Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Bullshit Tables, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Improv

[WARNING: At some point while I was writing this things got NSFW]

Rambling Preamble (Preramble?)

When I started my DCC campaign a few weeks ago, in my mind, the campaign world looked like this:

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that it quickly turned into this:

Alex DeLarge is the quintessential murderhobo as far as I'm concerned
I celebrate this contrast. In my mind, D&Dlikes are always a destructive collaboration between the DM and players to create something that neither was expecting. The DM brings one set of ideas, the players bring theirs, and they rip each other's shit apart. The ensuing mess is at once beautiful, awful, and entirely unexpected. That is D&D at its very best.

Seriously, this scene is like remarkably close to something that happened in this evening's game.
All this to say that my players like to go off the rails.

This is fine! The last few sessions have been like this:

1. I imagine a beautiful vast sandbox with meticulously prepared locations that are fascinating and connections between them and cool items and challenges.

2. I don't have time to prepare all those things and prioritize the wrong ones in the time between actual games, my job, procrastination, and now school. I slap together something railroady but relatively satisfying on its own.

3. My players (roll 1d20) 1. go with it and dig it; 2-19. don't give a shit, want to do something else; 20. give a shit but get distracted

Today was a 20. After the cleric crit failed a spell check in a skirmish at the entrance of the dungeon and fell into disfavour, the party promptly turned tail away from the dungeon I'd stocked, away from the town I'd tabled, to perform some terrible fucking ritual to please the god of gluttony and avarice.

Luckily for me, this isn't the first time they pull this kind of shit.* I saw this kind of nonsense coming from a mile away. Or rather, from about half an hour before my players showed up. So I hastily threw together this:

The Bullshit Table (this is what you came for)

Whenever the players go off somewhere you weren't expecting and didn't prep, roll on this table:

What's over here then? (2d6)
2. Terrible, terrible danger
3. Serious danger
4. Something bad disguised as something good
5. Hidden danger
6. Danger and a small boon
7. Danger guarding a boon
8. Mild danger and a boon
9. Something safe that looks dangerous
10. Something safe
11. Something good
12. Treasure, boons, fortune, etc.

If you're playing DCC and the party isn't crammed with a bajillion 0-levels, consider averaging out the party's Luck scores and deriving a modifier for this table.

Then, roll on Michael Raston's handy-dandy Universal Aspect Table (it says d100 but you could just as easily use a d10). Or, if you have a local inspiration table/folder/whatever on hand, use that.

Jesus that's a lot of buildup for such a stupid table. I'm so sorry. Have another table.

Ok now here's a table for scalar success for d20 Systems

This table is based on the levels of difficulty outlined in the Skills chapter of the DCC Corebook but is generally d20/OSR compatible. It combines these levels of difficulty with the storygamey idea of partial success/success at a cost.

Child’s Play
Man’s deed
Hero’s work
Total failure
Major success

When you're making shit up on the fly, it's a good stalling tactic to let PC actions create interesting situations.

A lot of DMs like to handwave DCs and just look at the roll and decide then whether it's high enough. This makes me feel icky. If a player's going to risk rolling, I damn well owe them the courtesy of having a number they need to roll in mind. But even that produces situations where a PC is throwing themself across the stupid chasm I just pulled out of my ass and that's a feat of derring-do (DC 15) but they roll a 14 so here I am like "oh fuck it I guess you make it across" because killing them feels like bullshit.

This table gives me number to commit to, as well as defining in-between areas where I can say things like, "Okay, you throw yourself over the chasm but lose your gumption just as your feet leave the ground. You're hurtling across it now, but you can already see you're not going to make it. You can grab onto the edge, but you'll take 1d6 damage from hitting the wall. Otherwise there's some jutting flagstones a little way's down you can grab on to, but climbing up from there is no easy task." And if they roll a 9 I can feel pretty okay about saying "you fall to your death" because I have a table that says 9 is a failure and it doesn't stink of fiat.

In the end this table is in large part about having standards for fair adjudication. It means that no matter what I think of a course of action, no matter who's trying the roll, all I do is tell the player what success scale they're rolling on and the rest is up to the players and their dice. Not every DM needs one, but it makes me feel good.

*Now that I think about it, the biggest bastard in the party in my games always seems to be the cleric.

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