This page lists the most recent journal entries related to role-playing games (RPG). There are some more pages on the related German page (Rollenspiele).
Free web apps I wrote:
OSR is about going back to the old games and exploring avenues not taken at the time. In terms of products, this meant republishing rules compatible with the old games and adventures looking like the old modules. As time went by, the OSR developed new settings, new ways of presenting setting materials, rules that where still compatible but included many house rules, or rules that were incompatible but still recognizably derived from the old rules. This latest development is what I call DIY D&D. So for me, DIY D&D is a subset of the OSR.
The market being so small, all of this was driven by very small teams of people and facilitated by POD. I’m not convinced that words such as independent and anti-establishment mean so much in this context. If a writer, two or three artists, an editor, a layout person and a publisher make a book, is it all that different from how Paizo and WotC work? Are their teams so much different? It would seem to me that their product is simply more opinionated, less designed to reach the widest audience possible. As such, I also see DIY D&D as an aesthetic movement. In way, pushing the hardest down “avenues not taken at the time”.
Zak also left a comment: “DIY D&D is a term I invented because I hate a lot of old stuff but I liked the bloggers who talked about it and their garage-rock house rules approach.”
An excellent article by Zak, Stay Unprofessional. I laughed, when I came to the following paragraph on alienation.
In short: it’s possible for even indie RPG authors to be so professional they aren’t making anything they want to (or have to) live with. In a curious quirk of early 21st century post-hobby production, they have alienated themselves from their labor, with almost no help from the larger capitalist system.
It’s why I’m only doing the stuff I want for my own games. The amount of effort I put into the Caverns of Slime for Fight On! #15 which never got published showed me that every step of the process has to be enjoyable. If it is not, if it is premised on some later reward and recognition, what happens when the reward does not manifest? Time wasted, that’s what.
Recently, Rob Monroe asked about tools to use when preparing a sandbox.
I listed the following:
Alternatively, I could also imagine running my next game as a point crawl based on the structured input of my players as suggested by +Jason Lutes in The Perilous Wilds.
Jason Lutes then linked to two examples of how he did it in 2013, which are also based on blog posts by the Welsh Piper, random generators by Chaotic Shiny, and all that, in order to create the world and a village.
It looks like a lot of work but it looks super beautiful!
I still think that starting out with a random Text Mapper Map and adding notes and settlements to the text describing the area and using the tool to render a picture of the area still is the best value for my time. See How To Get Started With Text Mapper for more.
This post is a translation of an old post I wrote back in 2014 about the responsibilities of a GM—or referee, as I like to call myself in English. As I translate from German to English, I’ll note that sentences are longer and more convoluted than usual. Welcome to the German Way.
Sometimes I meet people in my games that would like to run a campaign. Sometimes, they just hope that the current group will just stay together and keep playing, at the same location, at the same time. If you’re already playing with friends looking for a new referee, then that’s a great way to start. But sometimes just wanting to run a game is not good enough…
I don’t want to scare anybody. Being a referee is a great hobby. I just want to prevent people from thinking that all it takes is to read an adventure and show up somewhere in order to run a game. There are many responsibilities which end up being ours.
At the time, there was an interesting discussion on G+ where people talked about running a game as a service and delegating tasks. My first reaction to all these responses was always the thought: “I wish!” Yes, I do. But I wrote this list remembering friends and acquaintances, convention games and statements from fellow players, people wanting to take over one of my groups, asking whether I know any players looking for a game, complaining about players not mapping or not writing session reports, or not reading the session reports they wrote, and I think to myself: “Stop dreaming! Sure, that would be nice but primarily, this is your job.”
And yes, there are game systems that do without some of these responsibilities. Some games require no preparation, some games require no explicit referee, but most of the responsibilities I listed remain. You don’t need to prep a plot for Mountain Witch but somebody still has to know the rules. You don’t need to have a referee for Western City but you still need a host. You don’t need to learn about a setting in Dungeon World as you can create a setting together when the game starts, but everything else still holds true.
In regard to Character Burning: In some german RPG circles, there exist the term “Barbie Gaming”. (This might sound a bit derogatory, but it isn’t meant as such.) The idea is that there is, for some folks, a source of fun in tinkering with their character, figuring out how the different mechanisms interlock, how to plot the path to this or that power, how which lifepath choices affect the outcome, etc.
The point here is that what to me (and apparently +Zak Sabbath too) is a horrible tedious thing that stands in the way of actually having fun, is for them one of the big sources of fun in the game. Also, there is the sense of achievement and satisfaction when they figured out that system and end up with something that they really like.
And it’s fun that they can even have when for some reason the weekly game just got cancelled!
It is as if you combine the fun that a kid has trying different dresses and shoe variations on the Barbie doll with the satisfaction of a jigsaw puzzle coming together.
A bit later I wrote the following:
To be more specific in arguing why Barbie gaming is something I dislike: even if some people enjoy it, chances are that not all of the players will enjoy it. If some enjoy it and others don’t, then you’ll get very different characters at the table. They might differ a lot in combat effectiveness, as happened in my D&D 3.5 game, where I distinctly remember having set up a fight with a ranger with humans as favorite enemies, and human slaying arrows, riding a nightmare, to fight one particular character, and using a bunch of demonic boars for the rest of the party because all their characters were hopeless in combat. That’s when I decided that I no longer wanted to run games with rules that afforded this kind of spread. To bring this back to Burning Wheel, I’d argue that spending more time in character creation does result in a wide variety of characters, but at least the spread is more overt. You can have an abbot skilled in words, and everybody at the table will know. Those that did not manage to plan their life paths well enough will end up with less of a leader but they won’t feel totally outclassed. In addition to that, a typical game has a wide variety of skill checks, on the topics you expressed interest in via beliefs and all that, so it’s not as bad as playing D&D 3.5 with a dedicated character builder friend. Specially since there, the gap widens as you go up in levels where as in Burning Wheel I’d assume the gap to close over a campaign as advancement is easier for those who fail at Barbie gaming.
But still, these observations still don’t recommend rules that provide for Barbie gaming. When I run a game, I’ll be careful to choose a system that does not. Even if the effect is not as strong as for D&D 3.5, some players will still want to talk to me about it, have question, and I just won’t care for that kind of conversation. Better to pick rules that don’t afford this kind of conversation. So, even if some people enjoy it, I’d prefer it if they played it as a solo game and didn’t talk to me about it, and didn’t outshine the other players at the table that don’t care for character building, and didn’t bring a big book to the table and talked the others through character creation, establishing a power dynamic at the table based on an interest I do not share.
Yesterday I was running my game and we’re once again going off into unprepared territory. We’re approaching a small town called Corkbridge in the Outlands (Planescape), halfling apple farmers, the party is looking for a healer and so there’s this hedge wizard halfling, they knock at her door, and I’m trying to think of something surprising to say. So… uhhh… “She has tears in her eyes as she opens the door but wipes them away as looks at you and asks how she can help you.”
The players are surprised! Good. OK, they’ll probably want to help, so how about something even more surprising… uh, she doesn’t want our help! “A personal thing, family. Nothing you can do but thank you for offering to help.”
The players are intrigued. Good! They decide to invite her to the inn and gain her confidence over a drink to two, and so she goes with them and tells her the sad story of her brother and his failing marriage, his wife always going off and him being angry and sad and alone, and jealous. The players nod and look at each other. Nothing to do here, they agree.
The wizard leaves and the innkeeper shows them their room. On a whim, he says: “So, she told you about her brother, eh? Married an adventurer he did. And she’s always off, can’t just stay and work the orchards, always chasing after some rumors, looking for treasure and all that.” The players nod and grin and remember a former halfling player character. He continues, “So how’s your love life? Anybody waiting for you at home, hoping you’ll come back, hoping that this time you’ll stay?” And he goes around the table, asking the player characters.
Too busy studying books and magic, says one. I’m a frog man and we don’t really do relationships, you know, says the other. One day I’ll retire to Monkey Island and there will be other giant apes like me and I’ll find myself a woman and settle down, says the third. I loved it.
I was looking at Ed Ortiz’s post, To Vesper Skies: Prologue, where he talks about aliens:
“The crazier, the better. So I want my game to have a decent amount of playable alien races from the get go. Of course, you have to wonder, where humans fit in all this. With exotic races with some weird abilities, how do you make the baseline humans more interesting?”
And I’m reminded of two things:
All the aliens would be smaller, weaker, brittle, lonely, vulnerable, inflexible. Perhaps richer, perhaps more cunning, perhaps more powerful, but we are mammals.
Regular readers know I use an entourage approach in my games. Each player has a “main” character who gets a full share of treasure and their charisma determines how many other characters there are—the size of their entourage. In one of the campaigns, I’ve limited the number of characters on an adventure to three per person because some of the players are slow. Thus, even if you have seven henchmen, you can only bring two of them along on any single session. The end effect is that some players play only a single character, others play a trio, most have “small” characters guarding their ships and holds and homes, and sometimes we run adventures for the low level characters.
In an classic D&D campaign, how do you or your players deal with high mortality if you don’t use multiple characters per player? One of my campaigns currently counts 12 casualties after 24 sessions, for example. And I’m using the super generous shields shall be splintered and a death and dismemberment table instead of instant death at zero hit-points.
Here’s how to get started with a random map:
(If you click the Random link then you won’t be able to get back to the text that generated it all – you’ll have to look at the page source and at the very end you’ll find the text that generated the map in a comment, just in case.)
To get a feel for the icons available, do the following in another tab:
Campaign Wiki Bonus: If you can find a way to store your text describing the map online, then your map will be live – you can change the text and reload your map, and it will have changed as well. For one of my campaigns, for example, I keep the text on on a page, and I use the link to the raw text of that page to generate the actual map.
Dropbox: If you store your map in a public (!) text file you can edit the map and regenerate the map on demand. Here’s the text file for my current map.
include include https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/2749916/Greyheim.txtinto the Text Mapper box, or
Recently, William Nichols argued on Google+ that some games avoid the dichotomy of Sandbox vs. Railroad one often sees discussed. This was in reply to me sharing a hilarious video, about 15min, about two campaigns: the sandbox that turned into The Hobbit and the railroad that turned into The Lord of the Rings. It comes with many asides that I remember myself thinking when I was younger, e.g. the idea that players had a social obligation to go along with what I had prepared.
William basically argued that some rules designed the problem away by using improvisation and he listed Dungeon World (which I have run) as well as Fiasco and Apocalypse Now (both of which I have played).
I think these examples are definitely role-playing game designers trying to design their way out of the problem space of “wasted prep” – either because it’s a lot like work for the GM or because it affords railroading, which is not fun for players.
But then again, if you manage to set expectations such that people know that some parts of your game are not improvised, then these locations on the map will be “more real” than things you all just thought up. That’s how I work, at least.
So that’s the counterweight I see: we can design away the option of a railroad, but we must be careful not to design away an important source of immersion, the suspension of disbelief that there is an actual, imagined, shared, pre-existing world out there. For me, that idea is powerful. In games that afford a lot of improvisation, this is often lost, I feel.
Dungeon World navigates this by suggesting the creation of a map beforehand and Perilous Wilds even offers a procedure to create a shared map at the table.
To make a long story short: I think it’s important to remember that adding more improvisation also means that you loose something. Being aware of that trade-off is important.