#RPGaDay2015: 31 – Friends

“Favorite non-RPG thing to come out of RPGing”?

That’s a tough one. I was racking my brain, thinking of things that have grown out of RPGs. I even perused Wikipedia to see if there was something I wasn’t thinking of. Game-inspired fiction? Not really for me. Gaming-inspired writers? I guess—I know that China Mieville has credited roleplaying with helping his writing, and I’m sure there are others. But most of my favorite authors aren’t roleplayers, and the few that I would truly miss if they didn’t exist mostly predate RPGs. RPG-derived videogames? I’ve never really been a fan of videogames, so from my perspective they’re just competition, providing easy access to people who might otherwise turn to RPGs for their gaming fix.

The more I think about it, the less I see any significant parts of society at large that came out of RPGs and have particular value for me. I mean, except for RPGs and roleplayers and RPG authors and the RPG community, of course.

And then it clicked: “community” is the answer. Almost all of my enduring friendships have either originated in gaming, or have been strengthened by it. Of my many hobbies and interests, it’s the one activity that I eventually try to get all my friends to join me in. I might still have friends without roleplaying, but not nearly so many [the one downside of introversion]. And many fewer of my friendships would have endured as we went our separate ways without that shared interest that is easy to discuss even when we don’t play together. Plus, there’s long-distance gaming which, while not as good as being in the same room, is still pretty great.

Thanks, gamer-friends, for being my friends.

#RPGaDay2015: 30 – Who Needs Multiple Players When You Have Robin Williams?

My favorite RPG-playing celebrity is also the one I first found out was a roleplayer: Robin Williams. I remember rumors of his gamer status at least as far back as the mid-‘80s, along with a handful of other celebrities whom I have since forgotten.

I grew up with Mork & Mindy, and have been a huge fan of Robin Williams ever since. I think I’ve seen—and loved—everything he’s done (yes, even Popeye and The World According to Garp). And when I first heard about this was at the 2nd peak of his popularity (around the time of Dead Poet’s Society), so the idea that I had something in common with someone so inestimably cool was, well, cool!

He hasn’t, as far as I know, championed RPGs the way that some younger actors—most notably Vin Diesel—have, but I wasn’t looking for a spokesperson. I luckily grew up in a place where D&D wasn’t persecuted, just, at worst, misunderstood. We played at Boy Scout camp, we could play on the bus on a school trip with no one really caring, and we talked about it at school without anyone (teachers or students) interfering.

But I always imagined what it would be like having him run a game—imagine the manic creativity of Mork & Mindy combined with the emotional depths of Good Will Hunting. In writing this, I discovered that he participated in Worldwide Dungeons & Dragons Game Day 2006. Time to see if there’s any video of that.

#RPGaDay2015: 29 – Ars Ludi and Deeper in the Game

This’ll be a short one: there are only two RPG blogs I follow with any sort of regularity: Ars Ludi and Deeper in the Game. Both are a little more analytical/theoretical than other blogs I’ve tried, and regularly make me think. They’re the closest I’ve found to the sort of content I loved on rec.games.frp.advocacy back in the ‘90s.

There are many others over the years that I’ve read, but all the rest have fallen by the wayside—I just sort of stop reading them. I’ve recently been pointed at a few other sites, but haven’t gotten around to checking them out; maybe I’ll have a new favorite by this time next year.

#RPGaDay2015: 28 – Werewolf: the Apocalypse

I have a soft spot for D&D, dating specifically to the AD&D era. But I’m not sure it was ever my “favorite” so much as it was “the game we’re playing”. I had a ton of fun with AD&D, particularly AD&D2, I had perhaps even more fun in a long-running D&D3E campaign (though the rules were a constant source of frustration and annoyance). I still love the style of play that D&D engenders, and want to do it again, but I don’t particularly want to play the game that says Dungeons & Dragons on the cover any more. Certainly not BD&D, AD&D1/2, D&D3[.5]E, or D&D4E; maybe D&D5E (though I suspect once I’ve tried it out, I’ll quickly discover it’s not the game for me any more, either).

So, no, D&D may be a game I no longer play (though I’d like to), but I don’t think it was ever a favorite.

Now, there are several games that truly are my favorites, but which I haven’t played for years. But several of them are games that I still would play, and know people who still would play, so the only thing stopping me is a lack of time. I don’t think they qualify, either.

Probably the closest I can come to a game that legitimately qualifies as a favorite, but I strongly suspect I will never play again is Werewolf: the Apocalypse. Partly, it’s a badly misunderstood game—and White Wolf’s advertising didn’t help matters. Most gamers I’ve met who like the old World of Darkness games weren’t interested in a “hack-n-slash” game, and completely missed that W:tA isn’t about triumphant combat—it’s about tragic characters whose favorite tool is ultraviolence faced with situations that can’t be solved by violence, set against a backdrop of a crumbling world that they created precisely by their misguided applications of violence to attempt to fix it.

Even with the right sell, the number of people who want to play tragic shamanistic warriors with anger-management issues up against impossible odds is, apparently, pretty small, and the few who want to either are put off by the fact that they’re also werewolves, or are more interested in LARPing (at least IME).

Additionally, my mechanical tastes have changed. I still love the characters and setting of W:tA, but I’m no longer interested in chapters of martial arts maneuvers (unless I’m playing a martial arts game), and I either want a system with self-evident extrapolations from the basic mechanics to specific detailed rules, or a system where there are no detailed rules. The oWoD games unfortunately are riddled with almost-arbitrary implementations of the core die mechanic to get the specific “systems”, and the Gifts (and equivalent powers in most of the other games) are just about the textbook example of rules by exception.

On the flipside, I love the detailed setting, and part of what makes it what it is are all the nuances of the Gifts and the various tribal differences, and the wyrm taints, and so on. Converting it to another system while preserving most of that detail would be more trouble than it’s worth.

Finally, my current circle of gamers is generally not interested in games of this level of mechanical complexity, period, and most don’t have the time any more to read chapters of setting just to play in a world—much less to make characters. We generally prefer building our own settings or playing in genre pastiches, these days. Myself included. So despite the awesome times I had playing (well, running) it, and how much I absolutely love the setting and even the game as a whole (despite my misgivings about some of the details of the rules), I think maybe it is better left in the past. I fear that playing it now would tarnish my memories, rather than rekindling my love.

#RPGaDay2015: 27 – Ars Fantasia

I love mashing games together, and do it all the time. Sometimes it’s to fix a game that isn’t working for us. When we played Full Light, Full Steam, the “scripts” just weren’t working. I think in this case, it was because we were doing skype play without a shared virtual tabletop, so it was just too hard to pass pieces of paper around, or even to see them so we knew who to pass to. So we replaced them with some bits lifted from Primetime Adventures, and the game ran much more smoothly for us.

When Amaranthine wasn’t working for us, we rebuilt it using big chunks of Shadow of Yesterday.

And I often start out by creating a mashed-up game. Currently, we’re playing “Smallville“, set in a modern-fantasy alternative world, so the characters are wizards (and possibly fae or the like), rather than supers. I’m a tinkerer, and I’ve played a lot of games, and read even more. So pretty much whenever I sit down with a new game I have to force myself to play it as written, because I almost always see something that I would’ve done differently, or that I’ve seen done better somewhere else, or just a bit of the system that I think my group would enjoy having more or less complexity. (Nowadays, I usually try the game as written before changing anything, because I want to try new playstyles. But if it’s a game I’ve played before, all bets are off.)

But probably the most extensive example of this is my Ars Fantasia rules. I wanted the feel of Dungeons & Dragons and the rules of Ars Magica. So back in the mid-’90s, I sat down to make it a reality. A few years later, I updated it for use with D&D3E, and we actually played a long-running campaign using the rules. Two, in some sense—first someone else switched our existing D&D3E game over to those rules, then a few months later, when he was tired of GMing, I took over, and all the same players and many of the characters transitioned to a Spelljammer campaign.

I can’t share these rules, because they’re full of copyrighted content, plus they’re horribly incomplete: you need to have a copy of Ars Magica and a D&D Players’ Handbook in order to make a complete game. What i wrote ended up being around 80 pages of content. Some of those rules are just reproducing content from elsewhere, in order to cut down the book-flipping a bit, but a lot of it is new stuff, translating D&D content into Ars Magica terms. On the upside, 3rd, 4th, or 5th edition Ars Magica and AD&D2 or D&D3E will work equally well. In both cases, the differences between the editions are mostly in parts that get excised in the process of mashing them together, and those parts that actually vary (such as the spell details in D&D) work equally well—you just end up with a different feel, depending on which edition you use as your basis.

#RPGaDay2015: 26 – The “Wrong” Genre

Everything is an inspiration for my games—but I can’t think of any one thing that’s particularly noteworthy or recurrent. Mostly TV shows and books—the usual suspects. I suppose the one thing that might be a bit odd is that I usually am more inspired by other genres. That is, when I’m running a supers game, I tend to look to every genre except supers for inspiration. When I’m running a space opera game, I’m likely to lift ideas from detective shows or fantasy novels. And so on.

I’m a huge fan of genre mash-ups, crossovers, and genre deconstructions, so I generally try to create something similar when I’m creating a game, running a game, or even, to the degree that I have the input, playing in a game. Looking to a genre other than the one I’m currently running (when I’m running a single-genre game) thus gives me inspiration.

#RPGaDay2015: 25 – Multi-Axis Die Rolls

Not sure I could pick just one “favorite” revolutionary mechanic, since I’m constantly discovering them. I won’t talk about fan mail, since I just did. I’m gonna skip character questionnaires because that’s tooting my own horn, and they’re most useful in a particular playstyle.

But a mechanic that was revolutionary, broadly applicable, and continues to be explored, is the multi-axis die roll.

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#RPGaDay2015: 23 – “Is this better than Primetime Adventures?”

A large part of what I love about RPGs is trying new ones—not just new settings, but new mechanics. I love it when a game forces me to play in a different way than I ever had before, or comes up with a new way to describe characters. I play RPGs to have new experiences, and one of the ways I get those new experiences is with new games. So I don’t think there can be a “perfect game” for me—at best, it would be the “perfect game right now”.

That said, I can tell you the game that is my baseline. Whenever I’m getting ready to run or play a new game, whatever the game is, the question in my mind is “how is this game better than running the same premise/setting with Primetime Adventures?” I use Primetime Adventures the way a lot of people use GURPS or D20 System or Savage Worlds.

But even then, the answer is “it’s not”, and I therefore end up using Primetime Adventures, only probably one time in ten. So while PTA might be as close to a “perfect” RPG for me as anything, I don’t think there’s anything that really deserves that label.

#RPGaDay2015: 22 – Give Me a Big Table and a Quiet Room

My perfect gaming environment is a big table with enough room for everyone to fit around it, big enough that everyone has plenty of room for character sheets, dice, drinks, etc., but small enough that no one has to strain to hear and it is easy to pass tokens or dice or share aspect cards or see what is written in the middle of the table. No distractions around (no TV in the next room, etc.), and not too noisy (sorry—convention gaming is about the least-ideal). Not something I’ve had for a few years, but I’ve tried enough different options to know that that is what works best for me. Add in easily controlled lighting, easy access to a sound system, and a whiteboard where everyone can see it without straining their neck, and I’ve got gaming Nirvana.