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 includes everything from chess to detailed moderated RPG. Subcategories of PBM include playing via: chat, forum, blogs, wiki, journals, google documents, etc.

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.


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.

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 Lessons Watching Games 2

The first part of this topic can be read here.

In the 90s, whilst visiting a friend in another town, I went with him to one of his local gaming groups. The game being run was Vampire the Masquerade, although I’d have been happy with whatever the game was, but sadly for me there were already six players. I appreciated that it wasn’t always easy to involve a new player, especially in to a busy group that were in the midst of things. Additionally, since I would only be attending for a single session I didn’t want to upset the flow of the game by asking to be included. So since I had not watched another person’s game for a while, I was happy to just observe.

The Storyteller (GM/ST) ran a very smooth game of Vampire, keeping the players well engaged. Over the course of several hours I got to appreciate yet another perspective on the setting, rule interpretations, and game flow.  Back then I had primarily been playing Vampire, and the rest of the World of the Darkness (cWoD). I was almost starting to get bored of Vampire, which is likely a shock to anyone that knows me.

I had become an Elder Storyteller, ennui was setting in, gaming torpor could have followed; although thankfully not a Garou’s Harano.

The Storyteller was running a seemingly standard Vampire game, but as blasé as I could have been, I instead found watching the game helped to reinvigorate my waning passion. I don’t think it would have mattered if had been running a massively altered version of Vampire. It wasn’t that I lacked ideas, or that I had grown indifferent to the layers of scheming with players about their character plans. It was more simply the sheer amount of hours I had been running games for over the years, they had caught up with me.

3rd Lesson: the value of having a break from running games.

This is obvious to me now, but all those years ago, it was a bit of a surprise that my favourite pastime of running games was starting to take a toll on me. For years I had been gaming as much as I could, in multiple groups, so I was playing every day, and we normally played long sessions. Fundamentally I was doing the same thing day in, day out, and that had become a bit of problem, no matter how much I enjoyed it. At this time, when I wasn’t running games, I was normally reading gaming books, and working on details for one of my games. Nearly all of my socialising was about role-playing. So as much as I loved running games, I started doing a bit more besides role-playing.


4th Lesson: Recapture the spirit of being a player.

I was reminded that with all the GMing, I had been missing out on the fun of playing. I considered how taking a break from running games, and being a player would mix things up for me, so I didn’t have to drop out of any of the groups I was in. When I got home I made plans to just play again in some of the groups I game with. It was refreshing being back as a player, to not know the depth of game details I knew as the GM, and to reconnect with exploring a character and the setting.

5th Lesson: Play something different, even retry things.

I even joined in with a few games I had previously grown bored of, as well retrying games I had found to be lacking. One of the beauties of role-playing is the wealth of systems and settings, and our own imagination, so there is no reason to fixate on just a few games, even if those games are rich in variations like the World of Darkness or D&D. Over time our preferences will normally change, so we could be in quite a different mental place. This is more likely to be the case as we try out different games. The result is we will build a more complex connection of gaming knowledge, further modifying our preferences. Plus let’s not forget the power of nostalgia.

I have an anecdote about the particular Vampire game I watched, I’ll write about for the next article.

RPG Lessons From Watching Games by Batjutsu

Part 1

RPG Lessons From Watching Games

At 16 I spent a lot of time visiting my local gaming shop. Due to this I got to regularly chat with the staff about gaming, often helping boxing up train or tram kits; it was a rite of passage. Being at the shop also gave me access to lots of other role-players, and particularly GMs. Thus I gained exposure to a wide range of opinions, about all sorts of games; in the early 90s it was rare for people to go online, so this was the best local place to go.

Occasionally a group would leave an open invite at the shop for a new player, or an individual seeking a group. So I made use of the invites and tried out several groups. It was a great way to try out different games, as well to hopefully become a regular in yet another great group. One of the groups I joined suggested that I just watch, which I initially thought was odd, since it’s normal to join start playing immediately. Why watch a game when you can play? This particular GM said it was a chance for me to see if would enjoy being in the group, without disrupting the existing game.

Being an observer at a game was surprising. Despite all chats I’d had with different people, playing with different groups, as well as reading articles, I hadn’t considered what watching a game could teach me. Nowadays with some groups filming their gaming sessions, and in particular popular celebrity groups, it has become easy to watch games, but back then it seemed alien. Whilst the celebrity gaming videos are focused on entertainment, not on education, they could still prove useful to someone wanting to analyse them.


As an observer I had a chance to perceive things in a different way, since the situation was impersonal I was able to strive to be more analytical. One of the first things that struck me was that since I didn’t know any of the group, and thus their anecdotes, I found it extra annoying when a player disrupted the game to mention random things. Doing so is generally referred to as going Out Of Character (OOC), although I think OOC is a misleading way to phrase the issue; my opinion likely requires some clarification, so I’ll write about that another time.

I got to see how the group handled focusing everyone back on the game. It was surprising, to my young perception, how often individual players helped the group to refocus on the game. Even though I knew that my players sometimes helped my games out, I had thought I was predominately the one refocusing the group back to the game.

Confirmation bias is funny like that.

Since I was not invested as either a player or GM, I got to watch a bunch of strangers energetically chatting and unwinding. Because I did not have to think about running a game, or how I’d play my character based upon some new stimuli, this allowed me to track their levels of fun. Even when a player was going OOC for quite a while, the group didn’t complain; likely due to the difference between school kids and adults. Whilst I am sure my presence influenced the players and the GM at least a little bit (Hawthorne Effect), I don’t think it was overall an issue. Mainly because I kept quiet, but also because the GM had done this with their group before. Finding that balance of how to prioritise the game whilst hanging out and relaxing friends was something this group seemed to have found, they were not pretending for my benefit.

During my first few years of GMing, at 11 and 12, I had it often felt that I needed to quickly get the game back on track. The idea was driven by concern that the actions of one or two players would become too disrupting for others, and thus risks annoying the others. A major reason for my thought was due to trying to cram as much role-playing as possible in to my lunch break whist at school; I wrote about those sessions here: Role-Play meets Lord of the Flies. At 14 I was running Warhammer with a different group of players in the school library. Later in 1990 we changed to Cyberpunk, and I started running day long sessions. Whilst we had long periods of keeping IC during the 10+ hour sessions, we did have OOC tangents, but they were uncommon.

This links to another lesson about not being as self-conscious when running games, as well as to stay relaxed when being observed by others. This would prove helpful when later running games, be it tabletop, LARP or PBM, as well as talking to customers. As well for games when I’ve had a player observing.

For the next blog post I’ll write about another lesson I learned whilst at another group I watched. Part 2.

RPG Lessons From Watching Games by Batjutsu

Vampire, Batman and the Origin of my Nickname

Vampire, and by extension the World of Darkness, has had a massive effect on my life as well as how I developed my nickname. Given the power of nicknames it is no surprise that Vampire is more than a hobby to me, it lead to work and could even be argued to have become part of my identity; although crucially I do not think I am a literal Vampire.

I was sixteen when I first played Vampire the Masquerade; it had only been out for a few months. I was fortunate enough to have been invited in to a group of much older role players, so I was able to get a lot of experience from more worldly players. This proved helpful when I later started running Vampire for my long running group. At the time there were only a few supplements for the game, and there were none of the other games set in the World of Darkness had been released. Given the limited information and the newness of the game, it all felt very refreshing. This links back to the point about age, since our Storyteller Dale was in his 30s, he brought in all sorts of different cultures, not just USA or European ideas. Over many sessions our characters met all sorts of unusual antagonists; a deranged yogi was my favourite. All in all quite different from my experiences playing games like D&D, Cyberpunk or Warhammer. I quickly knew Vampire was going to be something I was going to play a lot, plus another thing I wanted to collect.

I was fortunate in that I had been brought up loving all sorts of music. I had become obsessed with metal and particularly thrash in 1989, but by 1991 I was broadening back out again. Vampire played a big part in influencing what music to investigate; I am sure it did for many gamers.

In the summer of 1992 I was working at a computer shop, and the boss insisted that everyone had to have a nickname. One of the young staff members couldn’t think of anything, so since he was slightly annoying the boss nicknamed him Snot! The computer shop was next door to the local games shop, and this led to the boss asking me about my visits to that shop during my breaks, and my role-playing obsession, and a brief explanation about Vampire the Masquerade. Since I did a lot of long-distance running, generally late at night, I was very pale skinned and surprisingly strong for my slender frame, which led to the boss deciding that I should be called something vampire related, and this led to me being given the nickname of Bat. When I got to college the new large social group I spent most of my time with had other people called Richard, so my nickname was used instead.


Unfortunately this Bat nickname has resulted in numerous conversations with new people about where the nickname comes from, and they always guess it’s to do with Batman. I’ve even had to deal with some odd enquiries like whether I can do the Batdance(Batusi), or my opinion on Batman versus Superman, shish. My family have purchased me several Batman t-shirts and jumpers to help rub this in. Eventually I embraced (yep, pun intended) this Batman tie in, after all given the cultural significance and number of Batman stories it is an iconic character. So far I have avoided any Batman cosplay as Vampire-Batman, but I have done an undead-Batman.

The Batjutsu nickname came from wanting a unique handle for using online, as well as email address. Given that my obsession with martial arts matched that of role-playing, I decided on the jutsu addition. This was also a way of differentiating from Batman, although Batman is a black belt in jujitsu, of course.


All in all, I am quite thankfully that I was given the nickname Bat, especially considering what my old boss could have come up with!

The Gamer Who Cried White Wolf

I have written an article for Noobgrind, but first an explanation about why this matters so much to me, as well setting the stage for forthcoming articles. “White Wolf is coming!” I have been thinking this for over a year, ever since the Paradox Interactive announcement, I’ve been desperate to know what is going to happen. Writing about the subject of White Wolf feels bizarre to me; my head is full of conflicting inner-voices, different narratives competing for the privilege to justify particular opinions. This is in part because I know how important this is to some people, like myself, as well as to defend against the many anti-White Wolf role-players. Back in the 90s I ran some unusual games that helped me get a gaming job; for example a yearlong 16 player play-by-mail style World of Darkness games, which I will write about soon.


I often find talking about White Wolf games, in particular Vampire, is similar to discussing Dungeons & Dragons, the games mean different things to different people. It’s common to hear RPG generalisations further simplified in to meaningless soundbites like: “D&D is crap”, or “Vampire players are pretentious”. Years ago at conventions I’d meet players who hated White Wolf, but typically they struggled to explain why. I even came across claims that Vampire in particular had usurped D&D, which was a strange statement given the age and sheer size of D&D. Even quirkier since those conventions always had more D&D games being played than anything else, and this was before 3rd Ed came out. Also those people tended to conveniently forget what happened to TSR, it’s not that White Wolf beat D&D it’s more that they filled a void of sales at the local games shop. Maybe this type of chat was a big factor as to why so many players were offended by the idea of White Wolf, never mind the other big speculative factors I’ll not go in to here. Since White Wolf became a big deal in the RPG community, it was no surprise so many opinions were thrown around, since the games certainly sold.

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


I have been accused of being a White Wolf fanboy, mainly by strangers; it’s a common enough insult some use when debating. Granted I have played the games a lot, yes for many years I was crazy and purchased all the books, as well as the spin-off games (CRPG, VTES, Rage, Changeling’s: Arcadia The Wyld Hunt, etc.), and even quite a few accessories. Once the old World of Darkness and Trinity Universe stopped I became a lot more selective about what I purchased. However, my regular players have played in a wide variety of role-playing games I’ve run (Cyberpunk, L5R, D&D, Champions, Warhammer, etc.), and as a group we have been critical of specific parts of all systems. I don’t think any rule system can be all things to all people, nor cover every possibility, thus I appreciate that my opinions of their products are very much subjective. I don’t see myself as blindly devoted, but I am definitely invested.

I don’t see myself as biased, just that I am invested.

In the 90s playing Jyhad (VTES) at The Tache (my regular nightclub)

I have written an article on Noobgrind about the recent Werewolf announcement, which can be read here. This news has helped motivate me to write some more gaming articles, in particular about some of the more unusual games I have ran.

I have previously written about the old White Wolf mostly excellent Street Fighter setting.

8-bit era & review From Bedrooms to Billions

I recently watched the documentary From Bedrooms to Billions by Anthony and Nicola Caulfield. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I am looking forward to watching their new film The Amiga Years.

I have posted an article on NoobGrind about it, but whilst writing it I wrote several paragraphs explaining why this documentary meant to so much to me. However, given the size of that article, typical for me, I decided to cut the non-pertinent information from there, but decided to put it here.

My early childhood of growing up in England was dominated by the home computing revolution that took place at the start of the 80s. I was fortunate to have a father who had an interest in electronics, which lead him in to this new home computing hobby.

We started out with a Commodore Vic 20, then upgraded to a Commodore 64; I got my own Commodore 16. A few of our neighbours also got computers, one friend’s house had a Spectrum 48k, whilst another had various Amstrads, and another friend had an Atari 2600. At school we had a BBC Micro. Also living in Blackpool meant I could visit the arcade and compare those machines. So I was exposed to a multitude of systems, and I guess this is why I’ve tried to avoid being dedicated to just one system.

Commodore 64
One of my old Commodore 64 machines. Sadly I don’t have my original one, nor the vast game library I had.

I am not so obsessed with nostalgia that I want to return to those technologically inferior days. I have no issue with retro gaming, my main criteria is that the game has to be good. I acknowledge that some of the games that I have really enjoyed decades ago are of certainly of their era. It certainly wouldn’t make sense to insist that a player in the here and now has to play the ancient games; the term ‘has to’ is nasty. I think even old classics should generally be talked about only in context of their era.

A classic game that can still work well today is Street Fighter 2. It was amazing when it was released, and even with all the developments in the years since, it is still a great game. Whilst Way of the Exploding Fist came out years earlier, and was amazing when it was released, I can appreciate that the game is of its era. I did play it last year and I quite enjoyed it, but I don’t think most gamers would. I’ve previously written about how these two games helped form my role-playing passion, links below.

I ran a computer shop in the mid-90s, and I can recall chats about whether in the future there would be big interest in documentaries about the spread of computer gaming. It was agreed that computing would continue to develop, that interest would increase, but a few regular customers said they thought gaming would always be niche. The majority of my regulars thought the idea that gaming wouldn’t keep expanding was ludicrous, but those who thought gaming would stay relatively small pointed out how biased we were. A fair point to raise, but even back then the game sales figures showed a big trend towards ongoing expansion. This was during the period I referred to at the time as era of the Doom-virus; every PC sold, or even brought in to the shop for repairs, normally went out with the freeware 7 levels of Doom.


Given that I was dabbling with coding from 6 years of age, and trying to learn 6502 assembler at 8, I did ponder whether I should feel regret at not managing to make a game in that time period. I think it is fair to say I was a bit too young for the 8bit bubble. At the time I certainly never heard of young kids making games, whilst there were a few teenagers, even they were rare. By the time I was about 9 years old the Amiga was coming out, at the time I felt like what little progress I’d made had become pointless. When I went to high school at aged 11 I discovered AD&D and other role-playing games, and for many years I had little interest in computing. I actually felt weary of the subject, in part due to the terrible ‘I.T.’ lessons.

A few years ago I read Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, which highlights the importance of being in the right place at the right time, and what a small window it usually is. Crucially, since I did eventually go on to study programming and work at a games company, I did achieve major goals.

You can read my NoobGrind article here.

From Bedrooms to Billions

Follow-on review The Amiga Years

Way of the Exploding Fist 3 part series

Part 1 =

Part 2 =

Part 3 =


5 Lessons from my first Role-Playing Session

Oddly I’ve not role-played for nearly a year; it’s quite odd considering how much I have played every years since I was eleven; amusingly my speech recognition thought I said “since I was elven”. Whilst I have been resting, trying to heal, I have been rereading my unfinished role-playing guide, as well as some old anecdotes. This article follows up on my role-playing introduction that I wrote about in role-playing and cyberpunk, I recommend reading that first.

I have written the following about my origin in role-playing to help explain why I emphasis certain aspects. My intent is not to be preachy about what people should do or prioritise; I long since stopped viewing role-playing as a competition.  Whilst I have my preferences, I strive to adapt to different situations, other players’ preferences, and of course moods.

Mr Knowles ran the Warwick High School role-playing games (RPG) club. In 1987 most of the club members played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, and that is the system I spent the first few years playing. I was aware of other games being played at the club, such as: Traveller, Palladium, as well as board games such as Chainsaw Warrior or Star Warriors. Coincidentally, about 5 years later I got to know several of the older lads I had seen at the club, one became a close friend, and another became my boss when I worked at KJC Games.

DnD extra

During the first week of joining the club, several of us were allowed to play during our lunch breaks. We got to try out tiny scenarios, to learn mechanics with context. I got a bit more explanation about the concept of in-character (IC) and out-of-character (OOC) from Mr Knowles, as the concept seemed paradoxically easy and confusing to my eleven-year-old mind. That week I also met the older players in the group run by Julian that led me to Pete, which I had mentioned in my cyberpunk article.

My 1st Campaign Session

On Friday the RPG club had its weekly official sessions. For my first Friday I took part in a game that was a big leap for a novice, I was given a level 7 Illusionist! I had barely learnt the core mechanics, yet I was being given an experienced character, and I was expected to know what my spell list was, what the character should memorise, never mind crucial campaign information like monsters and social knowledge.

In a busy science class room, a small group of eleven-year-olds were crowded round a long lab table; I wish I had a picture. We were being mentored by sixteen-year-olds, well more like tolerated. I vaguely remember later talking to a few of the players, trying to figure out why these older lads had agreed to be mentors when they clearly seemed disinterested in more than teasing our inexperience. Playing was more like being dragged along a semi-interactive cut scene, with random dice rolls being called out for the strangest of incidents, like an archaic set of quick time events.

dnd screen

Looking back now this first session had the typically bad introduction, the Dungeon Master (DM) listed off a bunch of made up nouns in quick succession, and no context was given. Even if we had been playing first level characters that we have made ourselves, we would have still struggled to grasp what was going on. I don’t recall there being a discussion about backstory, plot arc, personality traits, how this existing party dynamic worked. After all, we were given level 7 characters that had allegedly been played for years in the same group.

After a few random encounters the game resulted in our characters being stranded in the wilderness, in winter, on foot, whilst a blizzard was raging. The characters kept travelling, and soon they were days from anyway, they had run out of provisions for fire, and had no shelter. The mentors or DM didn’t have much of an explanation as to why we had been led into this blatantly bad situation; we had just been told that we had to move quickly to catch up with our target (insert random noun).

The phrase “Winter is Coming”, reminds me of this gaming session. A weak quirky association.

So, each IC day a party member took turns begging for divine intervention. A percentile role of 1, was needed, except the cleric needed a 2 or less. Obviously given the statistical chances required, the rolls failed.

A single 1% is hard enough, requiring several rolls?

Eventually after days of failing, and with the party members near death my character, I enquired as to whether my character should be praying to the pantheon as opposed to an Illusion God. The DM made a secret role and declared my character’s thoughts were perceived as blasphemy, a lightning bolt struck my character destroying all clothing, equipment and leaving on 1 hit point. My character then sacrificed themselves in an act of  penance, to have a bonfire lit to save the rest of the party; I had been told my character would die in moments from exposure. The older lads were in hysterics, and apparently I had made a classic mistake?

“HAHA you died due the DM rolling a dice for suspect reasoning!”

Afterwards I spoke with some other players, a few thought it was hysterically funny, which given the maturity level of eleven-year-olds wasn’t surprising. Thankfully a few other players were not mean, and in fact they thought the whole thing was ridiculous. It was highlighted that since my character was good and worshipped a good god, it was very odd that a good god would kill a character for a thought, never mind the fact that worshipping different gods in a pantheon should be normal.

Importantly this incident raises a key query: why was regularly pleading for divine intervention required? If it was common, then surely the population would have an idea of the types of results, and a level 7 character with high intelligence would have some understanding of their own culture, an every-person knowledge.

I’ll save my opinions about a DM having cognitive dissonance in regards to requiring a skill roll for a scenario that they made and are running, whilst claiming they are not involved in decision making. Never mind my thoughts about fudging results.

This incident helped me learn about role-playing, both good and point. I will focus on the  few key lessons that became a big part of my role-playing opinions.

1. The importance of IC and OOC knowledge.

I have been obsessed with this ever since, including working on my own program to aid in tracking it. Whilst working at KJC Games, a core part of the mechanics I made for Quest GME was about tracking the vast information in the different Quest game worlds. With paying customers to consider I prioritised this aspect of the game, since information is power in any scenario, with play by mail (PBM) games it tends to more so due to the heavier focus on strategy. However, I am lenient with myself and others in less professional games, without the tools to track things it’s no wonder that even amazing players can slip up.

2. Mocking players about character death.

Understandable a player that has lost a character is going to be upset, they really could do without the teasing/bullying on top of it. I appreciate that a character death is a big deal, and thus it is often discussed with a high level of emotional energy, but even in PvP at a big live action role play (LARP) game, a bit of respect should be considered.

3. Mentoring new players.

I think it is important to give a new player a good introduction to a game, a chance to immerse themselves in something new. At a small tabletop group level, letting someone join a game is not required and generally a rare event, so it is odd when DM/GMs don’t assist new people. At a large level, like a big LARP, well veteran players stopping a new player from joining is not possible, so why not help make a new friend and at least not make an enemy.

4. Being forgiving of ideas and actions.

This has served me well in all scenarios, from one of my local groups, running games at conventions, to receiving compliments from paying customers at KJC Games. One of my favourite incidents was helping to prevent a civil war due to a player using the wrong ID code on their ships targeting list, but I checked with the customer to make sure instead of assuming it was wrong, after all it could have been intentional. It is much harder to do this at LARP, but even in large LARPs there can be windows of opportunity to check things.

5. Plot Centered Around Multiple Fake Difficult Rolls

Not understanding statistics is a common human problem, the subject is counter-intuitive. I have come across a lot of role-players who do not appreciate the impact of dice rolls, or other random mechanics. Whilst a lot of gamers are good with numbers, statistics is subtly different. Thankfully I have met many gamers who are good with statistics, like with everything else, the population can be represented as a bell curve.

In hindsight I think the whole scenario of spending days in a deadly blizzard praying for constant divine intervention to be not just forcing deus ex machina, but doing so repeatedly? That’s some outrageous odds, and it turns out the whole scenario was fake, since the party was rescued by NPcs, more deus ex machina, and not very player-centric or heroic.