Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How To Annoy Your Players: Campaign Creation


So, now you know how to wage psychological warfare with your DM before the game even begins. It’s only fair if the DM gets a few pointers too, though…


The art if annoying your players as the Dungeon Master is not a fine one, because nobody wants to be the DM. If you are absolutely fucking terrible and a player, it’s not actually that hard to remove you if your DM and/or fellow players aren’t pussies. If you’re DMing but possess the skills and likeability of cryptosporidiosis, many groups won’t have any alternative.

Then again, it’s always worth learning to do it properly just in case your players really do find a replacement (or someone finally sucks it up and falls into the trap of declaring “Fine, I’ll DM”, sealing their fate as a non-player for the next ten years). With that in mind, here are some handy strategies you can use at any time when the game is still being set up:


Cookie Monster Versus The Pirates

Shit yeah, this is awesome! See, it’s like Sesame Street, only kind of gothic-steampunk! Also there are pirates and ninja! The players ride around on penny farthings and wield rocket launchers and the BBEG is Al Gore!

Now try running it.

See, a lot of games suffer from the same problem that most gaming webcomics suffer from – assuming that things that sound “cool”, like ninjas and pirates and furbies and astronauts and road workers who only look like they’re standing still doing nothing because they’re telepathically going to the Moon to harvest moon cheese, are a substitute for entertainment.

It has been done before. Dr. McNinja is actually pretty fucking sweet, or at least I like to think so. But there’s a difference between doing it well and just sticking it in there and expecting it to write itself.

Do the latter, you know you’ve always wanted to. Go ahead and have Earth invaded by aliens who love disco, or shoehorn that pirate NPC into your campaign. End your first encounter with OH NO NECROMANCER-NINJAS ARE LEAPING THROUGH THE WINDOWS THEY ARE RESURRECTING ALL THE GOBLINS AS SKELETONS AIIEEE. It’s like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Plot – it will solve any problems you have with making your game interesting.

Right?


This often goes hand-in-hand with Exotica and can be eerily similar to This Is My Fetish.


DMPCs

Admit it, you know you want to.

If you REALLY want to deal with the players on their side of the table, what's to stop you? Forget that "You're the DM, you play the rest of the world" crap. Yeah, you play the rest of the world, but the rest of the world doesn't fucking matter unless you get to play the hero or villain that messes with it on a large scale.

Since this is about how to create the game, we won't go into details like how to make it, but it's a good idea to hype them up because some players have this really low opinion of DMPCs for some reason. Tell them about how he is a silent badass whose backstory they will have to discover for themselves (that'll get them interested), or just attach it to the campaign notes you give them if you want to focus on the action. Telling the players that they will start under the leadership of the DMPC to promote the party getting to know each other is also pretty good.

Remember, your DMPC is awesome. Be sure to help your players see this before the game begins!


Exotica

Things that aren’t the norm are just attractive, sometimes. It’s why there are so many half-humans in RPGs – lithe and hairless with pointy ears? I’d hit that. Green and strong with tusks? Sure, why not! Blue skin, hooves, horns and a tail? Yes, I also enjoy the company of mary sue tieflings. A horse? Someone is giving birth to centaur right now.

In real life, this basically extends to foreign cultures. Especially Asia. It’s apparently hard to be part of the gaming-slash-anime-slash-what-the-fuck-ever subculture and not have yellow fever. Not knowing anyone like that is almost impossible.

So, why not inject a little bit of Japanese love into your game? Tell someone the best fighters come from whatever Asian continent you know you have because they have “awesome martial arts”, or give them the best magic, or whatever. Have asian NPCs thumb their noises at the dirty foreigners. Hell, just go ahead and run BESM for its intended purpose, maybe use it to run Neon Genesis Evangelion (bonus points if you decide you actively hate your players and make the second half of your campaign God-awful.) Trust me, your gaijin players will only thank you for opening their eyes to the awesomeness of the land of the rising sun. ^____^

Works well with Make Their Character For Them. Mortal enemy of Not In My America, but if you can somehow do both in one game then you are a god among men. Usually turns into Cookie Monster Versus The Pirates once the ninja get involved. DMPCs are good for driving the point home.


Fuck Your Magic

Most commonly seen in games following other games that were beaten via clever (or just abusive) use of magic, particularly those run by DMs who had no idea how to handle it.

The easiest way to do this is pick a handful of spells – maybe magic missile, or illusion spells, or healing spells – and nerf them in any way you can. Make magic missile require a ranged attack roll, or ban the spells upright, or shift their spell level up by one or more. Insist that this is a “fix”.

If you’re feeling hardcore: Pick a magic system. It can be one you don’t like. If you don’t hate any setting, here are some stock reasons for picking any one magic system. Keep in mind that “stock” doesn't mean “reasonable”, so you should probably avoid explaining yourself if you can:

  • Vancian casting: The idea is stupid. The system is inflexible. Arcane casting blows because you can’t wear armor.

  • Arcane magic: There are way too many spells and arcane casters usurp all other class roles. Even spell failure chance can be overcome by casting the right spells!

  • Divine casting: All divine casting classes are either terribly broken (Cleric, Druid, Favoured Soul) or terribly underpowered (Ranger, Paladin). Casters shouldn’t get to wear armour, people!

  • Psionics: Fuck psionics, even Gygax didn’t like it! It’s broken and shitty and is basically an MMO version of magic with all the checks and balances removed.

  • Tome of Magic: Oh look, WotC testing out 4E houserules by making us buy them. Binder? More like glorified factotum. Shadowcaster is a reskinned sorcerer and truenamer is a bad rendition of good fluff.

  • Tome of Battle: FIGHTERS SHOULD NOT GET SPELLS AUGH

  • Magic of Incarnum: Who actually uses Magic of Incarnum?

Now that you’ve got your reasons, hit your casting system and hit it hard. Make Spellcraft or Concentration checks required just to cast in any conditions and bump the DCs up, or give everything really high spell resistance, or only give new spells every other level. If it’s psionics, limit the amount of PP you can use in any encounter, or make them roll saves vs. stunning for some reason.

Then not only waive every single one of these houserules for every NPC in the campaign world, but have another casting system feature prominently and unchanged.



Make Their Character For Them

Players are incompetent fools and need your guiding hand to help them make characters that work well in your game – after all, it’s your game. Who else would know better about how to make something that fits well? You might as well Make Their Character For Them.

There are two ways to go about this – the Roleplayer and the Rollplayer. In the Rollplayer, you look over the player’s shoulders all the time and insist that they should focus on their build rather than their gnome barbarian idea everyone thought was pretty sweet. Constantly bug them about ditching their current sheet and starting over with a warblade, taking this maneuver and that stance and combining it with these feats so you can go into this prestige class in three months’ time, it’s so powerful… The idea is to see how many players cave in and how far.

The Roleplayer is basically the same, except instead you tell them to “stick to your concept” and accuse them of powergaming if they try and make a character that’s interesting and effective, because you are fucking stupid if you think there is no dichotomy between these things. Constantly bug them about ditching their current sheet and starting over with a Fighter with Power Attack and Skill Focus (Cooking). Obviously, the idea is to see how many players make characters that wouldn’t last a night in The Grand Nation of Koboldia (population 200), let alone a real dungeon.

There are variants, of course, mostly to do with forcing the player to conform to some aesthetic standard – good strategies you can combine this with are Cookie Monster Versus The Pirates, Exotica, Not In My America, No That Was Last Week and This Is My Fetish.


No That Was Last Week

The best storytellers are constantly coming up with new ideas. Anything can give them inspiration, from a book on Roman Catholics to their Baywatch image gallery to that dead cat by the highway.

Sometimes, there’s so many you can’t settle on just one.

No That Was Last Week is when you change your mind about what you want to run. Often. The important difference between this and the usual conceptual stage of any campaign is that No That Was Last Week is when you change your mind somewhere between the moment everyone perfects their character sheets and the start of the second session. You want exchanges like this:


Unnamed DM: Eberron campaign! Who is interested?

Me: God damn it, another one?

Unnamed DM: Honestly, I don't feel like fleshing out my Greek setting yet...


And that’s fine, you know. Sometimes you have an idea you realize is crap later and you want to do something else. Sometimes that “something else” turns out to be crap as well. Sometimes you come up with a third idea and realize you liked the first idea better. It happens. Any player not willing to make character sheet after character sheet for you is a dick.

Since a lot of ideas are used up in this, Cookie Monster Versus the Pirates often creeps in, and Straw Master or Exotica can get a decent look in as well.


Not In My America

A natural reaction to the aforementioned yellow fever.

Sick of all this whiny weeaboo foreign bullshit? Patriotic and in love with your great free democracy? Do you just hate n*****s? This is the game for you!

Anything that isn’t white and Christian is barely tolerated at best. Tome of Battle is banned because some of the maneuver names are kind of like something you saw in one of those gay Japanese shows once when your little sister was watching it, and you should scream and flail your arms like a chimp if someone mentions it. There’s a lot of Japanese influence on gamers these days so it’s vitally important that you stamp any trace of it out before they start gaining weight, wearing Naruto headbands and reading Megatokyo.

If you are some kind of mentally retarded s racist, this is the perfect time to give human-only templates for the master race, the blacks, the Jews, Muslims, etc., and have the players be the former and shoot the latter. If not, just go for terrorist attacks. I don’t care if you’re playing in Eberron. Make the gnomes bind fire elementals to bombs while wearing towels on their heads.

Mortal enemy of Exotica. Obviously goes well with Straw Master.


Straw Master

The Straw Master is a peculiar kind of DM who believes in something strongly. So strongly he wants his players to believe in it, too.

Christian? Make paladins special warriors who fight for the One God, and turn Heironeous and Pelor and all that into false gods whose fake followers get gimped caster levels and hunted down. Don’t LIKE Christians? Do a flimsy caricature of their priests that secretly summon demons and all have INT 6. Dungeons & Dragons? More like Stockades and Soapboxes!!!

Of course, it’s not just religion you can push on your players. Push your views on politics, on vegetarianism, on industry versus nature, on how Microsoft is worse than Hitler and everyone you know should convert to Linux because it’s so much easier and better. And do it right. That is, do it horribly, horribly wrong. Stuff like Planescape, Bioshock… hell, even Oddworld can be ‘deeper’ than most games, but unlike them you are not obligated to offer alternative viewpoints or make it interesting in any way.

Bonus points if you either allow everyone to play what they want – elves, dwarves, myconids, whatever – and then pidgeonhole their character into a role they don’t want after they’ve made it (suddenly dwarves are an allegory for Nazi Germany! Your malconvoker is a horrible sinner against God and all paladins detect you as evil!), or force them to play certain characters (“You’re an evil corporate sell-out and my girlfriend here will be the free-spirited aasimar teaching you a lesson in humility!”).

Obviously a good friend of Make Your Character For Them and Not In My America. DMPCs can help.


This Is My Fetish

Oh my god, I have to explain this one?


Okay. Pick a fetish. Transformation, zoophilia and its best friend the furry, BDSM, whatever. You don’t even have to have it. The important thing is the players must think you do.

Then, you must make them play a setting in which that features heavily. Bonus points if one of your players is also into it, and double bonus points if he is obese and always smells like turkey or something. Don’t go overboard, because you want them to keep playing – no FATAL, no Black Tokyo, no Forgotten Realms.

Watch your players squirm, and enjoy.

Incidentally, bunnygirls and anything related totally doesn’t count.

If you glorify it, it’s Straw Master.



That's all I can think of right now. Stay tuned for next week next time eventually, when I will probably post about something or other.