#RPGaDay 2018: Day 13

Question 13: Describe how your play has evolved.

Having begun with D&D and AD&D, back in the distant 80s, I think the clearest evolution of playing style has been away from the simplistic, murder-tourist traditions of kill-monsters-get-gold, and towards a (slightly) more thoughtful and interactive approach to the imaginary worlds the characters inhabit.

This counts for both time as a player and as a GM.

As a player I want places to explore and people to communicate with, and as a GM I want to establish those kinds of experiences for the players.

Not everything has to be a Big Fight. Which is not to say we don’t descend into chaotic scrapping from time to time, either by accident or design.

But, now days, it’s just as much fun having dinner with a Rakshasa, in a pagoda temple in Dolmenwood, as it would have been fighting our way up the twelve levels of his tower to find the secret treasure room at the top.

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#RPGaDay 2018: Day 12

Question 12: Wildest character concept?

Short answer: Denmark

The basic set up for the character was: Everyone in Denmark on a particular date vanishes without a trace, and this particular character has access to all of their memories and skills, one at a time and for a limited period only.

This was in a superhero game I was running a few years back, and it later transpired that the character had access to the powers and abilities of any superheroes that had existed in Denmark at the time of the Event.

Also villains.

When last seen the character had recently become the Danish super-science crime-lord Doctor Zinc, who–as an old man suddenly ‘reborn’ into a fresh young body–had set about reliving the glory days of his youthful crime sprees.

Good times.

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#RPGaDay 2018: Day 11

Question 11: Wildest character name?

In the early years of my gaming experience I played in a group where the standard procedure was to choose character names by simply casting an eye around the dining room in which we played and picking something that caught the eye.

Sometimes it would be weapons list from that day’s gaming books. I certainly remember a knight called Lucerne Bec De Corbin. Or the label of a nearby wine: Captain Cabernet D’Anjou.

There was also once a character called International Land-mine Tow-truck, but I can’t entirely remember why.

There was a band of brothers in an D&D-esque game called Mylar, Kevlar and Lexan. Names that seemed totally in keeping with the sword-and-sorcery tone, whilst being entirely out of place.

I suppose the real issue here is ‘funny names’, but as others have said, that tends to risk breaking the immersion of the game, and is best avoided I think. It’s not like there aren’t dozens of other instances for comedy in the average game, but having a distinctly funny-ha-ha character name might be a little too on the nose?

Anyway, the most interesting name in a game of recent years was a for an NPC character in the Doctor Who based Seeds of Time campaign I ran. A lost princess, trapped on a dying starship as it fell into the last light of an angry star.

Her name was:

Lady Lara Sparkle De Castro Chollienne Atriplex Carvalho

Known to her friends and foes alike as Spark Cholly.

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#RPGaDay 2018: Day 10

I’m going to go alternate again for this one and avoid “how has gaming changed you” as I find it very difficult to envisage how I might have turned out if I hadn’t started gaming when I was around about fourteen or so. I’m also not entirely sure why I would have wanted to not get involved in roleplaying games.

Instead, let’s answer this:

Question 10: What makes you want to GM?

I GM for the same reasons that I write.

I can’t stop creating stories and characters and worlds, and I have to do something with them, so I may as well turn them into novels, games, or scenarios or whatever. If I could play music and sing I’d turn a few of them into operas I expect.

GMing does have the added fun/nightmare of allowing your creations to be enjoyed* by others, stress-tested, experimented on, changed and altered in ways you weren’t expecting.

I like the fact that people are entertained by the games that I run, that they appreciate the creations that I bring to the table, just as I appreciate the character’s that they create to roam about in the environments that I have built.

Why would anyone want to do anything else?


*for some reason I initially wrote ‘ignored’ right here.

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#RPGaDay 2018: Day 9

Question 9: How has a game surprised you?

In recent days, the original TSR produced Marvel Super Heroes roleplaying game has been a revelation.

Designed by Jeff Grub and first released way back in 1984, it has surprisingly turned out to be exactly what I’m looking for in terms of running a superheroes game right now. Considering the number of alternative systems I went through looking for the one*, how useful this old box of tricks turned out to be is quite Remarkable. Or possibly Amazing.

It’s simple, clear, concise. Like most games from the 80s the rule book is short and packs a lot in. Attributes and Powers are rated by ranks. Feeble, Poor, Typical at the low end of the scale; Monstrous, Unearthly and beyond as you ramp up towards the cosmic power levels of the Marvel universe.

You roll your percentile dice, and check your result against a universal table of the various ranks. Green, Yellow and Red results determine you level of success. A White result is a failure.

There’s a few more things to consider in the Advanced Rules and the Ultimate Powers Book; but it doesn’t really get much more complicated than that.

For character creation it’s hard to beat, and whilst I’ve only run a couple of sessions of it so far this time out, I suspect it’ll remain my go-to system for superhero games from here on. Excelsior!

*Villains & Vigilantes, Guardians, Superworld, Aberrant, Golden Heroes, Super Squadron, Champions, Heroes Unlimited, The Authority, and many, many more…

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#RPGaDay 2018: Day 8

Another alternate question, so I can skip the ‘how to get more people playing’ original. I can’t really think of anything beyond be more diverse and open and engaging, and encourage people to enjoy games, whatever games they like, because it’s all gaming.

Anyway, onto the alternative:

Question 8: How do you prepare for extended campaign?

In general I prepare for most creative endeavours exactly the same way.

Germ of an idea or image, somehow it links to something else or expands into a neat concept all by itself, and then I build on that with characters and places, objects and incidents.

Like if I imagine a wasteland of petrified forest, carpeted with human teeth, at some point I have to come up with a vague notion of why that nightmare might have happened and what sort of folk could survive in a world like that.

If it’s a short story or a novel, I’m looking at beginning, middle, end; side plots and tangents; opening lines and showdown endings.

If it’s a game I’m coming up with Things That I Want To Happen; NPCs likely to appear; at the same time–in discussion with the player group–characters we’d like to throw into this world/planet/universe.

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#RPGaDay 2018: Day 7

Question 7: How can a GM make the stakes important?

I’m not sure we can.

Players have to been engaged with their characters, committed to the conceit of the narrative, the ‘contract’ of gaming where we all agree to show up on time and pretend we aren’t just shuffling paper and moving dice.

We’re having adventures and telling tales and building history, right?

If we’re not doing that then it becomes a board-game and the stakes are pretty much just win or lose.

I mentioned this last year, I think, the realisation that I didn’t have to kill player characters to have an impact, because if the players were fully engaged then even the threat and risk of death would suffice, whilst if the players were detached–just rolling dice and moving markers–then even character death would never trouble them. Roll up a new random collection of stats and move on. All surface, no feeling.

If the players are tangled up with the setting, involved with the characters, then everything matters. If they aren’t, then nothing ever will.

I believe it was E.L. Doctorow who wrote:

“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader – not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”

So, if there’s a trick, I believe that’ll be it.

Somehow, at some point in the preparation process for the game or in the playing out of the story that you’re creating, the players have to become immersed in the world-as-real, partly by you as GM building a world they’re inclined to be a part of and explore. If you can do that, and if they’re of the correct mindset, great. But you can’t make them feel the rain. They have to want it too.

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#RPGaDay 2018: Day 6

Question 6: How can players make the world seem real?

By taking what you have built for them and running away with it, by going left when they should have went right, and often by totally misunderstanding a verbal hint or random clue that sets them on a course you weren’t expecting.

I vaguely recall reading–as a teenager–the novel “Job: A Comedy of Justice” by Robert Heinlein, in which the hero character, Alex, is thrown through a series of ‘world changes’ implemented by Loki, acting with God’s permission.

There’s a moment when Alex realises that these aren’t whole worlds being created one-after-another all around him. Each world only exists as far as he can see, as far as he can readily interact–this hotel lobby, this street of shops, this cabin on a ship–the rest of it is emptiness and void, unformed.

So, the players make the world real by acting like that’s not the case. Acting like the entirety of this particular planet exists, and not just the shabby space-port and the three or four random staff you created just before the session started.

The world is real if the characters can see the farthest mountain and imagine they can walk there.

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#RPGaDay 2018: Day 5

As the actual question number five–about recurring NPCs–covers a lot of the same territory for me as the previous question, I’ve decided to go with one of the alternative options.

Question 5: Most memorable character retirement?

I’m taking this to mean something other than getting a gold watch and going to live in France; or finally winning a flying long-ship crewed by dancers…I’m thinking of it more in the sense of “routine retirement of a replicant”.

Perhaps I’m wrong in that presumption?

Anyway, there was this character–let’s call him Eddie–who was very like Fitz from the TV show ‘Cracker’. The original UK version played by Robbie Coltrane this would be. Expect Eddie also had a bit of esoteric business going on where he could tap into the minds of other folk and really get an understanding of what made them tick, sort of thing. He could see the clockworks whirring. Give them a nudge, here and there. It’s all good. Handy for solving terrible crimes and what not.

Trouble was, games being what they are, it only took a few bad dice rolls for Eddie’s careful finessing of people’s thoughts to turn into a wild bludgeoning that knocked people right out of their tree.

As I remember it, the dice just seemed to be breaking bad, every single time Eddie tried to check anyone’s mind, and things were getting seriously out of hand and this was when the game was reaching an after a fashion raggedy denouement …

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#RPGaDay 2018: Day 4

Question 4: Most memorable NPC?

In some ways this is an easy-ish one. I think I discussed this last year as well.

The answer for me as a player is the fighter/vampire Drelnza from Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. At first, I was struck by the fantastic scenario artwork–Drelnza’s (supposed) final resting place–then the PC cleric was struck by Drelnza’s sword, and then my character, the fighter known as Nilok, was hit by a charm spell and totally enthralled.

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