Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What do you need to start playing?

I started my DF game with:

- some players. Not all of them, just some. Five guys started, and now we're up to 7 with some talk of adding more if we can think of local folks we'd like to spend Sundays with.
- a list of playable races and stats for them. Those races had about 1-3 sentences of fluff text.
- a list of acceptable templates (for you class & level folks, read as "class" or "profession.")
- a dungeon to bash on for a few sessions.
- a map from the civilized spot to the dungeon, in case they went a bit astray.

I was able to put that stuff together in only a few weeks, an hour here or an hour there, as needed. I could have done all of it in a day if I needed to. Thanks to using GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, I was able to do this stuff by simply picking out what I needed and discarding what I didn't. I didn't need to make much up.

I didn't have:

- religions mapped out. I put "Good God" as a placeholder on the cleric's sheet and he ran with it, all, Good God Y'all style. It went from placeholder to real name.
- a name for the world. I still don't.
- a map of the play area. I still don't.
- a name for the megadungeon I was planning to add ASAP. Or anything more than a vague idea of where it would be. I wasn't even sure if the game would be "convert AD&D and Rolemaster stuff and roll around from dungeon to dungeon" or "have a base and a megadungeon" or not. Not 100%, although I was leaning to the latter.
- most of the details of my game world you might know from reading our session summaries.

I write up monsters as I think of them or need them. NPCs, too. I map just ahead of the players. I write down the crazy crap they say and make it true about the game world. I make crap up and make it stick. I rule stuff off the cuff ("rulings not rules" is a good way to roll during a session) and then I write them down and use them again if we like the results (because that's how you make rules).

The upside to this kind of approach is, you get the game rolling quickly. Your enthusiasm is up. So is that of the players. You're three sessions in and on a play schedule before you realize it. You left so much blank you can afford to let the players fill it in. Strike while the iron is hot, don't wait until you've figured it all out.

Why not? Takes too long. You have to write it up, then teach it to/pass it on to the players (instead of letting them decide what it is), and then make sure what's going in fits in with what's there already. Why not just start playing?


  1. I guess I am the exact opposite, I need a good setting first and then I can more easily put adventures into it. I like the human culture to be well defined and realistic to act as a backdrop to the crazyness of the dungeon. Ars Magica and the World of Darkness are some of my favorite settings because they give some authenticity to the mythical creatures found in the dungeon. Afterall all of the creatures, magic items and myths came from the beliefs from the real world so that is why I like a setting based on the real world.

    1. The upside to the real world as a basis is you don't really need to do that much because the players know a lot of the basics already.

      But really, I've yet to find a game done with 10x as much prep as I do that was 10x as much better. And I've lot a lot of games founder at "and we never got started." I think my argument really comes down to, get the game going - really going - and THEN start putting effort into it.

  2. I remember when I first got Dungeon Fantasy years ago. I spent hours trying to work up two sets of balanced npc parties, one of dwarves, the other of goblins. I printed them out with GURPS Character Assistant, but I wasn't ever satisfied with them. I spent a few hours working up a half-orc barbarian character or something... but I was overwhelmed with all the skills and advantages on it.

    That's where my DF campaign foundered.... I finally ended up running the adventure from GURPS Humanx by forum post, so I finally found something. That game got off the ground because (a) I could learn the rules slowly and on the fly and (b) the players could play ANYTHING they wanted and the adventure would still work just fine.

    1. I can see that happening. Why did you need two balanced parties like that, anyway? I think the better approach is like what you did with X1 - just run it and see what happens.

    2. I think I was trying to play "Car Wars" with GURPS and that I didn't really understand what role playing was, yet.

  3. I pretty much did the same thing with my current dungeon campaign. I didn't do anything with the religions...players playing a cleric were responsible to create their own religion. I am now backfilling setting details as we go.

    My natural tendency is to start with the span of the cosmos and then work my way down to the subatomic level, spelling out everything in between. However, I also tend to not complete it all because I have a family, a job, and other things to do. Your method here works very well, particularly for a dungeon-based campaign.

    The strength of GURPS DF is that it is all right there. It does mean the GM has to invest a few dollars and a few hours to make sense of it and filter it for the players. But otherwise, get a map, some dice, and go at it.

    1. Yeah, that's why I'm running it. We tried a playtest session of MOTFD just to see, really, if it was as no-prep as it seemed. It wasn't totally no-prep, but it was low-prep, and it was fun.

      We honestly figured we'd play a few sessions, take a break for other games, come back to it, etc. But it's been so fun that, well, I put more work in it (maps of levels, monsters, painting minis, etc.) and we've just kept at it.

  4. I've tried to do something similar in my Transhuman campaign. I spent all my time prepping so character creation when quickly and smoothly and very little time actually preparing the campaign, mostly making it up as we go.

    The problem I have is that I have to create the entire atmosphere of the campaign. I think with something like Dungeon Fantasy, people come in to the campaign with a "sense" of how the campaign is supposed to feel and how its supposed to work. In something like Transhuman, I have to create that feel, which is alot more work.

    As a reference I'm loosely basing my campaign off of the Transhuman module Martingale Security. (which I'm also struggling with, it provides a very basic, and kind of mundane, setting and some characters but very little actual structure or details. Why can't they actually give me the stats for a few NPCs instead of vaguely referencing a page in another book? Why can't they provide maps or something so I don't have to make everything up? Why can't they give me some specific combat/play examples or or at least decision trees/room descriptions so I don't have to do everything? That's what I wanted when I bought the module so I didn't have to do all the work! So disappointing)

    Also, I have 4 players that never have played GURPS before and a DM (me) that hasn't played in a long time. This results in me fudging a lot of rules for combat and stuff as I hate looking stuff up during the campaign. Players seemed to have fun the first time, but for me this lead to a lot of simplistic situations.

    Combat, for example, resulted in generally the first player to shoot (i.e. with initiative) doing enough damage to obliterate the other guy. Fortunately, the characters mostly got to go first. In hindsight, I skipped over many parts that I will implement later, active defenses, dodging etc., that would have made things more interesting, mostly because I didn't want to look things up and our play time was running out anyway.

    Also, how would you handle this situation. Player 1 runs recklessly into an apartment looking for an item even though his Danger Sense tells him the room is very very dangerous. He is stuck in one room of the apartment when an incendiary bomb goes off and he is cut off from all escape. Player 2 a technician/engineer player has the Gizmos Advantage and uses it to find a fire suppression device of some kind in his bags. I want to award Player 2 for quick thinking (this leads to another problem, Player 2, the "technical wizard" player, was designed as more of a non-combat player, so giving him non-combat challenges to make the game interesting is a constant struggle, what should I do? Just make him more combat worthy?) but I also don't want Player 1 to get off without consequences. So I fake a roll, not really knowing what rules apply in this situation anyway, and say that the gizmo partially suppressed the fire, enough for Player 1 to get out alive (but with some smoke inhalation/burning damage) but without the item he was looking for. Kind of worked ok, but I felt like I was just pretty much dictating the outcome.


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