Ordinary World

NRG peeked through the window of the bus garage. He could see Roger Arnold and Roger Martinez yelling at the two armed men outside the gate. He ducked back down, clutching Block and Sparky, praying they hadn’t seen him. Nitro stood at the door, growling. NRG appreciated his canine friend's courage, but knew he'd be no match for the armed coyotes. Mercifully, three minutes later, the roar of a motorcycle signaled that the bastards were gone. The two men breathed a sigh of relief.

"I think they're gone."

"Yeah Le--... NRG. I think they're flown da coop."

NRG helped Block up. Together, they lifted up Sparky onto Block's shoulders. The boy's giggles helped ease their tension.

"The bad men are gone?"

"Yeah, but they're only gone for now. They'll come back."

"But Roger and Roger won't let them in, right?"

"Yeah." NRG could only manage a half hearted reassurance for his son, worried for the day the coyotes had the money to buy or the balls to fight their way into Valentino.

A sudden knock at the door startled the family from their reverie. Block dashed with Sparky behind a bus while NRG drew his gun. Nitro, however, gave a playful bark at the door. A quiet voice came from behind the door.

“Sparky! Wanna play?”

“Left Shark!” The adults softened their stances as Sparky ran to the door. Left Shark stood behind the door, a rail thin Latino boy, his Valentino uniform hanging off his frame. Sparky waved to his dads as he ran out into the playground, his terror gone.

As NRG holstered his gun, he tensed as Block grabbed his shoulders, massaging them.


“God, Len, ya shoulders are so tense. Yer wound so tight I think yer about to pop.”

“Bl- Tom, can you blame me? The Coyotes at the gates, Freelance… god. I’ve barely been able to go out on jobs. I’ve had to stay here. We’re barely scraping by, I don’t know how we’re gonna-”

NRG couldn’t finish as Block spun him around and kissed him. Block, having an extra foot in height and a hundred pounds in weight, enveloped NRG with his body. NRG sank into his husband’s body, returning the kiss. Block pulled them to the ground as they made out. After a few minutes of passion they pulled back to face each other. Block had a giant shit eating grin on his face.

“Huh. Ya a’int so tense now.”

“... dammit, Tom.”

“Look, Len, I didn’t traipse half the Goddamn…”

“Goddamn United States for you to quit on me. I know, Tom.”

“Do you?” Block’s face nuzzled NRG’s. Block reached up to the table and grabbed the Ubiq Specs. He handed them to NRG.

“I’ll be fine. Sparky will be fine. Call them. Get us out of here.”

NRG kissed Block one more time, and stood up. He stared at the Specs. He donned them, and turned them on. His welcome screen showed his family, smiling on a Valentino bus. He wiped away a tear.

“Hey Ubiq, check messages.”

“Message from Freelance: Open Job Posting. Please notify Woodsman on availability.”

“Hey Ubiq, call Woodsman…”

Play Book: Using Cheat Sheets

While we’ve been having a lot of fun with No Soul Left Behind, we’ve also been having some problems. Namely, remembering what our characters can do in game. While this is an ORE game and we’ve played games in that system before, the unique aspects to Better Angels are tripping us up. Since there are moves related to being another player’s demon, there’s actions you can with them. But we never remember that we can do them. When we do remember, we want to use them, which crashes the game into chaos. With our PCs, it’s hard to remember our powers and aspects, as they are usually long sections with specific rules. In this case, and in other systems, a cheat sheet would help us to better remember what we can and cannot do.

When designing a cheat sheet, it might be helpful to first take stock of everything you need as a player. Most character sheets are designed well and have what you need. Yet, there might be rules that affect your character that are hard to remember. If you’re playing a wizard with a lot of spells, having the spell names written down might not be enough. Perhaps a one to two sentence description of what it can do would help you choose better spells.

Some games, like Better Angels, already have a cheat sheet. There's a two sided player aid that has a lot of the info you need to play. However, shifting between pages or PDFs make it harder to keep stock of what you need at a given time. This is part of what made it hard me to remember what I can do. For NSLB, I use a word doc as my character sheet, and have everything on one page. I also have another page with the descriptions of my demonic powers and aspects. I copied all the text for them, so it is hard to read and contains flavor text I don't need. I can’t waste time reading a six paragraph description on the ‘Soulless Materialism’ power. I've realized I need to shorten it to a few lines that I can read quickly and know what I need to do. I also highlighted the Tactics used to activate my powers, so I know what to roll. Finally, I updated it for what my demon, Mammon from Accounting, can do, and what buttons I can use to push Angelina.

Another example would be Eclipse Phase. EP has an intimidating amount of stats, skills, abilities, and gear. In spite of my love for the game, I shudder to think about the task of filling out a sheet by hand. For our games I’ve used a fan generated Excel spreadsheet for character generation. There’s also a character generator program we all used for Into the Black, Singularity. You enter the information for your character, and it creates a couple page character sheet with everything you need. In spite of this, there’s so much gear I tend to forget, in addition to my skills. A cheat sheet with my gear and a short descriptions has helped me remember what Templeton can use.

For tabletop RPGs, knowing how to organize your character sheet is vital to using you character to the best of your ability. A cheat sheet in conjunction with your character sheet can make the game much easier. You won’t have to fumble around with the book or a tablet, stumbling to find stats or gear. Instead you can focus on the adventure at hand. Do you use cheat sheets? Any tips you use to remember what your character can do? Mention it in the comments

Finding The Guts for Horror

Halloween has come and gone. Despite my love of games like Delta Green and Red Markets, horror has never really been something I enjoy. I’ve been through enough in life that I don’t see the value in scares. However, I do know that horror can bring out some of the best stories. Making fear a dominant force in a story gives something for the characters to overcome. Having been in enough games and listened to enough actual plays, I’ve come up with some tips for when I run horror.

The biggest piece of advice comes from my writing mantra. While watching 'The Incredibles' commentary I was struck by director Brad Bird's advice to merge ‘the mundane and the fantastic’. This means to find the normal moments within something fantastic. For horror, this means seeing what can be scary in something that is not scary. Without going into spoilers, RPPR’s recent episode ‘Somewhere Lane’ took its inspiration from a weird TV show. The real show is a normal TV travel show and is not horror. However, it’s writing and presentation are so weird that it freaked out the GM. He used the weirdness found a way to make it scary, then wrote out a scenario in Delta Green. This made for a terrifying listen.

For our own games, history has also been a great fuel for terror. One of the reasons Ethan’s many Civil War scenarios are so scary is that they are based on real events. This can make for a delicate situation, however. You do not want to belittle actual people and their actual suffering. Make the events into framing devices for the horror. You and the players know these events actually happened, and are often worse than the scares you came up with.

In Legal Tender, I wanted to find new and different places to stage fights with zombies. This made me think of places where it would be interesting to have a fight. It made me think of Discovery Zone, which led to one of the episodes that freaked out the players the most. It also led me to candy factories, which led to the creation of the ‘Candyman’ Aberrant that the players hated so much. Neither of those places are inherently scary; in fact they are nice to go to. But by thinking of them as places for the PCs to investigate led me to things that can be scary within them.

Now that you have the scenario, the final key is to make it scary. Make it tough for the PCs to win. Or even if they win, they lose something along the way (health, sanity, gear, etc). This doesn’t mean you take away the players’ agency or kill them in one shot. But you have to put pressure on them to perform. This is one of the areas I know I need the most growth. I’m always interested in the story and I want the players to succeed, so sometimes I go easy on them. But pushing them to their limits will add more tension. Tension, combined with the horrors you’ve thought up, will make for a very scary game.

Linearity in Games: Railroad VS Off The Rails

We recently played another of Ethan’s Civil War scenarios. The adventure has us going through the Siege of Vicksburg. While the story gave us options of what we could do, there's an act structure where we go from place to place in a set order. After we talked about the game after recording, it got me thinking about freedom in RPGs. For this game we had to be ‘on the railroad’, but it helped us experience the story Ethan was telling.

When done right, sandbox games lets players be in control. The players can go where they want, and find their own solutions to problems. This lets the players feel like they have more agency over the game. Letting things go at their own pace also allows for more character interactions.

Such freedom has a price, though. The GM is going to need to do a lot more prep. Having ideas for scenes that could fit wherever the players go, and having NPCs ready to use. By setting up ‘generic’ scenarios and NPCs, this can be easier. Rather than planning for the specifics of the adventure, have a few ideas ready. When it comes time to use them, dress them up with where the players are or who they've met. The other major issue is the potential to derail games. A funny NPC or a unique location might unwittingly draw the players' attention.

If you don’t want a sandbox scenario, the other option is to make it a railroad. Railroad scenarios have only one obvious solution to the PCs’ problems, or is the only option available. Doing this allows the GM to define the experience for the players. It can help make horror scenarios feel scarier, as it restricts what the PCs can do. Also, new players can get a better feel for a game if there’s only one way to get to the ending. And there are ways to make the PCs feel like they have control or options even when they don’t. Giving them a choice to make, such as “you have to escape, which way do you run?” or “what do you use to attack the monster” gives the players the illusion of choice. It doesn’t matter that, for these examples, the players will face the same obstacle regardless of which option they take.

In the game Ethan ran for us, we were able to choose our actions and how we reacted to things. It didn’t matter, though, as the scene would change around us and we'd be dropped into new sieges. This was ideal for what Ethan wanted to do, but if we might have felt like our choices didn’t matter if Ethan wasn't careful. That can be the problem with railroad scenarios. A too obvious or too restrictive railroad might distract the players or make them not want to play.

Prewritten scenarios tend to be railroads, and this can mean the game can seem inflexible. For several of prewritten games I’ve ran, like Dungeon Crawl Classics or Leverage, I always feel like I have to put my own spin on the scenario. There were parts in each game where players were expected to do something. More often than not, the players will do anything BUT what they are expected. For example, I had to rip out chunks of Leverage since the players thought of creative, better ways to deal with problems.

As is always the case for issues in playing RPGs, the key is being open with the people at the table. By asking what the players are looking for when they play, the GM will know how to run things. Having an idea of the scenario allows the players to know how to play and how to let their PCs act. Both sandboxes and railroads have a place at the table. It’s all a matter of knowing when to use them.

System Review: Breakfast Cult

Of all the games we've been preparing to run, there's one I've been itching to GM — Paul Matijevic’sBreakfast Cult. I’ve been playing it in a home game of it for over half a year. I can safely say it’s been the most fun I’ve had in tabletop RPGs.

Breakfast Cult is a Fate Accelerated hack that was Kickstarted. I had never heard of the system until one of the guys I game with asked if we wanted to play a campaign of it. The rest of the group seemed eager to play, so I was willing to give it a chance. I’d also never played a game in a Fate system, so I wanted to see how the mechanics worked. After having played in over a dozen games and enjoyed them greatly, I purchased my own physical copy.

The game is a mash up of anime high school comedy, mysteries, and Cthulhu Mythos style horror. It takes place at a school for the gifted in a world where magic is known. The player characters are trying to make it through their days in tact. Whether it’s cults, aliens, or truth or dare, the teens have many problems to overcome.

The game uses Fate Accelerated, which has players only use the same Approaches. The five Aspects are framed around their school lives. The Stunts usually revolve around the types of magic the player character uses. Breakfast Cult's signature are its Agenda Aspects. These are secret aspects only the GM knows that drive a player’s motivations.

Where Breakfast Cult shines is its setting. Matijevic spends most of the book creating a rich world, describing the world, magic, and the school. Fate system games run the risk of being too vast and too loose with rules. Breakfast Cult avoids this by showing how magic works and how different characters use it. This grounds the game and lets the players work to not make overpowered jokes.

Each character has multiple premade agendas that explain their motivations. There’s plenty of options for characters too: the core book comes with 20 pregenerated characters. The players may end up not using them. In some ways that’s better, as that’s a big group of characters ready to be used into your game. The game is also very inclusive, with many races, genders, nationalities, and ability represented.

Having played and run the game, I am very grateful my friend suggested it. With such a rich setting, the game is full of life before you start. Making characters is easy, and when the group leans into the anime ridiculousness, it can create some unique characters. Using the pregenerated character is still fun as you can put your own spin on them. The starter scenario (in the book for free this time) does a good job of showing the GM and players how the game is played. And with two books, the third coming out soon, and more on the way, Matijevic is committed to building out the product line. I’ve liked many of the games we’ve played on Tech Diff, but Breakfast Cult is one of the few I can say that I love.

Systems Review: Leverage

One of the best aspects of modern tabletop RPGs is the wealth of games to play. It’s also a challenge, because it’s easy to buy a bunch of games and never play them. To help cut into the surplus, we’ve been playing some of the games we’ve purchased over the years. I’ve started things off by playing one of the games I’ve been most eager to try: Leverage by Margaret Weis Productions.

Leverage is an RPG based off of the show of the same name that ran on the American TV Network TNT. The elevator pitch would be ‘a weekly show of Ocean’s 11.' It stars a group of semi-reformed criminals who are recruited by people who have been wronged by the powerful and greedy. They use their skills to take down these evil people and right wrongs… and make some money off it too.

The RPG intrigued me ever since I heard it played on the Drunk and Ugly, who did a four session mini campaign. As system devoted to heist movies and shows, it’s radically different from other systems I’d played or heard before. I was eager to try and purchased a pdf off of DriveThru RPG, which also sells physical versions of the book. There’s also a group of splat books that have been combined into a couple of physical releases.

The book is divided in three. The first section explains how the players create PCs, the second if for GM on how to run a game. The third section shows how the screenwriters of the show created the first two seasons. The book is a clean and easy read, with plenty of art. The art is screencaps of the TV show, but this means the book has art almost every 1-2 pages versus the typical 4-6. The fonts are not simple and laid out well.

The game uses the Cortex System. It uses all dice except d20s, and has you roll a skill plus a job type (e.g., Willpower + Mastermind) to beat a target number rolled by the GM. It has a Moxie-like system with ‘Plot Points’ which you get for rolling 1s. In exchange for making complications for your character, these plot points let you add dice to later rolls or create items to use.

The book, for all that it does have, does not have a premade scenario. There is one available, called “The Quickstart Job”, which I was able to grab for $1.99 on DriveThru. The Quickstart Job teaches you and the players every aspect of the game. Almost too well. Most premade scenarios that are introductions to the game are very railroady. The Quickstart Job is a bullet train, with very little leeway and a likely run time of 1.5-2.5 hours. Even mixing it up for the podcast, we still managed 2.5 hours. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad scenario, it did help us get a grasp of how the system works. It’s just too linear, especially for experienced players.

For having only read the book and run one session, I am glad I picked up Leverage. The system is simple to run, and with proper planning and allowances for improvisation can make great games. In doing something no other game was focusing on, Margaret Weis Productions put out a great game. I’m hoping to have us run a campaign someday, or at least more scenarios. Preferably something without a railroad.

Personalities at the Table: Knowing Your Roles

When playing RPGs, it's important to know the people you are playing with, who they are as people. By recognizing their play styles, you can cater your play to their strengths. It doesn't matter if you're the GM or another player. In doing this everyone can have a better experience at the table.

The most obvious aspect is how they treat others. In other venues, like work, meals, or hanging out, they may act one way. Once people get in game they may act differently. Are they working together with each other to play, or are some people trying to talk over others? When decisions have to be made, do they work on a solution, take control, or abdicate? Are there people who are quiet and not active in the game? Is the GM working with the players to succeed or are they a killer GM?

This leads to how people are acting in game. Are people getting deep in character, or playing with next to no role play? Are there specific parts of the game that are engaging people? Note how everyone is acting in combat or in investigative or dramatic scenes. Do the players and GM tend to focus on one aspect? Are people acting in ways that are inappropriate?

With this knowledge, reflect on what you've seen. If there is a part of the game the group enjoys more, try to find games that focus on that aspect. If combat is what players crave, try to find systems that focus it, like Eclipse Phase or Dungeons & Dragons. If people are more into investigation, try systems like Delta Green or Gumshoe. If interaction is what gets people excited, try systems like Fiasco or MonsterHearts.

As to the players themselves, how they play can help you play better with them. If players tend to work together and corroborate, you've got a great group. If they talk over others and try to be the center of attention, find ways so they feel part of the game but not hogging the spotlight. Spotlight other players so everyone gets a time to shine. If the GM is making things too hard, try to work with them to make the game something everyone can enjoy.

If there are issues where people are acting inappropriately, try talking to them in private or with another person. If it is something that can be corrected chances are they will be willing to work with you. If they don't, then maybe they aren't a good fit for the table. The throughline in all of this is communication. Talking with your fellow players before and after play can help you see what you all like and dislike and can improve your play.

Lessons Learned from GenCon 2017

Now that we're back from GenCon, we thought it would make sense to look back at our previous blog. See how we followed our own advice and how we strayed. 


Taking care of yourself was the biggest advice, and advice that I clung to. I had numerous instances where I had to march from one end of the con to the other. At least once a day I ended up back in my room during the day. I used this time to grab an extra shower and just lay down and relax for twenty minutes. It meant time away from the con and my friends, but likely helped my mood and health.

Eating turned out to not be as big of a problem. I had snacks, but only had to rely on them once. More often than not I was with family or friends who wanted supper and we organized meal times away from the convention. Planning together meant we never went hungry. With this, I was able to follow 3-2-1 rule easily. It ended up being more like the 5/6-3-2 rule.

Even though this was the biggest GenCon ever, I never had any issues with the size of crowds. Lines seemed to move fast and I was never overwhelmed by the size of the crowds. And with other issues, everyone was really eager to help. Friends and family obviously, but even some strangers helped with bags or asked if you were OK. That doesn't mean everyone there is like that, but GenCon goers have generally been for me a positive, helpful group.

Laura B

1. It is possible to GM a game from 8pm to Midnight and then start another at 8am the next day.

You just won't like it. And may feel dead for the rest of day two.


2. Don't bring any perishable food.

Even if you get lucky enough to have a hotel within two blocks of the convention. GenCon is part of Midwestern fandom (and a trade show).  There is no consuite like in Southern fandom. In addition, GenCon is in a purpose-built convention center — this means the infrastructure to support going out to eat at the convention is robust. Which means the food is actually pretty tasty. So the social expectations, at least among the RPPR fan crowd, is that folks go out to lunch or dinner together.

So all that perishable fruit Adam, Rachel, and I brought to snack on didn't get eaten and went bad. Bleh, food waste.


3. Pantry items, like granola bars, do work well.

Granola bars, string cheese, apples, and water bottles were worth carrying. Especially the water bottle. Even given how heavy full water bottle are. Don't worry, as you drink the water you'll be replacing the weight with loot/swag.


4. GenCon is not a costuming convention.

That's not to say that no one is in costume, but the vast majority are not. Keep in mind that my baseline of what a ‘costuming convention’ looks like it's Dragon*Con, where you see a multitude of costumes walking the hallways anywhere and plan how to move through crowds based on costumes you need to duck around. So, for me, GenCon is not a convention it's worth bringing my costume for, not when I rather do other things than go back to my hotel room and change out of a costume.

Which is a bit of a shame since it's a lot easier to throw the costume in the car for the drive to GenCon than check a bag for the plane ride to Dragon*Con.


5. Expectation drop as a GM — try to avoid it.

First, to define my terms. Expectation drop is that sinking feeling you get when you were excited to do a thing because you expected it to be X, but instead it's Y.

If at all possible, I recommend avoiding this at conventions, as a GM or a player. You'll (most likely) be playing with folks you don't know, and so won't be able to anticipate their play style. Without knowing their play style, that gritty, dark investigation you signed up for could easily be a screwball comedy. Without knowing the players’ levels of genre awareness, that tense horror game can easily become a SWAT team monster hunt. I'm not saying you should ignore game descriptions — absolutely go for games that sound interesting — just don't expect any particular tone or style. I find when all I expect is to experience a system and I'll get what I get from the players, I have a better time.

It does help being the GM and getting to at least try to set the tone.


First Things First

Templeton sank into the chair, holding his head between his hands. The neo-pig had removed the jacket to his security uniform, leaving slate gray pants, combat boots, and a white sleeveless undershirt to contrast with his pink flesh and black tattoos. The tall man continued to type at the terminal in the stark white room filled with lab equipment and server racks. The man brushed aside his black hair and turned around to face the Neo-pig.

“It’s done.”

“Yeah… That was hard.” Templeton tossed the VR specs onto the floor. “‘Enhanced’ interrogation my ass. I’m not the best with AGIs, and it was… angry.”

“Well, it understood we were going to delete it. But we had to know.”

“Still, Conrad…”

Templeton stared at Conrad as he removed the server blade and began methodically taking it apart. He was still in his black vacsuit, the seams still visible as the self-healing material continued to reform, as his hands swiftly worked the screwdriver to disassemble the blade as quickly and methodically as always.

“... does it get easier?”

Conrad walked over and put his hand on Templeton’s shoulder, touching the bare skin of his wide back. His fingers started to trace Templeton’s tattoos, tribal style concentric circles, stylized as spiderwebs.

“It never does. But you know what helps with the pressure?”

Conrad bent down and grabbed Templeton’s plasma rifle from where it rested on the floor. He lifted the massive rifle and set it as gently as he could in Templeton’s hands.


Conrad patted Templeton’s shoulder one last time and exited the lab. Templeton stared at the rifle. He then stood up, walked over to the workstation, and aimed.


Last Things Last

Four years earlier…

Templeton exited the showers into the locker room. Finished drying himself as best he could, he balled up the towel and threw it into the hamper. He turned towards his locker and found Doctor Marita Valencia waiting for him, smiling. Dr. Valencia was dressed in her white and red Argonaut jumpsuit and covered in her white lab coat; her brown curls tied into a ponytail. Templeton recoiled and started to dart his hands down towards his crotch to cover himself. He then paused, looked at his hands, and took a seat at the bench across from Dr. Valencia.

“What was that?” Dr. Valencia said, tilting her head and adjusting her augmented reality specs.

“I felt shame briefly. I went to cover myself, then thought more about why I felt shame. Before… before I was uplifted there was no shame.” Templeton looked at his hands, then looked at Dr. Valencia. “The thought was… so alien.”

“True. Shame is human concept. It’s been imprinted on you through our interactions.”

“Yeah. Clothing’s nice though. Speaking of which…”

“How’d the experiment go?”

Templeton shrugged. “‘Experiment.’ I wallowed in the spa’s mud bath for 20 minutes.”


Templeton rubbed his thigh. Lifting his hand showed that it was now a dull brown. “Still haven’t got all this damn mud off. I showered for 20 minutes.”

“But how did you feel?”

“I saw it’s value. I felt much cooler as soon as I dove in. Since I don’t really sweat, it made me feel much cooler. As a social construct, though… Maybe it’s because I was alone? I didn’t really feel anything. It was just an act.”

“An act?”

“Well, experiment. It wasn’t done to socialize, or to become one with nature, or because I wanted to. We did this to see if I could find any connection with my former life. I don’t have to wallow in mud anymore. I use jumpsuits that help me respire.” Templeton leaned back and started chuckling. “I also don’t have to be cleaning mud off my ass for the next three days.”

Dr. Valencia rose and smiled. “That is a benefit. Well, it was worth it to see if you felt anything. I appreciate your effort, Templeton.”

Templeton smiled. “So… can I get dressed? I’m not well read on the hab’s indecent exposure punishments.”

Dr. Valencia chuckled. “Of course. Just please get me the report by the end of the day?”


“Thank you, Templeton. I’ll see you in the cafeteria! I hear they have organic green tea the techs got off some Triad traders.” Dr. Valencia left the locker room.

Templeton smiled and started to get dressed. He hoped that this adventure would help map pig uplift thought. He was so lost in thought he didn’t immediately notice the alarm going off in the hallway. Or the screams.

Origins Game Fair 2017

Greg here! Being an Ohioan, I live close enough to drive down to Columbus for the afternoon. Last week I took advantage to visit Origins Game Fair for the weekend. Origins is a board gaming convention like Gencon. Although one day was not enough time to take in all of the con, I wanted to talk about the experience. Hopefully this gives a glimpse into Origins and how it compares with Gencon.

Origins takes place in the Greater Columbus Convention Center, on the northside of Columbus. Like the Indianapolis Convention Center this has skywalks connecting to several nearby hotels. These turned out to be invaluable, as the Saturday of Origins turned out to be Columbus’ Pride parade. A gigantic parade was going… right in front of the convention center. Luckily, Columbus has many parking garages. I was lucky enough to get a parking garage next to the convention center and near a hotel with a skywalk.

I preregistered and picked up my badge at the con. The lines were fast and I was in and out in five minutes. If I had registered at the con it would’ve been longer, but only about 20 or so minutes. The staff throughout the day were friendly and helpful. And the con goers were also very nice. It may have been the circumstances of the day, but there weren’t as many cosplayers at the convention while I was there.

As for the con itself, it was somewhat different from Gencon. Gencon is about board and card games and tabletop RPGs, but has a lot more general nerdy things. Origins focuses a lot more on board and card games. For an example, at Gencon there were a lot of geek t-shirt companies, game and book resellers, and toy sellers. At Origins, I only saw one t-shirt company, one tiny comic shop, and that was it. The vast majority of the booths were for board and card games. There were a few cosplay companies, and a surprisingly small amount of RPG pubilshers.

Origins is split in two through the big convention center. Half of the center is the sellers, and the other half has a huge space filled with tables for games. Both preregistered events to learn games and board and card game tournaments. This space was a lifesaver for taking a break and grabbing a bite to eat. At Gencon it seemed like almost every table was full and every spot was taken. At Origins while there were a lot of people there was also more space to breath and relax. I never felt like I was in a sea of people, unlike Gencon.

I did get a ton of loot and demoed several games. I stopped by Brotherwise Games and picked up the latest Boss Monster expansion Implements of Destruction and the Carrying case, along with an Origins promo. I also saw a demo of their upcoming game Unearth. I stopped by the booth of an Ohioan company, Easy Roller Dice Company. I ended up grabbing a dice cup, some Purple Dawn Polyhedral Dice, and a Gunmetal with Orange numbering set. They were running a special where you could roll 2d20 and get a discount for whatever you rolled; I ended up with a 14% discount!

While wandering the hall I saw a booth for a game I had seen on Kickstarter, Pinball Showdown from Shoot Again Games. I love pinball, but was hesitant about the game. After seeing a demo of the game, I found that I liked it more and ended up grabbing a copy, which came with several promos. On my way to the other side of the hall I stopped by Indie Press Revolution. I grabbed a physical copies of World Wide Wrestling and it’s sourcebook International Incident, which came with free PDFs. I also played a round of Shiba Inu House, from Renegade Game Studios. A simple more family oriented game, but fun.

Part of the reason I came down to the con was to see my brother and his company, North Star Games. I ended up helping run a demo for some curious congoers. I ended up grabbing a playmat for their game Evolution: Climate. Next to them was Pelgrane Press, where I added to my Trail of Cthulhu collection by picking up Mythos Expeditions, which also came with a PDF. Near North Star’s booth was the company Bezier Games. I saw a flag for their game New York Slice, and played a demo of it. It was so much fun I bought it immediately, which came with a free promo card. At the end of the day, I swung by the Origins booth to cash in the generics I bought. I then used it to buy a maze pen and a metal d6 with the Origins mascot as the 6.

I had fun at both conventions. Gencon seems more built for a wider spectrum of geek, and as such has a lot more people. Origins is somewhat smaller and caters more towards boardgames. Origins is also cheaper, although my cost was somewhat alleviated by taking a day trip. Both conventions are worth attending, and worth your money.

Origins Loot 2017

Books VS PDFs

The RPG industry is, by necessity, built on books. Back in the 70s, the only real way to spread the rulebooks was via physical copies. Now, digital files are a viable and great way to share a game with friends. Finding which format works best for you can help you find what's best for your budget and play style.

Physical books are still available for sale. There are many avenues for buying books, whether online or physical stores. For older, out of print games used book stores or eBay are also means of purchasing. Both new and out of print games may also be available direct from the publisher. These out of print games may not have digital versions, legal or otherwise. For those games the only means of play may be a physical copy.

Online stores usually also sell PDFs, and may also bundle them with the physical books. With the ubiquity of phones, tablets, and computers, the only limit is your budget. Because the documents are digital, the files are also able to be sized for the screen you are reading them on. This lets you to zoom in and read text easier.

For both physical and digital, being able to share the books is easy. For physical copies, it’s as easy as handing the book across the table or lending it to your friends. However, it’s only as many books as are purchased by the players. For digital copies, it is easier to share them in digital drives like Dropbox and Google Drive or over email.

Whatever method works best for you, the ethical choice is to make a purchase. As with anything it is easy to find illegal copies online. However, with a more niche industry like tabletop RPGs publishers rely on sales. Some publishers may have even released the rules for free, whether quickstart rules or a full text through Creative Commons. However you obtain the books, use the method that works for you.

Gaming Outside Your Comfort Zone

Now that Road Trip Remix has wrapped up, we’ve recently started planning some new campaigns which got us talking about what we wanted to play and what kind of story we want out of campaigns.This got me thinking about the types of games we had already run, characters I have played, and about how best to play outside my comfort zone.  While it is perfectly fine to stick with the systems, characters, and themes you like to play with, it can be helpful to think of ways you can expand your horizons and consider changing things up.

The biggest change you can make is to what you are playing. If your group is playing the same system, session after session , a way to step outside your comfort zone is to flat out play something different. For fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, perhaps a more investigative game like Call of Cthluhu or Delta Green. If you’re doing investigative games, something that focuses more on character interaction, like Fiasco or a Powered by the Apocalypse game (such as MonsterHearts or Dungeon World.) One shots can be very helpful for easing your group into a new system, to get folks used to both new rules and different themes. For instance, to warm up for a Better Angels campaign, which uses the Gumshoe system, we played a mini-campagin in A Dirty World, which also works off the Gumshoe system. While playing with different themes and stories (cartoon supervillainy vs. noir-mystery respectively), both systems use the same core mechanics which allowed the players to focus on their characters in Better Angels faster. Before we played Road Trip, I ran a one shot in Monsters and Other Childish Things to get a feel for the One Roll Engine.

Now that you have the system, the group needs to decide what campaign to play, which includes what the theme of the campaign will be. Thus, not just what story you want to do, but what themes to cover. When I pitched running Road Trip, I mentioned that it was going to be a dark Saturday morning cartoon, so while it wasn’t pitch black sad or dark comedy, it wasn’t G-Rated fluff. Especially towards the end of the campaign we went into some more emotionally deeper places. If your group constantly runs games that are darker and tackle more mature themes, something a bit lighter can switch things up. If your group wants to go into more mature themes, talk at length about what you’re comfortable tackling, without being forceful. You likely don’t know everything about the people you’re playing with, even if they’re close friends. Covering topics like sex or emotional abuse might strike too close to home, so be open to the rest of your group’s comfort level, and never go over the line.

Finally, it’s time for character generation. It’s incredibly common to fall into the same old habits when making characters, so sometimes pushing your boundaries is just playing something different. If you choose the same classes, try another class. If you stick with human characters, try a non-human. If your characters are always stone cold serious, try being more light hearted. Try to consciously choose character traits you typically avoid. For example, we’re currently running an Eclipse Phase campaign, and I’m playing a Neo-Pig weapon specialist. Normally I try to play jack of all trades characters, but for this character I focused on weapons proficiencies and his chosen professions (psychology and philosophy) and didn’t put as many (if any) points in other skills. Because I’m so specialized, I’m going to have to trust my fellow players more in other situations, like investigation and stealth. This should help me role-play better, which is the whole point of the character.

And with the plans in place, it’ll be time to play. Hopefully by thinking on these topics you can stretch your boundaries, be a better player, and have more fun at the table. Are there ways you’ve played outside your comfort zone and succeeded — or failed? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Going Out With a Bang

As we geared up to finish our most recent campaign, Road Trip Remix, I’ve been planning the finale. The act of planning an ending to a campaign is an important step since a final sour note can frustrate or even potentially ruin the experience. Planning out how you want or need your story to end, where your players want to leave their characters, and how to get there makes it much more likely you'll achieve an enjoyable ending.

The first thing to plan is the structure. Here, the campaign genre is an important factor to consider. For systems where fighting is an important theme or component, this should involve a final boss fight, preferably using a character you’ve had planned from the beginning, and a character that has been active in the story itself. The boss needs to be the toughest fight possible, but so overpowered as to be impossible. For Legal Tender, this meant Vectors with the DCA and highly trained enemies in the Governor’s forces. On the other hand, if you’re playing Call of Cthulhu or Delta Green, meeting Cthulhu would be less an exercise in defeating the Great Old One and more an exercise in trying to make it out of the encounter alive. Thus, the ending needs to fit the system. If combat is possible, a fight makes sense, but an escape or an intense negotiation can also make for a lively ending.

Perhaps more important than what you do is how the ending goes down with the players. After inhabiting the campaign world and their characters for so many sessions, ending the campaign with an out-of-character moment can be a massive disappointment. Reflect on how the players have been using their characters, how they’ve grown over the campaign, and what story beats would be worth poking in the finale. For MonsterHearts, J.J., Catrin, and Neko all had moments to shine and moments that helped highlight their characters — J.J.’s and Catrin’s fight with the boss, and Catrin and Neko’s dialogue.

Lastly comes the ending itself. Weak or on an incomplete ending can also be a disappointment. If there is a finite ending, make it a firm ending. If the story calls for ambiguity, then include ambiguity but certainly point at the ending. If this is a campaign that everyone might want to come back to in the future, leave seeds for future stories in the ‘adventure continues sense, while resolving the campaign problem. Going back to MonsterHearts, our heroes were able to resolve the immediate threat , and Aaron left some seeds we can expand on in a future campaign.

With the ends of campaigns, planning is key. What is there for the players to solve, to defeat, to realize? What will satisfy everyone at the table? What do you need to do to create those conditions? If you can ask and answer all these questions, you should have a finale that will be beloved and memorable. Are there any lessons you’ve learned in ending a campaign? Any stories of ends that went right -- or wrong? Talk about it in the comments.

Player Interaction

When coming together to play RPGs, regardless of system, one of the key aspects is player interaction. Playing an RPG is a social game where talking and working with the other players and GM is the focus. Concentrating on how social interactions are supported by the system or expected to support the setting can help you improve your play and make the game more enjoyable for you and your fellow players.

The majority of games focus on player-on-player interactions with completely separate characters. Examples from games we've played on Technical Difficulties include MonsterHearts and Call of Cthulhu. In these games, the player only plays their Player Character and nothing else. Everyone else is one of the GM's NPCs. When players interact, it is a one-on-one conversation. In these games, the focus needs to be on who you are as a character and how that drives your interactions with others. For example, in The Wives of March, as Pepsi, I was interacting with NPCs, Laura's, and Rachel's characters. So how I formed Pepsi was entirely based on my mental image of him and I had complete freedom in how I interpreted my character. I wrote his backstory with his club before the game began from a prompt that he was a friend of Country Large, but as in the midst of play I formed how I was a friend of Country’s and the lengths I would go to help him. Pepsi’s decision to help him was made in part due to his friendship but also the personality trait of wanting to help people that had developed in the course of the game.

Similarly, with MonsterHearts J.J was fully developed as a character before we began. His relationships with Catrin and Neko served to illustrate some of his reserve, as well as aided character development by helping free him of some of his loneliness. He was influenced by his relationships with Catrin and Neko, but in the end he was my character. He grew to love his friends and their camaraderie made for an amazing campaign. Think about not only what they would say, but why they would say it. What kind of a person they are on the inside is just as important as their actions.

There are some games where there are two characters associated with one player, but another player pilots the second character. Two systems that tackle this are Better Angels (coming soon!) & Monsters and Other Childish Things . In MAOCT for example, the player creates both the monster and the child, but the player only controls the child for social scenes. While they control the monster in combat, in social sequences the monster is controlled by another player. This allows for an easier means of interactions, as the player isn’t controlling two characters at once. It also allows for more genuine interaction by giving the player a foil, but it also means entrusting that character to another person. The other player starts with a description of the character, but then makes them their own within these parameters. For example, Aaron started with Laura’s  description of Jak-Jak as a puppy, and then imbued him with curiosity and energy.

In our No Soul Left Behind campaign in the Better Angels system, however, the two characters (a supervillain and their attached demon) are created by two separate people. The demon is created completely divorced from their chosen player character and the controlling player has free reign to design them. This can be both a help and a hinderance. My character’s demon is being played by Adam — he’s doing an amazing job with pushing my character’s buttons and opening avenues to show his pettiness and ability to be evil in spite of himself. Meanwhile, I’m the demon for Laura’s character, and I’m having a lot harder time. I’m trying to push her character to do bad things and nothing has worked thus far. At first I went too hard, trying to convince her to steal laptops for a student’s help. Then I tried to go for something that felt more possible for her to do, set a fire as a distraction, but that didn’t work either. I think part of it might be her trying to show that her character is trying to resist the demon, but it’s frustrating from my perspective because it feels like I’m being ineffective while other players are having much more success. That’s not true, though; it’s how she’s portraying the character, and eventually when she’s desperate for dots in her sinful stats she’ll need to give in, which will make the earlier resistance all the more powerful. Don’t be discouraged by things that feel like failures, because they usually aren’t. Even if it is a failure, it’s a learning experience to be better for the future.

Another side of the ‘multiple characters for one player’ are games where the other player controls NPCs, such as in Red Markets and Delta Green. These NPCs are usually relegated to scenes of home life at the start of the session and may be referenced later. The vignette system in both games has another player control the PC’s friends and family. These are usually shorter scenes that serve as establishing who the PC is. Like with the monsters in MAOCT, these NPCs are designed by the player but fleshed out by the second player. Part of what made the Reformers such memorable characters is their NPCs; Pixie’s relationship with Sarge, Freebird’s relationship with his son, and Elder’s relationship with Jesse all showed sides of the PCs that aren’t shown in the battlefield. Delta Green uses these relationships as fuel for their survival, allowing the player to sacrifice the relationship to save themselves. If they survive, this affects later vignettes, and they’ll have to spend valuable time repairing relationships instead of bettering stats or restoring SAN. But without their dependents, they might not be able to survive that SAN damage in later games.

So the next time you’re at the table, think of what system you’re playing and what type of player interaction it uses. By being cognizant of this you can see how you play, you can see what’s successful, and what you can improve upon. And perhaps knowing how you interact with other players might help you interact with people in daily life.

New Year, New Characters

In addition to using the new year to reflect on the campaigns past, it's also an opportunity to think about the characters you had played and what types of characters you would want to make for the coming year. You don't necessarily have to plan out which systems and campaigns if you don't know what you're doing; rather, you can see what the characters you had played were and how you would play differently, or even if you want to.

One thing I've noticed is my tend towards non-human characters. In MonsterHearts, while J.J. is human, he is a demigod and has his Minotaur form. In games off mic, I've played multiple draconics (in a pair of 5th Ed. DND campaigns), a cat person (in the ADND game that's been ongoing since I started the hobby a few years back), and a Rodain (in Star Wars Edge of the Empire). Even into the future, the character I've got stated out for Eclipse Phase is a Pig Uplift. In most of the one-shots I have been in COC or Delta Green, as well as the upcoming Better Angels: No Soul Left Behind campaign, I've been forced to play as humans. There's no issue with playing non-human characters, but I might try to play more explicitly human characters in upcoming games.

Also with those characters are their personalities. This might come as a shock for people who have heard me play and GM, but I tend towards Lawful or Neutral Good characters who are usually moral and try to be good people. The hardest I've pushed is with J.J., and even then he mellowed out as the campaign progressed. While the physical character can be easier to shift around and change, changing the personality I play with will be harder. I don't want to go full scumbag, but in future character designs I should try to go for harder / colder people in addition to the nicer guys and gals.

These aren't necessities, mind you. It is good to grow as a role player, but there's two standards that you should always uphold: it should be A) a character you want to play and B) a character that will help the party. We play these games to have fun, so what is the point of playing a grim dark jerk when that's only going to make you miserable? If you feel like you are forcing yourself to play a paladin, or Sith, or werewolf, or what have you, is it worth it? And while it might be good to be a divisive character, if it breaks up the party in character it runs the risk of breaking relationships out of character.

Do you have any ideas for new characters you want to run? Anything that helped you get over the hump of making a new character? Tell us in the comments!

New Year, New Campaigns

Hope everyone has had a Happy New Year! As we turn the calendar to 2017, it's time to reflect on what we hope to accomplish in the new year. As RPG players, that can include what games to play this year. Being in the GM seat, that means what campaigns or one shots to play, and what systems to use.

If you're planning for campaign play, there's a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost is what you and the players want to be doing. It's good to try new systems, so you can see new mechanics and concepts and expand yourselves as gamers, but if no one wants to play the game, there's no point. It needs  to be a group consensus, as a lack of agreement can kill the campaign before it starts. What interests you as a GM? Is there a story concept that you've latched onto that can spill into a multi-session campaign, or a published campaign that everyone is interested in? For Road Trip, I had wanted to try the system, and had ideas for new legs and a new meta plot. After the rest of the cast agreed, I refined the legs and meta plot into written out notes so I was ready to play. Thus far, it's been a lot of fun and a huge success for us in the cast, and we hope you've been enjoying as well.

Part of that enjoyment has been learning a new system. I had never played a One Roll Engine system game before, much less run a campaign. While playing in familiar systems is not a problem, by playing in ORE I've learned more about stating enemies and planning. With Red Markets, the threats of the Casualties and the lethality of combat meant I focused more on planning the contracts. In Road Trip, I've been having to focus more on the characters I've created, both in terms of their personalities and their actual stat blocks, whereas in Red Markets most of the 'stats' were rolling for casualty hoards and the occasional NPC.

That planning is the final step in preparing for new campaigns. Some people are able to come up with stuff on the fly, while other GMs need more structure. I've heard of one person running a episodic campaign completely improvised with nothing but a map of the world he had created on the table. If you can improv like that, by all means, if the players are having fun. For myself, having even a couple paragraphs and the stat blocks ready gives me what I need to get the game sessions in motion. I still leave room for improv, letting the players interact and seeing their play informs my decisions to come up with stuff on the fly.

For me in the new year, I'm not planning stuff for the immediate future. Once we finish Road Trip we're planning to do an Eclipse Phase campaign run by Adam, and we're doing some cross overs with our friends at the Role Playing Exchange in Better Angel's campaign of No Soul Left Behind. As for me, after having run two big campaigns last year, I'm taking a little time off, but I've got some ideas. I have a seed for a Delta Green campaign (but do I have the viciousness to run it? We'll see...), and after hearing our friends at the Drunk and Ugly run Leverage I'd love to run that some day. But as for now, I'll be finishing Road Trip, then stepping back to let others shine with some new, wonderful campaigns.

Are there any campaigns you're planning for the new year? Is there anything that has helped you prepare

Gaming and the Holidays

For those that celebrate, we hope you’re having a happy holiday season. We here at Technical Difficulties are grateful for our fans and looking forward to a 2017 with more adventures for you to enjoy.

As a GM and player, the holidays are also an opportunity to think about your games. It’s easy to miss sessions during this time of year, so it can be used as an opportunity to think about your games and their worlds. Do you like the direction things have gone? What would you have done differently? What are ways your characters would be using their downtime as you await the next session?

It’s also an opportunity to think about holidays IN your games. Do you need to do some world building to figure out what holidays are celebrated in your game-world's culture(s)? If your campaign is set in the 'real world,' what is the dominant culture in the area and which holidays are celebrated by the majority? What do your characters believe? How does that affect which holidays they celebrate? Do they have family they would spend time with? Is that by choice or due to social pressure? If not, is that by choice or a lack of resources available to get to their family? Who are they celebrating with and how? Do they have a favorite memory associated with the holidays? All of which led to thinking how J.J., Catrin, and Neko from our MonsterHearts campaign would celebrate…

Winter Quarter 1998

She first felt the leaves of the mistletoe as Neko brushed it too close to her head. ‘Hattie’ Areleous, clad in a green gown for the Christmas party at her house, rolled her eyes at the child standing behind her as she sat on the sofa with baby Nicholas. Turning around to look Neko in the eyes, she bent and kissed Nicholas on the head.

“Clever.” Neko said,

“The point of the plant is to kiss someone. And it is my choice who I kiss. Games will get you nowhere, child.”

Neko, dressed in a golden turtleneck and black slacks, sat next to the goddess on the sofa. Hathor smiled at Neko and turned her gaze towards J.J. and Catrin playing Monopoly with the older set of JJ’s siblings. Neko sighed.

“You’re right. Just trying to get into the spirit of the day I suppose. We didn’t have any winter festivals back in our time,” he said, bringing up the plant to smell it. “And we used plants that, you know, smelled nice?”

“I wouldn’t get that so close to your face. It is poisonous.”

Neko recoiled, and was about to throw it when he looked back at Nicholas, giggling as he played with a plastic set of keys. He instead got up and retired the plant to the door frame.

“You wouldn’t have known, child. It’s from Europe.”

“These traditions are strange. Though… isn’t it odd you’re celebrating a holiday of the Christians? They weren’t around for millennia after our time.”

“It’s mostly for the children.”


“Cole celebrates it too. He’s free to do what he wants.”

“But you’re…”

“You humans have free will for a reason.”

“Whatever. Anyway, as they say…” said Neko, as he reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a small present. “Merry Christmas.”

Hathor shifted Nicholas into a one armed hold and held the gift. The small box was wrapped in gold wrapping paper with a golden bow.

“You do realize we had other colors back home, right?”

“Just open it.”

She took off the bow and gave it to Nicholas, then pulled off the wrapping paper. The box was also golden, and when she lifted the lid, stared at a clay figurine of a woman with a cow’s head. Hathor squealed with delight and hugged Neko.

“Oh Ra! I haven’t seen one of these in centuries!”

“It’s from my relic collection. I was re-inventorying it and realized I had a figurine of you.”

“Oh Neko!” Hathor kissed Neko on the cheek. “Thank you so much!” As she looked back to the figurine she couldn’t see Neko smiling deeply. She then set it on the side table, grabbed a box, and gave it to Neko. “Merry Christmas.”

He ripped open the bright red paper, and opened the lid. He gasped as he saw a box filled with golden coins.

“Oh my. How-”

“How do you think I’ve stayed in my station all these years? I know you’re still trying to re-establish your kingdom. A little goes a long way.”

Neko hugged Hathor, then got up to join his friends. Hathor readjusted her hold on Nicholas and smiled at her children and J.J.’s friends. She never expected these families she wandered into, but she’s always glad for them.

Player Attendance

When planning for campaigns for Technical Difficulties, one of the last things on our minds is how often we'd be able to attend. Mostly because we've established a night and time to play and we've been pretty fortunate. But we're also adults with lives, and things happen. With me alone, we've had to cancel a night due to my car breaking down back in The Reformer's campaign, and we almost had to cancel a night when my internet connection didn't want to play ball. The players also have family obligations, work schedules, and more that can interfere with play. No one is upset or angry, as this is a reality of being an adult, and family and work take priority from game night. But also preparing for that eventuality is helpful when planning.

For both player and GM, flexibility is key. You might have been itching to play your favorite character or eager to execute your scenario, but things always can come up. Having the maturity to let it slide and doing something else is very important. As the GM, planning for this means if we want the campaign to continue, having outs for characters. For Road Trip, this means figuring out how to let the PCs skip a session and making it believable. Especially for us, since  we usually play in two to two and a half hour chunks, meaning individual scenarios in the campaign take two to three sessions. Luckily, for this campaign I've got an in universe explanation, and for now the players will have to be content knowing that the kids keep getting stomach bugs and waking up in their adventures when the time arises.

Sometimes, no amount of explanation can work. Maybe too many people are unable to attend, including the GM, or a rough week by all means no one is in the mood to continue the campaign. Having one shots in the can or systems that are one shot only is a huge blessing. Ethan's Civil War scenarios have meant that on nights we couldn't all attend or nights where the campaign stalled, we had something to do. Even if you don't have a scenario designed, many systems have premade scenarios that can be purchased, or free or fan made scenarios that you can pick up and play. Similarly, systems like Fiasco meant that there is always a game where the only preparation is having play sets on hand. No one has to prepare or have something designed, it's always ready and willing to be picked up and played.

With campaign play, attendance is important, but you can't always have a 100% attendance rating. Planning for that eventuality and having alternate plans in the can are key to always ensuring your game night will be able to work regardless of plans, or those plans can work if you can't make it. And if no one can make it, there's always places to ask around for a pick up game. We came together because I asked around on the RPPR forums. That's a place to start, but there are plenty of other places, in both meat-space and cyberspace, where people are itching to play. Planning to have fun sounds like an oxymoron, but it doesn't have to be one

One Shots VS Campaign Play

Recently, we’ve had to set aside our campaign of Road Trip while we had absences, so many of our recent games have been one shots. Having played in more one shots, it helped to highlight the differences between the two. Both lengths of games provide aspects of gaming the other cannot, so it is important to do both.

One shots allow for an easier learning and for more experimentation. One shots are essential to learning a new system. They allow players to focus on understanding the overarching view of the game and tackle their questions bit by bit through encounters. After everyone is more comfortable with the system, one shots can provide players and GM with more ways to test and push the system. With characters in campaigns, players grow attached to them and don’t necessarily want them to die or change radically. In a one shot, players have a greater freedom to do things they wouldn’t necessarily do, and GMs can try new tactics and set pieces they wouldn’t pull in a campaign that they want to continue.

Campaign play provides more opportunities for characterization and customization. A character that only appears in one game will never have the foundation that a character that appears in two, five, 10, or more sessions will. In campaigns the players can get to know their characters and see who they are, and providing satisfying arcs between their play and the GM’s storytelling. Similarly, the character’s stats and abilities in a one shot may be tailored for that game, whereas in campaign play they can grow and gain greater rewards with play.

Somewhere in the middle are games with high lethality rates or games where characters can be set aside after a few sessions. In Delta Green and Call of Cthulhu, campaign play is easy, but PCs can and will die, so one player might play as multiple PCs throughout the campaign. Monster Hearts can end with a character levelling up so many times they break the system and need to be retired to balance game play. And in Red Markets getting your characters to a firm ending is the point, so if one character earns enough bounty to leave their player can start over with a new character.

There’s also games that cannot be played in multiple sessions of the same story. A Quiet Year, a game that involves making maps and telling about a group of people inhabiting the land, ends after the game is over, so campaign play isn’t possible. Games like Dread and Slasher Flick per their rules could be campaigns, but their play systems are so unique running more than one session is fairly hard.

Games of various lengths all provide something different to role playing. Experiencing that broad range can help players and GMs learn what works best for them and how to incorporate interesting bits from one type into another. Knowledge leads to better games and better games lead to having more fun in the hobby.

Being a GM vs. a Player

Both sides of the gaming table are equally important in having fun in role playing games. With a weak GM, the game does not run smoothly and devolves into the players doing whatever they want, at best. With weak players, the GM is running a game for everything from wild and crazy kids to rules lawyers who micromanage the game for everyone else. Knowing how to play and how to run games makes it easier for both sides to play a well run game and have fun.

The first lesson I had to learn was to be open to letting the whole of the table design the story, which helps both as GM and player. As a writer, I frequently have ideas of how I want to run things or how I want the story to end. However, while RPGs are a game (it’s in the acronym, after all), they are also at heart collaborative storytelling. While it’s important to have your ideas and to tell the story you want to tell, there’s other people at the table adding to the story and to the world. It’s important to let them tell the story too and to not hog the spotlight. In my first D&D games there were times I was nearly running over the GM with how I wanted role playing scenes to go. He never had issues with that because most of the people he has played with focused more on combat than role playing, so I presented a new challenge. The more we played and the more I heard APs online, though, the more I realized it needed to be a more level playing field. When he was moving the story in different directions than I wanted, I needed the willingness to trust in the GM that these stories will work out. I gave him that trust, and he has rewarded me with a lot of fun at the table.

Another lesson is in reading people at the table. Because you’re in a setting where you’re playing with people for hours at a time, you need to get to know who you play with and get a sense of who they are. In one game I’ve been worrying that I’m not engaging a player as much because he doesn’t speak as much or act as much as the other players. However, after playing the campaign for awhile, I realized that the mood was more related to how he was role playing the character at the table, and that he has been enjoying the game and having fun. Being able to tell when to push people and when to lay off is helpful; similarly, knowing when you’re focusing too much on one person is also important. Sometimes there are things only one character can do and you have to do one on one for a bit, but keeping the whole of the table engaged, both as a GM and interacting with other players, is key to the whole group having fun.

Knowing who you are as a player and a GM is helpful in what games to play and run. While I’m great at crafting stories and player engagement, I lack a lot of the ruthlessness and willingness to cause harm to player characters that is necessary for some games. Road Trip and MAOCT is a place where I don’t have to think about killing character or being too dark, whereas Delta Green you need a very bleak and nigh-on nihilistic view point to really get the setting right; something that I don’t necessarily have in me. That doesn’t mean I can’t play or run Delta Green, it means that I need to work on finding ways I can get into the mind set as a GM that would allow me to run the game as it needs to. If / when I run Delta Green, I would definitely start with pre-written scenarios so I can directly see what it looks like and how it runs at the table.

These lessons were good things to show me that role playing games are a communal experience. As with everything else about being an adult, you really need to be in touch with yourself and know who you are and what you want to do. For everyone to have fun, you need to be communicative; tell people what you do and do not want to do, yet be open to new experiences and what other people bring to the table. When all sides of the table come together, a fun night will be the only outcome.