February 2010 Blog Roundup: Choice Bits

I keep telling myself I’m going to do a weekly roundup of posts I like in the blogosphere, but I never get around to doing it. So here in no particular order, are ten of the many posts I bookmarked this past month.

Krystal Adams of Dungeon Mastering does a pretty concise take on what it means to be in alignment, taking particular aim at those people who want to straddle the line between good and evil at their convenience:

But my character believes he’s good. So, should I put Good on my character sheet?

No. Your character sheet is a reference for you and your DM, the personality of your character is only for you that you get to explore and exhibit to other people at the table. If you, the player, understands your character is Chaotic Evil psychopathic killer who believes he is killing in the name of Pelor he is not considered good.

Gnome Stew’s Scott Martin writes about RPing in sci-fi universes like Star Trek, Firefly and Babylon 5 and makes the astute observation that while characters are the source of their appeal, what we usually get is a setting:

Serenity is just one ship in the black– playing another trader should work well. It should… but the interactions of Serenity’s crew are really well designed. Playing in the universe with a new crew is fun, but it is hard to match the tension and interaction of the series crew. Without that interaction the setting is solid, but it can be a bit difficult to figure out what you do. Getting jobs to turn a profit in a tough universe can be a little too simple without the spark of PCs at cross purposes.

Derek Myers of Dungeon’s Master calls for more diversity in character role-playing for the many races of RPGs. If cultural diversity can be found on a planet with only one (recognized) sentient species, then it should exist in the polyethnic worlds of fantasy RPGs.

Based on my experiences growing up and living in a multi-cultural city, here’s what I’ve seen when people of different races come together. They don’t stop speaking their native language when they learn English, in fact they still speak their native tongue when they’re with other people from their homeland. They eat North American foods, but their traditional dishes still make up a significant portion of their diet. They still wear clothing, jewelry or religiously significant garb from their homeland while adopting the styles of their new home. They learned to blend this new culture with their own, never forgetting who they are or where they came from.

Erika Hoagland of Exchange of Realities reminds us that great drama is not necessarily synonymous with being big and showy:

Real drama, as far as I’m concerned, can exist in subtlety and silence, leaning on symbolism or placing all its weight not on volume but on context. The little things can get across as much as the big ones. […] Instead of scope, this sort of trick is based on contrast. Sometimes, it’s contrast with how the character usually acts—the usually brave one hesitating, the chatterbox subdued […] Other times, it is contrast with the backdrop—a big, impressive scenery serving only as the foil for one tiny act of connection between two characters. Or perhaps it’s contrast with expectations—where the scene practically demands The Epic but the characters themselves think smaller.

Dixon Trimline puts the word out to readers of Critical Hits that it is the players who hold power, not the DM:

If the DM dares to turn on you, innocent little you, and brings down any sort of punishment for your little fun-time, all you need to do is drop that atomic bomb in the form of four simple words: “I’m not coming back.” Of course, it does help if all of the players have a little bit of a maverick attitude, but that’s not absolutely necessary. It’ll still leave a nice, dark mark on the game for a little while, a stink that clings to the DM (at least in his own mind) as some form of failure.

That said, he declares a social contract for those who might feel compelled to sulk in the face of a bad die roll or distrust their DM.

I’m not a dyed in the wool gamer of the late 20th century, but I had enough awareness of the hobby then to appreciate Christian Lindke’s fair yet critical defense of Buck Rogers heiress and former TSR president Lorraine Williams:

She understood where gaming was in the late 80s and early 90s, but (not being a gamer herself) she had no clear vision for how to respond to the emergence of Magic: the Gathering. Her response was an explosion of rpg product and a rushed collectible card game response. The explosion of rpg product was high quality — Birthright and Planescape were remarkable settings — but the prolific pace of publication, combined with a brand diluting low quality card game, put more product on the market than the market could bear. In that way, she is also responsible for the implosion of TSR as a company a decade after she took charge.

I’ve read many an argument in favor of and against 4e, and while the Edition Wars are (hopefully) so passé, Gamer Bling does a great job skewering the argument that 4e does not have enough roleplaying:

… If you parse out the standard PC intro, “I’m playing a” is the introduction, which is then followed by the race and then the class, as in “I’m playing a dwarf fighter” or “I’m playing a flying fire-breathing Syberis kobold rogue/sorcerer/arcane trickster so I’m better than you.” 3.5 spends 40 pages, 14% of the book, on classes. 4e spends 126 pages, or 40% of the book. Now this is not a fair comparison, of course, since the 126 pages includes many, many options for each class. Because apparently (according to gam3rs) having options precludes role-playing, while renaming your skill from “move silently” to “footpaddin’ ” is extraordinary role-playing.

Zak Smith of Playing D&D with Porn Stars writes eloquently and intelligently once more on the topic of dungeons and their wonderfully ludic qualities:

The dungeon adventure is an agreement to go back and forth about certain things which are provided by the players in the form of their characters and what they are carrying and provided by the DM in the form of whatever he/she drew into the map. However, within those bounds both sides are pretty much agreeing to play ball all the way. […] Dungeons are just as artificial as pre-fab plots and cinematic techniques, but the dungeon takes all the artificiality of a DM-constructed world and front-loads it–you accept that you’re going to a place that’s all stone and there’s only a few things in it, and after that, it’s often all seamless.

David Guyll of Points of Light explores the question of “are monsters people too?” and supplies an answer based on the function, rather than world assumptions, of the monster in the game:

So, I think that monsters can be treated like people. Its not an either/or scenario. I’m certainly not against elaborating on their culture and histories, if they are going to be key players. Eberron is kind of a broad example in that there are two nations of monsters (one is mostly goblins, though). It would be ignorant for players to assume that they are just monsters to be killed. Well…they can be, but they are also much more likely to be willing to talk (or be used as player characters).

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