Thursday, August 27, 2020

RPGaDay 2020 # 18 Investigate

The last investigative RPG I ran was called InSpectres. I'm sure I've written about it on the blog before. It's a fun, light little horror comedy game that I like to run in coffee shops.

This was back in March, right around when the pandemic was picking up steam. But it was Friday the 13th, and it had to be acknowledged in some way. I posted the event on my Meetup group and got two players.

One of the things that I have always appreciated about InSpectres is that players will never get stuck on a mystery or fail to find a clue. Every die roll has a chance of contributing to the ultimate goal. One of the players that I got was actually experienced with the system and helped me see a few more kernels of genius in the design.

Action is always better than inaction. This one is sort of obvious. It's what I've always said about the game, but from a slightly different perspective. Since every roll can contribute to the completion of the story, it is in the players' best interest to make as many rolls as possible. This was highlighted in this particular session, as the other player, who didn't have experience with the system, was generally more passive. I tried to check in with him a few times to make sure that he was engaged.

The other thing is the reason why the players get to generate the clues that they find. On the surface level, it ensures that the clues you discover make sense in the context of where you found them. If the GM constructed the mystery and handed out clues as you made successful die rolls, it would seem very strange if you found the secret love note in the bathroom, or inspired a confession with a pratfall. By letting the players construct the mystery on the fly, you also ensure that every clue is actionable. Rather than discovering a hair sample that they need to take to the lab to have analyzed, or something obscure that has to wait for another clue to emerge to make sense, the players can hand themselves information that pushes the action forward.

My love for that game grew even stronger after that experience.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

RPGaDay 2020 #17 Tower

 As a lifer GM, it might seem that I am in a tower of sorts, lording my ability to run games over all the mere players beneath me. But that's not really true.

You see, I've long held the belief that GMs are players, too. I'm not there to be all-powerful enforcer of plot. I'm there to present the players with a situation and see how they respond to it. And that's fun to me. That's how I get my entertainment. I'm a player, there to have fun, just like every other person at the table.

I'm finding that games where I plot less tend to bring me out of that tower and more into the player realm. I still do lots of prep, but it's fleshing out the world and making sure that I'm ready for what the players try to do rather than crafting a set of hoops for them to jump through (or avoid). But without a set plot, I'm not trying to corral the players or push them in a specific direction. There's no need to be heavy handed. I'm just as much a participant of what unfolds as the players are.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

RPGaDay 2020 #16 Meet

 Of all the things that the pandemic has made more difficult, it's meeting people. Everything we do these days has a deliberateness to it. Every interaction is planned to be as safe as possible. There are few, if any, chance meetings.

In-person gaming is also shut down for many of us. Online gaming does exist, but requires the same level of planning as an in-person game. Perhaps moreso, because those chance meetings that we don't have anymore means that we don't have those "Hey! Been a while! I'm running a game like the one I did back in the day. Do you want to play?" conversations.

But meet we do, in whatever form that takes. Because we are social animals. Especially gamers.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

RPGaDay 2020 #15 Comfort

I don’t know that I would ever call gaming comforting, but I will call it a comfort.

In a lot of ways, gaming is work. Especially for the Game Master, which is usually me. Even as a player, you have to put effort in. That can be building your character correctly or making sure that you are biting onto the GM’s plot hooks. Even organizing a no-prep game like Fiasco means the effort of getting everyone in the same place at the same time (even if that’s online).

But it is absolutely a comfort. Having a regular game night with all the regular players showing up can be a lovely routine. A one shot can be a pleasant break from a humdrum routine or a chance to try something new.

RPGaDay 2020 #14 Dramatic

 The last few days haven't given me a lot of time for writing. I don't know if I'll be able to make it up or if I'll come out short this year. I'm going to try.

I've usually been pretty bad about stirring up drama between characters. The one time I tried was kind of a disaster.

It was GURPS Technomancer, a setting in which magic took the role that atomic power did in the latter half of the 20th Century. One of the effects of this is that people started having not-quite-human children, called changelings. They often appeared as various human-animal hybrids. The main ones I remember off the top of my head were fox people and spider people.

Since this was GURPS, and a setting where magic was available, nearly every character poured as many of their points as they could into every possible spell. Since playing a non-human cost points, no one was really interested. Except for one player. He was one of those overly excitable anime fans and I guess he wanted a kitsune sort of character.

It was right about this time that I bought GURPS Martial Arts and made the detailed combat moves available to my players. Which also meant that I created a plot surrounding a martial arts tournament. I decided that someone was trying to rig the tournament because they were racist against changelings. Which meant that every time I had an NPC say something denigrating about changelings, I had one player feel it.

He clearly thought I was picking on him, because he told me off after one session and stormed off. He didn't come back for the rest of the campaign. He was more a friend of a friend, so I didn't see him for probably a few years after that.

When we did reconnect, it was for another game I ran that went moderately well. Neither of us brought up the old incident, so it seems to be water under the bridge.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

RPGaDay 2020 #13 Banner (Actually Frame)

 Not coming up with anything for Banner. I haven't hoisted a banner for anything in quite a while. Maybe I'll have something by the end of the month.

The next prompt on the list is Frame.

I've run a lot of campaigns over the years, some good, probably more bad. And the better ones are always the ones that had a stronger frame. The more strongly you are able to answer the questions of "Who are the characters?" and "What do they do?" the better off you are.

For a long time, I didn't bother much asking about who the characters were. That was up to the players, I assumed. Much of my work as GM was more focused on the "What do they do?" side of the equation. Coming up with fun things to dangle in front of the party every session.

Eventually, I realized that my stronger campaigns were the ones that offered some sort of unifying principle for the characters. Sometimes I did this (I once ran a superhero campaign where the characters had all taken jobs as superheroes). Other times, it was up to the players (another superhero campaign set in another universe had the players casting about for roles. One of the characters owned a bar, so another player decided that she was the bartender, another was one of the regulars and so on).

One of the great things about D&D, as well as licensed games and storygames, is that they often come with those questions already answered. With the campaign already framed, if you will. D&D is famously "The characters are all fantasy adventurers who kill monsters and take their stuff." The latest Star Wars RPG had three different rulebooks, each built towards a certain set of answers. Storygames Powered by the Apocalypse use playbooks to put characters in defined roles that support the game's premise.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

RPGaDay 2020 #12 Rest

 One of the hardest parts of any campaign is managing downtime. Adventures are fun, but they're not everyday affairs.

Unless they are, of course. One of the gaming forms I've spent the longest time with is the megadungeon. In this situation, the adventure is a proactive thing, something the characters choose to do, rather than reactive, in which the characters are pushed to respond to events. (Though I do think that having events also happen in a megadungeon context strengthens it.)

In the first megadungeon I played in, run by my friend Kris, downtime was an obstacle. Mostly because there was only one party member who required it. The party wizard had developed the ability to make magical items and would occasionally need to take several days away from dungeoneering to make something. On the one hand, we didn't want to leave that player out of the action, so the whole party waited in town for them to finish. On the other hand, nobody else had anything to really do in town (it was largely handled as an abstraction), so all we did while he was working was twiddle our thumbs. (Not that it took long at the table. He just established what he was making and how long he took.)

And then there was Sir Meriweather. I'm sure I've told the story about him, or at least how it/he ended. But there was a good long time when he was simply the leader of a competing adventuring party. So every time the wizard wanted to make a magic item, we also had to go to Sir Meriweather and ask his party to stay out of the dungeon to keep things fair. (Maybe the fact that he agreed to do this as much as he did should have been a clue.)

For my own megadungeon game, downtime was much more prevalent. Between training times for leveling up and for serious injury, some characters spent as much time down as up. Troupe style play kept everyone playing for nearly every in-game day.

When it finally fell apart, I attempted to run the Pathfinder version of the megadungeon. For that, I tried to use the downtime rules from the Ultimate Campaign supplement. It was only a modest success. My core consistent player was more interested in plundering the dungeon than doing much in town. My inconsistent players were too inconsistent to make filling in the blanks when they missed a session really worthwhile.

My current campaign hasn't had a lot of downtime. Since I tend to keep the calendar pretty tight, only about 2 weeks have passed in the game, pretty much since the beginning of the world. Though, as I have mentioned, I have big ambitions for this project that involve more than day to day dungeoneering. (There are dungeons in the world. It wouldn't be D&D without them.)

I actually had a player quit the game because the timeline wasn't moving fast enough. It was hard to see the forest of worldbuilding for the trees of dungeoncrawling and exploration. While I might accelerate the timeline at some point in the future, the main thing the party needs right now is gold pieces. (The kingdom-building rules I'm using lean heavily on the use of gold pieces as its primary form of input and output.) And, as everyone knows, the best place to get gold pieces is from a dungeon.

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