I had originally been planning to take this and turn it into a podcast, but I’m still having trouble finding the time to do that sort of thing, and with this post already mostly written up I decided to finish and post it. It touches on a lot of stuff I’ve been blogging and tweeting about of late.
One thing that’s been on my mind a lot about tabletop RPGs is that there is a set of assumptions deeply ingrained into how people typically approach the hobby. For the most part these are things that are harmless in and of themselves, and in fact making their opposites the norm would be a terrible idea. However, I think the way people are so attached to them, so willing to assume that they’re absolutely necessary, is harmful to the hobby. All of this comes with the caveat that I’m in part reacting to people on RPG forums, and that’s an environment where a small number of very loud people can create the impression that their view is more widespread than it actually is.
You Don’t Need to Explain Stuff
There’s a ton of stuff in RPGs that’s left unsaid, and which people expect to be left unsaid. At the furthest extreme you have games with rules for character creation, skill checks, and combat, and pretty much nothing else. Compare that to a game like Polaris where the text outlines a very clear set of procedures of play, or games like Mouse Guard or Apocalypse World that function more traditionally but explain the designers’ best practices much more clearly. In the Japanese TRPG scene, where publishers know they can’t count on the “oral tradition” of gaming, they developed replays to better communicate how a game session flows, and for a lot of people Fiasco is vastly more comprehensible because Jason put a replay in the book.
I think of the things I’m going to bring up here this is going to be one of the hardest to properly address, because it’s difficult to step back and think about this sort of thing. It’s very ingrained in gamer culture that there are some things we expect everyone to just sort of muddle through, and at times the Forge’s exhortation to stop and examine what goes on at the gaming table has been met with out-and-out hostility. Some people have also reacted badly to how Apocalypse World so clearly lays out the canon method of being a GM/MC in it. (Though in AW’s case we are talking about one of the few games that includes a chapter on how to radically hack it.) To the extent that that’s simply based on how Vincent happened to phrase it, personally I’m aiming to use more accommodating language in my own games (“This is what I think is the best way to run Magical Burst, but of course you can do whatever works for you.”), but personally I just can’t find fault in a game giving clear advice on its own best practices.
This is also one of the areas where RPGs definitely lose out to the better board games and video games. A typical tabletop RPG dumps an awful lot of options and parts on the table and expects you to more or less figure them out before you really start playing. RPGs that have any kind of incremental teaching approach (again, Joel Shempert’s thing about “fluency play”) are very hard to come by. Even a small amount of gradation can go a long way towards making a game accessible.
Continue reading The Assumptions
I thought I got over my Fiasco playset writing kick, but I had one more I didn’t quite finish until now. Heroics is a playset for stuff about fucked up wannabe superheroes as seen in Super, Defendor, and the first half of Kick-Ass. There are no superpowers, just idiots in costumes trying to play at heroes and getting into big, big trouble.
Download Heroics (PDF)
I figured I might as well post this up rather than waiting. It’s yet another Fiasco playset, and hopefully my last one for a while (for one thing I need to find time to actually play these things).
Super Kart Party 3 Plus! is about video game testers at Nakatomi Games. Not only do they have the shitty grunt job of the industry, but it’s crunch time on an utterly idiotic, hopeless, terrible game (from which the playset gets its title) that upper management will not let go under any circumstances.
I wrote it as a birthday present for a longtime friend who’s worked as a game tester for a number of years, so a substantial portion of it is based on the various stories he’s told me. Like Liquidation, I based it more off of real life stuff, so it’s hard to recommend viewing material, but jPod and maybe Grandma’s Boy come to mind, and Once Upon Atari and this Destructoid article could be good sources of ideas.
Download Super Kart Party 3 Plus! PDF
Yes, another Fiasco playset. I have another in progress too, though I’m trying to get started on a Parsely game too.
This one is about the members of a small local guild in an extremely popular MMORPG. It is of course heavily inspired by The Guild. It couldn’t really find any other works about MMO players, but a Google search for “guild drama” provided plenty more inspiration, specially the Drama Mamas column on WoW Insider.
The playset is a little bit non-standard in that (1) when setting up a scene you declare whether it’s IRL or online (so there can be scenes entirely in the game, or that consist of narrating angry forum posts), and (2) I’ve replaced the Locations table with an Events one (which if you’re feeling adventurous you can also use during the Tilt).
The Knights of Light Fiasco Playset (PDF)
Liquidation is my second attempt at a Fiasco playset. Crossings is a big chain of big bookstores (get it?!) that has just filed for bankruptcy. With the clock ticking on the local store’s inevitable closing, the employees and regular customers are scrambling to get the best deals (or steals), resolve their grudges, or just get their lives in order before the store’s doors close permanently.
I couldn’t really come up with a “Movie Night” section for this one, because it’s mostly based on real experiences, my own and those of friends who’ve worked in retail, exaggerated (in some places more than others) to make for a good Fiasco.
Liquidation (PDF) Download
Last week I picked up Fiasco, Jason Morningstar’s latest game, at the local game store. The other day I got to play it for the first time, and it was awesome. Our game involved vehicular manslaughter, a Klingon sword, a poodle being duct-taped, and more. I’ve put together a playset of my own, called “The Big Anime Con,” which is about typical Fiasco insanity taking place at a large anime convention in California. (Because if there was ever a group of people with “powerful ambition & poor impulse control” it’s anime fans.) It’s currently an untested draft, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
The Big Anime Con for Fiasco (PDF)