#RPG – So I rewrote those awful Pathfinder Passages…

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This is very rough and very dashed off, but it reflects what I’ve learned over 30+ years of roleplaying, much – even most – of that time as the Games Master. You can think of the game table like a rollercoaster, the sensation and feeling of being in peril, while you’re actually almost perfectly safe. The idea that anyone can be harmed at the table, without stepping on a D4, is frankly silly. I wanted to write something positive though, something that shares responsibility and describes something much more like what the unspoken social contract around a good table really is.

Enjoy.

Players

As a player, it’s your responsibility to contribute to the overall health of the game. A game is always a compromise between the players and the Game Master and that requires give and take. You may encounter things that make you uncomfortable in play or concepts and ideas that – in your real life – you find offensive or stupid. Remember, these things are not real and only exist in the game space, they present opportunities for you to challenge and encounter these things safely. You can’t get hurt at the table. The gaming community has always been welcoming to minority and marginalised members, its success in this regard is largely down to caring more about each other as gamers, rather than a skin colour, a gender or a sexuality and (most) politics should be left away from the table to foster this spirit. You have ultimate control over what character you play, subject to the Game Master’s approval, but you should try to pick something that fits the setting and fulfils a role within the group. Advanced players can also experiment with playing villains or characters with belief systems wildly at odds with their own, it’s important to remember that the player and the character are two different things and that playing a villain or a bigot doesn’t mean that the player is one.

Respect the other players, and the Games Master, by not interrupting play when you do have issues or concerns, but raising them after the game or before the next game. Ultimately if the game or the table isn’t right for you, but is for everyone else, you’re the problem and you should remove yourself from that game and find one that better suits your needs. Gaming should be fun for everyone, but different people find different things fun! Some people like political machinations and lots of in-character conversation, some people like playing villains, some people enjoy a game inspired by real-world politics as catharsis. This is all valid, but concepts of fun differ and not every game needs to suit every player!

Game Masters

As a Game Master, you have a lot of responsibility and a lot of power over the game. The buck stops with you! At the same time, you are also a player and it’s important that you have as much fun (whatever you consider ‘fun’ to be’ as any other player. The role of Game Master takes more work, more commitment and even more money if you want all the latest material and sourcebooks for the game and as such your needs should – rightly – take priority. Don’t let players dictate your own game to you. This doesn’t mean that you should be arrogant or dictatorial, every game is a negotiation between all of the players (including you), just that in the end, without you, there’s no game.

Sometimes things in a game might make a player uncomfortable. Sometimes they’re supposed to. If you are playing a horror-oriented game then, ideally, you want the players to be horrified. Just as in other forms of fiction and games there are different genres that appeal to different people’s idea of fun, so it can be with roleplaying games. Players should know beforehand what they’re letting themselves in for, and you should make them aware – without being so explicit as to be spoilers. If the theme of your games is fine for most people at the table, but one person can’t grin and bear it until the game changes tone (or you play a different one) then it’s their responsibility to moderate their experience and to remove themselves from the game if they really don’t like it. That’s a polite and sensible thing to do and they shouldn’t be mocked for it, they’re allowing you your space to enjoy the game in a way you like, and you can always return the favour later.

The role of Game Master comes with the responsibility of ensuring that none of your players violates the game’s social contract, especially when playing in a public space. Be on the lookout for behaviour that’s inappropriate, whether intentional or inadvertent and pay careful attention to players’ body language during gameplay. If you notice a player becoming uncomfortable, you are empowered to pause the game, take it in a new direction, privately check in with your players during or after the session, or take any other action you think is appropriate to move the game toward a fun experience for everyone. That said, you should never let players who are uncomfortable with different identities or experiences derail your game. People of all identities and experiences have a right to be represented in the game, even if they’re not necessarily playing at your table.

Not every game has to be fun for every player, or even for you. What’s important is that over the course of a campaign of many individual games, everyone gets something that they can enjoy and that scratches their ‘itch’ of fun. One of the more advanced and sought-after goals in roleplaying is ‘immersion’, those moments where you almost become your character, acting through them in a believable and reactive world. That can come with hard choices, discomfort and even losses. Losing isn’t fun, but without losing from time to time, without being uncomfortable some of the time, winning just doesn’t feel so good. Great games have emotional moments, triumphs and losses. They’re about more than just ‘fun’, and that’s something to aspire to!

Presenting a believable, meaningful world and helping your players create engaging and captivating stories, helping them get to that sense of immersion is the Game Master’s ultimate prize.

#RPGaDay2018 21. Which dice mechanic appeals to you?

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There’s an idea that appeals to me which uses the best part of dice but which extends it outward, beyond the limitations of dice.

Dice are limited in many ways, in order to get a rollable dice you need the sides to be regular and the chance of any particular face coming up to be even. You’re limited, then, to the typical, regular polyhedra and their ranges. You can add dice together, to get a nice bell-curve of probability from them, and you can even create cylindrical dice with a wider variety of sides (as the Romans used to) but you’re still somewhat constricted by the dice and by adding, taking away and less commonly multiplying and dividing,

Sometimes you can pit one dice against another, which can be a good way of modelling low-skill and high luck, versus high-skill and low luck – depending on the vagaries of the roll.

There’s no reason – necessarily, that we be bound by this any longer however. We can create ‘conceptual dice’ via the means of random number generators and give them any values we like, no longer bound by the physical world and the necessity of a regular polyhedron.

Instead of 1d12+2 damage, we could roll a D14 – allowing for the possibility of truly glancing blows. We could pit a Stat+Skill of 1d11 versus a Stat+Skill of 1d17. If you want that bell-curve distribution you could get it by adding two results together and they needn’t even match.

‘Ditching the dice’ opens up a world of possibilities, and going for random number generation retains the utility of dice, without their limitations and without the faffing around and compromises that non-dice systems tend to fall into.

Of course, getting players to give up their totemic and beloved dice won’t be easy, even though many are already using phones and tablets with dice-apps already.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of postmortemstudios.wordpress.com. If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at patreon.com/grimachu, Minds.com/grimachu or steemit.com/@grimjim. Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!

#RPGaDay2018 20. Which game mechanic inspires your play the most?

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I’m very much a person who believes that system matters, so it’s really a matter of choosing the right game for the right job and finding mechanics that support and enable to mode of play you’re going for. Sometimes this can be the same rules system, with different tweaks, changes and house rules.

Over the years, various systems have tickled a particular aspect of my games and have been explored.

Heavy Gear: The system used for Heavy Gear scales brilliantly, allowing you to move seamlessly between vehicle/mech, starship and personal combat. This is the one area in which the system truly excels and it is a shame that Dreampod Nine’s games haven’t retained the traction – and crossover audience – that they deserve.

Feng Shui: Feng Shui’s stunt mechanics loom large over many subsequent games that go for narrative style emulation over realism. One of the ur-examples, Feng Shui rewarded, rather than penalised you when you did cool martial arts or kung fu moves.

Call of Cthulhu: The Sanity system, especially as it interacts with Mythos lore really works as a sort of ‘devil’s bargain’. This central tension in the system raises it above merely being a workmanlike and somewhat realistic percentile system.

Blue Planet: Reverse order initiative with interrupts just makes so much more sense than most other initiative systems, albeit it the case that it does slow things down.

Mind’s Eye Theatre (1e): An almost purely narrative mechanic based on descriptors. This and Over the Edge inspired the take I took with The Description System that I used in the Neverwhere RPG.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of postmortemstudios.wordpress.com. If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at patreon.com/grimachu, Minds.com/grimachu or steemit.com/@grimjim. Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!

#RPGaDay2018 19. Music that enhances your game

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I will sing you the songs of my people.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of postmortemstudios.wordpress.com. If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at patreon.com/grimachu, Minds.com/grimachu or steemit.com/@grimjim. Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!

#RPGaDay2018 18. Art that inspires your game

Chris Foss, Brom, Michael Manning, Jim Burns, Tim White, Dougal Dixon, Chris Achilleos, Moebius, Frazetta, Whelan, Gary Chalk.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of postmortemstudios.wordpress.com. If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at patreon.com/grimachu, Minds.com/grimachu or steemit.com/@grimjim. Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!

#RPGaDay2018 17. Describe the best compliment you’ve had gaming

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Presented without context…

Oh, you bastard!”

I think you’re kind, that’s what matters.”

*Player’s face slowly drains of colour as the penny drops*

I, have an erection.”

Oh. Oh! Ohhhhh! Oh my fucking god! Then that means… ohhhhhh.”

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of postmortemstudios.wordpress.com. If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at patreon.com/grimachu, Minds.com/grimachu or steemit.com/@grimjim. Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!

#RPGaDay2018 16. Describe your plans for your next game

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Whatever we play next will be – in part – down to my group. We always negotiate to try and find something that everyone can enjoy or tolerate, and that the Games Master actually wants to run. We’ve been gaming together long enough that this isn’t the kind of impenetrable gear-grinding deadlock you might think.

That said, I’m tossing a few ideas around.

There’s a lot of games that I own, that I haven’t played (a flaw in being a designer and collector) and which I’d like to. Doing a different game – with pre-gens – each session as a sort of ‘taster’ or smorgasbord could be a fun thing to do and a change from the longer campaigns we more typically run.

I did write a conversion for the Destiny computer game, to be able to run it using the Cypher System (Numenera). We played a one-off game of that at our little friends-only con last year and it was, amazing, a lot of fun. I might like to return to that at some point.

Otherwise, I have a hankering to run my own Machinations of the Space Princess game in more of a campaign setting. It’ll help me to produce support material to sell and I’m sure I can have a lot of fun with it, cutting loose in something that doesn’t have a huge and unwieldy lore setting around it.

Then there’s the other games in various stages of development that need playtesting…

Yeah, tricky to decide when you have an embarrassing number of potential choices.

I will, hopefully, be starting to do some streamed games on my Youtube channel at some point. So, tentatively, if you’re interested and can do UK hours, let me know.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of postmortemstudios.wordpress.com. If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at patreon.com/grimachu, Minds.com/grimachu or steemit.com/@grimjim. Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!

#RPGaDay2018 15. Describe a tricky RPG experience you enjoyed

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While I’ve got you, I’ve been suspended off Twitter for no real explicable reason, my last three Youtube videos go into details. The Amazing Atheist and some others have had their accounts restored after a ruckus so any noise you can raise on Twitter about this would be appreciated.

Despite past experiences, people keep assigning me villains to play and then acting all surprised when I take their villainy to the logical extremity of possible evil, given their beliefs and talents. Really, if you don’t want something horrible to happen, don’t suggest I play a horrible character.

This reared its head in a game of Perfect at a small convention where, perhaps, the chap running the game hadn’t quite conveyed the point particularly well. It’s supposed to be a game where everything you do necessarily ends up being a thought crime, or worse (not unlike the real world today, perhaps). Myself and the other player who turned up for the game both decided to take this on full-bore in other ways however. I chose to play someone who was not incidentally a criminal or any of the other things that the depicted society was afraid of, but was them wholeheartedly. He was a foreign (gasp!), drug dealing (eek!) criminal kingpin (ooh crikey!). The other player, meanwhile, chose to play a Jack-the-Ripper style serial killer.

Needless to say, the game didn’t go well, but intrigued by some of its mechanics, I bought it.

Another example would be Exalted: The Abyssals. In this game I played a tactical, scheming character based on a combination of Klytus from Flash Gordon and Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta from The First Law series of fantasy novels. This was a man who condemned thousands to death with the grim calculus he performed on his bone-and-iron abacus. The sheer fact of the matter was that, in the long term, you need live people to make undead minions, and with an eye on the long game he established breeding camps to ensure there would always be a fresh supply of living flesh to turn into undead flesh.

I think I shocked even myself with that.

Stepping into the shoes of other people is a key, interesting part of roleplaying. Some of the most challenging experiences are stepping into the shoes of villains – especially if they consider themselves to be right. This can be difficult, but it can be… well, enjoyable is perhaps not the right word. It can be edifying and interesting.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of postmortemstudios.wordpress.com. If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at patreon.com/grimachu, Minds.com/grimachu or steemit.com/@grimjim. Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!

#RPGaDay2018 14. Describe a failure that became amazing

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My Cyberpunk players were escorting a tanker of Chooh2 (alcohol fuel) through an area. This was as a part of the Land of the Free/Home of the Brave module for Cyberpunk 2020, if I remember correctly. They were stopped off at an abandoned gas station/town when they were attacked by a band of Nomads in the hire of one of their many enemies.

They dove for their vehicles, seeking to turn this into a road chase where they felt they had something of an advantage. One of the characters, a heavily borged-up Solo clambers into the truck and swings it around to try and get out of the dunes and ruins.

One of the Nomads, seeing this fat, wallowing, ripe target of a fuel tanker stands up on the back of the pick-up truck he’s riding, and lets off an RPG at the tanker. It hits, it penetrates the armour, desperately trying to be fair I only give it a chance of igniting and exploding.

It does.

The Solo in the cockpit is engulfed by a massive explosion. We start rolling damage and working out exactly how much he takes. Thanks to extensive skull and trunk modification his body-core and brain are relatively unhurt, but all four cyberlimbs are blown off. His flaming body takes flight, blown clear of the explosion at a considerable rate of knots.

I mentally lay a 10 x 10 grid over the thumbnail sketch of the gas station/town I’ve doodled and roll a scatter to see where he lands.

He lands on the town well, doing enough damage (rolled) to break through the old wooden boards and to fall down the shaft.

I roll to see which way up he is.

Head first.

He survives an enormous explosion, a limbless, fireball flight across a town, a fall down a well, only to drown in the couple of inches of water at the bottom of a gunked up well.

That was definitely an heroic failure.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of postmortemstudios.wordpress.com. If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at patreon.com/grimachu, Minds.com/grimachu or steemit.com/@grimjim. Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!