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Showing posts from August, 2018

#RPGaDay 2018 Day 30: Share something you learned about playing your character.

Playing a character is like playing an instrument. It's OK to noodle around alone in your bedroom and get comfortable with the notes, but the real fun is when you get together with the band and feel how your part, the notes you play (and don't play) mesh with the other people around the microphone. Sometimes you get a solo, sometimes you get a break to grab a quick drink of water, sometimes you play rhythm to keep the tempo, sometimes you play harmony, sometimes you play melody. Know when the song starts and where you come in. Know where the song ends and recognize that you might not be playing the last note... and if you are, make sure you hit it. And sometimes, you smash your instrument to flinders on the stage because it's just that kind of show.

Find the band you want to be in, and go have fun.

#RPGaDay 2018 Day 28: share a person who's inspiring gaming excellence you're grateful for.

Shit. There are so many of these.

Every time I read or come across the horrible shittiness that is the latest white male cis supremacy bullshit that always seems to be cropping up in games, I see something, usually just a comment or a snippet, from someone I consider to be awesome, and I feel kind of OK about playing these games again.

Brie Sheldon for his unremitting approach to consent. Olivia Hill and Filamena Young for their relentless refusal to be silent. Jeremy Kostiew for his unending kindness. Cam and Jess Banks for existing in a space that wants them to not.

These are just some of the awesome people I can think of off the top of my head. There are others. You're welcome to tell me yours.

#RPGaDay 2018 Day 27: Share a great stream or actual play.

I can't help you with this one. Every AP/gamestream I've ever tried to watch has been exceptionally unentertaining for me. Which is not to say there's not great stuff out there; I'm just not the target audience for it. Watching other people play tabletop games is about as interesting to me as listening to paint dry.

I bet there are better suggestions from other people, though.

#RPGaDay 2018 Day 26: Your gaming ambition(s) for the next year

Oh, this is a hard one.

1) play more, don't just storyrun. I spend a lot of time coming up with ideas for games, and then not really following through, which isn't fair to my players. It's one reason I've explicitly limited all of my recent games to six episodes or fewer. I want to play in someone else's sandbox for a while. So I need to make time for that, and I need to restrain myself from leaping into something just because I'm filled with Shiny And New Energy, which never lasts much beyond character creation.

2) Play more boardgames. I have a pretty sizable library, but I haven't been able to make a regular game night happen, for various reasons. I think I want to try and put some effort into that.

3) Hang out with more people around games. That means more boardgame events, maybe more holiday gaming, and definitely more karaoke/Rock Band.

4) Don't be so goddamn judgy. Some People Juggle Geese, and that's OK.

#RPGaDay 2018 Day 25: Name a game that had an impact on you in the last year.

The obvious and boring answer is Savage Worlds: RIFTS. I just finished up the second six-issue series for my tabletop group, and so I've been thinking a lot about it and how if I had stuff to do over again what I'd do differently. The SW system is a good, solid one, and the RIFTS bolt-on is certainly RIFTS-like, but boy does it not even pretend to be balanced or reasonable. Which is fine; we had a big group and I think everyone had fun, or at least they said they did, but I'm not sure I'd use the system again. There was a lot of nostalgia (mostly negative) bound up in that decision, and I'm not sure it was worth it.

To give you an idea of just how much I am happy to let go of SW:R -- I'm actually looking forward to a 5E game.

#RPGaDay 2018 Day 24: Which RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?

I don't think I'm particularly deep or immersed in the "indie scene" whatever that fucking means, but I will say that Tinstar Games does great work around mini/microgames, and my favourite current minigame is Elon Musk's Ipod Submarine, which is both more clever and more fun than Cards Against Humanity. It's also Safe For Work. 
(Steve would like me to remind you that while they don't have a soundcloud, there is a Patreon page.)

#RPGaDay 2018 Day 22: Which non-dice system appeals to you?

This one is easy. (Content warning for discussions about serious issues like assault, slavery, and interacting with abusers.)

Script Change, from Brie Sheldon et. al. We used a variant of the X-Card mechanic at my latest game that used a red poker chip; any time, for any reason, any person could touch or otherwise indicate with their chip, and that was it, scene change. We could talk about it later, or not talk about it at all, depending on the person who indicated, but everyone had the option, no questions or exceptions. It worked great: we were dealing with some serious stuff. We were able to take on assault and chattel slavery in a noticeable and interesting way, while everyone had the option to stop as soon as we hit something.

As another game is ramping up, we're looking for some more granular control around these sorts of issues.

#RPGaDay 2018 Day 21: Which dice mechanic appeals to you?

I have always been a huge fan of 3d6 roll over; I immediately liked it when I was first introduced to it in Champions, and I've liked playing with it whenever possible since. I especially like what Green Ronin did with the AGE mechanic, where the wild die and doubles for stunt points were added into it as a single roll, which I think is a brilliant addition.

I also like exploding dice, and have sometimes used that in addition to the 3d6 base mechanic.

That said, I've become quite interested in the Stat+2d6 mechanic at the core of the Apoc-world games.

I've been thinking about how to implement some sort of reasonable curve with 2 or 3 d12s, because d12s are awesome, but I don't have the stats/math background to do any serious crunching of data.

#RPGaDay 2018 Day 20: Which game mechanic inspires your play the most?

Success with complications.

I don't like failure; I think as a general rule it's boring. But success with complications is always a great way to make a bad situation just that much worse, in a way that can make for some really fun and interesting narrative options. If it were up to me, I would only ever play in games where failure is impossible without a narrative reason. Failure happens at the narrative level; success with complications happens at the play level, at least in my ideal tablespace.

#RPGaDay 2018 Day 19: What music enhances your game?

Again, this really depends on the game and whether or not I'm playing or running or what have you. The RIFTS game I just storyran leaned heavily on Tell That Devil by Jill Andrews and Neko Case's Hold On, Hold On for mood and setting.

Sometimes, I think about themes for my characters. I had a dwarven knight that used to ride around humming Shostakovich's 5th. And there's a good chance that my newest character will hum chiptunes to themselves, since they're a robot.

#RPGaDay 2018 Day 18: What art inspires your game?

That depends heavily on what game I'm playing, who I'm playing with, whether I'm running the game, and a whole host of other things that have meaning and value. I like art, whether it's fanvids of anime or oil paintings or sculpture or what have you. So you could say that all art inspires my game, and all my games are inspired by art of all kinds.

That said, when it comes to aesthetic choices around personal ideas, I'm particularly fond of Art Deco, Gustav Klimt, His Girl Friday, and anything from Neko Case and the Weepies.

#RPGaDay 2018 Day 17: Describe the best compliment you've had while gaming

I think the best compliment I've ever gotten while gaming was having the entire table I was running all say "whoa" at the same time. I threw them a curveball that in retrospect was completely predictable but in that moment seemed like it was a left-field move, and I've spent the rest of my time running games chasing that twist again.

I'm always grateful for the feedback I get from folk at the table, positive or negative, but that 'whoa' was just a straight-up unabashed note of pure joy.

#RPGaDay2018 Day 16: Describe your plans for your next game

The next game I'm not running is a first-time game from a friend of mine using the 5E ruleset in a SciFi setting. We're doing character creation during the first session, which is next month, and I've already got a half-dozen different ideas for characters. I may end up coming up with an idea for each class.

The next game I'm running is a more complicated question. I just came off of a series of games I storyran over the last couple of years, so I'm a little burnt out on the storyrunner role right now. Which of course hasn't stopped me from brainstorming a bunch of game ideas, none of which feel particularly innovative or original. I always try to find a little spin on the concept that gives people a reason to get invested, and I don't feel like I've found that spin in these ideas yet.

For instance, I have an idea about the players being a group of first-responders in a cyberpunk-dystopian retrofuture, a la "DocWagon" from Shadowrun (but witho…

#RPGaDay2018 Day 15: Describe a tricky RPG experience that you enjoyed

That 'tricky' is doing a lot of heavy lifting, but I'll take it to mean "a situation that could have gone bad or could have been incredibly uncomfortable, but worked out for everyone in the end". In that respect, I think the experience I'd pick was the LARP event where I was leaving town and also had figured out I didn't like LARPing, so I worked up a plotline with the Storytellers to kill my character and in the process rearrange the entire power structure of the game and troupe. There were a lot of people who had the potential to be extremely upset about the loss of either their characters or the loss of significant resources expended to make sure their characters didn't die. Instead, everyone seemed to think it was a great way to really shake things up, and give a bunch of people a chance to maneuver or start new characters. I had a great time during the afterparty when many players came up to me, called me a bad name, and then shook my hand or oth…

#RPGaDay2018 Day 14: Describe a failure that became amazing.

Wow, do I hate this question.

Lots of other people have lots of other stories that take some sort of "critical fail" roll and turn into a really hilarious or moving story where everything pivots on a dime and everyone has a great time and everyone thinks 'yeah, that's why random dice rolls are so cool!' I'm glad that there are lots of people who have had those experiences, and I'm sure they've really enjoyed the ways that they've made stuff happen in interesting directions.

I have no stories like that. Failure, to me, has always been both disappointing and pedestrian. I have no game stories where the "one" roll really made things turn out to be brilliant in the end. In the games that I've played, a failed roll almost universally meant that my character lost agency somehow, or was ineffective, or otherwise managed to completely waste everyone's time. In games that I run, I try to make sure that failure only happens if it's tru…

#RPGaDay2018 Day 13: Describe how your play has evolved.

I think I have always been a not-so-great player. I've been focused on externalities and number-crunching, and because I dislike randomness I'm prone to trying to "dice-proof" my characters in systems where that's not especially useful. So as a player, I've been trying to either avoid systems that rely heavily on randomness, or avoid table situations where failure is even a possibility outside of narrative intent. If the story calls for me to fail, then I'm interested in that; if the failure is just because the dice rolled badly, that's boring to me. I fail like that all the time in life. That's not interesting at all in my game experience.

As a Storyrunner, I've also trended towards systems and situations where failure is a narrative term, rather than a result. And I've tried to be more attentive and responsive to what my players are trying to tell me, either consciously or unconsciously. I try to make sure everyone is having fun, and eve…

#RPGaDay2018 Day 12: Your Wildest Character Concept?

I've always liked to play characters that are more than a little off-of-plumb, so this isn't actually very easy to figure out. I mean, aside from the geth detective-inspector, or the kobold necromancer, or the Paladin of Kuan-Yin who was forbidden from killing anything?

I think the one that stands out the most to me at this point, looking back, is my halfling bard / gunslinger, Otto. He was designed to have the fastest mouth in all of Ptolus; all (and I mean ALL) of his resources were dumped into bluff and intimidate, and his perform skill was "monologuing". He was entirely about establishing a baseline of being a badass, and making sure no one noticed that he had absolutely nothing to back it up.

Otto did eventually end up with a decent shooting skill, but other than that, he was mostly about talking himself into (and not nearly as often out of) trouble. Otto was fun.

#RPGaDay2018 Day 11: Your Wildest Character Name?

Most of my characters are actually pretty boring when it comes to names, but the one I remember best is from a Fate game where we were playing in the Mass Effect universe as CSEC officers tasked with keeping the peace in a post-ME-3 reconstructed Citadel.

My character was a geth detective who went by the name 'Multitudes'. A staunch Shepard-Truther, they were committed to investigating crimes and tracking down criminals to uphold the law in their search for clues and signs that would eventually prove their theories about what really happened to Shepard. (Shepard didn't sacrifice herself, but rather at the last minute substituted a Shepard-VI, escaped in the confusion, and retired from public life, thereby guaranteeing that one day, when the Shepard-Commander was once again needed, she could return to once again lead the forces of Truth, Justice, and Good to victory.) Multitudes would be the first to point out that consensus was...not strong on this belief.

#RPGaDay2018 Day 10: How has gaming changed you?

One of the things that gaming taught me is that I actually like people. Not all people, of course, and definitely not all the time, but as a general rule people are more or less OK. Gaming has given me a lot of my closest friends, and arguably gave me a shot with the person who eventually became my partner. Gaming keeps making connections for me, and thinking back gaming is where I got my lead for my first tech job, which I've made my career.

Gaming, as a hobby, has shaped uncountable parts of my life, to the point that it's intertwined in everything I do. And yet gaming, as a hobby, is something I've come to distance myself from more and more, due to the toxicity and pain associated with it. I love my friends, and I love playing games with them. But boy do I hate all of the stuff that's associated with the idea of "a gamer".

#RPGaDay2018 Day 9: How has a game surprised you?

Nearly every game I've ever played has surprised me in one way or another. This is separate and explicitly apart from moments where players or showrunners surprised me; I'm just talking about the point when a mechanic really clicked or an unexpected synergy allowed me to be enlightened about something (note: this is not always a good thing).

Like, the moment I realized that the body/stun mechanic for Champions could be used to replicate a "success with bonus/success with penalty/failure with bonus/failure with penalty" result set.

Or the point during play one session when I feel like I suddenly fundamentally understood the idea of FAE's Approaches and how they're different from Fate's Skills on a fundamental level.

Or that day when I went crazy and hacked FAE, Apocalypse World, and Exalted into a sorta-game to see if I understood the idea of what that looked like.

I have stories like this about nearly every game I've ever played. Like the moment durin…

#RPGaDay2018 Day 8: How can we get more people playing?

I'm not sure I actually care about more people playing. Arguably, we have a problem where we have too many people playing, because it's clear that there are amazing shitlords that actively work to drive away others. I think rather the question is, how do we get good people playing? And the answer is, either explicitly or implicitly, to excise the toxicity currently present to make the gaming space welcoming to new people, especially women and People of Colour. Make gaming *un*welcome to people who are hurtful, either on purpose or on accident. Make it clear that gaming is only welcoming to people who are interested in being collaborative and friendly with others. That bad behaviour will not be tolerated, and bad actors aren't welcome until they get their shit together.

I'm not sure why we want more people playing. Because what I want is the people who want to be playing, playing. And the people who want to be shitlords, not playing.

#RPGaDay2018 Day 7: How can a Showrunner make the stakes important?

The meta-rule on this is the same as my answer for yesterday, which is: make sure the people at the table (including myself) understand the purpose of the game, have agreed to the purpose, and are all working together to make that purpose a reality for those involved. In other words, make sure everyone's bought in. That said, there's a couple of things that I try to keep in mind when I'm showrunning.

First, don't ask for dice rolls / resource investment / whatever unless the result will be meaningful to someone at the table (and that can be me as the showrunner, or even one or more of the players who aren't being asked to invoke). If there's no narrative reason for the character to fail, then there's no need to test for failure.

Second, get the person who is invoking the point (that is, doing the move, rolling the dice, spending the bennie, whatever) to lay out how invested they are in the result. If they just want the spotlight, or they just want to roll s…

#RPGaDay2018 Day 6: How can players make a world seem real?

This is an odd question, I think, because the goal is not, and at my table never has been, to make anything "seem real". Verisimilitude isn't the watchword. What tells a good story? What moves the narrative forward? What helps everyone have a good time? These are much more important to my games than any sort of 'life' or 'reality' or anything of the sort. Making a story seem lived-in is as simple (and as difficult) as making sure everyone has buy-in and everyone is invested. From there, it's a matter of figuring out which direction everyone is rowing in, and trying to steer the boat in that general area.

If you want "real" or "deep" or "lived-in" or whatever, I recommend writing fiction or shooting film (digital or otherwise). What I want from my worlds is "this is a good backdrop for my players and I to tell a story together" and anything that serves that goal is in, and anything that doesn't serve that goa…

#RPGaDay2018 Day 4: What is your most memorable NPC?

The single most memorable NPC that springs to mind for me, which was NOT in a game that I ran but was rather in a game in which I was a PC, was the HordeMaster (emphasis on the 'd', so as not to cause any misunderstandings).

We were playing a low-powered Supers game in Champions (4th ed, BBB) where the plot was basically Legion of Superheroes with the serial numbers filed off. Having had nearly zero exposure to the LSH at that point, I was just having a good time with it. And one of our recurring villains was a expert hunter and tracker, who had travelled across the galaxy to find and train the most dangerous and diabolical creatures over which he exerted control, and used them for various nefarious purposes, including trying to beat our team in combat for various reasons, none of which are important.

What was important was that one of our players had built a character who was basically indestructible, but not much else. So frequently, this character would charge into battle, …

#RPGaDay2018 - Day 3: What gives a game 'Staying Power'?

I honestly don't know what this means. Staying Power means... what, the ability of a particular system to stay in the modern marketplace? Or the ability of a particular tabletop group to keep things rolling on a given storyline/group of characters?

I guess what I'm saying is, I don't know. I mean, tabletop gaming / roleplaying games as a genre aren't really old enough to have anything really fade out; there are still folks who loudly and proudly play 1e Dungeons & Dragons, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out that there are folks who would like to bring back Chainmail or some shit like that. I think Dungeons and Dragons holds onto the marketspace by being both well-funded and willing to reinvent itself on a regular basis. I think that Paizo holds up in second place by being "D&D, only moreso". And anyone else is kinda making money by accident (I think Evil Hat and Lumpley are committed to being businesses, don't get me wrong, I just think t…

#RPGaDay2018 - Day 2: What do you look for in an RPG?

I think the single most important thing I look for in an RPG is 'will the people at my table (including me) enjoy the experience of using this system?' A lot of times in the past, I've defaulted to one system or another, one game or another, because it was simple and ubiquitous and easy for me, as opposed to easy or interesting for everyone including me. So I ended up running a lot of D&D games in situations where I wasn't actually particularly interested in D&D or even in something in the D&D milieu, but because it was a familiar and easy touchstone, that's what I reached for.

These days, I'm much more about finding a good balance for my table. I'm partial to Fate Accelerated Edition, but my players prefer something a bit crunchier, so we compromise and use Savage Worlds for our RIFTS game. I would love it if I could talk my group into something a little bit more out there, like Monsterhearts or even Dogs in the Vineyard, but given the audience…

#RPGaDay2018 - Day 1: What do you love about RPGs?

(For background, check out This link to Autocratik).

I really love that I can hang out with a bunch of friends and talk about serious shit and find the humor in dark spaces together. And I love that I can hang out with some people who I don't know as well, so I can get to know them better and talk about serious shit and find some common things that we find funny. And I love that I can dig down into my own brain and find the things that I want to haul into the light, and my friends are cool with that happening. And I like telling stories together with smart people who are fun to be creative with.

RPGs often do a great job allowing us to explore things that would otherwise be unacceptable to explore. And sometimes it's a ton of fun just to hang out and be silly together.