Sunday, August 25, 2019

2019 RPGaDay 21: Vast

Vast

The potential experiences available to RPG-players is vast. When one considers the number of genres, sub-genres, character-types, races, classes, genders, experience levels, power levels...a gamer could play a different combination of all of this each day, and never play the same kind of character twice for years, maybe decades, or even the rest of their lives.

Even if one to limit themselves to a specific kind of character, there's still room for differences and nuances. For instance, as I've mentioned before, I tend to play some variation of the hulking brute, no matter what game I play. In fantasy, I'm the huge barbarian, in sci-fi I'm the strong warrior-type, in Supers, I'm the Tank. All variations of the same theme.

When I played in an L5R campaign years ago, my character was Hida Gotetsu, Samurai of the Crab Clan. Those familiar with that game are most likely nodding their heads knowingly. In fact, it became a running joke that all of my characters were the same character reborn into different universes. The Eternal Gotetsu.

The point is, though your choices are vast, you shouldn't feel the need to try everything. Because not only are the choices vast, so are the number of players. And that number is growing everyday. So, don't be afraid to stake your claim on a niche. Chances are, someone else at the table will make something to compliment you.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

2019 RPGaDay 18/19/20: Plenty/Scary/Noble

Plenty

Plenty is a word that gets used a lot by gamers in denial. "I have plenty of games" or "I have plenty of dice" or "I have plenty of time to prepare." In truth, there is not such thing as "plenty" when it comes to gaming.

According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary, plenty is defined as "a large or sufficient amount or quantity; more than enough."

See? Not relevant to games and gamers. Most gamers I know are constantly buying new games. Granted, these days that's become a lot more doable, due in equal parts to the proliferation of indie games, and the availability of games in less expensive PDF format. As a self-publisher, I would say at least half of my profits got back to DriveThru in the form of purchasing new games and gaming materials.

And dice? I have a small collection. Scattered over several dice-bags and a jar that was a gift years ago. I would seem to have plenty of dice, but I always crave more. New colors and patterns, new functions and numbers, new sizes and denominations; dice are like crack to most gamers. We all have more than we probably need, and likewise we all simply want more. It's a fact.

Prep-time for games is hit-or-miss. Sometimes you do have plenty of time. But that's always just for the pre-planned stuff. There is NEVER enough time to prepare for every eventuality. Especially not in the face of a group of children. It's like herding cats. And there's never enough time to prepare for that either.

The bottom line is, there is no "plenty" in our lexicon. Not in a literal sense. Not unless you add "for now" to the end of every "plenty" statement.


Scary

The first time you play with a group of strangers can be scary. Not always with home groups, since you usually know at least one other person beforehand. But when you game in public, like at a game store or at a convention, it can be a little nerve-wracking.

What if you look stupid? What if you don't know the system and the ones who do laugh at you? What if you fart and it smells horrible? Embarrassment can be just as scary to most of us a 7-foot tall, mask-wearing psycho with a machete.

But, like most things we are scared of (except sharks), our fears are largely unfounded. Gaming in public with strangers has become one of my favorite pastimes. If I could go to a gaming convention every weekend, I probably would. Meeting new people and realizing that we are all basically the same, and we are all there for the same thing, to have fun, is liberating.

So, no matter how scary it may seem, I highly recommend you game in public with strangers at least once. You'll probably find it somewhat addictive, and will soon be back for more. And soon, those strangers will just be friends, and all the scary disappears..


Noble

When most people think of "noble" an image of a king or princess comes to mind. As in "nobility." Gamers will often take that a step further and think knights and paladins. And still others will think of those bastions of good in a superhero world, like Captain America or Superman.

My personal definition of a "noble" character is one who is honest, forthright, and stands up for his beliefs. And in fantasy worlds, that's not limited to knights and paladins. Anyone can be noble. Even that thief who robs from the rich or the oppressive. There's a nobility in such pursuits.

Then there's idea of the "noble savage." Seemingly the opposite of the chivalrous knight, this person follows their own code. They are strong in their convictions, respect their peers, and generally want what's best in life for those they deem worthy. Durotan from Warcraft and Conan the Barbarian are archetypal noble savages, IMHO.

Playing a noble character can seem difficult. Especially in a game like D&D, where the characters are basically murder-hobos. But in reality, it isn't. In fact, most players play their characters with a certain sense of nobility anyways. When you support your party-members, cooperate to get the job done, and split the spoils, there is nobility in that. However, when you backstab your buddies, or steal from allies, that becomes problematic. And honestly, what gaming group doesn't deal with that sort of behavior decisively? So, again, noble.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

RPGaDay 15/16/17: Door/Dream/One

Door

Always check the door for traps. Always. And if you don't find any, get confirmation from another character. Preferably a Rogue/Thief/whatever sneaky bastard is handy. Trust me on this.

While playing The World's Largest Dungeon (AEG) many years ago, I had to miss a session relatively early on. So, I had a friend play my character. I mean, how hard could it be to play a dwarf barbarian, right?

Well, if anyone knows anything about TWLD, you kind of have to stick to certain areas until you are high enough level to move on (the premise is that the Dungeon contains every monster in the Monster Manual). Well, I'm not 100% clear on how it happened, exactly, as the story is second-hand.

But apparently my dwarf, Brak, tried to "unlock" a door with his maul. Normally, probably not a big deal. Except this one had a Fireball trap. Word has it all that was left was his smoking boots. And a giggling gnome necromancer who hated Brak.

So, yeah, two lessons here. Never let someone else play your character if you can help it. And always check for traps.
Expensive but fun. We went in on it as a group.

Dream

I have always had a dream of being a professional writer. And let's be honest, how many D&D players haven't at least entertained that idea? I have played at it for years. In 1998 I had an article in Dragon Magazine (#243, In a Class by Themselves). I thought it would be my ticket into the field of writing for D&D, leading to tie-in novels, and then into my own original stuff. Funny how life has a way of laughing at your dreams sometimes.

Suffice it to say, many obstacles presented themselves (not the least of which was my then-wife, who did not share my passions), and eventually the Dream was laid aside in favor of a "more stable" kind of career path. Hypothetically. In reality, the last 20+ years has been anything but stable.

But the dream never died. It just lay dormant for long periods, occasionally peaking out from beneath the covers. To date, I have nothing more to claim as a "professional" publication. Though I have self-published several stories, and several game-products. Still, the Dream persists. And I am now in a position where I have a shot at actually doing something about it.

So, if you need writing for your RPG, hit me up!

My article shares Mag Space with
 fiction from Margaret Weis!

One

Warning: Character bragging ahead. Proceed with eyes rolled.

Many of us have played countless characters since first being introduced to RPG's. Some of us probably number in the hundreds. But, if you had to pick one character from your past to play as your "ultimate" character, who would it be?

Tomos Elvenblood. Despite his none-too-original name, Tomos will always hold a special place in my heart. Born in the Metzner Basic D&D rules, and modeled after the X-Men character, Longshot, Tomos was a half-elf fighter with some (naturally-rolled) extraordinary stats. The kind of stats that make you reconsider ever making another character again, because you just know they won't be that good.

My dice were on fire that day. In order I rolled 18, 13, 13, 18, 16, 18 (think back to pre-3e to put them where they fell). Weird how I still remember them. Though probably not so weird, as Tomos saw upgrades into AD&D, 2e, and 3e. Skipped 4e for him, but have considered a 5e upgrade for shits and giggles.

About the time I was able to upgrade him to AD&D, I was big into the Conan stories. When my new DM had me roll his percentage for Strength, I rolled a 94. He had me cap it at 90, because that was the limit for male half-elves. So, that, combined with his 18 Charisma (and a 19 Comeliness when we broke out Unearthed Arcana), and he suddenly materialized in my mind as a cross between Conan and D'Artagnan.

Other excessively geeky details were also involved, but I've already wasted enough of your time doing that thing we all hate when other gamers do. Suffice it to say, though I have loved many, many of my characters, Tomos will always be my One.

Tomos Elvenblood
Drawn by me sometime in the late 90's.

Friday, August 16, 2019

2019 RPGaDay 13: Mystery

I'm not a detective. I don't even play one on TV. So, mysteries are...well, a mystery to me. Seriously, I'm not very good at solving riddles, or putting clues together, or reading between the lines. Plot holes fly right over my head, and I almost never know whodunnit until the end.

That's probably why I almost always play the hulking brute. Other people figure stuff out, and then they tell me who to hit.

That's not to say that mysteries aren't cool. And I do enjoy those rare moments when I figure something out before everyone else does. But, over all, I get stymied very easily. And a stymied Tom is a bored Tom. And bored Tom is likely to do some stupid shit.

Anyways, that's why most of the adventures I run don't have very complex mysteries. If I can't solve them myself, then creating and writing them is right out. That's also why I like action movies. Sure, a lot of them involve mysteries. But the audience usually knows whodunnit from the getgo, so the fun comes from following the hero as he figures it out.

So there you go. My thoughts on mysteries.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

2019 RPGaDay 12: Friendship

Yeah, yeah. We've all had friendships that started with RPG's. We get it. But what about our characters? Don't they make friends?

A lot of D&D parties will start out with the characters knowing each other. Or maybe just a couple of them do. But what I like is when my character strikes up a friendship with an NPC. Especially if it's a throw-away NPC that the DM created to fill a small role like giving information.

Admittedly, it doesn't seem to happen too often. DM's have enough to worry about without having to detail Sam the Street Urchin who has taken a shine to Brokass the Half-Orc Barbarian, and wants to follow in his footsteps. But, when they have the time, and it works out, it can be pretty cool.

Personally, I recommend all DM's and GM's consider having an NPC (or five) follow the party. They can be a good mouthpiece for the DM when he needs to give the party a hint, or steer them towards something that they may not necessarily notice they need to go to.

These NPC's can also be a boon to players who want to flesh out their characters. What if they want to explore their character's romantic side, but the player doesn't feel comfortable role-playing that out with another player (especially if their real-life SO is at the table)? Maybe the player wants to explore their character's (invariably) tragic backstory by taking a troubled NPC under their wing, and guiding them around the pitfalls that they couldn't avoid themselves.

Really, the possibilities are pretty endless. Characters need friends outside their party. Just like we do.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

2019 RPGaDay 11: Examine

Having a difficult time with this one, I asked my wife, "In the context of RPG's, when you hear the word "examine" what's the first thing you think of?" After taking a moment to wrap her head around the idea of that specific context, she answered "Character sheet?" Sounds good to me!

Character sheets are such a universal element to RPG's. I can't think of a single game that I've ever heard of that doesn't use one in one form or another. In fact, when I pick up a new game, the character sheet (usually in the back of the book) is the first thing I look at.

The character sheet is like a quick preview of the game. There you can see how complex, crunchy, detailed, simplistic, and comprehensive a game will likely be. Is it a stylized sheet, with genre-specific artwork on the fringes? Does the font evoke the typical setting? How many "stats" does the character have? How are skills or talents listed? Is there room for a character illustration? Personally, I love character sheets, and will sometimes be more interested in a game if it has an attractive one.

But, I never seem to be happy with the standard one in the back of the book. I tend to like specialized sheets. Especially for D&D. Here are the things I look for in a good sheet:


  • Artwork - I like little bits of artwork. A fancy border, images of weapons, even something like a small creature somewhere.
  • Character Sketch - I am a chronic doodler, and I almost always draw a picture of my character (even for a 1-session Con game). So, if the sheet gives me a spot to do that, bonus!
  • Stylized Font - I like the font to be legible, but also reflective of the genre.
  • Pertinent Information - I like all of the general information right in front of me. If it's D&D, or another game with "classes" I prefer the class-specific stuff to be on the bottom, if there's room, or on page 2.
  • Short and Concise - Speaking of pages, I prefer sheets that have as few pages as possible. One sheet is perfect, two is pretty acceptable, depending on the game. But three or more and I start looking for a shorter version.


Since D&D is my favorite game, below is a link to some of Dyson's custom sheets. I use his 5E sheet almost exclusively.

As an aside, Dyson also does a LOT of other cool stuff, including maps and other illustrations.

Dyson's Various Character Sheets

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

2019 RPGaDay 10: Focus

I tried writing this post last night, but I couldn't...focus.

Ok, I guess could just end it there and be done. But, nah. Let's talk about character focus.

In my experience, a lot of players see all of the options available to characters in an RPG and they want to do all the things. And most RPGs are very accommodating of that. I've done it myself. It can be fun to have a character who is kind of jack-of-all-trades, or has combined the abilities of multiple classes. But, sometimes, that can be too much.

These days I prefer to focus my characters down a single path. I want them to be the best there is at what they do. And there are both advantages and disadvantages to doing this. The advantage is, when your character is in his or her element, they shine. Need to take that monster quickly, the barbarian with great weapon fighting is your man. Need to convince that merchant to help your party out, the stunning bard with the 19 Charisma is your woman.

The downside is that, when out of their element, these characters can feel useless. Imagine the two examples above reversed. That Bard isn't going to charm her way past that mindless monster, and the merchant isn't likely to be swayed by the brutish demeanor of the barbarian.

Fortunately, most games these days seem to be designed to keep this kind of focus in check. So, while you can still follow a pretty narrow path, the mechanics in 5e, for instance, allow anyone to attempt anything, with a reasonable margin of success. Which makes the game more fun, IMHO.