RPGaDay Catch-up: The Inevitable Sequel

I offer no excuses for getting behind on these, except that I am on holidays for the first time in a while and I have enjoyed catching up on my reading. If you can block out a day or two where you can just read, with breaks to eat and sleep, I highly recommend it. But onto the topics!

How can players make a world seem real?

I think it’s important for Game Masters to get their players invested in the campaign world as soon as possible. Character backgrounds are an obvious way to do this, but they are sometimes a little “higher level”. I like to find ways to get the players to tell me details about the world we’re in, rather than me just declaiming things to them. So if they are asking me about something their character would reasonably know, I’ll turn it around and ask, “Why don’t you tell me what that looks like?”, or “Describe how that works.” Sometimes I’ll even ask a player about details their characters might not be as familiar with, because people in the world often have ideas about how things work even if they don’t actually know (see most any conversation online at one time or another), and either supporting or contradicting those ideas. Suggestions of specific questions to draw details out of your players:

  • What are some of the stranger items on the tavern menu?
  • What is stamped on the local gold pieces.
  • What do people in this world do instead of handshakes?
  • What’s a common kid’s game?
  • Is there a local sport team? If so, what are they called, what do they play, and who are their rivals?

Surprise them with questions like this from time to time, and maybe reward them (XP or otherwise) for their answers. With luck, you may get them to the point where they are volunteering tidbits on their own, and as a GM that is the best.

How can a GM make the stakes important?

The characters have to have something to lose. Whether on a personal level or just plot-wise, there needs to be a sense that you can take something away from the characters, that their choices may result in things getting worse, not better. I’ll add the caveat that you need to tailor that to your group, so you avoid analysis paralysis; you don’t want them so afraid to make a choice that they don’t do anything.

Character backgrounds are a good place to start. Any relative they mention is fair game, but so are old mentors, teachers, rivals. And loss doesn’t have to mean death. If the character has a beloved mentor that made them the adventurer they are today, what does it do to them to discover that their mentor has changed, or that they never were the kindly teacher at all? As well, relationships which develop between PCs and NPCs (or PCs and PCs) become a way to raise the stakes. And the best part is the characters make that decision themselves, so they accept that raising of the stakes. That said, I do recommend not “fridging” every NPC that catches a character’s eye, as that is the quickest way to convince your players to never make those attachments for their characters. Use it sparingly, like saffron.

How can we get more people playing?

Stop all the gate keeping bullshit. Gentles, I have been playing TTRPGs for thirty-nine years and I’ve loved every minute of it. Except the minutes spent dealing with douchecanoes who think that their time in the hobby, or their knowledge of a particular game system, or just being a cis white dude, means they can decide who is a real gamer and who isn’t. When I started playing in 1980, there was really only one way to get in the hobby: discover a group and start playing. Now, though, there are so many ways to get involved in TTRPGs, so many ways to start playing, or watch games being played, or learn to paint miniatures, or build terrain, of make TTRPG crafts, or… If you’re an OG like me, you need to realize that folks can come to our hobby from almost any angle now, and that’s a good thing. What’s also a good thing is allowing women, LBGTQ2S, and Persons of Colour in our hobby their voice, or making the games accessible to people with disabilities, mental and physical. I’ve often talked about it as making room at the table, but that isn’t entirely accurate. These folks have been in the hobby from the beginning so we aren’t making room. We’re acknowledging the space was always theirs as well, and making it more consciously welcoming. Doing this takes nothing away from the hobby I love, and gives it such a rich realm of experience to draw upon, to present stories and games we might not otherwise have available.

 

But what do you think? Drop your answers to any of these questions in the comments below.

Big News and RPGaDay Catch-up

It’s almost become tradition at this point, I have to make a catch-up post for RPGaDay. Surprising no one.

But first, some exciting news! The ENnie Awards were Friday night, and they announced the judges for 2019. I made it! I honestly thought it was a long shot, so thanks to everyone who voted for me! I look forward to looking at a bunch of excellent gaming material, and I hope I can do some good around nudging the awards (and the gaming industry) toward inclusivity and accessibility. I’m excited to get started.

What Gives a Game ‘Staying Power’?

I’m going to assume this means why do some RPGs keep getting new editions, while others fade away. I think there are some games which are just iconic to their genre within RPGs. Dungeons & Dragons is the obvious example of this. I don’t think there will be another fantasy RPG with as wide-spread appeal as D&D. Paizo came very close with Pathfinder, and as a result created a truly excellent game and setting. But D&D, especially in its current edition, strikes an excellent balance between simplicity of entry to play for new players and enough complexity to allow veteran players some crunch. The game encapsulates (for good or bad) what we’ve come to identify as the fantasy genre in RPGs, and whether we do it consciously or not, we compare every other fantasy RPG to D&D. Other games, like Call of Cthulhu and Shadowrun, have a similar standing in their respective genres. While they may not be the best games from a mechanical standpoint (I personally find Trail of Cthulhu‘s mechanics superior to CoC), there is no question they are best at evoking the feel of their particular genre.

Most Memorable NPC?

This one is a bit of a spoiler for the Rise of the Runelords adventure path, so if you haven’t played that but are planning to, look away. There is a dungeon under Sandpoint which really is supposed to be like a reasonably quick sidequest. It gives the characters their first exposure to Ancient Thassilon and Runelords, and clues them in that maybe something bigger is going on. The BBG is just an imp, which any party of the right level should be able to take down fairly quickly. Not this time, though. For whatever reason, my party struggled to deal with this imp, and I delighted in having the imp taunt and toy with them every time they came back to “play”. What should have been an evening’s adventure stretched over three sessions and seven different forays into the dungeon. After one such foray, the party limped out of the dungeon with the barbarian carrying both the (dying) cleric and the rogue, while the fighter limped out on 1 hp. And the characters had just entered the dungeon twenty minutes previous. In game, I had the townsfolk talking about the horrendous monsters which must be down there; when they party was finally victorious and came back to display the 2-foot tall body of the imp, the townsfolk were less than enthused. But I loved playing that imp to the full! And it taught me a valuable lesson as a GM: easy on paper does not always mean easy in play.

Favourite Recurring NPC?

Right now I’m having a bunch of fun with the Ghast Queen, one of the main NPCs in a D&D campaign world I created and am running. She sacrificed her humanity five hundred years prior with the best of intentions: she wanted to ensure her people had someone to lead them through the dark days of the Cataclysm and help them survive and rebuild. Unfortunately, the Ghast Queen has some very extreme views on recycling, and after after five hundred years the city of Graveport is a blend of the living and the undead. And the Ghast Queen is quite, quite mad. I look forward to how the party chooses to deal with her.

What Do You Look For in an RPG? (RPGaDay2018)

I am endlessly intrigued and fascinated by the variety of roleplaying games currently on the market, as well as all the systems that came before. So on the one hand I don’t really look for anything in an RPG, I just take them as they come and try to embrace what is unique about that particular game. Especially now as I stock the collection for my TTRPG library project, I do not gatekeep the games in any way. I want them all!

Which is all well and good for that project, but of course I have a different attitude when it comes to what I’ll play on the regular. While I do enjoy a certain level of crunch, what I want most of all is an RPG with just enough rules to make character creation choices interesting, that allows us to get to playing in a minimum amount of time. As I get older, I find I have less and less time to use for playing RPGs (and yes, it will happen to you), so when I do have that time I don’t want to waste a bunch of it in character creation. I want to maximize the amount of time I spend at the table. So while I still enjoy crunchy games like Pathfinder, I find myself drawn more to games like D&D 5e that are relatively rules light, or FATE, where character creation is also world building and is tied into starting the game.

Not coincidentally, those are also the games for which I enjoy creating content. I can pull something together real quick, give it a practice run in play, and tweak it as I go. This is especially the case with any 5e content I create for my home campaigns, as I’m currently running two games set in my homebrew world. Often I try something out in one game and modify it based on feedback before trying it out in the other.

But the common thread in all that is that I want to spend the maximum amount of time at the table rolling dice and telling stories with my friends. Any RPG that allows me to do that is aces.

What Do You Love About RPGs? (RPGaDay2018)

I’m taking part in RPGaDay 2018, so get ready for a plethora of posts all month long!

I’ve talked in other posts about the many reasons I love RPGs. I mean, one rarely takes part in a hobby for thirty-nine years unless they really love it (and if you’ve been doing it that long and not loving it, maybe it’s time to evaluate why you’re in the hobby?). So after all that time I have plenty of reasons to love this hobby and this community. I’m going to talk about one: how it helped me be a better introvert.

Ask around and you’ll get ten different definitions of introvert from ten different people. My working definition is that introverts are energized by solitude and solitary activities, and expend that energy to interact with large groups of people. Simply put, if I have a party or even convention I want to go to, I need some quiet time beforehand to get myself energized for that event. And then I’ll likely need some time the next day to recharge.

One of the reasons I love TTRPGs is that they are sort of a loophole for me in the introvert energy transfer. An RPG session can actually energize me, even though I’m spending time constantly interacting with 4-6 other folks for several hours. For the longest while I couldn’t understand why that should be. Put me with the same number of people for the same amount of time doing anything else, and I need some recharge time almost immediately. But I found myself coming out of gaming sessions with as much, and sometimes more energy, as I carried in.

After some thought I realized that what I did during an RPG session and what I did during my recharge times were very similar. When I’m recharging I usually read a book, watch episodes of a show or a movie, maybe play a single-player computer game of some kind. I’ll also write campaign material or work on editing. But in some way I spend my down time engaged in story, whether creating or consuming. And that same engagement in story happens when I play RPGs, there just happens to be other folk around. So while there is a minimal energy drain from dealing with other people, that energy is replaced by the game, by collectively telling a story with my friends.

Discovering this not only helped me embrace more gaming (I had been reluctant to take on too much lest I drain myself too often), but it helped me shift how I approached playing the games themselves. I used to love a tonne of crunch, but these days I’m more interested in rules-light storytelling. Running my games that way has meant my games energize me more, and I think it’s helped make me a better game master.

What about you? What do you love about TTRPGs? Comment below.

ENies Voting Starts Today

Today voting opens for the 2018 ENnies, awards given to designers and companies in the TTRPG industry to celebrate the work they’ve done in the past year. You can see the entire list of nominees  and then cast your votes if you are so inclined.

And I’m hoping you are, because for the very first time I’ve put my name in the running to become an ENnies judge. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but due to my work with one game company or another I wasn’t eligible. But as of this year I have enough distance from my work with any one company to qualify as a nominee, and so I’m in the running to be a judge for 2019. I’d love for you to vote for me, so let’s talk a bit about why I want to be a judge.

I love tabletop role-playing games. I’ve been in the hobby pretty much non-stop since I was ten years old (that will be 39 years, for anyone keeping score at home), and I have loved every minute of it. I have a passion for finding and devouring new gaming material, which is great because the TTRPG industry has kept that passion fed.  I’ve been lucky to be on hand for some pretty major cultural shifts within the hobby, and even though there are still issues to deal with our hobby has tended to trend toward inclusion.

Let’s look closer at the, “…still issues to deal with…” part of my statement. There is no question we still have some very specific problems to overcome around inclusion and accessibility. While I was excited to see DOTS putting out a really solid set of braille dice this past year, one of the first things I thought was, “Wait, no one had done that already?” Asking that question led to me to wonder about audio versions of TTRPG books for the visually impaired, and whether someone could make an ASL manual for common TTRPG terms. And those are two very basic questions, but the answers would open the hobby up to so many new players, game masters, and designers. Making our hobby more accessible takes nothing away from the gamers who don’t require it, but gives everything to the gamers who do.

And inclusion? We’re moving in the right direction, overall, and I think the rise of streaming has definitely had a positive influence in that regard. But we can do better, and all levels of our hobby must work to that end. We need to include more people at the table, but to encourage them to sit down they need to see themselves in the stories and books in the hobby. And for that to happen, the industry needs to welcome more creators from traditionally marginalized groups into our hobby. At the same time, we need to pay more attention to the independent creators already putting out excellent work in our hobby.

That’s where I see my role as an ENnies judge coming in to play. As a judge I intend to encourage previously marginalized creators to submit their work to the ENnies for judging. I can’t make anyone do it, of course, but I can make them aware of the process and encourage them. And once submitted, I’ll judge the work on its merits and champion the ones I think deserve to move forward.

In hand with that, I’ll be looking at all the material that comes my way through the two lenses of inclusivity and accessibility. Obviously all the other criteria by which I would judge a game also apply, not least of which is, is it fun? But also things like, does it explore something new, something we haven’t seen in TTRPGs before? If I’m presented with Retroclone RPG, you’re going to have a hard hill to climb to convince me it’s worthy of an award.

So that’s how I’m coming at ENnies judging. I’ve been in this hobby long enough, and I’ve read and played the myriad ways folks that look like me approach the hobby. I want to hear from folks who are not me, because I think that is how our hobby grows and gets stronger. I want more diverse ENnies judges, and I’ll be vocal about that whether I succeed in my bid this year or not. I recognize that part of challenge of that is simply that being a non-cis white male on the internet is harder than I can know, and becoming a judge would give one more avenue of access to the more toxic elements of our hobby. I hope I can help effect some changes to make that an easier prospect.

All of that is to say, please go to the ENnies voting page and vote. Vote for the games you’d like to celebrate, and if you are so inclined, please vote for me as a 2019 ENnies judges. I’m hoping to do good things with it, but I need your help to get the chance. And spread the word to your friends and encourage them to vote as well.

And thank-you. Whether I get the job or not, I’m looking forward to another year of gaming, and I’ll still be writing about everything I talked about above.

Summertime, and the Gaming is Easy

Another hot day on the Canadian Prairies, so it seemed the perfect time to sit inside with the AC and give a quick update on goings on in my life, gaming, and the site.

Big news right off the top: I put my name in the running to become an ENnies judge! It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but because I was repping one TTRPG company or another over the last several years I wasn’t eligible. This was actually the first year in a decade I could sign up, so I made the plunge. I’ll make a longer post on the day voting opens (Wednesday, July 11, so limber up your clicking fingers) to talk about why I’m invested in becoming a judge and how you can help (the hint was “voting”), but if I succeed in getting a spot you can expect to see a metric tonne of product reviews and discussions here. Plus you should just go vote in the ENnies because there is a lot of really great stuff nominated this year, and these awards are one way (besides buying the product) we can show some love to the designers.

Whether I become a judge or not, though, you can expect to see some changes around the site leading up to the fall. I took a step forward and upgraded to a paid site here on Worpress, complete with the shiny new domain renaissancegamer.ca. You can update your links as you please, but I am assured both the new and old URLs will get you here so it isn’t a panic. A paid site gives me some more options for layout and design, as well as e-commerce options which may become handy in the future. Plus it allows me to lock in the Renaissance Gamer domain name. I could have gone for .com, but I’m Canadian so .ca seemed appropriate. Plus it allows that person focusing on Renaissance era dice and card games to have their shot at a site.

I’m still posting once a week over at The Rat Hole, every Monday. Ish. Okay, sometimes Tuesday because both Dave and I are busy dudes and it may take a little while to post the articles I submit totally on time and never late ever. Between The Rat Hole and here, my goal is to post three times a week minimum, with more content if I have more to say.

Work on the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games proceeds apace. I’m exploring database options while the collection is relatively small, so I don’t find myself 10,000 books deep in a database I realize doesn’t do what I want. I’m also building out a website so I can move the Library’s main presence off Facebook, as I’m in the process of minimizing my connection with that site. And of course I’m expanding the collection, hitting book sales when I can and following up on leads from friends who know what I’m up to. I’m also developing contacts with as many small publishers I can so I can pick up and add their work to the library. As much as I enjoy collecting the old gaming material I also want to be proactive and add new material to the collection so I stay on top of new games.

Somewhere in all that I’m also finding time to play and run games. Never as much as I like, but that is the bane of anyone who’s interests in the hobby also extend outside just the playing. I’m happy with the games I’m in and my players seem to be happy with the games I’m running, so I’m content.

That’s it for now. You’ll see a post on Monday over at The Rat Hole, and I’ll have a post here on Wednesday, with another one on the Friday/the weekend. Until then stay cool or hot, as your local weather dictates.

Making Scrolls Magical

I wrote before of ways in which you can make the magic in your game more magical. Today I want to focus on that most ubiquitous of magical items, the scroll.

Casting magic from a scroll has been a staple of fantasy for longer than there has been fantasy. Mythology is rife with scrolls being used to make magic great and small. Terrible and wonderful things have been wrought by words written on a rolled-up bit of paper.

And that last bit is the problem. Say “scroll” to your players, and it’s very likely you both have the same image in your head; a rolled up bit of parchment, maybe tied with a ribbon or tucked in a tube. And the response to finding a scroll in their treasure is indifference at best, unless they’re one of the party casters.

So let’s change that. Even in our world different cultures created myriad ways to communicate the written word. A scroll from Feudal Japan is going to look different than a similar scroll from Medieval China, and both will look nothing like the scrolls used in Dynasty Egypt. Why shouldn’t the scrolls in your game have that same variation?

And that assumes you stick to scrolls written on paper or paper-like surfaces. I’ve listed ten ideas for weird and wonderful scrolls to surprise your players with at your next session. While it isn’t exhaustive, hopefully it helps get your brain juices flowing to come up with unconventional scrolls of your own. They may require a bit more thought and care on behalf of the GM than a regular scroll might, but I think the excitement from your players will be well worth it.

  1. The scroll is a skull, with the spell inscribed on the inside surface. At the GM’s discretion different skulls could enhance certain spells (a shrinking spell inscribed in a pixie skull, for instance)
  2. The scroll is a playing card, with the words symbols hidden in the card’s artwork. Added bonus, your players may, for one sphincter-clenching moment, think they’ve found a deck of many things when the deck of cards detects as magic. Good times.
  3. The scroll is a stretched hide in a frame. Cumbersome to carry, this is more suited to ritual spells that might commonly be cast in a specific location.
  4. The scroll is one of several similar tapestries, all hanging within eye line of the ruler as they sit on their throne. Perfect for when an NPC needs quick protective/offensive magic.
  5. The scroll is a bird, the words inscribed on its feathers. When the bird is released its song activates the spell.
  6. The scroll is a small (15-20 piece) puzzle, which must be completed to activate the scroll.
  7.  The scroll is an uncooked egg. Breaking the egg releases the spell. Only works on uncooked eggs. As with the skulls, different eggs may enhance different spells.
  8. The scroll is blend of spices, coloured pigments, and other granular ingredients. Flinging the entire contents into the air releases the spell.
  9. The scroll is a small firework, and the spell releases after it explodes.
  10. The scroll is a doll, the words written on its porcelain skin. When you pull the string in its back its eyes open and it speaks the trigger word to complete the spell.

Pick a description you like, or roll a d10 for a quick one-off result. Or use a bunch all at once; imagine a library filled with a variety of these scrolls. Comment below with your ideas for alternate scrolls.