Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Turn Up the Positive Feedback

 I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

Mark Twain

Everyone loves positive feedback. It validates us, says someone out there appreciates us, even if only in some very small way almost-anonymous way in the seemingly infinite cacophony of the internet. The Internet Age has conditioned us to crave it and has made a business of our need for positive reinforcement. Likes. Shares. Comments. Views. Texting. Instant Messaging. Reviews. Emojis. Humans have an urge to share things they like among their friends, a hobby community, even complete strangers. We find positive comments about these things not only uplift us but help connect us to like-minded people, give us a feeling we belong to a community. Positive feedback encourages us to interact and share more. Creative people often find positive feedback helps fuel their work, or at least their enthusiasm for it. Unfortunately in this Internet Age the negative feedback we get can easily overwhelm the positive...and can send us into unproductive downward spirals. It seems more people would rather kick down our sandcastle than help build it. It’s easier to destroy; creation requires a lot of time and effort, plus a good deal of the creator’s spirit (a natural vulnerability). Some folks find some twisted satisfaction in online destruction...trolls who, for whatever reason, seek to speak poorly of others, degrade their accomplishments, twist their words, pick a fight, and otherwise remind us of humanity’s darker side. We need to be more positive, build up those who need uplifting, praise the good things that have affected our lives, and offer thanks to those who improve our lives, even in small ways.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Rumors in the GM Toolkit

Half a truth is often a great lie.”

Benjamin Franklin

Would you trust any rumors about
this crazy hermit?
One of the first elements of Basic Dungeons & Dragons that impressed me came in module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. Here, in the supposed base for characters exploring the Caves of Chaos, one could talk to the keep denizens and get information to inspire or aid their adventures...and some of that information was accurate, and some was patently false. I’m developing a new, system-neutral fantasy roleplaying game setting (mostly because, after The Greydeep Marches, I’m a glutton for punishment) and, as I work out key personalities, factions, and locations, I’m tempted to offer a vast menu of rumors to goad characters into exploring different aspects of the region. And I don’t really feel obliged to note which rumors are true and which are false.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

WEG Memoirs: Heroes & Rogues

 A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Christopher Reeve

For many Star Wars fans – especially the recent ones – West End Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game is all but unknown. Almost 25 years after its bankruptcy and two or three additional versions of a Star Wars roleplaying game later, most folks focus more on the latest Star Wars media, with roleplaying games taking a back seat to the latest movies and streaming series. But there was a time when West End’s game helped reignite interest in Star Wars, expanding the universe with a flood of continuity (some might say an unmanageable flood) and new ways to look at that galaxy far, far away beyond what we saw in the original trilogy. Much of that was cast aside after Disney acquired Lucasfilm – an understandable move given the daunting amount and variable quality of in-universe information to track – but some of us watch the recent Disney+ streaming series and crack a slight, pained smile when we recognize something West End created that managed to endure this long. West End didn’t simply amass vast piles of information to create a galaxy of continuity and verisimilitude; it expanded our sense of what was possible within the setting, the different characters we might find and the different stories they might tell. While the first edition core roleplaying game began this trend upon its release in 1987, subsequent publications pushed us to explore different corners of the galaxy. Heroes & Rogues was among the best of those products.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Quick & Deadly Combat

 Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Albert Einstein

Back in April my son and I attended a “buhurt” medieval combat sport event, “Mead and Mayhem,” at a nearby winery. Several teams from the east cost battled in the lists in a regulated melee. Participants wore period-authentic armor and bashed at each other with blunted weapons certified to the league rules, with no thrusts, no hitting certain spots, until an opponent goes down (at least one hand on the ground). The first day teams of five armored opponents bashed at each other in the heavy wood-rail arena (the “list”) while an audience of about 150 cheered them on (fueled, of course, by wine, beer, and mead...). As a medieval enthusiast I enjoyed it; my son quickly let himself get caught up in the action, despite my droning historical commentary. Despite the rules each melee demonstrated the power and brutality of medieval combat...and showed how such fights often took less than two minutes to bring one team of five to victory. Of course in my head I started comparing it to combat in roleplaying games, particularly my favorite Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons. Although that’s a fantasy roleplaying game grounded in some aspects of the real world, in actuality trained, armored opponents clashing in battle goes pretty quickly.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Long & Short of RPG Stats

Since the dawn of roleplaying games many have relied on two forms of game stats for adversaries and other elements requiring definition in relation to game mechanics. Long-form stats usually reside within the rulebook pages with similar reference material; the typical bestiary chapter for fantasy roleplaying games. Sometimes supplements use them, too. Adventures often rely more on short-form stats distilled from their more detailed cousins. These serve as quick, in-game reference without having to drag out the rulebook. New monsters appearing in adventures often get short stats in game text with long-form stats and more elaborate description in an appendix. Although I admit both long and short stats have their place in roleplaying game rulebooks, I’m starting to tend toward short stats or – horror of horrors – no stats at all in my own setting and adventure materials.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Narrative, Challenge, Reflection

 “Do not…keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.”


I admire Professor Scott Nicholson’s scholarly work about games. He inspires people to look at different aspects of games with a more critical eye, particularly in an educational setting. And he helps fuel my interest in games for learning, using game experiences inside or outside a classroom to encourage people to expand their horizons. His latest project – EscapeIF uses educational storytelling (in a familiar programmed text adventure format) to provide an innovative and engaging framework for classroom learning. In exploring EscapeIF I realized this format relies on three core elements – narrative, challenge, and reflection – all of which easily apply to teaching as well as our own game experiences.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Games for Tired Eyes & Fumbling Fingers

 We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing!”

Benjamin Franklin

Am I getting old and crazy
like the hermit in
B2? Probably....
My grandmother, who lived to be 100 years old, often gave me this advice, with a mischievous look yet a tone of resignation in her voice: “Don’t get old.” Now I’m a bit past 50 and have been feeling “old” creeping up on my weary, mortal form for a while now. Mostly it’s just aches and pains, sore muscles taking longer to heal, my eyesight getting worse, my fingers a bit more inept. Now and then I notice some physical limitation or other while I’m engaged in gaming activities. I still enjoy numerous manifestations of my adventure gaming hobby, but some are beginning to present slightly greater physical challenges. I often wish publishers might take such factors into account, though for now I find my own ways to manage.