Seminars, The Tricks of the Successful 4e DM, English
There’s a French expression I coined one day to describe how different my brother and I were. It goes ‘Nous sommes comme le jour et la pluie” which translates less poetically into “We are like day and rain”.
This is exactly how the second seminar was compared to the first one. In the French one, we sat around the seminar table and we spoke energetically and excitedly, launching volleys and ripostes like Latin people know how to do.
When the English one started, I had 7 participants (thanks for the Red-Bull @Gordon!), all calm and poised , none of which had ever played 4e.
And my seminar was about DMing 4e.
Luckily, I happened to have a whole gaming group together (the aforementioned Gordon’s) , asking to be swayed to the new edition, provided I answered a few question and provided they managed to find a way to purchase the books.
Seriously, had I been richer, I’d have bought them a full set on the spot! (Any sponsors reading this wants to make a donation? I’d put up a half-banner for a few months).
Anyway, I ended up describing the key differences between 3.5 and 4e. I think I covered everything from classes (roles, balance) to Death Saves. They seemed interested and they had good questions. There were, however, some periods where silence stretched uncomfortably. I was out of things to say, I didn’t want to repeat myself too much and no questions were forthcoming. Fortunately, questions always eventually came out.
All in all, I think it went well and I’m confident I convinced most participants to give the game a try.
I should probably send Wizards of the Coasts a bill.
How not to approach a Game Designer
After the Seminar, I wandered into the gaming room and noticed Luke Crane (designer of Burning Wheel, Burning Empire and Mouseguard) sitting at a table with my friend Walkerp and a buddy of his named Christian. I immediately walked to Luke and flubbed my diplomacy roll.
Chatty: Huh hi, I’m Phil and I’m a guest like you here… hum, I’m a blogger.
Luke (who’s seen it all, I’m sure): Well hello Phil how are you?
Chatty: Good thanks. Listen, I really liked reading Mouseguard, it’s the best RPG book I’ve read this year.
Luke: Why thank you!
Chatty: I’m really looking forward to trying it with my friends, although we’re more into corporate RPGs
(Why the hell did I say that?)
Luke (puzzled): What do you mean by “corporate RPGs”?
Chatty: Huh… I mean we play D&D.
Luke: There’s nothing wrong with that.
(I need to read “How to approach indie game designer for Dummies” again, it’s not like I’m ashamed of playing 4e or something)
Chatty: So, if you have 2 minutes, could I pick your brains about Mouseguard?
Luke: I’m actually playing with these two gentlemen right now.
Chatty: Oh man, so sorry!
Luke: No worries, you can sit and watch if you want and ask me questions about Mouseguard later.
The guy was a total class act.
Burning Wheel Demo, Luke Crane GMing
I got to witness the last hour of a Burning Wheel scenario. Having read Mouseguard cover to cover, I wanted to see how the common elements of both game played out… and I got to a good part of it.
The adventure was about 2 characters, a priest and a knight who were accused of committing gruesome murders. They had to show in court of their lord to stand trial. The twist? They were guilty big time, they killed many villagers and a local lord who were worshiping a demonic idol!
The adventure was about pleading their case, regardless of the truth.
When I sat down, the knight was trying to obtain some humble but well tailored robes for the trial. He obtained the help of his estranged father. Luke asked the player to roll a certain number of d6 based on his Resource attribute and said that his father could lend his resources, represented as extra dice. He needed a certain number of successes (rolling 4 or more) and he failed.
I was curious to see how that would turn out.
Luke: I’ll give you a choice, you either don’t get the robes you want, or you get them but it drains both your resources and your fathers for some time, making money scarce for days to come.
That is the magic of Burning Wheel.
Or so I thought before I witnessed the duel of wits.
When the characters entered court, Luke introduced the workhorse of his game’s engine, the Duel of Wits, a combat of words, oscillating between dice rolls and roleplaying like a pendulum (or like a Sine-wave as he explains it), taking players in and out of character according to a strangely natural cycle.
All conflicts in Burning Wheel/Mouseguard are built around a mechanic similar to the Duel of Wits. The fluff changes and some extra crunchy rules are added to combat but the basics are thus:
- Players and GM each write an objective : “I want to convince the court that we made a bad judgment call and obtain clemency” vs ” Sway the court to sentence the characters for the crimes they committed”
- Players and GM chose from a list of action what type of debating tactic they will chose over 3 rounds (one action per round)
- Players and GM declare the first action, trash talking out of character, getting in the emotional stance of the debate (My GMing radar identified this as really important).
- Actions are compared on a chart and a result occurs, influencing the die rolls.
- Each side roleplays their arguments, making points to batter the other side into oratory defeat.
- Each side rolls dice based on skills used, content of arguments and the result of comparing the actions. Adjudicated by the GM for good roleplaying. Players get really excited (spurn by the GM who plays the role of an antagonistic Craps table dealer, another key ingredient to a successful session methinks).
- The losing side loses disposition points (Conflict Hit Points) based on the margin of success of the dice rolls.
- Once one’s side disposition reaches zero, the other side wins and the objective is achieved.
- Depending how much disposition damage the winning side took, loser can force various compromises that the winners must accept.
I must admit that I felt that Burning Wheel had taken all the crunchy bits out of combat and put it somewhere you wouldn,t expect to see crunch. I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t feel a little wrong at first. But as wrong as it felt, my game design genes and GM instincts screamed that it would work at my table!
I can’t wait to play Mouseguard now.
How to approach Game Designers, Prise Deux
On Sunday, when I finally spoke about Mouseguard with Luke again, we sat down for a few minutes and discussed the basic elements that a GM needed to master to play Mouseguard.
The one thing that was likely to be forgotten was having PCs use traits against them to obtain ‘tokens’ called ‘checks’ that allowed them to use after an adventure to ‘heal’ from the various status effects or require the GM to play a scene to complete an unfinished player goal.
As we spoke, we both realized that I got all the important fiddly bits of the game right. I was ready to run it.
I had invited Luke to some great Indian food for dinner the night before and I met Designer Rob Bohl (author of Misspent Youth) when we went out for beers after the games ended and I had had much fun.
The next day, after I played my morning S&W game, I heard that Luke and Rob were looking to find somewhere nice to lunch so I walked back to them and offered to bring them to a very cozy, very goof vegetarian restaurant called Lola Rosa. We got to walk the street of Montreal on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon and I got Rob to try some Poutine, which he found okay (the cheese didn’t squeak, trust me it’s important).
During that time, we talked fans, books, food, languages, girls and games. So much so that I felt like they were friends by the end of the day (or that we had acknowledged the potential for friendship).
I really can’t ask for anything more now can I? This was definitively a Con highlight.
Up next: Mutant Future (as a player) and S&W, French version.