RPG a Day 2018 – Day Twenty-Nine – Share a friendship you have because of RPGs

Share a friendship you have because of RPGs

I’ve already mentioned Steve and Alex in a previous post. Those are definitely friendships I wouldn’t have without RPGs, just like most of my non-work, non-writing relationships.

Today I’ll drill down on a couple of those relationships I’ve had over the years, my first two long-term GMs. You see, I’m almost always the GM of a group. I like it, but it’s nice to get to be a player.

I met Graham through playing cards with a friend of his, Gary. Gary heard my woes about the Gen I In-Fighers, who were taxing, to put it generously. My brother and his friend Matt had a firm grip on the group and everything was done in an old school D&D (read – confrontational) way. We didn’t know much better and it was pretty taxing. Gary offered me a spot in his and Graham’s group. They both ran games for it from time to time. Graham was this ultra host of RPGs. People came round and he’d cook a meal, we’d chat and catch up like grown ups, even if we were mainly talking about nerd things. It felt very humanising. It also felt a little like an affair at first. I kept my Cyberpunk 2020 and AD&D character sheets hidden in my jeans pocket so none of the In-Fighters saw them. I got to play a weird jacket kid who had a weird cannon bolted onto his arm in Cyberpunk. In AD&D I played a well-meaning if idiotic paladin. We only played a few games before MMOs sucked in a couple of the group. Despite that, Graham and I kept in regular contact, often conspiring to meet at conventions. My first ever GenCon UK had the two of us playing a demo version of the Spycraft RPG where we met the wonderful Pat Kapera and joined together my love of spies with Graham’s love of firearms. We volunteered to run and host Spycraft games for a few years after that point. He’s been my ‘gun guy’ for both my writing and RPGs, as it’s a field I just don’t know about. I’ve been schooling him on narrative-based RPGs like Dungeon World, where he taught me how RPGs were supposed to work back in the day.

I couldn’t find a photo of Graham, so instead here’s UK Games Expo, which I’ve attended with him for the last two years.

I mentioned Andy yesterday and he’s a friendship I’ve had mainly through RPGs. He was one of my most prolific RPG customers at the comic shop when I tried to get them stocking role-playing games. It was a modest success, basically replacing the shelves of ‘adult’ comics, then expanding from there. Andy and I were both massive World of Darkness fans before and after the change from Old WoD to New WoD. That change fascinated us both and he went from the person who’d turn up shortly after the delivery of new stock to hanging out and chatting about the implications of Gehenna, the existence of the Exalted game and more. He was the ‘cool’ GM, into those kinds of RPGs. We’d drink coffee and chat about new television shows as well as the edgy, continuity-heavy White Wolf games.

When I left the shop, Andy took over, so our lunchtime hangouts kept going. We were in a group for a few years before it dissolved after a falling out between Andy and another GM. When I bailed on my role-playing group (The Gen II In-Fighters), he helped start a new group up. Like Graham, he was someone who I could spend hours talking to about games an acted like a lightning rod for ideas.

Andy at a con.

Both Andy and Graham have left Brighton. Graham has a job which keeps him on the road at all hours, so I often hear from him while he’s driving. I was terrible at keeping in touch with Andy but have been trying to get in contact with him more often. We’ve spoken a few times this year and hopefully will do again soon.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Twenty-Eight – Share whose inspiring gaming excellence you’re grateful for

Share whose inspiring gaming excellence you’re grateful for

I’ve not been entirely sure how to tackle this one. There are a lot of people who have been inspiring in their gaming.

In my groups past and present, there have been moments of sheer genius from players where they’ve done things which completely wowed me. Just recently in Night Witches, Lee in my group made a celebrity NPC part of a rival ballet company to one of the player characters. That player has started some incredibly Machiavellian plans to use their NKVD girlfriend to bring about their rival’s ruin. He’s done this before in Apocalypse World when his Hoarder started doing increasingly horrid things and I asked him if he realised he was the villain for this story. He said he’d figured and wanted to play to see what happens. That character saw the business end of another player’s shotgun and everyone at the table thought it was deserved. It was a great ending to a gloriously terrible character, although they’d sold the location of the group’s home to the bad guys, haunting them all the way to the finale. For the one of my players who’s quite shy, he can end up like Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia when he’s got a plan. Surprisingly cunning, thorough and brutal. In PbtA games where you play characters to the hilt, it’s great.

Lee from my role-playing group, basically.

As far as my GMs, I still remember my old GM Andy who was able to get players so in the moment they’d actually get up and move. In a game of Vampire: The Requiem it got to the point where Evil Stuart (a lovely guy… just really evil in RPGs) was feigning hiding behind a bush by hiding under a table. Taking cover from our enemies among crates of drug-filled plush pigs who said, “I Wub You”, showing a hostage situation on Shaun… Andy was very good at getting people riled up and in the moment. He could make initiative rounds feel like they took little time and get people ‘in state’.

Honey Heist

I didn’t realise I wanted to make RPGs, I just liked reading their lore, making stories, engaging with the mechanics and talking about them. I’ve since had a few RPG ideas which I’m hoping to put into practice. I’ve taken place in the 200 Word RPG Contest and want to do more in the field. There are too many influences I have. I love the daft whimsy of Grant Howitt and all his creations, as shown in my endless chatter on Who Dares Rolls about his work. Avery Alder makes some of the neatest, clearest uses of mechanics and has a great amount of honesty and emotion in her work. People like Jackson Tegu and Aura Belle are the people who make games which talk about things I wish I was emotionally mature enough to handle. But also weird and fun things at the same time.

Aura Belle and Josh Jordan’s transhuman dating TV show
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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Twenty-Seven – Share a great stream/actual play

Share a great stream/actual play

I’ve mentioned two things a lot in this year’s RPG a Day; Monsterhearts and the Gauntlet. While I know I’ve been pretty heavy on them both, there’s one more mention of them I have to bring up.

The Pocket-Sized Play podcast is a really good actual play series. It’s split into short episodes which I love as a lot of AP podcasts go on way too long. The Monsterhearts seasons they’ve done are short, entertaining and don’t overstay their welcome. Their host, Jason Cordova, gives a little bit of commentary at the start of each episode; something to look out for or something he particularly enjoyed about the excerpt. It’s something I was surprised not to have heard in other podcasts and found really useful in my own play.

Pocket-Sized Play can be found here.

If you’re sick of me raving about The Gauntlet, you could also try out You Don’t Meet in an Inn. Their podcast has had several great campaigns. Engine Hearts, Microscope, Magister Lor and of course, Monsterhearts. They run long and short campaigns, generally sticking at okay lengths and with a group who have a fun chemistry. The most recent episode of theirs I heard was One Missed Call, a two-player game which had the most infectious laughter between the hosts Austin and Christine, then dived right into the serious drama of the game. They’re found here.

As far as streams go, I basically don’t want to watch a four hour video all at once and I don’t really understand Twitch (nor have bothered yet) so I don’t have recommendations there yet.

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Cadavers: World Gone to Hell

As we speak, there is a Kickstarter project for a comics anthology I’ve contributed to. The anthology is Cadavers: World Gone to Hell and it looks like it’s going to be stunning.

The creator of the Cadavers comics is Matt Hardy, who used to be a customer of mine when I worked at a comic shop, then a friend when we realised our tastes were so incredibly similar. Matt has written three Cadavers comics with Ed Bentley, set in a version of Earth which sees monsters as refugees from another, spookier, Earth. There’s a lot about immigration, about race hate and the like, but it’s also a really fun read with some awesome-looking monsters as well. Like with X-Men, a subject I can and will talk endlessly about, it has fun stories and some deeper topics.

I was asked about whether I wanted to contribute to Cadavers and while I did, I also had to own up to not having read the initial Cadavers comics, mainly as I was scared I wouldn’t like them. Matt made it clear that he put a lot of weight in my opinion and I was terrified of that responsibility. Once I did, they were great and I instantly had ideas.

Look at that charismatic blob.

The first was about a blob seen in about three panels of Cadavers Issue One. Who was this blob? I thought they were a detective, down on their luck. The project I’d be writing for was a prequel, so we’d get to see the Blob Detective in their heyday.

Blob Detective.

With the incredible Russell Mark Olson handling the art and Rob Jones on the lettering, Blob Detective is so much more than I could have made it alone. It’s been a riot to create and to share the idea with others.

Me wandering back to my home… Or our protagonist in the wilds of Altrasania

The second idea was a kind of love story, set between two worlds. I have this plan for an anthology which is probably prose, where a second Earth appears and we explore the mundane lives of people on both worlds, looking at each other from so far away. Reading the back-matter of the Cadavers comics, it made that part of my brain twinge. I thought about a love between the normal and ‘spooky’ Earths, which could be one of the catalysts for the way the worlds get breached and the Cadavers enter in the main series. It was lofty and needed a bit of finessing, especially because I was playing with Matt’s cosmology. This story came more from moments stitched together like a Frankenstein’s Monster than how some stories just naturally fall together. I kept the remit for the cast specifically broad so the artist could draw anyone they wanted. Rory Donald’s exceptional artwork caught the landscape and the characters perfectly. This is again lettered by Rob Jones, who’s been great to work with on Blob Detective and I’m sure will be great when he’s done on this.

Even as I wrote Fractured I knew it wasn’t going to end well for my cast, but I still kept going, wishing for a better fate and knowing it would escalate to a quite brutal level. Sometimes you aren’t prepared to kill your darlings in such a graphic fashion…

There are several more stories in the Cadavers Anthology made by some extremely talented people. I’ve helped Matt with some of the logistics of what’s happening in the throughline story of the anthology and gone through a few of the scripts. There’s a lot of talent here and while I’m obviously biased as my work’s in the collection, I definitely recommend checking out the Kickstarter here .

This was going to be a brief story about my origin with writing comics, but that’ll have to wait for another day.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Twenty-Six – Your gaming ambition for the next year

Your gaming ambition for the next year

It’s time to get a bit David Cage.

But first, a few smaller goals. I’m managing to roleplay a bit more these days which has been an ambition of mine for a while, but I do want to try a bit more as far as one-shot games go. I’m also hoping to try more online TTRPGs.

I want to get better at ending scenes. I tend to let them run long, especially if the players are having fun in them or taking too long wondering what to do. When the purpose of a scene is over, cutting things short should be the action taken, but sometimes that’s easier said than done.

Then the David Cage goal. I want more emotional play in some of my RPGs. It’s easy to go funny in RPGs, and that’s fine. People can snark and quip against villains and the plot which is okay but can remove any emotional stakes. In running horror games, getting the group wrapped up and in the moment is great, but can easily be undone by a single pun. Beyond horror, trying to craft scenes with emotional resonance can be even harder. They often require a bit more openness and lowering of some barriers which can be uncomfortable. This is why the X Card and Script Change are great tools, as they make the game table a safer space for these kinds of experiences.

Some games like D&D don’t really need much of this, but it can enhance a game whether it’s a hack and slash or whether it’s something which needs emotional investment such as Bluebeard’s Bride and Where the Heart Is.

There are some barriers to this. The group are relatively new and unlike previous incarnations where work and employment created ties outside of the game, we don’t have much of that yet. This means there may not be enough trust to lower the barriers yet. We play in a public space, so sometimes players can get self-conscious. I admit I’m fairly emotionally guarded and lock down under some circumstances. This kind of veers into self-improvement a bit, and I hope that I can play and run experiences which can be open to emotional moments whether big or small, and that those tables remain safe places for all involved.

For people who are unfamiliar with them, Script Change is found here and the X-Card is found here. Get to know them and use them in your games.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Twenty-Five – Name a game that had an impact on you in the last year

Name a game that had an impact on you in the last year

I played Fall of Magic at a mini-convention and it was a sublime game.

Games, especially con games, have people rush through things or dally and not reach the end of the story. The minicon in question, CabinCon, had previous games of Fate go incredibly awry before.

The group I played Fall of Magic with felt like a master class in role-playing, even with some opening uncertainty. The group cycled possibly a few too many times through the first location, but each scene told a small story. I played a kid who was a short aspiring squire. He would attack his reflection in the river with a stick, pretending it was a mighty sword. The group set forth and suddenly everything clicked into place. We were journeying in quiet moments, little scenes between the moments you’d normally see in an RPG. Wandering through old leaves, picking through the ruins of an ancient battlefield. It was very calm and very interesting. Our master, The Last Magus, was doing all of the quest relevant actions and we only helped when we had to.

Eventually, we reached the town where two of the group came from, where they were both still hunted. There was drama and tension, but it bypassed anything which slowed the story itself down. We wandered through the world, finding moments of sadness, drama and wonder.

We realised that time was almost done and we weren’t going to get to cross the sea, so everyone folded up their story in the location we were at, including my character’s confusion at seeing something as massive as the sea. The Magus’ skin was cracking throughout the game, with a pulsing blue light underneath. My character saw nothing beyond the sea, but with the clouds above, it started to look like it was pulsing along with what was under the Magus’ skin.

“What is it?” My character asked.

“Magic,” The Magus answered, bursting into blue light and flying over the sea. In this story, this was our destination, our quest. Sure, it was kind of corny, but in that moment it was perfect. It felt like it used a really tiny rule set and an extravagant scroll to make what had felt like if Studio Ghibli made a fantasy quest story.

I had to be quiet for a bit after that adventure. I think it had been one of the more lovely adventures that I’ve had. I could also see how you could go through that journey again, changing up who you are and how you react to the events on the scroll.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Twenty-Four – Which RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?

Which RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?

This is a really difficult one, because what I think of as an obscure game and what actually is can differ quite a bit.

I’m not the fastest person. When the d20 glut and slump was over and the dust settled, the big dogs were D&D and the (then) New World of Darkness. There were some games like Legend of the Five Rings and Spycraft which I considered ‘indie’ as they simply weren’t those two.

When I moved beyond those games for a few years, away from RPG.net and regular socialising with other GMs, I simply assumed the community went with me. I skipped Pathfinder, lost track of what the hell Onyx Path/White Wolf were going through and started following the RPG communities on G+. I got into The Gauntlet who are my benchmark for RPGs and started checking out a lot of their recommendations.

If not for them, I’d say Final Girl deserves some love, but it’s something they’ve raved about a ton. The same goes for Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne. These are both stellar games and should be in the discourse more for the things they do. The same goes for Psi*Run, which one of my players brought up as a retort for what I love about 7th Sea. It does similar things of placing dice in different boxes for different results. It’s a really neat game and reflects a very specific, set challenge. You’re on the run, you have psychic powers and you’re slowly regaining your memories.

My choice for this is Cthulhu Dark. It’s a system which has been around for a while in a free, tiny format. It’s actually perfect for all you need in a Cthulhu game. Call of Cthulhu, like old school Paranoia, is a system which exists almost invisibly. People don’t really notice or care that much what it is. The story and the setting is king. Cthulhu Dark pares absolutely everything down to how you play the story and the rules help with that.

It uses a roll many, pick the highest kind of system which you see in games like Blades in the Dark and Spire. You’ll only ever be rolling a few dice unless you want to risk your stability (which is also their nice bypassing of the problematic ‘Sanity’). No matter what, you’ll always be succeeding to enough of a level where you’ll be able to progress with the story, even though often that’s a bad thing for a Lovecraftian character.

Making a big book of Cthulhu Dark is an amazing idea. As a challenge or a dare, Graham Walmsley made a giant book covering. The system is there, intact, but with a lot of tools including concentric drilling down into clarifications and variant uses of the two types of rolls (investigating, things other than investigating). It goes a long way into telling you ways to build mysteries and then has four scenarios in interesting settings beyond the standard 1920’s Arkham locations. So far I’ve only run the DLC scenario, “As Good as a Feast” which was a bonus for backing the project on Kickstarter, but it was the best GM’d Lovecraft system I’ve played. No one survived and the players became gloriously unstable as they turned on each other. I’ve heard some people complain that you’re always succeeding if the rolls won’t stop your progress, but actually they’re removing the logjam of failed ‘Library Use’ checks and driving you deeper into the horrors. If you roll badly, you get enough to carry on but not always in a good way. If you succeed too well, you might glimpse beyond the veil. Cthulhu Dark doesn’t pull its punches, despite being small enough to print into a bookmark.

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