Thursday 15 March 2012

Polish Resistance: Session 4

Session four was experimental for me in two regards:
  1. It was the first Google+ hangout game I've run/participated in
  2. It was the first time I've DMed with such an extensive collection of random tables in order to create a sandbox-style setting
As far as the first point, it was successful, overall. We ran a session and had some fun. We started off with character creation--I think that took longer than it would have in a face-to-face game. Once the game got started, though, it flowed quite nicely.

In-Game Summary

Andre, after losing the rest of his party in the previous session, came riding into the village of Lipnik. There, he teamed up with Shmengy, a callous resistance fighter with a KIS submachine gun and a penchant for motorcycles and grenades.

They tracked down the barn where the German half-tracks Andre had been tracking stayed the previous night. They interviewed the farmer who's barn was commandeered, but didn't speak to his wife or search the barn.

They headed South on the tail of the half-tracks, only to be attacked by a pair of zombies. These were faster and tougher then the previous batch and had to be blown up or have limbs destroyed to neutralize. Andre caught his headless-zombie in a body-lock, then stuffed a grenade down it's gullet--blowing it to pieces but badly wounding himself in the process.

Shmengy manged to wrangle their two terrified horses and bring Andre back to town where a doctor was called. After a week of regular medical attention, Andre was back on his feet.

While he was bedridden, he sent a letter to his cousin, a German intelligence officer and double agent for the resistance. He asked about the zombies and asked her to send her response to Sandiomierz, hoping to be there in a month to hear her answer. Of course, the mail will only reach there if the Germans retake the city, so he will likely need to search out her response in Opatow.

During the healing time, Shmengy kept his eye out for a motorcycle+sidecar he could steal, but he was wary while working alone and didn't attack the few German convoys that did pass by.

By the time Andre was better, the zombie problem had become common knowledge and people in town were scared. The party recruited an NPC, one Jurek Szewc, who wanted to help with the now widely known zombie threat. He is a resistance weaponsmith and he carries a homemade KIS submachinegun.

So the party left of horseback and with a pack mule, in hope of picking up the now cold trail of the German convoy. They reached the village of Kurow, finding it much like Gojcow: deserted with a chemical smell in the town square. They found a female survivor who told of the Nazis killing everyone, then shoveling some chemical substance onto them. A pair of robed people approached the bodies, but she felt such an aura of fear that she hid and didn't observe anything else. The Germans left an hour later and that night the dead walked in Kurow.

The party stocked up on lamp oil and rations from the small, abandoned general store and prepared to continue South.

Saturday 10 March 2012

Polish Resistance: Character Creation II

When I picked a subset of Cyberpunk 2020 character creation rules for my Polish Resistance games, I missed out on an important rule: Friends & Enemies. There are three reasons I skipped this one:

  1. It was part of the complex Life Events step which I considered extraneous. Anyway I prefer that characters start with minimal back-story so that the player can flesh out the character during play.
  2. Generating a friend/enemy required 7 dice rolls for the various tables provided, and I was looking for a simplified rule-set.
  3. I came from a DnD background where no such rule exists, so I saw it as extraneous.

However there are some good reasons to add Friends and Enemies to character creation:

  1. In city-based settings, the city is too complex to come up with a detailed description of the cityscape. If the GM is going to give any depth to the city, he needs to focus on just the part of the city the characters know. A Relationship Map is a good way model the social aspects of this.
  2. Having players create NPCs is a good way to encourage them to contribute to the setting in an active manner. Hopefully this mindset continues during play.
  3. The focus on character relationships moves the game's goals from purely combat and treasure-based to other goals. For instance gaining power, influence, and a reputation. Perhaps that's why DnD's endgame is so elusive: if the whole focus is on treasure and XP from the beginning, it's hard to suddenly transition into a mode of finding followers, a castle, etc.

So without further ado:

Simplified Friends & Enemies Rule

Create 1d3-1 friends and 1d3-1 enemies for your character. Each NPC should come with a name, a short description, their relationship to the PC, and where they usually can be found.

Rules-Centric vs. World-Centric Gaming

For this post, I'd like to describe two different idealized styles of play for pen & pager RPGs. The styles are also not tied to any particular rule set, although some rule sets may tend to encourage one style over the other. These styles are idealized in that most actual games being run will contain some elements from each.

In a Rules-Centric game, the focus of play is on the game rules, both the general rules as well as any module-specific rules. Much like a board game, the rules lay down the parameters for the characters' interaction with the game world and players state their actions using the vocabulary of the rules, as opposed to the vocabulary of the game world.

In a World-Centric game, the focus is on the game world, while the rules are just a tool for supporting play in that world. The options for character action are as limitless as the game world allows and players state their actions in the language of the game world.

The Computer Game Test
A simple test to check where a games falls out on this spectrum is to answer the question "How easily can it be translated to a computer game?" If it is Rules-Centric, then the translation is simply a matter of writing a program to enforce the rules. If it is World-Centric then the translation will be impossible, since the limitless possibilities of the gaming world cannot practically be expressed to the computer.

ImmersionPerhaps the most important difference between these two play styles is how they effect immersion. Immersion is a subjective experience, however in my experience, World-Centric play tends to be much more immersive than Rules-Centric play. This for the simple reason that focusing on the game-world, rather than on the rules pulls you deeper into that world.

In my opinion, this is one of the major arguments for the continued existence of pen & paper RPG's in the computer-age. For all the graphics, algorithms, voice acting, etc., pen and paper RPG's still have the potential to provide a more immersive experience.

Rule Completeness
There is a trend in game design to produce endless supplements and encyclopedic rule-books covering every possible situation real or imagined. Since rules define the limits of the game world, Rules-Centric games have a much greater need for these additional rules, so that a greater range of situations can be covered. World-Centric games on the other hand, are not limited by their rule-set and the GM(possibly with the help of the players) can just make up a suitable mechanic when needed, so the need for supplements is much less acute.

Mapping to GNS
GNS is a well known theory of game styles based on what players want to get out of the game.

If we had to map these styles to the GNS model, I would say that the Rules-Centric style roughly corresponds to Gamism in that much like a traditional game, the rules define the limits of the game. In this sense, the Rules-Centric style sees an RPG as a highly complex board game.

The World-Centric style is also largely Gamist, but it is a very particular kind of Gamism: Immersionist Gamism. A World-Centric game is unlike traditional games in that the goal is not winning via the rules mechanics, rather on creating an immersive experience for the players. As such, the rules take on a secondary importance.

"It's very 'gamist', but also in its own way very immersive"