August and September 2015: Books and Games


#20: Cloud Atlas (m)

#21: The Martian (m)

#22: Assassination Classroom #1 (m)

#22: The Fault in Our Stars (m)

#23: Younger (f)

#24: The Lost Art of Listening, 2nd Edition (m)


#64: Love Letter

#65: Cthulhu Live (played twice over Gen Con weekend– once in July, once in August)

#66: Magical Fury

#67: Red November

#68: Ssh!

#69: Love Letter

#70: Roll for the Galaxy

#71: Incredible Expeditions (5 players)

#72: Trail of Cthulhu (4 players)

#73: Spirit of 77 (5 players)

#74: Fate Accelerated (3 players)

#75: Fate (3 players, new campaign, character creation)

#76: Our Last Best Hope (5 players, all female game)

#77: Monster Under the Bed (2 player, female designer, horse in the race… this is the┬ácard game I’m working on)

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#RPGaDay 25: Favorite Revolutionary Mechanic

This one almost sounds like it’s written for Apocalypse World’s "fail forward" mechanic, but I rave enough about the PbtA system. So instead, I will talk about something that is anti-AW: doing away with XP and having milestone-based advancement.

I think this is done well in Fate, where advancement is essentially a matter of adding to your skills or approaches, recovering from consequences ("healing"), and changing your character’s aspects. In fact, the aspect development part of Fate is where the milestone-advancement shines. It is entirely possible to play an entire Fate campaign without changing your die rolls, but to instead advance who you are, rather than what you do or how well.

There was a moment in a D&D 4e campaign I was playing in a few years ago where the DM said "look, where I want you guys to go next is an epic-tier adventure. You kind of skipped past the stuff I had planned in the meantime, but I feel bad robbing you of 4 levels of adventure."

I shrugged and replied that, if the story is epic tier and he doesn’t want to scale it down, then he can just level us up. Our characters aren’t going to be surprised that we can now do all kinds of cool stuff we couldn’t do before. We certainly don’t need to spend 4 levels "grinding" on monsters that don’t move the story forward, after all.

By letting go of the burden of keeping things scaled to our power level, the DM was able to skip to a more interesting part of the story, the part he wanted to focus on. It’s not a video game, after all. We can skip over the boring stuff.

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#RPGaDay 24: Favorite House Rule

Hero_PointsMy favorite house rule is one that is so popular, it forms the basis for many current RPG systems. The fate point, hero point, benny, stitch, or similar abstract "get out of a tight spot" mechanic that rewards players for role-playing well, and gives them an opportunity to control the dice a little bit more than they otherwise might.

Back in my AD&D 2nd Edition days, I used hero cards, a set of homemade index cards with little bonuses written on them. If you RPed well (or brought snacks), you got a card that had a circumstantial bonus, like "you take no damage from this fall" or "you have the upper hand in this grapple." The idea what that you could save your hero cards to use one time, at some appropriate later time. The execution was weak– nobody liked having to keep track of cards from session to session. But it was one of my better ideas for a basic, circumstantial benefit for players. If I were to make something similar today, the cards would be class-specific, and you would simply be able to draw one from your deck when the GM wanted to reward you (like having Inspiration in 5e). And your deck would be shuffled and you’d have no cards drawn at the start of each session.

Come to think of it, this would make an interesting deck-builder type of thing for RPGs…. No. No, let me put that aside. I have enough project going as it is….

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#RPGaDay 23: Perfect Game for You

See yesterday. The perfect game for me is one where I have players who show up!

Actually, the perfect game is one where we play for 3-6 sessions, completing a full story arc, but not lingering too long in the world. The players are engaged and interested and want to tell a full story, but they aren’t so invested in their characters that they get mad if someone dies.

But the perfect published game system for me hasn’t been written yet. There needs to be a nod to story structure. There needs to be an emphasis on social and intellectual challenges, over physical ones. There needs to be excitement, a mechanic for managing secret information, and the very real threat of things going badly for the heroes, but it turning into a great story anyway.

If I had found my perfect system, I would use it and stop trying to design games. Timewatch comes close– very close, actually. Whispering Road sets up a structure that I adore, but the conflict resolution mechanic could use some tweaking (or just clarification, really; it’s hard to let go of the idea that you roll dice not to resolve conflict, but mainly to decide how well a scene addressed someone’s core need as a character.)

Anyway. Perfect is the enemy of good. There are hundreds of good games out there that I love.

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#RPGaDay 22: Perfect Gaming Environment

This is obvious, right? The perfect gaming environment is at your house, but where all your gaming friends love to cook and bring food over, and one of your friends loves to do the dishes afterwards! You have a table and comfy chairs– perhaps even sofas– and you definitely have some control over the music and lighting in the room, perhaps through a remote control so you don’t have to break stride to change playlists or mood lighting.

Otherwise, the perfect gaming environment is the one where you have players who don’t suck and who show up every session without bitching about how far they had to drive.

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