I recently came across this article about something called ‘The Galahad Principle’, in contrast to the ‘Pareto Principle’.

I frequently find myself settling for 80% solutions: most of the time, it’s good enough, and the extra energy needed to get it to 100% is simply not worth it. I can be remarkably flexible when it comes to working around these last 20% of a lot of things! But that post also remarks upon something that I recognise: only when you’re at 100%, you can trust ‘the system’ completely and do not need to expend energy for a workaround every time.

Two weeks ago, I attended Agile Camp NL, and I had a blast! I only knew the organisers vaguely, so I had some socialising to do — which I’m not very good at, but somehow the environment was very conducive to making new friends. And we were helped by some of the ice breaker excercises. Since the theme of the ‘camp’ was the agile way of working, we had to answer the question ‘what makes your way of working agile?’ in duos.
My workplace claims to be agile, but is actually pretty static and locked-down, so there’s not much agility in what I do in the office. But I thought of how I use routines in my daily work.

Saying you’re agile because you use routines is kinda weird (which is why it’s such a good icebreaker), but if you follow the Galahad Principle, it makes sense. For instance: we have cats (as you all know), and every day we have to clean the kitty litter. The bag of dirty litter goes into the trashcan, which is outside our back door. The back door has to be locked when we go to sleep. And there is a heavy curtain in front of the back door, which we close on cold winter nights to better keep the warmth in.

We have set up a routine, which goes as follows:
– The door is not locked before the kitty litter has been cleaned (nothing so frustrating as standing with a bag of dirty litter in your hands and having to rummage through a drawer for keys — not to mention the (un)hygienic aspects of doing so);
– The curtain can’t be closed before the door is locked (otherwise we can’t see that the door hasn’t been locked yet and we might forget it).
We follow this routine 100%. So if the curtain is closed, we know that the kitty litter is done and the door is locked, so we do not have to do anything else with the back door when we go to sleep.

And having this routine actually saves a lot of time and energy, precisely because we can trust it — because we follow it 100%. If we had followed it only 80% of the time, it would have been useless. And the time saved means we can expend that energy to something else that needs doing.
Automate the boring stuff away, or create a routine and keep yourself to it, and spend your (mental) energy to stuff that matters.

(Also: I still need to write up all of the awesome sessions I attended at Agile Camp, but I’m also behind on the course work for the RPG Writer’s Workshop, and that has priority for now.)

Yesterday, we visited Essen for the annual Spiel tabletop gaming exhibition. My purchase list was empty, but as usual we didn’t return empty-handed… We left a bit after 9 am, and went straight to P10, the off-site parking with lots of capacity, as the parking near the Messe itself fills up almost immediately. We were not going to make the same mistake as last year, when we spend a lot of time in a traffic jam past the Messe, and ending up at P10 anyway.

Spoiler Inside: Loot in detail

We had a delicious pulled beef burrito to end the day, and left the fair as it was winding down. 19:13 we were back at the car park, and it took us some time to find our car back — next year we really need to make sure we take a look at the signs! We were back home before 9 pm, which wasn’t bad at all.
It was not as busy as I remember from last year — but then we went on the Thursday, which perhaps draws more deal and novelty hunters. Yes, hall 3 was jam-packed, because that’s where all the big stands from all the big publishers are, but the rest of the halls were quite navigable. And hall 5 and especially 6, where most of the ‘fringe’ stuff was (like RPGs…) were nice and quiet (relatively). Not sure what we’ll do next year (a lot also depends on klik’s working schedule), but I certainly didn’t regret going on Friday.

One time, when I ran a scenario to introduce a family to RPGs, I designed a scenario that was chock-full of colonialism and casual racism: the ‘wood people’ were natives who were capable fighters but were superstitious and needed the party to ‘rescue’ them from the monster living in their woods, the (hob)goblins lived in squalor and were irredeemable evil — and it was all set in some kind of ‘frontier’.
I’ll be running a scenario to introduce some people to RPGs again, and my thoughts turned to the scenario I could run. This intro one worked quite well, so why not re-use it? Well, my thinking on these kinds of topics has progressed over the years, that’s why. So it was time to once again read through this post about decolonising D&D, and think of a way to change things for the better.

Spoiler Inside: Scenario spoilers

And which that, I should have a scenario that is just as intense as the initial version (or even more intense, because there is more involved behind the scenes than just ‘lol, goblins are evil’), with fewer racist undertones and less ‘white saviour syndrome’. Perhaps there is more fine-tuning to be done, even outside of the immediate context of this scenario. For instance, I need to find a mode to be able to use goblins and orcs as adversaries without painting them as irredeemable evil that only exists to be exterminated, but I will need to invest more thought into that before I’m comfortable with presenting that concept.

Texel 2019

It’s been quite a while since I posted on here. So why don’t I break the silence by showing you some photos I took from our trip to Texel last week? My mother in law had invited us (just like last year), and we stayed at the same camping in a ‘chalet’ (basically a trailer without wheels).

Spoiler Inside: Misc photos

We also went to the Beachcomber’s Museum, which exhibits stuff that was found on the Texel beaches (or literally robbed from beached ships!)

Spoiler Inside: Beachcomber museum

On our last day on the island, we went to the Slufter, a ‘national park’. The dunes have been dug away there, creating the original tidal flat landscape.

Spoiler Inside: De Slufter


Afterwards, we had a pancake lunch at De Cocksdorp, the northern-most village on the island. We had drove past there on our way to the lighthouse, but we hadn’t seen the village center itself. So we walked down the main street, all the way to the stairs over the dyke and onto the beach.

We had been eating out a few times, and in the village where we were staying, the restaurants are all quite… ‘touristy’. So basically merely okay food for a relatively high price — something you also saw reflected in the reviews guests had given. But we walked past the restaurant Topido in De Cocksdorp that I had seen earlier, which had consistently good reviews. It’s run by a couple, only nine tables, and they use locally sourced ingredients.
That evening, we would be going to the Indian place, but they only did take-out that day. So we suggested going to Topido, and luckily for us, they still had a table open!

Spoiler Inside: Texel-style fine dining

I think we’ll be eating there next year too — it was truly delicious.

Two weeks back, a colleague wore a shirt with a text that also included ‘NEO-TOKYO’. I asked him if this was a reference to Akira, and it turns out that he hadn’t seen that movie. In fact, he didn’t know what I was talking about! So I told him Akira is an iconic anime movie, set in ‘Neo Tokyo’. I offered to loan the DVD it to him, and he was curious enough to take me up on the offer.
So when he returned the disc, I asked if he liked it. He had been very interested, and had watched the whole movie through in one sitting… I offered to loan him that other cyberpunk masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell, which he also had never heard about… And now he has the second GitS movie on loan too, and he told me that he wouldn’t mind having a movie night every Sunday evening…

So now I’m planning out the whole list of movies I’m going to loan him, and a logical sequence between the movies… It’s great when you can share your interests in such a way.

With August now over, it’s time for the last catch-up for RPGaDAY!

#29: Evolve
I think RPGs as a field are evolving, in quick spurts followed by slower growth. Every so often, something comes along that shifts perceptions of what RPGs are, should or could be. And while not every change fills me with excitement, I’m pretty sure someone, somewhere, is getting all fired up about it.
The first shift that I saw (consciously) was the OGL: Wizards of the Coast basically open-sourcing the basic rules of the 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons. Suddenly, everyone could make an RPG or even a smaller ‘plug-in’ for a very large body of existing work. And a lot of people did — not all of the resulting ‘glut’ was good, but it did enable a few experiments and launched quite a few game lines.
And now it’s an accepted practice to describe the design of your ruleset and to make that available to anyone who wants to use it in their own game. It’s not like game rules are copyrightable anyway, but having this as an accepted practice makes it possible to try out new RPGs without having to learn new rulesets. If you know how the playbook construction of Apocalypse World works, then you can play any ‘Powered by the Apocalypse’ game without too many troubles.
I think that has also made it a lot easier to experiment with all kinds of games: the rigorous testing of the rulesets has already been done, so the designer can concentrate on genre and tone. For pretty much every genre, there is a PbtA game — maybe not quite to your taste, but you can easily mix and match because the underlying rules are similar!
And this variety means people who do not like fantasy or the way D&D does it, can try out a few things and find the game that’s right for them. And who knows, maybe they will design their own game at a point in the future, meaning an even more richer landscape of RPGs!

#30: Connection
Playing RPGs has allowed me to make some of the strongest connections as an adult.
It’s hard to make new friends as an adult: it’s almost impossible to just ‘hang out’, since everyone is under the obligations of work and family. But finding a group that ‘clicks’ allows for a rapid accumulation of shared experiences (even if those experiences are in-game). I’ve had some bad experiences gaming with people I don’t know, so I’m hesitant to just jump into any game with anybody. But if you sort-of know some people that you think are cool, then gaming is certainly a good way to get to know each other better.

#31: Last
Last…
read: Robotech: A Macross Saga RPG. It wasn’t good, unfortunately.
purchase: Fate Accessibility Toolkit. Making gaming more accessible to everyone who is not an able-bodied cisgendered heterosexual white man is the most important push for RPGs into the future.
session: Blades in the Dark. Our crew of drugdealers have transformed into a crew of strong-arm thieves — but the ill-advised plans remain!

RPGaDAY catch-up

#26: Idea
All RPG games are about something, but most of them are bad at communicating what it is that the characters do, and how that affects their world(s). You should look at the XP mechanisms: what character behaviour is rewarded? D&D says it’s about roleplaying and exploration, but the XP systems tell you that it’s killing things is what you will be doing. You’ve seen me use the term “murder-hobo” a few times, and it’s no coincidence that this mode of play is strongly associated with D&D.
What the game is about is seldomly communicated clearly. Which is why I really like the introduction to Blades in the Dark, because it is quite explicit in the goal of the game:

We play to find out if the fledgling crew can thrive amidst the teeming threats of rival gangs, powerful noble families, vengeful ghosts, the Bluecoats of the City Watch, and the siren song of the scoundrels’ own vices.

This tells you everything you need to know to play a scoundrel in BitD: this is the kind of stories you’ll be creating, right on the first page. It gives a very clear vision of the Idea of the RPG. Having this vision so clear makes it easier to design systems that support that kind of play, which is why BitD has a very tight system. And as a player, it’s also really easy if this idea appeals to you, too!

27: Suspense
It’s hard for me to feel suspense during a session, since I always have some kind of detachment from my character. I’m not a method-actor — it’s more like I have a mental model of the character, and examine that to decide how the character would react in a given situation. I am certainly not my character, so my character might be in suspense, but I hardly am.
And most RPGs make it hard for a character to die, because players hate losing a character that they have invested so much into. So even during fights, there is very little suspense. Yes, there are RPGs where characters drop like flies, such as Dungeon Crawl Classic’s funnel adventures, but there a character can be made in minutes, and you’re not supposed to feel any attachment to the character until they have survived their first adventure.

#28: Love
Romance can be a powerful motivator, but the transient nature of most character groups (see: murder-hobo) does not really make it easy for a character to develop a strong attachment to an NPC. Games that have a more political side, where characters have their own bases that they can return to easily, then a long-term relationship becomes more feasible.
My characters rarely have romantic entanglements, but that one time in Astrid’s Amber Campaign, where my character was flirting with the crown princess of a Shadow who was actually betrothed to someone else, I really enjoyed it. Maybe I should take a look at the games that are on my ‘to do’-list and see if I can introduce an aspect of romance in there.

RPGaDAY 25

#25: Calamity
Calamities feature heavily in RPGs: if you’re going to have an epic adventure, better make the stakes big, right?

In the ‘murder-hobo’ mode of adventuring, it could be argued that the adventuring party is the calamity: monsters are just going about their business, getting by in their various ways, and then this party shows up and starts indiscriminately killing everyone. Especially if the adventure features tribes of sentients (like goblins and orcs), this has gotten a (deservedly) bad aftertaste of colonialism and racism. (POCGamer has a good overview of colonialism in D&D.)

There is another mode of adventuring, where the party is part of established society, but a group of evil-doers are preparing to overthrow the status quo in some kind of calamitous way, and (often) going about this in a ruthless, haphazardly way. This means that the characters are not the movers and shakers in the setting: they are merely reacting to what the ‘evil’ group is doing. One could argue that the group are the actual protagonists, and the party are simply antagonists that try to prevent something from happening. It’s interesting to see that almost all ‘evil’ groups are indeed, actively evil and ruthless, casting the adventuring party as the agents of good and reason. I’ve hardly ever seen a scenario where the group scheming to overthrow the status quo are actually trying to make things better for everyone — overthrowing an oppressive regime, for instance.

And then there are the natural disasters. Mostly these happened in the past, and serve to explain why a town or castle is abandoned — often as a prelude for the ‘monstrous’ species to make their home there, before the adventuring party goes in and kills ’em all… I don’t think I’ve ever seen a natural calamity occur ‘in-game’. Would it be fun to play a group of adventurers trying to evacuate a bunch of people out of a village, in time before the volcano erupts? There might be a Ryuutama scenario in there somewhere, with some hard choices as to what you can take with you and what you have to leave behind to become prey to the lava…

I’m sorry for lagging behind so much, but that new Zelda game is not going to play itself!

#22: Lost
This makes me think of rupertdaily, an erstwhile friend, whom I introduced to RPGs and who died eight years ago. Through an auction, I got all of his Rolemaster stuff — Rolemaster being his first RPG (as it was mine, four years before I met him). I’ll never get to play with him again, which sometimes feels like a lost opportunity.

#23: Surprise!!!
Ambushes are a big part of combat in RPGs. One way to make sure you survive insurmountable odds is to even the odds a bit by getting the drop on the opposition! Often, this means that the group doing the surprising gets to make their attacks before the other side can get their attacks in. And from then on, it’s just the usual initiative rounds.
The most interesting rule for initiative I’ve ever seen is in the Genesys ruleset (which is also used in the FFG Star Wars games), where you roll for a different skill depending on whether you expect a fight to break out, or not. I’ve never seen that anywhere, and I’m not so sure it makes sense: wouldn’t you expect the fight to continue after the first round, and thus react with the other stat in case of an ambush?

#24: Triumph
To me, a good session is when the characters have some kind of triumph. This doesn’t have to mean that everything goes their way (in fact, I’d argue that the fiction generated is more interesting when that does not happen), but some succesfull skill checks or a turn of the story is part of what keeps me coming back to a game. I want to feel like my character is making a difference, as if it matters what they are doing, and that they are succeeding in making progress, in whatever big or small way.
If I’d want an endless, hopeless slog without any ray of light, I’d go to my job. 😉

As a reminder, here’s the list of prompts!