[I’m made of dumb. I originally friends locked this. D’oh. Force of habit.]
Some thoughts on the first session of D&D, plus thoughts on the upcoming Werewolf: Wild West and Exalted games.
We had our first session of D&D. Because I’m now a total Wiki addict, I convinced the GM (and, through him, the rest of the group) to do a Wiki for the game. It can be found here. I don’t know if anyone besides the GM and I will actually update it, but I’m hoping it catches on with the others.
It’s hard to judge how the game will go based off of the first session. It was a little chaotic with characters being finished, dinner being cooked, toddler running interference periodically. It also doesn’t help that one particularly impulsive player steered the entire game off in a different direction than the GM had prepped for. So it ended up being a little more D&D than I might have expected, but future sessions could have a very different tone. Some general thoughts about the system after another session?
- It is very hard to be a striker and not want to strike. Once I got a feel for just how much damage I could dish out, it was hard not to. Which was a little counterproductive to playing my character concept. I suppose, more broadly, I could say that it’s very hard to play D&D and not slip into D&D mindset.
- Though the multiclass feats are still superior to standard feats in terms of bang-for-your-buck, they still don’t truly represent genuine multiclassing. As an example: Pact Initiate. It gives me training in a Warlock class skill (which is great for getting Arcana and taking Ritual Magic later), a warlock at-will attack power that I can use as an encounter power and the option of taking a paragon path in the multiclass. Which looks remarkably better than taking a Feat like “Skill Training.”
But there were some things that didn’t quite click for me when I took the Feat originally. First: You don’t necessarily get the class abilities of the class you multiclass into. Multiclassing into Rogue, you get the Sneak Attack class ability. Multiclassing into Warlock, you don’t get any benefits of your pact besides the attack power. Which is just as well for me since the Star Pact’s other ability revolves around the use of the Warlock’s Curse, and you can’t get the Warlock Curse through any multiclass options. And, as an added bonus, the paragon path for the Star Pack Warlock (if I’m remembering correctly) starts out with spiffs regarding your Curse. All this would be fine, but I haven’t figured out how you can get the other class abilities of whatever class you multiclass into.
- As part of getting ready for the game, I picked up the new Forgotten Realms guide. It’s everything you need to run a game in the exciting land of Faerun! Unless, of course, you want players to make characters. In which case you need to wait a month for the Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide. Seriously. Cart? Horse? Cart? Horse? Which order do they go in? Once the other book comes out, it won’t be as absurd, but really: If you can’t really run the game with one book, don’t say it’s all you need. I would have much prefered to have the Player’s Guide released with a quick start setting (like, I don’t know, Loudwater?) instead of what they popped out.
- Oh my god! They killed Halaster! “You bastards!” They also destroyed Maztica. I guess that whole fun of playing Helmite conquistador oppressors was a little uncool.
When I found out that a friend was going to play in a Werewolf: The Wild West game, my covet bunnies started breeding like mad. I finally just snapped and said, “Dude, if there’s any chance of there being room in the game for another player, lemme know.”
I’ve never been in a straight-up game of Werewolf. And, for that matter, I don’t know that I ever had the most authentic World of Darkness game experience. When I was in college, my gaming group had played AD&D 2e, Shadowrun and Earthdawn to death. We tried out Vampire at first, and eventually found that we couldn’t get players to agree on a single setting. So we always had this mishmashed game of mixed together worlds and it got played about like we played Shadowrun only with less plot. I was usually the GM for these games and I’ve long wanted to run a serious WoD game as an apology. They were just bad. (And while I’m ready to admit they were bad, I don’t have much patience for running into friends I haven’t seen in years who open the conversation with mocking me for that game.)
Years later I played in a couple Mage: The Ascension games. I don’t think I managed to be in more than a few sessions, but while the games were good and I had a lot of fun, they didn’t satisfy my desire to play in the World of Darkness. To be fair, I don’t know that most games actually feel like the authors intended. How many Mage games actually focus on a losing war over reality’s paradigm, constantly hounded by the Technocracy and the Nephandi, with life generally filled with tragedy and suck, knowing that even if you win today’s battle you will very likely lose tomorrows war? And how many games feel like guys with powers fighting other guys with powers?
Or maybe I just have unrealistic views of what I’d like to see in a Mage game.
Otherwise my main exposures to WoD have been one of the kids playing a Garou in the Amber game I ran for them (*shudder*) and the nWoD game I’m running for the kids now. Neither of which are really pathos driven angst-fests.
So I’m hopeful about this game. I haven’t played with (or even met) the GM before. She seems confident and experienced with the game, so I’m currently in “optimistic” mode.
As a stark contrast to making a character for D&D, options were pretty wide open for this. I come at westerns more from Tombstone and Deadwood, and so I was mulling around characters inspired by Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday or, really, anyone from Deadwood. In my limited experience, the World of Darkness has been routinely good at allowing players to come in with a concept and then find a good fit for it. If I come in with a thinly veiled knock-off of Doc Holliday, I can easily think of several ways that could be done in the Werewolf cosmology. (My favorite was probably doing it as an Anansi.) The only challenge I really ran into was that the group was playing outsiders of one sort or another and the GM was hoping for something more along those lines. The group featured an Uktena, a Chinese herbalist Stargazer and an amnesiac Silent Strider gunslinger of North African descent. The game’s to be set in 1850 in the area that will some day be Las Vegas. None of the ideas I had really meshed too well with this.
I toyed with the notion of going with a Ragabash Hakken, the Japanese variant on the Shadow Lords. While at first I had trouble thinking of what a samurai Ragabash would be like, I convinced myself that he could totally be a ninja!
But what I ended up going with was a Creole Ragabash Bone Gnawer, on the run from his home in the bayou after a small indiscretion that has led to the Prince of New Orleans chasing his ass half way across the North American continent. This will result in the other players getting to hear me stumble through some sort of Creole/Cajun accent. FTW!
This experience does bring up the concept of what I’m going to call “push back.” I think I originally got the term from my brief foray into copywriting, revolving around writers defending their core-work against the edits from a creative director. But applying it to gaming, I mainly come to think of it as the GM negotiating with players to get everyone to make characters that fit together.
I generally suck at this. I’m a wishy-washy pushover, hesitant to curtail anyone’s magical creative snowflake butterfly. I’ve gotten a bit better at it, at least recognizing character concepts I’m really bad at GMing for or ideas that really won’t work. It’s rare, but it does occasionally happen. I think there’s something valuable in having that overhead view of the characters and the world and seeing how everything can fit. This does require more out of the GM: Self-knowledge of your limitations as a GM, a sense of how the players and their characters are likely to interact, a willingness to tell people “No.” All of which can be hard for some people. (Myself included.)
The Exalted game is kind of strange. It had originally been proposed by a friend of mine who had been in the beer-and-pretzel games I’d been running. Some time after I got burnt out and the entire thing dragged to a halt, he had brought up that he was interested in running a new Exalted game. I said I was interested, pressed for details and didn’t hear back from him.
So, of course, once I’ve signed on to two games already, he finally contacts me and says that we’re making characters in a few days. I agree to play, since this is the main social contact I have with him anymore. This Saturday will be a bit of a juggling act, as a result of me agreeing to play in it. The game is at noon and runs till no specified time. The Werewolf game starts at 7 PM. I don’t have a car since my wife is currently working down in the Land of Ports, so I will need to leave at 5 to take the bus over and get to the other game at 7. This also means shlepping whatever books I need for both games with me. Heegh.
I’m going to give the back-to-back gaming a shot at least once. Both games are meant to be every other Saturday, but the Exalted game is meant to be a casual thing where the occasional session can be missed without incidence. And I’ve heard that the previous game run by the Werewolf GM had been intended to be every other week but ended up being less often due to the schedule conflicts of the players. So there’s the possibility that any given weekend may only have one game or I can pass on attending the Exalted game if I’m too overwhelmed. We’ll see how it goes.
As an amusing counterpoint to my frustrations with making a character in D&D, I approached my character in this game from a purely D&D mentality. (Which is probably going to make some Exalted fans throw up in their mouths a little bit.) Knowing the sort of game my friend runs, especially once he said he was converting Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil to Exalted, I didn’t bother going high concept. I even pitched the idea in D&D terms. I called him a sort of ranger/monk, because I was going for the idea of a sneaky, outdoorsy guy with lots of martial arts.
Another great moment from the character creation session was when I asked another player what he was focusing his character towards. He at first tried to say that he had no particular focus, but as we talked I realized that he had no particular combat focus. He was aiming for doing scary amounts of damage, he’s just not being specific about what form that damage comes in. He was not going for the whole, “Oh, yeah, a little bit of Ride, a little bit of Socialize…” I think I’ve found the target audience for D&D 4e.
One final note before I wrap this post up: As I mentioned elsewhere, I’m starting a new game for the kids. I wrapped up the uber story arc for the kids, having found a satisfying (and, frankly, epic) ending for the whole affair. Which was a relief, because I had no idea how to provide a satisfying ending to a “people are trying to bring back a Great Old One” story arc. How many cultists do you need to kill to finally stop them? As it is, I jumped the shark, had the
King in Yellow Red King stomp Seattle in gaiju fashion and they went on this quest into the supernal realm to strike him down once and for all.
Yeah, one of my problems as a GM is an overfondness for the behind-the-scenes mechanics.
I hadn’t thought that we’d get much more of a game, with many of the kids having turned 18 and looking into things like moving out on their own, going to college, etc. But they were eager to keep gaming.
Now that they’ve gotten a feel for the setting and the rules, the kids wanted to make new characters for the same universe. Some (but certainly not all) have gotten their need to play sexy characters out of their system and are now aiming for sociopaths. You can follow along with the antics here. Since I’ve already laid out (and exposed to the players) the behind the scenes cosmology I was starting with, I’m hoping I can let it go and run a more street-level game. Most are going for more combat oriented characters, and I’m going to try and run combat a little tighter. Pushing more of the responsibility for knowing the rules onto them.
One of the challenges of running a game using five different nWoD settings is keeping track of all the trigger moments that you need to have players deal with. I imagine if I were running just one game, like Vampire, I’d pretty quickly get a sense of the Humanity track, when to have them roll for what sort of frenzy, etc. Instead I get to deal with five different morality tracks, five different sets of powers, three different sets of “going berserk,” oneiromancy, paradox, improvised spell-casting, etc, etc, etc.
This is my brain going *bork*.