Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Switching Genres take 2

OK, so the last post was why Westerns are good. Here is why others are not so good:
Super Hero stories - Too often the super hero is a solo act. Too often the villain is a solo act. Few fantasy role-playing games are set up for fight, escape fight again. They’re kill or be killed. That doesn’t work as well with superhero stories. Also, the hero(es) often gain power in astronomical proportions. The hero doesn’t gain a better weapon, he learns to channel his inner self and go from throwing small flames around to going super nova. That doesn’t work for extended campaigns. The action pacing is often very good though.
Fantasy stories - Too often the hero is a solo act or a hero with less important followers. Too often the players see the similarities immediately. Too often there is one super powerful weapon - not the kind of thing that groups of friends can share. Often the action is paced wrong and the hero and his lady love are important aspects.
War stories - They typically use “parties”; this is good! They are kill or be killed; which is good! Typically they are far too dramatic, with massive amounts of character building and not the right action pacing for a RPG. Sometimes, TV series can be useful for mission ideas (Think Combat! or Rat Patrol). The enemies work because they are always the same. Trying to get a plot line where your party members HATE the enemy, but its a new enemy every week? Yeah - nope.
Off genre action - This is some of the best ground, but it depends on the movie. A classical space opera might work, unless its all about one hero, though you’ll never hear me say anything bad about Flash Gordon. Some of the pulp action stories, typically about Wild Africa - can work nicely, but they do rely on their location for some of the mystery and suspense. That can be extremely difficult to reproduce. Of course, there is no better hero than Allan Quatermain, and in his first two books, he does travel with a party. It comes down to the same issues as we laid out here. As we all know, a sci-fi movie can be a classic Western style, or a war movie or a super hero story. Victorian, Future, post-Apocalypse, they really don’t change what we’ve already listed.

Switching Genres

Sorry for the delayed post - I was out of town. Better yet, I’ll be gone again this weekend, so I’ll post both now. It was a two-parter anyway, so it sees to fit.
We fill a lot of space in some of our books (most notably Forge of Imagination and Character Foundry) talking about switching genres. So what works? I think that flat out, the best genres to borrow ideas from are the Westerns. They work perfectly for fantasy games. Now, I’m talking about John Wayne style Westerns here, not those Clint Eastwood ones. Unless your gaming group likes to spend hours staring intimidatingly at one another, forget most of the Clint Eastwood stuff.
So why do they work? Well, first off, there is typically a “party” or at least a pair of guys or the hero gathers together a posse. You know, a party, like a standard fantasy game. Then there is the pacing of the action. Westerns have some of the best pacing. Small events turn into bigger events, which get confused with other things, until the big climax. Plus the villain usually has a small army of guys. Let’s go to an example:
Imagine a typical Western - Two buddies stop by a small town and have a drink in a bar. There they see four guys jump one guy in a bar fight. They help him out, and get embroiled in his problems. The victim tells the heroes who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Beautiful adventure development without the unrealistic, you walk into a bar and a guy hires you to go...
At this point, the villain might appear and try to turn the good guys to his side, but since he hasn’t done anything really villainous yet, they can’t just go kill him. Likely there is some side mission that needs to be done - the good guy’s boss needs medicine that he is carrying, the victim guy was in town to meet a string of ponies, etc. This provides another action packed encounter when the players are fighting the villain’s minions. Eventually, the good guys (your players we’re assuming) need to fight their way through all of the villain’s minions until they get to him and kill him. Sound familiar?
What else? Well, how many times have the good guys escaped from some bad guy trap. Just as they look over their shoulder and say, “I think we lost them” the entire Sioux Nation comes riding over the ridge. The Indians don’t have anything to do with the good guys or bad guys, but they still serve as enemies. The same thing can be said for the desperate struggles against the environment. Whether its trying to cross a raging river or survive travel across a desert, these man vs. nature encounters are great as well. Hey, throw in a burning barn if nature isn’t going to fit the bill.
I guess this all makes better sense if you’ve read Forge of Imagination, but I think you’ll still get the drift! (RPG Now Links)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lower Level Bad Guys

I was making bad guys to throw against some younger kids (8-12) who want to play Legend Quest and it occurred to me - Why would really minor bandits be warriors? Look, there are kids who grow up wanting to be soldiers. They play soldier, they watch soldiers, they get into military academies, and then they become soldiers. These guys are going to be warriors through and through. OK, so they will learn some auxiliary skills, like carousing and maybe a foreign language, but by and large it will be combat skills and those skills that promote good military life (etiquette, weapon craft, maybe senses, etc.)
What about our rabble of bandits? Did they decide at a young age they wanted to be bandits? Probably not. Did they grow up playing bandits? Well, maybe yes. Did they go to a bandit academy? Nope. So what skills should they have? Well, if they are low level bandits, they probably tried to do a number of other jobs first. Maybe they were porters, common laborers, maybe caravan guards, lumberjacks, bartenders, cotton pickers, or all of these at various different times. I went with these guys tried to make it under a number of jobs, but kept getting fired for not working hard enough. Slackers seem to be more inclined to turn to banditry. I figure they were lumberjacks longer than any of their other minor professions, so they wield axes (tool strength), and the one guy who worked as a caravan guard also has a bow. Are they weak in combat? Sure, but they’re supposed to be - they’re starter bad guys.
Gotta tell you - I’m really proud of these losers. They make sense. These are exactly the type of guys that would try to pull off this job and get killed for it. They are tougher than a typical farmer, enough so that most people would hire mercenaries to protect them from them, but not offer enough money to get the really good mercs, just the starter ones. I’m also really happy with the LQ character creation process that allows me to create guys like this quickly, and not have to pigeon hole every character like he spent his life in a gladiatorial training camp. Try it - You’ll like it!