#12rpg Question 12: Name an RPG, setting, or adventure you haven’t run or played before, but really want to try out in 2018. What particularly appeals about it?

Games: Chaosium’s Superworld from 1983 is a game I think might possibly see some table time next year. There has also been some talk of the reviled Champions: New Millenium, which should prove interesting. And, in that vein, I recently picked up a copy of the original Fantasy HERO from 1985 that I’d like to take for a spin.

Settings: It’s my current project to earn my Tolkien merit badge, and I’m hoping that will have the side effect of spending some time in Middle-Earth, be it with The One Ring, MERP, or something else. The new RuneQuest should be out in the new year, so maybe a slight possibility of some Glorantha — but I am not holding my breath.

Adventures: My general RPG nostalgia of late also has me jazzed to play some Call of Cthulhu. Both the new Harlem Unbound and the forthcoming, revised Masks of Nyarlathotep seem to be urging me further in that direction.

There’s a distinct absence of stuff I’ve Kickstarted on this list. I’m not really sure why. I’ve posted before about getting a little fatigued of all the new shiny and wanting to take second looks at games that have sat unplayed on my shelf for, literally, decades. It’s probably that.

#12rpg Question 11: Talk about a particular, stand-out, positive experience of play (rather than running) an RPG in 2017. What was it? What was so good about it?

This is both hard and easy, as I only gamed nine times in 2017, and was a player in five. So, very small sample upon which to draw.

I will give the nod to the first session of the Champions, 3rd Ed. game I am playing with MadJay Brown.

First off, Jay is a great GM, end of story. The pacing of that first session was particularly good. Jay did this flashback/forward thing where my PC alternated between a running firefight and the​ post-mission psych eval. Very cool technique.

Second, it was nice to geek out over HERO together. We are both on the same page in our unabashed love for the system, plus we are both supers RPG nerds. It’s great. We were also making the same mistakes together as we re-acclimatized to the rules, which, if you’re going to make mistakes, is a great way to do it.

Third, it proved to me that my HERO love is not pure nostalgia. The specific edition we used has a lot of gas left in the tank. Ron Edwards is spot-on in his affirmation that 3rd is the best iteration of the system.

This, of course, has me off on a journey rediscovering games of similar vintage, HERO or otherwise. I’d call this era “second wave” design; post-“Old School” ’80s but still before everything went to shit.

Fourth, it was also the first one-on-one gaming I’ve done since I was in high school. I thought it was going to feel odd, but it didn’t. It felt pretty natural. Never having to share the spotlight and being focused 100% of the time is, to me, refreshing.

So, thank you, Jay!

#12rpg Question 10: Mobile phones and the internet in an RPG setting in the modern day world (perhaps with fantastic elements): discuss. What possibilities do they open up? What, if any, issues come up with them when it comes to RPG scenarios?

Mobile devices + the fantastical = affecting everyone and anyone with strange powers from a distance. Can I mind-control you by talking to you over the phone? Can I use all the phones in an area to create a perfect map everyone’s location (like Batman)? Can I send an audio signal that, if you hear it, will erase your personality (like Dollhouse)? Can I use your smartphone to target you with a spell, even if I can’t see you? Can I install a demon-summoning app? Can I transform myself into packets and travel the world, untraced, via HTTPS?

Lots and lots of ideas.

Issues?

A few people have talked about the ubiquity of information thing. I can’t say that I’ve run enough modern games to observe whether this is actually a problem or not. I’m not a big mystery guy, so hidden information isn’t my thing. I’m happy to feed players all they need to know so I can see what they choose to do with it. That’s far more interesting to me.

And, heck, constant communication helps justify table chatter. Almost every superhero game I play involves a team with always-on earpieces. It makes everything easier.

#12rpg Question 9: You’re planning to run some science fiction, in a setting of your choice. Is there any particular technology you want to include because the possibilities intrigue you? Is there any standard piece of “future technology” you’d rather leave out?

Include:
FTL or near-FTL travel that is expensive and problematic.
Sapient or near-sapient AI.

Exclude:
Laser-swords.
Transporters.
Force fields.
“Cyberspace”.

I had a longer answer to this but realized it was dancing around the question. The short version is that my preferred SF leans towards the “grittier” style of Traveller, Firefly, and The Expanse. If the tech gets too magical then it’s not really SF for me anymore​. There are always exceptions, though.

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Question 8: Talk about your typical approach to preparation for running an RPG. Is there a particular method you generally follow? What use do you make of published setting or adventure material, if any?

tl;dr: Boy, I sure am longwinded. I mean, I know that, but tonight in particular!

For running an RPG for the first time, I do a variation on Paul Beakley ‘s prep.

First thing I do, believe it or not, is go to the developer’s/game’s official website, download the errata and, if I have a physical copy, go through it and gasp write the errata directly in the rulebook.

Yes. I write on my books. I don’t care.

If it’s errata-ed, what good is the old stuff in it? I usually make a notation on the first page of the rulebook indicating the date and version of the errata, as there may be further errata documents released at a later date.

That’s when I read the entire rulebook for the first time. I go through it once, then a second time while composing a ‘cheat sheet’. I go detailed on that sheet. Sometimes it’s 8-10 pages long. I want it to the point where I can run the game without opening the book to look for stuff.

If I have a pdf copy of the rules, I’ll screenshot long tables, work them through an image processing program (I use Paint.net, which is free), crop the tables, then I’ll arrange them into as few sheets as possible on Powerpoint, and print those out. That goes to the clipboard or notebook where I keep the cheat sheets. Sometimes I put those into my GM screen (I got a plastic one with clear sleeves, where I can put the tables).

Then I study the sheets.

I mean it.

I’m a nerd. I study the rules like I’m taking the American Board of RPGs tomorrow morning, and I plan to ace it.

Rules matter. I like to play RAW. I want that game experience to be RAW. If I don’t like it, I can change stuff later, but I try to give it a shot and watch whatever I think is broken to see if it really goes down in flames, or if it turns out not to be a big deal.

Then I make at least 1 character to review the creation process.

At some point (it varies, sometimes at beginning, sometimes middle, sometimes at the end) in the process, if I’ve never played the game before, and if I have time, I’ll do research by watching YouTube actual play videos, and check the game’s forums or G+ groups for any stumbling blocks people might have had (or if I’ve run into gray areas in the text and videos.)

If the game has any introductory adventures and/or some official adventures for it, I read those. This is hit or miss, because my anecdotal experience is that these tend to be written by people other than the game creator and they tend to either ignore or contradict some of the game rules. Still, worst case scenario, it usually gives me a sense of the quality of the opposition, as far as NPCs and monsters and threats and stuff, should be.

So all this is for new games. For subsequent sessions, game prep will vary depending on the system. If it’s a trad game, I’ll prep NPCs and monsters, preferably by stealing stuff directly from books or from the net.

I love monster manual type books. One of the main criteria I have for running a game is: how good is the monster manual? And by monsters, I mean the opposition. This includes NPCs if the setting has no monsters per se. Does it have enemy NPCs written and statted up? I HATE statting my own NPCs and monsters. I’d rather pay game designers to do the scut work, or borrow stats from other gamers who post their ideas on the net.

Games like Burning Wheel, which have simple NPC creation rules get a pass, as there are clear ‘on the fly’ guidelines to make the opposition as you need it.

Sometimes I’ll steal ‘setpiece encounters’, maps and stuff like that from published adventures and modules. I rarely play published adventures as written, as the railroading required tends to be severe, and that’s too much work, plus I don’t like it.

I LOVE reading published adventures to get ideas, though. I should try to just read them through, then wing it from memory, as a lot of people like to do.

The only exception to this rule is the Barrowmaze, which I recently bought, which has me eager to try it as written using B/X D&D. Seems really well done. I’ve read some of it, but I think it’s perfect for reading as you play. It’s a megadungeon, so it seems like reading through the rooms as you come to them is fair. Also, I’m in a nostalgia kick. If I get the chance to run some Old School games like B/X or Star Frontiers, there’s a bunch of modules I’d like to run RAW.

For more improvisational games, or more Indie games, the one piece of prep I like to do before a game is a relationship map or a situation map. I tend to keep those simple, though sometime it’s a bunch of sheets. It helps me keep the factions and motivations straight. For most Indie games, that’s all the prep you need. Stats and encounters and such emerge organically and I enjoy winging it. Heavy prep for Indie games defeats the purpose of playing indie games. Play to Find Out and all that good stuff.

But whatever the system, session prep always involves me thinking about the game all week, imagining NPC agendas and possible scenarios, but leaving scenes loose, as no plan survives contact with the players.

#12rpg Question 8: Talk about your typical approach to preparation for running an RPG. Is there a particular method you generally follow? What use do you make of published setting or adventure material, if any?

First off, go read Paul Beakley’s post for this, as he encapsulates a lot of great advice he’s doled out in the past, and which I try to follow.

Second, let me start backward and say that I am neutral-to-hostile on published setting and adventure material. There are good products in these categories and there are bad. The good stuff helps save me time — of which, as a parent, I have little to spare. The bad stuff I just try to avoid.

And as for setting specifically, I’ve come to realize that most games don’t need really need “settings” per se. So much of their setting and situation is built in that I find any big infodump of surrounding color largely useless. I’d much rather just create what I need, be it as lonely fun or as a group at the table.

Otherwise, I lean toward published settings that were created organically and, well, have stood the test of time: Glorantha, Tékumel, Middle-Earth, the Champions universe (up to a point), and takes on real-world history. Sure, (e.g.) Eberron is pretty cool, but it’s also a crass commercial artifact. And, well, eff that.

As for prep itself — and I mean learning the game well enough to run it without anxiety — I try to approach a given game as a “project.” I try to genuinely study the rule text and read useful commentary about it. I will read, re-read, take notes, and create cheat/summary sheets. Then I play the game, de-brief, and work on what needs work for next time.

I have not done “prep” in the D&D sense of scenario-writing in a very long time, save for the one-shot brainstorming that I do for my Chicago Gameday events. But I’m not going to share any of those techniques with you as I totally suck at it and my results are awful, so nobody should be emulating me in that regard. This is something that I need to work on, and it’s another reason why I am not wholly averse to published adventures. I think you just need to find the good ones.

I’m looking forward to the answers to this one, as I feel like I could do a lot better in this arena. I spent a long time learning bad habits, and then a long time breaking them. Now I hope I finally at a point where I can proceed with​ a clean slate again.

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Question 7. Is there an RPG genre you sort of like but gives you severe mental blocks? What do you like about it? What are your mental blocks?

Tl;dr I like the concept. I lack the imagination to make it work.

I’d have to say Transhumanist sci-fi RPGs, with the prime example being Eclipse Phase.

What I like about it? A LOT of the ideas and concepts.

1. I love the premise of a post-scarcity society, with different currency, based on social media standing.

2. I love the idea of total connectivity with AR overlays on everything you do or say. I love the idea of a digital muse or personal assistant, which helps you manage the data and helps you navigate the information overload.

3. I like the concept of the cortical stack, where technology has advanced to the point where your memories, and your personality can be encoded in digital form, and you can be downloaded into different bodies or exist as a disembodied Digital Personality inhabiting the all pervasive internet.

Travel just becomes a matter of transmitting your personality to another planet and downloading it into a waiting body, genetically engineered, or synthetic.

I love the idea of making multiple copies of your personality and tackling multiple problems at once. The ultimate form of multitasking.

I love the idea that death means that you only lost your most recent copy and you can just download your stored personality from the last ‘save point’ into a new body and can carry on from there.

Mental blocks? All of the above.

1. Post-scarcity society. As much as the idea is super interesting, I have serious difficulties figuring out how you implement this. Want the latest cybernetic body with all the enhancements on it? It’s post scarcity, sure, go ahead. Weapons? 3d print them. etc.

Standard answer is: some tech is restricted by government, but… why do you want these things? You can get all your basic needs met. so the villains’ motivations are what? Bragging rights???

Also, what’s my PC motivation here? this is the easiest solved. There’s plenty of reasons to go around getting into trouble, but some of my favorite motivations, like, say, playing a cop, get radically altered. What’s crime like in a post scarcity society? What do you steal that you can’t otherwise procure? Why do people kill each other? (good reasons given in Altered Carbon, but other than that, why do you go to the trouble of killing someone?) What’s smuggling? Would there be any horrendous crime like human trafficking? Why bother? AI and synthetic bodies can fulfill any psycopath’s depravities? There are things, I’m sure, it’s just hard to come up with them.

EP tries to get around this by using the Existential threats, and I suppose that’s the only good answer.

2. Total connectivity. Cool. Also, means, there are no mysteries. No detective work. Every possible clue is a NeoGoogle search away, and your Muse is already working on it, even as you’re just now realizing that that piece of paper is just the corner of a matchbook with the logo of a particular bar in Mars… Probably makes for a nice novel to read or a nice movie to watch , but as a game? That kills a lot of the fun

3. Cortical stack. Super cool concept! But also kills any fear of death. It’s kind of a love-hate thing. Your PC dying only means the bad guys get away with what they are doing right now, and you get to keep playing your favorite PC, so that is SUPER COOL. OTOH, cloning, or Forking, your personality to multitask is interesting, but kind of eliminates the need for a party of characters. You can do everything yourself, research anything in an instant, consult with experts, since you’re connected, etc

Also… what are you even passionate about? Immortality with post scarcity brings ennui. I’m sure the exploration of what it means to love someone when personality and body are completely separate from each other is interesting. It’s a bit too abstract for me. I dunno. Relationships become weird. Goals and motivations are also nebulous, when all is taken into account (Immortality, overabundance)

So, in conclusion: My imagination is most likely not up to the task of all these radically paradigm shifting high concepts. In the end, I find it too much work to try to turn into a game. I’d sure like to play with a GM who can make heads and tails of it, but I suspect my mental blocks would even creep in as a player.

It makes for an interesting read (can’t really say it’s super fun to read, as it’s a bit too alien to me), but I still prefer more retro-scifi/ space opera/space fantasy, like The Expanse, Star Frontiers, Traveller, Star Wars, Firefly, BSG, Warhammer 40K, etc, etc. (Yes, I said RETRO. As compared to Transhumanism and Posthumanist Sci-fi? Positively retro/vintage stuff.)

#12rpg Question 6: Do you follow any particular RPG authors? Which RPG authors have works you admire, and what are their stand-out pieces of work?

This question seems almost too obvious, but maybe that’s my indie damage. I absolutely follow various authors: on social media, on patronage platforms, chat them up at cons, etc. Some of my best friends are RPG authors! I admire all of them for their hard work, their honed talent, and for making games I enjoy.

Maybe this question is written from a fanboi/”famous-author” perspective — If so, I don’t that no more. I mean, I used to get all palm-sweaty about Monte Cook, but them I gamed with him, realized he’s a nice guy, and also just a human being who writes games. Like everybody.

Greg Stafford is maybe the only author whose presence humbles me, but that’s okay because GREG STAFFORD IS A FREAKING GOD AND I WILL KNIFE-FIGHT YOU ON THIS. Liz Danforth, too.

So, some authors and their great works, and I’ll probably forget a bunch:

Ron Edwards and Sorcerer.
Chris Chinn and his Deeper in the Game blog (and much-missed Deep in the Game).
Paul Beakley and his Indie Game Reading Club collection here on G+.
Willow Palecek and her Apocalypse West hack, the Fastcast, and basically any GMing she does.
Tim Koppang and the insanely underrated Hero’s Banner.
luke crane and Burning Wheel.
Thor Olavsrud and Torchbearer.
Bret Gillan and The Final Girl.
Dain Lybarger and all the unsung work he’s done on Cortex games.
Steven Long and HERO; like most all of it.
Jason Morningstar and shit, you know all his games.
Cam Banks and Marvel Heroic.
Ralph Mazza and Universalis. YES, I SAID UNIVERSALIS, RALPH.
Vincent Baker yadda, yadda, yadda.
Paul Czege and The Clay That Woke.
WJ MacGuffin and like, all the stuff he’s written.
Steve Hickey and more-people-need-to-play-this Left Coast.
Phil Kalata and lots of work on Friefly.
Ian Cooper and Heroquest in Glorantha.
Judd Karlman and, yes, Dictionary of Mu.
Michael Miller and With Great Power.
Jeff Dee for the love of god.
Brad Murray and Diaspora.
James V West and the seminal The Pool.
Matt Wilson and Primetime Advenutres
Ben Robbins and Kingdom.
Allen Varney because everyone should be following Allen Varney.
Michael Prescott and his kickass dungeon/maps.
Rachel E.S. Walton and Long Orbit and mad Burning Wheel skillz.
Robert Bohl and Misspent Youth, dammit.

And, yes, there are far too few women on this list. I’m working on it.

#12rpg Question 5: You’re running a historical or alt historical game. What place and time in history do you change? Are you including fantastical elements of any sort, and if so, what?

Whenever someone says “alt-historical” I hear “mythic, Dark Ages Britain”. Like, every time. That’s probably why I had such a blast playing The Design Mechanism’s Mythic Britain for Runequest 6 Mythras at GenCon years ago. I wouldn’t even need the included magic; just the Christian/Druid tensions, historical-Arthur’s court, and Saxon invaders is enough for me. The magic helps, though.

http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/139443/Mythic-Britain