Tuesday, 23 June 2015

When Sterotypes hurt your Game

Something I've strived for in a lot of my games is an attention to detail. You always see posts, articles and stories about how the designers added so much background, and the user barely notices, but overall the game/movie does better for it. I never expected it to backfire so badly as my last roleplay session.

When your players stereotypes clash with each other

  I started a 4 week stand alone session about Pirates, Sailors and their dealings with a strange phenomenon called magic.
  The Session started with quicker than normal character creation, we even had to skip formalized equipment and their stats (though proved humourous) so we could get started and into the basic plot quickly enough.

The basics were thus: There are two sides, Arabian Pirates, who come from a land which has outlawed magic in all forms. Consequently the majority of the pirates are actually magic users. And the European Sailors, having had their entire city wiped out by undead magic users because their race managed to invent gunpowder (magic users everywhere have banned the invention) those politics aside, the players know that they consider their 'guns' to be anti-magician guns.
  Throw in a Knights Inquisitor, whose sole reason for infiltrating the pirate ship is to root and rat out the mages to be beheaded at the next port.
  So we have two sides, with conflicting inner struggles. I expected some emotional and political conflict, as did the players.. but we didn't expect what did happen.

Arabian Indians & German Gunners

Some of my players like to put on voices.. the 'Europeans' jumped for German, and for some strange reason, the Arabians decided to be Indian (some jumping from Scottish to Iroquois mid sentence) alot of funny moments for a later blog.
  What happened was a misunderstanding of ranking.
  Some of my players are older gentlemen, they have families, kids, wives who expect their husbands home by 10pm, and the rest, Uni students, not so serious, just having fun with it all.
  The Serious players, want to get to the game, get it happening and enjoy themselves, while the younger players have yet to learn that sense of urgency and self control.. so already different tensions started in, players not respecting the game, monty python quotes, etc etc

  The Pirate 3rd Mate & the Ships cook were instructed to take this group of sailors and pirates of equivalent by slightly lower rank out to inspect the island, look for fresh water and food. The Cook can of course identify plants & poisonous varieties, and the 3rd mate bossed people around, to get stuff done..
  But The Pirate player, had previously played a D&D adventure on the high seas, and the campaign had extremely poor understanding of life aboard a ship, crew, rules, emotions and the like. Far worse than the stereotypes of the movies. The players had been press-ganged into ship slavery, whipped, beaten, half rationed, disease & seasickness, it was a brutal campaign (I never played, I just got this players impression)
Now, does that Officer look like he's going to run him through?
  Also, in games prior to 2000, I used to run many of my campaigns with a strict iron fist. Players who would encounter guards and give them flack, would likely end up in prison for unruly behavior or beaten up and left in the gutter. Players learned that they might be the heroes of the story, but they are certainly not given free reign to do as they please.

The Skirmish

So, this player, felt that his 3rd mate, was in charge, and should/would deserve the respect of his position, to the point of almost bashing the back of the head of the German gunner who was giving him a little flack, at which point, the gunner drew his flintlock pistol and told him to back off.
  This set off the 3rd mate, insisting that the rest of the crew, imprison the two germans in a discovered stone room, til he could summon up someone of higher rank to have them flogged. The germans went in the room, but not so much as punishment, but instead creating a nice walled barrier against the feral mate, so they would obviously only have to guard the one entrance with flintlocks. Strategically, a good move.
  I, at this point, honestly thought the player was playing his pirate like this on purpose.. to create angst, or disrupt the possible inquisitor from discovering that he was actually a mage.
  It turned out, he honestly thought that pirates were blood thirsty bastards who would sooner run in a scurvey prisoner than take lip. While 6 of the 9 players had other ideas.

 The Key point had been pointed out earlier in the hand out text, which I'll quote:
A Ship of European style, A Galleon, 14 Guns (Extremely rare), but a crew of only 50 (The Galleon needed 75 to operate at full ability, but sleeps 150) Lost a Battle to a Pirate known as Twin Blades McCrowly and his crew of 40 pirates. The Pirates has (rightly) never encountered guns, and thought the booms were a storm coming over the bow, while 8 of them were killed on the opening attack, the remaining 32 managed to kill the captain of the galleon and 15 crew so effectively, their scrimshaw blademanship was so deadly, the remaining crew gave in (it was fairly obvious these warriors were so deadly, they would slaughter the crew and burn the ship)
The Master Gunner, knowing that the future of his culture was at stake, pleaded with the pirate captain, to take them on as crew. McCrowly took a look at the 8 dead, holes blown through them, and looked back at the massive hole blown in the side of his own ship and realised. He had now gained some of the most powerful “magic” that existed.. but it was not actually magic, somehow, this would be perceived as “evil” and the Knights Inquisitors might be pissed, but since it was not magic, their anti-magics would not work..
So, the Crew of the Galleon was given a choice, Join the Pirates, Plunder the Seas and if they want to get off at the next safe port, they may do so, AFTER they train the replacement crew member how to operate the guns & cannons.
The Ship has been anchored off the coast of a small, uncharted island, The Captain has ordered you lot, to go investigate, gather water, see if supplies exist and buried treasure (he adds with a laugh).
Beautiful Tropical Island, filled with Deadly Creatures, Crazy Terrain and Wild-men, must be Australia.

  So, you can see The Galleon Crew are on 'probation', to prove their worth, and become pirates, as equal ranking to the rest.
  For myself, I've always thought that the idea of a Pirate Captain, treating his crew like scum, would eventually result in mutiny. The concept that any higher ranking sailor on the sea, trying to act all big and tough, better be chummy with 80% of the crew, and only try that kind of thing with the least well liked persons on the ship.. that said.. close quarters, no where to go, I don't like the odds of anyone being less than amicable on a ship, but idiots will be idiots, and that's why the quartermaster exists.
  Returning to the situation, 'the 3rd mate thinks he's top sh*t', not because the player wants the character to be played that way, but thinks that this is how higher ranked pirates are supposed to act. The Pirate Stereotype has 'forced his hand' so to speak.
  No one else agreed with him, and began to belittle the player( in and out of game) because he was playing an a**hole. The Player didn't want to be boxed in, Some of the Pirates were siding with the Germans, which the Player insisted was against the spirit of the game.
  So suddenly we're all raised voices and getting angsty about whats going on.. I blame myself, not providing enough material to the player about how pirates should be played.. because quite frankly when you have a group, it is, sorta, the responsibility of the GM to set a scenario that the group has a reason to bond & team up against the GM.

  We had to pull the session to an end, so I could write up several pages based on historical data to show the more truer version of history and why the stereotypes would destroy the ability on pirates being pirates.. but it really got me thinking..

How many sessions of roleplay are disrupted by this kind of clash, players playing the 'classic trope' which ultimately ruins everyones fun?

Monday, 15 June 2015

Spot Check! how often do you spot check?

I can't remember when I began to notice, that people don't notice things.. a lot of things, Maybe its the "mobile staring walking into things" people that brought it to my attention, but is it possible that slowly each generation is losing its ability to see the creeping tiger? and in roleplay they don't care to point it out?

How often do you make spot checks?

Think to yourself, you walk down the street, you walk past maybe 100 people, each of them has an agenda, unless you're "looking" at every single person with interest, and you're well trained in the art of spotting intent, it'd be highly unlikely that you'd spot someone that's thinking something maliciously toward you.. until they pull out a sword..  

Tracking all 100 people is incredulous, 

How often should they be made?
How often should you be aware of them being made?

In earlier Versions of D&D, the DM would determine what you could or should see, Often the text box provided the right clues, and the players would listen for key phrases that matched what was needed to figure out the puzzle or defeat the creature

"You kick in the door, it bursts open, a wizard, evil looking, puts down something he was holding, in a box as you decide what to do, he starts waving his arm around casting a spell"


Why? Why would a player calls for a spot check here? the GM has already read out the flavour text box, and revealed the information. yet its becoming more apparent that either DMs are not giving the players enough information and the idea of making a spot check would somehow give them more? Or too much, players get bored and wont listen then do a spot check to get just the details?,

There is a movement of players, going to games that throw out the dice, get rid of rules and just wing everything, Getting the story underway is more important than the game being fair. I can understand why, now that I've been researching how DMs are spoiling the hobby I've been playing for over 20 years..

Being a DM is not simple. Running a game, with rules that you are familiar with, in a boxed adventure you have read several times and learnt off by heart, with players you know well. This still means a lot of note taking, being the eyes and ears of the entire group, making sure to word things in such a way that the players perception of events is what is revealed, and not (the virtual) reality.

Throw a green DM, sandboxing a group of strangers.. and you're going to have chaos.. and thats why spot checks exist.. so the players have some agency in a (real life) setting that is far less than ok, let alone ideal.

What do you mean by this?

Lets look at the concept of why the dice roll exists.

If I swing a metal pole at a wall, I have enough strength to do so, there is no need to determine if I am going to hit.. only how well I'm going to hit, to see how much damage I will make. If the variables are all known, I have more than ample time to aim my shot, I have perfect reflexes & dexterity, there is no question. I should hit it, at the maximum allowance of damage based on the weapon, and my strength & accuracy.

But, if any of those factors are not perfect (and when would they ever be) those variances, cause what we perceive as a random chance of failure (if we had a supercomputer, it could study the maths and tell us why we got exactly what we got, but we don't so we use 'chance')

The Dice represent that chance, the variance based on mathmatical certainty vs probability vs possibility.

So it becomes the GMs job, (as often as not) to determine this probability, within the rules of the system given.

In the case of combat, D&D at least, uses the attackers skills + weapon + base to hit (skills again really) vs the enemies skills, speed and armour (yes, but whatever) to determine the chance of hitting the opponent. these variables alone present so many mathmatical models, its obvious we need dice to determine the outcome.

Furthermore, this should and usually results in modifiers for the damage, how hard the blow hit, etc etc

So we have out "chance" to hit.. and variance of damage, and that's a given for roleplay systems.

But when its something a lot more defined? something not so grey? This is where many systems fall down.

Back to spot checks...

I walk into a room. I'm searching, I have my eyes open, there is more than enough light, the object is in the room on a table, right in front of me.. and I should be able to see it.. Yet (I roll the dice and fail, fumbled) it is invisible to me.


I walk into a darkened room, I'm not declaring that I'm looking for anything, the object is inside a chest, under a cloth, behind some furniture, I make a spot check.. AHA! I exclaim (as I crit roll) I "spotted" it.

Now, sure, these are extremes, and you could argue that in the first, I have domestic blindness, and the second I have second sight..

Yet, domestic blindness occurs because we are looking for an image in our mind that matches what we're looking for, and our mind dismisses the obvious choice, because it doesn't match the mental image.

There is little to no chance of a player looking for red keys, and seeing red keys, of failing a spot check and not seeing red keys. Just as there should be no chance of spotting keys in a box under a rug.

Stealth vs Perception

I run a system that (apparently) is unlike any other, we have something I took from Dragon Warriors which has worked well and I will always use: Stealth & Perception.

The Description for Stealth and Perception is that 90% of the time, players are concentrating on a specific task or event or opponent, and might likely not notice anything else at the time, So a GM checks the stealth of a creature (like attack vs defence) against the perception of its target, and if passed, goes unnoticed. This is because of the subtle differences, variances in lighting, movement, the creature making the stealth roll, and the player either being aware or not.

Stop what you're doing, don't turn around.. can you describe exactly what is behind you right now? 90% of us would claim to know so many things about what's behind us (if you are in a familiar place when you read this) and would get 90% right.. but if I moved something, just before you sat down.. would you truely notice? maybe part of your mind would see the object out of place, and ask the question. hey... is my blue cup where I left it? did someone do something to it?

Only if you ask the question, is my blue cup in the same place, would your mind try to recall its previous location and the differences.. and that's IF you are thinking about it.

Asking to do a spot check, is like asking to turn around and notice every single change.. impossible. Yet asking if the blue cup seems out place might trigger some memory response, So the player uses their Memory Bonus + Perception to determine if they indeed notice the moved blue cup (the GM would of course add in a modifier, the player has never mentioned that they memorise the location of all objects -6 and that the blue cup is not a regular item to be checking -6.

Without adding in the type of check that is being made, a generic check has no base (Perception) so the player would be rolling against just Memory, with the -12.

Back to your Favoured System

So for the rest of you, GMs should really just reveal the information, if the player specifically points out what they are expecting to "spot" and a roll could only point out to their mind that something not directly related, but somewhat similar is apparent (if the story would come to a stand still otherwise?).

The players ask the GM, what do we see, the players get a basic description, "The Heroes enter a dungeon, they look around, they see the generic background stuff" One player, (probably the Thief) asks, "I look specifically for anything that looks out of place", the GM needs more clarification, "Like?", "Like dust that has been moved or disturbed". The GM has no reason to make a spot check, the player has requested to see if any dust has been moved, "indeed, the table has been moved, and a dust trail has been disturbed".. if the story line needs a roll, possibly more information about that dust could be revealed.. "looks like the dust was moved recently".

I Understand that possibly more than a lot of DMs already do this, but what's being posted in forums & reddit suggests that its not the standard.

What's your take on spot checks?