Tag Archives: Advice

Cannibal Halfling Radio Episode 18: Master Rules

The game master rules, but what rules them? How do many games leave the one running the game out in the cold, what kind of rules do other games assign to them, and what is gained in the process? Seamus and Aaron try to figure it out!

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Meet the Campaign: Anti-Boredom part 2

The role-playing hobby is an embarrassment of riches. There are so many games, so many game ideas, and in contrast to that, only so much time. You don’t need to be all that prolific to reach a number of campaigns you want to run that will take literally your entire remaining life…and do so even if you’re just in your 30s. It’s from this massive buffet that we want to find one dish we can savor; that’s the concept of anti-boredom.

If you were here with us last time, you saw a discussion about the plots and premises that can feed a long-running, deep, and memorable campaign. Today, we’re going to start executing on our anti-boredom campaign by figuring out what support we need to make it happen. There are so many games under the sun, but some are better suited to long-running games than others, and an even smaller number still can truly support the breadth of play that will keep you, the multi-genre, multi-system, and ultimately very easily distracted GM, from abandoning them.

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Meet the Campaign: Anti-Boredom Pt 1

When writing, one of the most important things to know is the audience you’re writing for. And while sometimes it may be obvious, it may also be that writing for a subset of your audience helps focus what you’re doing and clarify your intent. In writing for Cannibal Halfling Gaming, sometimes the audience I write for is myself. No matter what I write about any given week, I go either run or play a session with my home group nearly every week, and just like so many gamers I’m always looking for things to make my games better. So it was when I wrote ‘The Curse of the Wandering Eyes’. The person who the curse had afflicted in my life was myself, and I still am tempted by so many games and campaign ideas that I come across.

When considering my affliction, I asked myself a question. How would you structure a campaign in such a way that it would keep your attention? What would you actually need to go back to the same storyline week after week? This series of articles is an attempt to answer that question. There are certain gifts that a longer campaign gives, mostly in the form of more and more robust character and setting development. Growing attached to a character that you’ve seen grow and change over months and years is an amazing part of role-playing games, and at the same time seeing a setting really become familiar and ‘lived-in’ engenders a lot of affection for and attachment to the campaign. Getting there, though, can be tough, and it requires some long-term thinking and planning.

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The Push and Pull of Backstories

Character histories have been part and parcel of role-playing games ever since Dave Arneson’s players had to figure out why their characters were crawling the dungeons under Castle Blackmoor. Between now and then there have been some games which took character origins and centered them; Traveller famously integrated a detailed character history into its character generation rules and many games emulated Traveller in one form or another. While many games offer a range of mechanical backstory generation, though, the most popular role-playing game and therefore the majority of players are given very little. While the Fifth Edition of Dungeons and Dragons has added a little above its predecessors (in the form of Backgrounds), first level D&D characters are largely a blank slate, leaving their history and origin up to the player.

When backstories are left up to the player, they become a battleground of narrative control. Some game masters, hungry for player input, get frustrated when a player expects race, class, and background to be enough and writes nothing. On the other hand, game masters much more concerned with their world (and perhaps not wanting to give players an opportunity to modify it) may resent even having to read the backstory a player writes; if they’re particularly vindictive or conceited they may even punish a player (we all saw the Tweet where a noxious GM joked that the character with the longest backstory would be the first to die). With such a range, it’s not hard to see that a mismatch of expectations is much more likely to cause trouble than what those expectations are.

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The Trouble With Marketing

Game design doesn’t sell games. Sorry. No, what sells games is the promise that that game offers, articulated by its designer. If the promise is good, it doesn’t matter that the game is bad; that’s what got the Fallout RPG into the ICv2 top 5. But whether the game you designed is a work of art or a slapdash ashcan, sorry, you’re still going to need to market it.

The Trouble with Marketing is either that no one knows how or no one wants to. I tend to believe the second of those two items; plenty of game designers don’t really know how to write but they manage to hire someone for that in most cases. No, marketing, in addition to being its own skill which is challenging to learn, really turns people off. It reminds you you’re selling something, it makes the whole process feel less like art.

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Adventure Log: Cyberpunk Red: CabbageCorp Part 10

An apocalyptic threat to Kansas? I’m sure someone in the local office can check it out. It’s affecting our share prices? That’s different, the CEO wants to meet with you! After delivering a cryptic speech at the Future of the Midwest conference, Dr. William Squires has disappeared. His former head of security, Simon France, thinks he’s going to destroy the world, but only the CabbageCorp team is really listening to him. However, when it’s clear Squires’ behavior is spooking investors and threatening Biotechnica’s bottom line, suddenly the company cares a lot. Mason’s still on thin ice with his boss after the whole ‘insider trading’ thing, but when he points out that his team also has inside information about Squires, suddenly the whole team is being flown first class to Spokane, Washington.

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Adventure Log: Cyberpunk Red Interlude: The CabbageCorp Warehouse

The CabbageCorp crew has gotten themselves into some trouble in 2045. But they’ve also gotten some nice payoffs. After William Squires made a troubling, cryptic speech at the Future of the Midwest conference in Hydropolis, the team knew they needed to get in gear and figure out what was going on. They also had some real estate transactions to resolve. So when Mason, Philly, Relay, Jacob, TK, Doctor Kong, and Bubbles had to renovate a warehouse, what were they going to do?

More importantly, what was I, their GM, going to do? While Cyberpunk Red has a few options for stationary equipment, the Night City lifestyle isn’t really about property ownership. Giving the party options for their newly acquired warehouse that they actually cared about would require a combination of creativity, player input, and yes, a bit of a System Hack.

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The Five Mechanic Game

There’s a wide world of games out there, but the ones that get played and talked about the most are more similar than you may think. In the realm of traditional games, most games have their rules structured the same way, at the same level of detail, to accomplish roughly the same goal. It means many of us that grew up among the bursting libraries of games in the 80s and 90s thought we were well-read, only to be waylaid by some markedly different ideas when the games of the Forge era like Burning Wheel and Apocalypse World started becoming popular.

Last week, I talked a bit about the idea of complexity, and grounded it to the idea of how many mechanics a game has interacting at once. This makes a game like Blades in the Dark, with many overlapping systems, more complex, while a game like Dread, where there is only one mechanic and it’s essentially ‘Jenga Or Die’, is less complex. What’s more interesting, though, is what it says about the middle. Basically every traditional game, from the real bloats like Exalted all the way down to little digest editions like Savage Worlds, have roughly the same type and number of mechanics. That number is five: character creation, task resolution, combat, game mastering, and at least one subsystem of note.

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When The Game Blows Up

You have a great idea for a new campaign. You explain it to your group, and everyone’s on board. Session Zero goes great, it seems like everyone has made interesting characters and is totally bought in to the premise. Then you start playing. For whatever reason, things just aren’t hitting the same way that everyone thought. Then comes the big inciting action. This will drive everyone to really dive in, right? Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe everyone’s looking across the table awkwardly. Maybe someone gets upset, maybe not. Whatever happened, the game blew up, and now it’s time to pick up the pieces.

When most of the hobby assumes that you’ll pick one game and play it forever, there’s not a lot said about the risks of trying something new. Even among those inveterate RPG collectors with four dozen different systems in their bookshelf, there were never that many games that were really *out there* until recently…and even now, the vast majority of games sold hew to a common template. So, when the range of experiences and expectations is fairly narrow, you have to be prepared for what happens when you step outside of those experiences and expectations and something unpleasant happens.

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