Day 19: What music enhances your game?
I don’t play music during my sessions. Mostly that is because I don’t have the infrastructure to control the music — though for online play, Roll20 allows uploading music files for use during certain scenes, but I haven’t used it yet. And it can be distracting, especially for people who are slightly hard of hearing: the added background sound can make it harder for them to hear what the other players are saying.
But if I ever get to run that Macross-inspired campaign, you bet there will be an opening and ending theme for every session!

Hacking Tachyon Squadron

I backed the Tachyon Squadron Kickstarter for 1 dollar, which gave me immediate access to the text-only version of the rules. It’s called “text-only”, but it is a fully laid-out PDF which looks gorgeous. There are empty spaces where the art will go, but other than that, it’s the complete game. A pretty good investment!
And it’s really good: lots of good systems to emulate dogfights in space, like we know from movies and TV series. I also note that in the list of inspirations Robotech is mentioned… The only drawback is that it uses the FATE Core system, which I like in principle but had not gotten to ‘work’ in my own campaigns. And looking at the play examples, the players are busier with the mechanical aspects than with the fiction. And it’s the fiction I’m interested in…

So maybe I could port those excellent systems to the narrative dice system that FFG uses in its Star Wars games? Or maybe the Apocalypse World Engine? The Star Wars games obviously already have space battles, so I might read up on those first.

I’ve played a fair bit of Pathfinder: it was the game of choice for most of my groups once D&D 4th edition rolled along and everybody hated. Pathfinder was the game that kept the 3.5 torch burning, and players flocked towards it like moths to the flame.
I’ve never much liked Pathfinder: by the time I started playing the game, it was already well on its way along the “supplements with ever escalating power levels” route. Lots and lots of options, and while options as such are great, I also felt the need to write an app for my phone to keep track of all the different modifiers my character had to deal with during combat!
Now, with the release of D&D 5th edition, Dungeons and Dragons is back, bigger than ever, and it’s eating Pathfinder’s lunch. Clearly, something had to be done to save the Pathfinder model. One of those things is that the publisher released Starfinder, which is (as far as I can determine) a Pathfinder-in-space game. But there is also going to be a second edition of Pathfinder — with the goal of ‘cleaning up’ the game.

Pathfinder is (was) big, so of course I’m kinda interested. But ‘cleaning up’ doesn’t mean making the game simpler. I think I don’t need to keep track of this second edition, because it does not provide what I want from an RPG.

The release of the fifth edition of D&D has caused a renaissance in RPGs. People who stopped playing decades ago are returning to the hobby, and more and more new players are discovering the fun in playing RPGs. And there’s a trend for more inclusivity in the hobby too: the D&D5 artwork is more diverse, and more and more publishers are coming forward with anti-harrassment policies. That increases the audience for RPGs even more, which is very good!
And, in a case of “the rising tide raises all the ships”, once you find out RPGs are fun and that D&D is not the only game, you start looking at other things too, which means other RPGs are doing better too.

One of the most interesting niches are “actual play” streams or videos. A group of people come together to play RPGs (often a whole campaign) and they stream that to Twitch and/or put up the recordings on YouTube. Some people manage to make their living by being an on-line GM, aided by technology such as Roll20 (which we use extensively too for our online games).
Some of these streams are hugely popular and have thousands of viewers. Even our own games that we streamed and then put up on YouTube were doing pretty well in views. And if you’re an RPG publisher, then you can see some real effects when your game is featured on one of these shows.

I think that’s a really cool development: you can see the game being played, so you can find out what the game is about.

So one of my friends was inspired by The Last Jedi to play through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II. He’s streaming his sessions, so we’ve been (sort-of) following along. And the discussions about the Jedi morality and such inspired him to organise a scenario for the Star Wars RPG (the current iteration by Fantasy Flight Games). We’ve played with him before: he did a game for us that was set at the beginning days of the Rebellion.
This game would be set roughly in the timeline of SW:KotOR2, about a 1000 years before the events in The Phantom Menace. And where we were restricted to the professions in the Age of Rebellion sourcebook in the previous game, for this game we were allowed to pick from all three sourcebooks — and that includes Jedi characters!
I wanted to play a Jedi, and I came up with Chunlade, a young female Twi’lek Jedi Seeker — with the Ataru Striker specialisation, which means her style of lightsaber combat is one of relentless attacks, using athletics like leaps and somersaults to close the distance. It’s the style that Yoda preferred. Twi’leks are the aliens with the two ‘tentacles’ on their head — I think the first time we see them is as the slave girl dancing for Jabba the Hutt.

The GM wanted to make a cool “title page” for our game, using concept art for our characters. But it turned out to be quite hard to find a depiction of a female Twi’lek that’s not all boobs, thighs and exposed midriffs. Not something a Jedi explorer would wear — and certainly not how I’d want to play a character. I guess that initial impression of Twi’lek’s as female, exotic, submissive and accessible has left its echos in the way they are depicted. Meh.
But after some extra searching we did manage to find the right concept art!

Left to right: Balar Dash, the Toruga Pilot; Chunlade, the Twi’lek Jedi; IG-N0BL3, the assassin droid; and Sikh Sikh L’est, the Cerean Jedi. Click to embiggen: we look absolutely bad-ass!

The largest exhibition for tabletop gaming is held every year in Essen, in their ‘fairgrounds’ building — four days with six large halls filled with booths from game manufacturers, publishers and dealers. (And, because it’s Germany, there are also booths selling grilled sausages in between.) There is, predictably, a large offering from German manufacturers (not only is the majority of the public German, but there is a real designer boardgaming culture in Germany), but there are also many international offerings. Design collectives from Japan, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan bring pallets of their games and sell out during the pre-orders, and there are visitors from all over the world.
We’ve been going there for a few years now, and we went on the first day — not that we had a specific list of games we ‘needed’ to get before they sold out, but because the first day doesn’t have the most public. (And still it’s noisy and sometimes you’re stuck in foot traffic.) And yes, I did have a list of games I was interested in, but that was just a tentative list: things that I thought looked cool, but if we didn’t see/find them, it would be fine too. There was only one thing that I really wanted to buy, at the request of a friend who wanted to buy it for his wife.

Our day at Spiel Essen 2017 (picture heavy)

And then we arrived home, eleven hours after leaving. Kind of tired now…

Top DM tips

So, if you compile a list of top tips from DMs by looking at a representative sample of responses to a DM survey, you get this top 4:

  1. Prepare to improvise.
  2. Focus on the players and their characters.
  3. Monitor the pacing of your game.
  4. Evoke memorable NPCs and fantastic worlds.

So that’s what other DMs advise you to do when running a game. This is not something that is built in into Dungeons and Dragons, this is something that the Dungeon Masters have to discover for themselves.

Contrast that with this excerpt from Dungeon World:

Your agenda makes up the things you aim to do at all times while GMing a game of Dungeon World:

  • Portray a fantastic world
  • Fill the characters’ lives with adventure
  • Play to find out what happens

I’ve written about how Dungeon World is superior, and here is another point of proof: the best advice anyone can give you about running a fantasy RPG is built right into the game.

Most of you probably don’t know who Frank Mentzer is. He’s one of the original old-school writers for D&D, and thus is somewhat of a celebrity in RPG circles. He currently has a Kickstarter running for a setting he’s going to write.

And he is a Weinstein-level creep, as you can read in this Twitter thread.

The pattern is familiar: a white man is using his credits in an industry (RPG in Mentzer’s case, movies in Weinstein’s) to pressure and intimidate victims of his sexual assaults and harassments into silence. The old “I’ll make sure you never work in this industry again!” ploy. And it’s not simply hollow threats (in general): 75% of the victims of sexual assault in a corporate context face retaliations for reporting, while the perpetrator gets away clean. So it’s quite brave for victims to speak out about what has happened to them, and as bystanders we are required to undertake appropriate action.

Everything is political, and your entertainment choices matter: they help shape the culture and the world we live in. If you continue to spend money on things that Weinstein or Mentzer did and do, you are maintaining their power in their respective spaces. You are helping them to be in the position to credibly threaten people into silence. You are directly helping them to sexually assault other people. You just can’t separate the person from their work.

I spend a lot of my time over on RPGGeek, the RPG-focused sister site to BoardGameGeek. I keep up to date with new releases, new RPG Kickstarters, special deals, reviews and session reports. I’m also a big fan of their Question of the Day.
But there’s another thing that I use the site for: Play by Forum. Yes, it’s so much slower than Face-to-Face or even Play by VOIP, but it has the advantage that you can just take your time to craft an artful description or a cool action without people getting impatient. I’ve participated in a few games, and I’ve also GM’ed a few games there. One of those was a game of The One Ring titled “The Secret of Minas Anghen”, a retooling of a MERP scenario (in fact, the scenario we played during my first ever RPG session!), and I had six players. We started in April 2015, and we ended somewhere early summer 2016 — so it really took more than a year to finish! But it was a great game with a great group.

Recently, the Bree sourcebook for The One Ring was released, and one of the players has remarked in the past that his favourite RPG book was the Bree sourcebook for MERP. And this new book has three scenarios in it, and all my PbF games had ended… So I asked him if he were interested in reprising his character for the first scenario, and that turned out to be the case — very much so, in fact.
I contacted the other five players separately, asking them if they would like to play again. And all of them said they wanted to! I’m taking it as a huge compliment that every player from two years ago wants to play again with me. And so we have the whole group together for a new adventure! I’m stoked.