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.

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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.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3655627.stm

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.

Healthy Pacing For Deadlines

As I attempt to slowly escape from my pain tunnel, and return to a consist level of health, I have resumed working on projects that have lain dormant for years. This is in addition to my very slow writing. Whilst speech recognition really helps, it is also annoying since there are still errors and navigating is a pain, plus I used to be able to type so quickly, thus it just feels slow.

Over the last two years whilst I’ve had a lot of bedrest I contemplated how best to make use of my time once I was a bit better; sleep deprivation didn’t help with thinking, but at least I did have a lot of time to think. Making plans was difficult, since for a long-time I had no discernible improvement. When I did have a day where I felt a tiny bit better, there was an urge to instantly declare it a breakthrough. I eventually learnt that those days were not something to base plans upon. So ultimately I made plan making itself a goal, to make small goals, to make tiny notes.

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I am now at the stage where I can work at a computer for a short while without instant agony. I came to realise that my problem about goal setting is not much different from a healthy person’s situation, that it’s all about pacing and being realistic. Clearly I need to be more careful, to take constant breaks, and keep to small tasks. If I am lucky I can manage what used to be a few hours of work, is now spread out over the whole day, maybe even a week. Doing work like this is also a form of physiotherapy, I need to get used to being more active, and since my level of activity is so low, this makes a big difference.

This means I am now able to implement realistic deadlines, albeit feeble ones. As I get a better understanding of my new pathetic work rate, I can alter my deadline projections to better reflect things. Then as my health hopefully keeps gradually improving, I can adjust further.

The urge to do more is ever present. I have already plenty of experience of slowly healing, then carefully going back to work, to find out that it was too much. It’s odd to think that whilst being careful, I was in fact rushing. There is a difference between a typical injury, even breaking a bone, and chronic problems, but understandably most people have not grown up with chronic problems so we haven’t learned about the differences, and how that affects recovery. When long-term bedrest, and thus atrophy, is a factor, things are further complicated.

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I made the chart above to help remind myself to be careful. The vertical axis represents a hypothetical percentage of health. I didn’t think there was any point tracking my progress over time, since my healing has been so slow, and it’s only recently I can realistically do a variety of things. Even when I get to a theoretical average health level, I’ll be far from fit. I have broken the habit of exercising a lot, but my mind still wants to make comparisons, and of course reminisce about my old healthy days; as much as people say mind over matter, and focus on positive thinking, I am not in a position like I used to be of simply training hard to get stronger.

My recent story writing has been very slow, due to doing other things. It’s not that I feel burnt out, it’s that I have a deadline for the end of this month to make progress with my Elemental role-playing game I am started running in May. Although I started work on this project thirteen years ago, there is still way too much to do, my own fault for designing something astronomical in scale. I have also started work on a comic for a PBM style role-playing game. More on these two projects soon.

RPG Lessons From Watching Games 3

Part one can be read here, and then part 2 here.

This is the continuation of the story from part 2 about the time I watched a Vampire the Masquerade game in the 90s. Over the course of the gaming session my friend asked me several questions, some were rules queries, and some were requests for feedback on ideas he was pondering. I politely reminded him that it was not my game, nor did I know the house rules, so even if I quoted the rule-book it wouldn’t matter. My friend explained that he’d only asked me questions so he could bounce ideas around; he only did this when the Storyteller was busy with other players.

The person running the game did not complain, instead choosing to focus on running the game. I am sure my friend’s actions were a bit distracting, but my friend was not trying to ruin the game, and had been considerate in regards to quietly chatting with me whilst he was waiting for his turn.

The game was good, and thankfully nobody seemed annoyed by my attendance. I thanked the Storyteller, and apologised if my presence had been disruptive, he said it was fine; I had sensibly turned my Presence discipline off. To my friend he then said:

“Next time, leave your pet Storyteller at home.”

On the walk back to my friends we had a good laugh about me being his pet Storyteller. He expanded his previous explanation, to help explain why he did not view his actions as being disruptive. He thought by bouncing ideas off me, he was helping to keep the game flow, so he could speed up his interactions with the Storyteller, since besides not having to check rules he could additionally have his ideas developed. I appreciated that his goal was to be more efficient, and to take up less Storyteller time, which was in theory commendable.

The lessons of note:

1) Ask about deviating from the group’s normal playstyle

I think my friend should have asked the Storyteller before the game started, if it was okay to discuss ideas with me whilst the Storyteller was busy with other player. It could be distracting to some, especially since the person running the game obviously has an opinion on rules queries, and it could be viewed that having an external person agreeing about how things could work is a form of ganging up.

One of my common answers to questions about how best to handle things in a group is whatever the group’s preference is. Despite what some may think, there is no perfect playing style, so therefore the opinions of the members of a gaming group are what matter, not those of an evangelising article written by somebody that is not involved.

Upon reflection, after the initial query by my friend I think I should have added “It is not my game, maybe ask the ref if they are okay with you involving me.” I guess I didn’t to minimise my impact on the game, I thought what I had said would have deterred my friend earlier.

Batjutsu Pet DM close
Batjutsu Pet DM/GM

2) Perception of fairness still matters, even in co-operative games

This may initially seem like a strange thing to mention, since role-playing games, especially tabletop, are co-operative not competitive. In a game part of what is always involved are the feelings and reputations of the participants, since nobody likes to be seen as foolish, or less important.

Consider that if one player is receiving a private peer review before they discuss ideas with the Storyteller, then their ideas might be better on average than others, leading to all sorts of potential gains for them in game, such as resources or implementing clever plans over enemies. Over time another player might become resentful at this sort of special treatment. The point is to be aware that even something as small as this can have an impact, and thus it can affect others; after all if it was not worth doing, then the player asking wouldn’t be doing it. This issue is likely avoided if a group regularly discusses ideas, and even an individual player’s action, thus everyone’s ideas gets a chance to be discussed.

3) When to tackle concerns

I think the Storyteller handled the whole thing well. They did not become emotional at what could have been deemed as disrespectful. I appreciate that whether the incident counts as disrespectful is subjective, my friend certainly didn’t mean to be, and saw an opportunity to help the game. A DM/GM/ST will consider whether something is going to escalate, and thus some things may be deemed as needing sorting out as soon as possible. Although often patience and respect for others will reveal that there was not going to be an escalation, and confronting a tiny problem could make it become major.

Batjutsu Pet DM dice
Batjutsu Pet DM/GM

An extra bit of the anecdote is that once we got back to my friend’s place, we continued a solo Vampire Elder game we had been playing for the last week. Elysium: the Elder Wars had not long been out, and as long-time Vampire players it was interesting to explore the mind of a much older Vampire. The relevance of this is that week of playing an Elder vampire lead to my massive Methuselah campaign roughly a year later, and from that to my 16 player Night City campaign.

Due to this being a busy month, #CampNanoWriMo and I am also getting ready to play-test a boardgame I have been working on. So I will write about the big games next month.

CampNaNoWriMo Preparation

CampNaNoWriMo starts on the 1st April, an appropriate date for all the self-deprecating writers who think their work is a joke. Thankfully over the last few months my chronic pain has reduced enough that I have started having some good sleep, generally not at night, it is more a case of being at random times; I have tried to establish a regular sleep cycle, but since I still have pain filled days this has proved unreliable. With the sleep improvements, energy levels are improving, and crucially the mental fog diminishes. I am confident that I will reach the CampNaNoWriMo 50,000 word count by the end of April, and I even optimistically envision smashing this target.

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I bought Dragon Naturally Speaking 15 this month. Although I found Dragon 13 was good, since I have so much writing to do in a short time span I want any extra dictation accuracy gains I can get. I have noticed some big differences. I also found that Apple’s Siri is based upon Dragon, one of these irrelevant but interesting facts. Even after all these years the temptation to manually edit is still there, as it is still quicker, the habit just hasn’t faded. Whilst my arms are always in pain, having my RSI pain levels skyrocket due to writing frustration would be silly, never mind my current chronic pain in left shoulder.

In March I started listening to the http://bestsellerexperiment.com/. I have really enjoyed these episodes, and I was partly using them to get me super-inspired for this April’s CampNaNoWriMo. There is too much to state about them here, so I’ll write a blog about them this weekend.

I’ve been working on my world setting for about two years. Due to health reasons I’ve done what I can, for the first year I was bedridden. Over time I have worked out the setting history and since it’s a fantasy setting the all-important metaphysics; this has been engrained in to me due to working in games design, I appreciate some authors don’t think this matters. Typically for me it is a complicated setting, which I think really matters due to the big focus on mental health, plus I do love my fantasy fate stories. I also have a lot of story outlines for important historical events, as well as a collection of scenes.

Basically, I’ve not just done a lot of outlining I’ve done a shocking amount. This is somewhat similar to Mark and Mark at The Bestseller Experiment; I’ll just hint that the Ben Aaronovitch episode alone makes the series for many listeners, plus how they’ve progressed since.

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I decided to write something new in my setting, not obsessing over old ideas and trying to connect scenes spread over centuries. By starting fresh I feel like I am going to be better focused. In theory I won’t get distracted by indulgent fantasy designs like working out how memory & magic in my setting will work; I’ve already worked that out. The world building is done, a lot of it, now is the time to write.

Besides having the CampNaNoWriMo deadline, I have the additional pressure of finishing a board game. I will be visiting some friends, so I need to get this game to a playable state; I’ve had a mini playtest and I feel this game is at least on the right track. The board game work was going well until I strained the muscles around my right ribs at physiotherapy on Tuesday, resulting in two days without sleep, which is accompanied by the usual increase in mental fog. Thankfully my passion for this project, plus the fact I’ve been playing around with ideas for this for years, has helped me dictate a lot of ideas, even if half of them are gibberish at least I can edit the half that are good.

Sadly I haven’t completed some of the blog posts I’ve been working on, mostly due to these new deadlines. Well, technically I wrote the third part of my Lessons from Watching Role-Playing Games two weeks ago, but I had a funny idea for some graphics for that post. I won’t ruin the surprise, but I will say that organising a Skaven photo shoot has proven to be a bit difficult.

I briefly pondered writing a blog every day, but I decided that I should focus on writing. With the board game deadline approaching I already have enough to do, and I do still have health issues to manage.

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#CampNaNoWriMo #AmWriting

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.

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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 https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/rpg-lessons-from-watching-games/

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.

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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

Your RPG is Yours, Not Mine

As I started writing about the two role-playing campaigns that helped me get a job as a Games Master (GM), I realised that some readers might take exception to me claiming I ran a complete, or united, World of Darkness games. The old World of Darkness was not designed to fit neatly together, and for years crossover rules were non-existent. I don’t recall when the first official guide was released, possibly The Chaos Factor in 1993; it could be argued a guide was needed since Samuel Haight had caught the attention of so many different supernatural types. I don’t count the 1993 release of Under a Blood Red Moon, as it was Vampire and Werewolf focused. These guides were quite lacking, being more suggestions of things to think about, but at least it was something. I found my own path in fitting things together, and things worked well enough for me in some complex games.

With Paradox Interactive’s purchase of White Wolf IP, the World of Darkness (WoD) labels have been changed. The old(oWoD) is now called classic (cWoD), and the new(nWoD) from 2004 is now called Chronicles of Darkness (CofD).

My article’s title is to emphasise that I do not claim to represent the ‘only way to play the World of Darkness’, nor how crossover rules have-to-be done.  To some readers it may feel redundant for me to clarify my reasoning, but from personal experience I’ve met enough players that fixate on this, as well as reading numerous posts on the Net, to really impress upon me that a clarification is important for many gamers. Although this issue particularly applies to the cWoD, it also applies to every other RPG when we get past the gaming group level.

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I have had a lot of experience with this topic, whether locally, at game conventions, or Live Action Role-Play(LARP), so I appreciate why it is an important subject for a lot of role-players. In my late teenage years I changed my phrasing to emphasise “I prefer”, or “in my games, I feel”, since I appreciated that it was a subjective topic, never mind that some people want to win the chat. Add to this that it’s all too easy to end up talking at cross-purposes as people fail to mention they are not emphasising an interpretation, but they have ventured in to house-rules, or changes to the setting; it’s understandable if you consider how over time it is easy to forget the list of tweaks carried out. I am reminded of common role-play encounters, which I’ll write about and link here later.

Obviously people having different opinions should not be a surprise, since it happens with practically everything. Crucially the old White Wolf company repeated the point that each game belonged to the players playing the game in each of the core rulebooks, as well as elsewhere. This covered everything, whether it was an opinion about the mechanics to the game’s setting, covering everything from cosmology to theme emphasis. So it could be argued, that between the game lines being designed without a focus on connectedness, and the rules promoted debates because of The Golden Rule:

“This game should be whatever you need it to be…”

I appreciate the Golden Rule is abhorrent to some role-players, but that is too big a topic for this post. I go in to detail on this topic in my role-playing guide.

I do appreciate why standardisation matters, and I am all for it for specific situations, since talking at cross purposes is a time sink and can balloon up in to bad blood. It can be bad enough when a new player joins a group, but this is a much bigger problem when at conventions, or large LARP. Years ago I used to play continuing convention campaigns like the Dungeons & Dragons Living Greyhawk, D&D Sarbrenar (Forgotten Realms) and later Living Force (Star Wars). Roughly: you played the same character at each game, earning XP, being part of loose collection of connected stories with other PCs that over the years you may play with on multiple occasions.  Those games were quite accessible, in large part towards having an emphasis on clear rules interpretations. There were a lot of players that had been playing together for years, and overall I found there were a friendly community; the opposite of the anti-social label role-players are often labelled. Directly related to the point of this blog is that at conventions I found players only really cared about games they are involved in, they are rarely interested (if ever) in the anecdotes of another random player.

There has already been plenty of debate about how the new One World of Darkness could work, as well as how some people think it should work. Since very little is known, it is understandable that people are passionately debating. After all so many players already have invested years in to the official three different versions: old, new, Monte Cook’s WoD. Also we should keep in mind the experience of so many WoD LARPers, they have been a major part of the WoD scene going back to Mind’s Eye Theatre in 1993; an important point when you consider Martin Ericson’s LARP passion and experience.

Returning to the article’s title, no matter what happens with the oWoD make it ‘Your World of Darkness (yWoD)’. Personally I am not worried about the future of the World of Darkness, and whilst I am somewhat impatient to get specific information about the One World of Darkness (WoD), I am not panicking.

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Humanity has been repeating and altering stories since the dawn of civilisation, from simple tales to epic myths. In addition to retelling the ancient classics, consider the countless versions of Shakespeare’s work alone, or the comics-industry’s obsession with reboots and alternate realities. So it is normal human behaviour for role-playing to be receiving the same treatment via new editions, and even complete cosmology redesigns. Since there are already different versions of the World of Darkness, I have no issue with having something new to explore, again. Following on from this is an often cited opinion about the importance of legacy. Personally, I find debating the legacy of things to be odd, more so when the logic involves highlighting different predictions as part of any rationale. I don’t feel that my past experiences are invalidated, and certainly not by alterations to a product after the fact.

Even if you don’t like a version, tweak it, borrow from it, and let your passion guide you to new inspiration. After all creativity is a key aspect of role-playing, welcome the freedom.