RPGaDay: Catching Up to the Ides

Yep, definitely a little behind on these. Let’s catch up, shall we?

How has a game surprised you?

This is tough to narrow down, because I read a lot of games and I’m constantly finding little surprises, good and bad. Star Trek Adventures, for instance, surprised me with how intuitively their game mechanics support the tone and story of the game, and actually get players more involved in the action rather than breaking them out of it. At the same time, I’ve been less pleasantly surprised by the latest iteration of Vampire: The Masquerade. While it seems to be a return to ‘90s V:TM, the language of the game is riddled with quite a bit of white supremacist dog-whistling. Whether that’s intentional or not, it marks a major shift in the original tone of V:TM.

In any case, I like finding surprises in my gaming material. If you have the chance I highly recommend tracking down older material and giving it a read. You’ll often find some delightful surprises in those older games. I regularly find ideas and plots I can bring into my game.

How has gaming changed you?

Too many ways to list them all, but the one that stands out is its effect on my ability to better communicate with people. I’m a reformed stutterer and an introvert, and this hobby has been invaluable in helping me overcome the first and adapt to the second, both of which have helped me communicate better. Just being a Game Master and observing what works and what doesn’t when I’m talking with my players has helped me apply some of that same skill to other conversations and situations.

Wildest Character Name?

I never really ever got wild with character names, though I have fun these days by using words in other languages as character names. Latin is always a great choice, but I’ve also grabbed words from Gaelic, Spanish, Portuguese, Urdu, and Arabic. Often it’s as easy as finding a word in English that fits your character, and seeing what Google Translate can find for you. For instance, a recent Dwarven character based around electricity attacks got the name Dealanach, which is the Gaelic word for lightning. While it might be a little on the nose, unless you game with a bunch of fluent Scots no one at the table will know.

Wildest Character Concept?

While I haven’t had a chance to play Numenera yet (my time will come), I have spent some time exploring some character concepts. Numenera’s character creation system makes this especially simple to do, and I’m the type of nerd who loves sitting for hours making up characters I might never play (bonus, I now have a bunch of NPCs if I ever GM the game instead). I think my favourite so far is a particularly silly one I made, a Helpful Jack Who is Clothing Full of Bees. They are essentially what it sounds like, a person distributed through a bee colony, inhabiting clothing to appear more human. I may never get a chance to play it, but I look forward to the day I run a Numenera game and can introduce them as an NPC.

Describe how your play has evolved.

I answered this over on The Rat Hole, so you can check it out there. And maybe read some other stuff while you’re there…

Describe a failure that became amazing.

I don’t know if it’s a failure, but I recently did a bit of writing for a third party publisher that didn’t pan out. For whatever reason my turnover email with the finished work didn’t get to them, and they assumed I blew off the assignment. When I pointed out that they could have followed up much sooner and found out the truth, their response could be summed up by *shrug*. Since I’ve done all the work anyway, I plan to finish laying it out and tweaking some details I like better, commissioning some art, and releasing it on DriveThru. Hopefully that will happen in the fall, and it will be my first self-published work. So not really a failure and too soon to know if it’s amazing, but I’m excited to see what comes of it.

Describe a tricky RPG experience that you enjoyed.

I was GMing my players through a section of The Rise of the Runelords adventure path for Pathfinder, and they were fighting their way through an old runelord enclave to get to the current BBG. Unbeknownst to them the BBG had been scrying on them during their fights, and so had a pretty good idea of their tactics when they arrived. They busted out the usual moves and were shocked and then scared spitless when the BBG just shrugged them off, having had plenty of time to buff and prepare contingencies. Best fight I ever ran, as the party scrambled to come up with new tactics. They won in the end, but it was sphincter-tightenly close a few times. Which of course made the payoff all the sweeter for them. But it was a challenge to not have him just steamroll them, which I could have easily done in the first few rounds.

Describe your plans for your next game.

I’m not sure I want to, as I have it on reasonable authority at least a few of them read my blog (Hello!). But I have a possible upcoming D&D campaign that I’ll be running for a co-worker and his friends, and it’s possible they won’t see this is time to do any good. I had briefly considered putting them in a section of my existing homebrew campaign, which would bring the total number of concurrent campaigns in that world to three. But it’s a group of new players, not just to D&D but to TTRPGs, so I don’t want to add any more confusion than I have to. So I’m taking this as an opportunity to return to the Forgotten Realms, and use some of the material there. I’m looking through the published material to see what I might use, and figuring out if I want to make my own campaign. But as with all games with new players, my plan is to get them into the action as quick as possible, and get them doing cool things right away. Hook them with the cool stuff, and they’ll keep coming back to the table…

Whew! Okay, I promise to try and be good and do these every day. Fingers crossed!

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.

April TTRPG Maker Challenge, Day 2: Where ya At?

Geophysically, I’m in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, on the northern prairies. Because I live in Canada I’m also on Treaty 6 territory, a traditional gathering place for diverse Indigenous peoples including the Cree, Blackfoot, Metis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, Ojibway/ Saulteaux/Anishinaabe, Inuit, and many others whose histories, languages, and cultures continue to influence our community.

Edmonton is a vibrant city in many ways, and tabletop gaming is no exception. I think we may have more tabletop cafes per capita than any other city in Canada, and recently I’d be willing to say that about Friendly Local Game Stores as well. There are four very active tabletop gaming cons locally, two focused on board games, one on just TTRPGs, and the last tries for a mix. And just this year we added a tabletop game prototype con and a computer and tabletop gaming con, so there are no shortage of events. In fact, if you’re in Edmonton and have the weekend free a few weeks from now, you should check out GOBFest, running April 14 and 15. Always a good time!

As to where I’m at in my making? I’m just starting out, really. I mean I’m a GM, so I’ve been making for over 35+ years. But as far as making for general consumption goes, I’m a newbie. I’ve learned a bunch editing other people’s projects, though, and I have that experience to draw upon. I’m actually really excited to take this next step and start putting more of my stuff out in the world.

April TTRPG Maker Challenge

I’m taking part in the #AprilTTRPGMaker Challenge this month from @kiranansi. While I’ve been blogging about and editing TTRPGs for a few years, I am just easing a toe in the water of writing and designing my own material. This looked like a good opportunity to talk about that process, as well as solidifying some of my thoughts around making game material. I hope you enjoy, and if you’re taking part I look forward to reading your posts.

#1: Who Am I?

My name is Brent Jans and I’ve been a table top gamer since 1980, when I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at the tender age of ten. Since then I have played many games, more often as the game master than not. About five years ago I started blogging semi-regularly about the hobby as Renaissance Gamer (a play on the term “renaissance man”). About three (four?) years ago I hung out my shingle as a freelance TTRPG editor, mostly trying to provide editing services to other freelance or small press TTRPG writers and publishers who might not otherwise use an editor; you can find links to some of the work I’ve done on my Need an Editor? page.

Here on my blog I talk about whatever gaming-related idea or topic pops into my head, though I do have semi-regular articles on food at the gaming table, campaign inspiration, and inclusivity. I also blog a bunch about local gaming events and stores, because supporting the local gaming community is important to me. My blog posts are also where you’ll find a bunch of my creations/ideas for my home games, posted to share with other gamers. I also post an editorial once a week over at The Rat Hole, an excellent site for both board game and TTRPG reviews (which you should totally check out, hint hint!).

About a year-and-a-half ago I started a D&D 5e campaign (the first time I had played actual D&D in almost ten years), then I started a second one. I created my own campaign world for that, and my players are currently exploring various parts of one of the main areas, Cotterell. I’m excited, because the campaign has me writing new game material on a regular basis, and I’m eyeing some of that for publication. I have wanted to publish for years, but never put my focus into it the way I should have until very recently.

I also recently pulled the trigger on a project I’ve had in my head for many years. The Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games is my project to collect, preserve, and discuss gaming material from the start of the hobby until now. It’s very early days, but my meager collection is growing and a number of folks locally have come on board to help. It’s probably the thing I’m most excited about, moving forward.

And that’s me. If you have questions, feel free to drop them in the comments below. In the meantime I’ll see you tomorrow!