06 September 2019

#RPGaDay 2019

RPG a Day 2019 image.

This year, #RPGaDay consisted of single word writing prompts instead of questions, and I think it lent itself well to the medium in which I chose to respond: Twitter. So, for those of you with an aversion to Twitter, here are my responses in a single post.

#RPGaDay2019 1. "First": The first RPG I ever played was D&D. My friend DMed me through an improvised dungeon and I was thereby hooked. The first RPG I bought (immediately) was the D&D Basic Set edited by Tom Moldvay and bearing the best D&D cover art in its history: the Erol Otus cover.

#RPGaDay2019 1. (Addendum A) The first RPG rule book I ever read was the AD&D 1st edition Monster Manual, and I read it long before I ever played or understood what an RPG was. My brother had bought it for the illustrations. A few years later, I used it as a DM.

#RPGaDay2019 1. (Addendum B) The first published RPG adventure I remember DMing was the AD&D 1st edition module, The Tomb of Horrors. Odd place to start, I know. I was 13 and I didn't know what I was doing. It would be some time before I did.

#RPGaDay2019 1. (Addendum C) The first RPG I ever played that I truly enjoyed without reservation was Stormbringer, based on Michael Moorcock's Elric saga. I purchased it and Call of Cthulhu at the first gaming convention I ever attended, Gen Con in Kenosha, WI c. 1982.

#RPGaDay2019 1. (Addendum D) The first free RPG I ever encountered was probably either Fudge or Risus. They are free in every sense of the word: gratis, freeform, and liberating. If your RPG is constraining your creativity, either of these will free you.

#RPGaDay2019 1. (Additional) My first awareness of role-playing was through an advertisement in 80 Microcomputing, a magazine for a computer I didn't have (TRS-80). It described a game called Deathmaze 5000, a 1st-person game of exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat.

It didn't advertise itself as an RPG, but the idea of it fascinated me (and saddened me because I lacked the required TRS-80 computer). I bought the magazine during summer vacation c. 1981, and I couldn't wait to describe the game to my friends when I returned to school.

"It's a game where you can try to do anything! Imagine if there were a way to play something like that without the limitations of a computer! It would be the greatest game ever invented!" is approximately what I told one of my friends on the playground during recess.

To which he responded, "Gordon, that's what I've been trying to tell you. That's what D&D is." My jaw undoubtedly dropped. This D&D he was always talking about was the impossible dream made manifest?!? "We MUST play D&D!" I believe I said in response.

Now, I know D&D isn't the Holy Grail, but it is one of the things that started me on my Quest, and for that (and 80 Microcomputing and Choose Your Own Adventures and my friend David who introduced me to D&D) I am eternally grateful.

David agreed to be the Dungeon Master and take me on a quick adventure so I could get a taste of it. "ZAP! You're in a dungeon..." is literally how he began it. "O.K.," I thought, "That's an odd start."

The adventure was brief, but I could see vast potential in this "role-playing," and I promptly (the same day or the next or maybe even the previous) rode my bicycle to the nearest department store (Meijer) and purchased my very own copy of the Moldvay D&D Basic Set.

I say "maybe even the previous" because I just realized I might have swung into action right after our conversation on the playground, possibly having read the rules without fully understanding them prior to my first D&D session.

At any rate, I plunged into a lifelong hobby, acquiring over one hundred role-playing games, and I owe the spark of that fateful conversation to an advertisement for a computer game I've never played called Deathmaze 5000.

#RPGaDay2019 2. "Unique": In a ROLE-playing game, it doesn't matter if it's the same game, or even the same edition, the experience will vary from group to group and even session to session. No two groups play exactly the same way, so every experience is unique.

Different groups will have different interpretations of the rules, use different house rules, place emphasis on different aspects of the game, find different things funny (or suspenseful, or frightening), and have differing opinions on any of the above within the group.

All of this means that one cannot necessarily know what to expect when one starts gaming with a new group. Maybe the group will be compatible; maybe it won't. Maybe compromise will lead to both sides learning new things; maybe it will lead to a smoking crater.

Some publishers were overly concerned about the lack of standardized play styles from group to group and sought to bring about systems that would have a rule for every imaginable contingency (using rules consistency for tournament play purposes as an excuse or explanation)...

But I'm not convinced that it was necessary or desirable. What did players do with the 1st edition rules of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons when they first read them? They ignored huge swaths and played the way they preferred. They took what they liked and ignored the rest.

And what was liked or ignored or used was different for every group, and changed over time. Because the game, whichever it happens to be, belongs to whoever plays it. And it is thereby inevitably unique.

#RPGaDay2019 3. "Engage": Many things in the RPG hobby bring enjoyment: reading, planning, creating, preparing, recounting. But nothing equals playing the game with friends and those who may become friends. Engage in the game.

#RPGaDay2019 4. "Share": Share your passion for the hobby. Share your knowledge. Share your time. Share a table with others. Share your favorite resources (Web logs, podcasts, zines, etc.). Share your skills. Share your snacks.

#RPGaDay2019 5. "Space": Having a good space to game that is free from distractions is always preferable, so don't game on the starship's bridge during a space battle...

Make sure you have sufficient space to wield your weapon. Don't even try to use that lirpa or bat'leth in a Jefferies tube.

Whatever you do, don't get spaced, i.e. pushed out an airlock. Unless it's part of a game.

#RPGaDay2019 6. "Ancient": Historical and mythological ancient role-playing are too often a neglected part of the hobby. There are so many possibilities even if you don't count the wealth of GURPS source books on the subject. I'll list a few...

The Valley of the Pharaohs (Palladium); Man, Myth & Magic (Yaquinto); Heroes of Olympus (Fantasy Games Unlimited); Odysseus (FGU); the Celts Campaign Sourcebook for AD&D 2e (TSR)... Those are just the ones that spring immediately to mind.

Apart from the fun I could have from any of the above, I could easily run a Fudge game with any of the GURPS source books pertaining to ancient civilizations: Greece, Rome, Egypt, China, the Aztecs, etc.

Of course, most gamers' experience with the Ancients is from the point of view of adventurers encountering their ruins and artifacts, whether in a fantasy or post-apocalyptic setting.

One interesting departure from the norm is Tekumel, the setting for Empire of the Petal Throne and its descendants. Its far future civilizations have more in common with the ancient Indian, Egyptian, Mesoamerican, and Andean past than our present.

Hyboria, the world of Conan, is a fictional ancient past that takes place after an even more ancient past. (I'd play the TSR game over any of the later official versions, although the source is easily adaptable to many other game systems).

Timeship (Yaquinto), by Herbie Brennan, allows you to role-play in the ancient world from a present-day perspective. It's a time travel RPG in which you play yourself. It needs a few house rules, but it produced some of the best role-playing sessions I've ever had.

If you are concerned about the hassle of learning different systems for every ancient setting you want to try, consider using Fudge or Risus to adapt whatever RPG, source book, or historical resource appeals to you.

It's quite simple, and it allows you to concentrate on the joys of role-playing without getting bogged down by excessive game mechanics. That's my two obols.

#RPGaDay2019 7. "Familiar": Roll 1d10 for your familiar.

1. Ilemauzar
2. Pyewackett
3. Pecke in the Crowne
4. Griezzell Greedigutt
5. Vinegar tom [sic]
6. Holt
7. Jarmara
8. Sacke & Sugar
9. Newes
10. None. You have a famulus instead.

If you Find a Familiar, let it know there's a magic-user looking for it. Otherwise, said magic-user has a 25% chance of screwing up the spell and won't be able to cast it again for another year.
#ADnD #1stLevelSpells #FindFamiliar #1stEditionProblems

#RPGaDay2019 8. "Obscure": In the RPG hobby, any game other than D&D (including D&D) is obscure to outsiders. To most gamers, any game other than D&D and a few others (Vampire: The Masquerade, Pathfinder, maybe GURPS) is obscure.

For some (e.g., me), an RPG must be out of print and nigh unobtainable to be considered obscure. One such game is Neighborhood, published by Wheaton Publications. That, and a brief description in a DRAGON Magazine advertisement c. 1982 is all I know about it.

The only reason I care about it at all is that the advertisement claimed or implied that it was an RPG inspired by the Our Gang (a.k.a. Little Rascals) comedies. I am keenly interested in that subject, as it had a profound influence on my childhood.

I have been trying to locate a copy for two decades. I've never even found mention of the game beyond the information above anywhere. Has anyone ever played the game or even seen it? I don't know if the game is even playable, but I want it.

So, I nominate Neighborhood for the Obscure RPG Hall of Fame. If anyone has any information they could share about this RPG, I would appreciate it.

I'll see if I can find the advertisement and include it in this thread. Stay tuned.

The text of the advertisement from DRAGON Magazine Issue 65 (Sept. 1982): "Welcome to NEIGHBORHOOD ...the only role-playing game about being a kid! Lob rocks, snowballs or mashed potatoes at your friends..... Only $7.00! Wheaton Publications, P.O. Box 5862, Columbia, SC 29250"

I guess I imagined the connection to Our Gang.

#RPGaDay2019 9. "Critical": Whenever I have given groups of players the choice either to a.) apply critical hits/successes/failures equally to PCs and NPCs alike or b.) disallow critical hits/successes/failures, they have invariably chosen a.).

One might wonder if they think their character's luck at dice is better than the GM's, but honestly, I think they just enjoy the drama/absurdity of critical rolls. And honestly, I think it's fine.

#RPGaDay2019 10. "Focus": In RPGs, my focus is on role-playing. There are many aspects of the game I enjoy, and there is a place for all of them, but the aspects I enjoy the most and recall most fondly are those that involve good faith character interaction.

#RPGaDay2019 11. "Examine": To examine is to inspect closely or to investigate. In an #RPG, that is something anyone can do. You shouldn't need a skill to examine something. You might need a skill to make sense of it in a specialized field, but anyone can use their senses.

#RPGaDay2019 12. "Friendship": My oldest friends are those with whom I started playing RPGs. My newest friends are those with whom I currently play RPGs or discuss RPGs. How have I met many, if not most, of my friends? Through a common interest in RPGs. Thank you, RPGs.

#RPGaDay2019 13. "Mystery": A role-playing game* without mystery is like a library without books you haven't read.

*Also applies to RPG settings, adventures, and characters.

#RPGaDay2019 14. "Guide": Any guide to role-playing would be wise to acknowledge early on that styles and preferences vary from group to group and from player to player, and that it has been so since the beginning of the hobby. Find or form a group that suits YOU.

But give people a chance. Sometimes they pleasantly surprise you.

#RPGaDay2019 15. "Door": I admire Nancy Drew's resolve to discover the means of activating a secret door she is certain is there. (Pictured: Bonita Granville as Nancy Drew and Frankie Thomas as Ted Nickerson in Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase from 1939.)

#RPGaDay2019 16. "Dream": Dreams and nightmares are fertile territory for building worlds and creating adventures. If you have recurring dreams, they're begging to be used. Use them.

Dreams can be inspiration, but dreams as dreams can be interesting, too. To make things more mysterious, write different dreams on note cards and hand one to each player when their characters sleep. The dreams might be meaningful... Let the players decide if they share them.

Dreams as travel. Astral projection. Dreams as divination. Oneiromancy. Dreams as places. Fairyland. Or Faerie if you will. Dreams as magic. The science of dreams. Lucid dreaming. Streams of consciousness...

#RPGaDay2019 17. "One": One thing I require in any RPG before I will consider playing it is that EVERYONE gets a chance to roll dice (or use whatever randomizer the game employs). Because rolling dice adds suspense AND IT'S FUN.

If the game deprives me of that simple joy (as a player or as a GM), then the game is not for me (and probably for other reasons, too, I suspect).

Some GMs claim that having to roll dice is burdensome and time-consuming, which makes me wonder what RPG they could possibly be playing.

If dice-rolling is so unpleasant, why not try a diceless RPG? I wouldn't play one myself, but it makes more sense than only allowing some participants to roll dice.

Which brings me to a related point: If you can't trust everyone to play fairly, don't play with them. Play with people you trust. And if the game's author doesn't trust you to play right, find another game. They don't deserve your patronage.

Micromanagement has no place anywhere, least of all in how I choose to enjoy my hobby. (And I have no patience for condescension in rule books. As in zero tolerance. IT'S A GAME.)

I didn't expect to rant, but there you go. I like randomizers in my role-playing. Shaken, not stirred.

#RPGaDay2019 18. "Plenty": Ugh. Plenty of this. Plenty of that. Cornucopia. Blah blah blah.

#RPGaDay2019 19. "Scary": Is there anything scarier than level drain in old school D&D? I don't think so. Sure a sphere of annihilation will blow you out of existence, but chances are you won't have time to get scared. It will be a surprise. The undead, though...

You know they're coming, and you know all they have to do is touch you, and POOF! There goes a hard-earned level of experience... OR TWO! No saving throws! Oh, you'll be fleeing all right, unless you're a cleric or a paladin (or a maniac).

It fails to model anything in fiction or folklore, but it sure terrifies players. I can't say I care for it myself. I have nothing against appropriate consequences for characters, but this hinders play itself, and I never condone that.

As for what is scary in my games (regardless of system), I let the player characters decide what frightens them. It can be most amusing... *cue evil laughter*

#RPGaDay2019 20. asks, "[What is] Noble [in life?]"

Answer: Noble Sir Hugh the Noble. And so are his comrades three.

Sir Hugh ("The Noble")
Knight Errant (4)
Uplifter of Spirits and Imbiber of Same (3)
Occasional Gambler (2)
Lucky Shots: O O O
WWPHITM: Michael York

Cyril Hamm ("The Mad")
Troubador (3)
Humor Innovator (2)
Escape Artist (3)
Aspiring Alchemist (2)
WWPHITM: Gene Wilder

Anonymous Plumm
Trouvere (3)
Court Jester (2)
Friend to All Animals (3)
Acrobat (2)
WWPHITM: Marty Feldman

Elspeth Shelley
Herb-Gathering, Curse-Throwing Young Crone (4)
Probably a Witch (3)
Brewer of Mead and Other Things (2)
Teller of Fortunes and Detector of Lies (1)
WWPHITM: Madeline

Noble Sir Hugh's Not-So-Noble Band was made possible with the rules of Risus, available for free here.
WWPHITM stands for "Who Would Play Him/Her In The Movie" and is borrowed from QAGS, available for purchase here.

I forgot the Hooks!
Sir Hugh: Thinks warnings are jokes.
Cyril Hamm: Easily distracted by anything related to alchemy or comedy.
Anonymous Plumm: Will never harm an animal, and may sometimes take contradictory advice from them.
Elspeth Shelley: Wanted by "the authorities."

Also: I forgot to give each character an extra die for their Hooks, so, consider each one to have three extra Lucky Shots.

#RPGaDay2019 21. "Vast": So much. So many. So so. *sigh*

#RPGaDay2019 22. "Lost": I still own every role-playing game I have ever acquired since 1981 with the exception of my original copies of the first RPG I ever bought: the Basic and Expert D&D Sets with the Erol Otus covers. I lost them during a move.

I eventually replaced the rule books (decades later), but I miss the boxes. The rule books have the same art, but it's cropped, and I miss seeing it in its full glory.

Actually, there is a second RPG I no longer have (but later replaced): my copy of Gamma World that was signed by Jeff Easley at the first Gen Con I ever attended (when it was in Kenosha, Wisconsin).

I sold it to a friend when we were junior high school students and I needed quick cash to buy a record. I was an idiot, but at least I knew the buyer, and we are still friends and gamers to this day.

#RPGaDay2019 23. "Surprise": When you regain consciousness, you find yourself on a beach.

Your only possession is (roll 1d6):

1. a knife
2. a stainless steel windproof lighter
3. a 30' rope
4. a Sherman tank
5. a UFO
6. a birthday cake

#RPGaDay2019 24. "Triumph": Or instead try oomph. I have nothing to add on this topic. NEXT!

#RPGaDay2019 25. "Calamity":

Calamity Jane
Gunslingin', Cross-Dressin' Cavalry Scout (4)
Frontier Hell-Raiser with a Heart of Gold (3)
Singin' and Dancin' Fool (3)
Lucky Shots: O O O
Hook: Hopelessly in love with Wild Bill Hickok
WWPHITM: Doris Day

#RPGaDay2019 26. "Idea": Here's an idea... In your next RPG adventure/module/scenario, every player character must be played as if the player were a certain well known comedian. So, for example, your Ulric Hellbringer is now "Ulric Hellbringer (as played by Jerry Stiller)."

Roll 1d6

1. The GM assigns each player a comedian
2. Each player chooses a comedian
3. Each player chooses a comedian for the player to their left
4. Each player chooses a comedian for the player to their right
5. Each player's comedian is determined randomly
6. Roll again

I never said it was a GOOD idea.

#RPGaDay2019 27. "Suspense": If interest wanes at your gaming table, it's time to inject some suspense. At the very least roll a random encounter, but make sure there's motivation. And where there's motivation, there's a potential seed for adventure.

#RPGaDay2019 28. "Love": Being able to share the things you enjoy (e.g. gaming) with someone you love is a wonderful thing.

#RPGaDay2019 29. "Evolve": Post-apocalyptic RPGs usually have fun tables of random mutations, but which has the best? It might be interesting to make a master mutation table drawing from all of them...

#RPGaDay2019 30. "Connection": How are the player characters connected?

Roll 1d8

1. mutual friend
2. mutual enemy
3. are all kin
4. are all colleagues
5. are all former (or current) classmates
6. are all fugitives
7. are all survivors
8. met at a party/festival/gathering

#RPGaDay2019 31. "Last": To GMs: Make the fun parts of your gaming sessions last the longest. Unless the adventure is a race against time, let the players spend as much time as they like doing the things they enjoy most. Give them the freedom of action they deserve.

To players: Your time in the spotlight doesn't last forever. Share it with others. Role-playing is best as an ensemble activity.* Interact not only with NPCs, but your fellow party members as well. Make up shared back stories on the spot conversationally. It's easy and fun!

* Unless you are playing a solo or solitaire adventure. The former (one GM and one player) can be a very rich role-playing experience with the right conditions. The latter (one player and no GM) involves the least amount of "role-playing," but it can be fun, too.