Archive for September, 2015


What we need to play

September 27, 2015

There’s a few common failure points to successfully running a game, however, the solutions to these mostly boils down to this decision tree:

Did you talk about it and come to an agreement?

A)  No, we didn’t. – > Go talk about it and come to an agreement.

B) Yes, we did.  -> Talk about what went wrong, or changed, and come to a new agreement.

C) We can’t come to an agreement – > either play a different game or play with people whom you can talk and come to an agreement with.  (also: don’t play games or with people you can’t come to agreements with.)

Keep this idea in mind – it applies to all of the following steps which are crucial to being able to run a tabletop roleplaying game.

Social Commitment: Can I even fit this game into my life?

How long is each session? How long is the expected campaign?  How important is steady attendance? How well can it adapt if people get busy, get sick, or schedules change?

The question underlying all of this is: “Can I even fit this game into my life?”

This is a question people don’t ask, yet it’s really the biggest question to start with – if people can’t make the time to play the game, maybe you need to play a different game.

And, if the game is bigger than a single session, you have to figure out what to do when it comes to life intruding.  Not having this conversation doesn’t mean “things just work out”, it means the game just stops after a point.

Agenda: What’s the point of the game?  What’s the fun part?

Note that if you play a superhero game about fighting villains and the fun part is strategically using your powers to win tactically and the same premise but the fun part is roleplaying the drama of balancing a secret identity with obligations as a hero – the focus of play, what you do in play, is very different.

If you don’t talk about this, then people may show up with all kinds of mismatched expectations and start trying to force each other to “play right” without ever agreeing on what “playing right” is.

Setting: What do we need to know about the fiction to play?

What’s the genre? The tone? The setting?  What kinds of characters make sense to go into this setting?  What kinds of decisions, or behaviors?  What kind of outcomes and conflicts?  Do you need to know the Culture of Vampires and Elves?  Do you need to know The Third Age?

This helps us create together as a group.  If we don’t know what we’re working with, some folks may make references or meaningful statements while the other players have no context at all.  If it is expected to be known, how much reading or “homework” is it, and again, can players fit it into their lives?

System: How do we find out what happens?

The actual rules.  How much do you need to know to play comfortably?  How much is it ok if you look it up during play or have someone handhold you through the process?  How do you, as a player, try to make things happen in play the way you want them to?

I mention “the actual rules” because a lot of games suffer from people saying, “You can do anything you can imagine” and then find out “Actually the GM has preplotted everything and you can’t really do much really” and similar issues.  Jono’s Big Flowchart of What Game Are We Playing? is a great example of a terrible and common issue.

Clearing these hurdles

Effectively what my Same Page Tool does, is take several standard RPG play tropes and sort them into categories to make it easier for a group to talk about and make a decision on everything except social commitment.  The problem I’ve always pointed to is that games should already tell you what the point of play is and how the system works and an idea of how to use the fiction and genre tools they give you to play – you pay for a game to tell you how to play it.

A well designed and well-written game makes these issues trivial – you are able to easily come to agreement because the game either sets the parameters or gives you tools to decide between the forms in which it operates.

So this fixes everything?  Not quite.

There’s two common problems this doesn’t fix.  However, these are fundamentally unfixable problems.

“What if people are dishonest about what they want out of a game?” 

Well.  In a game medium that exists through conversation, if someone is lying to you, about what they consider fun, in a game about elves, cyborgs and vampires or what have you – think about how deep the distrust has to be for that to be a reflexive behavior.   Someone who can’t be honest about what they find fun is someone you can’t find fun with.  Move on.

“How can I make people like what I like, want the same kind of game that I want?”

You can’t.  You can’t make people like music they’re not into, you can’t make them enjoy flavors they don’t like, and so on.  If you know that you have incompatible goals – don’t roleplay together.  Play games or do activities that you all DO enjoy, and leave the roleplaying to the subgroup that has the same tastes.  It’s ok, you’ll still be friends.

Having an honest talk will reveal both of these situations rather quickly.  Either the agreements fall apart in play because someone is dishonest, or you can’t come to an agreement in discussion because what you want is fundamentally different.   These are the hard truths people don’t like to deal with, but there it is.  Once you recognize these, you can stop wasting time and focus on people who want to play a game with you and have fun.

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The Failing Business of Hate

September 4, 2015

So, this last week has been full of some interesting news, with several people boycotting DriveThruRPG for carrying about as blatantly open violent misogyny material as one could imagine.  The discussion about the products, or the choice to carry them mostly falls into points I’ve made in the past.

The interest discussion for me, in this, however, is that several other game publishers have noted how much the impact has been on their sales, and argued against a full distributor boycott.  There’s effectively two arguments, but both are empty, and those are both worth dissecting.

What the Market Wants and Business Choices

Before we go into the arguments – the fact is, if your sales have been impacted, then that’s how many consumers have just told you that they not only don’t want to buy hate material, they also don’t want to support businesses (the distributor, in this case) who also profit by them.  A growing gaming community that isn’t built on hate propganda is more important to them than buying a luxury.  I’m sure you’ve made other choices about how to sell your game and how it will fit into the market – here’s one more factor.

Now consider the distributor’s role in this: the distributor exists to make it easier to sell your game.  Part of that is basic PR – ideally they promote your game and make it look good, but if nothing else, maybe not themselves becoming associated with the kind of thinking that gives us mass shooters and violent stalkers is kinda one of those basic PR things.   If your distributor is making themselves look so bad that customers are not buying your games, perhaps, you should look for other options?  (ETA: here’s an example of a videogame company who hired a PR firm… that had bad PR themselves and what that meant for their game…)

In this particular case, it’s not like there aren’t a ton of options for electronic distribution, and, at least, a few good options for print on demand.  A key problem that the Forge folks pointed out in the past was that 3 tier distribution meant you were locked into playing the distributor’s game, even if they fucked you over, said your company had closed to people asking for your game, didn’t pay you on time, or at all, etc.  And likewise, customers had to deal with the chain as well.   These days, you have options – and realize, so do your customers.  They can buy a LOT of RPGs, from a LOT of places, and they can even get them for free.  Sorry, it’s a hard market,  maybe you better make some choices about how to meet it…

Argument #1: You shouldn’t boycott the distributor because it hurts ME (and businesses like mine)

I’ve seen this argument show up in the Sci-fi/Fantasy community before – it’s a very entitled view.  Often people will talk about their kids needing to eat, their medical issues, and so on.  And yes, those needs are real, however customers have no obligation to make sure you pay rent or eat every month – what you’re looking for there is the base needs safety net to be found in socialist policy – not capitalism.

Basically, you’re making a sales pitch combining the value of your product plus the sympathies of the people you see as your market vs:

a) the fact they don’t owe you sales

b) you’re selling a minor luxury

c) market demand for basic human decency

Personally, if your living situation is that dire, there’s many fundraising sites specifically for that purpose – I had to use them several times in the last 2 years during and after cancer.  The passive aggressive “you owe me sales” is a dishonest guilt trip to throw at folks.

Plus, honestly, RPGs do not pay living wages.  If you are a professional writer, editor, layout designer, illustrator, etc. you already know that RPGs do not pay decent wages, or on time.  You already know you can’t afford to do this and make rent.  The only people who seem to not get shorted are the printers, and that’s because they demand money up front and do not accept the 1930s Depression-Era wages other folks will take to “be accepted into RPGs”.  If you have structured your life to try to survive on RPGs, a lot of choices had to go into that.

Argument #2: “This is an attack on Free Speech!”

We’ll hopscotch past the obvious points of Free Speech and government, and consequences, and go into this simple idea:

I can choose to spend my money, or NOT spend my money, on consumer products as I wish.   If you make products that are shit, I can choose to not buy it.  If your store sells Klan Regalia, I can choose to not go to your store entirely, and while I know I wasn’t going to buy an Imperial Grand Wizard KKK hood, I also know I don’t want any of my money going to your store because you’re clearly ok with that stuff.

You’re making a business choice on a principle – I’m making a consumer choice on a principle.  Effectively you’re using the idea of Free Speech as a marketing tool, albeit poorly and dishonestly, however, it’s this idea a principle that you’re selling.

A lot of folks base their business or consumer choices on principles – some people only use specific types of Linux OS because they have views about open sourcing, and how they use their computers or data.  Some people put their products up for free – either as in no cost, or as in available to be reused, re-mixed, etc.  Some people will not sell PDFs or ebooks, only hardcopies.

That’s all your choice to do.  If it’s really important to you to sell your game in a venue that will also carry open hateful material, so that you can stand firm on your principle, go ahead.  Just don’t complain about what the market wants in regards to that.  I mean, you can sell your game only in BitCoin – that’s a choice some folks make – but don’t complain if it gives you a limited market.

At the end of the day

It’s so telling to me about the “we’re not the bad ones” publishers who look at this situation and can neither see business choices to make NOR what the point is when people vote with their dollars.  It really only makes sense if you felt entitled to sales and didn’t think your customer’s desires mattered at all.