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11-27-2008, 05:02 AM #1
Musings on defeating the d4-1 curse...
Or, how might we help PBEMs and PBPs to survive?
I've been thinking again about trying to run a realm-rulership game (set in Cerilia or elsewhere), and have found myself most stumped by the problem of trying to make it last, without having to take it on as a full-time job.
While perhaps the best option for smooth running and long-lasting success might be "recruit only the best of players, and ensure that they all agree completely with each other and the people running it on what they want from the game and from each other, while also making sure that everyone involved is in good health and in calm, stable employment", that's unlikely to ever be possible for a RL group, let alone online....
So what else can be suggested?
I'm particularly interested in the basic set-up of the game. The major cause of PBP / PBEM game-death seems to be the collapse of the people running it under a deluge of RL work and game emails (though an occasional OOC detonation among the players does account for others).
I'm inclined to suggest that the complexity of the rules is a major contributor to the frequency with which a RL blip results in DM overload and completely derails a game. Many (most?) online BR games seem to run with the DM at full stretch as a matter of routine - even a slight problem for him therefore risks being critical for the entire game. For those games (e.g. RoE and LEBR, from what I've seen) that manage to divide up the work among active and responsible teams, things can work very well - but that's not something that can often be implemented.
One frequently-proposed or wished-for solution is to computerise everything and let electrons do the drudge work - but the software produced over the years has never met with universal approval, and has always had its idiosyncracies. Certainly, a point of OOC interest while playing (the hugely enjoyable) Rjurik Winds was discovering - usually at the same time as the DM - quite what house rules / changes had been built into the version of BirMail in use.
So how about paring down the rules themselves, rather than coding them into software or having to draft in teams of helpers? What can be kept, and still retain the "feel" of Birthright?
A frequently-used notion's to streamline income - make GB returns as reliable and swift to calculate as 2e RP income - but this can have thematic problems, forces changes in law claims, and in any case only affects what are surely among the least complex of the sets of rolls a DM's likely to have to make while resolving a turn. For a large group it's a real time-saver, but it doesn't seem to do much to help with game survival.
Another streamlining option's the simplification of characters: I first came across a stat-free, level-free, skills-only set-up long ago in one of Solmyr's games. Personally, I liked the streamlining, though many BR players very strongly want to have more detailed sheets that let them send their characters off on heroic adventures rather than being restricted to playing the domain-level game.
My individual happiness with a stripped-down sheet aside, few games stall in chargen: prospective players can certainly be put off by a lengthy and complex sign-up procedure, but it's rarely the creation of numbers for their character sheet that brings them to a halt. Similarly, most DMs I've spoken to only reference a few skills on even the most complex of character sheets - Administration, Diplomacy, Intrigue, Law, Religion, and Strategy will cover almost everything that arises for most regents, and many will use just one or two abilities throughout years of IC time....
I'd suggest that the key problems tend to be the resolution of conflicts and the use of (realm) magic. Both are notorious for destroying games, yet the chance to be directly involved in grand ventures in these fields is what draws many people to the setting in the first place.
So... what's the essential minimum rules structure for Birthright (or for various forms of it - the "adventuring regent" and "domain-level-only" games would have different requirements)? The barest possible domain-leading ruleset is arguably Diplomacy, which has been adapted to all sorts of home-brew maps and settings over the years - but what (beyond Diplomacy's map divided into provinces, encouragement of negotiation, and basic conflict resolution mechanic) is required to make a game offer the key things that Birthright does?
Off the top of my head, I might suggest the following:
- Provinces are the basic unit of visible control and power, and provide variable incomes due to varying potential and development
- Holdings within those provinces provide options for active use of power, are of multiple types, and vary in value
- Holdings are dependent upon the provinces in which they are found for much of their value
- All holdings are of significant use, and each type should offer options the others do not
- At domain level, characters act almost solely through their holdings
- Conflict should be able to take multiple forms, violent and otherwise, with rules available for use where necessary
- The capabilities of the character should have an impact, as well as the capabilities of the player
- Characters and domains need not be equal for the game to be enjoyable or successes to be open to all
- Characters must interact with each other and NPCs in ways that don't depend on resolution mechanics: there must be role-playing, not just rolling
As examples of points that I'm unsure about - are they fundamental to a "Birthright" feel or not? - a couple might be:
- Income is derived in two forms - one monetary, the other permitting the use or creation of holdings in appropriate ways
- Income is variable
- Military units are bought individually, vary by race and region, and provide options for the player to customise an army for specific opponents or missions, introducing some degree of OOC "wargaming skill" alongside IC abilities
So... any thoughts? Or is this far too long for anyone to wade through?
11-27-2008, 07:31 AM #2
The rules of the game certainly have an impact on how a game evolves - if you have rules that allow - nay encourage - massive construction of roads and trade routes early on, only to see income skyrocket...that is what you will get. Not because you have bad players, but because they are...players
Some goes for heroic regent's - if you allow them to accomplish miracles when adventuring, they will. If the use of realm spells is overpowered and/or ambitious, you will run into trouble. And the list goes on.
So rules do help determine what course the game will take, but I will claim that the rule set used, is not what kills PbeMs. It might contribute, if it is a poor rule set full of holes or if the DM doesn't know it well enough, but it is not the make or break. So I don't think streamlining or simplifying the rules is a fix...players will use the framework of whatever rule set there is, so it will be up to the DM to judge and to guide and make sure that the game runs smoothly from a mechanical point of view, regardless of rules chosen.
Of course, if you use RoE house-rules you'll do very well automatically
11-27-2008, 07:48 AM #3
I would instead suggest that some, if not all, of the following premises need to be satisfied, if a PbeM is to thrive beyond d4-1 turns.
0. Love the game: The DM needs to realize that this will be a lot of hard work. It will even be frustrating or plain boring at time. Well, if the DM can't live with that, he shouldn't have started the game in the first place. How many games die because the DM gets bored, or frustrated, or doesn't have fun anymore? Probably a lot. Well, DM's should have fun, but if they think its ONLY going to be fun, the game is doomed.
1. Start small, then expand: Or at least don't start a bigger game than you can handle. Why would a lone DM need to fill ALL of Anuire only to burn out in d4-1 turns, when he could start a smaller game in one of the regions and have a lor of fun fr a long time? Megalomania most likely...but a game doesn't have to be gigantic to be fun.
2. Don't hand out every domain: There is a reason why the setting was made with PC and NPC domains. Awnies are obvious, but IMO DM should definitely avoid handing out every big realm. Avanil, Boeruine, Ghoere, and Mhoried - there is a reason why they are listed as NPC. I like to add many of the non-human realms as well, but that is just me. This gives the DM the ability to help direct the course of events - the game IS about the PC domains, but if the DM abandons all control it will be a boring game quickly.
3. Don't ignore NPCs: Along the same lines; DMs who ignore NPC domains is not doing a good job. NPC domains that behave weakly - or don't act at all - are plain silly. They are not the just to be eaten by the players. They need to be played, and if the DM isn't prepared to do that, he shouldn't be DMing in the first place.
4. The OOC curse: Ancient enemies don't instantly form alliances over MSN in Cerilia. Yet they tend to do that in RL. Well, the DM should be prepared to enforce a little something called 'role-playing' - and players who act completely out of character - especially when it comes to diplomacy - should be chastised, or kicked out if the problem persists. Oh, and there is an action called diplomacy. Make it count. Make players talk IC. Give them a DC on the action - and push is waaay up there if the alliance is completely silly.
11-27-2008, 02:10 PM #4
I'd wondered about making this into two separate threads: "what ideas do people have to help games last?", and "what's the minimum ruleset that could keep a "Birthright" feel?"
RoE, I confess, seemed tempting every time I went to have a look - but the sheer weight of alternate rules to learn and mass of prior history proved more than a little off-putting, especially merely to sign up to be on a waiting-list of unknown length and duration.
Perhaps now that there aren't dozens of actions of history to catch up on as well as the alternate rules to absorb....
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