#RPGaDay 13

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 13th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 13 #RPG, balancing challenges & avoid being too epic.

I have tried to keep growing over the years, both in relation to myself, and also how I play/GM RPGs, I have often reflected on how fortunate I was to role-play with so many different people. From being 11 and the silly amount of D&D sessions at school, to playing with much older role-players when I was 16, to being mentored by people at my local games shop, and the great influence by gamers at college. Like other gamers, I am sure this question can result in a floodgate of reflecting and cool stories. Thus there were a few different answers that I started writing for this, each competing for the limelight. I also wrote some blog posts last year about some of my early RP experiences that fitted this question:

d6

The first role-playing game I ran greatly influenced how I saw the hobby. It was shortly after my first role-playing session, so I was still extremely new to the whole concept of role-play, and of course an inexperienced 11 year old. I came up with a very simplistic adventure idea, since I was pressed for time to prepare the game. Due to my lack of experience I struggled to balance encounters, and I escalated too quickly to being epic about things!

Thankfully one of the players appreciated that I’d been willing to run the game, since everybody had wanted to play.  Sadly I forget the person’s name now, but this 11 year old gave surprisingly sophisticated feedback, explaining why he thought my session had been clearly run by someone struggling and going overboard. His explanation was roughly:

  • It quickly became obvious to him which were my weak and tough encounters, thus the party acted accordingly. He advised mixing things up, tough goblins and monsters near death, and to give clues to this.
  • The party gained too much loot at the end. If one gold coin is valuable than a hundred is a treasure, whilst thousands is ridiculous.
  • The plot reasons I’d come up with were silly, and it was all to epic, making it even sillier.
  • He added that whilst giving out lots of treasure did make one player happy, who at the time was running around the room bragging, but for him he felt it was worthless, since it was all too easy.

This advice started my journey in thinking about plot, balance, character meaning, value and the near-paradoxes of gaming. In turn I have passed on this advice, along with other ideas, to new players and GM’s:

Explore and enjoy low level things when they are new, don’t be in a rush to throw epic encounters in.

This also led my 11 year old self to try and appreciate what was happening in a game at that moment. Not to fixate on what loot we would find, or when we next levelled/spent XP. This of course applies whether the party are 1st level D&D characters, neonate vampires, poorly equipped Solo/Street Samurai, etc., or  powerful versions of those characters.

During my teenage years this advice led me to appreciating little character details. Whether playing Warhammer or Cyberpunk, etc., that as a player epic-ness is my character’s story, and the decisions I make. That as a GM, to allow players to explore their character details, to make decisions and have an impact, and not just to ram my epic plot down their throats. The big plot event down the line will mean more to players who are invested in their characters.

#RPGaDay 12

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 12th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 12 #RPG, #Aberrant #Trinity #Adventure due to the wonderful IC pages.

I had so many initial thoughts about this question, and sadly despite the list of honourable shout-outs I have provided, I know I am missing off to many noteworthy games. Many old games came to mind, in part because they had been part of my formative RPing years. Whether staring at the old Monster Manuals for AD&D 1st ed over and over again, or the Warhammer artwork emphasising the dark setting. When I started playing Cyberpunk, the artwork helped to differentiate itself from the fantasy games I had previously played; a game with both style and substance 😉

Cyberpunk Interior artI considered Tales from the Loop, which was built upon a wonderful collection of art. This is also a great example of how modern RPGs can have amazing artwork, and how we can keep being surprised.

L5R is one of my favourite games, in part due to its incredible artwork; I tend to buy all the books for a game I like, but at least that means more artwork. Given the game’s emphasis on culture, and how important appearance is in that setting, with so many pieces of art showing character interaction and attire, it was quite easy to show players an example to help inspire them.

I nearly choose Changeling: The Dreaming, I adore that game; I wrote about one of my Changeling campaigns for Day 7. I shouldn’t really single out any of the classic World of Darkness (cWoD) games, as a whole the interior art was diverse and gripping; the walls of my old flats were covered in mostly WoD artwork. The artwork for Wraith really helped to inspire that game’s setting and mood, although I know a few players that were too disturbed by that game to even try it. Changeling’s lovely artwork helped to make that game stand out, and with the diverse races (kith) the pictures felt like a nod at the older games like D&D, whilst being noticeable different to them.

Changeling Interior ArtA special shout-out to Palladium’s: Ninjas & Superspies and Mystic China; whilst I am it, also for Nightbane. Like so many of Palladium books, there is a good mix of artwork. In a hobby dominated by fantasy, then Sci Fi, and then probably Supers, I really appreciated any martial arts artwork.

Although Street Fighter is a big IP, and thus it’s a bit unfair to compare it to non-major-IP games, as I mentioned on Day 5, the artwork was very inspiring. Overall the artwork was vibrant and fitted the style of the game. I’ll admit that anything martial arts related gets a bonus from me, but I really love that game for taking a beat’em up and turning in to something special.

As mentioned above, I finally settled on the books for the Trinity Universe, and in particular Aberrant. Having so many In Character (IC) pages really helped to get the setting across. They were easy to show new players, especially the pages that were comics. Thus the interior art was more than just artwork, they were IC game props. Although the old White Wolf company had done this sort of thing before with the cWoD books, it was taken to a new level with books for the Trinity Universe. Between the timeline, the IC news articles, interviews, wrestling shows, and profiles, the whole collection was both inspiring and highly informative.

Aberrant Interior ArtAs I mentioned yesterday, Onyx Path Publishing are working on rebooting this setting as the Trinity Continuum. Clearly with such a rich heritage to build upon, and the great work and experience of Onyx, Trinity Continuum is obviously going to be amazing. I’d only be surprised if the game was less than stunning to look at. Check out the Trinity Continuum pages.

#RPGaDay 11

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 11th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which ‘dead game’ would you like to see reborn?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 11 #RPG, #Dune and #TrinityContinuum #Æon #Trinity #Aberrant #Adventure

I am eagerly anticipating the return of the Trinity Verse, now called Trinity Continuum. Onyx Path Publishing are working on rebooting this setting, and the tweaks are sounding great. Whilst it is rare to hear about a tabletop RPGs in development being cancelled, it could still happen, so it’s not done till it’s done 😉

I have been running a Trinity Verse campaign for over ten years. Overall it’s been a great campaign, with many engrossing sessions. I started the setting before Slider being murdered, and since the party really mixed things up she wasn’t killed, but of course things still got messy in different ways. All of the PCs partially focused on Mega Intelligence whilst individuals also explored their powers. The groups goal became about researching how to manage taint. They also looked in to different types of energy, brain structure. They used the research to network with many different groups, and over the years moving towards global social engineering; and of course then handling the different fallouts from such work.aberrant

Due to the PCs detailed orientated approach to the game, the game’s complexity really escalated. I made a databases to track what 100s of key Novas were up to, as well as there previous actions. I also have extensive notes as Adventure era characters discovered mysteries that tied back to the Nova age, as well as affected the alternate future Trinity timeline. One of my player knows the setting very well, and they appreciated that they got to play something different.

This campaign has been great to run, in part because the party often spent time talking to each other, allowing many moments when the players effectively ran entire sessions between themselves. Partly due to how complex things became I took a break from running the game. Since we heard about the reboot the group agreed to wait to see what is done. I recommend checking out the latest Trinity information, .

Since I choose a setting that is in the process of being rebooted, then I’ll add a 2nd choice: Dune. My own setting and mechanics that I have been working on for years, has a strong psychology and spiritual emphasis, and this is something that I would love to see in an official Dune RPG. Years ago I did briefly play around with making a Dune game, lot most role-players taking bits from all sorts of game. Add in some Mage: The Ascension, and we get the Dune: The Sleeper Must Awaken 😉

#RPGaDay 09

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 9th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

My answer is: #RPGaDay 9 #RPG, any game can work, don’t feel restricted by setting or system. Use the opportunity.

The following explanation provides more detail for my short Tweet answer. It also builds upon the answer that I gave yesterday, for #RPGaDay 8, so I’d recommend reading that first.

I believe that all RPGs are toolkits that form the basis of a game. They provide suggestions of how to run that game, the rules are important but always optional. To clarify, I am also a big believer in group stability, so any changes are best discussed first with the players, since they are generally agreeing to play a particular rule system. As all RPGs are about imagination and freedom of expression, then all systems can provide this framework regardless of our individual preferences.

As part of my daily checking out of other peoples’ opinions, I have come across quite a diverse list:

Primetime Adventures, Shadow of the Demon Lord, Shadowrun, World of Darkness, Traveller, D&D 5e, Call of Cthulhu, or Pendragon, Call of Cthulhu 7E, Cyberpunk, Mutants and Masterminds 2nd Ed, Phoenix: Dawn Command, Paranoia, A Song of Ice and Fire, Red Aegis, Ryuutama, 40k Dark Heresy, any D&D, and many more.

The previous paragraph is a wonderful list of games, I’ve played most of them and I agree with them being recommended; this is also partly why I don’t feel the need to add a few more suggestions. What is interesting is how specific some people are regarding editions, which I would guess is likely to do with how they feel rule variations impact game flow/style. I mention this because I think such a diverse list helps to underline my point above, that all RPGs provide a framework.

d6

The topic of RPG design, and how systems affect game play, has been an area of much discussion over the decades. By emphasising certain words and overall concepts, a game designer can influence how some players will initially perceive a game, and thus how they play the game and discuss with others; in psychology this referred to as Priming. There is definitely something to be said for an RPG being specifically designed to focus on a particular aspect of role-playing, be it combat detail, social options, flow, etc. For example: Primetime Adventures is a quite different style of RPG, it explains the idea of running gaming sessions like a TV series, and so if I was forced to pick a specific system to answer this question, then I would pick that. But as I wrote yesterday:

Whilst systems certainly matter, how they are implemented matters more.

Although RPGs are generally considered to be open ended, there is nothing stopping a campaign being short, and even a single session (one-shot). For example: one the RPers that I follow on Youtube, goes by the handle Nolinquisitor. Today he posted this interesting explanation that most of his group’s games are 10 sessions long:

This is a great suggestion by Nolinquisitor, since I think he and his group provide a great example of how get to play the ever increasing list of RPGs.

#RPGaDay 08

#RPGaDay 08

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 8th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?

My answer is: #RPGaDay 8 #RPG, any game can work, don’t feel restricted by setting or system. Use the opportunity

I am not trying to dismiss the question with my answer. The question is certainly a good one, since not every role-player is a veteran; also, not every veteran has the same opinion or experiences. From my experience, and from chatting with others, any game can definitely be run in a way that makes it great for a 2 hour or less session, even games renowned for having system mechanics that are quite time consuming.

I believe that whatever the duration of a gaming session, all the normal considerations for running and playing an RPG apply. When determining how time affects a gaming session, I have presented three key considerations with responses:

  1. How much time a group spends on mechanics, and in particular combat.

I have known gamers play rules lite games and spend a lot of time processing things, whilst other gamers quickly process more complex systems. There all sorts of ways to help a group learn a complex system, and play it easier. Whilst systems certainly matter, how they are implemented matters more.

I’ve known role-players that like to embrace the ritual of dice rolling, making the process longer. As well as groups were all the participants excitedly discuss possibilities before the roll, cheer/boo the results, and delight in chatting about the new implications.

  1. How flowing everybody normally is in regards to decision making and describing their actions; this includes the GM.

I don’t believe that a role-player needs to be very experienced to be able to quickly make decisions, or stay focused on a game. Whilst I appreciate gamer experience helps, as will familiarity with other participants’ gaming styles, I am highlighting that I’ve met a few novices who have grasped proceedings quickly.

Role-playing and flow-state is something I have been thinking about for a while, but I’ll go in to depth with this another time. This is a subject I have been researching for my role-playing guide for years.

  1. The amount of non-game conversation.

The dreaded RP issue of a game being plagued by people talking about random things. Whether it’s the usually referencing of films/TV, debates about rules/powers, etc. This is not necessarily a bad thing, after all having fun is surely the main goal of a game, but for most players I assume they also want to play the game. I’ve had many different groups, and groups that have changed its requirements over time, and I’ve even had ‘hardcore role-players’ want to mostly socialise on odd occasions. Ideally discuss ideas before a short session (see below); one never knows if players fancy a change, maybe just this once.

Interestingly, having a deadline can greatly help with regards to keeping the game focused. By discussing with my group that there was a time issue for that particular session, we were able to decide on plans, and then get promptly started. It’s not always fully worked, but having a deadline was still a positive aspect.


Options

A possibility is for the GM to design encounters that are almost guaranteed to be a lot of dialog. Keep mechanics to a minimum, especially if mechanics are normally a bit of time drain in your group, but not if that is what the players typically love. Part of the skill of GMing is to avoid be railroaded by your own ideas, you can always use what had been planned another time; any encounter can be tweaked and even used in a radically different way, so don’t worry about having wasted any preparation time.

Even if the session is in the midst of a campaign, then maybe for this particular short session there all sorts of possibilities:

  • If the GM has big time pressure, maybe let someone else run something.
  • Use the opportunity to try out something new. Many games include pre-generated character, and an introductory story, which is ideal for this sort of thing.
  • Use the opportunity to flesh out backstory, flashbacks to something that was skimmed over, maybe a dream sequence. All of these ideas can be cliché, but can work wonderfully if handled well (avoid being too epic, keep it personal).
  • For some games the session could maybe be used as a downtime/blue-book session. This will be a chance to work out things, maybe each player details characters connected to their PC.
  • Role-play different characters in the setting, maybe relatives or allies of the PCs. Maybe the relatives/allies have found vital information, but since the PCs are in a dungeon, or at sea, the chat is about what to about things. If rarely done this can be a nice way of foreshadowing things.
  • A lot of other ideas, I am sure you get my point 🙂

As there are plenty of posts by other role-players giving system recommendations, I went with my gut reaction to this question. I believe this question raises a deeper issue regarding how gaming styles, session plans, and system mechanics combine to influence what is considered ‘good’. I hope that by highlighting the above I have been helpful to a few people.

I’ve not called any system out, as per my blog mission statement and the guidelines for the RPGaDay event about keeping to positive answers:

 

#RPGaDay 07

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 7th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

What was your most impactful RPG session?

My answer is: #RPGaDay 7, True Love at a fairy cake party for 8 players in Changeling #RPG #WoD

Another tough question; like many role-players I don’t normally try to rate/compare my games, but of course when asked I’ll still spend time pondering 😉 Years ago I ran a Changeling: The Dreaming campaign for roughly a year, often it had 8 players in attendance, and I don’t recall a session with less than 6. I mention this because everyone was very proactive whilst sharing the spotlight, it was a joy to GM, and often felt effortless to run, despite how many players and all the extra work I did (see below). This campaign had several sessions that could each fulfil the criteria of this question.

Despite being a slightly larger group, the game worked well. Feedback from the players during the campaign was that they felt constantly included, and motivated to play. Part of the trick I used was to write a revelation of a past life for each of the characters. Every few sessions I would give all the players a handout each, summarising another glimpse of their past lives via their dreams. This was tied in to events happening in the game, inspiring the characters to overcome great difficulty. This meant in addition to game events, each player also had an internal exploration. All of the characters had known each other in their past life, so the glimpses also worked as a way of expanding the relationships in the group.

Old World of Darkness, Trinity Universe, Exalted, Street Fighter

The session in mind was going to be a big IC celebration, and the players decided that this justified having an OOC fairy cake party. So at the start of the celebration session it was revealed that the collection of fairy cakes was more of a massive spread, like a birthday party, we even had jelly.

In addition to all the different character activities, two characters finally planned a big get together. During the many previous sessions, Limpet (Pooka) and Angel (Satyr) had teased and flirted with each other, and things had been building up.

During the previous two sessions they had started to get serious about each other. I offered regular game maintenance between sessions, as well as PBM aspects. The players of Limpet and Angel wanted to explain their character’s emotional state during a private mini-session. Once I knew what they both planned I was shocked, there was going to be emotional fireworks, and since both players seemed to have no idea that the other was doing this, I made sure to keep neutral.

At the start of the celebration session the players of Limpet and Angel both handed me a final note about how they planned on things. This was partly because there were potential game mechanics involved, and they didn’t want them getting in the way of very emotional dialog.


A quick explanation just for those not familiar with Changeling: The Dreaming. Changelings are divided in to different species (Kith), and each have birthrights and frailties.

  • Pooka have problems with telling the truth, but it’s not as simple as simply saying the opposite, and even when it is, which part is opposite and which is straightforward? They can make a dif 8 Willpower to overcome this, so not easy for many characters.
  • Satyr have Passion’s Curse. They can have wild mood swings, and can also have difficulties resisting temptations.

Angel was desperate for a real relationship. Whilst Limpet felt unloved by the world, since no one understood him, he was so insightful about others. Of course others found him to be too complex, whilst he thought he was simple, and this paradox plus his nature meant discussing anything about himself to be impossible.


So, at the celebration, Angel & Limpet finally had their chance to be honest with each other about their deep feelings. The following is what transpired:

  • The Satyr, Angel, believed she had learned how Limpet tended to speak, and how she could discuss her love for him. The player note stated she would spend WP to pass any frailty rolls, how Angel had been building up to this, it meant the world to her.
  • Meanwhile Limpet also had decided that was the moment, he wanted to know why Angel declared she had feelings for him, but then teased him and went off with other people!  The player note for Limpet stated he would spend WP to pass his initial frailty roll so he could speak like a ‘normal person’, to speak honestly, since he had been building up to this, it meant the world to him!

So Angel asks Limpet to speak with her, it’s important. At this stage, the two players had the spotlight. The rest of the players guessed at what would happen at this moment, and even the Sidhe and Redcap kept quiet. Limpet takes a deep breath and nods that he will go with Angel; he starts to psyche himself up for the difficulty of overcoming his nature. They step out on to a balcony of the wonderful mansion hosting the party, the sun is setting, the weather is perfect, the Redcap is not persecuting anything, the childe Pooka is busy, they look at each other, with their hearts are racing as this is the perfect moment.

The tension builds as seconds tick by, both are too nervous to speak. Finally Limpet declares love for Angel, the delivery is so earnest, Angel freaks out, confused, how could Limpet take the piss out of her!? He was like that with everyone, but she thought she was different, and she tells him this: “You take the piss when you mean the opposite, the more you do so, the more the seriousness. Yet you dismiss me now, you think so little of me?!” Limpet once again earnestly declares his love for Angel. Angel’s anger subsides, maybe he is being truthful, so she asks him this if this time he is being truthful. Limpet has Willpower issues, so the player opts for a dice roll, he succeeds and explains that he is being totally truthful. Angel starts crying, finally they have broken through the communication barrier, and Limpet’s elaborate piss-taking stunts. Limpet is relieved, there is someone for him, she has persevered and understands him. Angel’s emotional rollercoaster gets the better of her, she asks a lot of questions, Limpet is overwhelmed, his frail nature breaks through, he cannot help but take the piss, dismiss and lie about things. Angel runs away crying…

Moments later there is an outcry, the newly crowned High King David is missing. The Redcap takes the opportunity to persuade a young Pooka to get ice cream from the freezer, and then locks her in, whilst her Troll guardian is discussing playing spin the Eshu to find out which is the way to go. Limpet starts telling the Sidhe that are freaking out that he believes David has gone hiking.

The zany ending aside, maybe down to all the sugar that had been eaten, the 30 minute dialog between Angel and Limpet was at first a beautiful encounter, but in the end heart wrenching. The session stands out as being a great example of role-play build-up, delivery, emotional rollercoaster, as well as the fun nature of gaming; the fantastic amount of celebration food also helped to give the session an extra immersive feel. I also love how two players independently decided to implement their plan, at the same time, and how it almost worked out.