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!

Day 13 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Rest’.

I love to GM a game: thinking on your feet, reacting to the endless creativity of the players and making sure that everyone has a great adventure, that’s the best. But it’s also hard work, and as an introverted person, I need to recharge after a session.
The worst thing about being a GM is that it is often assumed that you are also the manager for the whole group. So you have to all the rest as well: setting a schedule, making sure everyone knows when and how, choosing the technology used (for online games) etcetera is a lot of work. And that’s not so much of a problem when it’s all before the game starts (front-loading that effort so you can pace yourself), but having to do it while running the game is killing.
If you have to do that on top of running the game itself, it can become too much. I’ve burned out on games where I had to do everything — when it feels like the players are doing you a favour by showing up, it’s time to scuttle that game (and that group!) and look for something more rewarding.

So players should realise that they definitely have an interest in the load on the GM. GM’ing is a lot of work, so I always appreciate it a lot of a player takes care of the rest.

Day 12 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Message’.

There are many plots in movies from the 80’s that could have been short-circuited by the existence of the mobile phone. Back then, we simply did not understand how our lives and social mores would change by having ubiquitous communication (first synchronous, by phone, and now increasingly asynchronous through all kinds of messaging apps). You see this also in Star Trek episodes where a planet’s ionosphere (or whatever) impedes the usage of the communicator: the writers didn’t know how to deal with instant communications without breaking their intended plot, and thus they removed the capability. I’m pretty sure they just didn’t understand what it would be like, and thus could not adapt their plots accordingly. In the seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, there are no cellphones, even though man-machine interfaces exist. This is just because the mobile phone (as such) did not exist back then, and so the technology portrayed was never extrapolated from that data point.
So in a lot of media, communication is very important. One of the easiest ways to get a party of characters in a fantasy game moving is to have them carry a (vital) message to someone who is somewhere else. This might be considered a lazy trope — on the other hand, who else but a group of capable adventurers could you trust to deliver your message across dangerous wilderness?
But how do the rulers communicate? If there are no reliable communication networks, how can a centrally administered government project their policies and power across the land? And if there are ways to reliably send a message across (relatively vast) distances, why would the party be tasked with such?

The implications of having communication networks or the lack thereof is something to think about when designing an adventure, just like how the Star Trek writers should have thought about the implications of the existance of the communicator in their plots.