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.