What’s the Future of Tabletop Roleplaying Games?

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My thoughts on the Future of Tabletop Roleplaying Games

I believe the future lies not in the multiple 300+ page tomes that must be consumed and memorized before play – because, historically, that has not attracted mainstream appeal – but rather in short documents that can be read and mastered in 20 minutes, and taught in 5 minutes. After that, a (short) tome of advanced rules can be released to give the full (traditional) experience of tabletop gaming.

The topic is subjective as hell, but what do you think the future of RPGs looks like?

Discipline for 2017

New Years is upon us, and that means resolutions. Most years, I wait until after Christmas to review the previous year and consider the trajectory of the next, but last night I found a six-year-old notebook. What was in it? Goals. But, more than that, goals that I have not yet achieved, still pursue, and shouldn’t take more than a season to reach. Talk about a lack of discipline.

And can you believe that the first line of the notebook said this:

Seriously!

Now, what was written after that was actually pretty correct: …you just have to do it. Discipline is built through action. The more you do something, the more disciplined you’ll become in keeping with the habit. The only secret to success in the pursuit of discipline is progressive overload (that’s a weightlifting term for starting small and slowly increasing the load until you are achieving epic lifts).

I could lie and say I didn’t know that six years ago, but starting small isn’t sexy enough; screw Steve Rogers or Bucky Barnes, I want to be Captain America today! So, naturally, this goal was something that didn’t get achieved…

I mean, it’s an ambitious (and ambiguous) goal, but it’s not like I didn’t spend most of my life in just that condition. I knew how to get back to it. Patience and discipline, neither of which I had.

One goal I did pursue, in fits and starts, is…

But the sustained effort required to make a living with my writing was not there. And in the last two years, especially, it’s been all over the place.

So what am I going to do about it in 2017?

I’m going to be patient; I’m going to be disciplined. I’m going to start small (yes, those are 5 lb. weights on the literary bar), and I’m going to be patient and keep thinking about the long game.

My goals for 2017 are to: get my business back on track (getting Jadepunk, Shadowcraft, and PME getting regular launch dates and my marketing infrastructure established), publish an Intrepid Story every quarterhit my fitness and martial arts goals (which I won’t post here, because boring to read about if you’re not into that), and document my progress (if I’m successful, then a record of how I did it could be beneficial to others in the future).

Some of those goals require funding that I don’t currently have (but that I do have lined up in January), others require help that I need to procure, but most of them require that I get off my ass and start, but start small.

What are you hoping to accomplish in 2017?

Classcraft: Gamify Your Classroom

It’s no secret that kids learn better through stories and games (Jesus used the parable, my teachers used BINGO), but it seems that classroom gaming has come a long way from The Quiet Game. Classcraft is a free (for most features) way to turn a modern classroom into an engaging game.

What is Classcraft?

From their website:

Classcraft’s mission is to transform the learning experience by using game mechanics to engage students and provide teachers with well-designed tools to do so.

A friend of mine who teaches at a local magnet school introduced me to Classcraft. After browsing the website, it has me wishing that I was back in school again.

Classcraft uses a fantasy genre roleplaying game to provide teachers with a fun way to manage their classroom. They play the role of GM, assigning quests (tests), giving away XP (scores), and a load of other things.

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Classroom Management Level: EPIC!

What About the Students?

Students have the coolest role of all: they’re the players.

Each student creates an avatar, complete with a character class (Mage, Warrior, Healer) and special abilities, called powers. They also have hit points, experience, even special items that can help them on their tasks. If my classroom had this stuff, I would have been on the honor roll every year.

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Can adults take the Invisibility power?

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Hunting, because every school needs a version of the Hunger Games.

I find this to be such an amazing concept, especially for the current generation, which is getting into gaming at younger ages than ever (my five-year-old can work my iPad better than I can). And it’s great for the tabletop gaming industry. The little girl who showed me her dashboard said she wanted to play D&D for real! (Is our beloved in hobby in for a revival?)

My PTA meeting is coming up, and I’m planning on printing out the materials from the Classcraft website and showing them around. I’d have fun just checking up on my daughter’s quests.

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Honestly, why does this not appear in every tabletop game?

What do you think of this classroom management tool?

Classcraft from Classcraft on Vimeo.

Your Fandom Opinions Are “Correct”

Few discussions can drive a wedge between nerd friends than one person admitting they liked the Star Wars prequels.

Why is it that fandom is so terrible to those minority members who like unpopular things? Why do we feel the need to be gatekeepers of the things we love or love to hate; dissenters be damned?

Isn’t it possible that the minority could be right?

My Introduction to Fandom and Pop-Culture

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My childhood was steeped in a particular concept of Superman. I was introduced to comic books in 1992 with the X-Men cartoon series on Fox. That started a (very expensive) fascination with superheroes.

I owned quite a few Superman books, but never really got into the character until Doomsday killed him. A lot of people didn’t like the four Supermen that replaced him, but I felt they were fresh and, in the case of Steel, really damn cool! Superman, for me at the time, was old and boring, but Steel was a complicated character who could be challenged by writers in ways that Superman could not. I dug the character when a lot of people back then just called to have their old boring Supes back. But when he did finally come back…I liked him. The stories they told in that post-death era were fantastic. And the early 2000’s storylines were amazing!

There was also the (un)healthy consumption of Justice League cartoons, Superman animated movies, and, of course, Smallville, that took far too many hours of my days and colored my perceptions of who Superman and his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, are.

Enter Man of Steel

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When I walked into the theater to see the Superman reboot, Man of Steel, I carried all of my preconceptions of who the character was with me. My introduction to the character colored my perceptions, and I hated the movie. I felt betrayed by the producers, writers, and the director. I felt they assassinated the character of Superman and Jonathan Kent…because they were different from what my preconceptions said they should be, and I loved those preconceptions so much (especially Jonathan Kent, Smallville version, in whom I saw a lot of my grandfather) that I could not reconcile with the new movie.

My friends who had a wider range of Superman preconceptions, and who were more willing to suspend their prejudices to see a new take on the character, loved it. Who was right? I thought I was. But was I?

Marvel Did it “Right”

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I have as many Marvel comics as I do DC, and far more Image and Wildstorm comics than either one of the Big 2, but I like the Marvel movies much better. They do their movies “right.”

How can I say that? How can I be an authority on what is right or wrong regarding subjective material? I shouldn’t be able to…but I can. I can because my “rightness” is subjective too.

The Marvel movies are not objectively better than the DC movies, but they hold up to my preconceptions of the characters much better than the DC movies do. When I see The Avengers on screen, I don’t see someone’s interpretation of them; I see what I would have done with those characters were I in charge of the production; I see my childhood, my preconceptions given form on the silver screen.

On the other hand, some friends of mine detest Thor because he isn’t “magical” enough. That’s their preconception of the character from years of reading comic books. Who am I to say they’re “wrong” for having that opinion about a character they love?

Star Wars: The Elephant in the Room

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Many complain that the Star Wars prequels were terrible and failed to live up to the Original Trilogy. I believe they’re probably right, based on what their preconceptions about the movie and the galaxy far, far away were.

When I went to the theater to watch The Phantom Menace, I carried no preconceptions with me. I had never seen a Star Wars movie and had no idea who Luke, Han, or Leia even were. For me, I wasn’t watching a prequel to an old trilogy; I was watching Star Wars.

After I had watched Ep1, I enjoyed the concept of Star Wars, but it wasn’t until Ep2 (still having not seen the Original Trilogy) that I truly fell in love with it. Then I watched the Original Trilogy, expecting something out of this world, but it fell flat. It felt nothing like the Star Was that I knew. It was dark and tragic and terrible (up until then, the tragedy in the prequels was limited to Anakin’s mother and Qui-Gon).

Since that time, I’ve delved into just about every piece of Star Was fiction that’s out there – I’ve even written several game hacks of the setting, like this one for the Fate Core Roleplaying System. But even today, I still favor stories centered around, or just before, The Clone Wars.

Because of how I was introduced to the franchise, the prequels were not the backstory of Darth Vader, and the Original Trilogy was not the core story. For me, Star Wars is a story about a shining republic, flawed but great; a tragedy about how one corrupt politician can drive a great nation into a post-apocalyptic cautionary tale, which is how I interpreted the Original Trilogy when I finally saw it.

That’s not everyone’s experience with it, but the internet seems to assume that everyone’s experience is the same. I’m happy to agree to disagree because I’m not every Star Wars fan. I’m one person who took the long way through hyperspace to the galaxy far, far away.

It’s All Subjective

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There’s no right way to enjoy art. Whether you love it or hate it has as much to do with your preconceptions as it does with the execution of the artists, as flawed as that execution may be.

For me, I’m done hating on works of art, because I know that someone came to the experience with different preconceptions than I did (and there’s a real person behind that artistic expression with feelings and aspirations and a love of the thing – poor George Lucas). For me to run down a piece that someone else likes is almost as bad as me running them down for having a “wrong” subjective opinion. Nothing could be more asinine.

So I’m going to let people like what they like. As my good friend, Antwan Hawkins, has said many times, “it’s incredible that we even get the chance to have these conversations about things we love being made as movies.” I’d have to agree.

Fate Core: Example Adventure Fractal

It has been requested that I write an example adventure using the adventure fractal system I devised earlier this week. Before I begin, however, I need to detail an additional change that was suggested to me by Chris Huff of the Google+ Fate Core community.

High Concept and Trouble Aspects

When you choose a goal for your adventure, create an aspect to represent that goal. You can call it the adventure’s high concept, or simply the adventure aspect (I’m not sure high concept works entirely well for this as a term, but as players of Fate, we all understand the mechanical connotations, and that should be enough for now).

Also, to keep tension in the scene, create a trouble aspect. This should represent the danger/death that’s overhanging in the adventure (if there’s no chance of physical, psychological or professional death at all times, there is no tension = boring game). This should be tied to your inciting incident, that bit in the goal section that talks about making the goal inevitable. The trouble is what happens if the PCs ignore the adventure, and also what will step in from time to time and remind them why what they’re doing matters.

And now…

A Sample Adventure!

For this, I’ll use my previous example, since the fiction is already in my head.

Raiding the Temple of Narem-Sha

Goal: Narem-Sha’s Tomb Has Ancient and Powerful Magic
The PCs need this magic to overthrow (major campaign threat).

Death Overhanging: Narem-Sha’s Tomb is Cursed (Whenever a PC fails a roll by 3 or more, create an advantage on them representing how the curse affects them.)

Scenes

Nearby Village
Obstacle Aspect: Odd and Cryptic Villagers(+2 Interaction to defend against Rapport)
Environment Aspect: Old and Secluded Town

Gaining Entry to the Tomb and Exploring
Obstacle Aspect: Techno-Magi Lock (Lock breaker gets a curse advantage – see Death Overhanging, above)
Environment Aspect: Dark and Dangerous

Fighting Past Tomb Defenders
Obstacle Aspect: Animated Skeleton Horde (You can use Combat to attack the entire zone); Undead (+2 to create Fear advantages with Interaction; Skeletons are immune to social actions)
Environment Aspect: Broken Sarcophagi Litter Chamber Floor

Pilfering the Tomb
Obstacle Aspect: The Powerful Lich Lord, Narem-Sha! (Once per scene, you can summon a group of animated skeletons [above]); Undead (+2 to create Fear advantages with Interaction); Ancient Sorcerer (+2 Combat when using magic to attack or create advantages)
Environment Aspect: Dust-Covered Treasure Everywhere

Skills (NPC Apex = +4)

  • Hard (+6): Exploration
  • Average (+4): Combat, Lore
  • Easy (+2): Interaction

Vitals

  • Stress: 3 (+ Bonus)
  • Consequences: Mild, Moderate, Severe

Notes
It made sense to put all of the scene information in the same place. Thus, the obstacle aspects have the stunts listed with them (and I added one to the Death Overhanging [trouble] aspect, because it felt right to give that one a little bit of a reliable mechanical effect). This is not the only way to do it. It is certainly possible to give the environment aspect a stunt, list the stunt effects separately, or anything else that makes sense. I did it this way to save space, and because it made the most sense at the time.

This took me about half an hour, so a little longer than I originally anticipated, but I also spent time formatting the text for the post, so that might bring it back to the 20 minutes I quoted before. I’ll have to try another one longhand.

Questions? Comments?

Fate Core: Writing Adventure Fractals Part 3

Yesterday, we discussed a revision to the previously created adventure fractals. Today, I’d like to delve into a thorough method of writing these adventure sheets to help GMs fly through the process.

Writing an Adventure

Writing an adventure shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes, assuming you already know what the story will be about.

Goal
First, you need a goal. What is it the PCs want? How will you make it inevitable that they will travel toward that goal (if it isn’t, they may decide not to partake in the adventure at all)? Once you know the goal, decide whether or not they’ll obtain their goal – “maybe” is a sufficient answer here, relying on the PCs to determine success or failure on their own. It isn’t necessary that they will, however, as failure leads to more adventures.

Scene List
Once you have your goal, work backwards to create the scene list – scenes are where players get to play, without them, you have no game.

What steps will the players need to take to achieve their goal? To bring a killer to justice, they might first have to discover his whereabouts, which requires discovering who he is, which may require questioning witnesses and following clues, which requires investigating the crime scene, which requires being alerted to the crime.

Read that backwards and you have your scene list: hear about the crime, investigate the scene, talk to witnesses/follow clues, discover the killer’s identity, discover his whereabouts, take him down. While reading that you might decide, like I just did, to increase the tension somewhere in the middle. Maybe a witness turns up dead, too – or a fight ensues between a masked killer and the PCs as they arrive just before a witness is murdered. This is logical, as the killer would want to throw off the investigation.

Important Note: No plan survives contact with the PCs. If the scene’s don’t go in perfect order, that’s okay. Maybe the PCs manage to skip a scene through ingenuity, or make a scene irrelevant, or create a new scene by following some tangent they came up with. Go with it! You can always bring them back on track, or modify a previous scene on the fly to create the new scene.

Adventure Aspects
Now you can come up with your adventure aspects. Write two for each scene: one for the location/setting, and one for the obstacle the PCs will face. You can write more than these, but include at least these two.

Adventure Skills
Now that you know what the adventure is going to be about, look at the four adventure skills and determine which ones will be used more often, those should be your Hard and Average skills. Give each skill a rating for this adventure. This is what you’ll be rolling for every NPC or setting element that comes into play against the PCs.

Vitals
Record your vitals (stress and consequences), keeping in mind how many PCs are going to play in the adventure to figure how many bonus vitals you get.

NPCs and Stunts
Finally, go through your obstacles (one of the aspects you created for each scene) and create one or more stunts to represent that obstacle with reliable mechanical effects.

 

That’s it! You have your completed adventure ready to share with your players. Don’t forget to roll with their punches, er…ideas, and keep things fluid. Like most good outlines, this one is subject to change at a moment’s notice. Don’t force the issue of your perfectly devised plans. If the PCs get off track, find a way to get them back to their goal – the reason it was inevitable/imperative that they obtain it is a good motivator to get them back on track.

This system seems fairly self-explanatory to me, but I’ve received a few questions about it in social media. Let me know in the comments below if you’re interested in seeing an example of play using this system. I’ll try to write one up (maybe even create a video) to demonstrate the finer points.

Update

After some demand, here is an example built using this method.

Fate Core: Adventure Fractals Part 2

Yesterday, I discussed using the Fate fractal to design adventures. You’ll notice in the comments of that post that I almost immediately updated, and further simplified, that idea. Today, I’d like to talk specifics about those adventure stats. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss a workflow for creating these adventures in about the same amount of time as it takes for players to work through the phase trio (since GMs typically don’t have anything to do during that time).

Adventure Stats

In my opinion, no system for running games can get too simple for a GM. They already have so much to worry about, why make them have to also add bookkeeping to that list?

This update removes all complicated bookkeeping. You could literally have everything you need for the whole adventure on the front (and maybe back, for an adventure with a lot of scenes) of a 3×5 card!

Adventure Aspects
You should create at least two aspects for every scene: one for the setting/environment and one for the obstacle the PCs will face – you can do more, this should be your minimum. If the PCs will face no obstacle, then there is no tension. You need to delete the scene from your list in most cases, as it will be fiercely boring. Even searching an office for information is an obstacle, Hidden Clues.

Adventure Skills
Adventures use the following skills:

  • Combat: Governs NPCs attacking, defending and creating advantages using combative maneuvers. (NPC and setting uses of Fight/Shoot, and the defense portion of Athletics)
  • Exploration: This sets the difficulty, or opposes, PC attempts to interact with, or move through, the environment, whether that opposition comes from an NPC or another obstacle in the setting. This covers movement, investigating clues, discovering details, determining NPC initiative, allow something to remain hidden from the PCs, etc. (NPC and setting uses of Athletics, Investigation, Notice, Physique, Stealth)
  • Interaction: This is rolled to have the NPCs interact with the PCs. (NPC and setting uses of Contacts, Deceit, Empathy, Provoke, Rapport, Resources, Will)
  • Lore: Governs how difficult it is to know some relevant information that comes up in the adventure. (NPC and setting uses of Lore)

To set the adventure’s skill ratings, set two of the above skills at the same level as the PC’s apex skill rating (called Average Difficulty), then choose one to be +2 higher than that (called Hard Difficulty) and one to be -2 lower (called Easy Difficulty). For instance, if the PCs have an apex skill of Great (+4), then you’d have a set-up of +6, +4, +4, +2. If the apex skill is +3 (like in FAE), then you would have: +5, +3, +3, +1.

Situate the skills so that they highlight the important aspects you have in mind for the adventure. Do you want this adventure to be a tough fight with low social interaction? Have Combat be your Hard skill and Interaction be Easy. Do you want a game of intrigue with next to no fighting? Use Lore or Interaction as your Hard skills and Combat as your Easy skill.

Vitals
Give the adventure stress and consequences. Stress would begin at 3 and consequences would get a full set (mild, moderate, severe). Use the number of players as a “skill rating” to determine bonus stress and consequences (like how Physique or Will works for a character’s bonus stress/consequences). If you find that too easy for the players, consider adding 2 to the “skill rating”.

Use of these vital stats is identical to how they are used for a player. Anytime an NPC, environment, etc., takes stress, it subtracts from the adventure stress track, which replenishes at the end of the scene as usual. When the adventure is taken out, the GM can opt to keep the scene in play a little longer by filling one of the adventure’s consequence slots. No recovery check is necessary to begin the healing process of an adventure consequence – all that’s needed is time.

Of particular note are severe consequences. These remain for the rest of the adventure, but don’t follow into the next adventure. This means that if the GM has not used it by the end of the adventure, he has a basically free use of a severe consequence for the climax. This has the effect of making the climax last longer and become more difficult to overcome, which is a good thing. Tension should be higher in that final scene.

NPCs and Stunts
Instead of using large numbers of huge stat blocks and individual vital scores to keep track of, the GM instead records the name of the NPC, one or two aspects (which can be borrowed from the adventure/scene aspects), and a number of stunts necessary to set the NPC apart from the adventure mechanically.

 

And that’s it for adventure stats. The only thing that changed from my initial adventure fractal concept was the rolling of NPC vital statistics into the adventure itself. This makes the GM more like a player, with his own sheet, stress track and skills. It also simplifies things for him, which I hope GMs everywhere appreciate.

Tomorrow I’ll go over a workflow for writing these adventures up quickly, yet thoroughly.

Stay tuned!