Ode To The Natural 20

I could fight a monster with AC of 65

And have combat stats so low, I’m not sure how I’m still alive

But thanks to you I’ve still a 5 percent chance to hit

And, if I’m really lucky, maybe even score a crit

 

I love to see the curves of your two and of your zero

When you show up it makes me feel as though I am a hero

Unstoppable, unbeatable, until that basterd One

Shows up at last to take a giant shit on all my fun

 

Oh, Natural 20, I wish that you were on each side

 

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What’s Your Favorite Game Mechanic?

I have gotten a couple of interesting suggestions for things to blog about, buy they require a fair amount of research and preparation, and I’ve been distracted by my attempts to decrease my overall volume. So instead this week’s post is going to be a question. You may have noticed that I’ve kind of got a thing for game mechanics. My question for you, dear reader, is this: are there any game mechanics that you love? By that I mean, it’s the mechanic itself you love, not the benefits it gives your character. Have you ever read a rule in a game book and just said “wow, that’s a cool way of doing that”? A mechanic you want to use, not so much because it works for your character or story, but just because it’s a shiny new toy you want to play with. I have. Here’s one example.

The Hero’s Guide for the revised edition of D20 Star Wars has a suppression fire mechanic. With a multifire or autofire weapon you can, as a full round action, make an attack check on a 4 meter by 4 meter area. If the attack is successful, than as long as you maintain your suppression fire (that continues to be a full round action) you get to make ranged attacks of opportunity to anyone in that area. This mechanic gives me a nerd boner for two reasons:

  1. This system takes the concept of attacks of opportunity and flips it on it’s head in a way that totally makes sense. Normally attacks of opportunity are, by nature, melee attacks. The idea of ranged attacks of opportunity is weird, almost nonsensical, but here it works.
  2. The mechanic is a nearly perfect representation of how suppression fire works in real life! Most game mechanics have a fair amount of abstraction and need to be taken with a grain of salt (e.g. yes I survived that called shot to the head from your 50 caliber handgun because your damage roll was 2 lower than what’s needed to kill me), but this one is very true to life. If someone successfully establishes suppression fire, your character would have to be either an idiot or completely desperate to walk into the threatened area. And that’s the whole point of suppression fire, not to attack people but to keep them away.

My eyes lit up when I first read this, and as I’ve been planning the Star Wars game I’m starting real soon, I’ve been fighting the urge to give all of my npcs E-webs just so I can point out this awesome mechanic to my players, who would certainly be too distracted by their level 1 characters being pinned down and unable to accomplish anything to give a rat’s ass about it. (By the way, to any of my players reading this, suppression fire can be done with any multi- or autofire weapon, including a standard blaster pistol, so you can do this too!)

So yeah… how about you? What’s your favorite game mechanic?

Follow Up: Help a Blogger Out!

Ideas! I need ’em! Please let me know about anything you’d like to see me write about. Obviously I’m mainly looking for RPG related topics, but I don’t mind venturing into other fields on occasion. I’ll accept suggestions via comments also, either here or on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter. Thanks for reading.

Story Points and Doctor Who

I’ve been holding on to this one for a while, waiting for the right time to talk about it. As it happens, “the right time” is today when I can’t really think about anything else to talk about. So here goes, some of my thoughts on Cubicle 7’s Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space.

First, let me point out that I haven’t even looked at the books for this game that I have, let alone looked at any new material, for quite some time, so for all I know it’s possible that this is longer applicable. I hope changes have been made, but I can’t be bothered to follow up because this game made me so mad that I’ve kind of disowned it.

I ran a Doctor Who game a couple of years ago, and the experience, for me, was not fun and just frustrating. I put a lot of the blame for that on myself, but the game itself has a lot of problems. The really weird thing is, though, that most of the cons with the game are things that I thought would be pros. Sometimes you can’t tell how good or bad a system will be until you’ve actually played it. There was one particular problem that I think is the worst, so I’m going to talk about that. I might get into others the next time I’m stumped for a topic; perhaps an essay on the difficulties of role playing a Dalek without breaking the narrative drama (it’s hard).

DW:AITAS is one of a lot of games lately that have “plot points” or “story points” or another kind of point system that gives players a degree of control over the game, making the running of the world a little more collaborative. Generally speaking, I like them. Before running my Doctor Who game, I played a Battlestar Galactica game that had a similar mechanic that didn’t cause any problems. Players can spend these points to get bonus dice or make small “edits” to the world, like “I’d like to spend a story point to have something nearby I can take cover behind.” Mutants and Masterminds also has a similar thing, “hero points” that also lets a player retry failed rolls, overcome negative conditions, and other neat things. The story points in Doctor Who have two problems though. First, your character’s story points replenish every session, so there is no motivation to ration them, especially since most characters have 12. This problem is made worse by the second, which is that you can spend story points to turn failed rolls into successes – not just get a second chance, as in M&M, but actually convert failure to success for 1-3 points, depending on how bad your roll was. In fact, the only way you can lose a roll is by running out of points or choosing to fail… which in turn gives you a story point. It’s difficult to present players with difficult challenges when they can choose whether or not to fail. It completely misses the point of rolling dice in the first place.

Story points, or whatever you want to call them, are a great way of empowering players, but when they disempower GMs, making even a starting character powerful enough to do almost anything, it makes the game broken.