Category Archives: Level One Wonk

noun
: a person preoccupied with arcane details or procedures in a specialized field
broadly : NERD
: a TTRPG wonk
: a game design wonk

Deviant: the Renegades Review

Role-playing games are like most media in that they tend to resonate with the largest audience when peddling a blend of novelty and comfort. That said, the hobby has a history of lashing out when too much novelty is introduced. Consider Fourth Edition D&D. Or Traveller:The New Era. Or Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Third Edition. I could go on, but the point is fairly clear: Gamers like new things, as long as they aren’t actually that different from the old things they already have.

Say, what’s been going on in the World of Darkness recently?

Continue reading Deviant: the Renegades Review

A Novice’s Guide to Reading New Games

It’s a wide world of games out there, and it’s nearly impossible to truly experience the richness of the RPG hobby if you only play one. Even if your group is set in their ways, or deep into a multi-year campaign, you can still take a look across the hobby and see what new ideas are cropping up (and have been cropping up for the last four decades). Reading some games can seem daunting, and certain incumbents in the industry benefit by making the whole process of reading in the hobby seem more difficult than it actually is (you know, the incumbents that make you buy three books to run their game). That said, role-playing games are not as difficult as some would make it seem, and 400 page books need not scare you away.

Continue reading A Novice’s Guide to Reading New Games

Building Characters From Archetypes

Everyone knows what a character class is. From D&D to Diablo and from Final Fantasy to Facebook personality tests, the notion of starting your RPG adventure with a Fighter, Thief, Mage, or Cleric has transcended D&D and TTRPGs in general to become a nerd pop culture staple. In the modern TTRPG hobby, though, classes are but one way to present a set of archetypes from which to build a character.

Continue reading Building Characters From Archetypes

Generic RPGs: What’s Out There

There’s a world of games out there, but they still just scratch the surface. Maybe your favorite book series or movie hasn’t caught the eye of anyone making RPG adaptations. Maybe you have your own spin on a popular genre that you just can’t pull off with an existing game. Or maybe you just want to run something wild and straight from your own head. No matter the reason, if a game off the shelf doesn’t quite do it for you, you’re looking for a generic RPG.

We’ve talked a bit about generic RPGs before, reviewing Cortex Prime and Everywhen, discussing Fate, and even using GURPS as an example text for looking at how to use generic games. This article is less about what to do with generic games, though, and more about how to find the right one for you. We’re going to discuss three broad types of generic games: Engines which are designed to model as many situations with as few rules as possible, Codexes which use a simple base ruleset and then expand it with a wide library of additional mechanics, and Chassis which take more traditional setting-driven RPGs, strip out the specific parts, and then (hopefully) build back up to something useful. The ‘Chassis’ generic RPG is the most common and popular, but the other two design modes may very well have more to offer the prospective game master.

Continue reading Generic RPGs: What’s Out There

The Trouble With Finding New Systems

Your campaign is ending. It’s been a good time but the story is coming to an end, and your players are looking to the next big adventure. You want to switch it up, and they’re on board. What do you do?

There’s a whole lot of game systems out there, and you probably could run a fun game with any of them. That said, you’re not picking a system because it meets the low bar of “could be fun”. You want a system that will make your game better because it’s there, either because it makes it easier to have fun or it helps you do a fun thing you wouldn’t otherwise be able to or would have thought to do.

Continue reading The Trouble With Finding New Systems

Revisiting Blacow’s Model

As soon as a role-playing game had been run in at least two places, the attempts to categorize and catalogue gaming styles began. Even in the 1970s, when most of the market only knew D&D, foundational work in understanding how and why role-players play had already started. One of the most influential early theorists was Glenn Blacow. Originally exposed to D&D at MIT, Blacow published an early typology of gamers in the small gaming zine The Wild Hunt. This typology, after being expanded for publication in another, larger zine, Different Worlds, became one of the first and most influential classifications of RPG playstyles. Among other things, Blacow is credited, through the Different Worlds version of his essay, coining the term ‘power-gamer’.

Although one might guess that Blacow’s model has declined in relevance somewhat since its original publication in 1980, in reality it still serves as a foundation for many player and play style classifications in wide use. GNS Theory owes its start point to Blacow’s Power Gamer and Storytelling archetypes, and D&D’s seven player types start from Blacow’s four play styles as well. As much as we still see story and optimization as driving forces among gamers, the dichotomy of fantasy and wargaming is a concept that has slid from relevance as the days of the wargamer/fantasy reader schism grow further behind us. Still, behind this dated framing is an idea that’s still worth investigating.

Continue reading Revisiting Blacow’s Model

The Level One Wonk Holiday Special: 2020

Welcome to the Level One Wonk Holiday Special for 2020! Traditionally the last post of the year is when I look back on the year past and ahead to the future, thinking about what’s happened in the world and what I’m going to write next. Needless to say, looking back means reflecting on some solid, unprecedented weirdness.

No two ways about it, 2020 has been a hell of a year. The pandemic created an environment the likes of which none of us have seen in our lifetimes, and that will likely define the generation that is growing up while it happens. And that meant many of us, once we were able to manage the emergent pressures on our health and well-being, needed a retreat, a release. And for readers of this site, that retreat was often going to be tabletop RPGs.

Continue reading The Level One Wonk Holiday Special: 2020

The Hows and Whys of House Rules

Every American child gets introduced to the concept of “house rules” at a relatively young age, when their parents bring out Monopoly for the first time. This old standby has any number of modifications from the official rules which are passed down from family member to family member, like skipping the auction portion of buying property or putting money paid in fines from Chance cards on Free Parking. This also means every American child gets introduced to *bad* house rules at a young age, because both the examples above slow down the game and, in the case of skipping the auction rules, might be more responsible for Monopoly’s reputation as slow and interminable than the game itself.

Just like Monopoly, Tabletop RPGs are catnip for people who like to prod and tweak. House rules are not really a form of hacking the game; they are small changes to make one of the game’s rules-as-written work better for a specific group. They’re also an increasingly small part of the RPG experience as the rulesets on the market get more streamlined and in some cases just better written. Still, one of the best parts of playing an RPG, especially if you stick with one game for a long time, is making it your own.

Continue reading The Hows and Whys of House Rules

Soft Prep for RPGS

New Campaign day is a very exciting day. Your group is ready to try something new, and everyone’s agreed on what it should be. Now you may be getting ready to run a Session Zero with something like Apocalypse World, where the feeling and the aesthetic of the game’s implied setting is broadcast to you, loud and clear, from the first page of the book. You may be getting ready for character creation in D&D, where the implied setting is strong but allows for a lot of variation within its fantasy tropes. Or, you might be walking into a game where the world has sprung from the mind of the GM, and you don’t know what to expect beyond maybe a few sentences that have been shared. Regardless of what situation your campaign will start with, now is the time you’ll most benefit from some soft prep.

Continue reading Soft Prep for RPGS

Are RPGs Fun?

The English language would make a terrible role-playing game. There are a lot of rules, many of them contradict each other, and in certain places there still isn’t enough detail to make the mechanics do what you really want. Some words, therefore, words we use frequently in some cases, are surprisingly hard to define. Imagine, if you will, that someone asks you why you play role-playing games. Many of us will answer such a question with our favorite aspect of the hobby, saying something like “I enjoy playing interesting characters” or “I enjoy making a story with my friends” or even “I enjoy the thrill of combat”. These can all be chased down, toddler-like, with another question, “why do you enjoy that?” When you’ve been run down by questions, how many of you will end on (for either accuracy or to get the questions to stop) “because it’s fun”?

Continue reading Are RPGs Fun?