New on Desk #56 — PvP the Entertaining

Considering my subjective perspective, I’ve mostly spent the week reading and watching television; ordinary procrastination. There’s been some creative movement, though, so I’m not as depressed about it as last week. On the way to productivity, clearly.

PvP in old school D&D

Player versus player, or intra-party conflict, is a classic blister in the backfoot of adventure fantasy gaming. I won’t go essaying about it in length here, but I’ll note that ever since the olden times some groups have forbidden the practice for various reasons. Consider:

Player conflict causes bad blood: As the players form a team — an adventuring party — in the game fiction, and PvP may not be discussed explicitly, a sudden betrayal may be considered to be an unfair low blow that the victim was not prepared for.

Player conflict is anti-fun: For fantasy adventure games that are supposed to delightful as experiences, it’s generally considered that losing in general is a flaw in the game. PvP by definition involves somebody losing (unlike PvE, which, as we all know, does not count as anybody losing). Why entertain anti-fun?

Player conflict is a bad move: Fantasy adventure games often involve more or less real victory conditions, and intra-party conflict is a great way to fail, as you’re putting your resources into fighting each other instead of the mission. If the mission isn’t a milk run, you’re probably going to fail it by griefing the party.

So that’s the case for forbidding PvP. The usual means of doing it are soft power agreements: the game’s rules do not technically speaking prevent the PCs from attacking each other, but the players frown upon doing it, and the GM doesn’t support it, so it doesn’t get done. Simple and straightforward.

So anyway, I like PvP…

The disadvantages I listed above don’t really bother me. Let’s speak of old school D&D for specificity here: my creative perspective in that game is very much a wargamey “play to find out”, which means that I’m just as happy with any outcome provided it is reached in a formally correct manner. Win, lose, whatever. Player’s aren’t owed a victory, and I don’t do “fun” as a matter of policy, any more than I do “balance”, so the natural stance is to allow PvP.

There is a single good reason why I, too, dislike PvP, though. Check this out:

Player conflict is Chaotic Stupid: The goal of the game is character success, as measured by points gain, performed in clean style. Does working at cross-purposes with another player character (or all of them) advance your own success? If it does not, you’re making bad moves. Note how this is slightly different from the idea that the party will fail if you betray the party; I can accept the party failing if that causes my character to succeed. Are you actually in that circumstance, or are you being Chaotic Stupid?

I mention stupid backstabbing as a reason to oppose PvP because a surprisingly high fraction of the PvP moves are pretty dumb. On the other hand, there definitely are situations where PvP is absolutely the right call to make in old school D&D. Consider these scenarios:

Player as antagonist: There is no inherent reason why a player could not play the opforce in D&D. Some of my most tense adventures have been the direct result of different characters drifting into positions hostile to each other, resulting in PCs maneuvering against each other. I think that it’s important for the players to understand the framing of a scenario, though, so do remember to tell the more clueless players as well when it’s on like Donkey Kong — more interesting that way. Scenarios like this can be very compelling!

Sudden profit opportunity: I believe that the goal in D&D is not party success, but rather individual success. These two may well align, and it’s part of the play skill to make them align so as to prevent backstabbing. When players fail to align interests, that leaves the door open for an unexpected backstab and a ruthless operator absconding with the loot. Forbidding this possibility with meta-gaming is like refusing to apply darkness penalties to parties without light sources; abrogation of the simulation.

Mandated conflict: Sometimes the facts laid out in scenario development really, truly force conflict. You either have to revise established facts or abuse the simulation to avoid it. Is player characters working at cross-purposes such an evil that you would really rather bias the causal reasoning to avoid it? There certainly are reasons why I bias reasoning (scenario discovery and game table propriety — e.g. censoring rape fantasies — are two reasons that immediately come to mind), and I could see avoiding PvP being worth it sometimes, but as a constant policy?

In practice a party that has a falling-out is unlikely to continue adventuring together, but that’s what character stables are for. Use in-fiction social maneuvering to build a team that doesn’t fall into backstabbing at minor provocation; the character stable concept totally does imply that players don’t have an unilateral right to induct characters the other characters don’t want to adventure with. So if you’re going to bring a Chaotic Evil Thief, don’t be surprised if the party refuses to go adventuring with them.

Now, why did I want to discuss PvP? Well, our Coup campaign tabletop fork, Coup in Sunndi, is becoming something of a case study on intra-party conflict. It’s exciting!

Tuesday: Coup in Sunndi #6

This was actually a pretty interesting session. The PvP stuff wasn’t even everything we had going.

Last time the party had delved into the Warrens of the Troglodytes with some initial success. Emboldened by their success, they decided to camp and rest before going back into the winding tunnels. Being the cleverest of cats, the party decided to save time by camping in the first room of the dungeon. It was a defensible position, after all, and we had like ~30 people in the party, probably more fighters than the troglodytes had in total.

Big mistake.

You’d think that the increased random encounter checks would be the big problem with dungeon camping, but I think that part is actually rather manageable: the dungeon doesn’t have infinite numbers of random encounters, so presumably you can just keep clashing with them until they learn to leave you alone. You must be strong enough to beat every random encounter for this to work, but otherwise the dungeon isn’t necessarily a bad place to camp in.

However, then you also have the intelligent denizens (living in the random encounter table or otherwise). Spending hours upon hours right there implies that the denizens have plenty of time to scout out your position (perhaps in the form of a minor encounter clash, i.e. a random encounter), decide what to do and, should they decide to answer the threat, gather their forces and attack you. Your defensive position should really be superior if you’re betting on being able to beat the entire humanoid tribe when they get to arrange themselves for the offense.

This map clipping helps illustrate the tactical issue: “27” is a tunnel to the surface, “25” is a long-ish cave the party is camping in. The pertinent tactical set-up is that they construct hedges from spears and available wood and bone elements in the room to block the two tunnels leading deeper into the caverns. Nothing elaborate, but enough to stop an outright charge. Some torches and such are set up to ensure a field of view into the tunnels. Guard details are rotated at both hard points through the long rest — the plan is to rest for eight hours or so.

I’ll stop here to say that this is basically what I think the old school D&D should be, a game of war. I honestly think that people invested in armchair generalling, or real tactical warfare, could tell us what is wrong in the above setup. It’s not just “guess what the GM is thinking”, because the GM is in fact not thinking anything at this stage; he’s just recording the choices, we’ll be gaming out how they fare against the opforce in a bit. If you’d like, do try to figure it out before reading on: the party is making a mistake that to my knowledge is warned against in most modern infantry tactical manuals.

The answer, I think, is that the party did not have a scouting screen out despite having plenty of men for the guard detail. Lacking clear fields of view in the cramped dungeon and its twisting corridors, the party left themselves vulnerable to an enemy organizing a close-quarters assault right around the bend in the tunnel. This is a concern in real-life warcraft as well, one that’s been addressed in different ways in different times and places. In some terrains you may be able to clear the fields of view, but at night (and here in the dungeon) putting guards further out from the camp is basically the go-to solution. It’s not enough to just huddle around the campfire with your entire platoon.

The dungeon being the Warrens of the Troglodytes, the party had rested maybe an hour when the troglodytes confirmed their location (having by this time noticed that some of their strength had died in the party’s assault earlier). About an hour later they’d mustered the flower of their war-party, including three trog-knights (riding cute giant geckos) and ~15 trog-warriors. The trogs opted for frontal assault, nothing fancy.

The key tactical issue at this point was that the party was resting, so asleep and inattentive aside from the guards. The spear hedges were a thing, but there were just two guards manning the obstacle when the trogs attacked, and, well, the hedges aren’t magic; the trog-knights (coming in first) wasted some of their immediate attack actions in clearing the hedges (striking them down with their cudgels and having the geckos trample them) and pushing into the room, making space for the rest of the trogs to come in.

Some of the players in the game read these newsletters (thanks for your readership!), so for clarity’s sake: making mistakes is normal and an expected part of the game. I’m just after-gaming this because I found the event interesting and educational, not because anybody played “wrong” in a gamesmanship sense. Good play in that regard, and I enjoyed how the choices flowed into consequences throughout the episode. I’m especially not critiquing with the premise that I’d have done better myself, that’s not what this is about at all; hindsight is hindsight, I’m just seeing what the lesson is here.

The party ultimately managed to assemble a fair defensive line across the room (it’s not like they were surprised entirely pants down), but the enemy had some formidable strength there (those trog-knights aren’t a joke!), so while the situation was stabilized and the trogs took casualties, the adventurers did as well. Most dramatically, brave Elmerhelmer the Hero, the leader of the NPC adventurers the party had joined with for the expedition, was trampled while delaying the enemy. Garfunkel the Thief likewise, and I think there was some PC in there as well whom the player didn’t care about a whit so I didn’t either.

The party retreated from the dungeon through the tunnel (at least they hadn’t chosen to camp in a cul-de-sac!), carrying what wounded they could. An amusing continuous gag here was that the party Warlock (I’ll just call him that; he’s actually a Hedge Mage, but he really, really wants to become a Warlock proper one day), a card-carrying member of the Chaotic Stupid party faction, had great difficulty evacuating: having been thrown into a pit earlier by Elmerhelmer’s Elf companion Lameniel, the Warlock was in the negative HPs and wasn’t really in shape to run away on his own. Thing is, with everybody else fighting, the evacuation of the wounded was left to his slaves. (Yes, Warlock’s choice of reward from the party’s earlier success was to be gifted a bunch of slaves by the Prince.) Thing is, the slaves seemed to not notice their fair master beseeching them to carry him out of there. I wonder why that might have been. Ultimately party loyalty carried through and one of the other PCs decided to save poor Warlock from his poetic comeuppance.

The trogs stopped harrying the party after they got above-ground. There was a few hours of daylight left, and no knowledge of what the trogs might do for a follow-up. The party had taken harsh casualties, mainly in NPCs, but so had the trogs.

It’s easy to remain friends when there’s boons to be shared; less so when defeat is to be apportioned. The party had some tough choices here, as they feared the trogs would come out to hunt them after the sundown, and they didn’t consider their chances against those trog-knights in the dark to be very good. Most party members were running low on health if not outright injured. And the injured would slow down any escape. Should the party crawl away from the warrens and try to hide?

So how about that PvP stuff?

The only significant NPC from the other party still alive and functional was the 3rd level Elf-Friend Fighter, Setrep. Elf-Friends are a non-standard character class in the Coup campaign, basically Chaotic Good Paladin-equivalents that take the place of the PC Elf, pretty much. (Demihuman PCs aren’t really a thing in the campaign.) Setrep is interesting in that while his friend and party leader Elmerhelmer the Hero was besotten with Lameniel the Elf, Setrep as something of an expert on the fae has much less of a humanizing approach to the elf; for him Lameniel is a power to treat with, not so much a monkey-sphere object to have a human relationship with. Still, Setrep’s cult precepts pretty much required him to get the wounded Lameniel back to safety.

So Setrep (after I thought about the situation for a minute myself) suggested an actionable plan to the party, who were a bit at a loss as to what to do: the party should escape with the wounded, while he himself would go in a different direction and, by using Faerie Fire, confound the possible trog pursuit to follow him. By having the fires take on the seeming of torches bobbing away over the moors at night he’d have more than a fair chance of attracting the pursuers — and perhaps misleading and avoiding them.

I loved how captain Bootsie, the highly honorable captain of the royal guard (“glory to the Prince!”), jumped onto the plan: it was a great idea, they just should modify it a bit. Setrep should take Bootsie and his mameluke guards with, so the bunch of them could act as the distraction while the rest of the party (the wounded, basically) made their own way out of the wilderness. The two parties should then each make their own way back to the civilization. It was such a beautifully phrased moment of craven cowardice, from an unexpected party, that I held my breath waiting if anybody would call him on it. He had basically just suggested, with a straight face, that they should leave an essentially immobile party of wounded in the brush near the trog lair while every combat-fit party member left hoists sail and marches back to civilization. And the other players did notice it! I can only conlude that Bootsie’s player was feeling the heat, which I totally can’t blame them for, as Bootsie’s a great character, with superb campaign positioning (but read on, this gets better).

Anyway, long story short: the party goes with Setrep’s plan, marches themselves to exhaustion overnight, gets some great practice with hexcrawl navigation and exhaustion rules (I love my hexcrawl, mwah!), has a surprise meet-up with Setrep (the trogs did follow him, and he did escape from them by the skin of his teeth!) and then proceeds to return back to civilization. Lameniel the Elf recovers when the party finds their way to a farming village, and Setrep and Lameniel decide to return with the PC party to the town — they are adventurers after all, and want their share of the rewards!

At this point, let’s take a quick look at the party roster. Ignoring some less pertinent characters and the deaths and such, thus is the Dramatis Personae:

Captain Bootsie is a Lawful Neutral middle-aged Fighter, the personal slave and troubleshooter of the Prince, the local ruler. He has easy access to the Sriracha Mamelukes, the Prince’s slave bodyguard company, being its captain. Bootsie is a great leader and has the Prince wrapped around his little finger, what with having mentored the man from a boy.

Warlock is a petty hedge mage who’s inherited the contract of an imp familiar from his mother; the man desires to follow in mom’s footsteps, but has yet to form a Contract with the Infernal. Chaotic Evil, nay, Chaotic Stupid, responsible for all kinds of trigger-happy murderhoboing so far.

Cultist is what Warlock wants to be, a person who’s sold his soul to Demonic forces. He’s an outwardly pleasant and very rational individual, the very opposite of Chaotic Stupid (he’s Chaotic Evil), presenting as a fighter or maybe a commoner to his fellow adventurers. Cultist is interestingly Psionic (as in, AD&D style: there’s a very low chance for a character with sufficient mental stats to be psionically talented) and trained at the Temple of Doom (as in, Indiana Jones and the), which is just adorable. The first thing he did after getting back to a civilized place was attracting a young man to an illicit tryst and murder-torturing them to regain the single Power point a 1st level Cultist gets. Complained afterwards about how this means of Power recovery is inherently unsustainable, and ain’t that the fucking truth!

The players generally know what the others are playing here, to be clear; we implement PvP maneuvering mostly by having the players desist from applying OOC knowledge, although I’m not above the occasional secret message when it helps hone the scenario.

I hope you’re starting to see the potential for PvP in this campaign. And this has been the situation since day one! Captain Bootsie is a very dominant character due to his position and his command of the party hireling contingent. Meanwhile, the other players hilariously keep… creating… these… murderhoboes!

So anyway, the party returns home to report to the Prince. This goes fairly well and again goes to show how Bootsie is the cornerstone of the overall strategic situation: the party didn’t really find any treasure at the Warrens, but the generous gifts the Prince gave them for their service amounted to what, 6k GP or something like that. At this point something like 95% of the XP the party has gained in this campaign comes from leveraging the relationship with the Prince. (This is an accidental and emergent dynamic, to clarify, resulting from the combination of setting, adventure material and character creation choices.)

Captain Bootsie got to 2nd level, by the way — first in class, and very quickly too! As discussed above, I basically attribute this to the generous patron. As long as the party keeps producing results, they’re actually getting rather fairly rewarded for them. (Compare to the more typical “you’ll each get 100 GP for this task” patrons showing up in adventure modules. The Prince is, well, a prince!)

However, trouble in paradise. Two troubles, to be specific:

How is Warlock a problem: Well, Lameniel the Elf asked the Prince to execute the man. He’s been seen consorting with demons (his imp), and Lameniel just generally loathes the irreverent murderhobo attitudes. Thing is, Sunndi is an “elf-ridden” land as I like to characterize it, and the Prince generally desires to do what the Menowood elves ask of him, on the premise that this’ll keep him in the good books of the king. So yeah, Bootsie, old pal, what do you think if we’ll execute this adventurer pal of yours to keep the elves happy?

How is Cultist a problem: This is actually great play, I love the player for it. You see, Cultist wants to do a call-back to the campaign’s first adventure, the Ruined Monastery, and release Melchert the 3rd level Chaotic Evil Cleric from the Prince’s dungeons. Melchert can then take him on as a disciple, they can gather their own adventuring party, and then they can go do what Melchert was originally doing, namely penetrate the depths beneath the Ruined Monastery and release the chaotic forces therein. It’s a great adventure, and I like Melchert, so what’s not to like! (I’m particularly excited because I decided to put God That Crawls down there. It’s a brilliant twist.)

This is all going down like the next day after the party’s arrival, days before they’ve gotten their gifts from the Prince. (There’s this non-standard reward procedure involved here, less like paying a contractor and more like ancient patronage systems.) Cultist’s stuff is brilliant, and I hope we’re going to play that adventure where they set up an actually explicitly evil party and go back to the monastery. The game has formal procedural elements that basically all but ensure that the Cultist gets to set up their play here; after all, “don’t get in the way of adventure”.

The Warlock situation is interesting, though, because the Prince wants captain Bootsie to weight in on what to do. The Prince considers the Warlock to be implicitly backed by Bootsie as one of his companions, and Bootsie being his father-figure doesn’t want to just outright order an execution without talking it out with the good captain. The Prince had warned Bootsie to keep an eye on Warlock and the Shub Cleric (since deceased in the Chaotic Stupid TPK in session #3) anyway earlier, and Bootsie had been carefully thorough in listing all of Warlock’s misdeeds (like aggravating Bullywugs for no reason, stealing from comrades in arms, etc.) for the Prince in his report. Seems pretty cut and dry, really; the fairy übermensch want his head, we all hate him, he’s obviously a diabolist (a no-no in civilized society, that).

Captain Bootsie, however, goes through a bold series of social maneuvers. Let’s list them out, blow by blow:

Prince asks Bootsie for his opinion: The situation is a bit tricky for him, as he values Bootsie a lot, and wouldn’t have one of his boon companions executed. Lameniel’s just one elf with some relatively round-about demands, and the Prince is a moderate in the Sunndian politics: he doesn’t actually think that Sunndials (that’s my name for the people now) should just kowtow to every whim of every elf that happens to stroll by.

Bootsie prevaricates: “No Sir, I would not presume to make a political decision such as this.” He throws the ball back to the Prince, evidently not wanting to take the responsibility for the kinda harsh turn the events have taken for Warlock. He’s not even the most evil member of the party at this point, after Cultist joined the merry men. Chilling, that matter-of-fact serial killer scene.

Prince makes the call: “Very well, you are right as always my trusted confidante. I decide… to have him executed in the morning!” After all, what’s this Warlock fellow to the Prince, and Bootsie’s been very clear about disliking the man and laying out his crimes. No personal reasons for mercy, and plenty of political capital to be had by fawning over Lameniel the Elf.

Bootsie in a pickle: Now comes the amazing part. I had to ask about this afterwards for curiousity’s sake, because it didn’t compute for me at all at the time: the player didn’t want another PC to get killed, and therefore had Bootsie warn the Warlock of his impending execution well in advance, so that Warlock could escape the palace (which he handily did — finally that Spider Climb spell saw good use!).

Speaking as a fellow armchair-general at the table, this decision was totally confounding to me. As I discussed earlier, I’m not constitutionally opposed to PvP events in the game, and it doesn’t get any more legitimate than this: both characters have been clearly established, the causes of the events are clear, the reasons to have things play out are clear. Bootsie didn’t even have to bloody his own hands with PC-killing, he could just let things progress naturally. It was Warlock who decided that it was a good idea for him to come back to the palace, who after quite explicit strategic flow-charting decided to not murder Lameniel on the way to avoid this exact situation. (Notably, Cultist correctly predicted the outcome in advance and encouraged Warlock to take the shot.)

If Bootsie is secretly evil (using this as a short-hand here; there’s presumably a political position of some kind in this) and wanted to save his compatriot the Warlock, why didn’t he just tell the Prince so when asked about it? Would seem like the most tactically straightforward way into saving Warlock if he wanted to do that; it’s like he specifically wanted to add betrayal into the gumbo. Bootsie’s taking one hell of a risk here, and establishing character positioning that changes everything: I’ve so far depicted a mutually trusting and intimate relationship (as is the default that comes out of the chargen process that set up Bootsie and the Prince), but evidently Bootsie abuses the Prince’s trust for his own hidden purposes. Some high-stakes play there, considering how important the Prince is as a NPC relationship to the party. What will happen later if the Prince finds out that Bootsie helped in the escape.

So Warlock escaped, and the Prince, trusting of Bootsie that he is, sends Bootsie in a manhunt to find the outlaw he himself set free. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes; I’d assume Bootsie will sabotage the effort, but he’s surprised me before. They’ll also get to manage Cultist’s ploy, which actually runs seamlessly with this: Warlock is likely to be blamed for helping Melchert escape, which leaves Cultist sitting pretty, with his reputation intact.

I bet you expected this to be a story about how the PCs finally decided to deservedly kill each other for being Lawful/Chaotic. The value contrasts have been rather obvious for several sessions. Not so, it’s actually the story of how the players are so buddy-buddy that it’s them against the world, even in the face of extremely blatant stakes and positioning; these PCs will always save each other, even if it goes against established character backstory and strategic common sense. After this event I’ve basically lost any hope of seeing the PCs turn against each other, they’re all Chaotic Evil murderhoboes. (Well, Bootsie is now Unaligned-slanting-to-Evil, but you can’t keep consistently facilitating murder, demon worship and D&D adventuring without turning into a murderhobo yourself.)

To be clear, I’m amazed by these events, but not frustrated or angry at them. While I think that after action reviews are valuable for games like this, I also think that people should feel safe to play their own moves without having to worry about being judged. The actual play was entirely sportsmanlike in this instance as well, so for all my amazement at the actual choices the players are making, I’m entirely happy with the process. I also think that it’s sweet of the players to be so concerned about each other as co-participants; as I understand it, Bootsie didn’t want to have Warlock executed because the player didn’t want the other player to lose the character they have been so evidently and vivaciously enjoying for several sessions.

I wonder what Gary Gygax would have done with this kind of situation, by the way. His DMG famously instructs that players “breaking character” should be penalized half their XP scores. (For him it’s an Alignment violation issue, but the way I read it it’s basically about contradicting established characterization, which is frankly my issue with it as well. I don’t think that it’s healthy for the GM to be the backstory police, so no thanks to the XP penalties, but I can understand the dismay that would motivate Gygax to establish such as rule.)

Aphorism of the Week

The aphorism thing from last week inspires me, let’s try that again. This time around we’re cheating: instead of presenting an aphorism that emerged spontaneously from my existential crisis, I’ll consciously craft one to capture some profound wisdom. This should work; I am (as far as I know) a fair wordsmith, so why not aphorisms.

The tadpole is born in the well, and the frog stays in the well.

Hah, that got laconic as fuck after a few brushes. Very good. I’d like to add that kermit puts the lotion in the basket, too, but in aphorisms less is more and pop culture references are best left implicit.

The metaphor of the well-frog is not original, but the moral is one not usually considered in this context: people are born into a natural state of ignorance, a savage condition that can be improved on, but only if you can get out of the well. The dare I say it fabulous (fables, in literary history, are cynical animal tales) implication is that it’s pretty futile for the most part, what with the typical climbing proves of frogs.

In case you’re wondering why the tadpole is in the well in the first place, I suppose the original sin, the fall of the frog so to speak, deposited an ancestor population in there. As people used to intentionally insert frogs into wells on occasion, a hostile divinity may be involved in the world of the simile. In the real world, though, I think we’re just natural well-dwellers, arising from animal nature and occasionally striving to climb out of the well. Segue into the metaphor about the crab bucket here if desired.

Monday: Coup de Main #31

The party returned to Yggsburg at the end of the last session, so here we were — ever-more penniless, hesitant to take any risks, and with just four player characters in the party, with negligible hireling resources. The party’s long-standing policy of not establishing and maintaining a hireling block to draw on for expeditions once again bites them; after the few spectacular grindcore slaughterhouse events earlier in the spring, it’s relatively slow to muster more volunteer hirelings in Yggsburg; so slow and expensive that the party generally doesn’t want to put in the time.

So instead of returning to the Castle, we opted for a review of other adventuring opportunities. After all, surely the party could find something else to occupy themselves with? Some nice low-level scheme that wouldn’t require a full dungeon pelaton? The pickings were somewhat slim at first blush, admittedly; I’m running the sandbox on the premise that adventure hooks beyond the first few are seeded just like any other content, and discovered by industrious adventurer investigation. The implication is that it’s entirely possible to simply run out of adventuring opportunities in a small town like Yggsburg.

The party had some mad luck, though, in that one of the more useless intelligence-gatherers, a Fighter whose name I forget for the moment, got drunk at a tavern and accidentally met with some dwarves who needed an escort to take them to the eastern Cairn Hills. They’d pay like 10 GP in advance and 1 GP per day for the escort! This appealed to the cash-starved adventurers, so off we went, leaving longer-term concerns for another day.

The main part of the session was some relatively hardcore hexcrawling as we waded our way through the Mistmarsh. The obvious MVP was Waylost the Ranger who, despite his nom de guerre, didn’t get lost in the swamps. I can see how hexcrawling is not to everybody’s tastes (it’s more abstract than dungeoneering), but I enjoy it, and I think we’re steadily becoming better at it. For instance, I now have a pretty nice dicing scheme for getting lost (which then got to see more use in Tuesday in the Sunndi campaign fork, too).

The session ended with the party safely most of the way through the swamp. Ironically the journey also brought some fresh meat to the table in terms of adventure hooks. Check this out:

Lizardman raiders vs brave rangers: The party ranger gathered sufficient information on the way to conclude that there’s a fair chance that a certain few villages on the edges of the Mistmarsh were in danger of being overrun by lizardman raids over the on-going summer. I think the probability was estimated at 1/6 per village; clearly not sustainable in the long run. The situation presents itself as fair and honest witcher work, really, as the villages seem to be aware of the threat (on account of having already been raided), but the location is so distant from the City that the government is realistically not going to do anything. Seems like a perfect example of what Rangers are for as an institution!

The cursed Wrenwalds estate: The party actually stumbled, entirely by chance as far as I’m concerned, on a pre-seeded adventure location of sorts. They didn’t stray from the dwarf escort mission of course, but the location combined with a character acing their local lore got the party a fair account of a strange place that might or might not be worthy of further examination later on. This could of course be a place that has monsters but no treasure, because why would every adventure location have something rewarding in there, but how likely is that in the D&D world…

Session #32 is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday 29.6., starting around 16:00 UTC. Feel free to stop by if you’re interested in trying the game out or simply seeing what it’s like.

Thursday: Christmassy Lapfantasy

The Lapfantasy continues unabated. At this point it’s no secret if I say that the trolls are marching vigorously through the lands of Turja, with half of the other factions cowed diplomatically (I mean, props to Staalo Claus — he’s rocking the diplomacy here!) and the other half weak and hesitant against the high fantasy fascist simile. Appeasement is the word of the day. Nobody knows what the Old Man of the Mountain, Santa Claus, has hidden in his voluminous sleeves. As is often the case in hidden-information games, we’ll no doubt all be dazzled when the serious clashes begin and the various factions reveal what they’ve been preparing for the confrontation!

State of the Productive Facilities

I actually wrote out the first half of the upcoming essay on the Sacrament of Death after getting the week’s gaming done, so I can’t say that I wouldn’t have done anything at all this week. The general tenor is still one of endless procrastination, though; I’ve read some books and watched some tv, and generally been a wastrel. Hopefully next week sees more productive focus!

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5 thoughts on “New on Desk #56 — PvP the Entertaining”

  1. “Sudden profit opportunity: I believe that the goal in D&D is not party success, but rather individual success. These two may well align, and it’s part of the play skill to make them align so as to prevent backstabbing. When players fail to align interests, that leaves the door open for an unexpected backstab and a ruthless operator absconding with the loot. Forbidding this possibility with meta-gaming is like refusing to apply darkness penalties to parties without light sources; abrogation of the simulation.”

    Party success vs. individual success is hopefully something that is discussed and agreed upon in the zero session. Adventuring party needs to have a mutual trust in order to function properly, so for me personally “party success” campaigns are easy mode and “individual success” campaign are hard mode. Even if the characters’ interests are conflicted, there are other ways to deal with the situation instead of resorting to straight-up backstabbing.

    1. Of course a range of interpersonal solutions exists. The question is, is the domain of intraparty maneuvers “in play” in the sense that every player is representing an autonomous individual in the game? People will often answer in the affirmative on that (“in a roleplaying game you play your character, and the GM plays the world…”), but if we actually say that betraying the party is not cricket, then in reality the answer is no — the party as a whole might actually be dynamically contesting things with external forces, but the individual party members are not to be considered as autonomous actors. The players are expected to constructively ignore individual character interests where they clash with party interests.

      What complicates this further is that even a game that forbids PvP may well desire for the appearance of autonomous decision-making; we want the adventuring party to squabble and debate and have “drama”. It just can’t be real, the characters can’t really hurt each other in any meaningful way due to disagreeing on where their interests lie.

      And, to make the entire thing even more muddled, in the real world this isn’t even a binary choice: what actual gaming groups usually do is explicit “you should portray your character however you like” coupled with implicit “as long as you don’t ruin the party conceit”. What this then means in practice is that you can have a tiny bit of personal character agency, even against the party, as long as it’s entertaining and insubstantial and ultimately doesn’t end up breaking the party. So doing e.g. smuggling on the side is OK, selling the other PCs out to the enemy is not.

      Both PvP and team games can have the seeming of characters negotiating and compromising with each other, but the context is very different if the “negotiation is real” in the sense that it actually could conceivably break down and lead to intraparty hostility, as compared to a game where the players are squabbling for the sake of roleplaying aesthetics or simply to discover what the party will do next.

    1. Coup? Yeah, that’s why I post an invite every week alongside the session report! Here’s what to do if you’re interested:

      1) Get to the Discord server. Here’s a day-invite good for today.
      2) Check out the campaign materials, create a character with the regulars over text chat, whatever.
      3) Join the video chat at the appointed time.

      The game’s an open process, we welcome visitors, guests, observers, you name it. I’ll especially note that just joining in for a single session is no trouble at all, the nature of the game is such that having new people sit in is straight out an advantage for the party. You might stumble into it in the middle of an adventure, or during a logistics session, but following along with the regulars will quickly get one up to speed.

      1. Ah, somehow missed the invitation. Saw it in last week’s post, but missed it here.
        Thanks, will check it out!

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