Saturday, February 24, 2018

Rule Books? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Rule Books!

A few weekends ago I went with some friends to spend some time in northern Wisconsin to hit up some breweries, see dog sled racing and enjoy some time in a big house reading by a fire. It was very relaxing, but the drive up there was destined to be lacking 4G and instill pressure for intimate conversation. Being super nerdy, we could not allow ourselves to get trapped by the pitfalls of other road trips playing the ABC or license plate game. We decided to delve delve into the darkest depths of our minds and use our IMAGINATIONS.

It was an interesting proposal. One of our friends had never witnessed or experienced Dungeons and Dragons before. We didn't have any guide books with us, nor did we have any dice. No problem. I quickly scrambled to search online for a simple dice simulator that would work in the web browser of my phone. My other friend began to set the scene of our tale and we began to weave tales of the characters we were playing. Let me tell you the story of our wacky improv game where the rules were made up and the difficulty checks were completely arbitrary.

The Quest for the Golden Shower Cap

It was myself, Sadie the rogue, along with a warrior and a wizard. We had traveled to a remote location deep in northern lands searching for the most elusive mythical item of them all: the Golden Shower Cap. It was said that whomever possessed this odd artifact would find themselves "showered" with riches daily, unable to spend the accumulation of wealth they could expect to come into. Upon further investigation at the tiny village that rested just outside the glacier caves, where rumor told of the Golden Shower Cap's location, the townsfolk insisted the item was well guarded in the largest cavern by a dragon (or as they called them, flying fire cats). After spending some time harassing the local bar owner and lightening the gold from the cash register, we moved on to talk with his brother, Billy Bob, who was a renowned dog sled owner.

Billy Bob was an agreeable sort, and he was inclined to help take us to our destination with the aid of his sled dogs. He had a condition, however: he desperately craved to have some venison to eat. Being a terrible hunter, he needed our assistance to bring him some fresh meat. In secret, we all realized we were in no better a position to help him with his hunting needs. Thinking we could fool old Billy Bob, we headed to the local horse ranch to test if we couldn't pass a pony off to appease his appetite.

Once at the ranch, I did my best to distract the farmer who worked there. I pretended to be a clumsy lass and he was quite irritated with me as I fell into crate after crate inside the barnyard area. As he came to clean up the mess I was making, my comrades tried to make off with the horse. In doing so, they met a stable boy who provided the names of every horse at the ranch. Knowing their names, we didn't have the heart to butcher them.

Desperate to find the Golden Shower Cap, we decided to steal old Billy Bob's sled dogs and make our way to the glacier on our own. A chase scene ensued which played out much like a round of Mario Kart with oil, sleeping bags, and various other materials being thrown to obstruct our pursuer. We soon outmaneuvered Billy Bob and made it to the glacier cave entrance.

Once inside, we were given three paths: a tunnel moving towards an incline, a level path straight forward, or one that descended into darkness. We went up and met a Snorlax guarding a heap of treasure. We tried taking some of the loot and invevitably caused it to cascade down into the room, waking the Snorlax and forcing us to flee out of the room before he could catch us. We then descended down, where we met the dreaded flying fire cat. It was sleeping and we discovered how to pacify it by simply scratching its belly. It seemed friendly much to our surprise, and it offered to simply give us the golden shower cap in exchange for something it wanted; an herb that was sealed within glass in the middle cavern. This fire cat nip was much desired by the beast, and we agreed to make a deal.

In the middle cave, we navigated a very fragile looking cavern network. My character needed to take her pants off after they were caught on a piece of stone and looked as if they would collapse the entire cavern if tugged on. We navigated through and came upon a chamber where we could see a large glass aquarium which surrounded an air pocket in the middle which contained a pedestal where the dry cat nip rested. We recognized that the fire cat probably couldn't get inside for fear of getting wet - we had no issues with becoming drenched so we went to work to shatter the glass shell of the aquarium. The water which rushed forth caused one of our party members to get rushed back into the dilapidated cavern and caused an avalanche. A hole in the ceiling was present and so we took the catnip and climbed up and out, back with a very upset Snorlax. Using a technique right out of the Empire Strikes Back scene on Hoth, we used two characters with ropes to run circles around the Snorlax to bind his feet and cause him to trip and fall. Navigating back to the flying fire cat, we delivered the cat nip and were wealthy for the rest of our days...

...At least one of us was. There was kind of a last minute betrayal by one of the party members and we were almost to our destination so the resolution of the story got kind of sloppy.

What Elements are Important for a Role-Playing Game?

This experiment with on the fly, 100% improvisational D&D got me thinking: what really makes a tabletop role-playing game? The level of fun and entertainment I had with this game was about on-par with any other one-shot I have ever played. Mechanically it was extremely dubious...we were rolling a d20 to resolve anything that happened that potentially had a consequence. No modifiers were really involved or character stats other than an abstract idea of health and mortality. The only goal or objective was to have fun.

It was a refreshing experience and reinforced the "rule of cool" - the notion that the DM should disregard the rules when it may allow for something really interesting and engaging that the players will be entertained by. I have often felt that my favorite games to run are with newbies that have no command of the rules, because they always seem more liberated to allow their imaginations run wild and describe to me what they want to try. They aren't thinking about mechanics; they are describing what they are doing and putting it in my court to interpret what they are attempting and apply the rules to their situation to resolve the outcome.

I love what Wizards of the Coast has done with 5e because they have provided a pretty well thought out system that gives me as a DM enough flexibility to allow fun ideas from the players to succeed in a fairly unobtrusive way (simplicity of skill checks and advantage/disadvantage is a godsend). I love Dungeon Crawl Classics just as much, if not more, because the system and the adventures that get written for it are just wacky and beg for players to come up with oddball ideas to accomplish their goals.

I don't have a lot of player experience so my view on game systems is usually from a DM perspective. What elements of a role-playing game do you seek out? What is appealing or unappealing about systems you have tried? Drop a comment and share your thoughts!

1 comment:

  1. Your improvised game has an old school feel to it. Thanks for sharing, hoss!


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