2018-11-09 Blog Post Of Note

What do you call this feeling when you want to leave small comments on multiple blogs but you don’t just want to do it on social media and every single comment is too small for a blog post? As I said a few days ago when I introduced the blog Planets: if we want to break out of the silos, we need to start doing what social media has been doing for us. We need to pick up on topics mentioned elsewhere. We need to link to those conversations. We need to recommend other bloggers.

So here’s some stuff I recently noticed:

Luka Rejec writes about Natural Language Roleplaying Games. When I wrote the Halberds and Helmets referee guide, I was somehow aiming for a more conversational style but I fear I failed. I was also trying to have two voices in the text: the main text with the rules and a more conversational style in the sidebar. I don’t think worked very well and my editor also flaged a lot of shifts in time and person (singular, plural, first person, third person, past, present). It was a mess. Perhaps natural language is a mess and if that is so, I’m not sure natural language is a good fit for rules. I do agree with the wish to avoid jargon and legalese, so there’s some sort of equilibrium I’m still looking for.

Courtney Campbell writes Don't look at this trap! and points out that there’s no harm in letting players use player knowledge at the table, if that’s what they want, because we’re friends playing a game. And I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve started telling my players: if you know it, then tour character knows it, if you want to. It cuts both ways: most remember red dragons breathe fire but when the meet trolls they might remember they have a special ability but if they ask, I’ll tell them: if you don’t know, then your character does not know either. I haven’t had any players memorize monster manuals at my table in decades, and even if players remember some of the details, what’s the harm? I also don’t enjoy reskinning monsters just to prolong the guessing game. What’s the point of trolls that look like some other monster? Players are more afraid because they don’t know what they’re facing. But what if they are facing trolls and some of them remember how to fight trolls? There’s joy and happy faces all around! As a referee, it’s good to have a bunch of monster books for the occasional surprise, but at the same time it’s good to have some opposition so players can focus on other things: remembering some lore, or diplomacy, or some other strategy. After all, the real world is super exciting even though practically all the monsters are humans and we all know their special abilities.

Aaron Griffin writes about the sandbox in his blogpost What is a Sandbox?. He mentions the term “railroad” and that reminds me of the whole discussion about player agency we had in 2011. Good times. Aaron also links to another blog by atxredbeard, I’m Crawling, but am I in a Sandbox? which ends with a question: “What does sandbox mean to you?” And that in turn reminded me of all the sandbox posts I wrote, years ago. I collected some of them in a post from 2014, Best of Sandbox Posts. There’s also a post of mine from 2016 I’d like to recommend, Rescuing the Sandbox, where I talk about the factors that help keep a sandbox from deteriorating:

  1. Clearly establish which plot elements belong to which character.
  2. Explicitly list open plots and ask for preferences concerning the next session.
  3. Provide enough information.
  4. Make sure there are consequences and announce them.

Anyway, food for thought, and I’m once again reminded of why I don’t blog so much about role-playing games these days. All too often I get the feeling that I’ve already said what I wanted to say, years ago. I need to focus on the things that changed, if any. And that makes me wonder about all the bloggers that have written good stuff that is not actually lost but simply forgotten because they no longer blog and thus their old stuff doesn’t get boosted every now and then. Let me do my part, then, and point you to this post of mine, Ode to Black Dougal, where I link to some of the best posts by P. Armstrong from 2009. Good times indeed!

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