19 November 2012

Earthdawn: Part 18 - Play Aids 1

This is the eighteenth part in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

This article is a compilation of five game aids that were introduced in the Adventure Logs, and discussed how they were constructed (if applicable) and what they brought to the game. Covered here are player boxes to hold trophies, coins, dice and sundry; physical coinage; note cards; binders; and a party treasury. If you have been keeping up with the Adventure Logs, there isn't much to see here. If you have given them a pass, there may be something of here of interest.

The first play aid I introduced for my players was binders. They were created for each character and have a combat summary; a chart with the action dice, steps, and result levels; combat option sheets; expanded character sheets; full descriptions of all Talents and skills (including any relevant tables); and pouches to keep note cards. Everything is in sheet protectors and all of the players have dry erase markers, which can be used to make notes on the sheet protectors - track damage, make notes, reminders, gibberish that can only be interpreted as some kind of psychological warfare as I puzzle over it for hours, you know, player stuff. All of this is to try and move things along quickly, particularly combat, by putting all of the relevant information at each player's hand without anyone getting lost in the Player's Guide. The ability to write on the sheets and then easily clean it up means that everything stays legible longer and combat notes are easy. For games that have a lot going on, this is a very helpful system for me. In other games I have included information from between games in the binders as an easy way to disseminate information without exactly letting each player know fully what was going on.

One of my favorite play aids, no matter what the game, is note cards. These are the best way for me to distribute things that I want players to have in some way and tend to quickly go on replacing traditional ways to track various things. For example, I have cards for every piece of equipment with the game effects and stats (including weight and cost), along with a description. This helps save time looking things up (including buying more, or even making it), gives a place to take notes and also tracks who actually possesses the item in question. All of this is doubly true for Thread Items. They make great handouts and a useful way to introduce new characters. Make a card with their Name and some key traits about them; easy descriptors to convey the important elements about them. Players can then take notes about that character in one place. I prefer to color code my note cards, so I know at a glance what I have; for example, purple is people, green places, red blood magic, white equipment, blue key items, and yellow consumables. An interesting way to implement theft is to quietly remove a card from a stack and then have the theft noted when the player notices the item is missing. This is not a good idea for every group or player, though can be effective for groups that appreciate that kind of play.

To really up the ante on personal production values and give them a place to keep all of their stuff, I introduced boxes for each player. Since they were going to be getting more props, it was clear that they would need something in which to keep them. Also, dice rolling was getting a little out of hand at times - I'm not a fan of dice continually rolling off the table and onto the floor. To solve all of these problems, I picked up some pine boxes from a local craft store (Jo Ann's), wood stain in a variety of colors, and adhesive backed felt in a number of colors. The boxes were stained and the bottom of the interior and underside of the lid had felt applied to them. The idea being that the box would be a holding place and the lid would be used for rolling. Unfortunately for me, the lid tended to just become another holding place for Karma dice. The best laid plans.

In a continuing effort to remove actual bookkeeping from my players and give them tactile elements to play with, I introduced Campaign Coins. While the players were hesitant at first (it seemed something like an extra step with counting and all to manipulate the monies), it was quickly shown to be a success. There is something visceral about handling actual money that writing and erasing numbers cannot replicate. It is difficult to write about because it is purely physical. Funds become more real, and players are both more willing to spend them - a cost may be incidental if all you have to do is hand over some coins - and also more aware of them: their piles of coins start to actually vanish. From a GM perspective, it's much easier to track funds: players either physically have them, or they don't. Doling out treasure can be as simple as grabbing a handful of the right color and size; much faster than a die roll and has a more random feel since it will be in different denominations. This is made much easier by having a box to put all of these coins in for each player.

The group treasury was an element which really helped to bring everyone together. The idea certainly isn't a new one, but many players are hesitant at the idea of one player recording all of the group things and effectively having control over this resource in addition to their own resources. This is not an unfair sentiment. To directly address that, while still providing the benefit of pooled resources, I got a physical box to keep everything in. It's similar to the player boxes, but a little smaller, a different shape (hexagon vs. circle), with hinges and a latch - it is clearly a different box. Since money is tracked by actual coins and nearly all of the other consumables have tokens, everything fits in the box nicely and can be clearly interacted with by each player. This means there is no gatekeeper to the funds, that donating to it is as simple as tossing coins inside, and what is available is readily apparent. The actual results are very different as well. Since it's introduction, most of the players donate nearly everything to the group treasury. One player only donates most of it, and he gets some gentle ribbing, which is still remarkable. The physical construct focuses attention in a way that abstractions do not. For any groups looking to promote more cohesion, I cannot recommend these enough.