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Monday, February 19, 2018

Scarcity in Your Game...You NEED it!

Creating scarcity in your game world is something that many folks, especially newer DMs, rarely consider.  Being bombarded constantly by campaign settings, sourcebooks, modules, blog posts, and a plethora of other media like novels, comic books, and movies we are often presented with game worlds chocked full of everything under the sun.  For the DM this can often be the unspoken go-ahead to make anything and everything available in abundance.

While it can be a blast for any DM to continually reward the party with gold, gems, magic items, spells, potions, and experience points, this act of ‘gift giving’ can quickly get out of hand.  Old timers like me call it a Monty Haul style game.  Like a can of Jolt cola or a ride through the Mcdonalds drive-thru, the rewards are quick, momentarily satisfying, and rapidly fleeting followed by a follow feeling, emptiness, and bloat.  New DMs fall into this trap quickly as they can see how happy players get when they find a chest filled with gold, a powerful magic item, or jump from level 1 to level 5 in just a few short game sessions.  Wanting to bring joy and pleasure to our players is natural, but this method (most will agree) is the wrong way to go about it.

Both TSR (in the past) and WotC (in the now) have profited from this behavior, as do other companies who rely on the DM to purchase new materials to feed their coffers.  I’m not saying that there’s no value in adding a supplement or ten to your personal collection, but when everything makes its way into the game world, a good game can quickly dissolve into the madness of excess.

I prefer to take an alternate path when creating and developing my game world.  I create an environment where scarcity is the norm.

There are many ways in which to implement scarcity in your game.  Let’s list a few:

  1. Make Magic, in all its forms, very rare and incredibly special: this means no magical weapons, items, etc at level 1 except the occasional Cure Light Wounds potion or scroll, something expendable and that must be replaced.  Put a premium on magic, not everyone has access.
  2. Turn your world humanocentric, pushing demi-humans like elves, dwarves and halflings into the very fringes, and act as if most folks believe they are simply stories that parents tell children to put them to sleep.
  3. If Iron is the coin, and Silver is precious, then Gold should be rare and Platinum the domain of Kings, Emperors, and powerful Mages.  Don’t leave so much of it lying about like so many rupees in a barrel or bush.  Also, make the players/characters SPEND IT on stuff.  If every bandit wears chainmail, then the PC never need buy that upgrade from leather.
    1. Also, how many armorers and weaponsmiths are there?  One in every town?  Not likely.  Sure, the blacksmith can shoe your horse or make a plough-blade straight again, but they all can’t forge a sword.  Skyrim is a lie-rim...or something.

I don’t want to dig too deeply into our cultural psyche, but for most of us the the act of wanting, having, and getting are part of the american experience.  I’m not passing judgement, cause no way would I wanna throw a rock into the glass house I’ve built and reside in, however I do think that creating a sense of scarcity in our game world can and has made my players approach the game from a much different angle.  

Patrick Rothfuss does a wonderful job of providing his reader with a sense of this sort of scarcity throughout his Kingkiller Chronicles, and if you haven’t yet thrown down a few sheckles for those books do yourself a solid and get right on it.

Level 1 PC’s have starting gold, I get that, but it’s a rule that can be changed like any other to reflect the sort of game you and your players would like to play.  Wanna throw ‘em for a loop?  Start them off in their skivvies in a dungeon with no ‘obvious’ way out, no equipment, no gold, and if you’re feeling extra wacky, no memory.  Nothing starts the roleplaying off hard and heavy like that sort of situation.

Obviously, have fun.  If you as the DM decide that you would rather just give your players anything and everything under the Dark Sun than feel one will stop you.  I once heard a quote that I will now butcher, “Hell is the place where you get everything you want”, and I can relate.  Some of the worst games I’ve played in have had a DM who simply didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘NO’, who shoveled gold and gems into our pouches, and who made magic as common as oxygen.  For me, this means zero fun.

Game on people.

Friday, February 9, 2018

1st Level is the Best Level: The Friday After Report

It seems to me that there can only be two kinds of people who play OSR games.  

The first type is new to the style, the system, or the situation.  Perhaps they have played an RPG before, but it’s been of a newer bent.  There’s no age or gender associated with this player, btw, just an inexperience with OSR gameplay.  As with all things, there are misconceptions and preconceptions many of which are turned on their head once they start playing.  It’s somewhat self-correcting, the act of playing, assuming this individual has inserted themselves into a group of players more experienced with the OSR.  The group will almost always usher the noob through the rites and rituals of the game...things like the proper use of a 10’ pole, why doors should be spiked when camping in the dungeon, and the most important combat tactic, hasty retreat.

If the system is being played close to the RAW (rules as written) then it may be a bit of a shock when their PC meets a quick and untimely death at the hands of a scruffy kobold or stinky goblin a few minutes after the party enters cave 1a on the map after having spent a few minutes building the PC and equipping him/her with the best a few GP can buy.  The rest of the group will remember to add a few henchmen and continue aon a bit while the noob rolls up ‘round 2’.

Keep in mind, this is fun.

The second type of player, of which I myself am a member, is the guy who either

  1. Never left the OSR and hasn’t moved past AD&D1e, ever…
  2. Left the OSR (or gaming entirely) and finding that he/she misses the old ways and the old days, attempts to connect with some like-minded folks to relive the past, which is fun but never quite as fulfilling as the original ride around that particular carousel.

By all the lords of light and darkness, I am B.  So B.  100% B.  A solid B. I'm so B I listen to Asia...

What is the Music you Most Associate with Gaming?  An Upcoming Post will cover this very topic...

I’m back, and I’m doing so with all the grit and gusto I can muster with this body and mind, long ravaged by time, tacos, tequila, and toking.

Welcome to the Friday After Report!

Last night we met once again with DM extraordinaire, Kelly (@oxfordgamer on the twitters) and had a blast.  I’m not the sort of fellow who enjoys reading or writing long game recaps (that shit is boring folks, please don’t do it), but  after defeating a couple of beefy hobgoblins, freeing a few unlucky prisoners of said creatures, and clumsily executing a gnoll and orc who were chained to that same wall and unable to defend, we trotted back to the Keep and sold off our booty.  Some really great role-playing went down last night, proving once again that OSR games like B/X do NOT have to be cold, militaristic bash-fests!  I can’t wait for the banquet with the Castellan next week...gonna wear my Pope Hat!

This is the fourth or fifth time we’ve played this game/campaign, and many of us are STILL 1st level.  Some folks might be super frustrated by now.  Other folks may have simply given up, dropped out, and gone looking for a game with a more generous DM...but I say that there is nothing gained by doing so and in fact, I believe that a most important and pertinent detail would be lost.  If you’ve come to the OSR game new to the hobby, or have migrated over to this side of the block from a system like 5e, than this frustration might be very real.

As a group we have struggled through great losses, learned hard lessons, and now fully back in the swing of things we push ahead as a cohesive unit, a bonded group of real-life friends and stalwart adventurers.  My PC is approximately 250 XP from level 2, and as a Cleric this means I have spent week after week NOT casting a single spell (as per the B/X rules).  It’s both frustrating and freeing.

I hope that the weeks and months of gaming ahead are just as exciting, but somehow I think that having a few more HP, a better weapon with a +1, spells to sling and a bit more gold to throw around won’t make the experience better than hanging onto the edge of my chair knowing that a single, well landed strike from an enemy combatant can end my PC with the single roll of a die.  Sure, I want to help the fighters recover some HP with a Cure Light Wounds, or Bless everyone before we head into battle, but the magic of no magic has been exhilarating!  

For me, with OSR games or really any game, 1st level really is the best level.

Game on!

(BTW Kelly, I love my new mace...please don’t take it from me.  My cleric is faithful and pious, and that mace means the world to him...and me ;) )