Yesterday I got a chance to do something I’ve not achieved in months – gaming. The RPG Live UK (formally the D&D tweetup) meetup was taking place over in Nottingham, hosted at The Dice Cup Cafe. It was my first time attending the event and I had a blast. At only 3 games and just over a dozen attendees the event was relatively small but this gave it a different feel. This wasn’t a big busy and impersonal convention but a group of enthusiastic gamers getting together just to enjoy themselves and play something they otherwise might not. While I had only previously interacted with other attendees over twitter everybody was friendly and welcoming. I never got the out of place, one lost amongst the many sensation that I have experienced at bigger events and will be eagerly keeping my eye out for the details of the next meetup.
Game wise I decided to give the Gamma World offering a try, using the 7th Edition rules based off of 4th Edition D&D. Between that and my second choice of Starfinder I found myself in the odd position of actually wanting to play not one but two games originally based off of D&D. It’s a system I have never been particularly fond of due to a combination of the mechanics and a couple of previous bad experiences. Gamma World won out in the end as I was in the mood for some random chaotic fun, which the game provided in bucket loads. A time travelling demon is not a character I ever expected to play, let alone one with companions that included a terminator like AI, angry simian and depressed hyper-intelligent tree. The game was great fun, though I wish we’d had a bit more time outside of combat to explore the characters a bit further. It also reinforced my preference to avoid mini’s where possible, when they hit the table I just can’t help but switch to a wargame / boardgame style of thinking which doesn’t support roleplay. So all in all fun but not a system I’d turn to for a long term campaign.
I would be remiss if I did not say a few words about the location. The Dice Cup Cafe, situated right in the city centre next to the bus station is a fantastic example of a gaming cafe. Plenty of well lit space, numerous tables and a large games library attached to an excellent cafe with plenty of tasty food and drink to fuel you through any gaming marathon. The staff were friendly, helpful and knowledgable and were it a little closer I could easily see myself being a regular visitor.
One of the things I tend to struggle with when GMing is setting the tone of the setting. Too often I feel like I let the background gets lost amongst the immediate issue, especially as a game progresses past the opening scenes. It’s easy to be descriptive during that initial setup but once the game progresses I have a tendency to describe only what is directly relevant and in the face of the players.
Part of this comes down to not wanting to hog the limelight, characters can’t shine if their GM never shuts up. I’m sure we’ve all had to sit there and endure the GM monologue that just won’t end. Sure the world may be fully fleshed and evocative but its lost if everybody else has zoned out.
One of the writers I’ve always admired for being able to set the right tone is Philip K. Dick. Even though I’ve only read a fraction of his total work I’ve always come away with a deep impression about the world. Even his short stories are infused with a depth many full length novels lack. The same can be said of some of the adaptions of his work, such as Electric Dreams, the new anthology series on Channel 4 (in the UK). The Hoodmaker is the first episode of ten and while the story may be on the predictable side the background to the world is just teeming with details, undercurrents and depth. In 45 minutes it creates a world I can believe in, that I want to explore and dissect. It screams tone and tension without the promise of explanation.
It’s a feeling that I wish I could emulate at the table so if you’ll excuse me I’m off to dig out my Voight-Kampff machine and empathy box.
31st) What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?
End of the month and the final question. To be honest I’m not sure I’m really anticipating anything in particular for gaming in 2018. I’m not even sure I could list many games that have been announced as coming out next year.
What I do have though is a list of hopes for 2018, mostly focused around my own work. If I’ve not done so by then I will get Project Cassandra finished and published. Realistically it shouldn’t take that long but then again after DragonMeet last year I would have said I would have it out well before now. I know how to adjust the skills to deal with the issues highlighted by the playtest, the main issue now is getting a final playtest in of the changes.
The other area I want to focus on are my Demon Hunters adventure starters. I’ve published one already and the second, inspired by the Slice of Life episode Missionary Opposition is midway through drafting. After that I have notes for 2-3 more plus some rules hacks that I want to get out there. The last of those adventures is probably going to be a fairly hefty project, the current design includes two distinct but related plot threads occurring over a century apart from one another. My aim for that is to put it up as a PWYW adventure, the working title: Rocket Demons of Antiquity. That will probably change given antiquity normally refers to a much earlier time period than I’m looking to set the adventure but for now I like it.
I’m hoping that the lessons learned from this month of short posts can work well towards producing those. I’ve enjoyed answering the questions and a paragraph or two each day during my lunch break or on the bus will quickly add up to a substantial amount of material to work with.
30th) What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?
So at this point I’m fairly certain that most mashups have already been tried or established so I’m not even going to try to come up with something original and instead go with one that I’d personally like to try – the fantasy heist.
Now I know a lot of people that might say ‘oh but you could do that with D&D’ to which I’d respond ‘yes, but no.’ D&D, at its roots, is about fighting your way through a challenge to its eventual payoff. A fantasy heist on the other hand is all about avoiding the fight, about sneaking and conning your way in past the magical defences, the guards and the traps. If you end up in a fight then failure should be just around the corner. The idea behind this certainly isn’t original and I’d argue that it’s actually a trope of the fantasy genre so I don’t know if it really even counts as a genre mashup.
So how would I want to do it? As stated I don’t think D&D would be the best fit even though it’s what most people would gravitate towards. Blades in the Dark is big right now and from what I know about it would probably work well. Personally I’d use a game I already own – Leverage. The game is already designed around exactly the sort of play that I’m after, all it would need is some reskinning and introduction of magic (probably replacing the Hacker role with a Mage role). It’s an idea that I have been mulling over for some time, in part thanks to some stock images from JEShields art patreon. Right now it’s pretty low on my list of projects but my intention is to revisit it once Cortex Prime lands.
27th) What are your essential tools for good gaming?
Character sheets, dice, 1 copy of the core rulebook. That’s really all I’d term as essential but if we’re expanding out then I’m going to cheat and point you towards a previous post where I detailed my gaming kit. At the centre of it is my All Rolled Up which is one of the best gaming purchases I’ve ever made. Plenty of space within it and ideal for storing the foldable whiteboard and a selection of dice.
26th) Which RPG provides the most useful resources?
Quite a wide open question this. What should be defined as a resource? You could go the splat book approach in which case I would have to say Legend of the Five Rings and Corporation. For both of those games the extra books really expand upon the settings and provide (generally) useful additions to the rules. They’re also both systems where I really enjoy the style of writing so having extra books doesn’t feel like a chore to read through.
There’s also resources in terms of referenced information, such as depth indexes and system documents. In that case I’d have to go with FATE as both the core book and the SRD are thorough and easily accessible. Really handy when you need to look up something on the fly. The community for FATE is also really engaging and including Fred Hicks regularly engages with the games audience including commenting on blogs such as this one (See this post from when I was struggling with some parts of the game).
Finally there’s resources in terms of extras that add to the game without being necessary. Spell cards, custom dice, details character sheets etc. D&D and Pathfinder are the obvious answers for those games but they’re the big publishers, they rely on those sort of extras to entice players to keep spending. It’s even seen in the scale of their organised play, a great resource but not something that the smaller publishers could ever really contemplate.
Beyond just saying ‘hey I’m really enjoying the game, thanks for running it’ I can think of a few ways. But that really is the best approach.
So what are those other ways?
Well the biggest is simply to be engaged. I can’t speak for other GMs but personally I spent a lot of time on games outside of sessions. Prepping characters, going over notes, working out where the plot might be going (especially as I find I need to regularly adjust my expectations based on player actions). Some of this will be actual hands on, dedicated time while some of it will be idle speculation during odd moments of free time. All together it adds up, I’d estimate that each hour of game time will correspond to an hour of prep. At a minimum.
That’s a lot of engagement with the game, far more than I’d ever ask of the players. What I do appreciate though are players that engage during the session, it makes me feel like all that time was worth it and is appreciated. There are lots of ways you can engage with the game, for example:
Actively engage with the plot, give me an idea of where you want it to go.
Set aside the time to game. If you’re regularly flaking out at the last minute then you’re wasting my time. Flakey gamers are something that really pisses me off. Gaming is an important part of my mental health so it matters to me when you disrupt that.
Make an effort to learn the rules. I don’t expect mastery but I appreciate not having to explain the basic mechanics for the umpteenth time.
Know what your character is capable of. As the GM I’ve got to keep track of a lot of aspects, if you know your PCs abilities it’s one less thing I have to keep in my head.