#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.

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.

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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.

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/

Vampire, Batman and the Origin of my Nickname

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gamer Who Cried White Wolf

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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