Friday, July 23, 2010

In-Game Clichés

The Dungeons and Dragons game world: a place filled with magic and monsters and wonders bound only by the reaches of one's imagination. A place where anything is possible.

And yet, the table is littered with tons of in-game clichés!

I will be the first to admit, I've indulged... I can definitely see why some of these clichés exist, but these days I consider it my duty to challenge them whenever I can, as a GM.

Intellect triumphs over brawn when it comes to the wielding of magic. A sword is a fine thing, but does you no good if you've been polymorphed into yam. The whole basis of wizardry, and in fact all magic wielding in general is that you have no real use for conventional weapons and armor.

Dedicating their lives to the quest for knowledge and mastery of the arcane arts, Wizards tend to have no particular interest in appearances. Why shave, it's just going to grow back you know.

Somewhere along the lines of history and mythology though, having no use for weapons and armor, and a penchant for growing beards turned into ancient robe-wearing men with beards that they tuck into their socks.

I get that you don't need suits of armor, but robes? Why not a pair of pants and a shirt (or hose and a tunic, as it were). And I get the whole beard thing as far as it's just going to keep growing, and if you don't have to deal with razor burn, then why would you? ...But there comes a point where it just gets in the way. It's very frustrating to be eating something that pushes whiskers into your maw, only to get them stuck between your teeth. It doesn't take much to trim.

Short and broad, surly and industrious. These small work-horses toil beneath the mountains digging up gold and iron and gems. I can understand why they're always described as dirty, seeing as they live underground. They're strong because they spend their lives moving rocks and ore. They're surly probably due to their line of work. I seem to remember working in construction, and most of the time my coworkers were grumpy. Again, harsh physical labor tends to go hand in hand with the imbibing of alcohol so I get that too.

Why are they Celtic?

I just don't understand where the brogue comes from. Scottish people aren't all that short, nor are they (at least as far as I know) typically considered short. The stereotype seems to only have the drinking and red hair things in common.

If they're going to be Celtic, why do we just stop at the accent and drinking? Why not face-paint for battles, why not bagpipes? Why don't they herd sheep?

Dead Parents
One of the most important (in my opinion anyway) during character creation is the back story. Who is your character, and why are they adventuring? The most common thread here in D&D and in just about any other story be it book or movie, is some kind revenge-based motivation like the killing of one's parents or other assorted loved ones. It's so common there are even many famous quotes about it:

You dirty rat, you killed my brother

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

You killed my father!
No, luke. I am your father

You killed Ted you midieval dick weed!

The death of a loved one is something that we all have to deal with so it's something we can relate to, and the idea that perhaps we could have prevented it or that maybe we could get some closure by avenging it is also something we can relate to.

But I find it to be the easy way out. It's like, going around a table and everyone introducing themselves:

Dave: I will not rest until my parents are avenged!
Charlie: Yeah, same here.
Bob: Yep. Dead parents.
Steve: Ditto.

Sure, it works but... Yawn.

For your next campaign, try to mandate that all parents of all characters are alive, well, and not imprisoned. I'm willing to be that'll get the creative juices flowing!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Three things RPGers tend to ignore

Dungeons and Dragons: For most, it's a chance to pretend that they're someone they're not, and do things that they either can't or won't in real life. Things like, the slaying of monsters come to mind, for example. Sure, it's make believe, but for that couple hours, you are a completely different person, with a whole different set of attributes. We play ourselves all day long! D&D is our chance to play someone else.

The whole idea of role playing is to have fun. Otherwise, they'd call it role working, I would think. We don't get together at the table, generate characters and file imaginary taxes! We don't roll fortitude saves vs. physics homework! No! We strap on swords and defeat bad guys (or good guys maybe?) and reap rewards! We have fun!

Sometimes in the throes of role playing though, we tend to ignore certain things that our characters would not be able to ignore, if the game were real life. The reasons we ignore these things vary, in some cases they're not really all that pleasant, and as the point is to have fun, they're omitted. Sometimes they're just facets of life that we just don't think much about.

Here are three things things we tend to ignore or overlook in our games. These are simply ideas that could possibly be added at some point for a heightened sense of reality in your games... Even though, to me, adding a sense of reality to a night of Role Playing sort of sounds counter productive...

Extreme Weather
Throughout history, forces of nature have been the cause of some of the most beautiful creations, and some of the most catastrophic disasters. While it's not uncommon for a GM to throw in a little flavor by using different kinds of precipitation, things like flash floods are not as common an enemy as Orcs or Goblins.

Rain: A thorn in the side of a traveler, yet a gift from the gods for a farmer.

Not enough rain and crops wilt and lands blight. Animals die of thirst. People are forced to travel further for drinking water as local wells dry up. The city streets get dirtier as waste and refuse are not so easily washed away, causing health issues to the local residences.

Along with drought comes a heat wave. Long, dry and hot days can be a terrible foe to anyone, adventuring, farming or otherwise. People drop dead from the heat. Heat stroke and sun poisoning are a big problem. Dried fields catch fire and surrounding houses are reduced to ash.

Players are caught adventuring in the scorching heat and it becomes too hot to wear armor. Their skin burns in the sun's inferno. Perhaps some adjustment to your player's attack bonus is in order, as swinging a sword is very difficult when your skin is sun-burnt...  fortitude save negates? A fail results in blisters and -2 to hit perhaps?

When the rains finally come, the people are caught off guard. Windows are hastily closed, people rush home to put out buckets to catch what water they're able to. Farmers rejoice, hoping to save what crops they can. Items carelessly left outside are ruined, such as hats or shoes.

The water soaks the things that gathered in the streets, some of which are partially decaying organic material. These things can begin to stink as they slowly rinse away. If it's a brief ran, just enough to wet the junk, this gives fungus and parasites an excellent place to grow.

Too much rain can be just as devastating as not enough, and usually in a far less subtle way. Crops drown and meadows become bogs. City streets fill with water, sewers flood and run into the streets. Rats evacuate their cozy basements in search for dry land and food, filling upper floors of houses and shops. Bugs settle in to areas they previously found inhospitable. Foundations wash away and buildings topple. Reservoirs spill over, and levees break drowning people and animals alike. low ground is flooded, while high ground is crowded.

When it's over, the streets are filled with filth and pestilence. Huge clean up efforts are required and funded by local government, especially if the area generated money or goods used by the rest of the kingdom. Damaged buildings become targets for crime, shops are pilfered.

Some things that were once buried are no longer. Shallow graves are found, people who were killed and hastily buried in their own yards, maybe. Treasure perhaps was uncovered by the water?

Some things that were once treasured are now lost. Priceless heirlooms, magical items, now lost, washed away in the floods.

Time marches on! Too many times have I traveled (in real life, that is) through neighborhoods I'd known as a kid and gasped in wide wonder at the number of things that have gone on in the time I'd been gone, sometimes as short as only a year!

People don't stay the same, and neither do places. People come and go, buildings are built and destroyed, disasters change the face of the lands. The same should be true in your games. Just because the spotlight has been following the PCs around for the last few years in game, doesn't mean things cease to change back home.

There are many reasons that things change, some of which can be attributed to weather as I'd said above. Perhaps something like that happened while the group was away, giving them plenty of things to fix or address upon return. But beyond mother nature's intervention, there is a deep fascination that humans today have with constant change. Personally, I'm not much a fan of it, but I will admit that some changes are necessarily to improve things. As places become more and more crowded, wider streets accommodate more traffic, for example.

The quality of a place is truly a relative thing. One person's perfection is another person's room for improvement. It's very common for someone to move to a new area and envision tremendous changes to the area for what they consider to be the benefit of everyone, when someone who'd grown up in that area sees only tranquility and familiar comfort.The unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on your perspective) thing is that the person with the vision of change is likely to get his way if he's got money, or if he's able to convince enough people that the change will bring money.

The General Store that was once famous for quality items at bargain prices has declined in popularity after the original owner passed on and his greedy son took the business over. It's said that he's got ties to the local thieves' guild and is using the store as a front.

Or, the city was attacked by ogres, and the captain of the guard was slain in a valiant attempt to protect the city. When the dust had settled, a large statue of the man was erected in the city square in his honor. While you respect the gesture, you find it to be an eyesore, and nothing more than an expensive pigeon perch.

Your morning routine is probably not all that dissimilar to that of your D&D character. You wake, use the bathroom, wash your face, brush your teeth, bathe, eat, etc. On the road, while the convenience of these things is far less, then need  still exists.

Forgive this section, as it will probably deal with things that we ignore when it comes to D&D because frankly, they're unpleasant, and dealing with them doesn't really add much, if anything to the story. Nothing pleasant at least...

An adventuring group is in many ways closer with one another than most people are today. We have our friends over for dinner, and share a meal, but at the end of the day, it's typically just us and perhaps one or two others, be it spouse or room mate. In an adventuring party, you're pretty much always together. You share meals, water, medicines, camps, fires... Just about everything. You're likely to learn things about your team mates that you probably don't really want to know!

Just like living with a room mate, you're going to learn your adventuring party members' routines. Do they get up before you? Do they wash their face or whole body along the side of the road? Nothing at all? Do they brush their teeth? Change their socks? Do they stink?

(I know you're hoping I don't mention some things here, but I'm going to.)

Where do your characters take care of business? This can be (if you allow it) a pretty important thing! We've all stepped in a mess or two, hopefully from a pet of some sort, but when the party breaks for lunch, there are going to be some other things that really will need to be taken care of. (It's not healthy to hold it too long!).

Believe it or not, something like going number 2 should be at least discussed (that's discussed, not disgust!) when camping in real life, why not in D&D? You should at least tell your "roommates" what direction to NOT walk in. You'll never hear the end of it if they end up walking through it, you can rest assured of that.

You're going to want to take into account a lot of things, such as the direction of the wind. Your group members aren't going to thank you for turning their stomachs mid-meal. What to wipe with is as legitimate a concern too, it's not like they're all going to be clean ones. You should probably make sure you take a couple of ranks in survival or "knowledge: Nature" to make sure you don't accidentally grab a poisonous plant or cactus or something.

It's probably not a bad idea to keep on hand a small utility shovel, as an adventurer so you can dig yourself a hole, and bury it when you're done to keep from attracting some disgusting critters, or disgusting some attractive ones!

Now like I said before, this is commonly left out because... ew. But there are ways you could probably work these things into your game. Don't forget, many possible adversaries hunt by smell. Hell, some critters even mark their territory with number 2. And as much as it sickens me, we've all see the nature guys on the Discovery channel tracking this or that type of animal who can't resist but to show us some left over turd they've found on the road and started to play with... So gross...

Hopefully you've had a few ideas sparked by one if not all three of these things. Please comment and share some other types of overlooked activities or "duties" we do in real life that could be incorporated into your gaming sessions!