Oh man I totally dropped the ball on this one. The last couple weeks or so have been buckwild for me, but I should be back on track now. Without belaboring the point too badly, here are my Week Three responses for #RPGaDay 2018!
August 13th: Describe how your play has evolved
I like combat a lot less than I used to.
When I first started delving into the hobby, which, granted, was at age 13 or so, I was all about the fightin’. RPGs were just a way to emulate a seemingly endless combat between some badass hero dudes and, like, I dunno, fifty orcs or whatever. Adventures were excuses to collect cool swords and kill things. When I started designing games, I was designing super-complicated combat systems and basically ignoring anything else.
But, as time went on, a little switch started to flip over in my head. Suddenly, combat was no longer as interesting to me, and I started to realize that, as a GM, my sessions were including less and less of it, to the point where some of my plot arcs literally never involved a single initiative roll. In designing games, I started to abstract away bits of combat, or otherwise use combat as a vehicle for other parts of the game, as a sort of delivery method for the things I actually care about.
I’m not 100% sure why my opinion of combat has shifted. I think it’s just that I have become dissatisfied with the way combat works in so many games. I hate how things just grind to a halt, the abstraction of hit points and damage leaves things feeling so mathematical, and it feels like all of the roleplay and interesting character just dies. Some games do a much better job than others (I like PbtA’s approach to combat a lot), but in the meanwhile, my opinion’s probably going to stay this way until I can find a better solution, or craft one myself.
August 14th Describe a failure that became amazing
For the uninitiated, a Purple Worm is a fuck-off-big D&D staple monster, notable for being a giant goddamn mouth with a big snake body that basically does nothing other than wreck shit.
So, one day, our D&D party, tired, beaten-down, and low on resources, encounters a Purple Worm. Now, our party hasn’t really internalized the idea of “we shouldn’t just fight everything we see” yet, except for me, mostly because my character is useless in combat and crumples like a wet paper bag when presented with a strong breeze. So, we draw swords on this thing, and our party paladin, almost instantly, dies. I, seeing an opportunity to loot his corpse, er, I mean, protect his body for later resurrection, teleport away with him, and the rest of the party gets promptly swallowed. It is at this point, where we’re approaching a near-complete TPK, that our Wizard does something preposterously stupid.
He casts Rope Trick.
If you don’t know, Rope Trick is cast on a rope, at which point the role extends towards the ceiling and creates a little pocked dimension at the top, at which point you can climb the rope and hide, in safety, in the hole. In this case, said hole was constructed in the upper stomach lining of the worm, which at this point, basically was the victor of the fight. Rope Trick lasts an hour.
Over the course of that hour, my partymates basically took turns sticking an arm out of the pocket dimension and stabbing the Worm in the stomach from the safety, if not comfort, of a safe little hole in spacetime. After 1 hour and approximately 1000 papercuts, the Worm fell, and I returned, my face stained with tears and my pockets full of gold, to discover that not only did we not all die miserably in the face of a much stronger foe, but everyone (well, almost everyone) was pretty much A-OK.
We stopped rushing into combats after that.
August 15th: Describe a tricky RPG experience that you enjoyed
If we’re describing tricky here as “difficulty taken to get to the table”, I think the clear winner here is the effort I went through to get my hands on the Dark Souls Table-Talk Game, the Japan-only RPG based on the Souls series.
Here are the steps I went through:
- Fly to Japan
- Randomly bumble my way through Akihabara, ignoring the copious amounts of maid cafes, anime, and pornography (and combinations thereof), until I found Yellow Submarine, which I presume to be Japan’s main brick-and-mortar tabletop hobby shop
- Randomly find a copy of Dark Souls on a shelf (thank god the name is on the spine in English)
- Fly back to the States
- Use Discord to find a bilingual GM as well as some other players down to play this jank-ass game.
- Deal with the fact that the three people in the group are basically equidistant across the Earth’s surface, making time zones a nightmare.
- Finally play the game basically in the middle of the night on a Friday
Honestly, it was all worth it, though. There’s a lot of interesting things this game does, to the point where I’ll probably write about it soon. But, boy, there are certainly easier ways to play a game.
August 16th: Describe your plans for your next game
Somewhat disappointingly, my regular gaming group is entering a sort of hiatus while a few of our members go through some for-realsies life stuff, which obviously is great on a personal level, but is a real kick in the balls for my gaming habits. So, I think I’m going to probably try to spin up two parallel Roll20 groups for whom I can run some ideas I’ve had in the back of my head.
The first group will probably be a pretty standard group, although what exactly I’m going to run for them I have not decided yet. Current frontrunners include a 2E pirate sandbox, a Stars Without Number post-apocalyptic space hexcrawl, and a game heavily inspired by the movie Daybreakers.
The second group will be a much more structurally interesting undertaking. I’m not even sure if this will be a single group, because the plan I want to try out is to run ten one-shots in ten different systems. While these one-shots will be encapsulated stories, they will all be part of a greater sequence with consequences that span from one story to the next. I’ve recently been reading a decent amount of Michael Moorcock, and his idea of the Eternal Champion, a warrior who appears in multiple incarnation across worlds, has heavily inspired me here.
August 17th: Describe the best compliment you’ve had while gaming
The best complement I’ve ever recieved was actually nonverbal.
For my primary group, I’m the one who introduced almost all of them to RPGs. Two of them played through an extremely short-lived 3.5 game I ran in high-school, but other than that, almost all of them had played essentially 0 role-playing games. My introduction of them to the hobby was honestly mostly selfish: I needed a group, we needed a thing to do, it was a good fit.
The group ending up really enjoying the hobby was a delightful treat, albeit not totally unexpected. However, the thing that really delighted me was one player, one of my best friends and my at-that-time roommate, falling absolutely head-over-heels in love with the hobby. Next thing I knew, he was asking me about a bunch of other systems, talking about RPG videos he had watched on the internet, discussing the finer points of adventure design and, finally, offering to GM his own game for the group.
I realize that this is mostly the doing of the hobby as a whole, and that I was merely the catalyst, but watching someone get so excited about the hobby after playing in my dumb-ass campaign was a really nice moment, because while it’s alright to have someone say that you did a good job or pat you on the back or whatever, having someone enjoy your game so much that they take the leap into running their own makes me a special kind of happy.
August 18th: What art inspires your game?
Ching Yeh, known on Twitter as @Cbotme, makes art that makes me feel some kinda way. I’ll let it speak for itself.
Seriously, go check out their Twitter and ArtStation page, the work they have there is absolutely goddamn incredible.
August 19th: What music enhances your game?
I flip-flop on my usage of music in my games. Normally I’m not a super-big fan, just because at best I think the players tune it out, and at worst it serves as a noticeable distraction that breaks immersion. However, there are two instances where I think music would be a good fit: horror, and cyberpunk.
Mood are super important for both of those genres, and I think both have extremely distinct styles that make it very easy for a well-selected playlist to push you deep into the mood of the games.
Horror music tends to be more atmospheric in nature, and thus I’m having kind of a hard time thinking of actual artists (please, share with me if you have some good ones), but I have accrued a decent collection of cyberpunk artists for my old Shadowrun campaign. I think Cyberpunkers are a sort of obvious choice, as is Vangelis and M|O|O|N, best known for their work on the Hotline Miami soundtrack. On that note, Sun Araw and Jasper Byrne have also made some great pieces that fit great with cyberpunk, and obviously there is the King of Synth, Kavinsky. All of these can be mixed together to perfectly evoke the mood of a cold, rainy, steel cyberpunk dystopia.