Wednesday, May 05, 2010

How to Make it Metal

In our introductory session, we did some things that were pretty kick-ass. We took down a level-five Solo without losing anyone. We busted through level two, straight into level three. We killed a dude with a scalpel, and that's always a fun experience. And while some of that stuff seems pretty Metal (and the events themselves were very metal within the framework of the game), none of those things are, in and of themselves, indicative of the genre we're trying to invoke with the game. A lot of the Metal flavor came from the set dressing, the player's descriptions of characters and actions, and the role-playing that happened around the table.

It can be pretty tough to run a game within a particular sub-genre of fantasy with Dungeons and Dragons. Honestly, the game is rather poorly set up to do setting-specific things. It's in nearly every way an Epic Fantasy Game, and that comes with a certain amount of baggage that can be difficult to shake off when you're trying to do something a little more unique. Making a game that tries to emulate the stylings of the Heavy Metal music movement is a little more unique than that, and it requires a bit of help from the players to really make it happen.

The first major step in making a game that fits a genre is understanding what everyone wants to do with that genre. Role-playing games are a collaborative thing; they require input from all of the forces that are making the game what it is, so bringing the players into the brain-storming is never a bad idea. At the end of the first session (which was, to be honest, only half-good), I sat down with my players and asked them what they wanted to see from the game, what sorts of things they'd be interested in playing through. There were some suggestions batted around, such as increasing the importance of the music in the game, stealing fashions and styles from various metal movements when creating the cultures of the various races (the Femural Forest elves, for instance, have adopted Hair Metal as their aesthetic; it should probably be noted, they're still bad-asses).

But catering to the players' expectation isn't where it ends. You have to involve them in the creation of the genre story. I can establish the dramatic form, and the players will ham to that naturally, but if you want a game to be truly effective in establishing a genre tale, you need to get players pushing the envelope. I need my players to push themselves, to see just how fucking Metal they can be. And that means I need to reward them for playing in a way that advances the themes I want to advance.

I'm a lead-with-the-carrot kind of Game Master, regardless of the game I'm playing. As much as I may love to kill people on a weekly basis in D&D Encounters, I'm not really out to get my players when I'm playing a story-based game. I'll kill them if I have to, or if the dice are particularly mean, but I try to avoid it when I can. People work hard to create those characters, they invest a lot of emotion into making those people "live," and they've invested quite a bit into making the story those characters are playing in pretty fucking awesome. I would rather not punish my players for not playing to type; that isn't going to make it any fun for anyone. Instead, I want to give them something tangible for doing the things that make the game "better." In this case, "better" equals "Metal."

So I'm going to be adding something to my game that is going to reward my players for doing things that are specifically in-genre. Much like the Favors rewarded players for acting within the genre of a cop drama, I'm going to craft a system that allows players to get a kick-ass reward for doing something that is incredibly, amazingly, perfectly Metal. This isn't something I've used yet, but I'll be introducing it on Monday as a way players can get more from the game.


Brutality is measure of your character's reputation as a complete and total fucking bad-ass. At the beginning of the campaign, there are a few major players who know that you're the person to call when shit gets serious, but you're not generally well-known. As you progress in Brutality, people will come to know that you mean business, that you are not to be fucked with, and that the shit that you do is some pretty important shit.

When you do something that is 100% pure Heavy Metal, the DM may reward you with a Brutality Point. Brutality Points can be allocated to one of two stats on your character sheet: Fame and Import.

Fame is how well known your character is. A person with a Fame of one or two may be recognized in their hometown or by people in his or her field of work. A person with a Fame of 15 is known the world over. A person with a Fame of 20 is known by the Gods themselves.

Import is a measure of how seriously people take your character. A person with an import of 1 or 2 is generally considered to have a pretty important job in the community, the equal of a sheriff or a low-ranking officer in the army. A person with an Import of 15 is generally considered to have responsibilities on par with those of kings. A person with an Import of 20 has a job as important as making sure gravity still works, something that shakes entire planes of existence.

These are, of course, rough guidelines. You can fill them in however you like. A person with a Fame of 5 but an Import of 8 works behind the scenes for the most part, but the people who know about her respect her as the equal of the mayor of a minor city-state. A warrior with a Fame of 10, with an Import of 6 is known throughout the countryside as a monster-killing machine, and the country-folk respect him for it. As you gain Fame and Import, you can discuss with your DM how those things manifest themselves. They may result in requisitions for powerful magic items, free room and board, all the whores a woman can feast herself on, or even the attention of a God...

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