#RPGaDay2020 Day 31 - "Experience"

Life is made of experiences and memories, and today I am going to share my own new experiences of the last year, since the last time I did one of these essay marathons. Because of Covid, the list is more limited than I would like, but I think it will be an decent list.

New Campaign as a Player
My alternate GM, Marc, ran his first 5e campaign, for about a year, ending right around the time that Covid hit. I think our last few sessions were fully online. In that campaign, we all chose to play mercenary hobgoblins in the land of humans.

None of us had spent much time with 5e at that point, aside from a 3-session trial we ran to see how it played at different levels, so it was completely unique. It was also unique because we were coming off a long campaign as champions, so it was interesting to be back to 1st level grunts--especially with 5e's "everybody's equal" at 1st level.

Perhaps the most unique aspect for me was that I designed my character to be the exact opposite of my previous character, Tal. Tal was a Beguiler--a controller and illusionist. He had absurdly high ranks in his social skills, as well, so was a very effective "face" for the party. So I designed my new character as a bard, but did not take any of the expected skills. I went with perform, but chose things like animal handing and medicine as my few skill choices--and while I earn my keep in cities by playing, I can't really do much more than earn tips while playing.

And our adventures, instead of being epic world-saving events, were "clear our name from that time we got framed by the only person who treated us well." Another fun bit of the character, I took "Detect Plants" which fit in wonderfully with the second set of adventures---because there were killer trees (as well as "Gate Trees" in the forest, so every hour or so, I'd scan for killer trees and gate trees. So a usually useless spell helped make us more useful, depsite our low levels. It was a fun new campaign, and I look forward to starting it after my current campaign hits a stopping point.

New Campaign as a GM
I've mentioned this, but I started my own campaign when the previous stopped, and chose a whole area to run the campaign. This involved a LOT of world building, which I hadn't had to do in a while. The country is older than humans in the world, and the interplay between the different races is very different than other parts of the world. Also there are unmapped "here there be monsters" areas, and countries the players have never had anything to do with--and everything they knew from before is "those northern types." This new world building led to a whole new level of content creation--including letting the players have a lot more freedom to create the world themselves. They (usually) grew up here...if they think knew a place or a person...then they did.

And I've written about using character connections and explicit player story arcs from Your Best Game Ever. These are more techniques for bringing a "directed sandbox" to the table--allowing the players to choose what they're doing, and supporting it.

In the process of doing this, I've made a lot more use of electronic tools to keep track of what's going on. As much as I like Realm Works, which is campaign management software, it doesn't work well for me in real time. When things are going fast and furious at the table, I need to be able to take a few notes, with names and context, and fit it together later.

I've learned that keeping track of things by time isn't totally useful. Stories evolve by elements..when doesn't matter so much. So I've started using Scapple to keep track of story lines, and OneNote to keep track of per-day details. This is evolving, but I've had better luck keeping story arcs in my headd since I started doing this.

I've also learned the value of creating detailed people and places ahead of time, and then putting them into the story when they're needed. Sure, someone may exist only to point to the next thing...but if someone is going to be a recurring contact, someone owed a favor, etc, I need to understand them better. From this, I'm using a tip from Invisible Sun to create events, people and places ahead of time...1-3 each per session. If they get used, great. If they don't, they are in my library for future use.

Invisible Sun
I ran several sessions of Monte Cook Games "Invisible Sun." as well. This is one of the most revolutionary games I've ever played, for being completely unlike anything I've ever done previously. That said, many of the technical aspects evolved into "Your Best Game Ever" sections, and gave me the courage to try such a radical new game. 

In terms of playing itself, it is a very hands-on game, and so during Covid, I haven't run it. However, a good friend kicked me in the butt and told me to play. So I've been working on how to recreate the game's tactile experience in Roll20, and looking for ways to use Zoom to make some things possible that might not have been in person.

There's another experience for Invisible Sun...books coming out fast than I could possibly read them. Invisible Sun is a great game, but it has a high learning curve--and the rules and the setting really blend together into one experience. Each new book doesn't add monsters or places or character classes as you would normally expect. It adds whole new dimensions to the world itself. (For example, a key game element is the Path of Suns, which shows how the universe is affecting things. One of the book introduces new paths that can be taken...which is a HUGE change, storywise, even if it has almost no mechanical implications.) So it's not just reading the book..it's internalizing it. 

I love running demos and Convention games..especially for MCG games. Unfortunately, I ended up with a cold the couple days of U-Con, last November, and ended up not getting over there. I did run two sessions at a start-up game store, ran a one-shot for my daughter's friends, and created a new Strange demo adventure and playtested that. (tested well...too long.)

This brings me to something not directly related to gaming--my experience with Toastmasters. Toastmasters, for those who don't know, is a global non-profit organization that helps people become better speakers and leaders. There are lots of lessons of what makes a good speech, how to improve your focus, gestures, vocal variety and so on..as well as lessons that encourage listening, feedback, and organization.

This year, I got my Distinguished Toastmaster award, after five years of work. This included around 50 unique speeches, club and district leadership positions, teaching speaking to a group of high school students over 17 weeks, judging speaking contests at all levels within the district, and doing a major project that promotes not just leadership, but self evaluation.

YouTube Interview
I had my first-ever experience doing a live interview on YouTube. Darcy, from MCG, interviewed me about my experience with Toastmasters, and how speaking techniques there translated into being a better GM. I had seen her do this type of interview with others...with it being more of a conversation than an interview, and I absolutely loved the experience.

This blog is one of the big things I've accomplished this year. My 31 "August" essays finished on September 13th, so a bit late, but as I mentioned earlier, I'm very unworried about that. I'll do a post with statistics, but I covered 31 unique topics, wrote a trilogy about my creative process without meaning to, told some of my favorite stories, some of which were new. I also to to share my experiences, but also gelled my thinking. These essays are for fun, as I've said many times, and I appreciate the people who like them. But what I've found is that sometimes in writing them, I get insights through the act of writing--which makes me just a bit wiser than I was before.

The Year Coming Up
I'm setting a few gaming goals for myself for the next year, and am sharing them. I'll review them next year, and see how reality differed from my ambitions.
  • Run my 3.5 game in Jadir for most of the year, continuing to evolve the city, the country, with ongoing world-building and supporting the character's goals in the world.
  • Get Invisible Sun back to a monthly thing, and really give the players a chance to advance their stories. There are amazing characters and stories, and I'm really anxious to let them move forward--all while pushing the limits of this strange and wonderful game.
  • Start doing more demos and virtual conventions. As we are at the six month point, and a new game is a Zoom call away, I'm hoping to turn this into a more regular thing. I also hope to support U-Con directly with several events.
  • I hope to start a YouTube channel, to bring speaking and leadership lessons that I've learned from Toastmasters to GMs (or players) who want to tune their skills. I haven't figured out the format, yet, but I've got the equipment and the will, so I'm hoping that creation won't be a big deal.
  • I also hope to have DiceDeliberations become something that I contribute to frequently, and not just 31 essays in "August." There are enough reviews, ideas, and frankly old articles that I want to finish that there's a lot of opportunity.
  • Bonus: I hope to figure out how to use my registered-but-not-connected dicedliberations.com address to the page, even if the pages themselves still exist on blogger.
Today was all about my experiences of the last year, as they relate to gaming, and some of my goals for next year. I like the idea of doing this, and will likely do this in the fugure. I like it in the same way I like to do annual objectives and performance discussions. Done correctly, they are about setting goals, encouraging people and looking back and see what went well, how people have grown, and where there are opportunities to consider in the next year. All of which is a way of making sure that each year is a year of growth, and not just a repeat of what's been done before.

About Today's Art

Today's picture is unique in that I took this picture. The photo is of North Sawyer Glacier, in Alaska, and while it was just over a year ago, it was a fantastic and completely unique experience.


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