Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Online Gaming

Earlier I wrote about not gaming much. We recently received an invite for a play-over-the-internet game with some of our old college friends. It made me think seriously about pitching in again.

However, the time commitment is tough to make. In order to have a viable game, I think you need to play 3 times per month. Every other week just doesn't cut it; after you miss a session or two it has been a month and then the campaign loses all momentum. The problem is that this wipes out a tremendous amount of time. There's usually 15-30 minutes of virtual "gathering" (ironing out connection problems, chit-chat, dealing with old business, etc). Then you game for 3-6 hours. Then there's some wrapup time. Plus, every week there is usually an hour or three of admin (usually on a bulletin board or forum or via email), which is good because it keeps people engaged throughout the week between sessions but bad because it sucks up more time.

So, basically, you need to BBQ one day almost every week for gaming, usually a weekend (the only way to make it work due to time differences). I am ok with making that sacrifice if I'm traveling on the road because I am kind of lame when I'm away from home and don't like to go out and party and live it up. But when I am home, I want to be home. I want to get out and do stuff with DW. I don't want to sit in the computer room for eight hours every week with a headset on. Now I have blown my weekend and it is going to be hard to do anything the other day as I need to catch up on errands at some point; I certainly can't travel anywhere far away from home.

In a conventional table-top game, there is some socializing that you can do when it isn't your turn. Online, it is much harder. I either find that I end up aimlessly surfing the net in between turns or sitting, slack jawed, starting at the screen. Either way, it is a lot of wasted time. This is kind of paradoxical. The computer is theoretically GREAT for splitting the party; it is easy to isolate players on different skype channels and reveal fog of war to different player, and there is instant entertainment for non-active players. However, in practice it just doesn't seem to work out well. I think playing online I would aim for a small group (3, maybe 4 players) and shorter sessions (2 hours). That would minimize down-time as well as admin/technical difficulties.

The last issue is the system. The offered system was 4E. I'm not a 4E hater. I think they did some things great. But I've played the game enough to know that I think paragon and epic tiers are broken. The "End Game" is non-existent. Skill challenges were poorly implemented. It just doesn't get me super excited. I'm not sure which system does get me super excited these days; I think a White Wolf game with a good storyteller could be interested, and so could an OD&D game, or a 4E game with other systems grafted onto it or fixes for my biggest problems.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Slowing Down

I'm sure y'all have noticed that my posting frequency has slowed down significantly. There's a few factors at work here:
  • Busy with school. I'm working on a master's and that + working full time has been keeping me busy.
  • Traveling. I've been traveling for work a lot and am kind of sick of being on the road. I'm ready to get home and have been running low on energy for side projects.
  • Other hobbies. I'm getting geared up for the summer in Alaska which is going to be awesome. We have lots of hiking, camping, and hunting planned. I'm putting more energy, time, and money into planning those events than gaming.
  • Not much gaming going on. The only game I'm participating in right now is a 4E play-by-post "arena" (not player v. player; players vs. monsters) game on RPOL. It is ok but not terribly deep as far as roleplaying experiences go. I don't foresee playing in another game in the near future. I may do another post on that issue.
  • No profit in it. I don't do this for the money obviously, but at one point I was getting a fair trickle of funds coming in from Google Adsense from the blog. For some reason that has dried up in the last few months, even before my post frequency started to dry up. While obviously the profit/time ratio was never great, it was kind of nice to see $1 trickle in occasionally, in a "penny for your thoughts" sort of way.
So, my consumption of gaming stuff, brain bytes devoted towards gaming stuff, and time on this issue has declined. Sure, I've still got a bunch of stuff rattling around; all the tarot materials I read the other month were great inspiration and I've got all that filed away for the RPG future.

Meanwhile, over at the Dragonsfoot front, I have disengaged again from the 1E forum. It seems like all the key issues have been rehashed over and over again. I know where I stand on issues, I have a robust set of play-tested house rules, got it. I feel no need to argue with the new crop of posters over there. I don't think I'm the only one -- a lot of the old timers seem to have drifted away. The Workshop has some great threads, but for every golden thread with novel, good ideas I have to wade through countless, "CHECK OUT MY AWESOME NEW SPELL/MONSTER/CAMPAIGN SETTING!" Honestly, I don't care about new spells or monsters or campaign settings. I already have more of all of those than I can use in the foreseeable future.

So, not saying that I am abandoning this blog. But, I do foresee my posting frequency settling down to 2-4 posts/month. Maybe with some time to rest and recharge at home I will be energized again and kick this back up.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Healing and Psychic Damage

Sorry for the lack of posting. I've been working on some other projects including my master's, getting another blog running, planning a hunting trip, and so on. And while I have lots of ideas floating around for an RPG, I am not sure when I will be able to play again.

But here's some quick food for thought.

I was watching a Band of Brothers episode on DVD the other day, "The Breaking Point." The drama centers on a young medic -- Roe -- from Louisiana who has a knack for healing. In many ways you might call him a modern paladin -- there are certainly allusions to the laying on of hands. Here's a discussion between Roe and one of his fellow soldiers about the somewhat mystical aspects of healing in his family.
Spina: "Hey, what do you call those people again? Those Cajun healers?"
Roe: "Traiteurs."
Roe: "You know, my grandma was a traiteuse."
Spina: "Your grandmother? No shit?"
Roe: "No, she was. Laid her hands on people and cured them. Took away sickness, cancer, you name it."
Spina: "Your grandma did that? You're shitting me."
Roe: "I remember she used to pray a lot."
Spina: "Yeah, I guess she had to."
Roe: "Talked to God about the pain she pulled out. Asked him to carry it away."
Roe: "That's what she did."
Roe also has a discussion with a French nurse:
Renée: "What?"
Roe: "You hands."
Renée: "My hands?"
Roe: "You're a good nurse."
Renée: "No. I never want to treat another wounded man again. I'd rather work in a butcher's shop."
Roe: "But your touch calms people. That's a gift from God."
Renée: "No, it's not a gift. God would never give such a painful thing."
Anonymous soldier: "Nurse! Nurse! We need some help over here!"
Anonymous soldier: "Got shrapnel through the stomach."
Renée: "How bad is it? Okay, get this one in first."
Another example of this sort of healing from fiction would be John Coffee in the Green Mile .


Anyways, I thought both were potentially good examples for how healing could work in any sort of gaming system or genre. The characters by laying on of hands can remove another's physical wounds -- but only at the cost of incurring their own psychic trauma. Clearly the laying on of hands is painful, something that can be borne only with great faith or innate goodness.

For example, say you have HP for physical damage and a Cthulu-style insanity meter. A healer could lay on hands (perhaps with minor first aid supplies to increase the chance of success) but risks incurring some sort of damage to their sanity. In WOD, perhaps healing physical damage costs sanity or willpower.

I can see this system working the other way too. Maybe psychic damage could be relieved by incurring a stigmata, exhaustion/fatigue or other physical damage. An example might be a priest doing an exorcism to heal a victim infested by a malign spirit: the victim's psychic wounds will be alleviated but the priest may be fatigued or even bodily injured in the attempt.


From a game design point of view such trades cannot be "frictionless" at 1:1. Otherwise players will use it all the time. There should be some degree of loss or friction. Perhaps relieving one physical wound risks losing two mental points, for example. Here's an example in play:

Maximus the warrior has sustained grievous injuries. He hopes that Percival the Paladin can help him. Percival attempts to do so, with standard odds of success (perhaps 1/3 if untrained, 2/3 if trained, bonus for using equipment?). If he is succesful, then Maximus regains 1 wound point (whatever that is in your system).

Regardless of success, Percival must make a resistance check to prevent being overwhelmed by the horror. Again, the odds of success are 1/3 and 2/3 for untrained/trained respectively.

There are four outcomes. Let's assume Percy is an awesome healer and trained in both:

Maximus Healed / Percy Unscathed: 44%
Maximus Not Healed / Percy Unscathed: 22%
Maximus Healed / Percy Traumatized: 22%
Maximus Not Healed / Percy Traumatized: 12%

On average, Maximus regains .66 HP and Percy takes .33 damage.

This system clearly does not have enough friction. Players will be gaming it all the time to convert damage willy-nilly. There are several possible fixes:
  • Arbitrarily limit the number of times per day this can occur
  • Increase Percy's risk to be 2 x the amount healed (this creates an exactly equivalent exchange)
  • Increase Percy's risk to be 3 x the amount healed (this creates inefficiency)
  • Require Percy to expend one sanity point right up front, no save, to even make the attempt (this also creates efficiency, and makes it less likely that people who suck at healing will even try -- may be good, may be bad)

Anyways, just a sketch of a thought!