Thursday, October 29, 2015

13 RPG Thoughts for October

To finish out the month, a maddening miscellany... 

1. Epilogue: I ran a couple of VirtuaCon games last weekend. While my session of The Warren didn’t go, 13th Age and DCC did. I feel OK about the two sessions (I’ll say more about that later). But I managed to make a rookie mistake. I try to be strongly aware of the time when I’m running. At the start I tell players that when we get to the last 30 minutes, I will cut and compress. I told them that and planned for it, but in both sessions I still used up all my time.

Sessions feels stronger when you get a few free final minutes to decompress; ten minutes at least. That gives players a chance to go over what they liked, ask questions, develop closing statements for characters, and make future connections with the other players. A GM can also ask for casual impressions. Almost as important you give players a break between sessions. On Sunday I ended up closing one tab and opening another immediately to get to my next game, with no breather between. This advice holds especially true at a face to face conventions where you might also need to free the table for other groups. I heard a couple of horror stories from Gen Con this year. GMs completing ignoring that they’d run over, even with another group of players waiting.

2. Overstatement: I’m beginning to think that Dragon Quest 9 is the best JRPG. It has a strong focus on playability, lots of room for character development, tons of quests, great monster animations, and nice dress-up features. It’s a little disappointing that Nintendo turned off the online features of the game, closes off some additional content. Despite that DQ9 keeps impressing me. One little example: when your characters run to use stairs set in the floor, it doesn’t matter which side you approach from. The stairs trigger, and you don’t have to run the group around. Plus when you appear on the new screen, it starts your characters at the bottom of the stairs. You don’t have to do any wasted motion to go down. It’s a tiny, tiny thing but there’s lots of that throughout the game.

3. Paranoia: I found a hack for PbtA Shadowrun. I haven’t taken a look at it yet. I’d been thinking about doing the same sort of thing- trying to create role moves and figuring out what’s the most important play into those games vs. most important to me. So here’s the thing if I’m thinking about working on this: do I work on it and then read this version to see what it adds or do I read it and then work on mine? I’m not sure if I worried about contamination, cross-pollination, or that someone will have already done a cooler version. 

4. Clueless: I mentioned in Tuesday’s post that I'm worried about how much I focus on mysteries in my games. One of my co-participants on a This Imaginary Life panel surprised me when they flatly said they didn’t do mysteries. I couldn’t grok that. But then I thought about mystery games: I’d played in: bad mysteries. Games filled with red herrings, intractable NPCs, nonsense events, and closed off paths. So yeah, I can see how folks could dislike those. They also require different kinds of investment. Mysteries have a kind of continuity- from session to session, scene to scene- to put the pieces together. You can also be right or wrong with a mystery. I don’t know if that makes a difference.

There’s another thing which looks like a mystery but isn’t: problem solving. I mean that in the broadest sense. Rather than answering a question, the players have to complete an objective. Ashen Stars does something like this, but the stories there still have a mystery at the core. I’m talking about things like scams, extractions, shadowruns, infiltrations, and so on. They also have info gathering, but that ties into player agency. In those cases the players want to figure out a solution which fits with their skills and needs, rather than one that absolutely matches the world.

5. Narrowed: I’ve been thinking about the bits I dig from Blades in the Dark, both concept and system. Keep in minds my experience with this has been watching some AP and using some of the elements in my game. There’s a lot to love about the setting- the tensions between the gang and their rivals, the efforts to develop their group, the relationships among the characters. I’m wondering, and this might seem strange, if you could do a satisfying game like this where you shorthand or handwave the “jobs.” Play would focus on the cool bits of internal tensions, alliances, and figuring out what would advance the gangs agenda. You could random table- with some choices and modifiers- results of these operations and what the group gains from them. Maybe you could have a flow-chart with rolls and choices for each op type, leading to final results.

6. Considerations: I want to do a podcast with Sherri about RPGs. I have to figure out how to make that happen.

7. Malcontent: I received my copy of Urban Shadows yesterday. I hadn’t experienced it before, since I’d skipped reading the backer pdf. It’s a lovely book, with dynamite and consistent art by Juan Ochoa. Of course, because I can’t be happy with anything I immediately began thinking of how I would adapt it to play Changeling the Lost. Mind you, I do that with most new games I read.

8. Optimist: Since my 13th Age online game wrapped up, I have a little more room. Once we get done with the DFAE playtest, I’m thinking of running something online, trying to round up new folks or folks I rarely play with. I’d aim for 5-6 sessions, done on Wednesday evenings or Saturday mornings. That’s about all I’ve got so far.

9. Luddite: Had some irritation with Roll20 this weekend. Usually it’s pretty stable for me- and I’ve been skeptical when I hear others have problems with it. But we usually use it stand-alone, with Skype for the audio. For VirtuaCon I used Roll20 inside of Google Hangouts and it crashed multiple times in both Google Chrome and Chrome Canary. I ended up having to close every other tab and program. Only after that did the feed remain active and stable. That happened both times. It also didn’t play nice with my audio recording for XSplit, eliminating my voice almost completely. I thought it might be my mic, but the audio’s fine on the standard YouTube recording.

10. Estimations: I don’t have solid data, but in my experience, it tales 30-40% longer to run something online than it does f2f. That’s based on running several scenarios online and off, plus just general GMing. That has some important implications for my scenario planning.

11. Visualization: I ran a 13th Age session for the convention. I think my scenario design really came up against my bad time sense. I wish I’d had some compressed plot points- I felt like I dragged a couple of things out. I went a little heavy on numbers for the final battle: too many mooks and lesser levels. I think it might have allowed for more movement on the field if I’d had fewer, but more potent foes. It’s a learning exercise.

12. Communication: Last month I read and commented on nearly all the #threeforged rpg entries. I also read through all the reviews and analyses I could. Many offered awesome and useful feedback. I learned a lot from those, even when they weren’t my games. That got me thinking about my own experience as an editor and being edited, as well as how I write reviews. I came back to something I have to reteach myself constantly.

It’s equally important to identify what you like and what works, as it is to point out problems. If you don’t call that out, there’s a good chance they’ll kill the good stuff with the bad while revising, reworking, and editing. You need to identify the ground the writer has to stand on. I’ve had editors and collaborators who only focus on the negative, and then get frustrated when changes don’t meet their expectations or cut out “the good stuff.” I’m not saying you have to find something nice in everything, but that when you’re communicating to a designer/author clarifying both sides of your reaction offers better feedback.

13. Belated: Halloween almost here and no talk about horror games this month? Luckily I still have a post for a couple of years ago as a “go to”:  Halloween Horror RPG Round Up