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Showing posts from August, 2020

#RPGaDay2020 Day 21 - "Push"

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A Whiny Revelation: The only thing worse that writing a trilogy is writing a trilogy when you didn't mean to. Yet that seems to be what I am about to do with today's essay. Two days ago, my prompt was the word "Tower" and the article ended up being about where I get my inspirations for new and interesting story ideas. Yesterday, the word was "Investigate", and I wrote about how I use study and investigation to present more realistic elements in my world building and the story elements I present to the players. And now, today's word is "Push" and I thought that I'd write about ways that I push outside of my own comfort zone to avoid retreading the same paths in my extended campaigns. And that is certainly a good topic...but it means I've written a trilogy on my creative process over the last three days--without meaning to. On to the Essay One's comfort zone is a great place to be safe and predictable and to know that you can handle w

#RPGaDay2020 Day 20 - "Investigate"

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  The essay for today's word, "Investigate" was inspired by a conversation I had literally today with John, the co-creator of Trinity. We were talking about how civil magic would work in a large city. Would there be large scale magical or non-magical projects that purified water and sewage? Would people just take what they got? Would the rich have better choices than the poor--and what would those choices look like? We weren't trying to solve the problem--we were just bouncing ideas off of each other with the understanding that we needed some answers eventually, rather than now. And as we spoke, some of our conversations went to how things would have worked in Rome. Rome was an ancient real-world large city with large city problems and rudimentary technology by today's standards. They had a series of aqueducts to bring in fresh water. They probably had wells, as well, which were clean or not depending on the source of those wells. That, in turn, got me thinking ab

#RPGaDay2020 Day 19 - "Tower"

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  One of the questions that people ask professional writers is "where do you get your ideas" and the answers are so varied. Neil Gaiman gets some of his from sculptures that a friend makes. Some people keep notes of random shower thoughts, and correlate them later to see if they mean anything. Others get their inspiration from events, locations, discussions or dreams. For people who run role playing games, it is just important that we have places where we get inspiration, because after a while, there seem to be only so many dungeons, looted shops, bandits, marauding monsters and evil lords to overthrow before you seem to loop around. What follows is a list of the techniques that I personally use to find inspiration when I'm creating stories, and how I use them to make even the most well-tread events seem new. The Players The very best place to find inspiration is from the players. When they tell you want they want to do, there's a good chance that they'll enjoy do

#RPGaDay2020 Day 18 - "Meet"

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  In one form or another, I've described how RPG's are a social experience in almost every post. There's side-chatting, sharing of life events, telling old stories, and of course the experience itself--collaboratively creating a story, which leads to sharing the experience and making memories. And inevitably, this leads to people becoming friends, meeting new people, and expanding their friend networks. Today's essay is dedicated to a topic that deserves so much more attention than it normally gets, some stories of the wonderful people that I've met along the way. Junior High In 8th grade, I was having lunch with my friend Rob. One of the football players came over to our table; he said he had heard that I was a D&D player, and asked if was I interested in running for him and some friends. I said sure, and that moment began a lifetime friendship with my friend Mark, who I hung out with almost every day through High School and the summer after. About 10 years lat

#RPGaDay2020 Day 17 - "Comfort"

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  Comfort is something that makes our souls relax. Comfort music, movies, books. They don't have to be fluffy or light, or even necessarily fantastic--but they should be familiar and give us a "break" when we consume them. Some of my own comfort movies are Good Will Hunting , Enchanted April and Cabin in the Woods . My books include  Ender's Game and Anansi Boys, and my music includes Blue Oyster Cult and Simon and Garfunkel. And sometimes I will play Infamous, on my PS3, at a point after I've beaten the game, but can still run around and blow up bad guys and explore. When I experience these things, I get to largely sit back and enjoy the expected experiences without having to really work for it. No new experiences, no mind-blowing revelations, no tensions that I didn't choose. And yet when I'm done, I get to feel I've accomplished something in going through them--maybe caught a nuance I had never seen before, drawn a new connection, or maybe I just

#RPGaDay2020 Day 16 - "Dramatic"

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  As I've said many times, even this month, RPGs are all about good storytelling. And as a GM it's easy to have that story be interesting, exciting and rewarding. If the players like the story, then by definition, it's interesting. If there are unknown outcomes, especially if you can pull off a knife's edge situation, it's exciting. And of course, if the players advance, get cool new stuff, etc. it's rewarding. But there are other goals with different types of stories that are harder to accomplish. One of those is "scary" which requires that you understand horror narratives and then be able to translate it into a role playing game where you don't control many of the aspects of it. But today's essay is about "dramatic" and that's also hard to accomplish for a variety of reasons. In fact, I've had some experiences where I utterly failed to make things dramatic when that was what I was going for. I've introduced important NPC

#RPGaDay2020 Day 15 - "Frame"

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  In well-done movies, a director is trying to turn each frame of the film into a work of art. This means that they want the film to be picture-perfect, with ideal composition, making the actors look good, bringing out the best of the environment, and ultimately putting the eye of the audience exactly where they them. And if the movie is frozen, they want the frame the movie stops on to look like a professional still. TV tries to do the same thing, but instead of shooting 3 minutes of film a day, a TV show is shooting more like 10 or 15, and the budgets just aren't as high. So compromises have to be made, as the director balances between ideal composition and getting an episode out every week. In role playing games, the same trade-offs have to be made. There is no script, and the table read IS the final product, with three or four hours of content being delivered in three or four hours. Obviously, the game is going to have high spots, but not everything is going to be art. But here

#RPGaDay2020 Day 14 - "Banner"

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  Role Playing Games used to be seen as nerdy people hanging out in the basement. The people who played them could see how they boosted creativity, taught math skills, memorization skills and an interest in fantasy lore, not just Tolkein but the real stories--mythology and history and legend. But others would just roll their eyes if you mentioned Dungeons and Dragons. But today, things are different. A-list actors are playing RPGs not just for show, but because they really like it. People are much more open to the fact that RPGs are about telling stories, hanging with your friends, overcoming obstacles including epic monsters and ultimately creating something greater than yourself. Unless you have days where you can't roll on the north side of 4. Today's essay is about bad dice rolls, and in particular what people do when they get fed up with them. RPGs are about all the things I said above, but they are also games of chance. Just because you want something to happen in the gam

#RPGaDay2020 Day 13 - "Rest"

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  Today's Art The symbol above is an infrequently encountered musical symbol: a 64th rest, better known as a "hemidemisemiquaver rest." (Full disclosure: It's not actually better known as that. In fact, I had to go to five websites to figure out if it even HAD a name, much less what it was) And the reason you don't see it often is that if you assume that musical beat in 4/4 time is about a second (which is really slow but makes the math come out), that means that a 64th note (and a 64th rest) would be a 16th of a second--or about half the time it takes to blink your eye. But the point of today's essay is about the value in taking a short break. How a respite from the constant flow of running and playing the same games, even those you really like, can really help you recharge. Thus, this symbol for an absurdly short break from playing seemed appropriate. Introduction I have been gaming pretty continuously since August of 1978. As I've mentioned before, I pl

#RPGaDay2020 Day 12 - "Message"

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  An Unsolvable Problem Throughout the history of role playing games, there has been one problem that the greatest designer and player minds were never able to solve: how can a GM and player pass confidential notes between each other, such that it remains confidential? Seriously, this is a problem. The very act of a player handing a note to the GM, or the GM handing a note to the player alerts everybody that something is up. Just picture, the GM stealthily hands a note to the fighter's player which reads  During the last encounter, that bite infected you and you are becoming a werewolf. You will be bent on spreading your disease to others, and making lycantropes the dominant form of life on earth. Don't tell the others, and don't do anything about it yet...just wait for my signal, then go nuts! :) It may be metagaming, but the players aren't oblivious. As soon as they see that little piece of paper go from GM to player, they're inevitably going to say "I think

#RPGaDay2020 Day 11: "Stack"

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  Today's Picture The picture at the top of this essay is a puzzle called the Tower of Hanoi . It's a stack of disks on one stick, and you have to move the disks to another stick such that: They end up in the same order (smallest to largest) You only move one disk at a time You can never put a large disk on top of a small disk. Thus the whole puzzle is about stacking effectively, to achieve your outcome--and this ties directly to this essay, which is different than many of my other essays. Instead of talking about my world, or my game running or game playing philosophies, I'm actually going to look at a specific element of game design and how I've worked with it over the years. Bonus Stacking in RPGs One of the problems that all RPGs struggle with is scalability. Mechanics that work for starter characters  don't necessarily hold up for mid or high tier characters. My favorite example of this is a 3.X D&D skill which suggests that a roll of 25 will get you a wiza