#RPGaDAY2020 day 11 ~ Stack

Sorry this post is a day late, but the cards were stacked against me.

In RPGs we aren’t limited to one paradigm. Characters can be asymmetrical, and the forces and powers that be don’t always have to be “appropriate challenges” based upon character prowess.

Certainly there a number of very popular games where symmetry and parity are all but sacrosanct. A = B = C and challenge or threat levels play a vital part in the construction and execution of the RPG itself. Other games aren’t so formulaic in such minute detail, but still contain a mathematical structure for the creation of characters, NPCs, creatures, artifacts, machines, rituals, and so on and so forth. (Ubiquity springs to mind). Published Adventures for many RPGs often indicate they are for a certain number of characters with abilities of “X”.

While symmetrical characters and challenges can be the basis for satisfying play of a certain type, I have found that I derive more enjoyment from scenarios where the proverbial deck is stacked in one way or another. Characters who are radically different in their competence in various abilities make for interesting role play. To me they feel more like real people rather than interchangeable tokens. As long as they are appropriate for the type of game we have agreed to play, I find the mix to be enjoyable.

I also derive a great deal of satisfaction from games where the difficulties and challenges aren’t based upon the abilities of the player characters, but upon what makes sense for the setting and for the genre. Blade fodder for our Musketeers to wade through and Vampires for them to capitulate to are much more fun than “appropriate encounters”. Moments when a character solves a impossibly baffling puzzle in minutes and scenes where a Tyrannodon destroys an airship and almost kills everyone in the same amount of time make me smile and just feel right. Far from being carefully crafted situations, these were moments when the deck was stacked one way or the other, and the results were not surprising, but still tense & on genre.

And, every once in a while a miracle happens, and you manage to roll zero successes on six dice. Oh wait, that’s more of an improbable misfortune …

#RPGaDAY day 10 ~ Want

So whatcha whatcha whatcha want?

Back in the day when dinosaurs walked the earth and I was starting to play RPGs, our characters had pretty simple desires. Kill things, take their stuff and stay alive. Save the village. Collect the reward. Become somebody. Build a castle and retire. Complete the quest.

The monsters and non player characters had fairly straightforward motivations as well. Kill the player characters, eat the player characters. Take over the world. Do the evil thing. Keep their stuff. Cut and dry.

There’s nothing wrong with those types of motivations in certain games and cultures of play. However, many RPGs include or even focus upon the motivations of the player characters to a lesser or greater degree. What does your character want? What are they willing to do in order to get it? Some games are all about what the characters want, while other games have more of a backdrop where the desires of the PCs inform how they act as the world keeps turning.

NPCs are people too, (sometimes) and they can have the same range of wants, desires, and motivations as the player characters. NPC actions become quite intuitive once you know what makes them tick.

It’s been my experience that gaming can be much richer when you know what the characters want. It’s a vital step to making them real people within the setting and within the fiction. Even more satisfying is when they have conflicting desires. Choices become much more (dare I say realistic) when characters have warring motivations within themselves, just like we do. They certainly won’t be flat and two dimensional.

As Veruca Salt said, “I want it now.” ~ Are you gonna tell he she can’t have it? I’m not.

#RPGaDAY2020 day 9 ~ Light

Light fuse & get away.

An RPG session or campaign can quickly take on a life of its own that emerges in a way that nobody at the table could have predicted. True, there are styles of play where the sequence of events is predetermined, and one of the roles of the GM is to get events back on course if they go awry. However, my biases and preferences lean toward a style where we put all of the volatile ingredients in one spot, light the fuse, and then run like hell.

Of course in this case we aren’t running away, we are all more like bumper cars. NPCs with agendas and personalities, vibrant player characters, a dynamic world, and the fickle hand of fate tossing dice into the arena all contribute to, but don’t control, the emerging fiction.

To prevent the dreaded “faffing about” the game starts at a crisis point where decisions must be made. Likewise, time is important and is tracked. Events in the world keep happening, so if the PCs just mill about, they are bound to be slammed by one of those bumper cars in short order.

This phenomenon and dynamic is one of the things that keeps me coming back to RPGs again and again. Not playing to create, but playing to find out.

Got a match?

#RPGaDAY2020 day 8 ~ Shade

There is much of our human nature that we keep hidden in shadow. There are deeds, thoughts, and impulses that we prefer never leave the shade created by the carefully crafted images that we present to the outside world. There are things that happen in the world that we would rather stay obscured by darkness and distance.

All that’s rather disturbing and bleak isn’t it? When I started playing RPGs back in 1981 we really didn’t deal with those facets of humanity or elfdom. Things were clear cut. We were the good guys (more or less), and the truly evil things in the world were altogether evil. This was and still is a fun aesthetic, and we had fun with it.

However, one of the allures of the RPG hobby is that we can safely explore and interact with the shadow side of humanity without the constraints of pesky details like real world consequences, ethics, and the lack of otherworldly threats and temptations in our own drab lives. It can be quite satisfying to take on the roles of people different from ourselves who are faced with difficult choices in a world often shaded from our eyes. We can choose to play characters with their own dark motives and secrets. We can choose to play characters who must confront all that is ugly in the souls of men and who come face to face with the most foul circumstances. Of course we can play characters for whom both is true.

Many RPGs out there choose to examine disturbing and dark themes, or involve play against a backdrop where the curtain is pulled back to expose the underbelly of society. There are so many to choose from you probably could never play them all. If you did, you might be an empty husk of a person by the time you finished.

Go ahead. Step into the shade if you dare. See what lurks there safe from the light. You just might have fun.

#RPGaDAY 2020 day 7 ~ Couple

You can do a lot with a couple of dice.

Sure, you look around for RPG dice and you’ll find sets of 7. The 5 Platonic solids and a couple of tens. Some sets have even more dice. Oddballs of all shapes and sizes. Maybe sets of ten tennies or 6 sixes, or… a dozen twelves?

However, so many games out there use the time honored bones. The 2d6 curve is quite useful if you take the time to learn how it works. In a pinch you can just raid the monopoly set to play Apocalypse World, Advanced Fighting Fantasy, or A Time of War.

Going back to those “couple of tens” found in the standard RPG set, you can use those to play any of the percentile based games out there. Unlike the 2d6 curve, Percentile dice offer the advantage of being intuitive in terms of understanding your chances. If you have a 45% chance of doing something, even the most numerophobic gamer can figure out that their chances are….45%

Far from being boring or passé, 2d6 and % dice let you do a whole lot with your imagination, a set of rules, and a couple of dice.

#RPGaDAY2020 day 6 ~ Forest

Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.

This phenomenon is just as real in the RPG hobby as it is anywhere else. Very often we can get wrapped up in one part of the experience. We focus on the game, or upon the system. We concentrate our attention on the people we play with, or the techniques we use, or upon the social contract. Maybe we pay close attention to the fiction. Perhaps we concentrate on the techniques and methods we use to produce a certain aesthetic or feel. The RPG experience has many facets, and each one of them is fascinating in its own right. I’m just as guilty as anyone else when it comes to focusing my attention upon the trees and not the forest?

So what IS the forest in the RPG sense anyway? I remember having a conversation with Ron Edwards where we touched upon this. (It might be in a video on his channel Adept Play, I don’t remember at the moment.) I was talking about having parallel experiences during a game session. An experience as the characters in the fictional world. Another experience as the actual people at the table interacting with each other. Another experience as an audience member watching the drama. Yet another experience as players interacting with the system. And so and so forth…

Ron mentioned that this was why the “Big Model” moniker was chosen. All of these experiences are happening at once, and when we play we are having this multi faced experience as human beings around the table. It’s not just about the dice or the fiction or the genre. It’s about the interactions and relationships we have together as people as well.

The forest is vast, and there are many different trees within it. Sometimes we need to remember to take a few steps back and admire it as a whole.

#RPGaDAY2020 day 5 ~ Tribute

This is not the greatest RPG in the world, this is a tribute.

I thought about this today, and I realized that we pay tribute to those who came before us in the hobby simply by playing.

Back when the hobby was new, there were people who stood alone and brought us games of different sorts with resources that we would consider laughable today. It doesn’t matter which of those games you like or don’t like, every time you play any RPG you are paying tribute to the pioneers of the hobby.

Visionaries continued, (and continue) to drive the RPG experience forward with new mechanics, new systems, new procedures, and new ideas. When we play the games they have created, or the games inspired by their ideas, we pay tribute to those who have kept the hobby vibrant and alive.

The creative forces continue to this day. People still have the drive and courage to bring us new ideas and new material, often a personal risk. When I play their games, I pay tribute to Ron Edwards, James Raggi, Paul Wiggy Wade Williams, Stephen Herron, Jeff Combos, and so many others.

It’s one thing to give accolades to the people in the hobby who have brought us so much, but talk is cheap. We give them proper tribute when we PLAY.

#RPGaDAY2020 day 4 ~ Vision

“Where there is no vision the people perish.”

OK, a bit melodramatic for talking about RPGs. Lets come down to earth.

I think most of us have had that experience of imaging what game play might look or feel like as we consider a new game, or prepare a campaign. Maybe we were moved by the artwork and have had our imaginations sparked by possibilities. Having that clear vision of what kind of experience we are looking for can be very helpful, but it can also be fraught with peril.

As long as we don’t over visualize or prematurely imagine the events of play, I think that we are able to responsibility adhere to the vision that the group has settled on in “session zero”

If we don’t have a clear vision and set of expectations, then we can expect a lot of “faffing about” without direction and meaning. But if we have taken the time to bring our collective vision for the experience into sharp focus, we can expect to have plenty of rewarding vistas to gaze upon, all of which fit our expectations from our session zero

#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.