Hello, tangerines! As many gamers on G+ know, August months the RPGaDay challenge. This is part of 31 writing prompts created by game designer David F. Chapman. I thought I’d share my first week of answers all in one place.
Day 1: What do you love about RPGs?
I love that it’s s chance to collaboratively write a novel that no one knows the ending of.
Day 2: What do I look for in an RPG?
I look for a system that is both flexible and simple enough, that in any given situation:
A. I can quickly assess what is likely to be a smart tactical choice, and carry it out efficiently.
B. Will still be fun if I decide to stay true to the character’s flaws and take the worst possible choice.
C. Can quickly and easily carry out a crazy 3rd choice that no one thought of 3 seconds ago without having the game grind to a halt, Ex require the gm pull out supplemental rules for grappling.
By comparison, I remember playing Champions with a group of 5 players. A round of combat took an hour. Way too many rules to simply state “here’s all you can do, and nothing else.”
Day 3: What gives a game staying power?
1. Can I find a group of friends to play it? This is the crux, because a game no one will play only collects dust on the shelf.
2. Does it have flexibility that I add my own content? I write more than I game, so it’s not surprising that any game system and/or game setting that grabs my interest has to be modular.
3. Are the creators and/or community creating a slow stream of quality content?
This is what keeps a game alive over a span of many years.
Part of this is my collecting bug. From a kid, I loved collecting things. Collector cards, Pokémon, miniatures, you name you. So it’s no surprise that some of my ongoing purchases for games and rpgs has been books in a series. This is a bit more evident in boardgames, although it touches on RPG-esque games (for example, I used to collect every Warhammer Quest expansion hero I could afford with my allowance.) Similarly, I have every Red Dragon Inn expansion.
However, I have found I will no longer collect for collecting-sake; quality is important. For example, I used to collect Munchkin games, but that changed with “Super Munchkin.” I didn’t care that the mechanics will basically a reprint of Munchkin Bites; what I cared about is that the creative wit from the first few games was gone. Other than one or two good puns about “Bat-Mobile”, it was clearly such a rushed project that they had no time for satire, resorting to calling objects by their clichéd names, like “power ring.”
However, a constant stream of new worlds, or better still, areas to explore within the existing world, keeps the world fresh and my curiosity piqued.
Day 4: Most memorable NPC:
This one was created by my friend and cowriter, Steve.
The Harbormaster -(D&D) In a city overrun by religious cults and political infighting, the party finally found an ally who was willing to transport us.
So long as they didn’t have any mangos. The harbormaster had a strange, paranoid obsession with these cursed fruits that would rival Captain Ahab’s loathing of the white. We kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, as if we would encounter the same fate as him. Would we end up trapped on an island, eating only mangos until we grew sick of them? Would we be ambushed by a mimic disguised as the succulent fruit? On the inside of the next mango, would we find a mere pit, or a hidden evil waiting to be released?
The other shoe never dropped, leaving us in the dark about what horrible incident shaped this harbormaster into the shell of the man we knew.
Day 5 – FAVORITE RECURRING NPC
Karbaas the Nearly-Undefeated
(This is cheating a little, in that he TECHNICALLY showed up in a round-robin fanfic… which is basically an RPG, minus the GM and the rules system).
This is how Karbaas made his entrance:
As the party makes themselves comfortable at the tavern, a large figure approaches your table. He seven feet tall and just as wide, with every inch of him covered in black, spiky armor. He slams his gauntleted fists on the tabletop.
“TREMBLE WITH FEAR, WEAKLINGS, FOR I AM KARBAAS!!! KARBAAS, WHO RAVAGED THE COUNTRY OF AVENMOOR AND MADE THE MIGHTY WALLS OF WINTERKEEP TUMBLE! I, WHO RAZED THE CITY OF BRYN LAFAR TO THE GROUND AND WADED IN BLOOD OF THEIR CHAMPIONS! IN THE FAR EASTERN LANDS, THEY DO NOT SPEAK MY NAME FOR FEAR THAT I AM A GOD OF DEATH!!!!!!!”
He sighs and, with great reluctance, pulls out a notepad and a tiny pencil.
“I AM ALSO YOUR… WAITER… THIS EVENING. TODAY’S SPECIAL IS CHICKEN SANDWICH, BREADED WITH A DIJON MUSTARD SAUCE. THE SOUP OF THE DAY *sigh*…. IS CORN.”
The inspiration for it came from the Warhammer champion, “Arbaal the Undefeated.” I had to wonder, “What would happen if he lost only once?” Thus, Karbaas the Nearly-Undefeated.
The down-on-his-luck warlord originally showed up as a waiter, but kept popping up in numerous menial and demeaning jobs; waiter, tour guide, party clown (guess it’s hard to keep a job when you constantly threaten to slice your customers, coworkers, and supervisors in twain). A version of him even makes a cameo in our comic CRIT! as a pencil pusher for the Warriors union (see below).
I have yet to drop him in a recent campaign, but it’s only a matter of time before he returns, grumbling to customers, “YOU ARE SO LUCKY MY BROADSWORD’S IN HOCK RIGHT NOW…”
Day 6: How Can Players Make a World Seem Real?
I think the best way that players can make a world real is when are allowed to freely explore their environment and fill in the corners.
A common practice when setting up an adventure or establishing a character’s backstory is ask questions about what ties this character to the campaign; for example, they’re avenging a loved-one, have a mission to collect an item, etc. Connections like this drive the story in a straight arrow and give it motivation.
However, it’s often the OTHER players, who lack the drive in any given scene, that tend to flesh out the story. To fill the time, these “side characters” end up meeting new faces, picking up local gossip, and surely breaking hearts and noses. For example, in one urban fantasy campaign, in the middle of a night club, the vengeful PC stalked the evil club owner; meanwhile, the others made friends with a random drunk party-goer, shouting to each other “I LOVE THIS SONG” for twenty minutes straight. I couldn’t tell you any of the big-bosses’ names or stats to save my life, but I will remember the “I LOVE THIS SONG!!!” for the years.
How do I encourage this as a GM? Leave a few details unplanned. A ticking clock is essential for a few scenes, but in most cases, give the players a chance to explore and create things of their own (Fate system is particularly good at this). Any missing details, the players will flesh in with their own real experiences, painting a picture more universally human than a single writer can achieve.
Day 7: How can a GM make the stakes important?
In my humble experience, the best way to handle conflicts (particularly in Fate) is to make sure that the objectives are clearly set.
For example, a fight just for fighting sake results in an amusing bar brawl; but if a villian clearly states over the din, “make sure we get that wizard’s head!” then they now what will happen should they fail. To make the fight more dynamic, this isn’t just something the PCs want to avoid, but something the NPCs are willing to try hard to get; the wizard has a particularly large bounty on his head, and they haven’t eaten a full meal in days!
Another Fate trick I love using is letting the players will in the gaps. If you can’t think of a good consequence, ask they players; they might come up with something far worse than you would have thought of (I tend to go a bit easy on them).
That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for more soon! In the meantime, share us your experience!