12 RPGs for the 12th Month: We have some history

Paul Mitchener came up with a new writing challenge on role-playing games called “12 RPGs for the 12th Month” (see the full list of questions here.)

Question 5: 9th to 10th December

You’re running a historical or alt-historical game. What place and time in history do you choose? Are you including fantastical elements of any sort, and if so, what?

Where to begin? I love so many (alt-)historical. I particularly love the ones that make me learn about a time and place I am not familiar with. Over my 35 years of gaming, I have learned about so many cultures thanks to reading spurred by games, from Tokugawa-era Japan (playing Bushido Hero) to the Roanoke colony in 1587 (playing Roanoke, of course), to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 (prepping for my Monster of the Week campaign), etc.

Actually, screw that—I know exactly where I would to play: in one of the great African empires we never hear about (except as inspiration in a handful of setting books like Nyambe or Spears of the Dawn.) I would like to walk the streets of Koumbi Saleh, capital of the Ghana Empire, meet envoys from the Malinke Kingdom or the Mali Empire, and Takruri traders bringing gold and cotton from Bambuk. I would like to see Axum and Carthage, the Kongo Kingdom and the Mutapa Empire. I would like to walk where I never get to, even in a role-playing game.

Would I include fantasy elements? Yes, I would use legends from the time and place in question, and take them at face value. Shapeshifting, sorcery, monsters, ancestor spirits, orisha… They all sound like wonderful elements to include.

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12 RPGs for the 12th Month: A Question of Character

Paul Mitchener came up with a new writing challenge on role-playing games called “12 RPGs for the 12th Month” (see the full list of questions here.)

Question 4: 7th to 8th December

Tell me about your character in an RPG you’re currently playing, or have played this year.

Oh, I have played a lot of characters, this year. LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT MY CHARACTERS!

 

Venture City (Evil Hat Productions): Run online by Bryanna Hitchcock. I played one of her pre-generated characters, I think it was Hornet, a Wasp-like character.

Dungeon World hack: The Land of Ten Thousand Gods (Sage Kobold Productions/Edmund Metheny): I played in two of Edmund’s online playtest groups, with Jewel the wilderness guide (ranger) in one, and Sabitri the shapeshifter (druid) in the other.

Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian Games/Fat Goblin Games): Run online by J Gray to playtest some of the material for his Castle Falkenstein supplements. I played Penneg the korrigan (brownie), a spy for the Second Compact and an activist for the Movement for the Advancement of Lesser Faeries.

 

The Lost Age (Leiker Games): Run by the designer at KublaCon, Keith Leiker. I played Dalkan, a calatar (badger-like humanoid).

Headspace (Green Hat Designs): Run by Kasi Jammeh at KublaCon. I played Clancy the infiltrator.

Fate hack: Call of Cthulhu (Evil Hat Production): Run by Dennison Milenkaya at KublaCon. If I recall correctly, I played a fake psychic suddenly getting real psychic manifestations.

DramaSystem (Pelgrane Press): Run by Brian Williams at KublaCon. I played a spawning space jellyfish, Mother of Many.

 

The One Ring (Cubicle 7): Run by Steve W. I play Ulfwyn the Swift, a Beorning wanderer.

Golden Sky Stories (Starline Publishing): Run online by Fish N. I play Shiroko, a fourteen-year-old crane henge girl who is a bit of an older sister to all the kids.

Honey Heist (Grant Howitt): Run by Karen Twelves for a game day at EndGame. I played Ursula Berry, a black bear and retired thief, wearing a flat cap. I managed to get lots of artisan honey.

Nephews of Dune (homebrew): A homebrew by Steve P. set on Bune (Arrakis! The desert planet!), where I play Callista Aranos, an Ixian spice smuggler.

Ehdrigohr (Council of Fools): An adaptation from the Fate 2.0 version to Fate Core, run by Edmund. I played one of the pre-generated characters,

The Watch (Anna Kreider & Andrew Medeiros): Run by Bryanna Hitchcock. I play Teyka the Wolf from Clan Molthas, a single mother trying to raise her child even as she fights for the Watch. Deliberately set up as a Lone Wolf and Cub call-back.

 

Fate of Karthun (Evil Hat Productions): Run by lead writer Tracy Barnett at Big Bad Con. I played Kistkatsa, a Lizardfolk bard who reminded me of my beloved T’skrang bard in Earthdawn.

JUGGERNAUT (Bully Pulpit Games): Hosted by Brian Williams in Games on Demand at Big Bad Con. The characters are pre-generated; I was the results-minded Major Van Der Meer, still hoping to get the next phase of the project authorized so we could fight the Commies.

Dungeon World (Sage Kobold Productions): Run by Arthur Berman in Games on Demand at Big Bad Con. I played Lynniel Bonebreaker, a human barbarian. I collapsed the temple onto my own head (and another PC’s) rather than let the macguffin fall into the wrong hands.

Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne (Pompey Crew Design): Run by Gretchen Burneko at Big Bad Con. The characters were pre-generated; I played Berrick, the squire of Sir Hayden. Of course I was in love with the witch!

Mutants & Masterminds 3e (Green Ronin): Run by Edmund at Big Bad Con. I played Growltiger the Bane of Rats!

[Edited to add:]

Teshale

Star Trek Light, a hack of Cthulhu Dark: A play-by-post playtest by Evlyn M. I play Ensign Tishale Brehan, an Acamarian Engineering officer on the USS Sussman. Teshale is ebullient, romantic, and geeky, but also world-savvy and saddled with friends in low places.

12 RPGs for the 12th Month: Fantasy

Paul Mitchener came up with a new writing challenge on role-playing games called “12 RPGs for the 12th Month” (see the full list of questions here.)

Question 3: 4th to 5th December

You’re building a fantasy setting for the RPG of your choice. Which ingredients do you put in? Which “standard fantasy” elements would you choose to leave out?

Ah, a more familiar question.

If we assume that “standard fantasy” means D&D-derived, then I leave out the “races,” the Vancian magic, the primacy of combat over all other forms of action, and the dungeon-crawling-to kill-monsters-and-take-their-stuff premise. Also the pseudo-European flavour, faux-medieval setting, and chainmail bikini.

What I do put in: either nothing but humans, or a variety of species that are not the D&D standards; diversity and a lot of different cultural influences, with probably a minority of the denizens being white folk; a little magic goes a long way; problems solved through technical, social, and mental challenges, not only through combat; player characters rooted in time and place, not just wandering murder hobos; start small and local, grow to world-spanning stakes; the setting should be disorienting at first and turn some unspoken assumptions on their ear.

Credits: Swordsman, CC from Kaitlynn Peavler; Bridge, CC0 1.0 Universal, obtained from Pixabay.

12 RPGs for the 12th Month: Beloved Tropes

Paul Mitchener came up with a new writing challenge on role-playing games called “12 RPGs for the 12th Month” (see the full list of questions here.)

Question 2: 3rd to 4th December

Which genre tropes that come up in an RPG genre of your choice do you love, and never get tired of? Why do you love them?

Tricky question. It requires looking at the nuances between tropes, clichés, mainstays, and so forth. So here is my rule of thumb when I have to make this sort of distinction:

  • a beloved trope (read: a beneficial recurring motif of a genre) is more about a classic situation setup leaving the resolution to the players, and generate stories;
  • while a cliché (read: an overused or negative recognizable motif of the genre) is a predictable or foregone conclusion, something that shuts down creativity.

Tropes can be enjoyed simply as signposts of a genre (of course, Mr. Johnson will betray your team of Shadowrunners, the question is, what are your Plans B and C?) but also subverted or explored for insight, delightful surprise, narrative depth (turns out Mr. Johnson was on the up-and-up after all but he’s now been captured by the evil megacorp, what are you going to do?). Meanwhile, clichés are at best anticlimactic and at worst hurtful. Since this is a post about celebrating things we love, I won’t dwell any further on that side of the subject today.

So I love to tackle the tropes of whatever genre we’re playing: the Things Man Was Not Meant To Know in Lovecraftian horror, the No One Could Possibly Have Survived That! in superhero adventures, the Star-Crossed Lovers in romantic fantasy, the Evil Galactic Empire in space opera, and so forth.

Probably my biggest trope love as a player is the Big Damn Hero who will do the right thing in the end, no matter how practical it would be to do something else. I love playing someone who can make the big moral choices and go against all the things that make me feel powerless in real life. Total wish-fulfillment fantasy, I admit it—and yes, sometimes I play against type and make completely self-centered, unreliable, snivelly cowards or flint-hearted commissars.

And as a game-master, my favourite is Always split the party!” Oh yes, my hearties, I love splitting the focus, constricting resources and means, and forcing tough choices.

12 RPGs for the 12th Month: Gateway Game

Paul Mitchener came up with a new writing challenge on role-playing games called “12 RPGs for the 12th Month” (see the full list of questions here.)

Question 1: 1st to 2nd December

You’re running an RPG to introduce new players to the RPG hobby this month. Which game and genre do you choose, and why?

My answer might vary a bit depending on what the recuit players’ interests are. For example, I would try to tie in with a fiction world I know they already like, such as Harry Potter, the Marvel Universe, Star Wars, etc., which might affect the choice of system.

As general introductory systems, I have had particularly good success for this using InSpectres (Memento Mori Theatricks), The Zorcerer of Zo (Atomic Sock Monkey Press), Fate Accelerated (Evil Hat Productions), etc.

All else being equal, though, I would probably use Truth & Justice (Atomic Sock Monkey Press) again. I have had great success with completely new players taking on the persona of superheroes that might be complex to model in other systems, just jumping in and having great fun without the headaches. For example, I remember one forty-something who had never been in a role-playing game in his life, and decided he wanted to play Marvin Minsky with a body made of nanites. I just went along, and no, it didn’t break the game. He had a blast and said he would look into gaming in his hometown.

Big Bad Con is the best! – Part 3

Program, badge, buttons

Sunday Supers

(This is my continued recap of my weekend at Big Bad Con.)

I had once again gone to bed well after midnight and thinking about what my husband Edmund had to miss by going home to give the cats their medication every night. He was running the second instance of “The League of Extraordinary Felines: 1954” in the morning, but I had signed up for a different game because I thought Edmund’s scenario was the same one I had played two or three times.

I knew Edmund was hoping to see me in his game, I knew  I was going to have fun playing a cat again, so I used the online to cancel my signup for the other game (which really sounded awesome, by the way, but that’s Big Bad Con for you: too many awesome games.) I was really glad that, thanks to the online system, the GM would know I had dropped and someone else would be able to sign up to take my spot.

I got up even blurrier than the morning before—where is the gamer resilience of yesteryear?—but I packed my bags for later checkout and went to Starbucks to grab coffee since a 20-oz Starbucks latte was only 35¢ more than a 12-oz. drip coffee downstairs! To be virtuous, I also got us some fruit salads for breakfast, then made my way to the game room.

“The League of Extraordinary Felines: 1854” was a new adventure featuring last year’s characters, using the Mutants & Masterminds 3rd. ed. system (Green Ronin Publishing.) Our group was composed of Kendra, playing Pluto, master of the mystical arts; Sarah, playing Dinah the fairy cat; Christine (not the same Christine as Saturday) playing Ta Miu the master of eternal life and time; Xander, playing Mr. Twitchett the gadgeteer and tinkerer; and me, playing Growltiger the brick.

It’s the fourth time Edmund runs this setup at a convention and so far, no one has ever signed up because of the system; at best, people remember playing it at some point, but all say that they signed up because they wanted to play a cat! As usual, we had a lot of fun. We investigated murder most foul, faced giant Sumatra rats, then confronted the immense Ratzilla! Growltiger was formidable against minion rats, and Ratzilla was defeated thanks to the combined cleverness of Mr. Twitchett and the rest of the team.

After the cat game we grabbed a couple of burgers and fries from the hotel restaurant (they are quite good and I nominate this as the best value for the dollar on the menu), and headed for the last game of the weekend. Edmund and our friend Adi were signed up but I had been unable to snag a spot in time. I was hoping to crash the game, but I saw mid-morning that one player had just dropped so I immediately contacted the host! So that’s another thumbs-up for all-online signups.

 

Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne

The game was Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne (Pompey Crew Design), a GM-less story game where a witch convicted of bringing the plague is taken to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, where a harsh ritual will be performed to cleanse her.

Our party included all six characters in the playset: our host Gretchen Burneko as Ham the Romani guide; Justin as the demanding Sir Hayden; Edmund as the somber Sir Thorne; Alyssa as Brother Armand, wrestling with his faith and conscience; Adi as the witch; and me as Berrick, Sir Hayden’s squire (yes, I kept thinking “Baldrick.”)

It was an intense game and everyone gave great role-playing performances, particularly Adi who was a most splendid, unsettling, and heart-wrenching witch.

The game and the weekend were over all too soon; we said our goodbyes and headed home, tired but pleased with our time at Big Bad Con.

Big Bad Con is the best! – Part 2

(This is my continued recap of my weekend at Big Bad Con.)

Saturday Switcheroo

I woke up and showered groggily. Edmund got to the hotel to set up for the first instance of his Mutants & Masterminds game, “The League of Extraordinary Felines – 1854.” I went to get us coffee at the ad-hoc counter near the Big Bad Con registration desk ($4.00 for drip coffee… I know BBC offers free coffee but I was too groggy to find it!) and new buttons for completing playbooks in Big Bad World.

After taking his coffee and button to Edmund, I went to the Teens Room where my friend Christine’ Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game was scheduled. I so wanted to play this game! the premise was awesome: set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, you are trying to break the Avengers from their cells on the Raft, the mobile supermax prison. And Christine is a great GM. But unfortunately, she only had two players show up and that was just too few for the adventure to work.

Christine and I decided to go pick up boarding passes for Games on Demand, so we could at least play together. We ended up in Brian Williams’ game of Juggernaut (Bully Pulpit Games.) Brian played the bureaucratic Mr. Brasseau, Aaron was the visionary Dr. Takahashi, Ian play the detached Dr. Dörflinger, Tom played the shadowy Simms, Christine played the earnest Dr. Chandrakar, and I was the results-minded Major Van Der Meer. And of course Juggernaut was always right.

Christine and I met with folk, including my husband Edmund, Christine’s husband Alan, and our friend Adi, when we took a break for lunch. We were hurrying to get back to Games on Demand for the next time block and restaurant service was slow. Amidst the hustle and bustle thanks to the large number of people trying to sign up for GoD, we were unable to get Adi, Christine, Edmund, and I seated at the same game. Christine and Edmund decided to go home (Christine to her adorable three-year-old, Edmund to our elderly cats), and Adi and I landed in a game of Dungeon World (Sage Kobold Productions.)

Our party was composed of Simon, playing Thalian the elven fighter; Adi, playing Kaylin Moravis the elven ranger; William, playing Jez the vulpine (kitsune– or anthropomorphic fox-like) bard; [Name Withheld], playing Rikrakrok the gnome wizard; and me, playing Lynniel Bonebreaker the barbarian.

The game was run by Arthur Berman, a first-time visitor to Big Bad Con. I thought he was a great GM: considerate, clear, smart, quick to think on his feet, and well-versed about his game. I hope he will come back to Big Bad Con! He had a a difficult player to deal with but handled it well. [Name Withheld] was creative and enthusiastic but turned out to be uninterested in listening to anyone but himself. He did not play well with others.

[Name Withheld], this note is for you: I know this was your first time playing a game Powered by the Apocalypse, and I also suspect you’re pretty young (but I’m not good at guessing age.) You are smart and have a lot of fun ideas, and I hope you soon learn to listen to other people around the table—and not just in games, either. You will have much more fun and make friends when you start bouncing these ideas with others, and make others shine in the game as much you want to shine yourself.

In the mean time, my barbarian ended collapsing the cursed temple onto Rikrakrok the gnome wizard’s head and mine, rather than let its mojo fall into an enemy’s hands. I met Death and was turned into a paladin of Order!

After the game I said goodbye to Adi, who was going to have dinner with her husband and adorable kid, and went to my room for a nap before the game I was running from 8pm to midnight. I ordered room service so I could get dinner while reviewing my game notes.

Then I went to the scheduled room and ran Alas for the Awful Sea (Storybrewers Roleplaying) for three wonderful players: Manuel, who played Luther the old sea dog; Jacob, who played Captain Zacharias Nielsen; and Ariel, who played Mrs. Pleasance Houston, a merchant. I will post a detailed game summary later, but in short the game went well; I had a blast and I think the players enjoyed it too.

Tomorrow: Sunday Supers!

Big Bad Con is the best! – Part 1

A recap of my time at Big Bad Con this weekend.

Friday Frenzy

As staff, I had spent much time earlier in the week seeing to last-minute changes, especially finding replacement game masters willing to run replacement games for cancelled events, as well as preparing the games I was scheduled to run and assembling stuff to bring. On Friday morning I had planned to finish packing my bags and, with my husband, heading over to the convention hotel in Walnut Creek as early as possible.

Because of the California wildfires on top of the usual complement of inevitable but sad surprises for a number of people (illnesses, financial disasters, etc.), we had another wave of GM cancellations on Friday morning, so I scrambled to  notify players and fill a few last replacement games, but I am sorry to say I was not able to get to the ones that came in after 10:30am. Edmund and I scrambled to finish packing, grab sandwiches we ate on the road, and get to the convention for noon. I was stressed and tired and afraid I had forgotten some important task.

But walking in meant immediately running into a lot of wonderful people, most of which I see only online and at game conventions. Everyone looked excited and happy. I felt welcomed, reassured. While I checked in at the front desk, Edmund got our badges at Registration. The staff of the Walnut Creek Marriott had our room ready so we dropped our luggage and headed for our shift as Games on Demand GMs.

Of the four 2-hour games I offered, we ended up playing Tara Zuber’s Fate World Loose Threads for the whole time. I will recap the game in a separate post, but it was tons of fun.

We grabbed some dinner from the hotel restaurant’s buffet, chilling with friends, then Edmund had to leave. Normally, one of us would have made the round-trip home (45 minutes each way) to feed the cats once a day. Unfortunately, one of our cats (Ubaid the Destroyer of Stuff) was diagnosed with thyroid disorder a couple of weeks before, following quick and substantial weight loss. He’s now on methimazole every 12 hours and we’re trying to get him to gain weight. It made more sense to go home at night, and return in the morning. Since I was on staff, Edmund volunteered to do the daily round-trip and ended up missing much of the convention, which was a real shame. When Ubaid’s condition is stabilized, this will hopefully not be needed anymore.

After dinner, I played in Tracy Barnett’s first playtest of very early concepts for Fate of Karthun (part of the stretch goals for Karthun: Lands of Conflict.) We had a full table, six players. We were sent by the Underwatch of Narhal to investigate the theft of the Black Cabinet! I played Kistkatsa, a Lizardfolk bard who reminded me of my beloved T’skrang bard in Earthdawn. I enjoyed the character’s combination of flamboyance and powerful support for other party members.

The key thing in Karthun is that there is no such thing as a small adventure. Even when things start as small as retrieving a stolen piece of furniture, things are guaranteed to become epic—next thing you know, you find yourself sealing a breech between universes! Thank you to Tracy, Jim, Oscar, Eric, Tom and Yann for a fun evening with great roleplay.

It was double fun for me, since I’m also the Evil Hat project manager for the creation of this GM guide. It’s always exciting to see a project take shape. [Note: Karthun is Brian Patterson’s brainchild, used in his webcomic d20 Monkey.]

I crawled to bed after midnight, trying to figure out why I had all these aches after merely sitting at a table to game most of the day.

Tomorrow: Saturday Switcheroo!

Big Bad Con signups: More to do

The first phase game of signups for Big Bad Con 2017 opened at noon today. That means that everyone can register for two scheduled games, plus any number of quota-exempt events, usually the larger events.

As is now customary when Big Bad Con opens the floodgate to game signups, the team was monitoring the server for response and signs of failure. Since its inception in 2011, Big Bad Con’s game offerings and attendance have increased steadily; in the early years, signup time became a sort of self-inflicted DDoS attack. Every year there is increased effort to do better and limit the chances of server failure as well as booking collisions, when extremely popular events become overbooked.

This year I got a lodge seat to see the process handled by Big Bad Wolf Sean Nittner and Back-end/App Developer Jeremy Tidwell (Webmaster/Front-end Developer Colin Fahrion was on a plane at the time). They had secured extra computing power for the expected onslaught, and we had more registered guests than ever at this point.

We did have about 15 to 20 overbookings for a handful of events that filled up quickly, particularly the big four-table event of Night Witches. I had managed to snag a spot, but as staff I cancelled out to let someone else enjoy it when I saw how coveted the tickets were. (To be honest, if I had had the logistics available, I would have had this event run by four women and have given priority to women and non-binary players. But I don’t know how I would have managed it.)

We contacted the victims of overbooking to apologize and let them know they could book something else, all within the first few minutes of signups.

What Now?

Next Saturday, September 23 at noon (Pacific time), everyone gets access to two more games in their quota. And in two weeks, on Saturday September 30 at noon, quotas will be lifted; in addition, games in the Teens room will now be accessible to all. The signups are rolled out gradually like this to give a chance to everyone to get into games that appeal to them, not just to the people who were available for a short and specific period.

In the mean time, if you booked your two quota events: remember that there are several events that will not count against your booking quota. These are mostly larger events (usually for 10 attendees or more) such as:

Micro-games and party games such as:

Of course there will also be drop-in events at the convention, such as:

Huzzah for the Awful Sea!

Woot! The last book I needed for Big Bad Con has arrived: Alas for the Awful Sea, from Storybrewers Roleplaying, arrived today! It’s a marvel of understated elegance.