RPG-a-Day 2018


“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Good lord, I missed it again. There’s an August every year, you’d think it would have stopped being a surprise by now…

1. What do you love about RPGs?

They’re co-operative, they liberate the imagination, and they allow you to experiment with being different people. What if you were the best – or worst – possible version of yourself? What if you could do whatever you want? What if you were an honest-to-Ghod hero for a change? What would that be like?

2. What do you look for in an RPG?

Simplicity, elegance, completeness. The complexity should come from the story, not the game itself, which should be simple enough not to get in the way; the rules should have elegance in the mathematical sense, and cover everything you need for that genre or style of play.

3. What gives a game staying power?

It must be fun. It must cater for a wide range of play styles. It must liberate the imagination rather than constrain it. It must be simple enough for a casual player, but with enough optional complexity for a grognard. It must be well-supported, with a range of setting and adventure material. A free-to-download quick-start version is a big help, too.

4. Most memorable NPC?

The one I always think of first is Sumil, the thief’s sidekick in our CSI: Shadipuur D&D campaign. Taciturn, loyal, and as a 15th(?) level monk in an OD&D game an absolute combat god.

5. Favourite recurring NPC?

Kumal the Smiling, the PCs’ nemesis for years in Beasts & Barbarians. There was nothing special about that character, and he had no plot immunity at all, but the dice loved him. The players shot him, hit him with axes, set him on fire, threw him down wells, left him to be carried off by giant hawks – none of it worked, he always came back a few sessions later with an even bigger grudge against them. We were all sad when they finally killed him.

6. How can players make a world seem real?

By investing emotion and effort in their PCs’ relationships with NPCs and each other.

7. How can a GM make the stakes important?

Those NPCs the players are invested in? Threaten them.

8. How can we get more people playing?

Word of mouth works best for me. If your players are enthusiastic, they will tell their friends, and your group will grow and eventually fission.

9. How has a game surprised you?

To be honest, this really doesn’t happen much any more, and I rather wish it would.

10. How has gaming changed you?

It has made me a mine of useless information. Want to know where to shoot a BTR-70 to take it out with a rifle? Wonder why you’re supposed to put your mask on before helping other passengers? Want to know what the Old Norse word for wolf is? Just ask.

Also, I credit it with my world view: Friends and family matter; skills matter; wealth and possessions don’t. I learned that from playing D&D.

11. Wildest character name?

Two, both from the same player: Szrbcz, gung ho space marine, and Uptanogud, sorcerous con-man.

12. Wildest character concept?

Two 13th Age characters whose uniques were “everybody forgets me at midnight” and “my memory was erased by one of the Icons, I can’t remember which”. That only scratches the surface of their weirdness. The one with no memory, for example, did everything with turnips.

13. Describe how your play has evolved?

It has become progressively simpler, more straightforward and more improvisational over the decades. Hence the opening quotation. You need an simple plot outline, a few interesting character archetypes, and simple rules for common situations. The rest of the time you can just wing it, either as a player or a GM.

14. Describe a failure that became amazing?

There was a D&D adventure a few years ago which hinged on reuniting star-crossed lovers, who we later discovered had been forced apart by the schemes of the girl’s sister, and doing so by a specific time. After many encounters with brigands and the supernatural, we recovered the young man and got him to the girl’s house with only minutes to spare. The only way to reach her in time was to build a human pyramid and send the boy up it to his girl’s balcony with a rose.

As he neared the top, we saw her sister moving up to push her out of the window – and everything we tried failed; spells, warnings, and you can’t fight well while part of a human pyramid. One quick shove, and out fell the girl. Could her NPC boyfriend catch her, we asked in desperation?

On a natural 20, yes he could, and the crowd went wild as the human pyramid collapsed as gently as we could manage, lowering the couple gently to the ground. It turned out much better than anything we could have planned.

15. Describe a tricky RPG experience that you enjoyed?

My OD&D GM has a real knack for puzzles. The one we never solved was when we had to find a missing painting. We couldn’t find anyone who had ever seen it; we had quite a lengthy description from an old diary – but every noun in the description was the word “cob”, which has multiple meanings in English. There was a cob in the foreground, cobbing another cob, for example. Was it a horse? A swan? A spider? A loaf of bread? We had no idea.

16. Describe your plans for your next game?

In November I hope to start running the Dracula Dossier under Savage Worlds. I plan to shake things up a bit by introducing a variety of indie game techniques – flashbacks, player-facing die rolls, shared responsibility, full-on improvisation and so on. You’ll see how that goes in session writeups.

17. Describe the best compliment you’ve had while gaming?

As I often do, I’ll give you two of those.

“Thanks for the game, I enjoyed it.” This is the one I aim for as a GM.

“You are disturbingly good at being Chaotic Neutral.” I’ll just leave that hanging there, I think.

18. What art inspires your game?

Monocolour Zen drawings, where what is left out – the white space – is almost more important than the lines, which merely suggest what is there. That inspires my approach more than locations or NPCs.

19. What music enhances your game?

Classic rock inspires it, but silence enhances it. You don’t need a soundtrack.

20. Which game mechanic inspires your play the most?

Actually, none of ’em. Mechanics in my games are as unobtrusive as I can make them.

21. Which dice mechanic appeals to you?

Exploding dice; if you roll the maximum possible on a die, you keep that score, roll again, and add the new roll to your total. This generates some truly awesome outcomes in play, and means that low-level monsters remain viable threats even for the most experienced PCs.

22. Which non-dice system appeals to you?

The “Uniques” in 13th Age – each player can state one thing about their PC which is only true for that character, and cannot be true for any other character in the game world, for example “I am the only acrobat ever to escape the Diabolist’s Circus of Pain”.

23. Which game do you hope to play again?

I’m happy with what I’m running as a GM – Traveller and Savage Worlds – but as a player, I miss Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 2nd Edition.

24. Which RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?

All Things Zombie, although it’s debatable whether it’s an RPG or a skirmish wargame. Try it, you might like it.

25. Name a game that had an impact on you in the last year?

Mongoose Traveller 2. Now that I’ve been persuaded to use it, I find it very clean and elegant in play. I especially like the way character generation sets up relationships between the PCs and with NPCs they encountered during their careers – as my son said at the end of chargen, “I feel like we’ve already played a campaign with these characters.”

26. Your gaming ambition for the next year?

Finding the inspiration and energy to excite and inspire my players as we step into the Dracula Dossier and the Pirates of Drinax. I hope I can do them justice.

27. Share a great stream/actual play?

Tinker Tailor Vampire Die on ENWorld – Night’s Black Agents session writeups. I hope I can do as well when I come to run the Dracula Dossier.

28. Share whose inspiring gaming excellence you’re grateful for?

In alphabetical order: Ken Hite, Umberto Pignatelli, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. There are many others whose writing I admire and enjoy, but those are the three who inspire me to run games.

29. Share a friendship you have because of RPGs?

All of ’em, most importantly my best friend – my wife. She doesn’t play, but I met her through friends who do.

30. Share something you learned about playing your character?

All my PCs develop their personalities in reaction to the dice rolls and interactions at the table; you start off with an idea, but that emergent behaviour in play changes them.

Most recently, Fullangr Brimison, revenge-driven dwarf vampire hunter, has started to focus on rebuilding his decimated clan more than killing the vampires responsible. Because there’s always another vampire.

31. Share why you take part in RPG-a-Day?

The questions make me think, and remind me of good times gone by. Hopefully the answers make you think too, or at least amuse you.

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