Stuffed Crocodile

Mazes, Martians, Mead

#RPGaDAY2022 Day 12: Why did you start roleplaying?

I was always fascinated by the possibility to create and run a world, or the part of a world, together with other people.

I think this is the real core of why I am so fascinated with it, the simulationist aspect of it all. The feeling that there is a world at your fingertips and the dice as an arbiter of fate and you share an common illusion with others.

I think that is why I am also so interested in those early Blackmoor games and how those were run, and why sandboxes have such a big appeal to me. This was what I wanted from the very beginning, but when I started the whole hobby had already turned towards railroaded adventures. I think I was not the only one who felt that way. The way Das Schwarze Auge often was played was way more simulation of life in a fantasy world, and much less high adventure, despite what the modules wanted it to be. I remember groups doing nothing but tourism in Aventurian cities, and the sense of place I had in these times is still something I miss in most other settings.

#RPGaDAY2022 Day 11: If you could live in a game setting, where would it be?

Oh Gods.

I remember one of my players during my teenage years openly hope for a Cyberpunk future like in Shadowrun, because it would be so cool to live in a world of giant corporations and cyberpunks fighting against the man.

Now we have a cyberpunk present and he works tech support for the local police station. Way to go.

People always claim they want to live in some setting, be it a fantasy world or some cool cyberpunk world, or some historical period.

“Ohhhh, I would feel right at home in the middle ages when men were men and women were demure and obedient.”

Or…

“Yeah, if I was living in the post-apocalyptic wilderness I’d have a gun and be the king of my own kingdom”

Truth is… the historical times people think about were fucking terrible for most people, even worse for some, and bearable to excellent for a tiny minority. But the stories you reference are most often not about the wretched majority. In most cases you wouldn’t be the murderhobo, you’d be the victim. PCs in most games are exceptional characters. Even in a game like ODnD the characters are a cut above the average, no matter how easy they get mowed down in a dungeon.

And arguably game worlds are worse. At least history has long periods of nothing apocalyptic in between, while game worlds have to be gameable and therefore have to provide exceptional situations on the regular.

Jesus, just think about it, even Tolkien’s fellowship were 8 members of the aristocracy and a gardener. You think you want to chill in the Shire? You better get used to working the land then, because someone needs to keep those Bagginses and Tooks fed.

So what game world is even close to livable? I guess some huge star empire might be the best. Even if there are wars on the outskirts of the empire, there is a high chance you live on a peaceful planet somewhere in the core provinces.

That is, until some hack decides they have to throw a few planets into the meatgrinder to show how dire the situation is.

#RPGaDAY2022 Day 10: When did you start Gamemastering?

Just some eye candy

When didn’t I?

I actually didn’t play that many times all together. When I was younger I was the one who got the rulebooks, the only one who read the rulebooks, and the one who even was interested in the game. My players were interested in the playing aspect, but I was the one who liked all those other aspects, from worldbuilding to delving into the lore of campaigns, tinkering with character builds and coming up with ideas for the game. So RPGs always were about something else than being a player for me.

I think this is a problem. I should be playing every once in a while. I have the feeling I am always the one forcing my hobby onto others, and I am always the one who takes the initiative to get a game going. This was the case back when I was living in the countryside, and it is now that I live in a big city. And if I don’t feel the energy to do anything, like the last two years, then I don’t take the initiative.

Well, it might not be helped by the fact that I feel like the hobby is leaving me behind. Everybody seems to be into DnD 5th edition right now, and I just don’t feel like I want to get invested in that game at all. I know it’s what people want to play, but I have the suspicion the current edition neither suits the way I want to play DnD (because I prefer more lightweight rules for that), nor would it suit the way I play newer games (because it’s still too DnD).

This veered a bit away from the question, didn’t it?

#RPGaDAY 2022 Day 9: What is the 2nd RPG you bought? Macross II: The Role-Playing Game

Cover: Macross II: The Role-playing Game

Macross II: The Role-Playing Game came out in 1993. Palladium tried to cash in on the surefire success of Macross II.

What the hell is Macross II? you might ask even as a knowledgeable anime fan.

Well, the original Superdimension Fortress Macross was a seminal hit show in Japan in 1982, got made into Robotech in the West, and influenced both the Transformers and Battletech franchises. It had transforming mechas, space battles, high drama, suspense! Also giant aliens falling to the power of idol pop singers.

In 1992 they decided to make a sequel for the tenth anniversary of the original. Imaginatively titled Macross II: Lovers Again, it concerned another invasion by aliens just this time they had their own singers.

It was not well received. It was not bad as such, but it wasn’t what audiences wanted, and once more sequels to Macross were made, was treated as the red-haired step child of the franchise.

But it is distinctive in being the only Macross series that got a (western) RPG system made for it. By Palladium even, which means it is broadly compatible with R.I.F.T.S, the Turtles RPG, and wherever else they put that system. Yes, the Robotech game as well. They point out in the introduction that it is NOT the same as Robotech.

I have never played this. The only reason I have it at all was because by 1995 it was marked down to pocket money prices in my local game store, and I also was an anime fan.

And to be fair, that cover still looks so incredibly cool!

And the game did teach me important lessons as well. They had less to do with anything about the game itself, and more with the presentation. Because as snazzy as that book looked like, I couldn’t even imagine what sort of scenarios I was supposed to run in it. Replay a series I didn’t even watch (and which AFAIK never was released in my country)? Create scenarios based on the meagre information in the rulebook? What sort of scenarios was this even supposed to have?

I don’t know.

I still don’t.

With more of the Macross franchise under my belt I think I could come up with some scenario whatever it is. After all nothing I could come up with could beat the concept of Macross 7 in silliness. But that’s not how it’s supposed to be. I should come to an RPG and know what it is supposed to be about, and the Macross II RPG basically was nothing more than geeks statting up their new favorite series in their homebrew system.

I mean really, a lot of the main book was taken up by A. character concepts (mostly military) and B. robot stats

If you think about the old adage that space taken by a subject in the rulebook equals time in the game the designers clearly intended this game to mostly take place in various examples of transformable mecha.

They even had a sourcebook (imaginatively titled Macross II Sourcebook One) which had… more variations on mecha. Each with 3-4 pages of description just like in the core book. That is weapon descriptions. And more variations on different concepts about soldiers.

In fact one of the later sourcebooks tried to introduce new ideas for scenarios, and it seems that the expectation was that all the scenarios so far were one-on-one space fights between giant robots.

From the first deck plans book

No, really, the more I think about it the less it makes sense. Maybe it’s a difference with gaming cultures, but it seems this whole game is literally only about fighting against each other in giant robots to the point that the third book tells you you might want to do something else for once? And I would get it more if it was a wargame, but it isn’t. I just don’t really see how they intended this to be run.

I think I am missing context here though. Palladium games had its own universe of RPGs back then, maybe you were supposed to pick up how this was supposed to work from others (Turtles was their big hit) and just transfer it over. I don’t know. Maybe I am just missing something obvious. I just think this game was very unhelpful as someone’s second RPG.

Maybe I should try to run a game in it. Could be a learning experience.

#RPGaDAY2022 Day 8: Who introduced you to RPGs?

some bronze art on the location of a neolithic hill fortress, down the road from my parents’ house

Me.

I’m a country kid. I grew up between farms and woods and castles.

Well, I did, but I spent a lot of my childhood cooped up in my little basement room. And I would watch TV and go shopping to the next bigger town every once in a while. And I got interested in that roleplaying stuff when seeing it in the shop.

I already was a fantasy fan thanks to my mum. And I wasn’t the most sociable kid, but I got interested in that sort of game.

But that didn’t mean I could find someone to actually play with regularly, until I managed to get a few of the other kids in my village interested.

I guess a lot of my hang-ups about RPGs come from the fact that I really never had many others to exchange about them. It also is why I keep thinking RPGs even in this time of pandemics and childcare: I did it for years while alone, hoping for a game. This is just the state I got used to being in.

#RPGaDAY2022 Day 7: System Sunday: Describe a cool part of a system that you love

Reaction rolls were a revelation when I first realized what they are and how they work. People always think Dungeons and Dragons is only about fighting, and then you have actual social mechanics in older editions that somehow got disregarded over time.

You see, in older versions of Dungeons and Dragons reactions of monsters encountered were rolled (partially based on Charisma) and fights were not the necessary outcome. The reaction table looks like this (with variations according to the system):

2d6 Result

2 or less hostile, attacks

3-5 unfriendly, might attack

6-8 neutral, uncertain

9-11 indifferent, unhelpful

12 or more friendly, helpful

That means a monster outright attacking is a rather rare occasion. It’s a possibility though. That is, unless your charisma modifier is high enough to allow for more beneficial results.

Any other result than the lowest likely gives characters some way to deal with the monsters that does not involve violence.

The exception are of course enemies that are attacking outright, like some undead, or enemies that are targeting the characters specifically.

In addition there also are morale rolls. Morale rolls are a way to gauge if and when enemies determine that a fight is not worth it. A group of bandits for example might attack and fail a morale check at the start of combat (they expected no resistance and are frightened off by PCs standing their ground), or they fail with the first casualty, or maybe after half their side is down. Or rarely they might fight to the death for their own reasons.

This gives a wide tapestry of reactions to NPCs, far more than simple violence is the only option, and far more complex than even a DM using his own judgement might provide.

#RPGaDAY2022 Day 6: How would you get more people playing RPGs?

Everybody likes dice…

Right now we are in a bit of a golden age. There’s TV shows and actual play videos that get worldwide recognition and brand visibility. Mostly for DnD 5e though.

And I don’t dislike it, it just is not a game I am interested in playing. It would be nice if more people had these ideas overall. I mean, the idea to sit down and play, get some rules and friends and go on create worlds.

So… basically guerrilla marketing.

I’ve thought about stuff like that for a while: make a basic rules booklet. Fill it with a simple system, play examples, DM guidelines, and a compelling scenario. People always go on about rules light systems, but they keep making systems that are so barebones and basic, but still so abstract that noone could just pick them up and play without effort. You need a game that you can play with minimal effort, but it also needs a hook and a concept that people just GET.

Then spread it dor free via bookcrossing, little free libraries, youth centers, and similar stuff. Drop it in places where people likely to enjoy roleplaying games congregrate, e.g. libraries. Make it fun. Make it inclusive. Make it obvious this is for everybody. But make it subversive. Make it a game about scrappy underdogs fighting bad guys doing bad stuff. Maybe it’s about a Robin Hood scenario. Rescue some poor orphans. Whatever it is, don’t start by making it about fighting fucking rats in a tavern’s basement.

Also, get it into different languages. There are some areas that are woefully underrepresented in the ttrpg community. And I think people could really be interested in the concept, if they just learn about it. Maybe make it French and German and Swedish as well, because there are gamers in those languages already and when they get their teeth into a system they push it relentlessly, but also… there are so many languages that just don’t have many games to begin with. In those countries you have to speak English basically just to learn about the concept of RPGs. And many people do. In many places people will play with the English books, in some places they get localized core rules but have to use supplements in English. The English language market is tiny, mosy other languages have it worse. But that also means that only people who are fluent in English will be able to play these games. University students, some people in high school.

As an aside, I do remember using German and English stuff side by side for my ADnD 2nd/DnD3 time. My players thought I was a bit nuts for doing that.

Anyway. What is missing are the young guys. The kids that get into it in high school. I think I would be great to get those in again.

Of course my idea would be to basically make a pamphlet or booklet and distribute it for free, and who’s gonna finance that? I think there’s stuff like the Free RPG day, but I think most of the stuff there is promotion for whatever systems the companies involved are trying to push, and there’s tons of free RPGs which are spread on the net alone. I was thinking about a small physical booklet with a basic system (d6 based?) that can be used to disseminate the idea (the meme?) of roleplaying to new people.

By the way… isn’t it weird how roleplaying changed from “this is a toolbox to inspire you to build your own games” to “these are the rules and the rules are the rules”? Both is Gygax fault I think. But I do like the stories about the beginning of the hobby where people just spread the idea of RPGs from city to city and some people hadn’t even heard of DnD, but people were running their own campaigns anyway. Maybe my ideas are because I find that idea so endearing. I’d love to be part of something like that.

#RPGaDAY2022 Day 5: Why will they like this game?

Will they?

I guess that’s hit and miss. People have different tastes, and what suits one fine doesn’t fit others at all.

That said… I think many people I started with RPGs stayed with the hobby over the years.

I think the main point is getting the concept across. If you start someone who has never played a roleplaying game before with some heavy-handed system there’s a higher chance you’ll lose them. And even if you do, they might see the effort put in for this one system as a barrier to learning anything else.

People always talk about how people don’t want to learn anything else but DnD, but I’ve seen this happen with Das Schwarze Auge, Shadowrun, and World of Darkness. Too much effort put into a system they didn’t even like to play a game that didn’t suit them.

So, how would that beginning game look like? Retroclone rules, most likely a variant on B/X. A simple system with simple tropes that people can get.

A simple dungeon maybe. People malign them, but Dungeons are good because they limit player choice. People don’t get overwhelmed with a dungeon. Go in, steal the treasure/artifact/whatever is a good structure.

A simple home base. Even if its just a tavern, you want to give a reference to the rest of the world.

Alternatively it will be a simple heist a la Shadowrun (go there, steal McGuffin) or a simple horror/investigation scenario like Call of Cthulhu (go there, investigate mystery).

Sure, you want to have an interesting game. But we are talking people who never played RPGs before. The act of just playing the game is novelty enough. Don’t overcomplicate.

#RPGaDAY2022 Day 4: Where would you host a first game?

Frankly, host it wherever is convenient. I don’t have the convenience of a friendly neighborhood game store, so a living room table might be it. Maybe even mine. We sprang for a really big table from Ikea mid-pandemic, and still haven’t hosted a single games night.

Go for somewhere with a nice big table to roll dice on and put maps out. Miniatures are fluff, but they can help immersion, as can other props. Maps are good. Get some fancy looking cups for beverages. Get a wizards hat or maybe a fake skull, I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter as long as it pushes the immersion a bit further.

Mood lighting sounds like a good idea until you have to decipher novelty dice, tiny rule texts in fancy fonts, and whatever you call what you wrote those handwritten notes in. A nice desk lamp comes in handy for behind the screen or the center of the table.

By the way, are you sure you need a screen? I know a lot of people are totally fond of theirs, but in a lot of cases I found them more a hindrance than a boon.

A sound system also might be nice, but might be overkill for a first session. Just put some good mood music on. Don’t necessarily go for whatever. I remember some really annoying sessions with reggae background which just killed the mood. Try Led Zeppelin Iron Maiden, the Conan soundtrack, or some other nice medievalesque rock.

Also… it might help if you aren’t interrupted. Roleplaying is a silly endeavor at heart, even if you take it seriously. No, Especially if you take it seriously. Not everyone might like having people walk in and out at random while starting out.

But, on the other hand, depending on who you are playing with, it might be better to choose a more or less public space. This especially if you don’t actually know the people you are going to play with. People propose libraries all the time, but the ones I know never would be happy to have some people play a raucous game in there. Coffee shops or cafes might be better. We used to use the local community center for games, which fit because the local youth group and my player group basically formed a circle.

#RPGaDAY2022 Day 3: When were you first introduced to RPGs?

HeroQuest back of the box (German)

This is a weird one. I remember totally falling in love with HeroQuest at my best friend’s birthday party in…2nd grade? I already had seen the advertisement for it on TV, but the minis and furniture of it all just made it look so cool.

Cover: Dorf des Grauens

At the same time Schmidt Spiele decided to cash in on the HeroQuest success with its own adventure boardgames, which they sold under their already established Das Schwarze Auge brand. As with many of the executive forced additions to Das Schwarze Auge it had absolutely nothing to do with the roleplaying game, BUT it was sold right next to it, and so by sheer physical proxmity I got introduced to the boxes and books of “proper” DSA.

I would have to lie if I told you those fantastic covers by Ugurcan Yüce didn’t have something to do with it.

So for years I was puzzling out what RPGs actually are, in the space between HeroQuest, a few looks into DSA modules (without context), and a few product reviews in video game mags, before I got my hands on the the DSA basic box.