Choice Points (and Choke Points) in Games

So, I’ll start by saying that this post is more in the nature of a rumination and exploration of thought than it is an attempt to say anything definitive about choice points. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I consider some of the games I regularly play.

One thing that is talked about a lot in RPGs is the time it takes to do something. We talk about speeding up combat by rolling attack and damage dice at the same time, or pre-rolling a bunch of initiative checks for the NPCs. But the act of rolling the dice is a very simple process for most players and even in dice-pool games the tallying takes a few seconds at most.

But adding mechanical choices at each juncture seems to be a larger culprit. Much like a game of Magic: the Gathering, it seems as if some games create a scenario where an action can set off a cascade of following effects triggered on the part of both players and NPCs. 4th Edition D&D had specific, measurable problems with this cascade and it was addressed by the designers in later books and in the creation of 5th Edition. Even games like Savage Worlds (“Fast, Furious, Fun!”) suffer from this to a certain extent once certain edges get into play (though they have started to fix the Shaken issue).

Ultimately, these mechanical choices create logjams where players feel the need to always contemplate an optimal action – because losing is bad – and figure out how to compete with the scenario at hand.

This can be complicated by the scenario as well. In the upcoming organize play event for Dungeons and Dragons Attack Wing there are 7 tokens on the board which launch ambush attacks at all models in range each turn. I expect games to be falteringly slow in this scenario as everyone tries to minimize their exposure by analyzing and eyeballing each movement before committing to anything.

Choice is a good thing – to a point – but at some point it seems that offering too many reactions, caveats, and “stuff that can happen” just ends up reinforcing the RPG as Math Problem issue that I so often deride.

Not to only speak ill of games with many choice points. Probably my favorite miniatures game of all time, Battletech, has very few choice points each round (~2 or 3) but these each include a number of traps for the player which can bog a game down into painful oblivion. Movement leads to players counting hexes and turns over and over again, declaring fire leads to more hex counting and enemy targeting while also including the need to debate how much heat you are willing to generate vs. damage potential.

A fellow blogger recently posted about playing OGRE with 12-year-olds and made the comment that 12-year-olds are not burdened by the same analysis paralysis as the 40 year old generation. I was saddened and chastised by this. Because I don’t know that if I suggest that we all “play like 12-year-olds” that will really help much. I suppose what really worries me here is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear point where you can say, “too many choices! Game no play so good!”

I have found that for encouraging roleplaying and deep character delving, the best games move choices out of a purely mathematical realm and have hidden information. In my own experience I get more mileage out of rules-light, diceless system like Amber or a “old-fashioned” system like ACKS or Star Wars D6 than I do out of games like the new Fantasy Flight Star Wars with its narrative dice creating exponential mechanical choices every time they are rolled. Age of Rebellion nearly put me off Star Wars altogether I was so frustrated running it as a GM. Honestly, being the GM in a game with a lot of mechanical choices is like being a single player in a boardgame with long turns. Each player gets to have their moment and only has to worry about one thing but the GM sits through 4-6 turns of soooooo manyyyyyy choooooiiiiiices that you eventually just want to pull your hair out and start running amok.

Funny thing. I’m one of those, like, 6 people in the world who love the game Diplomacy and think that you should play it with your friends. Because it’s a great game that really does something innovative and shouldn’t be taken seriously in terms of ending friendships. (Does that really happen? Really?) I like it because even though turns are long and there are many choices to make from the diplomatic side, there are very few actual mechanical choices, which constrains the action to a manageable set of interactions. I also like it because that diplomatic side really involves talking to other humans and has a time limit. There are consequences if you don’t make it back to the board with fully written orders in time. I’ve played a lot of Diplomacy. I’ve never won a game. I’ve been lied to so many times I couldn’t even count them. I’ve been taken out of games early and nearly pulled off wins a couple of times only to see it all go away in an instant. And I don’t care. Because winning is awesome and the thrill of winning is awesome. The tension of a close game in the final rounds is great. But when it’s over, as long as everyone played fair and didn’t cheat – then you shrug, let your friend who always seems to get to play France pat you on the shoulder, and move on with your day. Because the game itself is fun. Diplomacy is inherently fun (for me at least). And it has very few mechanical options. The rulebook is tiny and consists more of examples than actual rules.

I’m not sure if this rumination makes sense to anyone outside my head. Ultimately, it’s just something I continue to struggle with in my quest to just have fun with this hobby I’ve spent most of my life with. I’m starting to wonder if maybe I just need to give it all up and just go climb rocks for a while or join a gym and see what “normal” people do with their Sundays.

As always, thanks for reading.

The Work/Theme Dichotomy in Games

This is more about boardgames than about RPGs, but I think it could apply to both at some level. I don’t like doing work. I don’t mind a game being hard, but I don’t like it to only be hard. I see a lot of people playing casual games – timewasters – and I’ve tried a few myself. They always feel like I’m just doing work disguised as fun. There is no connection, no engagement, just a relentless task to be completed.

I want something more. Then I think about the games I do play and claim to enjoy and sometimes I realize that they are just as much work and don’t really improve on the engagement aspect to make it feel like fun.

The DC Deckbuilding game is a perfect example of this. Even though the game is splashed with pretty art from the comics, the game itself is very repetitive, only focused on victory points, and doesn’t require much from the players in terms of engagement with the theme. We don’t think about the cards in terms of how much we want to play Aquaman or Green Lantern, we think about how many points of power Solomon Grundy generates or whether or not we have Bizarro when it comes to racking up Weaknesses. Ultimately, even though the game designers did make an effort at tying card effects to the character pictured, the game is still just a task oriented effort.

The Car Wars card game was surprising to me in that, for all its simplicity, it manages to evoke a certain feeling of whipping madly around an arena trying desperately to hammer the other cars into submission. Even though there is no difference between the cars you can play and no difference in the hand mechanics from player to player, the game feels really fun.

Some games, which are otherwise excellent, like Lords of Waterdeep, can easily fall into the trap of being work. I have noticed when I play that I’m the only one who refers to the adventurers (resources) as Fighters, and Thieves. Everyone else just says, “I’ll take a purple and a white” and then we don’t even read each other our quest cards – we just pile them up and add victory points to the total. I can’t be upset with the other players because they are playing the game and having fun, but when we play that way it all just feels like a task we’re completing rather than a truly enjoyable experience.

I suppose the better way to say this is not, “I don’t like to do work” but rather, “I don’t like to do work for the sake of work.” Honestly, it’s why I never liked chess but I love Diplomacy. Chess is a pure, diceless strategy game but it’s lifeless to me. Diplomacy is a strategy game with a social/bluffing element which really puts you in the life of the general moving your armies around the board. It almost tricks the player into a deeper level of engagement.

This has led me to consider that as I weed games out of my collection (which has grown too large to be playable at this point) that my criteria might be less, “how often do I think I’ll play this” and more “what do I get out of each experience of playing it?” Is it fun, or is it just work disguised as a game?

Perhaps I haven’t articulated this well. Does anyone have suggestions for games that really brim with theme and engagement and slough away the cold mathematics of victory points?

Thanks for reading.

OBS is Wrong; So Are The Rest of Us

I’m a little late to this latest gamer kerfuffle. I thought about not discussing it at all – for a lot of reasons – but it was bothering me too much to just ignore it. One BookShelf is just plain wrong, for a lot of reasons, but, so are all of us.

TL;DR: OBS needs a better up-front plan rather than a reactionary, one man stance and the creator of ToR should probably have considered the impact of his actions a little more thoroughly when deciding what to call his latest work.

First, let’s talk a little about censorship
I work in Higher Education and my primary social interaction is gaming. I hear censorship thrown around all the time these days. I also hear a lot about freedom of speech, academic freedom, and intellectual/creative freedom. Here’s the thing. OBS is a business. It doesn’t need to boil down any deeper than that: OBS is a business. As such, we should have every expectation that they are going to attempt to protect their business and insulate it from negative action which will hurt their business in the long run. If that includes removing a game based on a controversial movement or a game with a title like Tournament of Rapists (ToR), then we shouldn’t really be surprised. And it’s not really censorship. They have no obligation to let you use their business for practices they deem unacceptable.

And Here’s Where They Get It Wrong
A few years ago, I read a wonderful book by Jack Miles. God: A Biography, works its way through the bible examining god in the light of a biographer examining their subject. When Miles discusses the story of the first murder, it seems that god acts in an odd way. God has never said – at this point – anything at all about murder. But when it happens, when Cain kills Abel, god reacts as if Cain broke some sacrosanct rule that had been in place all along. (This is a very simplified version of the point Miles makes – read the book for more depth; it is excellent).

And this is what OBS is doing now. They are reacting. They are reacting to a community that is divided along ideological lines rarely seen before in the gaming community. It used to be “us against them” but we won, being geek is cool now (why did we care?) and so instead we are turning inward and devouring our own.

I’ll say it again, OBS is a business. As such, they can remove products or refuse to publish products, but they should not be doing so in a maelstrom. They should not be doing so in the reactionary manner of Instagram or YouTube where all it takes is a simple reporting to remove someone’s creative efforts. They need to put on their big people pants and establish a stronger policy of terms and conditions on the front end.

Will such a stance limit their business model in some way? Of course it will. That’s what happens when you try to be a one-stop shop that serves everyone. It also prevents them from having a public outcry and a painful, uphill battle every time they have to make a difficult decision on a product that appears in their store. OBS is no small concern just existing to provide games for everyone. It is a big deal. It is almost monolithic in its appeal as the best place to go for digital games. I’d probably weep openly if I considered how much money I’ve spent on OBS sites in the last five years. And I love OBS for it.

All this means that it’s time for them to step up. You want to be the industry leader? Lead. You want to have the ability to monitor your storefront and ensure that it takes care of itself as a respectful community? Then tell the community what your standards are. Yes, such a change would be difficult and lead to a time of transition for the site and its users, but it would also save a lot of grief in the long run. The general terms and conditions could be as broad or as weak as OBS needs them to be but once in place, they must be adhered to in order to prevent the reactionary stance they are taking now.

To be clear, and sum this up, I read the letter from Steve Wieck and I appreciate his insistence that bright line rules are a problem. Well, they are. But hey, I work for the government – I get to see the difficulties that bright line rules create every day. I also get to see how they protect us. They might sometimes be a blunt instrument but that instrument has been shaped by constantly dealing with occurrences which precipitated the need for a rule to be put in place.

If you are going to remain the sole arbiter and final decision-maker [update after an additional OBS post: a small committee will decide] over content after it has been flagged, then you are creating more problems than you solve. While I don’t expect the deluge of flagging that some creators are worried about, I do believe this system will be abused and I do expect that good intentions will not be the reason. Steve Wieck says he’s uncomfortable with OBS making decisions about content up front. But he’s willing to do the same on the back-end only after he’s under public pressure to make one decision or another? This seems like it will cause more problems (especially for him) than it will solve.

Be the leader that you are by default. Define your content terms, stick to them, and be willing to review and edit them based on the outcome of your decisions.

Why We’re All Wrong Too
So, I read the introduction to ToR when it hit shelves. It opens with an introduction which basically discusses a certain subset of a subset of anime/manga. It is also a supplement to a larger game line with pretty decent sales. Good on you. ToR was a very poor decision for a title. Let us all consider for a moment that if ToR had been entitled something like, “Demon Tournament Danger” or “Violation Beyond Space and Time” that we likely wouldn’t even be having this discussion. The title was primed for an outcry in the current environment of our little, fractious culture. Sure, the author/creator can title his book whatever he wants and I applaud that freedom, but just because you can do a thing does not necessarily mean that you should do a thing. The Black Tokyo line that ToR is part of has been selling on OBS for a while and it has not generated this kind of public outcry.

Rape is a difficult topic and one which carries a lot of painful associations. Rape is one of the most horrible crimes which can be inflicted on a person. The author of ToR did not seem to have a real, mature grasp of this crisis and his book would probably have been better served with another title. I don’t think that’s a reason to pull the book from sale and I don’t think that we as a community should have the right to say, “Don’t sell this.” We should vote with our wallets – not by boycotting or attacking OBS – but through our choice not to buy this work. We should write letters – not to OBS – but to the author and explain why this particular title might have been a poor choice for his business.

See there’s that word again. The fault for this product – if there is any – lies not with OBS allowing it a space to be published; but with the designer, the writer, the creator. We, as a community, erred by expecting big brother to solve our problem (if we had one) for us. You want to make products like ToR go away? Focus your efforts on the product.

Another brief aside, then I promise to be done. Sara Douglass is a fantasy author. She wrote Hades’ Daughter: Book One of The Troy Game, and I read about ½ of it before I realized that I would never touch her books again. A warrior-king attacks another country, brutally murders a young girl’s father in front of her and then rapes her until he gets her pregnant, along with kidnapping her and holding her hostage. He brutalizes her in every way he can. It’s violent and awful. She hates him. And then, with no compelling reason whatsoever, she starts to love him… And this is a book by a female author that spawned a trilogy. Douglass speaks about this in an interview I found if you are interested but the larger point here is, I don’t see a huge pushback against this book. I don’t see readers lining up to convince Amazon and Barnes & Noble to pull it from bookshelves. And I originally supported it with my dollars because I bought the book when it came out and it was already too late then… but it convinced me to be done with Sara Douglass as an author. But it had a compelling title and great cover art and a connection to Greek mythology so hey, I was all in.

Deciding for ourselves, as adults, what offends us, what hurts us, what we should work against is a very individual decision. It takes a commitment of time and emotional energy, just like reading a novel takes a commitment of time before we see whether it held value for us or if it sickened us. Sure, ToR was given a very poorly considered title that is almost inevitably going to create controversy. As Steve Wieck points out in his letter, when he took the time to read the book he found it to be 1) different from what he expected; and 2) not a very mature representation of that difference. But he took the time to read it.

For those out there offended by the title enough to leap to everyone’s rescue by insisting it be pulled; I think you all spend a little too much time patting yourself on the back and not enough time considering your actions. Which is the essentially the same offense that the creator of ToR can be accused of in this case (most likely). He didn’t consider the outcome of his decision (or maybe he did and he chose to go this route in order to create controversy). Either way, that seems to be the worst sin he can be accused of in this case.

This is insanely long. Painfully so. My apologies and thanks for reading.

Car Wars: the Card Game, A Quick Review

I’ve always been a periphery kind of Car Wars guy. I like the game, have the old Deluxe Box Set, and spent many hours pouring through Uncle Al’s catalogs. But I was never really a hardcore player and it was a game that dropped off my radar over the years. So when I saw the card game advertised, I was surprised to find out it was a third edition of a game that had previously been released in 1991 and 2001. My experience is only with the current version of the game, so I’m not sure how it stacks up or doesn’t with previous iterations…

First Impressions
Even if I didn’t know that Car Wars was a Steve Jackson Games property, I could probably have guessed it from the production values of the game. Steve Jackson stuff has a quality to it that really is unique. This is neither a good or bad thing, just an observation. The game doesn’t have the ultra-slick components of a Fantasy Flight game but everything is well-made, attractive, a little bit retro in style, and inviting in a kitschy sort of way. On a more personal note Creede and Sharleen Lambard wrote my favorite adventure of all time making this an easier purchase for me seeing their names on the box.

3rd Edition (2015)

Basically, all the things I think of when I think of SJG and Car Wars were front and center when I opened the box, so that’s a good thing. Regarding the “ultra-slick” components bit… I was also happy to see that the game consisted of cards and cars. No crazy bits for the sake of crazy bits. Simple straightforward rules. We were ready to go in five minutes. Perfect.

Awesome Stuff
Players get a car and a hand of cards. There is some drawing and then you attack. Then play proceeds to the left. You fight until only one car is left in the arena and then you play another round until one person wins by accumulating enough victory points.

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that. It’s a game about shooting other cars with flamethrowers and autocannons. It has a good ratio of attack to defense with the randomness of drawing cards making for the possibility that some rounds are very offense heavy, some are defense heavy, and some are balanced out. This is definitely a plus.

If you don’t attack on your turn or play some kind of special card, you must discard at least one card which I think is a great mechanic because it forces the deck to keep churning and represents that “missed opportunity” for taking a shot or defending yourself and helps thematically with making the game feel like cars moving around the arena instead of just four people playing cards.

The game can get tense. Once your armor is breached, every turn is a moment of holding your breath to see if you’ll skate through another round or if it’s time to bail out. This is a byproduct of that relentless hand churn and even more relentless attacking that happens each turn. And the more players you have (the game takes up to 6) the more brutal it can get.

Overall, I love the flow of the game and how fast and loose it plays. The special cards have some slightly complicated interactions but nothing that disrupts play or overly confuses people. Looking back, I can see one place where I think we were playing something wrong but it’s an easy fix.

The Not So Awesome
A simple, straightforward card game about cars killing cars is hard to find fault with. But there is one thing that detracts from the experience a little. Because the game is played over multiple rounds, with players attempting to be the first to accumulate 60 Victory Points, there can be significant down time for players who are eliminated early in a duel. In our four player games, we often had at least one car eliminated quickly and usually, the last two cars would play cat and mouse for a long time before one could finish the other off. This left two players – at one point – with about 15 minutes of downtime while the remaining two cars attempted to end the round. This isn’t always the case but it can happen. It happened often enough for our group that it was noticeable.

A little lag is not a bad thing when players can sit at the table, watch the rest of the duel play out and enjoy the back-and-forth of the remaining cars but when it drags on for too long, players can lose interest and focus.

I really enjoy this game. Fast playing, hits good Car Wars notes, is exactly as complicated as it needs to be and no more, and it has a strong thematic feel during play. I can’t really ask for much more. During play we laughed, we groaned, we got excited, and we got crushed. Overall, I recommend giving this a try and just really letting yourself get into a car-killing mood. Just don’t let your opponents kill you too fast.

Thanks for reading.

The Simple Pleasures

Last night we did character creation for the Shadowrun game I’m starting (Anniversary Edition, of course) and I was thrilled when one of the new players at the table said to me, “you are absurdly organized” as we prepared to play. I had several hand-outs I had prepared to try and simplify character creation, a worksheet to help streamline working through the process, and a cheat sheet of NPCs that I already know are going to be in my version of Seattle along with ideas and assistance for creating contacts of their own.

They were also thrilled when I offered to make them each a spiffy custom character sheet that will keep all their game information front and center for them so they don’t have to constantly reference a million things during play.

It’s a lot of work. It’s not really necessary. And as I read what I wrote up there, it sounds a little too self-congratulatory for my tastes. But here’s the thing. I don’t do all these things just to make game run smoother or to make life easier for my players. Those are by-products of the process. I do this because it’s fun for me. I love making documents and handouts and play-aids. I created a fancy-looking reference card for D&D Attack Wing that I gave to the local store I play at so that it could help speed up game play. I make packets for my players in ACKS with relevant character info so that they can enjoy character creation (and I do the same for Amber DRPG).

But I’m kind of a paper nerd? I like making stuff. Tangible stuff that gets used at the table. I like the challenge of organizing a character sheet so that it gets everything a player needs on the front of one page and looks nice. I like making NPC references, and calendars, and menus for the restaurants the players shop at. It’s all just fun for me and it really keeps my enthusiasm level up as a GM. When I know that I can hit send on my laptop and have stuff pop up on players smartphones and tablets during play as their PCs encounter these things, it’s just a little shot of joy for me. Doesn’t matter to me if the players enjoy it, are indifferent, or if they are just humoring me (well, it does – I want them to be having fun at the table). You get the idea though, this level of engagement is what works for me and I’ve found ways to make it work in time frames that don’t ruin the rest of my life.

It’s a small thing but it keeps me happy as the GM and helps me to stave off burnout. As long as I can create for a game and think about it away from the table, I’ll stay even more engaged at the table. Doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me. And when players do appreciate it and say so, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

Thanks for reading.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 31

August 30th.

Favorite Non-RPG Thing to Come out of RPGing

This is the last post for this month of RPGaDay. It’s funny, but this is perhaps the most challenging post of all. Because for me, RPGing has always been an end in itself. I don’t really think about what effect RPGs have had on my life, what meaning it all might have, or what influence RPG has had on the world around me… because I really only care about them in context of what they are.

Does that sound awful? Sure, there has been a powerful geek rising in the last decade or so. And there are a million new amazing board games, a million new video games, and all of that. But for me the best RPG-related stuff is, in fact, the RPGs.

Maybe I’m just a little obstinate or I don’t really understand the question, but as I’ve thought about and celebrated RPGs during this past month, what I’ve cherished has been the joy I get from this hobby that I have devoted myself to. I’m not a game designer, it’s not my living. It’s just my hobby. It’s my pastime. It’s my social activity.

For me, the best non-RPG thing to come out of RPGs is nothing more or less than the friends, the fun, and the joy this hobby has given me for 30+ years.

This month has been a fantastic chance to explore my feelings and post a few fun blogs. And this was a godsend for getting back into blogging. Daily posts for a month (okay, I missed four) have been very enjoyable. I’m looking forward to what comes next.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 30

August 30th.

Favorite RPG Playing Celebrity

I’m sure my answer is about as expected as any. There are a lot of awesome public faces for RPGs these days. But my answer is pretty simple. I’m going with Vin Diesel. I’m an unabashed fan of his movies – love the Fast and the Furious franchise, and I love that he’s very authentic about his love of D&D.

I’m also a big fan of his foreward to the 30 Years of Adventure book.

So I missed yesterday and this whole thing wraps up tomorrow…

Thanks for reading.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 28

August 28th.

Favorite Game You No Longer Play

It’s funny, but where many of these questions have left me scratching my head or thinking about them for a while. This one had games clamoring for the opportunity to be mentioned, even if that means they are ex-gamefriends. They were favorites once, right?

Game One in this journey would have to be Star Wars (West End, D6 version). There was a time when this was the primary game I was playing. I mean lots and lots of D6 Star Wars. We did it all, bounty hunters, rebels, Imperials, Jedi; during the first trilogy, during the Thrawn trilogy… I could go on and on. But now, now I might pull one of these old books out for reference or for memories. It has probably been at least five years since the last time I was in a full on Star Wars d6 game. Well, when it comes to this one… it is definitely a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.”

Star Wars D6 is a great game, with a wealth of amazing supplements, a solid system, and is still one of the easiest games I’ve ever come across in terms of teaching it to new people. So there is nothing wrong here. It’s just, we drifted apart. There were other games, and other groups. We had mutual friends that we just don’t have anymore. But I will always be fond of this one, cherish the memories, and wonder what would happen if we ever met again, eyes meeting across a crowded room… could the spark come back?

Game Two I can just be up front and say… it was a different time. Mage: the Ascension was a revelation for me. That magic system! So magnificent in its understated way. So elegant and stylish. Mage really pushed me to be a better player, better game master. Mage was what I needed then. And will always be thankful for that. But it was more of a whirlwind romance in a foreign land than it was true love. And we both knew it. Some of your supplements were glorious – and I loved your Storyteller’s Guide. It’s like I still talk to your Mom sometimes, even though you and I both moved to different places. You were a great game and you came along at just the right time in my life (some might call it Coincidence, but we know it was Magick).

Game Three, well, we were so close to perfect for each other. Warhammer Fantasy RPG, 2nd Edition was just a great game. It took the old career system and smartened it up – along with the game system surrounding it – and turned it into a slick-looking, fun, dangerous little game. So many little touches went into making you great. You had this vast and interesting backstory. You managed your baggage well. You gave me a lot to think about. You got me creating again and you revitalized my [home brew] world. But stuff nagged at me. You had some habits that were just a little hard to overlook, like your insistence on using a career system which was amazing for creating characters but then made less and less sense across the life of a vivid campaign. And you had a dark side. A little too dark for me. In the end, we took a little time apart and I met someone new. I’m sorry to say, they are a lot like you – and a lot like my first love (D&D) – but merge what I loved about both of you in a way that just works for me. But hey, we’ll always have New Theris…

I’d like to thank Runeslinger (over at Casting Shadows) for the inspiration for this blog. He set the idea in motion with his post today when he made the leap that the really important part of the answer is the reason we no longer play these old favorites. Good stuff.

And this was fun. It’s been a long time since I was writing on the Rhetorical Gamer and it felt good. This month has been a good experience so far and I’m happy to be writing again.

As always, thanks for reading.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 27

August 27th.

Favorite Idea for Merging Two Games Into One

My first, easiest, answer is to simply say Shadowrun. I mean, it basically just blended Cyberpunk 2013 with D&D and got a whole new game that has thrived entirely in it’s own right. Is it the first “mash-up” game to come out of the hobby? I have no idea, but it is certainly an enduring one.

I do also like the merging of horror and the wild west that is Deadlands. Not really sure which two games they put together, more like just genres, but it is a heck of a mix that makes for some fascinating gaming. I’ve always enjoyed the Deadlands games I’ve been a part of and the mixed up nature of it is part of the reason.

Does anyone else remember Dragon Storm? I sometimes feel like the only one. It mixed CCG style card play with traditional roleplaying elements to be a collectible card RPG (CCRPG?). It was a weird one that got weirder before it went away. I loved it though. Stumbled on it at a con back in the mid-90s when it was fairly new. Susan Van Camp was the guest at the con and we played it quite a bit for a while after that. I still have all my cards and just recently discovered a quiet corner of the internet where they are keeping the game alive and active. I might have to get some friends together and try it out again for kicks.

Not sure this really answers the question but it – again – has been one of my favorite prompts to think about and write about.

See you tomorrow, and thanks for reading.

RPGaDay 2015: Day 26

August 26th.

Favorite Inspiration for Your Games

First, it is hard to believe this is almost over. I’m going to have to find things to blog about on my own again! Well, I have a few saved up from my experiences lately with ACKS, D&D Attack Wing, and just some general thoughts I’m kicking around.

But hey, favorite inspirations? Well, this is actually going to be a pretty boring answer, but my primary inspiration over the years has been the books I read. Particularly fantasy books, but it can be anything.

I find that I’m not really a visual thinker/person so movies do less for me and I’m not much into art on the whole. Spectacle is lost on me. But books stay with me, influence my thinking for a long time after I’ve finished them.

Who do I go back to for inspiration? I’ve mentioned many names before but Peter S. Beagle, David Eddings, and Guy Gavriel Kay are big sources of inspiration for me. As is Tamora Pierce. The last three pretty much shaped how the gods behave in all my games. Amber, both the novels and the game book have been intensely inspiring over the years. James Blaylock’s Elfin Ship and Disappearing Dwarf are two of my all-time favorite “go back to” reads and may do more to refresh me than they do to inspire me but it’s a thin line. Tolkien, for the always surprising deftness of his touch and to remind me that small details matter.

I also tend to draw quite a bit of inspiration just from reviewing the “GM Guides” from different games. I find that reading the thoughts of designers on how they expect or hope that GMs will approach their games is fascinating and will often trigger an idea or shake loose something that has been bugging me. The Book of Mirrors: Mage Storytellers Handbook (for the original Mage game) is still a source of inspiration to me today and I love revisiting it like an old friend.

So, not sure if I have a favorite source of inspiration (okay, I do, it’s The Last Unicorn) but I hope this list was interesting to someone out there.

Thanks for reading. Seeing the end of the tunnel now.


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