic players so we really get into the stories.

The only times I have not enjoyed my experience have been a few of the times I played with people I didn't know. (Most of the times I played with people I didn't know I also enjoyed myself.) The worst experience was when some guy playing a chaotic evil character in our good-aligned party (why that was allowed I will never understand) decided to rape my character. And the DM allowed it.

I've been playing table top RPGs for so long that they soured my very first encounters with video RPGs were totally soured. The first time some villager begged me for help in her sad little NES way, and I refused, and was instantly asked the same question again because refusal wasn't an option was it for me. In table top, you have the freedom to chop the little ^%$%@'s head off. Yeah, video game designers may have more resources available to them, but a great deal of those are used on things like graphics or control schemes. I daresay that table top roleplayers have MORE options available- in the 15 years I've been running games I've lifted material from just about everywhere, from books and movies to historical research. And it's not bloody likely that Dan Aykroyd's going to sue me for MY version of Ghostbusters.

Sounds like a lot of this conversation is starting to turn into the standard Edition Wars, as well as Plot vs. Sandbox. The Plot Stick can be a useful tool to the GM, but overuse gets numbing. For example, if my plot stick is Crime Boss Who Wants The PCs to Do Stuff, and I start pushing them around with his thugs, the PLAYERS will feel pressured and forced into behavior- which can be fine. (I'm not a big fan of paying rent, for example, but I do, because I have to. Damn RL plot sticks.) Open worlds work, but they require a combination of players who are willing to get into the ROLE, try to develop motivations for their characters, etc, and a DM who can provide them with a world detailed enough for those motivations to work. (Example: Doc Octopus needs to know there's a bank in town if he's going to rob it, multiple banks provide more options, different scenarios, more planning, ultimately more fun.)

The 4th Ed/Pathfinder thing is just a matter of two different styles. Many of us (myself included), prefer a 'simulationist' game where the rules mechanics work within a certain consistent internal logic that a lot of the at-will abilities of 4th Ed don't explain. (Like my fighter only being able to pull off a Big Ass Sword Smack once per day.) 3.5/pathfinder have similar restrictions (spells per day, anyone?), but aren't quite as blatant about disregarding the logic IMHO. Ultimately, though, any RPG is going to be what you make of it- it's a collaborative effort between DM and players, the quality thereof is going to affect everything. I've had some really neat games based off a (heavily) modded version of Candyland...

kingcom:

Fortuan:

greenflash:

Fortuan:

greenflash:

Fortuan:
while, I do love D&D I find the Pathfinder series a step backwards. People didn't like how D&D 4.0 worked so they made Pathfinder to keep the mind bendingly complicated systems that drive out new players.

so noobs can go do what ever noobs do. and experance players can have fun( better spells, magic stuff, non-battle spells, epic combos and mages have to use weapons sometimes)

Have you tried DM'ing? besides i dare you to have more fun playing a fighter in 3.5 or pathfinder than in 4.0

im sorry for not maing this clear I HATE 4.0 I LOVE 3.5 now are we clear!

why is that? Seriously why is 3.5 better in your opinion?

Perhaps he likes the complexity? I personally love games with more options. My very brief experience with 4th ed was not as exciting when every round i spent doing the same thing as a wizard, over and over.

becouse im not a noob. it like how it has all these couses and how you really can do anything!
(i killed a level 20 with a level one spell it was a spell that let you close doors)

Ironic that this theme of articles comes out after I, a long time player of computer RPG's, began playing D&D. I find that playing tabletop games requires much more imagination from the players. You have to picture the action from the DM's description. It's also more social, for me anyway, as I mostly played RPG's alone or with very intoxicated or tired friends, as you have to talk to the real people in the room. It's no easier or harder to roleplay if you're with a group of likeminded individuals (hehehe, that's a paradox, likeminded individuals, sorry I digress) but video games allow a more sensory experience as you can see and hear the action. It's not purely in the head. Although, my tabletop sessions are often much much funnier than my video game ones.

It's funny how that works, though real life correlatives aren't as far off as they seem. Though we have infinite choices we are still pushed towards basic two choice principles. To eat or not to eat. How we get to that point can be extremely varied, however we will still get to that point because biologically we must. Same as a D&D storyline, or a videogame storyline. Ends may be simplified but that doesn't negate the complexity of the means of getting there.

Yes, that is exactly the problem I had - the GM had been up almost 48 hours straight and whether or not he was competent was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sleepiness he was experiencing - I know what you mean - I've DMed at Conventions too - it can be tiresome - but I usually love it, however I always DM my own games - makes it much easier.

kingcom:

Perhaps it was just that DM's style of game but I find that entirely wrong. My Dark Heresy campaign

Stop right there, I'm friending you.

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