RPGaDay 2016- Day 16, Historical person you’d like in your group? What game?

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I’m going to be very unoriginal here, I don’t think I’d like to play with any historical person of note, I can’t see what Tesla or Gandhi or anyone could bring to the table that would interest me. Thats not to say I wouldn’t like to meet these people, I’m just not sure what they’d add to a game, boring I know.

So, if I could game with any historical person it’d be Gary Gygax and, unsurprisingly, it’d be D&D. Why? Honestly I’d love to know where the game came from, I’d love to experience what his group did back in the 70’s when roleplaying was in it’s infancy.

See, I told you it wasn’t going to be original.

RPGaDay- 2016 Day 15, Best source of inspiration for RPGs?

It used to be books, I am, or more accurately was, a voracious reader and since I’d read a significant amount of literature set in the games that I wanted to run or play in then I could use that to my own ends. That’s changed though, I have significantly less free time and so when I’m running a game virtually all of my reading time is usually devoted to the rules and adventure, as opposed to wider reading. I still use books as inspiration and I still recommend certain novels to people who want to play certain games, 2XS and House of the Sun for Shadowrun, The Chronicles and Legends for Dragonlance, At the Mountains of Madness and The Dunwich Horror for Cthulhu and many others.

For me, nowadays, it’s TV, far more than even movies (though I saw a whole lot of Numenera in Guardians of the Galaxy). TV has advanced to such a state that it’s held almost in the same regard as film, actors don’t see it as a step down if the show is right (say like True Detective) and networks pump massive amounts of money into shows with Game of Thrones reportedly costing $6 million per episode and Walking Dead around $3 million. Plus, with the rise of traditionally fantasy and sci fi genres in the mainstream, like the aforementioned Game of Thrones and Walking Dead, plus the surge in popularity of Comic Book movies, more subjects that would traditionally be too niche for the mass market are being greenlit.

This means I can find great, hard edged sci fi, like in The Expanse, or fantasy like Shannara or Game of Thrones, it means that I can see settings and themes I love treated seriously and with respect and that helps me form ideas in my head how I want to run games or what kind of character I want to play. If I want to understand how close nit a criminal organisation might be then shows like The Sopranos can help me, if I want to understand gangs then Sons of Anarchy, the Shield and the Wire all give me different perspectives on different types. If I want source material for Deadlands then I need look no further than H*** on Wheels or Deadwood.

I’ve even found inspiration for games like Call of Cthulhu in TV shows recently, with Season 1 of True Detective essentially being about a worshiper of Hastur and with more supernatural shows like Sleepy Hollow essentially being a mash up between Cthulhu NOW and he forthcoming Pulp Cthulhu. H***, Hunter the Vigil is literally embodied in the TV show Supernatural in everything except name and all this is before I start looking into lower budget shows like Dark Matter and Killjoys that make perfect inspiration for Traveller, Firefly (which has its own show anyway) or anything in a space operah setting.

Inspiration for RPGs can come from anywhere but, today, I find it most prevalent in TV as the world embraces geekdom, as ComiCon becomes a mass market spectacle and people tune in every week to find out what an orphaned girl with 3 pet dragons might do next.

RPGaDay- 2016 Day 14, Your dream team of people you used to game with?

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Honestly, my present group is the group I most enjoy gaming with, most of us have been gaming together for over 10 years and I like the group dynamic. For virtually everything I play I’d choose my current group to play with.

That said, in certain instances I’d pick some other people to round out the group or add a little extra enthusiasm. For Shadowrun I’d like to add a couple of people I used to game with, people who have a strong grasp of the setting and lore. Certain games work best when the players understand the setting, the players, the history of the world and Shadowrun is absolutely one of them.

For Cthulhu I’d like to play under Chris again, although I fear it’s a case of rose tinted glasses here. Still, I enjoy  being a player in a Call of Cthulhu campaign and it’s something I never really get to do. I’d pick the same group of people to play with, Alex especially as his enthusiasm for the game almost matches my own.

For Ravenloft I’d like my friend Andy to run the game, he has a love for the setting that is unmatched by anyone I know and I find that it takes that kind of commitment to make a setting shine. Likewise, if I wanted to play the ideal game of any World Of Darkness game, i’d get James to run it.

I guess my conclusion here is that my current group is awesome but, if I could pick the ideal group from people i’ve played with in the past, it would involve some people who excel at running the games I like to play and that way I’d get to play a little more in the settings that I care about most.

RPGaDay 2016- Day 13, What makes a successful campaign?

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What makes a successful campaign will vary hugely based on the people you ask, everyone looks for something different in a game. I have friends that just play for the social aspect, to see their friends and have a little fun. I have others who see roleplay as an almost theatrical experience and others still that see it as an extension of wargaming and I guarantee every single one would say something different if asked what makes a campaign successful.

For me, I fall somewhere in the middle of that triangle of gamers above. Gaming is a social thing for me, I enjoy seeing my friends but it’s also very much about the game for me and I take the game very seriously when it’s presented as such. A successful campaign needs to be run seriously, by a DM who cares enough to do so and puts the work in. If a game isn’t presented that way then i’ll play and have fun, but never as much as if I can properly sink into a character and a game.

I think least of all I see roleplaying as a wargame but it retains some elements of wargaming and a successful campaign bears that in mind, especially one that involves an element of combat. Players want to be challenged, to not feel as if they won too easily and to have the satisfaction of besting their foes.

Ultimately though the story is the bit that matters, how the DM presents the world, the plot, the characters, everything. A successful campaign needs to feel real, I need to hate the villain, care for the side characters and desire to see the story through, beyond the general desire to play the game and pick up the plot hooks.

A successful campaign is the very definition of roleplaying, at least in as far as it’s described in many modern RPGs, it’s a group of people working together to tell a story and the more successful that endeavour is the more successful the campaign is to me.

RPGaDay 2016- Day 12, What Game is your group most likely to play next and why?

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I like the easy days it’s this-

Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, Kickstarter Limited Edition, Keepers and Investigators Guides, Covers

Very specifically this-

Horror on the Orient Express, front of box

Why? Well because i’m running the next game and we’ve already discussed that it’ll be Horror on the Orient Express for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition. To be honest it’s been a given that the game i’d be running next would be this ever since it arrived, it’s the lats of the ‘great’ Call of Cthulhu campaigns we have left to play (we’ve done Masks of Nyarlathotep, Beyond the Mountains of Madness and Tatters of the King) and so we need to do this to complete the set.

Most significantly though, I just really want to run it and I think of all the games I run I run Cthulhu the best.

RPGaDay 2016- Day 11, Which Gamer most affected the way I play?

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I’ve realised, as I write these that I’m writing about Call of Cthulhu ALOT. It’s not even my favourite game really, that’s D&D, but it is the game I get the most out of and when you have a good game of Call of Cthulhu, I don’t think it can be bettered.

I think the reason that so many Call of Cthulhu games have had such a profound effect on me is that it was the first game I played that I realised could be played just for the character and story rather than the murdering and looting of monsters and that’s all down to the first Keeper I played for, a man by the name of Chris LeCourt.

Chris was a friend of a friend, met at a gaming club and someone I got to know due to a mutual love of gaming in general. Soon after a few friends and I formed a gaming group with Chris and embarked on our first session of Call of Cthulhu.

That first session was just one of the prewritten adventures in the core book (4th edition I think) and we were a group of investigators, naive to the mythos (although i’d been reading Lovecraft for a number of years by this point) working for an investigative company named The Ark Foundation. Regular players in my games will note that I still use that group in my Cthulhu games to this day.

Anyway, we played in a dark room  lit by candlelight, the first time i’d seen the environment manipulated by a Keeper to try to build atmosphere and it totally worked for me. I was drawn into my character, a photographer if I recall correctly, and did my best to react to the situations thrown at us with as much realism as possible.

Near the conclusion of the adventure, as we tried to form a circle of protection to trap an invisible creature, I failed a sanity check and my character was reduced to a jibbering mess in the corner of the room. I took this to heart and started to just rock back and forth in my chair muttering ‘this is not happening’ over and over. It’s a bit cliche but you really could cut the tension in the room with a knife.

I’ve long sought to emulate this in my own games of Cthulhu, from the name of the organisation that my Investigators always work for, to the candle lit rooms, even down to running that same adventure as an introduction for my own players years later. Chris opened my eyes to a different way of playing, a different type of story telling and for that i’ll be eternally grateful.

RPGaDay 2016- Day 10, Largest in-game surprise you have experienced

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Running games I like to keep things close to my chest, ideally bamboozling the players over the true identity or motivation of their adversary until the last possible moment. Doing this maintains tension, helps keep the players interested and makes villains memorable, especially when the twist is unexpected.

That said, I think my favourite reveal was by a player, to me, during one of my own games. We were playing the Call of Cthulhu campaign, Tatters of the King, which is, to date, the best Call of Cthulhu campaign I’ve read and certainly the best I’ve run.

Tatters of the King, Cover

WARNING– There will be some spoilers ahead.

Throughout the campaign the investigators had been plagued by visions of the King in Yellow, following witnessing the King in Yellow play and investigating events surrounding it and a cult of Hastur. As the game built to its conclusion the party travelled to India tracking the cult activity and the closer they got to the source of Hastur’s power, the more frequent and intense the visions became. For one particular investigator the visions were particularly intense and began to wear on his sanity.

The campaign culminates high in the mountains of Tibet, in sight of Everest, after the party enter a cave and so proceed to an other worldly location close to the Cyclades. After some exploration they reach a room in which they are approached by a vestige of Hastur who asks them all a single question ‘Will you Guide me?’.

The party have to each make their own decision as to what they want to do. All replying ‘no’ simply delays the inevitable, as Hastur will return again when the stars are right. The correct answer is to reply ‘yes’ and then lead Hastur astray as you guide him to Earth, forever dooming your soul but saving the planet from certain doom. I gave each player a piece of paper and asked them to write their answer, Yes or No, with no conferring between them. I then gathered the paper and secretly read the result.

As expected one wrote ‘yes’ and so I turned to him to describe the scene as it evolved and, much to my surprise, the player didn’t lead Hastur astray, didn’t even try, he guided him straight to Earth and so doomed the planet. Shocked, I asked why, since leading him astray is made clear as an option, and my players answer was that most surprising reveal “After everything that has happened, everything I’ve seen, heard and done, I felt that I was the avatar of Hastur, I was the one destined to bring him to Earth to rule”.

I have to say, I’ve never felt like I have done a more effective job running a game than in that moment, when I realised that I’d managed to coerce a player to end the world through the subtle manipulation of what he experienced throughout the campaign.

RPGaDay 2016- Day 9, Beyond the game, what’s involved in your ideal session?

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My ideal session is made up of things that complement the game, since I roleplay to play the game. It’s all about the right people, the right atmosphere and the right time.

The right people are, generally, people I know well, since roleplaying is about being comfortable enough to let yourself be someone else and thats hard to do if you aren’t at ease with your fellow gamers.  It’s more than that though, its about the right people for the game that i’m playing. I have certain friends who detest anything to do with Lovecraft and so playing Call of Cthulhu with them is the wrong choice and i have others who hate having to do background reading or minute resource management and so Shadowrun, at least the way I play it, probably isn’t for them. Likewise an anime game like Big Eyes, Small Mouth isn’t for me, I just don’t get the themes.

The right atmosphere links with the game and it’s one of the most important things to make a game work properly. For something like Shadowrun I like to use emails for contacts, tablet computers to send maps to players and generally as much technology as possible to try and reinforce the hi tech theme of the game.

For Call of Cthulhu I play by candlelight, with no books on the table, no tablets, no phones, just paper, pencils and characters along with whatever props and handouts I provide. I find that this helps build the slow paced and intense atmosphere that Cthulhu needs to properly work.

The right time links with the atmosphere but it also relates to how my players are feeling, what pop culture items have piqued our interest and even what time of year it is. If my players are obsessed with a particular sci-fi TV show then a sci-fi game is probably appropriate, if everyone is playing a cyberpunk card game then a cyberpunk game is appropriate. As for what time of year it is, well it’s not worth starting to play call of Cthulhu in the height of summer, you can’t build up horror why it’s blazing with sunshine.

Roleplaying is all about the game for me, I see my friends socially at other times and catch up with them then and so  when it comes to game time I want to play. So, for me, the ideal session is made up of all the things that complement the game and make it great.

RPGaDay 2016- Day 8, Hardcover, softcover or digital? What’s your preference?

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I have quite a lot of roleplay spanning numerous systems, settings and companies. I think I worked out that if I tried to put them on a single shelf the shelf would need to be around 30 feet long and that alone is very telling when asking whether I prefer a physical copy to a digital one. When comparing those two formats physical will always win for me, as it does with books, because there is an intangible something about holding a physical book in your hands, experiencing the smell as you open it (few things are better than that ‘new book smell’) and unlocking the knowledge within.

That’s not to say that digital doesn’t have its place. I personally think that, in the modern world, all physical books should come with a complementary digital copy, for ease of transport and to save wear and tear on the copy. In the age of the tablet digital books are a very useful tool and save the back of many a DM who can carry all the books they need in one small device rather than breaking their backs with bags full of books. I own many a digital RPG book, some I pick up just to see whether it’s worth getting the physical book, others to complement my collection. Some companies, such as Catalyst even do digital only releases of short sourcebooks to help supplement the physical releases and I think this is a great way of exploring parts of a setting that otherwise may not see the light of day.

Still, it’s physical books for me and, when choosing between Hardcover and Softcover I’ll go with the hardcover 9 times out of 10. The reason for this is that they are just much more hardwearing than their softcover counterparts and the state of my books matter to me, I like them to look pristine. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t be used, they should, there is no point having an RPG book and letting it sit unused and unloved, not fulfilling it’s purpose, but I’d prefer that they not fall apart.

The other reason that I prefer hardcovers books I because that’s the format that almost all of the limited edition version of books come out on.

My Shadowrun 5th ed limited edition core book is hardcover-

Shadowrun 5th Edition, Dragon Edition, Front Cover

My Call of Cthulhu 7th ed Kickstarted books are hardcover-

Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, Kickstarter Limited Edition, Keepers and Investigators Guides, Covers

I don’t own a single softcover limited edition. Now softcover has its place, it’s perfect for boxed sets (and I wish more games had boxed sets nowadays #bringbacktheboxedset) and it’s obviously cheaper to produce and buy. I do also find that really thin books that are hardback, say things under 100 pages long, just feel strange and don’t look right at all.

Given the choice I’ll always go for a hardcover but digital has a place for those with limited space or who prize the ability to transport move their collection easily and softcover is good for those who don’t care about condition and who want to get books a little cheaper.

RPGaDay 2016 Day 7- What aspect of RPGs has had the biggest effect on me?

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I’ve been a roleplayer for most of my life, well over 2 decades and before that I played wargames and before that I watched Dungeons and Dragons the cartoon. Even before I know what roleplaying was I was roleplaying, running around the school yard pretending to be Hank the Ranger, or a Transformer or a Thundercat.

I can’t think of an aspect of my life that hasn’t, in some way, been influenced by roleplaying, whether it’s writing this blog, the books I read, the TV shows and movies I enjoy, hell even the friends I have. Ask my wife and she’d probably say that the part thats had the biggest impact is the sheer amount of stuff released (and that I seem to be compelled to buy). Through it all though, the same aspect of roleplaying has had the biggest impact on me and it is the very thing that drew me to the hobby in the first place, storytelling.

Way back, before I knew RPGs were a thing, I played Heroquest, a GW game produced by MB Games and in that I played a mage and that mage developed into a character as the story of the campaign developed. Later, a friend introduced me to Dragonlance and it was those stories that made me want to create my own.

The storytelling of RPG’s lets me live and and experience in worlds beyond ours, worlds where the impossible is an everyday occurrence and where I feel what it’s like to be someone else. In the same way as actors like to step into the shoes of the character, be they hero or villain, I like to do the same, to explore what it’s like be someone else and do things that I would never normally consider doing, even if they were possible.

Not all of those things are heroic or good, but within a safe space, with my friends, we can explore the stories of the various heroes and villains of a world and collaboratively tell their story. Playing a villain can be a very cathartic experience, taking frustrations harmlessly and helping to build the greater story of the campaign and, more so, an effective, memorable villain makes the story, if you don’t believe me just watch Game of Thrones.

I still read, still watch films and TV, play computer games and more and in all cases my favourite thing is the story, how characters and events evolve and expand to become a cohesive whole within the context of their setting. Everything is about the story for me, from the things I choose to watch to the things I choose to do, above all, it’s the story that matters and that comes from Roleplaying.

Classic and modern RPGs, tabletop games and boardgames played, reviewed updated and mused upon.

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