#RPGaDay, Day 22: Perfect Gaming Environment

P1000011_smI don’t really have any preference when it comes to the physical environment I game in. I’m just as happy to sit around a living room as I am to sit at a table, or play at a store or con as opposed to a private home. I do have a separate room at home for gaming and I’ve been slowly making it more comfortable and cool (and resisting the urge to use it as convenient storage). But I’ll pretty much play anywhere.

What I care more about is who I game with. There’s a short-list of gaming friends who I will play with at the drop of a hat, and a slightly broader list that I enjoy playing with whenever I have the chance. (There is also, unfortunately, a list of folks I enjoyed gaming with but likely not have a chance to game with again; for a long time, until I got my depression under tighter control, I was a VERY unreliable gamer. If you don’t show up to play, whatever the reason, you’re hurting the group’s fun and most will ask you to leave. Which I agree with.) All of these folks have a few things in common, which keeps them on my radar as potential game table companions:

Enthusiasm – No surprise, I like playing with folks who like games. I’ve played at the table when there is one other person who’s into the game, and the rest are varying shades of “meh”. No thanks. As I have more and more pressure on my game time, I would prefer not to play, than play with folks who don’t love gaming. I don’t need my table-mates to be constantly over-the-top excited every second we play together. But I want the people at the table to want to be there.

Note, this has nothing to do with new gamers. New gamers might not totally enthusiastic yet, because they are just getting into the hobby and may not be sure it’s for them yet. But in that case what I also want is:

Openness – Be open to what we’re playing. Any gamer will tell you, there are bad games out there. Not every game can be a Pathfinder or Trail of Cthulhu, sometimes you’ll find yourself stuck with a D&D 4th Edition. But I like gaming with folks who will give the game we’re playing an honest chance, and not bail (mentally or physically) before we’ve had a chance to really try it out. I’m willing to give any RPG a shot, because playing RPGs is not only one of my favourite things to do, but even bad RPGs can have cool elements. I’m not 4th Edition’s biggest fan by any stretch, but I totally loved the idea of passive Perception and Insight that was introduced, and stole that as a house rule for any other RPG I GM. So just a willingness to give whatever game we’re playing a fair shot goes a long way to keeping you at my table.

Generosity – This ties back to those new gamers I mentioned above. I love playing with people who are excited to share our hobby with newcomers. I have no time to waste on gatekeepers of any size, shape, or stripe. I get that there are folks, having lived through the “bad old days” before role-playing was cool (it was always cool, by the way, those people were jerks), who feel that new gamers should have to “pay their dues”. But why? For me, the whole point of going through that crap in bygone years was to make the hobby better and more inclusive. Basically, I paid extra dues so that future gamers don’t have to pay any. You want to game? Cool, hand me those dice and let me show you a thing; we’re going to have a metric %@*&load of fun, friend!

Note that no where on my list do I mention anything about extensive game knowledge, tactical brilliance, or even skill. Any and all of those things will improve as you game, so if you don’t have them the solution is…more games! If you’ve got at least a smidge of the three qualities I listed above, you’re welcome at my table anytime.

What’s your perfect gaming environment? Comment below and let’s discuss.

#RPGaDay, Day 20: Favourite Horror RPG

Call_of_Cthulhu_RPG_1st_ed_1981I mentioned in an earlier RPGaDay post that I’m currently diving deep in to Trail of Cthulhu. But before that I was head over heals for the Call of Cthulhu game, going all the way back to the first box set. I loved playing it almost as much as I enjoyed running it. The issue was finding people to play it with me. Growing up in Fort McMurray the player pool was already small, and the cross-section of that pool who also loved horror RPGs was not overflowing. Add to that the persistent issue that it is hard to run a long-lasting CoC campaign due to player mortality/insanity, and most folks, even the ones who loved the game, would often opt to play something else. I still managed to sneak in the occasional Halloween or Friday the 13th one-off, but the game mostly gathered dust on my shelf.

Another persistent issue with Call of Cthulhu, and why it isn’t sitting squarely atop my favourite list, was the investigative aspect of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I love games where I have to puzzle things out, especially when the mechanics of the game support that. But CoC, like many games of the time, was a straight ahead dice roller: you have a stat represented as a percentile, you roll percentile dice to see if you succeed, and only if you succeed do you get anywhere. If you don’t succeed (because random dice are random) everything stalls, and either the players have to figure out some other more circuitous avenue or the game master has to just give them the clue. Neither solution is particularly satisfying.

Enter Trail of Cthulhu. As you would expect from a game which uses a system called GUMSHOE, 200px-TrailofCthulhucoverToC handles clues and clue-finding a little differently. It starts with the premise that, as the characters are investigators of one stripe or another, they will find clues. Finding clues, after all, is not the real important part. Understanding a clue, that’s where the metal hits the bone. So in ToC you will almost always find clues if you are looking for them, and if you as the player can figure out what they mean you’re golden. If you can’t, though, your character can then choose to spend points from an appropriate skill to determine what the clue means, or if there is any extra knowledge to be gleaned from a clue you already understand. The upside is, no more stalled investigations. Your players will always have a way forward, and if they spend their point pools wisely, may gain information which gives them an advantage.

And having solved that issue, Trail of Cthulhu bumps out Call of Cthulhu as my favourite. All of that delicious, madness-inducing Cthulhu Mythos, with a mechanic which lets the players get to the meat quicker? Yes, please!

What’s your favourite horror RPG? Comment and let’s discuss.