Wednesday, December 31, 2014

From the Mouths of Babes (Homeguard Update)

Classic Larry Elmore image, right?  How many folks began their love of tabletop role-playing with this in front of them?

My kids though?

R: "Dad, don't you think this guy is really unsmart?  He's fighting a red dragon all by himself with no armor!"

L: "I know, right?"

No, no prompting here ... they've just learned that fire-breathing winged reptiles = bad news!

In our Homeguard Basic D&D campaign I've been surprised by just how much adventure we've managed to milk from the merely adequate Horror on the Hill ... though at its core, its just a basic four-level dungeon, we are going on ten months of play in that setting!

Short sessions have contributed to that because the week-long breaks between play give me plenty of time to allow the dungeon creeps to adjust their plans and placement based on the latest incursion into their subterranean domain.  I will also say that trolls make sweet recurring villains ... especially for a level 1-2 party!

Here's what the gang has been up to over Christmas Break:

  • The dragon dead, but Gideon's Fort partially burned, a group of characters had to go all the way to the town of Threshold to buy the supplies that they needed to recover the dragon hoard.  While making this trek, first level fighter Blade was bitten when the party crossed paths with a pack of werewolves!  Possessing neither silver, nor magic items (I'm a jerk like that), the party fled, sacrificing their beloved pack animals to the wolves.  As his fellows set about recovering dragon gold and fighting off a rival adventuring party, Blade had to instead go to the Bishop of Threshold to seek relief from his curse of lycanthropy.  Placed in the charge of PC cleric Sister Elizabeth, in exchange for his cure, Blade was loaned the magical, silver mace Moonhammer and sent to find and exterminate the growing pack of werewolves.  A couple tense sessions featuring a farmhouse siege, an ambush, and a showdown in a windmill followed before the monsters were destroyed, some treasure was recovered and donated to grieving peasant families, and Moonhammer was returned to the vaults of the church.
  •   Newly promoted to the rank of Swordmaster (level three) after being scorched and scarred by dragonfire, doughty fighter Sarah chose to take a break from the wandering life of adventuring to accept an appointment to the duties of acting commandant of Gideon's Fort.  This is the group's first little glimpse at the complex domain-management options offered by classic D&D.  While Sarah hasn't been granted a barony, she is in charge of a small garrison and must try to use an (inadequate) budget to repair the wooden stronghold, replace slain men-at-arms, and provide all the necessary food and equipment.
  • Star the elf and Jonathan the Hero (level 4 fighter) led a small expedition back to The Hill and ventured down into the goblin halls (level two) where the self-styled"Hobgoblin King" had held his court until being slain by Huey the elf in the recent Battle of Gideon's Fort.  Over their many expeditions and clashes, close to two hundred of the wicked goblinfolk have been destroyed, so the halls below the ruined monastery were largely empty.  Traps were discovered and bypassed, chests looted, a secret door found, and still more traps bypassed, with the end result being that the party finally got to loot the goblin treasury after months of raids, ambushes, and counter raids.  They delivered the treasure into Sarah's keeping, helping her fund the reconstruction of the fort.
  • Aareck (level 4 fighter) led a small expedition south in an effort to track down members of the Cult of the Dragon.  Joining some pilgrims along the way, his group was ambushed by the cult and felled by Sleep Spells only to awake stripped of gear and shackled in a dungeon!  I was cautious to give the false pilgrims a few "tells" (volunteering to take watch at night, being vague about the purpose of their travels, knowing that ranking dragon cult members wear purple robes when it came up, leading the characters to an established campsite off the beaten path, and sending a pair of their own out of the camp on some pretense shortly before nightfall) but the players never voiced their suspicions and were caught flat-footed.  In the couple hours that followed we played The Great Escape chapter of module B9 Castle Caldwell and Beyond.  Brute strength got the escape going along with a little bit of luck in finding some enemy gear.  Rosie the 1st level fighter, despite a Charisma score of 6, succeeded in bluffing cult guards no less than three times.  At one point the characters prepared a simple "trap" by wringing out saturated cloths in a dimly lit passage so their pursuers would slip and fall.  By mid session the players developed a pretty good feel for the  complicated layout of the place --I didn't allow any paper mapping since the characters didn't have any gear; they had to rely strictly on memory instead.  As the cleric Kaylyn paused to smash a Dragon Queen idol (and was cursed by being struck dumb for her trouble) the party surprised me by intentionally fleeing deeper into the complex rather than escape when they had the chance!  It turns out that they were unwilling to leave until they recovered Aareck's magic sword "Acris" (taken from the Keep on Shadowfell).  Magic sword in hand (the only magic sword in this campaign so far) and informed of the cult's next target, the party finally fled into the hills with barely any equipment.
B9 Castle Caldwell Beyond.jpg
  • Elsewhere, elves Lilybell and Soren along with a pair of halflings and Charlotte the second level magic-user began what they expected to be a long, eastward journey toward Elvenhome and the Grey Mountain in hopes of finding a way to bring their friend Sayana the elf back to life following her destruction by dragonfire.  They knew that the connection between Elvenhome and their world to be tenuous and the path shifting and uncertain.  What they didn't expect was to be met on the road by Thendara, a powerful immortal guardian from another realm.  Thendara offered to help the adventurers reach Elvenhome if they would first rescue Princess Argenta from the cursed valley of Haven.  They agreed (it really was an option) and they were off to explore B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (a scenario my younger player has been expressing an interest in playing  for a while now).
So yeah ... we've been pretty busy over Christmas Break :)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On Adventure Hooks

One of my favorite sections in my beloved Moldvay 1981 D&D set was the brief, but rock-solid section on adventure design.  If you have any interest in running role-playing games and you don't yet own a copy, $5 will get you a legal download through Drive Thru RPG.  Even seen through the warm glow of decades of nostalgia, pages B51-52 are some of the most clear, unadorned, and functional guidance on adventure design I've read in 30+ years of tabletop gaming.  Along with the simple d6 chart for random dungeon stocking (which I continued to use well after I'd moved on to other game systems), the entry under Step A. "CHOOSE A SCENARIO" continued to be an excellent springboard for ideas:
"A scenario is a background theme or idea which ties the dungeon together.  A scenario will help keep a dungeon from becoming a boring repetition of 'open the door, kill the monster, take the treasure'. A good scenario always gives the players a reason for adventuring.  The DM should also design a dungeon for the levels of characters who will be playing in it.  A good scenario will also give the DM a reason for choosing specific monsters and treasures to put in the dungeon.  A scenario may be anything the DM can imagine.  To help new DMs, some common scenarios are listed below and explained.  The DM can fill in the details."

He lists ten scenarios (numbered so you could roll your d10!) including "Exploring the Unknown," "Escaping from Enemies," and "Finding a Lost Race."  Did you notice that he said a good scenario is one that gives the players a reason for adventuring?  That wasn't a misstep -- Tom isn't talking about in-character motivation or plot railroads, but is speaking as one magician to another as if to say, "Show them a new trick; something they've never seen before.  Make it something that will surprise and wow them!"

Each of the ten entries gets a short (2-4 sentence) open-ended treatment and three TSR modules from the B-series are listed as examples (though it would be decades before I ever saw two of them in print).

I just started this one with my Home Guard Campaign players yesterday.
When writing instructions for the scenario design activity in my Adventure Games Class I went straight to Moldvay for inspiration:



● Exploration: hired to explore and map unknown territory
● Enemy Stronghold: find it, enter it, discover & possibly neutralize the enemy plans
● Establish Basecamp: clear an area of danger, making it safe for rest and resupply
● Destroy Ancient Evil: find it and defeat it before it can complete its plans
● Lost Shrine: to remove curse or recover sacred item, follow clues to locate the shrine
● Escape: characters begin as captives and must escape
● Rescue: recover the captives for honor or reward
● The Cure: characters have been cursed/diseased; follow clues to find the cure or perish.

More recently, I was thinking in minimalist terms and wondering if the very core of a scenario could be reduced to a single verb.  Here's what I came up with:

1. Rescue / Recover
2. Destroy
3. Explore / Examine
4. Locate
5. Protect
6. Transport
7. Escape / Avoid
8. ____________
9. ____________

I'd love to have a full set of ten (so I could toss a die of course).  
What am I missing?  Help me out!

From there, a second quick roll can give us the rest of the scenario's skeleton:

1. Wizard / Expert
2. Treasure / Wealth
3. Book / Information
4. Tower / Fortress / Lair
5. Monster
6. Enemy 
7. Spell / Special Power
8. Dimension
9. Friend / Ally
10. Home

Let's try a couple ... 

7, 3 = Escape, Book.  Okay, this is something I can work with!  The characters' enemy, Lord Volde-snake, is back from the dead and has written a memoir revealing the weaknesses and secrets of the characters, making them appear to be black-hearted, puppy-eating villains of the worst sort.  Along with some "evidence" planted by the villain's old lackey, Brown Jenkin, the characters are presumed guilty and must flee their former friends and the Anti-Quotidian Quartet (ideally without killing anyone), find the real culprit, and clear their names!

How about 4, 5?         Locate, Monster.           Yeah, that'll work too.  With a strange transmogrifying plague beginning to strike down the great and meek alike, turning them into vile marrow-eaters, an ancient source of lore suggests that only the venom of the Greater Frumiated Bandersnatch can be used to concoct a cure!  And whence the Bandersnatch?  All but extinct, the last specimens are rumored to lurk in the heavily warded pleasure gardens of the Mad Sultan Gul'ltaan, Lord of the Nine Sword Golems of Tuur!

The Big List of RPG Plots by the inestimable S. John Ross is another excellent source of low-input / high-yield triggers for developing scenarios on the go and is well worth a look, whether creating role-playing, comics, or short stories are your particular thing. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Adventures in The Cavern Endless Told by Middle Schoolers

In my Adventure Games Class, after a few false starts, I ran a group of students who had never really experienced tabletop role-playing before through four sessions exploring Sheberoth, my Peter Mullen artwork-inspired mega-dungeon, pulp, underworld.
Given that this is not an extracurricular activity, but an actual class in the school day it was important to focus on student growth and skills.  In this case I had four of my players collaborate via Google docs to write an account of their adventures to help them work on written composition.  As you can imagine, the writing came fast and easy compared to having them struggle with a more traditional writing prompt!

Here's what they wrote:
Who came on our expedition:
Three Bhatvian Rogues (Alyona, Yuri, and Jasim), a Markland Fighter in plate mail named Isabell, and a Craggie Ranger.  Later on a Walvian Wizard joined up with us.

What we did:
We climbed down the long underground staircase below the Ziggurat. The ranger almost died by falling because he didn’t remember that he was carrying a rope the whole time!  We came to the Great Library at the bottom of the stairs and even though we were traveling to the Daughter of Yig, we decided to try and explore the Great Library to find some magic scrolls and stuff that we could use or sell.

Yuri found a secret door leading into the library, but it wouldn’t open all the way.  We broke the bottom hinge, twisted it, and the rogues slid under the door and pulled down on it while the other guys pulled from the outside until the other hinge finally broke and the door fell down.  There was a magical glowing symbol above the door that flashed red but we just kept going.  

We went to the right from the entrance and found a room with a dried out pool in it.  There was a curtain and a spider-thing was hiding behind the curtain.  Alyona decided to set the curtain on fire with some oil and a torch, then ran through the curtain and attacked the spider with his sword, killing it.

We went back to the entrance and went straight this time.  Alyona found a big statue.  It said “Only initiates of the Jade Panther may pass,” but we didn’t know what that meant so we attacked it.  It delivered a mighty blow to Jasim and killed him with one punch from its humungous fist, but then we ran out of the room.  We came back a little while later and showed it a jade beetle that we had found earlier and then it took a step to the right and let us through.  The ranger took Jasim’s body and turned back at that point.

Behind the statue was a door and another hallway.  We found a set of shelves that had a weird hinge on them leading to a secret room.  Yuri opened it up and a dart shot out and nearly hit us.  Another room had a strange door with a set of tiles but we just took some scrolls from the shelves there and left that room.  A wizard from our basecamp joined up with us and we went down a set of stairs to the basement.

There was a huge green, glowing EGG thing on a stand and a bunch of arches.  Alyona and Isabell pushed the egg off the stand and broke it.  The shattered egg turned into a pile of green dust and we saw a ruby mixed in.  The dust formed into a Jade Panther with tentacles growing out of its sides.  Isabell snatched the ruby and almost died when the panther clawed him. Yuri saw that the cat was missing one of its eyes and so he went up to it and put the ruby in its empty eye socket and it gave him a Dexterity boost.

Through an arch, we found a ladder that led down into another room.  The only thing in the room was a glowing silver door.  When we touched it, we disappeared and it teleported us into a different underground room containing an altar.  Behind the altar and dias there was a door but when we went through this winged shadow-demon thing attacked us.  The wizard kept trying to shoot it with his Ray of Frost but kept missing!  It hit Alyona and permanently drained a point of Strength (he cried).  There were also these three big clay jars there.  One had bones in it, but the others were sealed shut.  Alyona broke one of the jars and ANOTHER shadow came out!  The wizard finally blew the shadows back with his Thunder Wave.  Isabell grabbed a weird blue cube that fell out of one of the broken jars and we ran down a ramp to a lower level.

We found an adventurer chained up to a wall, but we left him there (a pair of lizard-things had chained him up).  They sprayed us with their nasty gill-goo and it made us really sick before we killed them and found their nest.  They had some eggs in this pool of water and Alyona smashed them. Yuri stuck his face in the water to wash the gill slime out of his eyes so he had lizard egg goo on his face!

After fighting a snake demon and discovering a copper throne we found this underground river and a secret passage.  Something big was coming up the stream toward our light so we ducked down the passage where we met more lizard things and Alyona and Isabell stayed behind and fought seven of them while the wizard cowarded out.  Yuri stayed at the door and got grabbed by the tongue of a giant lizard frog.  It swallowed him and he went unconscious, but the wizard jumped on it and cut its throat open with his dagger before Yuri got digested.

We found a ledge on the edge of the underground river and jumped over to it, but Isabell kept leaving Yuri to die!  We rested up and then started to explore the big cave behind the ledge looking for a way out from under the Great Library.  We met this giant sphinx-thing with a cobra head, lion legs, and woman body!  It told us this riddle that we had to solve: “True Silver, God of Wolves, Night Dancer, Changing Mother.  Who am I?”  The wizard said it was the “Jade Panther”, but the sphinx roared and knocked him out.  Alyona said “werewolf”, but that wasn’t the right answer so he got blasted with a roar too.  
We left the sphinx behind and tried to cross the river and go back upstream, but we kept falling in and getting carried downstream by the current.  Isabell had to cut her armor off so she wouldn’t drown so now her armor class is terrible.  Isabell pushed the wizard into the river so that he could go first and see if it was safe, then we all jumped in.

The river carried us over a waterfall and we washed down into the Sunless Sea.  From there we climbed back up to the Great Library and back up the long stairs to the Ziggurat and our basecamp.
[JP: To make the waterfall ride dangerous but not utterly lethal I had each player roll a d6 minus his Dexterity modifier -- this is how many attacks his character would suffer as a result of his tumble.  Each successful attack would hit for d6 damage and any hit on an unconscious character would count as a failed death check.  The players got absurdly lucky and only one character took significant injury.  Since we were at the end of our fourth session and it was our last class before Christmas break, I ruled that the four survivors were able to make it back to camp safely.]

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Three Student Generated Maps

The Hydralisk, shamelessly lifted from Starcraft and tripled in potence and nastiness, is among the most fierce of monsters that I introduced in my Adventure Games class.

Here's the stat block 5th edition style:

Armor Class 18
Hit Points 68
Speed 30ft

STR 18, DEX 16, CON 18, INT 7, WIS 12, CHA 8
Senses: darkvision 60 ft, Perception 8
Morale 11
Challenge 3 (700 xp)

ACTIONS: 2 per turn
Bite: +4 to hit, 1d6 damage
Claws: +4 to hit, 2d6 + 2 damage
Acid Spittle: Ranged Attack. +2 to hit, Range 30 / 60 ft. 1d6 +2 damage, victim loses 1 point of armor class.

Hydralisks regard all other creatures as prey.  Their dreaded acid spittle dissolves metal, leather, wood and bone, leaving flesh jellied so they can lap it up with their long tongues.

A number of the students, upon reading the stat block, moan that the hydralisk is "O.P." ("overpowered").  I like it when they share this opinion, because it opens up the door to a conversation about whether each creature in the game in fact exists solely to be fought in toe-to-toe combat.  

In a console game platform this is a totally reasonable assumption.  There, if you come up against an antagonist that is too tough, it usually just means that you need to level up or go find an item that gives you a boost and then come back and beat the monster down.  In table-top RPG, however, a critter that is tougher than you can be an obstacle to be avoided or defeated / dealt with asymmetrically.  The "OP" creature is a challenge to think ahead and plan carefully, rather that a symptom of poor game design.  

It's an invitation for the players to try running away / talking to it / luring it onto a bridge and then collapsing it / constructing a giant canvas female hydralisk suit and tricking it into falling in love or any of a million other creative possibilities!

Perhaps to the man with a hammer controller, all problems look like a nail.

This young adventure designer who made the map below wasn't fooling around because BOOM -- hydralisk in the second room of the dungeon!  We build up through the disco ball room and the giant spider to what looks like a Harry Potter-inspired climax with a Basilisk in room 6!

The next student had a real burst of enthusiasm with his mapping.  I remember him laboring carefully in the very back of the room, trying to get the lines straight.  When it came time to stock his 21 room labyrinth with traps, monsters, and treasure, however, he was dismayed at the size of the task and couldn't bring himself to move forward.   

Having routinely drawn and stocked dungeons with 60 to 120 encounter areas through middle and high school, I understand perfectly.  There's a place where the imaginative diversion can become work.  I strongly suspect that this is why classic TSR module The Temple of Elemental Evil, sequel to T1, The Village of Hommlet, took over five years to be released.  The undertaking just became too big at some point ... and transformed from delight into work.

I shared this third student created dungeon because it was one of the few that featured more than one horizontal level -- granted level two is only a single room and simply lets the adventurers bypass 30 feet of empty hallway -- but still, thinking about the dungeon in a third dimension is a leap.
Notice the keen lava-moat in room 8 ... making the "pitcher made of ice" all the more mysterious.  As Jeff Rients points out, you can never have too much lava.

I know that like The Keep on the Borderlands, which suggested a third dimension but was ultimately just two, almost all of my early designs featured a single, sprawling level rather than stacked sublevels of dungeon.  I really only broke out of that mold sometime in high school.  Maybe it was a cognitive development thing -- some of my spatial visualization bits simply hadn't come fully online yet?
Despite all the fancy contour lines and the occasional set of stairs ... it's really just flat
Perhaps that's why Castle Ravenloft really blew my mind.  David C. Sutherland III's cartography throws the dungeon into that third dimension in a way that I was never really successful at emulating.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Interview with Two Teen Game-Writers

As mentioned in a previous post, two of my 8th grade students, Katherine and Alexandra, have been inspired to write and run their own role-playing games for their peers.  Recently I sat down to talk with them about their games ...

JP: Hey Katherine and Alexandra, thanks for taking some time to talk about the role-playing games you created.  To start off, what are they called?

K: "Radaria (pronounced 'ruh-DARE-ee-yuh').  It's a mix of the word 'war' and something else in a different language ... I don't remember which ... that's where the 'rad' came from, I added the 'aria'."

A: "My game's name is 'Lorel'."

JP: Cool.  I name things in my games by playing around with real-world languages too -- Welsh and Tagalog are especially neat.  Can you briefly describe your game for our readers -- what's the main idea, conflict, or player goal?

K: "It's a  game similar to Labyrinth Lord and it's good versus bad.  You have two different kings [NPCs] and you send messages to other members of your team, back and forth, about what you want to do.  Whomever captures the other team's king first wins.  You can pass note cards back and forth or you can talk with team members.

A: "The main point [of Lorel] is to get in and out of the map with the most treasure and a lot of levels."

JP: What were your sources of inspiration?  Which books, movies, comics, or games influenced your ideas?

K: "It was playing Labyrinth Lord and Arkham High [a Buffy The Vampire Slayer themed d20 homebrew].  That was fun."

A: "My inspiration came from really liking monsters!"


JP: What sorts of rules did you decide to use?  

K: "Rule-wise each character class has special abilities and some have higher skills than others ... they are better at doing certain things.  You roll a 20-sided dice to make skill tests.  If you have a wizard and they cast a spell in order to defeat the king then on a 10+ they kill the king, but if you have an elf maybe she needs a 14+ to succeed.  Elves can fly on certain dice rolls (5+), but they can only do it for a very short amount of time.  A Spy can take some of the classified documents from their side's king."

A: "I used some of the mechanics from Labyrinth Lord.  Most of the time events [are judged] by how high you roll; if you roll a 10 or higher on a d20-sider then that [attempt] is most likely going to happen [succeed].  During combat or when interacting with others they have to roll the enemy's armor class or higher."

JP: Wow, so Katherine, you have traitors built into your competing teams of players?

K: "Yeah.  There are two kings: King Magnelius (bad) and a good King.  I'm still editing some things.  Players asked if we could add new character classes and other options for characters to take, so I'm adding things they wanted to see.  I always take an even number of players, divided in half of course, until one of the characters dies."

JP: How do you guys handle character death?  How common is it?

K: "It really depends on the characters.  It's not usually that common; the game lasts for a while unless they do something foolish on purpose.  It gets more common once they [the two factions] start to meet up during the game.  

The players asked if characters could each have different homes [lairs] of their own, so that when a character died they could go to their home and take the stuff the dead character had.

The player [of the dead character] sits out for the rest of the session unless there is a witch, in which case she can take their soul and place it into another object and then they come back into the game.  The same thing happens with an elf on the good side -- he doesn't take their soul, he can just can revive them."

A: "If a character dies in Lorel they get three chances to roll their armor class or above.  If they succeed they roll a six-sider to see how much health they get [have left]."

JP: What other interesting rules do your games feature? 

K: "Well, players pass index cards back and forth between each other and to tell the GM what they want to do.  They each have their own map and I tell them where they start out and they get to decide where they want to move and what they want to do.  I mark it down for each team."

JP: That's pretty cool -- that 's what war game designers call a "double blind" game -- neither side can see the other side's tactical choices until they are affected by them.  Which rule or sub-system are you the happiest with?

K: "The different powers ... the abilities that each character class has worked out really well.  Elves fly and have super speed.  Ogres have super strength.  Griffons play for the good king -- they can't talk and the only people who can understand them are the Archers.  There are dragons for the bad team and they are similar to the griffons, but they know secret pathways and stuff ... they start with a different map [handout].  

There are four character classes on each side and each member of a class has the same abilities, but they can find additional abilities along the way.  The kings, they are sorcerers, can grant them new powers too."

A: "I wanted each character to be something that had incredible and unbelievable power."

JP: How much of a role does random chance play in your game?

K: "So if someone says something that's not in the rules and you just go with it, I think that's more fun!  For example, if they find a potion and they want to drink it then I have them roll.  A 10 and below something bad happens; a 10 and above something good happens or there is no effect."

 A: "[Lorel] is very random!"

JP: Does each of your sessions have a set plotline and events that players are supposed to follow or are their choices and the action entirely up to the players?

K: "It's entirely up to them -- there is nothing they have to follow unless the king gives them something to do.  Though if they start meeting up [and getting into player vs player combat / interactions] and the king wants them to stop what they are doing, then they have to.  The kings are controlled by the GM."

A: "Each session does have a plot line.  They [the players] get to choose where to go, but they always go to the final destination.  When they get there, they face a boss."

JP: Do you have any thoughts about publishing your games in the future?

K: "Yeah that would be fun!"

A: "Yes, I've thought about publishing and I may do so when I feel like [Lorel] is done."

JP: Thank you both for sharing!  It sounds like you have some great ideas -- keep on playing and trying out new stuff!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Student Generated Map: The Dungeon of the Seven Keys

Here's another student-generated map from my Adventure Games class.  Notice the note she made on the lower right side of the map: each encounter area contains a key -- each key unlocks a new area.

Along with the idea of a "boss" fight at the end (an owlbear) it's easy to see the influence that console games have had.  There is a linear progression through a series of set-piece encounters.

I love how room #5 has apparently just caught fire as the characters enter!  What?  Why?  Are the spider guards there fighting the blaze that they are locked in with or did they start it themselves?

Many (most? all?) of my students seem to expect that an adventure has this sort of progression built in, building in challenge level as the protagonists move toward a BIG FIGHT at the end.  I notice too how they may initially become puzzled when exploring a more open setting and not every option automatically leads to the next encounter.  At times they'll keep looking for a "key" of one sort or another -- assuming that it must be required to solve the next encounter and progress.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Rebooting Adventure Games Class

I haven't mentioned my school-day embedded Adventure Games Class much in recent posts and the truth is that I've had to go back to the drawing board with it a few times since the end of October.
image here
Starting in November most of my highly-Risk-trained-but-nascent-RPGers group moved on to other 9-week-long classes (many landing in a science exploration course) and I took on a new batch of 31 students.

Notably, only a smattering of these had requested to be enrolled with me, but rather were just shuffled my way as other classes filled and we worked to find placement for each student (a heroic effort, but far from perfect).  Frustrated by the fact that my first term group barely began to work through some RPG basics before moving on, I was determined to start this new group off right in the thick of things and began by having them interact with my bare-bones 20-page version of 5th edition D&D rules right off the bat.

As we struggled to read the text and interact with it together, I watched interest begin to flag.
I accelerated the pace and pushed ahead into character creation, but that didn't feel like a solid hit either and I found that rather than directing exuberance I was having to start managing behavior -- ugh.  It was time to scrap the plans and try something else ...

My solution was to get the students rolling some dice ASAP.  Soon 20-siders were ricocheting around the room as I plowed through a "funnel" that tossed a series of challenges at the players (quicksand, tropical disease, hostile natives) to get them used to dice resolution.  By the end of that session, however, it was clear that due to the mix of students I wasn't getting anywhere near the level of engagement that I wanted ... or rather ... they were finding things to engage with, just not what I had in mind.

I changed gears again and peeled back the curtain to talk about things from the GM / scenario design side.  We talked about basic types of conflict, adventure settings, and I got the guys (27 of my 31 students are male) drawing some maps.  This all met with a bit more success, but when it came to stocking those designs, sufficient focus to actually write words on paper just weren't there in many cases.  I could pull it out of them, sure, but the will wasn't there and disruptive behaviors were continuing to pop.

Time to change tacts again -- I gathered a core group of guys, put my GM hat on, and we started exploring the vast cavern / multi-dungeon cluster of Sheberoth.

Meanwhile a pair of vets from my prior term ran small dungeons at other tables, supported by material pillaged from the One Page Dungeon Contest while other groups worked with chess, Risk variants, or Catan.

I'm not sure about sustainability, but for the moment things are working.  Hopefully I can help a player or two at my table build enough skills and confidence to break off and start another group before chess and Risk get too stale, but odds are that I'll be chasing my tail by mid-January and needing to rethink things again.

Please bear in mind with all of this that I still number myself among the most fortunate 1% of gamers on the planet: those who actually get paid to game!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

First Dungeon: Student Generated Maps

In my middle school games class we talked a little about conflict and setting.  After reviewing a list of common settings for adventures games (caverns, pirate ships, tombs, etc) I challenged my students to create their own map of an adventure setting.  

Here is the first example:

This island looks to be heavily forested and sport's a huge volcano on the western coast.  Yes, that's a McDonald's north of the abandoned farm house.  A Popeyes waits on the southern slope of the volcano itself ... a location that just begs for disaster to strike.


Notice that the key lists a single monster -- an albino ape who haunts the forest near the stream.  This puts me in mind of Gary Gygax's 1985 Isle of the Ape ... a pulp fantasy homage to King Kong of course!