RPGaDay 2022 #13

How would you change the way you started RPGing?

RPGaDay prompt #13, from The Autocratik Blog

What an interesting question—it assumes that there is a particular thing I would want to change about it. If I had to change something, I think it would have been nice if instead of starting with 3rd edition, I would have had my beginnings earlier in the tabletop space rather than with the cRPG system. I’m now finding more and more interest in the OSR, and find it suits my ideas about how to play relatively well.

Another thing that might have been interesting is making more use of all the time I had as a kid to create more adventures and DM myself. As the saying goes: youth is wasted on the young.

RPGaDay 2022 #12

Why did you start RPGing?

RPGaDay prompt #12, from The Autocratik Blog

I would think that the answer to this should be self-evident: it was fun! I knew from Baldur’s Gate that I enjoyed what was essentially a fantasy novel where you could make choices for the protagonist and see the story play out from there. Where cRPGs offered a directed and restricted gameplay, tabletop RPGs promised full freedom in interaction between players and DMs. Essentially, tabletop RPGs offered much more than cRPGs ever could (and have to this very day).

Secondary benefits of RPGs ended up being a solid reason to meet up with friends on a regular basis, experimenting with different roles and ideas, as well as escaping from everyday stress every now and then.

RPGaDay 2022 #11

If you could live in a game setting, where would it be?

RPGaDay prompt #10, from The Autocratik Blog

Ooh, that’s a tough question! So many different games imply settings and there are so many different types of settings per game. Most of the settings I’m familiar with are also there to facilitate some manner of conflict; after all, many games are based on the premise of overcoming some kind of conflict. While most also provide some manner of hand-waving to abstract or eliminate the pressures of capitalism, it’s still a present force in a lot of game worlds as well.

Some game settings are easy to cross out right away. World of Darkness (including Vampire, Werewolf, and Mage)? No, thank you! I prefer not to be the plaything of supernatural creatures. Call of Cthulhu? Nope! No cyclopean horrors for me, thank you very much. Burning Wheel provides a setting that’s medievalesque in nature but more bleak and oppressive than the actual Middle Ages (despite representation in popular media, life in the medieval period was by and large not that bad at all). Paranoia? Our non-machine rules are insane enough as it is!

Worlds like Pathfinder’s Golarion are appealing to some degree. Golarion seems to have as a premise that almost anybody can become an adventurer and adventurers are powerful free agents in what otherwise tends to be a medievalesque setting. Moreover, the regions in Golarion are also tuned to be so different that you could find almost any type of culture and habitat you’d want in there. On top of that, there’s plenty of magic around to heal illnesses and stave off death. However, it’s still fundamentally capitalist in nature. Sure, after just an adventure or two, the average hero will have more money than most villages but there’s still a whole capitalist system of oppression that will surely someday come grind everything down. Let alone that Golarion has at least a dozen world-ending disasters that need constant battling from heroes on any given day.

So, while I have to admit a naive part of me would want to go to a Pathfinder or D&D world to live in that wonderful blind nostalgia to a Middle Ages that never was, a more realistic part would rather live in a setting as suggested by Ryuutama, which is positive, uplifting, accepting, and so on. Ideally, I’d live in the setting of FreeMarket: a post-capitalist world where people live forever, diseases have been eradicated, and all people’s basic needs are met. A world where your existence is driven by hopes, dreams, and passions. A world where every being gets basic respect and the universe is open for us to experience and learn from.

RPGaDay 2022 #10

When did/will you start gamemastering?

RPGaDay prompt #10, from The Autocratik Blog

It would have been somewhere around 1996, I think. I was in my first year of high school, having just discovered that Dungeons & Dragons was a thing as well as meeting up with new friends who were also interested. We weren’t that clear on how it was all supposed to work, so we hosted these mini sessions for each other where essentially we’d rotate GMs. Thinking back, I can see we had no idea what we were doing but it was fun enough to keep us coming back weekly, and adding one or two people on slowly as well over time.

RPGaDay 2022 #9

What is the 2nd RPG you bought?

RPGaDay prompt #9, from The Autocratik Blog

Ooh, what a tricky question! For the longest time, D&D 3.5 was my RPG of choice when I’d just discovered it. However, once I’d broadened my horizon, I’d broadened it quickly. The number of RPG books on my bookshelves ballooned from just the 3.5 PHB, DMG, and MM to suddenly two shelves full of different RPGs. All in all, it’s hard to remember exactly what my 2nd RPG was.

I think it might have been Vampire: The Masquerade, as I was playing a MUD based on the World of Darkness at that time. When the D&D campaign I played in ended, I started DMing a campaign set in the World of Darkness for that group before moving over to Pathfinderto return to a more D&D-style gameplay. In the meantime, I’d been playing a variety of indie RPGs as brief campaigns with some other friends. Basically, for me, in particular my years at uni were a high point of TTRPG playing.

RPGaDay 2022 #8

Who introduced you to RPGs?

RPGaDay prompt #8, from The Autocratik Blog

In a way, I discovered RPGs on my own. As I discussed in previous posts (here, here, and here), my start with RPGs comes from playing Baldur’s Gate on the PC back in 1998 and discovering that this was based on this strange tabletop game called Dungeons & Dragons. I’d only seen Baldur’s Gate advertised in gaming magazines back in the day, and asked my dad to buy me a cool RPG game while he was on one of his business trips to America. He asked the store clerk what the latest cool RPG game was, and of course they recommended Baldur’s Gate. So, I guess in a way that my father introduced me to it unwittingly?

On the other hand, I’m not sure I would have stuck with roleplaying games if I hadn’t met the friends I had in high school. They were a set of pretty nerdy twins who also loved games, and we all got pretty excited about trying the new 3rd edition of D&D. I imagine that without the games with them, I wouldn’t have really started off with the hobby. From there, I met a random dude from a forum who was looking for people to play with in our area. After a few games, he ended up wanting to DM a game himself with a group of other people, and that led to the next decade or so of my tabletop experiences.

It’s funny how large parts of your life can sometimes be held together by little coincidences.

RPGaDay 2022 #7

System Sunday: Describe a cool part of a system that you love.

RPGaDay prompt #7, from The Autocratik Blog

I really enjoy the Duel of Wits system of Burning Wheel, which is the advanced conflict resolution system for social situations. While on the one hand I do enjoy the idea that is prevalent in OSR systems that a focus should be on player skill versus character skill (cf, for instance, Tom van Winkle, Milton & Lumpkin p. 22, or Finch p.5), I also believe that system matters, to use The Alexandrian’s phrasing. I find the Duel of Wits system to be a very interesting means of combining roleplaying abilities with character abilities in a way that makes sense to me.

I forget where I once read this but I seem to recall that Crane, the designer of Burning Wheel, had mentioned in the past that its conflict system was referential to samurai duels in Kurosawa films: two combatants square up, rush at each other and exchange a few blows, then separate again to reassess. The Duel of Wits system (much like the game’s other advanced conflict systems) does the same: players pick three volleys of actions in a single exchange ahead of time. Then, one by one, you play out the interactions by briefly describing or roleplaying out what happens, followed by rolling the dice for associated stats. There’s more details as to how each of these actions can interact (an attack versus a defense is different from a feint versus a defense, for example) but overall this is the structure of the mechanics.

My first interactions with the system, and those of people I’ve seen get to grips with the system as well, tend to be a little stilted, as I’ve not often seen mechanics and roleplaying mixed so explicitly. However, with a little familiarity, it’s always felt like a quick way to guide an interaction. I also enjoy that it provides a little randomness to the interaction by having dice adjudicate the reactions of characters. I do see how this can be jarring to some, however, as this does remove a little agency from a player in a way: their character may, in losing a Duel of Wits, have to agree to a demand from another character, despite the player not specifically wanting to. In that way, Burning Wheel puts a player in the seat of a storyteller with a little more ownership over one of the characters in a story rather than a player embodying a single character in a simulation.

The way that it really helps spark creativity for me, though, is in the aftermath of Burning Wheel‘s conflict system: if one side dominates the other by taking no damage at all (social, physical, or otherwise), then they get to call all the shots. However, far more likely than that is that both sides take some damage. Depending on the extent of that damage, compromises are mandatory on a scale of minor, medium, or major compromises. What a wonderful way to drive a story forward! Knowing that your character is absolutely right, yet having to compromise with somebody you know to be wrong because you also care for them is such a dramatic turning point.

From how I understand Burning Wheel, this resolution system is a crucial part of the game, as it ties into the balance for the reward system (Artha), the advancement system, and the Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits system—they’re all intertwined. To me, any good session of Burning Wheel moves towards using the advanced conflict system to resolve an important moment in the story.

RPGaDay 2022 #6

How would you get more people playing RPGs?

RPGaDay prompt #6, from The Autocratik Blog

It’s an interesting proposition to think about, because I think the time is ripe for more people engaging with roleplaying games in general. I think that Netflix’s Stranger Things has done much to make RPGs a more approachable subject. In general, nerd culture has become more visible in the mainstream over the past years, given the number of popular movies and shows that have put traditionally niche nerd franchises in the forefront.

The approach that I take is to add to that visibility in my direct social circles. I try not to hide the fact that I play RPGs, and if anybody’s interested I’ll explain more about them. The topic hasn’t come up much yet, except for one colleague whom I saw like a LinkedIn post about a game festival in Groningen (a perfect opening to talk about gaming at work!). Overall, at my work I can notice a discomfort with gaming, given that we have a research group called “Serious Gaming”. That, to me, immediately suggests the opposite as well: all gaming is frivolous, except for the “serious” games. So, the way I see it, opening up that space at work seems like a good step forward.

RPGaDay 2022 #5

Why will they like this game?

RPGaDay prompt #5, from The Autocratik Blog

It’s not quite clear who the “they” is in this question but given that the rest of the week seems themed around new RPGs, I think this prompt might be a follow-up to both prompts #1 and #2. However, I didn’t particularly single out an individual and a specific game for those prompts, so in my situation, that wouldn’t really work either.

Instead, I’ll rework this to focus on the upcoming Pathfinder 2nd edition Abomination Vaults game using Foundry VTT and the people that will be playing in that. I’m happy that the group for this game will be a mix of people I know from various groups; I think they’ll all mesh well with each other. Overall, they’re creative, interested, respectful of others, and fun to hang out with. The players together, I think, will mesh well and have fun.

The Abomination Vaults adventure path has recently been released as a collected edition, and also ported for use with Foundry VTT. I was thoroughly impressed with Paizo‘s Beginner’s Box offering for Foundry. All the information was presented really clearly for me as the DM, and my players could interact with the system really well as it took most of the mechanical work out of their hands. It impressed me to such a degree that I had no doubt that a large adventure path like the Abomination Vaults was sure to be a good package.

So, from what I expect, having a group of players that will mesh well together along with a system that will support all of us by reducing pressure, that the game as a whole will come together well.

RPGaDay 2022 #4

Where would you host a first game?

RPGaDay prompt #4, from https://www.autocratik.com/2022/

This is a trickier question than I thought it would be at first glance. Practically speaking, if I think of what I’d do these days, I’d host a game online. It’s a low bar for most people, as you can participate from the comfort of your own home. It also lowers the pressure for me, as I wouldn’t have to invite people to my home, which to me and my wife is a very private space. Moreover, nowadays, after COVID-19 and the current Monkeypox outbreaks, it’s also a safer means of interacting with groups.

However, as I mentioned in a previous post, I do also miss the old face-to-face games. There was something really nice about my student days where every Friday a group of friends would come by, we’d cook for each other, and then we’d play a roleplaying game together. It was a wonderfully social activity that allowed a quite varied group of people to stay in contact.

At the same time, I’ve also never experienced a public gaming space. For the longest time, there just wasn’t really a gaming store nearby that offered public games or a space that catered for such. By the time something like that was offered in Groningen, I was already working full-time in Leeuwarden with that terrible commute that left me with little time for anything else. While Leeuwarden has a gaming store, I don’t believe they organize anything.

All in all, I think online gaming has progressed to such a point that it’s become a really viable, practical, and workable alternative to face-to-face gaming. So while I miss rolling around physical dice, I think a first game works really well online.