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#RPGaDay 2017 Day Four: Why the 4E Hate?

On day four of #RPGaDay, we ask the question: which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?

There are two games I play regularly: Dungeons & Dragons 4E for an Eberron campaign and Princess: The Hopeful, a fan hack of Chronicles of Darkness for the magical girl genre. Beyond that (and discounting live games, which are overwhelmingly Chronicles of Darkness 1st and 2nd Edition), probably Monsterhearts. Honestly, I prefer to play lots of different things over any one system forever. I don’t even want to play just one edition of a system in the case of D&D! My quest over the next few years is to play broadly, rather than deeply (though ideally I would like to find depth in everything I play) – experience as many different games as possible and challenge my assumptions about systems. Continue reading

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#RPGaDay: Day 6 – Negotiating the Spotlight

We are basically these guys with a gruff family man as ranking officer.

We are basically these guys with a gruff family man as ranking officer. And a warforged.

I’m running very, very behind with this, so I’m going to try and catch up.

I’m lucky to be part of some really incredible campaigns at the moment. Tragically, this has meant some other fantastic campaigns have just petered out, though hopefully we can restart them at some point. However, we’ve just finished a season of Monsterhearts, I’m in a regular FATE game over the Internet called Agents of CROSSBOW (like Agents of SHIELD with more occult crime and tomb-raiding) and a 4th Edition Eberron game called The Chronicles of Cyre, run by the very talented GM who writes at Dice Tales. This last one was the ‘most recent RPG played’ for me, and the campaign is basically Sharpe in Cyre, a rough and ready unit of scouts with the Cyran army who go on hideously dangerous missions and have risen from skilled but undistinguished soldiers to the ‘heroes of Cyre’. Anyone familiar with the Eberron setting will know how this story goes: when we hit paragon tier, the Day of Mourning is going to happen, and our characters will have to deal with everything and everyone we love being taken away from us, defenders of a shattered nation that is now a magic-scarred wasteland. It’s going to be AWESOME. But we’re only just level 8, so we have a bit of time before that.

It’s also a game where I’ve had to reassess some of how I approach roleplaying. I’m a bit of an entitled player. Not to say that I’m not generous, but I’m only generous as long as I get what I want out of the game, which has caused tensions in a number of games and has especially caused issues for me in live games. I’m not always seeking the spotlight, but I’m a Fixer, and if I don’t get my Fixer fix, as it were, I’ll become disillusioned with the game very quickly. I really hate feeling ignored and devalued, as though I don’t deserve to be included or to have the story be about my character for a bit, and I can react badly if I perceive that to be the case (note that my perceptions can twist this waaaaay out of proportion).

I’m actually really grateful that I’ve been playing Monsterhearts and D&D at the same time. In one, I’ve had a lesson in listening to other players, generosity and understanding that even if the scene isn’t about you, you can still enjoy it. In the other, I’ve seen the fallout of two people (i.e. me and another person) who are good friends outside the game getting competitive for the spotlight, and I’m not proud to say that I could have been more generous about that.

I think the amount of live gaming I’ve been doing over the past few years has changed me a lot when it comes to roleplaying. In a tabletop game, where things are more intimate, it’s way easier to see if one person is dominating and another is getting left behind. In a livegame, it sometimes feels as though the only way to have your voice heard is to shout loudest and first, which can be really uncomfortable for someone who is anxious or who doesn’t like to dominate. I’ve realised that I’ve got so used to having to be decisive, to having to rush through scenes and make sure I’m heard, that I’ve lost the ability to think about how the scene as a whole fits together. I want to get ‘my bit in’, the one cool thing I do in a combat or the one moment in a scene where I feel like my character is an important part of the narrative.

There are lots of cool rpgs that give options for playing with narrative control: it’s a big trend in story gaming, which often removes the GM entirely. However, there needs to be a certain level of self-awareness and self-restraint to negotiating the spotlight that can’t be compensated for with system. That’s why there are relatively few people I’d play Monsterhearts with (as well as the potentially upsetting content and the trust required) – we all need to be in it together, or it doesn’t work.

I've not reached Mazes and Monsters levels of corruption yet, though

I’ve not reached Mazes and Monsters levels of corruption yet, though

I’ve been trying to be a more mindful player over the last couple of sessions, not jumping out in front of every development, not feeling like I needed to have input into every moment in a conversation. Interestingly, I left both of those sessions feeling slightly frustrated, as I hadn’t had that big damn hero moment and the rush of feeling like my character was important, but my mood across the whole game was more even – I hadn’t risen to potentially tactless comments and had interpreted them (as I am sure they were meant) as not intending to offend me. I managed to control my temper better for my really terrible rolls without diminishing the victory of my high rolls. I listened more to the other players and tried to see it as a narrative belonging to all of us.

That said, I’m starting to see why the rush a lot of roleplayers chase, where it’s all fitting well and the coolest possible thing happens right then, and it feels like your character is a hero, is getting scarcer and scarcer. When I started roleplaying, just being part of it, having powers that could do cool stuff, and learning more about this weird pastime was enough. Now the rush is part of feeling like my character is the hero of their own story. I hope that someday I can get that rush from playing as a group and really telling a communal story (Monsterhearts has shown some encouraging development in that direction, at least), but for now I’ll settle for just not offending and angering the other people in my group, and trying to make it a game we can all enjoy.

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#RPGaDay 2015: Day One – Edition Wars

I’m already a day behind with #RPGaDay! Not a good start.

Day One’s topic is ‘Forthcoming game you’re most looking forward to’. There are lots of great games coming out soon, but the one I’m most excited about right now is Changeling: the Lost 2nd Edition. With The God Machine Chronicle and Blood and Smoke, Onyx Path have proven that they are providing some really great new mechanics for their lines. Not just rehashing the old settings, either, but altering them so they do something different. Blood and Smoke is subtly but significantly different to Vampire: the Requiem in a way that makes me highly optimistic for Changeling 2nd Edition.

edition warsI suppose one thing that has always bothered me about RPGs is the concept of an edition war. I didn’t get into D&D until 3.5 Edition was well underway, but I definitely felt a lot of defensiveness about 4th Edition that took a long time to break through (now I love 4th Edition and I’m highly suspicious of 5th Edition). I know lots of people felt the same way about the change from 2nd to 3rd Edition. There are still plenty of people who discount the entire new World of Darkness line in favour of the original World of Darkness games, and I imagine there will be some who will always prefer First Edition WoD to Second Edition. However, with pdfs, Kickstarter and the Old School Revival, the edition wars have lost some of its power. OK, people don’t seem to play 2nd or 3rd Edition D&D much any more, but 5th Edition and Pathfinder were introduced specifically to provide an updated ruleset in the tradition of D&D that 4th Ed somewhat left behind. What’s great is that the spirit of those editions can still exist within newer versions while also allowing for new mechanics (5th Edition) or a slow carving out of their own styles and niches (Pathfinder). Onyx Path have gone one better by (appropriately) resurrecting their old lines through Kickstarter, celebrating the success they had, while still moving forward with new mechanics that introduce more storygaming concepts into the system. In fact, they even provide cross-edition synergy by providing translation guides for playing, say, Masquerade in the Requiem rules. It’s a pretty stellar business model.

That said, there is the risk of things slipping through the cracks. 4th Ed D&D is no longer supported, and 5th Edition feels like a step backwards for many people who enjoyed the changes that 4th Ed made. First Edition WoD had very minimal support for some of its lines (Geist, I’m looking at you) and it begs the question of whether the edition was complete enough to warrant moving on…or whether there is enough life left to provide a whole new edition. However, Onyx Path is a good example of edition wars done right: the new generation of game doesn’t invalidate the old one. Vampire: the Requiem has an awful lot going for it, as does Masquerade, that Blood and Smoke doesn’t do. They are not simply re-releasing all the old bloodlines and covenant books with new mechanics, and the Strix Chronicle provides a new facet to vampire antagonists that hasn’t been seen before. It doesn’t stop VII or Belial’s Brood being great bad guys, and it doesn’t remove the advantages of owning the first edition books.

Ultimately, everyone is going to have their favourite edition of D&D or WoD. What I’m glad to see these days is that the attitude is no longer out with the old, in with the new. It makes business sense to keep the old lines alive, and it enriches the hobby as people have a wider range of editions to choose from. The question becomes ‘how do you want to run your game?’, which can only be a good thing, in my opinion.

(Though the one thing I think is a shame is that 3rd Edition has fallen so far out of favour, and as a result some really good things like the Open Gaming Licence and the many, many spinoff settings and books that resulted, are forgotten. D20 Modern, Swashbuckling Adventures and the True20 system deserve to be remembered.)

For a thoughtful explanation of what Wizards of the Coast has been trying with Fifth Edition: this Guardian article