RPGaDay 2021: 14-18th August

It’s time, once again for RPGaDay and as always I’ll be releasing a short post each day inspired by the prompt from the table below. For the most part these are going to be off the top of my head, zero edit posts so I have no idea how much sense they’ll make or where each prompt will take me.

14th August: Momentum

Momentum – When it comes to one shots, convention games and even shorter sessions during a campaign I think it’s vital that a scenario has the momentum required to get through to the end of the session and reach a satisfying conclusion. A 3-4 hour window isn’t long, especially online where there are the inevitable connection issues and slower pace of play necessitated by the inability to have more than one person talking at a time. My advice to GMs is pretty simple – have a clear objective and get right into it. A clear objective tells the players what they should be seeking to achieve and sets out the focus of the game. Take the following setup:

“You’re a group of paranormal investigators and you’re here to investigate some recent sightings.”

It’s not a terrible opener, it tells the players who the characters are, why they’re present and gives some idea of what they’re here to do. But “investigate some recent sightings” is rather weak, it’s vague and lacks any specifics. As a result the players might dither or spend ages just trying to work out what the sightings were.

“You’re a group of paranormal investigators and you’re here to deal with a civil war ghost that has been attacking people at the mall.”

Is a much better opener. It provides far more in the way of details and makes it clear what the problem is (a ghost), where it is (at the mall) and that they aren’t just here to investigate but to deal with it. Combine that with a strong opening scene:

“It’s nearing midnight, you’ve been wandering the halls of the mall for over an hour without any signs of activity when a scream rings out. It’s coming from the security office…

Bam. Now you’ve got a problem and action. It starts you off from the get go and if you can do that then it’s far easier to maintain the momentum. Start a session by spending an hour picking gear and chasing vague rumours before you even stumble into the mall and you put yourself in the position of needing to overcome that initial inertia which is a far harder problem.

15th August: Supplement

Supplement – I don’t ever expect game design and publishing to become my primary income but it is a very nice way to supplement it and provides earnings that I am able to reinvest in the hobby. My hope going forward is that it will provide enough going forward to cover not only the money I spend on games but convention travel and accommodation. Right now, for the past 2 years my profit margin is about £500/year and if it stays at that then I’d be quite happy. A substantial portion of that was from ZineQuest, take out the income and costs I can directly associate to it and it drops to ~£130/year (though obviously this tax year still has a while to go). It’s a big difference and while I know a lot of people have issues with Kickstarter I’d have had a fraction of the success on other platforms. As an example Signal to Noise, which I’ve been trying to itchfund has sold a total of 9 copies right now whereas I’m pretty confident that had I launched it during ZineQuest it would have easily done 10-20x that.

16th August: Move

The emergence of Moves as a mechanic is, I think one of the defining features of the last decade of game development. They’re an elegant way to move past the very naturalistic idea of actions as defined by older RPGs and to incorporate the impact of the narrative on what you’re doing. Take, for example, jumping from one building to another. In an action orientated RPG you’d probably resort to something like rolling dexterity or acrobatics. The thing is that action would be the same regardless of the situation – jumping a chasm full of lava? Acrobatics. Jumping it to try and impress your crush? Still an acrobatics check.

Switch it to PbtA though and the move you use could be wildly different depending on the combination of what you’re doing, your motivation and what you want the narrative impact to be. Jumping out of danger vs showing off would be two completely different moves despite your action being exactly the same. It’s one of the things that I like about PbtA style games.

That said I also regularly find myself struggling with moves. Because of that need to incorporate the fictional positioning moves generally need to be wordy and describe the situations where they apply. They’re also typically paired with a name that while evocative isn’t always clear. Even faced with a PbtA game I’m familiar with I find that I have difficulty recalling exactly what each move does or when it applies. I can learn it with time but most of my PbtA experience is with oneshots so the lack of clarity is frustrating at times.

17th August: Crime

Given its popularity across wider media I am very surprised that crime solving games are not a bigger part of the gaming scene. Off the top of my head I can think of a few but very few that I would say are police procedurals or crime dramas. That being said investigative mystery is a fairly big category, especially as you could potentially say that games such as Call of Cthulhu fall into it.

The emergence of the GMless, clue driven Brindlewood Bay games is an interesting development and I’m keen to see how they develop in the future. It’s a system that would be ideal for a police or detective game, though I appreciate that many people would be reluctant to explicitly play as cops right now.

18th August: Write

I find the switch from development to writing hard. I always have and I say that with the experience of having written a 70k word doctoral thesis. Going from the ideas in my head to word on the page is just a difficult process and I often find myself self editing as I write which is NOT a great way to do things. For one it means that it takes forever just to write each section but it also doesn’t save me any time. I still need to go back to do edits/rewrites once everything is in place just to ensure that what I wrote at the start works with what I wrote at the end. When it comes to games I’ve actually found that working directly in layout helps me immensely. One of those weird tricks you won’t believe things. I think it helps being able to see how everything will work on the page and where I need to consider page breaks, art etc. It’s obviously not really that suitable for larger projects but for items under <10 pages it is my preferred option.

So what am I in the process of actually writing rather than designing right now? The first is the next in my fantasy adventure pamphlets. These are really small double sided releases that are designed to be printed and folded into a small pamphlet. I’ve released two so far for both Brighthammer and for D&D 5e via the DMs Guild. They’re built around a central map so the word count is really low and they make for an enjoyable creative distraction. Alongside that I have adventures for The Cthulhu Hack and Demon Hunters that need finished. Both of these have already been sketched out and I just need to get the words onto the page so I can release them. I’ve spoken before about Red Roots of the Rose and I’m really keen to get it out into the wild as I think it is an interesting adventure. I’m also really proud of the cover image that I’ve made – I’m not an artist so to be able to create artwork rather than just photoshop together existing pieces is something that represents a big step up for me.

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