Archive | Tabletop Games RSS for this section

Telling Stories: You need to make the money

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.Let’s be real here – no matter when your game is set, professional murder is not a particularly good way to make a living.  Sure, the definition of “professional murderer” is a bit more limited than the usual catch-all of “adventurer,” but the number of characters I’ve seen in games that are actually purely adventurers is pretty small.  However you’re making your money in a mechanical sense, your character is probably finding a way to make money that doesn’t involve roaming around outdoors and swording small woodland creatures for cash.

This is usually glossed over, mostly because no one wants to come home after work just to pretend to do more pointless work.  (Pointed work is a different story.)  But you can get a lot of mileage out of having a character with a job that isn’t either an offscreen concern or a de facto license to traipse about and kill woodland critters after all.  So let’s talk about that.

Read More…

Telling Stories: Keeping it tense with zero stakes

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.I will freely admit that I have seen a decided minority of Doctor Who, but I’m always fascinated by the lengths that the show goes to in order to justify its plots.  And kind of with good cause.  The Doctor’s TARDIS is basically a get-out-of-plot-free card, able to travel through time and space with an ease usually reserved for making instant popcorn.  Many of the conflicts in the show could be solved simply by going back in time to before the antagonist had a certain idea and then throwing him into a locked vault.

I am aware that the Doctor has a rule against killing; that is also a mechanism to avoid having him solve every single problem with infanticide.

Of course, every single story ending like this would make for a terrible series anyway, so I’m not begrudging the existence of these contrivances.  The alternative is awful.  But it raises an important question about roleplaying, wherein you have no such artificial narrative blocks.  You can leave at any time, and you have absolute veto power over what happens to your character.  And that’s for good reason, obviously, but it also creates an environment wherein you can always, always leave.

Read More…

Hard Project: Dungeons & Dragons

Like if Kleenex was actually the generic product name, for some reason.

Taking on Tieflings as a basic race was probably a wise move, but it also speaks to that back-and-forth process of taking something, making it non-generic, and then trying to make it generic again.

When Gygax and Arneson first came up with Dungeons & Dragons, it seemed to be half for a lark.  Cue years of discussion, back and forth, debates about the nature of roleplaying, the inclusion of computers, debates about the nature of what makes a computer game a proper RPG or not, and so forth.  Amidst all of that, the franchise has steamrolled on, and let’s be fair, we’ve gotten some pretty great games set in one of the many Dungeons & Dragons settings over the years.

We’ve also had some horrible ones.  And quite frankly, they’re hard to get right no matter what you do.

Part of the problem is that Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t quite have a mythos so much as it has disconnected setting elements rammed together in order to make tabletop games work.  But I don’t think there’s ever a way to make that title into an easy project, despite the good games that have come out of it.  For a lot of good reasons.

Read More…

Telling Stories: Going to the chapel, et cetera

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.Ah, marriage!  That binding of kindred spirits, that most loving of all acts, that quick and easy way to cause plenty of drama.  And not just via the usual routes of drama where in-character romance throws all sorts of wrinkles at you; that is actually secondary to this particular flavor of dramatic potential.

Unfortunately, most roleplaying weddings really do just treat weddings as the endpoint of a romantic relationship, which is fine as far as it goes.  I’ve used it for that purpose, and in real life I am relatively certain my readers here do not want to hear yet again how much I love my wife.  (A lot.)  Marriage is certainly useful for that.

But there are so many other ways to get drama out of weddings.  Many ways which can not even require romantic relationships, or actively work against the in-character relationships you already have.  So let’s talk a little bit about how you can make good use of weddings in roleplaying and what marriages can provide for drama.

Read More…

Telling Stories: The opening still matters

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.Endings are the part of a story that tends to get the most press as being complicated, and with good cause.  A bad ending makes you wonder why you wasted the time necessary to get to the ending, after all.  It’s as true with roleplaying as anywhere else, which is why I’ve had more than a few columns on making satisfying endings in a medium of ongoing roleplaying where nothing ever really ends so much as it sort of concludes.

But what gets skipped over a lot is that the beginning matters, too.  Maybe not as much as the conclusion, but in some ways it’s even harder to recover from a slipshod start.  A poor ending makes people roll their eyes as they walk away, but a poor start leads to walk-offs before you even get the chance to end.

So how do you make the beginning memorable, concise, and enjoyable?  How do you kick off a plot with all of the same panache you’d expect from a conclusion?  I’m glad you hypothetically asked.

Read More…