Monday, August 15, 2016

RPG a Day Roundup, Week Two

"Wait," you might be saying. "I thought that these were supposed to be weekly posts. And the last one was what? A couple of days ago?"

You would be correct, disembodied force manipulating my keyboard. That's because I was busy, and my schedule was thrown off a bit, and as a result the first week roundup was a little late.

"A little late? The first week went up the same day you posted days 11 and 12! Back in my--"

Okay, there we go. That exorcism put a stop to that. So. Where were we.

Right. The second week of RPG a Day posts.

Day 8: Hardcover, softcover, digital? What is your preference?

Oh hell. Different formats for different contexts. If I have to pick one as an overall preference, it'd be hardcovers. I often find it easier to navigate physical books and I can transport hardcovers without worrying about accidentally creasing the covers.

Digital can be very useful for quick reference, though -- especially since Goodreader put in an option to open a file in two tabs, letting me just click back and forth between two pages of a PDF.

Day 9: Beyond the game, what's involved in an ideal session?

I'd have to say the players, really. Players who allow themselves to have moments of raw, genuine enthusiasm; players who agree to be along for the ride (rarer than you'd think, at times); players who know when their GM is setting something up and willing to play straight man to make that happen.

Day 10: Largest in-game surprise you have experienced?

Honestly, this is a tricky one unless you want to count times I've at least partially orchestrated said surprise (like the time I played an Akhud infiltrator in a Requiem game).

... (Insert a few minutes of brain-racking here)

I dunno, I hate to go with an old standby as far as my gaming anecdotes go, but here's the one that first comes to mind and has yet to be supplanted.

So, some years ago I ran a Hunter: The Vigil LARP for a couple of years. I did a plot about a house that had seen enough horrible shit that a... Dammit, what's the word. I don't have my copy of Inferno handy. Anyhow, the house was tainted with hell-stuff. One of my player characters was a Lucifuge, who attempted to use his ability to banish demons to get rid of the hell-stuff. He wanted to risk a Willpower to do so (offering greater potential benefits at absolutely horrible drawbacks if you fail). Now, normally you can't risk Willpower on an Endowment roll, but either I forgot that in the moment or didn't care as a 'rule of cool' moment. So he made his test, and failed.

The hell-stuff expands into a full-blown Hellmouth, requiring a huge mess to clean up and unleashing a bunch of demons (not Unchained demons, but the fire and brimstone variety) from the Inferno into the surrounding area. That single event led to about six months worth of plot as characters had to deal with the various entities, their new cults, and so forth.

Day 11: Which gamer most affected the way you play?

I might just have to punt this one, because I honestly can't say. Everyone I've played with has affected me in some way, either giving me ideas or encouraging or discouraging certain habits of mine (either rightfully so or otherwise) to shake things up. And there's also the fact that gaming is so often a group activity, it's tough to gauge whether a style shift is the result of a single individual person or the gestalt of the people I play with. So yeah. Pass.

Day 12: What game is your group most likely to play next? Why?

If I had to place bets, my money would be on a Chronicles of Darkness crossover game (Vampire and Beast). Mostly because my players tend to enjoy my persistent CofD setting, and also because the story I've got in mind picks up on a bit of a cliffhanger the last game I ran in that setting left off on. Unresolved plots and the like.

There's other stuff they might want to play, and I'm certainly going to pitch a few ideas so there's a selection, but I think following up on the aftermath of the last game is going to hold more appeal than simply trying something new. Not a complaint, just an observation.

Day 13: What makes a successful campaign?

There are two specific things that come to mind when I read this question. One is mostly a GM thing, the other pertains to the group.

So for people running a game, I think it's important that there be a story to tell. That you have something to keep you focused and give you a road map or at least an outline. I'm not proud of the fact that I've made the mistake of running a game without a clear enough plan -- that's why my Monster of the Week game at Gencon this year was one of my less-satisfying ones. But I've seen friends run games not because they have a story to share with the players, but because they just really wanted to run a game -- either as an excuse to hang out with the players, or because they just felt like performing for an audience. But I think having that road map is an important piece of the puzzle.

The other thing? Communication. The GM needs to be up-front about what sort of game is being run, what sort of story is being told, and the players need to be up-front about their expectations. My Werewolf: The Apocalypse game went through its recent troubles because someone had expectations for the game they didn't communicate because of assumptions they made. If a player needs something to keep an interest in the game, they need to advocate for themselves and make sure whomever's running the game knows that. And if someone's running a game that on paper is commonly regarded as an action-adventure slaughter-the-bad-guys game, the players should know if it's going to be more low-key and investigation-oriented.

And it's also important to check in with people every now and again. If it's a longer game, have regular stopping points -- like season finales -- where you check in with the players and see if everyone wants to continue. (If you're a Pathfinder player and enjoy Paizo's adventure paths, the end of each volume is a perfect spot for this) It's not only important to make sure everyone starts on the right foot, but every so often you need to be sure they're still down for the rest of the trip.

So yeah. Have a solid plan (or at least an outline), and communication. That's what you need. It's not necessarily all you need, but it's a bare minimum that applies to any campaign/chronicle/story you're running.

Day 14: Your dream team of people you used to game with?

This is an awkward one to answer publicly, partially because there are people I've gamed with that I'd absolutely love to game with again, but they wouldn't get along with other people who are on that list. I mean, what am I supposed to do, say "My 'dream team' consists of Alice, Bob, Christie, and Dave, but not Elizabeth because she and Bob don't get along such that I couldn't have them in the group"? I mean, I guess I could just rattle off the list and ignore or leave off the 'but so and so wouldn't get along' commentary but part of what makes a gaming group a good one is how the players interact with each other. There are people who aren't individually great players but put them with a group with certain other people and they become bigger than the sum of their parts. And then there are people who are great role players but Heaven help you if you put them in a group alongside particular folks.

I guess calling it a 'dream team' means it doesn't have to be strictly realistic, and I'm certainly overthinking it, but even still. I cannot comfortably give a satisfactory answer to this question, so I pass.

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