Monday, August 30, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 31: Thank

The final day, and the final prompt: Thank. 

Yesterday I sprinkled some thanking in with my mentioning of other folks I've role-played with and enjoyed the company of while engaged in this hobby. Almost everyone I mentioned yesterday has been involved in making my life more enjoyable, and you can't beat that! I'd also like to thank everyone who read any of my writing this month, those who responded and those that provided support as well. 

When it comes to an event like #RPGaDay obviously I had some impulse to participate, but a post a day for a month is a lot of raw material to produce. Not everything I wrote was great or insightful. There is a part of me that feels like spamming my Twitter every day for a month is maybe wasting everyone's time, or is presumptuous as to the value of what I was laying down. I was satisfied with what I produced on some days, and on others I could think of blog posts I've read that have said similar things 20 times clearer. Why not just link to them? In the end, I dunno, I guess blogging is a self-expression thing and you have to do it to get better at it. There is also something to be said for producing in public, because in so much as you care what others think, you are motivated to meet a standard.

Another aspect of participating in #RPGaDay2021 for me was definitely that I'm hoping it acts as a method to kickstart more writing so that I can keep this blog rolling. I enjoy being a part of an RPG community, and part of keeping scenes alive is participating in and contributing to them. Blogging, forum participation, being a player or GM, or producing material for RPGs are all different ways to surround yourself and immerse yourself in the RPG world, and I guess that is something I'd like to keep growing in my life a bit.

Thanks again for checking everything out, and I hope somewhere in my blogging you found something enjoyable, relatable or possibly even thought provoking. Now for me to personally move on and keep going forward! What's next? Ideas for articles suited to Uzis, Capes & Katanas? Something pitched towards the Street Fighter RPG community? Maybe I consider putting in to GM something for my friends on the Game Night schedule? Maybe I take RPG thoughts I've had and do the grunt work to move them forward? Whatever it is, I'll be sure to blog about it here.

Rock on!

#RPGaDay2021 Day 30: Mention

Well, #RPGaDay2021 is wrapping up, and the prompts at the end here are really pushing us a certain way, what with their lack of alternates. Not the worst thing, however. I'll use today's prompt to mention some folks that have made my role-playing journey a source of joy (and missing a ton of others while I'm at it).

Let's see.

In my "Real Life" world I have a ton of friends I've been gaming with this whole time, starting with my friends Rich and Josh from back in the High School days, on to Chardin, then Bill, Bill, Bill, Andrew, Barry, Alisha, Drew, Tracy, Jacque, Kate, Dan, Mike, Jason (among others I know I must be forgetting)… Some of them are involved in activities that may strike your fancy!

  • Superhero Necromancer: A press involving a few friends, currently they have a number of pamphlets and a zine detailing the Rainy City, a doomed city at the end of the world (and setting of tons of sessions we've played over the years). Be sure to check it out and see if it tickles your interest. A unique setting with a great art style and beautiful maps. (Also: Twitter, Threadless Shop )
  • Center for Learning through Games & Simulations: A good chunk of my play group has work experience with Central Michigan University. A couple of them are active in games based learning. As part of this center they do outreach and presentations regarding the possibilities of games based learning, and also are looking to publish games that can be used in the classroom. I'm not an academic and have surely not described what they're up to as best as possible, but if you're curious check them out! (Also: Twitter )
  • BlackDogPath: Bill Spytma, who does the artwork in all of the Superhero Necromancer publications so far, in addition to a variety of art in various media he does on an individual commission basis (working with bone, leather among other things), has a shop where you can check out a few of his designs. You can also check out some of his art on Twitter, and probably a variety of places I do not even know!

In my "Online Life" I have another set of folks that have been pretty great, some of whom I'll mention here:

  • SFRPG.com: Matt Meade is a guy who has been active in the Street Fighter RPG community since all of the way back. This site, which used to be known as "Matt's Conversions" was one of better sites back in the day. Over time, however, it came to be the best Street Fighter RPG site in the English speaking world. His fan created supplement for this game, the G-File, and some of the resources he provided on his site served as an inspiration to me when I decided to tackle the Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game 20th Anniversary Edition. Just the way everything looked so professional and close to the look of the original books got me excited. After I started work on SF20 and I contacted him, we eventually met in person and we've managed to on occasion inspire each other a bit to continue working on our pet projects. He also provided some images and editing work on SF20, along with promotion. 
  • Batjutsu: Richard "Bat" Brewster is another guy important to the current online English speaking Street Fighter community. He's been around the block and has been involved in a few things in the wider RPG space, but for me personally I most have gotten to know him through the work done to translate the material produced by the Brazilian community, making it available to all of us English speaking folks. He's put in so much work, and it's been great.
  • Shotokan RPG: Relatedly, I'd like to mention the Brazilian Street Fighter community. When the English speaking community has lulled, they have been there keeping things alive the whole time.  Some individuals in particular that come to mind are Eric "Musashi" Souza, Ingo Muller and Odmir Fortes (among other contributors).

Yeah, I have found RPG goodness in many other places over the years as well. It would take quite a while to mention them all, even if I could remember. Forum posts, blog entries, maybe even a podcast or two have had interesting things to say that have broadened my appreciation of the hobby.

Day 30 done!

Sunday, August 29, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 29: System


 A week ago I wrote on the prompt "Substitute", where I went on about how no set of rules or other decision has a larger effect on how well game night goes than being with good friends that you have creative RP sparks with. I talked about how great some recent Street Fighter role playing had been, and my suspicion that the same group of us could have fun regardless of the RPG. While I still hold this to be the case, by no means does this lead me to conclude that an RPG system doesn't matter! 

So, way way back now Ron Edwards wrote an article titled "System Does Matter" that was a bit of a reaction against folks who claim that a game is only as good as the people playing, and that any system can work with the right GM and Players. He then goes on to offer three styles of play (Gamist, Narrativist, Simulationist) and suggests that an RPG can't support each style of play at the same time, and so should focus on having a particular outlook and building the game to support that outlook. I found Ron Edwards' theory talk where he'd later expands and revises these ideas entertaining, even if I'm not sure that a good game must primarily aim to have rules matching one of these three outlooks. 

When it comes to the claim that "System Doesn't Matter", I almost wonder if it borders on being a strawman, or mischaracterization. What I mean is that it seems most role players have preferences for some RPG or another, or the desire for a certain style of play, even if they don't have the breadth of experience or vocabulary to express their reasons all that well. Rarely do you find (though you can) role players that are happy with an RPG that uses just GM fiat or simple coin flips to adjudicate actions, for example. If they are not happy with that, then system matters to them in some way, and it just takes some digging to figure out how.

If there is anyone out there who thinks "System Doesn't Matter", I'd think it would have to come from one of two places. One is that it is true that system doesn't matter in so much as you don't use it. The other is that, unless you know what the system is trying to do, you don't have a basis from which to claim that it matters or not. "What are the rules of this game trying to support, and what don't they support?" and "When we play, are we using the rules or glossing over some, and is this being done consciously on our part, or because we aren't noticing the differences between games and tend to run them as we always have our other games?"

This feels like some pretty vague talk I'm doing. I think what's important with system is just to notice. When you're playing a game, there are going to be moments you love, and there are going to be boring bits, and maybe there are bits you kinda loathe but grind through to get to the parts you like. The system you are using might be contributing in some way to all of these things. When you notice this, you may say to yourself, "Yeah, let's just get rid of the part's that are no fun", and that may be the answer. It is worth asking if there is a way the elements you don't like could be considered fun to someone. Like, is a game system aiming at providing an experience that the rules you don't like support? If you find this is the case, they you get into whether the game is still good for you after excising some bits, or if there is an alternative game out there better supporting the experience you're after.

Finally, I know I personally have a preference for trying to play a game using its rules, without immediately adapting or altering them into something I'm more comfortable with. The reason for this is that I want different games to show me different experiences. If I'm not open to at least taking a shot at using a game to aim for experience the author constructed it to support, then I'm missing out on the possibility of discovering something I might actually prefer to my usual tastes.

Anyways... we're almost there! It's well into Day 29. #RPGaDay2021, like summer itself, is inching closer to an end.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 28: Solo

RPGs offer a lot of activities you can engage in by yourself. GMs have worlds of game prep they can do. There are also games in the table-top RPG space that label themselves as solo RPGs, some of them feel like creative writing exercises, or guided imagining, while others are a bit like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" kind of thing generated from random tables. Aside from that is the whole world of... well, so much. You could write and record music for your game as a theme. You could draw characters, artifacts and locations. You could write poems as one of the game's characters. You could create a map, generate worlds, locations, adventures, creatures, people and their relationships. You could build a gaming table, or rig up a projector system to project stuff on game night. You could build a web page or blog full of resources for your game, or documenting it. You could create or obtain props representing things in game. You could plan your character's stronghold or armies, level up, spend some cash.

Yeah, RPGs can be simple and require quite little, but the hobby can also incorporate almost anything you want to toss into it. If you have some other hobby or art interest there is a possibility you can use it to enhance or add to your RPG hobby, if that's your jam. For me, I really do need to eventually get some in-person time on game night with other people to really be loving role playing, but you can't role play all of the time. Fortunately, if you find yourself unable to get an actual session in and are really aching to be participating in some hobby activity, RPGs have you covered. They are waiting for you to feed them with whatever creative output you want to bring to the table.

Enjoy everything RPG in your life! 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 27: Practice

For today's #RPGaDay2021 post, I'll try tackling "Practice." I could go off from yesterday's prompt, doing that "Theory vs. Practice" thing, but I think I'll use the word as a verb, as that thing you do to get better at something. Is it possible to be better or worse at role playing? Can you get better with practice? Interesting questions that I'm pretty sure the answer to are "Yes!" 

Normally this idea that playing RPGs could involve some kind of competence tends to be limited to the skills of the GM. The RPG blogosphere has tons of tools, materials and suggestions for ways to be a better GM. Some of this I think is because as a population, GMs trend towards more deeply interested in the hobby, more likely visit blogs and forums dedicated to the hobby, are more likely to be engaged in home-brew and blogging and all the rest. When I think back over RPG articles I've read, "How to be a better GM" feels vastly more covered than, "How to be a better Player." There almost seems to be a kind of... "GM prepares (rules, characters, setting, situations), and Players should only have to show up for the ride" philosophy going on. I don't think this is necessarily bad, but I also think it's worth examining and seeing if there is room here to make your games better (as in, more fun) for everyone involved.

How players play is discussed on forums and blogs and there is some advice written for players. Even when players are discussed though, a lot of that talk is GM facing. "How do I address this problem player?" or "Which of these 6 broad categories do your players fall into (Hack'n'slash guy, deep story guy, normal guy who is just happy to be there, etc. etc.) and how can you accommodate their styles?" This reminds me of my own experiences GMing. I am a player almost always, and when I GM I tend to get very nervous, worried if I'm doing well. I want the players to experience a great session. I also, I guess, don't want to be considered the worst GM in the group or something like that. It makes me think... why is this the orientation? What do I mean?

As a player... do you have the same thoughts? "I want the players to experience a great session." Do you look back and wonder where maybe you slipped up, concerned you may have flubbed a session the way a GM might worry? Do you think about accommodating other players' play styles? Like, there are all of these articles and this advice GMs read in an effort to make the game better, cooler, more fun, however you want to say. A player has a different set of tools compared to a GM, but I think this drive should reside in everyone at the table. There are a lot of motivations that can come into how you play a character. Some people really want to sink into that immersed thing of vicariously living through their character. Some people want to use their character to make interesting story things happen. Whatever it is though, to make it shine... you've got to bring it. Ideally, you've got to bring it in a way that helps everyone else bring it. You've got to look inside your character, look outside your character & into their world, and outside the fiction to the world of your friends sitting around playing this game hopefully trying to make it great for each other.

Yeah, I'm going a little hard on this. To maybe dial it back, we've all been more laid back and casual about RPing than I'm pushing for here. Good, fun sessions come out of these casual sessions. I just think there is potential in the idea of Players taking on a sense responsibility for the success of a game at a level a bit closer to that GMs feel to provide a great session. Orienting beyond your own character to take in how what you're doing is influencing the whole game.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 26: Theory

Theory! I'd guess the average role player just runs and plays games without much thought given to theory. Even many RPG designers I'm quite sure have gone about game designing without much thought to RPG theory, even if they give thought to probability, or are informally theorizing. When it comes to theory and RPGs I definitely think of it as being more akin to Music Theory than... a Gravitational Theory or something of the like. A musician can also make plenty of great music without ever learning music theory, but music theory can open a musician up to some concepts they may not stumble upon themselves. 

Anyways, I'm sure some readers may be like, "RPG Theory? Never heard of it." Well, I'm definitely not up to defining it rigorously and will direct you to this Wikipedia page on Role-playing game theory just to get you started if you're fresh to the idea. I remember first hearing about RPG theory happening vaguely through the old newsgroups, where the "Threefold Model" was developed, and I personally visited The Forge forums during their heyday quite a bit, where Ron Edwards would publish his RPG theorizing. I personally found it to be interesting stuff, though internet forums have shown me it is very much not everyone's cup of tea.

This leads to another point... RPG theory on RPG forums can get pretty contentious and tribal and flame-war-y I've found. Other times tastes and theory are conflated when they shouldn't be. Sometimes someone's theory will be strongly stated, and this rubs certain people the wrong way. Debating and hypothesizing can all be a useful part of these discussions, but there is a dynamic where some people are inclined to take personal offense rather than just maybe think a particular theory is silly or maybe just not for them. 

I love people's RPG theories and takes just as a general rule, especially when stated boldly. I'm playing in and enjoying my own games, but other peoples' thoughts can only expand my point of view, and if I'm lucky, give me a brand new insight or angle to look at things from. A satisfying RPG theory for me is one that provides a lens to examine other games or my own play through, and it goes in a bag where I can pull it out and use it whenever I'm in the mood. It's not about right or wrong or "truth", only "does this spark interesting thoughts in my head" or "does this clarify my tastes and help me get to RP & games I enjoy more."

So, enjoy your RPG theorizing, but don't forget to play!

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 25: Box

To hell with it! Today I'm taking the "Box" prompt, and it's all about boxed sets!

Back in 1974, the first RPG was released as a box containing 3 booklets and some reference sheets (umm.. you know, original D&D). I believe the first two RPGs I ever purchased also came in boxes, the Marvel Basic Set and MegaTraveller. Over the years the boxed set has fallen out of favor, and the reasons make sense. For one thing, it is easy for boxes to get crushed, damaged or otherwise end up looking shabby compared to a well cared for book. The other thing against the boxed set is that they aren't quite as cost effective in today's age of PoD printing, etc. Still, there is something about popping open a box full of goodies that makes me feel like I'm entering an exciting new world more than flipping open a book does. I'm pretty sure there is not much rational about the feeling I get, but there are a couple things RPGs from boxed sets do that I think have merit. Prime among them is that they tend towards smaller books, maybe splitting the game into a couple books, some cardboard miniatures, a die, reference sheets, an ad for the company's other products... Point being that I find games chunked into smaller books are more approachable to me. 

So, I just took a browse through some old boxed sets, and yeah... OD&D came in 3 30-something page booklets, Traveller was a bit larger but also 3 main booklets for 40-some pages each and an introduction. The Marvel Super Heroes Basic Set came with a 16 page Battle Book, a 48 page Campaign Book, and a 16 page adventure (along with 2d10 and a wax crayon, a fold out map, an ad, etc.) The Conan RPG from 1985 came with a color map, 2d10, a 32 page rule book, 16 page reference guide and 48 page setting guide. The Ghostbusters box was sporting a 64-ish page GM/Adventure book, a 24 page Players/Main rules book, then some reference sheets and equipment cards. MegaTraveller came in heavy, with 3 books of 100-ish pages and a fold out sector map. Moving up to B/X D&D, the Basic set comes in at a 64 page core, 32 page adventure and some ad sheets, etc., and the Expert set being similarly sized.

Looking at those games... they just felt like the offered up huge worlds of adventure, and MegaTraveller aside, they all came in around 90-100 pages (B/X combined is 128 pages of rules, 64 pages of adventure). Star Ace is another personal favorite of mine that comes in with 2 books totaling less than 120 pages. There are RPGs printed normally as books that also make these kinds of page counts, and I appreciate them for their brevity as well. Something about the boxed set form factor really seemed to encourage this tighter page count approach though. This smaller page count makes so much sense to me, especially when imagining a kid excited about space or wizards or super heroes who wants to play. Don't make that kid read your 690 page tome. Hell, even the current D&D5e core books add up to almost 1000 pages! I'm just going to be opinionated and say that shit is totally uncalled for.

OK, so I got a bit negative there at the end. To put a positive spin on it, I'd say a nice boxed set RPG, or an RPG that aims for brevity in the page count keeps things light and approachable for me. It reminds me of young adult fiction, Choose Your Own Adventure books, and an overall easy and breezy, yet exciting feeling I had when I was taking my first steps into role playing.

Monday, August 23, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 24: Translate

"Translate" is an interesting prompt word for me. As is probably pretty clear to anyone who reads my RPG writing regularly or knows me, I'm a huge fan of Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game. This game was published by White Wolf back in 1994-95, then the license expired and the game went out of print. There was later an effort around 2004 to create another Street Fighter RPG (to be called "Capcom World Tournament") based on d20 rules of the D&D 3 era by a company known as Living Room Games, but it was never fully completed or released. 1995 was 26 years ago. What do you do when an RPG that is quite possibly your favorite goes out of print forever, now gone over a quarter century ago?

Well, it turns out I had a plan, but we'll get to that. It also turned out that the Street Fighter RPG wasn't only published by White Wolf in the form I knew it. The game was also published in Brazil, originally in the form of a magazine spread across a few issues, then eventually collected and printed together. Dragão Brasil Especial 9, 11 and 13 laid out the core rules, which were then bound together in issue 24. This bound together edition of the game published in Dragão Brasil Especial 24 was published in 1999, a full 4 years after publication by White Wolf had ceased. These rules were the equivalent of the core rules we saw here from White Wolf, but with different art and presentation. They didn't have rights to publish all of the supplements that White Wolf produced for the game, and so they filled out the rules themselves in further magazine articles with new styles, villains and rules. Aside from the White Wolf game, they also published an adaptation of Street Fighter Zero 3 in another game system from Brazil, 3D&T.

Back here in the USA, after White Wolf allowed the game to drop out of print, the fandom for the game continued through Yahoo! Groups to a large extent, and through a number of fan web pages. As you might naturally expect, the fandom shrank over time and activity dropped quite a bit. In the early 2000s, the US fandom was creating new rules, making commentary on what was or wasn't considered broken, writing articles that got combined into little PDF fan magazines, but it all started to wane at some point. No one used Yahoo! Groups anymore, some lonely RPGer would from time to time call out to see if anyone was still there. Matt Meade of sfrpg.com continued to work on a solid supplement, the G-File, intended to fill out maneuvers styles and stats for all of the Street Fighters that weren't in the game material produced by White Wolf. A Google+ community was set up for fans to keep in touch, which saw some traffic but not tons.

Back in my world, my group played Street Fighter almost obsessively from... I dunno, 1994 until 2000-2001 or so? Even after this we would find times to play, though less regularly. We had tons and tons of characters and stages and maneuvers and rules we'd house-ruled into the system over the years. Some of these rules, styles and maneuvers were distributed between us on dot matrix printer printouts, because that's how old we are! Still, after 2001-ish or thereabouts we were past the heyday of our Street Fighter playing. Street Fighter was always fondly remembered, but life happened, the old group was out of college, the GM had long spells of living overseas, kids were born, new games were played with different people. It wasn't until some point in early 2014 I believe, that I started on my plan.

White Wolf, as a game company, went through a lot of ups and downs, was acquired in 2006, sold, acquired again. A lot of folks that worked for White Wolf went on to continue producing games with the IP as Onyx Path Publishing. As the famous White Wolf "World of Darkness" games approached their 20th anniversaries, Onyx Path began to Kickstart deluxe 20th anniversary editions of those games, collecting all of the rules material and synthesizing it all into one definitive rule book. To me, the best White Wolf game was always Street Fighter, and I believed it deserved a 20th Anniversary Edition of its own, as impossible as that was. So, I started to make it myself! 

I transcribed and wrote and assembled for a few months before I contacted Matt Meade on October 13th, 2014, linking him to some in-progress material I had and letting him know about my project to create a compiled version of the Street Fighter RPG. My goal was to release this "20th Anniversary Edition" by the end of 2014, to match up with the release of the original game back in 1994. Matt published an article on his blog. I teased the release on the Google+ group. That was a bit too ambitious, it turned out. I burned out for a while, but eventually picked the project back up in 2015. By that time, some people on Google+ were pretty sure it was a promise unfulfilled, but with the transcription and editing help of some friends I was able to release the 20th Anniversary Edition on September 8th, 2015.

Around this time, Google+ was winding down and a new Street Fighter RPG community was formed on Facebook. I was happy to find the 20th Anniversary edition was well received, and in chatting with Matt Meade, he was also inspired to keep working on his G-File. What the Facebook group revealed to me, however, was the vast fan community the game still had in Brazil. They had been publishing their own fan supplements, adventures, and zines, and not a small amount of it. They also had their own main fan site and their own Facebook group. In fact, their Facebook group is over 3 times larger than the English speaking group! Yes, at last we are getting to today's prompt word! An English speaking community and a Portuguese speaking community... and the internet had finally got us interacting in a serious way!

So...  a lot of members of the Brazilian community would visit the English Facebook group, just for fun, but also because they had questions about what White Wolf had produced here. Matt Meade had managed to land a few interviews with original creators of White Wolf material for Street Fighter, and so it was an interesting time. One of the writers for the game became a regular in the Facebook group as well. Between these interviews, my release of SF20, and some resultant increase in fan activity, Street Fighter was feeling more alive than it had in quite a while, but even with this increased activity it was pretty clear that the Brazilian scene was more alive. They had a fan produced magazine with tons of issues. They made their own supplements, and aside from Matt's G-File, the English speaking community had not done that since maybe 10 years earlier! It was time to break down all of the walls between the two communities. This was not going to be simple, it'd take some work. Fortunately, there were people in the scene willing to put in that work. There is a good number of people on both the Brazilian and English speaking sides of the community that were involved, but key among them was Richard "Bat" Brewster of Batjutsu!

Over the course of the last few years... efforts have been made to translate all of the major efforts of the Brazilian community into English. Something like 34 issues of the "Warrior's Fist" (Punho Do Guerreiro), a couple very well produced adventures, a Mortal Kombat supplement, "Circuit Guides" of new fighters and more. Going the other way, while not a direct translation, the Brazilian community were inspired to create their own "20th Anniversary Edition" as well. It's been a wonderful thing.

Translation: Bringing the world together. Keeping games alive.

#RPGaDay2021 Day 23: Innovation

Today I'm taking on Innovation! Being a fan of novelty, I'm inclined to appreciate innovation. Innovation, creativity, brand new things! As for the value of innovation, as much as I appreciate it, I do feel it is often over-rated. How do I mean? Well, I'll talk about it as it related to game design.

One thing I have seen online when someone gets the idea they want to design their own RPG, is that they think the game needs an innovation in order to generate interest or really to even serve a purpose. Sometimes this desire to be unique or different is separated from... what actually improves the game. For example, new designers seem to be obsessed with resolution systems, possible different ways to roll dice, and is maybe there a new way? It is worth investigating how different games handle resolution and maybe even trying to come up with methods of your own, but a game isn't going to be better or worse because you use cards or 2d6, or a d20, or a dice pool where you add up successes... at least not in isolation. An RPG should be created with a vision of what the creator wants it to be, a vision of the kind of play it would produce, not just an assemblage of ideas that strike the designer as interesting. With that vision, a designer can then use their knowledge of existing systems and their own creativity to bring together a system that works for the purpose. Sometimes an innovation can take a game to a higher level, but a game could contain no particularly innovative mechanics or ideas even, but if executed perfectly, or is satisfyingly novel in its manner of combining old known elements... be the better game. Don't let an idea be held so dear that you'd let your game suffer to preserve it. It's a variation on the ol' "kill your darlings" advice.

This leads on to another area where innovation gets over-rated. Sometimes folks who are interested in creating a new something, RPG in this case, get concerned that they'll come up with a brilliant, innovative idea, but if they let anyone know too far ahead of time it'll get stolen. Also along these lines are people who come up with ideas and have a wish that others would build them out. Basically, the point is that work and implementation is vastly more important than any thought or idea that may strike you as innovative. It's reminding me of what I wrote for the "Write" prompt last week, there are a lot of ways to spin your wheels and avoid doing the thing you claim you want to do. A seemingly innovative idea is not much more than a fantasy until implemented. Also, what seems innovative sometimes falls apart when you actually move beyond that surface level of interest and really get into the nitty-gritty of it. Innovation is great, but sadly it doesn't let you bypass the effort and commitment needed to bring something into being.

May you find it in you to bring your innovations to fruition!

#RPGaDay2021 Day 22: Substitute

There is nothing I feel great about connecting to the word Substitute. I suppose I would say however that there is no substitute for great players. No decision has more impact on how good your game night will be than the decision of who you will play with. This comes across in two ways. Firstly, game night is a social occasion. Do you enjoy the company of everyone you're playing with? Secondly, do your play styles vibe and bounce off of each other in pleasing ways?

When I was younger I'd definitely had times where I'd gamed with people that were either not kind, or I just didn't enjoy their company socially. This isn't even a case that they were "bad people" necessarily, or anything. It's just about how good it feels to spend time with people, game or not. It's not easy for everyone to find a group's worth of people they unreservedly enjoy spending time with, but I've been lucky in this regard. From time to time we'll have a drop-in player that doesn't fully fit, but even there we've had good luck (or whoever invited the drop-in player has had good judgement). The place where I most often come across players that don't fully work for me now are RPG conventions. I've had great conventions sessions, but they can also be a great reminder of just how good I have it at home. Once you find yourself in an RPG group where you enjoy everyone's company socially, I don't know if you'd ever want to go back. More than having compatible play styles, this is foundational to whether I'm even bothering to game in the first place or not.

In the Street Fighter campaign I'm currently in, in addition to social enjoyment, we all love how we bounce off each other while playing characters. The way we improvise and interact and set each other up is just a joy, reliably. I remember after one of our sessions we just talked about how great it was, and how great Street Fighter was. Because it reminded us of the way Street Fighter has made us feel in the past we gave the game itself a lot of the credit at first. But then... yeah. Chemistry is chemistry, and we've come to feel that we could make almost any game we were each into work. Rules and setting and all the rest matter, but in so much as we are playing a role playing game and love how we interact in that... the rules can only do so much to create or destroy it.

So, ultimately you'll read about games you maybe want to play. Characters and settings, rules you want to try. Try them all, but nothing they can do can even come close to providing a substitute for the lack of a group of friends with a great RP dynamic.

#RPGaDay2021 Day 21: Simplicity

Am I going to do that thing where I advocate for today's prompt word like it's a virtue? Kinda a little. Simplicity is convenient, more than anything. Simple things are more easily communicated than complicated things, can be seen clearly by more people. Simplification is a tool. Where does simplicity aid us in RPG play? Ideas follow.

Mysteries and Plots

It is easy for mysteries and plots to feel simplistic when you're coming up with them, to feel like there should be more witty complications and twists that can be revealed in play. Most of the time simple does the job however, because players aren't hooked into what's happening to the same level of detail as they would be reading a novel. Individual players can be distracted during play, or maybe a player never quite has their character communicate some bit of information back to the rest of the party, and so mystery and plot details get lost. Likewise, players are pretty good at coming up with crazy theories or odd obsessions that fall far from a mystery or plot that's actually going on, and pursuing those theories for... a while!  For these reasons, I think it's best to start from someplace simple with mysteries and plots, adding complications and twists as you get a feel for how much of what you're trying to lay down actually gets across to the players.

Characters

This applies to both PCs and NPCs, but especially NPCs. A single, or a couple really bold, easy to grasp characterizations or motivations are better than anything subtle, hidden, or complex almost always. With NPCs especially, they often are only "on stage" for a short amount of time, and so there may not be time for hidden depths to be revealed. Simplicity here is just a matter of what can be communicated. During game night there is cross-talk, people are considering divergent things, their own characters, and it's a noisy environment in some ways. Bold and simple comes across, it breaks through static and noise more reliably. Subtleties and sophistication can only get across when the static and noise is low, when everyone is tuned in. Yeah, it's a radio analogy. I'm not trying to say that subtle, sophisticated characters are bad, only that they are difficult to successfully play. I think the way to make more subtle or sophisticated characters work is for them to also have that simple, bold core, something people can easily grasp and you can have fun playing... but then when those quiet moments occur, you've got those more subtle aspects of the character in your back pocket and can bring a bit of it out. Sometimes it doesn't even get across to the whole party, but one or two people see what's happening and it's your own private thing.

Rules

Should a game's rules be simple? I think it's obvious to say they should be as simple as you can manage to make them, while also assuring that they do what you want them to do. When it comes to getting rules across to players and GMs, the 2 things that make this more difficult are 1.) Less simple rules, requiring more steps, more modifiers, more memorization, or require more decisions and calculating of odds before using. 2.) The rules are poorly explained or vague in their application, insufficient examples are given, a step by step procedure is not explicitly laid out, the author is just bad at explaining what their intent was, etc. So, you could have an RPG where the rules are, "When a character does something and the outcome is uncertain, flip a coin. On heads, the character succeeds, on tails the character fails" which is about as simple of rules as I can imagine outside of "The GM just decides what happens." For many RPG players, this would be too simple. Rules give a game texture and shape play. I think many of us have played games that feel too complex, crunchy or fiddly for our tastes as well. 

When it comes to adding rules, the satisfaction they provide in play has to be balanced against the downside of their handling time and the overall increase in complexity they bring. Many times it is possible to come up with a rule outside of play and have it feel clever and elegant, but then in play it just rarely gets used or feels like a hassle. Some of this is because playtesting reveals things, but also, even a clever and elegant rule can be a bad rule if it is addressed to subjects the game is not about. For games that attempt to be about everything, by which I mean so-called Universal or Generic games (GURPS, Cortex Prime, EABA, etc.), I feel that they can suffer from this. To counteract this idea of creating rules to cover everything, many of these systems try to take a modular approach, which then requires a GM to pick and choose which options are available and communicate that to the players. This is not as simple as it could be, but... if everyone enjoys it, it is simple enough.

Conclusion

So, simplicity isn't just better on its own. The ideal game would flow like water and everyone would be able to get across what they are trying to get across, but there are factors that create friction and add noise, they slow down play and lead to misunderstandings. Simplicity is a tool that attempts to reduce the friction of play, lower the noise floor, or be easily perceivable through that noise. Simplicity isn't the only tool in the box for this. Players could study rules and be more attentive. Fewer players makes things easier. Being more competent at communication. Being well rested. Having good ears and eyes. Maybe I'm starting to sound silly now, but I think you get the idea. 

Good luck playing the games you want to play!

Friday, August 20, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 20: Lineage

Oooh... another tough day for me. Today, let's choose "Lineage." Every movement, art or music style, or even academic field or trend has some individual or core group taken as foundational, then as that idea is explored, expanded and evolved, branches form and certain ideas or trends are said to have a lineage. In music, for example, you might put Black Sabbath at the foundation of Heavy Metal and explore how metal evolved, or talk about how Punk evolved into New Wave and Hardcore, etc. A lot of times in the arts being well versed in this stuff can easily lead to a snobbish place, but it is also useful. In music, again, I've personally fell in love with bands and back in those pre-internet days you'd read liner notes and see mention of other bands that influenced your favorite band, and start your way down the path. Basically, if you love a band and they are considered a part of a sub-genre, you can look across that sub-genre, or trace your way up or down from it in search of things that bring you similar or new joy. RPGs are no different. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in a way are to RPGs as Elvis Presley is to Rock'n'Roll (with, perhaps, similar debate that could be made as to how deserved those places are, etc.). If you wish, you can trace out from there.

Tracing a game's lineage is aided a bit by knowing original release dates, knowing the company that published the game, if they developed a "house system", and knowing authors and designers involved. Another thing that aids in getting a feel for the evolution of RPGs is tracking down early examples of when certain approaches or rules were used. Like, we all know about D&D and levels and classes, and this all started back in 1974, spawning many later editions, clones and imitators. 1975 you have Tunnels & Trolls, which is quite different in its approach. In 1977 you get Traveller and The Fantasy Trip, one has a randomized life path style character generation with little to no advancement, the other is maybe the earliest point buy character generation? In 1978 we get RuneQuest, bringing a lot of percentile rolls, the "if you use it, there is a chance you get better at it" style advancement system, and it kicks off a whole line of games including Elric, Call of Cthulhu, Mythras and many others. A decent series of books I'd recommend if you want to familiarize yourself with the broad development and history of the hobby is the "Designers & Dragons" series by Shannon Applecline. The series covers the history of RPGs in a decade per volume. Of course, it doesn't have all of the latest developments, but it's solid stuff.

So, to flesh out what I see as the possible benefits of familiarizing yourself with the history of RPGs and various games' lineages... Well, I'd already noted it as a way to possibly discover new games you might enjoy. Other times you may have assumptions about an RPG, and taking a clean look at original editions can cut through all of the cruft that has accumulated over the course of time to reveal the core coolness and brilliance of what a game had to offer. There can be this tendency to imagine that the current hotness is unprecedented, and old games are "outdated technology", but it's far from always the case. There are some forgotten gems of ideas hiding in those old games, along with some clunkers. Every once in a while, the new hotness in RPGs has a precedent, and reading up on it gives you new insight into that new hotness you're liking so much that makes you like it even more. Also, just paying attention to creators lets you draw fun connections. Like, "The guy who wrote the review for Champions in Dragon Magazine, and the guy who wrote the review in Space Gamer both went on to later write for Champions themselves (Scott Bennie & Aaron Allston)." Or maybe you're a big fan of Blades in the Dark (John Harper), then come across Talislanta 4th edition and see he was the main guy on that edition? 

So, by no means is it crucial to consider the lineage of different RPGs or the hobby as a whole, but if you are interested in the hobby itself there are fun things to discover and connections to be had. Additionally, I think that if you are interested in creating your own RPGs, educating yourself on this sort of material can only help broaden your horizons, to know what's been done and how, it's all good.

If it's your bag and something you're interested in exploring, I wish you luck on your journey!

Thursday, August 19, 2021

#RPGaDay Day 19: Patron

I'm going all of the way down the list and choosing "Patron" as my prompt for today. The sense in which I'm using it is "person or organization that supports you in doing what you do, either because they are a fan of what you do, or your skills are needed to fulfill a desire of theirs." Also, I'm talking about fictional patrons in your RPGs here, not the kind you get on Patreon or Kickstarter (wait... those are backers...). That's a whole other thing! Now, plenty of RPGs have been run without the appearance of an in-game patron, but when they do appear I think they come in two broad varieties.

This first, I suspect most common, variety of patron is of the temporary type. This is an individual in need, and to acquire that which the patron desires... a special set of skills is required. To be crass about it, it's the character that delivers a scenario hook, who presents the adventure, or at least an option for adventure. PCs live their lives, going from place to place, and either there is some formal way they can seek a patron (Traveller bulletins in the space port, etc.), or, like "Murder She Wrote" or the "A-Team" (can you tell I'm an '80s kid?) some crazy situation just happens to pop up where they can be useful. Shadowrun and "Mr. Johnson" also come to mind as a default scenario structure, where "Mr. Johnson" acts as a go-between for a patron seeking Shadowrunners to get into some kind of trouble. There is a chance characters deal with this patron once and then never see them again. Of course, they could always be brought more deeply into the campaign as well.

The second kind of patron is more central to the game. This is the patron that has brought the characters together, or the organization the characters all work for. Going back to personal games, I remember in Street Fighter I had a character who was a member of a fight team, sponsored by a company. We had to do little promotions and advertisements on occasion, but mostly were just sponsored and kept on as long as we performed well on the fight circuit. This same character later hooked up with another set of characters who all had, of all things, a Chilean copper magnate as a patron. He was rich, and to an extent we acted as his security apparatus, but for the most part... he just took care of us, his compound served as a home base, we entertained him, and it was a reason to keep the characters together until they built a history and developed reasons of their own to stick together. Other examples are really any PC group centered around an organization that has leaders that the PCs aid. Government agents, agents of an international or interstellar organization, militaries, religions. Also individuals that bring the PCs together, all part of the same family, all have the same sensei and so on. These sorts of patrons are a powerful organizing force for the game.

Not all, but many RPGs run in a way where PCs are a group somehow, not just individuals whose stories overlap. Without communication between players, just showing up to game night and everyone introducing characters they produced independently... it can be rough or a big "suspension of disbelief" leap to imagine these characters are together for any particular reason other than "they are supposed to be for the game." The second kind of patron I describe can be that reason characters are together. Even the first kind of patron can bring the characters together for a single adventure, perhaps time enough for players to sensibly bind their characters into a unit for further adventure. If a patron is not in the cards, or even if they are, I think there is a lot of value in communication about building characters between players and the GM before session one kicks off. It at least opens the possibility of linking characters more intentionally before play begins. If nobody wants to go to all of that trouble though, a central patron can do some good work and players can improvise the rest all in play.

Now, the presentation of missions or jobs for characters to engage in, by a patron, also gets into sandbox vs. "mission of the week" questions. Maybe I'll find a prompt down the line that will get me into that. In the meantime, I hope you're finding some entertainment somewhere out there in the #RPGaDay2021 jamboree.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 18: Write

Write? Aren't we getting a little meta here? Just what about RPGs does this prompt relate to anyways? Well, I suppose the creation of RPGs involves writing, same as all of this blogging I'm doing for #RPGaDay2021. Sometimes people have a desire to write and they ask for pointers, how to do it well. I wouldn't call myself much of a writer but I have advice anyways, and it's advice you've probably already heard, and it applies to pretty much anything you want to do in your life.

Do it!

That thing you say you want to do? Just start doing it right now.

If you can read and made it through at least 4th grade or so, you already know how to write. You can start writing right now, and if you want to you should! Today's prompt comes 18 days into #RPGaDay2021. I'd set a goal to write a blog post for a prompt for every day of August. Before today, I'd fallen behind. I'd written and published a blog entry for each day for the first 13 days, then I fell off, nothing until the 17th. There was no missing technique, no tool or lesson I required to get this writing done. I just had to do it. Was all of my writing good? I'm thinking no. Is my writing going to get better because I stop writing to read about writing, or watch some YouTube tutorials about good writing? Also no. Did all this torrent of writing produce anything of value? Maybe a couple nuggets, definitely something more than not writing at all would've.

In any field of endeavor there are things you can learn that can make you better, or broaden your palette, give you ideas, techniques and all of this. You can learn about some typical ways people proceed in the endeavor of your interest, and in so much as that inspires you, it's good material. On the other hand, sometimes watching or reading instructional material or people going on about their process and all of the rest is a stalling tactic, or amounts to being a separate hobby from actually doing the thing you claim to want to do. In music, for example, I've seen people who've played guitar for a couple weeks just start writing songs, songs that entertained. I've seen people who've played for 20 years or more never write a song, though maybe they still dream of doing so, though maybe they understand obscure bits of music theory, or have vastly superior technique to the 2 week guitarist. Any learning from a third party is useful only when it is conjoined with you actively doing the thing. In today's prompt it is writing. You get better at writing by writing. You can possibly get better at writing through some guidance and lessons, but only if done in addition to writing, not instead of.

This advice is old hat. It's not the secret shortcut anyone wants to hear. There are so many places in my life where I've believed I've wanted something, some goal I wanted to achieve or skill I wish I had. I've got my health, a decent job, few responsibilities. I can't and shouldn't pretend fate, lack of talent or "I was too busy and didn't have the time" are the true reason I didn't achieve these goals. Why do we fail to do what we say we wish to? Fear is one possibility. Another is failing to be honest with yourself about your priorities. Self deception is so powerful, stories you spin about yourself, how you paper over the gaps between your internal story and the reality of your life. Sometimes people even take offense when their excuses are not taken with pity. I think we've all been to all of these places. It's a core human struggle. 

Hope you're able to find it in yourself to start doing your thing today. 

All the best.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 17: Nemesis

I've found few situations more enjoyable in RPG play than encounters with a nemesis or rival. Today for day 17 of #RPGaDay2021 I'm choosing the alt prompt of Nemesis for this reason! How can we make rivalry and a nemesis work in our games?

First, a prerequisite for a good nemesis or rival is that your character(s) get to encounter this individual or group repeatedly. A game where the expectation is that being opposed to someone usually means swords or guns get drawn and somebody ends up dead, just as a regular course of action, tends to work against this. Basically, the so-called "murder hobo" style of game makes rivalry and a nemesis more difficult to maintain. My personal favorite rivals have been while playing Street Fighter: The Storytelling game, and in DC Heroes. In Street Fighter, the rules actually never describe how a character could die! After getting beat up and knocked out, you're back to good in 15 minutes. A character can get more seriously wounded by weapons. In any event, this means you often can have encounters with competitors, lose (but not die), and develop a grudge. This grudge and the back and forth of it all, how it personally gets you wound up, is the great joy of a rival or nemesis. Of course DC Heroes, being based on the DC universe, works in a genre where characters routinely fall into conflict without killing each other off. I remember a character of mine having a short term nemesis in a DC game, this nemesis knocked my character out and delivered me to a warehouse where some evil scientist took a sample of my blood. I got this nemesis back while investigating another matter (though I never did learn exactly what my blood was used for...), and we eventually developed a kind of understanding between each other and had a brief moment of camaraderie. Anyways, now I'm talking about games I've been in...

Aside from the requirement that a nemesis be able to encounter characters repeatedly, they need to get their hooks into the characters (and hopefully a bit into the players) emotionally. As a player, I've found that my feelings against a rival often feel quite... petty almost. In fact, it can be quite a role playing challenge handling a rivalry, being tempted to do something that would reveal your character to be more bloodthirsty or petty than you'd perhaps like, or rolling with and accepting that maybe your character's nemesis can get under their skin and goad them into responses they aren't proud of. I suppose that is how a nemesis is a core tool in creating memorable moments and story-like revelations of character, and meaningful choice. How your character reacts to a nemesis reveals something about that character. Some players take more care in that than others. Also, there is an out-of-character element to dealing with rivalries, in that it can take some player tending to keep them healthy, cool, and fun for everyone involved. Like, if a player is enjoying a rivalry that is not quite deadly, and other players decide "We will resolve this with murder", it creates tension and maybe unwanted compromise if a player feels pressured to play their character differently to conform with other players playing characters with different moral outlooks, etc. It can be messy stuff.

A nice effect of an engaging nemesis is that it motivates players. If the characters are involved in a scenario or situation then a nemesis shows up, it can amp up the situation. Is the nemesis behind something bad that happened, or are they merely a rival seeking the same thing as the PCs before they can get it, or something else entirely, perhaps a red herring. Maybe even this is a case where the characters and nemesis can work together due to a more dangerous third party!

So, not a ton of practical tips here, but I'd suggest a rival or nemesis is totally worth developing. Perhaps the GM introduces one, or discovers one naturally flows out of a scenario and has them come back. Also, there is a possibility that players in many games can create their own rival and some RPGs even have rules for such. A character may not want that rival or nemesis, but as a player... they're gold! 

#RPGaDay2021 Day 16: Move

Today's #RPGaDay2021 prompt, Move, takes me to a couple places. The first is movement in the form of forward momentum in a game session. The other is in the taking the word to mean "Maneuver", as in a specific bit of rules defined action to take during play. Writing apparatus, engage!

Forward Momentum

So, forward momentum in the game... I'm sure most of my readers have experienced sessions that went on for hours, but not all that much got done. This is not necessarily a problem so long as everyone is enjoying themselves, but if it is happening and people are feeling frustrated about it, it's worth investigating what the hold-up is. Here are some regular culprits:

  1. Everybody, or a good amount of the group really wants to socialize and discuss matters outside the game. Alternately someone is distracted from the game, and so slows everything down as the rest of the group has to catch them up on what is happening when their character needs to get involved. Likewise, due to the lack of engagement with the game, the quality of distracted folks' contributions tend to be lower.
  2. Players get bogged down in planning what they will have the characters do next, or considering hypothetical scenarios and what they will or won't do should such hypotheticals prove true. At times this can be a real "spinning in circles" sort of situation that needs to be interrupted or stopped somehow so things can get back underway.
  3. A Player or GM can't be bothered to learn the rules for how their own character(s) work, leading to decision paralysis or lengthy rules look-up episodes, or education of a player about how a game works. Some of this is acceptable as part of learning a new game, but a player that repeatedly needs to be instructed on how a game works is creating a burden for everyone else, as they take up time that could be used to move the game forward and impose on the GM or another player to possibly look up something on their behalf.
  4. Some subset of players is engaged in an activity in-character that feels idle or uninteresting to the rest of the players. A long shopping trip, or extensive conversations that don't serve much purpose other than for the PCs engaged in them to soak up some spotlight time. These activities can be great and possibly even memorable or important in fleshing out characterization and relationships, but are good only in so much as they contribute to the enjoyment of everyone at the table.
  5. Excessive caution. This often goes with getting bogged down in planning, but doesn't have to. When a player is all about protecting their character or position, building a wall, covering every eventuality, unwilling to engage with the challenge of the session, it can bring the game's momentum to a halt.
  6. Lack of motivation. If players haven't created characters that motivate them to engage with the setting, or the GM is not great at either hooking the players, or responding to their PCs' motivations in a way that keep the train rolling, the game can come to a bit of a halt. Both players and GMs are responsible for entertaining each other, and if they feel like it is someone else's job to provide entertainment, or they just can't manage to be entertaining enough to provoke others to get involved... a stalled game results.
  7. Just the friction of a large number of players or a lot of rules. As the number of players grows, the amount of spotlight time available to each of them diminishes, as does the amount they can accomplish. Also, the more rules that are applied to a session, well, it just takes time to operate the rules, so the greater the handling time, the less that can happen. This friction isn't really anyone's fault, per se, but can turn sessions into "a large boat that is hard to steer."

Address the above culprits and seek to eliminate them, and I'm thinking your game will be back to having a satisfying amount of forward momentum. Still, lack of forward momentum is only a problem in so much as it's making game night less fun.

Maneuvers in the Game

One of my favorite games, Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game, has Maneuvers at the core of it. Now, in Street Fighter, these are fighting maneuvers, like... Roundhouse Kick, Fireball or Dragon Punch. More broadly when I'm talking about maneuvers I'm talking about specific rules defined actions that can be taken by players and/or their characters. Maneuvers can be created for a few purposes in RPGs. Perhaps an RPG author feels a certain set of maneuvers well simulates the reality of a certain endeavor. Another RPG author may create maneuvers that support engaging tactical play. Yet a 3rd author may create maneuvers that result in interesting fictional conundrums.

Street Fighter's maneuvers are generally about supporting engaging tactical play. A good maneuver is one that increases the variety of tactical play. A poor maneuver is one that is worthless, clearly suboptimal in nearly all situations, or alternately one that is too good and should always be sought, or it reduces the number of viable strategies as it easily counters them.

When it comes to "results in interesting fictional conundrums", here I'm talking about Moves as you see them in Apocalypse World and many other games inspired by its approach. In this approach, a Move is considered good if it generates situations that require interesting, possibly character revealing choices or sacrifices, or forces reactions from NPCs that feel like they have some significance. A poor move in this case would be ones that resolve situations without subjecting either side to a real in-fiction consequence. 

There are those that aren't fans of either of the above kinds of maneuvers I describe. They can strike some as too artificial or too game-like for their RPing tastes, or impose structure in an undesired manner. Anyways, it's worth considering them and your feelings regarding them when it comes to what you want to play and why.

Yes! Move has been addressed! Now to move onto my next post, where I will catch up with #RPGaDay2021 fully. Day 17 coming up!

#RPGaDay2021 Day 15: Supplement

The RPG Supplement. Sometimes, when I'm really digging an RPG I want more, in the way someone who loved a movie may want a sequel or a television show an extra season. Over time, I've come to be a slight bit more skeptical of this desire. Sometimes supplements, when taken on-board as active options in your home campaign, can make things worse. Yeah, quality varies. Imagine! I'm not sure why it took me so long to develop some discernment. Now-a-days I have a real "create your own canon" philosophy when it comes to both my favorite fiction and my favorite games. I'm gonna outline a few categories of content that often get tossed into supplements and talk a bit about 'em. While a supplement can easily be purely about one of these categories, quite often a supplement will contain a mixture, either to fully flesh out the concept of the supplement, or to broaden the appeal.

The Adventure

The Adventure Path, the Module, the Scenario, or whatever you wanna call it. Depending on the nature of the game, supplements that primarily are adventure content can often also include setting relevant to the area the adventure occurs in, and characters, possibly even equipment if it is particular to the adventure in some way. As a player I've never been strongly attracted to supplements of this sort. Also, the GMs I've played with rather infrequently use published adventures, though they have definitely seen some use. Where I have enjoyed them, they have been of the path variety, and I think I like them in so much as they illustrate the cool things that can happen in the setting. A few that come to mind are Mekton adventures like Operation Rimfire, The Jovian Chronicles/The Europa Incident, Starblade Battalion and Invasion Terra. Knightfall for MegaTraveller is another one that comes to mind, and I kind of like it as an example of how you could build out encounters and use rumors, etc. More than the actual scenarios contained within, I like them as examples of how one could prep a thing, or like I said, serving as examples of how a setting could be used.

The Rules Expansion

These sorts of supplement come in a variety of forms. The classic place to see a rules expansion focused supplement is anything called "The (Insert Game Name) Companion", where a class based system may introduce new classes, or areas of endeavor only lightly touched on in the core rules are expanded (vehicle combat, rules for characters building equipment, sailing rules, etc.) RPGs that have a natural divisions of character types frequently end up spawning rules expansions based on those character types. Every White Wolf game of the classic era produced what people came to call "splatbooks" about various clans, tribes, traditions (or whatever the "kinda character classes" of the particular game were called), and those books often expanded the powers and options available to players with characters fitting those categories, in addition to also expanding on setting as related to the groups in question as well. Other examples include Traveller expansions for the Navy, Scouts, Merchants, etc. These books provided deeper dives into the endeavors undertaken by characters with these backgrounds, introducing options and procedures. As a player, I was often lured by rules expansions. Still, maybe it was the excessive rules expansions of D&D 3.5 that did it, I eventually came to see that rules expansions weren't all necessarily good. If you take on too many rules, it can create a rules crunch burden. Also, there is the possibility that rules expansions change the tactics or flavor of a game in a way you feel is negative. 

The Setting Book

Some RPGs come married to settings, others have a lightly implied setting, and others even have multiple, separate settings. A lot of my opinion of different supplement types are based on the fact I'm usually a player. This means that setting books were of less interest to me generally. I think if I had to choose a preferred style of setting book, it would be something like the classic "Chicago By Night" for Vampire: The Masquerade, detailing a location, its inhabitants and their relationships in a way that was just loaded for potential, where players interacting with the setting is likely to set off a response. I mean, I enjoy maps and fictional lands, and a book detailing such for an RPG can be enjoyable for me just doing that, but... such supplements don't top my list often. More than history and travelogue, a setting book should strive to actively pull PCs into its workings, be good at involving new characters somehow, at least to be great in my eyes

It's People, Monsters and/or Aliens

Yeah, I like these sorts of supplements quite often. D&D's Monster Manuals, Street Fighter's Contenders (idea better than execution...), Sprawlgangs & MegaCorps for Cyberspace, the Gamers Handbooks to the Marvel Universe for classic TSR Marvel Super Heroes. For GMs, it saves them the hassle of generating all of the opposition themselves. The books can be quite flavorful and interesting, though the worst of them can be rather dry and uninspiring. Also, when illustrated well, these supplements can be quite beautiful and give you a better sense of the setting these characters and creatures inhabit.

It's Something of Utility

The GM Screen, Spell Cards, and books providing gear of various types all fall into this category. Reference material. Example generic locations. In the case of books detailing equipment, they can often veer into "Rules Expansion" territory as well. A book full of traps. Kevin Crawford, of "Stars Without Number" fame, often includes a lot of utility content in his core books as well as his supplements. The utility of this content is in adventure creation, organization creation, world creation, and in general just idea creation. There are lists and tables of interesting events that could occur, or things that could be, etc. Many times, these sandbox tools can also be combined with some rules around their use, but not always. 

Conclusion

The variety of subjects and material that can be pulled into supplements for RPGs can be pretty vast. The challenge for RPG publishers (umm, aside from making any money at all writing RPG material), is in balancing quality and quantity, considering how supplemental material can shape the perception of the core game, and how it shapes a reputation for creating solid, usable material. I think the best supplements are aided by a creator that has a solid, fairly focused vision of what their game is about, as opposed to a creator who is just trying to fill holes so that their game can "do anything." 

Anyways, catch you all for day 16!

#RPGaDay2021 Day 14: Limits

I was originally going to write an entry today using the Safety prompt, wrote quite a bit and discarded it. I think instead I'm going to discuss things from the angle of using the prompt "Limits."

Game Night for me is really all about fun. By fun, I mostly mean fun as you'd expect, but really any enjoyment. A dire session where awful things happened can also be enjoyable or provide food for thought in a way I appreciate even if it isn't necessarily "Yay!" fun. 

Roleplaying, theoretically, can be about absolutely anything at all. You can roleplay a fantastical past, a far future, a dream inside a dying drug addict's mind, all of those at the same time, or none of them. You can play as a character, many characters, of any somewhat sentient form or formlessness imaginable. Events that occur can be exciting, boring, the greatest cruelties, the deepest kindness and anything else you might imagine. You can roleplay in person, online, live-action RP. You can roleplay in a house, in a field, with friends or enemies. Out of these infinite possibilities, this formless chaos, GMs and Players must shape what and how they wish to play. This is done by placing limits and chopping away, or more often taking a pre-existing genre or setting as a base from which to form the scope and nature of play, combined with folks' default social habits.

So... limits are good in so far as they set the stage, help set expectations and contribute to the fun had at the table. "Safety tools" are this subject that has been a thing over the last few years people get fired up over, and feel as you may about them, I think they are at least aimed at setting limits that contribute to fun at the table for all participants. When players all feel a sense of safety or trust in fellow players/GMs due to agreed upon limits, it frees them to play fully and confidently, without as high a level of concern their fun may be undermined in certain ways. It can even allow play to get to some edgier places than it might have if these limits weren't discussed and everyone was working on assumptions, if that's what people want.

In the realm of more concrete traditional RPG rules, limits also serve the purpose of supporting the fictional reality, maintaining challenge, or possibly enforcing role differentiation. While I'm not a huge fan of class systems, they do define abilities and limits for various reasons, be they for some attempt at "game balance", to provide strong "niche protection" and differentiation, or to try to emulate certain archetypes and evoke a certain kind of vibe. Also, RPGs differ in how powerful characters can become, and it is worth considering this and if it matches with the kind of game experiences you want to create. If a game allows a character to start as a simple peasant and eventually be able to wade through hordes of men, chopping them down left and right while their companion makes meteors rain from the sky... is that what you want? Maybe yes, maybe no. The thing with limits is that they shape play and approaches. Sometimes limitations in play lead to creativity, made necessary in an attempt to circumvent a limit or achieve a goal in spite of it.

In conclusion, the ultimate aim of all of this, for me, is fun. Do the limits you impose create a play-space that is conducive to the group having a good time, either due to the interesting challenges they create, or the confidence they create? Those are some good limits. If they make the game more of a hassle for everyone, or lead to a frustrating game? Maybe those are bad limits.

The fact that I wrote and posted this #RPGaDay2021 post for the 14th on the 17th maybe means I'm starting to hit my own limits! I guess you will know, when further posts either arrive or do not. But... I'm having some confidence I can get back on track!

Friday, August 13, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 13: Improvise

Today I'm totally taking the easier, alternate prompt: Improvise! 

The playing of RPGs can involve a little or a lot of work. There are characters with their backgrounds goals and motivations, settings, rules, possibly scenario details, and however much work you want to pour into any part of that, RPGs will take it. When it comes to my primary, central enjoyment of RPGs however, all of those previous things are preparation for the big show. Maybe you run over the locations in your head as a GM, maybe a player says some things out loud in the car as his character while driving home from work, trying to get the accent or attitude just right. Like a jazz or jam band musician practicing their instrument, an actor setting the stage, it's all just there in preparation for everyone to show up on game night... and perform.

To me, the perfect RPG game night is players, on stage, performing their characters. There are practical matters that get in the way, maybe some rules need to be looked up and it slows the flow, or a player feels a need to break out of the flow and check in, and this is all fine in so much as it's necessary. One of the key things about the performance though, is that it's not a recital of a written play or piece of music. It's a jam, an improvisation. My joy is being in it and reacting to it as it happens, trying to entertain others and be entertained myself with... our roleplaying chops, as expressed through our own individual personalities. It's the challenge to see if I can step up and have my character handle situations as they occur, in a satisfying way. I've made the analogy before, and am not the only one to compare roleplaying to musical improvisation. As a player, sometimes you step out and play a solo, other times you support what others are playing. As you add more players, that shapes the vibe as well, and maybe one of the players is just playing a minor supporting instrument, but it still enriches the tapestry of the whole thing you've all got going on. Some songs are ballads, others get people on the dance floor. All calling for a different approach that every player has their own thing they can bring to.

There are a few things that can put a damper on the free-wheeling "on stage" improvisation I really dig in a session. One of them is extensive out-of-character play, because I'm not getting to see the player express their character's personality as directly. Out-of-character planning also feels like the band pausing, stopping play to chat over what they are going to play next while the audience waits for them to figure it out. Consulting with other players as to what a character should do, or out-of-character suggesting what another character should do also is shy of my ideal. When we're on stage, I feel like every player should strive to be able to play their instrument (character), and also try to develop a vibe with the fellow players so that in-character moves and knowing looks are enough to set up psychically where we're headed next. Basically, once we're on stage I want the show to roll, and we'll be juggling and improvising, and maybe different people will flub a note here and there, or a cue is missed, but the show keeps going and you recover. You never want to have to stop the song and restart again.

My ideal here I know is being expressed in a fairly strong way. It is an ideal for me, and not an expectation. It takes time and experience with each other for a group to be able to engage in play like this. It takes compromise and communication. It takes trust in your fellow players, that you're all keyed into each other. The benefit, I think, when it all works, is that the game hits you full on. Players and their characters' actions delightfully surprise you in a way they can't when too much "back stage" discussion occurs regarding what the "party" should do. Characters and the world they are embedded in become primary, more vivid, instead of being reduced to tokens at a player's control. This is not to say other play styles are wrong, or whatever. I'm just talking about my jam, and improvisation is right at the heart of it!

Thursday, August 12, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 12: Think

To think, to direct your mind towards a matter. Tough prompt to say something insightful about. Broadly, I think we could say the purpose of #RPGaDay2021 is to inspire thoughts and thinking around RPGs among those of us actively participating or just reading and watching along, in addition to fostering a community atmosphere. We all have habits of thought, and new perspectives have the possibility of bringing us something useful. 

A lot of times I believe we are vaguely dissatisfied and the underlying reasons could very well be something unexamined, undiagnosed. Other times, in this hobby, you are seeking ideas for creative reasons, to make that character or situation more engaging for yourself and your friends. To think about and consider new things from fresh, unexpected angles opens up possible solutions, possible new avenues, and an open mind and new perspectives feed your ability to pursue all of that. 

Ultimately, however, to meet a goal, thinking must come to action. You must change your behavior, have that conversation, make that decision that has the possibility of bring about a desired change in yourself or your environment. We all know this, even if sometimes we need to be reminded. Yeah, I'll keep it short today. Good luck with all of your thinking and doing, and may it take you to better places.

#RPGaDay2021 Day 11: Wilderness

The wilderness provides contrast to civilization. We spend most of our time ensconced in the trappings of civilization, something of us and by us, for us. The wilderness doesn't have us at its center. Confronting this brings a shift in perspective and reveals different aspects of our nature.

When it comes to roleplaying, the wilderness certainly has much to offer. In fiction writing a classic breakdown of conflict we probably all remember is the ol' Man versus Man/Man versus Nature/Man versus Self division (sometimes expanded to include some other opposition, such as Machines, Society or Fate, etc.) Man versus Nature differs from other conflicts in that it isn't necessarily all about people, Man versus some other aspect or creation of humanity... something about it makes us pull our heads out of the ground, and consider our place and standing in the rest of the world or universe, individually and as a species. It can remind us that we're animals, strip back some illusions we keep about ourselves.

How can the wilderness be used to bring out different play experiences? Well, while this is still in a "Man versus Man" vein, the isolation of the wilderness, its distance from norm enforcing civilization has the potential of bringing different behavior out of people. Are a character's values truly held, or only held when there are others there to see him or her? Another major factor that comes up when wilderness is in play is self-sufficiency. Finding supplies or aid becomes more difficult, complicated. The isolation brings a change in approach by Players. 

The conflicts and situations that arise in the wilderness can take many forms. A conflict can be simple survival in the environment. Alternately, any creature has the possibility of creating conflict or complicating situations. These environments can be swamps, deserts, tundra, deep forests, caves, outer space, or distant unexplored worlds and planetary systems. The ways of creatures and characters' interactions with them can be a source of mystery. Is there some shared level of understanding between the creature and the man? Does something about its natural ways and demeanor reveal anything about the characters in the contrast, or even commonalities? Also, because nature can't be interacted with using words and it doesn't have a whole host of human concerns, it can tap us into some different ways of thinking, something that is at times more instinctual and feelings based, something that can feel a bit profound and a little mystical.

So... it is possible to use the wilderness in your games and gloss over a lot of what I've talked about. It can just be an in-between place where maybe characters stop to beat up some bears in now and then. I guess the point of today's entry is to point at a couple of flavors and different vibes the wilderness can help provide. Maybe they are flavors you've been looking to add to your game?

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 10: Trust

Trust among an RP group lets everyone open up and play a game boldly. Distrust results in players holding back, a sense of caution, inhibition. What can we do to increase trust? What creates distrust? This is the subject I'm taking up for today's #RPGaDay2021 prompt.

Have you been roleplaying for a long time? When is the last time you've played with someone completely new to the hobby? Completely new players are great, because they remind you of the promise of role playing, how you felt about it in the beginning before perhaps the habits, rules and culture of role playing started to shape your expectations into something more mundane or routine. If you ever lose the spark of exuberant joy in RPing, a completely new player can wake it back up. Sometimes, with a player completely new to the hobby, they will be a little timid. Sometimes a player is just shy. Sometimes, the "you can do anything" scope is intimidating and the player wants to see how things are done before leaping in themselves. Sometimes it takes a bit to overcome an inhibition or self-conscious sense you're just acting silly, and maybe roleplaying is just a bit embarrassing. What gets those new players over their initial inhibitions are a growing sense of what's going on, honest encouragement and appreciation of their contributions, a confidence that grows with experience, and it is bolstered by trust. 

What do participants in a game need to be able to trust in for the game to flourish? At the most basic level, you just need to be able to trust that you are with decent people. Trust that you aren't going to be insulted or mocked or otherwise treated poorly on a game night where you just wanna relax and have good times. This seems so basic, yet at the same time I've seen groups failing even here. There is a saying that is somewhat appropriate, "No gaming is better than bad gaming." I agree with that broadly, but especially at the level of social decency and respect. I have enough friends now that it is relatively easy for me to say, but I don't think it is worth the exchange of accepting poor behavior in your life, just because you really want to engage in a particular activity. 

More subtly, I think increasing trust in a play group requires paying attention to each player, trying to form an understanding of what they enjoy and what they do not enjoy. The more you are able to support, or not undermine their play, the more trust they will have that you are a partner that can be worked with to get to the fun places. When players have a good understanding of each other, a confidence about it, it means they are more likely to trust a player that chooses to take a chance or move play in a direction that may seem chancy, strange, or possibly edgy in a way that could go bad. Provided that trust was well placed, it means your games can go further than they would have without it.

As far as distrust, there are a few ways I see it created. I mean, just failing to be a decent, kind person will get you distrusted, and close people off from willing to be open emotionally. Another thing I see is when a player is interested in the fiction and another player mocks it or doesn't take it seriously, turns potentially cool or emotionally impactful moments into jokes, or makes meta-commentary, takes things at an ironic distance. In cases like these, eventually the player interested in playing more seriously can disengage, to the detriment of the game. Cheating at the game as a player or GM can also create a distrust that can potentially anger, or at least lessen the enjoyment and engagement of others at the table. Selfishly deciding to have a character engage in the scenario in a way that does not honor the fictional reality (by playing using Out-Of-Character knowledge for personal benefit, or exploding the situation by having your character put the other PCs in a situation where they can not easily continue) also can kill player and GM enthusiasm and destroy their ability to trust that you have their entertainment or desires in mind at all. 

I fear I did not have the most evocative take on this subject, but in conclusion I think my core point is that fostering trust in each other is one of the key factors in bringing the best roleplaying possible out onto the table. Role playing is a collaborative endeavor, everyone responsible for contributing to the overall experience. Can you be trusted to do your part?

The Jam is ON!

So, I'm kicking off on this " MS Paint TTRPG Jam " today! I won't lie, I've been doing some prep leading up, mulling o...