Thursday, February 19, 2015

Online Player Etiquette: The DO's and DON'Ts of Being and Online RPG Player

I, personally, have had some bad experience as of late with online player etiquette when trying to start a couple new games, so I though it might be a good idea to share some advice with those players out there looking to get into an online game.

Let's start off with things not to do:
  1. Don't sign up for an online game unless you can make a commitment to the game.
  2. Don't ask to join a game and then not respond quickly when you are asked to join.
  3. Don't join a game and then immediately quit.
  4. Don't ignore the parameters of the game.  Make sure you build an appropriate character.
  5. Don't argue with previous rulings.  If an established group has already agreed, you shouldn't be challenging a ruling after the fact.
Here is a good list of things to do:
  1. Make sure you ask questions that influence you wanting to join before asking to join.
  2. Understand how you group and GM wish to communicate and adapt to that method.
  3. Be gracious and respectful.
  4. Adapt your character to fit with any existing party and in the setting.
  5. If there is homebrew involved, make an honest effort to assimilate and understand the homebrew material.  Don't expect to be spoon fed.
  6. Adapt to any existing house rules.
  7. Try to understand how you can make things easier on your new GM and do so.
  8. Show your appreciation to the GM for the work he or she puts into keeping the game going.
  9. Give your fellow players a chance to talk and get in the spotlight.
  10. Be on time and ready to play.
Adopt these pointers and you'll be an online GM's dream player.

Pressure Points: Getting to Spielvergnuegen

Too much pressure!

Being a GM is about being a leader that helps your group find spielvergnuegen -- gaming pleasure.  Gaming pleasure seems like a simple thing, but the GM has all sorts of knobs and twiddles to help things along.  In this article we are going to walk through a bunch of those "controls" and see how they can be used to get your gaming group to maximum gaming ecstasy.

First, lets divide things up a bit.  In the real world, your gaming group consists of players.  These players control characters in a party.  GMs interact with players directly and use the game world to interact with characters.  Players and characters remain separate things, unless there is bleed.  Bleed is the transfer of emotion between characters and players.  For example, a player might become sad when the character is sad for losing a beloved animal companion, or a character might react violently against another character when the player is also angry.

In some ways, the GM interacts with the players directly.  The GM provides rules for character creation and for managing the sessions.  The GM will provide direct rewards to the player like experience points or levels for their character and cheat code-like things like Hero points.  Most importantly though, the GM sets the expectations for the game.  These expectations can include things like timeliness, pace, attitude, and lots of other aspects.  The GM can also monitor the game table for how well the game is going by observing how much fun the players are having, how frustrated they might be, and how comfortable they are with the game.  In a good game, players are having a lot of fun and don't suffer from too much frustration or uneasiness.

All the GM knobs and twiddles are show in orange.  
The GM also interacts with the characters through the game world.  She determines the availability of resources and supplies the party with treasure.  She sets how deadly the world and encounters are.  She controls the plot points and NPC interactions through combat and non-combat.  She also paints the picture of the world and how it works through description and rulings on game mechanics.  She can monitor the characters through their actions, maintaining a balance of power and confidence.  Characters with too much power can quickly overrun the game world, resulting in making things too easy for the player (too low player frustration).  However, characters with too little confidence also slow the game to a crawl, avoiding risk, and being too cautious to have any real adventures.  Again the GM has to maintain a balance, keep the characters active but not invincible, cautious but not deadlocked.

When things go wrong in a gaming group, it is usually on the real world size of things.  The most common culprit is poor setting of expectations.  The GM needs to really set the bar for what the game limits are going to be.  This gives the players an upfront opportunity to figure out if the game is really for them.  These problems sometimes come as arguments over game rulings.  It is possible for a GM to make a mistake, but it usually is only a group-dividing problem when the root is a disagreement in expectations.

There are GMs that make mistakes in the game world.  Allowing the PCs to become overpowered is common.  In addition, inconsistency in rulings can lead to problems.  The GM can also find solutions for many "player"problems in the game world.  Min-maxed, munchkins, and overpowered character can all be balanced using plot points and by selectively controlling NPC actions.  Alignment issues can often be solved by making the world realistically react to acts of murder, evil, and chaos.  One important feature to note is that character creation is not a solution for in-game character issues.  Since character creation happens before the game, it should be fixed for the players.  Changing character creation rules mid-game is a guaranteed way to upset your players.

In the real world, there is never a better solution to problems than to have an open honest discussion with players about problems.  However, the GM should also maintain control of the game and be prepared to remove players causing trouble when it is repeated.  Again, with respect to player behavior, setting the expectation up from is key.  In addition, when problems arise with players, the GM should call out the behavior (not the player) and indicate the punishment if it occurs again.  This clear "if you do this, this happens" treatment avoids personalizing problems and helps to maintain healthy, respectful game table relationships.

The GM at the end of the day has the toughest job at the table, but he also has a lot of built-in controls to help keep everything on track.  Next time a problem pops up in game, take a few minutes too think about what controls you can use to ease things back to get your own game table spielvergnuegen.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Shadows of the Last War: Remnents of Cyre

For the time being, the pages of this journal find me strong enough and well enough to record our journey; hopefully they will for many years to come.  We made it to seaside and the Golden Dawn had other duties, so they broke our deal and left an "observer" to spy on us while leaving us alone.  I had half a mine to make a run for it and dump the spy overboard.  The captain shows us no respect.

We found undead had slaughtered Emerald Claw folks in the ruins below.  The old Counselor, a lich-looking elf, summoned a huge undead crab-like creature to fight us, in addition to his undead skeletal zombies.  It was a tough fight, but we bested them all.  The counselor chose to walk back to his country some 3 weeks away and tell his council after we took the schema and all the magical items he had collected.  He warned us not to let it fall into the hands of the Lord of Blades, like we hadn't already thought of that.  He warned of spies everywhere.  I tease Ink Slinger, but I know he is with us.

We went on to the ruins of a Cyre city.  We negotiated with the warforged salvagers for access to an area inhabited by some sort of hobgoblin monstrosities.  They attacked and we killed.  We cleared the place as we went until we found tombs.  I found my mother's tomb.  

I don't know what to say about that.

I went further into the tombs and we found a king's chamber.  My blood, blood of noble, opened the door.  It confirms what was always said.

We found the schema.

Upon our escape, the Lord Of Blades awaited us.  What a bastard.  I shall write again to tell you how that turned out.

Merek Gower, Nobleman