Tag Archives: Roleplaying

That which cannot be removed

Dungeons and Dragons has endured a number iterations over the years, and yet there are things which have remained exactly the same. With 5th edition now looming I am left wondering if there are any parts which will be able to survive the changes this time.

The one big thing which hasn’t changed is the stat stack. The big six are known for the comprehensive and familiar description. Likewise, the range of those numbers and the fact that 1  or 0 is the bad end of the spectrum and 18 and over is the good end. Classic base character archetypes — Fighter, Thief, Priest, and Wizard. Levels, experience points, hit points, Vancian magic, and saving throws.

So what if WotC were to mess with that list? What if the big six were replaced with something else? Or if you suddenly had stats measuring from 1 to 10 on each of those? Would it still be D&D?

Don’t misunderstand. D&D is as much a brand as it is a system but which built which?

I am almost willing to argue that the system made the brand what it is. When one says D&D you get a certain image in your mind that encompasses a specific experience which includes some of those things I mentioned before. They may vary slightly — anyone else remember the saving throws of “Bend Bars / Lift Gates” or that strength could have a percentage rider if you rolled up a 18 at character creation?

It certainly wasn’t the same D&D from before, but it was still D&D. The big six were still present, hit points and movement still mattered.

But the twist is this. Even without the big six or hit points or Vancian magic, you could make a decent dungeon crawl based game. With the D&D brand, it suddenly becomes a D&D game. WotC has already done this to a certain extent with both some of their D&D board games, but also with Gamma World.

The brand in those cases is more important than the actual system that it’s been applied to. It’s not that something new has been made with the old, but that the old system was dumped all together.

So I think that nothing is going to be off limits for the designers. Everything, including the old sacred cows mentioned above, is up for the metaphorical slaughter. With this Legend & Lore column by Monte, I think it indicates with the “you play what you want to play” line there are a number of changes in stock for us old timers. We are going to be surprised, very surprised, to see what has been done with D&D when 5th edition gets published.

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My Weekend in Rokugan

This past weekend was the first Weekend in Rokugan for the new Spirit of Bushido campaign. I got to play a bit part in the overall proceedings running a few games and filling a role in the interactive Saturday night. It was an incredible time with a far better turnout than the admins were anticipating.

There were three new campaign mods premiering last weekend. These were A Walk Through the Mountains, Delicate Negotiations, and Poisoned Gifts. I got to play slot-zeros of Walk and Poisoned which are interesting and I think indicate the sort of directions that the admins want to take the themes and the sorts of ideas to explore. Poisoned Gifts more than others. Although I have a bit of affection for Walk, having ran it multiple times on Saturday.

The interactive was a different experience, an experience that was structured around the players, their clans, and the choices put into play. I got to play the Lion’s clan leader and have to admit to having a little bit of fun when calling the clan together for a meeting. It was something to watch the players wheeling and dealing and trying to change the world of Rokugan into something more of their liking.

Of course, the Admins get the final say over what impact on the campaign that the choices and deals made have, but the players get to have the knowledge of that they have had their say on that direction. And it will be a very interesting one given the sorts of deals that were worked out Saturday night.

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Legend of the Five Rings, 4th Edition Review

I want to like this edition but I keep finding things about it which draw my attention away from the good parts. Let me be blunt. There is a lot to like about the system. Roll and Keep is intuitive and it gives the player a degree of control over the outcome of things which is sorely missing from many others. The designers went out of their way to give more material than their previous efforts and did their utmost to make as much of it easily playable. And the amount of setting given in this book should give anyone willing to read through it ideas aplenty for their own campaign. Yet in spite of all of this wonderful work, I keep getting tripped up by the few metaphorical runs in the rug.

The following review is broken down into three major sections. Character, Skills, and System representing a brief dive into those areas. I will be concentrating mostly on the changes with respect to the Third Edition rules and an overall impression from the material presented in the book. I have not yet had a chance to run or otherwise use the system but have done several[1] simulated dice rolls with a computer dice program.

CHARACTER

Character Creation remains unchanged, which is both good and bad. It is good in that those already familiar with it will be able to jump right in to trying out the new, redesigned Clans and Schools. It is bad in that L5R characters tend to be even more cookie-cutter at the start than any other game I have thus far encountered. Thematically, this fits in well. Rokugani culture is not the Western culture of the Individual. Vary too far outside of what is expected, you may end up like the fence post and pounded on until you do fit in.

In any case, the schools of each clan are what you would expect and don’t vary much from Third Edition. As for the claim that has been repeated by the designers that these Schools and Clans represent an “Iconic” version of them. I am not so certain. Iconic to my mind would mean to stray a bit from having the same set of schools for each Clan or possibly changing out the current schools for something from the Advanced list which deeply embraces the “concept” of the Clan stated succinctly only a few pages before the rules start. If the Crane are so good at diplomacy and intrigue then why is there only one Courtier school available? And why does it lack the charismatic oomph the Clan is famous for?

Advanced schools and alternate paths are an interesting addition but after having examined them I am left wondering what the point was. The Advanced Schools strike me as only half-completed and could have easily been turned into another full school to be included with the rest in the Clans section. Alternate paths seem more like a scattering of ideas which didn’t fit in with anything else and that the designers didn’t want to throw away. Would it have been too much to see these ideas congealed into full blown Schools and placed with the Clans? As it stands, it leaves me with the impression that this was a halfhearted effort to bring some choice to an otherwise dull character system.

Finally, would it be too much to ask for a graphic walk through of character creation or an example of a finished character? There may be caveats that character creation depends on the campaign but having a completed character from each of the character schools (Bushi, Courtier, and Shugenja) would certainly help smooth out many of the conceptual hiccups that those who are unfamiliar with L5R and Rokugan are inevitably going to have.

SKILLS

Skills have undergone a reworking of their core mechanics. Skill Emphasis and Mastery have been changed to remove many static bonus to rolls. Also gone are the Insight bonus given for reaching the higher ranks. In a more positive vein, characters are no longer dinged for having only a single rank in a skill. Buying a skill Emphasis now gives you the ability to re-roll 1s once per skill check instead of adding the rank of the skill to the roll. More about how this impacts the game statically below. Masteries vary but have been standardized to occur at ranks 3,5 and 7. However, their usefulness to characters is questionable at best. Overall, the change to skill rolls is a step to a previous editions. There is little reason for players to invest in their character’s skills beyond buying the initial rank and possibly an Emphsis, if they have the experience to spend. Instead, it appears that players are supposed to be hoarding the experience earned to spend on raising Rings, which now have the greatest impact on all parts of the game.

Masteries also feel restrained in what little bonuses they grant. Many give a token 1k0 bonus, usually at rank 3 or 5. None give any free raises and only a few grant a 0k1 bonus at 7. A couple, exactly two, give an insight bonus. Otherwise, that’s it. Mechanically, this leaves the skills lacking a bite and conceptually hollow. Take the Defense skill, for instance. The rank 7 mastery gives the character the ability to use a simple action while maintaining their defensive stance. Except it can’t be used for an attack. It seems to me that this is less a reward for dedication to the skill and more like an afterthought. If a character gets so good at defending, or looking like they’re defending that it creates the opportunity to attack I fail to see any reason for not letting them do so. I’m not saying that it has to be free of a mechanical penalty, but to specifically call out specifically useful actions as being verboten, as this system does often, it does something to the player’s mentality. I think it makes them want the obvious use more and forces them to seek ways to get around the arbitrariness of the rules.

Worse, I think it causes the careful, thoughtful GM to question the rules they were handed. Forcing them to spend time retooling things which they shouldn’t have to deal with.

After using a computer dice roller to check some statistical calculations, I can’t say I’m happy with where players now stand. The lack of flat bonuses related to the Emphasizes resulted in many more failures than with. What’s even worse is that players are going to be guessing at their effectiveness. Without the flat bonus, you’re tied directly to the whims of the dice — no matter how much or how little the skill has been trained. The distinct lack of predictability strikes me as odd. Having characters who have bothered to train a skill and yet can’t know with any certainty that they are going to be successful? It’s not a good place to be as a GM. In my experience it make players less likely to engage in the sorts of risky behavior needed for heroics, or more likely to lie their way through encounters, or both.

If flat bonuses and free raises were a particular issue, and I’m not convinced that they were, then wouldn’t it have been easier to say that only X amount of bonus or N free raises apply to any given roll? As it stands, the bonuses were arbitrary and making a further arbitrary cutoff doesn’t require an extraordinary leap in logic or justification, the way taking them away does. The flat emphasis bonus also fueled a reason to invest in skills, making them a useful experience sink and gave players another way in which to make their characters unique. The insight bonus at rank 5 gave players a good bang for their experience buck.

The change in fourth edition doesn’t provide this same motivation. If anything, all it tells players to buy as many rank one skills as needed and save the rest to boost rings as fast as they can.

Were I to start a campaign today, I would have to fall back to the previous edition’s rules. This is not to say that 3rd edition skill rules were perfect but they achieved a good balance in the game. There was a motivation for raising them to the higher ranks and gave real reason for investing in more than a token Emphasis. They also gave players an alternate path to advancing their characters’ Insight rank. Despite its faults, that system felt more real and far more intuitive than the new one does. If this is the way to fixing some of the abuses that players used, I remain wholly unconvinced that it is a good, working solution.

SYSTEM

Stances provides one of the more interesting aspects of this new version. You get five to chose from, each with a different set of bonuses granted for their use and a couple have restrictions. However, as with the skill Masteries, some of the bonuses seem stingy. For instance the Full Defense stance only gives half of Defense/Reflexes roll to TN to be hit and is pretty much the only thing that character gets to do. Actions have also been tweaked and now come in the standard RPG flavors: Complex, Simple, and Move. Rounds give you a single complex action or two simple with whatever free actions. This doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if what you want to do isn’t already defined in the rules. There are a few maneuvers to pick from which can be executed with additional raises, including another attack. But these come at a steep cost in raises. Again this idea that there were too many free raises or flat bonuses seems to have raised its ugly head.

The dice get a minor reworking as well. As with previous editions, only ten dice are ever used and that for ever 2 dice rolled beyond the first ten, you get to keep an extra. For example 12k4 is turned into 10k5. What is new however is when you already have 10 kept dice, you instead get a bonus of 2 to the roll for every 2 dice kept or rolled beyond the first ten. 12k10 turns into 10k10+2 and 12k14 turns into 10k10+6.

TL;DR

The good: If you liked the previous versions of the L5R system, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this edition as well. Characters can be easily converted as most of the same game is present from previous versions. The roll and keep system, the Clans both great and small, and their respective schools that you’ve had access to before are all there. Casting and spells have gotten a much needed upgrade in ease of use and focus. Combat is given additional depth with the new Stances.

The bad: Uniformity right down to the bonuses given in each school. A quicker attack at rank 3 or 4 for the Bushi. A 5k0 bonus for the Courtiers at rank 5. The exact same list of spells, varied only by element choice. At least the Phoenix gets to pick theirs. There can be such a thing as too much balance and this system blows past that point and heads for a whole new level. Beneath the veneer of flavor text, the Clans and Schools are the same with a lack of rulesy crunch.

The ugly: The new skills rules means that unless your players are good liars, they’re going to be failing more than they did with 3rd. Expect to see a lot of Rank 1 skills once players figure out the statistics don’t change that much with higher ranks and that experience cost to insight ratio is not good at all. With the greater weight put on primary attributes characters are going to look greatly alike and be equally effective no matter the Clan and School.

[1] Methodology: Assumed an “average” roll of 6k3 in both 3rd and 4th editions with an emphasis. Rolled this 15 times. It is of no surprise that 3rd edition rules produced higher totals, a higher average, and a higher median value. What is of particular interest is that of the 12 times that a 1 got rerolled under 4th edition rules, the total was increased only twice. In both times, it was increased by 1 — an 8 was replaced by a 9 and a 5 was replaced with a 6. In no cases did the 4th edition re-roll push the total past a 5 point TN marks. This is opposed to 3rd edition +3 bonus which did push the roll total over a 5 point mark 11 of 15 times. In fact, 6 of the 15 rolls under 4th edition rules came up 1 point short of a 5 point mark. This new re-rolling of 1s may reduce catastrophic failures but it also has the effect of reducing totals.

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Design of Dubious Use Presents

Item Classifications

For some time now RPGs include various classifications for items and then link them to certain mechanical benefits or detriments in the rules. For example, the GURPS system not only had types of weapons and damage but also Tech Levels, describing the point in history where the game was taking place and what sort of items could be found there. Obstinately, this was to keep laser guns out of the medieval fantasy, but in my experience, it served only to confuse the players and cause trouble. You can see where Tech Levels get silly quickly with the addition of half levels and the +/- which modifies the meaning of a given TL in an attempt to make it more customized.

Another good example can be found in D&D. Here you find weapons classified as either Exotic or Common, slashing/bashing/piercing, and by their damage die. In purpose, these are all present to give players a strategy to work by. Certain types of weapons do better or worse against certain types of foes. In practice, this causes parties to be concerned not with the story and its elements but often with the contents. How many times have you sat down to start a game session and are hit by a barrage of questions? “Are we going to be engaging undead?” “What sort?” “Skeletons or zombies?”

From such, or because of such classification, RPGs have rules which limit what characters can do based solely on them. Proficiencies, Skills, and Talents are layered with caveats giving players access to one or two of the categories but not all. But do these classifications do anything for the roleplaying experience? Do these rules enhance the drama and the player experience or end up restricting Players and their imaginations?

Here are two situations of high drama which Characters can find themselves in.

Situation 1: Your character has been kidnapped and put in a locked room. You’ve been able to escape your bonds. There’s nothing in the room but a chair, the rope the character was tied up with, and a table. Your character hears the kidnappers coming down the hallway talking about how the ransom hasn’t been paid and they’re going to murder them.

Situation 2: Your character is in the middle of a large battle, both sides have people dying all around you. Your weapon is broken and you’re suddenly faced with an opposing champion. Your only choice is to grab a spear-like instrument currently impaling a fallen comrade.

Both of these situations can apply to a whole party, not an individual. Both have the same problem when having rules reinforcing classification systems. Can the Character take up that spear or grab that chair and make good with their life? In both situations they should be able to because it makes sense dramatically. The system should be focusing on the drama of the situation and not the objects lying about the characters. These are not the plot macguffins you put in there. This is a Character in life and death. The drama of these situations does not lie in the materials but in how they are used.

When creating a system of classification for item you create a certain intent. If that intent is to limit or restrict then you have limited and restricted how your players imagine and react to the situations presented. Does that make for good roleplaying or not?

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A brief review

A brief, albeit behind the times, review of Mage: The Awakening

I’m assuming you know what Mage is and the part it plays in White Wolf’s new World of Darkness. So briefly, I’m hitting the highlights of what I think are a good steps forward.

First, the separate base World of Darkness book, from which every other book in the set draws from is a great idea. It might be a bit much for some gamers to handle financially (adding another twenty-five dollars on top of the forty laid down for the particular WoD book you did want for a complete set of rules) but it provides one incredible advantage that the old series doesn’t. Continuity. You as a Player or GM can be assured that everyone you’re playing with is going to have the same description of skills and base mechanics. No more wondering if Alertness or Awareness (or sometimes both) is going to be the skill needed for spotting the tail you have. This continuity also produces another favorable effect that of leveling out the power level between the different lines.

While that may have been something of a shock to old Mage players, such as me, as a GM I am completely for it. No more having to adjust Vampires upwards to make them a threat to Werewolves or to Mages. No more having to mess around with trying to figure out how to balance things myself. It’s been taken care of.

Finally, there is the last half of the book. Completely filled in with Rotes and explanations of what dot of each sphere can do, it provides a far better idea as to what is and is not permitted than the previous editions ever tried to. It helps that the designers have explicitly stated that these are supposed to be used as a guideline and not as absolutes as players had previously used them as such.

It is going to take some time to find everything but this new Mage has potential. I’m considering getting the base WoD book to have a complete version of the new rules. If you haven’t checked out the new WoD (and if you’re anything like me, you haven’t), suck it up and take a gander. See if you can’t borrow a friend’s copy, it’s worthwhile.

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When writing an adventure module

The things I think about when writing an adventure module can be summed into three categories. Those are Story, Survivability, and Reward. Each one has different considerations to balance and address and each one can be a little overwhelming if taken too seriously. Inside I take each of these topics separately and the areas I address when working on the WFRP campaign.

Story: Does there have to be an overarching story? Yes, but more than that I think there should be up to three story lines going at any given moment. This way you can address the three elements most people seem to be interested in: Combat, Diplomacy, and Roleplaying. The overarching story ties the entire season or whatever you want to call it together and the other two side stories to keep people interested in playing. Ideally, I think that the overarching story has a mix of the three elements in each adventure as a way of making sure all players have a stake in what is happening. In your two off stories you can concentrate on one of the elements more to your liking. In attempting that mix you have to realize that Combat and Diplomacy are closely related. If you are not careful in using them much of what gets decided is decided by the dice and not your players. So this gets extra attention in how much it affects the story’s outcome. Also attempting to keep as many players involved in the game itself, you have allow for the different character archetypes to each get a chance to shine. While WRFP does not formalize them as much as, say, L5R has, carving out some time for the Burghers, Politicians, and Courtiers to practice their silver-tongued deviltry is something I try to keep in mind as the plotting moves along.

Survivability: The survival of the characters is a major concern that I come back to when writing WFRP modules. The reasons it comes up is twofold. WRFP is a system which can be very lethal to PCs. One good Ulric’s Fury and you’re staring at a dead table. This can be a serious detriment for players. Part of having a living campaign is to give your players a chance to step deeply into their character’s world. Having the character investment be shallow means you get the same shallow buy-in to your campaign. That is not something I want. Secondly, Fate Points are there to help counter this but they are an extremely limited player currency. I don’t want to force my PCs to use them unless it is completely necessary and I don’t want to hand them out continually. Unless the drama of that module calls for it, the use of FP is something I actively look to write around. This tension between the system’s lethality and the needs of a long term campaign can be a difficult balance to achieve. If this was a system that was still being actively published, a better understanding of creatures and how to craft combat encounters is something that I would take to the developers. As it stands, having to refine it takes a backseat to the many other tasks as the series keeps going forward.

Rewards: Rewarding players and character in an ongoing campaign effectively is the final tough point. In the campaign, I am terming the rewards as “Opportunities”. These include the ability to create new characters in races not set forth in the campaign guide, careers created for the campaign, experience, items, and of course Dwarven Magic, er, gold. In this WFRP campaign, one of the first decisions I made was to make all starting characters human by default and to take away a few of the careers. Not to get into all of the reasons for doing such, but the big was that this is the human Empire. I want this version of it to be populated and saved mostly by them. In doing this, it made setting up a dwarf or elf character as a reward. And in the first module, The Faire, (soon to be out, just give me another day or two) part of the rewards are careers which are specifically created for the campaign. Experience is something I’m working on standardizing. On the whole my thoughts are that a single session should have the potential for one advancement. In doing so, it should be become predictable in how far characters are able to advance at any given point in the campaign. The same goes for items and gold. It may seem cheep to want to control these things but this goes right back to player enjoyment and trying to have a certain sense of fairness.

Witch Hunter: The Invisible World

I played a new game this past weekend. Witch Hunter, The Invisible World is a swashbuckling sort of RPG based on some real world history but with several twists. It is the late seventeenth century and you are part of world-wide network of Witch Hunters who track and eliminate those corrupted by The Adversary. Magic exists and you spend some of your effort working to keep it hidden.  America is still largely unexplored. The Dark Heart of Africa is as mysterious as it is dangerous. The Spanish find themselves at odds against a surprisingly strong foe in the Aztecs and Cortez has been killed.

One of the things which influenced my decision to give the system a try is that the publisher, Paradigm Concepts, supports it through a living campaign. In my opinion, a living campaign is one of the best signs that a company takes their published RPGs seriously in a good way. It shows that the company is trying to engage itself with their fans. It shows that the publisher wants to do more than just publish; it is actively supporting its products. And it gives potential customers a quick taste of the game world to help make up their minds.

Character creation is complicated process but ultimately fulfilling. The other players and I were able to take our concepts and see them as characters without much compromise. I played a Franciscan Monk whose main abilities are to know a lot and provide buffs, um, I mean blessings. Brother Leon is part of the Lightbringers, a group of witch hunters who intend to make the world better through science. The rest of the group was made up a mercenary, a professional solider, and a poet who happens to be handy with a sword.

The adventure, an early entry in the living campaign, took our characters to New London, Connecticut where a recent fire has destroyed a family. However, in our dreams it seems the fire disguised the abduction of the two children. Our task was to investigate the fire and to find out if the children had died along with their parents or if something more sinister has happened. It played out in standard fashion, rather predictable but that is not necessarily bad. In fact it was positively a boon as it gave us a chance to get a handle on mechanics while not overburdening us with the minutia of plot.

The system is a World of Darkness clone, but more restrictive. There are 9 main attributes and a slew of skills. The Attributes are scored between 1 and 5. Skills are checked in WoD fashion: Designated Attribute is added to skill level and that many dice are thrown. Successes happen on a 7 and greater while 10s re-rolled for additional successes. The restrictions come in two areas. First, this is a point build system. All Attributes start at 2 and points are used to increase them. 3s are 10 pts., 4s are 30 pts., and 5s are 60 pts. You get 100 points to spend and these points can only be used for buying Attributes.

Those used to starting with well-rounded characters are going to be frustrated with Witch Hunter. Starting skills are assigned by occupation and these are the only ones you get. It is designed around characters having one point in all of the starting skills except for a few, rare exceptions. For my monk I was able to allocate several points in language skills and a couple in his lore and philosophy skills but was only given one point to put into his combat and defenses. While this does fit with the character’s concept, it does restrict his role in the game to a few areas.

Not that it made much practical difference. The designers did their homework. Those areas that your character is good at have five or six dice to roll and most of the skill tests our characters went through needed only one success to pass. After the first couple of tests, we were very comfortable with the statistics and plunged into the task presented in the adventure.

Combat is different from the standard skill test. Weapons in this system have a complexity rating. This represents two things. First, the rating the number of dice removed from you pool when making an attack. If you had six dice to throw for the skill check, you could easily find yourself looking at having only 2 or 3, depending on what weapon you chose. That is easily overcome by selecting the appropriate talents at character creation or by having the weapon blessed before combat. Second, and this is the fun part, the complexity rating is the amount of automatic damage done by the weapon should you pierce the opponent’s defenses.

Defense is simpler. Armor gives a small amount of automatic damage soaking, but otherwise the character’s defense is based on a roll made at the beginning of each combat round. The number of successes rolled is the number of successes subtracted from your opponents attacking roll. However, this defense pool is reduced by all of your opponent’s attacks. If you find your character swarmed by a three or four of small baddies, as I did with my monk, there is a good chance that they’re going to be badly hurt since all of those opponents are taking away from the same defense pool. Once that is depleted then all your opponent needs is a single and if they’re wielding a weapon with a complexity of 4 then things become lethal quickly.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience. The setting has some nice twists in it making it more than a surrogated trip through history. For experienced players, the skills and combat should be quickly picked up but those less experienced are going to need some watching over.

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Stuff I'm up to

Since I’ve not had a chance to get another post this week so I thought I’d go over the things that have been occupying my time.

Warhammer module writing has been a bit part of it. This week The Rats Below was edited and is now ready to run at the KC Game fair. I’m very happy with it, having brought it down to 9 pages from 11 without losing a single inch of plot. It flows better, it reads easier, and hopefully it should be easier to run. Not that I’ve put it out there for anyone else to grab just yet, but that will be happening soon enough.

The other big thing I’ve been working on this week is a fourth WFRP module. The original idea I had been writing just was not working. Then on Monday I had a sudden inspiration. In writing these, I’ve been trying to introduce different themes of the WFRP world I find interesting. Where I had been going for some steampunk and greenskins, I kept hitting a wall.  The plot was just not working, it felt too contrived. I ended up taking the  “What will you do” moment from the first, placed it in the rewrite and away it went. Shoving the pcs out into an isolated forest village is a much better and more natural fit. That rewrite is half way written and I’m going to try to get the major plot points finished this week so that the details and editing is all that’s left to do.

I like this new plot for several reasons. It got me out of the writing funk that had settled in. And has me thinking about the overall plot for this campaign. There are a few stories I want to follow up with that stem from events in The Rats Below that I think are especially fun in Warhammer. Those should be written up quickly since I have a good feel for what I want to do. However, it may mean missing NanoWriMo because of it.

Which leaves editing and fleshing out of the introduction module, The Faire. This is a behemoth of a module and not something I’ve been looking forward to. It currently sits at 15 pages and just under 11k words. Not the biggest one out there but it’s big enough. That also needs to be done and have pregen characters ready, for KC Game Fair.

Hopefully the events submitted will be accepted. I put in three, one session of The Faire and two of The Rats Below. That way people can catch up who haven’t been able to come over and get ready for the next one currently being written.

I’ve also been thinking about my follow up to last week’s expansion of the rpg market article. I’m thinking of trying to get an interview with some marketing departments. Right now I’m looking at Steve Jackson Games and White Wolf. The two of these seem to be a good place to start. But first, I need to come up with questions to ask them. Since this is still mostly a vanity site, I’ll have to be much more prepared to show that this isn’t just for my own edification. Once I have them written, we’ll see what happen.

Beer wise, I wish I could say that more was happening, but there isn’t anything at all. I have two bottles left in the fridge from the ‘make your own six pack’ that netted the beers used in other reviews. I will eventually be getting to them in a future review.

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Building up the rpg market

The amount of money being spent on various forms of entertainment these days is growing, but for some reason, the RPG market remains in its limited scope. Why is this?  Considering that one of the biggest trends in entertainment has been the so-called interactive experience, I find it surprising that RPGs haven’t been touted loudly. The core of RPGs is interaction and the sharing of fun with other people.  However, I realize that these games have had a controversial existence marked with swathes of provocative misinformation and purposeful misunderstandings hounding those who play them.

Perceptions of what these games are and those who play them are the biggest culprit. Not long ago, some umbrage with the images and themes used in the biggest of games, Dungeons and Dragons. Grabbing the headlines, blame for all sorts of horrid and completely imaginary events was unjustly laid at the feet of a mere game. If you look in the right places you can still find this going on today. One of the saddest of these demonetizations came from Jack Chick and his ignorant pamphlets. In it, he unsubtly proclaims that playing D&D leads directly to devil worship, and does so in the most serious of terms. If it wasn’t so sad, all of this would be hilarious. However, since many took them seriously much damage was done to the reputation of RPGs.

To counter these perceptions we must be proactive in advocacy. And to do that we must be honest with ourselves about what we are doing.

Role Playing Games are make believe. Dressed up with esoteric rules and polyhedral dice, we project ourselves into worlds of fantastic designs, supernatural powers, and heroic paragons. But at the very core of this experience is a game of make believe. Couched in these terms RPGs don’t seem very dangerous. Practically childish, in fact.  This is a good thing. It takes a sprained mind to twist such a simple idea. However, there is someone else to consider in terming it this way. Us. It will probably take some time for gamers to become comfortable with these terms, nonetheless, this must happen before progress can be made.

Once the idea of “make believe” has been accepted by everyone, we can build on it to show that it’s not a childish escape. There is intellectual, cultural, and artistic merit to the things we do.  In taking on these alternative personas, we get a chance to experience life from a different perspective. Questions of a philosophical nature are given life in new and exciting ways not easily experienced in everyday life. This acceptance even gives us a chance to explain the iconography in proper context, finally pushing our hobby out of the metaphorical dungeon it has been languishing in.

There is a second perception which needs to be addressed. The perception of ourselves.

I have been to GenCon twice now and have to say that I could not have met and had fun with nicer people. Strangers and friends alike, everyone found themselves enjoying the fun. Everything else was ignored as unimportant. Gender, identity, ethnicity, and the lines which generally divide humanity were all tossed away. It’s hard to explain to those who have never experienced anything like it, but for all too briefly the only important matter was laughter and fun.

So why do we accept the picture of a basement dwelling, misogynistic, agoraphobe drenched in sour smelling stains of sweat as the public face for this particular facet of our lives? Why do gamers, RPG players in particular, allow this stereotype to continue unchallenged?

The vast majority of us aren’t represented by this view. For some unknown reason, we tolerate it, and it keeps people away. I’m beginning to think that deep inside we are all elitist assholes. That we don’t want other people to play if it’s not someone already approved. I hope this isn’t the case because it couldn’t be further from how I feel. I like including more people, new people, in my sessions. I like new faces because it means we get new views on the story. There will always be a few outliers that do live in their parent’s basement, eschewing greater social contact for the insulating glow of 20 watt bulbs and the screen of their computers, but that does not mean we accept it as the face the rest of the world judges us by. It by no means is me, my wife, or my friends.

A few years back Wil Wheaton gave the keynote at PAX. In it, he goes through why he continues his gaming and why he exposed his kids to it. In the end he give some sage advice to those who want to spread the word. Don’t be a dick. I cannot think of a singular, simpler way to express what must be done to get more people to join in the fun.

Play. Have fun. Include strangers. And don’t be a dick.

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Embracing Change in the RPG universe

They can’t away your books. Really, they can’t.

Games change. New companies buy licenses, old companies get new developers, different ideas are bandied about to see what sticks. The point is nothing remains the same forever. Not even your favorite RPG system. In the last couple of years the RPG world has been inundated by change. WotC announced and brought to market D&D 4th edition. Paizo responded by having one of the most open, transparent, and popular beta testings of a new system, their D&D 3.5 based system, Pathfinder. And at GenCon this year both Fantasy Flight Games and AEG announced that two popular systems, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Legend of the Five Rings, respectively, are going to see new versions published in the next six months.

Yet all of this change is not completely welcomed. There is something in the makeup of many gamers that does not welcome these changes; something in how habits are formed. Wherein, playing at the same time each week, at the same house, with the same system and same GM, over and over again, an inertia is created that is not easily overcome. So much so that it is usually not nearly enough when one person in that group may want to try something different, it is the whole group which must embrace something new in order for it to happen.

However, it is shortsighted to say that this is only in the hands of players. The companies which produce and publish these games also bear some culpability. They also get trapped in inertia, but of a different nature. These are habits of risk avoidance and profit seeking. It is expensive to bring major change to an established series; development and testing is rarely free and advertisement is pricey. Faced with these costs is it no wonder that new versions can take decades to reach a release. There is also the matter of previous advertisement that the publishers must deal with. You don’t have to look very hard to find where these were declared “The Best Evar!” and “Will Never Be Replaced!”. All of which has no small contribution to the risks that fans often reject changes outright.

I, too get caught up in these feelings and am tempted to go down the path of least resistance. Perhaps a smarter idea would be to admit that games change to fit the times. Popular roleplaying systems today may not be popular next year. We need to admit that there is no such thing as “The Best Evar!” and that a fanatical adherence to any particular system is a disservice to our experiences and time spent with friends. We must also respect differences in opinion; admitting not everyone enjoys or feels the same way is as important to remember as is having fun.

Most importantly, we need to remind ourselves that they can never take away our books. Just because a new version comes out, our books do not stop working. The words are still there and can still be used to create whatever world you see fit. Nothing is stopping your keyboard from writing new adventures and playing them. Just because a new version comes out, does not mean our previous experiences are magically invalidated. Your memories of fun and excitement do not disappear into a void, they are as much yours to keep as are the books. And finally, just because a new version comes out it does not mean that you have to embrace it. If the old is what you like, then by all means stick to it. There is nothing in this world compelling you to buy everything new. That sort of blind loyalty is as destructive as blindly rejecting the new.

In return for this reasonable reaction to the new, publishers need to respond with like. Make available unfettered electronic copies of previous versions so that books may be replaced as they age and wear out. If you have done your jobs correctly, then it should be cheap, simple, and profitable to do so. I also ask that publishers stop with the advertisements that push ideas of exclusivity and fanaticism of your systems. Trouble only follows when your fans become fanatics. You cannot predict when they will turn on you. Open up your development process to be seen and stop keeping every little thing a secret. Remember that communication no longer takes the form of monthly magazines. If you want us to embrace change, then let us witness it as it occurs. We have a world which communicates in seconds what used to take days or weeks. Allow us the chance to see the justification for change.

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