Thursday, September 1, 2016

RPG a Day, Week Four And Then Some

Alright so now we come down to the final week and change of RPG-a-Day 2016. Before I get into it, here's links back to the prior weeks of this year.

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

And now the rest of the month!

Day 22: Supposedly random game events that keep recurring?

I dunno about keep happening, but I will cheat slightly and briefly reminisce on a night many years ago when I ran a massive combat in Hackmaster and the dice rolls were remarkably consistent for individual NPCs. I mean, the party was fighting a half-dozen generic nameless orcs or something and even though I used the same d20 for all of them, one of them kept rolling fumbles and another rolled something like three crits in five combat rounds. Almost like the die knew which NPC was up and decided that one needed to suck and the other was destined to rock faces.

Day 23: Share one of your best 'Worst Luck' stories

I'll be honest, aside from that one Hackmaster session I mentioned in my last post just a few hours ago, I don't really have any of these. Nothing that stands out at all, and if it didn't stand out it's not much of a story. So back to the alternates.

Alternate: What benefits do you see in having clearly-defined occupations for characters in an RPG?

While I can take or leave class-based systems for the most part (which I'm assuming falls under the question's definition of 'occupation'), I think there's more than a little value to be had in establishing a basic template for what the character does and not simply what they can do. The playbooks for some Powered by the Apocalypse games really count in this regard as well, even if the 'occupations' are very specific ones (not just being a medic, but being the medic, for instance).

So what are the benefits of these? The simplest is that they can suggest a sort of basic competency and expectations. With some games this doesn't mean as much because there's a big long skill list and the occupations/classes/professions usually flavor or enhance mechanics that anyone can get into. But take away the skill list and you still have certain expectations as to what a wizard should be good at. And even with the skill list, if nothing else having these helps explain certain character concepts to new players.

(Of course, it's worth noting that such templates are a lot more valuable in a setting with some conceptual distance from the real world. The further a game's setting moves from 'basically human in a world that's basically our Earth,' the more you need a list of archetypes to work from.)

Day 24: What is the game you are most likely to give to others?

Off the top of my head, probably some flavor of Fate, assuming we're talking about people new to gaming or who simply haven't checked it out. It's broad and variable enough that it's easy to tailor a demo game (or at least a 'how to play' discussion) to someone's genre of choice. That said, I might be sorely tempted to get them the Atomic Robo RPG, because not only do a lot of people seem to have an easier time grasping Modes, but the gameplay examples linked with the comic pages are really well done. If the giftee in question is of a younger bent, I'll probably go with Fate Accelerated for reasons that should be obvious if you've read it.

Day 25: What makes for a good character?

I'm not kidding when I say I could probably spend hours typing out an elaborate essay about this subject. Like, at the best of times I'm long-winded (notice how even my non-answer answers tend to be a full paragraph or more?) but this would be bad. So I'll try to keep it to a few basics.

So I think a big part of what makes a good character is they need to fit into the world. This means a couple of things.

First, they need to make sense for that setting. If you're writing a character for a realistic horror or urban fantasy setting, then they need a job (even if it's a crappy McJob) or at least something that they do that's in line with what normal people in that setting do. If it's a character for a high fantasy setting, even if they're about to go become an adventurer and you're establishing backstory, try to find some way to take their particular skills and parley it into what they've been doing up until that first class level becomes relevant.

Second, they need to engage with that world and the stories in it. If you're running a game of investigation into the supernatural, then create someone who's going to investigate the supernatural. If it's a superhero game, don't create a bartender with powers who hates superheroics and has to get dragged out to interact with the rest of the characters at the start of any story. If it's a game like Aberrant, where part of the point is 'real people who have powers and may or may not basically be superheroes,' then the Bartender With Powers is less of an issue, as long as there's something about him that is going to make him care about what's going on. Maybe the group are detectives and troubleshooters for hire, and the bar is where they meet and that's where the bartender comes into play. Which also lets you occasionally dance around the subplot where the team leader is a struggling alcoholic who has issues with the bar because that's where his father-- oh wait, that's Leverage. Still, my point stands.

Third (or maybe 'Second-Point-Five,' given that this is a variant on the last one), the character has to be able to engage with the other characters. If you're running Requiem and one of the players wants to play a mortal, that can be cool. If that player wants to play one of the Cainite Heresy vampire hunters, that's considerably less cool. If you're running a crossover game of, say, Mages and Beasts, don't play a character who refuses to be friends with Mages or Beasts on principle. Yes, it makes for in-game conflict, and that can be interesting. But it will not always be interesting and will in fact probably be more of a pain in the ass than it absolutely needs to be.

(I admit I gave more extreme examples up there, but once upon a time I had to run Aberrant with a group where one of the players basically refused to have his character socialize with the rest of the group. The player in question, I eventually realized, was a narcissistic and pretentious douchebag who just wanted to have moments where the story absolutely had to revolve around him and him alone. So for the brief time we played Aberrant, this led to him doing a lot of solo scenes off to the side and me finding arbitrary ways to make his character relevant to what was going on so the rest of the group would come and metaphorically beg him to grace them with his presence.)

And another thing that a character needs (not bothering to keep up the counting because this is a separate point and I've fucked the counting) is that they need to be able to function on their own. Even if they're not going to have to function on their own because of how the story is going to play out, play a character who doesn't have to be dragged along with the plot. Someone who has motivations that can lead them to the story, who's not just going to sit in a room alone if the other characters aren't immediately present.

(And yes I realize that some characters are going to occasionally need help, like maybe if the character has a condition that requires a caretaker or something. And having a PC fill that role can be awesome. But when possible, try to at least be open to letting an NPC take that over in case something happens to the other PC, or there's a falling out with the group and that player leaves, or whatever.)

And just as important, try to avoid playing characters who are only interesting if they've got the rest of the group to play off of them. If the most interesting thing about your character is that they're likely to say things that offend the other PCs, then that character is literally no more interesting than any random asshole in a YouTube comment. That guy is a shitty comment thread in person form, not an interesting character.


Okay, see, this is what 'a few basics' looks like to me. I warned you people. So I'm gonna leave that there. Have fun.

Day 26: What hobbies go well with RPGs?

Hm, I dunno. I mean, for some folks, writing is a hobby (for others, it's a lifestyle or a job) and helps you sharpen a lot of the creative muscles needed for RPGs. The same could be said of theatre stuff (which, again, is sometimes more than a hobby), and perhaps even music as a lot of folks get inspiration from music they've listened to or even written.

I'm certain there's other stuff, but some of it comes down to 'what counts as a hobby' and some of it comes down to 'some specific hobbies are good for some really specific games or genres, whereas others are more broad.'

Day 27: Most unusual circumstance or location in which you've gamed.

A couple of years ago, I visited some friends of mine who lived out of town. We'd talked about me running a one-shot of something for them and maybe a friend or two of theirs, so before I flew out there I printed up some Monsterhearts playbooks and packed my dice bag. One of my friends worked as a school bus driver, so she had a few hours to kill in between her morning and afternoon runs. Her husband was off that day so he came over and hung out with her, and I ran a game for the two of them and one of their co-workers at the school bus depot. It wound up being shorter than expected because of how the work schedule played out, but it worked out because the co-worker found an ingenious solution to the plot I'd cobbled together and shaved easily an hour or two off the amount of time I'd been planning to run.

Day 28: Thing you'd be most surprised a friend had not seen or read?

To be honest, I'm not sure. I think I'm going to have to fish out an alternate for this one, because the only stuff that would surprise me would be things that my friends had explicitly told me they in fact had seen when they hadn't. So, let's see...

Alternate: What are good ways for the group to support the host on game night?

Well, first off, assuming that 'host' is whomever is providing the game space (as opposed to a generic term for GM)... I mean, this is mostly common sense stuff. Not making messes, making sure your hygiene doesn't have the host Febrezing the chairs after the session, making sure the host knows if you'll be arriving outside the expected time so they can plan preparations (or even just the rest of their day).

If the 'host' is a place of business (like a game store or coffee shop), making sure to toss a few bucks at said business every now and again. If it's a private home or something, maybe every now and again bring food for everyone. Sure, that's something that supports the group in general, but sometimes the simplest way to support the host is to keep the group happy so the host doesn't feel like it's all on them to do the heavy lifting.

Day 29: You can game anywhere on Earth, where would you choose?

Not to sound dismissive, but the best response I can muster to this one is a shrug before I go fishing for alternate questions.

Alternate: How does your group like to start a session?

 Well, when people arrive at my house, there's usually a period of just talking about recent pop culture stuff while people eat food they brought with them or has been served (either by Sean or myself). Once upon a time it'd be a discussion of current events, but those have increasingly either become obnoxious arguments on specific points players disagree on or they wind up segueing into a subject that becomes such an argument. And said arguments either lead to sore feelings (if you're part of it) or very uncomfortably having to sit back and watch (if you're not). As a result, I've instituted a "No political discussions" policy in the house for the indeterminate future.

So after a while I try to get the group started. And then that attempt gets derailed, there's another ten minutes of jabbering on about whatever, and then maybe we get started again without further interruption.

Day 30: Describe the ideal game room if the budget were unlimited.

My tastes are simple. A room with bookshelves lining the walls, leaving space for a GeekChic table with enough room for people to move around it. Nearby bathroom. Nearby kitchen. Maybe some speakers for background music or the like. Access to wi-fi.

To be frank, I have most of that now. Enough bookshelves to hold the books I need for whatever I'm running (and shelves elsewhere in the house to hold books I don't need). Bathroom and kitchen very accessible. Wi-fi, check. The only thing I'm missing are the speakers and the table, and in just a couple of months I should have the latter.

Day 31: Best advice you were ever given for your game of choice?

This isn't really advice for a specific game, because there are a lot of games I like. But the thing that comes to mind (which I was exposed to by Monsterhearts, but originates -- as far as I know -- with Apocalypse World) is that all roleplaying is a conversation, and that the mechanics give guidelines for that conversation. That gaming is about communicating with your players and collaborating on a shared story. It's about talking to your players, getting enthusiastic and sharing that enthusiasm and letting that power things. Or taking feedback about what is and isn't working and use that to shape the conversation. And every now and then, the rules pop in to help you make a decision or send things down a particular path. But in the end, it's still an ongoing conversation with friends about having fun.

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