01 September 2020

#RPGaDay 2020

As with last year, this year's #RPGaDay consisted of single word prompts, and again, as with last year, I gave my responses to them on Twitter (this time a little more concisely). Here they are, collected in one space for your convenience.

#RPGaDay2020 1. "Beginning": An RPG that is good for beginning players is not necessarily bad for experienced players. The best RPGs put new and old players on equal footing, because they reward role-playing over rule-playing.

#RPGaDay2020 2. "Change": RPGs are more satisfying when player characters can potentially effect change in their environment. Otherwise, they’re little more than tourists in the setting.

#RPGaDay2020 3. "Thread": The common thread in most of the adventures I write or run, regardless of the game, is "help." Someone, in some way, needs help, and the player characters are in a position to offer it. In my experience, this works for any genre.

Except, perhaps, Kobolds Ate My Baby.

#RPGaDay2020 4. "Vision": Often the vision of a game designer is at odds with the vision of the creator whose work they are adapting. If you find an adaptation you like, be loyal to it, not to the latest company to snag the license.

And on that note, you can tell when a game is made with a love for, and understanding of, the source material versus the desire just to cash in on a recognized work. When you look past the graphics, is it still a good game?

You don’t even *need* the illustrations. You probably already have access to plenty of art inspired by the work or drawn from it. What you need is a well-designed game that faithfully captures the feeling of the original work.

That’s the game adaptation you support, even when it goes out of print "officially." Don’t settle for inferior games just because a new publisher now has the license. Support what you know in your heart you like best.

#RPGaDay2020 5. "Tribute": One of my works in progress is a role-playing game tribute to Jules Verne, Ray Harryhausen, and 19th century parlor games. I'd better finish it before I get stranded on a desert isle.

#RPGaDay2020 6. "Forest": Forest Encounter! Roll 1d6 and see what you encounter...

1. You encounter a wolfwere dressed like a typical grandmother. It has the power to transform into Graham Chapman.

2. You happen upon a ring of toadstools. Don't dance around it or you'll turn into a toadstool yourself. If you eat one, well, that's another random table.

3. You chance upon a house constructed entirely of candy and baked goods. If you're short enough, the resident will try to eat you when she catches you gnawing on her domicile. If you're taller, she forces you to renovate her home for 1d6 months.

4. You trip over, and enrage, a lion, which happens to have a thorn in its paw.

5. You step on a venomous snake. If you apologize quickly enough, you will be spared its scathing sarcasm and biting insults. In the best of circumstances, it's quite the amiable conversationalist.

6. You meet a werebear in mid-transformation. It's preoccupied with preventing fires.

#RPGaDay2020 7. "Couple": I like standard swashbuckling as a genre, but I also like it coupled with science fiction, fantasy, science fantasy, or mythology.

#RPGaDay2020 8. "Shade": "5 a : a disembodied spirit : GHOST" (Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary) Rarely executed well in D&D. Executed very well in the #GhostbustersRPG and #Bureau13 #StalkingTheNightFantastic.

#RPGaDay2020 9. "Light": What constitutes a "rules light" RPG?
Easy rules
Few rules
A few easy rules

#RPGaDay2020 10. "Want": I want a.) more time to game, b.) a consistent weekly gaming schedule, c.) plenty of 12mm binary dice (no one makes them to my knowledge), and c.) for my players to be familiar with more of the literature that inspired many of my favorite RPGs.

#RPGaDay2020 11. "Stack": I resemble that remark! #GhostbustersRPG

Seriously, though, I prefer my RPGs to be books or "bookshelf edition" boxed sets that I can store vertically on bookshelves. Stacking boxed sets makes me wince, probably because many of the old sets were fragile and half empty, which meant they were easily damaged.

#RPGaDay2020 12. "Message": Player handouts, used sparingly, can be beneficial to immersion in RPGs. Messages written from an NPC's point of view work better when they can be read and narrated by the players rather than the GM.

#RPGaDay2020 13. "Rest": Consider placing your katana on a rest within easy reach when you GM in case you need to behead any players who dishonor themselves.

#RPGaDay2020 14. "Banner": For my first Gen Con (in the early 1980s at Univ. of Wisconsin—Parkside), we stayed at a campground where I noticed many of the tents had banners indicating their gaming club affiliation. I envied those clubs for their size and resources.

I've had my small gaming groups, but the only gaming club I ever belonged to was my junior high school D&D club and it never went to conventions or even had a banner. I longed to found a club, name it, design its banner, and attend conventions as a group.

It was a continuation of one of the themes of my childhood: inventing and being at the center of nonexistent organizations, in search of a sense of belonging and importance.

I think I was (and am) happier just gaming with small informal groups of friends, though. I don't want to elect officers, collect dues, or conduct meetings according to Robert's Rules of Order (like some war game clubs I knew of). I game for relaxation and entertainment.

#RPGaDay2020 15. "Frame": When I GM, I try to frame situations in terms of how people — not just the PCs — are affected. Society exists. NPCs are not cardboard standees. They have lives, dependents, hopes, fears, and individual motivations. It helps the setting breathe.

#RPGaDay2020 16. "Dramatic": Dramatic is good. Comedic is better. A combination of the two is best. #RPG #TTRPG

#RPGaDay2020 17. "Comfort": I am most comfortable running games that never (or almost never) require consulting a rule book at the table. If only all games were like that...

#RPGaDay2020 18. "Meet": I like it best when it is assumed that starting characters have already met and the players spontaneously “recollect” mutual memories and past experiences with one another.

Too often first sessions feel more like one is being introduced in a therapy group or a game show than joining an adventure party. "Hello. My name is Ray Zor. I’m a thief with no living relatives. I like daggers, dark cloaks, and brooding alone in the moonlight."

#RPGaDay2020 19. "Tower": Not every wizard resides in a tower. Roll 1d8 for alternative abodes:
1. mountain cave
2. stilt hut
3. geodesic dome
4. ziggurat
5. cottage
6. bungalow
7. A-frame
8. penthouse

#RPGaDay2020 20. "Investigate": Investigation works well with nearly any (maybe even every) genre of role-playing game. Try it with your favorite fantasy, science fiction, or historical #RPG. Heck, try it with Teenagers from Outer Space. Nothing can stop you. #TFOS

Teenagers from Outer Space by R. Talsorian Games. #TFOS #TeenagersFromOuterSpace #RPG #TTRPG (I'm in a TFOS mood.)

#RPGaDay2020 21. "Push": Combat is more interesting when there are other options than causing damage. Try letting a PC who makes a successful attack push, grapple, or disarm an enemy instead.

#RPGaDay2020 22. "Rare": I do wish all role-playing games, regardless of rarity, were available at least in PDF form. It's fine for collectors to collect their collectables, but RPGs were made to be played, presumably by as many people as possible.

What is the point of an unobtainable game?

#RPGaDay2020 23. "Edge": If player characters want to strike with the pommel instead of the blade edge, I allow it, but the damage roll is reduced by one die step (in games that use polyhedral dice). In a dice pool game, I'd reduce it by one or two dice.

#RPGaDay2020 24. "Humor": I dabble in it from time to time. Table of Many Tables (Contains Tables)

#RPGaDay2020 25. "Lever": A good game system acts as a lever to facilitate role-playing. It's a tool, not the end product.

#RPGaDay2020 26. "Strange": Where there is strangeness, there is mystery; where there is mystery, there is often adventure...

#RPGaDay2020 27. "Favor": The importance of which hand a character favors is woefully underestimated by most RPG character sheets.

#RPGaDay2020 28. "Close": You are probably on the right track as a GM anytime a player says, "That was a close one!"

#RPGaDay2020 29. "Ride": A good RPG session is like a good amusement park ride — they're both exhilarating. If that feeling is missing, it might be time to investigate the reason why.

#RPGaDay2020 30. "Portal": Role-playing, like reading, can be a portal to another world, which may also contain portals to other worlds. When I read or role-play something interesting, it transports me. Apparently through portals.

#RPGaDay2020 31. "Experience": Experience rules are fine if player characters are rewarded for the right thing AND progress is not too slow AND the benefits are neither too meagre nor overpoweringly great. Otherwise, just let the GM and players decide when it's time to advance.

09 August 2020

The Best Format for Adventures

For me — and I speak only for myself — the perfect format for a physical copy of a role-playing adventure is the zine. I do not mean a standard size adventure shrunk to zine size. I mean an adventure that has been formatted specifically for print as a zine. After using such adventures at the table, I find the format far more practical and enjoyable.

There are several factors that contribute to this. First, of course, is the physical size. It takes up less room behind the GM screen, and I can hold it open comfortably in one hand if I wish to stand up and walk around. Maximum GMing convenience.

Font choice is critical. A proper zine adventure needs to be of a readable typeface and size to facilitate ease of use. I don't need anything fancy. I just want to be able to read it quickly and without squinting. This, I'm afraid, is an all too frequently undervalued aspect of adventure (and rule book) publishing. Save the ornate fonts for handouts (torn pages from tomes, letters from the regent, secret notes passed by spies, et cetera).

Each room description (or other location description) ought to start a new page — no searching the page to see where descriptions begin. The only time a page should contain more than one room description is if those rooms are empty or otherwise identical. Any space not filled with text or illustration can be used by the GM for note-taking.

Each map ought to be given its own page. Larger maps ought to be printed on a separate sheet, folded, and inserted in the centerfold. (If there is more than one map on a single page in a zine, the maps are too small.)

If you've never run an adventure in zine format, I encourage you to try it. Some things, like rules, only prove themselves through use. (I recommend "The Sanctum of the Snail" included in Crepuscular #1.)

27 July 2020

Role-Playing Online

My recent birthday weekend marks my first time role-playing via Zoom. Previously, I had tried Google Hangouts and Tabletop Simulator, but this latest experience was the most successful. Not everyone has the same needs for online gaming, but mine is simple: I want real-time audiovisual communication. That's it. Players can have their own character sheets as long as I have a copy (or at least the information they contain). Players can roll their own dice. (I trust them. If I didn't, I wouldn't invite them to my games.) If players want maps, they can make them the old-fashioned way with graph paper and a pencil using my descriptions. Yes, my role-playing is very much of the "theatre of the mind" sort, and although I occasionally make use of battlemats and miniatures (primarily to show marching order), I can easily dispense with them. I miss being able to distribute actual handouts, tokens, cards, and possibly even props, but it's a luxury I can live without as long as everyone at my virtual table can see and hear one another.

What did we play? The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG adventure, Frozen in Time, the third adventure for Billie the Once Risen (formerly known as Billie the Squire), George the Witness, and Francis the Creep. It was a three hour session, and I think there will be one or two more before they complete it. I look forward to many more (and of other role-playing games, too).

I was apprehensive about online gaming, but now that I've found something that works for my players and me, the gaming future looks brighter.

30 June 2020

One Page Dungeon Contest 2020 Deadline Extended

The deadline for the One Page Dungeon Contest 2020 has been extended to 15 July. That's July the 15th! The Fifteenth of July! Two days before my birthday! Learn more (about the contest)!

21 May 2020

Good Gaming Advice from Goblin Punch

April was a good month for blogging partly because April puts me in a whimsical frame of mind, but equally because I was on furlough due to the pandemic. For weeks I would devote my mornings to one or more of my blogs, and it was pleasant indeed. I resumed working at my job later in the month, and alas, I'm posting less frequently. Even now, I only have time to point readers to someone else's blog. Advice for OSR DMs is a nearly perfect summary of the style of fantasy adventure gaming I prefer. It's not the only style I like, but as far as level-up role-playing games go, this is exactly how I do it. (I'm flexible on 0-level funnels, though. Sometimes they are the right way to start a campaign; sometimes they're not.) Goblin Punch has plenty of other insightful articles like this one, so plumb its depths, spelunker!

20 April 2020

Random Alignment Generator 2

In a previous article, I described the official RPGA alignment dice I purchased in 1980-something and how to replace them with the superior (and more flexible) Fudge dice normally used in Fudge and its offshoots. Whilst I continue to recommend them (they can be ordered direct from Grey Ghost Press, Inc.; or you can request your favorite local game shop to order them through Impressions Advertising), I recognize that some may need a table for use with the dice they have as they wait for their Fudge dice to arrive. So, here is the d6 version of the Fudge-powered Random Alignment Generator:

 1st d62nd d6

Combined, we may generate the following results:

1-2Lawful GoodLawful NeutralLawful Evil
3-4Neutral GoodTrue NeutralNeutral Evil
5-6Chaotic GoodChaotic NeutralChaotic Evil

19 April 2020

Table: Misspells (Table of Many Tables)

Are these Mis-Spells the result of caster error, inaccurate transcription, or a combination of both? Or are they the magical norm in a parallel universe? This is but another mystery of the Table of Many Tables!


Roll 1d30

1. Ape Change
2. Auntie Magic Shell
3. Cone of Old
4. Clown
5. Cymbal
6. Disinterest Grate
7. Firball
8. Fold Person
9. Geese
10. Glasstool
11. Glossee
12. Gourds and Words
13. Invisible Stocker
14. Lightning Belt
15. Lizard Wok
16. Meteors Warm
17. Mordenkainen's Sore
18. Moss Charm
19. Moss Invisibility
20. Move Hearth
21. Otto's Irresistible Dunce
22. Phantasmal Farce
23. Power Word, Blond
24. Remove Purse
25. Reverse Gravy
26. Shocking Grass
27. Simulacrumb
28. Tenser's Floating Disco
29. Varnish
30. Weeblemind

18 April 2020

Table: Spells (Table of Many Tables)

These spells have an instantaneous casting time and therefore cannot be interrupted, disrupted, or cancelled. So, cast with care! Table of Many Tables!


Roll 1d20

1. Alter Weather Slightly
2. Annoying Servant
3. Awkwardness 10' Radius
4. Baleful Baa
5. Call Snow
6. Color Play
7. Cone of Shame
8. Delayed Bluster
9. Eerie Glow
10. Find Friend
11. Improved Befuddlement
12. Phantom In-Law
13. Polymorph Condiment
14. Prismatic Invective
15. Ray of Deconstruction
16. Spectral Pet
17. Summon Volcano
18. Tectonic Shift
19. Wall of Mist
20. Xaxall's Extemporaneous Explosion

17 April 2020

Table: Family Heirlooms (Table of Many Tables)

You may be embarking on your first adventure, but at least you have your family heirloom to worry about. Something something Table of Many Tables.

Family Heirlooms

Roll 1d12

1. The Sacred Icon Which Speaketh (a little too loudly at tymes).
2. The Vial of Blessed Tears (miraculous and delicate).
3. The Crystal Egg (mysterious and fragile).
4. The Clarsach of Sublime Beauty (a temperamental harp).
5. The Sword of Heroism (bronze, unfashionable).
6. The Helm of the High Ruler (very tall remnant of royal parade armor).
7. The Ancestral Gourd (bulky, but amusing).
8. The Book of Memories (heavy, but useful as a footstool).
9. The Ruby of Authority (entrancing, distracting, and very coveted).
10. The Skull of the First (encrusted with jewels, cursed).
11. The Marzipan Homunculus (eerie and mostly controllable).
12. A Stradivarius.

16 April 2020

Table: Alternative Alignments (Table of Many Tables)

Perhaps you are unsatisfied with the traditional alignment system of your current role-playing game and would like to replace it or supplement it with a new one. Perhaps the Table of Many Tables can help!

Alternative Alignments

Roll 1d12

1. Moral - Amoral - Immoral
2. Heroic - Well-Intentioned - Villainous
3. Civilization - Nature - Barbarity
4. Law & Order - *shrug* - Crime & Passion
5. Good Guys - Extras - Bad Guys
6. Federation - Neutral Zone - Romulan Empire
7. Scientific Romance - Science Fiction - Scientifiction
8. Uptight - Normal - Bonkers
9. Gentle - Permanent Press - Heavy
10. Masculine - Neuter - Feminine
11. Cooked - Raw - Live
12. No Flash - Flash