Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Thirteen Notes About RPGs in 2013

New Games: I managed to play or run seven new rpgs this year. I’m not sure how that stacks up against other G+ experience. I suspect I’m in the middle of the pack: Fate Core, Fate Accelerated, Base Raiders, Trash Planet, Legend, 13th Age, and Kingdom. I bought many more than that with the majority of those coming from the various Bundles of Holding. I had several Kickstarter rpgs I back finally arrive in a final form: Hillfolk, Centurion, Spark, Ehdrighor, Icons: Great Power, Nova Praxis, and Kingdom. I’ve only managed to get one of those to the table so far.

Number Crunchy: I finally turned on Google Analytics for the first time at the beginning of the year. There’s a sharp difference between the numbers Blogger gives me for stats and the GA figures. For purposes of transparency, here’s where I stand:

What does that mean? No clue. I have 215 Blogger follower, which is nice. But I suspect the removal of Google Reader will eventually have an impact on stats. I’ve written 815 posts. I thought about trying to figure out the number of words I published this year, with 151 posts. I suspect the average is about 1800 words per post. I need to figure out how to monetize that- or figure out if I should be putting this energy somewhere else.

Big Finishes: I wrapped three major campaigns this year, plus a mini-campaign arc for a larger project. My Changeling the Lost f2f game finished early in the year. We’d been using our Action Cards house rules for that since late 2008. The group’s composition had changed drastically over time, but we ended with three solid and fun players who created some of the best moments of the game. Our Roll20 Mutants & Masterminds campaign began and ended its second arc. I’d aimed for twelve sessions, but ended up closer to eighteen. I’m going to run the last arc of that this year. In December I wrapped up to other long campaigns The Last Fleet (2 ½ years) and Libri Vidicos (7 years). Both used Action Cards. The group used Microscope to collaboratively create the world for Last Fleet. I thought we’d maybe get a couple dozen sessions out of it, but it rolled on strongly and ended with a strong finish.

Lists: Those History of RPGs lists are hard work. They average about 3-4K per, even with a shorter set of items. I still have a long away to go with the superhero series, but I will finish it off. I’ve also put together 2013 review lists for Horror; Steampunk & Victoriana; and Superhero RPG products. I’ll probably work from blurbs with minor comments when I put those together. I have some other genres I’d like to do, but I’ll wait several months until I’ve forgotten how painful they can be. Maybe someday I can pull that material together and expand it. I think each one could be a good book- especially supplemented with interviews and further comments.

Dangers of Retrospection: I have mixed feelings about the end of the seven-year Libri Vidicos campaign. That game came out of the gate super-strong. The first three-four years remains some of the best gaming experiences I’ve had. Those focused on the school and personal development. Once the game opened up the scope a little more, things became more complicated. It moved further away from the interactions with NPCs and the interesting hijinks of being students in a magical high school. In that respect, it parallels Harry Potter. Middles can be tough and once you raise the stakes, you make the choices filled with jeopardy. The last three years were amazing, but had a tough act to follow because the first four were absolutely dynamite.

Reviews: This year I won RPG Geek’s Iron Reviewer (after 2+ years of battling). A hefty chunk of my posts come from that struggle at the beginning of the year. After that I stepped away from reviewing. I hope to get back into that for 2014. I have a number of interesting games I’d like to draw people’s attention to. I need to write up my impressions of Kingdom, now that I’ve had a chance to play it. I’d also like to finish working through reviews of the various L5R products, including the new books.

I’m An Asshole: It’s a kick in the gut to realize how much my ego drives my reaction to campaigns. I hate that- especially since I can see it rationally, but it still rides me with the lash. After seven years I wanted a glorious end to the campaign- with angels descending from the heavens. The players would gift me with presents for my efforts, they sing songs about the glories of it, tell tales of how it could not be surpassed. I would be praised as a king for my efforts, creativity, and diligence. No- we had a solid final session and wrapped up some years of good games. That ought to be more than enough. We have a group of players- all of whom play in or run multiple campaigns. Most have two or three other ones. I really need to tamp down my GM grandiosity and bizarre expectations. Sometimes I see GMs on G+ and blogs complaining that their players aren’t excited enough- that they don’t talk about the game away from the table or send emails with plots and plans. With someone else I can think, “Man, just be happy you’re playing and everyone’s having a good time.” With myself I fall into the same trap of self-indulgence and self-doubt.

Professionalism: A lesson relearned this year. If you’re dealing with a person or organization and they treat you unprofessionally right out of the gate, that’s not going to get any better. If they change the rules, ignore questions, cancel without apology, don’t contact after publication, ask you to cut someone off, move the goalposts, make changes without consultation, or make demands without compensation- that’s not something that will change over time. Carefully assess those first couple of interactions you have with a company, person, or editor. On the flip side- if someone treats you professionally, thank them for that and return that professionalism.

Taking Action: Libri Vidicos also represented the longest use of our homebrew system, Action Cards. I’d run it for smaller campaign before that, but the LV version was the most substantial version and saw the most play. Each campaign since has built on those rules- with some drastic changes. By about the mid-way mark of the campaign, cracks began to show in the mechanics. Over time, the wheels began to come off the rules. I spent time trying to keep things from flying off the road- with small patches and changes. That largely worked or at the players bought into it working. Some games systems lend themselves to long-term play, some to short term. Many of the changes I’ve made to the system since the Libri Vidicos version have been to extend the game’s lifespan while simplifying and discarding elements. I think we’ve now ended up with a solid version. In total, we’ve run an estimated Action Cards 600+ sessions across a dozen campaigns. That includes fantasy, samurai, post-apocalypse, modern urban fantasy, space war, horror, and superheroes. This needs to be the year I get a standard version assembled.

Opinion: Suggesting an alternative approach to a game isn’t the same as saying this game sucks. This was a year of my being surprised by people’s defensiveness about games. I was struck by some people’s need to take umbrage at variants or take ideas as statements of absolutism. It was a weird year for this. I saw otherwise progressive persons and groups being incredibly hostile to others who ought to share their same objectives: fun, community, equality. I saw a lot of weird false class consciousness. I saw many interesting voices stop commenting. And I saw a worrying shift in discussions about how you conduct discussions- who should be in people’s circles, what +1’s mean, harassment. Is anyone on the side of the angels in these arguments? I don’t know. I’m nervous about a chilling effect in the future for discussions. I’m even hesitant to even write this. I’ll leave it in…

Eating Too Much: My campaigns have shapes. I’m not a special snowflake, so I assume most GMs follow the same pattern. We begin and players have some ideas about their threads and what they want out of the campaign. I introduce mysteries, add inciting incidents, and try out hooks. That’s the first Act. As time passes the game expands (some might say bloat) with plots, threads, and potential storylines. The players have more on their plate than they can handle and start to really prioritize. Then I begin the swing into the last part of the campaign where the threats and threads the players have focused on come into relief. And then we wrap the campaign with final choices or conflicts. The problem I have comes in that middle section- I find I’m overstuffing it. I put too many interesting options in. If I’m unsure about a scene, I’ll add a new NPC or threat. That can be bad if we get to the end of the campaign and the players haven’t gotten closure on those. Not that they have to wrap everything, but they need to be able to conclude those which matter. I need to consciously finish some of those stories earlier, before the end. I have to provide victories and up beats as stepping stones to the end.

Non-Gaming: Job and work hunting remained difficult in 2013; I had even fewer interviews this year. I hope 2014 turns out to be better. On the plus side, we will be doing a Kickstarter for my board game this year which won't generate money, but might open doors for other opportunities.

Stay on Target: We’ve recorded 26 episodes of the Play on Target podcast, with 23 posted so far. I’m happy with how those have turned out. Over time we’ve generated some interesting discussion and ideas. It has been nice to hear from listeners who’ve politely said they’ve enjoyed it. I hope this year we can integrate more feedback and questions. I also hope I can learn to a) not talk so much and let the others have a chance and b) get better about my ‘ums’ and ‘ahhs’. 

Thanks for reading and welcome to Year Six of the Blog.