My Own Private Marathon

It's less than a month till my big run. I'm still short of my sponsorship target - every pound counts, so please follow this link and donate anything you can afford.

As part of my prep for the Marlborough Downs Challenge 33, I'm running a marathon today.

That's 7 miles less than the 33 miles of the Marlborough race, of course, but it'll be a good bench mark.

So I'm off down the A5 to Towcester, then back home by the back roads through Blakesley, Maidford and Preston Capes - and finally, over the dreaded Newnham Hill at about mile 24.

It's a lovely sunny day today. Sunblock, asthma medication, sports drinks, sunglasses and phone all ready. Best be off then!

I fully expect to be told I'm going the wrong way, and a long way from London.


After the Heroes are Dead

What happens to your game after a total party kill?

Eventually, despite all your careful planning as a GM, the players will lose. You'll be looking round at the blank or grumpy faces of your players after a TPK, feeling maybe guilty, maybe pleased with yourself - but realising that you've just stopped the game. Dead.

So - you've killed the whole player party. Now what?

You could of course play a different game - either a wholly different game (Monopoly or poker instead of an RPG), play with different RPG rules (Traveller instead of D&D), or play in a different setting (d20 Modern instead of d20 Future).

But if you've got all the gear in place to play your preferred RPG, you probably don't want to ditch that game just yet.

Here are a few options to let your game carry on in one way or another.

New party
The traditional solution to a TPK is a new party. The players start making up new characters. This was once considered the normal thing to do, just as killing the whole party was once considered fairly normal.
Of course, early RPGs tended to have simple character creation rules, so this process often only took a few minutes. Now we have two-page character sheets as the norm, and many options for customisation, the new party solution can be more of an ordeal, less fun.

If you're creating a new party, you generally have two options for continued play:
  • New goals: a fresh game in the same setting
    • The new party is unrelated to the old party, and will pursue different stories and adventures.
    • This will take a fair bit of work on the part of the GM - depending on when in the game session your TPK happened, you may get away with having some introductory hook before you get to take a break till the next session.
  • Same goals: pick up the pieces of the previous failure
    • The new party is a rescue team, or rival explorers, following the same or similar adventure path.
Captured, not killed
The bad guys have hauled the defeated and unconscious heroes away to some stronghold, where they regain consciousness. From this situation, they can think about escape ... regaining their McGuffins (and other necessary equipment) ...

  • Means of escape: how do they get out again?
    • You'll need to think about how often guards patrol and jailers visit, how difficult the lock is to pick, and so on.
    • You'll need a layout for the dungeon or wherever it is the heroes have been incarcerated.
  • Interrogation: how do you resolve torture and questioning?
    • Do the rules you're playing with have a mechanic for interrogation, or will you have to make one up? Can you just roleplay it - letting the player decide how stoic his character is? This will depend on your players, but it's worth thinking about this before you spring such scenes on the players.
    • Careful with this topic - your players will have different levels of enthusiasm for scenes of this nature.
Capturing the heroes can of course move them deep into the enemy base - which may have been a goal of theirs all along.

The capture scenario works best if the bad guys would realistically feel the need to extract information from the heroes, hold them ransom, or similar. It's not realistic if the bad guys would gain more by killing their enemies once they were at their mercy.
Remember though - even some dumb animals may store their fresh meat for later: like the spiders in Middle Earth

A variant of the capture idea is that one of the heroes gets away.
Perhaps the sneakiest of the hero party isn't found during the imprisonment of the fallen, and comes round by herself later. This gives us a cinematic episode in which you can jump back and forth between the gloating bad guys, and the daring rescue attempt.

The heroes become ghosts or vampires and continue a shadowy existence.

  • Vile undead: the vile bad guys re-use the fallen heroes as undead! 
    • A few more vampires for the evil army are always useful.
    • The players then have the option of playing as evil undead (which can be great fun in itself) or trying to regain their lost humanity.
  • Tragic spooks: the woe of the restless dead!
    • The heroes are insubstantial ghosts, trying to influence the world to right the wrongs they left unfinished.
    • This also marries up with the vile undead version, in that some players may wish to portray their monstrous undead characters as victims rather than predators.
You'll need to make sure you have some sort of mechanical method to resolve conflicts between the vile nature of the undead, and the resisting human soul. You'll also need to decide how - if at all - the heroes can be returned to life once they've become undead.
In less fantastic settings, for "undead", you could insert "hypnotised agent" - where the players' characters are returned as evil clones, cyborg agents, or Manchurian Candidates under the control of the evil mastermind. The outcome is effectively the same.
You may find that your players differ on whether they want to play as evil, or try to return their characters to life in some way. If this seems likely, you might find the group would enjoy playing these  factions off against each other.

The heroes are dead, and go to their appointed place in the afterlife.

  • Resurrected: you are our only hope!
    • The heroes are returned to life by some future earthly agents, perhaps to fulfil their previous mission, or perhaps to take on a new threat. Think of King Arthur and his knights, who will supposedly return to aid Albion in its time of need. Perhaps ages have passed, and the world is utterly different - the consequences of the heroes previous failure. Or maybe only a few months or weeks or days have passed.
    • In fantasy games, magic may raise the dead. In sci-fi, maybe cloning, brain download, or cryogenics allows the heroes to live again.
  • Fight for life: the Seventh Seal effect
    • the heroes are given the chance to defeat Death in the afterlife, and must argue their case  to return to life.
You'll need some ideas about how the afterlife appears in your setting, what denizens there are, bureaucracy and rules, styles and themes. Are there different parts for heroes of different ethics and morals? Different cultures?

Dream prophesy
After the TPK, return the game to a prior point in play, and continue as though the previous deaths were some sort of vision or dream.
The morning before the massacre, with the heroes waking and preparing for the day ahead, is a good point to revert to, but you can pick any time you feel like - even just a few minute before.
One (or more) of the heroes had a dream or vision of the death of the whole party - and armed with that prophetic knowledge, they can try to avert disaster.

  • One visionary: the Final Destination effect
    • only one of the party knows about the vision / dream, and must try to convince the rest of the heroes about the danger ahead.
    • This requires the rest of the players to separate their player knowledge from character knowledge, and play their roles well. The dramatic irony of such a situation can be great fun to play with - but if your players aren't up for the challenge of role-playing ignorance, then this may fall flat. Your mileage may vary, as they say.
  • Shared dream: the whole party recalls the vision 
    • This is obviously as far more magical event, and will tend to elicit proactive cooperation to avoid the TPK.

These method work well if the party were heavily overpowered - they get a chance to plan ahead and try again.

Death in action
Planning and preparation is required for all of the suggestions above - but you can leave that preparation quite generic until you need it.
For the Captured scenario, for example, you only need to have a sketch of generic dungeon or jail, with a few notes on guards and locks - these sorts of things can be handy whether or not you kill everyone!

Of course, it's a good idea when the TPK happens to talk about what your players want to do. It's no good trying to carry on if the players aren't on board, and it's no good trying to change the tone of the game suddenly in the middle of play - making them all spectres, or going on the spirit journey through the afterlife - if the players aren't up for that.
Remember as well to be sensitive to players personal beliefs, as far as you know them. It can be helpful to reiterate that you're playing a fictional game, not exploring religious truths.


Dice Results and You

I've been running some surveys on a few gaming forums (fora? - sounds wrong, but might be right).
UK Role Players Forum
Giant in the Playground Forum

I'm interested in how gamers feel about success and failure, and whose dice roll determines that success or failure. My intent was to use the results as part of the support for various game-play ideas I had: being a sciencey sort of chap, I thought it would be best to get real data rather than rely on my own pre-conceptions about what other gamers feel.

I've got around fifty responses at the time of writing, and may yet get more, but it seems like a good time to dig in and examine the spread of answers.

What was I trying to prove?
My hypothesis was that gamers prefer to roll their own success and failure - they feel less bad when they fail if they rolled the dice themselves, and feel better when they roll successes for themselves.
For "fail", I include all bad outcomes for the player's character: not noticing a trap, falling off a cliff, being hit in combat, etc.

The Questions
  1. When you roll good numbers (so your character succeeds), how do you feel?
  2. When you roll badly (so your character fails), how do you feel?
  3. For opposed rolls, if you roll well, but the GM rolls better (so your character fails), how do you feel?
  4. For opposed rolls, when the GM rolls poorly but you roll better (so your character succeeds), how do you feel?
  5. Do you feel better about success when you roll the dice, or when the GM rolls the dice?
  6. Do you feel worse about failure when you roll the dice, or when the GM rolls?
In Q3 & Q4, "opposed" rolls are when the player and the GM each roll dice in contest with each other, and the better result wins. They're fairly typical in lots of RPGs.
I felt these sorts of rolls were significantly different to simple uncontested rolls (where the player is just aiming for a target number) because the introduction of the GM as another agent in the roll adds a social / competitive dimension.

Q5 & Q6 are flip sides of the same question: if success is better when you roll the dice, then it follows that success is less good when the GM rolls.

The Results
Q1 & Q2 gave fairly predictable results: players feel good about success, and bad about failure - or neutral. Notice that the majorities here are fairly overwhelming.
Q1: Majority positive feelings about success

Q2: Majority negative feelings about failure
 It's also interesting that while no-one expressed negative feelings about success, a few responders expressed positive feelings about failure - roughly the same number as expressed neutral feelings.
Those comments were along the lines of "failure can lead to exciting situations" - essentially, that the drama of the game can be served by the failure of the heroes. Very altruistic!

 Q3 & Q4 again gave similar results to Q1 and Q2, but notice that the overwhelming majorities are reduced. There are a lot more neutral opinions when the rolls are opposed.
Q3 & Q4: Reduced majority +ve & -ve feelings about opposed rolls, increased neutral feelings

Q5 & Q6 show that the majority feels better about success and failure when rolling the dice for themselves. However, it's worth noticing that the majority is reduced regarding failure.
Q5 & Q6: Majority favours player rolling the dice

The Nuances
Because the questions were asked in open forums, responders were free to elaborate on their answers. This produced lots of subtle variation to the bald results, and some interesting unsolicited insights - some of which were quite commonly expressed.

GM fudging:
Most obviously, the issue of GMs fudging the dice results came up in about one third of responses - and the comments were all negative. From these results, it appears that GMs' honesty as referees of the game is either viewed neutrally (about 2/3 answers expressed no opinion on GM fudging), or negatively (a little over 1/3 of answers showed suspicion of GMs' declared dice results).

National bias:
The UK Roleplayers forum (massively UK membership, few international members) produced a similar overall pattern of results to the Giant in the Playground forum (54% US membership, otherwise international), but included far less "Neutral" responses.
In fact, the only neutral responses on the UK RP forum are those that expressed no opinion on GM fudging - which was an unsolicited topic.

The Conclusions?
My hypothesis that players feel better about rolling the dice for themselves is born out by the responses.
It also appears that feelings are stronger about success than they are about failure.

The untrustworthiness of GMs with regards to dice rolls is an issue for a significant proportion of responders. All those who expressed an opinion on trust said that they did not trust GMs' dice results.

As to what to do with these results - I plan to go into the practical application of the results in another post.
These surveys were carried out to establish the opinions of fellow players to support some game-play ideas I've been mulling over. Watch this space!


Recovery Days

I decided not to go running today.

Yesterday, I ran 32 km, and it's tried me out. All the fine muscles and tendons round both knees and ankles are aching still. It hurts a bit to climb the stairs.

It's been a long time since I ached the day after a run. Yesterday wasn't an especially long run - I've gone farther, and recovered faster - but I think that it was the pace I kept up through the run that's left me aching.

We've just entered April - my big event target is the 33 mile race in May, a little over a month away. Now is not the time to be wussing out of training.
I'm pretty sure tomorrow I'll be fine - but despite my fatigue, I don't want to loose today.

So - onto the static bike for some high intensity cycling, and a bout of boxing training with my heavy punch bag.
My knees and ankles are aching, so I pick the bike as it doesn't impact those joints. Also, boxing doesn't impact the legs, except in asking for agility.

Both these exercises are good for general fitness and cardio - and those are things I need to keep up with too. It's all very well pushing my distance endurance limits, but without a strong heart to back it up, it won't do me much good.