Hi, I’m Drew, professional Game Master and amateur opinionated guy. I see lots of things posted online and I want to get involved in discussions on all of them, but I don’t have the time to think about reasoned responses to everything. So instead, I’m going to respond to the top 5 D&D related things in my Facebook news feed and see where this take me. Should the GM be trying to kill the characters? Can the world survive a Superman vampire? Read on…
1. A sponsored post for Hero Wars
I spend a lot of my time on my computer, including having a few tabs of social media open; I don’t use my phone for it often, which is slightly jarring when you begin to see the shift in instructions going from “click here” to “tap here” or “touch here”… I don’t have a touchscreen on this device, what are you talking about confounded thing?
Still, rebel that I am I clicked on the “tap to play” instruction. It’s a flash game that’s full of all the bait you’d expect from it’s kind; it funnels you into tutorialized menus and levels that look the same as the game proper so it’s familiar to you, only the important things to click on are highlighted. You start a level and bask in the awesome but simple gameplay!
That’s right, in this game you… watch a flash animation of two opposing forces perform attack animations. They repeat until the health bar of one side or the other drops to nothing and then we move on to the next part of the level, where the same thing happens again. Three times we have these “encounters” and watch the same animations cycle through.
The only input you have during the actual gameplay is to activate the special moves when the obligatory “special gauge” is filled, the means by which it does this being completely unexplained. Presumably, you just watch it fill as the animation loops complete.
Now granted, the cartoony style has its charm and the rapid progress you can make in levelling up characters and getting new characters is great in a Skinner box addiction model sort of way, but it isn’t enriching anyone and doesn’t have a story to tell. It’s worse than Candy Crush because there’s no strategy or gameplay involved.
The menu has other areas not marked “Campaign” or “Marketplace”, but they’re locked away until you breach a level barrier; they’re only brightly coloured promises of something ever-so-slightly different to encourage you to stay and play day after day, and eventually capitulate and spend money on it.
It has the usual “energy” requirements, meaning you have to play in short bursts or pay to buy more energy so you can keep… you’re not even playing, really, just watching animations until a light comes on and then pressing a button.
I have a special place in my heart set aside for the disdain I feel for this game and its ilk. I shan’t waste any more time on it.
2. Good vampires?
The Tavern At The End Of The Internet is a decent group; everyone’s willing to have a good hearty discussion about all sorts of gaming things.
The question posed is whether you can have a good-aligned vampire in an RPG, Buffy, Angel and Twilight notwithstanding.
Well… can we? Vampires are often the antagonist in stories, from Dracula in… well, Dracula, to Kain in the Legacy of Kain series.
But is Kain evil? He’s certainly not good-aligned, at least not in the majority of media we see him in. He starts out as the protagonist but quickly is shown to serve his own ends. An anti-hero at best. Raziel that follows him seems to be in conflict, an anti-villain almost by the way he seems to blunder into making things worse as a pawn of greater powers despite having the best of intentions.
Blade from Marvel Comics is similarly in the selfish vein of superheroes, like Punisher and Power Man, although not without a moral compass. All these heroes want the greater good achieved of less suffering in the world, but extend themselves less than others might in order to achieve it. They’re the stereotypical anti-hero, the marauder with a heart of gold.
Do vampires have to be this way — self-interested but willing to deviate from a purely selfish path if it doesn’t inconvenience them too much? The short answer is no. They can be outright villains and be completely removed from mortal concerns, but they can also be exemplars of everything good in the world.
Consider what makes a vampire a vampire in the first place. They have a need to consume blood, but even if it has to come from a living source this doesn’t mean they have to stalk strangers and attack them in dark corners. Instead, consider the frequency and style of blood requirement for your vampires in your RPG. Do they need to drink blood daily, weekly, monthly or even just whenever they need supernatural healing? Is it an overpowering hunger or is it simply a need? Even if it’s the latter, if an immortal being can be seen as beneficial to a tribe surely some manner of concubine blood donor wouldn’t be outside the realm of believability.
Superman needs the sun to maintain his powers, and in most incarnations is functionally immortal. He could be a solar vampire. The more traditional vampire could simply take on a similar mantle while being weak to sunlight, not kryptonite, and is powered by blood instead of sunlight.
Now I want to run a Mutants & Masterminds game with a Superman vampire gone amok by building a sphere around the sun to capture all the solar energy and store in some McGuffin crystal so he gets all the power.
3. A video with Keegan Michael Key playing Skyrim using Alexa (Amazon Echo)
Shared in two groups I’m in, A Bunch Of Dads (Gaming) and The Geek Rebellion Group, this video is half joke and half trailer. The joke half has Keegan playing Skyrim like an audio-only version of a text adventure game, with the Amazon Echo giving descriptions and Keegan shouting instructions and getting very enthusiastic.
It plays into the trope of the overly-enthusiastic hobbyist and the long-suffering partner that doesn’t understand, but it’s short and funny.
The second half, though, had me intrigued. I don’t follow game news, so the second half was good to see; Quake is getting some sort of online arena game that looks a lot like the weekends my friends and I would play Quake 3: Arena. It has a free playable thing online that I’ve yet to download, but from the looks of it it’s the full game that’s free until June 17, at which point one assumes you have to pay for it.
4. Local Gaming Shop post
A recently opened local gaming shop in Leeds, UK has been great with their social media lately. This was a post showcasing what the week ahead has in store, as well as a reminder of the RPG evening hosted on Mondays.
The Geek Retreat is a great spot that I’ve been to a couple of times myself. It’s mostly a hybrid gaming space and cafe, with some geek paraphernalia available for sale. The library of games for you to try out is a decent size, and The Gaming Manatee and D20 Advice, as well as other professional gaming services, often attend and run events there to expand on the list.
If you’re in the north of the UK, it’s worth checking them out.
5. Is the GM trying to kill the Players?
Of course not. The players are the people playing the game, and no-one intends on committing actual crimes at the gaming table. (I hope!)
But should the GM be trying to kill the characters? It’s a complicated question to answer off hand because of complexities in the English language.
In the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Facebook group this question was posed recently, citing that a player had left the game because the Dungeon Master answered “yes” to the question “Are you trying to kill us?”
You see, D&D and its allies have their origins in classic wargaming, where opposing teams would field armies and compete to the last person standing. Early roleplaying games evolved from this and as such carried over the mentality of players versus the world of the GM; while introducing teamwork and camaraderie it wasn’t without competition.
Later editions and decades of trial, error and refinement in the wider hobby have broadened the scope of these games into a medium unto itself, with its own conventions and tropes. Films have gory slashers, high-concept science fiction and big budget action adventure outings. You have small student comedy sketches and huge multi-genre productions made in Bollywood. All of these things we expect from the medium of cinema, and we have similar diversity in our games.
So should the GM be trying to kill the PC’s? There’s no correct answer, really. Some players will enjoy story without consequence and danger, and might simply accept combat as a mechanical quirk that’s part of the legacy of the thing. Others want risk but fear the results, feeling all the highs of victory and all the lows of defeat and flip-flopping between needing those rushes and wanting to play it safe. Others still want a gritty Dark Souls-style tactics and strategy game where every move needs to be calculated and death lurks around every corner.
As GMs, we provide a world. It might be the world our players want, it might not. We might take their needs into consideration, or we might pull an Alfred Hitchcock and insist on admission being refused after the start of the movie; you’re entering the world of the GM’s making and the genre, plot and style are going to be completely unknown to you beforehand. This can be a lot of fun for players too, if they’re into that sort of thing.
If you’re playing a game, through collaborative decision or GM decree, where the world is dangerous, and characters are meant to be either transitory or incidental to the plot, then the GM probably should be trying to kill the PC’s from time to time. Or at the very least, presenting an actual danger and playing the elements in that scene or encounter as if they truly wanted to achieve their goal of killing the PC’s.
If you’re playing a narrative game with a focus on characters and how they interplay with either each other, the plot, or both, then character death isn’t something the GM should be trying to do; instead the NPC’s might still be trying to achieve that goal, but contrivances have been arranged so that doesn’t happen (a deus ex machina hiding in the wings, or suddenly the zombie horde isn’t hungry any more).
I’m a professional GM as well as a writer here at Nerdarchy. Check out my pricing and inquire about booking a game over on my Facebook page or on Looking For GM, and check out more useful videos on my own YouTube channel. I was recently interviewed about being a professional GM on Looking For GM’s podcast here.
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