Don’t tell anyone, but over the past year or so I’ve been reading RPG blogs. Probably since I put CUT IT OPEN… on hiatus. While those posts have been personal up to a point, in terms of the systems I’ve played, I’ve rarely talked about campaigns, characters, adventures etc. This is because I’ve tended to view such conversations as the worst. Some roleplayer finds out you play D&D and all of a sudden you’re in a two hour conversation about their Werewolf and how cool he is.
Well, I have bad news for you reader, this series of posts is going to be that conversation.
So why change my stance on such conversations? Well, in reading about other people’s campaign settings on RPG blogs, it’s made me realise they can throw out ideas you can steal, change your approaches & thinking with regards to role playing and they make me realise the breadth of different experiences people have with these games.
So let us get this started with talking about five things I like in my RPGs and five things I don’t.
In writing (and writing is a pretty loose term) an adventure, it tends to come from what NPCs I want the PCs to meet and interact with, rather than an epic quest or awesome dungeon design. And from a player’s POV, I get the most fun when I’m engaging in dialogue with a fun NPC. Additionally I like to have recurring NPCs so there’s a sense of a supporting cast.
There’s some games that stress that the world of the RPG should not revolve around the player characters’ actions. I tend to feel that by default they are the main characters, as unlike everyone else in the gameworld they are being played by a single person. Plus one of the earliest AD&D adventures I played were those Ed Greenwood Forgotten Realms adventures where the PCs frequently have to stand on the sidelines while the NPCs move the plot along. Boo to that. That experience really made me want to do the opposite wherever I could.
My favourite RPGs have simple rule mechanics and ideally you can fit the rules on one page. Over The Edge, Call of Cthulhu, Feng Shui, Teenagers from Outer Space, Paranoia 2nd Edition, they are all simple and elegant rules systems.
Not in the traditional sense it’s used to describe outside knowledge to gain an advantage, but I’ll put information and events in adventures to deliberately get a reaction out of the players rather than the characters. My most ambitious attempt at this was a superhero campaign I ran over a year involving 9 different hero & villain teams and 9 different time periods. I also am a big fan of game worlds that extrapolate a strange logic from the curiosities in rule books (for example: Spelljammer).
As I indicated, I don’t write adventures in detail, and so if the players while discussing the events and possibilities of the adventure think of something that sounds better, I’ll change it match their expectations. It’s that ability to improvise that makes me love pencil and paper RPGs so much.
I loathe traps. I loathe putting them in dungeons. I loathe players slowing things down searching for them. I loathe searching for them when I am a player. I loathe dying because I didn’t search for them. But there are a lot of weird sadist GMs out there, so much so Flying Buffalo put out GRIMTOOTHS TRAPS books that are nothing but traps. Boo to you Flying Buffalo for enabling these sickos. It’s worse than being indirectly responsible for Queen’s Blade.
Nothing grinds a fast moving adventure to a halt better than having to answer some dumb riddle. Tolkien did it and now all the nerds want to have a go. Unless my character is getting a wish or a sweet magic sword out of this, I am not interested. And even then I will answer your crappy riddle under protest. The answer is always MAN.
I am not interested in reading a location or object description out to my players that is any longer than 140 characters. It’s bad enough having to plough through that crap when reading a HP Lovecraft story, I don’t want to read it out loud OR listen to someone reading it out loud. And then have to ask questions because it was so long I forgot the beginning or couldn’t hear over James crunching his crisps too loud. Feng Shui has it right with the idea of simple location desciptions and then letting the players flesh it out in play.
Having to keep track of how long a spell lasts, managing carrying capacity, mapping, basically anything that makes playing a videogame RPG seem like a better prospect than using pencil and paper. I’ve tried a lets keep count of rations, what we’re carrying etc survival campaign, and less than month in, I’d throw it out the window.
I’ve probably gotten off lightly, but there was the real ale flecked bearded racists who met in the Grimsby Conservative Club who I never saw again after one session, coming back from industrial placement to find our gaming group had disintergrated from one member cheating on their spouse with another member of the group, and finally the creepy weirdo with zero imagination, who had to be asked to stop attending. I’m sure you’ve had worse.
NEXT: I’ll tell you about my elf.