#RPGaDay2021 – Solo

Ibrahim Swaid

Bonzai Street Fashion Hat: 100eb, a delightful Asia-Pop design, straight from Tokyo.
Cherry Blossom Breath Mask: 250eb contains active nanites in a composite layer that actively hunt down and destroy any rogue particulates, bacteria or anything else that shouldn’t be there. Updatable via an agent app to block new diseases and poisons.
MunguNgozi Pauldrons: 100eb, made of a complex, semi-transparent smart-polymer. Provide 5 protection to arms, but repair themselves of 1 SP per day.
MunguNgozi Breastplate: 100eb, made of a complex, semi-transparent smart-polymer. Provide 5 protection to arms, but repair themselves of 1 SP per day.
Sweet Fanny Pack’Ems Utility Belt: 50eb a useful and secure belt with pouches and hooks for easy storage and use of items.
Sheya Compression Leggings: 200eb, provide 2SP to the legs, and should you suffer a life-threatening wounds to the leg, constrict and contract around the wound, stemming the flow of blood and providing anyone stabilising you with a +2 bonus.
TMH Adroa Heels: 200eb, smart-heels that help steady your balance, allowing you to move – at speed – in heels. +2 to rolls for balancing and no penalty to running/climbing etc from wearing them.
Skinwalker Cyberlegs: Install: Hospital, a cyberlimb that can cover itself in realistic skin, or draw it back as and how you want to fit different occasions. Comes with a standard hand at no extra cost or Humanity loss. Cost: 650eb HL: 1d10
Skinwalker Cyberarms: Install: Hospital, a cyberlimb that can cover itself in realistic skin, or draw it back as and how you want to fit different occasions. Comes with a standard foot at no extra cost or Humanity loss. Cost: 650eb HL: 1d10.
Orbitix crystal throwing stars: 1,000eb each, monoedged, orbital crystal blades,1d6+1 damage, treat armour as though it were 1/4, rounding down. So finely tuned and balanced that they give +1 to hit.
Digitus Impudicus Cyberdigits: These colour coded fingers change from yellow to red once fired. Each digit contains a 20 gauge sort shotgun shell, with an effective range of 5 metres, doing 2d6 damage on a hit. 100eb each, HL 1.
Mirai-Ha Ninja-To: A short, ‘ninja style’ sword of almost unbreakable alloy, with a climbing wire hidden in the handle (50 feet, will hold 250lbs of weight, the handle comes away to stop you cutting yourself). 2d6 damage, 1/4 armour (round down).

#RPGaDay2021 – Theory

Most gaming theory is bollocks. Esoteric, mutually contradictory nonsense, often misapplied from other disciplines. Most of that theory is also applied to computer games, while role-playing games are very much their own creature.

What little game theory has come out of gaming itself isn’t that much better. Mostly attempts to categorise and define the different mechanics, modes of play and their overall feel.

Perhaps the most well-known of these, though it has since been dropped, is ‘GNS’ theory. That games are a mixture of Game, Narrative and Simulation – to which I would add ‘toy’.

A low Game system might be something like Amber Diceless Roleplaying. A high Game system might be something like Iron Kingdoms or Cadwallon.

A low Narrative system might be something like an OSR game, where the dice lead the action and story emerges from action. A high Narrative system might be something like Apocalypse World, where there are constant modifications of narrative and the narrative leads very much over any other aspect, moreso even than FATE.

A low Simulation system is something that is not trying to represent reality, or even genre emulation. Again, Apocalypse World would meet that definition. A high Simulation system goes to a great deal of effort to replicate reality – or a fictional hyperreality. Millenium’s End or BRP might be more in this camp.

To that I would add ‘Toy’, which defines how directed or directionless a game might be. A high Toy rating is someting like playing with lego, or a plot-free sandbox world. A low Toy rating is something much more directed. How much a Toy a game is might well depend more on the GM and players than the game’s default setting.

This might have fallen out of favour, but as a design framework it is still quite useful.

How important do I want to make the mechanics? How deeply can you customise and dick around with the system?

How important is the story? Do I want to include player overrides, remove some GM power, allow get out of jail free cards? Do I want the story to be more in the hands of the GM, or to emerge from play?

Is this more of a sandbox toy, with pieces that come together and fall apart, or is it something much more directed and pointed? Railroaded even?

My game Actual Fucking Monsters, for example, might rate (out of 10):

  • Game: 4/10
  • Narrative: 6/10
  • Simulation: 4/10
  • Toy: 8/10

It’s not mechanically complex or deep, it is a story-led game, but without much story led mechanics. It is more genre emulation than simulation, but it is trying to simulate types of horror tale (Near Dark, Nightbreed), and it is largely open-ended. It can run itself without the GM needing to do much of anything.

Theory is interesting, but I don’t know that there’s anything valid here yet. Studies, for example, show that representation matters in passive media, but not so much in active, interactive media like computer games. That would suggest that TTRPG representation is not as important as people are making it out to be – probably because you’ve always been able to make up your own characters.

TTRPGs are just too niche to attract decent scholarship, thhough there are notable exceptions. As we saw back in the DiGRA days, being a niche just makes you a target for ideological, rather than science-led scholarship.

More’s the pity.

#RPGaDay2021 – Welcome

I’m going to tell you something that most of you already know, but which a lot of you aren’t going to like.

The tabletop hobby has always been open and welcoming.

The tabletop hobby has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to being progressive, despite what you may have heard.

In fact, it used to be more open and welcoming than it is now. Ironically it is the efforts of the supposedly progressive that have made the hobby more closed off, wary and gatekeepy.

Why?

Because the old guard has been constantly insulted and painted as villains. Because it has had stupidity foisted upon it which harms the art and the fun of roleplaying. Because they’re being gatekept out of their own hobby. Because simply having different priorities in games, they get monstered and called awful things.

When you run an open house, it’s all well and good so long as nobody takes advantage.

After you’ve had Aleister Crowley over for dinner and he’s turned up naked and shat on the rug, you might well be excused for introducing a vetting process for future guests, and being a little less open.

This also rather makes one question why anyone would want to join a hobby that they seemingly hate everything about.

RPG gaming was tolerant and open precisely because it was escapism, because people left their bullshit at the door and whatever size, shape, colour or anything else anyone was they were there FOR THE GAME.

Now people seem to want to bring their bullshit with them, not to examine it with artistry, metaphor and allegory, but to just play themselves, in a kinder, softer version of reality. Not a challenging imaginary world of excitement, adventure and really wild things.

Leave people alone, stop hurling accusations, keep in mind that people who’ve been doing this for decades, might actually have a clue to do it well. If you actually love gaming, stop wrecking it. If you value its ability to bring people together across their divisions, stop fucking that up.

Both the argument from tradition and the argument from novelty are both fallacious. Keep that in mind.

#RPGaDay2021 – Memory

A large part of what seems to be going wrong, and fuelling the conflicts in gaming is a lack of common memory and experience.

The newer players weren’t around for the Satanic Panic, the Vampire Panic, or even Jack Thompson’s rampage in computer games. If they remember anything, they wrongly remember Gamergate as a harassment campaign, rather than a continuation of resistance to censorship and media irresponsibility.

Even those who were around in the old days seem unwilling, as companies, to resist the more modern moral panics. Sensing, perhaps, the way the wind is blowing, a great deal of cowardice has been displayed, compared to the courage of the past. This seems to be entirely because the new moral panic is wearing progressivism and social justice the way the Bug wears an ‘Edgar suit’ in MiB.

Nor has this current generation endured the sheer awfulness of bullying, book-burning and torment older gamers did. As such, they weirdly come to conclusions that gamers are gatekeeping, rather than protecting themselves, that they were and are racist/sexist/homophobic when the gaming table was always a haven for outcasts and the marginalised.

Talk about victim blaming.

It’s also peculiar to see people who believe so much in the importance of identity exclusive spaces and safe spaces, wilfully and gleefully vandalising important ‘safe spaces’ of others, recasting victims as villains, creativity as evil, verisimmilitude as exclusionary, hyperreality as wrong-think rather than immersion.

If they had been through the same formative events, I don’t think they’d be so ready to hurl accusations, to demand censorship or to pillory anyone who even mildly disagrees with them.

Maybe they’ll learn.

#RPGaDay2021 – Substitute

Oh noes! A player can’t make it for some reason! You don’t want to continue the main story and game and leave them out, so what can you do? What’s a good substitute for a regular game session?

1: Something Else set in the same World

Some games are properties with many games and interpretations. Some have boardgames, card games, computer games that you can play together and more. Doing this you can keep the players in a similar mindset and inhabiting the game world until the next session, with a bit less of a gap and disconnect.

2. A One-Shot

If the game is simple enough, you could run off a one-shot, simple adventure and some new characters, just to have something else in your specific iteration of the game world. You can even import whatever happens there, or even the characters you have created, into your main game.

3. Do some world and character building

Go over the character backgrounds, their place in the world, figure out more about them and how they interface with the game world. This can give character specific background, side events and knowledge for when you do get back to the main game.

4. Any other game!

Play something else. It’ll scratch that itch and bide you over until you can play again.

5. Take the L, and Use the Time

Cancel the session, apologise to everytong, spend the extra time to make what you have planned for the next session even better, tighter and well planned.

#RPGaDay2021 – Simplicity

Does simplicity make a game better or worse?

Simple games with simple rules are easier to grasp, easier to remember, generally use less paraphenalia and are easy to prep and improvise from. This is great, but it does come at a cost.

Simple games tend to lack depth. They find it harder to simulate complex or ongoing actions. They tend to lack the capacity for character improvement in a granular way, often lacking range in statistics, skills or powers, or not having enough different ways for you to advance. So they’re less suited to long term play, or rags to riches play.

Some players like all the fiddly bits to games, and so like games with more granularity, more depth, more expansive and granular opportunities to develop and change. Some Games Masters like it too, but the more fiddly and prep-heavy a game is the less easy it is to improvise, the more tempting it is to railroad.

The ideal game, perhaps, from both a player and GM perspective, would be one that’s simple enough in application that it’s low prep and easy to do thing, but which has enough granularity and system permutations to tackle a wide variety of situations.

Many games seem to make the mistake of an unsatisfyingly simple core mechanic, which they then fuck up the advantage of by layering hundreds of interwoven exceptions into (PbtA and Tri Stat, for example).

Can you think of a game that strikes the balance?

#RPGaDay2021 – Theme

HERE is a HUGE fuck-off list of themes in literature, movies, poetry and other forms of creative endeavour.

Roleplaying games are their own art form however, and don’t quite fit into anything else. RPG story themes share most with literary themes and movie themes, but you’re going to have a mix and match of those themes from adventure to adventure, from the campaign, and from the player’s story arcs.

Common Adventure Themes

  • Uncover a mystery.
  • Avenge me.
  • Eliminate a threat.
  • Look for treasure.
  • Find a clue.
  • A farcical heist.
  • Fuck that guy in particular.
  • Escape a threat.
  • Survive a disaster/the wilderness.
  • Leave the Shire.

Common Campaign Themes

  • Machinations around the throne.
  • An ancient evil threatens to rise.
  • Rags to riches.
  • Aimless wandering.
  • Absolute power.
  • Unraveling a conspiracy.
  • Overthrow that dick.
  • One of us is secretly really important.
  • Liberate the homeland.
  • Big damn heroes/villains.

Common Player Arc Themes

  • I am a frustrated novelist. Validate my ideas.
  • Become the best at what I do.
  • Become a ruler.
  • Avenge my mentor/family/etc.
  • Get fat, rich and old.
  • Earn the hand of the fair princess/prince.
  • I’ll show them, I’ll show them all. Muahahahaha!
  • Become a god.
  • Become immortal.
  • Take up my rightful position.

Default Game Themes

  • Old School D&D: Rags to riches.
  • Cyberpunk 2020: Get rich enough to live above dystopia.
  • Twilight 2000: It’s a long way home.
  • Traveller: Explore strange new worlds, and sell them things.
  • 5e D&D: Highschool drama and the occasional dungeon.
  • Call of Cthulhu: Accrue lore, delay going mad.
  • Vampire the Masquerade: Accrue the power of an elder without becoming an asshole.
  • Degenesis: Survive and thrive on a dying planet.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Heroic failure.
  • Eclipse Phase: Find out what it means to be human while trying to prevent (another) hard singularity.

#RPGaDay2021 – Write

Since I’m working on a project (Wightchester, back it now) it seems like a good time to give a quick summary of how I go about breaking down my writing while I’m working on it, to create a workflow that goes well with my brain issues. The way I do it I can manage a decent word count, whenever the brain worms give me even a small amount of energy to expend on a project.

Assuming you’ve already figured out what system you’re using, what your game is about and so on, it breaks down like this (but on a larger scale).

You’re basically creating a ‘skeleton’ of your whole project, and then proceeding to add the ‘meat’ to those bones until you end up with a fully formed monstrosity of a lumbering, malformed first draft.

CHAPTER

SECTION

SUBSECTION

SUBHEADER

LIST/TABLE HEADER

EMPHASIS/EXAMPLE

So I will go through the prospective book, page by page, section by section, laying out the titles of the sections and making bullet-points of the things I need to cover in each section.

The advantage here is that you can add things as you think of them, easily reference things (by heading) when you want to change them, and that you can pick and choose what bit you want to write, without having to write it out in order.

You can bounce around the text, nibbling away at the overall wordcount, avoiding writer’s block by shifting topics.

Not in the mood to finesse the system? Work on the lore, and vice versa.

Breaking it down into smaller chunks also gives you a real sense of progress as you can complete a paragraph, two, three, four and feel that you’re making headway because you’ve completed a few sections.

If you have trouble concentrating, feel like you can’t make any headway on a project or feel intimated by the size, this really can make a difference in terms of motivation and those little hits of happy brain juices you get for hitting accomplishment goals.

#RPGaDay2021 – Move

Let’s assume you want to replicate medieval travel in your fantasy world.

How fast can people move and how do people typically move?

Most people walk, and most people don’t ever stray more than five to ten miles from their home at any point in their lives, save maybe for a pilgrimmage. Serfs have to ask permission from their lords to travel outside their Lord’s territory, so a lot will depend on them.

Your average peasant, out walking, can cover perhaps 3 miles an hour or 20 miles in day, barring interruptions.

Professional couriers could move more swiftly, as much 30-40 miles in a day.

An ox cart could carry a lot, but slowly, only make 10 miles in a day.

A horse cart might make 20 miles in a day.

Purely on horseback, you might make 40-60 miles in a day, but for most, horse travel was limited to nobility and knights.

Soldiers (closest to adventurers perhaps) might march 20 miles in a day, in full gear with a pack, and still have the energy to fight at the end of it.

A carriage drawn by a team of horses might be able to make as much as 50-75 miles in a day, more and faster if there are changes of horses available.

A medieval sailing ship might cover an average of 5 miles per hour (120 miles in a day), though in fantasy games ship technology is typically more advanced and akin to Renaissance technology, though the speed isn’t that different, perhaps 8 mph. With fair wind and conditions, a ship could travel twice as fast. Sea turtles can swim at up to 10mph, for comparison.

This likely makes very clear just how disruptive and special magical transportation can be.

#RPGaDay2021 – Supplement

Figuring out what to publish as a supplement is always a bit of a puzzler. You see, what sells are corebooks, which was the philosophy at WOTC during the 4th Edition days, and which has bled over somewhat into 5th Edition publication. They say they’re moving away, a bit, from the heavy hardback tomes for everything, but it remains to be seen.

Why have these big tomes become the norm?

Well, supplementary material can be a hard sell. Let’s say you have a GM’s book and a Player’s book.

In practice you’re going to sell one GM book per group (typically 4-6 players) and maybe slightly more Player’s books. That’s still only about one sixth your potential audience, and that’s the most you’re going to sell of just about anything.

Once you get into supplementary material, class books, race books and so on, you’re carving that fraction down more and more. Even the best possible market is only a fraction of the number of players.

What has traditionally sold worst of all (apart from during the early days of gaming when people were starved for material) has always been adventures.

Why?

Because adventures tend to be one-and-done. You can’t very easily play through the same adventure again, especially not with the same players. Reusable materials might be a couple of interesting traps, some monsters and some magical treasure, but it’s not convenient to flip through dozens of adventure books to find the material you want to re-use.

If you want to sell supplements they need to have a purpose and some longevity.

Setting books.

More character options.

Equipment.

Expanded systems for new circumstances.

Otherwise, you’re in for a bad time.