So I went to Norwescon (Seattle’s science fiction and fantasy convention) last April and in the list of discussion panels was one called “Putting the ‘R’ in RPG.” Me, being the naive guy that I am, assumed that they were going to be discussing how to increase the role-playing in your role-playing games. Before I went though, I found a longer description and apparently they meant “R” as in something getting an “R” rating. Specifically they were focusing sexuality and sensuality.Seriously the first thing that came to mind was that Dead Ailwives “Dungeons and Dragons” sketch. Specifically I thought bout the part where one player is in the kitchen looking for Cheetos and calling back to the GM about how if there are any girls at the bar his character is in he wants to “dooooo them.” I had to laugh and I think I opted to go see Jim Butcher talk about “Kickassitude” in the Urban Fantasy genre instead. Lately though, I’ve been thinking about that topic. Do people out there really want to role-play through getting their characters all sexed up? Now I wish I would have gone to that panel because I’m seriously curious. I mean in my games when the logical conclusion of a situation is the PC having sex, I usually skip to at least the far end of that act if not the next day entirely. If the character has some kind of power that is sex related (some kind of seduction power or something like that) I let them roll it, but usually I don’t dwell on the carnal details. To my understanding most gamers are male and only about 5% of the population is homosexual so in my imagination the sexual role-playing equates to two hetero dudes spending their RPG time inventing a fully sexual scene together while two or three other Players (probably hetero dudes as well) listen and/or participate. Now I’m as confident in my sexuality as the next guy, but that just strikes me as a weird way to spend your time. Anyway, long story short, it is something I just don’t usually include in my games beyond the basic acknowledgement that on occasion PCs get laid. So I’d like to know, how far do you other GMs out there take in-game sexual encounters? Do you include rolls for sexual performance? Do you roll for pregnancy? I don’t unless offspring is a conscious goal of the PC’s. I mean, in every on-going television show I’ve ever watched and in most books I’ve read, introducing a pregnancy is about the worst way to thicken a plot as there is. Most of the time all it does is introduce an easy way to make normally rational characters do stupid things because of parental instincts. It strikes me as sloppy storycraft so typically I don’t use pregnancy in my plots unless it is a motivation that has been with the PC in question from their inception. I’m curious what you all think, though. My opinion on this front should be obvious by now. However, since there was a panel discussion on the topic that I believe was well attended, I’m guessing there are other opinions out there. Oh and if you could, please post any responses directly to this blog. I know I have this auto-posting to the Facebooks and I definitely appreciate everyone there’s interest in what I have to say, but I do have some ulterior motives for publishing this blog. One of them being developing some street cred on the subject of RPGs. Next year it is my hope to get on some of the panel discussions at Norwescon. The role-playing over rule-playing point of view was wildly under represented this year and I’d like to change that on the next go around. I believe that having a relatively well read blog on the subject may get me in the door. So if any of you can help generate some activity on my blog’s actual site it would be much appreciated. Also, I think there’s a way to subscribe to my blog? It probably won’t do you much good if you rely on FB to inform you about new posts because this will just give you e-mail notifications as well, but if you’re willing to take the hit for the team it will help my cred along greatly to have more subscribers. Thanks in advance to anyone who helps me out in this way and extra thanks to those of you who already have!
I feel that it is a good thing to reassess ones motivations for doing things every once in a while. Many times we change or our circumstances change, but we don’t pause to reexamine why we do the things we do. We keep going to the restaurant that has changed management and no longer makes the dish we like or we keep taking the long way to work never realizing that they finished that new bypass six months ago and using it could save 10 minutes one way, 20 minutes per day, or 80-odd hours per year. So why do I game?In the beginning there was boredom. I grew up in a tiny town in rural northeast Iowa. When you have no wheels that don’t run on pedal power, it is easy to dry up the entertainment possibilities in a small town given a decade or so of kicking around and waiting for adulthood to happen. With oceans of time at my disposal and several friends who already had the books and dice I latched on to the cheapest hobby that didn’t involve going out in the heat or cold too often, and soaked up the most time. Then I went to college. Less boredom, but there was more time to kill. No parental supervision telling me the responsible things I ought to be doing with my time. There were also more people to game with, access to more gaming materials, and more games. So more gaming. Lots more gaming. At this point in my life gaming was my social outlet. When the other college students went to the bar to meet people and have fun, I whipped out the books and dice. This isn’t to say I didn’t do my share of drinking in college. I’d say I probably did a tad more than my share. For a while there I partied so much that gaming took a back seat, although it never went away entirely and I was always a gamer in my heart. Now I have a job and a mortgage and I find myself wondering whatever happened to that ocean of spare time I used to have. It’s barely a puddle anymore. There was a time when I considered a gaming session that didn’t last at least 4 hours to not be worth the time. Now I’m lucky if I can spare 4 consecutive hours for a game. What was once an ideal hobby because of its ability to take up nearly endless amounts of spare time is now something I have to schedule my week around and make time for. I can see the appeal of videogames from this perspective. With a real game there’s the initial conversation as everyone is showing up and settling in not to mention the travel time just to get to the game. Food to be gotten, and then at the end there are goodbyes and the trip home. With a videogame there is none of that. Sure you still need to eat, but the game won’t judge you for making a meal out of the crumbs at the bottom of the Dorito bag. Beyond food though, a 4 hour session equates to 4 hours in game instead of 4 hours equating to 3 hours of actual game time if you all stay on task. I don’t game for the killing of those 4 hours anymore, though. When I was young 4 hours spent in a good game was awesome and 4 hours spent in a boring one was still acceptable because I had the time to burn. Now the quality of enjoyment I get from the time I spend doing something is important. Using that time grind through meaningless xp farming or pit my numbers vs the numbers of the dungeon and listen to middle schoolers just freed from their muzzles calling each other (and me) dirty names (as if those sentiments were truly brand new) just doesn’t speak to me like it might have done once upon a time. So why do I still game if the original point was to waste time and I don’t have the time to waste anymore nor am I happy if the time actually gets “wasted”? Easy. Ever drive on the highway and look at another carload of people and wonder what their lives are like? Gaming is not just looking over at what the people in the car driving beside yours are doing, but being able to jump over into that car and participate for a while. You can say that gaming is like playing a board game or reading a book or some combination of the two, but it isn’t. It is a complete vacation not just from day to day life, but from the world itself; escapism at its most refined. A good game is a movie that you get to write even as you watch it which only ends when you decide it should end. I suppose the short answer is that I still game because over the last couple of decades gaming moved from the thing I did to waste time because it was easy to the thing I save time for and work hard to arrange because it is so uniquely enjoyable. Your turn. Why do you game? Anyone?
I’ve played a lot of different games in my time. Some of them were good. Some sucked. Some were unremarkable except for a single new mechanic. A few were awesome.Probably the best Superhero game system I’ve ever encountered has to be White Wolf’s Aberrant. It’s a great dice system and the powers are list driven (as opposed to free-form or lego styles). Those of you who are familiar with White Wolf should have some idea of what their dice systems are like. All rolls are non-percentage based d10 rolls. Skills, stats and powers are on a 1-5 scale and most rolls combine a stat and a skill (and sometimes a power) to make a pool of dice you roll against a given difficulty and then count up successes. Finally you have the White Wolf patented power stat (every game has one) that is rated 1-10 and which rates your power level in the grand scheme of things and which you will never really get higher than 4 in any given game (not sure why, but this is the way White Wolf makes their games). This system is at the same time simple and very flexible and once you understand the basics, you can crank out a character in 10-15 minutes. Two things the Aberrant setting has going for it are the realism factor and the lack of comic book representation. Running a game in the DC or Marvel worlds can be interesting because of the shared understanding and love of those worlds, but it is also problematic. People who obsess about those worlds tend to be the ones who want to play in them and because of their obsession, they are also the ones who can’t take it when you modify the world. That’s a flaw in any system set in those worlds because most problems can be solved by one NPC or another in those other worlds far better and than they can be solved by the PCs. As a GM you now need to come up with some reason why these other beings are indisposed without (god forbid) killing them off. Makes for a very lame experience all around. I say the Aberrant setting has a good realism factor and what I mean by that is it really represents how I think our society would change with the introduction of super heroes. Super charismatic rock stars, super strong sports players with enormous product endorsement deals, scientists cutting up super heroes to find out what makes them super, secret government super hero groups, the old X-men stand by of “live with the humans or dominate them”, etc. There is still the problem of the world containing NPCs who are far more powerful than the PCs and so would probably be the ones to deal with the really serious problems. However, most Players won’t get nearly as bent out of shape if you decided to kill off Divis Mal as if you killed off Magnito for the sake of reducing the power level of the world in general. The lists of powers are even pretty comprehensive. I can only really think of one style of comic book hero that is difficult to make in Aberrant: Spiderman. Walking on walls, super strength, the webbing, even the “spider sense” are all doable. The problem is in the fact that Spiderman survives most things by not getting hit rather than being tough. I don’t know what to tell you, all of the White Wolf systems universally have that problem. It is always easier to build the character who can’t miss than it is to build the character who can’t be hit. Just a quirk of how the rules come together.
If you’ve never played in a one-shot game, then you are in the minority. A one-shot is where you have a willing group of players, but only a limited amount of time in which to hold a game and so need something that will only last one session. I’ve seen one-shots that were actually two or three shots, but the idea behind this kind of event is for it to start and end in short order. Perhaps you have a group of old gaming friends that can only get together once in a while. Perhaps you’ve bought a book for a new game system and you just want to give it a run around the block. Perhaps your group happens to be free all on the same night and you want to game, but don’t want to play any of the games you currently have going. For whatever reason, a one-shot is what you do when you want to role-play, but don’t have the luxury of being able to schedule a regularly occurring game.Now it seems to me that building a good one-shot involves considerations that are not normally an issue for your standard weekly game. The time constraint makes keeping things moving along far more important than usual. In your standard, one four hour session per week game, allowing a player to waste one hour being bored sucks, but is really no big deal in the grand scheme of things. Let’s say that your game lasts a year with a couple missed sessions for 50 four hour sessions total. That’s 200 hours. One wasted hour is only 0.5% of your time. If you’re running a 6 hour one shot though and one of your players spends an hour being bored, that’s 16.7% of their total time down the drain. That’s a large difference and it will be one of the memories they take away from the game; “I was bored for a good portion of it.” So we have to keep things moving and keep them interesting. How do we do that? First of all, a one-shot is a good reason for the GM to have a game plan well in advance of the event in question. Know the story you’re going to tell and restrict your players’ C-Gen so that everyone makes a PC that will have no trouble being integrated into the plot. Normally I’m completely against having a plot when going into a game, but in a one-shot this is essential. In my standard games the entire first session is usually dedicated to letting the PCs meet each other and letting me figure out who my main characters are and where they will be wanting this story to go. In a one-shot, if you spend the whole time just getting to know people, your game will end right when things become interesting. Not good. Now when picking a setting for a one-shot don’t be too extravagant. Keep the environment something that all of your players are equally comfortable in and make sure that this average level of comfort is high. If you’re running in a published setting keep it as close to the book as possible because that will allow your players to make assumptions based on what they already know/have read. Being constantly told this and that assumption was wrong because your GM had a picture in their head that differed from the one you had access to can be very frustrating especially if time is limited. If you feel the need to make changes to a given setting, be as open as possible, as early as possible, about those changes. Know how long your game is going to last (about) and have out-of-game mile stones. Game start at 4pm. At 5pm the host NPC is murdered. At 6pm the power goes out. That sort of thing. This way you can have an external control on how quickly your PCs move through the story. In a standard game I’d say this is a bad idea because you should really let your PCs have more influence on how the story progresses. In a one-shot though there should be a solid schedule or you’ll never get through your story in the time allotted. Tangents come up, distractions happen, the pizza guy will be late and he will bring you the wrong order and yet the clock ticks on. Your game has to tick on as well. Finally, your one-shot should have a definite ending and resolution. Personally, I think that all games should have a definite ending and resolution, but such a thing is far easier to engineer in a standard game than in a one-shot. In a standard game, you can take weeks to climax and to sort out every loose end. In a one-shot, you only have one shot (lol) at it. The story has to make sense and the ending has to not only fit, but it also has to seem fair. No one likes working through a complicated puzzle only to find that their solution was neither right nor wrong but was instead irrelevant. Misdirection is good in a game, but when time is a factor, the misdirection should be dispensed with early enough that your PCs can cut through to the real culprit before the end. There is a difference in realizing you’ve been fooled just in time to attempt a change in direction and finding out that you’ve been fooled and there’s nothing you can do about it now. I know you know that already, but think about which one you’d chose to experience if you had the choice. Now give your PCs that one.
Don’t misunderstand me. In a lot of my posts I advocate listening to your PCs for your ques on where to take the game and that is what I believe a good GM does. However, that doesn’t mean you should do nothing but sit and listen. As the GM, it is your job to provide the options and the PCs’ job to choose the direction.Putting together a good game is a collaborative effort and putting too much of it on your PCs is just as bad as taking too much of it away from them. Also, if you contribute nothing, most PCs won’t move in any direction because they don’t know what their options are. So it is up to you to keep things moving along and be an active tour guide through the world you’re running. Here are the things I keep in mind when trying to do this: Rapid fire plot hooks. My style is to take five minutes or so with each of my Players and Q&A them on what their character’s feelings, thoughts, interests, aversions, and goals are at this moment and I don’t do it just once or every once in a while, but I try and do that at every single session. During this time I do word association with plot ideas. Whenever they tell me something about their character, I shoot out a plot hook or three, trying to get a lot in during that 5 minute conversation. Hopefully I’ll notice when one or more of the things I suggest spark some interest and note those down. Then I look at what I have from all of my PCs and try to figure out how the things they are each individually interested in could possibly be tied together Kevin Bacon Game style. You know, this event ties to that person and this interest which ties to another event and other people etc. In this way I boil down my PCs’ natural inclinations into a direction for the game to go in. Play ball. Once I’ve gotten lists of plot hooks that generated interest from my PCs I don’t stop there. Interests change from month to month and sometimes from session to session. What interested them last week may be boring this week and the very last thing I want is for my game to get boring. Try and think of the game’s focus as a ball that only one person can hold at any one time. Under optimum circumstances the ball will go from you to PC1, back to you, then to PC2, back to you, then to PC3, then back to you and so on. However, if someone becomes bored with what is going on you may find them becoming uninvolved in the ball game or you may find that a single PC has taken over all of the ball game. Maybe you’ve become fixated on a plot involving the underworld, but only one of your PCs has a solid connection to it or vested interest in that. The others showed interest early on, but since then their interest has waned. Time for more rapid fire plot hooks to ensnare them again. That may mean you have to toss out or tone down the underworld stuff, but it is your job to keep everyone involved in every session. No exceptions. Keep things moving. After session each PC should leave with two things: a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of curiosity about what’s going to happen next week. Keep a watch on them as individuals for where they see themselves as being right now and where they want to get to. It is your job to find out if they have a good idea of how to move from point A to point B or not. You may think you’ve left clues for them, but they may have missed those clues. Sure in the real world that means they flounder, but this isn’t the real world. Watch for floundering and give them a shove in the right direction to get what they want if they need it. This can be something as gentle as reminding them of the clue they got and promptly dismissed/forgot about or as blunt as blatantly telling them that they might want to call this contact or check that lead out. If your PCs have hunches and follow them, great, if they don’t, there is nothing written anywhere that says you can’t manufacture a hunch for them. Reassess reassess reassess. As I’ve said before people’s interests and their interest levels can and do change. You should constantly be talking to your PCs and gauging their interest in what is going on and modifying things as necessary. Think of each PC as an individually burning campfire over which you are cooking one part of a larger meal. Some times all the fires will be burning along nicely on their own and you should be checking the dishes that are cooking. At other times, the fires themselves will need more fuel or some adjustment or something to keep the heat where it is needed. Either way, you should always be looking for ways of interconnecting the dishes to form a more cohesive whole. However, you should also be willing at any time to toss out part of the meal if it isn’t going well and replace it with something else so whatever you do, don’t get too attached to any one component. The PCs are your primary source of momentum, but you are their source of fuel. You should never find yourself just observing the game as they play it. Even if they’re having an in-character group discussion, feel free to participate by clarifying certain misunderstandings or adding new knowledge that you think one of them should know or suggesting possible interpretations of the clues at hand. Real life has ebbs and flows, but your game should never ebb for any of your players. Be active and make sure nothing is stalling out without your knowledge.
I’m a fan of the horror genre. Aside from the annoying trend of classifying horror as “dark fantasy” do you know what the most noticeable change in the genre has been? Cellphones. Pay attention. In movies and books the writer always has to confront the problem of cellphones at some point or their tale loses its believability. The phone must be forgotten at home or the protagonist/victim must at some point check their phone and find that they have no signal. Maybe the protagonist doesn’t like cellphones or for some reason can’t use them? Whatever the reason, a story set in our world must first address the cellphone issue before placing any character in danger or they can immediately and easily call for help.Imagine how The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would have progressed if any of the people in that van had had a cellphone. Car breaks down, call for a tow truck, back on their way, roll credits. The internet is another good example of something in the modern world that can get in the way of a good story. So much information right at our fingertips. No need for even an ’80s style research montage. Just hit Wikipedia. The same problems present themselves to GMs of modern or post-modern RPGs. One of the big concerns in the last Shadowrun game I played in was the fact that absolutely every square inch of the Cyberpunk city scape is assumed to be covered by security cameras. I mean, such is almost the case in our larger cities today. We all just assume that in the future our privacy (such as it is) will all but completely evaporate. Most of the plots of good modern setting games though involve some degree of law breaking (from obstructing justice to breaking and entering). So in modern and post-modern games, just from what I’ve listed so far, our PCs are constantly connected to our global communications network, have easy access to the most comprehensive storehouse of human knowledge ever gathered in a single place, and are virtually guaranteed to be seen, recorded, and pursued should they put a toe out of line. How does one run a game under these circumstances? As I see it there are several options. First, you can do nothing. You can let your plots be easy to figure out with a little time spent on the internet, your PCs will completely avoid danger and never get lost through proper use of their cellphones, and they will be left with the choice of playing it safe or going to jail just like the real world. Your games will be boring, but on the bright side it will be easy to run because nothing will be happening. Your PCs will probably appreciate the realism even as they pull their hair out wondering what they’re doing wrong for their awesome character to have such a hum-drum life (be it picturesque or penal). I mean, all of these things in our society in the real world are there to increase the ease of living according to the rules. If you make your game too realistic, that’s what you’re going to get. There’s a reason most of us go to work every day and earn an honest living instead of living in the shadows. Second, you can ignore the problem. In the Dresden Files book series by Jim Butcher, magic fries electronics. It just does. No cellphones or internet usage or problems with CCTV for our hero. It’s kind of the blunt force approach to the problem, but Butcher does it in a very stylistic way and in his later books it becomes a plot point several times. He takes the simple way out, but I’d have to say he does it with style. This is not my preference because I kind of like the idea of magic mixing with technology. It works though and with only one catch: you have to decide to use it from the beginning. It would have seemed odd if this kind of magic/technology mutual exclusion hadn’t been mentioned by Butcher in the first page or two of the first book in this series. To use this in your game you’ll have to do much the same, otherwise introducing it later on will seem cheesy and too convenient and will break your believability for your PCs. Third, you can plan carefully to avoid the problem. We already have our three examples so I’ll keep using them. You can design your plots so that what the PCs are dealing with is so rare that it wouldn’t show up on the internet. Be careful though because if one of your players starts out as an internet specialist (a hacker of some kind) and their profession is completely useless that’s just as little fun for them as it would be for everyone else if internet mastery becomes the omni-skill making them the only character of use. Either way, computer pros will require a delicate touch because if how useful computers are now is any indication of the future, such expertise will in fact be an omni-skill to some degree or other. You can make what’s going on so personal to the PCs that they wouldn’t want to call for help. This is a very difficult option to take because it involves a great deal of thought on your part. You’ll have to understand the motivations of your PCs if you’re going to have them not use their cellphones of their own free wills. However, the books that use this tactic are always more interesting than when not calling out for help is simply the default. Think about it, are you more likely to call the cops when investigating a possibly framed or possibly guilty murder if that person is a stranger or if they’re your brother? Wouldn’t you want to get your brother’s point of view before tossing them to the justice system? Lastly, you can set up the places where law breaking will be happening to be places that aren’t under surveillance or where all of the surveillance is routed to a single, easy to find, and well labeled room so that once the PCs break in, they can eliminate the evidence of their transgressions. This too will will be difficult though because PCs are notoriously hard to predict and so you may have to think fast if they come up with something you haven’t planned for. However, if you give your PCs the benefit of your advice regularly when they come up with weird ideas (“you think that place might be under surveillance but this one camera’s red ‘record’ light is out so you think if you come at it from this angle maybe…”) you will probably be able to work things out with them. Of the three options I’ve listed here I think the last one will be the most rewarding for your game, but (if you’ve read any of my blog so far) you’ll have guessed that as my answer. I believe that designing your game around your PCs is always the better option to designing your game and then considering the PCs after the fact. The second option is a good one as well though. Just remember to be very upfront about everything. Make sure your Players understand that modern conveniences are not going to play a big role in your game and then live with that decision. Whatever you do don’t tell them that CCTV isn’t going to be a problem and then surprise them by having the cops catch them in that very manner. That’s just mean. As for the first option, I value realism as much as the next guy, but I don’t need an RPG to experience the real world. Keep that in mind. Perfectly replicating the real world is not what role-playing is about.
This person doesn’t really show up to game to play. They show up primarily for the social interaction. Tangents tend to start with this person and they are only ever partially in-character if at all. This person may also spend an inordinate amount of time texting or hitting facebook on their laptop or even talking on the phone. When you talk to them, require their responses to be in-character and have your NPCs react oddly when you take this person’s out-of-character banter as if it were in-character (“I know not of this oracle. Who is Google and where is his tower?”). Do it constantly and encourage your other players to do it as well. Basically spoil this person’s out-of-character fun. If that doesn’t work, talk to them directly. Ask them to put their phone away when they take it out. Interrupt non-game related stories as soon as you realize they are non-game related and refuse to allow the tangent to continue. I had one player who brought a novel with them to game and would open it and start reading when ever they didn’t have my full attention. Not exactly socialite behavior, but definitely rude and not focused on game. I asked him to stop, but he couldn’t seem to control the habit. I began initiating combat every single time I saw them open their book. After a while the other players realized something was up and asked about it. I just said that if I saw so’n’so get bored enough to start reading a book I would spice things up by making the otherwise peaceful NPCs become irrationally violent. The book stayed at home there after. 6. Chicken Little
Some players only seem able to contribute by poking holes in other people’s ideas. “That will never work because of x, y, and z.” “You can’t do that because of a, b, and c.” Whole game sessions will go by and nothing will get done because this person can’t imagine moving forward without a solid gold guarantee that nothing will go wrong with a given plan. They shoot down the ideas of others because they are not perfect and don’t come up with any ideas of their own because perfection isn’t possible. Net result? Stagnation. With this person in your group, you’re going to have to take an active role in forming the group’s plans. When someone comes up with an idea you think is a good one, reward them by supporting it. I don’t mean you should tell them what ideas they should use. Just contribute with little guarantees that certain things won’t be a problem. That way when Chicken Little starts poking holes in the plan, you can cover those holes back up. CL: “That will never work because of x, y, and z.”
GM: “Actually, you don’t think x will be a problem because you have so’n’so as a contact. Y shouldn’t come to pass because its the wrong time of year. Z may happen, but you think you could plan for it and cover that base by doing this or that.” 7. The GM
Whether it’s because they’ve just been the defacto GM for years beyond counting or maybe they’re just an insufferable know-it-all, this player can’t seem to ever leave the GM’s chair. They have advice for how every situation could have been better handled. They answer questions directed at the actual GM. In short, they (usually unwittingly) do everything in their power to make their current GM feel completely inadequate and inexperienced. Yeah. I’m talking about me. Go ahead and get your laughs in now. How would I handle me? Well, my first GMing experience involved someone like this. My guy (who is still a very good friend of mine) knew the rules far better than I did and had been our group’s default GM for long since before I’d joined up. Mostly what I did was muck the rules about. I introduced monsters that weren’t in any book. I changed game mechanics, invented new powers, and generally made sure that my old GM couldn’t be sure of what he knew and didn’t know about the game anymore. In short, I made the game new for him and did my best to put him on unfamiliar territory. He was a good sport about it too and in the end he enjoyed getting to be a n00b again.