Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category

Yesterday’s blog post had a very good comment about asking for more information on how to spot each type of gamer, so I figure I might as well develop the Powergamer writeup further before I move on.

Identifying a Powergamer

Powergamers have a strong grasp of the rules. They go over it with in excruciating detail, often memorizing as they go in order to find specific “loopholes” or “exploits” in the system that they can take advantage of.

Their reasons for playing this way is often to demonstrate their mastery over a system by overachieving in their chosen field. Most of the time, this defaults to combat, and many Powergamers tend to bulldoze the opposition in situations where other players might be sweating bullets.

Powergamers often refer to their character “builds” and take on a mechanics-oriented point of view in character creation. Most of the time they will tweak with a character build until they have reached an exploit that satisfies their need to game the character creation system, then will wrap a concept around it.

Sometimes this might lead to interesting results as the player attempts to find a way to make all the seemingly disparate choices work as some form of backstory: “He’s and elft that was raised by Orcs and taught to be a barbarian but his mastery over the masterwork katana was due to being taught by an ancient master from the Far East. Oh and the gun was something he picked up from the corpse of a Gnome bandit he killed in self-defense. He just picked up the sharpshooting skills due to sheer talent.

Getting along with a Powergamer

One thing to remember about specialization is that it renders them less-abled than more well-rounded characters in a majority of situations. Combat optimization is fine and dandy in a game that’s 90% combat, for example, but in a game with a good mix of all the essential challenges of a game (a chase, combat, intrigues and investigation) it will leave a Powergamer rather bored as they wait until something triggers their specialty.

Nobody likes being left out of the action, so it’s often a good idea to bring the Powergamer character along and engage them in these scenes. It’s always good to keep in mind that complications (and failure) can be fun in the hand of the right GM, so don’t be afraid to take risks like dragging the team’s combat Powergamer into a scene where you have to smooth talk the Mayor’s daughter, or hack into a secure government database.

Learn to cultivate trust. I’ve met a few Powergamers whose single-minded devotion to combat was born of experiences with GMs or play groups that are remarkably deadly. People carry learned behaviors to their other groups, and sometimes it takes time to get them out of that mindset. Once you do however, it begins to pay in spades.

Hey guys, today I’m kicking off another limited series of posts, this time talking about how to best play with different types of players from a player’s perspective. Given the number of GM perspective posts I’ve made on this blog, this should be a neat little experiement.

Today’s topic is all about everyone’s favorite (or least favorite) player archetype: the Powergamer. For the sake of today’s discussion we’ll stick with the definition of a Powergamer as someone who utilizes the mechanics of a game to gain an advantage in a chosen form of conflict found in the game.

I won’t get into discussing issues of personality, as I’ve met many Powergamers who are perfectly fun individuals who get along fine with the team. Likewise, I’ve also met a few that are genuinely not very nice people. Let’s just say that I believe that it is possible to divorce a player’s playing style from their personality, and that GMs ought to be careful that they’re not blaming the first, for what is a flaw of the second.

Moving on, let’s start talking about Powergamers in earnest. Powergamers are mechanically gifted. They have a knack for dissecting a ruleset and finding the little things that bestow them an edge in their chosen conflict. While many Powergamers go for excellence in combat, others may choose to be the best in other fields like social situations or in spellcasting.

I would recommend thinking of these guys as your specialists. Send them to engage in the activities that they have chosen to dominate in, while working with the rest of the team to insulate them from weaknesses that may occur from over-specialization. The thing to remember is that Powergamers sacrifice a lot of everything else to be the best at one particular thing, so they need a support structure, even when they might not act like it.

In managing a team, acknowledging a Powergamer’s ability in his chosen field is important. It gives him something to do, and provides him with the necessary recognition that what he can do is important to the team. By giving him the limelight when his chosen specialty is called upon, he gets to enjoy his character’s abilities while safe in the knowledge that the other players don’t begrudge him of it.

Powergamers are an excellent addition to any playgroup, but they do require a certain awareness from the team. Once the group acknowledges a Powergamer’s role, they can be free to let loose on the opposition safe in the knowledge that the team has their back.

What do you guys think of this approach? Am I missing something? Also, what player type would you like to see me tackle next? Let me know in the comments below.

One of the things that needs to be highlighted in Mage: the Awakening is the fact that it is essentially a horror game. Like many of the protagonists of the World of Darkness, Mages are monsters lurking among humanity.

While we can be philosophical about the whole thing about Mages actually being a potential force for good, a slightly more pessimistic angle to Mage can show just how utterly frightening Mages really are.

I’ve been putting a bit of thought into that way of presenting Mage: the Awakening and I’ve been reviewing the little things that most Mages players take for granted.

Let’s take Oblations as an example. In Mage: the Awakening, an Oblation is a small rite or ritual that a mage performs to draw Mana into themselves. While the book has the usual methods of meditation, I want to push the boundaries of the concept and highlight the magical concept of sympathy as a means of drawing down Mana into themselves.

For example, let’s take a Mastigos, a mage whose specialty is Mind and Space magics. One who awakened to the hellish realm of Pandemonium. A potential Oblation for him would be to take a pet project, to “adopt” a person and follow them, prodding at their emotions and their mental state, studying their responses to various stressors, from hallucinations to creeping stress. This isn’t because the mage has anything against the human, but the human makes for a beautiful canvas upon which to study the Mind and how it adapts and changes to the presence of the strange, the abhorrent and the absurd.

Wisdom is often at risk to these cases, but if we’re looking at monstrous mages, then we don’t have to look very far.

That said, if you’re looking at the possibility of other Oblations that aren’t wisdom sins, consider a mage whose oblation is that of self-mutilation, exploring the boundaries of pain and endurance. It’s not exactly a widsom sin, but self-mutilation is rarely a pleasant experience.

Mages are people who have been opened to the Truth of things, an awareness that leaves them different. They react differently to events as compared to other people, and DaveB’s conversion notes shows this elegantly with the rule that they do not roll to lose Integrity if they are exposed to horrors and atrocities committed by anything in the Fallen World. These are… normal to Mages. These instances aren’t something to run away from, but to witness, observe and perhaps act upon to learn more.

This view of Mages is perhaps decidedly pessimistic, but it ought to be tempered by the fact that the protagonists are meant to be much better people. Wisdom, the central “morality” stat of the game reflects this. Infinite knowledge leaves the responsibility to use such knowledge with care and consideration for the self and others. And while the player characters are usually the ones which are meant to adhere to this, NPCs are excellent characters to use to show just what happens when a Mage doesn’t have Wisdom to hold themselves back.

[GMing] Introducing People to Complex Settings

Posted: February 12, 2014 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games
Tags: ,

I love and hate complicated settings. The upside is that complex settings have a massive amount of things to work with, and as a GM, I love the sheer variety of options I have to pull in order to make a great story. People, places, events and things all form a solid culture that makes a game feel real.

The down side, on the other hand is that it’s a pain to get it all to the point that you can run it and make it feel that way. This is because of the inherent difficulty of getting comfortable with a setting enough so that players can act like natives.

It’s a common issue, honestly. I’ve been running Legend of the Five Rings for a while, and Rokugan is probably one of the harder settings to acclimatize to. It’s not western fantasy enough to be comfortable, and not japanese enough to be historically accurate. It exists in a funky fictional middle ground, and I only came to understand it because I got into it early into the life of the game when it was still a collectible card game.

So how do we go about getting people to settle into a complex setting?

For this, I’d like to turn towards the wisdom of sandbox gaming: Start Small.

While it would be nice for everyone to get the full experience of a setting right away, it’s always best to introduce people new to a setting to a tiny snippet of it first.

Often, this works best in a location that they can explore with relatively little risk. Videogames tend to do this with the first location that the players are let loose in. In the Mass Effect videogames, this is onboard the Normandy spacecraft where the players get a handle on just enough of the setting by talking to the NPCs on board.

By doing this, you’re establishing the bare minimum that people need to know without overwhelming them with the minuitae of the setting.

GMs can follow this example with their own first sessions. Rather than tossing the players in head-first into the game and expecting them to talk and think like the locals do, given them a chance to get a feel for it first. It might seem slow, but it pays off.

I implemented this when I ran L5R again after a while with a group that was largely new to the setting. I picked a single Clan first, as it was easier to talk about the mindset and philosophies of a single faction first, and branch out in time. The game began as a simple murder mystery, tackling issues of culture, religion and society.

Once the players finally found their sea legs with baseline Rokugani societal norms, I began to introduce other elements, from military structure, superstitions and finally foreign relations with other Clans.

This form of layering allows players to broaden their knowledge of the setting organically, without punishing them for knowing something that they haven’t figured out yet.

I think that it’s really a matter of restraint. Like the old metaphor of a butterfly struggling out of a cocoon, players thrive in a setting if they’ve had a chance to really come to understand it gradually rather than be thrown off the deep end of a pool.

[GMing Advice] Learn by doing

Posted: September 12, 2013 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games
Tags: ,

One of the simplest bits of advice I can ever give someone who is looking to be a better GM is that you can only get better with practice. Much like painting and sports, practice hones a GM’s skills and subconsciously teaches them how to adapt to real-life situations.

Book learning has its place of course, but often the best way to pick up confidence and further develop a personal style is through constant practice. Think of it as similar to being a pilot. Pilots require hours of flight time, as GMs, we need hours of running and preparation until we find what works best for us and our players.

I started off GMing for a college group that hung out in a local gaming store. We were a group of fans of the L5R CCG and a friend scored a copy of the first edition of the RPG. We quickly learned to play the game and took turns GMing, round-robin style. Eventually some of us learned that we enjoyed GMing more than playing, and others the other way around.

With a few hours of one-shots under my belt, I figured that I could aim my sights a little higher and run a campaign. It was the first one I’d ever run, and perhaps one of the most blatant rip-offs that I’ve ever made, stealing liberally from Blade of the Immortal, Rurouni Kenshin and Ninja Scroll in one action-adventure with improbable characters and terribly cliche dialogue… and I loved it.

Of course I had all sorts of mistakes in the way I ran. My plot was meandering, villains were paper-thin cutouts that existed for fighting and I railroaded the hell out of my players, but everyone had to start from somewhere.

Sure my players loved the games, but I never really thought of settling into a pattern. I picked up Mage: the Ascension at the recommendation of a friend, and I learned that you could run games to focus on different themes and moods, and that set me on the path of always moving towards improving how I play.

I’ve had my fair share of successes and failures since then, but there’s always room for improvement. In my case, improvement only happens the more I run, so I can’t really stop and settle on my style as is. It keeps the hobby fresh and interesting to me, and I hope that other GMs work with that mindset as well.