#RPGaDAY2020 day 3 ~ Thread

One of my favorite things about RPGs is that we don’t know what will happen until it does. Sure, there are play styles where a framework or plan for events has been pre established by one or more participants. However, my preference is for playing in a manner where the outcomes, events, “scenes” and timelines are a mystery to all involved, including the GM.

I had a couple of reactions to the word thread, one of which I put in today’s YouTube video, and the other here. When I think of the idea of a thread in this second manner it brings to mind Theseus entering the labyrinth trailing a thread behind him in order to find his way out.

Before we enter the labyrinth that is game play, we are like Theseus. We have no idea what we will encounter or which way we will go. But after the session, we can follow the thread that we have laid down, and narrative of events is now ours to own and look back upon.

When my friends and I talk about past sessions, in a very real sense we follow the thread that we wound through the maze. I think this is uncanny. Don’t you?

#RPGaDAY2020 day 2 ~ Change

Like death & taxes, change is inevitable. I think Rush said something about change in “Circumstances”. (That is a fun bass line to play by the way).

I have found that in the RPG experience, a seemingly small change can have a big effect. Sometimes we like the new experience, and sometimes we don’t, but the reality is the experience at the RPG table is a complex organism, and the parts all interact.

How about if we have Alex GM a game? Or anybody besides Bob?

What if we try to have an in character experience? What if we switch to a “writer’s room” method and all have input on what the current situation looks like, with no intention of in character play?

What if we play a campaign where we rotate GM’s?

How about we play a different game? One with a system completely different than what we are used to?

What happens when we play with different people? What happens when we add or subtract someone from the mix?

I could go on and on, and you probably could too. The point is that there. Is an entire world of discovery out there for us if we are willing to move outside of our comfort zone and try different games, different techniques, different approaches to the RPG experience.

There is no pain in change, only in our resistance to it.

#RPGaDAY2020 day 1 ~ Beginning

Don’t just sit there, begin something. Start reading that RPG book that has been sitting on your shelf. Stop just thinking about getting a group together, take the first step. Start talking about that game that you want to play, start promoting it. Put pen to paper and begin to create a framework for that campaign you have been thinking about. Don’t just stand at the dungeon door, Open it. Take the first step and go inside.

Beginnings can be frightening and uncomfortable and clunky but they are necessary to get to where you want to go. Beginnings can also be magical and wonderful as you discover things for the first time in a new game or with a new group of players.

You don’t have to stay at the beginning#, but you can’t get anywhere else without going there first. The only thing between you and that new RPG experience is taking the first step.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Last (day 31)

Nothing lasts. At least that’s what Matthew Sweet told me. While this is technically true, I can stand to be a bit selfish and say that as long as it lasts for my lifetime that’s good enough.

This is a hobby that can last a lifetime. I first started playing in 1981 when I was 13. Although I didn’t play consecutively all those years it was like riding a bike every time I started up again. It was automatic. When I wasn’t playing I thought about the hobby quite a bit. These days there is so much to explore and not enough time. At this point I can’t imagine running out of games to play that interest me.

The memories we create can also last a lifetime. The human mind is a funny thing, It can’t really tell the difference between reality and a vividly imagined event. Many of the moments I have experienced in RPGs have stayed with me. Some of them were funny, some of them were poignant or moving, some of them were awesome, some were tragic. Many of the characters have stayed with me as well. I remember them as if they were real people. Not just my characters, but the characters of the other players and some of the more memorable NPCs.

It has been my experience that the hobby has had a lasting impact on me in many ways. It has definitely changed me. I have developed friendships that otherwise would not have been possible. I have gained a different perspective on the human condition. I have experienced making choices that I would not normally get to make, and I have experienced the consequences. In a very real sense I have lived more than one life. I have been able to gain a greater understanding on what makes us the same, and what makes us different. I have learned to listen more. I have been given a window into my own psyche, and the psyches of others.

This may be the last day of RPGaDAY 2019, but it’s not the end of my ongoing love affair with the hobby. In many ways, it’s just the beginning.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Connection (day 30)

I’m going to ignore the first thing that I thought about when I saw this prompt because the immediate connections that spring to mind were amongst the players. I’ve noticed a few themes emerging in my responses this RPGaDAY, and connections to my fellow players has been one of them. So, I decided to go in a different direction with this. A direction no less important, and certainly one that is very relevant to my recent experiences.

In my own gaming I’ve noticed that certain connections, or lack thereof, can have a dramatic impact upon how a game feels and upon how it gets played. I’ll tackle the easy one first. Because it is one that I have had very recent experience with.

As participants in the game it helps a great deal if we have a connection to the setting. The more of a frame of reference we have, the more we understand it, the more that we can feel comfortable to act. While novel and fantastical worlds can be incredibly fun they require a certain amount of effort to learn them enough to become connected to them. They lack the touchstones that we have with our own real world. This being the case, I have become very fond of “this world with a twist.” Sometimes a really big twist. It certainly isn’t the only way to foster a connection between the players in the fictional reality, but it can make this connection far more effortless. Switching games to Leagues of Adventure set in the 1890s resulted in all of the group be able to visualize situations much easier and also made the players feel much more comfortable to act & interact with parts of the environment. They know what should be there.

However, there is another kind of connection which is perhaps even more important. Or at least it speaks to me. In I know how to free them Paul Czege As you answer some compelling questions about a character. One of the questions asks you to describe how you and the character are similar. If connection to the setting is important, connection to the character is even more so.

I’m not talking about the idea of playing an avatar. Or that every character you play is really yourself. That said, it has been my experience that there is a little bit of me in every character that I play. Many of them are radically different than I am in many respects. But I have always found some connection somewhere. In the past I have joked that if you took all of my characters and put them together you might find an accurate representation of me on some level. When I have played a character that I have not felt a connection to the experience has been much less than satisfying. Usually what ends up happening is I end up creating some sort of connection and in so doing I am able to identify with them.

I have discovered that I like to have an experience as if I were the character. I like to put myself in their shoes and try to feel what it would really be like to be them. Very often this just kind of happens organically. And if I take a good look at it there has been some kind of connection created between the character and myself. After these connections can be surprising, and sometimes I can find something out about myself by watching what the character does, by feeling their responses to the situations, and by noticing my own responses to these things.

Once I have a connection to the character, then a connection to the events of the fiction is very easy. In this way I can experience and remember what happens at the table as if it were a real event in my own life. And that is a pretty cool thing. There aren’t very many activities that can claim to have that effect.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Evolve (day 29)

Changes aren’t permanent, but change is. The more that things change, the more they stay the same. I’m sure there are more Rush quotes but I think that’s good enough.

The RPG hobby has undergone an incredible evolution over the course of its lifetime. Not only have various games evolved with multiple editions being released, The way that games are published and brought to the consumer has changed dramatically. Things like PDFs, Drive-through RPG, print on demand, kickstarter, etc. have drastically changed the way that creators bring their ideas to the marketplace.

Online forums, YouTube, social media groups, and other modern methods of communication have drastically changed how we communicate about the hobby. Information that was amassed only slowly is now available in an instant.

The diversity of games has exploded. There is literally a game about just about anything you can think of. Role-playing game theory has slowly given us a language to talk about and understand the phenomenon, and this is only in its infancy. We have a lot of evolving to do.

How we play at the table has mostly stayed the same, but at the same time technology has given us the ability to play with people from around the world. If it suits your fancy, there are various online tools to replicate maps and miniatures. If you’re like me and don’t really care about that, there are many platforms with which to have a more face-to-face experience.

Gaming groups evolve all the time. We choose to play different games or to change members. The longer we play together the more we learn each other’s quirks and hopefully figure out how to meet everybody’s needs.

At the end of the day my personal experience is my own evolution as a gamer. This has been quite a journey.

From 1981 to roughly 1990 I played essentially one game. After a long hiatus where I attended to the demands of adult life I returned to the hobby somewhere around 2010. I found that my game had evolved, and I didn’t like how it had. I discovered other people who felt the same way who had created their own community. In that community I found many creative individuals who had made their own homunculi of the original game, each one emphasizing a certain part of it.

Leaving the hobby again for a few years I concentrated on something that was very important in real life. Something that changed me dramatically. I evolved.

Returning to the hobby a second time I began to explore various other games. After initial resistance, I became interested in RPG theory. The YouTube channel that I had started around 2011 changed to reflect my new interests and temperament. My interaction with other members of the hobby who shared my interest in exploration and thoughtful discourse continued to direct this evolution. Not only did I play with a new group of people online, but we discussed the games afterwards. We started to develop a culture of play strongly focused on experience and analysis. This is something I enjoy a great deal. But it certainly wasn’t how I entered the hobby.

I’ve also discovered an interesting relationship between events in the fiction, the reaction of my characters and myself to the situations that we encounter, and my own relationship with real life. I have been able to explore concepts that I would not have thought of many years ago.

My evolution continues, and it is a remarkable journey.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Love (day 28)

Love is an overused word. I suppose it has to be. The English language just doesn’t have the nuances in this area that many others do. We don’t have the differentiations that something like Greek would allow. I love my daughters, I love chocolate, I love role-playing games, I love the autumn, I love my favorite pair of old shoes, I love playing live music, I love some of my friends unconditionally. Same word, but it conveys very different meanings depending upon context.

However there is great fortune in this ambiguity today because I can essentially talk about whatever the hell I want. And that’s something I love to do.

I love it when the other players at the table are really into the game. This really has nothing to do with me being the game master or a player of a single character. Regardless of my function at the table and regardless of the roles played by the other people, it brings me great joy and satisfaction when they are fully engaged with what we are doing.

Even if I’m already jazzed about what we are doing I can’t help but find their enthusiasm and excitement infectious. Likewise, when shared by everybody at the table that zeal and avidity has a habit of growing exponentially. I love it when this happens. It is a phenomenon that is to be cherished and cultivated.

Quite recently the group I was running lamentations of the flame princess for decided to switch gears at my request and we started up a game of Leagues of Cthulhu by Triple Ace Games. Despite YouTube no longer offering easy streaming via Hangouts we were able to record the session and add it to the playlist.

All the players have been quite enthusiastic about playing in the 1890s and the intrepid spirit of Leagues of Adventure. It remains to be seen how excited they are when they start to encounter the truly horrible, but we’ve already talked about the degree we want that to be present in the game.

All of them have been great so far but it only feels right to single one out today.

Jose has been fun to play with ever since I met him. But it has been really nice to see just how enthusiastic and invested he has become in this particular game, genre, and in the ubiquity system. He an admitted old West fanatic, so of course he created a cowboy type scout who has joined up with a league who recognizes his talents. He knows the tropes very well so how he plays Cord McNally it spot on, and the pulp heroics abound.

I love how he is doing all that, but what I really love most of all is how much effort he has undertaken to learn the system. It seems that he may know how ubiquity works better than I do! I swear he has a mind like a steel trap, and when a question about the rules comes up he is very often the first one to have the answer. Although this is a little embarrassing, it is awesome to see the enthusiasm and investment in the game. It definitely makes my job much easier.

Although I have singled out Jose, it’s only fair to say that Del, Todd, and Eloy along with Jose make running this new game very easy. Everybody is engaged and active. Everybody has showed up to play, and play they do.

I love that.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Suspense (day 27)

If you’re reading this instead of watching my video, congratulations. You get more content today. Taking the time to read ought to be rewarded every once in a while. But don’t get excited , it’s only a little bit more content.

The first thing I thought about when the topic of suspense came up were the dice. There’s nothing like crowding around the plastic gods seeing what will happen. I’m not super big on complicated and detailed systems but very often building a dice pool for ubiquity or FFG Star Wars can be a lot of fun and the suspense starts to build. Not that those systems are complicated but it’s a little bit different than just rolling a D20. No matter what system, the suspense starts to escalate once an action is declared and it’s obvious that the outcome depends upon the roll of the bones. When the dice are rolled when things are important and the stakes are meaningful, the suspense is palpable. The more invested the people are in the game and the fiction the better.

The second thing I thought of was just wondering “what’s going to happen?” You get a bunch of engaged & creative people together and there’s no telling what will occur. The resolution mechanics only add to that uncertainty. Often there is a great deal of suspense before a session, especially if the last one ended on a cliffhanger. Sometimes we will talk about it all week until the next game. And then there is the ongoing suspense during the game as everyone wonders just what will happen next. We might know what we are going to do, but we have no idea what everybody else will do. The components of the fiction qualify as a complex system. There are way too many variables to for us to be able to predict events. We play to find out. That keeps me coming back to RPGs again and again.

And finally your reward. The last thing I thought about is suspension of disbelief. Yes I’m cheating a little bit and taking liberties with the word, but it’s an important and compelling topic.

Our willingness to suspend disbelief is vital for our ability to become engaged with the RPG experience. There are a myriad of “well actuallys” which can cripple our ability to immerse ourselves in the events of play. Each one of us has our own set of circumstances for which it is almost impossible for us to suspend disbelief. It could be in terms of how a mechanic represents or fails to represent “realistic” outcomes. It could be about how the mechanics create a certain feel. It could be something in the setting or anachronisms, or historical inconsistencies or a million other things.

Understanding our limitations In our ability to spend disbelief helps us to choose the right games. Taking an honest look at the things that give us trouble can also sometimes lead us to being less rigid, especially if we understand why the game does what it does. It pays to discuss these things with each other rather than keep silent.

Removing these barriers to our suspension of disbelief allows us to achieve greater “buy-in” and thus allows us to fully immerse ourselves in the game and in the fiction. And when we are fully immersed, those other moments of suspense I talked about previously will have a very satisfying affect upon our experience.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Idea (day 26)

Everything starts with an idea. Except for those things that we tend to do automatically due to reflex or rote memorization, most of our actions are preceded by an idea. Some are good ideas, and some are bad ideas. The distinction between the two often rests with experiment and experience. Often we have to throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall to find out what sticks. But I don’t think there’s any greater tragedy than the idea that never sees the light of day. Think of all the wasted potential.

Every game on our shelves or in our tablets began with an idea. A premise, a concept, a new mechanic, a “hey what if we did it this way?”. These ideas were written down, hopefully play tested, revised, published and now sit on our shelves where hopefully we play them and they see the light of day. Think of that next time you play a game or read a supplement. This used to be just somebody’s idea. There is a lot of power there.

Every scenario or game world or NPC or creature or the countless other things devised by game masters begin as ideas. Every player character was originally just a concept, an idea. And somehow, through the magic of actual play these ideas become reality. Kept to ourselves they are flat and two dimensional, but shared with one another and allowed to interact, they come to life and often surprise us with what they do. But without that initial idea, that vibrant experience would never have happened.

All of these examples are powerful and profound, but to me perhaps some of the most important ideas occur in the moment during actual play. For some of us that could be improvisation and making things up on the spot. That’s not my preferred play style, but it is a valid and exciting one. For others it could be realizing that as players we don’t need to wait to be shown what to do. We don’t have to wait for our chance to insert a little dialogue. We don’t have to try to figure out what the game master wants us to do. We have an idea, and we act on it. Very often those ideas not only surprise the game master and the other players at the table, they also surprise us.

The phenomenon of play take shape in an unpredictable manner as the various people at the table bring these ideas together and the various elements in the fiction interact with one another. The game becomes dynamic and alive. No one can be sure what’s going to happen, but it’s going to be interesting. When we all have ideas and share them, act on them, and talk about them, we realize that we have truly shown up to the game.

Finally, after the dice have been put away, many times we find that we still have ideas. We have observations, questions reflections, things that we have discovered or are trying to piece together. When we share those with each other and talk about our experiences,our questions, and our theories we find that we are still engaged with the RPG phenomenon. We transcend just talking about other people or events, we talk about ideas. There is a magic there that is hard to put into words. Ideas have real impact.

I have an idea, and it’s so crazy it just might work…

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Calamity (25)

Did you know that a calamity is worse than a disaster? I didn’t, but apparently in the grand scheme of unfortunate events, a calamity is about as bad as it gets. I think it’s even worse than a catastrophe. That’s pretty bad.

I’m not sure if What I am about to talk about rates as a true calamity, but it can be very unfortunate. But even then, it doesn’t have to be all bad.

We all have people that we tend to gravitate towards. Something about them suggests a connection. We find them likable. Perhaps it’s their passion or their relatability. We find it we like talking about the same things, maybe thinking about the same sort of enigmas. Perhaps it’s their willingness to have tact an act maturely even when we disagree. We find conversation with them stimulating. We realize that they are one of “our people”. Whatever it is, we become friends. This happens in all areas of life and it is no different in the role playing game hobby.

And then, the unthinkable happens, calamity strikes.

Maybe this disaster becomes apparent as we talk about gaming, but maybe we actually game together before we realize the terrible truth. And then we find out how cruel and uncaring fate can be.

What is this catastrophe you ask? Simple. We find out that we have radically different expectations, biases, and preferences for the role playing game experience. In some deeply fundamental way we find that we are radically incompatible once we sit down to play. On some deep and inherent level we each naturally interface with the RPG experience in profoundly different ways. We are like oil and water.

If we are fortunate, we are able to realize that we are using different definitions for the same terms and w come to an understanding that each of us has very different things that make the RPG hobby enjoyable for us. We realize that the other person isn’t crazy, they just want something different. We are able to talk about our differences in a civil and friendly matter.

By being willing to seek to understand rather than just seeking to be understood, We each come away richer for the discussions. We are able to see just how diverse and big our hobby actually is. We start to comprehend why very often we as gamers can talk at cross purposes and not understand each other even when we are speaking the same language. We start to see the bigger picture.

Hopefully we become willing to compromise and meet in the middle so that we can play sometimes. Perhaps each of us takes turns playing in the other persons preferred manner so we can experience it and understand it better. We may still find that it is not and may never be our first choice, but we give it a shot. Sure, it probably won’t be an optimal experience, but we will be able to experience the same things and talk about it afterwards. We can understand each other and the hobby even more.

Even when after some open minded pursuit, we find that we aren’t able to play together in a satisfying manner, this does not signal the end of the friendship. Nor is it heralding the end of the ongoing discussion about RPGs and everything that surrounds them. Far from it. We can continue to have this friendship and those discussions and continuously appreciate the RPG phenomenon from a wider vantage point.

From apparent calamity comes wisdom and a richer experience.