# RPG

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:

Looking for gamers here in Switzerland? → SpielerZentrale, NearbyGamers, RPG Zürich on Facebook. Networking is important so that people moving here can find D&D games in Zürich, Switzerland.

# 2016-08-19 Romantic Fantasy

I recently read a blog post by explaining the difficulty inherent in the romantic fantasy genre for roleplaying games, Romantic Fantasy and the Heroine's Journey.

I feel this is very similar in Science Fiction. There, if you don’t want “D&D in space” (what I might call Space Opera) then I find that Science Fiction is about extrapolating a trend we can all relate to in the present. Essentially, it turns into social commentary of the present and it would seem to me that the players at the table would have to pick such issues and develop them. Actual political issues to develop and personal stories that intersect incidentally, it’s tricky to pull of. I heard Shock might do it; I never played it.

But reading Brian’s blog post game me an explanation for why pulling off Pern or Darkover stories using D&D and its descendants might be harder than it looks. Perhaps it’s not even a problem in the rules themselves but in D&D game culture. We expect settings, classes, levels, treasure and so on to have certain effects. If anybody pulled it off, I’d like to hear more about your campaign!﻿

Thinking about it some more as I was sitting in the train, I wondered about the rules such a system would have. Combat would be deadly. The number of friends you had would be important. Love would be important. My first scribbles are now in a PDF called Best Friends (also on GitHub).

If you want to discuss this, see this post of mine on Google+.

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# 2016-08-18 Uncharted Atlas

If you’re more traditionally minded, you might want to take a look at by . The processes is explained in his blog post Generating fantasy maps and his internally consistent placename scheme is explained in his blog post Generating naming languages, both of them highly recommended reads.

I was reminded of my old efforts which were also based on Amit Patel’s 2010 blog post Polygonal Map Generation for Games using Voronoi diagrams, the Monones Island Generator. It didn’t go very far because I was stumped by the “draining lakes” problem – which I have now solved for Text Mapper! Should I revisit it? Are Voronoi diagrams something we even want for our role-playing games?

Some discussions on G+ here and here.

I think it should be possible to automatically label Voronoi diagrams. I started to manually label them, trying to see how far I’d get. Then again, assuming I wanted to manually edit the maps once the game gets going, I’d need a text representation of the polygon centers. I guess that means I could also just stick to some sort of latitude and longitude. Coarse enough to enable editing and still work to recreate the map might just mean three digits instead of two, ie. 001.0001 instead of 01.01 might be enough.

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# 2016-08-16 Alpine Map Generator

I’ve been working on the Alpine map generator some more. It uses Text Mapper to render the output into an SVG image and it uses the Gnomeyland icons by Greg MacKenzie so it looks nice. Sadly, I’ve developed a pathetic obsession about getting it “right”. To illustrate my obsession and to help me fight it, let me document what I’m talking about. This is a “bug” I just fixed.

Here’s the old map:

What’s wrong you ask? I was confused by the canyon carved into the mountains from lake 17.04. I expected it to flow into 18.05. Let’s check the height map before lakes start flooding, looking for an outlet:

Why would the river flow from 16.03 (height 7) to 15.04 (height 9)? This makes no sense.

So I studied my debug logs:

Lake started with 1704
Candidates: 1704
Looking at candidate 1704
River now: 1704
A neighbor of 1704 is 1804 with target 1704
Adding 1804 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1804
A neighbor of 1704 is 1603 with target 1704
Adding 1603 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1603
A neighbor of 1704 is 1803 with target 1704
Adding 1803 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1803
A neighbor of 1704 is 1703 with target 1704
Adding 1703 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1703
A neighbor of 1704 is 1705 with target 1704
Adding 1705 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1705
A neighbor of 1704 is 1604 with target 1704
Adding 1604 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1604
Candidates: 1804 1603 1803 1703 1705 1604
Looking at candidate 1804
River now: 1704 1804
Adding lake 1805 to our candidates: 1603 1803 1703 1705 1604 1805
A neighbor of 1804 is 1905 with target 1805
Adding 1905 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1804 1905
A neighbor of 1804 is 1904 with target 1803
Adding 1904 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1804 1904
Candidates: 1805 1603 1803 1703 1705 1905 1604 1904
Looking at candidate 1603
River now: 1704 1603
A neighbor of 1603 is 1602 with target 1702
Adding 1602 and 1702 to our lake, but need to explore
We flowed back into the lake via 1704 1603 1602 1702 1703
... 1702 is a new candidate with river: 1704 1603 1602 1702
... 1602 is a new candidate with river: 1704 1603 1602
Back at 1603 with river 1704 1603
A neighbor of 1603 is 1504 with target 1505
Adding 1504 and 1505 to our lake, but need to explore
Adding 1506 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1606 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1707 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1807 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1808 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1909 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2009 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2010 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2110 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2210 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2211 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2212 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2313 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2413 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2514 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2614 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2715 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2716 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2816 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2817 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2918 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2919 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 3019 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 3120 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 3220 to our lake and keep exploring
We left the map via 1704 1603 1504 1505 1506 1606 1707 1807 1808 1909 2009 2010 2110 2210 2211 2212 2313 2413 2514 2614 2715 2716 2816 2817 2918 2919 3019 3120 3220
Arrows for 1704 should now point to 1603
Arrows for 1603 should now point to 1504

The key is the list of candidates after looking at the first round of neighbors: 1804 1603 1803 1703 1705 1604. These are sorted by height, 16.04 is last, which is great. But it also means that 16.03 (wrong direction: east into the mountains) is the equivalent of 17.05 and 18.04 (south east, towards lake 18.05).

Clearly, I needed a better sorting algorithm for the next candidates to look for: the candidates at the same level needed to be sorted by their lowest neighbor which had not already been looked at.

A bit later:

Lake started with 1704
Candidates: 1704
Looking at candidate 1704
River now: 1704
A neighbor of 1704 is 1803 with target 1704
Adding 1803 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1803
A neighbor of 1704 is 1804 with target 1704
Adding 1804 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1804
A neighbor of 1704 is 1705 with target 1704
Adding 1705 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1705
A neighbor of 1704 is 1703 with target 1704
Adding 1703 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1703
A neighbor of 1704 is 1603 with target 1704
Adding 1603 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1603
A neighbor of 1704 is 1604 with target 1704
Adding 1604 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1604
lowest neighbor of 1703 is 1702
lowest neighbor of 1703 is 1702
lowest neighbor of 1703 is 1702
Candidates: 1804 1705 1703 1803 1603 1604
Looking at candidate 1804
River now: 1704 1804
Adding lake 1805 to our candidates: 1705 1703 1803 1603 1604 1805
A neighbor of 1804 is 1905 with target 1805
Adding 1905 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1804 1905
A neighbor of 1804 is 1904 with target 1803
Adding 1904 to our lake because it empties into our lake; the river leading here: 1704 1804 1904
lowest neighbor of 1703 is 1702
lowest neighbor of 1703 is 1702
lowest neighbor of 1703 is 1702
Candidates: 1805 1705 1703 1905 1803 1603 1604 1904
Looking at candidate 1705
River now: 1704 1705
A neighbor of 1705 is 1706 with target 1707
Adding 1706 and 1707 to our lake, but need to explore
Adding 1807 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1808 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 1909 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2009 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2010 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2110 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2210 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2211 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2212 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2313 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2413 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2514 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2614 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2715 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2815 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2816 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2917 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2918 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 2919 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 3019 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 3120 to our lake and keep exploring
Adding 3220 to our lake and keep exploring
We left the map via 1704 1705 1706 1707 1807 1808 1909 2009 2010 2110 2210 2211 2212 2313 2413 2514 2614 2715 2815 2816 2917 2918 2919 3019 3120 3220
Arrows for 1704 should now point to 1705
Arrows for 1705 should now point to 1706

1804 1705 1703 1803 1603 1604 is the correct sorting order. 18.04 and 17.05 are at the front and the southern passage is discovered.

Notice my additional debug message I needed to check that for hex 17.03 the neighbor 17.04 is not checked. It would be the lowest neighbor indeed but we have already looked at it, so we need to ignore it. By the time we’re looking at 17.03, only the three northern hexes are options and 17.02 is indeed the lowest neighbor.

So now, since 18.04 and 17.05 are equally likely, the algorithm picked 17.05 and lake 17.04 doesn’t flow into lake 18.05 but their rivers meet in 17.06 and I think the map is much better, now. Here’s the corrected water flow map:

And with this correction, the final map also looks different. No more canyon into the mountains!

Now I get the urge to draw lines indicating the water divides. Noooo!

And just in case I make further changes to the algorithm, here’s what the application would generate right now for this width, height, and seed.

Time passes and I’ve spotted another problem in the map above. Take a look at lake 34.05 which drains through one of the highest peaks in the area, 35.07. How on earth did that happen?

We need to look at the earlier maps again. Before the flood processor kicks in we can already see that any water on the peak 35.07 will immediately drain into lake 37.09.

So, the algorithm goes:

1. look at all the neighbors of 34.05. None look very exciting, they all drain back into 34.05.
2. look at our neighbors’ neighbors; ignore the two white fields, focus on the light gray ones, e.g. 34.06.
3. all its neighbors drain back into the lake with the exception of our peak, 35.07; and with that, we found our lake 37.09
4. looking at all our candidates, lake 37.09 looks like the most promising, since it lies lower than any of the candidates

And that explains it. The problem seems to be that once we are looking at a candidate like 34.06, we’ll evaluate all its neighbors, even the very high ones like 37.09, even if a candidate of similar height like 35.05 has a much better neighbor like 36.05 which would drain off to the north west.

My algorithm is not enough breadth first like water would be.

More tinkering ahead, I can feel it!

Comments on 2016-08-16 Alpine Map Generator

Algorithm changed to be totally breadth first. I’m not sure it is better.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-08-17 13:24 UTC

# 2016-08-10 Swiss Referee Style Guide Integrated into Halberds and Helmets

I integrated my referee tips from the Swiss Referee Style Guide into my campaign rules document.

On Google+, Aaron McLin commented on my opening paragraph:

“This is not a Monty Haul campaign and not a stupid dungeon crawl.”

I always find statements critical of other games and play styles to be an immediate turn-off. Who has ever described their rewards as overly generous or a dungeon crawl they have created as “stupid?” While they don’t work for me, personally, a lot of people enjoy dungeon crawling, and sometimes, being all about the new cool gear is fun for people.

The statement strikes me as a cheap shot (and something of a straw man) designed to establish some “I’m smarter than some other gamers, so my game is better,” cred. But (and I feel that I’ve said this a million times) I’ve never met a salesperson who has sought to undermine their customer’s feelings of thoughtfulness and intelligence by attacking choices they may have made earlier - in other words, when you go to a Ford dealership, they don’t open by going on about how crappy Volkswagens are - after all, they might not know what you drove to the lot.

My reply at the time:

It seems to me that the statement made it really easy for you to know that you don’t want to play at my table. Works for me.

On a more self-critical note, I guess that in general, I’d agree with you. Putting other play style downs is lame. But here’s why I started out with those statements and links: when I tell some gamers that I’m using a version of D&D from the eighties, I have to also tell them that I’m not running the kind of game they are thinking of when they hear it. So I need a short hand for “no, not that kind of game”. After all, this is not a generic rule set, this is the document we use at my table, so I want to use the first page to tell potential players: this is what I like, this is what it is going to be about. It will not be about prestige classes, cool new gear or killing gods. Some people might enjoy that, but that’s not what they’ll find in my game. That’s why I feel justified in starting out with a value judgment. It also tells the reader: if you don’t share these values, you should read something else.

I’m still wondering about the choice of words. I have played and run sessions where the game is about moving from room to room, opening doors, finding traps and fighting monsters, but all activities happen on the simplest level where practically no thought is required.

Moving from room to room has a clear procedure:

1. write down walking order on a piece of paper
2. thief is checking for traps (rolls dice)

Opening doors has a clear procedure:

1. thief listens carefully (rolls dice)
2. thief checks whether it is locked
3. thief opens the lock if necessary (rolls dice)
4. alternatively, the fighter kicks in the door (rolls dice)

Finding traps is also a thoughtless process:

1. thief checks chest for traps (rolls dice)

Fighting monsters is also thoughtless:

1. roll for initiative (roll dice)
2. roll attack (roll dice)
3. roll damage (roll dice)
4. say your armor class when targeted
5. reduce hit-points when hit

The thoughtlessness is there because at one point we determined this to be our optimal procedure and we didn’t want to keep restating it, and there was no reason to change it. There were no trade-offs to make, no decisions to make, only the motions to go through. Thus, while I wouldn’t have called it “stupid” at the time, that’s how I see it now.

I hope that I managed to turn the game around whenever I realized that we were descending into this routine. What I’m trying to tell new players at my table is that this is not how I want to play, except I want to use a few words as possible.

Is “stupid” the right word?

Update: After some discussion on Google+ changed the intro page. Aaron McLin is right!

# 2016-07-27 OSR and DIY D&D

Ben Milton recently asked about the difference between the OSR and DIY D&D on Google+.

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.﻿”

If you’re wondering who Zak is, you might want to read his blog – or you might want to read this piece by Vanessa Veselka, The Best Monster (2014), as an introduction. I liked it very much. Zak wrote another article himself, Why I Still Love 'Dungeons & Dragons' in the Age of Video Games (2015). And then there is the older one which caused some controversy back then, a piece by Davy Rothbart, Playing Dungeons and Dragons with Porn Stars (2012).

I don’t follow Zak on G+ and he doesn’t follow me. I just read his blog and every now and then I read up on the controversies he’s embroiled in. This is the very first controversy, apparently: Default Tracy Hurley & Filamena Young Attack the D&D With Porn Stars Women Transcript, just in case you are as confused as I am by the recent resurgence of the discussion after the post of Mark Diaz Truman on Google+, Two Minutes Hate.

Curious about the post by Mark Diaz Truman? I thought it was a good read. I’m all in favor of treating people like people, not like objects of hate, in favor of some humility, recognizing the achievements of others and the failings of oneself. And I have often scratched my head, wondering what the hell I just read in a thread on G+.

Zak often comes across as aggressive. Here’s an example on a blog post of his where Brie Sheldon is quoted saying “I have been directly impacted by the bad behavior of Zak” and he jumps on that and wants to see the evidence. He also provides a link to a longer thread by Jeremie Friesen on Google+ where Zak and Tracy talk. He really wants to defend himself against any and all slights, including the thread mentioned above.

Sadly, some people didn’t understand that applying the license to their submission allowed others to do this very thing I was so happy to see. I felt I had done a good thing by insisting that the contest submissions used Creative Commons licenses but somebody else wrote a blog post calling the result a “dick move”. [1] [2] That hurts. And it keeps on hurting because the written words do not disappear. The spoken word will disappear, but the blog post will stay. Somebody is forever insulting me.

That’s why I agree with people like Zak: there needs to be more accountability online. Posting online is not like talking to friends. Posting online is like writing for the press if more than a handful of people can read it. Accountability is key. Politeness is key.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. I think people should own their accusations and name names and link to evidence—or take their discussions out of their public sphere. Is this “silencing?” I don’t think so. These are the consequences of sharing a public space. Your freedom ends where it impinges upon another’s.

„Das Recht ist also der Inbegriff der Bedingungen, unter denen die Willkür des einen mit der Willkür des anderen nach einem allgemeinen Gesetze der Freiheit zusammen vereinigt werden kann.“ [3]

Another example is a post by Sophie Lagace, Who measures progress? Good question. I’d love to see the “long-documented bad behaviours” she mentioned. And I keep wondering about “Calling out of victims.” When I read the transcript above, it seemed to me that Zak was the victim, except that he doesn’t show fear and doesn’t retreat to a safe space and instead defends his reputation vigorously, angrily. And yet his anger doesn’t get seen as appropriate. It’s weird. The entire blowback Mark is getting is weird.

After adding to this post over the days that the discussion has been unfolding, I realized that I had already said most of what I wanted to say back in 2014, Speaking in Public. Back then, I said:

What I took away from all those years on the Internet was being more careful about what I said. At first I felt like a coward. Afraid of comments on my own blog, I was.

Is this me being silenced or is this me being reasonable when speaking in public? I’m not being silenced and neither is anybody else who is rightfully criticised and challenged in public. Belonging to a group that is being silenced (their actors don’t play in big movies, their books don’t get nominated for awards, their artists are being paid less, their complaints about abuse are being ignored) does not mean that you get to say whatever. Like Tracy in that first thread up there, she definitely has the right to object to sexualized images of women playing D&D in a magazine—but she does not get immunity when challenged by the people being portrayed.

As I said back in 2014:

If I can’t stand the heat after nailing my blog posts to the church door, I’m not going to post.

Still true.

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Comments on 2016-07-27 OSR and DIY D&D

Similar situation here: Alexander Cherry opens a discussion on Google+ with “So, as far as I can tell, the Old School Revolution is about demanding bad game design. Can anyone give me a counter-example?﻿” How’s that for a terrible opening? Natalie Bennet says in a comment:

Your original statement is so non-sensical that it’s impossible to respond to it.

Clearly people who identify with the “old school revolution” don’t agree that the games that they prefer are “bad game design.” We play those games because they lead to the play experiences we prefer.

So you’re either trolling, stupid, or have a definition of concepts like “bad” and “about” that is incomprehensible to other humans.

[…]

Next time, try something like:

“Features of OSR games like X, Y, and Z thing seem like bad design. They lead to behaviors A, B, and C, which aren’t fun. But some people really like them, there are a lot of games that use them. What’s going on? Why do people want games like this?”

If you start from the assumption that people you don’t understand are basically reasonable, but have different experiences and temperaments than you, talking to them tends to go better.

And yet, at the end of the day, Zak’s doing evil shit? Alexander Cherry ends the thread:

Since Zak’s created a hostile environment in this thread, I’m disabling comments, which I should have done the previous time he did it.

But how did we end up here?

Ralph Mazza starts by defending the position that D&D is poorly designed. If there’s an argument I don’t see it. It basically seems to say that the rules are bad because he can’t use the rules without telling us what it is about the rules that prevents him from doing it.

D&D games aren’t bad design because they encourage free form. D&D games are bad design because D&D was a piss poor game in the first place. It encourages freeform, not because it was designed to encourage free form, but because that’s the only way to get the creaky thing to work at all. This is to be expected from a game that pioneered a whole new thing…the very first automobiles were also piss poor cars. We respect the achievement and put them in museums, but no one is commuting to work today in a horseless carriage.

D&D is a bad design. And OSR games that try to get the desired play experience by emulating a known bad design are thus themselves bad designs. And therefore OSR gamers who demand D&D-esque clones, are essentially demanding bad design.

Tony Tucker and Alexander Cherry then talk about combat with Tony saying:

Also, in OSR games combat is heavily discouraged. There are palpable rewards for avoiding it, and minimal rewards for engaging in it.

Zak comes in, picking up on Ralph’s idea that people need to avoid the rules in order to play the game, and picking up on Tony’s point that avoiding combat is often what the game is about, and writes the following:

Players often have snacks during D&D yet the game does nothing in the rules to encourage snacks. It is therefore poorly designed. When players are snacking they aren’t interacting with the system. Clearly, someone like Ralph should write a storygame which supports snacks so we don’t have to think up our own snacks.

I may have said it differently, but given the opening statements by Alexander Cherry and Ralph Mazza, it seems quite appropriate. And then it all goes downhill.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-08-02 13:04 UTC

# 2016-07-07 Unprofessional

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.

How true.

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.

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# 2016-07-07 Preparing a Sandbox

Recently, Rob Monroe asked about tools to use when preparing a sandbox.

I listed the following:

1. A map. I started my last one with a random Text Mapper map using the Hex Based Campaign Design blog posts by the Welsh Piper.[1][2]
2. I also enjoy ’s system of assigning two tags to each hex as described in his book Red Tide, and of establishing a cabinet of evil movers and shakers right at the beginning as described in his book An Echo Resounding.

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.

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# 2016-07-07 Being a RPG Referee

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…

• Referees must find new players on Facebook, Google+, Nearby Gamers, forums, friends, partners, relatives, coworkers, and so on. Yes, everybody should share in this responsibility, but in my experience, the referee is usually the one with the biggest network.
• Referees must coordinate schedules. Somebody has to announce game dates. When game day is moved around a lot, then players like me, people with no spontaneous personalities and inflexible tendencies, will have a hard time dealing with this. I can’t come on short notice, and when game day is canceled I’m angry because I would have preferred doing something else instead. Sooner or later, game day will get a lower priority and it won’t be belong before I’ll be making other plans just to be sure that I’ve got something going on for sure.
• Referees must solve conflicts. Players trash talking gays, prostitutes, foreigners? Anybody can speak up, but when I’m a guest somewhere else, I might feel that I’d rather send a friendly good bye email rather than engage in the conflict and play with such people. As a referee, we’re not only responsible for finding new players, we’re also responsible for maintaining a pleasant gaming culture at the table.
• Referees must pick or propose rules they like. There’s no point in picking a game the referee doesn’t like to run.
• Referees must explain rules, clarify them, establish rulings, remind players of the rules. Sure, you can delegate the rules to a player, but in general it won’t work all that well. It’s a tricky thing to contradict the referee, breaking the flow, asking for short retcons, i.e. the alteration of previously established facts in the continuity of the events at the table.
• Referees determine spot light time and need to intervene. Some players are louder than others, have more ideas than others, constantly convince their fellow players to change their minds. Sure, the distribution of introverts and extroverts is a natural thing and often the behavior matches what people enjoy most. And yet, this must not get out of hand. A clear turn order, allowing quiet players to make particular decisions without interference from their fellow players and similar small interventions will help balance spot light.
• Referees are responsible for the timing. When do we start, when do we stop, do we begin in media res, do we end with a cliff hanger, do we have an extra half hour, should we aim for a close? As a referee, one of your eyes is always watching the clock.
• Referees are responsible for the tempo. Is the game boring and we need to push on, or do we chill and take in the scene, listen to long speeches and enjoy the little details? Referees react when players pick up their phones, yawn, start doodling, sort dice, or stack dice.
• Referees run the game. When they’re unsure, the table loses focus. When they are sure of themselves, players can focus on the game.
• Referees usually host the game. This is maybe a European thing where space is expensive and thus game shops are small and offer no organized play or open tables, and pubs and coffee shops are crowded. We meet at home. We invite strangers to play in our living rooms. And that’s why referees usually provide the books, the binders, the material, the extra dice, pens, erasers, mats, water jars, glasses, bowls for chips and dried fruit, pistachios, peanuts, tangerines, or dishes for trash.
• Referees must make time to prepare. As a player, you can afford to just show up for game night and not know a thing. As a referee, you will have to think about the game, take notes, have dreams…
• Referees must write session reports. Players don’t often do that. It’s great when they do, don’t get me wrong. But it’s hard to force them if they don’t, and you need notes to create continuity. Somebody has to go through the last session and think about what happened. Players won’t remember the details. They won’t embellish events. As a player, I’ll just scribble a few notes on the margins of my character sheet. I’m not going to write a session report.
• Referees must create a setting. It can be small, a dungeon, a village, a wilderness, a city, multiple cities, a whole surface world, a network of underworlds, a beyond, the planes, everything needs thought, setting books must be read if you decide to use a published setting.
• Referees must prepare adventures. Or they need to prepare situations that can lead to conflict. And as we saw with this list, this is not the only thing they need to do!

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.

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# 2016-07-07 Barbie Gaming

In a thread on G+ about Burning Wheel, introduced us to the concept of Barbie Gaming.

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.

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# 2016-06-22 Love

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.

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