Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Gripe 'N Win

One thing I've discovered in my few short years as a gaming hobbyist is that the boardgaming table is a great place to watch various fascinating aspects of human psychology manifest themselves. So, today, from the Psychology Department here at Games on the Table, I offer some feedback regarding a common gaming phenomenon which our well-trained staff has termed "The Gripe 'N Win".

I'm sure you've seen it before at your own gaming table. You're half way through a game, and Hank, trying to maintain composure as a mature adult, voices a complaint. He got hosed by one or more other players early in the game, which explains why he is in last place. In fact, his position is so bad (he claims) that there is really no point in staying in the game. But to be a good sport, he'll keep playing.

From here on out, Hank probably won't say much. He might continue to make statements about just how unfortunate his position is, or how he would be winning right now if things had gone differently. He might even be pouting, red in the face, or avoiding eye contact.

But about three quarters through the game, he makes a well-planned move and his prospects improve a bit. Wait, there's another good move. Hold it - he's not in last place anymore. Now, he's in second place. It's the last round, and . . . the game is over. Scores are tallied, and who emerged with a victory? You guessed it - Hank.

The look of relief is apparent on Hank's face, but he won't visibly celebrate. He's hoping that somehow, magically, everyone has forgotten his earlier whining. In fact, he might even downplay his victory. "Whew, that was a close one. Good game, everyone. I got lucky there at the end. If Charles had taken that space from me on his last turn, I would have lost. Nice playing, guys." With a victory under his belt, Hank is pleasant, genial, and ready for the next game.

So, here we saw two very different personalities from Hank: the grump and the humble victor. Hank's attitude is contingent upon his position in the game - his chances of victory.

Here at Games on the Table, our motto is: "Play for the fun of it, not just to win it." This has been my motto from very early in my gaming days because it quickly became apparent to me that breaking this rule was a good way to spoil the gaming session. In our example, Hank had succumbed to the false belief that "This game isn't going to be fun if I lose. Especially if I feel like someone hosed me." So he griped. Then he won. Then he ate a nice rich piece of humble pie.

This is, then, what we call "The Gripe 'N Win". Watch out for this. I'm sad to confess that I've done it. Anyone who can admit to committing The Gripe 'N Win can testify that it leaves you feeling childish and guilty. You might even wish that you had lost, so that you can better justify your bad attitude to others, and more importantly, to yourself. That brings up a good question: had Hank lost, how would he have behaved?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Faery's Tale Actual Play:
Liza and the Jewelled Brooch, Part 3

This is part three in the actual play report from the Faery's Tale game I'm running for my wife. Last time, Liza and Cherry had exited the underground tunnel and once again picked up on the trail left by Markle in the dirt.

Having located Markle's trail, Liza races ahead, certain that she can catch him up - he's toting a large bag after all - fatigue has to set in sometime.

After running for several yards, they see ahead of them in the darkness a big, lumbering, oafish night troll. He is moving in the exact same direction they are going. Liza sees this as an opportunity for a free ride. [This was impressive roleplaying to me. My wife has some clever ideas. Some players may have chosen to find a way to take the troll out - defeat him. But not Liza! Fighting trolls is a job for sprites. Liza is a brownie - she has a different approach.] She turns invisible and darts forth, hoping to reach the troll and grab a shred of his gnarled pants. She whispers to Cherry to follow along, but out of view. She hears the troll mumbling to himself: "Yummy faery snack. I find you, little faery." He has apparently spotted Markle, and is trying to catch him for food!

Liza runs as fast as her little brownie legs will carry her, hoping to catch up to the night troll. [I thought this would be somewhat difficult, considering the size difference, so I rated it at Tricky (2). She rolled no successes.] Liza finds that she's gaining on the troll, and then - TRIP! - her foot catches on something, and she goes down with a high-pitched yelp. The night troll stops and turns around, looking. His nightvision allows him to see everything at night as if it is daytime. Fortunately, Liza is invisible. The troll says, "What is it? Is it a faery?" He sniffs the air and scans the area for a few moments, then turns back to his original pursuit.

Liza becomes visible again so that Cherry can locate her. She waves Cherry over and whispers her next plan: "Pick up some pebbles, fly up, and throw the pebbles down as hard as you can onto some big rocks to create a distracting noise! Maybe we can get the troll to head off in a different direction, off the trail!" Cherry whirs off to the side of the trail, into the trees and throws the pebbles down onto a boulder. They bounce down the side of the boulder, clicking along the way. The troll looks in the direction of the sound and sees Cherry's pixie dust floating down among the treetops.

Now, the night troll faced a dilemma - which faery to pursue. [I figured this would be a relatively simple decision, even for a big oaf. After all, one faery was flying around, the other was stuck on land. So I rolled for the troll against a Mind challenge of Easy (1). He achieved 1 success.] The troll gave up on the idea of chasing after the pixie and returned to his pursuit of the brownie. The hesitation was time enough for Liza to catch up to a range of about 10 feet behind.

"There you are, little faery. Now I will get you," the troll says. He has apparently spotted Markle. Liza puts her energy into racing forward as fast as her little legs will carry her. [I had her roll a Body challenge of Easy (1) to see if she could catch up to the troll. She succeeded.] She gets under his feet and jumps up, grabbing a loose tatter hanging from his pant leg. [I had the troll roll a Mind challenge of Easy (1) to see if he could sense the tug at his leg. He failed.] The troll doesn't feel the brownie's weight on his pants. Liza becomes visible momentarily so that Cherry - a few yards back, high in the air - can see her. She can't tell whether or not Cherry can see her from that distance, but Cherry still seems to be following the troll anyway.

The troll finally catches up to Markle, reaches down to grab him up, and - WOOSH! - Markle is gone, making his bag invisible as well, which is difficult but possible for a brownie. The troll pats around on the ground frantically, grabbing at the air, hoping to grip the invisible brownie. [When brownies are invisible, they retain their physical presence, so theoretically, the troll would feel an invisible brownie if he touched it. But in this case, Markle's had found a way to edge himself out of the way, carefully making sure to lift his bag instead of dragging it, which would have left a trail.] The troll kneels down and pounds the dusty ground in frustration. "I'm tired of faery. I will find something else to eat," he moans. [I later decided that I should have made it a Tricky (2) challenge for the troll to find the invisible brownie. But, it's probably better for the story that he didn't find him, and the troll isn't controlled by a player, so the consequences of his actions don't matter as much as they would for a PC.]

Liza drops quietly from the troll's pant leg and turns invisible again. Once the troll has retreated a reasonable distance, she reveals herself until Cherry locates her and flies down to join her. After a moment, they hear the familiar scraping sound of Markle dragging his bag a few feet away.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Faery's Tale Actual Play:
Liza and the Jewelled Brooch, Part 2

This is the actual play report from the second session of Faery's Tale which I have been running for my wife. Last time, we saw Bwok, the great horned owl, admonishing Liza and her pixie friend, Cherry, to hurry on their way if they intend to catch Markle, the blacksmith brownie.

Seeing the need for swift action, Liza - a lover of birds - asks Bwok if he is willing to carry her on his back and fly her, speeding their pursuit. Bwok agrees to help her for the price of a boon. Liza agrees and gives the owl a boon. [Boons were one of the features of the game that took me a while to get my head around. I had at first been thinking of them too much like tangible currency. The best way to define a "boon" in this game is "an owed favor". It's an abstract entity that gives the holder a claim on a future favor. Faeries and other creatures of Brightwood have an endless supply of their own boons. If a faery achieves the title of "Knight" or higher, that faery can trade boons, making them more like a currency. In essence, this means using a boon you've acquired from someone else as payment - transferring the boon to a new owner.]

Liza climbs on Bwok's back and, with Cherry alongside, they float into the air and take flight to the west, in search of Markle. The owl, using his keen senses, tracks the fleeing brownie and returns Liza to the ground, only about 10 feet behind Markle. In the darkness, the faeries see the brownie's form. They run after him and in another moment, he climbs the base of a tree, enters a large hole in the tree's trunk, and disappears from view.

Liza climbs up to look into the hole. It is absolutely dark inside. Cherry flies over to the hole and gives off enough light to reveal a downward passage. Liza can't see the bottom. She calls out after Markle and the sound of his bag dragging in the dirt stops. He seems to have heard. Then, a moment later, it starts up again, faster now. Liza bravely throws caution to the wind and jumps down the shaft! [For which I awarded her 1 essence mote. It was a brave and selfless thing to do, after all. I had her roll her Body of 4 for this fall. I made it a Tricky (2) challenge. She didn't succeed, and so I had her lose 1 essence for taking fall damage.]

Liza falls a few feet and slides out into a faery-made underground tunnel, supported by wood and stone. Liza calls Cherry, who soon arrives at her side. By Cherry's pixie light, they follow quickly after Markle's trail in the dirt. There are various other tunnels which diverge from the sides and top of the tunnel, but Markle's tracks are easy to follow.

Suddenly, a scorpion falls down from a hole in the ceiling! [This is a creature taken right from the book. His stats are: Body 2, Mind 1, Spirit 0, Gifts - Venom.] Cherry backs away while Liza pulls out one of her homemade weapons - a shard from a broken paring knife, with a leather-wrapped handle. [My wife allocated all 4 of her Body dice to attack and none to defense.] Liza carefully lunges forward, slashing at the scorpion's legs. [She rolled a 6 and three 3s. A 6 on the die earns an extra die. She rolled the extra die and achieved a 4, for a total of 2 successes. I had allocated no dice to the scorpion's defense pool, so he took 1 damage to his Body score.] The scorpion squeals in rage and swings a pincer at Liza. [Since the scorpion's body was now 1, I rolled one d6 and achieved no successes.] Liza deftly ducks the attack and lashes out again, this time with her sewing needle sword. [This time she allocated three d6s to her attack pool. She rolled a 2, giving her 1 success. He still had no defense, and therefore took the damage.] She plunges the needle into the top of the scorpion's head. The scorpion falls down and stops moving completely after creeping backward into a side tunnel. Liza sheaths her needle and beckons Cherry to follow her onward.

Then, from the scorpion's hole above, they hear a muffled voice calling out. Liza sends Cherry up to see what it is. Cherry reports that there is a faery wrapped up in spider's webbing. Cherry gives Liza a bit of pixie dust to float her up into the hole and Liza uncovers the faery's mouth. He is a pooka named Dandaloo.
He had been wrapped up for a spider's dinner, but the scorpion had stolen him and brought him back to his hole for later. Liza cuts through the webs with her knife and Dandaloo breaks free, thanking Liza heartily. He gives Liza a boon for saving him. He feels a bit weak and is unsure whether or not the spider actually bit him at any point. Therefore, he isn't certain whether or not he's been poisoned by spider venom. Either way, he feels well enough to move and even travel. He plans to go to Bwok's tree and rest (he knows Bwok). He tells Liza that, if she brings him some healing remedy tomorrow after he's had some rest, he'll give her another boon. Then he drops down the hole into the tunnel, transforms into a snake, and slithers back down the tunnel.

Liza and Cherry climb out of the hole and make it through the rest of the tunnel without any further distractions. When they arrive at the end of Markle's trail, they see another carved shaft going up into a tree, just like shaft by which they had entered the tunnel. There are grooves in the ground where a ladder had recently been planted, but there was no ladder now. Markle had apparently pulled it up after him. Liza sends Cherry up to have a look around. Cherry reports that the ladder is up here, outside the hole, but it is too big to carry while flying. Liza recommends pushing it, which Cherry attempts and finds to be a workable option. After a series of good pushes, the ladder comes falling down the shaft. Liza dodges out of the way until the ladder hits the ground. Then, she scrambles up to the hole and climbs out onto the ground. The faeries are somewhat disoriented and unsure of their location, so Cherry uses her pixie dust to burn a small "C" in the tree bark. That way, they will have a marker for their journey back.