What are your essential tools for good gaming?
Really essential? I mean, it doesn’t take much to game: if you go diceless, you don’t even need dice. Scrap paper and something to write with are essential though — I can’t game without. I prefer a quad-ruled notepad and a .5 mm mechanical pencil or a fineliner.
If it’s a game I’ve been writing reports for (and I do that for a lot of campaigns), then I’ll also take my phone with me so I can consult the reports of past sessions for certain details. If you play once every week, then I can’t expect myself to recall a detail of something that happened three sessions ago — but it might be crucial now.
Which RPG provides the most useful resources?
I am going to assume that “resources” are things that are not essential to play, but things that make play easier.
For me, a form-fillable PDF character sheet is really important. I like having a record of all levels that a character progresses through, and I dislike pencil smudges on my sheets. (And if you’re going to do form-fillable, then do the calculations too!) There are some good sheets for various games, but I have the most experience with a really nice D&D sheet.
But of all the free resources I used in play, I am most impressed with the sheets for The Sprawl in Roll20. Even without scripting, they are highly automated, which is really nice (and as it should be!). It also reinforces the “green-screen aesthetic” that is so characteristic of 80’s cyberpunk. You can see a screenshot in this post.
But the coolest thing of it is that you can ‘present’ your Moves and your equipment. If you have a gun, you can plug in the game stats of it and a URL to a picture of it. Then, when you use it, you can show that into the game’s chat. Same goes with Moves. That makes it possible for the other players (or viewers on YouTube or Twitch!) to follow along with what is happening mechanically. That is the most useful resource I’ve ever used.
What is the best way to thank your GM?
Chocolate goes a long way.
But if you really want to thank your GM, make sure they know that you appreciate the hard work they put in running a game for you — and take some of the load. For instance, in almost all of the groups I GM, it is expected of me to plan the next session. There is no reason why the GM should be the organiser, and a player could easily take the initiative there. (I do in games where I’m a player that require planning.)
Don’t cancel the game lightly, so don’t commit lightly to a session. Show up on time. Put the time in to understand how your character works. I mean, sure, some systems are hard to grok, but if we’re in the fifth session and you still don’t know what dice to roll and which bonus to add, then I will be (silently) judging you.
Realise that we’re all here to have fun — that includes the GM.
Share a Pay-What-You-Want publisher who should be charging more
I don’t have much experience with PWYW content. The only one that I have personal experience with that I can remember is Evil Hat’s Fate Core System book. It’s pretty amazing, really: a professionally produced RPG corebook with all you need to start playing, for a suggested price of $5 — that’s insane value for money.
I never managed to get it to ‘work’ in the way it is portrayed in the book, though, so I haven’t used it after a short-lived campaign.
Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?
I’m not a huge fan of really intricate page backgrounds — they tend to make it hard to read the text. (Tip: if you ever publish a PDF of your RPG, make it possible to hide the page background layer — customers who print and low-vision customers will thank you for it! If you want to know more, check out the tutorials on the Accessible Games website.)
That said, I really like the ‘Midnight’ version of The Sprawl, because it reinforces its themes so well. From page 1 until the end, you’re immersed in this 80’s-era futurism.
And the Great White Book edition of Nobilis (which you can see in this entry) has a very good layout as well: the text is easy to read, and the very wide margins leave enough room for little fiction vignettes that illustrate how the concepts being discussed work out in the game fiction. They are easily the best feature of the writing, because they spark the imagination.
Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?
Low-level D&D is easy to run, because the mechanics are all pretty straight-forward and the number of different options you have to take into account is limited. Also, the D&D tropes are all well-known, so you don’t have to explain any intricate setting details or genre conventions.
Dungeon World is also easy to run: it uses many of the same tropes as D&D, but it also invites player input — which means you don’t have to prepare everything. You’ll need some strong improvisation talent to make it work, though.
I haven’t run Rolemaster in a long, long time — but I could get by on sheer experience.
What is the best source of out-of-print RPGs?
That depends on what is meant with “out-of-print”. Does OOP mean that there are no more hardcopies being made, or does OOP mean that the game is not for sale anywhere?
Take for instance the rulebook for the Amber Diceless RPG. It’s not being printed anymore, and hasn’t been for a long time. And yet the PDF is still available over at DriveThruRPG. There’s a lot of stuff on there that is being “long-tail-marketed”. Looking for that old module for the original D&D? DTRPG has got you covered as well!
But if it’s not on there? Well, then I’m not sure. I know that there are some stores that specialize in second-hand stuff, but I’ve never made use of their services. You’d do better to find the item you’re looking for on RPGGeek, and see who has it in their collection and who is looking to trade or sell. This way, you can cut out the middleman and get to know the history of the item as well.
I’ve also received some stuff through RPGGeek’s “Chain of Generosity”: people offer some of their surplus items, and you can put in your lot for a chance to win. The item is shipped to you free of charge, but there is now an obligation for you to offer some of your surplus items too. It’s a wonderful way to connect with fellow gamers.
Which RPG features the best writing?
It’s not easy to write RPG rules because they have to be multiple things at the same time. They have to be instructive: after reading the rules, the players must be able to execute the algorithms of the game, such as creating a character and action resolution. But they also have to be inspiring: the players must understand (and ideally be enthused about) the setting and themes of the game. And they have to be (relatively) concise: no-one is going to work through thousands of pages of dense writing — never mind that publishing an RPG book that large is not a good business proposition.
It’s like project management’s “devil’s triangle” (“you project will be on time, on budget or deliver the right functionality — choose two”) — most RPG books do one or two really well, and the third lags. For instance, The One Ring has good rules information and inspiring setting pieces, but it’s longer than it has to be. There is one book that I recently read that impressed me with all three, and that is Monsterhearts 2. The rules are so concise but yet written with such clarity, and the examples of play and explanations of the playbooks are so inspiring. I was impressed with the content of the game, but also very much with how that content was conveyed to the reader.
Which RPG have you played the most in your life?
I haven’t played it in years, but it’s probably Rolemaster. When I started out playing RPGs, it was pretty much the only thing I ever played. Nowadays, I have diversified a lot, and there is not a single game I play very much of.
Though 5th edition D&D is racking up sessions: running two groups through the Starter Set campaign, a few one-shots here and there and now a new campaign, that adds up… Which is weird, because it’s by no means my favourite game — but I guess it’s the “vanilla” of the RPG world: not that inspiring, but inoffensive so everyone is OK with playing it. And if we decide to lump all (A)D&D editions together, then yes, D&D takes the top spot, due to some campaigns that I played through the years.
Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?
It is probably Mekton Zeta, a mecha RPG. As I wrote about earlier, none of the mecha RPGs I read really satisfied me because they don’t capture the themes that I find important in Macross. Most emulate Gundam, and I’m enough of a nerd to maintain the two franchises are fundamentally different — and this is also apparent with Mekton Zeta, even though there are some references to Macross in the game. Also, it doesn’t help that I’m the only mecha nerd in my gaming circles, so I’d have to educate any prospective players in the tropes of the genre, which I think won’t make for a fun gaming experience. (I mean, I can talk for hours about it, but it would probably not be very exciting for the players.)
It could also be Blue Planet. I have the first edition and some expansions of the second edition (gifted to me by rupertdaily way back when) and I don’t think I’ve ever played it either. I really like the setting: hard SF with some cool concepts, but unfortunately it relied on something kept secret from the players — and of course that leaks almost immediately, taking away a lot of mystery of the setting. Again, a setting which requires a lot of “education”, which will have contributed to me never playing the game.