Friday 22 November 2013

As a player or as a GM, no fudging please

Every so often, the old question rises again:  should the GM ever fudge?  In examining this question, I am going to define fudging as changing the outcome of die rolls, or the meaning of their outcome, during the course of actual play.

It is pretty easy to understand what is meant by changing the outcome of die rolls:  If you roll 2d6 for damage, and 12 comes up, but you say “10” instead, you have changed the outcome of die rolls.

Changing the meaning of the outcome works like this:  The opponent had 12 hit points, the player rolled a “12” on damage, but rather than have the meaning of the roll (opponent dies) play through, the GM changes the opponent’s hit points, or gives him a special ability, or does something else behind the scenes so that the opponent does not die, but can follow a script which more closely adheres to the GM’s expectations or idea of “fun”.  The meaning of the roll’s outcome within the context of the game has changed.

People can fall on either side of the “fudging” debate, and many people are divided in how they feel , but I have never encountered any single instance where I think the game would be improved by fudging. 

Some debunking:

"Now it doesn't matter what I roll!"
Not fudging makes the GM a slave to the dice.

No.  The GM chooses when the dice are rolled, and chooses what dice are rolled.  The dice are still a tool; the only thing that changes is that the GM is firm in his decision to use that tool and brave enough to abide by the results, even if they throw him “off script”.

Fudging is the same as prep work.

No.  Prep work – including “on the fly” decisions that the GM has to make to supply unexpected information within the scenario – is part of world-building.  World-building presupposes a world in which the players can make decisions, and world-building within the context of a game presupposes that those decisions matter.  Prep work supplies the context for decision-making, and has nothing to do with fudging.

Fudging is a good tool for developing GMs to learn the trade.

I strongly disagree. 

Consider a case where the GM decides that Trap A does 3d6 damage, and that 3d6 damage is rolled with a result of 18 against a character with 14 hp.  In this particular case, having the PC die is not “on script” for the GM – it throws his “plot” off the rails.

In the case where the GM does not fudge, he learns to adapt to new situations, and he learns that throwing the plot off the rails is what players do.  It is what makes their choices meaningful.  He also learns that he needs to consider the possible effects of anything he throws into the game – if he does not want PCs to die from a failed save, for example, he should not include save-or-die effects.  By seeing the outcome of unexpected game events, his understanding of what can happen is increased.

In the case where the GM fudges, he learns that changing the die roll can keep his adventure on the rails, negating the effects of player choice.  He learns that prep work is not really important – he can just change stuff mid-stream.  He does not develop anything outside his comfort zone, as game events cannot take him there, and he reinforces his “plot” over the tapestry of context, choice, and consequence which the game becomes without fudging.

I only fudge when it is important.

Then you are fudging at the worst possible time.

When it is important is when player choices matter the most, and you are removing the ability of your players to have their characters succeed or fail by those choices.

I only fudge when it is not important.

If it is not important, why not let the roll stand?  Why are you even rolling at all?

It doesn’t hurt the players if they don’t know.

Consider trying to learn chess, where your uncle keeps letting you win no matter how poorly you move.  If you think your uncle is doing his best, it might make you think that you are a great chess player.  But it will quickly prove otherwise when you play someone who isn’t handing you the game.

Did your uncle’s “kindness” in letting you win help you or hurt you?

So too with the fudging GM.

It’s the same as when you roll a die to make something appear random when it is not.

No it is not.

Imagine a scenario where the GM knows there is no secret door, and rolls the die.  The meaning of the outcome (no meaning) is known prior to the roll.  The GM is not changing that meaning.  The GM is not changing the roll.  No fudging is occurring.

It’s my game and I can do what I want.

Yes.  Yes, it is.  And if you can find even one player who wants the same thing, you should play the game that you want to play.

But let me quote Mr. Joseph Goodman, if I may, on page 314 of the Dungeon Crawl Classics core rulebook:

  • Always roll your dice in public.  "Let the dice fall where they may," as the saying goes. The players will learn fear, as they trust in the objectivity of your combat encounters.

  • Let the characters die if the dice so dictate it.  Nothing is as precious as a PC's life when it can be taken away -  and nothing is so unchallenging as a game where the players know the judge will not kill their characters.

Wise words, in my humble opinion.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Peasant Deeds

As mentioned on Spellburn, I have a "peasant deed" rule in my game, in which any character can attempt a minor "Mighty Deed of Arms" by rolling 1d6 with the attack roll.  If the attack hits, and the d6 comes up "6" the deed succeeds in a minor way.  The initial plan was, of course, to allow any character to do cool things, without overshadowing the warrior and dwarf.

Sometimes, though, a player will want to "spam" the peasant deed.  As a result of this, I have modified the rule as follows:

  • Any character can have one "free" peasant deed each combat.
  • Thereafter, the attack roll when attempting a peasant deed diminishes by -1d on the dice chain each time a peasant deed is attempted in that combat.

The purpose here is to ensure that a mechanic for "cool moves" exists for everyone, and that the baker can still push a skeleton in the pit, without making it "I Deed to blind" and "I Deed to trip" for every character with every swing.

Saturday 16 November 2013

Everyone Else XI: The Emerald Enchanter

At some point, it has become very difficult to write these things.  Not because there are not enough cool products for the DCC RPG – there are plenty of those! – but because I have become involved in some capacity with so many of the publishers.  This makes it very difficult indeed to ensure objectivity, or even the appearance thereof.  

You can take that all with a grain of salt, though, because I am talking about what I like, what I don’t like, and what I think works or does not. There's a lot of subjectivity involved in blogging anyway.

The wizards in Appendix N are a varied lot, and there is seldom any explanation given for the strangeness of their appearances or ways.  The Emerald Enchanter, by Joseph Goodman, is the first DCC module to feature a wizard not as one of several NPCs, but as a primary antagonist.  

There are also some innovative monsters, which demonstrate how creatures in Dungeon Crawl Classics don’t necessarily follow the normal rules.  Players who are expecting to merely slog through the encounters using sword and spell to defeat everything that comes their way are going to be re-educated in the way DCC works – something that more DCC adventures (including my own!) should be using.  

The titular Emerald Enchanter supplies a complex set-piece climax that might include a full-on spell duel, making this the first DCC product geared toward doing so.

Finally, a close reading of the text indicates what the Emerald Enchanter’s patron has done for him, and should suggest how a patron relationship might benefit the PCs as well.  In DCC, “NPCs are different”, and the judge can and should consider the NPC’s relationship with any patron in a “mechanics agnostic” mode while writing.  The Emerald Enchanter certainly shows this, and makes good use of the DCC rules framework and philosophy.

I have yet to run this one, but it reads as a solid adventure that should be fun to run/play through, and I look forward to eventually folding it into my own campaign.  

Thursday 14 November 2013

Silent Nightfall

There’s an owl in the well
There’s an owl in the well
Old owl in the well
Won’t catch me!

Silent Nightfall, the most recent of the CE series, is now available at RPG Now.  

This was playtested by a crew starring Jen Brinkman, the First Acolyte and Unofficial High Priestess of the Spellburn podcast.

There is a lot going on in the 21 pages of content (not counting the OGL), and, as is the norm for Purple Duck's DCC materials, all text is OGC.

There are often periods of greater or lesser magical influence in the world. Millennia ago, during a period of reduced magical activity, there was a nuclear power station at this location. When magical influences began to spread once more, the nuclear core became unstable, and began to develop a form of malevolent sentience.  The ancients placed the core in a shaft three miles deep, the last 500 feet of which were filled with heavy water.  This shaft, and its attendant control center, were given the codename “Silent Nightfall”.

In the ages since, much of the complex has collapsed or ceased to function, but the main shaft still remains, going three miles deep into the ground. The rooms that remain have undergone great changes, having been used for many different purposes and by many different creatures over the centuries. As a result, the original purpose of the shaft, rooms, and corridors has become

Silent Nightfall is usable with characters from level 2 and up in a campaign setting, but players may find parts of it extremely challenging, so judges - know your players!  

Includes appendixes on Aberrations (including 5 new monsters and a random table!), Demi-patrons, Languages, and the Radiant Brotherhood, I hope you will find this one a great value for your game!

Wednesday 13 November 2013

UPDATED: Print on Demand

FT0:  Prince Charming, Reanimator, is now available in Print on Demand format.  That is all.

Well, actually, it turns out to be a little bit more difficult than expected.  Apparently, adding a print-on-demand option to a pay-what-you-want product turns the PWYW off.  So, slogging through the PITA work involved, Mark Gedak has created two listings.

GO HERE if you want a pdf copy of Prince Charming, Reanimator on a PWYW basis.

GO HERE if you want a print copy of Prince Charming, Reanimator.

This is not as elegant as having a single listing, and it might be a bit more confusing than necessary, but until RPGnow finds a way around this issue, that's what we're stuck with.

Meanwhile, I am hard at work on FT1: Creeping Beauties of the Woods.

Now, as luck would have it, I had a chance to run a party through FT0 recently, and I have to admit that, in this case, I was shocked at how well they did against my little death, character funnel.  I guess that's what happens when you roll high initiatives, multiple 20s, and everyone makes their save against breath weapon.  Oh well, Rosie we hardly knew ye.........

ANOTHER UPDATE:  Mark Gedak just let me know that Purple Duck's DCC and Pathfinder material will be 50% off from NOW until 18 November at RPG Now!

Sunday 3 November 2013

Upcoming From Purple Duck

Silent Nightfall, the latest in the CE Series, has entered its layout, art, and playtest phase.  Please note the request for playtesters two blog posts down....could you be one of the first people to see this material?

Silent nightfall, now to bed
A rushlight to ward your way
Hush now child, cry not child
They listen to find their prey

Through forest they come
Down dark streets they glide
O my children lie silent
We are all safe inside

I am not 100% sure that this is just "placer art", because of the nature of the Campaign Element.  This may be the creepiest, and the most useful, Campaign Element yet, with four appendixes that help you maximize your usage of the material presented!

Purple Duck’s Adventure Locations are perfect for dropping into any ongoing campaign.  With some slight alteration, they can also be used as a story arc, spanning five or six adventures running from 1st to 3rd level.

Here is your chance to pick up Bone Hoard of the Dancing Horror and Sepulcher of the Mountain God (by Paul Wolfe) in print, with a short introductory section that describes how to use AL 1 to 5 as a single campaign arc.

I am also currently working on FT 1: Creeping Beauties of the Wood for Purple Duck Games, and a new Adventure Location.  So keep your eye on the Duck; there's a lot more coming!

FT 0, 1 & 2 at Casa Loma

If you live in the Toronto area, you are probably aware of Casa Loma, "Canada's Majestic Castle" created by Sir Henry Pellatt.  It includes two secret passages and an 800-foot tunnel beneath the street from the castle proper to the coachhouse.

What you may not be aware of is that you can rent rooms in Casa Loma now for various functions.

Take a look at those room rates for a minute.  They're actually pretty reasonable for the chance to run a faery-tale based game of DCC in a freaking castle!

Casa Loma closed at the end of October, and reopens in May.  The prices are reasonable.  By that time, FT 0, FT 1, FT 2....maybe even as far as FT 5 should be out.  

Now, I don't know how fast we could burn through those modules in a single game date, but it would be as cool as hell to try.

The Austin Room is $250 plus taxes, which should mean $285, and seats 8 people.  Just under $36 a head, including the judge.  If there are enough people interested by the spring to do this, I will contact Casa Loma and make the arrangements.

During breaks, or between adventures, folks could wander into the secret passages and down the tunnel, or climb up a tower.

It would be awesome!

Playtesters Wanted!

I have some upcoming materials that I need some help getting playtested.

The first up is CE 5:  Silent Nightfall, appropriate for 2nd level characters (although usable at a much wider range).  I can send you the materials now, if you can get me a list of playtesters and some feedback no later than the 11th of November.  

Next up is a Mystery Project, which I hope to have ready for playtest no later than the 6th, but which I will need feedback on by the 14th.  This is the same project which was mentioned on Spellburn.

After this, I expect FT 1:  Creeping Beauties of the Wood to require playtesting.  

And there is more coming, so if you want some playtest credits, email me at ravencrowking at hotmail dot com.


Friday 1 November 2013

The Most Wonderful Day of the Year

Posted by "Loozrboy" under Creative Commons 2.0
Halloween is my favourite day of the year.  Better than my birthday (especially as I get older!).  Better than Christmas.  Better than many other days of the year where I actually get the day off.  It is not the costumes (although those are fun).  It is not even the candy.  It is that Halloween is the last holiday we have that actually builds community.

Think about it.

In the old days, every holiday was a reason to greet your neighbours and mingle with those you might not otherwise see.  Carolling and wassailing meant going door-to-door.  You might even exchange gifts.  Easter meant egg hunts in public spaces.  We still have parades, but in most communities parades are more spectator sport than interactive event.

So, feel good about throwing yourself into the holiday.  Dress up when you take your kids trick-or-treating.  Make your house spook central.  And be glad that we still have one day to build community, because most of the social forces in our current culture are more interested in tearing community down.

(Oh, and, November 1st?  Happy Birthday, Mom!)