Chuck Dee

Tabletop

The End

#rpg, #RPGaDay2020, #Tabletop

Prompt: Experience

I've tried to do these before, but have never kept up with them past the first few days. With the exception of the last couple of days of the month, this time I did it!

  1. What does that show me? It is possible for me to keep up with a blog for an extended period of time.
  2. What was different this time? I've been trying this new method of planning out my day- keeping a Zettelkasten, and having daily notes. I put this, another prompt that I was working on personally, and my agile board for completing my campaign on it. I also tried to put everything for the day, and as I did things, I moved them to the completed area of the board. I also indicated what I was going to carry over. It's been helpful to me as I have pursued purchasing a house also, as there are a lot of little things that you have to do when going through that process. But for the other two areas it was helpful also- and pretty much in every area, including work. The tags and maps help me to get back to everything later.
  3. Why did I miss the last couple of days? Moving, which I think is a pretty acceptable excuse. But it also lets me know that I can have things interrupt, and because it is my deadline, as long as I'm disciplined enough to come back to it, that's OK too.
  4. What about #RPGaDay2020 in particular? It was a fun exercise. Some of the days were a bit challenging and forced me to think outside of the box. Some were a bit light because of that fact, but I think I made some interesting entries. It might be a bit harder to come up with topics for a blog outside of this, but this experience has caused me to seriously think about continuing, even if just for my sake.

Thanks to all that followed and/or commented! And thanks to the organizers!

Portal the Game

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Prompt: Portal

A strange one. This one first sparked in me a memory of Portal. And from there... well you'll just have to go with me on this one. Portal is a game from Valve. It is a pretty unique game- or at least it was- that had a few things going on. First of all, you didn't know the whole story, or pretty much any of the story starting out. You were a blank slate. It was a first person game, where your only weapon was a portal gun that you learned how to use while solving puzzles. You could point it in one place, and make a portal, then another place, and make another. Then you could travel through them. Or push things through them. There was more to it, but that's not relevant to where this stream of consciousness took me...

... how many times have their been unique mechanics implemented in RPGs that invoke the feel just from playing? I love aspects in Fate, because they can be anything – especially with the Bronze Rule (Fate Fractals). But I'm not really familiar with any other games that even come close to the idea.

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Mile Marker Imagae

Prompt: Ride

I remember when I was younger, the hardest thing (next to finding people who wanted to play) was finding transportation to get to a gaming session. I spent about two hours on the bus to make it across town to a friend's house in large part because the bus didn't go directly to his house. And I remember more than once having to run after the last bus because I'd cut it too close, though I never actually missed the bus to come home. I also had to ride the bus to the store in order to even buy them as the city only had a few places to find them.

As I grew older, there were more people to play, and more places to buy the books, but even though the number of players is not decreasing, the number of stores where you can buy the books is rapidly doing so. Though I can buy from Amazon and other places on line, nothing compares to browsing in a store. The only places close that I can do that (or could before the pandemic) was Barnes & Noble. I wonder if I should gain more of a tolerance for a long ride to support those that are an hour away- after all, I did it when I couldn't drive...

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Going out of Business Sign

Prompt: Close

If there's one thing consistent about Tabletop Gaming stores – it's that they close.

I can rattle off a few names: Oxford Games and Comics, The War Room, Sword of the Phoenix- there are many more. Making a living off of a niche industry is hard, and you learn to adapt or die. I worked for years for a game shop, and the owner stopped adapting. For a while he did, branching out into Poker Chips (as big a seller as Magic cards, believe it or not), Chilmark (another big seller), How to Host a Murder, Osprey Books – whatever he needed to do in order to turn a profit and allow the game store to remain in business. He became a distributor, supporting shops in smaller towns that the larger distributors wouldn't supply with favorable terms, and moved from prestigious places to others that were less so when the years became leaner. We'd even set up an online store for the shop, hoping that would bring more business in (and it helped me get some web work under my belt while I was in college), but nothing worked. I remember talking to him before the decision came down, and he said that he'd put away a lot from the best years, but it had been a few years since he actually turned a profit. With Diamond/Alliance swallowing up all of the smaller distributors, it was rare that he was able to actually get favorable terms by going direct. He could keep the place open for a few more years on the liquidity that he had in the business, or call it a day, and chose to do the latter, though he really didn't want to do so.

Now with the pandemic and quarantines, I'm not sure how many more that were just hanging on like he was will be forced to close. I can personally get games from Amazon pretty easily, but I'd rather support someone- but what do you do when there's no one to support. The closest store to me is almost an hour away. And given the shrinking number of stores, how long until there will truly be no one to support? It's a sad thought, but I don't really know of any real solutions.

What are some thoughts on how game stores can survive and even thrive in these troubling times?

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Prompt: Favour

Though many adventures start with doing someone a favor, this particular spelling of the word directed my mind to another definition of the word- favour given by a patron or organization. When running a game, I like for my cities to be alive, and not revolve around the PCs. But I also want the PCs to be embroiled in the operations and invested in the outcome. It's hard to have a good balance between a patron railroading the PCs actions and being entangled with them of their own volition. I was able to get partway there with the city creation rules in Fate- first in The Dresden Files RPG, and then with Fate Core as it had it baked in. The organizations had their own Aspects that the PCs could find out about and tag for effect, helping to build the narrative around them. But this still gave little mechanical benefit when the organizations were not directly involved. I recently did a playtest for Swords of the Serpentine by Pelgrane Press, and the final piece of the puzzle slotted itself into places- the PCs have ratings with the different organizations- both positive and negative- to indicate their involvement. These ratings are fluid- as the PCs have positive or negative interactions with the groups, their ratings increase and decrease, and with an increased rating comes an increased presence, increased support, and increased obligation. This allowed for the PCs interactions to have an impact on how they maneuvered in the city, and made the city seem more alive in play. I just need to find out some way to represent the dealings that the organizations have with each other in a more dynamic manner without having to manually work these angles or randomly generate them.

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Strange Shoreline

Prompt: Strange

How do you inject a feeling of strangeness into your game? Not outright horror, though it can descend to that. But the subtle feeling that something is not quite right, to get the players' attention without crossing over that line to the obvious? I find the use of the other four senses a good way of calling attention to something that gives a creeping suspicion that the players are walking into something on the wierd side. The faint sound of flapping in the wind like the wings of a wounded bird. The sudden rise of goosebumps as the wind chills a few degrees. The cloying smell of decaying flowers. The heat parching the throat, making the player swallow. The slimy feel of the bannister, leaving a bitter, tingling residue on the hand. Even better, use the senses in strange ways, twisting expectations. The taste of copper on the tongue, heavy in the air. There is also the negative use of senses. The most obvious used ones are the wildlife going silent, but an example could also be the sudden stillness of the air.

The use of metaphors or onomatopoeia (as long as they don't fall into overuse) can also signal that things are a bit off. The delivery of these concepts is as important as what is actually said- if you're trying to jar your players, then even how you say it should invoke that dissonance. “As you make your way through the forest- SNAP!” This communicates viscerally that the player's stealth was compromised. “As your movements disturb the night, the natural sounds die down, and you hear swift movement in the forest off of your left shoulder.”

How do you communicate foreboding strangeness to your players?

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Prompt: Lever

When we played Rolemaster the companions were a bit overwhelming with all of the options, so we had to pare them down. Same with GURPS. This was my first introduction to Levers in designing a campaign. There are some systems that are ready built, and anything you do to them are outside those parameters are homebrew rules, and not necessarily well received or expected by the players. I like those well enough. But the toolkit RPGs GURPS, Fate (and FUDGE), Rolemaster- those were my bread and butter, being able to tweak little things by using optional rules that were included. Those made me prepared for using engines to design hacks- Powered by the Apocalypse, Forged in the Dark, GUMSHOE, Rooted in Trophy- those systems that are released to be able to adapted.

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Prompt: Humour

I've never been the type to crack a joke or think of something witty at a moment's notice. I've always been more logical and reasoned. Even when I have a rare moment of insight into the mind of jokester, it has always been rooted in something of a more logical origin. I like a good comedian, and a good comedy- I've just never had the mindset of creating that comedic moment. I preface this particular entry with that disclaimer so that it can be more clearly understood when I say that I just don't like comedic games. I've tried them, and they've definitely been something that has taken me out of my comfort zone, and unlike some other pursuits that do the same, I've not come out of them with any clearer understanding of the purpose nor how to participate. Toon, Paranoia, and a host of others. When humor is naturally injected as a result of the narrative, that's a different thing. We had a situation in our last Pathfinder game where the druid had trailed the party because he had some other gathering to do, and decided to wild shape into a dinosaur- I forget the type, but it was akin to a velociraptor- and pursue the party. He happened to come up on the necromancer from behind, and she turned, ready to take possession of a soon to be undead dinosaur for her entourage. That whole situation and the glee that the player described in her eyes, and the abject fear in the eyes of the dino as they rolled for initiative- her glee turning to sadness when he got initiative and was able to shapechange back to the druid, was hilarious! But that wasn't planned, and wasn't the point of the whole thing. The closest I've come to enjoying something in this vein was Tales of the Floating Vagabond, but that wasn't purely an exercise in humor, even though it was very much absurd. I know that some get great enjoyment from it, and recount their Toon or Paranoia sessions with mirth, but it just runs cold to me.

Cyberpunk Cityscape

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Prompt: Edge

Edgerunner- a person striving to survive and prosper in a 'punk type universe, derived from the fact that they're always on the edge between success and disaster. I was introduced to cyberpunk through William Gibson, as many were, and it immediately captured my imagination. Not too far into the future as to be unobtainable, but far enough to seem 'cool' and 'futuristic'. Though I played science fiction games, my first cyberpunk game was Cyberpunk in the black box with Friday Night Firefight as the combat system. I actually still have a shrinkwrapped copy, as I wanted to have a copy just in case something happened to my primary copy in the old beat up box. We moved from there to Cyberpunk 2020, and branched out into Shadowrun, Cyberspace, and GURPS Cyberpunk. Just on the other side of Cyberpunk lay Transhumanism, and delving into that in several books made me love the idea, but want it to be grittier than most transhumanist stories were- my sweet spot lay in the world Altered Carbon, Transmetropolitan, and Ray Winninger's Underground. I'm really not sure of the allure of the media- it's ugly, violent, and shows the worst, most cynical part of humanity. I suppose what I like about it is the fact that even in the darkest of places, if the hero is willing, he can be the brighter side. The Cases and Kovacs of the world. Sting put it best, I think, “At night, a candle is brighter than the sun.” And though many of my heroes died in pursuit of that dream, they made for some damned good stories.

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Prompt: Rare

I collect games to be complete and because I want to read and play them. I know I have a few rare pieces in my collection, but they are valuable to me for the content rather than the monetary value. Below, I'll detail a few that I know are valuable monetarily, but of value to me more for the content.

The Black Company RPG

I love the Black Company by Glen Cook, so when this was released, I had to have it. What I love about the Black Company is that at its root it is a character based story, set in a terrible war where the main characters have little power, and just struggle to survive. It later migrates a bit from those roots, but you can always trace it back to those beginning stories. Others that I have or wish that they'd make that are in the same vein are The Powder Mage series (already available for Savage Worlds) and Malazan Book of the Fallen (not adapted)

The Authority RPG

I love the Authority by Warren Ellis, for the characters and the themes of Superheroes on a level that we rarely see them, facing foes that are unlike those that I'd seen in comics before this. For all of that, the story was more rooted in the character study of the various heroes and how they dealt with the threats and others perceptions of them. Others in this same vein that I'd love to see adapted include Stormwatch and Planetary.

Dune Chronicles of the Imperium

At times, I think I prefer Dune to Star Wars, though it is a close fight. Where Star Wars leans on the melodramatic, Dune veers towards a more esoteric version of the future, based on things in the past that flow through its DNA. Though many don't like the Brian Herbert prequels, I love them- they are less dry than the Silmarillion and other prequels for Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, and serve much the same purpose- to set the stage for the stories that we know and love. To be able to play in that world is quite intoxicating, even if I only use the book for reference rather than the rules.

Supernatural RPG

I started watching Supernatural when it was first released, but after the first few seasons laid it down, and didn't pick it back up until my daughter became interested in it. I love the mythology of the world, as messy as it is, and started to try to find the game after watching it with her, thinking that perhaps I could get her to try it. I found out that it was quite sought after, but found a reasonable copy on ebay at almost cover price. Before we could play it, our move came up, and I'm not sure where it is now. I hope it just got packed away somewhere, but I fear the worst. This one really hurt because of the interest sparked in her eyes when she saw the book.