Crowdfunding Carnival: November, 2022

Happy late Halloween, and welcome to the Crowdfunding Carnival! Like many of my friends, I don’t see the start of November as the end of spooky season, especially as the time of the year is still dark and creepy. On Kickstarter, it’s very much the same. Yes, there are a lot of literal horror stories (the deliberate, good kind), but overall there’s way more treats than tricks across the crowdfunding platforms this month. As it’s getting colder, and as we’re setting our clocks back soon, it’s a great time to bundle up inside with a good game, and especially a good new game from one of the many campaigners out there. There’s actually many, many good games this month, more than I could possibly cover! That said, I do think my selection is a great place to start.

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The Meaning of Heartbreaker

Ever since Dungeons and Dragons was first released, there have been designers who thought they could do better. Some of them were right, and right fairly quickly; Ken St. Andre, Greg Stafford, and Marc Miller are all luminaries of the hobby who made their mark before the 70s ended. Many others, though, were not. After all, game design is like many creative pursuits, and while some have the talent and skill to pull it off, others…don’t.

As the hobby developed, someone came up with a name for the less inspired clones of D&D and its ilk: the fantasy heartbreaker. There are a couple of etymologies for this phrase. The first refers to the heart of the designer. In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, if you wanted to put out a game, you really had no choice other than to get it printed. Not only was there no PDF or print on demand, there was a much smaller ‘small press’ industry, and fewer printers who would take on a run of a few hundred books. No, these designers usually, if they wanted their book in print, had to order a run of at least a couple thousand. The heartbreak, then, is having a pallet of game books, unsold, in your garage or basement, serving only as a reminder of the massive bill they produced.

The second etymology refers to the heart of the critic, and due to the common use of the longer phrase ‘fantasy heartbreaker’ I believe this one is more accurate. A fantasy heartbreaker specifically is a clone of D&D, hence the genre modifier. What makes it a heartbreaker is, to put it bluntly, wasted potential. The motivation of a designer who writes a heartbreaker is to make a better version of the game they’ve been playing; generally they have somewhere between one and half a dozen interesting and often very good ideas about how to make a game they’d rather play. What they don’t have is the understanding of how to integrate those ideas into a coherent ruleset. The result, both then and now, is a game with several good ideas shoe-horned into rules which are basically D&D without any understanding of what changes were needed to make their ideas work. A critic sees the good ideas, then sees the rest of the game, and then their heart breaks.

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On Game Preparation

Games are static documents. No matter what supplements or errata are released after the fact, the text of a game is just words on a page once it leaves the designer’s head. What makes a role-playing game more than that, though, is the act of play. Role-playing games are different from board games or card games because unlike those, where there are procedures and set-up and specific things to do, role-playing games in their text form merely template the play experience. In traditional role-playing games, it’s up to the game master, or GM, to actually produce the play experience.

I haven’t discussed much in the way of procedures for running a game, and this oversight became more clear as I was attempting to write about how specifically to run a long-duration game in the conclusion of Meet the Campaign: Anti-Boredom. Also, and surprisingly, there’s been some discourse about game prep recently? I was under the mistaken impression that understanding how best to prep for a campaign or session was essentially a solved issue at this point, that writing about prep would mean giving advice, not taking a position.

That all said, there is better and worse prep technique, and there are better and worse games to prep for. One reason that so much of what constitutes ‘GM Advice’ in the broader RPG discussion world is merely advice on how to prep for and run a gaming session is that the monopoly game, Dungeons & Dragons, is a poor tool for GMs. When it comes to running the game D&D has been getting worse by the edition, really, and players who were raised on earlier editions, versions of the game that were much more specific about how to prep and play them, are only getting older. So if you are struggling with running your game, my first piece of advice is to stop playing Fifth Edition D&D.

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Meet the Campaign: Anti-Boredom part 3

From time to time, you’ll see the gaming press and sometimes even the broader ‘nerd’ press pick up a story about a years-long or decades-long RPG campaign. One thing you’ll immediately notice is the focus of these articles: “Meet the GM who keeps on using the same damn world”. “This group has been playing one single game for 35 years. See how the GM does it.” The GM is the key to any campaign, but when a campaign is both long and sustained, others take notice. Long and sustained is the key for an anti-boredom campaign, and though it may not last 35 years, putting in the work will help keep a long, complex, and rich campaign going for longer than you may have initially thought possible.

GMing a long-running game isn’t about shortcuts, but it’s not not about shortcuts either. As a campaign builds history and increases in complexity, the amount of work the GM must do just to keep everything straight is going to increase. ‘Lazy GMing’ isn’t a preference here, it’s a way to make sure you can do everything you need to do without burning out. This is also where much of the content of the other articles begins to synthesize. A system with more mechanics that support what you want to do will take less effort to run. A setting that is constrained but has depth is much easier to do bookkeeping for than a sprawling wasteland of 150 dungeons and ten nation-states. That said, once the game has started, all that’s left to do is run.

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Galactic & Going Rogue – Games of Rebellion and Sacrifice

An interstellar empire controls the galaxy with fear, propaganda, and alienation. Only constant aggression, weapons development, and violence keep it propped up, but even with its brittle foundations it can cause untold death and destruction before it could ever collapse on its own. However, heroes both plucky and jaded are building a community beyond the empire’s reach and fighting for the liberation of the galaxy. We’re telling a galactic story of rebellion, relationships, and war among the stars before going rogue and putting it all on the line to pass the torch of hope onwards!

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So You Want To Change The Rules

Play in any game system long enough, and you’re going to want to tweak things a little – there’s something missing, or a rule doesn’t quite work the way you want it to. Or maybe you’re coming at things fresh with an idea of what you want to do. No game system matches your idea 1:1, but there are a few that come close enough that you don’t want to have to design a game from the ground up. Whether it’s just for a home game or you’re designing one yourself to publish, that means it’s time to change or ‘hack’ the system in question. But what thoughts might you want to have along the way? I’ve got three.

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