#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 10

How has gaming changed you?

This is not an easy question to answer, & it gets personal. But, RPGaDAY encourages us to open up and share a bit with others, and this is a good thing. Forgive me if parts of this seem a little cryptic, but there are some things that I don’t share publicly on principle. The astute, observant, or initiated among you may be able to fill in the blanks. Many others will surely think they have guessed correctly, but will be way off target. Many others simply won’t care, but I can’t imagine why. Surely I am the most fascinating thing on the planet?

But I digress…

I actually have three periods in the RPG hobby, but don’t worry, this shan’t take long. In 1981 at the tender age of 13 I was first exposed to RPGs and was enthralled. I don’t think that my involvement changed me in any fundamental way. at that time. Sure, I was the typical introverted nerdy kid with not a lot of friends, but I was the same before and after RPGs. They were just another outlet. By 1990 I had put them on the shelf and was getting on with adult life ~ marriage, kids, etc.

My second entry into the hobby was in 2010. That time period, from then until mid 2012, that was the tail end of an extremely dark period in my life. Gaming, online forums like Dragonsfoot, and making YouTube videos were an outlet at that time. A sort of an anchor or stable point. Once again, I don’t think the gaming experience fundamentally changed me at that time, but it gave me something to hold on to. I didn’t have many relationships left by that point, and those that still had connections to me were fleeing in self defense. ~ The online world didn’t have the same exposure to what contact with me could produce at that time.

In mid July I vanished off of the gaming grid & off of the internet entirely.

July 11th, 2012 was a pivotal moment in my life where I made a decision to make a fundamental change in how I navigated life. Best thing I ever did. ~ No, quitting gaming had nothing to do with it! I simply had more urgent priorities at that time. (And I couldn’t afford the internet, but that’s a detail). Well, actually, now that I think of it, not participating in sessions with the local gamers I knew did actually have a bit to do with the changes I had to make, but it had nothing to do with gaming.

Anyhow, I was at this point where I had very few relationships left, and it became apparent that it was a bad idea to hang around with most of the people that I had left in my circle. Fortunately, I was exposed to a group of people that became my new social network. Not bad for someone who had become quite antisocial. I count some of these individuals among my closest friends today, & the relationships that we have are deep & profound. The bonds we share are unique and meaningful.

Now if this was my YouTube channel, it would be time to say “But this video isn’t about that…”

So, for a while I re-learned how to make connections with other people in this “safe” community. Eventually those with a lot more experience than I encouraged me to go pursue interests and other relationships in the world now that my thinking and behavior had been restored to some level of sanity. ~ In late 2015, I started looking into RPGs again, and it wasn’t long before I made a video. Over time, I began to meet gamers online and found out that I had missed when things like the “RPG Brigade” and similar communities had started & been in their heyday, but there were still plenty of opportunities to make connections.

So, slowly by little, I began to develop relationships, I started play games with other people around the world, and I became a member of the RPG community. Connections with other people were never easy for me to make or maintain, but I was able to take what I learned elsewhere & apply it here. In a very real way, this round of gaming has changed me as it has afforded me the opportunity to build real connections with people in a community not based entirely upon support.

Likewise, the diverse nature of the hobby I alluded to in my answer to Day 9 has allowed me to practice some spiritual principles. Which is fancy talk for the idea that I have been challenged to seek to understand rather than simply to be understood. That I’ve slowly learned to recognize and accept the differences that we have, and to actively seek common ground. That the bonds & friendships are worth more than the  disagreements or than “being right”.

Not only has gaming allowed me to see the world through the eyes & the perspectives of my character, but the community has challenged me to try to understand and accept the positions & perspectives of the other members. ~ It has helped me to become a better person.

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 9

How has a game surprised you?

I like surprises. Not all the time, but I like them in my RPG sessions. Playing to find out what happens is a big deal to me. I thought about making my answer about about some of the most surprising moments I’ve had during a game. Maybe the emotional reaction and “bleed out” I’ve experienced in our All For One Campaign during some of the more moving moments. That was surprising. Maybe something more mundane like what happened two weeks ago in my Lamentations of the Martian Princess game when two elements of the world intersected in a way I hadn’t forseen & the logical consequence was a complete upheaval of the foundations of the game world backdrop. “Never cross the Streams!”  But I decided that wasn’t really the direction the question was leading me.

I considered focusing on how games themselves have surprised me. Novel mechanics, nifty methods for doing something in a new way that makes it fun again, a super compelling setting, a system i thought I’d hate that I ended up loving, etc. Hard to choose among those. I get surprised a lot, and I get what I expected a lot.

I even considered talking about players that surprised me with their creativity or willingness to roleplay. You know, that player you weren’t expecting to “bring it” like they did. Always a wonderful thing to watch and be a part of.

However, after a really difficult time trying to figure out what to do with this prompt, I decided to take a tangential approach and talk about something I’ve been reminded of by RPGaDAY & that I was planning to talk about after August drew to a close.

Gamers are a diverse bunch. I knew this before, but I really had no idea just how diverse. We all have a lot in common, but I’ve come to discover and be surprised by the differences we have. ~ Each day I try to read and watch as many RPGaDAY answers as I can. Without fail, I start to discover that some of the participants and I are really close in our perspective in one area, but on another day we’re miles apart. This experience get repeated during the rest of the year as I interact with others in the hobby.

Some of these differences are large scale, and our biases, preferences, intentions for play, and expectations of the game experience clearly place us into groups or “types” that are either compatible, or akin to oil & water. However, some of these schisms are more subtle and can blindside us. We can seem to agree on just about everything, but one day we find ourselves at loggerheads over some aspect of the RPG experience.

Over time I’ve come to think of these various intentions or preferences as axes or spectra. How much space to you want in a setting for creativity? Rule of cool or verisimilitude? Rules as written or is it flexible? Story arcs or play to find out? In character or out of character? Abstract or granular? What kind of genre? what kind of tone? A fun lighthearted time with friends or a serious game? Published games only or use your favorite system in a different way? ~ The list goes on and on, and each one of us finds ourselves on a point on each spectrum. Very often they move depending upon circumstances.

While often we can find individual people who match up with us on most of these axes, generally two gamers will find at least one point they disagree on. Get five or six of us together, and as I recently found out, it’s impossible to decide upon a decade to play some “this world with a twist pulp action”.

Perhaps the most daunting thing about these differences is often our perspectives seem completely incomprehensible and baffling to one another. It is always jarring when I run up against that. Sometimes we can learn to understand each other, but often the best we can do is simply accept that the other person has a very different set of intentions or priorities in that area.

So the biggest surprise? Despite all of these differences, sometimes it’s amazing that we can get 3 to 6 of us together to play a game and actually have a great time! Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to meet enough mature gamers that we are able to discuss our similarities & differences, find common ground, & enjoy the hobby together.

#RPGaDAY2018 ~ Day 7

How can a GM make the stakes important?

The short answer is that you can’t. Not by yourself. ~ But, the good news is that you can make the stakes very important if you’re willing to let go of control of the world and the “story”.

No one likes a boring game. Games can become horribly boring if there are no real stakes, or if nobody really cares about the ones that have been presented. Unless the players have some skin in the game, they aren’t likely to care no matter how compelling you make the pitch sound. “We’ve just got to get that Yellow Fever serum to Carson City!”

This sounds like it’s the responsibility of the players to buy in to the scenario that the GM cooks up, and that’s partially right. Like I said yesterday, players can make the world seem real by acting if it’s real, & that includes acting as if the stakes are important. But that’s only half the battle. Until the players feel the stakes in their guts, until they squirm when the dice come out, until they make involuntary cries of despair when that awful NPC comes down the hall, the stakes just haven’t crossed that boundary into the land of what matters most. ~ That’s where games become exciting.

This next points isn’t at the heart of the matter, but it’s important. When the dice come out, let them speak. Don’t fudge rolls. And when they come out, it should be for a reason. It doesn’t always have to be epic or incredibly meaningful, but if there’s a chance of failure, if that failure would have consequences, release the plastic hounds & stay out of their way. Let them do their job. You’ll know if they’re doing their job, because the players will be sweating it out. That’s it. Good dice.

Still not the real answer, but have stakes that make sense for the fiction. Not just for the genre, but for the specific situation. Always ask yourself “What would happen if they did that?” ~ But don’t always keep this to yourself. If it makes sense that the characters would know the potential consequences of a situation, tell them! Remember the wisdom of Doctor Strangelove as he admonished Soviet Ambassador de Sadesky ~ “Of course the whole point of a Doomsday Device is lost, if you keep it a secret! Why didn’t you tell the world eh?

All of that is important to making the stakes seem important, but the real answer is much simpler. ~ It doesn’t matter what you (The GM) think is important. What matters is what the players & their characters think is important. Those are the real stakes. ~ This is one of the reasons that I shy away from “The Story” or “what the players are supposed to be doing” or such approaches. I’m a big fan of scenarios and dynamic worlds where the characters become interested in things and we all “play to find out” what happens. In a very real way, the GM plays to find out what matters to the characters, & then the fun begins.

So, pay attention to the characters. Find out what they want, what they value, what they are afraid of. Look to see what relationships they develop, what they become interested in, how they interact with the world. ~ Instant stakes. Dangle some carrots based on what they’ve shown you that makes them tick. See if they take the bait.

Then hit them below the belt. ~ OK, not all the time, don’t be a jerk GM, that’s not the point. However, if you want a game that’s not boring, where the stakes seem important, where it’s not some ho-hum “is the pizza here yet?” excuse to kill a couple of hours, find out what’s important to them and then hit them with it. You have to adjust for the tone of the game, but If even if you never want to play it, looking at Vincent Baker’s instructions for how to GM Apocalypse World is worth the look. It’s all about paying attention to the players as they tell you what’s important to them, & then screwing with it. One of my favorite sessions as a player was in our All For One game where Francois Letarte of the JdrD30 YouTube Channel ran a two part session for me called Not how it used to be where he beat the crap out of my character by bringing in all sorts of elements meaningful to young Phillipe and forcing some difficult choices with lasting consequences.

These difficult choices, where players are faced with having their characters torn between motivations or risking consequences to get what they want (or avoid what they don’t want) are where RPGs become the most exciting and compelling for me. The stakes are never higher, and the players defined them for us. All we had to do was listen.

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 6

How can players make a world seem real?

First things first ~ I realize that not everyone may want the game world to seem real. By the way, notice that the question didn’t say realistic, but real. Total disclaimer up front, my bias and preference will probably color this post, because I prefer a certain sort of experience, and this prompt points in that direction. So be warned.

I like to have an experience “as the character” ~ where they seem like a real person, and by extension, where everything else in the world, the other PCs, the NPCs, consequences good or ill, the locations, the scenarios ~ all that seems real as well. As the prompt suggests, wanting a game world that feels authentic isn’t just about having a believable world spoon fed to you by a game author and/or game master, it takes some effort on your part as well.

I’ll give the short answer first and you can skip reading the rest if you’d like, (although I have to say, you would be missing out). The Hubris! ~ Here goes: If you want a world that feels real, act as if it’s real!

Glad you kept going. Good for you. So, how do you act as if it’s real? For starters, act as if your character is real and not just a pawn or token on a board. This doesn’t require that you have an experience as the character, or act in character. You can do this in an out of character “third person” way as well. However you do it, start thinking of your character as an actual living breathing person. What do they want? How do they feel about that NPC? If this situation goes badly, how will the consequences affect them? Are they willing to risk that? What kind of bonds do they have with the other PCs? What about the NPCs in the world? Why are they accepting this mission? Are they having second thoughts? What makes them tick? What would send them over the edge?

That real character doesn’t exist in a vacuum. They push on the world and the world pushes back. After taking time to look inward at the character, the next thing to do is to look up and see what and who is around you. Take interest in the other player characters and get to know who they are. Start to see opportunities for the relationships with them to develop. These bonds don’t have to be all peaches & cream, but the more we start to pay attention to them, the more they gain traction. Start looking at them as real people, and they will seem real.

But don’t just limit that interest and effort to the Player Characters. As so many answers to the prompts in Days #4 and #5 revealed this weekend, the NPCs in the world come alive when the players take an active interest in them. I could be wrong, but GM portrayal of the NPC seems secondary. So does how important the GM thinks that the NPC is. What matters is if the players (and their characters) view them as compelling and important. Do the same thing for the NPCs as you do for the other PCs. What makes them tick? What do they want? Can I trust them? What kind of bonds exist between us? What kind of bonds are emerging over time? ~ Treat NPCs as if they were real and they become real.

Keep expanding this perspective to the organizations and factions in the world. Keep your eyes & ears open. Figure out how you (your character) connects to all of these groups. Organizations have motives and drives just like people, they’re just infinitely more convoluted.

Follow your character’s interests around. Don’t get hung up on what you’re supposed to be doing or “the story”. (My preference & Bias is showing, so take this with a grain of salt). This isn’t an excuse to indulge in “my guy” syndrome, but it does mean that your character and the world are going to seem to be much more real once you start acting like your character would in that situation as if it really mattered. ~ Sure, we’re being adult about this so we’ve had a Session Zero, heard the pitch, decided upon genre and what this game is going to be about ~ right? So maybe we’ve agreed that our characters are going to take the job offer from the clandestine government organization. Maybe we’ve agreed that this is just the starting scenario, or maybe we’ve decided that we’re going to see it through no matter what. (Musketeers to the end). There are always going to be some boundaries defined by genre and the social contract, but within those, get inside the character’s head and figure out what they would actually do. Then do it! Nothing makes a game world seem more artificial than when you’re constantly making decisions based upon what you’re supposed to be doing.

Speaking of doing things, follow the (paraphrased) admonition of Vincent Baker ~ to do the thing, do the thing! Systems and mechanics are important, and very often they inform and support the genre and feel of a game. But just recently I was reminded to do what my character would do in the situation rather than to constantly filter my actions through the gritty and “realistic” mechanics of the Mythras Mythos game I’m in. There’s a difference between being informed by how the mechanics operate, and being crippled by them. Your character and the world feel a lot more authentic when you narrate your intention and what you’re doing, & you let the mechanics take care of themselves.

Which brings us to narration. Sure, you have to engage in a certain amount of “game-speak” for clarity. After that, the more you narrate what your character is doing, how they interact with the environment, what they say, & how they react to the NPCs, the more real the world is going to seem. This doesn’t mean go overboard. Often “less is more”. A few key details are often sufficient. Narrating around mechanics, (physical, social, whatever) can make them seem a lot less intrusive and artificial. This takes practice, and I’m still working on it.

On the topic of narration, often the game of “20 questions” can start to break the flow and the illusion of reality is disrupted. Many times it keeps things moving if players narrate the existence of objects that would be in an area consistent with genre and location. “I pull the curtains off the window” or “I look around for the first fist sized rock I can throw”. The worst thing that can happen is occasionally the GM has to veto something as being a “Grimaud’s Crowbar” or that in this case there isn’t one.

Last, but certainly not least, perhaps most important of all ~ Make choices as if there were consequences. Make these choices from the perspective of the character, not from the perspective of a player moving around an easily replaced token. Sure, the consequences will be very different in a pulp heroic game like HEX than they are in a grittier more “realistic” game like Mythras, but they are just as real. Just because the genre & system might produce kinder & gentler consequences doesn’t mean that the characters will welcome them with open arms. Just because John McClane is almost impossible to kill doesn’t mean that the thought of losing his wife doesn’t tear him apart. Keep what your character wants (and doens’t want) in mind. The best games will have us making difficult choices.

When we make the decision to buy into the authenticity of the world, when we act as if our characters and the other people were real, and when we make choices as if they and the outcomes were meaningful, the world becomes just as real as this one. The power is in your hands.

As Einstein said “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”.

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 5

Favorite recurring NPC?

If you read my answer to the prompt from day 4, you know that the most memorable NPC is also a recurring one. But I’m not about to take the easy way out and use them for both answers. Where’s the fun in that? Besides, there are lots of recurring NPCs to choose from. each with their own appeal.

Part of what I really love about RPGaDAY is just how diverse the answers are. I’m always blown away by some of the creative ways people have used the prompts to go off in directions that would not have occurred to me. I have my thinking and perspectives challenged & broadened as a result. Inspired by that willingness to “think outside of the box”, I’m going to take a slightly different angle on this.

No one said that the recurring NPC had to show up in the same game.

A lot of real estate on my gaming shelves is taken up by games that are powered by the Ubiquity game system created by Jeff Combos to power his Hollow Earth Expedition RPG, and which he has licensed others to use to run games such as All For One & Leagues of Adventure.  It’s a great system, & Hollow Earth Expedition is a very compelling game. ~ Think Indiana Jones style 1936 Nazis, Dinosaurs, Mad scientists, Jungle expeditions, and a journey to the center of the earth with lost Atlantean ruins & you’ll get the idea.

After Anthony Boyd of the Casting Shadows /Runeslinger YouTube Channel ran a HEX (as it is affectionately called) one-shot  for me and Jason (of the DarkAgeOf RolePlayGame channel), Jason decided that he wanted to give it a go. Soon after, Jason ran a great session for Anthony, myself, and Big Mike of the Tef’s Tavern YouTube channel. (It’s great the friends you get to make in this hobby, even if you never meet face to face).

The session was a lot of fun, and we soon found Midnight, Mulligan, and the good Doctor deep in the jungle at the outskirts of a Nazi encampment, our guide and benefactor suddenly coming clean about why we were really there and what he was trying to do. As a plucky (if somewhat unstable) group of veterans of the war to end all wars, we certainly weren’t about to back down from the opportunity to harass a bunch of Nazis.

What we needed was a distraction. We found one in the form of barrels of petrol used to power the generators & the “digger” the Nazis were working on. Mulligan just knew that he could blow those up with some dynamite, if it only weren’t for that pesky guard. A lone Nazi stood idly at his post, smoking a cigarette next to the gasoline storage area, with a name tag that clearly read “Fritz” even at 50 yards in the dark. (Well, there were lights, but still). Midnight was able to take him out with a deft hurl of an axe, and Mulligan went on to cause quite a stir. We were pretty sure that the other Nazis wouldn’t immediately discern that they were under attack ~ “It was bound to happen, I told Fritz 100 times not to smoke by the gas!”

Fast forward to a few months ago. I’ve been lucky enough to play online on a regular basis with a group of gamers on Thursday nights. HEX showed up on the rotation, and I began what has become an on again off again campaign of Hollow Earth with members of the Current Projects (AKA “Cool Kids”) Group.

There they are in Iquitos Peru, and sure enough, a Nazi Dirigible is moored in the airport. A few of the characters try to get a better look at it at night in the hopes of sabotaging what is clearly a rival group in pursuit of the same enigma in the jungle that our heroes have been assembled to investigate. ~ However, they are spotted by a Nazi guard, idly smoking near some barrels of Fuel. You could read the name on his uniform all the way from the fence.

Only some fast talking kept Fritz from sounding the alarm. ~ Later on in the jungle, when things go terribly awry, Fritz shows up to help take them prisoner. If I recall correctly, Fritz doesn’t fare so well when fisticuffs break out in a car in Buenos Aires, but I doubt that group has seen the last of him.

Inspired by the genre and the game, Eloy from the Current projects group decided that he wanted to run some HEX as well, so we rolled up a different set of characters and followed a trail of clues from Egypt to a castle in Germany.

Trouble with the Nazis started up almost at once as we discovered that were far braver than we were stealthy. However, we were able to lose our pursuers and found ourselves holed up in a staircase looking out a window at a strange and fiendish looking ritual in the courtyard of the castle. The man we had been sent to save was in the clutches of the Nazi villains & we needed a distraction.

Fortunately, we spotted some cans of petrol that we knew we could light up if we shot at them enough. A lone Nazi stood idly on guard, puffing on a cigarette.

You could read the name on his uniform from 100 yards away…

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 4

Most Memorable NPC?

Days 4 & 5 caused me a lot of trouble at first. You already know what the prompt for day 4 is (see above). The prompt for day 5 is “Favorite recurring NPC?”. ~ Very often for me these tend to overlap quite a bit. As it turns out my answer for day 4 is a recurring NPC, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take some advice from Julie Andrews and start at the beginning…

Non Player Characters have become quite important to me in terms of having a satisfying RPG experience. It’s no secret that I’m happiest as a player when my  character feels “real” and the game world feels vibrant and alive. ~ A substantial part of a dynamic world are the NPCs that inhabit it & with whom the characters interact.

Preferences & approaches vary considerably when it comes to these fictional people. My own methodology with these folk has evolved over my gaming career, and i think that mine is a common journey. It’s common to use NPCs as conduits of information, givers of quests, benefactors, resources, obstacles to be overcome, guides to lead the characters to the next part of “the story”, and a myriad of other ways in which the GM interacts with the players behind a mask. Often this mask is cold & lifeless, & there is no real “character” to be found in the NPC. Depending upon your bent, this may suit you just fine. After all, the player characters are the stars of the show, aren’t they? ~ There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this approach, but I have found that this feels incomplete and unsatisfying.

It doens’t take a cricket in spats & a fairy godmother to turn an NPC into a “real boy” (or girl).  Often very little is required to breathe life into one. Just today a group of us had a brief interchange about the level of description actually needed to make an NPC “memorable”, & while our preferences for the amount of descriptive detail may have varied, the anecdotal evidence seemed to indicate that it might not take much.

So what actually makes an NPC memorable? Often a well portrayed personality can leave a lasting impression. Quirks, flaws, mannerisms, and all the little touches that makes someone seem “human” can go a long way towards creating the illusions of an actual person. Likewise, drives & motivations can help foster the sense that the NPC is a living breathing soul. ~ It’s really not that different than how we portray our own characters.

Sounds like a lot of work, but like I said, often it doesn’t take a herculean effort to breathe life into an NPC. Truth be told, often it’s the willingness of the players to imagine the NPC as a real person interacting with their (equally real) characters that sparks the gap and gives the creation of the GM life.

Anyhow, that’s enough fictional character phenomenology babble for one post. What about my most memorable NPC?

Some of the games I’ve been involved in over the past year or so have had more real feeling NPCs than others. Our All For One game has had consistently authentic seeming NPCs, and there are several gems in there to choose from. The red haired “Spanish Spy”, Etienne “Hair” Legrande of the Cardinal’s Guards, the Evil and mysterious Dorottya Martel, and a host of others spring to mind. But, they aren’t the one I’m thinking of.

The most memorable NPC for me has come as a surprise, & that’s the way I like it. This character appeared before we played our first session, & has been in just about every episode. Originally conceived of as a flavor accent, an extension and augmentation of one of the Player Characters, this character has become far more than the mechanically supported genre emulation tool than they started out life as. Over time, due not only to their rather unusual predicament, but from the personality that began to emerge from the portrayals of them by the rotating cast of game masters, this unlikely NPC crossed the boundary from being an inside joke to becoming an actual person. (If not in the minds of all of the players, at least in my mind). I can’t imagine that Dumas himself could have conceived of an odder love triangle than the one that seems to have emerged naturally. And the stakes never seemed higher for me than when they were in danger. So high, that Phillipe was willing to make a deal with the devil herself.

The most memorable NPC? ~ None other than Brisecoeur’s  lackey Eugene.

Secretly a woman hopelessly in love with the womanizing Musketeer,  the former actress risked everything to be by the side of the man she loved. Eventually everyone but Brisecoeur figured out that she was a woman, and when the Musketeers became targets of the machinations of Martin’s relatives, “Eugene” was relocated to the Croissant Pont Neuf, where she works serving pastry to the hungry folk of Paris. ~ Many wonderful. humorous, and memorable scenes have been played out with this tragic young woman, and Phillipe seems to like her. As it currently stands, we’re not sure if she has been affected with the curse of the Vampire who took her prisoner and almost killed her. ~ Only time will tell.

#RPGaDAY 2018 ~ Day 3

What gives a game “staying power”?

You know, I knew what the answer to this question was as soon as I read it. However, I second guessed myself. Despite the fact that I know that these questions are prompts and open ended, (hell, I’ve told enough people that they are simply jumping off points), I found myself feeling like I should look at the aspects of the RPGs themselves that make them keep from getting stale. So, I don’t want to waste what I came up with, and to be honest there is a great deal of truth in those answers ~ they just aren’t THE answer. So buckle up.

A game that allows you to stay in the “sweet spot” as long as possible has a greater appeal over time. We have all run into the dilemma where a game suffers from “power creep” (sometimes power sprint). Somewhere in the middle of the competence spectrum is where characters are the most fun. The game I grew up with and all of the iterations since have suffered from some level (pun intended) of that unfortunate phenomenon where the characters become caricatures of themselves ~ (try saying “the characters become caricatures” three times fast). One of the great things I have found about the games powered by Ubiquity (Hollow Earth Expedition, All for One, Desolation, etc.) is that the characters start out competent, and as they improve, they do not become some superhuman versions of themselves. Comparing my musketeer (the incomparable Phillipe Moreau ~ have you not heard of him?) to the stats for D’artagnan shows a considerable expenditure of XP requiring extended long term play, but they can exist together in the same world and both live in the same house in terms of being hyper-competent, but believable human beings. (At least in the pulp heroic sense).

Nostalgia aside, a game can have some staying power if the system makes sense to you and it works for what you want it to do. It seems contradictory, but to a certain point, (and for the right people), a game has staying power if the possibility exists for you to tinker with it to make it interesting again. Maybe it’s in the setting, or maybe it’s in the nuts and bolts of the system, but for some of us an old love becomes fresh when we get under the hood and tinker with it a bit. I think that’s why the OSR has a certain amount of traction. Many games are best treated as “hands off” for me, but my “first girl” just begs to be messed with every once in a while. ~ That’s not as creepy as it sounds, I promise. 😉

The last of the “not quite right” answers is possibilities. When there are new applications of possibilities for a favorite system it can become new again. I look at the Ubiquity rule set and I don’t think I could get to all of the scenarios and ideas I have. There are other systems I have similar feelings about. Of course you have to be careful with that. A system produces a certain feel no matter what, so it’s not as easy as bolting on any old rule set to any old idea ~ but that is a topic for another day.

The other sort of possibilities inherent to a game itself are all of the unexplored parts of a game or system that keep you coming back for more. Broken Rooms is one of those games that I look at longingly as it sits on my shelf. With 13 parallel worlds, 13 meridians of “unusual abilities” and a super freaky unpublished meta-plot that the designer was nice enough to share with me, It’s hard to imagine running out of possibilities with that game for a long, long time.

So what’s the real answer?

There is a downside to the earth not being flat. (Sorry if you’re one of those people – ~ it’s round). RPGaDay starts later each day on the east coast of the USA than it does in other parts of the world like Korea & the UK. ~ This is awesome as I get to listen to and read a near constant stream of answers, but it also means that I have to write my notes early the day before to keep from being affected by their answers. Sometimes I think that some of them have been peeking at my notes. ~ True to form, at 11:30 AM my time during what was to me Day 2 of RPGaDAY, the Slinger of Runes & Caster of Shadows said what I first thought of as the “correct” answer to the question for day 3.

What gives a game staying power are the people involved. The right group of people interacting with the game and making it “real” create something that I want to return to again and again. Sure, the social aspect by itself can be enough for some, but there’s more for me. The whole somehow becomes more than the sum of its parts. The group of players and the characters become something special, something that it’s hard to explain to someone not involved. Situations, scenarios, & genre are all important, and without them the fiction doesn’t work. But when the characters become “real”, everything else does as well. A game where the characters and surrounding fiction become real to the players, where the stakes seem important, and where we become immersed in the experience is something that leaves me wondering when we get to do it again. It’s why our game of All For One ~ Regime Diabolique feels like “home” every time we get to play. (Alas, not often enough!)

#RPGaDAY2018 Day 2

What do you look for in an RPG?

I don’t think that I go searching for new RPGs. I hear about them, and sometimes I get interested so I look deeper. I made a short list, but it’s not in any real order. In any event, these are the things that will turn my head (& keep my gaze transfixed the more they show up).

I’m a sucker for a premise. Something unusual or that I personally find compelling. Looking at the Delta Green RPG and the idea that an agency continues to attempt to protect humanity from Lovcraftian Horrors after the initial raid off of Innsmouth, that’s a premise that turns my head. That game may be in my future. ~ All that said, a premise all by itself isn’t enough.

I struggle with settings. It’s something I’ve talked about on my YouTube Vlog, and it’s something I’ll probably talk about here one day. It’s not that I don’t like them, I enjoy a flavorful and nuanced setting as much as the next person, but I have a difficult time internalizing them. So, one thing that makes me smile is when I see a setting that I can learn over time as needed. Something that I can assimilate piecemeal as we play.

I love an interesting mechanic. Systems & mechanics fascinate me. There’s something magical that happens when I see a novel mechanic and the system around it & I can see how the fiction can be shaped around it. I can visualize what kind of fingerprint this will put on the experience. Sometimes I can learn to love a premise if the system captures my imagination. ~ A caveat is that I don’t want the mechanic to take center stage, rather I get excited when I see that it can get the fiction to the spotlight in an interesting and different way. Strange that I guy who doesn’t want too many rules loves them so much.

Good writing grabs my attention right away. Writing RPG texts is a science and an art. A real skill with a healthy dose of feel & mojo thrown in. I love it when an RPG is written like a technical manual. Everything is clearly defined, the terms remain the same so you aren’t juggling synonyms trying to figure out what they’re talking about (is a spell the same thing as a ritual? was that on page 217?). I love clear instructions, good examples, flow charts, etc, and I really take appreciate it when books are presented in a redundant manner. Tech Noir is one of those RPGs that I found used redundancy to great effect in teaching you how to play the game without having to flip back and forth. ~ Now, an RPG manual that does all that and still presents the material in an engaging manner is a thing of beauty. When these things are absent? Well, RPGaDAY is about being positive…. 😉

Last but not least is good design. I could call this coherence, although I might be misappropriating that term slightly from its original use regarding RPGs. What I mean is, I look for games that don’t fight themselves mechanically. When a game says it is about pulp heroics and action & the mechanics produce a pulp heroic feel, it is a win. When the various parts of the system interact well together and produce results aligned with the fiction and the genre, this might not get my attention on its own, but if something else on the list has turned my head, this will certainly assure me that the game is worth a further look.

There are other things I look for, but often these are more ephemeral and change with my evolving interests, biases, & preferences. ~ Tune in Tomorrow for staying power!

#RPGaDAY2018 Day 1

What do I love about RPGs? ~ Good Question. After a year of paying for this blog, i figured it would be a good idea to start using it. RPGaDAY seems to be a good impetus for doing just that.

As a child I had a vivid fantasy life. Part of this was an effort on my part to create a safe & predictable place for myself during a childhood that was less than ideal. I was introduced to fantasy and science fiction at a very early age, & fell in love with those genres. Having been born in 1968 (could you guess!?!) I experienced the 70s in all of their resplendent glory , including all of the cutting edge fantastic media available at that time.

Retreating to my fantasy life & daydreams, I often imagined myself in these captivating settings. However, frequently I imagined myself as someone else. (Unless you’re in Narnia, being a 10 year old uncoordinated somewhat overweight young boy tended to be a deficit). ~ Hearing about and finally being exposed to RPGs (in this case it was 1981 B/X D&D) opened up a whole new world to me. The idea that I could be an active participant in scenarios set in these compelling worlds, that i could be someone else, that my imagination wasn’t the only one contributing to to fiction, that it would be surprising and unpredictable, all of that drew me in. So yeah, all of that is a part of what I love about RPGs.

Likewise, I’m not sure if you can relate, but frequently i have finished a book, series, movie, show, etc, & found myself imagining “what happens next?” ~  RPGs allow me to explore settings that I have come to love. Also, unlike those books or movies where you are at the mercy of the author if you want another fix, an RPG campaign can be taken off of the shelf at any time & we can play to discover what happens next.

All of these still contribute to my love of RPGs, but age brings sophistication & introspection. Over time I have come to realize that I value an experience where we become immersed in the scenarios, the characters, & the settings ~ an experience where things become “real”. Sure, I still enjoy lighthearted sessions & always laugh a lot when I play. However, something magical happens when our shared imagination produces a world and characters every bit as real as our own world and selves.

Last but not least, human connections have become more important to me as time has gone on. We develop different kinds of friendships & relationships depending upon how we know each other. As gamers ours become unusual connections. We share fictitious yet “real” experiences that few others would understand. When a player leaves a game we miss them and their character. We discuss ideas related to the games, the experiences, and about the human condition. Often the insights and conversations we have about real life surprise us. ~ These are unusual and compelling connections & friendships that i do not think I would find elsewhere.

There you have it. This list is longer than I wanted it to be, but it could have been a lot longer. ~ What do you love about RPGs?

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