Archive for the ‘Role-playing’ Category

On the horizon: Star Wars – The Old Republic

You cannot tell me this is not so awesome and epic. It might be because I have the hots for Star Wars and everyone who uses a lightsaber as his primary weapon, but I’m still drooling all over this.

Of course, I know of Star Wars: The Old Republic for quite awhile. After seeing how Star Wars: Galaxies by SOE failed miserably as they made essential changes to the core concepts of the game, I believed that LucasArts wouldn’t trust anyone ever again when it comes to turning the good ol’ franchise into an innovative and progressive MMO. But I guess when BioWare, creators of renown games like “Knights of the Old Republic” and “Mass Effect”, came knocking on my door to create a game based on my gazillion-dollar-franchise, I would have a hard time to say no.

But what makes me have so much trust in this title, except for the fact it is made by a group of people who obviously know how to create an immersive experience? Well, call it a marketing technique, but it definitly got me hooked: BioWare wants to add a missing element to the MMO world: story. Now I know that most MMOs at the moment already have some kind of story backdrop, but think about it…what direct impact does the story have on YOUR character? Does it influence him in any way, except on a role-playing level? I think not. All the MMOs I’ve played so far had good background stories, but all of them were just that: background.

BioWare strives to creating a personal storyline for every class. In that storyline your character will have choices to make, and this choices will make your story different from that of someone else who plays exactly the same class. Think about the following: you are fighting a grim battle against the man who killed your beloved one years ago, but who also happens to be the only one who knows how to get off of this hellhole planet. In an epic battle, you have the chance to wrangle your arch-nemesis to the ground, ready for taking the final blow. And here comes the choice: do you let vengeance guide you, and kill this bastard, or do you let him live, so he can get you off the planet? The choice is yours. Believe me, if this works out like I hope it will, I guarantee goosebump-moments and some epic storytelling. And guess what I just LOVE in video games?

The other thing that really interests me is the setting BioWare picked: the Old Republic. This sets the game several thousand years before the rise of Darth Vader, and lets us play in a time where Jedis and other force-wielding persons were more common than in the “default” Star Wars setting. This will also make it more plausible for having quite some Jedis and Sith as characters, unlike what SOE did in Star Wars: Galaxies. Still, BioWare should make sure to not screw up the immersion: the Force is still a very rare gift, and the last thing I want to see is a server population of 75% Jedis, and 25% other classes.

Which leads me to my only real problem with this game: handling Jedis and Sith. Personally, I liked SOE’s early approach to “Jedihood” in the early months of Star Wars: Galaxies. Players had to fulfill a long, long chain of quests, which took you a very long time to beat. At the end of this chain, you had to face a very hard and perilous trial, and only if you could beat that, your character rose into the rank of a Jedi, wielding power unlike most other characters on the server. This made Jedis rare and unique, and it just felt right. Of course it was not the fairest way to handle it, but it kept the amount of these gifted people low.

As we all know, SOE changed that later, in a way that was just completely sick: everyone could roll a Jedi from the very START. This threw off the balance of the game, and was the essential suicide of the whole game. So how will BioWare work around this? Jedi and Sith as a starting class, or as something you have to “unlock”? Or will they take some complete new approach? I can hardly wait to see what these geniuses will do!

Until then, I can only say “May the Force be with you”!

Signed,

Aki

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[D&D4] The birth of the party

After rounding up our Werewolf: The Forsaken chronicle set in a Norwegian village in the year 1780, me and my role-playing group decided to try a game that totally doesn’t fit our groups mentality, namely the fourth installment of the mother of all role-playing games: Dungeons & Dragons.

Now I have to say, that I am the one to blame for the style of role-playing games that my group is used to, as I fed them nothing but White Wolf games in the last years. So when I told them that D&D is a rules-heavy, tactical game, where sometimes actually playing a role is second place, their first reaction was “Nay!” But then again, they wanted to play a classical fantasy game, with wizards, dragons and strange, dangerous dungeons. They didn’t have a choice: D&D4 it was!

So, yesterday we had our character generation session, followed by a short…wait a minute! I never introduced you to my players, did I? Well, I guess I should before proceeding!

  • Daniel the Powergamer: Daniel has started role-playing games along at my side, and we both learned much from each other. However, no matter what game he plays, his characters share one trait: they are TERRIBLE good at one thing, but suck at everything else. A shining example is his character from our Vampire: the Requiem game, Nikolai Borislav. This Russian club owner had the skills for one single thing: opening his wallet to bribe people! Nevertheless, he is a good role-player, and a true rules-monkey who likes to “help me out” when I fail to use a rule the right way.
  • Till the Sidekick: Till is the youngest player at the table, but to sum up his style in one word: ever-changing! Usually his characters are the kind that aid out Daniel’s characters, but in our last Vampire chronicle, he shocked us all by making his character turn against his own ally, Nikolai, in the last moment, ruining every single plan of the rich Russian! Since then, Daniel is always on the watch, keeping an eye on Till’s characters. Still, Till likes characters that add something to the party, like something that supports his buddies.
  • Hannah the Actor: Hannah is the living proof that girls know how to role-play! Caring less about statistics and awesome rolls, this lady acts out her characters really well, adding an awesome kind of depth to our games. However, her most memorable character was from our first “Das Schwarze Auge” campaign, whereshe played an Elf Ranger who missed 8 out of 10 shots! Go figure! Since then, my troupe knows that all the talk about “keen elven eyes” is all just one big hoax. Thanks for teaching us that lesson, girl!
  • Eva the Deviant: Eva is our newest addition to the team, playing with us since winter 2007. At first, she felt a bit shy about really going in-character, but by now, we got her fairly “conditioned”. Still, most of her characters are somehow the group’s deviant or freak. However, these personas bring new solutions to the table, and sometimes she’s even the one bringing down a terrible danger.

So there you have them, my Fantastic Four. And once again, they gave birth to a quartet of individuals. Prepare for the Band of Bummers!

Alyssa, Half-Elf Wizard (played by Eva): Alyssa is a 25 years young graduate of the Magical Acadamey, and certainly proud of it. Shortly after her graduation, the headmaster tasked her to travel to Sturmhafen, a big coastal city, in order to fulfill a job she was appointed. It seems that the person who appointed her to this job has personal interest in her, but who actually sponsors this mission remains a mystery.

Alyssa is, by every meaning of the word, spoiled. She wears extremely expensive clothes, cares much about her looks, and just knows she will be the greatest wizard of all times. One of her trademarks is her use of Tenser’s Floating Disk to levitate herself, or her oh-so heavy luggage and make traveling so much easier. Up until now, she has proven her use in combat by slinging Magic Missiles and missing her attack rolls on Scorching Burst. Oh and yeah, she hates dirt. And insects. And vermins. And…

Sema, Halfling Rogue (played by Hannah): Sema has two very bad traits: her mild alcohol addiction and her extreme love for shiny stuff. Both got her in trouble numerous times, but the second knack actually brought her to Alyssa. When trying to steal from a servant of Alyssa’s mysterious sponsor, she got the chance to save her own head by helping the young spellcaster out on her task. Since then, these two work extremely wel together, even using their combined talents for little-time thievery. Hey, you gotta pay the bills somehow, right?

Next to her…well-developed taste for alcohol, Sema is a very useful rogue / thief. Small and agile, she can easily hide in the masses, and enjoys the luxury to sometimes climb on the shoulders of the party’s Dragonborn, just to have a “better vantage point”. I bet this Halfling will, someday, be the inventor of a Dragonborn saddle!

Zarkesh, Dragonborn Fighter (played by Daniel): As the son of a wealthy family of traders, Zarkesh has seen many wonders of the world, even before he became an adventurer. Still, as he came of age, this young Dragonborn decided to venture into the world on his own. Eventually, he met Sema and Alyssa in an unpleasant way, as the rogue tried to steal his magical greataxe. Hearing Alyssa’s plea to forgive the Halfling, as they were on an important mission, Zarkesh decided to join the group, seeing this as a chance to take part in great adventureres.

Zarkesh is a brutish fighter, using his magical greataxe to smash his foes to smithereens. However, he also learned how to haggle, and is an apprentice in the art of body painting known as tattoos. Zarkesh is certainly a likeable fellow, even though he might act a bit wild and savage from time to time.

Ngara, Eladrin Cleric of Corellon (played by Till): Ngara has a vague history, only knowing that his parents gave him to a cloister of monks long ago. Nobody ever told him why they did that, but Ngara grew into a weapon of faith, and soon surpassed the skills of his colleagues. One day, Alyssa, Sema and Zarkesh stayed in the cloister for the night, and told Ngara about their mission. Seeing this as a chance to finally leave the safety of the monastery, he asked his master for permission to travel with these adventurers. His master agreed, and Ngara promised to spread the word of Corellon throughout the land.

This Eladrin is definitly the “good voice” of the party, always choosing the good above the bad. Still, the opportunistic mentality of his companions sometimes frustrates him, though the fighter Zarkesh seems to share some of his ideas of honor and justice. Who knows, one day his fellows might follow the call of the good too?

So, these are the adventurers so far. In my next entry, I’ll tell you about their first steps in the world. For now, enjoy your Sunday afternoon!

Signed,

Aki

Reasons to live

Oh, this title is really melodramatic, right? At least I caught your attention!

This post on a really good other blog got me thinking about character-driven plots. The author states that, basically, there are two kinds of plots in role-playing games: character based and world-based. Character-based plots are founded on the motivations and drives of one or more characters, and are about the trials and tribulations these heroes or villains go through to reach their goals. World-based plots find their roots in large-scale events taking place in the world, and the characters are somehow linked to those.

Personally, I prefer the first kind of plot. Players give you so many hooks to play with, so why not use them? But many Gamemasters forget to get the full potential out of the PC’s, so here is my little guide to the creation of character-driven plots!

Characters and You – How not to be boring!

This little guide consists of a set of questions you should ask your players about their characters before you start your campaign. The answers they give can be used as the base for major plotlines, or just minor “side quests” to spice up the chronicle. This list is also handy to deepen the background of your own role-playing character, no matter if he’s one for an MMORPG, or your normal table-top game.

  • What is the greatest fear of your character?
  • What is the most precious thing your character posseses?
  • Would your character steal to survive?
  • Does your character have a very hindering physical flaw?
  • Does your character have a very hindering mental flaw (i.e. amnesia)?
  • Does your character have a very hindering social flaw (i.e. sexist, racist)?
  • If your character had to choose between great power or the love of his life, what would he choose?
  • Does your character believe in a certain god, or follow a certain religion?
  • Does your character have a strange hobby?
  • What games is your character good at (i.e. chess, poker, darts)?
  • Does your character like animals? Does he even own a pet?
  • What is your characters greatest ambition in life?
  • What is your characters “kryptonite”, or his greatest weakness?
  • Is your character superstitious?
  • If your character would find a mighty artifact that could change the course of history, what would he do with it?
  • What skill would your character want to perfect?
  • Is your character a talented leader?
  • Does your character have a family?
  • A fiendish sorcerer has mind-controlled your entire family, and forces them to fight against you. What would you do?

These 19 questions are not all you could ask a player about his character, but these give you a good impression of his soon-to-be hero. Use the answers to create plotlines that incorporate the character. Players feel more integrated into the world when they see that their character matters. In a plot about the annihilation of an entire world, where the characters are “just” officers in the army of the Golden King, players might get the feeling that they are just one gear in a gigantic machine that might as well work without them. When they notice that their characters MATTER to the plot, they will feel more motivated to take part in it, and bring their piece to the puzzle.

But how do you get characters involved? The easiest way, and the way I do it, is by doing it painful. In other words: taking something away. This can be a character’s family heirloom, his magical sword he needs to save his father, or his twin sister. Taking something away triggers a certain psychological behaviour, namely that of trying to get it back. It is now the task of the Gamemaster, to make this quest interesting and challenging, but NOT unfair. If the character, and the player, is doing his utmost best to succeed, and just fails because of a bad roll, don’t be a jerk and let him fail. Instead, let him get closer to success, but not close enough. Progress is a slow process, but it is still better than stagnation. The climax of the plot should be all about all or nothing: the character either succeeds in getting back what belongs to him, or fails bitterly. Both outcomes should lead to new, exciting stories, which are for the Gamemaster to design.

It’s an eternal cycle, you see, and making that cycle as interesting as possible is key. I wish you the best.

Signed,

Aki!

When you’re evil

Secretly, everyone has a weakness for the darker side of life. I mean, most of us never get the chance to be the beast we are, deep inside. Of course, that is a good thing. Imagine a society where everyone could just let out that animal inside…I wouldn’t be interested living in it, folks.

However, when it comes to slipping into the husk of a digital alter ego, many take the chance and embrace their dark passions as long as they do it through some sort of virtual avatar. This phenomenon is also something seen in tabletop role-playing, and to an extent, it adds to the experience. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many of these “evil-doers” and have to vent my frustration about them right here.

You see, when Wrath of the Lich King went live, I was prepared for the dark and gloomy wave of Death Knights, the first “Hero Class” in the World of Warcraft. The lore behind the Death Knights of Azeroth is quite cool and interesting, and I loved the story of Arthas in Warcraft 3. Even from a gameplay point-of-view, the class is new and fun to play. Also I can understand when people what something new after playing one or two classes for a few years.

However, I forgot a very important factor: I play on a role-playing server. And trust me, most role-players in WoW are teenage drama queens who just need a place to have their hormones run wild and do all the naughty and bad things they just can’t do in real life, without their parents slapping them into a coma. Now, the formula is simple. Scientists, behold! I dub this the “First principle of Schmidt” (gotta love my last name!)

G = 100 – (A x 2) + D

In this formula, G is the “Gloomy index”. The higher the number, the higher the odds the person you are currently role-playing with is going to go all-out emo on you. For example, if someone has a G of 78, you have 78% chance of hearing stuff about his family that was slaughtered by owlbears, his long-lost love which was raped and kidnapped by the Cookie Monster, or how hard he sucks in curling.

A is age, and should be multiplied by two. In general, younger people have a higher Gloomy index, especially nowadays where most teenies are confronted with sad poems and songs about depressions on a daily basis.

D is the variable for other dark influences, factors that should be taken in account. Some of these factors are based in real life and seriously affect the person self, others are based in the fantasy world the person is role-playing in. The following table will show the dark influence of certain factors, and should be used as an orientation point when calculating the Gloomy index.

Factor Dark influence rating
Dumped by girlfriend lately 10
Dumped by several girlfriends lately 15
Never had a girlfriend 20
Active MySpace profile 10
Playing a gloomy race (most Elvish races) 10
Playing a gloomy class (Warlock, sorcerer, necromancer, Death Knight, Deathguard etc.) 5

So, let’s do the math for a 14-year old rolling up a Death Knight, intended for role-play in Silvermoon City. The boy never had a girl before, but is of course a slave to his uncontrolled lust for boobies and ass, and has around 400 “friends” on MySpace. Also, his Death Knight will be a Blood Elf, as our 14-year old finds comfort in playing the remnant of a broken and fallen race, who now struggles to survive in a world that is so harsh to them. Oh lord…

G = 100 – ( 14 x 2 ) + (20 [no girlfriend) + 10 [MySpace] + 10 [gloomy race] + 5 [gloomy class])

This results in a Gloomy index of 117! Beware of this kid, because he will cry about his lost pride and his dark soul for hours if you let him. Afterwards, he will play with the little Orc kids right outside Orgrimmar, to atone for his grievous sins.

Of course, this formula is anything but scientific, but I want to make a point with it: most, especially young role-players try to play something which they could never be in real life. That alone is anything but bad, and is the point of role-playing. I could never be a Troll in real life, let alone a spirit-conjuring Shaman! The poo hits the fan when these role-players try to at drama to their characters, and just throw too much salt into the soup. In the end, all I want to say is that you should learn how to cook up a delightful role-playing character. And playing a fantasy version of the lead singer of Taking Back Sunday, reciting painful poems every minute, is not good role-playing.

So, a word to all you “gloomy” role-players: think about your concept before you play it. There are dozens of Drizzt’s, tons of Cloud’s and far too many Arthas-rip off’s. Talk with fellow role-players about your heartbroken soldier, and get yourself some advice from them. Give even the most evil and ruthless fellow a weak, and maybe even warm spot in his frozen and bitter heart. Soon, you will taste the fruits of your work: satisfied role-players around you, who might not like your character, but who will like you for at least TRYING something new.

That’s it for the day, folks. As a little bonus for all the dark emo-kids feeling agitated about this, just listen this. It might cheer you up!

Signed,

Aki!