Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Another Week

 Stealing a little more time from the writing group to post here. Not that I'm really stealing. It's not like they give me an assignment. They just peer pressure me into taking space and time to write whatever I need to. So I guess this counts.

I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner, but I found out that working from home can lead to feelings of isolation. Especially if you don't really do anything outside of work. So my goal now is to try to find something to do with other people outside of work time. Gaming seems like the perfect idea.

There is the game store downtown that's only 1 bus away from where I'm at now, instead of 3 buses like the place that the gaming Meetup group seems to prefer. But especially since they're a new store, I want to make sure that they have the chance to make money, so I would like to run something that they have in stock.Which is another reason to learn a new game rather than lean on my old ones.

I've actually got a D20 Modern oneshot adventure written and ready to go (Thank you, writing group!). But that game is over 15 years old and there have been 2.5 editions of D&D that have come out since then. So despite my strange affection for it, that's going to wait for another opportunity.

One of the other things that holds me back is my feeling that I need to put a lot of work into a campaign before I unveil it. Not necessarily having the whole thing scripted or whatever, but at least to a point where I'm not caught too unawares by whatever the players come up with. So even though I have one adventure written for d20 Modern which could certainly be the start of a campaign, I feel like I should have at least one more adventure in the can before I start advertising it as a campaign.

My candidates (outside of Adventures in Oz, of course) are some flavor of Fate and Fallout.

I've got the It's Not My Fault cards, which are basically a Fate Accelerated Session 0 in a box, which is a super neat idea on top of the super neat idea that is Fate Accelerated, a tidy little ruleset in a neat little book for only $5. But my need to be prepared makes it hard for me to dive into that with both feet. Ideas are pending.

I do have a copy of the Fallout RPG by Modiphius. It uses a version of the 2d20 System that is their house system. Also used in their Star Trek RPG, which I do have in a box somewhere. So if I'm going to use the Modiphius rules, Fallout is my candidate.

The fact that it's coming up on 5 years since I put most of my collection in boxes is disheartening. It means that a lot of stuff that was at my fingertips for a good long time has been unreachable for long enough that part of me has written it off.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Am I back?

 I don't know if anyone still reads this. It doesn't matter. I'm posting anyway.

It feels like ever since I moved to San Diego 3 years ago, I've never really been steady or stable.

The first year was okay. I had an okay job in a field I didn't care for. I was starting to make friends and make connections.

Then the pandemic hit.I got laid off from the job. Everyone was encouraged to isolate and keep in their own little bubble. Do everything over the internet. Even socialize.

Like a lot of nerds, I'm actually pretty introverted. I'm okay with this. But by adding layers, complications and hassles to socializing by having everything online, I wound up isolating myself to the point that even I'm realizing it.

I tried running a D&D campaign during the first lockdown, but preparing the maps and everything on the virtual tabletop was a lot of work and I didn't have the fun I expected during the sessions. I still have the stuff there and I keep thinking that I'll come back to it. We'll see.

The coffee shop where I met the writing group and did some gaming closed down a few months ago. There doesn't seem to be a good substitute. There isn't a nearby place to gather a group and pay your admission with a cup of coffee or a bagel in the evening.

The writing group moved online, but with my reticence to call my online activities "socializing," I only recently rejoined the group. I'm carving out some of that writing time to write this. I need to do something. I need to get back out into the world.

A new game store opened up in reasonable range from me a few months ago. It seems really nice. I should try to run a game there. I just need to figure out what and find the energy and focus to put it together. And of course, out of deference to the new game store, it should be something that they carry. Which means that I can't lean on my old games, no matter how much I may love them.

Maybe I'll run Adventures in Oz and give them a few copies on a consignment basis. We'll see.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

RPGaDay 2021 #5 Throne

 The idea of putting the players in charge of some piece of the setting is an interesting one, though one I haven't really explored. That doesn't mean that it's not on my list.

Back when I was running my megadungeon campaign, it was something that I knew was on the horizon. While it would be easy to assume that a megadungeon campaign would consist of "dungeons all the way down," the fact that I had lucked into recruiting an authentic Old School player meant that the idea of hitting "name level" was going to come with certain expectations. (One of the other issues with Old School play actually prevented this from coming to pass. Progression is really slow, so none of the characters made it to "name level" by the time everything fell apart.)

But the idea of it stuck in my brain and is one of the big ideas of my current campaign. The map is blank and the world is new, so any nation that exists would have to be run by a PC. I'd go into depth, but I'm running a little behind. Maybe it'll come up later.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

RPGaDay 2021 #4 Reward

 Again using one of the alternate prompts. Since I talked about Risk yesterday, it seemed appropriate to tackle Reward today.

You can learn a lot about what a game is about by what activities it is set up to reward.

This is something that I thought long and hard about when I designed my own game, Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. Oz Points, the game's rewards, are granted when characters help others.

Monsterhearts takes an opposite tack, offering Strings (influence over other characters) to characters who are monstrous to other people. Experience points come from failed rolls, so action is favored over inaction, with a few character types having access to Moves that offered XP for indulging in certain shocking or grotesque activities.

Some games are very neutral about their rewards, offering XP for participation and Drama Points for making the GM laugh. A lot of generic systems are like this, such as Savage Worlds or GURPS.

 And then there are the games that don't really stick the landing on what their incentive structure is. I'm going to stick D&D in this camp.

In the original game, it had a very good reward structure. Some XP was offered for monster kills (not defeats. Kills) but most of it came from treasure. Early D&D was a game of treasure hunting, first and foremost, which rewarded cleverness and creativity. Combat was less rewarded, and more likely to kill your character, so should be avoided.

Unfortunately, like many rules in early D&D, this was poorly explained, and people didn't use it much. So around the time of AD&D 2nd edition, the decision was made to remove the rule and simultaneously increase monster XP to compensate. Which totally screwed up the reward system for the game.

Now combat became the most rewarded activity. Which not only clashed with the treasure hunter/heist style of play of the early games, but also with the emerging story-based focus that I complained about yesterday. People who actually played the game the way the books said would be rewarded found themselves clashing with a more story-oriented table culture.

Am I really defending munchkinism? Not really. Just pointing out that in a different game, with a more thought-out reward structure, "playing to win" and "playing for story" are not opposed values and can, in fact, harmonize.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

RPGaDay 2021 #3 Risk

 The main prompt is Tactic, but I'm taking one of the alternative prompts today. Because I think Risk is important and it gets short shrift these days.

One of the downsides of the emphasis on "stories" in RPGs is that they've become very safe. The priority is telling a satisfying story, so anything that derails that narrative or keeps the story from being narratively satisfying is to be avoided. So risks are minimized. "Nobody likes having their character die to the second orc in the dungeon," they say, and GMs are encouraged to move heaven and earth (very easy when your the GM and in control of the universe) to prevent it.

I disagree with this.

I believe that risk, and it's companion, loss, are important, because they make any eventual success that much sweeter. There are GMs who will tell you that they're very good at making a session feel like a knuckle-biter even though it's not. But why go through the effort when you could have the session be a real knuckle-biter?

It's one of the reasons that I love player-driven sandboxes. The story is theirs to create, not mine to dictate. A character absolutely can die to the second orc in the dungeon. It's not likely, but it's not my job to prevent it from happening.

While something like character death is one potential risk factor, it's not the only one. It should be possible for the characters to fail in their missions. There should exist the possibility that they won't be able to defeat the goblins, save the princess, or defeat the necromancer. Sometimes, what's behind a secret door is going to remain a secret.

That also creates a pressure to up your game that continually assuming a narratively satisfying victory doesn't. If the necromancer has a chance of winning, now you have to figure out what that victory could look like. And that opens up possibilities that a paper-thin mustache-twirling villain just can't.

Monday, August 2, 2021

RPGaDay 2021 #2 Map

 One thing that I have a really hard time creating is maps.Which is a challenge, because I am having this love affair with sandbox style gaming right now (It's been about a decade, who am I kidding?).

My current (on hiatus) campaign is very heavily map focused. But right now, it's a pretty blank map. Some randomly generated geography and little else. The setup is that the world is very new and the PCs are there to explore and tame it.

Since this is a D&D game, there are dungeons, so on top of that blank, still to be explored overland map, there are smaller dungeon maps.

The downside of this is that the stretch of campaign that I have run so far has been on Roll20 (because pandemic), and it has not been easy importing all of those maps. It actually got sufficiently annoying that I stopped trying to simply import them and took to reconstructing them using Roll20's own map tools. That's one of the reasons the campaign is currently on hiatus.

I'm looking forward to getting to the point where the players have explored and made their own mark on the map. But that is in the future.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

RPGaDay 2021 #1 Scenario

 Like some sort of nerdy groundhog, I emerge once again to try to tackle the annual RPGaDay blogfest. Let's see how long it takes me to see my shadow and hide out for another year.

The first prompt this year is Scenario.

"Scenario" has a couple of meanings. The most common definition is an outline of a plot, so it's very natural that it would be used in the gaming hobby as one of many synonyms for "adventure." But scenario can also mean a potential or expected sequence of events, which is actually closer to how I build adventures when I run a game.

It's common to think of RPG adventures as semi-scripted plots that your characters get to star in. Many modern adventures are written with that sort of thinking. They are relatively linear stories where taking this action leads to this place where this happens.

But my own process is rather different. Like I said, it's closer to that second definition of "scenario:" an expected sequence of future events. This typically means that I write the story of the villains/antagonists of the story. I decide on their goals and methods, then I try to find a thread that I can place in the PCs hands that can unravel the whole thing if they follow it.

One of my "Laws of Gaming" is that "The story that comes out of a session is more important than the story that goes into it." Having the story that goes into the session be about people other than the characters reinforces this nicely.

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