With Gen Con, family events, fall semester starting, and finalizing plans for our 25th anniversary trip, I knew I wouldn’t have time to respond to #RPGaDAY2019 every day, so instead I am posting my responses here all at once. This has been quite the random, introspective experience, pondering each of these and how gaming has influenced me over the decades, jumping around through the various topic prompts. Sorry if the randomness throws you off. Just relax and enjoy my steam of consciousness regarding my RPG hobby.
FIRST tabletop rpg I ever played was Villains & Vigilantes.
Most UNIQUE rpg experience was playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles And Other Strangeness in the back of a pickup with a camper top while my step-dad drove us to and from a camping trip.
Playing and running roleplaying games for over thirty years now has been one of the best ways for me to ENGAGE with new people. At conventions, teaching classes, visiting game stores, running one shots, and being a member of online RPG groups has provided me so many opportunities to meet new people and build new, long-lasting friendships.
Recently, my favorite way to SHARE my love of RPGs has been through teaching courses in Game Studies and Writing & Editing for Gaming. To spend extended time with students discussing the philosophy, history, processes, legal procedures, business, and practices of RPG writing and publication has been very rewarding. These are the next generation of RPG writers, editors, and publishers. We even had some time for some RPG oneshots to enjoy the fun of the hobby as well. Next, I get to teach a Tabletop Game Writing Lab where seven students and I will be focused on writing an RPG adventure for publication.
SPACE (along with superheroes) are what we used as breaks from our ongoing D&D campaigns. I really enjoyed a couple mini-campaigns of Star Frontiers when I was in high school and then Spelljammer was fascinating to read (still haven’t had a chance to run it yet). In college I ran a Cyberspace campaign that was more Cowboy Bebop than Blade Runner. Spent a lot time playing Star Wars (West End Games edition) after college. Dabbled in Traveller and the old Last Unicorn Star Trek RPGs. Sometime I really want to try the new Star Trek Adventures.
Sometimes I feel ANCIENT in the RPG hobby when I talk with my daughters, their gaming group, and students in my gaming courses. I realize people have been in the hobby longer than I have, but my almost thirty-five years of gaming means I have been gaming longer than any of my students have been alive and longer than many people I have run one shots for to introduce them to the hobby. Never thought of myself becoming a roleplaying historian and mentor, but that is what I often am these days.
I have to admit, I usually fall back to the FAMILIAR in my gaming after any foray into new games or genres. The familiar for me is fantasy gaming, specifically D&D. Yeah, I have enjoyed so many RPG systems and worlds over the years, but I always return to some edition of D&D after a while. I am comfortable with it, have many nostalgic memories, and it just feels right for me to run and play.
The most OBSCURE game I think I have ever run is Marauder 2107. Have you even heard of it? Found that buried on a shelf of random RPGs at my FLGS and gave it a spin. I have run many other odd RPGs over the years like Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other Strangeness, Ironclaw, and more, but I am pretty sure Marauder 2107 is one that very few have even heard of, let along played it.
CRITICAL failures and successes have created some of the most memorable and talked about experiences in my gaming. We tend to be rather dramatic with our descriptions of them at times, especially in systems that allow exploding dice that can really make the dice rolls extreme. Even funnier when all concepts of probability get destroyed in the process, like when one of my players rolled five ones in a row on different d20s. He had a horrible evening with the game mechanics, but we ALL laughed so hard at how he described it and still talk about it today.
Today, I find that FOCUS on games is much more challenging than it used to be. As a storyteller, I have to work extra hard to keep my players engaged so they don’t start checking their smartphones or laptops. Character apps, dice rollers, digital books, and all are wonderful uses for phones, tablets, and laptops, but they can also quickly take the focus of a player away from the game. I find the best way to deal with that is to run an engaging campaign and to be sure to focus on individual character goals, motivations, and back stories as much as possible.
Since I began teaching my gaming courses at the university and working as a freelance editor, I find I EXAMINE games more closely. I don’t just read games purely for enjoyment and the creative potential. I notice the production quality, the systems balance, writing style, and how well a book has been edited. In some ways, this academic and business focus has taken away a little of the shine and pure joy of being a gamer, but it has also helped me find amazing games to run for my players.
Some of my strongest and longest FRIENDSHIPs have come from RPGs. In one of my current gaming groups, I have players I have gamed with over 25 years. I have a new player who has just joined, and our friendship is growing quickly. A shared love of RPGs and the creative immersion really pulls people together quickly.
I love a good MYSTERY but seldom play mystery-centric games like Call of Cthulhu, Conspiracy X, Gumshoe, etc. I tend to sprinkle mysteries within my other games. That said, I do occasionally run a game of Dresden Files Accelerated, which is normally a mix of mystery and action.
My favorite GUIDEs related to RPGs are the various Kobold Guides, especially the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding and the Complete KOBOLD Guide to Game Design.
When I think of DOOR along side RPGs, I always come back to this wish that someone would release a Chronicles of Narnia RPG. The world that the doors to the wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, opens has always been one of my favorite fantasy worlds. I would love to someday see an official RPG released for it.
I find when I am deep into preparing for an upcoming campaign or adventure, that I often have DREAMs associated with them. Sometimes, I even take quick notes after waking up, as the dream has resolved an issue I was having with my story design.
If I had to narrow down to just ONE roleplaying game, then it would be D&D 5e at this point. I would be quite happy just running and playing that game from now on.
But, since I don’t have to narrow down to one RPG, I have PLENTY of new RPGs I am itching to try soon. Top of my list of new games I want to try running include Good Society, Tales from the Loop, Star Trek Adventures, Carbon 2185, and Trinity Continuum: Aberrant.
I have to admit, I have never run a SCARY RPG. Even when I have run some games that edge on horror, like Call of Cthulhu or World of Darkness, I have focused more on their investigation and supernatural aspects rather than make them scary. I would really like to try a game of DREAD sometime to experience the tension it creates.
NOBLE characters are so fun to play but can be annoying to be the game master for sometimes. Paladins, Knights, and characters of noble blood, especially in fantasy games, add an element of challenge with their upbringing and world view. But my favorite RPG with nobility is Pendragon. Been talking with my gaming group about pulling that game out again sometime soon.
Two D&D campaign worlds fascinate me with their VAST universe possibilities. These include Spelljammer and Planescape. I have not yet run either, but I keep almost doing so. Someday I will delve into the vast potential of those campaign settings. Hoping updated 5e books are released for them in the coming years.
I once ran an AD&D play-by-email campaign where the characters had LOST their memories and woke up in a prison cell as their first session. They only knew their race/classes but no background/history, no idea how or why they arrived in the prison cell, nor if they were heroes or villains. Made from some amazing character development and storytelling.
I was recently given a SURPRISE gift of a metal dice set for volunteering to run a group of new players in their first-ever RPG adventure. We spent a couple months discussing the game, learning rules, making characters, and preparing for the game day. Then we pulled people online from the US and Europe to play online. We had an amazing time and I was so happy I had agreed to do it, even though I was nervous. So I as very emotional and surprised with a gift came later of some gorgeous metal dice to say thank you. Even better gift, was to hear they are still playing together.
One of the things I love most about RPGs is that they are about experiencing TRIUMPH and CALAMITY together, not about winning or losing. No one wins or loses a roleplaying adventure or campaign. They are about shared experiences where we tell cooperative stories, succeeding and failing together. It is this ongoing give and take of triumphs and calamities that builds the emotional memories of gaming, bringing us back wanting more.
Many of my adventure and campaign IDEAs come from random images, snippets of movies, or lines of song lyrics. While watching a movie or TV show, listening to music, or wandering Internet, I will get these mental inspirations that I quickly will email myself or write down for use later. When I am stuck for an upcoming adventure, I just put on my headphones and do some surfing, and the ideas will start flowing.
Recently I have started using ambient sounds to add SUSPENSE to my games and have been very pleased. I have always been a theater of the mind style gamer, but after listening to and watching some actual play RPG sessions online, I got inspired to add in some more physical elements to the game for ambiance. In a recent game, using a fantasy battle background that I would increase and decrease in volume as the players skirted the battlefield really added to the experience for all of us.
I wouldn’t still be gaming as much as I do if the LOVE of my life, my wife Angie, didn’t encourage me to remain in the hobby. Though she seldom ever joins in the RPGs, she is my muse in many ways. She acts as my sounding board as I write up my session outlines for my gaming groups. After decades of doing this, she really has come to learn my style and has some great insights at times for making an adventure just right.
My game mastering really has EVOLVED over time. Early on, I focused more on the game mechanics and using pre-written adventures. I also had so much more free time I could jump from system to system to try things out and play for hours and hours, multiple days of the week. Decades later, I have less time to game so I tend to focus much more on the story and the characters. I want my game systems to disappear to the background, only helping us move our story along. With that in mind, I no longer play the rules heavy systems I used to and focus more on lighter and more story oriented systems like D&D 5e, Feng Shui 2, Fate Core/Accelerated, and Powered by the Apocalypse games.
Roleplaying has been a CONNECTION for my twin daughters and I that I didn’t expect. As they have gotten into the hobby in their own way, I have been blessed with someone to talk to about the hobby who has a very different perspective. Experiencing these new perspectives through their eyes has made me a better game master and player. Which, in turn, has helped me connect better with this next generation of gamers at the university.
And LAST, I want thank David F. Chapman of Autocratik for once again hosting the #RPGaDAY. Each year this series of questions has helped me put serious thought into my hobby and why I continue to be passionate about it.