Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Ramp-Up Phase

My gaming life moves in phases. So far, the predominant phase has gone something like this:
  1. "The One Shot Phase." Where I host numerous one-shots for various systems throughout the year.
  2. "The Ramp-Up Phase." I eventually get tired of rotating casts and learning new systems, so I try to get a steady group together with an epic, long-term campaign.
  3. "The Failure Phase." The campaign starts, but usually stops soon after. Reasons are numerous, but it almost always comes back to me. I no longer like the system; the group falls apart and I can't put it back together; something happens in my personal/professional life and I no longer have enough time or the proper mindset to run. Whatever; it all falls apart.
  4. "The Regroup Phase." I usually leave RPGs for a couple of weeks/months, moving to board games or video games. The lack of human contact slowly creates a depressive front in me. I respond to this by returning to RPGs, even if it's just "one-shots so I can socialize." Then we start over again at "The One Shot Phase."
This has been the pattern of my gaming life for at least the past three years. Just looking back at all the entries in this blog, that pattern is crystal clear to me now. I want to change it, but I don't know how. I don't even know if I can.

Right now, I'm deep into The Ramp-Up Phase. I'm emailing and hosting meetups, scouting for people to get together for a couple of possible campaigns I'd like to run. I really, really want it to work this time. Of course, I said that last time. But I mean it this time! Of course, I meant it last time, too...

But sometimes it's the struggle and not the victory (or defeat) that matters. So I will keep trying to break out of my pattern, to skip The Failure Phase and go to the Regroup Phase only when the campaign I start is complete, and I inevitably want a break before doing it again. So for this year, here are some of my new strategies:
  1. I want to play a proven, established game. Typically, I get googley-eyed over whatever RPG has enthralled me at the moment, and I run with it, and only discover just a couple of weeks later that I'm no longer interested. This time, I'm only considering games that have been around for a long time, stuff that I've played, run, or read for several years now, so that even if "I'm not feeling the system anymore," I can at least rote my way through sessions.
  2. I'd like the campaign to be largely improvisational. I constantly talk about the importance of prep, and the reliance on improv only when necessary. I still believe that, but as it applies to me and this Ramp-Up Phase, I want a game/campaign where little to no prep is part of the game, so any prep I do end up doing is a bonus, rather than a necessity. Even in the case of running published adventures/campaigns, I'd like to be familiar enough with the game and my players that I can freestyle when I want to, then tie it back into the published material later.
  3. I want to play with my friends. The vast majority of my games are in public, and typically feature at least a few new faces every session. I love this, but for a long-term campaign, I want dedicated, motivated players who are as interested in seeing where the campaign goes as I am. I'll need their energy to keep motivated, myself.
  4. This is going to be the hardest one, but I want the campaign to be weekly. It's too easy to lose track of things in a biweekly campaign, too easy to lose momentum. By contrast, with a weekly game, a missed session here and there isn't that big of a deal. I know a lot of players...players I'd love to have at my table...cannot commit to that. I understand, and that pains me, but I need this to work, and this, I feel, is how it will work. It doesn't have to be the same time or the same place every week. It doesn't even need to be during the weekend. But it's gotta be weekly.  
So here's to hoping I'll avoid The Failure Phase this year!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Thoughts on Anarchy

Last week, I wrote a review of Shadowrun: Anarchy, publisher Catalyst's new "alternate ruleset" for Shadowrun. This is a blog addendum to that review based on my first playthough with the game, this last Sunday. My review of Anarchy can be found here.

For Sunday's game, I had four players. All four used the pregens: one was a shaman, one was a decker, one was a street samurai, the fourth was an "action archaeologist." The pregens for Anarchy are awesome, and do a really good job of both being playable and approachable while also providing precious hints about the world of Shadowrun, and material for player narrations. I highly recommend using pre-gens for one-shots in Anarchy, despite how straight-forward the character creation rules seem.

The run itself was more or less made up on the fly, by me. Inspired by one player's choice of the action archaeologist, I tasked him with creating an artifact to be the target of this session's run. Once he had something, I asked the decker player, an avid Shadowrun fan, to give me a megacorp that would conceivably be holding the artifact. We ended up with the legendary fragment of a wall in China being held by Aztechnology on display in a corporate museum. Coping the contract brief structure as presented in the corebook, I created three scenes, jotted down a quick list of tags, bookmarked the NPC entries for security guards and a couple of drones, and went to work.

I really appreciated how fast and easy run design was for Anarchy. To be fair, Shadowrun is a fairly easy game to make adventures for, anyway...a couple of rolls on the random tables in the back of the corebook, some bookmarks for relevant NPCs, and you're good to go...but the devil is always in the details, and many a Shadowrun adventure that I've ran (or attempted to run), have fallen apart under the many and varied systems and sub-systems that comprise SR's fifth edition rules. Anarchy had my back from the start, with a straight-forward, narrative-based system that empowered me to just keep the game moving rather than sweating the small stuff. That endorsement alone may be enough to convince any fence-sitters to take the plunge into Anarchy. 

Coming from a more-traditional RPG background, I was openly skeptical of Anarchy's shared narrative, the so-called "Cue System," but I did see potential. In practice, my assessment was spot-on. The player-run scenes were often awkward and sketchy, but when it worked, it worked really well. My main focus for the next time I run Anarchy will be to help direct the shared narratives better. For this session, I pretty much cut the players loose after describing the scene. Next time, I may make the players fully aware of a scene's tags, perhaps have some suggested ideas for narrations built on those tags, and maybe have some consequences (good and bad) ready to deploy, based on the player's narrations and their failures/successes on the dice. Like many "story-based" RPGs such as Fate Core, the cohesiveness of the narrative and the overall strength of the game lies in the players' hands as much as it does the GM (perhaps more so). This can be great if your group is up to the task, but if there are players at your table who'd rather BE in a story than TELL one, that can lead to problems. Nothing a good group can't overcome, mind you, but problems, nevertheless.

I have more thoughts on this, but I'm going to leave it here, for now. I look forward to my next game of Shadowrun: Anarchy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What's YOUR Domain?

As I get older and write more, I notice that certain genres and sub-genres speak to me. I call this gravitational pull "my Domain." The further away a story/game takes me from my Domain, the harder a time I have telling stories/playing games there. The closer they are to my Domain, the more natural and comfortable I feel.

So here's my Domain:

  • Suspense/Psychological thrillers, with or without supernatural/paranormal horror
  • The 90's
  • Investigative scenarios, with infrequent combat
  • Non-hero protagonists (i.e. no super-powers, advanced technology, or special training)
  • Fictional settings (not using real-life cities/locations)

I don't believe my Domain necessarily has anything to do with my personal preferences. The majority of movies I watch these days are sci-fi/fantasy/superhero films, yet none of the elements of those genres are anywhere near my Domain.

I actually think my Domain has more to do with my personal growth. I was in my teens during the 90s. Like most people, I was probably at my most emotionally intense in my teens, and all the connections I made at that time have stuck more persistently than anything before or since. Psych-thrillers were big back in the 90s: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. Single White Female. The Silence of the Lambs. I loved all of those films back then!

When I apply that preference to RPGs, I come up with the Palladium games (Rifts, Ninjas & Superspies), AD&D 2nd edition, the "Old" World of Darkness, and the 5th edition of Call of Cthulhu. I've been threatening to run a Palladium game for ages now, and the appeal is still there, despite how antiquated and down-right embarrassing that system is compared to the games of today!

I wonder if I'm alone here...not with my specific Domain, but with the very idea of Domains and their dominance over the storyteller. Stephen King is virtually inseparable from his Domain...supernatural horror, the 60s, coming of age tales, a little splash of survival stories...but what about other storytellers? Particularly GMs of role-playing games. Does every GM have a Domain they inevitably wander back to?

Or, perhaps more interestingly, has anyone successfully changed their Domain? I have tried repeatedly to integrate sci-fi and superheroes into my games, and the success has been minimal-to-non-existent. I'm finally just starting to accept that my Domain is my Domain. That doesn't mean I don't try and test myself every once and awhile, to try and push and challenge the borders of my Domain, but I haven't moved the needle much, as it were.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Nothin' To It But To Do It

One of the reasons I got tired of writing in this blog the first time around was that I got caught up in a very common problem, not just in RPGs but in all hobbies: I started talking more about and around games than actually playing them. This is an especially difficult problem in role-playing gaming because it's so easy to least, in theory.

You can't play sports all the time, so you talk about it. But all you need for a role-playing game are people. Thanks to the magic of the internet, finding at least three people to play an RPG with you is relatively easy. Any game you want to play, any time you want to play it. Live in a big, nerdy city like me (Washington D.C.), and your options increase exponentially. I run a game every Sunday. I post the game on on Monday, and usually have at least three players on board by Wednesday.

I get the appeal in talking over playing, though. Because even though playing an RPG seems easy, it's actually quite difficult, when you dig a little deeper. Running a game is taxing work. Either you're like me, and you spend entire weeks writing and prepping an adventure; or you wing it, requiring vast amounts of mental energy to improv a whole session on the spot. Some people seem to think that's easier. For them, maybe it is; me, not so much. Improving, for me, is like kung fu: I only use it when absolutely necessary. I'm not bad at it...I'm told I'm pretty good at it...but if I am indeed any good at it, it's because I don't do it unless I have to. Ironically, I feel like improvisational play is a little like multi-tasking, in the sense that you stay good at it by not doing it, so that when you do end up doing it, you give it the same thought and attention you would if it were prepared, rather than forming bad habits focused on making improv easier, rather than making the game better.

And then there's the whole social aspect. It can be tough, sometimes, putting on that game face and interacting with (sometimes) total strangers. I haven't always liked every person who's sat at my table. More often than not, they're not inherently bad people; I just don't click with them, or I'm not into what they're into. That's a prickly situation, and sure enough, I've rescheduled or even cancelled games when the "wrong" people RSVP. I'm not proud of that. But, as my mantra goes, Story First, and if the player isn't a good fit for the story, then I gotta do what I gotta do.

So for all these reasons, I get why so many RPG players like to just get on their chosen social media outlet and talk all this talk about games they want to run, or ideas they'd like to write up.

Unfortunately for us all, there is only one way to play a role-playing game, and that's to play a role-playing game. So whenever I find myself wanting to rant on someone's G+ post or write a new blog about some great idea I just had, I try and refocus that energy on working on adventures and getting groups together. Role-playing games as a hobby aren't just about pretending to be magical elves or exploring worlds that only exist in our minds. They're also about doing the work. Meeting the people. Putting it all together. That's the hobby.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Liquid Metal

Here's how I run a role-playing game: I have a defined, set story, with a beginning, middle, and end. The players are the protagonists. I start telling the story. The players don't do anything I expect them to do. I throw out the story and wing it the rest of the session.

That, more or less, is how I do it, every single time. No complaints yet. Everyone's happy. This is how I've done it for the past 20 years.

If you don't do it that way, that's fine. You do whatever works for you and your players. This is what works for me. The reason it works for me is, mainly, because it plays to my strengths. I am a storyteller, so I'm at my best when I'm, you know, telling stories. That doesn't mean "railroading." At least, not the way I do it. Railroading is when you invalidate the players' actions in order to tell your defined, set story. I don't do that. I meld the players' actions into the story, when possible. When not, I follow the players' lead, see where it takes them, and look for opportunities to meld their actions into the story. This isn't really the popular way of doing things these days. But it works for me, and it works for my players.

Of course, when I'm at my very best, my story isn't completely defined. It's got points A, B, and C, but I let the players draw the lines connecting them. One of my favorite adventures, one that I've run multiple times over the years, is a scenario I call "One Night in Innsmouth." In this adventure (I've run it on three different RPGs), the players choose one of four different reasons why they're going to Innsmouth. Then, after a few scenes of poking around, the sun goes down, the town starts crawling with Deep Ones, and the players are fighting for their lives to escape the town or make it to sunrise before they all go away. (I frame this adventure as an "unofficial sequel" to Lovecraft's classic story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth.") Those four different reasons, they each have their own particular details, but really the most important part of the process is this: which reason they chose determines where in Innsmouth they are when the Deep Ones come. That's it. The story is really just whatever happens while the players are trying not to get sacrificed to Cthulhu. So the story has a definite beginning (players arrive at Innsmouth for a reason), middle (sun goes down, Deep Ones everywhere, players trying to survive), and end (the players escape...or all die). But what happens exactly within the beginning, middle, and end of "One Night in Innsmouth" is all on the players.

Here's another one. I did an adventure for the Firefly RPG once that started, in TV show fashion, at the end. Each player's character was in a loaded, action-packed situation and they didn't know why: one character was dangling out of their ship while it flew through a canyon; another was in a crate full of peaches; another was holding the ship's pilot at gunpoint and forcing him to fly. I then played the Firefly TV show's theme, and after the theme, the adventure began with "earlier that day..." The rest of the adventure was just setting up events for the climax I "cold opened" with. Again: structured story, built around the players' actions. 

I call this approach to adventure design "liquid metal." Sturdy and tough, yet flexible and fluid. Like the T-1000 in Terminator 2. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Darmok and Jalad at Tonagra

When I was a little kid, one of my earliest memories was of my brother telling me stories as I went to bed. My older brother is a sick bastard, and would tell me stories about his two favorite things at the time: demonic possessions and Vietnam. But I didn't mind. I liked hearing the stories.

Even before role-playing games, I did quite a bit of oral storytelling as a kid. I remember my friend's brother (also named Ed), he wasn't allowed to watch the Friday the 13th movies. So I'd recite them to him, telling each one of them as if I were one of the survivors from the film. When I was around 10 years old, I created my own spin on the Smurfs...called the Busy Bodies...and came up with several episodes' worth of stories to tell my sister. And throughout middle school, a favorite at sleep overs was "The Girl Game," where my friend would tell me who they had a crush on, and I'd run a little impromptu RPG-ish adventure about that friend overcoming various obstacles to eventually be able to date that girl.

When I look back, I realize now that oral storytelling has since become one of the longest-running activities of my life. It hasn't been until recently that I've taken ownership over it. All my life, I've been trying to parlay my passion for oral storytelling into writing, to varying levels of success. But the truth is, I like oral storytelling more than any other form of storytelling. Mainly, because it's interactive. Even if you're not playing a role-playing game, reciting a story in person, directly to another person or group of people, is an intimate activity. It connects you to the listener. It allows you to infuse a story with your own personality. The emotional payoff, to me, is more valuable than any amount of acclaim or compensation, monetary or otherwise. Indeed, I'd even say storytelling is my main form of communication with my fellow human beings. I'm like one of those aliens in that episode of Star Trek (that's where the title of this entry is from).

So looked at in this light, I think it's obvious what my draw to role-playing games is. It's just unfortunate that more people don't do it. But then again, you do it everyday, right? You talk to someone, you tell them a story about your day, the person listening says "here's what I would have done...." That is a role-playing game. You likely do it every single day of your life. So the next time I announce a public meetup for a role-playing game, sign up!

Monday, September 12, 2016

My Thing with Mysteries

In the role-playing/story gaming hobby, the predominant genre is fantasy. This is mainly because of Dungeons & Dragons' influence, but the fantasy genre also has a number of characteristics desirable for role-playing: being able to hand-wave anything you don't understand as "magic", for example, or the genre's long distance from reality, which carries a lot of appeal to the escapist.

I, however, more often than not lean towards contemporary mystery/horror with my games. Why is that? There are a number of reasons:

1. Mysteries cater more to my playstyle. My games are very narrative-driven, based heavily on the ongoing back-and-forth between myself and my players. This can be a little difficult with more action-oriented genres. There's only so many ways you can say "I attack the orc with my axe."

2. Using a contemporary genre saves time for me to focus on the story. I don't need to go into detail on what a castle or abandoned tower or something looks like. If I say "you're in an abandoned building," every player at the table can conceive of their own abandoned building, and chances are it'll fit the ongoing narrative just fine. In a more action-oriented genre, the particulars become important because (presumably) there'll be some fighting going on, and the layout of the terrain can become a tactical consideration.

3. Mysteries and horror, more often than not, are stories of survival, which are very easy to "gamify." In the fantasy genre (again, mostly because of D&D), the players' characters are heroes, with expectations of becoming more hero-like, more powerful, and more prosperous as time goes on. Contrast to an ongoing Call of Cthulhu game, where the players are just happy to be alive after so many sessions. There are indeed fantasy games with a shift towards survival; however, the classic idea of the fantasy genre still tends to be about gaining power rather than merely staying alive. This may make for fun games, but from my experience it can make fairly boring stories.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Different: A Storygame of Alien Horror

I mentioned before that if I can't find a game that can help me tell the story I want to tell, then I'll make my own. Different is the latest example of that.

The story of Different is this: you are a high school student, and you're noticing someone acting a little, well, different. From this setup, you find yourself hip-deep in an alien abduction conspiracy. The particular details of Different change with each telling. Last session, the game took place in the 80's; next session will be in the 90's. In the previous session, the aliens were survivors of a crash landing and were looking to manipulate humans to help them repair their ship. That...won't be the case this time.

One thing I struggled with in making this game was in how "high schooley" I wanted it to be. Everyone is familiar with the tropes and stereotypes of a high school story, and I didn't know how much of that I wanted in this story. The answer I came to: not that much. The story is not so much about being a high school student, as it is about being a powerless person in the face of an unknown terror. This is a horror story, not a coming of age tale or a romantic comedy. So while the rules of my game were designed from the ground up for players to play as high school students, the whole high school bit is fairly transparent. On the upside, this makes the system a little easier to adapt for any future stories I want to tell...

The game I've developed to tell this story is very basic. As I mentioned in my entry yesterday, the sole purpose of rules in any game I run is to help shape the story in unpredictable ways.I'm not looking to simulate reality; I'm not even looking to simulate storytelling. I'm looking to actually tell a story, with the players' participation. The rules are there to keep us both on our toes, creatively. If you want to see what I came up with, the link to the 4-page game I wrote is right here.

That line about "simulating storytelling" is a subtle, love/hate jab at most of the storytelling games that are out today. In looking for games to write this story, I took long, hard looks at the hottest storygames out right now: Apocalypse Engine, Gumshoe, Fate Core. Those are all great games, but even those rules-light, narrative driven games can trip on themselves a bit. Determining what is or isn't an aspect, tasking players with co-running the narrative, figuring out what moves each player is doing or not doing....I've struggled with all of that, on occasion, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. I wanted a game that was light and breezy, but that still more or less followed the age-old traditional method of role-playing games: you are your character. I am everything else. I have a story, complete with a beginning, middle, and end, and your character is the protagonist of that story. Your actions and your decisions will shape that story, and ultimately, the conclusion of it.

If you have any questions or comments about Different, please share below!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Moving/Judgement Day

Some time back, a friend of mine told me a story about her disastrous encounter with a moving company. I was SO mad for her! Is there ANYTHING worse on God's green earth than moving? It's hell, pure and simple, regardless of where you're going, why you're going there, or how much help you have. And so anything that makes it more aggravating or stressful is just salt in the wound. And this friend of mine, she got a whole load of salt from this moving company.

I channeled that frustration into a Shadowrun adventure. The client, Mr. Johnson, just recently moved from Seattle to Hong Kong for a new job with his megacorp. The moving company, a Triad front, had recklessly damaged and stolen several things from Mr. Johnson when they transported his stuff. Mr. Johnson had money and could easily replace most of those things, but he was so angry at the moving company for their incompetence and the blase manner in which they regarded him, he hires the shadowrunners for revenge. Their mission: raise hell at the moving company's office, any which way they could. Bonus if they could get any of the client's missing stuff back.

As I sat down to play this adventure, once the concept was made clear, my friend, who is...ahem...really into Shadowrun....he immediately points out all the problems with this setup. Something about how the megacorps should have oversaw the whole move or something. At first I was frustrated with know, suspension of disbelief, all that shit....but then I realized he wasn't the problem. I was. In my zealousness to tell this story, I ignored all the story bits that Shadowrun provides for you. It is the intent of the game to use all that stuff. Sure, you can ignore it, but why are you playing Shadowrun, then? I wasn't really interested in telling a Shadowrun story. I was interested in telling a story about a corrupt moving company getting its comeuppance. I can tell that story with Shadowrun, but if I do, then I am obligated to use Shadowrun's stuff for it. And that's perfectly fine...there's some great stuff in Shadowrun...but I don't want to read a role-playing game. I want to play one. 

If I were to try and play that mission again, I'd change it so the corp in question is small (not a megacorp) and thus the Johnson had to fend for himself for the relocation. Then I'd make the moving company have some Triad ties to that very not-mega corp, to establish why such a shitty moving company was even contacted in the first place. The moving company and the corp alike would be counting on Mr. Johnson being more worried about the new job in a new city to worry that his shit got busted going across the Pacific Ocean, and that he was getting paid enough to start anew. What they weren't counting on was Mr. Johnson being so attached to that shit that he'd hire shadowrunners to extract a little payback...and, in the process, they would (presumably) discover the link between them, and the ensuing scandal would actually destroy both the moving company and the corp. Mr. Johnson would be ruining his own future by not being able to let go of what would've been, in the grand scheme of things, a minor setback.

Now that is a story. But notice how there's nothing Shadowrun-ey about it. I could add some Shadowrun elements...maybe the corp's business is in selling magic reagents, or maybe the Mr. Johnson is an ork and part of the reason he took the job was to evade the meta-racial tension in Seattle...but the story! The story is about a man who extracts revenge on a moving company. All of that shit is not about that story. So I could add it, but in reality it would take away from, not add to, the story.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Money Ruins Everything

Every idea you see in this blog, Dear Reader, is yours to do with as you please. I am not interested in royalties, attribution, or publishing deals. Steal every single word from this blog and use it as your own. I do not care. I'd appreciate a little hat-tip, but it is not at all necessary.

I'm not interested in profiting off of role-playing games because I love them too much. I want to continue to love them. And if money starts getting placed on the table, I will stop loving them.

I must stress, because it's the Internet, that what I'm saying here might not be what you're feeling. And that's fine. But here's what I'm saying: Money Ruins Everything. I don't tell stories for money. I don't play RPGs for money. I do it because, well, that's just what I do. If I start getting paid for it, then I'm no longer doing it for that reason. I'm doing it to get paid. And if I'm not doing it solely because I want to, then the story suffers. And the story always comes first. I didn't used to feel this way. But I'm older and wiser now.

Can I have it both ways? In theory, yes. In practice, no, because if I'm getting paid, I can't quit. If a story isn't panning out how I'd like it to, or I want to do something else, "what about the money?" becomes a question that needs to be answered. And, unfortunately, "fuck the money" is not always a viable answer.

I've discovered something very important about myself: I hate working. Not the normal "is it Friday yet?" contempt for work, but an actual, legitimately-hostile disposition towards the doing of things motivated not by my own desires. If I'm doing a Thing for any reason other than "because I want to," then I automatically hate that Thing. I am neither proud nor ashamed of this. It's just who I am. I could be a professional blowjob tester, and I promise you, around day 90 or so, I'd be like "Mannnnnn...LOOK at all these goddamn blowjobs I have to receive! Is it Friday yet?"

Going back to RPGs, this is why I've never been able to fully commit to most campaigns. Because at some point, the ongoing campaign stops being something I want to do and starts being something I and my players committed to doing. At that point, the hate sets in. And I don't hate RPGs; I love them. So anything that makes me hate something I love is not worth doing. That's why I don't plan on running any long-term campaigns anymore, and that's why I'll never accept a dime for anything RPG-related I do.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Story First

I stopped playing RPGs for a few months. I got burned-out. But now, I'm back.

This happens from time to time. I know I'm not the only one. Eventually, you get tired of a Thing, so you step away from the Thing to get some perspective. Then, you either come back, or you don't. If you don't, it's because you're no longer into the Thing. If you do come back, it's because you love that Thing and you're ready to make it work again. That is me.

Here's the perspective I have gained from this self-imposed exodus: Story First. Not the rules. Not the game. Hell; not even myself or the players. When I am running a game, the number one priority is to tell a good story. That's all. If I want to tell a good story and I can't find a system that will do it, then I make up my own.

Of course, this is the internet, and I am writing with at least a hypothetical audience in mind, so I need to clarify. First of all, "Story First" is my motto, but it's not necessarily yours. Why Story First matters to me is because storytelling is what I do. I've played role-playing games for over 20 years now. I have two degrees in creative writing, fiction and non-fiction. So I have the talent, the education, the experience, and most importantly, a passion for storytelling. I may or may not be the best storyteller around, but I do know this: I am better at storytelling than anything else I do. So it makes sense for me to put an RPG into the perspective of telling a story. An interactive, orally-recited story, with rules that introduce swerves to the story, but a story, nevertheless. That may not be where you're coming from. That's fine.

To me, everything else is a distraction from putting the Story First, so this time around, I am going to keep that in mind. You're not going to see anymore blog entries about rules discussions, or what's the best game for this or that. I just don't care about that shit anymore. Whatever you see in this blog from here on out will be about one thing only: telling good stories, typically within a role-playing game. But a lot of the stuff I say here will probably apply to any storytelling medium. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Mystery Map

Since the inception of the hobby, the dungeon has been roughly the closest thing any GM's ever had to a "script." The GM has this map, the GM knows where the party is on this map, the GM tells the party where they can go from the room they're in, the party chooses a direction, the GM checks the notes for the map to see what's waiting for them in the room they moved into, and so on. It's very straight-forward and intuitive. I daresay it's where a lot of the so-called "OSR movement" gets their strength; the dungeon is a time-honored, effective tradition for adventure creation.

That's all well and good for a hack-and-slash dungeon adventure, but what about a murder mystery? How can a GM prepare that?

Simple: make a dungeon. Or, as I call them, a mystery map. 

A Mystery Map is the exact same thing as a dungeon, except instead of being rooms, monsters, and treasure, it's scenes, witnesses, and clues. I'm not the first person to come up with this, but here's my interpretation of it. Here's one I did up real quick to use as an example:

In this sample adventure, the PCs are looking into someone...we'll call him Mr. Victim...who's been mauled to death by a pack of wolves in rural Michigan. This seems highly unusual; not completely bizarre, as there's a death or two every season, but this particular mauling was along a relatively well-used hiking trail and it's very unusual to have an entire pack of wolves maul someone that close to civilization. Furthermore, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have tagged hundreds of wolves in the area and are usually very good at keeping the population to a manageable level.

The map starts at the bottom. That "S" in the box stands for "Start," as in, the first scene of the mystery. What exactly that is would be customized for the PC group; if they're cops, maybe they're in a briefing room; if they're private detectives, maybe a member of the victim's family goes to their office to hire them, etc. In the start "room," the PCs learn the nature of the mystery: in this case, they learn some dude got mauled by a pack of wolves in the woods.

The lines connecting to other boxes are leads, or clues, if you will. Here, I have three lines connecting to three other boxes. The line to the left leads to a scene involving the DNR, if the PCs decide to check with them about the unusual wolf activity. You see no other lines connect to that box; this means this "room" is a dead-end. The players may get some nice supplementary info, or maybe a chance to do some role-playing, but they'll find nothing directly at the DNR scene that will move the plot forward. The line to the right is a lead the PCs follow if they decide to do some digging on the victim himself. The line in the middle (which I forgot to write any notes on!) is if the players decide to directly visit the crime scene, which according to TV is the place that most detectives start their investigations. (on a revision, I may even consider starting the adventure at the crime scene, Law & Order style, since it's such an obvious move).

From that "room" on the bottom right, the players will, among other things, discover an important clue that moves the mystery forward: Mr. Victim is a convicted drug dealer. This will pique the PC's curiosity and have them thinking that perhaps Mr. Victim is not a victim of circumstance, but possibly to a drug deal gone bad? So perhaps searching his home will yield some more clues.

Notice that, unlike a literal dungeon, the players don't of course have to backtrack through the Mystery Map to get somewhere else. After discovering the clue about Mr. Victim's past, they don't have to go back to the first scene of the adventure before they can move forward. However, this can give a GM an idea on pacing and time. If the players have to "backtrack" through several previous scenes, then perhaps several hours or even days pass before the players can get to where they're headed. This can be a logistical issue (perhaps Mr. Victim lives hundreds of miles away?) or just a queue for the GM to throw out some random encounters (a sideplot, some complication of a PCs past crops up, etc.). A GM doesn't have to, of course; that's just an option, a way to "read the script," if you will.

Also notice that the crime scene has only one lead, directly to Mr. Victim's house. Off the top of my head, that means that the PCs will find some evidence the police did not...some meth hidden in a tree stump, perhaps. This sends the PCs to the same scene, but it now introduced a scene in between.

I think you get the idea, so I'll just gloss over the rest of the map; from Mr. Victim's house, we find two more leads; the name of one of his customers (we'll call her Ms. Wolf), and the name of his supplier (we'll call him Mr. Herring). Following Mr. Herring brings you to a scene at the casino where he works; there, the PCs discover the location of Mr. Herring's lab where his meth is produced. Going there reveals that the lab has burned down, written off as a meth explosion by the police, who still haven't figured out the connection between Mr. Victim and this lab. The PCs, with their clues, are able to put together (either from investigating the lab itself, or by pursuing Ms. Wolf) that Ms. Wolf was in fact the reason behind the explosion. Pursuing her (literally, perhaps, with a chase scene) brings us to "F", the Final scene: Ms. Wolf is a werewolf, and she and her pack are waging a vigilante war against the drug trade in the region. The adventure ends with a cliffhanger decision: now that the PCs know a pack of werewolves are fighting drug dealers in the region, what are they going to do about it? I'd listen to the discussion and prepare the next Mystery Map off of what I think they will do next.

So there you have it. As you can see, I pulled a lot of this right out of my ass as I was writing this post. Having the structure of the Mystery Map allows me to do this. I can see the key scenes of the adventure, see where I need to place those core clues to get the group from scene A to scene B, and I can also see places where I can stick in secondary/bonus scenes that enrich, endanger, or perplex the group.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Feelz

This isn't about what you think it's going to be about. This blog entry ain't about "feelings." It's about when a thing feels right. It's about following your gut to where it really wants to go.

I am scheduling a game of Cyberpunk for next Sunday. Cyberpunk came out in 1990. There is a third edition, released in 2005, but it looks like booty so I'm going back to the second edition.

The question that comes up is, why play a 20+ year old cyberpunk game? Why not play Tech Noir, or Shadowrun? The answer is simple: Cyberpunk feels right.

One of the hardest things about GMing is learning when to trust your gut. In nearly 30 years of playing RPGs I still struggle with it. Those fucking Shoulds enter my head. You should play a game more relevant. You should play something more people recognize and can get behind.

But you know what else I should do? I should play whatever the fuck I want. I should play to my passion. Passion's contagious, as we all know. If I have a fire for Cyberpunk, someone's gonna wanna see where it goes. And my gut tells me it's going to go to a cool fuckin' place.

So how am I going to deal with the obsolete elements of Cyberpunk? A future without wifi? A future without Facebook? That's simple: I'm not. I'm not aiming for contemporary realism in this game. I'm aiming for the future of the 90s, not the future of the 20-teens. If you want to see how my Cyberpunk game is going to look, go watch Robocop (preferably the original, but the remake is not too far off the mark, either). Go watch Total Recall. Go watch Blade Runner. These are the stories I'm basing this game's future on. This is a long, waggly middle-finger to transhumanism and the "realistic" future that has nearly killed this genre with its lofty idealism and hard-to-understand technologies.

Now don't get me wrong: I love transhuman shit, and I've written at length about how cool I think Eclipse Phase is. But what feels right to me is cyberpunk. So that's what I'm shooting for. And I think it's going to be awesome.

Friday, March 11, 2016

How to Control Pace.

You like that period I threw up there? I'm gonna say about 7 out of 10 of you read that title differently because of the period at the end. Knowing how to change someone's thought process, even for a fraction of a second, is pace control. And that is a VERY valuable skill to have in the bold and dynamic world of tabletop gaming. Whether you're playing Dungeons & Dragons or Pokemon, knowing how quickly or slowly things move relative to each other...and knowing how to adjust that an essential skill for tabletop gamers to have.

Unfortunately, pacing is such a bold and dynamic variable that it is very, very hard to teach. At least, from my experience. I'm going to write about two little tricks I do. These things may or may not work for you. "Your mileage may vary," as they say.

The first thing I do is take a ten minute break every sixty minutes of play. During that break, I take a little walk, I think about what's happened, and I think about what I want to do next. Guided by my agenda, I typically come up with a solid enough foundation to build the next sixty minutes of play on.

The second thing I do is intentionally take as long as possible to do something. Not everything, of course. Just whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed or that the game is running away from me. I don't normally look up rules in the middle of play, for example. But if I feel like the pace is going faster than I'd like, suddenly I give a damn about rules and start looking them up, mid-game. This is a tricky little trick because many people are going to read this and think I'm saying do fucking EVERYTHING as slowly as possible, and of course I don't mean that. I mean, a tool I have at my disposal for controlling the pace of play is to intentionally make an effort to think a thing through, rather than throwing out the first thing I can think of. A lot of you probably do this instinctively. That's an awesome gift to have, gov, and I'm jealous if you do! I don't think I have it since I have to think about it a lot to get there. 30 years, in fact.

Life's Agenda

One of the coolest things that has come from the "Powered by the Apocalypse" revolution is the idea of the GM keeping an agenda. The agenda is, essentially, a set of not mechanical rules but a set of theoretical moves. Everything you say and do at the table (and away from the table, too) exists to accomplish your agenda. Things that aren’t on this list aren’t your goals.

GMs, do this for EVERY FUCKING RPG YOU RUN. Here's my agenda when running Shadowrun:

1. Represent the street.
2. EVERYTHING is corporate.
3. There are haves, and there are have-nots.

See what I did there? I took the agenda one step further and injected some good ol' fashioned literary theme in there. 

I have an agenda for every game I run. Here's one for Edge of the Empire:

1. The Galactic Civil War is an opportunity. 
2. EVERYTHING is Light and Dark...but everything can change sides.
3. Everybody's got a boss.

I'm not going to share any more because I don't want my players to discover the agenda for their games. Afterall, another one of the coolest ideas Apocalypse World and its brethren have taught us is "never speak the name of your move." Or, in this case, agenda.


This Sunday, I'm starting True North, a campaign for Chronicles of Darkness. The six-episode campaign takes place in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a place very special to my heart. I grew up there.

To me, the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) is a lonely place. The largest city, Marquette, has a population of about 20,000. The rest of the U.P.'s population of 311,000 people is spread across over 16,000 square miles of forest. To put it in perspective, the U.P. is about 30% of Michigan, but contains only 3% of its population.

You feel that, growing up. You definitely see it when you enter the military and see how vast the rest of the fucking world is compared to where you grew up. It changes your perspective.

But I'm human, and they say the most traumatic thing every human being goes through is childhood, so there's that. I still carry with me the trauma of growing up in that lonely, open forest. And now, I've found a way to exercise that trauma: in a campaign for a horror role-playing game. How fucking therapeutic does that sound?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Our Exciting World

When I was younger, I hated the real world. I resented it, thought of it as bland and boring. How could any real-life location match the sand dunes of Tatooine? How could any of our petty conflicts match the War of the Ring? I was young and I was naive.

Now I'm older, and amazingly I'm starting to go in the opposite direction. I'm currently reading Horror on the Orient Express, a massive campaign for Call of Cthulhu. It takes place in 1923, and has the players solving a mystery throughout Europe, starting in London and ending in Constantinople. Young Ed would have immediately written this whole adventure off as a snooze fest. But present-day Ed is enjoying the hell out of it. There is so much flavor, so much history, so much setting in this campaign! 

And then I think about the rest of the world. I think about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the World Wars, and the Wild West. I think of the Great Depression and feudal Japan. The history of the world is ripe for adventure. Now, I wonder why so much time and energy is spent on fantasy when real history has so much to offer!

When I think of resistance to playing a game set in history, my first thought is about historical accuracy. It's easy to make up a fancy little history for a bunch of pointy-eared elves that never actually existed, but it's harder to, say, get the details right on 1920's era French socialists. My plan for this whenever I get a historical game to the table is the same as for any fantasy setting; I'll do some research, give it my best shot, and bullshit my way through the stuff I don't know. When it comes to RPGs, it's the adventure that's the thing, not historical accuracy. As long as I keep the story moving and the dice rolling, I doubt anyone's going to care much if I properly pronounced some French landmark (and if they do, I probably don't want them at my table, anyway).

Branching off that point about historical accuracy, I think a lot of GMs may have this perception of a lack of freedom in designing an adventure in a historical time period. But to that I say the same thing I said at the end of the last paragraph: keep the story moving, keep the game flowing, and no one should care all that much. It's the same with movies, right? 

Another apprehension some may have is not knowing what a certain historical period looked or felt like. It's easy to look at some pictures of dwarves and castles and just have an idea of what life must be like in that particular fantasy world, but what was London in 1923 like? What does a street corner look like in Constantinople? To that, I offer the pragmatic answer: it looks just like it looks now. That's all. Unless you have evidence to support otherwise, just visualize the world you know, or at the very least, the world you conceive of. If I say your party is in a market in downtown Constantinople, just picture a market. It doesn't have to look or feel any different than any other place. It probably does, of course, but if you don't know and I don't know, then who cares? The point is, I don't think we should let our ignorance of a sense of place prevent us from exploring that place in our minds. 

And, in the rare instance when you have someone at the table who's been to Constantinople  (now known as Istanbul)? Use that person's knowledge! Put them on the spot, tell them to describe to the table what a market looks like. If they don't know, then you're no worse off.

Using history in today's games is especially fun now thanks to the Internet. As I read Horror on the Orient Express, I'm constantly Googling references made to all kinds of historical stuff. In game, if the players end up jumping off the page and exploring some part of Europe or Asia or whatever that you're not prepared for, call a quick ten minute break and whip out your smartphone. Jot down some notes, and keep going!

The last point I'll bring up is, to me, the hardest: cultural sensitivity. World history has not been kind to many an ethnicity. There are several options for dealing with this, but I think the important thing is to communicate very clearly with any players who may be affected by this and work together on what you're going to do. In my Cthulhu games, I've been lucky enough to have several female gamers. Rather than deal with the sexism that was inherent to the 20's, I tend to conveniently just ignore it. This doesn't really seem to affect anything, in game. In fact, the only time I've ever brought race into a game is when a player was being coerced by a cultist to kidnap people for a human sacrifice: the cultist suggested gathering black people, since they wouldn't be noticed as much if they went missing. I did this on purpose to tip the player off that who he was dealing with was a bad person, since he didn't seem to be getting it from some of the other clues I dropped earlier in the adventure. Nothing says "clearly evil" like a racist NPC!

Anyways, I'm not saying I've become a history buff now or anything. I'm just saying that I'm giving world history a chance, and I'm finding it rather interesting. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Going to War on Going to War

"War. War never changes." 

So goes the famous line from Fallout. It's probably one of the most paradoxical lines I can think of. On the one hand, yes, war never does change. People die. Homes burn. Refugees flee for safer ground. Economies plunge as governments support the war effort. Weapons manufacturers, mercenaries, and smugglers make fortunes.

But, on the other side, war has changed. Three centuries ago, soldiers stood in formations across a field from each other and methodically fired muskets until one side broke ranks. Then, in World War II, we had paratroopers dropping behind enemy lines, snipers killing from hundreds and hundreds of yards away, and land mines that could kill people just for stepping in the wrong place. Then, in Vietnam, we had planes and helicopters dropping liquid fire on acres of jungle, sometimes without a clear idea of where the enemy was. Today, we have drones...unmanned aircraft...dropping bombs on targets thousands of miles away from anything even remotely resembling a "front line." People are still dying. Homes are still burning. That hasn't changed. It's just gotten easier.

War has gotten so easy to wage in our modern day that we don't even bother declaring it on people anymore. Got a drug problem? Declare a war on it! Got a terror problem? Declare a war on it! Upset that a Christmas tree isn't being planted in the town square? A war is being waged! Women not getting paid equally? They are at war!

I'm sick and tired of guns because they make war easy. I'm also sick and tired of war because it makes conflict easy. In hundreds of years, diplomacy is still hard as hell. Peace is still hard as hell. Maybe if all that hard work and innovation went into peace instead of war, there'd be less war. Some say it's human nature to destroy ourselves (specifically, Arnold said it in Terminator 2). Maybe we should show true dominance, true control over our fates, by ascending our destructive natures and working on peace instead of war.

I'm against guns and I'm against war, but notice I'm not against violence. I like boxing. I like MMA. I like professional wrestling. I played Witcher III last night and cut up some drowners with my enchanted silver sword. Violence is a painful part of life, but it is, indeed, a part of life. But violence isn't war. That's the difference. Violence can hurt someone, but it doesn't necessary kill anyone. Violence can shatter a home, but it doesn't burn it down. Violence is personal. Violence is intimate.

So I'm pro-violence but anti-war. I'm pro beating someone with fists but anti shooting someone with a gun. I'm pro lightsaber but anti-Star Wars. Yes, I know this is confusing. I barely understand it myself.

Monday, January 11, 2016


I turned 37 on Saturday. I'm definitely not a child anymore, but I'm still considered quite young, for adult standards. It doesn't hurt that I'm currently separated and childless, either. And I rent in apartment in Alexandria. So I'm single, childless, and I don't own a home. I also don't own a car. Or a pet.

I know, from a certain point of view it can look cold and lonely. But I'm actually really, really excited. Because this remarkable lack of responsibility I have in my life means I am able to do one thing really easily, and really well: travel.

I've never considered myself the traveling type. I'm a sedentary dude. You know, gaming and shit. I don't need to go anywhere to play Xbox, you know? But here's the thing I've discovered upon turning 37: the more shit you can tie together, the better EVERYTHING is. You can play, say, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, and have a great time with it...but imagine how that game must feel after spending a few weeks in London! I wouldn't know, as I haven't been..yet. But I imagine it's pretty bad-ass.

On the roleplaying side is where it really pays off. I just picked up Horror on the Orient Express, the sprawling, epic adventure for Call of Cthulhu (which, btw, won the Ennie this year for best adventure). As I was reading the intro, I thought "damn, this would be cool to actually just DO." And then I did a little Google, and guess what? The Orient Express STILL exists. I'm just a passport and and about a week of leave away from doing it damn near ANY time I want. And not only could I have the experience of a lifetime...I could get some awesome research in for running that adventure, too.

How 'bout Tokaido? Haven't played it yet, hear it's a great board game....and I also hear the 300-mile journey in Japan for which the game is inspired from is pretty epic, too. Then there's Fury of Dracula, Letters from Whitechapel...plenty of places on this planet to explore to get the most out of some of my favorite gaming experiences. How awesome is that?

But for now, I've gotta start small. I live in the capitol city of the United States, and I've seen barely a tenth of the stuff travelers pay thousands to see every year. So I'm going to hit up some landmarks here in D.C. Then, I'm going to take my first train ride...the AMTRAK from Union Station in New York City. At some point, I'll hit Boston and Philadelphia, too. Those are all inexpensive destinations for me that don't even require a passport. Then, by the end of this year, I've got a passport, I've got my debt paid down, and I've got some leave at work accrued. THAT's when the real travels begin...

Thursday, January 7, 2016

My Thing with the Apocalypse

Zombies or no, I loves me a good post apocalypse story. Why? Let me count the ways:

1. Post apocalypse stories are often about second chances. I think the ultimate prize for any human being, the real Holy Grail, is a second chance at life. A lot of post apocalypse stories, whether intentional or not, are about just that. What would YOU do if you woke up tomorrow and everything you knew was gone, your life was a total tabula rasa, and you were constrained only by your imagination and what you are physically capable of doing? You ask me that question ten times, and I'd probably give you ten different answers. That's the power of a post-apoc story. They explore those different answers.

2. Post apoc stories are, by their very nature, politically correct. Blacks, Latinos, women, Asians, gays...they all have certain periods of time that aren't so hot for them, historically. But the apocalypse isn't the past; it's the future. A dire, bleak future where survival is the most anyone can hope for. And when the main goal is survival, who the FUCK cares what color your skin is? Yes, of course, there are still issues like that in post-apoc stories. But those issues are more clear-cut because of the whole "survival is what matters" thing. This is, really, a trait of all science fiction stories, but the apocalypse just makes it darker...and thus, in some ways, clearer.

3. There's a blend of the weird and the normal. Real wonder...the stuff that really captures hearts and minds...masterfully blends the normal with the not-normal. This is why Harry Potter is huge. This is why urban fantasy is huge. This is why superheroes are huge. Star Wars, as it often is, is the exception that proves the rule. But the apocalypse, however, is no exception, and thus apocalypses that blend what we know with what we don't know tend to be easier to digest, and thus easier to enjoy as a story. Look at the love Fallout 4's been getting. And how huge Mad Max: Fury Road was last year. The apocalypse is a harder sell because it's dirtier, darker, nastier...but that's kinda why I like it. Because life, for many, is dirty, dark, and nasty. And a story that parallels life has a higher chance of connecting with its audience.

4. The apocalypse makes normal life more interesting. This is the other side of the coin to point number three, and it's also where zombie apocalypses really intersect with me. A supermarket in Fallout 4 feels like a dungeon in D&D. Both are mazes full of treasure and danger. A baseball bat can be a weapon of justice, just as assuredly as a sword in a fantasy setting or a ray gun in a pulp sci-fi setting. A can of beans can be just as life-giving as a healing potion or a nano-bot loaded medkit. I don't need to describe what some fancy sci-fi flying car looks an apocalypse, the vehicles are the same vehicles you can see out the window. Just in worse shape.

5. The apocalypse teaches us compassion and humanity. Typically one of the first themes to emerge out of any apocalyptic/survival scenario is "live together, or die alone." No one human being is an island. Everyone knows this, but some (such as myself) take it for granted. And a story about survival in an apocalypse helps reinforce this vital lesson about being human. For all of my sound and fury, I fundamentally care about people and I try to harvest as much compassion for my fellow human being as I can. Sometimes, to appreciate the light, you gotta go real dark.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

I'm Back, Apparently

I think, after this long hiatus, I'm finally ready to resume the frequent navel-gazing that is this blog.

Several months ago, I wrote about my (then) new prescription for adderall. It was supposed to refine my ability to focus and somehow transform me from a game whore, fluttering about from game to game, to a highly-specialized, campaign driven, long-game playing gamer.

That did not happen. At least, not in the way I thought it would. I did end up running my D&D campaign longer than my Firefly one, but I let it fizzle, like all the rest. I'm not saying it's over, mind you, but the ideal I held before of weekly games with recurring characters and solid groups has fallen by the wayside. The adderall does most certainly help, but it hasn't changed who I am, fundamentally.

So now I've come to realize that it is not the drugs or the brain chemicals or the whatever that I want to change, but rather, my own attitude. I no longer think of my game-fluttering as a weakness. Rather; I think of it as a strength I don't fully yet understand.

And that brings me to this week. This Saturday, I have a few friends coming over for some gaming. I've already changed the planned game once (from D&D to board games) but now I'm thinking about going back to an RPG. Truth be told, I want to run an RPG, but I don't know what, and with every hour I procrastinate, the options narrow. The only thing I know for sure about any RPG I run is that I want it to STRICTLY be a one-shot, with a beginning, middle, and end that ties up that Saturday afternoon. No follow-up sessions, no cliffhangers, no stretching it into two-or-three and DONE. To that end, the game shall inevitably need either swift character generation or a wide variety of pre-gens to choose from.

I also know I want off the whole "fiction simulator" bandwagon. I cringe now whenever I open an RPG and its big hook is "your characters are heroes in an amazing story that you all tell around the fucking table!" (I added the F-bomb, it felt right). I'm not looking for a hardcore simulation of reality, but I want a game that recognizes and accepts the idea that it's a GAME, and not just grown-up make believe. Yes, almost all RPGs have a story in their center, and yes, that story is almost entirely-driven by the characters, but I guess I'm old school because I look at the story as a byproduct of a good game, and not necessarily the whole reason for the season. We did some pretty epic storytelling in both my previous campaigns, but neither game was about the story; story is just what happened while the players were rolling dice and trying to solve problems.

Anyways, I've rifled through about a dozen games so far (including a few I just bought this morning, taking advantage of DriveThru's "New Year, New RPG" sale), and I've found some very interesting candidates, but nothing that's really gotten me excited, yet.

Still, though, I've got a few other avenues to explore, and if all else fails, I do have some kick-ass board games so I wouldn't consider the day a loss, in any event. We'll just see where the dice fall...

Of all the games I've rifled through so far, I'm most excited about this one. But am I excited enough???

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Little Less Conversation

How about, instead of posting another move or playbook, we actually just start a game on G+?
Play by post gaming. Play by email. Play by forum. They're not as good as the real thing. Few deny this. I get it.

But you know what those formats are better than? Talking about RPGs.

Over the past few months, I've grown disillusioned with the massive amount of shit-talking that goes on when it comes to the hobby. The internet is fucking clogged with "Here are some untested hacks/rules I wrote while I was bored;" "Here is an adventure idea. Not an actual adventure, mind you, just an idea;" "Here's my opinion on Some Game;" "Here's my opinion on another game; "Here's a link to another discussion about another game."

Why are we doing this? If we love RPGs so much, why are we talking about them so much when we could be actually playing them? The advantage to having a sedentary hobby is you can do it almost anywhere you can just sit. And you sit in front of a computer, right? If you can type enough lines to tell the internet what you think of something, don't you have all the tools you need to just play something?

Again, I totally understand that play-by-post is a different animal. Again, I understand that people who like RPGs face-to-face may have no interest in playing them electronically.  I'm not talking to those people. I'm talking to the people who spend more time and effort and emotional investment writing G+ posts, forum posts, or (fuck it) blog posts than they do playing these games they supposedly love.

Yeah, that's right. Blog posts. I'll go ahead and put myself on blast, here. Though, in my defense, part of the reason the post frequency in this blog has gone down so sharply is because I've been funneling my passion for gaming more into actual gaming than just writing about it.

And given that, I know, it's hard work. It's not easy. It's much easier to just bullshit about RPGs than to play them. That's always been our problem, hasn't it? So much work, and sometimes there's so little payoff. But that payoff, when it's there? It's the stuff of life, ain't it? It makes friendships. Sometimes it even makes families. And that's why we put up with it.

What I'm asking now, Dear Reader, is to take it a step further. Bring the fight to the enemy (the enemy, in this metaphor, is "not playing a role-playing game right this moment.") I'm going to try and do the same. I may start up a play-by-post thing soon. Way, way back in 2013, I briefly began a play-by-tweet Dungeon World game. I had a lot of fun with it, but it eventually collapsed under the weight of Life. That happens. It's okay. I'm going to try it again. I encourage you to do the same.

My Own Loser Path

"If you're a Sym main, please exit the stream," was the description yesterday of one of the Overwatch Twitch streams I follow....