The Barbarian Game Concept

Posted on February 7, 2013 by

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When I first started playing D&D, I could not find a game that was in any way compelling. NPCs were flat, boring, and served only as punching bags for the characters, who in turn were little more than bags of ego with a class attached. Stories were rarely developed, and quickly abandoned.

The only solution I found was to create my own group, with dedicated players, detailed worlds, and creative DMs. We have delved deep into what is possible in a role-playing game, from sessions that take place in a stream of conscious dream world, to one that explored the characters’ deeply rooted memories, deconstructing each of them while foreshadowing coming events. As a group we have set high standards for all aspects of our games: Stories, characters, roleplaying, combat, etc…

But sometimes, you know, you just gotta say, “Fuck it. Let’s kill some orcs.”

Enter the Barbarian Game. It’s a concept I came up with a few years back, after the first attempt at Miranda failed. I wanted to play a game that harkened back to the ones I played in my youth, where characters were selfish, NPCs generic, and the world itself merely a plaything for the party. It was an exercise in letting go, in relaxing, and in focusing my time on exploring fun encounters and challenges instead of back stories for every fucking NPC.

The result? And incredibly fun, engaging game, full of fantastic moments.

barbarians

The rules:

For the Players

1.Character backgrounds must be fifty words or less. The more generic the background, the more glorious.

2.Characters may not have more complex motivations than gold, glory, adventure, or violence.

3.Classes should be relegated to the more “barbarian” ones; Martial and Primal are gold. Divine and Arcane are questionable. Psychic is right out (except monk, which is really more martial).

5. The players must be from some sort of tribe: A mockery of Vikings was the theme of the first game; the current one is more Celtic in flavor.

6. Be Awesome. Just because this game emphasizes mechanics about story doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be roleplaying. Exactly the opposite. Give in to all the ridiculous, stupid things you always wanted to do in your regular campaign. Push the mechanics of the game to the edge. I once had a player use the Psion’s “Sudden Betrayal” power (yes, he played a psychic character, I know what I just wrote) to fling a shark up out of the water onto a Sahuaguin. Did it make sense, rules wise? Hell no. Was it awesome? Hell yes. Another character later kicked a villager into the water to be feasted on by sharks so the party could make their escape.

7. Forget morality. This isn’t necessarily an evil campaign. Playing characters who get off on torturing and murdering don’t have a place here. This is where you play the “Chaotic Neutral” character that so many amateur players choose.

However:

6. Don’t be a dick. This is an exercise in doing stupid campaigns well, not abusing your fellow players. Your characters may be assholes, but that’s even more responsibility for the players to not be. With a game like this, it’s tempting to give in to your more dickish qualities, but remember that everyone is still there to have fun.

For the DM

1. NPCs must not be deeply layered, compelling, or complex. Cliches, parodies, and generic NPCs are what we are looking for.

2. Low levels only. In fourth ed, this means you are relegated to Heroic tier, and no further.

4. Shorter games. This is definitely not a campaign that can play out for a year. This is a fun, refreshing game between campaigns.

5. Character are not sacred. They are definitely mortal. Carry no compunction or hesitance to slay them.

6. Dungeons need not make any sense, ecologically. Normal we worry “How did these monsters get here? How do they interact, avoid their own traps, feed, etc…”. Not here. Here is where Dungeons have a different element for each room, where dragons wait along side orcs for years for the adventurers to come through. If it’s fun, it works. If it makes no sense, all the better.

7. Try different systems. The Barbarian game works phenomenally with Heroic Tier 4th, especially with Essentials. It would be a great tool to test Next with, as the mechanics are explored more than the story. I’m sure other fantasy systems would be fun to apply the concept too.

8. Be flexible. This should be true of all games, but it’s an easy exercise with the Barbarian game, as there is less at stake for each person.

9. Don’t be a dick. The Golden Rule. Don’t be afraid to kill characters, but don’t try to either. Don’t give your players insurmountable odds, just give them fun, brutal fights. Remember how much the game is about them. This world, even more than a normal DnD campaign, is their plaything.

The Reasons:

When Tai-Chi practitioners finish their sets, they often bounce up and down, throwing their arms up in the air, flailing and howling. When the Hopi tribe performed their spring and summer rituals, clowns, known as Kachina, would perform a mockery of the ritual, often backwards and smeared in mud. During the run of a play, actors sometimes perform a Pick-Up rehearsal, blowing through the show as quickly as they can.

When we do something enough times, we begin to form habits. When we think we are good at something, these habits have a tendency to grow stale. We fall back on them instead of challenging ourselves. We become rigid, and then stuck. As a DM who is generally confident in his abilities, and who often attempts to push thing to new limits, it’s rewarding to remind myself that, at its core, a large part of the game is about talking in silly voices, and pretending to kill things in a shared imagination.

What’s funny is that when I let go, and give into the absurdity of the game, what we end up with might be stupid, but it’s still creative, engaging, and, above all, fun! And that’s really what is should be about.

I know this entire premise goes against everything Dungeon Remastered stands for, but really, give it a try. You might just find your preconceptions about what constitutes a good game being questioned. It might just make you a better DM. And if not? You’ll probably still have a lot of fun.

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