Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Saturday Matinee: An Attempt At Explaining How I Run My Games

If you find the use of miniatures in Role-Playing Games offensive,
look away now; you are about to be appalled and mortified.

What we're going on with today is trying to explain (somehow!) how I run my little offerings on the game table. This is in response to two very intelligent comments made by two of our Regular Readers:

From JB:
If you don't mind revealing, is there a particular edition/system of Tekumel you're using for your micro-campaign? I don't recognize it (though I'm not especially familiar with Tekumel as a system). It's reminiscent of an older war-game style (like OD&D's "Chainmail" version) save that it uses percentile dice.

From Dwight Grosso:
Your rule system seems pretty easy to play with from what I can tell. It sounds like the method you've described from the old days. Thank you so much for sharing your efforts with the rest of us!

First off, thank you both for your very kind comments! I'll try and answer you both - bear with me...

I think I need to explain at the start of this essay that I don't think of Tekumel as an 'edition/system' object; I think of it as a 'world setting'. I think this comes out of my time as a F/SF fan, talking to authors like Gordy Dickson, Larry Niven, and Cliff Simak about what old F/ SF fans refer to as 'world-building' in writing. I first got interested in Tekumel as a world, and not really as a game - that came later, some time after I started going out to Phil's. I was brought on board to paint figures for him, and the rest - as they say - is history.

To answer JB, though, I'd have to say that I am grounded in what I started playing out at Phil's all those years ago: "Empire of the Petal Throne", the RPG from TSR. Over the years since then, I have added in the elements of the later RPGs that were published for Tekumel, such as "Swords and Glory" and "Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne". In my 'straight RPG' games, I use all of them at once; I have players that have been rolled up in all the various systems, and I do the number-crunching for them in my head as we game.

"Empire of the Petal Throne" (EPT), as it is, actually makes a pretty good 'miniatures game' set of rules as written; back in the day, we fought out our Underworld encounters on the table, and the rules took this into account; if you have up to a dozen figures on a side, it works nicely as a game.

For my usual kind of larger 'skirmish games', though, I much prefer to use rules that are as simple and as fast-playing as possible. Back in those ancient days, we all played the original "Chainmail", and it became what amounted to 'The Standard Game' for the ancient to medieval periods in our games. It got to the point where we could run the game without looking at the rules, and resolve combats simply by dice rolling because we all knew how the combat tables worked. This really sped play up - as you can see in the videos I have up on You Tube, we move along at a pretty fast pace.

Now, these days I use percentile dice in combat resolution - the increased range of numbers allows for what I think of as a 'finer grain' to the results; I have my players roll, and then I do the numbers to go from the old rules to modern dice in my head. I announce the results, and we move right along. I use several assumptions, based on EPT and OD&D, which are pretty simple: longer weapons hit first, all combat happens at the same time, and the number of attacks you get it equal to the number of hands / manipulative appendages you have. Spells may add or subtract from that, too.

Speed of play! Keep it simple! Over the years, especially out at the Professors, we all pretty much knew what was going to happen when we hit somebody with a mace or cast a spell; we rolled percentile dice to give Phil an idea just how we were doing at any particular moment in the proceedings, and Phil would use those die rolls to add color and form to the mayhem. Roll spectacularly, good or bad, and Phil would make up something  - on the spot! - to liven things up:

Chirine: "I roll - I got a 79! Read it and weep, Barker!!!"

Phil (grumbles): "The Sarku priest gets a dying chop, though. (rolls) HAH!!! Double ought!! You get a dagger in the guts!!! Somebody's going to have stitch you back up, after this is over! (laughs happily at my discomfort.)

And so on.

Because I've been 'doing Tekumel' for so long, I can pretty much run the rules in my head, simply take in the numbers as the players generate them, and come up with the kind of "Action! Adventure! Romance!" style of gaming that my players seem to enjoy. The game is the thing - use any set of rules that you like, your players like, and that you are comfortable using!!! You can use Tekumel, the world-setting, with just about any set of rules; I've seen it used with everything from the original D & D to modern games like FATE, and it does work. You could use any set of miniatures rules as well - Neal Cauley, the owner of Phoenix Games here in the Twin Cities and a very long-time Tekumel player, uses "Warhammer" to great effect and fun, and other games such as "Song of Blades and Heroes" would work just as well.

My style is to keep the number-crunching down to a bare minimum for the players, ad to keep the pace fast and furious. The world is the thing - Adventure! Excitement! Thrills! Chills! Spills!

Know your world-setting; know your rules! Be prepared, and keep it loose and stay alert - your players will throw the most off-the-wall stuff at you, and you need to roll with what they come up with. Be ready and willing to 'fake it' as needed, if that's what will keep the action going - if your set of rules has a roll for grappling hooks, use it, but be prepared for things like the players trying to catch somebody with a grappling hook and pull them off  a ship. (like in "The Sea Hawks"; see the clip)

So, yes, what I do is easy and fun for the players; it's a bit of work for me, but that's what I'm here for.

Does any of this help answer your questions? Thoughts? Comments?

And now, here's the matinee movie for you... :)

"The Sea Hawk", directed my Michael Curtiz, starring Errol Flynn, and one of Dave Arneson's favorite movies...