#RPGaDay2018 8. How can we get more people playing?

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In creating this answer, I am going to piss people off. So I’m going to have to preface this with a disclaimer.

Stay with me.

I have nothing against diversity in gaming, women in gaming or any of the other usual buzzwords, phrases and emotional shortcuts you’ll see bandied about. I’m all for it. I agree with the ends, it’s the means I take issue with – and the characterisations of the gaming community that go along with them. I’m not even going to say ‘however…’ or ‘but…’. What I am going to do is to examine the state of gaming and associated nerd media, and the effect that recent ‘modernisation’ efforts and the broadening of the gaming hobby/lifestyle have had.

Gaming has always been open. Perhaps too open. We have long been accepting and tolerant, providing a safe haven for people who are socially awkward, hygienically challenged, on the spectrum, disabled, infirm or marginalised in any other way. Gamers have always put ‘gamer’ ahead of all other identities and this served the industry extremely well. Gamers also – unfortunately – developed an understandable siege mentality in light of the Satanic and Vampire panics and the many slings and arrows flung at related hobbies and fandoms.

To see my beloved hobby, always more (genuinely) progressive and open than the culture around it become an intolerant, gate-kept, hate-filled arena of social acrimony, censorship and vicious accusations has hurt me an enormous amount; as both observer and victim. The particularly bitter irony is that all this hate and exclusion comes from people who style themselves as being ‘progressive’. Rather than adding diversity and variety to games, their strident demands force games into a more and more homogeneous pile of indistinct grey goo.

My co-host on Inappropriate Characters, The RPG Pundit, calls this RPG pablum ‘Cartoon Funtime Fantasy Seattle’. While we disagree on a great deal, and he has advocated gate-keeping in the past (for ‘Lawncrappers’) I believe he has a point. One of the great appeals of RPGs (and fiction as a whole) is the opportunity to inhabit other times and places, even ones that are horrific, historical or purely fantastical. If we whitewash everything, if we make everything into ‘Wizards and Wokeness’ we lose a huge amount of what makes RPGs appealing in the first place.

It seems paradoxical, it is paradoxical, but in seeking to erase the unfairness of history, to create safe and tolerant fantasy worlds, in trying to increase diverse representation the only diversity that matters – diversity of thought – is damaged. I want a world in which the RPG Pundits of this world can create their Old Skool fantasy RPGs AND the likes of Olivia (formerly David*) Hill can create their emotional, narrative story games. More is always better than less. There will always be some sort of struggle for the ‘soul’ of the few truly mainstream RPGs that exist, because of their influence, but otherwise I think people should be left the entire-and-actual-fuck-alone to make what they want.

Getting more and new people into hobbies is great, but not at the cost of the existing, main base; which leans white-male in gaming, and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s down to societal factors beyond our control. The problem with the tactics of those who fancy themselves progressive is that they seek their goals by a process of forcing diversity, whitewashing (ironically) history to make it more ‘palatable’ and creating an incredibly intolerant and hateful atmosphere of judgement and fear.

By all accounts RPG games are enjoying a renaissance right now, but it’s hard to unpick the various factors at play. Certainly the rise of online play and streaming has played a role, 5th Edition actually being good compared to 4th Edition (and being more open) has helped. Media appearances of RPGing in cartoons, comedies and computer games also cannot have done any harm. Outreach to people considered ‘passed by’ may have played some role, but we have to be wary.

‘Get woke, go broke’ isn’t just a catchy meme, one need only look to the disastrous state of comics, the furore around the Hugo Awards, the acrimony over Gamergate, the bitter dismay of Star Wars fans, to see that. The wilful misrepresentation of the ‘honourable opposition’ in each case as ‘misogynistic’, ‘racist’ or other slurs doesn’t help either. So far gaming has proven more resilient, probably because it’s just as DIY as it ever was and the slant of official material has limited impact on play at the table. Still, we should be cautious.

Gaming evangelises itself, play to its strengths – friendship, imagination, scope, possibility, openness, sociability – and it’ll grow like it always has. Just don’t close it up like a clam-shell in pursuit of homogeneous ‘diversity’.

*I know ‘deadnaming’ is frowned upon, but since reading the story of ‘Doctor V and the Magic Putter’ I strongly believe that transition should not allow one to escape reputation and past actions.

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 5. Favourite recurring NPC?

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This is kinda, sorta the same question as yesterday and has much the same answers. So rather than answering it directly I’ll take this extra time to talk about HOW to make an NPC memorable and to make it engaging for the players.

  1. Motivation: A memorable NPC, like a good character, operates according to their own motivations (moderated by what’s best for the game). To play an NPC well you need to understand their motivations and goals – simple as they might be.
  2. A ‘Hook’: If an NPC is anything more than axe-fodder for your band of wandering murder-hobos it’ll need a hook. This can be a physical trait (one leg) a scent (jasmine) or a catchphrase (I see… Checks!). Whatever it is, it enables you to make the NPC instantly recognisible and someone that stands apart from the usual Bombadil, Robin or Dresden they might otherwise encounter.
  3. Useful: A memorable NPC should be someone they will want to engage with regularly, or have to. Shopkeepers, barmen, captains of the guard and arch-nemesi all meet this, for different values of useful.
  4. Enjoyable: You, as the Games Master, should enjoy portraying the NPC.
  5. Ignore All the Above: You can never actually know what NPCs people will take delight in and which ones they won’t care about. The best you can hope for is to adapt, quickly, when the players get attached to a particular NPC and to fill out their backstory then.

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’!

#RPG #RPGADay All at once

I never remember to do these things daily, so here’s all of them at once:

FF (1)First RPG Played/First RPG Games Mastered/First RPG Purchased

On further thought, the answer to all of these is Fighting Fantasy: The Introductory Roleplaying Game. A friend of mine, Russell, was a fanatic or the Fighting Fantasy books and collected them all. We used to roleplay by one of us being the narrator and the other playing the part of the character and rolling the dice. That wasn’t too satisfying but with this orange-covered book we were opened up to the Games Master moderating the actions. I bought a copy and via that was opened up to a bunch of other games – starting with MERP.

Fighting Fantasy: The Introductory Roleplaying Game was a great introduction to the hobby for me and coming via the huge plethora of different settings and rules across the Fighting Fantasy library – from science fiction and horror to traditional fantasy – meant I never really got locked in to D&D. Looking back, I think that was a blessing. It made me into the game system and setting whore I am today.

5549Most Recent RPG Purchase

It’s really fucking annoying that Rackham went under and that all their IP, wonderful miniature sculpts, artwork and style is now in limbo. Fantasy Flight’s games derived from their IP are interesting, but just not enough. I picked up Cadwallon just before they went under and the artwork and ideas are just amazingly cool. I missed out on getting the reversible gaming tiles back then and so I recently bought a couple of sets of them off ebay – with a little help (thanks Chris).

I’m not really a miniatures guy, but these are so well crafted and cool that it’s hard not to appreciate and want them. Plus what with playing Iron Kingdoms lately I thought it might be worth a try. The tiles are great for any urban fantasy/magipunk setting and I’m pretty pleased I got them. I also picked up the D&D tiles master set The City for the same reason. Most tiles work on the same scale, so they’re pretty compatible. Maybe I’ll do something with them at IndieCon.

Most Old School RPG Owned

The Moldvay Red Box was my introduction to D&D and, no sir, I didn’t like it. Nonetheless I have a copy or two of the 1983 version knocking around somewhere. In close contention would be Dragon Warriors or, if you prefer the OSR – Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I’m not a huge fan of the old school way of doing things, but nor am I entirely a storygames person. I am an admirer of James Raggi’s ‘no bullshit’ approach however, and of the trend of retrocloning old game systems that amount to ‘abandonware’.

Favourite RPG You Never Get to Play

I don’t get to play very much any more, so that could apply to all of them. It’s more the board and wargames I don’t get to play as much as I like, especially Dust Tactics. RPGwise… maybe HeroQuest or Call of Cthulhu. When we do play I very often am the Games Master, so I get to actually play even less.

Most ‘Intellectual’ RPG Owned

I guess this really depends on how you define ‘intellectual’. The OED defines it as:

Relating to the intellect, Appealing to or requiring use of the intellect, Possessing a highly developed intellect, A person possessing a highly developed intellect, a prominent political thinker and intellectual.

Games can’t possess intellect, so that’s out, and they’re not people or thinkers – though they can be created by them. So… thinking of games that present a very intelligent point of view or which stimulate the brain makes me think of a few of them.

Over the Edge is very literate, informed and was groundbreaking at the time of its release. A precursor to many story games and rules-lite systems and a big inspiration when working on my own Forever Summer game.

Traveller, in all editions, has attempted (sometimes failing) to be relatively hard science fiction and it can become rather complicated. Fire Fusion and Steel was, perhaps, the apex of this complexity and while fascinating it didn’t seem especially suited to a game system that didn’t have a great deal of granularity.

Mage was philosophically and morally fascinating and provided a conceptual ‘key’ to understanding and fitting together the entire OWoD.

Mars Colony by Tim Koppang is pretty brainy too.

Some games are intellectual due to the intentions of the author (or the translation) being rather opaque. Eoris, Mechanical Dream and Cadwallon all fall into this category.

Favourite Character

Judas, my SLA Industries character. A dual-headed flickscythe wielding albino, refugee from a lost human conflict society. He masterminded a long term rebellion against Mr Slayer which, of course, ended in tears.

Favourite Die/Die Set

I don’t get attached to dice in the same way a lot of people seem to, but aesthetically I’m probably most fond of a set of plastic faux-knucklebone six-sided dice that I have.

Favourite Tie-In Novel/Game Fiction

I hate both with the white hot-intensity of a thousand exploding supernovae. Tie in novels are almost always bad. Game fiction usually gets ignored, or gets in the way. My less discerning chums tell me the Warhammer 40k tie-in stuff is pretty good, but I wouldn’t trust the motherfuckers as far as I can comfortably spit a grox.

Weirdest RPG Owned

Mechanical Dream is pretty fucking weird and pretty fucking odd, as is Eoris. Neither of them quite seem to know what they are and both are so weird as to be hard to relate to.

Old RPG You Still Play/Read

Mage: The Ascension – though reading it just makes me angry at The Avatar Storm, how they ended the OWoD and how unspeakably awful the newer version of Mage is with its Theosophy slant.

Most Memorable Character Death

Not one of my characters, but old friend and player Tony. The players were escorting a tanker of high grade CHOOH2 to an isolated outpost, deep in gang territory in the desert and had stopped in a ghost town for a break. Nomad bandits attacked and a stray RPG rocket struck the back of the tanker. Miraculously Tony’s character survived the explosion, and having his arms and legs blown off, and being set on fire. His body exploded out out of the cab – still on fire – and after a random scatter effect was determined to fall down the old town well – still alive and limbless. He survived the fall and the water put the flames out, only to have him drown a couple of turns later.

Best Convention Purchase

Usually I’m behind a stall, so I don’t get to buy a lot of stuff at conventions or by the time I’m free to explore and find something cool it has already been sold. I do love Lords of War though, which I’ve supported since their launch at Dragonmeet. Buying stuff from Indie guys gives me the warm fuzzies too. I love supporting other creators and picking their brains – in the form of their books.

Favourite Convention Game

I hate to toot my own horn, but I love running my own games at conventions. Especially Invaderz, which never fails to be a riot.

Game You Wish You Owned

Dune. Incomplete, doesn’t quite work, but I love Dune as a whole and want to own the book.

Funniest Game You’ve Played

Again, I hate to toot my own horn but both Invaderz and Urban Faerie never fail to produce a fun game. Intentional comedy is really fucking difficult to pull off. Paranoia is the only game that successfully achieves it in my opinion and that’s precisely because its a) formulaic and b) over the top. I’ll admit a guilty pleasure for puns though and that’s an aspect I miss in the newer more grown up versions of D&D.

Favourite Game System

I can’t pick just one, so here’s a shortlist. FATE (Starblazer/Anglerre version), BRP, Cyberpunk 2020 version of Fuzion/Interlock, Silhouette, BLOOD! Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Not so much Dark Heresy.

Favourite Published Adventure

Night City Stories.

Will Still Play in 20 Years Time

I move from game to game all the time, so it’s unlikely I will ever play something I have now in another 20 years, save for nostalgia reasons.

Favourite Licensed RPG

Licensed RPGs are almost always sucky. Sorry, but it’s true. The licenses flit from company to company and they’re almost always generic. Exceptions have included the ICE version of MERP (though the rules bore little resemblance to the setting, the adventures and other material were exemplary, as was the presentation). The current version of LOTR roleplaying also has great presentation and material, but I can’t help but wonder if their laudable experimentation with rules and setting has limited the appeal of what should be THE killer property.

I managed to get some good times out of the Angel RPG, but otherwise I don’t do so well with them. I guess my favourite remains ICE’s MERP, which is one of my favourites. WEG’s Star Wars is also well up there, but I only ever played it like… twice.

I’ve been working on a licensed RPG and I hope I’ve done it ‘right’.

Best Secondhand RPG Purchase

Nightlife. Brilliant game, long overlooked, precursor to the whole WoD thing and much more like Nightbreed. Great illustrations by my good friend Brad McDevitt. I’d buy the rights and re-do it if the people who had the rights were amenable to the idea, but they’re not.

Coolest Looking RPG Owned

Numenera is up there, but the art is too inconsistent to really claim it. Eoris is also visually stunning, but the text layout is awful. Mechanical Dream suffers from being greyed out and muddy, but is pretty cool looking all told. Iron Kingdoms is nice, but a lot of art’s recycled. When it first came out Vampire was visually stunning, the graphic art of that green marble cover was something completely new.

I don’t know… I’m visually quite demanding.

Most Complicated RPG Owned

The most intentionally complex RPG I own is probably Traveller: New Era. The most unintentionally complex RPG I own is probably Eoris.

Favourite RPG Nobody Else Wants to Play

Tribe 8 or Heavy Gear.

Coolest Character Sheet

Puppetland. Since it’s supposed to also be a puppet.

Game You’d Like to See a New/Improved Edition of

Cyberpunk 2020 needs a new edition. No, Cyberpunk 3 doesn’t exist. Lalalalala I can’t hear you. Lalalalala.

Scariest Game You’ve Played

Games of BLOOD! played up the old railway track, in tents, by lantern-light with owls hooting, foxes screeching and a fire burning down to embers could get quite spooky.

Most Memorable Encounter

I honestly can’t think of any particularly, but then I don’t get to play that much – like I said.

Rarest RPG Owned

I don’t really know. I don’t keep up on these things. Cadwallon perhaps? Nightlife’s hard to get hold of these days too. Original editions of Dragon Warriors maybe?

Favourite RPG of All Time

Impossible ask. I can take you through chronologically however:

  • Fighting Fantasy
  • MERP
  • Dragon Warriors
  • Traveller 2300
  • MegaTraveller
  • Call of Cthulhu
  • Cyberpunk 2020
  • Over the Edge
  • Vampire
  • Mage
  • SLA Industries
  • BLOOD!
  • Fading Suns
  • Legend of the Five Rings
  • Laundry Files
  • Iron Kingdoms