The Trouble With Combat

Role-playing games have their origins from wargames. The through-line from Chainmail to Dungeons and Dragons is an undisputed point of historical record, and the through-line from Dragon Pass to RuneQuest pretty much the same. And as the eponym of wargame is war, it’s pretty clear that all wargames have concerned themselves with killing and dying all the way back to the invention of chess. The problem is that, derivative as they are, role-playing games are not wargames. Role-playing games need not merely concern themselves with killing and dying. After nearly fifty years of evolution, I’d argue that role-playing games shouldn’t only concern themselves with killing and dying.

To be fair, even back to the earliest editions of D&D there were more interesting things going on than just monsters to slay. By 1983 we had Call of Cthulhu, where few or none of the foes within the game were intended to be ‘taken on’ in a violent manner. White Wolf games prized intrigue and social dynamics over outright violence, though both clearly had a place. White Wolf games, though, especially Vampire:the Masquerade, revealed the distinct liability of designing a game, regardless of genre or intended primary activity, with a wargame-like combat system at its center.

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Crowdfunding Carnival: May, 2023

Welcome to Crowdfunding Carnival for May! Now, I admit, last month I was a bit low on energy, low on patience, and I forgot some things. For one, I forgot to write a five year retrospective for April. Now, there’s no use in crying over spilt free content, but I assure you that my energy is up and we’re back in the swing of things for May. In addition to this month’s five year retrospective, I have thirteen different games that I’ll run through in rapidfire fashion. We’re back to all Kickstarters for standalone games this month, but in between the copycat 5e pablum and a whole lot more NSFW miniatures (seriously, what is up with that), there were some diamonds in the rough.

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The Unpublished Network at PAX East 2023

If you want to catch a tabletop game in one of its more interesting stages, it’s always a good idea to swing by the Unpublished Game Network.  The ‘Unpub’ Network  provides, well, networking for unpublished games that are still in development and at a convention gives them a place to put their game through its paces. It’s notable that the signage says ‘looking for playtesters’ instead of just ‘looking for players.’ While not quite as rich in traditional CHG content as its Unplugged sibling PAX East offers the advantage of being right in my own stomping grounds, and getting to attend its ’23 iteration for all four days meant I was able to swing by the Unpub tables multiple times.

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Cannibal Halfling Radio Episode 22 – Now Playing: DIE Pt 3

Four friends who drifted apart came back to play a game together for old times’ sake, only to find themselves becoming their characters. Jay the gamemaster has vanished, leaving Fitz, Evelyn, and Max wondering exactly what is going on. When they track Jay down will the game continue, or come to a final end? Find out as the Cannibal Halflings find one another in the Fields of the Lost in the conclusion to our actual play trilogy of Now Playing: DIE the RPG!

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The Maximalist Fallacy

I enjoy a whole lot of different role-playing games. Indie games, trad games, OSR games, solo games, you name it. As I’ve said before, there’s a wide world of games out there. Despite that, there is one design method for RPGs that profoundly irritates me. And, as luck would have it, it is incredibly common.

The basis of pretty much any RPG is that you, the player, have a character, and you guide that character through the setting, using the rules to determine what happens. The ways that RPGs can structure those rules are basically endless; you can have the entire game determined by a single die, or you can map out six phases of play in as much detail as any strategic board game. Where many games seem to fall, though, is that characters and all they can do are defined by long lists of incremental abilities, all assigned or selected one by one. This is a form of maximalist game design, where the quality and capability of a game is defined by the number of incremental elements you can cram in there. And yeah, it kind of cheeses me off.

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How the Wonk GMs: Running a Session

You’ve prepped, plotted, and planned. You have character sheets from the players, printouts from the rulebook, and everyone found a spot on the calendar that works. Now, your players are sitting around the table, dice in hand, and are looking expectantly towards your end of the table. What do you do?

I wouldn’t go so far to say that running your game is easier than prepping for it, but it is a completely different set of skills. Many of those skills, like using the game’s rules and putting yourself in the headspace of a character, apply equally to all players, whether they’re the GM or not. Others, like taking notes and tracking what’s going on in the setting, look the same whether they’re happening during the session or in prep time before. There is one skill, though, that is both admired and dreaded in equal measure: improv.

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