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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

ON pacing, ON-line play, On Initiative

AAIE... Update:
I have been told character generation is  edited... That's a good half of the job or at least close to it done .. so it's a good sign.


We played AAIE on saturday , and let me tell you  it was something:

Anyone Who has read this blog for more than a year or so  (bless your heart) will ko that I am not a huge fan of playing online. However with life being what it is gaming online is the  best and perhaps only way I'm getting a session together anytime soon.
My biggest trouble with online games is pacing.  At the  table I feel i'm pretty good at keeping a game moving. I like to play with pace speeding up the descriptions when things get frantic, and slowing down  when things are calm. Online I don't think it translates as well. 

Online there are  train wrecks that a DM just can't foresee.
Some one's mic cuts out.
Someone can't hear.
Roll 20's voice chat gets squirrely and cuts one player out of a conversation.
A player needs to go put the trash out. 
A player posts a funny but distracting Gif to the chat box.

Whatever.. it all happens..
It's the nature of online games. None of it helps maintain good pacing or promotes player engagement.

No amount of GM prep can help when one of the players has mic interference and begins to sounds like a robot when they talk. ( Fish, and plankton. And sea greens, and protein from the sea. It's all here, ready. Fresh as harvest day. Fish and sea greens, plankton and protein from the sea. And then it stopped coming. And they came instead. So I store them here. I'm ready. And you're ready. It's my job. To freeze you. Protein, plankton... )

This is a real F8ing thing?  Don't ever magnify anything.
The game:
The  characters picked up where they left off last time, They were trying to retrieve and recover a brewery  which  for a number of convoluted reasons had been sucked into a pocket dimension ruled by gnomes. What the party didn't know  is that the  gnomes were actually producing beer to  feed a giant necrotic bane maggot deeper in the tunnels. The maggot was created by a Mad wizard Elf-squid (who is a former player character who mutated himself horribly and went insane a different game session.) The mad-mad-mad wizard had captured the leaders of the five Gnome tribes (all save one) and taken their wealth in tribute. The wizard was plotting  how to capture the final gnome king when the players  arrived and started mucking about. The bane Maggot along with  some undead creeping vines  was the  guardian of the gnomes and the treasure. If this all of this sounds silly congratulations you're on to me. It was a silly scenario as is the norm with AAIE games.

This plays into a session of AAIE at Dexcon where Neal's friend Kelly ran a game in which the  town was overrun by Gnome tribes arguing about their leadership... What a perfect time for an evil Mad-mad-mad-mutant X-player character to strike. As a rule the more these adventures can be tied back to the  town or back to other adventures the  better the whole thing works.



We had five players.
Neal, Jay, Marcus, Jens, and Charles.
Roll20 Voice. 
At the table five players would be a great number. A small enough group that everyone is guaranteed some time to shine, but large enough that the adventure can have some meat to it. Like I said above however playing online makes managing  five players a bit more challenging.
First off google hangouts only supports five talkers. Counting me we had one too many. We switched to roll20 chat and that's finicky about the browsers it works with and I think the  gentlemen in germany were getting shafted by it. Jay came to the rescue by quickly creating a discord channel for us to use. Mid game everyone had to jump to discord. While the quality of the discord VoIP was far superior to roll twenty, some of the players had never used it before. one more hurdle to jump. Lastly some people are just naturally louder speakers than others. Neal and Marcus for example speak more quietly than say  Jay or Charles. At the table this makes very little difference, on the  computer where everyone has mic levels and different set ups it can be a pain in the  ass.

Most of the game was trying to make sure everyone got a chance to  be involved. A tricky balance involving  moving initiative around, calling on players in differing orders based on the  situation and basically trying to create pace by  knowing who was ready to act right away and who wasn't.
Sometimes that works, and  sometimes it doesn't. 
It doesn't help that I have always hated the D&D initiative system and tend to ignore it whenever I can get away with ignoring it. 

For example when the  king ot the sand gnomes got knocked down , Jay's character picked up his crown and I went with that.  A second later it was obvious Jen's character was going to grab for the fallen crown as well. I could have rolled the situation back and had Jens and Jay roll contested athletics checks to see who was getting that crown first, but I had already  stated Jay picked it up. It was my mistake. It also happened in mid turn with  a bunch of angry gnomes facing off with the party from behind a barricade of beer barrels. Luckily Jens is the type of guy who rolls with such things and we didn't have to break up the scene. (Best part of playing with a bunch of  other GM's, they tend to know what's going on even if they don't agree with it.) I can see where going strictly by initiative order and  saying "ok that's your one action," and "that's your one action, ok now it's your turn" would have been better in that situation. I just hate the idea of  breaking the tension and general franticness of the scene. It became:
 With an angry mob of gnomes crowding the barricade the  gnome king  climbs to the top of a barrel and begins to speak in perfect common...
"Surface dwelling invaders what do....OOMPH!"
Jay's Character throws the rock at the  gnome king, hitting him square in the  forehead and knocking him off the barricade. The gnome king's crown rolls off his head, Jay's character stoops down and picks it up.
It was cinematic even if it wasn't exactly correct.


Another example of pacing that I think did work, was while the party was fighting the maggot, Marcus wanted to cast a spell. He was however a bit undecided on how and what. I skipped him and came back to him at the end of the round. Nathaniel (Marcus's character) is an inexperienced wizard in a dank cave fighting a hideous giant  maggot which just spit high proof alcohol all over everyone. I consider skipping Marcus to move on to  other characters just  a sign of Nathaniel being a bit shook. There is no reason to hold everything up and wait when the next player is going to run in and stab the thing with a glaive. Give the wizard some room to breath. 
In the end he summoned a Gnome skeleton. the skeleton attacked the giant maggot and critically failed it's roll. The magott summarily swallowed the gnome skeleton whole and regurgitated it as a projectile a few rounds latter.

Somethings we got a chance to test:

Environment Perks:
This worked fine for me. The Maggot spewed high proof alcohol as a breath weapon. The left of ver residue being highly flammable for a few rounds. Eventually Nathanial set it aflame so the Pool of alcohol perk became the Pool of fire perk. The maggot got to invoke it at one point  biting a character and tossing him face fist into the  flames... Lucky for that guy he was a priest of flames (neals character) and called on his god to  help him (he took half damage.)
the Environment Perks worked quite well  game wise as it gave me a way to mechanically link my descriptions back to what was going on in the fight. I think this will become a much bigger part of what I do when running games in the future.

Wild Dice:
Priests have this interesting power where they may reroll of any one die in any round a number of times equal to their leadership stat. What's more they may  grant to s re-roll to another player. It's this game's version of bless. The  unfortunate thing is that even though it has been part of the game from the very beginning, it often gets forgotten. Not this game it was used and used well by both priests in the party. I don't think it unbalanced the game. Two out of the three times the wild dice were used the re-roll improved the result which was rolled. Once it had no effect at all, which is fine.
My favorite part is asking, "How does you god help the other player with this roll?" I just know that I'm always going to get some interesting answers form that one. (Jen's character's god is "the Eater of Funk" so yeah things get strange)

Magic:
Any time someone new is exposed to the casting rules the results amaze me. AAIE magic is freform in the  extreme and just the idea that the character has these "words" and  the player can  use them in any way they see fit to create spell effects often comes as a complete surprise. I can see why  some players would hate it, and others will embrace it. I for one don't want to change it a bit.


Well that's it for now.
Thank you for reading.

-Mark.