A nice big room with paneled, radiant heated floors, a fireplace, loads of windows, a long wall of bookshelves, and a a videoconferencing rig to play with people around the world. The table could either be a billiards table with a cover to allow tabletop play, or a big Surface screen that people could have their characters, notes, and dice apps running on. Nice comfy chairs.

If you’re gonna dream, dream big.

The Italian Alps or the Amalfi Coast. Preferably on a nice balcony, with a good view, good weather, and a nice couple of bottles of wine.

“How ’bout the South Seas Club, while you’re dreaming..?” — Cliff Secord, The Rocketeer

The reading thing doesn’t tend to surprise me, especially as I’ve gotten older. There are a lot of folks that have cruised through life without reading important pieces of literature, so I don’t tend to be surprised when I ask if they’ve read X and they say no.

Movies, on the other hand, are a modern phenomenon that does surprise when someone hasn’t seen a classic blockbuster. Star WarsBlade Runner? Any iteration of Star Trek? These are so ubiquitous and culturally ingrained that it’s surprising when someone references one of these (or others) but hasn’t seen it. “Game over, man! Game over!” “I love Aliens!” “Never seen it.”

There are classic bits of cinema that I think everyone should have seen, but I rarely expect them to have.


Another strange question with some good answers…

I’m going to go with a three-way tie —

  1. Gaming in the back seat of a car while on a road trip. We just avoided anything that required a die roll.
  2. Gaming in a C-5 on route to a deployment. What else were we gonna do..?
  3. Playing out a scene between two characters that had serious romantic connotations while walking through downtown Philadelphia. The character’s interaction was mirroring that between myself and the female player, so it was ‘meta-flirting”, I suppose.

This is an odd question. What hobbies dovetail into gaming? support gaming? what..?

There are some obvious ones that can dovetail into gaming, especially for the LARPing crowd, where costuming and the like can really enhance your experience. For the tabletop gamer, painting (say, miniatures) and drawing (cartography, characters, etc…) can aid with gaming. Being a cinephile has helped me with adventure creation and running games. But how about things that are less directly tied in?

There’s fencing, or armor making, costuming, all the attendant stuff you see with the Society for Creative Anachronism. SCA folks can really enjoy a good D&D game and bring their knowledge of all things medieval to the table. I like to test drive fancy cars, ride motorcycles, and shoot guns…that all dovetails well into espionage games. I also love to research; I’m a compulsive researcher…that helps with historical games where I want to build verisimilitude.

Nearly any hobby can go well with gaming, I suppose.

This question applies to any storytelling endeavor, I suppose… What makes a good character? For me, there’s a few elements:

1. A good hook or schtick. Sometimes it’s unique, sometimes it’s archetypical (or stereotypical) — the gung-ho pilot, the tomb raider, the cool professional… The schtick should be appropriate to the genre — so the alcoholic spy who is trying to keep it together while undercover is a good one for an espionage game; the fearless archeologist or pilot adventurer is good for a pulp game, the plucky fighter pilot almost always works in space opera.

A good hook is that cool thing your character does. Maybe they’re the bad ass fighter, the nigh invincible fighter jock, the smooth-talking face, the dogged detective…this is the thing that you want to be, or people want to see.

2. The schtick is made better when the character has a weakness that helps drive the story. Walter White had his cancer, but more telling was his arrogance and pride — the real motivation for creating Heisenberg. James Bond is a sucker for a dame and booze. Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes, but he also has daddy issues. Captain America is an honest, good man, but also doesn’t know when to quit and is inflexible in his code of morality and honor. Jessica Jones is a drunk, impulsive, guilt-ridden, and has lost faith in herself thanks to the mental machinations of Killgrave, and they cause her to second guess herself and make truly awful decisions.

Weaknesses, ultimately, are more likely to make the character interesting and memorable, rather than the “cool stuff” they can do. Sure, Superman can do all these incredible things, but it’s his small town morality, his hope and belief in the goodness of people, that is both his strength and weakness. (You can count me firmly in the screw Zack Snyder camp…)

Have a good hook. Have a good weakness or two.

3. Lastly, a good performance. Sure, you can third person it and still have a good character: “…my guy is a sucker for a dame, so even though I know she’s playing him, he wouldn’t…or wouldn’t acknowledge it.” You don’t have to put on your amateur theater hat every night at the table. Putting your thought processes or knowledge aside to do what the character would with what they know or think is key.

Odd question, although it shouldn’t be, considering I game with a set group of folks. You would think we would give gifts — birthday or otherwise. The answer is: whatever we are playing at the moment.

I’ve given copies of SerenityBattlestar GalacticaAtomic Robo,, and others to folks. Most likely, I would give Hollow Earth Expedition to folks if I were gifting this year, as that’s what we’ve been playing, but who knows what the future will hold?

The question for today’s RPGaDay was “share one of you best ‘worst luck’ stories.” that one is easy: During a Stargate SG-1 campaign (we were using the James Bond: 007 RPG rules set with some tweaks for aliens, etc…) — it had to be 2005 — we were playing parts in the big Antarctic battle at the end of Season 7. One of the players had a fighter pilot who had been flying the F-302s from the show. During the big fight, he rolled a 00 (always a fail in JB:007) to dodge a shot from a goa’uld fighter.

The pilot struggled to get control of the fighter, which was now plummeting toward the ice below…but he’s got plenty of time; he’s six miles up! First roll to get control: 00. Safety roll: 00. The craft is now so badly damaged he’s got no choice to put it down. Control roll…

00! Safety roll: 00

He’s got to punch out as the F-302 starts to come apart in a flat spin. Tries to punch out…

Double. Zero.

This is his sixth indisputable failure. I have a choice: GM fiat and say “no, you’re getting out of this one” or accept that the universe wants this character deader than dead. (The player agree — dead. Super dead.) Never seen anything like it before or since.

Honorable mention goes to the husband of one of my gamers that used to play with us for a while. He was a bit of a duffer — he could never remember the die mechanic, even though we’d played for a year. He also was one of those guys that no matter what dice he used, they betrayed him at the most inopportune moment. This lead, one night, to him throwing himself to his knees, crying, “My dice at fucking me!!


Simple: play it. Better: Run it.

Managing a game will require you to engage with the rules at a deeper level than the players — for the most part. There are games like Fate and some of the indie stuff that try to spread the storytelling and rules management across the entire group, and there are people that love that, and in those rules sets, playing is probably just as good.

When learning a new game, keep the adventure short and to the point. Make sure the events play to the strengths of the setting or rules. If you’re in a game where court intrigue is the point (say, Blue Rose) you focus on a few scenes involving court intrigue. If you’re learning the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, you need fights that involve magic, swordplay, and monsters.

A normal adventure, for me, plays to several points in the rules: have a social scene that involves the characters talking their way through a problem, have an action sequence that plays to the strength of the game — guns, fists, swords…what’s the schtick? — and have some kind of investigation scene to figure out a problem or mystery, and an athletics-based scene. If you were doing a Chthulu-type game, there should be something that tests the wits and courage of the characters; if you’re playing fighter pilots in a space opera game — have a vehicle combat scene…or save that for the next session.

Like a new car, use only the features you need to get from the car lot to your home: the steering wheel, the pedals, and gears. Leave figuring out Bluetooth and the overly complex entertainment system fro when you can’t accidentally mow down pedestrians.

[This post was supposed to drop on the 20th…Oops! SCR]

This is an odd question, as it seems to suppose challenging means difficult, rules-wise. That’s not the tack I’m taking. For me, the most challenging system I’ve learned is Fate.

What? Fate’s so super simple!

Not if you’ve been playing for some time. In the olden days — 30 years ago or so — the GM or DM was in an adversarial position to the players. You came up with the world, the challenges, and you sought to outwit the players, and vice-versa. Narrative control rested heavily with the DM. DM was God.

Later, games moved toward a less adversarial position, but the GM was still the guy who came up with most of the aspects of the story and the world the players moved through. Fate, and many indie games, try to shift this over to the players. It can be a laudable goal, and can lead to a more enjoyable experience for the entire group…but I also think it can cause a game to suffer from too many cooks in the kitchen. This has certainly been the case for several groups I’ve played with, where the players either aren’t ready to take up the mantle of throwing aspects on the board, or who are more focused on their characters and don’t want to do the worldbuilding.

Fate and many of the indie games have a “pick up game” quality to them. Low prep, quick in, play, get out. This works brilliantly for certain genres, and not so well for ones that involve, say, mystery solving, where the players want to be surprised. That’s not as likely when you’ve hashed out how the monster works in a committee. Fate and indie games often are aimed, I would suggest, at those players who frequently GM or want to.

Our experience — and this is a small sample group, mind you — is that games where the narrative control is purposefully thrown at the players can lead to confusion. Everyone needs to have a good handle on the rules, not just the GM. The most common complain I’ve heard for Fate, for instance, is along the lines of  “I don’t know how to do the scene aspects.” Not everyone is quick on the quip or the good aspect…nor should they have to be.

This push (and it is a push, not a pull) to make the players more involved in every aspect of the game runs counter to most RPGs, which typically have had one person leading the way. The head chef, if you will, with the players cooking or playing sous chef; the GM sets the overarching themes and story, the players lend the spice, the surprise, and the character to the story. Maybe a better metaphor would be writer/director and actors…the story and look is the purview of the first, but the second often get the accolades. The director can sin a good performance or story, but the actors or players can save it with a great performance.

When Fate and other games of this sort work well, they really work well. With the right group, the use of aspects, the sharing of aspects of the story can improve upon the play and be immensely rewarding. However, I don’t think systematizing many of these elements of the story is needed. I don’t know how many times a player has made an observation that improves a scene — “You said it was raining, how much harder is it to make this turn at speed..? Wouldn’t my Jag make the turn better than their Escort?” You don’t need to throw an aspect, we all get that a car chase at night in the rain is harder for everyone. Fate takes something that often happens at the table naturally, and tries to regulate it, and in doing so makes these moments of play less organic and natural, and more mechanical.

I find that difficult. It’s not hard from a rules standpoint; it’s hard because it tries to force rule into something that was just understood.