Lunchtime Poll #5: Under the Sea

What’s your favorite take on Atlantis as it pertains to gaming—Aliens? Mer-people? Exceptionally ancient Greeks?

I liked the ideas in Randall Garrett’s Gandalara Cycle. A quick gloss is that there’s a civilization of near-humans that live in a desert… at the bottom of the future Mediterranean Sea. They’re adapted to the thicker atmosphere (since they’re below sea level) and they can’t (easily) get out & take over Africa and Europe. He created a pretty good analogue culture– close enough to human to be very identifiable, with a few sci-fi/fantasy elements. Their culture wasn’t much stranger than most foreign cultures appear today- easy enough for most role-players to adapt to.

Lunchtime Poll #4: 2d or not 2d?

I’m not going to agree with either directly. In either case, everyone has to agree (at least largely) about character competence and system results or you’ll have frustration…

This week Li asks:

This question comes out of an absolutely fascinating discussion between longtime GMs and gamers. It was fun to watch.

Narrative Guy says, “Some of the best games I’ve ever played didn’t involve a single die roll; we decided what our characters could do and the GM took us through a story.” System Mechanic says, “That’s not gaming. If you don’t have a mechanic, then the characters are subject to the capricious whims of the GM. And how can you make sure everyone is on the same page? Also, you lack the random element.” So…what do you think? Make your case!

I’m not going to agree with either directly. In either case, everyone has to agree (at least largely) about character competence and system results or you’ll have frustration. If an Amber Diceless game has characters wandering around on simplistic quests and failing constantly like first level D&D characters, you’re suffering from the whims of a capricious GM. But that’d be true whether you rolled dice or not- it’s the style of adventure, the way the GM has statted the opposition and such considerations that make the adventure futile. The same thing can happen (easily) when a hostile or incompetent GM railroads the characters through a diced plot.

The random element is handy at times; I like the extra suggestions that they make- often they’ll twist an adventure in a way that planning wouldn’t. They can be frustrating though- once people have dice, DM’s will have them roll them, even for critical plot elements… then poorly shoehorn the required results in, no matter the dice result.

Summary: Diceless gaming is still gaming, but I prefer the added “impartiality” of dice, handled reasonably. When dice are thrown around to cover for lack of plot, etc., you’re much worse off than not picking the dice up to begin with.

Quick Book Thoughts

In the King’s Service by Katherine Kurtz

A solid start to a trilogy, set in one of my favorite universes. I like some of the characters quite a bit: the King and Alric’s mother Alyce are solid. The relationships between the children of Corwyn are well drawn; I can easily imagine siblings having such relationships.

The plot is a slow boil; there’s a lot of low-key action, but no clear villain or overarching threat. It works, since the established books do a good job of illustrating the world (as it will be), and this book fits the pattern. There are some surprises (such as the Jessamy subplot), but most of the book’s events fit the world’s logic well enough to be “non-surprises”. The specific events that have to happen (because later books mention them) do happen– but usually in a natural seeming way. Over all, it’s not the book to introduce people to Gwynedd, but it’s a good book for people who already enjoy the world.

One More For The Road by Ray Bradbury

A collection of short stories. Many are fine- none were exceptional. Many of the main characters are writers, novelists, or have some similar profession. There may be an overt sense of the fantastic, but usually the stories are of the “slice of life” variety.

It may have been better than I’m remembering, but for me it was only an OK book. It wasn’t bad, but I doubt I’ll read it again. None of the stories screamed “must read again”. [For comparison: I really liked Fahrenheit 451, but didn’t think much of Dandelion Wine.]

Sorcery Rising & Wild Magic by Jude Fisher
I read these two novels and enjoyed them somewhat, but they’re not high on my list of books to recommend. I largely agree with this (from Books for a buck.com)–

Author Jude Fisher writes a frustrating combination of fabulous world-building with one-dimensional characters. Katla is a brat-tomboy. Her brother is a crazy coward. Her father is obsessed. Saro is a whiny baby. His brother is a cowardly bully. Growth comes slowly to these characters, especially as few of them are pursuing any particular goal (this makes for fine realism but disappointing reading). Of the major characters, only Aran Aranson seems to have a goal. On the other hand, Fisher’s world is fascinating with its different cultures, religions, and the strange trinity that created it and still plays an active force within it.

The world is sketched competently, though the dramatic north/south divide reminds me strongly of many other novels. The cultures in conflict should be in conflict, so that’s well done. The rise of magic plays out interestingly… but through such weak characters that it’s hard to care at times. Too many of the characters can be defined in a phrase- or two, if they have a cover motivation.

Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson
A good book; a bit dated but still vibrant. The story seems straightforward, and it is. It’s punchy and short, doesn’t involve extensive “leveling up” play, but builds solid relationships among fantastic people. The “critters” are suitably human yet retain their alien nature Some things (like Holger’s fitness) seem too easy, but have been anticipated by the author.

All in all, a great fluffy read.

RE: Lunchtime Poll #3: Imperfect Attendance

Li asks:

How do you cope with the absence of a player, either in a single session or repeated absences?

In one word: poorly.

Much as Ginger related, characters of missing players will often develop Etherealness, or just fade into the wallpaper. What’s done often depends on the size of the group and the style of game played.

Li asks:

How do you cope with the absence of a player, either in a single session or repeated absences?

In one word: poorly.

Much as Ginger related, characters of missing players will often develop Etherealness, or just fade into the wallpaper. What’s done often depends on the size of the group and the style of game played.

Continue reading “RE: Lunchtime Poll #3: Imperfect Attendance”

Books for November

I’ve recently read a few books and just returned them to the library today. The three books I returned are:
Katherine Kurtz- In the King’s Service
Jude Fisher- Sorcery Rising & Wild Magic

Currently reading:
Poul Anderson- Three Hearts and Three Lions

Books checked out today:
John Betancourt- The Dawn of Amber
Ray Bradbury- One More For The Road
John Barnes- A Million Open Doors
Raleigh Trevelyan- Sir Walter Raleigh

RPG meme bandwagon

(from Matt Snyder)

1. What is the first RPG you ever played?
D&D (basic), back in 4th grade.

2. What RPG do you currently play most often?
We’re in the middle of a Dogs in the Vineyard campaign, but Dad’s starting up a 3.5D&D campaign after the holidays.

3. What is the best system you’ve played?
Vampire: The Masquerade. When he’s on, Will can really make a session hop. Pendragon has also been cool.

4. What is the best system you’ve run?
Mage: The Ascension. Mostly because of my players and love of its color, more than the actual structural underpinnings.

5. Would you consider yourself an: Elitist/ Min-Maxer/ Rules Lawyer?
Yeah, I’m probably an elitist. I want systems that support gameplay without too much bookkeeping and overhead. Distributed narration is a big plus. (DiTV is great.)

6. If you could recommend a new RPG which would you recommend? Why?
Dogs in the Vineyard. It manages to make even “talking” tense, backs it up with system… and tempts you to escalate. The GMing advice is very good at getting you to create a town “properly”, so the system doesn’t wind up twisted into traditional tracks.

7. How often do you play?
About once a week, though we’re on hiatus til Emily’s bounced back from having her kid.

8. What sort of characters do you play? Leader? Follower? Comic Relief? Roll-Player/ Role-Player?
I often make a complimentary follower type, plugging holes that the system requires. That often means a Cleric type (in D&D) or other general support role, though if the bases are covered I’ll indulge in vanity characters. (Like Alanora the Bard, or Nathaniel, of FoodMaxx and dance fame.)

9. What is your favorite Genre for RPGs?
Modern or Sci-fi. I can get irritated by badly done history or poorly extrapolated fantasy.

10. What Genres have you played in?
Fantasy, Modern (White Wolf), Sci-fi (Mech, Cyberpunk, Shadowrun), Super Heroic. [Edited to add: Western(DiTV), Amber, and more that I’m probably forgetting.]

11. Do you prefer to play or GM? Do you do both?
The preference is weak. I’d rather GM a good game than play in a bad one, but if someone else has a good game, I’m all for letting someone else run it.

12. Do you like religion in your games?
Not really. I can’t do the mindset justice in my portrayals, and it’s too often reduced to a bare line on the character sheet and ignored.

13. Do you have taboo subjects in your games or is everything “fair game”?
Most everything is fair game. I’d be hesitant to play “deeply” with the old Saturday night group, and sorcery as demonic/evil magic is a sore spot for some players, so I’d avoid that as well.

14. Have you developed your own RPG before?
Yeah, mostly adaptations of other people’s stuff. Nothing terribly worthwhile in retrospect, but it was fun doing.

15. Have you ever been published in the Gaming Industry? If so…what?
Nope.

Christmas Lists 2004

Alright, I’m looking forward to the holidays. Before the spirit leaves me, I’d appreciate a little help with Christmas lists. I’m going to create a post for each person. Just click on “comments” and there will appear a box for you to scribble what goodies you want. If you think of something else that you want later, just add another comment.

Sizes are important, please include them in your first comment. (Well, sizes are important for clothing– I guess you don’t have to include sizes for DVDs.)

Adults, I’m sure we’ll coordinate this the usual way… barely. 🙂 Phone & email seem like good ways to “claim” items & prevent duplication.

Now, off to the individual posts, so that you’ll have something to respond to.

[Edited to add: Click the comment below the article with your name on it. I’ve moved previous comments into the proper threads. Sorry I wasn’t clearer earlier.]

Alysia — Christmas 2004 List

Alysia,

Hope you’re learning interesting stuff in school; what time period do your history classes cover this year?

On to the question we’ve all been waiting for– what do you want for Christmas? When you respond, please include clothing sizes (and if you’re in the juniors, teens, women’s, or whatever department, or where in the store your sizes are right). I’m probably not brave enough to try clothing shopping for you, but the information will probably be useful to other people with slightly better taste.

Thanks for scribbling back– hopefully I’ll be able to find cool stuff that you’ll enjoy. Though there are some good books out there that I may not be able to resist…
Uncle Scott

Myles — Christmas 2004 List

Hey Myles, good to type at you!

Anyway, I was wondering if there’s anything cool that you want for Christmas? Scribble it all here and we’ll fight like wildebeests to get the coolest stuff. Some of which we might even share with you, we’re that nice.

Um, yeah. Anyway, please include clothing sizes when you scribble your list (by hitting comment). After all, you have to have something easy for other people to get you…

Hope your turkey day is a good one!
Uncle Scott