#RPGaDay 16

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 16th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 16 #RPG #L5R #DnD #Palladium, overall #L5R

I know plenty of gamers that love any chance to talk about system design in general and/or their favourite systems. I find system purity to be a fascinating area, especially when playing ‘obviously flawed games’ as is. Despite the fact I love tweaking things, I’ve still run several systems as is, and still had fun! I am a fan of multiple systems, and how each one can subtly influence the mind-set of everyone involved. I am also a big believer in utilising an RPG mental tool-kit, which is why it is rare for me not to adapt things. I don’t believe there is a perfect RPG system, since there are too many people with too many different preferences, and this is partly why we have some many different and interesting systems to draw from.

I have run a lot of D&D as is, in part because of playing with numerous players, whether at convention, local clubs, or small groups. The same applies to a few games of Stars Wars D20 that I ran. Given the diverse player base, I was advised at my school’s RPG club, to carefully consider any rules tweaks, so as to not confuse other players, never mind avoid debates. Given that we generally had short sessions, this advice made sense; I think is also part of the reason why at conventions I’ve run games as is.

I respect that this is a passionate subject for so many gamers. We have all sorts of psychological reasons why this can be a sensitive subject, whether it is because:

  • We generally like to know where we stand.
  • Past experiences of debates about rules, possibly involving teasing, maybe even bullying.
  • Since we have spent time learning something, to then find a GM has changed things.
  • As well as subtle impressions, like the issue of buying something and feeling our financially investment is being devalued by someone changing things.
  • The nagging concern that there may be other changes, which links back to liking to know where we stand.
  • Added to this are the numerous debates that I am sure most gamers have come across, and in particular some of the online RPG flame wars.
  • Etc.

Decades ago, my take away from reading many angry posts was to strive to become both better at explaining my main point, it’s all to ease to get side-tracked. More importantly was for me to become less opinionated, especially with strangers. This is partly due to running a community whilst working at KJC Games, GMing Quest, as well as assistant GM for Phoenix (then Beyond the Stellar Empire). As an assistant GM I never felt like I had any real say other things, I was told that I did, just to think carefully, but still I never shock that feeling off, so running that game was good practice at keeping to the main GM’s style and goals. Given the fact I had no training about company PR, and there were a lot of problems converting a PBM non-RPG in to a moderated RPG, I think I mostly handled things well, but I definitely still made many mistakes.

Like any aspect of psychology, I strive to always remind myself that each of us is an individual, and to communicate not assume. This is why I discuss my approach to RP, and any house rules, with any group I play with; although unlike when I was younger, these days I try not to be a floodgate of enthusiasm about it 😉

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Since Legend of the 5 Rings was released, I have run my main campaign as is. I am not trying to imply the rules are perfect, but the rules have worked well for my various groups. In part because I think rules fit the game’s setting; the game reminds me of D&D crossed with a Storyteller game, with the inevitable aspect of Warhammer‘s Chaos and Cthulhu Mythos.

I almost choose Aberrant, but I minutely adapted that game due to the ping-damage issue, that meant for me L5R was a better answer. Given that the design of Aberrant was about outrageous power and corruption, the rules kind of thematically worked 😉 For previous RPGaDay answer I have written about how I am really looking forward to Trinity Continuum. I originally wrote a lot about my hopes for the setting, but I decided that my Mega-Enthusiasm 3 was a bit too much of a tangent.

Other games I’ve run as is includes Palladium, in particular Mystic China. I’d recommend checking out Runeslinger’s blog and video about this infamous system.

#RPGaDay 14

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 14th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 14 #RPG try games with lineages #Pendragon #L5R #Birthright #DnD, adapt any game #Vampire #Cyberpunk etc

I give some examples below that I hope will help inspire some role-players, but I’ll start by building upon the answers I gave for Day 8 and Day 9: “Any game can work, don’t feel restricted by setting or system. Use the opportunity…” Since there are so many games available, and many of them have sections written about different types of campaigns, any of them should make a great foundation for an open-ended campaign.

Going back to the early days of RPG, that default stance was that of an open-ended campaign, but this was certainly not a rule, and I am sure there were countless intentionally short games back in the 70s and 80s. Even in game like Call of Cthulhu, were the idea of the party surviving for very long was almost a joke, yet I still met gamers that played the same Cthulhu character for years in the same campaign. Given how many gamers there are, I quickly learned not to be surprised by odd stories; like everything else, RPGs have bell-curve outliers.

Batjutsu RPG dice scene

Pendragon, and its somewhat D&D equivalent of Birthright, practically sets out from the start that the players will build towards a long campaign that covers lifetimes. With this sort of time scale, things like marriage and children are not just important, they are brought to the front of game and character goals. I was introduced to Pendragon with “That campaign really gets going by your 3rd character.”

Given the lethality of Legend of the 5 Rings (L5R), it was no surprise to read a section in the first GM screen booklet about recommending to players about family connections to replace characters. Given the cultural gravitas of family in Rokugan, as well as a setting in which some characters are willing to kill themselves, a player being able to play one of their now dead character’s family, or fellow Clan members helps to take the sting out of death, and keep the campaign momentum. Even in the case of a Total Party Annihilation (TPA (TPK, TPW)) this method can work well.

A setting like the World of Darkness is one that could make for an ideal open-ended campaign, with its vast game options and history to draw upon. Playing an immortal creature, like a Vampire or Spirit, allows for sessions covering many different time periods, which could keep going. Back in the 90s I ran a multiplayer Vampire Methuselah PBM game, the plan being the players would play for years carefully moving against each other. Amusingly one player went to war quickly, and things were gloriously complicated. This led to a second game and longer game, WoD: Night City (I used Cyberpunk’s Night City sourcebook). It was overall great fun, and these games were part of the reason I got a job working at KJC Games.

I am currently running Secret Rage, another PBM game in the cWoD with an epic campaign length planned; the game begins at the dawn of time. I’ll be blogging about that after the #RPGaDay month, along with more on my RPG Game Types series.

I am a firm believer in buying and trying many different RPGs to make my mental tool belt more diverse. The more tools on the belt the better, as well as learning to recognise which RPG tool for which RPG, plus game/group needs.

Over the years this attitude has helped me more easily adapt rules between games, as well as ways of thinking about different ways to approach and run/play games. For a group that has not played games like those listed above, I am sure they could have a lot of fun incorporating ideas like those of Pendragon in to any game.

With things like Cyberpunk or Cthulhu, were lethality is both in the setting and the mechanics, you could consider using an organisation (Corporation/Secret Society) as the pool for the PCs. This approach would also work well for a Supers game, whether needed due to a more lethal style, or playing a Supers team over different eras, or following a Supers bloodline.

#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:

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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 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.

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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:

 

Review Code & Dagger

Recently I reviewed Cryptomancer, and I’d recommend reading that first if you are not familiar with this great game.

This supplement adds a lot more detail to the world of Cryptomancer, as well as providing more great add-ons for use with other settings. I have had several ideas for ways to add Cryptomancy to D&D or Warhammer games, as well as the steamjack heavy setting of Iron Kingdoms. Code & Dagger is free to anyone that has purchased Cryptomancer, what a bargain!

I think the front cover nicely encapsulates the title: Code & Dagger.  Sadly there is no extra artwork inside, but this is free book so that is understandable. The layout used in this supplement continues the approach used in the main Cryptomancer sourcebook; I am sure any programmer will appreciate this consistency.

Crypto-gear Prosthesis

The rules for crypto-gear provide an interesting way of adding cybernetics to any fantasy game. Of course this being Cryptomancer means the idea doesn’t end there, the implications of hacking crypto-gear are presented. In real life the issue of biotech and security is a big one, so the inclusion of these ideas into Cryptomancer is brilliant.

This addition also further emphasises Cryptomancer’s cyberpunk theme for me. Not simply because a virtual network and metal arms are common tropes in the cyberpunk genre, but also because the explanation of crypto-gear highlights their rarity. This means it is likely that the player characters (PC) are going to be indebted to a powerful organisation, which gives them literal power over a PC’s body, a situation that has been the root idea of many cyberpunk stories.

The inclusion of a crypto-gear summary table is a great help regarding rules and description. Shopping lists are typically fan favourites.

Hacks and Exploits

This section provides more detailed information about implications of Cryptomancy, such as Proof of Life which further explores the issue of what happens to echoes on the Shardscape that had been encrypted using a true name. The section goes on to introduce other fun things: Goblin Switches, Message Drones and Mail Bombs, Shadow Terror, Credit Shards and the EchoChain Ledger, Teller Gears, and Cryptovault Hardening. The section also includes three new spells: Kill Arc, Kill Zone, and Shard Balm. I found all of these ideas to be useful, expanding the setting and providing adventure seeds.

Cryptomancer Shards

Threat Intel

There are two new tough threats introduced in this section: Vampires and Juggernauts.

Given how many different versions of vampires there are across the multitude of myths, the word Vampire is not exactly informative. This type is a bit similar to Nosferatu, but it has the wonderful ability to steal a victim’s soul key. This intriguing power means that a victim will effectively have had their identity stolen. This will not only lead to great in game drama, but also ties in with Cryptomancer’s aim of teaching cyber security to the players. The means of tracking a vampire is also given a real life emphasis, being more like hunting a cybercriminal, thus in game auditing of bank accounts and EchoChain transactions are likely the best approach.

Juggernauts are enormous orcs who have been enhanced with crypto-gear, making them more like a cyberpsycho, Ork Warboss (40K), or even a Terminator. With such a dangerous opponent, direct fighting is generally too big a risk, but this game provides interesting ways to tackle such a creature.

Endgame

A few reviews highlighted how the player was not keen on the idea of the Risk Eaters being unassailable and inevitable. The section introduces factions, so the party are not alone in their fight. Whilst the mechanics of gaining risk have not been altered, this social change has massive ramifications in regards to survival, and maybe even victory. I’m not going to summarise any of the factions listed, in case a player is reading this, so they can discover the information in game. Given the multitude of fictional or real life examples of politics, spies, and secret organisations, there is nothing stopping a games master from further complicating the conspiratorial web.

Given that this supplement included the potential for vast networks ruled by vampires, I started envisioning networks on the scale of Vampire: The Masquerade, with regards to the Camarilla, the Sabbat competing with each other, whilst the Inconnu and Tal’Mahe’Ra (True Black Hand) remain in the shadows.

It Still Comes

The supplement ends with a short story. I’ll not spoil it, but summarise that the tale foreshadows the coming of a titanic enemy, with possible genocidal plans!

Summary

I highly recommend checking out this supplement, as it’s a collection of great ideas that are well presented and include ideas on how to utilise them; I’d have happily paid money for it. To quote the end of my Cryptomancer review:

Additionally there is a free expansion book: Code & Dagger, and with Code & Dagger Vol. 2 on the way, this game’s value keeps increasing.

Code & Dagger Volume 2 is set for release August 2017. I’ll hopefully review Vol 2. in a few weeks.

Health Before Word Count

Recently I’ve managed to make a blog post weekly, but this week I’m a few days behind. I have done some RPG design work, but as I wrote about an idea I realised I needed to be explain something else first. The next part of my series Role-Playing Game Types is a summary of things that I wrote years ago for my role-playing guide, but those ideas were about 200 pages in, which is why writing a synopsis has proven so time consuming for me.

On Monday I had the urge to rush something out; the thought kept stressing me out. Even though I had written things, I wasn’t going to complete anything in time, and I was trying to stick to a deadline about posting at least once a week. Sadly the stress caused a severe pain spike to my normal pain levels, meaning more breaks were needed. As I mentioned in Healthy Pacing for Deadlines, personal goal setting can only work if the person is realistic about the pace they can set for their work, which also has to take into account health considerations. Estimating how much that is, is a daily struggle, as my health can still fluctuate a lot each day.

Whilst my improved workload is not a return to the vast amount of work I used to do, like a lot of 80 to 90 hour weeks I did whilst at KJC Games, at least things are a bit better than they were a few months ago. I think I am getting better at the daily appraisal in regards to determining how much work I can do before further aggravating my body. The Spoon Theory is a good way of explaining energy management, it mostly applies to my situation, but explaining what my thoughts on this is a blog post all to itself; yep another one for my TODO list.

BatIdeaLoop
A dangerous loop to avoid, finish things, iterate, iterate, iterate.

Thankfully one strategy that improves my odds of reducing problems is to lie down whilst dictating. Sadly this method only really works for my fiction writing, or when discussing a design idea out loud with myself, since I don’t need to keep looking at a screen. If I had the money, maybe I could setup a screen on a very adjustable stand. Or something outrageously expensive:

I am also doing a lot more around the home, as well as looking after my dad whose health recently has rapidly declined, all of which takes time and energy. Each activity is a chance for me to do a bit too much, and as per The Spoon Theory to run out of energy (spoons). I believe the fact I am doing what I’d previously consider to be pathetic levels of physical activity is the area that I have been badly estimating, but I am thankful that I am doing more in general.

I have blogged about The Bestseller Experiment before Writing Curious/Crazy Experiment; I am still thoroughly enjoying the show and will blog more about it soon. Word count is a subject that has been discussed a lot, and the many outstanding authors being interviewed have given great advice about this subject, which so many writers obsess over. So, even though I know about the arbitrary nature of tracking my word count, I still fall victim to it. I really appreciate Ben Aaronovitch’s advice, which is roughly that quality words are what matter.

Although it’s been a year since I wrote my mission statement for the blog, I haven’t changed my opinions for blogging, and what I am slowly building towards. Life still comes down to carefully allocating priorities. Although I’m not in a position to return to professional game design and writing yet, I am striving towards that goal even if my work rate is currently terrible. I was amused that the writer Max Landis, whose work I love, posted this video whilst I was contemplating this blog, and what to do about the days when I end up with a low word count.