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Showing posts with the label Worldbuilding

Whose Labyrinthine Maze is This, Anyway: Dungeon Design and Cultural History

Dungeon . The word with significant historical connotations and some modern ones we won’t get into here, but to enthusiasts of tabletop roleplaying, it means something very specific: it’s ⅓ of the name of the most successful and influential RPG of all time, after all. (We’ll discuss the significance of the “&” another time. (and maybe the other D too - A) ) Early D&D materials refer to “the underworld mazes” (note the preposition, dungeons are considered a default part of the setting), and offer some advice on making them (somewhat) plausible, but never directly consider the societies that built them. While many pre-published adventures do include some information describing long-gone inhabitants, incorporating this kind of detail into original worlds can help create a detailed, rich setting. This week, we thought we’d talk about how to make dungeons and other ruins feel like places that lost peoples made and lived in, and how to share these details in your play sessions. - B  

Open Discussion: Conversations with NPCs

It doesn’t matter if your games are at a tabletop or one in the digital realms of consoles and PCs, at some point in your role playing adventures you'll wind up interacting with a Non-Player Character. Unless you’ve a really weird game going on, you’re probably dealing with multiple NPCs regularly.  Non-Player Characters are the denizens of our imaginary worlds that bring them to bustling life. Even the most mundane outline of a person rounds out the settings we create in ways we don’t often consider. As the blog has discussed before, a lot of storytelling can come from the environment , but we shouldn’t neglect the people that dwell within the places we present and play in. Non-Player Characters are our vendors, our adversaries, our allies, our victims and our quest givers. At times they may just be part of the background, but without them our roleplaying games simply wouldn’t work. Interactions with NPCs can range anywhere from a brief visual description to a full-out member of y

You Cannot Fast Travel When Plot is Nearby

You’ve probably been there. Trying to get from one part of the map to another. A sound effect cuts through the overworld music , an animation comes up, and the music switches to something a little more adrenaline-pumping. The first time it happens in a game, maybe the first few dozen times, you’re probably pretty excited. What monsters will you face? Will there be materials to upgrade your weapons? Just a little much-needed currency and experience? A surprise treasure box ? Then you get to that fourth dozen time…fifth…sixth? Somewhere in there it becomes a boring monotonous grind just to get anywhere, or maybe to find the last component you need to upgrade your ranged weapon. At best, the ritual becomes a minor annoyance while you pass through as quickly as possible. Would it be better if you could just fast travel ? Zipping between two points without subjecting your character(s) (and yourself) to yet another pointless battle? This can work well in video games, but do you use it at you

Workin' d8+1 to d4+1

“Get a job!” It's a refrain we're always hearing, as well as the title of a doo-wop classic , but, as that song and anyone who has tried to join the workforce can tell you it’s rarely that easy . Tabletop roleplaying games, on the other hand, offer the freedom to give your characters any employment history you can think of (within the bounds of the setting and their character build), whether it’s the thing they did before answering the call of adventure, or what they’re still doing between your game sessions. This week, we’re going to talk about the ways characters’ former (or current) jobs can flesh out their background and present new roleplaying opportunities, no matter which side of the GM screen they're on. - B B: Of course, I start with the disclaimer that, in the game I run most ( Paranoia XP/25th Anniversary ), job assignment is part of the character creation process. Being Paranoia , of course, the player gets no say in this - it’s purely according to random chanc

A Little Action on the Side

Something that has become ubiquitous in digital roleplaying games, and even video games in general,  is the side quest. In previous New Years Resolution posts, I’ve mentioned skipping side quests (specifically in Breath of the Wild and Marvel's Spider-Man ) in order to complete the main game. After all, at worst, they're something that's easy to ignore. That doesn’t mean we should be ignoring them though - I’ve really only been doing it because of time constraints. Sure, the main story is what moves the game narrative along, but the side quest is where a lot of the gameplay is. That's where your character makes their money, gains experience and powers, learns about the world, and maybe even gets some clues about the main plot. At the very least, side quests add to the world making it feel more vibrant and real - the sort of useful and enjoyable context that we like to see in our stories. This is something that I’ve neglected in the past, and maybe you have as well. W

Restless Dreams: Horror, Fantasy, Gaming, and Emotional Logic

The calendar tells us that it's October, and while it may not feel like it outside, this is officially the season for spooks and scares. Given the time of year and the twenty-year anniversary of its release (and also of my owning it) the next game in my backlog playthrough was obvious: 2001's Silent Hill 2 . Much has already been written about this game (there's a reason it's on so many "Best Games of All Time" lists, after all), so this post will be neither explanation nor analysis, but rather a exploration of the way horror blurs the lines between the world that we know exists, and the way we feel it exists... and the way that games, both electronic and tabletop, are uniquely capable of embodying this dichotomy. Given my love of horror and all things surreal, it's kind of surprising that it's taken me this long to actually finish the game. At the outset, it was because I felt obligated to play the original Silent Hill first, even though I was va

Fun With Murder: The Narrative Ethics of Assassination Games

It's funny. As someone who views "detective" as an integral part of their personality , I sure have a lot of crime games. Well, crime media in general, especially movies, but games have certain... implications. You're the one committing the crimes , not watching other characters do them or following a protagonist as they piece together criminal events through evidence and investigation. You're right there, doing all the bad stuff yourself. Recently, in the ongoing quest to tackle my massive game backlog, I've been playing the first Tenchu game, released in 1998. I bought it because the creators would later go on to make my beloved Way of the Samurai series, but if one looked at my shelves, they could easily assume I chose it thematically, as Tenchu 's neighbors include numerous Hitman , Assassin's Creed , and Dishonored games - a subgenre we'll call "assassination games." I've seen it remarked that there's an irony that, while

RPG Sports: Combat Without the Danger

There may come a time in your campaigns where you want the fun of combat without the stress that can bring. You probably want something a little heavier than pure roleplaying, possibly a team challenge featuring the thrill and random chance of combat, but less dangerous for the Player Characters. Enter... sports! (Something many of us into tabletop games haven’t been good at.) Sports offer an opportunity to include a game within your tabletop game. You can frame it as a local game regularly played wherever your players are currently visiting, a touring exhibition, or your universe’s very own Olympics. No matter what route you take, players love opportunities to test their luck, their character’s skill, and get a chance to win prizes or accolades without (too much) danger involved. It can be a great break if your campaign has been full of tense moments, and makes a good pause between major story arcs. The Olympics of our own mortal plane present a ton of great examples: protected, monit

Risus Burger

Food disagreeing with you lately? The summer holidays are often full of greasy burgers and hot dogs. I know I’ve been grilling more than usual. That wasn’t what I was referring to, though. Does your food want to make hamburger out of you ? Then perhaps you need help from Peter Pepper. You might be asking yourself, “who?” Don’t worry, we’ll cover that in a moment. First we have the "how." We don’t need IntelliVision’s arcade-like super graphics for this post. We need Risus: The Anything RPG . What is Risus ? I won’t bore you with all the details here. (Besides, you can read our very own Introduction to Risus post.) In short, Risus is a rules-lite, versatile, and down-right fun “anything” TTRPG. In previous Risus posts , we have looked at converting the characters from Gauntlet , and taken inspiration from the Pole Position properties for an arcade themed setting I’ve been working on. In actual play, the game world would look something like Wreck-It-Ralph or ReBoot . For

I Am Camp Incarnate: Trash History and Return to Castle Wolfenstein

Today is V-E Day, and earlier this week, by sheer coincidence, I declared victory over Return to Castle Wolfenstein - specifically the Playstation 2 version. I'd started it a while ago, but picked it back up both to try and cut down my gargantuan list of  “in-progress” games and to build up to playing the more recent titles in the series with Andy. Playing RtCW in 2021 was certainly... an experience . I haven't chosen the games I've played during the pandemic specifically because of their relation to current events, but an eerie number have featured infectious disease plots ( Metal Gear Solid V , Dishonored , and Marvel's Spider-Man ), so gunning down Nazis at least gave me a chance to engage with a different aspect of our unfortunate times. Return to Castle Wolfenstein is, obviously, an "historical" game, but in more ways than might seem obvious (or intended)., The era it conveys is not the 1940s in which it was set, but the way that period was conveyed in