#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 15

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 15 - Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

I interpreted this question by taking "adapt" to mean "hack" -- specifically "rules hack." "Adapting" could also refer just as easily to "reskinning," which is just as valid, but which doesn't give me much in the way of choosing one game over another. Reskinning, in my mind, should take advantage of a ruleset, certainly, or at least take it into account, but I don't find particular favor in reskinning one system over another by virtue of the system. I'm of the belief that the choice of a system for reskinning should be driven by what you're reskinning to. Rules hacking, however, implies a different set of criteria. The rules you are hacking definitely will affect the enjoyability of the hacking process.

This question also gave me a certain amount of pause, because upon some self-reflection, I realized that hacking games is not really something I do a lot! There are a million games out there, and I get a good experience out of many of them. If I find that a game experience isn't quite for me, it's often a lot easier and more productive for me to just find another game rather than try and hack up one that doesn't do it for me. I think the most common occurrence for this kind of thing for me, personally, is to bring the setting from one game into the system for another, but that's honestly just more reskinning if I don't drum up modifications to the second system. And even if I do, it's often small things or swapping in or out independent subsystems, basically just for the ease of not having to worry about design issues.

So. For this question, I'm going to wander into theoretical territory. If I were into adapting games, I think my system of choice would be Fate Core by Leonard Balsera, Brian Engard, Jeremy Keller, Ryan Macklin, and Mike Olson. This answer is potentially a bit of a cheat, not only because Fate Core proper is a generic system, but because it's purposely built to be modular and hackable. Those properties are exactly why I would find it an enjoyable system to hack, though. Fate certainly does promote, if not a genre, then a particular style or tone of play, in that it's geared for high, fast action and capable, heroic protagonists who are generally expected to succeed at things. These are qualities that I tend to enjoy in RPGs anyway, and so if I needed to adapt a system to run a game that looked like that, Fate would be my go-to. Also aside from being designed to be hackable, Fate hacking is also explicitly supported and encouraged by Evil Hat. For example, the Fate System Toolkit is effectively a manual on how to perform rules hacks on Fate Core, and I certainly enjoy hacking any system that tells me how to hack it. The kinds of games that Fate Core encourages, its design as a hackable system, and publisher-led support to hacking it all make it my top choice for today's answer.

 

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 14

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 14 - Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

I'll start with a small bit of interpretation, because upon seeing a lot of the answers that people have come up with, I think "open-ended" may present a bit of ambiguity. I'm taking it to mean that the campaign has no particular narrative end point, that the campaign will continue as long as people are willing to play it. Even with such a condition, I still imagine there would be discrete story arcs or similar in play, but specifically I'm considering such a campaign to largely be based on the party (as opposed to, say, the setting). Sure, party members may be lost and others gained over the course of the story (whether characters or players), but I'm imagining that there must be a continuity from each session to the last for it to count for this question.

With that in mind, I admit that my answer is driven by a lot of my old-school beginnings. I can't envision such a structure without the classic d20-based high fantasy, a genre that Ken and Robin would term "F20." That said, I also don't see any particular reason that I would prefer an old-school game to realize this old-school vision. My game of choice for this would be 13th Age by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet. Any D&DPathfinder, or other F20 player will "get" 13th Age immediately, at least mechanically. Moreso for 5E players, actually. 13A even predates the publication of 5E by a bit, but it is very clear that they share a lot of common DNA. (Just look at the designers.) The edge that 13A holds over 5E for me is that 13A does a bit more abstraction, a bit more constraint (necessitating less system mastery), and introduces mechanics to drive narrative elements. 13th Age is my go-to for bridging die-hard old-schoolers over to more narrative games, and it's this same quality that appeals to the old-schooler in me that would want to see it used for an open-ended campaign. I can't recommend the game enough, particularly if you want that F20 feel without the same level of crunch. I find the abstracted skill system ("backgrounds") particularly compelling. If you're looking for a good halfway point between F20 and a fully narrative-driven game, you owe it to yourself to give 13th Age a spin.

That was my first thought, and I stick with it as my answer, but I kept seeing another title mentioned that I think I'd like to also bring up, and that is Ars Magica, currently in its fifth edition by David Chart. This is another classic game with deep roots in the hobby, and it is definitely worth mentioning that one of the original designers was, as with 13th Age, one Jonathan Tweet. (The other was Mark Rein•Hagen, a name certainly familiar to old World of Darkness players.) This game has tremendous potential for an open-ended campaign, primarily because it uses a "troupe" system in which players each have several characters to play and also rotate the GM responsibilities. Despite perhaps testing the limits of it, I still feel this falls within my original criteria for "open-ended campaign play," and truthfully there's only one big reason that my original pick wasn't unseated by Ars Magica: I've never played it! So from what I know of it, I would like to play that game in an open-ended campaign, and again, based on what I know, I think it would perform brilliantly. But not having had actual first-hand experience, I ultimately feel better sticking with my gut and naming 13th Age my pick for today. But I couldn't let this answer go by without at least bringing up Ars Magica.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 13

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 13 - Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

This is one of those times where I kinda wished I'd read ahead and done some planning. The first thing to come to mind was actually the story I related for Day 7, though I suppose that didn't necessarily change the way I play directly; it was more a memorable early experience in a long life of gaming. I like to think that I could take away a little something from every game, that the evolution of my playing style is just that -- an evolution -- and it took place as these things do in small increments over a long period of time.

This may be a cheat, but if there have been any quantum leaps in how I play, I like to think one of them happened the first time I read the rules to Apocalypse World. (And I'm also including GMing in this definition of "play.") A lot of gamers talk about how AW "just" codified a lot of techniques that they'd already been using, and there's certainly something to that, but even so, reading that ruleset and seeing all those things laid out was incredibly eye-opening for me. Failing forward, using conflict resolution rolls for entire scenes and not just as a turn-by-turn mechanic, the incredibly abstracted combat and damage system, the whole "play to find out what happens" principle... These are all things that spoke to me right through my little gamer heart. It's strange to even think about it at this point, but before that, I think that I had considered the story that emerges from a game to be something that was wrapped around the rules. The rules were there for you to play a game; a story was what emerged while you were playing it. AW really crystallized for me the idea that the rules can be used for the story, that generating the fiction was the game. Reading that game was me finding something I didn't even know I wanted. I often say that AW started a genuine revolution in game design, but for me personally, it also started a revolution in how I think about RPGs and, yes, how I run and play them.

The reason I call this a possible cheat is because I read the rules to AW long before I had a chance to play it. (I first became aware of the game via this newfangled entertainment form called "podcasts." Speaking of personal revolutions.) So, I imagine that the intent of this question was to ask about a gaming experience, but the answer I came up with was in its most literal form, a "game experience" -- not just an experience I had with a game, but the way I actually experienced a game. Only in this case, I'm talking about game in the sense of a book, a ruleset, and not a game in the sense of a session. (This hobby has a lot of ambiguous terminology, it turns out.) But whatever the case, I'm not losing sleep over it. AW opened me up to an entire new philosophy in both gaming and game design. I truly believe that it changed the face of the hobby itself, and I suppose that statement is legitimately up for debate. But I can state with certainty that it massively changed the hobby for me, and so, sure, I bet that changed the way I play.

 

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 12

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 12 - Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

Once again, I'm removing the superlative from this question. I love good RPG art. I love when the art sets the tone for the game, insofar as it communicates the tone that the designer intended. I'm a big believer in the rules of a game driving a particular style of play, and if a rules designer has done their job, that should be communicated well through actually playing the game, i.e. interacting with the rules. If the writer has done their job, it's communicated through the text. If the art director and artist have done their jobs, it's beamed straight into your brain through the artwork and hopefully evokes memories, associations, or feelings that tell you what this game is about. For games less reliant on rules as a genre-enforcer, I feel that the art becomes even more important, since it gives me a frame of reference I can use to "paint" the setting and the scenes, and maybe even the characters. I want to know what kind of world they inhabit. I want to know how they feel. The game's art, hopefully, communicates that to me.

A standout game for me in this arena is the Swedish dark fantasy game Symbaroum by Mattias Johnsson and Mattias Lilja, art by Martin Grip (recently translated into English and published through Modiphius). The illustrations in this book are, in a word, beautiful. The paintings are predominantly greys, browns, and dark, muted colors, maybe with occasional splashes of orange or red. The style is a particularly haunting kind of watercolor portraying a world filled with detail, but not through a crystal-clear lens by any means. My favorite pieces show grand, sweeping vistas with small figures; it gives me a sense of the scope of the world and the characters' places in it. The palette and scenery is spot-on for the tone of the game: dark, mysterious, and adventurous.

Symbaroum Interior Art

Symbaroum Interior Art, Martin Grip

Further, I really enjoy pieces that highlight characters interacting with other beings, because there is an impressive sense of scale communicated. Things aren't shown so giant as to be out of the realm of being reasonable, but they are clearly still not operating on the same scale as human beings.

Symbaroum Interior Art

Symbaroum Interior Art, Martin Grip

Symbaroum Interior Art

Symbaroum Interior Art, Martin Grip

Just flipping through this book gets my heart rate up. I want to see that world; I want to be part of that adventure. This is one of my favorite books just to leaf through as an art book. The scenes are evocative and exciting, and it makes me want to play. What else could you want from your RPG art?

For today's question, I'm going to break my own rule and also offer a second answer, if only because I love the art, and to show the kind of difference artwork can make to how I perceive a game's tone. My second pick is Witch: Fated Souls by Elizabeth Chaipraditkul. The artwork that captures me most in this book is the character art for the Fates, illustrated by Aida de Ridder. Witch is another dark fantasy game, but contemporary in setting. Despite the genre being billed so similarly to that of Symbaroum, the character art tells me a completely different story. These are people I might hang out with, people I might see just around. It just happens that they're part of a dark and dangerous occult world that at any moment could turn me to dust and blow me away.

Witch: Fated Souls: Heks

Witch: Fated Souls: Heks, Aida de Ridder

Witch: Fated Souls: Druid

Witch: Fated Souls: Druid, Aida de Ridder

Bright colors, detailed features...aren't these just a couple of cool kids living their lives? I'm certain they get into all kinds of adventures, but this isn't the moss-riddled dark forest and your tenth straight day of overcast sky and soggy trail rations. This is downtown at the club or out for afternoon coffee at the trendy cafe. The forces coming into play in this game may be supernatural and dark, but that doesn't mean your characters can't have a little fun and be cool.

It's true that these were the two games that came to mind when I thought of my favorite interior art, but it was happenstance that they shared similar genre tags and yet presented in such different ways through their respective artwork. I think it makes a nice illustration of what artwork can mean to a game's presentation.

[CORRECTION: Originally I attributed the illustrations in Witch to Floor Coert. The artist is actually Aida de Ridder. This post has been corrected accordingly. My apologies to both Floor and Aida for the error, and thanks to Liz for the correction.]

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 11

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 11 - Which "dead game" would you like to see reborn?

In order to interpret this question, I need to first examine what is meant by a "dead game." I can't see a game itself dying, or being dead, as long as someone is thinking about it or remembering it, let alone playing it, and so I can't imagine that under those circumstances this question could ever be answered. (I mean, if I would like to see it reborn, I haven't let it die.) I at first was going to interpret "dead game" as "game without publisher support," but even games that have long since gone out of print and survive packed away in basements or attics can still be purchased officially in electronic form more often than not. So I'm going to go more in the direction of "without any active development." The specifics of the definition aren't important, though, to me. I think we have a "feel" for what could be a "dead game," and I'm taking this question as an opportunity to dust off and talk about an old favorite. My pick is Underground by Ray Winninger, published by Mayfair Games in 1993. As the link indicates, you can still purchase the game today in PDF, but I consider it mostly consigned to the dusty shelves of memory; very few people are talking about this one anymore.

Underground was totally captivating to me back in the day. It was an intensely well-presented satire; much of the core book and supplements leaned heavily on "in-character" writing, which to be honest is not something I'm much into these days, but it was a technique well-used for this game. Some of the writing in it sticks with me even today. It was a very different take on the near future from what was my normal diet at the time: basically all those cyberpunk neon dystopias. Underground presented an absurdist projection of "current" America through the lens of alien futuretech. But alien futuretech had nothing to do with the game; it was all part of the backstory. The game itself was...I guess you could call it kind of a dark supers game? But sociopolitical. It was groundbreaking for me back then by having introduced mechanics that meant the characters could affect the campaign world, sliding little meters around which determined what kinds of problems were at the forefront. The campaign setting gave you a starting point (and what a starting point it was), but once you started the home game, you knew it was yours to keep. The supplements were evocative and kept a consistent tone; I felt that they enhanced and solidified the core game, instead of spreading it out and diluting it like many game line supplements tend to do. The game system was...complex. It didn't seem particularly broken, but there was a steep learning curve. You really had to want it. I honestly got more out of the game setting and writing than I did the mechanics.

This is far from a unique choice for this day's question, particularly in the crowd in which I run. A lot of wishes for an Underground reboot, though, seemed to involve two main pillars. One, a modern reboot of the setting based on what is happening in the world today, and hoo boy, would is that a task in and of itself. As has become distressingly evident in looking back on a lot of dystopian satire from back when, we have in a lot of ways become what we feared. So much so, that I don't think a modern reading of the classic Underground setting would elicit as much of a "absurdism" response as it did 25 years ago. It's a tall order, but it's what I'd want to see from a reboot. The second pillar, though, is a call for a modernized system, and this is where I part ways with some of my compatriots. I liked that the system was tough. Part of the appeal of this game for me was the fact that, although it was wrapped in a lot of supers flavor, this was not a game about superheroes. This was a game mostly about fucked up people who had extra power basically thrust upon them and were now no longer appreciated, or even welcome. It's not a game about heroism or derring-do, as the Fate system might imply. I don't think this was a game you should want to get creative in. You have a list of powers to choose from, and they each work a certain way. You have a list of problems, and they work a certain way. I think what was important to the feel of the game was its oppressiveness -- its lack of choices. You're supposed to feel trapped, or at least put upon. Betrayed. The problems you face shouldn't be easy ones to solve if they can't be solved in a supersoldier way. Because you're a supersoldier, and that's all you are. That's why you're out of place now. The darkness of the game held a lot of the appeal for the kinds of stories I thought you could tell with the game, and I don't think that would be served by improving the mechanics to something newer and sleeker and more modern. This is one of those games where I think the sensation of fighting the system is perfectly appropriate, because the system's fighting you. I'd want to have that relationship preserved in a new edition.

As a final note, I'll relay some very exciting news that I was exposed to today as a direct result of this #RPGaDay question and the number of other people who chose Underground as their answer. Apparently the original designer is working on a new edition right now! That's incredibly exciting to me, and I can't wait to see what's going to come of it. It's an #RPGaDay miracle!

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 10

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 10 - Where do you go for RPG reviews?

Another short and sweet answer: nowhere. I just...don't go after reviews, I guess? I guess I just don't think that there's a lot they can do for me. If I'm going after a game, it's largely come to me pre-recommended (basically see my answer from Day 3), or else I'm backing it on Kickstarter, so there's really not much space in there for a review to offer anything additional. Plus, I...don't generally regret buying games, I suppose. There may have been the odd exception here or there, but I like most games, or at least find value in reading them, and I'm happy to keep them in my library, even if I don't play them. So, yeah...there's not a lot of reason there for a pre-purchase review. And I guess I don't see much of a point to a post-purchase review. So, yeah. I just buy the game. Let the dice fall where they may.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 9

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 9 - What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

This one will also be short and sweet, I think. At the beginning of this month, I had assumed that at some point I'd have to repeat some answers, but it still surprises me that I'm doing it so soon. The clear standout for me for this question, though, is again Shadow of the Demon Lord by Robert J. Schwalb. In one sense, this is another crowded field, in that I would imagine that any game not expressly designed for one-shots would probably make a good answer. But SotDL stands out to me because it's explicitly designed for a campaign of about 10 sessions, with 10 PC levels and an advancement per session. There's something nice for me in that, the system built so that there explicitly comes a point where you recognize that there's no reason to advance further. Despite the game's adventure fantasy dressing, it is still a horror game, after all, and I think the inevitable end brings a lot of flavor to the campaign tone and atmosphere. I have an appreciation for those endless, open-ended campaigns, particularly of the trad fantasy variety, but despite my RPG beginnings, it's just not what I'm looking for anymore. To be honest, character advancement isn't even that exciting to me as a play feature these days. SotDL says to me that there's a limit to be reached. You can be badass, absolutely, but this isn't a game which will carry on to the story of a party of demigods. You're not really gunning for an "epic" campaign like you might with D&D. You want to tell this party's story, and that story will have an end. I can dig it.

As a last little bit of editorializing, I will admit that I was surprised how much I saw Powered-by-the-Apocalypse games in people's answers. (Well, and as people's answers, also.) I personally often think that those kinds of games are geared a little bit shorter...five or six sessions, say. Maybe a single arc, rather than a whole campaign. There's something about the intensity of play, the tragedy of the PCs, and the (general) oppressiveness of setting that makes me feel like shorter campaigns are more appropriate. There are exceptions, to be sure; in particular, Blades in the Dark (John Harper) stands out to me as one that could do particularly well in a long-running campaign, and it was certainly built that way. And I suppose I'm probably leaning toward a certain breed of PbtA games in that evalutation; it strikes me as generally a bad idea to generalize about PbtA games as a group in any circumstance. It may also be that I've never played a long-running campaign of, say, Apocalypse World (D. Vincent Baker & Meguey Baker), so I don't have a frame of reference for it. But broadly speaking, those games lead me to feel like telling the hell out of a particular story, but also that once that's story's done, it's done. It's entirely possible that I just need more exposure in that arena. Upon consideration, I could see launching a campaign of, say, The Sprawl (Hamish Cameron). But life being what it is for busy adult gamers, I don't suppose I can look forward to that kind of thing any time soon. Which is still fine with me; I'm all about one-shots and mini-campaigns these days.

 

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 8

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 8 - What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?

My pick for this one is Lasers and Feelings by John Harper.

Okay, so that was originally going to be my entire post on the matter, but I'll break my own rule about not exceeding the scope of the question by also mentioning a couple very worthy hacks of L&F by a couple of dear friends of mine. Firstly, Rockerboys & Vending Machines by Phil Vecchione is an ENnie nominee for Best Free Product of 2017, and secondly, be on the lookout for the forthcoming Love & Justice by Senda Linaugh! You can hear the both of them podcast together on the always excellent Panda's Talking Games.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 7

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 7 - What was your most impactful RPG session?

This is also one I'm going to liberally apply some interpretation to. There have been emotionally significant moments here and there, certainly, but the thing that's jumping out at me actually had a lot of impact on me as a gamer instead of as a person. This was still fairly early on in my RPG history...I was probably about 12-or-so years old. I had just recently moved to the city I lived in at the time, and I had picked up membership in a gaming group that met on weekends at the local library. (So, effectively strangers, is what I'm saying.) In this particular session, we were playing a generic fantasy setting, I remember that, but I can't remember if it was D&D or Fantasy HERO. It was one of the two. I do remember that I was playing a ranger, though, and it will become clear in a bit why that detail remains. I had a pretty generic backstory for my character: woodsman, hunter, loner. In the opening session, the GM had set it up that I was in town picking up supplies, so that's how all the adventurers were in the same place. I don't even remember the Inciting Incident, but whatever it was happened, and the City Guard attempted to press us into service to help out with whatever had occurred. It was basically, "Join up, or we kick you out of town." My reaction was, "Fine by me! I was only here buying supplies. PEACE" or whatever the equivalent was from me at age 12. There was some silence, and I remember the GM looking confused. These were all older kids, by the way, maybe mid-to-late teens. The "old" one of the group -- I remember he seemed so adult to me back then, but in hindsight he was probably like 20 -- who was not GMing this game, leaned over to me and stage whispered, "Hey, maybe just go along with this so we can go on the adventure." So I did, and we did, and it was fine.

That moment always stuck in my mind, though. I was aware that something had happened. I don't particularly regard this as a "but that's what my character would do" asshole kind of moment, though I admit I could be wrong about that. Like...I was 12; I'm not sweating it. But for a long time, I did think of it as a sort of failure on the GM's part. Like what did he expect me to do? He knew the kind of guy my character was. I mean, he had contrived to have my character be there in the first place, right? It didn't seem like so much to ask to contrive to have there be an in-character reason for joining the party. It also really cemented something for me about RPGs. That was one of the big crystallizing moments for me that what I liked so much about RPGs was playing a character. Without that, it was just a complicated board game. Which is fine, but it wasn't what brought me to the table. In any case, in the intervening decades and with loads more experience under my belt, I look back on that situation and feel like I can take a lesson from that day as a player instead of as a GM. As a GM, the lesson for me was to play to character motivations. As a player, though -- and this lesson didn't sink in until many years after that session -- maybe I should have better learned that playing a character isn't the only thing different about RPGs; it's also a collaborative game, and then everyone at the table works together to make the story happen. It wouldn't have been that tough for 12-year-old me to come up with an in-fiction reason to join the party, because clearly it was the out-of-fiction goal. I mean, yes, it was a different time, different games, different players, but the lesson is a good one. The load can't all be on the GM to make good games happen. We're all in this together, and that's something I like to take with me to every game.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 6

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 6 - You can game every day for a week. Describe what you’d do!

I have to admit, I don't really understand this question. What would I do? Be real happy, I guess? If it's down to scheduling seven days of specific titles, I really can't be bothered. I'll play whatever's being played. I guess what I'd like is to GM some and play some. Probably also I'd like to vary the crunch levels and emotional tone and stuff like that. One interpretation of this question that I saw elsewhere was kind of interesting: what game could you play every day for a week straight? I think my favorite answer for that was World Wide Wrestling by Nathan D. Paoletta (ndpdesign). That sounds like a pretty rad week. Anyway, I don't guess I have a lot to contribute for today's question. They can't all be home runs.