Sunday, October 28, 2012

Thoughts On DCC Funnels & Roll20

This past Thursday, I got a chance to play inside my own brain. Well, sort of. My own brain, but in someone else's head. Allow me to explain.

Edgar Johnson of Edgar's Game Blog ran a DCC 0-level funnel on Thursday night via a Google+ hangout with the Roll20 app. Now, this was my first time as a player in DCC, my first hangout game and the first time I'd been a player in five years. FIVE YEARS! Now, I have experience in virtual table top software (I used to run a few games with MapTool a few years ago and found it lacking) and lots of experience with running DCC (if you're reading this blog, you probably know that already), so as we were playing I started to think of how to run a funnel as efficiently as possible in the format. After the session, I had a little pow wow with Edgar about his experiences and our resultant conversation was, I assume, the inspiration for this post over on his blog. I think Edgar did a great job DMing the group, and his insights are pretty much required reading for what I'm about to drop on you.

Now, it needs to be understand that I think Edgar did a great job and that some of the things that could have been better are things that you're not going to realize should run a particular way until you've already run a funnel once. Couple that with new technology that none of us were terribly familiar with and you've got a recipe for ... well, I wouldn't say mistakes, more like a recipe for future opportunities. It was, to use a phrase in danger of gaining "hackneyed cliche" status, a learning experience. Over on that post I linked above, Edgar does some great analysis of our experience. From my perspective, I don't like to talk about what went wrong, rather I'd like to talk about how the next session can be even more kickass and give some tips for future DCC Judges out there planning on running something on Roll20 (including myself).

By my reckoning (as a guy who wasn't actually running the session, so my ideas could be complete bullshit), there are two key areas that a DCC Judge needs to be super-tight when running a game via G+. These broad categories are (a) time management and (b) space management. Here we go.

Time Management

This one may look like a no-brainer, but time can easily get away from you and your players. As it stands, you had your players have scheduled time away from your normal lives to get together online to work together on playing a kickass game and normally that amount of time is fairly limited. Thus, as the big boss man, it is incumbent upon you to use that time as effectively as possible. Here are some ideas that specifically apply to the DCC via G+ environment.

  • One action per round per player. Yeah, I know. Your players have four level 0s each for a reason. But, if you let every single one of them act, your baddies will be dead before they ever get a turn. Instead, consider letting each player pick one character to act with per round, thus making each round count for each player. This is how I've been running my in-person DCC games and so far, it's been a winner (yes, once the pack has thinned out, I do run "one action per character"). If you're using this concept with the "one player, one token" concept I'll talk about in a minute, consider adding the following idea: when you as the Judge attack a certain player's characters, the character you actually attack is the one who most recently acted (if none of a player's characters have acted yet, let the player pick one of his PCs as the target). This has the added (awesome) effect of the players' decisions to attack or act with a particular PC also exposing that PC to risk. Risk, I tell you! 
  • Start the session just a few minutes (two to five at most) before actual action starts. By action, I mean killing things or traps or running/jumping/climbing trees. That sort of thing. DCC is a game of action and showing up to play means you're showing up for action! Save the roleplaying for later. Save the exposition. Stow the backstory. Lock up the shopping trips. You don't have it? You don't need it. As I said before, every gamer in your hangout has set aside a limited amount of time to the game and that time needs to be spent in the most fun way possible. If need be, you can use G+ to settle backstory points, go shopping, flirt with the wenches, whatever, in between sessions.
  • You, as the Judge, should introduce the players' PCs to the other players. This may sound time-wastey, but if you do it, they won't have to. Here's how I do it: "Alright, Doug [sorry Doug, you're getting dragged in here to talk about a game you're not playing in] here is playing... a halfling haberdasher who's pretty healthy but really unlucky, a caravan guard who's agile and smart, a squire who's strong but a complete asshole..." and so on. I introduce the characters in basic terms that talk about their strengths and weaknesses, things that the other players may need to know to think strategically inside the dungeon. It saves you time by giving everyone an idea of what everyone does (so they don't have to ask later) and cutting down on the possibility of long winded speeches about what each PC's great-grandparents ate for breakfast forty years ago (not that that happened in Edgar's session; these guys are freaking awesome!). So, do the introduction yourself, keep it short and to-the-point, and get it done; once done, the only reason for them not knowing is that they weren't paying attention, and that's a different story altogether.
  • Prep. I know, session prep can be a bit of a dirty word in the OSR-osphere, but man is it important to making sure that no time gets wasted. I'll write monster stats on index cards during set up, make multiple copies of maps (some to show players, some to write on, etc.), break out extra little reference books (like Jeremy Deram's DCC RPG ref sheets or Zak S's Vornheim). But this isn't a ground-breaking idea and those Gnome Stew guys just published a whole book on the subject so there's nothing I could add to that. Well, other than spend some of your prep time just fucking around with Roll20 (or whatever software you're using) to see what everything does and if there's any tricks you can come up with. Seriously. Fuck around. If you come up with anything cool, let me know. 

Space Management

So, you may be thinking "how do I manage space in an imaginary space being discussed in a virtual space?" That, my friend, is a smartass response and needs to get shut down right there. Everything in the game uses up space in one way or another, even if that space is just visual. So, we're going to talk about how to make that space work for you, the Judge (and consequently for your players, but we're not really here to talk about those guys, are we?).
  • One player, one token. This sounds a lot like the "one action per player per round" thing above and it's useful for the same reason. Assign each player a single token that tells everyone where every single one of the players' characters are. Now far less of the visual real estate of the map is taken up by a gaggle of level 0s; this has the extra effect of everybody knowing where everything else is. If you're using a whole mess of tokens to represent every single separate level 0 character and there's sixteen of them, you'll end up losing time to searching for just the right token for each PC or trying to figure out which token is which PC. I think we lost one PC token somehow, too; that wouldn't happen if we each just had one token, we'd notice right away. "Hey, where did Bear go?" 
  • Consider messing with the scale. A lot of old modules maps were drawn in a "1 square = 10 feet" scale. Why do this? First, it saves on visual space. Consider that a 10' by 10' area takes up four 5' squares but only one 10' square (god, having typed that, I now feel stupider; so much stupider, in fact, that I wrote the word "stupider" three times now). Second, it's a little easier to explain the "one player, one token" logic if everything's 10' squares. Sure, I can fit 4 people in a 5'x5' area, but they might be a little cozy (that's a decent enough space between people at the bar, right?), but they'll probably feel better about swinging swords, pickaxes, pitchforks, shovels and trowels at the baddies if they're in a 10'x10' area. The problem with this idea is that the default square size for Roll20 is 5' and I'm not sure if it can be changed (I have not spent enough session prep time fucking around yet). 
  • I'm sure I had a third thing to add here. I'm sure of it. If I think of it, I'll let you know. 
Now, a lot of these ideas are things I've come up with as I gear up to run my first few sessions on G+, but that probably won't happen for a little while (I think Edgar has another session or two to go before it's my turn). Now that I'm realizing how easy it could be to get a group of my fellow gamers together to run roughshod over the crazy ideas in my brain, I'm full to bursting with madder and madder visions of what those games will turn into. Here's one idea of something I'm cooking up. Imagine a game in the following universe using WEG's old d6 Star Wars (2e) rules and you've got the sort of awesome I'm envisioning.