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.

RPG a Day: Anticipation

31. What’s an awesome thing you anticipate for gaming in 2018?

I usually have no idea what’s going to be most amazing in gaming that year until I stumble on it. That’s OK, I enjoy the surprise. But even as I realize that the best part of my gaming experiences will continue to surprise me, there are a few things I look forward to.

First, a passel of projects I’m managing for Evil Hat Productions will likely hit the shelves in 2018 (fingers crossed.) I have high hopes for several of the new Fate Toolkits, and a few gems I can’t wait for you to see.

Second, I really look forward to Cam Banks’ Cortex Prime (Magic Vacuum Design Studio). I especially hope that it will have tools to lighten the game-master’s load and make it easier to improvise in response to players’ actions.

Finally, I have been keeping an eye on Nahual, Miguel Angel Espinoza and Edgar Clément’s upcoming game Powered by the Apocalypse. Nahual is a Mexican role-playing game set on the universe created by comic book artist Clément, started in the graphic novel Operación Bolivar. I really hope we can see its release in 2018.

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RPG a Day: Mashups

30. What is an RPG genre-mashup you really enjoyed?

Today’s question was “What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?” but I rephrased it to my liking so I would have an excuse to mention a few of my favourites.

  • Godlike (Hobgoblynn Press): World War II + gritty superheroes.
  • Motobushido (Alliterated Games): Post-apocalyptic biker gangs + ronin code of honour.
  • Roma Imperious (HinterWelt Enterprises): Victorious Roman Empire + magic.
  • Threadbare RPG (Stephanie Bryant): Toys + punk aesthetics + brokenness.
  • TORG: All the genres, colliding.
  • X-Crawl (Pandahead Publishing/Goodman Games): Dungeon-crawling as a televised extreme sporting event.

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RPG a Day: Kickstarters

29. What’s an RPG Kickstarter you have backed that was very well run?

Uh, I don’t know how qualified I am to say when a Kickstarter campaign is well run or not. After a few bad experiences at the beginning, most of the campaigns I have backed have delivered the products they promised. KS saw fit to label me a “super backer”, which clearly means that I spend too much on new games, so I’m guessing that as long as backers pay a little attention to what they sign up for, they will rarely be disappointed.

That said, yes, Evil Hat Productions has been the tightest, promptest to deliver on my list. Atlas Games, Vigilance Press, Modiphius, Pelgrane Press, Green Ronin Publishing, and Magpie Games have also run solid campaigns and fully delivered on promises.

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RPG a Day: Quotables

28. What’s a film or series used as a frequent source of quotes in your group?

We treasure bad puns over quotes, still, everything geeky is a source of quotes with us. The touchstones, of course: Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Holy Grail, and Life of Brian; Firefly, Babylon 5Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who; The Simpsons and occasionally South Park; and of course old games.

  • “I will hit him to kingdom high, kingdom there!”
  • “Meet me on the bridge at midnight.” “IT’S A TRAP!!!”
  • “You see an altar surrounded with burning brassieres…”
  • “I sap him.” “You—what? Why?” “He looked like a traitor.”
  • “Oompa loompa ompa dee dall, I think I’m going to smack into that…”
  • “I am DIMENSION MAN Man Man man…” (reverb effect)
  • “You dare mock our customs?” “No, just you personally.”
  • “Ronin sense… tingling! Magistrates in trouble!”
  • “I hate space.”

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RPG a Day: The Essentials

27. What are your essential tools for good gaming?

At the root, the only essential elements for me to have a good game are a few friends who want to play “pretend” together and for approximately the same types of stories, rules, or experiences.

Then again, we all love our toys, tricks, and hacks.

I have mentioned before some of the things I always bring with me to a game convention, particularly my beloved All Rolled Up filled with pens, index cards and dice, dry-erase media such as my Noteboard, and a variety of card decks as oracles and visual inspiration. I also carry a blank book to take game notes and sketch scenes, and lists of names to draw from for new characters.

And here is another one I keep mentioning, but there is always one new reader who may find it useful: Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering, by Robin D. Laws (Steve Jackson Games), an excellent, easily read, and inexpensive primer for new GMs.

#RPGaDay2017

RPG a Day: Resourceful

26. What’s an RPG item that provides awesomely useful resources?

There are so many games that provide wonderful resources, whether it’s game-mastering advice, bibliographies, play aids, online content, or a vibrant support community. It’s hard to pick just one, but I will go with Fiasco because there are now so many playsets you can enjoy, both official and fan-made, that you can now use the framework to do much more that its original mission. Few people are availing themselves of of it for continuing series, I should write something on that one of these days! but in the mean time, you have so many worlds to pick from…

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RPG a Day: Thank You!

25. What is an awesome way to thank your GM?

The best way I can think to thank your GM is too tell them what you love about the game they ran for you. For example:

Edmund, I loved that you put so much work into your “Land of Ten Thousand Gods” hack for Dungeon World to make sure it would feel true to both its topic and its system. Also, I love when you do voices.

Steve, I love how you craft your episodes of The One Ring to make sure they fit within letter and spirit of the setting, without resorting to railroading.

Alan, I loved the custom moves you had created for your episodes of Night Witches, and the way they propelled the story.

Christine, I loved the fun setup for that game of Marvel Heroic Roleplay, and how you storified the die roll results—even when poor M.O.D.O.K. botched so badly.

Fish, I love the gentle pace of your Golden Sky Stories episodes, and the cute surprises you come up with.

J, I love how you let us meander through your Castle Falkenstein adventures and do things in any order, even skipping parts of them if we come up with a good idea for solving them.

Mark W, I love how you seem so delighted whenever your your players do wacky things you had not planned for.

Laura, I love how you keep looking at both new games and semi-neglected older ones and bringing them to the game table for us to enjoy.

#RPGaDay2017

RPG a Day: Treasure

24. Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

I confess, I don’t know many publishers who only use the pay-what-you-want (PWYW) model. However, I know that all of Evil Hat Publishing’s PWYW offerings are high-quality books they would certainly be in their rights to charge good money for. In fact, I think all their products are under-priced. (Disclaimer: I write and do project management for Evil Hat as a freelancer.)

Then there are the periodic Bundle of Holding offers for ebook collections. You get stunning value for PWYW bundles, and if you pay more than the threshold price for that bundle, you unlock even more goodness. It’s a great place to round your game collection without busting either your budget or your shelves. I’d say all publishers who agree to release a bundle that way are deliberately under-charging.

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