Quitting Dungeons and Dragons (revisited)

The end of a decade long campaign, the start of… something different.

Ten years ago we wrestled our children to the tabletop, explaining that they would get to “stay up until midnight” for New Year’s Eve if they would join us in playing a game.  They got dice which they’d had a little bit of experience with before, but most of our games were “story games” with us in the front seat describing what happens to those in the back seat during long drives back and forth to Colorado Springs.

Our daughter created Jazzie, an elf.  Jazzie was tall, very tall, with dark black hair and skin, and she clothed herself in the wilderness.  Our son was told he could play a Paladin, as we weren’t going to have any PvP in the game.  He created X, a Paladin who never revealed his face.  My wife created Iota, a dwarven cleric of the Greek Pantheon, whose pleas to the various Gods were balanced by her role as a dwarf “not of this world.”

The story took them into dungeons, mines, castles, forests, and a grey seaside town bereft of the sounds of children.  Jazzie’s reputation of her player rolling a ridiculous number of natural 20s made her a legend where the local dwarves feared her. X’s tales of his family were as evil as he was good, and then some.

A couple of years before my son said he didn’t want to play a Paladin anymore, and we discussed a lot of options. This year was the battle between the party and two of his sisters, the twin serpent mages, Xylene and Xylena.  Having captured their sister Xantha to lure X into their lair, they began a ritual to change X.

Iota, grasped by divine providence, changed the runes.  X changed… into something even he was not expecting.  He thrust his new blood-red sword through Iota in order to kill Xylene.  He and Xantha went back to kill Xylena, because “leaving even one of them alive is more dangerous than killing them.”

Iota just didn’t want her friend to have to kill his own sister.

With this in mind, the party will split.  Jazzie will return to her forest. Iota will travel and learn more of this strange world she’s been set in, and X… X may end up being the start of a new party.



Continue reading “Quitting Dungeons and Dragons (revisited)”

Quitting Dungeons and Dragons

Someone asked me recently what it would take for me to “quit D&D.”  By which they mean the AD&D system, not ‘gaming in general,’ because I would get quite surly about that nonsense.  I have been ruminating about it for a while, and I was surprised at how much my initial reaction was against the idea.

There’s a lot of my sense of culture and belonging linked more to gaming than it ever was to a location-of-origin, or religious upbringing, or any other anchors that people normally use for their self-labelling.  That means I get a lot of the baggage of being “a gamer,” too. The stereotypes that make us laugh and cringe are the stereotypes of “my people.”  (The song of my people starts, “This one time in a game…” with the chorus of, “Let me tell you about my character…”)

When I say I’m a third generation gamer, that’s third generation D&D.  I’m still “stuck in the age of THAC0,” in a lot of ways, and yes, I realised that I haven’t supported (monetarily) anything Dungeons & Dragons specific since that really bad interaction with 4th Edition.  (It had a lot of really, really neat ideas, but the OS was not backwards-compatible.)  I have adopted a little bit of absorbed 5th edition items just because, well, I’m on the internet, but it’s still worked into my mental structure.

My games have been mostly horror, and where killing things is almost never a source of xp for decades. We joke about “detect racism” being a spell in my games, but it hasn’t been hard to detect.  (“Just add Tiefling!”)  This is purposeful: if I want to play the kind of game where you kill everything that moves and loot everything you can carry, I’ll play Moria.   Black Lives Matter, and we don’t mean Drow.

Last year at BigBadCon I ran an AD&D adventure I’d written for a friend, about “Sun Scouts” who deliver the cookies the dark side espouses.  We mostly play AD&D amongst ourselves and our friends. (I want to keep them as friends, so we haven’t really pushed playing Amber.)  Our “family game” is AD&D.  There’s a lot of truth in the statement that we don’t play D&D because we aren’t playing “the rules” but let’s be honest, the DNA is there.

We do play other games, and even outside the sunk cost fallacy I am not suggesting abandoning the campaigns I’m in because there’s so much more involved — there’s the camaraderie, the history, the friend-group culture. I’m getting a lot more out of the gaming than the system.  The system isn’t even in the top ten considerations.

…but, I may stop playing D&D.  There’s been a lot of good reasons why. For me it will probably look like no longer running new games of it, of cautioning my friends and fellow adventurers about why they might consider the same, and maybe I’ll start focusing on writing scenarios for other games.

I mean, Nightlife is still– yeah, 40 years in the past.  [snort]

How to Get Started in a Game Jam

I have only peripheral experience with this, but for the “Big Bad Game Jam 2019” someone on the Discord suggested they were intimidated and tips or resources to start.  I didn’t have time immediately to respond, but I knew people would say, “Just do it,” and I was irritated that “just do it,” isn’t advice.

The jam’s make-up is intended to be the preserves of folk tales and fables.  This was the advice I originally crafted in response:

  1. Have an idea. In this case, it sounds like maybe you should have a favourite tale that’s always seemed gameable to you. For example, the Italian tale (I’ve been told), “The Colony of Cats,” is about a young girl who is a servant to a household of cats. Because they are so hard to please, they go through servants quickly, and they have the option to reward or punish her. That sounds like total game material to me!
  2. Find a mentor, or someone to bounce ideas off of, who might be able to help you focus the game, ask questions that need to be asked, or just tell you, “that sounds awesome,” or “ehhh, I’m not feeling it.”
  3. Create your anchor statement. This is the thing you want to do with the game, and it means whenever you’re stuck, you’re going to ask, “how does this attach to my anchor?” In “The Colony of Cats” it could be, “I want players to be a young girl in a cat’s world, for a period of one year, doing chores for cats.” So my 12 page essay on runic magic 1 probably doesn’t fit in here.
  4.  Figure out how they drop the anchor. So, while it can be fun to brainstorm some ideas for cat chores, besides cleaning litter boxes, fixing mouse mousse, and bottle-feeding kittens, is that where the fun for the player is? Probably not. So what makes interesting play here? Something like, “How does she interact with the cats for reward/punishment?” Maybe the game is a series of interactions with cats, and there’s a resolution method to decide how the girl does it. What if it isn’t a girl? What if it’s a boy in drag because his sister got rewarded in gold one year? 2 What qualities do I want the girl to have and measure against the cats? Do I use dice? Card draws? Maybe each mini-scenario has a set of key words the girl has to utter in her interview with them?
  5. Have fun … if it stops being fun, it isn’t the right game.

Because this is my space and I can, I do want to add a couple more words to the theories here.  First off, Jason Pitre on Twitter introduced the same day the, “RPG Design Worksheets” that seem to follow a similar structure.  I would probably just send people to that because it’s a great concept (of course – it significantly matches mine! [grin]) and while not everything may be applicable, it’s still a good starter/structure.

I didn’t make a lot of fuss about item #2, finding a mentor, which was actually the first thought I had.  I included it after much thought about the onus that placed on both parties, the one having to find someone, and the one of being the mentor to someone… but I have, personally, learned that designing in a vacuum is its own issue. Sometimes you need someone else to point out the trees in the forest, because darn it, you’re so used to stepping around them they no longer register.  (And that one? Over there? It needs to be trimmed before that entire branch falls on your sister. 3)


On item #5, this is another thing I learned the hard way. I have run too many games that became chores — sometimes because a situation went sour with the players, or I wasn’t really prepared, or something went wonky and I didn’t recover well, or I was tired, or whatever the excuse was, I need to remember that if I’m not having fun, why would I expect the players to be enjoying themselves? I don’t know how common this is, but really, “having fun” even if the subject matter is serious is what you’re generally going for in gaming.  I don’t get involved because I want to suffer or having a miserable time.

Even if I am an Amber DRPG player. [snicker]

Kickstarter Results 10/31/2018

I have backed 209 projects on Kickstarter, as of this afternoon. Of them, 18 have either failed or I had to cancel for various reasons, and I feel like only 5 are in the, “Probably write them off,” phase. That’s a pretty darn good return, if you ask me. (Of the “write them off,” one is a deck of cards, three are well-known RPG projects, and one is a set of kids’ books, totalling $60.00.) As that’s about $6400 of projects (including shipping) (or about $30.62 a piece) that’s basically 2 bad calls.


Maybe three, because there was one other I received that I ended up not liking. But then, there were two things I ordered additional stuff from on BackerKit, so maybe it all washes out.


(It’s a lot of money, but it’s also been a lot of years, and a lot of it was gifts for other people, for which I have a separate budget.)

How to Give Feedback

The secret to getting helpful feedback is to give people clear, helpful, non-leading prompts. 

The secret to getting helpful feedback is to give people clear, helpful, non-leading prompts.  This goes for pretty much every kind of feedback you need, from employers, that dinner you just had, that hot fanfic you just wrote, or, because I’m writing it here, RPGs.

Here are some of the things I want to hear when I’m requesting feedback:

  • The BEST thing about the character creation was __
  • The most challenging thing about understanding the rules was __
  • One thing that [your game here] could do differently—especially when it comes to [this part]—is __
  • If [your rules here] could figure out how to ___, it would be tremendously helpful and would make the game more awesome.
  • In the future, I see myself playing your game in [this situation] __ (like a convention, or a long-term campaign)
  • I’m impressed by the way [your game here] handles problems/themes like __
  • To prepare to run the game, a few things I’d recommend that the GM learn / practice / get more experience with would be: __, __, and __
  • If somebody asked me to describe your game’s personality in three words, I’d say: __, __, and __
  • If somebody asked me, “What does [your game here] bring to the genre,” I’d say: __
  • This part of [your game here] didn’t make any sense to me: __

This is a lot better than just saying, “What feedback do you have?”  It gives you a place to start, and if someone just asks you that question, think about answering these questions anyway.


#RPGaDay2018 questions 15-17

15) Describe a tricky RPG experience that you enjoyed?


Back when we were young, foolish, and had friends, we played a number of Amber Diceless Throne Wars. One ran by the LintKing really had some of the best scenes, but I was very, very proud of my role as Princess Krrsed. I was just trying to hold my own between the two best ADRPG players I knew, and I think I did okay.


At one point, the first in Psyche was trying to groom my not-very-bright Princess to attack the other, by giving me a pair of dark glasses that instead of drowning out the sun highlighted items with psychic ability. He did it, saying, “Now, these are special glasses. You want to attack whatever shows up the brightest.”


And then he realised I was staring in his direction.


I wasn’t bright, but I was 1.5 rank in Warfare, and I think 1st rank in Strength.


As a GM, one of my favourite bits was also a Throne War where the person who was first in Warfare, seeing their enemy walking the Pattern, said, “I throw my dagger at—WAIT!” realizing the potential effect of bleeding all over it.


Good times.


16) Describe your plans for your next game.


Eek, next game or next session?


I’m running a fun family AD&D game that’s kind of a 1st edition / 5th edition blend. The next session they actually get into some dungeoneering in the labs of a mad scientist with a corrupted artifact. I can’t wait until they get into the greenhouse.


The next game I’m planning on running? I’m re-doing a successful LARP from AmberCon NorthWest to be less system-dependent, so maybe Big Bad Con 2019 I can run it. It’s based on the auction of horrible and precious things, kind of like the Key in Sandman, but everyone has something they want, and something they can give, and none of it is pleasant. I mean, it’s soul destroying fun.


The next game I’m more likely to run locally? I’m finally putting together that horror portal game I’ve been promising myself. It will not be Waxworks 2. It will probably have a series of puzzles.


17) How do you prepare for a one-shot.


This was an alternate question.


I think the important thing about a one-shot is giving players something to do. I have my world, and I know what things are likely to happen, but if they don’t have reasons to be there, why do it? I like providing inter-character hooks, good explanation of background events that could inspire them, and I try to design something cool for them to conquer and feel adventurous at the end.

#RPGaDay2018 numbers 13-14

13) Describe how your play has evolved.


I prefer to think of this question as inspirational rather than merely presumptuous. See, I’m doing so much GM-led games, and I’m really, really, really trying to intuit more GM-less games… because even when I have a GM-less game, I generally find it better having some kind of facilitator who is super-confident of the rules. Why not call that facilitator the GM? I mean, all I tend to do is kind of herd the PCs (player cats!) in a direction they want to go anyway, and resolve things the way we all agree it should be done, right? We’re all in it for the “Oooh!” and the “Hah!” moments that are enjoyed together, afterall. (Not saying you can’t have “oooh!” and “hah!” moments on your own, but wash your hands before and after and keep the door to your room closed, please.)


14) How far from human do you enjoy getting the chance to be in an RPG?

(alternate question)


Recently there was a discussion elsestream about what things you share with your characters, and honestly? I think humanity (not necessarily being human) is one of the things I prefer to keep in my characters. Sometimes it’s fun to find the path to that humanity — my half-spider girl Jinx-Jobina wasn’t quite sure why you didn’t eat your babies, but it was important to her to try to understand it. As for actual being human or not, well, depends on the game’s framework: from personal experience, centaurs and dungeons are a bad mix. So are giraffes.


#RPGaDay2018 numbers 6-12

6) How can players make a world seem real?


By having an innate sense of direction in the world, and knowing the way things work in it. If the players can all point in a direction to say where something is without a map, you know they have their bearings in the place and are sharing that same sense of space. If players feel comfortable playing a scene with NPCs they’re hosting, and almost no input from the GM, they may have the world in their head, and under their fingernails.


7) How can a GM make the stakes important?


Technically. I mean, the obvious way is to change a difficulty number or something, but I prefer something a lot more organic: by driving the characters to care about something or someone. Since partial-retirement from the ADRPG scene, I run a lot less parties of sociopaths. I’m a sadist – I want to find where your buttons are… but I’m not cruel. I don’t necessarily want to punch them.


8) How can we get more people playing?


Invite them. And make sure our invitations are specific, and oriented towards making everyone feel as welcome as we can… which means getting out of our comfort zone a lot of times – trying to see how exclusive our groups might feel and breaking it down so that old legends and assumptions are replaced with new.


9) How has a game surprised you?


I was really pleased at the way Dogs in the Vineyard taught me to make failure a part of a character, literally, by assigning dice as consequences to some actions. I kind of adopt that for a lot of places.


10) How has gaming changed you?


As I’ve never not been a gamer, that’s hard to tell. I like to think it means I’m willing to keep somewhat more of an open mind because I have heard some stories, man.


11) Wildest character name?


Sjilana. Or M8k. I have nothing on the way Gorto the World King makes names, though.


12) Wildest character concept?


Nightlife game, “Weird Thing,” was a blue muppety creature who had an antagonistic relationship with bananas.

#RPGaDay2018 numbers 1-5

1) What do you love about RPGs?


So presumptuous. I might even loathe RPGs. Oh, wait, this is #RPGaDay2018. If I’m answering, I can be presumed to at least share the hobby. (I don’t share well. “It’s mine! Mine, I say! Go away! I’m hoarding it!” Except, like, the exact opposite. “The first one’s free…”)




I love that they’re like the perfect use of so much down time. They’re tools to learn how to interact with the world (any world, really, depending on your knowledge of hidden rules) and for empathy towards others. They’re opportunities to laugh with friends, and to make heroic choices. It’s a chance to be larger than life, or to be smaller and yet still significant.


2) What do you look for in an RPG?


Unfortunately, like all art, it’s a “I know it when I see it,” situation. Sometimes I have someone in mind for an RPG, like “Familiars of Terra” sounds like a game my little Jaguar will love. Sometimes I just want to see the new hotness or support a creator. Sometimes it’s for reference for my own game(s).


To add, “to play?” on to this question, I’m looking for something that doesn’t have a huge entry barrier, and that someone is willing to teach me through if I don’t know it. Also, something that sounds like fun and is in my genre venns. “To run?” it has to have either a mechanic or a world that really grabs me as interesting and something I need to interact with someone else to really ferret out.


3) What gives a game `staying power’?


There’s a line down the middle of this page, and on one side it has iconic games, genre-defining, and well-played. On the other side are games that just were so much fun “that one time,” or sound like they’re going to be ultra-cool.


4) Most memorable NPC?


This is really sad that I can’t remember the name of the NPC Pikabu had a crush on…which suggests he wasn’t memorable, but is more that I lived that crush in Pikabu’s head so hard that she blushes even thinking about it. Which didn’t mean she didn’t melt the bottom of his elevator with a laser rifle array, because there’s crushes and then there’s mission. (He was the head of some kind of business empire in Aeon/Trinity way back when.)


Ones that I’ve run? Trahern. I mean, I have so many options here, but while he isn’t a heart character, Trahern prevails in being this oddly hopeful cynic, whose foreseen future has not deviated no matter what decisions he’s made, and yet he loves so honestly and purely, even knowing his eyes will be burned out and his powers taken away someday. (Amber DRPG)


5) Favourite recurring NPC?


I move a lot of my discarded game PCs to NPCs in places just to keep their story going which might count? I can tell you my partner’s most hated recurring NPC: King Arthur. ‘Cause that guy just KEEPS SHOWING UP all the time, in all the books. [laugh] Maybe a favourite is likely a type, more than a person: I like the type of NPC who seems to know everything except the one simple thing the PCs think of… and has to scramble to refigure things.