#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Critical (day 9)

Doing a Google search on critical thinking I found something rather amusing in the suggested questions in my mobile device. One of the drop down menus said “what are the seven critical thinking skills?” ~ The list provided was observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem-solving, and decision-making.

I don’t know about you, but I counted nine. So much for critical thinking. Or maybe that was just a test to see if I could apply those skills to notice the discrepancy.

For a long time I have enjoyed taking Games apart. I like to see what makes them tick. I like to see how they work, what the mechanics actually do. I like to do this from a mathematical standpoint, but also in terms of how they interface with the fiction. What does it feel like when the mechanics are invoked? Is it easy to narrate from? What do they actually tell is happening in the game world? How much of a disconnect is there from an immersive experience when they are used? Does practice alleviate this?

I have also really come to enjoy looking at a new game and seeing what it is all about. But for me part of the enjoyment is not taking everything at face value. I like to apply some critical analysis to what I am seeing. What is the premise? What is the game supposed to do? What is it supposed to be about? Does it actually do that?

Part of this analysis is to actually play the game and then talk about the experience with the other players. What actually happened? How did it feel? Do we know why that happened? Were we playing the game correctly? Did the game feel natural or did it push us out of our comfort zone? Is there something we need to do differently? Does the game have problems? Is it confusing in actual play? ~ On the surface this sounds like it would be overthinking things but in practice it can be very rewarding and lead to a much richer experience.

I really enjoy the fact that this hobby provides many ways to engage with it and can be very enjoyable even when you are not actually playing the game. One of those ways that is very satisfying and engaging for me is to apply some critical thinking to the games themselves and to the experiences they help create.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Obscure (day 8)

I have a sense of humor that a lot of people don’t get. Not only is it a little bit quirky, but I often make rather obscure references to things that not a lot of other people know about. Even when I’m not joking around many of the things a reference can baffle other people.

I don’t know if you can relate to that, but very often when people like me start playing role-playing games we discover other people that get those obscure references. We start to realize that we are not alone in our interests and are areas of knowledge. We find a place where it is OK to be a nerd, in fact it’s cool.

I’ll be honest, these days I like a more serious game and prefer to keep things as in character or focused on the fiction as possible. I’m not a fan of constant joking around and constant references to geek pop culture. That said, with some discretion and flair a well-timed reference can be a thing of beauty. Subtlety is important, and the best obscure references are those that may or may not get caught. When they are, it is pure magic. I’ll give you one of my favorite examples that happened just recently.

In our Mythos Mythras PBEM game we are on our second set of characters, this time in 2020. The scene begins with our intrepid investigators held in a classroom with an entire building on lockdown after a grisly murder. Anthony’s post sets the stage, and near the tail end of the long and detailed e-mail is this gem of NPC dialogue overheard by our characters.

“I will speak to the ones in 322 next. Look lively now, officer. You need to bring them to me one at a time, without discussing anything with them, and without letting them interact with anyone on the way to and the way from the interview room. Understood? Officer Gates will coordinate this with you. He will give you the signal to bring the first suspect and he will take them to the post-interview waiting area. Now: repeat what I just told you.”

I’m not sure that was the most obscure reference possible, but I grinned as soon as I saw Anthony’s post, because of course it was a veiled reference to the “don’t let him leave the room” scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Subtle, in the background, but hysterical nevertheless. A well executed tip of the hat to classic gamer humor.

Little things like that in game or even in out of game conversations go a long way towards building camaraderie and adding another layer of fun to the experience. Just as long as you don’t go overboard. Like spice, a little goes a long way

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Familiar (day 7)

This had me stumped for a little bit. What was I going to talk about? Find familiar? Sometimes you get a raven, if you’re really unlucky you might get a frog. That didn’t seem very exciting or positive.

If anything during the past few years I have ventured far outside of my comfort zone and left the familiar behind. I have found that this has greatly expanded my appreciation of the RPG Hobby and has offered me many new and rewarding experiences.

Like my friend Eloy says, Even if you end up going back & returning to the familiar you have a better understanding of why you like it and you can import some things you have learned elsewhere into your old way of playing. However, sometimes I have found that when I return to the familiar that it no longer feels like home. Travel has changed me. That reminds me that I need to play Broken Rooms. It is still on my shelf of hope.

All of that said, I have found that when you hold on to something that is familiar that it helps you explore other facets of the hobby. It’s not just that humans find a great deal of comfort in the familiar, but also that if you are very experienced with one part of the game experience you don’t need to think about it all that much. You can concentrate your attention and efforts on the new parts of the experience.

So maybe you play that familiar system or in that familiar setting. Maybe you play with that same game group, or play that same character or type of character. Perhaps you play a familiar trope or you play a familiar role. I don’t just mean role in the party, but Maybe you remain a player if that is your usual seat, or are you remain a game master if that is more of your thing. Then you are free to concentrate on the new ideas that you are exploring. ~ just consider that it’s worth rotating what parts you keep familiar and what parts you change and explore.

In my own experience one of the things that benefits greatly from familiarity is the setting itself. But not in the way you might think. In the past I generally did not play in this world, in reality. However, I have come around to the idea that “this world with a twist” is a very powerful setting to play in. My experience has backed this up, even lately. When all of the players have this level of familiarity with the world it seems more real and they tend to act with much more confidence and freedom. Even if we are playing in a different era it’s not that hard to imagine what it was like and to find references for it. ~ Add a twist, whatever that might be, and all the sudden this familiar world becomes strange and exciting, perhaps even unsettling. Likewise, because it’s the only thing that’s different it sticks out like a sore thumb. It also hits very close to home because the feeling that something is wrong or different is experienced in a much more visceral manner by all of the players at the table.

Sometimes the most powerful thing we can do is to take the familiar and screw with it.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Ancient (day 6)

The word ancient carries a heavy weight. It puts us in our place. We are not ancient, we are brief flashes in cosmic time. When we encounter the truly ancient we are reminded of how small and insignificant we are. But the ancient also beckons us, promising to reveal its mysteries to those who dare to seek them out.

One of the biggest drawbacks to living in the modern age is that there simply aren’t that many mysteries left to solve. There aren’t very many ancient ruins to explore for the first time. There is virtually no hope of finding an ancient civilization surviving in the deepest jungle. Although we have more to learn, the vast majority of history has been revealed to us as much as it can.

In RPGs this unfortunate limitation is removed. We are free to encounter that derelict that has been floating in space for God knows how long. We can discover that hideous idol of awesome, vast, and incalculable age. We can seek out the mysteries of lost civilizations that walked the earth before man climbed down from the trees, or even before the fish that were his ancestors crawled out of the sea. We can explore ancient ruins long hidden from prying eyes. We can discover cults thought long dead to be existing in some remote corner of the world, practicing the same profane rituals that they have for thousands of years.

There is something about all of these ancient things which can fill us with wonder and dread. In the dimension of time, they are so much larger than us. And we can only touch and see a small portion of the much larger whole. This is part of the magic of RPGs. They can allow us to freedom to discover and explore and experience the ancient first hand. We don’t need to read about it in a book, we can be there ~ if we dare.

The YouTube video

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Space (Day 5)

I don’t know, but today’s blog post may be very similar to The YouTube video. Then again maybe not.

What I do know is that space is very important. This is a hobby that is built upon imagination. It’s not a passive spectator sport. At least in my experience a large amount of the phenomenon occurs within our own heads. But unlike daydreaming its not private. We share some of the products of our imagination with each other. The fiction that emerges before our very eyes is a mixture of our own imaginings and the elements inserted by the other players at the table.

That said, if we were all able to project what we imagine things to look like so that the other players can see them, we would find that we are all imagining something slightly different. This isn’t necessarily a problem as long as we all agree upon certain key or salient points. After all, it is possible that we may be having an experience stepping into the shoes of our own individual character, or of the nonplayer characters we may be running, and so of course we would see things differently.

However, this can only happen if we leave each other space. Space to fill in the gaps with our imagination. Spaces in our descriptions and narrations. By presenting just enough detail in the right places, and letting each other color in between the lines with our own imaginations.

Likewise, it’s important to leave each other space as the game goes on. It’s natural at first to feel as if we must fill in all of the available space as a game master. This is something we learn to let go of over time. But just like the spaces between the notes are just as important as the notes themselves in music, leaving pauses when we speak to allow others to talk, to act, to jump in and play! This is just as crucial to the RPG experience.

By allowing each other space we set the stage for amazing things to happen. After all, isn’t that what we are here for?

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Engage (day 3)

I just finished making a video for today and talked about what a thrill it is to watch other gamers when they really become engaged. It’s almost as exciting as having that experience yourself.

In that video I briefly mentioned something that has become more apparent to me over time, and something to which I have devoted a lot of thought, and for lack of a better word, research. In short, different people really become engaged in an RPG session or with the hobby in different ways.

Some people love the creative process before the game. Coming up with a setting, or maps, or a premise, or a new system or even hacking an old one. You can really see how engaged they become in the creative process. Some people love the collecting and painting of miniatures. Some people really enjoy the tactical side of games. Some people become incredibly engaged with system mastery.

Some people enjoy creating a story beforehand, other people enjoy improvising elements of a story in the moment. Still others enjoy the emergent fiction that arises when nobody is really paying attention to intentionally creating a story, but through playing their characters interesting and unpredictable events occur. Some people become incredibly engaged when they try to experience the fictional world & situations through the eyes of their character.

Some people become completely engaged when they are solving the puzzles and mysteries that come up in game sessions. Some people love the thrill of exploration. Others become just as engaged when they improvise and make these things up in the moment.

There are so many different ways to enjoy this hobby. Too many people walk away or become discouraged because they think there is only one way to really become engaged and enjoy it. It has been my experience that it is incredibly important, and incredibly rewarding, to take the time to find out what really gets you engaged. What part of the RPG experience gets you excited and keeps you coming back? Once you find out the particular kind of experience that you like, the RPG hobby can become immensely satisfying and rewarding.

You might not know which parts of the RPG experience really do it for you until you experience them. But i have found that you will recognize it when you experience it. The feeling of being immersed or engaged is unmistakable. Nothing like it.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Unique

If you believe Barney the dinosaur, each of us is special. Does that make us unique? Special snowflakes?

In my video for today I mention that every session by default is unique. It’s never going to happen quite that way again. That group of people, on that night, playing that session, playing that game, in that way… You get the idea.

However, it’s comforting to know that we aren’t as unique as we think we are. This hobby is so broad and so vast, there are so many different expectations and intentions for play, there are so many different games to choose from and experiences to be had, that it can become easy to despair of ever finding a group of like-minded individuals. People who are after the same kind of experience that we are.

The Internet can be a lot of things, and it can certainly be divisive, but it can also bring us together. It has been my experience that casting a wider net, being willing to have in depth & civil conversations with other gamers, and by learning and adopting a language to talk about RPGs, our expectations and our intentions, That I have been able to find others to share a similar set of criteria for what makes an ideal experience. (That was a really long sentence that would make an English teacher cringe).

At the end of the day that means that there are people out there that want the same experience that we do. We aren’t terminally unique. ~ Once we find them? Then we can have the joy of getting together to create… Unique experiences.