Catching Up on RPGaDay

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgYep, it’s been a heck of a week, so you all get another catch-up day. And I will hopefully begin doing these daily like I’m supposed to tomorrow. Enjoy!

August 13: What makes a successful campaign?

Player buy-in. You can develop the perfect campaign world, populate it with cunning monsters and interesting NPCs, tailor plots both flexible and complex…and none of that matters if the players aren’t interested in what you’re offering. The best way to get that buy-in, I’ve found, is to talk to your players before you begin a new campaign. Find out what they like, give them idea of what you’re offering, and see where you can meet in the middle. Remember, you may be the GM but you’re only one chair at the table. If the players aren’t having fun, then why are you GMing?

August 14: Your dream team of people you used to game with?

I have a whole roster of folks I miss gaming with, too many to comfortably seat at a table for a game. I miss gaming with Jake, Amy, Ross, Christie, Brent Secondus, and a whole slough of others from the Living Greyhawk days. I’ve GMed great tables of random players at various cons around Canada and the US that I’d love to game with again. And I miss running games with Corey, Anita, Joe, Brent Secondus (again), Jason, and Laura; they were a great group to wile away a Saturday morning with.

But my current groups are pretty swell, so I’m not really pining for past players too much. I think that’s part of what makes tabletop role-playing so special; you never really know how long a particular group of players are going to be together. You play the best game you can with the time you have, and when it’s over the table stories enter your personal RPG mythology. So I just keep playing, and keep adding to that pantheon.

August 15: Your best source of inspiration for RPGs?

Of things inspiring my gaming right now, I’d have to say the Critical Role live-stream is right up there. I never come away from an episode less than invigorated about my hobby, and filled with ideas of things I want to try in my games. I enjoy the show most because it shows off the best of what role-playing sessions can be like. We can’t all be talented voice-actors, of course. But as players and GMs we can aspire to be as generous and open with our role-playing as the crew of Vox Machina are. Whatever else they are, the DM and players on Critical Role are a group of friends who come together every week to share a game they love. It shows in everything they do, from the actual playing to how they interact with the fans of the show. I find them inspiring, and if I can bring a fraction of what they have to any table I’m at, I count myself ahead of the game.

August 16: Historical person you’d like in your group? What game?

Depending on your definition of historical, my first response is Gary Gygax. I’ve never met the man, but I’ve read his work and entered the hobby with the game he helped create. I have no illusions that he’s some larger than life figure, with no flaws except for creating the THAC0 system; I know he was just a man. But that’s why I’d want to game with him, I want to meet the man behind the myth, warts and all. I think that would be a great time, whether we got along or not. And we’d play D&D, naturally. Probably Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but maybe I’d see what he thought of 5e.

August 17: What fictional character would best fit in your group?

I have several groups, so this is tough. For my long-running pathfinder group, the Thursday (now Monday) Knights, I think we need someone hack-and-slash so I’m going to say Canadian privateer Enos Collins; arguably one of the most successful privateers in Canadian history, when he died he was the richest man in Canada. For my Council of Thieves group, I’m going to go with Julie d’Aubigny, a famous 17th century swordswoman and opera singer. Swashing buckles and singing arias, I think she’d fit right in. For my first D&D group, I’m going to say we need some leadership with a touch of scoundrel, so let’s add English pirate Mary Read to the mix. that will stir the pot nicely.

I’ll have to think further for my other groups. I’ll update as they come to me.

August 18: What innovation could RPG groups benefit most from?

Even if your group is able to meet face-to-face, I think virtual tabletops like Roll20 are a great benefit to any gaming group. If your groups are like mine, many of your players are using laptops and pads during the game anyway. If everyone is logged in to a virtual tabletop, you have the ability to tailor the play experience for each player. Instead of passing a note which draws attention from the other players, for instance, you can just IM a player inside the tabletop and pass information that way. That way, things that player notices will actually surprise the other players when they make themselves known. The tabletop can also be used to display pictures and graphics to your players all at once, and to keep a bank of those images for reference later. And if they have the funcionality, the virtual tabletop can store character information for use by the GM out of game, or when the player forgets their character sheet. GMs can also implement changes to a character in the program, making book-keeping easier for the players. All this, besides the benefit of allowing folks who might not be able to get a group together in person, the chance to take part in the hobby.


Okay, that’s it. I’ll be back tomorrow and we’ll finish out the month with daily posts. If you have anything to add, drop it in the comments below.

I’m a Critter and You Can, too!

logo-formWhile I indulge in many (oh so many) podcasts and vidcasts about gaming, I have had more of a hit-and-miss relationship with offerings featuring actual game play. I can turn to Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop on the Geek & Sundry network for board games (and the occasional, very focused, role-playing game). And Shut Up and Sit Down! does some great how-to-play videos, but again centered on board games. Of course, Wil Wheaton also did Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana, which was a lot of fun and well worth watching. But nothing I watched ever really captured the feeling of being at the table with a group of gamers.

Then I discovered Critical Role, and knew I’d be a Critter for life.

Critical Role is streamed weekly on Thursday nights as part of Geek & Sundry’s Twitch line-up. It features a group of talented voice actors (anything animated or computer-game related you’ve heard in the last five years, and their voices have probably been in it) playing a house-ruled version of D&D 5th Ed. Episodes run between 3-4 hours long, with the previous week’s episode becoming available for YouTube viewing through the G&S site Monday afternoons. I usually try to catch the live-stream, but when I can’t I wait with baited breathe for Monday’s upload to go live.

So what raised Critical Role above all the other RPG game-play vidcasts and podcasts for me? Certainly the quality of the gamers had something to do with it. Matthew Mercer is an amazing GM, able to keep his players entertained and invested in the world and characters, which in turn keeps me invested in them both as well. I want to game in the sandbox he has created for his campaign, and it’s my fondest hope that he’ll publish that game-world at some point. As great a GM as Matt is, though, he is evenly matched by the skill, enthusiasm, and talent of his players. There is something wonderful about watching a group of close friends play a game they love together; when those friends are also talented actors and improvisers in their own right, each episode borders on the epic a good deal of the time.

Certainly all that makes for good shows, and if that was all there was to Critical Role I’d still count myself lucky to watch it. But everyone involved are so obviously good people, and so excited and grateful for the chance to be doing the show and sharing their game with us, that I’ve become invested in the players, not just their characters. Every episode, for instance, there is fundraising going on for one worthy group or another. 826LA is usually the charity de jour, but they’ve also helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for Extra Life among others. Such is their generous nature, they asked Critters to donate to their charities of choice rather than send presents this Critmas.

Okay, so I should probably explain some terms. “Critters” is the name the community of fans gave themselves, and refers to anyone who is a fan of the show. “Critmas” was the name given to the part of an episode when the cast members would open gifts from Critters. The sending of gifts began as a trickle, but soon grew in volume to the point where they had to restrict Critmas to the first Thursday of every month, lest the cast end up having to stay for hours after every episode. Seriously, the amount of stuff sent their way is amazing, everything from dice, to minis, to weapons, and even an enormous stuffed bear or two (representing Trinket, the animal companion of one of the characters).

The community which has grown up around the show is definitely one of the things that keeps me coming back. With very few exceptions (and the exceptions are gently but firmly policed), Critters are a positive and enthusiastic lot, and taking part in the Subscriber-only chats during the livestream can be a blast. And the ranks of Critters continues to grow; just in the time since I started watching, the number of subscribers has grown from a little over 5,000 to almost 13,000, with no sign of slowing down.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you are in the market for a highly entertaining RPG game-play show, that will put a smile on your face when it doesn’t make you laugh out loud (or hit you square in the feels), Critical Role is for you. The show is currently on a break over the holidays, starting back on January 7th. No better time to go back to episode one and watching the adventures of Vox Machina from the start. Trust me, you’ll be doing yourself a favour.

#RPGaday Wrap-up

cropped-chibi-brent.jpgThe weekend sort of got away from me, what with an event I was running going off very successfully and a few other things. But it meant not having a moment to finish up the last four days of RPGaDay, so let’s take care of that now, shall we?

Day 28: Favourite Game You No Longer Play

I really enjoyed Vampire: The Masquerade back in the day. I played in a campaign for about a year and had a great time. The mechanics of that first edition really supported role-playing, and the World of Darkness was an excellent, dark lens on our own world. Sadly, though I read all the other WoD books, I never got to play in that world beyond Vampire. Years later I did try out Scion, which used the same basic mechanic as all White Wolf games. I’d love to go back and try the 1st Edition Vampire, but I’m not as invested in the world of the current version.

Day 29: Favourite RPG Website/Blog

I really enjoy a YouTube series called The DM’s Craft, which is a great look at building unique and functional scenery for your gaming table. I don’t do enough of it for my home game, but I’m trying to get in the habit of building pieces bit by bit. Along with the video series, he also has a website and forums, filled with a great community sharing tips and tricks for building scenery, GMing, and general gaming goodness. I’m on there weekly at least and I always find something to catch my eye. Give them a look!

Day 30: Favourite RPG Playing Celebrity

Broadening the scope a little, because my favourite is actually a cast and not a person. I have fallen in love with the cast of Critical Role, and they are my new favourite gaming show to watch. If you aren’t familiar with the show, it runs on Geek & Sundry’s Twitch stream and follows the tabletop adventures of DM Matt Mercer and players Liam O’Brien, Ashley Johnson, Sam Riegel, Marisha Ray, Travis Willingham, Orion Acaba, Laura Bailey, and Taliesin Jaffe. Everyone involved is a voice actor and/or actor, which makes the episodes highly entertaining. What I love most about the show, however, is it’s like getting to sit in the room and watch your nerdy best friends play D&D. There is such a love of the game and each other, it makes me want to be a better GM for my players. I catch the live-stream if I can, and watch the episodes on G&S later if I have to miss it. They just uploaded episode 22 (so I know what I’m doing tonight), but trust me, you want to go back to episode 1 and watch/listen from the beginning.

Day 31: Favourite non-RPG Thing to come out of RPGing

I wrote about this in a post years ago, but one of my favourite things about the RPG hobby is everything I have studied or learned because of it. There are a whole range of topics I might never have read about or studied if it weren’t for RPGs: world mythology, archeology, non-Western/North American history, and philosophy, just to name a few. Because of running and taking part in organized play I’ve learned organizational skills, diplomacy, and interpersonal skills. Just from playing the games I’ve honed skills like problem solving and maths. Heck, RPGs have even allowed me to develop things like empathy, which I think is one of the greatest benefits the hobby can give to anyone. And while it may not be popular, I don’t think it’s playing one game or another that makes you a gamer, I think it’s developing that empathy, wherever you might be in that development, that makes a gamer.

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That’s it, that’s all for RPGaDay! I’ve had fun, and I hope you have as well. We will now return to a more manageable 3 posts a week schedule, so look for those updates soon.