#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 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.

Role-Play meets Lord of the Flies

This post continues on from my Cyberpunk post about my early role-playing (RP) experiences. If you’ve not read that, then I recommended reading it first.

In 1987 my regular gaming group Dungeon Master (DM) was Julian, who was several years older than me. He ran a group of older lads that mostly played during our lunch breaks. We exclusively played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition (AD&D); I think we changed to 2nd Edition in 1988. I think it is important to know that the following story is based upon experiences from when I was 11 years of age, whilst attending a boys-only school. The group was crazy, sometimes a bit violent, and even at times it seemed like a riot was about to occur at any moment! Even then we guessed extreme behaviour still happened in mixed gender schools, but there were rare chats about how girls would have helped the game.

These games were very chaotic and immature, but with enough fun that I kept going back. As the sessions were at lunch they were short, and that was partly why they were so combat focused. Combat was rarely for role-play reasons, it was more about killing sprees to gain loot and experience points (XP). Often sex was coarsely brought up, and the importance of earning gold to pay for a tavern wench. Thankfully nothing about rape, the games were not that disgusting. There were regular moments when players would scrawl over one another’s character sheets, such as declaring that a character had contracted an STD after visiting a tavern wench. The violence was mostly punching one another’s arms/shoulders. I can recall a few moments of wrestling, but thankfully no major violence.

Overall, a bit like role-playing with the kids from Lord of the Flies!

Julian was a good example of someone doing their best to run a game despite all the interruptions, and they were plentiful. Even though Julian was the oldest, he had to put up with a lot of blatant teasing, and even a few threats of violence from players trying to get what they wanted. He was able to weather the teasing, and keep the games mostly on track.

The players weren’t all bad, I remember moments of guidance: rules were explained with a good level of depth, spell cause and effects, and there were even rare chats about in-game culture and theology. It is odd to recall the contrast in the way they treated each other, with the way I was treated. I was teased on the odd occasion, of course, but it was minor in comparison; fortunately it was established early on that since I was younger, and tiny for my age, that teasing me was too easy, and thus pointless. I suppose teasing me was seen as a sign of weakness, which opened the person up from bullying from their peers.

Over the first year I even started receiving a few compliments, stuff like how they liked that I paid attention, focused on playing, and took advice. There was a chat one day that it was good I didn’t argue with them, and I made a good follower; I think this chat got more to the heart of the matter, that I was their sidekick, but mercifully more than a mascot. For the first year I was still paranoid, since I expected to get bullied, but it was nice that my actions to avoid being bullied resulted in praise. In hindsight I think this came down to me not trying to be funny, nor demanding the spotlight, instead I was more focused on playing, but without moaning about things when they did mess about.

Whilst I found that gaming group to be too chaotic, even irritating with its immature fixation on violence and sex, I still had a good enough time that I stuck with them. It was revealed later that I was used as a way of toning down the chaos. I recall a few arguments when I was used as a benchmark, with one player telling another player they were rubbish, since a younger kid could play the game better than them. The truth is: I was a good player due to paranoia and not causing problems, rather than having amazing insight.

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The crucial lesson I took from these games is, since the players just wanted to have a laugh, and didn’t care about a lot of aspects of the game (plot, personality), thus it didn’t really matter what Julian did to get them to engage more. We had fun, and given the context of the game and in particular our age, that made the games a success. However, trying to get more out of players who’d made it clear that they were happy with what they had, and no interest in more, was a mistake. What I took from these games was the range of possibilities that I preferred to play/explore, and that it was not a style I wanted to return to.

Ever since I‘ve always checked with players about their preferences and expectations, since personally I didn’t want to return to those two years of chaos and immaturity. If a player said they just wanted to kill monsters, earn XP and collect loot, then it wasn’t for me. In part because I had been avidly playing computer games since I was very young (Vic 20), and I had already played a titanic amount of hack & slash RPG, and I found that even back then most computer games did hack & slash better than school kids.

I have played laid-back games and hack & slash sessions on many occasions since, in particular D&D Living Environment at conventions. Over time I eventually made progress in finding a good balance with respect to players’ opinions/expectations, and the ever fluctuating combination of how much chaos versus order a game benefits from.

Role-Play Timeline, article 1 https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/cyberpunk-rpg-and-crpg-style-and-substance/