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.

RPGaDay August 12

What game is your group most likely to play next? Why?

A hard question to answer, as I’m currently GMing several groups. I’m coming up on a pretty even split between Pathfinder and D&D 5e between them, and as I’m just starting or am in the middle of campaigns, we’ll be playing them for a while. But the honest answer to this question is: if I’m willing to run it, my groups are likely to play it. Which admittedly is a good feeling as a GM, but it contributes to my current playtime versus GM time imbalance.

But I have several games I’d like to try next. I’d love to run The Laundry, because I enjoy the idea of smothering bureaucracy trying to combat Otherworldly horror (“To schedule an exorcism, please fill out Form 47-B3 and submit in triplicate.”). A Trail of Cthulhu campaign would be a lot of fun, because I love the system and it has a different flow from the games I’m currently running. Plus, Cthulhu. And I’d really love to give Feng Shui a go, because I love Hong Kong cinema and action-movies, and a game with that sensibility would be fun.

And then there’s the classic games I’d like to revisit now that I’m old enough to appreciate them. Skyrealms of Jorune is a game from 1984, and it was one of the first games I played which broke from the classic fantasy mold. Unlike other RPGs which feature adventurers seeking treasure and glory often for its own sake, players in Skyrealms were seeking to become better citizens and better themselves; a mind-blowing concept for 14-year-old me, and one I couldn’t quite figure out how to run back then. I’d love to take a shot at it now, though. I’d also love to play a rainy-day Tales from the Floating Vagabond campaign, and just run it as a ridiculous episodic-style space-opera farce. If you’re not familiar with the game, I highly recommend picking up the PDFs from DriveThruRPG. A prime example of a “beer and pretzels” RPG, its ads featured lines like, “Life is like an anole: sometimes it’s brown and sometimes it’s green, but it’s always a small Caribbean lizard.” Yep. And there is part of me that wants to run a semi-serious, Terry Gilliam inspired Paranoia game. Of course I played it for slapstick fun when I was younger, and loved it. But I think it can actually lend itself to a more dark comedy tone, even bordering on the ominous. even if I’m wrong, it’d be fun to try.

That’s me. What is your group likely to play next? Let me know in the comments.

RPGaDay Double Feature!

cropped-cropped-me-and-the-eyeball1.jpg(Because “RPGaDay Double Feature” sounds better than “I was sick yesterday and didn’t post”.)

August 10th: Largest in-game surprise you have experienced?

Years back I played in a Shackled City AP campaign. I was playing a Lawful Good human monk names Ceres, and we had progressed through the campaign with the usual trials and tribulations. As part of the adventure, we had traveled to one of the 666 layers of the Abyss, there to break an NPC’s hold on that layer and deprive it of power. I think the layer was called Oculus? Not important. There was only one way to do this: sacrifice a living being by pushing it into the “eye” of energy at the centre of the layer, which would cut off the flow of power to the NPC. The party spent a great deal of time discussing and then arguing the merits of which NPC baddy was going to be used as sacrifice. Ceres stayed out of the discussion, other than to point out that it would be wrong to sacrifice any unwilling creature regardless of their alignment (Lawful Good, remember?).

After the discussion went on for 20 minutes or more, I finally got bored and passed a note to the DM. Ceres was going to throw himself into the eye. Better to sacrifice himself, than force his friends to make a morally reprehensible choice. I fully expected Ceres to die; nothing the DM had said up to this point indicated any other outcome. As I was a monk and way faster than anyone else in the party, I easily flung myself into the energy stream and certain death…and the DM asked me to roll a Will save. I did, and rolled a natural 20, making for a stupid-high final result (monk, remember?). Long story short (too late!), I not only survived the energy stream, I was able to manipulate it, becoming the new master of that layer of the Abyss. Which shocked the crap out of everyone, not least of all me. And that’s how a Lawful Good monk became the ruler of a layer of the Abyss. We didn’t play much beyond the end of the campaign, but I had plans for my new domain if we did. As the only Lawful domain in the Abyss? Oh, baby did I have plans. Ah, well.

August 11th: Which gamer most affected the way you play?

This is a hard one to answer, because it is safe to say everyone I’ve ever gamed with has had an impact on how I choose to play the hobby I love. I’m sure that’s true, and I hope it’s true, of everyone in this crazy, mixed-up pastime. In my early gamer days (from age 10 to early twenties), I was influenced by the folks writing and editing Dragon magazine: Ed Greenwood, Monte Cook, Gary Gygax, Kim Mohan, Wolfgang Bauer, Dave Gross…the list goes on. But they informed a lot of how I played the games, how I treated the hobby, and how I treated the folks I shared the hobby with. As I got a little older I started to depend less on written sources for guidance, and took more stock in the players and GMs around me. I watched what they did, and either borrowed heavily the things I liked, or shied away from the habits which did not equal fun. Today, I’m still most heavily influenced by the GMs I watch, either as a player at their table or by “sitting in” on any number of RPG play-through shows. Matt Mercer from Critical Roll has had a great influence on me recently, as has Ivan van Norman, both from Geek & Sundry’s Twitch stream. They each have a distinctive style, and each deliver an excellent table experience from what I can see. Definitely someones to emulate.

I did want to make a special point about a particular type of gamer that really inspires me, and pushes me to make my gaming table welcoming and fun. If you’ve been in the hobby for any amount of time, I’m sure you’ve encountered them: the gatekeepers. The players and/or GMs who never want their gaming experience to change, and who actively resist anything which might move the hobby to be more inclusive. They’re the ones who tell off-colour sexist and sometimes racist jokes and then chant “SJW” at you if you call them on it (for the record, I’m a Social Justice Cleric, so shut your pie-hole before I give you a holy lance where the tanlines stop). They don’t make allowances for handicapped players, sometime actively shutting them out of gameplay opportunities.  You know, they are assholes. Well, they inspire me. They inspire me to be nothing like them, to make sure the welcome mat is out and clearly visible at my table, and to make sure that my players know what sort of behavior is allowed before we begin play. Eventually, with enough conscientious effort,  the assholes will either change how they play, or eventually they’ll only be able to play with other assholes and their games will collapse from the collective weight of assholery. Which I’m actually sad about. I love this hobby and I think everyone should get to partake, as long as they aren’t making it less fun for others.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow we start in on daily posts for the rest of RPGaDay month, I promise. Want to weigh in on either of the topics I touched on today? Drop me a comment.

RPGaDay Catch Up!

PFS Dice CroppedYou’d think, after doing RPGaDay for a couple of years that I’d remember it was coming up. You would be wrong. So here is my standard update post, bringing us from August 1 to today. Daily posts will begin tomorrow, as is my wont.

August 1: Real dice, dice app, diceless, how do you prefer to ‘roll’?

Dice. Always and forever, dice. I can’t help it, I love them so much! I can appreciate diceless systems, and I can even enjoy playing them from time to time. And I do understand the usefulness of a dice app for convenience; Roll 20 would be a much more drawn out process without their in-app dice macros. So I’m not against either of those options.

But given the chance, I want to roll actual dice. I love the tactile feel of them in my hand. I love the tension as I rattle a handful of dice, hoping for the right numbers to come up. I love collecting the perfect sets of dice for each of my characters. Dice are too much a part of the game for me to ever give them up.

August 2: Best game session since August 2015?

I’d have to say my best overall session since last year was the first session of my 5e D&D game. It was a perfect confluence of the things I love about gaming; introducing new players to the game, bringing a new game world to life, navigating a new game, and building a new group of players. It was my first time back to the D&D game in over a decade, and I’d forgotten how much I loved the game. And 5e is a great edition to come back on.

A very close second? A recent session of Pathfinder in which the group fought a shadow-infested triceratops skeleton. It was so much fun to run, and the players were having a blast the entire time. Plus, any time you can have a triceratops skeleton smash open an enormous fish tank right in the middle of the battleground? Do it, you won’t be sorry.

August 3: Character moment you are proudest of?

This is a hard one to answer. I’m currently GMing two Pathfinder campaigns and DMing two D&D 5e campaigns, so my play time is limited to non-existent. But my buddy Scott has been in town while on holiday recently, and I got to play a swashbuckler character in a PFS scenario he wrote. Merrick has been a lot of fun, and my favourite moment with him so far was the inadvertent insulting of the aged matron of a Tian Xia family. How was I to know she wouldn’t appreciate my bawdy story? It killed down at the teahouse.

August 4: Most impressive things another’s character did?

No one thing, but it is an absolute delight to watch my friend Anita play her gnome sorcerer Twig in my Council of Thieves campaign. Anita plays a perfect gnome character, inquisitive with little regard for her own safety. The interplay between Twig and the character Kring (half-orc barbarian), her friend and self-appointed minder, is one of the best things about the each session. When two players can mesh their characters in such a way that it enhances the experience each session, it’s truly a gift as a GM. And relatively recently we’ve added in a Halfling rogue which has become Twig’s partner in crime. Fuel to an already robust fire…

August 5: What story does your group tell about your character?

As per my answer on August 3, I don’t get to play a lot. So I don’t think I’ve played a character enough recently to allow my group to develop stories about my characters. Things should change this fall, and I’ll be back to playing more. We’ll see what stories will come.

August 6: Most amazing thing a game group did for their community?

For the last couple of years a group of my friends have formed a team for Extra Life. Team Knifeshoes has raised thousands of dollars for children’s hospitals, and it’s one of the best things I get to be a part of every year. I’m looking forward to it again this year, and I have some special tabletop events ready to go which I hope I’ll be able to pull off. They also have a Tabletop Appreciation Weekend running September 16-18, so see what’s shaking for that.

August 7: What aspect of RPGs has had the biggest effect on you?

The social aspect of RPGs has had the biggest effect. I’m an introvert, so left to my own devices I will happily spend all my time alone in my room reading, or playing video games, or watching stuff on YouTube and Netflix. Having a fun excuse to get together with friends and play pretend? Yep, I’ll take it. And as a GM I get to indulge my introversion by sitting alone and dreaming up encounters and game worlds for my players. Really, it’s the best hobby I could have stumbled into (way to go, ten-year-old me!).

August 8: Hardcover, softcover, digital? What is your preference?

My preference is always for the physical book, whether it’s hard or soft cover. But as a busy GM on the go, especially one who has made several trips to Gen Con and PaizoCon over the last several years, I have also embraced the digital age. Currently, most of the Pathfinder books I own are in digital format, though I’m shifting the needle on that. Most of what I own for all my other games, though, are books on shelves. I enjoy cracking open a gaming book to look things up, and I like walking in to my game room and seeing the books lined up on the shelves. My library is only going to get bigger. [insert evil laugh]

August 9: Beyond the game, what’s involved in an ideal session?

It’s hard to describe what makes a session ideal for me, outside of the actual gameplay. I can describe it best as ‘easiness’. When my friends and I are just together, and none of us is having to work terribly hard at having or creating a good time, that’s easiness. I’m lucky enough to have several groups which achieve that on a regular basis, and so I’ve managed to get to a place where I’m excited about each session because of that. Play shouldn’t be work, and if it is that might be the time to find another group.

That’s it, tune in tomorrow for regular RPGaDay updates through August.