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Bananachan’s Video on Prototyping

June 2, 2022

This is a great overview of the early design/playtesting part in terms of shifting from the creative “anything goes” brainstorming part to the refining part of playtesting. I think this is a great way to organize your expectations and path of refinement.

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The Green Knight RPG

May 28, 2022

I picked up The Green Knight game, which is based off the recent movie, which, in turn, is based off the Arthurian legend and appears to be part of the wider folk lore of “decapitation challenge” tales. Most of the time, I feel very few RPGs do a good job of capturing the source material (“Is this story really about 5 foot steps and attacks of opportunity? Hmmm.”)

In this case, I think The Green Knight is an excellent game and a good “teaching game” for people who haven’t done roleplaying or GM’d a game. It’s worth knowing that the game is basically designed to play out over 1, maybe 2 sessions, with a linear set of encounters, as each of the party members is seeking out the Green Knight to fulfill the vow to let him strike at them after a year. There’s 5 characters to choose from, and a little bit of customization to each of them.

It is very helpful to have some familiarity with the tale and/or the movie, but if someone can pick up on the old European folk tale + mysterious fae beings vibe, they could probably go without direclty knowing either.

Neat System Stuff

This is a simple, clean, and focused game system.

This is a game about honor. However, what we track on the character sheet is Dishonor. It goes from 1 to 20. Whenever you attempt something honorable, you have to roll over it. Whenever you attempt something dishonorable, you have to roll under it. The score fluctuates up and down but it’s clearly easier to gain Dishonor than to lose it. And when it hits 20, your character either dies or leaves the quest (there is no death mechanics or injury rules outside of this).

Every encounter and every round in the encounter, everyone gains 1 Dishonor (because it is delaying them from finding the Green Knight, per the vow. So, you realize that over the course of play, everyone is slowly being pushed towards further and further dishonorable actions as they become more likely to succeed.

Of course, there are some skills and stat choices that allow you to modify rolls, and many characters have a few abilities to negate Dishonor gain or remove Dishonor under the right conditions.

Also, another neat mechanic is the initiative system; every player is randomly rolling to see who goes first, but more importantly, the person who rolled the best is “the Leader” for this encounter. And what the Leader gets to do is after the first round, decide if the party is going to keep trying to resolve the situation or just leave. This neatly skips the problem that often shows up in D&D about party conflict, at least mechanically.

A Teaching Game

While the rules literally tell you how the game works, the actual written encounters give you step by step reminders of the process (“Give everyone 1 point of Dishonor to start this encounter. Here’s how to roll initiative”) and then goes into likely player actions and skills that apply to the situations and what outcomes make sense.

Now, I’m definitely the number one person to stand against railroading and Illusionism, I think this game makes it work by virtue of a) being open that the encounters/situations are linear, b) being designed for a very short game (1-2 sessions), and c) being a teaching game that can give people the most rudimentary ideas of how to run RPGs. It’s the same way I look at Candyland as a boardgame – it’s literally all chance and linear, HOWEVER, it teaches you how to take turns and basics of boardgames. (Also, it helped kids who were suffering polio, so… there’s that too.)

Overall

I think if you want a good teaching game or something you can break out and play without prep, The Green Knight is a solid game. If you design games, this is a pretty great example of a focused game that manages to do a lot without getting burdened the way most traditional games do. It does only give 5 character sheets, each of which IS the particular character class – so you’ll definitely want to photocopy these rather than use them up.

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F.I.S.T. – Freelance Infantry Strike Team

May 16, 2022

I picked up a physical copy from Exalted Funeral (PDF only option on itch.io, currently on sale). This is a very light weight game of 80s action movie fun, mixing The A-Team, Metal Gear Solid, and a bunch of the sort of wacky stuff you’d see in 80s movies (androids, aliens, psychics, etc.). It’s a super light PBTA (9 pages of rules, 2 pages of extra materials, another 10-ish pages of Traits).

It’ll probably be a while before I get a chance to play it, but conceptually it seems like a fun pick up game you could get into with minimal prep, and get into the action in short order.

Your characters have Traits which, in most other games, would probably be a whole class unto themselves (“I’m an alien parasite puppeteering a human body” “I’m an android built by the US Army” etc.) The fun part is that there’s something like 100 Traits and as you level up, you can get more Traits – so… you could in fact become something of a bizarre 80s combination character like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. (Although if you specifically want the TMNT vibe with a system that echoes the classic TMNT RPG from Palladium, Mutants in the Now is an excellent system to go look at.)

Anyway, it’s worth checking out if you want a simple, gonzo action game that you can run on zero notice or introduce people to roleplaying games with.

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Good Idea, Bad Idea – NPC motivations

May 16, 2022

Here’s a simple tool for creating NPCs with motivations a bit more than “good guy” or “bad guy”. It’s a variation on my X but Y method, and fits perfectly into the Flag Framing method of running a campaign and improvising events.

Good Idea Bad Idea

You start with knowing your setting and general situation (“A struggle for the throne” “Superheroes vying to be on the officially recognized super team for the city” etc.) and you set up your NPCs with that in mind. Ideally, you are playing an RPG where the game has the players set up Flags, so you have those ready as well.

For each NPC you are making into a major player (someone who can potentially be proactive and take counteractions in the situation), you list out two ideas, values, or drives on how they plan on dealing with that large scale conflict/issue at hand.

One of those is the good idea – something that is generally morally decent and/or reasonable/effective to their goals. The other is the bad idea – something that is morally problematic, or unreasonable/going too far in their goals.

Some simplistic examples:

“Ace Guardian Hero” is one of those Captain America type ripoff heroes, but entitled and arrogant. He wants to be the leading hero of the New Town’s Superhero Team.

  • “If I’m going to be the leader, I have to never run away from the big threats – I have to show everyone I’ve got what it takes to be there.” (good idea)
  • “Only people who will do what I say, the way I tell them to do it, should work with me. Everyone else is a fool & needs to be put in their place.” (bad idea)

Now, you could play up either one of these a little more, but it seems like the perfect sort of spoiler character you can’t directly fight, but who is constantly getting in the way of the PC’s plans. (The Hater archetype of my 7 Types of Antagonists list).

“Mutate-o – the Human Potato” is one of those goofy side heroes, but think a bit “person down on themselves but potent if they could get the self confidence they need”.

  • “I hate seeing people getting hurt – I’m always going to use my strength to protect people” (good idea)
  • “Everyone thinks I’m a monster, and the problems I cause when people see me, means I should hide and let the other heroes be the ones to act.” (bad idea).

Obviously, both of these are cartoonish archetype characters, but you get the idea, right? You can go more complex and subtle appropriate to the genre or setting. And of course, if you craft these in ways that intersect with the PC’s Flags, values, etc. you get some fun, easy to use tools.

There’s no reason that characters HAVE to lean more towards antagonistic or allied, but I usually find 60/40 or even 70/30 works fine. It’s rare to create a character who can be split on a morally grey space and well communicated to the players with the limited spotlight time they’re likely to receive.

Course Corrections

Just as much as players need to refine or alter Flags in play as they get a better thematic grasp on what their character is about or fighting for, you, too, will need to adjust these in play.

Sometimes you’ll find one of the ideas falls flat or never comes up – in which case, replace it. Maybe the NPC takes a stand on something that happened (“I just saw half the city burn. What are we even doing? I’m going to be hard on heroes to do better.”) or you think up something that’s a plausible backstory bit to highlight (“Yeah, I used to be ex-military. And a contact reached out to me for a different supers team. One that gets things done…”).

Ideally, though, you get some good roleplaying in and the NPCs change their views based on interacting with the PCs and they either become better folks, or more committed to being not-better folks. It makes the game a living world and gives the players agency to shape the story and affect the characters.

The Big Pitfall to Avoid

So, just because I’m placing a “good idea/bad idea” with each major character, it doesn’t mean you need to have a major “redeeming value” to every villain. Some folks crossed a line a long time ago, and the fact they won’t kill children doesn’t make them a good person. Likewise, you don’t have to make every good character into a war criminal edgelord.

This is one of the problems of a lot of modern media based out of decades old IP – they ran out of ideas for the characters so they have them do a heel turn or face turn, and often times, done in absence of any other meaningful resolution, you just have stuff like “Oh the Space Nazis aren’t that bad” and it just makes a horrible story and message.

And So…

  • Make major NPCs w/one good idea & one bad idea
  • Try to aim them at ways that intersect with player motivations
  • Figure out how hard they lean towards either, what lines they’ve crossed vs. potential to cross
  • Feel free to change them in accordance w/events in play, or if the motivations aren’t coming up
  • Understand this isn’t the entirety of the NPC’s world view, just relevant handles for this current conflict/situation in the game
  • Not every good idea is fully a morally redeeming one, not every bad idea is a war crime or atrocity

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The Less Things Change…

May 15, 2022

This pattern is familiar, if only because it’s the same pattern we saw trial ballooned and tested in the world of tabletop RPGs.

Every few years I see some different person or group run into the same situation; whether that’s working with The World’s Largest RPG Company or finding out how many people in the OSR space have some extra “principles” that harken to Jim Crow logics, or that folks are sliding neonazism into their revision of a game brand. Nearly always, they’re not hiding it, it’s in plain sight but protected by the White Moderates that MLK pointed out so long ago.

Anyway, probably the biggest strength has been the sheer number of folks who have managed to build their own RPG circles and spaces outside the white dominated spaces where the Hatebros and “I’m not racist but I feel VERY STRONGLY about you decrying racists” crowd runs things.

I remember folks saying I was exaggerating or insane to say that there’s a lot of people in the RPG scene who literally want a lot of folks dead. However, as always, it just appears to be those people who either don’t like mirrors or live as one of the dinner party attendees at “What do you call a party with a Nazi and 10 other people? 11 Nazis”.