Day 23 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Edge’.

My first association for this prompt is the Flammarion engraving (one of those things that everyone has probably seen at least once, but doesn’t know the name of). And that makes me think of what happens when a group of players wanders out of the area that the GM has prepared for the adventure/session?

The worst response you can have is to “force” the players “back on track” — the dreaded “railroading” where the players are just along for the ride and can’t really affect how things play out. Especially in the early days there were a lot of frustrated novelists who used RPGs as their way to tell their “amazing” fantasy novel to others — and woe befell anyone who would try to stray off the path! There is a very justified backlash against railroading.
Playing RPGs is a social activity, and thus there are social rules surrounding it. Most of those are unwritten (though there is a trend to make these explicit, which really helps in many situations) and one of those unwritten rules is that the players cooperate with the GM to tell a fantastic story together. If the GM has put the seeds of an adventure somewhere, it is expected of the players to pick up on that and see where their characters end up. If neither side cooperates, then you’ll never have a satisfying play experience.

I love the idea of Dungeon World’s “Fronts”: there are things happening in the world that affect the characters — or will affect the characters, later on. And the GM should know how such a Front is going to escalate if the players do nothing about it. Then, if they go “off the map” and explore some random wizard tower that you plonked down on the map to keep them entertained, the Front(s) are going to progress. Sooner or later, the characters won’t be able to ignore the situation and will have to deal with it — but this is now the result of their choices and actions, not because of some pre-determined plot that they were destined to fulfill.
That being said, most of my gaming these days are one-shots, and there’s very little time to have a Front develop. As I said in the entry for ‘Push’, I am blessed with players who cooperate with me to tell an entertaining story together.

Day 22 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Rare’.

I’m not much of a collector of RPG books, and thus I don’t think my collection is that special nor does it contain many rare books. And if I own a book that is considered ‘rare’, this is probably because not many people were interested in the RPG in the first place because it just wasn’t that good…
That said, I’m quite pleased with the collection of Shadow World modules and adventures I have (almost all of them acquired through the auction of rupertdaily’s collection after his death). I don’t think they are especially rare, as they can be readily found on auction sites, and I’m pretty sure there are other collectors of those scenarios out there too — but I do not know of any.
Having everything of a certain product line has a certain appeal, but I don’t really want to own a lot of stuff anymore. There’s two lines I have all the books for, because they’re just so beautiful. I have everything of the first edition of The One Ring (the best Lord of the Rings RPG in my opinion), and as nothing will ever be produced for that edition, I have it all complete. And I have everything of the Tales from the Loop (and its sequel Things from the Flood), because the art is just so cool and evocative.

That being said, I think the rarest book in my collection is the ‘Great White Book’ edition of Nobilis that was put out by Hogshead Publishing. Back then it was the most expensive RPG book I ever bought, and it was a hefty chunk of cash. But I don’t regret it: it’s a beautiful book and such a cool game. It’s not a coincidence that I made a slipcase for that book!

Day 21 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Push’.

I love pushing the narrative forward. I play RPGs to experience an adventure, to be surprised at clever plot twists and to learn something new about the game world. I love it when a character motivation is used in a plot, but I’m not overly fond of extremely character-focused play. I want to have an adventure, not play out how the characters sit in the pub chattering.
And since I play a lot of one-shots, the players are always quite cooperative in taking the ‘bait’ and discovering the adventure — no pushing needed!

#RPGaDAY 19: Tower

Day 19 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Tower’.

One of the fantasy tropes is a solitary tower, often the residence of a wizard. It strikes me as a very inefficient way to house yourself. They’re harder to build (at least in traditional methods, and there’s no “Built Tower” spell in D&D) and they’re harder to hide. Yes, you can enjoy the view from the top, but you could also achieve that with, let’s say, a treehouse. And it’s not like there is not enough space in the wilderness for a more sprawling complex.
So why towers? It makes no sense to me.

#RPGaDAY 18: Meet

A delayed day 18 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Meet’.

After a few bad experiences, I have decided to not play with people I do not know, unless someone I know and trust vouches for them. Not that I have experienced any harassment or anything of the sort (being a white dude is ‘easy mode’, also in RPGs) but because I just do not enjoy playing with a certain type of person.
But that also makes it harder for me to meet new people to play with, because my circle only expands at the edges. That is ok: there is a school of thought that states that bad gaming is better than no gaming at all, but I do not subscribe to that philosophy. I’d rather work on my scenario or read a rulebook instead of having a bad game.

A delayed day 17 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Comfort’.

It is my experience that players should not get too comfortable when playing. The best gaming happens when everyone is seated around the same table — a dinner table is the typical setting. Comfortable enough to sit down at for longish periods, but not so comfortable that the focus shifts to other things.
When playing online, there are other factors that influence player comfort. Especially the headset (and when playing online, you really need a headset) is a factor, because you’re wearing it for long stretches. Personally, I really like having two screens when playing online: one with the videocall with the group, and one with the dice rolling site, character sheets, rulebooks and scenario in PDF format, etc. Still requires quite a bit of clicking around, but I don’t think I’d want a third screen just for that.

Day 16 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Dramatic’.

Something is dramatic when it contains conflict and emotions. Any good RPG needs some kind of conflict (which does not necessarily mean combat!), but not every RPG experience has the emotional depth required to qualify as ‘dramatic’. In my experience, games with heavy tactical combat are not conducive to emotional depth, as there is a tendency to regard your character as a game piece on a board. Especially 3rd edition D&D and Pathfinder (a direct descendant) with their gridded combat required a lot of tactical decisions.
And tactical decisions are fine, but they leave hardly any room for spontaneous action. The first time I played Dungeon World with a group that was used to Pathfinder, their mind was blown. They could pull off stunts right in the first session that in Pathfinder would have required multiple Feats and thus multiple level advancement, as well as coordination between characters who would get which Feat. Well, I’ve written about the interaction between fiction and rules before.
But that’s combat — which is “high stakes” in a sense: your character could die, and you’d lose all of the time and effort you invested in the character, so there is a perceived need to make combat ‘objective’ — that way, if your character bites the dust, it was not the fault of anyone at the table, but rather unlucky dice rolls or overwhelming odds. (As an aside, I think this is also why character death has become less and less prevalent in later editions.)

And combat is only one of the three ‘pillars’ of generic fantasy RPGs: exploration and roleplay are the other two. As the stakes are lower there, there’s fewer rules to burden it down, and that gives more space for dramatic tension. You have to make the characters (if not the players) care about what happens. Give them NPCs to relate to, make them invested in the goals and situations of those NPCs, so as to increase the emotional content.
In one of my scenarios, the party finds a lost ten-year old boy in the woods, hungry and afraid. Most groups take him in and keep him safe (often at the expense of their combat capacity). When, at the end fight, the boss monster is about to kill his mother, the party will make do their very best to make sure she survives! That emotional connection to the NPC gives the exploration (they’re looking for his mother) and the roleplay (their interactions with the people who abducted her) and, yes, the combat an emotional depth.
It can be hard to pull off, depending on your group, but when it works, it’s really satisfying for everyone.

Day 15 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Frame’.

As a player, you’re always experiencing the world of your character through the eyes of the gamemaster. You can ask questions as to what your character experiences, but you only have limited control over ‘the camera’. This is something to keep in mind when describing a situation: I always make sure to include lighting, sounds and smells in my scenarios. This “narrow channel” is the hardest thing about being a player, I think.

But it also allows for narrative frames that would otherwise be impossible. As GM, you can describe scenes to the players without any character being present, like a ‘cut scene’ or something that happens far away but will have an impact on the characters’ lives before long.
I rarely play the game as if I’m the director of a movie, but I’ve played in games (mostly based on visual media like Star Trek or Star Wars) where the gamemaster used it to great effect. Giving NPCs a bit of a character moment just as the characters have left, or showing what the opposition is doing elsewhere gives the players a much wider view of the grander scheme of things — not just their own little piece of it. That can make for a much richer play experience.

#RPGaDAY 14: Banner

Day 14 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Banner’.

One of the medieval tropes is heraldy: being able to identify knights by their shields or banners, and recognizing servants because they wear their patron’s livery. Oddly enough, it’s never really come up in any of my games. It might be mentioned in the text of an adventure, but the only game where there is explicit (and quite extensive) support for player heraldry is King Arthur Pendragon — for obvious reasons.
Maybe that’s something to think about: how would the population recognise the party? Do they have a sigil that is known everywhere, and where do they wear it? What about forging your liveries to look like another group? Identity management is not really a plot point in most scenarios or campaigns, but imagine the party returning to their patron for payment for a mission on their behalf, and being told that the funds had already been entrusted to a messenger in their livery who said they were sent to collect the payment!