Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Game Master is Crom: Your Fun is Your Problem, Not the GM's

A few years ago I sat on a panel about running tabletop RPGs. I got asked what I do I do to ensure that players at my table are entertained. I said "I am Crom. I don't care." This got everyone's attention. "I don't care because that's not my problem. Players are solely responsible for their entertainment. All I do is run the game."

This is wholly antithetical to the Fake Gamers pushing Storygames, who have that Participation Trophy mindset where Big Daddy has to make sure that everyone gets their thing and no one is allowed to feel bad about it. No, motherfuckers, the Game Master is not at all responsible for entertaining anyone. Players are responsible for themselves, wholly and utterly.

The counter-argument, especially in tabletop circles, for years has been one of local availability. "But this is the only game in town." is sometimes literally floated. Too fucking bad. Then, and now, you're still solely responsible for your entertainment, and it does not matter how many of your friends (or "friends") are there. Dealing with dissatisfaction and boredom is your problem, not the Game Master and not the game itself (or, by extension, the publisher or the designer). If you're not entertained, walk away. NO gaming is better than bad gaming.

If you're unwilling to do that, then don't be surprised when others reflect your lack of self-respect by wiping their feet on you like the doormat you are.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

My Life in Gaming: Where's All The VR Pilot Sims?

Why in the hell have none of the owners of properties that feature dogfighting, mech combat, etc. not thrown in with Virtual Reality? Putting up a cockpit, mapping key controls to the glorified joysticks or a standard console controller- being a pilot! Come on, videogame industry! Stop talking to the blue-haired freaks whining about Muh Appropriation or whatever SJW bullshit it is today, and take the fucking money.

I see all of these games for VR, be it for consoles or on PC, and so few of them are the things for which technology at this time is ideally suited for. That's being a pilot in a warmachine, where motion sickness is not a thing for your brainmeats, and simming all the things that your would do in that machine.

Yeah, something something Elite Dangerous and that piss-weak VR addon for EA's Star Wars Battlefront. Come on! Where's the VR remake and update of X-Wing Alliance or TIE Fighter (etc.)? Where's my MechWarrior VR, especially since I can go to a working BattleTech pod-based sim center. Where's the Macross and Gundam VR sims? Hell, why can't I buy a Super Robot sim game, where I can be Koji Kabuto and pilot Mazinger Z?

How about tank sims? I can't believe we have a sim game for being the bridge crew of a starship in Star Trek before we got a VR version of Battlezone. You can even do the multiplayer thing if you like; one drives, one shoots. Same goes for the attack chopper sims; pilot and gunner. Hell, even Lucasfilm can get in on that act with enabling the Clone Wars era Y-Wing that had the original gunner position and the ARC-170 with tailgunner and a navigator/gunner in addition to the pilot. Want more World War 2? Bomber sims, where you and your buddies are the crew of a B-17 or some other bomber aircraft.

The lack of the most obvious killer application for Virtual Reality astounds me as an utter lack of vision, especially out of the big franchises where this sort of thing should already be available for purchase. I can only imagine that corporate leadership is too scared to be the first out of the gate, and thus afraid of the risk, despite being in the best position to make exactly that move. They want some indie to do the risky stuff first, which isn't going to happen because they can't afford to fail. Until someone does the obvious and gets all the money, this will continue. Morons.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Revealed Preferences in Gaming: Simplicity

I play World of Warcraft, so I read threads at r/wow over at Reddit a lot. Today's thread is a complaint thread regarding the Mythic Plus system of "affixes", and why some of them aren't (allegedly) working as intended.

(Spoiler: It is working as intended.)

Now, a bit of context: The Mythic Plus system is an adaptation of Diablo 3's Nephilim Rift system. Your character gets a keystone, which enables the dungeon instance server to adjust the difficulty of a given dungeon instance to a specific value. Above a given rating (which modifies the HP and damage of all monsters therein), one or more qualities are added; these are the "affixes", and they impose additional mechanical constraints that (ideally) compel the players to adjust their play to mitigate the additional risk.

What actually happens most of the time is that the majority of the group doesn't adjust at all, so all of the consequences get foisted on the healer (and sometimes also the tank) because most of the consequences come in the form of additional damage- and that makes it the healer's problem to deal with. Healers are not happy. Quite frankly, this entire community response to additional difficulty and personal responsibility was entirely foreseeable and thus preventable.

I've long maintained that the developers of this game do not play the same way as either the elite players or the common masses, and therefore has no appreciation for how their game actually works in actual play. I wish this was not confined to World of Warcraft, but it's not. Time and again, in all gaming media, I see this emergent behavior reveal itself. No, it's not new either. Back in the 80s, there was a cartoon in Dragon Magazine of an adventurer crashing through the walls of a labyrinth instead of navigating them as intended.

Gamers Always Take the Simplest Approach Possible

Count on it. It's a foreseeable fact borne of gaming's origins in training for war. Whenever possible, use the simplest approach you can employ. For many games, in many genres and media, that means deliberately avoiding mechanics in favor of tunnel-vision levels of focus on taking out the opposition. (Which is what "tunneling" means in such context.)

The DPS group members take avoidable damage in favor of focusing upon the bosses standing between them and completion, which is why many Mythic Plus affixes that the developers intended for DPS to handle instead become healer problems. The same often occurs to affixes intended for tanks to deal with. Why? For the reason mentioned in the link thread: it slows the group's progression through a timed event down. As it's only damage output that kills bosses, they get away with it more often than not, especially with pick-up groups (PUGs). And no, tolerance of healers who can't hack it is not present.

In any game with a metagame to speak of, count on this trend dominating over time. Count on players finding ways to break complexity in favor of simplicity. Count on designers, developers, and publishers trying in vain to counter this trend, tilting at windmills time and again only to fail and fall before the inevitable.

The same trend also goes towards interpretations of abstractions. One of the contribution factors to tabletop RPGs becoming as they are now is due to players being bloody-mindedly literal in their take on gameplay abstractions (not helped by poor technical writing on the part of designers, developers, and publishers)- something still an issue in other media and game genres often spun off from tabletop wargames and RPGs. The rise of Mech Piloting comes in part from this long-running issue.

Look at the walkthroughs, guides, etc. for various games. Look at how much they simplify the game down to a level where players do not have to think about what to do or how to do it. Look at how those guides aim at maximum efficiency, putting forth least effort for most effect to accomplish tasks as fast as possible for maximum reward. With the Internet, only an otherwise-insignificant number of players need actually do that work for the benefit of a massive audience of fellow players looking to simplify their play.

You better believe that "weaponized autism" is a thing. That's the extreme form of gamers seeking simplicity in their gaming. If you want an image to summarize it, image that gamer demolishing those labyrinth walls to brute-force a straight line through to the goal of the dungeon. That's what gamers want, as revealed by over a generation of behavior, to do: radically simplify their way to the solution. Damned by the consequences.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Making a Campaign For Gamers: The Setting

It is clear now that what a fictional setting requires to make it suitable for storytelling is not what makes it suitable for gaming. Often those requirements are in conflict, as we see when a fictional setting created for one purpose (e.g. Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Dragonlance) are used for the other. I'll tackle setting-for-story at the Study; here I'll tackle setting-for-gaming. Specifically, I'm talking about setting-for-tabletop RPGs.

The distinction begins with the approach. Ignore the commercial settings; they're done that way for reasons that have far more to do with commercial necessity than practical use at your table. Application for gaming purposes requires that you start small and build out only as play requires. Ray Winniger nailed these as "The Seven Rules of Dungeoncraft" during the waning years of Dragon Magazine's run as a proper print magazine.

  1. Never force yourself to create more than you must.
  2. Whenever you design a major piece of the campaign world, always devise at least one secret related to that piece.
  3. Whenever you have no idea what the probability of success should be for a particular situation, consider it 50%.
  4. Always challenge both the players and their characters.
  5. What's done is done.
  6. Simple, easily identifiable characteristics are the best tools for portraying NPCs.
  7. Running a good campaign is about building a world, not building a story.

What I posted yesterday conforms to these seven rules. Having a monster palette in place acts as a creative component to inform my creative decisions down the road, when your campaign play requires that you create new content for the players to engage. That's how you make a setting work in gaming. You do it as required, taking the current state of what's been done and iterating out a plausible expansion given both the present state and its current momentum.

Yes, this applies to your Star Wars game. You don't make shit up until you need to, using what's there and what's gone before to inform that creation. This applies to your Traveller game; don't touch those tables until you must. This applies to your Robotech, MechWarrior, Call of Cthulhu, RIFTS, TORG (yes, even that game) and so on- all proper tabletop RPG campaigns work best when done this way.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Making a D&D Campaign For Gamers: New Model Colony

I'm writing down my notes for the AD&D campaign. Here's what I'm doing so far:

  • Character Generation
    • Attributes: Roll 3d6 in order.
    • Races: Men only.
    • Classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief.
    • Alignment: No Evil characters.
    • Starting Spells (MU): Read Magic, then roll until you get three more 1st level spells.
    • Non-Standard Gear: Blackpowder firearms (flintlock smoothbore muskets and handguns), explosives, and Greek Fire are available for individuals.
  • Character Advancement
    • XP: Xp-for-Treasure counts only the value of treasure that's returned to town. Training rules and costs apply.
    • Spells (MU) & Items: Must be found, traded for, or research/crafted.
    • Alignment: This will be tracked, and if necessary adjusted.
  • Setting Notes
    • Colonial religion is Christian. All priests are male. All Clerics are priests (but not all priests are Clerics, or even spellcasters), because all Clerics are brothers of the Knights Templar.
    • The setting is virgin territory. No one knows anything about what's beyond a day's march by foot of the outer walls, or much of the waters beyond the immediate vicinity.
    • The colonial leaders are a quintet of Name Level NPCs; the colony is their Stronghold. PCs seeking training will, inevitably, need to approach them to attain it prior to reaching Name Level themselves.
    • The reason for the anachronistic firearms and ordinance is due to The Artificer, the leader of the ruling quintet, who is also the reason for why the colony exists at all. The personal weapons of The Artificer are known to be superior in all ways to what players' characters or their subordinates may acquire, due to witnesses testifying at seeing them used.
  • Campaign Notes
    • Exploration and expansion of the frontier is the core of the campaign. There are NO town adventures; "town" is a safe zone, which is why it is found only in Strongholds established by Name Level characters. Expansion of the frontier requires the exploration, pacification, and settlement by colonial leaders (i.e. Name Level characters). Only PCs may expand the frontier.
    • Expansion of playable character options requires that players--through play--fulfill certain requirements to unlock them for the campaign, and to disallow campaign events that would shut off access to those options. What is required to unlock an option can only be found during play, starting with if that option even exists.
    • Players may acquire ordinance (in the form of cannon) as their finances and relations with colonial authorities allow.
    • Players who lose a character to death either take over the slain man's highest-level henchman as his new man, or he re-rolls and starts over as a 1st level character should no henchman be available.
    • All setting mysteries can only be found, inquired, and ultimately solved in play during adventures.

Right off the bat, you can see that I'm not doing your bog-standard Pink Slime. Just the presence of firearms alone is sufficient to freak out many such people, and so is the imposition of a monotheistic religion and sex-specific requirements for a class. This is deliberate; I wanted something other than off-band Tolkien run through a blender (e.g. a typical Realms game). When I first did this using Mentzer Basic, I found that SJWs balked. Now that I know good and well as to why, I'm leaving it like this to filter them out and away from my table.

It was always something. "No elves? Fuck that." "Guns? What's wrong with you?" "I can't play a female Cleric of (insert crazy moon cult here)?" "Why aren't you using (current edition)?" Whatever the trigger was, it reliably revealed someone who was pozzed if not fully converged between their ears. (They also rarely read anything in SF/F before 1980. Sound familiar?) That's turned out to be a blessing. Now I can filter out people who can't be bothered to Git Gud and embrace the core of D&D: Adventure!

Note the lack of a Big Bad here. Or a plot. Or even a backstory. (It's this simple: You're the losers of the last big war, and you fled to this new world to start over. There's no going back; you make it here or you die.) That's me taking Ray Winnegar's advice, and never crafting more than I need right at the start to get going. As this is meant to be a hexcrawl, I find out what's there not long before players do; it's more fun for me that way. The "no town adventures" thing is me using the West Marches model. The final part, which will matter when I start looking for players, is the "Open Table" element; play sessions are more-or-less self-contained, as they comprise of whomever shows up, and characters can be locked out due to downtime requirements or being tied up with other PC groups (hence the need for time records).

I do know what is NOT out there: Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, Gnomes, and other Tolkien-derived Pink Slime favorites. (That means no Drow either.) I also have enough familiarity with my mythological sources to figure out how the monster palette works, and man that's going to be fun. (Hint: the Mech Pilots throwing Monster Manual entries at me are going to short-circuit.)

All I'm going to do after this is the immediate vicinity, close enough for starting characters to reach out to and delve but not so close that it's truly a day trip with no risk. It'll be enough to get the ball rolling, but that's all. Why? Because that is enough. Gamers gotta have a game to play, and in Dungeons & Dragons, that game is exploration and discovery.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Narrative Warfare: Storygames - Fake Games for Fake Gamers

I wondered for years why (a) tabletop RPGs, contrary to what we've been told, are actual games with win and loss conditions and (b) why so many people who ought to know better keep pushing this "RPGs are for storytelling!" lie. Then I read Anonymous Conservative's blog, focused on r/K evolutionary biology and its applications to all areas of human behavior. Well, gaming is such an area, and the part on Individual Competitiveness is most applicable here:

When Competitive males meet, to compete with each other, the r-type male changes their skin coloration to the pastel colors of a female. They draw in their long, flowing male tentacles, making them short and stubby like a female’s. Dressed like a pastel colored female, these r-type males glide in past the brightly colored K-type males, and mate quickly with the waiting female, before slipping away unnoticed.

Here, the r-type psychology’s aversion to competition with peers adapts into an actual strategy designed to not just avoid competitions, but to actively seek advantage when confronted with the K-type Competitor’s competitive scheme. Those r-type individuals which simply sought to avoid the K-type Competitor’s competitions, failed to acquire mates, and died. Eventually however, a few adapted to exploit the Competitive male’s adherence to rules, and these rule breakers persisted, and became the defacto form of the r-type organism.

Because this diverges from the simple passive aversion to competition of the r-type psychology, we consider this an evolutionary advancement of the r-selected psychology, and we call it Anticompetitiveness.

Pay attention to these key points: the aversion to competition (and conflict), the exploitation of rules to substitute for winning competition (cunning), and the perversion of standards to gaslight enemies into defeating themselves through exploiting the rules as a deliberate strategy.

Guess what "Storygames" are? The attempt by people who can't hack it with proper tabletop RPGs to exploit the competitive nature of gamers by gaslighting them into accepting the fakes' redefinition of the medium as valid. Fake Games for Fake Gamers indeed.

The Big Lie is also the Big Tell that this is rooted in rabbit psychology: "We're just here to tell stories." Bullshit. If you want to tell stories, go open a Kindle account and get your ass to work writing, publishing, and hawking your stories already. But no, that's competitive. That's taking a risk at running a business, and these folks--being SJW death cultists, by and large--are not the sort to do that. They'll do the usual route of entryism and convergenece of something someone else already built up, struggled for, and fought to make into a success.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

One of My Twitch Streamers is Missing from E3

The Dork Queen Lauralania, one of my streamer pals at Twitch, is missing.

She went to a mixer last night and never returned to her hotel. She wasn't missed until today, and now that E3 is winding down it's vital to get the word out. Folks are getting worried now, and I'm asking anyone with information to pass it along through channels to get this resolved in a timely manner and see her returned safe and sound.

UPDATE!