#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.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 5

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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 5 - Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

Let's not kid ourselves; this is an intensely crowded field of candidates. For this reason, I'm once against removing the superlative from the question. Even so, there's one piece of cover art that continually returns to my mind ever since I laid eyes on it, and that is the cover for Shadow of the Demon Lord by Robert J. Schwalb (Schwalb Entertainment) with cover illustration by Bulgarian artist Svetoslav Petrov.

[Shadow of the Demon Lord cover art]

Shadow of the Demon Lord cover art by Svetoslav Petrov

Upon viewing this cover art, I feel I know exactly what is going on in this game. There's an appropriate amount of dark fantasy-horror being conveyed here, but it's coupled to the high adventure I want from a game, and this game delivers on all those fronts. The aesthetic doesn't read grimdark to me as much as it does metal, which I think is the intent here. In a more standard fantasy setting, this artwork would be what I'd want for a "regular adventuring party goes into Hell" kind of vibe. But this is Shadow of the Demon Lord; Hell is already here, and it's coming to you.

I want to take an extra minute here and point out the one thing that keeps bringing me back to this cover. That dwarf. That dwarf is everything. That dwarf has seen some shit, and that dwarf is ready for whatever you got. When I pick up this game, I know I want to play that dwarf.

[Shadow of the Demon Lord cover art detail]

"Is that all you got?! Come at me!"

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 4

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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 4 - Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?

This question, as originally written, posed a bit of a conundrum for me for a few reasons. One, certainly, I don't have the time to play as much as I want to. Two, the majority of what I do play are one-shots, and I'm always trying out new games. Three, I don't really keep track of what I play, though this is making me wonder if I should maybe change that. Four, I play a lot of playtests for games that are still in development, and I had wanted to answer this question with a game that's published and available. So with all that, I'm invoking one of the S. John Ross modifications and removing the superlative. So instead of naming what I've played the most of in the last year (which I'm not even sure I could reliably do), I'll instead talk about a game I remember being very happy to play in the last year!

Microscope by Ben Robbins (Lame Mage Productions) is something that I loved immediately upon reading, but that took me a long time to finally play. It bills itself as "a fractal role-playing game of epic histories," which makes a lot more sense once you're familiar with the game. It is a "role-playing game" in the vaguest sense; for the times players do assume the roles of characters, those characters are often transient and even if not, seldom get a chance for much in-depth development. The focus of the game, instead of being the characters, is an entire historical timeline. Over the course of play, this timeline is divided into large chunks, each of which is divided into smaller chunks (hence the "fractal" part of the game), and various pivotal scenes from throughout this history are enacted. Beyond thinking of this as a storygame, I also think of it as a worldbuilding game, and I do love me some worldbuilding games. As such, it also functions well as an add-on to any other RPG you might want to play, particularly as part of launching a campaign with an epic backstory! There is also an expansion available, Microscope Explorer, which not only provides support for Microscope itself, but also contains additional rules and hacks to turn your Microscope game into something a little different! For example, the Echo mod introduces time travel elements into your timeline-building game, which is pretty outstanding, and which I was fortunate enough to get to try out a bit at the most recent DEXCON (which is why I'm using it to answer this question).

Microscope works great as a standalone game. You can definitely get a fun session out of it, particularly if you like that worldbuilding type of play. By the nature of the game, though, when it's done, you're left with...well...a world that you've built. To me, that makes Microscope an excellent lead-in to pretty much any other game, but particularly something for which you want a long-running campaign. One benefit of using Microscope as a worldbuilder for a campaign is that because the campaign world was built as a collaboration between the players, they all have some investment in the world. They've all contributed toward the campaign's backstory, and it's got things that will be of interest to all of them. Furthermore, because the world that was built was built from nothingness, everyone will be starting the campaign with basically the same familiarity with the world. It's like being able to start a campaign knowing that all the players have read and internalized your setting notes, and who doesn't want that!

This game hits a lot of sweet spots for me. As I've said, I love worldbuilding games, particularly as collaborative exercises. I also apparently really enjoy games that are played out on a series of index cards -- see also my undying love for Psi*Run by Meguey Baker (Night Sky Games). If you want an RPG with persistent characters and stats and skills and things, this is probably not the game for you. Also, I don't feel like you end up with quite the cool artifact you do with mapbuilding games like The Quiet Year by Avery Alder (Buried Without Ceremony) or Companions' Tale by Laura Simpson (Sweet Potato Press). But what you do end up with is a whole, cool history to play around with, and a sense of having created something, well, pretty epic: a story that contains stories. Sounds pretty fractal to me!

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 3

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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 3 - How do you find out about new RPGs?

When first embarking on this #RPGaDay journey, I decided that I would make the effort to be able to state answers succinctly. Not that I wouldn't give myself room to meander and tangent, as I do, but that the core answer to the core question could be summed up easily. As much as I would be tempted to do so, I didn't want to have my answers turn into big laundry lists of items. Today's question proved initially challenging to that resolution, though, since it's really become something of a mission for me to keep an eye out for new RPGs. Between social media, podcasts, blogs, and good, old-fashioned meatspace friends, "word of mouth" seems like a strong contender as a summary. But it got me to thinking about what "word of mouth" really means in this age where everybody is a reporter and broadcaster, and it seems more and more even like everybody is a publisher. Plus, I do still keep half an eye on publishers' official news, and while conventions could possibly be considered a "word of mouth" forum, they really still are kind of "industry" in a way. Eventually, though, it dawned on me that the word I was really looking for is community.

Let's not pretend that that's not a word that can lead to some trouble. The term "RPG community" will mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and it doesn't always mean good things, either. It does to me, though. The RPG community I'm speaking of are all the players, GMs, designers, publishers, artists, and other contributors that make the RPG space a space where people can feel welcome and safe and have fun. I've met glorious, wonderful people through RPGs. I've made outstanding and loving friends. There are people I game with now that I was gaming with 25 years ago in schoolrooms and basements. There are people I game with now that I met at cons mere months ago. There I people I game with now that I've never met, at least not in person. And all of these people have added something to my life -- something important. My life is richer for it, and that is no small thing. So this community, the one I take part in and love, is the one I take pride in and is the one that provides me with the unending parade of delights that keep my life going: new RPGs.

But that's not a very actionable answer. To those who know me and are familiar with my ridiculous Kickstarter habit, it may be surprising that I think my number one vector for learning about new games is actually not Kickstarter, but social media. I keep tabs on a lot of game designers, both ones that I'm friends with and ones I've never met. It will surprise no one that game designers will promo their own games quite a bit. But there are two additional factors that I think make this such a rich vein of information. One, game designers will talk about other designers' games as well. As with any flourishing artistic community, success for one brings success for all, and designers will talk about other designers whose work they admire, work on collaborative projects, participate in contests, game jams, anthologies... The number of ways that knowing one designer can lead to hearing about a dozen more is staggering.  Two, and importantly, game designers are also players. They'll talk about games just to talk about games. So by the time I'm backing a game on Kickstarter, chances are good that it's not the first time I'm hearing about it. Social media that's not about tracking individual designers are things like Facebook Groups and Google+ Communities, both of which have many examples of spaces dedicated to ferreting out new games. (Looking for some direction? Feel free to hit me up on Facebook or Google+ and I'll be happy to get you started.)

Most of the rest of new games I find out about come from podcasts and blogs, which I'm grouping together because they both largely occupy the same space as far as this question is concerned: interested people broadcasting their interests to...well, people like me. In my own personal podcast rotation, probably the top contenders for finding out about new games would be The Gauntlet Podcast, The Misdirected Mark Podcast, One Shot, and Modifier. For blogs, it's a bit harder to concentrate on a few, as I pick up bits and pieces from all different blogs. The big exceptions, though, are blogs or collections dedicated particularly to new RPGs (generally new Kickstarters) like Egg Embry's crowdfunding posts at Téssera or Jennifer Fuss' truly excellent "Crowdfunding Collection" series at Teylen's RPG Corner.

Finally, I have to spare a moment or two to talk about RPG conventions. You probably won't get the same volume of new game exposure from a convention that you'd get from podcasts and blogs, particularly not as a time-spent-to-new-games-learned-about ratio. Sure, maybe you could haunt the dealer's room or pore over the event schedule, but the strength of the convention approach is the quality of the experience. First, instead of just hearing a game's name or hearing people talk about a game, you get to actually play the game, which will teach you more about a new game than any other approach possibly could. Second, you get to meet other gamers, which, if you circle back up to what I was saying a couple paragraphs earlier, is an intensely rich vector to learning about new games. Personally, I favor local cons over the big-name events, but whatever your preference, if you can spare the time, expense, and social energy, an RPG convention is a pretty excellent way to spend a weekend or so.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 2

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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 2 - What is an RPG you would like to see published?

Much like Day 1, I'll open with the true and unhelpful answer, which is "all of them." This question also needed a dose of interpretation. One part of me thought of it as "what's an idea for a non-existent RPG that you want to see happen?" and another part of me thought "what's an RPG that is in development that you're looking forward to seeing hit the shelves?" I don't have any particularly strong leanings for the former, as I'm kind of gaming omnivorous in a way. Actually, it's probably fairer to say that I get more excited by games that I didn't know I wanted until I saw them. So that, and the fact that I try to keep an ear to the ground as far as games-in-development go, had me leaning toward the latter interpretation. So what's in development that I would like to see published?

The title that I've been looking forward to for some time now is Pasión de las Pasiones, a Powered by the Apocalypse hack by Brandon Leon-Gambetta about the portrayal of a telenovela (or Spanish soap opera). I had the good fortune to playtest an early version of this game at Metatopia, and it was, firstly, a riotously good time. Moreover, the game is particularly interesting to me in a couple ways. One, there are a couple layers of the fiction, insofar as players are portraying a telenovela, which means they're putting on a show for a fictional audience, but they are also playing characters in a telenovela, meaning the in-fiction world is real to the characters. There is not, however, a layor for "actors," in the sense that that there is no character awareness of the in-game fiction, but the game itself serves to support the tropes and style of a telenovela all the same. Things that happen in the fiction that would affect the audience of the show in specific ways carry mechanical weight, and so are important to the players, and that importance to the players helps drive the characters. And who is this fictional audience being affected? The very non-fictional audience of other players in the game. It's a very cool mechanism for keeping everybody involved in the fiction, even when they're not part of the scene. Not that the hammy characters and melodramatic plots wouldn't be enough on their own, but it's still a cool aspect of the game.

Because my experience with this game thus far was with playtesting an early version, my usual caveats apply that the details of the game may of course be different upon publication. Also, this game is probably closer to publication (in a way) than many others I could have named for this answer, in that there will be an ashcan edition available at Metatopia 2017! If hanging with game designers and playtesting the latest hotness is your thing, I can't recommend the con enough. It takes place in November, and as with all Double Exposure cons, is held in Morristown, NJ. If you want to check out new contenders for RPGs that you would like to see published, definitely come on down and check it out!

Besides being a game designer, Brandon is co-host of the Stop, Hack, & Roll, a podcast in which he and his co-host James discuss a lot about game design and rules hacking. They have great conversations, and they're a great duo to listen to! If RPG discussion podcasts are a thing, definitely give it a listen. And don't forget to keep an eye out for Pasión de las Pasiones!

 

#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 1

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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 1 - What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

For the sake of honesty, I'll first reveal the true answer, which is "all of them." That having been said, for the sake of having something to write about, my choice for the more practical answer is Blades in the Dark by John Harper.

For my own peace of mind, I decided not to name a game that I've already played, because I am all about trying new games. Blades was the first title to come to mind, mostly because I'd just recently finished my read-through of the rules, and because I also recently listened to an episode of The Misdirected Mark Podcast dedicated to a particular piece of rules tech from Blades, Position and Effect. The game is about portraying a criminal group in a fantastical Industrial Revolution-era city and trying to advance your crew from petty criminals to major players in the city's underworld. I'd call it a gritty game; the tone is certainly dark (e.g., the title), and the game is such that there is danger at every turn. Characters are living a constant struggle against the law, other criminal organizations, and their own personal vices. I, personally, consider it to stretch the definition of Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA), but regardless, its design roots in Apocalypse World are unmistakable. Because of that, it takes advantage of a modern, strongly narrative system, yet still offers the challenge and excitement of seeing a party of low-level pipsqueaks grow into a powerful cadre of badasses. This is another reason I wish I were playing it right now: it would probably mean that I'm involved in a multi-session campaign, which is a hard thing to make time for these days.

Something that jumped out at me in considering this question and this game is that I specifically want to play Blades in the Dark, as opposed to run it. Similar to AWBlades is low-prep for the GM and a "play to find out what happens" type of game, but the system contains a lot of moving parts for the GM to handle, so it's a lot harder to just pick-up-and-run than it is to pick-up-and-play. I should note that this is not a distinction that I often consider; I subscribe to the school of thought that the GM is another player in the game, and if another title had come to mind when I asked myself this question, it probably wouldn't have mattered so much if I wanted to play the game or run it. Blades is an outlier, though. Most PbtA games perhaps ask the GM for rules familiarity (not even necessarily mastery) but not much in the way of campaign prep before the game starts. Blades has a lot going on, though, and the GM has to be prepared to keep track of a lot of both short- and long-term processes as play progresses. I don't think this is a bad thing, I just think if this question asked specifically about running a game, I may have had a different answer.

A bit more about Paranoia

Yesterday I mentioned the Paranoia reboot, which is crowdfunding on Kickstarter until December 3, 2014.  If you're interested in learning more about the new incarnation of the game, there's an interview on RPG.net with the three designers working on the reboot: James Wallis, Grant Howitt, and Paul Dean.  There's a bit of background on the designers and their interest in Paranoia, but there's also more now about the new system, which as far as I knew was to be more streamlined and involve cards.  That's...pretty much what they say in the interview, too, but with a little more detail.  (In a nutshell: yes, there are cards; no, there are not only cards.)

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Crowdfunding Opportunities

We've spent a few days looking in at part of the RPG design process.  After the design is done, though, comes the production.  I'm a big fan of the rise of crowdfunding as a way to launch endeavors, and no projects excite me more, of course, than RPGs.  There's just something real and satisfying to me about this purest expression of "voting with your dollars."  Not only can I show my support for the projects and creators that I enjoy, but I get to be part of the shared experience of fanhood.  When I am a consumer, I like to be an enthusiastic one when I can.  These are meaningful purchases to me -- not just another doodad, but something I'm genuinely excited about.  And not only that, but I get to be a part of the realization of someone else's goal, a part of someone's success.  The financial support is important, but as far as that goes, it pretty much amounts to putting in a pre-order.  The crowdfunding process, though, the experience of it, also adds a social aspect to the transaction, an aspect of community.  Plus it also feels good to be the first on your block with the new hotness.  Maybe you even get your name in a book.  Below are a few RPGs that are currently funding, as of this posting, roughly in order of amount of time left before the funding campaign closes.

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