18 October 2011

Back to School, Gaming Thoughts...

Averaging less than a post a month is NOT a way to do a blog...  Must motivate myself to do better.

  So, I had a break after finishing my last semester, but I'm back in classes now taking Diplomacy and War II and Naval History.  Thus far both have been really interesting reading.  Now I know why Oliver Hazard Perry had a class of frigates named after him.  Now I know what postmodernist theory is.  Knowing is half the battle... Yo Joe!

  Tonight we have a visit from our new Arrow adoption caseworker.  Should be interesting to meet the new person on the block who holds our aspirations of parenthood in her hands.  As much as I want to be a dad, the hoop-jumping and the waiting are starting to wear on me, a bit.  Part of me feels like I've already helped raise so many other people's kids that I've done my bit.  I've been working with teenagers for two decades now as a game master/mentor/sci-fi scoutmaster or however one would define the stuff I've been involved with since the mid-90s.  I'd like to think a lot of the teens I've worked with have turned out fine.  In fact, I know a lot of them have.  Not all, but no parent/teacher/mentor is perfect.

  So, speaking of working with kids - the 8th-grader D&D experience has been awesome.  Three of the kids want to learn how to be Dungeon Masters.  In fact, one of them borrowed my old Frank Mentzer Basic and Expert books to learn how to be a DM of old school D&D after I ran some old school as a pickup game.  So far, we're adventuring in my 4e version of Mystara, investigating the odd occurrence of a pair of Owlbears venturing uncharacteristically close to settled lands.  What is driving them out from the deep woods?  The players are enjoying themselves, but sadly the only downside is that I can only run on my few and far between empty Saturdays.  So we're only getting one game session this month.  I am hoping that Dakota, Kiara and Christian become DMs in their own right, so the games can continue after I've imparted the basics of GM wisdom to help them get started.

  I'm now trying to balance two MechWarrior games.  The first, my primary hobby, is of course the Royal Dragoon Guards campaign.  We've had our elections and the new leadership is ready to take Easy Company offworld to begin the next stage of the story.  I think one of the issues I have is information overload - or should I say information archival overload.  I can run the game, but we have so many wonderful tools to log what has happened and make it accessible to the players (Obsidian Portal, texmechs.org, the Yahoo list) that I don't have time to do all the post-game writeups and wiki entries.  I really need to find a way to spread that workload out a little.  But I am very encouraged by the last week's game session.  Some good RP was done, and we got to zoom in on the House Minor of a couple of players who need more face time.

  Speaking of face time, DAMN I could use a Co-GM for the Easy Company campaign.  We're up around 12 players again, and I've got to work on my scene cuts, pacing, and making sure everyone has something to do in a given episode.

  My second MechWarrior game is something of an issue.  When we had our relationship drama blow up a while back, it resulted in this uncomfortable rift.  One of the players who was really a driving force in the game left, and it caused some consternation with about half of the players who were left.  They all wanted to keep gaming with him - so I've entertained the idea of running a separate campaign.  The problem is it's caused a lot of opposition from other members of the RDG - concerns about "splitting the camp", and keeping the drama alive.

  For the record.  My intention is NOT to keep any drama alive.  My intention is to actually minimize the drama by giving people who want to continue gaming with Hunter Dencourt a chance to do so.  My intention is not to split the camp - nobody is leaving the RDG to move to the other campaign.  In my perfect world, all this crap would get worked out like adults between the three parties principle to the issue, and we'd all get back to gaming somehow.  You don't have to like everyone in the party, you just have to get along with them well enough for the good of the group.  I'm having a very hard time finding the time on my schedule with school, work, and stuff I'm already committed to in order to run this second MechWarrior game.  To make matters worse, when I inquired about altering my Friday night arrangements to allow for this game, the GM of that game dug his feet in and said he wasn't going to willingly move or give up Fridays for the benefit of this other group, since it only exists due to the relationship drama.  Being caught in the middle of all this stuff is really cheezing me off.  I just wanna roll dice with my friends...

  So this second game has ballooned to NINE players.  Five of which are current members of Easy Company who want to also play in a game with Hunter Dencourt in it.  Like I said, this would all be so much easier if we could just be one big happy group again, but at this point I'm so frustrated with both sides of the relationship drama I dispair of ever sealing that particular breach.

  For the second campaign, we're using MechWarrior Second Edition for old time's sake.  Now, I really REALLY want to run a MW 1e game using just the 1e book, the original Merc Handbook, and TROs 3025 and 3026.  REAL old-school BTech.  But for this game, we're doing MW2e for more character flexibility.  This brings me to one of the things I've always hated about MechWarrior 2e - and that's the skill math. 

  So, your Attributes range from 1 to 6 for normal humans, with 3 being average.  Your skills are figured by subtracting the skill level from a Characteristic, which is figured by subtracting two of the Attributes from 18.  So let's look at a couple of possibilities for this.

Average Dude = All Attributes 3.  So all Characteristics for this average Joe will be 12 (18-(3+3))
  Looking at the University and Academy packages, we can see that a level 2 skill is pretty darn respectable, and a level 3 skill is attainable only at the "advanced" levels of college education.  So let's say we're looking at someone with a level 2 skill, college bachelor's degree level.

  So Average Joe has a Special Interest/Cooking of 2.  This is like going to culinary school and getting a degree or certificate according to the benchmarks set by the academy packages.  So our friend Joe is rolling 10+ to succeed with his SI/Cooking skill when attempting to make an average meal.  That's a roughly 17% chance of success.  Even if we give him the advanced degree skill level of 3, that's still a 9+ or 28%, meaning that only one meal in three is going to be acceptable unless you're using the 'easy task modifier' and assuming he's cooking beneath his training.

  All right, let's look at an example more meaningful to most MechWarrior players.  The Pilot/BattleMech and Gunnery/BattleMech skills.  The Basic Academy Package gives you skills at 2, and the Advanced at 3.  So, let's look at three different MechWarrior folks.

MechWarrior Smith (REF and ITN 3)
MechWarrior Jones (REF and ITN 4/5)
MechWarrior Allard (REF and ITN 6/6)

  So, what we have above are three prospective MechWarriors. One has average stats.  The other is pretty noticably above average.  The third is at the peak of human ability, unless one counts the Exceptional Attribute trait.  So, let's send these three to Basic Academy and assume they assign their level 2 skills to Pilot/Gunner.  What do we get?

Smith comes out of the Academy needing 10+ to succeed at Piloting or Gunnery.   Bear in mind that a Green MechWarrior is looking for 6+ on Pilot and 5+ on gunner.  Jones needs 7+.  So even our trainee who is faster and more intuitive than average is behind the curve of "Green".  So what about Allard?  Our maxed out MechWarrior needs 4+/4+.  So, this would be considered a Veteran pilot at Regular gunner.

So, at the top end, the math works.  But at the bottom end, it makes rolls quite difficult.  So how do we fix this?

I propose to change the Characteristic math.  Right now the formula is 18-(Att+Att).  So, subtract both Attributes from 18.  This means that someone with average attributes is rolling for 11+ with a level 1 skill.  Someone with 4s is rolling for 9+, 5s for 7+.  Now, for a normal skill roll, 7+ is a 58% chance of success - but when referring to Battletech combat skills, 7+ is abysmal.

So what if we tried the formula 12-((Att+Att)/2)), or 12- the average of the two Attributes.  So now the Characteristic targets change to 9+ for Mr. Average, 8+ for above average, and 6+ for maxed out.  This keeps the number for the top end the same as it was before, but improves the chances for those with less than stellar attributes.  In this case our average Joe the cook with his level 2 Special Interest/Cook skill would have a 7+ skill roll for his Culinary Arts Degree, not a 10+.

Now, one of the only issues that may be found with this is that by using an average and rounding down, the ability to get a 7 through Exceptional Attribute isn't as strong and may not be worth the Advantage points.  To that, I say that Exceptional Attribute should allow an exception to the round down rule, and Characteristics calculated with an Exceptional Attribute be rounded UP rather than down.  This would have the advantage also of allowing someone with an Exceptional Attribute Advantage to get something out of it without spending the Attribute points at character creation.  They could "grow into" the 7 rating over time, but still have some kind of natural edge representing their inborn talent.

So... that's Life, School, Adoption, Drama, and MechWarrior for now...