Thursday, January 8, 2015

RPG ABCs


Grover: O.G.
There are people who make a whole month out of something like this but fuck that I'm busy.

A- Asia. My default fantasy land isn't fake Europe. There are kappas and Monkey Kings and rakshasasasases in it. The monsters aren't all stand ins for Swedes or Celts or Jews. They're here to remind you the natural world around you will fuck you up and never care.
B- Backup Character. Always have one, one you want to play at any moment. Don't get too attached to your guy. Take risks because that's the only way your guy is any fun and if things don't work out just play your other guy.
C- Conan. Inevitable. Thankfully. Another post and time.
D- Do It Yourself. This need not be a hobby where we wait to be given something. This must not be that. The life and liberty of this medium is the ability of any idiot who knows how to make a 4 and what pencils do to create everything anyone needs to play anything on the spot. At DENNYS.
E- Easy. GMml equations are not tricky per se but they are my threshold for how difficult it has to be to engage your system, or your world, or your dungeon, or whatever. For my players I want everything to be even easier. If resolving any one particular judgment takes more than four steps piss off with that.
F- Funny Business. Do not force comedy but let comedy happen. I ask that people enjoy playing the games I'm in and take enjoying them (and that the rest of us want to enjoy them) seriously. I never demand they take the lich king seriously. Either I or the other DM can MAKE them take the lich king seriously or he deserves to be laughed at, and yknow that's a fun night too.
G- Good, Giving, and Game. Line Dan Savage always uses about being a lover. In bed you always want to be Good at what you're doing or try to get better, Giving and caring and selfless and attentive and communicative, and Game for all kinds of new experiences, knowing that not everything is going to be your cup of tea but that discovery is part of the fun of all this. So all that, but at the table with cheetos and acquaintances.
H- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. No, fuck you. Shut up. The animation is slow and like 3 guys are pretending they're not the whole cast and sometimes there's Andy Griffith Hobbits or Orko but I'd rather watch this than read Pern or whatever. There's a word for people who can't find a metal dungeon in even the worst episode of He-Man. Asleep.
I- Intrigue. I have never run a game or at least never run one long enough where all the high hall dealings that frame the web of activity has been fully explored, and often it goes unnoticed. But it's important to me as a player and it simplifies your life as a DM sooooo much to have some bigger behind the scenes revenge across centuries because did you hear what she said about Our Richard going on.
J- J.R.R. Tolkein. Unavoidable also. Quick aside I actually think his biggest contribution to fantasy and to literature/culture in general is just going "Hey Academia, let's maybe give people from the past the benefit of assuming they had a brain in their head and that, say, whoever compiled these "quaint" little anecdotes in Beowulf made some authorial choices that might be interesting to look at and revelatory, okay?"
K- Kirby. Never use a good idea when you can use a great idea, never use one great idea when you can use five. Fill the world with interesting characters. Everything is color. Everything is motion. Everything is important and urgent. Don't build in meandering of placeholders or Normal, players will do that for you. Make things big and detailed even when you don't have to. Revel in the petty evils and the power from physical expression but know how small these things are in the grand cosmic scale. Have lots of robot space devils.
L- Low Cost. If I'm playing a game that makes my players feel like they all have to buy more than a core book to enjoy something or they'll be missing out on the complete experience, fuck that we're not playing it. In fact I prefer games where nobody at the table has to spend any money because I spent that money for them. I of course also prefer those books to be really affordable, or even free rules. One of the big barriers to entry for me into this hobby was the outsider assumption that you HAD to spend gobs of money because everyone did and publishers seemed to expect you to. I face that at work daily, that expectation of financial bitchslapping for even thinking about RPGs. I resist it. If you buy an RPG book buy from me, I'll try to save you money and still get us all paid. But you know you don't HAVE to buy these rules, right? All you need is an afternoon and the assent of the friends you're going to play with and you have your RPG.
M- Miyazaki. Airships that flap, the inherent sadness of forgotten and unloved places, the ability to connect with Rightness even if the rest of our beliefs divide us, the idea that there is this big grand spiritual side to our world and that it's BUSY and everyone has chores, that everyone has to earn their keep and prove their worth and test their convictions.
N- New Player Friendly. When I got into this hobby and wanted to start running things I very quickly ran into the situation of wanting to run games that nobody around me was running or had run before. I've had to introduce a lot of games to a lot of people and for a couple years there I ran for a lot of first time RPGers and prided myself on trying to make that as accessible as possible. When I say New Player Friendly I don't mean you take the time to include five pages explaining what a RPG is. I mean your How To Get Started and then How To Do Stuff conversations about your game go quickly, and that information is laid out simply and easily referenced in your rules.
O- Online Gaming. Majority of games I've played, vaster majority of games I've run. I don't go in for Roll20 and similar products because prepping material for that is time i could spend prepping other weird shit for my adventure. I don't worry about having one unified die roller everyone can see because I trust my players. (After all players have to trust the DM rolling behind the screen. Nobody wants to use cheat codes and we're all friends here, and if we're not then why are we playing this game together?) I don't worry about a camera usually (partly because I sometimes run games shirtless because I get hot easily) but that's going to change once I find my camera again (uh with my shirt on though). POINT IS there are people out there disappointed they can't find a local group to play a game they want to try where I feel like if you put in the effort and do the legwork and make some accommodations there isn't any reason you shouldn't be able to find a game to get in on online unless either you are the game aren't really worth the trouble. Or to phrase that less shittily if I can do it with my stupid cowboy game then anybody can do it.
P- Podcasts. I like actual play podcasts. With games I do not care about review podcasts, interview podcasts, news podcasts, or roundtable podcasts, except where +Topher Kohan is involved. I wish there were a greater variety of really fun to listen to rpg actual play podcasts that do campaigns instead of a rotating series of games. I've made peace with the fact that the only way I'm going to get an extended Feng Shui campaign podcast is if I do one.
Q- Quick Prep. I want to be able to sit down and be ready to roll twenty minutes after I've decided to run something, if I have to. A lot of that's on me (tools vs tomes and all that) but don't make it any more challenging than it needs to be for me to put together a chainsaw baboon on the fly.
R- Ray Harryhausen. The fucking man. The twin poles of monsters who are only monsters because we make them monsters and HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THAT THING.
S- Stealing. Not plagiarism or anything but always be on the lookout for good ideas, good TOOLS, good set pieces, and rip that shit the hell off for your table. Do not wait for say Dark Sun to become more awesome. Make Dark Sun more awesome with five minutes and Google.
T- Thunder Lizards. Games can choose to never have dinosaurs in them. I don't know why they would do that, though.
U- Ultra-Violence. Everything is dangerous. Everyone wants to kill you. Nothing is safe. Everyone RUN. Never settle for "You kill the basilisk" when "You slice off the front half of the basilisk's face and concrete blood spills out on you, wash that off before it dries or attracts stone-eating scavengers" could do instead. Mother invention with murder opportunities.
V- Victory Conditions. When I play Mario Kart it decides what I have to do to win. When I play Uno it decides what I have to do to win. Same with even a relatively flexible game like Fluxx or Betrayal at the House on the Hill. When I play a tabletop RPG (or to an extent a full Skyrim style sandbox) I decide what it means to win. Maybe it's leveling my character as high as possible. Maybe it's marrying the prince. Maybe it's becoming President. Maybe it's getting revenge on someone or just getting to the ocean like Merriwether Lewis. Survival alone could be my goal or leading a revolution and then retiring to open a shop. I am always playing another game, a secret game, private to me, layered over whatever you people are doing.
W- Warrior Code. I read someone saying that Howard was a good example of the adage that we create our ideal world when we write because he fetishized the noble savage so he took every great "savage warrior" culture from history, barely renamed them, and put them all on the map and same time period to coexist each other to death. If I have a particular kink of that kind it's for the code of honor. Bushido and Klingons and vampire rules and Enemy Ace. My Conan world would probably be just a world of everyone politely barely murdering each other, then I introduce Space Godzilla into it.
X- Marks The Spot. Fuck Xorn. Anyway in the board game sense of the game, in terms of that part of our DNA, the object is to complete enough goals to have the most power, which get abstracted largely with XP and levels and TREASURE. The default game was a treasure hunting survival horror game, Raiders of the Green Inferno style. The monsters were just there to make things interesting. Honestly it's iterations of the game where monster killing become the focus of these goals that are generally turnoffs for me unless I know that going in. A campaign where we're basically the crew of the Orca keeping the waters safe for trade through murder could be fun. Replacing all the Monty Hauls with more gnolls with healing surges does not interest me. This doesn't have to be a physical reward, even; I still roll for hoard size in GP and just award the XP, keeping my players poor to reinforce my Dungeon Crawling Is Fight club motif of working class survival horror fantasy exploration. The game isn't exactly about that reward but about everything that happens in getting the reward.
Y- You Can't Always Get What You Want. You know how the rest of that song goes. I'll give my players a lot of liberties, I'll let them have a lot of stuff they ask for, but anything important to actually accomplishing the matter at hand is going to have to be earned with blood and sweat and fires. It has to be or else it never fucking matters. It will be hard and not everybody is going to come back happy. In fact my favorite way to prep is to put my playrs into a scenario where whatever they do SOMETHING will be mad at them for it and things domino from there, and then sit back and watch them write the adventure.
Z- Zen and the Art of Character Maintenance. There is no "supposed to have happened." I ran Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess and they never went past the hedge, they just went home to make invisible sausages. That was not a wrecked game or an unsatisfactory result. It meant they missed some stuff I think they'd enjoy but the GAME is what HAPPENS in the GAME. It isn't what you want the game to be or what the game should be or could be or can be. Did you crit miss? That's supposed to happen. Did you FAIL something? That's supposed to happen. Because life and chaos meeting artifice and order is the game. The game is what happens in the game.