Day 31 of #RPGaDAY 2020 — the finat! Today’s prompt is ‘Experience’.
The assumption in almost every RPG is that players want their characters to become better at what they do. The way to do this is to award experience points to the character (or maybe it’s fair to say they are awarded to the player!) and if you get enough XP, you can improve your character in some way — stats, skills, abilities, etc. The rules that govern how XP is awarded tell you what the game is about, because that’s the main feedback loop the game uses to steer the way the players play their characters.
Thinking about this, I wonder: why do we, as players, want our characters to become more capable? Yes, it’s a nice dopamine hit to increase some numbers on your sheet, but what does it do in terms of gameplay and the fiction that is produced? In games where tactical combat is the main source of XP, being more powerful means you can now tackle tougher enemies — it’s just another step on the power escalation treadmill. You’ll still have to kill enemies that are matched in toughness with you, and while the enemies will be different, the gameplay is the same. While an increase in abilities can be the result of an interesting narrative arc, the reverse is not necessarily true: an advancement in abilities will not automatically produce an interesting narrative.
I don’t think I’ve ever played (or even read) a game meant for long-term play that did not have advancement in this manner. I wonder what such a game would look and play like.
Thanks for following along! I hope you found these musings about my favourite pastime interesting.
Day 30 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Portal’.
Certainly one of the tropes in fantasy is a magical portal that allows one to teleport over vast distances, or even onto another world or dimension! Adepts of Campbell’s monomyth archetype will see it as some kind of transformation device, a transition between two states of being.
I have to admit I am not overly fond of the trope, and I rarely use it in my games. My scenarios are more like “investigative roadtrips”, and why would I want to provide short-cuts like that?
Day 29 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Ride’.
In fantasy RPGs, horses and other draft animals are the main mode of long-distance transportation. But I’m not a fan of outfitting the characters with horses or a cart: what are you going to do with that once you arrive at a dungeon and enter? Will their horses still be there when they get back, three days later? The logistics are just too complex, and using horses for long-distance travel is not faster than walking anyway.
In one campaign of the Amber Diceless RPG, the royal stablemaster of Amber started to demand a deposit for every horse loaned out, because the princes and princesses had an inclination of jumping through a trump contact or shadowwalking somewhere, leaving his fine horses stranded in Shadow!
Day 28 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Close’.
I’m really fond of games that feature travel, like Ryuutama and The One Ring. I really like to add travel aspects in my own scenarios. Knowing where you are in the world and how close you are to other things is quite important by then, often through in-game maps. I tend to futz around in Campaign Cartographer to make maps, but I haven’t really succeeded in making a map that I’m 100% satisfied with. Maybe I need more practice.
Day 27 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Favour’.
Can I just say that I really appreciate that this series of prompts uses the UK English spelling, and not the American spelling? Because I do.
Favours are an interesting reward for characters, next to the usual reams of money, treasure and magical items. Favours are special because they do not have a direct mechanical effect, but can have a very powerful story effect! Imagine being able to call in a favour from the city guard, or an influential merchant — those can change the course of an adventure drastically.
I like it when a game has some kind of reputation system, with various groups or factions having an opinion on the characters and that affecting their interactions with the party. That doesn’t really translate to the murder-hobo style of gaming, but in “closed settings” such as Duskvol in Blades in the Dark or any other urban settings, it really makes sense to track this.
Day 26 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Strange’.
If everything you encounter in an RPG session is mundane, why are you even playing? Because to me, the draw is to ‘experience’ (between quotes because in RPGs you experience things through your imagination) things that you would otherwise not experience. There’s this joke about a group of dragons playing ‘Offices & Accountants’, because that is about something that they are not. And there is truth in that: if I want to experience something ‘normal’ as myself, I’d just go do it.
The cool thing about RPGs is precisely that anything can happen, no matter how strange — though what we would consider ‘strange’ in our world could in fact be pretty mundane in the game world, such as magic. That sense of wonder and wanting to know what happens next is what keeps me coming back to RPGs.
Day 25 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Lever’.
One of the tropes about dungeons is that there are all kinds of clever mechanisms and traps that are hidden in de walls of the dungeon, ready to ruin the day of any careless passer-by. I remember going through the MERP module for Moria, and there were all kinds of mechanical traps in there — most of them very, very lethal. And I remember thinking: “Huh, but didn’t the Dwarves live in Khazad-dûm!?” Imagine filling every corner of your house with deadly traps — how would any child survive once they start crawling around? Ok, so maybe the traps would only be armed when the Dwarves would come under attack — but who would have time to arm those traps in the event of a surprise attack?
And even if the traps were armed in some manner, would they still be armed hundreds of years later, when the adventurers arrive? Would chains not have rusted through, ropes have rotten and frayed, covers of pit traps fallen down?
Which is to say that I’m not a fan of traps in unattended dungeons, and traps in areas where people live or pass frequently should be easy to avoid once you know the trick, otherwise the residents would slowly be whittled down by their own traps — and that makes no sense.
Day 24 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Humour’.
There are many ‘humouristic’ RPGs. I find that most of them do not work for me — to me, humour is dependent on situation and timing and an unexpected view. I think RPGs can set up a situation, but timing and unexpected viewpoints can’t be planned in advance. The humouristic RPGs I’ve played were mainly aimed at slapstick, and did not really get me laughing.
That is not to say that I haven’t had plenty of funny moments while playing RPGs, but those emerged organically from the play, and were not set up as such.
Or maybe I’m a bit of a grump with a stunted sense of humour?
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!