Listen ~ #RPGaDAY2021 day 11

An Anecdoche is a conversation where everyone is talking, but no one is listening. If you’re like me you have been unfortunate enough to have experienced at least one of these, if not several in your lifetime. In contrast, a tabletop role-playing game is much different. In fact, I believe a hallmark of a good RPG session is that the players listen to one another intently.

An RPG session is a collaborative experience. It’s pretty hard to collaborate when you’re not paying attention to one another isn’t it? It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking so much about what you were going to say or do on “your turn”, what your plans are, what you think might be cool, or what ability might be the best suited for accomplishing your immediate goal, that you forget to listen to the other participants at the table. To a certain extent this is unavoidable. Intention precedes action. I recall talking to my friend Sameoldji some time ago and he mentioned that he wanted to play with no prior intention at all, completely spontaneous, no preplanning of what he was going to do. I retarded that there was always a interval of time between intention and action. Once you think of what you’re going to do or say you have already planned it even if that is only for a fraction of a second. He gave me the “mind blown” look and laughed. It was a fun conversation.

Despite this normal preoccupation with our own great ideas, because we are good role players we listen to one another and this is part of where the magic happens. This goes far beyond “where are we again?” that the kids in my library game often have trouble with, and making plans out of character. Depending upon our responsibility, we describe our intentions, what we are doing, what the nonplayer characters are doing, what the scenario is. What things look like. Sounds, smells, and other sensory input. Everyone else listens. Depending upon the procedures of the game, we describe and interpret the results of the rolls of the dice. The dice speak, and we listen to what they tell us. We pay attention, and we can see and hear the emotions of the other characters and nonplayer characters. We can picture the environment, sometimes in minute detail.

When we listen closely we know what is happening and what it is like to be there. What it is like to be that character, and then, we respond. Then the next person responds to the new state, and so on and so forth. The game world and the play state are vibrant, dynamic and alive. Our intentions and plans and impressions change moment by moment as we watch and listen to what is happening. Too many cooks may spoil the pot, but they create life itself in an RPG. They just need to listen to one another.

Trust & Conscience ~ #RPGaDAY2021 day 10

Sameoldji often refers to the “Holy Trinity of RPGs”. Play the right game. Talk with the players. Don’t be a Jerk. Most problems we run into with RPGs can be solved or avoided by adhering to those three guiding principles. To this list I add “Play with the right people“. Ji and Anthony don’t necessarily agree with this addition, but this is my blog and they don’t get a vote. 😉

In his excellent video Conscience in Gaming, Anthony talks about things relating to today’s topic in greater detail and from a certain perspective. It’s definitely worth checking out. While I wanted to use Trust as the topic, I found that I couldn’t talk about it without mentioning the alternate topic of conscience.

At its heart, the RPG experience is something that one engages in with friends. Even if you don’t know each other at first, I have found that I become friends with the people that I play with, or we don’t continue gaming. To be sure I am friends with some people where we realized that we were not good matches because of our clashing intentions for the game experience, but we are still friends. Convention play and other play with strangers is on the fringes of the hobby and is by no means the mainstream.

Friends trust each other not to be jerks. They trust each other not to do things that the other one would find offensive or hurtful. They trust each other to act with respect and if they need to talk about things that went wrong or how anybody’s lines were crossed they talk like adults. Friends don’t want to hurt each other and don’t want to cause each other angst or to not enjoy the RPG experience. They act with conscience. Friends (and all decent adults) don’t want to be jerks to the people that they game with.

We get to talk to our friends in a session zero before the game and in between games to talk about our expectations to make sure that we are all enjoying ourselves and not causing the other people at the table not to have fun. If we realize that we’re not playing the right game then we choose a different game. If we realize that we are not a good fit then we don’t play together or only play certain games together that we all enjoy. We behave with conscience.

I have found that I can trust the people that I play RPG’s with. If I can’t trust them then I don’t play with them. If we clash then I don’t game with them. Modern technology has enabled me to cast a wide net and find “my people“. Play with the right people. Play the right game. Talk with the players. Don’t be a jerk. When you all act with conscience you can all trust each other and everything is cool.

Then you can get on to the serious business of Pulp heroics on Venus or investigating supernatural horrors or whatever else floats your boat!

Medium ~ #RPGaDAY2021 day 9

Medium: 1) the intervening substance through which impressions are conveyed to the senses or a force acts or an effect is produced. 2) an agency or means of doing something. 3) the substance in which an organism lives or is cultured or the element that is the natural habitat of an organism. 4) surrounding objects, conditions, or influences; environment.

The RPG experience can be said to involve several mediums that help bring it about and that give it a place to exist. In the not so distant past, the various “live meeting on the internet” platforms have given in a medium to play with people from around the world while in the comfort of their own homes. This has had a dramatically positive impact on my gaming life, however, it has changed the medium of the environment of play.

And what of that medium? The environment that we set up for our sessions can have a profound effect upon the games. What I have found particularly interesting is even though my game group is from around the world, the ritual of setting up the session, seeing the individuals in their familiar spots in their homes, and even the background noises of dogs & coqui, all help to signal my mind that it is time to engage in the game state.

The rules, procedures, system, mechanics, genre expectations, in/out of character stance, and our culture of play all contribute to the overall medium by which the emergent fiction, individual experience, and events of play take place. Without these, we would simply be engaging in some sort of improvisational story creation. Instead, all of those methods and intervening force carriers combine to produce a tangible method by which the game is played. Like incantations and components of some esoteric spell or ritual, this mixture enables us to produce the closest thing to real magic that we will ever see.

That’s pretty darned cool.

Stream ~ #RPGaDAY2021 day 8

“My child, you have come to me, my son. For who now is your father if it is not me? I am the wellspring, from which you flow. When I am gone, you will have never been. What would your world be, without me? My son.” ~ Thulsa Doom

RPG’s are a continuous stream. Description, situation, intention, declaration, action, reaction, consequence, description… From whence does it all flow? Despite the above quote I doubt that it is James Earl Jones. However, it would be kind of cool if that’s where it all came from. At least the narration would be top-notch.

In truth, not all game sessions have that smooth flow described above. But very often they do. When things are really going well and that stream gushes forth seemingly without effort it leads to very satisfying and engaging game sessions. But how does that happen?

In my experience it’s not all that complicated but the ingredients have to be present. A good amount of buy-in on the part of all of the players at the table is essential. we all need to be engaged with the events of play. I have found that it is crucial for us to listen to one another. If we take the time to discuss beforehand what the genre will be like and what the backdrop is like it doesn’t take a tremendous amount of description to bring us all to the same place. We may be imagining things differently but we agree on the important points and that is what matters.

The group has to have a good sense of what the characters are like. Not just their own but the characters played by the other people. The game master needs to know what their Nonplayer characters are like. As time goes on the group needs to understand that as well. At least as far as they can figure out. All the characters need to start developing personalities and motivations and reasons for why they behave the way they do.

The people at the table have to have an understanding of the game and of the system and how it all works. That doesn’t mean that everybody at the table has to be an expert, but they need to make the effort to learn the system and the procedures and mechanics. we have to be willing to teach each other during the events of play itself.

It’s important to discuss how things are going, to talk about the sessions afterwards, to make course corrections. Do y’all know what’s going on? Is there something preventing our engagement? What are these characters really like? Is there something about the system we are having problems with?

These are all very simple things but if they aren’t in place they can be like boulders blocking the flow of the stream. But when we take a little effort to remove these barriers to good play, we unleash a torrent.

We all understand and buy into the genre & the scenario. We have a good sense of the backdrop and what’s going on. We are engaged in the events of play as they are happening. We listen to each other. All of the characters at the table, player controlled and GM controlled, have motivations and personalities. We instinctively know what they would do. We stay our intentions clearly describing how we are trying to bring them about. We understand how the system works and even if we don’t know the actual probability as we have a good sense of how these mechanics shape play and the experience. The dice contribute their part to the emerging narrative. We describe the outcomes and because we are all engaged we have a good understanding of what’s happening right now. And then we react.

Before you know it we are all carried away by the current.

Inspire ~ #RPGaDAY2021 day 7

The primary word for today was small. And yes, while I think a small rule set is wonderful, I didn’t want to talk about that. Engage was another one of the words and engagement is a topic that is near and dear to me. Better was yet another word and it’s true that it’s always good to make the experience better. However, the word that inspired me that me the most was…inspire.

As a child (and as an adult) I was inspired by fiction and fantastic tales from real life. I wanted to be somebody in those settings. Role-playing games gave me the opportunity to fulfill that inspiration in a way that I had not anticipated. To this day I get inspired by a premise or an idea very easily. it’s easy for my imagination to run wild with the right inspiration. Sometimes reading about a setting or the premise for a role-playing game immediately gets me thinking about characters that would be fun to create and play in that scenario. I start thinking about running games in a world like that which is being described. I start thinking about what sessions might be like.

Reading the system of a particular game, reading about the mechanics. Taking a look at them in terms of how they work mathematically, I start to get inspired by what those mechanics might represent or might feel like in play. I see something novel or unusual and I want to try it out. Sometimes I encounter a problem or idea and I start to think about mechanics or procedures which might work well to solve it. Sometimes I get inspired to create games or at least tinker with the old ones.

When play has not even started yet I begin to be inspired by the other players and the characters that they bring to the table, the ideas that they bring or what the game master starts to pitch. Very often I get inspired in the session 0 as we start to talk about what we would like to see or what we would like to do. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

When play starts, and the various elements at the table are interacting I often get very inspired. It doesn’t matter what side of the metaphorical screen I am on, the other players, the mechanics in play, and the emerging fiction inspire me. Very often I am inspired by the characters themselves. It’s easy for them to take on a life of their own and become somewhat independent of the people at the table. There truly is a magic that happens during play itself that inspires us to talk about it afterwards. That has become an important part of the culture of making reflections videos after the games.

It’s been my experience that RPG sessions inspire more RPG sessions. New games inspire more new games. discussions with friends about the games and the techniques and the experiences inspire more discussions. A chain reaction of RPG inspiration, even while it ebbs and flows, is something that I have become accustomed to. I hope that you have found this to be true as well.

Flavor ~ #RPGaDAY2021 day 6

Fine cuisine (and more plebeian fare) is quite often a mixture of ingredients & flavors that coalesce to produce one final flavor. RPG’s are no different. Change one part of the recipe, and the flavor is different. If you’re like me very often you open up a menu and the overwhelming variety can be paralyzing and you choose the regular. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Not so long ago I mentioned that there is a game for everybody. well this is certainly true, it is just as true that there are many flavors or experiences out there waiting to be tried. Sometimes you discover that you like this new flavor, and other times you discover that it’s not for you. The RPG banquet is enormous!

When I branched out of my preferred group of games & play style I discovered how big the menu was, and just how different the flavors could be from one another. Some of the ingredients have such a strong flavor that they resist attempts to make the game taste different. Sometimes that’s the genre or idiom of the particular RPG. You CAN alter the ingredients to a degree that that flavor is changed, but then you realize it’s no longer the dish you intended to try. Other times the system & mechanics are so powerful that they produce a certain feel or flavor no matter what you do (unless you choose to ignore them, and once again you’re not playing the game you set out to play. Then of course there are the people at the table and how they play. I have friends and acquaintances where I know the flavor they’re going to bring to the table. The overall flavor of the experience will be greatly affected by their contributions.

I found that very often I will be in the mood for one flavor of experience or another. Sometimes I want an old reliable comfort food type RPG, sometimes I want spicy & thrilling, and sometimes I just want to try that new (to me) RPG that looks so intriguing.

It’s very rewarding to be able to know just what sort of experience I’m hankering after at a given moment, and also knowing the recipe needed to produce it. Even then, the chef always manages to surprise me.

Include ~ #RPGaDAY2021 day 5

I’ll be honest. I had nothing for the word throne. I just kind of talked about gambling a day or so ago, and community is something I’ve talked about a lot. That left include.

Inclusion is one heck of a buzz word and hot topic these days. As for me, when I looked at the word include, it made me think of choice. Role playing games can be very intense, very personal, even if there is no role-play to speak of, people are right in each other’s faces during the activity – Even if they are on opposite sides of the world during the experience. Often we come to these games expecting certain things to be present, or not to be present. There are activities we want to engage in or to not engage in.

One of the great things about this hobby is that we get to choose what and who we will include in our experience. From another perspective, we get to decide if we will include ourselves in a given experience. It’s not unusual for my group to talk about various games that we might want to play. Sometimes just about everybody is on board except one person. So if we play that game we won’t include them. And they will breathe a sigh of relief. Trust me, there are games that my friends are interested in playing that I have no intention of being included in! Far from being a negative thing, when you look around you start to realize that the hobby is enormous and there is something for everybody. Take a premise, an idea, a genre, a mechanic, or a way of playing, and a group of people will assemble around it if we take the time to include each other in the discussion and the experience.

Sometimes we play together and we find that we are looking for different things depending upon the game being played. There are friends of mine that I would play certain games with and not others. We can make the decision to include each other when our interests and intentions overlap. The magic of the Internet has allowed my newer friends and I to include each other in our role-playing experiences which is very cool. As time goes on the makeup of the group changes and we get to include new people. New games. New experiences.

Sometimes games are about a certain thing or it contain certain elements and we decide not to include that game in our repertoire. Other times we are in a group where we decide to include or exclude certain elements. There comes a time when you are no longer playing the original game or genre and that’s not what I’m talking about. Instead, there are elements that we may wish to explore or two emphasize and other ones we may want to deemphasize or not have present. That’s one of the great things about having a session 0 and talking about your expectations for the particular game. We have done that many times in the groups that I have been involved in. Sometimes it takes some fine tuning but as a reasonable adults we can talk about what to include and what not to include.

So for me inclusion and choice go hand-in-hand. Inclusion with intention. Sometimes you have to ask yourself “what’s missing?”And then include it

Weapon ~ #RPGaDAY2021 day 4

Role playing games are full of weapons. Swords, guns, baseball bats, rocket launchers, lawn jarts, you name it. But this blog post isn’t about that…

RPG’s are full of conflict. F of challenges. Full of… Problems. Just like life, role-playing games are full of problems. our characters have motivations and desires. They make choices. They encounter scenarios. It really is just like real life. Unless they were content to let the world roll over them and sit by passively they’re going to have problems.

Problems need solutions. Solutions don’t just materialize out of thin air… Usually anyhow. in order to solve the problems and overcome the challenges that face them our characters need to use various strategies and skills and abilities. In a sense these are all weapons that we use to gain the advantage or to slay the metaphorical dragons that stand in our way. Occasionally they aren’t quite so metaphorical but usually they are.

Sometimes many of these weapons are in the hands of the player themselves and we might end up using our own intellect and creativity to solve the problems we encounter in the game. Other times the weapons are squarely in the hands of the character and releasing more upon their abilities and talents as expressed in the game’s mechanics or other methods of expressing the competence and ability of a particular character. And occasionally they have a highly modified spaceship which can be used as a weapon to solve all kinds of problems like getting the hell out of Dodge.

Some of my favorite moments in role-playing games have been when the players or their characters use approaches or abilities other than the obvious in order to solve the problems that they encounter. Whether this is the 10 year old kid in the game at the library deciding to bargain with the Wights in the ruins on Witch Island rather than fight them or the aged professor using his intellect and oratory skills to confuse a would-be assassin, it’s always nice to see somebody reaching into the armory and using a different weapon than you anticipated in order to vanquish their foe.

There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, or a Venusian dragon for that matter.

Support ~ #RPGaDAY2021

This is one of those days where I choose one of the alternate topics. Actually they’re not really alternates they’re just options. In fact I chose a completely different option for the YouTube video for today.

The word support makes me think of supporting characters. This is different than a supporting character in a literary sense. There’s a lot of talk about spotlight time in role-playing games and while I understand the sentiment it doesn’t necessarily mean that much to me. Very often I find it just as fun if not more so to play a character that supports the goals and motivations of another character. Perhaps they aren’t so much of a support as they simply aren’t the central focus. The character has their own goals and motivations but, the focus of play tends to be on someone else.

In our lights in darkness All for One campaign not only does one of our characters have a bit more of the attention placed on them and their family, but we also have the pleasure of playing each other’s lackeys which can be a real fun time. We get to have the same sort of fun when we play the sky is no limit campaign of leagues of adventure.

For me it can be very immersive and very natural to play with what amounts to real dynamics between real people the way real world relationships actually work as opposed to trying to create some sort of artificial scenario where everybody is just as important and just as Central as everybody else somehow rotating the spotlight time in just the right manner.

Supporting roles are often the most fundamental. After all, I’m a bass player. Who is more important than that?

Map ~ #RPGaDAY2021

Maps have been inextricably linked with role-playing games since the very beginning. most role-playing games take place in some kind of world and often the world needs a map. Even if it’s this world with a twist, the map sure comes in handy.

Very often maps can be very evocative and give us a real sense of the world. While they aren’t altogether necessary, they can make things very concrete and bring our shared imagination into sharper focus.

If you’re like me, you like Maps but you are terrible at making them. fortunately there are a number of maps you can find online as well as map generators. However, one of my favorite things to do is to use an existing map and change the details. Not only is this convenient, but it can make things very easy to remember. I once ran a short-lived campaign using my home state of Connecticut as the map of the surrounding territory complete with rivers, mountains and cites that had their names changed. While this was a bit silly, when we mentioned a city everybody knew exactly where it was.

I’ve seen some great maps of the world where you realize that it’s just been turned upside down or rotated 45° there are some very neat post apocalyptic maps like that.

However, one of my favorite maps that I have never actually got to use what I have created a good chunk of the world for is called inversia. http://www.worlddreambank.org/I/INV.HTM is a link for one of the worlds you can find on Planetocopia http://www.worlddreambank.org/P/PLANETS.HTM.

I stumbled upon this website some years ago and inversia really grabbed me because essentially it is our world with the oceans and landmasses reversed. Pretty cool stuff and very evocative. I always get inspired when I look at that one. Hopefully one day I get to use it in an actual game. I wonder if I’ll let the players know, or just have them figure out one day “hey this looks familiar!”