#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 17

Describe the best compliment you’ve had while gaming.

This is an uncomfortable one for me. I don’t take complements well. ~ I’ve struggled with low self worth & low self esteem for most of my life. This may seem hard to believe given my hubris & arrogance that comes across more often than I’d like, but I have come to understand that they are both sides of the same coin.

However, that’s enough time on the therapist’s couch.

The best compliment I can get as a GM is some version of “good game” or “that was fun” or “I enjoyed that”. ~ I was glad that my players in the martian game enjoyed the radical shift in the game world once the timeline got corrupted. Sometimes I’m not sure how a game went until the players give me feedback. There have been times where I wasn’t happy with how I did, but the players enjoyed the session.

To be honest, often I feel as though I can’t really take credit for a good session. It’s collaborative, & a good set of players makes the game. As a GM I’m just one piece of the puzzle.

As a player, I suppose the best compliment I ever get is when someone likes my character or how I’m presenting them. Occasionally the “that was cool when you (insert cinematic & thrilling stunt here)”. Although, it’s more meaningful if someone enjoyed a moment where my character has made a difficult decision. ~ These don’t generally come as isolated compliments, but get mentioned in discussions about the game.

At the end of the day, I’m not really performing for anybody on either side of the metaphorical screen. Compliments are nice, but I’m more concerned if I am adding something of value to the shared experience. Sometimes I’m not sure if I am, so a bit feedback is welcome.

We would all do well to let others know when we appreciate them and their contribution to our experience. ~ Life & the relationships we have are ephemeral. We may not get another chance.

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 16

Describe your plans for your next game/How do you prepare for an extended campaign?

So, as you can see, day 16 is brought to you by the prompt for the day & an alternate question. ~ I’m involved in a lot of games right now. Most are slow movers. The Play by Email Mythos Mythras & play by private Facebook group Masks that I play in are slow movers by default. I’m also a player in a bunch of games that are on again off again via hangouts. I could be missing some, but there are at least Untold Adventures/Harn, HEX, B/X in Greyhawk, Edge of theEmpire, & Star Trek Adventures all ready to be picked up again. Rotating GM games on the books are All For One & The Veil. Games where I am the solo GM would be HEX & Lamentations of the Martian Princess. ~ The final one is going to be our example.

My “shelves of hope” contain a bunch of games that I “plan” to play or run at some time. I just don’t have any grand ideas at the moment.

I already talked about what I’m having to plan for my next session due to an alteration in the timeline. Here I really want to talk about how I plan or prep for an ongoing campaign.

I’m aware that I tend to run games that I would like to be a player in. ~ Not just what game or what system, but how it’s run. As I discussed earlier, I have found that the game has the most meaningful and authentic “stakes” when it becomes about what the player characters find important. I find it hard to have that same level of buy-in as a player when the GM tells me what the agenda for my character is. Plots or stories or adventure paths fall flat for me. Mission based gaming becomes tedious, & often I find myself going through the motions, & if I am honest with myself I realize that unless something has “clicked”, my character simply doesn’t care, (neither do I) ~ I’m simply having them participate because that’s what I’m “supposed” to do.

I tend to prefer run (or be a player in) more of a demented science experiment. ~ Take a theme, a scenario, some NPCs and factions, a set of upcoming events & a few wild card elements. Throw it all in a blender with the the PCs. See what happens. ~ It’s a bit like letting a bunch of mice (the PCs) loose in a cheese factory full of cats, mousetraps & maybe some friendly critters of some variety.

I give some things a fair amount of detail right away. What’s the scenario in the world right now? Who are these alien races? What events are coming down the road? Who is in charge of the city the PCs are in? What do the various factions want? Who is one important member of each faction? What are they like and what do they want? What friendly connections do the PCs have? ~ I don’t fill in all of the details any more than I fill in all of the details of a character when I create them. This emerges naturally during play. ~ As long as I have a good idea of the agendas and motivations of NPCs & organizations, this will inform my in game improvisation and we will discover more about them.

I try to establish connections between the NPCs and other players up front as well and have some rough timelines of events. Who is Javed the merchant that wants to hire them? What is his connection to Elim (rival)? Who is pressuring him (Grath)? What does Grath want? Who can help get more of what Grath wants (Syrus, but he’s nuts)? ~ Likewise I try to have some events happen early that let the players know that they are free to explore other aspects of this dynamic world (the Antha have a dispute with the leadership of the city, there are preparations for possible war, without their help there fear of being defenseless against Thark attacks, look at that strange Taelon magic ~ how do i get access to that?).

However, the real fun planning and prep happens once the game gets going. After each session I get to regroup & re-assess what’s going on. I don’t change what I’ve already established, but I bring it into sharper focus based upon what we improvised, what the player characters did, where they seem to be headed, what connections got established or became more nuanced, and upon what I have learned about the NPCs by playing them. ~ I spend a lot of time thinking about what the NPCs and groups might do. How their motivations have become more detailed. Who they are becoming. I think about what makes the most sense based upon what we have learned. I come up with ideas, play them out, discard some & build on others.

I bring a more refined and focused version of the game world to the table next session, much of which is becoming detailed because that’s where the player characters are choosing to spend their efforts. At the same time, I don’t ignore the elements of the world that they are ignoring or spending less time on. That army everyone in the city is afraid of? It’s still on the way.

The consequences and ripple effects of what the player characters have done guides a lot of my prep. They threw Elim to the Sleestack but left his aide Torvath alive? (I had to make Torvath up on the spot, they left him alive so he needed a name and a motivation). Well, it stands to reason that this guy would describe them to the authorities and also blame them for the Sleestack invasion. ~ The more that the players interact with the world, the more consequences (for good or ill) of their actions keep rolling down the track.

So I’m always planning for the next session. Prep before the game ever starts can be a bit of a drag for me. I can get excited about an idea, but until the players get involved with the world, it can seem a little lifeless and like a facade. However, once the sessions start, thinking about the game and preparing for next session by filling in the details and considering what would logically happen next based upon events and the motivations of all involved becomes very fun indeed.

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 15

Describe a tricky RPG experience that you enjoyed.

Now that’s a tricky question…

This is one of the questions in RPGaDAY that I had been dreading a bit as I was unsure how to answer it. “Tricky” implies intention. Something is challenging or difficult, and what that “something” is would be ensuring a desired outcome, (or avoiding an undesirable one). ~ There a lot to choose from.

We could interpret tricky to apply to in game events. It really doesn’t matter if you’re coming from the viewpoint of the character or the player, or some amalgam of both. ~ The tricky situation could be a challenge or encounter. It could be the logistical challenge of pulling off a heist or caper. It might be planning and executing an ambush, or an investigation, or a negotiation. It could be any number of puzzles to solve or goals to accomplish.

However, the tricky situation could be completely out of game. Whether we live in the same town, or across the globe, the logistics of getting 3 to 6 adults together for a game ca be quite daunting. As I’ve discussed recently, it can be just as tricky to manage that many people with differences in preference, bias, intentions, & expectations. Session Zero and a social contract can be harder than one would think. ~ Sometimes the in game challenges are a cakewalk compared to the real world ones.

As a Game Master it can certainly be challenging to provide a certain experience. Maybe you’re focusing on ensuring a specific outcome, or perhaps you’re working hard to make sure that you don’t force one. Maybe you’re focused on managing the story. Perhaps you’re focused on creating and maintaining a certain tone, or feel or genre. Or maybe you’re working on meeting the needs of a diverse group of people, each of whom want a different thing.

Just learning a new game and learning how to play it well can be tricky. Especially when you want to let it stand on it’s own without infecting or poisoning it with the desire to have it be like other games you have enjoyed in the past. Learning to implement this new system & role play in character at the same time can be daunting. ~ Likewise, when things need tweaking, it can be uncomfortable to have discussions where you are willing to give and to accept feedback.

Realistically, learning & mastering any technique can be tricky. In fact, I’m a member of a group that  focuses on that. (Well, we talk about other stuff, but I digress) 😉

But what about my answer? ~ Glad you asked.

In my Lamentations of the Martian Princess game, I got thrown a curve ball. in the most recent episode, two elements converged that I had not anticipated. ~ The PCs were seeking relics from before “the great war” that they could sell for a quick profit. Led to an old ruin by a half insane NPC, the group happened upon a machine which opened gates to other places & times. Being astute players, they quickly realized that the vision of their city they could see on the other side was most likely from the past before the war that devastated the planet. In my mind it was just a dangling carrot. Would they be tempted to travel back in time to a world where technology was commonplace, but humans were mostly enslaved?

However, another element of the ruin was the random encounter table. One NPC they might encounter was a member of a former expedition who had been there about a month, even though all other members were dead. Why was he still alive? Without giving away too much, there was something different about this NPC, & it would have been interesting had they decided to hang out with him…

What I hadn’t considered was what would happen if this NPC was confronted with what looked like a way to go home to his city. It only seemed logical that he would try, & I made up a chance on the spot that he would try to “go home”. The roll dictated that’s what he would do, & no one tried to stop him.

The tricky part? ~ Realizing and expanding upon what would happen if that rather special NPC were to go back in time to before the war.

The long & short of it was that I had to drastically change the makeup and reality of the world to account for a rather large butterfly effect. (a Mothra Effect in this case). This has been both tricky & enjoyable. How well I pull it off remains to be seen, but essentially I had to scrap a large part of the scenario because the history that lead up to it didn’t happen. ~ The neat part is that we have an opportunity to make the world a little more “sword & planet”, which is cool as we realized it was a little too “fantasy”.

Time paradoxes ~ Tricky.

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 14

Describe a failure that became amazing

Looking at this question at the beginning of the month i saw that it might cause me some trouble. ~ Amazing? As in “I can’t believe he screwed that up! What are the odds?” Or maybe “amazing” as in the really epic spell failure where Lee’s character Hans managed to open a rift in between worlds & let out an unspeakable horror in session six of Lamentations in Prussia.

For some gamers failure seems to be anathema. Personally, I love it. Not that I go looking to fail, far from it. However, I love to “play to find out” what happens. While there are many things that contribute to this discovery, having the intention to do something & having things not go as you planned certainly lets you “find out” what really happens in a hurry. However it looks, a failure to achieve a specific outcome may close that door, (metaphorically or otherwise), but it always opens another door of possibility (or two or three).

My runner up is a silly failure, but a fun one. In an Iron Falcon Game that Jason Ran last year, I had a double failure that became amazing. Rolling up my first character gave me a 3 Wisdom. This is not good in that game. This is the guy that tries to pet the skunks because they’re cute. (I feed the skunks near my house and go out to watch them, so it’s possible I rolled myself). I rolled up a more suitable character named Sir Vantes (remember my thing for stupid names?), & Jason let me keep “Dim” as the torchbearer. Opening the dungeon door we were set upon by goblins, & my second failure was losing initiative. Sir Vantes was run through and died on the spot. I took over the torchbearer with the 3 wisdom & the rest of the game was about this normal man with no common sense avenging the death of his master. ~ It was silly & stupid, but none of us will ever forget it.

However, my real answer is from All for One ~ Nights to Remember where we experienced several failures. The most crucial one was during an encounter with “Alice”, a vampire we had thought we defeated many sessions ago. Phillipe found himself having to defend a nearly helpless Brisecouer & a quite helpless Eugenie. Phillipe gallantly attempted to wrest the damsel in distress from the vampire as Alice levitated Brisecouer’s former lackey to her certain doom, but alas! I failed.

At this point I became willing to negotiate with the Nosferatu, and this seemed to intrigue her. The end result is that my musketeer has promised to eliminate her rival and usurper, one Oliver Durand, who is about as dangerous of a human foe as you might encounter, (not to mention that he would be surrounded by a multitude of capable guards & minions). This is only slightly less disagreeable than working for an instrument of the devil himself.

None of us could have predicted this turn of events, but failure made it possible.

What will happen? ~ We must play to find out.

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 13

Describe how your play has evolved.

After the brief light & fluffy respite that the weekend’s questions brought, week three opens up with a deep one. (No, not those Deep Ones). At least it’s a complex one for me. So strap in & hang on.

Despite starting gaming in 1981, my experience does not represent 37 years of continuous play. I wish it did. But, my experiences are my experiences. So, first up in looking at my evolution is my choice of games. ~ If you’re late to the party, despite other games being around when I started the hobby, no one I knew was playing them. We were lucky if we got together to play AD&D or Basic, so I simply didn’t have exposure to other systems. I knew they existed, but the people in my circles weren’t playing them.

In the past few years, I have been trying out new games & new systems. I’ve been reading a ton more. A lot of the games include systems, procedures, or mechanics which are quite novel or downright odd. Some of them sound neat, and some I’m not so sure about. ~ Part of this evolution isn’t just about trying new games, but rather about discovering how these different systems shape & inform the game experience. This has been quite fascinating.

That ushers in the next facet of my evolution. ~ Over time, my approach to gaming has become far more analytical. When I was young there was very little analysis involved except for the occasional attempts at “realism”. These were met with mixed success. ~ When I returned to the hobby in 2010, I indulged my analytical nature with deconstruction of mechanics & probabilities. Something that I still do now. I like to know how the moving parts work. However, as time has gone on, this penchant for analysis has spread to include an interest in the bigger picture. What does this game do? How well does it do it? What does it not do, or not do well? Does it really create the experience that it advertises? What kind of feel does the game produce? How? How competent are the characters?

But, as I frequently discuss, this bigger picture includes an interest not only in the games themselves, but in our own intentions for play. Some people resist the idea of categorizing people or where they might lie on a particular spectrum. I’m not one of them. It’s not a value judgment. People are just different in some areas. Making sense of this diversity and recognizing when our intentions align or conflict has helped a great deal in my understanding & appreciation of the complex nature of the RPG hobby. Coming to understand that subtle (or drastic) differences in intention or expectations can lead to friction, & that we can avoid or alleviate these conflicts when we are mindful of these variances.

And that leads me to the next area in which I can finally talk about how my actual play has evolved.

In the beginning, it was all about the adventure. Getting things done. Overcoming challenges. Completing the next mission. Characters, real characters, characters with personalities & drives & flaws showed up from time to time, but they weren’t the actual focus of play. Except.. they were enjoyable. Somehow the sessions felt more satisfying when we felt like our characters were real people and the world was a real place. Like the situations were real & that they mattered.

Part of my evolution was simply noticing that this was the common denominator in games which felt enjoyable, and when it was missing the game just felt unsatisfying and hollow. I love getting together and rolling dice with friends in a lighthearted manner every once in a while, but I started to realize that this wasn’t enough. Likewise, I started to notice when various system elements & areas of focus were enhancing or detracting from my experience. I even paid attention to how the behavior of the other people at the table affected my experience.

That insight eventually led to me deciding to “play on purpose”. I wish I made that phrase up, but I had to steal it. While I’m still actively trying other forms of play & games that I have various levels of interest or misgivings about, I also have a much better idea of what my intention for an RPG experience is. As such, I can choose what game I want to play, with whom, and in what manner. ~ I know that I like an experience as the character, with other “real” characters interacting as free agents in a dynamic world. Sometimes I want this to be over the top cinematic pulp, & other times I want it to be much more grounded & realistic, but whatever I am after, I am much more focused on actively pursuing it rather than leaving it up to chance. (We’ll let the dice determine the particulars).

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 12

Wildest Character Concept?

It’s funny. I like names with a twist, but I tend to play vanilla characters. That doesn’t mean that they don’t develop a personality over time, but often I come in with a bare framework of who they are & I see who emerges.

I’m sure a lot of that is from my roots, when characters & their lives were cheap, & five minute character generation was the rule. However, I’m not a huge fan of the wild & unusual character with the 12 page backstory, or the sworn oath for revenge, or the half dragon samurai enchanter necromancer. ~ I’m more of a “This is Gork. He knows how to fight and he’s a bit melancholy. Let’s find out what happens.” sort of fellow.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t like an interesting character right out of the gate. I really do. Often I’m impressed by the stuff that other gamers come up with & wonder why I don’t seem to be able to come up with that sort of stuff as easily. ~ These days I try to bring a bit more to the table in terms of who the character is, but I’m getting ahead of myself. This isn’t day 13 yet…

So, I’ll give two runners up & then my “final answer”. Actually, the final answer will have two kind of extra runners up. But it shall be mercifully short.

In the past year I had two really fun characters in one shots. When Jason ran Hollow Earth Expedition I created a character called “Bruce Mulligan” ~ an Australian WW1 veteran gone a bit crazy. Known as “the musician” by the folk of Cairo, Mulligan carried a good deal of firepower in various instrument cases. Not content with the standard violin case, I seem to recall a french horn case stuffed with dynamite. Loosely inspired by John Malkovitch’s character in “RED”, Mulligan was a blast to play. I’d love to play that trio of characters again sometime. It was magic.

The second runner up was a pregenerated character that I got to name. “Montgomery Q. Linkspan” was a character I played with last minute warning in Anthony’s Aethercon 6 Leagues of Gothic Horror one shot Death where is thy sting?. A member of the society of antiquarians, Montgomery found himself summoned to a mansion following the death of a father he did not remember. In fact, all of his childhood memories were missing. While his siblings were similarly off balance (not even being aware of each other’s existence), Montgomery also came to the table with some interesting flaws, including missing one arm which I decided he had replaced with a wooden one. (This had a fun effect in the last scene). ~ While all of the characters had a similar setup, one of the things that made this character so fun was that he had already sustained some corruption from the past, (which is mechanically represented), and that he came to the table poised for another descent into corruption. All it would take was one immoral action, & it was too tempting to pass up. ~ The eventual breaking point for that character was a favorite gaming moment.

However, the wildest character concept isn’t one of mine. All three of the characters in my Lamentations in Prussia campaign I ran last year were quite wild and fun concepts. Jason’s Jurgen the Zealot of Zod ~ sincere but misguided witch hunter was a tortured soul who struggled with his beliefs and with what to do. Lee’s Dr Hans the dabbler in the dark arts was equally tortured, and it’s hard to think of someone exposed to more horrific events, most of his own doing.

But the winner is Josh’s Heinrich. The Dim witted son of a baker who as a specialist had some unusual skills. On paper this character should not have worked, but how Josh brought him to life, and how he ended up fitting into the unfolding “weird horror” campaign was just perfect. ~ The fact that I helped it along by introducing a consequence of exposure to a certain something which left Heinrich vacillating between his original pre-injury intelligence, his dim witted self, and mental states which included the personalities of his dead parents and an inhuman “entity” just made that more fun. ~ Josh ran with that once I let him know what was up.

That’s a game I miss. Even though Jurgen has gone on to the great temple of Zod in the sky, I hope that we can return to it sometime.

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 11

Wildest Character Name?

After yesterday’s question, I’m ready for some light and fluffy ones. ~ The trouble with questions like the “wild” ones for days 11 & 12 is that they’re like inside jokes or talking about a campaign. Those who were involved tend to find it interesting, while most other people smile politely and wait for a subject change. I thought about answering an alternate question, but so far none of them have really jumped out at me.

I have a confession. ~ I like stupid character names. Unlike some of my friends who shall remain nameless (cough, Anthony, cough, Jason), I get a broad grin when a character or NPC has a ridiculous name.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a serious tone just as much as them. Sure, a fun lighthearted game is great for a while, but it’s not my favorite way to play. However, even in a game with gravitas thicker than molasses, I love a name that is a bit off, even if it’s a reference not many will catch.

I suppose part of that is from my old 1981 D&D roots, where everybody had a character with a goofy name. Hell, we learned that from Gary & Co. I recall that my friend Jim  (or was it Tom?) brought “Capstan Dolby” to the table right around the time I was playing “Leviticus Strauss” (we called him Levi for short).

I think that there is another reason that strange PC and NPC names come out. Well, two reasons. ~ First, I’m terrible at coming up with names. Especially names appropriate for a location or period. An British name suitable for 1895? Ringo? Forget fantasy or science fiction names. Gregnak? Zv’varvedd? Jo-Jo MaGoo? And well, that ushers in the second reason. It’s a circus in between my ears. Protective gear is required. The oddest things go through my head and next thing you know I’m naming someone “Gelding the Clumsy” or “Penelope Featherbottom”. ~ (Yes those are real NPC names).

I’ve been pretty well behaved lately when it comes to naming my characters (mostly). ~ Back in 2010-2012 There was Brother Warner (a short lived cleric who was loony toons crazy), Echinacea Lupus Tularemia (AKA Lupus Gangrene), and my Fighter in Greyhawk, Aprax Ia, who spoke much better than you would think.

However, my vote is going to have to go to another player’s character.  Francois Letarte’s character Alphonse Ruolt’s better known moniker of “Brisecoeur” (heartbreaker) still makes me smile every time we play. The fact that his portrayal of this larger than life womanizing bon vivant lives up to the name just adds to the mirth that this character instills in me every time we have the fortune to run across him. ~ David Lee Roth wishes he was that cool.