Cryptomancer – RPG Review

Do RPG mechanics sometimes get in the way of game flow, or even box-in peoples’ creativity? I’ve come across this line of questions on many occasions. The typical debate comes down to agreeing that rules abstraction is required, which I don’t fully agree with. Just look at how most games leave character psychology to the players with no rules needed to track character mood or stress. For example, I am not a fan of the cyberspace/hacking design used in many RPGs. I’ve been working on a game for years in which I am using computer language structure as a part of my vast magic system, so I decided to do a search on RPG + hacking, to see if anyone had recently made some interesting mechanics. I was pleased to quickly find something new: Cryptomancer.

“A tabletop role-playing game made for hackers, by hackers.”

After a few minutes of reading about Cryptomancer I genuinely paused to absorb what I considered to be a genius approach to handling hacking in an RPG; to focus on the reality of hacking, not to reduce the idea down to a few simple dice rolls, or worse. Within moments I had a multitude of ideas racing through my mind, plus the bonus that old designs were being influenced.

I quickly contacted various friends to discuss the game, and to find out whether they knew anything else about it. Whilst waiting for replies I read a review, checked out some Reddit posts, and then decided to buy the PDF.

The PDF is a whopping 430 detailed filled pages, so it is very great value at $10. The layout fits the theme of the game, as does the artwork, which I think helps to drive the theme home by keeping drawings stark, and utilises grey-scale to help with the mood. The same art style is used throughout, helping with the book’s consistency.

I love the front cover, besides it being beautiful, it really helps to highlight one of the special things about this game: Shards. Shards allow a user to connect to other shards that originate from the same original larger shard, this collection forms a Shardnet:

“a private network where each mortal holding one of these shards can communicate with each other silently and instantly, regardless of the distance between them.”

There is also a vast network called the Shardscape, which is akin to the Internet. I think these concepts are well explained, and are novice friendly. All throughout the book more details are continuously added, allowing a reader to build-up layers of understanding about how the Shards influence everything, from a few individuals interacting to the international scale.

Cryptomancer Shards

The game does not use an encryption skill, or a Shard skill. Some people may be concerned that this would affect game flow, or be too confusing for new players, but the book introduces the shard concepts carefully, with some great examples about different types of encryption. I think this is a wonderful example of proving that RPG mechanics are not always needed. Just present ideas for players and let them explore them.

System & Setting

These days there are so many different RPG systems and settings that I’d be quite surprised if a game could be called unique, but I do believe that there are still ways to stand out, and niches to explore. Cryptomancer’s focus on data security, encryption, social engineering, along with some different spells and items, brings this game close to being called unique. Interestingly the game setting is introduced as Tolkienesque:

“Cryptomancer takes place in a fantasy setting very similar to most fantasy settings you are accustomed to. This was by design. We kept things simple so gamers both seasoned and new can jump right in and start hacking things. We have made some subtle tweaks to fantasy norms, based on what we think fantasy races would look like in a connected fantasy world.”

I think this was a good design decision. For people that don’t play RPGs, they are likely to have heard of Tolkien’s work, and maybe even Dungeons & Dragons. Given how much new information the game presents, reducing the products overall learning curve makes sense. I think this decision also adds another benefit, allowing experienced gamers to understand how this approach to hacking fits in settings they are familiar with. The setting is not a direct copy of Middle Earth or the Forgotten Realms, and the differences are due to the shift in the Elf, Dwarf, and Human cultures in response to Shards and the magic of Cryptomancy. Thus there is something new, even if the foundation is familiar.

“Kill all the Orcs, Hack all the Things”

I adore R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk RPG, despite the brutal skill system. The cyberpunk genre in general has dominated a big chunk of my life. I also like Shadowrun; I’m not one of those people that cannot like both. Some of the games of Mage: the Ascension I’ve ran have had the player characters (PCs) being members of the Technocracy, including some fun sessions of just playing Hit Marks. I was asked by one player whether Cryptomancer’s Internet-like Shardscape is just the Matrix/Cyberspace with a twist? I explained that both in setting, but crucially mechanically, Cryptomancer is doing things quite differently, that it is about the players learning how to exploit systems, and how to protect their own. So although Shadowrun already exists, with its fantasy races and cyberpunk themes, that Cryptomancer’s differences translate to changing how a player approaches the game, as well as them possibly learning something new.

The book highlights the idea of adding the Shards and Cryptomancy to other settings, which is the main reason I was interested in the book. I did read the setting information, because I felt it would help my understanding of the ramifications of Shards and Cryptomancy, and from this I could determine how best to implement the ideas in to my own setting. I also liked what I read of the setting, and I am planning on running some sessions in the game’s setting.

Cryptomancer Golem

Risk & Mechanics

The game is focused on the PCs being on the run from the settings main adversaries, the Risk Eaters. These powerful mages monitor the world using Dwarven decisions engines to predict dangers to the world, and in particular to the social systems in place, so they can dispatch agents to deal with problems before they get out of hand. The party has a Risk rating, which goes up as the party do things that affect the world, especially if the PCs are not careful in covering their tracks. Whilst the Risk Eaters are an inevitable enemy, with a combination of luck and care a party could keep the threat at bay for a long-time.

At this point I think I should mention the system mechanics, I’m only introducing skill checks since they tie in to the Risk rating, a percentage score. In Cryptomancer any skill check always uses a pool of 5 dice. When a character makes a skill check, their skill rating is used as the basis of the dice pool, adding a d10 for each skill point. If they have less than 5, then they add the remaining dice with d6s to take the dice pool to 5; the d6s are known as Fate Dice.

For example: a character making an Acrobatics check has an Agility of 5, then they roll 5d10, but if their Agility was 3, then roll would be 3d10+2d6.

For a trivial action the target on the dice is 4+, for challenging a 6+ and a tough check is an 8+. Add up each dice that successfully hits the target, but deduct a success for any botch. A botch on a d10 is a roll of 1, and on a d6 (fate dice) any roll of a 1 or a 2; fate is dangerous to rely upon!

For example: continuing on from the Agility of 3 with a challenging target of 6, the player rolls 3d10+2d6. For this example the dice result is d10(6, 1, 3) + d6(2, 6), meaning d10(successes of 1, -1, 0) + d6(-1, 1) for a total of 0 successes.

With 1 success an action is successful, whilst 3 successes means it is a dramatic success. Likewise if the pool total is -1 then it is a clear failure, whilst -2 means a dramatic failure. A player can choose to Defy Fate, which will raise the party’s Risk rating by 1 for each botch removed from a dice result, so a buying off a result of -2 will raise the Risk rating by 2. I particularly like this part of the system, and how it all fits together. I think it does several interconnected things:

  1. Keeps things simple, which is particularly good for inexperienced players
  2. I’ve met many veteran gamers who dislike having large dice pools.
  3. It results in an interesting bell curve. I am not keen on systems that have no bell curve due to rolling a single dice, ‘they have unnatural fate’. I’ll expand on this semi-joke, but important point, another time 😉 I do play and enjoy D20, Cyberpunk, etc., it’s just I prefer using several dice since they give reliable averages.
  4. Players have a choice, often they are about deciding between short-term vs long-term issues. There are other games that use fate systems like Warhammer, or Deadlands chit system, etc. This system’s Fate linked to Risk is like a Doomsday Clock.
  5. The mechanics help to keep the game’s theme, the gravitas of long-term risk to the party, which just builds, and builds. Our world has become increasingly obsessed with risk over the last few decades, now more than ever, people strive to manage risk, which is an understandable thing, but when obsessed over …

Hacking systems is a common part of RPGs, so there is nothing stopping a group from tweaking the Risk Eaters from being a bit like Cthulhu crossed with 1984, to a lesser threat. Be careful to avoid turning the Risk Eaters from a Cthulhu like threat to something more akin to Hello Kitty.

Downtime

I love a good Downtime system. As a Play-By-Mail fan, I typically see downtime as something major, and equal to everything else in a tabletop game. Downtime is a great chance for strategising, as well as a good place to highlight whether the PCs have things to discuss; I’ve had downtime lead to whole sessions of PCs discussing things that have been bugging them, and working out major plot points. Downtime can be thought of as a break in the weather, the calm before the next storm. There are plenty of things in the Cryptomancer Downtime system to think about, and for people like me that love this this often ignored part of role-playing, I am sure you will enjoy the options, and maybe you’ll hack your own.

Cryptomancer Downtime

Writing & Design

Overall I really like the writing style. I think it does a wonderful job of introducing concepts and overall the book has clear explanations. As there is so much being covered, not just the classic tabletop RPG aspects, but also encryption/security explanations, the book could be accused of being a bit much for some. I think it is fair to say that the book is not perfect (what is?), so I don’t want to give the impression I think Cryptomancy is the exception. I think a valid criticism could be a lack of rules being repeated, or some more rules summaries, and maybe more things could be in the index. I suspect this was an intentional decision mostly down to the issue of preventing an already large book becoming even bigger.

Many design reasons are explained, which I appreciate, and I think this also helps with explaining a topic, by providing extra context. I don’t believe that these design explanations were defensive in nature, or so numerous that they distract from the game explanation, so I am sure most readers will appreciate their inclusion.

Sheets

Whilst reading comments on the game I was intrigued that the character sheet had been highlighted as being something that was a bit different, complex even. For me, the character sheet is well designed, having a distinctive attribute & skill section, it also has sections for core character points of interest and utilises white space well.

Cryptomancer also has a system for Safehouses, a good place for the party to carry out downtime. Safehouses have their own sheets to help keep track of things, and given the likely lifestyle of the PCs, it is a rare place of safety for them, and something else for them to care about. The sheet is quite detailed, but has been laid out well, utilising space and boxes well to help differentiate information.

Summary

I think the game succeeds in its goal of spreading understanding of encryption and cybersecurity to the RPG community, and maybe vice versa. Whether a player is new or an experienced role-player, there is definitely something in this game for everyone; that is a rare thing, and thus Cryptomancer is something I highly recommend. Additionally there is a free expansion book: Code and Dagger, and with Code and Dagger vol. 2 on the way, this game’s value keeps increasing.

http://cryptorpg.com/

You can buy the game at http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/186678/Cryptomancer

RPG Power of PBM: Social

This post about RPG and Play by Mail Games (PBM) continues on from the previous article RPG Power of PBM: Time.

When discussing PBM RPG, occasionally someone will be concerned that there is a lack of social interaction in such a game type. They envision a lone player reading something like a Choose Your Own Adventure, or Fighting Fantasy book. Even before the explosion in email access or the World Wide Web took off, PBM games were very social. Granted some players were playing a smaller game with none of their local friends involved, and they had to wait for a letter to arrive by post from other players. Whilst phoning someone was possible, back then the cost was off putting, particularly an issue for younger players; the further back in time we go the more likely players did not have telephone access. These days, none of these concerns are an issue, if you have access to email or the web you are good to go.

It’s understandable that some players of tabletop games, and in particular LARP, would assume that socialising is an issue in a PBM game. Consider how many people refer to the online world as not being real, there is just something detached about a lack of physical presence. This lack of face-to-face interaction does not prevent a PBM player from developing strong social ties. Besides curiosity, many games promote alliances, and given the strategising power of PBM, contacting other players is normal. Obviously other players are going to form alliances, and information gathering is vital.

Direct social interacting, face-to-face, whether physically or virtually, is not something everyone wants to do. There could be any one of a number of reasons, such as: illness/injury, bedridden, social anxiety, autism, and returning to the previous article’s point about time. Please don’t think of PBM games as being just for mental health sufferers, non-neurotypicals, or the disabled, this list just highlights another benefit of this game type.

During a tabletop game, and even more so with LARP, the emotional intensity and sense of connection can be quite intense. It may seem that PBM will lack this level, but just like with any other role-playing games, whether playing with others, or reading a turn result by themselves, players can still achieve emotional highs from succeeding or failing. Given the strategy aspect I previously emphasised, having a long-time ambitious plan succeed certainly provides an emotional high. Other players also tend to be interested in what is going in the game, so there are still plenty of chances to socialise with others and froth, as well telling friends about your latest game exploits.

The raise of the modern Massively multiplayer online (MMO) owes it roots to tabletop RPG, Multi-User Dungeon (MUD), and PBM. Within these games large number of players come together to form alliances, either to compete with other players, or the game world. Organising things with other players is a big part of the MMO genre: fleet co-ordination in EVE Online, dungeon raids in World of Warcraft, etc.

Coalition

As mentioned above, players were forming alliances in PBM games decades ago, and some professional games were quite popular. Playing a bigger PBM means more players to interact with, and this scaling of game size translates to more people to keep up to date with. The end result being a player can spend a lot of time communicating with other players, and this certainly addresses the query of socialising with a PBM. For some players they can be communicating with many players a day, all year, a level of socialising tabletop or LARP rarely achieve.

My first PBM game was Quest by KJC Games, which I eventually ended up running and redesigning as a moderated RPG. As a kid I had seen PBM adverts in the old White Dwarf magazine (Games Workshop), but the money I earned from my paper round went on RPG books and wargame models. Whilst at college I met some other gamers, and via these people I eventually gave Quest a go. Their Quest alliance consisted of only people they regularly hung out with, partly to keep in game information secure, and partly just because they were friends. Before a tabletop gaming session they often discussed their PBM plans, and this eventually resulted in devastating attacks on their enemies. When Magic the Gathering came along, the group would often bounce PBM ideas around whilst playing cards; fun times. I appreciate I was lucky with regards to joining such a organised group of players.

In the next article I’ll tackle a question I have been asked many times: “But how do you actually role-play during a PBM?”

RPG Power of PBM: Time

This post follows on from my overview of Role-Playing Game Types (RPG), and is another step towards finally publishing my role-playing guide. I think play-by-mail (PBM) is awesome, and despite what some claim it has not died out. To help justify my opinions on why PBM can be such a powerful way of role-playing (RP), I’ll explain some core aspects that form the essence of this type of gaming.

Over the decades PBM became an umbrella term covering more than just games played via a postal service. The term PBM has variations like: play-by-post (PBP), play-by-email (PBEM), play-by-Internet (PBI) or play-by-web (PBW). PBEM has probably been the most common playing method since the 90s. I prefer to use the PBM abbreviation as an umbrella term for all the types. Whilst PBM can be a way of running downtime for a tabletop group or Live-Action (LARP), I am focusing on dedicated PBM RPGs.

I’ve found that trying to explain what PBM is, by giving diverse game examples just complicates matters. Many PBM games have nothing to do with role-playing, such as chess or Diplomacy. Chess and similar turn based board games are easy to envision being played by post. Introducing a PBM RPG to a few role-players is met with confusion, their initial thought is that someone writes they rolled a 6, and then imagine a really slow postal conversation filled with tedious haggling about results, rules, and a line of character dialog. PBM games are generally a lot more sophisticated than this, and from a certain point-of-view RP is carried out in a similar fashion to a tabletop; more on PBM and RP later.

Batjutsu PBM Dice
PBM is not about sending dice by post, or “I rolled a 6!”

How long a PBM is played generally comes down:

  • Until a particular win condition is reached, like Civilization.
  • Until a set number of game turns are reached, for example a turn a week for a year.
  • A game could be open ended; some professional PBM games have been running for decades, and there are possibly amateur games with similar timeframes.

A game turn could represent a character’s day, a scene, an overview of a week, or a more abstract number of time units. The general idea is that only events of note are described. This applies whether a player is running a single character or vast empire, like Civilization.

A PBM game tends to work by providing a player an initial starting turn, the player then works out their orders that they submit in time for the turn deadline, and then wait for the turn result. A turn deadline could have any timeframe; many of the games I played or ran had a weekly turn deadline.

Anticipation for the results of my next PBM turn was something I always appreciated.

I think the key advantage of any PBM game is that they give you time to think about different strategies. This is why PBM Chess works so well, and has played for centuries. As one of the best-known strategy games, and a tool commonly used in movies to highlight a character’s intelligence, I think chess wonderfully highlights the power of PBM with regards to thinking time and strategy. Of course every type of role-playing game allows for some strategising, but with the vast majority of PBM games a player has the luxury of time to explore different ideas. Even for very knowledgeable and quick thinking players, having more time to think is beneficial, and most of us aren’t that reliably brilliant.

For many role-players, organising a gaming session is usually the biggest problem. This can be a major problem for LARP due to the number of players involved and the issue of booking a location, but this is still a common issue for a tabletop game, even if the players are playing online. As gamers get older this problem tends to increase, a player’s busy adult life makes it harder to allocate time to a gaming session; there is also the additional issue of an increased likelihood of having to miss sessions. Timeslot issues are rarely a problem when playing a PBM. A player can ponder game information and orders during quiet moments, such as when travelling, waiting in a queue, preparing food, et cetera. Players then just need a bit of time, usually a few minutes, to finalise their orders and send them off.

Next time, the power of PBM with regards to physical and social considerations, RPG Power of PBM: Social.

Role-Playing Game Types

Over the years I’ve been asked what my favourite type of role-playing game (RPG) is. I love them all, since they all have different pros and cons, and I like that they have differences. By type I don’t mean the system, setting or genre, but the method of playing the game:

  • Classic RPG or Tabletop (RPG, or TRPG), also sometimes called pen-and-paper. Of course a table is not required, plus these days can be played virtually via things like Skype, or dedicated software.
  • Live Action (LARP)
  • Computer (CRPG), whilst the label RPG is often misused with computer games, there are some excellent CRPG.
  • Play-by-mail (PBM or PBEM), a very broad term that includes everything from chess to moderated role-playing. The subcategories of PBM are: post, e-mail, chat, forum, blogs, wiki, journals, google documents, and software assisted.

On average I found that during such chats about favourites, the player asking tended to prefer the type of game that they were currently playing; nothing surprising there. On rare occasions a player would declare all other RPG types as inferior, or even outright stupid. Predictably some of them had not played many other game types.

d6

A bit of a tangent, I’ve met a few people whom have only ever played a single RPG, despite gaming for years. I’m curious how they could play for so long whilst not trying out one of the numerous other games. Although it is great that they’ve played something they have enjoyed for so long.

Whilst it’s great that there is so much information on the Internet about RPGs, sadly it is hard to find useful statistics. Thankfully Wizards of the Coast did carry out a big survey in 2000, although I wish they’d asked even more questions. In particular I’ve often pondered how many RPG books have been sold, in 2004 a BBC article posted:

An estimated 20 million people worldwide have played D&D since it was created, with more than $1bn spent on game equipment and books.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3655627.stm

Whilst I would have guessed that more people had played D&D in 2004, that is still a seriously big number, especially considering how niche RPGs often seems to be. I think RPG is still growing in popularity, if only because of how popular computer games are these days. Although RPG mechanics are now common place in computer games, sadly those alone do not make a game into an RPG.

At a later date I will write an article about what I think the pros and cons are for the different RPG types. To me the commonalities of role-playing are compelling. From my experience all the different types of RPG equally allow for role-playing, as all of them can be just as emotionally intense and rewarding as each other. I’ve played all types of RPGs, covering all genres. Some games use detailed rules systems, ranging all the way to almost no rules. The biggest factor of all RPG is always the players, what each of us individually brings to the game.

The next RPG article will focus on PBM, RPG Power of PBM: Time.

Healthy Pacing For Deadlines

As I attempt to slowly escape from my pain tunnel, and return to a consist level of health, I have resumed working on projects that have lain dormant for years. This is in addition to my very slow writing. Whilst speech recognition really helps, it is also annoying since there are still errors and navigating is a pain, plus I used to be able to type so quickly, thus it just feels slow.

Over the last two years whilst I’ve had a lot of bedrest I contemplated how best to make use of my time once I was a bit better; sleep deprivation didn’t help with thinking, but at least I did have a lot of time to think. Making plans was difficult, since for a long-time I had no discernible improvement. When I did have a day where I felt a tiny bit better, there was an urge to instantly declare it a breakthrough. I eventually learnt that those days were not something to base plans upon. So ultimately I made plan making itself a goal, to make small goals, to make tiny notes.

Healthhourglass

I am now at the stage where I can work at a computer for a short while without instant agony. I came to realise that my problem about goal setting is not much different from a healthy person’s situation, that it’s all about pacing and being realistic. Clearly I need to be more careful, to take constant breaks, and keep to small tasks. If I am lucky I can manage what used to be a few hours of work, is now spread out over the whole day, maybe even a week. Doing work like this is also a form of physiotherapy, I need to get used to being more active, and since my level of activity is so low, this makes a big difference.

This means I am now able to implement realistic deadlines, albeit feeble ones. As I get a better understanding of my new pathetic work rate, I can alter my deadline projections to better reflect things. Then as my health hopefully keeps gradually improving, I can adjust further.

The urge to do more is ever present. I have already plenty of experience of slowly healing, then carefully going back to work, to find out that it was too much. It’s odd to think that whilst being careful, I was in fact rushing. There is a difference between a typical injury, even breaking a bone, and chronic problems, but understandably most people have not grown up with chronic problems so we haven’t learned about the differences, and how that affects recovery. When long-term bedrest, and thus atrophy, is a factor, things are further complicated.

health chart

I made the chart above to help remind myself to be careful. The vertical axis represents a hypothetical percentage of health. I didn’t think there was any point tracking my progress over time, since my healing has been so slow, and it’s only recently I can realistically do a variety of things. Even when I get to a theoretical average health level, I’ll be far from fit. I have broken the habit of exercising a lot, but my mind still wants to make comparisons, and of course reminisce about my old healthy days; as much as people say mind over matter, and focus on positive thinking, I am not in a position like I used to be of simply training hard to get stronger.

My recent story writing has been very slow, due to doing other things. It’s not that I feel burnt out, it’s that I have a deadline for the end of this month to make progress with my Elemental role-playing game I am started running in May. Although I started work on this project thirteen years ago, there is still way too much to do, my own fault for designing something astronomical in scale. I have also started work on a comic for a PBM style role-playing game. More on these two projects soon.

Escaping the Tunnel

To maybe help speed up my slow healing, and in particular to help alleviate stress, two groups of friends invited me to stay with them. I got to once again visit the wonderful country of Sweden, and thankfully the trip didn’t spike my physical problems. I kept up my physiotherapy exercises, and even started doing a little bit more. The stress relief from being in holiday mode really helped, ignoring the stress of travelling. In addition to spending time with friends, some great walks I also got to spend time with a lovely dog, and then a pride of cats.

Sadly the last few days of my trip were undermined by some jaw pain, that escalated, and by the time I got home it had become quite horrific. I was prescribed two antibiotics, which heavily affected my ability to eat and sleep; this lead to some drastic weight loss. Thankfully my dentist gave me the all clear regarding no damage to my teeth, but it did leave me wondering how I had developed the problem. I don’t know whether the infection was so bad due to my lowered immune system, but that was surely a factor.

This life update highlights how escaping from long-term chronic pain and sleep deprivation, seems to be like crawling out of a very long tunnel. For the last few months it has felt like I was finally nearing freedom, to escape in to the light, and I could return to a more productive and healthy life. It even seems like my metaphorical pain/illness tunnel has minions dragging me further back in.

I did manage to get some speech recognition writing done, both on my fiction and game mechanics, but obviously I could have gotten more if I was healthier. This was partly why I didn’t blog for two months, but at least things are improving again. Also, after thirteen years I finally started playtesting a game I’ve been working on, but I’ll write about that in a later post.

I had contemplated making some drawings for this post, since I couldn’t find what I envisioned. So I made a simple stick figure drawing as an idea bouncing exercise, but my wrist RSI started to flare-up, so I didn’t get beyond:

batcrawl

I then decided to keep things simple and photograph something; this also meant I had an extra reason to walk, which is great physiotherapy. I took some pictures of the Blackpool North train station underpass. I thought it would make an interesting photography location given its local significance, and the painted walls give it some extra character. I appreciate I could have used some lovely free artwork, like on https://pixabay.com/

Bat station

RPG Lessons From Watching Games 3

Part one can be read here, and then part 2 here.

This is the continuation of the story from part 2 about the time I watched a Vampire the Masquerade game in the 90s. Over the course of the gaming session my friend asked me several questions, some were rules queries, and some were requests for feedback on ideas he was pondering. I politely reminded him that it was not my game, nor did I know the house rules, so even if I quoted the rule-book it wouldn’t matter. My friend explained that he’d only asked me questions so he could bounce ideas around; he only did this when the Storyteller was busy with other players.

The person running the game did not complain, instead choosing to focus on running the game. I am sure my friend’s actions were a bit distracting, but my friend was not trying to ruin the game, and had been considerate in regards to quietly chatting with me whilst he was waiting for his turn.

The game was good, and thankfully nobody seemed annoyed by my attendance. I thanked the Storyteller, and apologised if my presence had been disruptive, he said it was fine; I had sensibly turned my Presence discipline off. To my friend he then said:

“Next time, leave your pet Storyteller at home.”

On the walk back to my friends we had a good laugh about me being his pet Storyteller. He expanded his previous explanation, to help explain why he did not view his actions as being disruptive. He thought by bouncing ideas off me, he was helping to keep the game flow, so he could speed up his interactions with the Storyteller, since besides not having to check rules he could additionally have his ideas developed. I appreciated that his goal was to be more efficient, and to take up less Storyteller time, which was in theory commendable.

The lessons of note:

1) Ask about deviating from the group’s normal playstyle

I think my friend should have asked the Storyteller before the game started, if it was okay to discuss ideas with me whilst the Storyteller was busy with other player. It could be distracting to some, especially since the person running the game obviously has an opinion on rules queries, and it could be viewed that having an external person agreeing about how things could work is a form of ganging up.

One of my common answers to questions about how best to handle things in a group is whatever the group’s preference is. Despite what some may think, there is no perfect playing style, so therefore the opinions of the members of a gaming group are what matter, not those of an evangelising article written by somebody that is not involved.

Upon reflection, after the initial query by my friend I think I should have added “It is not my game, maybe ask the ref if they are okay with you involving me.” I guess I didn’t to minimise my impact on the game, I thought what I had said would have deterred my friend earlier.

Batjutsu Pet DM close
Batjutsu Pet DM/GM

2) Perception of fairness still matters, even in co-operative games

This may initially seem like a strange thing to mention, since role-playing games, especially tabletop, are co-operative not competitive. In a game part of what is always involved are the feelings and reputations of the participants, since nobody likes to be seen as foolish, or less important.

Consider that if one player is receiving a private peer review before they discuss ideas with the Storyteller, then their ideas might be better on average than others, leading to all sorts of potential gains for them in game, such as resources or implementing clever plans over enemies. Over time another player might become resentful at this sort of special treatment. The point is to be aware that even something as small as this can have an impact, and thus it can affect others; after all if it was not worth doing, then the player asking wouldn’t be doing it. This issue is likely avoided if a group regularly discusses ideas, and even an individual player’s action, thus everyone’s ideas gets a chance to be discussed.

3) When to tackle concerns

I think the Storyteller handled the whole thing well. They did not become emotional at what could have been deemed as disrespectful. I appreciate that whether the incident counts as disrespectful is subjective, my friend certainly didn’t mean to be, and saw an opportunity to help the game. A DM/GM/ST will consider whether something is going to escalate, and thus some things may be deemed as needing sorting out as soon as possible. Although often patience and respect for others will reveal that there was not going to be an escalation, and confronting a tiny problem could make it become major.

Batjutsu Pet DM dice
Batjutsu Pet DM/GM

An extra bit of the anecdote is that once we got back to my friend’s place, we continued a solo Vampire Elder game we had been playing for the last week. Elysium: the Elder Wars had not long been out, and as long-time Vampire players it was interesting to explore the mind of a much older Vampire. The relevance of this is that week of playing an Elder vampire lead to my massive Methuselah campaign roughly a year later, and from that to my 16 player Night City campaign.

Due to this being a busy month, #CampNanoWriMo and I am also getting ready to play-test a boardgame I have been working on. So I will write about the big games next month.