#RPGaDay 13. Describe how your play has evolved

I am probably one of many people who were swept up by the Forge in the early aughts and happily drank the Big Model Kool-Aid. And I stand by that, as it was damn good Kool-Aid.

The short version is that I started the hobby as a wide-eyed kid with dreams of escapist adventures, was then crushed by all of the horrible garbage we learned​ in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and then slowly over the course of a decade figured out how the hell to actually play in a constructive, rewarding manner that acknowledged the needs of everyone at the table. Total cliche.

That said, I feel like I am currently in the midst of another transformation. I’ve written before about how I feel like I’ve been sucking wind as a GM in recent years. I don’t know exactly what is the source of my poor performance, but I feel like, at the very least, I need to take a break from GM’ing and re-assess my approach. I think I may need to unlearn some things again, it;’s just a matter of figuring out exactly what. I just know that continuing to do what I normally do isn’t going to work.

(Strangely, I’m in the same position with my guitar playing. This may simply be a mid-life thing.)

Fingers crossed that I eventually figure it all out.

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11. Wildest character name?
12. Wildest character concept?

Huh.

I must a be a long-time fuddy-duddy, because nothing really leaps to mind for these. I can think of a few cringeworthy AD&D PC names — “Drobghar Bladefligner” — but nothing that seems “wild,” as it were. And I once played a science fiction author whose characters came to life and demanded he write better stories for them, but that was pretty much an outgrowth of the game (Steve Hickey’s Left Coast).

I guess I need to work on this.

#RPGaDay 10. How has gaming changed you?

Paul Beakley’s answer to this question was pretty spot on and I will steal its​ essence:

I have been gaming so long that it’s hard to remember how I may have been before I started. Honestly, I feel like I had an RPG-shaped hole in my heart and the hobby was basically invented so I could fill it. If anything, RPGs have simply given me an outlet for tendencies I already had.

That said, there’s no doubt that gaming has introduced me to people and made me some very close friends, and that it has helped me learn how to deal with both myself and with people. E.g., despite being an introvert, I have no problem talking in front of crowds or giving presentations. Having been in bands has helped with this, too, but so has running games for total strangers at cons.

Plus, gaming has also exposed me to people of all kinds of backgrounds I probably would never have known otherwise. The impact on my politics has been profound.

Plus… plus, there are more than a few genres and authors I’ve discovered via games. E.g., I go the Buffy RPG before I’d ever seen the show (My wife: “Happy Birthday! I think you’ll like this”), which prompted me to watch the show, and now my son’s middle name is “Joss”. Crazy!

#RPGaDay 9. How has a game surprised you?

FFG’s Genesys surprised me by being good. I came to it in the expectation that the custom dice were a total cash-grab gimmick, and I was pleasantly surprised. I mean, the dice are still a cash-grab gimmick, but at least they’re a well-designed one. I may actually buy this game.

Burning Wheel surprised me by being the game that broke me. It was the first RPG that failed miserably when I approached it with my existing notions of how to play RPGs — i.e., you learn how to “role-play” and then individual RPGs are just sets of deck chairs you re-arrange on the Titanic.

Burning Wheel called bullshit on that and refused to work until I accepted that I could trust the text and simply run it as the author intended. This is a lesson I had to learn again with Mouse Guard, but it eventually sunk in.

In that sense, BW is also kind of answer to​ the next question, because it forever changed how I approach the hobby.

Resources

Happy Saturday, hope y’all are having a nice one.

For me and maybe you, but this isn’t the hill I want to die on, a killer app of the indie/small press game scene is the access we have to the creators of these games. In my mind, this is what makes the current generation of “indie publishers” utterly different than the equally-indie publishers I worked for in the ’90s. And that’s the best resource you could ever ask for.

Probably the most fruitful, genuinely useful conversations I’ve had among all the indie creators I’ve met and talked to — which are many but not even most, ye gawds they keep cropping up like weeds — would be a tossup between luke crane (he double-classes as genius and gadfly) and Jason Morningstar (who specializes in just the genius thing). These two have done the absolute most to crowbar my head open to the vast, truly vast range of gameplay, priorities, and ideas about the nature of This Thing Of Ours.

(If you wanted to talk about extra crap to buy, I really like all the card-based supplements the Fria Ligan folks do with their Mutant Year Zero family of games. Cards are rad, yay cards.)

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Thank You

Kind of an indulgent, masturbatory question today — and if I’m saying that in this collection, it must be extra-true.

I’m a GM probably 95% of the time, but in that 5% (usually my convention games) I don’t really do much more than directly thank the GM or facilitator. Costs nothing but a bit of time, but jeez, we’ve been sitting in a small room together for four hours smelling each other’s farts, it’s the least I can do. But as a GM, I know that those direct thanks are a big deal.

But! If you’re a player who doesn’t know what to give the GM Who Has It All (i.e. me or others like me), here are some ideas:

* Be present. Not just in attendance, but actively engaged in the thing. Put the phone away, ringer on mute.

* Ask how you can help. No really. Ask. Playing is a necessarily inward-focused activity, and I think it can create inward-focused play habits that aren’t conducive to table synergy.

* If you’re not feeling it, say so. I don’t know about other facilitators, but my stoke is heavily reliant on the table’s stoke. If you’re not feeling it, I won’t feel it. If you think you’re hiding your disinterest (out of politeness or whatever), joke’s on you: you’re so not.

* Indulge me in a little debrief after. It’s my one chance to, you know, share in the stoke! It’s nice to come out from under the table and join you folks and pretend I’m a star like you.

I think that’s about all any of us need!

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24. Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

Well, none of them. I don’t second guess publisher decisions on marketing plans.

To add some actual content, I’d like to shout out to Sine Nomine and Johnstone Metzger who have both sold me on games due to a free/pay-what-you-want edition that allowed me to read up on a game before deciding to go ahead and buy the fancy version later…

Reviews

A sore spot.

I think 90% of all writing about RPGs is terrible. Terrible for me, at least. It’s probably all fandoms everywhere, but gamers seem exceptionally unsuited to knowing how to talk about what they love. It’s either the greatest thing ever and will change the world or it’s the worst thing ever and anyone who says otherwise is stupid.

I don’t read reviews of roleplaying games. I don’t seek them out. If I stumble into one I click away immediately. RPG reviews are toxic and terrible. Oh, one exception but it’s a weird one: the Shut Up & Sit Down folks have a very similar aesthetic and set of values to how I think about games, and I’ve watched them dip their toe in the water now and again. They’re wide-eyed ingenues which is entirely to their credit. No enmeshed tribal identity to defend or slough off.

It’s the tribalism of course that makes 90% of all ttrpg writing terrible. I’ve said it before: It should come as no surprise that identity is such a recurring theme when talking about playing games about identity.

Actual play reports are my jam. Anyone who reads the Indie Game Reading Club (hello new collection followers! I know I’ve been mentioned a few times with today’s question) has seen my own approach. It is probably overwrought and definitely not a form factor that makes sense anywhere other than a social media platform. I have no idea how to monetize it. It’s a self-funded effort and it’s journaling therapy for me, so mostly it’s all good.

But actual play demands a few things if it’s to be done well. My unsolicited advice for anyone who wants to get in on the mad AP writeup cash:

* Play a lot of different stuff and break down whatever identity you have with a particular game or style or school or whatfuckingother divisions du jour there may be.

* Learn what rules do. Ignore what you want them to do.

* Develop a personal philosophy of what games are for. No seriously. What are they for? Your answer won’t be my answer. Do this so you can identify your own biases. Don’t try to ignore them, because you can’t. Just be aware of them.

* Nobody cares about the blow-by-blow of your session. Really. Nobody does. Try writing down a blow-by-blow description of your favorite song sometime. Write from 10,000 feet up: how did it feel? Where did the players engage or not? What surprised or delighted or disgusted you? Use vignettes to illustrate those points but juuust enough fiction to set up and deliver the point.

Anyway. Reviews suck.

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Impactful

Okay…not memorable or great or fun. Impactful.

My single session of play that had the most notable, singular impact was Mark Delsing’s Burning Wheel adaptation of Gilmore Girls. First BurningCon, whenever that was. 2010? Maybe earlier? Anyway. I thought Mark was so brave for running such an off-the-rez adaptation. He had seen more deeply into what makes Burning Wheel so good: lots of internal and interpersonal conflict. Many years later, looking back, I think I sense too much NY-vibed srsbzns confrontation baked into the Burning Wheel aesthetic and I’m not so sure any more that it’s the perfect match to that WB/CW chatty-teens style.

But the impact, beyond all that, wasn’t just seeing bold creative GMing on display. It was also the first time I played a female character (the Rory analog in his fantasy setup) unironically and as a player, rather than a GM. I’d had lots of women NPCs in my games but embodying, really owning a teen girl role was a threshold I had yet to cross.

It wasn’t a kickass con game. It was totally not a one-shot blood opera like Burning Wheel tends to shake out as. Honestly I can’t even remember much of what happened at the table. But it was such an important personal threshold for me.

I feel like 90% of my thinking and attitude about small-press/indie/story gaming today can be traced back to that event, and the personal, political and emotional vistas that were opened up to me. Such a small thing! Kind of laughable that I’d either not ever considered the possibility of having fun in the role of a sassy, emotional teen girl, or some underlying brittleness or insecurity or, yeah, fragility had kept me from going there. I still laugh at Past Baby Indie Paul!

I’ve also carried with me the thought that probably most dudes (and maybe also over 35) would benefit from a similar experience. I’d never tried a role tied into different aesthetics and play needs than my default mode: clever, funny, outsmarting an adversarial GM, suspicious of everyone, unfairness radar dialed all the way up.

None of this will sound even a little bit surprising or interesting to the all-in storygame crowd. It was a revelation for an older player who’d been re-performing the same play role in one form or another since 1979.

Thanks, Mark.

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