#RPGaDAY 2018: Days 20-26

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We’re nearing the end folks, only a scant 12 questions left before RPGaDay ends and we’ve fully ascended into Fall (the second best season, behind winter, this is canon). So, let’s get right on down to it, no preamble!

August 20th: Which game mechanics inspire your play the most?

This question’s pretty open-ended, so my answer here is going to be anything that reinforces character arcs more than just mechanical progression.

In general, the progression of plot is something I’m not compelled by as much as the progression of characters and their relationships, and as a result, anything which mechanically supports the growth and change of characters over time really resonates with me. This could be Burning Wheel‘s Beliefs and Instincts, Apocalypse World‘s Bonds, or even more abstract measures of character change, like Dungeon Crawl Classics’s Corruption.

August 21st: Which dice mechanic appeals to you?

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My quick reaction to this question is to mention the exquisite Genesys dice system used in Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars system, but I’ve talked about that system a couple of times, so I’m not going to rehash what I’ve already written.

So, instead, I wanna talk about a relatively new addition to my collection: The Shab Al-Hiri Roach.

A classic RPG written by prolific RPG designed Jason Morningstar, The Shab Al-Hiri Roach is a GM-less microgame about a bunch of professors at a hoity toity private college in the 1920s trying to vie for the greatest influence in academia, while also dealing with the fact that an ancient Sumerian roach god and its oily offspring are rampant in the college, enslaving the minds of people in private.

The dice system has a two main wrinkles that I really like. The first is the way the game categorizes all dice rolls into Academia and Everything Else. For Academia roles, having to do with either the subject matter taught at the school, the workings of the school, or conflicts of status within the school, characters get dice proportional to their status at the school: laypeople and students get d4s, all the way to Deans and other people of esteem getting d12s. However, for Everything Else, that scale is inverted, such that laypeople get d12s, and those that have been so entrenched in academia that they’ve lost sight of the outside world, get d4s. This is a simple, elegant, and fantastic way to model the power structure of academia.

The second thing I like is what the game calls the “Roachy” dice. When you’re currently enslaved by the Shab Al-Hiri Roach, you get an immediate d12 added to your dice rolls, a massive boost to anything you do. If you follow the commands of the Roach (issued, in Sumerian, by a deck of cards you draw from every turn), you get another d12. This means that, if you submit to the power of the Roach, you’ll be handsomely rewarded, but with a simple catch: if you’re possessed by the Roach at the end of the game, you can’t win, and the Roach can only be expelled via a type of card randomly drawn from the deck. So, you might be tempted to consume the Roach to further your goals, but are you willing to, forgive the pun, roll the dice and forfeit your victory?

August 22nd: Which non-dice system appeals to you?

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I personally am a big fan of Ben Robbins’s microscope, a game about create large eras of history. microscope isn’t played with dice, or really even random resolution. Instead, each player takes turns inserting periods of history and events into an increasing timeline, the only constraints being a collection of Yes/No topics decided upon at the start of the game, and the singular rule to not contradict any other events on the timeline.

microscope is a fantastic game of its own right, just because of its potential to let even a relatively non-participatory group of players generate a massive world of their own design and fill it with the most interesting details. The game’s real genius is that it provides just enough framework from the get-go that players always have something to go off of, and as the game continues, and the picture of this world gets more and more clear, it becomes easier and easier to add to.

microscope is also fractal in design, meaning that players can either add massive sweeping events and eras to the timeline, or drill deep down into the events of individuals and try and determine how their lives shape the entirety of history, both done with an equal amount of detail and similar mechanics. The best part about microscope, in my opinion, is that after you’re done, you not only have a tangible artifact of your play (the notecards that generated the setting can easily be reassembled), but you can then set your “regular” game inside of your game of microscope, and get instant setting buy-in from everyone at the table. How cool is that?

August 23rd: Which game do you hope to play again?

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Both of my Shadowrun 3E campaign attempts have died and gone to scheduling hell, which I find extremely disappointing. While complaints about the system being pretty clunky in some regards (insert commentary about Matrix and Astral Plane time distortion, grenade rules, and massive dice pool resolution here), but I definitely love this game. The mood is so deliciously nineties while still having just enough clarity of modern design to shave away some of the hard edges (it was released in the mid-2000s, which let’s be real, is just the late late 90s).

There are a lot of reasons I love Shadowrun. The setting is incredible, the dice pool system can create some really unexpected and cool results (what was meant to be an eensy weensy warning fireball might end up instantly incinerating a guy), and it has just the right amount of tactical combat and gear porn to make it one of my “deep combat” games of choice, without bogging the game down too bad if you plan around some of the system’s pitfalls.

While a lot of the editions of Shadowrun have their ups and downs, Third Edition lives in my heart as the game that toes the line between modern convenience and that classic 90s retro charm.

August 24th: Which RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?

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There are a lot of superhero RPGs out there, and a lot of them are good, but one that constantly gets overlooked despite being great is Wild Talents.

I’m gonna frontload the negatives here: Wild Talents is a system that’s pretty intense on the GM, requiring them to do a decent amount of prep and approval. It can also take a bit to wrap your head around, especially if you’re already pre-wired to handle more D&D-esqe dice systems. Now onto the good stuff.

Wild Talents has a fantastically flexible character creation system which lets you build basically any superpower you want with little to no houseruling. The One-Roll Engine that the game is built on makes combat super easy to resolve (in, dare I say it, one roll). The game mechanics feed into this great narrative of triumph and failure as characters become empowered and disenfranchised. The Hard and Wiggle dice allow players a decent amount of control over their own success, ensuring that characters can behave as expected in critical circumstances.

I actually wanna zoom in on that last one, because it’s very cool. The way the ORE works is that you roll a bunch of d10s, and your result is based on any matches you accumulate. The side of the die showing is called the Height, and determines the quality of the action, and the number of dice in the set is the Width, and determines the speed. So, a set of three 8s has a Height of 8 and a Width of 3.

Wiggle Dice can be changed to show any side, ensuring that, as long as you’re rolling at least one other die, you always have a set. You can always accomplish a task, and usually pretty well. Multiple Wiggle Dice in a roll mean you have precise control over how well you do. However, in character creation terms, Wiggle Dice are expensive. In come Hard Dice.

A Hard Die shows a 10. Always. Get multiple Hard Dice, and you can guarantee a set with a Height of 10, all the time. These dice are much cheaper, but have a really interesting problem: they’re always maximally effective. If you’re throwing that fireball, that fireball’s always big enough to burn down a city block. If you’re punching a guy, you’re always gonna punch a hole through them. This kind of, literally, uncontrollable power is so interesting, and is the primary reason I think Wild Talents is one of the best superhero games on the market.

August 25th: Name a game that had an impact on you in the last year?

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Dungeon World, but not necessarily because of the game itself. About a year ago also just so happens to be the precise time I started my current job, which I felt super out of place at when I first began. It was a very impostor-syndrome-style creeping terror that consumed me for a little bit, just this striking feeling of “holy shit, why the fuck am here?”

One of the best things I did early on was put out a feeler into a work Slack channel to see if anyone was interested in starting a lunchtime RPG group. Lo and behold, a few people were, and with some deliberations, we decided on playing Dungeon World.

While the makeup of that group has changed over the last year, as people have left and joined the group thanks to the incomprehensible, esoteric workings of Corporate America, the most Lovecraftian of horrors, the friends I’ve made in that group have not only just been great friends, but they’ve reminded me that, yes, I can in fact be a respectable member of adult society.

August 26th: What’s your gaming ambition for the next year?

Actually publish a damn thing.

I’ve been designing games for probably close to ten years now as a hobbyist, but all that’s amounted to is a bunch of half-finished projects. Granted, a lot of those years were spent as a teen or tween, and those games were, to use the technical term, bad, but I still feel like I should try to get one of my projects done and up for download by the general public. This means taking it through the entire process: design, playtesting, layout, editing, the whole nine yards.

I don’t really expect to make my millions in that sweet sweet indie RPG money, but having something published is something that I just haven’t done yet, so I need to just finish something up and release it to the world. Ideally, I’ll be releasing a bunch of stuff, but for the moment, we’ll set the goal at a reasonable, tangible number of one.

 

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#RPGaDay 2018: Days 13-19

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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

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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

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Art by Jeol Pigou: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/oVldm

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

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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:

  1. Fly to Japan
  2. 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
  3. Randomly find a copy of Dark Souls on a shelf (thank god the name is on the spine in English)
  4. Fly back to the States
  5. Use Discord to find a bilingual GM as well as some other players down to play this jank-ass game.
  6. Deal with the fact that the three people in the group are basically equidistant across the Earth’s surface, making time zones a nightmare.
  7. 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

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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.

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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.

 

#RPGaDAY 2018: Days 6-12

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Well, since the #RPGaDay2018 … people? have decided to sort their questions into week blocks, I figure that’s a pretty natural way to tackle them as well. So, instead of five questions a post like last year, we’ll just do a week … you know, a week. Pretty reasonable, in my opinion.

Now, last week’s post can be found here, and this week’s post can be found … it’s this one. You’re reading it.

August 6th: How can players make a world seem real?

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Participate in the world as an inhabitant, not as a player of a game.

My players have a tic that I hate, where occasionally they refer to elements of the game’s world or setting by their mechanical function. This is commonly done with the use of terminology lifted from video games, terms like “Quest”, “Objective”, “Side Quest”, things like that. I don’t think they’re doing it on purpose; it’s a quick vernacular that our entire table understands, since all of us play video games, but it instantly pulls me out of a game.

This can also extend to the way characters view NPCs. Occasionally, my players will tend to simplify their interactions with NPCs to either “Guys we need to kill”, “Guys we need to buy stuff from”, or “Guys we need to talk to in order to advance the quest”. This sort of behavior, while practical, ignores my favorite types of NPC interactions, the kinds that really make the world feel alive to me: talking, just to talk.

Real people chit-chat and make small talk. It’s something we all probably do a dozen times a day without thinking about it. There’s no goal to be accomplished, there’s no quest to be advanced, it’s just that you’re somewhere, they’re there too, and you both have five minutes to kill. Most importantly, this sort of conversation can be about anything, and is thus a fantastic vehicle for fleshing out parts of the world not inherently relevant to a quest, and to flesh out the PCs, as tiny, otherwise-irrelevant details come up in casual conversation. Yes, I spent some time in Waterdeep as an apprentice in my twenties. No, I’ve never sailed on a ship. Yes, I am quite a big fan of this painter. Little tiny details like that make characters, and worlds, come alive.

Long story short: participate in the setting as you participate in real life, with an eye for the tiny, irrelevant details.

August 7th: How can a GM make the stakes important?

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Actually, that picture’s sort of a bait and switch. I do think that the occasional reminder that PCs are, in fact, mortal (well, depending on the system) is a good way to keep PCs on their toes, but I actually don’t think it’s the best way.

I actually think the best way to make the stakes important is to let the players set them. If you just go to the PCs and go “This is the King of Coolsville, and it would be very bad if he died. You must protect him”, they’re going to do it, but they’re not going to care. They’re only going to do it out of a vague, video-game-trained sense of obligation to “The Objective”.

However, if you notice that your PCs have taken kindly to, I dunno, the local Cabbage Wizard or Junk Dealer or whatever, phrase the threats they have to take on in terms of how they’re going to hurt them. The marauding armies of orcs are going to topple the king and raze the land and all, and that sucks, but Greg the Cabbage Wizard will probably die in the rampage, and his two daughters have been asking him at night if they’ll be OK and he doesn’t know what to tell them. That will get the PCs moving.

Similarly, consider that a very real consequence for PCs’ actions can, and should, be impacts on their relationships with characters they care about. If the party Warlock particularly enjoys the company of a local bartender, have that relationship start to get rocky as the Warlock drifts further and further towards dark power. The young boy who goes out adventuring might come back home a Level 15 Fighter or whatever, but he might find that the town has grown without him.

This tip also works for inanimate things the players care about (their goals, their homes, particular objects they covet, etc.), but I’ve found historically that, in general, characters are just what people gravitate towards the most.

August 8th: How can we get more people playing?

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I have my personal gripes with the recent rise of tabletop RPG streamers and YouTubers (there are more games than Dungeons and Dragons god dammit!), but I’d be an idiot to deny that the hobby has had a meteoric rise in popularity since Critical Role really started to pick up steam. 2018 was the best year for Dungeons and Dragons ever, and more people than ever are starting to get into the hobby, as the misconception that RPGs are a weirdo hobby for anti-social turbonerds is starting to vanish (finally).

I think the key way to get even more players into tabletop role-playing games is to increase the variety of games, and players, played on these streams. Dungeons and Dragons, for all of the myriad of opportunities it offers, is ultimately just one game, and some people just aren’t interested in being wizards or paladins or fighting dragons or whatever. Just like how every movie isn’t a superhero movie and every book isn’t a YA novel, we should publicly show that the field of role-playing games isn’t limited to our most popular form.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that we need to show that role-playing games are for everyone. This is a … disappointingly contentious topic, but RPGs need to shed the misconception that this is a hobby for straight white dudes (the irony of being a straight white dude saying this is not lost on me, but I have a soapbox goddammit, might as well use it). The more voices of people of color, LGBTQIA+ persons, and generally non-WASPy backgrounds we can get into gaming, and have their voices heard in the hobby, the greater the variety of personalities and backgrounds there will be for new inductees in the hobby to find a voice that matches theirs, and distinct backgrounds will just cause the variety of stories that are able to be told in RPG to expand exponentially.

Now, I’m going to use this blog read by like four people, one of whom is my mom (Hi Mom!) to try and signal boost some of my favorite RPG streamers on the internet today.

  • Friends at the Table, GMed by personal hero Austin Walker of Waypoint, is a fantastic RPG podcast about “critical worldbuilding, smart characterization, and fun interaction between good friends”. In my opinion, this show has the best RPG storytelling on the internet today.
  • Theogony of Kairos, run by the sublime B. Dave Walters, is a fantastic 5E game with  twist: all of the characters are regular chumps instantly raised to Level 20, commonly considered the point at which D&D becomes “god tier”. This game tackles some very interesting ideas from the get go, highly recommend.
  • Adam Koebel is possibly my favorite figure in the RPG space right now, partially because of his open discussions of design in the field (he’s half of the designers behind Dungeon World), and the variety of games he runs, both in his current position as a Game Master for Roll20, and the many campaigns he’s run for the Rollplay series (including my favorite, Mirrorshades)

August 9th: How has a game surprised you?

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It was my first ever session of Dungeon Crawl Classics, and by extension, my first session of an OSR-style game. Joining a long-running group, I joined their rogue’s gallery party with four level zeroes. Given a list of stat blocks to choose from, I opted for a simple selection process: my crew consisted of the strongest, fastest, smartest, and luckiest four of the lot of level 0s handed to me.

Our mission was simple, at least as far as Dungeon Crawl Classics goes. We had to ride a giant space squid up to a floating castle in the clouds, and from those clouds retrieve some goop rumored to bestow eternal life.

OK you know what it wasn’t simple at all.

So, we ride on our, uh, giant squid gondola to the sky, and triumphantly, my mighty warrior and brilliant lizardman scholar hop off onto the clouds and … both immediately tank a luck check and, standing on unstable chunks of cloud, plummet from the sky to their deaths, the last thing to go through their mind presumably being their ankles. Half of my crew instantly died the literal first steps they took into the dungeon.

I was hooked instantly. I watched as my fellow adventurers reached into their bags and tossed some loose chaff they had onto the cloud, using it to identify safe spots, and safely exit the gondola. I knew that I had to shift my entire manner of thinking, and start to approach the whole game cleverly, like a puzzle. The idea of needing to think of clever solutions to fantastic problems had me hooked, and now I count DCC as one of my favorite games.

August 10th: How has gaming changed you?

Huh, this one’s sort of a curveball. I guess if I had to name a few changes I’ve seen in myself since seriously playing role-playing games, I could probably name a few.

  • My improv skills have improved dramatically. This is a fairly obvious result of the amount I GM, and the amount I have to constantly pull random quests and characters out of thin air for my party. Not only have I become a better GM in this regard, but I feel like my storytelling, improvisation, and quick thinking have all gotten a little better as a result.
  • I let other people have their moments of glory. This one’s sort of a conscious work in progress, but just like when I’m a player in an RPG, I like to sit back and let others do the thing they’re good at, and have their moments where they can swoop in and save the day. I don’t need to be the best at everything, that’s why we’re a team.
  • I’m more creative. Don’t get me wrong, I was always an imaginative kid, but I feel like playing RPGs has both increased the variety of ideas I have for games, settings, characters, etc. as well as widened the lens through which I collect inspiration. I used to basically exclusively consume “nerdy” media, basically turning myself into a sort of geeky pop culture orobourous, but now I look everywhere from cooking shows to city planning books to world history for ideas, and I think RPGs were the push that got me there.

August 11th: Wildest character name?

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….sigh. It’s time to talk about Druggo the Clown.

To set the stage, it’s my oft-spoken about Fantasy Flight Star Wars Roleplaying Game campaign. My band of freedom fighter PCs have a tough mission on their hands: they need to assassinate two Twi’lek senators on Ryloth, as they are wildly corrupt and are allowing the planet to fall into the hands of a young Galactic Empire. The vector of assassination is this: the PCs have discovered the senators have a very, very minor, serious drug addiction. The game-plan is to find one of the suppliers, up the intensity of the next batch being delivered to the senators, and let them OD in their rooms. Not the most pleasant thought in the world, but less of a bloodbath than a (almost certainly bungled) straight-up gunshot.

Thus, my PCs crawled into the Twi’lek underworld, and discovered the main drug supplier on Ryloth. I was short on names (this entire method of assassination began as a side note in a margin in my notes, I hedged my bets and wrote a bunch of assassination methods instead of going deep on any one), so when it was time for their informant to name the dealer, I stammered.

“Uh … drug ….. drug …. Druggo … the … the clown”.

I meant this as a joke, but, it was too late. Any other name I could come up with would be drowned out by the laughter, and Druggo the Clown was born, and subsequently died about twenty seconds later.

August 12th: Wildest character concept?

I’m going to call this a three-way tie between three character concepts I made for my most recent game of Doctor Magnethands. If you’re unfamiliar, Doctor Magnethands is a two-page one-shot RPG made by one of my favorite designers, Grant Howitt, which basically revolves around pulling bad ideas out of a hat to make a superhero story.

I think it was extremely telling that when I sat down at the table, I handed my slips of paper to the GM and said “these are the eight worst ideas I’ve ever had in a row”.

Of the four PCs, three ended up playing characters of my creation. Allow me to introduce you to the new Avengers, featuring:

  • Mecha-Ruth Bader Ginsberg
  • All of the Baldwin siblings (yes, all, like, seven of them) in a big coat
  • The Night Manager of the Last Blockbuster

Also fantastic and in the group, but not of my creation, was the fabulously simple “Stink Man”.

Honorable mention goes to my favorite submission, which ended up not getting used: The Torsoless Horseman.

#RPGaDAY 2018: Days 1-5

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Oh it’s the most wonderful time of the year again, it’s August, which means it’s time for #RPGaDAY, that wondrous time where, every day for a month we self-reflect on why we love the tabletop RPG hobby as much as we do via 31 questions. And, once again, I’m electing to answer these questions five(ish) at a time, so as to not assault your social media feeds.

Well, there’s really little to no introduction required beyond that, let’s be off!

August 1st: What do you love about RPGs?

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The ability to bring a world and its inhabitants to life.

There are plenty of forms of media that allow you to explore vast worlds, from the grand scope of the Star Wars movies to the laboriously crafted (and laborious to read) works of J.R.R Tolkien. However, tabletop RPGs allow you not only play in a fantastic fictional world, but it allows you to grow and explore it to a breadth and depth that is impossible in any other media.

In all other forms of storytelling, the amount of setting that can be explored by the audience is inherently limited, perhaps by the word count, perhaps by the length of the reel of film, or perhaps by the number of levels the level designer opted to include. This is where RPGs are wholly unique. All other forms of media are consumptive in nature, the audience consumes them until there is nothing left. RPGs are inherently generative, a critical component of playing them, for both the GM and the players, is to create characters, settings, worlds, and stories.

Role-playing games are the only form of storytelling media where the space for storytelling is functionally infinite, and where the players are free to explore every facet of their world and characters that they want, and in that way they allow us as players and game masters to flesh out these fictional worlds unlike any other medium.

August 2nd: What do you look for in an RPG?

What I look for in an RPG is a combination of three things, two of which are essentially mandatory, and one of which is optional but extremely wanted.

1. The game should provide a mechanical framework for something interesting, narratively.

This is sort of a vague requirement, but essentially what I mean here is that the rules of the game need to affect the storytelling in an interesting, preferably novel way. The dice mechanics of Genesys allow for stories with a lot of twists and turns, and fail forward, as well as succeed downward, character action. The Lifepath system of Burning Wheel, as well as the Beliefs and Instincts, allow for the creation of deep characters with arcs. Hell, even Shadowrun‘s escalating and deescalating dice results allow for things to go rapidly out of control sometimes.

2. The game should evoke it’s setting/theme/tone through all of its mechanics

This is sort of a hard thing to quantify, and actually usually takes some play to see, but I want every mechanic, every number, every die chosen and used by an RPG has been done so to maximize the way that the game’s central ideas come forth. A horror game set in the d20 system doesn’t do this. A PbtA game about unconquerable heroes doesn’t do this. A truly good design makes sure that every single choice made in that design flows through its mechanics, and if it can’t, it gets those mechanics out of the way.

3. (Optional) The game should provide new setting/character/plot ideas I couldn’t have thought of myself.

This rule is optional because I still get a variety of setting-neutral RPGs, but something that’s a big plus for me is when a game offers some narrative inspiration that I couldn’t get elsewhere. Too many books fill their pages with narrative elements that are either A) in too laborious detail for me to stretch my creative legs, or B) full of the tropey, rote overused stuff I could easily have created without the book’s help (“I am Grimjor Ironbeard the Dwarf, and I love gems and money!”). A good book should give me something new to mull over in my brain.

August 3rd: What gives a game “staying power”?

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This question could be interpreted two ways: what gives a game the power to stay on my shelf, and what gives a game the power to stay on the table. The first point is basically addressed in August 2nd’s question, so I’ll focus on what keeps a game on my table, which is to say, what keeps me playing a game.

The answer, ultimately, is nothing. Some people are more than content with playing one game, which is almost always Dungeons and Dragons, for their entire life, and more power to them, there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you forced me into that situation, I’d probably just quit the hobby.

The games I bring to the table are always subservient to the ideas I have about the worlds I wanna explore. I, almost always, come up with a campaign idea first, and then select a system that’s appropriate. Oh, I want to run a Victorian mystery? I can hack GUMSHOE together for that. Hyper-lethal fantasy worlds inspired by Moorcock? Time to get an arm workout in and hurl Dungeon Crawl Classics onto the table.

There is no one game that is the best fit for every single idea I have, because I don’t want to play the same thing over and over again. I want to explore hundreds of worlds, meet thousands of characters, and ultimately do such a variety of things that no game stays on my table for long.

August 4th: Who is your most memorable NPC?

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The Angry Line Cook.

In my group’s running Star Wars campaign, at one point, my party had to meet a contact inside of a large bar/cantina (as you do in Star Wars). The situation was shady, and no one was quite sure what to expect when inside. While most of the party sucked it up and went inside via the front door, one particular party member, an individual who was at the time about as sneaky and as charismatic as a freight train, opted to sneak in through the kitchen door, one which would normally be used to collect shipments of food and booze, and to take out the trash.

When the PC, predicatbly, utterly botched his attempt to sneak, he drew the attention of a single Twi’lek line cook who, like every line cook I’ve ever encountered in my life, was just sort of vaguely annoyed at nothing in particular. The conversation that arose was, in my opinion, hilarious, as the PC was trying desperately to try and suave his way through the situation, despite, you know, being a heavily armed mercenary in a kitchen, and the line cook just wanted him to get the hell out, not because he hated the PC or was pro-Imperial or whatever, but because it was against health code and he had goddamn food to plate, man.

I loved this guy because he got to exist despite having no greater importance in the setting, plot, or arc of any character. He was just a dude, trying to get through his shift, who accidentally for one or two brief moments became embroiled in a conspiracy to topple the entire Galactic Empire. And then, he just went back to his crappy job. Something about that moment seemed extremely real to me, and I loved every moment of it.

August 5th: Who is your favorite recurring NPC?

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The Finder, hands down.

In my running campaign of Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Tabletop Role-playing Game, the party, a group of revolutionary freedom fighters, has frequently been in situations in which they just need some information. In these times, they turn to a well-spoken, well-connected character named The Finder.

The Finder and his agents (who, thanks to a bit of cleverness on my players’ part, are known as “Keepers”) are collectors of information. He survives the Galactic Civil War not just because his information-brokering services are extremely useful to all sides, but because he knows information that could cripple any faction, from the structural weaknesses of Imperial Star Destroyers to the locations of secret rebel bases. He elects not to tip the scales one way or another, however, recognizing that he stands to make maximal profit by elongating the War, and that offering equal help to both sides is the most potent way to maintain that status quo.

The Finder is calm, collected, and perpetually in control. He always has exactly what people desperately need, and knows exactly the cards in his adversaries’ hands. The Finder is a character I love playing because, against a party that frequently shoots or talks their way out of problems, the Finder comes from such a position of power that even when his and the party’s interests align they still come out feeling bad about the whole thing.

Crucially, the Finder isn’t untouchable due to GM cheating, either. He’s never appeared via hologram, nor behind a force field, and the party’s usually interacted with him armed. He represents the kind of potential player action that I love: he is a domino, and the players know by the world that they exist in that, should they tip him over, the consequences could be substantial, and I love that.

#RPGaDAY 2017: Days 11-15

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Another five days have passed, another five prompts to answer! Let’s do it, nerds! For the fourth year in a row, RPGBrigade brings us a month’s worth of prompts to discuss and, in the process, think about and celebrate this great hobby! So, let’s get to it. If you wanna check out the last batch of answers, they’re right here.

August 11th: Which ‘dead game’ would you like to see return?

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Started as a weird 4chan project to make a Neon Genesis Evangelion tabletop RPG, the original creators have abandoned this game after the release of the third edition, which is a damn shame. Evangelion is a fantastic franchise, and I think one that is positively perfect for tabletop play. There’s a heavy emphasis on inter-party conflict, as well as on character growth and development. There’s exciting action, but action that varies from encounter to encounter. Maybe you’ll be diving into a volcano one week, and the next you’ll be performing a synchronized dance with your allies, or trying to bust your way out of a giant dimension sphere. It’s great!

Alas, Adeptus Evangelion is currently on ice, and they finally broke free from the Dark Heresy rules and started to build their own system, and I really want to see what a well-designed system built from the ground up to run Eva looks like.

August 12th: Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

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How about an RPG I literally just bought because the interior art inspired me?

Farflung is a Powered by the Apocalypse game that aims to explore science fiction at the fringes, where anything is possible. It’s the end of time, and characters can be, well, it seems like anything. From space-faring gods to emperors to simple explorers, it certainly seems like if you want sci-fi, and the kind where all of the science is explained away with “it’s the future, fuck it”, Farflung seems like your jam.

And, man, the art works for that.

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The very vibrant art is filled with character, with emotion and character, and with style. It emphasizes a very specific kind of sci-fi, the kind where you go on the grandest of adventures and meet kings and gods and decide the fate of planets and discover ancient secrets. It reminds me of Space Dandy and Hitchhiker’s Guide and a bunch of other sci-fi I love.

August 13th: Describe a game experience that changed how you play

Reading Dungeon World.

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I think that, even if you don’t intend to play any Powered by the Apocalypse games, owning one of the ones that’s really full of good GM insight, namely either the eponymous Apocalypse World or Dungeon World is absolutely mandatory. (Before I start any fights, I feel similarly about OSR games).

Dungeon World has a lot of astonishingly good GMing advice, and general good game design concepts, bound together. And, sure, a lot of it is just retreading the road paved by Apocalypse World, but Dungeon World was my first experience with the subgenre, and it was eye-opening.

Fronts. The idea of leaving the questions of your plot open-ended and discovering through play. Establishing Bonds between members of the party. Letting the fiction lead you forward. Dungeon World is an excellent guide on how to GM any game with any semblance of story, any concept of world.

August 14th: Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

My answer is going to be a bit skewed, since I’ve never actually been able to run a sandbox game, even though I direly wish I could. So, here’s a bit of a weird pick.

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Yes, dread Pathfinder! The great tangled mass of the 3.X D&D rules, an unholy abomination of sourcebooks upon sourcebooks. How, pray tell, could I pick this game?

Well, Pathfinder‘s glut of rules content also, in my eyes, makes it a prime candidate for sandbox play! Your players can construct any manner of character that they want, given that the game has, like, 40 classes, each of which can be specified using any number of archetypes.

This goes both ways, too. As a GM, it’s easy to construct enemies from scratch using this robust class system to create distinct, thematic enemies. Sprinkle in enemies from the game’s seven or eight Bestiaries, pull from the massive amount of modules and adventures written for 3.X, and add in optional rules from the numerous sourcebooks available and, viola, you have a library of components you can use to assemble each and every asset of a fantasy world.

August 15th: Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

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Monsters and Other Childish Things is, in fact, the only game I’ve ever properly worked to adapt, not counting whole rules schemas (like Powered by the Apocalypse). Normally, my designers’ mindset has me just whipping up new rules sets for game ideas not easily handled by existing games.

However, as I wrote an entire blog post aboutMonsters is a fantastic game for use to run a game of my favorite anime, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and so I immediately began adaptation once I had the idea.

#RPGaDAY 2017: Days 6-10

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We’re continuing my runthrough of the #RPGaDAY challenge, hoping to get some interesting discussion going about the prompts set forth in this fourth annual challenge, to celebrate this awesome hobby! I posted my last batch of answers on the 5th, so let’s get to it today, August 10th.

August 6th: You can game every day for a week. Describe what you’d do!

Well, I have seven days of gaming to fill. I already game two days a week, so we’ll fill in Sunday with the Fantasy Flight Star Wars RPG game I’m running, and Wednesday with the Shadowrun game I’m running for a different group. Since, as I mentioned last week, that Star Wars group also has a Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition game running concurrently, let’s schedule that for Monday.

Now I have four more days of gaming to fill in! I think Tuesday I’m going to run a one-shot, specifically the Westworld one-shot idea I had, where players won’t know who’s a person and who’s a Host until someone decides to get into their guts and find out.

Now, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are free, and while the temptation to run three more one-shots is strong, I’m instead going to run a…three-shot, I guess. A three-day game, or more accurately, a trilogy of games. Specifically, I want to run a system that I would hypothetically have finished designing at this point, a game called Camp Glacier Peak. It’s a horror game, designed to evoke the “group of teens versus murderous evil” vibe of Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street. Each day would feature a different group of teens at a different time versus the same ancient evil, with one session’s lone survivor potentially becoming next session’s veteran savior of the teens, or crazy old crackpot who turned out to be right. I think it’d be dope.

August 7th: What was your most impactful RPG session?

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I was, god, probably like 13? The system was Dungeons and Dragons 3.5.

I had this great campaign hook set up for my friends. They’d discover this hermit in the woods was methodically hunting down members of a royal family they’d be contracted by. With some investigation, they’d discover that the hermit is in fact a lost son of the family, and the family had been cast down from nobility after a majority of its members turned into vampires. With this, lost brothers would reunite and try to reestablish themselves in the capital city, bringing the party along as their lead executors. This would lead to a variety of amazing adventures spanning the globe, leading to the resurrection and destruction of an ancient god.

When my party was breaking in to the hermit’s cabin, he spotted them, and asked what they were doing. The party ranger shot an arrow at him, critted, and instantly murdered him.

Remember, your players have as much say in your story as you, and you should never expect them to follow the story you expect. Instead, write your games open-ended, and figure out where things go through play. Or else your vampire hunter prince might take an arrow to the eye.

August 8th: What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?

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hollowpoint is like if Fiasco was written by Quentin Tarantino. A quick story game, hollowpoint is about, by its own description, “bad people killing bad people for bad reasons”. It’s a game designed to quickly emulate massive amounts of violence as your characters become whirling dervishes of death, performing their dark deeds for a nefarious purpose before they probably get cut down in a hail of gunfire or something.

hollowpoint is goddamn ridiculous, reminding me in equal parts of the Crazy 88 fight in Kill Bill: Volume One, the environmental kills in Sleeping Dogs, and, weirdly, this extremely bullshit scene for the criminally underrated Nicholas Cage hit Drive Angry in which Cage’s character smokes a cigar, pulls from a bottle of Jack Daniels, has sex with a bar waitress, and murders a bunch of dudes at the same time. It’s very good.

August 9th: What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?
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I don’t necessarily think Mutant: Year Zero plays best at 10 sessions, but I can easily imagine having a good campaign in ten sessions’ time in this game. Mutant: Year Zero is a story about a group of mutants trying to keep their ramshackle town alive after a nuclear apocalypse, exploring the wasteland and trying to find some sort of mythical utopia called the Ark.

Character advancement doesn’t really strike me as one of Mutant‘s focuses, making it easier to do a small campaign without feeling like your character never reached their full potential. The presence of a built in end goal (finding the Ark) easily allows me to envision a 10 session campaign running sort of like a season of a Mutant: Year Zero TV series.

Session one, introduce the world, the town, and the characters. Sessions two through eight, deal with episodic problems that your colony faces (public insurrection, mutants, other colonies, nuclear weather, whatever), and slowly sprinkle in hints to the location of the Ark. Sessions nine and ten, your characters go out and find the Ark, exploring it. Maybe it is great, but maybe it leads to a greater mystery. Complete the campaign having accomplished your goal, but maybe leaving it open ended for a sequel. Who knows?

August 10th: Where do you go for RPG reviews?

Uhhh, I don’t usually read straight-up reviews, instead opting to watch Actual Plays to see how the game runs, and try and get a feel for how the game works at the table. Sort of the same way I’ve eschewed reading most game reviews in favor of watching people like TotalBiscuit and Giant Bomb just play the game.

When I do watch reviews (because I usually watch them, not read them), I’ll go to one of two people: Questing Beast or Runeslinger. Questing Beast is definitely neck-deep in the OSR scene, a scene I’m not super familiar with, but I trust his opinions and the stuff he finds is really cool (he got me in to Dungeon Crawl Classics), while Runeslinger has a bit more of a varied palette, but his extensive history with the hobby means I trust his opinions to be rooted in precedent and in experience.

#RPGaDAY 2017: Days 1-5

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#RPGaDAY is a fun social media challenge that’s been running for four years now, inviting members of the online tabletop RPG community to answer a prompt a day every day of August, thus getting people to just write about why they love the hobby, inciting conversations, making friends, and just to get everyone thinking about the hobby.

I’m kinda cheating, because instead of flooding my Twitter feed and everyone’s RSS feeds every day (and also writing every day), it works far better for my schedule to respond in clumps of five, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do, starting today, August 5th, with the first five prompts!

August 1st: What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

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Actually, a lot, but to pick just one, for the moment, I’m going to pick Gumshoe, because it’s the one most unlike anything else I’m playing or designing right now. Gumshoe is a mystery game designed under a key observation: finding clues is very rarely the interesting part of mystery games, and it’s almost never interesting to not find a clue. Instead, Gumshoe guarantees investigators to be able to find clues, so long as you know what skills you need to be looking with. Find a body? Use your medical knowledge and immediately find out cause of death. Find some mysterious plant particles? The group’s botanist can immediately rattle off what it is.

While this sounds like a gimme, the crucial observation Robin Laws made was that the interesting part of a Sherlock Holmes story isn’t him rummaging over a crime scene going “I dunno, something’s gotta be here”; it’s him, playing with all the clues in his head, piecing them together logically to solve the mystery. My keeping the pace of the game going by guaranteeing clues, Gumshoe lets players keep going and get to the interesting part: solving the case.

I have 2 Gumshoe games I want to run, each very different, and I can’t wait to get this game to table. Plus, the SRD is free, so anyone interested can take a look!

August 2nd: What is an RPG you’d like to see published?

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The super sentai genre has always had a very solid place in my heart since watching Power Rangers religiously as a child, then discovering Kamen Rider later into my adolescence. The basic genre structure, a group of cool teens gain the power to transform into suited superheroes to fight villains in a monster-of-the-week format, helped to inform a good deal of my storytelling and aesthetic tastes in the superhero genre that not even the best Marvel movies could ever shake.

The problem is that it’s hard to adapt super sentai to a tabletop RPG. The structure is, generally speaking, pretty repetitive: teens have teen problem, monster shows up, teens beat monster, (optional monster grows section for Power Rangers), teens solve teen problem. Despite plenty of fistfights and explosions, the main characters are never really at risk, and there’s a ton of filler fights with garbage enemies that would be super boring.

But at the same time, the genre is so open outside of the codified tropes that super sentai can apply to anything. Power Rangers have been cops, ninjas, samurai, and wizards, and Kamen Riders have been vampires, time travelers, ghost hunters, and my personal favorite, two people sharing a single body.

There’d definitely be some work to do to get the feel just right, and to keep the game interesting, but there are dozens of genres and stories that would be so interesting to experience through the lens of super sentai that I’d love to see this made.

August 3rd: How do you find out about new RPGs?

I’d say I find out about new RPGs two ways. The first is when I just happen across them, which usually happens while I browse either Twitter or /r/rpg. Someone will mention a game in a thread I’ve never heard of, and I’ll go look it up, think it looks cool, and either add it to a wish list or buy it outright. I’ll also discover stuff because it gets put on Bundle of Holding, an excellent PWYW bundle service for RPGs. It’s also just a fantastic way to build up a usable PDF library of games you find interesting.

The other way I find out about RPGs is when I seek them out, usually because I have a campaign or game idea, but don’t know any systems that would run it well. In this case, I’ll post Reddit threads, scour RPGGeek, and also see recommendations for running franchises or ideas similar to my idea, until I come across a new game that fits what I’m looking for. My two most recent RPG purchases came this way: In Dark Alleys, a horror game modelling a character’s spiral into corruption as they discover the unknowable evils lurking in the shadows, and GURPS, because I couldn’t find anything that did what I wanted well, and I went “Fuck it, GURPS it is.”

August 4th: Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?

It’s close, but because I don’t feel like counting days, I’m gonna call it a tie. My main gaming group alternates between two campaigns on a weekly basis, one I run, and one run by another GM.

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The game I run is Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars RPG. It’s an amalgamation of all three games in the line, and a campaign I started as I was learning the rules. It’s a bit of a mess rules-wise, as some really neat subsystems ended up falling to the wayside (the Obligation/Duty/Morality system, notably, but also some of the cooler things like the item rarity rules) and some other modifications I made more knowingly (a combination of the group’s newness to RPGs and my hate of tactical combat led to an abstraction of the combat rules), but boy we’re having fun with this. I’ve written all about why I like this game, but this is maybe one of my favorite campaigns I’ve ever run.

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The game which I’ve been playing in is good ol’ Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition, specifically the Princes of the Apocalypse adventure path. I’m, I dunno, a bit more lukewarm about this? I like the group, and I like the DM a lot (his ability to really play the individual characters I’m pretty jealous of, and is a goal I’m working towards), but I think Princes of the Apocalypse might just be really boring? The plot is kinda boring and very tropey, but I think I’m having the most friction with 5E’s character creation? I just feel very funneled into specific archetypes, and my attempts to worm my way out of those just make me feel like I’m being punished by becoming “suboptimal”. Oh well, I like the group and love the DM, so I’ll press on with a new character.

August 5th: Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

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I was between this and third edition Shadowrun, but I had to pick World Wide Wrestling. The complete ridiculousness of every wrestler in frame, the action, the impact you feel from that folding chari, plus the silhouette of the woman in the crowd. “Look, Greg, Johnny Atomic is choking out the Human Flame! And Iron Maiden just hit Boy Stardust in the face with an electric chair! The ref looks pissed! This is awesome!” Considering the focus World Wide Wrestling puts on wrestling as a performance, rather than an actual battle, this works perfect.

Bonus round! What game cover worst captures the spirit of the game?

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Oh my god, look how serious everyone is! There are skulls and spikes and brain-cables everywhere, and you look like some sort of British admiral/space king? What a serious game!

That’s funny, because every story I’ve ever heard about Rogue Trader makes it sound like Dipshits In Space, as the extremely grimdark setting eventually goes up its own ass in every campaign until the whole group is just wielding absolute authority in the dumbest possible ways. Allow me to treat you to a selection from this /r/gametales story told by /u/Draz825:

“After visiting an Imperial pleasure world, he [the captain] ordered corridors converted into canals throughout the ship, in order to better use his speedboat for water skiing. This actually came in handy when a rival ship attempted to board us and suddenly found themselves drowning.”