Month: May 2018

Internet RPGs with Roll 20.

This week I started a new job, and it has been consuming my mental energies. I hope to return to Age of Swords and this blog in the near future. After I get a better handle on the job.

With the new hours, I had to bail on my regular gaming group. They play too late into the night, and I am now waking up way too early. So I decided to turn to Roll 20 and see what it offered.

I had looked into Roll 20 before, as I was hoping to use it to playtest Age of Swords. That night, I decided to start playing some 5e D&D. So I went looking for a group.

As I only had a couple of hours before playing, I didn’t find a game to join. After all the message system sucks. So I started my own group. I found it easier to get people to join it than to find a group I could play with that evening. I used tricks I learned decades ago playing Starcraft to find players for the game. In a short time, I had players.

As a word of advice, Roll 20 isn’t really a last-minute system. The messages system is flat out bad. It is best to go a day or two before to either start or join a game. This fact does make sense because campaigns will have better player retention if people have to invest to join.

Since my real goal is to play Age of Swords on there, I decided to use Wildworld as a setting. The upside would be I know this world. It has some unique stories. And I already have adventures designed for it.

The downside is that people don’t read. And it has been an interesting learning experience as I am now GMing two groups of players in two identical games. Same story with different characters and players. I get to see different ways they are handled by players.

What the strengths of 5e D&D with it produces is that it has this common thread throughout it. Its semi-defined worlds have this shared commonality. Players can say, I want to be a half-elf Rogue, and everyone knows what that means.

In my world, there are no half-elves. I have to convert that information. And since no one seems to be reading the guides, or perhaps not understanding them or caring, people are creating all sorts of strange Heroes. It is amazing that everyone wants their own spin on heroes. More than half of the players are looking for exceptions, other publication races, and classes, or to change up the rules.

I guess that people want originality and don’t know how to get it in role playing. So they go looking at rules for their creativity.

In Roll 20, the first thing is everyone wants to use Discord. The first group wanted us to use D&D Beyond for characters. The second group wanted us to roll dice in Discord. Really, Roll 20 is barely used except to start the game.

If I was using mini-map aspect, then I am sure Roll 20 would play a more significant role in the game. It is my favorite to roll dice. But what I am really learning is that to play 5e, all I really need is Discord.

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Restrictions During Hero Creation

As a GM, it’s hard to build a compelling story around a group of selfish, murder hobos with nine different alignments.

These groups have the attack, loot, and then find someone new to attack mentality. When they meet NPCs if they do not have the information they want it is “kill them.” And while it is not impossible to have some throughline, it is like building on sand.

On the other side, there is a new breed of actor-players. Influenced by Critical Role, they want a “roleplaying” style of campaign. Unfortunately, their idea of roleplaying is to act out every mundane event. It is hours of performing what they eat for lunch, flirting with barmaids, and throwing pinecones at each other. It is like pulling teeth to get them to leave the tavern. Also, not exciting stuff.

I think an RPG is at its best when the players are performing Heroic deeds while making tough in character choices. For me, that is roleplaying. The best adventures are when there are rising stakes, difficult crossroads to navigate, and conflicting goals. The story is best when the Hero’s actions are steering it. Toss in some occasional character acting, and I have the perfect game.

The above isn’t easy to pull off, but it should be the goal. And it is good to have goals as it is always easier to get someplace if you are trying to get there.

Whatever your vision of the perfect type of game, I would think we can all agree an RPG story works best when the Heroes are onboard. Too many GM try to force the issue, Railroading the story onto the players.

The best way I have found to get players to go along with a story is by restricting who and what they can play during Hero creation.

While some players and GM will be reluctant, the reality is the restrictions create freedom. I find the limitations the most critical aspect of starting a new campaign.

The idea behind the limitations is there so the players make Heroes who would willingly take part in the story. It doesn’t matter what type of story; war, religious, save the world, or local hero. Whatever it is, the restriction makes each Hero have an alliance with the overall theme.

In the last several years, here are some examples of the restraints I placed during Hero creation.

  • The Heroes comes from an economic depression area and are seeking to reach the city of Pea’dock in hopes of a better life.
  • The Heroes survived the Orc stacking of Kansas City. They lost friends and family and are looking for retribution.
  • The Heroes were members of an oppressive regime devoted to the god Anubis who in their banishment plot their return to power.
  • The Heroes comes from the Mayway Valley region. You have strong ties to your community, no desire to leave, and wish to protect it.

In this way, everyone knows what the story needs from them. But these restraints are not so binding as to prevent Hero diversity.

In the journey to Pea’dock, I would expect by the second or third session they would reach there. On the road, they will have some encounters and an adventure waiting for them. When that planned adventure finishes, if they wish to continue as a sandbox style game then that is great. By then, the party will have taken shape, have some bonds, and be better as a collective. So this restriction is mild and only serves to start the Heroes off on equal footing and a shared destination.

In the Orc survival story, this story arc lasted six months of gaming. The Heroes started in the military until the restriction of that organization was delaying their plans. The whole campaign was them dealing with the Orc War. It has a wide range of adventures, locations, and plot line. They fought Orc Champions, Giants, and some mutant horrors. It eventually morphed into a more political running towards the end. At no time, was their problem with party coherence or motivations.

In the Anubite running, we were playing the surviving members of the fallen ruling class of a civil war. We were an evil party, devoted to the death god Anubis. As outcasts, we were plotting our return to power. And while we never did return, we were united in our hate of the new pharaoh, religion, and our desire to rule again.

In the Mayway Valley, it was about the rise of occults who summon a demon to terrorize the community. At no point was the party, “let’s just leave.” With their motivation set, it was easy to allow them to sandbox their solutions on how to destroy this more powerful foe.

My next running might be about an Elf War.

If I were to run this campaign, I would right away say, “No Elves, play a Hero that hates the elves.” Then I might pick an area of the world and ask the players to have bonds to that region. Unless I decided this was a global war, then I wouldn’t place that limitation on the party.

There is no doubt that some people will suddenly want to play an elf. As GM it is better to put your foot down. Elves are the enemies of this campaign. There is no need to have someone with ambivalent motivations in the party. Where we are going, those guys will get left behind.

Now as GM, I can write up all sorts of stories and encounters involving the war with the elves. In no way do I need to railroad the party. It can be a sandbox style running within the confines of this world event. The restrictions allow me the GM to better prepare and it gives the Heroes the ability to build a story.

Basically, I am saying to the players; you can do whatever you want as long as it is about the Elf Wars. Let’s see where this takes us.

If you are not putting restrictions on your players during Hero creation, consider it. Doing so will improve your gaming experience.