Tuesday, August 30, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #30 Describe The Ideal Game Room If Your Budget Were Unlimited.

I more or less answered this question last year, but I do want to add a couple of details. Especially with an unlimited budget, I'd love to get my hands on one of those fancy gaming tables with drawers and shelves along the perimeter for players to put their characters sheets and dice and stuff.

The other detail I would like to add would be a whiteboard. Back when I was gaming at the university, each game got their own classroom. My players sat in desks and I had the teachers desk for my materials. It worked all right, except during fights, when the map and minis occupied the teachers desk and everyone had to crowd around the table. But the ability to write things on that whiteboard, whether it was NPC names or initiative tracking, was a boon.

Monday, August 29, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #29

I don't think the question for today is particularly useful. For the record, it's "If you could host a game anywhere on Earth, where would that be?"

The need to travel the Earth to game just feels odd to me. The "gaming Dream Team" question earlier this month covers travel to at least some degree. "I would go to Calgary so I could game with Steve again." That sort of thing. The immediate physical environment of the gaming space will be the topic tomorrow. The only other reason I can think to travel abroad doesn't really apply to gaming. I mean, maybe you could say that it would be cool to run a game set in Ancient Rome while in view of the Coliseum, or maybe even LARP in the Coliseum. But outside of that sort of circumstance, gaming somewhere and doing touristy stuff are rather separate things.

You might also talk about things like convention gaming here. The gap between the gaming at the location and doing touristy stuff is a but smaller, but still present. Still, it is very fun. I do love running and playing games at DunDraCon and I still hope against hope that one day, I will go to other cons. Winkie Con, an Oz convention, is next on my list, but Kubla Con, CelestiCon, and even GenCon would be awesome.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #28 What Film Or Novel Would You Be Most Surprised That A Friend Had Not Seen or Read?

I am always surprised to find out that people haven't seen The Wizard of Oz. While I know a lot of people haven't read the book, the film seems like one of those cultural touchstones. "Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh my!" "We're off to see the Wizard!" "Ding Dong! The Witch is dead!" "I'll get you, my pretty! And your little dog, too!"

Another supposed cultural touchstone that seems to be losing its luster is Star Trek. While the new film franchise might bring some of it back, Benedict Cumberbatch will never be Khan to me. Sorry, but a Sikh from India being presented as a genetic superman is way more interesting than Pasty White Prettyboy #49303238.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #27 Describe The Most Unusual Circumstance Or Location In Which You Have Gamed.

I would have to say the most unusual location I've gamed it would have to be a shed. There was a table in the shed, but not quite enough chairs or perimeter for everyone to sit around it. We were playing D&D, but didn't have our map and minis out. There might not have been room at the table, but Kris was running the game and it was one of his more experimental sessions.

He didn't change systems on us or anything, but there was a trial going on for one character's soul. An NPC cleric of a good god had been corrupted to evil by the actions of one of the other PCs, but had died very soon after, so there was a question regarding the final dispensation of their soul. I don't think I played my regular character that session, but was called on to speak for the powers of Good in the trial.

Friday, August 26, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #26 What hobbies go well with RPGs?

I think the best hobby for gamers is reading. Whether you're reading fact or fiction, a good book stimulates and engages the brain. It's also a good way to pick up ideas, which are the currency of gaming these days. It is possible to get inspirations and ideas from other media, like TV and movies, but those media encourage the analytical brain to shut down. You have to make an effort to keep that sort of thinking going as you're watching, but the rewards can be pretty awesome.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #25 What makes for a good character?

A great character is one in motion. They've got something to do, somewhere to go. And that doesn't just mean in the broad sense of having a quest, mission or goal to pursue. It can also mean that the character has something to contribute to every scene they're in. The character isn't just following the GM's lead, and maybe not always the player's. They may actually be doing those things, but a good character is one that makes it look completely natural.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #24 What is the game you are most likely to give to others as a gift?

To be fully honest, the game that I have given as a gift is actually my own, Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. It was a Christmas gift for my niece, who I was also gifting with the Oz books at the time. So it wasn't totally self-aggrandizing.

Though Christmas is one of my high points for sales, so apparently other people think it's worth gifting as well.

The other game that I would be very likely to give as a gift would likely be Fate Accelerated. It's small, inexpensive and easily digestible. There are even a couple of settings made specifically for FAE, Aether Sea and Masters of Umdaar, that are pretty cool. Add some Fate Dice and you're ready to go.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

RPGaDay #23 Share One Of Your Best 'Worst Luck' Stories

That would have to be the sad yet hilarious tale of Bentley, a gnome illusionist from the early days of the old school megadungeon game.

Among the various rooms full of monsters, there was a 10 foot by 10 foot room with 3 or 4 skeletons in it. As we were playing, I drew out this room on my map as a square comprised of 4 grid squares. I then placed figures to represent the skeletons (they might have all been skeleton figures, but no guarantees).

Bentley moved into the room, eager to smash some skeletons. That's when our powerhouse, a ranger we all called Boots decided she wanted in on the skeleton smashing action. But there was only so much room in that room. So I, being the kind and generous GM that I am, told her that she could move into the space if she could kill the skeleton occupying it. She also had the highest Strength score in the group, so her bonuses made her success assured.

If only she hadn't rolled a 1. But she did. Then, to make things interesting, I told her to make another attack roll, Since she had missed the skeleton, I had decided that there was a chance she had hit Bentley. And what else would she roll but a natural 20. Critical hit. Without rolling for damage, her Strength bonuses were enough to drop poor little 1st level spellcaster Bentley into negative hit points. If I had made her roll damage, it would only have made him that much deader.

Monday, August 22, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #22 What Are Some Random Events In Your Games That Keep Happening?

I don't really do random events outside of my D&D style games. When I am allowed to be my more story-centric self, I prefer that even the minor encounters have something to say about what's going on. Even if it's as simple as "This is dinosaur country!" I'm going to put effort into choosing cool dinosaurs to create neat encounters rather than building a more general purpose table. Also, most games aren't as bestiary-driven as D&D is. While D&D has pre-made stats for a lot of monsters, in another game, it ends up being the GM writing up monster stats. Prepping 3 scripted encounters is much easier than prepping a dozen of them and then writing a table. It's also more efficient, since I don't have to write content I won't use.

But in terms of elements that keep popping up even though they don't rise to the level of plot or theme or whatever, I could mention my desire to justify/redeem the trope of "You all meet in a tavern."

Back in the day, the dramatic elements that we associate with roleplaying today weren't really in place. Players spent more time on their character's equipment list rather than backstory. There are lots of ways to kick off a campaign, but the tavern opener has an interesting advantage that not many people think about: It gives players an opportunity to express their characters out of the gate.

Just putting them into a no-pressure situation and asking them "What do you do?" is a great way to get roleplaying started. Even if the response is as simple as "I order a drink,"  we just learned something about that character.

The spooky old man in the corner with the map to the Dungeons of Doom can wait until all of these actions are played out. This can be within a few minutes of opening the session or a coda ("Hey, you guys. There's also an adventure to do next session.")

Sunday, August 21, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #21 What Was The Funniest Misinterpretation Of A Game Rule In Your Group?

Off the top of my head, I don't think I have the precise story the question seems to be looking for. No strong memories of ""OMG! If I had known that rule worked differently, that thing never would have happened!"

One recent amusing misinterpretation that has no real rules effect comes from one of my current players. He loves magical characters and so is playing a wizard in my Pathfinder game. His handwriting is not sloppy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is peculiar in places. His 1's occasionally look like 7's. That sort of thing.

His most amusing typo came when he got the spell floating disk. It's very useful for carrying treasure and other heavy things out of the dungeon until you get cool items like bags of holding or portable holes. But his S came out a bit more like a C when he wrote it on his spell list. So rather than a floating disk, it looked very much like he could use his magic to create a floating dick.

We sometimes tease him about this, but I have never made a ruling that his spell actually creates anything resembling a penis.

Another story similar to this would probably be from my GURPS Technomancer campaign many moons ago.

I had purchased the book GURPS Martial Arts at DunDraCon that year. Since I was so enthused by the new content, I allowed my players to rebuild their characters to take advantage of the new rules. They couldn't change their point totals, but they could swap out old abilities for cool kung fu,

One player took this a little too far. In order to avoid changing his point total, he piled on an excessive amount of disadvantages to afford all of his new martial arts abilities. And since he was a fairly dedicated roleplayer, he insisted on playing out all of them.

It actually took me some time to clue into this. Because even though his behavior was disruptive, it never seemed petulant or spiteful. he was simply playing his character. Though once I clued in that he had written down every disadvantage in the book, I told him to tone it down and rewrite his sheet without so many disadvantages, even if it meant toning down his martial arts or his magic. Or both.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #20 What Is The Most Challenging But Rewarding System You Have Learned?

This is actually kind of interesting. I can think of a number of challenging systems and a number of rewarding systems, but not much in the way of "challenging, but rewarding."

I mean, GURPS is a challenging system. It's got a lot of detail, a lot of moving parts, which can be rewarding, but a lot of proponents of GURPS will tell you that a lot of the challenge of GURPS is knowing what parts not to use for a given campaign.

On the other hand, I don't think Fate is very challenging at all, but I can see how it could be very rewarding.

Burning Wheel strikes me as a good choice for being both challenging and rewarding. While I have yet to play the game, the process of building a character (like I mentioned yesterday) was involved, but also gave me some real food for thought as to who my guy was.

Friday, August 19, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #19 What Is The Best Way To Learn A New Game?

I'm sure someone would say that play is the best education on a game system. Take a pregenerated character and put them through their paces, learning how the dice work and how no to die in combat. And there is a certain truth to that.

But I think that, especially with the character-focused systems that are coming out these days, you don't get a proper taste until you build one yourself. Burning Wheel is one game that is so complex that I didn't get a proper understanding of how a lot of the pieces fit together until I built a character.

The other thing that Burning Wheel character generation taught me is how the process can inform the character. My initial goal was not only to make a Burning Wheel character, but to create the Burning Wheel version of Bob the Fighter, that generic guy with a sword that fills up every fantasy RPG out there. But because of how it was structured and the sorts of decisions I had to make to fill out that sheet, My "generic fighter" wound up being very un-generic. He became a product of some very interesting decisions and someone that I wanted to play. Never got to, though. Ho-hum.

The kinds of decisions that character creation wants you to make often inform how you play the game. This can be choosing a race and class in D&D or writing aspects for your Fate character, or anything else. A pregenerated character isn't going to give you those choices.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #18 What Innovation Could RPG Groups Gain The Most Benefit From?

One thing that I would recommend to anyone running a fairly long term campaign would be using timeline software. I found a great program for free here!

I don't know how many of you GMs out there have toyed with the idea of keeping a detailed campaign calendar, but couldn't figure out a way to organize those notes effectively. Maybe you make a note for an important date in your campaign, but either lose the note or forget it when the time comes. Timeline software can help.

The first time I used it was for my old school megadungeon game. The old school rules I was using included lots of mandatory downtime for characters. When I had only a handful of characters, graph paper was fine. but as I picked up players and as player picked up characters, my paper notes were becoming unwieldy.

On the advice of my brother, I started looking into timeline software and found the program I linked above. It had a few other benefits besides just tracking character downtime. I could nest categories, so that I could organize characters by player and also sort henchmen by who they were henching for (If any of the players were brave enough to try, I could also track activity of their henchman's henchmen). I could also make more detailed notes for events, since I didn't have to worry about how much paper I was taking up. I'm currently using it for my Pathfinder campaign (using the downtime rules from Ultimate Campaign) and I plan on using it to track stardates for my Star Trek game.

If I could add a feature, it would be the support of custom calendars, though the latest version does include an option to use the calendar from the setting of the German RPG The Dark Eye.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #17 What Fictional Character Would Best Fit In Your Group? Why?

This is a much trickier question that the last one. I think L. Frank Baum would be a great fit for any group, whether it was the gang that included Kris Newton, the group before that with Jordan and Meghan, or even my current group. But now I need to figure out not only a fictional character, but also one that would fit with my current group.

For my current group, I would like to have someone with a motivation and a desire to shake things up, but not in a dickish way. And I think my best candidate among fictional characters would have to be Steven Universe.

I think he would try to build a story and a quest into what my current players treat as a set of monster fights to be overcome. His empathy for the bad guys might lead him to attempt diplomacy rather than slaughter every now and again.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #16 What Historical Character Would You Like In Your Group? For What Game?

For me, this question is easy.

I would love to play in a campaign with L. Frank Baum. He would be great as either a player or GM. His Oz stories demonstrate a great sense of magic and whimsy. The fact that he was a playwright and an actor suggest he would have a great sense of showmanship and drama.

As for what game, I think it would be a hoot to play Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road with him. I also think Castle Falkenstein would be a good match. The steampunk genre as a whole would likely appeal to him, but Castle Falkenstein's focus on pageantry and derring-do seem especially appropriate.

Monday, August 15, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #15 What types or source of inspiration do you turn to most often for RPGs? (Or not)

Another question I answered last year. So instead, I'm going to tackle an alternate question: If could relive your gaming years so far, what would you want to do more of?

 Well, the big thing is simply to play more. The majority of my gaming life has been as a Game Master. For a lot of it, it seemed like that was the only way I was going to have any gaming going on. Or at very least anything that was not D&D-derived.

Barring that, more energy and ability to find players and write campaigns so as to run a larger proportion of the games on my shelf.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #14 Who Would Be On Your Dream Team Of People You Used To Game With?

First of all, the obvious choice: Kris Newton. Not only is he a great GM, but he's wonderful to have as a player. He's constantly looking for what he can bring to a scene, how to advance the plot and how to make the game fun for everyone. What's not as much fun is when he's the only player bringing his A game like that.

My second choice is what makes this list a Dream Team. My friend Meghan who passed away earlier this year. I'll admit that she's not a great roleplayer like Kris, but she's a great driver of people. For those who say that running a game is like herding cats, Meghan was an excellent sheepdog. She was very good at marshaling the party and aiming them at the problems that needed to be solved.

The bottom end of the top tier of people I've gamed with over the years would likely have to be Kane. His roleplay was consistently very entertaining. Dogar the baker dwarf and Xian Calcus the master of interpretive dance were just two of the awesome characterizations he developed. He did have a rough time when the system we were playing tried to address the roleplay in the mechanics. His characterization would be amusing but he would play a disadvantage that wasn't on his sheet while ignoring the stuff that he actually did put down.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #13 What Makes A Successful Campaign?

I've run a lot of campaigns over the years, some more successful than others. Even some of the lackluster campaigns had an awesome session in there somewhere.

A successful campaign is one with a well-thought out goal. Or several goals, depending how long you want to play. For a long time, I ran fairly short campaigns because I could only come up with a single major goal at a time. Once the villain was vanquished, I had the darnedest time coming up with new goals for the characters to pursue. I could dither and try to push through, but it generally just became easier to break that off and do something different.

The biggest low points of my gaming career have come from forgetting this. Focusing on paths through the plot rather than what the plot is trying to accomplish. Waiting for characters to develop their own goals really pushed my megadungeon campaigns into tedium. My old school campaign ended with the party having hundreds of thousands of gold pieces in the bank with no real plan or understanding of where that was going.

Friday, August 12, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #12 What Game Is Your Group Most Likely To Play Next? Why?

My current Pathfinder campaign is likely to continue for some time to come. Its predecessor ran for nearly 5 years, so anything is possible. Whatever my next campaign is, it's more likely to be a side-campaign or separate effort rather than a main campaign.

I've still got a Star Trek campaign on the back burner that I would love to whip into some kind of shape before the 50th anniversary is over.

Another idea that needs a lot more development before I make a serious proposal is an exploration of comedy gaming using the Fate system. I've been thinking about comedy gaming for sometime and would like to test some hypotheses and turn them into theories. My current thinking has suggested that Fate would be effective as a comedy system.

First of all, death is not an explicit consequence  of losing a physical conflict, so players feel safer regarding the consequences of failure/goofiness. The Create an Advantage action opens up slapstick possibilities without having to bolt on much in the way of special rules. Inflicting a wedgie or a wet willie is no more complex than grappling or tripping or the other "staple" combat maneuvers. And the idea of inflicting mental stress as well as physical stress means that a prank that doesn't explicitly do damage can still make progress towards taking out an enemy.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #11: Which Gamer That You Have Played With Has Most Affected The Way That You Play?

As written, this question does not speak to me. I have not had enough experience as a player to have a thought too hard about doing it better.

Speaking as a GM, however, I think the person that has had the strongest impact on my GMing style has definitely been Kris Newton. He was even kind enough to post some of his thoughts on GMing on the internet here, which helps explain some things that weren't making sense as I tried to pick them up via osmosis.

I haven't used his exact process as described, but I find the focus on play experience to be really helpful. It can be very easy for a GM to spend too much time in their own head, building their worlds, NPCs and adventures for their own amusement without thinking about whether or not the players will have fun with it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #10 What Is The Largest In-Game Surprise You Have Experienced?

That would have to be the time the party very nearly got pwned by a bard. Yes, a bard. And yes, he pwned the entire party.

Nor in a straight fight or anything like that. When we actually got to fighting him, it was denouement rather than climax.

We first encountered him as Sir Meriweather, a paladin who was leading a rival band of adventurers. Nobody suspected that he was a bard. Every detail that we could perceive said paladin. Including the fact that he was sort of a pain in everyone's neck.

Our party was exploring a megadungeon. His party was exploring the same megadungeon. We decided  that our adventurer's guild/club needed a guildhall/clubhouse. He decided that he should build a church. We were constantly fighting over the same resources. But we couldn't just fight him, because he was a paladin. No matter how much we hated him, we worked from the assumption that he was doing it all for a good cause.

Matters came to a head when he tricked our party's wizard into making an amulet of undetectable alignment in the shape of the paladin's holy symbol. The wizard's black market contacts conveyed the request without telling him where the request was coming from ("The less you know, the safer you are" and so on). We later discovered that exact amulet being carried by Sir Meriweather.

That's when we stopped assuming his paladin-hood and started trying to figure out who he really was. We were unable to pinpoint exactly what character class he was, but we did discover that the church project was a scam to embezzle from the community. Once he knew his plot had been foiled, he ran. We tracked him onto a ship in port.

As we investigated Sir Meriweather's background, we managed to make contact with the god that he had claimed to serve. He gave us a minor artifact to smite the false paladin with. While my memory says that my character was the one who did that final smiting, my wife also insists that her character did it.

We never did discover in-character exactly what was going on, but once the smiting was done, the GM gave us the rundown. And when he told us that our nemesis was a bard, we were absolutely gobsmacked.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #9 What Things Are Part Of Your Ideal Session, Other Than The Actual Game?

The list of things I need for an ideal session is actually fairly low. Paper for character sheets, dice for everyone, and my laptop full of data and notes. If I'm running a game with a detailed combat system, I'll break out the maps and minis.

I've seen GMs go all out for a convention game. The most elaborate production was the Star Wars Fate game I played at DunDraCon 2 years ago. That GM used background music from the films and unused concept art by Ralph McQuarrie to create a previously unseen corner of the Star Wars universe and it was very compelling.

For a one-shot game, that's great. Awesome, even. But for something I'll be doing week in and week out, I don't think I would do anything so elaborate.

Besides, the things that really make or break a session are the players. Even in that Star Wars game with the awesome visuals and music, one of the things that sticks out in my mind was when one of the other players tried to ship my character with another. A few days ago, I mentioned the heroic sacrifice that one PC made that I hadn't expected. That whole campaign took place with no props to speak of in my living room around a coffee table.

Monday, August 8, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #8 Do You Prefer Hardcover, Softcover or Digital Books?

Back when I started playing games and buying gaming books, print was all there was. And even once I got a computer cool enough to do that whole internet thing, the idea of paying for an intangible product was just weird to me. Buying a computer game on a disk in a box made sense, but buying the same game as a download didn't. Maybe I'm weird. I'm okay with being weird.

But things have changed a little for me over the past 5 years or so. For one thing, I've been selling my own game as a digital download for at least that long. Then about 3 years ago, the Bundle of Holding discovered me and I discovered them.

Another thing that's changed has been how I use technology and information to run my games. When I started my old school Castle of the Mad Archmage campaign, I was almost entirely a paper operation. I used graph paper to track all of the mandatory downtime required in old school play, at least until I ran out of lines. My note taking was terrible. I might have mentioned this, but the map the players were making of the dungeon as they explored it was more thorough and complete than any record I had behind the screen. Eventually, the player who was the map keeper stopped coming and the campaign ground to a halt.

Toward the tail end of that, I had gotten somewhat better with digital (and more detailed) note taking. Instead of graph paper to track every character's activity, I was using timeline software. My dungeon notes were no longer printouts with notes scrawled in the margins, but notes saved within the PDF document itself.

When I resurrected the Castle of the Mad Archmage for Pathfinder, I incorporated better notetaking in the form of Microsoft OneNote. I can have a separate page for every room in the dungeon, go into detail on the city that they live in and have all of that information pretty easy to find.

I'm also using OneNote to flesh out campaigns I've got on the backburner, getting them ready to run.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #7 What Aspect of Roleplaying Has Had the Biggest Impact on You?

At long last, a question I can answer.

I think the biggest impact of gaming on my life is that it has forced me to be social. I am an introvert by nature. Even via the internet, it takes some effort to put myself out there.

But it is also important to note that no one is an island. When looking for a job, one of the things  they tell you to do is "network." The process of dating and romance is all about putting yourself out there.

Gaming helps me be social in a couple of ways. First of all, games don't pay themselves. If I'm going to play any of the games on my shelf, I'm going to have to find other people to play them with. Secondly, games make great icebreakers. Once you're at the table, conversation comes very naturally. And if you run out of things to talk about or the topic gets awkward, you can simply direct everyone's attention to the game.

So that's how an introverted guy like me has a decent sized network of friends and a very lovely wife. And so can you!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #6

Again, the new operators of the RPGaDay blogfest have given me a topic that I have nothing to say about. So I'm going back to last year's list. Most recent RPG played.

The most recent RPG session I participated in was running my Pathfinder megadungeon campaign. It was actually kind of unusual because I had a pretty full table. I've run the campaign in sort of a "catch as catch can" sort of way with whatever players show up for a particular session. Lately, it's been a fairly small core group. This week we had two players who had kind of faded away come back.

We took some time at the start of the session to flesh out what happened during the time they had  been gone. I'm using the downtime rules from the Ultimate Campaign book for this sort of thing, which even allows characters to earn a small amount of XP during downtime so they aren't as underleveled when they return to play.

This session also marked the introduction of a new player. His character is a first level dwarven ranger. All characters begin at first level. Pathfinder actually has rules for building more advanced characters, unlike the old school rules I was using in my previous campaign. But for players that aren't up on Pathfinder (and on me, since this is my first Pathfinder campaign), a first level character has fewer moving parts and is easier to build and to use.

To make sure that my core group doesn't have too much of an advantage over these n00bs, they used their lower level characters. The old school campaign really taught me how to manage each player having multiple characters, though there is slightly less call for it in Pathfinder. One of those circumstances is the introduction of a new player or character.

RPGaDay 2016 #5

Again, I'm breaking from the list of topics because I have nothing to say on it. I don't have enough character stories to sustain a month of them.

So I'll take an alternate topic and tell you about the game with my favorite character improvement rules.

I like rules that encourage different styles of play, creating incentives to do play into a genre or to be active rather than reactive. And what you award experience points for can be one of those things.

While D&D gets a lot of guff as the Lowest Common Denominator of gaming, its well-worn "XP for monster kills" is very much this type of rule. It incentivizes a certain style of play. In fact, while some games may use in-game mechanisms like fate points to reward players, very few systems use experience and advancement to support their genre and playstyle.

One exception to that is the Apocalypse Engine, the rules behind Apocalypse World, Dungeon World and Monsterhearts. Most of the awards in these games are either relationships and connections or experience points.

But I think my favorite character improvement rules are the ones that add to a character's flexibility without necessarily giving them bigger and bigger numbers. I first encountered this sort of rule in Pokethulhu. Only it's not really a rule so much as an assumption. There are no character improvement rules at all in that game. Your character will never be a better thulhu trainer than they are at the moment they enter play. What really makes your character is the monsters that they are able to tame and battle with. So even though your character sheet will never change, you are still growing more powerful by collecting all the pokethulhu critters.

I was so impressed with this idea that I incorporated it into my own design, Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. Though instead of collecting monsters, adventurers in Oz collect friends that increase the variety of benefits you can get when you spend an Oz Point.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #4 Proudest Moment of Someone Else's Character

On this blog, I think I've mentioned what I think of Kris Newton as a GM and as a podcaster. What you haven't heard are his exploits as a player. While we were gaming together, we were the primary GMs, trading off whenever we needed a break. He ran a megadungeon in D&D 3.5, while I ran some shiny new system each time.

But my first story is from an era before we had that sort of rhythm. The girl who is now my wife ran a D&D session where Kris played a gnome paladin. One of the other player was a girl who always played the same sort of character. Whatever class or career or whatever it was that she chose, she was always better than you. Not that she was a great optimizer or anything. She just roleplayed every character with the same sort of haughty, snotty attitude.

This time she was an elven necromancer. Her snotty abrasiveness was getting in the way of everyone else's fun and threatening to derail the adventure. So Kris' gnome paladin decided to intervene. He purchased a love potion and put it into a bottle of wine. He then shared this bottle of wine with the necromancer.

At first, I think everyone there was a little shocked when he did this. He just more or less mind-controlled a fellow PC. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw it as a master stroke of roleplaying that specific character. It had the prankish nature of the gnome. It brought the group into stronger harmony, making it a lawful act. And he at least mitigated the evil aspect of the act by sharing the bottle and therefore the potion, making the love magic mutual. (The two players were also romantically involved as well, so it wasn't creepy gamer drama.)

My next story is from a good while later when we were a bit more established as a group. While Kris and I were the most frequent GMs for the group, another player occasionally ran one-shots, typically D&D modules. For one of these, Kris constructed a gnome wizard named The Mystery of Inky Strange. (It's like A Tribe Called Quest. You say the whole thing.)

What really made The Mystery of Inky Strange memorable even though he only appeared once was his use of the shrink object spell. He kept on his person a 10 foot by 10 foot cube of solid stone, shrunk down to the size of a die. Nobody knew this until he threw it and it landed full sized on some huge monster, crushing it to death.

The entire table was stunned and impressed. Including the guy who was running the game. There was some question regarding whether the stunt would work, but after a little discussion and page flipping, it was allowed to stand. Though the GM did say that it was the sort of trick that would only work once. But for a one shot game, that's all that was needed.

Before I make myself into too much of a Kris Newton fanboy, my final story is of a different player and a truly awesome heroic sacrifice.

The system was Cartoon Action Hour. The campaign was a mashup of my own devising. Centuries ago, psychics insects from Mars came to invade the techno-magical paradise of Atlantis. The Atlanteans and the Martians both lost. Atlantean civilization fell just as they crippled the Martian war machines (though no names were named and no public domain sources were harmed in the course of this campaign).

The campaign begins with the alien homeworld sending reinforcements as well as the greatest general in their history, whose mind was preserved in a psychic crystal and then given a crystal body in order to live again. The party was a ragtag bunch who came together when the bar they were patronizing blew up (one of my several attempts to redeem/justify the old "You all meet in a tavern" bit).

One of the characters was a Martian named Scout, because that was his role in his hive. When he reported to his queen that the homeworld was trying to restart the war, she told him to stop it by any means necessary. The economy of the hive was too intertwined with that of the local human towns. Killing and conquering the humans would be too disruptive to the hive and there's no guarantee that the long term trade- off would be worth it.

So they make it to the final confrontation with the great general himself. I gave the players a lot of leeway and freedom to describe how this whole thing goes down. So Scout hijacks a flying saucer and pilots it with his telekinesis. Rather than strafing the general with the ship's telekinetically powered force beams, Scout proceeds to crash the ship directly into the General himself.

The funny thing is this was actually the first character death I've ever had to deal with. I had been running games for quite some time before this, but whether I'm just too nice or don't calibrate my opposition well enough for my players, this was the first time that a character had actually died on my watch. But at the same time, this this was a clear player choice. I was running the session very loosely, so there was no rolling for damage or anything like that. I gave him the choice to bail out of the ship at the last second and he said no.

On the plus side, he did take the Big Bad of the campaign down with him. It was a sufficiently dramatic moment that I played The Touch in honor of his sacrifice.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #3 Proudest Character Moment (or not)

This is one of the tricky questions this year. As someone who's been the GM more often than not, I don't have a lot of experience playing a character. Which means that I don't have a lot of Crowning Moment of Awesome-type stories. In fact, I told all my good character stories 2 years ago, and haven't picked up any new ones since.

So instead of that, I'm going to bring back the Day 3 topic from last year: Favorite new game of the last 12 months.

This year, I would have to say that my favorite new game would be the new Star Wars games from Fantasy Flight Games. They released 3 separate core books, each with a focus on a different aspect of the Star Wars universe. Edge of the Empire (smugglers and bounty hunters), Age of Rebellion (The Rebel Alliance), and Force and Destiny (Jedi and Force users).

I actually liked the three distinct core books. As I've said on my blog previously, a successful game is one that addresses the campaign level, where players and GMs decide what goes on at the table. So the fact that they've those three big campaign foci of the Star Wars setting and gave them each room to breathe is a plus in my book.

Keeping Jedi and the Force off to one side is also a good thing. One of the complaints of previous Star Wars RPGs was that the Force was frequently imbalanced compared to other abilities and character types. While I believe that they addressed this pretty well, at least in part by giving every other character type cool abilities, GMs who don't want to deal with the Force don't have to.

Long time readers may remember the demo game I played at DunDraCon a number of years back with the wacky dice that gave out too much information for the GM to deal with. The main thing that brought me around on the concept of the dice was listening to the One Shot podcast play it. They actually took the time to use all of the information the dice gave out and made a very entertaining show of it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #2 Best Session of the Past Year

Over the past year, only 2 sessions I've run have been particularly memorable. Neither of which were in my current campaign.

One of them was a session of Fiasco, using the Fallout playset. The setup was that my character had discovered the last of the green plants somewhere in the wasteland and I was going to offer that opportunity to the only other two people I cared about. The other two characters were a married couple who had a farmstead whose neighbor, Old Man Henderson, was digging up pre-apocalypse relics on his land.

The wife decided to use my character as a hitman, but I refused. I wound up making friends with Old Man Henderson. He even gave me an air rifle to shoot radroaches with.

It all went to hell when I was doing some target practice with my air rifle while hanging out with my buddy, Old Man Henderson. One of the bottles I shot was full of either fuel or bathtub hooch that was so volatile that it ignited when I shot it. Flaming liquid fell on Old Man Henderson. With some cleverness and some of the cool stuff in Mr. Henderson's shed, I put the fire out, but not before he was burned to a crisp.

So I went and told the wife that Old Man Henderson was dead like she wanted. but I did so in front of her husband. Which really upset him, since he was also friendly with their now-deceased neighbor. so he kicked her out of the home and I took over the Henderson property.

It sounds like a messed up story, and it is. But it is exactly the kind of story that Fiasco is intended to create, so I consider it a rousing success. I don't know if all of the other players were as excited as I was, which my be why that was the last time I played Fiasco.

My other great session was slightly more traditional and a bit more traditionally fun. It was the second session I ran of Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road at DunDraCon.

It was a larger group than the first time and there were more Oz fans in the group, which always makes for more fun. The plot of the new adventure is more linear and directed, but still encourages open-ended problem solving. For example, at one point, the party must figure out a way to reach the floating city of Umbre-La. In this particular run, the Scarecrow spent an Oz Point to declare that the Wizard had a balloon that could take them there.

Since I knew this was a magical balloon, I wanted to think up a cool feature for it. I decided that the Wizard's Tiny Piglets were the ship's pilots. As I was looking up illustrations online, I spotted an illustration that Skottie Young had done for the Marvel Oz comics that showed the Piglets in tiny fezzes. So I decided that the balloon was more or less the TARDIS. Its control room was bigger than the outside would suggest and the Piglets flew it via control panels set in a radius around a central column.

Overall a fun session, but that was my favorite part.

Monday, August 1, 2016

RPGaDay 2016 #1: Dice

While this blog is generally pretty slow these days, there has been the somewhat regular spurt of activity that is the RPGaDay blogfest.

This year promises to be slightly different. I think someone else wrote the questions and the focus of the blogfest has changed. Previous years have let me geek out about the various things on my gaming shelf and sometimes even things that I wish were on it. This year, the questions are much more focused on play experience, which is a much smaller subset of my gaming life.

The first question this year is about dice. Do I prefer physical dice or some variety of virtual dice? The answer is simple. Physical dice. I even have one set that I have kept together for longer than I've owned my current laptop. I don't have a smartphone yet, so "There's an app for that." is a punchline for me rather than a practical statement.

While I could talk about technology encroaching into my gaming life, there's another question later on that will give me the opportunity to expound upon that.

I can actually remember the first gaming die I ever bought. It was a 30-sided die from a bin of random dice at The Last Grenadier in Burbank, California. I had been browsing there long enough that I felt it rude not to buy anything, but I don't think I had even a dollar in my pocket. I was not an actual gamer at the time (I had the interest, but not the experience), so I just piked a random die from the bin without any idea of what I would use it for.

Little did I know at the time, but there are astonishingly few uses for a d30. I don't think I've ever rolled it in a game session. I do still have it, though.
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