Play What You Know

Rules mastery is great but the concept makes games intimidating to new players. When I started playing RPGs, we didn’t know a lot but we played anyway. We got a lot wrong but we still had fun. I’m considering including something like the following in my games.

So if you can have fun not using the rules, do you need them? Rules can help you tell a story, they’re a partner in the creative process that makes for a level playing field. Ignoring rules can make things too easy, too hard or maybe make things that should be possible impossible. They change the story being told.

But if you leave them out, as long as you have a way of handling conflicts between players you can form a narrative together. The most common conflict to resolve is establishing a cost for success. Usually that cost is some kind of skill check.

Aim for play that follows the rules as you understand them. There will be times when you realize you don’t know how something is supposed to work. Usually this results in the facilitator frantically reading through the book trying to find a relevant rule. That may be necessary if the condition is likely to come up frequently.

If It’s something that’s only going to come up once a session, consider ruling in favor of the players this time and make a note to study the problem later in between sessions. Automatically favoring the players can serve as a signal that no rule is being used and the players should not always expect that result. There is a problem with establishing the precedence of a house rule. It will stick in the players minds and it will be hard for them to remember it was a stop gap.

There is a long history of house rules in RPGs. They became an important part of play because rules were often poorly written and players were left to fill in the gaps.

Today there’s more page count being dedicated to better descriptions and a greater knowledge of what works for players. House rules are best when a rule gives the players an experience they don’t want or they don’t cover a subject the players are interested in exploring.

As you learn, update your play to match the rules as written. This way you’ll get the experience that was intended.

Player Conflicts

there are really only three conflicts that come up in RPGs. Not in story, I mean between players. Usually the default mechanism for resolution is GM fiat or group consensus. I have some thoughts on that but for now, see if you can come up with a type of disagreement that can arise during play (that is about the play) that can’t be covered by these three.

Not for free

Players want the event to happen but it should require a test of skill or pay a cost.

Tone Harmonize

Something introduced is not in the perceived tone of the story for one or more players. Giving all players influence over tone can cause the tone to shift over time.

Problem Causing

A narrative causes discord with established story. Normally this is seen as a failure in the story. Can the discordant elemements become acceptable in specific circumstances?

Working On Station Keepers

Hey, I can finally say I’ve run a successful Kickstarter! Station Keepers is a go and I’m furiously working on it. The first phase of getting a functional structure is in place and now I’m working on infusing it with some more meaning. Not that I’m trying to shoehorn meaning into it, but each design speaks in it’s own voice. Station Keepers has a specific voice and I’m trying to find it. Maybe I have my metaphor, but I’ll have to see if I can make it work.

Infinite Win

I’ve been asked “How do you win” an RPG a number of times. This is closely adjacent to “Why play an RPG”, A question I’ve thought a lot about. I’m stealing from the book Finite and Infinite games for this description.

How do you win?
An RPG can be played in two different ways.

You can play a finite game with one win condition in mind. A way to reach the end of a story and everything hinges on that goal. It is some condition agreed to by everyone at the table but often suggested by the GM.

Or you can play an indefinite game, where much like life, there are many finite games along the way. Here, you win as long as there’s more ground that the players want to explore.

There is a big difference in tone in each option. Finite games are powerful, focused and serious. They are played within boundaries, time matters, they are played to be won. It’s not fair for the goalposts to move in a finite game. Players should not be surprised in that way. The conditions of play are controlled.

Indefinate games are dramatic, playful, exploratory, they’re about curiosity. The game’s boundaries will shift and even break, the reason to play is to be surprised by the results of play.

The Player’s Character

In Robert McKee’s book – STORY he says “True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature”

He’s talking about character arcs, but the thing that struck me about the quote is this is exactly why I love to GM. Only I’m not so much interested in the character arcs, I’m more interested in learning how the player will guide the character. It’s almost like a laboratory to find the essential core of the players.

That’s why I think I’m less interested in constructing a “Story” and more interested in how the player interprets their character. A good story helps to do that, but arriving at the story isn’t my end goal. It’s to know that essential element of the player’s personality, to see who they are inside, revealed by that pressure.

It’s really only then I feel like I know someone. So while I like exploring fantastic worlds and finding out how they work, those fantastic worlds allow me to explore the people I’m playing with in ways I can’t in everyday life.

Counterintuitive

In setting and adventure design, include one minimally counter intuitive element in a scene. This will produce a feeling that the world the characters are in is not their mundane world and there are things to discover.

Making Allies

I’m consolidating some of my far flung posts in different places. This is one of them.

I’m going through some basic business advice on making allies and as I read thoughts are popping out that I’d like to track. So here’s my disjointed notes so far.

Be strategic – Think about who you would like to have as an ally. What skills might they have? What resources? This might sound cold but running around asking everyone to be your ally is probably not going to be helpful.

Be a fan – You’ve heard the advice “be a fan of your players” that’s very similar to being a fan of other designers. Maybe they’re not making what you want to make (and that’s good) but find things in their technique or some other aspect of their work.

Compromise – Try it their way. It might not be the direction you wanted to go but try following their suggestions and see what happens.

Communicate – Ask people what they need to start a project on an idea they’re talking about. Ask them what they need to finish a project. If they ask for something you can’t offer, say so and then counter offer with any skills or resources you think could help. This doesn’t have to be you doing work. If they need a skill you don’t possess, do you know someone that does?

Give dignity – Even if you’ve been doing something for fifty years and they’re brand new, treat them as an equal. Talk about what you think they’re doing right and ask for more.

Respect Input – Even if you won’t use what someone is telling you, thank them and let them know you’ll keep it in mind.

Spend time – If they’re local or if you’ll be at the same con, make the time to at least say hi and have a chat. If you do end up working together, possibly meeting up on hangouts or Skype, is a good option for being friendly.

Your allies’ allies are your allies – That’s it I just wanted to write that.

Give credit liberally – Don’t hold back. Strive to have your next title page full of credits. Look for opportunities to credit people even if it’s just a “Thank You” section.

Don’t drop an ally – Maybe you hate their new project. Don’t give up on them yet, even if what they are currently up to just isn’t your cup of tea.

Reciprocate – When you’ve been done a good deed, do what’s practical to return a favor.

Say no politely – There will be times where you can’t help and things you can’t do. Say no politely and let them know what to expect from you in the future.

Building a Community

These are questions useful for world building and planning campaigns based on different sized communities.

Food – Plant
Where does the community get their grains, beans, nuts, vegetables and fruit?
Locally grown – Circle all that apply
All, Staples, Supplemental, Luxuries

Imported – Circle all that apply
All, Staples, Supplemental, Luxuries

Does the community grow produce for other communities? Yes, No

Where do they export to?

Food – Animal
Does the community eat animal products? Yes, No

Circle the activities the community takes part in for food and sport. Fish, Hunt, Trap

Are domestic animals farm raised?

Locally Raised – Circle all that applies
All, Staples, Supplemental, Luxuries

Imported – Circle all that applies
All, Staples, Supplemental, Luxuries

Are there large herds? Yes, No

Do families keep a few animals for food? Yes, No

Does the community export animals? Yes, No

Do they host hunters from other communities? Yes, No

Do they host fishermen from other communities? Yes, No

Food Service
Is there a market or restaurants? Yes, No

Are these services for the local population or to accommodate travelers? Local, Travelers

Does the community have breweries wineries or distilleries? Breweries, Wineries, Distilleries

Are these commercial businesses or operated by individuals?

Fuel – Electrical
Does this community have access to electrical power? Yes, No

If so, how widespread is it’s distribution? Central source, Distributed source, Distribution network

Why do people receive electrical power? They pay money, It is considered a right, By title position or rank

Generating electricity requires powerplants and possibly electrical transmission equipment.

Is water, wind, steam engine, or some relic the source of electrical power? Water, Wind, Solar, Steam, Other

Where does the community get the fuel for electricity?

Fuel – Chemical
What fuels are used?
Wood, Coal, Gas, Oil, Animal dung Other

How do people cook their food?

Do people control their home’s temperature, how?

Do they use fuel from local sources? Yes, No

Do they import fuel? Yes, No

How abundant is the supply?

What machinery, equipment and jobs are needed to provide fuel?

Raw Materials
Does the community harvest trees for building materials?

Do they grow crops or raise animals for making thread?

Do they have clay in their soil for making bricks or tiles?

Do they mine for metal

Are raw materials imported? From where?

Refined Materials
Does the community refine raw materials?

Circle how they refine materials
Lumber mill, Weavers for textiles, Smelting refinery, Cement kilns, Brickworks, Chemical plant, Oil refinery

If the community does not have these facilities themselves, where can materials be obtained from?

How often can the materials be acquired?

Tools
Does the community produce it’s own tools?

How do they make tools? Circle all that apply.
Carpenter, Blacksmith, Foundry, Machinist

Do they import tools? From where?

How hard is it to obtain tools?

Clothing
Communities will need a source of clothing. Does the community make their own?

If so, for small towns they may have tailors or for large cities, garment factories. However in very small communities a family member may make clothing for each household.

Where does the community get their textiles? Where do they get the tools for making clothing come from? At it’s simplest this could be sowing needles.

If the community does not make their own clothing, where does it come from?

Shelter
The vast majority of communities make use of some kind of shelter. The more the society produces as product, the more elaborate their homes are.

Who makes the shelters the community uses? Does a family make their own? Are their skilled individuals that build shelters? Is there an industry for making shelters?

Where do the refined materials and tools for shelters come from?

Transportation
How do people move themselves and goods around?

If they use animals, which animals are used and for what purposes?

Are the animals used as mounts or do they pull carts or wagons?

Who makes the gear for harnessing animals?

Who makes the carts if they are used?

Does the community use powered transportation?

Where do the vehicles come from? Who maintains them?

Does the community use water travel? Are there special hazards in doing so?

Who makes the boats or ships?

Are there different tiers of prestige linked to methods of transport?

Security
How is law and order maintained?

How does the community ward off attacks from the outside?

Is there a central figure that handles security or are there many people that get involved in security decisions?

In small close knit communities, law and order may be kept socially, where each individual upholds the group’s ethics.

Larger towns, especially those with travelers going through it may need someone empowered to enforce law like a sheriff or chief. In the case of external attack, the enforcer is likely to select able individuals to aid them in defense.

Cities require a network of enforcers such as a military or police force. In many cases, the role of maintaining law and external defense are different specialized roles but not always.

Aggression
Does the community make aggressive attacks on others?

If so, are the attacks carried out by untrained civilians or a trained, dedicated military?

Why would the community make aggressive actions against others? What could make them change their stance?

Small communities may raid neighbors for resources especially if they are not self sufficient. Often a leader selects and possibly trains individuals to go on raids.

Tribal or territorial conflicts may cause medium sized communities to attack one another. These are usually calculated attacks intended to push back a rival. These conflicts are often carried out by militia that arm themselves.

City states may go to war over trade conflicts philosophical differences or territorial disputes. City states are likely to have militias or their own standing army depending on how centrally controlled they are.

Entertainment
Who does the entertaining in the community?

Are there a few talented people that play music or act?

Is entertainment something that everyone has a part in?

Do travelers have a part in sharing stories from afar?

What kinds of entertainment is common, what kinds are taboo?

Information
Even in small communities information is an important resource. What is the role of gossip in the community?

How much are people involved in news of their community?

Is keeping up on the lives of people encouraged or is it frowned on?

Is there an industry built around information or is it just a hobby?

Is there one or more dedicated spy networks?

Information Distribution
Is there a way of recording and spreading news?

How do people find out about events that happen around them?