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...


  1. Chirine: Thank you for the thoughtful (and thorough) answer!
    : )

    1. You are very welcome! I hope I managed to answer your questions; I do carry on and on and on... :)

      And thank you for your very kind post on your blog! I thought that it was both insightful and informative!

      - chirine

  2. Thank you for that insight, Chirine. From our email conversation, I had gathered that your go-to system is this:

    1) We both roll dice.
    2) If you roll high, your view of reality prevails.
    3) If I roll high, my view of reality prevails.
    4) If we’re close, we negotiate.

    Am I assuming correctly that your experiences in the old EPT rules somehow colors your interpretation of the rolls?

    Thank you!

    1. You're welcome! Yes, you have it exactly. I am very bad at 'real mathematics', but very, very good at probability and statistics - I can do them in my head very rapidly, and I tend to think in 'bell curves'. I use the old EPT - which isn't really that 'old' for me, as I'm as old as it is :) - as the basis for my 'stats', which in turn do influence the rolls and results. I pretty much 'know', going into the combat round, what the statistically likely results are going to be under the rules; the players roll, and those rolls indicate how the 'average result' is modified for that combat round. I 'weight' / 'bias' the average on the 'normal curve' as per the factors as given in EPT, per the Professor, and apply the dice rolls to that modified curve.

      About all I can say is try watching the videos on my You Tube channel to see how this works in practice. I do the number-crunching in my head, and try very hard not to let it get in the way of the flow of the game or the players' enjoyment.

      I think it may be just long practice; I was at this for a very long time out at the Professor's, and actually just about as long here in my game group - we've been at this since 2002, for goodness' sake!

      Does any of this help! Please do feel free at ask questions!!!

      - chirine

    2. Thanks, this helps... one more question, though. We've been using this system for a very long time, as well (that is, a very similar system).

      How do you handle hit points and damage? I really wing it, for instance: A first level fighting man against a three dice opponent will take one or two hits, tops, before he goes down.

      Watching the (great) videos, I get the impression, you don't roll for damage and kind of play very freeform, as well.

      Thanks, brother!
      And good to hear you're healing up! :-)

    3. Thank you, once again, for your question!

      I tend not to worry about hit points during a game session; if somebody gets hit, they get hit. I usually use the percentile dice score as a guide to how bad the hit is - if the score is really low, the attack usually misses anyway, but if it's really high then the damage to the target is proportionally worse.

      I do roll for specifics 'off stage', after the game session and as part of the 'meta game' for the campaign. My assumption is that the uninjured members of the party are much more concerned with casualty evacuation and immediate first aid then they are in the specific details of hit points and such.

      Like you, I wing it - anything to move the game along!

      And thanks for the kind words - I do feel better, if still a little sore... :)

      - chirine

  3. A wonderful recap, and I must say your players are lucky to have someone like you who can keep all those numbers in his head. I've been doing D&D for 37 years, and I still find myself looking up tables.

    1. Thank you! I honestly don't 'know' how I do this; it just seems instinctive, in a way. We have fun, and I think that's what's important...

      - chirine

  4. Thanks for this glimpse "behind the curtain". It's always reassuring to see other games where the players don't sweat the details.

    My guiding philosophy has always been keep the pace up and as long as everyone's having fun, the exact modifiers to the die rolls don't really matter. What makes for an exciting adventure (within the guidelines of the dice roll, of course) is most important.

    I'm pretty sure I adopted that frame of mind after reading an article about either Prof Barker or Dave Arneson many years ago!

    1. You're welcome! I think that I have been at this for so long, it's more 'reflex' then anything else. I do like how you describe your games - that's what I hope to achieve!

      I agree with you about not being too fanatic about the numbers; I had a player, once, who wanted to run a game here in the game group. He's a real 'number-cruncher', who really likes to do the in-game accounting and book-keeping, and he had to deal with my usual gang of anarchists.

      It just didn't work. All of his 'reflexes' are D & D 4.0, with all the 'Feats', 'Leaps', and what have you, and theirs are based in Bruanstein. At one point, he turned to me and pleaded "How do you handle this?!?" :)

      - chirine

    2. Ha ha! I don't have the mental capacity to remember all the tricks and feats etc of the latter iterations of D&D after AD&D (which is why we've now settled on the very simple and straight-forward system of Heroes & Other Worlds).

      I don't object to a bit of number-crunching when I'm setting up an adventure, but once the whistle blows for kick-off and the dice start rolling, I need the crunching to slip into the background!

    3. Hear! Hear! I agree whole-heartedly!

      - chirine