Positivity & Quality, the Mikey Neumann Way

For me this week has been marvellous, two projects that I’ve been anticipating for a while were released, and both delivered. The first was by Max Landis which I wrote about in The Passion of Landis, the second is Mikey Neumann’s video on John Wick 2. I appreciate this somewhat abandons my normal anti-hype stance, but there are both in that rare category of constantly delivering.

After I watched Mikey’s video on John Wick 2, I know I wanted to write something about Mikey and why I think his work and positivity is of such a high quality. I was introduced to the amazing Movies with Mikey via this statement:

 “Mikey is a wonderful human being, so it kind of adds up that he would make one of the most celebratory film review shows on the Internet.”

Extra Credits. 22 Dec 2016.

After such a good recommendation I checked out Movies with Mikey, which is on the Chainsawsuit Original channel, and I was not disappointed. I believe that Mikey Neumann wonderfully highlights the many things that can make a film great, even if the film has some substantial flaws.

For example: the film Sunshine received a lot of criticism, and Mikey doesn’t ignore how the second half was a problem for some viewers. Crucially Mikey also talks about the film’s incredible music (it truly is!), the cinematography, the gravitas of the plot, the human drama. Even though I have seen the film and thought it was a good but flawed, after watching Mikey’s video I now have a much better appreciation for Sunshine.

When I discover a new YouTube channel that impresses me I prefer to go to the channel’s beginning and watch everything. I appreciate that normally earlier videos tend to lack the production quality, but even his old videos like Ninja Turtles have the quality and voice of his later work.

One of the fun things that Mikey does with his videos is quirky segues. Granted there is nothing too unusual with that …

But Did You Know? Previously Mikey Neumann was an actor and writer for the games Brothers in Arms and Borderlands.

Mikey’s video on The Force Awakens is a great example of digging into a film that many people have intense opinions about. I loved the Star Wars setting as a kid, as well as the numerous games (computer, tabletop role-playing, etc.) I still like the setting now, but I am somewhat guilty of being sick of the hype Star Wars gets, in particular by those that claim it is on the only thing; these days I restrain myself at least. Personally I thought the film was okay, there are bits in it that I found annoying and things that I enjoyed, nothing special there. After watching Mikey’s video I found myself reassessing the film, and I came away from the summary with some extra appreciation for The Force Awakens.

I had a similar experience with Mikey’s overview of Interstellar, a film which I had really enjoyed, albeit with a few niggles. Mikey presented a wonderful rationale about the power of love and how it relates to events in the plot, which cut through my complaints. Whilst I consider myself open to persuasion, like most people it takes a lot to persuade me, and that’s a power that Mikey has.

Now when I see a film, I have the added pleasure of looking forward to the hope that Mikey Neumann will make an overview of it. I am intrigued as to what Mikey will say about it, what redeeming things will he highlight?

I adored the film Arrival, and Mikey’s analysis was a second helping of film love. Mikey’s overview of John Wick helped me overcome a creative barrier with a role-playing game that I have been working on; I will blog about this after playtesting the ideas some more. Thus I was heavily invested in Mikey’s analysis of John Wick 2.

It’s Going Down For Real!

And here’s the thing, I think appropriate positivity is important, as is being fair, but these concepts are so vague that we all have different opinions about them. So I think it’s valuable highlighting that some of the fun and quirky things he puts in his videos might be off-putting to a few, and like all good art there are differences of opinion. Give one of his videos a full viewing, I think for the majority of people that time will be well spent. Mikey’s introduction to John Wick 2 is a case in point, I wasn’t a fan, yet I was pretty much smiling the entire time. Oddly I was in no rush to get to the detailed analysis that I had been looking forward to for months, I simply enjoyed the moment, his creativity and fun. I later decided to look at the comments section, and I was amused by a few people being negative about Mikey’s rapping. Certainly any regular viewers should appreciate his style, and stay positive themselves. I found the rest of the video to be amazing, with some very interesting points made.

But did u knnnooow?

Mikey has Multiple sclerosis (MS), and his ongoing battle with health is quite the tale. This is part of the reason I felt compelled to write about someone I only know through their art. Some time ago I wrote a blog about Wallowing in Positivity, and given my own ongoing health problems I can somewhat appreciate Mikey’s much more severe condition. Managing any work whilst ill is impressive, never mind high quality work; this is not about implying perfection, I am sure Mikey has many varying emotional responses to things. I originally wrote a lot about how being ill typically makes everything not just physically by psychologically more difficult, partly because I’ve met people who dismiss this as untrue. My point is better served by stating that I think it’s inspiring that Mikey is able to radiate such positivity; to read more about Mikey’s health check out “The Road to Here…”

Like most people I have a bunch of things that I criticise, and whilst I always strive to be constructive, I can often feel like I’ve been too negative when discussing something. My own bed rest provided me a lot of thinking time, this led me to re-examine how sometimes it is more constructive to be positive, to focus on the good, instead of starting from a negative point. In a world filled with critics offering typically negative heavy analysis, it is great to have people like Mikey offering something different. Discovering Mikey’s work has brought great joy to my life, and emphasised a life style approach that I aspire to embrace more myself. Check out more of his work at http://chainsawsuit.com/

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My Reflections on #RPGaDay

Despite how much time I ended up spending on RPGaDay, I don’t regret taking part, it was fun and interesting. If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. The full list of my answers for each day can be found in my menu’s RPG section.

Before the event had started I had been unsure about participating. I always have too many projects, and due to the time factor I’ve avoided getting too involved with Twitter. The alternate questions were what sealed my participation, although it’s quirky that I didn’t use any of them in the end; I plan on answering them over the weeks to come.

Whilst I knew I would typically spend too much time over-thinking my answers, a task I thoroughly love/hate, I’d be saved by having a daily deadline. Since a few friends knew I was taking part, I had a nice amount of self-inflicted peer pressure to keep me on target.

For me RPGaDay proved to be an overall interesting experience. I’ve cut some negative points out, to keep things within the spirit of the event. I learned about some new games, and interestingly that Kickstarter is even more important to help with RPG advertising than I’d thought. It was also great to get so many different answers to the same question; I was quite intrigued by this, since it is a rare occurrence.

Due to equipment, time, and health reasons I didn’t record any video answers for the event. I may still record my answers, even though the event has passed and I’d be lucky to get one viewer. I agree with the premise that videos and blogs should be made with viewers/readers in mind, but also with the acceptance that maybe only the maker views them.

For me the RPGaDay event proved to be a great reminder of the different experience levels, and preferences, that the RPG hobby contains. An easy or dull answer for one participant could be hard or exciting for another, some of the answers draw attention to these differences, and the positive spirit of the event helped remind everyone to not be too judgemental. I had been planning on writing about psychology, RPG history and the transient nature of the hobby, but I have lots to write already and Runeslinger’s post does a great job of summarising things, so read that instead. 😉

Dave Chapman and Anthony Boyd (Runeslinger) have made this great video:

#RPGaDay 24

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 24th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 24, #RPG I have not read any PWYW, why is that? I’d have paid for fan made #Aberrant.

The moment I saw this question I struggled to think of reading a single ‘pay what you want’ (PWYW) RPG product. I was tempted to answer an alternate question, and I do love some of the alternate questions, but I considered the following: There seems to be a theme to the RPGaDay, also, upon closer inspection even some of the seemingly simple questions can be answered in great detail. So why haven’t I read any PWYW? I then pondered whether any PWYW have become ‘big’? I guess big would be anything that more than a few hundred people: like, use and ideally recommend to others.

I have downloaded a few PWYW. Each time I have planned to get around to reading them. Like most gamers I have an ever expanding backlog of RPG supplements, as well as blog/vlogs on my TODO list. The result being, the few PWYW products I have, have mostly been forgotten about.

I don’t believe I am biased against any of the PWYW products on some idea regarding quality. Despite the large amount of low quality professional RPG products I have seen over the years, I have seen plenty of brilliant fan-made free products. Aberrant was my first thought, since not only did I enjoy reading a whole lot of fan-made ideas, but the following fan free books became important parts of how I ran Aberrant, and then later the Trinity Verse:

  • Forceful Personalities
  • The New Flesh
  • A Breed Apart
  • Aberrant Nexus
  • India Underground: Psi Order Chitra Bhanu & Bharati Commonwealth Sourcebook
  • Trinity Field Report: Noetic Science
  • Trinity: Awaiting Inspiration

I would have happily paid money for those books. So I don’t have any issue with PWYW products, due to thinking that they are amateur products; I would also assume that some are quite high quality.

There are so many books for Dungeons & Dragons that it is easy to find just about everything. This includes adapting old things in new ones. For me the same applies with the old World of Darkness (oWoD). For a while I didn’t buy any of the Chronicles of Darkness, since I owned all of oWoD. Other factors came in to play: I had so many games on the go, I’d spent a fortune already, and I was running out of storage space so I stopped buying things until I planned on using them. This of course changed once buying PDFs become an option 😉

For years I’ve mostly ignored adventure modules. It’s not that I am against running modules; I don’t think I’d have the skillset I have today without having already read and ran so many modules. I guess this is the same for other gaming veterans. Add in how many full systems and settings have been released over the decades, and there is just too much out there.

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I came to the conclusion that a big part of today’s RPGaDay question is likely the point of passing around recommendations. Firstly to the RPG community itself, it is so easy to find opinions on the big games, but some of the people answering today will be highlighting why a PWYW product is worth checking out. Secondly, a chance for some authors to reconsider the value of their PWYW products, or maybe their next release.

There is a whole list of interesting psychological aspects to do with value, pricing, and time. I am avoiding turning this post in to a big breakdown of my opinions on psychology, so just a quick clarification of what I mean. When a product is free, many people will be inclined to think it is a lower quality, and thus more likely to ignore it; limited time is always a factor. After some people have paid nothing for a product, and eventually they read it, how many people will decide that they should make the effort to then give money to the creator(s)? Some people certainly do so, and technology has made this even easier, but people are busy, and it takes effort. We also have so many choices, and so many recommendations, we simply cannot look at everything.

Getting back to RPGs, I think today’s question is highlighting a complicated area of role-playing and the modern market: the value of RPG products.

#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 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.

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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: