Autumn Update

Hello, I hope your Fall has been a good one!

I attended Big Bad Con 2018 a little while ago. As per usual it was a lot of fun – I got to meet a lot of great people, play a bunch of games, and I also ran two – Tall Pines and Bluebeard’s Bride.

I’ve been toying around with some OSR hacks recently. I definitely want to playtest some ideas and probably throw some rules up here. Look for those soon (hopefully)!

3 Ways To Play Better

I spend a lot of time playing with new players, and often get questioned about how one can learn to roleplay better. A lot of people ask about improv classes, how into a particular system you need to be to play it well, other game and acting-related strategies.

While these are all good, I think there are much easier things that you can do to elevate your play. Here are three suggestions I often give. Let me know others that you feel improves play.

Address other players’ flags

Flags are bits players set out to indicate their interest.

Some systems mechanize these things – in Burning Wheel you can see the Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits of other characters. These are direct call-outs to things the player will find interesting. Bring them up in play, address and challenge them, put yourself into situations where the player gets to call on the mechanics for these things.

A popular hack of Dungeon World even swaps out Bonds for direct calls to action, rewarding the players when they engage discrete actions defined by the flags. I think this is a great adjustment to the game, and can easily see this being ported into other rewards systems.

Other games may not have discrete, mechanical flags, but they exist in all games. Players pick certain classes for reason, they usually invest into skills that will solve problems they are interested in, they tie themselves to the relationships they feel will drive their play forward.

The player of the Cleric in your group probably has some thoughts about religion within the game, they may even have a strong desire to help other characters throughout the game. Take time to ask them about these things – maybe turn to them for questions about their understanding of the cosmology of the setting. Look to them for aid. When a situation arises where you can help another character, leverage their experience to gain insight on how you can potentially help others.

By using, addressing, and challenging these flags you create a culture at your table where every player is interweaving their actions into the interests of every other player. While you aren’t responsible for each others fun, if someone says “hey, making my character look cool by doing/talking about/engaging with *this*”, and its not to your detriment or the detriment of others at the table – its an easy win to collaboratively create fun at the table.

Sometimes this can be thought of as making other players’ characters look awesome, but it works just as well in games where looking awesome may not be part of the theme, which is why I think flags are a better tool than some rule of cool.

Don’t Block

Roleplaying is an awesome hobby where the world we are playing in is communally created from our imaginations. Its a place to throw out ideas, toy with fantastical concepts, and bounce cool scenes off of each other.

One of the worst feelings is to be told that something you have come up with is dumb. It feels like being dunked in icy water to propose an idea, thinking it will be fun for the whole table, only to have one of your fellow players tear it down.

Always be open to accepting the suggestions of your fellow gamers. This doesn’t mean everything goes wholesale. Sometimes there may be something that just doesn’t work as-is. If this happens to the case, be kind to the other player – tell them what you appreciate about the idea, then see if you can figure out if there is a form that the suggestion could take that applies to the game.

Maybe a suggested origin story for a race in the game doesn’t fit with the lore, but you can talk with that player to find out what it is about the origin they like, and work in the theme or idea behind their suggestion, if not the exact story suggested.

Communicate

There is no greater advice for roleplaying (or probably any human interaction) than to communicate honestly and openly.

Take time to check in with others. If it seems like someone is bothered by something, ask them if this is the case. If you have reservations about a scene or a topic, bring it up to the group.

Encourage your gaming group to talk to each other like adults, and let everyone know that their thoughts and feelings are appreciated. No matter the scope or topic of the game, make sure to occasionally take time to check in, see how everyone is feeling, what everyone is excited about. Facilitate the kind of game where everyone is comfortable talking to each other, working to play the best version of the game you all want to be playing.

Gen Con 2018

Well, almost another year went by and my commitment to blogging has failed yet again.

I made my yearly trip to Indianapolis for Gen Con. This was a pretty good year. It felt a tad lighter than previous years, I have not checked the numbers so far, so I don’t know if that is because there was less people, or if they did a better job at spreading out events to other locations.

None the less I spent a majority of my time running and playing in Games on Demand. I offered Into the Odd and a playtest of Freebooters on the Frontier 2e, but every session that I ran was Into the Odd.

I had a lot of fun, some people who had never played an “OSR” or DIY D&D game, and some who have. I felt every session was a success, and had a great time with everyone who showed up.

As for hauls – I bought way too much. Some Game Science dice, the Magpie Games aschans, the new Runequest, all of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Gen Con supplements, the collected Parsley, too much more to name.

I also got to hang out at Metal Church, the 3rd annual Sunday meetup of roleplaying metal heads, where Luke, Dro, and Adam discussed playing metal while playing.

I’ve been slowly recovering at work, but am definitely lacking on sleep. Hopefully I can actually make blogging, socializing, etc. a regular thing. I just often find it more work than I want to contribute to. I often like gaming over posting about gaming, but I do want to continue analysis and discussion.

GM Responsibilities

If there is one thing that bugs the most about “conventional” RPG wisdom is the idea of what the GM is responsible for. The GM is a player adjacent role, and aside form a few exceptions regarding the responsibilities that an individual game prescribes to a GM, they should have nearly identical responsibilities that other players of the game. I want to address a few of these typically shouldered by the GM and why I do not think they are valid.

The GM is responsible for everyone’s fun.

This notion is perhaps my biggest pet peeve when it comes to gaming. Somehow people got it in their head that the GM was the one that was not only facilitating the game, but facilitating everyone’s fun as well.

We are only responsible for our own fun, nobody is beholden to anyone else’s fun but their own. Of course you want to be a good human and looks out for others, provide value to their life, and contribute to the game in ways that they enjoy – but it is not your responsibility to do so.

Each player has to have a good understanding of their own desires, likes, dislikes, limits, etc. Nobody else should have to entirely understand all those facets of your personality. If something is bothering you, you should speak up about it. If there’s something you’d like to see in play with someone else’s character, you should discuss it with them. You are responsible for your own fun. If you find yourself unable to have fun with a group it is up to you to recognize that and properly move on.

The idea that the GM has to police everyone else’s experience is oddly condescending to me – as if all the players are not adult enough to communicate as humans about their likes and dislikes.

Be kind to your players, fellow gamers, and game master. If they ask you to do something, or not do something, to make the game more enjoyable for them, consider doing it if it does not impede on your own fun (and discuss with them if it does), but if someone is not having fun and not taking initiative to correct that themselves – it is nobody’s fault but their own.

The GM is responsible for having the greatest mastery of their system out their group.

This is a responsibility often brought about by convention, but is worth stating that the GM doesn’t have to be their group’s particular system master.

The GM is often the person in the group who bought the game, read the rules, put together a pitch for play, and preppred whatever was needed – so often they are the person who understands the rules the best. But that is by no means a requirement to play.

A solid understanding of the core mechanic, what systems and possibility spaces the game provides, and generally where to find rules should generally be within the GM’s grasp, but it is perfectly fine to delegate rules expertise to players. Maybe one person is playing a particular kind of wizard – let them become the expert on the magic system and delegate rules questions to them. This may even be beneficial if you have players who like being percieved as the rules expert.

We all have busy lives, and many of us (especially myself) are terrible at memorizing everything a game has to offer. By splitting up the responsibily of game expert we make it easier for the group as a whole to have an understanding of the game, and to allow everyone to learn the game as much as they want or need to over time.

The GM prepares and tells the story.

Roleplaying games have always been presented as the most expressive and imaginative form of gaming, so it bewilders me that at some point in its development people got in their mind that the GM is the one who tells the story.

This can trivially be shown to be false by the paradox presented by “The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast” – the contradiction that exists if you say that the GM is the author of a story, but that the players are the protagoists of that story with any amount of free will. If the players can make impactful choices – the GM isn’t the author. If the GM is the author – the players cannot make meaningful choices.

When I join a roleplaying game, no matter how “traditional” or free-form or GMless or GMfull or whatever, I want to be ensured that as long as I am playing within a core setting and situation decided by the group or someone in the group, that I can make meaningful choices about my character, and that my actions can change the overall story of the game. I especially do not want the GM to use Illusionism – the act of pretending my choices have meaning while behind-the-screen hiding that they ultimately do not. I as a GM also want to be suprised by the game I am playing, which is impossible if I have prepped the story.

Story is something that happens after the game – story is the reflection of the events that occurred in game. So if the GM already has a story, all of the events are already decided. A good commentary on an alternative can be found at the Alexandrian with “Don’t Prep Plots”.

Wrapping Up

That was a lot longer than I expected, and I still have more “responsibilities” that I think need to be called out as not existing. I will probably write a follow-up to this in the future. So what do you think – any of these that you agree or disagree with? What GM responsibilities do you think that are assumed are actually not a requirement for the GM?

Big Bad Con 2017

I got “back” from Big Bad Con this prior Sunday. Since I was commuting from home every day I wasn’t really gone, but it was a bit of a commute. I believe I say this every year but next year I should really get a room.

I ran Inheritance which I hope to review soon. Its an amazing game, and I was especially lucky to have a large cast of super talented players that really brought the game to life.

I also ended up playing several games. Off the top of my head I remember playing Into the Odd, Burning Wheel, Tales from the Loop, and Witch: Road to Linsfarne. Out of the new games I played (everything but Burning Wheel), I will have short-take reviews shortly.

The con is absolutely the best roleplaying convention I attend every year. I love going to GenCon, but the games, people, and size of Big Bad is absolutely perfect. I cannot recommend it higher if you are in the Bay Area next October.