Categories
Old school Tabletop RPGs

Hill Cantons and Building Dynamic Sandboxes

Chris Kutalik has been running his marvelous-sounding Hill Cantons campaign for seven years, and blogging — with clarity and vigor — about his experiences along the way. I love reading about sandbox and hexcrawl games, and Chris knows his stuff. (He’s also published several books, three of which — Slumbering Ursine Dunes, Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, and Hill Cantons Compendium II — are currently winging their way to me.)

His series on dynamic sandboxes is a fantastic read:

  1. Building Dynamic Sandboxes Part I
  2. Building Dynamic Sandboxes Part II
  3. Building Dynamic Sandboxes Part III

Here’s the core premise, from the first post in the series:

Often providing dynamism is just a matter of thinking through after a session ends how the various pieces of your sandbox (the machinations/reactions of NPCs high and low, what an in-game activity like a massive treasure haul did to change a base settlement, etc) are organically pushed and pulled by players (and other actors), but it helps immensely to develop a range of tools and habits to give it depth and consistent motion.

Also from the first post, this gem is half of Chris’ technique for making wandering encounter tables (already a fantastic piece of worldbuilding tech) more dynamic:

Adding a variable New Developments slot that is basically a place holder for a special encounter tied to either a recent news event or an action that the party takes. A concrete example is that there has been a recent invasion by horse-nomads (kozaks) just to the north. If that slot is hit on the chart the party will hit something that has to do with event, maybe it’s a patrol by the local militia, foraging stragglers from the horde, deserters etc.

If that sounds like your jam, check out the whole series. They’re quick reads, but dense with inspiration and ideas.

Categories
Board games

Kids’ board games my whole family enjoys (around ages 4-7)

We like playing board games as a family, and it’s always a fun challenge to find age-appropriate board games that all of us will enjoy. It’s easier to find age-appropriate games that only my daughter, Lark, will enjoy, and we play those, too — but the sweet spot is when everyone is genuinely engaged.

Looking over our collection, these 12 games that have become family favorites. It’s a pretty varied mix, including dexterity, party, memory, and abstract games, but the one thing that unites them is that actual decisions are involved, and those decisions are enjoyable for all of us. Some are games I mentally categorize as grown-up games, but my kiddo enjoys them too.

These games, with my ratings, are listed below in alphabetical order. (You can see all of my current ratings on BoardGameGeek, too.)

  • Animal Upon Animal (8/10; paid link) is right on the edge of the “dexterity games I count among my non-kids’ games” line. It’s Haba, so the pieces are fantastic and the game is quick, fun, and accessible, and it plays well with 2-4.
  • Click Clack Lumberjack (8/10; paid link
  • ), also called Toc Toc Woodman, is one of my overall favorite dexterity games, not just among kids’ games. It requires a balance of finesse and confidence that neatly levels the playing field in mixed-age groups.
  • Connect Four (6/10; paid link
  • ) is the lowest-rated game on this list, and a hoary old chestnut that has been eclipsed by many, many other games…but it takes like two minutes to play, and my daughter loves it. It’s been a good one for observing (and teaching) her about tactics.
  • Don’t Break the Ice (7/10; paid link
  • ) is another lightning-quick two-player dexterity game that tends to get pretty same-y, but it’s so short that we usually play several times in a row anyway.
  • Gobblet Gobblers (8/10; paid link
  • ) is an abstract two-player game that makes Tic-tac-toe interesting by giving you the option of covering each others’ pieces. It’s a simple change, but it makes all the difference — and a game still only takes a couple of minutes. We find ourselves playing several times in a row.
  • Hold On Scooby-Doo (7/10; paid link
  • ) is a light dexterity game for two that takes about as long to set up as it does to play. It’s just tricky enough to have been fun for several years, and the theme is cute.
  • Labyrinth (7/10; paid link
  • ) is a solid game, and it scales extremely well with age. When my daughter was little, we gave her all sorts of advantages; as she’s aged, we’ve removed them to keep it competitive. This is her overall favorite game, at least for the past year or two.
  • The Magic Labyrinth (9/10; paid link
  • ) is the prettiest game on this list, and has the cleverest board. Its use of magnets and big, pleasing pieces is ingenious, and it’s probably the only memory game I genuinely enjoy. My kiddo is very good at this one.
  • My First Carcassonne (8/10; paid link
  • ) is one I wish my daughter picked more often, because the decisions are interesting and it nudges up against other games — like Carcassonne (paid link) — that drift into grown-up territory. It’s a beautiful game, too, another one that plays well with 2-4.
  • Reverse Charades (9/10; paid link
  • ) is one of our overall favorite party games with adults, but my daughter likes it, too. She doesn’t know all of the cards, but tends to pick them up quickly once her teammates start acting things out.
  • Rhino Hero (8/10; paid link
  • ) is a hoot, a great card-based dexterity game with a tiny footprint, and one I happily bring to parties. It’s solid with two players, and with more than two. (I bet it would be fun drunk, too.)
  • Suspend (8/10; paid link
  • ) is another example of dexterity being the “great leveler” in kids’ games played with the whole family. It starts out easy, but the whole assemblage turns into a hot mess pretty quickly, and it’s a blast.

This list will probably look different in a year, never mind in another few years, but for now it’s a good snapshot of this particular sweet spot in my family — the games we all enjoy, and in many cases have enjoyed for the past few years.

Categories
Old school Tabletop RPGs

Hexmancer update and extended example

Thanks to a great question from Rogue Prismatic Golem on G+, I’ve updated Hexmancer to version 1.1. This version includes clearer language for the d24 roll, the d20 roll, and the Byways and Waterways section, plus a new logo. (The logo font is Hexatus, by Koczman Bálint.)

I also thought it would be a good idea to share a extended example of Hexmancer in use, so I grabbed the five dice it employs and printed out a sheet of numbered hex paper.

Hexmancer in action

For this example, I made 12 Hexmancer rolls, pausing to draw results on the map between each roll — but first, I seeded the map. I apologize in advance for subjecting you to my “artwork.”

Seed the map of Examplehawk

I added a village to the map, picked a terrain type for that hex (plains), included a trail because I figure the village has to be connected to something, and seeded three rumored dungeons out in the wilderness. (The map appears in Roll 1.)

For purposes of this example, I’m not going to check for random encounters or see if the party gets lost, and I’m not going to create features if any are rolled — I’m just showing you Hexmancer. I’m also actually rolling dice — and not manipulating the results — because rolling dice is fun and I want to use this example as a proof of concept.

Roll 1

The PCs are in the village in hex 1208, which is in a borderlands region of Examplehawk. They decide to check out the rumored dungeon to the south (down). The villagers tell them the trail heads in that direction, so they follow the trail.

  • d30: 6
  • d24: 6
  • d20: 10

Their origin hex is plains, so I look at the Plains column in Hexmancer. A 6 gives me plains as the terrain type for the new hex.

They’re in a borderlands region, and they’re following a trail, so I check the fourth row in the d24 table (the third row is borderlands, the fourth is borderlands while on a byway/waterway). I needed a 1-4 to get a feature, and rolled a 6 — no feature. Because there’s no feature, I ignore the d20 roll.

But I also know the trail continues into the new hex, so I’m going to use Byways and Waterways (Hexmancer, p. 2) to see where it leads. I use option 2 (“Party is following the feature”) and just roll a d5 to see where the trail exits the new hex.

I rolled a 4, so I count 4 hex sides clockwise from the origin side and draw in the trail. It exits into hex 1109, to the southwest.

Here’s the map with my new hex added.

Roll 2

Seeing that the trail seems to be heading in the right direction, the party stays on the trail. (From here on, I won’t show you my rolls, I’ll just list them and show you the map.)

  • d30: 29
  • d24: 10
  • d20: 1

Exiting a plains hex, a 29 gives me mountains. They’re still following the trail and we’re still in the borderlands, so a 10 on the d24 roll doesn’t generate a feature. I ignore the d20 roll again.

Using option 2 in Byways and Waterways, I roll a d5 and get a 2. The trail will exit hex 1109 into hex 1110.

Roll 3

The party presses on, following the trail through the mountains into hex 1110.

  • d30: 29
  • d24: 24
  • d20: 6

Looking at the Mountains column for the d30 roll, a 29 gives me plains. No feature again, so I ignore the d20 roll and move on to the trail. I get a 3 for the trail, so it’s going to exit into hex 1111.

Roll 4

The PCs continues on into hex 1111, still following the trail.

  • d30: 24
  • d24: 5
  • d20: 2

24 on the d30 roll yields hills. 5 on the d24 comes soooo close to generating a feature (needed a 4), but doesn’t. I get a 2 for the trail, so it’ll exit into hex 1112.

Roll 5

(In true “live TV” fashion, starting around this point my phone didn’t actually take a bunch of pictures I thought it had taken. You may notice ghostly terrain in unexplored hexes going forward — that’s me backtracking through the finished map, erasing things so I could retake photos for earlier rolls.)

The party decides to leave the trail and head southwest, straight for the dungeon in hex 1012.

  • d30: 24
  • d24: 7
  • d20: 10

Another 24 on the d30 roll, but since the hex they’re leaving is hills I look at the Hills column: a 24 is plains. No feature, again.

This time they’re not following the trail, though, so I glance at Byways and Waterways again. Option 3 (“Party isn’t following the feature”) notes that I only need to worry about the trail if its origin side connects to the hex they’re entering, which it doesn’t.

The dungeon looted, the party decides to head back to the village, buy supplies, and go for the dungeon in hex 1609, to the east. They follow “known” hexes the whole way, so I don’t need Hexmancer again until they decide to leave hex 1208, the village.

Roll 6

When they leave the village, there’s no trail to follow and they go straight for hex 1308.

  • d30: 15
  • d24: 4
  • d20: 10

Leaving a plains hex, 15 on the Plains column makes the new hex plains as well. A 4 on the d24 roll would have generated a feature on the first four example rolls, but now they’re in borderlands and not following a trail.

Roll 7

They head for hex 1409, to the southeast.

  • d30: 8
  • d24: 8
  • d20: 11

That’s plains, no feature, and ignore the d20 roll.

Roll 8

Not knowing anything else about the map, the absence of a trail leads me to decide that the PCs are now in a wilderness region.

  • d30: 24
  • d24: 7
  • d20: 12

Those rolls give me hills, but no feature.

Roll 9

  • d30: 12
  • d24: 12
  • d20: 17

Hills, no feature (other than the dungeon).

Roll 10

The party makes it out of that dungeon, too, and returns to the village via a known route. The next Hexmancer roll will be made from the village, hex 1208, heading towards the dungeon in hex 0806.

  • d30: 2
  • d24: 14
  • d20: 6

Back to borderlands, no trail, and leaving a plains hex, so that roll gets me a plains hex with no features.

Roll 11

They head into hex 1007.

  • d30: 23
  • d24: 9
  • d20: 15

23 on the Plains column is woods; still no features.

Roll 12

Hex 0906 has a feature! Also, the party is in wilderness again.

  • d30: 25
  • d24: 1
  • d20: 19

The terrain here is swamp, and a 1 on the d24 roll would be a feature in any type of region. I look at the first row on the d24 table (for wilderness, not on a byway/waterway) and see that this gives a -2 modifier to the d20 roll.

With the d20 roll (19) now a 17, instead of a getting a village (the 19 result), I get a castle. I could make one up or pull a pregenerated castle out of any number of books; easy peasy.

At this point I assume the party would decide what to do about the castle (or vice versa!), so I’ll stop the example here.

Postmortem

I rolled up 12 hexes using Hexmancer, including a mix of borderlands, wilderness, on-trail, and off-trail rolls. The average chance of rolling a feature across those four rows on the d24 table in Hexmancer is around 13%, or about 1 hex out of 8. Statistically, my one roll that resulted in a feature is about right.

Is it “right,” though? I’m going to sleep on that, but it seems about right for the style of campaign I had in mind when I designed Hexmancer. There would also have been random encounters, at least a couple checks to see if the party got lost, and the fallout from both of those things.

Features are fun, though, and the balance depends on your specific group and campaign — if you want more features, just change the d24 table. You could also seed the map with more stuff, which I’ll be doing tonight for my DCC campaign, probably to the tune of three or four villages and a similar number of features.

After 12 hexes, I’m also left with some interesting questions — and more importantly, so are the players. For example:

  • Where does the trail to the south go?
  • Why is there a castle next to a dungeon?
  • Why is the castle built in a swamp? (Cue Monty Python reference.)
  • What else is out there?

I also see that the terrain in Examplehawk is pretty diverse, but not unrealistically so (at least, not for the value of realistic that I care about for gaming).

Lastly, I should note that it took me much longer to write about each hex here than it did to generate them. After a few rolls, things like “d30 roll under 16 = same terrain” became second nature, and I didn’t even have to check Hexmancer to know the results.

If you have questions or feedback about Hexmancer, I’d love to hear them!

Categories
Old school Tabletop RPGs

Hexmancer: Procedural Hex Generation System

I needed a simple system for procedurally generating hexcrawl terrain and features, so I made one: Hexmancer. It’s two pages long, including design notes and acknowledgements, and you get to roll funky dice.

What it does

Hexmancer hexcrawls with your hexes, baby!

Hexmancer is designed to procedurally generate a fantasy borderlands/wilderness region in “fantasy Western Europe,” with occasional wasteland and weirdness, on the fly during play. It assumes that you’re placing dungeons/modules and perhaps a feature or two, but otherwise starting out with the PCs in a village surrounded by a blank hex map.

This 1.0 version has been through multiple drafts and rewrites, but hasn’t yet been tested in play.

(Update: I’ve now written up an extended example using 12 actual Hexmancer rolls, and I took that opportunity to tidy up some of the language and update the PDF.))

Other stuff you’ll need

You’ll need five dice: d5, d6, d20, d24, and d30. (The excellent, and free, Purple Sorcerer dice roller includes funky dice.)

Hexmancer will generate terrain, tell you when features are present, and determine what those features are — but you’ll need to create the actual features.

The recommended resources section used to be more robust, but I edited it in February 2020 after the current owner of Judges Guild turned out to be a massive fucking asshat.

Acknowledgements

Hexmancer is based on the system found in Wilderness Hexplore Revised, which was created by Jedo of the New York Red Box forums. The core “Terrain > Feature? > Feature” mechanic and the broad relationships between terrain types in Hexmancer owe the most to Jedo’s system.

If you use Hexmancer, I’d love to hear how it went!

Categories
Old school Tabletop RPGs

Free one-sheet time tracker for old-school fantasy RPGs

Richard LeBlanc, who produces wonderful, polished old-school resources, just published a free one-page tracker for exploration resources, and it’s glorious. (Here’s the direct download link.)

It’s set up to help you keep track of torches, time spent in the dungeon, etc. in one-turn increments, and it includes notes for 0e, B/X, and 1e. This one’s going straight in my GMing folder, and I’m tempted to laminate it for use with grease pencils/dry-erase markers.

More New Big Dragon goodness

Two of Richard’s books are on my list of Lulu recommendations, the d30 DM Companion and the truly stellar d30 Sandbox Companion. He’s also published two other supplements and a host of modules.

On top of all that, his blog, Save Vs. Dragon, is jam-packed with old-school goodness, including other free resources.

Categories
DCC RPG Old school Tabletop RPGs Zines

Zine roundup: Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad, issues 1-3

Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad (also available on DriveThruRPG) is a joint production by Wayne Snyder, Edgar Johnson, and Adam Muszkiewicz. Metal Gods is the “DCC is like the best heavy metal album covers” of zines. It’s rarr and gonzo and awesome and rawlished, and I love it. I wish there were more than three issues!

I like all three issues, but the highlight in each of them is an adventure (SPOILERS):

  • Issue 1: Street Kids of Ur-Hadad – This is a street urchin funnel, the only urban funnel I’m aware of. The city and rival gangs are both procedurally generated by rolling every die in the DCC chain, all at once — d3 through d30. And if you ever have 6-6-6 across your rolls, there’s a whole other table of weird shit to mix in. This looks like it’d be fun to roll up, run, and play, and boy does “you’re a street kid” drive home the funnel-ness of a funnel.
  • Issue 2: Secrets of the Serpent Moon – This adventure starts with the PCs waking up in a moon base, as mutants. You can have two heads, wings, a conjoined twin; it’s good stuff. There are splendid tables for hazards, experiments, transportation, and other aspects of the moon base, all full of inspiring ideas and winks at sci-fi tropes. Recommended for “throwaway” PCs, and looks amazing for convention play.
  • Issue 3: The Heist! – This is a toolkit for creating a heist adventure, including random patrons, marks, heat, and loot. It’s built around movie tropes, which makes a lot of sense, and it looks like it’d play out a bit like a movie, too. I’m pretty sure you could make five die rolls, think for five minutes, and run this. It’s that solid.

If there was a subscription option, I’d be a subscriber. Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad is fantastic, and I highly recommend it.

Categories
D&D OD&D Old school Tabletop RPGs

OD&D’s implied setting

Via a private share on G+, I followed a link to OD&D Setting, a free PDF by Wayne Rossi of the excellent Semper Initiativus Unum blog. It’s excellent.

In 11 pages of logical observations, it pulls apart the components of OD&D‘s implied setting — the encounter tables, the Wilderness Survival map, etc. — and uses them to infer what that setting would actually look like. Wayne’s conclusion is a handy summary:

So this is the setting of original D&D: a frontier land, perhaps with a single state in its center, with wilderness populated by creatures of myth, legend and giant creature films. It is a world of Arthurian castles, knights templar, necromancers, dinosaurs and cavemen. It is wild, and it feels profoundly like the world someone who watched every cheesy science fiction movie about giant monsters and every classic horror film would make. This is bolted onto a world with openly Tolkienesque elements – elves, goblins, orcs, balrogs, ents, hobbits – and other entries that quickly became generic fantasy because they were in the D&D books. The result is far more gonzo and funhouse than people give D&D credit for, and I think it winds up being a good mix.

Here’s one of my favorite inferences, which was confirmed by Gary Gygax (as Wayne notes in the PDF):

But the real weirdness, and this was apparently confirmed in Gary Gygax’s campaigns, is what is there when you start wandering about the wilderness. Mountains are haunted by cavemen and necromancers; deserts are home of nomads and dervishes. The “Optional” animal listings turns swampland into the Mesozoic Era – rather than alligators and snakes it is full of tyrannosaurs and triceratops. Arid plains are Barsoomian, with banths, thoats, calots and the lot, while mountains are outright paleolithic, peopled by mammoths, titanotheres, mastodons, and sabre-tooth cats.

I love this kind of D&D. It’s rawlished, it’s wild, it’s weird, and — most importantly — it sounds like an absolute hoot to play. It also makes me sad that my OD&D boxed set and copy of Outdoor Survival are buried in our storage unit, more or less impossible to retrieve.

Even if you don’t play OD&D, or want to play in its implied setting, Wayne’s PDF is a fantastic read.

Categories
Old school Tabletop RPGs

“Rawlished”

I was noodling about zines and the “raw but polished” quality that attracts me to the ones I like best (most recently the DCC RPG zines Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad and Crawl!), and it occurred to me that the portmanteau “rawlished” might actually be useful.

It describes a lot of my favorite old school fantasy stuff, not just zines. Raw because it involves creativity unfettered by fucks, polished because it didn’t just get shat out with no concern for quality.

I also like that it’s a near-homophone for relished, which is quite appropriate.

Categories
Story games Tabletop RPGs

Alchemy, agency, and surprises

I was struggling to articulate my play style preferences last night, during a session debrief, and I kept thinking, “Didn’t I write about this on G+ like a year ago? I wish I could find that — and all those great posts that helped me figure out what I wanted in gaming, too!” What I was trying to find took some digging, G+ searching not — ironically — being all that robust, so I decided to collect it all here for easy reference.

Putting it all together turned out to be a useful exercise in its own right, too. I reread some of the posts mentioned below, many of them quite long, and tried to distill my thoughts into points that could be expressed succinctly.

Play style preferences

Here are the results of that unpacking and distillation, the core of what I want out of gaming:

  • Plot is what happens at the table. If the GM preps a bunch of stuff that will happen, and the PCs are supposed to follow along, I’m out. I played and GMed that way for years, and I’m not willing to play or GM that way anymore. I make an exception for small doses of plot — convention one-shots, a session or two to try out a system, that sort of thing.
  • No prep, or at least very little. I figured out that I don’t enjoy prep back in 2005, and that hasn’t changed. I’ll read a book (the shorter the better), and I’ll putter at some stuff before the first session if it’s useful for the whole campaign, but that’s about it. On the flipside, if I’m a player and the GM has done a lot of prep (excluding things like making a sandbox or prepping situations), that’s a pretty good indicator that the game might not be for me.
  • Roughly equal distribution of surprise. Whether I’m GMing or playing, I want to come to the table and be as surprised as everyone else by what happens. In my experience, the more prep there is, the more likely it is that the GM will steer the game to employ that prep and the players will feel pressure to follow along because they feel bad about all the work the GM has done. If the GM doesn’t have to do any work away from the table, those problems vanish.
  • Player agency and emergent play. The only plot that interests me is the one that emerges from play, based on meaningful player choices with meaningful consequences. The more player agency in a game, the better.
  • No railroading and no fudging. This might be redundant, but it’s worth calling out. If my choices as a player are being negated, or, as a GM, if I feel compelled to negate a player’s choices, we’re doing it wrong.
  • Alchemy. The magic of gaming, the thing I can’t get from a video game (as compared to a tight, scripted experience, which video games generally do much better than tabletop RPGs), is the alchemy the comes from meaningful player choices, random die rolls, and playing to find out what happens.

My thinking on these topics, and on play style in general, has been heavily informed by these excellent pieces of writing:

The Czege Principle

Paul Czege has a principle named after him, although the references to it that I found (one, two) are both followed by Paul saying that the Czege Principle isn’t the Czege Principle. In any case, the principle is both splendid and concise:

when one person is the author of both the character’s adversity and its resolution, play isn’t fun

Lots of awesome stuff flows from understanding this principle and applying it to games, and it neatly encapsulates a lot of what I wrote up top — no railroading, no fudging, emergent play, and more.

Brain damage

This excellent summary of “the brain damage posts” hit my radar about a year ago, and it changed the way I think about gaming — and about Ron Edwards. I might have chosen a different term than “brain damage,” but Ron’s observations are spot-on.

That summary thread, which includes links and nested threads, offers up a huge amount of content to digest. But it’s worth reading all of it, especially if your only prior contact with it is hearing that “Ron Edwards says gamers have brain damage.”

Here’s one bit that stands out for me:

To engage in a social, creative activity, three things are absolutely required. Think of music, theater, quilting, whatever you’d like. These principles also apply to competitive games and sports, but that is not to the present point.

1. You have to trust that the procedures work – look, these instruments make different noises, so we can make music; look, this ball is bouncey, so we can toss and dribble it

2. You have to want to do it, now, here, with these people – important! (a) as opposed to other activities, (b) as opposed to “with anybody who’ll let me”

3. You have to try it out, to reflect meaningfully on the results, and to try again – if it’s worth doing, it’s worth learning to do better; failure is not disaster, improvement is a virtue

I refer back to these principles often, and they help me look critically at whether I’m doing the kind of gaming I actually want to be doing, rather than making excuses for why unsatisfying gaming is okay.

Railroading and not prepping plots

Taken together, these seven posts by The Alexandrian comprise one of the biggest influences on why I want what I want out of gaming. Here they are in order:

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from these posts.

From Part 1, a clear and useful definition of railroading:

Railroads happen when the GM negates a player’s choice in order to enforce a preconceived outcome.

Note, however, that both parts of this equation are important: The choice must be negated and the reason it’s being negated is because the GM is trying to create a specific outcome. The players must try to get off the train and the GM has to lock the doors.

From Part 2, why railroading gargles dicks and makes GMing feel like work:

When a GM predetermines what’s going to happen in the game, they become solely responsible for the entire experience. And that’s a ridiculously heavy burden to bear. Are your encounters balanced? Did you include enough “cool stuff” for every player to participate in? Did you incorporate enough elements from each PC’s back story? The list goes on and on.

This is how you end up with GMs stringing together precariously balanced My Precious Encounters™ in a desperate juggling act as they try to keep all of their players happy.

When you allow the players to make their own decisions, all of the pressure and responsibility melts away: They’ll choose the fights they can win. They’ll approach situations in ways that let them do cool stuff. If there’s not enough stuff from their back story seeking them out, then they’ll go looking for it.

From Part 3, about playing to see what happens:

What tabletop RPGs have going for them is the alchemy of player agency. Of presenting a situation and seeing what happens when a unique set of players make a unique set of decisions and produce a unique set of outcomes. When you railroad your players, you specifically set yourself at odds with the very thing that makes playing an RPG worthwhile in the first place.

And, lastly, one from Don’t Prep Plots:

For me, the entire reason to play a roleplaying game is to see what happens when the players make meaningful choices. In my experience, the result is almost always different than anything I could have anticipated or planned for.

If I wanted to tell my players a story (which is what plot-based design really boils down to), then it’s far more efficient and effective to simply write a story. In my opinion, if you’re playing a roleplaying game then you should play to the strengths of the medium: The magical creativity which only happens when people get together.

The whole series of posts is fantastic. They’re long, but not long-winded — rather, they’re packed with examples, special cases, and dissections of common arguments in favor of railroading.

Fudging, emergent play, and systems

I often feel like Bryan R. Shipp of Room 209 Gaming is living inside my brain. He has a knack for putting things succinctly, well, and in such a way that I can feel the gears in my brain clicking into a new configuration as I read them.

Fudging can die in a fucking fire. Here’s a handy summary of exactly why, from Fudging is Bad Form:

Even in situations where the GM only fudges “once in a while,” or fudges only to the players’ benefit, the fact remains that the GM, once fudging is introduced, could fudge at any time. The inevitable result of this is that all rolls are irrelevant because they can be overruled by GM fiat.

Deciding to stop fudging has been one of the best gaming-related decisions I’ve ever made. Few things make me less happy at the gaming table, as a player or the GM, than fudging.

Here’s Bryan at his succinct best, from Emergent Play is the Only Way:

When you’re playing a game, you shouldn’t know how it’s going to end. No one should. That’s the benefit of gaming over watching TV or reading a book – your participation means you can affect change.

Lastly, here’s a quote from Game Systems That Get Out Of The Way:

If you’re looking for a game system that gets out of the way when you want it to, you’re looking for the wrong kind of game. You’re looking for D&D without the specific fiddly bits you don’t like. But I have a different proposition: look for a game system that doesn’t get out of the way when you want it to. Look for a game system that, instead, reinforces what you’re trying to do.

For me, wanting to ignore a portion of a game’s rules — or seeing a GM ignoring rules — is a canary in the coal mine, a signal that I’m probably playing the wrong game.

To choose just one example, a few years ago I GMed a long-running game where I removed possibility of PC death because it fit the genre (without telling my players, because I assumed the illusion of danger was important). As well-intentioned as that choice was, in hindsight it meant that much of the system didn’t actually matter, and the parts that did matter were working less efficiently in support of the group’s play than would a system designed to do what we wanted in the first place.

Looking back on a lifetime of gaming, my tastes have changed over the years. I’m sure they’ll change again, but for now this is a good snapshot of where my head has been at for the past year or two, and where it’s at now.

Categories
Board games Tabletop RPGs

My 51 in 15

Back in January, Epidiah Ravachol issued a fun challenge: Play 51 games in 2015. I paid attention to folks’ posts about it throughout the year, but figured I didn’t have a shot at hitting 51 — it was a busy year. To my embarrassment, I also spent nearly the entire year thinking the challenge was 51 games new to me in 2015, which sounded very unlikely indeed.

But taking stock here in late December (edit: updated through the end of the month), I made it to 80 games in 2015, of which 12 RPGs and 22 board games were new to me. Across my 19 RPGs, I logged 46 gaming sessions. For board games, it was 184 plays across 60 games.

In 2014, I played 12 RPGs and 58 board games, for a total of 70 games. I love trying out new RPGs, so I’m glad to see that total up 63% this year. 2015 was also the year I played my 100th RPG, which would put my 200th something like 5-6 years out, in 2021-2022.

Just typing those dates makes me feel old! Somehow, I’ve lived to see The Future.

RPGs

  1. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition
  2. Apocalypse World
  3. Barbarians of Lemuria
  4. DCC RPG
  5. Dragon Age
  6. Executioner
  7. Fear Itself
  8. Honor + Intrigue
  9. Microscope
  10. Mini Six
  11. Psi Run
  12. Savage Worlds
  13. Star Wars: Age of Rebellion
  14. The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game
  15. The Final Girl
  16. The Plant
  17. The Quiet Year
  18. The Thief
  19. tremulus

Board Games

  1. Animal Upon Animal
  2. Bausack
  3. Biblios
  4. Candy Land
  5. Click Clack Lumberjack
  6. Concept
  7. Connect Four
  8. Cosmic Encounter
  9. Disney Dazzling Princess
  10. Don’t Break the Ice
  11. Don’t Spill the Beans
  12. The Duke
  13. Duplik
  14. Elefun
  15. Enchanted Cupcake Party Game
  16. Escape: The Curse of the Temple
  17. Fibber
  18. Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed
  19. Funemployed!
  20. Go Away Monster!
  21. Go Fish
  22. Hamsterrolle
  23. Hedbanz: Identity Crisis Game
  24. Hold On Scooby-Doo
  25. Hollywood Game Night Party Game
  26. Hungry Hungry Hippos
  27. Kingdom Builder
  28. Labyrinth
  29. Last Will
  30. Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game
  31. Let’s Go Fishin’
  32. Longhorn
  33. Loopin’ Louie
  34. Love Letter
  35. Memory
  36. Mermaid Island
  37. Monopoly Junior
  38. Old Maid
  39. Pandemic: The Cure
  40. Patchwork
  41. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords
  42. Quiddler
  43. RARRR!!
  44. Red7
  45. Rhino Hero
  46. Richard Scarry’s Busytown: Eye found it! Game
  47. Risk Legacy
  48. Scrabble Junior
  49. Seasons
  50. Slamwich
  51. Sorry! Sliders
  52. Splendor
  53. Spot it!
  54. Superfight
  55. Sushi Go!
  56. Temporum
  57. The Castles of Burgundy
  58. The Magic Path of Yoga
  59. The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game
  60. Tsuro
  61. XCOM: The Board Game