The New Normal

We’re starting to get to grips with our new normal. On one hand, it’s been easy on me, but I also miss certain parts of my routine that I do not have an equivalent for at home. I only live ten minutes away from the office, but that bicycle ride back and forth always gave me the chance to clear my head, get out of ‘work mode’ and into ‘home mode’. That’s now missing, and it’s been taking its toll on me. I’m very sure I’m not unique in that, and I need to develop some kind of ‘ritual’ to set my mind.

Animal Crossing continues to be a delight. All decisions about the setup of our island are made by the both of us. Like always, we always agree on what the next step is. We’re going for a park-like environment, with lots of (fruit-)trees and flowers. We also installed an outdoor bath (though sadly you can’t get in it — missed chance here, game!). Apparently you can get up to ten animal inhabitants on your island, but it’s already pretty full with the five we have. There’d be no place for all our trees if you get that many houses!
And yes, we did get the online option for the Switch. The family membership is not that expensive, and we’ve had lots of fun playing together with friends. Visiting their islands, showing off ours, and exchanging materials for crafting and sending those along has proven itself to be a lot of fun.

At work, we’re trying to keep being social and feeling connected. The company Teams and Slack channels are used extensively for this. One group has a daily challenge: show your pet (or the pet you wished you had), show your nerdiest T-shirt, etc. One day, the challenge was to show your favourite book — and of course my favourite book is the one I wrote: my D&D scenario! Immediately, I got interested reactions. And so I’m going to run the scenario for six players (spread across four countries), and four had never played before! I’m really looking forward to it.
And with people having more time on their hands, online RPG’ing is really taking off. I’ve played in a two-session game of the Dragon Age RPG with a group I used to play with a lot. But then we kind-of drifted apart what with the demands of work and family — but now people have time to game again!

So far, we’ve been adjusting pretty well, but even for complete homebodies like us, we still had to adjust. And I’m not sure we’re all done with adjusting just yet.

I’m not sure if I ever mentioned this before, but I now have a local group to play Dungeons & Dragons with.

I’m in a messaging group of local Pokemon GO players, to coordinate raids. But of course it’s not all ‘business’ that we talk about, and I’ve gotten to know quite a few local people that I would otherwise not have been connected with. People help each other with small stuff as well, and that’s pretty neat!
One day someone was invited to a raid that was close to their home, but they declined because they were playing D&D at a friends house. Several people in the group remarked that they were curious about it and that they wanted to try it out to see what it was about. Turns out that I was the only one with game mastering experience, so I ended up with a group of three players, two of whom had never played before. I ran a version of “The Secret of Cedar Peak” for them, and they are credited as playtesters as well. Lots of fun, and I even ran a really short session for two of the players one evening.

Last weekend was a special raid weekend in Pokemon GO, and I participated in a little ‘raid train’ across the area with a group. As usual with these things, the group thinned out a bit, and we were left with five people for the last three battles. Two of these were the new-to-D&D players from the group. While waiting for a raid to begin, we chatted a bit (as we always do) and in the course of that conversation one of the D&D players mentioned that me and the other knew what their kitchen looked like. Visiting other Pokemon GO players is unusual, so that prompted some questioning, and we told that we had played D&D at the kitchen table there.
And then the two D&D players started to convince the other two that it was a lot of fun, and now I have a group of five players! I’m busy creating characters for the new players (which is not that easy if you don’t have any experience with D&D), and we’re scheduled to play next week Saturday!

Although today is the ‘official publishing day’ for the RPG Writer’s Workshop, I won’t be publishing today. I had planned it like this, but it does give a little pang of regret not being able to join in on the publishing frenzy!

Today, I’ve gotten a healthy respect for the job of doing the layout, now that I have to do it myself…

A friend of mine, whom I play a lot of RPGs with, went through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. He’s a professional translator, so he had a lot of grammar and spelling corrections to make — stuff that evaded me. And since he is a game master as well, he could also give some real good advice on how the information is presented. Super useful, and I have processed all his remarks.
Tonight I should get the first sketches for the artwork from the illustrator! Super excited about that too.

I haven’t posted here in a while, and that is because the RPG Writer Workshop has started, and writing my adventure scenario is taking up almost all of my time.

I tested the scenario out with a group of local Pokemon GO players who had expressed an interest in playing an RPG — I had two newbies and one veteran at the table, and a good time was had by all. And the adventure worked pretty well, but during writing I, of course, changed quite a few things. You have to take every possible semi-logical course of action in mind, instead of just going with the flow of your particular group. So I added quite a few scenes that might come up, which was fun to do but also took a lot of time.

I have the text of the scenario all written, there are just a few more tweaks I need to do. And I want to check whether the numbers work, so I want to run a group through the dungeon to see where they end up. Or I might just simulate that.
I have contracted an illustrator who is going to provide art! Really excited about that — though it does mean I need to reach a certain minimum sales volume to offset that investment. And I have to do things like providing references, which I’ve never done before. It’s a learning experience, to say the least!
I’m going to do cartography and layout myself, and I’ve started on designing the cover.

I have bought Affinity Publisher in their Black Friday sale, so I should be able to produce an attractive PDF with that. Still considering if I should create the stat blocks myself, or just make use of a site that formats them for you and just paste in the images.
I don’t think Affinity Publisher supports tagged PDF output, so I am also considering adding a black-and-white PDF for printing and accessibility which I’d make with LibreOffice, which would not have backgrounds and coloured text. The only program that seems to be able to do all three is Adobe InDesign, but I’m not going to get myself stuck in that ecosystem!
And if I’m offering two versions of the PDF in one go, I might as well go all-in and add player versions of the maps in PNG format so you can make use of them in your favourite virtual tabletop.

I signed up for the DM’s Guild track, but I have decided to publish under the OGL instead, because I want to retain full control over the end result. I’m going to go with a price of $5, which is low enough to be ‘beer money’. I hope that will lower the barrier for buying it.
Still considering what to do with marketing, too.

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.

RPG week

Last week’s RPG adventures started off with an online game of Fiasco, really early on Sunday morning. I had not played Fiasco before, and in general these ‘GM-full’ games (where every player is responsible for setting up part of the plot) are not really my thing. I’d rather just concentrate on playing my character instead of meta-gaming towards an interesting outcome. The premise is interesting: it’s like you’re all directing a Coen Brothers movie while having a ‘favourite’ character in the story.
The playset (basically the set-up for the game) we used was “Upton Abbey“, a setting inspired by British dramas about upper- and lower-class interactions in the 20’s. We weaved a tangled web of debt and sordid affairs both in business and in love. In the end, my character got stabbed by his pregnant lover, and his business partner let him bleed out and made it look like a suicide…
It was good fun, especially considering I played with a group of players that I had never played with before, which is always iffy. I knew some of them from our interactions on RPGGeek, so it’s not like I went in totally blind (I just would not have played). And this group has been playing together for years, so dropping in as a new player made me extra nervous. But it was good, clean fun, and the other players were patient with explaining the mechanics and made me feel at home. In fact, I’m playing again with them next Sunday!

I also bought the new Robotech RPG, which details the “Macross saga”. My love for Macross is well-documented on this blog, so I couldn’t pass up a new RPG. It uses the Savage Worlds ruleset, which I know is hugely popular with some people but that I never encountered. So I had to read up on that too. So far, it’s not that great — it’s been endless lists of character stats and equipment (and mecha!) lists so far. And the editing is quite atrocious too, which does not bode well. We’ll see!
Reading through it and identifying all the oddities how Harmony Gold perverted the Macross lore made me want to re-watch Macross to determine which statements in the game are actually true and which ones are American inventions. I ripped my DVD set on my anemic laptop, because that’s the only machine that still has a DVD player in this house… I’ll be watching through that in my ‘downtime’.

And yesterday I found out there is an upcoming RPG called “Against the Darkmaster“. I mean, at any given time there are upcoming RPGs, and most of them don’t interest me. But this one grabbed my attention because it has the exact same font and ‘trade dress’ as the classic MERP and Rolemaster games. Some research revealed that this is, indeed, a ‘retro-clone’ of MERP with all the Lord of the Rings-stuff stripped off. They have a quickstart and playtest, and I might download that and see what it’s like. It’s unlikely that I would go back to MERP/Rolemaster-style games as they are too ‘heavy’ rules-wise and too lethal for the more cinematic experiences I want these days. But on the other hand, the largest part of my RPG shelves are filled with those books…

Our (semi-)weekly Star Trek Adventures campaign has been completed, after twelve sessions. I made session reports, the first of which you can find here, and each report links to the next one.

I quite like how the game played. I have no idea whether that was because of the rules-system or because of our GM. Thanks to Roll20 automating almost all of the dice rolls, I never had to engage with the rules themselves other than selecting a few options in the sheet and clicking a button! That really made it easy to play as a casual player.

But there were some subsystems that we, as players, engaged with directly. I really liked the Momentum mechanic: you can ‘bank’ extra successes on a skill roll as Momentum, which can be used later to get extra dice (for an extra chance of success) or to make a success worth ‘more’. This is especially important when gathering information, such as using the ship’s sensors to find something out. In tone, it is similar to the Advantage you could get in the new Star Wars games (though those have to be spent immediately) or the FATE mechanic of creating an advantage or Aspect for another player to exploit. And I quite like mechanics of those sort: it’s like the ‘tide of battle’ being with the characters, and it rewards cooperation between the characters, since you can pass the Momentum to the next character. That’s also very in-genre: the crew works together towards a common goal!

I also liked the Values/Determination mechanic. Each character has some Values, and when you try to do something that is aligned with one of your Values, you can spend a point of Determination (you get 1 per session if you have none left) to get two automatic successes. But it gets even more interesting when you think of doing something opposed to one of your Values — and the GM may tempt you with a point of Determination to do so! Next session, you will need to come up with a new Value to replace the one that turned out to be opposed to your character’s goals. A really nice way to reward character development.

Maybe it was just this scenario with this GM, but I think the majority of our skill rolls were actually to gather information one way or the other. I don’t know if that is how the game is designed, but it is very thematic: in episodes of the TV series, most of the time is spent on getting information, deducing what is going on based on that information, formulating a strategy and only then springing into action to execute on that. So using a point of Momentum turned out to be almost always worth it: the extra information allowed us to formulate better strategies.

While the system is good and fast, where it really bogs down is in combat. In the whole campaign, we had one spaceship battle and one “in person” fight, and both bogged down significantly. Sometimes it’s really lethal, at other times it’s a drawn-out slugfest. It doesn’t play fast, which is totally not in line with our experience with the rest of the system. But that’s not too bad: it’s not a large part of the game, which is also in line with the source material. But on the other hand, it’s a missed chance: wouldn’t it be cool to play out a large space battle and have your characters affect the outcome? But with the system as it is, a single round of space combat between larger ships is just too slow, totally killing the mood.

There might be a sequel, what with some of the officers getting a good promotion…

Taking stock

One of the biggest chores in reconstructing our living situation is putting the books in the new bookcase(s). When we brought the books and the old bookcases upstairs, speed was more important than organisation, so they’re just all stacked haphazardly. But of course when the books take their rightful place in the living, we want to have some sort of grouping to have similar books together. (Certainly nothing like Dewey Decimal, but it has to make sense for us.)
So yesterday I spent quite some time pulling out all the books of my RPG collection and putting it in the new bookcase — it is certainly the largest category of books we have, and I am the one who has to organise them. A lot of work, but in the end it turns out I have just over 2 meters of shelf filled with RPG books. And over a quarter of that (56 cm) are classic Iron Crown Enterprises releases: the Middle-Earth Roleplaying boxed set (2nd edition), lots of Rolemaster (multiple editions and lots of sourcebooks) and almost the entire run of SpaceMaster (including two copies of the rules).

These days, I tend to buy PDFs instead of physical books: shipping costs tends to take out all the fun of getting physical books, and there are no local stores that I could visit to buy those books. There are two notable exceptions: one is every book published by Cubicle 7 for The One Ring, the current iteration of a Middle-Earth RPG (and, in my opinion, the first RPG to really capture the feel of the books!). The other is Tales from the Loop, an RPG set in an alternative 80’s by Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag — I think those two books are all that’s going to come out, but I recently participated in a Kickstarter for a follow-up and sequel, set in the 90’s…
Both those series are gorgeous books with lots of atmosphere and great illustrations, so they’re worth it. There’s still some room in the bookcase for expansion of the RPG collection!

Last Sunday, we made characters for a Star Trek Adventures campaign, the current incarnation of a Star Trek RPG. We went through the rule system and it seems pretty cool. I get to play a Betazoid engineer, the lowest-ranked player character…
And yesterday, we had our first session. And after the “opening scenes”, our GM showed us the intro he made for our “series”, made from scratch!

So cool to see your nickname in the credits like that.
(I go by ‘FubFubFub’ on services that require usernames with more than three characters, like Twitch, which is where I connected with this group.)